Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Like Having You Guys Stop By

My new browser actually allows me to comment in the comments section. My class at the Art Students League has met the minimum enrollment for it to be scheduled. Life is good, people! 

To celebrate, it's Easter Egg time. The next 10 people who click "follow" are in a drawing for a print (those who have already clicked "follow" simply leave a comment before I get to 14 followers). No time limit, it's just when there are 10 new followers. I've been too busy to pick out a print, but I will post an image soon.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Millions of Monkeys...

...are, as we speak, whompin' away randomly at millions of surplus, "Front Page"-era Remington typewriters (two or three per simian, typewriters are cheap! free, even) in a warehouse not far from the dark, 70's chintz of Herb's Hideout on Larimer, where Jack Kerouac once roamed looking for meaning in Denver's tenderloin, poetry to match the mountains. They are hard at work on the long-promised Squishtoid Manifesto. I may as well let the monkeys do it, since I have no clue. Like a lot of people, I’ve been busy trying to survive.

It has been nearly a year since I stumbled out of the machine-like florescent hum of my day job, into the harsh light of possibility. A vague plan for creative entrepreneurship was tapping away in my head. Art and self- realization awaited. But the manifesto (and the business plan) didn't... manifest. There was quite a bit of day-to-day grind to leaving the day-to-day grind behind. And naturally, finding and affording health care is a big worry. Nowadays, many find their work choices defined not by their vision for their careers, but by the need for health care.

It's not really my intention to inject huge amounts of political opinion into this blog, but the framing narrative here is the struggle to have an independent creative/working life, and there can be no doubt that the ongoing culture wars, as well as the health care reform controversy that stems from them, affect that directly, so it's kind of hard to avoid. And America, in putting off resolution of this issue for 60 years, has made it harder to solve it.

 Nixon proposed a health care plan very similar to the one we've just passed, and Betty Ford advocated choice and the era. But that was the old GOP. The right wing, as they gutted the old GOP, also ratcheted the scope of American democracy further and further right. As resources dwindled, priorities changed. We have to make good choices. But the right wing shouters and haters have consistently downsized the definition not just of the American dream, but of American. And how did Wal Mart become the model for what employment should offer us? There is something appalling about allowing corporations (not to mention rich politicians) to decide who does, and who does not, receive health care in a free society. 

The old saw that Europeans work to live, while Americans live to work has never been more apropos. America, as a country, has never figured out why we work, and it has turned the notion of time well spent into a zero-sum game. We measure ourselves in material wealth rather than health and happiness, so we shouldn't be surprised when the system demands that we devote our ever shrinking free time to securing the basics that much of the rest of the world has long ago figured out how to make, well, basic. Dreams get postponed. education suffers, kids suffer, retirement suffers. The middle class is a vanishing oasis, the electronics store our stress relief, with VISA the ticket to entry. It's not a healthy way to live, physically or as a culture, and bingo! here come the number crunchers to tell us why we as a nation, can't have health care. Though ironically, as a society, we devote tremendous resources to convincing ourselves why something can't be done. We need a few dreamers. 

I figured I fit the bill. My timing wasn’t great, in the middle of a recession, but it was an old story- the corporation was eying the pension to maintain profits, in the current political climate, it was sort of use it or lose it. In taking the plunge I stepped into the middle of a debate that was no less about dreams than it was about reality.

 The far right doesn’t seem to believe in the American dream. The existing system, in which workers receive health care only at the sufferance of their employer or corporate health insurance concerns, presents workers with little flexibility in terms of striking out on their own, long a wellspring of entrepreneurial creativity that has fueled the American economy. The American dream has always encompassed everything from real estate licenses to hot dog carts, but now is expected to show a profit. If your dream- or your health- doesn’t conform to the business plan, you must not be an American. Is it work for its own sake that forms the dream, or independence? The desire to see the society and its dreams move forward is obviously great as evidenced in the current political mantra “Yes, we can”. 

Isn’t independence why people leave their jobs; why they work for peanuts in the first place? Do people work at Walmart because they are just opposed to decent wages and health care? Society benefits when people apply their talents to produce. It is not properly society’s aim to put everyone to work in a dead end job. Yet when the fundamental question of providing the basics of a productive work force- education and health care- arise, we get the the party of “No we can't”. When government lacks imagination, and representatives go to Washington simply to be reelected, the American dream withers.

 Health care reform is a simple commonsense idea that strictly by the numbers will more efficiently channel resources while simultaneously ensuring freedom to venture out into our dreams. It nearly got talked to death. Because there are always reasons to be found not to do something. I know. I could have stayed in the safety of corporate retail hoping the Corporation felt like funding health care. But like a lot of people in middle age these days, I was far too young to be coasting into old age, and what could it possibly profit a society to keep me or anyone in such a state of inertia? According to filmy sentimentalism of the brokerage house commercials, our generation is redefining retirement, yet the mechanisms of our own society haven't kept pace. It is a contradiction of the American Dream- in order to guarantee ourselves quality health care, we have to do the thing that the capitalist heroes like Steve Forbes have always advised us not to do: postpone, downsize, sublimate our dreams. How unhealthy! As we shrank the American dream, we made it more likely that we, as a culture, will do nothing special. And by the law of diminishing returns, we risked decline.

 The health care crisis, as most have realized by now wasn't about efficiency, but about the Reaganite desire to shrink government arbitrarily. Like those monkeys, the right banged purposelessly away at one key “tax, tax, tax”, hoping no one would notice that there was no vision, and no faith in America. But our government is, by definition, a vision, and tax just a tool. In trying to shrink government, they sought to shrink the definition of "American”. Health care reform, far from the radical takeover the extremists have cast it as, is simply a return to the freedom to shape our own dreams. Far from a government takeover, it is a populist takeover. In an America that is still struggling to move forward from the wars, recession and huge deficits of the Bush years, can we really afford to spend far too much money on a system that limits our ability to have independent innovation? 

There are still tough choices to be made. In this case the right choice was made. I’m feeling better about my personal choices too, now the economy is showing signs of recovery, though I may still need to get a job to make them work. Our health care system is somewhat more rational and user friendly, though premiums will undoubtedly be a stretch, and fixes will be needed. But it’s far more adaptable to changing needs. The road to creative entrepreneurship will always be tough, but at least the road is a bit clearer of obstacles. I have a clearer vision of what is possible. 

Is it possible to get those monkeys going on that manifesto? I might have to give it time. But anything’s possible- after 60 years, we got Washington to believe in the American Dream.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lines of Departure

I may have posted this one before; it's actually from late 2009. But this is a professionally done shot, so I think it will look much better. There were two layers, or "drops". One for the yellow and blue/gray of the sky, the second for the black in the foreground. 

We'll look at what can be done with simple color schemes and multi-drop prints in my workshop, which you can still register for using the link to the left. Classes start first week of April on Tuesday afternoons, and we'll have fun with the Spring skies.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rebel Without a Caucus?

It remains far easier to obstruct commonsense reform on Capitol Hill, than to bring it to an actual vote. Though I'm hopeful that the Health Care Bill will pass, I'll admit that it'll be a relief just to see some resolution. A yes vote, for most Americans, means moving on to the process of evaluating what works, and what doesn't work in the current package; and then moving on to financial reform.

For the right wing, that means moving on from legislative obstruction to judicial obstruction on health care, and in Congress, from health care obstruction to yes, obstruction of financial reform. I think we can see the pattern here. The "Party of No" has "no" plans to do anything until they see if voters will blame Democrats for the stasis in November.

Michael Bennett also sees the pattern clearly enough, and this is part of the reason I'll be supporting him at the precinct caucus tonight. Bennett, who has most definitely NOT adopted the Blue Dog "duck and cover" strategy, has been active in trying to revive the public option, but has also been outspoken about the cynical filibustering in Washington. Now he's proposed a very interesting plan for reform of the Senate. Naturally, there's a likelihood that the GOP will see this issue too, as an occasion for obstructionism.

Nor is there any guarantee that Bennet, who was appointed to his seat after Ken Salazar joined the Obama Administration, will even be around to pursue reform. Andrew Romanoff, who has an impressive resume of his own after the Democrats took over the State House in 2006, has gotten a huge jump in organizing, and appears to be leading in polls.

Bennett, who's impressed party big wigs, and drew an Obama appearance at the Fillmore on Colfax for a fundraising event last month, appears to have benefitted from the Obama organization's expertise in caucuses. Media coverage and Facebook buzz appear to be high, and I don't doubt the caucus attendance will be unusually high (The Squish regularly attends Presidential-year cacuses, but this is the first time I can recall getting motivated for an off year caucus).

The caucus straw poll is non binding, and even if he loses, Bennett can still beat Romanoff in the primary. But the Faux News pundits will be sniffing for blood in the results, and will almost certainly play a Bennett loss as a repudiation of health care, and filibuster reform. What it will be really, is a chance to put Republican Gayle Norton up against a non-incumbent Romanoff, and of course, another victory for obstructionism.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Strange Daisies, Indeed

"Strange Garden", 1/1, 30x42"

Laura from the Art Students League very nicely e-mailed last week that she would like to use an older image of mine that she spied on the Open Press web site for a post card she was putting together. I definitely said yes, the more you get your stuff out there... The post card is to promote classes at the league, and I have one that is registering now for April and May, so that will help.

It's often an eye-opener when someone discovers a picture you've sort of moved on from. Coming up with ideas I want to try is rarely a problem for me, but moving frenetically on to the next, before I've really delved into the first, can be. So Strange Garden (above), the piece Laura noticed, made me wonder if I need to revisit the idea.
For one thing, with my focus on negative space this year, it's interesting that she would call attention to a picture with so much of it. Also the print was done on a lithography press, as opposed to an etching press. An etching press rolls on the plate, a litho press scrapes across it, providing a different sort of action on the ink. Here at Squishtoid, where we are very technical minded, we refer to this as Squishmojonic force. Or something like that.

In this case it really worked to my advantage, and you can see the thicker blobs of ink were fortuitously extruded in a very organic, iris-like way that as far as I'm concerned, really makes the image.
Anyway, it makes me wonder if I should use a litho press sometimes. I'd been doing some very gothic flower prints for a while that I loved, then bango! couldn't get 'em the way I liked them all of a sudden. I like flowers for their abstract colors and elements. It would be nice to celebrate spring with some new flower prints.

As for the workshop, it runs for 6 weeks and you can get more info here. The League has a revamped web site with online registration, and it's very easy to use. I think we'll have a lot of fun, and we'll cover technical as well as aesthetic issues, so no experience necessary. This one will run 6 weeks, but there are one-day workshops planned for Summer. When it's done, you'll be able to dazzle attractive persons with your knowledge of Squishmojonic forces. Or something like that.

Questions? Leave a comment, or e-mail me.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

"A" is for: Are You Ready For Some Football?

Poor Mexico. So far from God, and so close to the United States. -Porfirio Diaz, Mexican Dictator.

I predicted as I took my place at the bar, that the USA would fall to the Dutch by either 2-0, or 2-1. The first would be the expected result, given the last game in Amsterdam and their history in Europe, the second more hopeful, reflecting their improvement against traditional powers as in the '09 Confederations Cup victory v. Spain.

They lost 2-1. They looked much better than their last visit, when they were never really in the game, especially in midfield. This time the midfield was effective for long stretches, and the team was able to close the gap in the late going on a nice goal, and even threaten to tie. So there is hope.
It'll be a while before we see any more warm-ups though, so it's all guess work from here. But the lead-up to the World Cup has begun, and it's time to start doing what the Cup is great for- learning about other cultures (though soccer-haters and other xenophobes would not agree).

There is plenty of team-by-team analysis around, but I'm taking my cue from a very fun book from the 2006 Cup, "The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup" (edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey. I searched for this year's equivalent, but alas). It's a very readable book that gathers natives and fans of each team to write something on that nation. Since there are 18 return teams this year, it's still relevant.

Group "A" is a very interesting one with South Africa, the host; France, recent World Champs and hosts; and Uruguay, shockingly (for some) 2 time winners in 1930 and '50. But for purposes of this brief peek, the headliner is arch-rival Mexico.

If Mexico is, as former Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda says in his somewhat mournful piece on the homeland of "Los Tricolores", the richest of the poor nations, at least in futbol, they've always been the poorest of the rich nations. They've hosted twice, and made memorable runs, not least at the 2006 Cup, where they were game before losing on a brilliant Argentina goal.

Now the northern giant threatens hegemony in this vital area, too. Worse, they do it in almost off-hand fashion, with the US' string of victories in crucial matches, such as the 2002 quarterfinals, arousing no passion in the football-hating press and NFL-obsessed public. It seems unfair. Here is ESPN Sports Guy Bill Simmons' impression of a USA v. Mexico match in infamous Azteca Stadium.

Football, in fact, is often not fair, though Mexico can still have the last laugh this year. Though the first game (the opener!) v. the hosts will be tough in terms of the crowd, South Africa really hasn't been playing that well. Uruguay will be game, but their days of regular participation are long gone (their cups came during an economic and soccer heyday as host of a truncated field in the first event, and via an upset of Brazil before that nation's era of domination began). France is also underachieving, notably needing a Thierry Henry handball v. minnows Ireland to even qualify.

Mexico is back in good form, so passion and pride may very well carry them farther than the young US team. Some would like nothing better than to see Los Tri fail, but once the US is out, I always root for them. It only seems fair.