Tag Archives: George W. Bush

The Art of George W. Bush and the Importance of Play

Former President George W. Bush is a man of many distinctive qualities, which, depending on how one feels about his tenure as president, may be described either in glowing terms or in terms that wouldn’t be printable in a family publication. (In the interest of full disclosure, I prefer the latter.) But it came as a surprise last week that he could fairly claim a descriptor no one would have guessed: painter.

The reaction was mixed. New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz likes them, more or less, and his wife Roberta Smith, writing in the New York Times, calls him a serious amateur. (She asserts that he’s a better painter than Hitler, which in certain circles must pass for a compliment.)

Two of the described paintings are nude self-portraits, which makes them sound more terrifying than they are. In the painting pictured above, 43 is in the shower, staring into a shaving mirror from the back. In the second, we see through his own gaze his lower legs and feet submerged in bathwater. As Roberta Smith notes, these viewpoints and self-as-subject could alternately suggest introspection or narcissism, but the reality is we can’t be exactly sure of the artist’s motivations or what he is trying to convey.

Why is the former president painting himself? Why is he even painting? The rest of the criticism centers on the quality of the work and how to classify it. Is it worthy of collecting or displaying in a gallery? Is he, by definition, an outsider artist? How does he stack up against the professionals?

These are interesting questions. But maybe the answers don’t matter.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that George W. Bush is not an artist by anyone’s definition. His work is laughably bad. He should not be mentioned in the same breath with painters who make art for a living.

These are not reasons for 43 to abandon painting. They’re not reasons for anyone to stop painting — or fail to start.

There are plenty of reasons to engage in creative activity that has no possibility of being professionalized and won’t receive external validation. We paint because it’s therapeutic. We paint because it gives us new perspectives on the world around us. We paint because the act of creating is just as important as the creation. We paint because, god forbid, it’s fun, which is its own justification.

We all remember a time when we understood that intuitively. We were probably six or seven. We were encouraged to draw, to paint, to sing, to build things out of other things, and it never occurred to us that being good at any of it was relevant.

But as we grew older, we found that all of our creative pursuits were tethered to achievement and it was a waste of time, if not an embarrassment, to spend energy on creative projects that couldn’t be displayed or judged worthwhile or result in professional gain. This is a shame.

What it means in practice is that we tend to spend free time consuming culture instead of making it. Instead of writing a story or attempting to paint something or learning a piece of music, we watch TV or go to a movie.

There’s nothing wrong with consuming culture, of course. But what are we losing if that time is never spent making things, and making them for their own sake?

I recently had a conversation with a friend about taking what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call a “creative vacation.” I tend to travel when I’m burned out or need a change of scenery, but I also view that time as an opportunity for creative regeneration: grabbing some art supplies and writing paper and heading to my own personal Walden. My friend concurred. His exact words were, “I’d like to just find a cabin in the woods somewhere and Jackson Pollock the shit out of a canvas.” My friend was less interested in creative work than creative play, but who’s to say that play isn’t as important as work? I’d wager that play has some advantages:

It’s easier to experiment when you don’t think your creative project will be judged. It’s allowed to be bad. It can be really, really bad, in fact. (I’d argue that George W. Bush’s paintings are not even in the really, really bad category, but I could show you some of my own work that is, and I don’t think I’d have ever made those things if they were going to be judged professionally.) Sometimes it’s important in a professional context to do bad work in order to improve, but making things that are flawed and accepting that they are going to be flawed — because let’s face it, we are not exactly Rembrandt — has value as well. We don’t have to be good at everything. We don’t even have to try to be good at everything, despite the fact that our delicate egos often make it feel like a moral imperative.

There’s a certain joy in being really, really bad at something and doing it anyway. We were probably bad painters at the age of six, but who doesn’t remember the fun of smearing paint on a piece of paper in order to render what our teachers would have described as alternately “a sort of flower” or “a map of Germany”? There’s no reason why painting flowers of questionable quality shouldn’t be just as enjoyable now. (And for what it’s worth, it probably uses more brain cells than watching all of season six on Netflix.)

Maybe that’s all the former president was thinking as he rendered his bathroom tiles in oil paint. Maybe he had no aspirations of being admired as an artist or validated by the art market. Maybe he just wanted to Jackson Pollock the shit out of a canvas. As well he should have.

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President Obama, the merciless?


By P.S. Ruckman, Jr.
updated 7:03 AM EST, Tue December 31, 2013

  • President Obama has granted 52 pardons to date; George W. Bush granted almost 200
  • P.S. Ruckman: Obama is one of the least merciful presidents in U.S. history
  • He says Christmas pardons may seem warm and fuzzy, but it makes them seem like a gift
  • Ruckman: Instead of last minute pardons, politicians should grant pardons regularly

Editor’s note: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. is professor of political science at Rock Valley College and editor of the Pardon Power blog. He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Pardon Me, Mr. President: Adventures in Crime, Politics and Mercy.”

(CNN) — This month, one of the least merciful presidents in the history of the United States granted 13 pardons and eight commutations of sentence. The grants moved President Barack Obama’s overall mark past the administrations of John Adams (who served only one term), William H. Harrison (who died of pneumonia after serving only 30 days), James Garfield (who was fatally wounded by an assassin after serving only four months) and George Washington.

The New York Times complained that, when it came to the pardon power, there was just “no excuse” for Obama’s “lack of compassion” and encouraged him to “do much more.” The American Civil Liberties Union called the pardons “a step” and hoped the President would “continue to exercise his clemency powers.” Meanwhile, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, lamented the “drought” of pardons in the Obama administration and called the recent grants “mingy and belated.” Conservative columnist Debra Saunders wrote that it was “about time” Obama acted, and even tossed out the possibility/hope that he might “do it again soon.”

While it is true that Obama’s grants included no one comparable to Scooter Libby, or Marc Rich, much less President Richard Nixon, the intensity and commonality of reactions is noteworthy. Political executives — presidents and governors — may not be quite aware of or in tune with it just yet, but the times, they are a-changing.

P.S. Ruckman, Jr.

P.S. Ruckman, Jr.

No one is clamoring for violent criminals to be yanked out of prisons and tossed into the streets to wreak havoc on society. No one is lusting for the considered judgment of judges and juries to be whimsically overturned by politicians leaving office and, in the process, sidestepping accountability.

But, increasingly, there is recognition that budgets are tight, and prisons are both overcrowded and expensive. The recidivism of those who spend time in prisons and exit without anything like serious rehabilitation is also costly. Congress’ recent recognition of the failure (if not outright unjust nature) of sentencing laws appears, to many, as still yet another indicator that there is consensus regarding the status of the so-called war on drugs: It has not worked out very well.

Judges have complained loudly about mandatory minimum and three-strikes laws which have limited their ability to tailor punishments to fit crimes — a basic notion of justice. Public opinion polls also suggest Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with over-criminalization in the law.

The pardon power will always carry an inherent political “risk,” because no one can perfectly predict the future behavior of recipients and everyone’s judgment can be second-guessed, if not mischaracterized. Informed persons know Mike Huckabee did not “pardon” Maurice Clemmons and Michael Dukakis did not “pardon” Willie Horton. But, of course, executives cannot always survive political storms with the support and encouragement of informed persons.

Nonetheless, the Founding Fathers considered the pardon power an integral part of our system of separation of powers and checks and balances. Its presence in the Constitution is premised on the notion that Congress and the Courts are not always perfect. Anyone care to disagree? It simply follows that, if the pardon power is being neglected or abused, then government is not doing what it was meant to do.

Alexander Hamilton furthermore noted, in the Federalist Papers, that the criminal codes of nations have an almost natural tendency toward over-severity. For that reason, he argued, there should be easy access to mercy. Yes, you read that right, “easy access,” or, in other words, something very different than what is going on in the Obama administration.

The fortunate thing is, presidents and governors can very easily minimize the political “risk” of pardoning by granting pardons regularly, consistently, throughout terms, as opposed to, very questionably, at the “last minute.”

While Christmas pardons may make some feel warm and fuzzy, they also send a message that is more counterproductive than anything. They seem to say mercy is an afterthought, or worse, a gift, that may or may not be deserved.

The fact of the matter is the majority of individual acts of executive clemency in our lifetime have been pardons, which simply restored the civil rights of the recipients. No one was sprung from jail. Violent criminals were not tossed into the streets. Judges and juries were not overturned. Recipients have typically committed minor offenses, many involving no incarceration whatsoever, and usually, many years if not decades before pardon. FBI background checks documented they had integrated back into society as law-abiding productive members. Their pardons were not “gifts” so much as they were well deserved recognition.

Have these pardons been high-wire maneuvers? Have they required presidents to spend precious political capital? Not at all. Obama has granted 52 pardons to date. There is a much better than average chance that readers cannot name a single recipient. George W. Bush granted almost 200.

So, why can’t Obama restore the civil rights of more applicants? Why doesn’t he? There is no obvious answer to that question, save lack of care and concern. Where is the President who said his religion teaches him the importance of redemption and second chances? Where is the hope?

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of P.S. Ruckman, Jr.



Why You Should Get an MBA

Really, You Should

The MBA is one of the most valuable credentials a person can pursue, especially at a top tier university. The MBA teaches you the 5% of business that isn’t about human behavior and working with people. It teaches you how to sit for exams and recite concepts, which is an essential skill when trying to win a new client or launch a product to the consumer market. The MBA teaches you how to follow the rules and accept established conventions—just like Steve Jobs did throughout his career.

The MBA is taught by people who have read a lot of books about business and spent a lot of time publishing papers about what they learned from reading those books—true experts in the field. MBA projects simulate real life situations to prevent you from having to learn any actual lessons from your mistakes, and probably still can get a passing grade in spite of them. If you go to a really prestigious university, you might even be afforded the opportunity to be placed in an internship at a brand-name company where you will be equally shielded from the costs of your mistakes.

A Harvard MBA is especially quite a deal. At a total cost of $182,400 for two years of tuition, room, and board, it’s a mere 2,432 times the cost of buying a web domain, getting a professionally designed logo, and putting up a landing page to test a market idea. And there’s obviously no real business you could launch in 2 years anyway, so your opportunity cost is next to nothing.

The MBA program has it all figured out too. Probably because the program is delivered by textbook writers, they have the clairvoyance to know just what problems you are going to face when you actually get into the real world, and they’ve developed a perfectly engineered curriculum so you face no uncertainties and have to endure no ambiguity.

Indeed, with “MBA” after your name, everybody in the world will know just how much money you spent to be absolutely certain of everything, and will be impressed with your ability to create powerpoint presentations and spreadsheets with fancy words nobody else understands, and magical models that can explain everything about the world.

VCs will be falling over themselves to fund your startups, too. Just like they did with other famous MBA startup success stories like.… …. …. .… ….

Your professors will tell you how smart you are, how you are among an elite group of people destined to change the world. Many of your classmates will go on to do rewarding and fulfilling work like investment banking and management consulting—changing the world, one credit default swap at a time.

But the best reason to get an MBA is to not end up a loser like so many other people who—had they only gone to B-School, could have made an impact and become wealthy and famous. Losers like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, Jack Dorsey, and others.

Instead, you could be like George W. Bush.

Written by

Founder & Chairman of Exosphere http://exosphe.re

Published December 30, 2013


Exclusive: U.S. government urged to name CEO to run Obamacare market

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON Sun Dec 29, 2013 7:11am EST

Supporters of the Affordable Healthcare Act gather in front of the Supreme Court before the court's announcement of the legality of the law in Washington on June 28, 2012. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Supporters of the Affordable Healthcare Act gather in front of the Supreme Court before the court’s announcement of the legality of the law in Washington on June 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

(Reuters) – The White House is coming under pressure from some of its closest allies on healthcare reform to name a chief executive to run its federal health insurance marketplace and allay the concerns of insurers after the rocky rollout of Obamacare.

Advocates have been quietly pushing the idea of a CEO who would set marketplace rules, coordinate with insurers and state regulators on the health plans offered for sale, supervise enrollment campaigns and oversee technology, according to several sources familiar with discussions between advocates and the Obama administration.

Supporters of the idea say it could help regain the trust of insurers and others whose confidence in the healthcare overhaul has been shaken by the technological woes that crippled the federal HealthCare.gov insurance shopping website and the flurry of sometimes-confusing administration rule changes that followed.

The advocates include former White House adviser Ezekiel Emanuel, the brother of President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and the Center for American Progress, the Washington think tank founded by John Podesta, the president’s newly appointed senior counselor.

The White House is not embracing the idea of creating a CEO, administration officials said.

“This isn’t happening. It’s not being considered,” a senior administration official told Reuters.

Some healthcare reform allies say the complexity of the federal marketplace requires a CEO-type figure with clear authority and knowledge of how insurance markets work.

Obama’s healthcare overhaul aims to provide health coverage to millions of uninsured or under-insured Americans by offering private insurance at federally subsidized rates through new online health insurance marketplaces in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C.

Only 14 states opted to create and operate their own exchanges, leaving the Obama administration to operate a federal marketplace for the remaining 36 states that can be accessed through HealthCare.gov.

The marketplace is now officially the responsibility of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its administrator, Marilyn Tavenner. Healthcare experts say there is no specific official dedicated to running the operation.

A CMS spokesman said exchange functions overlap across different groups within the agency’s Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.

The lack of a clear decision-making hierarchy was identified as a liability months before the disastrous October 1 launch of HealthCare.gov by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

Obama adviser Jeffrey Zients, who rescued the website from crippling technical glitches last month, also identified the lack of effective management as a problem.


Former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene has replaced Zients as website manager, at least through the first half of 2014.

“We’re fortunate that Kurt DelBene is now part of the administration – there’s no one better able to help us keep moving forward to make affordable, quality health insurance available to as many Americans as possible,” Obama healthcare adviser Phil Schiliro said in a statement to Reuters.

The White House appears, for now, to be concentrating on ironing out the remaining glitches in HealthCare.gov to ensure millions more people are able to sign up for coverage in 2014. Good enrollment numbers are seen by both critics and supporters of Obamacare as a key measure of the program’s success.

“So my sense is that they’re not thinking about appointing a CEO in the short term,” said Topher Spiro, a healthcare analyst with the Center for American Progress.

The CEO proposal calls for removing day-to-day control of the marketplace from the CMS bureaucracy and placing it under a leadership structure like those used in some of the more successful state-run marketplaces, including California.

The new team would be managed by a CEO, or an executive director, who would run the marketplace like a business and answer directly to the White House, sources familiar with the discussions say.

They point to insurance industry and healthcare veterans as potential candidates, including former Aetna CEO Ronald Williams, former Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson and Jon Kingsdale, who ran the Massachusetts health exchange established under former Governor Mitt Romney‘s 2006 healthcare reforms. None of the three was available for comment.

Healthcare experts say the idea should have been taken up by the administration years ago.

“It’s the right thing to do. It’s just two years late,” said Mike Leavitt, the Republican former Utah governor who oversaw the rollout of the prescription drug program known as Medicare Part D as U.S. health and human services secretary under President George W. Bush.

“The administration is confronted by a series of problems they cannot solve on their own. They do not possess internally the competencies or the exposure or the information,” he told Reuters.

Emanuel, one of the administration’s longest-standing allies on healthcare reform, recommended a marketplace CEO in an October 22 Op-Ed article in the New York Times, calling it one of five things the White House could do to fix Obamacare.

“The candidate should have management experience, knowledge of how both the government and health insurance industry work, and at least some familiarity with IT (information technology) systems. Obviously this is a tall order, but there are such people. And the administration needs to hire one immediately,” he wrote.

The administration has adopted Emanuel’s four other recommendations: better window-shopping features for HealthCare.gov; a concerted effort to win back public trust; a focus on the customer shopping experience; and a public outreach campaign to engage young adults.

(Reporting by David Morgan in Washington; Editing by Karey Van Hall, Michele Gershberg, Ross Colvin and Will Dunham)