Let George W. Bush unleash his inner artist

Manitou Messenger - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 2:21pm

What are the first words you think of when you hear the name George W. Bush? Some might go for the categorical terms and say “president” or “Republican.” Others would head straight to political diction and say “tax cuts,” “war on terror” or “controversial election.” But did you ever think people would say “painter” when referring to the forty-third president of the United States?

On Saturday, April 6, George W. Bush decided to show the U.S. that he could paint more than just fluffy puppy dogs. If you don’t know what I am talking about, quickly pull out your phone or computer and Google Image search “George Bush paints dogs.” Get ready to have a good chuckle.

In Dallas, Texas, George W. Bush’s exhibit, entitled “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy,” opened to the public and created quite a stir. The exhibit features portraits of a variety of world leaders. Just to name a few, George W. Bush depicted Vladimir Putin, Mohammed bin Zayed, (the crown prince of Abu Dhabi), Václav Havel (the former president of the Czech Republic), the Dalai Lama himself and his father.

The exhibit features an introductory video explaining a little about why Bush decided to paint – he was inspired by Winston Churchill – and why these particular world leaders made the cut.

Bush says, “I spent a lot of time on personal diplomacy, and I befriended leaders and learned about their families and their likes and dislikes, to the point where I felt comfortable painting them.”

If you think the facial expressions selected for each leader are related to whether or not he worked well with them, you would be correct. For example, Bush and Putin recently quarreled over the size and ferocity of their dogs, with Putin claiming that his is “bigger, stronger and faster” than Bush’s. Bush says comments like that did factor into how he viewed Putin and helped give his portrait very intimidating eyes.

Bush states that painting his father was a very emotional experience. He says, “I watched him very carefully through his presidency. I always admired him as a man. It was a joyful experience to paint him. I painted a gentle soul.” This explains why the son painted a smile on his father’s face.

While the media is enjoying this display of what they call ‘a softer side of Bush,’ others have some more controversial takes on Bush’s new hobby. One Texas man, after seeing the exhibit, said, “Perhaps he should have tried this before he tried politics.” One could call this comment a little harsh when speaking about a former president, and I personally find all the fuss the media is creating over these paintings quite odd. If former President Bush wants to paint world leaders to freshen up the Bush Center and ramp up tourism, I say kudos to him. None of the world leaders are being harmed by the Bush Center having a painting of them on display. If I painted a picture of the Dalai Lama and had a gallery create an exhibit of my art, no one would tell me that I didn’t have the right to display my hobby.

People who think it is inappropriate for Bush to show his art are too connected with Bush as a former president instead of looking at him as Bush the man who has a hobby that he is proud of. To be completely honest, I am not crazy about Bush’s politics. I oppose the six trillion dollar wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but if a sixty-seven-year-old man wants to paint dogs and world leaders for the Bush Center, I say keep calm and carry on.

Jocelyn Sarvady ’15 ( is from Atlanta, Ga. She majors in American studies.

Categories: Colleges

Media’s missing flight fixation skews the news

Manitou Messenger - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 2:20pm

I’m going to be honest: For a newspaper writer, I don’t keep up with news that much. But over the past month, Americans have been enthralled by the search for Malaysian flight MH370, which went missing en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. However, was all this attention merited?

First, an update: According to Al Jazeera, Australian officials encountered two “pings” during a search for the plane off the country’s west coast.  Angus Houston, who is coordinating the Australian search effort, is confident that these electronic signals are from the missing aircraft’s blackbox.

Officials are eager to find the blackbox because it could have recorded the aircraft’s last minutes. This would give many people closure on what happened to the aircraft and could end the search completely.

Now searchers are scrambling to find this box that will give us all the answers before its month-long battery dies and leaves us clueless. It’s dramatic one-liners like this that drive sensationalist news coverage. Don’t get me wrong: This is a tragedy. For the friends and family of the 239 people on board, closure rests on finding that metal casing with flight data and voice recorders inside.

However, the media circus went to town on the few facts that were provided in the initial search. Bill Carter of the New York Times railed on news outlets – specifically CNN – that took the few initial facts and concocted grand schemes, filming their reporters in the cockpits of Boeing 777s narrating what might have happened across sparkly flight simulators.

They have been rewarded for their unending, speculative coverage as well: Ratings have skyrocketed. Depending on whom you ask, the ability to increase ratings by exacerbating high drama either makes you a good journalist or a part of the problem.

This whole story reeks of high drama. The handful of solid facts give plenty of room to extrapolate schemes. Maybe it was terrorism. Maybe a meteor hit the plane. There hasn’t been a plane disappearance since 2009, and it took two years to find that one. Could it take  even longer this time?

There are themes of international crisis and collaboration, the threat of failure, complete and utter mystery and, perhaps most intriguing, systemic technological collapse that would make thousands afraid to get on a plane again.

I am disillusioned with the media but am not dumb enough to think that coverage like this will change anytime soon. Hey, at least a news outlet focused on a story for more than four minutes. With enough spit-shining, this could be written off as a positive move!

The question is: What did we miss by obsessively covering MH370? Well there is the situation in Ukraine, which has erupted into political turmoil over Ukraine’s ties with Russia. Or, even less reported, the violent student protests occurring in Venezuela right now.

More broadly, how do we determine what events deserve coverage at all? The short answer is rooted in how we consume news media. Even if you just click on those links without the intention of actually reading their eye-catching stories, it counts as a victory for the news outlet and promotes the popularity of the topic. As a result, the news sources post more related stories loaded with advertisements so they can earn as much money as possible.

My challenge to you is this: Do not click! The news will still be there, and when it’s resolved, I’m sure you will know. In the meantime, you can just wait for the #blackbox to show up on Twitter.

Michael Enich ’14 ( is from Chicago, Ill. He majors in religion.

Categories: Colleges

Newt Gingrich focuses on the future: PAC speaker presents amid controversy over funding message

Manitou Messenger - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 10:54am

When Newt Gingrich stepped up to the podium in Boe Chapel on Thursday, April 10, the standing-room-only audience greeted him with enthusiastic applause.

“That’s a very warm welcome, and I was not quite sure,” he said.

Gingrich quickly moved on from this opening comment, claiming it was not due to protests occurring outside Boe Chapel, but it was hard not to interpret his statement in light of the on-campus controversy that had preceded his visit. Shortly after the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) announced Gingrich as its spring speaker, “Boycott Newt” posters appeared around campus. Plans also surfaced for an alternate event titled “General Assembly: Money in the Chapel, Students to the Quad.” Event organizers objected to PAC’s collaboration with the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) in bringing Gingrich to campus and to the increasing role that money plays in politics.

“We are paying an organization [YAF] run by a man who has brought about a disparaging twist in campaign finance,” organizers said in an open letter summarizing their position. “We do not all oppose conservatism. We oppose the increasing role of money in political campaigns, and we oppose hypocrisy.”

Organizers also doubted the relevance of Gingrich’s message.

“When Newt Gingrich says things like ‘There is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us,’ as he did in his presidential campaign, it obliterates respect and paves the way for manipulative politics,” event coordinator Brody Halverson ’14 said. “Gingrich may have been politically relevant 15 years ago, but [he] now appears to us as little more than an aging political celebrity, a lobbyist and a pundit.”

PAC coordinator Rachel Palermo ’15 responded to these objections with a reminder that PAC works through agencies for all guest speakers.

“It costs less with an agency like this because they work with him regularly,” she said. “I can’t say specifically how much it cost, because if a school makes public how much they’re paying, then a school nearby can [negotiate for an identical price], but even with the agency’s contribution it still ended up being significantly less than Bob Woodward [2012 PAC fall speaker]. It was comparable to Stephanie Cutter [2013 PAC fall speaker].”

Palermo went on to emphasize the necessity of bringing diverse political opinions to St. Olaf.

“I think the point of college is to hear a wide variety of viewpoints,” she said. “We’re not a school affiliated with the Democratic party. I had more people be upset that people were upset he was coming. Republicans were saying, ‘We feel like our views aren’t as well-accepted here, so why can’t people at least let someone bring in a more conservative speaker without being upset about it?’”

Inside the chapel, Gingrich presented a version of that conservative viewpoint in his talk, titled “The Future of Conservatism.”

“My goal is to move conservatism from the left versus right model that has existed since 1932 to a future-past model,” he said. “I want to build a better future.”

Gingrich invoked examples of the individual creativity that he believes will drive that better future. He glorified the policies of Ronald Reagan that inspired his own 1994 Contract with America document, a list of actions the Republican Party promised to take if it regained a House majority in that year’s Congressional election. He also praised the Wright Brothers for their perseverance and self-reliance.

“They were doing it because they had passion, and they were doing it because they wanted to create a better future,” he said.

Gingrich indicted government bureaucracy and partisan politics as “prison guards of the past” and impediments to the country’s progress. In a progressively more digital and fast-paced world, he said, the government’s inefficiencies become increasingly unacceptable.

“This is not a Republican or a Democrat issue,” he said. “It shouldn’t even be a liberal or conservative issue. It’s a future-past issue. The gap between the convenience of your cell phone and the inconvenience of the government becomes wider every day. I am opposed to reform because I think it’s a total waste of time. I want to replace these systems.”

During the question-and-answer session, Gingrich reiterated many of the positions that have made him such a controversial figure. A long line of students did not hesitate to address tough topics like climate change, reproductive rights and  the role of money in politics.  Gingrich offered direct, often blunt answers, once simply answering “sure” before going on to explain. However, the event remained respectful, and the closing applause gave Gingrich a send-off to match his welcome.

Categories: Colleges

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