George Bush the Oil Painter:
More Fun Than Being President

 By Jim Berlin 

George Bush The Younger revealed his newfound passion for oil painting when he presented Jay Leno with a portrait of the comic in November, and next up is an exhibition of his latest works at the presidential library.

Bush started with dogs and cats and has progressed to more sophisticated subjects, but some art critics have predictably called his efforts simplistic and awkward. (Art critics are people who cry “Masterpiece!” over a canvas with nothing more than a single line down the middle. You can take their opinions with a grain of elephant.)

The former president is handling retirement in the manner we all dream about but rarely realize. He left D.C., pulled his Texas ranch over his head and walked into the solitude of an art studio. He is having fun.

Contrast that quiet path with the frantic super-highway driven by Bill Clinton, a man who needs the spotlight like California needs rain. Bill dives into the news daily, weighing in on the world, giving his Secret Service agents fits and fattening the wallets of paparazzi everywhere.

Whether Bush is a good painter or not is purely subjective and of little consequence,

but as a painter myself I can attest to his talent. I have only produced one work over my lifetime, “Boy on a Hay Wagon,” but a neighbor who has COPD said it took his breath away. Others said it took their stomach contents away, but that’s art for you.

Painting is the perfect pursuit for a president or a pauper in retirement. It’s relaxing, inherently colorful, satisfyingly messy – and the quality of the product is right where it belongs: in the eye of the beholder.

Bill Clinton — and maybe even Hillary — should check it out.

Raise the Minimum Wage?
What Would Jesus Do?

 By Jim Berlin 

Some of Jesus’ disciples got all over the rich woman who poured expensive perfume on the Savior’s feet: the perfume could have been sold instead, they preached, and the proceeds distributed to the poor.

Jesus then uttered the hardest and truest of all economic lessons: “The poor will always be with us…”

And they are. When Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964 the poverty rate in America was 19 percent. Today, 50 years and trillions of dollars later (money provided not from perfume sales but taxpayer dollars), the poverty rate is 15 percent.

But President Obama has a plan. In an effort to prevent a Republican takeover of the Senate in November, he has hit the campaign trail with a plea to raises the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.l0 an hour. His reasoning?

“Everyone who works hard should have a chance to get ahead,” he said.

The thing is, the chance to get ahead already exists, and it’s not suddenly receiving a $2.85 an hour raise. It’s taking advantage of opportunities which were in place long before LBJ fired the first shot in the war that will never be won.

You have a chance to get ahead by finishing high school. You have a chance to get ahead by finishing high school and going to college. You have a chance to get ahead by learning a trade or a skill that people will actually pay you good money to perform. You have a chance to get ahead by not having a kid at 17 with no father in sight.

The list goes on and on, and in America, so do the chances.

If you’re not going to believe Jesus, who are you going to believe? Barack Obama?

Florida “Loud Music Shooting”
Gives Real Music a Bad Rap

 By Jim Berlin 

Millions of Americans can relate to the irritation – but not the insane reaction – of the middle-aged Florida man convicted of shooting into a carload of black teens for blasting loud music.

The white shooter, who killed a 17-year-old, described the radio noise as “rap crap” and “thug music.”

My exposure to rap is limited to painful snatches heard while trapped at traffic lights, but my conclusion is that it isn’t music at all. Rap music is the African-American version of what was called “Beat poetry” in the 50s and 60s.

Beat poetry was the coffee house regurgitation of young white men feigning anger at a world they’d barely met, listened to by kids too insecure to admit they didn’t understand the poems. The baffled audience would mumble, “Heavy, man, heavy!” then applaud by rapping their knuckles on the tabletops.

Too cool to clap.

Beat poetry died by attrition. The poets and their fans found that hanging out at coffee houses didn’t pay the bills. They got jobs, married, had kids, and eventually forgot what they were mad about.

Rap music has a longer shelf life because (a) the artists actually make money, (b) it has a loyal fan base of lost boys all too eager to embrace two of rap’s main themes: “Women are ho’s to be impregnated and abandoned, and violence is manly and gratifying.

Like rap, Beat poetry was lousy – but people never died because of it.

Why We Cheer for Team USA
Like Our Lives Are At Stake

By Jim Berlin

I’m only a casual hockey fan but during Saturday’s Olympic OT shootout between Russia and the USA, I suspect my screams at the TV could actually be heard in Sochi.

We’re all involved to some degree, enthusiastically cheering on the red, white and blue even in Olympic sports as foreign to us as Slovakia – curling, skeleton, luge, halfpipe.

What’s got us so worked up?

The answer isn’t as straightforward as: We’re Americans, they aren’t; hip-hip-hooray and grab for the gold. It goes much deeper and further back than that.

The intense emotional bonds that tie us to “our team” are a primitive vestige of harder times in human survival. Safety back then was in numbers and loyalty – our family, our village, our tribe, our territory. The amateur and professional athletes who bear the banner of our school, city, state – our country – aren’t just playing games. They’re battling the barbarians at the gate.

When our team takes to the court or field, at any level of competition, ancient genes in our system from hundreds and thousands of years

 ago start sparking and lighting up, waving swords and battle axes, tightening down their helmets.

This is why men, the principle warriors down through the eons, also make up the bulk of sports fans. They’re still fighting the old wars, still battling the barbarians at the gate. It’s also why the less evolved among us – like the soccer “hooligans” of Europe – resort to actual and sometimes deadly violence against opposing fans.

Go USA? Absolutely. But we have to remind ourselves…it’s no longer life and death.

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