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Caricature-defying quotes: Rachel Maddow

“Giant incredible rocket ships have a way of rendering politics meaningless, just as close proximity to scientific glory is a really good cure for cynicism, world weariness or being jaded about what human beings can accomplish.” — Rachel Maddow

(One of our theories here at The Village Square is that if we actually knew each other beyond the cut and paste quotes that uber-partisans regularly feed us, we’d like each other a little more. So please help me keep an eye out for people who’ve been — well, uh… divided — by the gaping partisan divide doing something intensely, decently human that you can’t help but kind of like…)

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I AM – The Film

Late last night a friend sent me info on a podcast she liked. In investigating, I stumbled on a link about a high school friend’s movie I AM. The director, Tom Shadyac (of Ace Ventura, Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, Patch Adams, Dragonfly fame), just did a special screening of his film at my high school but since it’s outside of D.C. and I had Village Square goings-on, I had to take a pass. The link brought me to a trailer that I hadn’t seen yet and really liked (below). The trailer (stick with me folks, these details make a point eventually) made me realize that I really should put it up on our website – kindred rock-up-hill-pusher that Tom clearly is – so I “liked” I AM on Facebook to be able to direct people there. On the I AM Facebook page, I saw a comment that said that Tom would be on Oprah TODAY. Sure enough, I checked in with Oprah and it’s true. Read all »

Restoring Sanity Rally Signage

One of the pre-made signs Jon Stewart is suggesting for his “Restoring Sanity” rally…

We need far more candidates like this one locally…

Chris Timmons: A little rock n roll for your Sunday morning

David Kirby is probably immunized against what must be a common appellation for him: “brilliant.”

An award-winning poet and FSU professor, Kirby has written a homage to Little Richard, popular music as serious art, and a taut celebration of youth culture.

His book “Little Richard: The Birth of Rock n Roll” excels in giving us an exact and delightful portrait of the most significant musical pioneer of the last 60 years.

It is kind of sad, though, that Kirby would have to make the case for Little Richard’s brand of artistic greatness. That’s the fault of rock critics. At first, I got the impression that Little Richard was being used as a proxy for theorizing in the academic mode.

There’s some of that in here, but Kirby retains the sincere, nostalgic infatuation of a teenage boy getting his first taste of youthful revolt.

About that theorizing: It can be seen as a high IQ professor slumming, but Kirby is a genuine appreciator of pop culture and he’s made a nice case for its importance. A lot of it, he says, is non-sense.

The non-sense of pop life didn’t begin with “Tutti Fruit-ti” but it refined it by adding black rhythm, therefore, it is a case of profound injustice that Little Richard has been ignored as a pioneer of rock history, while Fats Domino and others says Kirby, have not.

Art, says Kirby, is largely accidental. And Little Richard’s ability to give young suede shoe teens joy was a product of an accidental moment.

That moment in a recording studio, where Little Richard blushing in embarrassment at the nature of the original lyrics —a “paean to anal intercourse” —stood singing against a wall to avoid the sight of a young lady writer —would change music history by creating a chasm between adult culture and youth culture.

This is especially significant because pop music up until this time was a universally shared pleasure. Mostly, it was the polished stuff of Tin Pan Alley —Cole Porter, the Gershwin boys, Harold Arlen —with singers like Frank Sinatra crooning the swank lyrics.

It had a youthful theme: romantic loss, love, etc but with an adult gleam and sophistication. Little Richard bulldozed that and paved the way for a good deal of the musical act we have now, Lady Gaga, for example.

Although, I admit, jazz was reaching the high point of its artistic achievement in the stuff of Miles Davis, it by then was a minor art-form, mostly ignored among the wider listening public.

What makes Kirby’s appreciation significant is its celebration of the youth culture that Little Richard’s music wrought. The 1950s, as cultural watchers like to say, was the real ferment of culture-upsetting ideas.

What it allowed some Boomers to do is cherish an idea of youthful impetuosity that is self-involved and self-defeating. Greater minds have said better things about its assaults on cultural life than I can muster here. However, I’d like make the point that this is one of the regrettable legacies of Little Richard.

You take his wonderful, interesting exploitation of vaudeville, the black church, and see its seamless integration into his personality: His pancake make-up, gaudy wardrobe, very gay, Wildean personality. And say, Wow! Like Louis Armstrong, he could make you smile.

Kirby makes a claim that I’m not sure I can agree with: Little Richard was the first cross-cultural black entertainer. By being one of the first black performers to strut his musical stuff in front of fully integrated crowds, Little Richard is a little noticed hero of race relations.

I think that designation really goes to Louis Armstrong. Through his countless tours, jazz sets and albums, but especially his TV appearances he was one of the first, really cool black musicians to become accepted by a white audience.

Sometime ago, I was showing a friend of mine an original recording of Ella Fitzgerald doing her famous rendition of “Mack the Knife” in Switzerland. He’d noticed the no-frills accompaniment, assured and dazzling singing, but the lack of a performance concept.

That’s another thing Little Richard did for music: He made it into a performance art. Armstrong had his performing repertory of hokum, but Little Richard seems to have elaborated and perfected it.

His overwhelming legacy, before Beatlemania, was ushering in youth culture and making it possible for a list of pop acts— Madonna, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga — to use considerably less talent, personal novelty and various hi jinks to vulgarize and propel the adolescent swing of pop life.

Kirby makes the case that Little Richard was an original and exciting pop artist in a vivid prose, but he also left a cultural dearth. Still, the music was, readily conceding my tender young ears, “A-wop-bop-a-loo-lop-a-lop-bam-boom.

Chris Timmons shares his insights and conservative sensibilities in a featured blog for The Village Square (and occasionally does a little bit of rock n roll).

(Photo credit.)

Breaking news: The Village Square’s “We the People” awarded Knight Foundation grant through the Community Foundation of North Florida as one of 24 innovative ideas nationwide

Our project:

Recipient: The Community Foundation of North Florida

Project: We the People

Award: $72,000

In an effort to revitalize the dialogue among the city’s diverse residents, this grant will help launch “The Village Square: We the People,” a 21st century virtual and real world public square. The project will offer unique town hall forums in addition to constructive online engagement and a community problem-solving Wiki. Organizers aim to renew Tallahassee’s marketplace of ideas where good solutions rise from an informed citizenship, and where abundant information can be channeled into constructive results.

The entire Knight Foundation Press Release:


Knight Foundation Spurs New Round of Local News and Information Projects Nationwide

Knight Community Information Challenge Winners Are Part of a Growing Number of Local Foundations Seeking to Meet Local Information Needs

MIAMI (Jan. 13, 2010) – Twenty-four innovative ideas that will help meet America’s information needs have received $4.3 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The projects – submitted by community and place-based foundations nationwide in a Knight Foundation contest – include:

Examining the Chicago area’s changing media landscape – and funding journalism innovators to fill the information voids; 
Creating information campaigns to spread the word about pressing issues, including how to end gun violence in New York City, and improve early childhood education in Boulder, Colorado, and Funding journalists and online news sites in Wyoming, Arkansas, Connecticut, New Jersey and Florida to produce news in the public interest. 

The projects represent the second-year winners of the Knight Community Information Challenge, a five-year, $24 million contest that helps community and place-based foundations find creative ways to use new media and technology to keep residents informed and engaged.

“Information is as important to a thriving democracy as clean air, jobs and schools. As leaders, local foundations are taking the initiative to meet those information needs,” said Trabian Shorters, Knight Foundation’s vice president for communities, who leads the challenge. “These projects help ensure that everyone has the information necessary to make decisions about their governments and their lives.”

Among the winners – a full list is below – are foundations rural and urban, large and small. For the first time, several foundations joined together this year to create regional projects for greater impact.

All are part of a growing movement to help fund local news and information projects and ensure that residents are informed and engaged. In fact, J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism, recently found that more than 207 foundations have funded $135.86 million in grants to 128 projects since 2005.

The Chicago Community Trust, one of the nation’s oldest community foundations, is now a two-time winner. With its grant, the trust will expand its Community News Matters program, which fosters new ways of informing the Chicago region through grants to local media innovators. In addition, the trust will conduct a study examining strengths and weaknesses of the area’s information infrastructure and convene a conference on the topic.

“The Trust, like other community foundations, is acutely aware of the changing media landscape in our communities. We recognize that access to information is essential for the quality of life and democracy of those we serve,” said Terry Mazany, the Trust’s president and CEO. “We applaud Knight Foundation for motivating community foundations across the nation to become real laboratories invested in the development of the future of community news and information.”

The challenge complements the sweeping recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, a joint project of the Aspen Institute and Knight Foundation.  In its report issued in October, the Commission asserts that democracy in America is threatened by the lack of equal access to quality information. In addition to 15 urgent recommendations, the report provides a checklist that communities can use to determine which information needs are being met, and which need attention. The report is available at www.knightcomm.org.

Both the Knight Commission and the Knight Community Information Challenge are part of Knight Foundation’s Media Innovation Initiative, a $100 million plus effort to meet America’s information needs. More at www.knightfoundation.org/mii

Knight Foundation will again accept applications for the Knight Community Information Challenge beginning in early February. For more information on the challenge, visit www.informationneeds.org

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote community engagement and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

Babies: Diversity rocks

New movie this spring. Worth watching the trailer.

Ron Sachs Communications: Santa, Whipping Boy of Pundits and Politicians

santa ron sachs

HERE‘s a clever Village Square-ish sort of newsletter from Ron Sachs Communications.

Annie Little: Fly Me Away

Amazon Kindle Commercial featuring the song “Fly Me Away”

Annie Little | MySpace Video

The Scene Last Night at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

halloween white house

Help us try out an option for live audience polling..

We’re thinking about making live audience polling available at some of our Village Square events. It will help us understand where the audience is on our topic and get us feedback as the event proceeds. Here’s one option we’re considering. Help us try it out by taking the poll, by simply clicking online, or by tweeting (@poll then 38821 for “no”, 38808 for “yes” and 38528 for “maybe” or texting your response (text the code you select to 99503).

If you do this at your wedding, invite me.

According to Luke: 2012 and 1912, what a difference 100 years can make. Or not.

Wilson inauguration

Photo shows President William Howard Taft riding in carriage with Woodrow Wilson, on the way to Wilson’s inauguration at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

I know we’ve just elected a new president, and with the current state of the union it seems silly to even be thinking about this, but with the recent resignation of Sarah Palin, I started thinking about the 2012 election.

The 2012 election will be the 100th anniversary of the election of 1912, an election that some say changed America. This was the election that Theodore Roosevelt broke from the Republican Party (who nominated Taft) to start his Bull Moose Party and run for a third term. The Democrats nominated Woodrow Wilson instead of William Jennings Bryan who was the party’s candidate three times prior, and the Socialist Party ran Eugene Debs for the third time. Obviously as we all know Wilson was the victor, and helped, along with Roosevelt to usher in the modern presidency and continue the progressive reform of the early 20th century.

How fascinating this must have been at the time; but far-fetched 100 years later right? Current polls show Barack Obama’s initial popularity is wearing off, and if the economy doesn’t turn around pretty quick he might be looking at larger group of competitors for the nomination. I don’t think liberals are stupid enough to nominate someone over a sitting President, but our recent political history is full of surprises. Of course the Dennis Kucinich’s of the world wouldn’t have a chance but maybe an Al Gore, or even Hillary Clinton; perhaps Howard Dean will resurrect from the dead YEAARRRGGGHHH!!!

On the other side, the Republicans find themselves void of leadership. The candidate that emerges from the field in 2012 could say a lot about the future of the party, whether it is indeed becoming a regional party, or if it will regain its national dominance. Enter Sarah Palin. While her approval ratings aren’t high enough for a successful run right now, she does have that “It” factor. She is definitely well liked among conservatives and will not have as much trouble rallying the base as John McCain.

Maybe Ron Paul will mobilize a more formidable third party opposition with his popularity? Or perhaps someone like Joe Lieberman could mobilize from the middle?

Roosevelt, Taft, Debs, and Wilson meet Obama, Gore, Palin and Paul. What an election that would be. It’s the stuff that makes graduate students in political science squeal with joy. Of course it is a long shot. But 100 years ago nobody expected it either.

–Luke Inhen