Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas to ALL in the military

Today is Christmas and I'm fortunate to be home with my own family. But there was a time when I was in the Navy and deployed to somewhere far from home during the holidays. Those days are over, but somebody else has taken my place on the deck watch, or the operations floor, or the thousand and one other places where military people must spend their time to keep our forces ready for anything.

So today I'm sending these Christmas greetings to all those who wear an American military uniform, wherever you may be. Thank you for taking up the challenge to serve this great country.

And have yourself a great Christmas!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Nonsense Spam

We all get spam, but I've noticed that over the past several months, I'm not getting as many offers to enhance my male virility or save money on prescription drugs. (If I'd followed up on even half of them, I'd be better endowed than King Kong and it wouldn't have cost me a nickel!) Instead, nowadays I'm getting nonsense. Real nonsense. This new breed of spam seems to be made up of random sentence generators, with titles like "themselves on the his heart because of pure heart to heal thyself ". Makes it easy to identify and delete, but I'm wondering, who would go to all the trouble of spam that doesn't do anything except clutter mailboxes?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Career Change

A few days ago, I received an email from a post that I subscribe to. The writer spoke of a friend of his named "Bill". "Bill" is a stockbroker, but isn't happy with his life. He see's Robert (the writer) making a lot of money selling his paintings and wants some of that action. "Bill" is thinking of quitting his job, leaving his wife, and going to live on an island for six months and just paint. In other words, he's Paul Gauguin. Robert said his recommendation was to take a leave of absence for six months and see if that's what the guy really wanted to do. The question to us was, what would we say? And, of course, I had something to pitch in. Here's what I said:

"Robert, your advice to "Bill" to take a leave of absence was good. "Bill" is obviously unhappy with his current situation and searching for something better. However, he doesn't have a clue to what it's like in the real art world.

Like many of your readers, I'm on my second career. I was a Navy officer for 22 years. My move into art was carefully planned: I studied with private artists and at Maryland Institute College of Art's continuing ed classes while on active duty. After retiring, I earned a BFA from a university with a very strong fine arts program. I've been an "emerging" artist since graduating three years ago, working my tail off to make paintings, get them in shows, and market like crazy. My studio is still in the red, however, and probably will be for another couple of years. It's a good thing that I have my military retirement and my wife has a good job. Without this support system, I couldn't have made it. Or I wouldn't be painting what I want to paint, which to me is the same thing.

To be monetarily successful in the art world, it seems like you have to be very talented and/or skilled (they're not the same thing), you have to create something that a lot of people want to buy, you have to have a great promotional system, you have to work your tail off, and you need a good bit of luck.

To be personally successful, you need to find a way of working that satisfies your inner demons. To do that, you have to be willing to ask yourself some really hard questions about who you are and what is important to you. And you have to answer them honestly, whatever the real answers are. Even then, you haven't even started the issue of making a living at it.

And regardless of whether you're striving for personal or monetary success, six months ain't gonna do it. That period might give him an idea of what it's like to really focus on something, and he might be able to build up a body of work. But he'll be just barely getting started: being a successful artist requires way, way, WAY more than that.

Before throwing everything away, "Bill" needs to understand what he's really getting into. Otherwise, he may as well try to make a million as the lead singer in a rock and roll band."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Botero and Abu Ghraib

There's an artist named Fernando Botero who's well-known for his paintings of cute chubby people. He's made a very lucrative career of them. His paintings normally have all the emotional depth of a Hallmark card, but sell like crazy.

Botero has now done a series of paintings on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. You can see them on the Marlborough Gallery web site. Frankly, I'm impressed. He takes his signature chubby people, but this time they're not cute: they're tormented, anguished, and in pain. The works address a deep and painful subject. There is a tremendous amount of feeling in these pictures. In stepping out from his normal shtick, Botero has hit a home run.

But Botero hasn't gone far enough. Frankly, none of us have. There have been quite a few artists who have criticized President Bush, the Iraq war, and American excesses at Abu Ghraib. I've been one of them. But in seeing these works, I'm struck by the fact that it's always the United States that's the subject of criticism. Where is the criticism of the Sunni and Shi'ite death squads? Time magazine just had an article on Abu Deraa, a Shi'ite warlord who's responsible for thousands of Iraqi deaths. One of his favorite techniques is to run a power drill into a live victim's head. Where, I ask you, is the art world's criticism of Abu Deraa? Where is the criticism of Putin, who's rolling back all the democratic gains that Russia has made since the collapse of the USSR? Where is the criticism of Hezballah for the war they started with Israel? I'm no fan of Israel, but the widespread condemnation of Israel for the destruction in southern Lebanon ignored the fact that Hezballah did half of it. You can pick almost any conflict around the globe, and artists probably aren't doing anything about it, except to criticize the U.S.

And as much as I can't stand Bush, he's right when he complains about the criticism of America over Abu Ghraib and other atrocities. If we're going to condemn atrocities, we need to condemn them ALL: American, Shi'ite, Sunni, Serb, Sudanese, all of them.

So Botero's work is great, as far as it goes. It just doesn't go far enough.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Red-Hot Art Market?

At least four magazines have published articles recently on the "red-hot art market". Time is the latest; others include Vanity Fair and W Magazine; I forget where I saw the other one. These articles have all talked about the millions of dollars being thrown into art auctions at Christies and Sotheby's. One article had a serious discussion with some art-world bigwigs about how an individual should spend a million or more to build an art collection. There was also a lot of talk about how scouts are trolling art schools to find the latest hot sensation. As a working artist, I have one question:

What "hot" art market?

For most living artists, the art market began a downswing in about 2000, and then collapsed almost entirely over the next couple of years. Good galleries went belly-up left and right. Sales on the art festival circuit plummeted. It appears that the slide has stabilized over the past year or so, but I don't think it has recovered any lost ground yet.

The reason: America's middle class has been under seige for the past six years. Job security is almost nonexistent. Even with the current job growth, people still have fresh memories of business closures, job losses, and pay cuts. Real take-home pay has declined. Consumer confidence is way down. Art is the first thing people cut when times are tight, and the last thing to be restored. And there's no restoration happening yet.

The "market" they're talking about is the tiny tip at the top, where multibillionaires throw money around like it's nothing. It's the same one that the Barrett-Jackson auto auction cater to, where somebody will spend a million bucks on a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda. We saw similar feeding frenzies in the dot com boom of the late 90's and the housing price boom in this decade. So, in other words, the market is being driven by greed, speculation, and the desire to one-up the neighbors. It's not about art at all.

I think the only way to fix this is the same way we fix the rest of America: restore the middle class's security and income. It's the middle class that supports working artists. When people are secure, upwardly mobile, and confident that things will continue that way, they buy art.

Working artists are the canaries in the cultural coal mine. If you really want to know how confident America is, ask a working artist. You can forget about those in the "red hot art market".

Monday, November 13, 2006

Rain Clouds Keep Dumping On My Head

So Friday, I get the mail, and here's a dunning notice from the city of Asheville saying I haven't paid my parking ticket from August yet. This is news to me, as I never saw a parking ticket in August, or any month this year. I try to call, and of course their system's down. On to the next item in the mail, which is a reject notice from an exhibition in New York that I was hoping to get into. Then on the news at 11, there's a comment that two out-of-the-way railroad crossings are going to be closed for several days starting on Sunday. These two crossings happen to be the ones that are critical to traffic in Asheville's River Arts District, and of course THIS is the weekend of the River Arts District Studio Stroll! Oh, yes, this weekend is off to a flying start!

Saturday starts off okay: the weather is nice and we hear that the closing notice is erroneous. Whew, dodged that bullet! On to the studio, and here come the thousands of visitors eager to buy our art. Well, hundreds of them, anyway ... and not at all eager, as it turns out. After all day in the studio, I sold a grand total of one (count 'em, 1) poster for $20. I'd even made a special effort to put away the political stuff and get out the happy pictures. To no avail.

Sunday was a disaster. It was cold and windy. I got down there early to set up the information tent and there were the railroad guys ripping up the crossties out of the intersection, which was now closed for the next several days. So the information that the report was erroneous was itself erroneous. We put up my tent for the information booth and it blew over inside of ten minutes, bending a couple of support braces and rendering it inoperative for the duration. I got the tent workers resettled in another location (next to a coffeeshop, so they were happy), then went out to relocate some of our directional signs to show visitors the convoluted detour route around the damn railroad guys. Ever tried to pound one of those cheap signs into packed roadside gravel? Try eight of 'em.

I finally got back to the studio about two hours after the Stroll officially began. As it turned out, I probably could've gone home instead. Very few visitors and nothing else sold. Not even a poster.

I spent all today framing a bunch of etchings for a show here in town. Went to the building to hang it and found out that the company sponsoring the show is no longer in business. Ergo, no show. Bummo.

Do you remember the "Lil Abner" comic strip? I think that was the strip that had one character who walked around with a raincloud over his head all the time. That's been me since Friday. The wonderful lady who arranged the show asked me this evening if my raincloud was contagious.


What can ya do? Rant in your blog, bitch and moan, then get up in the morning and keep on plugging. What else is there?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Results

Oh, happy day! We got rid of our corrupt Congressman and the Democrats have taken control of the House, with the Senate is still up in the air. President Bush is talking this morning about "bipartisanship" ... a concept he hates even worse than terrorism, since it hasn't been on the radar in over six years.

I think what this all means is that finally we'll have some checks and balances to Bush's imperial agenda. Without enough votes to override a presidential veto, the two sides will either have to compromise or get nothing done. At least Congress won't be a rubber stamp anymore.

The big question will be the '08 elections. The Democrats were successful this time because they weren't Republicans. That won't be enough in two years. Now the Democratic leadership has to do something they've failed to do for years: articulate a forward-looking vision. They don't have a lot of time to do it, either: if it's not clear by next January, it's too late.

But at least the Republican excesses are ended.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Portrait Workshop

Last weekend I went to Raleigh for a portrait painting workshop. Now, if you've looked at my web site, you know that portraits are not something I focus on. But I saw this as an opportunity to learn something from people who do portraits for a living. And it worked out very well.

On Friday night there was a portrait demo by Dawn Whitelaw. She talked her head off while painting and I scribbled 6 pages of notes as fast as my little hand could scribble. (Side note: Talking while painting is hard. Both activities use very different areas of the mind and I, for one, can't switch back and forth very well. She did, though.) I learned quite a few things about color mixing and paint application.

For example, Dawn uses a rather radical palette. Most painters start with two reds, two yellows, two blues, probably a couple of earth colors, a white, and more than likely a few other favorites. Not Dawn. She had one red (napthol), one yellow (cad yellow light), one blue (ultramarine), and titanium white. That was it. And she still managed to come up with an impressive variety of colors on the canvas.

On Saturday, there was a workshop run by Dawn and Ed Jonas. I tried out a number of the things Dawn talked about and got some feedback from both of the instructors. At the end of the day, I walked away with some new skills and a better understanding of my own capabilities and limitations. Not a bad weekend's work!

Now back to the real world. I came down with a bug of some sort on the trip and am still fighting it. Today is election day. This weekend will be our fall Studio Stroll, where all the artists in our area (over 70) open our studios to the public. And next week I have a show of my etchings going up. So I'm trying to get the studio in shape for visitors, get some work ready for presentation in both the Stroll and the show, get rid of the bug, and fight a bad case of the "I don't care's" (probably brought on by the bug). And all the while, there's a really neat painting leaning against the wall in my studio that desperately needs to be finished.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Y’know, even though this blog is titled “Ramblings from a Painter”, I haven’t written much about painting. Over the past few days, I’ve had some interesting conversations about painting with different people. Might be time to share the substance of them here.

A couple of years ago, I was asked, "What do you really want to do?" At the time, I had gotten very concerned with selling my paintings, and was painting pictures with only sales in mind. I wasn't at all happy with myself or the work, and they didn't sell worth a hoot anyway. Then, out of nowhere, came that question. It brought me up short and I thought about it for a long time. I finally realized that I had to tackle the issues most important in my life. All this occurred right after the 2004 elections. I decided to plumb my own feelings about the state of the country, and it led me to much stronger paintings. This year I've added a series on another subject that has affected me personally: war. And lately I'm beginning to see these two series start to merge.

These works (particularly the satirical ones) are often overt and didactic. I felt they had to be. Nothing like a sledgehammer between the eyeballs to get somebody's attention! They've proven to be attention-grabbers wherever they've been shown. But there are a lot of subtle details in them. I want people to get my idea immediately, but also be able to discover new things in them no matter how many times they look.

While sales would be nice, my goal for now is just to get them seen. That's proving to be difficult, since even most non-profits have an eye towards either sales or continued support from their major donors. I approached the local Democratic Party office to see if they'd be interested in using them in campaigns or fundraisers, but when I had to explain that the paintings were satire, I kinda lost all hope! But I'm keeping on with this theme. Don't know where it'll lead, but this is the kind of art I need to make.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Rolling Stone on Congress

For a ripping, no-holds-barred review of Congress for the last six years, take a look at this article in the current issue of Rolling Stone, "Inside the Worst Congress Ever". And check to see if your congressman is on their list of the 10 Worst. Mine isn't, but he is on the list of the "20 Most Corrupt" prepared by the non-partisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

But hopefully that'll change with the election in two weeks!


It's been a while since I posted anything here. So much has been happening that I don't have much time to spend at the computer. Then when I do, there's too much to write about. It's the same way today. So I'll just bite off a small chunk and chew on it a while, and save the rest for later.

Much news about Iraq over the past few days. 60 Minutes had a report on corruption in the new Iraqi government. The Bush administration gave 'em $1.2 billion to buy equipment for the military. They spent $400 million on junk and siphoned $800 million to private bank accounts in Europe and elsewhere. CBS's intrepid reporter found one of the Iraqi officials living high on the hog in Paris. Yeah, that's just the sort of visionary leadership the world needs, huh? And that's YOUR tax dollars at work. We can't fund Katrina repairs, we can't fund schools, we can't fund health care for National Guard members mobilized for duty in Iraq, but Bush has no problem wasting $1.2 BILLION on his Iraq pipedream!

Meanwhile, George has been closeted with senior military officials. They're not using the term "stay the course" anymore ... seems they finally realized that the "dead-enders" who are "on their last legs" (remember those Cheneyisms?) have dragged Iraq into a full-blown civil war. (Okay, so Busy isn't acknowledging what the rest of the world knows, that it's already a full-blown civil war ... that would be bad for politics, what with the mid-term elections only two weeks away). Anyway, now Bush is starting to talk about "benchmarks" and turnover to the Iraqi government.

About time, I say. I've long felt that the two alternatives of the right and left were dead wrong. Bush wanted a blank check (literally) to maintain a policy that was obviously failing. The Democrats wanted a definitive pull-out date. Neither answered the real question, which is how to get Iraq to a stage where it can limp along on its own. Now they're finally getting to the right questions that they should've been debating a year ago, but it's probably too late. The questions have changed now. Iraq has a corrupt and incompetent government, a civil war raging between Shi'ites and Sunnis (and now beween Shi'ite and Shi'ite), no economy to speak of, and a growing influence from Iranian-style fundamentalism.

So George Bush has removed a thug from power and turned a repressed-but-functioning country into a cesspool. Way to go, George!

Sunday, October 01, 2006


In my note on Camp Democracy a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about talking with a guy who claimed that the government was controlling his thoughts through the chips implanted in the fillings in his teeth. Later, I shared this story in an email to a friend who works in one of the federal security agencies. He sent me his own story:

"I know you're not making it up. I've run into a few of those folks along the way as you can well imagine. One time I took a call from one of these guys, a regular who called our office several times a week. I asked him for his name and address. He didn't want to give it to me until I said, "How do I know whose chips to turn off if you won't tell me your name and address?" He thought about it, then told me. I told him we didn't need his devices any more, and I would turn them off as soon as we hung up. We never heard from him again!"

Friday, September 22, 2006

Russian Artist Visitors

We had a group of Russian artists visit our studios today. They were here from Asheville's sister city of Vladikavkaz, on a state-sponsored trip, looking into various ways Asheville's artist community is functioning. I had my political satire paintings up on the walls. Some of it was beyond them, since it addressed internal US politics (contrary to Dick Cheney, most people outside the US don't give a damn about it ... frankly, most people inside the US don't give a damn, either!)

One of my paintings caught their eye, though. Our Commander in Chief (which can be seen on my web site) is a portrait of Bush that makes him look remarkably like Alfred E. Neumann. My artist visitors zeroed in on it. One asked me "Is permissable to make joke of President?" Yes, young lady, it certainly is.

In fact, being able to make fun of our leaders is one of our country's major strengths. And her innocent question drove home, yet again, what a unique position we're in. We may have an idiot for a President, but we are free to speak our minds about him. And even in this day and age, that is not a very common thing.

Boycott Citgo

Over the past couple of days, Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez has been in New York for events at the United Nations. Chavez became a walking event in himself when he began attacking Bush as "the Devil".

While I am no fan of George Bush, I find Chavez to be a first-class jerk. His comments, now and in the past, are not acceptable from any national leader. He can disagree with our nation and our President all he wants, but should keep the discourse at a professional level. His remarks belong in a cheap Venezeuelan bar, not the U.N.

So I say, boycott Citgo. Why? Citgo is owned and operated by the Venezuelan government. It's a source of billions of dollars a year to Chavez. If you want to get his attention, take his money.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Terrorist Treatment Debate

President Bush is at it again. The Senate is debating what kind of legal structure is needed to guide terrorist interrogation. Senators McCain, Warner, and Graham are leading the effort, and Colin Powell and Senator Arlen Spector weighed in on it, too. Frankly, these Republicans are finally showing some backbone. They're insisting that interrogations be done in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions. About time, too. First time in years that I've actually supported a Republican effort in the Senate!

But ol' Bush is seriously pissed off. He's threatening to shut down the interrogation efforts completely if he doesn't get what he wants, and says it'll be on the Senate's heads. Umm, excuse me, George? You're threatening to shut down an ILLEGAL system? Something we should never have been doing in the first place? Something you could get convicted of, if it ever went to the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague? Am I missing something here?

Now let's look at some street cred issues:
Senator McCain: Decorated Navy war vet, former POW, spent years being subjected to torture and illegal interrogation techniques. I'd say he's an expert on it.
Senator John Warner: WW2 Navy vet, Marine officer in the Korean War, former Secretary of the Navy.
Senator Lindsey Graham: A JAG officer in the Air Force Reserves since 1982, including active duty stints during the Gulf War and earlier this year (yes, active duty while still a Senator).
Senator Arlen Specter: Two years in the Air Force in the early 1950's.
Colin Powell: Now, really. Retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as high as you can go in the military, and one of the two guys who made the Gulf War a success.

On the other hand:
President Bush: One step above a draft dodger. Got Daddy to get him a cushy reserve billet that kept him out of Viet Nam, then didn't even show up for work.
Vice-President Cheney: Confirmed draft dodger. Had "other priorities" during Vietnam.
Donald Rumsfeld: Served as a Navy pilot back in the 50's, and as Sec Def once before, so he should know better.

So who ya gonna believe?

You know where my vote is.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Camp Democracy, 9-10 September

Last weekend I was in Washington, DC, as part of Camp Democracy. This was an outgrowth of Cindy Sheehan's Camp Casey, outside Bush's ranch in Texas. This time they were set up on the Mall between the National Gallery of Art and the Air and Space Museum. I thought it would be a good opportunity to show my paintings to thousands of The Faithful, right there within spitting distance of some of the people lampooned in the works.

Well, not quite. Yes, I showed to The Faithful, and yes, my paintings got a great reaction from nearly everybody who saw them. Problem was, there weren't very many people there. Instead of thousands, I'd put the turnout in the low hundreds over two full days. And half of them were just tourists wandering by on their way to this or that museum.

Still, I talked to a bunch of very interesting people and had a good time. Maybe something will come out of this. Maybe not. We'll see.

I took up a bunch of my posters, too, hoping to sell enough to cover my transportation costs. Turns out that selling posters is illegal on the Mall. Why? Good question. The Park Police decided back in the mid-90's to cut down on the number of vendors clogging the Mall. So they outlawed the sale of everything except literature, bumper stickers, and buttons. So I had to take down my sign. HOWEVER (there's always a "however" in DC), the sale of posters was quite legal on the street, which was outside Park Police jurisdiction, and was only about 20 yards away. So selling a poster here was illegal, but right over there was okay! Makes sense, no? No.

I'd contacted a bunch of old friends who live in the area and told them I'd be there, and to come on down and visit. Some of 'em did. Problem was, they all came at the same time! So there I was, trying to visit with all of 'em at once, and still talk to people looking at the art ... didn't work worth a hoot. So they all left, again at the same time, and left me standing there talking to some guy who claimed that the government was controlling his thoughts through the microchips imbedded in his fillings. I'm not making this up. He had colorized X-rays and reams of stuff downloaded from the internet to prove his case. Why do these people always find ME?

So, all in all, it wasn't the most productive trip I've ever taken. Would I do it again? Well, knowing what I now know, no. But I've had another "learning experience" and will have a better idea what to look for. I still think that political events such as this are good venues to show my paintings. I just want bigger ones!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Follow-up ...

Our friend Mary Carol passed away yesterday from cancer. We miss her tremendously already. Godspeed, Mary Carol.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The News ...

I learned today that a very dear friend is in the late stages of cancer.

All the world (or at least, all the TV stations) are mourning the Crocodile Hunter, who was just killed by a stingray's barb. I don't care. He's just another face on the tube. He wasn't real to me, not like MC is. She's somebody that we've talked with, laughed with, pulled pranks on, sat together over dinner, sent emails back and forth, hugged, commisserated with, got annoyed at (just occasionally), and loved. She's a dynamo. She's got more determination than any ten people put together. And she's needed it to pull through some of the situations she's been in. But now, cancer is taking her down.

As I tried to digest this bit of news, I took the dogs for their evening walk. I was depressed. The dogs weren't, of course. They're two little Shih Tzu's, the sweetest creatures on earth, and they were just thrilled to be checking out their territory. The church yard is their Running Field, and boy, did they. Pretty soon, I was running, too, so they could chase me. Big puppy smiles on little puppy faces, running full tilt through the grass.

I felt much better on the walk home. The dogs just trotted along, happy to be outside. I was happy to have shared their joy for a while.

We're all here for just a short while, and most of us have no control over when we leave. But in the meantime, we can run with the dogs through the wet grass.

Friday, September 01, 2006

DC Bound!

I found out this evening that I'll be going to Washington, DC, next weekend. I'm going to take my "Bush League" series of political satire paintings up so they can be displayed on the Mall in the Camp Democracy events that will be going on for most of this month. My paintings and I will only be there for the weekend, though.

I'm really excited about this. All painters want people to see their work, and I'm no exception. These paintings have been very well received by most viewers, even Republicans. (Although there was that one guy who got very irate at me, saying that George Bush was his HERO ... I didn't quite know how to answer that, since I'd never heard anybody willing to admit to such a ridiculous idea ... I mean, it's like saying "Alfred E. Neumann for President" and meaning it!).

Hmm. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Anyway, it'll be great to get these paintings out in front of The Faithful, especially when they're in DC, and several of the paintings refer to people who might even be within eyesight.

I get asked a lot of times whether I plan to sell the paintings at something like this. Frankly, I'd probably drop dead of a heart attack if anybody actually wanted to buy one ... although my hand would probably reach out from the grave and take his/her check. I'm really making these paintings because, well, I need to. I can't be happy with making pretty landscapes or still lifes. I have to do something that has some meat to it. Actually, it seems that making art is an extension of my Navy career: in the Navy, I could do my own small part in Big Things; in art, I seem to be doing the same thing. Only now I don't have to toe the party line. And if I want to piss off some bozo whose hero is George Bush, so be it!

Monday, August 28, 2006

My Own Anthology

I just published an anthology of my own work. No, it's not a huge volume. And no, I didn't have a big-name publishing house begging me to take a huge advance. If you look to your right, just below the picture, you'll see a link that says "Articles and Other Writings". Click on that and it'll take you there.

At the moment there are three things on that page. One is a collection of commentaries that Janis and I sent to friends and family during our four-month European trip in 1999. These are accounts of our adventures (and misadventures) as we meandered around the continent. Another item is an article that I wrote about "information warfare". It was published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press in February, 1996. Rather heavy reading, but interesting if you're into military stuff. And the last item is an article I wrote for a car club about my experiences doing a major maintenance procedure on my own car, and living to tell the tale.

And the other two links on this page? One will take you to my professional website, the "Studio of Skip Rohde". The other will take you to the River District Artists website, which is a group of artists in Asheville, NC, of which I'm a part.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


The other day I was driving down the road when I started hearing a "ka-ching, clink, rattle rattle". After a few minutes looking around, I discovered the source of the noise. All the change in my pants pocket was rolling out, coin by errant coin, and straight down into the slot where the seat belt comes up through the seat. My natural reactions as a tightwad kicked in and I was all over two lanes of traffic, trying to stave off coin bankruptcy. Later I was able to dig some of it out, but a goodly number of the coins made their successful escape. I figure that if I ever have the seats re-covered, I won't have to write a check. I'll just tell the guy he can keep whatever he finds down there. Probably a fortune!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Thoughts on the American car industry ...

I heard some talking heads today discussing Ford and GM's financial troubles. Both manufacturers are hemorrhaging money, and both are blaming their troubles on what they call "legacy" costs, meaning pensions and health care for their unionized workers and retirees. They say these add something like $2400 to the costs of their cars as compared to those from, say, Honda or Toyota. And it's these costs, they say, that are killing them.

I say that's bunk. The only thing killing Ford and GM are Ford and GM's top brass. These are the brilliant leaders who bet the farm on big trucks and SUV's, even long after anybody with an ounce of foresight could see that gas prices were going to go way up again. (Actually, they're still betting on big trucks and SUV's). And not only that, but they do very little to improve the design and construction quality of any of their vehicles.

By contrast, look at Honda and Toyota, which are making money hand over fist. These guys decided several decades ago that they were going to build top-quality cars for the average family. Their cars are completely redesigned every four or five years. Not just new styling tweaks, I mean they redesign the chassis and everything in it. So the engineering in your new Camry is, at most, five or six years old. And they do this with every car in the lineup. Then they build it in a factory (often in the U.S.) where every worker is focused on making a quality product.

Ford, by contrast, has been building the same Crown Victoria for FIFTEEN YEARS. And it wasn't exactly cutting edge even when first introduced. The Taurus had two chassis designs in over twenty years production. The last version of the Mustang was originally designed when Jimmy Carter was President. GM isn't any better, except with a few cars like the Corvette and the new Cadillac lineup (which proves these guys can do some good stuff if they put their minds to it).

The military uses the phrase "getting inside the enemy's decision loop", meaning that if you can gather information, make decisions, and react faster than your opponent, then you'll win. By this standard, Honda and Toyota are reacting about twice as fast as Ford and GM. They're making money. Ford and GM aren't. And it has nothing to do with the cost of retiree benefits.

Note to Bill Ford: Try doing something radical, like designing more cars that people want to buy, instead of trucks.

I say all this as a long-time Ford owner who wants to see these companies succeed. We have enough trouble with American manufacturing moving overseas. We don't need to have the American motor industry go down the tubes, too. Particularly when the guys currently driving the industry into bankruptcy will still make millions in salaries and bonuses, while the average working Joe will lose everything.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

First Post ...

I'm starting this blog because I'm an opinionated old fart and feel a need to inflict these opinions on the rest of the world. Here you'll read comments on art (my profession), politics (my usual subject matter), world news, sports, and who knows what else. Some might be interesting, some not, we'll see. In the meantime, this note will at least get things started.