Monday, December 31, 2007

New Painting

New Flower Shop, oil on canvas, 18"x24"
This is based on memories of a flower shop that I saw in Sarajevo in 1996.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Flags of Our Fathers

I was watching the movie "Flags of Our Fathers" earlier tonight. This is the movie that Clint Eastwood made about the American soldiers who raised the second flag on Mount Suribachi, who were then in the famous photograph, and then sent back to the States to help sell war bonds. It's a companion piece to "Letters to Iwo Jima", which told the Japanese side of the story.

Frankly, I was disappointed. I was really looking forward to the movie, too. But it seemed to be too didactic. The characters were more like caricatures and stereotypes. They didn't have much depth and didn't elicit much sympathy from me. And the story seemed to lose a lot in the display of moviemaking techniques. In "Saving Private Ryan", the raw display of violence, explosions, and death were shocking. This time around, they seemed to be expected. "Okay, here's a war scene, so we gotta trot out all the "Saving Private Ryan" stuff or nobody will watch". All the "shocking" scenes were, well, expected. It was as if they said, "Here's a scene of bodybags, you know what you're supposed to feel, go feel it."

I turned it off about halfway through. Bummer. I know Eastwood's heart was in the right place, but the execution of this movie missed the mark.

Which makes me think about my own work, since I'm doing something along the same lines in paint that Eastwood wanted to do with the film. My work, too, punches some of the same buttons. "Here's a picture of a soldier with no legs. You know what you're supposed to feel, go feel it." I worry that my paintings are too obvious, too didactic. But when I see people walk right by one that is more subtle, where they obviously don't get it nor even spend the time to think about it for a moment, then I feel I have to take a sledgehammer to get their attention. "Dammit, this is important! Look at it! Think about it!"

I dunno. I'm going to show Lament, You Don't Understand, and Warrior again soon, and will watch the reactions of viewers to all three. And if you have a comment, let me know. All three can be seen at

Friday, December 28, 2007

Musical Musings

Last week, I wrote about my experiments with my new iPod and old sound systems. Since then I've re-recorded all my CD's at the higher quality setting. And I got a new cartridge for my turntable, replacing the 20-something year old one. Even though I'm not a big audiophile and have an annoying case of tinnitis (a constant, high-pitched tone in my left ear), I can still tell the difference that these changes made. And that's a good thing.

Another Good Thing is the iPod. It still amazes me: here's this hunka metal that's smaller than my billfold, yet it holds and plays my entire CD collection more than three times over. It's easy to use, puts out good sound, and has a nice legible screen to boot. Class act, Apple.

I junked the Apple ear buds, though. They didn't even begin to fit in my ears. I got a set of Koss earbuds and they sound okay. But then I discovered that I just don't care for ear buds or headphones. When I'm using them, the sound seems to be coming from right in the middle of my head. That's fine when all I'm doing is concentrating on the music, but that's rare. Usually, I've got the music running as background while I'm doing other stuff, like driving or painting, and I need to have most of my limited mental abilities focused on my primary task. It's hard to think about driving, for instance, when T-Bone Walker is wailing in the center of my skull. It's not the volume that's distracting, it's the fact that it's in my head, and by definition, whatever's going on inside your head takes precedence over anything going on outside. So I got one of those FM transmitter thingermajigs and now can play my iPod through my iFord door speakers. Much less distracting, much more enjoyable. Sound quality isn't top notch, but ya know, ya can't have everything. Around the house or the studio, it's plugged into my regular stereo system. My earbuds are gathering dust.

I made another discovery this week. I've downloaded two albums, one from iTunes and one from Amazon. It appears that both of them were highly-compressed, low quality versions. The reason, probably, is that the high-quality recordings are about 2.5 times as big, meaning a lotta time spent waiting for the download. But why pay $10 per album when all you get is lower quality and no cover art, lyrics, or anything else? It's the Wal-Mart approach: it's cheap and it's crap. I'm going to stick with CD's. And I discovered something else: you can buy almost any CD you want off Amazon, used, and probably pay less than the download would cost, anyway. (Okay, I can buy almost any CD that I want, simply because I'm an old fart and most of my music was recorded years ago and I'm probably the only guy in the universe still looking for it. "Oh, look, a new Mantovani CD!" My parents liked Mantovani, if that's any indication of how current he is.) Anyway, bottom line is that I'm probably not going to download any more music if it's at all available in CD.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Bad Day

This morning we heard that Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan and current candidate for the post again, was assassinated in Rawalpindi. This is bad, bad news for Pakistan and for the world.

Bhutto was no saint. Her administrations were marred by widespread corruption. It appears that she herself wasn't involved, but her administrators certainly were, from the top down to the local levels. This is what galvanized Musharaf to seize power in his coup. He believed that an imposed dictatorship was better than democratically-elected corruption. And unfortunately, that's about the only choice that the people of Pakistan have. But even though Bhutto was no saint, she was at least trying to make a difference.

This assassination only serves the ends of the Islamic extremists. It is an act typical of their beliefs: kill anyone who disagrees with you, and the more violently, the better. I just can't understand it. There is absolutely no redeeming value in this sort of extreme intolerance. None. It's a cancer to the life of this entire world.

I encountered death today on a more personal level. I stopped in at the veterinarian to pick up some HeartGuard for my dogs and overheard the doctor explaining to a distressed couple that their beloved dog was dying. The dog's kidneys had failed and there was nothing he could do about it except make her as comfortable as possible.

It's one thing to hear about the death of a person you've never met halfway around the world. It's another to hear somebody tell of their pet's passing. And it's still another to actually hear it happen.

Not a good day.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Top Ten" List

I've been a bachelor for the past week while Janis has been in San Diego visiting family and friends. I discovered quite a few things that I enjoy about this situation. So here's my "Top Ten Reasons to Enjoy Being A Temporary Bachelor":

10. All your friends assume your culinary skills are limited to opening the refrigerator door, so they invite you over for home-cooked meals to keep you from starving.
9. You can have wild parties with the pole dancers from Excapades … provided you actually know any pole dancers from Excapades and that they’d even consider talking to you if you weren’t stuffing $10 bills in their G-strings.
8. You don’t have to take out the trash as often – whether that’s because you create less trash or have a higher tolerance for full wastebaskets is a matter of debate.
7. The dogs might give you a bit more room in your bed at night. Then again, they might not.
6. Dr. Phil and Oprah are banished from your TV.
5. You get to drive the good car. Just don’t break it like I did …
4. There are no unmentionables drip-drying in the bathroom … just your bath towel that hasn’t been washed in two weeks.
3. You don’t have to wash the dishes in the sink just because they’ve been there for five days.
2. You can crank up the stereo volume until all the neighborhood dogs are howling.

And the number 1 reason to enjoy being a temporary bachelor:
1. The toilet seat can stay up.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Pictures, Pictures

Indy (left) and Soozee (right) went to the beauty parlor today and bought themselves some beauty!

Christmas in the Kane household, San Diego.

Janis and Jackson playing a mean game of ... well, something.

Rick, Julie, and Jackson.

Christmas is too much fun!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Luddite Joins the New Millenium - Take Two

I was reading the new issue of Rolling Stone magazine last night. There was an interesting article about how music is going low-fi: that the MP3 format doesn't have the detail that CD's have, and that music producers are compressing the music so much that the quality is shoddy. I got to wondering just how good the quality of my ancient turntable, old CD player, and new iPod were. So I ran a test.

I chose one of the few albums that I had in vinyl, CD, and MP3: Led Zeppelin's first. I played "Good Times/Bad Times" and "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" on the turntable. Then I plugged my iPod into the amp and played the same two songs again. The iPod beat the hell out of the turntable: it was much clearer and sharper. The turntable just sounded fuzzy. Well, it's going on thirty years old and I remember replacing the cartridge once ... about two decades ago. Tonight I ordered a new cartridge and will do a re-test when it's installed.

Then I compared the sound of the iPod's ear buds to that from the stereo. No contest: the stereo was much better. My bookshelf speakers aren't high quality, but they put out some pretty good sound. The ear buds sounded overworked and compressed. Which they are: they have one tiny little speaker stuck in your ear that has to do the work of several large speakers that share the load in a regular stereo.

We have a Bose system at home. I played the same two songs on the Bose CD player and again off the iPod plugged into the aux jack. The CD was tops: very clear with a wide range, it could play quiet and loud, high and low, equally well. The iPod, by comparison, sounded clipped, like bits of it were getting cut out.

The Rolling Stone article said that, to get the best sound out of an iPod, you should set your bit sample rate as high as it would go. I dug around in iTunes until I found that mine was set (by default) to the lowest setting. So I reset it, then erased the album and re-recorded it at the higher bit rate. I checked the file sizes afterward and they were twice as big as previously. Then I compared the same two songs. The iPod was much better, almost as good as the CD and I couldn't really tell you what the difference was.

Great. So now I gotta re-record all my CD's onto my iPod. Gee, thanks, Rolling Stone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Portrait Study

Here's a portrait study in oils that I did last week. Titled Jennifer, it's on a linen-covered archival panel, size 20x16.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Jackson and His Grandma

Janis is out in San Diego, visiting Rick, Julie, and the mighty Jackson ... so here she and Jackson were earlier today ... Christmas is for families, isn't it?

Back in Court

I was back in court today, working for WLOS as a courtroom artist. Today three of the four primary defendents were formally read the charges, pled "not guilty", and requested a jury trial. The news teams all thought it would be over pretty quick, a 10-min process for each one. NOT! The first one, Bobby Medford, went for about an hour and a half. The next two were considerably quicker, about 45 min each. Fortunately for me, the judge allowed me and the other artist (for the local newspaper) to sit in the jury box, so we had good views of all the principals. Here are a few of the drawings that made it onto the evening news:

This is Bobby Medford (center), the former Sheriff, along with two of his attorneys.

Johnny Harrison (right), a former police lieutenant ...

"Butch" Davis (right), another former police lieutenant.

I've used pastels in court before, but this time decided to go with watercolor. I'm better with a pen and pencil than I am with pastel, and you gotta have all your pastels out, which is a hassle. So I worked on getting a reasonably good drawing in the courtroom, then went outside and laid on the watercolor.

Oh, and today's outcome? All three remain in jail without bail. The judge said that, since they were police officers when these crimes were committed, he couldn't give them any restriction that they hadn't already violated. So in the slammer they go. The trials will probably occur around the March timeframe.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Courtroom Artist

On Thursday, I got a call from our WLOS, our local ABC TV station, asking me if I could be their courtroom artist that afternoon. I've worked with them before as a courtroom artist and it has always been interesting. This time was no exception.

Bobby Medford, the former Sheriff of Buncombe County (where Asheville is located) was arrested that morning and indicted on multiple counts of extortion, involvement in illegal poker machine gambling, using law enforcement officers to collect protection money, and some other things. This is a really big deal around here - he was just defeated in his re-election bid last year and was a pretty popular sheriff. But he's also got some other investigations against him that are working their way along, such as a lot of missing stuff from the evidence locker. So he's facing a world of trouble.

Thursday afternoon was his first appearance in federal court. He and a number of co-defendents were basically told of the charges against them and then whisked off to jail for the weekend. The reporter and I were in the peanut gallery - she was listening to the proceedings and I was madly sketching away. Unfortunately for me, the judge wouldn't let me sit in the jury box this time and instead ordered me into the fourth row! Bummer. About all I got to see was the back of the defendents' heads. But I got some sketches done and, when the proceedings were over, went outside and sharpened them up with watercolor. They came out fairly reasonably well. Sorry I can't post any images right now as WLOS has the drawings, but I might be able to get some soon.

On Monday morning, we're back in court again. This time they'll do the formal "here's the charges, how do you plead?" "Innocent, your honor." "Fine. Court date is (fill in a date here). Next." He'll probably be there ten minutes.

It's an interesting feeling, being a courtroom artist. One part is the kinda gleeful voyeurism that we all experience watching Judge Judy or whatever. On the professional side, I've gotta draw like a madman to try to get some images that can be used for the upcoming news report, so I can't really listen to what's being said. The subjects are always moving around, people are getting in the way, and I can only see the backs of their heads. And then there's the "vulture" factor: here are all the reporters inside and cameramen outside who are scrambling to get something on the accused and their lawyers that they can use in a report. Get one of the principals in the case out on the street and he/she will have a crowd of cameramen and reporters moving right along with 'em. That part is very comical.

So on Monday, I'll be back in court. And then again sometime next year, I'll probably be there for the actual case. I'll try to post some of the drawings here when I can.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Not long ago, I mentioned that I'd been looking at the drawings of Helen Gotlib. I realized that my own drawings from life had gotten way too stiff and tight and that it was time to loosen up. So in last week's session, I used a pen and just let the whole arm go free. Over the next few days, I hit the drawings with washes of watercolor, scrubbed some of 'em out, and generally beat 'em up. Here are some of the results.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Al Gore

This morning, I got up, stumbled into the kitchen, made myself a cup of coffee, and (bleary-eyed) sat down to see the news on CNN. Instead of the usual commercial for some kind of pharmaceuticals, there was Al Gore. He was just starting his acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize. He was, as usual these days, a moving, passionate, and incredibly intelligent speaker. (Why our country passed him over for a bumbling idiot is still a mystery to me.)

Gore's speech was a call to action. A powerful one. Read the full text here.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Mighty Heart

Last night we watched the movie "A Mighty Heart". I call it a mighty movie. It's about the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl. It's told from the perspective of his wife, Marianne (played by Angelina Jolie) - how things were normal until Daniel didn't come home and wouldn't answer his cell phone ... then the Pakistani police became involved, along with the US embassy, the State Department, hundreds of journalists, and millions of newswatchers.

This is one of the most sensitive portrayals of a crisis I've seen. All the actors, including Angelina Jolie, made their characters real. They weren't perfect, like so many movies make their heroes: they had flaws and weaknesses and strengths and were really just regular people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. In Hollywood, the characters are always making fantastic decisions and complicated plans and racing around in their Hummer and finding the culprits just in time to wrap it up before the next drama starts at the top of the hour. In this film, they did have some advanced skills, but nothing that competent journalists or police officers wouldn't have in real life, and they spent a lot of time having to wait for the phone to ring. Very realistic. Very lifelike. And very well done. And Jolie should get the Oscar just for the scene in which Marianne hears that Daniel is dead.

What was most surprising, for me, was that it's not a vengeful movie at all. Yes, terrible things were done to Daniel Pearl, but the movie doesn't dwell on the evil forces that killed him. Instead it brought a humanity to all the people involved, even the suspects rounded up in the often violent search. Marianne Pearl, who served as a consultant to the film, is Buddhist, and that religion's sensitivities could be felt throughout the story.

A wonderful movie. See it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

New Painting and a Few Links

I just finished this new painting in my "Meditation on War" series. This one is titled "Madonna of the Shell Casings". I see it as a comment on how life continues even in a war zone ... your interpretation may be different and just as valid. The painting is 24"x18" in oil on canvas. You can see the whole series here.
An artist friend of mine, Constance Humphries (who does beautiful abstract work that you can see here) sent me an interesting link this evening. She found a blog entry of somebody who had attended a workshop by Odd Nerdrum. She took some pretty good notes and posted them online. Quite some time ago, I wrote about my poor attempts to copy some Nerdrum paintings in order to learn something of his technique and hopefully improve my own. One of the things I learned from this blog is that Nerdrum uses some really strange colors - mostly off-the-wall earth tones, a fugitive red ("fugitive" to a painter means that it fades quickly), and a white tinted with blue. If you're interested, you can find the blog entry here.
And finally a thought on figure drawing. A while back, I came across the website of an artist named Helen Gotlib. I think her drawings of figures and plants are fabulous. She has a wonderful line quality - very light, almost dancing, searching yet accurate. Her drawings are done in pen and ink on tan watercolor paper, then she hits them with washes of watercolor and ink. The result is very lively; her figures are real living people, and done in a very beautiful manner. Take a look at her web site and I think you'll like what you see.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Slight Correction ... from the White House?

Today the White House press secretary had a correction to Bush's previous announcement that he had been told in August that there was some new information on Iran, but that he wasn't told what it was. Now they're saying he was told that the new information would probably change the intelligence community's assessment on Iran.

The White House says this isn't a big deal. Umm, excuse me, yes it is. Bush has been focused on Iran for a long time now, and he was ostensibly basing this focus on the intel assessments that said they were trying to build, develop, or acquire nuke weapons. (Right. And he invaded Iraq because intel assessments said there were weapons of mass destruction. Gimme a break.) Anyway, in August, Mike McConnell tells Bush that they got some hot new intel that would have a big impact on the community assessment of Iran. Do you really think he just left it at that? No way. There's not a boss in the world that would let an underling give him a teaser like that without demanding to know a bit more. And there's not an intel guy in the world that would do such a thing, particularly to the President. And McConnell is a damn good intel guy.

So Bush knew in August that there was at least a good possibility that Iran had stopped its nuke program in 2003. Yet he went ahead with his bellicosity anyway, including his now-infamous comment about World War III.

Was it stupidity? Or irresponsibility? Or both?

Just business as usual in the White House these days.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bush and Iran

The news channels are all abuzz with the news yesterday of the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) about Iran, and also about Bush's response today. I just read the NIE (you can find it here). As a former intel professional, I understood the nuances of all the "probably" and "with high confidence" and other such terms. I was amazed at what I read for a couple of reasons. One, things like this didn't normally turn up in unclassified forums like the internet. Yes, this is a stripped-down version with all the classified stuff pulled out or hidden, but still, there's a lot of information there. Two, and this is extremely encouraging, this is the straight scoop, unfettered with neocon ideology. Unlike the "intel" that came out of the intel world during the Rumsfeld era, there's no bending the facts to fit the preconceived end. The intelligence world has re-asserted itself and is doing what it's supposed to do: provide its best guesstimate about a particular problem. God, you don't know how good that makes me feel. Admiral McConnell is my hero. He and the rest of the intel wienies have stood up to Bush and told him, and the rest of us, the truth. After seven years, it's a breath of fresh air.

Bush is completely flummoxed. Here he and Dickie have been rattling their sabers as hard as they can, trying to drum up yet another war, and suddenly the rug has been pulled out from under him. And being the dweeb he is, he can't admit it. So there he was today in the press conference, saying that the NIE doesn't really change anything, that Iran is still dangerous and that all options are still on the table. So I'm still scared that he may push the "war" button just because that's what he's wanted to do for years.

Okay, so let's go back to the NIE for a second. What does it say, really? Well, it says that Iran had a program to develop nuclear weapons, but that it halted the program in 2003 because of international exposure and pressure. Iran is still interested in nukes and is still active in some projects that are peripherally associated with them. But they're not actively pursuing the capability. If they reactivated the program and hit full speed tomorrow, they might be able to have a weapon by 2009. But since the program is shut down, the acquisition date is more likely 2013-2015, and that's if they restart the program.

What the NIE doesn't address is why the Iranians shut it all down. Well, it wasn't because of George Bush, that's for sure. In 2003, he was busy invading Iraq. He didn't start threatening Iran until last year, three years after the Iranians closed up the nuke weapon shop. No, it was the Europeans who were the ones patiently pressuring and negotiating with Iran. And their efforts have paid off. Iran is still interested in nukes, but they've backed off developing them, for the time being at least. International pressure, international opinion, and international sanctions really do have an influence on nations that want to play in the international arena. Which Iran does.

A while back, I wrote letters to my senators and congressman about preventing Bush from launching another war. I got a response back from Elizabeth Dole's office, with a nice stamped signature, in which she said that Iran doesn't respond to negotiations and that the only way to stop a nuclear threat was to have military force "available". Well, Libby, you were wrong.

One more thought and I'll stop. Bush said today that he was told in August that there was some new information about Iran and that the intel analysts were looking at it. But he didn't get the full story until last week. Joe Biden (Democratic presidential wannabe and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) was flabbergasted. "Are you telling me a president that's briefed every single morning, who's fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies in the U.S. government said they had abandoned their effort for a nuclear weapon in '03? I refuse to believe that. If that's true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he's one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history."

You go, Joe.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Phamily Photos

Haven't posted many photos lately, so here goes.

We got all dressed up tonight to go to a reception at Bella Vista Art Gallery, which carries some of my etchings and drawings. And whenever you get dressed up, there's a rule that says you gotta take a picture. So here 'tis - Janis, me, and The Girls.

Speaking of The Girls, here's Soozee, who was trying to snooze but I was annoying her with the camera.

And our grandson, Jackson, all boy (can't ya tell from all the blue?)