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?)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Art Mutterings

I had all kinds of things I was going to write about today, but all of them were political rants and, y'know, I just don't want to spend Thanksgiving bitching about Bush again. So, instead, I'll share some thoughts on art and artists. Much more enjoyable to everybody who cares ... all two of you ...

When I get my new issue of Art in America magazine in the mail each month, I'll go through it and flag pages that show something worth taking a look at. Most are gallery ads, occasionally there might be an article. Actually, their articles are usually blather about installations in Shanghai or the tone of ArtBasel Miami or other such things that have absolutely no connection to me or my work, so I rarely read much. No, in the current issue, I have a total of ten pages flagged, out of 240. Here's what grabbed my attention.

Ben Brown Fine Arts, in London, has an interesting painting by Martin Mull. A quick Google check revealed that he's also the actor/comic who's been on TV and in the movies for several decades. Normally I'd be quick to dismiss anybody who's famous in one field for thinking they can produce quality work in a completely different one. But Martin actually does good work. You can see his "The Pursuit of Happiness" show here. He takes a photorealist's approach to painting: even in the low-quality jpegs, you can almost see the grain of the original photograph, even though it's in oil on linen. But the photos are juxtaposed in startling, disturbing, ironic, and funny ways. Going through the online images made me think of how I can use some of that creative combination in my own work. Yes, I've done it before (like in Pleasantville and the rest of the Bush League series), but mine are about as subtle as a sledge hammer. Mull's have more ambiguity that give you a lot to think about. This show is one I'll go back and spend some time with.

Next up: Kim Jones at Zeno-X Gallery in Belgium. Another Google search showed that he's active in a lot of different types of art, including performance work. This show, though, is 2-D. There are a lot of drawings on paper or photos. This one is Untitled (War Drawing) in acrylic and ink on canvas. The image on the web site is much clearer, and in person I bet I could stand there for ages, soaking it all in. These works are like maps with the insides of buildings and mazes shown. This one has what looks like depictions of firefights, with troops moving around and places getting destroyed. Reminds me of some of the drawings I used to do in about third grade: I'd draw cutaways of multistory underground bunkers with stick figures charging around shooting at each other ... then I'd erase parts of it and move the action on to another area, then erase that part and keep going until the whole bunker was destroyed and everybody was dead. So that's probably why I like this work, too. Actually, it reminds me a bit of Cy Twombly's work. I'd always thought his scribbles were crap until I saw an exhibition in Italy that just knocked me out. This work looks to be on the same level. What can I take out of this for my own paintings? Probably nothing. But I think it's cool, just the same.

A few pages later is an ad for Ann Strassman at Kidder Smith Gallery in Boston. This image of Abe Lincoln caught my eye - it reminds me of Larry Rivers' work. So I looked at the web site, and it was composed of a bunch of oversize portraits of iconic faces (Jack Nicholson, Dick Cheney, George Washington, Muhammed Ali, and so on), most of which are painted on used, flattened cardboard boxes. The boxes still have their labels for whatever was shipped in them (like refrigerators), plus old shipping labels. Strassman has a bravura style of painting: very loose, with slashing paint strokes that give a lot of vitality. But the more I looked, the more the whole thing bothered me. For one thing, her use of famous faces ... Andy Warhol used Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, but he was making a statement about their commodification. Strassman's not doing that. Her use of familiar faces reminds me more of sidewalk portrait artists who post Sly Stallone pictures to show what they can do. And while the collage work underneath the Lincoln portrait was interesting, it wasn't repeated anywhere else. After about the third painting on old cardboard boxes, it seemed like she found herself a gimmick rather than something that added meaning to the works. So to me, the famous faces said nothing, the use of cardboard said nothing, and all I was left with was an impression that she can paint pretty well. All in all, a disappointment.

On page 64, an ad for Leonard Dufresne at OK Harris caught my eye. There were only a few paintings on the website, but they're jewels. He struck me as a cross between Wallace & Gromit and Edward Hopper: suburban scenes with an unaccountable tension, done in a kind of claymation appearance. And they're small: 11"x14" or so, with some studies on the 4x5 inch range. I mean, the image on my screen was bigger than the original painting! The guy must use a magnifying glass and a brush with only one hair. I really like his work. Edward Hopper was one of my big influences, and Dufresne has certainly caught something of Hopper's themes of isolation and sexual tension here. And I think the small size adds a lot: it's like whispering, which makes people lean in and listen.

One more artist and then I'll stop. On page 92, there was an image of a painting by Hassan Musa, a Sudanese artist who now lives in France. It's great to see some brilliant satire get some recognition. Musa took a provocative figure from a Francois Boucher painting (which was really just a soft-core porn image for the French aristocracy in the 18th century) and combined it with the head of Osama bin Laden. The flag image comes from any number of flag paintings (Jasper Johns, for example). And the title comes from a Tom Wesselman painting. I love this work. Often, I'll use an old (or new) master painting as a jumping-off point ... for example, my Pachydermian Portrait of King George II, Pope Karl, and Lord Cheney had its origins in An Equestrian Portrait of King Philip by Velasquez. I find that it often adds a lot of depth to the piece, or a certain twist. Musa did a great job with this one: it's funny, biting, and extremely well done.

Okay, that's enough for now. This is pretty much how I go thru my art magazines and discover new (to me) artists. I just wish I could find more than ten per issue.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Change of Plans?

I've got some big irons in the fire right now. I've applied for several positions with the State Department for one-year tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably think I've lost my marbles ... hell, even if this is your first time here, you probably think I've lost my marbles. But I don't think so.

This wild hair got its start about three weeks ago, when the news was filled with stories about State Department employees nearly rioting over possibly being ordered to posts in Iraq. I didn't have any sympathy with them whatsoever. They're in the frickin' foreign service, for cryin' out loud ... do they think they're going to get stationed in London or Paris all the time? Just like in the military, sometimes you gotta go where they need you, regardless of whether you want to or not. If I was still in the service, I'd be over there, even though invading Iraq is the stupidest blunder this country has ever made.

And when I had that last thought, a light bulb went off over my head. (It's a dim bulb, maybe one for a night light, but a light bulb nonetheless.) I did some quick searches online and found where the State Department has their Iraq job vacancies posted. I found several that I think I qualify for, so they've got my applications now. And there are other organizations that may have possibilities: the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the US Institute of Peace, and the Army Corps of Engineers, to name a few.

I'm not at all interested in the contractors. Yes, they probably pay more, but I don't trust a contractor in Iraq any further than I can throw an IED.

So why am I doing this? Three reasons, really. One is that they need people, I have a skill set that can be put to use, and it's in a position that makes a difference. These jobs are all oriented toward rebuilding Iraq, and I have thought for a long time that this is where our attention needs to be focused. Another reason is that my series of paintings based on Bosnia has pretty much reached a dead end. I've been basing these paintings on experiences and memories from eleven years ago. Going to Iraq would provide a huge reservoir of experiences, especially if I go there with the idea of finding inspirations for future artworks. A third reason is financial: these jobs pay pretty well, and I could pay off my bills and build up my savings again.

It appears now that things are beginning to calm down in Iraq. The Sunni and Shi'a leaders are finally sitting down together and starting to bring the violence under control. I don't believe the American military surge is the reason, although Bush will certainly say so. No, the Iraqis are finally starting to take control of their own country on a very local level. That, to me, is a sign that they've turned a corner and are ready to start rebuilding. And rebuilding Iraq, regardless of your politics, is a "must do". So I'm ready to go.

Life around the home front was pretty interesting when I first talked about this with Janis. At first, she thought it was dumb. Then she liked it. Then she didn't like it again (this after I already had a couple of applications in.) And finally, she's come around to liking it again.

Personnel offices, especially government ones, are the very definition of "black holes". You send something in and it disappears, with no indication of anything. Then you might get a reject notice (already got one of those) or a phone call late one afternoon asking if you can be there first thing in the morning ("umm, I'm 500 miles from there ..."). You'll read about my further misadventures right here.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Catching Up Again

It's been a busy couple of weeks. Every time I sit down at the computer to get caught up, I realize that I gotta write a humongous entry ... which I don't do, so then a few days later, there's even more to write about. So screw it. I'll just start putting in a few things this time and gradually catch up. Or not.

We had our fall Studio Stroll last weekend. Almost all my new work is in the show at Tennessee Tech, so I dug out a buncha older ones. Not that it really made any difference: as usual, my sales were almost nothing. I got used to that a long time ago and just view these events as a form of advertising or community outreach. Things do come out of these Strolls, just not during the weekend - I've had things come through months or even years later. So while it's a bit frustrating to talk to other artists later and hear about the thousands of dollars they made at the event, I know that things will work out for me in a different way sometime later. Usually when I least expect it.

This week I finally got back in the studio and spent some time trying to get started making art again. It had been over three weeks since I'd done anything - no drawing, no painting, just all the other things. Prepped the show for Tennessee Tech, took it out there, hung it, did the gallery presentation, did a bunch of house projects that had been on hold, did the Studio Stroll, did a two-day road trip to DC, and lotsa other nitnoid things. Man, I was rusty. It'll probably be sometime next week before I get back up to speed again.

The pictures of the grandson have slowed down a bit, but here's one from sometime within the past couple of days:

And that'll do for tonight.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


The news this morning from Pakistan is that Musharraf has declared a "state of emergency", meaning martial law. This is very bad news. For years, I've felt that Pakistan was the biggest problem in that part of the world, and we might be seeing it spiral out of control right now.

Pakistan has had a big problem with its leadership. Either the rulers have been fairly corrupt and highly repressive military leaders, like Musharraf, or they've been extremely corrupt elected officials, like Bhutto. The two have alternated in power, and both have left the vast majority of the population frustrated and angry. This has led to the rise of Islamic fanaticism, particularly in the lawless border region with Afghanistan. People are looking for a new type of leader, and since neither of the traditional sides is providing it, they're turning to extremism. Which is extremely dangerous since Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, Nero is fiddling while Rome burns. Bush/Cheney are trying to hype the "Iran" threat. Now, really, guys: Iran is a problem, but they're in a big downward economic spiral, Ahmadinajad is barely tolerated by the mullahs (primarily since he's deflecting attention from them), and they won't have a nuclear capability for years at the earliest. Meanwhile, Pakistan is the petrie dish that created Islamic fascism, they could easily descend into civil war, and THEY ALREADY HAVE THE BOMB! Bin Laden won't ever get a nuke weapon from Iraq or Iran, but he very easily could get one from Pakistan in the near future.

So which one do you think is the real problem?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Solo Exhibit at Tennessee Tech

I just got back from a trip to Cookeville, Tennessee, to hang and open a solo show of my "Meditation on War" paintings at Tennessee Tech. This was a big thrill for me. One reason, of course, is that it's always good to get a solo show of your work, particularly in a primo location like a university. Another reason is that I'm a Tennessee Tech alumnus: I got a mechanical engineering degree from there in 1977. Way back then, I spent a good bit of time in that very gallery and saw pretty much every show. Never thought that one day my own paintings would hang there! I gave a gallery talk on Tuesday afternoon and we had a really good turnout, with a very interested crowd that asked a lot of very good questions. Very enjoyable.
While in Cookeville, I got to see some old friends. Art and Wanda were close friends from our sports car club days and don't seem to have changed a bit - they're a hoot and we laughed our butts off at old and new stories. Then Filomena showed up at the gallery talk. She also doesn't seem to have changed much - maybe a bit of very distinguished gray in her hair, but otherwise the same look, the same voice, the same ol' Fil. Except she came armed with incriminating photos of me from the mid-70's! It was really great to see Art, Wanda, and Fil again after too many years.
Another thing I did there was wander around the town and see what's different. I finally decided that Cookeville hasn't changed much. It's grown, especially around the interstate exits, but once you're away from there, it seemed to be pretty much the same place. And I found that memory is a funny thing. I'd be driving along and would see something and it would trigger a memory of something that happened there. And for those of you who wear glasses, you've probably had the experience of having your glasses a bit wonky, and how that confuses your brain as it tries to sort out conflicting information from your two eyes. Well, the same experience happens when you're looking at something after two or three decades, and what you're seeing doesn't quite match up with what's stored away in your memory banks. There were times when I'd be looking at something and simultaneously seeing the way it was thirty years ago ... maybe pretty much the same, maybe significantly different. An odd sensation, but it was good to see the places again.
As I drove around, I also realized that some of my best experiences from back then were from just driving around. I was always way out in the countryside, exploring back roads and gravel roads. I even had the county road maps, the ones the road crews used to find their way around, so that I could find even the most hidden and remote gravel roads. There's some beautiful country around Cookeville that's very unspoiled, and I loved being out in it. So when I was driving around over the past couple of days, I was a bit surprised at how much came back. At one point I was heading out a road that wound around and over the hills and suddenly knew exactly where it was going and what it would do around the next few bends. Quite a moment.
And roads in that area are wonderful to drive. They have a relaxed rhythm back and forth, with smooth transitions from left to right and back again, over hills and through valleys. You can run along at a pretty good clip without straining or getting bored. You can look at the scenery or "become one with the road", whichever you want. It's rare to find that quality.
So, anyway. My show at Tennesee Tech will be up until November 27. My "Pachydermian Portrait of King George II" will be in a juried show in Knoxville immediately afterward. It'll run from Dec 14 to Jan 11. I'm going to have another solo show of the War series in January. This time it'll be in the Madison County Arts Council's new exhibition space in Marshall. That show will open on January 4.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Word to the Wise

Guys: Never give your wife a big hug and sing "Happy anniversary to yooouuuu ..." when the damn anniversary is still two days away. Never. Trust me on this one.

Monday, October 22, 2007

San Diego Fires

Fires are raging in southern California as I write this, particularly around San Diego. Rick, Julie, and the mighty Jackson (our grandson) have had to evacuate. They're safe for now, but there's no telling if their apartment will still exist when they return. We've been watching the news channels and found live streaming video from one of the San Diego TV stations. Our fingers are crossed and we're all hoping for the best.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cheney and Iran

Dick Cheney is at it again. Yesterday he made the statement "We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon". This is almost word-for-word what he said about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction just two months before the invasion. On Friday, Bush made a statement that allowing Iran to have nuclear knowledge (not even weapons, just the knowledge) would lead to World War 3. It is clear to me that these two have already decided to launch an air attack on Iran's nuclear facilities sometime soon. It'll probably come sometime after the first of the year, since Georgie won't want to mess up the Christmas retail season for his supporters.

I just sent the following to both my Senators and my Congressman:

"The President and Vice President have made statements about Iran over the past few days that are frighteningly close to their statements about Iraq shortly before the invasion. It is clear to us that these two men are hell-bent on yet another military incursion in the Middle East. This despite the facts that their two previous incursions have been failures that are damaging our standing in the world, our influence, our military, and our nation. If you are a true American, YOU MUST STOP THIS MADNESS. Take action now to prevent any military action against Iran."

I urge you to do something similar. Our elected representatives only seem to listen to us when a lot of us say the same thing. And Republicans are particularly bad, especially my two Senators (Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr; both are lapdogs of Bush and Cheney). But they're our employees, so as their bosses, it's our job to tell 'em what to do. And fire 'em if they don't do it!

If this post sounds angry and scared, well, that's because I am angry and scared. These two flaming idiots, Bush and Cheney, are about to launch us on another catastrophe. And nobody seems to be doing much about it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Lives of Others

We just finished watching a very powerful movie. "The Lives of Others" is a German film, with subtitles, set in East Berlin in 1984. The story revolves around a writer, his actress girlfriend, and the Stasi officer assigned to spy on them. Gradually the Stasi officer becomes more aware of the differences between the lives of his subjects, who are relatively free, and his own dreary, gray existence. And more importantly, why their lives are different. It's slow-moving, certainly not an "Ocean's Eleven" action thriller: rather, the glacial pace is a perfect match for the ominous inevitability of the old East German state. "The Lives of Others" is as strong a character study as I've ever seen. Highly recommended for those times when you're ready for a serious, meaty movie.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Review of "Meditation on War"

I have a show of my "Meditation on War" paintings in the Asheville Area Arts Council's Front Gallery right now. Yesterday the new issue of the Mountain XPress hit the streets (it's the local freebie paper with all the Asheville happenings). It has a nice review of the show by Connie Bostic, a local artist/critic who used to own a wonderful cutting-edge gallery in town. You can read the review here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Catching Up Again

Okay, so it's been too long since I wrote anything. Sue me. I've been busy.

I finished up a couple of new paintings within the past week:

Warrior, 0il on canvas, 60"x60"

The Soccer Game, oil on canvas, 18"x24"

Both of these paintings are part of my "Meditation on War" series. I was pushing to get 'em done because my solo show at Tennessee Tech University opens in less than two weeks. I'm really happy with these two, particularly Warrior. This one has been in my head for a long time now. Once Jim agreed to be the model, everything came together very quickly. From the first preliminary drawings to the final signature was a bit over three weeks. For me to do a picture of this size, three weeks is phenomenally quick.

I've got a show of some of the Meditation on War paintings hanging at the Asheville Arts Council right now. I was in there the other day and looked over the guest book. Almost everybody left good comments. One, however, has got me baffled. One of my paintings is titled You Don't Understand. One couple left a comment in the book saying "YOU don't understand!" What the hell does this mean? These paintings are my own experiences ... are they saying I don't understand the things I've been through? I can't figure out if they're loonie lefties or righteous righties. Not that it matters. Everybody else has figured it out.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Unnecessary Excitement

I was out running errands this morning and pulled up to the bank to hit the ATM. While backing into the parking spot on the street, all of a sudden there was this gawd-awful CRUNCH and the right front dropped about a foot. Holy moly, it sounded like I just tore the side off the truck and couldn't imagine what I hit.

As it turned out, I didn't hit anything. There was a drainage culvert there and the grate cover was bent out of shape. When I drove over it, it shifted and collapsed into the hole. After a few phone calls, a DOT road crew responded. They pushed and lifted while I gingerly eased it up outa the hole. No damage to the truck, besides a couple of scrapes on the frame rails and a tweaked plastic air dam.

And we found out that the exact same thing happened to somebody else last Friday. Nobody called the DOT, though, they just replaced the grate and left. Bummer.

Helluva way to get your adrenaline going.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Rush's Latest Insult

Two days ago, Rush insulted millions of living and dead American military personnel. During his radio show, he called any soldier who disagreed with the Iraq mission a "phony soldier". A "real soldier", by contrast, is one who steadfastly agrees with Rush in sending troops to die in a pointless conflict.

Rush, by the way, never served a day in the military. He says he had a medical condition that resulted in a deferment. The condition? He had a pilonidal cyst, which is a clump of ingrown hairs, on his ass. (Don't worry, he had it fixed, so he doesn't have any trouble sitting on it all day).

You can hear Rush's broadcast, and read a full report on it, at the Media Matters web site.

For a much better take on this, go to the Army of Dude blog site. It's written by a "phony soldier" who just got back from fifteen months in Iraq, and he has some very strong and creative words about Rush.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Yes, this is another political rant. If you were looking for more cute pictures of the grandson, sorry, maybe next time!

Blackwater USA has been in the news a lot lately. They're the company that supplies security forces to contractors and embassy people in Iraq. Blackwater guys were involved this past week in a big shootout in Baghdad that killed somewhere between 11 and 20 Iraqi civilians. It has caused a big stink in both Iraq and Washington.

Actually, this has been a landmine waiting to go off for years. Consider: the security force people that Blackwater and other companies recruit are Special Forces, SEALs, and other guys who've been highly trained in special warfare and exotic ways to kill people. They're given lots of weapons and carte blanche authority to use them. And they've been removed from the annoyances of any legal restraints. They can go anywhere, do anything, and nobody can (or will) do anything about it.

Think I'm making this up? Think again. Our military forces (even the Special Forces that Blackwater recruits from) fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If they kill or rape civilians or do something else that normal people like you and me consider a crime, they're prosecuted. The Marines involved in the shootings in Haditha are an example. Even our CIA guys are government agents and fall under government rules of conduct.

But private security firms don't. They aren't on US territory anymore, so they don't come under US laws. And an order by the Coalition Provisional Authority cuts them out of the Iraqi legal system. It says, "Contractors shall be immune from Iraqi legal process with respect to acts performed by them pursuant to the terms and conditions of a Contract or any sub-contract thereto." In other words, as long as they're performing their duties, Iraq can't touch 'em.

And after four years of war, with thousands of private security guys running around the country, not one has had any charges filed against him. For anything. And then consider whether it's reasonable none of these private-contractor Rambos would be so squeaky clean.

So the situation is perfectly designed for abuse. And Blackwater is a particularly egregious company. They have repeatedly stonewalled Congressional inquiries and outright lied when they finally got there. (See CNN reports here and here). Even when some of their people were killed, they covered up details to the families and to investigators (see another report here).

So it's way way way past time for Congress, the Pentagon, and the State Department to rein in these cowboys. The Pentagon and the State Department can do a lot right now if they really want to, just by changing or enforcing some of their own rules. Congress needs to craft a much stronger legal framework with some real teeth.

Private security forces aren't a bad thing in themselves. But give a Rambo a gun and remove any accountability, and you're asking for disaster. Now we've got the disaster, so let's fix it.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Led Zeppelin

Tonight, while channel surfing, I came across "The Song Remains The Same", a film of Led Zeppelin's 1973 concert at Madison Square Garden. I was a big Zeppelin fan back then, and even got to see them in Memphis during their 1975 tour. We had the cheapest seats in the house, back BEHIND the stage, looking down on them. Can't say I remember much of it ... whether it's the fact that it was 32 years ago, or the fact I was pretty stoned, or both ... but I certainly remember being in awe of the sound those guys produced.

Which is what struck me again tonight. Led Zeppelin was brilliantly creative. Their songs were hard-edged and raw. Where most musicians are concerned with the "right" way to play their instruments, Page did all kinds of things to create unique sounds, like playing his guitar with a violin bow. You just don't see that today. Almost all today's groups (that you hear about, anyway) are slickly over-produced with all the jagged edges polished away. So about the best reaction you can hope for is "hey, that's pretty good!". Whereas with Led Zeppelin, my reaction is "oh ... my ... gawd ..."

So why don't we have more Led Zeppelins these days? I think part of it is the times. In the late 60's and early 70's there was a lotta turmoil. There were race riots and mass marches against the Vietnam War. There were hippies and druggies and straights and rednecks and Woodstock, and change going on in every facet of the country. And this was reflected in the music. The music of 1973 was a universe away from the music of 1963. You just don't have that today. There's no sense of large-scale social turmoil, just everybody going about their daily business. And the music of 2007 is really no different than the music of 1997.

Kinda makes me nostalgic for 1973. There was an energy then. But after we pulled out of Vietnam and the anti-war movement ended, people just wanted to party. Led Zeppelin gave way to the Bee Gees. The last time I felt anything remotely resembling the nation's sense of optimism in the 70's was Bill Clinton's first inauguration.

So while there are certainly some great young musicians out there right now (Jonny Lang, for one), I just don't see the creative geniuses to compare with Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Children, Children

Today's theme is (duh) "children". First, here' s the latest on my 5-month-old grandson, Jackson.

Jackson's being raised to be a proper Chargers fan ... even though the Chargers got their butts kicked by the Patriots yesterday.

And here are my own two daughters, Indy and Soozee. I told my life drawing session that we'd have TWO female nude models last Wednesday ... but I don't think they expected these two!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bush's War

Tonight George Bush gave another misguided, misleading speech. He announced a troop withdrawal as if it was a major initiative. In reality, he's simply ending his temporary "surge" three months past the original end date - a date that the Army determined would be the latest to prevent it from becoming broken. And he's still talking about "success", saying "conditions are improving". Is this guy completely cut off from reality? Can he really be that incredibly stupid? He doesn't have a clue what's really going on in Iraq. Honest to God, it's as if he's living on another planet, in a different universe, in a parallel dimension where Alfred E. Neumann is a revered sage. George Bush's performance as President makes Britney Spears' performance at the MTV Music Awards look like a smashing success. (Just try to find complete video of that performance on YouTube: Spears was so embarrassing that the network lawyers made sure that nobody will ever see that performance again. Maybe we should get them to go to work on George Bush.)

For a brilliantly written, short, and insightful view into Iraq, read the op-ed piece from the New York Times' August 19 edition. It was written by seven senior NCO's from the 82nd Airborne who have spent the last 15 months in Iraq. As they were writing it, one of them was shot in the head, but survived and is expected to recover. Today it was announced that two more were killed this morning in a truck accident. So three sharp young men, each of whom had infinitely more experience with what war is really all about than the man who sent them there, are now wounded or dead.

Read their article. Then read Bush's speech. And tell me who really knows what's going on.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Oh, what a busy day (I'm being facetious here). Lotsa playing catch-up on stuff that's been on hold until after the opening of my show. I had to take the Land Rover in for some routine maintenance today. "It'll take about an hour" ... NOT! Two and a half hours later, I'm finally filling out the charge slip. At least the dealer's mechanics are good. They always explain what's going on, what needs to be done, and what can be ignored. They're not cheap, but our Discovery has 128,000 miles on it and still runs and looks like new. Well, almost like new. The sales people have finally given up on trying to sell me a new LR3. "Oh, him again ..." They were always trying to get me to take an LR3 for a test drive. I figure, if I don't drive it, I won't want it. It's a philosophy that has worked so far.

Then it was time to collect the dogs from the studio, visit with fellow artists there, and head home. The dogs were overdue for a bath, so I gave 'em one, then took 'em for a walk to dry 'em off. Come to think of it, I've never posted pictures of my lovely little daughters, have I? Time to fix that. So here they are. The top one is Indie and the bottom one is Soozee. Whaddaya mean, you can't tell 'em apart? Shih Tzu's are the sweetest dogs in the world. Very smart, very loving, and when you have two of 'em, more entertainment than a Playstation.

Okay: bath done, walk done, dinner done. Dogs are napping (for the moment, anyway). Time to finish updating my web site. I changed some things around: got rid of the "giftshop" page since nobody ever used it, put in a section for my Forest Nymph photos, changed the photo of the Arts Council reception so Janis won't get mad at me, and made a lot of other nitnoid fixes. I think it looks pretty good.

One thing I didn't do today is artwork. I've found that if I don't get started on artwork by about 1 pm, then I won't get started on it, period. So I usually try to cram all my "stuff" into one day and then spend as many days as possible in the studio before needing another "stuff" day. So tomorrow is a STUDIO DAY! At least, that's what I'm planning.

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker gave their testimony to the House today. I haven't paid much attention to the reports, but it seems like it was pretty much as expected. The military surge is working to keep violence down in some areas, but the Iraqi government has its collective thumb up its ass. Petraeus says we can have a token withdrawal soon, with the full surge being out by next July. Umm, excuse me, but doesn't that mean the surge would have lasted eighteen months? I believe that's a lot longer than originally advertised. And at the end of that time, we'd still have over 130,000 troops in Iraq, while some troops would be on their fourth or even FIFTH deployment. Unsatisfactory. I stand by my earlier statement: time to start pulling the troops out.

I keep hearing stepped-up noises that the Bush administration wants to go bomb Iran. This was evidently making the rounds on the internet over the past few days, and was even on NPR this afternoon. It would be absolutely the stupidest, most foolhardy, counterproductive, asinine thing that could possibly be done. I can't tell if they're really that dumb or if they're just letting the rumors fly in order to pressure Iran at the negotiating table. Given that Dick Cheney is still on the job, I wouldn't bet on anything. Time to write your congressman: no military action against Iran!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Art Opening

On Friday evening, there was an opening for my solo show at the Asheville area Arts Council's Boardroom Gallery. I have ten paintings from my "Meditation on War" series on exhibit. We had a great turnout: the gallery was crowded almost continually from about 5:30 right up until the staff started flashing the lights to send people out the door around 8:30. This picture was taken about five minutes before the first visitor arrived. I had all kinds of plans to take pictures during the evening, but spent all my time talking to people and didn't think of the camera again until we were cleaning up. So here's my test shot, and if Janis ever finds out it's on this blog, I'm dead meat.

So if you're in the Asheville area between now and the show's closing on October 26, stop by the Arts Council and take a peek. And let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, Rick and Julie have continued to send us more pictures of Jackson. He's the most photogenic kid I've ever seen.

I've been running this blog for a while now, and it seems I'm only interested in three things:
- Political rants
- Photos of the grandson
- An occasional comment about art

I'm not really THAT boring ... well, maybe I am ... guess I'll have to see what else I can write about.

For those of you who have your own blogs: do you find yourself thinking in blogspeak? I find that I get a lot of thinking done when I'm driving or mowing the lawn, and often my thoughts flow as if I'm writing another entry to this tome. Of course, by the time I actually get to sit down at the keyboard, that "flow" is gone. I'll be sitting here drumming my fingers thinking, "Now what the hell was it that I was going to write about?" Which is what I'm doing now.

Time to go do some more yardwork and conjure up some topics!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Hangin' Out with Jackson

"Oh, not much, just hangin' out ... what's new with you?"

Little Jackson is now about 4 1/2 very adventurous months old.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Rats Leaving a Sinking Ship

Friday was Karl Rove's last day on the job. "The Architect's" vision was for a permanent Republican majority in Congress and a solid hold on the Presidency. He pursued it with skill, single-mindedness, and ruthlessness. But now he's gone and, thank God, his vision is in ruins.

Rove's vision was essentially corrupt. It was all about one political party achieving and wielding power. In essence, it was no different than the German Nazis of the 1930's, or the Iraqi Ba'ath Party of the 1980's. Rove wasn't interested in statesmanship, or bringing people together, or achieving the best for the country. No, he wanted American power to be controlled by the few. And to achieve it, he was willing - no, eager - to use any means. "Divide and conquer" was his strategy. Remember statements like "if you're not with us, you're against us" and you'll see the hand of Rove.

Fortunately, Rove wasn't quite as ruthless as the Nazis or the Ba'athists. While the Third Reich was intended to last a thousand years, in reality it lasted a bit over ten. And Rove's "permanent Republican majority" was gone after six.

And now Alberto Gonzalez is stepping down. I didn't think it would happen, but miracles really do occur. As I stated before, Bush can pick some pretty good people when he has to - witness Admiral Mike McConnell as the intelligence director, and Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. So let's see who he comes up with. Pundits are saying that Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff is a strong possibility, but he'd be a disaster. He hasn't done all that great a job at Homeland Security, and moving him over to Justice sends the message that Homeland Security isn't that high on Bush's priority list. Plus, he probably wouldn't make it through the confirmation process.

I'm still reading Al Gore's book "Earth in the Balance". It's scaring the hell out of me. I'm going around now looking at everything - I mean everything - in terms of its impact on the environment. When I see TV ads for new cars, it makes me think about how much energy went into making that car, and how much gas it'll burn, and how much pollution it'll put out. I'm not even halfway thru the book yet and I'm bummed!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Iraq: Where do we go from here?

Eight months ago, when Bush announced his surge, I surprised the hell out of myself by supporting it. The reasons were many and complex – go see my entry of January 14 for a complete rundown. And I gave it less than a 50-50 chance of succeeding. Now the surge is roughly eight months old, and in two weeks General Petraeus is scheduled to brief Congress on its status. I think things are clear enough right now that I don’t need to wait for Petraeus. I know what we must do.

It’s time to start pulling out of Iraq.

And the reasons are pretty simple. Our surge has been successful in bringing down the level of violence in Baghdad. But the Iraqi leaders have failed their country completely, having done nothing to build a working government and quell the violence. The militias (a fancy name for heavily armed street thugs) aren’t anywhere near ready to lay down their arms. Iraq is just another failed state like Somalia, and it’s time to recognize that.

The American soldier has (as usual) done an unbelievable job carrying out impossible orders. Read the blog An Army of Dude for insight into what it’s like on the ground. See the August 18 entry for a discussion about our “allies” against Al Qaeda in Iraq – they’re just working with us until AQI is gone, and then they’ll start killing our soldiers. And see his March 25 entry for a description of what ground combat is really like.

Now read the Time Magazine article titled “An Ambush in Karbala” from July 26, which describes an attack on U.S. forces, aided and abetted by the very police forces that the U.S. forces were there to train.

Today a GAO report was leaked that said the Iraqi government had failed on 13 of 18 benchmarks. The report was leaked in order to prevent the Bush administration from watering it down.

Earlier this month, the New York Times and Washington Post reported that the Pentagon can’t account for over 190,000 AK47’s and automatic pistols that it gave the Iraqi security forces. That’s a bit over 30% of the total given.

The U.S. shipped $23 BILLION in cash to Iraq soon after the war. At least $9 BILLION of that disappeared completely. Anyone want to guess how much of the remaining $14B actually accomplished anything?

Speaking of cash, we're spending $3 BILLION a week on Iraq. Think of what we could buy for that money. Medical insurance for every single person in the USA, for one thing ... legal or illegal.

I could go on, but I won’t. The bottom line is clear: Iraq is a quagmire (to use Dick Cheney’s own term), with an incompetent/corrupt “government”, run by thugs who have no interest in establishing peace. It’s sucking the life out of our country (figuratively) and our soldiers (literally). And there’s no end in sight.

It’s been credibly reported by current and retired American military logistics planners that a complete US withdrawal would take two years, even moving at high speed, simply because we have so many people and so much stuff over there. That’s two more years for the Iraqi government to use our forces as a fig leaf and try to get their act together.

But I think we need to start now. Get our troops, our friends (the translators and others who’ve trusted us), and our equipment out of Iraq. Let the al-Sadr’s and their ilk finish ripping their own country to shreds. Whenever they’re ready for peace, we can help them. But until then, we need to get out and stay out.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

You Must Read This

One of the links on this blog is to another blog entitled "Army of Dude". It's written by a young soldier now in Baquba, Iraq. His writing is always extremely powerful. Right now he's about to finish up a 15-month tour in Iraq, and his latest post eloquently describes the situation on the ground. Forget Wolf Blitzer or Christiane Amanpour or those idiots at Fox: if you want an idea of what life for a soldier in Iraq is like, you must read Army of Dude.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Week In Review

It's been a busy week for just about everybody, it seems. In Washington, more rats are abandoning the sinking Bush ship of state. Both Karl Rove (a.k.a. "The Devil Incarnate") and Tony Snow (the President's press secretary) will leave within a few weeks. Rove's departure is about six years overdue. What a sleazebag: he's done more to foment partizanship and "us vs. them" mentality than anybody since Newt Gingrich. I like John Edwards' epitaph for him. "Goodbye and good riddance." Nuff said.

Regarding Tony Snow, he says he's leaving for financial reasons, that "his money's running out". Umm, excuse me, he makes over $168,000 per year from the government, but I guess that's just lunch money for the Republican power elite.

Now if we could just get rid of Alberto Gonzalez ... but that ain't gonna happen. Gonzo is the only thing standing between the wolves in Congress and Bush's ass. Congress can demand special investigators all they want, but Gonzo's the guy who would have to implement it, and of course he won't. And if Gonzo goes, his replacement would have to be confirmed by Congress, and they won't confirm anybody who would stand in their way. No, Gonzalez can pretty much plan on spending the next 17 months giving unbelievably bad testimony to Congress, while the Justice Department falls apart behind him.

And Dennis Hastert announced his retirement. Everybody forgets that he was Speaker of the House, but that's because he let Tom Delay (nominally just the leader of the Republicans) actually run everything. Goodbye, good riddance.

I got a copy of Al Gore's book "Earth in the Balance". Although I'm just a chapter or so into it right now, he really is an amazingly good writer. And the book is about more than just climate change, it's about the entire picture: overpopulation, economics, conservation, CO2 levels, sea levels, sustainability, politics, the whole thing. How he weaves all these disparate elements together into a compelling narrative is just amazing. And moving.

This week was pretty productive in my own little world. I finished up a corporate commission and also got another painting done in my "Meditation on War" series. Janis and I started talking about selling the Land Rover and getting something a bit easier on gas and maintenance costs. The Land Rover is a great car - solid as a bank vault, reliable, comfortable, and does everything we need it to, and more - but its mileage isn't that good (16.5 mpg ever since we bought it) and the regular maintenance is a expensive ... repairs are even worse. So we're thinking that maybe now would be a good time to trade for something else, while it's running great and everybody is pretty much used to $3/gallon gas.

Time to sign off ... my dog is pestering me to play, and since she is the Princess, I have to obey!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pictures of the Grandson

His daddy's raising him to be a Padres fan ... off to a good start!

I dunno about this "ocean" thing ... it doesn't taste so hot ...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

New Painting

Here's my newest painting, "Riverside Rebuilding", size 18"x24". It's the riverside in Mostar in Bosnia, from my time there in 1996. The river was the front line between the Croat and Muslim sides, so the buildings were heavily damaged during the fighting. These buildings were being repaired and re-opened for business.

"Lost" TV Show

Janis and I just finished watching the first two seasons of "Lost". We got ourselves a Netflix account a while back and gave "Lost" a look to see what the buzz was all about. And we got hooked. The story line is always full of surprises and they almost always have a cliffhanger ending. So it was a lot of fun.

The basic storyline: an airliner gets lost over the Pacific and crashes on an island. A lot of people inexplicably survive in perfect health, but then find out that the island is really weird, and there are other people on the island (they call them the "Others" ... duhhh) who have some sort of unexplained mission in life.

But there are also some very disturbing elements to it that bothered me more and more as the series went on. Primarily, the "heroes" are really violent people. Quite a few of the main characters have committed cold-blooded murder, either in the show's real-time or in the flashbacks. And there are lots of other killings, too. By my count, the heroes have killed at least 14 people by the end of the second season. Some of them are their own people, too. We're supposed to identify with this?

The relationship with the Others is a central theme. We don't know much about them, except that they lie, are prone to using force, and they kidnap people. To my knowledge, though, they haven't killed anybody, although the "heroes" have killed at least six Others at this point. Frankly, I'm starting to have more sympathy for the Others than the main heroes.

It seems like every time there's a hint of trouble, the heroes go for the rifles and pistols and start ordering people around at the point of a gun. "Others", their own people, doesn't matter. "Do this or I'll kill you" is their main message. It all reminds me very much of the Bush Administration: shoot first and don't even bother asking questions afterward. I mean, if you want to know who the "Others" are, why don't you just leave your frickin' guns at home and go talk to them? Do you think you're going to get very far by stuffing an M-16 in their face and screaming at them? Doesn't sound like a very sound approach, either in TV or in Iraq.

I've heard that the show lost a lot of fans in season 3 because of unlikable characters and unbelievable (even by "Lost" standards) plot twists. I'll see it when it comes out on DVD. Meanwhile, I think I'll stick with re-runs of "Whose Line Is It, Anyway".

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Luddite Joins the New Millenium

With any new technology, there are "new adopters". These are the people who stand in line to buy an iPhone the moment it goes on sale. At the other extreme are the "late adopters", who don't buy into a new technology until it's been around a long time. Me, I'm an "antique adopter". I don't buy into a new technology until the old one isn't even available on eBay anymore.

I guess I've always been this way. I'm a guy who had not one but two cars with 8-track players installed. None of those newfangled cassette players for me! And I didn't get a CD player until it was hard to find vinyl LP's. Our very first DVD player is only a couple of years old. If the old technology works okay, why replace it?

One reason I'm this way is I'm a cheap bastard. I don't like having to replicate my music collection every time some geek invents a new way to play it and some marketing genius convinces the world that everybody must have it.

Another reason is that I've seen a lot of hot new technologies fall by the wayside. Remember Betamax? That was Sony's videocassette recorder/player system. It was a lot better than VHS and there was a marketing war between the two formats for a long time. But Betamax was proprietary to Sony and they wouldn't license it and it was expensive. Meanwhile, everybody else started making VHS machines and prices plummeted and the Betamax quietly went away. Me, I'd have bought a Betamax back in the day and then been pissed off when Sony dropped it. Experiences like that have a way of staying with you.

As for large-scale hi-definition liquid-crystal TVs, well, our old 32" tube set works just fine, thank you very much.

Despite all that, I bought my first album from iTunes a few days ago. Yes, it's a current phenomenon, so with my track record I shouldn't have even heard of it yet. But you can't miss the hype anymore. So I tried it out and it worked pretty well. It's a lot cheaper than going to your local overpriced department store, they're always in stock, and you can pick and choose which tunes you want to hear. Pretty cool. No, I don't have an iPod yet, but that'll come this fall. One thing at a time!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The FISA Flap

There's a lot of discussion in Washington these days (and hence in the political pundit world) about FISA and the need to update it. FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, and it governs the collection of counterintelligence information in the U.S. It's one of the sources of Bush's "warrantless wiretap" programs. Who cares? Well, as a former intel guy, I do. So bear with me a bit.

Everybody agrees that FISA is outdated. When it was passed in 1978, it was designed around communications systems and "foreign" organizations that were very different than they are now. Today we have the internet, packet-based communications, GPS, satellite phones, cell phones, calling cards, IM, email, MySpace, and a host of other ways to communicate. In 1978, we were still getting used to push-button phones. Today we have do counterintel operations against foreign governments, known terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, unknown groups that do an attack and then vanish, "sleeper" cells connected to who knows what groups, trans-national organizations that may work with terrorists occasionally, and any permutation of the above that your brain can conceive. Basically, the entire problem is incredibly more difficult. Back then, you pretty much knew who your enemies were and what kind of communications they were likely to use. Now, we need to find out who our enemies are, and they can use (okay, they are using) the same communications systems that all of us are using.

This week I'm hearing a lot of noise about getting a new FISA bill passed before Congress goes out on recess for a month. To me, this is bad news. Any bill that's rushed through is a bad bill. They're rushing it because they don't want people to take a close look at parts of it.

One part that I don't like is that (reportedly) the proposed bill gives the Attorney General more leeway to authorize counterintelligence programs. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have a problem with this as most of our Attorneys General have been forthright, honest, and ethical men. But our current Attorney General is, unfortunately, Alberto Gonzalez, who has proven to be neither forthright, honest, nor ethical. Giving him expanded powers would be like giving automatic weapons to Attila the Hun. Pass this bill now and say goodbye to any protection for our civil liberties by the Justice Department.

Mike McConnell, our National Intelligence Director (and a forthright, honest, and ethical man), is right when he says we need a new FISA and we need it yesterday. But something this important needs to be carefully vetted first.