Friday, December 22, 2006
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
I call this Toro Park, because it's a view of some hills not far from there, and I can't really think of any other title. We've had our first good rain or two, and now the golden hills are greening just a bit, especially in the low spots. When I walk I see little shoots of green grass poking up between the tawny stalks of summer straw. I don't know why, but something about the sight of those tender growths and their brilliant, vulnerable new greeness always makes me happy.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
A lot of work transpired to get this painting from where it was last night (see below) to this finished product. I wonder if any of it shows? This has been an interesting and exciting project for me; I used much bolder colors and some different brush techniques. Trying just one new thing at a time can be challenging, but throwing a couple variations into the equation made finishing this painting a bit more stressful than most.
Friday, November 24, 2006
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
And that's about all I have to say about that. The above painting isn't quite finished yet, but I figured I'd post it anyway, as a tribute to tenacity. On several occasions over the last 3 nights I've been strongly tempted to throw it away and start over, but a certain bull-headedness and stinginess kept me plugging away for the sake of practice, if nothing else. Now though, some of the things I most disliked have leant themselves, in my efforts to correct them, to taking the painting in directions I would not otherwise have considered, and I'm beginning to like it quite a bit.
Monday, November 20, 2006
And so it's been with this painting of an F-18 over Iraq. You can see from my archives that I began it quite some time ago, and had to put it aside for a while. This weekend I finally got back at it though, and now you can see the result.
By the way, this has been a great couple days for selling paintings. "Fort Ord," which is one of my larger landscapes, sold on Friday - the original as well as a full-size print. I also heard from a serious potential buyer of another largish landscape (I hope I don't jinx the sale by mentioning it.) and talked to two people who are considering commissioning me to paint for them.
To rectify the situation, I propose that we immediately instate not only a draft, but a selective one at that.
Effective immediately, I would press into service members of those under-represented classes, and force out many of those currently serving.
If put into action, my plan would remove liars, cheats, thieves, and whoremongers from Congress and replace them with Midwestern farmers, New Jersey mechanics, Texas ranchers, and various small businessmen from all the other states.
I know it will cause a strain on the under-represented honest classes, and I know they will resist. A certain number might even flee to Canada to avoid serving their terms. In the long run though, I believe the country will see that this is in everyone's best interest.
Please write your elected representatives and tell them to institute the draft.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Milton Friedman was blessed not only with brilliance, but also with the ability to convey his understanding to others. Other winners of the Nobel prize for economics have clearly been geniuses. John Nash, about whom the film A Beautiful Mind was made, is a prime example. What Nash lacked though, was the ability to explain himself to all but those few who came close to his level of understanding. (That may be why decades passed between the completion of Nash's work and its being awarded the prize.) Friedman though, was different. He made the complex simple, and in so doing, changed my life.
I was the last person to expect that economics would engage my interest, let alone capture my imagination. In fact, had I not been forced to read the book Friedman wrote with his wife Rose, I probably would never have given it a second thought. I'm not very good at math, after all, and besides - it's economics, right?
As I said though, I was forced to read Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman, and I've never been the same since. That magnificent little book not only explains, but also makes interesting, the virtue of a free market economy, and answers all the questions about why mankind, in all its wisdom, hasn't been able to come up with anything better.
As Friedman explained in Free to Choose and Capitalism and Freedom free markets harness human nature - the desire to prosper, and provide for one's family - in order to meet the countless needs of millions of consumers. Other systems try to meet those same needs through various programs of government direction and control, without appealing to man's desire to improve his station. Because they must strain against human nature to accomplish their goals, these other, more "altruistic" systems, must coerce people to participate in their contrived markets. This coercion ultimately becomes and end in itself.
Friedman freely admitted the limitations of the free market, but he proved that the only thing less efficient and less fair is everything else.
Rest in peace, Dr. Friedman. And thanks.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Sort of between Monterey and Salinas is a tiny town called Spreckles, California. It's sandwiched between lettuce fields in the east, and high rolling hills in the west. A two-lane highway runs along the base of the hills, sheltered from the wind by a long line of Eucalyptus trees.
Monday, November 13, 2006
By the way, tomorrow morning (That's Tuesday, the 14th.) I'll be on KUSP, 88.9 FM, Santa Cruz's National Public Radio station talking about the book Operation Homecoming. If you're in the Bay area, see if you can tune in around 10:00.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
The American Airpower Heritage Museum, a part of the Commemorative Air Force, opened a display of some of my paintings while I was there, and on Veteran's Day, of all days, I was privileged to be the final speaker of this year's seminar series. I talked about why we should be proud of the young Americans fighting for us in Iraq, and about the great and necessary things they are accomplishing there.
I got to climb into the cockpit of a Me-109, as well as that of the sole remaining airworthy B-29. By 1946, 4,000 of these magnificent aircraft had been built, but today, only one is still flying. The CAF could use some help maintaining this beautiful piece of flying history. If you'd like to make a contribution, please click above where it says, "Weekend with the Commemorative Air Force."
As great as it was to see my paintings in a museum, and to plant my bottom in some fantastic aircraft, nothing compares to the warm and generous people I met while I was there. Scott Davis and Bill Coombes took fantastic care of me, and their wives, Gretchen and Elise, set out spectacular dinners. In a little less than three days I was thoroughly spoiled.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
"Why didn't tell the press what you were going to do?"
And that's the Washington press corps for you in a nutshell (And a nutshell is pretty much where they belong.) The larger issues fall by the wayside when the press feels it has been slighted or duped. The press corps is more interested in its own image on the flickering screen than in the things that really matter.
I wish the President's response had been more along the lines of, "You didn't need to know, couldn't be trusted to be told, and wouldn't have known what to make of the information even if I had told you."
Monday, November 06, 2006
He does say one thing I agree with, although not in the way he intended. In the opening lines, he compares the Korean War with today's campaign in Iraq, intimating that pulling out of Korea was the right thing to do.
Hasn't he noticed that the Korean solution didn't quite work? Does it not occur to him that, had we pushed things to their logical conclusion in Korea we would have avoided, not only the countless crimes against humanity perpetrated by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, but also the problems we are just beginning to suspect will confront us from China?
Backtracking in Iraq might buy us a moment of peace (I'm being gracious to concede the possibility, because I believe it would result in quite the opposite.) but at the cost of more deeply entrenching the people and the philosophy that we need most desperately to destroy.
Those are the same people, by the way, who will take the most comfort from this story, and whose cause will most greatly benefit from it. Yes, the story, released as it was, just before elections, is meant to benefit the Democrats, but it will encourage even more the terrorists, and aid them in recruitment, which has been lagging of late.
Thanks Newsweek. Now it's clear that you're willing to sacrifice the very people who defend your right to print your silly rag. I'll keep that fact in mind.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
It was a beautiful day in Carmel today. We headed for the beach in the afternoon, and I did a little painting while we were there. The bottom painting, "On Carmel Beach" is the result.
"Angle of Attack" is the title of the painting above it. I've got quite a ways to go before it's finished, but I figured I'd show you a picture of it so you don't think I'm slacking off. I'd intended to get it done last week so I could include it with seven others I'm showing at the American Airpower Heritage Museum in Midland, Texas, but events conspired against me, and I wasn't able to finish it in time. By the way, if you're in Midland or the environs, I hope you'll stop by the Museum on Veteran's Day to hear me speak.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
I knowingly falsified official documents in order to enlist. I was only 4 years old, but I was big for my age and a thin layer of axle grease on my chin gave the illusion that I had reached my shaving years. This and a myopic recruiter secured my entrance into the world’s most powerful force on water.
Let’s fast forward through boot camp (easy, except for finding shoes that fit) and my first meeting with the man who became my skipper. Suffice it to say he liked the cut of my jib and pulled some strings. The next thing I knew, I was tossing out my ill-fitting boondockers and dungarees and donning Sperry Docksiders and a navy blue blazer adorned with the Kerry crest. I was the skipper’s cabin boy.
I may have been young, but I was a quick study. I could mix a martini in 10 foot seas and carry it to the bridge without spilling a drop on the silver tray. I could starch fatigues better than anyone else in the outfit, and I kept the Skipper looking sharp. That was no mean task. On the coastal waters of Vietnam the sun beats down mercilessly and the humidity is so high breathing is like taking on water. A man can sweat through a set of fatigues in no time – even sitting under an umbrella, being fanned by a cabin boy.
Because of that I always kept a freshly starched shirt in reserve, and I remember to this day how proud the Skipper was of the creases in his sleeves. He would say to me, “Cabin boy,” (he could remember my name, but he was the consummate professional officer, the Skipper was) “This is a fine looking uniform. It looks so good I think it’s time to bring out the movie camera.” And I would unpack the super 8 and film him striking heroic poses at the helm. The footage meant nothing to him. It was just his way of congratulating me on a job well done.
One morning, having wakened the Skipper at his customary time, (not quite noon) I stayed below to fix his latte while he went on deck. Coffee-making was the only aspect of my duties that hadn’t come easily to me, and the odd apparatus that I was forced to use didn’t make the job any easier.
The complicated arrangement of pressure dials and metal tubing had once been part of the boat’s fuel system, but the Skipper had arranged for a little man in loose black clothing to make some alterations. The temperamental device caused carburetor problems in the number 2 engine, and was once the source of a small fuel fire, but the Skipper was delighted with it. Depending on the configuration, it could produce lattes, cappuccinos and even steam-pressed espressos. I made it my mission to become proficient with it, and in no time I’d become a one-man Starbucks.
That morning I steamed a perfect latte, wiped down the gleaming tubes and dials and checked to ensure the burner was turned off. We were anchored just offshore of a nameless little island somewhere on one side or other of the Cambodian border. We’d followed a meandering channel overhung with thick jungle canopy, which gave out onto a quiet lagoon. The breeze, while too weak to stir the Kerry standard flying over the Stars and Stripes, blew from the shore, and the stench of rotting jungle vegetation and dead fish threatened to overpower the fortifying aroma of the coffee.
I added a dash of cinnamon to the whipped cream in defiance of the hardships of war and pulled the latest copy of Dog Fancy magazine from the mail bag, placing it on the tray next to the steaming mug. Have I told you I was a good cabin boy? Forget that. I was the best. I made my way to the bridge (past some of the smelly, nameless sailors who shared our swift boat) serving my captain, a song in my heart.
The Skipper was filling out a citation to accompany the award of a Medal of Honor for somebody, but stopped long enough to acknowledge the latte with a grunt, which filled me with gladness. I didn’t join the Navy for the money. With me it was always about the pleasure to be found in a job well done, and to work for a man so free with his praise was the highlight of my career. It’s the only reason I stayed in for a whole 8 months – nearly twice as long as the Skipper.
I have to admit to a slight disappointment though, when the Skipper failed to notice his favorite magazine. I’d gone to some lengths to have it flown in, and made a lifelong enemy of the man whose medicine was put on a later flight in order to make room. But no matter. No effort was too great to bring relief to the man whose constant concern was the health and safety of his crew.
I was rewarded in due time though, with a view of the skipper beaming with pleasure as he read his magazine. He held it folded over in one hand while he steered us up-channel, his latte balanced on the console above the helm.
The overhanging trees formed an exotic backdrop as we slowly navigated the twisting channel. The intertwined branches cast dramatic shadows on the surface of the water. The gloomy scenery and the perfection of the Skipper’s uniform gave him an idea, and, outstanding servant that I was, I anticipated it. Before the Skipper voiced the order I was already limbering up the movie camera.
The skipper preferred being filmed from below, and I made my way to the bow to accommodate him. Personally, I was not a fan of these inclined shots. I felt the angle elongated the Skipper’s features and invited comparisons between his face and that of one of the droopier-featured canines from one of his magazines. In fact, it may have been this phenomenon that caused some of the crewmembers to refer to the Skipper (in his absence) as “blue,” or “The old medal hound.”
Regardless of my cinematographic reservations, I made my way forward, and balanced the camera tripod just aft of the bow. The narrowing peak where the bow came to a point was my perch as I stood behind the camera.
The whirring of the camera was nearly matched by the buzzing of millions of tropical insects, but as I remember it, there was a split second of silence, as if the world caught its breath in expectation of the explosion that now occurred below deck.
As explosions go, it wasn’t very big – just enough to blast a fist-sized hole in the bulkhead above the waterline and start a small blaze in the Skipper’s cabin. Apparently the heat from the coffee machine touched off a small amount of fuel trapped in a line somewhere. The report (a little louder than a rifle shot, but not as loud as a grenade) sounded to the Skipper like an ambush. Without hesitation he pinned the throttles fully forward, launching the boat down the channel, and stirring the river into boiling brown wake.
Before I dropped it, the camera recorded the Skipper - hands gripping the helm with white knuckles, face in a heroic mask of grim determination, eyes squeezed tightly shut.
We hit a submerged sand bar and the boat came to a crashing halt. I flew backwards off the bow and landed with a splash in the river. Without missing a beat, the Skipper threw the boat into reverse and put the helm over hard to port. The screws flailed the water into a maelstrom; the boat heeled over and slid free. Skipper pushed the throttles back to full forward and the boat rocketed down the channel. My heart (and one of my Docksiders) sank as the boat disappeared around a bend.
I couldn’t believe my bad luck. The camera had never before captured the Skipper looking so heroic, but I had dropped it in the river.
I briefly entertained the notion of diving to look for it (and my errant shoe) but the thought of what might be awaiting me on the river bottom quickly drove it from my mind. I swam ashore and, clutching roots and branches, dragged myself out of the murky river. I sat for a while on the shore feeling forlorn and miserable. I was inconsolable over the loss of the camera. Despite my misery though, I was uncomfortably aware of noises in the jungle all around me, the sounds of creatures moving through the brush. I felt vulnerable sitting in the open, but even more so, I suspected that I would feel claustrophobic in the thick vegetation. I arrived at the perfect solution.
I climbed one of the widely branching trees that overhung the channel and intertwined with its neighbors from the opposite bank. Where the limbs interleaved, I found a comfortable platform not unlike a hammock, and there awaited my rescue.
After only an hour or two I heard it coming. The chattering of automatic weapons announced itself from far off, about where I estimated the opening of the channel to be. The firing advanced, and soon, pulsing below the bright crack of rifle fire, I perceived the throaty roar of our boat’s engines. Although it lacked the peculiar note of the bad carburetor on the number 2, it was still the most familiar, most welcome sound I’d ever heard.
I suffered a moment of concern when I realized the crew was laying down suppressing fire all around the boat as it progressed upstream. Bullets snapped and cracked through the brush, and shook the branches and leaves around me. I yelled and did my best to attract their attention, but it was difficult to wave my arms without falling out of the tree. Besides, at this point it occurred to me that attracting attention might be a good way of getting shot.
Finally, as the boat drew up directly beneath me, I released my grip and dropped onto the deck. The Skipper shrieked in surprise and turned to fire. Luckily, he knocked the barrel of his rifle against a piece of equipment as he turned, and his raking fire chewed up the deck instead of me.
It took a few minutes for things to settle down. When the Skipper finished shaking, he turned the boat and took us out of the channel, alternately firing into the trees and admonishing me sternly for losing the camera.
He made a big deal about the camera, and even threatened to throw me in the brig, but I realized he was just yelling because he’d been so worried about me. Besides, I knew he couldn’t stay mad at me for long. After all, it was my latte that (falling off the console when the boat hit the sand bar) scalded his arm and earned him his first purple heart.
So now you know what kind of man my Skipper is. A man I’m proud to have served with, the man who saved my life.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Let me offer an alternative interpretation.
October represents the most that could be accomplished by terrorists in Iraq, and if that's the best they can do, we're making better progress than anyone gives us credit for.
I have two reasons for believing that terrorists gave their best shot in October. First, because October coincided roughly with the Islamic month of Ramadan. On certain nights during Ramadan, the so-called "Nights of Power" acts of jihad are thought to earn their perpetrators even greater heavenly rewards than they would normally. Anyone willing to die for the insurgency would want to do so during Ramadan if possible.
Second, the insurgency has made it clear that heightened activity was for the purpose of affecting our November elections. The more Americans who die before the election, the logic goes, the more likely Americans will be to elect a government that will pull our troops out. In this respect, the insurgents expect us to be just like Spain.
So if October offered the insurgents their best chance for getting their way here on earth and increasing their heavenly reward, then we can expect that October's activities represent an all-out effort.
That's pretty pitiful. Now one hundred deaths is nothing to be taken lightly, but for an all out, last-ditch effort by a lethal enemy, it's a pretty poor showing. Compare it to other end-game surges, like the Battle of the Bulge, and you begin to see what I mean.
Headlines trumpeting the "Bloodiest Month of the War" should read something more like "Last-ditch Offensive Falls Short."
You probably don't have the time to read this, let alone the inclination, coming, as this note does, from just another guy who is so stupid that he couldn't keep himself out of Iraq.
But just in case you do read it, or one of the people who does your reading for you sees it, I'd like you to know that, even if you are clever enough and man enough (or your party members apply pressure enough) to apologize for implying that my brothers and sisters and I are in the military because we're stupid, there is at least one military man (who speaks four languages and holds a master's degree) who will not be accepting your apology.
Call it the prerogative of the simple-minded.
But don't let me prevent you from continuing to tell the world how you really feel. Instead, let me encourage you in this refreshing (if accidental) honesty.
Whether or not you continue though, rest assured that those of us in uniform will continue to fight for the freedoms you enjoy.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
But as I said, this book news isn't about my book. It's about the latest book by Cormac McCarthy, who is one of my favorite authors. Can't wait to read it. McCarthy isn't a cheerful writer. In fact, his books are dark, and the people in them frequently meet with violent ends. The thing is, before they do, McCarthy manages to make you care about them. Well, some of them. Others, he makes you not so much care about them, as unable to take your eyes off them.
He does this with some of the best-written dialogue I've ever read. His stories, at least so far, have centered around an area that is close to my heart, the arid, lonely reaches of south and west Texas. People in these places are not, in general, given to waste, and their frugality applies to their words. McCarthy's dialogues are practically terse. His people speak as if they are afraid that using too many words will give away too much of themselves.
Have you noticed that the people who speak least are usually the ones most worth listening to? McCarthy has, and he uses that knowledge to good effect.
Well I hadn't intended to write a literary review. Just wanted to say I'm in a very pleasant state of anticipation, waiting for The Road.
In the mean time, I'm getting a lot of painting done. I'm currently working on a large one - larger than I've ever done before - and it's taking a little longer than usual, but I'll post a photo of it soon.
I'm also doing some work on our little camper, which you can see above, getting it ready for a family road trip this weekend. We haven't had it out of the yard (much to our neighbors' disgust) since we towed in here in our cross-country move last year. Frankly, it's taken me a year to recover from that death march. A road trip with the four of us has its own inherent challenges, but add two unhappy cats, two large, mentally deficient dogs, and two spectacular blowouts, and you begin to see how we haven't exactly been sighing wistfully every time we walked outside and saw the camper.
Until now. We're off to Lake San Antonio for our first-ever Airstream rally, and we're all looking forward to it.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
No matter what the conditions are, I find it a challenge to keep my truck on the road, because I'm staring at the view, trying to remember it so I can paint it faithfully.
You may be wondering what happened to the painting I was doing of the aircraft (a couple posts below). I've done more work on it, and it may even be finished, but I've had to set it aside for a little while, because I've driven to Salinas twice in the last couple days, and every time I go out there I'm overwhelmed by the landscapes I pass. Coral de Tierra, the Pastures of Heaven, Laurelis Grade, Toro Park, and Jack's Peak are all along my route, not to mention the spectacular Salinas valley itself, where unbelievably green lettuce plants thrust themselves up out of row upon row of black soil, sheltered between the mountain ranges that form the valley. These mountains, at this time of year, are cougar-colored nearby, but distance tints their gold with green and then blue, until they disappear altogether in the faraway haze. Every time I make that drive, I come home with my head crammed full of images I want to paint, and not a single one of them is an airplane.
Prints of this painting, entitled "Fort Ord" are now available for $75. The prints are archive quality giclees and they measure 8 X 28 inches. The original is available too, by the way. It's the same size, and framed, it goes for $650. Christmas is coming...
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Now I'm ready to paint in the sky above the tanker.
As long as I'm searching for a new publisher for my book, I figure I may as well do some more paintings for it. The photograph above will form the basis for the first.
What you're looking at is the belly of a KC-135 tanker, viewed from the cockpit of a JSTARS surveillance aircraft, as the JSTARS approaches for fuel. One of the stories in my book (See the January archives for Fear of Fueling.) talks about the tricky business of in-flight refueling, and the tremendous respect I have for the folks who make it happen.
CORRECTION: As I looked more closely at the
Thursday, October 05, 2006
As promised, here's Susan's painting. It's a scene on the campus of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, which she painted plein air.
This is a great place for painting trees. As I've mentioned in previous posts, we have eucalyptus, cedars, Monterey cypress - all of which are distinctly different colors and shapes. Susan picked a stand of Monterey cypress for her subject here, and I think she did a great job. This is her first painting in 3 or 4 years, because homeschooling and keeping me in line are each full-time jobs. I hope to become better at freeing her from tasks that she doesn't need to do, so that she can have more time to paint or do whatever she wants. She works way too hard.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
The frame is one of the ones I got on sale. It's tough to photograph paintings in frames, because the glass always gives you a reflection, but I figured I'd show you what the frames look like.
The store where I bought the frames was closing them out, so I bought a ton of them. Several are little ones like this; many are much larger. They're taking up a pretty big chunk of floor space, so I'm trying to fill them with paintings as quickly as I can. Only problem with that is, with two painters in the family, our walls are already covered.
And speaking of my wife, Susan got a chance to get out and do some painting this weekend, and brought back a beautiful landscape with some Monterey cypress along a waterfront. If she lets me I'll post a picture of it later.
Monday, October 02, 2006
First of all, please see the blog below and consider joining me in prayer and fasting on the Sixth of November - the day before the elections.
Once you've read that, have a look at the little bird above. I noticed our cats demonstrating an inordinate amount of interest in something on the patio this morning, and when I investigated, I saw this little guy sitting on the ground just on the other side of the sliding glass door. The cats were going nuts, and he seemed completely unaware. Apparently he flew into the door and knocked himself for a loop. I went outside and picked him up and he didn't even try to get away. I held him for a little while and then set him in the courtyard in front of our house, where he was less likely to get eaten by something. After a while he seemed to regain his senses and he flew away.
Now that I think about it, I hope he was dazed by flying into the glass; maybe he had some strange bird-flu-like disease. Excuse me for a minute while I go wash my hands.
The second picture is tonight's painting, "Landscape with White Barn." I got a deal on a bunch of 5X7 inch frames, and this is the first of the paintings that will fill them. I like working small like this. I suppose that's the result of taking up painting in the desert, where water evaporated off my paper almost immediately, so I had to work small, and a fondness for the work of Frank Reaugh, which you can see by clicking on "Bird and Landscape" above.
Reaugh followed cattle drives and did tiny pastel drawings of what he saw. He worked small because of the hardships of travel in those days, and because the west Texas wind made large surfaces unwieldy. Somehow he managed to pack an incredible amount of meaning into his little drawings, and I've always envied him that ability.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
For a while now, I've tried to make the first Monday of each month a day of fasting. I say "tried" because I've found it difficult to be faithful. Sometimes I've forgotten, and sometimes I've just not been disciplined enough to see it through. I tell you this, embarrassing as it is, because I don't want to seem self-righteous while inviting you to join me in fasting for our nation. By fasting, I'm referring to going without food or drink (aside from water) during the hours of daylight, and letting the resulting discomfort be a reminder to pray.
The first Monday of November will precede election day. What better time to call upon God in order to ask His continued blessings upon our nation, and His assistance in battle against our enemies? I would be honored if you would join me, and invite others to join as well.
The Bible tells us of great things God did for people who fasted and prayed. Is there any doubt that our nation is in need of Him to do great things for us now? If He does not bless us with Godly leaders, protect us from our enemies, and turn our hearts toward Him, let it not be because we failed to ask Him to.
Please help me to contact people and ask them to fast and pray on Monday, the 6th of November. If you have questions or ideas, please drop me a note.
Friday, September 29, 2006
The addition of the branches on the left came to me when I was having coffee with my friend Eric today in Carmel by the Sea. The sleeve on my coffee cup had a photograph of a stretch of beach not far from the one depicted in this painting, and it was framed by branches on each side. I've been feeling like the composition lacked balance on the left side, and when I saw the photo I knew I wanted to add a branch or two to even things out.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
It's official now; I'm looking for another publisher. Mine finally admitted they didn't have the resources to promote my book the way it should be, and I terminated their rights to my material. I sure wish they'd told me months ago that they couldn't get the job done instead of stringing me along - me and everybody who's been kind enough to order my book.
I'll be working hard to find another publisher, and I'll let you know when I do. I apologize to everyone who's been waiting patiently for a book. It was awfully kind of you to order one in the first place, and I'm really touched that people were willing to wait so long for it to arrive.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Here's my painting after another evening's work. The trees still need some attention, and there's work to be done on rocks, foliage, and surf, but it's coming along nicely.
The client is hoping to get it tomorrow, but I think I'll need one or two more days. When a painting is about finished, I like to set it aside for at least a day and then look at it again with fresh eyes to make sure I haven't missed anything.
I sent my publisher a note, explaining that things have gone on way too long, and are likely to go on like this forever unless somebody does something. So I instructed them to cease all work on the book and turn over all my materials. Since they've never made good on their promises to sign the contract and get it back to me, it should be a fairly simple process of disengagement.
What's not simple is explaining this to all the folks who've ordered their copy of the book and have been awaiting it for months. I feel bad that my publisher's unreliability has inconvenienced them, and I'm embarrassed to think that I've allowed my name to be associated with theirs.
Guess I'll chalk that up to a learning experience and start looking for a new publisher.
Monday, September 25, 2006
First, here's a look at the progress I'm making on my commissioned painting. As you can see, I decided against a sunset. Instead, I hung a daytime moon in the upper left, just for fun, and to balance out the composition a bit. Over the next day or so, I'll work in the details of the trees, painting in the shadows and wrinkles in the bark and bringing some branches and needles into the foreground over some of the branches that were masked out. When it's done there will be a good deal less branch showing in the upper parts of the trees.
When that's finished I'll paint in the Pacific, and the details of the rocky coastline.
Now for the book news. After much emailing and admonishment I finally got the proof from my (so-called) publisher. Keep in mind that the book was supposed to be released before Father's Day. Anyway, the proof arrived, and I have to say it's a proof in name only. Really, it's more like a rough draft. Instead of being a look at how the book is going to appear, with the text accompanied by appropriate paintings, I got the text of the book and a stack of photocopied images of my paintings, most of which are terrible - either washed out, lousy resolution, or freakishly bright with ridiculous contrasts. Some of my paintings weren't in the stack at all, and some were represented multiple times, with various levels of quality. There was no explanation accompanying them.
Also missing were the dust jacket notes, the all-important Department of Defense disclaimer, and the table of contents. I'm thoroughly disgusted, and while it may add another year or so to the production process, I'm within an inch of firing these clowns - which I can do because they have been just as lazy about signing a contract as they have about getting my proof to me.
I'll let you know what happens next.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
I'm only about half-way finished with finals for this, the last quarter of my master's program, but I needed a break last night. I've been commissioned to do a painting of the local coastline, and the deadline is coming up quickly, so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone last night. I got a bit of a break from studying and I did this study for what will be a much larger painting in the near future.
I think the commissioned work will have one or two more cypress trees, possibly with their tops just visible over the rise in the foreground. Other than that, I think this'll be pretty close to how the big painting will look. Of course, that painting may have other ideas. I kid myself about having some kind of control over the process, but a lot of the time paintings kind of take over and end up having their own way.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
TO: The staff and writers of the New York Times
Ladies and Gentlemen of the New York Times,
Thank you for your kind invitation to subscribe to your paper. Please be assured that I did not reject it out of hand.
Rather, I gave the matter quite a bit of consideration, and I must tell you that from every angle from which I reviewed it, a subscription made no sense.
First, there is the matter of truth. I know what you’re thinking. You, being sophisticated citizens of New York and highly educated members of the media elite, know there is no such thing as objective truth. I however, being a simple military man, have yet to be disabused of the quaint notion, so I object to reading on your pages items that contradict directly things I have seen with my own eyes (albeit eyes that may have been, at the time, stung by tears, or the sands of Iraq).
Closely related to truth is the small matter of objectivity. I know that the value you place upon your socialist agenda, the fervor with which you support liberal candidates, and the disdain you feel for the vast majority of Americans outweighs this outmoded principle, and that the cause you serve will, in its victory, absolve you of your departure from what journalism was meant to be. You may be absolved, but there is no requirement on my part to fund your in your efforts.
Timeliness is quite another matter. There is nothing you can get to me in print that I could not have, hours before, read on line and verified for truthfulness (a purpose for which I believe you once employed editors, but which now must be performed at home by your readers).
This is not to say I will never again subscribe to the New York Times. If some day you were to reinstate journalistic integrity and objectivity, I would gladly overlook the timeliness issue. And since I know you recently fired hundreds of your employees due to financial constraints, I’d even be willing to pay a little extra.
Until that time (and I do hold out hope that there will be such a day, because, unlike your editorial staff, I believe in the power of the market) I cannot in good conscience subscribe to your paper.
I do thank you kindly for the invitation though.
Steven A. Givler, Major, USAF
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
No matter where my writing career takes me, it’s hard to imagine there will ever be a night to surpass last night.
I was in Washington D.C. to mark the release of Operation Homecoming, a compilation of letters, poems, and stories from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the home front, in which I am privileged to have two small stories.
The location was the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, which is just east of the Capital Building. The Jefferson Building is the kind of structure architects used to design, back when their education included a background in Western Civilization, and the canon of the Great Books, the works that enabled this republic to raise, before the advent of public education, its finest generation of writers and orators.
It’s the kind of structure where vaulted ceilings, gilded archways, and stunning mosaics, instead of drawing attention to themselves, put their viewer in mind of the towering glory that God sometimes vouchsafes to men. They put me in mind too, (somewhat incongruously, I know) of that song Paul Simon sings called Call Me Al because of the line that goes,
He looks above him and he sees angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity, “hallelujah,” he says…
When we climbed the marble staircase into the entryway (I was accompanied by my great friend, Keith Miller, Major, USAF, who can confirm I’m not making this stuff up.) the last of the day’s light was spilling over the dome of the Capital and pouring down the vaults of the ornately appointed arches, bathing everything inside the great hall in a warm golden glow.
When we weren’t craning our necks upward to gape at the ceiling, Keith and I shook hands with the luminaries from Boeing, the Library of Congress, and the National Endowment for the Arts, who put this book together. Among them was the Deputy Librarian of Congress, Don Scott, who greeted us warmly, and explained that he’d once been in the Army and served in Vietnam. Later in the evening we discovered that, not only had he served, he’d been a brigadier general.
I chided him in the reception line later for omitting that fact when we first spoke. “It was unimportant,” he said, which leads me to expect he was probably an exceptional general.
And that kind of humility and subjugation of self to the moment marked the evening. Dana Gioia, poet, and chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts began the official proceedings with a moving tribute to the men, women, parents and spouses out of whose sacrifices the books three hundred-some pages are distilled. In a place that has become known for bitter partisanship, that night, in that place, was a clear exception to the rule. Personal agendas were in no way evident, as speakers, regardless of their personal feelings for the war, focused on the people fighting it, and those left behind to miss them and pray for them while they are gone.
After some brief speeches we saw a short film about the book. The film, in addition to explaining the significance of the book as a contemporary record of the war, featured some of the contributors reading their work. It was funny and sad and profound. Throughout its duration, I kept thinking how extraordinary it was that providence had seen fit to place me in such company.
And it just got better and better. After the speeches and the film, we moved to the second floor gallery, where everyone in attendance was given a book, and where, for the next two and a half hours, those of us whose words appear on its pages had the honor of signing them for people.
Keith was good enough to carry my copy around for my fellow authors to sign. One of them, Parker Gyokeres, summed up my feelings exactly when he penned, “I’m so overwhelmed I can hardly write.” Between Keith’s making the rounds for signatures and my book signing, neither of us got close to the food they put out. I can’t speak for Keith, but I can tell you that last night I learned that apparently, given a choice between eating and meeting people who want to read my work, I’ll gladly choose the latter.
I signed a lot of books and spoke to a lot of people. My favorites were the mothers. Some were authors’ moms, and one was herself an author, who’d written about losing her son. The pride of these women in their sons and daughters surrounded them and glowed from them every bit as brightly as had the evening sunlight, which by now had faded to a deep purple band behind the Lincoln Memorial, and through which rose that enormous obelisk, erected to remind us of the sacrifices and humility of our nation’s father and first president.
Another book I had the privilege to sign was the copy that would be presented to the First Lady, Laura Bush. As I mentioned before, Paul Simon’s song was on my mind, so it seemed completely appropriate, when I signed a book for a gentleman, that when I asked him to whom I should dedicate it, that, when I asked him his name, he said, “sign it to Al.” I inscribed the book and thought nothing more of it until later on, when Keith pointed out that, while he may have referred to himself as Al, he is better known to the rest of the nation as Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
On 11 September, 2001 I was in Amman, Jordan. I was the senior member of a small American military detachment getting a refresher course in Arabic at the Royal Jordanian Military Language Institute.
At the time of the attacks, I was just signing onto my email account at an internet cafe in central Amman. I saw a news banner announcing that two planes had crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center. I was certain that I was looking at an advertisement for a movie.
Within two minutes, my embassy cell phone rang. "Get all your people to the embassy right away." I was told. That's when I knew it was no movie ad.
As I was scrambling to get my colleagues together, 26 year-old Michael Kiefer was breathing his last in New York City.
Michael was one of the 2,996 innocents who lost their lives in Al Qaeda's most successful attack on our nation. Maybe you remember it? In case you've forgotten, let me remind you by telling you about Michael, because Michael Kiefer is a shining example of what our nation lost in that attack.
To say Michael was a fireman does not do justice to the drive and the passion he brought to his work. Some people have a job they do and others have jobs that they are; by all accounts, Michael was one of the latter. From his early years he knew that he wanted to be a fireman. Childhood photos show him wearing a fireman costume, and people tell of how, as a boy, he was so accomplished at mimicking the sound of a siren that he convinced his school bus driver to pull aside for a firetruck that wasn't there.
Michael earned perfect scores on his physical and written entrance exams and began training to become a firemanin October, 2000. He graduated in December of the same year. He drew one of the busiest assignments, engine Company 280/ladder Company 132 Firehouse of Crown Heights Brooklyn.
In achieving his lifelong dream, we could say that Michael Kiefer accomplished more in his short life than will many men who live to see a century, but that would be only half his story.
In addition to being a fireman, Michael was a committed Christian, beloved son to Pat and Bud, and older brother to Kerri and Lauren. He was saving his money to buy a ring for his girlfriend, Jamie Huggler. Son, brother, boyfriend. He was the kind of guy who dedicated himself to a job that would put his life at risk in order to save others. He just one of 2,996, but in him, was a reflection of all the strength, the selflessness, the goodness that we love about America.
On this 5th anniversary of our nation's loss, take a moment to remember Michael. Say a prayer for the peace of mind of those who knew him, and give thanks that our nation is still the home of men like him.
Read more about Michael. Click on his name above this article, or click on this link:
To read more tributes to the 2,996 victims of the September 11 attack, visit http://www.dcroe.com/2996/?page_id=2
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
I'll be speaking (and hopefully signing books) on Veterans' Day at the Headquarters Museum of the Commemorative Air Force in Midland, Texas. If you're in the area, I hope you'll stop by. The museum will also be hanging a collection of my aircraft paintings, many of which are in the book. If you can't make it for the signing, but will be in Midland at another time, stop by the museum and see the paintings.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Today I did something I've been thinking about for a long time. We have two old ladder-back chairs that used to have cane seats in them. They've been sitting around without seats for three or four years now. I remember Susan telling me once that her grandma'd had seats like them with cowhide instead of cane seats, and I always wanted to try stretching a nice piece of leather on a chair. I've been looking for a suitable hide for a long time now, and the other day I found a beautiful calfskin rug in a second-hand store. I went in and out a couple times, working the price down, but I would have paid what they asked for it in the first place, because it's exactly what I wanted. The leather is nicely worn from being walked on for who knows how many years, but it's as soft as chamois. I cut a paper pattern in the shape of the seats, which are roughly square, and then extended each side with a long tab. I folded each tab over on itself and sewed it like that, and then bought some rawhide strips.
I cut little holes in the doubled-over tabs. Then I put the cover on the chair with the tabs hanging underneath the seat. I threaded the rawhide through the holes I'd cut so that, beneath the seat, the front tab was laced to the rear one, and the two sides were laced to each other. I'd soaked the rawhide before I laced it. As it dries, it'll shrink, which will tighten up the leather seat. Before I tied the laces I used a pair of long clamps to draw the tabs together and make the laces tight enough to vibrate when I plucked them.
The first seat is done, and drying over a heating duct tonight. I can't wait to see how well it tightens up when the laces shrink. Even without the laces drying out all the way the seat is stretched nice and tight and smooth. I'm pretty pleased with it.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
For more paintings, please visit my new site, www.stevengivler.com .
Thursday, August 24, 2006
I'll be finished next Tuesday, and shortly after, (12 Sept) I'll be heading to D.C. for a book release party at the Library of Congress. This party is for the Random House book Operation Homecoming, a compilation of war letters and stories from Iraq and Afghanistan in which I have a couple chapters. I'll be staying with musician extraordinaire and great friend Keith Miller (Major, USAF) while I'm there, and maybe getting a chance to visit the National Gallery too.
It'll be right home the next day, but a quick trip should be a lot of fun.
My own book, Notes of Joy and Sadness, Letters and Paintings from Operation Iraqi Freedom is moving right along. The publisher has notified me that the proof is on its way, so it won't be long before we go to print. Of course, the proof (160 pages) will probably arrive right in the middle of exams and the publisher will want it back right away. That's the way it goes. I'll rest when I'm dead.
For excerpts, reviews, (There's a great one from Claudia Rosett, former books editor for the Wall Street Journal.) and a look at some of the paintings in the book, please visit my January archives.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
I get funny reactions from people sometimes, who question the way I paint with watercolors. Some have all but told me that if I don't splash the paint around and work mostly wet on wet that I may as well use another medium. I'm never sure what to say to that, except folks are welcome to paint any way they wish, and if somebody likes to do big splashy paintings I'm all for it. Right here and right now, though, I like using watercolor and I like using it this way. Sometimes a piece calls for the kind of effect I get working a wet brush over wet paper, but more often than not, I'm interested in something else.
On top of that, 12 September will be the release date for Random House's Operation Homecoming, an anthology of accounts from Iraq and Afghanistan, which contains two of my stories. There's a reception that evening at the Library of Congress that I'm hoping to attend, if I can be permitted to take leave.
In addition, I've been hard at work painting, and I'll be posting the results here soon. Meanwhile, you can visit my new gallery site at www.stevengivler.com and see how it's coming along.
Friday, August 11, 2006
Here's another painting I'm working on based on the same view as the painting below. At 12 X 18 inches, this piece is quite a bit bigger. I still have lots of detail to add, but it's been so long since I've posted that I figured I'd better get something up.
I've been pretty busy with school lately; we're coming into the mid-term stretch of the final quarter of my master's program. On top of that, I've somehow managed to break my right foot. I believe it's an old injury - old as in about 6 years ago - that has long since ceased to bother me, but it came to light in an X-ray taken because of a recently torn plantar facii, which is a fibrous tissue on the underside of the foot, kind of like a tendon or a ligament.
The tear would have healed itself over time, and the fracture had long since ceased to bother me, but my surgeon said it was the worst fracture of its type he'd ever seen. The bone in question, the sesamoid, was in 6 pieces, and he thought it would cause me trouble at some point in the future, so he removed them all. Now I'm hobbling around with my right foot in what looks like a deep-sea diver's boot. The worst thing of all is that I'm unable to drive. I believe I'm fully capable, but my surgeon, and more importantly, my wife, insist that I shouldn't. A sudden stomp on the brake could pop a stitch or two, and that would be a problem. I'm tempted to chance it, but the last time I disobeyed my wife I was struck by lightening, so I'm trying to behave myself and allowing her to drive me everywhere.
It looks like friends from the local art community are putting together a website to show my paintings. It's still a work in progress, but you can see how it looks so far at: www.stevengivler.com
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Friday, July 21, 2006
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Friday, July 14, 2006
Here's a little painting I did tonight. I've had a couple ideas floating around in my head about how to do foregrounds and this was a test for one of them. I think it turned out well.
The rains are finished here until fall, and the hills and canyons are covered now with dry, golden grass. This is mountain lion country, and it's easy to see how a big cat could glide along unseen while stalking its prey; the grass is a perfect match for the color of a lion's coat.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
I went to an artist's reception last night at the Carmel Art Association. My favorite
works there are watercolors (go figure) by Miguel Dominguez. You can see some of
his work here:
and here: www.carmelart.org/artists_new.html
I also entered three paintings in next month's Monterey Fair. Carmel Valley,
South Ridge, and Fort Ord will be in the juried landscapes division, and Red Steer is
entered in the juried "figures, portraits, and animals" division. This is the first time
I've submitted entries to a juried competition - or to anything else, for that matter.
Wish me luck.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
This has been a particularly time-consuming project because each blade of grass in the foreground had to be masked with a thin strip of tape before the background was laid in. I still need to work some shadows and edges into the foreground. The two tennis-ball looking things in the front will be seed puffs like you find on dandelions.
I'm putting a lot of emphasis on vivid color in this painting, which isn't something that comes naturally to me, and it's not the easiest thing to do as far as watercolors are concerned. Still, I'm having a lot of fun with it, and I'm pleased with the way it's turning out so far.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Independence Day is the answer to the Dixie Chick's musing about "why
patriotism is necessary, anyway."
The founders, well educated in both the Bible and Western Civilization,
combined the two, winding up with the radical notion that nations ought to
exist, not to ensure the rights of their rulers, but to protect the rights of their
individual citizens, since it was those individuals in whom God invested rights.
This notion remains radical, even today.
Even in our tarnished state, the United States remains the greatest
representative of the notion that people are endowed by God with their rights,
and that the sole responsibility of government is to protect those rights. That
is why people still risk all to travel not to Cuba, not to China or any other
worker's paradise, but to the United States of America, and that is why I am
proud to be a patriot, and proud to support and defend our constitution against
all enemies, foreign and domestic, as an officer in her military.
Monday, July 03, 2006
So, although the book is delayed, it's apparently a good thing, because demand is greater than was anticipated. All I know is I'm anxious to see the finished product, and am looking forward to the day when this space will announce that it's been released. Keep watching.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Here's the finished painting. I painted in some partial cloud cover and, as per my wife's suggestion ( I always try to do what she tells me.) I darkened existing shadows and added some that weren't already there. Shadows are like punctuation; they give shape and meaning to otherwise confusing information. Still, sometimes I find myself resisting adding them, or making them dark enough. I'm not sure why I'm so hesitant, but when I overcome the hesitation I'm usually pleased with the result.