Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Napolitano - "Not Terror; Spontaneous Human Combustion"

Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, today reiterated her claim that, in the case of alleged Islamist Abdulmutallib, the Homeland Security system worked, and that the incident surrounding his Christmas arrest had nothing to do with terrorism.

Mr. Abdulmutallib was not a so-called “terrorist” said Secretary Napolitano, encapsulating the word in hand gestures representing quotation marks. “Terrorism” she said, again making the quotation marks, “ceased to exist when President Obama was inaugurated. Even cases of man-caused-disasters,” she continued, “have declined dramatically since the President apologized for American imperialism and made it clear that he wants to have good relationships with everyone.”

Secretary Napolitano made it clear that the real threat to homeland security was right-wing Christian extremists and Civil War re-enactors. “Those people, with their fanatical insistence on home-schooling their children and their outmoded interpretations of the Bill of Rights – they are the ones about whom we are rightfully concerned, and I renew my vow to the American people that they will not prevail. Not on my watch.”

When members of the press continued asking about Abdulmutallib, Napolitano initially tried to laugh off their questions. “What,” she said, “Do all of you work for Fox News?” Columnist David Brooks took offense at this, and reminded the secretary of his behind-the scenes work for Obama’s Information Czar. By way of mea culpa, the Secretary agreed to answer “serious” questions on the matter. Mr. Brooks responded with, “What kind of pants was Mr. Abdulmutallib wearing? And if I could follow up on that, were the legs creased?”

After a series of questions concerning Abdulmutallib’s manner of dress, a reporter asked Secretary Napolitano how, if Abdulmutallib wasn’t attempting to blow up the aircraft, the Department of Homeland Security could explain passengers’ accounts of him bursting into flame.

“Spontaneous Human Combustion,” Napolitano said, “is a mysterious affliction, which modern science is only now beginning to understand. Previously thought to be a myth, SHC was recently proven to be real by scientists at the Department of Homeland Security. While we have gone a long way toward figuring it out, many questions still remain. We still don’t know, for instance, why 99% of documented cases involved young Muslim men, and why the other 1% consists solely of Buddhist monks. Rest assured though, that while our agents are working day and night to protect you from Christian extremists, our scientists are struggling to bring these answers to light.”

Friday, December 25, 2009

Good Dog, Sweetie. 2005 - 2009


Zach texted me the other day, saying, "Please call. Sweetie is dead." I called home and everyone was in tears. Sweetie had been hit by a car and was gone.

If you have been lucky enough to have a dog like Sweetie (and I hope you have) then maybe you know what it's like to lose her. She was a faithful companion, a constant presence, and a member of the family.

The day we brought her home, she let her new big brother, Tiger, know who was boss.


And instead of resenting being put in his place by a puppy half his age, he seemed to benefit from it. He had been hard-headed, scatterbrained, and unmannerly as only a young Labrador Retriever can be, but Sweetie had a calming effect on him.


She never let him forget who was boss, and that seemed to be exactly what he needed. He loved that ball you see between them, but when we threw it, she never let him retrieve it. He had to relinquish it to her and she would bring it back to us.
Our first night in our new home in California, a man stopped his car in front of our house and told me he'd run over a yellow dog. We thought we'd lost her then. (In fact, he'd run over a cat. You can draw your own conclusions about his sobriety.) That sudden grief, so quickly relieved when we found her sleeping in the yard, was nothing compared to what we're feeling now.
She loved the ocean and she loved to swim. Once, on Carmel beach, I threw her ball and she bounded after it into the surf. She grabbed the ball and turned for shore and, strictly by coincidence, caught a wave that carried her to land on its crest. The surfer watching her beside me said, "Dude!" His tone was reverential. I didn't tell him it was an accident. That was our little secret.

When we moved back to Georgia, she loved the pool. She would open the gate for herself and take a little swim whenever the urge caught her.


She loved her people. Here she is with her boy.



She liked sneaking into his room and catching a nap on his bed. She never seemed to mind if the room was a mess. Sometimes, after everyone was asleep, she'd climb in with him. In the morning he'd find himself squeezed into a tiny corner of the mattress and Sweetie would be all stretched out.



And though she may have preferred Zach's bed, she was also happy to share her own with Zoe.


She was easy to please. Whatever you were doing was fine, as long as she could be there with you. Watching TV,



Or going for a ride in the truck.

You were a good dog, Sweetie, and you are sorely missed. But if it's true that dogs go to heaven (and I have to believe it is) we will see you again.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Series of Six

Here's a series of paintings I'm finishing up. For a couple of years now, I've had a long, landscape-format frame that's matted for six images sitting in my studio. I'm glad that now I'll have something to put in it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

They're Back! Kronic Mo-Go Fixin' to Bust the Stage at Copenhagen!



Robert "Kronic" Mugabe, from the cover of the album, "Nationalist Suit"


COPENHAGEN –Spokespersons for the international climate talks here have announced that, as has long been suspected, Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe plan to address negotiators at international climate talks in Copenhagen next week.

What has not been announced officially, but was released exclusively to yours truly, is that the three will speak jointly, using the universal language of gangsta rap. Fans of global-political gansta rap will recall that the three have not shared a microphone since their breakup in 2006, when Ahmadinejad (Mo-jad) stormed off stage during a live performance of their breakout piece, “White Man Infidel Ruined Da World.”

Since that time, each has put out a number of albums, but as solo acts, none of them achieved the acclaim they had enjoyed working together as Kronic Mo-Go. Hugo Chavez (Go-vez) came closest with “Hegemony.” (“You will remember me ‘cause I will dismember thee, as I expand my hegemony, over your periphery.”) Mugabe (Kronic) enjoyed a brief comeback with “Mugabenomics,” after U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (Democrat, California) admitted to plagiarizing his lyrics for a speech she made in favor of the Obama economic recovery plan, but Mo-jad’s “I like my biatches in burkhas” was a complete non-starter.
Mahmoud "Mo-jad" Ahmadinejad, from the "Don' Be Dissin' Me" video

I was privileged to receive an invitation (after proving that I am not Jewish) to attend last night’s rehearsal of the trio’s latest song, which will be made public for the first time in Copenhagen. While I can reveal only those few lines of lyrics that were cleared for early release (“…wi global warmin dey be fryin us, ‘cause dey be Zionusts…”) I can say without equivocation that Kronic Mo-Go is back, and conference attendees are in for a treat.

Previously, Mo-jad’s obvious difficulties with English, and his penchant for going off-script during songs were the group’s Achilles’ heel. He has clearly been working with a coach, however, and now his riffing is disciplined, and his delivery is crisp. He seems also to have improved his sense of rhythm, famously maligned after the breakup by Kronic, who said that, “Underneath dat tan, da mother be seriously white.” Dressed in his trademark nondescript, slightly-too-small suit, wearing a nuclear-symbol medallion hanging from a heavy gold chain, Mo-jad was a force to be reckoned with.

And he was in good company. Go-vez, sporting his familiar Che Guevara T-shirt beneath his Mao jacket, was spot-on, delivering his message with the AK-47 staccato delivery that made him famous all those years ago, and stepping back when he was through, to lay down a onomatopoeia beatbox that sent a thrill down the leg of everyone at the venue.
Hugo "Go-vez" Chavez, from the "Flip the Bird" tour

Of the three though, nobody came close to Kronic (“They call me Kronic, say I’m demonic, ‘cause I do you harm, destroy your farm, I’ll kill your kid, tha’s wha I did, take your economy, your goods upona me, cause you frustration, inflict inflation, destroy the nation, take a vacation, when I come back, renew my attack, ya think I done, I just begun…”) who began the show dressed in much the same fashion as Mo-jad, but by the end, through four rapid costume changes, finished in an outfit that resembled a Zulu warrior auditioning for the Blue Man Group. His performance featured his familiar frenzied delivery, (Being in his 90’s hasn’t slowed him down a bit. Is it true that he’ll live forever?) for which crunking is no longer an apt description. He positively vibrated on the stage, until at one point, when he paused for a quick breather, his manager rushed to his side with a long cape, resplendent with the feathers of gorgeous endangered species of birds, which he threw over Kronic’s shoulder in a master showman’s reference to the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown.

Lest you think I have lost the keen critic’s senses that got me where I am today, lest you think I am awestruck, and just babbling, let me tell you that I was not the only person in that small and privileged audience who was moved by the power, the savagery, represented by these three artists. None other than the President of the United States was in attendance, and so moved was he by the spectacle, that at its conclusion, he bowed repeatedly to the figures on the stage.

Yes, of all the entertainment scheduled for the conference in Copenhagen, (and I mean ALL of it – comedians, clowns, illusionists - ) I predict that none will capture the attention and imagination of Ahmadinejad, Chavez, and Mugabe. Kronic Mo-Go is more than back, more than a band, more than a movement. They are the symbol of the future.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Camping in the Desert (Updated)


Our first night out both cars hit soft sand, just as we were getting to our campground. Rather than have the last rays of sun for setting up camp, we worked until dark digging the cars out. Thank goodness for shovels and sand ladders.


That night the wind picked up and blew sand relentlessly. It wasn't a zero-visibility, can't-breathe-because-of-the-sand, kind of sand storm, but it was enough to blow these drifts around our landcruiser.


The next morning I climbed a dune and took this picture of our campsite. The landcruiser was just uphill of this, pointing down so we could benefit from the headlights as we set up camp.


Once we got moving we noticed two things about the acacia trees we came across. First, almost every one of them had a camel skeleton beneath it.


Second, almost every one of them had a hawk or eagle nest atop it.


And guess what this is - that's right; it's another camel hair ball. This one isn't mineralized, so it hasn't become a bezoar stone like the one I mention a couple posts below. This one was fuzzy like a tennis ball and not completely round.

Here's our camp site for the rest of the trip.
Notice how both cars are sitting on top of the sand, instead of under it. The wind died down and the rest of the trip was celebrated with almost totally sand-free meals. Speaking of meals, you can see Scott and Paul setting up the field kitchen. To the right, almost out of the picture, you can see our camp fire, just waiting for darkness and a match.

This was the sunrise the following morning. Morning, Evening, middle of the night, the sky was spectacular. The moon was full while we were out, and so bright it cast sharp shadows. After it set though, the stars came out in that profusion that I've seen only in deep deserts. I awoke, once, to head for the designated potty dune, and was rewarded by a couple shooting stars that left dazzling streaks across the the sparkling sky. I'd forgotten, living as I do in a land where the night sky is diminished by artificial light, that absent that man-made illumination, the stars actually do twinkle, and appear in a variety of colors. The rediscovery was well worth whatever price I paid in loss of sleep.



I meant to smile. I thought I was smiling. I was having a great time. Really.

I think I was concentrating on aiming the camera. That's a look of concentration, not a scowl. No wonder people sometimes think I'm angry with them when I'm not. I'll have to work on that.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Tonight's Painting


I know I said I'd post pictures from my trip into the desert, but instead, all you're getting is this photo of my latest painting.
Disappointed? I'll cheerfully refund your money.
By the way, if you're in Riyadh or the surrounding environs, I'll be hosting an exhibit of my paintings on the 9th of December. Drop by and do some Christmas shopping.

Friday, December 04, 2009

How I Spent My Hajj Season

It's been Hajj season, which means the embassy was closed. Two colleagues and I took advantage of the opportunity to get out of Riyadh and enjoy some desert camping. I'll be posting about that soon ( I hope - it depends on how long it takes to get caught up at work.) but in the mean time, here's a look at a painting I'm finishing up:





As you can see, this is a reworking of the photo of two men at the hawk souk, which I posted below. I've taken the men out of the souk and put them in the desert, where they are preparing for a hunt, and I've taken the cell phone from the man on the left and given him a bird instead. I still have some work to do on the faces, but I'm nearly there.



Before I go, here's one more desert photo:


Friday, November 27, 2009

Two Small Studies

Here's the first of two post-card-sized studies I did based on scenes I saw at the Hawk Souk.
And here's the second. In the large painting I'm doing now, I've taken the cell phone from the guy on the left, lowered that arm, and posed a hawk on it. I'll post that painting as soon as it's done, but for the next few days I'll be camping in the deep desert. I hope to have some great photos for you when I return.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Bezoar Stone


Ever heard of a bezoar stone? It's a mineralized hairball sometimes created by the digestive systems of ruminants like cows, llamas, or, in this case, camels. I'd been looking for one ever since my last camping trip, which was back in April or May. Today I just happened to be telling my friend Paul about them as we were driving across the desert west of Riyadh. "Keep your eyes open for a softball-sized sphere," I told him, "Kind of like that one right there."
Sure enough, next to the skeleton of a camel or a goat (Yes, I know there's quite a difference between camels and goats, but there wasn't much left of this one so it was hard to tell.) this fine specimen was shining in the sunlight.
Apparently, these were much sought after in ancient times as an antidote for poison. Unlike some remedies, these actually have the ability to remove or neutralize arsenic, according to this source: http://curiousexpeditions.org/?p=371#comment-6346
How about that? Now if anyone ever tries to slip me an arsenic mickey, I'll just dip my bezoar stone in it and I'll be just fine. Now if I could just get it to fit into my pocket...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Falconry in Saudi Arabia

Near the souk of Dira in central Riyadh, they're pulling down the old mud and timber buildings and putting up new, modern offices and shopping centers. As the city is modernized, the old markets are being squeezed out. The Hawk Souk, which is just one of many souks that comprise the old area (There's a carpet souk, a gold souk, an incense souk, and lots of clothes souks, for instance.) is on the edge of the market area, which means it's in the zone that is being swallowed up by development. Still, there are several shops that remain in business, and now that the cooler weather is here, the bird men can be found on a Thursday morning gathering there, drinking tea and arguing about the value of birds from Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, and any number of other countries. As they argue, they lounge on cushions arranged around an elevated area filled with sand. Pedestals on long spikes are stuck into the sand, and hawks, falcons, and eagles perch regally on the pedestals, regarding the men with large, inscrutable eyes, or listening with their heads cocked to one side, sporting tiny leather hoods that cover their eyes and keep them from trying to fly. From the ceilings of these shops hang all manner of falconry paraphernalia - jesses, lures, creances. Near the doors, dusty display cases contain measuring scales and lead weights, and obscure bits of what-have-you that I couldn't begin to identify.

After tea and arguments, the men go outside to a small gravel area under the shade of some acacia trees. Here they stake the birds' perches where prospective buyers can circle them and make their offers.

As the new city encroaches, the romantic, mysterious, exotic souks that I love to explore are becoming a thing of the past. I'm glad I got the chance to see this while it was still here, and I'm glad I can share it with you.

Say Cheese


Most Saudis I've met have been reluctant to let me take their picture, but everyone I met today was very accomodating.
Behind this hawk, a covey of quail fidgets in the yellow crate. They will be released as training devices for the birds of prey. Also for sale in this shop were jesses, gloves, feathered lures for training, radio tracking devices and nets - everything you need to get into falconry. All you need is money, lots and lots of money. Some of these birds were untrained and relatively cheap, selling at about $1,000, but those that were trained and had earned a reputation for killing the most desirable types of game were commanding four times that amount.

Awaiting their turn

These birds, a hur or hawk, above and a shahin or falcon, below, stand by while potential buyers examine another hur in the background.
Incidentally, the man holding the bird in the background is a member of the Mutawa, which is the religious police. You can tell this because of the shortness of his thobe, which is the robe he's wearing, and the absence of an iqal, which is the black coil worn on the heads of other men of Arabian Gulf countries.
My personal esperience with mutawaeen has been limited, but they have a reputation for shouting and brandishing sticks at women whose hair is uncovered and for being brusque with foreigners. This man, however, was very friendly, even to the point of allowing another man to take pictures of him shaking my hand.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A tough Place to Make a Living

This is a look down onto a small bedouin camp. I'm standing on the edge of the Plateau upon which Riyadh is situated, looking west, toward Mecca. Not far from this spot is one of the places where steps were carved into the escarpment so that camel caravans could make the climb safely.

Outside the Gate


A small caravan kneels beside the city wall.

Stopping For Noon Prayer


As you can see, I'm finally able to upload photos again. I'm so far behind with posting paintings that I'm not sure which I've posted and which I haven't. Forgive me if you've seen one or two of these before. I'm posting quickly without looking back to see if they're up already, just in case my service provider suddenly stops working again.

Annunciation - Version One

A client commissioned me to do a painting of the scene of the annunciation. This was my first version. There's a lot I like about it, but there were some aspects that I just couldn't accept, so I started over again.

Annunciation

This is the final version.

Rockpile

Plants grow in the desert here any place where they can find a bit of shelter. This acacia tree was tucked into the base of a granite outcrop.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Date Harvest

Amazing: it looks as if my internet service is letting me upload photos again. I'm not sure how long it'll last, but here's recent painting for now, and I'll try to add more soon.

Not long ago, the dates ripened and were harvested from the trees. That's what inspired this particular painting.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I Scooped Newsweek by a Month!

You may have seen this at HotAir.com, (Joe Biden, White House Truth Teller) or you can go directly to it here: http://www.newsweek.com/id/217090 in either case, it’s clear that Newsweek, although a little slow in the uptake, has caught on to what I pointed out on 12 September in “Joe Wilson, Joe Biden, and the Dangerous Truth Strategy.” (http://stevengivler.blogspot.com/2009/09/joe-wilson-joe-biden-and-dangerous.html)

The point I made is that Biden’s celebrated tendency to blurt out the truth might actually be a clever ruse, as opposed to a simple case of Tourette syndrome.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Cliffs above Dira

Apparently I'm able to upload photographs again. Keep your fingers crossed and hopefully this isn't a temporary condition.

I took a quick photo safari today. This is a shot from the edge of the plateau upon which Riyadh is located. You're looking southeast, and you can just make out the village of Dira in the distance.

High School Teacher Named, "Surgeon of the Year."

The Journal of the American Medical Association has announced that, in a departure from its usual practice of awarding its “Surgeon of the Year” award to a board-certified surgeon, it will present this year’s Golden Caduceus to Ms. Sandra Buttermilk, a poet and high school English teacher from Hazelton, Pennsylvania.

Doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators across the country were caught off guard by the announcement, which was made, as is customary, at midnight during the annual JAMA pig roast. One attendee, neurologist Doctor Arty Feipfer, was so surprised that he dropped his cigar into his brandy snifter. No one was injured in the resulting conflagration, but the announcement had to be paused while the flames were subdued.

After the fire department personnel had departed the banquet hall, JAMA prize committee spokesman, Dr. Neil Matterhorn explained, “It has always been difficult for us to pick a winner. Year after year there are so many great American surgeons who contribute so much to helping people through advancing the medical arts that it becomes almost impossible to pick one above the others. But this year we are inspired by the approach of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, which bestowed this year’s award on President Obama based on his vision for world peace.” After a brief round of applause, Dr. Matterhorn went on to say, “We are pleased to follow suit, and to present this prestigious award to a woman who dares to not only envision a world free of disease and suffering, but through her poetry, to share that vision with others.”

Matterhorn did not mention it in the official announcement, but during an interview at the after-party, he explained that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was another nominee who had been closely considered by the committee. “Her tremendous efforts to almost pass health care reform did not go unnoticed,” he said, “but ultimately it came down to Ms. Buttlemilk’s ability to find rhymes for words like psoriasis and myocardial infarction.”

Doctor Jerome Bladwort, pioneer of a revolutionary technique for pediatric heart valve surgeries, and widely considered the favorite to win this year’s award, was on vacation and could not be reached for comment. According to his office, he spends every October in Benin, working at a free clinic for terminally ill children.

Friday, October 09, 2009

"The Onion" sues Nobel Prize Committee

The Onion sues Nobel Prize Committee

Noted satirical newspaper, The Onion (www.theonion.com) announced today that it is suing the Nobel Peace Prize Committee for plagiarism and theft of intellectual property.

At issue is yesterday’s announcement by the Committee of its selection of U.S. President Barack Obama as this year’s recipient of the coveted Peace Prize and 1.4 million dollar award. According to Vernon Coldwater, a spokesman from The Onion legal department, his employer can prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the idea of awarding Obama the Peace Prize is the intellectual property of staff writers from The Onion political satire department, and that it was stolen by spies from Oslo.

“They did this to us before,” Coldwater said, under the condition that he remain anonymous. “Where else do you think they came up with Jimmy Carter as a recipient? Fool us once, shame on you,” Coldwater quoted, “but fool us twice and we’ll sue your skinny European butts.”

Coldwater said that The Onion legal staff are still preparing their case, but when they are finished, they will be able to prove that the Prize Committee plagiarized the idea for a series of satirical pieces on Jimmy Carter as a Peace Prize nominee, and then stole The Onion’s thunder by nominating Carter for the prize. The Onion was unable to prove the original theft, but, expecting a repeat, the writers carefully documented every step of their creative process as they reworked the story with Obama as the nominee.

In addition to time-stamping all their drafts, they surgically implanted a tracking chip in the shoulder of Anrid, the Norwegian intern, after a night of heavy aquavit drinking. Data from the tracking chip, according to Coldwater, will reveal that Anrid was a mole, stealing The Onion’s best material, and spiriting it back to Oslo.

But why would the Prize committee be interesting in pilfering satirical material? Coldwater said, “The Committee has been moving into the satire business for years. Bestowing prizes is decent work, but world economic conditions have caused the committee members to look for alternative sources of income, and satire has always been big in Norway.” The counselor added, “Satire has an even stronger appeal the closer you get to the Arctic Circle, so the demand is pretty strong, year-round in Norway. The thing that really bothers us,” Coldwater said, “is that they’re quite good at it already, without stealing our material. I mean, Yassir Arafat as a prize nominee? I wish we could say they stole that one too, but that was all theirs.”

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

My Internet Service Provider is a Weasel.


I am neither dead, nor have I given up painting.


I am, however perilously close to strangling my internet service provider, who I informed WEEKS ago, that I'm unable to upload or email photographs. I went back to his office yesterday to renew my complaint. Have you ever had the experience of calling a customer service number only to find that, instead of having your concerns addressed, you provided a free English lesson to someone of East Asian lineage? That's exactly what my visit was like, except, of course, that it was in person, instead of over the phone - so it was much more satisfactory.


Or not.


It's very difficult to discuss internet connectivity issues with any degree of specificity when you have no language in common with the person with whom you are having the discussion. We both worked very hard at communicating in English but one of us (I'll not say which.) doesn't really have a solid grasp of that language. I switched to Arabic, seeing as the conversation was taking place in Riyadh, but that wasn't any better. I know; it's my fault for not speaking Bengali or Urdu or Hindustani. Stupid American.


Ultimately, all I came away with was an assurance that the problem had been fixed, and that if I'd simply checked before leaving for work that morning, I'd have already discovered that it was fixed and so I was actually wasting time that was valuable to both of us.


So I went home, feeling a little bit stupid for not having checked before complaining (a third time.) And yet, even as I felt that way, something was at work in the back of my mind, prodding me with the sharp elbow of skepticism, so that, by the time I'd logged in at home, I had cataloged all the little indications my friend had exhibited that would have made it clear, were I a police investigator or a CIA interrogator (waterboarding or otherwise) or just a man of reasonable intelligence, that my internet service provider had been lying through his teeth, and had actually made no effort whatsoever to fix my internet connection.
Of course, when my interminable login processes had run their courses and I tried to upload a photo - nothing. As per usual. So I returned today to the dingy little office where the Peter Lorre doppelganger was cowering in a gloomy corner, and I tried once again, to impress upon him the importance of restoring the service for which I am paying large amounts of cash in monthly installments.
At the same time, I tried very hard not to impress upon his throat, the marks from 8 fingers and two thumbs. Where there is life, after all, there is hope, and dead, my internet service provider is even less likely to help me than if I leave him breathing.
I'll keep you posted.
PS I know - a photograph appears atop this post. That's because I posted this from my office. I can't, however put my digital camera card, upon which my recent painting photos are stored, into my computer here at work, and, like I said, I can't email the photos to myself here at work since I can't upload or email from home. So, old photos of Peter Lorre - yes. New photos of paintings - no. Sorry.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Granite Outcroppings, Nafuth Ad Dehi, Saudi Arabia


About seven hours southeast of the Mecca Highway, in a section of the desert called the Nafuth Ad Dehi, the flat, dusty hardpan begins to erupt into towering outcroppings of granite. This is a view of the two that made the greatest impression on me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Just to Be Clear

Just to be clear, I would like to make it known that I did not participate in the now-infamous National Endowment for the Arts conference call of Monday August 10th. (Click on the title of this post for more info.)

The call was hosted by the NEA, the White House Office of Public Engagement, and United We Serve, and was intended to include “a group of artists, producers, promoters, organizers, influencers, marketers, taste-makers, leaders or just plain cool people to join together and work together to promote a more civically engaged America and celebrate how the arts can be used for a positive change!” (Their exclamation point, not mine.)

Despite being referred to almost daily as an "artist, influencer, taste-maker," and most certainly "just plain cool" I was not invited to join this conference call.

Are my feelings hurt? Let me assure you they are not. I learned years ago that one of the burdens of taste-makerness and just-plain-coolness is that one often finds oneself ahead of the pack, blazing new trails upon which the common man will not feel comfortable until long after one has moved on to greater things. I was wearing a Member's Only jacket in 1979, for crying out loud, but by the time Martha Quinn and company were making their appearances on MTV, I was had shed it for a red leather jacket with a multitude of zippers. Where do you think Michael Jackson got the idea?

Anyway, even were I not so leading-edge as to be passed over by these poseurs (really - United We Serve? They are SO passe.) I would have had to send my regrets. Don't these people know that the age of patronage is behind us? What self-respecting forward-leaning progressive art dissident would willingly align themselves with a government movement? Since when have artists needed to collude with The Man to decide how to do their work?

That was a rhetorical question, but now that I've asked it, it seems worth answering. Not since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Joe Wilson, Joe Biden, and the Dangerous Truth Strategy

Politicians and pundits alike were shocked by the outburst of Representative Joe Wilson, (R-South Carolina) during President Obama’s speech the other day, but if they were caught off guard by his calling the President a liar, they have been even more amazed by the campaign contributions that have rolled into his campaign coffers as a result.

Originally considered a faux pas by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, the unexpected financial effect of Representative Wilson’s brush with tourette syndrome has earned it a second look. As campaign contributions from his small, lower-middle class district top one million dollars, members of Congress are considering shifting to a campaign strategy they would never have considered just a week before. From the prominent to the obscure, elected representatives are meeting with their campaign managers and discussing the unheard-of possibility that occasional truth-telling, under carefully controlled circumstances, might actually work to their benefit.

Legendary democratic strategist James Carville, on his way to his crypt before dawn today, acknowledged at least the slim possibility that the truth might actually work in some cases. “Yeah, well, thas a poss bility, ahthough, in ah ‘sperience, ah candidates haven’t ‘zacly represented constit encies that we considered suscep able to that sort of puh suasion.”

Now many have come to reevaluate what they had previously considered the Vice President’s Achilles heel – his frequent tendency to blurt out statements that were disastrously off-topic, and even more disturbingly, true. In the light of Joe Wilson’s truth strategy, should we question whether Joe Biden is more Machiavelli than Rain Man? Could his truth-blurting be, not a series of entertaining gaffs, but instead, a cleverly laid plot to ingratiate himself with the electorate while the President sinks lower and lower in the polls? The prescience required for such a master plan boggles the mind, but there it is: We must consider the possibility that the Vice President, hiding behind a fa├žade of vacuity, concealed beneath a camouflage of hair plugs, recognized before anyone, a growing truth-bias among the electorate, and not only recognized it, but put into action a subtle program to benefit from it by gradually, imperceptibly, insinuating himself into the growing undercurrent of the truth counterculture.

Now that the cat’s out of the bag, legislators are seeking to understand this newest voting demographic. A survey of the most prominent Washington-area consultants who specialize in public opinion data shows that prior to last week, the vast majority of them were concentrating their efforts on finding the most palatable way to present healthcare reform for illegal immigrants. Since Representative Wilson’s truth outbreak, however, each of them has shifted their attention to identifying the truth demographic, and finding the best ways to secure its loyalty for their clients.

But the Truth Strategy is not for everyone. While Representative Barney Frank’s (D-Massachusetts) early numbers show some success for his first forays into Truth (He has begun experimenting on focus groups by interrupting his own speeches with cries of “Hideouth!, Tweacherouth,” and “Dethpicabew!”) some legislators are finding that they are physically incapable of using Truth, even in its simplest forms.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, (D-California) for one, has discovered what appears to be an allergic reaction to Truth. In recent sessions with her consultants, she slipped into anaphylactic shock and narrowly avoided assuming a permanent vegetative state when, for test purposes, she tried to say, “The stimulus package may not have been entirely successful.”

“It was awful,” said an eyewitness. “Her face just kind of froze, and she sat there, immobile.”

A colleague said, “At first we just thought it was another botox treatment, but then we realized she wasn’t breathing. It took nearly 20 minutes to find someone to administer CPR.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) acknowledges a similar affliction, although his reaction seemed to be less extreme. When he tried to say, “Government is sometimes not as efficient as the free market,” he suffered a severe asthma attack, which required administration of a corticosteroid inhaler from the Congressional Free Medical Clinic. Although he turned a lovely shade of blue, the senator said that the Truth experiment was not something he was willing to repeat in the future. “Much too dangerous,” he cautioned. “In fact,” he said, suddenly looking better than he had all day, “Truth is so dangerous that in the near future I will be proposing legislation to regulate it.”

Other members of Congress have been less precipitous in their attempts to benefit from Truth, and so sustained reactions that were much less severe. Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota) developed a case of hives when he whispered, “The Founding Fathers meant what they said and said what they meant,” while Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) suffered a nose bleed.

While these and many other legislators were dismayed to discover their inability to profit from the Truth Strategy, they have, at least, discovered a silver lining in their dark cloud. Senator Olympia Snowe, (R-Maine) proudly waved her newly-minted handicapped parking placard. “This represents a major blow against the injustices suffered by the less-enabled,” she said, as she spoke in glowing terms of the government benefits that would now be extended to truth-impaired members of Congress.

Wind-scuplted Dunes

As threatened, another painting of sand dunes.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Michael Kiefer, one of 2,996

I know I posted this a couple days ago, but I wanted to bring it back up to the top page, now that today is the Eleventh of September.

After posting this for the first time a couple of years ago, I was privileged to exchange correspondence a few times with Michael's mother, Pat. I can tell you that even with the passage of years, she and her family still missed her son terribly. These 2,996 are gone, but they left behind families and loved ones. It's as much for them - those still suffering from their loss - as much as for the 2,996, that we take this day to remember what happened nine years ago.

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 once 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 fireman in 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 was 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 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.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Overlook

I've been having a terrible time uploading pictures to this site lately, so I have a backlog of paintings to post. I'll get them up as quickly as I can.

This is a little (postcard-sized) one.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Dark Dunes


I don't think I'll be done painting sand dunes for a long time to come. Like the ocean, sand dunes change their appearance depending on the weather, the light, and any number of other factors. The shortening and lengthening of shadows alters their contours, and the angle of the sun affects their color. This fascinates me, so, like I said, I'll be painting scenes like this for quite a while, I think.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Michael Kiefer, One of 2,996

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 fireman in 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 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.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Long Crossing


A camel contemplates the broad emptiness between himself and the next spring. This is a little painting - about 3.5 X 9 inches. Years ago I was deeply impressed by the tiny landscapes of Frank Reaugh, which I first saw in Abilene, Texas. (Since then, I've also seen them in San Angelo, just about 90 miles south of Abilene.) Because he often worked outside, in the unrelenting West Texas wind, Mr. Reaugh worked small. Somehow, he managed to pack so much information and expression into his little pastels, that they conveyed the huge sweeping vistas of the western U.S. in a way that is still vivid in my memory. This is a small tribute to his work which, by the way, he did in the hopes that it would reflect the grandness of creation and the glory of the Creator.
If you click on the title of this post (The Long Crossing) you can view some of Mr. Reaugh's work.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Caravan From Mecca


A view of the immensity of the desert.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Pharmacy


The Pakistani day laborers congregate on the steps of the pharmacy, waiting for work.