Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Toro Park


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


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

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that you spent a certain amount of it thanking God for His goodness. I know that's not politically correct of me to say, but if you think that's un-PC, you should read what Abraham Lincoln had to say about the matter in 1863:

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

Angle of Attack

As my buddy Keith will tell you, one of the hardest things about painting is resuming work on a project that, for whatever reason, you've set aside for a reasonable length of time.

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.

I agree with Charlie Rangel.

I support Charlie Rangel in his call for a draft. Clearly, certain elements of our society are missing from the roles of those who serve, while other elements are too-well represented. This is an egregious error, and will cause untold problems in the not-too-distant future.

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 is Dead

Milton Friedman died in San Francisco today. He was 94 years old. To say he was an economist would be every bit as incomplete as it would be to say he was a genius. Even to mention that he won a Nobel prize (back before they started handing them out to buffoons like Arafat and Carter) is in adequate.

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

Spreckles, California


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

Carmel Lagoon

Here's my latest little painting. This one is 4 X 6 inches, and it's a view of the Carmel River, just before it joins the Pacific Ocean.

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

Weekend with the Commemorative Air Force

I had the honor this weekend of visiting the good folks of the Commemorative Air Force, in Midland, Texas. The CAF restores old military aircraft and flies them in airshows all around the country. If you've seen movies that featured WWII aircraft (such as The Battle of Britain) then you've seen some of the fantastic work done by these dedicated people.

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

Carmel Beach

I'm working up a series of small paintings for a shop nearby and an open house at a local gallery. This one, which is of Carmel Beach with the Pebble Beach golf course in the background, is 5 X 7 inches.

Down to the Sea

Here's the second. Like the first, this one is 5 X 7 inches.

The D.C. Press - All About Itself

The press's first question after the President's announcement of Rumsfeld's resignation concerned itself, not with the Iraq policy, or military transformation, or whether Gates will continue with Rumsfeld's drawdown of U.S. forces. Instead, it covered a much more important topic.

"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

Newsweek may as well strap on a bomb

if they're going to run stories like the current cover piece by Fareed Zakaria. Forget winning in Iraq, he tells us. We'll be lucky not to flat out lose.

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.

Idiot.

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

John Kerry Saved My Life In Vietnam.

I’ve never told anyone this before; John Kerry saved my life in Vietnam. I haven’t mentioned it till now because doing so requires an admission of wrongdoing on my part – an admission, which, to his credit, John Kerry (whom I’ve always known as “Skipper”) has shielded me from making. The time has come though, to pay back old debts, to demonstrate my gratitude to the man who risked his life to save mine. It’s a small price to pay, so I begin with an admission of guilt that I have avoided for almost 20 years; I lied about my age in order to join the Navy.

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

One Hundred Dead in October

We've heard this figure a lot lately. It's held up to us as proof positive that we're pursuing a fools errand in Iraq, and that we need to get out while we can.

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."

A Note to Mr. Kerry

Dear Mr. Kerry,

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.

Twice.

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.

Steven