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.