Friday, July 31, 2009

Three New Paintings

Here are three new paintings I did this weekend. (The weekend here is Thursday and Friday.) This one shows one of the veins of blue-black basaltic granite that stretch across the desert. Where every color is blasted into neutral by the sun, these dark stones stand out vividly.

Promise of Rain

Sometimes little cloudbursts appear in the desert, but it's so hot and dry that the water seems to evaporate before it even hits the ground.

Observation Point

The desert floor is dotted with small hills. Some of them, if you climb to the top and look, feature a line of rocks, placed there by Bedouins to mark the course to the nearest water source.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Royal Saudi Air Force

I've reached the stage with this painting where I put it aside for a couple of weeks. If, when I look at it again after that period, I don't see anything that needs to be added, removed, or changed, I'll call it done, and I'll have it framed for its presentation to His Highness, Prince Al Faisal, Commander of the Royal Saudi Air Force.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Milk Man

This man was sitting on the curb next to his bicycle the other day as I drove by. I turned around and parked and sat next to him for a while. He thought I was a doctor and told me he'd like a job in the nearby hospital. I told him I worked at the U.S. Embassy, and he decided that Embassy work would suit him much better.

While we talked, a pickup truck filled with picnic coolers pulled up next to us. A man got out and removed several cartons of milk, tubs of yogurt, and other dairy products from a cooler. He gave them to this man, who put them in the basket of his bicycle and set out to deliver them. It was about 110 degrees. I wondered if there would be much difference between the milk and the yogurt by the time they reached their destinations.

My Neighborhood

Here's a view of the park across the street from my house. Almost a year ago, I rescued my cats, Pinky and Junebug from here.

Kitty Bomb

It looks like somebody set off a kitty bomb around here. There must have been a dozen litters of kittens born within a week of each other here in my compound. Just shake a bush, and kittens will fall out of the branches.

These little ones are contending with a swarm of bees who are intent on staking their claim to a local fountain.

Quintessential Saudi Cat

The typical Saudi cat has long legs, a long tail, and long ears. According to a U.S. Army veterinarian I met here, they are hardier than most U.S. domestic short-hairs. For some reason, they show no interest in catnip.

You Can't See Me.

Practicing the art of stalking


Isn't she beautiful?

Lounging by the pool

There are a lot of fountains near my home, and in the morning when it's cool, that's where you'll find the cats.

Turn Your Speakers Up.

This little one has something to say.

Jack in the Box, Saudi Style

Something wasn't quite right about this trash can; it made noise as I passed by. Closer inspection revealed something suprising inside.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Kingdom Tower, Riyadh

Here's my current project, which has been taking forever to complete. In this painting, two F-15s of the Royal Saudi Air Force are climbing above Riyadh, after flying through the eye of Kingdom Tower.

Quite a bit of detail is still lacking, but I think this gives you a pretty good idea of what I've been up to.

Monday, July 13, 2009

David Brooks' Senator Revealed

David Brooks recently wrote about being fondled at dinner by a U.S. Senator, whom he declines to name. As you can imagine, this has stirred up a bit of journalistic interest. Let the record show that I am the first to reveal that mysterious person's identity. Yes, it was I...


It seems that a lot of journalists are about to invest a significant amount of time and energy searching for the US senator by whom David Brooks claims to have been fondled. Seeing as the energy available to journalists for investigation is a rare and precious commodity, I feel duty bound to come forth with the answer. Only then can journalists direct their limited attention where it belongs, which is answering the important questions such as, “If Judge Sotomayor is right, and Latina women are wise, why did Lucille Ball get Desi Arnaz?”

So, in the interest of furthering true journalism, and at the risk of some personal embarrassment, I must now disclose that the errant hand that found its way onto David Brooks’ thigh was my own.

Let me hasten to explain a couple of small, but important details that David (not surprisingly – He is David Brooks, after all) got wrong. First, I never claimed to be a Senator. This is an important detail. I don’t want people forming a mental image of me as the type of guy who gets his kicks running around claiming to be a senator. Worse yet, I don’t want anyone to think of me as the kind of guy who actually is a senator. (shudder) Second, I did not know that the thigh in question belonged to David. In all honesty, I thought it belonged to Helen Thomas.

You can understand my error if you imagine the circumstances. The room was poorly lit, and I had consumed a number of Tom Collins. The precise number is unknown to me. It was more than one, and I have a strong memory of it being a prime number, but whether it was 3, 5, or 7, I cannot recall. I am certain that it was not Pi. Should we be required to reconstruct the incident, I imagine we could mix up a pitcher, sit me in a dark room and see at what point I lose my ability to distinguish between the owners of various thighs, but I’m not sure what would be gained, aside from a hangover that would be a dead wringer for the one from which I was suffering while David was, apparently, typing out his little story, of which I have become the reluctant star. Contributing to the confusion was the fact that, although Helen has a deeper voice and better posture, and more hair, she and David can easily be mistaken for each other when, as I mentioned, lighting is poor, and Helen is wearing a pantsuit.

Let me also explain, (though it pains me to do so because not only am I not a senator, but I am also not the kind of man who kisses and tells) that Helen and I have had an off-and-on “thing” for a while now. It actually began several decades ago, when she was a svelte and sultry octogenarian. Although I was in peak physical condition, I was no match for her as she cornered me in a deserted Metro car, on the last Green Line of the evening. Ah, those sweaty summer D.C. Metro seats… I at first thought she was suffering from a rhythmic form of severe gastric distress, but it was only the capture and release of small pockets of air trapped between our straining bodies and that slippery vinyl.

Anyway, ever since that time, Helen and I, despite careers that have, at times, kept us continents apart, seem always to find each other (She made me tell her my social security number and my mother’s maiden name.) and on those occasions, she is fond of taking out her teeth and complaining of her “gout” or “rheumatism” at which point I am required to give her a “massage.”

Now I think you have sufficient background information to continue our story in the present day. I could give you more, but like I said, I’m not the kind of guy who likes to kiss and tell. Besides, it brings back the nightmares. So I was sitting next to David in that poorly lighted – did I say poorly lighted? It was practically a cave in there – room, well aware, as I always am when within a 100 mile radius of D.C., that I was in Helen’s domain, and that it was only a matter of time before she caught my scent, tracked me down, and started bundling me into that Velcro suit she likes so much. So I guess I was a little bit spring loaded as far as running into Helen is concerned, and speaking of loaded, did I mention that I’d had a few? Well I had, and that’s not an error I intend to repeat, I can tell you that for certain. Aside from a bloody Mary with breakfast, a martini (or two) with lunch, and a few cocktails in the evening, you can rest assured that I am definitely, positively, off the stuff.

So into that emotionally charged, light-deficient, high blood/alcohol situation is added the fact that I am sitting next to David Brooks. Now I don’t know if you’ve met David, or spent any time with him, and I don’t know if this is his usual condition, but I can tell you on that particular night, Mr. Brooks was a bit windy, if you know what I mean. He’d had a bit too much of the bean dip, is what I’m trying to say. Follow? And he wasn’t even trying to be quiet about it. Plus, the guy is a mouth breather. Dinner with him is like dining with a sulfurous Darth Vader. Unpleasant. Now maybe you are beginning to see what happened. Rasping breathing in the dark, audible venting of digestive gases, a vaguely slumped, hermaphroditic shape, the top of which is covered by a pitiful peach fuzz of what used to be a glorious head of hair – I had no idea I was sitting next to David. I was dead certain that Helen, far from slowing down in her later years, had gotten better than ever at finding me and cornering me in the dark.

We were in public, so maybe you think that would have afforded me some protection, but did I not already explain to you how she ravished me in a Metro car? The woman is a predator, and I was nothing but a lump of meat. All I could think about was forestalling the inevitable, placating her as long as possible. Who knew? Maybe fortune would smile on me and I would be able to escape. So I put my hand on her thigh. It was negotiating from a position of weakness, but at least it was a negotiation. And it seemed to be working. Although her breathing grew ever more raspy and she made disconcerting grunting noises from time to time, she did not slip under the table, reach up, with claw like hands, and draw me under to play Persephone to her Hades.

I have no recollection of getting to my hotel. My only thought when I awoke was relief at finding myself alone, with no signs anywhere of having been chaffed by Velcro. I immediately changed hotels. I wasn’t sure how she’d found me, and I was vaguely uneasy that she had tracked me down, only to disappear, but I was determined not to make an easy target.

Once I found a new hotel (I changed cabs three times on the way and signed for my room as “Mr. E. Bratwurst.”) I sat down with the paper and came across the little story David wrote. While they usually amuse me, this one caused me to break out into a cold sweat. I would never have imagined that there could be anything worse than being revealed to the public eye as the focus of Helen’s Wagnerian lusts, but having been accused of being a United States Senator, and one who fondled David’s thigh, no less, has changed my mind completely.

Yes I'm still alive!

And, maybe more importantly, still painting, although you wouldn't know it by the lack of recent postings. Sorry about that, but I've been working for weeks on a project that will be presented to a member of the Saudi Royal Family, and I have had little time for painting anything else. Until that is, I did this tiny Riyadh skyline. You can see Kingdom Tower in the foreground, and Faisalia Center, toward the background. Faisalia Center was once the tallest tower in Riyadh, but was eclipsed by Kingdom Tower. Near the top of Faisalia is a huge globe, which holds a restaurant.

Monday, July 06, 2009

"Use of Drones Intolerable" According to British Judge

I have often noticed that to those who have never put their butts on the line, the ability to strike a target without risking your life in the process seems unfair. Maybe so, but when it comes to war, it's been said that fair fights are for chumps, and I'm inclined to agree.

Today a senior British judge declared that the use of drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) is "cruel as to be beyond the pale of human tolerance". He had nothing to say about how victims of the Taliban feel about them.

I have some peripheral experience with UAVs, and I thought I'd take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about it. I wrote the following letter during my second deployment, and I think it sums up pretty well how I feel about UAVs and whether using them is cruel.

Death From Above
We're at work. We're standing, eyes glued to one of the screens on the wall above us. Different images flicker elsewhere on the wall, but the one we're interested is grainy black and white video, transmitted live. We're watching because an indicator on the screen says the operator has designated a target. A moment later we get the word - a weapon has been released. Someone is about to die.

This scene has repeated itself many times over the last few days. It's one of few experiences that I've found is not diminished by repetition.

Am I remorseful? Do I feel for the men who, in a matter of seconds, will cease to exist? The place in my heart that would be occupied by remorse is scarred by images of a hostage slaughter house. The part of my mind that might harbor compassion is imagining a makeshift video studio, where Al Jazeera cameramen drank tea to the sounds of innocents' life blood gurgling in their windpipes.

The people we watch die are blissfully unaware. What are they discussing on that street corner? What is he thinking as he drives that car? Do they, for the split second before impact, wonder at the sound of wind, rushing over the stubby wings of the warhead? Even if they do - even if they hear the missile, homing inexorably from a vehicle so far away they never saw it, their brief shock is nothing to me. The searing flash, the concussion that separates their body from their soul bothers me not a bit. It is merciful.

It is not the weeks or months-long separation from friends and family, being held like livestock for a bargain that will never be struck. It is not the desperate sickness that invades the heart, knowing you will never see your family again. It is not the terror of knowing your captors consider you most valuable when your head is severed, dangling from their bloody fist in a television commercial for evil. It is not the grinding by of countless hours of loneliness and fear.

It is quick. It is better than they deserve. Far from regret, I am grimly satisfied at my role in this process.

Maybe it shocks you that I can appreciate beauty, love my family, and calmly contemplate killing men. It shouldn't. The understanding of good and evil and the willingness to act in the differentiation between them is fundamental to those more appealing characteristics.
I'm still me.


Friday, July 03, 2009

Camel Trio

I get a lot of requests for paintings of camels. This is the latest. Happy Independence Day, everybody.