Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Falconry in Portugal

The other day I had just left work when I saw two guys with hawks on their wrists heading for a field below the NATO base. I did a quick u-turn and parked on base, then hurried to the field.

I caught up with them and was relieved to find that they speak English.  I asked if they'd mind if I watched, and they made me feel welcome. They were glad to have an extra pair of feet walking the field, hoping I'd help flush rabbits for the hawks to strike.

We didn't stir up any rabbits, but they'd brought one in a cage, just in case. After we'd walked the field and the birds had flown a few times, they hooded them and handed me the smaller of the two (the male) and took the rabbit out. The son tied a slip knot in about 200 feet of thin cord and passed the loop over the hind leg of the rabbit, and then set him down on the ground. The father and I walked uphill from there. As we walked, he explained that the birds had been hatched in May, and they were the first birds he and his son had ever had. The birds were learning how to hunt, and they were learning how to teach them.

I was surprised that they'd had the birds as hatchlings. As I understand it, this isn't allowed in US falconry. There, you have to capture an adult or adolescent bird, and you can keep it for only a season or two before you have to release it. Breeding raptors is not permitted. Here though, you can raise a bird from a chick, and you can keep it for its entire 15 - 20 year life span. Apparently there is a village near the Spanish border that is famous for breeding birds of prey. People go there to watch falconry demonstrations and to buy birds. I hope to visit there sometime soon.

As we walked uphill, the bird sat placidly on my wrist, his talons clamped onto the thick leather glove I wore. The father, Miguel, took a moment to show me the bird's talons. Not only do they come to deadly point, but the inside curves leading down to those points are as sharp as razors. They are very finely serrated, and the bird can put a great deal of pressure behind those tiny blades. There is nothing better for puncturing and cutting meat. Miguel showed me this as a warning. When you hold one of these birds, those talons are the point of contact between the two of you, and they can do a lot of damage if you let them.

When we got to the top of the rise that marks the edge of the field, Miguel told me to unhood the hawk I carried. I brought my left elbow in close to my ribcage, bringing the bird close, but keeping him pointed away from me, and then took one of the the leather straps on the hood between my teeth, as I had seen others do. I pulled loose the gatherings at the back of the hood and pulled it forward, rolling it down past that sharply hooked beak. The hawk blinked, regarded me briefly through wide, black eyes, and flapped, trying to lift off. I had the leather jesse looped around my middle finger though, so he had nowhere to go, and after a moment, he settled down.

Meanwhile, downhill from us, the son, Bernardo, was now a couple hundred feet from where the unsuspecting rabbit sat in the thick clover. At a sign from Miguel, Bernardo gave a sharp tug on the leash, and the rabbit jumped, a flash of white belly fur showing briefly against the deep green. My hawk showed only mild interest at the sight. Bernardo yanked again, and again the rabbit leaped, this time giving out that terrible shriek that rabbits sometimes give. If you've heard that sound you know what I'm talking about. It's unforgettable. Unforgettable or not though, my hawk did not find it particularly inspiring, so after a couple more tries, Miguel said that it was the female's turn.

To give the male a better view, and to keep them separate while the female hunted, I took the male down close to the rabbit. I double checked that his jesse was tight, keeping his foot drawn down firmly onto my glove, so that he would not try to fly when the rabbit jumped this time. Miguel waved to Bernardo, holding the female up high to give her the best possible view, and letting her jesse dangle freely so she could fly. Bernardo gave a tug on the line, the rabbit jumped, and obliged us further by making a short run. The female, the more aggressive of the two birds, needed no further inducement. She left Miguel's wrist and covered the several hundred feet in just seconds, the brass bell tied to her leg jingling pleasantly. She wasted no time gaining altitude and diving, as I thought she would, but dropped to the rabbit from a height of only about three feet.

While she needed no encouragement to hunt, she did need work on her timing, touching down just behind her intended victim. The hapless rabbit, unaware that it was being stalked by winged death, ended its short run and began unconcernedly sniffing at the clover, just a yard from the hawk. The bird started ambling over to the rabbit, and would have attacked it afoot, had Bernardo not quickly grabbed her jess and taken her on his glove. She was not pleased at being interrupted, and she flapped angrily on his wrist, trying to get to the rabbit. Miguel, who had been running down the hill since she left his wrist, took her back, leaving Bernardo to, once again, pace off the length of the rabbit's leash.

We repeated the drill, and this time she made a successful strike. Again, she never climbed more than about a yard above the ground, but even at some distance, I could hear the force with which she struck the rabbit. When she gets bigger and faster, she'll strike from higher, and sometimes with enough force to break her victim's spine. This time though, the strike was not lethal, and the rabbit screamed as she tore at it with beak and talons. Bernardo quickly dispatched it with a knife, so that it would suffer as little as possible.

Miguel allowed the female a few moments alone with her kill, which she protected from her brother's desirous gaze with hooded wings. After she had eaten a few pieces, Miguel cut a hind leg off and covered it in blood from the chest cavity. He used the leg to hold her interest, and draw her to his wrist, where he allowed her to feed herself from the leg as he held it for her. At the same time, Bernardo gutted the rabbit and again walked away to the end of the leash.

All this time, the male had been watching with interest, and as he smelled blood and watched his sister feed, he became more and more agitated. Now, at a signal from Bernardo, I dropped his jesse, and Bernardo began to run, towing the rabbit carcass after him. The male required three attempts to get his timing right, finally making a successful strike just as the last of the light was fading from the evening sky. As we had with his sister, we let him feed himself for a few moments before drawing him to my wrist with the other hind leg. The idea behind all of this is to reward the bird for making a "kill" while at the same time helping him grow accustomed to feeding at the glove, and associating the glove with the reward for a successful hunt. Miguel told me that their particular breed of hawk is considered a beginner's bird because they are quick learners, forgiving of bad habits, and not as independently minded as some other birds. After Christmas, he said he'd give me a call and we'd take the birds hunting again. I'll take Zach with me next time. He's looking forward to seeing the birds, and it's a great opportunity to see parts of Portugal that we might not otherwise.

In the mean time, Miguel has promised to send me some pictures he took that afternoon.  I'll post them when he does.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

US DoJ - CAIR's Newest Employee?

The Justice Department, apparently lacking more pressing business, is suing a Chicago-area school district for refusing to grant a Muslim teacher three weeks of unpaid leave for a pilgrimage to Mecca. The DOJ claims that, in its refusal, the district violated the civil rights of Safoorah Khan.

Ms Khan resigned in 2008, shortly after her request was denied for the second time, saying that "…based on her religious beliefs, she could not justify delaying performing hajj…" DoJ seeks back pay, compensatory damages and reinstatement for Ms. Khan.

These are the bare bones of the case, and this represents almost all the information readily available in the news accounts I’ve been able to find. What’s interesting here though, is not so much what we’re given, as what is left out of the story.

For instance, most accounts make only a passing mention of the fact that Ms Khan had taught at the school for less than a year before she began demanding 3 weeks off. Is it reasonable to be employed in a job, the requirements and benefits of which are clearly delineated in a contract, for only a few months before demanding special treatment? If taking the Hajj was such an essential part of Ms Khan’s existence, shouldn’t she have made that fact known before she was hired?

Also, none of the articles I’ve seen even consider the possibility that three weeks is far more than is required to make the Hajj. Two minutes’ worth of googling reveals plenty of Hajj package trips that take only 11 or 12 days. Even tacking a couple days of travel onto each end of the trip gets one home in less than three weeks.

And why the urgency? Ms Khan says she “…could not justify delaying…” Islam makes no requirement that the Hajj be accomplished before one attains a particular age, and even relieves one of the burden if one’s circumstances make attendance impossible. Furthermore, the Islamic calendar is lunar-based, which means its events rotate throughout the year. If Ms Khan had been content to wait a few years, she could have made her pilgrimage during the summer, or during an already-existing break in the academic year.

Just to sum things up: An employee with less than a year in her position asks for twice as many days off as she needs to accomplish a pilgrimage that she is under no obligation to accomplish in the near future, a pilgrimage that she could just as easily make at a time that presents no hardship for her employer. When the employer refuses to accommodate her request, the Justice Department sues on her behalf.

Call me a skeptic, but this case has all the indicators of the type of lawfair being waged by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR and other Muslim Brotherhood-associated groups have made it a common practice to initiate lawsuits against anything or anyone they consider as insufficiently accommodating to Islam. CAIR was very closely involved in the case that became known as the “Flying Imams,” where Muslim men intentionally drew attention to themselves in an airport prior to a flight, and once they had boarded, made passengers uneasy by requesting unneeded seatbelt extensions, circulating through the cabin, and changing their seats. Anyone who expressed concern or reported the suspicious activity – as requested by Janet Napolitano’s new Department of Homeland Security Walmart advertisements – was threatened with lawsuits and accused of being bigoted and “Islamaphobic.”

Since that time, CAIR has been dealt a number of legal setbacks, losing its battle to have its name removed from the list of unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism funding trial, and having Morris Days, its “Resident Attorney” and “Manager for Civil Rights” exposed as a fraud. Although CAIR advertised him as an attorney and billed hundreds of Muslim clients for his services as if he were one, Days has never been to law school, and was never an attorney. In fact, whatever legal experience he claims comes from being an ex-convict.

CAIR’s legal problems, though ongoing, do not seem to be preventing them from pursuing their stated goal of using America’s legal system against her, in order to institute Islamic law. Quite the opposite, in fact. In just two years, they have progressed from a con artist representing himself as an attorney to having their water carried for them by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Palacio da Pena

A week or so ago, I posted photos of Sintra, taken from up on the ruins of the Moorish castle.  When I finished looking down and to the north at Sintra, I turned to the south and looked up at this place - the Palace of Pena (pronounced "Penya") which was the summer home of the last king of Portugal.

To get to Penya, you can drive almost all the way to the top, or you can park part way up and walk along a path that leads through the Valley of the Lakes.  As you walk along, you get occasional glimpses of the castle, looming above you.

Zoe considers walking a form of torture.  Her feet began to hurt at the mere suggestion of visiting the palace.  Still, it was a beautiful day for a walk, and you couldn't have asked for a more interesting location.

Here's a view of the Moorish castle, located on a peak just below the Palacio da Pena.  I'm working on a large painting of this view right now.  I'll post it soon.
Here's a view of the palace.  It's so big and goes off in so many directions that I had to stitch 4 or 5 photos together for this picture. 
Everywhere you look, there are odd architectural features borrowed from other places and times.  This dome, like a lot of other parts of the palace, is covered with the ceramic tiles for which Portugal is famous.  In the background, you can see the fog (lovingly referred to as "the Queen's fart") rolling in.  Up on this range of peaks, the temperature is usually a good 10 degrees cooler than in the valley and along the coast, and often from a distance, the whole area is obscured by a thick grey blanket of cloud.
There are lots of architectural references to the sea and seafaring, from which Portugal derived its power.  This decoration above the door into the ballroom is a Poseidon-kind-of-guy in a scallop shell.  The rough-textured part below him, which goes from the top of the door arch to the ground, is all shaped like coral.
Here's a view of one of the gates you pass through in order to enter the palace.

And here's a promenade that overlooks the valley. It gives a spectacular view from the royal living quarters, which were originally a monastary.

Tug Boat "Cajun"

You may recall that a few weeks ago my dad and I lucked into a tour of a tug boat, which has been kind of a life-long dream for him.  Here's a small painting of "Cajun".   

Monday, December 13, 2010

Exclusive News - Kim Jong Il's latest film release imminent

Central Democratic People’s News Agency of the Democratic People of North Korea

For immediate release:

Morning Star Entelplises, the production company of international film star Kim Jong Il, has announced to the delight of millions, that it will soon release “The Greatest Love Story Ever Told – Ever” the directorial debut of the world’s most beloved actor.

Kim Jong Il, pictured with his entourage below, emerged today from six-months of isolation, during which he edited the new project, applying exciting new technology of his own design, destined, he said, “to levorutionize the way films are made and viewed.”

The star, whose health had been of great concern to his devoted fans, appeared to have been revitalized by the experience, in which, he explained, he was able to accomplish the work of an entire production crew working 24 hours a day for 3 years, due to a health regime of his own design consisting of strict adherence to a regimen of early morning yoga and an exclusive diet of Johny Walker Black and betel nuts.

"Jim Stark"   From the 1955 classic, "Rebel Without a Causing"

Although it was rumored that Kim Jong Il had cast his son, and rising star in his own right, Kim Jong Un as the lead, we were thrilled to learn today that Kim Jong Il would reprise that role himself, a decision that he seemed to have arrived at shortly after rumors began circulating that famous American actress Angelina Jolie would play the love interest.

Kim Jong Un as "Red" in "Good Happenings in Shawshank, an evil capitalist prison"

It was felt that Jolie, although a round-eyed devil and a capitalist, would be able to fully blossom under the tutelage of the beloved director and film fans the world over held their breath in delirious anticipation, but it appears that the yellow dogs of the American film industry in Hollywood were unwilling to allow her to travel to the Hermit Kingdom, no doubt concerned that if she were to do so, she would never return.
"Neo"  From the 1999 Smash "The Grid"

This left the Dear Reader in the difficult spot of having to find a leading lady whose acting abilities were sufficient to allow her to be cast with the beloved star himself, a problem which, we were told in an exclusive interview, caused him no small amount of concern. Ultimately, it was his health regimen that led him to the solution. After a particularly rigorous session of chewing betel nuts and irrigating himself with Johnny Walker Black, The World’s Most Beloved Star realized that in a film depicting the greatest love story ever told – ever, only he was capable of conveying the depths of emotion and soaring passion required to do the script justice. “In a case such as this,” he said, “It is necessaly to truly refrect the vision of the writer. One must not ret the writer down,” he emphasized.

And since he himself wrote the script, it is clear that no part of the magnificent epic will fail to be carried across to the fortunate viewers.

Although we have not seen the film yet, (we are looking forward to this month’s generous allotment of electricity beginning next week!) we are fully qualified to recommend this film, and to convey upon it the record-breaking 6 stars out of a possible 5.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Good Weekend for Painting

Here's another view of the coastal fort in Oeiras.  As I mentioned below, this is on hot-pressed paper, which has a flatter surface than cold-pressed.  That made it easier to convey the smoothness of the walls.
Here's the photo I worked from.
 This is a view of the house we're renting here.  I've been wanting to do a small painting of it for a gift for our landlady.  I finally had the time today. 
Here's how it's turning out so far:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Two Small Paintings

Here's a small (3.5 x 5.5 inch) study of Sintra Palace, from the photo I posted a couple days ago.  I'll work this up into a larger painting in the near future.  Working this small presents its own set of difficulties, especially in watercolor, but I still find it helpful for solving problems of composition and balance.  It's also helpful for sorting out how to convey all those odd angles and varying degrees of shadow, direct, and indirect sunlight. 

If I can do it in such a small painting, and do it in such a way that it makes sense from a fair distance away, then I figure I have most of the problems licked, and I can start working large.

Of course, a large painting has challenges of its own; it's much more difficult to get a uniform color distribution across a wide area than a small one, and sometimes that's very important, since accidental variations in tone can convey unintended meanings.  Sometimes that's a good thing, but then again, sometimes it's a real aggravation.

There are quite a few watercolorists who would take me to task for trying to exert so much control, probably.  A lot of people think watercolor should be loose and splashy.  Those who know me will no doubt not be surprised to learn that has never appealed to me.
Here's another study I'm working on.  You'll recognize this from a previous photo too.  This will be especially challenging to do on a larger scale because I'll want to reflect that beautiful uniformity of surface that you see in the photograph.  It doesn't work here on this small painting because of the texture of the paper.  I'm using a 300lb cold-pressed Arches paper here, which is very rough.  Often, that gives you a nice effect, but for the larger painting, I might go with a hot-pressed paper, which will be very smooth.  That will probably require another study, as I haven't worked with that paper in a while, and it behaves differently. 

Besides, I think another study might be in order, since I'm not sure I'm satisfied with the way this color compares to that in the photograph.  A perfect match isn't always that important, but in this case, I think the colors are really important to the photo, and I'd like to get as close to them as possible in the painting.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Ponte 25 de Abril

Yesterday was a typical Portuguese winter day; not so cold, but windy and rainy, with very dramatic clouds.  This was the view from the southern end of the 25 April Bridge, which crosses the Tagus River from Lisbon to the Setubal Penninsula.

The bridge was origninally named after Portugal's dictator, Salazar, but is now known by the date on which he was overthrown.  The color brings to mind the Golden Gate Bridge, in San Francisco, which is funny, since this particular bridge was designed, not by the folks who built the Golden Gate, but by the people who built the Oakland Bay Bridge.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Sintra and the Moorish Castle

This is a view of the famous village of Sintra (Lower right corner) and the plains beneath it that slope down to the sea.  I took this picture from the ruins of this Moorish castle:
Because I wanted this view of the Sintra National Palace:
The palace is enormous, and spreads out in every direction, with wings jutting out at lots of odd angles.  The most unusual characteristic is the two large chimneys (one behind the other in this photo) on the right hand side.  This view is the basis for a small painting I'm doing at the moment.  It'll serve as a study for a much larger one I hope to do.


I took these just a couple weeks ago in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. 
How is it possible that Fall makes me feel melancholy when the colors are so beautiful?

Tried to Sell Classified Information

Click on the title of this post (If you're viewing it on my blog) and you can visit the original Washington Post article. 

Or I'll save you the aggravation. 

Navy Reserve Intelligence Specialist 3rd Class Bryan Minkyu Martin of Mexico, NY was arrested last week for selling classified information to someone who turned out to be a fed.  Oops.  Now he's in the brig at Norfolk, awaiting what I sincerely hope will be his hanging. 

How can I express the depths of my loathing for this subhuman piece of crap?  It's poetic justice that this comes to light on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Maybe this infamous date and the Wikileaks lunacy will combine to convince Americans that treason is not to be dealt with lightly.

When I (and many of my friends who will be reading this) were young enlisted troops, we endured hours of painful instruction on the proper handling and protection of classified information.  We all took our turns going through the trash can at work, ensuring nothing classified had inadvertently been tossed into it, and we probably all made at least one minor mistake, for which each of us was written up and made to feel appropriately sorry for the momentary loss of focus that led to it.

The mistake that landed this jackass in the brig was no momentary loss of focus.  Despite all the training, despite knowing the importance to the enemy of the information he was divulging (He sold secret and top secret information relating to Afghanistan.) he collected it, smuggled it out of the secure facility where it belonged, and found someone willing to give him money for it.  He even bragged about how, in the future, he would have access to even more valuable information, assuring his "buyer" that he would someday be working for the Defense Intelligence Agency. 

Guys like Navy Reserve Intelligence Specialist 3rd Class Bryan Minkyu Martin of Mexico, NY (Soon, I hope, to be referred to as "convict Bryan Minkyu Martin of Mexico, NY) are trained at least annually in Operations Security and Information Security.  Before he received his security clearance, he would have watched training videos about counter intelligence, and espionage.  He would have been warned that nobody makes enough money selling information to make it worthwhile, because once you've made that compromise, you belong to whomever you're selling to, and they can make you do anything they want, with or without remuneration. 

On top of all that training, he would know that selling information can get people killed.  People that he trained with, people that looked out for him, people with spouses and kids and parents.  He would know all those things, and if he had even the smallest amount of human dignity, he would have safeguarded the information entrusted to his care.

He has no human dignity.  He willingly sold out everyone who depended on him, and he disgraced his uniform.  If he does hang, it will be too good for him.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Future Paintings

Sorry I haven't been posting in a while.  I've been busy since I got home and, to tell you the truth, I just haven't been feeling like myself.
The other day I took a walk along the shore before I went to work.  It has been raining almost daily for the last couple weeks, but that particular morning was clear and warm.  I headed for the moorish-style fortress along the shore that I've been wanting to photograph for a long time.  The pictures require morning light, so my timing was perfect. 
Like I said, it's been raining lately.  It's nice to see the summer brown-out turn back to green.