Friday, October 28, 2011


Here's my finished painting of Penha Palace.  Incidentally, one of the reasons they built this palace in Sintra, which is usually about ten degrees cooler than Lisbon in the summer, is to avoid the plague, which often became a problem in the warmer months.
I'm happy with the way the details worked out.  The window in the top left corner presented an entirely different set of challenges than the stonework in the bottom right.

Keith Miller - My Friend

I'd like to direct your attention to the shiny new gizmo on the right-hand side of my blog.  I'm exceptionally proud of it, not because it took me forever to figure out how to get it there (which it did) but because it allows me the privilege of showcasing the work of my great friend Keith Miller.

Keith and I first met in '95 or '96 (we were both in our early teens, I think...) when we were both second lieutenants.  (Ok, so we weren't in our teens.)  We hit it off pretty much immediately, despite the fact that Keith is reserved, even downright quiet while I - well, I guess I'm not.  Or at least I wasn't in those days.  We were both teaching for the Air Force at one of the smaller bases, a place called Goodfellow, in San Angelo, Texas.  Our working conditions weren't great, aside from the fact that we were entrusted with teaching fellow Air Force officers, which in and of itself made up for a lot.  We both derived a lot of satisfaction from what we did, and I think the way we got along enabled each of us to get pretty good at it.

We were a good combination because I was headstrong and a little rash, prone to launch right into things, and Keith, as I said, wasn't.  He had a way of quietly assessing a situation before he dived into it that I came to admire and tried to emulate.  For my part, I think I dragged him into a few controversies he might have missed out on, were he not my friend, so maybe I helped make his duty day a little more interesting.  Maybe not.

Either way, what I do know is that Keith has always been the kind of friend that I could rely on, and that puts him in a very small group of people.  When some of my stories were published in 2006, Keith let me stay at his place in D.C. and came along with me to the book-signing at the Library of Congress.  

Keith retired from the Air Force and, while he's always been an extraordinary guitarist (No, really - when some of the true greats are in town, they call Keith to play with them.) he's only gotten better, now that he's not moving every 2 or 3 years.  I don't keep up with him as well as I should, but when I check in on him he's always working on something new, and getting ready to record it.  As a matter of fact, he's got a new CD in the works at the moment, and he's collaborating on another project with people like Muriel Anderson, Phil Keaggy, and Keegan McClellan on a project called "For Pete's Sake," which you can read about here.

So I'm proud of this new widget-thingy on my blog, because I'm proud of Keith, and I'm glad to be able to share his music with you.  Have a listen, and if you like what you hear, drop him a line on Facebook. He'll be glad to hear from you.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

DoJ Imposes Damages for Being Insufficiently Accomodating to Islam

I first wrote about this when Ms Khan initially brought suit against her employer, a school district that balked at releasing her  for 3 weeks so that she could make her pilgrimage to Mecca. 

Ms Khan had taught at the Berkeley Illinois School District for only about a year, and even her union contract denied the leave she requested.  Despite this, and despite the fact that she could have made the pilgrimage at a time that did not interfere with the school year (and not to mention the fact that she asked for just about twice as much time off as the pilgrimage would have required) the Department of Justice sued on her behalf, saying that the school district should have accomodated her religious requirements, even though she was the only math lab teacher, and she was asking to be gone for 21 days prior to student exams.

The district, finding itself beseiged not only by its unreasonable employee, but also by the power of the federal government, settled, and has agreed to pay $75,000 and establish a "religious accommodation training program."

The Department of Justice - remind me again why we call them that?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Yesterday I liberated these five leather suitcases from a rainy trash pile in my neighborhood.  Four of them were made by Ambercrombie and Fitch.  The second smallest was made by Lido of New York.  They all seem to be circa 1930-1940.  The two large ones were encased in zippered canvas covers with leather corner protectors, but I took them off to dry them out.  All the hardware is brass and the leather is in great condition.  Hard to believe someone threw them away, but I'm glad they did.  Along with them, I found a beautiful old leather shotgun case (unfortunately, no shotgun inside) with a red velvet interior, and shipping tags on the outside identifying the owner and his Lisbon address.

US Justice: Security Less Important than Pleasing Islamic Organizations

This is just great.  Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole just announced that all training materials used by law enforcement and national security agencies are being recalled so that censors can remove any references that might be offensive to Muslims.  Who gets to decide what may or may not be offensive to Muslims?  The Council on American Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and others - all of which are tied to the Muslim Brotherhood according to documents that came to light at the Holyland Foundation terrorist fundraising trial. 

The decision is apparently due, at least in part, to a threat by MPAC president, Salam al-Marayati, who warned that, unless the US government revised its materials, there would be a disintegration of "the crucial partnership between the Muslim American community and law enforcement..."   One has to wonder how that would differ from what we have today.  Sharia law forbids Muslims from turning each other over to un-Islamic authorities, even if they are guilty of a crime.  This goes a long way toward explaining why there has never been any such thing as US Muslim cooperation with law enforcement, and why there never can be.  Actual investigators and street-level law enforcement agents I've spoken to know this to be the case, despite the laughable claim cited by al-Marayati that, "Nearly 40% of Al Qaeda-related plots threatening the American homeland since 9/11 have been foiled thanks to tips from Muslims."

While professional grievance mongers like al-Maryati insist that the materials in question are insulting to Muslims and infringe on their religious freedoms, they ignore the fact that those materials go out of their way to differentiate between Islam and Islamists, and to mark the distinctions between the religion of Islam, which is a matter of personal rights, and the legal, social, political system of Islam, which is an entirely different matter.  In allowing those distinctions to be ignored, the Justice Department smears the designers of those materials and handicaps the people who put their lives on the line to provide for domestic security. 

Short of actually placing weapons in the hands of criminals (That's a different Justice Department program.) it's hard to imagine a more effective way of undermining our national security.

Feds can Smuggle Guns. NYPD Can't.

According to the AP five New York Policemen are under arrest for their part in a twelve-person ring that made money by, among other things, smuggling guns.

The policemen were stung by an combined NYPD Internal Affairs/FBI operation that was initiated when an FBI informant told his handler that he knew of a New York policeman who was willing to make money by transporting stolen goods.

Without condoning the actions of these twisted cops, can we still appreciate the irony of the FBI helping bust policemen for running guns while it was helping the Justice Department cover up Operation Fast and Furious? 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


My painting of Penha Palace is coming along nicely.  The composition seemed kind of risky - at least in the planning stages - but I think it's working out fine.  What do you think?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Painting Penha Palace

Penha Palace is one of those places that, even if you painted it perfectly, your painting would still be unbelievable.  The palace is such an incredible mix of color and architectural features that it's very hard to get a handle on it.  No single scene is a fair representative of the whole, and because of the way it flings itself across the highest peak above Sintra, no one view of it allows you to see more than a perplexing fraction of the entire structure.

Nevertheless, I find myself compelled to try to paint it.  As is often the case with paintings that get under my skin, I dreamed about this piece last night.  I'd been thinking about the importance of shadows in this image, and worrying that I wouldn't be able to depict them the way I wanted, but I dreamed what I think is the solution.  Time will tell.  Meanwhile, here's an early look.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Climbing Above Sintra

Zach is making a video of the torturous climb that leads from Sintra to the ruins of the Moorish castle high above.  It's one of my favorite rides to do around here, because it's spectacularly beautiful, and because it's constant climbing pretty much from the moment I leave my driveway.  Here's a segment of video that wound up on the cutting room floor.

A Painting for Tonight

I can think of nothing clever or uplifting to say tonight, so I'll just post this little painting instead.  It's a view of one of the many narrow alleys that twist their ways through the village of Sintra.

Calderon Blames the US.

Speaking in Mexico City, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that crime in Mexican border towns is due in part, to US "dumping" of Mexican criminals there, instead of prosecuting them in the U.S.

There are many factors in the violence that is being experienced in some Mexican border cities, but one of those is that the American authorities have gotten into the habit of simply deporting 60 (thousand) or 70,000 migrants per year to cities like Ciudad Juarez or Tijuana," Calderon told an immigration conference.

The horror - to think that Americans are so inconsiderate that we drop criminals at the border, instead of giving them bus tickets all the way home.  I suppose these would be perfectly peaceful, law-abiding citizens had they not been cruelly dropped off in their own country.  Clearly Calderon is right: US deportations turn normal, peace-loving Mexicans into the drug-crazed killers and kidnappers that have made life all but impossible in northern Mexico. 

If it were the case that deportations lead to crime, it would be a fairly simple matter for the Mexican government to provide their returning citizens with some sort of repatriation aid, but the fact of the matter is, they're not interested.  The Mexican government helps people sneak into the US illegally; they're not so concerned about what happens next, as long as most of them mail home lots of cash.

Operation Fast and Furious has certainly facilitated violence in Mexico, but it's ridiculous for Calderon to blame Mexico's enormous crime problem on the US policy of deporting Mexicans.  Admittedly, convicted Mexican criminals are sent home after they serve their sentences (What else would we do with them?  Send them to Congress?) but it's not our fault that Mexico exerts no control over them when they return.

The truth of the matter is that the failed Mexican government sets its own citizens on the path to criminalization when it encourages them to violate US sovereignty. Calderon and his administration compromise the safety of Mexicans and breed contempt for the law by turning a blind eye to coyotes who smuggle human beings, sometimes turning them over to the equivalent of a slave trade, sometimes deserting them in the desert to die.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"The Hill" Headlines with a Lie.

The unfortunately (but accurately) named Justin Stink had an article in yesterday's "The Hill" the headline of which proclaims, "Santorum calls SNL sketch 'bullying'."

My immediate response, and that of many others, judging by the comments after the article, was that the former senator from Pennsylvania needs to pull up his big-boy pants and get rid of the pacifier.  When I read the article though, it became clear that the person in need of maturation is Mr. Stink. 

Santorum said he never saw the sketch, which I find believable, seeing as SNL hasn't been funny in years, and he didn't comment on it.  He did say that the left resorts to bullying more often than the right, but never equated the sketch to bullying. That statement exists soley in the mind of the author, and now in the minds of his misinformed readers.

Doesn't "The Hill" have any journalistic standards?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Global Warmingists - Species Shrinking as Earth Warms!

Another reason to be very afraid of Global Warming - from the team of crack journalists (I'll leave it to you to determine the manner in which I intend the word "crack" to define "journalists.") at Huffington Post, experts tell us that there is a wide-spread trend of shrinking among species in the animal kingdom.  This trend, they say, is attributable to Global Warming.  They liken it, believe it or not, to "wool sweaters that shrink when washed in hot water."

38 out of 85 species, apparently, have diminished in size over the previous decades, including a variety of "Scottish sheep that is 5 percent smaller than in 1985."
The frightening trend appears to apply also to some plant species, with certain types of cotton, corn, and strawberries growing smaller as well.
Of special interest to Monty Python fans, the weight of the average house sparrow dropped by one seventh, from 1950 to 1990, (The effect on its unladen airspeed is yet to be determined.) and the poster child of Global Warming, the ever-cuddly polar bear, also appears to be growing smaller, which might actually be pretty good news for the Eskimos.  (Imagine how much easier life on the ice flows will be when polar bears are all miniaturized.  Maybe they can even be domesticated.  If they can be housebroken, they would make lovely pets.)
Thankfully, for those who would like to preserve some respect for scientists, there are those who say the claims "seem kind of far-fetched." That's readily apparent to anyone who thinks about the question for a minute.  After all, sheep, cotton, corn, and strawberries are all subject to generation upon generation of selective breeding, the goal of which is always directed toward developing the attribute that makes a species marketable.  In the case of sheep, this would most likely be the quality and quantity of the wool.  In cotton, breeding will likely focus on attempts to increase the density of fibers in each bole.  In corn and strawberries, strains might be prized for the quickness with which they ripen, resistance to drought and disease, and so on. Any one of these desired attributes could be developed at the cost of overall size of the plant, which is irrelevant to the ultimate marketability of the end product.  To assume that these heavily manipulated species and varieties are fluctuating in size becuase of Global Warming is quite a stretch - and that's assuming that Global Warming even exists, which is proving to be more of an assumption and less of a fact all the time.
Then again, if Global Warming were proven, it would make no sense at all to suggest that a warming environment decreases the size of species.  Anyone familiar with Seinfeld knows it's cold that causes shrinkage.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Curious Parallels Between the Iranian Assassination Attempt and Fast and Furious

The US administration has adopted an interesting stance regarding Iran’s attempt to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to Washington. "We believe that even if at the highest levels there was not detailed operational knowledge, there has to be accountability with respect to anybody in the Iranian government engaging in this kind of activity," President Obama said.
This seems reasonable to me. After all, if Iranian leadership did indeed plan an operation in flagrant violation of international law, it only makes sense that they should be held accountable. And given the likely results of that operation – the death of the Saudi ambassador and/or his entourage and/or innocent bystanders, with all the related effects upon the relations of involved nations, it beggars belief to claim that it could have been planned without clearance from Tehran.

Contrast this, though, with Washington’s position regarding the infamous “Operation Fast and Furious,” in which we are expected to believe that low to mid-level operatives in the U.S. government decided for themselves to allow thousands of weapons to be sold and delivered to a murderous organization bent on the destabilization of the Mexican government. It is no more reasonable for us to believe that Fast and Furious happened without high level consent, than it is for us to believe that the Iranian assassination attempt happened without permission from above.

But while the Iranian operation ended without loss of life, Fast and Furious resulted in multiple deaths in Mexico and the United States, and inestimable damage to relations between our countries. It represents a far more serious transgression than Iran’s bungled assassination attempt. It was a betrayal of the American people – a steadfast refusal to enforce laws, which resulted in the endangerment of the citizens those laws are designed to protect. It also provided material aid to a brutal gang, and facilitated its countless acts of torture, murder, and intimidation. The Iranian operation was conducted by a nation known to be hostile to the US, but Fast and Furious was a stab in the back of a government with which we are supposed to be on friendly terms.

In his demand for accountability, President Obama referred to the Iranian operation as “dangerous and reckless behavior.” I agree wholeheartedly, but this description could apply just as well to Operation Fast and Furious. When will Washington meet the standard of accountability it’s trying to apply to Tehran?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Moh'jad "US be Trippin."

Gangsta rap sensation and part-time leader of Iran, Mahmoud "Moh'jad" Ahmadinejad, today denounced US accusations of his involvement in an attempt to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the US.

Freshly returned from a wildly successful tour promoting his latest album, and a speech to the UN in New York City, Moh'jad paused to explain that US accusations of an Iranian plot were nothing more than attempts by the Obama administration to divert attention away from a collasping US economy and disastrous foreign policy decisions by the President and his Secretary of State. 

He ended his statement with a riff that was trademark Moh'jad, backed up by an impressive beatbox laid down by al Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassim "Sly" Suleimani, and a spontaneous display of the Islamo-hip-hop breakdancing that heralded his introduction to the world stage all those years ago. 

"Dem Zionists, Dey be da lyinists.  Dey layin' blame, but I ain't play dat game.  I ain't no fluke.  I buildin' nukes.  You raise my ire, I rain down fire.  I call my man, the 12th Imam, he don' play aroun.  He lay you down.   Boyy."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the administration would provide a response, as soon as the presidential teleprompter had been programmed to run at hip-hop speed.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Sao Pedro do Estoril, Before the Bakery Opens

I like to be out and about in the morning, before the streets get crowded.  The village next to mine looks charmingly innocent at that time.  The streets are still covered in long shadows, but at their lower end, the sea is already bathed in morning light.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Today's Painting

This is a view of the lighthouse at Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

New Idea for Paintings

A few weeks ago, I drove past an old house where they were putting in new windows.  Along the street in front of the house were lined up all the old ones.  It seemed to me that some of the small ones would make interesting picture frames, so I grabbed them.

I haven't had much time to paint since then, so it took me weeks to finish a painting to test my idea.  Since the window is separated into four panes, I wanted a subject that was simple and bold, so it would hold its own against the distraction of the window construction.  I came up with the above painting, which is of a common sight here - a corner lookout post on a coastal fort.  Here's how it looks framed in the window:

I work in a windowless under ground facility.  I'm going to take this to work and hang it on my wall, so I'll be the only person in the building whose office has a sea view.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Editing: a Lost Art

A story in today's USA Today has this clinker for a lead sentence:
WASHINGTON – Pakistan is the source of explosives in the vast majority of makeshift bombs insurgents in Afghanistan planted this summer to attack U.S. troops, according to U.S. military commanders.

Not one of my high school English teachers would have accepted that abomination of a sentence in their students' work.  Why is it acceptable in a news item?  I would say that you can read the rest of the article here, but when the piece starts off that badly, why would you?

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Justice Is Blind.

Now that convicted murderer, escaped prisoner, and airliner hijacker George Wright has been captured in the nearby village of Sintra, those who knew him as Jorge Santos are beginning to ask people to write character references for him, in the hopes of winning some kind of leniency in US courts.

First of all, I'm not sure that exchanging his guns (That's what he used to murder gas station owner Walter Patterson after a series of armed robberies in 1962, and to hijack an airliner with 86 passengers aboard in 1972.) for the less confrontational manner of a con man, demonstrates the kind of character that deserves to be spoken for in a letter.  One would think that someone truly rehabilitated would have a little more to show for 41 years of borrowed freedom.  Even if one did, however - even if our fugitive had donated organs to fatherless children and volunteered to work in a leper colony - I don't see how acknowledging that in a letter is a worthwhile effort. His debt remains unpaid, and any efforts to repay it in a currency more convenient than that of the legal tender - in this case his incarceration - are wasted.

This should be obvious, but it is not.  People have forgotten that the personification of justice is a woman, blindfolded, holding a set of scales.  That blindfold is significant.  It represents the fact that justice is, and must be, independent of emotion.  Justice transcends flimsy constructs like the "empathy standard" devised by Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor. It exacts its own penalties, irrespective of circumstances.  Those scales weigh guilt and innocence. They are mechanical, impartial.

It was not so long ago that people appreciated this innately.  There was an understanding that civil society depended upon the impartiality of justice.  Yes, God may forgive; he has that power and that right, but the courts of men do not - not, at least, if they wish to remain courts of law, instead of courts of opinion.  This is what Herman Melville wrote of in Billy Budd, the story of a sailor who unintentionally strikes and kills an officer on his ship.  No one was more worthy of character references than Billy, but he hanged for his crime, just the same.  His captain and the rest of the crew knew that his crime was unintentional, but they also knew that failing to serve justice would jeopardize the entire ship.  A civil society is no different from that ship.  Justice - cold, impartial, transcendent - must be served.  A life for a life is not some primitive custom we have outgrown. It is the way things are, and the way things will always be, as long as we inhabit this imperfect world.