Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shaker Interior....again.

This is a 36 inch square panel, and it is the third time I have painted this scene.  The original reference slides were taken at the Shaker community, Sabbathday Lake--down the road from here--in 1985, and in 1988 I painted this interior for the first time.  I knew I was missing the feeling that I wanted to capture; there was something about the light on the wall and the shadows that just didn't measure up.  So, in 2006 I painted it again--see below--and once again, despite my very best efforts, something just didn't feel the way I wanted it to.

So, a few weeks ago, I decided to re-visit it and got out the sheet of slides and began to study them. I decided to do it larger, this time, and in a square format.  I also knew that using transparent glazes on the shadowed portion of the wall and table was a mistake and that this time I would work with mostly opaque paints and scumbled layers. (aside: a 'scumble' is a layer that is loosely applied so that what is under it still shows through, but it is like a 'veil' instead of being like a transparent gel filter, which is how a 'glaze' layer behaves.)  I also have learned a great deal about compensating for the shortcomings of photographic references.  A piece of film, or a sensor, cannot see nearly as well as your eye can, so taking this into account is critical unless you are trying to emulate the vagaries of photography in your paintings.

Finally, I wanted the wall to be 'solid', to have a feeling that you could almost reach out and put your hand on it.  I added the crack in the plaster, which I had omitted in the previous two paintings, but which was there in the actual wall. I realized that the crack anchors the wall and is a necessary part of the piece.  So, make your own decision about whether or not you like the latest version better.  I have already decided that I am going to paint this scene AGAIN, in about two or three years....so, I can see if I am really improving and learning as I go.

Friday, June 25, 2010

What will it take.....?

Rant Warning:   We have an intersection in our town that is apparently just a bit confusing.  For out-of-towners, it is a challenge because there is NO stop-sign where they seem to want to find one....so they stop anyway.  Well, that isn't so bad, but it is pretty frustrating when you are behind somebody who just decides to STOP.

But, the other day, as we were approaching this intersection--Market Square, is the name--a red Saab shot out of one of the places where there IS a stop-sign, completely out of synch with the flow of traffic, dangerously cutting off one car and seemingly oblivious to anything.  As this idiot turned and drove past us, Abby said "Cell phone!!!", with a tone that said, "I knew it."  The young blond driver of the Saab was deep in conversation and didn't even know that she'd almost caused an accident or cut through the square like a navy destroyer on a mission.

So, this is just the latest in a long string of observed incidents on my part, and Abby's.  She wasn't surprised because it almost has become commonplace to see drivers do STUPID things in an unexpected fashion....and whereas you used to expect that somebody driving like that was drunk.....now it is a safe assumption that they are blabbing their god-damned head off to the little plastic device in their hand.

At this point, research has already shown that 'distracted' drivers--the formal term for this low level of performance--do about the same as drunks do.  They are killing people and they are costing us billions in insurance and damages.  Only 29 states have had the moral stones to make this foolhardy practice illegal...and I have some idea that the communications companies and their lobbyists might be able to tell why the others have failed their citizens by not stepping-up to do this. 

So, my question stands......what will it finally take before this practice is both illegal and widely unacceptable to responsible people everywhere?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

McChrystal......crazy like a fox

In three years as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army, I met a handful of generals....and none of them were dummies. In fact, I would go so far as to say that anybody who becomes a general officer in the army has not merely military skills, but political ones as well.  Getting all the way to FOUR stars is something very few career officers do; full generals are the rarest of the rare in the army at large.   The commanders of major bases--like Ft. Benning and Ft. Dix--only  have two stars and even brigadier generals (one star) are not all that common.

So, when a four-star runs his mouth to a reporter from a magazine like Rolling Stone, I have to believe that he's not as naive or stupid as Stanley McChrystal appears to have been at first glance.  Did he know that the reporter was taking notes and that what was being said was 'on the record'? Without any doubt, YES!  Did he know that what he was saying would come back to bite him in his butt?  Hell, yes, he did.

So, what in the world was he thinking?  It is my sense that ol' Stanley knows better than anybody that Afghanistan is a bottomless mess, that we are never going to just 'fix' the overwhelming endemic cultural and societal problems of that country...and he stood a very good chance of coming home as a defeated general, one whose policies and strategy had failed miserably.  I believe that his time there finally made him realize exactly who we are dealing with.  The Afghans are some of the gnarliest and toughest people on the planet.  Living in a country that has more in common with the surface of the moon than it does arable land, and being a warrior society that has been run by warlords for many generations does NOT create a nation of mambie-pambies who toss in the towel when things get tough.  Hell, things are ALWAYS tough in Afghanistan.

Some years ago, National Geographic ran an article on Afghanistan that was essentially taking a good look at who they are as a people.  I was dumbstruck by the pictures of them 'playing' their version of polo.  The 'ball' was a 90 lb. dead calf with its feet bound together, and the object of the game was to snatch it off the ground at a dead gallop, and ride like hell with it across your saddle, as your fellow 'players' flogged the snot out of you, and  tried to grab it away. I don't actually recall if the game had 'goals' or a 'winner', but it was something so violent and so requiring of strength and unbelievable endurance that I do recall thinking to myself that these would be very bad people to have as opponents.  The Russians learned this lesson, in spades.  By any reasonable yardstick, the Viet Cong were tough and durable guerrilla fighters, worthy opponents deserving our respect. But, I must tell you that the Afghanis could give 'em a run for their money.

So, Stanley McChrystal perhaps realized that we're going to eventually pull out, having spent too many American lives, and too much treasure too.  And, I will just bet you that he was looking for a way to save face.

Think about it.  Generals hate being thought of as losers much more than being remembered as assh*les.  Some of them seem to take actual pride in being the latter....but, they all want to be WINNERS.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Island in the Night......

For many people country living is a remote idea, literally.  I have actually met people who regard it as being in some kind of painful exile and I've been asked more than once: "I mean, what the hell does a body do out there?"  Seriously, they simply cannot imagine how country folks deal with the isolation and the lack of access to malls, theaters, restaurants...and all the amusements that are central to their lifestyle in suburbia or the city.  My daughter once asked, "Why would anybody want to go to Maine?" But, then she thinks Disneyland is just one stop short of paradise, so that isn't too surprising.

I have--with a few brief exceptions--always lived out here.  If I can't step outside at night and look up at a deep blue sky, with stars sparkling like diamonds, and take a leak out by my mailbox, I feel cloistered.  I need the feeling of being closer to the natural world and further from the world of freeways, malls and orange-ish  street-lights that make the sky look dimmer and the whole neighborhood glow in an unearthly way.

As anybody who lives in the country can tell you, the hub of the community is often a small, family-owned and run store, yes, just like the one pictured above.  As we were driving past the Northeast Bay Market, in Penobscot, Maine, I glimpsed this scene and my foot automatically went for the brakes.  I backed-up--without a problem due to the fact that there was not another car anywhere to be seen--and parked, then took a series of pictures with my wee pocket camera.  And, on returning home, I couldn't wait to set the image to paint.

For me, this night-time scene is the quintessence of country living.  The store is an island of light in an otherwise inky dark night and one person who saw the painting commented that they felt sure there was a smile and a 'howdy' waiting for anybody who walked in. And, I have no doubt they are right.

BTW: The plain white circle on the blue light over the pumps is actually what was there. I didn't genericize it, or change it at all.  I almost titled the painting:  "Full Moon Over Island", but I resisted.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Getting outside the box....

I was talking with a longtime friend in Ohio this morning.  Bruce is a retired agricultural seed salesman who has a broad streak of that mid-western pragmatism that has been the mainstay of farmers since a plow first broke soil. In fact, I doubt that a person could succeed as a farmer unless he or she was willing to deal with situations based on what is in front of them and what works.  It isn't about 'theory' or 'knowledge' as much as it is about understanding the problem at hand and having a tendency to think creatively, regardless of conventional wisdom, or long-standing practices. 

We got around to the BP mess in the gulf and his comment was, "They ought to turn some farmers loose on this; they'd come up with something that works."  I thought about it and told him I agreed.  We wondered aloud where all the stunning brain-power of MIT, Cal Tech, NASA, hundreds of other institutions and corporations is hiding.  Here is an immense and terrible problem and peoples' lives are being ruined, a critical eco-system is being trashed.....and we are all waiting for one foreign corporation to come up with a solution.

Well, they have come up with a list of them....and not a single one has worked.  My dear wife commented the other day: "It's like they are throwing stuff at a wall and hoping something will stick."  (I think she did actually say 'stuff'....not 'sh*t. fwiw) So, yes, this is not a gimme kind of a problem, made immensely more complicated due to the fact that it is happening at 5000 feet, where the pressure and conditions make it much more challenging.  I have no doubt that if it were happening at 300 or 500 feet that it would have been dealt with in a matter of days.

But, it is what it is, and that's where some creative thinking, and some down to earth pragmatism come in.  Bruce and I both had the same idea: a heavy iron funnel, inverted and able to be dropped onto the pipe with enough force to 'slam fit' it to the opening.  I could imagine putting a thick lining of un-vulcanized rubber in the funnel to act as a large and resilient gasket.  Hey, it's just an idle idea, and I have a feeling that there are literally THOUSANDS of such ideas out there.   But, I also am sensing that the egos of the engineers involved with solving this problem and the channels of communication are blocking any possibility that such a simple solution could make its way into use. 

 I do not think this is a situation where conventional practices will suffice.  I believe that there is a creative and bold solution someplace outside of the apparently very limited box that the engineers are in.  And, my God it is frustrating watching them dither about with stuff like 'top hats' and 'junk shots', making more excuses and  telling us that it will be AUGUST before they can stop this disaster.  

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Death of Honor........BP style.

When British Petroleum CEO, Tony Hayward, said he wanted his life back....he wasn't joking.  And, the odds are extremely good that he will get it back.  Actually, he might get some sort of 'silver bullet' arrangement and be replaced by another person of his same arrogant ilk....but, I am going out on a limb here and making a prediction that when the leak has finally been plugged, and about two years of clean-up has been done....things will slowly, but inexorably return to 'business as usual'.

The clean-up after the Exxon Valdez incident was very high profile....initially.  And then, very gradually over a period of the next couple of years, it tapered off.  The multi-billion dollar judgment against Exxon was quietly reduced to about 500 million, and the clean-up finally whimpered to a close.  PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND IS STILL NOT CLEAN, however.  I saw a recent video clip in which the reporter was escorted along the shore and his interviewee used a small stick to pick up globs of black, tarry oil.  There it still lies.

And, once all the furor is calmed, and people are given the least possible, wholly inadequate but 'reasonable' compensation for the loss of their livelihoods, and massive amounts of remorseful bulls**t have been applied to the terrible wounds of the gulf-coast environment and its wildlife........and the oil is no longer the star of every evening news broadcast....the Great Taper-off will begin.  In nature, if a predator wants to conceal its movement--right out in the open, where the prey have a good view of it--it just moves veeery sloooowly, and pauses whenever it sees the prey look in its direction.  It works like a champ.  The lion, cheetah, or tiger becomes invisible.  And, don't think for a minute that the publicists and executives at BP don't know how this works.

We should not mistake BP for a benign corporate enterprise that is merely working hard to make sure we can have all the gasoline we want.  They are the ones who decided--with the tacit permission of the U.S. government--to pretend that they had all the bases covered in the case of a scenario like this disaster.  They are the ones who decided that one Blow-out Preventor would be just fine, thank you.  (aside: did you know that off-shore drilling in the North Sea, off of Europe, requires TWO of these devices.....apparently well aware that if one fails you are in an un-recoverable disaster situation?)  They are the ones who have spent untold millions manipulating how we see them, via a long-standing t-v ad campaign that makes them look ever so progressive and just plain NICE people to deal with. And, in case you haven't noticed, they are now spending millions to shape public opinion of just how harshly they should be held responsible.  At every possible opportunity, they are finding ways to insinuate that, "....there's a limit" to how accountable they should be.  One BP spokesman managed to insert the idea that some of the dead and dying birds in the gulf may be dying from OTHER CAUSES.  Are you sh*tting me?

So, here is my prediction boiled down:  within two years of the time the leak is plugged, all of this will have simmered down to the occasional news story about how people in the gulf coast are surviving the destruction of their lives.....just like it did after Katrina.   BP will be carrying on business as usual and 'cooler heads' will have found a way to let them mostly off the hook......after all: they are just hard-working entrepreneurs, trying their best to make sure our needs are met, right?   And, if the Tea-Baggers march into Washington on a mandate from the people this fall, companies like BP will be in very good positions to conduct BUSINESS AS USUAL.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Who's there.......?

Didn't get into the woods today until afternoon.  It was raining all morning, but stopped long enough that we walked on silent, damp leaves in a forest dripping with raindrops and saturated in green.  As we walked, the first thing that I heard was a gathering of crows, somewhere to the south, and not too far off, maybe a couple hundred yards.  They were kicking up a real fuss and I guessed that they had spotted a hawk or owl and were doing their usual, "Hey, get outta my WORLD!!!!!", kind of histrionics.  As a species, crows seem inclined to be noisy most of the time, but, when they discover what they consider to be a threat, the  volume and frequency approaches 'cacophony'.

As we kept on walking, a few crows flew directly overhead, but didn't notice us beneath the canopy of beech and birch leaves.  Just about two minutes later, as we turned down one of our favorite trails, I head the distinctive call of a Barred Owl.  Birders like to describe it as: "Who! Who cooks for you? Who, who cooks for you all?"  And, actually, that is a pretty good descriptor of the rhythm and the cadence of their call. But, the actual sound of it, the volume and tone, make the hair on the back of my neck stand-up.  It has a deep and haunting quality that  just says, "Welcome to MY woods. Who are you again?"  I can imitate it well enough to fool one on occasion.

A couple of years ago, I heard one in the woods behind our home.  So, what the hell, give it a shot, I thought. I was soon rewarded by the sight--without any audible noise attendant--of a very large, mottled bird landing in the lower branches of an ash tree, right on the edge of our yard.  And, seconds later, it was joined by a second owl. I was awestruck.  They sat there looking at me, and not making a sound.  I had the temerity to 'hoot' again, and the closest owl took off and circled over the back yard and directly past me, landing in an oak not twenty yards away.  He was curious.  Who would have the nerve to call him out like that?  He obviously knew I was there, despite my standing stock still.  He just wanted a closer look at the fool who thought he could pretend to be one of his species.

Barred Owls are big, very big, only slightly smaller than the Great Horned Owl, and if one were sitting on your gloved hand--as I have experienced--he or she would be tall enough to look you in the eye.  Of course, their owlish stare is a marvel in itself.  They actually cannot roll their eyes, they have to move their head to aim where they are looking.  This is thought to be because their eyeballs are so very large that articulating them would be tough...even for evolution.  Their eyes--all owls--are low-light marvels, and their hearing is stunningly acute and directional. Even the feathers that form that peculiar 'owlish' moon of a face are performing a function in channeling sound so an owl can tell precisely what direction it came from. Their feathers have a very soft fringe on them....so an owl can glide down in complete silence as it swoops on its prey.

I walked down to my knife-shop one winter morning, some years back....I think I might even have had hair then...and there, on the new fallen snow, was a set of mouse tracks, hopping along: ba-deep, ba-deep, ba-deep...........and then, POOF!!! disappearing, into thin air.  The explanation was also very clear: on the soft whiteness, a full foot away on either side, were the perfect impressions of the primary flight feathers of an owl.  Wee mousie never heard it's doom approaching in the moonlight.

So, the next time you are outside at night, and you hear that distinctive hoot off in the distance, recall that there is one more of Mother Natures perfect and amazing creatures out there.  The Barred Owl.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

She's gone......ouch.

Yesterday, I walked up the trail towards the thrush's nest with some anticipation that she might be close to hatching the now FOUR eggs I had seen two days earlier.  But, when I approached the nest all I found was a neat little assemblage of pine needles....... and no eggs or mother bird.  I felt a strong pang of sadness, although I know that, yes, this is the way of Nature.  Some make it and some don't.  I am doubtful that the fact that she had chosen to build her nest next to the trail was the deciding factor.  It is also very likely that the thrush herself is alright, and simply had to abandon the eggs because they were discovered. She may even start over in another location; birds often do if the first attempt isn't successful. 

As I have shared many times here with you, the woods are full of critters who pray on other critters or are simply opportunists of the first order.  I was reminded of this last evening as I watched television, and looked out the living-room window to see a very large raccoon walk casually across the street and pause under our neighbor's car before continuing his rounds.


On another note entirely:  A writer rented the house next door to the Palin's in Wasilla and now he's being villified as a 'stalker' and all manner of evil-doer.....not by Sarah's rabid fans, but by Sarah herself on facebook.  She is attacking him as if he posed a physical threat to her family, and I believe--from the Matt Lauer interview this morning--that this is far from being true.  She immediately put an extension on the fence between the properties so that it is now 14 feet high, and then launched an attack on facebook so that this poor bugger is now the target of death threats.

None of this is of any import whatsoever.....except to the extent  it tells us just a wee bit more about who Sarah really is.  She is vindictive, not to mention paranoid, and has an apparent taste for inciting hatred and even threats of violence.  And THIS is the front-runner for national audience....and even office....with the TeaBaggers.  Holy Cow, Batman!!!!   If she had any brains at all, she would connect with this writer, and work to gain his favor or at least to exert a positive influence on what he is going to write....because he IS going to write about her regardless of what she does. If you view the Lauer interview (click on the title above, if you want to see it) you don't come away from it with the impression that Joe McGinnis--a very successful best-selling author--is doing anything creepy or weird.  He's just there......so the fact that his presence is setting Sarah off so badly is something I am viewing as a warning sign of aspects of her character and mind-set that we should all be very wary of.  This is the kind of person who keeps an 'enemies list', and in the unthinkable eventuality of a situation where she would actually have some governmental power at her behest.....I will just bet you that she'd be one very dangerous person.

She could be just the one Sinclair Lewis referred to as:  ".....wrapped in a flag and carrying a bible."  You betcha.