Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A rant to the guy in the white house around the corner

Yeah, you! With your lawn putting-green perfect in the dead of what should be winter, I'm talking to you!

The water sheets across your sidewalk like you're lobbying for a luxury car commercial, and rolls into the gutter, quite literally re-forming the American River down the street, wasted into the drain.

There's a drought on, guy! Or girl! Obstinacy knows know gender.

If you think I'm talking to you, it's you. If you know who I'm talking about, tell him/her!

To you this may be the last day of 2013 (well, to me too). With its dry passage, though, marks the driest year in California's recorded history. That's saying something. For all of the state's bombastic beginnings, so many things were lost — fortunates, lives, reputations, virginity — but records … records, my friend, were kept.

We're out of water. Ain't any more coming, as far as we can foretell, anyway.

The latest aerial shot shows one more sheet of Bounty®™ would sop up what's left behind Folsom Dam.

Do not — do not! — wash down your driveway with the house, guy/girl around the corner. Learn basic broom skills. Do not wash your car! Let it go awhile.

I beg you.

In fact, this calls for extreme measures from 1976-77, the last severe drought, when we all lived by by the motto: "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down."


It just struck me: Jerry Brown was governor then too! He's waiting to declare this drought official, but I don't know why. The second coming of Linda Ronstadt, maybe.

Water districts aren't waiting. Folsom water users must cut back 20 percent, which doesn't seem enough. We're in serious parch. The whole state must reacquaint itself with the fact we're a Mediterranean climate.

Here's news: The geologic record indicates that across the last two millennia California has endured droughts of between 50 and 80 years. And Jerry Brown was governor then too.

Many central and southern California communities forbid new housing developments from planting lawns, encouraging native plants and xeriscaping instead. Time for it to go viral.

We are not Oregon or Washington, for good or ill.

What's worse, this drought is harshing my swimming mellow.

After days of this arrow pierced through my temples (no physician's assistant is gonna tell me it's probably just flu), I shambled down to Lake Natoma, my old haunt, to see swim friends Doug and David have fun in my absence, slicing through the cold dark water. And plenty of it: The water was at its usual level.

Come tomorrow, though, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is set to reduce what little it's letting out of Folsom Lake, which flows immediately into our lovely little Lake Natoma. I'm anxious for the result. Or lack.

Help out an old, slow swimmer. Check your sprinkler system (you look like you've got a lawn guy: Have him do it) and cut back to once a week. You're watering every day: Why? Maybe you're more oblivious than obstinate, and you don't get up early enough to see your shiny sidewalk. Wake up!

Maybe some good will come of this, like statewide xeriscaping. After the double whammy of drought and Proposition 13 in 1976-77, Californians drained their swimming pools and skateboarding took rise, never to fade again.

Just don't tell me what a nice sunny day it is.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Back to the drawing board

t appears my modest proposal to skip Christmas every other year — you know, give us all a chance to miss it — has failed.

I blame too few hours and too scarce resources.

Lessons learned: Work smarter, not harder, and start earlier.

Maybe next year.

Meanwhile, Merry Christmas, if you must.

Feeling momentarily magnanimous, I might even spare you a Thursday post.

Really, it's the least I can do.

P.S. You know what merchants should do? Merchants should rewrite the lyrics of cherished Christmas carols, replacing barely effable concepts of grace and hope with cordless drills and fleece hoodies and the incomparable joy of buying things … then saturate the airwaves with the result. That would be a novel and welcome marketing approach.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Auld lang syne

Some Christmas cards I created this year for clients:

Which remind me:

One of the few Christmas traditions it surprises me to keep is singing carols at a nearby hospital with Boy Scout Troop 328, the Troop our son and I belonged to (it retains me its rolls as Token Strange Guy from the Past).

Monday marked the 14th Christmas the Troop has serenaded patients (and probably making some sicker). Maybe the 15th. I've lost track.

When a new adult Scout leader with the Troop, someone I'd never met, asked me when our son earned his Eagle award, I suddenly realized it was (gasp!) eight long years go. So now I've been caroling with the Troop longer than when our son was in it and I was active as an adult leader.

Strange Old Guy from the Past. Who shows up for Eagle courts of honor and caroling, frightening the young Scouts with his weird sideburns. That's me.

The Troop is kind and invites me to sing along. They say it's because I'm the only one who can sing, but I know it's just their excuse.

Each year I recognize fewer and fewer Scouts. This year only one Scout knew me by name, and I by his, a Scout I've known all these years because his older brother moved up through the Troop and this year earned his Eagle. Now little brother is one of the Troop's senior Scouts.

Two dozen Santa-hatted, fully-uniformed (mostly) Scouts showed, along with parents, making a throng of about 40 roaming up and down the hospital's floors, led by the hospital public relations person. We're breaking in our second hospital flack, whose extra-hours duty right before Christmas is to put up with us. But we know the drill: Walk single file down the hallways, line up on both sides of the hall when we stop to sing, don't look into patients' rooms, only speak when a patient acknowledges you, etc.

As a Scoutmaster I used to know all the Scouts, used to know which Scouts liked to kid and be kidded, and which just wanted to say hello and stay quiet otherwise. I knew which ones needed reminding to act appropriately and which ones could influence appropriate behavior for others. I knew each Scout's interests and sports and ambitions, or their lack, and I could talk with them about their lives.

They had given me false hope I could be a teacher.

Now they're strangers. They're the same kids, it's easy to see. Some are wiry and full of energy, others are quiet and unsure. Older Scouts celebrate their bonds of going to the same high school or their long tenure in the Troop, and form cliques. Some younger Scouts, for whom no amount of activity will settle them or reminding will quite shush them, form their own cliques. Some are experimenting in social behavior, the Troop their laboratory.

Same kids, just different.

Descending a stairwell on our caroling journey Monday, a Scout accidentally stepped on the heel of my shoe.

"Sorry," he said. I turned around with a smile and said, "Yeah, I'll bet." By the passing storm on the Scout's face, I could tell he didn't know whether the Token Strange Guy was joking or denigrating.

Tempus fugit.

Through hard work, demographic shifts and good fortune, Troop 328 is large again, with at least three Patrols. I'm jealous of the new patches, one for the Notorious 9 who came into the Troop together, another for the Raptors.

Their new Scoutmaster, whose curlicue mustache makes nonsense of my measly bristles, says he's thankful for all the Scouts and parent help. He hardly says a word to the Scouts, but he doesn't have to. The Senior Patrol Leader, the Scout the Troop has elected to lead them, really does lead them, making sure they follow the hospital guidelines.

The Troop carries on the tradition of singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," as we move from Point A to B. For some reason this year the flack diverted us from the pediatric wing, where the Scouts tend to put extra energy into "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," with louder "like a lightbulbs" and "like Columbuses," and "Frosty the Snowman." In fact, we never sang "Frosty" Monday.

The Scoutmaster is continuing to develop the Troop into one truly run by boys, as it should be. It's a never-ending process, more difficult than you might think, what with us parents wanting their children never to fail. But the Scoutmaster is serving as a presence, a go-to guy if the Senior Patrol Leader needs him this evening. The Senior Patrol Leader doesn't.

A young man, hearing us sing down the hall, requested that we sing to a specific patient, a parent or grandparent maybe. Almost all of us stuffed the room to overflowing one room and sang, a few of us left standing in the hallway.

We said our "Merry Chistmases" and goodbyes after, and I left Scouts to their post-sing tradition of scarfing sugar cookies and cocoa. The Scoutmaster kindly invited me back, for this or anything else in the Troop.

Good people came after me, I can see, much better equipped to develop leadership and self-government among the Scouts. The best thing I can do for the Troop is be Token Strange Guy, showing up now and then from the Past.

*Yes, I capitalize Troop and Scout and Patrol, and I know it's irksome. The habit latched onto me when I was corresponding to the Troop as Scoutmaster, mostly as a way of honoring the importance in which I held Scouting (see, there I go again). Sorry. Get used to it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

One Tin Soldier*

Lost on the list of celebrity deaths the last few days is Tom Laughlin, who could have put my hometown on the map.

But didn't.

Quick sketch of The Master Gunfighter Scene That Would Never End.
I was startled to see Laughlin was 82 when he died. Peter O'Toole passed away at 81, but we watched him grow old, leveraging his age and reputation in roles perfect for him.

Laughlin disappeared from my view over the decades, so he'll always be the young man, gliding like a boxer, dressed like a charro in a giant black sombrero and matching embroidered and spangled coat, who gave me his autograph, a smile and a few kind encouraging words one day in 1975.

"See my Billy Jack movies?" he might have asked.

"No," I probably said.

"That's all right. Come see this one," he might have replied. Or something like that.

Laughlin was famous at the time as Billy Jack, a vigilante character he created and spun into four movies that built a cult following. He was Chuck Norris before Chuck Norris was God, a proto-Rambo. Billy Jack was an outsider, a Vietnam veteran, expert in the martial arts, half white, half Navajo, ostracized, pilloried, shamed. You could only push him so far before he wiped the floor clean with the bad guys, busting them up with a flying kick to their lumpy bad-guy jaws.

Billy Jack preached peace by beating the hell out of people. Or so I gather. My parents wouldn't let me see the movies. I could listen to the hit song, though, the anti-war hit "One Tin Soldier," from one of the movies.

Laughlin parleyed his success as Billy Jack to write and produce The Master Gunfighter. A major motion picture, being shot right here in Lompoc! That's how I remember the hype, and we all bought it because my whole family went down to Mission La Purísima to see the filming. We might even have walked the three miles, enjoying the benefit of living just across the chaparral bluff above the mission.

The whole town seemed to be there. The half who weren't hired as extras stood behind rope barriers to watch them.

Two keen memories remain:
  • For the first time, that old mission came to life. We walked there a lot, and it's a fun hike to a rare place, but the mission was just a bunch of old buildings to me as a little kid. Some of the rooms of the mission were fitted out with the tools of the mission trade — a loom, a leather tanning shop, a tallow works, the soldiers' quarters — but they were caged off, the captive tools just sitting there in the semi-darkness, dusty, unused, dead, smelling of bad breath.

    This movie restarted the mission's heart. Dozens of people stood in costumes like statues until a distant voice from a megaphone shouted, "Rolling … and action!" and the people began hoeing and tending the vast gardens, and washing clothes at the round stone pool that served as the lavandería, and carrying hay in carts to the corralled cows, and marching around and walking and talking. Suddenly I could see the mission's mission, merciless though it may have been.

    I'm not sure whether the mission was playing itself in this movie. It has portrayed other places, mostly ranches, such as in the movie Seabiscuit and a made-for-TV movie called Dazzle, in which viewers were supposed to believe Cliff Robertson's mission-style ranch was an actual mission, the building running some 150 yards long.

    As a state park, Mission La Purísima is perfect for filming, pristine, far from the main road and telephone lines and clutter — unlike working churches such as missions Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, still the center of the towns built around them.

    Earthquakes destroyed the first Mission La Purísima and the mission fathers moved it four miles to where it is now. Another earthquake leveled that, and the mission moldered. What visitors see now has been rebuilt by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration during the Depression, so it's mostly 20th Century re-bar and concrete on an 18th Century foundation.

    It looks freshly built, and its state and volunteer caretakers take good care and apply new paint. About 15 years ago the west end of the long complex was painted pink (ok, salmon). I'm not sure why; maybe historians found some new information and applied it, in the same way paleontologists play with new colors for how Stegosaurus might have looked (this time, all the colors of the rainbow!)

    When The Master Gunfighter was shot, the same walls were cream white like the rest of the mission, with a band of dark red along the ground.
  • Making movies is boring.

    We hung around all day to see only two scenes shot. After the scene in which the mission had come to life, the extras were sent home, the cameras and lights and cranes and dollies and miscellany were torn down and hauled 100 yards to the west end of the mission, rebuilt and repositioned. Two hours later, the filmmakers shot what seemed like a simple scene in which a rider was to gallop up to his superiors, sitting horseback, to warn them a bad guy approached.

    Gallop up, say one line, ride off. That's it.

    The scene needed at least three-dozen takes. The rider got tangled in bushes, or his horse overshot the mark, or undershot it, or refused to run at all. Or the rider fell out of his saddle. Or the rider flubbed his line, or completely forgot it, or ran out of breath, or the lighting wasn't right, or a donkey brayed, or a cloud passed over the sun. Over and over again the scene played out, funnier and funnier each time. I'd seen it so many times, you think I'd be able to recite it now.
I can't say The Master Gunfighter was the worst movie made, because I never saw it. It had the misfortune to be born before direct-to-DVD could have salvaged some production costs.

I heard it wasn't good. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote, "I don't think there's any way an intelligent moviegoer could sit through this mess and accurately describe the plot afterward."

I gather it was a mishmash of spaghetti western, samurai revenge and even some true California history, about the brutal subjugation of Chumash Indians by the mission fathers. And some samurai sword- and gunplay, probably.

Well, it was a good try, I guess. I will remember Tom Laughlin as a movie star who seemed to really like the people who watched his movies — and people who had never seen them. Typical for my Lompoc, though, to receive something with so much promise and have it fall short. Yeah, I'm hard on my hometown.

Rest in peace, Billy Jack.

* Watch Tom Laughlin in action!

P.S. Now that I look at the movie poster, I think: Nice typography. Also, I might have gotten an autograph from co-star Ron O'Neal of Superfly fame. If I told him I'd never heard of him, he hid his disappointment. He's an actor, after all. As an old guy, I mis-read the credits: You'd think I would have remembered that Ryan O'Neal was in The Master Gunfighter.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Having a fit

Detail for the right side of the illustration
Among moments I cherish most as an illustrator is permission from a client to experiment.

Here is a project for a publication celebrating the future of electrical use in the western United States.

It focuses on more renewable, efficient production and the ever smarter technology that enables consumers the individual control to buy and use electrical power.

The illustration runs along the bottom of a two-page spread to allow for text above (which is why the rays and shapes along the top bleed and fade), so long and narrow that it doesn't fit big enough to see well in this blog format:
See what I mean? So I chopped into neat pieces to show the details:
The center cut of the illustration. Layers of overlapping colors and repeated ghosting shapes suggest control and interaction.
That's the story I'm sticking with, anyway.
I created a cross-section of the west, from sea to shining eroded butte, coloring the landscape with the rays of power and electricity, suggesting objects by their absence, paring tangibles to their basic shapes.
Left detail of the illustration, complete with a car and charging station that could only have come out of Popular Mechanics c. 1947

I meant the work to be a sunny paean to mid-century wishful futuristic illustrations.

Here are some of the early sketches:

Like all good projects, it ended too quickly.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

However measured

Once long ago, home from an ordinary shopping trip to the BX* to get ordinary socks and People™® Magazine and fabric softener, my mom gave me this.

Extraordinary. And still mysterious.

The plaque carries one of Henry David Thoreau's best-known quotes, from the conclusion of Walden. Here it is, in case the decorative font is hard to read:
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.
I have no idea where in that store she'd have found this plaque — a nook no teenager could have fathomed, because if we were there at all it was to kill time on a forced shopping trip thumbing through the meager record section or pining for the high-end turntable/cassette combos. Maybe she found it in a place only mothers and grandmothers could see.

Nor do I have a good idea why she got it for me. Guesses abound, all unfulfilled.

"It made me think of you," she might have said when she gave it to me. Whatever she said exactly, it didn't really answer "Why?" I was 13 or 14.

Did she see me as not keeping pace with my companions? As stepping more slowly or in my own tracks? I know I was odd, but not all the time and not really odder than other kids. I was sensitive; I'd say weird things; even shortly before she passed away she reminded me how as a kid I declared a day trip to a nearby town as a "traumatic experience." I don't know why, but the little town of Los Alamos gave me a strange vibe, or maybe it was the circumstances of the day.

You can relate; I know you can. I once laughed at the soap opera she was watching because a character used the word "perturbed" and I thought the writers didn't know how to write and were making up words to compensate.

Shortly after she gave me the plaque, I wrote my own manifesto. In my memory I filled an entire hardback-bound journal with my declaration of independence. It was fierce, in my memory, a bold rejection of the norms and cliques and circles of conformity. Thinking none of the cliques and circles would have me anyway, I rejected them. I was living my own life, making my own way, using many many words and exclamation points to say what Thoreau concluded in 32.

No one else saw my manifesto, as far as I know. I lost the journal soon after. I wouldn't be surprised if someone found it and  made sure it got published as a great work of self-help literature. Except that I would. You know what I mean. I tried to rewrite it in an identical journal, but the venom had drained already.

Was it coincidence that she gave me the plaque and afterward I used Bic™® pen to cut myself loose from the herd?

Maybe my mom was projecting herself through the plaque. Maybe in this case Thoreau missed the gender, that my mom was hearing a different drummer, and maybe it would be good for me to do likewise.

She was a complex person, gracious in company, reserved in private. Accommodating but strongly opinionated, walled in by some of them. A voracious reader, a six-books-at-a-go library patron, novels and histories, always with a book opened across the armrest.

She was worldly, her face turned toward Ireland and England, where she got to live as the wife of a noncommissioned Air Force officer. But she was worried and insular too, moreso as she matured.

She'd say mom kinds of things, like forbidding us from ever telling any of our civilian friends about how much lower the prices were at the base commissary, for fear word would get out and the outcry would lead to reform and ruin it for all base personnel and dependents. Up to the time she forbid us, I had no idea about the price of yogurt on base compared to that in town, and never could imagine including that in any conversation I had with friends.

She loved art and literature but wanted us kids to get grounded jobs, not really art or literature. Journalism was good. Journalism lay at the crossroads of our visions, hers and mine. So I sought a job in that.

I became a variant of her. Reserved and quiet in private, but also in public more and more. I'm like Michigan J. Frog from the Warner Brothers cartoons, the singing and dancing amphibian. I can be bubbly and expressive when need be, such as leading tours or speaking off the cuff in front of groups, the less preparation the better. But between times I'm quiet and talking feels tiresome. Michigan, of course, only performed for his captor.

Books go largely unread in my life, and their volume of unopened volumes only expands exponentially. I read, but have always had a love-hate relationship with books; writers read, that's the credo, and I've always mocked myself as a would-be writer that I rarely read. Our son regards Walden as one of his favorites.

But I shared mom's craving for knowledge and curiosity, and maybe (thankfully) less her worry and anxiety. Which is a cop-out, because I really should take on more of that burden, leaving it as I do for others.

Thoreau's words still ring for me, though I'm concluding that I'm not so much different as I am contrary, too often desiring the opposite of others' wishes, which is not helpful in many venues and circumstances.

The plaque remained on the wall of my bedroom, which became mom's study. I brought it home after she passed away. Rediscovered last week when I was moving piles around, it will hang again in my office.

*base exchange, the Target™©®, if you will, for the Air Force base.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

In search of identity

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary (in my head, anyway) to try and brand the collective stupidity that is swimming our beloved Lake Natoma year 'round, I try. Lord knows I try.

Here's the latest try.

Photog phenom and former college roomie David Middlecamp tipped me to the following:
Curglaff, n. (of Scottish dialect, first recorded 1808): The shock felt when one first plunges into the cold water.
It's an odd obscure word, on a list of other such words making the rounds of the Internet. Since then a number of swimmers from around the globe, with whom I check in through a facebook™© page, have also pointed out the word.

I stole it while no one was looking.

Still futzing with it …
Lake Natoma near Sacramento in California is cold most of the year, though not nearly as cold as the pool and open water which swim friends are now plying in the United Kingdom, where it's at or near freezing. Some of them have created The Shiver Club, in which they videotape the "afterdrop," when blood returns from arms and legs to the body's core some five minutes after a cold swim. Even fully dressed and with hot beverage in hand, swimmers go into afterdrop spasms of uncontrollable shivering.

It's part of the fun.

Trust me.

We haven't had to shiver yet after our swims. Only in the last couple of days has the temperature turned, so water temperature may soon dip. It's hovered around 56 or 57 Fahrenheit the last few weeks, which is reasonable and cozy for those of us so accustomed.

We don't feel curglaff yet, in other words. (I'm now proposing it work as a verb too.)

But we will, and in the spirit of curglaff and its origin, I played with the inspiration of illuminated capital art and celebrated the lake, right down to the green water and egret and geese and the split tail, which makes walking the dog a bit of a chore.

I throw it on the pile of other indentities I've come up with from time to time for the lake, the result of conversations with other of the crazies (though mostly with myself).

I belong to an open water swimming group, vast in membership but much smaller in participation, and the bulk of those swimmers arrive in spring to swim in warmer Folsom Lake, which feeds Lake Natoma.

Usually most of those swimmers will come occasionally to Natoma in mid-summer; with drought and high demand this year depleting Folsom, the Folsom summer regulars had to finish up their season at Lake Natoma, which has been warmer than usual as a result of the low volume.

Some five or six of us swim Natoma all year.

Most of the identities I've fiddled with pay homage to the lake but not its primary qualities, that it's quiet and cold.

Nimbus Flat Earth Society promotes year-round swimming, but Nimbus Flat is just one end of the lake, and we swim at the upper end too. It's called Negro Bar, named for a Gold Rush settlement of African Americans along the American River. People pronounce the name as if it's Spanish — nayh-gro — which fits into California's Spanish and Mexican history. but perhaps you can see the problem using it as an identity.

I think Curglaff Club has staying power. Not that I won't keep talking to myself messing around with new ideas.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A ghost of Christmas past

A Sanjay Patel self-portrait
Let us now praise Sanjay Patel. It's long overdue.

All you need to stop me cold is bobble a bauble of fine illustration in front of me. My Achilles' heel.

So surprising, then, I have gotten any work done at all since a couple of Christmases ago, when Santa left a copy of Patel's book, Ramayana: Divine Loophole.

It's taken this long to spout off about him because I've been busy spouting off about, well, me. And I've finally come across nice images from the book that would have been disserved by my dodgy scanning acumen.

In Ramayana, Patel latently taps into his Hindu heritage and retells a centuries-old epic good-vs.-evil tale in his vivid, magnetic illustration style.*

Patel is a supervising animator and storyboard artist for Pixar, and finds time to write and illustrate books ["The Little Book of Hindu Deities" and "The Big Poster Book of Hindu Deities" (which is really a collection of posters but I'm not quibbling)] and do such and sundry as designing exhibits for the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

The word you're reaching for to describe Sanjay Patel's career is cherry.

And the word for his work — for me anyway — is truly magnetic. As much as I hate online ads with my morning news and trivia gathering, I was surprised to be drawn immediately to one for the Asian Art Museum. It featured Patel's work promoting "Deities, Demons and Dudes with 'Staches: Indian Avatars." It's part of that museum's efforts to reach out in a fresh way, and wow, did it!

The color! In such combinations! So stark, so complicated! (staring, drooling)

Patel masters Adobe Illustrator™®, my medium of reluctant choice (really more of a forced marriage, but I've been at it long enough to see how someday I can learn to love it …).

Illustrator©™ allows its masters precise shape and placement to create patterns — tools which Patel puts to optimum use in the visual opulence of Hindu culture.

Precision also enables Illustrator®™ masters to pare visual communication to the smallest unit, the simplest shape, the extravagant economy of line and shape.

Patel marries the vast and the simple in his work. I'm so, so jealous.

I told him so once, and he emailed me back (little ol' me!) to aw-shucks my admiration:
"If there is anything good about my work it's from staring at other artists' creations for a really long time," he said. "Nothing original here, just rearrangement of ingredients."
Elsewhere on the Interwebs — Patel's in a lot of places, thankfully — he has said he and all his classmates at the California Institute for the Arts were obsessed with mid-20th Century illustration style, which I call "cookbook art." Should you be at or near my age, you remember the spare iconography of cookbook illustration, foods and people reduced to the flattest, sparest shape and line, artwork held together with clever use of negative space (the white paper as color), and depth and sophistication suggested with overlapping tones of a single color.

Charley Harper was a chief inspiration, said Patel. You see echoes of the mid-Century style today in the work of Bob Staake and Edwin Fotheringham, for example.

The Interwebs also show Patel's attention to detail before his illustrations reach their digital apex. Tissues and vellums (vella?) filled with fine lines and circles, weaving to shapes colored in combinations so strange to me, but combinations that work to stunning effect.

(drooling again)

See for yourself, these selections from the epic Ramayana. And find the book. Immerse yourself. I learned more than I ever have of Hindu mythology, which was inseparable for Patel culturally as a child growing up in the Southland, but has grown with him spiritually.

I learned enough to know, for instance, that the worn-out little sculptures I discovered a couple of months on the beach of the lake where I swim are of Ganesh, and that it's sometimes custom for Hindus to cast Ganesh into the water with a prayer for destroying life's obstacles.

*All these samples are by Sanjay Patel, which I obtained from multiple sources. It's all copyrighted by Patel, I'm sure, and probably by Pixar®™, and since Disney®© owns Pixar™®, and Disney™© can rain holy hell on preschools which have the unmitigated gall to paint Pluto™ (not the erstwhile planet) on their playroom walls without paying licensing fees and prostrate homage, what chance do I, a lowly blogger, have? I throw myself on the mercy of the court of public opinion.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The living will envy

Accompanying thoughts:
… Because getting things is the reason for the season!

… People say Black Friday like it's a good thing.

… today, I learn, is also known as Gray Thursday …

… sighted the first Christmas tree atop a car Friday, Nov. 22 (!)

… saw many homes had already vomited their ornaments onto the front lawns …
… I just read that Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third week in November — Franksgiving, his foes called it — to boost Christmas retail sales in the last years of the Depression. So the cause was already lost long ago.
 So it begins …

Enjoy, if you must.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Rethink Thanksgiving

Maybe this will be my new Thanksgiving tradition — trying to change it.

Maybe I'll trot this turkey to the fore each  year to urge people to rethink the holiday. It'll take time before change gonna come.

After all, Jon Carroll doesn't expect to transform holiday charity in one go. That's why each year the San Francisco Chronicle columnist writes an entertaining variation on the same idea, which he calls the Untied Way. He proposes a charity of purest efficiency, calling on people simply to withdraw money from their ATM accounts (as much as is comfortable) and amble down the street, distributing the $20s to those who ask. Givers, Carroll says, should give without favor or fear whether recipients might misspend the gift. Here's Carroll's 2012 appeal. Slowly, slowly, I think, he's winning converts.

So it will be, I suppose, with my Rethink Thankgiving™® campaign.

My proposal is simple: Thanksgiving is for giving thanks; it is not for eating turkey.

We think it's for turkey. All our media perpetuates this conclusion. Lord knows National Public Radio, my daily companion, talks turkey. And talks and talks and talks. Radio doesn't do food very well, but NPR is undeterred, betraying its patrician sensibilities on all its various and sundry shows (hell, Science Friday!) for the Haute Cuisine that should be Thanksgiving. Heaven forfend your turkey come out dry! Worse than scabs and boils!

Tomorrow, I'm sure, I'll have to hear Susan Stamberg's goddamn family cranberry relish recipe (sounds awful! tastes terrific!) on Morning Edition. Again. But I digress.

Executing Rethink Thanksgiving©™ will be difficult but also daring adventure for all willing to try it. It'll take a month of Thanksgivings — maybe a year of them — to change any minds, and once changed, what will they do with Thanksgiving?

Give thanks, of course! Which can — and should — take many forms.

Now, though, it takes one form, and it's often not for the giving of thanks.
Editor's note: Please, for god's sake, don't get me wrong. I am not saying, "Don't eat turkey!" If turkey and trimmings and tradition are the way you give and share thanks, then give it, by all means. Enjoy!

A lot of people this time of year hanker for Thanksgiving — conditioned to it, perhaps — and the smells and crisp air spur memories and longing, and some people play touch football with old friends home from break, etc. etc. etc. I get it.

What I'm saying is that if Thanksgiving means solely the construction and deconstruction of a meal based around a turkey, do something else to give thanks.

I'm not anti-turkey. I'm pro thanks.
Many times I watched my mom go through the Six Stages of Thanksgiving. You're probably familiar with them.

First came Hope, the buoyant deliverance that This Year Will be Different Though All its Parts Will Be the Same, that the bosom of family would resemble the ideal in Technicolor™© on the TV.

Stage 2: Resolve, as the wave of work involved for The Day rose to its crest, the weight of it become a vertical wall leaning forward. Loud sighs issued and kitchen drawers opened and closed in quick succession.

Industry was Stage 3, the surfing of said wave, in various bowls of cold and wet and steaming and whipped foods going through their own stages of being cooked and prepared.

Next came Anxiety, as the wave of work finally crested to crash into ruins and too-cold, not-enough, burned-through substances, and no amount of help or getting out of the way would usher success.

Stage Five was Recrimination for the expectation of others to have this feast on the table in the first place. Asking why Thanksgiving dinner was to be eaten at 3 p.m. anyway was ill-advised at this stage. Nor did helping help.

The final stage was Detente, as mom burned slowly at the table  and we all made every attempt to show appreciation for the dinner and defuse any chance that dad might say something to reignite a volcano. In all the meal, so much turkey and creamed beans with bacon and glorified rice and stuffing and cranberry relish in the shape of the can it came in and potatoes and gravy and crescent rolls, got eaten in 22 minutes, mostly in silence.

That's not Thanksgiving. That's what many families and friends do, but that doesn't make it Thanksgiving. And so tense. So tense. 

Thanksgiving needn't even be a meal, though meals make it a good reason to gather whom you should thank. Thanksgiving need be time and space.

My model for Rethink Thanksgiving is a walk in the park with sandwiches for the meal. Homemade, from the sandwich shop — cheese and crackers! Soup! — it doesn't matter. Just time together.

But that's just an example. Thanksgiving can take a multitude of forms.

The keys are (1) gathering or being gathered, and (2) having a shared expectation of Giving Thanks.

When I was in fifth or sixth grade I composed a prayer that I read at the Thanksgiving table for grace. It was appreciated, but we are not a people given to do such things. I think we secretly wanted to be such people but did not know the first thing about how to give or receive thanks in that way. I felt embarrassed, not by anything anyone did or didn't do, because I know my family loved and supported me, even for trying a homemade heartfelt grace. Mostly I felt embarrassed because it wasn't something we did.

Thanks should be the high point of Rethink Thanksgiving®™. No one has to make a gesture of thanks, but everyone should know he or she can, and it will be returned in kind.

My point: Give thanks. Be thankful for what you have, for the people who make your life what it is. Gather those people around if you can. If you can't, give thanks in other ways: A phone call, a donation, an act of generosity to those who could use one. Maybe that act, that donation, is a turkey, but it doesn't have to be.

Our expectation for a high feast and more food than we can justify only intensifies our divisions: The haves have in abundance, the have-nots want for this one day what the haves have. Food lockers around the country struggle mightily to fulfill that want, and we donate if we can to assuage our separateness, but the other days go on, the divisions remain, just less visible.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

So nobly advanced

Seven score and eight years ago, the Union held, the great experiment in democracy carried on, turning on Abraham Lincoln's famous words to commemorate the national cemetery under construction at Gettysburg.

Then along came Willie Brown to turn democracy into a rigged game.

Not him alone, of course. You could say the system has been gamed from the get-go. Today U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, for example, leads his party in let's-filibuster-every-appointment-President-Obama-proposes-because-we-want-him-to-fail-at-every-step-and-serving-our-own-constituents-is-so-boring. Corrupt Democrats, reasoning rightly that their voters have forgotten they exist, take the under-the-table money and run, again, on their records.

Willie Brown, though, was the Grand Master.

He was Tip O'Neill "all politics is local" old school. He was good to San Francisco and The City loved him back, returning him many times to state office where his game board was set up to his deft maneuver.

The Assembly speaker learned from another Grand Master, former speaker and state treasurer Jesse Unruh who once said of lobbyists, "If you can't eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and then vote against them, you have no business being up here."

Brown shook off almost every controversy that followed him. President Reagan had nothing on the Assembly speaker. Willie Brown's Teflon™© was weapons grade.

Accused by open-government activists of holding secret lawmaker meetings, Brown admitted to it and essentially told the public, "So what?" I took it a step further with this cartoon and put Brown in Lincoln's place; I figured this is a good week to post it. If he saw the cartoon at all, Brown might have smiled. Plink! See, not a scratch!

Only term limits could defeat Brown, who was the poster child for the term-limit initiative movement. Even then Brown bounced back as mayor of San Francisco, giving The City its very model of swagger and bravado and fedora-capped style. His nickname: Da Mayor.

The state has named the western span of the Bay Bridge — the older stretch that connects The City with Treasure Island — the Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge.

Enough said.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cheap parlor tricks

[Committed to memory, with the hope it would time-release into folds of my conscience … ahem]
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting place for those who died here, that that nation might live. This we may in all propriety do.

But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have hallowed it far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, while it cannot forget what they did here.

Rather, it is for us, the living — we here: Be dedicated to the great task remaining before us. That from these honored dead, we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion. That we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain. That this nation shall have a new birth of freedom. And that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
[Ta da.]

President Lincoln presented these words 150 years ago today. Some variation of these words, anyway. At least six versions exist. I memorized one attributed to John George Nicolay, Lincoln's personal secretary, for no other reason than I could, as my own captain of history.

No one is to say, of course, which version Lincoln truly spoke. The punctuation is mine, and a few of the words may be off: A this for the, perhaps.

It struck me Nicolay might have the version that hews closest, the version last worked over by Lincoln's pen, with Nicolay as his last test audience; it struck me too, in my limited knowledge of the subject, that these words sound more like dialogue, a dictation of what was said rather than what others, including Lincoln, might have hoped to hear.

I memorized it just to do so, because the words were sweet and full but foreign, because in doing so I learned more about why Lincoln gathered and arranged these words to say, gathered and arranged them for certain detonations of meaning.

(Here is an interactive deconstruction of the words, with two history professors describing the world behind them. Try, if you may, to read Garry Wills' book Lincoln at Gettysburg, such a thorough analysis of that world. In my hillbilly logic I scoffed at how a book could be made from a speech some 300 words long. Wills' book is so full, it turned out, I had trouble learning from it, felt I was suddenly incapable of learning anything, suffocating under the torrent of scholarship.)

No one hears me recite Lincoln's words except our dog, who must put up with it from time to time on morning walks, if she's paying attention at all. If she was, she has heard it more frequently in the last few days. No one else is going to hear them, either, unless one day I'm in public somewhere and someone calls out, "Quick, does anybody know the Gettysburg Address?" Hasn't happened.

I'm nowhere near the first, of course, to point out that people do remember what he said there and have forgotten what they did there in Gettysburg — that Confederate forces had not expected to engage in this crossroads town but did so with superior tactics, until the Union somehow used topography and technique to drive Confederate forces back. More than 50,000 died in that battle, said to have turned the Civil War to the Union's favor, and kept the United States intact.

"Four score and seven years ago," strikes us strangely; maybe we don't know where it comes from, but we know the words. Gettysburg is a battle in a war long ago; the North won.

I also memorized some of the words Shakespeare breathed into Henry V as the king rallied his  outnumbered English soldiers before the Battle of Agincourt against France. I remembered them for all the wrong reasons, trying to impose a brand among the Boy Scout Troop when I was Scoutmaster. I wanted them to think of themselves as a band of brothers.

But you can't impose esprit de corps on a group; it must arise from those who share in the group. And if one does try to impose unity, for god's sake don't use words meant to stir men into grievous battle … unless you're going into battle. These kids were backpacking.

Still I tried. I even fashioned a convoluted Scoutmaster's Minute (supposed to be a short moment of reflection at the end of a Troop meeting, emphasis on minute; mine were nothing if not overwrought, and never shorter than three minutes; poor Scouts …) which concluded with these words:
This story shall the good man teach his son: And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remember'ed. We few — we happy few — we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. Be he ne'er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon St. Crispin's Day.
I spoke it with all the drama I could dredge, fairly shouting into the night — we met outdoors in summer — "to the ending of the WORLD!" Some of the Scouts' eyes got big with surprise or shock that I dared be such a dork. What an embarrassment I was many times. Well meaning, but an embarrassment.

Still, the words remain with me.  The dog doesn't hear them as much.

I heard actor Peter O'Toole say once that he had memorized all 154 of Shakespeare's sonnets, that they are his constant and comforting companion. As a Gold Rush tour guide I have memorized spiels, even lengthy ones of my own devising, and quote from Mark Twain — but those feats are absolutely nothing compared to the work of actors I know, who made the majority of the first corps of tour guides I belonged to. When I can I go to their plays, amazed at what they have fit into their heads and hearts, spilling it onto the stage.

People I know from one and two generations back seem as children to have learned many passages from memory — The Song of Hiawatha, say, or The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The practice escaped my generation, or I was taking experimental history and English classes when others were getting the basics and the classics.

I recommend it, though. Memorize something; let your brain go through the try-and-fail-and-try-again process of committing a lengthy stretch of words to memory. Give your brain something extra to do. As names of public figures more and more slip my memory even as I see their faces — as I enter and exit rooms more than once without remembering what I was to do there — I know it couldn't hurt me.

Maybe the words will trickle into your heart and be your constant and comforting companion.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Three (Hundred) Faces of Shawn

Somehow it happened. Three-hundred posts passed through this blog. This is No. 300.

My apologies for every single one.

Yet who am I to ignore this milestone?! Who but I would note it?! So I celebrate with faces and musings from 2013. Again, my apologies.

Unsure from the start what this blog was supposed to be, I reach this milestone still unclear. I think it was to be an easy way to showcase my art, but much of my art requires explanation so I wrote about it too. Some of my art defies explanation but that hasn't stopped me from trying.

Put me before a keyboard and you can't shut me up. I do my best talking out of my fingertips, with time and isolation and a handy dictionary and a delete key.

The face — that Opie pie face, the logo for my business — was born of innocence. It's my actual fifth grade class photo. You laugh, perhaps, but let me suggest the indignity of lugging a hoop around your head all day long at school; let me further note the prescience of eyeglasses, which I didn't need until high school (a blog post for another day). Maybe now you're impressed, or you feel bad for me.

It was a burgundy-and-white world back then.

The face became an easy tool for my rants and raves and low trivia. It's my big-nosed barometer, from which you can know my mood without all them wordy words.

From the look on my face, for example, you could tell the tragic arc of the San Francisco Giants, my team, as it lost Opening Day when Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw hit the go-ahead home run.

Optimism held steady for a few months …

But then the Giants could do no right and my face lost its structure. As the Giants melted down the stretch, so did I. Finally I had to grieve and let go.

Among you faithful who read this blog, fewer faithful read the baseball posts. Maybe you're bored with baseball. Maybe you're not a Giants fan. Maybe you rightly know the waste of time and energy in caring so much about something that wastes so much time and energy and money.

More of you read when I spout off, without reason or right, about What the Hell's Wrong with Things.

About our government. About our place in the world. About our collective insanity or apathy.

About our helplessness.

Were I judged as a news reporter, I'd have fired myself by now: I rarely follow up my rants, rarely find closure.

When a young man shot up Sandy Hook Elementary School before Christmas last year, I shot my mouth off and literally painted my blog blood red with indignation, then again when I got mad at how nothing was being done.

Nothing is still being done and I've stopped writing about it. Nothing except people are still being shot and killed, and still at schools. A student allegedly shot three students leaving a high school in Pittsburgh, Pa., just yesterday.

Last month, a teenager brought a gun to school in Sparks, Nev., two hours away, and killed a teacher, wounded two students, then killed himself.

The killings go on, nothing gets done about it. My words didn't help.

The country spies on you and me and the rest of the world. I took many words to conclude, "Whatcha gonna do?" It ain't the country of our constitutional ideals. It ain't even our country. It's the country of who holds the money and the information. My words don't help.

Syria enraged me, as you can see. The death, destruction and displacement of Syria and its people is what should really be enraging me, but instead it was the possibility that our country would ensnare itself in yet another war following Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons.

Then a too-good-to-be-true thing happened, and Syria agreed to inspections and eventual dismantling of its chemical weapons supplies.

I had moved on already. Maybe good news creeps me out. Maybe I don't believe it. Maybe something else got my attention.

Like the government shutdown. I vented a good bit of patriotic rage over that, and defended the Affordable Care Act, the straw dog over which government services, research, care and recreation came to a halt.

It turns out the Affordable Care Act may in fact be made from
straw and suckage, stitched together with false promises and 20th Century technical know-how in a 21st Century world. The Web site's continuing to get better, the government keeps saying. Sometimes you can't keep your health care plan, the president is saying, even though he promised you could. (Breaking news, apparently: You can keep your old plan!)

Three coders working from four desks in San Francisco, meanwhile, just created a buy-your-plan Web site in three days.

I wrote about swimming or some such instead. Busy busy, you know.

The only real-world issue I followed through to the end was Scouting's relationship with gays in the ranks.

Scouting moved a massive millimeter this year, allowing Scouts who are gay to join, but barring adult leader who are gay. Because being gay is a youthful indiscretion that a 10-mile hike will sweat out of you? I dunno. I remain perplexed but prepared to trot my likeness out next time Scouting's glacier of decision nudges forward.

Three-hundred posts, all personal, many trivial, maybe a couple phoned in but the rest written with a shard of my soul. Each a welcome to my little world of illustration and side gigs and swimming and the stuff that's been part of me. Some days I simply shared something you might like.

Thank you — and condolences — for reading any and all.

A toast: To 300 more. I wonder what they'll be about.

Liam Turner photo

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hapless wanderer

Kids these days, with their Nike™® this and iPhone©®™ that! Brands rule, all else drools. If it ain't shiny and new, it just ain't.

Once upon a time we Boy Scout leaders decided to out-Shinola™® those shiny baubles with some guerrilla marketing of our own.

Thus was hatched the Hurner-Turner Burner™©-brand Backpacking Trip.

Hurner is Greg Hurner, just now stepping down as Scoutmaster for our sons' Troop. Greg grew up cattle ranching and hunting, born outdoors, built Ford™® tough and all that. He's got hooves for feet and can climb slopes at a sprint. With an impish grin (some may say slightly wicked), he frequently challenges Scouts to the limits of their physical ability, encouraging activities that are safe but just beyond their comfort level. He's good for the Scouts. That's him above, stick-figured high atop a peak.

Turner is me, Scoutmaster at the time, born old and indoors, the Air Force brat who didn't take up backpacking until my son joined Scouting. I love the outdoors as much as the next person, but count every trip a success when I and the Scouts return unscathed. 

I was the Troop's Nervous Nellie, bearer of paperwork, making sure that the Troop filed all the necessary permits, that drivers were secured, and enough trained adults were on hand to help. I was always the sweep, the last guy in line on a trek, making sure no one was left behind and prodding Scouts even slower than me to pick up the pace. I was good for the Troop welfare, I think. That's me in the way back of the illustration, sweeping.

We adults were fighting a growing epidemic in the Troop, a slouching toward languor. When Scouts joined outings at all, they preferred car camping: Ride in a car to a campsite, unfold lawn chair, open Spaghettios®© and Gatorade©™, argue with other Scouts about who does dishes, collapse late in a sleeping bag leaving the dishes a mess, breakfast on Pop-Tarts™®, gather the dirty dishes in a blanket, throw it in the car, argue about who will take it home to wash, drive to In-N-Out™© for burgers Animal Style®™, go home.

Car camping has its rare place in the Troop, but it falls under the category of Things Scouts Can Do Just As Easily With Their Own Families. Boy Scouts can be unique among kids' groups if we let it, and backpacking is one of its classic distinctions.

(Yes, yes, Boy Scouts is supposed to be boy run, but without a good nudge/push, it would be Spaghettios®™ and Gatorade™® and grousing over dishes ad infinitum.) 

Nudging the Troop toward a backpacking trip, we decided to make it an event, complete with its own T-shirt, the way we traditionally did for summer camp.

I designed it with felt pen which I scanned into Photoshop®™ and enhanced with an Illustrator®© flame and letterform shapes. A lifetime absorption of little R. Crumb and Big Daddy Roth, some Sempé and R.O. Blechman and George Herriman and Sunday comics, leaked out into the finished piece.

In an important way, the Hurner-Turner Burner®© was a hit, attracting most of our Scouts, and even a couple of full patrols, which was rare. Desolation Wilderness, a funny name for such a beautiful place above Lake Tahoe to the west, provided something for everyone, a "wasteland" of granite face for play and solitude. Heavily protected, Desolation Wilderness requires permits and restricts visitors' first night's stay in certain zones of the wilderness. It required our Troop to split into patrols and operate on their own about a third of a mile from one another for the first night. Everyone ate out of his own mess kit, so arguments over dish washing fell by the way.

While new Scouts stayed near a lake and took it easy trying out their first backpacking experience, older Scouts spent a night of the long weekend hiking in the slopes of another zone and roughing it among themselves near a distant peak.

In another important way, the Hurner-Turner Burner™© was a big failure.

Let's just say it involved an abundance of confidence, a good measure of hope and a scarcity of preparation; a hopeful contingency plan, a mis-read topographical map, a missed trail spur, a long vigil for Messrs. Hurner and Turner in a remote parking lot; and a California Highway Patrol helicopter.

Everyone was safe, no one got hurt, except for feelings and egos. Recriminations surfaced, the thin veneer of civility wore through in places, and my fire-bright outlook on Scouting dimmed a bit.

A snow camping trip, tentatively called the Hurner-Turner Ice Burner™© or the Hurner-Turner Snow Churner®©, never materialized. Previous trips had cured older Scouts of any desire to camp in snow ever again.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

In a similar vein

Ethics, ever vigilant watchdog, expected a long and rewarding career …
Someday, or so the plan went, I'd hang around long enough as an editorial cartoonist to have my own tropes — recurring characters and icons of my own devising to serve as whimsical shorthand for whatever evergreen ox I was goring.

Readers would see the trope traipse into the cartoon and know immediately the issue and my opinion.

I'm surprised more editorial cartoonists don't employ these devices. Now that I think on it, only one comes to mind.
Punk and Edmund Muskie

Of course, Pat Oliphant, my cartooning man crush: He is a master.

This isn't about jack-booted menaces representing anything
vaguely evil or fascist, or the Star of David to represent Israel, or a girded Mars to stand in for war. Republican elephants, Democratic donkeys —those are staple icons many cartoonists use, Oliphant included.
Jack Ohman's Gov. Brown spokesdog

Nor is it about Punk, the miniscule penguinish character who appears somewhere in almost every Oliphant cartoon, cracking wise on the downbeat. Sacramento Bee cartoonist Jack Ohman has used the zeitgeist of his new job to conscript Gov. Jerry Brown's corgi, named Sutter, into the same role.

This is about what Oliphant does better than anybody, and that I had one shining chance to emulate.

Oliphant, for example, uses Uncle Sam (as others do) in all his Flagg-ian fury when the issue suits, as he did here following the 9/11 attacks:
But when the United States stumbles and bumbles and stinks up the world, as it's apt, Oliphant's Uncle Sam becomes W.C. Fields:
Pissing off multiple constituencies in one swift motion …
I wonder how long Oliphant can keep using this analogy, as Mr. Fields slips from our collective memory.

Similarly, Oliphant drags out a brutish, swarthy, money-counting thug to represent the national debt (I'm not sure whether he's a figure in literature or popular culture; something Dickensian, my narrow mind thinks; if you know, tell me).

When the Equal Rights Amendment was big and women's liberation was all the talk, Oliphant represented the issue as a breast-plated and helmeted Brunhilde, usually pummeling her milquetoast husband.

Oliphant isn't out to make friends.

So inspired, I created an ethics watchdog to safeguard the state Legislature, and made him way too small for his collar to show how well the Legislature designed it — present, but toothless.

Ethics made its debut following Shrimpscam, the FBI sting that ensnared several state officials and sent some lawmakers to jail. I 'tooned about it last post.

The Legislature wanted to clean house, or look like it was, after key lawmakers got caught taking bribes in exchange for favorable legislation.

The keeping up of upright appearances culminated, naturally, in voter initiatives. Because when your lawmaker doesn't know right from wrong, blame voters and punish them with a mumbly-jumbly proposition that may or may not do anything and gets tied up in court to boot.

Proposition 112 in 1990, which put strict limits on lawmakers' outside and under-the-table graft — and seems to have worked until the last couple of years — tied good behavior to a boost in lawmakers' pay. Presumably if our representatives were paid more, they wouldn't have to cadge strangers for their trips to Hawaii or college tuition for their kids. Honor comes at a cost.

California lawmakers this week just got a pay raise, shortly after the latest bribery scandal blew up. It's probably coincidence.

Little Ethics could still be on the job today, gumming miscreants into submission — if he could ever climb out of his spiked collar.