Thursday, November 27, 2014

Get it in writing

A couple of times as a sensitive kid, I wrote Thanksgiving grace. We only said grace over high-holiday meals — still true today, now that I think of it — and it was the traditional Catholic "Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts …" The last refuge of "thy" in the American Church.

Grace didn't cover what I felt, so I wrote something specific to our family and my thanks for being part.

It seemed like such a good idea, up to the time I spoke the prayer. Then the red hot wave of self-conscious impropriety swept over me. We weren't a demonstrative family — not cold and taciturn, certainly, but not ebullient like my friend John's family, who shocked and awed me by embracing at every ordinary coming and going.

My sensitive-kid sentiments were not unwelcome, just hard to receive. And hard for me to say. I tried again once more; once more the hot deluge of discomfort.

Still true today. I'm better at writing. Email is a joy, texting a medium I have come to champion. The phone has always been a drudge. Spoken interpersonal relationship, not so much.

On this day of Thanksgiving, I write my thanks. It dawned on me to thank the people who have taken care of my family. Dr. Liebowitz and Dr. Miller, who took care of my wife when she was sick, and made her well again. Dr. Miller said of Dr. Liebowitz, "He's the best there is." And he is.

Thanks to the nurses and technicians who do a terrible, wonderful job, and do it over and over again.

Thank you, Dr. Bargar, for repairing my mother-in-law's leg so she can be more nimble. Thanks for the doctors and nurses who also repaired her heart.

Thanks to my mom and dad's many doctors, with whom they created a kind of community, in which the doctors not only showed the patience of hearing their patients' many issues, but rose above disease and symptom to celebrate them as humans who now and then didn't mind hearing a dirty joke.

It was clear they enjoyed their care, their community.

Thanks to the doctors and nurses who brought our children into the world, and Dr. Huston for checking on their care through childhood, and Drs. Morgan and Chalmer and their kind technicians for the Sisyphean battle that is my teeth, and Dr. Tracy for enabling me to see clearly in any open water.

I do not begrudge that doctors may be well compensated. It's a difficult profession in ways I cannot even fathom. They have made a profound difference in our lives.

Peace to you on this day of thanks.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

No one you see is smarter than he!

This post is about nothing, which means it's about TV.

'60s TV in fact, so it's about less than nothing.

(You may also call this post, "I don't want to pay attention to the particularly awful real world at this moment." Should you feel likewise, escape with me for a bit.)

Admit it: If you're close to my age, you watched "Flipper," the "Lassie" of the seas.

Not the movie starring Chuck Connors and said cetacean, but the TV show the movie spawned.

This is the plot of the series' entire three-year run: "Dad, do you think Flipper senses Bud's in trouble? He's done that before!" (Actual quote from Sandy, Bud's older brother.)

Every show counted on Flipper the dolphin knowing more than his* owners — and saving one or various of their butts.

The movie, by contrast, was more about a boy and his dog dolphin — animated and seeming to laugh, but merely a dolphin.

(*Trivia: Stories vary about the gender and number of bottlenose dolphins that played Flipper. One says he was played by several female dolphins, thought to be less aggressive than males. Each dolphin was good at something different — though a male appears to have been used for the famous tail walk — so the Flipper we saw on TV was an edited amalgam of several animals.

(More trivia: Ric O'Barry trained those dolphins, inspired to the profession by a visit to a Sea World®™-type marine park as a sailor. Now he campaigns against the zoo captivity of marine mammals — and the industry he advanced — particularly the annual Japanese mass slaughter of dolphins at Taiji, chronicled in the documentary "The Cove."

(Maybe this isn't the antidote to real life that I thought.)

When I watch TV — not as much now that baseball's over — it's often the low-rent cable networks designed to indulge people my age — the same people who on facebook®™ "like" a picture of a rotary-dial phone or a 45-rpm record adapter and ask you to share if you're geezer enough to know what it is.

(Which I don't understand: Is it supposed to be some kind of putdown of younger people, or huffy resignation that facebook®© has been abandoned to old people?).

"Flipper" is a staple of the channel I watch.

Facets of "Flipper" that I noticed vaguely as a kid have now come clear. For example:
  • Though its creators purportedly helped pioneer underwater ocean cinematography, "Flipper" looks like most of it was shot on the cheap over a week or maybe a long weekend.

    One day, it looks like, the creators shot footage of a dolphin skimming over a shallow sunlit reef, crystalline blue. Maybe the same day they shot a lot of footage of dolphins swimming back and forth through shapeless blue water, like an marine park pool — right, left, coming, going, surfacing, diving.

    Next day, the producers showed dolphins jumping out of an actual ocean somewhere, and the day after that shot dolphins doing closeup work — nodding, laughing, squeaking, tail walking —in water as opaque and green as new motor oil, the studio lagoon where the Ricks family home and dock sat.

    These shots were then repeated dozens of times and spliced together to create story sequences involving Flipper saving its owners' butts. The stories varied, the human actors did their different bits each week, but the action scenes were largely the same.

    The result, time and again, is that Flipper would come to the rescue, swimming speedily over the reefs, then race, and race some more, then appear to rise to the surface, all in clear blue water — only to appear on the surface, nodding and laughing, in suddenly dark green weed-strewn murk.

    Then Flipper would dive again to lead his stupid humans to the umpteenth rescue, but the water would turn crystal clear and sunny again.

    Or Flipper would approach his hapless owners in a long shot approaching a sandy beach, and in closeup the humans would be standing in murky water in a clump of shrubbery that suddenly showed up.

    Continuity — making sure one shot flowed seamlessly to the next to maintain the illusion of story — was not the show's strong suit.

    A friend my age said maybe we as viewers didn't care as much for the details. Maybe he's right — we were so enthralled with the daily miracle of TV we didn't care that much what was on.
  • In the TV show, wildlife preserve ranger Porter Ricks is widowed with two sons. (In the movie, Porter is a married fisherman with one son, and he doesn't particularly like competing with Flipper for fish). Older son Sandy is played by Luke Halpin, just as in the movie. Younger son Bud is played by Tommy Norden.

    Both boy actors were born in New York City. In Tommy's case, you may be able to take the boy of the city, but you can't take the city out of the boy. Tommy always sounded like he was hailing a cab in the heart of Manhattan.

    "FlippUH! FlippUH! Wheah are ya, boy?" Bud would shout from the underwater cave in which he found himself trapped.

    "Gee, Sandy," Bud might say afterward, "Bein' stuck down deah in dat rusted hull of a frigate — until FlippUH rescued me, uv cahs — shuah gave me da shivuhs!"

    I'm surprised he didn't say, "youse guys."

    Had Bud maybe been adopted by the Ricks family? No such storyline, no such luck.
  • Porter Ricks' unrequited love interest was marine biologist Ulla Norstrand, played by actress Ulla Str√∂mstedt (so she wouldn't forget her character's name?), who tootled around Flipper's part of the ocean in a yellow submarine.

    Her primary role was to give the show plenty of opportunities to pad a thin story by showing a wild menagerie of sea life, all existing together in the TV ocean if they didn't in real life. We know, after all, Flipper lives in a world full of wonder! 

    Her secondary role was to get in trouble so Flipper could rescue her.

    In the evolving cultural zeitgeist, Ulla would get her sub stuck or lose it to a bad guy (including a young Burt Reynolds!) and wait helplessly for Porter to rescue her, who waited for Flipper to rescue them all.
A friend my age said maybe we as viewers didn't care as much for the details back then. Maybe he's right — we were so enthralled with the daily miracle of TV, with the few times the images weren't scrolling wildly up and down or side to side, we didn't really care what we were watching.

Pass me the popcorn.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sound and fury

I can't believe I've had 400 things to say.

More accurately, I can't believe I've had four things to say, repeated an average of 100 times. They are these:
  1. Illustration
  2. Open-water swimming
  3. The San Francisco Giants
  4. Pontification on vital matters about which I know not very much
    So really, this blog has been item 4 — in 400 variations.

    That's not how I planned it. This was supposed to be a blog about my illustrations, but two things happened:
    • I couldn't shut up
    • I've seen other illustrators' illustrator blogs and, though I like the art, I wanted more than "Here's a picture I drew."
    I may still create an illustration-only blog, if only to compel fecundity in my work and maybe dislodge some subdural projects. I'd write just a wee bit — I promise! — about process.

    Each of these shawn, DRAWN®™ posts, by rule, must accompany an illustration, primarily mine, which has forced me to cobble art fast. But pictures have taken a backseat to words.

    Some weeks I've had nothing to say — but that hasn't prevented me from saying so anyway. Thank you especially for reading those.

    Four-hundred posts have generated another 10 percent — 40 posts — in draft form. Some, you'll be happy to know, will remain in draft until I finally click "delete." They comprise:
    • Malformed Giants posts in which I thought the Giants were going to fail spectacularly and they turned it around, and vice versa. I'm the fickliest of fickle feckless fans.
    • A post in which a client — actually, the child of a client — asked through channels to have me remove the post, however laudatory, because it mentioned the client's CEO's name. As if he was Yahweh or Voldemort or something. I wrote a post about how I didn't get that at all.
    • Anniversaries that coincide with editorial cartoons I drew at the time. They are at once interesting and depressing, because they remind me of a door I shut on myself 25 years ago. I have one half-done post about Manuel Noriega as he was ousted as dictator of Panama. But that notable anniversary has passed, and who cares about/remembers Manuel Noriega?
    • A "Where Are They Now?" post of people I knew in childhood, which I quickly realized would be a horrible violation of people's privacy, and I've already mentioned people's names — in the best light — without formally asking permission. Besides, what a lot of work that would be. I was motivated by the fact that you and I can find people long lost to us through the miracle and treachery of social media.
    • Various posts about news events in which my knowledge was poorer than usual.
    • Posts that won't see daylight because I realized they weren't my stories to tell — including one in which I praised highly someone I have known and work with, who politely insisted I do not publish it.
    All of which means, dear reader, some drafts will eventually become official posts. So you can plan around them, prepare for:
    • A post about our dog
    • Swims and swimmers I know
    • An ode to my Lake Natoma, presented in a novel way
    • A rant from long ago about the insanity of promoting one's freelance work online
    • Good and bad logos I come across
    In other words, prepare for tales told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Maybe 400 more? Thanks again for your patient attention.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014

    Pungent prophecy

    This art always left me embarrassed, and I never had cause to show it — except for self-flagellation. Which I'm not above.

    But events transpired last week that demonstrate quite clearly:

    I'm a prophet.

    Does, or does not, that ugly lump the Boy Scout is holding high aloft resemble 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the comet that the European Space Agency's little ship Philae landed on, more than 300 million miles from Earth?!

    And didn't the space agency begin its amazing chase for the comet 10 years ago, when I made this art?

    Case closed. I saw this coming. Eureka!

    Wasn't 67P, as its friends call it, just a blip on a screen of blips back then? Could I have known its shape? No.

    I'm like Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, raking a pile of mashed potatoes into the shape of Devil's Tower without really knowing why.

    Call Spielberg. We've got a movie to shoot.
    (Let me just say: If Philae never makes another peep from its shady perch on 67P, never sends another bit of data, this endeavor will still have been worth the undertaking. I hear the same chestnut popular when I was a kid and Apollo astronaunts walked and rode and golfed on the moon: Why? When we have so many problems on earth that need money and attention?

    (I can't disagree about the problems. We've probably got plenty of solutions if we only willed ourselves to apply them and weren't sheep to convention and politics and fear and deference and obfuscation.

    (We yearn to know, though, and I say "Go!" We want to understand the innumerable mysteries that surround us. We yearn for it so deeply that smart people figured out how to aim a rocket at a comet in fast flight millions of miles away. It sent a satellite (Rosetta, named after the stone that helped smart people decipher ancient Earth languages) which flew by Mars and specific asteroids on its way to 67P, and finally, deftly, dropped its own spaceship, Philae (named for the obelisk smart people used to help unlock the mystery of Rosetta), nestled in the satellite's womb for a decade, on to the speeding comet, where it landed with a couple of slow bumps.

    (More than 300 million miles from here.
    (For all those amazing accomplishments, the pity is very small that Philae's harpoons did not work and the little lander bounced from a flat sunny place to a precarious dark spot on the comet, where the sun could not recharge its batteries.

    (Keep trying, I say. Keep going. We learn from Philae, and will still from Rosetta as it orbits 67P; we will learn from the next one.)
    The thing in the Scout's upraised arms is not the comet, of course (or is it?) It's supposed to be a fairly realistic lump of gold, though realistically the Scout would have a hard time lifting such a lump off the ground, let alone over his head.
    (Also, realistically speaking, what are those, some kind of comic book superhero Extend-O Arms®™? See, I'm good at this flogging business.)
    When I was all done and applied color to all the objects, I stepped back and realized: Oh, it looks like the Scout is holding excrement. Dung. A turd. A cow patty, not unlike what one would find on the cattle ranch that played host to the Scouting event being promoted.

    It doesn't look any less like feces in black-and-white, I'm afraid.

    I changed out the lump for a gold ingot in the final art (or I think I did), and stamped the bar with "24 K" to stamp out any doubt.

    Camporee is a sort of Scout Olympics, in which Troops and Packs within geographical regions compete in Scout skills, and build monkey bridges out of ropes and sticks, and eat s'mores, and hang out at a big campfire, and go to Sunday services if their stupid Scoutmasters really, really insist, and generally goof off.

    The two Scouting districts, Pioneer and Prospector, were merging that year, and this event was a kind of mutual Welcome Wagon.

    Camporee took place in the wet red earth of the foothills not far from where Gold Rush encampments filled the Sierra ravines.

    Who knew we were really prefiguring a gold rush of discovery in the heavens? 


    In other news: The best name yet in the incessant email come-ons I receive for sex enhancement drugs: Mrs. Dolorisa Mooring enjoins me to "Make her shiver in ecstasy and desire more!" So Victorian, so illicit!

    Thursday, November 13, 2014

    Half past future

    Just a teaser … almost everything in this image changes
    Mix two parts Portland, four parts Miguelito Canyon and the Santa Barbara Channel, dollops of Steinbeck's Pastures of Heaven as filtered through my fevered teenage brain, and half-baked memory shards of Disneyland's®™© House of The Future©™® — and maybe the movie Heidi — and you get this illustration, for a trade show booth.

    It's the world of, well, maybe not tomorrow, but noon the day after.

    The client, in the business of securing a steady supply of electrical power for California — at the best price — is therefore in the business of promoting the most efficient electrical production and use, so that the supply and price remain sane and attainable.

    Assignment: Depict this efficient California-ish world in operation, and capture its best side. It's a world that harnesses wind and solar power, and stores energy produced at lag times so that it's available at peak times.

    It's a world of micro-grids — places like universities and hospitals that can produce their own electrical power in case the larger grid goes down, and can sell excess power to the larger grid when everything's working.

    It's a world pocked with smart devices, enabling consumers to control their energy-efficient homes remotely.

    And it's green, in several ways.

    The drawing went through several iterations. Sketch first: How to get this all in one squareish illustration? I pictured a kind of model railroad city at first: Harnessed river running through the middle and guiding the eye across … a mountain slope above with a train coming around the bend (natch!) which reminded me a little of the Donner Lake section of the Sierra Nevada.

    The city lay in direct danger of a failing dam, but I sort of hoped viewers wouldn't notice. Buildings crept up an unseen slope in the foreground.

    The client picked the second sketch anyway, which arranges the city more realistically, along the contours of a coastal valley opening to the ocean (Totally Californian! Like, totally!)

    What city would serve as a model for it?

    My first thought was Portland, Oregon, built on the hills on either side of the Willamette River. Though not well traveled, I think I'd have a hard time finding a city that affords such sweep upon approach. The whole of Portland seems to lay open all at once as you drive into it.

    The Santa Barbara Channel and its distant islands stood in for the background, and despite the high rises, the town itself resembled my hometown, filling a long valley. It even has terraces like my hometown, though oriented differently than this one, from which you can look upon the whole valley.

    The refined sketch looked like this:

    The spaces became more defined. "Regionalism" in the upper corner, refers to a suburb or hamlet that might require different power needs than the larger region. "EV" is electro-voltaic, electric cars and a mega-charger.

    The lines represent where type would go, and they played a big part in the constant change of the art on the way to final.

    Here is the assignment as it progressed through color:

    "Regionalism" went right out the window. The little suburb in the left hills disappeared, replaced by a map of western North America power production and distribution. Watch that space: It changes a lot. The disembodied hand at the left is a consumer; the one to the right is meant to represent the client/agency.

    The map expands, buildings narrow in color palette. The client/agency hand loses nail color, and the red car goes blue. The center objects get pushed to the side or eliminated to make room for type. Mountains slide in, blocking the path to the sea.

     The landscape fills …

    … and thins again, as the foreground car disappears to reveal a house on the hill, full of smart devices on the house and a charger for the car. The homeowner becomes the disembodied hand on the right with a smart phone instead. The client/agency becomes the hands on the lower left. The landscape gets greener, the microgrid/college campus gets rearranged, and that darn map keeps changing color.

    While the middle ground gains ground and loses buildings once again, so does the map changes color, in an attempt to show it as a separate icon but at once blend into the background. Agency/hand gets a bank of computer screens, and homeowner makes clearer why he/she has a smart phone and knows what to do with it. I built the illustration in layers for this purpose, being able to lock everything but the particular slice of heaven I had to modify.

    This is close to final. The buildings on the right, with their Formica®™ table-top roofs, disappeared or became much simpler in the art that went to print.

    It's fun to see my work so large, which doesn't happen often.


    Speaking of Tomorrowland®™, a good way to enjoy Disneyland®©™ without the trouble of going, is by watching Randomland®© on Youtube. A quirky, energetic guy named Justin Scarred visits for you — every week! —and  posts frequent videos of the quirks and mysteries of the theme park, which he clearly loves, and about a lot of Southern Californiana such as Knotts Berry Farm. Check it out.



    Hallow hollowed anesthetized: Though I meant what I said last post about thanking the people in my life who served in the military, I see the point brought by swimmer and veteran Nick Alaga, founder of the fundraising charity Will Swim for Food, about how thanking a veteran is not the most appropriate gesture.

    He points to a website called in which a writer, Ky Hunter, cautions:
    The obligated sentiments of thanks, the forced imagery of heroics, the patriotic necessity of venerating those who wear the uniform have all contributed to the fact that veterans are seen as some one-dimensional homogenous entity. The simplicity and sterility of "thank you for your service" allows veterans to remain faceless and sterile. And for the public to keep us at arm's length from what really matters. It allows the civilian world ro go back to their daily lives feeling like good Americans because they thanked a veteran today, without taking any ownership of their sentiments.
    By "ownership," Hunter recommends thanking veterans for opportunities we enjoyed back home because of their service, which cause them to miss the same opportunities — attending the birth of your children, going to all their games and matches, luxuriating in quiet weekends, being able to live where we choose.

    Sure, I feel guilty. I didn't serve, chose not to, felt horror at the events of 9/11, but not a compulsion to enlist, believing the ensuing wars a mistake. Others joined regardless. I feel weird thanking veterans because I have removed myself from their journey and have no connection except as a citizen, and I feel powerless to know how to do more.

    Camillo Bica says don't feel powerless, because we can do more; don't just thank veterans for their service. A former Marine Corps officer and Vietnam veteran, now a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Bica writes on the progressive Website that people can do much more than thank veterans: Make demands.
    Demand, for example, an immediate end to the corporate takeover of our "democracy" and to the undue influence of the military-industrial-Congressional complex. Demand sanity in Pentagon spending and a reallocation of finite resources to people-focused programs such as health care, education and jobs rather than to killing and destruction. Demand an immediate end to wars for corporate profit, greed, power and hegemony. Demand that we adhere to the Constitution and to international law. Demand accountability for those who make war easily and care more for wealth, profit and power than for national interest or for the welfare of their fellow human beings. And finally, demand the troops be brought home now, and that they be adequately treated and cared for when they return. So, should we meet on the street one day, do say Hello, or Fine day, and as you talk to me about your efforts to make this country and the world a better and more peaceful place in which to live, I would be happy to thank you for your service.
    The obligated sentiments of thanks, the forced imagery of heroics, the patriotic necessity of venerating those who wear the uniform have all contributed to the fact that veterans are seen as some one-dimensional homogenous entity.  The simplicity and sterility of “thank you for your service” allows veterans to remain faceless and sterile.  And for the public to keep us at arms length from what really matters.  It allows the civilian world to go back to their daily lives feeling like a good American because they thanked a veteran today, without taking any ownership of their sentiments. - See more at:
    The obligated sentiments of thanks, the forced imagery of heroics, the patriotic necessity of venerating those who wear the uniform have all contributed to the fact that veterans are seen as some one-dimensional homogenous entity.  The simplicity and sterility of “thank you for your service” allows veterans to remain faceless and sterile.  And for the public to keep us at arms length from what really matters.  It allows the civilian world to go back to their daily lives feeling like a good American because they thanked a veteran today, without taking any ownership of their sentiments. - See more at:

    Tuesday, November 11, 2014


    My thanks to William Turner, my dad, and Barry Lewis, my father-in-law, both passed. 

    Thanks to Tim Lewis and Phil Lewis and Joel Lewis and Greg Lewis, my brothers-in-law. Thanks to Warner, Vern, Ervin, Leonard, Gordon and Glen Fahlgren, my mom's uncles, and to their brother Carl, who wanted to go to war but the military said, "No."

    I thank you on this Veterans Day for your service, for this freedom you gained and held, for time diverted from the course of your lives, that I may write at this moment and look out upon the peaceful warm fall afternoon outside my window, the neighbor's elm tree slowly glowing to orange flame.

    My thanks can never be enough.

    Thanks to Buddy Butler, my next-door neighbor in childhood, and his siblings, and his dad, Bill Butler, who sometimes addressed my dad over the fence as "Sergeant." Thanks to Lou Marzio down street of my childhood, and some of his children. Heck, thanks to most of the dads on the street where I lived as a kid, most of the dads who ran the Little League, many of the dads and moms of our Air Force town.

    Thanks to Wayne Singleton, my friend from high school, who showed me more of my hometown than I could have ever known otherwise, through the lens of his camera. Thanks to John Bingle, one of my best friends in high school, and to his dad, whom I never met but who — long story short — brought us together.

    Thanks to Jim Washburn, high school classmate and college roomie for a while. Jim is the last person I would have figured to join the military, though now I realize his relentless high energy and bright outlook would serve him well as a Marine Corps officer.

    And thanks to Rita Lane and Pat and Mike Mahoney. Thanks to Sonia Fry. Thanks to Lance Daniels, an officer who became a teacher who called to duty in Iraq in the middle of a school year, there on a Friday, gone the next Monday. All those I knew from high school who served, thank you.

    Thanks to the swimmers I know, in person and in the virtual realm that feels like in person: Coast Guard helicopter pilot Doug Bogle, my swim buddy until he moved; Dan Simonelli and Rob Dumouchel and Floyd Fisk, and Cathy Harrington's son, and Cathy Harrington for always reminding me never to forget. Thanks to Nick Alaga, who runs Will Swim for Food, efforts for which help too many veterans who go hungry despite what they've done for our country.

    We swim free but mindfully because of you.

    Because of the many swimmers from United Kingdom I have met virtually, I am awash in red poppies and the welling passion to remember veterans. Right now, this day, the last of 888,246 ceramic poppies were planted around the Tower of London, each poppy marking what the BBC described as the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died during World War I.

    The poppies, created by sculptor Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper, appear to gush from a turret of the tower, and cascade into the empty moat around it, befitting the title of the sculpture, from an anonymous World War I soldier's poem, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.

    The breadth of remembrance by my UK swimming cohorts moves me, and I thank them for bringing the poppies into my view.

    Thanks to Dale Stradford, my son's Scoutmaster when Liam joined the Boy Scout Troop. Dale served in Bosnia and had to hand off Scouting duties to us other parents, and hope for the best. Thanks to Peggy Stradford, a Scout leader and doer of immeasurable tasks while also serving as an Army officer. Thanks to Harold Keim and Ted Nishio, who brought their readiness to helping the Scouts go. Thanks to Alex Eccleston, whose father served before him, and whose father served before him, and so on.

    Thanks to Shane Barnes, flying helicopters for the Army. Though I know of some of my children's classmates who are in ROTC, I'm not sure about any others who joined the military.

    Thanks to those whom I've forgotten and should not forget. I mean no malice, just ignorance and failure of memory. I can't think of a Veteran I know who has introduced him- or herself that way, or who has talked much about it.

    Long ago I interviewed a city park maintenance worker in the city where I worked as a newspaper. During the Korean War he was a prisoner of war, and he agreed to recount his horrific tale, 30 years later, for a story. When the interview finished, he said it was the first time he had talked about his time in torture and imprisonment; he had never even told his wife.

    I owe you the front of the line, all of you, coffee anytime you want it, beer on me. We owe you good jobs, the best of health care for the rest of your lives, without any fight or fear. We owe you that much, and we owe you so much more. Our policy should be that if you serve in our military, you deserve the best our country can offer you for your gift of sacrifice.

    How I wish my saying so made it so.

    Thank you, on this Veterans Day.
    Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red
    The blood swept lands and seas of red,
    Where angels dare to tread.
    As God cried a tear of pain as the angels fell,
    Again and again.
    As the tears of mine fell to the ground
    To sleep with the flowers of red
    As any be dead
    My children see and work through fields of my
    Own with corn and wheat,
    Blessed by love so far from pain of my resting
    Fields so far from my love.
    It be time to put my hand up and end this pain
    Of living hell. to see the people around me
    Fall someone angel as the mist falls around
    And the rain so thick with black thunder I hear
    Over the clouds, to sleep forever and kiss
    The flower of my people gone before time
    To sleep and cry no more
    I put my hand up and see the land of red,
    This is my time to go over,
    I may not come back
    So sleep, kiss the boys for me

    Thursday, November 6, 2014

    All fall down

    Twenty-five years ago this weekend, the Berlin Wall began to fall. I remember relief — this formidable but tangible symbol of the dark threat to the world, joyously destroyed. It's what I tried to convey in this cartoon from that time.

    I drew more cartoons than I had clients to publish them, and looking back I wish the top one could have been published instead of the one (left) that ran in The Stockton Record.

    Taken together, they reflect that I operate, then as now, on a volatile mix of unreasonable hope and earthbound cynicism.

    Geographic neophytes (read also: Ugly Americans) like me didn't really understand at the time that divided Berlin was deep inside Soviet-allied East Germany.

    The wall dividing the city had separated friends and family overnight in 1961, and kept them apart for three decades. East Germany said the ever-reinforced fence-turned-menacing-wall was meant to keep Western fascists out — of course!

    East Germans yearned, upon threat of death, to clear the Berlin Wall and gain their freedom — within a totalitarian territory. Nearly 200 people died in the attempt; some 5,000 East Germans, including 600 border guards, escaped, tunneling under, hot-air ballooning over, jumping across, running through.

    It seems almost quaint now, as stolidly distant as the films starring Joel McRea and Robert Young of arrogant but ultimately bumbling Nazis trying to sniff out the Resistance. It was the stuff of stories, not real.

    When President Reagan in 1987 told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, "Tear down this wall!" I thought, "Yeah, right! Never gonna happen."

    Then it did. First, East German officials allowed Germans to pass through the wall's gates unfettered, 25 years ago. Immediately, people began tearing down sections of the wall on their own. East Germany became no more. Glasnost pried loose the reach of the Soviet Union.

    I began to think all would be right with the world.

    Pause for effect.

    Of course, all is not right. Perhaps more is wrong since. Perhaps that's because technology literally has broadened our view of the world and what goes on — even as news vigilance, of sussing out truths on our behalf, seems to wane. Perhaps it's these scales that have fallen from my eyes as I age.

    Germany is unified, the traces of totalitarianism fading with time. Other barriers remain around the world, though, even more menacing despite their invisibility.

    Worse regimes remain. Baser regimes have arisen elsewhere in the world. Our own freedoms have diminished at the cost of two airplanes, two buildings and more than 3,000 lives.

    I used to think the world was moving toward that depicted in V for Vendetta, the movie based on the Alan Moore/David Lloyd graphic novel which is commentary on Margaret Thatcher-led Great Britain. I used to think the world would descend beneath a regime that manufactures fear and salvation over it.

    Now I see that the world is not a graphic novel, would not be so tidy, would not fit between the pages of a novel. It's too complex in its simplicity, too glacial for a sentence to sustain.

    I see instead that money moves the world. Ideology exists to the extent it can move and concentrate money. Money, I'm seeing, trumps Democracy, trumps Communism, trumps caliphates. Money concentrates the power in the United States, power that games the system, that begets groups like Citizens United (no Orwellian irony there!) which gives concentrated money more power to control elections, that lets our bankers bungle our money scot-free and profitably. Concentrated power allows stupidity to be legislated into school curricula and science policy.

    I'm just starting to learn about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, an agreement the European Union and the United States are negotiating, ostensibly to streamline policy and break down walls blocking trade.

    Critics — mostly from Europe; I have not heard anything about this agreement despite news dripping into my ears through the day — are raising outcry over whether the TTIP is a Trojan horse, giving corporations greater power to sue against government safeguards and policies.

    I'm no expert, of course, but it would not surprise me that money motivated this agreement — concentrated money — and that what is touted as beneficial for working people really isn't.

    Canadian Broadcasting has an interesting story about a 1988 Bruce Springsteen concert in East Berlin — sponsored by the East German government — that drew thousands of young East Germans and heralded the fall of the wall, perhaps by a show of how many longed to knock it down.

    Maybe so. Despite what you may think of Springsteen and whether his persona is pure freedom, the story highlighted East Germans who lament the fire for young people to protest for their freedoms anymore, to fan their fire with protest music.

    their lament resonates with me. Protest against what? The target is shadowy and complex and nimble and patient. It's not a wall anymore. It's not a symbol.

    What we need is a new kind of sledgehammer and the patience to build a long, slow, sustainable burn. And maybe a nice song to set the rhythm as we swing.

    Tuesday, November 4, 2014

    Mourning becomes election

    Such a great day in America! The greatest day to be an American!

    For today we Americans, young and old, of every creed and origin, stood out on our American doorsteps, sucked in the crisp fall American air, scanned the landscape of American-made America and declared:

    "No more effing campaign commercials!!" The shouts of uplifting relief rang from sea to shining sea.

    Also, an election took place — far, far less important.

    Now we enjoy a reprieve of almost six months, during which we won't be told how stupid we are by the people who want to represent us in our houses of legislature. Whatever "represent" and "legislature" even mean anymore. The same for "democracy."

    Tomorrow where I live, one of two people will represent me in Congress. It'll either be Democratic incumbent Ami Bera, a doctor who unseated Republican Dan Lungen last election, or Republican Doug Ose, a land developer who served previously as a representative in a nearby California district.

    I keep being told it's an important race to politics nationwide, though I'm not sure why, unless you count its expense, the costliest House race in the country. If so, here was a chance for the candidates to run on their records, to answer why I should vote for him.

    But no.

    It's the same old juvenile dreck that passes for a campaign anymore, salient parody if weren't so sad and real.

    The Sacramento Bee's editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman spoke my wishes eloquently, and good on The Bee for giving him
    nearly  a half page in the Sunday opinion section to say it. What an election this might have been had we
    lived in that parallel universe.
    It began with a tiny sliver of hope, as all campaigns do, with the happy music and the candidate serving you, his constituent. Physician Bera is treating patients, smiles all around. Ose is walking through warehouses with hardhatted warehouse supervisors, surveying progress happening in your district! Ose's commercial is strangely notable for his sporting three different hairstyles in a 30-second span.

    They're going to Washington to fight for you, citizen, and won't answer to the special interests.

    That phase goes fast, because name recognition is high in this region, or because positive advertising doesn't pay.

    Soon the dreck appeared, dreck upon dreck. They drecked the halls with their folly, following the same cookie-cutter formula: Show the opponent in grainy black and white, in some still from a video screen grab that catches him with eyes half closed or mouth twisted in a chewing motion so he looks locked in an apoplectic fit.

    Accuse the opponent of something that might technically be a lie, but nobody's going to read the fact-checking article in the next day's newspaper, and by that time the candidate has launched another half-baked broadside.

    Then show the candidate in color with happy music, signaling the end of the ebola and economic and moral bankruptcy the opponent would bring.

    The attack ads are the same in every district and precinct in the country. Republicans label their Democratic opponents as slavish devotees of President Obama and reps. Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer and lovers of Obamacare. Democrats, lacking a lame-duck president on which to hang blame, resort to images of airliners and glasses of champagne and stacks of money, and accuse opponents of jetsetting on the public dime.

    Neither candidate blames bankers, careful not to bite feeding hands.

    The commercials appeared back to back on TV last week, with such speed that Bera seemed to be attacking Bera as Ose throttled Ose.

    It didn't need to be this way. I bet it would have been enough for Bera to be Bera. He was dean of admissions at the UC Davis Medical Center, and Sacramento County's chief medical officer. Impressive on its face.

    As a real estate developer, Ose could have stood on his standing in the community.

    I bet if they bucked the unfortunate trend and told us what they would do for us — with us — rather than lie about what the other guy wouldn't do for us — or would do to us — the election would be light years better.

    Why they'd want to run, I have no idea.

    Politics these days just seems like another job though, the way it goes now. One currency is the the vote, the ticket into office. The other currency is what comes from the constituency in power, the special interests that guide offices and campaigns and frame policy.

    Candidates can act like we're stupid because we only count to get them in office. Once there, we are not needed until the next mid-term.

    I wrote both candidates telling them I was ashamed by the way they handled their campaigns. I'm sure a staffer looked at the envelope through hard light, didn't see any money, and threw it away. Or the staffer opened it, and gathered other staffers around for a lighthearted moment from one of the babe-in-the-wood constituents, who thought he really mattered.

    No matter. Fight the fear. You may still have time to vote.