Friday, July 13, 2007


I love to draw and paint, but have never thought of myself as an artist. I always thought of it as being a serious hobby. If I had to give myself a title, it would be, Guy Who Paints. But I would never use the word, artist.

To varying extents, I've been drawing since I was ten or eleven. Please don't mistake this statement as me saying that I was a child prodigy. Far from it. My only point is that I have had an interest in art for a long time. In those twenty years since, I have produced thousands of drawings and watercolors. Many paintings. But never once have I considered myself an artist. Simply a guy who paints.

Tonight, I laid on the sofa and found myself genuinely affected by a story I saw on TV. Normally my reaction would be to write about it, or to ponder. File it in my head. Perhaps my thoughts and reactions would merely fade away. But with action bordering on instinct, I went over to my easel and did a painting based on the story and how it made me feel. I put paint to canvas with zeal. It was how I expressed what I was feeling.

And for the first time ever, I feel comfortable calling myself an artist.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Match Game Gone Wrong.

It seems that the goal of many journalists is to catch someone being hypocritical. Maybe that's fair. But it's also very easy. You compare a word against a word or a word against an action and see if they line up. It's not fancy. You're playing the match game -- a card game that three-year-olds learn. We see this approach used frequently in political journalism. A congressman says this but does that. Again, it may be a fair reporting vehicle as it hopefully holds people accountable, but occasionally it misses the point. It makes the person finding the discontinuity between word and action feel smart and smug. But the find-the-hypocrisy tool is one that they are too eager to use, and unfortunately, the only tool in their arsenal. They use it because it's easy. But the context gets lost. The big picture abandoned. Intelligent thought is thrown out of the window.

I've been reminded of the faultiness of the find-the-hypocrisy approach when I see coverage of the Live Earth music event happening this weekend. Live Earth is a series of concerts staged around the world that are meant to bring awareness to environmental issues. The hope is that this awareness will result in people making changes to their behavior that benefits the environment. Recycle. Change to an energy efficient bulb. Plant a tree. Buy a car with more miles per gallon.

However, the majority of the news coverage seems focused on one specific point: The amount of pollution and energy wasted to simply host these concerts. Every journalist is leading with their find-the-hypocrisy tool by saying, "How can you tell everyone to save the environment when the platform you're using takes up so much energy?" It takes a lot of energy to fly the musicians to the venue. It takes energy to power the amps. It takes energy to cater the event. Unnecessary trash is created.

The concert promoters have done a good job of combating this line of questioning by saying that they are using environmentally safe methods wherever possible, and measuring every drop of energy used to later compensate the environment.

Now "how much energy does the event consume" may be an interesting factoid, but it makes a meaningless point. Take a few steps back. There's an adage that says, "You must spend money to make money."

The real question is not, how much energy does the event consume, but what is the net gain or net loss? The real question is: How effectively does the event propagate the message?

Please stay with me -- I'm about to do some math. If it takes 10 units of energy to host the concert, but it empowered 100,000 people to change their behavior and each one is able to save 1 unit of energy, then that's 100,000 units of energy saved. So then, does it really matter if the concert cost 10 units to stage or 100 or even 1000? No. You have to spend money to make money. Stop the hypocrisy witch-hunt.

And look at all of the musicians at the event. If some of them see how they can reduce energy waste at this event, then perhaps they make use of this information on tour. I haven't seen any journalists talk about this.

I notice that critics of environmental policies frequently believe in energy absolutes when loading their gun -- that a person's footprint should fit on a pinhead -- and anytime this doesn't happen, the person is attacked. And more frequently than that, I find that if critics tend to not like a person, they use the environmental route as their attack agent. Again, it's easy, and critics are lazy.

There's only one way to have an environmental impact of zero. Suicide. The only person in history to approach a minimal footprint was Johnny Appleseed. Being environmentally conscious isn't about having a zero footprint. It is simply this: If you have a decision to make, think about the one that has the least impact to the environment. It's about making choices.

Michael Moore faces the hypocrisy-heat-seeking criticism with almost every movie he makes. Everyone begins their latest find-the-hypocrisy witch-hunt by saying, "How can he make a movie about the health care system when he is overweight?" Simple. They have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Someone having or not having health care has nothing to do with the fact that Michael Moore is overweight. People want to somehow tie these together because thematically they seem to go together -- i.e. a person who is overweight is more likely to encounter health issues and would more likely make use of the health care system. But if you have health insurance and like your provider (which I'm assuming Moore does), then it's not an issue. There are twenty-five year old athletes that have heart attacks. But if the critics can tie the two parts together (Sicko's theme and Moore's weight), then they can simply use that find-the-hypocrisy tool they wield, and not really have to think, because that's really where we're at now. Intelligent discourse has become passé.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

News From Above.

Since I live in the ghetto, the sight of police helicopters circling above is not unusual.

But last night, one element made the scene unique.

A voice.

While a helicopter -- spotlight beaming -- is clearly visible in the sky, it's still difficult to determine distance and triangulate the city blocks above which it hovers. It's easy to dismiss the neighborhood it's surveying as being far beyond my own, even as I hear the blades turn.

The proximity was not in question this time.

A voice boomed from the helicopter's loudspeaker. A 7-11 had just been robbed and a description of the suspect was announced. They asked people with information to contact the police immediately.

Two thoughts arrived in succession.

The first thought formulated after a quick flow dialogue with Juliana.

"Where are the 7-11's?" I asked. "I know of two in the area."

We said the locations out loud... Meade and 30th... Texas and University. We lived between both locations -- six blocks away from each. Not good.

Despite its risks, I love my neighborhood. It's arguably the most diverse neighborhood in San Diego. It's vibrant, artsy, has great restaurants and everything is in walking distance from my place. This is why the helicopter announcement made me sad, because all of these wonderful things collide with a sometimes violent reality. It's nice to pretend that everything is safe and happy until a booming voice from a police helicopter tells me otherwise.

The second thought followed.

The announcement made from the helicopter's loudspeaker was crystal clear. I heard every enunciated word as if the pilot was standing in front of me. So how is it possible that a voice projected a half-mile away from a noisy helicopter is clearer than that of a fast-food drive-through speaker? Please, fast-food restaurants, spend the extra $17.50 for a better speaker. Otherwise, I'll start having a helicopter deliver my food.


Addendum: The San Diego Union Tribune issued the following news story:

Gunman with bandanna robs store in North Park

SAN DIEGO: A man with a gun robbed a North Park convenience store
Tuesday night, San Diego police said. The robber walked into the 7-Eleven on Meade Avenue near 30th Street just before 9 p.m. and demanded money from the clerk, police said.

The man was described as black and in his late teens, about 5 feet 9 inches tall, with a thin build. He was wearing a red bandanna over his face; a gray, hooded sweat shirt; knee-length jeans; and white tennis shoes. No one was injured.

-- D.F.B.

Reunited (And It Looks So Good).

There's an adage that "a true craftsman never blames his tools." While the sentiment is understood, tools are not irrelevant. Sometimes there can be a wonderful synergy generated when a craftsman uses a particular instrument.

A guitarist can own a dozen guitars but only feel inspired when he picks up that one with the perfect tone. He'll write a song that wouldn't have been conceived on any other guitar. A fashion designer, surrounded by reams of cloth, may find that perfect texture of material that always results in beautiful garments. Perhaps, a porn star has her favorite brand of lube. The point is this: there are items/utensils/materials that can elevate the creative process to produce something greater than the sum of their parts, namely the artist and it.

For me, it was my beloved Koh-I-Noor Red Chalk 8802 pencil. During a brief affair, we made beautiful drawings together. Every time I touched its fabulous tip to paper, I produced magic. I dare say it, but I think that it was love.

As much as new art supplies are constantly introduced, others are unceremoniously discontinued. I tried buying another one, but couldn't find it. I searched online and through every art store to no avail. It had become extinct. My muse had evaporated.

Until yesterday.

I went to an art store in Little Italy and found my pencil. After four years apart, we've been reunited.

Unfortunately, my bliss comes at a cost. The pencil is not available on its own, only as a single part of an eight dollar pencil set. But this means nothing. How can you put a price tag on happiness?

If there is one thing I've discovered about art supplies, it's that you need to stock up on things you like. I'll be buying out the entire supply next time I go.

Aaaahhh, me and the Koh-I-Noor Red Chalk 8802 pencil... we're MFEO.