Fur and Feathers

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I like taking pictures of just about everything, but animals and birds are my all-time favorites. I’ve photographed animals of all types everywhere I’ve traveled, across the United States and during my travels abroad, and I’d like to share some of them with you. Antelope (not sure of the species) in the savanna of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. A bird pauses after drinking from a fountain at Tswalu Resort in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. A stork in the grass at the edge of the taxi way of the airport in Arusha, Tanzania. A lone goose in a shaded woodland in Kleve, Germany. A vervet monkey in Zimbabwe. Water bird on lily pads in a Zimbabwean lake. Elephants in Zimbabwe.

Source: Fur and Feathers

Paul Laurence Dunbar

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One of America’s greatest poets.

Espiritu en Fuego/A Fiery Spirit

Many years ago when visiting my Mom’s hometown of Dayton, Ohio I went with my Aunt Helen James to visit Dunbar house which was the home of Celebrated African-American Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. It was a fascinating visit and I highly recommend visiting this as well as many other African-American Landmarks in the United States.



Paul Laurence Dunbar

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Born on June 27, 1872, Paul Laurence Dunbar was one of the first African-American poets to gain national recognition. His parents Joshua and Matilda Murphy Dunbar were freed slaves from Kentucky. His parents separated shortly after his birth, but Dunbar would draw on their stories of plantation life throughout his writing career. By the age of fourteen, Dunbar had poems published in the Dayton Herald. While in high school…

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STEAMFUNK WILD WEST: Black Lawmen and Outlaws in the Age of Steam!

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STEAMFUNK WILD WEST: Black Lawmen and Outlaws in the Age of Steam! We continue our League of Extraordinary Black People Series with an in-depth look at those who enforced – and those who gave the f…

Source: STEAMFUNK WILD WEST: Black Lawmen and Outlaws in the Age of Steam!

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

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Espiritu en Fuego/A Fiery Spirit




Fugitive Slave Act1850 

The Fugitive Slave Act was part of the group of laws referred to as the “Compromise of 1850.” In this compromise, the antislavery advocates gained the admission of California as a free state, and the prohibition of slave-trading in the District of Columbia. The slavery party received concessions with regard to slaveholding in Texas and the passage of this law. Passage of this law was so hated by abolitionists, however, that its existence played a role in the end of slavery a little more than a dozen years later. This law also spurred the continued operation of the fabled Undergound Railroad, a network of over 3,000 homes and other “stations” that helped escaping slaves travel from the southern slave-holding states to the northern states and Canada.



BE IT enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of…

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The Marine Corps Memorial

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One of my favorite places to visit in the DC area is the Iwo Jima Memorial in Rosslyn, a memorial to the US Marine Corps, and the men who fought and died taking the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima during WWII. I’ve actually visited the island, as a guest of the Japanese and US governments to honor the men on both sides, and believe me, as striking as the monument is, it is not as stark and impactful as the island itself. With the Washington Monument and Capitol (r) in the background.

Source: The Marine Corps Memorial

Red Amaryllis

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Red amaryllis, another of my wife’s favorite flowers. This was done in response to a special request from  her. She did this sketch from a photo. Technically pretty good, but the composition is too boring. So, I erased her drawing and did my interpretation. I have to confess, I don’t draw as well as she does (except cartoons or pencil portraits), but even she admits I have a better sense of composition. The next step was to put in the background. I didn’t go for realism here, but more impressionism. The sun, sky, and earth are hinted at rather than painted realistically. Next, I started putting in the stems and leaves. Then, I started working on the flowers. After they were blocked in, I did more work on stems and leaves. Working in highlights and shadows, and a little more color on the stems to make them look round. Some final highlights on the blossoms and I call it a day.

Source: Red Amaryllis

5 qualities of a brilliant story

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Nail Your Novel

3389004318_2e8d3200fb_zI write a lot of posts about problems with book drafts. But isn’t it just as important to look at the positive? If we listed the qualities of a brilliant read, what would they be? (Plus, I think we need a feelgood post.)

So, as I sit here on Sunday morning in London with an hour to get this post out of my head and into the grey matter of the blogosphere, this is the list I’ve come up with. I hope you’ll storm your brains and join in at the end.

Here goes.

Deft use of details

A writer needs to give a lot of details to evoke the setting, time period (if it’s not contemporary), distinguishing features of the characters, points about the weather. A skilful storyteller will smuggle a lot of these in as part of the action. A historical period might be evoked by showing a character…

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DONALD TRUMP IS A LOSER, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

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Donald Trump is the president of the United States. These are his current accomplishments.

Millions of women from all over the country and world find his attitude and style deplorable. Misogynism, sexism and bigotry are not what they want in a person, much less a president. They marched in every major city in the country to express their powerful feelings that would give them equal rights with men in the market place, pro-choice and the right to not be personally and sexually exploited.

Trump is on the verge of making the US the largest country in the world to sabotage climate control. His rationale is that his way will lower production costs and produce more jobs. Short term gain versus long term planet disaster.

Trump will cost the country billions of dollars to treat and care for millions of unwanted children who will be born…

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Painting a country estate

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I don’t usually copy other paintings, preferring to come up with my own creations, from life, photos, or my imagination. But, my wife has some favorites, and as the dominant partner in our collaboration, insists that I do my interpretation of some of her favorite paintings. This country estate, on an old calendar that she refuses to throw away, is one of her all-time favorites. I’ve done a small version, that she sketched, and which is a fairly good copy, but she wanted a larger version, so after some argument, I caved and let her sketch it and put the sketch on my easel. She’s pretty good at sketching, but has a problem with linear perspective. She made the house too large, had the curve of the path wrong, and made the umbrellas all the same size. I ignored those problems as I painted in the sky and background, and began putting in the dark trees at the right. Here, I’ve put in the dark trees on the left, corrected the size of the umbrellas to give a sense of distance and size in what is obviously a garden in front of the house. I did an under-painting of the path, and right away she saw her mistake, so that’ll have to be corrected as I begin working on the foreground. Here, I’ve added curve to the path, painted in the flowers, and done the over painting of the path and painted in the shadows. It’s beginning to look better, although she’s now upset with the size of the house. It doesn’t help that I told her at the outset that it was too large. This is the final painting. I’m not unhappy with it, but you can bet she’ll want more changes, so I’m likely to have to over paint large portions and redo it significantly, so stay tuned.

Source: Painting a country estate

Alternate realities

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Trump advisor, Kellyanne Conway, used the term ‘alternate facts’ when describing the brouhaha over the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd. I think this administration actually does inhabit an alternate reality. Before the inauguration, Trump did a bit of a Twitter rant aimed at North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and his country’s claim of having a missile that can reach the U.S.  While anything Kim or the DPRK does is cause for concern, getting into an online pissing contest with the man is foolhardy, and not a wise way to make policy. Trump’s action shows just how much he does not know about the world – especially the Asian concept of face.On the other hand, these two are like two playground bullies. Neither of them is capable of backing down from a challenge, taunt, or insult.Oh, woe is us!

Source: Alternate realities

Thank You, President Obama

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My sentiments exactly.

Chief Writing Wolf

President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“Before I leave my note for our 45th president, I wanted to say one final thank you for the honor of serving as your 44th.  Because all that I’ve learned in my time in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.”

President Barack Obama, January 19, 2017

President Obama, today you officially leave the White House and reenter life as a (somewhat) private citizen.  After an incredible, yet curious, eight years, you leave a unique legacy to a nation that challenged you both professionally and personally.  From my vantage point as an average citizen, I feel you did as best you could do.

First, you took on the most difficult job anyone could have: proverbial leader of the “Free World.”  It’s a position riddled with dichotomies: intensely powerful and emotionally draining; prestigious and notorious…

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Relics of the Cold War

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Vint Hill Farm, prior to WWII, was a working farm. But, when the owner informed a friend who was in the army that he could listen to German cab drivers on his shortwave radio, it became the center of our efforts to win WWII, and subsequently the home to our intelligence and reconnaissance efforts, including the NSA and the Army Security Agency. Vint Hill Farm Station was an active army base until the end of the Cold War when it was closed and turned over to local officials for development. While there has been lots of development of the area, some of the original military buildings still stand, though converted to new uses. The Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQ) is now Vint Hill Inn, a quaint B&B and conference venue. The base theater now has live performances. The original Vint Hill farm barns, were converted to military use, and are now a winery and brewery. The smaller building at the right is a cafe, and the Cold War Museum is between it and the barns. The big white building was where recon film was processed. The Cold War Museum, home to many Cold War relics, is open for public tours on weekends. Some of the exhibits in the Museum.

Source: Relics of the Cold War

You can change the driver, but it’s the same destination

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The Tea Party has been taking the GOP in some weird directions. They have a new driver now, and he seems headed in the same direction, only faster and without regard to traffic signs. Here’s another of my pen and ink responses to the current political situation. I truly worry about the collateral damage when this vehicle finally crashes and burns.

Source: You can change the driver, but it’s the same destination

Post-election blues

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My artistic interpretation of some Trump voters now that we’re beginning to get a glimpse of what’s in store for the next four years. A cabinet dominated by mega-millionaires who will be more beholden to Wall Street and the companies that have been shipping jobs overseas (the Foreclosure King will be in charge of the Treasury), a President-elect who is now floating the idea that we’ll use US tax dollars to build his wall between the US and Mexico and get the Mexicans to pay later (this is the guy who is famous for not paying his own bills), and looming crises brought on by tweeting, ranting, and otherwise being a not-so-nice member of the world community.The image of someone sitting around naked, but pretending to be clothed in finery, was too much to resist. And, of course, we must not overlook the possible reaction from the man who started it all. “The evil, unfair media misquoted me.”

Source: Post-election blues

This Month In Black American History – Rev. Abraham Lincoln DeMond

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A predecessor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident


On January 1, 1900 The Rev. Dr. A. L. DeMond welcomed the new year and the new century with a speech which he delivered at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (later to become pastored by Dr. Martin Luther King) in Montgomery, Alabama. Were it not for the Emancipation Proclamation Association publishing his speech pamphlet form, we might never have learned of Rev. DeMond or of his speech titled “The Negro Element in American Life, An Oration.”

Those members of the Dexter Avenue Baptist congregation in attendance on New Year’s Day in 1900 were treated to an oration which honored past and contemporary African Americans who championed freedom for slaves and civil rights for freedmen, as well as those African Americans who served in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures, who advanced the education of African Americans, and who were great lawyers, doctors, military officers, writers…

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An old abandoned barn

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When my wife and I collaborate, it’s not always the case that she does the preliminary sketch. Sometimes, she gives me an idea and then disappears into the innards of a shopping mall to let me create. ‘An old abandoned barn,’ grew out of her suggestion that I do a winter scene (I did a lighthouse on a snow-covered bluff that she liked, but that was the only winter scene I’ve done in years). I played around with the idea for weeks, and then decided that an old abandoned barn in the forest behind our house (the subject of many of my photographs) would make a good starting point. I also decided that it would be a good way to talk her through the technique of building a painting, so I photographed it in its various phases to use in my explanations to her. I thought I’d share it here to show how I ‘build’ a painting. This is the final painting. Phase 1: I didn’t do a preliminary sketch. Instead, I coated a canvas panel with liquid white, did an orange circle for a sun in a hazy sky, and then fluffed in dark clouds, trees in the far background, and a large, open, snow-covered field. Next the foliage and middle ground trees were sort of roughed in. And, finally, I roughed in the faded red barn. The white sparkles aren’t part of the painting. I work in my garage, and those are reflections from the overhead light off the wet paint. Details are added to the barn. More details added, in the clouds, on the barn and the middle- and fore- ground foliage, and indications of a trail beside the barn.

Source: An old abandoned barn

Morning in Trump’s America

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Given his campaign rhetoric, his post-election tweets, and some of his cabinet nominations and staff choices, I have a feeling that America after inauguration 2017 will no longer be the welcoming place it has been for decades. The phrase at the base of the Statue of Liberty, written by poet, Emma Lazarus, ‘Give my your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door,’ will no longer hold true – at least not for the next four years.As I’m wont to do when my thoughts are troubled, I take pencil and pen to paper and try to express them in a few simple lines–not words, but art. The airport signs in immigration might change, and, the words of Emma Lazarus corrupted entirely.

Source: Morning in Trump’s America

Making changes

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In 1999, I did a rough painting of a Singapore street scene, more as an exercise than anything else. Recently, as I was unpacking some boxes in my basement, I came across the painting. Taking a look at it with fresh eyes, I realized that it needed some changes. This is the original. While interesting, it lacks focus and is a bit too rudimentary. Here is is after removing the women under the tree and adding the bench. the tree was improved (a bit, and accents added to the buildings. It could still use some work, but this version, in my view, is much better.

Source: Making changes

A place of childhood memories

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Going back home is not what one traditionally thinks of traveling, but for me, after being away from my rural East Texas home for more than 40 years, with just the occasional 2 – 3 day to see my elderly mother, or attend funerals. After my mother died in 2002, I’d only been back twice–once when we left my assignment as a diplomat in residence at the University of Houston (190 miles south of my home town) and once for my youngest brother’s funeral. Each of those visits had been a day or less, and had been very limited in scope. In 2010, while we were in Zimbabwe, I was notified that another of my younger brother’s had died, and I was granted leave so that my wife and I could return to the US for his funeral.You’re probably sensing a pattern here; after so many years, I was beginning to associate my hometown with grief and sadness. During the flight to Washington, where we retrieved one of our cars for the drive to Texas, I determined that, notwithstanding the sad occasion of this trip, I was going to take the time to try and rekindle some of the fonder memories of home. My wife, who’d never seen much of my hometown, other than main street and the neighborhoods where my mother and sister lived, agreed.When I was a kid, I loved to pack a lunch into my scout bag and roam the woods and swamps that surrounded us. I was especially fascinated with Lake Murval, a natural lake 17 miles north of us, and one of the few recreational areas where black people were welcomed in the 1960s–even though we  had to use a separate part of the lake. So, we decided that there is where I’d go to tap into those almost forgotten memories of years gone by.We took a few pictures, had sandwiches sitting on a bench on the shore, and then went on home for my brother’s funeral, and somehow, it wasn’t as sad an occasion as I remembered past such visits being. Our youngest daughter, Denise, accompanied Myung and me. Here they are, posing in the parking lot. Lake Murval is in the background. In the 1950s and 60s, there were segregated parking lots. Not so in 2010. This was an impressive sight to me when I was a kid. The largest body of water I’d ever seen until I joined the army. I remember there being more water reeds (complete with snakes) when I was young. A mallard enjoying the solitude.

Source: A place of childhood memories