On the road again

2013 dawns on an RV packed with 250 canvases, gobs of camera equipment, and a few computers as we embark on a nine-month journey through the USA and Canada. “That’s a long time,” you say. “How the heck did you come up with that plan???”

Last winter in Tucson, our Habitat friends Terry & Sue asked us about island hopping with our RV through the Inside Passage in 2009 on the Alaskan Marine Highway ferries. We happily related the stories, and darn if we didn’t get so excited that we not only talked them into going this year, but we convinced ourselves to join them!

Susi also registered for the Second Annual Plein Air Convention that will be held in Monterey California in early April, so that seemed like the logical place to begin our Alaskan adventure. We’ve heard many rave reviews of the beautiful coastline of California, Oregon and Washington, and this would give us a chance to see it for ourselves.

Then, in early October, our plans to lead a Habitat trip to Nicaragua fell through, leaving January and February wide open. “Soooo….,” Susi asked sheepishly, “isn’t Tucson on the way to California? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to re-connect with our friends at Rincon West RV Park and Habitat Tucson?” Thus came the crazy plan to drive to Tucson in January, fly home in March to do taxes, visit with family & friends, and finish some studio pieces, and then fly back to Tucson in early April so we can pick up the RV and head to Monterey.

Today, as we begin the first leg of our journey in our RV on the way to Tucson, we look forward to working a bit with Habitat for Humanity, making paintings and photographs in the desert, and re-connecting with the new friends we’ve met in the past few years. Yesterday we shoveled away winter’s first snow storm and packed the rig with the clothing we’ll need from Arizona’s deserts to Alaska’s mountains. We’ve hugged family, friends and neighbors goodbye, but we hope to stay connected with all of you via cell phone, Skype, email, and our blogs throughout the year.

 

Vote smart and easy

Project Vote Smart is a nonprofit, non-partisan educational organization dedicated to providing unbiased information to voters. With founders from across the spectrum (e.g. Presidents Carter & Ford, Senators McGovern & Goldwater, etc.), zero funding from special interests and lobbyists, and 5000 volunteers doing their work, they “battle to protect all of us from the selfish interests that strip us of the most crucial component in our struggle to self-govern – access to abundant, accurate, and relevant information.”

VoteEasy is their simple and effective tool to help us draw some initial conclusions from the data. Respond to a series of questions with your position on each of the major issues and VoteEasy shows you which candidate best aligns with your views. You can even assign each issue an importance level, and, having entered your choices just once, you can see your matches for President, Senator and US Representative. I highly recommend VoteEasy – despite the annoying airplane sound it plays in the background!



Income, wealth, and hope

Although we may feel that the wealthy seem to own an abnormally large share of the nation’s resources, actually viewing current data on income concentration can have a profound impact. For me, it has both strengthened a commitment  to my ongoing personal work in the community, and driven me to advocate for stronger policy-level adjustments as well.

Take a close look at the long-term trends in income distribution. As shown in this chart, the top 1% of earners in the United States garnered about 20% of the nation’s income in 2010.

Income Distribution Chart

This chart was generated using data downloaded on 11-Oct-2012 from the The World Top Incomes Database using the following parameters: Countries: Canada, Germany, United States; Years: 1920-2010; Variable: “Top 1% Income Share-including Capital Gains”

This reflects a dramatic, two-decade increase, to levels unseen since the Great Depression. While I am no fan of “Robinhood” policies that attempt to transfer wealth from the “haves” to the “have-nots”, I am troubled to see data which seem to indicate that the accumulated policies of the last generation may have accomplished exactly the opposite. Read on



Healthcare without price is bad medicine

With my left thumb joint failing as I approach 60 years of age, I find myself rather frustrated in an attempt to be a judicious buyer of health care. I wonder if the term “free market” even applies to the provision of medicine in our country today. And I ponder what policies can help us out of this mess.

The diagnosis is basal joint arthritis; the therapy is joint replacement surgery. Two well-regarded surgeons, a fairly young doctor who I thought would champion the latest advances, and a seasoned veteran who I hoped would tend toward a more conservative course, are in alignment: although splints and injections might ease symptoms, long-term relief will come only with surgical repair.

For some of us, a good deal can also be therapeutic, and competitive shopping is deeply rooted in my genes, so I began asking for prices. Read on



Gracious close

With the benefit of hindsight – and a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek – I’ve drafted an alternate close that Barak Obama might have delivered in order to wrench a resounding victory from his otherwise lackluster performance in the first debate on October 3. You might think of this is as the “closing summation that wasn’t”.

<looking to the moderator…> Jim, thank you for moderating tonight’s illuminating debate.

<glancing toward the other candidate…> Mr. Romney, I want to thank you to you, too. With all the new ground you covered tonight, this has been more like a fruitful discussion than a debate. In just ninety minutes, Read on



Are these healthcare costs rational?

Many of you have heard me “rant” about the unsustainable cost of healthcare in the United States, where Wikipedia reports total heath expenditures to be between 15% and 17% of GDP–about half again as much as other developed countries. So it’s probably no surprise that I recommend the article, The Cancer “Breakthroughs” That Cost Too Much and Do Too Little, which ran in the September 3 issue of Newsweek Magazine under the title How Much Would You Pay for Three More Months of Life?

Notably, two new prostate cancer drugs that cost $93,000 and $120,000, respectively, only helped patients live three and a half to four months longer. And a new pancreatic cancer drug that costs around $15,000 increased the median survival rate by only 15 days.

I applaud Newsweek for helping spur a necessary national dialogue about health and life. Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society, is quoted as saying, “we need to talk about rational use of care.”

In addition to the financial considerations, we all know of people whose quality of live has been marginal-at-best during the extended lifetime their treatments afforded.

So, I encourage us all: please read and discuss this type of information. We all want the wonders of medical science to maximize our lifetimes and our quality of life, and we should continue to fund research and development that can do so. However, we must also ask ourselves, “When is it enough?” Recognizing that at some point the end does come for each one of us, learning how and when to accept the inevitable with grace will ultimately lead to more rational decisions, and far more peaceful transitions out of the life we know.



A fantastic HfHI Carter Weekend!

We almost threw away the original Habitat invitation to the April Carter Weekend, but decided to RSVP  “yes” because we were very interested in learning more about the many new and collaborative programs that Habitat has initiated in the last few years. Imagine our surprise when we learned we were included in a small group of about 50 of HFHI’s top corporate and individual donors as well as national and international HfHI staff for a 3 day conference! Read on

 

Essential separation

Jon Carroll, a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, expresses so well — if a bit cynically — some of my fears about mixing religion and government. Please read his March 1, 2012 column My little missive to Rick Santorum. Hopefully it will help all of us  to raise our voices in favor of tolerance, and to demand a government and society based on understanding each other as individual human beings.



HDR at Mt Lemmon

Mt. Lemmon 2 We were delighted to see trees, water, and, yes, even snow on our visit to Mount Lemmon today. About an hour north of Tucson, the Catalina Highway winds 26 miles through Coronado National Forest, climbing about 6,000 feet up the Santa Catalina Mountains to the village of Summerhaven atop Mt. Lemmon at 9,100 feet. Ski Valley, the southernmost ski destination in the USA, was closed for lack of snow, but we enjoyed a chat with the caretaker who cheerfully filled us in. The big story was the Aspen Fire of 2003 which destroyed over 90% of the area’s buildings, leaving only 20 residents today compared to some 2000 before the fire. Touring with friends Terry and Sue is always fun, and pizza at The Cookie Cabin was great. You can see some of the pretty vistas in the 12-02-29 Mt Lemmon album.

Continuing my HDR experiment (see previous post), I made several images that, as seen in the side-by-side comparisons below, Read on

  

HDR at Pima Air & Space Museum

AQM-34 Firebee Recon DroneOur visit to the Pima Air & Space Museum on Friday produced the usual (for me) dichotomy of feelings: awe and pride for our country’s military prowess and accomplishments, interwoven with a profound sadness that we do not find ways to direct more our formidable ingenuity, resourcefulness and will toward the good of mankind instead of its destruction. Sigh.

The time was enhanced by good friends Terry & Sue Baughman and Jim Zimmerman. Jim further spiced up an already interesting day by sharing many of his experiences as an Air Force mechanic before the start of his farming career, and as a restoration volunteer at this museum since his retirement.

The day also produced lots of photos. I frequently thought of Susi’s dad, Tom, who has taken me to many an air museum throughout the years, which further pushed me to try and get the best images I could. Tom, I hope you enjoy the images in this 02-24 Pima Air Museum album.

Several of these images were produced with HDR photography (i.e., High Dynamic Range, Read on



Street photos at an Art Festival

Tubac 3: Cowboy Tubac 11 Population of the town of Tubac, Arizona must swell by 2 or 3 times when the annual Tubac Festival of the Arts is in full swing. Although the works displayed were more like crafts than arts, some were very fun to look at, and the people were all extremely friendly! Fortunately, the day also gave a chance to pick up some candid street shots that you can see in the 12-02-10 Tubac Art Festival album.