30 August 2006

Artist Thomas Kinkade under FBI investigation

Why do people call this guy an artist?
I mean, look at this crap...

Artist Thomas Kinkade under FBI investigation, ex-dealers say
Rachel Konrad (AP)

SAN FRANCISCO - The FBI is investigating "Painter of Light" Thomas Kinkade and company executives over allegations that they fraudulently induced investors to open galleries, then ruined them financially.

Relying on information from former Kinkade dealers contacted by federal agents, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that the FBI is focusing on issues raised in civil litigation by at least six former Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery owners.

At least 10 former dealers in Michigan, Virginia and other states have alleged in arbitration claims that Kinkade - a California native beloved by some but reviled by the art establishment - exploited his Christianity to persuade people to invest in the galleries, which sell only Kinkade's work.

After they had invested tens of thousands of dollars each, the ex-owners said, the company's policies drove them out of business. They say they were saddled with limited-edition prints no one wanted to buy, forced to open stores in inappropriate venues, and undercut by discount galleries peddling the same items at lower prices they couldn't match.

Some also say Kinkade - who claims he's the most widely collected living U.S. artist - schemed to devalue his public company, Media Arts Group Inc., so he could buy it on the cheap. In 2004, Kinkade and other investors paid $32.7 million to take Media Arts Group private, changing its name to Thomas Kinkade Co.

"These dealers became investors primarily because they were believers in faith, love, family and God, and the paintings reflect those values," said Joseph Ejbeh, a Rochester Hills, Mich.-based attorney who tried an arbitration case that began in San Francisco in December 2004. "A lot of these people were pulled into this scheme because of this representation, but what Thomas Kinkade's company did to them was despicable."

Kinkade Co. spokesman Jim Bryant said the Morgan Hill, Calif.-based company was unaware of any investigation by the FBI.

"We assert that there are no legitimate grounds for a federal investigation of any kind," Bryant said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.

Bryant called recent news reports erroneous.

"We are disappointed that rumors and hearsay have been reported in the media in a manner that allows readers to assume legitimacy. The reporting also contains factual inaccuracies," Bryant wrote.

According to the newspaper, the FBI has asked dealers for documentation on retail sales policies, training materials from "Thomas Kinkade University" and correspondence, including e-mail.

FBI Special Agent Brian Wickham in San Jose declined to comment to the Times, citing the bureau's policy of neither confirming nor denying the existence of investigations in progress. He did not return a phone call Tuesday from AP.

Critics - including highbrow art aficionados, satirical bloggers and starving artists annoyed by Kinkade's marketing success - snicker at his work. His paintings typically include tranquil scenes of country gardens, churches, streams and lighthouses in dewy morning light. Many contain images from Bible passages.

Roughly 10 million Americans have a Kinkade painting at home. The wall hangings and spin-off products are said to fetch $100 million a year.

Earlier this year, Kinkade signed a deal with developers in a northern Idaho resort town to help design five lake-view houses that look like those in paintings such as "Beyond Autumn Gate." The houses start at $4 million.

28 August 2006

RIP: Pip Pyle

Pip Pyle

Man did I listen to a lot of the bands he played with. (Gong, Hatfield & the North, National Health, etc.) I always loved his playing.
Christ, enough with the music deaths this year!


16 August 2006

Another victory for US military intervention

Afghan opium cultivation
hits record levels

KABUL, Afghanistan - Opium cultivation in Afghanistan has hit record levels — up by more than 40 percent from 2005 — despite hundreds of millions in counternarcotics money, Western officials told The Associated Press.

The increase could have serious repercussions for an already grave security situation, with drug lords joining the Taliban-led fight against Afghan and international forces.

A Western anti-narcotics official in Kabul said about 370,650 acres of opium poppy was cultivated this season — up from 257,000 acres in 2005 — citing their preliminary crop projections. The previous record was 323,700 acres in 2004, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

"It is a significant increase from last year ... unfortunately, it is a record year," said a senior U.S. government official based in Kabul, who like the other Western officials would speak only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive topic.

Final figures, and an estimate of the yield of opium resin from the poppies, will be clear only when the U.N. agency completes its assessment of the crop, based on satellite imagery and ground surveys. Its report is due in September.

The U.N. reported last year that Afghanistan produced an estimated 4,500 tons of opium — enough to make 450 tons of heroin — nearly 90 percent of world supply.

This year's preliminary findings indicate a failure in attempts to eradicate poppy cultivation and continuing corruption among provincial officials and police — problems acknowledged by President Hamid Karzai.

Karzai told Fortune magazine in a recent interview that "lots of people" in his administration profited from the narcotics trade and that he had underestimated the difficulty of eradicating opium production.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimate that opium accounted for 52 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product in 2005.

"Now what they have is a narco-economy. If they do not get corruption sorted they can slip into being a narco-state," the U.S. official warned.

Opium cultivation has surged since the ouster of the Taliban in late 2001. The former regime enforced an effective ban on poppy growing by threatening to jail farmers — virtually eradicating the crop in 2000.

But Afghan and Western counternarcotics officials say Taliban-led militants are now implicated in the drug trade, encouraging poppy cultivation and using the proceeds to help fund their insurgency.

"(That) kind of revenue from that kind of crop aids and abets the enemy," Chief Master Sgt. Curtis L. Brownhill, a senior adviser to the head of the U.S. Central Command, during a recent visit to Afghanistan. "They count on having that sort of resource and money."

Afghanistan has seen its deadliest bout of fighting this year since U.S.-backed forces toppled the Taliban for harboring
Osama bin Laden. Officials believe the insurgency, most vicious in the south — Afghanistan's main poppy belt — includes die-hard Taliban, warlords and drug lords and smugglers.

Fears of fanning the insurgency has constrained efforts to destroy the poppy crops of impoverished farmers — particularly in Helmand, where the area being cultivated for poppies has increased most sharply. The province now accounts for more than 40 percent of the poppy cultivation nationwide.

"We know that if we start eradicating the whole surface of poppy cultivation in Helmand, we will increase the activity of the insurgency and increase the number of insurgents," said Tom Koenigs, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan.

He said the international community needs to provide alternative livelihoods for farmers, but warned against expecting quick results. "The problem has increased, and the remedy has to adjust," he told reporters recently.

Since the fall of the Taliban, the international community, led by the U.S. and Britain, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to combat the drugs trade.

There have been some successes. Nangahar province, with the help of a strong governor and police chief, reduced opium output by 96 percent in 2005. Since March, anti-drug police units have raided 10 drug labs throughout the country, seizing 2,700 pounds of heroin and nearly 1,763 pounds of opium.

Next week, the Afghan government will present a wide-ranging anti-drugs strategy. Officials are moving to amend laws, train judges and prosecutors, build high security prisons and establish special courts for drug barons and senior drug smugglers.

This year's increased poppy cultivation follows a 21 percent drop the previous year, suggesting the government has not followed through on warnings to farmers against planting poppies. Although 37,065 acres of poppies were eradicated this year, according to the Ministry for Counternarcotics, a campaign by police to destroy crops fell short of expectation.

Gen. Khodaidad, a top official at the ministry, said virtually all cultivated land in Helmand — including government-owned land — has been planted with opium poppies.

"We expected a large number (crop) this year but Helmand unfortunately exceeded even our predictions," the U.S. official said.

02 August 2006

The 10 Nastiest Pitches in Baseball

Sports Illustrated has a nice bit on the
Nastiest Pitches in Baseball
I remember reading a while back that NY Giant pitcher Rube Marquard had somekind of pitch that did crazy things as it crossed the plate; sadly for him it was a hundred years ago, so he didn't make S.I.'s list

Marquard 1909