Sunday, June 26, 2005

Duh Time Again

If the price weren’t so high – blood, credibility and money pouring into the Iraqi sands -- the antics of our government would be downright comical.

Take this howler: “[senior] U. S. [military] Officers Say Politics is the solution in Iraq” Oh, Du-UH. If Bush and the Boys had been the least interested in finding out what would happen in Iraq once Saddam was gone, they could have plunked a few coins in a pay phone and called some doddering but still very much alive British MI-5 types sitting around in their retirement homes and asked them, “What happened in Iraq’s last regime change in 1958, you know, the one that resulted in civil war and Saddam’s murderous rise to power?” The Brits would have given the Americans an earful. But the neocon Bush Boys had no interest in history or even a credible post-war plan. It was War on the Cheap with flowers and oil money to pay for it all. Duh.

Next up, the “Downing Street Memos.” First, they were ignored by a press obsessed with runaway brides and Michael Jackson. Next, they were buried in the back pages of the major newspapers. Finally, during one of Bush’s rare unscripted press conferences, this one while standing next to his co-conspirator, the English Prime Minister, Tony Blair, some enterprising reporter (apparently not one of the fake “journalists” the Administration had (has?) on their payroll) asked the President about the some of the contents of the Memos, you know, the part about the evidence for WMD being “thin,” about “fixing” the intelligence and facts around policy, not the other way around?

It was one of those great moments for Bush-watchers, the exciting opportunity to hear the man riff, off-script, out of control, his handlers cringing in the background as he starts the complex, prevaricating, shape-shifting, change-ringing, heart-stopping thrill ride known to the mothers of 10-year old boys who have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, sons who won’t lie directly, but also won’t fess up, so they start their timeless I Didn’t Touch The Jar Because It Was Wednesday And Johnny Knew About The Jar But We Were Working Very Hard, Hard Working and The Team Was Moving Forward And Then The Dog Ate My Homework and See The Kitchen’s Better Off With The Jar Gone Can We Now Go Out For Pizza My Stomach Hurts Can I Have A Soda, Oh, Look, Daddy’s Home ploy, followed by a smirk.

For more Duh moments, consider the recent polls that only now show a slight majority of those polled believe they were not told the truth about the reasons for invading Iraq. Duh?

I knew from day one that something was very wrong when I watched then-Secretary of State Colin Powell pretending to pull rabbits out of his hat at the U.N. I knew this because if I know anything about Colin Powell, it’s this: He has always been The Good Soldier who would never put principle above his career or do anything to endanger his carefully maintained reputation. There is nothing of the late Colonel David Hackworth to be found in General Powell. Therefore, I knew while he would never directly lie or publicly rock any boats because that might put his career and reputation in jeopardy, he would weasel and skate right to the edge of conflation, both accepted methods of just following orders while insuring maximum plausible deniability later, should the need arise.

There were no rabbits at the U.N then, and while there may be a few rabbits hopping out of the Downing Street memos as Congressman John Conyers holds “unofficial” hearings in Washington to take “testimony” about what the President knew and when he knew it, I can guarantee this: Whatever new information may come out will be ignored by a Republican-ruled Congress that has put party loyalty ahead of principle, ethics, national interests or even security, Woodward & Bernstein are has-beens out on the high-rolling cocktail party circuit, “Deep Throat” is barely cognitive, the K-Street Lobbyists own Congress, credible investigative journalism has been killed off by partisan pundits, a lazy, corporate-run media in a ratings-race to the bottom in order to feed a clueless public more interested in runaway brides than run amok government, a public that thinks Bill O’Reilly is a “journalist,” and The Da Vinci Code is “historical fact.”

As I said, comedy, except for all the blood.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Training Wheels

Greg, who created this central coast blog, just sent me (the original Luddite) information as to how to even log onto my own "Calhoun's Can(n)ons" blog (Duh) and add comments and other such technical stuff, so now I'm going to try to actually "blog" in my blog and see what happens.

Interesting things, blogs. While newspaper opinion columns are limited in size and either edited and/or prudently internally vetted with an eye to traditional lible laws, blogs are the outlaw version -- at least until the law catches up with the internet scribblers.

Meantime, they have already been a perfect illustration of the observation that a lie can be half-way around the world before the truth even gets out of bed and gets his boots on -- vis the "Swift Boat" guys and their amazing lies and half-truths, the half-told blogging "expose" of the CBS Bush National Guard "letter," and now the "Downing Street Memos," first buried by the mainstream US press, now resurrected like some Night of the Living Dead by bloggers who do the old, "Oh, do, let's forward this nifty document all over the place until the mainstream press is dragged, kicking and screaming into paying attention." Double-edged swords, to say the least.

And, since blogs are also public diaries, it's also an interesting exercize in blurring the public/private line, with some blogs embarrasingly personal (Oooo, waaaaay too much information) but all of them remain akin to hollering down an empty well in hopes that there are some frogs down at the bottom who will hear you. Or, worse yet, there is something down there listening, but it's something dark and evil that you don't want coming to the light of day -- something like a genetic cross between Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and a Balrog. Lord, can you imagine??

On a happier note, there also may be wonderful serindipitous things down that well that will fliy up into the well to sparkle and shine in the light. So, you never know. As Kurt Vonnegut said, more or less, It's all birdshot through a bugle."


Friday, June 17, 2005

O Lucy, Jooo Gotta Lotta ‘Splainin’ to Doooo

Do get a draft copy of Cleath and Associates’ Ground Water Management Plan. Then borrow the videotape of the May 19 special CSD meeting, also available at the CSD office. Watch, as that nice Mr. Spencer Harris, of Cleath & Assoc. informs the CSD Board:

a) The community is now in overdraft by some 560 acre feet of water.

b) After private domestic and irrigation production use by people outside the Urban Service Line is accounted for, there is some uncertainty as to how much water will be available for use by our community.

c) Remember when we were told repeatedly that disposal of the wastewater at Broderson site was the best and only possible option and that all other sites had been studied and rejected? Well, when asked whether the so-called Andre (out of town) site would be a better site for disposal of wastewater, District Manager Bruce Buel stated: “We haven’t done the modeling and analysis to determine what the yield would be out at Andre or what would happen if you did Ag Exchange instead.”

d) And remember how our sewer was supposed to be a recharge plan that would avoid ever having to import water? Here’s Mr. Harris again: “How much [imported water we will need] is dependent on how much of the upper aquifer water we can use. We need to look at the quality, we need to drill the harvest wells, we need to test them, we need to do the feasibility study on treatment and that sort of thing...” As for “nasty stuff” like endocrine disrupters, carcinogens, chemicals & etc that may be present in the upper aquifer, “The emerging contaminants have not been tested in the upper aquifer.” (Emphasis mine.)

e) If the upper aquifer is unusable, then water will have to be imported and that cost added to the estimated $200 monthly bill. Tapping into the state water project would require a pipeline to Morro Bay; tapping into Nacimiento water would require a 14 mile pipe past SLOTown. Building costs: unknown.

So, the CSD plans on a sewer plant groundbreaking ceremony in July, even though it’s still uncertain whether there will even be enough water at all to sustain the community even before build out.

We also don’t know whether the Andre site would have been better for disposal because we never tested it. Nor do we know if Ag Exchange would be economically better because we didn’t analyze that information.

We don’t know whether the upper aquifer is full of nasty stuff because we never looked. If there is nasty stuff in there, we don’t know whether it will even be economically feasible to clean it up for use. And we don’t yet know the cost of importing supplemental water.

Yet the three CSD board members who face a recall election have been hurtling pedal to the metal, spending money, signing contracts, getting this community locked into this project, while noting that water shortage problems will be dealt with later, whatever the costs.

This is like hiring an architect to build your home. First he builds a really expensive roof and suspends it from a crane. Then he adds one wall, telling you he’ll figure out where to put the other walls later, after the house is finished. When he’s about to pour the concrete foundation, he finally fesses up that he doesn’t know if the land he’s pouring on will support all that concrete because he didn’t bother to check. But he keeps digging and pouring anyway.

And while he’s spending all your money, not once does they guy ever bother to ask you if you can afford the project in the first place or whether you actually do want it built in a swamp.

If that were your architect, would you fire him? Well, a lot of community members have decided that it’s time to fire their “architects,” and see if re-thinking this project right-side-up might solve some of most critical problems before breaking ground. So, an election date of Sept 27th has been set for the recall and the related sewer initiative.

Meantime, a state appeals court has put a temporary hold on the state sewer funds, thereby possibly blocking further debt on the community before the election. And the CSD will legally challenge the sewer initiative in order to get it knocked off the ballot. So, stay tuned. It’s going to be a bumpy night. --Ann Calhoun, Los Osos, 6/8/05


"No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices." -- Edward R. Murrow

Some critics objected to Director Oliver-Hirschbiegel’s new film, “Downfall,” a horrifying look at Hitler’s last days in the Berlin Bunker, because they felt that actor Bruno Ganz’ portrayal “humanized” Hitler. They’re right.

Ganz gave a magnificent performance, from tender moments stroking a child’s cheek, to spittle-flying rants about the Jews and Bolsheviks betraying his dream of a New Germany, to patting his beloved dog Blondi on the head shortly before having her poisoned. Human, indeed.

And that was the point the critics missed. Hitler was human. That’s what made him so deadly.

But the more important question the film repeatedly raised was this: Hitler was a dime a dozen. There will always be people like him-–charismatic ideologues filled with their own lethal brew of fear and hate and greed and god and lust for power. But such men are only dangerous because of the willingness of so many people to surrender their souls to them for . . . what?

How many points in Hitler’s strange career did people from all walks of life have a clear opportunity to say, No? Obviously, people like Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment, and his hideous wife, Magda, had their own twisted magnetic evil that would be drawn to a man like Hitler.

Indeed, one of the most disturbing scenes in the film is Magda ordering up a sleeping potion for her six children then, when they were unconscious, one by one, with tender, loving mother-hands, slipping cyanide capsules between their lips because Mummy couldn’t imagine a future without the National Socialist Party.

Her willing enslavement was absolute and since her children had no meaning or existence outside her own twisted ego, they were expendable. While Magda was an extreme example, what can be said of all the rest? All of Hitler’s willing accomplices, from the merchant happily displaying Nazi flags next to new signs in his shop window saying, “No Jews Allowed,” to the seasoned battle generals sporting their Iron Crosses who had to have known where their orders would take the country, to all the friends and neighbors who stood by and did nothing while their friends and neighbors were rounded up and taken away, to all the citizens who said nothing, did nothing, turned away, did not know, did not want to know.

How easy it was to lead them to their downfall, how willingly they went to their Armageddon, and how cheaply their souls could be bought.

Souls for sale, cheap, is also a theme to be found in the new film, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” a documentary about Ken (“Kenny Boy”) Lay and the rise and fall of Enron. Like Hitler, Kenny Boy is also a dime a dozen.

But what about all those smart guys in the room with him? How and why was it possible for them to so easily betray everything honorable and decent and ethical, and for what? That “everybody” was doing it? That they wouldn’t get caught? (True enough. Kenny Boy has powerful friends in high places. He will never receive the justice he deserves.) That it was all just a game, when they had to have known that real people would bear very real consequences when this Ponzi scheme of theirs collapsed? Why did no one in the room say, No?

And that, of course, is the most disturbing question both these films ask: What explains the ease with which people allow themselves to be lied to, fooled, and willingly led astray? And how do we account for how simple it is to corrupt a whole society, silence all voices, turn black to white, facts to lies, and distort even the meaning of language itself.

“Shock and awe” sounds like a new thrill-ride at Magic Mountain, doesn’t it? Goebbels himself would approve. “Newspeak” makes it that much easier to turn away from what we’re really doing.

After all, it’s just a game, a thrill ride, everybody’s doing it. And since We the People don’t really want to know, since that might take some effort and force us to hold ourselves and our elected government to account, well, it’s so much easier just to go along without question, drink the Kool-Aide and keep quiet.

Which is why Germany was no anomaly and Enron was no exception and a democratic country can be lost in an eyeblink, its downfall spun on lies and sold cheap. It’s so easy. --Ann Calhoun, Los Osos, 5/25/05

Gold Coast

I recently spent a fine spring day with my sister Joan slip-sliding along the back roads of the Santa Ynez Valley. We were doing the movie “Sideways” tour, gawking at the miles and miles of vines covering what used to be oak-studded, empty cow land.

After stopping to admire the new crop of miniature horses at the Quicksilver Ranch, we drifted into Los Olivos for lunch at Panino, the delightful outdoor eatery in the center of town. I grabbed a copy of the Valley Journal, the local free paper, munched contentedly on a curried chicken salad sandwich served to me by a very pleasant young restaurant worker, and started reading a guest opinion piece by Mr. Sherline, a 76-year-old CPA/Business Manager, entitled, “Can We Afford Affordable Housing?”

According to Mr. Sherline, “In Santa Barbara, the definition of ‘affordable’ includes buyers with annual incomes around $100,000 and in one instance, for so-called ‘workforce’ housing, the threshold was pegged at just below $130,000. How does that help low-income residents earning under $50,000 a year ($24.00 an hour)? How many people earn only around half that amount (say, $12.50 an hour), such as gardeners, hotel and restaurant workers, maids or laborers?”

Fifty-thousand dollars a year is “low-income?” And hotel maids get $12.50 an hour? Only in Santa Barbara, I thought, only in the vast, indifferent wealth of the Santa Ynez Valley could fifty-thousand dollars be considered poverty wages.

The next morning, Joan and I went into SLO Town for breakfast and ran into a friend of mine. She’s a professional, single mom, working full time at Cal Poly and was in serious trouble; the “affordable housing” units reserved for “low-income” residents were being overrun by students whose drunken binges and rowdy lifestyle were driving out the last few work-force adults in the place. Unlike the students, who should have been living on campus in housing provided by the University, this full-time, working-mom and specialized professional had no place to go because she couldn’t afford to live anywhere else, except in reserved “low-income” housing.

A few weeks before, another friend had to shut down her multi-million-dollar-a-year high-tech business, thereby putting 40 highly trainedpeople out of their jobs. She could no long recruit and retain the kind of highly skilled, graduate-degreed people needed to keep the company running because they couldn’t afford to buy a house anywhere in SLO County.

And then I picked up the Tribune to read a story about the number of people expected to be driven out of their homes by the cost of the Hideous Los Osos Sewer Project. In that story, Ellen Stern Harris, one of the authors of the state Coastal Act, notes: “The rich have inherited the coast, which was not my intent.” True enough, but it is also true that the repeated refusal by our elected CSD Board as well as various other un-elected regulatory agencies to take seriously the punishingly unaffordable costs of the sewer project absolutely guarantees the economic cleansing of Los Osos.

So, there it was. The Santa Ynez Valley was not special at all. It simply had more money and horses, perhaps, but it was facing the same crisis as SLO County: Who would clean the barns and serve the curried chicken salad sandwiches?

Well, by way of a solution, our Gold Coast communities can start building walled and gated slave quarters (Don’t want any of those $12.50-an-hour maids and restaurant workers running around after 10 p.m., now do we?) Or, we can review Orange County’s development history and conclude that this “pristine” county is doomed and just get on with building wall-to-wall houses and apartments.

Or, we can do nothing and let the double-edged sword of market forces give us a future without young families, or grocery clerks, or teachers, or hairdressers, or plumbers, or police officers or restaurant workers.

Instead, we’ll end up with communities filled with feeble, rich old people rattling around in their Multi-Million-Dollar Mega Trophy Mansions before tottering out in their walkers every morning to stand by the side of the road to hold up hand-painted cardboard signs that say: “Desperate! Will Pay Any Amount To Somebody Anybody Who Will Mow My Lawn God Bless!”

But by then, it will be too late. There will be nobody around to read the signs and come do the work needed to keep a community vital and alive.

They will have all moved to Fresno. --Ann Calhoun, Los Osos, 5/11/05

Holy Marching Orders

"We think in generalities, but we live in detail." --Alfred North Whitehead

There’s always something dangerous about the marriage of God, Mammon and Politics. But there’s always something amusing about the union as well. In addition to religious wars abroad, trampled civil rights at home and punishing legislation designed to instruct the unworthy poor in the error of their sinful ways while rewarding the holy rich with their just desserts, there is also the comic spectacle of the Moral Values Crowd trying to figure out just how to keep a deniable distance from Morally Distasteful House Majority leader Tom DeLay, yet stay close enough so that their stretchy Plastic Man arms can still snake into his pockets to get at all that nice campaign money.

Meantime, we have the delightful vision of Senator Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader, planning on appearing on an April 24th telecast/rally sponsored by the Family Research Council, a “Christian” conservative lobbying group. He’ll be part of a nation-wide telecast to churches, Christian broadcast networks and internet websites called “Justice Sunday,” which is being promoted as the battle for the soul of our courts that are now overrun with dangerous, Godless Judicial Activists!

In short, the telecast is designed to rouse the conservative Christian base to encourage lawmakers to do away with the filibuster, which the FRC claims is now “being used against people of faith.”

Which means that the Republican majority leader of our Senate is joining up with a group that claims that any fellow Senator or Congressperson who disagrees with them and wishes to keep the filibuster in place as part of a traditional, double-edged legislative check and balance against a run-amok Congress can now be smeared as someone who is “against people of faith.”

Oddly unmentioned in this current battle is the fact that the majority of federal judges now on the bench are GOP appointees considered by any fair analysis to be “conservative.” And with a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, any new appointees will also be conservative. But apparently to Mr. Frist and his fellow conservatives, they’re not conservative enough because too many of them keep ruling to uphold those damned constitutional rights that protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

Which is another thing genuinely amusing about the Passion Play now going on in Washington. Since when did Christians become an endangered minority in this country? To believe the Moral Values Crowd, Christians are now entitled to play the victim card because they are a helpless few, a voiceless and vulnerable band of holy souls under assault by a godless majority of latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, Hollywood Jewish atheists determined to drive all the faithful into the Super Bowl where the lions will be unleashed.

Poor Dears! A Christian President, both houses of Congress controlled by the conservative “Christian” Moral Values Crowd, a conservative judiciary, a solid K Street/corporate lock on legislative tax and regulation relief for the Mammon-worshiping oligarchy, and still no help in sight to protect these few brave souls from all those awful gay people who are demanding equal civil rights, those awful abortion-bent women who murder their unborn babies and still want equal pay for equal work, those awful Commie unionized workers who want a living wage, those awful tree-huggers who object to their children ingesting mercury from poorly regulated power plants, those awful treasonous Democrats who hate America, and those awful ungrateful judges who still keep ruling in favor of that damned, Godless Bill of Rights. Oh, what’s a person to do!

Well, Time magazine certainly got the zeitgeist right. It put Ann Coulter on its cover. With her media savvy, her ramped-up-for-ratings rhetoric, her too-often intellectual and factual dishonesty, and what appears to be a genuine set of short-sighted, mean-spirited core values, she’s the perfect poster-child for all that’s wrong with what passes for political discourse these days: Lazy hypocrisy, low standards, pointless poisonous partisanship, ugly heat, no light.

Unfortunately, when the bill for all this Comic Boffo distraction arrives in the mailbox of the average working Joe and Jill, the laughter will stop. But it will be too late. A select few in this country will have gotten their extremely expensive comic theatre for free, paid for by the rest of us. But then, that was our choice, wasn’t it? We The People elected and re-elected these clowns, so, Enjoy! Oh, and did I mention, the popcorn is extra? --Ann Calhoun, Los Osos, 4/27/05