Sunday, November 29, 2009

Your Sunday Poem

It's a beautiful day, which I hope you all are enjoying very thoroughly. Great day to take your dog for a walk or just remember ghost dogs at the dog park on a long-ago winter's morning. Poem by Billy Collins, one of my favorite poets, from his new book "Ballistics"


So much gloom and doubt in our poetry--

flowers wilting on the table,

the self regarding itself in a watery mirror.

Dead leaves cover the ground,

the wind moans in the chimney,

and the tendrils of the yew tree inch toward the coffin.

I wonder what the ancient Chinese poets

would make of all this,

these shadows and empty cupboards?

Today, with the sun blazing in the trees,

my thoughts turn to the great

tenth-century celebrator of experience,

Wa-Hoo, whose delight in the smallest things

could hardly be restrained,

and to his joyous counterpart in the western provinces,


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Oh, Dear God, Please, PLLLUUUUEEEZE, Just Go Away!

In a sane world, in a world not addicted to fame and Facebook and Twitter and Eight Is Waaay Too Much, and phony kids in phony balloons, in a world that had even a modicum of shame or manners or decorum, the twits who crashed the White House state dinner – the Salahi’s – would end up with paper bags over their heads, escorted to and booted out the Dreaded Door of Ignominy.

But not here in 21st Century America. Here, now, it’s all about ME! The Salahi’s are scheduled to be on Larry King, may even be picked for Bravo’s “Housewife” reality series, best described as a series about ME! ME! It’s All About ME! that is watched by people who have devalued their lives to the point that they spend time watching shows about other nobodies who somehow think they now have “value” because they’re on a TV show about nobodies deluded into thinking they’re somebodies since they’re on TV being watched by nobodies wishing they could be somebody like the nobodies on TV. It’s the perfect funhouse mirror of ultimate devaluation and emptiness.

Except, of course, for the money. The REAL value in American Society. The money, pots of which can be made from these faux-reality programs. Jackpot dough. And since the NY Times reports the Salahi’s wine business was in financial trouble it’s possible that one reason for their gate-crashing stunt was to get that Bravo contract and thereby get all that nice money to save their troubled business. That and the faux fame, of course--the photo of (non Indian) Ms. Salahi decked out in her red sari clutching President Obama’s hand in both of hers. Ah, the faux intimacy of it all! With said sari begging the question: Would Ms. Salahi have crashed a state dinner for the Dutch Ambassador wearing a dirndl skirt and wooden shoes while carrying a large gouda cheese?

Well, why not. No sense follows no shame and if it’s all about the money and the fleeting fame, anything goes. And rewarding bad behavior begets even more bad behavior.

But, Dear God, what the world really needs now isn’t more bad behavior, but more paper bags to pop over heads. And that will only happen when a sufficient number of grown ups are willing to say: Enough already.

I know. When pigs fly.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Your Thanksgiving Poem

This from Ted Kooser's book, "Sure Signs; New and selected poems" I hope you are all having a lovely day.

In The Corners of Fields

Something is calling to me

from the corners of fields,

where the leftover fence wire

suns its loose coils, and stones

thrown out of the furrow

sleep in warm litters;

where the gray faces

of old No Hunting signs

mutter into the wind,

and dry horse tanks

spout fountains of sunflowers;

where a moth

flutters in from the pasture,

harried by sparrows,

and alights on a post,

so sure of its life

that it peacefully opens its wings.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Start Yer Engines. No, Wait, Stop Yer Engines. No, Wait . . . Oh Nevermind

The BOS held a re-hearing of the Los Osos Hideous Sewer Project to re-fiddle with the language in condition #97 to change the language a bit concerning water use, re-use, and return to basin issues that were raised by the Coastal Commission’s own appeal, said appeal being the only one being revisited. County Council McNulty didn’t think that this hearing would cause a problem with all the other appellants whose issues were not re-visited at this re-hearing – just the Coastal Commission’s concerns – and so he felt that the CC would, maybe, sorta wing it during their appeals hearings and try to accommodate all the other appeals. Or maybe the other appellants would have to re-submit their appeals or only submit another appeal based on the result of this one issue on top of their original appeal, or maybe . . . oh, who knows? Since this BOS hearing is outside the usual procedures, I guess everybody is winging it with the hope that nobody will take umbrage and call their attorney.

After public comment, staff told the BOS that the Coastal Commission staff was happy with the language proposed (the old CYA) and he felt that the Coastal Commission Board would be happy as well and might well withdraw their appeal. With no BOS Board member discussion, the revision passed 5 – 0.

In addition to public comment, John Diodoti noted that the County has secured a $16 million Federal grant and a $64 million 40-year loan, which will help with the cost a bit. Further, there’s a new blog on funding issues being set up at (Let’s hope some of the nastier “anonymous” people who comment on this and other blogs, don’t show up on John’s blog. Eeeuuuuuu.)

Some public comment notes:

Alon Perlman suggested that it would be prudent for the county to stop pretending that the ISJ process is some kind of far-away vague proceeding that can be dealt with later, and start getting specific in identifying areas where the returning water will be going. That is, it’s better to get more specific now and plan for water return rather than leave it all vaguely up to a judge somewhere, sometime.

And both Linde Owen and Julie Tacker reminded the Board – again – of the time and money (taxpayer money) wasted by the whole focus on Tonini spray fields. That Supervisor Gibson’s previous comments on how closely the county has been working with the Coastal Commission was clearly at odds with reality since the CC fired off a letter of concern early-on about “spraying” water outside the basin. So, if the county had been in close contact with the CC, somebody somewhere would have said, “Psssst, don’t waste any time and money on spray fields; they’ll never fly.” Doncha think?

Ron Crawford of Sewerwatch Checks In

Did I say, somebody somewhere would have, could have, should have, actually did toss down warning flags before all that nice money was blown on Tonini? Well, Ron Crawford, of certainly has something to say about that in a comment on my blog that’s simply too funny not to repeat here. On that particular thread, some folks were whining about what a pest former CSD Director, Julie Tacker is, to which Ron noted:

[quoting a previous poster] "Yes she's droned on before the BOS; I've seen them reach for their airsickness bags."

See? There's the problem.

Because she was 100-percent right on the groundwater/basin issue, instead of reaching for their airsickness bags, the Board should have just listened to her, and stopped wasting all of that money studying a DOA location -- the Tonini site.

My favorite part about this situation, is how Gibson limited her time to speak because he said the same people were saying the same thing over and over again.

Well, yeah, Bruce... Julie WAS saying the same thing over and over again. She was saying that the Tonini site wasn't going to work because it didn't return groundwater to the basin, then, after Bruce's Board threw a bunch of money at the Tonini site, it didn't work, just like Julie told them over and over and over again, while they were wasting time and money on the Tonini site.

When she had three minutes to speak, she said it like this, "The Tonini site is infeasible because it doesn't return groundwater to the basin."

Then, Bruce started whining, and cut her time down to two minutes, so she had to say it like this:"TheToninisiteisinfeasiblebecauseitdoesn'treturngroundwatertothebasin. Out!"

And they still didn't listen to her.

Last week, I e-mailed Paavo asking him for a "ballpark figure" on how much money his department wast... errrrrrrrr... spent on studying the Tonini site.

Of course, he never replied.

So, next week, I'll be doing a public records request for that information, and then (here's the cool part) in my public records request, I'm also going to ask for the cost of fulfilling my public records request, that I was forced to do just because Paavo won't answer my one, excellent question:

"How much money was spent (read: wasted) by the SLO County Public Works Department studying the Tonini site as the preferred location in 2008 - 09?"

9:45 AM, November 21, 2009

Pretty funny. Pretty expensive, but pretty funny. But there’s the key to why so much of this project kept and keeps turning into a train wreck: False branding and framing.

Once you frame or brand something, people stop seeing complex reality and instead, see the “brand.” More often than not, branding is an advertising technique used to create a false image that can then be used to manipulate people into buying something. In politics, “framing an issue” serves the same purpose – set up a false or cherry-picked “reality” in order to shape (frame) a complex issue in order to manipulate the voter.

That happened to Los Osos early on. It was very cleverly branded as a town with “raw sewage running down the streets,” a town of scofflaws who “don’t care about the environment,” a town filled with “Anti-Sewer Obstructionists” who needed to be “fined out of existence.” Anyone who objected in any way with any proposed project, even people who were trying hard to create a BETTER SEWER PROJECT, were immediately called Anti-Sewer Obstructionists and thus branded, they could be dismissed as . . . one of those. And, of course, if you’re “one of those,” you don’t need to be listened to. Even if you’re 100% right and are telling everyone as loudly as you can, Stop. Bridge Out. Cliff ahead.

Or as Ron would put it: Stopbridgeoutcliffahead!

That’s the problem with branding. Besides being dishonest, it blinds people to a complex reality on the ground and always, always wastes tons of money. Tons. And too often turns into a train wreck, as well.

Saint DeVaul Makes The L.A. Times

The Tribune’s front page picture by Joe Johnston of Dan DeVaul being cuffed (and headed for jail after refusing in court to comply with the probation requirements) and the story by Nick Wilson made the L.A. Times.

Noted the Tribune, “In explaining his reasons for sentencing De Vaul, [Judge] Trice said that De Vaul has ‘good intentions’ but that his argument was confusing the ‘social issues with legal issues.’”

“ ‘De Vaul has not been a good steward of the beautiful property he has,” Trice said, adding that DeVaul has consistently ignored county inspectors and ‘such conduct can only be viewed as irresponsible and arrogant.’”

And, in case you thought this case couldn’t get any weirder, an updated Tribune story informs us that one of the jurors in the case, Mary Partin, paid De Vaul’s $500 bail so he only got to spend one night in the pokey. Which is kind of nice: Martyrdom on the cheap. And of course, De Vaul’s attorney is appealing the case to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Ventura, so it remains to be seen what will transpire.

The Nov 24th Tribune story had a side bar listing “what’s next” including County inspectors allowing DeVaul to comply with the code once he’s out of jail and if he doesn’t, they’ll clean the place up and send him the bill. Then if he refuses to pay that bill, those charges will appear on his taxes.

Missing from that sidebar is this worst case scenario: De Vaul property goes into tax default, is sold at auction, bought by a big developer, the “homeless people” evicted, property is annexed to the city, high-end “ranchettes” and condos, maybe a lovely little high-end shopping center (nice sales taxes to the city) are built, with some open space mitigation to make it all look nice.

Hey, don’t wrinkle your brow. That’s how it’s done. It’s called Progress.

As for De Vaul, the County and this whole mess? My only response at this point is I want to spank everyone involved in this ridiculous fiasco. It is an instructive case, however, a perfect illustration of: Do you want to be right or do you want to get something useful done, like helping the people you claim you want to help?

Take your pick.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Your Sunday Recipes

Just in time for Thanksgiving, too. This salad/side dish goes perfectly with all the other holiday eats and is a nice variation on an old stand by. Plus you can really play around with it, adding jicama for even more crunch, or lots more walnuts to turn it into a main lunch meal, for example. Or toss in left over turkey chunks. It’s the curry that changes this old, boring familiar into something very different and just full of possibilities. I tried it without the endive or romaine or radishes and it was just fine. You can have fun playing with this one.

Speaking of which, what goes astonishingly well with this curried salad, believe it or not, is a dab of home made cranberry sauce on each forkful. Fresh cranberries are in the market now. They freeze well for more sauce later. Below is a recipe with a new wrinkle. Hope you’ll all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Recipes from the L.A. Times and Parade.

Waldorf salad with curried mayonnaise dressing.

½ - 2/3 cup mayonnaise, to taste (can also try plain yogurt if you’re not into mayo)
¾ tsp curry powder
¼ tsp powdered ginger
1 tbl plus 2 tsp fresh lemon juice, to taste
1 crisp, sweet apple, such as Fuji
½ c or more walnut halves
1 c sliced celery, sliced on the diagonal
½ small fennel bulb, finely diced
1/3 c golden raisins
1 Belgian endive, outer broken leaves removed, and thinly sliced crosswise
4 romaine lettuce leaves from the hearts, thinly sliced crosswise
¼ c. celery leaves from the heart, coarsely chopped
4 radishes, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tbl chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
¼ tsp cracked black pepper
1 tbl minced fresh chives.

Mix together mayo, curry powder, ginger and lemon juice, core and peel apple (or leave skin on for color ) and dice into medium small chunks. Add all the other ingredients and toss with the mayo and spices. Garnish with chives.

Cranberry Sauce

2 bags (12 oz each) fresh cranberries
1 cup orange juice
1 cup apricot jam
¾ cup sugar
½ tsp ginger
1/3 lb dried apricots, finely diced (or could try golden raisins)

Stir all the ingredients together in a large, heavy pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the berries pop and the sauce starts to thicken – it will thicken much more as it cools – about 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature, cover and chill.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Stop Yer Engines Fer Now And Call A Lawyer. I Fear A Train Further Down The Track

Here's an update to the previous posting's press release. What always makes “the law” so interesting is how it’s always looking in the rear view mirror after the train wreck. For example, this hearing on Tuesday before the BOS to hear, discuss and re-consider and possibly act on the Coastal Commission's appeal – but nobody else’s appeal – is decidedly odd to me, since its been cherry picked and makes clear that while the BOS pretends that it treats all appellants equally, it’s plain that some are created MORE equal than others. That is, the Coastal Commission’s appeal is getting a very special hearing of its own. Everyone else is chopped liver. And that’s o.k. with the court. And later, if and when it can be shown that “real harm” has been done to some appellant by this move, the court can then dismiss the case as “too late.” A perfect Catch-22, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The danger here in making some appellants more equal than others is that it may tick some appellants off so they’ll sue which can then delay things and create an ever bigger mess further down the line. And if Mr. Edwards is correct and . . . the Coastal Commission is . . . unclear? Uhhnnnhhh, does all this sound hideously familiar? Well, stay tuned.

November 20, 2009

The request by Los Osos developer Jeff Edwards for a Temporary Restraining Order was denied by Judge Teresa Estrada-Mullaney, wherein Edwards asked the Court to postpone the County Board of Supervisors hearing on the Los Osos Wastewater Project set for Tuesday, November 24, 2009 . In the early morning exparte hearing, Edwards was unable to convince the court that the outcome of the Tuesday hearing would irreparably harm him at this time.
Edwards waived his right to a December 3, 2009 hearing to further consider the main issue. Unfortunately the central question of proper procedure being employed by the County for changes to the wastewater project wasn’t heard. Among other issues, an unintended consequence of the County’s Tuesday hearing may render his pending Coastal Commission appeal moot. Edwards who has 25 years experience in Coastal land use issues cautioned, “This is uncharted water and even Coastal Commission staff is unclear as to what will happen as a result of the intended Board action on Tuesday to the 23 appeals.”

Jeff Edwards can be reached via cell phone, 805-235-0873

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Start Yer Engines Some More

If you’re a Los Ososian, you got the post card noting that there will be a BOS hearing, Tuesday, Nov 24, at 9 a..m. to “consider a request by the County of San Luis Obispo to modify, supersede, or replace conditions of approval imposed on the previously issued Development Plan/Coastal Development Permit DRC200800103 (Los Osos Wastewater Project) pursuant to Coast Zone Land Use Ordinance . . . .”

Naturally, being the Hideous Sewer Project, this hearing is a bit strange because there are a whole passel of “appeals” before the Coastal Commission, but the BOS is only going to be hearing this one appeal in order to maybe modify the County project to comply with what’s in the CC’s appeal of this project BEFORE officially coming before the CC, while the other appellants have to wait for the actual CC meeting? Sorta like one student getting a do-over of his test paper (complete with answer sheet) before turning it in, while the other students have to wait and take whatever grade the Proctor gives them later?

Which is still kinda odd since the CC Board acts as judge and jury in any project appeal, yet they’ve filed an appeal of their own, which is like a judge getting down off the bench during a trial, going into the witness box to testify against one of the defendants, then going back up on the bench to continue “judging.” Fair and balanced? Uh???

And if the County’s Nov 24 appeal hearing results in “delays” in this project, can everyone now start referring to the County as “an Ultra Opposition Anti-Sewer Obstructionist?”

And now we have the following Press Release. Let the Games begin. Stay tuned and see you all Tuesday morning for some more Waltz Me Around Again Willy.

Press Release:

Land use planner, real estate developer and 25 year supporter of a wastewater project in Los Osos, Jeff Edwards, has filed a request for a temporary restraining order against the County Board of Supervisors. Edwards is asking the Court to level the playing field with regard to the 23 appeals levied against the controversial wastewater project at the state level. In an unprecedented procedural move, the County Board of Supervisors has scheduled a hearing for November 24, 2006 to selectively rehear their approval of the wastewater project on September 29, 2009 . It appears the Board of Supervisors feels changes to an approval condition will obviate the pending appeals before the Coastal Commission.

Edwards said, “The County can’t make up the rules as they go along.” “In my 25 years of experience with Coastal land use policies and procedures I’ve never seen this, it hasn’t been done before.” Edwards is asking the Court to require a new hearing of the controversial project in its entirety if the County wants to make changes as required by existing regulations. Rehearing the 14 appeals from the Planning Commission decision on August 13, 2009, or to hold no hearing at all, “Let the process play out”, he said.

The 23 appeals include those by Coastal Commissioners, Los Osos citizens, out of the area property owners, and multiple environmental groups raising objections including the County’s self imposed condition on the project that defers groundwater management to the future. Condition 97 as written would also allow the County to dispose of treated wastewater outside the Los Osos Groundwater Basin .

The County’s intention at the November 24, 2009 hearing is to modify only one condition. If the Board of Supervisors wants to change the project or condition, they should consider the whole project. Certainly, no applicant other than the County could do what the Board of Supervisors intends to do.


Jeff Edwards can be reached for comment via cell phone, 805-235-0873

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Now THAT's A Good Use Of The Internet

Story yesterday in the L.A. Times indicating that somebody has figured out an excellent and serious use of the internet: Dr. Susan Love has started a website called Army of Women ( ) which is trying to set up a million women who have signed on to be accessible to researchers doing work on breast cancer. Since finding and screening volunteers for any research project eats up a huge chunk of the research budget, anything that can streamline the process and quickly and cheaply draw in volunteers will mean more money left for actual research.

The idea is simple: Women (and men; breast cancer hits them too) can sign up and they will get emails from time to time from researchers outlining their particular projects and if a volunteer is interested, they contact the researcher and go from there, i.e. start the fine-screening process. The projects can be as simple as being part of a long-term longitudinal tracking study (i.e. update a health questionaire once a year) to actually participating in drug testing trials and anything inbetween. Your level of participation is entirely up to you.

Dr. Love is hoping to end up with as wide a selection of volunteers as possible. Plus, making volunteers available to researches can only make research projects easier to get going.

If that's something you would be interested in, click on the links and get more info. There's also Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation at and the Sister Study: .

Monday, November 16, 2009


It’s déjà vu all over again only this time in Malibu. Yep, that’s how it’s done, folks. Los Osos was the test case. Now it’s Malibu. Welcome to Chinatown, Boys, Welcome to Chinatown.

The best comments from the L.A.
Times story concerned the “science” studies being ignored because they missed the comment deadline (???) (Bwa-hahahah) and the comment from one of the Board members about “raw sewage running down the streets,” which seems to be a mantra with Regional Water Quality Board members who are apparently clueless as to how septics actually operate even though they’re charged with overseeing septics. (Yes, it’s the old raw sewage running down the streets ploy. More Bwa-hahahah) Ah, poor Malibu. Say prayers.

If you have lived in Los Osos for at least the past five years, the following account may echo with a darkly familiar ring: “Hundreds attended Thursday’s 10-hour hearing, which included passionate testimonies for or against the septic ban from environmental group leaders, surfers, Los Angeles County officials, local developers and wastewater experts, among others." This from a Nov. 11 Malibu Times article under the headline: “Water board bans septics in Malibu.” According to the article, the RWQCB’s Malibu prohibition means “an end to future permitting of septic systems in the commercial areas as well as the residential areas...” Malibuites will soon discover more than they ever wanted to know about Los Osos, as the posh, pastoral city by the sea takes sides. Sure, it’s a different town, but the same story line. It’s called “The Sewer Scam!”

To Read More, Click Here:


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Your Sunday Poem

Your Sunday Poem

When I was a kid growing up in the desert, Mockingbirds were everywhere, blasting me out of bed at 3 a.m. on a spring morning. When I lived in L.A., Mockers would show up to nest in the giant Camillia bush and blow us out of bed at 3 a.m. on a spring morning. In Los Osos? Can’t recall ever hearing one. Too far north of their regular territory?? Too bad. I miss them.

This by poet Laureate, Kay Ryan from “Say Uncle.”


Nothing whole
is so bold,
we sense. Nothing
not cracked is
so exact and
of a piece. He’s
the dismembered
emperor of parts,
the king of patch,
the master of
pastiche, who so
hashes other birds’
laments, so minces
their capriccios, that
the dazzle of dispatch
displaces the originals.
As though brio
really does beat feeling,
the way two aces
beat three hearts
when it’s cards
you’re dealing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Restoring the Cosmos

Calhoun’s Cannons for November 13, 09

Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.
Alice Walker

You’re welcome. Don’t mention it. It’s hard work I know, but somebody’s got to do it. And I this time I’m the one. Restoring the Cosmos, that is.

You see, years ago, after some grievously sad times, I developed the Calhoun’s Cosmological Conceit that went something like this: Don’t take life too seriously because God has a wicked sense of humor. Just when you think things are going smoothly, He’ll look around and see you humming along, minding your business, tooling down the road quite happily, thank you very much, and He will start raining down all sorts of bad stuff on you until, crushed down to your knees, you will cry out to Heaven, “Enough already! I absolutely can’t take any more!” at which point He will snicker and then break your hot water heater. When that happens, you know He’s done with you for a while and your life will return to normal.

Then you call the plumber.

And thus it was when my semi-new leach field went kerflooey for no known reason, puzzling even Al at Al’s septic pumping (Head scratching. Dunno. Haven’t seen anything to explain this in 30 years!), so we had to dig up part of the front yard to put in another one. Then I got rear-ended, with my little red X-Box Scion, The Tall Dog Car getting shmushed and laid up in the shop for several weeks, all bent-grilled and broken.

Before Al started in with the back hoe, I raced around with clippers and shovel and dug up as many plants as I could and stuffed them into pots, then left them clustered on the front walkway looking damp and pathetic. Luckily my yard is thickly planted with sturdy natives and hardy salvias, plants that are not only drought tolerant, but able to withstand the most extraordinary abuse. Hit ‘em with a stick, prune them severely, yank them out by their roots and stuff them back into the ground and in most cases they’ll look sickly for a day or two and then just carry on. Tough plants for tough times in tough places.

When Al finished his work, I gazed at the torn up empty section of dirt and with a sigh started replacing the retaining wall’s termite-riddled boards, laid the drip lines down again, and started stuffing the plants back into the ground. By noon I was half-finished, but it was getting too hot to continue. So, dirty and tired, I wandered into the garage with shovel and garden cart only to find a pool of water seeping out from under . . . the hot water heater.

I would like to report that I heard the heavenly Heh-heh, but I was laughing too hard to hear anything. A sign! A sign! God was finished with me for a while.

The next day I got a call that my little X-Box car was ready to go home.

Thus was order to the cosmos restored! You’re welcome. Glad to help.

And just in time for Thanksgiving, too, an annual holiday in which we give thanks for our harvest and bounty, a day set aside to count our blessings, spend time with friends and family, then eat too much and watch football on TV.

In my house, in my world, thanks giving arrives every moment of every day, even for the smallest things, because in Calhoun’s Cosmology, I have learned from experience that we live in a world filled with 30 year-old hot water heaters and being run by a dangerously serio-comic God with a wicked, wicked sense of humor. It’s a risky mix.

True, daily thanks giving will not stop the whirlwind, but it’s a good habit to get into anyway. So pass the cranberries. They’re delicious. Thank you, thank you very much.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Dump That Lawn & Grab Yer Rutabagas!

The Sunday Tribune reports that the Paso Robles city council has okayed a demonstration “ food forest,” as organizers call it, to teach people how to convert grass yards into other vegetation types that require less water. They also plan to each people how to grow their own food.”

Right now, a plot of land in front of Paso Robles Centennial Park Community Center will be turned into a “food forest.” And instead of just settling for a community garden where people living in apartments or condos without any land available where they live, could “rent” in order to garden, the plans of the Transition Towns Paso Robles Food Group are far broader than that.

With mandatory water conservation likely to become a way of life (Paso’s water, like so many California cities, is in overdraft and unless the climate changes to “all wet” it’ll likely stay in overdraft from now on,) the City Council at least recognizes that lawns may be likely to become a thing of the past.

Which makes a lot of sense since urban lawns were always a middle-class affectation of the unhorsed and unbooted trying to ape their aristo betters who could demonstrate their wealth, in part, by building massive homes on acres and acres of servant-tended “lawns.”

In a water thrifty world, lawns may come to be seen as a wasteful public display of conspicuous consumption that will be ridiculed as arriviste tacky, an occasion for much risible finger pointing among neighbors. Indeed, lawns may become some sort of shameful secret sin, a little patch of grass hidden behind tall fences, drooled over and guarded from prying eyes like a collection of vintage pornography. Or, maybe lawns will become a horticultural obsession like that found among orchid growers – a passionate hobby with people spending hours laboring over their pampered patch, with prized cuttings, seeds and rhizomes collected and traded among afficionados--- “Psst, I’ll trade you one Bermuda plug for two Buffalo Grass clumps.” Maybe we’ll even see Grass Lawn Open House tours as a fund-raising event, with donors in long lines trooping from one secret lawn garden to another to gape and marvel. “My God, I haven’t seen a dichondra lawn for 50 years. Didn’t know they grew those any more!”)

Well, good for Paso Robles. I hope my fellow Los Ososians will follow their lead. Dump the lawn, plant natives and some turnips. Last year amongst the salvias and rock roses in the front yard, I stuck in a couple of salvaged rhubarb roots and darned if they didn’t grow and darned if I didn’t get a bunch of rhubarb all summer long so darned if I’m gonna plant a few more roots of the stuff come winter. True, I suspect that rhubarb is an acquired taste, (from a few people who have wrinkled their nose and run their tongue out and make ack-ack noises when I mentioned the word) but what the heck, I love the stuff so I’ll follow Paso’s lead and think seriously about what other foods will grow in a water-thrifty garden.

Please, Pluuuueeeese, Go Away

Sunday’s Tribune also had a long follow-up story on the Edge/Wilcox mess. The Tribune got access to a huge stack of Edge-Wilcox-Hossli (the county’s human resources director, Deb Hossli) interoffice emails before all of them ended up flying under a bus of their own making. I think the Tribune was trying to make sense of what happened with this mess. And their conclusion was that a system of checks and balances was removed the day the BOS changed the way the CAOs were set up, put one at-will guy in charge, then removed some key civil service procedures and protections and then acted surprised that this train went off a cliff. And ironically since the Supervisors thought that by putting the CAO directly under their control they’d avoid some of the problems of a more layered approach, without understanding that “politics” is always present, that even Civil Service Commissioners are not above “politics” and if staff understands that a CAO is the “darling” of a majority of the BOS (more “politics”), it could be career suicide for an employee to bring problems to their attention. Hence, things can fester quietly until the explosion, thereby defeating the notion that more direct control will result in quicker response time, faster problem-solving efforts, etc, all of which had been viewed as stymied or slowed by the clumsy Civil Service procedures of yore.

So, lessons? Well, one thing was clear to me when the Civil Service rules were removed and Edge jammed his own pick (Hossli) into a newly created slot, that those rules actually can avert problems: “by requiring open and competitive recruitment, tenure and discharge for cause, the civil service system is intended to protect employees from adverse actions during political power changes and is also intended to prevent favoritism.”

While you may get speedier results with an at-will CAO, having that same CAO operating an at-will system for departments and staff serving under him is asking for trouble. Fish rots from the head down, as the old saying goes. A “good” CAO under such a system can create an outstanding staff than can change direction (and department heads and re-staff) quickly, as needed. A “bad” CAO under such a system can result in a dysfunctional bunch of cronies working under a spoils system, all toadying up to each other and the boss in order to keep their jobs, with all indirect staff members having to keep mum for fear and favor.

Not good. Costly train wreck ahead. As the county taxpayers have found out.

Ah, Good, One Less Thing To Worry About!

The House has delivered a much-chewed up “health bill,” to the Senate where it will likely die because a tiny handful of Senators are a totally owned subsidiary of the insurance industry (Lieberman) or are so ego-wrapped that they serve only to further their own political interests, not the People’s Business (Lieberman). So, I’m pretty sure that the whole effort will end up DOA.

If, by some miracle, some chewed up form of “health care reform” does survive, it will come in a form which will still have Americans continuing to get crap health care and expensive crap health care coverage, all while still paying more for it (than most “civilized countries”) and they’ll still end up with worse medical outcomes (than other "civilized countries") and still have millions of uninsured, or underinsured and these folks will continue to die by the thousands for lack of decent health care/coverage. And through all of this, I’m betting the voters will STILL be unable to connect the dots.

In a way, it’s funny, this Lemming-like blindness, this clinging to “death panel” lies and other politically dishonest horse pucky. And all through this amazing sturm und drang, we have witnessed the bizarre spectacle of usually thrifty, bargain-hunting, excess-spending adverse Americans now ferociously insisting on sticking with a jerry-rigged, out-of-date system that costs more because it MUST guarantee fat profits for insurance companies and big pharma, and doing all this while begging for “health care reform” and “lower insurance costs.”

Phooey. Americans don’t want health care reform or even health insurance reform or even lower costs. If they did, they’d elect officials who would deliver just that. Instead, they’re still stuck in the same old, I’m all right, Jack, mode, so long as Bad Stuff happens to The Other Guy, not them, while they’re still all oblivious that they’re always a hair’s breath away from being . . . The Other Guy.

So, until they can connect those few dots, it’s futile to get concerned about “Health Care Reform.” Complete waste of time.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Your Sunday Poem

This fiercely unblinking poem is by Ellen Bryant Voigt, from her new book: Messenger: New and Selected Poems, 1976-2006


The neck lodged under a stick,
the stick under her foot,
she held the full white breast
with both hands, yanked up and
and the head was delivered of the
Brain stuck like a lens; the profile
fringed with red feathers.
Deposed, abstracted,
the head lay on the ground like a
But the rest, released into the
language and direction wrung
from it,
flapped the insufficient wings
and staggered forward, convulsed,
instinctive –
I thought it was sobbing to see it
hump the dust,
pulsing out those muddy juices,
as if something deep in the
in the sack of soft nuggets,
drove it toward the amputated
Even then, watching it litter the
with snowy refusals, I knew it was
that held life, gave life
and not the head with its hard
contemplative eye.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Say A Prayer for You and Me and You and You and That'll Be $756.00, Please

Ah, now some sort of medical reform bill (or whatever this thing is that’s wandering around the halls of Congress is calling itself,) is now ready for Loopholes, Logrolling and Pork Larding.

The first special little “addition” to pop up in the LA Times, a story by Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger reporting from Washington, is this: “Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.

“The provision was inserted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry and the late Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, home to the headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist.

“The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments – which substitute for or supplement medical treatments – on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against ‘religious and spiritual healthcare.’

It would have a minor effect on the overall cost of the bill – Christian Science is a small church, and the prayer treatments can cost as little as $20 a day. But it has nevertheless stirred an intense controversy over the constitutional separation of church and state, and the possibility that other churches might seek reimbursements for so-called spiritual healing.”

The story further noted that “Kerry’s spokeswoman, Whitney Smith, disputed that insurers would be forced to cover prayers. Instead, she said, ‘the amendment would prevent insurers from discriminating against benefits that qualified as spiritual care if the care is recognized by the IRS as a legitimate medical expense. Plans are free to impose standards on spiritual and medical care as long as both are treated equally. It does not mandate that plans provide spiritual care.”

So, now the IRS will get between you and your doctor and Prayer Person? Orrin Hatch, a Republican Sarah Palin fanboy is supporting this? Talk about the original Death Panels. It doesn’t get more lethal than the IRS.

And of course, this amendment has riled scientists and other doctors. “Dr Norman Frost, a pediatrician and medical ethicist at the University of Wisconsin, said the measure went against the goal of reducing healthcare costs by improving evidence-based medical practices. ‘They want a special exception for people who use unproved treatments , and they also want to get paid for it,’ he said. ‘They want people who use prayer to have it just automatically accepted as a legitimate therapy.’”

Yes, indeed, now it starts. Bring on the baster, the larding needle. What makes this amendment so strange – besides it’s blatantly, obviously lobbying for a tiny home-state (MA) religious sect (1,700 0 1,800 congregations world wide) is that there are lots of treatments that do, indeed work, that are unlikely to be covered by any insurance. Unless United Reiki Practitioners, Inc, or a National Acupuncture Union of America show up in the halls of congress with sacks of money.

Under our present system of “healthcare,” hypnosis, biofeedback, Sensory Experiencing Treatment, Acupuncture, Reiki, massage, certified nutritionists, physical therapists, and other therapies get short shrift or no shrift at all from insurers. Yet they do indeed work for many, many people, and are often cheaper than “traditional” treatments. And it’s only recently that chiropractic has been covered for certain procedures.

Yet the “why” and “how” these therapies work is little understood since there’s not been enough research into just what’s going on when the body-mind connection is challenged and enlisted in the healing process. Even now, researchers don’t quite know how placebos work, but they do work, often astonishingly well. So, we know very little at this point and too often our default position is to go with expensive, often dangerous “western medicine” when far simpler, far cheaper methods would do the trick.

In short, our “healthcare” system is sick in ways that have nothing to do with insurance companies, though it is made sicker by our method of paying very well for very poor outcomes. Until we take a serious look at our overall health – nutrition, diet, exercise, dental health, wellness/education efforts, preventative treatments and tests to catch and treat disease early, we’ll still stand mired in a very, very sick expensive system embedded in a very sick society that’s growing poorer by the day.

That’s a recipe that requires . . . prayer. Lots of it.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Graywater's Coming! Greywater's Coming! Maybe

Mark your calendars: From the Sierra Club's Newsletter: There'll be a Graywater Workshop/info program that will cover the "do's and don'ts and maintenance programs and will evaluate the costs, complexity and environmental footprint of various systems."

"Gray water systems turn a waste product that can comprise up to 80% of residential wastewater into a valuable resource for irrigation and other non-potable uses. Harvesting graywater to meet your non-potable water needs utilizes and appropriate technology taha can recover initial costs quickly. No permit required. "

The Sierra Club has copies of the "San Luis Obispo Guide to The Use of Graywater" for $10 each while supplies last. You can E-mail or call (805) 543-2717 to reserve your copy.

The workshops will run from 5:00 - 8:00 p.m. (presentations 5:30 - 7:30)
Local contractors and vendors wil be present with tables of information
Light refreshments will be served.

Morro Bay:
Tuesday, Nov 10
Morro Bay Vets Hall
$5 suggested contribution at the door, no one will be turned away
$10 Graywater Guides will be available for only $5 for the first 30 buyers!

Atascadero (co-sponsored by the City of Paso Robles and TCSD)
Thursday, Dec 10
Atascadero City Council Chambers
Free at the door

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Your Sunday Recipe

This is from the L.A. Times SOS column, adapted from “Wine Bistro Pierre Lafond,” an amazing rice pudding with a sort of middle-eastern-y flavor (the cardamom). The original recipe called for ¼ c sugar but I found that way too sweet and cut that down to about 1/8. You could use real maple syrup as well, or brown sugar. I also used the dry roasted pistachios from Trader Joe’s. And instead of cream, can use low fat milk since the pudding is really rich and creamy on its own. Enjoy.

Chilled banana and pistachio rice pudding

½ tablespoon butter
½ tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 c. sugar
½ c basmati rice, rinsed and drained
2 c milk
1 c cream or half and half
¼ c pistachios, shelled and chopped, plus extra for garnish, if desired.

1. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

2. Stir in the rice, milk and cream. Bring the mixture to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook the rice, uncovered, until very tender, stirring occasionally, 20 – 25 minutes.

3. Remove from the heat and set the pan aside, uncovered, until the rice cools to room temperature, about 30 minutes to 1 hour. (The pudding will be very soupy at first, but will thicken as the rice continues to absorb the liquid as it cools in the pan.) When the rice is almost cooled, peel and dice the banana.

4. Stir in the pistachios and banana, then cover and refrigerate the pudding until well chilled. Garnish with whipped cream and extra pistachios if desired. Makes about 3 cups rice pudding.