Friday, July 31, 2009

Calhoun’s Cannons for July 31, 2009

Putt-putt, Vroom-vroom

The snippet in the Tribune’s “Business Buzz” caught my eye; A grand opening at the old McCarthy’s used car lot, but instead of cars, there would be a grand selection of Vespa motor scooters. Vespas!

Instantly it was 1962 and I was back in Art Center School in Los Angeles, standing next to my fellow student and friend, a wonderful photographer from England named Roy Brody, looking at his little blue Vespa scooter. It was for sale.

I was thoroughly fed up with trying to schlep drawing board, fishing tackle box filled with paints and brushes onto and off of city buses, or having to bum a ride to and from the school. And I certainly couldn’t afford to own a car. But a Vespa? It was sort of like a bicycle, wasn’t it? At least that’s how I put it to my parents, who were putting up the $250. And since the previous summer I had gone on a bicycle tour through Europe with the American Youth Hostel group, pedaling through insane European traffic without incident, I think my parents thought – what’s the difference? It’s a small motorized . . . bicycle, isn’t it? She pedaled safely through Milan and Paris, didn’t she?

Well, yes, sort of. And so the deal was done and “Charlie” became mine. He was light blue, and was the smallest Vespa model available at the time, running on a 2-stroke engine, with motor oil dumped right into the gas tank like a lawn mower. And when he got balky, I just had to change out the spark-plug to once again hear his steady putt-putt.

I had a wooden box made to fit on the rear luggage rack and into it went all the art stuff with my drawing board bungee-corded on top. Best of all, unlike a regular motorcycle, the Vespa had a step-in well so you could actually sit on it rather than straddle it. Which was extremely important since Art Center School was a professional art school that required a professional dress code. In the case of girls in 1962, that meant dresses and/or tailored skirts, nylons and high heel shoes; all perfectly doable with the lady-like, slide-on-the-seat Vespa. Although, I must admit, the sight must have been an exceedingly strange one since in that day girls just didn’t ride “motorcycles.” At least “proper ladies” didn’t, not even in high heels.

Beyond the convenience of getting to and from class, Charlie brought enormous freedom to my previously bus-restricted life. The entire city was mine to explore, from the wilderness of Mulholland Drive, to Malibu and Zuma Beach, to the warehouse warrens of downtown L.A., to the museums and libraries, including the extraordinary main downtown library. Sundays turned into day-long explorations of all the odd byways of L.A., a perfect celebration of being young, being bold, being mobile, being on two wheels in a huge new city. It didn’t get any better than that.

When I got married and headed off to Texas, Charlie went into storage and eventually was donated to a charity. And life moved on until 40-some years later, there I stood in front of all these gleaming Vespas. But this time, like most of America, the Vespas had been super-sized into very large, gleaming high-tech, bells & whistles “motorcycles.” They were much larger, smoother, sleeker, quieter, heavier, easier (no hopping on a kick starter, just push a button), and 100 times more expensive. But to a young student, they surely still held the lure of the open road; freedom in a new town waiting to be explored.

In the showroom, I spoke to a man about having once owned a Vespa, and he asked, “Are you going to get one again?”

“No,” I replied, smiling. But it was tempting, that sudden vision of a young me hidden inside that old lady from Los Osos once again tooling around on a sleek new incarnation of Charlie. But then reality returned.

There is a time for everything under heaven and I’m wise enough now to know it’s never smart to tempt fate twice. I had my time, my place, my youth, my adventures on my “Charlie.” And I did it all with no dangerous incidents, no broken bones, thereby proving that God does indeed look out for drunks, fools and little children, especially those driving around Los Angeles on a little Vespa. Putt-putt, Vroom-vroom.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Request From Mother Calhoun

Dear Former CAO Edge

1. CAOs and Assistant CAOs are NOT 13 year-old “needy romantic” BFFs.
2. If you have to suggest that your Assistant CAO get a sex toy in order to “pleasure herself” because you think she doesn’t know anything about the subject, your Assistant CAO is too dumb to continue in the job as an Assistant CAO and should be dismissed immediately.
3. Please add up all the money the taxpayers have had to cough up to pay for this unholy mess, including the cost of the Robertson Report. Divide it by ½. Refund that amount back to the county coffers.
4. Now, please go away. Thank you.

Dear Former Assistant CAO Wilcox

1. Taxpayer-financed out-of-town conferences are NOT intended to serve as taxpayer-financed Pimp Runs for sexually hungry county employees on the make.
2. If the Robertson Report is even half-accurate, please don’t waste your time and the county’s money on your sexual harassment lawsuit. That suit won’t even begin to pass the smell test.
3. Please add up all the money the taxpayers have had to cough up to pay for this unholy mess, including the cost of the Robertson Report, and the cost-to-date of your “harassment” suit. Divide it by ½ . Refund that amount back to the county coffers.
4. Now, please go away. Thank you.

Dear SLO County

1.Please reinstate annual, mandatory attendance by all employees in sexual harassment classes.
2. Please institute mandatory attendance at a new ETHICS in Government class. It will cover things that apparently have gone missing, like “Thou Mayest Not Canoodle With People You’re Negotiating Labor Contracts With.” I know that seems so obvious that even a dunce would know that, but clearly that’s not the case here. Thank you.

Dear Reader

1. The Robertson Report is posted on the Tribune’s website at
2. After reading, take a shower. Lots of soap.

Uh, Oh, Ron’s Been Snooping Again

Time for the County Grand Jury? Oh, wait, I forgot. If memory serves, didn’t one Grand Jury Personage say The Sewer Issue here in Los Osos was just too difficult and complicated for them to look into. Well, enjoy all the dots at

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Your Sunday Photo

O.K. It's not a poem, but you must admit, The Mighty Finn McCool is a bit of poetry in motion. Except greyhounds are notoriously thin-skinned (all the better to throw off the massive heat generated by their incredible bursts of speed) and are constantly crashing into things in their robust enthusiasm to be MeFirst!MeFirst!MeFirst. So Finn -- again -- somehow managed to slash the skin over his ribs (Dr. Truax, Finn's vet, loves me. Finn's put his kids through college.), but instead of wearing his (too warm) red Applebee's polo-shirt while healing, I found this swell basketball tank top at Big Five, on sale for. . . a big $5. Sorta looks like a racing vest. Pretty spiffy. You go, Finn!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Planning, Planning

The Planning Commission continued ticking off subjects on their Sewer Project List. Here’s what we’ve got so far:

The Ripley Plan minus the step tanks and at a higher cost due to the higher cost of the gravity pipes, plus the higher cost of welding portions of the gravity pipes in low ground water (costs you don’t have with STEP since the pipes are smaller and since they’re under pressure, are already sealed.)

Tonini, by straw poll, 5 – 0, is off the table, which means the County’s Plan is sort of off the table. Turns out with the Sustainability Group’s research and stress on conserving water (i.e. not getting it dirty so you have to pay big bucks to clean it up in the first place), we again have . . . . The Ripley Plan.

Commissioner Christie asked staff to look at the disposal AFY (acre feet a year) numbers and think like Monterrey County: They reuse all their treated water and have an ocean outfall as an emergency, wet-weather back up. She proposed looking at the Broderson site as a back up. Apparently the numbers were crunched and it’s doable. Plus, Dana Ripley guesstimated that the ag reuse demand will likely double or triple the already conservative figures they are now using, so Broderson would become less and less needed, even as a “back up.” So, once again, we have . . . . The Ripley Plan.

Which begs the question: Why didn’t Corollo Engineering, who were paid gazillions in tax money, see The Ripley Plan as the elegant, green, future-smart plan it was. Instead, they wasted millions to come up with an expensive cockamamie Tonini "Let's Throw The Water Away" Plan evaporate it, dump it, get rid of it as if it were a “waste,” instead of a very expensive, precious resource? The CSD had already paid $600,000 for just such a water-smart, green plan. It was called . . . The Ripley Report . . . and had been turned over to Corollo when the County took over the project several years ago.

Next question: During public comment, Jeri Walsh reported that Supervisor Gibson was at a recent LOCAC meeting saying that he thinks the Coastal Commission letter of July 15th was written by the staff and once the CC commissioners themselves get, uh, educated, they’ll likely come to different conclusions. Translation: Are Supervisor Gibson and Paavo Ogren and other, uh, interested parties, going to sabotage the Planning Commission solution in a series of ex-parte, wink-nudge, schmooze-fests and/or crank up organized former Dreamers to start letter-writing campaigns to dump The Planning Commission’s Modified Ripley Plan in order to return to the Throw The Water Away Tonini Plan so beloved of Paavo and Gibson and Corollo?

Well, stay tuned. I had to leave by the afternoon session. Chairperson Christie suggested that they’d need another meeting to check the whole thing over for any dangling participles and missed minor points, then it will be good to go.

Dribble, Dribble, Dribble.

The Tribune reports that Judge Barry LaBarbera needed time to review late documents before ruling on wither to release the county’s report on the firing of former CAO David Edge and former Assistant CAO, Gail Wilcox. At the heart of the argument are privacy issues and since Wilcox has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against both Edge and the county, the issue of whether making the the report public would taint the lawsuit or impede Ms. Wilcox’s rights to a fair trial.

At issue for the public is the curiosity about “person X” as the Trib calls him, the person with whom Wilcox was allegedly having “an inappropriate relationship.” Here’s what Mother Calhoun knows about what the point of all this is:


Nothing good can come of knowing who person X is. Nothing good can come of making this report public. Edge and Wilcox will not be rehired. Person X, if he’s married, will be publicly embarrassed and, from what the Trib reports, has already hired his attorney, so we may see another lawsuit. Or he could be targeted and fired at some point down the line. So, Mo Money, Mo Money, Mo Money will be wasted. The lives turned upside down by this unholy, Walking While Stupid mess will never be returned to normal. The pain this mess has caused in all of the players’ lives can never be undone.

Having said that, Mother Calhoun recognizes that certain bells cannot ever be un-rung. Wilcox herself opened this Pandora’s box with her lawsuit. If there’s one thing Mother Calhoun has repeatedly wasted her breath on it’s this: Lawsuits are always Pyrrhic Victories. No winners. Just some losers losing less than other losers. Scorched earth all round. Lives ruined. And once you decide to go down that path, understand it’s total war and you’ll be lucky to escape with the smallest portion of you life . . . maybe.

On the other hand, the report (and certainly Wilcox’ lawsuit) may let the public know whether the BOS handled this whole thing correctly. Having “at will” employees can seem like an easy way to avoid all those complex, time-consuming, expensive “Civil Service” procedures, but the allure of “at will,” still carries with it the potential to become just another Full Employment For Lawyers action. That report may help the public and the BOS think about how they want to deal with future CAOs – stay with “at will,” return to Civil Service, re-institute annual, sexual harassment training procedures for all employees, improve pre-firing investigative procedures and so forth.

Otherwise, this will all happen again. Sigh.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is It Close, But No Ceeegar?

Mark Low sent the following, with attachments and documents, to Paavo Ogren, as well as the Planning Commission and the Coastal Commission. He’s been asking for months why this vacuum system hasn’t been on the Sewer Table, even though he presented the info way back when. Well, maybe now we’ll get some answers from somebody? Or the vacuum system he's proposing may get another look-see? Or maybe not, if it’s all too late. As with all things Sewerish, stay tuned. The Planning Commission is still at work. The Coastal Commission has been checking in with letters commenting on what the PC is doing – little smoke signals indicating their possible leanings and concerns. So it all remains to be seen.

Greetings Gentlemen,

In response to October 27, 2008: Release of the Final Report from the NWRI Independent Peer Review Panel:

Treatment Technology
4.3.1 Options:
Facultative Pond
Oxidation Ditch
Membrane Bioreactor (added by Panel)

Attached please see a generic proposal for a 1MGD ECOfluid USBF Membrane Bioreactor Title 22 Water Reclamation Facility.

A close review of our treatment technology will reveal many advantages over the other treatment technologies your study process included.
These advantages include, but are not limited to, reduced footprint, reduced energy consumption, no odor, reduced sludge production, reduced capital and O&M costs.

The cost range is $6,900,000.00 for a Micro Screen option and $7,400,000.00 for the Membrane option which includes 30% design, engineering and contingency. As Paavo Ogren stated in August 2007- If there is a technology that is significantly less expensive”, “then that technology becomes the new standard and all others fall away”. When these words become reality the citizens are well represented by their government.

The one factor that significantly contributes to operating simplicity and reduces operating and maintenance needs and costs, is the. Pumped once from the equalization tank into the bioreactors, the entire flow through the process (biology, filtration and UV disinfection) is by gravity. Gravity and hydraulic action are forces of nature and is energy which is free of charge.

Of course any size (GPD) facility for any strength influent can be designed upon request.

The attached Nitrogen Reduction Memorandum should be of particular interest to those interested in solving Nitrogen loading problems.

ECOfluid President, Karel Galland and I are available to discuss in detail this generic proposal and how a site specific proposal can be developed for your project.

We expect to see our technology included in your study review process, including the EIR study.

Time and money are precious, so we won’t waste any and know that you will want to give us your best consideration so we look forward to hearing from you soon.

Your prompt attention in this matter will be appreciated.

Kind regards,

Mark Low
602.740.7975 voice
480.464.0405 facsimile
P.O. Box 1355 Mesa, Arizona 85211

Monday, July 20, 2009

Templeton Off Leash Dog Park Update

The following email was sent by Paula O’Farrell, who’s part of the group of amazing volunteers who got the Heilmann Off Leash Dog Park in Atascadero up and running and now have the beautiful new dog park in Templeton chugging along. If you have a chance, pay it a visit. It’s lovely and will keep getting lovelier as the trees grow and the shrubs shrub. Great site, great bunch of people making good things happen. So stopby SLO Animal Services and adopt a dog, then take a drive out to Templeton Dog Park for a romp.

Hi group,
It's hard to believe that our beloved dog park will soon be celebrating a 6-month anniversary. We have accomplished a lot in a short period of time thanks to hard-working volunteers and generous donors. Many of you often tell me how much this park means to you. I feel the same.

Some of you are concerned about our financial status so here's an update. Currently, we owe $3,867 on our park construction. Of that amount, about $2,700 was paid in the last two months for park landscaping, plumbing, and construction of our gorgeous new kiosk. We had some big bills including $500 to hook us up to the water meter and install a back flow device . Our landscaping, although newly planted, makes our park a real jewel.

We have a $5,000 credit line from our host organization, SLOPOST and this must be repaid by February 2010. I'm confident that we'll be able to retire this debt with our upcoming fundraisers (see below) and 2010 February membership renewals. All in all, we've done very well especially in this sour economy.
Our construction projects are starting to wind down (thank God!). Here's what we're working on:
* Installing a swim area towards the back (near the tool shed) of the park. With the help of community service workers, we're framing an 8' x 8' x 1' deep drainage pit which will be filled with gravel. We'll use this area for our shallow kiddy wading pool which we'll put out on Saturdays and Sundays through the summer. Many of you tell me that you visit the park every day and dealing with a wet dog 7 days a week would be a challenge. We're also mindful of the drought and want to be conservative of our water use. And of course, we have to pay our water bill which so far is not onerous.
* Installing a sponsor kiosk near the main entrance outside the dog park. This kiosk will hold sponsor plaques for donors who have generously donated $150 or more to our park. We will sell advertising space on this kiosk ($125 per year) to local businesses for add'l park revenue. This kiosk is an Eagle Scout project so we won't have any out-of-pocket expenses for this. This should be completed by the end of summer.
* Installing a fenced enclosure around our dumpster and green waste bins. The neighbors have asked us to do something to cover up these receptacles. It would be nice to have a locked area to discourage illegal dumping in our green waste bins which has been a problem from the beginning. This is another Eagle scout project and hopefully completed before the end of summer.
* Installing gate entry plaques for our donors of $500 or greater. I rec'd the plaques this week and will hopefully have a mounting solution for them in the next week or so.
We've had some amazing donations in the last month that I want to acknowledge:
* Lindamar Industries of Paso Robles has donated 50,000 plastic bags to our dog park and committed to supplying them for us whenever we need them. This represents about a $2,500 annual donation. You'll notice that we have switched our dispensers from the roll of bags to single sheet bags. We'll continue to use the bag rolls in our hard-to-reach dispensers that we monitor on the Salinas River Trail (thank you Carolyn!). I encourage you to bring your own plastic bags to recycle; you can stuff them in the wire dispensers located under the shade structure and behind the park umbrellas.
* Steve Roehrenbeck of Private Design donated plants and volunteered his services for our wine barrel plantings that are spectacular right now in their dazzling colors. He also has provided guidance in planting many of our shrubs and trees. He's been a delight to work with and incredibly knowledgeable. If you have a landscaping project at home or at your business, I highly recommend him.
* Bob Wandruff has donated countless hours in building our new park kiosk. It gives our park a real identity with an essential way to communicate with park visitors.
* Bill Hall donated supplies and his plumbing know-how to install all of our faucets and fix a few problems. Plumbers are expensive so this was a huge gift.
* Ranger Jim Hickok and County Park Staff have offered community service workers to us on a regular basis to help us on some of our bigger tasks. They helped us move wood chips, install a back flow device, remove trees, and countless other tasks.

I hope you'll mark your calendars for our upcoming events:

Sunday, August 23rd, 9 am - 10:30 am Coffee Social at Vineyard Dog Park. We'll be celebrating our 6-month birthday and toasting our new kiosk, and you can also make a reservation for Dog Splash Days. It's a great time to connect with other dog owners after a busy summer.

September 11-13, 3rd Annual Dog Splash Days at Templeton Community Pool. Admission is $15 (includes one raffle ticket). This event has sold out for the past 2 years so you'll want to make your reservation early to guarantee a spot. Check our website at or look for the event flyer on the dog park kiosk. Proceeds for this event will benefit Vineyard Dog Park.

October 10th, 2nd Annual Dogtoberfest and Wiener Dog Races at Atascadero Lake Park. We're co-hosting this event with our great friends at Heilmann Dog Park and sharing in the proceeds. Details will be available on our website as we get closer to the event.

We could use volunteers to help us at these events so let me know if you can commit some time. These events are a lot of work but always a lot of fun.
Thank you to those who help so much at the park including all of our park angels. Linda does a great job of keeping our entrance beautiful. Dorothy installs all of our fence post plaques. Mike is handling the watering of our trees and shrubs. Dee is our hard-working treasurer. Susan monitors our collection boxes daily. Kathy keeps the wine barrel plantings alive with her daily TLC. Dog owners are the best!
See you at the park and the pool!
Paula O'Farrell, President Parks-4-Pups 805.239.4437

Planning, Planning, Planning, Cont.
The Planning Commission will again take up the Los Osos Sewer March To The Sea on Thursday afternoon, July 23, continuing over into Friday, July 24, if necessary. Paavo Ogren was sent a new letter from the California Coastal Commission dated July 15, 2009. The Commission was in town July 8 & 9 and heard “numerous substantive public comments from Los Osos residents regarding the proposed wastewater treatment project.”

At this point, the Coastal Commissioners are aligned with the Planning Commission on the following issues:
1. It doesn’t make sense to get MORE water dirty, then pay more to clean it up to reuse it, when you can start conservation measure NOW thereby making LESS water dirty so you don’t have to clean up so much, and to also to halt sea-water intrusion from over-pumping the overdrafted aquifer NOW, instead of waiting years from now when the sewer plant is built. i.e. “. . . steps to protect the Community’s drinking water supply can and should be taken in conjunction with this project and not relegated to some future arrangement with water purveyors.”
2. The CC also strongly urges the County “. . . to build into the project sensible and doable wastewater reuse and disposal compoents,” including “ agricultural re-use” and “other feasible options” including “urban irrigation, residential re-use (purple pipe), constructed wetlands, disbursed leach fields and on-basin spray fields. A continued focus on spray disposal on the Tonini prime soils agricultural lands outside the basin is in our view inappropriate for reasons we previously communicated to the County . . .”
3. “A project that does not fully return tertiary treated effluent to the basin would be inconsistent with applicable LCP policies . . .” “We also encourage timely implementation of strong, effective water conservation measures, by both the County and private water purveyors, that will reduce water extraction, thereby reducing pressure on the lower aquifer. Irrespective of the rather limited project goals and objectives identified in the EIR, seawater intrusion is an adverse impact that is inextricably linked to this project, and as such, must be fully addressed and mitigated.”
4. And, oh, by the way, make” minimizing sludge production to the maximum extent practicable” a priority to be “reflected as a high priority in the selection of preferred collection and treatment technologies and that the County ensure that the methods chosen are the best ones designed to produce this outcome.”

5. Oh, and did we forget to mention, the “. . . wastewater and groundwater problems in Los Osos must be addressed holistically and not piecemealed. Sound land and water use planning and effective public policy implementation call for such an approach.”

Translation: The CC has been paying attention to both the Sustainability Group’s work and the Planning Commission’s “straw polls,” and understand that perhaps if the county had approached this as a True Design Build, instead of their Pretend Design Build PieceMeal, pre-determined Short List, a-priori It Will Be Gravity Even Before The TAC Sat Down type deal, the CC and the PC and the Sustainability Group and the County would have all ended up on the same page instead of “adversaries,” as they are now. Sigh.

Well, better now than later. Or, “As the Executive Director [of the CC] said at the July meeting, we are trying to convey our concerns to the County in a timely manner in order to avoid or minimize conflicts later in the process.”

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Your Sunday Poem

By Mary Oliver from her book of poems, “American Primitive.”


In April
the ponds
like black blossoms,
the moon
swims in every one;
there’s fire
everywhere; frogs shouting
their desire,
their satisfaction. What
we know; that time
chops at us all like an iron
hoe, that death
is a state of paralysis. What
we long for: jy
before death, nights
in the swale – everything else
can wait but not
this thrust
from the root
of the body. What
we know; we are more
than blood – we are more
than our hunger and yet
we belong
to the moon and when the ponds
open, when the burning
begins the most
thoughtful among us dreams
of hurrying down
into the black petals,
into the fire,
into the night where time lies shattered,
into the body of another.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Church Blessings, Sort Of

L.A. Times reports that the bishops at the General convention of Episcopal Church officials in Anaheim “endorsed the creation of blessing liturgies for same-sex unions one day after they ended a de facto ban on the ordination of gay bishops”

“the resolution passed by an overwhelming margin, with 104 bishops voting yes, 30 voting no and two abstaining after a failed attempt by some bishops to kill the measure. The resolution must still be approved by clergy and laity in the church’s other legislative body, the House of Deputies – a step widely viewed as all but certain.”

The American Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion, which has urged it’s American cousins not to take this step, since the church is already divided by the issues – same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay bishops, even “married” gay bishops –and four dioceses and dozens of congregations have already split to form a “rival church.”

Interestingly, the measure voted on “calls to Episcopalians to ‘honor the theological diversity of this church in regard to matters of human sexuality,’ but clergy who object would not be required to deliver the blessings.” Which is interesting: A church that allows “choice” in is liturgies and customs.

As for the break-away groups, many people might view that as a bad thing. I view it as a really good thing since it indicates the vitality and livingness of this particular church. Dead theology, dead churches, dead congregations to not cause members to break off congregations and form their own churches when they feel their theology isn’t being practiced like they want it to. Folks with living religions always take the ball and go find another playing field.

Indeed, it’s one of the hallmarks of religion in America: Yeasty growth. It’s like one big San Francisco sourdough starter – centuries long, still chugging away, still able to create whole loves of bread, never mind the fishes. In short, it’s a perfect illustration of the enormous benefit of NOT having a state established religion.

And the Episcopals splitting over this issue is full of irony. The church’s original founder was Henry VIII who – talk about yeasty – broke from the Catholic Church so he could divorce his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn. Theologically and scripturally, divorce was verboten so Henry said phooey and broke off to form his own church so he could have his way (and hired all kinds of “theologians” to write and defend and support his views. Heck, he even wrote a lot of the supporting documentation himself.) So, Episcopals have a tradition of, let’s say, pragmatic adaptation. As this present Convention noted, “The resolution calls for the church to ‘acknowledge the changing circumstances’ in the Unites states and other countries that result from legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gays and lesbians.” Changing circumstances. Exactly what Henry VIII called it. He loved his wife but Oh you kid, he needed an heir. Circumstances had changed, the Catholic Church wouldn’t, so the Anglican Church was born.

As I said. Bubbling yeast.

Make Hay While The Sun Shines

Margot Roosevelt at the Times reports a new study finds sharp increase in rooftop installations in San Diego, L.A. and San Francisco. Which is a good thing. As usual, there’s a fly in the ointment: The for-profit power companies are reluctant and or hostile to “robust” legislation allowing/requiring a “feed-in tarrif, such as the one in Germany, which would allow homeowners who install extra capacity to seel their electricity back to utilities at a favorable rate.”

For profit utilities fear such a move since it would cut into their profits and you can be sure they’ll oppose any such plan, which will slow down any idea of serious and practical solar use so that private companies can make money . . . while the world burns. And here’s the sickest part of all this: Centrally located solar plants (which the large utilities are seeking to build) use enormous amounts of water, which we’re running out of, are located way out in the back of nowhere, thereby have transmission-loss problems. Solar panels on every available rooftop don’t. Further, urban local roof panels don’t have to transmit power that far since the grid is all around them as opposed to being located way out in the desert somewhere.

So here’s the sad part, which could but will never happen: Suppose California “nationalized” the utilities and turned them all into non-profit publicly owned utilities, slap solar panels on every willing home and business (Rent-A-Roof) and parking structure and parking lot around, feed all the “excess” power back into the grid for all the other public members of the publicly owned utilities, how much clean, renewal power would be available? As for the shortfall, the missing part can still be provided by other traditional power plants, also owned as a non-profit publicly owned utility.

Yes, people would cry “Commie,” but if you recall during the experiment in energy de-regulation (remember, the free market will solve all problems!), while California was being screwed royally by private industry (think Enron), communities who had publicly owned utilities weren’t being whipsawed into bankruptcy.

Yet another issue (like universal medical coverage) where our belief in the “free market” can blind us to a too often harsh reality: The “market” has no interest in our welfare. At all. It IS interested in separating us from our money and will game us and tilt the playing field and lie and buy off politicians to do it. And, being the suckers we are, we think this is not only the way it’s supposed to be but is the best of all possible worlds, as we’re left sitting by the side of the road with holes in our shoes, pockets empty while our fleecers drive off down the road with our cash, laughing all the way to their offshore banks.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


To me, the Grand Old Party of Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, Rush Lumbaugh and all the skirt-chasing Promise Keepers, hypocritical evangelicals and other assorted congresspeople tapping their feet in public restrooms or flying off to Argentina via the Appalachian Trail has gotten so crazy that it flew up its own fundament and is on the cusp of total unserious irrelevance and coma and/or death. But it’s hard to tell just how moribund it really is since the corpse keeps twitching, goosed up into a thrashing simulacrum of life by Limbaugh Kool-Aide Drinkers and weeping Glen Beck ramping up their particular fearmongering batshit rants.

But now I think I’ve discovered a pretty accurate instrument to gage just how moribund and nuts the GOP really is: Sarah “I’m quitting because I’m no quitter” Palin.

She’s the perfect sensor to gage whether the GOP is ready to come back from the brink and get serious again. Just watch her Republican polling numbers. So long as a majority of Republicans actually, seriously think Palin would make a really swell Presidential Candidate in 2012, the deader and sillier and crazier and unserious the party will remain. The higher those numbers, the better indication that the party is still enthralled with style over substance, the phony ginned-up soundbite-over actual, reality-based policy

The lower the number, the better the indication that the GOP is finally waking up from Grover Norquist & Company’s deadly spell and the more likely it is that it’ll finally return to sanity and become serious about engaging in some sensible public debate.

So, keep an eye on Sarah. She’s our winking bellweather in fish waders. Go SaRAH!

Keeping Up With The Can(n)ons

On the sidebars, there’s a section you can use to sign up to become a Follower. Just click on it, fill out the forms, add a picture or widget if you’d like, or remain a shadowy presence, Wooooo, and apparently you’ll be notified when I post something? Plus, at the bottom of this whole blog, there’s also a link you can click onto to subscribe to feeds, which I think does the same thing? Anyway, if you’re interested, can do that. Also, check out some of the links to other writers. Good stuff.

Mother Calhoun Is Waiting For July 24 With Great Sorrow

The Tribune reports this morning that the Supervisors have fired Assistant County Administrator Gail Wilcox. Like her boss, Dave Edge, she was serving as an “at will” employee when the two of them ignored Mother Calhoun’s Sage Advice, first written down in stone (The Bay News) about 10 years ago when it seemed like every ten minutes some supervisor was running amok and sexual harassment suits were flying like swallows to Capistrano. Sadly, Edge and Wilcox didn’t read MC’s sage advice and as a consequence we now have a very expensive train wreck that is costing taxpayers a bundle and causing the principal players no end of personal grief and misery.

According to the Tribune, the BOS will release their redacted investigative report on July 24th, “ . . . unless Wilcox or her attorney obtains an injunction . . .” so stand by for more sad beans to be spilled, with no end in sight since Wilcox has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Edge and the county and . . . “Edge has since hired an attorney . . .”

Monday, July 13, 2009


Every once in a while, a piece of writing will pop up that stops me cold. The magazine, “The Week” often ends with an excerpt from a book and in their June 26, 2009 edition, they featured excerpts from the book, Shop Class as Soulcraft by Mathew Crawford.

When I was growing up, the world was still divided into “college” and “shop class” categories. Sadly, it was still divided into “shop class” and “home economics” as well. And if you were “a person of color,” you ended up fast tracked into “shop class” even if you were Ph.D material. By the time I was in college, the world had shifted and everybody was fast tracked to “college,” whether they wanted to go there or nt. Pretty soon, trade school after trade school disappeared. Which actually began to make sense as jobs involving “trades” were also “disappeared to death” i.e. China and India and Mexico. Now comes Mathew Crawford with an interesting perspective, considering the economic realities were facing now.

Crawford was a well educated Ph.D (political philosophy) and worked as an “executive director of a policy organization in Washington. Landing the think tank position felt like a coup at the time. But certain perversities became apparent as I settled into the job. The organization had taken certain positions, and there were some facts it was more fond of than others. As its figurehead, I was making arguments I didn’t fully buy myself. Further, my boss seemed intent on retraining me according to a certain cognitive style – that of the corporate world, from which he had recently come. This style demanded that I project an image of rationality but not indulge too much in actual reasoning.”

Unable to stay in that corporate, white collar world, Crawford quit and turned to repairing motorcycles. There he discovered several profound “philosophies” at work. The first was personal: “To me, there seems to be more real thinking going on in the bike shop than there was in the think tank. In fixing motorcycles you come up with several imagined trains of cause and effect for manifest symptoms, and you judge their likelihood before tearing anything down. This imagining relies on a mental library that you develop. As in any earned profession, you just have to know a lot. . . . . There is always a risk, when repairing a motorcycle, of introducing new complications. This too enters the diagnostic logic. . . . The factory service manuals will tell you to be systematic to eliminate variables. But they present an idealized image of diagnostic work; they never take into account the risks of working with old machines. So you put the manual away and consider the facts before you. You do this because ultimately you’re responsible to the motorcycle and its owner, not some procedure.”

Crawford’s other lessons extrapolated from the nature of “manual” labor, that actions have direct consequences. While white-collar managers . . . “ learn the art of provisional thinking and feeling, expressed in corporate doublespeak, and cultivate a lack of commitment to their own actions. Nothing is set in concrete the way it is when you are, for example, pouring concrete.” While “ . . . . As an electrician you breathe a lot of unknown dust in crawl spaces, your knees get bruised, your neck gets strained from looking up at the ceiling while installing lights or ceiling fans, and you get shocked regularly, sometimes while on a ladder. Your hands are sliced up from twisting wires together, handling junction boxes made out of stamped sheet metal, and cutting metal conduit with a hacksaw. But none of this damage touches the best part of yourself.”

And from there, he goes on to make some key connection between what he calls the “character” of work and what went missing in our society and a whole generation as our self-created Masters of the Universe ran this country off into a ditch.

“The visceral experience of failure seems to have been edited out of the career trajectories of gifted students. It stands to reason, then, that those who end up making big decisions that affect all of us don’t seem to have much sense of their own fallibility, and of how badly things can go wrong even with the best of intentions [like when he dropped a feeler gauge down into a very expensive motorcycle he was working on and had to figure out how to fix the ensuing accident without destroying the cycle]. In boardrooms of Wall Street and the corridors of Pennsylvania Avenue, I don’t think you’ll see a yellow sign that says, “Think Safety!!” as you do on job sites and in many repair shops, no doubt because those who sit on the swivel chairs tend to live remove from the consequences of the decision they make.

“Perhaps we should be encouraging all gifted students to learn a trade, if only in the summers, so that their fingers will be crushed once or twice before they go on to run the country. There is good reason to suppose that responsibility has to be installed in the foundation of your mental equipment – the level of perception and habit. There is an ethic of paying attention that develops in the trades through hard experience. It inflects your perception of the world as your habitual responses to it.

“But the trades do not have to be an apprenticeship to something else. The good life comes in a variety of forms. This variety has become difficult to see; our field of aspiration has narrowed into certain channels. But the current perplexity in the economy seems to be softening our gaze. Our peripheral vision is perhaps recovering, allowing us to consider the full range of lives worth choosing. For anyone who feels ill-suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the questions of what a good job looks like is now wide open.”

"Perhaps we should encourage gifted students to learn a trade, if only in the summers, so that their fingers will be crushed once or twice before they go on to run the country. "

Doesn’t get any clearer than that. Crawford’s book is as near as your local bookstore.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Your Sunday Poem

From “American Primitive,” poems by Mary Oliver.


Such richness flowing
through the branches of summer and into

the body, carried inward on the five
rivers! Disorder and astonishment

rattle your thoughts and your heart
cries for rest but don’t

succumb, there’s nothing
so sensible as sensual inundation. Joy

is a taste before
it’s anything else, and the body

can lounge for hours devouring
the important moments. Listen,

the only way to temp happiness into your mind is by taking it

into the body first, like small
wild plums.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for July 10, 09

Small Miracles

If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that would be enough
Meister Eckhart

For a while, there was nothing much to go on. Kidogo Hodari Kasimu,-- my 11 year-old Brave Little Keeper of the Forest, the runt of the last litter of basenjis that I kept referring to as The Hideous Georgia Babies, since their daddy came out of Georgia and they were, from birth, Basenji times 10—was simply not right.

A February trip to the vet didn’t come up with any answers. By mid-June, it was clear something was very, very wrong. Normally a chow-hound and food-stealing gobbler, he was acting like all his food was inedible, and so was rapidly losing weight. This time the trip to the doctor resulted in a dire report: kidney failure and anemia, with blood test numbers indicating a situation that was hopeless. And since extreme kidney failure causes all food to taste metallic and awful, the little guy was facing two grim possibilities: starve to death or if the kidneys shut down totally, head into coma and death.

But Kasimu seemed to be at odds with this fatal forecast. Although he was easily tired, his eyes were bright and he was very much engaged with his world. And very hungry as well, desperately Hoovering around the other dogs at feeding time, mouthing bits of spilled kibble. But, like Tantalus, everything he sucked up into his mouth was tried once out of desperation, then rejected soundly. And so he got thinner and thinner, while I desperately shoved amoxicillin down his throat in case some hidden infection was causing this. And brought home bags and packets of every known treat and temptation I could find. Fancy dog biscuits and soft chewies, baby food, cooked liver, each would be tried for a few bites, then snubbed.

A friend stopped by to give him a reiki treatment, which seemed to quiet him into a long sleep. I made sure he had plenty of water and was kept bundled up and warm and reconciled myself to his oncoming death.

Then something odd happened. I was tossing out handfuls of little baby raw carrots, a treat which all the dogs loved, and Kasimu, snuffling among the pack, quickly swooped in and grabbed one. Then another. Then another. And ate each with relish.

Raw carrots? I quickly grabbed a handful of raw snap peas. They went down his gullet in an eyeblink. Then canned green bean after canned green bean. This was soon followed, over the days, with a bite or two of salmon or a piece of meat, boiled rice and even more green beans. Before long, at evening snack time he was actually finishing a large a dog biscuit.

And so here we are. A rail-thin “dead” dog making it through each new day as a VeggieDog who’s apparently running on carrots, rice and green beans, while I’m left to watch and wait and wonder. Kidney disease, as Google tells me, is very, very hard to diagnose, with often no clear symptoms until it’s too late. Since Basenjis are considered “primitive” dogs, did his ancient body wisdom kick in, remembering that in times of great famine, little Basenjis knew it was time to dig for roots and berries and so survive another day? Or is his body “resetting” to a new reality and is now stabilizing at a reduced level of operation?

At this point I have no way of knowing. Perhaps he will adjust and finish out his last years like one of those frail old men who exist on cigars and whiskey and live to be 101. Or it could all break bad in a few weeks. For now, each small meal is one tiny triumph. And through it all, one thing was clear. While I presumed grim fate bearing down on him and despaired, my Brave Little Keeper of the Forest didn’t know anything about his deathly prognosis so he wasted no time or energy on worry. Instead, he simply kept Hoovering along, a jug-eared canine Mr. McCawber trusting that somehow, something would turn up.

In this case, that small miracle arrived in the form of a raw carrot tossed on the floor as a crunchy treat. Another reminder that hope can sometimes come to us each day in small packages. That may not seem like much, but it’s all any of us really have. And it’s enough.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Your Sunday Poem

From Billy Collins new book of poetry, “Ballistics.


Never use the word suddenly just to create tension.
--Writing Fiction

Suddenly, you were planting some yellow petunias
outside in the garden,
and suddenly I was in the study
looking up the word oligarchy for the thirty-seventh

When suddenly, without warning,
you planted the last petunia in the flat,
and I suddenly closed the dictionary
now that I was reminded of that vile form of

A moment later, we found ourselves
standing suddenly in the kitchen
where you suddenly opened a can of cat food
and I just as suddenly watched you doing that.

I observed a window of leafy activity
and beyond that, a bird perched on the edge
of the stone birdbath
when suddenly you announced you were leaving
to pick up a few things at the market
and I stunned you by impulsively
pointing out that we were getting low on butter
and another case of wine would not be a bad idea.

Who could tell what the next moment would hold?
another drip from the faucet?
another little spasm of the second hand?
Would the painting of a bowl of pears continue

to hang on the wall from that nail?
Would the heavy anthologies remain on their shelves?
Would the stove hold its position?
Suddenly, it was anyone’s guess.

The sun rose ever higher in the sky.
The state capitals remained motionless on the wall map
when suddenly I found myself lying on a couch
where I closed my eyes and without any warning

began to picture the Andes, of all places,
and a path that led over the mountains to another
with strange customs and eye-catching hats,
each one suddenly fringed with colorful little tassels.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

Lock up your dogs, water any dry weeds around the house, batten down the hatches if you live where fireworks will be banging overhead or firecrackers illegally tossed in the streets, slather on the sun screen, break out the BBQ, keep the kids safe, pick a designated driver if you're into a cold brew or two with that hot dog, or if lemonade is your drink of choice, drive carefully anyway, and have a wonderful 4th.

Or sit out in a corner of the back yard under a striped unbrella while your dogs lie about in the sun dreaming of bones and chasing the odd fly, while on a cement block retaining wall, a soft rustle and hustle reveals a little lizard coming out from under a vine leaf for a visit on a sunny July day.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Planning, Planning

Had to work Monday and Tuesday morning had to take one of my dogs to the vet (not good, a sad matter to time now) so missed most of the Planning Commission meeting on the LOWWP, but by Tuesday afternoon, it was clear that two changes had been made in a day and a half: Tonini spray fields were rapidly being pushed off the table and the Sustainability Group’s project report was being taken seriously, particularly as to water conservation.

The Groups main message was water NOT used is water NOT needing expensive treatment and disposal. Less water to be disposed of means other options for disposal and re-use will work and there could be no need for the Tonini spray fields to “waste” the wastewater outside the basin. (Without a strong conservation component, the county’s plan ended up with too much water to be disposed of, hence the spray fields to get rid of the stuff. In an overdrafted community, NOT using water in the first place and/or reusing water makes sense, while “disposing” of water is nuts.)

But now, in place of Tonini, the Giacomazzi, Cemetery, Andre part 1 & 2 were being seriously looked at with returning water to the basin, urban re-use, purple-pipe sites, recharge, ag use and water conservation now the driving principle. The county’s plan included about a 10% conservation rate, based on encouraging toilet refits, public education & etc. The Sustainability Group’s report indicated the possibility of achieving even higher rates of conservation by taking money saved from not using Tonini and using that to buy and install high-efficiency low-flow toilets, and/or hot-water recirculators and/or high-efficiency washing machines for every home in the PZ. It would come in the form of up to $1,000 per household, and part of the money would pay for trained water monitors who would do an onsite water-check of each house (like PG&E and The Gas Company do now for energy checks) to determine just where the biggest bang for the buck could be made, depending on the size of the house, the number of toilets, etc. (The washing machine suggestion is iffy since they’re portable. So the focus is likely to be on fixed elements that will stay on the property. However, if $1,000 is allocated to each house and homeowners can install the new toilets themselves, they could use part of what they saved out of that $1,000 and apply it to a new washer & etc. which would then have an impact on community water flows It could be set up as a sort of cap & trade deal. The details of this will have to be looked at closer, that’s for sure.)

And, human nature being what it is, including the cost of installation and actually installing the toilets will get higher compliance than just hoping vouchers or rebates will do the trick since the cost to install a toilet can be has much as the toilet itself. And folks who are on a tight budget anyway can easily just let good intentions go by the wayside. Plus, the good thing about using better technology is that people’s bad habits are nearly impossible to change. Technology can save them in spite of themselves. The water savings appear like magic, with little or no effort or sacrifice on the part of the homeowner.

In a straw poll, the Commissioners voted 5-0 to consider making it a condition that if a permit is granted for whatever project is picked, $5 million up-front money would be spent NOW to get those retrofits in place, thereby gaining water savings 3-4 years before the sewer plant is finished. Plus NOT pumping lower aquifer water to flush down old fashioned toilets will help halt the salt water intrusion. Monitoring the water use would also enable the project designers to get a better indication of how much the wastewater flows are actually being saved. And water purveyors are also planning on further hikes in water rates, using a tiered system, charging more for more water used.

One Irony at work, in a project filled with ironies, is according to Dr. T’s text book on small flows, the more water you conserve, the less water is in a gravity system, hence more clogs and need to flush the system with . . . more water . . thereby you often end up zeroing out your “savings.” This sort of wasted water, of course, doesn’t happen in a STEP system.

In the meantime, it’s clear that there will be no new building in the PZ until the water basin issues are solved (also the Habitat Conservation Plan is finished) so if people thought they could build their dream homes one the sewer’s up and running will likely be surprised.

The staff was instructed to prepare language for the water conservation element and also to clarify the various re-use numbers, which were often unclear or in conflict, so the Commissioners can re-add up the gallonage guestimates and thereby see if a system scaled down to reflect post water conservation numbers will allow for water return to the basin, feasible ag-exchange or in lieu of, safe disposal yield at Broderson (without risk of mounding or surfacing) and other schemes will put the disposal numbers into a safe, can-do, guaranteed area, with plenty of contingency left over. If that works, Tonini spray fields may be off the table.

The next meeting in the BOS chambers will be Tuesday, July 23rd, starting at 1:30 p.m. (the morning will be taken up with another issue, they should be through with that by lunch) and will go to the end of the day with the possibility of carrying over to the 24th, if needed.