Friday, July 30, 2010

Get A Grip, America

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for July 30, 2010

O.K., America, are we done yet? Embarrassing. That’s what it’s getting to be – Embarrassing. Throwing our little tantrums right there in the middle of the world with all the neighbors watching. It’s alright. Mother Calhoun understands. We fell asleep at the wheel, fell in love with a false Wall Street siren song of trickle down wealth when what was really going on was a wholesale 20-year trickle up national asset-stripping and generalized looting. Some made out like bandits; the rest got the shaft. It was a repeat of an old familiar, boom and bust American tale.

Then there was Osama bin Laden. He understood how easy it would be to ju-jitsu America into destroying ourselves. 9/11 scared us silly and in that fearful state it was so easy to lose our bearings and get buffaloed and conned and demagogued into disastrous decisions. And then the whole house of cards crumbled. And our usual default, knee-jerk reaction showed up right on schedule: xenophobic, race-baiting idiocy fueled by self-serving politicians and special interests that benefit from divide and conquer.

In flush times, nobody complained about the illegal Mexican in the kitchen washing up the pots and pans. Or picking carrots. Or minding the baby. But come hard times, the Mexican in the kitchen serves as a useful political tool for pandering politicians. And so we see Arizona pilloried and praised for trying to solve a problem that nobody wanted to deal with, in part because it was thick-laden with an ugly subtext: How do you track down and get rid of illegal Mexicans without looking like you’re tracking down and getting rid of all Mexicans? That racial profiling subtext was simply too toxic to deal with in a sensible way.

Especially a racial subtext that had already been stirred up by the election of a black man, followed by the astro-turf, corporate-lobbyist-created “Tea Party,” with tea partiers showing up wearing guns and carrying posters of President Obama with a wooly Afro and a bone through his nose. Racist? Who, us?

And once again history repeated: a fearful, economically hammered populace out of which oozes the dark ugly stuff of our history. Aided and abetted by a corporate media that has utterly failed to understand even basic Journalism 101, bat-shit crazy right-wing punditry, and the changing demographics of this country. Notes Cesar Perales, president of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, “Large numbers of Latinos, particularly darker-skinned Latinos, [are] coming into the country . . . [And] having a black president makes it worse because that is evidence to [many] Americans that their world has changed.”

Toss in wholly owned corporate politicians who get political mileage from stirring that dark divide-and-conquer pool of racial fear with one hand while denying its existence with a straight face and you have the set-up for the latest drive-by shooting du jour: Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart (already on record as wanting to destroy “liberals,” whatever that means), took comments made by Shirley Sherrod totally out of context, the bat-shit-crazy right wing ran with the fake narrative, the White House administration, apparently terrified of bat-shit-crazy Glen Beck, fired her without question, the mainstream media ran with that story until the truth finally came out but by then it was too late. Poor Shirley was already road-kill in an ugly, but historically familiar American narrative: In hard times, the dark, night spirit of the KKK rides free while we cower in fear and nightmare anger until our better natures wake up and we come out of our houses and into the light of day to send the uglier parts of our natures and history back into the darkness.

And ask ourselves and one another: Jeesh! What were we thinking?

And so the Question: Are we done yet, America? Do we understand that we’ve finally lost our marbles and have jumped the shark? Are we now ready to take a deep breath and get a grip and get down to work with clearer eyes? Good.

Meantime, this snippet from the L.A. Times: “The Republican National Committee has invited conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart to participate in a private GOP fundraiser in Beverly Hills with party Chairman Michael Steele next month.”

Ah, well. Lay down with dawgs, git up with fleas. The only question here is, Will this bunch once again end up in that weird S&M whip-kitty Hollywood night club stuffing hundred dollar bills into the dancers’ butt-thongs while swilling down champagne and then send the bill to the RNC? Oh, Mother Calhoun hopes so.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tick, Tick, Tick, Cont.

The BOS had a sewer project update yesterday. There were three due diligence issues the Board was concerned with: The Coastal use permit is pretty much done, the funding -- $80 mil at 3-4% interest loan from the USDA, SRF loan, etc.  – was pending and while the prospect of litigation was low, the time frame for suing were rapidly closing so that prospect was diminished.

And there were two directions staff wanted a decision on: 1) advance $400,000 more county money to start double tracking various tasks so that bids could be taken quicker, thus taking advantage of a better bidding environment due to our poor economy or 2) consider due diligence done and jump in and use assessment money already in the bank to start double tracking various tasks so bids could be taken quicker & etc.

There was no news regarding the $80 mil USDA grant and no firm commitment on the SRF loan. Or the $16 million grant. The 80 mil is the last of the stimulus $ for now so staff said they should hear whether they got the loan in a few days to a week.

There is still the problem of securing the Prop. 218 vote from the property owners of undeveloped properties agreeing to assess themselves for their share of the sewer project – some $27 million worth that’s now missing from the over all project budget. And the rest of the owners in the PZ also have to vote on a Prop 218 vote of “rates and charges” for O&M and other various fees, (i.e. costs above and beyond the $25,000 they’ve already assessed themselves for.) including, should the vote of the undeveloped properties fail, all those additional costs in the form of even higher the rates and charges (which amounts would be “refunded” in lower rates, should those properties come on line somewhere down the line.)

The Prop 218 assessment for the vacant lot owners will be a straight assessment vote. The Prop 218 for rates and charges will be a “protest” vote, which is often easily won since many people don’t understand the paperwork and toss it in the wastebasket, hence the number of people who take the time to “protest” the vote is traditionally very low and so measures done this way usually zip through. Of course, this is Los Osos.

The sticking point on the 218 assessment’s “missing $27 mil is that if it fails, nobody seems to know what would happen. Would the whole project go kerflooey and the county walk away? Can they somehow go get the “extra” money with no way to secure it? If there’s never going to be enough water to allow build-out, or people believe there’s not going to be enough water, why would land-holders vote to “tax” themselves on a “worthless” piece of property? And if residents in the PZ, who have already been slammed with a huge sewer bill say No when asked to pick up a larger tab for those properties (an additional hit that many would see as patently unfair (another unintended consequence of the artificial PZ lines in a real world/basin), will they be held hostage by a stunning piece of blackmail: pay for it all – even though you get no direct benefit from paying for a system that was designed to accommodate full build out even though that may not happen -- or loose it all?

The County plans on having town-hall meetings before the vote, so maybe questions of that sort can be asked and answered.

There was some complaints during public comment about the escalation of costs in the numbers being bandied about. Listening to Will Clemmens our Dept of Public Works Financing Guy, stated that one of reasons remain very, very high is that the county is presenting the worst case scenario to both the Feds and the State Water Board – worst case being the actual, real-time, total out-of-pocket numbers, such as hook up costs, property repair costs, added charges and fees & etc, that are going to land on homeowners—is so the lending agencies can actually see what’s really facing this community – not some smiley-faced PR numbers designed to get votes or coerce community participation. Real numbers. And since the State Water Board recently changed the designation of this community into being officially “disadvandated” i.e. “poor,” those real numbers are critical for the lenders to realize exactly what’s going to happen here if we don’t get better terms and/or more grants.

So, financially, there’s several sets of numbers in play here. Real numbers that can result in more help from feds and state thereby resulting in better, smiley-faced PR numbers when the dust shakes out.

Mr. Clemmens also noted that people asking to dump the 4% USDA loans in favor of 0% SRF loans needed to understand that there isn’t enough money in the SRF loan program to cover the $80 mil needed – the SRF program would have to award a whole year’s budget just to Los Osos while letting the rest of the state go fish for years, and that’s not gonna happen.

Public Comment & Misc Stuff

Steve Paige asked an interesting question of County Council, quoting from the Engineer’s report that appeared with the 218 ballot, and asked if that report was considered a form of a contract. That is, if the ballot measure and engineers report said the vote would do and be A,B,C,D, and if, after the vote was secured, somebody came along and removed D, that is changed the substance of the ballot measure after the fact, was that legal? Astonishingly enough, County Council said, Yep, the courts held that apparently the engineer’s report that goes along with an assessment ballot has no more meaning than a glossy campaign brochure – filled with all kinds of stuff that can be changed, removed, added, whatever AFTER the voters have voted. (The issue in this case was the engineer’s report that included a statement that STEP would be given equal consideration all the way through the process, something that obviously didn’t happen as listed.) I found this piece of information amazing. Something everyone should think about when approaching any and all assessment ballots or proposition ballots & etc. Apparently, it’s all hokum and can be changed after the fact willy-nilly by The Powers That Be, thereby making a mockery of a “vote.” Pretty amazing.)

Mr. Owens of PERC noted that his company can offer design/build/finance and show up with firm project bids (no add ons and nice open-ended change orders) and noted that that’s what his company will be presenting to city City of Morro Bay/Cayucos for their sewer upgrade. The implication of which was; You guys shouldda opened up The Process and RFPs for true design/build so you’d end up with completed packages with solid price tags instead of whacking the project up into pieces and “arranging” the list of bidders allowed in the door. A suggestion that wasn’t gonna fly anywhere in that MWH-happy room.)

Other speakers reminded the Board that a gravity system may turn out to be an oxymoron – gravity systems take lots of water to work; the goal in Los Osos is to use LESS water, not more, hence gravity systems are the wrong type of system if your goal is to save water. That information also fell on deaf ears. Though there was mention of the need to move the water retrofit/conservation program up the to-do list, i.e. start that first before anything else since saltwater intrusion is the real danger here, not nitrates, and should have been THE priority.

At the end, Supervisor Gibson wanted to push forward to either move to accept due diligence and spend the assessment money to accelerate to-do work and/or advance the $400,000 to accelerate to-do work, but the rest of the Board was having none of it since USDA funding wasn’t secured and they weren’t about to spend more money on this project at this point. Plus, the Los Osos CSD’s bankruptcy issue was due to finish up in Sept, so they needed to wait to see how that shakes out before moving forward. Plus it was pointed out that this agenda item wasn’t an action item, so they instructed staff to allocate within their remaining budget to move onto accelerating some of their tasks and when they hear back on the funding, prepare a report and return to the Board and it’ll then decide what to do then.

At the end of public comment, a gentleman from The Association of Environmental Professionals stepped up to present the staff (Mark Hutchinson, John Waddell, et al) a 2010 ”Merit Award, Environmental Analysis Document,Los Osos Wastewater Project EIR” Many in the audience gasped, groaned, booed and stormed out in a huff. Apparently they were outraged that a document they found sorely lacking in context (and perhaps lacking in detail that resulted in a gazillion “comments” and further input of missing info, & etc.) would get an award for excellence. I suspect that perhaps they didn’t understand that awards for excellence don’t usually include context. For example, one could argue that the SS certainly would have deserved an “Award of Merit for Organizational Excellence” for their final solution plans. It was a well done plan. Of course, when you add in context, then, uh, not so much.

But it was quite a moment. I actually thought it was a Stephen Colbert “Colbert Report” straight-faced joke and after the spiel we’d all have a good laugh. But no, it was for real. And, in the overall context of the Hideous Sewer Wars, I had to admit it was a true Los Osos moment.

Another reason why I love this town.

Off The Topic

This from the L.A. Times yesterday: “The Republican National Committee has invited conservative blogger Andrew Briebart to participate in a private GOP fundraiser in Beverly Hills with party Chairman Michael Steele next month.”

Ah, lay down with dawgs, git up with fleas. And now the question: Will they all end up at that S&M Strip Club swilling champagne and tucking $100 dollar bills into the thongs of strippers, all on the RNC’s dime? Oh, I sure hope so.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Movie Alert

If you’re planning on going to see Chris Nolan’s new dreamscape movie, “Inception,” you’ll need to bring along some ear plugs. Hans Zimmer, who did the score, kept the rumbling, menacing wall-o’-sound at maximum intensity, no doubt thinking that that amount of noise would ensure nobody in the theatre fell asleep.

And, you might be well advised to bring along a chaise longue anyway. It’s a long, long, long, long movie so you actually will need a few naps. Plus, consider the power of suggestion: All these folks stopping all the time to plop down for some wired-up naps gives audience the idea that, Yeah, a nice nap right about now would bee a good idea.

Mr. Nolan, whose brilliantly spare “Memento,” a movie made backwards, has fallen into the unfortunate (but typical) state that comes when an artist is given a full box of crayons. The temptation to use them all, again and again and again is simply too great to resist. Not to mention that I’m sure Mr. Nolan has a thrifty soul and it undoubtedly pained him to even think of leaving so much as one frame of footage on the cutting room floor after he’d spend so much of the studio’s money shooting it. So it all went in, creating the kind of scenario you face when your neighbor, who bought a new camera AND recently returned from his vacation in Hawaii, asks you over for the evening to “look at my photos.” And you go and he comes out of the den holding an ENORMOUS box, . . . .. Well, you get the picture, or I should say, you’ll get the pictures; all seven thousand of them, including the 12-shot series showing this interesting water stain on the pavement outside the hotel lobby.

And finally, when will sci-fiy, fantasy film makers learn that you shouldn’t ‘splain too much. Just accept that your premise is ridiculous, the audience likely will be lost pretty quickly anyway, and then just get on with it. ‘Splaining the nature of time and space, the permanence and impermamence of memory, the impossibility of escaping time’s relentless movement forward, the meaning of life and death, the odd fake reality of dreams is the stuff of ruminative writing that too often fails miserably in a visual medium like film. The more you try to ‘splain the worse it gets until you end up with great visuals interspersed with long, boring passages of gibberish that only convinces the audience that you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Whatever idea you’re trying to convey will have to be carried by “moving . . . pictures” . . . so dump the expository lecture and get on with it.

Which, for long stretches, “Inception” does in spades. Unfortunately, way cool images a great movie doesn’t make. Next time, I’d recommend a tougher editor and find somebody to tell old Hans to tone it down. Enough with the rumble. I’m trying to sleep here.

Then, after a short nap, get over to the Palm to see “Cyrus.” That one will keep you awake and on knife edge waiting for the film to fall off its very narrow, twisty path and plop into pathos or satire. Balanced exquisitely, it never does. Bravo performances. And no excess shots of water drying on concrete. There is exactly enough film needed to tell the story perfectly, which it does. Then it stops.  Excellent!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Your Sunday Poem

This lovely, lovely poem is from Nancy Willard,’s “Swimming Lessons. New and Selected Poems,”

The Fruit Bat

Because the air has darkened
like bruised fruit, you creep
down the bare branch

where you slept all light long,
gathered into yourself like a fig.
Little mandarin woman fleeing

under the stars on bound feet,
when your wings spring open
even you look surprised.

What are the raven’s slick feathers
beside these pewter sails
raised in the foundry of your flesh,

burnished by light poured
from a wasted moon and a dipper
brimming with darkness?

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Last Waltz

Countdown. Tick, tick, tick. The Last Gasp, The Final Days. The BOS will be meeting Tuesday, July 27, to vote on accepting The Hideous Sewer Project and whether to decide to start work Sept. 2011 or March 2012. The Tribune noted that the county should find out whether they’ll get some $80 in federal stimulus money by the end of the month and so “starting the project next year instead of in 2010 could have some cost savings, [John] Waddell, [ project engineer] wrote in his report to supervisors. “Obtaining bids sooner, as opposed to later, is generally desirable because the current bidding environment on construction contracts is very competitive, and cost savings are being realized locally and throughout the state.”

The hearing is schedule to start after the lunch break. There will be an opportunity to comment. So bring lunch, a bottle of water. It’s Los Osos last swan song. So tune up those pipes for a Last Song.

Speaking of Which

The cover of the latest New Times has photos of the four men running for state Senator, with the cover title, “Turning point,” noting this special election is “One of the most important political races in recent state history is down to the wire.” This race will be interesting because it may shape up on two fronts: mere numbers – does the Monterrey area have more Democratic votes and voters – versus “favorite sons” – home-grown, popular Sam Blakeslee. It’ll also divide along Democratic/Republican, which will have an impact in Sacramento.

Especially since Blakeslee, during critical budget wrangles, took a blood oath to Grover Norquist to never raises taxes even if that meant seeing California go bankrupt and fall into the sea. Sadly, taking blood oaths to Norquist is now required for Republicans if they want to punch their tickets and advance up the political ladder. That’s how batshit crazy the Republican Party has become. And is also why Sam lost my vote. And why I will not vote for a Republican in any race, for any reason, until Grover & his Ilk have been purged from the party or the party stops being batshit crazy.

But the New Times cover is right. This is an important race if this state has any hope of doing anything to save this insane state except create pointless political gridlock and/or give tax breaks for rich yacht owners while letting the state go into the crapper. Feh.

Drink Up!

Also over at the New Times updates it notes that SLO “Undersheriff Steve Bolts pleads not guilty to charges that he was driving under the influence.” Bolts is second in command under Sheriff Pat Hedges.

I’m gonna go out on a ledge here, but I’m betting that – statistically speaking – the odds of getting pulled over on a DUI the very first time you’ve ever driven under the influence is, oh, about zero. Statistically speaking, DUIs who get caught have actually been DUI-ing a lot before they’re finally nabbed. Which means, statistically speaking, Mr. Bolts likely has a drinking problem that needs to be attended to right quick. And it’s also likely that Mr. Bolts’ colleagues and friends and family know he likely has a drinking problem. (According to the story, “Atascadero police officers arrested Bolts on the night of June 5 after receiving an anonymous call . . . had been drinking at a party earlier . . . , “ so clearly folks at the party knew something was amiss.). In the case of friends and family, (and fellow party-goers) that’s certainly a difficult situation. But if bystanders included his colleagues and/or boss, ah, well, that points in a different direction and begs a question as to whether the Sheriff’s office has an enforces a comprehensive alcohol abuse program for it’s employees?

If it doesn’t, then maybe the new Sheriff will look into that. In the meantime, I hope Mr. Bolts gets the medical help he needs. In the media, at least, alcoholism (and attendant DUIs) is too often treated like a joke instead of a terminal illness. I mean, take a look at Lindsay Lohan’s travails. Huge joke with fans cheering her on, something they wouldn’t do if she had been diagnosed with cancer and was refusing treatment. Fans would be dismayed, upset, would send her pleading Tweets to get her butt in gear and get medical help. But being an addict? Bwa-hahahah, very funny. Until she dies. Or kills someone driving.

Theatre! Theatre!

Got my PAC tickets in the mail and along with them came a “Buy One, Get One Free!” ticket telling me that I can “buy one ticket for a select Cal PolyArts subscription show (listed on the back) and receive one free companion ticket.” Then listing website. And on the back are a whole bunch of really great PAC shows, including the exciting Drumline Live! (if you saw the movie Drumline you’ll know that THAT’ll be a doozie of a show!) So, check it out. If it really is (see note following) a Two for One deal, then you can’t beat that. (NOTE:  I checked the site given and can find zip, zero about this.  So better call the phone number on the card which is 756-2787.  Duh, Cal PolyArts? Why send out a card with a website then put no information on the website, eh? eh? eh?)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Put On Your Shoes

And socks and get down to the PCPA for their new show, "West Side Story."  ( Terriffic cast, great staging. For some reason I'd never seen that piece on stage.  Saw the movie and certainly played the record until it wore out, but never saw in staged.  The small PCPA theatre in the semi-round worked very well, the smaller space confining the concentrating the energy of the dances. And it was interesting to listen to one of the songs, a multi-voiced "opera-like" piece that was a forerunner to Steven Sondheim's complicted, multi-voiced pieces that he used much later to such powerful effect in "Sweeny Todd." The program notes said Sondheim was 25 when he wrote the lyrics.  Surely he learned a lot from working with Bernstein.

Then put on your roller skates and head on over to the the Great American Melodrama Theatre ( in Ocean for a performance of "The Tavern," by George M. Cohan.  Yeah, that "Yankee Doodle Dandy" George M. Cohan.  Didn't know he was a playwright, did you?  Me neither.  "The Tavern" is playing July 15 - Sept 19 and alternates with "The Crock of Gold," so if you go, be sure you get the right play /date. 

What made "The Tavern" so astonishing was how utterly modernist it was -- very funny, yes, but so much of it had fascinating echoes of Tom Stoppard's skewed-view works ("Rosenkrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead"), the deadpan, mordant wit of Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," the absurdist tomfoolery of Kurt Vonnegut, with modernist theatre techniques (breaking the fourth wall), Marx Brothers silliness, 1940s "screwball comedies," and lots of comic Daily Show self-referential deconstruction tossed in to boot.  Most of which are post war sensibilities and had no business being in a play by a guy I associated with WWI, not WWII.  So when I got home and googled it, sure enough, thing was written in the early 1920s.  ?????  Amazing.

Then, quite by accident, while outside the PPCA theatre during intermission of West Side Story the next afternoon, I spied the star of "The Tavern," Chuck McLane, and went to ask him about it.  According to Mr. McLane, Cohan wrote the piece as a savage indictment of "theatre" and actors and the whole art form because he was furious over the Actor's Equity Guild having been recently formed -- he HATED unions.  The original actor hired to play the part of the "mysterious stranger" hated the play and quit after a few performances, so Cohan took over the role himself, and -- O irony -- the play was a huge success and made a bundle.  So much for satire.  Audiences obviously missed Cohan's point about actors and unions and the whole "theatre" art form.

At any rate, it's a wonderful performance.  The cast, as they do on all Melodrama pieces, has a great time as does the audience. 

So, do yourself a favor.  Put on those shoes and socks and get down to Santa Maria and Oceano ASAP.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Your Sunday Poem

I wrote a fan letter to Ted Kooser that said, in part, "thank you for the gift of your beautiful poems.  They have brought much pleasure and astonishment to my life. "  And Mr. Kooser was kind enough to send a postcard reply that said, in part, thanks for "helping to spread the news of poetry." You're welcome, Mr. Kooser.  Glad to oblige in my small way.  Aren't fan letters fun? You should write one today to your favorite poet.  Quick, do it while he/she's still living!  Or, if that's too daunting, just go out and buy a few of their books so your favorite poet can continue to buy ink and paper. Or check some of their books out of the library and give yourself a feast of words. One poem a night.  Before bed. To be savored like a Godiva chocolate left on the bed pillow by the hotel maid.

This poem is from Kooser's "Winter Morning Walks: one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison."

February 8
Clear and pleasant 

The reason the rooster is crowing
so desperately this morning,
his voice like a gate left open in the wind,
is because the rising sun
is displaying its colorful plumage,
spreading its wings for a thousand miles
along the horizon
and the eyes of every hen are lit with fire.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Draw The Dog

Ran into a wonderful new website that you can sign up for (link in the sidebar to the right of the blog under other blog links or it's  Site is drawn by Jim George, " . . . one of your typical ex-Disney animators who lives near the beach in Venice . . ." with Bruce Kasandoff doing all the rest of the site work.  Jim gets stories or photos from readers of "pet tales" and makes up a cartoon based on that which is "revealed" as if it's being drawn while you watch.  Like all Disney animators -- actually animators in general -- Jim is a hell of a draghtsman!  You can sign up to get his cartoons delivered right to your email box (it's free!) and can send in photos and cartoons of your own.  Great way to start the moring from Monday through Saturday -- new cartoon each day. 

Movie Alert!
"Cyrus" is playing at the Palm.  Don't miss it.  It's an edgy, pitch-perfect dramedy that teeters dangerously from laughter to cringe to pity and back again, and never once misses its footing.

"Eclipse," playing everywhere.  Miss it.  If the gimmick books nowadays are of the ilk as "Pride and Prejudice With Zombies," then this film should have been titled "The Bataan Death March With Vampires & Werewolves."  You will die of boredom waiting for endless pauses between lines to end, and die of banality over the lines themselves. The true horror of this movie is if that dialogue represents what's inside young women's heads, then there is no hope for the Republic.  Worse, our heroine is so vapid she lacks the energy to even keep her drooping jaw closed so lord knows how many flies have lodged in her gaping mouth, complete with rabbit teeth. That Mr. Vampire and Mr. Wolf apparently have the hots for her is inexplicible since she has zero sexual heat.  Of course, Mr. Vampire and Shirtless Mr. Wolf look so gay themselves I kept wishing they've move to Massachussets and get married and raise a litter of blood-sucking puppies.

Fervent Prayer Of The Day

The AP reports: "Whitman attacks on nurses part of strategy," as megagazillionare Meg Whitman, who so far spent $90 million trying to buy the governorship, has made the Califonrnia Nurses Association her target-du-jour for her general platform of "all union bashing."   Naturally, the CNA is fighting back.  But here's my fervent prayer:  Meg Whitman loses all her money in a Stock Market Ponzi Scheme, has a pre-existing condition so she can't get health insurance, has to go on Medicaide, gets sick and ends up in a hospital under the care of nurses who are members of the CNA. 

Have a nice Saturday.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Step Right Up

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for July 16, 2010

Yowsa! Yowsa! Step right up, Suckers! The National Casino is now open for business. That annoying “economic downturn” is over, the one that saw you living in a tent down by the river after losing your home and job and family. So put away your sad, frowny face. Happy times are here again! Wall Street is hiring. Yowsa!

Yes, the Street of Dreams, our National Roulette Wheel is once again cranking up to roll it out for the mega banksters who helped bring this country to the brink of financial ruin. The Street’s wholly owned Congressfolk have whittled down tough new regulations into something that can be quickly loopholed and ignored (Whew, that was a close one. We thought Congress was serious about all this. Bwahahahah. Champagne all ‘round!), so the games for the mega wealthy, the mega Corps, the major players, can begin.

Naturally, Americans, like Pavlov’s dog, have been trained for the past 30 years to believe that list includes the likes of you and me, you know, regular working folks. In our unbounded delusional optimistic folly, we think we’re all Rockefellers. How else to explain how easy it was to pass “estate tax” breaks for the mega-wealthy, for example. Frame it as a “death tax,” forget to explain fully that the breaks would never, ever apply to the likes of you and me, and, voi la!, support for this tax break remains high. Why? Because, in our heart of hearts, we actually think that tax break applies to us, or might apply to us one day. And if we question that tax-break, we’re accused of engaging in “Class War,” or we’re “Socialists!” It’s a shell game played so well by Corporate Republicans. Just look at how well it worked on and for “Joe the Plumber.”

And so it goes. Trickle up wealth from poorer to richer, supported by the Average (Poorer) Joe because he thinks he’s gonna be the recipient of this trickle-up since he’s convinced that he’s one of the haves and soon-to-have-mores. Untrue, but since when did “reality” mean much in our collective national delusions?

But our love affair with Wall Street never was sane. More like a crazy passion for a serial abuser or an addiction by a compulsive gambler. Wall Street always was the guy your Mother warned you against: a fickle, greedy, untrustworthy, corrupted man in an expensive suit, pomander in his pointed moustache. But every generation we run off with this guy, convinced, against all odds, that this time it’ll be different.

It never is.

And now it’s starting again. Not a day goes by that the media doesn’t report on every tick and twitch of the stock market. The day begins with the report and ends with it. As if those chirons running under the talking TV heads actually meant something. After all, like the Lilies of the Field, “Wall Street” neither spins nor toils. It does not build bridges or roads, it does not teach a child, nor does it start a home grown business that will employ Average Joes like you and me. What it does do is turn fake money into real money for a tiny handful of top players, while leaving the real world with fake, worthless money and a deadly culture that mistakes fake for real.

We can see the end result all around us -- a real world beggared, full of fallen bridges, pot-holed roads, overcrowded schools, a populace growing poorer and poorer. In short, a reality that is falling to pieces from neglect because we did not see any of these things as worthwhile real investments. Instead, bedazzled, we blew our real money on fake money, on a rigged game, on delusional promises of riches, of return on worthless investments.

And now we’re back on square one, once again faced with the same old questions: What really constitutes a Nation’s wealth? Wall Street Ponzi Schemes that enrich a few? Or Main Street investments in jobs and streets and roads and public parks and urban renewal and affordable housing and decent health care and better education and green technology. All of which are long term investments in ourselves, the “us” in U.S.A.

So, the exciting, sparkly crap tables are now open. The dull, boring infrastructure repair contracts stand ready to be signed. Step right up, Ladies and Gents, and take your pick. Yowsa!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Your Sunday Poem

This exquisitely cunning poem is by Lia Purpura and was in the Oct 5 New Yorker. It reads and sounds in my head like a small, haunting melody on a piano, with each word and phrase striking a resonating note.  Try reading it three times, each time more slowly than the last just to relish the soft, exquisite cascade of words down to the last two.

First Leaf

That yellow
was a falling off,
a fall
for once I saw
coming --
it could
in its stillness
still be turned from,
it was not
yet ferocious,
its hold drew me,
was a shiny switchplate
in the otherwise dark,
rash, ongoing green,
a green so hungry
for light and air that
part gave up,
went alone,
chose to leave,
and by choosing
got seen.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Smack! Smack! Smack!

Andrew Christie, in the July/Aug Santa Lucian newsletter of the Sierra Club ( click on "Santa Lucian" on the sidebar to the right)  has a few choice words on the Los Osos Sewer Project, among which was the very apt observation that “. . . instead of “conducting a genuine public process, the County behaved as though it were running the war room of a political campaign and trying every trick in the book to get its guy elected.” Including, Christy notes, a “’community survey’ distributed to determine if residents of Los Osos would rather have a gravity system or a STEP system, [that] was virtually a self-parody of the ‘pick a card, any card, pick the one in the middle’ genre of stacked-deck push-polling, with leading questions designed to elicit only the desired (gravity) response.” (Heh-heh, a deliciously apt description of our infamous “Community Survey.”

Then he runs through a brief history of the transit from what the County originally proposed (sprayfields): “Narrow, status-quo groupthink came up with a project that, by design, would do only one thing: collect, treat and dispose of waste-water. Replacing the groundwater that would be lost, preserving environmentally sensitive habitat, maintaining the aquifer and avoiding its total loss to rapidly advancing seawater intrusion were deemed by the SLO County Department of Public Works to be issues of secondary importance and/or beyond the scope of the project.”

And adds that “it is a sad fact that every member of the County Board of Supervisors accepted this .. . one-trick pony version of the sewer despite the fact that, for several years, we spelled out its deficiencies to them in detail, and the necessity for agricultural reuse of the treated water inside the basin and more aggressive water conservation measures.”

Until intervention by the Planning Commission (headed by his sister, Sarah) that put the project on a more sustainable path, noting that “. . .the Planning Commission listened to and acted on what residents, environmental groups and independent experts were telling them. The Planning Commission tore up the inadequate plan and insisted on a project that comprehensively addresses the Los Osos’ water issues.” And that [Sarah] “Christie used public input to guide a remake of the project, making it possible for it to receive a Coastal Development Permit.”

And at the end of the long recap, in a long overdue sidebar, Christie goes on to thank and acknowledge some major players:

Dana Ripley and the Ripley Report that spelled out the practicality of ag water reuse and the “imperative to seal the sections of the collection system to be laid in areas of known high groundwater.”

Keith Wimer, of the Los Osos Sustainability Group, “and high on the County’s list of Least Favorite Persons,” . . . who “was steadfast in sounding the alarm on seawater intrusion and the necessity that the problem be addressed in and integrated with the wastewater treatment project, not separately and sometime later.”

Sarah Christie and the Planning Commission.

And, finally and delightfully, a big Thank You, Troublemakers, a shout out to all the Board of Supervisor’s “least favorite people.” Of those people, Mr. Christie says: “In the end, the Los Osos sewer saga was not a spectacle or a soap opera, nor endless, wall-to-wall strife and divisiveness for its own sake. Enough of the dust has settled for this much to be clear: The citizens of Los Osos have racked up a record of civic courage

above and beyond the call of duty. And as it turns out, that was a smart move. Had a sewer been built three decades ago, or even ten years ago, that project would not have contemplated groundwater loss and the peril to the aquifer from seawater intrusion, let alone ways to solve those problems. Instead, it would have greatly aggravated them, and disaster would have followed.

“And the potential solutions to those problems would not be part of the project today if the Sierra Club, Surfrider, The Los Osos Sustainability Group, SLO Green Build and concerned residents hadn’t spoken up and insisted on being heard despite constant shouts to shut up and sit down and “just do it.”

“The “secondary issues’ have been forced onto the table, where they can no longer be dealt with later. They must be dealt with now. “

Smack! Smack! Smack.

And there, in the midst of Christie’s recap, is the real tragedy of Los Osos: The ability of a small group of people to frame an issue wrongly, and then brand any input, no matter how scientifically sound or valid that didn’t follow the party line as “anti-sewer obstruction,” an incorrect label that then allowed any and all non-party-line input to be shut out, shut up and shut down. That and the unfortunate willingness of elected officials and appointed ones, to go along with whatever grand lie was easiest.

It’s a government failure. And a human one. It’s far easier to do the simple wrong thing than take the time to slog through the complex stuff needed to do the complicated right thing.

So, Thank You, Los Osos Troublemakers, indeed.

Run Away!

I’m not a runner. My dogs walk me, but run? Nope. But a friend send me a birthday present book that’s a doozie: “Born to Run; A Hidden Tribe, Superatheletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen,” by Christopher McDougall.

McDougall was a former war correspondent for the AP, contributes to Men’s Health, has written for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, and other publications. He’s a wonderful writer, very funny, very engaging, and even if you’ve never run a single step and have absolutely NO interest in Ultra-marathoners or the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, the world’s greatest long distance runners who actually run down deer for dinner – literally, run the thing down for hours and hours until it drops from exhaustion, while they’re good to go for another 100 mile – you will be totally engaged by this book.

Plus, you get the added bonus of his research into how Nike has absolutely ruined a whole generation of joggers who ran in their high tech shoes and thus destroyed their knees and hips, when all they really needed was to learn something important from a small band of Indians hiding out in the remote Copper Canyon wilderness of Mexico.

It’s a great read!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

OMG! It's Deja vu All Over Again Some More

It’s hard to steal as much as you can waste.”
              Larry Lavender, Republican staff director, House Financial Services Committee

This story sent along by a friend. Read it and laugh? Weep? Well, misery loves company and it’s nice not to be alone in a sewer swamp. Here’s an excerpt and the link

“ In the beginning, the people of Jefferson County weren't asking for anything special, just a working sewer system - one that didn't overflow whenever it rained, spilling raw sewage into the creeks that drain the Jones Valley basin where Birmingham lies. Lawsuits by environmentalists forced the issue, and in December 1996, Jefferson County signed a consent decree, agreeing to clean things up within ten years. Early estimates of how much it might cost ranged all the way from $250 million to $1.2 billion. In other words, no one had a clue. . . . . .”

The Nimrods Are Back

About a month ago, the small murder of crows who hang around their established territory looking for their daily small snack of dog food kibble disappeared. They still checked out the flower pot but then would leave. So I figured they’d gone away to nest and sure enough a few weeks ago the noisy gang returned with their nimrod offspring.

Apparently, once they fledge and fly, baby crows don’t look very babyish and unless you look closely you’d think they’re just part of the gang of adults. But I did notice some of these goofballs were new to flower-pot protocols and were perched on the fence looking and learning. And like kids everywhere, doodlebugging around poking each other, pulling their sibling’s feathers, grabbing tails, stabbing at feet, and in general reminding me of my sister and me in the back of the old Studebaker loudly whining and poking and pinching and squirming about annoying one another, oblivious to the steam coming out of our father’s ears as he drove. And when the angry explosion burst forth, we both professed utter astonishment, “Whaaaa? US???”

Ah, nimrods are nimrods are nimrods. And I’m glad to see this gaggle of sillies back in town.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Your Sunday Postcard

When poet Ted Kooser was recovering from surgery and radiation for cancer, he began walking before dawn each morning to help get his strength back.  During his illness, he had all but given up on writing, but found that during his morning walks, bits and snatches of poems started coming to him.  He began writing the poems down on postcards that he sent to a good friend.  They were a variation of the "correspondence in haiku" the two had been engaged in. The post-card poems are from his book, "Winter Morning Walks: one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison." (2000, Carnegie Mellon University Press)

This lovely book is wonderful to dip into, like a box of Godiva chocolates, to get just one . . . maybe two . . . beautiful pieces to slowly savor.  All of Kooser's books are like that.  I recommend you get a few and try it for yourself.

December 24 / Sunny and clear

Sometimes, when things are going well,
the daredevil squirrel of worry
suddenly leaps from the back of my head
to the feeder, swings by his paws
and clambers up, twitching his question mark tail.
And though I try the recommended baffles --
tin cone of meditation, greased pipe
of positive thought -- every sunflower seed
in this life is his if he wants it.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

One More Time With Feeling, Ana-One, Ana-Two, Ana-Three

Some time ago, Sewerwatch watcher, Ron Crawford, asked the SLO County Grand Jury to look into certain odd aspects of the Hideous Los Osos Sewer Project and they apparently replied, "We Don't Have Time." So, this time, Ron's spelled it all out, complete with links they can read, to see if they can answer some of the questions he's raised.  I'm betting their reply is "We Don't Have Time To Read Any Of The Selected Documents."

"O.K, Let's Try this again: The SLO County Grand Jury, Revisited," at

Friday, July 02, 2010

Before You Hang Out That Flag

Patriotism on this Fourth is all well and good.  Feeling patriotic and hanging a flag out in front of your house is also all well and good.  So is firing up the old grill and gathering the family for a barbeque.  But before you do any of that, time to get out your checkbook.

In his recent column, Tribune writer Bill Morem revisted the topic of the Veterans Express, a shuttle service that helps our vets get to VA appointments in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.  It was going broke and needed donations to keep going.  Congresspersons Capps and McCarthy are working to see if they can get and/or continue long-term government help for the program.  But what was needed were immediate donations.  So Bill wrote his original column and a Central Valley resident and Vietnam vet "pledged $26,000 and then came in the next day and cut a check for $10,000." This astounding donor was followed by all kinds of different ones from local folks, including "9-year-old Hannah Amador, who donated all of her pennies totally $4.47 to the veterans shuttle."

So, for the moment, our vets who need a ride to the VA hospitals, will get one.  But further donations and a steady long term funding program is still needed.  So, before you show our patriotism by waving a flag, why not cut a check, made payable to Ride On: Veterans Express and mail it to 3620 Sacramento Drive, SLO 93401. Then call Reps.Capps and McCarthy's local office and tell them you want them to find funding for this program.  As Bill Morem notes, "Must this vital service depend on the good graces of a child and her cache of pennies to survive?" 

Then go eat hot dogs.

Bees! Bees! Bees!

The garden is running amok and the bees are back and busy at work.  Though I just read in the last New Times that keeping bees, a growing hobby, is apparently illegal in the unincorported areas of the county, i.e. Los Osos.  Which was news to me and will come as a surprise to hobbyists who have small hives in their back yards.  Apparently the rules were put in place years ago when killer African bees were seen as a looming threat, but -- knock wood -- it's been a threat that hasn't become a real problem here, yet.  But the rules still stand.  So hobbyist apiariasts are busy working with the county to get the rules modified. 

What, you might ask, is the problem with people keeping a few hives in the back yard?  After all, bees are in trouble so anything we can do to help them should be a very good thing.  Well, for one, ill-kept, improperly-kept, abused bees can be a problem. If they're not well cared for, they can leave home and become a nuissance to their neighbors.  But well kept, happy bees should be no problem and as far as I can see.  Plus, encouraging bee-keeping all over the place might help bees, which are in danger from mass death due from a still-unknown disease/disorder refered to generally as "colony collapse." And if "colony collapse" is the result of a spreadable disease organism, then most professional bee-keeping is the equivalent of factory farming -- gazillions of bees all gathered together in one place, just ripe for rapid disease spread.  Hobby beekeeping, on the other hand,  is more like small family farming which scatters hives and colonies all over the place so if a disease hits, it's limited to that one hive rather than wiping out gazillions. 

Hopefully, our local apiarists will help fashion practical, workakable changes in the law so anyone interested in keeping bees can do so.  And the rest of us need to plant lots of water-thrifty flowers to help the little guys out.  Our own lives (and food supply) depend on them.

So, this Fourth, hang the flag, send a donation, plant a petunia -- plant three petunias: red, white & blue-- then invite a bee over for lunch.  And have a wonderful Holiday!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

How Much Is That Doggie In The Window, Part Duh

Poor Congresswoman Lois Capps. A recent Tribune story notes she supports a new proposed federal law called the PUPS Act, which stands for Puppy Uniform Protection Statute. The new law is an attempt to close a loophole that exempts puppy mills that sell directly to the public. Which means that sans new law, large scale puppy-mill breeders can continue to get a way with no oversight, sell their puppies online and otherwise continue their hideous and abusive practices – filthy kennels, sick dogs getting no care, in short, all the horrors that regularly get exposed every so often when some local TV station needs to amp up its ratings.

But I say, Poor Congresswoman Capps, because she doesn’t know the shit-storm she’s heading into. First the AKC is, even as we speak, revving up their “members,” and lobbying hard to stop any and all attempts to crack down on ANYTHING having to do with breeding and selling “purebred” dogs. Why, you might ask? Why wouldn’t AKC want to shut down hideous puppy mills? Ah, because those mills generate what the AKC referred to in a secret Board memo as “the basic cash cow” – that AKC “paper” that the buyers THINK mean something. That’s the engine that drives the puppy mill trade and that’s the paper that brings in the big bucks to AKC.

And never mind that one of AKC’s own top investigators went on ABC World News Tonight a few years ago to fess up that the AKC’s “registry” of purebred dog is 50% no good and that AKC knows it.

So Ms. Caps will have the AKC on her behind. And she’ll have the large scale breeders on her tail as well, some of whom serve on the AKC’s Board of Directors. (See the cozy connections?) Not to mention small scale breeders who can be counted on to defeat any and all sensible laws designed to protect dogs. They’re rabid about defeating such legislation. Why? Money. Pure and simple. That old “basic cash cow.”

So, this bill will go down in flames. The parties most interested in protecting their financial interests – at the cost of immense suffering by dogs and costly fraud on the people who buy these dogs – will declare that “there’s plenty of laws already on the books,” then concentrate on de-funding any and all enforcement mechanism so the laws remain in place, but they’re useless and toothless.

That’s how you do it. So the suffering will continue, the buyers will continue to be fleeced, and the money will continue to roll in.

But, Bless Ms. Capps for at least trying. I wish her luck, but I won’t hold my breath.