Sunday, October 31, 2010

Your Sunday Poem

    I have been lucky enough, these past few dark, chilly October nights, to have been graced by the sound of an owl somewhere high in the eucalyptus trees in the front yard. The soft wooo . . . hoo-hoo is a sound at once magical and mysterious and insistent that I pause in the middle of what I am doing in order to listen . . . listen-listen.
    This poem is by Mary Oliver, from her book, “New and Selected Poems, Volume Two.”

Owl in the Black Oaks

If a lynx, that plush fellow,
climbed down a
tree and left behind
his face, his thick neck,

and, most of all, the lamps of his eyes,
there you would have it –
the owl,
the very owl

who haunts these trees,
choosing from the swash of branches
the slight perches and ledges
of his acrobatics.

Almost every day
I spy him out
among the knots and the burls,
looking down

at his huge feet,
at the path curving through the trees,
at whatever is coming up the hill
towards him,

and, though I’m never ready –
though something unspeakably cold
always drops through my heart –
it is a moment

as lavish as it is fearful –
there is such pomp
in the gown of feathers
and the lit silk of the eyes –

surely he is one of the mighty kings
of this world.
Sometimes, as I keep coming,
he simply flies away –

and sometimes the whole body
tilts forward, and the beak opens,
clean and wonderful,
like a cup of gold.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Yup, Yup, Some Marbles Is Missing Alright

This from the Oct 29, L.A. Times: “Oklahoma may ban Islanic law.” Yes, it true. Aapparently Oklahoma is over-run with fundamentalist Muslims. They’re now popping out of the corn rows singing, “Allah Whatta Beautiful Mornin’” and running amok down at the local courthouses, demanding that they be allowed to marry four wives. As well as demanding public beheadings in the parking lot of the local WalMart.

It’s gotten so bad that Republican state Representative Rex Duncan authored a constitutional amendment initiative to ban Sharia law from being implement in Oklahoma. Says Mr. Duncan, “Oklahoma does not have that problem yet, but why wait until it’s in the courts?”

Continues the Times, “Some conservative activists contend that the U.S. is at risk of falling under Sharia law. . . . In the U.S., those who warn of the dangers of Sharia can point to only a handful of cases that merely allude to the centuries-old complex tangle of Muslim religious law. And in none of the cases cited has any U.S. court held that Sharia law is the law of the land here.”

“Islamic groups say the Oklahoma initiative, which was placed on the ballot by the Legislature, is nothing more than an effort to stigmatize their religion in order to whip up votes. “There’s no threat of Sharia law coming to Oklahoma and America, period,” said Saad Mohammed of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City. “It’s just a scare tactic.”

Actually, Mr. Mohammed, it’s also an indication that a whole lot of people in America have lost their marbles. Yes, a good many are cold-bloodedly using the Let’s Keep Fear Alive and Look Out For Those Big Brown Scary People to further their own ends. But let’s face it, this tactic works because far too many Americans are a bunch of fearful ignoramuses just ripe for the picking and shucking.

Like corn in Oklahoma, as high as an elephant’s eye.

OctoberFest in Baywood Park/Los Osos

Tomorrow down on 2nd St. the Octoberfest fun-run, car show, exhibition booths, music, food, Halloween fun. Starts at 9 a.m.

November Voting Fest

If you already haven’t done so, go vote Tuesday, when all bets are on the Republicans regaining the House. Let the fun begin, including impeachment proceedings to remove our illegitimate Muslim Kenyan President. Plus faux House investigations into all sorts of things that can bring the committee members lots of dramatic TV face time, the stern gaze over the tops of glasses, the harsh warning, “Need I remind you, you’re under oath sir?” It’ll be Clinton, redux!

Plus the fake start at dismantling Social Security and Medicare and the Health Reforms, so Americans can go back to being kicked off their insurance policies, or prevented from buying them in the first place. I say fake, because while Americans are shrieking about Big Government, I haven’t yet seen any of them burning their Social Security/Medicare cards. Touch those programs and politically die. But they’re good for public bashing and fake/pretend “cutting.”

So, lots of public theatre. And while the clock is ticking towards the irreversible brink, any real work on the energy bills will come to a complete halt. In short, the next two years promise to be a massive grid-locked food fight, Rome fiddling while the country burns. But with luck, the tax cuts for the millionaires will be extended. After all, gotta take care of your peeps during hard times.

It’s going to be wonderful. The American people getting exactly what they deserve.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that with Republicans in charge of Congress, they’ll now be the ones on the hot seat of actually having to make sausage instead of sitting on the sidelines holding their purist noses and refusing to participate – Eeeuuu, No, Nope, Nuh-huh, Noooo. If that happens, then this indeed will be a good thing.

Though I’m hopeful that at least some batshit crazy Tea Party Folks will get elected. They’re sure to liven things up during the impeachment hearings, doncha think? They might even try to join their Oklahoma compatriots and get a Constitutional Amendment passed banning Sharia law in the U.S. Wow, wouldn’t that be a really great use of our limited resources of time, money and energy?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mark Your Calendars

Thursday, Dec 2 (Hanukkah) at the Los Osos Middle School. Doors open at 6 p.m. so people can speak with various staff members and at 7 p.m. the (likely) last Dog & Pony Sewer Show will commence on the Rates and Charges ordinance that will be showing up in your mailbox soon, along with a nifty brochure ‘splaining it all.

That’s one brochure I’m looking forward to since there’s a “protest vote” connected with this all and if you’re familiar with “protest votes,” you’ll know they’re impossible to “win,” which makes them handy vehicles when you’re stuck with a tricky situation but still want to claim you offered people a chance to “vote” in the matter. Much slicker than an actual, “real” up-or-down vote, which can be pretty unpredictable.

At any rate, the rates and charges are costs needed to fill in the shortfall needed to build a sewer system designed for build-out when build-out may not be possible, certainly not in the reasonable short-term. Since you can’t assess somebody for a benefit they don’t receive (no sewage being collected from a vacant lot), but you need the full amount of money to build a system designed to include their vacant lot in the future, what can you do but stick the needed money into the rates and charges and hope homeowners won’t notice that they’re going to be paying for a place holder for somebody’s vacant lot.

And if you’re a homeowner and are anxious for this sewer to get built, you’ll be praying that vacant lot owners don’t say, “Hey, why in hell am I being dinged a bunch of money for something I may never get any benefit from since nobody can guaranteed there’s gonna be enough water so I can ever build my dream house on this vacant lot?” Then mount a successful 50% plus 1 “protest vote” campaign. Or hope a lot of people with developed properties don’t say, “Hey, I assessed myself $25,000 for a sewer, so why am I being forced to pay for my neighbor’s vacant lot,” and file a successful “protest vote,” after which the whole thing implodes and we’re stuck back at ground zero.

Which is exactly why I’m looking forward to reading the glossy brochure that will be coming with the “ballot.” Spinning this puppy is gonna take a master. Although, realistically, protest votes, unlike “real” votes, are nearly impossible to pull off. Which makes them handy when government needs to do things quietly that likely would cause an uproar if done in the usual fashion – i.e. a straight-forward assessment vote.

To date, the monthly sewer bills will be about $105 for the original capital costs on the $25,000 assessment, plus about $95 (more or less) for the Rates and Charges. The ordinance would use a flat amount for the fixed capital costs associated with the “missing” portion of the system that covers proposed build-out. That amount would diminish as the principal gets paid off. And if water becomes available and lots get developed, that amount would be retired sooner and either credits or rebates given to the ratepayers.

The variable part of the R&C would be based on actual (water meter readings) of water usage during January-February, with 12 units being the minimum. This should reflect your indoor water use since most people don’t heavily irrigate during winter, thereby giving a pretty accurate number of gallons going down the drain to the treatment plant. In either case, the 12 units of water will be used as the base, unless you can prove you’re really water thrifty and use much less than that. Greywater systems will also be considered in lowering your rate. And if you can prove that your higher consumption isn’t all indoor use (you’re an urban farmer growing rutabagas and use X gallons year round outside the home) you can appeal those charges as well.

Further notes:

--Water meters will be required when people connect to the system (for folks who don’t have water meters now)
--Rules and Regulations in the form of another ordinance will be written later and will cover what will be legal and illegal as to what you can stuff down your toilet and drain.
--The present ordinance, as written, caused some confusion over the requirement that homeowners have 90 days to hook up – an impossibility for all 4,500+ homes. So that language was modified to clarify that the hook ups will be phased-in and the 90 day window can be extended to 180 in case of unforeseen problems, i.e. bad weather, equipment shortages and delays & etc.
--The protest vote is one vote per parcel. If there are two owners, each can file a protest vote but it will only be counted as 1 vote.
--The R&C charges can be collected yearly on the tax rolls or can be sent to homeowners like a bill. It’s not known yet if the County will set up a system like the CSD has now that will red-flag non-payment by renters, for example, thereby alerting property-owner-landlords early-on so they can fix that issue before gazillions of dollars pile up unbeknownst to them, which happened here in Los Osos a few years ago with renter-paid trash and water bills.

And, being Los Osos, there were some interesting wrinkles brought up during public comment.

-- Steve Paige raised an interesting question: Right now, our septic tanks are fully permitted and legal, so neither the RWQCB nor the county can force us to abandon our tanks. Our DISCHARGE is forbidden, but not our tanks. County counsel Warren Jensen declared he knew nothing about any of that, no, no, never hear of any such thing. In a sane world, folks would re-read 83-13 wherein they’d see the word “discharge,” and scratch their heads and say, Hmmm, well then, I know an affordable fix to this: sealed pipe step system hooked up to in-place septic tanks (replacement of failed tanks only), done and done for a genuinely affordable price and no dug up back-yards. But that’s in a sane world, not our Alice in Wonderland Sewerland.
-- Eric Greening wanted to make sure the phase-in of the hook up would allow time to do it all in one fell swoop – pump tank, decommission tank, lay hook up trench, hook up all at once, versus having to dig up things then come back and dig them up again. Happily, if properly phased in, that will happen.
--Once again, there was the question about the numbers. Water usage numbers seem to be a fungible item, which causes concern since it’s all GIGO. Get your basic numbers wrong and you end up building the wrong sized system at the wrong price. Unless that was your intention in the first place.
--Which raised the usual question: In a basin now in serious overdraft, with no limits to growth for homes being built outside the PZ, all of whom are all allowed to access the water basin (while those inside the PZ are not) just how realistic is it that undeveloped properties in the PZ will EVER get to develop? And if they can’t, the sewer system as designed for build out is scaled too big and too costly, yet that entire cost is being stuck on the present homeowners. And, for undeveloped property owners, they’ll be stuck paying for a future they’ll realistically never see. The answer to that is, as usual, a shrug. Or Supervisor Bruce Gibson using the word “hopeful” a great many times. Then it’s time to . . . Move along.
-- The Dec 2 Town Hall meeting isn’t a “workshop.” It’s informational only. There will be no feed-back and no changes to the ordinance. It’s take-it-or-leave-it. So you’ll likely be able to submit written questions at the event, but don’t expect any changes. There will be 12 days between the Town Hall meeting and the vote count/Ordinance Hearing on Dec 14 at the BOS. (Check agenda for the time). So try not to lose the paperwork in all the holiday bustle. Not that it matters since this is a done deal.

Proposed ordinance with modifications, passed 5-0.

Next meeting on the issue, December 14 for official ballot results and adoption of the Rates & Charges ordinance. (Don’t forget the Dec 2 Town Hall)

While there was some table pounding by Chairman Mecham to shush up some back-of-the-room hollerers, no chairs were hurled. Though a GINORMOUS law officer type suddenly materialized in the back of the room.

Magic? Naw, Los Osos.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Yeee HAW!

Hold onto your hats, folks.  It's time for the Final World Class Bait & Switchy to commence, tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct 26, at the Board of Supervisors starting at 9 a.m.

Yes, it's the old "Rates and Charges" "ballot," which will be mailed to property owners once the BOS votes, which they will.  The "ballot" is one of those wierd "reverse" ballots -- if you object to it, you return it; if you don't or if you don't know or care or think it's junque mail and toss it, that'll count as a "yes."  And you need 50% plus 1 to put the kabosh on the whole thing, an IMPOSSIBLE task. 

What makes this soooooo wonderful is that if you went around ringing doorbells and asked 1,000 people here in Sewerville, "When you passed the Prop 218 ballot agreeing to assess yourself $25,000 for the sewer for your property, did you know that the county was planning to add on to your bill the cost for undeveloped properties,  in case the undevelpoed property owners balked at paying for a "service/benefit" when they're sitting on an empty lot and getting no service or benefit?"  

I bet you wouldn't find one person who would say, "Oh, yeah, I knew all about that.  I'm happy to pay the cost for undeveloped lots.  And if those lots never get developed, (and so repay the charges owed when they do develop) because there isn't any water, well, that's O.K. with me."

My bet is that people would say, "Huh? What do you mean I've got to pay MORE than the assessed $25,000?  Huh?"

And here's my other bet.  That the Rates and Charges Bait & Switchy "ballot" will easily pass because 1) 1/3 of the community won't bother responding.  Like the preference survey the county sent out for the sewer, 1/3 of those surveys simply disappeared into the Black Hole of Sewerville, and 2) a whole lot of people will get this Rates & Charges " ballot" and they'll think, "Hey, look, the sewer's only going to cost about $80 a month.  That's GREAT!"  not realzing that that's merely the "add on"  to the original $25,000, an add-on about which they are clueless.  But it won't matter, because of that 50% plus 1.  Done deal. 

Plus, there's always the added threat from the County (watch for it in the Tribune, in the letters to the editor, in the carefully worded "information" packet from the county). It'll translate as: "Pass this "ballot" and pay for those vacant lots, or we'll drop the project altogether and walk away. Bwa-hahahah" 

Yes, Hobson's Choice.  It's great!

So, that's my bet.

What's yours?

On the bright side, the Rates and Charges discussed at the last BOS, did set a fixed cost, then tied the balance to individual water use, thereby adding a carrot and stick to the whole deal that might encourage more thrifty water use.  Which is the really important issue here. Water.  Out of which, we are running.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Your Sunday Poem

This by Nick Laird from his book, "On Purpose." 

Statue of an Alerman in Devon 

You have to drive five counties
and come over the hill to Salisbury Plain,
pass the cloud-shadow grazing
on hayfields and A-Roads and grass,
and decelerate into the very last town
where a sign points to the Ice Factory,
and in front of you is sea.

You have to take the second left
to find yourself, lost, of course,
in a hamlet with one phone box
and a bare stretch where seagulls peck
at the bronze feet of an alderman
who watches, like some soul who outlived,
in the end, everyone he loved.

Friday, October 22, 2010

No, I'm Not Kidding, Don't Answer That Phone, Part Duh

Boiiiinnnggg! goes one of those fake peanut brittle cans that actually has spring-coil fake snakes in it and when you open it, Boiiinnngggg! the snakes fly out all over the room and everyone shreiks. 

So, Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, leaves a phone message for Anita Hill, asking her to apologize and 'splain her testimony about Clarence Thomas inappropriate behavior during his Supreme Court nomination hearings some nineteen years ago.  Then the whole kerfluffle hit the media like those fake flying snakes (with some critical points missing, of course) and everyone looked around and asked themselves, WTF? Why would Ms. Thomas open THAT can of peanut brittle after all these years?

Then, in all the flapdoodle, here comes Lillian McEwen, yet ANOTHER woman who knew Thomas long ago.  Reports The Washington Post,  she's "a retired administrative law judge who said she dated Clarence Thomas from 1979 through the mid 1980s," who "told The Washington Post, 'The Clarence I knew was certainly capable of not only doing the things that Anita Hill said he did, but it would be totally consistent with the way he lived his personal life then.'"

Then everyone groans.  And in the focus over "women" that a young fellow may have behaved, uh, inappropriately towards years ago, what's getting lost is the really serious issue:  Mrs. Thomas + Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas + Liberty Central + $500,000 donation (undisclosed, unaccountable) + Tea Party + Freedom Works + Dick Armey + Chamber of Commerce, all framed by the Supreme Court case, Citizens United, that her husband ruled on.

So cozy.  So cozy.  And Ms. Thomas claims that she and her husband aren't "Washington insiders."

Boiiinnngg,! Bwa-hahhahahah.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dear God, Don't Answer That Phone

Has the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas lost her marbles? Doing some drunk dialing?

Virgina Thomas left a Saturday morning 7:30 a.m. phone message on the office answering machine of Anita Hill, asking her to apologize and ‘splain her testimony against her husband’s court conformation hearings some 19 years ago. Ms. Hill called the campus police and the message was investigated and confirmed as coming from Ms. Thomas.

Now, of course, the question remains: WTF???

But what’s so interesting to me is that nowhere in the news stories recapping the hearings and the whole amazing he said/ she said controversy, did I hear the name Sylvia Wright. In the book, “Capitol Games,” by Timothy Phelps and Helen Winternitz, Ms. Wright, who, if memory serves, was a television reporter in Florida, and yet another woman with a similar story to tell, had been vetted and were standing by ready to testify that, yeah, Clarence Thomas had made totally inappropriate remarks to them as well. For whatever political or strategic reasons, they were never called. Which was a shame because had they been allowed to testify, the narrative would have been he said/ she saidshe said/she said. Which is a very, very different story.

Instead, these two additional women have fallen down history’s memory hole and even now, when the media’s recapping the history of the hearings, no mention is made of them. That’s how America gets half a story which then becomes “truth.” Yes, “truth” with important parts missing.

Uh-Oh, Better Hide Grandmaw, Again

Remember when Republicans were scaring Americans about “Obamacare?” How the government would soon be dictating treatment and that’d result in Grandmaw getting killed off by “death panels” who decide her treatment was too expensive and they wouldn’t pay for it?

Ah, well, it’s now coming true! Only it isn’t the Government sitting on those panels, it’s the for-profit insurance companies.

The New York Times reports that “UnitedHealthcare plans to announce on Wednesday a one-year project with five oncology practices, offering doctors an additional fee. The new fee is meant to encourage doctors to follow standard treatments rather than opting too often for individualized and unproven courses of therapy, which can include the most expensive drug combinations. By proposing a different type of payment structure, companies hope to lower doctor’s dependence on a system that generates substantial sums for cancer specialists who routinely favor top-of-the line treatment.”

And, “Aetna is now working with about 250 doctors in Texas and says it plans to expand the program next year to include even more cancer specialists in its network. In California, Blue Shield joined with Hill Physicians Medical Group to treat a group of state workers in Sacramento.”

So it begins. The for-profit insurance companies will be setting treatment policies that will financially reward doctors for choosing cheaper cancer care options because the present system we have is simply financially unsustainable.

To date, I haven’t heard a single Republican screaming about Blue Cross killing his grandmaw. Hmmmm, double standard going on here?

In truth, new treatment protocols for all medical issues need a complete overhaul because our present system is simply unsustainable. Worse, we pay more for our healthcare than any “civilized” country and we have worse outcomes. And in large measure that’s because of the way we’ve set our system up – no affordable universal “basic care” to catch problems early-on, followed by often unlimited but scattershot fee-for-service specialists that’s too often disconnected from any coordinated treatment plan which would avoid duplication and would follow proven treatment protocols. All of which leaves us with a bad system that’ll soon totally collapse from the sheer cost.

So whether reform comes from government guidelines and treatment/payment plans or for-profit insurance company guidelines and treatment/payment plans, Grandmaw – and all of us – need to get honest and proactive in making some tough decisions about our health care and how we pay for it.

Two Years of Sheer Fun Ahead

I know a lot of progressives and liberals and Democrats are wringing their hands and shuddering in contemplation of Republicans, including a handful of Tea Pot Crazies, getting elected to Congress. As for me, I can’t wait!

I mean, consider some of the wilder and wackier of the Tea Potters showing up in Congress to demand an end to Social Security and Medicare! Or, even more fun, a whole gaggle of conservatives all declaring “We’re fed up! No more spending!” who will be handed a long list of things to cu, so they start cutting and then the shrieking will start.

It’s one thing to run against wicked tax and spend “gummint” until you realize that “gummint” spending includes a job-generating weapons plant smack dab in the middle of YOUR district. Shut that plant and now you’re a job-killer who hates America and wants the terrorists to win

So far, the Republican party has been the party of NO. That’s easy to do when you’re sidelined. But if you’re in the game, which is very likely come Nov, you can’t sit on the side vetoing or filibustering everything. You’ve got to actually come up with and write bills, with all their attendant devil-in-the-details, then convince the child-like American people – who want free pudding but don’t want to pay for it themselves, and demand that whatever you’re proposing will work immediately and will magically make everything better in a week or less! If it doesn’t, the plan will be declared a failure and you’ll be branded as a socialist who hates America and wants the terrorists to win!

To which I can only say, well good luck to ‘em. Our manufacturing base is gone, shipped off to China so a small handful of Wall Streeters can become gazillionares, we’ve swallowed the mantra that Privatizing everything is Good and the Commons are Bad, so infrastructure investment is now labeled as evil “socialism,” and taxes used to pay for the infrastructure investment are Bad, Bad, Bad, that tax cuts for the rich will trickle down without ballooning the deficit, and that Mexicans and Blacks and Poor People are to blame for all our ills, and if we just get rid of all government regulation we can live happily ever after.

I can’t wait for the show to begin.

It’s True. Zelig LIVES!

Some time ago, when Lt. Gov. Able Maldonado was punching his political ticket and weaseling his way up the Republican hierarchy, every time I picked up the paper there was a picture of the Gov. Aaaahnnold. And stuck to his side, like a remora to a great white shark, a smiling Abel. Just like Zelig, Woody Allen’s film character who seemed to appeared everywhere throughout time and space. Whenever there was a photo-op moment, there was Able, grinning at the camera.

It was kinda creepy, but funny, and I kept thinking, How does he do that!

Well, Zelig’s back. Democrat Gavin Newsom was holding an L.A. campaign rally at a Los Angeles cafĂ© and there, in the back of the room, having a coffee and a muffin, was . . . ABEL!

Yes, Zelig lives!

Be All You Can Be, But Not Right Now, Maybe Later

If you’re gay and are serving in the military or are thinking about joining up, congratulations. You have entered the equivalent of a Zen koan or The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and you’re forgiven if you’re getting tennis-match neck whiplash; Yes, No, Yes, No, Wait, Come Back Later.

DADT is now in limbo, again. So pity poor former Army Lt. Dan Choi, an Iraq war veteran, a West Point graduate, who was tossed out of the army for declaring on Rachel Maddow’s show, that he was gay. During the most recent ban-lifting, when the Army said they were now accepting applications from openly gay recruits, Choi showed up to reinlist in the Army.

What’s not known is what poor Mr. Choi was supposed to put on his application at that point since shortly thereafter the stay was un-stayed some more and once again gay soldiers were told to shut up and Don’t Tell, again, unless they did, in which case, well . . . who knows.

Is this any way to run an Army? Don’t think so.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Front page of the Tribune, Sunday Oct 17, 2010.  "Air crash kills 4 from SLO County."  Roger Lyon, a north county attorney and rancer and the pilot of a small plane crashed in the fog near San Quintin, Baja California.  The plane was carrying Doctors James Thornton and Graciela Sarmiento, and medic and Cal Poly student (studying to become a doctor) Andrew Thiel.  They were volunteers with Flying Samaritans, a group who regularly flew to San Quintin to bring much needed medical care to the people there.

To the left, same page, same edition, the headline, "Fatal wreck called deliberate."  Jerardo Iriarte, nineteen-years old, "in an attempt to harm himself" drove his car at over 100 mph off Highway 101.  The car careened down an embankent, through a chain link fence and smashed into Bruce Mallin, 63, and his wife, Marjorie, 59.  They apparently had been vacationing from Washington state and had been walking along Price Street in Pismo Beach on that lovely fall morning.  They died at the scene.  Jerado was arrested.

A great writer, Thornton Wilder, perhaps, could make sense or even  "art" from those headlines.  I certainly can't.  The cruel, selfish pointless stupidity of one human story versus the love and care and generosity of the samaritans of the other human story is simply too baffling for me. I suspect sad silence is the only suitable response.  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Your Sunday Poem

This by Richard Wilbur from his "New and Collected Poems."


     Piecemeal the summer dies;
At the field's edge a daisy lives alone;
     A last shawl of burning lies
          On a gray field-stone.

     All cries are thin and terse;
The field has droned the summer's final mass;
     A cricket like a dwindled hearse
          Crawls from the dry grass.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Speak Up

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for  October 15, 2010

Malice drinks one-half of its own poison.

There is something so uniquely American about the little “Church of The Phelpses,” the splinter Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas whose very ugly public messages about God hating fags, and Jews and Catholics and dead soldiers has landed it before the Supreme Court. Like so many American religious sects, this one was self-created, and while it claims to be “Baptist,” the Southern Baptists Convention has denounced and disavowed any connection to the Phelps. Also like so many other self-created sects, it holds what some consider to be decidedly different beliefs, and is run by a powerful preacher-man and his small band of family-followers. (Eleven of his thirteen children are lawyers; a handy profession, considering.)

But Fred Phelps is nothing new. While his theology might be a bit twisted, Fred and all the other little Phelpses are still the descendents of the fierce, sin-obsessed American preachers thundering eternal damnation for the wicked, a line that runs through Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” to Bible thumping fundamentalist tent revivers promising damnation and hell to card players and hooch-sippers, right down to the fictional but quintessential Jesus-hustling huckster of all time—Elmer Gantry.

“You cannot preach the Bible if you don’t preach God’s hate!” Phelps says in a recent Time magazine article on the family. Indeed. No namby-pamby God of Love nonsense espoused by latte-sipping limousine liberals for these rock-hard American theologians.

And that, to me, is what makes this case so interesting. Just what is it about the beliefs that Fred and his daughter Margie are expressing that has people so upset? That “God Hates Fags?” That can’t possibly be a problem in a country publicly obsessed with homosexuals, including the delightful spectacle of certain politicians who first denounce gays then get caught later footed-tapping in airport bathrooms or flying off on vacations with their boy-toy “assistants.”

Or a Congress dragging its feet on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Or with hysterical citizens hastily passing state laws denying equal marriage rights to gay people, like the California Prop 8 initiative that was funded by huge infusions of money from Catholic and Mormon churches. Or with gay hate-crimes that regularly show up on the police blotter. Fear and loathing of gay people is a dark thread that runs deep in our homophobic culture and is powerfully driven and justified by “Christian” religious belief. So, while many might consider Mr. Phelps’ protest signs to be impolite or crude – the word “hate” makes nice people, respectable people, uncomfortable -- the basic belief about God’s hatred on those signs, while extreme, cannot be said to be utterly alien to what a great many Americans already secretly believe.

And a good many people believe that war is an abomination and that soldiers are murderous “baby-killers” engaged in a sinful enterprise that violates one of God’s own Ten Commandments. And there is nothing alien about the beliefs that Jews killed Jesus and Catholics are in a league with the Pope-Devil himself, and Mormons are un-Christian heathens and President Obama is the anti-Christ and our white country is being taken away by scary colored people, and the End Times are Near, and O God! O God the gay people are coming, and can’t you hear the black helicopters yet? All of these are fear-driven beliefs that are brought out from under our dark rocks during fearful, tough times and used to manipulate the frightened into furthering the ends of the unprincipled.

And when Mr. Phelps or any of the other little Phelpses show up with signs declaring that Americans are going to hell, I dare say they’re only saying out loud what many of their fellow citizens may be secretly feeling. Says Mr. Phelps, in that same Time article, “When asked if hearing about a soldier’s death really makes his heart swell with joy, Phelps nods as if he’s just been offered a sandwich. ‘Because we’ve been telling people that God is going to do this to them. Because that’s the way God rolls.’”

So what is it about what the Phelps are doing – standing on public property telling people how God rolls – that has people so riled up? Is it their discourtesy? Lack of manners? I mean, most people have the common decency not to show up at funerals to yell at a parent that God hates their dead kid. That’s tacky. But then, most people also don’t show up at Planned Parenthood clinics to yell at young women entering for medical care that they’re baby-murderers and are going to hell.

But the Constitution, thank God, protects the tacky, the rude, the indecent, the deluded, the cruel and the mean. It also protects the Phelps and their hate-filled messages of human-loathing, divine wrath and sin, weird sexual obsessions, cruel family dysfunctions and gleeful rage.

What remains unclear is whether or not the radical, judicial activist Supreme Court will rule narrowly on this case, or use the case as it has in the past to open up the broader questions the Phelps case raises in order to legislate from the bench.

In the meantime, the case certainly has generated a lot of discussion and I can only hope that it gives rise to just as many questions. Here’s two: If what the Phelpses believe is factually correct, that God actually does hate fags and Jews and Catholics and soldiers, and anyone else not in the Phelpes-approved pantheon, why would anyone get upset at them for stating the obvious? And if their declarations are false, why would anyone waste a moment of their time getting upset over what a bunch of delusional liars have to say about anything?

And here are two questions that will likely never be answered: Just what is it about the American character that creates the kind of toxic culture that nurtures poisonous people like the Phelps? And supports and rewards with high ratings and abundant advertising dollars, a 24/7 media that excitedly serves up their outrageous malice du jour to a celebrity and scandal addicted public?

If historian Richard Hofstadter is correct, that the “paranoid style” is the way Americans roll, then Fred Phelps is simply the ugly part of our American DNA, not only our legacy, but our future as well.

It is not a comforting thought. But knowing that our Constitution will continue to protect the double-edged right to speak out, is.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ten Out and Rising

As the Chilean miners are reborn into sky and wind and sun, there will be much talk of miracles and God and Devils.  But in the midst of the celebration, I hope one thing will not be overlooked: The professional experience and knowledge of men who know the earth and rock like they knitted it.  Their long experience with the hard reality of their environment initially kept them alive and later, when the first fear and horror began to give way to hope as rescue operations became a possibility, that professional competence and knowledge gave them back a good deal of control over their small world and made them active participants in their own rescue.

I suspect that active control, and the competence of their foreman and other members of that amazing band of men was the real mysterious miracle at work here.

Once they're finally all safe, then the real horror will set in: The Media.  Fame. Money. The unstabilizing trauma of world attention that can unhinge the most firmly moored. And there will be lawsuits and investigations and a few changes in mining law may or may not be made.  Life will go on, as it always does.  Some of the men will adjust to their new reality.  Others won't.  Stories will be reinvented and a legend will be born.

But for right now, ten are free.  And that's wonderful news.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Really, Mr. Gibson? REALLY?

Ah, yes, Ron Crawford's planning a "Rally to Erode Public Trust" over at
It's all about why, when Supervisor Gibson huffs and puffs in faux outrage and talks about taking offense when Los Osos residents express a, uh, certain lack of trust in the "county" and "county officials" when it comes to all things sewerish and why experienced sewer watchers snicker behind their hands and mutter,  Evidence, Mr. Gibson?  You want Evidence?  Really? Then roll their eyes.

O.K. Another New Rule

If you're a Republican Tea Party candidate from Ohio named Rich Iott and you dress up in Wafen SS uniforms and play at reinacting way cool Nazi fantasies of invading Poland and gassing Jews while wearing those nice shiney leather boots and all that macho leather and yakkering on about how amazing Germany was and how, ooooh, Viking-ish they all were, all that Master Race stuff, and how much the Germans accomplished, you're either incredibly stupid.

Or you're an S & M  leather-fetish, homo-erotic bi or closeted gay.

Deal with it.

And if you're really into all of that stuff, that's fine, but may I suggest you join a group of buffed, oiled-down Spartan reinactors.  Plenty of homo-erotic fetish action there . . . without the Zyklon B associations.

Or you can just go away, already. Plluuueeeze.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Your Sunday Poem

If a poem can be said to dance, this lovely, lovely one . . . dances. It’s by Nick Laird and was in the Oct 14, 2010 New York Review of Books.

Vespers at Pacifico’s

People have no interest in the slightest
     but those are swifts dipping down
to lift off milli-sips of kinking
     necklaced noon-light

restive on the surface now re-rippled
     by the beak one forks
at the closest interstitial moment.
     It snips the pool minutely.

The tail is short compared to the swallow
     and swifts have sythe-like wings –
it cannot land so spends its life aloft,
     declining, sometimes, into mine.

A woodpecker makes itself distinct
     from a distance. Its brisk retort
on dead oak trunk is instinct, and this
     its district, and this its call to

order, and this its palate cleanser. Nothing
     but a woodpecker organizes so
much energy in such a tiny space, then quits.
     It flits again, is gone quick and

then again and again high, in the cedars,
     behind the pavilion. There is this
energy. Bewildering. In real time I lag
     behind il tempo vero as the well-

thumbed world slides out of true again.
     Abruptly cicadas in concert switch
off, and it’s only endless till it’s not,
     till the sun consents and bats come.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Move Along

It was a Star Wars moment. Dear Supervisor Meacham. I think he’s genuinely concerned about the cost of the Los Osos sewer project and the terrible impact it’s going to have on the many people of the community.

At the recent BOS update on the project, after many questions from the public, including opposition to taking design-build off the table for the collection system (hence taking the possibility of STEP off the table permanently), and including comments by Dana Ripley, reiterating his testimony before the Coastal Commission that he could build a STEP system that would save about $50 million, Meacham asked rather plaintively, How do we justify not laying different systems on the table for a side by side comparison (via the design build process that was promised to the community originally)?

Paavo Ogren’s Obi-wan-Kenobi’s soothing voice started in on one of his mesmerizing replies, starting with the statement that the $50 million promised claims aren’t $50 million and droned on and on. Dana Ripley stood up and walked over to stand by the wall, in plain sight – ready to reply – but Meacham didn’t look at him or call on him for a question or a response. You don’t need to see Ripley’s papers, Paavo soothed. I don’t need to see Ripley’s papers, Meacham muttered. These aren’t the droid’s you’re looking for, cooed Paavo. These aren’t the droid’s I’m looking for, murmured Meacham. Move along, said Paavo. We can move along, said Meacham.

And so he did, which allowed the STEP beast to be formally killed dead. Off the table. Oh, sure, the design-build concept was suggested as still being possible, maybe, for the design of the treatment facility, but not for the collection system – which is the most costly part of the project and where the maximum amount of money can be saved, providing you had taken a design-build approach from day one, which the County never did.

But there was an additional comic moment when the Board was informed that the $84 million USDA loan did not allow any design-build, thereby implying that somehow design-build was illegal or the Feds won’t allow it, or some such. Turns out that was not quite correct. Design-build is totally allowed by Washington, but the USDA’s administrative department in California is a bit behind the times and hasn’t changed it’s procedures and paperwork to handle design build, so they made it a condition of the loan that it must be the old-fashioned design-BID-build since that’s how their paperwork’s set up and it would take time and some trouble to change, which they’re not about to do.

So, once again, Los Osos will be getting 19th century technology (gravity sewers) and will be forced to deal with old paperwork systems because the CA branch of the USDA is behind the times. No possibilities of savings and innovation for Poor, red-haired step-child, Los Osos. Overpriced second-hand clothes are good enough for her.

Next up was the issue of Rates & Charges. That’s the additional amount, above and beyond the $25,000 capitol assessment costs, that each homeowner must pay. Right now, the capital costs are guestimated at $105 a month. The R&C will add about $80 a month, for a total of about $194. (Plus hook up costs for each homeowner.)

The trick with the R&C is the 218 vote for undeveloped property owners. They have to have a vague “reasonable” expectation of development, which will hinge on water, habitat conservation plans, & etc. before they can be dinged for R&C. And if the undeveloped property owners don’t pay “their fair share,” that amount will land on the shoulders of the developed property owners in the PZ.

Which sets up the interesting issue of “benefits:” As a homeowner, what “benefit” do I get from paying for my neighbor’s empty lot? As the owner of the empty lot, what “benefit” do I get paying for a sewer for property with no toilet on it?

So the County wordsmiths are now at work on that “protest ballot” and there will be workshops here in Los Osos and dare we hope for another glossy brochure, like the ones we got touting the vast benefits and plans the county had for utilizing design-build? Oh, right, that promise, like so many others, is soooo yesterday.

In the meantime, better mark your calendars. The “protest” vote on the R&C ordinance will arrive during the very busy holiday season – End of Oct to Mid Dec – so we can start laying bets: How many Los Ososians will lose or overlook or forget to mail in their “protest” “ballots” in all the Holiday busyness? Which is what makes “protest” ballots so interesting – it takes a 50% plus one to have a successful protest. In a community where one-third of the residents never even bothered to reply to the critically important Infamous Sewer Survey, the possibility of getting that 50% is realistically impossible. So, stay tuned on that one, but if you’re a home owner, better pray the “protest ballots” of all the vacant lot-owners will get lost in the holiday shuffle and so get not returned . Then, of course, on top of this, there’s a couple of legal rulings (one concerning Paso’s Water Woes, another in L.A., also a water woe tax vs. “fee” case) that may have bearing on this R&C ordinance.

By meeting’s end, the BOS voted for all the items listed in the agenda, including spending another $750,000. Frank Meacham voted no on that one.

Like I said, he seems concerned about money and costs, until Obi-Wan’s mind control kicks in. Then, not so much.

Other notes:

-- Once again, in a community in critical water overdraft, the concern was again expressed regarding gravity sewers. They require X # of gallons to operate properly and if everyone’s going low-flow and all conservation-y, when clogs occur (due to lack of the required # of gallons needed to operate properly) the county will be forced to flush the pipes out with scarce water, thereby wasting it, thereby increasing salt-water intrusion, thereby violating various Coastal Commission project requirements that we conserve water & etc.

-- since STEP had just been permanently killed, has a vacuum system been looked at as being compatible with the gravity pipe design already done, so it could be quickly adapted and would not strain water use for flushing gravity pipes. No answer on that one.

-- In a basin already in overdraft, there appears to be no restriction on development outside the PZ, which means those homes are sucking water out of an already over drafted system, so where is the water supposed to come from to allow build out? No answer on that one either. There will be further water reports in the future. Perhaps those will have some clues.

-- Still no answer as to why the USDA grant was “lost”, i.e. reduced from 16 mil to 4 mil. According to Julie Tacker, who reviewed the emails from USDA and county, there was no “blame” assigned in those emails. Supervisor Gibson has publicly “blamed” the loss on folks who appealed the project to the Coastal Commission, which also included a Coastal Commissioner as well. But, according to Ms. Tacker, that “blame” factor information is missing from the official emails. So, that question wasn’t answered either.

-- Los Osos is still waiting for that $35 million “grant” that Ms. Capps has been working on for years. It’s in the pipeline, has been authorized, but hasn’t been funded. So, say your prayers on that one.

-- A suggestion that the County look at the variety of SRF loans available to get a lower cost was met with the reply that one does not ask SRF for anything. One takes what’s offered. No questions asked. A sort of beggers and choosers type deal.

-- Yet another concern regarding the amount of power the gravity system will use, which also adds to the cost. Also another promise to re-submit Ripley’s testimony before the Coastal Commission back to the Coastal Commission for an answer: Why are we spending more money for the approved gravity system when there’s another (STEP) system that can save X $$ and water and energy and so forth. I can guarantee there’ll NOT be an answer on that one.

-- And, of course, a reiteration of the County’s stated core values for this project – i.e. No one should be forced to leave one’s home because of a sewer. And again the plaintive question, Why wasn’t the promised side-by-side, let the best technology determine the system, side-by-side design-build Process followed?

Right. No answer. But, you don’t need any answers. No, I don’t need any answers. And you need to stop asking questions. Yes, I need to stop asking questions. Now move along. Yes, I’ll move along.


Tuesday, October 05, 2010


When I went out this morning to pick up the paper, I smelled smoke on the early morning air. Didn’t smell like a neighbor firing up a fireplace. Much sharper, more acrid smell. Has our burning time come at last to some wilderness somewhere?
Uh-Oh, Part II
Here’s the amended agenda item that’ll be before the BOS this morning sometime before the noon recess (to be carried over after lunch, if necessary, maybe.) See if you can spot the ginormous broken “Process Promise” (found repeatedly in the glossy brochures on the project that the County churned out  prior to the Survey "vote.") that will happen today. And get ready for the old bait and switches to be found in the Rates & Charges scheme and/or in a 218 protest hearing “vote.” The spin and 'splaining on that one will be worth watching. 

And as for the additional $750,000?  Ah, don't worry about it.  The Prop 218  $25,000 per-property "assessment" the residents voted for was merely a "suggested" amount.  Millions more can be added on to this project in a variety of creative ways.  But it isn't a "tax."  It's not even an "assessment."  It's a Rate and a Charge, see?

--Ratify Letter of Intent to Meet Conditions from USDA for the $87 million in funding then Direct staff to:
--Prepare a Rates and Charges Ordinance for subsequent introduction
--Cancel design-build contracting process for the collection system
--Request proposals for professional engineering services for the collection system design from the short listed collection system design teams.
--Prepare quarterly project and budget updates for presentation on the same date as the quarterly County budget reports
--Consider a Resolution of Intention to proceed with the construction and operation of a wastewater collection, treatment and disposal system for Wastewater Assessment District No. 1.
--Approve a budget adjustment by 4/5 vote in the amount of $750,000 from the Road’s Fund to the Los Osos Sewer Project
--Accept project update from County staff.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Mark Your Calendars

On Tuesday morning, Oct 5, the Los Osos update will be held. It’s scheduled for sometime before lunch and will continue after the lunch break, if needed. The update is the last item before lunch. Agenda is at

The next fun things that  are or will be upcoming very soon on the sewer project will be the goold old "Rates and charges" ploy, the wonderful scheme to get the sewer costs for undeveloped properties stuck onto the homeowners of the PZ, on top of their own sewer costs.  It'll be one of those infamous, Los Osos Heh-Heh moments.  Clueless town.  Bait and switch.  Shazam! Done deal. Another one of those Paavo & Gibson's Magic Shows, wherein language will go all Alice-in-Wonderlandy and County Counsel, Warren Jensen, will declare that black is white, then everyone will be told to Move along, Move along.     

And while you’re waiting for the Tuesday meeting to start, grab your Blackberry or iPad and go to and read Jack McCurdy’s Oct 2010 story on “Leading Construction Firm for Wastewater Treatment Plant Loses Big Contract with City of New Orleans.”

Yup, it’s our old friends Montgomery Watson Harza. Which is funny. New Orleans, the Big Easy “unhiring” anyone over, uh, “questionable practices.” New Orleans? That must really, REALLY be some “questionable practices” is all I can say.

Well, SLO County won’t let that stop them from reconsidering short-listing MWH on the Los Osos wastewater project, now will it?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Your Sunday Poem

Apropos our recent heat wave and waiting for that first whiff of smoke, hoping the summer with no summer kept the chaparral full of moisture and by doing so slid by our burning time, this by Virginia Hamilton Adair, from her book of collected poems, "Ants on the Melon."


In September
the Sant'Ana

makes dogs tremble
arsonists go mad
lovers bite in bed

at all hours
sirens howling
into the foothills

along the ridges
rows of hideous suns
at midnight

trees burst

insane deer
run with the horses.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Just How Dumb Are We?

Calhoun's Can(n)on for Oct 1. 2010

. . . The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. . . .
                                    W.B. Yeats

What Yeats forgot to mention is that the passionate intensity is now filled with an astonishing amount of pure dumb. I mean, really. Has a good chunk of America started wearing tin-foil hats? Consider:

--The corporate media, as bad as it is, debunked the “death panels” rumor over 40 times. You remember that one? The lie that had folks terrified that the health care bill would result in the government killing Granny. Nonetheless, an Associated Press poll shows that 25% of those polled still think Granny’s gonna get offed.

--It gets worse. In a Pew poll, 18% of the public thought Obama was a Muslim, while 43% didn’t know what his religion was. In addition, a CNN poll found that 27% thought Obama was “probably” or “definitely” born in another country.

--All this gets worse for Republicans. A new poll reported in of 2,0003 self-identified Republicans, showed that 63 percent believe President Obama is a socialist, 24 percent think he wants terrorists to win, 36 percent do not believe the President was born in this country, 31 percent agreed with the statement that Obama is “a racist who hates white people,” while 23 percent want their state to secede from the union.

So, a good chunk of Americans apparently think Hawaii is now a foreign country, have forgotten the hysterical dust-up over President Obama’s pastor and spiritual mentor, the very Christian Reverend Jeremiah Wright, while a huge number are dreaming about the windfall inheritance soon to be coming their way every time Grandmaw starts looking peaked.

Plus, a scary percentage of deluded Republicans, while waving the flag and tub-thumping about the sacredness of the Constitution, nonetheless want to secede from the very union they claim as sacred?

And now, into this bizarre blend of Dumb and Forgetful comes a Republican Rerun – the un-new, un-improved retread of Newt Gringich’s old 1994 “Contract with America.” The “Pledge to America” is a cynical ploy that may well work because, beside Dumb, Americans also suffer from a serious case of short term memory loss. For that reason alone, they won’t bother to ask the critical question required of this new “Pledge:” If the issues listed in this “Pledge” were so important to Republicans and to the nation, then why weren’t they passed into law during the eight years that Republicans controlled the House, the Senate and the presidency?

The answer, of course, is that this rhetorical retread is just another cynical plan that will allow politicians and voters to pretend they’re doing something without having to actually do it. Because doing something about the problems we face means we’d all have to make some real changes. And that’s the one thing Americans don’t want to do.

Instead, we get the cynical in league with the willfully uninformed in order to avoid doing the necessary while both sides self-righteously play the victim card.

So we continue to dumbly vote for meaningless platforms that will never deliver any effective results. (Case in point, the Pledge’s promise to “End the practice of packaging unpopular bills and advance legislative issues one at a time.” Complete hokum as neither party will ever, EVER, “advance legislative issues one at a time.” Hiding unpopular bills inside popular bills gives politicians plausible deniability when they have to make hard choices. It’s the soft conspiracy of the unspoken lie that voters love since they regularly punish congressfolk who are honest enough to make those tough votes public.)

The result is we end up with spineless political weasels, dishonest “Pledges,” more political theatre, wealthy players, unions and corporations hiding behind affinity PACS in a system awash with huge secret, non-reported political “donations,” hours of Fox Noise’s misinformation inadvertently churning out fodder for John Stewart’s satirical “Daily Show,” great swaths of Corporate Media’s lazy misinformation further confusing an already dumbed-down and actively misinformed and forgetful electorate, while a comedian shows up in character to satirize our hypocritical farm labor policies during another useless window-dressing Congressional hearing while pundits pretend to be outraged by the stunt.

In short, we are entertaining ourselves to death, all of which will surely result – as it always does – with the sound of gunfire followed by bullet holes appearing in a huge number of feet: Bang! OW! Bang! OW!

And as for the “tea party” darling-du jour, Senatorial candidate from Delaware, Christine O’Donnell? In 2007 she excitedly claimed as fact that “American scientific companies are crossbreeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains!”

Close, Ms. O’Donnell. But you reversed the brain/body order.