Sunday, May 29, 2011

In Memorium

A moment this Memorial Day Weekend, to remember all the warriors and innocents who have fallen and continue to fall to the God of War.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Uh-oh, Better Get More Candles

If you want to experience a sickening sense of deja vu, get a copy of New Times ( )for Colin Rigley's excellent story, "Consulting Waste."  Morro Bay and Cayucos are joined at the hip via the Joint Powers Authority to upgrade their shared wastewater treatment plant which is located in Morro Bay. Naturally, this being a sewage project, the Usual Suspects showed up:  Corrollo Engineers, Wallace Group, followed by Montgomery Watson Harza.  And, as Rigley notes, "It's been five years since the two communities contracted the first consultant to begin planning for a plant upgrade project.  Morro Bay and Cayucos have, as it stands, a project proposal that could be in need of a complete overhaul.  Consultant fees have so far cost about $1 million in what could ultimately be a $34.3-million project -- unless it gets more expensive."

Continues Rigley, "'You hire a consultant, and they have no responsibility for the outcome,' said one local official intimate with the project. 

"The consultant gig can be a cut-and-run game in which the consultant submits a proposal, then skedaddles before that proposal is put to the test.

"'This means they can do anything they want, charge anything they want, and if it doesn't work out, then you have to pay more," said Gail McPherson, a wastewater division manager from Riverside -- now acting director for Citizens for Clean Water."

Adding to the expensive pile-on, are the lobbyists whose job is to try to finesse (or "spoon feed") a project past the Coastal Commission, a tough job if the project is shaky, which this project was from day one.  I mean, almost before the ink was dry on the copy of the plan, the CC was firing dangerous warning shots across the JPA's bow. The problem? Thinking they could just build a new treatment plant on the old site without looking seriously at alternative sites that would take the plant off a 100-year flood zone.  Plus taking a serious look at treated wastewater reuse, a costly re-do but one that's simply going to be the prefered plan for any upgrades from now on in a water-strapped state.

And so it went, consults begetting consultants.  Here's Rigley again.  "If some of the names and companies working on Morro Bay's and Cayucos' project seem familiar, it's because they are.  In the Los Osos project, members of the Wallace Group and Carollo -- specifically Lou Carella, who worked briefly for MWH -- sat on the panel that recently selected MWH as one of the top three firms to design and build the most recent incarnation of the Los Osos sewer project.

"In fact, [Project manager Dennis] Delzeit's contract with Mrro Bay is a joint venture with him as the project manager along with the Wallace Group.  On paper, Delzeit and the Wallace Group are virtually synonymous.  Every page of his contract pitch for the project management gig is labeled 'R. Dennis Delzeit & Wallace Group.'

"Delzeit was also part of a seven-member review committee that selected MWH to design the Morro Bay/Cayucos project.

"Morro Bay Capital Projects Manager, Dylan Wade, who worked for MWH until April 2007, also sat on the selection committee (wade, however, recused himself from the final state of the selection process, he said in a previous interview.)

"'It seems pretty clear that we just keep on reverting to the same firms,' said one local official.

Indeed, some of the same MWH people who designed the Los Osos project are part of the MWH team in Morro Bay and Cayucos.

"And the price tag is rising."

I'll say. Which is why Rigley concludes his article with this: "What no one wants, though, is a replay of Los Osos -- a project that has skyrocketed in cost over three decades and coutless revisions.  But as it moves forward -- manned by many of the same people and companies for a project that may need to relocate -- it seems the Morro Bay/Cayucos project could be facing the same fate."

Which is why I say, get out the candles, folks, and start saying your prayers for the good folks in Morro Bay.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

And What About This Was NOT Predictable?

So, Republican pols and their spineless Democratic bretheren started in on a sure fire political issue: WAR ON CRIME! No flaccid softness here. Lock ‘em up! Build more prisons! Three Strikes and you’re out! Smoke a joint, go to prison! Hang ‘em all! So they started building prisons all over the state and when that wasn’t enough, started privatizing the prisons – big money to be made, more prisoners, more per diem profit!

But, being Republicans, the pols also signed onto the Grover Norquistian Blood Oath – NO NEW TAXES!

So, mo’ prisons, mo’ prisoners, mo’ guards and no additional taxes to pay for it all.

So the Supreme Court has ruled that the overcrowded prisons constitute cruel and unusual punishment and in order t get the proper occupancy numbers down, the State, which is broke, now has to either build more prisons or re-shuffle them from state back to counties, which are also broke. Or release prisoners, many of whom will return to prey on their communities.

So, please tell me, just what about this mess was not predicable? Right. None of it.

Dr. Phil Rules

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed Congress yesterday. I have long since stopped reading about the Israel/Palestine issue. It’s such a tangled pile of intractable pick-up-sticks that even fifteen minutes worth of contemplating which stick to carefully lift first without toppling the whole pile makes my head explode.

But here’s what I do know: Both side in this bitter battle are faced with TV’s Dr. Phil’s Great Basic Question: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?

Or, in the case of Israel/Palestine, Do you want to be right or do you want to be . . . dead, or permanently dispossessed and displaced, or under constant threat of random violence or . . . . or . . . .?

That ultimate question that can only be answered by both parties. I can only hope and pray they both have the courage to chose life.

On The Other Hand

Or maybe peace in the middle east will be overtaken by larger events: Another volcano has erupted in Iceland, an astonishing number of tornadoes has and continues to devastate the center of the country, and Preacher Harold Camping has re-figured his Judgement Day. It will come Oct 21, which is a relief since I won’t have to buy Halloween candy again this year.

Meantime, God Bless Chicago. They’re starting to greenscape the place since by mid century they predict that global warming will result in a Chicago environment more akin to Alabama than Canada. So, out with the doomed beech trees, bring on the Magnolias and put start repaving the streets to deal with the massive deluge of warm southern rains they’ll be getting.

Well, finally, a civic government actually leaning forward, looking into a future that can’t be ignored or wished away, carefully considering the unavoidable consequences of present day events, then actually doing something about it now.

Chi-caaaago, Chi-caaago, that toddling town!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

SewerWatch's Dots

For SewerPhiles who are in need of their fix, Ron Crawford's been busy assembling some historical dots.  "Exposed: The Karner Confession," at .  Read at your own peril. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Your Sunday Poem

Last month ago in the L.A. Times, there was a story by Oliver Gettell about a poetry reading done at Royce Hall (UCLA) by poets Kay Ryan and Billy Collins. Gettel begins by noting, “After reading a truly good poem, one finds it hard to look at the world in quite the same way again.” Both Collins and Ryan write poems that are often “witty,” but always with a knife’s sharp edge hiding in amongst the words. Said Ryan of Collins’ work, “In a way, I enjoy what so very many people enjoy, and that is the easy, inviting tone and pace of his work, where he walks you down a path and the path gets much more interesting and funnier than you knew.”

Here’s an excellent example of what Ryan and Gettell are talking about, from Collin’s new book, Horoscopes for the Dead.


In those weeks of midsummer
when the roses in gardens begin to give up,
the big red, white, and pink ones –
the inner, enfolded petals growing cankerous,
the ones at the edges turning brown
or fallen already, down on their girlish backs
in the rough beds of turned-over soil,

then how terrible the expressions on their faces,
a kind of was it all really worth it? look,
to die here slowly in front of everyone
in the garden of a bed-and-breakfast
in a provincial English market town,
to expire by degrees of corruption
in plain sight of all the neighbors passing by,

the thin mail carrier, the stocky butcher
(thank God the children pay no attention),
the swiveling faces in the windows of the busses,
and now this stranger staring over the wall,
his hair disheveled, a scarf loose around his neck,
writing in a notebook, writing about us no doubt,
about how terrible we look under the punishing sun.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


So, I wake up and The Mighty Finn McCool's whining.  He wants to go out to pee.  The faintest hint of light is in the eastern sky. The stars are still overhead.  Some clouds have moved in and it looks like it'll be overcast, at least part of the day. The earth still smells sweet after the rain and I can hear the soft roar of the far away surf in the morning silence.

The world, in all it's miraculous glory. . . is still here.  WTF???  According to dear Reverend Camping (who, Mother Jones Magazine reports, has amassed $75 million from his faithful followers (WHAT?? $75 million???  Clearly, I'm in the wrong business.), the world was supposed to end today.  Absolutely, positively.  Bible and The Rev Camping's numerology said so. 

Yet here it still is, world without end, amen,  in all its wonderous stubborn persistent glory.  

So, you might as well have a nice day. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Aw, Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Aw, Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

According to Harold Camping of the Family Radio Broadcasting Network, using numerology of his own making, the Rapture will occur on Saturday May 21st (or maybe 12:01 Friday May 20th?). At that moment, the Rapture will sweep up the faithful, the rest of us will face five months of natural disasters and much suffering, then God will destroy the entire universe. Ka-Boom! Gone. Poof.

Naturally, some wags have started a website (www. ) which, for a fee, will promise to look after your pets (no horses or camels at this point; their kenneling space is limited). And, of course, there’s sure to be a brisk sale in the bumper-sticker trade: “When the Rapture Comes, Can I Have Your Mercedes?”

I’m also facing a quandary. I took The Mighty Finn McCool back to Dr. Szabo for a follow-up chiropractic treatment for his kinked neck. Since Dr. Szabo’s going to be gone for two weeks, starting Friday the 20th, we’re going to watch Finn carefully, then if he’s doing well, schedule the next follow up as close to Friday as possible so his treatment will buy as much time as possible while she’s gone.

But, there it is: Decisions, decisions, decisions. Take Finn in on Friday and by midnight I’ll be heading up to heaven thinking, “Oh, Crap! I coulda save myself forty-smackaroonies.” Or save a few bucks on treatment and figure Finn can just look out for himself. Or call the eternal-earthbound-pets organization and send them a large chunk of change. The only problem is they probably wouldn’t get Finn back in for his follow-up and the poor guy would have to suffer with a kinked neck while I’m floating around in heaven not giving a fig about his suffering.

Oh, what would Jesus do?

I know, I’m mocking dear sweet Mr. Camping and his followers, but c’mon, people have been predicting the ending of the world almost from the day the world started. Which is really such a fascinating phenomenon to me.

For example, what is it about Christianity that has, at its core, a hatred/fear/distain/disgust with corporeal existence? It’s that old Manichean Heresy in all its manifestations. Instead of cherishing God’s creation and loving and blessing and caring and being grateful for all of his splendors, a powerful strain of Christianity believes the world to be a wicked manifestation of the Devil, evil temptations all ‘round, a state of being devoutly wished to be exited from as quickly as possible. At the same time as it despises all that is worldly, Christianity strictly forbids makes exiting this awful place by suicide verboten. Which then sets up the odd religious notion that God must want humans to suffer in a hellish world, which lands us back into Manicheanism, which was also declared a “heresy” by the Catholic Church. Jeesh, would somebody make up their minds?

The end result of this core hatred of life is a religion that isn’t healthy for children and other living things. I mean, if you loved and cherished the world as an outward manifestation of God’s creation, why would you keep dreaming up and lovingly, droolingly, obscenely focusing on all the horrible ways it and all its creatures will suffer and die in sadistically awful ways? Except you, of course. That’s the ego-ridden mentality of somebody who pulls wings off flies while dreaming up even more elaborate ways to make the fly suffer. In short, that’s a mentality that profoundly DOESN’T LIKE God’s creation very much.

Well, I’m sure Mr. Camping will wake up Saturday morning profoundly disappointed to find himself still here in this terrible, awful, hideous, sinfully tempting place. (Chocolate! Mangoes! Sex! A baby’s smile!) Then he’ll go back and re-do his self-invented numerology and announce the NEXT rapture.

Then spend the precious moments of his life totally missing every splendid manifestation of God that’s all around him; splendor in a grain of sand, beauty in a bat’s wing, awe in the thunderstorm, all of which, every second of every day allotted to us demands a cry from the heart: Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Quick, Grab the Garlic. And a Mirror. Cross? Wooden Stake?

Well, there’s good news and bad news. First, La Donald has decided he likes show business better than being President so he’s out of the race. His announcement was all very anti-climactic. For a while there, you couldn’t turn on the television or open a paper without La Donald bloviating about some ridiculous topic or another. Hilariously, he ended up being hoist by his own “birther” petard when the President produced his long form birth certificate, (topic over), then at the Washington Press Corps Dinner, Obama stuck a few pins into the Comb-over King and SNL Weekend Update’s Seth Meyers went in for the coup de grace. La Donald was not amused.

A few days later the news came of Osama Bin Laden’s death and La Donald was heard no more. And who says God does not listen to prayers?

Mike Huckabee, another birther, decided God didn’t want him to run. More likely, it was God and Mamon now that he’s one of the well-paid Faux News Fellows.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is running around doing his version of I Voted For It Before I Voted Against It, declaring that the Massachusetts health care plan, which apparently is working very well and liked by most people in the state, is o.k. for them, but the nearly identical ObamaCare means the death of the republic and can’t be allowed for other people in other states.

And finally, we now have Newt Gingrich. Really. Newt? Seriously? He wants to be president because, well, he wants to be president. And once people see the wonderfulness of Newt in all his glorious bloviating gas-baggery they too will flock to bask in his breathtaking gloriousness.

Really. Newt. Dear God in Heaven.

Two? Now there’s TWO?

Recent headline announces that there has been a “second rape in less than a week involving Cal Poly students,” both victims “reportedly intoxicated and unconscious during the attack.”

I don’t know why they bother putting these stories on the front page. Clearly when it comes to some students and booze, Nobody Learns Anything. These young women are lucky they didn’t die of alcohol poisoning, and if they don’t end up pregnant or with an STD (or worse) they should consider themselves lucky. The young men, if they get caught, will find out how changed their lives will become, and not for the better. And the whole thing will Wash, Rinse, Repeat. Which is why Mother Calhoun can’t even get worked up over the whole issue.

But two? Really? That goes from Unfortunate Incident to, Aw, Just How Dumb ARE these Girls, Anyway?

Speaking of Dumb

The May 13 Tribune got around to writing about the May 5-6 Regional Water Quality Control Board Ag / Atascadero water pollution issues (reported here on the May 6 entry). If reporter Tonya Strickland attended the meeting, she clearly missed Chairman Young’s dog-whistle message. The City of Atascadero missed it, that’s for sure. The story quotes City Council-woman Roberta Fonzi as saying, “We’re not happy with the way the decision went. Their rules will be very expensive for us, and we don’t see the need for them.”

Hahahahahah. Councilwoman Fonzi doesn’t understand the game she’s now trapped in. When the State Water Board approves the stealth rule changes, the trap will be set.

In my blog report on this topic, I had two words for the dear Aggies and Atascadero: Los Osos.

Both Chairman Young and the Board’s attorney gave the game away but clearly nobody in the room was listening. And the Tribune missed the real story. As usual.

Freedom Riders

Don’t know if any of you had a chance to watch PBS’s “American Experience” program last night on the Freedom Riders, young black and white college students, many members of CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) who were trained in the principals of non-violence and set out to challenge Jim Crow laws in the south as they applied to interstate travel. In the late 40’s the Supreme Court had ruled that interstate travel could not be subject to segregation, a ruling that was utterly ignored in the south, which meant Whites-Only and Colored-Only bus station facilities throughout the state.

It was this situation the kids set out to challenge by riding on Greyhound and Trailways busses into the 1961 heart of darkness. And dark it was. The KKK-fueled mobs met the kids at their stops. One bus was fire-bombed, the riders nearly burned to death, other bus stations were scenes of riots, the kids severely beaten while local police stood by and/or arrested them (not the men assaulting them) and in the case of Mississippi, betrayed by a “deal” cut by the Feds and the Mississippi Governor, sent them not to city jail, but to prison. All of it documented by some equally brave newsmen.

The two-hour documentary is riveting, the bravery of those young students absolutely breathtaking (Imagine talking back to Birmingham, Alabama’s Commissioner of Public Safety, “Bull” Conner, an out-of-control psychopath who was even feared by the state’s governor. Astonishing.) The footage is often sickening in its accurate portrayal of the hatred and bigotry that was part and parcel of the “southern culture.” (And found in a more polite form outside the south.) And in the willing to face this danger in order to change the world, the documentary echoes events in Egypt’s Tarhir Square: Young kids, fearful, at terrible risk, who still go on, determined to change their world.

For someone born in the ‘70s or later, the documentary would likely look like ancient history that happened on some other planet occupied by ignorant, evil troglodytes. But for me, the film brought back so many memories of how the world was within my lifetime. I remember reading of the Freedom Riders, seeing the shocking images of “Bull” Conner and his police dogs attacking protesters, cringed at the ugly racial stereotypes, the easy use of the N-word, the hatred that usage implied. That was the given reality of the world the film so beautifully depicts; a world where, in many states, black people couldn’t get a cup of coffee in a J.J. Newberry’s, couldn’t use a “white” restroom in a Greyhound bus station, couldn’t even vote, let alone get elected dog catcher. And now, a black man sits in the White House.

Thanks to the young Freedom Riders, thanks to so many extraordinarily brave people willing to risk their lives to make the Constitution a living reality, that world changed utterly. And changed almost beyond recognition within my lifetime.

Which is what made watching the “American Experience” documentary so amazing; as a child and young adult, I lived in one world. Now I live in another world altogether.

That’s how quickly things can change when good people stand up.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Your Sunday Photos

Went down to Solvang for a visit a few days ago.  The following were taken at the Quick Silver Ranch ( ) where they raise miniature horses.

Lunchtime at the Ranch

                                                         Naptime at the ranch



Until You Know Who Came Along

Right, THAT guy

Meanwhile, back at the home front, the Mantilija poppies are going berserk.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Forgetting Bin Laden

Calhoun’s Cannons for May 14, 2001

It’s hard to imagine how unremembered we all become,/ How quickly all that we’ve done / Is unremembered and unforgiven, / 
                                         Charles Wright

The first thought I had when I heard the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed was the same response when I hear that some old, forgotten movie star has died: Huh? I thought they died years ago. This was followed by the all purpose, Good riddance to bad rubbish, followed by astonishment when the jumbled story of the raid came tumbling out: Meh. Navy SEALs. Well, of course. When you want extraordinary courage and breathtaking competence that’s who you call, the SEALs.

But for me, a joyous celebration over Bin Laden’s death never came. What came instead to overwhelm any sense of satisfaction was lingering sadness and fatigue. It had all been such a pointless waste that could never be undone and now it was all too late. Those twin dark stars, Bush and Bin Laden, in a deadly call and response, had unleashed a rain of death: Murderous phony Jihad colliding with the cynically ginned-up lethal God of Imperial PNAC War. Shock and awe, baby! And now the body count is beyond what either man could ever possibly atone or answer for. No real justice for the dead now. Not really. There’s simply too many of them for that.

Instead, we have to settle for a majestically executed kill/capture, then it’s time to change the channel. The dead are forever gone and Bin Laden is soooo yesterday; a pointless old man holed up in a ratty house, dying his grey beard for his recruiting tapes and dreaming of paradise, while his planned-for Islamic caliphate went all Facebook on him and brought an Arab Spring, not with guns but with cell phones. And Bush has holed up in the Texas countryside, cutting shrubbery while historians unravel all the lies and the politicians who aided and abetted his misbegotten war have changed the subject. Time to move on. Game over.

Except for the dead and maimed. They remain unwanted guests at the celebration whispering, “Tell me, after all, was it worth it?” And, really, what do all these evil schemes ever ultimately bring to their architects but failure, death, and ignominious Saturday Night Live jokes.

Yet it never ends. In another dark corner of the world, another fool is plotting paradise and the fools who will follow after him are gathering their knives and clutching malice to their hearts, all of them repeatedly slouching towards Bethlehem in one long, endless line. It’s the Groundhog Day of history – nobody learns anything.

All of which accounts for my sense of fatigue, no doubt. No balloons and noise-makers for me. Just another sad re-run to be followed by a re-make. While I keep hoping that somebody will come to tell me that what I’ve been watching all these years was meant to be a road-runner cartoon, not Macbeth, but due to some unfortunate technical glitch, both Wile E. Coyote and McDuff’s slaughtered children keep staying dead.

If there is a glimmer of hope in any of this, I must find it in the breathtaking competence of the Navy SEALs. And I can only hope that President Obama’s ridding the Spook Agencies of political cronies and hacks will return them to a professional competency that’s focused more on counterterrorism in a troubled world ripe for jihadi picking.

I can also hope that perhaps the years-long insanity that resulted in our national nervous breakdown when those twin towers fell is over. We desperately needed cool competency then. What we got instead was incompetent “hair on fire” bunglers in meltdown mode. If this Navy SEALs operation is an indication that icy focus has returned, then it’s possible the nation’s fever has finally broken.

When Bin Laden unleashed those planes against the towers, he opened a Pandora’s box of call and response terrors. But in the myth, after all the destruction, there always remained in the bottom of the box, one item: Hope.

Hope in the form of cool, hope in the form of seriousness of purpose, hope in the form of those cell phones and Twitters from the kids in Tahrir Square. It’s their future that’s being born now. They have a chance to break this particular Ground Hog Day and write a better script.

Come to think of it, we all do.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Poor Finn, Happy At Last

Aw, poor Finn McCool. Everything happens to Finn, which is why I have shoebox bins full of vet-wrap and gauze pads and booties and pills and nostrums. This time, it was a new wrinkle.

I’d put the gang down for the night and about an hour later I heard pathetic whining. Came out in the living room to see Finn standing in the middle of the room all hunched over, crying, his left front leg slightly lifted and his shoulder scrunched up into his neck. He was frozen, trembling, in a lot of pain, refusing to move. After checking him all over and moving his legs, I finally got him to take a few hesitant steps, but he was clearly in a great deal of distress. When his tongue ran out and he started panting, the first thing that crossed my mind was “bloat,” and since that can kill quickly if untreated, it was off to the Atascadero Pet Hospital emergency room -- Ca-CHING$$! --in the dead of night.

Naturally, by the time we got there, he had managed to unstiffen and was moving pretty normally. Dr. Hambright checked him all over then took him back for an x-ray of the gut just to make sure. Alas, he was in too much paint to get him to lie flat for the shot, then the computer went kerflooey and would only return one picture. Since that image showed a normal gut, it was decided to give him pain meds and keep him over night for observation, then shoot another gut shot in the morning, which is how I came to miss a portion of Thursday’s Mad Hatter Regional Quality Control Board meeting on the discharge requirements for the Hideous Los Osos Sewer. (Luckily, I was able to make the hilarious “Oh, Atascadero, You Have No Clue The Abyss You’re Trodding, Bwa-hahhahah” portion of the meeting, reported here a few days ago.)

Finn was sent home with a supply of Medicam for pain and inflammation, and seemed to settle down for a day, then he had a mini-repeat when he tried to scramble to his feet, yelped, stopped on his elbows and froze there. I managed to get him up and walking around. But clearly, the problem was still not resolved, so I called Dr. Szabo, the animal chiropractor since it now seemed clear what was happening: Finn had originally somehow kinked his neck. You know the feeling if you’re ever rolled over in bed the wrong way and, Yeeoooowwww! Or if you’ve got a “trick” back that goes kerflooey on you.

So yesterday, it was back to Atascadero to see Dr. Szabo, the pet chiropractor at the Hospital. Her strong hands felt his neck and spine and soon zeroed in on the spot in the neck at the shoulder that had gone out of whack. A few crunches and yelps followed by deep tissue laser treatment and he was good to go. Then it was home for daily ice packs and some daily Puppy Yoga (lateral neck/head movements to keep the neck muscles limber) and bring him back next week for a follow up. But that should do the trick.

So, The Mighty Finn’s once more mighty! And I’m mighty broke. Aw, but whadda ya gonna do.

Oh, why does everything have to happen to meeee???

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Your Mother's Day Poem

This from Carl Dennis from his book, "New and Selected Poems, 1974 - 2004," available in your local bookstore now.


Spring, I remembered you all these months.
I spoke of the green yard under the snow
To my slumped visitors.
I sobered the giddy neighbors.
"You may think you're happy,"
I cautioned, "but recall the tea roses,
The lost leaves of the dogwood tree."

But now you have fallen upon us, Spring,
Without warning,
So much greener than I remembered.
Friends I kept from forgetting
Laugh at me as they run outside
For falling so short in your praise.

Friday, May 06, 2011

We're All Los Osos Now, Baby

Awww, Gawwwdd. It was simply too, too perfect. There was the April 29th “Viewpoint” in the Tribune, an earnest Cri de Coeur from Atascadero Mayor, Tom O’Malley and the city council members bewailing the upcoming Regional Water Quality Control Board’s May 5th meeting.

Remember the RWQCB’s “stealth basin plan update?” Wherein they sent around post-card “notices” with lots of argle-bargle printed on it, post-cards that were more than likely to end up in the trash with the junque mail. So, naturally no residents would show up at the update meetings, so whatever the RWQCB wanted to put into the plan went into the plan and now, here’s the stealth plan, kaBloom! rolled out and ready to be voted on.

And the Mayor is howling. Claiming that the regulations would impact all properties in the city that use septic tanks. That the ordinances would impinge on property rights by prohibiting “secondary residences on parcels less than 2 acres,” require the city to “identify and address areas of potential groundwater that may be degraded by septic systems,” “verify that existing and proposed systems are constructed and maintained in accordance with strict standards which could include inspections,” possibly call for more extensive and expensive septic systems, and “prohibit self-regenerating water softeners.”

Notes the Viewpoint:” “We have steadfastly opposed the regulations; and in addition, the Atascadero Mutual Water Company has tested groundwater near all wells and found no issue with Atascadero’s water quality. The City Council believes strongly that the proposals are not warranted” . . . and that “There have been an insignificant number of failures of septic systems, and this magnitude of increased regulatory oversight is unnecessary.”

Bwa-hahahahah. Awwww, poor babies. I have two words for them: Los Osos.

And then, on May 1, came another Viewpoint, this one from Richard S. Quandt, president and general counsel of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties. His clients – farmers in both counties – have discovered that the RWQCB’s two-year’s work on enforcement of the State’s new rules on groundwater pollution from agriculture, was continuing it’s public comment hearings here in SLOTown, and apparently a whole lot of farmers (and their lawyers) were not amused.

Wrote Quandt:” “Board staff has attempted to justify this regulatory expansion by presenting facts that, when examined, are found to contain omissions, anomalies and unfounded assumptions.

“Instead of creating a complete and science-based factual record upon which to base public policy recommendations, board staff has already determined the direction and is advocating for its position by manipulating information.”

And, “Poorly thought-out policy recommendations take place when government regulators isolate themselves and refuse to vet their predetermined policies with those who will be subject to them. Is it any wonder that board staff agreed to a total of just two meetings with the agricultural working group in the past 24 months?”

Well, Mr. Quandt, I have two words for you, too: Los Osos.

I mean, this is the same staff that gave us the Mad Hatter Tea Party and Torquemada’s Auto De Fe “Trial” of The Los Osos 45. This is the same staff and board that singled out, targeted and slapped CDOs on 45 Los Osos citizens, claiming they were doing it in the name of water quality. But the CDOs did not stay with the property’s septic tank. When the CDO holder sells and moves, the CDO goes away. What homeowner digs up his septic tank and takes it with him when he moves? Right. Nobody. So this CDO was never about “water quality,” or even septic tanks. It was an illegal act of electioneering and a complete abuse of regulatory power used to terrorize a handful of people as an example to a town in order to influence their vote.

And now Atascadero and the good farmers in Santa Barbara and SLO counties are going to find out what Los Ososians have known for years.

Mayor O’Malley meet Mr. Briggs. Mr. Briggs, Mr. O’Malley. Mr. Quandt? Mr. Briggs. Mr. Briggs, Mr. Quandt.

Too delicious a scenario to miss, which is why I headed into the Aero Vista St. RWQCB meeting room, which was packed. Two board members recused themselves on account of they owned irrigated land and the Board is short one member, so there wasn’t a quorum. Which meant there could be no final vote, only a recommendation from the remaining panel.

Since the meeting was a continuation of the one that started in Watsonville, it started in the middle of public comment from a whole bunch of irritated farmers asserting the usual:

-- objections over process, confusion over what would or would not be admitted as testimony, a constantly changing draft report making it impossible to comment sint it was always a moving target.

--the proposed ordinances requiring another level of regulations to help clean up nitrates in groundwater caused by ag practices shouldn’t just target farmers but should it everyone

-- the program shouldn’t be mandatory, should be voluntary. The regs are a one-size-fits-all, which means they won’t fit anybody. The reporting rules are onerous, the staff doesn’t know what they’re talking about, the program is setting farmers up for failure after which they’ll be prosecuted.

-- the science being used is based on inaccurate info, the staff report seems to behave as if nitrates in groundwater are a point source issue, not a non-point source issue, there are too many anomalies, incorrect data .

--the cost of this program will be onerous and may take ag land out of production or cause farmers to go out of business.

If you’re a Los Ososian, all of this will sound sadly familiar.

But the best discourse of the day came from Mr. Edward Hard, from the Department of Food and Agriculture, Fertilizer Research & Education Program, Division of Inspection Services, State of California, who stood at the podium for quite some time and quietly tried to point out that part of the regulation targets that are based on nitrogen uptake values of crops, one of the key target numbers that farmers must aim for, is problematic since there are no scientific studies that correctly give those uptake values.

In other words, the RWQCB wrote a draft ordinance that basically requires a regulation based on no known science – just grabbed some kind of “average” number, for example, then wrote an ordinance that required farmers to somehow to meet that number, even though that number had no known science to back it up as accurate or even realistic. And if that target is missed, the farmer could face enforcement and fines. And scientifically evaluating those uptake numbers on even two crops would take two years and as over 200 crops are involved, getting a real number could take years and years, which we don’t have because nitrate pollution from ag is rising and is a serious problem that can’t wait.

After which another Ph.D soil scientist guy quietly pointed out that part of his PhD was to look at nitrogen uptake in cotton and the best that particular plant could do was a 50% uptake, not 1:1, so put most simply, farmers have to over-fertilize to get optimum plant uptake, but it’s all much more complex than simply pounds per acre and depends on many, many variables.

In short, the science just isn’t there yet, so it’s more seat-of-pants growing, which may well account for a good deal of the excess nitrogen ending up in the water. And rather than simply setting target numbers, perhaps a better way to go is to set up an irrigation program to create a cadre of highly trained folks who can work with ranchers to better control water and fertility and hence nitrogen use versus just having farmers fill out forms that nobody will read.

All of which caused Chairman Young to exasperatedly crank at the bland Mr. Hard that Dammit, the Board is there to regulate, they’re charged by the State of California to regulate the waters of the state, so by god they’re gonna pass some sort of regulation, then let the farmers (or science) somehow figure it all out later. (If you live in Los Osos, this will sound, really, really familiar.)

Later, at Staff comment time, it was asserted that that mysterious non-scientific uptake number wasn’t what it was in the draft, but something different or, oh, like whatever . . . The farmer I was sitting with, snorted through their nose at that. He was not amused.

And on it went, until the group pushing the Ag Alternative Proposal showed up with piles of new “testimony,” which Chairman Young allowed into the record even though that violated the rules concerning public comment. They were proposing that there was a better way to go, rather than a one well, one farm “regulatory” approach since there’s a real fear and distrust of the Board. That caused Chairman Young to go all treacle and tears, sorrowing and sighing about how “unfortunate” it is that farmers should be fearful of having the hammer of enforcement coming down on them. Which was hilarious. Clearly, Chairman Young has forgotten . . . The Los Osos 45. Ah, how sharp the serpent’s tooth . . .

Instead, the Ag Alt program would work in groups and/or regions and monitor well data in the aggregate while working with cooperative farmers to meet regional goals of reducing overall nitrate numbers. And if a particular farmer in the group balks, or refuses to work to improve his operation, the Ag Group could dump him and leave him to the tender mercies of Roger Briggs.

And it was this plan that Chairman Young bent over backwards to ensure would get a second look and so its various components will be considered as an addendum to the proposed ordinance and it all be returned for a possible vote in Sept.

Thus endeth the Ag ordinance, for the time being. From the grumbles I heard, the farmers in the room left town with a very guarded outlook. But what amazed me was the soft soap the Board served up to the agricultural community. Even Roger Briggs, in his closing remarks, went on and on about how minimal these regs are, how un-burdensome they were, how minimal, how benign. And board member Jefferies went so far as to hand-wring about his deep concerns that these regs should not create a financial burden, that farmers shouldn’t be forced out of their ranches, that businesses be harmed, even though the Board kept reiterating that the nitrate problem was terrible! a crisis! a danger!

Which was ironic. If, as they claimed, nitrate contamination by ag practices were a Terrible Crisis! then the Board needed to single out 45 farmers, slap CDOs on them, put them through a Mat Hatter “trial, threaten them with jail, even “fine them out of existence.”

But, no, there would be no CDOs for these aggies. Instead, everything about this ordinance would be aimed at doing the very least. Which is why nobody should ever underestimate the power of big Ag that arrives en mass with their attorneys. As usual, God bless the child. . . .

On Thursday, it was Atascadero’s time in the barrel as the Board considered voting on the update of the region-wide onsite system implementation plan that was also updated in 2008 & 2009, so the Board maintained that this was no big deal, just a few minor details. Which is how they do these thing: confuse criteria with implementation. Minor update or not, various Atascadero officials and their attorneys showed up to complain that there’s no evidence of ground water problems from septics, no evidence of problems from salt water softeners, no evidence that you need to treat new and old systems differently, the regulations conflict with State law, it doesn’t have a Burden Benefit Analysis as required, the update is premature because the state is still working on their overriding updates so Why is the local RWQCB jumping the gun? Also, there’s no showing (lack of findings) of necessity and authorities for the regulations, CEQA requirements are not met, it constitutes an unfunded mandate, is too costly. And on and on and on.

In short, Atascadero authorities showed up to say, It ain’t broke so why are you fixing it? Which shows that these good folks don’t understand. This isn’t about fixing broken things, it isn’t about science or practical reality. It’s about command and control. It’s about quietly laying the ground work, a few stealth pieces at a time, to carefully create the unchallengeable confusion of criteria and implementation. That is, first pass a resolution, say Resolution 83-13, with a set of rules (criteria) and claim that’s since it’s been voted on it’s a done deal (even though the proposal may not have been finalized by the State Water Board). If these rules (criteria) are challenged in court at this phase, the judge will be told that the resolution (criteria) can only be challenged when they’re implemented (the case is “ripe.”) When that does happens, often years later, the Board then claims that the statute of limitations is long past and so it can’t be challenged. It’s the perfect Major Major Major ploy from “Catch 22.”

But the earnest Atascaderians didn’t understand and kept babbling on about how fine their septic tanks were, how well they were operating, often within a few hundred of feet of their drinking water wells when suddenly, Chairman Young’s nose twitched, his eyes narrowed, his ears perked up to a Boiiiiiing alert point and he quietly asked the babbler whether there were septic tanks located over “potential drinking water.”

Ah, yes, the dog whistle lure of Porter Cologne. The RWQCB doesn’t need science. It doesn’t need facts. As the Board’s attorney reminded the sweet, clueless dim bulbs from Atascadero, if there’s discharges anywhere that “could” impact any water of the State of California, then the RWQCB has the legal authority to prosecute even without any evidence that there actually is any actual pollution. “Could impact” is sufficient to land anyone in the Land of Enforcement. So you can see why Chairman Young’s nose twitched? Yes. “Potential drinking water source?”

Poor Atascadero. They didn’t hear that dog whistle. They didn’t notice the abyss that had been under their feet all along. No legs to stand on. Poor dears.

Unlike the aggies with their lawyers, the City of Atascadero and their lawyers were told, Thanks for stopping by, good luck, here’s the door, if you have any questions, call our staff, Buh-bye. Resolution accepted as is: 6-0.

Like all RWQCB meetings, this one again left me scratching my head. How is it possible that everything the RWQCB does ends up FUBAR? It’s truly amazing. I suspect much of the problem comes from the utter lack of transparency (or common sense) in water law. That’s a Byzantine nightmare realm that nobody can navigate. Add in the absolute lack of transparency, chronic duplicity and constant political manipulation and hidden agendas of the RWQCB and staff, and I suppose FUBAR shouldn’t be a surprise.

And speaking of which: Agenda # 13 was the issuance of a discharge permit for the Los Osos Sewer Project. I wasn’t able to make that hearing on account of having to go up to Atascadero to get my greyhound, the Mighty Finn McCool, out of the emergency hospital up there. (He had some terrible incident late the night before that looked like possible (lethal) bloat but likely turned out to be some weird, extremely painful neck/spine spasm.) So I got to the meeting too late but was told that in addition to the issuance of that waiver, the Board also – finally – had to formally admit that, yes, while they targeted 45 citizens and put them through an insane show trial and slapped them with CDOs, and put the whole community under a building moratorium and locked it into a PZ which forbids discharge of waste into the waters of the state of California, the same RWQCB would now grant the County/Sewer project a formal exemption from Resolution 83-13 and grant permission to . . . . discharge waste into the PZ and into waters of the state of California.

God bless the child . . . .

Monday, May 02, 2011

Good Riddance

A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it." 
                                   Jean de La Fontaine

Osama bin Laden is dead.  His compound in Pakistan raided by Navy Seals, in what's got to be one extraordinary operation, and taken out of this world by a bullet in the head. Put down like you'd put down a mad dog. Put down like a mobster who had skimmed the till from his fellow mobsters. Put down like the murderous thug he really was. 

Good.  No heroic last stand with drama and flames and an audience of the faithful.  Just confusion, fear, a stunning firefight, then a bullet in the brain.  An easy death for a man who masterminded the death of thousands, so many of whom had long agonizing minutes to peer into their own terrible fate and mourn their own deaths.  No time for fearful, frantic telephone calls to his loved ones to tell them good bye before his towers fell.  Just a quick, easy bullet to the brain.

Isn't it always thus?  The architect of such enormous suffering always gets the easy path out of this world in what too often turns into a pale footnote. President Obama said that "justice has been done."  But in this imperfect world, justice is never done.  Osama's death can never atone for what he has done.  His justice will come from Allah, and from what I know, that justice will be fierce and terrible. 

Good.  Meanwhile, the busy world goes on.  The media circus is well under way.  I can only hope that in the Muslim world, it will begin to dawn on the people there that the power to change the world lies in their cell phones, not in box cutters and bombs strapped to children.  The transformation already underway in the so-called Arab Awakening offers just such a hope that Osama will remain a discredited footnote -- a warning that evil can arise in the guise of a holy man who, in reality, violates every precept his holy book espouses.  Such phonies never seem to know that the arc of even rough justice eventually prevails. And that the malicious murderers among us always end up in the discredited dust bin of history. With a bullet in their brains or a noose around their necks.

Osama's body was buried at sea.  No shrine for this murderous bum. Good riddance.  Chronos has him now and Allah will judge him. He has earned his fate.

Now we can start laying bets as to how soon the Birthers will start the rumor that President Obama made this whole thing up, the body was a fake, and they'll start demanding he offer up proof via DNA samples.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Your Sunday Poem for a Beatuful May Day

This by Rita Dove, from "Mother Love." Dove is a Pulitizer Prize winner, novelist and 1993-95 U.S. Poet Laureate. 


Throw open the shutters
to your darkened residences:
can you hear the pipes playing,
their hunger shaking the olive branches?
To hear them sighing and not answer
is to deny this world, descend rung
by rung into no loss and no desire.
Listen: empty yet full, silken
air and brute tongue,
they are saying:
To refuse to be born is one thing --
but once you are here,
you'd do well to stop crying
and suck the good milk in.