Sunday, September 25, 2011

Your Sunday Poem

This from Billy Collin's collection, "Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes"

Man in Space

All you have to do is listen to the way a man
sometimes talks to his wife at a table of people
and notice how intent he is on making his point
even though her lower lip is beginning to quiver,

and you will know why the women in science
fiction movies who inhabit a planet of their own
are not pictured making a salad or reading a magazine
when the men from earth arrive in their rocket,

why they are always standing in a semicircle
with their arms folded, their bare legs set apart,
their breasts protected by hard metal disks.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Don't Ask. Don't Tell. Good Riddance

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for September 23, 2011

If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.
                                                                         Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What was the problem? No, really. What was the problem? Gays have been serving in the military since before Christ was a corporal. Rome did not conquer the known world with a gay-free army. Alexander the Great? C’mon. Sparta? Don’t even go there. Really.

And now that our hysterical, last-gasp patch job, the ridiculous “Don’t Ask” policy, has gone the way of all such desperate measures that demean and deny our fellow citizens their full humanity, aren’t we embarrassed? Ashamed? Don’t want to discuss it? Nevermind.

Isn’t it always that way? Always. First the absolutist mind set that takes nonsense as The Received Truth: Everyone knows that Negroes aren’t human, they’re some sort of inferior sub-set species; Women are too feeble-minded and weak to be given the right to vote. They’re fit only for motherhood and making breakfast. Mexicans? See how suitable they are for stoop labor? No white person could do that kind of hard work. It’s in their blood. Ditto for the Chinese. They can build our railroads but are too inscrutable to own property and run businesses. Gays are an abomination to God. Jews, too. And all Muslims are evil, murdering jihadists bent on killing Christians. And God forbid if any one of these God-despised, not-quite-humans should marry our white sisters.

They’re endless, the excuses, and more often than not, always backed up by the claim that God agrees with our ridiculous pronouncements, too. It’s all part of His Plan, see? Until it suddenly isn’t. Then slaves get freed and women get the vote and gays are officially allowed to serve in the military and Mexican farm workers seize the power of the ballot box and Chinese people start winning Nobel Prizes, and Muslims build mosques next door to churches and their congregants share pot-luck suppers while watching their kids play little league baseball.

And the world doesn’t end and the sky doesn’t fall and it soon becomes clear that God had nothing to do with all these phony, self-serving “truths,” all of which are so small and pinched and mean and stupid that God couldn’t possibly have been behind them all since that’s not how God rolls, that’s how humans roll. So everyone looks around all sheepish and feeling foolish and refusing to look at one another, heh-heh, and they blink at the brave new world – which is actually the same old world but with one more layer of Stupid scraped away – and say to themselves, What were we thinking? Really? What were we thinking?

And it’s always the same dynamic. First comes the blood sacrifice to the God of Mean, the God of Stupid, the God of Fear, the God of Demagoguery, all the small, smarmy evil Gods that rule the dark human heart. And after much struggle, much sacrifice, and so much suffering, the God of Light removes the scales from our eyes and the world changes, we change, and then puzzle over how bizarre and silly our former beliefs and behaviors were. Who were those idiotic people? we ask. Surely, not us!

But it is us. It’s always us. It’s hard-wired into our little monkey brains, the free-floating fear that constantly seeks an “Other” du jour to target: Blacks, Jews, Gays, Women, Mexicans, Muslims, whatever. There’s an inexhaustible supply of people to despise. Take a number. Everyone gets a turn in the barrel. And though the target may change, the ritual stays the same: Fear, hatred, sacrifice, suffering, struggle, then suddenly –change.

And afterwards, which always comes far too late, we blink and look around and ask, What was the problem anyway? Really. Does anybody remember? What was the problem?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ian Parkinson? Meet Warren Jensen. Warren Jensen, Meet Kamala Harris . . .

The Los Osos World Class Sewer Circle Jerk is now complete and all documented by Ron Crawford at  One of the most extraordinary features of the public abuse and public fleecing and failures and singularly fascinating screw-ups and humongeous waste known as the Los Osos Sewer Project, is the absolute refusal by those in oversight positions to do their jobs -- not even to try to explain documented problems -- like how DID money for tot lots and ampitheatres get into that original SRF loan anyway?   Instead of accountability or answers, everyone -- everyone -- turns away.  Not our responsibility.  Talk to the hand. 

This conspiracy of silence about the repeated systemic failures of every agency involved in this project, from the CSD to the Water Boards, to the Coastal Commission to the asleep-at-the-switch "watchdog" media, is one of the most extraordinary aspects of this 30-year saga.  The result is that Los Osos was raped and the rapists walked away with a promotion and a raise.

Which is what happens in . . . Chinatown.      

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Your Sunday Poem

From "The Lives of the Heart," Poems by Jane Hirshfield.

The World Loved by Moonlight

You must try,
the voice said, to become colder.
I understood at once.
It is like the bodies of gods: cast in bronze,
braced in stone.  Only something heartless
could bear the full weight.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stop That Brandishing

Odd little story in yesterday's Tribune. Our two Republican representatives, Senator Sam and Rep. Katcho voted against AB 144 (which is now on Gov. Brown's desk for a signature or veto).  The bill, if passed, would make it a misdemeanor to "openly carry an unloaded handgun in public."

"According to a legislative analysis published on the states website, the bill's supporters believe the absence of such a law has led to an increase in 'problematic instances of guns carried in public, alarming unsuspecting individuals (and) causing issues for law enforcement.

"Open carry creates a potentially dangerous situation," according to the analyst's summation of the bill's supporters.

"In most cases when a person is openly carrying a firearm, law enforcement is called to the scene with few details other than one or more people are present at a location and are unarmed, . . . In these tense situations, the slightest wrong move by the gun carrier could be construed as threatening by the responding officer, who may feel compelled to respond in a manner that could be lethal.  In this situation the practice of 'open carry' creates an unsafe environment for all parties involved."

Since the Republican Party (and most of the Democratic party) is a wholly owned subsidiary of the NRA, and Sam and Katcho are also sworn blood oath Norquistians, they want nothing to do with this bill and voted against it.

And if Governor Brown vetoes it, that'll mean that upcoming Tea Party Rallies can be filled with people carrying guns.  Nobody will know if they're loaded or not without checking, which is half the fun.  I mean, a resentful, angry crowd playing the victim card, an emotionally charged rally, when excitement and tempers are high, and people are waving guns around, what could go wrong?

Ah, Republicans and their guns.  That love affair goes way beyond a well regulated milita and rolls off into Freud territory. Not to mention dog-whistle territory, that lovely territory of juxtaposition and historical memory: a black president, open carry guns at a political rally, carried signs picturing  an Afro-haired witch-doctorish Obama with a bone through his nose. All that was missing was the noose hanging from a tree with strange fruit swinging, and the grinning smiles of the armed folks gathered there, grinning obscenely for the camera.  Dog-whistle music for our dark unspoken racial history.

Do I overreach?  Then tell me, did you ever see guns at a Bush rally?  Clinton? Heck, he was a good 'ol boy, you'd think the gun toters would have not thought twice about showing up to his rallies carrying weapons, but I never saw any of that.  Until Obama. Did you?

Ah, Republicans and their guns.  Well, maybe that explains why they've grown so mean.  Fear makes you meaner 'n a snake and Republicans are truly scared people.  They're scared that somebody's going to take something away from them (like some money to pay for the roads they drive on or the schools their kids atend) or scared that somebody's going to make them help take care of the sick and lame and, for God's sake, The Poor, (like their neighbors).  That's a horrifying idea to people who so strongly and publicly profess to being Christian.  Look after the poor?  What the hell is that??

And if you view the world as a scary place where you are constantly being menaced by taxes and civic responsibility to love your neighbor as yourself, and instead you view your neighbor as some horrible scary Mexican Black Woman who's threatening your manhood by coming to take your job and move in next door and marry your daughter while the Commies and Socialists are coming in their black helicoptors to take you away to a slave labor camp in Montana for re-education purposes, then naturally you'll really NEED to carry a gun with you at all times.

Even when you go into a pie shop -- especially a pie shop -- because you never know when some urban black thug will rush into that pie shop and yell, "Stick 'em up," and if you have your unloaded weapon you can wave it at him and he'll run away.  Or, more likely, since your weapon is unloaded (since it's still illegal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit and one of the reasons you're glad Sam and Katcho voted against this new bill is it would have forced you to a) get a permit, which nobody would give you since you're paranoid, batshit crazy dangerous, and b) with a permit you'd have to conceal your weapon which would defeat your purpose of being seen to be a badass without the requisite responsibility and risk of actually being a badass.), the end result of your little faux Clint Eastwood dumbshow would be to get your behind shot off, either by the robber, or by the cops who burst in, think you're the criminal since you're the jackass who's waving a gun around, and blow you away.

Thus doth fear -- False Expectations Appearing Real --  irrational, free-floating, unnamed, unacknowledged, chthonian fear make fools of those suffering from that chronic, lethal condition.

But, boy, does it make for great profits for Gun Companies, increased revenue for the NRA which means copious campaign money will rain down on the NRA's foot soldiers -- our Congressmen and Senators.

Sweet pie all around! Pass the bullets.

Oh, Brother
Well, my dear old HP color printer finally started giving up the ghost.  Actually, it started croaking several years ago.  You know the drill, when it's new you can print off photos which is really cool, then very soon, the printer starts getting out of whack, so you get those striped bands through the photo and no amount of adjusting helps, so you forgo photo printing and just use it for genera printing, which raises the questioon, Why am I wasting money buying colored inks (my HP was one of the ones wherein you could replace each ink cartridge, not one of those all in one deals) when all I"m printing is black and white stuff.

So I limped along, wasting ink, until finally the thing stopped printing much of anything.  So, down to Staples, wherein I chatted with a nice Staples Geek, who suggested a laser printer, B&W only, way cheaper.  So there it sits, all neat and tidy and humming.  Then it's back to Staples with my old, dead HP for recycling. (Yes, Stapes will recycle electronic equipment, (and empty ink cartridges) bless their hearts).

Now I'll post this, say a prayer to the Computer Gods (which is needed since my computer's Macafee system is apparently having random glitches for no known reason.  Steve Vandagriff, my computer guru, ran the thing through its paces and can find no known reason for Mac's weirdness), then hit print and see what happens.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Stuck Brain

Ever get an annoying snippet of song stuck in your brain and there it stays annoying you for days?  The same thing happend while I was watching the Nova special on building the 9-11 memorial.  The project is huge and impressive, the new WTC skyscraper astoundingly beautiful.  Then therei's the memorial footprint pool.  Quite amazing with the carefully constructed weir's allowing a soft fall of cascading water that flows down into a reflecting pool and from there the pooled water falls down a square hole in the middle. (I gather people can go under the pool and look up out of the hole as well.) The architect who designed the pool wanted to try to create a presence of absence, to create a kind of rememberence of that which is now gone. 

But watching the memorial in action, the water slipping over the weirs and down the walls and heading for the square hole in the middle, I suddenly had one of those awful, unwelcome brain glitches and now here's what I keep seeing everytime I see that memorial pool: Instead of a vast pool the exact footprint of the missing World Trade Towers with the whole vast, unbroken shimmering surface reflecting the sky, reflecting emptiness, reflecting absence, now all I keep seeing is a giant kitchen sink with the ghostly presences all being constantly washed down the square drain.

Which isn't what the architect had in mind and isn't exactly the image you want to present in a memorial.  But there it is, stuck in my brain. Kitchen sink.  Drain.

At Least Michele Bachman Fixed Her Hair   

In the last GOP debate, Bachman was really scary looking.  She's got problem eyes.  They're deep-set and squinty when they're not looking wild and barking mad, and when you add in a giant helmet of hair surrounding those squinty eyes and the piranah-teeth smile, the whole effect is scary.

Thank goodness, in last night's debate, somebody got hold of Bachman's hair and tamped it down and back, which softened her whole face and made her look much calmer and more pulled together. All of which, when you think about it, is weird.  These pols have access to and can afford the best make-up people in the world. (For God's sake, call the folks from "What Not To Wear."  The hairdresser on that show would have whipped Bachman's hair into shape months ago.) But too often, I suspect they just don't avail themselves of that expert advice and the result can be disastrous.

It's all about the visual nowadays, body language, clothes, hair, make up, and not just for women pols either. We humans lead with the gut, that instant judgement that often defies explication, but there it is.   You could have the greatest ideas in the world, have the most impressive resume, but if you're visually too short, too fat, too frumpy, too old, and too wussy and wonky, you're doomed. It's all about the visual, the gut instinct.

Kabuki theatre, actors hiding behind symbolic costumes and masks posturing on a stage, highly stylized symbols, gesturing.  And that's who voters vote for. God help us.

Cap Doff To The Trib

No, honestly.  The Tribune's been running "Fact Check" under its reports on the debates.  Thank you for that.  One of the most frustrating things about these debates is the amount of pure bull crap that gets shoveled out to the audience, none of it corrected or even foot-noted.  Since so many voters don't read, aren't policy or political wonks and junkies, about all the information they get is in media selected "sound bites" and misleading campaign stump speech snippets -- Bulls--t, in other words.  Vast carloads of it.  The perfect environment to create, grow and plant false narratives (see Frank Luntz, the most dangerous man in America) and invent The Big Lies that, if repeated often enough, become received Truth in the minds of the voters. So, more "fact checks," please.

Place Yer Bets, Ladies and Gentlemen

President Obama has sent his jobs plan to the Republican-controlled Congress.  It's his "pass this bill, now" bill and it will pay for jobs fixing schools, bridges, etc. by raising taxes by limiting itemized decuctions for charitable contributions for people making over $200,00, close loopholes for those poor oil and gas companies (who everyone knows are really suffering financially), require fund managers pay higher taxes on certain types of their income (Wall Street fund managers are also poor and suffering, Lord knows), and change the taxing on corporate jets.

So, lay your bets: Will Republicans vote to fix schools and bridges (thereby putting regular, non-rich people back to work so they can pay their rent, buy food and perhaps buy a widget or two thereby causing the widget factory owner to hire a few more widget-makers) or will they stand fast with millionaires, corporate jet owners and oil companies?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Your Sunday Poem, 9-11-11

From Jane Hirshfield's "Given Sugar, Given Salt."

The Dead Do Not Want Us Dead

The dead do not want us dead:
such petty errors are left for the living.
Nor do they want our mourning.
No gift to them -- not rage, not weeping.
Return one of them, any one of them, to the earth,
and look: such foolish skipping,
such telling of bad jokes, such feasting!
Even a cucumber, even a single anise seed: feasting.

                                     September 15, 2001

Thursday, September 08, 2011

O.K., Rick, Let's Do That

In the GOP debate last night, candidate Rick Perry said, "Maybe it's time to have some provocative language in this country and say things like, 'Let's get America working again and do whatever it takes to make it happen.'"

Whatever?  O.K. President Obama will present a jobs package tonight, so let's see how many Republicans will vote for it.  The jobs package will be a "whatever." Shall we place bets on the votes?

Want more "provocative language," here's something that all the GOPers who are babbling on about "job creation" need to remember:  Jobs are created from the bottom up, not the top down: Demand, then supply. 

A manufacturer of widgets doesn't wake up one day and say, "Oh, look, I just got a nice tax break, I think I'll go out and hire 10 people to make more widgets, even though nobody's buying my widgets because they have no jobs and no money to buy widgets and so I've got a warehouse full of widgets I can't sell, but with this nice tax break, what the hell, I think I'll just go make more of them that I can then store in another warehouse."

Or, as what has actually happened too many times, "Oh, look, nice tax breaks for moving my widget company off shore, so I'll lay off all my American workers, hire Indian workers and make bazillions of widgets to sell to the Chinese, then lobby Republicans in Congress to vote to get even more tax breaks on all my nice profit. After all, I'm a 'job creator!'"

So please think about that "provocative" reality the next time you hear some GOPer talking about "job creation" and "job creators," and "job creating tax breaks."

Thank you.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Bend Over, Grab Your Ankles and Fill 'er Up!

The tar sands of Alberta, Canada, are filled with heavy, dirty oil that must be extracted, using all kinds of chemicals and energy to unlock it.  It also has to be transported via pipeline, with the usual risks of pipeline breaks and spills, to shipping ports of the Pacific.  And the shortest route lies across First Nation sovereign tribal lands,  and the sovereign First Nationers are having none of it.

So, what to do, what to do?  Well, the Canadian-owned oil pipeline called Keystone XL needed to find a third world country, one whose government can be bought off or is already in the pockets of Big Oil, a poor, broken country that would be powerless to stop a corporation (or another country) from running pipes across their sovereign lands to the ports in coastal Texas so the oil could be transhipped tor China and other foreign markets, with the astounding profits from that transshipment to remain in the pockets of Canada and various KeystoneXL operators.

And guess what country fits that bill?  Yes.  US.

Notes "Steve Kretzman of Oil Change International, an NGO that researches the links between oil, gas and coal companies and governments," and reported in ( , " With four times as many oil rigs pumping domestic oil today than eight years ago and declining domestic demand, the United States is awash in oil.  In fact, the U.S. exports more oil than it imports, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration -- and has done so for nearly two decades." . . . "Little of the 700,000 to 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil pumped through the 2,400-kilometre, seven-billion-dollar Keystone XL will end up in the U.S. gas tanks because the refineries on the Gulf Coast are all about expanding export markets." . . .  "Because Keystone XL crosses national borders, President Barack Obama has to issue a permit declaring the pipeline serves the 'national interest' in order to be approved.  "The only way Keystone XL could be considered in the national interest is if you equate that with profits for the oil industry, said Kretzman, who wrote the report."

And, of course, while a good portion of the U.S. digs out from more flooding that surely is one of the effects of global warming caused by the burning of -- you guessed it -- oil, a lot of Americans may well ask themselves the same questions other third-world countries have asked themselves: Why should we suffer from the effects and pay the full costs of pollution and environmental damage swhile some other country and/or private corporation reaps all the financial rewards?

Well, Bwa-hahahah.

Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Amerikistan. Welcome to the new American Reality, Baby. Bend over.  

Friday, September 02, 2011


Calhoun's Cannons for September 2, 2011

We do not see our hand in what happens, so we call certain events melancholy accidents.
                                                              Stanley Cavell

Like all of you, I remember that morning. I had been out at dawn running the dogs in the chaparral behind the Los Osos Junior High. It was a clear, beautiful morning, the air sharp with the tang of the sage and eucalyptus. When I loaded the dogs back into the car and turned the key, the radio came on and as I drove home I listened in puzzlement. A plane. The Twin Towers. What the hell? Oh, please, not another crazy guy with family and IRS problems and a Piper Cub. Then I got home and turned on the TV, along with the rest of the world, and saw. It wasn’t a Piper Cub. It wasn’t even a crazy guy.

And here we are, ten years gone and still the heart hurts. A photo or an old piece of film unspooling and my body winces. A glimpse of the two towers, the plane, the falling man. Like a glancing blow to the chest, the breath stops, the pain is sharp, then gone.

And as my memory pulls back from that moment of impact and expands out to cover the years afterwards, in place of sadness, more and more I can only feel a kind of sick exhaustion. Because the attack unhinged America and sent us into a ginned up war of revenge against the wrong country, the dead of 9/11 will never be free to be mourned alone. The body count’s too high now for any hope of clean sorrow.

But then, clean sorrow is very likely a folly. The thousands who died in the 9/11 attack were not the victims of a random act of nature. It was not an indifferent lightning strike or an earthquake that toppled the towers. They were the end-game of a long history of cause and effect. Osama bin Laden, rotting away under the sea, was a creation of western imperialism, oriental despotism and religious fanaticism, all acting on the other until they came home to roost on that fateful day.

We live in a constant web of reciprocity, the connected dots all around us, too often unseen. The world ripples with unintended consequences, patterns hidden until it’s too late to change their deadly stitches and hems. Abdul Wahab, an 18th century holy man arises out of the Egyptian desert and 300 years later, the Twin Towers fall. The planes that brought them down were arrows from his bow, Osama bin Laden merely the archer.

And the Twin Towers were no accident. World Trade Center, symbol of western capitalism, imperialism, decadent materialism, home of the money-grubbing infidels. Osama bin Laden knew the West like he had knitted a sleeve of it. He knew our shoot first Cowboy President, knew the jingo rage of a furious population blinded by revenge, led by too many people with shock and awe disaster capitalism agendas. He was betting our response would be one of overreaction that would lead us into self-destruction and financial ruin. And he was right.

Russia and America begat Afghanistan begat the mujahidin, begat Osama bin Laden, begat Al Qaeda begat 9/11 begat George Bush’s Iraq war, begat a bankrupt nation bleeding treasure and blood back into the wilds of Afghanistan.

Round and round it goes in one exhausting spiral, each turn creating one more call and response. The world vibrates and the body count grows and grows, from the still-dying soldiers in Helmand Province to the multitudinous victims of jihadi murderers in their bomb vests, to the New York first responders now starting to sicken and die from the deadly toxins they inhaled while searching the rubble for bodies in lower Manhattan. It never stops. Which is why a tenth anniversary celebration of remembrance seems premature. What we really have here is an ongoing funeral service interrupted by constantly arriving new coffins. With no end in sight.

Unless the end can be found in the various “Arab Springs” that have awakened so many people of the middle east from their nightmare lives that were hemmed in by cat’s paw dictators, thuggish thieves protected by outside nations and corporations eager for their cut of the plunder. And perhaps those Arab Springs will also awaken the people from the grip of ignorant tribalism and a corrupted Islam and allow them a chance to join the world as a free people.

If this comes about, then perhaps the circle of death and destruction that started on that terrible day will be complete and will bring about a rebirth in many countries, including our own. Perhaps then the coffins will stop coming, the dead will be left to bury the dead, and the ripple started that clear fall day in New York can come to rest. And we will finally be able to mourn cleanly without additions and footnotes. Perhaps then the pain in the heart will abate, and in its place will be the silence of remembrance.

Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.