Friday, August 31, 2012

The United States of Wonderland

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for August 31, 2012

The demagogue is one who preaches doctrine he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.
        H.L. Mencken

             Are you kidding me?  That’s all I could think of as I watched hour after hour of the brain-scrambling Republican convention.  Are you kidding?
            True, when someone starts out with a lie, it’s always fun to see where they’re going to go from there without constantly stepping in it, unless they’re a Republican and stepping in something as mundane as a “lie” has apparently ceased to be a concern anymore.
            But three days of cynical mendacity combined with collective amnesia turned the convention into one long Saturday Night Live Emily Latella skit.  You remember Emily, Gilda Radner’s loopy old lady who kept getting things wrong, but that didn’t stop her from steaming off into outrage about some misperceived topic, like “violins in the street.”  When corrected that it was “violence, not violins,” she would squint unrepentantly at the camera and blithely change the subject.
            Only the Republican Party is no loopy, addled Emily.  Instead, what was on tap was a convention cynically built around a lie – the repeated and deliberate misstatement of a reference made in one of President Obama’s speeches.  In that speech, while the President lauded individual enterprise, he also pointed out the obvious:  Success isn’t strictly singular, that businesses benefited from communally built infrastructure and the “that” in “you didn’t build that,” reference was to “bridges, roads, etc.” which were built by taxpayers. 
            True, it was an awkward sentence, but the meaning was absolutely clear to anyone not language challenged.  Or a political party willing to disgracefully take that clear meaning out of context, twist it into a lie, brazenly plaster signs saying “We Built It,” all over the convention center and make that lie the singular leitmotif on the lips of almost every speaker at the podium. And even though they had to know it was a lie, they spoke it anyway. Which raised an awful question:  Who could possibly trust anything those guys say?
            But that wasn’t the worst of it.  What became truly creepy was the collective willingness of everyone to go down the memory hole. (It’s the internet age: does no one google FactCheck anymore?) This signal amnesia wasn’t just hypocrisy, like Delaware businesswoman, Sher Valenzuela, who lauded her “I Built It” successful business but “forgot” to mention it was aided by $2 million in (government funded) SBA loans and $15 million in (government funded) contracts.  Or the parade of  “I Built It” governors crediting their state’s recovery on their own singular efforts while ignoring the GM taxpayer bailout and all those Washington stimulus checks they happily cashed. (Talk about a gaggle of serpent-toothed ingrates chewing the hand that fed them.)
            No, this was not run of the mill hypocrisy at work, but a profound disconnect from the historical record, the factual narrative.  Listening to speaker after speaker spin their tales was like reading a complex historical novel from which Republicans had redacted any reference to their role in that story.  Down the memory hole they went, bemoaning the terrible state of affairs while utterly ignoring their part in creating the crisis and/or making the crisis infinitely worse.   There is a reason this Party-of-No, Do Nothing, Republican-led Congress is so loathed by the voters.  On day one of Obama’s election, Republican Senator McConnell clearly stated that his party’s one over riding goal wasn’t jobs or helping American workers retool or working across the aisle to set things right, but to get rid of Obama – throw the bum out of the bar, in the inelegant parlance of Speaker Boehner.  And it was the lock-step Republicans, monkey-wrenching Tea Partiers and a gaggle of Democratic hacks that brought pointless pain to millions of ordinary Americans caught in the crossfire of their spite, their destructive policies, fantasy math, and the overriding political strategy that keeping the country in dire straits would mean a guaranteed Republican win in 2012.
            All of which went missing for three nights of astounding amnesia and false narratives. That’s not normal hypocrisy, that’s pathology. And while you can campaign on lies and rabbit hole history, you can’t govern that way.
            Which is why, when Paul Ryan, the fresh-faced Leave It To Beaver veep nominee stood before the American people and repeated that foundational lie, a lie he had to know was false, then fell down the memory hole of “fake facts,” and Mitt Romney slid from a sweet, smiley-faced wish list of unsupported platitudes and into irresponsible, bellicose war-talk, and we were left with Anne Romney telling us we should “trust Mitt,” well, my only response had to be, “Are you kidding me?”
            Then my head exploded.



Sunday, August 26, 2012

Your Sunday Poem

This from Jane Hirshfield, from the July 2 New Yorker.  She's a wonderful poet, has more than several wonderful books of her poems out, in paperback, so please go discover her at your local bookstore.  "After," and "Given Sugar, Given Salt," are full wonderful things. Support your poets.  Buy one of their books today.

This Morning, I Wanted Four Legs

Nothing on two legs weighs much,
or can.
an elephant, a donkey, even a cookstove --
those legs, a person could stand on.
Two legs pitch you forward.
Two legs tire.
They look for another two legs to be with,
to move one set forward to music
while letting the other move back.
They want to carve into a tree trunk:
Nothing on two legs can bark,
can whinney or chuff.
Tonight, though, everything's different.
Tonight I want wheels.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Monks Mandala, SLO 003

The monks from the Drepung Loseling Monstaery of Dharmsala, India, arrived in SLOTown Tuesday to create a “sand painting” mandala for world peace. They set up in the SLO Art Museum for three days. Visitors were free to come and go and observe the process.

Monks Mandala, SLO 007

The tradition is an ancient one in many cultures. It’s called “Kultson Kyilkhor,” which means “Mandala of colored sand powder.” In Tibetan tradition, it is believed that “wherever a Sand Mandala is created, all sentient beings and the surrounding environment are blessed. Whoever views the mandala experiences profound peace and great joy. The colorfulness and harmony of the millions of sand particles in the mandala gives a powerful message that we can all live in peace if each of us works in creating a little more space for others in our hearts.”

Monks Mandala, SLO 004

Dressed in their traditional robes, the monks initially held an opening ceremony to concecrate the site, then started by drawing a precisely inscribed design in white ink on the black table. According do an information sheet given to visitors, in “ancient times, powdered precious and sem-precious gems were used instead of sand. Thus, lapis lazuli would be used for the blue color, and rubies for the red color and so forth. The artists begin at the center of the mandala and work outward.”

Monks Mandala, SLO 009

On a side table, the monks had laid out their little bowls of colored sand. The sand is loaded into a long metal tool, a “Chakpur,” that has serrated edges on the outside. That funnel-tool is carefully placed on the area to be worked and another metal rod is rapidly scraped over the serrations, causing vibrations that gently, precisely release the sands where the monk’s skilled hands want it to go.

Monks Mandala, SLO 003

Monks Mandala, SLO 004

The spiritual belief involved is that the mandalas have “outer, inner and secret meanings. On the outer level, they represent the world in its divine form; on the inner level, they represent a map by which the ordinary human mind is transformed into an enlightened mind; and on the secret level, they depict the primordially perfect balance of the subtle energies of the body and clear light dimensions of the mind. The creation of a sand paining is said to effect purification and healing on all three levels.”

Monks Mandala, SLO 001

Monks Mandala, SLO 005

After three days of incredibly intense work, the mandala was completed and carried outside for the final ceremony of changing and music. After which, a monk stepped forward and cut the circle, again and again and again. He then swept all the now mixed grains of sand into a pile to be distributed to any who wanted a small amount to take home to scatter around their home or garden.

Monks Mandala, SLO 007

The bulk of the sand was then carried down to San Luis Creek to be gently scattered on the water, the grains to be carried by the waters down to the sea to join all the other grains of sand. And for the witnesses, the teaching remains: The impermanence of all things. Everything that exists has a beginning, a middle and an end. In the mandala, like life itself, the grains of sand are brought together for a brief time to create something of beauty and meaning and then are returned to their source as part of the whole once again.

Monks Mandala, SLO 002

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Alice in GOP Land

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for August 23, 2012

“When someone shows you what he is, believe him.”

            If you’re still a member of the Grand Old Party, please accept my most sincere condolences.  Yes, it is a shame.  It was only 158 years old, in the prime of its life, and now it’s dead – killed off by idiots.
            I mean, Congressman Akin?  Really?  Guy’s on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.  How the hell did that happen?   Science?   A guy who thinks women’s bodies can kill off sperm when they’ve been “legitimately raped” but not so much if they’ve only been illegitimately raped. Really? 
            Missouri, you have a lot to answer for.  Put a paper bag on your head and go stand in the corner. (Stop smirking, Oklahoma.  You’ve got “Inhofe,” the climate-change denier.  That state’s drought-riddled corn is no longer as high as an elephant’s eye because the bright golden haze on its meadow is smoke from a state that’s burning up due to global warming. Honestly, were do the Republicans get these guys? )
            O.K. I admit it’s been comic watching all the mainstream GOP bigwigs scrambling away from Akin – Noooo, don’t know that guy, never heard of him – while at the same time they were begging him on bended knee to drop out of the race --- Plueeze, plueeze Todd, you’re killing us.  For some weird reason they thought maybe voters would confuse a God-driven theocrat like Akin with “mainstream” Republicans and recoil in horror. 
            Which actually is funny since at the same time the party big wigs were trying to strong arm Akin out the door like some flea-infested loon, the party platform committee itself was voting on a plank that supported Akin’s views perfectly –  no abortion with no explicit exceptions for cases of rape or incest – legitimate or not.
            Which gives hypocrisy a bad name.  Makes people think that your party is in such philosophical disarray, or so full of liars that you can’t figure out what the hell you stand for except for one overriding Grand Old Principle:  Say anything to win at all costs by any means necessary.
            And anyway, it does no good to paint Akin as some lone-wolf, God-obsessed loony outlier.  He’s joined at the hip with Vice-presidential pick, Paul Ryan. They’re spiritual twinsies.  Ryan co-sponsored a bill that defined fetuses as “people entitled to full legal protection,” which would have to treat abortion and some forms of birth control as murder, backed bills that would cut off federal money for Planned parenthood and the Title X family planning program, voted for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and voted against a bill that would expand federal hate crime laws to cover sexual orientation. 
            In short, Akin is no outlier.  His beliefs are totally compatible with the Republican Party, the party platform and the Vice Presidential nominee, a Veep who, if elected, would be one heartbeat away from the Presidency and/or be the tie-breaker in a divided congress.
            Doesn’t get more central than that.
            As for the Presidential nominee, well, Romney noted that “His [Akin’s] words with regards to rape are words that I can’t defend.”  He made no comment on the ideas behind the words, just parsed the verbiage, then scampered for the door.
            And that’s the problem.  Nobody’s doing the follow-up questions anymore.  Like, How is it possible, in this day and age, for a man to head up a committee with the word “science” in its title, yet be so abysmally ignorant about basic biology?  Or are we meant to believe that he’s just an isolated case, some ignorant theocrat toodling on the edges of the conservative fringe? 
            That might be a pleasant fiction to be spoon-fed, but it’s hard to reconcile with this: Akin’s mind-set is clearly in lock-step with a huge number of his Republican colleagues and is aligned with the Republican party platform, so that’s the real question: Has the GOP finally become the radical theocracy it dreamed of becoming when it used Christian evangelicals as a tool to gaining more political power?
            I mean, who could forget the 1990’s and the “Abramoff-Norquist-Reed triumvirate?” [Norquist?  Grover Norquist?  Yes.  You think these people go away?  They don’t.  They get reborn and return, again and again.]  Remember the lobbyist Jack Abramoff  and the “Christian Coalition’s” evangelical poster-boy, Ralph Reed, scheming to fleece several Indian Casinos by using Reed, with his scrubbed cherubic face and publicly professed Christian piety, as the front-man? At the time, using Reed as judas goat to deliver the Christian right votes to the Republicans must have seemed like a good idea.  But twenty years later, I suspect the law of unintended consequences is becoming clear:  Theocrats answer only to God, not party bosses – the godly tail now owns the GOP elephant.
            And the tail is wagging.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Your Sunday Poem

This is from a wonderful book, "Unleashed, Poems by Writer's Dogs," edited by Amy Hempel and Jim Shepard, published by Three Rivers Press and available in paperback.  It started out as writer friends exchanging little comments/poems by their dogs, and grew from there into a wonderful book.  This one is by Maxine Kumin. 

Gus Speaks

I was the last of my line,
farm-raised, chesty, and bold.
Not one of your skinny show-world
thirty-five pound Dalmatians.
I ran with the horses, my darlings.

Rivers they forded, wet
to the elbow, I swam.  Their lot
was my lot, my lope matching
their stride mile for mile.
Their smell became my smell.

Joyous I ate their manure.
Its undigested oats
still sweet, kept me fit.
I slept with one broodmare.
I curled at her flank.

My head on that bay haunch
we lay, a study in snores,
ear flicks, and farts in her stall
until the hour of her foal.
She shunned me most cruelly.

Spring and fall, I erred over
and over.  Skunks were my folly.
Then, I was nobody's lover.
I rolled in dung and sand.
My heart burst in the pond.

My body sank and then rose
like a birch log, a blaze
of white against spring green.
Now I lie under the grasses
they crop, my own swift horses

who start up and spook in the rain
without me, the warm summer rain.

                           Caesar August

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Thank you, President Obama

     This is for all you ObamaCare-haters. I just got off the phone with an old friend of mine.  She's a fit, athletic young woman, clean bill of health, self-employed, worked hard all her life but, like so many Americans, had one minor "pre-existing" medical condition -- not life threatening, not serious, but "pre-existing" so she wasn't able to get any kind of health insurance that was even in the realm of her budget. None.  
     She certainly wasn't alone.  Prior to ObamaCare, she had millions of Americans with minor "pre-existing conditions" in the same boat to keep her company.  So, like those millions, she struggled along, rarely seeing a doctor even though a few years ago certain alarming symptoms cropped up.  Since she couldn't afford to get treatment (no insurance available to her) she struggled along.
     Finally, here came ObamaCare and its mandated insurance pools and requirements on insurance companies to stop cherry-picking, or denying coverage & etc, and she was finally able to buy insurance.  Her individual policy wasn't cheap and she had (and paid) a high deductible, but she was finally able to get insurance. 
     And so she went to the doctor to see about those alarming symptoms, which turned out to be fixable if caught early, but catastrophic and/or deadly if ignored because, oh, say, you didn't have insurance or couldn't get insurance because ObamaCare didn't exist.
     So, thank you President Obama. Because of your efforts, my friend will have a long, healthy, productive life paying taxes into the system and contributing to our society, instead of being a permanently disabled drain on society's resources due to lack of proper medical care due to lack of insurance due to a broken health system driven by rapacious greed and penny-wise, pound-foolish stupidity.   
     And to ObamaCare critics, No, it ain't perfect -- it was cobbled together with too many special interests tacking on too many special interests -- and it needs a whole lot of work to get it back on track to focus on maximum patient wellness, not maximum profit, but it's a start. 
     And if any of you have friends in the same boat as my friend, perhaps you need to think about what will happen to your friend should ObamaCare get repealed.
     I'm just sayin'

A Modest Proposal 
     There's a very funny Ann Romney parody on You Tube .  
     Funny, no?  But here's the modest proposal:  Wouldn't it be grand if every politician did what that parody was doing: Tell the truth.  Flat out.  No fear, no favor, no fudging. Quel refreshing! 
     Instead we get weasels flip-flopping, turning themselves inside out, using code and dog-whistle language, making stuff up, making stuff up and getting caught, then making more stuff up.  
     I mean, our PAC-fueled political ads have already jumped the shark and are now into pure Parody Land anyway, so this election has slipped into one long Trash-Talk Fest.  Yo' Mammas all 'round.  
     Which must mean that Americans have now gotten to the point of viewing politics as nothing but the lowest common denominator Fake Reality Show filled with profoundly stupid people doing dumb things that the viewer can laugh at. Washington as Klown Kar or Paul Ryan's Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile. Too dumb for words. 
     Ah, but think of how wonderful it all would be if everyone did what this You Tube spoof did: Spill all the beans, just like that, right out on the floor, SPLAT! So what? Ya wanna make something of it?  Yes, I'm richer than God and you aren't so I can do anything I want.  Who's gonna stop me?  You? Yeah, I lied about that.  So? Sure my numbers are fake but I like putting made up stuff on whiteboards in order to look like I know what I'm talking about.  I don't.  So, sue me. Sure we're engaging in voter suppression.  So? Hey, politics ain't beanbag, ya gotta win by any means necessary.  Yeah, we're gonna make sure that we end up with a corporatocracy. The rich OWN America anyway, so what else is new?  You can't have a lot of unwashed poor people voting.  What do they know?  It'd be chaos.  Karl Rove's right.  He's worked for years to get a Republican-controlled House, Senate, Presidency and Supreme Court from this point forward. Who needs a "democracy," anyway?  Not us.
     Imagine. How wonderful would that be? No need to read between the lines or translate the code or waste time denying anything.  There it all would be, all right there on the kitchen floor. And you wouldn't need a Mexican maid to try to clean it up or sweep it under the rug. 

Calling Amory Lovins 
      Interesting story by Kevin Begos (AP): "Carbon dioxide emissions at 20-year low."  
Seems that the "shift away from coal is reason for 'cautious optimism' about potential ways to deal with climate change.  He [Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University] said it demonstrates that 'ultimately people follow their wallets' on global warming. 
     " 'There's a very clear lesson here.  What it shows is that if you make a cleaner energy source cheaper, you will displace dirtier sources,' said Roger Pielke Jr. a climate expert at the University of Colorado."

     Which is exactly what Amory Lovins has been saying for years: Put the right price on pollution and you've solved the problem. 
      Also, some research interesting papers coming up (so says the author of "Carbon Nation") interviewed on Bill Maher's, "Real Time" show.  Seems that by properly managing grazing land,(i.e. getting rid of cattle-feed lots and keeping the cows on grass,) the soil in healthy grasslands can act as a huge carbon sink, and can stay greener longer, and so help buffer against drought.  Once again, the message is, we don't have to rely on troglodytes in Washington who still have their fingers up their collective behinds (actually, doing the bidding of their Coal/oil Masters) to start new local projects that can actually get things moving in the right direction.  All of which Lovins has known for years. 


Monday, August 13, 2012

Holy Ryan!

Calhoun’s Cannons for August 13, 12

            Did a Mormon just throw a Hail Mary pass?  Right there in front of the retired battleship Wisconsin in historical naval Norfolk?  (I looked, but I didn’t see any banners announcing, “Mission Accomplished,” and neither Romney nor Ryan were wearing jump suits, (neither men served in the military, but that critical military subtext was still on delicious display.) Well, Quel astonishments!
            Unless that Hail Mary Pass turns into another McCain-Palin moment and the Ryan tail starts wagging the dog.  After all, truth has its own creepy way of oozing past smiling teeth, no matter how tightly clenched, and Romney’s teeth were on display when he introduced Ryan as, “the next president of the United States.”  A gaff, yes, but a prescient one, I suspect.
            After all, we’ve been down this road before; floundering campaign, candidate can’t seem to get traction, back-room Pols decide the candidate needs a Veep pick with some energy and excitement and behold! Sarah.  And the rest is history, which didn’t go well. 
            In Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney will get energy, all right. But he’ll also get Ryan, the Ayn Rand fanboy, Tea Party darling, leader of the No-Compromise Radical Republican Young Guns that repeatedly hijacked Obama’s agenda and did everything they could to stonewall, stall, filibuster and stymie their Democratic foes while the country’s needs went begging.  (Among the grim consequences were the U.S. bond ratings downgraded, the recovery stalled, desperately needed legislation sidetracked or killed).  But that didn’t stop Ryan from forcefully and gleefully dumping those consequences on the President’s head during his rousing introductory speech.  J’ accuse! thundered Ryan, with a straight face and nary a mention of his role in the obstruction, like the man who burns the house down then blames the match.  It’s become a typical Republican hypocrisy that constantly makes one’s head explode. And should put us all on notice: With Ryan, as with Sarah Palin, facts need not be in evidence.
            Which the voter really, really needs to remember because with Ryan comes Ryan’s infamous budget plan, which aims at downsizing government by privitizing Social Security and Medicare and making deep, punishing cuts to the social safety net. It’s a budget that various experts, who do like to deal with facts in evidence, have decreed to be a deficit- exploder that would throw the poor under the bus while increasing tax breaks for the rich – which, of course, is the Ayn Randian wet dream. (As Randian fanboys know, “the poor” are “parasites” and the sooner they’re done away with the better.  John Galt and his ilk don’t do “moochers.”)
            But there it is nonetheless, that budget, the 800 pound spike that Romney drove through his own foot in order to stop his teeter-tottering cold.  Bam! Nailed himself and his gossamer thin, smoke and mirrors, now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t campaign firmly to the radical right-wing Republican base -- Romney’s breathtaking go for broke auto-de-fe to the Tea Party.
            But an unexpected consequence of that choice appeared in the first few days of the duo’s introductory tour. There he was, bubbling with life, tossing off  sound-bites like confetti, young Ryan, vigorous, active, charged up and stemwinding the crowd with skilful, stirring rhetoric that outlines his vision for America while Romney stands awkwardly nearby looking like a tired out-of-place roadie waiting to adjust Ryan’s microphone.
            It was pure TV messaging:  With his veep pick, Romney had outsourced himself.  He became Ryan’s me-too wingman, Ryan’s beard, Ryan’s stalking horse.  Why go to Romney, when Ryan’s the Idea Guy, The Guy With The Plan, the forceful,  articulate, exciting Stemwinder On The Stump, the guy the camera loves, the ratings-getter media darling, the Pit Bull without the lipstick.  
            Déjà vu?  You betcha! 
            Well, if the public can get past the false narratives that are now rolling out from both parties, and can get access to some real facts as opposed to faux facts from people who view “facts” as opinions from an alternative universe, this election, despite its PAC-guaranteed Mad Hatterish hideousness, will be critical for setting the country’s direction for the foreseeable future. 
            The can has been kicked down the road about as far as it can go and just how we chose to deal with that can will have real-world impacts on all of us.  We can go back to trickle-down economics and try another version in hopes it will work this time.  Or we can rethink and recalibrate what we want to be as a country and who we want to be as a people. We’ve dithered enough and our string is running out. And I doubt the choices will ever be clearer
            And in a game with stakes this high, I don’t think a Hail Mary Pass is going to cut it. Time to get serious.  No more lipstick on pigs or pit bulls. Please.    

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Your Sunday Poem

This from "What Love Comes to; New and Selected Poems by Ruth Stone (Copper Canyon Press, 2011)

Green Apples

In August we carried the old horsehair mattress
To the back porch
And slept with our children in a row.
The wind came up the mountain into the orchard
Telling me something;
Saying something urgent.
I was happy.
The green apples fell on the sloping roof
And rattled down.
The wind was shaking me all night long;
Shaking me in my sleep
Like a definition of love,
Saying, this is the moment,
Here, now.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What the hell happened to Sam?

            Really, what the hell happened? Sam Blakeslee used to be our Git ‘r Done state assemblyman, later state senator.  Mr. Fix It, Mr. Let’s Work Together Across the Aisles Kinda Guy.  Very popular, well liked, going places. 
            But then it happened.  That pang of hunger, that first grip of wanting, that lust, that hankering, the hands twitching and reaching out for . . .  fame, for power, vanity stoked, the whispers in the ears from the state’s makers & breakers, the Big GOP Party Boys, the soft susurrus with the head bent near, the soft white manicured hands on the shoulder, the whiff of expensive cologne; “You can go places, Sam.  Big places.  Play ball with us and you’re a made man.  National office, Sam.  National office.”
            It was the devil and Sam’s soul was the prize and Sam listened and drank the Kool-Aid and signed on with Grover Norquist and his Blood Oath and was lost forever.
            Then something happened.  The district was redistricted and Sam was facing a tough election race that he may well have lost because more and more people were realizing that the Republican Party had gone batshit crazy and was heading off a cliff, a party of crazy old white guys with no future being led around by the nose by some Ayn Rand fanboy still living in his grandmother’s basement muttering about John Galt. 
            So did Sam see the handwriting on the wall and put on the fake mantle of elder statesman and announce he wouldn’t be running and, as the August 10th L.A. Times story put it, was “putting personal ambition aside” to announce “he would leave politics to run a nonprofit bankrolled by a big donor?”  A nonprofit called the California Reform Institute that was supposed to “promote common-sense solutions to big policy problems vexing Sacramento.”  A nonprofit 501(c) 4 “think tank” bought and paid for by Charles Munger Jr, one of Sam’s Republican gazillionaire donors, a guy who “has been working to push the party in a more moderate direction.”
            In other words, exactly the kind of front organization a guy like Sam, with his previous Git ‘r Done reputation tarnished by Norquist, would need if he wanted to rehab and reposition himself quietly until it was time for the payoff – national office.
            Bankrolled with $750,000 of Mr. Munger’s money, Sam announced he would take no salary, thereby doing a 180’ from the usual politico’s practice of rolling their political office into lucrative “private” consulting jobs or fake-front PACs before revolving back again into political office. But he did take his chief of staff, Christine Roberts, with him, plus another staffer. (Said the Times, “Christine stepped down for now.  But a letter from Munger’s attorney to the institute’s officials’ attorney said it is ‘anticipated’ that she will become the compensated executive director when Blakeslee’s term ends,” which is just the usual this-looks-bad-so-let’s-fluff-a bit-until-the-press-turns-away” shuffle.)
            And there it sat, until a “Stragetic Plan” memo escaped, a memo that outlined the strategy so typical in these rehabbing/repositioning fake-front 501s: Use the institute’s stated goals of promoting common-sense solutions to California’s problems, as a “vehicle” to “create messenger credibility” in order to make Blakeslee’s future gubernatorial run possible.  And the plan included getting Sam to submit lots of bills in Sacramento, even hopeless, futile bills in order to get the Democrats’ goat, and get the media’s attention as a “maverick” swimming against the tide, and do that before he left office and became a nobody again.
            The plan was pretty standard stuff for these shadow organizations but somebody leaked it and the proverbial shit it the fan.
            Sam, of course, and his money-guy boss, declared the plan to have been some “blue sky” thinking that was in the original plans but have since been removed from the bylaws.  Wink nudge. Wink nudge.  And Sam stoutly reiterated that he was done with politics and had no intention of seeking higher office.  His boss also noted that, “I did not discuss with Sen. Blakeslee the possibility of this being a vehicle that would propel him to state-wide office.  Whatever other ideas were developed in Blakeslee’s shop, that’s not what I signed on for and it’s not what the institute is set up for.” Wink nudge.
            Well, yes.  Such denouncements are vital since using 501s as political vehicles is an IRS no-no.  The same problem besets the 501s’ sisters, the various SuperPACS who wink-nudge their way into bankrolling political ads that, of course, are in no way related to or controlled by the candidate they are supporting, nossir, nossir.
            And there it sits.  The IRS will look into Mr. Munger’s 501 and will announce that there’s nobody there but us mice and everyone will happily go forward to Reform California with “big ideas,” and everyone will be shocked! Shocked! in a few years to see Sam again.  Scrubbed fresh, not a drop of Norquist’s blood oaths on his new suit, hands full of great new ideas, ready for a draft that would allow him to overcome his “I will not run” pledge.  After all, California is in dire straits, so if a public servant with great ideas that will save the state refused to serve? Well that would be churlish.
            Unless, of course, Sam’s fall from his ass on the road to Damascus was real.  That his temptation into the alluring world of fame and political ambition temporarily blinded him.  Until he woke up on the ground, tasted Grover Norquist’s hot blood on his lips and realized with abject horror that his soul was in mortal peril and if he continued down that road he would be doomed. And so he fled.
            Leaving the rest of us to ask, What the hell really happened to Sam? 
            Personally, I wish Mr. Munger’s wink-nudge organization luck.  God knows we need some sort of think tank that will figure out ways to cure all these batshit crazy Republicans before the party completely implodes. And God knows California’s got enough problems to be solved that we need more such think-tanks filled with smart, Git 'r Done people putting their heads together.
             And for the sake of Sam’s soul, I hope the second scenario I suggested above is the real one.  If it is, then I wish him well.  Much good in the world can be done without drinking poison.        

Friday, August 10, 2012

Head For The Palm

If you do nothing this weekend, at least head for the Palm Theatre in SLOTown to see, "Beasts of the Southern Wild."  This fierce, funny, deeply moving story of an extraordinary young girl, Hush Puppy, coming to terms with her Louisiana delta-dwelling father and the community they live in, is a revelation -- a unique voice in a sea of movie-blah scripts, an indie-prod film made on a shoestring but with a powerfully clear vision and a story well worth showing.  Don't miss it.

And if you're a fan of the cult-classic, "Rushmore," don't miss "Moonrise Kingdom," a deadpan comic cult-classic-to-be.  Deliciously, wickedly funny but without a mean bone in it's filmic body. It's at the Underground Downtown Center 7, also in SLOTown. 

Monday, August 06, 2012

Another Buh-bye to Rog

The following is a guest posting by Ron Crawford of  He’s been writing about all this for years.  Indeed, if he ever writes a book about The Los Osos Sewer Wars,  the tome will be longer than “War and Peace.”  Heck, the footnotes alone will be 17 volumes.

It’s certainly been a long, strange trip, with some fascinating crossroads, key points at which even a slight tweak, a slight course change could  have made all the difference.  But those course changes didn’t happen and the reasons Why they didn’t are some of the most intriguing things about the Hideous Sewer Wars. Well, it’s all water under the bridge now. And that flat, bloody, furry thing in the car’s rear view mirror?  That’s Los Osos, smooshed flat by the wheels of history.

Ann recently blogged  about how the State's long-time local water "quality" CEO, Roger Briggs is retiring this week, so, considering that he's been working in that office as long as I've been reporting on Los Osos (since the early 1990s. Roger and I go waaaaay back. He knows me, and I know him, and, in full disclosure, I'm not a Roger Briggs hater. I actually kinda like the guy. He's always been good at returning my emails, and picking up the phone. He just got Jedi Mind Tricked  on Los Osos, like everyone else), I want to quickly join in on the Calhoun's Can(n)ons  Roger Briggs Retirement Party (and, hopefully/certainly, spur one of my new favorite guilty pleasures: the crazy anonymous comments that show up on Ann's blog whenever she posts anything related to "the sewer." [And, apparently I'm not alone on that guilty pleasure. Am I right, people, or am I right?... you know who you are.]))

Before the CDOs, before the Tri-W disaster, before AB 2701, there was one question:

Why in the world did Roger Briggs allow the 1999 - 2000 Los Osos CSD to waste two years on a non-"project" -- the "better, cheaper, faster" disaster -- that Roger already knew wasn't going to work?

He KNEW it wasn't going to work, and then he just sat back and watched it not work... for two over-the-top-disastrous years.

That was THE  bureaucratic blunder, in the entire  Los Osos sewer mess, and it was solely responsible for the next 13-years-AND-COUNTING of Los Osos sewer disaster, and no one  -- well, other than me, of course -- said a word about that act of  gross  incompetence.

And, just like I write in my October 18, 2005 open letter at link, had ol' Rog shown up at that 1999  Los Osos CSD meeting, where Pandora and Co. voted to kill the county's then-"ready to go" sewer project, and begin pursuit of the known-to-be-DOA "better, cheaper, faster" disaster, and simply said something like:

"Look, we all know that your gimmicky little 'better, cheaper, faster' Community Plan  isn't going to work. It will not be better. It will not be cheaper. And it definitely will not be faster. It can't  be any of those things, because it is not going to work, as we, and a bunch of other water quality types, have been telling you for the past year.

“Now, I want you to listen to me very closely. If there is one friggin' nanosecond of sewer delay due to your pursuit of that paperweight you call a 'sewer project,' we are going to start fining you, hard and fast."

Had  Roger shown up at that meeting, and said that to the brand new LOCSD Board, in early 1999, the past 13 years-and-counting of Los Osos sewer disaster, at an IMMENSE cost to the State of California, would have never happened, because HAD Roger said exactly that, at that meeting -- and this point is crazy-important, yet almost never discussed (well, outside of SewerWatch) -- the project would have simply, and logically, just turned back to the county's "ready-to-go" project... that was sitting right there... "ready to go," and Roger knew that.

Which means that, since early 1999, ALL of the delays of "the sewer" -- delays that led directly to, among many other disastrous things, those hideous, and highly embarrassing to the the local Water "Quality" Control Board, CDO's -- are Roger's and the Regional Board's fault!

He never lifted a finger to stop that known-to-him-to-be a disaster.

So again:

Why in the world did Roger Briggs allow the 1999 - 2000 Los Osos CSD to waste two years on a non-"project" -- the "better, cheaper, faster" disaster -- that Roger already knew wasn't going to work?

Which means that I also want to bring this: to Roger's retirement party.

That's the link to my April 14, 2006, blog post where I suggest to the CDOers, that their defense should be to bring six mirrors to their RWQCB "trial," and then hand them to the RWQCB members, and one for Roger, because the CDO's were actually their fault for allowing the 1999 - 2000 LOCSD to completely waste two years on a "non-project" that Roger ALREADY KNEW wasn't going to work.

And, frankly, it's a damn shame that none of the CDOers used my defense strategy. because, not only would it have been hilarious, it would  have worked.

So, happy retirement, Rog, and, a toast to no more "not happy memories!"



Sunday, August 05, 2012

Your Sunday Poem

This by Tukaram (c1608-1649), who lived in India and was "the most influential figure in the development of Marathi literature.)  From "Love Poems from God," edited by Daniel Ladinsky.

My Lucky Rock

I said to a squirrel, "What is that you re carrying?"
                  and he said,

     "It is my lucky rock, isn't it pretty?"
        I held it and said, "Indeed."

                 I said to God,

             "What is this earth?"

    And He said, "It is my lucky rock;
              isn't it wonderous?"

                   Yes, indeed.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Brandy's Journey Home

Calhoun’s Cannons for August 1, 2012

Brandy’s Journey Home

            The older I get the more it seems like everything’s premature.  Stories I thought were done suddenly have another chapter.  Just when I think the play’s over, the curtain rises again and the actors are back in motion.  Life more and more seem to catch me in the middle of something, like someone late to the theatre who comes in part way through and keeps whispering, “What’s happening?” I’m getting to be like a long-winded story-teller who’s always saying, “Oh, wait, there’s more.”  
            Back in 1998 I wrote a column about adopting Brandy that ended with “The End,” and said, in part:

            “ I don’t know just what it was that captured me.  . . .  Lord knows, I had enough canines at home, a pack of Basenjis claiming to be dogs . . .    . . .  And Lord knows, my first look at the dog through the chain-link kennel doors at the Animal Services holding pens wasn’t promising.  The face was dark, feral, the body reflecting some Aboriginal dog influence, a dingo, perhaps.  Or was it the dog’s initial resemblance to a New Guinea Singing Dog that did it? . . .
            “Whatever it was, I couldn’t get the creature out of my mind and so the next day I returned to inquire further. Turns out that she was a young she, barely out of puppyhood, had been picked up wandering around Paso Robles and had been sitting in the pound for nearly two weeks waiting for “her people” to come looking for her.
            “Amazingly, they never did . . .  which was a bit puzzling because when I got her home, I discovered that she was housebroken, loved other dogs, people and rides in cars.  Clearly, here was a dog that somebody had taken the time to train and socialize and care for.  Yet when she was lost, they never came to find her.
            “The kennel man at Animal Services informed me that she looked almost exactly like the pure-bred Australian Kelpie that he had at home, with a little shepherd-something showing in her face, maybe.  As Kelpies are reputed to have some Dingo blood in them, that certainly explained the aboriginal look that first attracted me to her.
            “Since this is the first real dog I’ve ever had – Basenjis don’t count – it’s startling in the extreme to be around a dog that actually minds what you say. Basenjis are ancient hunting hounds, smart, cunning, independent survival artists who understand that humans are beneath contempt and so should be ignored with impunity.
            “Kelpies, on the other hand, were bred to herd sheep, cattle and other critters, and so by instinct and breeding are dogs that actually pay attention and do what they’re told.  That behavior is a shocking attribute in a house full of canine sociopaths.”

            And there, the story pretty much ended, except it didn’t.  About a year after getting Brandy, it became clear that mixing hounds and herders just wasn’t going to work out.  Brandy was tough-minded.  So were the Basenjis.  And the result was an unhappy household filled with growing umbrage.  And sharp teeth.  And so I sent out the word and within three-degrees of connection, Lois and Ralph arrived at the house to meet Brandy and take her home.
            Thus began a 14 year friendship and my new role as Brandy’s Aunt. When I first adopted Brandy, I thought I was the main character in a happy-ending story.  But that wasn’t the story at all.  I was only a minor character the middle of the story.  And far from being the hero, I was merely a plot device for the real story: Brandy finding her real, forever home. 
            And what a forever home. She went everywhere with her people, travels to the north woods, the high mountains, ever ready when the RV was being packed.  She was surrounded by friends wanting her to come for play dates with their dogs.  And when at home, she kept it safe from hooligan raccoons that came up off the bay to peer rudely into her windows.  But above all, she kept close watch on those she loved best, seeing her people through good times and bad.
            And every Christmas I would stop by with a sack of dog biscuits or toys which Lois transferred to Brandy’s special Christmas stocking hanging from the mantle.  Her eyes did not stray from that sock until she had at least one treat.
            And so the many, many Christmases went by and Brandy’s eyes grew dim, her energy waned, her step slowed until the story of Brandy, The Good, the best dog in the world, came to a gentle close.
             At least I think her story is over.  But, what do I know?  I’m just a character in this tale, and as far as I know, Brandy’s off on a new adventure, writing her own chapters.  But before she heads off to run among the stars and herd the clouds and moon, I’m betting that she’s already making arrangements to send her beloved family her replacement, a wonderful new dog who will soothe their sorrow and bring joy back into their lives again.
            Good dog, Brandy.  Good dog.