Sunday, October 28, 2012

Your Sunday Poem

This is from  Life Prayers, an anthology of prayers, blessings and affirmations from around the world, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon.

If you have time to chatter
Read books
If you have time to read
Walk into the mountian, desert and ocean
If you have time to walk
sing songs and dance
If you have time to dance
sit quietly, you Happy Lucky Idiot.
                               Nanao Sakaki 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Searching for Sugarman

There’s a mystery to every human life.  How its trajectory seems headed in one direction when it mysteriously turns into another.  How none of us knows the impact of our activities until they’ve been completed.  And then often not even then.

The film, “Searching for Sugarman,” is a documentary about just such a life.  In the 1970s, a Detroit folk musician named Sixto Rodriguez, came to the notice of some record producers, two well reviewed records were produced but nothing much happened after that.  Everyone who heard the work figured they’d have the next Bob Dylan on their hands.  But, no.  Rodriguez’ career came to zero, record sales, zero, future, zero.

Which happens to many, many, many in the Record Biz. So Rodriguez returned to his work as a laborer, and disappeared from view.  Except for some American kids who knew of his work and loved it.  And what young person wouldn’t; the lyrics spoke of love and loss and the struggle for identity, the need to refuse all attempts to let other people define your life, to refuse to let governments dictate what our life should be.

And so one of them took the LP to South Africa at the height of the brutal apartheid years and since it was impossible to order any more LPs, soon people were making bootlegged tapes and the songs spread like wildfire to become the coded language of protest and rebellion against the regime.  And so it came to pass that Sixto Rodriguez became a legend more famous than Elvis Presley.  In South Africa, that is.

Back home in Detroit, Rodriguez knew nothing of this.  He returned to a normal life, raised a family, worked hard, got involved in his community but never returned to his musical career which had ended in such silence.

Until the 1990s when a South African reporter started snooping around and in an amazing case of serendipity chased the mysterious Rodriguez to ground.  And found out that he was not dead, despite the bizarre and dramatic rumors about him, but was alive and well and living in Detroit utterly unaware of what happened to his name and his music in South Africa.

And so an extraordinary documentary film was born (now playing at the Downtown Center, SLO) – the search for this musician and eventually his return to a South Africa that was in no small way, changed by his music, so he could repeatedly play to sold out stadiums full of generations of his adoring fans. As one of the film’s talking heads said, Rodriguez’ return was a once in a lifetime event, as if Elvis Presley had returned from the dead to play a concert.  

And what the film also revealed is the eternal vagaries (and the, uh, "creative bookkeeping") of the Music Biz’s financial accounting system, the impossible odds of ever “making it” in the Biz, the total unpredictability of “fame,” why one talented singer rises to the top while another one disappears from view.  And the mystery of creativity itself;  How clear it becomes in retrospect that most artists only have just so much good work in them and when that’s completed, they’re finished.  And how too few artists recognize that iron rule and go on to waste their lives in failure and despair, while a few lucky understand those limits and move forward to craft new lives.

And above all, the movie makes clear the magic and mystery of never knowing what impact our lives and actions and words and songs may have on others. Or how one man’s LP could help change a generation and a country. 

As Kurt Vonnegut’s Bokonon would say, “Busy, busy, busy.”   But I hope you won't be too busy to go see the movie.  It's touching, exhilarating, extraordinary. 


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gone, Baby, Gone

Calhoun’s Cannons for October 23, 2012

            For months, candidate Mitt Romney has been going around the country attacking President Obama’s foreign policy.  It was wrong headed, incorrect, unraveling, dangerous, unworkable, terrible, terrible, just awful.  Then, at last night’s final presidential debate, there occurred a weird transformation:  Mitt Romney etched his last sketch and in front of millions of viewers, -- Poof! –  turned himself into Mister Me Too.  Talk about “no daylight” between him and Obama on foreign policy.  Suddenly, he was out-Obamaing Obama, which must have given Mitt’s 17 former Bush NeoCon PNAC foreign policy advisors heart failure. “No! No! Mitt, you’re the Severely Conservative  Bomb Iran Pax Americana Guy, remember?”   
            And once again, Romney continued to spout fake stuff like the untrue and repeatedly debunked “Obama apology tour,” and throughout the debate, when Obama referred to Mitt’s many previous statements and changing positions, Mitt looked right into the camera with that strangely smirky small smile and repeatedly and sincerely claimed that he always never didn’t say whatever it was he actually had said previously.  Which caused me to holler at the screen, “Doesn’t this guy know about videotape?”  Followed by, “Oh, Boy, wait until Jon Stewart gets ahold of this one.”
            Equally creepy was listening to Romney start in on one of his nervous riffs ‘splaining his view of the Middle East, for example, and thinking how much like Sarah Palin he was.  When she tried to wade into a complex issue, she always gave me the sense that she was winging it.  That she was a person without a deep background understanding of an issue, but rather, was like a student who had crammed for a written exam and had just enough of a grasp of the key phrases and buzz words that would let her skate by with a “C.” Which is fine for a student, but not so fine for a President. And didn’t work out too well for Ms. Palin either.
            But the evening did have a “zinger:” Mitt insisting that when he was President, he’d buy the Navy more ships.  At which point, President Obama snarkily reminded him that times have changed and that just looking at the numbers of things isn’t a smart defense strategy for the future.  The Army has fewer horses and bayonets than it used to,  but that didn’t mean it needs more horses and bayonets now.
            But I’m not sure that practical observation holds much weight with Romney and the Republicans since it has long been clear to me that if there’s one thing right-wing Republicans in general fear most, it’s being seen as “weak.” Not actually weak, just appearing to be weak. Get two far right Republican candidates on stage and they’ll out-belligerent each other right into the realm of the ridiculous – I’ll buy six battleships!  Yeah, well, I’ll buy six battleships AND 10,000 horses and sabers!  But while constant blustering rhetoric, saber-rattling, NeoCon hostile threats, and the belief that only an excessively armed belligerent America can “lead” the world may work on the campaign trail, it makes for bad governance and ginned up wars.  As we have found out, to our sorrow.
            Well, debates are theatre and in this case, it turned into the theatre of the absurd.  By the end Mitt Romney had again dishonestly denied himself, again, and then disappeared before our eyes into Me Too Guy.  And then, in an act of astounding hubris, looked right into the camera at the American people and said that if elected President, he’d “lead in an open and honest way.”
            “Open and Honest?”  WTF??
            Right now, the various polls show that it’s nearly a dead heat between these two men.  If the numbers remain the same after tonight’s debate, then half the voters in this country need to answer one incredibly important question:  Exactly who/what/which Romney are you voting for now?  Does anybody know?  I sure don’t.
            President Obama has repeatedly said that this election will determine the future direction of America.  He’s right about that.  So far, our record hasn’t been too promising.  We’re Clueless Jingo Nation – so poorly informed about the world we live in that too many of us think Iranians are Arabs and Sikhs are Muslims.  We’re  Alzheimer Nation – can’t remember even recent history and so repeat it.  We’re  Battered Wife Nation – don’t believe we deserve anything more than abusive trickle-down crap and every few years, having learned nothing, we return again and again to Handsome Wall Street Suit Guy who says he’s sorry and won’t loot our bank accounts again, until he does and we go- Boo-Hoo, then wash, rinse and repeat.
            Nope.  Not too promising.  Which means it’s going to be a long two weeks and Jon Stewart’s going to be in comedic hog heaven.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Last Debate Tonight

If you're planning on watching the debate tonight, you might want to read Cesar Millan's comments at

So, prepare the popcorn, invite your best friend into the room, turn the sound down and watch Mitt Romney and President Obama's body language the way a dog would.  

To me, one of the very first things I noticed about skittery-jittery Mitt is how much he reminded me of skittery-jittery George Bush.  Here are two men who are very uncomfortable in their own skins, especially when under stress.  In a Commander in Chief, that can't possibly end well.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Your Sunday Poem

This lovely little memory snapshot is by Charles Simic, from his book, "Master of Disguises." 

The Melon

There was a melon fresh from the garden
So ripe the knife slurped
As it cut it into six slices.
The children were going back to school.
Their mother, passing out paper plates,
Would not live to see the leaves fall.

I remember a hornet, too, that flew in
Through the open window
Mad to taste the sweet fruit
While we ducked and screamed,
Covered our heads and faces,
And sat laughing after it was gone.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Smackdown Reboot

Calhoun’s Cannons for Oct 17, 2012

Well, that old saying is true:  When you want something done right, send in a woman. In this case, two of ‘em.  Unlike Jim Lehrer, Martha Raddatz and Candy Crowley managed to do the impossible: Keep two circling sleek, well-dressed, surface-polite Dobermans from peeing on each others shoes.

As theatre of the absurd, you can’t beat our Presidential Debates, Town Hall Version.  The beautiful stage, the hand-picked, rehearsed and vetted audience, the whole thing scripted like a piece of Kabuki Theatre.  But, c’mon, America, we gotta up our game.  Here was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Mr. John Q. Citizen to ask a serious question of both a candidate and a President, and we get some doofus whining about how the Secretary of Energy told him that it wasn’t this administration’s responsibility to do anything about gas prices and could this possibly be true, O woe?  

People, people.  Really? Gas prices?  Secretary of Energy?  This is gas-guzzler America, home of ruthless, winner-take-all capitalism, where Free Market Rules rule, where we love our price-gougers and rip-off commodity speculators, and now we have this guy on national TV whining about gas prices?  Like he thinks the President is some kind of dreary Soviet five-year planner who should take over Exxon Mobil and show up at this guy’s local Gas ‘N Go with a screw driver to reset pump prices? Oh, Plueeze.

But that’s how much of the evening went, hand-picked questions that allowed the candidates to conveniently hang themselves in velvet ropes of clichés while the real 600 pound gorillas sat quietly off stage, untouched.

Like a Republican Congress of NO with only one stated goal: Defeat Obama by any means necessary.  Pretty hard to do much of anything to help a foundering country with that millstone around your neck.  Or income disparities that are a worsening drain on the economy and a real threat to America’s unique promise: upward mobility.  Or global warming, the mother of all gorillas coming down on us fast, a gorilla that will make jobs and gas prices – and everything else – moot. Or a realistic, grown-up discussion about our gazillion-dollar debt that wasn’t full of fairy stories about how we can all make it disappear while still getting lots of tax breaks and free pudding. You know, grown-up topics that needed grown-up answers.  Instead we get whines about gas prices.

And theatre, which did have its moments. Candidate Mitt was back doing his anxious little boy routine from the first debate, fairly hopping up and down promising the moon, a long litany of,  I can do it, I can create jobs, I know how, I do, I do, I do, I know how, the middle class is crushed, I can get all the oil we need, I can do it, crushed middle class, I know how, crushed, I’ll lower the rates, crushed, millions of jobs, lower taxes, more crushed, jobs, I can, I can, plueeze, plueeze, until Crowley had to tell him to hush up and go take his seat, which he finally did.

Amusingly, Candidate Mitt’s crowded litany of his own glorious campaign promises was often juxtaposed with his long j’accuse litany of candidate Obama’s unfulfilled glorious
campaign promises of four years ago, but at no time did I ever get a sense that Mitt understood the delicious irony of those juxtapositions: The huge difference between campaign promises (past and present) and real world governance.

Not so amusing was Mitt having to be fact-checked on air by Moderator Crowley.  If there’s one thing vital in a Commander in Chief, it’s the ability to make sure he’s got the facts straight before speaking or acting.  Mitt had already gotten smacked for rushing into the initial muddle of the Libyan terrorist attack even before he knew what the facts were and here he was again, weeks later, still unclear of the events. Not good, even for an Etch-A-Sketch candidate.  Hourly changeable campaign promises are one thing; Wrong facts about terror attacks are quite another.

But Democrats were happy.  The President was awake this time and ready for a smackdown and now the media, which never met a sports metaphor it didn’t love, will be filled with zinging sound bites and fact-checking wonkery, all of which will be endlessly repeated in order to gin up ratings for the last big showdown before the Big Race. 

Which likely will be a squeaker, given how divided this country is.  But until the voters understand that if they want those 600 pound gorillas dealt with, they’ve got to vote into office a better grade of Congressmen.  If they don’t, those gorillas will still be there, growing bigger and more dangerous every year. And in a few years, when some guy stands up again to whine about gas prices, their response won’t be pretty. 



Monday, October 15, 2012

El Chorro Dog Park 11th Anniversary Celebration

If you have a dog, grab him or her and head over to El Chorro Regional Park (across from Cuesta College off Hwy 1) for the SLO-4-PUPs Off Leash Dog Park's fund-raiser and 11th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday Oct 20 from 10 - 2.  There will be hot dogs, sodas, cake and lots of dogs. The El Chorro Dog Park was the county's very first fenced off-leash park (there are now 8), and was built and is run and maintained by volunteers, donors, and dog park visitors.

So, grab the pooch and head over for a romp.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

This wickedly sly bit from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, James Tate, from "Selected Poems,"

Prose Poem

I am surrounded by the pieces of this huge
puzzle; here's a piece I call my wife, and
here's an odd one I call convictions, here's
conventions, here's collisions, conflations,
congratulations.  Such a puzzle this is! I
like to grease up all the pieces and pile
them in the center of the basement after
everyone else is asleep.  Then I leap head-
first like a diver into the wretched confusion.
I kick like hell and strangle a few pieces,
bite them, spitting and snarling like a mongoose.
When I wake up in the morning, it's all fixed!
My wife says she would not be caught dead at
that savage resurrection.  I say she would.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Rumble in the Mumble

Calhoun’s Cannons for October 12, 2012

Unlike the previous debate, Joltin’ Joe, the Veep, at least showed up wide awake.  O.K., he grinned far too much, which, on the split screen made his wide flashing of enormous teeth look almost maniacal.  But he was scrappy and awake and in pit bull mode and soon had his opponent skittered into silence. 

Which was about the only place Paul Ryan could go. Youthful earnest vagueness and meaningless political clichés are no match for an old guy talking about actual realities on real ground. So advantage almost always goes to incumbents who can bring to the game a real sense of how cliché gets trumped when it goes from a tidy sound bite into a messy reality.

And if there’s one thing that makes our PAC-run, TV-fake, hyped-up, poll-driven political campaigns so fatuously destructive it’s this: Cliché and sound bites and FrankLuntz talking points stop all thought cold.  That’s what they’re designed to do – hit the amygdala, shut the rational brain down, juice up the adrenaline, stop complex thought. But what then goes missing when its needed most are the “what-ifs” and the “then-whats” that are required in order to follow the cliché down the rabbit hole to track how it will play out in the real world.

And the Veep debate was particularly interesting to me because there was a real contrast between young Ryan spouting neat, clean clichés and Biden who brought in his messy sack of history to show how things really work – We did this, then we had to do that because this went ker-blooey, so then we had to figure out how to do that.  All of which repeatedly brought home how buzz words simply hide a constantly shifting bag of snakes and surprises. Realpolitiks.

Bags of snakes and surprises and  logical and unintended consequences is why voters really need to get their own heads out of the clichés fed to them by the political strategists and insist their representatives track down those rabbit holes. They can start by becoming semanticists and constantly ask: “What, exactly, do you mean by that word?  Be specific and please illustrate how that would play out in real time.” 

For example, in an effort to make themselves seem tough, Romney and Ryan – the dynamic duo of Warrior Princes  -- have been beating the war drum clichés about preventing Iran from getting the bomb or showing “leadership” in the middle east. O.K.,   fair enough.  That’s what candidates do.  And a mostly unified world is also concerned about Iran and the killing going on in Syria. But what the Duo have so far refused to answer – and Ryan skated away from last night – is exactly how they would accomplish that.  It’s the one question that no American politician wants to answer.  Instead, they want the war drum music to play in the background in order to give their listeners the subliminal impression of how military tough they are, without getting into the cold realities of what their cliché is hinting at.  And the voters also happily buy into that little piece of theatre by never asking themselves just what cliché means either. 

Except during the debate when Joltin’ Joe finally let slip a hint of what’s being coyly alluded to in that war-thump music:   Bombing Iran, an act of war sure to loosen a huge bag of very deadly snakes that nobody wants to face, and putting boots on the ground in Syria, an act sure to destabilize an already unstable region.  Anybody in America up for that?  If so, please step to the front.  The Army recruitment center is just down the road.

If not, then it’s back to the voter to ask themselves follow-up questions involving the words, “exactly,” and “be specific,” “How would that work out in real terms?” and “What’s the downside of this?” 

If this debate illustrated anything for me it was this: The pragmatic brain understands that the world is a constantly shifting place of hard edges and fuzzy illusion where doing nothing is often not an option and doing something too often comes with costly built-in penalties. The cliché brain doesn’t understand that complexity; it’s happy with smiley-faced simplicity.

Which set up the final question of evening: Which brain will show up in the voting booth come November 6th?   


Sunday, October 07, 2012

Your Sunday Poem

Fifty years ago, Don Marquis, a writer for the Evening Sun in New York, created a free-verse writing cockroach -- Archy -- who created his poetry on Marquis' typewriter late at night by leaping down head first onto he keys. Since it was too laborious to jump down on the shift key all the time, Archy wrote in lower case.  Archy had a friend, Mehitabel, "an alley cat of questionable character," and wrote poetry that was often mordantly critical about the human condition. My husband and I named our first cat Mehitabel, even though she was of sterling character.  Come to think of it, we also named our first car, a beat up VW van, Mehitabel, too.  

men talk of money and industry
of hard times and recoveries
of finance and economics
but the ants wait and the scorpions wait
for while men talk they are making deserts all the time
getting the world ready for the conquering ant
drought and erosion and desert
because men cannot learn

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Oh, Well, that explains it

This was sent from a friend of mind.  Well, that certainly explains a lot.  And I just thought Romney wanted a pony. Well, they do have one thing in common, ponies and Gish Gallops:  BS.

And I knew what tactic Romney was using in the debate, but did not know they had a name for it... 
Romney's fast speaking pace and ticked off numbered "factual" points are classic indicators.

The debate tactic is called the "Gish Gallop"

But I like the Urban Dictionary better, it calls BS by its name:

Named for the debate tactic created by creationist shill Duane Gish, a Gish Gallop involves spewing so much bullshit in such a short span that your opponent can’t address let alone counter all of it. To make matters worse a Gish Gallop will often have one or more 'talking points' that has a tiny core of truth to it, making the person rebutting it spend even more time debunking it in order to explain that, yes, it's not totally false but the Galloper is distorting/misusing/misstating the actual situation. A true Gish Gallop generally has two traits.

1) The factual and logical content of the Gish Gallop is pure bullshit and anybody knowledgeable and informed on the subject would recognize it as such almost instantly. That is, the Gish Gallop is designed to appeal to and deceive precisely those sorts of people who are most in need of honest factual education.

2) The points are all ones that the Galloper either knows, or damn well should know, are totally bullshit. With the slimier users of the Gish Gallop, like Gish himself, its a near certainty that the points are chosen not just because the Galloper knows that they're bullshit, but because the Galloper is deliberately trying to shovel as much bullshit into as small a space as possible in order to overwhelm his opponent with sheer volume and bamboozle any audience members with a facade of scholarly acumen and factual knowledge.

Friday, October 05, 2012


Calhoun’s Cannons for Oct 5, 2012

To be persuasive, we must be believable.  To be believable, we must be credible.  To be credible, we must be truthful.
                                              Edward R. Murrow

I made sure I was appropriately dressed for the occasion by wearing my special Presidential Debate tee shirt.  The one with Meh emblazoned on the front, which is about all the enthusiasm I can conjure up for this overlong, overblown, overpriced, ridiculous Bataan Death March of a political campaign.

The debate was not without its moments.  The moderator was asleep at the switch while the President looked like a distracted boulevardier slouched gracefully against a lamp post, one leg casually canted behind him.  No need to stand firmly on two feet – this one could be phoned in.  And Mitt Romney nearly rattled his careful coiffure off center when he launched into his rat-a-tat-tat imitation of a frustrated but wildly agitated 11 year-old boy desperately trying to get his Dad to buy him a new pony – “All you need to do is raise the rates, lower the base, widen the top, cut the bottom, it won’t cost you a penny, it’ll be revenue neutral, I have a plan, I have another plan, I have two plans, I’ll explain later, just trust me, please, please, puhleeeze.”

Until I wanted to smack him and holler, “Get a grip, Mitt!” and send him to his room. I mean, wide-eyed enthusiasm is one thing, but the quivering near hysteria of a hyper-ventilating salesman desperate to close is quite another. Plus, I couldn’t help thinking, Jeeze, I don’t want that twitchy guy on the other end of a red phone at 3 a.m.

But the biggest Meh of all in this election is the utter refusal of all parties to address The Rest of The Story.  President Obama hasn’t “fixed the economy” for two critical reasons.  First, nobody could fix this mess in four years.  Boom and bust cycles have their own time tables and this one is particularly complicated.  Claiming otherwise is simply dishonest. And two, everybody keeps ignoring the one huge elephant in the room: a Republican Congress whose leaders had one – and only one– priority: Making sure this president would be a one term president.  Period.  That was it, from day one.  The result is we ended up with a Congress bent on knee-capping and monkey-wrenching, not repairing and rebuilding.   

Like all presidential debates, this one was filled with spin, fudged numbers and worse -- Big Lies.  That’s been a particular problem because we now live in Republican strategist Karl Rove’s World, where nothing is true, reality is simply what you say it is, and arithmetic is obsolete.  It’s all New Math now, baby.

Which makes it nearly impossible for a democracy to govern itself.  How can it when all information is politicized and branded as false, facts become fungible and Edward R. Murrow’s “credibility” is now an irrelevant anachronism. 

Wednesday night’s debate was a perfect example.  Both candidates came in for plenty of fact-checking smacks.  But what the hell was Romney doing dragging in the old infamous fake $700 million “cut” from Medicare story?  That lie had been killed off, debunked, ‘splained repeatedly, loudly, in public, yet there Romney was, shamelessly dragging it on stage like a dead zombie.  Or, worse yet, conjuring up the ghost of Sarah Palin’s destructively false “death panels” and “government takeover of health care.” Romney knows those fake talking-points are lies that have but one purpose:  to deceive rather than to illuminate. But he was willing to present them as fact to an audience he believes to be idiots.  

Or consider the poor voter having to try to deal with a candidate that believes in Policy as Vapor.  Debate night we in the TV audience were astonished to learn that Romney now has a “new” budget plan, the details of which are totally unknown because it’s, like, all new, with details to be added later. (Another plan?  Is Romney a Fuller Brush salesman with a suitcase full of little vegetable brushes, each one a different color? You don’t like blue?  Oh, well, here’s a purple one?) Shape shifting vague makes dishonest campaigning easy but it doesn’t work well if you’re a voter trying to decide which candidate’s stated policies you want to vote for.   

And that’s because the devil’s always in the details.  Which is where the real problems facing the American people lie and why this election is being touted as the struggle for the soul of America. 

There are two forces at work now: 1% Corporate America and 47% Useless Mooching Public America.  The vested interests of both do not necessarily coincide.  Indeed, there is more than ample evidence that the interests of one too often bring great harm to the interests of the other.  Bain Capital comes to mind.  So does Wall Street. The Koch Brothers.  Outsourced Jobs.  Tax breaks for the rich.  All great for Corporate America, not so good for Main Street. The Koch Brothers have their Congressmen in place to guard their interests.  But who is there to guard and defend the interests of We the People, you know, the Useless Mooching 47%?    

As it stand now, what we’ve created is a world of Karl Rovian fakery, dishonest math, shape-shifting policies, etch-a-sketch personalities, erasable histories, fantasy realities, ridiculous apocalyptic thunderations, missing time-lines, poisonous partisanship, predatory corporations and a total lack of common sense. Not to mention a Republican party that sadly sold its soul to a guy named Grover Norquist, a congress filled with corporate hacks (and genuinely science-challenged ignoramuses), and a population too willing to believe in fairy stories that always end with free candy raining down from the sky on all the good children.

And now a candidate who promises to fix the budget by killing off Big Bird. 

Which is why my Great Debate tee shirt says it all and says it best:  Meh.