Monday, July 29, 2013


The parallels are unmistakable: An innocent young 22 year-old black man, Oscar Grant, a frightened Transit cop, a situation spiraling out of control, one gun, one bullet.  The rest you know.  Only this wasn't Florida.  This deadly incident took place in 2009 on the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland.  And the new movie, "Fruitvale Station," staring Michael Jordan as real-life Oscar Grant, is a powerful examination of Clark's last day before his deadly appointment in Samarra.

Michael Jordan, as Oscar, turns in an extraordinarily nuanced performance, capturing perfectly this man-child struggling to get his life back on track, both saint and sinner.  Supported by Melonie Diaz as his girlfriend and Octavia Spencer (from The Help) turning in another wonderful performance as his long-suffering mother, the movie moves in close (physically, with the camera keeping the viewer in  intimate contact with the characters, close enough to read their faces, close enough to allow you to keep that connection of familiarity and recognition.)  And it's the sheer normalness of the characters that becomes so moving.  Just people doing the best they can, living their lives, trying to keep themselves and families upright.  Until pointless tragedy strikes.

While this powerful film's ending feels a bit truncated --the suddenly black screen followed by a textual coda about the rest of the story -- transit cop claimed he thought he was reaching for his taser but grabbed his gun instead, served 11 months for the killing, the sad collision of "justice" and "law"-- it remains a very powerful, moving, beautifully acted and beautifully put together film.

And certainly a timely film, considering we're supposed to be engaged in a "racial dialogue."  It's hard to imagine a more apt "racially dialogued" movie than this one. But films seen as "black" often have a hard time finding a large audience.  And a serious, tragic "black movie" is even more of a hard sell.   I went to the noon Sunday showing at the Underground Theatre, and there were only about 8 people there.  I can hope more people take time to see this haunting, timely, serious film. But history shows that hope is likely to be folly.  Given a choice between "Fruitvale Station", a "black film" and "Wolverine," a loud, slashing fantasy, I know which one will win out.    

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Sunday Soup

It's summer, and if your garden crops are starting to come in, it's likely you have lots of zucchini.  Most gardeners plant zucchini because it grows so easily.  Alas, most people can get by with very little zucchini in their lives, a little going a long way, while the garden produces lots and lots of the stuff.  So, what do do?

Well, here's the world's simplest soup.  It came from the editor of Bon Appetit, who confessed that he like totally ripped it off from his mom. This recipe should also work with yellow squash, too.   

Zucchini Curry Soup

olive oil
1 med onion, diced
3 med zucchini, diced
1 qt low sodium chicken broth
1 tsp curry powder
optional: pinch of adobo chile powder, black pepper, to taste. Can also vary the amount of curry powder to taste.

Saute onions until soft, add curry powder, stir, add zucchini, stir and cook about 10 min.  Add it all to chicken broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 25 min until soft and cooked through.  Remove from heat, adjust seasonings, let cool a bit and puree with stick blender (or blender).


Thursday, July 25, 2013

20 Feet, Indeed

Don't miss the documentary "20 Feet from Stardom," now playing at the Palm Theatre
 ( ) .  It tells the tale of some of the best known of rock and roll's  "back up" singers.  Originally, all back up singers in the 1950's were nice, neatly dressed, boring white ladies standing behind Perry Como or Dean Martin and politely adding harmony.  With the breakout of rock and roll, black music came onto the main stage, yes, too often hijacked by white performers, but black back up singers came too, and transformed popular music. (The clips of powerhouse Tina Turner, with her mile high legs topping a holy-cow! fringed mini-mini-miniskirt and her crazy-assed, berserker back up ladies reminds one just how electric and transformative they were.  And young.  Oh, so young.) 

The whole phenomenon of "back up" singing never really crossed my radar, which is what made this film so interesting -- 90 minutes of muttering, "Gosh, I didn't know that."  The talent on display is phenomenal, the survival of these women, most of whom are still singing is heartening (they're still singing back up for movie sound tracks, records, with a few "out front," still touring with Springsteen and The Rolling Stones). 

But ultimately, it's the documentary's unfolding disquisition on "fame" and "talent" and "art" and " music" and "soul" that haunts:  How rare it is to achieve stardom, how little fame has to do with talent or hard work.  How divorced fame and stardom are from true greatness and art.  How breaking out from the background can be too high a price to pay (as so many artists who achieved fame discovered, then paid for  with their disordered, self-destructive lives). How transforming from a back up to the solo role is, in many ways, impossible -- a case of turning a tap dancer into an opera diva  -- because there are two entirely different talents  at work; one standing alone, the other tuned exquisitely to creating a whole. And how, ultimately, fame is a game of luck, its value fleeting, while the work -- the song, the voice, the music -- is its own gift, its own demanding taskmaster, its own reward.

After seeing the film, I thought the title had it's own irony.  Given the talent and musicianship of these women, I think it is the lead singers who are 20 feet from greatness. Not the other way around.  


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lucky Us

I'm willing to bet very few of you reading this know about one of the most amazing resources in this county: the Hearst Cancer Resource Center.  It's located in the back of French Hospital, at 1941 Johnson Ave in SLO, is funded by community donations, endowments and, of course, the incredibly generous support of the Hearst Family and Hearst Foundation.  

The Center offers an extraordinary array of services, classes, lectures, counseling, social services and support programs, access to the Jennifer Diamond Cancer Resource Library, and a nurse navigator, one person who will help anyone newly diagnosed with cancer to coordinate the vast array of help available.

Among the activities offered every month, --free -- for cancer patients and their families and caregivers are nutrition counseling, support groups, Qigong and Tia Chi Chih classes, art therapy classes, guided meditation class, a children & teens support group, prostate support group, energy balancing sessions and even a "warm yarns" knitting circle which makes warm colorful scarves and hats that are given to patients undergoing chemo treatment. In short, an astonishing array of services and programs all aimed at supporting cancer patients and their families..

In addition, the center has been putting on a wonderful series of lectures for the general public on nutrition and general health.  Again, they're free and are open to the public.  One recent program I've been attending is a three-part lecture series on Women's health that is being held in the beautiful Oak Glen Pavilion at the San Luis Botanical Garden (in El Chorro Regional Park on Hwy. 1).  They serve a continental breakfast, have a series of speakers and cover a variety of topics all dealing with health, nutrition, well being..  The next one upcoming is on Women's Heart Health, and will be held Saturday, Sept. 14, 8:30am, lecture program at 9.m.  Call the Hearst Cancer Resource Center for reservations-- 542-6234.

Again, these lecture series are free and are really informative and fun.  So if you or anyone you know  are interested in staying healthy or improving your health, or know somebody dealing with any kind of illness (doesn't have to be cancer, any chronic disease can be improved with better health), visit their website -- www.  or call the center at 542-6234   

If you get on their mailing list, you'll be notified of their various programs.  One of which is an upcoming one on Healthier Living: Your Life, Take Care, on Fridays, Aug 2,9,16,23,30, Sept. 6, from 1-3:30 and covering topics ranging from How to manage symptoms, depression management, appropriate use of medications, how to successfully deal with symptoms, including fatigue, pain, isolation, and communicating effectively with family, friends and doctors.  All great information to know if you're coping with any kind of long-term health treatment which, if you're of a certain age, all of us are, in one way or another. 

Which is why this resource center is so wonderful.  In their outreach programming, they're hoping to give even more people information that can improve their health.  And what's not to love about that?

Coffee Lovers Alert

Big banner hanging over the SLO Roasted Coffee factory in Los Osos announcing:  Open House, Aug 17, 12pm. - 4 pm.  Last time they did that was around Christmas last year, had tours of the coffee production, including a sample roasting, taste-testing stations with different coffees, in short a wonderful opportunity to see up close our wonderful local coffee company.

Giddy Up

Buck Brannaman, the Horse Whisperer featured in the wonderful documentary, "Buck," will be offering a class/clinic at the Santa Ynex Equestrian Center in Santa Ynes ( )  (Email Syvesquestrian@ on October 26-27.  If you've got a horse that needs work or if you need work on your horsemanship, might be a splendid opportunity to work with one of the best. The website doesn't have any further information posted yet but an email might get times and cost. 

And if you've never heard of Buck Brannaman, go get the DVD "Buck."  It is splendid. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Your Sunday Poem

I recently bought a most extraordinary poetry anthology, "The Rattle Bag," edited by Seamus Heany and Ted Hughes.  (Available in paperback, so head down to your local bookstore and order it.)  Both of these men are well known poets and, according to the introduction, "This anthology massed itself like a cairn.  . . . [the poems] were picked up one by one and left in situ without much initial thought being given to the stuff already in the pile or the position that they might occupy in the final shape."  In short, the anthology started rather as a kind of day book.  And when it came time to actually edit this vast collection of poetry from all over the place and time, it was decided to simply arrange it in alphabetical order (by title or first line) which "allows the contents to discover themselves as we ourselves gradually discovered them -- each poem full of its singular appeal, transmitting its own signals, taking its chances in a big,voluble world."

Which makes reading this collection an activity full of surprise.  Like this amazing poem by Miroslav Holub (translated from Czech by Jarmila Milner) (The term "jade" is listed in the glossary as "horse.")


Someone runs about,
someone scents the wind,
someone stomps the ground, but it's hard.

Red flags flutter
and on his old upholstered jade the picador
with infirm lance
scores the first wound.

Red blood spurts between the shoulder-blades.

Chest about to split,
tongue stuck out to the roots.
Hooves stamp of their own accord.

Three pairs of the bandoleros in the back.
And a matador is drawing his sword
over the railing.

And then someone (blood-spattered, all in)
stops and shouts:
Let's go, quit it,
let's go, quit it,
let's go over across the river and into the trees,
let's go across the river and into the trees,
let's leave the red rags behind,
let's go some other place,

thus he shouts,
or wheezes,
or whispers,

and the barriers roar and
no one understands because
everyone feels the same about it,

the black-and-red bull is going to fall
and be dragged away,
and be dragged away,
and be dragged away,

without grasping the way of the world,
without having grasped the way of the world,
before he has grasped the way of the world.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Same Old, Same Old

Calhoun's Cannons for July 15, 2013

This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice.
                                            Oliver Wendell Holmes

George Zimmerman went looking for trouble.  Trayvon Martin was out looking for Skittles and an iced tea. Zimmerman found his trouble. Trayvon found his death. Trayvon's parents then went looking for justice.  Their community went looking for justice.  What they found instead, was The Law.

It was The Law that operated differently for black and white, rich and poor.  It was The  Law blind to human bias, bigotry and racial profiling.  And it was The Law that had been poisoned by Florida's ALEC-led "stand your ground" rules, a gun-lobbyist's wet-dream, a license to pack heat and kill with impunity because the ALEC laws bestowed authority upon any gun-packing fool and turned a civilian into an untrained, armed militiaman, a cop wannabe who knows that he can act with impunity. A law that protects unconscious race bias, unwarranted lizard-brain fear, and appalling carelessness.

In Florida, as in other states with ALEC-led pack-your-heat and stand-your-ground anywhere-you-like, if you foolishly and wrongly profile your fellow citizen as a scary black man, a punk, "one of those," provoke a confrontation and then shoot him dead, The Law allows you a get-out-of-jail free card.  Especially, if you're white.  I mean, this is Florida, after all, and there's a history there.

Which is what made this case so bizarre.  It was a drama absolutely brimming with racial fear and back-story animus, (All those f--ing punks getting away with it.), awash in the politically generated fear and paranoia that animate so much of our society nowadays. (Just who are those ALEC-led laws aimed at?  Against whom is one standing one's ground?  Martians?) Yet all parties utterly denied that such a thing could possibly be going on. 

And, like many cases involving white and black America, the narrative changed during the trial from one involving an innocent dead kid into the narrative of a dangerous black man responsible for and deserving of his own death.  The victim became the perpetrator and the perpetrator now became the victim.  And nobody wanted to deal truthfully with what really happened that night. Or why. All critical elements if you're looking for justice.

But who and why and what happened are irrelevant if you're looking at The Law.

And when the verdict came down, it was another national O.J. moment.  A familiar narrative of two nations: one white, one black, both viewing a single case through their own historical lenses.

The verdict also became the new Law-sanctioned narrative of the now transformed Zimmerman who, through his lawyer and Robert, his spokesman brother, re-tell the story of a totally innocent man who, through no fault of his own, was wrongly set upon by a dangerous young man and so he had to shoot.  It's a story that I don't buy, but I can't blame Zimmerman for sticking to it so fiercely.  Far better to go through your life thinking of yourself  as an innocent victim than face the terrible truth that it was your own foolish actions and bad judgment that set in motion events that resulted in the death of an innocent young boy. That these tragic events would never have unfolded.  Until it was started by you.

Zimmerman's path forward will not be an easy one and that, I suppose, is a kind of rough justice. Scant consolation to Trayvon's family. But for the rest of black America, the verdict was an old, familiar tune.  And for them, their way forward is also an old, familiar path: work to change The Law into something more like Justice, eliminate the un-civilized ALEC-fueled license to kill laws, continue to counsel their young sons not to be caught Driving While Black, and seriously consider outfitting their children with Kevlar vests whenever they go out for a snack and a soda at the corner store.

New rules for an all-American post racial world.      

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Cat’s Coming!

The sewer-pipe laying men arrived at my doorstep at about 7:30 a/m with a variety of big cats, shoring shields that keep the men protected while they’re in the trenches, and a variety of heavy equipment. By 4-ish, they were finished, for now, and had moved on.

Sewer pipe install, my house 001
Starting at the corner.      
Sewer pipe install, my house 003
Shoring shields.  Try saying that three times rapidly.

Sewer pipe install, my house 010

Tapping in a square shoring shield using the hopper filled with sand scooped out of the middle of the hole.  The operators manipulate these huge “hands” with the delicacy of a lady at tea, gently tapping the teacups with her little pinky sticking out.  Their skill is quite extraordinary.

Digging deep for manhole junction.  

Sewer pipe install, my house 024
Dropping the shield in place, pretty turqoise pipe in front.  

Sewer pipe install, my house 026
Shoring shield waiting for pick up.

Yup, big hole.

Sewer pipe install, my house 030
Backfilling pipe and hosing down.

Sewer pipe install, my house 032
Done and gone. Wait, you forgot your bucket.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hi Yo, Yee Haw!

Poor Tonto.  Nobody really knows where his made up name came from or what it means.  And he can't get no respect.  He was originally played by white actors spouting pidgin English written by white guys making up "Indianish" dialogue.  And he came under fire by real Native Americans who demanded he be played by a real Indian.  Then when Jay Silverheels came along, Tonto got portrayed with dignity, at least, but Silverheels was a Mohawk, and when he appeared on TV, the costume department had dressed him up in plains Indian buckskin, an outfit that would have roasted a real Comanche to death out on the hot west Texas llano estacado. 

With the new movie iteration, "The Lone Ranger" is still coming in for criticism from Native Americans who are objecting to Johnny Depp's portrayal of Tonto.  Depp, in his usual fashion, has brought forth a Tonto that's a combo of "Dark Shadows," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Edward Scissorhands," with his face paint taken from a well-known painting of a Crow warrior.  He also plopped a dead crow on his head for a bit of business in which he keeps pretend-feeding the stuffed bird with bits of corn. It's Tonto as half-mad trickster. 

And in this film, it works perfectly since this "Ranger" is going for larky satire, a delicious send up of all the bogus western myths: A live action "Rango," but without Clint Eastwood.  And it's a hoot.

Armand Hammer plays the Ranger as the  clueless Dudley Do Right naif, the perfect foil for Depp's sly Tonto. The bad buys are appropriately evil, the Railroad (corporate greed) the ultimate villain over which Tonto ultimately wreaks his revenge. And there's one heck of a train ride followed by a spectacular train wreck as the grand finale turns into one clever Roadrunner cartoon.

And did I mention Silver, the spirit horse who apparently can fly since in one scene he appears up a tree munching leaves?  

Ultimately, despite it's superficial silly fun, the movie is really quite sweet and oddly moving, with a current of pathos for Tonto's fate, which was that of all his people: Wiped out in a bad trade.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Your Sunday Morning Suggestion

  If you haven't found something strange during the day, it hasn't been much of a day.
                                                               Physicist John A. Wheeler   

A fresh new day lies before you.  Go find something strange and wonderful.  You only have to look.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Deep Fried Deen

Calhoun's Cannons for July 6, 2013

Well, mah goodness!  Wasn't that fun!  Trashing Paula Deen, destroying a good chunk of her career, the media awash with Moral Outrage! What an outpouring of phony Shock & Dismay.  It was all Dueling Moral Rectitudes among the hypocrites.  With her sponsors yanking up the hems of their skirts lest they be smudged by Deen's standard-issue Southern Racism Lite. Oh, wait.  I need to make that "standard-issue, all-American racism lite."  And therein lies the utter phoniness at the heart of this sad but ridiculous scandal du jour.

For years people of good will have called for a "dialogue" on race.  We were urged to honestly confront the dark stain at America's heart, to deal unblinkingly with our sinful, evil history, to understand our hard-wired human-monkey brains better in order to find a way to overcome our own dark hearts.  Unfortunately, most Americans are profoundly allergic to all of that.  Instead, our usual default mode when facing a genuinely difficult problem involving our own bad behavior is to 1) shoot the messenger, 2) change the subject, 3) engage in scapegoating.  Then when the poor goat is driven out of town with all our sins on its fluffy head, declare the "problem" solved so it's "time to move forward."

Enter Paula Deen, prime goat.  She was perfect!  Her style of cooking (ooey-gooey butter, sugar, fat-larded comfort food) was rapidly being acknowledged as an artery-clogging medical menace and so was going out of fashion.  Which meant her sales and profitability was slipping a bit so her sponsors could afford to play the moral rectitude card without taking too big a financial hit.  She had also tarnished her own credibility by keeping secret her own diabetes (no doubt caused by eating her own food) while signing a secret deal to be a shill peddling diabetes drugs.  When that deal became public, the goat was primed and ready.

Enter a "disgruntled" ex-employee, a brother named "Bubba," and a lawsuit.  Bring on the clown suit and the barrel of tar and feathers. The circus was about to begin.

Which brings us back to what passed for a national "dialogue about race" that ensued when it was discovered during the deposition that Paula Deen confessed that she had used the N-Word in the past when referring to a black man who had robbed the bank she was working in and held a gun to her head.  There soon followed TV clips and interviews of Deen being a silly southern lady-of-a-certain-age, with cultural baggage and a tin ear, who was clueless about many of her cringe-worthy racial comments.  "I is what I is," she declared.

And so the pounding commenced with few voices raised with a lick of common sense.  Like, does anyone really think there's a person living in the U.S. who has NEVER used the N-word?  Ever? Not even while reading "Huckleberry Finn" in school?  Or, if you're of a certain age, have sung the counting-song, "Eeeny-meeny miney-mo / Catch a . . . . . by the toe?" Or referred to Brazil nuts as "N-toes." (Which my sister and I innocently did until our Mom overheard us and we got a thorough schooling on the matter.)  We live in a society that has been and still is awash with the N-word.  It's in the culture, in the streets, in our jokes, in our history, passed down from parent to child, passed around from school child to school child.  It's in the very air we breathe, always lurking.  If you're a child of the south, it's a word imbedded in the culture.  It's a word that has had a variety of meanings and inflections, a word that was either acceptable or unacceptable, depending on the company you kept, a word of duel purpose from a pure descriptive in certain circles, to a word of utterly despicable intent. A word that, once heard, cannot be unheard.  A secret weapon of a word that, while sheathed, is always there, lurking in even the sweetest of souls, along with all the other taboo words proscribed by a civil society.  

It's also a word that's now going totally out of fashion, beyond the pale, unless you're a rap star, or a comedian, though even in that milieu and among blacks themselves, is cause for a growing discussion and growing disapproval.  But since it remains a word of near-universal taboo, its also a word that's become the perfect tool for scapegoating when we feel the need to externalize our own demons. 

And its clearly become The Word when we're in need of a media circus to distract us from the real dialogue we should be having.  Much easier to pile-on a clueless lady and when she's thoroughly trashed, smugly declare that the" problem" is now solved and it's time to move forward in our smiley-faced post-racial world.

Pass the butter cream cake, y'all.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Who Brought The Bird?

Went to see the new movie, Kon Tiki, at the Palm theatre yesterday.  I first read Thor Heyerdahl's book when I was a kid and was absolutely fascinated by it. It 'splained in great detail his amazing 1947 adventure of building a raft of massive balsa wood logs lashed together and sailing off with a small crew with hopes of reaching Polynesia. His years of ethnographic studies had convinced him that early Polynesia had been populated by ancient Peruvians who had sailed west. (Later DNA studies seemed to confirm that the journey was reversed, that early Native Americans came from Asia. At least that's the latest theory until some more bones turn up. But his raft trip certainly proved that floating from Peru to Polynesia was certainly doable.)

At any rate, his adventure was quite splendid in that wacky turn-of-the-century British (and Norwegian) Explorer Mode -- tramp off to the Hideous Places, suffer mightily doing it, plant a flag at your destination for king and country and adventure, all of it involving very, very tough men pitting themselves against a very, very dangerous, tough Mother Nature.  In short, not an enterprise for wusses.

All of which was documented by Heyerdahl in his book and later in his 1951 Academy Award-winning documentary. This present film was an attempt at a "docu-drama" of that voyage.  Unfortunately, a 90 minute movie, most of which takes place on a small drifting raft creates certain problems.  Like, boredom.  One damned, hot, flat, windless day after another, until it's broken up by . . . flying fish . . . or a visit by a massive, wondrous whale shark . . . or -- because it's a docu-drama -- some . . . DRAMA!  Shark attacks! Storm at sea with lightening flashes! Crew members with "issues" getting all wussy and needy! Much staring out to sea!  Much staring into the camera! All accompanied by a thunderous movie score that acts like a big aural fist dragging the audiences' beleaguered ears to the "Dramatic Moment! Dramatic Moment!"

Also missing was a good deal of   'splaining to the audience as to just how risky and carefully planned this enterprise was.  For example, Heyerdahl comes off as some kind of dewey-eyed nincompoop in thrall to "Tiki" when he refuses to use steel wire to lash the logs together, instead of using the traditional, looser, softer ropes.  This bit became a point of DRAMATIC conflict between him and his second in command, including the Grand Tossing Of The Rolls of Wire overboard.  However, in real life there wasn't much drama about it. His sticking with rope wasn't because "Tiki" would be offended, but because the steel wire wouldn't allow the necessary "play" between the logs.  Instead, it would have resulted in the logs being sawed into pieces by the unyielding wire, with all hands on board heading to Davey Jones Locker.  Nothing spiritual about it.  But, of course, that would have lacked DRAMA!

And it's all the "drama" that ultimately causes the film to go off the rails.  It started with the macaw that somebody brings on board for the voyage.  Dumb bird flies into the ocean and is eaten by a shark which causes one guy to go berserk, haul the shark up with his bare hands and start stabbing the thing to death with blood spattering all over the actors and pouring down between the logs thereby attracting more sharks OHMYGODDRAMA!MOREDRAMA! SHARKS! SHARKS! SHARKS! 

Now, really.  These men we all hard-headed guys.  Practical fellows.  Pragmatists on a survival/ endurance journey that required a close attention to detail.  So, a macaw?? Really? On a raft filled with rope and bamboo and wood?  Anybody know anything about macaws? What they do to amuse themselves day after day?  With their sharp nut-cracking, tree-stripping, wood-chewing, balsa-wood-loving beaks?

Right.  Stick with the book.  Great read.