Sunday, October 27, 2013

Your Sunday Poem

Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay has published a book of poetry by four local poets.  Hooray for them.  Publishing a book in this day and age is a heroic act and publishing a book of poems is particularly brave.  So, support your local poets, support Coalesce in their efforts and head on down there to buy a copy of "Where our palms rest . . ." Poems by Beverly Boyd, Carol Alma McPhee, Joann Rusch, and Bonnie Young. Christmas is coming and this book would make a lovely present to someone you know who loves poetry and loves discovering new poets.

This one is by is by Beverly Boyd.


He spent days figuring out how to work
a hand-held GPS, found for a dollar
at a yard sale, no instructions included.

Such a deal, he must have thought, polishing
its hazy window, inserting new batteries.
He switched it on but couldn't find his own

location.  He handed it to a friend who used
another brand.  No help there.  Online,
he discovered a fifty-page manual.

Hours later, slipping into bed, he slept,
sound in the knowledge he had found his bearings.
At breakfast he proudly showed me where we were,

our latitude and longitude, how many
feet we sat with cereal and coffee above
the sea, barely visible through swirling fog,

and where four satellites hovered to mark
our spot -- all that anyone might need
to avoid that sinking feeling

or ancient thrill of being lost.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Halloween Ramble

Before the goblins return to the dark and the Thanksgiving Turkey arrives, best get up to Cambria for their annual month-long scarecrow festival.

All over town and throughout the residential areas, folks have gone all out to construct some wonderful, very clever, scarecrows.  Those in front of  businesses are often themed, but all of them are totally fun.

With October’s bright blue weather here, it’s a perfect way to spend the day.

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This charmer’s sign warned passers by not to touch lest Audrey have a little finger snack. While (below) the Adams Family was set for their portraits.

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And don’t try getting directions from this befuddled big bad wolf.  He was just growly and thoroughly confused.

Halloween scarecrows Cambria, mulch pile garden 006

Probably because he had his eyes on that tasty calico cat a few feet away. Hard to think straight when your tummy’s growly.

Halloween scarecrows Cambria, mulch pile garden 007

There were plenty of crows, including this one who clearly was singing an caw- aria.

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While this cat and crow listened to the caw-concert.

Halloween scarecrows Cambria, mulch pile garden 009

Then there was the most amazing set up, a cycling-through-time display, all hooked up to an electric motor, with all the little scarecrow legs pedaling away, from youth to middle age and finally . . .

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there’s death bringing up the rear, thereby proving that exercise is bad for you.

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Meanwhile, outside the beautifully restored historical museum, a hot dog was flying.

Halloween scarecrows Cambria, mulch pile garden 013 

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And who could blame the pooch for getting the heck out of there.   Look what’s after him. . . .

Halloween scarecrows Cambria, mulch pile garden 015

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Your Sunday Poem

This by a wonderful poet, Erin Belieu, from her 2006 collection, "Black Box."

"Last Trip to the Island"

You're mad that I can't love the ocean,

but I've come to this world landlocked
and some bodies feel permanently strange.
Like any foreign language, study it too late and
it never sticks.  Anyway,

we're here aren't we? --
trudging up the sand, the water churning
its constant horny noise, an openmouthed heavy

breathing made more unnerving by
the presence of all these families, the toddlers

with their chapped bottoms, the fathers
in gigantic trunks spreading out their dopey
circus-colored gear.

How can anyone relax
near something so worked up all the time?

I know the ocean is glamorous,
but the hypnosis, the dilated pull of it, feels
impossible to resist.  And what better reason to
resist?  I'm most comfortable in

a field, a yellow-eared patch
of cereal, whose quiet rustling argues for
the underrated valor of discretion.

And above this, I admire a certain quality of
sky, like an older woman who wears her jewels with
an air of distance, that is, lightly,
with the right attitude.  Unlike your ocean,

there's nothing sneaky about a field.  I like their
ugly-girl frankness.  I like that, sitting in the dirt,

I can hear what's coming between the stalks.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Your Saturday Trip

A few weeks ago, the Tribune did a photo story on the dedication of the new sundial that was built by the Chamber of Commerce Leadership SLO XX Group.  The dial is on a hill above the botanical gardens at El Chorro Regional Park (Off Hwy. 1 across from Cuesta College.) Although the dedication ceremony has already been held, when I asked at the Botanical Garden's main visitor's center, they said it wasn't quite finished so I presume they'll be adding better signage to make the path more visible and, no doubt, this being the Botanical Gardens, planting the area around the dial with native plants.   

But, no matter, getting there's an easyish stroll.  Park near the purple entryway to the botanical garden and bear rightish to get to the path that will lead to the greenhouses (to the rear, adjacent to the ball field fence/service road.)  Cut left past the last greenhouse on the road and head up the roadway towards a lot of little palm trees that have recently been planted on the hill.  On the leftish top of the hillside you're ascending, you'll see a weather vane. When you come to a fork, take the path that heads left off the road heading for that weather vane. (The path takes you through the little palm trees all hooked up to their drip water feeds.)

And voi la! There it is, a ring half in shadow, (Night, grey decomposed granite and flagstone) and half in sunlight (Day, an arc of "hour" segments in bright colored ceramic mosaic) that includes images of indigenous animals.

Inside the tree image are plaques arranged so that when you stand on the plaque for the current month, your shadow will be cast on the numbered hour arc. My watch said 1:20.  How cool is that?

From the top you can see the Botanical Garden's visitor center below.  When you come down from the hill, be sure to  wander through the gardens and take a closer look at all the wonderful varieties of plants growing (and identified) there. The path will lead to the visitor center, which is a beautifully constructed, eco-designed building (hay bale construction in part) that deserves a closer look.  They've got a gift store with water-thrifty native plants and other beautiful things for sale.  The center also hosts a variety of activities, concerts, lectures, and, of course, you can get further information on how you can become a member and support the Garden. Or get on their mailing list for notices of their many programs.  

And while you're there, if you're not familiar with El Chorro Park, take a meander through the park.  In the  back of the park (next to the off-leash dog park) is a nature hiking trail that leads deep into the wildlands of the park to the east.  Perfect trail to meander down on a bright blue October morning. Might even spot some wild turkeys or a coyote ambling around . . . looking for some wild turkeys.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Calhoun's Cannons for Oct 17, 2013

Now that the Tea Party Crashers and their spineless Republican wannabe Fanboys have left the trashed building, does somebody want to tell me what the hell that accomplished? It inflicted real pain on actual real people.  Check.  It damaged our economy and cost us a bundle.  Check.  It proved to the world that Americans are a bunch of idiots for electing these fools in the first place?  Check and check.

Anything else?  Right.  Nothing.  Nothing!

But, you must admit, the semantics of this whole deal were awesome!  Real Raven-writing-desk Jabberwocky stuff. While the country teetered on the brink of financial collapse, here's what passed for Republican "dialogue:"

"Will you vote for a clean CR?"
"It's red, about 6" square, with little wheels on it."
"What? Uh, no, I asked you, Will you vote to pass a clean CR?"
"I told you, it's red, about 6" square, with little wheels on it."
"Wait, I'm asking you about the CR.  Will you vote to pass it?"
"I already answered your question. It's red, 6" square, with little wheels on it."

Confused?  Well, you shouldn't be.  We've been living in Frank LuntzLand for years, though his malign influence really came to the fore when Obama got elected. Luntz, a Republican pollster/strategist/wordmeister, is the undisputed master of corrupting language in order to deceive the rubes into believing an alternate reality, then voting, often against their best interests, for that false reality.

One example: When the Affordable Care Act was being crafted, one section included paying for an end-of-life-care discussion with your doctor or with end-of-life-care specialists, a consultation that would give patients and their families information about all treatments and options so they would be not only fully informed but be able to make choices best for them.

A needed service, you might think?  If you've faced the death of a loved one, you know well the bewildering choices you have to make, often in haste, and wouldn't it be nice to have that information before need, or at the least, have a trained, informed navigator there to help you understand the often complex options? 

Well, you'd be wrong.  In an eyeblink, in LuntzLand, end-of-life-care-options became "death panels," wherein granny would face a tribunal who would judge whether or not she would live or die. Sarah Palin loved that Luntzism and along with others, including a Republican Senator (Grassley, who knew better) megaphoned it across the land. 

Yes, it was a lie, but lies are what Luntz gets paid handsomely to produce.   So, that much needed, really helpful section of the ACA was yanked out as a result of the hysteria that particular LuntzLie produced, and as a result real patients and their families were left to suffer on their own while facing an often bewildering system with no help.

And when confronted with this lie, here was the Republican response:
"It's red, about 6" square, with little wheels on it."

During these recent ridiculous government-shutdown temper tantrums, led by Lee Atwater's spawn, those Neo-Confederate Tea Party Crashers and their wannabe Fanboy followers, we've heard a constant call for "negotiations," and "dialogue" and "frank discussions." Ah, yes, "frank discussions," surely a necessity IF we presume that we actually want the government to function properly.

But in order to have a properly functioning government, we have to leave LuntzLand, because it's  impossible to have a "frank discussion" or "negotiate" or fix anything when language itself has been corrupted into deliberately dishonest Jabberwocky. In the real world, a clean CR is a clean CR.  It isn't red, it isn't 6" square and it doesn't have little wheels on it.    

Back to the Movies

Don't miss "Captain Phillips." It's edge of the seat excellent, even though you know the ending.  Getting to that ending is beautifully done, fabulous editing (and in-camera editing with hand-held cameras and "real-time" staging which gives the whole thing a "you-are-there" feeling.)  And Tom Hanks has turned in a marvelous performance, one of his best.

One of those "Which Facts Are True?" articles made it clear that the "sympathy" shown in this movie between Phillips and one Somali pirate who survives isn't accurate.  Phillips stated he always felt the pirates were very scary adversaries who beat him up (after he attempted to escape) and were planing to kill  him before the Navy Seals got to them first.  But  I felt the film's softer treatment of those guys made it a better film.  After all, they were all about 17-18-ish, were working under a local warlord to get money and, as is made clear in the film, only in America are there other options than piracy.  If you live in a hell-hole failed state like Somalia, and big ships just ripe for ransom keep coming down the coast, well, what's a young gangsta to do?

And the casting of several real Somali non-actors from the Somali immigrant community in Minnesota was a touch of genius. Brakhad Abdi, who played the one pirate who survived, had a typical Somali "look," the rail-thin Nilotic body type, long skull and huge eyes, and he played his role with scary, skittery menace that still held glimpses of his character's sad desperation.

While the film could have benefited with a little less pirate yelling and screaming (We get it, we get it, already.) the pace of the film is one long powerful drive.  But not (for me) without a moment of sly referential movie humor:  Things are desperate inside the life raft, the pirates rattled, fighting, edgy.  The night is dark, the situation perilous and degrading by the hour.  Then out of the dark, a HUGE braying horn and massive lights blaze and the little boat is rocked crazily like it's the end of the world.  Panic! Disarray!

Cut to the sleek menace of a Navy destroyer that seemed to appear out of nowhere blasting deafening klaxon noise and megaphoned threats and blinding light, the Navy's version the bugle and the thunder of hooves as the cavalry suddenly appears to save the day. Which, when the Navy SEAL Team 6 falls out of the sky, is what happens. 

After the exhausting excitement of "Captain Phillips," head over to the Palm for "Enough Said," James Gandolfini's last film.  This one is an absolute gem, an adult movie that's a laugh out loud funny, bittersweet, cringe-inducing, sublimely tender, keenly observed piece of human  comedy.  Superbly written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, with an extraordinary cast (Julia Luis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette) at the top of their game, this movie is a perfect trifecta about the eternal difficulties of getting and giving love.

And over it all, the sadness of knowing James Gandolfini's special talent is no longer with us, gone at too early an age. 


Monday, October 14, 2013

Oops, Your Sunday Poem-ish on Monday

Holy Cow, had our annual El Chorro Off-Leash Dog Park fund-raising event yesterday so Poem Sunday just went Pfffttt. 

So, instead of a poem, there's this in Sunday's Tribune: "Coalesce Bookstore celebrates 40 years with a book of poetry." Coalesce has now published "Where Our Palms Rest," a collection of poems by four local writers -- Beverly Boyd of Los Osos, Carol Alma McPhee of San Luis Obispo, Joann Rusch of Los Osos and Bonnie Young of Arroyo Grande. Photos by R. David Bowlus.

Coalesce will be holding a reception and book-signing on Sunday, Oct 20, 1-3 p.m. in the Chapel behind the store. The bookstore is located 845 Main Street in Morro Bay. The authors will be on hand to autograph your book.  Books are $16.

So, support your Local Poets and celebrate Coalesce as a [actual real paper and print] publisher -- an amazing undertaking in this e-book age  -- and support one of the few independent bookstores still standing (Los Osos' Volumes of Pleasure is another), and head down to Coalesce to get your autographed copy. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mizigo's Crossing

Calhoun's Cannons for Oct 11, 2013

Her mother  brought her back inside her belly after a hot date with a good ol' Georgia boy. She and her siblings would be the new scions of an old line breeding with Champion Kenset Made in the USA.  And after a whelping that started out with difficulty -- her big-headed sister having gotten stuck for a while in the birth canal -- she popped out, one of  four wet, mouse-brown puppies and one exhausted mother. And in honor of her journey, I named the pup Zuri a Kusini Mizigo -- Beautiful Southern Baggage -- and called her Mizigo, for short.

Her lineage promised a kind of Basenji concentrate, Basenji x 10, and when I saw her starting to climb out of the X-pen almost before she could walk, I knew I was in trouble.  In short order the tribe earned their well-deserved nickname:  The Hideous Georgia Babies. Even their mother fled her duties as soon as she could, leaving much of the mothering to her own mother, the gentle-eyed M'Tawi, who apparently tolerated their concentrated Basenji-ness better than most.

Two of the clan went to live in Morro Bay and I would get frequent reports, complete with much eye-rolling and long, exasperated sighs -- a normal response from all Basenji owners.  And two stayed here with the rest of the tribe of greats and grands, mothers and uncles, all of whom snarked and rolled their eyes as well.

That was nearly 16 years ago and over time the tribe, one by one, passed on until Mizigo was the last Basenji standing in what had then become a house of tall dogs -- rescue racing greyhounds, a greyhound cross, and a sleek Sloughi.  But, being a Basenji, she was up to the challenge, chugging her way determinedly among the forest of legs, firmly demanding her place in this now-towering tribe, a tough little Dame who must be obeyed.  Which they did, gazing to heaven and stepping out of her way.

Even when time began to take it's toll, her fierce will would brook no concessions.  She came down with some sort of chronic gut infection that couldn't seem to be cured, only maintained, and when it broke out, she would collapse and take to her bed, hovering at death's door.  I would tuck her in and say my tearful good-byes, sorrowfully mourning, convinced that come morning, she would be gone.

But the next morning, there she was, up and hoovering around for food. A miracle! 

Then it happened again.  And again. Collapse, death's door, sorrow, Boo-hoo good-byes, sleep, then, "Where's breakfast?"  After three or four  of these episodes I started referring to her as my Resurrection Dog and rolled my eyes and after a while found myself in half-jest starting to  whisper,  "Go into the light, Sweetie, " then firmer, "Time to go into the light, Mizigo," then hollering, "GO INTO THE LIGHT, DAMMIT!" 

But she wasn't about to listen to me. She was on her own focused journey and would do every step of it her own way, thank you very much.  So I rolled my eyes and followed behind, with medicine and baby-food at the ready, a steadying hand when her balance left her tipsy, and a mop handy when she got confused about where the back door had suddenly gotten to.

And marvel at her astonishingly fierce determination and iron will; she would do what she would do and if  old age and infirmity made that hard, well, she'd just work around that however she could and I could jolly well get out of her way.  

That was our new covenant until the end, which came with stunning rapidity.  She had eaten her dinner, then within a couple of hours, began her final collapse.  I packed her into bed and made her as comfortable as possible.  By the next morning I knew she wouldn't be up and hoovering for food. When we got to the doctor's office, she was more than ready to step into the green darkness where all her tribe was waiting for her, eyes gleaming.  And with barely a whisper, she was gone.

The house is a tall dog house now, some thirty years of Basenji energy gone, an era ended.  Mizigo's ashes will join  all her relatives in the back yard, to be transformed into flowers and vines, a yard filled with little ghosts.

And memories.   



Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The South Has Risen Again

There's a fascinating opinion piece over at the Times.  Deju vu all over again. Or, as William Faulkner put it, "The past is not dead.  In fact, it's not even past."   Right now the country is being held hostage by a small gang of neo-Confederates threatening to burn the place down -- this time by defaulting on our debt, which this interesting piece points out, is a very clear violation of the Constitution. But nobody, least of all the President, is point that interesting fact out.  Instead, the Rebel-yelling barbarians at the gate have swaddled themselves in American flags, declaring that they're saving the Republic.  

History shows otherwise.  The GOP, as it's presently configured, is unfit to govern. 

Take a gander.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Out Of This World

If you want to get a gander at how far film CG technology has moved the "Avatar" ball down the field, go see the new movie, "Gravity."  And see it in 3-D (yes, worth the extra $)  Co-written, produced, edited and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, it's taken the real human actor /CG technology interface to a whole new level.  And, like "Avatar's" James Cameron before him, Cuaron understands that the real key to making 3-D more than just a novelty, is to structure the film so that the audience is invited to step into and stay inside the world he has constructed for them.

And yes, yes, immediately the science nerds checked in.  Astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson twittered an ongoing stream of "facts," and  chimed in with a long list of interesting corrections.  And, yes, yes, the story is pure Hollywood -- a sort of "Ohhhhhh Sh********t" Perils of Pauline" Cute-Plucky-Heroine-Lost-In-Space scenario (And nobody does plucky like Sandra Bullock.) 

And, yes, yes, there were some plot lines that got pretty improbable, but nevermind.  Just sit back and go with the ride.  The story has heart, the one-damned-thing-after-another peril will keep you awake, the CG work will keep your jaw down somewhere near the popcorn-littered aisle floor.
By the end, I found myself  haunted by two of the movie's deeper themes: How alien, impossible,  lonely, unforgiving and terrifyingly lifeless space is.  And  how heartbreakingly lovely the earth is.  And like the main character, how much I longed to get back "home."

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Your Sunday Poem

Short and sweet, this by Bill Knott, from "180 More, Extraordinary Poems for Every Day," selected by Billy Collins.


Fingerprints look like ripples
because time keeps dropping
another stone into our palm.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Calling Captain Phillips

Calhoun's Cannons for Oct 2  2013

Well, the terrorists finally won.  Oh, not the wild-eyed Muslim jihadists.  Those guys just managed to scare Americans so silly that they promptly shot themselves in both feet, and bankrupted the country in a paroxysm of wars, and Constitution-busting eavesdropping.    

Nope, wasn't the jihadists.  This time, Washington was hijacked by a cohort of wild-eyed government-hating, Christian, jihadist Neo-Confederates who do not like green eggs and ham.

Actually, it's Obama they don't like.  Neither does the mainstream Republican Party, the old guard that the Neo-Confederates have now managed to take over.  From day one they all vowed to resurrect the tactic of Southern Resistance and stand with the ghost of Governor Wallace in the schoolhouse door  -- segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever! -- with rhetoric filled with  Southern grievance, dog-whistle music and sick fears of ol' Nat Turner.

And for the past 5 years, while the country foundered, desperate for help from Washington, in Congress it was all one long ridiculous Wallace-ite blockade: Not today, not tomorrow, not ever!  Even legislation crafted by Republicans themselves was suddenly dumped when it appeared the President might possibly support it too.  Cooties! Cooties! No! No! Never!

Instead of governing, these fools wasted time repeatedly voting to defund, defeat, deny Obamacare to millions of uninsured Americans.  It was their ultimate Green Eggs and Hamish bet noir. And like cocaine addicted lab mice, they kept futilely hitting the anti-Obamacare bar again and again, hoping against hope that this time --- pleeze, pleeeze, puh-leeeze -- they would be rewarded by one teensie bit of cheese for their micey little handsies so they could claim they "won" a fight noted only for its monumental stupidity and utter futility. Forty-three times, forty-four?  I've lost count.

Finally, they shut the place down.  That'll show 'em! So what was the despised, hideous, awful "government" they shut down? Well, for example, it was a VA employee helping an Iraq vet get benefits, including treatment for ongoing PTSD.  Yes, the same bunch who couldn't wait to send that vet to war in the first place,  were now more than willing to toss him under the bus for reasons of obsessive ideological purity and conservative resentment. 

They were also willing to toss their own staffers under the bus, offering at one point in their desperation, to force all Congressional staff members be required to "buy their health insurance on the new exchanges [but] without any government subsidies."  So while they made sure they'd keep their own Cadillac plans (paid for by the taxpayers) they were happy to toss their staff -- the little people -- to the wolves.  Portrait of self-serving politicians who don't want to govern but want only to rule -- the perfect Marie Antoinette moment.

And so came Oct 1, and two very important things happened: 1) The Government was shut down by a handful of radical, crazy-eyed Neo-Confederates in order to "save" the American public from the sheer horrors of Obamacare. 2) The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) started signing up people on the exchanges and the system kept crashing because so many people were trying to access it in order to sign up for the horrible, terrible, dangerous, freedom-destroying, awful, no-good, Obamacare.

Is it possible that Americans are finally figuring out that they are not helpless passengers on this ship of state, but crew?  And being crew, it's up to them to keep the ship in working order, keep it off the rocks, keep it steady.  And if the captain and ship has been hijacked by wild-eyed pirates and is being held hostage, it's up to the crew to take the ship back and set things right.

Now, where's  Seal Team 6?