Thursday, February 27, 2014

Good News For Sewerville

Ah, at last, a few glimmers of hope for our little Bangladesh by the Bay.  Last night was an update on the sewer project, with the usual litany of dates:

2016 begin digging and hooking up laterals, 2017 full costs for the project arrive on your tax bills, the guestimate of which is now $125-175 or more, plus water bills. 

However, there should be some grants available for the lateral hook ups.  Including up to $7,500 of “free money” If you’re over the age of 62 and qualify as USDA Very Low Income, (1 person-$26,400).  So that’s good news for many of our low income seniors.

But the best news as far as I’m concerned is that SLO Green Build and the County have moved the ball farther down the Tank Bank Road, with future plans to partner with the National Estuary Program for grants to make Tank Banking an seriously attractive possibility.

The little handout notes that the “County will be implementing a septic system decommissioning program within the Wastewater Service Area.”  And that “the County will notify property owners about lateral connections and septic decommissioning requirements six months prior to hook up. At that time, you will start to decide whether to abandon your septic system (e.g., filling it with dirt) or convert it for an alternative re-use.”

Since 2016 will be coming up very quickly, I hope everyone in town will chooser the latter option.  A cleaned, disinfected septic tank is a terrible thing to waste in a community already in water overdraft and in a state that is in serious and chronic drought conditions.

Right now, there are three options: simply fill the empty tank and render it useless for anything,  cut holes in the bottom so it can serve as a passive rainwater infiltration sink., or, best of all, convert it into a cistern to hold harvested rainwater to be used for outdoor irrigation.

Imagine what an impact that could have on our community if the majority of our community decided to go with harvesting rainwater.  The catch, of course, is both cost and, more important, the need for a focused, coordinated outreach program that will make transforming a septic tank into a water bank both fast, easy, and highly affordable. That means the County really needs to get solidly behind such a program since they have the bureaucratic resources to manage this  complicated program. 

I say complicated, because while the set up is pretty simple, the timing is a problem.  The county has a small window to hook up each home and adding in retrofits at each home could create a real problem.  However, if the laws can be changed to widen the retrofit window, and homeowners are fully informed of the options and resources available to them to do the retrofit, this would give homeowners some breathing room to complete the job. Right now the “window” is a matter of months.  What would happen if that were expanded to a few years?  

The reason why this is critical is because homeowners are going to be hit with considerable hook-up costs and it would be unlikely they would tag on even more money for retrofit on top of it at the same time. However, if they were given a few years to regroup, I suspect more people would sign on.  (and if they changed their mind later, they could  always backfill the tank.)

But unless the efforts of the County, SLO Green Build and the NEP makes retrofit more cost effective than simple decommissioning and unless the time allowed to complete the retrofits is greatly expanded so as to give homeowners time to get the money together to finish the job, the plan will fail

And that would mean that an extraordinary opportunity will be lost here. In OverdraftVille, in DroughtVille, a clean, empty septic tank is a TERRIBLE thing to waste. 

So, stop by our local NEP office over in Morro Bay (upstairs at the Marina Square, across the patio from Windows on the Water) and urge them to really push for clean water grants that can help kick-start this project, get on the mailing list at Green Build (, ) so you can keep up with their latest information, and send a note to the Supervisors and to our own CSD and let them know that time is critical on this, and failure really isn’t an option here.

And then take a look at your property and think “cistern,” think “free water all summer,” think “reuse,” think “reduced water bill.”

All of those very good thoughts for Sewerville

Monday, February 24, 2014

I See Everything Small

Yes, reflected in the mirror below, that is my right hand, holding the camera.  And, yes, that is a hand-crafted, wood-veneered vanity set, and a display case with hand-made miniatures inside, all of it under six inches tall.  

Magnolia Tree, 2014 013

These amazing pieces were made by master-miniaturist, Gilbert Mena of Valencia (, in case you’re a collector of very small, very beautiful, very magical things.
Here’s another, a table with carved figures on it, and a set of inlaid marquetry tables.  The marquetry tables are 2 1/2” high.

 Ma8nolia Tree, 2014 014

7agnolia Tree, 2014 012

Amazing, no?  That’s why, on  February 22nd and 23rd, when the Central Coast Miniatures Club (Contact: Miniature Cottage Shop, 1260 Main St. Morro Bay,, held their 24th Anniversary “Dollhouse and Miniatures Show and Sale" at the Morro Bay Community Center,  my first thought was, “Now THIS I gotta go see.” 

miniatures 2

When I entered the door of the packed Community Center, I entered a very big little world: A craft, an art form, an obsession, a hobby, a whole niche industry that ranges from minute, astonishing work by incredible, high-end artisan miniaturists to affordable mass produced products for hobbyists. And everything in between.


If you’re a novice, there is no end of magazine sand books you can buy that will teach you everything  you need to know to create whole, complicated little worlds.

bears 3

I say complicated because so many of these miniatures aren’t just “small, they’re made to a variety of scaled sizes, so everything must be matched to everything else, which means the hunt for items to fit into your scaled little world must get pretty challenging.

In addition, once you build your little tableau, all your amazing work needs to be protected.  So, this is a niche filed by Cortland C. Doan (Cortland Cases: (626) 332-1747) who makes cunning cases you can use to build your display on, then slip it into the beautiful protective case for a wall mount or to set on a table.


Mr. Doan had on display an good selection of his own astonishing work. (In his own cases, of course.)  Above, a garage/workshop; below, a (to scale) tableau of one of the last grey Caterpillars before the company switched to the signature bright yellow paint on all it’s equipment. Here, a welder is at work on the treads. And, yes, Mr. Doan included a flickering LED light standing in for the burning flash of the arc welder.


I spent  a couple of happy hours  peering into and inspecting many of these amazing little worlds.  They are highly seductive places, these tableaux. It was so easy to slip into an Alice-in-Wonderland trance and place myself into the scene -- a miniature me wandering around in a garage or expecting to hear the pop and crackle of an arc welder. It’s the magical, timeless realm of make-believe that children enter when playing with toys, dolls, dollhouses.  And it’s easy to see why people get hooked on this hobby.  Building (or visiting) these little fairy realms creates  a very Zen-like, out-of-time state of mind.

In the back room, was a display of doll houses from different eras (The theme of the exhibition), including a doll house from ca. 1940's that was identical to the one that my sister and I played with when I was four or five.  This one was a higher-end model, made of printed light-weight metal, while ours was printed on some kind of heavy poster board.  The plastic furniture was the same, although we didn't have as many pieces.  And, for some reason, our bathtubs were bright pink. 

Looking at that little abode certainly brought back memories.  Including Joan and me playing with our doll house while it was on the bed (to keep it at our standing eye level) when my sister and I, for reasons that passeth all understanding, thought it would be a swell idea to play a game of bounce-on-the-bed. Or maybe it was a game of "Earthquake." So, what could possibly be wrong with that hair-brained combination of activities? Correct: a smashed flat dollhouse.  And a mother looking into our fake-innocent faces ("What?? We didn't do anything.  It just fell down."), rolling her eyes and declaring, "No more doll houses for you two."

Well, all was not lost.  We had to use our imaginations a bit harder to conjure up a make believe doll house, but we continued to play doll house all over our real house, setting up our little bits of furniture to create wall-less rooms in the middle of the living room rug.  And years later  I re-purposed the bright pink bathtubs as food and water stations for my pet rats.  An incongruous decorating choice, I must admit.  Although, with rats, you never know.

When I left the exhibition, it was with a smile on my face and a comment to the nice lady selling entrance tickets, "That was the best $4 I've spent in a long time!" 

There's something about spending time in the magical spaces of tiny Smallville that makes you feel like a kid again.  Ready for magic, open to astonishment.  And joy. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Your Sunday Miracle

Small miracles, everyday, right here at home, right in front of Rabobank.  Thank you, God.  Amen

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mr. Dunn's Gun

Calhoun's Cannons for Feb 19, 2014

The country gets what it celebrates.
                          Dean Kamen

Pull out a gun and you've got murder on your mind.

Pull out a spoon, you're thinking, "soup."  Pull out a rake and it's "leaves."  Pull out a hammer, you'll think, "nails.  It's awfully hard to kill a man with a spoon, and you can't eat soup with a gun.  So when you pull a gun, you've got murder on your mind.

One of the basic requirements of being a citizen in a civilized country is a duty to keep the peace, uphold the law, and do no harm to your fellow citizens.  Even when threatened with violence, you still had a duty to retreat, if at all possible.  That duty was the bright line of a civil society, a society that put a premium on seeing that harm must be avoided as a first step. Only when that proved impossible was a citizen allowed to meet force with force.  And even then, any survivors of that encounter would still be taken to task and if the force was unwarranted or excessive, they would be held to account.   

 No more.  In many ALEC-driven, Republican-led states, that duty is nothing but a quaint anachronism.  Instead of  duty-to-retreat, we now have "stand-your-ground" laws, a complete reversal that replaces a responsibility to your fellow citizens with the absolute triumph of the self-contained individual.  No longer responsible for keeping the peace as a citizen among other citizens, in "stand-your-ground" states, the individual's singular perceptions, no matter how distorted or disconnected from reality they may be, are the new benchmark.

Both laws are a perfect demonstration of the difference between a civil state and a vigilante state.   

In Florida, for example, if you're white and think that all young black males are a thuggish menace, or you're upset, angry, are having a bad day and you pick a fight with one of your black fellow citizens for no reason other than you're in a foul mood, and suddenly you start to feel "frightened" because your bullying has now gotten  you into a tight spot and your quarrel is starting to go south on you, you no longer have a duty keep the peace and get the hell out of there. Instead, you can pull out a gun and start shooting and then claim you were "scared" and "in fear of your life" from all these "thugs."  And get away with it. 

That's certainly what happened to Michael Dunn.  Had he lived in a "duty-to-retreat" state, the prosecutor would have asked Mr. Dunn the following questions:  "Was your car in working order?  Did your car have wheels?  Why didn't you use the wheels to roll on over to another parking space farther away from the loud music and the annoying kids, before you started shooting?"  And he would have been convicted of murder.

Civil state, vigilante state.  That's where we are today, faced with a national question on what kind of country we want to turn into, with a special added wrinkle: Guns and Race.

 In a Feb. 2 story, New York Times reporter, Lizette Alvarez, observes, "It is also possible that Mr. Dunn assumed the teenagers were armed because so many Florida residents do own guns, including Mr. Dunn . . ."  Adds Mary Anne Franks, associate law professor at the University of Miami, "Once you have a situation that someone white and male feels threatened by a group of young black men, is it possible that he sees a gun where there was no gun?  That is one of the more disturbing questions."

Indeed it is.  In stand-your-ground states especially, there's a growing list of "Don'ts" for African Americans: Don't drive while black, don't walk while black, don't run while black, don't wear hoodies, don't play loud music, don't be an uppity, mouthy kid, don't smoke pot with your white friends; he'll get a fine, his record cleansed after a little community service, while you'll go to jail, end up with a record and a ruined future. And if you're injured in an accident in the middle of the night, for God's sake, don't go pound on a white man's front door begging for help.  If he's armed, you're finished.       

So many don'ts, so many deaths, so many disturbing questions. Guns and race, race and guns, guns and guns, civil state and vigilante state. Our choice: A country grounded in a citizen's duty to uphold the law, be responsible for keeping the peace in order to maximize the safety of their fellow citizens, or a fearful, racist, armed-to-the-teeth, angry country grounded in pure, celebrated self-interest:  My gun, my rules, MY country.  And for the ones with the most money and the biggest guns?  ALL the ground is THEIR ground and lesser Citizens need to step off the sidewalk.  


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Your Sunday Poem

A wonderful, new (to me) poet, Erin Belieu, from "Infanta," published by Copper Canyon Press, said publication supported by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Lannan Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund and the Washington State Arts Commission.  And thank you to all of them for their support.  Ms. Belieu is a wonderful poet, her collections are available in paperback, so head for your local bookstore and support her today -- buy one of her books. 

The Spring Burials

Violets growing through the asphalt mean
the usual of spring's predicament:

how, busy getting born, still wings and green
will falter, twist, misgrow their management

and die.  Violets grow on one curled leg,
a slender prop obliviously crushed,

and newborn birds are falling from their eggs,
still feathered wet and hidden in the brush

when you walk by.  They die in spite of us;
in shoebox nests and jelly jars supplied

with the best intentions.  Bring them in the house,
then fuss, arrange things, feed them.  Occupy

yourself with worms and eyedroppers, sunlight
and potting earth.  You'll bury them in days,

feel silly in your grief.  And still you'll sit
a moment on the blacktop, study ways

to save an unimportant, pretty weed
or bird.  You're still a fool -- a fool to bend

so sentimentally and fool in deed,
assuming you know better.  Spring is kind.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Gimme Dat Ol' Time Religion

Uh, oh, archaeologists are at it again.  Recent New York Times story by John Nobel Wilford reports that "There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place."  You know, the Bible, the "inerrant Word of God," the "literal" Word of God, the absolutely "True" Word of God, the Good Book that has absolutely no mistakes in it because, well, God doesn't make mistakes in His Holy Book?

Except for camels, apparently.

As the Times story notes,  the Bible is full of stories about the early Jewish patriarchs, such as "Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium BC. and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times.  Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham's servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac."

Inerrant word, right?  Errrnnkkk. Sorry.  "The archaeologists, Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen, used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the earliest known domesticated camels in Israel to the last third of the 10th century BC -- centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the kingdom of David, according to the Bible."

Oops.  Continues the Times story, "These anachronism are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history.  These camel stories 'do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,' said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, 'but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period." 

Mizrahi offered a deliciously funny comparison, likening "the practice to a historical account of medieval events that veers off into a description of 'how people in the Middle Ages used semitrailers in order to transport goods from one European kingdom to another'."

So much for inerrancy and a good example of reasons to read the Bible with a lovely little salt cellar nearby.  Not that science or fact will have any impact on True Believers.

Speaking of which, Larry Womak, at the Huffington Post, had a few very apt things to say about True Believers and Politics, which is certainly relevant in our era of the ongoing, relentless push by the Right Wing to move America into a kind of Fundamentalist Theocracy. 

A good read at

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Monumental Mess

If you're planning on seeing "The Monuments Men," keep your expectations very, very low.  Or keep your money in your pocket and stay home.

The script is a mess, the dialogue stunningly trite or absolutely cringe-worthy  (Kate Blanchett, with a  French accent, trying to seduce the properly married, upright Matt Damon by repeatedly murmuring that it is Paris, after all, wink nudge. Really?  That's the best you could do for poor old Academy-Award-winning Kate? Ah, Monsieur, but it eeeze April and it eeeze Pareee . . . .?) 

Worse, the story line is so chopped up it's hard to know what's going on besides endless shots of our various heroes in jeeps zipping around piles of rubble. Granted, the story is a long, complicated one to tell since this special branch of the Army spent years trying to rescue and reclaim all of the art that Hitler looted.  But that's what good script writers do, construct coherent narratives from complicated history and establish, in key scenes, sans voice-overs, what's going on.

So the lack of a good script (and good editor) resulted in a movie had the feel of a director overwhelmed who finally said, Aw, screw it, and cut his footage into pieces, spilled it out on the table and just connected up bits and pieces, added some voice-overs in a desperate attempt to 'splain things, then hoped for the best. 

Well, the best didn't happen and adding George Clooney's voice-overs didn't help.  Especially since he kept troweling on the trite patriotic sentiment about "art" and "civilization" and "why we fight" like thick treacle.

The real Monument Men's story deserved better. So, track down a recent story about them in the Smithsonian magazine or go get some of the books written about the subject. It'll be a better investment of your time and money.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Your (small) Sunday Miracle

Well, dang.  I meant to post this yesterday, but I guess it didn't "take."  So will try again.  This is your small MONDAY Miracle 

The February Smithsonian had a photo and brief article by Jesse Rhodes,  about "amateur photographer, Tsuneaki Hiramatsu, who spent his summer evenings in the forests outside Nimi, in Japan's Okayama prefecture.  he was intent on capturing the spectacle of firefly mating season . . .  As night fell, Hiramatsu began shooting a series of eight-second exposures.  He then digitally merged the images creating connect-the-dot photos of the fireflies' golden flight paths. the images became a sensation on the Web and were included in a traveling museum exhibit called "Creatures of Lingt" Nature's Bioluminescence."  But for Hiramatsu, recognition for his artistry is secondary to engendering appreciation for the natural world.  "Fireflies are little see in areas developed by human beings," he said.  "When I feel the splendor and mystery of nature, I am glad to have everyone share that feeling."

Thank you Mr. Hiramatsu.  Enjoy.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Armed and Stupid, Part II

O.K. You've probably already figured out how profoundly stupid people can be when you read about the box of popcorn as a deadly weapon (and we're not talking about the artery-clogging grease they pour on the kernels) in the Stupid Murder In The Theatre case in Florida.

So, here we go again.  Mr. Michael Dunn, a Stupid Angry Armed White Guy -- in Florida . . . where else? --pulls up in his car in front of a convenience store in Jacksonville.  Black guys in a car pull up next to him, their radio blasting away.  Stupid Angry Armed White Guy tells black guys to turn the music down.  Words ensue.  Stupid Angry Armed White Guy pulls a gun and shoots 17-year-old Jordan Davis multiple times then drives off, is later arrested for murder and claims he killed Davis because he "felt threatened," and claims, "I had no choice but to defend myself, I'm NOT a murderer.  I am a survivor." 

Sorry, Mr. Dunn.  You ARE a murderer and you are a MORON.

Consider, please:  What's on a car that makes it different from a building?  Right.


Damned thing moves, as in . . . .  AWAY.  Like, you're next to a bunch of black people and you "feel threatened" and you've got enough sense to think maybe things might go south on you?  Think . . . WHEELS. Think . . . . DRIVE   Think . . . . AWAY. 

Of course, that would occur to sane, smart people living in a sane state, but we're talking Florida here.  In Florida, cars don't have wheels and can't move, and are filled with  Frightened Stupid Angry White Guys who don't have brains.

But they do have guns.  And a Stand Your Ground license to kill. 

Way to go, Florida.  Way to go.  

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

When A Tree Falls In A Forest . . .

The dreaded summons came.  Jury Duty.  The usual drill.  So I call Sunday night and am told to check back Monday at 10:30-11 a.m.  I do and am informed that my pool must report to the Superior Court in Paso Robles in one hour.  So I toss some clothes on and scamper over the hill to the nice new courthouse near Park St. in downtown Paso. 

My fellow poolers were gathered in the foyer and it was clear that the one-hour deadline had caught them in the middle of their busy lives --professionals in their professional clothes and workmen coming straight from the ranch or the factory floor. There's something comforting about that -- citizen jurists willing to drop what they're doing in order to ensure that justice be done among their fellow citizens.  Though it would be more comforting if so many of our laws weren't so goofy and so many of our fellow citizens didn't spent so much time Walking While Stupid.

We were soon hustled into the courtroom to be winnowed out for a three-day civil trial, the outlines of which were given as the following:  Neighbor A has a very, very tall cypress tree at or near his fence line.  Said very tall cypress tree had a big limb that, apparently, for no reason, came off and fell on Neighbor B's roof, causing $14,000 in damage.  Neighbor B's insurance company paid to fix the damage. 

So far, so good, you might say.  It happens.  Trees are notorious for doing that.  Their branches fly off in the wind, or their limbs fall off, or they fly apart, or explode, or get the vapors and up and die and then fall over for no good reason.  Just because.  It's always something with trees and the bigger they are the more worry they bring into the world of the homeowner who lies awake at night listening to the wind and worrying, and so he goes out and buys himself some home owners insurance to cover things like something on his property damaging something or someone.

And so it was with Neighbor A and Neighbor B.  The wrinkle here was that Neighbor B's insurance company, after paying the bill, was suing Neighbor A to get that money back. Which is what insurance companies do -- they sue the other guy's insurance company in order to prove the other guy was at fault and needs to cough up.  Naturally, the insurnace company on the losing end of the stick will object, but in this case, weirdly, the jury pool was given no hint in the early proceedings that there was an Insurance Company A anywhere in the vicinity.  Homeowner A was sitting in the hot seat, not Insurance Company A.  And Homeowner A's lawyer, during voir dire, kept using words like "fair" and "moral" and "healthy, sound tree" and "nobody could expect something like that." And kept asking if any of the prospective jurors ever had tree issues before, like tree limbs or trees falling on their houses.

"Moral?"  "Fair?" Tree issues? I kept thinking to myself.  If Homeowner A is seeking "justice" and "morals" and "fairness," Boy, has he come to the wrong address.  I've always held with Oliver Wendell Holmes who aptly observed, "This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice." 

And, "healthy, sound tree?" and "nobody could expect something like that?"  Is the lawyer kidding?  Doesn't he know trees?  Doesn't he know the perverse lethality of anything on a property?  Paving stones that looked secure on Wed, suddenly destabilize on Thursday morning at 9 a.m. and the Postman goes flying, breaking his hip, and within days his lawyers are on your doorstep.  Or that garden hose neatly coiled up and out of the way that magically uncoils and trips your neighbor who came to your door to bring you a bouquet of flowers and next thing you know your neighbor's insurance company is coming knocking. 

Deadly.  Homesteads are deadly places filled with malign objects and adverse events just waiting to unleash ruin and mayhem on your life, leaving you bankrupt and homeless, pushing your shabby belongings down the road in a filched shopping cart with one broken wheel, with your homeowners' insurance guy saying, "Sorry about that, but you should have read the really fine print in Sub paragraph 12a."

So, "healthy, sound tree," and "fairness" and "moral" put a peculiar spin on what might be going on here, thereby turning the whole enterprise into one big WTF?  I mean, isn't the law pretty clear on this -- if it's on your property and under your legal control -- dogs, kids, wheeled objects, bricks . . . trees -- it's on you.  Period.  Not "fair."  Not "moral."  But there it is.

So what the heck were we all doing here?  Except maybe Homeowner A didn't have homeowner's insurance?  Or his insurance company had declared him to have been negligent regarding his tree and refused to reimburse Insurance B, so Homeowner A figures, What the hell, I'll try my chances in court, which would be really dumb because even in the unlikely event he wins the case, I'm pretty sure Neighbor A's lawyer will likely cost him way more than the $14,000 house repair bill.

Well, it was all a mystery since the panel was picked and the rest of us were dismissed, our service fulfilled for the next year, and so we filed out into the tail-end of an afternoon of blue skies full of  white clouds, unlikely to ever know the fate of a man who went to a court of law looking for "fairness." I could only silently wish "good luck" to everyone left to wrestle with the consequences of the deceptive nature of cypress trees.

Jury duty's always like that, bits and pieces of lives, half-told stories, hidden issues, imperfect justice lost in a maze of the law, frail humans struggling against cruel fate and untrustworthy tree limbs. But it wasn't a complete waste of my time because, as I walked to the parking lot on a street full of very tall trees filled with lethal limbs towering overhead, I decided I'd better call my Insurance Guy and ask him about my homeowners' policy vis a vis . . . trees. 

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Your Sunday Poem Lotto

Once again, It's Pick A Poem Day.  Click on the link --  --  and type in 027 in the little box.  That's  my pick for the day:  "Poetry" by Don Paterson, from "The White Lie, New and Selected Poetry, 2001," Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minn.

But this is also your poem day, so type in another number, any number and see what comes up.  That may turn out to be your poem for the day. If not, try another.  The website was set up with the help of Billy Collins, when he was our national Poet Laureate.  It's a treasure trove. And don't forget, Billy's got a new book of poetry out:  "Aimless Love," Random House.