Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Awful Art

It's rather hard to know what to make of Tim Burton's new movie, "Big Eyes."  Is it an absurdist, satirical comedy about the abiding  power of fads, fame, high-level marketing combined with the low level of American artistic taste?  Yes.  Is it an appallingly sordid tale of domestic abuse, child endangerment, alcoholism, fraud, greed and quintessential and astonishingly successful American huckesterism on a grand scale?  Yes. For those of us who lived through that period, is it two hours of torture revisiting all those hideous, sappy Keane paintings of big-eyed tikes who looked like they had spent the better part of their lives in Dachau?  Yes.  Is there a certain sort of perverse glee in watching a biopic staring people whose characters have little to commend them -- weak, dishonest, greedy, foolish -- then chortling when the worst of the lot (Walter) gets his well-deserved comeuppance?  (Exposed as a fraud.  He painted nothing.  The Wife did it all.)  Yes. Then feel a twinge of dissatisfaction that Margaret, the real painter who unleashed this hideous "art"  on the world and who participated (and benefited) from the fraud, comes out smelling like a rose, money in hand, without paying for her Crimes on Good Taste?  Yes.

Certainly the acting all round is wonderful, though casting Christoph Waltz, with his German accent, seemed a bit ff-putting.  After all, Walter Keane was the absolute epitome of the stereotyped American Huckster -- a sort of painterly Music Man spinning his fantasies and taking a whole country along with him for a goofy ride.  (He was Andy Warhol before Warhol was Warhol. Like Kinkade, "The Painter of Light,"  was Keane after Keane was Keane.)  But Waltz is such a fine actor, despite the odd accent, he managed to keep Walter's dangerous edge present in the midst of his toothy bonhomie.

As a cultural observation, "Big Eyes," certainly has a good deal of bite.  And perhaps that uneasy mix of sappy and sick, comedy and low melodrama is the perfect tone for a phenomenon that was The Keane Affair. Come to think of it, perhaps the best response to the whole sordid tale is to be found in the expressions on all of Margaret's tikes: Blank-eyed, dumbfounded depression at what passes for Public Taste?   

Monday, December 29, 2014

Clever and Clean

A little souvenir of Sewerville's The Big Dig: A bar of soap complete with a picture of heavy pipe laying equipment on the label, made by Los Osos Soaps and -- if there are any left -- sold in Volumes of Pleasure Bookstore.  Is that clever, or what?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Chow Line, Sunday

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Solstice Drift

Calhoun's Cannons for December 21, 2014

Hog on ice, but without the ice.  This last year has felt like being in a waiting room without any hope of an appointment. Becalmed, but before the storm.  Clocks ticking, time wasting that we do not have to waste.  The world's carbon reduction deadlines are again ignored when there is no wiggle room left to head off the worst of what's coming. Then American voters elected even more legislators who are wholly committed to King Coal and Oil.  It takes a peculiar kind of suicidal lunacy to step on the gas when you're at the cliff's edge.  

In my own little world, global warming is arriving in the form of drought that is changing an already stressed landscape, with more to come and none of it pleasant.  All because we value political expediency over our very survival. Surely the coming generations will curse our names. 

So I drift in this odd, airless year that hovers like a shoe about to drop.  Should the United Nation's most recent report on climate change cause immense sorrow or gales of bitter laughter at what we have done to ourselves? We are bad stewards of God's Creation with no good excuse for our folly. Surely, that's a recipe for comedy? Except for the polar bears.  And butterflies.  And our great grandchildren's lives. 

And so it goes.  Drift in a disordered world.  Neither tears nor laughter matter any longer. We have tied the knot, set the noose.  And now we wait.

In my small back yard, the earth's troubling oddness is writ small, but writ: The great Roger's Red Grape Vine is both going into winter's crimson sleep and sprouting new spring growth.  If a sudden, unseasonable frost hits, the vine will pay dearly for its confusion. The hardy native chaparral is game but looking weary.  The weather changes are coming too fast and in the wrong form for much successful biological adaptation.  So everything now waits for the great winnowing that is coming.  

For the dogs, of course, it's all drift all the time. Disordered world? Where's supper?

And no drift in my vegetable garden.  There it was all ferocious focus: Kentucky Wonders that spun off green beans in an unstoppable supply, and zombie zucchini that didn't know when to quit and had me trooping around to the neighbors with full plastic bags only to find hastily scribbled signs over their doorbells: "No Solicitors.  No zucchini. We've moved to France."

Now, December has come and instead of an icy solstice moon with frost covering the ground, the late brief rains have created an out of sync carpet of spring wildflowers starting their race for the sun. Winter is half over before it's begun, while I'm still in my summer shirtsleeves.  

But I dutifully get the  Christmas nutcrackers out of their boxes to once again stand guard in the night, and garland the house in lights, even though this year it all seems rather like caroling on the Titanic. 

Still, there will be laughter, feasting, song and lights on this silent night.  In a disordered world that's adrift and heading for a hard future, we will still need hope and joy and love.  And the dogs will always need a walk on a fine Christmas morning. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fifty Years Late

Ploop! Ploop! The noise you hear is the heads of old right-wing, conservative, reactionary anti-Commies exploding as President Obama single-handedly loosened some restrictions on Cuba.

Well, it's long past time is all I can say.  That economic embargo was ridiculous from day one. Embargos rarely work unless you have all hands on deck and this one had only our hands on it so of course it wouldn't work worth beans, except to make common Cubans miserable while leaving Castro untouched.

What we should have done is welcomed Castro down out of the hills, and immediately started selling his people Levis and Coca-colas and later satellite dishes and iPods.  Connection, baby.  Connection and engagement is what it's all about.  In a wired world what's needed is MORE wire, not less.

We didn't learn that in Vietnam on account of right-wing, conservative, reactionary anti-commie old poops either.  Did Vietnam want out from under the yoke of the French? Fine.  Did they want to organize their country as a communist/socialist structure -- distribute the wealth, reorganize their country as they wished?  Fine also.  Start selling them Levis and TVs and millions of people wouldn't have had to die.  Just give people time and the seductiveness of American/western culture and goods and the benefits of controlled capitalism becomes clear to everyone.  Even China, with our engagement, is slowly turning towards "modified" capitalism. Commie China now becoming a capitalists' wet dream. That's how powerful the jingle of a few coins in the pocket are.  

And Iran?  All those young Iranians with designer jeans under their robes?  Seriously?  Engage, engage!  More wire! More wire!

I know the pro-embargo crowd is even now crying about what an awful man Castro is as a reason to continue the boycott.  Phooey.  We have been in bed with an endless number of murderous thugs when it benefited us to do so.  Including Saudi Arabia, some of whose citizens, if you recall, flew planes into the World Trade Center.  Castro is no different. 

Instead, I'm sure the old right-wing, reactionary Republicans will make sure when they take over in January that the new Embassy in Havana won't be funded and they'll pull all kinds of tricks to shut the door again. Stupid.  Let's hope cooler heads prevail in the Senate, but I won't hold my breath because Americans -- especially old right-wing reactionaries --  just don't ever seem to learn anything

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Nation of Laws

Dick Cheney was a frightened man.  Deeply shaken when the twin towers fell. His fear fed his own  harsh proclivities, it clouded his mind, as fear always does, and too easily lured his heart's own longing for the dark side.

Dick Cheney was not alone.  Too many Americans shared his mind frame. The only difference was that Cheney was the Vice President of the most powerful nation on earth.  He was also the inside man, the man with full access to the CIA, the man who got things done, the fixer, the enforcer.  And standing in his way was a nation that prided itself on being a nation of laws, laws that required that we "keep the gloves on" at all times, because that's who we think we are.  For Dick, however, gloves were always an unwanted impediment to his powerful sense of realpolitik.  His fear and 9/11 was the perfect excuse he needed to take them off.

From that, all else followed.     

And so, here we are.  What was known-but-not-known is now beyond denial, except for those whose jobs and reputations and legacies depend on their continuing The Big Lie. It's a tactic that will work because it always does.  Which is why the most discouraging thing about the recently released report on the CIA and Torture is that we can all be sure that nothing will be done.  There will be no accountability, no consequences, no perp-walks, no war-crime trials, no Truth and Reconciliation hearings,  no nothing.  Just a massive report which will be denied by those who administered the program, then put on a shelf.  Then . . . nothing.

Except we will once again start piously declaring to ourselves and the world about how America is a nation of laws.The rest of the world will snigger up their sleeves.  They know better.

America tortures.  America commits war crimes.  Just like a lot of other Thug Nations that America publicly decries.  But America gets away with its murders because Power and Expediency, not Law, not Justice, is what America is a nation of. 

So we regularly go through this sad dance of faux "Accountability," throw a few low-level folks under the bus, declare ourselves My Bad, write, then shelve a big thick report, and then The Great Forgetting will set in . Until next time.

I have no doubt that some very angry jihadists will use this report to engage in some war crimes of their own.  Murder always calls out for more murder.  And already the foxes are defending their chicken coops while a whole gaggle of politicians are diving under their desks in a fit of forgetting as to what they knew and when they knew it. This will play out in the 24/7 news media, and partisan politicians are already starting to change the narrative: The 9/11 "mood" of the country made us do it.  After all, everyone knows that torture works and war crimes are O.K. . . . . if you're angry.

In no time, that narrative will prevail and we'll be back cocooned inside our comforting belief that we are exceptional and so did no wrong because we are, after all, America -- a Nation of Laws.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Coffee’s Up


Once again, SLO Roasted Coffee Company in Los Osos had it’s annual Holiday open house yesterday.

Santa guarded the rows of glass coffee cups waiting the guests.


Who showed up to sample coffees , including the darkly sweet and delicious Ethiopian Yirgachieffe.  The Yirgachieffe  shows up for a limited time and then, Poof!, gone , so if you like that roast, better get your Christmas list and head over to the warehouse.

And, with coffee, came the holiday cookies.


For those of you who love SLO Roasted coffe but only have Keurig coffee machines, now you can have your SLO coffee and drink it, too. They've got a new item: Single serve Pods!


As they did last year, there were raffles and a coffee roasting demonstration.  Great chance to visit friends and neighbors, get some fabulous coffee and support one of our very own Los Osos small businesses.

All watched over by a small, festive coffee bush in front of the massive roaster that is waiting to be fired up for an aromatic run.


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Smoking Kills

 Calhoun's Cannon for December 4, 2014

 If you’re a big black guy illegally selling individual cigarettes on the streets of New York, you’ll be swarmed by a gaggle of small, scared, inept, poorly trained white cops who will put you in an illegal choke hold, and despite your repeated cries of, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” you will die on the sidewalk, and none of the cops who killed you will be indicted on any charges by a grand jury even though the whole event was caught on tape for everyone to see.

So, what is there left to say about all this, except to cynically observe that this is just another example of how tobacco kills?

Surely, we’ve all gone nuts.  We have armed ourselves to the teeth, convinced that the ghost of old Nat Turner is coming out of the swamps with his cane knife to kill all us white folks in our beds.  We arm our kids to the teeth with toy guns that look so real that recently a couple of inept, poorly trained cops ended up doing a roll-up shooting on a 12 year-old kid.  They didn’t get the word that he was a kid and the gun was a toy.  Nope, they saw a scary black guy waving a gun. Blam! Done and done.

Anybody want to lay the odds on what the grand jury findings in that case will be ?  No?

White America has been listening to a rising chorus of talk-radio, social media, cable TV 24/7 “news,” wink-nudge racial dog-whistle music since Obama got elected.  The tune is an old, old one and is always the same:  Black people aren’t “real Americans,” they’re criminals, they’re animals, they’re “demons,” they’re dangerous killers.  And when they’re not being those things, they’re being greedy, lazy welfare queens, or cheats and moochers or drug dealers or felons.  They’re the dreaded Other.  And they’re scary. And they have to be controlled and kept in their place. By the police.

Repeat that false meme enough times and is it any wonder why too many Americans have become a frightened citizenry armed to the teeth with high-powered weapons of war?  And because the citizenry is now outgunning the police, we now have to supply our police units with full-on Army surplus assault vehicles and weapons so now we’ve turned our streets into war zones and turned our citizens into enemy combatants, with the two sides too often facing off in dangerous Us versus Them confrontations.

Or consider how our illegal drug use has been the driver for turning Mexico into an abattoir and our own streets into deadly free-fire zones for warring drug gangs. While our inadequate mental health, drug/alcohol treatment services leaves too many impaired people (many of whom are armed, just like the rest of America) wandering the streets to be dealt with by a militarized police who are trained and primed for fusillades, not the slow, messy business of helping sad, broken minds.

Or how we have allowed our communities to rot, our schools to fail, our health and safety net to shred while The Wall Street Boys and their handmaidens in Congress shipped our jobs overseas, looted the national treasury and walked away scot free.  And then, instead of engaging in massive, nationwide civic regeneration and repair, we turned these choking, broken communities over to the police to just keep order, while we walked away. 

And now we stare in wonderment when selling single cigarettes on the streets of New York is a crime that is now punishable by death while Justice turns her face away, not only blind but deaf and dumb as well.