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This Slaphappy Summer

There are no second acts in American life, but there is a long intermission.

Isn't that what summer's about, a season engrained in us by our school years as a pause in life when we can punch the reset button before heading back into the fray?

I wouldn't know. I've been up to my ass in corndogs all summer. There was an exhibit at the Orange County Fair called Orange Groove that I curated or oversaw or whatever it is you call it when you've got a 1953 Fender P Bass in one hand and a cordless Makita drill in the other. All I know is that I lost 11 pounds in the process and, now that I've come up for air, the world is even more slaphappy than when I submerged.

Let's see if we can't sort some of it out, shall we?

The recall election. I'm writing this two days before the door closes on registering to run for governor, so for all I know Snuggles the Fabric Softener Bear is a candidate now. It's just been one thudding bombshell after another, with former husband and wife Michael and Arianna Huffington running against each other; then Larry Flynt signing on with the best slogan so far, "A smut peddler who cares"; then Dianne Feinstein saying she wouldn't run; then Arnold saying he would (suggested slogan: "Come with me if you want to live"); TSOL's Jack Grisham throwing his cat into the ring; and then Gary Coleman running. Can you imagine what that last fact alone is doing to California's bond rating status?

Then there's Representative Darrell Issa, the son-of-a-bitch who initiated and funded the recall, dropping out of the race after Schwarzenegger announced he was running. According to accounts, Issa "fought back bears as he explained his decision." Sorry, he actually fought back tears, but I can hope, can't I? By dropping out of the race, Issa raised Schwarzenegger's prospects of capturing all the stolid, conservative citizen votes, while we fun-loving grasshoppers will fritter ours away voting for Angelyne, Bustamante, Camejo and the rest of the alphabet that's running. When the smoke clears, it's going to be one of those Putney Swope situations, and Governor Coleman will make you pay for all those years you laughed at him.

Officials have estimated that this election will cost our already strapped state anywhere from $25 million to $70 million, which makes you wonder why state officials even bother using numbers instead of just saying "kajillions of dollars" any time a budget question is raised.

Part of Gray Davis' unpopularity has to do with his playing fast and furious with truth about the state budget numbers, along with his presiding over a big deficit and his bungling of the California energy crisis. Picture California as a thirsty man in the desert, and Davis as a cup of warm snot. That's how Republicans would have us think of him, and I pretty much do anyway. But at least we elected Davis, unlike the man in the White House, whose conspiring energy buddies, lest we forget, are the ones who gamed the grid in California and fleeced Davis and the state, and who now enrich Bush's reelection coffers. It also is Bush who has taken the nation from the fiscal prudence of the Clinton years to the biggest deficit in the nation's history.

"But California didn't have a war to pay for," argued a conservative friend of mine, which brings us to:

This goddamn war. Plunging the nation into record deficits is one more reason why the president shouldn't lie his way into war, and it's the least of reasons, given the American soldiers still dying in Iraq, the carnage we've wreaked upon that nation (sure, Saddam was lots worse, but that's damning with faint praise if anything is, and you might also recall that it was the U.S. that helped put and keep him in power; the Iraqis sure remember), and the loss of whatever moral standing we'd had in the world by using cocked-up charges to justify America's first preemptive war. When questions persist, the White House brushes them off, saying the president has "moved on." Too bad the troops in Iraq can't, when the president, thousands of convenient miles away, urged Iraq's terrorist leaders to "bring 'em on" against our troops. This at the same time the Pentagon was warning spouses of those serving in Iraq against criticizing the hardships and long tours their loved ones are enduring because it might encourage terrorist attacks.

Darn if we don't love to move on. Does anyone even remember Afghanistan? In Bush's first attempt at bunker-bomb nation-building, most of that country has devolved into chaos, starvation and feudal conflict, and the poppy crop has made a big comeback. In Iraq, it took a $25 million payoff, helicopters, missiles and hundreds of troops just to kill Saddam's sons Uday and Ebay. Very bad hombres, yes, and the 14-year-old kid we killed would probably have grown up bad too, so we should have shown his riddled little body on CNN as well. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden could be living in Injun Joe's Cave for all our intelligence agencies know, and al Qaeda attacks around the globe are on the increase. Our ports of entry are only marginally safer than they were two years ago, while John Ashcroft's Justice Department is busy launching a major war against porn.

Chunks of Canada, Europe and the western United States are on fire in the midst of record heat waves and drought, and Bush won't address global warming. This administration blows chunks, which brings us to:

The Dennis Kucinich rally. A couple of weeks ago I touted Kucinich as the great lefty hope in the presidential race, saying that, since the Republicans will have all the money, the opposing candidate will instead need to have truth, righteousness and pizzazz to stir the benumbed passions and hopes of Americans. At Kucinich's Aug. 3 Santa Ana rally, he had a pretty good handle on the first two qualities, but appeared for such a short time that it didn't amount to much more than some fist-shaking cant. And the rest of the afternoon rally was a pizzazz-free zone, with central-casting folk-singers and speakers doing the same old "One more time! I can't hear you!" exhortations. There were doubtless a lot of good intentions that went into the rally, but it had "loser" written all over it. And poor Kucinich: here he is the most progressive and compassionate candidate running, and a handful of anti-Loretta Sanchez activist lunkheads were there trying to disrupt his already feeble rally.

Short of resorting to cattle prods, there are things rally organizers should do to bestir America. For starts: cut out every single bit of extraneous horseshit. Whistle stops with organic bunting won't work. What people need to see is the candidate hitting the podium, rolling up his sleeves and speaking at length and in depth about where we are and where he'd take us. Time is precious to a candidate, but when it's all he has to spend, that's what he has to do. Which doesn't bring us to:

The New World Flamenco Festival, but I want to talk about it anyway. At last year's fest, Andrs Marn's troupe gave one of the most thrilling performances I'd seen in eons. Though regarded as cutting-edge, avant-garde, controversial and those other supposed artistic frontiers where boring artists hide out, Marn and Co. were as impassioned and in-the-moment as it gets, sort of like a bunch of flamenco Elvis Costellos.

This year's fest, which runs at the Irvine Barclay through Monday night, features a different set of performers, but the show I caught was pretty hot, particularly dancer Antonio el Pipa, who had great dramatic moves, offset by some of the most comic facial expressions since Danny Kaye.

The remaining shows this weekend, with Compana Antonio Canales, are reputed to involve a particularly exquisite bunch of stomping and shouting. A very nice sidelight is the bit of street caf ambiance created outside the Barclay, with tables, little lights, wine, paella and other Spanish foods (a good deal better than last year's) available before and after the performance, when the performers often come out and mix with the diners. Go, and act like we live somewhere civilized for a few hours.


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