Letters 1-18-2007

True Repentance I took to heart Bunny
Bernhardt’s letter exposing my nihilistic incompetence in not
listing Borat! among my top films of 2006 [“Movie Mishaps,” Jan.
11]. She was right! How could I have left out this film? I needed
to rectify this wrong the only way I knew how: by inviting Sacha
Baron Cohen to be part of the 2007 Santa Barbara International Film
Festival. And I can gladly say that Hollywood is not the only place
you will find happy endings — Mr. Cohen has accepted the invite and
will do a conversation at the upcoming Film Festival following a
special screening of Borat!. So, Bunny, this is sexy time!  — Roger
Durling, executive director, Santa Barbara International Film

Memory Serves

Michael Ableman’s In Memoriam to Norman Paulsen [Jan. 11] was
not only well written but also a testament to the author and his
incredible power to forgive at a level few people are able to
reach. I have another view of Paulsen, that painted for me by the
author and many others after they were evicted from Sunburst with
only 24 hours’ notice, their version of reality completely
overturned, leaving them to fend in a real world that is often not
as kind or protective as the environment in which they had lived.
Paulsen spiritually, and perhaps otherwise, screwed these people
for his own gain, taking advantage of their inheritances, trust
funds, free labor, and — most importantly — personal trust, to
build his empire. He even put in writing that he would share
Sunburst with all of them, only to leave them out in the cold. He
prepared and signed fraudulent income tax returns for his following
and after fleecing them for all he could, he and his inner circle
sold the Santa Barbara property and fled to Nevada, where it would
be hard to sue them for their misdeeds. Ableman and a handful of
others tried, but they just didn’t understand the system and what
it took to take Paulsen down, so they went on with their own lives.
Some prospered like Michael; some haven’t done nearly as well.

I have always been a secret fan of Michael Ableman and admire
what he has done with his life and how he has enriched others, but
he is too kind to Paulsen’s memory. We live in a world where people
are always looking for an answer by which they can live their lives
and for someone whom they can trust to help them in this endeavor.
To me, Michael’s message is that we must learn to trust in
ourselves, take personal responsibility for our lives and actions,
and not surrender this important task to another or let someone
else manage our souls. Only then can we be free to realize our
goals. Hmmm. Sounds a bit like old-school Republican philosophy to
me.  — Stephen Wheeler ••• Michael Ableman’s In
Memoriam proved to me that words can heal. Two weeks ago, Norm’s
death received short shrift in The Independent, and it seemed to me
as if the writer of the “News of the Week” brief drew directly from
old News and Review archives, adding sensationalized details for
spice. Michael’s words reassured me that what was important about
Norm’s life would not be eclipsed by past controversies, which
linger like swells in the harbor after a big ship has cast off to
sea. Michael’s vivid portrait of the Sunburst experience also
reminded me of the astonishingly strong camaraderie we shared,
beginning in the early ’70s, and how its value carried into almost
all of our adult, post-commune lives.

Like Michael, my first glimpse of Sunburst was at age 18, when,
fresh out of a private girls’ school and newly enrolled in UCSB, I
crossed the threshold of the House of Aquarius, where I received
from Norm the Sun technique of meditation, derived from the kriya
yoga teachings of his guru, Paramahansa Yogananda. Norm pulled out
the stops, however, and revealed the crown chakra portion of the
technique, something Self-Realization Fellowship reserved for its
avowed bramacharia monks and candidates — a bold move and 100
percent signature Norm. Through those doors and later through the
rainbow gates of Sunburst Farm on Gibraltar Road, we all came, most
with the hopes and dreams of our young lives intact, ready to take
up the chorus of a ’60s-inspired new world.

Norman’s vision was of West Coast communities, beginning in
Santa Barbara, composed of men, women, and families living
cooperatively on the land and practicing daily meditation. He
manifested this vision, often against the odds, even if, like all
of us, he sometimes got in his own way. We learned together that a
strongly held shared vision can produce a taste of heaven on earth.
Had Norm been flawless — if we could have relied upon him to meet
our images of what an enlightened leader “should” be — how would we
know it was we who built the dream? Or understand fully that, if we
are to realize our full potential, we must rely in greatest measure
upon ourselves?  — Francia Gaunt

Surge of Incompetence

President George W. Bush’s call for an increase of 20,000 troops
in Iraq is too little and way too late. Four years ago, the
president, hell-bent on invading Iraq, should have at least heeded
the advice of Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki on troop levels, as
well as the extensive recommendations of the CIA and State
Department for stabilizing a post-invasion Iraq. Instead, Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was allowed to ride roughshod over
General Shinseki and both those agencies. Then, after the invasion,
members of the disbanded Iraqi Army openly looted Iraqi stockpiles
of high explosives, which were inadequately guarded by the U.S. as
a result of — guess what — a gross lack of manpower. Those
explosives, long since dispersed and cached, fuel the IEDs and car
bombs that threaten our troops and Iraqi families on a daily

With 3,000 U.S. soldiers dead, another 22,000 wounded, and 500
billion, off-the-book dollars down the drain, does anyone other
than the president really believe that a 15 percent increase in
troop strength is going to reverse four years of inept policy and
calm the sectarian violence unleashed? Both the president and his
main handler, Vice President Dick Cheney, are delusional, need
therapy, and should be removed from office before they can do any
more damage to our troops, treasury, and Iraq, not to mention our
Constitution and international law.  — Jeff

Proof Negative Barry Cappello’s letter to The
Independent [“Teamsters vs. McCaw,” Jan. 11] is astounding.
Cappello’s statement that in purchasing the News-Press, Wendy McCaw
“saved it from the disgrace of insolvency” is not only
breathtakingly inaccurate but also insinuates the New York Times
executives who ran the News-Press prior to the paper being sold to
McCaw were incapable of running it profitably.

I was one of those New York Times executives. As division
controller of the Santa Barbara News-Press for the 15 years the
paper was owned by the New York Times, I can attest that, contrary
to Cappello’s statements, the News-Press never faced insolvency at
any time during those 15 years, nor was there ever any
consideration given to discontinuing its operations. Given the
value of this market and the value of the newspaper’s assets, the
latter contention is not only grossly misinformed; it is

During the deep recession of the mid 1990s, and after the costly
printing plant in Goleta became operational, the News-Press did
experience two years of modest operating losses, but never negative
cash flow. Shortly after the arrival of publisher Steve Ainsley in
November 1993, I led a team of News-Press executives in developing
17 initiatives aimed at returning the paper to profitability.
Ainsley approved 11 of those initiatives, and under his leadership,
the News-Press began generating operating profits by late 1995.
Each year after that, the News-Press’s operating profits increased
dramatically, and by the end of 1999, they had risen by more than
1,200 percent! The News-Press that the New York Times sold in
October 2000 was a well-run and very profitable newspaper.

As a 35-year resident of Santa Barbara, I am quite aware of
Cappello’s distinguished legal career. He has been remarkably
successful and deserves a great deal of respect and even admiration
for what he has accomplished. However, in the current case of the
News-Press, he has failed one of the fundamental responsibilities
of his profession. He has not verified the evidence or, perhaps,
not corroborated the testimony. That such a consummate legal
professional has not done so is as confounding as it is astounding.
 — Randy Alcorn

Corrections ¶ The name of the photographer who
shot last week’s Table of Contents photograph was egregiously
omitted. Bonnie Baker — DAWG’s photographer-in-residence — captured
that regal terrier face.

¶ The photograph accompanying the review of the Santa Barbara
Chamber Orchestra concert [“Unlimited Potential,” Dec. 21] was
mistakenly credited to David Bazemore. The image was in fact shot
by Baron Spafford. We apologize for the error.


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