Letters 1-18-2007

Originally published 4:22 p.m., January 17, 2007
Updated 11:43 a.m., March 1, 2007
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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 Festival

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 basis.

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 Goddard

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 ludicrous.

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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