Las Vegas Xmas

Las Vegas doesn't look much different at Christmas. It's already so completely over the top that a few extra lights don't make much difference. The town was packed but we managed to cover a lot of ground anyway. Among other things, we spent some time in Chinatown. 99 Ranch Market was unaffected by the holidays but colorful Christmas lights were wrapped around the palm trees in the parking lot and out-lined pagoda roof tops.

And definitely the Dragon was having a great time.

As for us, we had Bubble Tea in Chinatown one night. It was a first for me and I found it delightful. It's more like a smoothie than tea and the "bubbles" are huge tapioca balls that sink to the bottom. I'm always that irritating person with a camera so, of course, I photographed the occasion and include some of the pictures here. You can see how they naturally run together like a flipbook. (Note: In the first few shots, the only noticeable action is in background, but don't be fooled. Trouble is brewing in the mind of the inscrutable Ms. Kennan.)

We spent some time downtown as well. In case you don't know, that's the Las Vegas you see in all the old movies although it's changed over the last few years to compete with The Strip. Its main street is now spiffed up by a light show but if you look closely at the photos, you'll see that the old neon cowgirl (left) and cowboy (right) are still there. They used to be out under the stars. Now they're under the "Fremont Experience". Don't forget to check out the Christmas at the end of the street. Everything goes in Las Vegas.

Downtown is also the home of Binion's Casino, where the world famous Texas hold 'em poker tournaments are held. In 2004, the purse was sixteen million dollars with the top winner taking home 2.5 million in cash. In true Las Vegas style, the event includes the gaudy flaunting of outrageous fortune. Burly bodyguards ceremoniously accompany an official as he carries millions of dollars in cash to the poker room where he stacks the bills up on one of the green felt-covered tables before the (secretly) slavering crowd of poker-faced gamblers.

In spite of his checkered past, everybody loved the casino's founder, Benny Binion. Even Nevada Senator Harry Reid claimed, "Benny's my hero. Nevada is a better place because of him!" But Benny's offspring haven't fared so well. His son Ted had problems with the gaming commission because of his drug and alcohol problems and mafia cohorts and was eventually barred by the state from entering his own casino. Then in 1998, he died under suspicious circumstances. There is plenty of evidence suggesting that Ted was murdered by his girlfriend Sandy Murphy and her other (secret) lover and Ted's trusted friend, Rick Tabish. In fact, the pair was originally convicted of murder but subsequently the verdict was reversed in a re-trial. Good lawyers are worth their weight in gold, or silver as the case may be. However, charges of conspiracy to commit burglary, burglary and grand larceny against the couple stuck. After all, two days after Ted's death, the sheriff discovered Tabish at Binion's desert hideaway, filling a dump truck with Ted's 7 million dollar stash of silver bars.

Naturally the poker tournaments have flourished in spite of it all the scandal. Gamblers are an imperturbable lot. And it looks like Binion's has a future, at least for now. Harrah's just closed a deal to buy the place and have promised to keep the tournament there at least for 2005 but I'm guessing they'll soon move it to The Strip. Because of Binion's, Texas hold 'em has become wildly popular... and lucrative...and in Las Vegas, it's always all about the money. Too bad, if you ask me. The Binion's of today is a dark and seedy dive, reeking with funky history and atmosphere. That makes it the perfect and wonderfully ironic place for a the world most famous poker tournament. Oh well. I don't gamble anyway. Asia and I had a great time there just playing in one of Binion's lesser known wonders, the ladies' room mirrors.

Ps. Happy New Year.


Tsunami Relief

Bush's pledge of $35 million dollars for tsunami relief is an insult and embarrassment to everyone. Just for a little perspective here, Bush spends FIVE TIMES that amount EVERY DAY for his bullshit war in Iraq. He'll spend at least 40 mil for his damn inauguration.
Top payout to a US executive before 2003: $36 million

(Top payout since 2003: $140 million to Michael Orvitz, Disney Co.)
(Average payout: $6 million)

Penalties paid for environmental violations in NY city, 2003: $40

Single bank robbery in Ireland, 2004: $40 million

Price Rupert Murdoch paid for an apartment in NY city this year: $44

$35 million is less than it will cost to repair the roof on the
Brewer's Stadium here.

Six top executives could donate their buy-out bonuses and exceed the
amount the US has pledged.
The world is waiting, Mister Bush. Put our money where your damn mouth is. As you have trouble being accountable, plenty of other people are doing it for you. As a billboard in New York's Times Square notes:
The cost of the Iraq war increases at a rate of $177M per day; that's $7.4M per hour and $122,820 per minute.
If you're looking for comprehensive news and information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts regarding the tsunami disaster in SE Asia check out the SEA-EAT blog.

Also MoveOn has a form you can use to tell congress to increase the aide. Pass the link along. If a tsunami doesn't make these jokers honest, what will?

Useful information category

I found this post from craigslist to be not only hilarious but an interesting way to deal with corporate brush-off.
I attacked a company today
Reply to: anon-52441932@craigslist.org
Date: Wed Dec 15 10:00:36 2004

And I'm feeling pretty good about myself.

The office manager comes to me with a bill from a phone company that's slammed us. You know, they call, talk to someone, and then pretend that we've green lighted a meaningless charge. Bastards!

So I get the bill. I call the customer service number. The recording says to leave a number; they'll call back in 2 days. Right.

Stupidly though, they left a fax number. It's just like they had dropped their pants and exposed their flaccid gentiles for my abuse. Time for a humiliating kick in the corporate crotch.

I prepare a document on my computer. It has my name and phone number in large letters. Beneath that, I insert a large, toner-sucking graphic. I then copy the page and re-insert it into the document. 60 times.

Next I print this document....to my fax modem. From there, the 60 pages are directed towards their unsuspecting fax machine. I hit the resubmit button 5 or 6 times for good measure, thus queuing about 300 pages. I wait.

About 20 minutes later, an anxious voice on my phone asks for my account number. From his pain reflected in his tone, I know that my well placed kick to their firms groin has met the exposed meat. Pain and embarrassment is being felt and spread around. He quickly tells me that my account has been cleared and canceled, and we don't have to pay the bill. I smirk as I hear him squirm, his humiliation complete.

Fax machines are the testicles of just about any company. If a company gives you grief, attack the fax, and no matter how big they are, they'll drop to the ground, curl up in a fetal position, and beg for mercy.

It always works.



HORARY for Winter Solstice

Near the south galactic pole
between Cetus and Sculptor
beyond the universe of naked eye
galaxy 253

To its west
near the galactic equator and ecliptic intersection
the diffuse nebulae M20 and M8
stellar sphinx
guarding the winter solstice point of our sun

On my earth
wild roses and winter plum perfume this afternoon's rain

On my earth
in the 21st century after Christ
after countless way-showers and seed-sowers
the only revolution left
is love.



Solstice in Las Vegas

We're leaving tomorrow for Las Vegas. It just seemed like the appropriately jaded place to be this year during the Christmas holidays including the Winter Solstice, my favorite day of the season. The exact moment of the solstice this year will be on Tuesday, December 21, at 7:42 A.M. EST (12:42 UT) but, for me, it defines the season. So, wherever you are and whatever you do during these last days of the year, may you do it with people you love.


Tao of the day

I am restless tonight. Going in circles. So I did an I Ching. My question, what is the Tao of the moment? I got #9 (Taming Power of the Small) "Dense clouds, no rain" changing to #61 (Inner Truth) "a bird's foot over a fledgling; the idea of brooding". That pretty much covers it.

I've had photos of a tiny bamboo garden on my website for the last few years. Occasionally someone writes for permission to use them but last week, a guy emailed from Belgium and asked if I have any high resolution images of the bamboo. I didn't but, I just happened to be going to Oregon in a few days, so I offered to take some when I was there. Naturally it was raining in Oregon. Naturally, I didn't bring my tripod. Bummer. Balancing an umbrella in slow light resulted in a lot of blurry photos. Naturally, I took about 600 pictures so there's a few I can send, in spite of everything. I love bamboo so I may eventually add a Bamboo Garden page to my photofiles. In the meantime...






Wrapping gifts in the presence of a cat

Cat in a box
Here's a little holiday tip you'll want to file away and pass along. It's the definitive step-by-step guide to one of the more demanding tasks faced by cat lovers the world over. Good luck.


Animal Rights Day

Sorry for the graphic nature of the photos. I know they're disturbing. It has taken me a long time to be able to face them myself. I don't generally force them on people like this but I'm posting them today in conjunction with Animal Rights Day to underscore the seriousness of the problem. Tomorrow, things will be back to normal (whatever that is.)
Today is International Animal Rights Day. Light a candle or two. Write a letter. Do something nice for a friend. Read the declaration then, please, sign it. 

Slaughterhouses are also torture chambers. Here's an excerpt of a slaughterhouse employee published by the Washington Post:
"The cattle were supposed to be dead before they got to Moreno. But too often they weren't.

They blink. They make noises, he said softly. The head moves, the eyes are wide and looking around. Still Moreno would cut. On bad days, he says, dozens of animals reached his station clearly alive and conscious. Some would survive as far as the tail cutter, the belly ripper, the hide puller. They die, said Moreno, piece by piece..."


International Day for Animal Rights

Friday, December 10th, is the 7th annual International Animal Rights Day (IARD). People all over the world will be gathering in candlelight vigils calling for the recognition of the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights. Count me in. I'm lighting a candle or three in my little room.
UDAR excerpt:
"Ultimately, the rights of animals threaten the freedom of some human beings to use them as they see fit, or to further their own particular ends. The arguments against the rights of animals withstand neither logical nor ethical scrutiny because they are the rearguard action of a defeated, specious philosophy.

The rights of human beings have been won at the expense of the privileges of the rich and the powerful, and in the face of their resistance. The source of resistance to this emancipation of animals is not reason or justice, but a false notion of human self-interest."
So? A candle. Big whoop. What difference can it possible make? But, in spite of this mocking inner voice, I'm doing it anyway, joining in spirit with others who believe that in an ethical and humane society animals need and deserve rights as well.
UDAR excerpt:
"Science, as much as experience, teaches us that it is no longer possible to assume that animals are mere machines, or bundles of instinct and reflex: they may flourish in freedom or languish under oppression just as we do. We may no longer seek refuge in ignorance."
"There will come a day when such men as myself will view the slaughter of innocent creatures as horrible a crime as the murder of his fellow man. Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and
its beauty". ~ Albert Einstein


Vote switching software

I keep wondering how many years will it take for the dirty truth about the Bush Administration to finally reach the street. Anyone with half a brain already knows he's a wingnut fraud, but the juicy details about stuff like this usually take generations to work free of suppression and make it to the surface. By then, of course, it's seen merely as "history" and who gives a shit about history? Only smart people.

I'm encouraged by some recent mumblings about a signed affidavit from a NASA programmer regarding vote switching software he was commissioned to write supposedly for a Republican Florida politician and long time member of the Bush family mob. Is it too much to pray for a long shot miracle that would expose the neocon dirty dealings, void the election and kick Bush and the rest of the neocons to the curb and directly to jail? Yeah....probably, but it's a cold and windy night and the house is creeking like an old boat. It's a perfect time for dreaming.


Little red notebook

I've choked on my intention to post unedited notebook entries, at least from the little red, psychotic notebook. Maybe I'll try another one later but that's it for this one. There are limits, even if only ones imposed by the ego. Now I can just go back to worrying someone will find it after I'm dead or when I'm in the bathroom, brushing my teeth.

I read from After Hours at an open mike last night and afterwards a guy asked to buy it from me. I almost said no because, it's really a beta version. I'm in the process of adding more material. It was progress for me, just to say yes. After all, more pages or not, it was a fair deal. He liked the poems and offered the cover price for the zine, three dollars. Hell, it's a deal at ten times that. It's a hand-made, limited edition filled with excellent, original poetry and interesting images. We were both happy.


Two birds on a snowy fence


What is a good beginning?

Excerpts from the little red notebook, circa 199?.
Note: As soon as I committed myself to this project I found I had many important things to do; spray fixative on some photos I'm turning into refrigerator magnets, re-feed the birds. They have already consumed large quantities of seed this morning, but hey, it's cold out. Prepare a new, bigger and better incense bowl. Light more incense. Eat some nuts. Drink more coffee. Throw left over Thanksgiving salad away. It's garbage day. Eat some tofu. Write this note.
"I'm sitting in the Deli at Rick's grocery store in Talent as the woman I'm working for shops. It's 6am. She's a nice, eccentric old lady who likes to have the store to herself and pays me $10 an hour to drive her there. I forgot my book, too groggy, so I bought this notebook and these words are the outcome.

What is a good beginning? Who is it for? Do I want to tell a story or do I care about that? I want to create an other. I need to see the myth of my life.

I've been reading Moore's Care of the Soul lately. He suggests welcoming one's questions and problems as messages from the soul; a tapping on the shoulder, a calling to notice, embrace, enter the mystery of imperfection. I've been trying that lately and it's (of course) REALLY uncomfortable. I have been feeling enormous anger, like a hand inside a glove, as though it were a body within my body, with a life of its own. It seems this anger is the primary feeling I used to, unconsciously, consider the native me. This books traffic in answers but they are merely seeds, quick planting but slow growing. I feel embarrassed for expecting so much from the obvious. One thing is certain. I am touching my limits. Feeling my limits. I have become a peculiar, hydra-headed bird, confused by looking in too many directions at once, but there is an end to everything. There's a last time for everything.

Life turning under, into memories, as though it is my only purpose
to create and distill stories.

Right now Barbara is at the cash register, so I've got to go and get the truck."

What keeps you up nights?

Asia Kennen posted an interesting comment on her blog yesterday. "What keeps you up nights? The fear that someone may read all the random scribbles in my notebook when I am not looking." Ain't that the truth! I am surrounded, haunted, by scraps and rumpled piles of notebooks harboring embarrassing notes to self, unedited bits and starts, some going back years, that will probably never receive a finishing touch; mental space junk; dark matter perpetually orbiting me as I wobble through life.

That said, this morning, inspired by her question, I picked up an old red 4x6 Mead Memo Book that had fallen yesterday from the overstuffed bookshelf defining the alcove where I sit and work on poems, when I manage to pull myself out of bed in the pre-dawn chill, and commune with my muses, as the ancients were so fond of saying. I say "muses" because I either have several or one who is a shape shifter. "Learning my Limits" is penned on the cover in grade school style print. I must have several personalities because my handwriting changes with my mood. At any rate, Kennen's question inspired me this morning to leap before I look and post the first two entries. I will do my damnedest not edit anything but no guarantees. I must do it now, before I lose sight of the fact that it is these things that stand in the way of me and highway.

This is a promise and challenge to myself. The first, As Is entry will soon follow.


Kosher Law, animal holocaust

"There will come a day when such men as myself will view the slaughter of innocent creatures as horrible a crime as the murder of his fellow man. Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. " ~ Albert Einstein
I'm still shaking. If you've got the guts, watch this just-released undercover footage taken at the Agriprocessors Inc. slaughter house in Postville, Iowa. Here's the five minute version. Or, if you're up to a larger dose of reality, watch the full length version (one half hour). There's also a New York Times article on it. Talk about hell on earth. In one scene, a slaughter house worker even kicks blood in the face of a struggling cow after he rips out her trachea and esophagus. This is all under the supervision and approval of the attendending Rabbi, who claims the cows "feel nothing"! Incredible. What ignorance. It is deeply ironic and horrifying when religious law overrules empathy. What is God if not love? And compassion?

As newspaper articles tend to disappear pretty quickly, I'm including the entire text of NYTs article below.
Videotapes Show Grisly Scenes at Kosher Slaughterhouse

Published: November 30, 2004

An animal-rights group released grisly undercover videotapes today showing cows in a major kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa staggering and bellowing in seeming agony long after their throats were cut.

The plant, run by Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville, Iowa, is being denounced as inhumane by the group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and by several experts on animal science and kosher practice.

But the plant's supervising rabbi said the tapes were "testimony that this is being done right." And representatives of the Orthodox Union, the leading organization that certifies kosher products, said that while the pictures were not pretty, they did not make the case that the slaughterhouse is violating kosher law.

The plant is the country's largest producer of meat certified as glatt kosher, the highest standard for cleanliness under kosher law. (Glatt means smooth, or free of the lung blemishes that might indicate disease.) Employing 600 people and selling under the popular Aaron's Best brand, it is the only American plant allowed to export to Israel.

On the 30-minute tape, each animal is placed in a rotating drum so it can be killed while upside down, as required by Orthodox rabbis in Israel. Immediately after the shochet, or ritual slaughterer, has slit the throat, another worker tears open each steer's neck with a hook and pulls out the trachea and esophagus. The drum rotates, and the steer is dumped on the floor. One after another, animals with dangling windpipes stand up or try to; in one case, death takes three minutes.

In most kosher plants, animals are tightly penned while their throats are slashed, and the organs are not torn; tearing by the shochet is forbidden under Jewish law. In nonkosher plants, animals by law must be made unconscious before they are killed.

Virtually all defenders of kosher slaughter, called shechita, insist that the prescribed rapid cut with a razor-sharp two-foot blade is humane because it causes instant and painless death. Jewish law also forbids killing injured or sick animals, so they may not be stunned first, either with clubs as in ancient times or with air hammers, pistols or electricity today.

Federal law considers properly conducted religious slaughter to be humane, and so allows Jewish as well as Muslim slaughterhouses to forgo stunning. But federal rules outlaw leaving animals killed that way conscious "for an extended period of time."

Rabbi Chaim Kohn, of the Agriprocessors plant, says the cows feel nothing, even as they struggle on the floor and slamm their heads into walls. "Unconsciousness and the external behavior of the animal have nothing to do with shechita," he said. Because the throat-tearing happens after the shochet's cut, he said, it does not render the animal nonkosher.

Other experts in kosher law were divided on the issue.

Rabbis Menachem Genack and Yisroel Belsky, the chief experts for the Orthodox Union, which certifies over 600,000 products as kosher - including Aaron's Best meats - said the killings on the tape, while "gruesome," appeared kosher because the shochet checked to make sure he had severed both the trachea and esophagus.

Scientific studies, Rabbi Belsky said, found that an animal whose brain had lost blood pressure when its throat was slit felt nothing and any motions it made were involuntary.

"The perfect model is the headless chicken running around," said Rabbi Genack.

Both rabbis said they were willing to revisit the plant and study whether tearing the throat or letting steers thrash on the ground violated Talmudic proscriptions against cruelty to animals.

The union, they said, prefers a type of pen designed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, in which steers are killed standing up with their weight supported. They were designed in the 1950's so American kosher plants could stop killing live animals suspended on chains, which was seen as both cruel and dangerous to the slaughterer.

But a spokesman for Shechita UK, a British lobbying group that defends ritual slaughter against the protests of animal-rights activists, said after watching the tape with a rabbi and a British shochet that he "felt queasy," and added,"I don't know what that is, but it's not shechita."

The spokesman, Shimon Cohen, said that in Britain an animal must be restrained for 30 seconds to bleed, and no second cut is allowed. Done correctly, he said, a shochet's cut must produce instantaneous unconsciousness, so Agriprocessors' meat could not be considered kosher.

Asked how prominent authorities could disagree over such a fundamental issue, he replied: "Well, we don't have a pope. You do find rabbis who interpret things in different ways."

Dr. Temple Grandin, a veterinarian at Colorado State University who designs humane slaughter plants, viewed the tape last week without knowing the location. She called it "an atrocious abomination, nothing like I've seen in 30 kosher plants I've visited here and in England, France, Ireland and Canada."

She said the throat-tearing violated federal anti-cruelty law. "Nothing in the Humane Slaughter Act says you can start dismembering an animal while it's still conscious," she said.

A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, which also certifies the plant, said it had not received the tapes yet and had no comment.

Rabbi Kohn, of Agriprocessors, said the throat-tearing was done only to speed bleeding. Recent Federal rules for slaughterhouse inspectors do recognize "the ritual cut and any additional cut to facilitate bleeding" as different from skinning or butchering, which is forbidden "until the animal is insensible."

The plant is at the center of a 2000 book, "Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America," by Stephen G. Bloom, which described the tensions in the tiny farming town between residents and Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn who took over its defunct slaughterhouse in 1987.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known as PETA, posted the tapes at GoVeg.com today and demanded that the plant be prosecuted for animal cruelty and decertified by kosher authorities. While the group advocates vegetarianism, it accepts that shechita can be relatively painless, said Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman.

Mr. Friedrich said that after two fruitless years of pressing Agriprocessors to improve conditions, PETA sent a volunteer to the plant with a hidden camera for seven weeks last summer.

The cameraman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had no trouble being hired (he was assigned to the sausage department) or filming during his lunch hours and on days he called in sick.

"I'm glad I did it," said the young man, who became a vegetarian and volunteered for undercover work two years ago after seeing a PETA videotape. "I wish people who eat meat could stand where I did and see the things I saw."

Meat from the Agriprocessors plant can end up in any market or restaurant. Because Jewish law requires that the sciatic nerves and certain fats be cut out, which tears up the meat until it can only be sold as hamburger, the hindquarters of virtually all kosher-killed steers are sold as conventional meat.

First snow

Here's some photos of the snow which is still hanging around by the way. In fact, the other night the temperature was below zero. Lee and I have been walking to the park the last three or four days and feeding the ducks and geese. We thought they might appreciate a little extra. Seems like we're not the only ones thinking that way. There was lots of food scattered near the trees and birds just laying around nibbling at it. Sorry. No photos of the ducks. Maybe tomorrow. They swarm and eat out of my hand but here's some nice photos of the park.

Reflections of a cockroach

I've finally updated the Cockroach Diary A lot's gone on in their little world since Ha'penny died. They even have a pet now, Edgar Beetle.



It snowed today. Good thing my daughter left yesterday. Sixty-nine flights were cancelled at the Reno airport due to equipment failure and poor visibility. Some people may be stranded here until Tuesday. On the up side, flights have been going on as usual around here.




Ghosttown Holiday

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you had a nice day. My daughter came home for the holiday. She wasn't feeling well when she arrived but cheerfully took all the herbal tea, vitamin C and aspirin I put before her. She's a great sport. On Tuesday, feeling a bit better, the three of us loaded into the Jeep for a little adventure. We visited Bodie, a ghosttown a few hours south of here.

(click on photos to enlarge)

Under the weather but ready to go.
Bodie is an eerie intersection with the past. Take, for example, the school house.

Within its one dusty classroom, desks, books, papers and belongings still sit as though the children stepped outside for recess one day and just never returned.

At the undertaker's, coffins still wait for people who have long since died.

Bodie's streets, hotel, general store,



and firehouse,

all await people and events that faded away long ago.

Lee doesn't like taking the same road both ways so we went home the back way, following a creek through the mountains and desert. It's a risky thing to do in November, but we live to tell the tale. It was great fun. On Thursday, we had a scrumptious, vegetarian feast and she left today. :(

But in three weeks we'll get together again for Christmas in Las Vegas! Woo-hoo!