Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I got a link to some interesting information from a good friend of mine, regarding animals in transport. I, of course, went and read the information and looked at the pictures. I can’t help but look at their eyes. The pigs, crammed together, literally standing their front hoofs on the back of others as their space is so limited, are transported by truck for thirty hours with no break, no water. I cannot tell you what it does to me to see these animals being treated like this. It is the most gut wrenching feeling to know that as I speak a chicken is being de-beaked and de-toed, cows are being castrated, pigs are being castrated and having their teeth pulled all without any kind of pain relief. I see the revolting and deplorable conditions that these animals must endure. What I find truly crushing is the little human contact these animals have goes beyond what we would consider barbaric. Most of the larger animals are lame due to their crappy diet, their confinement and lack of exercise. Especially pigs. Yet over and over again you see men walking on the backs of these animals in order to beat them down. I witnessed a worker beating and electrocuting a pig that had two broken legs, that had been fed for maximum pork production that was slipping and sliding on a concrete floor desperately trying to get away from his tormentor. It went on for an hour. I have seen men sodomizing pigs with electric rods, laughing hysterically as these animals contained in 2 x 2 enclosures of steel and concrete scream uncontrollably. I have seen cows being kicked and beaten mercilessly, chickens being thrown around and stomped and live baby chicks fed into a meat grinder.
I know that I am extraordinarily sensitive when it comes to animals. It is something that I refuse to be embarrassed about, as I believe it is the best part of me. My brother, Paul, once said that I was his hero because of it. That was one of the most monumental statements that anyone had ever said about me. I can’t seem to grasp the why. Why people do this to animals. I know that men in the military are often trained to dehumanize the enemy in order to do the things that they believe must be done to win wars, etc. I know that experiments have been done that demonstrate how much a person changes when given power over other individuals. I know that it is part of criminal profiling that a serial killer always has the torture of animals hidden somewhere in his childhood. It seems that there is plenty of evidence as to why and how but the move is not made to end it. We are decent, we say repeatedly, hard working, compassionate people. Yet we torture, maim and cruelly destroy billions of dependent beings every year.
Why have we allowed it to get this bad?
Why have we ignored that this is going on?
So many people still believe that independent farms carry the percentage of this and that is so not the case. I understand that a certain amount of marketing has lead many people to believe the un-truths. The loosening of the legislative and regulatory belts has certainly aided in the wanton and rampant infiltration of the absolute worst, for as we all know when gluttony is allowed to fester, unchecked, the worst possible of that particular world soon follows. We would never have mad cow disease if we didn’t feed cows other cows. We would never have the fear of bird flu if these animals weren’t kept in repugnant conditions. People just continue to shove this crap into their mouths while their health spirals dangerously out of control.
It’s cheaper.
I see.
Eating that 1.99 big mac is cheaper than an avocado, no beef roast, tofutti American cheese, lettuce, soy mayonnaise and wheat bread, you are so right.
But the cost to your health?
The cost to your waistline?
The cost to your children’s health?
It’s going to get you in the end. The sorriest part of all this is looking at the inner city. Like a rubber stamp, every impoverished area is the same. Concrete. Liquor store. Steel. Small grocer that sells predominantly processed food, beer and cigarettes. Glass. Bar/Club. Trash and pollution. Fast food place. No grocery stores. I saw a special some time ago that really brought the dilemma into crystal clear view. Most of the impoverished neighborhoods house people that do not have cars. They are limited to what is in their immediate area, at home or at work. Many people have to take the bus through several transfers to get to a full service grocery store. They have to consider that everything needs to make it back in one piece after an hour of transportation. Consider your current situation. You get a cart. You fill it up. You pay for it. You push the cart to your car and unload. If you are polite, you return the cart to the store. You then drive home and unload your groceries from the car to the house. The actual time it takes for you to get home and unload is what? 15 minutes? Imagine having to carry everything. You would only be able to carry two maybe four bags. Then imagine standing there waiting for a bus. Then a transfer. Then another transfer. Then the walk home.
What’s the likelihood that you will buy anything fresh that will cause you to have to go back through that entire ordeal within the week. You buy things that last – canned, boxed or frozen. Unlikely frozen because of the thawing. So, really canned, bottled or boxed. Most of this stuff is not the best stuff for you. The number one place to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in these places is the fast food restaurant. It’s cheap. It’s local. You can buy it and get it home. It’s do-able. There seems to be an effort by co-ops to bring real, nutritious, healthy and whole food to inner city areas, but there is a mind set. So many people do not believe that a meal without meat is a real meal. They also don’t know about all the incredible changes that have made being vegan so much easier. I remember becoming a vegetarian about twenty years ago. OMG! There was nothing. Tofu? Gag. I didn’t know how to prepare it and I might as well have gotten two pieces of bread and shoved a toilet roll between. Add a little mayo and it would have been tastier.
Now there are so many alternatives. I made chicken enchiladas for my extended family on Memorial Day with fake chicken – Meal Starters from Morningstar. The number one comment was that the consistency was so similar to chicken, and they disappeared. The kids ate them! And no arsenic – like in real chicken – so there’s a bigger bonus! There are ground beef substitutes, there are egg replacers, beef strips, roast, Cajun chicken, ham or wham, boloney, turkey, tofurkey. All at regular grocery stores. Kroger. Randalls. HEB. Target. Walmart (I hear – I refuse to go there). The vegetarians and vegans are infiltrating the mainstream! They are doing renovations at my local Kroger and I was a bit concerned because they have a great “Nature’s Market” section that I always feel I am the only one patronizing. Geez! Were they going to get rid of it?
They expanded it!
They are offering about a third to a half more than before. Fabulous.
I often get asked, if the animals were treated humanely, would I eat meat or cheese or milk or eggs? I used to say, yes, I would. But I don’t believe I would now. I do miss some things. Chocolate for instance. And cheese. But the cost simply isn’t worth it right now. And I have come to realize that I feel better not just bodily but spiritually. I have to exercise everyday, but I don’t have the constant battle meat-eaters have. I don’t have to worry so much about my cholesterol or my heart. I feel incredibly well. And I have such a fondness for animals that I could never eat one again. No matter how nice someone was to it. I’m nice to my dogs, does that mean I would be ok with eating one of them? Would you?
The other question I get is – what would we do with all those animals? Just let them go? Well, first, we have created quite the dilemma for ourselves. The animals used for human consumption are not well, or rather healthy, beings. Removed from incarceration and from the continuous onslaught of drugs, hormones, poisons, and other additives these animals would do well upon release. But I find it such an odd question. I can’t help but equate the warehousing of animals now to the concentration camps of the Holocaust. Not that Jews in any way shape or form are equitable to animals, I am specifically talking about the way these people were stacked on top of each other, crammed in like so many units of inorganic matter. Forced to work endlessly, beaten, starved, experimented on – these people were subjected to an attitude of dehumanization. I can’t help but wonder if that ever crossed anyone’s mind. Well, if we shut down these concentration camps, what will we do with all those people? Golly, I don’t know, maybe, shucks, give them back some dignity? Maybe a meal or two? A bath. Some clean clothes. And a sliver of comfort and compassion. That’s not so hard. Seems like such a heartless thought, really. Better to keep them trapped in their own feces, on concrete floors, in darkness, crammed together in ammonia choked warehouses than to release them. Doesn’t it? Look at some of these hoarders – the people that “collect” animals. Some of these people have hundreds of animals running rampant in the house, and never allowed out. Is the answer to keep them there? Not take care of the situation? There are plenty of organizations and groups and individuals that would happily take in factory farm survivors. The thing is, these animals are being forced into unnatural breeding cycles. They are artificially impregnated. Once we allow nature to do what nature does best the numbers will diminish. These animals will eventually return to the calm, lawn mowing herbivores that they are.
So, try, won’t you? Try to replace one meal a week with some new meat replacement. If you hate it, try something else. Then try to do it more often. A vegetarian saves like 96 animals a year.
That’s a lot of animals. You can do it. And you’ll feel better. And one day, one day, I’ll be able to close my eyes as I drift off to sleep with the knowledge that the nightmare has ended for billions of animals.

We’ll all sleep better then.
Quick shout out to the bush administration for ending the silly machismo goofiness with Iran and acting like big people.
Holla! Now just work it out.

Once again, sigh, back to the melodrama created by the X. Every year he has to let me know by April 1st when he will have the boys over the summer holidays. Once I get that, I have until April 15th to pick a weekend during that time to pick them up and drop them off and another weekend during the summer that he would normally have them (1st, 3rd, or 5th) that I choose to keep them home.
Sounds so incredibly simple.
I get a letter from him stating when he will have the boys on March 30th and on April 8th I send a letter saying I will have the weekend of June 9 – 11 to come pick them up and drop them off. Please let me know as soon as possible if the address or location is different than the home address.

Easy. Simple.
That’s April 8th.
On May 27th he comes to pick the boys up for the first half of their summer visit. Half an hour later, Josh calls. Whispering, he tells me that X had told him they were going to a dude ranch…….that’s right…..a dude ranch from June 8th through the 12th, that he had informed me and that I would not be driving all that way to pick them up.

A. I never received notification.
B. I would drive all that way to pick them up.

I tell him not to worry, thanks for the call and I would figure something out. The next day I get an email from Josh with the name of the dude ranch. We call the owners of the dude ranch.

The stepmother called on April 12th….yes, that’s correct, four days after I had notified them and three days before the deadline for my declaration that I was going to choose the weekend of June 9 – 11, they, in turn, call a dude ranch and make arrangements to be out of town on my weekend.
And this is from someone who is screaming poverty, thus the $300 per month in child support for two teenage boys .
Now, if this were some kind anomaly that would be one thing. But last year it was remarkably similar.
First he claimed that I had missed the 15th deadline, having received it on the 16th. It goes by the postmark.
Then he said that he was going to be in Colombia. Interesting since I have the passports and he has to get my ok.
I chose a different weekend and he said that it was, as I knew (NOT!), that it was his birthday weekend. I told him that I couldn’t find in the orders where it stipulated anything regarding his birthday overriding my choice, so that was that.
He takes the boys to New Orleans. During my weekend.

It’s all so pathetic. It could be different and it was for the two years he had a flash of conscience and made an effort for the boys, but that ended and now we have this preposterousness. And it wouldn’t even be so bad, if it didn’t affect the boys so much. How abysmal is it that I have to get this information from my 14 year old son? And that he called knowing innately that his dad was lying and needing to forewarn me about their not being at his dad's when I came to pick them up?
I got a letter today.
"during the weekend you have designated (June 9 - 11) to interrupt my extended summer possession with the boys we will be at the Silver Spur Ranch in Bandera Texas."
Sent May 30th. Over a month and a half after the reservations had been made.
Interrupt? What a bonehead.
We go to court on June 19th….I wonder if we should bring this up…hmmmm.
I don’t rejoice at the thought of my youngest graduating high school in five years, but the idea of having to never interact with their dad again upon his graduation makes me salivate.
That will be a day of incredible celebration.
I think we will take a family vacation.
I can guarantee that it will not be at a dude ranch.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Calling all STUDENTS, TEACHERS & ALUMNI from UH, Rice, St. Thomas, UTHSC, HBU, Baylor, HCC … AND employees of large corporations with meal services.

Friend, did you know that laying hens are arguably the most abused animals in all agribusiness? About 95% of these roughly 300 million hens in the United States are confined in barren, wire "battery cages" so restrictive the birds don't even have enough space to spread their wings. With no opportunity to engage in many of their natural behaviors, including nesting, dust bathing, perching, and foraging, these birds endure lives wrought with suffering.
We at In Solidarity with Animals, on behalf of The Humane Society of the United States, are asking that you fly to the aid of these tortured hens by influencing your school to purchase eggs only from suppliers that do not use battery cages.
Important note: ISWA strongly urges each and every one of you to Go Vegan! and drop eggs from your diet entirely (as there is always needless suffering associated with mass egg production). However, we feel this campaign to phase out battery cages could potentially alleviate a great deal of the horror endured by these poor birds.
HSUS will do most of the presentation and educating of food service management, but they need YOUR internal influence and representation. Most schools are very open to the idea as you can see from the list of colleges that made the simple cruelty free transition in the brief letter below. Summer is the best time to get this project underway.
So please respond to this email if you are affiliated with any school! Simply state the school, your contact information and any other pertinent information such as the food service supplier (if possible).
For more information, please read below and visit and click “No Battery Eggs”.
Thank you,

In Solidarity with Animals

Close to 100 college campuses have already switched to serving cage-free eggs. The list includes University of Wisconsin, Yale, University ofIowa, Tufts, Dartmouth, American University and many others. Pleasehelp put Texas schools on the map by helping to include area schools inthe growing number of progressive schools making socially responsiblepurchasing decisions. As you are aware, egg-laying hens within batterycages are given roughly the space of half a sheet of paper to live their entire lives. Of all animals subjected to intensive factory farming,egg-laying hens have it the worst by far.
The Humane Society of the United States can help you get your school on the ever-growing list of schools that have gone cage-free. Please call Alyson Powers (UH grad and former Houstonian) at 301-721-6422 or For more information, please access and click No Battery Eggs. We can also work together if you have connections with a college outside of Houston or want to approach your high school or place
of employment.Alyson PowersOutreach CoordinatorFactory Farming CampaignThe Humane Society of the United States2100 L St., NWWashington, DC 20037301-721-6422

Friday, May 26, 2006

I watched Democracy Now! this morning on Link TV with Amy Goodman. The main topic was Enron but during the headline news segments, a surprising thing happened. I was able to witness, for the first time since his selection by the Supreme Court to be our president, bush as a human being. He admitted that the mistake he made was saying things like “bring it on!” and “dead or alive”. Now it wasn’t the actual verbiage, it was the demeanor, he genuinely seemed remorseful. It was something I had been waiting to see. Then he said that another one was Abu-Garbled (literally, it was hard to understand what he said), “we’ve been paying for that for a long time.” Sigh. The moment was nice, but oh-so fleeting.

Then on to Enron. There were some information on there that made Josh and I look at each other with expressions of “wha..?” They had all the goods. Here are some of the facts I learned:

  • FDR set up a policy that oil and gas industries, major industries, cannot be donors to political funds. That said, Enron was the biggest contributor to the bush candidacy and subsequent presidency.
  • Lay and Skilling were not indicted on their major crimes. They were indicted on the same kind of charges as, say, a mafia boss. Machine gun hits etc. are much harder to prove than tax fraud (primarily because of the paper trail).
  • Jeb Bush (before becoming governor of Florida) went to Argentina to convince them to accept Enron’s bids, even though they were low, for their energy business.
  • Neil Bush was on the Enron’s payroll.
  • Bush, while president, received a list of three men that Lay wanted as his overseers, regulators if you will, in the hope that one would be selected. All three were selected to be on the Energy Commission.
  • This was not the first time this had happened. When bush was governor, Lay made this request ““Here's the guy I want to be my regulator, the cop that's supposed to be watching me,” and sure enough, he was appointed.
  • Bush had a meeting with the dictator of Uzbekistan in order to secure the contracts for water and oil services for Enron.
  • The bush/enron relationship goes back to the bush number one.
  • There are audio tapes of Enron employees telling plant operators to “shut down” plants in order to drive up prices of energy to California.

I was going to link to the website with the entire transcript of the show. But I think this this is so notable that I am copying it so that you read the exchange. There are two things that I got out of this:

1.The atmosphere presented as “exposed” by the media to the American people is a ruse. This does not end anything. In fact, I had no idea that the law firm that went after Enron is now being prosecuted in a clear attempt to dissuade anyone in revealing the very real mafia type environment of the energy world today. Tony Soprano? P-shaw. How very “street” that appears to me now. This is so much more complicated, subversive and evil.

2. There is a clear parallel between this administration and the corporate environment embodied by Enron.

I plan on getting Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast. I think it will be incredibly revealing.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the things that wasn't addressed very much yesterday, though there was wall-to-wall coverage of the trial and the verdict that came down yesterday for Skilling and for Lay -- Ken Lay found guilty on every count -- is the connection between President Bush and Enron. Enron founder Ken Lay and his family rank among President Bush's biggest financial backers of his political career. The family donated about $140,000 to Bush's political campaigns in Texas and for the White House.
The President personally nicknamed Ken Lay “Kenny Boy.” Overall, Enron employees gave Bush some $600,000 in political donations. According to the Center for Public Integrity, this made Enron Bush's top career donor, a distinction the company maintained until 2004. Shortly after Bush took office in 2001, Vice President Cheney met with Enron officials while he was developing the administration's energy policies. Our guest, Greg Palast, examined the connections between Enron and the Bush administration in his documentary, Bush Family Fortunes.
GREG PALAST: Even before he takes the presidential oath, Bush forms a secret task force, including Enron's Ken Lay to rewrite America's environmental and energy laws.
CRAIG McDONALD: He put the very people who funded him in the room to devise a clean air policy. They wrote the policy. He enacted the policy and the policy was strictly voluntary, did nothing to clean up the air, yet he touted it as a major accomplishment.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Instead of the government telling utilities where and how to cut pollution, we will give them a firm deadline and let them find the most innovative ways to meet it.
CRAIG McDONALD: These same funders were sick and tired of trying to play by the environmental rules and regulations. George Bush gave them an environmental clean air policy that any corporation would lust after.
JIM HIGHTOWER: How proud we are to be the number one state in the country in air pollution.
CRAIG McDONALD: Ken Lay, got almost total complete energy deregulation out of George Bush.
JIM HIGHTOWER: What did the Bush administration do? It refused to impose price controls to put a cap on those utility prices, meaning a company like Enron could set its own prices to consumers.
CORPORATE EXECUTIVE: Show me the money! Show me the money!
CRAIG McDONALD: He was delivering a favor in a policy that the donors who put him in that office want.
JIM HIGHTOWER: Consumers in California were being stiffed, and Enron was raking in hundreds of millions of dollars during that period in corrupt profits. So that's a pretty good payback.
GREG PALAST: But Enron squandered their California windfall in a series of spectacular frauds which imploded, leaving thousands jobless and pensioners bankrupt. Now, George tried to downplay his links with Enron's Ken Lay and other corrupt bosses.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: By far, the vast majority of CEOs in America are good honorable, honest people. In the corporate world, sometimes things aren't exactly black and white when it comes to accounting procedures, and the SEC's job is to rev -- is to look and is to determine whether or not, whether or not, whether or not the decision by the auditors was the appropriate decision.
JIM HIGHTOWER: Ken Lay, whom George W. fondly called “Kenny Boy,” was the major campaign contributor to George W. Bush, and they exchanged Christmas cards with each other. Ken Lay was very personal, very close with the Bush family.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I do know that Mr. Lay came to the White House in -- early in my administration along with, I think, twenty other business leaders to discuss the state of the economy. It was just kind of a general discussion. I have not met with him personally.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the BBC's Bush Family Fortunes, produced by our guest and author today, Greg Palast, author of Armed Madhouse. Care to elaborate?
GREG PALAST: Well, yeah. I mean, you heard the traders saying that Ken Lay, being number one donor, was going to become Secretary of State. That's not what Lay wanted. Lay had a bigger wish list.
AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of Energy.
GREG PALAST: Excuse me, Secretary of Energy. He wanted to name the electricity cops, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, so Ken Lay secretly gave Dick Cheney a list of three names. Now, you have to understand, Al Capone used to have to buy off the cops. Here's Ken Lay trying to get them appointed. He said, “Here's three good choices for chairman of the commission that's supposed to regulate me.” Right? That he already knew that he was being asked for the $9 billion back, right?
Anyway, George Bush gave him a real extraordinary Christmas gift. He appointed all three guys to the Energy Commission. So Lay appoints his own regulators, and he did this before in Texas, when George, when George Bush was Governor of Texas, when George Bush says he didn't know Ken Lay, and I've got a letter in Armed Madhouse showing a note from Ken Lay saying, “Here's the guy I want to be my regulator, the cop that's supposed to be watching me,” and sure enough, Governor George Bush appoints Ken Lay's personal cop.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring back in Robert Bryce, author of Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego and the Death of Enron. You are in the state, you’re in Texas, where it all began, where the relationship between Ken Lay, Enron and the Bush family began. Can you talk more about this issue that is not very much addressed in the media, though they are covering the story, of course, of the verdict.
ROBERT BRYCE: Well, remember that the Enron and Ken Lay connection to the Bush family precedes George W. Bush. Ken Lay was a donor to the presidential campaign of George the first, George H.W. Bush, when he ran for president in 1980, and Lay was also involved in and had close ties in the Reagan administration when they deregulated the natural gas market. So, you know, this was not by any means any kind of a secret here in Texas. Enron was pushing deregulation in Texas, they were pushing deregulation in California, etc.
If I can just mention one thing in terms of California, you know, I take Mr. Palast's point about all of these companies, you know, gaming the market in California. That's all true, and they all certainly did. Many of them have paid fines, they haven't faced criminal charges, which I think they should, but remember that was largely a product of the fact that the California legislature opened the market, and they did so in a shoddy manner that allowed it to be game. So I'm not excusing any of the activity here, but there's enough blame to go around here, in terms of what happened in California, and some of that was due to simply poorly written laws that occurred in California.
Now, what happened, though, with regard to the Bush administration and Enron? Well, it's clear, remember, it's six years ago, six years and a month, when George W. Bush was at Enron Field at the opening day of Enron Field, watching a Houston Astros game in the box seats owned by Ken Lay. I mean, this is a relationship that's long and deep.
Once Bush gets elected, what happens in early 2001, when the power market in California starts to -- I mean, where the, you know, the price gouging is obvious, prices are skyrocketing, Ken Lay gets a personal meeting with Dick Cheney and briefs him on their goal, which was not to have the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission intervene in the California power market. When you look at the records of those meetings, you see that when Cheney comes out of the meeting, he then has an interview with the Los Angeles Times either the next day or following day, and he repeats virtually the very same talking points that Ken Lay handed to him, which were, “Don't intervene. We believe in the free market. Let's let the free market figure out what the price or proper price of power in California is.”
Well, so, in fact, the FERC didn't intervene. They stayed out of the market for another two months. Billions more were -- of costs were imposed on California consumers. But then, what happened finally, the FERC intervened in June of 2001, imposed soft price caps, and the entire power market collapsed. Price sanity returned to the market, because the federal government showed that it was willing to intervene, and that was what that whole market had been waiting for for months was some kind of federal intervention. And that's where I think the corruption has really occurred, clearly was that Lay got access to Cheney and Cheney and the Bush administration led the FERC or instructed the FERC not to intervene, and that cost California dearly.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Robert Bryce, author of Pipe Dreams and Greg Palast, author of Armed Madhouse. Both men have followed Enron and the Bush dynasty for years. Robert Bryce talking to us from Texas, Greg Palast here with us in New York. We're going to go to break, and when we come back, we're going to play a clip of the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, talking about Enron and the Bushes, and what that has to do with this regime in Uzbekistan, and then a clip of Alex Gibney's film, Smartest Guys in the Room. Yes, it's about Enron.
AMY GOODMAN: Enron's influence reached as far as Uzbekistan. In January, we interviewed the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. He spoke about the relationship between President Bush and the Uzbek regime of President Karimov.
CRAIG MURRAY: It goes back to before George Bush became President. In 1997 or 1998, George Bush, as Governor of Texas, had a meeting with the Uzbek ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Safayev, which was actually organized and set up by Kenneth Lay of Enron. And if you go to my
website, you can find a facsimile of Kenneth Lay's letter to George Bush, telling him to meet Ambassador Safayev in order to conclude a billion-dollar gas deal between Uzbekistan and Enron. And that was the start of the Bush relationship with the Karimov regime.
Karimov is one of the most vicious dictators in the world, a man who is responsible for the death of thousands of people. Prisoners are boiled to death in Uzbek jails. And he was a guest in the White House in 2002. It's very easy to find photos of George Bush shaking Karimov's hand.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, that is the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, in our Democracy Now! studios. And for people who are listening on the radio, you can go to our website at to see the photographs of the leaders of Uzbekistan shaking the hands of President Bush. Greg Palast, your response?
GREG PALAST: You have to understand that Enron is an international conspiracy locked up very tightly with the Bush family. You have to understand that not only was a call made to the dictator of Uzbekistan, but Jeb Bush called up the finance minister of Argentina to fix a deal and said even though Enron was low bidder for the natural gas of Argentina, Jeb Bush called and said, you know, “My father has just been elected president of the free world.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is before Jeb Bush was Florida governor?
GREG PALAST: Before he was governor. This is George's brother. And what Jeb was saying is “My father would very much appreciate if you would give Enron the deal.” And the finance minister was just floored. He thought that this was being muscled into giving away Argentina's resources to some guy he’s never heard of: Ken Lay. This is Jeb Bush. Neil Bush then goes on the payroll of Enron to sell the Saudis water systems for Enron. You have to understand that literally the Bush family has been kind of an armed sales force for Enron, and an empowered sales force, sometimes on the payroll, sometimes just in office and the gimme is, of course, the huge political donations.
And that really hasn't been touched in the U.S. papers, the huge international reach of Enron, including, by the way, Mr. Tony Blair, where I broke a story there about Enron's influence with the Blair government, that huge amount of money was paid into the Labour Party to allow Enron to bust the rules to allow them to build power plants in England. I mean, Tony Blair had a lot to answer for, but that story was covered there.
AMY GOODMAN: I didn't hear these questions asked last night in the news conference with Tony Blair and George Bush, who were having a kind of mini-summit in Washington, D.C.
GREG PALAST: Yes, very mini. Yeah, no, Tony Blair is also completely mobbed up with Enron. I mean, I pretended, I went undercover and was able to virtually buy Tony Blair's Cabinet back in 1998. It was a big scandal. I won the equivalent of Britain's Pulitzer Prize for it. It's in the book. And basically I pretended to be an Enron representative, consultant, and the doors literally opened. I was invited right into 10 Downing Street. All I had do was say “Enron.” It was like “abracadabra.” But it was all about cutting secret private deals. And they said, “Well, you know, we just had your guys in, and we've already given them xyz. We’ve given them waivers on the power plants.” And I was like --
AMY GOODMAN: Were you wired?
GREG PALAST: I was wired, yes. And unfortunately for Tony Blair, I was wired. And when he called me a liar on the floor of the House of Commons, we said, “Well, let's listen to the audio tape.” But, you know, that's not done here in the U.S. I mean, at the same time that we were busting Enron over there, the U.S. press here was acting like Ken Lay, like especially writers like Thomas Friedman of the Times, like he was, you know, Elvis on a pogo stick. He was bringing the wonders of the free market to electricity, this guy who was basically leading -- like I say, you have to understand it's a mob. And one thing I am very discouraged at, reading the coverage, it's all about symbol of an era, as if it's gone, as if under George Bush that era is over. No, that era is beginning. Okay, they got rid of the guy who kicked it off. They had to. He went too far. But the whole gang is still operating. That's one of the big evils.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn now to an excerpt of the documentary, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. It's based on the book by the same name by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. In this excerpt, Enron founder Ken Lay talks about the state of Enron to a room full of Enron employees. The date was October 22, 2001, a week after the Securities and Exchange Commission sent a letter to Enron asking for information on the company's third quarter losses.
KEN LAY: As you can, of course, see the underlying fundamentals of our businesses are very strong, indeed the strongest they've ever been. But regrettably, that's not what Wall Street is focusing on, and I doubt that's what you're focusing on. This inquiry will take a lot of time on the part of our accountants and lawyers and others, but it will finally put these issues to rest.
NARRATOR: At the very moment Ken Lay was talking to employees, only a few blocks away, Enron's accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, had begun destroying its Enron files. On October 23, Andersen shredded more than one ton of paper.
KEN LAY: Despite the rumors, despite the speculation, the company is doing well, both financially and operationally.
SHERRON WATKINS: He was making all kinds of statements, reassuring employees, and not just employees, reassuring investors we have no accounting irregularities, the company is in the best shape it's ever been in.
KEN LAY: From the standpoint of Enron stock, we're going to bring it back. We're going to bring it back. All right, we're down to questions, and I’ve got a few up here. “I would like to know if you are on crack. If so, that would explain a lot. If not, you may want to start, because it's going to be a long time before we trust you again.”
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: It certainly wasn’t clear to anyone at Enron, much less anyone outside of Enron. It wasn't really clear what was going on or what was going to happen.
KEN LAY: I know this is a lot -- there's a lot of speculation about Andy’s involvement. I and the board are also sure that Andy has operated in the most ethical and appropriate manner possible.
NARRATOR: The next day, Andy Fastow was fired, when the Enron board discovered that he had made more than $45 million from his LJM partnerships.
REP. JIM GREENWOOD: The question, Mr. Fastow, is how could you believe that your actions were in any way consistent with your fiduciary duties to Enron and its shareholders or with common sense notions of corporate ethics and propriety? How do you answer, sir?
ANDREW FASTOW: Mr. Chairman, on the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer the questions, based on the protection afforded me under the United States Constitution.
SHERRON WATKINS: Andy, in many ways, I think he was set up as the fall guy. All of the Enron executives were saying, “There's your man, Andy Fastow. He's the crook. You know, he's the one that stole from Enron, stole from LJM> He's the one that cooked the books. Go after him.”
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I’ve thought about this and thought about this, and it couldn't have just been a few executives at Enron that made this happen. If you think of the banks involved, Chase, Morgan, Citibank, the billions in loans, Arthur Andersen. What about Vinson & Elkins, the lawyers that represented us? There had to have been complicity across the board, because it was all too easy.
AMY GOODMAN: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, an excerpt. It was produced and directed by Alex Gibney. Our guests are Robert Bryce, Pipe Dreams, and Greg Palast, Armed Madhouse. Greg, this is the point you were making about it being larger than Enron.
GREG PALAST: Yeah. I mean, basically the co-conspirators, the rest of the mob, was breaking out champagne yesterday, because they said, “We're off the hook.” This should have been the beginning of new indictments, and like I say, the only new indictment are the guys that went after Enron, the law firm that sued Enron for its shenanigans. Milberg Weiss was put up. It was clearly political prosecution to say “We're going to go after the guys who went after Enron,” and yet you heard the list. You had the law firm Vinson & Elkins, you had Arthur Andersen, you had a whole crew of characters who got off scot-free here.
And what's even worse is that the game continues. See, the last Ken Lay -- and this is important to understand -- was a guy named Sam Insull. In 1930, all those companies called Edison were actually started by Sam, who was the Ken Lay of his time, watered the stock, played games with the books, overcharged customers. F.D.R. came into office, had the guy busted, but even more, he says, “I’m not just going after the criminal. I’m going after the crime.” And F.D.R. changed the law to say we're going to prohibit price gouging by these power pirates. We are going to prohibit them from flickering the light switches. They keep those lights on. No more freezing Grandma Millie, okay? And third -- this is the big one -- the law under Franklin Roosevelt said you cannot make political donations if you're a big power company.
Now, Ken Lay slithered around that to give the big bucks to the Bush family. I mean, the law says they can't do that, you have to understand. He was the number one giver, when the law says you can't give. And in 2005, Bush made it official by repealing the F.D.R. Public Utility Holding Company Act, which barred these contributions by power companies to politicians. In other words, basically they just opened up the game, they threw Lay and Skilling to the dogs, to the crowd, and the game continues on.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Bryce, you talk extensively about the similarities between the Bush administration and Enron.
ROBERT BRYCE: Sure. Let me make one point I think that we've missed here. It's not just the Bush administration, as well. I mean, Congress had a hand in allowing Enron to do what it did. Let's look at the case of Phil Graham. Phil Graham was the one who carried legislation that allowed Enron to do a lot of the things it did and avoid federal oversight at the same time that his wife, Wendy, was on Enron’s board.
AMY GOODMAN: Phil Graham, the former Texas senator.
ROBERT BRYCE: Former senator from Texas. So Enron had tremendous power in Congress, as well, that allowed it to operate with a free hand in the energy trading business and to operate really as an unregulated commodities broker, an unregulated commodities exchange.
AMY GOODMAN: Just one second, because I spoke over you. I spoke over you. The former Texas senator Phil Graham's wife, Wendy, say again her role.
ROBERT BRYCE: She was on the board at Enron at the same time that Graham was in the Senate sponsoring legislation that benefited Enron. Not only did Graham not recuse himself, he sponsored legislation that effectively allowed Enron to operate as an unregulated commodities exchange. So, I mean, there's plenty of -- Enron's money corrupted a lot of elements of government, and it wasn’t just the Bush administration. I’m not saying that to excuse the Bush administration, because, I mean, when you look at Enron and you look at the Bush administration, you see the similarities. Both operated with this clear idea that they were going to change the world, that the world was going to follow their new business model and that that was going to change the world forever.
What else? Well, they launched brutal attacks on anybody who doubted any of their programs. They had huge surges in debt that they covered up with creative accounting. We see that now with the Bush administration, creating some of the largest deficits in American history of any presidency in American history, and also just this idea that they were on a religious mission. This was -- their business model was going to change the world. No one could doubt them. Anyone who did was immediately cast aside. And in a word, it's the same commodity, the same trait that brought down Enron is the defining trait of the Bush administration, and that's hubris. It’s the Greeks’ fatal flaw. And I think that that clearly came home to roost with Lay and Skilling, and I think eventually it’s going to come home to roost with the Bush administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast.
GREG PALAST: Well, what you have here is economic political gangsterism, which has now seized control of the government. You can't look at it any other way. We have a system in which basically, instead of -- that basically, just like the mob, is able the rewrite the laws, pick the judges. They have decriminalized what we call deregulation, Ken lay's great gift to America, deregulation of industry. And it's not just electricity, okay, it's deregulation of industry. His great gift is really decriminalization of price gouging, of monopoly abuse, of economic abuse. These guys still have California by the light bulbs, and as deregulation disease is spreading across the nation, still 24 states have deregulated their power markets. The march continues on.
And you have to understand the other problems that have occurred here. It used to be that these guys had to keep the lights on and keep track of the money that they took from you to keep your lights on. Well, that game is over now. We had a blackout, if you remember, a couple years ago, and that was because these companies had literally sucked the cash out of these firms and fired all their workers to keep the money that you pay to keep your lights on. And Bush's response and Dick Cheney's response and Congress's response was further deregulation; that is, further decriminalization of sucking the money and lifeblood out of these power companies. So, this is just -- you have to understand, is that basically what we've done is we’ve decriminalized the rip-off of the consumer.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, in the last few seconds we have, Robert Bryce, author of Pipe Dreams, the workers, what do they gain by all of this?
ROBERT BRYCE: Well, the workers at Enron gain nothing. I mean, you know, they gained a little bit of satisfaction, but I know a lot of these people who are former Enron employees, some of them I know still haven't been able to find work after losing not only their jobs, their life savings, and in many cases their reputations. Just having worked at Enron became a blot on their resume. So I think in Houston and here in Texas, I think there's a lot of satisfaction to see Lay and Skilling convicted. But if I can just add one other thing, this game isn't over yet. There's certain to be an appeal, and there's a possibility of an overturn here, because of the judge's jury instructions, which were fairly open-ended and were similar to the instructions given in the Arthur Andersen trial, which was then overturned at the Supreme Court, so while I’m pleased --
AMY GOODMAN: I'm sorry, we're going to have to leave it there, Robert Bryce, author of Pipe Dreams, Greg Palast, author of Armed Madhouse. Skilling and Lay will be sentenced on September 11th

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Being a parent is so weird. When they are toddlers and little guys you are all about keeping them near you, not letting them out of your sight, monitoring their intake of food, entertainment, external stimuli. Then they hit middle school and you can physically see them, like baby eagles stretching their wings in mock flight, moving towards independence.

It’s just after eight thirty in the evening on the last day of school, and both of my boys are elsewhere. And I couldn’t be happier. They are out amongst their own exercising their social muscles and interacting.

This has been an incredible year. Cody has been through such monumental changes, physically, mentally and emotionally. Being thirteen is so complicated. He has always had a grace socially, finding the positives in each person and managing to overlook the negatives. He is all boy, yet has found a balance with his softer side that makes him the boy all the girls really like. But he has made huge leaps in his belief in himself academically. We have had hardcore arguments and depth defying conversations. I think I finally got through to him on the whole “school” issue. I told him to think about college. Not just college but college girls. And having his own “place”. With no parents. This seemed to spark a sudden affinity for studying that I wished I had discovered at the beginning of the year. It could have meant honor roll.
Josh has been an academic machine – all honors and AP courses, only one high B with the rest A’s. Amazing really, for a freshman at 14. His English teacher has asked him to be on the debate team next year. But he has started talking about being in a band. And about Shawna. The girl he actually walked out of the building with today. Smiling. Now this might not seem like a big deal to most. But you have to understand that Josh barely makes eye contact with anyone. I remember seeing him in the halls in middle school and he literally walked, fast, along the wall. His shoulder actually touched the wall. He is a deeply sensitive guy. And he wounds easily. He also holds onto grief. He was born with an distrust that I noticed almost immediately. He walked really early, nine months. We would go to the park and he wouldn’t go to other kids. He would wait until they left their toys in the sand and he would sidle up with one eye affixed to the owner, until he made contact. This at barely ten months. Then the X and I divorced. And little guy Josh saw that as dad leaving. Then his best friend, the one that he invested everything into, moved away. Another friend moved away, and again this year one of the guys he actually said he could see being friends with, is moving to Thailand. Friends leave with a piece of him and he is left feeling, well, incomplete. We have talked pretty extensively about investing in friendships, accepting others as they are, etc. and he truly seems to be trying to dunk the big toe into the water. Today he called a friend and asked him over but the friend said that his family was barbequing. Cody and I both saw the sadness and disappointment wash over his face and I knew that Cody wished he could fix it, just as I did.
But two hours later the phone rang, and it was an invitation to the barbeque. First words out of Josh’s mouth – is there anything vegetarian?
I am making cutting motions across my neck, Cody has his palms on his temples with a “what are you DOING!” look on his face.
I’m just kiddin’. Josh says with a smile, I’ll see you in a minute. Off he went, on his bike.
Cody is at the local hangout carousing with his pack of soon to be eight grade studs.Life is good.
Justice thus Peace
You know, I didn’t sit in on the trial. I didn’t hear all the evidence. But to me the only thing that mattered in this whole Enron debacle was one thing – the selling off of stock while telling employees that not only could they not sell theirs but they should be buying more. That was it. That in of itself said corporate greed. You can look at Home Depot’s plummeting share prices while paying the CEO triple digit millions in pay and see that not much has changed. The usual shrug and eyebrow raise with a “what do you do?’ and “it’s all about the shareholder” is a load of crap. It’s all about those at the top taking as much as they can possibly shove into their pockets, socks and undergarments at the buffet while others are still waiting in line for table scraps. These are the same people that dismiss people who are plunging into poverty because the medical insurance they had doesn’t happen to cover the illness they chose to get. These are the same people that call illegal immigrants felons because they “cut to the front of the line”. Yet they would be outraged if they had to wait for anything. This isn’t class envy, this is corporate greed disgust. Don’t mix the two. They are completely different. I look at those with a lot of money as just that. People with a lot of money. My fundamental concern has been and always will be – how are you improving the world? Not just to rich people but to everyone. I get inspired by people like Ludacris who rocketed to hiphop fame and opened a foundation to benefit others. I hail men who come out of prison or gangs and try to change attitudes in rough neighborhoods. I thank God for those that lay their heart, their life, their livelihood on the line for others. It is what sustains me. People who take time to do something good for other people. Taking someone to the doctor. Visiting someone in the hospital or nursing home. Foster parents. Adoptive parents. Volunteering kids. Awesome.
To see Skilling and Lay get what they deserve, that is salvation in my mind. That these guys didn’t somehow sidestep the karma landmine because of some high priced lawyering, warms my heart. I wish they could have set an amazing precedent and saved all of us millions of dollars prosecuting them, by just saying – we did it - but that might be asking too much in an era when people try to make a quick buck. This to me is the message – if you are going to reap the rewards of a business, grace the cover of magazines and boast in articles about your incredible success, you better be willing to pay the piper when the whole figment of imagination evaporates. Pointing at the media as the culprit is truly an act of desperation, and not just a smidge pathetic.
They will pay the piper. It’s just too bad that so many decent, hard working and loyal people got wiped out in the process.

Here are some of the details:

Former Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling have been found guilty of several charges related to the company`s collapse. A Houston jury convicted Lay on all six counts of fraud and conspiracy Thursday. Skilling was found guilty of 19 counts of conspiracy, fraud, making false statements and insider trading. He was not convicted on nine other counts. Lay faces 45 years in prison, while Skilling could be sentenced to a maximum of 185 years. Lay and Skilling were accused of covering up billions of dollars in Enron`s debt while inflating its profits. The energy trading company collapsed into bankruptcy in December 2001. Opening statements in the trial were held on January 31st. Prosecutors told jurors that Skilling and Lay knew of Enron`s troubles. Prosecutor John Hueston said Lay was told in August 2001 that Enron was a "ticking time bomb," but Lay still said publicly the company was doing well. Lay`s attorney Mike Ramsey argued that his client accepted responsibility for Enron`s bankruptcy, but isn`t a criminal because of it. Skilling`s attorney Daniel Petrocelli added that Skilling built Enron into a world-class corporation and never broke a single law. The defense directed much of the blame at former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow, who was the prosecution`s star witness. He pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a ten-year prison sentence. Fastow tearfully testified that he deceived investors by inflating earnings and hiding corporate losses, and Skilling approved the scheme. Fastow told the jury that he created a 16-million-dollar partnership to help manipulate Enron`s earnings. He said Skilling pushed to replicate the partnership on a much larger scale that eventually raised 386-million-dollars from investors. Fastow added that Skilling even "patted" him on the back for the idea. Fastow also testified that Lay knew Enron was piling up losses and debt, but lied to investors, analysts and employees to hide the problems. The defense pounced on Fastow`s motives and credibility. Under cross-examination, Fastow repeatedly admitted that he lied and cheated investors and pocketed some of the rewards. Defense attorneys claimed Fastow tricked his bosses into thinking he was doing great things for the company and set up the side deals behind their backs. The defense argued that the company was fairly healthy, but public revelations of Fastow`s side deals caused lenders, creditors and customers to panic, eventually driving the company into bankruptcy. The defense attorneys accused Fastow of embellishing his testimony in hopes of earning a lighter sentence. His wife, Lea, pleaded guilty to tax fraud related to the case and has already served her prison time. Several other former Enron executives took the stand for the prosecution. Many of them also pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate against Lay and Skilling. Both defendants took the stand and proclaimed their innocence. Skilling said he offered 70-million-dollars of his own money to try to bail Enron out of its troubles in October 2001. He denied that he ordered subordinates to illegally falsify profits to please Wall Street. He said there`s "no truth whatsoever" to the prosecution`s contentions that the conspiracy to hide the company`s true financial state started in 1999. Skilling also denied creating slush funds, or what he called "cookie jar reserves." Instead, he testified that legitimate accounts were established to cover potential unforeseen costs in the volatile California energy market. Skilling accused prosecutors of going on a "witch hunt" in an attempt to "rewrite history." Prosecutors grilled him about his attempted sale of 200-thousand shares of Enron stock in the summer of 2001. He defended the move, insisting he had no idea at the time that Enron had started looking into questionable accounting practices. He also said he knew nothing about a note from an Enron whistle-blower that revealed the accounting problems. Skilling had to explain to prosecutors why he suddenly left Enron in August 2001. He said he was exhausted and took into account his family, but prosecutor Sean Berkowitz claimed Skilling was looking for other corporate opportunities. Lay took the stand a couple of weeks after his co-defendant, but had a much different demeanor, at least initially. His relaxed, folksy delivery was a stark contrast to Skilling, who had several angry exchanges with prosecutors. Lay said Enron`s collapse devastated him more than even the loss of his loved ones, adding that he has "achieved the American nightmare." He testified that the thought the company was healthy, even in its final months. Lay accepted responsibility for everything that happened at Enron, but said he didn`t know of any criminal conduct. He said a "witch hunt" helped bring down the company, mentioning that some October 2001 "Wall Street Journal" articles unfairly criticized the energy giant. Those reports detailed the side deals Fastow operated. Lay pointed the finger at Fastow, saying he had no clue at the time that Fastow was doing anything illegal. Under cross-examination, Lay admitted that he didn`t tell Wall Street analysts that Enron would miss a target of 30-billion-dollars in signed contracts by the end of 2006. The prosecutor also asked Lay about 70-million-dollars in Enron stock he sold before the company`s collapse. He said he only had to report the sales annually. When asked if investors were aware that his ownership stake was decreasing, Lay responded that they weren`t. Prosecutors contend that Lay sold the stock back to avoid immediately disclosing the transaction to federal regulators and keep investors in the dark about Enron`s problems. Lay`s attorneys called several local dignitaries to testify about his character, including former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier and Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane. Lanier said Lay`s work on civic projects helped build two sports stadiums in Houston. He added that Lay would have made a good mayor of the city. In closing arguments, prosecutor Kathryn Ruemmler said there`s "no doubt" Lay and Skilling led a conspiracy to mis-lead the public. She talked about the fact that Lay and Skilling have blamed other executives like Fastow, as well as the media for Enron`s problems. She called those claims "absurd" and "ridiculous." The defense attorneys argued that their clients may have used bad business judgment, but never broke the law. Petrocelli even accused the prosecution of twisting facts and intimidating witnesses.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Go to
Type in "failure"
Check the first website listed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

UN Bashing Musings
I do not understand those that continuously criticize the UN. I find it odd that the very people that find fault with the United Nations are the same ones that cannot seem to see the deficiencies of our current administration. I think that there are many factors that contribute to the incessant stumblings of the organization, but I believe that this in inevitable. You can call someone clumsy and useless if they are constantly falling down, only if you ignore the fact that someone is relentlessly sticking a foot out or an obstacle in the path of that person. The United Nations is a great concept. But if you have members who use economic blackmail to undermine the union and its processes, it is not the collective that is at fault, it is the parts. Over and over I hear the attacks. But where is the praise? Why was the UN not given kudos for stabilizing Liberia during the reign of Charles Taylor to the point that the first woman president could be elected? I would think that being in charge of an entire country would be incredibly challenging, but to be in charge of the UN? With all those agendas and egos? How difficult that must be! They have been accepted into the conflicted area of the Sudan. Kofi is exercising some serious diplomatic muscle and restraint in his discussions with China Korea and Japan. There is an abundance of conflicted history that goes back for centuries in this area, and he is dealing with all of it. The UN is intensively involved in pushing for formal diplomatic solutions regarding the border between Syria and Lebanon. The Security Council has called for an immediate cease-fire in Somalia. All the while attempting to put out fires in Afghanistan where their vehicles are being targeted by suicide bombers and trying to get eleven UN hostages released in Eritrea. That is but a fraction of a fraction of what the UN is involved in.
I can’t think of anything more frustrating than people who point out the negative. There are always going to be areas that can be improved, that need attention, that are corrupt and need to be corrected. I think the parable regarding glass houses might be appropriate here. I find that no matter how diligent I am in raising my children, the X finds something that he believes I am doing wrong. Interesting considering that this comes from someone who refuses to speak to me and has no comprehension of our day-to-day lives. However, I am not perfect. I can readily admit that I have made mistakes when it comes to my approach and my direction at times. But those who know me, know how much I put into parenting, and how important it is to me. Regardless, there will always be critics. I think it is time to stop criticizing the UN and its subsequent associations. It is a huge, unenviable job, dealing with so many different interests, viewpoints, histories, traditions, and personalities. Either contribute positively or shut the heck up.
Charitable Musings
I have always had a problem with charity being tax deductible. I understand that it encourages people to give, and all that, but it seems kind of fake to me. Are you giving to be able to write it off against your abundant earnings for that year’s tax return or are you giving solely to do good? To be generous? What is giving if you know you will be able to get it back? It’s not really giving, is it? For the first few years of our membership at church, I adamantly stuck to anonymous giving. We always gave cash and it went directly into the collection plate, not by mail or any other traceable form. I felt that was pure giving. But then we started getting statements from the church to show, for our charitable records, how much we were giving to sustain the ministry and to develop the land and construct a building.
The big zero.
I didn’t care. But Lance did. He felt that we were being viewed as freeloaders. We came and said were members but did we contribute anything tangible? We both volunteered a lot of our time, but volunteer hours don’t translate to the bottom line, and he felt badly. I didn’t care. That really speaks to Lance’s view on money as well as mine, but I wasn’t giving to the church, I was giving to God. It being God’s money and all. But Lance felt compelled to start writing out a check so that it could be traced and we could be seen as real contributing members.
And we started writing it off.
I don’t like that. It rubs me the wrong way. Practicality – yes it makes sense, and you are rewarded for generosity. But on the flip side, I see it as kind of a fake generosity. True giving is giving without ever conceiving of getting something in return, except the pure joy of the experience.
Musings on Death and Dying
I have never had a problem with death for myself, in that I have never feared it. My friend once got extremely angry with me when, in our early twenties driving 95 mph to Austin I decided to let her in on my deep philosophy of when it’s time to go it’s time to go. She was glued to her seat with her hands in a death grip to anything that would lessen the impending collision. Not the best time to discuss deeply held beliefs – she thought I had a death wish.
I didn’t and don’t. But it’s not something I stress about. I don’t like the idea of lingering, I have made it a painfully clear to everyone and anyone who will listen that life support is just prolonging my absence from home. When I am called, I want to go. I don’t want to be a miracle of medicine or science. I just want to leave this temporary plane. And go to where I know a ton of people are waiting for me. Where I will be loved and feel love and I will be removed from all the things that tear, even ever so slightly, at my soul. It’s difficult to express that kind of sentiment without sounding depressed or clinically morose. I am wounded on every level to see the desperation of those in this world in need. From the senseless suffering of people in every corner of the world to the animals held in captivity, I feel a staggering sense of empathy. From the child soldiers in Uganda to the starving women in Darfur to the desperate undocumented workers of Mexico and South America to the victims of tsunamis and hurricanes and floods and devastation. From the whales being hunted by the Japanese to the baby seals being bludgeoned by the Canadians to the chicks being tossed into the dumpster by the Americans – it is a huge block of concrete tied to my soul that I drag around from one event to the next.
There are times I want it all to stop. I don’t want to be gone, I want to end it. I want to end all this senseless suffering. How can hell be any worse than this? Seriously. Where orphans in Romania are straight-jacketed with bed sheets, and with the removal of the sheets their skin ensues. Have you ever been somewhere where the noise is so intolerably loud and mind-numbing you simple couldn’t stand it a second longer? I feel like that with all the pain in this world. I don’t look to escape it, I look to turn it off. And I suppose what makes me so incredibly passionate about power and politics is that there are people in this world who have access to the volume control, but choose to disregard it or worse turn it up louder. I cannot get my mind around that.
I knew Paul’s death would hit me hard. It doesn’t matter how prepared you are for a loved one to leave this earth, it is still a devastating change that jolts you like a car crash. You can see it coming, for a split second you think you can avoid it, but you can’t. Change is hard anyway, but when loved ones are plucked from your reality, the overwhelming feeling is that you are fooling yourself if you believe you have any control over anything. I am constantly reminded that life is so temporary. You can plan for your future. You can feather your nest and provide for your loved ones. You can try to anticipate needs and events. But when it’s your time, you are done. The “hit by a bus” scenario is one that is supposed to jolt us back to the reality that life is not just a big endless party but a temporary stay in a place that needs a lot of help and you definitely have a mission. Not to grab up as much money as possible. Not to be with as many women or men as you can. Not to incarcerate, to be intolerant, to be greedy and cruel and thoughtless. It seems like such a long span of time when you are young, but as you get older and your life suddenly starts careening down a hill that you thought you would never reach the top of you, you realize that there is a lot to do with very little time.
There is no other way than to express grief in terms of the ocean. The initial tsunami slam of the news. The ebb and feeling of disbelief. And then the continuous onslaught of rogue waves that crash over you, submerging you in fears, memories, pain and loss. It ebbs again. And you are empty. It’s weird because I went through this same sense of “what I am I supposed to do” with my dad. My son asked when we were on our way up to be with my sister in law and family, if it was bad to laugh. It’s a universal thing. You think you know what you will do, how you will act, how you will be, but when it comes right down to it, it’s different. At times, I was disgusted that people were laughing, but later I found myself laughing and feeling terribly guilty. I found myself feeling very protective of Sam, my brother’s wife, as people came and shared memories with her. I knew they were trying to comfort her, but I felt also that they were sobbing and dumping all this excess grief in her lap. She would be ok and the waves would come and you could actually visually see someone whose heart was breaking. It is a gut wrenching feeling. A twisting sickening feeling. He was the love of her life – she said – no one would ever love her like that again. What a burden! I looked at my husband and thought how I would be if he were gone. Devastated. I adore him. He has made me a better person, he lifts me up. And it hits me. No matter how supported you are, no matter how many friends, confidantes, family members you have to be with you during the death of a spouse, when it comes time to lay your head on the pillow, you are alone. After having someone beside you for all that time, stealing your covers, spooning, you are alone.
I find my mind going a thousand different directions. All the things I should be doing, everything I should be organizing. But I have concrete feet. My soul is so burdened by grief that I am finding it hard to even brush my teeth and comb my hair. I had to go to the viewing on the 15th. It is not something I would normally go to, but I would not leave Sam to do it alone, or without continuous support. I dreaded it. I really did. I don’t understand this custom at all. If you knew someone in life, you have memories. I do not want to replace my memories of my brother with one of his shell lying in a coffin with makeup on. It just goes beyond my comprehension. Close the casket, and put a picture of him smiling, doing what he did – hanging with his family, teaching at his church, helping animals, being a live human being – and let people say good bye to that. But I guess that’s selfish. Some people want to say good-bye to him like that. Ick.
I don’t have any regrets, which is a relief. I had already told him what I wanted to tell him. He knew my heart, and if he didn’t, he does now. I feel like he is released from this world and free. Free and overflowing with joy and love and peace and all the good wonderful feelings that we catch glimpses of in this life. The joy I got from the amazing mother’s day cards my boys made for me. Both reflective of their unique spirits I had that amazing, cup runneth over feeling. Like my heart would burst with love for them. Knowing that at 13 and 14, they sat there tirelessly and wrote poetry, colored, stretched their imagination just for me. I know that heaven is like that all the time.
I don’t care for them much, but I have deep understanding of funerals. The open casket gig is not my cup of tea, but the funeral – the laying to rest, as it were – is a way to demonstrate the natural progression of life. Our mostly slow march, sometimes quick sprint to death. The cementing of my desire to have a memorial was reinforced on Tuesday the 16th . It is mind boggling to think that he died on Saturday morning, and on Tuesday at 2 well over six hundred people had congregated to remember him. I am far from a public speaker, but looking out over the crowd, I felt the warmth of support emanating from these people. They were here for him. They were here because of him. They loved and honored him. He had touched their lives. The need for community is such a primal one. Living, learning, working, worshiping in our little human herds is a primal instinct for us. We have our own tight core group, usually our immediate and sometimes our extended families. The pastor said our family is like pearls around Paul’s neck, with his friends priceless gems affixed to the necklace and his faith a huge multi-faceted diamond right in the center. It was an appropriate image. Having an entire church auditorium full of people who loved him was overwhelming and awe-inspiring all mixed together. Seeing a summary of his life encapsulated in a PowerPoint presentation. Listening to the music he had chosen. Witnessing the creative arts pastor break down in the middle of a beautiful song. Watching as the head pastor strode over and held Trey has he wept was a powerful moment.
Being surrounded by love in a time of loss is what a funeral and memorial service is all about. The creepy open casket and rituals one must endure are extra touches for those who feel they have to see his shell and whisper their goodbyes. Because if there is any doubt in anyone’s mind that these bodies that we are in are mere vessels – observe an open casket, touch the hand of the dead. It is the eternal spirit that makes each of us unique and fascinating. It is the exceptional soul within all of us, every single one, that adds the spark to the exterior encasement. With all the burdens on our souls that come from living on this transitory plane it is not until you are in the presence of the dead, and among the people that loved him, that you realize just how unimportant it all really is. All the slights. All the ill will. All the resentment and anger you carry around on that stupid bus you’re driving of which you are the only one aware. I am an ardent, staunch, one hundred percent liberal democrat. The only thing I apply conservation to is the environment. I clash with every other born again Christian, I believe, in the state on the most important issues. But when dealing with death, there is nothing more than the human emotions. My brother was a staunch unwavering conservative republican. There was no way that was going to change. Did it make me dislike him in any way…not follow his example or lead? Heck no! It’s very difficult in this time to separate our political feelings from our human ones. Especially those of us who are stricken with grief over the death of our troops and innocent civilians. But the beauty of the human condition and of Christianity is that we are all meant to bring individual interpretations and angles to life’s continuous stream of questions. I cannot imagine a more monotonous boring life if we all had the same views on everything. It’s frustrating when you believe like I do in justice and peace and compassion and the people that you believe should have the firmest grip on that of all don’t even acknowledge it. But my take is this – if we all had the same view, what if it were the wrong one? What if the collective viewpoint was that of someone like Hitler? Life, to me, would not be worth living. Just like a master gardener’s collection of plants – all the colors and textures of a multicolored ensemble would go monochromatic. Where’s the joy of that? People pay to go see gardens. Why? For the variety and for the presence of God. God is so present in nature and the natural world. I am always re-energized and re-awakened after spending time on a trail, camping, enjoying some untainted display of something only God can invent. Variety is the spice of life. I like vanilla occasionally, but all the time? I would shoot myself. People are awestruck by the natural wonders around us because they are so incredibly varied and amazing.
As much as people who hurt animals and trash the environment bother me, I am always so very moved by someone taking information from me regarding animal rights and environmental concerns. The physical act of expending energy to reach towards me for information is always a gift.
So, it has been up and down, in and out, and endless loop of unexpected jolts, thrusts back into the very distant past and a deep sense of loss and longing. I have found a renewed fledgling relationship with my younger brother that I hope will take root and flourish. I have found immeasurable comfort and support from family and great friends. I always find it so amazing how often I don’t believe that anyone is back there when I have decided to close my eyes, arms folded into my chest and fall backwards. But there is a whole slew of people.

And very, very comforting.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The planning has begun. July 14th - 23rd the (shudder) circus rolls into town. My plan is to be there every day, for every performance, with my placards and information at the ready for those who go in to see animals being forced to perform unnatural acts for their enjoyment. There are several days towards the end of the week that have three performances planned.
There is no excuse for this kind of cruelty. We humans have declared our superiority to animals, repeatedly. Ok. We get it. They get it. We win. Can we stop now? Please.
If you know someone who is taking their kid to the circus, recommend something else. Inform them. Help them to see that buying a ticket is promoting the beating of baby elephants, the cutting of the paws of tigers to get them to stand on their back legs. No child wants to be a party to animal abuse. No parent wants to impart torture as a childhood message. Yes it has existed for a long time. So did slavery. It is time to end it.
Join me.
July 14 - 23rd at the Reliant Stadium in Houston.
More to come.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Today was the funeral and memorial. My God, how loved my brother was! There were hundreds of people at the memorial. It was absolutely amazing to see how many people he had touched. I was given the opportunity to say a few things. Here is my Tribute to my Spiritual Mentor and Big Brother.
I loved him so much.

I want to start out with a couple of thank yous. I want to thank Faith Community Church for the support that it gave Paul and his family. You are what a church should be. You are the embodiment of what I believe Christ expected from us – charity, kindness, nobility, grace, humility, compassion and community. There is nothing more comforting than knowing that during your family’s most critical time, there is literally an entire congregation caring for the needs. It was a luxury not many have and my family is eternally grateful.
I want to thank Sam. Sam is the consummate Christian woman. Never did I hear her take credit for all that she did during Paul’s illness. She always gave the credit to God. Without God, she told me once; I never would be able to do any of this. You were the light in my brother’s life and you completed him. I look to you as an example of who I can become. You are a hero to my entire family and you will forever be loved more than you can ever fathom.
Many people come and say “I am sorry for your loss”. At a time like this, no one really knows what to say, no one can find the magic words that make this kind of pain ease, even temporarily. And although, I too am sorry for the loss of a man whom I was blessed enough to call my brother, I am awash by a wave of absolute awe and gratitude that God saw fit to not only bless me with but to relate me to a man so humble, so touched with grace and intelligence and wit. I always felt a little small being Paul’s sister. I was never as witty. Never as bright. Never as quick. Never as incredible as my big brother.
He was my big brother.
I found out on my first mission trip to the DR (dominican republic), that while at the Houston’s lake house immediately after the diagnosis, Janeu declared to John, Paul and Sam that she was going to start praying for the rapture. Paul said – no. please don’t do that. My mother and sister don’t know the Lord. My big brother who at a time of tremendous shock and horror at his projected life following the ALS diagnosis, decided to take his sister’s hand and say “come with me. Come with me on this journey and I promise you that it will change your life.” And he was right. He brought us both, my mother and me, to Jesus.
There is no way to express the soul ripping that one experiences seeing a loved one endure the ravages of ALS. I still can close my eyes and remember Paul patiently teaching me to drive a stick shift on Voss Road in Memorial. With sweat running down my spine, and cars lined up behind, literally laying on their horn, he said “don’t worry about them. You can do this. Ease off the clutch and give it some gas….” I don’t think the gears on his Celica were ever the same. I remember my heart breaking when he had to leave to go back to school in England, and fantasizing about his wonderful adventurous life. I remember dad lowering him into the water face first, holding him by the ankles to try to figure out what was under the sailboat in the crystal clear water of the Florida Keys. Initially calm and cool he turned frantic, literally bending at the waist and holding onto the railing before my dad had time to react – “a shark. Definitely a shark.” I remember scuba diving with him and his expression of fascination and joy and sharing this unbelievable moment of being in another beautiful pristine world where we weren’t supposed to be breathing but we were! We were breathing underwater! And I remember him taking my hand and squeezing it and I looked at him and I could tell by his eyes that he was so filled with joy and love and wonder – just as I was.
Because as most of us have witnessed during this time, Paul was able to express so much with his eyes.
Today, I express my sadness at the loss to this world of my brother. But in my heart, I know with absolute certainty that he has fallen to his knees in the presence of Jesus who in turn has lifted him up, with a brilliant smile and asked him to walk and talk with him for a while. Well-done, good and faithful servant, he has said to Paul, you have served me well. And Paul is filled with love and joy and freedom, as he should be. He is finally home. He is talking, laughing, and at supreme peace.So when others come with sympathetic hearts and express their sorrow, I wish instead that they would say how blessed I am. How deeply, deeply grateful I am to have been given the honor of knowing a man, of having a brother who cared so much for his little sister that he walked her and sometimes carried her only to lay her in the lap of Jesus and say “here she is Lord. I love her this much.” Thank you, Paul, for loving me so much. I will miss you every day that I am here, but I find peace in the knowledge that with a twinkle in your eye and that endearing smile you will be at the door waiting for me, when it is my time to come home.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Saturday May 13, 2006
5:35 a.m. I received a call from my younger brother.
Paul is gone.
My big brother is dead.
The news of death is such a startling thing. Even when it’s inevitable, which it actually always is for all of us, but when it’s expected there’s almost a reaction from others that well, he had been ill for a long time.
But the ice water sensation still washes over you.
The dagger stab to the stomach and heart still penetrates your soul.
My mom said that it was, in a sense, the best mothers day gift he could have given her. At first glance that might seem horrible, but you have to understand that as a parent watching for six long, heartbreaking years your son’s body betray him – well, that goes beyond anyone’s comprehension. To have a child killed suddenly or horrifically is something that every parent dreads, but to watch the systematic decline of a vibrant son, with his mind encased in a stiff and twisted body, I can’t fathom how excruciating that must have been. It was a relief to her, to me, to anyone who adored him. To anyone who looked at him and saw the twinkle in his eyes and knew the depth of struggle he must be enduring. To look into the eyes of someone you love so dearly and see the brother as a little boy who walked through the airport raising his arms to the imaginary adoring crowd saying “Fans! Fans!” – I can’t really even begin to convey how soul crippling that is.
We are all fans. Talk about your good and faithful servant. He brought us all to Christ. Isn’t that incredible?
It took someone who lost the ability to speak to teach us the Word.
Takes the whole cliché of God working in mysterious ways to a whole new level.
He is gone. But, man, what a legacy.
He is gone.
He is with my dad, his beloved Auntie Winnie, Nana, and all our people. But most of all, he has been welcomed into the kingdom, walking tall with his spirit completely in tact, to the loving embrace of his Savior to whom he worked so tirelessly, so relentlessly.
I grieve for my loss. For my mother’s son. My brother’s and sister’s sibling. For my niece and nephew’s father. For my sister in law’s husband.
But I praise God for finally giving him what he so richly deserved.
I hope he’s dancing. I hope he's singing. I hope he’s laughing.
I’ll miss him for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Correction - it is not 14 days of circus performances, it is actually 14 performances.
Here are the dates.

All at Reliant Stadium

July 14, 2006
Friday, 7:30 PM

July 15, 2006
Saturday, 11:30 AM

July 15, 2006
Saturday, 3:30 PM

July 15, 2006
Saturday, 7:30 PM

July 16, 2006
Sunday, 5:30 PM

July 18, 2006
Tuesday, 7:30 PM

July 19, 2006
Wednesday, 7:30 PM

July 20, 2006
Thursday, 7:30 PM

July 21, 2006
Friday, 7:30 PM

July 22, 2006
Saturday, 11:30 AM

July 22, 2006
Saturday, 3:30 PM

July 22, 2006
Saturday, 7:30 PM

July 23, 2006
Sunday, 1:30 PM

July 23, 2006
Sunday, 5:30 PM

Send an email or letter to Bill White, Reliant Park management, your local paper and television stations and the Houston Chronicle. I will do a little research to see who is sponsoring them and I will post their contact information. If you are not local - find out if one of these things is breezing through your town and start writing!
Remember- silence is their friend. They proliferate covertly. Start squawking! Politely, of course, because you will be dismissed completely if you swear or attack.

I did email the 13 Eyewitness News department about blithely heralding this freakshow earlier today, after being affronted with horrific images of elephants on their back legs with a man smiling triumphantly with a long stick a.k.a bullhook in his hand. What a warm fuzzy feeling I get at the sight of animal torture. Sigh.
Below is the email I sent this morning to Bill White, our very good mayor. Ringling will be here for two freakin' weeks in July, which I believe is the longest engagement they have. Anyway, feel free to use the following as you see fit. I will be there everyday of the circus in the record heat (not related to global warming even in the slightest)....if it isn't cancelled.

email address:

Dear Mr. White
From the moment you took office, you have shown your willingness to not only be a “hands on” kind of mayor but also someone who gets things done. When the Katrina victims needed us, you stepped up and took control. It was a time of emergency and you did what you needed to do to get the job done. It was awesome. I was so proud of Houston! You have lead by example, one that I followed, in selecting a more environmentally friendly electricity company. I have admired your approach as I get a feeling of honor and truthfulness from you as a leader of a major city. I have to say, before you became mayor, I didn’t have the vaguest idea who you were. But you have done wonders for this city and I am hoping that you will continue to do so.
Over the past week or so, the drumbeat towards the impending arrival of the circus to our area has increased. This is a time of dread for me. I am admittedly an animal rights activist and a vegan due to my beliefs. But my aversion to the circus has always been with me. At first, it was the freakish paint on the clowns’ faces that to me felt subversive and scary, but I soon realized it was the animals. Dogs, tigers, lions and, especially the elephants in costumes running around performing unnatural tricks made my young stomach sick. I adamantly refused to ever go to a circus again. Now I know that it wasn't some childhood sensitivity but an insight into the true nature of the circus. This is an archaic form of barbaric animal violence that needs to end. Why do we do this? Aren't we better than this? Beating dependent animals into submission, forcing them out of their natural, God given habitats and social orders, starving, chaining, electrocuting all in the name of entertainment? So someone can make a buck? It's so heartbreaking.
Ask yourself if this is necessary anymore. There are circuses that have been wildly popular that only involve humans. Is it really a 21st century form of entertainment to watch as a terrified animal that has been incarcerated, bull-hooked, cut and torn forced into unnatural poses for the applause of the crowd? Is this an example of what we as caretakers of the dependent world should be giving to our children? This is glorified animal cruelty and it is the shame of our nation that we allow this to continue. The most fundamental question you can ask is - would this animal be performing these stunts naturally or without threat of violence? The answer is a categorical no.
In the past, the abuse and neglect that these animals endured was shrouded in secrecy by the perpetrators, but now there are sites and organizations dedicated to one thing - banning animal circuses everywhere forever. And it has happened. Not only here but abroad as well. Because this is a cruel, horrible exhibition of the worst that we as human beings can visit upon defenseless animals. There is documentation in the form of court documents as well as video that will physically sicken you. If they endure it, and this city sanctions it, then the least you can do is witness it. Below is the link to the video of abuse by Ringling from February of this year.

Please, visit some of the sites devoted to exposing the cruelty of the circus. Please look into the record of violence Ringling has. And please use your obvious common sense and decency to reconsider having this abomination of human depravity for FOURTEEN days in this city. I understand that there is a commitment here but you have used your position before to override longstanding commitments in the face of an emergency.

If you were at the circus and you turned your head just in time to see a man bashing a chained elephant with a stick tipped with a metal hook – would you continue to walk or would you intervene? I believe that you would do as I would; I would run to the defense of anyone or anything that needed protection or help regardless of the consequences. This is happening. This is an emergency.
Please look into it on your own. Or if you need any information, I will do everything I can possibly do to get you what you need.
Thank you very much.
Penny Barrett Hornsby

Sunday, May 07, 2006

One More Thing
I love John Stewart. The Daily Show is great. I kind of dislike the people in the audience who burst into hysterical laughter upon the raising of one eyebrow. It gets annoying. But he is brilliant. I also like Steven Colbert and his hilarious parody of O’Reilly and his freakish factor.
And I watched the snippets of the skit that bush did with his impersonator all over the news. So clever! So fun! That george! He’s just too much!
Yet it was on Democracy Now on Link TV that I saw Steven Colbert at the annual press corps dinner do the most extraordinary thing I think I have ever seen – he was within a couple of yards of the president and from all that way he could rip him a new a-hole. At the same time he masterfully sliced and diced the obviously de-spined press corp. I can honestly say that I have never witnessed someone “sticking it to the man” so eloquently. There were times that it was obvious that most of the press didn’t know how to react, sitting in stunned silence, while others could barely contain their stifled laughter. The thing was – these guys still want to be in the room when things get announced to the media by this administration. They all know that you can be overlooked and ignored or just out and out barred from the room. They had to be careful. Oh but not our boy, Steven.
Steven rocked.
Senor Colbert is my hero.
There is something truly horrible about our gastrointestinal system waging a mutiny. There are times that a little temper tantrum can be declared without much disruption to the day. I have been suffering from what really feels like food poisoning. Every fiber of my being is connected to my stomach making the act of breathing, blinking or feeling, the cause of extreme stomach convulsions. It goes beyond misery because you absolutely cannot engage in ANYTHING for more than a few minutes, maybe, just maybe, half an hour before you are back to your WC battle station. Eventually it just turns into some kind of cruel cosmic joke because there simply is nothing left in the stomach except its lining yet the urge to expel dominates. Next time I hear of some gastrointestinal virus running rampant in a refugee camp, I am so sending money and Imodium.

I have noticed though, that this is the only way I seem to be able to justify taking it completely easy. I wrestled and negotiated with myself until I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror and realized that I was unwell, not the big slug faker I was making myself out to be.
We all need a day. Or maybe even two. To unplug. To veg. To withdraw. That doesn’t mean I am depressed or anti-social or harbor anger towards anyone. It just means I need a day or so. Especially when I have been as busy as I have been. And since I refuse to do it myself, something always comes along to ensure that I take a break whether I like it or not.

While in my state of wobbliness, blech! Friday I think it was I caught an end segment from one of the ABC newsmagazine shows. The one with Mr. John Give Me a Break Stossel. Mr. “I can’t stand b.s.” “Give us facts! Give us truth! Give us real situations or dilemmas not “myths” and fake data”. Right? You know the guy. Get this.
No. Seriously.
Get this.
Next week – Friday on 20/20 which is the show I believe he is on, he is going to get the FACTS on whether elephants are really afraid of mice. So, he’s going to go “where the elephants hang out!”
Where might that be?
Africa?India?In the wild?
In a sanctuary?
They are going to the CIRCUS.
That’s right.
Where all the elephants go and hang out. Where they do what comes naturally like stand on a stool and extend three legs.
Woo-ya! What a grand time they have being chained for hours on end and transported in railcars for days. Love those bull-hooks, too! Being whipped and stomped and abused and electrocuted – what special loving treats they get at the hands of their trainers. Golly, it’s almost like an elephant spa.
I’m sure that evaluating inherent behaviors of a highly social and cognizant being at a CIRCUS would be a lot like evaluating the behavior of a man in the natural habitat of Gitmo Bay.
I will be contacting the Stossal, and I will be telling him that he might want to try conducting his pseudo-scientific studies on animals closer to their natural habitats and not giving a barbaric abomination such as the CIRCUS any air time.
That freak show blows into town sometime in June or July. Can you believe this “circus” crap is still going on? I mean, seriously. I watched the HBO series, Rome, which ended just a few months ago. I guess the way they treated animals and people during that time was to be expected. I suppose I have a snobbery in that I do expect us to become better, more compassionate, more empathetic as a people. I want to believe that we have come so far in the fields of entertainment – gosh, it wasn’t all that long ago that beheadings and hangings were so highly attended because people simply had nothing else to do away from the grueling daily routine. We have entertainment on every conceivable level. So why do things like circuses still exist? Why do we allow massive animals, majestic and mighty animals to be enslaved and forced to perform unnaturally? Is this some kind of prowess thing? Some outward expression of the prevalence of the patriarchal society - the need to express domination in the most degrading and demoralizing way? Can we not free the animals from the snares, the chains, the cages, the steel straightjackets, the milking devices, the crates, can’t we just grant a reprieve? We have come up with so many alternatives – we are such an enterprising group of people. We simply don’t need to do this. Every animal in captivity kills a little bit more of our soul. It’s small, barely noticeable but the numbers are in the billions now. The small is turning large. I don’t want to be a soulless society. We can do so much better than this.

I emailed the Stossal. Here it is:

Sent: Sunday, May 07, 2006 9:00 PM
Subject: elephant myth

Wow. From the guy who is all about true and common sense and sensibilities and exposing idiocy- we get this. You go to check out an alleged "natural" behavior of an animal by going to a place where these same animals are bludgeoned, electrocuted, beaten, savaged by trainers, chained for hours on end, shipped around in railcars for days. A place where they are continuously forced to behave in unnatural ways, in dangerous and humiliating stunts. Where these highly socialized animals are isolated, separated and cannot perform natural bonding and social routine. This is where you go to dispel a myth? I wonder if you had been given the opportunity to study a natural behavior in man and chose to go to Auschwitz where people were tortured and enslaved and dehumanized.
With the opportunity to throw a spotlight on the elephant sanctuaries in America where these majestic gentle giants are allowed to live out the rest of their lives in peace, usually after a life of torment and enslavement, you instead chose to turn that spotlight to the shame of the three ring circus. Glorifying a national embarrassment. Well done, there, Stossal, great work.
Give me a break.
Penny Barrett Hornsby

PS if you really want to see what goes on in these places, go to the PETA website and click on the link to the circus. There is underground footage inside the elephant training facility.
Ever hear an elephant scream, Mr. Stossal?

Feel free to use the email address as that is what was on the website. Also, feel free to copy and paste my letter and adapt as you see fit. Feel free also to mention that the circus plays on our some of our most basic senses. Our love for animals. We love elephants. They are so friendly looking. They guard their little babies – even pull them out of the mud. They have babysitting and they will adopt if necessary. They are truly majestic. It goes without saying that the thought of seeing elephants is appealing. But seeing some scarred, terrified animal being forced to perform things that it is so painfully obvious that we are making them do something that is dangerous and so incredibly pointless. Why? Because we can! Because we are MAN! We rule everything! HAHAHAHA! I can make other beings do things that terrify them! HA! I make them do things for no apparent reason except to make me look like I have a large man-part.
That’s the best I can do. That’s the only reason I can think of that would be the root of this ridiculous spectacle. This has go to stop. The circus is a terrible place. It is a horrible barnacle from decades gone past. We can get rid of it now. It’s weighing us down.