First celebrity stalker added to ’12 death list

Few will remember her name, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, yet many will remember her criminal act of 1949.

Steinhagen was only 19 and star-struck when she lured Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus to her hotel room and shot him.  Although Waitkus survived and played six more seasons, the incident at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago proved a sensational news story and perhaps was the first of the celebrity stalking crimes brought to national attention.

The New York Times obit today described in full, the crime, the trial and the outcome (Steinhagen was declared insane).  Bernard Malamud began his book, “The Natural,” with a similar incident believed taken from the Waitkus shooting.

Steinhagen led the rest of her life in obscurity, and reports of her death on Dec. 29 of last year, were brought to light recently by the Chicago Tribune.  She died from a subdural hematoma that resulted from a fall, according to an autopsy.

Whaling wars: Fishing for the truth

The Farley Mowat, one of two Sea Shepherd vessels.

The Farley Mowat, one of two Sea Shepherd vessels.

At the climax of the slanted 2009 documentary, “At The Edge of The World,” a modern-day pirate ship confronts a Japanese “research” vessel in the open sea around Antarctica.

It smacks of Stevenson’s classic, “Treasure Island.”  Only the treasure here is the whale and the pirates are portrayed as the good guys.

The pirate ship, aka the Robert Hunter or The Bob, is operated by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the group’s founder, Paul Watson.   Its stated goal is to win, as Watson says, “the never-ending war to save the whales.”

The ship has just lost its registry with Belize and now has no home country. Thus it is officially recognized as a “pirate ship.”

Paull Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd.

Paull Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd.

Watson is unwelcome at any port of call and, according to a radio interview heard recently on the Thom Hartmann show, is doomed to a life at sea.

The Japanese ship, Kaiku Maru, bears huge signs at its beams announcing “RESEARCH,” but Sea Shepherd sees that as a veil obscuring the vessel’s real purpose.  That purpose is the illegal and commercial harvest of whales that end up not in a lab in Osaka but in butcher shops and restaurants all over Japan.

The problem is that the Japanese are killing whales, an endangered species, from the clearly demarked Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary established by 23 nations in 1994 with only Japan opposing.

This is one of only a handful of whale sanctuaries in the world and not the first.  The Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary (IWC) came to life in 1979 and is the governing body of all sanctuaries.  The other, established in 1999, was framed by Australia.   These sanctuaries are areas, in name only, where whales exist “free from commercial whaling pressures.”

The larger problem is that no country enforces this international law.  So Sea Shepherd, with its two ships including the Farley Mowat, a helicopter “Kookaburra,” and some small tactical craft, have taken on the responsibility.

And of course when you mess with Big Business anywhere on this planet, you’re in for a heap of trouble.  That is basically why no country is willing to go up against Japan and allow registry of the Sea Shepherd ships.  Economic forces intimidate them.

Most of the film is shot aboard the two Sea Shepherd ships with its group of idealistic volunteers, most of whom are young and fit and fun-loving.   They dive off icebergs into a freezing Ross Sea and get into snowball fights.  But mostly they eat, sleep, pull maintenance duty — and on occasion get seasick — while the commanders track down the Japanese ships.  I counted in the credits 22 crew members aboard the Farley Mowat and 26 on the Robert Hunter.

We hear next to nothing from the Japanese.  A brief snippet of radio communication is about it.  And we see outlined on an upper deck of the Kaiku Maru a few stationary crew members.

As confrontation looms, the Sea Shepherd flag is raised.

As confrontation looms, the Sea Shepherd flag is raised.

This pirate ship fights not with canons and muskets but with “prop foulers,” stink bombs and “can openers.”

When The Bob finally confronts the Kaiku Maru, one of six ships in the Japanese whaling fleet, the crew in a small but fast boat throws a hand-woven chain of fabric in the water around the “enemy.”  This fabric gets entangled with the propellers and brings the ship to a standstill.

The stink bombs are hurled by hand from The Bob and land on the enemy’s deck as a red smoke.

The “can opener” is nothing more than a ram that punches a hole in the side of an enemy ship above the water line and fuel containers.  Ultimately the ship must return to port for repairs.   And the lives of whales are presumed saved.

After each maneuver, the crew of The Bob rejoices, smirks, smiles and cheers, just as little children might after being naughty.  One has to wonder how long the smugness would last should the Japanese retaliate.   But they don’t, at least in this film.

Surprising is the cordiality that exists between these opposing sailors of the cold blue sea.  When two members of The Bob in  boats become lost for more than three hours, the attacked Japanese ship offers to help.  And when the Japanese ship reports trouble with its mangled propellers, The Bob, in turn offers to send divers.

Though beautifully shot in color cinematography, “At The End” is not without a giant fault.

Because it can not or is unwilling to show the killing of a whale in the sanctuary, and because we are not shown proof that the Japanese are killing for profit not science, there is a fog of doubt that hangs on to the otherwise vivid scenes.

So, while interesting and informative,  the film can come off as propaganda for its own “righteous” cause and financial donors.  This, no matter how much we want to believe or sense the Japanese are heinous enviornmental criminals.

Strangely, in the end, I felt more kinship, even admiration, for the Japanese than with the 23 weak-kneed countries, including the U.S. and Watson’s native Canada, that turned collective backs on enforcing international law.

Another vanished tribe

A protective ramada at the Willow Creek site.

A protective ramada at the Willow Creek site.

On a central Arizona hillside above Willow Lake rests the site of another American Indian tribe that mysteriously vanished from the Southwest about 1,000 years ago.  And like the Hohokam to the south, no one seems to know for certain why it died out.

It is a breezy Sunday afternoon when Nebra and I come unexpectedly upon the small site while doing a hike above the northern end of Willow Lake, near Prescott.  It is hard to miss.

Three of the “homes” rest behind fortress-like ramadas and on this day under lock and chain. Two just above the lake and another atop a nearby hill.  The other 17 homes are beneath the surface and of course out of sight.

The Willow Lake Archaeological Site looks out from a warm and mostly-barren, south-facing slope.  At just over 5,000 feet elevation, it is a more temperate environment than that of the Hohokams on the desert floor around Phoenix.

For lack of a more meaningful name, the people who began settling here in 850 A.D. are called ‘The Prescott Culture.”

We amble along the cement walkway, reading the interpretative signs and staring inside the shadowed ramadas to an almost nothingness.  Just the outlines of the archaeological dig strike the eye.

The Prescott Culture site existed from 900-1100 A.D.  Excavations began in the winter of 2003.

To me, it is a curious thing that this site would not be open to the public on a weekend when most of us have free time.  I found this puzzle also true for other venues in and around Prescott, which by the way was the first capital of Arizona Territory.   Even the Prescott National Forest offices on Cortez Street just south of downtown were closed for Saturday and Sunday.  So much for hiking maps.

A closer viewing of the site will have to await another day.

The life and good times of a Honda Civic

I am a Honda Civic.  I know cars don’t talk much.  But I’m approaching my 7th birthday, and I want to express gratitude to my parents on the assembly line.

I’m foreign-born but not Japanese as you might expect.  My birth record, the VIN, shows I came to this life at a plant in Alliston, Ontario.

A swell life so far.

A swell life so far.

While it’s true, I haven’t been driven hard, only 65,000 miles, the performance record shows I’m made of the right stuff.   Only one big problem so far.  The shocks went out about 5,000 miles ago.

First of all, diet.  I am no teetotaler, but I watch what gasoline I drink.  I’ve had 182 meals, swilled own 2,018.18 gallons of gas for a decent average of 32.19 miles per gallon.  That was the estimation when I came on the market in Phoenix in 2006.  The consumption would be better if my driver ever got out of the city.  A lot of my energy is wasted at stoplights.

I remember my first meal, at a Shell station in Scottsdale.  It was operated by members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.  Took in what seemed at the time to be some high-priced fuel, on May 15, 2006.  Cost $3.16 a gal but just a few days ago I was fed some $3.76 regular.  And I’ve twice been served a meal at the extremely high price of $4.10.  But around Christmas of 2008, oh, my god, it was only $1.26.  Could’ve drank forever at that pump.

I once got 44.92 mph on a stretch from Flagstaff to Phoenix.  Most of it downhill of course.

The price of feeding me is reasonable, though my driver may feel differently.  My intake has cost $5,613.73 over those 6.75 years.  So that’s roughly $830 a year to feed me.  Or about $69 a month.

My fuel efficiency has shown some very high levels, much more than the estimated 38 mpg that as noted on my sale sign.  I once did 449 miles on a tank that holds 13.2 gallons.  I had driven to Oklahoma in June 2007 and was on my way back to Arizona, and stopped for a fill-up at Santa Rosa, NM.  An exciting moment.

And then of course there were the dog days of summer when I felt the drag of the air-conditioner.  It was on all the time, so it seemed, even with the ignition turned off.   One time I hit 25.5 mpg in a very hot September of 2007.

But things are going fine as I enter mid-life.  My last fill-up yesterday averaged out 32.6 mpg, all city driving.

So, there.  I’ve said my piece for now.

Cellphones as menace on the trail

An unwelcome guest on any trail I hike.

An unwelcome guest on any trail I hike.

Imagine.  There you are hiking out in the middle of nowhere.  You’ve found a quiet trail with nothing but the sounds of Gambel’s quail chattering in the bush.  Ah, Nature.  Ah, solitude.

Then, boom, you hear a human voice chattering on a cellphone.  She’s coming down the trail as if her mundane conversation is the most important thing in the world.  In the space of a few seconds, this self-centered, insecure person has not only violated my solitude but to my mind she has violated her own.

She is too caught up in the unreal outside world as to begin an understanding of Nature.  She does not hear the quail.  She does not see the field of subtle wildflowers at her side.  The tiny fiddlenecks, phacelia and lupine.  Nor does she smell the aroma of the creosote.

I use a woman here only because that is what I see on the trail.  My hiking experience tells me that person will be talking about her children, her boyfriend, politics at work, the trivial stuff that accounts for most of the day.

The New York Times had a related article this morning, “Cellphone Talkers Proved To Be Irritants, Study Says.”  The article fails to mention “cellphone talkers” on the trail but it is even worse there than being captive to these incessant talkers on a bus, standing in a line at Starbucks or anywhere else.

I’m for promoting a law.  Leave your cellphones at the Trailhead.

Cat wars and the Big Screen

Ares, god of war, with Obie behind him.

Ares, god of war, with Obie behind him.

Could there be peace coming to our household at last?

Since we adopted a male kitten last November, our small house has become a combat zone.  Not for Nebra or me but for our old lady cat, Obie.  This spunky kitten, Ares, god of war, has terrorized his housemate almost from the first moment he began to jet and spin out on the hardwood floors.  At the time, Obie was at least a dozen times larger.

Ares’s first big trick was to leap over Obie by a foot or two.  Then it was jumping on her back.  Then jumping on her back and biting her neck.  Obie yowled, hissed, growled and slapped but she was clearly intimidated.  She was shadowed everywhere.  She had to plan a path of least resistance to get to the food bowl or reach the litter box.  At least, I thought, she would not succumb to brain rot.

Today, I opened up the front door to let in light and warmth from a beautiful afternoon.  Ares shot to the door, sat on his haunches and stared out through the screen, fascinated with a world he rarely is allowed to visit.  We call it Outdoor TV, and in  parenthesis “for cats.”

Before long Obie sat behind him, no more than a foot away, fascinated by Outdoor TV as well.  Ares turned to look at her and resumed his spectating.  Like so many parents do with recalcitrant children, maybe setting cats in front of a TV is a good diversion for peace and quiet.

I’m hopeful this is the beginning of a good thing.

The Arizona goose-step: Not everyone does it

Vince LaRue's "Tarothority"

Vince LaRue’s “Tarothority”

It’s the goose-step, all right, Arizona’s favorite dance.  But not everyone in Arizona is a budding Nazi.  You say what?

There’s Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff who has been elected six times now and continues his war on Hispanics?  And the very popular and conservative governor, Jan Brewer, the very one who wagged a finger at the President and who is only a baby step to the left of  the vaunted sheriff?

Paul Wilson's "Wicked Witch of The West"

Paul Wilson’s “Wicked Witch of The West”

Despite the state’s extreme right-wing Tea Party flavor, strong alternate views exist and pop up in varying ways.  Like last weekend’s art exhibit at the rear of a small building on West McDowell.

It was called “The Jan and Joe Show.”

Sixteen artists were brought together by Robrt (no “e”) Pela to express their views on those magnets of left-wing disgust, Arpaio and Brewer.

Robrt Pela under the spotlight.

Robrt Pela under the spotlight.

Pela had tried to do this once before at the Willow North Gallery up 7th Ave a bit.  That’s where he was once the curator.  Nebra, who follows such things, told me the show was cancelled in late January after Pela handed in his resignation effective March 31.  The owner said, no, you resign now and the show never got off the ground.  One of the artists, Vince LaRue, had flown in from Paris for the exhibit,  or was about to, when the show came crashing down.  Some suggest the closing was politically motivated, but Pela doesn’t know that, Nebra said.

A montage of Joe "The Finger" Arpaio.

A montage of Joe “The Finger” Arpaio.

Anyway on Sunday, March 3, the show’s last day, a few hep patrons of the arts wandered around the little studio, admiring the work and a few shooting photographs while Pela himself was being interviewed and photographed in a well-lit corner.

Eric Cox's "Wicked Witch of The Southwest"

Eric Cox’s “Wicked Witch of The Southwest”

For my money, although the exhibit was free, the Brewer renderings were the best of the bunch.  But I liked too the mat at the front of the door.  The one with a mug shot of Arpaio that you had to walk on to get in.  The price of admission, I suppose, but well worth it.

Joe Arpaio as door mat.

Joe Arpaio as door mat.

Many here in the U.S. think it is patriotic to walk in lock-step with our leaders.  Support the wars, support our troops no matter what.  This view has worsened of course since 9/11 and one can easily argue that the Arabs with box-cutters have actually won the war.  It seems to me, though, it is far more patriotic to be alert and criticize the government when it oversteps.

The honor roll of exhibiting artists.

The honor roll of exhibiting artists.

The biggest surprise, perhaps, about “The Jan and Joe Show” was that Arpaio and troops did not stage a high-profile raid of the joint with TV news cameras ablaze.