Twenty-five years after his death, the King's ethereal presence is still swiveling its royal hips. In many ways, Elvis Presley is just as alive today as he was back in the day (no, not literally, conspiracy theorists). Consider the inescapable (and oft poorly imitated) "Thank you, Thank you very much," millions of Elvis sightings, trillions of velvet Elvi and hordes of impersonators that can be found in any sizable city in any state in the country. The phenomena shocks even Dave Hebler, Elvis' former bodyguard and martial artist who experienced His Eminence firsthand.
"I'm just absolutely astounded that 25 years have gone by," says Hebler, who now owns a karate studio in Hillsboro, Ore. "Elvis touched a chord in people when he was alive and that chord is still ringing 25 years later. Absolutely unbelievable."
Hebler is a wealth of knowledge about the King, some of which he's willing to share, and reams of behind-the-scenes debauchery that he prefers to internalize. Co-author of "Elvis, What Happened?" a best-selling book about his and two other body guards' experiences with Elvis, Hebler was on the road with The King until a year before he died. He fondly remembers the first time they met in 1972 at a karate studio in Santa Monica, Calif.
"We were all working out, having a good time and noticed there was a commotion at the door. When I looked up, in walked Elvis Presley," Hebler recalls. "He ended up out on the mats with us, and I ended up being his partner, or in our terminology, his dummy. The dummy is the person who initiates the attack and you perform whatever technique you're going to perform on him, and he just kind of stands there. I guess he kinda liked beating on me so he came out to my studio a couple days later and invited me to be one of the Memphis Mafia boys, go on tour and go off into Never Never Land."
Thus began his journey, which ended in 1976 -- a year before the King died -- for reasons that are still a mystery to Hebler. But his memories of The King revolve around all of the good times and laughs they shared. And the lessons that he's learned.
Right now Hebler is preparing for a trip out to the Elvis-A-Rama museum in Las Vegas, Nev., (a kind of Graceland of the West) where Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman will proclaim "Elvis Presley Day," patrons will each Elvis cake, watch Elvis impersonators and embark on an Elvis candlelight vigil. He took a few minutes to say what he's gleaned from his years with Elvis.
On Elvis and drugs:
"Nobody can beat drugs, I don't care who you are. When you've got drugs hammering your system, of course you're not in control. You may think you are, but you're not. It was a shame, too. I've got to tell you something: When Elvis was straight he was the greatest guy I've ever met in my life. He was warm and friendly and funny. He was hilarious."
On Elvis impersonators:
"I don't like the ones who think they're Elvis. They kind of piss me off. But the ones who admire Elvis, they're generally doing it from a tribute perspective, I pretty much like them. But at the same time, I feel a little bit sorry for them, because their chosen profession is to imitate someone else, and that means they can never win. As long as you're imitating someone else, you'll never come in first. Still, for someone to get up and be an Elvis imitator he has to really work hard, put out a tremendous amount of effort for an extended period of time, you've got to kind of admire that. It's like going into a gym and seeing people in the gym who are fat and out of shape? You've got to admire them because they're in there and they're doing it. From that perspective I don't have a problem with any Elvis impersonator."
On the possibility of Elvis living:
"People who believe that Elvis lives try to give me facts and it's always something obscure. 'There was an orange that fell out the tree in Ft. Lauderdale and when the folks picked it up it has Elvis' face on it and that proves he's still alive.' I tell them I keep him in my closet and feed him peanut butter and banana sandwiches fried in butter. They're absolutely right. No, what can you say to them? 'You're stupid,' 'You're dumb,' 'You're crazy'? They're convinced for whatever reason you're not going to change their mind. It's pointless to argue, and I don't like arguing. Believe in whatever you want."
And on the richness of Elvis' life:
"People say to me all the time 'It's such a shame that Elvis died so young.' Well let me tell you something: Elvis Presley actually achieved the one thing that you, and I and everybody else on the face of this planet try to achieve. He was able to live life on his own terms. He did everything he wanted to do, he went everywhere he wanted to go, he met anyone he wanted to meet. He literally did everything he wanted. I don't know how many people can say that. His life may have ended prematurely, but by God, what a life. What impressed me more than anything else is how enormously powerful he was. No one ever said no to Elvis Presley."
Kate Silver is a staff writer for Las Vegas Weekly, where this article originally appeared.
Title: Elvis tribute artist.
Where were you when Elvis died?
I was 8 years old. It was late in the afternoon, and I remember that I wasn't that shaken by it. Though I loved Elvis, I knew he was in poor health and wasn't very happy. So when I heard about his death, I believed that he had gone to heaven and that his pain was now over. I took solace in that and also in the fact that I could still enjoy his music and watch his movies, and that someday I would see him again when I died and went to heaven, too.
What does the 25th anniversary of his death mean to you?
The fact that 25 years after his passing, there are so many special events all over the world commemorating his memory is just more testimony to the fact that Elvis was the greatest entertainer of the all time and always will be. Love and enthusiasm for his music has only grown with time. He is as popular today as he ever was, and maybe more so. Who else can we say that about? Who else has touched his fans so deeply? No one, and no one ever will. Elvis is still the King.
How will you commemorate the day?
I plan to commemorate the day by performing some of my favorite songs here in Vegas and meeting other tribute artists. It's always fun to hear their stories and share what has brought us all into this unique family. I think Elvis would be touched to see how many guys are dedicated to keeping his memory alive. That's what being a tribute artist is all about.
Name: Johnny Thompson
Title: Elvis impersonator and founder of the Professional Elvis Impersonators Association
Where were you when Elvis died?
I was in Biloxi, Miss., I think I was about 11-and-a-half years old. I was on the beach with my family and we were staying at the Sheraton hotel where Elvis used to go on vacation, and we turned on the TV and saw our hotel on every channel. The first thing I did was I called my dad and stepmom in the next room and told them "Elvis is dead," and they said "That's not even funny." So I go "No, no, turn on the television," and it was pretty sad. My father was a huge Elvis fan and my mother was a huge Elvis fan, and when I grew up listening to his music and watching his movies.
What does the 25th anniversary mean to you?
Jesus. It means I'm getting old (laughs). To be honest with you, every day that I do Elvis it's in honor of him and a tribute to him. So this year's really not necessarily any different than any other year for me.
How will you commemorate it?
I'll be performing on the 15th to 17th at the South East Alaska state fair.
Name: Harry Shahoian
Title: Elvis tribute artist at the MGM Grand's Rock 'n Roll Fantasy
Where were you when Elvis died?
Home, age 5. I remember it but not very well.
What does the 25th anniversary mean to you?
It means to me that this was a powerful, powerful human being. This is a guy dead 25 years and has a number-one hit right now in Europe, called "A Little Less Conversation." That just shows you how great the man was: 25 years later the fact people talk about him and he's the most impersonated person in the world. I really wish he was still around.
How will you commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death?
I'm usually performing on that day. I don't know if I really mourn it, I just recognize it and do my best performance that I possibly can. I think it would be different if I was raised with him, but I've become a fan after his death. It's crazy because to a lot of people, Elvis is Jesus Christ. In a lot of people's eyes Elvis could do no wrong especially, in his last couple days, when there was no one there to tell Elvis what he was doing to himself was wrong. But he got away with it because he's like JC.
They say all it takes is a little bit of faith, some cash and a signature, and if everything goes as planned, subscribing Christians (and maybe a few trusting infidels) will be free of the evil power companies -- and their power bills -- for life.
Call it the Electric Christian Rapture Test.
"I sold all my stock last year because I would rather put it into this company than the stock market," says Conrad Sorensen, who owns a dealership in Henderson, Nevada called Grassroot Enterprises of Tesla, Inc. "I feel my money's going to be safer here than any stock market."
Sorensen is part of a network of disciples of self-proclaimed anointed one, inventor and Christian evangelist Dennis Lee, who -- though he has actions pending against him by attorneys general and alerts filed by Better Business Bureaus in various states -- has been traveling the country, registering people for free power. The would-be, modern-day miracle-maker says that the Fourth of July will take on an extra special meaning this year. This July 4 will not just be Independence Day for our nation. It will be America's Declaration of Energy Independence Day. The day when their fabulous invention will be unveiled and the faithful will receive the free electricity that Lee's brethren have been promising for years.
You heard it right: Free electricity will shine down on believers, they say, in a 21st-century revelation, distinguishing the shepherds from the flock. The faithful will bask in light, and the nonbelievers will go on selling their souls to the Big Electric Companies.
Sound too good to be true?
With rising electricity costs and an increased focus on alternative energy sources it seems the nation's vulnerable underbelly has been exposed to these folks, whom skeptics consider little more than snake oil salesmen. And they seem to know exactly what population to target -- for example, disgruntled locals who show up at Public Utilities Commission hearings. At events like these, the sales representatives paper cars, sell videotapes and register people for "free electricity machines."
Others have found willing listeners in evangelical Christians looking to discover more of the lord's power, and the elderly, who find fellowship in Lee's following, and have money to invest in expensive dealerships.
Looks like the nation's power companies aren't the only ones hoping to strike it rich.
"Our slogan is it's too good to be ignored," says Sorensen, 46, a former pipe-fitter who bought his dealership from Dennis Lee in November 1999 for $20,000 -- a good deal, considering they reportedly go for about $100,000 today.
Lee, who owns United Community Services of America Inc., Better World Technologies and International Tesla Electric Co., is known to attorneys general across the nation as a threat to consumers, and to followers as a practically divine inventor. Claiming God as his companies' chairman, Lee says he has access to a generator that uses magnets and runs at 500 percent efficiency. He's been peddling his devices since about 1987, having made two national tours appealing to charismatic Christian sensibilities and governmental-corporate paranoia.
While there's no actual proof that these devices exist, Lee insists -- in segments you can view and hear on his various Web sites -- that folks on his team have been killed and that the government and power companies will do anything and everything in their power to squash this new, threatening technology. Attorneys general across the country think otherwise, many filing legal action to keep Lee's companies from selling his wares in their states. Lee declined an interview via email through his assistant, Mike Hall, who didn't like my story angle.
"If you were doing an interview about the project and what we are trying to achieve, that would be one thing," wrote Hall. "But if all you are interested in is getting 'his' side to these accusations, then you can do your article without Dennis' assistance." (Please note: Hall bargained with me when I asked if I could quote him, saying I could do so only if I also wrote that anyone who mentioned this article could get a free videotape at www.power4free.com.)
But critics aside, Sorensen and 1,999 others across the nation, according to Lee, have invested in his rhetoric. They purchase dealerships and then sign people up for free electricity. Different dealers have different requirements. Some may charge a fee for shipping in their materials, others may charge for the videotapes, and some may require membership North American Special Discounts Club (you got it -- NASDAC).
Sorensen makes money off selling $15 videotapes of Lee's presentations and by selling goods from Lee's other companies -- silent jackhammers, oil-eating balls, radioactive waste neutralizers and cars that run on water, among other items. He says that he's signed up about 800 people for free electricity nationwide, many of whom he met during a stop on Lee's 50-state tour last year.
Although he went into hock to buy his dealership, Sorensen believes it to be a solid investment that, in due time, will pay off. He says he was willing to invest in it because he believes in the technology and the conspiracy that Lee claims keeps free electricity out of the public's hands.
"I see how inventors get suppressed all the time," he says. Further, Sorensen says that his involvement with the company has led him to God, and he's not alone.
"I think that most people, when they do get involved with it, they'll see that there really is a God," he says. "To tell you the truth, I wasn't much of a believer, it's just that I know that there's a God now because I've seen so many different things through this organization. We have 500 technologies we literally have on hold right now, waiting to bring out to the world, because we don't have no finances for them, but when we start selling the power, we will."
His goal right now is to recruit what Lee and his followers refer to as "witnesses." That means people who believe in free power. Witness status used to require a one-time investment of $275, but now, at least with Sorensen's clients, all they have to do is purchase the company's videotape and sign a contract.
"We're trying to recruit 1.6 million witnesses to view these generators being demonstrated in 100 homes throughout the country, two per state," Sorensen pitches. "We're sending out invitations to people to come witness on one day, hopefully July 4. We'll give the people who come view this free electricity for the rest of their life. What we sell is a generator that makes 30 kilowatts per hour; the average home only uses two.
"We're going to give you that free power in exchange for us to send that excess power back and sell it. We figure if we can sell 5-cents per kilowatt hour, that makes 12,000 per unit. So the homeowner doesn't have to put up any cost. We just ask for them to buy a video to explain what we're doing. Then we register you in line to have one of these generators put in."
After witnessing the proposed July 4 free electricity show, those who've already signed up to receive the free electricity are expected to proselytize the greatness they've witnessed, and sign up nine people. But since these nine wouldn't take a blind leap of faith, as the first witnesses did, they have to pay $1,500 for their lifetime of electricity.
"We'll give them two months to get nine additional people to us, and after that we can get them on our own," he says. "That was 16 million homes overnight that want this technology. With 116 million homes, that's 100 percent of electricity needs in the U.S., and 40 million voters. Then we can get the proper deregulation in every state."
Baddabing, baddaboom, national domination.
Down to the Wire
Taking a small step outside of the evangelistic community and into the scientific one provides a different perspective on the free energy pickle. Yahia Baghzouz, an electrical and computer engineering professor, looked at some of Lee's Web sites. He wasn't impressed.
"I read everything on various Web sites, and it's just contradictory what they are saying," Baghzouz says. "On some sites they say it's gravity turning the generator, on other sites they say 'Oh, we have supermagnets that are powered by a battery.' If you power something by a battery you are using electric power to turn the thing. In many places they said 'we are not using any input power whatsoever.' That's contradictory."
He's not alone in his opinion. Eric Krieg, an electrical engineer in Pennsylvania, laughs when he hears that Lee has set July 4 as the date for his revelation.
"For 15 years he's assigned a date. He said March in one show, July in another. When I first heard him in '96, he said at the end of that year. That's part of keeping the faithful perked up ... It's about keeping a flux of new suckers in."
Krieg has been following Lee's claims since 1996, when he saw a full-page ad for one of his demonstrations in the Philadelphia Enquirer. His first reaction was laughter. "It was amusing how he had butchered science and manipulated all these redneck people," he says.
But then he discovered that people were buying into it. After seeing too many older people hand over $10,000 to buy dealerships, Krieg decided to put up a Web site (www.phact.org/e/dennis.html) debunking Lee's claims and drawing attention to the troubles he's had throughout the country. He's even offered Lee $50,000 if he can prove that his machine works.
"I believe it's impossible for this kind of thing to work," Krieg says. "You can't get something for nothing, as far as I know. Hundreds of people have been failing for hundreds of years. I have no idea what percentage are con men versus what percentage are deluded somewhere between stupid and insane."
It seems that Lee has learned much after clashing with the law in the past. These days, he words all contracts carefully. For example, when anyone signs up to get information about buying a dealership, they must initial two statements: "I/we affirm that neither UCSA or BWT are making promises about when technologies will be advanced to the market in the future," and "I/we will not be risking the welfare or security of my/our family by purchasing a UCSA dealership from an existing dealer." And when people like Sorensen accept any money, the buyer always gets something in exchange -- like a video. Because Lee's grown accustomed to investigations.
His name brings familiar smirks to people in attorneys general offices across the nation. With a three-decade-long history of arrests and complaints against him for fraud and violation of consumer protection laws, Lee has traveled the country with a show that's described as part crusade, part circus, peddling the wares of his many companies. Here's a look:
- In 1985 he was accused by Washington's attorney general of violating the consumer protection act. Though he agreed to pay $31,000 in fines, he left the state before doing so.
- He pleaded guilty to seven of 47 felony criminal counts filed by the Ventura County, Calif., district attorney in 1988 for violating the state's Seller Assisted Marketing Plan law, and grand theft. Lee served two years in a California state prison.
- The Kentucky's attorney general filed a lawsuit against Lee last month seeking to block him and companies connected to him from promoting their generator and holding seminars promoting the free-electricity device. Attorney General Ben Chandler says that these companies are defrauding customers because they don't disclose that their device doesn't actually exist, and is based on unproven scientific theory.
- Vermont, New Mexico and Tennessee obtained temporary restraining orders barring Lee from conducting his presentations.
- Attorneys general in Idaho and Arkansas have issued warnings to consumers to proceed with caution when dealing with Lee.
- Legal actions against Lee and his companies have been taken in Illinois, Alaska, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, which include, among other things: charging a registration fee for a product that doesn't exist; failing to register to do business within those states; and representing that consumers will soon have technology that has not been scientifically proven to exist.
- Alerts have been filed against his companies by Better Business Bureaus in Arizona, Washington, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
- And in states like Nevada, where no complaints have been filed yet, officials seem to be waiting to pounce. "I'm talking to attorneys general from other states to be ready for when something does come, but I can't take action until I know he's (Lee's) done something," says Deputy Attorney General John McGlamery. "So I'm just sitting here waiting."
Keeping the faith When told of Lee's record, Sorensen is ready with a sympathetic response: "He was literally kidnapped twice because he was trying to demonstrate free electricity," he says of Lee. Sorensen also says he thinks that any problems Lee's had with attorneys general were straightened out after Lee sent videotapes of his demonstrations to them.
Sorensen then blames the media, which he says is controlled by electricity giants General Electric and Westinghouse, for suppressing proof of free electricity. It's in their best interest, he says, to ignore the revolution.
And he's confident that his and Lee's day will come July 4. They will bask in God-given light and be rewarded for their faith and innovative creation. And the nonbelievers?
"I think crows will be very scarce that day," he says. "I think there will be a lot of people eating crow."
Kate Silver writes for the Las Vegas Weekly, where an earlier version of this article originally appeared.
If there's a black market for cow organs, someone in Montana may be rolling in moo-lah. After the mutilation of 12 to 15 (depending on who you talk to) cows and steer in about seven months, folks in sleepy Pondera County are baffled. They're still hoping that National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS), a place known for using the scientific method to explore such anomalies as UFOs, cattle mutilations and other controversial topics, can answer who, or what, is behind these strange deaths.
It began in June. A Montana farmer discovered that some kind of unauthorized surgical procedure had been performed on his cow-one that left it dead and lacking blood, organs and hide. By now, it's happened to many more. Whoever or whatever has been mutilating the cattle leaves behind no evidence, not even footprints. It's so mysterious that the townsfolk don't know whether to blame the government, aliens or satanic cults -- but the mutilations are nothing new. They seem to come in spurts every 10 years or so, according to Pondera County Commission Chair Bill Rappold. Only this time seems different, more extensive. Locals say it's the largest wave of bovine butchery since the 1970s, when 62 mutilations occurred in this area of Montana. And they're getting frustrated.
Ruby Bouma knows about this frustration firsthand. She and her husband, Glen, found their 9-month-old steer calf sliced up Nov. 1. Puzzled by its death, they're almost equally confused by the aftermath.
"When an animal dies, a predator, whether it be a coyote, wolf, whatever, they will chew into the animal and make a large enough hole so they can start eating into the flesh," Ruby explains. "... Nothing had eaten on this animal (almost two months after it was killed). "If you lose a calf you just take it back in the pasture and the predators will take care of it. ... In the mutilated ones, these wild animals won't do that. Why? I don't know. How are they dying? I don't know." She's certainly not alone in her confusion.
That's where the National Institute for Discovery Science comes in. Last June, the institute acquired its first sample from one of the mutilated Montana animals. "It interested us because underneath the left jaw, under the bone, was an area of what investigators described as green tissue, in contrast to the remaining tissue, which was the usual pink," says NIDS Deputy Director Colm Kelleher.
The head was shipped to NIDS, where a battery of tests was performed. NIDS also acquired a dead cow from a slaughterhouse to use as a control in the experiment. They allowed the cow to decompose under natural conditions for four days, protected from scavengers. Samples were taken and compared to the mutilated cow, and a surprising difference was found. A substance called oxindole was found in the mutilated cow but not in the control sample. "Oxindole has, at the kinds of concentration we found it in, been used as an experimental sedative," explains Kelleher. "It could have been used to drug the animal prior to or during the mutilation. We haven't nailed that down but that's one of the uses of oxindole."
So they've found a starting point, which comes as small relief to Pondera County folk. Only time will tell whether their discovery is significant; that is, if oxindole is found consistently in other mutilated cattle. And that, of course, depends on the mutilator striking again. The townsfolk know this and, at least for Ruby, the prospect is frightening. "What will be next?" Ruby ponders. "Why haven't these people, or whoever's doing this, why haven't they done horses or sheep? Why haven't they done other kinds of animal? And if it gets to (mutilating) people, then we really need to get it under control. The most scary part is the unknowing. When you don't know any answers, that's what's weird."
Who got the hooch, baby?
Who got the only sweetest thing in the world?
Who got the love?
Who got the fresh-e-freshy?
Who got the only sweetest thing in the world?
Let's get real, let's get heavy
Till the water breaks the levee.
Let's get loose, loose.
Who got the hooch?
- From the song "Hooch" by Everything
In times of economic hardship, certain sacrifices must be made. And, as we all know, some of the most difficult items to give up are our decadent revelries. Like our hooch. If you're found in this position, I'm here to help. I'm sacrificing my time, liver, taste buds and, quite likely, a bit of stomach acid to bring you a taste test of 40-ounce malt liquors.
Before we begin, let's get a few things straight. First, never refer to these large bottles as 40-ouncers. They're 40s. When you're making your purchase, gladly accept the brown paper bag that the clerk offers you. It tends to enhance the mood of 40-guzzling. And by guzzling, I'm not kidding. They get warm quickly. The warmer they get, the more they taste like gasoline, so open your gullet and pour, if you can. Nota bene: Chilled mugs are considered an insult. You must drink from the bottle-using one hand, if possible.
WARNING TO TEETOTALERS AND 40-OZ. CONNOISSEURS: The reporter will be indulging in the sauce, so her taste buds may be affected and items further down the list may have an unfair advantage.
Olde English 800 Malt Liquor: 7.5 percent alc/vol.
This was typically my choice of firewater during high school/college 40s parties -- looking back, I have no idea why. One attribute of this brand is the size of the bottle's mouth: No warming-beer smells have a chance to waft from the swill below as you imbibe. Were you able to smell it, you'd have some difficulties continuing. This beverage seems to become sweeter the more you drink, which, to this liver-hardened reporter, is a turn-off.
Olde English High Gravity 800 Malt Liquor: 8 percent alc/vol.
Because there's more alcohol in this, it's more desirable than its predecessor (OE 800), but less desirable than the other samples. I found the main difference of "gravity" is in its accentuation. It's more acrid, pungent and thick-tasting than the gravity-free one. Still, none of those traits were so bad that they overshadowed its higher alcohol content.
Mickeys Fine Malt Liquor: unspecified percent.
While I went for the OE at those parties of my youth, my older and apparently smarter sister chose Mickeys. If only I'd followed in her footsteps. This is by far the best of all of the 40s purchased. It's smooth and bland -- a good thing with this kind of beverage. The mild flavor makes it less offensive than any other, as the bottle warms from the heat of your hand. It's also surprisingly refreshing, and results in the most inoffensive burps.
Mickeys Ice: 5.8 percent alc/vol.
Though I didn't notice when I purchased Mickeys Ice, it's actually an ice-brewed ale, so it doesn't count as a malt liquor. Still, its highlight was a fresh, almost minty smell upon opening. A fine flavor going down. But next to Mickeys, whose alcohol content is higher by its malt-liquor nature, there's no comparison. Go for the original.
King Cobra Premium Malt Liquor: Unspecified percent
Disclosure: This one's only 32 ounces.
At first, King Cobra wasn't great. It had a sour aftertaste. But the drinking of all the others beforehand helped dull my taste buds, and the King worked its way ahead of the OE, hands down. Translation: Drink it fast and you won't notice the bad flavor.
Magnum 32 Malt Liquor: 6 percent
Disclosure: Another 32-ouncer.
Similar to King Cobra, it was initially highly undesirable. It smelled slightly of urine, which made it difficult to really appreciate any flavor. Certainly this was the most bitter, and produced the most offensive burps. But after a few rounds of the other spirits this, too, became palatable and fairly enjoyable -- better than the OE, anyway.
Heading up north to Utah for the Winter Olympics next year? Have fun, but be sure to leave the medical marijuana at home.
A night in jail taught Dennis Peron, drafter of California's Proposition 215 that legalized medical marijuana in 1996, that Utah doesn't take kindly to pot smokers. Utah is one of 41 states where marijuana -- prescribed or not -- is illegal. And Peron worries that with the Winter Olympics coming there may be more medical marijuana patients/Utah tourists suffering if they're not allowed to smoke.
"Cancer doesn't stop at the Utah border," says Peron, who was arrested in Cedar City. "Neither does illness, mental illness or multiple sclerosis. It happens in Utah and ... when (officials) hear my doctor tell how marijuana helped me, I think they'll quit. I believe this will be the impetus to change the law."
Peron says he uses marijuana to combat his alcoholism. "Anything that keeps me away from alcohol is good," he says. On Nov. 14, along with John Entwistle (who also smokes pot to combat alcoholism) and Kasey Conder (who uses it to alleviate depression), Peron pulled into a Motel 6 on their way to Zion National Park. When a desk clerk smelled marijuana smoke coming from their room, she called the police.
The police searched the hotel room and the men's cars. Peron says the cops found two to three ounces of pot, but police reports say that together the three men had a pound -- a weight Peron says must have included his pot-laced brownies. They also found rolling papers and $3,000 to $4,000 cash.
They were taken to jail for possession of marijuana with the intent to sell -- a felony. They were released the next day on $5,000 bail and will return to Utah for trial Dec. 11. They could face a sentence of 30 days to five years in prison.
Iron County Attorney Scott Burns says this is the first instance in his 15 years on the job that someone who was charged with marijuana possession has shown him a prescription for the drug. For him, the prescription means nothing.
"It's illegal to possess marijuana here. It's illegal to smoke marijuana here," he says. "He does not have any legitimate basis, in my opinion, to have it or to smoke it."
Though residents in California, Nevada, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska, Maine and Colorado, as well as the District of Columbia, have voted for the right to use medical marijuana, Burns says that doesn't change Utah's stance, no matter how close those states are in proximity.
"It is a crime in Utah. He does not have a prescription from a Utah doctor and his use or actions in California are irrelevant to Cedar City, Utah," he says.
Gina Palencar, spokeswoman for Americans for Medical Rights, the association that helped get medical marijuana on ballots in Nevada, says Peron's arrest is indicative of more problems yet to come because of inconsistent state laws.
"That's a problem right now, that there's no interstate recognition of these kinds of medical marijuana rights of patients," she says.
And federally, marijuana use and possession is still a crime.
"It's a reminder that we have patients in some states protected because (medical marijuana) laws passed, but we're still at an impasse in recognizing laws of medical marijuana patients in this country because of the way federal law is, and we won't see any solution to this until federal law changes."
Kate Silver is a staff writer at the Las Vegas Weekly and can be reached at email@example.com.
Catherine Jacobs makes fetus dolls for a living. Oh, she calls them something different -- micro-preemies. But they're fetus dolls, all right. She makes them out of cloth or resin, starting at three weeks' gestation and going up to 36 weeks, and charges up to $190 for the little critters. She also sells clothes and baskets to go with them -- even fake incubators.
It's more than a little bit creepy.
Jacobs isn't subtle about her pro-life beliefs. Atop her Web site (www.godslittleones.com) reads "U.S. abortion rate: 1.3 million every year. ... This site is dedicated to these little Americans." But pro-lifery isn't her only motivation for sewing baby fetus dolls. Jacobs had a miscarriage. She decided making the dolls would help women with miscarriages grieve. So she began selling them.
"I create these life-size portraits to celebrate the lives of these little ones, no matter how small and young they are," she explained via email.
And Jacobs isn't alone. Sandy Eding, of Zeeland, Mich., is another maker of fetal merchandise (www.macatawa.org/~eding/). Eding calls her creations bereavement dolls, made to help grieving parents.
"I believe they are very helpful to the healing process," said Eding, through email. "While I believe it is not good either to push away grieving for a loss, or to submerge oneself in it too much, I think having something to hold while adjusting to the loss can be very helpful."
In the 17 months she's been in business, Eding has sold 256 dolls. Prices range from $40 to $120, beginning at 11 weeks' gestation and going up to 40 weeks, and they're made according to your baby's specifications-heck, she'll even put a shunt in the doll if you provide it. The baby-fetus dolls color choices include ecru, flesh, tan, toast, camel and bark.
I purchased a toast-colored, 12-week fetus, with face -- another option. The wrinkled creature looked just like a small doll, complete with long, squirmy arms and legs. It came curled up in the fetal position, wearing a diaper and hat, bundled in a blanket. And it's filled with sand, so it's heavier than it looks. Eding calls that the "the feel-real weight."
It gave me the willies.
I took the inanimate fetus over to Planned Parenthood to get a reaction from a pro-choice organization that deals with reproductive issues on a daily basis. They were unaware of this market for sand-filled critters, and, well, they got the willies, too.
Executive Director Denise Fowler was taken aback when she saw my hand-sewn fetus. She was quick to point out that if this helps someone grieve, then she's no one to judge. But the best adjective she could find to describe the little fetus was "interesting."
"I've worked in this field since 1979," she said. "I have worked in abortion clinics, I've worked with women who have had abortions. I've worked with women who have had children and adopted them out. I've worked with thousands of women who had babies, and they were just 'failure-to-thrive.' I've worked with women who had miscarriages, who wanted a child or didn't want a child, but had a miscarriage. And everyone has a different way of dealing with grief. Whether it's a healthy way of dealing with it, I think that's probably a personal bias or perspective."
Fowler pointed out that since she has never lost a child, and she isn't a counselor, she may not be in a position to judge. So I called a grief counselor.
Christine Needham, a marriage and family therapist and registered nurse, suggested that counseling would be more helpful to those grieving than purchasing a fetal replica of their deceased child.
"I would be concerned with a doll or something like that that isolates," Needham said. "One healthy way to deal with grief is in group or individual counseling. That way you're actively involved in the healing process. (The doll) may actually intensify the grief, if you think about it. You're looking at a constant reminder -- it wasn't a very happy time. That would be my feeling on it."
For more fetal merchandise, see www.preemie-babies.com and www.midwiferytoday.com/loves/alliealden.html.
Can't you just picture it?
Osama bin Laden, AK-47 in hand, has been hanged.
A blindfold is put around the eyes of the birthday boy, an eager 8 year old. A wooden bat is placed in his hands.
The boy approaches the hanged figure and swings. He misses. Swings again. Hits. The terrorist spins, silently, on his makeshift noose.
And the roomful of children cheer, as their parents look on with pride at the fallen Osama pinata.
The object of the pinata game, we all know: Children continue whacking at a paper maché character until it breaks apart and candy spills everywhere. The kids run amok trying to collect the most candy, and the game ends. At least, that's how it used to be.
In this scene, the once-innocent game has taken on a demonic tinge. To some, the image of children whacking at a terrorist until he explodes into a candy-filled blast is horrid; the thought that someone is making money off of this creation, frightening.
To others, images like this are acceptable, even "cute." Children taking out their aggressions on this symbol simply means they're growing up American, proud and strong.
After discussing the proliferation of items like the pinata with experts in marketing, culture and psychology, it's become clear: The line between patriotism and profiteering is paper-thin.
Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, red, white and blue began coloring our nation as a wave of patriotism swept across the country. The patriotic corporate campaigns became commonplace: General Motors came up with "Keep America Rolling"; Ford used "Ford drives America"; For Coca-Cola, it's "We live as many, we stand as one." And red-blooded American capitalists were selling the American flag in everything from gas stations to liquor stores.
Now, two months later, the Stars and Stripes remain. But something else has crept into storefronts and onto Web sites across the nation. Call them terrorist trinkets, Al Qaeda kitsch, salacious souvenirs. Whatever name you choose, entrepreneurs and Web masters have extensively expanded their product lines in the last eight weeks to include violent merchandise and video games. They've chosen such illustrative URLs as blowshitup.com, kissmyUSbutt.com, f-osama.com, f-usama.com, nukeafghanistan.com, osamayomama.com, makempay.com, killosama.com, and fuqafghanistan.com.
Their wares also run the gamut of tastelessness and tackiness, with a variety of anti-Osama bin Laden pinatas, toilet paper, condoms, coffee mugs, T-shirts, dartboards, video games, slogans, and anything else their brains could come up with -- and their pocketbooks could cash in on.
The hatred that Americans are feeling and the way they're expressing it is similar to what's going on in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they're burning effigies of President Bush. But Americans are also taking advantage of one of the things the Al Qaeda is attacking: capitalism. And whether or not you believe these entrepreneurs are exploiting a national tragedy, they're still doing it well.
Jeff Weiss has decided it's time for America to say "screw you" to Osama bin Laden, so he's making Al Qaeda condoms for all to buy. Sound like every woman's sexual fantasy? Doubtful. A quick way to make a buck? Possibly.
Weiss, a resident of South Orange, N.J., is one of hundreds of manufacturers of bin Laden merchandise.
"It's serving a dual purpose: It's putting this guy down in the ultimate way ... and yes, I'm trying to make some money, too," Weiss says. "This is the American way. It's capitalism."
Weiss says he selected the condom from hundreds of thousands of items on which to put bin Laden's face. His Web site, www.hotlogo.com, boasts more than a million "imprintable" products, meaning that you pick the product, send him your logo or whatever you want printed on the product, and there's your personalized item.
The condom just seemed right.
"Condoms are like, you know, a funny thing," he says. "I'm thinking of having his picture in color with a target (on top of it). I believe most people would save it as a collector's item. The other idea (from Wireless Flash News) is to put the wrapper in the toilet and use it for target practice, you know what I'm saying? Maybe a woman would not be as accurate as a man."
He expects the product to be ready within the next week, and says he may donate some of the proceeds to help out victims of the World Trade Center attacks.
"I'd like to make some money," he says. "But I'd like to have a good rip on this guy, too."
A few shops around town offer bin Laden trinkets, but the Internet undoubtedly boasts the best variety. Here, the variety of toilet paper alone is extensive. For example, at wipewithbinladen.com, you can choose from three slogans: "Wipe out bin Laden"; "If he wants to attack he can start with my crack"' or "If your butt gets to cloddin' just wipe with bin Laden." Then there's Makempay.com, with four choices, each with a picture of Osama: "Osama ...Yo Mama!"; "bin Laden, been hidin? Time's up! You lose!"; Osama ... you look flushed!"; and "Ready or not ... Here we come!" At kissmyusbutt.com, there's the less creative "Wipe out terrorism." And that's just the beginning.
The T-shirt variety far exceeds toilet paper offerings. OsamaYoMama.com sells its namesake logos, as well as "Bitch Gear" -- with Osama's picture covered by the word "bitch" -- and other items that read "Thrax 'em back." Bin-Laden-T-shirts.com sells a "Wanted dead not alive" shirt. Cachebeauty.com has Osama's picture with a bulls-eye drawn through it. And dozens of other sites have come up with catchy phrases and pictures designed to attract credit-card holders.
Then there are the trinkets. Brotherguido.com has voodoo dolls. SubmarineStore.com has National Rifle Association shooting targets. Other sites offer golf balls, underwear, sweat pants and hats. There's even Osama porn out there.
These products disgust Jim Gath, CEO of Las Vegas' Mojave Moon Marketing and Entertainment. He refuses to jump on the terrorist-trinket bandwagon, and says that selling these products is exploitative and wrong.
"What happens is, a lot of entrepreneurs play on people's senses of patriotism," says Gath. "It happened during the Gulf War, too. Entrepreneurs are really entrepreneurs because they're out to make money and they really don't care about the bigger picture. Too many people in the American public feel they're doing their patriotic duty by buying these things. To me, they're just fomenting more and more bad feelings."
Gath wants more people to ask why so many people hate Americans, rather than blindly purchasing patriotic items. Buying knickknacks does little good for anyone, he adds, except the company profiting from the sale.
"People think they can hide behind some of this flag stuff or this overly patriotic stuff and they're done," he says. "That's all they have to do."
Gath agrees that those responsible for the attacks must be stopped, but says that people need to look at our relationship with Afghanistan in a more discerning way. Rather than spending their time blowing up bin Laden in video games or searching for the newest line of terrorist toilet paper, Gath says that people should focus on understanding more about other cultures. That way, he adds, we can work towards eliminating a future full of terrorist acts.
"What people need to do is try to understand there are other people and other beliefs and other economic systems in this world and we ought to begin to study those, read the newspaper, watch TV and begin to understand other people," he notes. "That's not saying we shouldn't go apprehend the people responsible for this. But if we want this to stop this from happening in the future, we're going to have to look at it differently than we've been looking at it."
Shoot 'em Up, Slice 'em Up, Ra Ra Ra!
Anti-bin Laden video games have become another flavor of the day for vengeful Americans, with plots allowing users to cut, nuke, bomb, distort and shoot bin Laden. Some are frighteningly realistic.
Larry Gardner, CEO of CyberExtruder (www.cyberextruder.com), a software company that converts photographs into three-dimensional characters (think The Sims), says his company started incorporating bin Laden's image on his Web site about two weeks after the attacks.
"Shortly after the attacks, one of my partners took a photograph of Osama bin Laden from the Internet and put it on a character in Unreal Tournament (a gladiator type of shooting game that is very popular all over the world). He was playing the game and taking his frustrations out on the bin Laden character when others noticed and asked for copies so they could do the same," Gardner notes in an email interview. "He noticed the minor relief it seemed to bring to others, so he posted it publicly to the Internet." Since the image was posted, more than 150,000 users have downloaded the files. Gardner says that since most Americans would like to wreak havoc on bin Laden themselves, doing so in a video game is helpful.
Robert Thompson, former president of the International Popular Culture Association and professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University in New York, agrees with Gardner. "There is so much anger out there and frustration, that as ugly as some of this is, it's a way for people to express it," says Thompson. "It's like a safety (valve) for some of this energy. Without outlets, anger could be vented in a much worse way than telling nasty jokes."
Thompson says that though not all of the products and video games out there are tasteful, they're certainly expected.
"There's some stuff that's obviously really, really creepy, it's so full of anger and hate and angst, but it was absolutely inevitable," he says. "We all saw the Saddam Hussein toilet seats during the Gulf War, and that war was so short, if you were doing your French homework one night you may have missed it."
Thompson points out that during World War II, there was a proliferation of songs and comic strips about Adolf Hitler. With the aid of the Internet today, our communication and marketing capabilities have expanded immensely, allowing anti-bin Laden material to spread much more quickly, making it difficult to compare today's proliferation with any unifying event in the past.
And though he says the products are a "frustrated ... attempt to vent in some way," he also views them as fairly healthy expressions.
"A lot of them are based on humor," he says, "and there is an extent to which humor acts as a lubricant and in some way a fire extinguisher to some volatile emotions, and there is a place for some of that stuff."
United in Anger, and Disposable Income
"Everyone's out to make a buck," says Dr. Robert Butterworth, an LA psychologist specializing in trauma.
While Butterworth isn't too fond of the terrorist trinkets, he, too, agrees that they fulfill a certain need. He explains that human response to trauma or tragedy starts with fear, and turns into anger. Entrepreneurs exploit these emotions.
Think about it: How many emails have you gotten that have tried to sell you Cipro or gas masks to exploit the anthrax anxiety that's circling the country? Those items prey on fear. The trinkets have progressed to the next stage.
"(These) things fulfill our needs for anger. Let's wipe our butt with bin Laden, that's what it means," Butterworth says, adding that some Americans feel as though purchasing these kinds of products is the only thing they can do.
"It's not like the Revolutionary War or the Civil War," he says. "You can't run to the closet and get a rifle and start shooting enemies. So we do it in a vicarious way."
And, strange as it may sound, buying all of this bin Laden crap is something that at least gives some Americans a commonality. "(Bin Laden) hated that we were having fun and I guess we're going to have fun with this," says Butterworth. "And as long as we're angry, as long as we're still doing this, we're all still united."
There is a line to be drawn, however, when this hatred crosses the racist boundary -- and in many places, it has. There are Web sites out there -- like allahsucks.com and deadarab.com-which are bigoted and hateful. And, well, if you take a look at the pinata featured in this story, its identity is certainly not limited to bin Laden. It looks like an Arab man in traditional dress. In this realm, Butterworth says that people have gone too far. He adds that the bin Laden items, whether they exploit a horrific tragedy or not, aren't dangerous.
Nevertheless, he stumbles when asked if producing these items constitutes a "healthy" reaction. "Healthy," he says, is hard to define.
"The merchandise and sales of the merchandise is a good indication of how we're feeling right now," Butterworth says. "If people are buying toilet paper and doing with it with bin Laden what you do with toilet paper, that's a very primitive way of saying how you feel."
Still, he doesn't like it.
"I hate making people rich on all this crap."
Pacifists come in all shapes and sizes: Even extraterrestrial.
The Raelians -- an international religious sect that believes human life was created by aliens and holds science as its highest religion -- have been actively spreading their beliefs since last month's terrorist attacks. On Sept. 14, they issued a statement about cloning -- one of their loftiest scientific goals, which they feel will bring them closer to their creators -- saying that to accelerate the process would "make terrorist attacks inefficient in the future."
Last Tuesday they tackled a different issue, focusing on the problems of monotheistic religions and blaming religious fanaticism for the attacks. About 10 people attended a meeting at a library near the Raelian headquarters (outside of Las Vegas) to hear the most recent statement of Rael -- the Raelians's prophet -- entitled "Monotheistic religions are dangerous and responsible for the greatest crimes against humanity."
The meeting focused on religious hypocrisy, violence and fanaticism. And they brought up some valid points. But Rael's solution is, shall we say, otherworldly at best. He suggests censoring the ancient texts of world religions as a way of promoting peace.
"The truth of the matter is that this belief in a single and Almighty God is the very cause of the greatest tragedies that humanity has known," reads the prophet's statement. "From the colonization of Europe by Muslims, through the Crusades, the wars of religion, the Inquisition, Nazism, up until today with the wars between Pakistan and India, Cypress, Ireland, Kosovo, the Middle East, everywhere, it's always in the name of an Almighty God that people tear each other to pieces and kill one another."
Rael's statement aroused protest from a few local college students, who'd been attracted to the meeting by its ominous title. The students had come to defend Islam, but when they confronted U.S. Raelian President Ricky Roehr, they were told that neither they, nor their religion -- in its entirety -- were under attack.
"We respect everyone's beliefs," Roehr explained. "We're not here to convince you of anything, because that's not respectful."
Roehr said that Rael's main point was to remove from religious texts any reference to violence, discrimination or compromising of human rights that people could take out of context and exploit, like last month's suicidal terrorists who killed thousands in the name of Allah.
"The only solution, as I have sought after for more than 20 years, is for all the old and new religious texts from traditional religions and religious minorities to be censored so as to expurgate from them all writings that do not respect human rights and laws of democratic countries or encourage hatred and violence," Rael wrote.
Some examples Rael thinks should be censored from the Koran include: "So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them." And "Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people."
Roehr made it clear that these passages are taken out of context -- but that's the point. It's easy to take sections of anything out of context and proselytize just the sections that support someone's cause. Should the violent passages remain in the Bible, the Torah and the Koran, Roehr fears that wars based on religion will continue being fought as they always have, since the same values will continue being passed on to our children.
"Violence always begets more violence," he says. "It never goes in any other direction."
Still, while erasing a few passages in some religious books may seem an easy solution to the Alien-aspiring Raelians, they've neglected to foresee the ensuing reactions. You see, in some countries, altering ancient religious texts begets beheading.
For little more than a million smackeroos, some shiny equipment bought from your neighborhood hardware store, and a wee bit of science know-how, you could start your own germ-making factory. That's right: Choose from anthrax, Ebola, typhus, whooping cough, smallpox or any number of lethal pathogens to make in your own designer-disease lab.
That's just what they did at Building 12-7 of the Nevada Test Site, some 100 miles north of Las Vegas, from 1998 to 2000.
Germ warfare has been referred to as "the poor man's atomic bomb." So it's no surprise the Nevada Test Site, which was once the proverbial mecca for nuclear weapons testing -- and Monday was proposed for use as a national anti-terrorism training center by Sen. Harry Reid -- was the premier destination for the simulation. The Test Site was mostly closed down when the 1992 nuclear weapons testing moratorium was enacted.
The germs they were making weren't lethal, say officials from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), a Department of Defense agency in charge of safeguarding national security. And their purpose wasn't to disperse the biological agents. Rather, they wanted to see just how difficult and costly it would be to manufacture a germ-making plant. From there, they performed tests to see if any "signatures" were given off from the factory that would enable outside detection, according to Public Affairs Officer Army Maj. Linda Ritchie. Hence the project's name: BACUS, an acronym for Biotechnology Activity Characterized by Unusual Signatures.
"A signature is any change in activity. They were looking for signatures to see if they could pick up something that would allow them to know what was going on within this building," Ritchie explained. She refused to elaborate on what any of those signatures were, or whether there were any at all. That's classified -- as is most of the information from the project. Big surprise.
Spores Galore and the Fungus Among Us
BACUS consisted of two tests, one in November 1999 and the second in August 2000. It was in an old recreation hall, about 50 miles inside the Rhode Island-sized site. Though the hall has been closed to recreational activity for years, its spirit remains.
Getting to the room where the lab is located is an eerie jaunt: Follow the old signs reminiscent of the fallout days -- "In case of fire awaken sleeping employees slowly to prevent nervous shock and leave as fast as you do at quitting time" -- past the musty pool tables and the dusty bar, beyond the barren barbershop and unsightly urinals and into The Lab.
No fancier than a standard biology lab, the room -- about 20 feet by 10 feet -- is filled with metallic machinery, valves, beakers, tubing, funnels, gauges, pumps, scales, sterilizers and plastic baggies. You'd never know they were producing a spore-forming agent to simulate anthrax here a little more than a year ago.
"What happened was the project provided a realistic environment. That's why this particular location was chosen. The biological technology equipment and all of the equipment (used here) is commercially available," Ritchie explained.
The products they were using -- Bt and Bg -- are nonharmful biological agents found in pesticides and soil. Ritchie stressed these agents were what she called "simulants" only, and were never dispersed. The goal lay in the preparation and detection, not in their release. She also said that none of the scientists became ill during the experiments.
"In the tests, no actual biological warfare agents were involved," she said. "Bt and Bg are normally found in soil. Bt is commonly used in pesticides under the name of Dipel, and Bg is a benign simulant that is not commercially used.... Bt and Bg are spore formers, they were used to simulate the biological agent anthrax, which also forms spores."
Ritchie wouldn't elaborate on why the tests were launched, but insisted they weren't prompted by an imminent threat. She stressed the threat of biological terrorism is always out there.
"The concern is that there may be people out there who have the intention of doing this. And we would want to be able to detect it if that were happening," she said.
DTRA seemed to carry out the project with ease, for a mere $1.6 million. And though a simple lay person may not be able to do this, it doesn't take a rocket scientist.
"There was some technical knowledge that would be required for someone to do this," Ritchie said. "You would have to have some knowledge of maybe microbiology, electricity, how to operate a biological agent production system. It would be difficult for someone like me, with no technical background, to come in and do it."
Ritchie was unable to answer a wide range of questions about the lab, such as: Are there labs like these elsewhere in the country? Was this part of a series of tests, or does it stand alone? How many people would have been affected by the germs made here. Were they anthrax? How many people worked here? Did the tests yield any results?
It's no surprise that these questions remained unanswered. It is the military we're dealing with -- and with the increased emphasis on national security in the wake of war, what could you expect?
What was surprising, however, was the agent's reaction to the attention the lab had been receiving.
"It's not that exciting of a story!" Ritchie said, laughing in disbelief over the barrage of questions she resisted answering.
If a million-dollar germ-making factory isn't deemed exciting -- it makes you wonder what billion-dollar biological enterprises our country could have up its pestilence-producing sleeve.