Diary of a Mad County

MONDAY, March 18 Los Alamitos marriage-and-family therapist Yaffa Balsamdrops us a line to say she's launching "Emotional Endurance," the first support group for people suffering from that dreaded terrorist-attack anxiety. "Emotional endurance during these trying times of terror can be achieved by learning to get back in control and empowering ourselves over our feelings and our lives through education, support and spirituality," explains Balsam, who lived with terrorism while growing up in Israel. RSVP at (562) 598-2223 for the first session, which is April 9, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., which gives participants plenty of time to get home for the start of 24—Fox TV's weekly nailbiter about terrorists trying to kill a federal agent, his family and a presidential candidate.

TUESDAY, March 19 About 3,000 Iranians gather to celebrate Norooz or Noruz (the Persian New Year) in near-total blackness in one of Orange County's lilly-whitiest places: Corona del Mar's Little Corona beach. On Chahar Shanbeh Suri—"Red Wednesday"—Persians symbolically shed all the darkness and evil they have accumulated over the year by jumping over a flame. After that, they're purified, radiant and ready to paaaaaarty! "I've been coming here for the past 25 years to celebrate New Year's Eve with the local Persian community and the gathering gets larger and larger each year," Amir Afdjeie, 49, of Mission Viejo, gushed over contemporary Iranian pop songs spun by a DJ. Asked what he thinks the significance of jumping over the fire is, 14-year-old Chris of Costa Mesa just shrugged. "I just come with my parents every year," he says. "I know it's for Persian New Year, but I think of it as, 'Oh, we're going to the beach.'"
Illustration by Bob Aul

The Reverend Lou Sheldon of the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition pops up on Comedy Central's The Daily Showto argue against allowing gays to participate in New York's annual St. Patrick's Day parade. Among straight-faced, shifty-eyed Sheldon's reasons—beautifully elicited by correspondent Mo Rocca—are that homosexuality is unknown to the Irish and there is no scientific evidence to suggest that leprechauns are gay. Leprechauns not gay? Rocca asked with smirking sincerity. What of the leprechaun's known penchant for prancing? 'Tis not the prancing of gaydom, contends Sheldon, totally serious. He did convince one viewer. Deep in our hearts, we've always known that Oscar Wilde was framed.

WEDNESDAY, March 20 Speaking of Sheldonites, Phil Sheldon is dropped from the campaign payroll of Republican nominee for governor Bill Simon, who took heat from GOP moderates and women's groups after the San Francisco Chronicle breaks the story that anti-gay/anti-abortion Reverend Lou's spawn was paid $30,000 as a consultant. Phil Sheldon's job was to e-mail his right-wing followers messages portraying former LA mayor Richard Riordan as a raging liberal. One missive hailed Simon as the best candidate to "undo four years of liberalism, homosexuality and anti-family values in California." The co-chairman of the Bay Area's queer Log Cabin Republicans said they would never support Davis but could not back Simon as long as he employed anti-gay campaign operatives. Team Simon denies bowing to the pressure, claiming Sheldon was not fired because he was never hired and that the 30 grand was just for his e-mail list. THURSDAY, March 21 We so constantly witness victimized families demanding vengeance for fallen loved ones that it's refreshing to come across a family in the same horrifying predicament seeking leniency. Richard Kentner of Dana Point died in a car crash south of San Clemente last fall. He was riding in a car driven by his close friend George Cattanach, who was being challenged to a race by another driver before plowing into a parked truck. Cattanach's blood-alcohol level later tested at .08 percent—the legal limit for California motorists. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Kentner's family asked the judge to sentence Cattanach, a 36-year-old father of three who worked at an Irvine printing plant, to probation and community service. But Cattanach had already been convicted of drunken driving in a 1998 case in which he hit and killed a drunken Marine walking on the 5 freeway's car-pool lanes. Because of Cattanach's past, Superior Court Judge Frederick Maguire says he has no choice but to sentence him to four years behind bars for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. South County folks don't need terrorist-attack-anxiety support groups, they need alcohol counseling—and sidewalks! FRIDAY, March 22 The Newport Beach-Costa Mesa Daily Pilot goes nutso over ear-chomping heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson being spotted at a Harbor Boulevard car dealership—parlaying the spectacle into its top, front-page story. Tyson apparently took time away from training for his upcoming fight against Lennox Lewis to visit his private collection of Wamborghinis that have been kept for years at Auto Market Wotus of Orange County. The Pilot never explains why someone would store their Lamborghinis on a Lotus dealer's showroom floor; perhaps they figure their upscale readers already know the answer. SATURDAY, March 23 Hoping to grow up to be rich enough to be a Pilot reader, we start thumbing through the latest issue of Fortune magazine, which carries an interesting story by Clifton Leaf on the gross disparity between punishments meted out to street thugs vs. suite thugs. Surprising to no one, securities-fraud cheats rarely get prison terms even though their crimes involve far greater amounts of theft, harm far more people and are far more costly to prosecute than burglary, robbery and drug-deal offenses. Among those Leaf cites for getting off easy is Costa Mesa-based ICN Pharmaceuticals and its maniacal chairman, Milan Panic, who made more than $1 million off a quick fraud of investors but was never charged with insider trading or any other criminal act; the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is still trying to get him barred from serving as a director or officer of any publicly traded company. UC Irvine criminologist Henry Pontell tells Leaf that the feds even inflated their statistics that showed about 4,000 white-collar criminals got jail time in 2000 by adding in welfare fraud; a close analysis revealed only 226 cases involved securities or commodities fraud. The reason for this insanity is there are far more fraud cases than there are qualified prosecutors, who can easily put away nine petty criminals in the time it takes to convict one executive who raped thousands of retirees of their life savings. Charlene Wang and Paul Brennan contributed to this week's report.

Shoot! Sunday, March 24: How hot are the buffalo wings at Newport Beach's Hard Rock Cafe?
Photo by Jack Gould


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