Where Is The Best Offshore Fishing? Venice LA That's Where!

Venice LA Has The Best Offshore Fishing In The Country

If you love offshore fishing you have a perfect chance to enjoy the fishing trip of a lifetime in Venice, LA this summer. Venice is known for some of the best offshore fishing you can find.

Although a small town, people travel from all over the country to Venice to charter a boat and go out into the Gulf of Mexico. With Venice LA only being a short drive out of New Orleans, many fishermen fly into NOLA, stay a couple nights in the world famous French Quarter then go out for the best fishing on the planet. If you have never taken a fishing charter in the Gulf, you are in for the time of your life. Old or young, male or female you can be sure that you will catch fish and come back onshore exhilarated.

Here are just some of the reasons why Venice LA should be your next fishing destination:

Multiple Fishing Charters to Choose From

There are offshore fishing charters that go out on a daily basis. You can book in advance or you can travel to Venice and then make your booking. You can book charters of different sizes – if you want to fish alone there are small charters available, but if you are bringing along friends and family there are larger vessels available for hire.

Wide Variety of Fish

One of the largest draws to Venice for offshore fishing is the variety of fish available in the Gulf. Whether you are looking to catch marlin, tarpon, sharks, yellowfin tuna, swordfish, mahi-mahi or wahoo you can be sure that you will find them here.

Experience of Fishing Captains

Another reason Venice is consistently voted a top destination is the quality of the fishing charters. The fishing boat captains out of Venice are extremely experienced. The boats are all very well-maintained and you can rest assured that you will not have any trouble while out in the water.

Year Round Fishing

Unlike many other fishing destinations New Orleans is year-round – you do not have to wait for summer to enjoy your hobby. Although you can deep-sea fish year-round in the Gulf of Mexico, if you want the best of Louisiana fishing and to catch the big yellowfin tuna , the summer is the best time for their migration.

Affordable Fishing Trips

The fishing charters out of Venice are affordable. With the cost of living in Louisiana relatively low compared to the rest of the country, you can enjoy a first class fishing trip for less than you think. If you compare what you would pay in other fishing destinations, which are usually tourist resorts, you will see that you pay very reasonable fees out of Venice. In fact, it is so affordable that many people come several times a year.

Travel is Easy

Venice is close to New Orleans and flights in to the city are very inexpensive. With New Orleans being the second most flock into city in the country, booking a cheap flight is easy. You can fly into the city and then rent a car to drive to Venice. Southern Louisiana has many fishing lodges if you choose to stay the night. Some of the fishing charters even offer overnight trips!

Charter Fishing for Everyone

Although most people think of fishing charters as a mens' getaway, it is extremely common to have the entire family out on the boat. We are also seeing more and more of companies using fishing charters for exhilarating team building exercises.

Today, offshore fishing is more fun than ever. When you think offshore fishing charters you should think Venice, LA!

The American Silver Dollar

When you think of or hear the word 'dollar', many of us automatically think about a paper dollar bill. After all, the US dollar bill is what we use today for our money. However, the first US dollars that were used back in the 1700s were silver dollars. The American Silver Dollar is not only a unique collector's piece but is also a big part of our history.

History of the American Silver Dollar

The first issue of US dollars took place in 1794 in the form of the American Silver Dollar. Their style was based on the Spanish dollars that were then being used. Throughout the years, the design of the silver dollar has changed quite frequently, usually representing something symbolic to the country, whether it's Lady Liberty, our Presidents or something symbolizing our freedom and unity as a nation.

The first American Silver Dollar displayed the head of Lady Liberty facing right with her long flowing hair. LIBERTY is inscribed on the top edge in a circular style above her head. The date is on the bottom of the coin. Eight stars are one the left side of Lady with seven on the right. The reverse side of the coin features an eagle surrounded by a wreath with the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA all around the coin. The edge of the coin has the lettered denomination (ONE DOLLAR or HUNDRED CENTS, etc.) Robert Scot was the designer of this coin, which was made with a 90% Silver / 10% copper combination. All coins of this date were made at the Philadelphia Mint; therefore, there is no mint mark on them. This design continued to be used on the American Silver Dollar until 1798 when they changed the style to a heraldic eagle on the reverse. This famous dollar has seen many design changes through the years.

• 1794 – Liberty Head on Front / Eagle in Wreath on reverse
• 1798 – Liberty Head on Front / Heraldic Eagle on reverse
• 1836 – Liberty Seated on Front / Flying Eagle on reverse
• 1840 – Liberty Seated on Front / Flying Eagle on reverse
• 1873 – Trade Dollars
• 1878 – Liberty Head on Front / Eagle on reverse (Morgan Dollars)
• 1921 – Peace Dollars
1971 – Eisenhower Dollars
• 1979 – Susan B. Anthony Dolls

Mintmarks & Changes on the American Silver Dollar

The many changes in the silver dollar were welcome changes to the public because they represent something memorable in the country. An example of this was seen in the Peace Dollars, which were made to celebrate the end of World War I. The Eisenhower Dollars were designed as a way to pay tribute to the Presidents. Coins that were mined stuck in Philadelphia did not display a mintmark but the silver dollars that were snapped at New Orleans (O), Denver (D), Carson City (CC) or San Francisco (S) displayed the initials.

Although the American Silver Dollar has always played a vital part in the history of our country, the ones that have been the most popular and most sought after are the Peace Dollars and the Morgan Dollars.

The United States Silver Dollar Coin

On and off since the late seventeen-hundreds, the United States has produced a wide variety of dollar coins. Made of various metals at different points, including gold, silver, copper and nickel, they have been a popular denomination with both the general public and coin collectors alike. Without a doubt the most popular US dollar coin is the silver dollar. For generations the silver dollar has held the interest of not only coin enthusiasts, but also those who invest in precious metals.

Generally speaking, silver dollars are made up of approximately 90% silver with an additional amount of copper added to give the coin added durability. As there was a short period of time when the content of silver in the coins was increased by a small amount in order to compete with foreign coins that had higher silver content. These coins were not generally considered to be circulating coins within the United States, and came to be known as Trade Dollars. During times of a shortage of the raw silver that was need to produce the coins, the amount of copper nickel used was increased to as much as 60% of the total content.

Silver dollars have been mined at six facilities including the mints in West Point, New York (W), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (P), New Orleans, Louisiana (O), Carson City, Nevada (CC), San Francisco, California S) and Denver, Colorado (D).

In the history of United States coinage, it is interesting to note that silver was in many ways as valuable as gold, and was just as difficult to come by. This is the reason that you will find that the production numbers were quite limited due to the difficulty in obtaining silver. When the value of silver had risen to a point that it made the production of silver dollars financially impractical, a halt was placed on the production of the coins. This was the case between the years of 1804 up until 1836.

Production did not resume in full until the discovery in Nevada of the Comstock Lode in 1850. The finding of such a large deposit of silver hastened the production of silver coins within the United States. Sometimes, even the massive deposits found in Nevada began to dwindle, causing another slow down in production until 1904. The silver melt of 1918 once again increased the availability of the raw materials needed, although even this was something temporary in nature, as silver shortages seemed to come and go as the years went on.

The United States Mint began producing the American Silver Eagle coin in 1986, a coin that is 100% pure silver weighing at one full troy ounce. Unlike previous silver dollars the silver eagle was not intended to be a circulating coin as the silver contents are valued at least nearly five times the coin's face value, depending on market conditions. Many of today's investors tend to purchase silver eagles as a hedge against the falling dollar value.

Bariatric Surgery Can Lead To More Normal Life

For those who are strictly overweight, bariatric surgery can be a chance to lead a more normal life. There are many reasons why individuals end up becoming obese. It can be due to a glandular problem, due to genetics, or due to caloric intake. Whatever the reason, dropping a great number of pounds can be extremely difficult. Losing weight is tied to many triggers, emotional and physical. Losing and regaining weight is called yo-yo dieting and is a common phenomenon for these individuals. When the scale goes up and down during this yo-yo cycle, it can be damaging to the dieter's health as well as to his or her self esteem. Surgical interventions can change this pattern.

The Operation

Bariatric surgery is performed to change the stomach's capacity to hold food as well as to alter the absorption of calories. Typically, a stomach can hold several cups of food at one time. After a weight loss operation, it will only be able to contain one cup of food at a time. Techniques are also performed to change the way calories are absorbed through the intestinal tract. A surgeon will either remove a portion of the stomach and suture or staple it shut or use a band to compress it. The surgery can be performed via the open method or by using the laparoscopic technique. The open method entails an incision that is between eight and ten inches long. The laparoscopic technique uses a slender lit tool inserted through tiny openings, which translates into a less invasive procedure. Both methods are performed in a hospital or clinical setting under general anesthesia.

After the Procedure

After bariatric surgery, patients need to stay in the hospital for a few days. They will not be able to eat much in the early recovery period and will need to stick to specific types of foods. Initially, puddings, oatmeal, and clear soups will be on the menu but within three months, regular foods will be acceptable. Rapid weight loss occurs at a pound each day or more. Patients may end up with loose skin and may opt for a tummy tuck or circumferential lift to tighten everything up. Self-esteem often increases as the pounds drop off. The two are linked and go hand-in-hand.

If you are considering having bariatric surgery to get rid of your obesity, it would be wise to schedule an appointment with a surgeon for a consultation. Patients need to have a BMI of 40 or more to be considered as ideal candidates. If you think this is the solution for your problems, a surgeon who specializes in this operation will give you all the answers you are seeking.

Cost Vs Value When Booking a Vacation

When it comes to saving money on a trip – when is the value of using a travel agent worth paying a little more than the price you find online?

Unlike booking online, when you book with a travel agent, you are getting much more service than you will with an online agency. Our job does not end when we deliver your tickets to you – it continues with our assistance while you are traveling and when you get home. How you may ask?

Here are a few examples of actual client travel problems that the value of using a travel agent outweighed booking by themselves.

We booked a family on a vacation package to Cabo. They had connecting flights and called us because their first flight leaving was delayed by several hours, causing them to miss their connecting flight.They called us from the airport because they were concerned that the company that their transfers were through would not be at the airport to pick them up. We contacted the supplier who changed the flight times and made sure the transfer company had the new information.

Clients from Georgia were supposedly to fly Feb. 13, 2010 to San Juan for a cruise leaving at 10 PM on Feb. 14. At 8 AM on Feb. 13 they called us in a panic. It was snowing, their flights were taken and the airline told the clients that they would not be able to fly them out until Monday.

Thankfully they could drive to Florida and we found flights on another airline Feb.. 14 that would get them to the cruise ship with plenty of time to spare. We warned them San Juan hotel, found a hotel in Orlando for her that would allow them to park their car for free for the duration of the cruise and shuttle her back and forth to the airport. Our client said if she had booked this on her own, she would not have known what to do and would have been heartbroken at not being able to travel. Since she had also purchased travel insurance, we started a travel delay claim for her to be reimbursed for the difference in the flight prices, plus her expenses for gas, tolls and meals to get back and forth to the Orlando airport. The forms were waiting for her when she came back from her cruise.

A few years ago, we had clients who had booked a trip and cancelled their trip a month before the date they were to leave for a reason that was not covered by travel insurance. The supplier was adamant that the cancellation was non-refundable. We intervened and were able to obtain a partial credit to book another trip within one year so the client did not lose all their money.

Today a client sent us a price quote for a vacation to Punta Cana asking if we could beat the price. She priced the vacation with connecting flights from Philadelphia and on her return, she chose a flight that left Punta Cana at 7 AM. We asked her if she realized that to make that return flight home she would have to be at the airport by 4:30 AM to ensure she would have enough time to get through Security. She had no idea she would have to be at the airport that early. Not only did we beat the price, we found her direct flights for less than she was quoted through the online agency and her return flight left at 1:05 PM.

What other value do we provide when you book with us that you will not get from booking online? We send you destination information, advise you of the documentation you need to travel, give information on optional excursions, send you helpful hints and last minute reminders and we are available 24 hours if you have a problem while you are traveling as evidenced above. We follow up with you when you return and if there was a problem that needs to be addressed with a supplier, we will get involved to try and find a satisfactory resolution.

Is this kind of service worth paying a little extra for?

Louisiana's Cancer Alley

Due to its abundance to the Gulf of Mexico and the oil rigs located there, Louisiana has become a hotspot for industrial petrochemical companies such as Royal Dutch / Shell Group, Dow Chemical, and others. While these chemical plants are responsible for creating the building blocks of many products that we use every day, some Louisiana residents believe that pollution from these plants has contributed to the state's high cancer rate, nicknaming it "Cancer Alley."

There is an 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. This is a strategic location for chemical plants-close to two large cities as well as next to a major source of transportation. Thus, it is no wonder that over 130 industrial plants have sprouted in this area, right next to many small, low-income neighborhoods.

However, neighbors in this area soon began to experience higher rates of cancer than normal, which led them to nickname this stretch of development "cancer alley." In fact, in 2002, Louisiana had the second-highest death rate from cancer in the United States.

Incidentally, in a 2000 Toxic Release Inventory report performed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the government found that Louisiana also ranked second in the US for total onsite releases of chemicals and pollutants. Additionally, the state was fourth for combined onsite and offsite releases. A staggering seven out of the ten top on- and offsite chemical releasing plants in Louisiana are located in cancer alley. Four out of the top ten onsite polluters are in cancer alley.

Besides regular pollutants, these chemical plants have also been known to have spills, such as Condea Vista. This corporation's plant admitted to 90 spills in a single year, and it was penalized for releasing 19 to 47 million pounds of ethylene dichloride into the environment. Frighteningly, this chemical may be a human carcinogen, possibly giving credibility to the residents' claims of living in cancer alley.

Sadly, when you live near a chemical plant, chemical pollutants are not the only dangers you face. In many older plants, asbestos was used as an insulation to protect against heat, flame, electricity, and chemicals. As the plants age, they can release microscopic asbestos fibers into the air, where they can be inhaled or ingested. Asbestos is a known human carcinogen that can cause problems such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

If you have lived or worked in an area that contained many chemical plants, you should talk to your doctor today about cancer testing.

Haitian Vodoun Perspectives on Death and Dying

I chose to explore the culture of Haitians who practice Vodou, a religion also known as Voodoo, Vodun, Vodoun, Voudun, and Yoruba Orisha.  I have just returned from a vacation in the Caribbean (Punta Cana, Dominican Republic), which shares an island with Haiti. While there, I met a man from Haiti and was reminded of a bizarre experience I had in 1998 when I was ridden by an orisha (loa) during an inner-city Christian church service.
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Thus, I thought this would make an interesting subject for this assignment. To make things simpler in this essay, I will refer to this group simply as Vodou or Vodoun.

Introducing Vodou and Haitian Culture

Vodou is a Caribbean religion blended from African religions and Catholic Christianity. Long stereotyped by the outside world as “black magic,” Vodoun priests and priestesses are also diviners, healers, and religious leaders, who derive most of their income from healing the sick rather than from attacking targeted victims.

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Vodou comes from an African word for “spirit” and can be directly traced to the West African Yoruba people who lived in 18th and 19th century Dahomey. However, its African roots may go back 6,000 years. Today, Vodou is practiced most commonly in the country of Haiti and in the United States around New Orleans, New York, and in Florida. Today over 60 million people practice Vodou throughout the Caribbean and West Indies islands, as well as in North and South America, Africa, and Britain.

During days of slave trade, this religion fused with Catholic Christianity.
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Therefore, in this current century, children born into rural Haitian families are generally baptized into the Vodou religion as well as in the Catholic church.

Those who practice Vodou believe in a pantheon of gods who control and represent the laws and forces of the universe. In this pantheon, there is a Supreme Deity and the Loa-a large group of lesser deities equivalent to the saints of the Catholic Church. These gods protect people and give special favors through their representatives on earth which are the hougans (priests) and mambos (priestesses).

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The Loa (also Lwa or L’wha) are spirits somewhat like saints or angels in Christianity. They are intermediaries between the Creator and humanity. Unlike saints or angels, they are not simply prayed to; they are served. They are each distinct beings with their own personal likes and dislikes, distinct sacred rhythms, songs, dances, ritual symbols, and special modes of service.

Rituals, Behaviors, and Practices Associated with Death and Dying

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Haitians who adhere to Vodou do not consider death to be the end of life. They do believe in an afterlife. Followers of Vodoun believe that each person has a soul that has both a gros bon ange (large soul or universal life force), and a ti bon ange (little soul or the individual soul or essence.)

When one dies, the soul essence hovers near the corpse for seven to nine days. During this period, the ti bon ange is vulnerable and can be captured and made into a “spiritual zombie” by a sorcerer.
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Provided the soul is not captured, the priest or priestess performs a ritual called Nine Night to sever the soul from the body so the soul may live in the dark waters for a year and a day. If this is not done, the ti bon ange may wander the earth and bring misfortune on others.

After a year and a day, relatives of the deceased perform the Rite of Reclamation to raise the deceased person’s soul essence and put it in a clay jar known as a govi.
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The belief that each person’s life experiences can be passed on to the family or community compels Haitians to implore the spirit of the decease to temporarily possess a family member, priest (houngan), or priestess (mambo) to impart any final words of wisdom.

The clay jar may be placed in the houngan’s or mambo’s temple where the family may come to feed the spirit and treat it like a divine being.  At other times, the houngan burns the jar in a ritual called boule zen.
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This releases the spirit to the land of the dead, where it should properly reside. Another way to elevate the ti-bon-ange is to break the jar and drop the pieces at a crossroad.

The ultimate purpose of death rituals in the Vodoun culture is to send the gros-bon-ange to Ginen, the cosmic community of ancestral spirits, where it will be worshipped by family members as a loa itself.

Once the final ritual is done, the spirit is free to abide among the rocks and trees until rebirth. Sixteen incarnations later, spirits merge into the cosmic energy.

Here are some other common behaviors associated with death in the Haitian culture:

·        When death is impending, the entire family will gather, pray, cry, and use religious medallions or other spiritual artifacts. Relatives and friends expend considerable effort to be present when death is near.

·        Haitians prefer to die at home, but the hospital is also an acceptable choice.

·        The moment of death is marked by ritual wailing among family members, friends, and neighbors.

·        When a person dies, the oldest family member makes all the arrangements and notifies the family. The body is kept until the entire family can gather.

·        The last bath is usually given by a family member.

·        Funerals are important social events and involve several days of social interaction, including feasting and the consumption of rum.

·        Family members come from far away to sleep at the house, and friends and neighbors congregate in the yard.

·        Burial monuments and other mortuary rituals are often costly and elaborate. People are increasingly reluctant to be buried underground. They prefer to be interred above ground in an elaborate multi-chambered tomb that may cost more than the house in which the individual lived while alive.

·        Since the body is thought to be necessary for resurrection, organ donation and cremation are not allowed. Autopsy is allowed only if the death occurred as a result of wrong doing or to confirm that the body is actually dead and not a zombie.

Like many Western Christian religions that use a figurative sacrifice to symbolize the consumption of flesh and blood, some Vodoun ceremonies include a literal sacrifice in which chickens, goats, doves, pigeons, and turtles are sacrificed to celebrate births, marriages, and deaths.

Vodou Beliefs about Afterlife

Practitioners of Vodou assume that the souls of all the deceased go to an abode beneath the waters. Concepts of reward and punishment in the afterlife are alien to Vodou.

In Vodou, the soul continues to live on earth and may be used in magic or it may be incarnated in a member of the dead person’s family.

Communion with a god or goddess occurs in the context of possession. The gods sometimes work through a govi, and sometimes take over a living person. This activity is referred to as “mounting a horse” during which the person loses consciousness and the body becomes temporarily possessed by a loa. A special priest (houngan) or priestess (mambo) assists both in summoning the divinities and in helping them to leave at the termination of the possession.

The gros-bon-ange returns to the high solar regions from which its cosmic energy was first drawn; there, it joins the other loa and becomes a loa itself.

Variations

Each group of worshipers is independent and there is no central organization, religious leader, or set of dogmatic beliefs. Rituals and ceremonies vary depending upon family traditions, regional differences, and exposure to the practices of other cultures such as Catholicism, which is the official religion of Haiti.

Some Haitians believe that the dead live in close proximity to the loa, in a place called “Under the Water.” Others hold that the dead have no special place after death.

Burial ceremonies vary according to local tradition and the status of the person. Some families do not express grief aloud until most of the deceased’s possessions have been removed from the home. Persons who are knowledgeable in the funeral customs wash, dress, and place the body in a coffin. Mourners wear white clothing which represents death. A priest may be summoned to conduct the burial service. The burial usually takes place within 24 hours.

Conclusion

Westerners, or so-called logical people, might find Vodoun a strange and exotic mixture of spells, possessions, and rituals. Like any other religion, its purpose is to comfort people by giving them a common bond. Vodoun meshes surprisingly well with Catholicism, the official religion of Haiti. With a supreme being, saint-like spirits, belief in the afterlife and invisible spirits, along with the protection of patron saints, Voodoo isn’t that different from traditional religions. 

Funeral Films: Grand Theft Parsons

This story is so extraordinary that if it did not really happen, no one would believe it. It involves two men, a hearse, a dead rock star, five gallons of gasoline, and a promise.

Remember the influential country rock musician Gram Parsons? He played with Emmylou Harris, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and The International Submarine Band. Parsons died in 1973 in a motel room near Joshua Tree National Monument from a morphine overdose at the age of 26.

The film Grand Theft Parsons (2003) is based on the true story of what happened to Parsons' body after he died. The movie illustrates certain issues that can be helpful for starting funeral or estate planning conversations.

Prior to his death, Parsons stated that he wanted his body cremated at Joshua Tree and his ashes spread over Cap Rock, a prominent natural feature there. His road manager Phil Kaufman (who also managed Parsons' drug and alcohol use as best he could) and he had a pact. Whoever died first, the other would take the body to Joshua Tree and "set his spirit free," that is, set the body on fire.

Taking a Body from a Hospital

At the beginning of the film, Kaufman (played by Johnny Knoxville) tries to obtain Parson's body from the small, remote hospital near Joshua Tree. The nurse says as he's not a physician or close relative, he has no rights to access the body. He tries to steal the body from the hospital, unsuccessfully.

Parsons' body goes to the Los Angeles International Airport for shipment to New Orleans for burial. Parsons' stepfather arranged for a private ceremony, neglecting to invite any music industry friends.

In the film, Kaufman hires a hippie with a psychedelic hearse to retrieve the body from the airport and bribes the air cargo office clerk to obtain Parson's body.

Once at Joshua Tree, Kaufman attempts to cremate Parsons by pouring five gallons of gasoline into the open coffin and throwing a lit cigarette inside – resulting in an intense fireball. That part of the film stays pretty close to the true story.

What Makes a Will?

The movie adds snarky ex-girlfriend Barbara Mansfield (played by Christina Applegate). She tries to cash in on Parson's money and earthly holdings using a handwritten note on the back of a flyer advertisement. She says it's his Will, but there is no notarization or anything that would make it official.

The note says: "To what it may concern: I would like it to be known that it is my wish to leave Barbara Mansfield my assets and belongings in the event of my death. Signed, Gram Parsons."

Kaufman tells her that's not a Will. She says it's a signed promise from Gram to leave her all of his things. Parsons was married to another woman at the time.

Using this note, she tries to obtain Parson's guitar and music masters from Kaufman. She also tries to get money from the bank. The banker tells her they have rules, the piece of paper is invalid, and they would at least need a death certificate for her to prove that he is actually dead. She unsuccessfully tries to get a death certificate from the county registrar.

Outside of the legality of setting a body on fire in a national monument, Grand Theft Parsons opens the door to discussing the following points:

  • A hand-written note does not make an acceptable Will, no matter how hard a desperate girlfriendists it does. Get an estate attorney who knows what actually makes a legal will valid.
  • Hospitals will not release bodies to "close friends," be they road managers or life partners without power-of-attorney proof. In fact, those who want to do their own home death care for a family member may have a difficult time getting a body released to next-of-kin.
  • Bribing an air cargo clerk has got to be breaking some kind of law, but this film is set in 1973, way before September 11 security improvements at airports took effect. Only "Known Shippers" can now handle dead bodies when it comes to air cargo. You can not just drive a psychedelic hearse up to the air cargo office anymore. Sigh.

By the way, in the true story, police chased Kaufman and his friend after setting the body on fire, but the pair got away. They were arrested several days later. Since there was no law against stealing a dead body, they were only fined $ 750 for stealing the coffin and were not prosecuted for leaving 35 pounds of Parsons' charred remains in the desert.

Grand Theft Parsons is a fun film with a few life-and-death lessons sprinkled into the comedy. It can be rented on DVD through Netflix and purchased on Amazon.com (as available). Rated PG-13 for drug references and some language.

NBA West – Wild, Wild, Wild

The NBA West is as competitive as it has ever been. .600 NBA teams could be out of the NBA Playoffs before even getting in. Some of the best players in the world stay in the NBA West, but only one team can explode through to play for an NBA Title.

The NBA West will be a huge mountain to scale for any NBA Team looking to go all the way. Whichever NBA team raises, they will have earned their trip to the NBA Finals through blood, sweat and a bit of luck. Whichever NBA West team wins, they will need to stay very healthy. Yao Ming Has already taken the Houston Rockets down with his injury.

On paper, there are several teams that look great. The New Orleans Hornets, Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks all look ready and willing to mix it up in the NBA Playoffs. If the NBA Playoffs have taught us anything, it is that experience and the best players usually survive to play deep into Spring. These three teams have yet to prove they have the chops to withstand the heat.

For me, it will come down to the big-three, the real big-three, in the NBA West. The Los Angeles Lakers have greeted and have come on very strong this season. Powered by Kobe Bryant's run for his first NBA MVP award, along with the addition of Pau Gasol, has the supercharged the Los Angeles Lakers near the top of the NBA West. Phil Jackson has done a masterful job at the helm, keeping egos in check, and having players buy into his system. All they have been doing is winning, and winning.

The San Antonio Spurs are the defending Champions. Like the Indianapolis Colts, who were defending champions in the NFL, all they do is go about their business, factory-like, and win as well. Tim Duncan again leads a pack that is looking to repeat for the first time in their dynamic, dynastic run.

Tony Parker will need to have a full strength if the San Antonio Spurs are primed to make a serious run at the NBA Title. Greg Popovich is, as usual, also doing a great job with the San Antonio Spurs. He is the most underrated, underappreciated Coach in all of sports, and will be destined for the hall-of-fame one day.

The Phoenix Suns, with the addition of Shaquille O'Neal, are in the hunt for the best record of the NBA West. Every NBA game is critical, as one loss can move a team down the standing several slots. The addition of Shaquille O'Neal has been the most intriguing move of the NBA Season, as the Phoenix Suns have gone all in, pushing all chips to the middle of the table in hopes of scoring an NBA Title, much like Shaquille O'Neal helped the Miami Heat and Pat Riley do in Miami.

The Phoenix Suns are old, and this is their window of opportunity. Steve Nash, Grant Hill and O'Neal are in the twilight of their careers, and this is the last go-round for all, with maybe this and 1-2 more years with the core group at NBA Championship capacity. The need will be for Shaquille O'Neal to stay healthy, and be able to give the Suns 25 great minutes per play game. This, maybe, can hold off Tim Duncan and the others.

It takes time for a presence like Shaquille O'Neal to mesh with Amare Stoudemire, Nash and company. Is there enough time? Probably, provided the health of Shaq contains.

Right now, it looks like the threesome of the San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers have the best shot of breaking out of the NBA West. If another team from the NBA West breaks through to the NBA Western Conference Finals I would be surprised. I still have to go with my pick back in November, the San Antonio Spurs to break through the NBA West and beat the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, in 6 tough games.

Crime in America – The Most Dangerous Cities and States

According to the most recently compiled crime reports and analyzed statistics (based on 2008 records), the three most dangerous cities in America are not particularly surprising.

New Orleans, Louisiana. There is little wonder that this city takes the number one most-dangerous spot, considering the social upheaval that ensued after Hurricane Katrina. Still in the lengthy throws of recovery, it's illegally that crime stats will drop any time soon in this devastated urban environment.

Detroit, Michigan. Poverty has overwhelmed Detroit following the closure of so many auto industry plants and other related businesses that were for so long the center of the area's economy. Desperation has a way of making people turn on each other. Violent crime, especially rape, armed robbery and assaults were through the roof in '08.

Gary, Indiana. Gary's drop to the number three spot is something of an accomplishment. They held the infamous number one spot for several years running. Burglary has always been high in this Indiana town, but rape statistics are especially ridiculous. I'd surmise that it would be unwince for any woman to walk down the streets of Gary without a loaded gun, a body guard, locked chastity belt and a pack of wolf hybrids.

The rest of the top ten most dangerous cities are: North Charleston South Carolina, Richmond California, Birmingham Alabama, Flint Michigan, Oakland California – which has been in the top three on numerous occasions, St.. Louis Missouri, and Camden New Jersey.

The three most unsafe states include Louisiana at the top of the list. While New Orleans was named the most dangerous city in the US, there are other Louisiana locales that do not beckon visitors with any promise of security. No doubt Louisiana tourism will not be on the rise anytime soon.

Nevada comes in second to Louisiana, though a distant second. Some of the smaller out of the way towns are not too seedy, but Las Vegas is always a hotbed of crime. Reno has its fair share of trouble as well. The state, with legal gambling and prostitution, is pretty much begging for an unsavory culture.

South Carolina takes the number three spot of the most dangerous states in the country, due to its very high number of reported attacks and car thefts. Other recorded crimes, however, are relatively low in comparison to other states in the top ten, which include; New Mexico, Florida, Tennessee, Alaska, Arizona, Michigan and Maryland.

No matter where you live, whether it's one of the most at-risk cities or a small, quiet town, it's always important to be aware of who and what is around you. Use common sense when going out (is it really necessary to be outside at 1:00 in the morning?) And when at home, always lock up your doors and windows.

Installing a reliable home security system can help keep you safe, and monitoring services elevate your personal protection even further. Crime can happen anywhere, anytime. Preparation and awareness can be key weapons to keep you from becoming a victim.