California Today: California Today: An Ancient Blood Sport in Modern California

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In cockfighting, roosters battle to the death. The fights, banned in California since 1905, have occurred mostly in the Central Valley and along the border with Mexico. Credit Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

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In a secluded barn just west of Fresno, the evidence of killing was everywhere — a weight scale, a blood-spattered wall, a wooden fighting ring and dozens of mutilated, dead roosters.

When sheriff’s deputies arrived a couple weeks ago, roughly 100 people scattered, driving off or running through nearby fields.

The deputies arrested four men, charging them in connection with an illegal cockfighting ring.

Cockfighting, an ancient blood sport, pits roosters against one another in gladiatorlike combat to the death. It’s been banned in California since 1905.

Yet many locations, concentrated heavily in the Central Valley, still raise roosters for fighting, said Eric Sakach, a senior law enforcement specialist for the Humane Society of the United States.

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Since late last year, news reports have provided accounts of cockfighting operations in Corcoran, East Palo Alto, Santa Maria and Fontana.

The southern border area is another hot spot, in part because of its proximity to Mexico, where cockfighting is allowed. In 2007, the authorities in San Diego’s Otay Mesa, a community along the border, seized more than 5,000 roosters in what was called the country’s largest cockfighting raid.

California has been a destination for cockfighting because it usually regards participation as a misdemeanor, unlike neighboring states that impose felony charges, said Mr. Sakach.


Janette Reever of the Humane Society held a metal spur used for weaponizing roosters that was recovered during a cockfighting investigation in Visalia in 2012. Credit Alex Gallardo

The secretive events are advertised by word of mouth, with codes words sometimes assigned to gain entry. The rooster owners contribute to a purse that can grow to $15,000 or more.

Spectators drink beer and place side bets as the roosters peck and claw each other to the death, aided by blades affixed to their legs. Losers are tossed into a garbage can.

Californians enjoy a number of legal ways to gamble, casinos and horse tracks for example, that don’t involve the possibility of arrest. Why cockfighting?

Mr. Sakach attended cockfights as an undercover investigator. He suggested there was an “adrenaline rush” that came with breaking the law.

But the allure also speaks to a more primal instinct, he said.

“The gambling is a huge factor,” he said. “But the bottom line is the entertainment value of watching two animals slice or stab each other to death is a driver.”

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• Attorney General Jeff Sessions is opposed to most Californians on pretty much every major issue. [Sacramento Bee]

• “What would we think of businesses that would work on an internment camp?” A movement is growing to blacklist contractors who work on the proposed border wall. [NPR]


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• A contentious speaker is coming to campus. What do you do? Six college students weighed in. [Opinion | The New York Times]

• “I am sorry we did it this way.” The University of California president faced lawmakers’ questions after a critical audit. [San Francisco Chronicle]

• The strange downfall of Joe Bray-Ali, the Los Angeles City Council candidate who frequented viciously racist corners of the web. [LA Weekly]

Apple’s customers appear to be waiting to see the next iPhone’s wow factor — and it’s hurting sales. [The New York Times]


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Thomas Keller, the influential chef who founded Yountville’s French Laundry restaurant, finds himself unsure where he’s headed next. [The New York Times]

Hubert L. Dreyfus, a longtime professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, died at 87. He argued that humans would always be smarter than machines. [The New York Times]

• Conspicuously not doing a victory lap over the contract deal that Hollywood writers negotiated: The studios. [The New York Times]

• To read the Hollywood trades, members of the Writers Guild are overpaid dandies. In reality, writes Jason Grote, “I worry about every paycheck.” [Opinion | The New York Times]


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Cheech Marin, actor and art patron, has teamed up with a museum and the city of Riverside to create a Chicano art museum. [Los Angeles Times]

And Finally …


Heather Romero, 20, posed for graduation photos at the U.C. Berkeley campus last month. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Tuition at University of California campuses has tripled over the last 15 years.

The latest increase, approved in January, revived accusations that the system had strayed from its mission to provide an affordable education.

So a new ranking of American colleges that provide the best value for your money has come as a notable reminder.

Among the Top 10, four are part of the University of California system, according to the survey by Forbes.

Using government and private sources, the researchers compiled data on tuition, student debt, graduation success, alumni earnings and other indicators to come up with an overall ranking for value.

U.C. Berkeley was No. 1, with U.C.L.A. at No. 2, U.C. Irvine, No. 8, and U.C. Davis, No. 9.

It wasn’t only public universities in California that performed well. Stanford University ranked No. 7, California Institute of Technology was No. 19 and Pomona College No. 27.

One crucial factor, however, was left out of the survey: Housing costs.

In California, where campuses are often perched among expensive real estate markets, that’s not a small matter.

“Overall, people perceive the value of public higher education today,” said Mark Baldassare, the president of the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit research group.

What they worry about, he said, is affordability.

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The California Today columnist, Mike McPhate, is a third-generation Californian — born outside Sacramento and raised in San Juan Capistrano. He lives in Davis. Follow him on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

Correction: May 3, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of a university. It’s California Institute of Technology, not California Technical Institute.

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