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Tom goes the whole nine yards for this column

There was once this rock band from England. They got off to a good start, first copying American rhythm and blues, then putting together a string of catchy pop tunes. I thought they were going to be good, but they fell into drugs and petty jealousies, and their music went down the loo, so to speak. Near the end, they had this one particularly dreadful song that ended with one of the stoners repeating the phrase, "Number nine, number nine ..."

I thought of that last week when several news stories and events eerily focused on that number.

First off, nine Japanese people committed mass suicide by asphyxiation. Apparently, six of the nine met over the Internet in some sort of suicide chat room and then gathered in a forested area, got in a car with sealed windows and then fired up three hibachis to use up all the oxygen. A separate group of three bodies was found elsewhere.

Their deaths were just the latest in a fad that's sweeping Japan. Ninety-one people died in 34 different Internet group suicides in Japan last year, as compared to 55 in nineteen incidents in 2004.

According to The Associated Press, the Internet has been serving the growing (and yet, ironically, dwindling at the same time) suicide community "since at least the late 1990s." Similar suicide pacts have been reported in the Netherlands and Guam.

Hey, when you commit suicide in Guam, how do you know if it worked?

· Nine is the number of Wildcat basketball players who played in the gutty (and really ugly) win over Stanford in the opening game of the Pac-10 Tournament. Good for Lute Olson for doing the right thing by suspending Hassan Adams for the DUI arrest. That the Cats were able to win without him is just icing on the cake.

I was listening to local sports-talk radio after the arrest, and I about wanted to puke, what with all the faux civil rights experts calling in and bleating about Adams' rights. It's true that someone is innocent until proven guilty. But that's in a court of law. Team rules are something altogether different.

If I were coaching a college team, there would be an absolute ban on drinking, no matter the age. You want to be a baller, be a baller. You want to do all that other stuff, go to Arizona State.

· After I wrote a column about the Dawn Wear murder trial, I got exactly nine hate letters from the murderer's friends and/or family members. They all pretty much said the same things, and I sort of understand their misguided support for her. But gee whiz, people, how 'bout some punctuation up in this mug?

One woman, writing in all caps (to emphasize her points, I guess), wrote, "WHEN YOU PLAY YOU PAY AND THE TRAGIC THING IS ANNETTE PAID WITH HER LIFE, AN TO THINK RONNIE IS GOIING ON WITH HIS LIFE LIKE NOTHING HAPPENED, PLANNING TO GET MARRIED IN JUNE, NOW WHAT DOES THAT TELL YOU ABOUT HIM THE PERSONS THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ARRESTED WAS RONNIE AND ANNETTE, YOU STILL WANT TO PLACE BLAME THEN DON'T BLAME DAWN ..."

That one "sentence" went on for another 64 words and ended with a comma followed by 13 exclamation points. Along the way, I learned that the victim was a "LIER." (Spell-check doesn't work when you're in all caps.) I appreciate the letter writers' passion, but several made it seem that the dead woman got what was coming to her--and that's just wrong.

The above letter ended with, "OH BY THE WAY IF DAWN WOULD HAVE KILLED HERSELF DO YOU THINK THAT RONNIE AND ANNETTE WOULD HAVE BEEN ARRESTED FOR MURDER? THINK ABOUT THAT."

I lost an awful lot of brain cells reading the earlier part of the letter, but I'm guessing the answer to that particular question would be, "No."

· Finally, I saw the number 18 (which, gasp!, is two times nine) associated with Vice President Dick Cheney's approval rating. I was somewhat disheartened to think that there are still 18 people left in the country who support that clown.

Imagine my dismay when I learn that it's 18 percent! That means that one in five Americans still support the guy who masterminded our disastrous policy in Iraq and shot and almost killed one of his friends. That's not loyalty; that's insanity.

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