Saturday, April 29, 2006

CIA discovers the blogosphere: Big Brother is reading your diary

The CIA has discovered blogs, it seems. Watch what you write in your online diary.

The Company's newly created Open Source Center has "recently stepped up data collection and analysis based on bloggers worldwide and is developing new methods to gauge the reliability of the content," according to an ABC News story that quotes an earlier Washington Times story.

Apparently they are already using their data mining to track avian flu outbreaks. How scientific of them!

They claim to be getting a lot of inside information on Chinese military buildups from Chinese bloggers, too.

And don't worry about the cost to taxpayers of this scheme — they're packaging the information they mine and re-selling it to state and local police for big bucks.

Technorati CEO Dave Sifry just released his End of First Quarter report on blog activity.

In summary:
  • Technorati now tracks over 35.3 million blogs
  • The blogosphere is doubling in size every six months
  • It is now over 60 times bigger than it was three years ago
  • On average, a new weblog is created every second of every day
  • 19.4 million bloggers (55%) are still posting three months after their blogs are created
  • Technorati tracks about 1.2 Million new blog posts each day, about 50,000 per hour
Image: Gandalf catching Sam eavesdropping on his conversation with Frodo, artist Robert Chronister.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Changing your beliefs about God and humanity

Here's a Fox News video about the crazy people from Westboro Baptist Church, about whom we've written a few times, including here and here.

This is what happens when you take the Old Testament literally. I agree with Sean Hannity here when he calls Shirley Phelps Roper "mean, sick and cruel." But as this interview deteriorates, he tries to engage her in a discussion while coming from within the same outdated, misguided paradigm, asking what her sins are and saying that he, not her, worships the true God, "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." It's just more of the same ol' same ol'"My God is bigger than your God!"

As I said here last month in A Conversation with God: Enlarging Your Beliefs at the beginning of the month, it's time for a major paradigm shift in our spiritual and religious lives, in the way we think of God and of each other.

Or else, it's going to get worse.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

George Harrison: Conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace

George Harrison wrote some of The Beatles' most memorable songs, including If I Needed Someone, Taxman, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Here Comes the Sun, and Something.

Post-Beatles, he gave us My Sweet Lord, Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth), All Those Years Ago, and Got My Mind Set on You.

Called the "quiet Beatle," and the most mystical and spiritual of the Fab Four, George became interested in the sitar and Indian music in general, and led the other Beatles, and then the Western world, into interest in Hinduism and Eastern spirituality.

In an amazing display of what appeared to be ultimate forgiveness, George remained fast friends with Eric Clapton, even though George's wife Patti had fallen in love with Clapton. After Clapton sang of his love for Patti in the Derek and the Dominos 1970 hit song Layla, George and Patti divorced, and Patti married Clapton.

A statement released after his death summed up his life: "He left this world as he lived in it: conscious of God, fearless of death and at peace, surrounded by family and friends. He often said: Everything else can wait, but the search of God cannot wait; and love one another."

Though While My Guitar Gently Weeps was penned by Harrison, the guitar playing on the record, ostensibly by The Beatles, was by Clapton.

Thanks to my friend JoAnn, who forwarded me the link to this ukelele version of the song, for inspiring this post. The musician in this video is Jake Shimabukuro. The website URL displayed in the video is down, but we tracked down his personal website. Too bad I don't speak Japanese.

The New York Uke Festival is this Thursday through Sunday, April 27-30, in New York City.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Sex sex sex sex sex sex sex

Somebody stop the planet, I want to get off!

The Bush administration's Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has proposed a mandatory rating system he claims will "prevent people from inadvertently stumbling across pornographic images on the Internet."

He wants to require all website operators to rate their own sites and place government-designed "marks and notices" to warn visitors there may be sexually expicit material on their sites. Failure to comply with this ludicrous idea would earn you five years in the pokey.

This brilliant idea is from the same Administration that opposed the .xxx domain, which pornographers would have gobbled up, making it easy to spot a porn site coming down Fifth Avenue.

Also to be banned, if these ninnies have their way, is search engine optimization by misleading visitors about sex with deceptive "words or digital images" in their source code. The example they're using is this: pornographers are using keywords like "Barbie Dolls" and "Teletubbies" to lure people to sexually explicit websites.

The most risque thing I found when I googled "Barbie Doll" was a 2002 article on about a copyright infringement case against a British woman who sold sexually explicit dolls made with Barbie doll heads.

A third new crime would be that of putting any sexual explicit material on one's home page. You'd have to hide it "behind the counter."

I thought Anthony Comstock died in 1915!

And of course, they're claiming it's "for the children." This draconian law's title? "Child Pornography and Obscenity Prevention Amendments of 2006." Nowhere does any of these amendments refer to child pornography. And its enactment would do nothing to reduce the chances of a child finding pornography on a website. Tagging the offensive pages would actually make them easier to find.

The perverts who think up these laws define "sexually explicit" very broadly. The term covers depictions of everything from sexual intercourse and masturbation to "sadistic abuse" and close-ups of fully clothed genital regions. Those Ridgid Tools calendars my Shriner next-door neighbor had in his toolshed when I was a kid would be banned. A photo of a celebrity with a noticible camel toe could be deemed "sexually explicit." Hell, the non-airbrushed version of the J.C. Penney's panties page could be deemed "sexually explicit."

The title of this article, "Sex sex sex sex sex sex sex," is my attempt to obey the not-yet-enacted law by labeling this article. I should have called it, "Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid."

I know some Masons may disagree with me on this, citing that "Morality" is one of Freemasonry's tenets. This issue isn't about morality, though. This is about Liberty.

Fraternity. Liberty. Equality. That is the true Freemason's credo. Freedom of speech. Freedom of expression. Freedom of conscience.

To become the United States Attorney General, it must be a job requirement that you be a prude. You'll recall that in 2002 John Ashcroft, the previous Attorney General, spent $8,000.00 for blue cloths to throw over the statue called Spirit of Justice and its partner Majesty of Law (a man in a loincloth) because he couldn't stand being photographed with an exposed female breast behind him.

In a separate speech on April 19, Gonzales called for Internet Service Providers to keep more detailed logs of your online activities.

These guys were weaned too soon. Big Baby is watching you!

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Dan Brown's epic about Freemasonry, "The Solomon Key," delayed into 2007

Dan Brown's follow-up to the blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code has been delayed into 2007, publishing house Doubleday said today.

In an email to The Book Standard, Brown wrote: "My books are time-consuming to research and complicated to construct. I am taking the time necessary to ensure that this new book is every bit as entertaining as The Da Vinci Code."

Brown's next book is tentatively titled The Solomon Key, and is presumed to be about Freemasonry.

Ah... dangle that worm a bit longer, Dan the Man. You're the Fisher King.

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This article is also published on

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Other Masonic Blogs: Masonic Traveler, Free-Mason-Alert, John Ratcliff's blog

I have been caught up in other matters this week, and haven't posted in a few days.

But my brother bloggers have been busy. Click on over and see what's happening:
  • Brother Greg Stewart at Masonic Traveler blog has written an excellent article about the "erasure" of members of the Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold. You may recall how several very active Georgia Masons were "stricken" from the rolls of their lodges last December for not "renouncing" their interests in an un-official Masonic club dubbed "clandestine" by a misguided Grand Master.
  • Brother John Ratcliff posted a very interesting article called "It's All Semantics" where he explores the nature of God from a Masonic standpoint.
  • Brother David Cooksey, of the blog Free-Mason-Alert, continues discussion of the formation of a new lodge in Alabama, the Temple of Regulus, as well as analyzing the Edgar Allan Poe poem "Haunted Palace" that he feels may be speaking allegorically about Freemasonry.
— Widow's Son

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

A new Masonic interpretation of Euclid's 47th Problem

A New Masonic Interpretation of Euclid's 47th Problem, by Bro. Jeff Peace

The 47th Problem of Euclid has always been of great importance to speculative Freemasons. It is so important that it appears on the frontispiece of Anderson’s Constitution of 1723. The engraving shows two Grand Masters looking down at a drawing of the 47th Problem on the floor of a great hall. Hermes flies above them in a chariot. It is the Past Master’s Jewel in many jurisdictions and it is a symbol in the Master’s Degree.

Many Masons have speculated that this symbol has an obvious interpretation, but if Freemasonry has taught me anything it is to look past the obvious for something hidden within. Long ago, while studying the earliest known rituals I discovered that the candidate was often referred to as "Peter Gower," or more correctly Pythagoras. This made me ask a question about the 47th Problem of Euclid. Why didn’t the early brothers refer to this by its more popular name: the Pythagorean Theorem? It's clear from the ritual that they knew who Pythagoras was, so why not refer to his most important discovery by using his name?

Ultimately, the mystery revolves around Euclid. Who is the Euclid the ritual is referring to? Could there be another Euclid who had a different 47th Problem that would be more relevant to the early speculative Freemasons? After much research I discovered another 47th Problem of "Euclid" that many modern Masons may find of interest.

"PROP. XLVII. The human mind has an adequate knowledge of the eternal and infinite essence of God."

Could this be what the Masonic symbol conceals?

When you consider that the early speculative Freemasons considered Freemasonry to be "a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols," it seems logical to conclude that hidden somewhere within the Masonic system lay hidden a system of morality that was peculiar (unique).

Slightly before speculative Freemasonry appeared on the scene a famous philosopher wrote a book of ethics (morality) that was truly peculiar (unique), it was so unique that he was labeled a heretic and copies of his book were burned. His book was peculiar in more ways than just his ideas, it was written in the same format as Euclid’s "Book of Elements," it was a moral philosophy based on the logical format of Geometry.

The book is entitled simply "Ethics," and its author is Benedict Spinoza. Could it be that in this book we have the peculiar system of morality referred to by the founders of speculative Freemasonry?

— Bro. Jeff Peace, Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold

Other interpretations:

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Free-Mason-Alert shines! There's new Starlight over Alabama

Worshipful Brother David Cooksey, the man behind the blog Free-Mason-Alert, today publicly announced his demit and disassociation from Shades Valley Lodge #829, a regular lodge working under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Alabama.

Bro. Cooksey also formally resigned from the Scottish Rite last November. Bro. Cooksey has served Antient Freemasonry honorably for over 13 years. His Masonic credentials include 32º KCCH, Producer & Director of the Stage, 30th Degree Director, cast member 30th Degree, Temple Association member, Blue Lodge Degree Team member. He also served in many offices including Worshipful Master of his Blue Lodge.

Bro. Cooksey has not denounced Masonry, and will always be a Mason.

He also announced the creation of the Temple of Regulas, a new Masonic lodge. The Temple will seek amity with United Grand Lodge of America of Ancient Free-Masons, Grand Lodge of York, The Grand Lodge of All England, with Co-Masonry and with the United Grand Lodge of France.

Photo: A conjunction of the Moon, the planet Venus and the star Regulus, July 15, 1999, taken 55 minutes after sunset in the White Mountains of California by photographer Alson Wong.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

War! What is it good for?

Yesterday, April 12, was the 145th anniversary of the Shot Heard Round the World, the opening volley at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, in the Internal American War which eventually killed 560,000 men and changed the American political landscape forever. GrouchoGandhi celebrated the day with a most interesting article discussing recently published first-hand reports of Civil War participants.

Handsome Johnny
Words and music by Richie Havens

Hey, look yonder, tell me what's that you see
Marching to the fields of Concord?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with a musket in his hand,
Marching to the Concord war, hey marching to the Concord war.

Hey, look yonder, tell me what you see
Marching to the fields of Gettysburg?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with a flintlock in his hand,
Marching to the Gettysburg war, hey marching to the Gettysburg war.

Hey, look yonder, tell me what's that you see
Marching to the fields of Dunkirk?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with a carbine in his hand,
Marching to the Dunkirk war, hey marching to the Dunkirk war.

Hey, look yonder, tell me what you see
Marching to the fields of Korea?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with an M1 in his hand,
Marching to the Korean war, hey marching to the Korean war.

Hey, look yonder, tell me what you see
Marching to the fields of Vietnam?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with an M15,
Marching to the Vietnam war, hey marching to the Vietnam war.

Hey, look yonder, tell me what you see
Marching to the fields of Birmingham?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with his hand rolled in a fist,
Marching to the Birmingham war, hey marching to the Birmingham war.

Hey, it's a long hard road, it's a long hard road,
It's a long hard road, before we'll be free.

Hey, what's the use of singing this song, some of you are not even listening.
Tell me what it is we've got to do: wait for our fields to start glistening,
Wait for the bullets to start whistling.
Here comes a hydrogen bomb, here comes a guided missile,
Here comes a hydrogen bomb: I can almost hear its whistle.

Additional reading:
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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Earthskills Rendezvous this weekend in northwest Georgia

For two decades, people from throughout North America (and other continents) have been drawn to the Southern Appalachian mountains twice annually to reclaim our collective ancestral heritage by making camp to share knowledge of primitive and pioneer living skills. We have witnessed the universal appeal of skills that some might think obsolete in this age of dependence on complex technologies.

Children of all ages, adults and elders of diverse cultural origins and social backgrounds revel in applying themselves to the arts and tasks of their distant forbearers. Our temporary village exhibits the age-old values of cooperation generosity of spirit, a desire for tolerance and harmonious relations; it comes alive with art, music, dance, stories and the heartbeat of drums around the nightly council fire and the quiet, earnest talk of friends around campsite hearths. There will also be a variety of classes designed especially for children.

When: April 9-16, 2006
Where: Cherokee Farms, LaFayette, Georgia

Classes include:
  • friction fire making
  • hide tanning
  • flintknapping
  • bow making
  • blowguns
  • atlatl and spear
  • primitive pottery
  • basketry
  • edible and medicinal plants
  • primitive cookery
  • cordage and other fiber arts
  • primitive shelter
  • bone and antler tools
  • stalking and tracking skills
  • tribal games and sports
  • blacksmithing
  • buckskin clothing and moccasins
  • and much more.

For more information contact Earthskills Rendezvous, PO Box 10, Marble Hill, GA 30148, call 1-866-787-2263, visit or send email.

Friday, April 14: Music by Bill Pound and Sapien.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

First Knights Templar found in Israel

From the Daily Telegraph:

London — The first bodies of the Knights Templar, the mysterious religious order at the heart of The Da Vinci Code, have been found by archaeologists near the River Jordan in northern Israel.

British historian Tom Asbridge yesterday hailed the find as the first provable example of actual Knights Templar.

The remains were found beneath the ruined walls of Jacob's Ford, an overthrown castle dating back to the Crusades, which had been lost for centuries.

They can be dated to the exact day — August 29, 1179 — that they were killed by Saladin, the feared Muslim leader who captured the fortress.

"Never before has it been possible to trace their remains to such an exact time in history," Mr. Asbridge said. "This discovery is the equivalent of the Holy Grail to archaeologists and historians. It is unparalleled."

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This article is cross-published on

Old school Grand Masters warn against "clandestine" Grand Lodges

As our Alabama Brother at Free-Mason-Alert said yesterday, the 2006 Conference of Grand Masters which met in Febrary isn't real happy about some of the recent changes in Freemasonry. And they're tossing around the word "clandestine" rather haphazardly these days, not only in referring to new Grand Lodges being formed like the United Grand Lodge of America and the Grand Lodge of All England, but also to lodges being chartered in Europe and South America by the Regular Grand Lodge of England. The U.S. Grand Masters don't even like the Grand Orient of France, and that august body has been around since 1773. And the Grand Lodges of ten states still don't recognize Prince Hall Freemasonry (African-American Freemasonry), which is as regular as white men's Masonry, chartered by the United Grand Lodge of England in the 18th century.

In a rather obvious attempt to protect their "turf," they claim that these lodges and grand lodges are being formed by those wanting to "capitalize" on the renewed interest in Freemasonry brought on by recent books and movies. The "old school" Grand Masters fail to see that these newer lodges and grand lodges are in fact attempting to bring real Freemasonry back into existence before the crowds who become interested in Masonry come knocking on lodge doors. When the crowds show up and find out that modern "official" Freemasonry (at least in the South — I can't speak for other parts of the country) has been reduced to Southern Baptist title-seekers holding fish fries and barbeques to raise money to buy a new air conditioner for the lodge, and that no one can rememember the passwords from ritual to ritual, and that there is no such thing as Masonic education, or Masonic secrets, or Masonic history — or Masonic Brotherly Love — they won't stay around long.

These new lodges and grand lodges are the true Light of the 21st century, reflecting the Light from our Noble and Ancient Past. The days of the Antient Barbequers are numbered.

Note that whenever a newly formed lodge, grand lodge or rite asks the Antient Grand Lodges what the "standards for recognition" actually are, they never get an answer.

From the 2006 Grand Masters' Conference:
"Grand Lodges that do not meet the standards for recognition are being formed and promoted at an alarming rate. There are several of which you should be aware. The Regular Grand Lodge of England is creating lodges in many European and South American countries. There have been reports that plans are to create lodges in America as well. There is a movement called the United Grand Lodge of America of Accepted Free Masons that is also trying gain a foothold on this country. Another group calling itself the Grand Lodge of All England is attempting to create lodges in England. The Grand Orient of France has also created several lodges in this country. With the renewed interest in Masonry brought on by recent books and movies, it appears numerous clandestine groups are trying to capitalize on this situation. Beware!"

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Monday, April 10, 2006

GrouchoGandhi shines: Dan Brown as the Fisher King

GrouchoGandhi shines today in his most recent blogging, a wonderful rant against the insane Da Vinci Code lawsuit that Holy Bloody Grailers Leigh and Baigent brought against their own publishers over Dan Brown's book The Da Vinci Code.

Hey, Boaz! Go help that po' Widow's Son!

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This article is cross-published on

An Open Letter to Georgia's Grand Master, F. Ray Jackson

An Open Letter to F. Ray Jackson, Grand Master of Georgia, by Brother Jeff Peace

Please tell the Masonic world how many more young Masons you will expel without the benefit of due process? How many more Masons will be denied their rights as brothers and Freemasons? How do you justify your witch-hunts against the newest members of the Craft? These are just a few things so many Masons would like to have answers to, yet you sit silently in your office watching our beloved fraternity die a little more each day.

Your predecessor, Albert Garner, Jr.... deceived the young Masons. He gave them his word that they would never become the victims of a witch-hunt, but he broke his word and used the materials they freely provided him to bring harm upon them. Why do you support these abominable actions? Have you even bothered to sit down with these young men and hear their side of the story?

It is becoming clear to many that Albert Garner, Jr. sold his Masonic soul to the Scottish Rite, who demanded the heads of these young Masons. He sold their Masonic future so that he could obtain the title of Personal Representative to the Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the state of Georgia. F. Ray Jackson, what do you have to gain from continuing his un-Masonic policies against brother Master Masons? Did you not swear at the altar before God to defend the good names of these brothers? Was your word given so easily and without thought that your conscience allows you to break it without remorse?

Please tell us all why the Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold was labeled clandestine? They turned over their organization to the Grand Lodge of Georgia. Why couldn’t any issues have been resolved in a brotherly and amicable manner? Would it not have been better for Freemasonry if the Grand Lodge of Georgia had set an example of how Masons can work together for the benefit of the Craft?

What are you afraid of, Grand Master? What or who are you protecting? Your credibility as a Mason is in question and your conduct before the world brings into question the moral integrity of the Grand Lodge of Georgia.

Only one question remains: Do you have the fortitude required to set aside your ego and repair all of the damage that you and Albert Garner, Jr. have done to Freemasonry? As Grand Master, do you have the wisdom to heal the wounds you have inflicted upon the innocent?

—Jeff Peace, Master Mason
Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold

Brother Jeff Peace is one of the founding members of the Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold. He is a Masonic historian and ritualist who has spent more than eighteen years studying the early formative years of Freemasonry. He can trace his own Masonic hertitage, father-to-son, in an unbroken line back many generations. Brother Jeff and other members of the Rose Cross of Gold are regular Masons who without trial had their names stricken from their Blue Lodges for failiing to sign letters of renunciation that the Grand Lodge of Georgia demanded of them.

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When is a Man a Mason?

Our Brother over at the Free-Mason-Alert blog has published several interesting articles lately, questioning the Grand Lodge of Alabama in particular and Grand Lodges in general about their fear of newly formed so-called "clandestine" lodges and grand lodges. Some of the articles call into question the morals and motives of specific Masons. A rumor is afoot that the Grand Lodge of Alabama will soon require Alabama Masons to sign an "oath of loyalty" to the Grand Lodge of Alabama.

Also on that site is an open letter from Brother Jeff Peace, one of the founders of the modern / restorers of the ancient Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold. His letter is directed to Most Worshipful Brother F. Ray Jackson, the current Grand Master of Masons for the Georgia, which we have now reprinted on the Burning Taper.

Read the Free-Mason-Alert blog and decide for yourself.

Also recently published on Free-Mason-Alert is Joseph Fort Newton's "When is a Man a Mason?", a poem that oft bears re-reading:

When is a Man a Mason?

When he can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a profound sense of his own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope, and courage — which is the root of every virtue.

When he knows that down in his heart every man is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love his fellowman.

When he knows how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, yea, even in their sins — knowing that each man fights a hard fight against many odds.

When he has learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all how to keep friends with himself.

When he loves flowers, can hunt birds without a gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child.

When he can be happy and high-minded amid the meaner drudgeries of life.

When star-crowned trees and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters subdue him like the thought of one muched loved and long dead.

When no voice of distress reaches his ears in vain, and no hand seeks his aid without response.

When he finds good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of divine things and sees majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of that faith may be.

When he can look into a wayside puddle and see something beyond mud, and into the face of the most forlorn fellow mortal and see something beyond sin.

When he knows how to pray, how to love, how to hope.

When he has kept faith with himself, with his fellowman, and with his God; in his hand a sword for evil, in his heart a bit of a song — glad to live, but not afraid to die!

Such a man has found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one which it is trying to give to all the world.

— Joseph Fort Newton

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We could learn some things from children

Poking around the news websites today, I found two stories seemingingly unconnected that got my attention.

The first was about how the publishing of children's books in the U.S. has been sanitized with political correctness.

The second story
was about how a child lost his mother forever because a 911 operator wouldn't take him seriously. Six-year-old Robert Turner did what he was taught when his mother, who suffered from an enlarged heart, passed out. He dialed 911 and told the operator. She told him to put an adult on the phone. Three hours later he called again, and was told to stop playing on the phone. His mother died before police arrived.

The message? Children don't count. Children aren't to be trusted. Children are stupid.

Why? Could it be because we try to force them to live in a make-believe world? Not the make-believe world of cartoons and video games, but the make-believe world of political correctness? You know the world, the one where cows don't have udders and there is no such thing as an elderly person with a walking cane. There is a reason for stereotypes — they're usually true. Not a matter of judgement, or prejudice, but a matter of fact.

Should political correctness be used to create a better society? Is it wise, or is it foolish? Are we inspiring our children by painting pictures suggesting life is "better" than it is, or are we harming them with lies? I don't know the answer. Neither did the 911 operator who wouldn't believe little Robert Turner.

"It's not only gone mad, I think it's completely irrational," says illustrator Roland Harvey.

What's verbotten in children's books today, according to U.S. publishers?
  • Udders on cows
  • Large lips on dark-sknned children
  • "Asian-looking" eyes
Other rules include:
  • Avoid stereotypes such as females as peripheral/helpers to active/leading males, or senior citizens as infirm, with canes, doddering.
  • Elderly people should be shown as active members of society; unless relevant to text they should not be shown in wheelchairs.
  • Show mothers involved in outside employment (not in aprons in kitchens).
  • Show African-Americans in positions of power, not just in service industries.
  • Show African-Americans and other people of colour with a range of skin tones. Hair texture should vary from straight to curly.
  • Do not stereotype Asian people with glasses, bowl-shaped haircuts, or as intellectuals.
  • No large groups of people without an appropriate ethnic mix and male/female ratio.
  • No "help the disabled" pictures — show disabled people doing for themselves and others.
  • Show many types of family grouping. Take care not to imply that one-parent homes are broken.
But let's end this article with a laugh or two at the expense of political correctness:
  • A high school in Michigan has forbidden a student-led "Traditional Values" club from flying their flag alongside all the other school club's flags, because their flag bears a small-letter "t" as its symbol. The school says the T might be misinterpretted as a Christian cross.
  • The president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York, Mark Gearan, is complaining about his school's sports fans mocking the rival Syracuse Orangemen with tee shirts that read, "At least our mascot isn't a fruit," according to the Finger Lakes Gazette. Gearan said use of the term might be misinterpreted as a derogatory reference to gays, making its use "especially painful to many because of our commitment to diversity, equity and social justice."

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Masonic morality: They lied on their knees

"They Lied on Their Knees" was originally a short talk given by the then-Grand Master of Masons in Pennsylvania, R.W. William A. Carpenter (1915-1990). It was edited and republished as a Short Talk Bulletin of the Masonic Service Association in Feb. 1985.

"They Lied on Their Knees," by R. W. William A. Carpenter, 1985 Grand Master of Masons in Pennsylvania

Taking an oath and an obligation is a binding and serious thing. Accepting and fulfilling an oath and an obligation is an honorable thing. Not adhering to an oath and an obligation is disgraceful and dishonorable.

During my first months as Grand Master, it has been shocking and disturbing to learn of the number of Masons who have lied on their knees. Apparently there are Masons who having taken the oaths and obligations of the three symbolic degrees, have not only lied on their knees but have evidenced a total disregard for the Masonic advice spelled out in the Charges shared following the degrees.

Following the Entered Apprentice Mason's degree, the Charge says: "In the State, a Freemason is to behave as a peaceable and dutiful citizen, conforming cheerfully to the government under which he lives." That same Charge says: "Nothing can be more shocking to all faithful Freemasons than to see any of their Brethren profane the sacred rules of Freemasons and such as do, they wish had never been accepted into the Fraternity."

In the Ancient Charge delivered following the conferring of the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason, we are admonished "You are bound by duty, honor and gratitude to be faithful to your trust, to support the dignity of your character upon every occasion and to enforce by precept and example, obedience to the tenets of Freemasonry."

Every Mason should at all times conform to and abide by the rules and regulations of the Fraternity. These include the legislation and by-laws of our "Blue Lodge," the Constitution of our "Blue Lodge," the Constitution and Edicts of the Grand Lodge, and also those Ancient Customs, Usages and Landmarks of the Craft that have been passed down to us through the ages. Thus we have a set of rules and regulations that govern our conduct in our own Lodge, those that govern our conduct in the outside world. All of these, taken together, set the boundaries and should govern our conduct at all times.

Our "Blue Lodge," the Grand Lodge, and the Grand Master have ample authority to enforce the rules, regulations and Edicts, even as they relate to violations of civil law, over Pennsylvania Masons wherever they may be and also over all Masons who live within our jurisdiction.

By far, the most important rules concerning our conduct are those governing our actions toward the world outside Freemasonry. The offenses within our Lodges and toward other Brethren and even the Grand Lodge can be handled without adverse publicity, but when we forget the rules laid down for our behavior toward non-Masons, we blacken the good name of every member of the Craft. There is a tendency among many Masons to regard the Grand Lodge as some obscure clique or mysterious group working behind the scenes to decide and dictate the affairs of Freemasonry. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania is comprised of approximately 25,000 Living Past Masters and Wardens of the more than 570 Symbolic Lodges in Pennsylvania.

Masonic trials are unpleasant affairs that consume both time and effort and often impose a financial burden on a Lodge. Even the outright suspensions and expulsions handed down by the Grand Master are distressing. Most if not all such actions could be avoided by these steps:

(I) We should make certain that every Mason is educated Masonically so that he knows what is expected of him as a Mason.
(2) When we find a Brother forgetting his Masonic teachings, we should whisper good counsel in his ear, gently admonishing him of his errors, and endeavor, in a friendly way, to bring about a true and lasting reformation.
(3) And, finally, we should guard our portals so that we accept only those men who will be receptive to our teachings and will not find it difficult to conduct themselves as Masons.

Too often, we have witnessed shocking examples of the irresponsibilities of men in high places as well as in low places. As a man thinketh, so is he.

The good name of Freemasonry is not the result of what we do not do, it is the result of practicing outside the Lodge those great moral lessons we are taught within the Lodge. At no time in the history of our Nation has there been a greater need to exercise the principles and moral teachings of Freemasonry than now.

Freemasonry is one of the great moral forces remaining in the world today. But if Freemasonry is to achieve its honorable purpose — that of building a better world — it must first build better men to work at the task.

No man has any right to claim to be a Freemason unless he has endeavored to put into practice the lessons received when he was Entered, Crafted and Raised. A Mason should never entertain the thought that he must go to a Lodge Room to practice his Masonry. Masonry must be practiced in daily life where human kindness and helpfulness and honesty are so much needed. The surest way to make Freemasonry useful, is to make use of Freemasonry. Every Mason is charged with the responsibility of keeping the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied.

Masonry cannot condone the continued membership of those who bring disgrace, dishonor, and discredit to our Ancient and Honorable Fraternity. Hence, my Brethren, if and when you learn of a case or cases whereby the behavior of any Mason or Masons borders on or actually results in a felony or another form of unmasonic conduct, please make such a case or cases known to the Grand Master through proper and expeditious channels.

Today, we hear it said from time to time that our own Lodges are winking at violations of our Masonic law. I ask the question: Are we growing that lax in the enforcement of our penal code? If such be the case, then it is time serious concern and consideration be given to this matter — this unfortunate circumstance within our Craft. And, for the record, be it known that this Grand Master plans to give the matter top priority in an effort to rid our rolls of any undesirables.

Our priority emphasis will at all times cover the three types of Masonic offenses: (I) violations of moral law; (2) violations of the laws of Freemasonry; and (3) violations of the laws of the land including moral turpitude.

We cannot deny that there are men on our membership rolls whose lives, conduct, and character reflect no real credit on Freemasonry, whose ears seem to turn from its beautiful lessons of morality, duty and honor, whose hearts seem untouched by its soothing, manly influences of fraternal kindness, and whose hands are not opened to aid in living deeds and charity. We express our grief as we acknowledge this truth.

These men, though in our Temples, are not of our Temples in the true sense of the word. They are among us, but they are not with us. They belong to our household but they are not of our faith. We have sought to teach them, but they have failed to heed the instruction; seeing, they have not perceived; hearing, they have not understood, or prefer not to benefit by the symbolic language in which our fraternal lessons of wisdom are communicated.

The fault is not with Freemasonry or with us, that we have not given, but with them that they have not perceived or received. And, indeed, hard and unjust would it be to censure the Masonic Fraternity because, partaking of the infirmity or weakness of human wisdom and human means, it has been unable to achieve the perfection desired for all who come within its environs. The denial of a Peter, the doubting of a Thomas, or the betrayal of a Judas, should cast no reproach on so grand, so long-established and honorable a fraternity as that of Freemasonry. But misconduct and misdeeds do hurt our Craft and bring grief to all worthy Freemasons.

Freemasonry prescribes no principles that are opposed to the sacred teachings of the Divine Lawgiver, and sanctions no acts that are not consistent with the sternest morality and the most faithful obedience to government and the laws. And, while this continues to be its character, it cannot, without the most atrocious injustice, be held responsible for the acts of un-worthy members.

The fact is, it is no secret that the moral fiber of the people of our great nation has broken down. It has been noticeable since the late 1940s. We often hear of white collar crime, embezzlement, fraud, collusion in some of our largest corporate board rooms, with guilty fines running in hundreds of thousands of dollars, with our peers only seeing the wrong if the culprit got caught. These are not the lessons we are taught at the Altar of Freemasonry. Perhaps it would be difficult to convince many Masons that we have Brethren guilty of the quick fix and fast buck.

But we have had them, we may still have them, and with immediate and proper Masonic disciplinary action, we shall go to the nth degree to eliminate such a curse from Freemasonry.

The young people of our Masonic affiliated youth organizations are always watching us closely. These young people have a new sophistication and awareness of what is right and what is wrong. They have their Masonic advisors whom they naturally emulate, but to them, all Masons are the same and supposed to possess honesty and integrity. These young people are the future of our communities and also our Fraternity. We cannot afford to let them down, my Brethren.

What can Masons do to remedy this situation? We must begin at the first step of recommending a petitioner. The mere possession of sufficient money to pay the necessary fee does not qualify a man to be made a Mason. Before a member signs his name to any petition for the degrees of Freemasonry, he must assure himself beyond any question of doubt that the petitioner he recommends is, in a sense, already a Mason in his heart, and that, if he is accepted, the member will never have cause to regret his endorsement. That is the most important duty and responsibility which a member owes to the Masonic fraternity, his "Blue Lodge," and himself.

And, my Brethren, thorough investigation of each and every petitioner to our respective Lodges is not only the proper time but also the only time for Freemasonry to safeguard against accepting anyone who could very well bring disgrace, dishonor, or discredit to the Craft.

Oh, perhaps the galleries are full of critics relative to points covered by this article. Those who criticize plan no ball. They fight no fights. They make no mistakes because they attempt nothing. The real "doers" are down in the arena. The man who makes no mistakes lacks boldness and the spirit of adventure. He is the one who never tries anything. He is the brake on the wheel of progress. And yet, it cannot be truly said that he makes no mistakes, because the biggest mistake he makes is the very fact that he tries nothing, does nothing, has absolutely no positive input into the cause of Freemasonry and just seems to be his happy, useless self in criticizing those who are making an attempt to do certain things.

We have learned to tolerate our critics. But when you have faith in your plans, designs and convictions, you govern yourself accordingly.

Methinks it was Shakespeare who wrote: "Sweet are the uses of adversity." It has also been proven that "Adversity causes some to break, others to break records." And, in the words of Burke: "He who wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill."

My Brethren, it was once stated that the real purpose of Freemasonry is the pursuit of excellence. I like that statement. Every lesson in every degree of Freemasonry reiterates the idea that the individual is committed to self-improvement, to the acceptance of responsibility, to deeper sympathy and benevolence, to greater truth, to genuine love of fellowmen.

So Mote It Always Be!

"They Lied on Their Knees," was originally a short talk given by the then-Grand Master of Masons in Pennsylvania, Right Worshipful William A. Carpenter (1915-1990). It was edited and republished as a Short Talk Bulletin of the Masonic Service Association in February 1985.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Be Seeing You: Ron Bonds (1952-2001)

I said my last "Be Seeing You" to one of my closest friends five years ago today. He passed away on April 8, 2001, at age 48, dying a painful death caused by food poisoning contracted at a local Atlanta restaurant.

Ron Bonds would have enjoyed the Burning Taper website. From 1985 well into the '90s, he was sysop of IllumiNet BBS, a private online bulletin board service operated from his home computer. The BBS was dedicated to conspiracies, esoteria, religion, cults, UFOs, exploring the New World Order, and Illumination of every kind. He was also the publisher of many esoteric, conspiracy and UFO books through his company IllumiNet Press. Ron was an expert on the JFK assassination and other conspiracy theories; he managed to believe all the theories without believing any of them, and taught me to do so, too.

One of the first books he published was an obscure novel called The Idle Warriors. The book is a thinly disguised story about Lee Harvey Oswald's days in the Marine Corps, written by Kerry Thornley, a platoon-mate of Oswald's. What makes it especially unique? The book was written before the JFK assassination. Something about Oswald was that unique, that someone who knew him would write a book about him.

Ron and I became friends shortly after I first logged onto his BBS in 1987, and we remained so until he passed away in 2001. Not a day goes by that I don't want to call him up to share something interesting or weird or cool I just learned. We used to speak most every day.

Knowing Ron, especially in the early days, exposed me to esoterica of which I knew little or nothing. Aleister Crowley, the Golden Dawn, Kaballah, Masonic conspiracy theory, New World Order paranoias, fundamentalist Christian wackiness, non-mainstream music, etc. — Ron was a treasure chest of knowledge about these and many other disciplines and topics. His mind was as sharp as anyone's I've ever met.

It was fun being in Ron's circle — he knew the most interesting and the most eccentric people, and was years ahead of his time on just about everything. Ron published several more of Kerry Thornley's books (Principia Discordia, Zenarchy, and more), and I got to meet Thornley several times. Ron was philosophizing and raving about The Matrix long before the movie of the same name came out. He knew every assassination theory about every assassinated person forwards and backwards, inside and out. He used to book the band R.E.M. into his Decatur, Georgia nightclub for $100 a night before they hit it big. He traded ideas with Chris Carter, the man behind the X-Files. He was a veteran of the Internet before most people had even heard of it. As a teenager, Ron played in a garage band in Atlanta with Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon. As Sam Rountree said at Ron's funeral, Ron would have been as rich as Bill Gates, except his timing sucked.

Ron was a news and media junkie. His television or his shortwave radio, or both, were always on, it seemed, whenever I'd visit or call.

Ron was fascinated and amused by the fanatical following that Elvis Presley had, even long after Elvis's demise. He loved everything about Elvis, except his music.

He once recorded and pressed his own 45 rpm single vinyl record — remember those? Using state of the art sampling techniques (for the time) he played around with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's voices at the height of their scandal, creating a tune called Under the Blood. On the flip side was a mournful dirge called Hess is Dead, about Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy who was found hanged in Spandau Prison in 1987. He even designed a cover sleeve for the record. (Trivia: The spinning, hanged-on-an-electrical-cord corpse of Rudolf Hess is the source of the name of the band Spandau Ballet.)

Ron re-published John Keel's 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, and then sold the movie rights. The film, starring Richard Gere, was released in 2002. The true story tells about the collapse of the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River on December 15, 1967 that killed 46 people, and of the "Mothman" that was seen by many people prior to that event, apparently as a warning about the impending bridge collapse. A Mothman Prophecies death-list shows that many people associated with the movie have since died, many mysteriously. Ron is #55 on the list (which includes the 46 original deaths). For those who like to see weird correlations in everything: Point Pleasant, West Virginia, where the Mothman was repeatedly sighted, is in Mason County.

My friend GrouchoGandhi and I once saw Ron become invisible. We could still see him, but no one else could. When we asked how he did it, he simply quipped, "Read more Crowley."

In the late 1980s Ron, Gg and I and a few other geeks with modems created a mock religion that worshipped the Ones and Zeros of our computers. We called it "The First Church of Binary Consciousness, Digitarian." We'd hold "conclaves" at a local bar and consume lots of "holy water" (pitchers of cheap draft beer) regularly. Our church ranks swelled to about 25 people, as new visitors to his BBS would come out to meet us. I guess it didn't hurt our growth that everyone who joined the Church received their very own Pope certificate and got to call themselves by some cool Papal name. Ron's cool Papal name was Elvon Prezton. (Yeah, we borrowed the Pope idea from Discordianism, which was co-founded in the 1950s by Kerry Thornley even before he wrote about Oswald.)

The Digitarians weren't the first mock church Ron had co-founded. Years earlier, he and Sam had written up documents for the First Church of Beaver Cleaver (note the same initials as the Digitarian Church) and sold copies of the papers by mail. Those documents have now been digitized and can be found all over the Internet.

Ron was an emphatic non-joiner. He'd roll over in his grave (except he can't, he was cremated) if he knew I had become a Freemason. Ironically, in part it is because of knowing Ron that I became a Mason soon after he passed away.

In spite of all his levity and high weirdness and eclectic knowledge, Ron was at heart a very compassionate and caring man. Though I have hundreds of memories of him, the one that stands out most in my mind is the concern and the sheer moral outrage in his voice when he phoned me one day, shouting, "They're burning them! They're killing those children!" I'm talking about the Branch Davidian incident at Waco in 1993. I remember turning on the TV when he called and staying on the phone with him as the compound was engulfed. It was a tragic moment in American history.

I also remember when his wife Nancy called me to tell me of his passing. That was a tragic moment in my personal history, one I'll never forget.

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Below is an article that ran in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution a year after Ron died:

"All We Did was Go Out to Eat"

By Jim Auchmutey, Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionStaff Writer

Ron Bonds sold conspiracies. The Atlantan published books on unsolved mysteries and unexplained phenomena, from the Kennedy assassination to the ominous black helicopters of the New World Order. In the subculture of the paranormal, his reputation was such that writers for The X-Files used to call him for ideas.

But nothing Bonds published was stranger than the final chapter of his life.

On a beautiful spring Saturday last year, Bonds and his wife, Nancy Kratzer, rose before dawn to work on the house they had just bought in the Morningside neighborhood of Atlanta. Late that morning, they broke for lunch and headed to a nearby Mexican restaurant, El Azteca on Ponce de Leon.

Bonds ordered a No. 7 combo — beef burrito, enchilada, beans and rice. He asked the server to make sure the food was hot. It hadn't been the last time he ate there.

"Is it hot enough?" Nancy asked when their lunches arrived.

"Lukewarm," Ron said — but he was too famished to send the plate back.

Fifteen hours later, after an agonizing evening of vomiting and diarrhea, Bonds was taken by ambulance from their home to Grady Memorial Hospital. As Kratzer waited among the families of trauma victims, she thought to herself: When this is over, I'm going to yell at Ron for putting me through this.

Not long before sunrise, she was shown into a private room. Doctors burst in. One of them broke the news: "Your husband didn't make it."

Kratzer glared at him in disbelief. "I don't think you have the right person," she said. "All we did was go out to eat."

A rare statistic

Around 5:30 on the morning of April 8, 2001, Ronald W. Bonds, a 48-year-old Atlanta native whose black goatee was beginning to show flecks of gray, who liked to play guitar and argue politics over a beer and take long walks with his wife, became a statistic.

Every year in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, more than 5,000 people die of food-borne illness — about 40 percent from something they ordered at a restaurant.

In Bonds' case, suspicion quickly fell on his last meal. The Fulton County medical examiner determined he died of internal bleeding caused by toxic bacteria in contaminated ground beef. He ruled the death accidental and listed the scene of the accident as 939 Ponce de Leon Ave.: El Azteca.

If the finding is correct — and the restaurant strongly disputes it — Bonds became the first person in decades to die of food poisoning from a metro Atlanta restaurant. County and state health authorities cannot remember the last local dining fatality.

"I've been here 29 years, and I've never heard of another death like that one," says Ferrell Curlee, who oversees restaurant inspections for the Gwinnett County Board of Health.

The death of Ron Bonds illuminates an area of government regulation many people take for granted. The public rarely thinks about restaurant inspections unless an outbreak of food poisoning hits the news, as it did a decade ago when four children died from E. coli-tainted hamburgers at Jack in the Box restaurants.

Georgia law requires county health departments to inspect restaurants at least twice a year. But the task has become increasingly difficult as eateries have mushroomed with the population, making restaurant safety another area, like traffic or air quality, where growth has authorities scrambling to keep up.

In the past five years, the number of permitted food service establishments in metro Atlanta — from restaurants to school cafeterias to sandwich carts — has increased by more than 50 percent. Yet the number of full-time inspectors has changed little and has declined in one county, Fulton, home of 15 percent of the state's restaurants. Budget cuts have reduced the county's inspection force from 35 to 23.

"We're having to do more with less," says Adewale Troutman, director of the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness.

Whether more frequent or tougher inspections would have spared Bonds, however, is an open question.

"We still don't know what happened in that kitchen," says attorney Mark Harper, who represents Kratzer in a wrongful death lawsuit against El Azteca.

The suit, now in the deposition phase, does not specify damages. Kratzer says she doesn't care about the money.

"I just want people to know what can happen," she says. "And I want to see that dump closed."

Conspiracy theories

It has been more than a year since her husband died, but his presence still inhabits the cream-colored bungalow they shared in Morningside. His guitar rests in a stand in the living room. His Fabulous Fifties Bakelite radio decorates the mantel. His Mission-style easy chair faces the big-screen TV, as if he had just stepped out.

"It was months before I could bring myself to sit in it," says the 47-year-old widow, a slender Michigan native whose nervous manner suggests the emotional turmoil within. She's still struggling with an ulcer.

They met in the mid-'80s when both were working at the Turtle's record store chain. Bonds was a character, an opinionated ironist who wanted to be a music promoter and had started his own record label, EOD ("Elvis on Drugs"), and his own mock faith, the Church of Beaver Cleaver.

Bonds had always been fascinated by conspiracies and mysteries. Shortly after the couple married in 1990, he announced he was getting into the publishing business. He didn't have to look far for an author: Kerry Thornley, a down-and-out veteran who was washing dishes at a Mexican joint in Little Five Points. Thornley had served in the Marines with Lee Harvey Oswald, and his novel based on the experience, The Idle Warriors, became the first product of Bonds' company, IllumiNet Press.

The press issued three or four books a year, Bonds handling the manuscripts while Kratzer did the typesetting and accounts. One title, a UFO thriller called The Mothman Prophecies, became a movie starring Richard Gere. Their best seller, at 40,000 copies, was Black Helicopters Over America, a diatribe against the New World Order that Bonds cooked up with author Jim Keith.

"They laughed all the way to the bank with that one," Kratzer says. "Ron didn't really believe all that stuff. But there were people who did, and he just fed their craziness."

In his final spring, Bonds had every reason to feel good about himself. The publishing business was perking along, and the couple had just bought a second house intown as an investment. What's more, he had gone on a low-carb diet and shed 30 pounds.

Bonds did have a health problem, though. He suffered from diverticulosis, a common condition in which the intestines are scarred by small saclike growths. He avoided nuts, strawberries and other foods that could lodge in the sacs and untrack his digestion.

Toxic bacteria could lodge in the sacs, too.

After lunch that Saturday, the couple ran some errands and returned home for the evening. Ron settled in with his shortwave radio while Nancy curled up with a TV movie. She says he ate nothing else except some carrot cake.

Around 9 p.m., Ron told her he was feeling sick and disappeared into a bathroom. Nancy checked on him from time to time, thinking he had a stomach virus, then drifted off to sleep. She woke before midnight with cramps of her own and retreated to the other bathroom. She didn't know Ron had gotten worse and was vomiting repeatedly.

About 3 a.m., he asked her to call 911.

By the time the ambulance arrived, Ron was sprawled on the dining room floor, dehydrated and complaining of muscle seizures in his legs. The paramedics helped him back into a bathroom. After a while, Nancy called out to see how he was doing. No answer. She cracked the door and saw Ron mumbling to himself, his eyes rolled back.

"Your husband's in bad shape," one of the EMTs told her as they loaded him onto a stretcher and sped off to Grady.

It was the last time she saw him alive.

Unraveling the mystery

Kratzer suspected food poisoning all along, but she received no confirmation until the death certificate arrived more than a month after her husband's body was cremated.

During an autopsy, the medical examiner found copious amounts of blood in the bowels, so he sent a stool sample to the Georgia Public Health Laboratory in Decatur. The lab discovered high levels of Clostridium perfringens Type A, a bacterium often seen in small quantities in beef and poultry. When it occurs in larger quantities — anything above 100,000 organisms per gram is considered unsafe — it can release toxins that cause diarrhea, vomiting and, rarely, hemorrhaging. The bacterium figures in 250,000 cases of food poisoning a year, the CDC estimates, only seven of which result in death.

"It's not one of the common forms of food poisoning," says Paul Mead, an epidemiologist with the CDC's Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch.

Four days after Bonds ate there, epidemiologists visited El Azteca to collect samples of ground beef from the steam table. When C. perfringens becomes dangerous, it usually has to do with cooked meat being held at too low a temperature. The lab found 6 million organisms per gram — 60 times the safety threshold.

A microbiologist at the lab also ran genetic fingerprinting tests to compare the bacteria from the food with cultures from Bonds' and Kratzer's stool samples. The DNA strands were found to be almost identical, suggesting the bacteria came from the same source.

In the meantime, the health department asked El Azteca for credit card receipts covering the days when Bonds had eaten there and when the food samples had been taken. Of the 35 customers reached by phone, seven reported gastrointestinal problems.

On April 18, the department placed El Azteca on probation for six months, meaning it had to meet stricter health standards during frequent, unannounced inspections. The probation was eventually lifted. Despite the death, the restaurant was never forced to close.

That infuriated Kratzer. Last summer, she fired off an e-mail to colleagues at Emory University, where she works as an administrator in the business school, warning them about El Azteca.

"Please pass this message on, and please, for your safety: DON'T EAT THERE!" she wrote.

The e-mail ricocheted around Atlanta for weeks. Kratzer eventually received more than 300 replies from people who wanted to express sympathy or share their own gut-wrenching dining experiences.

As word spread, the restaurant's business plummeted. But it gradually recovered, and by this spring, the patio out front was again teeming with margarita sippers.

The sight galls Kratzer. "I drive by there," she says, "and I think: You fools!"

Restaurant response

In a way, El Azteca is a classic American success story. A family of Mexican immigrants opened the first restaurant two decades ago in Sandy Springs and expanded into a chain of more than a dozen outlets. In 1996, they sold the location on Ponce to Bernie Eisenstein, an Atlanta restaurant broker. He still owns the store — which is not affiliated with the others — and can usually be found there before lunch conducting business from a front table as oven-mitted waiters dash to and fro.

Eisenstein declined to comment on the Bonds case. "He thinks he's being inappropriately blamed," says his lawyer, Richard Foster.

The attorney is mounting a vigorous defense. In depositions, Foster has raised questions about whether the food samples were handled incorrectly, allowing bacteria to fester en route from the restaurant to the lab. He also points out that Kratzer admits she and her husband ate ground beef at home on the Thursday or Friday night before they visited El Azteca.

"There's no question that Ron Bonds died because he had diverticulosis and ingested this bacteria," Foster says. "The question is: Where did it come from?"

The restaurant's health record has been scrutinized in the early rounds of the lawsuit. Inspectors testified they received previous complaints of sickness from meals at El Azteca, they found evidence of rat infestation, and one caller reported finding a roach in a burrito.

Over the past three years, health officers have scored the restaurant in the 80s and 90s (out of 100) with two exceptions: A 65 in October 1999 and a 69 in February 2001.

One of the items cited was improper temperature on the steam table.

The 'simple' theory

After Bonds died, some of his friends in the conspiracy underground were suspicious. One of his authors, Kenn Thomas, editor of a Web site called the Steamshovel Press ("All conspiracy. No theory."), went so far as to suggest in a book that the Atlantan's demise was part of a plot against another writer, Jim Keith, who was investigating the Princess Diana "assassination" when he died under odd circumstances three years ago. Keith injured his knee falling off a stage at the Burning Man arts festival in Nevada and suffered a fatal blood clot during surgery.

"I don't have all the dots connected, but my suggestion is that someone wanted to silence Keith — and Ron was Keith's publisher," Thomas maintains.

Hearing this scenario, Kratzer rolls her eyes. While her husband would have appreciated such a flight of imagination — indeed, he might have published it — she doesn't need international conspiracies to understand his death.

She subscribes to the single-burrito theory.

"It's simple," she says. "Someone went out to eat and died. That's not supposed to happen."

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Friday, April 07, 2006

The polls have closed

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Burning Taper's first poll.

Of course, the vote was not scientific, and reflects only the opinions of a small number of visitors this site. In fact, the number of people who bothered to vote in this poll compared to the number of people who visit this site was amazingly small. Just like in the real world — a tiny percentage of those eligible to vote actually do.

I was suprised to see that no anti-Masons cast a vote to send us, symbolically at least, to Hell.

Here are the results to the question of "What do you think about Freemasonry?"
  • I am a Mason, and I support the Rose Cross of Gold. 56 Votes, 50.91%
  • I am a Mason, and the Rose Cross of Gold members are heretics who should be expelled. 7 Votes, 6.36%
  • I am a Mason, and have not yet decided how I feel about the Rose Cross of Gold. 28 Votes, 25.45%
  • I am not a Mason. Jesus doesn't approve of Freemasonry. 0 Votes, 0%
  • I am not a Mason, but might like to become one. 4 Votes, 3.64%
  • I am not a Mason, and I think you guys are a sad story of how something noble dies. 3 Votes, 2.73%
  • I am a woman. Why can't I be a Mason? 8 Votes, 7.27%
  • I am a black Prince Hall Mason, but most of you white guys don't recognize me as a Mason at all. 2 Votes, 1.82%
  • I am a Past Master, and this is not how we did it when I was in the East. 2 Votes, 1.82%

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Baptists destroy "evil Masonic" memorial garden

This is old news, but like they say about television reruns, "it's new to you if you haven't seen it before."

Four years after Rev. Jess Jackson and eight members of Westwood Hill Baptist Church in Kempsville, Virginia, destroyed the church's memorial garden dedicated to Brother Arthur S. Ward, a deceased co-founder of their church, a formal apology was given in open court, and the Bro. Ward's family dropped their lawsuit against the church for breach of trust and inflicting emotional distress. The family never wanted the church's money; they wanted to clear the good name of their father and husband.

Jackson, two associate pastors and six members burned, uprooted and tore apart the flowering memorial garden in 1996 because of Arthur Ward's Masonic ties and the garden's alledged occult symbols and evil influence.

In 2000, their attorney issued this apology in court, after which the family dropped the case:

"They offer you both an unequivocal apology for the hurt they have caused you and your family, and to the memory of your husband, who was a founding member of Westwood Hill Baptist Church, at all times in good standing, and who was recognized by all who knew him to be a good and honorable man."

According to a news report, the church members said cobblestones and a cross entwined with roses were arranged to resemble "occultic symbols" used by the Masons.

After destroying what they could and hauling away the rest, these men "reconsecrated" the site by sprinkling holy water on the ground.

Pastor Jackson and other Westwood Hill congregants involved in razing the garden declined to comment. Instead, Jackson released a joint statement: "The defendants and leadership of Westwood Hill rejoice that we have been able to resolve this matter without the trauma of a civil trial regarding what we believe was a church matter. This has been a painful four years for all involved. Our sincere heart's desire is for personal reconciliation among all parties involved."

Reported in July 20, 2000 Virginian-Pilot, and at the Masonic Information Center website in Sept. 2000

The story is explored more fully in "Is it True what They Say about Freemasonry?"

The rose and cross image above was originally the publication trademark of Martin Luther, the founder of Protestant Christianity. The symbol today is used as the symbol of the Lutheran Church. The Rose and Cross are used in many other ways as well — two well-known examples are the its use by the Rosicrucians and the Masonic Scottish Rite. The Masonic Rite of the Rose Cross uses the word "rose," but not a graphic of a rose, in their logo. Some date the combined symbol back to the Knights Templar. The cross as a symbol pre-dates Christianity, and the Rose has long symbolized the Divine Female.

But sometimes, as in the memorial garden desecration incident discussed above, a rose is just a rose and a cross is just a cross.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The old boy network meets the fearless generation

"The 'old-boy-network' won the battle and openness, transparency, and principled dissent lost."

No, this isn't about how the Widow's Son's local lodge brothers conspired to protect the child molester in their midsts while drumming out the one who told the truth, and no, this isn't about how the Grand Lodge of Georgia conspired to "erase" Masons from the rolls of their lodges for seeking further Masonic education on their own in the Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold.

While that quotation does aptly describe what has been going on in Georgia and Alabama Masonry the last several years, that's not what the opening quotation is about.

The quotation above, which bears repeating — "The 'old-boy-network' won the battle and openness, transparency, and principled dissent lost" — was written about the trustees of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, by a Southern Baptist pastor and blogger.

It seems the old-boy-network that has run the Southern Baptist Mission Board since dinosaurs roamed the earth took offense when a young minister who had been elected a trustee, Wade Burleson, spoke his mind, complaining about their rule-making about things that should be handled by local churches. In response to the criticism, the board lashed out with new rules forbidding criticism, and by doing so, stirred the ire of a lot more young pastors, who raised a ruckus.

The chairman said that the trustees are now more aware of the younger generation of Southern Baptist pastors and leaders who rallied to Burleson's defense. "This high-tech generation is fearless," he said, adding their fearlessness is often taken for insolence.

Discipline against Burleson has supposedly been dropped since the brouhaha began. Burleson was originally accused of "broken trust" and "resistance to accountability" for speaking his mind on his blog. Trustees say they will take no further action against Burleson, but Baptist bloggers laugh at that promise.

One Baptist blogger writes, "New guidelines require trustees 'to refrain from speaking in disparaging terms' not only of fellow trustees but — after an amendment — of all IMB personnel."

"Individual IMB trustees must refrain from public criticism of board-approved actions," notes the section on trustee conduct. "Experience has shown that it is not possible to draw fine lines in this area. Freedom of expression must give way to the imperative that the work of the Kingdom not be placed at risk by publicly airing differences within the board."

Not publicly airing differences.... I've heard that before! "Don't air the lodge's dirty laundry!" they cried, when notice of the child molester's Masonic trial was published, pursuant to Masonic Code.

There's no need to go any further with this story — in and of itself, it's not that interesting. I just found the parallels to Southern Freemasonry noteworthy, but not unexpected. After all, one of the problems with southern Freemasonry is that it's been taken over by these same Baptists with their own agenda.

It's time for the Old Boy Network to get out of the way of the Fearless Generation.

— Widow's Son

Artwork: "Culture Clash" by Robert Jackson

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