Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why I'll never be Worshipful Master

My postings to The Burning Taper have been scant lately. I've had business and personal issues to deal with, and frankly, lately my interest in Freemasonry has waned a bit.

It's now been over a year since I was ostracized by my “brothers” in my local blue lodge. Only a couple have I kept in touch with, and they were friends before I was a Mason.

As I was thinking of writing this article — about how I feel today about Freemasonry — I read an email backchannel that was sent by a Mason out West to a blue lodge secretary and to the Grand Master of Texas, informing them that one of their members had recently been arrested in a sting operation involving solicitation of sex from a minor.

That brought back memories of my experiences in my own blue lodge in 2005, when a member pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of a minor in my hometown.

As then-webmaster of our lodge's website, I posted the news online (pursuant to Georgia Masonic Code, which states that information of that sort should be publicized to show the community that the lodge doesn't tolerate such behavior), and met with a torrent of criticism from my lodge brothers saying, “You can't put that online!” They didn't want the lodge, or the child exploiter's father, a Past Master, “embarrassed.”

As Junior Warden, it fell to me to “be in charge” when the lodge finally voted — remorsefully, as if it was the lodge's fault — to bring charges of unmasonic conduct against the brother who was by then a registered sex offender.

As JW, I signed the paperwork that led to the Masonic trial. The offender, and his Past Master Big-Shot-in-Town father took offense at me personally for having written up the charges, though I had never even met either one of them. Neither had attended a lodge meeting in years.

The full story can be found in parts 1-4 of “Small Town Freemasonry.”

Eventually, in a great imitation of Don Corleone, the father succeeded in having bogus charges of unmasonic conduct threatened against me. He even attended the meeting where another Past Master (who is in line to be Georgia's Grand Master in a few years) stood and accused me of unmasonic conduct for posting the information online. No official charges were ever filed, just threatened, to keep me “in line” until my term as Junior Warden officially ended in December, 2005.

Though of course advancement to the next chair is not guaranteed, here in the South, it's virtually assured. I've seen some most unqualified men advance to the East just because “it was his turn.”

Naturally, before all this happened, it was assumed I would become Worshipful Master when “my turn” came.

But at the election last December, I was unceremoniously dumped from the line by a vote of 27-4. The Godfather and the Heir to the Grand Master's Chair had called in their markers... brothers I'd never seen showed up to vote against me. (I'd missed only two meetings in three-plus years; I knew all the “regulars.”) I was also “deposed” as Director of Masonic Education, a position I'd held with pride for a couple of years. I was replaced by a “team” that could be controlled — a pig farmer who thinks of himself as a minister of God, and a new brother I had helped raise about two months before. I can only imagine the education those two have provided this past year since I've been gone.

It was a given that the Powers That Be didn't want me to come back to lodge meetings after that, and so I haven't.

Tuesday, December 11, is another election, the one I'd looked forward to for years, the one where I would most likely have received the honor of serving as Worshipful Master for 2007.

Ain't gonna happen.

I assume the Powers That Be (unaffectionately remembered as Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum, plus Big Daddy and his pal Bro. Heir to the Grand Master's Throne) are still running things at the lodge, making sure they have their yes men in the Chairs and on their committees.

Same as it ever was.

“Making Good Men Better,” my ass. More like “Making Good Men Stop Attending.”

Image: The state of Masonry in the southern United States today — empty and devoid of any real meaning

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bro. Michael Richards' stage-rage: Scottish Rite Masonry's poster boy blasts hecklers

By now you've probably heard about the stage-rage of Michael Richards, the comedian who rose to fame by playing Jerry Seinfeld's wacky neighbor Kramer.

Last weekend Richards reacted to hecklers in the audience at a comedy club in Los Angeles with a rant peppered with f-bombs and n-words. His hecklers, who had shouted at him "you're not funny" were black.

One news report said:
Michael Richards stunned a comedy club audience, shouting racial epithets at people who heckled him during a stand-up routine.

The 57-year-old actor-comedian, best known for playing Jerry Seinfeld's eccentric neighbor Kramer on the hit TV show "Seinfeld," was performing at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood Friday night when he launched into the verbal rampage, according to video posted on

The tirade apparently began after two black audience members started shouting at him that he wasn't funny.

Richards retorted: "Shut up! Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a f------ fork up your a--."

He then paced across the stage taunting the men for interrupting his show, peppering his speech with racial slurs and profanities.

"You can talk, you can talk, you're brave now mother------. Throw his a-- out. He's a n-----!" Richards shouts before repeating the racial epithet over and over again.

While there is some audible chuckling in the audience throughout the outburst, someone can be heard gasping "Oh my God" and various people "0oh" after Richard uses the n-word.

Richards performed the next night at the Laugh Factory without incident.

Calls to Richards' representatives were not immediately returned early Monday.

He refused to comment on-camera when reached by CNN, but the network reported that he said off-camera he felt sorry for what had happened and had made amends.
Last night on Late Night with David Letterman, Richards, via remote from L.A., made an apology, while fellow comedian Seinfeld appeared in New York with Letterman. A video of that apology is available on today.

What many people may not know is that Michael Richards is a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason and a Knight Commander of the Court of Honour (K.C.C.H.). In 2000, he appeared on the cover of the Scottish Rite Journal.

Here's the story, titled "Brother Michael A. Richards, Renaissance Man, Not 'Kramer'," by Michael M. Marsellos, 32°, K.C.C.H., that appeared in the magazine, which is sent to all members of the Scottish Rite:
Cameras are rolling. Michael Richards is ad-libbing. "You ought to read Hinomaus," he informs a stunned actor. Behind the monitors, the production crew is in stitches. "Hinomaus?" Like so many of Richards' impromptus, it's ridiculous, and real, and funny at the same time.

Of course, you can't be sure the name is made up, because Richard's knowledge of great and obscure authors ranges wide. He collects rare books and reads voraciously, when he isn't acting, or hiking, or biking, or painting. The word "hobby" never applies because Brother Richards throws himself into every activity with the same intense passion.

Maybe that helped give rise to "Kramer," a character so real and subtle that viewers of the hit television series Seinfeld had a hard time separating Richards the actor from Kramer the role. But the two are worlds apart. Definitely, he is not Kramer!

Michael Richards was born on July 24, 1949, in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in Baldwin Hills and San Fernando Valley. At an early age, the adventurous lad enjoyed walking alone exploring the hillside and biking for miles from theater to theater spending the days watching movies. "These early treks of mine," says Richards, "produced an extraordinary freedom as well as a soulful sense of my own individuality."

In junior high, Richards, the perennial class clown, got his first taste of real fame when a performance in a school play brought daily plaudits from classmates in the halls. He says, "I enjoyed making my friends laugh by clowning around in classes, and I did get in trouble for it. I didn't know that I was actually doing what my calling in life demanded!"

Enrolled in the Los Angeles Valley College, he continued to dominate student productions and says "I am grateful that the public schools introduced me to the performing arts." With the Viet Nam war going on, Richards was drafted and stationed in Germany as one of the co-directors of the V Corps Training Road Show. He produced and directed shows dealing with race relations and drug abuse; "This was a successful, educational operation, boosting the moral of our men and incorporating the arts into the service."

Following an honorable discharge, Richards returned to the United States to pursue a formal education in theater at the California Institute of the Arts and Evergreen College in Washington State, where he graduated with a degree in Theater Arts. He returned to Southern California to perform with the San Diego Repertory Company and, later, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. It was through his stand-up comedy at the Improvisation and the Comedy Store in Hollywood that ABC hired him for his first television series, Fridays. Richards highlighted Fridays with popular characters like "Vinnie," "Dick," and "Battle Boy."

When Fridays ended, Richards continued to work in television guest starring on such diverse shows as Miami Vice, Hill Street Blues, Night Court, Cheers, and St. Elsewhere, followed by his second television series, Marblehead Manor for NBC. He was also a guest star on The Billy Crystal Special, The Bob Hope Comedy Special, The Jonathan Winters Comedy Special, The MTV Comedy Special, and The Andy Kaufman Special. In addition, he hosted The Montreal Comedy Special and The Aspen Comedy Festival.

Richards' fan base was ardent but limited—until a quirky, innovative show, NBC's Seinfeld, began to gain attention in the early 1990s. People who had never watched television tuned in to watch "The K-Man" flinging open doors and sliding into rooms, both physically and philosophically, as "a hipster-doofus on the prowl." Always exciting, never predictable, Richards created the off-the-wall memorable character "Cosmo Kramer" out of thin air and into one of the funniest, most unique characters ever created for television. His performances as "Kramer" brought him three Emmy Awards and three Screen Actors Guild Awards for Best Supporting Actor in a comedy series. He also co-starred in Diane Keaton's movie Unstrung Heroes, for which he was nominated for an American Comedy Award. Recently, he took on the role of Mr. Micawber in a soon to-be-aired TNT production of David Copperfield, the famous novel by Charles Dickens. Interestingly, Mr. Micawber was performed in the last American film production (1935) of this classic by another Brother Mason and great comedic actor, W. C. Fields. Currently, for NBC, Richards is producing The Michael Richards Show, an offbeat gumshoe comedy scheduled to premiere this fall, Tuesdays at 8:00 pm.

Like all great comedians, Richards is a complex man. Those lucky enough to have worked with him, or to have been his friends, know him as a quintessentially sensitive man, a playful practical joker, and serious student of the world as well as a seeker and a traveler in journeys to new horizons.

What prompted Richards to become a Mason? In 1996 at Lake Tahoe, Richards inducted Ill. Red Skelton, 33°, into The Comedy Hall of Fame. Bro. Richards says: "I was already interested in the Craft from reading Manly Palmer Hall's The Secret of All Ages, Albert Pike's Morals and Dogma, and Albert Mackey's Symbolism of Freemasonry. So, when I met Red and found out about his strong ties to Freemasonry, I was very impressed. Morals and Dogma certainly introduced me to Scottish Rite philosophy, but it was through Red's lovable nature, Masonic and all, that I really wanted to be a Mason."

Inspired by the high moral standards of Masonic teachings, as well as the fact that so many great men of all times were Freemasons, Michael Richards became a plural member of Riviera Lodge No. 780 and Culver City–Foshay No. 467, the Southern California Research Lodge, and a Life Member of the Los Angeles Scottish Rite Valley as well as a Life Member of the Scottish Rite Research Society.

Last year, the Supreme Council honored Bro. Richards by investing him with the rank and decoration of Knight Commander of the Court of Honour. He is humble and highly appreciative of this distinction bestowed upon him: "I am delighted and honored that I have had the opportunity to meet Scottish Rite leaders, such as Ill. Bros. Sovereign Grand Commander C. Fred Kleinknecht and Inspector H. Douglas Lemons, S.G.I.G. in California, as well as Ill. Bros. Rex Hutchens, Art deHoyos, Sean Graystone, and Bro. Michael Marsellos (whom I affectionately call "The Rat Pack" of the Scottish Rite), because they are devoted to the research and study needed to maintain and express the highest standards of Masonic wisdom." Bro. Richards' love of books and Masonry prompted him to donate over 1,000 volumes encompassing art, literature, science, and philosophy to the new Culver City–Foshay Lodge Library and Study Hall.

As a note of interest, at this year's 4th of July Pacific Palisades Americanism Parade (photo above), Bro. Richards was the Grand Marshall of the event, representing also Riviera Masonic Lodge. He was joined in this event by the Honorary Mayor of Pacific Palisades and last year's Grand Marshall, the renowned actor Anthony Hopkins.

Strangely enough, my path crossed that of Brother Richards, not so much in our common calling as Thespians, but in our common endeavors for enlightenment in Freemasonry. It is a privilege for me to share this article about Brother Richards with the readers of the Scottish Rite Journal and an honor for all Freemasons to be able to count this fine actor and scholar as a Brother in the Craft.
In a recent article in his Masonic blog Masonic Traveler, Bro. Greg Stewart, a Mason in Los Angeles, has called for Bro. Richards to resign from Freemasonry, or to be removed, for unmasonic conduct. Certainly brothers have been tried and expelled in Masonic courts for much less greivous acts. Others are saying that "we are all human," and that as Masons we should support Bro. Richards, who has already admitted and apologized for his mistake.

It will be interesting to watch as this story unfolds in the Masonic world.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Police shut down Old Bastards' stripper party

A Wisconsin newspaper's investigation put a damper on a bunch of old bastards' fun this week by provoking police into throwing cold water on their weekly stripper extravaganzas.

Since the 1960s, elderly men have been meeting weekly in Monona, Wis., near Madison, weekly to have fun. Their particular brand of fun is cavorting with strippers.

An investigation into the Old Bastards Monona chapter by the Wisconsin State Journal led police to attend Monday night's event and the exotic dancers were told they could mingle in the aisles and no touching was allowed.

The club was told it needed a city permit to hold such parties, UPI reported.

Richard Story, 60, the club's newly installed Arch Old Bastard, said no one knew there was a city permit required for the meetings, where the goal is "to do nothing."

"This isn't a young person's club," he said. "This is for elderly people who just want to have a good time with their peers."

The International Order of Old Bastards has about one million members in 4,600 chapters worldwide and was started in 1945 by Fred Kibbe, a U.S. soldier stationed in Brisbane, Australia.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Mason 78 years, Bro. Perrin turns 101

Recently I've been called to task via emails for being "negative" about Freemasonry here on the Burning Taper lately. There hasn't been a lot of good Masonic news that I've been made aware of, so instead I've written about corruption and questionable practices in Shrine Clubs and the United Grand Lodge of England, and about the ongoing racism in the U.S. southern Grand Lodges. There hasn't been much news lately from the nearly year-old United Grand Lodge of America, and I'm not about to post announcements for upcoming chicken dinners and widow's breakfasts at local blue lodges.

But, perhaps, it's time for a warm fuzzy article. I found just the one.

Bro. Sidney Perrin turned 101 years young on Nov. 5. He was born in Chatham, Kent, England. He had a long career working in the oil industry in Europe and Iran.

In 1976, he retired and moved to Boston, Massachusetts Lincolnshire, England, where he still lives today.

His wife died in 1986, but Bro. Perrin still leads an active and independent life.

Bro. Perrin was raised a Mason in 1928, and has been a Mason longer than anyone now living.

"I've enjoyed life greatly and have thousands of friends to call on should I ever need a hand," Bro Perrin recently said.

He claims the secret to long living is not to worry and to just enjoy life.

Happy Birthday, Bro. Perrin!

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mysterious deaths, forbidden treasure and UGLE's Pro-Grand Master

You've seen National Treasure, the fictional movie that says the Freemasons collected vast treasures to protect them for the people of the world.

There's a real-life version of National Treasure playing out in London, with side stories from China, Italy and Hungary. Even Croatia and Lebanon get bit parts in this power play. Only in this story, the Freemason is looking out not for the people of the world, but apparently for himself.

And at the center of the story is the Marquess of Northampton, Spencer "Spenny" Douglas David Compton. The Marquess is said to be the world's richest Buddhist. He is now married to his fifth wife, having sired semi-royal children with three of his wives.

And he is the Pro-Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England. The Pro-Grand Master deputizes for the Grand Master, who is currently Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, the Queen's cousin.

The Marquess collects treasure — in this case the 2500-year-old Sevso Hoard. It comprises 14 or more items of silver and represents probably the most important collection of Roman silver ever found. It's also stolen property, and no musuem in the world will touch it. Until now.

The Hoard was originally discovered in 1978 by Jozsef Sumegh, a 22-year-old Hungarian, who hit a copper vessel containing the silver pieces with his shovel while doing excavation. Sumegh sold a few pieces on the black market, and soon found himself dead, swinging from a rope in an unused wine cellar. Two of his close friends were murdered, too.

Hungary, Lebanon and Croatia have all sued unsuccessfully for return of their "national treasure."

Through unnamed sources, the Marquess eventually paid nearly £14 million for the silver pieces. Saying he got bad legal advice over buying the silver — it's both priceless and worthless, as no one will buy it — he sued his lawyers, and received a £24 million out of court settlement.

That's one shrewd Buddhist Freemason. What is the sound of one hand counting money?

Read it here.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Princeton University shows how to hack an electronic voting machine

Now that Election Day is over and done, and you're celebrating or bemoaning the win or loss of your favorite corrupt official, kick back with a drink or your morning coffee and watch this video.

Produced by researchers at Princeton University, it shows in plain detail how easy it is to install vote-stealing software into an electronic voting machine, and to virally spread that software to an entire network of voting machines.

Ah, democracy!

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More Masonic bad news: Rape and embezzlement?

A couple of items of Masonic news caught my attention today:
  • The clubhouse of the Shrine Club of Huntsville, Alabama, has been seized by national Shrine Club officials to pay off a debt they say the local club owes to the Shriner's Hospitals. Money raised through bingo games and earmarked for charity were allegedly spent on the club's internal expenses.

    "We are all pretty well shook up about it," club president Eric Terry said of the club's seizure. "We don’t like the way they handled it. They ought to have come in there and done it the right way instead of marching in on a Sunday morning and making demands."

  • In Perth, England Scotland, a manhunt is underway for a man who brutally raped a woman last Saturday night after she had attended a function at the Masonic lodge in Atholl Crescent. Officials called the rape a "deeply disturbing attack."

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Recognizing Prince Hall Masonry: To be or not to be?

Recognizing Prince Hall Masonry: To Be or Not To Be? by W. Bro. Tim Bryce, PM, MPS

I guess it is time for me to finally weigh in on the subject of recognizing Prince Hall Masonry. This has been a subject that has been debated for a number of years and, as a young Mason, I originally bowed to the wisdom of my elders in this regard. But the Grand Lodge of Delaware recently recognized Prince Hall and thus brought the issue back into the spotlight. This leaves the Dixie states as the only remaining jurisdictions who have yet to recognize Prince Hall. (For a U.S. map showing Prince Hall recognition, see Bro. Paul Bessel's web page.

I have heard several rationalizations down here as to why this is so, such as, "Well, its those AF&AM's up north; they do things differently up there." Translation: "We have the true faith, the northerners are wrong." Another cop-out is, "According to our constitution, we are prohibited from approaching another Masonic body, but they can approach us." Translation: "They can kiss our ass."

I have listened to all of the arguments and I have come to the conclusion that no matter how you slice or dice it, it is all about bigotry. Don't let anyone con you on this; Its not about who recognizes who or who practices the proper degree work, its about bigotry. Period.

I have read many news clippings where Prince Hall Masons do exceptional work in the black community. They offer help, aid, and assistance when others will not. As such, they are a positive influence on their communities. Why? Because they took the same obligations as all other Masons do. I would much rather have Prince Hall Masons work with our communities than the Black Panthers or some other extremist organization. They are positive role models for others to emulate.

I've also heard stories that their degree work is every bit as good as any other jurisdiction (perhaps better), and their members every bit as committed to the fraternity as any other grand jurisdiction. If this is all true, I can think of no reason why we wouldn't be willing to sit down and discuss cooperation, unless of course we are unwilling to sit down with the black man. And understand this, recognition of a Masonic body is most definitely not the same thing as merging; it simply means we recognize it as a legitimate organization (not clandestine) and that the Brothers are entitled to be treated the same as any other Mason, with all of the rights and privileges thereof.

In 1994, the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) adopted a resolution recognizing the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. Since then, the UGLE has also recognized Prince Hall in many other states (source, Bro. Paul Bessel). If the UGLE, the mother of Grand Lodges in the United States, recognizes Prince Hall, one has to wonder if the Dixie jurisdictions are in some sort of violation for not conforming with their mother Grand Lodge.

A few years ago the Grand Lodge of Minnesota created a stir in the fraternity when it recognized the Grand Lodge of France which was considered clandestine by many grand jurisdictions. Consequently, many jurisdictions rescinded their recognition of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota until they finally revoked recognition of France. Using this same logic, if the Dixie jurisdictions truly consider Prince Hall Masonry as clandestine, they should revoke recognition of all grand jurisdictions who recognize Prince Hall (including the UGLE). Failure to do so is hypocrisy. This of course won't happen as the Dixie jurisdictions would face isolation in a remarkably similar fashion as the southern states did in the American Civil War.

Back in the early 1960's, Alabama Governor George Wallace gained national recognition for his opposition to school integration. But Wallace's opposition was overturned by the federal government. To Wallace's credit though, he changed with the times. For those people who saw Wallace as nothing more than an icon for discrimination in the 1960's, they never saw the many black government appointments he made in the 1970's and 1980's. Although Wallace has been gone for some time now, he left behind a legacy of black officials who are performing their tasks as competently as their white counterparts. The point is, once Wallace recognized it was time to change, he adapted admirably.

Brothers, the choice is rather obvious: we either put our hatred and hypocrisy aside and sit down and act like Brothers, or we continue to embarrass the fraternity by fighting the Civil War for another hundred years. What will it be?

Keep the Faith.

NOTE: As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:

Article reprinted with permission of the author and

— W. Bro. Tim Bryce

Note from Widow's Son: Alabama Gov. George Wallace was a Freemason from an early age.

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