Saturday, June 30, 2007

Masonic references in cinema: Kubrick's 'Killer's Kiss' and Buneul's 'The Exterminating Angel'

If you haven't seen it, I suggest you take a tour of the excellent Masonic website of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. Bro. Trevor W. McKeown has done an outstanding job over the past several years building "by hand" a treasurechest of interesting Masonic-related information.

One section of the site is devoted to "Masonic references in cinema." So far, he has a list of over 70 films that contain references to Freemasonry, from the blatantly obvious, like National Treasure or From Hell, to the obscure.

In the past couple of weeks, I've emailed Bro. McKeown about two older films I've recently seen that contained Masonic references. Neither film was on his list.

After some discussion, he decided one of the two movies didn't qualify because the two characters I see as Masons aren't identified as such. On the other hand, I see them as definitely being Masons, and perhaps symbolically representing even more.

I noticed this morning that the second film I told him about last week has been added to his list. Good! There's no mistaking the Masonic references in that one! What a movie!

The first movie is Killer's Kiss, from 1955. It was written and directed by Stanley Kubrick, who later wrote and directed such diverse films as Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyysey, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut. Killer's Kiss is one of his early films, and it's the first one in which he's credited as writer. It's not one of his best. The story itself is weak and mostly predictable, but his presentation, with voiceovers and flashbacks, is skillful. His use of lighting and unusual camera-angles in this movie foreshadows the excellent films still in Kubrick's future. From our standpoint 50 years later, we know that Kubrick was a master at his work. We couldn't always understand or explain it, but yet we recognized his artistry all the same.

(Spoiler for Killer's Kiss follows.)

In Killer's Kiss, the hero is waiting on the busy city street outside his girlfriend's boss's office for her. Her boss's henchmen are about to be sent out to kill him.

Repeated cuts to two men, billed in the credits only as "conventioneers," show them drunkenly dancing their way along the sidewalks, from city block to city block. Both men wear red fezzes (without words or symbols on them) and black suits and ties. One is playing a harmonica, and both leap and dance like leprechauns, oblivious to the people on the street that they pass.

When the two men approach the hero on the street, however, they turn their attention to him, and suddenly, one of them grabs the hero's scarf from his neck, and both conventioneers turn and immediately run away. They no longer seem drunk. They run away with the agility of athletes.

The hero chases them, and eventually gets his scarf back. He then returns to the "scene of the crime."

While he was chasing the conventioneers, his agent (the hero is a semi-pro boxer) had arrived outside the office, looking for him. The agent, misidentified by the bad guys, was killed in the hero's place.

Thus, the conventioneers had saved the life of the hero.

Coincidence, or by plan? Were the conventioneers just a simple plot device, or did Kubrick have something more conspiratorial, or metaphorical, or allegorical, in mind?

Kubrick appears to be knowledgeable about Freemasonry, or so I like to believe. Eyes Wide Shut was about an elitist conspiracy, of which Masons are often accused. In Lolita, the star was James Mason. And two of Kubrick's films, Lolita and Dr. Strangelove, starred or co-starred famous Freemason Peter Sellers.

As Masons (Shriners must be Masons), were the two conventioneers there to "help, aid and assist" a brother without telling him? The storyline would have developed exactly the same no matter how the hero was temporarily relocated from his position outside the office. He could have been accosted by a street punk, or distracted by a little old lady, or any number of things on a city street. Why Shriners/Masons, er, I mean, conventioneers?

The second movie I saw recently was even more strange and surreal, but the Masonic references were a lot less subtle.

Mexican writer and director Luis Buñuel was known as the "Salvador Dali of Film," according to TCM's Robert Osborne. His Spanish-language El Ángel Exterminador (The Exterminating Angel), from 1962, is perhaps his most surreal and allegorical film.

Snobby dinner guests at a mansion won't go home. They can't leave the room. You get to watch society break down, literally. In Spanish, with English subtitles.

About 16 minutes in, in a crowded room, two characters give each other what might (or might not — I'm not telling) be a Masonic sign.

One of those men then asks the other the name of his lodge, which in English translated to Dawn Lodge No. 21.

Late night/early morning/dawn played a defining part in this bizarre picture.

Around 1 hour 15 minutes into it, one of the men lets out an unintelligible (to me — there was no subtitle given for it) cry that is then explained as the Masonic call for help. (By this time, they needed all the help they could get!) There was no doubt here the references were about Freemasonry; they used the word "Masonic."

The escape from their predicament could definitely be seen as a "resurrection," involving not only literal sacrificial lambs but also what you might consider a "memorized" ritual.

I'll say no more so that you'll enjoy it to its fullest, should you get to see it. I caught it on Turner Classic Movies earlier this month.

Image: Original theatrical poster for Stanley Kubrick's "Killer's Kiss"

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Award-winning 'Who's on First: The Movie' co-stars, co-directed and co-produced by sitting Worshipful Master

A few days ago in the article titled "The Mason's Nightmare," you met W. Bro. Steve Barr, the current Worshipful Master of North Hollywood Lodge No. 542 in California.

Bro. Barr is also active in the film industry. He recently co-produced, co-directed and co-starred, along with Danny Grossman, in SoCal Film Group's short feature Who's On First: The Movie.

Who's On First: The Movie recently won a silver medal in the Rebel Planet Film Festival's Short Short category.

Bro. Steve plays the clerk, and Danny Grossman is the customer. The routine was written by Chris Gavaler.

Lou Abbott and Bud Costello's original "Who's on First" was the very first bit they ever did on radio, performing it live on the The Kate Smith Hour in the late 1930's.

Image: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Abbott was a Freemason; Costello was not.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

This blog is rated NC-17

I noticed on Bro. Don Tansey's blog Movable Jewel this morning, down at the bottom, a new widget gizmo saying "This blog is rated G." You can click on it and get the rating for your own blog.

The Burning Taper is rated "NC-17: No one 17 and under admitted."

I was surprised. I don't use much profanity on this site, and the rating system most likely only reads the blog content, not the comments, where a "dirty word" occasionally gets posted.

So why the adult rating?

"This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
  • death (12x)
  • sex (6x)
  • dead (5x)
  • dick (3x)
  • kill (1x)"
Interesting. So we need to protect our kids from discussions of dying?

Er. I guess I just increased the word count by one for all those words by posting their list here.

All of the uses of the word "dick" on this blog are related to the late science-fiction author Philip K. Dick, by the way. So is that link in the blog roll to a blog called Total Dick-head.

Oops. I just increased the word-count for "dick" three more times. Uh, damn, now four times!

And added a damn.


I better stop before the Taper gets rated triple-X.

Speaking of ratings, have you seen the film This Film is Not Yet Rated? It's been playing on IFC lately. It's a documentary about the film ratings industry, and it will open your eyes about the politics behind the ratings system. The raters' identities are a closely guarded secret, with the MPAA ratings board saying they're all mainstream family types, with young or teen-aged kids, people who would naturally be concerned with morals and protecting children, and that the roster changes frequently.

With the help of a private investigator, the filmmakers "out" the identities of some of the MPAA raters, discovering that many, if not most, of them have been around a very long time, making a career out of what is billed as a temp job, and that their children are long since grown.

An interesting twist to the film is that it shows what happened when the movie itself was submitted to be rated.

I'll not give away any more of the film. If you like learning new things, and don't mind having pre-conceived notions (like the belief that the ratings system is a "good" thing) held up to scrutiny, I recommend you to see the movie.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Similarities and differences between U.S. and U.K. Freemasonry

Last week in response to Bro. Ben's article asking his readers what he should write about, I asked several general questions about what Freemasonry is like in Britain.

In response, he has begun a series dedicated to answering those questions on his blog Middlesex-Fire.

His first article talks about how often our British brothers meet. The second one delves into what they wear during lodge meetings.

You might want to keep your eye on his series, to learn a little about the similarities and differences of British Masonry in London compared with the version your lodge or jurisdiction practices.

Image: Freemason's Hall, home of the United Grand Lodge of England

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Live like you're dying

Down at the bottom of this page, and every page on The Burning Taper, is a countdown timer set to December 21, 2012, the "Mayan end of time." That date is the last date on the Mayan calendar. Today, it says there are 2007 days left, and since this is the year 2007, what better time to talk about it? I mean, we only have five and a half years left.

You can find dozens of books and hundreds of websites devoted to explaining what the Mayan calendar ending on that date means. I have no idea what will happen that day — polar shifts and tsunamis, alien attacks, the return of Jesus, the Armageddon War, or Freemasons finally agreeing on what kind of barbecue sauce is best. Or it could be just like any other day, like Y2K, January 1, 2000 was.

I'm reminded of a cartoon I once saw depicting a loin-clothed stonemason, hammer and chisel in hand, standing in front of the rock the Mayan calendar is etched into.

An onlooker asks him, "Why does the calendar end on that date?"

"I ran out of room."

We're all going to run out of room one day.

None of us has a personal countdown timer. Our last day could be today, tomorrow, or 50 or even 100 years from now.

We have no guarantees. No one knows when the Reaper will come.

Saints and sages have given advice. "Live Like You Were Dying" was a popular country song by Tim McGraw. Jesus urged us not to worry about tomorrow. Eckhart Tolle suggests that anything other than living in the Now is insane. And Bro. Mark Twain wrote, "Sing like nobody's listening, dance like nobody's watching, love like you've never been hurt, and live like it's heaven on earth."

Somewhere in there is a message: Live like there is no tomorrow. Seize the day. Stop and smell the roses.

It will be Christmas 2012 before you know it.

Or not.

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The Mason's nightmare

W. Bro. Steve Barr of North Hollywood (Calif.) Lodge No. 542 penned this short story last week after his lodge conferred the Master Mason's degree.

Do you know "the actor's nightmare"? Where you dream you're up on stage, in front of a big audience, and you've suddenly forgotten your lines?

That happened to me last night. For real.

One of the newer brothers in my Masonic lodge has been very diligent in learning what he needs to know to progress through the initiatory degrees. He had demonstrated his proficiency in the Fellowcraft degree (which is the second of three) and I wanted to give him a special experience when he received his Master degree. So I invited the Shrine degree team to perform the ceremony for him.

The Shrine, if you didn't know, is a affiliate body of Freemasonry, known for their free children's hospitals, their distinctive fezzes, and driving little cars in town parades. Their degree team is highly regarded, and they travel around southern California performing the degrees for any Master who wants to give an initiate a mark of distinction.

My lodge hasn't performed this particular degree in a few months, and so I diligently brushed up on my lines for the part of the ceremony that we would perform before handing it over to the Shriners. And I'm really proud of my officers — we were nearly perfect with the stuff we did. That's important, because the Shrine degree team has a lot of big muckety-mucks from the world of Masonry, and they take ritual performance very seriously, and I wanted us to make a good impression.

But, in my brushing-up, I forgot that there's a part waaaay at the end of the ceremony that is always done by the actual Master of the lodge, no matter if someone else is sitting in for him during the ceremony. I hadn't even thought about it since the last time we performed the ceremony, and I didn't brush up on it at all.

And, well, it's not the sort of thing that a person can ad lib:

"Brother [last name], I congratulate you on your becoming a Master Mason, and as such I commend you to the kind care, love, and protection of all Master Masons withersoever dispersed. The eyes of the Fraternity are now upon you. Be just, be faithful, be true, and convince the world by your acts that on becoming a Master Mason you have become a better man. Retain, we entreat you, that goodness of heart, that purity of intention, and that love of virtue of which we think you now possessed, and of which this spotless vestment* wherewith you are now girded is at once the emblem, the badge, and the reward."

Nothing now remains to constitute you a member of North Hollywood Lodge number 542, Free and Accepted Masons of the State of California, but to approach our Secretary's table and there sign its bylaws, which will subject you to its burdens and its responsibilities, as well as entitle you to its benefits and its privileges."

See? Not exactly colloquial language, is it? (* the 'spotless vestment' is the lambskin apron, which every Mason wears in lodge.)

This little speech comes at the end of a different little speech called the Charge, which was being performed for the first time by a brother of our lodge, who just became a Master Mason a few months ago and is really gung-ho, so I wanted to reward him by allowing him to perform the Charge in front of all the assembled muckety-mucks. He did it excellently, and when he was done I sat there in the audience, basking in the warm glow of pride I had for my lodge... and slowly realized that nothing was happening.

I looked up at the guy sitting in the Master's chair, and he was looking right back at me. Expectantly.

Sitting next to him was my District Inspector, who is the guy assigned by the Grand Lodge to several lodges in our area, to make sure our ritual is up to snuff. He was staring at me too, raising his eyebrows, asking me what the hold-up was.

And THEN I remembered that I was supposed to do the Master's Congratulation speech.

Well... f***.

I've already mentioned 'the actor's nightmare' but now I want you to visualize 'the deer in the headlights.' I froze, my eyes going wide and my mouth going dry. My balls crept up into my body cavity, trying to hide. I wanted to follow them up there.

I stood up, adjusted my apron and tuxedo, and shakily walked up to the guy who had just gone through a solemn and impressive ceremony to be raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. I cleared my throat and choked out "Brother ________, I congratulate you on your becoming a Master Mason." And that was it. No idea what was supposed to come next.

All of the Shriners know that speech by heart. So does our Inspector, and about half of the guys from my lodge who were there.

They all started whispering the next few words, which to me sounded like dead branches rubbing against a windowpane. Incredibly freaky.

My new brother was looking at me quizzically, wondering if my quivering hands or the blood oozing from my ears was part of the ceremony. I shook his hand, smiled, summoned my courage, and strongly declared "Brother _______, I have no idea whatsoever what I'm supposed to say next."

Everyone chuckled. Thank god.

I said a little phrase, which is a Master Mason's signal of distress, and one of the past Masters of my lodge was suddenly standing behind me, his hand on my shoulder, saying "With your permission, Worshipful, may I give the congratulation?" Everyone knew that he was bailing my ass out, but I thought it was incredibly classy of him to phrase it that way.

I nodded and somehow made it back to my seat without passing out. The past Master performed the congratulation flawlessly, and the ceremony was over. After we closed the lodge and were having refreshments downstairs, everybody gently joshed me about it, letting me know they weren't offended by the fact that I am an incompetent Master of my lodge. :)

So. That was my evening last night. How was yours?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go memorize that damn Congratulation so well that I will never forget it again.

Republished with permission of W. Bro. Steve Barr

Image: W. Bro. Steve Barr, North Hollywood Lodge No. 542

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

'A Radical in the East'

W. Bro. S. Brent Morris is the well-known Masonic author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry and other books, the editor of the Scottish Rite Journal, and a familiar face if you've watched some of the recent programs about Freemasonry on The History Channel or The Discovery Channel.

He wrote the following essay, A Radical in the East: The Reflections of a High Priest on his Year in the East, in 1980. It was originally published in the York Rite's Royal Arch Mason magazine in December 1980, and then as the lead essay in a collection of the same name published by Iowa Research Lodge No. 2 in 1993.

Bro. Morris received his "due notice" from the York Rite soon after the essay was published. He later found a new home in the Scottish Rite.

This is the first time this essay has appeared in digital form online, or anywhere since 1993. The Burning Taper is honored that Bro. Morris has allowed us to republish it here.

A Radical in the East: The Reflections of a High priest on his Year in the East, by S. Brent Morris, P.H.P.

Published in the Royal Arch Mason Magazine
vol. 13. No. 8 (Winter 1980)

"Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a soul." — Mark Twain

As a man matures, his thinking about various things changes. Some of these changes are gradual developments; some are sudden, abrupt turnarounds. 1 would like to share with you a shift in my thinking about Freemasonry of the latter type. My comments deal most specifically with the Chapter, though they are applicable to the Lodge or any other organization. My thinking was radicalized while I served as High Priest of Zeredathah Chapter No. 35 in Laurel, Maryland. I may not persuade you to my thinking, but at least I hope to make you pause and consider.

My road to becoming a radical began innocently one evening before the opening of Chapter. I was concerned with the usual pre-meeting worries: attendance; officers; programs; and time. Especially time, as that evening we had a fair amount of business, and I wanted to close early. I recall thinking to myself: “Open—15 minutes; read and approve the minutes—5 minutes; ballot—10 minutes; announcements—10 minutes; close—10 minutes.” Already I saw an hour’s work ahead of me, assuming no one became long-winded, and that didn’t even include business. Then the Secretary handed me a note with the name of a recently deceased Companion. My first thought was, “Damn! Another three minutes at least for a eulogy and a prayer.”

As I thought over the meeting while driving home that evening, I recalled with growing revulsion my reaction to the death of our Companion. His death had not touched me in the least—his passing did not mean to me a loss of fellowship, but only a few minutes longer to spend in Chapter. What a perversion of Masonic principles my thinking had become! As I tried to decide what caused me to change so, I realized that my thinking had abruptly shifted.

I recalled our Affirmation Sunday service at a local church where there had been an unpleasant confrontation about whether we should wear our aprons. An older Past High Priest felt that we should follow the Grand Chapter’s suggestion and wear our aprons to show the world that we were Royal Arch Masons and proud of it. On the other hand, I maintained that we were at the church to worship, not to impress the congregation. The settlement of this disagreement was that some Companions wore their aprons, some didn’t, and I felt smugly self-righteous. That is, until I later reflected on the day. Then I realized that while I had made pious noises about the joy of worshipping together, my real concern had been to wheedle and cajole enough Companions to attend so that the Chapter (and especially the High Priest) would not be embarrassed by sparsely filled pews. Was this what our Affirmation Sunday was supposed to be about?

Then my thoughts went to our efforts to gain new members. Were we interested in increasing our circle of friends, sharing our fellowship, or helping a brother find that which was lost? Not on your life! We had much simpler and baser motives. We needed more money, for one thing, and initiation fees were an easy source of income. By increasing our rolls, we would show the world that we were a healthy and vibrant organization; we would reestablish our self-importance (for if we weren’t important, why would all of these people seek membership?); and, perhaps most significantly, we would get new officer material. What could be a more urgent task for Masonic Officers than to perpetuate themselves?

Kindled by the death of a companion and fueled by some reflection on Capitular Masonry, my old thinking burned away. The time had now come for me to reevaluate my point of view towards the Chapter. The fundamental question was: “What is the purpose of Royal Arch Masonry?” My answer was fourfold: preservation, transmission, encouragement, and enhancement. Our Chapters are predicated upon preserving the Legend of the Recovery and the philosophy and way of life that is Freemasonry, and transmitting them to our successors. We also serve to encourage a dynamic interest in our Craft, and to enhance this interest by offering further opportunities for fellowship and service.

If these indeed are our purposes, how do we fulfill them? The ritual serves as our fundamental method for preserving and transmitting the Legend of the Recovery. In our Chapter rituals, we elaborate upon and expand the basic tenets of the Craft. Our ceremonies act as a binding force that permits us to enlarge our sense of unity by sharing common experiences. The formality of our procedures, customs, and (at least in Maryland) dress emphasizes the seriousness of our intent; it serves to set us apart from other, more informal groups. And yet, with these lofty purposes and means to achieve them, we fall far, far short of the mark. What has gone wrong?

There is no one simple answer. However, I will share with you what I observe to be some of our more glaring errors. Our formality all too often degenerates into a caricature of the solemnity we hope to attain. Perhaps when evening clothes were a standard item in any gentleman’s wardrobe, black tie was an appropriate dress for Chapter. Today, when few social functions require black tie and even fewer men own a tuxedo, our formality is out of place. If formal dress is the genuine desire of an individual Chapter, then it should be vigorously encouraged. But to put a blanket requirement on all Chapters—large and small, city and country—is to invite stagnation and eventual suffocation. The result is, sadly, a cartoon-like scene of ill-fitting tuxedos bought decades ago and kept in service well beyond their natural lives. Presiding over this setting is a High Priest, without his own top hat, who borrows a faded, frayed, and wrong-sized refugee from the coat closet, and then attempts to represent the glory of Solomon!

Ceremony could be the spice of a Chapter meeting, but like a spice, it should not overwhelm. If only we followed this maxim! Unfortunately, at least 20–30 minutes of each meeting is spent in the tedium of opening and closing. The repetitive nature of these exercises numbs the mind and bores the onlooker. We have all seen ritual bastardizations that produce “short form” ceremonies. These informal alterations indicate a crying need for more fundamental changes, but it is a cry that is seldom heeded. Rather than ask why we persist in using ceremonies created in and ideally suited for the previous century, our Companions slowly drift away, never to return.
When we look at our ritual, we cannot help but be impressed at the position of preeminent importance it has in our affairs. Its importance, I feel, has been bloated entirely out of proportion. Consider for a moment the thousands of man-hours spent on ritual—memorization, rehearsal, exemplification, conferral—and contrast this with the efforts spent on charity or education or even fellowship. It is a rare Chapter that does not spend the major part of its time and efforts on ritual, to the exclusion of almost anything else. It is my disturbing observation that ritual has ceased to be a means to an end, the method by which we preserve and transmit our heritage, but rather it has become an end in itself.

While I was in the East, I was advised to hold more rehearsals so we could confer the degrees proficiently. We needed to confer the degrees so we could get new members who were needed to become officers who were needed to attend rehearsals so we could confer the degrees proficiently. We’re caught on a treadmill and too few realize it. Our older members long for the halcyon days when weekly rehearsals were packed with eager young Companions longing to be appointed to the line. Those days, if they ever really existed, are past us. It is true that a healthy, strong Chapter has excellent degree work, just as it excels in all activities. However, it is folly to think that a crash program in upgrading ritual performance alone will materially improve an ailing Chapter.

Having outlined what I consider to be our purposes and some of our failings, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a few suggestions on how we could improve. We could begin by allowing more individuality in our Chapters. Some Chapters may wish to meet twice a month with a full line of officers in black tie and to confer degrees on demand. Others may want to meet quarterly with only nine Companions in informal dress and to send candidates to other Chapters or festivals for their degrees. The current notion of the ideal Chapter is one that is large, has a full line of officers, meets frequently, rehearses religiously, and has a waiting list of prospective Officers. This ideal at one time may have been common, and for the nineteenth century and even the early twentieth century was perfect, but it is certainly the exception now. We must allow our Chapters to find equivalent expressions for their zeal in Capitular Masonry without feeling inadequate. The alternative is to continue as we are, with Chapters withering as they become trapped in an endless cycle of failure.

The words spontaneous and lively are seldom used to describe Chapter meetings. Why not encourage a return of activities that not only promote fellowship but also are fun? These could include Table Chapters, dinners, and—as heretical as the suggestion may be—liquor served as refreshments or with a meal. American Freemasonry was bitten at an early age by the temperance bug, and has never quite recovered. Capitular Masonry could take a progressive step for the Craft by permitting Chapters to serve liquor, and at the same time encourage a less puritanical image of Masonry.

Our opening and closing rituals (not to mention most other routine procedures) should be streamlined. We really don’t need ten or more officers in a Chapter. Certainly the Veilsmen are unnecessary as is probably the Principal Sojourner. Ideally we should have both a long and short form opening and closing. The latter exist widely in bastard form and need only to be recognized and standardized. I’ve heard many say that short form ceremonies should never be allowed because the long forms would not be used again. If there is such a willingness to abandon our current forms, perhaps they have outlived their usefulness.

Finally, I’ll share with you my most radical thought: Our degrees need to be changed! Masonic ritual as we know it was born in the late seventeenth century. It grew and adapted to serve the Craft as the Craft evolved. It varied locally, and was a living, changing expression of the differing interpretations of our ritual heritage. Then, in the early to mid-nineteenth century, possibly in response to excessive variation and extreme interpretations, our ritual became uniform, rigid, and ossified. It was declared that the interpretations and usages of the middle 1800s would henceforth and forevermore be the orthodox ritual.

As beautiful and meaningful as our ritual may be, I’m not convinced that our 1850 version is any better than a 1750 one, and I’m certainly sorry that I’ll never see a 1950 interpretation. Our ritual is indeed impressive, but it should be as we have plagiarized from the finest sources—Shakespeare, the King James Bible, and others. However, great portions are wordy, turgid, anachronistic, unhistorical, and all but impossible to follow. When an evening devoted to the Royal Arch degree alone can drag on to nearly midnight, we cannot help but run off workers as well as sideliners. The task before us is one that will require delicacy, that will cause howls of pain, but at the least must be seriously considered.

It is painfully obvious that something is wrong with Capitular Masonry. Our membership is declining, as is that of most fraternal organizations, but more alarming is the fact that the percentage of Craftsmen who join the Chapter is also declining. The reasons for this downtrend are neither simple nor clear, else we would have eliminated them long ago. As conditions continue to deteriorate, many of our Companions take on a siege mentality, perhaps feeling that they are the last guardians of the sanctum sanctorum. They call, with increasing stridency, for a return to what they perceive as the virtues of our earlier days of strength: rehearsals, degree work, and conformity. To them, any change at all is tantamount to surrender.

On the other hand, I, as a self-confessed radical, want a more imaginative solution. While we still operate from a position of relative stability and strength, we should seek bold innovations. Surely we can preserve and transmit our teachings by some more flexible method. Certainly we can encourage and enhance fellowship and interest in the Craft less stodgily. Novelty will not guarantee success, nor will change be without failure. However, if we must fail, I would rather fail by trying than by acquiescence. When we pass on, as shall all things flesh, I want to go with a bang and not a whimper.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

'They're just weather balloons'

What if there was a town called Bugsport, Maine? And what if most of the inhabitants were little grey aliens that the government had moved there after their flying saucer crashed in 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico? And what if the aliens were Freemasons?

And what if... Bugsport was a comic strip drawn by Bro. Ted Bastien?

My thanks to Bro. Isaiah of Kingdom of Conscience and Bro. Dean of Freemason's Corner for first sending the greys to transport me to Bugsport.

Image: Page 76 of "Bugsport." Used by kind permission of Bro. Ted. Bastien

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Challenging lodge-specific traditions is a dangerous thing

When things go wrong for you, you often think you're the only one it's happened to. That's the way I felt when I first started this blog to relate my negative experiences in Freemasonry.

As The Burning Taper gained readership, I began hearing similar stories from brothers in jurisdictions all across the country.

While it's sad to know that so much disharmony exists in the brotherhood, by some twisted logic it's comforting to know you're not alone in your experiences. Masonic disagreements, over rules and procedures, property, ritual, egos, perceptions, and even religion and politics happen every day. Maybe Masons don't have more disagreements than members of any other group, but with the fraternity having "peace and harmony" as a goal and "brotherly love" as a major tenet, it's all the more awkward, embarrassing and disappointing when we don't get along.

One of the most common causes of disagreement is the clash of ideas between otherwise friendly-to-each-other brothers. It usually takes the form of a newer, more progressive-thinking Mason presenting ideas and suggestions of change to older, more conservative brothers, who generally are by nature resistant to change. At its extreme, it is the classic battle between neophobes and neophiles, those averse to novelty versus those who have an affinity for novelty.

"That's not the way we do it around here" is almost a cliche; we've all heard that said repeatedly by our more senior brothers.

And yes, some things probably shouldn't be changed.

But I've noticed that most of the things long-time Masons are averse to changing aren't necessarily long-time Masonic traditions or landmarks. Usually, what they want to hold onto is some way of doing things that was introduced into their lodge within their own lifetime, that, for them, has become tradition. When you compare their sacred-cow-you-can't-change to official code or traditional landmark, you'll find that someone in their own lodge's not-too-distant past made a change and then that change became "the way we do things around here."

Some lodge-specific traditions are benign, like always holding the annual Widow's Breakfast on the first Saturday of December, or a brother who has staked out a certain chair in the lodgeroom as "his."

Other lodge-specific traditions are actually against Masonic code, or not Uniform Work, like not having the officers march in at the beginning of a meeting, or not requiring a brother to stand and salute the East before speaking, or praying loud and long to Jesus when sectarian religious activity is specifically prohibited. Georgia Masonic Code, for example, speaks of having the official state flag displayed stage-left in a lodge room. Even I didn't dare mention that our lodge's state flag, with its Confederate Battle Flag field, was officially changed by the state six years ago, and by code should be replaced with the new flag.

I noticed, too, in my lodge, that while Past Masters were adamant about new members learning and reciting ritual correctly, like saying "the" instead of "a" in a specific part in the ritual, they were loathe to learn and use an updated section of ritual even when the Grand Lodge's ritual committee officially changed it. "That's not the way we say it," I was told.

I've even seen a Past Master argue, in front of a large group, with the official instructor of ritual during a School of Instruction about the proper place for the Senior Warden to stand during a certain moment in degree work. His rationale? "That's the way we do it at our lodge!"

He was calmly told, "I'm teaching you the Uniform Work. How you do it at your lodge is up to you." Ten brothers from my lodge attending the school have just seen the proper way to do it, and absorbed that as the correct way, yet when they later try to do it that way at their home lodge, the same Past Master shouts out, "That's not the way we do it here." Funny... ten men would do it that way — the correct way — if the one Past Master holding onto his incorrect "tradition" would hold his tongue and let them.

The new brother, or a neophile brother, risks censure and more if he dares question lodge-specific "traditions."

Image: "From Hell"

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

The summer of love, or hate?

Here comes the Sun, and here comes summer.

June 21st marks the Summer Solstice — the first day of summer — in the northern hemisphere. People around the world are celebrating, formally and informally.

It's also the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

At Stonehenge, in England, 20,000 people gathered to welcome the summer sun.

"Druids, pagans, punks and New Age travelers mingled with the merely curious," the London Times reported.

King Arthur Pendragon, a self-styled Druid leader, said, "The fire welcomes the Sun for the longest day of the year, part of the seasonal wheel which we as Druids and pagans celebrate. At the end of the day, this living temple we call Stonehenge belongs to all of us. We all have a right to come here and celebrate the solstice."

The group celebrated by dancing, drumming, and smoking cannabis, now reclassified as a class C drug in the UK, meaning the police now usually ignore pot-smoking or only give a verbal warning and confiscate the cannabis, though possession can still officially bring a two-year sentence.

Meanwhile, in the United States, yesterday two people in separate cities were pulled from their cars and beaten, one to death, by merrymakers at summer events known as Juneteenth, which celebrate the freeing of American slaves.

In Austin, Texas, David Rivas Morales, a passenger in a car that had struck a young child, was pulled from the car and beaten to death. The child had non-life-threatening injuries.

Officials in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, are now denying that the mob attack on a driver there was related to the Juneteenth celebration. The attack happened after the official celebration was over, it is now claimed, while celebrants were leaving the area. It was a spilling-over of a fight between a group of girls. An earlier report indicated the attacks were indeed related to the Juneteenth event.

Later news stories from Austin also deny the attack had anything to do with the Juneteenth gathering.

I don't have any answers, but I've pondered a few questions.

Are Americans by nature more aggressive or violent? Or are pagans, British or otherwise, less prone to violence?

Were the Juneteenth attackers abusing alcohol?

Were the pagans too stoned to be violent?

Were the Juneteenth attacks racially motivated? Most Juneteenth celebrants were probably black, and the name of the man who was killed in Austin would indicate he was most likely Hispanic.

Did the different mindsets of the groups make one peaceful and one prone to anger? Those at Stonehenge were in a spiritual mood and those at Juneteenth had just spent all day reminiscing about their ancestors being enslaved.

Why did a subset of a relatively small group estimated at 2,000-3,000 people turn violent, while 20,000 people halfway across the planet stayed mellow even in the rain?

Peter Carson, who manages Stonehenge on behalf of English Heritage said, "It’s wonderful. We are delighted that people have been able to come here and enjoy the solstice in a safe and peaceful manner."

By contrast, Austin police commander Harold Piatt said, "It's that same crowd mindset of being one face in 1,000. Things get out of hand pretty quickly and people don't have the good sense to stop," and Milwaukee police spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz said, "Unfortunately at closing time everything came unhinged and there were some problems."

Image: Revelers at Stonehenge summer solstice celebration, June 21, 2007

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The Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory

Finally, a Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory.

Well, it ignores the JFK assassination, "all your base are belong to us," and AIDS, but other than that, it's all here, rolled into one conspiratorial disinformation campaign that would make Eris ("All Hail Discordia!") wet her pants with pride.

According to this video, the 9-11 tragedy was a "mega-ritual" involving the Twin Towers as the Masonic pillars Boaz and Jachin, coordinated by Aleister Crowley's grandson, George W. Bush, to open a stargate between the Abrahamic mega-cults and the god Pan.

Throw in some off-the-wall references to Adam Weishaupt and the Bavarian Illuminati, Egyptian pyramids, The Simpsons, Grey aliens, the Grand Mosque of Mecca, corporate sculpture, Kaballah, Isis, Atlantis, Masonic tracing boards and the Blazing Star, the film Fight Club, the "cuboid" Ark of the Covenant, and to not only the shape of the wizard's head in the original film The Wizard of Oz but to the set of 1978's The Wiz (starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross), and you have yourself a bizarrely entertaining 10-minute video that leaves you with the distinct feeling that there are some amazingly creative and insane people out there with basic cinematic editing skills.

Thanks to McBlogger for pointing out this video.

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Audio podcast of 'A Tour of the Masonic Lodge'

I've been asked by a couple of readers to produce some of my Masonic lectures and articles as audio podcasts. I began that project last night.

You can now listen to "A Tour of the Masonic Lodge," which is a lecture based on W. L. Wilmshurst's book The Meaning of Masonry, discussing some of the symbols in a lodge, including the great and lesser lights, the officers' stations, and the checkerboard floor. I originally delivered this talk to my blue lodge in April, 2005, and posted it on The Burning Taper in February, 2006.

I'll be adding more podcasts as time allows. Keep your eye on the righthand menu bar for new audio material.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Lady ghost haunts Ohio Masonic temple

Opulent, historic late 19th and early 20th century, and newer, Masonic temples and lodges large and small are being moved, sold off, fought over, becoming part of entertainment empires, and turned into day spas and condos as Masonic membership continues to dwindle. The buildings simply can't be maintained; Masonic groups can no longer afford the taxes, water and sewage bills, and general upkeep.

One old Masonic building, though, has found a second chance in a novel way. Maybe they'll even get rich. Still operating as a Masonic hall, the Masonic temple in Kent, Ohio, also draws in visitors because of its ghost.

By Halloween, the temple hopes to have become part of a newly created "ghost walk" and book to be produced by Main Street Kent and the Kent Historical Society.

Kitty Kent died in the building in 1886 of burns sustained while she was filling an oil stove.

Her ghost now makes occasional appearances, wearing a white flowing dress.

Or so the story goes.

The Akron Beacon-Journal reports:
Treasurer and Past Master Jerry Katzenmeyer recalled a story a few years ago when a group of Boy Scout leaders visited the building for an awards ceremony. One of the men, who had no knowledge of the Kitty Kent story, decided to take a tour by himself.

"He walked upstairs on the second floor and five minutes later he came back downstairs and he had a funny look on his face," Katzenmeyer said. "He said, 'I didn't mean to disturb the house. I thought we were the only ones in the building.'"

Katzenmeyer replied that they were the only people there.

"He said he was looking down the hallway and this woman in a white flowing dress walked from one room to another," he said. "He witnessed Kitty."
Image: A random ghost photograph

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Toledo, Ohio is angry Masons 'abandoning' city

Both the local Scottish Rite and the Shrine are planning to move their offices and facilities from Toledo, Ohio, to smaller quarters in outlying townships, the Toledo Blade reported on June 14.

The mayor of Toledo is angry over this, and today, the Toledo Blade posted an editorial accusing "the Masons" of having killed live theater and culture in Toledo nearly 40 years ago by moving from downtown to a suburb, and now accuses Freemasonry of "abandoning" Toledo "by yet another decision that reaffirms a history and a pattern of resistance to the welfare of a community which has supported for so long their humanitarian efforts."

A Masonic spokesman has assured the mayor and the press that even if the Masons do leave the south Toledo Masonic Complex, the adjoining Stranahan Theater will not be affected. The theater is not under Masonic management, nor is the building owned by the Masons. The Masons own the property on which the theater and Masonic buildings sit.

(A look at the Stranahan's calendar for the rest of 2007 doesn't show a lot of culture going on. Three days of "Riverdance," a five-day run of the jukebox musical "Movin' Out," based on Billy Joel songs, and a redneck comedy tour are about all that's on slate for the rest of the year.)

The editorial presumes that Masons "owe" something to the city of Toledo. Is being concerned with whether a city has a live theater venue a legitimate obligation of Freemasons? Is it the Masons' responsibility to provide a cultural climate in a dying downtown? Or is this just a liberal newspaper pushing a "have vs. have-not" corporate welfare agenda, claiming Masonry has a civic duty it no longer wishes to perform?

Image: A performance of "Riverdance"

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Paranoid anti-Mason conspiracy nut shoots neighbor to death

A paranoid anti-Mason in Milwaukee, Wisconsin shot and killed his neighbor last week, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

The victim, Mark A. Wright, was a "god-fearing man who went to church every Sunday," a member of his church told reporters. There is no mention of whether Wright was a Freemason.

A second story from the same newspaper reported that the alleged killer
Rene Stermole decided some time ago that Wright was not only a terrorist in touch with Libyan despot Moammar Gadhafi, but also was tied in with Mafia members, biker gangs, El Rukn street gangsters from Chicago and various other figures out to do him harm. Stermole had worried for many years that his shadowy enemies would come after him and guarded himself accordingly: They threatened to attack his wife, so he never married, and they used Wright to stalk him, so he got a digital camera to document it, he told police.
Stermole has been associated with the anti-Masonic website for the past ten years.

Apparently Stermole is a Christian believer in "end-times" prophecy, and blames all sorts of bogeymen for the world's woes. His website indicates he suffers from major paranoia, and lists as "partners",, and a group called Wake Up America. His site includes a link to audio files by the late paranoid conspiracy theorist / UFO nut William Cooper, author of Behold a Pale Horse.

Stermole himself apparently has written a 13-chapter book titled "America's Subversion: The Enemy Within, which can be found here.

On this page you'll find his diatribe against Bro. Ed King of Stermole begins his rant by saying "Ed King's website is full of lies and deceit. He fails miserably in disproving Freemasonry is Satanic to the core." Here's a link to Bro. Ed's mocking, giggling article "exposing" Stermole's anti-Masonic website Bible Defense.

Image: Sonny Rene Stermole

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Disney-Masonic connection

Type "disney+freemasonry" into Google or another search engine, and you'll find yourself dwarf-deep in anti-masonic conspiracy territory, where you'll learn, not that it's true, that Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan were lodge brothers and 33rd-degree "high-ranking" Freemasons bent on controlling the minds of children and adults alike.

According to those who've done the research, neither Disney nor Reagan were Masons. Reagan was made an honorary Scottish Rite Mason while he was president, I've read somewhere slightly more trustworthy than the typical conspiracy site, but I don't recall where.

Walt Disney, on the other hand, was actually a member of DeMolay while growing up, and later, Disney authorized Mickey Mouse to be made an honorary DeMolay member, the only group Mickey ever belonged to, according to

During the 1950s Disneyland sponsored various clubs for its employees, including a knitting club, a shooting club, a skiing club, bowling and softball teams, and, curiously, a Masonic club, presumably for employees who were Freemasons. A blogger who collects memorabilia from Disneyland and other theme and amusement parks recently posted this photo of a Disneyland Masonic Club name badge for whom I presume we should refer to as Bro. Flemon A. Robbins.

(Check out these creepy anagrams you can get from the name Flemon A. Robbins.)

A few years ago, OC Weekly (from Orange County, California) ran a review of the Disneyland restaurant Club 33, titled "Mickey the Mason: Behind the door of Uncle Walt’s exclusive Club 33." Apparently many people think the 33 refers to that "high degree" in Freemasonry. The writer found no Masonic symbols in the restaurant, saying only that "at the top of the windows... there are designs that are almost shaped like an eye." Spooky stuff! Membership in Club 33 (in 2003) is $7,500, with yearly dues of $2,500. A buffet-style meal is $47. I don't know too many Masons who would pay those kinds of dues or prices to eat, but then, I'm not a 33rd degree "high ranking" Freemason, so what do I know? Maybe those 33rd's all get to dip into that National Treasure that Ben Gates and his pals found under that church.

Oh, wait... National Treasure was a Disney movie! Now I get it!

Image: Walt Disney at his desk circa 1950. Note the proof that he is secretly a Freemason: You can't see his ring finger on his right hand, which is where most Masons would wear a Masonic ring. Wily Walt wisely hides his hand from the photographer and public.

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Creation Museum demands you choose God's Word or Man's Reason: 'Don't think... just listen and believe'

Ah, what a week! I'm just back from beautiful Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where I spent time with family and friends hanging out at the beach and various pools and restaurants, sleeping a lot and eating incredibly fresh, tasty seafood. And getting a fairly good tan.

While I was away, worshiping the Sun — after all, I'm a member of one of the world's oldest still-going-strong solar worship and enlightenment cults, the Freemasons — it looks like others were off on a little religious pilgrimage-slash-vacation of their own.

The $27 million Creation Museum opened May 28 in Petersburg, Kentucky, just minutes from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

One day I aspire to visit this 60,000 square-feet mockery of intelligence. It sounds like a delightfully entertaining way to waste a few hours and a few bucks ($19.95 per head, plus five dollars extra if you want to see the planetarium where they explain that no star in our sky is older than 6,000 years).

Since I haven't been yet, I'll have to virtually explore the Creation Museum via news articles, blogs, and the museum's own website.

The Masonic Fellowcraft degree teaches that we should view our world through the mechanisms and tools of science and the liberal arts. Nowhere are we admonished to blindly accept a book of faith, or a volume of sacred law, as fact. The Bible, or any Volume of Sacred Law, is "given as a rule and guide," and, as one of the Three Great Lights of Freemasonry, it is a symbol. The other two great lights, the square and the compasses, are understood as symbols; they're not used in Freemasonry to actually square up a building's frame, or to draw a physical circle.

Likewise, the Volume of Sacred Law is not to be taken literally. It is symbolic of the laws of God, or of Nature's God.

The Creation Museum misses this point, entirely. The museum's creators and financial investors take (or want to appear to take) the tales of the Bible's book of Genesis one hundred percent literally. This leads to some absolutely wacky things: Talking, upright-walking snakes, dinosaurs peacefully co-existing with humans, thousands of species of animals lining up two by two and settling down all cozy with each other for 40 days and 40 nights without anything for dinner. Humans without belly buttons. You know the fairy-tale story of creation in Genesis; I don't need to go on about it.

But the folks running the Creation Museum do need to go on about it, ad infinitum and ad nauseum.

The blogger at Blue Grass Roots, based in central Kentucky, recently visited the Creation Museum, already known by mainstream scientists as the Fred and Wilma Flintstone Museum. I hope you'll read his entire account. He's also posted excellent photos of the various exhibits. (Click on his small photos to enlarge them.)

He calls it "a museum full of shocking idiocy and unintentional humor."

Others are less kind in their criticism. Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D., says of the museum and its founders:
Let's be honest. Only someone with a neurological disorder or a pathological need to promote stupidity and ignorance in the name of a bible-based, fairy tale worldview would argue for "scientific" answers in Genesis or that "belief in evolution is the root of most of modern society's evils." When one considers the realities unveiled by quantum mechanics, Einstein's relativity and, more recently membrane theory, the pathology called "the biblical worldview" and the mental disorder — or more likely the ulterior motives — of those advocating it become clearer and even more sinister.
One of the first things you come to when you enter the museum is a gigantic plexiglass poster designed to make you choose between God and Man, or more to the point, between "God's Word" and "Human Reason." [See photo.] Go ahead.... Choose a pile of books and Descartes' quote "I think, therefore I am," or choose a big papyrus scroll and a quote from Yahweh, "I am that I am."

Oops. We know what Eve and Adam chose, don't we?

You'll find several exhibits and even a film showing the "true story" of creation.

Ironically, Eric Linden, the man who played Adam in the museum's movie-clip, had a rather checkered past. It seems he also ran a "graphic" website called Bedroom Acrobat, and was shown photographed with a transvestite. The museum stopped showing the 40-second film of a naked Adam and Eve (their naughty bits suitably hidden by foliage) as soon as the news broke about Linden, who had formerly appeared as a model for "SirFuxaLot."

More about Eric Linden:Since you can only get so much mileage out of the Six Days of Creation story (and only so many laughs when it's taken literally), the museum plods on unabashedly into more of Genesis using short films, animatronics and signage. Cain married his sister (the writer of Blue Grass Roots notes that Kentucky-area Christian fundamentalists, some his own relatives, have no fundamental problems with incest), and went on to populate the world. Noah's flood, they say, carved the Grand Canyon in just a few days.

As I've written many times before, if fundamentalist Christians want to believe this stuff and teach it among themselves, who am I to complain? Everyone has the right to practice their religion as they see fit.

But this claptrap isn't religion. They hold it up as "science." They want public schools to teach this nonsense as science. Museum founder Ken Ham has been pushing this Genesis pseudo-history in seminars for nearly 20 years in the U.S., and before that in Australia. Many of their backers are dominionists, Christian fundamentalist/evangelical zealots who truly aspire to replace America's republican form of government with a theocracy. Donald Wildmon, founder of the ultra-conservative American Family Association, and Zig Ziglar, noted motivational speaker, are quoted in the museum's "news" section, which isn't really news at all, but a list of breathless attaboys from museum vistors (an unnamed paleontologist says he's "drooling" over a fossil the museum possesses, and a rocket scientist's wife explains her husband played hookey from work to drive 1,100 miles to attend the pre-opening events at the musuem).

A rather neutral New York Times review from a few weeks ago has been blurbed just because the writer called some of the exhibits "stunning." (They should be "stunning"; they were designed by a former exhibit director of Universal Studios in Florida.)

The selling of this alternative, young-earth history has a purpose, and it's not to save souls for the glory of God. It is an attempt to prime children and cajole their parents who can't deal with science, rationality and reason into accepting a theocratic "we know what's best for you" form of government and leadership. Reason, they want you to believe, will steer you astray. Belief in a 6,000 year old planet and a 2,500 year old book that tells you about it, is all you need, they say.

Once, it was the Catholic church denying that the earth revolved around the Sun. Now, it's the fundamentalist, evangelical arm of Christianity denying pretty much the same things — intelligence, science, and Enlightenment. The museum people even get in a potshot at Voltaire, the prolific author, deist, critic of the Catholic church, and Freemason, [see photo] as well as at Dan Brown's book Da Vinci Code [see photo].

Then, as now, the lines are drawn. Will you choose Light, or Darkness? Odd, that both sides think their side is right, that their side represents Light. This is the age-old debate, the age-old dilemma, the age-old dichotomy. What is good, and what is evil? Blind faith, or reasoned enlightenment? The written word of others who claim to have been inspired by "God," or your own personal inspirations, reflections and revelations? God or man? God's word or man's reason? Light or dark?

As for me, I'll just keep on worshiping the Sun. Pass the cocoa butter....

Images: Above and linked to, by Blue Grass Roots, taken at the Creation Museum, June 2007

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Life is a beach

I've gone beach-bumming for a few days.

If I'm not back in a week, I've probably been kidnapped by a sexy lady pirate, or better yet, a couple of hot beach bunnies. Please don't attempt to save me.

Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead

This just in. Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

And it's a good thing, too. Were Franco still alive, he'd be giving Freemasons fits. His hatred of Freemasonry bordered on the obsessive, a new book, Franco Contra Los Masones (Franco Against the Masons), claims.

Franco, dictator of Spain from 1936 until his death in 1975, saw Freemasonry as a threat to his power. He blamed Masons for Spain's loss of their colonies in Africa. He deplored them for their part in the rise of secularism.

In 1940, after the devastating Spanish Civil War, Franco made membership in the Masonic order a crime punishable by six years in jail.

Franco had a female spy in his employ to report on activities of the Masonic secret society. Known only as "Anita de S," she was married to a leading Freemason. Anita lived in Portugal, base for the exiled Spanish Freemasons.

Authors Xavi Casinos and Josep Brunet discovered letters from Anita to Franco about the Masons' activities.

It is thought Franco loathed the Masons because they refused him membership.

The book also claims Franco invented a journalist, Jakim Boor, who interviewed the dictator in the newspaper Arriba, often attacking the Masons. Boor was Franco himself.

To recap our top story: Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Welcome to the Future

It's an exciting time to be alive.

Remember as a kid reading about cars that would glide along the highway without you having to steer, guided by buried electromagnetic sensors in the pavement? There's a test highway in California where they do it every day. It could still happen elsewhere, though how you wake up sleeping drivers before they get to their programmed exits still needs to be worked out.

I'm old enough to remember not only, of course, the introduction of cellphones and home computers, but even microwave ovens and self-service gas pumps. How cool, I thought. How futuristic. We can cook our food with vibrations now, but I have to clean my own windshield.

What did today hold for us, back then? Utopia? Free love? A complete meal in a tiny pill? Soul-less clones or shiny robots to go to work for us while we stayed home to blog in our pajamas?

Remember Philip K. Dick's "homeopapes," newspapers delivered via wire and printed out bright and early every morning while you enjoyed your percolated Ubik-brand of coffee? He was right on target in predicting blogs and; he just had the wrong name for them. Robert A. Heinlein was prescient, too — he saw microwave ovens coming way back when — he assumed we'd call them "wavers." And some claim Heinlein created the first waterbed back in the 1930s or 40s, long before hippies claimed it for themselves in the 1960s and 70s.

Dick Tracy comics and movies led us to expect the two-way wrist TV/radio. It's here now, but we call it a cell phone.

In 1950, Modern Mechanix magazine ran a Rosicrucian advertisement that promised those who responded the secret of creating life, all for the price of a postage stamp. They weren't far off, either. Test tube babies, clones and now the ability to create life without men, with sperm made from the bone marrow of females, are either here or right around the corner.

Yesterday articles about transmitting electricity without wires were splashed across the pages of newspapers and the Internet. Didn't Nicola Tesla figure that out back in the 19th century?

But there's one invention, or the benefit thereof, I'm eagerly awaiting to see in the mass market: Denny Klein's Aquygen, also known as HHOS (Hybrid Hydrogen Oxygen). He claims with his technology, a car can go 100 miles on four ounces of water.

Watch the unbelievable news report below, or download it as a .wmv file here.

Image: A scene from "Blade Runner," 1982, based on Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

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'Darwin made me do it!': Fundamentalist Muslim blames terrorism, world's evils on Charles Darwin

Controversial Muslim author Adnan Oktar, also known by his pen-name Harun Yahya, held a press conference aboard a luxury yacht in the Black Sea today to proclaim the evils of the world were a direct result of Darwinism, according to Reuters News Service.

"Communism, fascism, and Freemasons stand on the tenets of Darwinism, and the world power of capitalism stands on the same.... Hitler and Mao were both Darwinists," said Oktar.

Oktar, every bit as fundamentalist in his Islamic beliefs as American fundamentalist Christians are in theirs, believes in the creationist theory that Yahweh/God/Allah created the universe in six days, as described in the Bible and the Koran. He says he has no formal ties with Christian fundamentalists other than the "exchange of information."

"We will not deceive ourselves that scientists have a monopoly on truth," he said.

Oktar's group mass-mailed copies of his lavishly illustrated Atlas of Creation, which argues that Darwin's theory of evolution is at the root of global terrorism,to libraries and educators throughout France recently. Echoing Christian fundamentalist Kent Hovind, known as Dr. Dino, the book carries over 700 pages of images comparing fossils with present-day animals, arguing that Allah created all life as it is and that evolution never took place.

Oktar said one million of his books and movies were being downloaded from Internet sites every month, and that copies of his books and movies had been distributed in 170 countries.

No one knows who is financing Oktar's publishing efforts. Some believe it is Islamic fundamentalists, while others think it is U.S. Christian fundamentalists. Ah, sweet conspiracy....

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