Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How to be a (modern) gentleman

I came across some advice originally printed in the London Times, advice that all of us might well follow, but more especially, those of us who are Freemasons.

Feel free to add your suggestions to the list.

How to be a (modern) gentleman

1. Some things don't change: say please and thank you and ask questions about other people rather than talk about yourself.

2. Be punctual. Tardiness does not make you look important, it turns you into an arrogant incompetent who thinks that his time is more important than other people's.

3. The modern gentleman cares about the planet. Be environmentally aware (but not obnoxious about it).

4. Open doors for people and stand up when they enter a room, but do this for men as well as women. The modern gentleman doesn't treat women like porcelain.

5. Be modest. Bragging is distinctly ungentlemanly.

6. Be a good father. Nothing is less charming than a man who leaves childcare to women.

7. Be honest about wherever you have come from in life. Pretension is spineless.

8. Flirt — with everyone. Good flirting is a form of politeness. Pay compliments and put your companion at ease.

9. Do not phone/text/check your BlackBerry incessantly.

10. Dress tidily. Whatever style you are going for, scruffiness just isn't in.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Toward a stronger, more vibrant Freemasonry

This is the ninth in our series of essays from guest bloggers on the topic "Masonic harmony, unity and discord." This one is by Bro. Nick Johnson, publisher of the Masonic blog "Millennial Freemason." My thanks go out to Bro. Nick and to all who are participating in this project.

Toward a Stronger, More Vibrant Freemasonry
by Bro. Nick Johnson

All nature is but art unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.
— Alexander Pope

Before I begin with my analysis of the theme, Masonic harmony, unity and discord, I would like to thank the Widow's Son for giving me this opportunity to take part in this wonderful and insightful series of essays.

Let us begin: What's the problem with discord? It is my simple belief that although conflict may promote the problems of Freemasonry, it can also carry the hope of our Fraternity's future. In fact, through the promotion of both discord and harmony, in equal measures, we, as a Fraternity, can grow stronger and more vibrant. While studying conflict and human societies (particularly Freemasonry), it is essential that we look to history and the modern research in Conflict Studies to fully understand this subject.

The word "Discord" originates from the Roman goddess Discordia who had a counterpart in Greece named Eris. In Greek, the name Eris means "strife." Strife was commonly regarded in Greece to have two different personas. The first was equally abhorred and praised, as she caused harm but also strengthened the constitution of men. The second was feared and involved the murderous killings of war and was the sister of Ares. The most famous incident involving Eris was when she threw the Apple of Discord amongst the three major goddesses in the Pantheon, Aphrodite, Athena or Hera, when she was uninvited to a banquet for Peleus and Thetis’ wedding. Inscribed on the Apple was the phrase, "καλλιστι" or transliterated, "Kallisti" meaning "for the Fairest." As Zeus did not want to get involved, he gave the choice to Paris. As we all know, this choice eventually led to the Trojan War. This little trinket, a single apple, led many men to suffer and die.

As is always the case in the pantheon of Greek Gods, Eris had an opposite named Harmonia; in Rome, she was Concordia. As her name implied, she was the goddess of Harmony and represented a love for civic order and unity. And as always seems the case in Greek mythology, she was to be cursed. As a wedding gift, she was given a necklace, a necklace which brought misfortune to all who wore it.

We, as Freemasons, seek to receive the Golden Apple only to find it is out of our reach or in the hands of someone else. We become jealous with our neighbor, and find faults to take away from him what we believe rightfully belongs to us. Yet, this will to strive for what is better or what we deserve is not, in and of itself, an evil characteristic. Also, at times when we are given gifts, we become complacent which attracts misfortune. In fact, conflict occurs everyday and it is how it is dealt with which determines if it is constructive or destructive. Conflict is actively explored in academic circles to understand its origins and quell its harmful effects.

While attending law school, I participated in the Dispute Resolution Institute's certificate program. One of the required classes was Theories of Conflict. Theories of Conflict explores these themes of harmony and discord, separate struggles and unifying causes. The underlying theme in the course was not if conflict was inherently bad; it was the exploration of controlling conflict, especially when conflict becomes escalated.

According to Pruitt and Kim, authors of the book, Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate, and Settlement, conflict is a "perceived divergence of interest." Conflict is not merely a battle between parties, with winner takes all as the goal, but what we perceive as a divergence that leads to a zero sum game. This divergence gives parties the impression that there is only one solution, "mine not yours."

Sometimes conflict is very constructive. The best, current example is the presidential election. Both candidates disagree on certain issues and we, as citizens, must decide who we believe will do the best job as president. We may yell at the TV during the debates and chastise the attack ads, but we all agree that a President must be chosen and our emotions must be in check once the election is over.

Conflict involves both physical and psychological aspects. So if, as a Freemason, we find a policy unacceptable, for example, PHA recognition, we perceive a divergence of interest with the brother on the other side. We become physiologically shaken and psychological shocked by what our brothers say, but we may still live in relative peace. It is when a conflict is escalated, that it can become more destructive and lead to acrimony among the parties, and can quickly get out of control.

Escalation is the concept whereby one party begins to use stronger tactics to put increased tension on the other party. During a conflict, parties regularly use tactics to “win” a conflict. However, as these tactics become more and more contentious, the parties will increase the type of tactic used to match or beat the other's tactic. This trading of barbs slowly turns into a spiral of escalation until the conflict reaches violence or another factor has begun to slow the climb and halt its progress.

Escalation is incredibly common in Freemasonry. Every person, from regular Mason, irregular Mason, and anti-Mason, uses power and stronger tactics to attempt to win a Masonic argument. We may attempt to ingratiate a person to come to "our" side. We may attempt to belittle the other side. However, it is often the case that these arguments begin up the spiral of escalation. I, myself, have been wrapped up in these fiery debates throwing words as darts instead using them as tools. As the Masonic conflict continues, we become less concerned with the disagreement and more concerned with "winning." It is at this time, that we become entrenched and it is only by deescalating the situation that we can keep Masonic harmony. But how do we deescalate this contentious situation?

We can deescalate it by remembering the precepts of our Fraternity: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. When we get into an aggressive argument, we lose our fraternal bond, we become less concerned about relieving his suffering and we lose sight of what the truth is. So, what can we, as Masons, do about all this discord? Here is my advice: to those that believe that discord only brings destruction and suffering, remember that it is only through chiseling into a block and destroying its original character that we create something beautiful. And to those that believe that harmony must always be continued, at all costs, why is your gavel and chisel laying on the ground? The work is not over and you are behind schedule. We may have a disagreement with how we are working but we all agree that we are building a better society. Only by understanding both discord and harmony can we appreciate the unity that Freemasonry gives to all of its members.

"Our life is full of discord; but by forbearance and virtue this same discord can be turned to harmony." — James Ellis

— Bro. Nick Johnson

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Small town fun at the drive-in theater

There's a drive-in theater just up the highway about 15 miles from me. It's one of a small handful left in Georgia, and the only one within at least 100 miles of me. They always play first run movies, and it's always a lot of fun, whether I take my young son and his friends or I take a date there.

Just a moment ago, I checked its website, to see if there was anything playing this weekend that my 10-year old son (and I) would enjoy. There isn't. Beverly Hills Chihuahua is this weekend's feature. Even my son isn't entertained by those talking animal movies anymore (thankfully!).

But I noticed something kind of interesting is happening there tomorrow afternoon and evening, and thought I'd share it with you. It's a benefit for the local Shrine Club. From the Swan Drive-In's website:
The Swan Drive In Theatre is hosting a Fund Raising Event for the North Georgia Shrine Club on Thursday, October 23rd, 2008.

100% of all proceeds, admissions and concessions will go to the North Georgia Shrine Club.

From 5 PM until 7:30 PM will be Karaoke provided by Jimmy Stanley's "Showtime Karaoke." This is an open mike event. We encourage everyone who wants to participate in Karaoke to come out and sing.

Harold Lee will be performing as Elvis from 7:30 PM until 9 PM.

9 PM, the movie "Hancock" starring Will Smith, Rated PG13

Bring your lawn chairs and/or blanket, wear your poodle skirts if you want to, Elvis will have you Rocking! A Full Concession will be available, TRY OUT THE FUNNEL CAKES!

Classic Cars and Motorcycles, Car Clubs, Street Rods, etc. are urged to participate.

You can arrive at any time from 4:30 PM thru the entire evening.

Movie will end at approx. 10:30 PM

Admissions will be $6.00 for Adults, $3.00 for children, ages 4 thru 11.

Come join the fun and help raise funds for a good cause. This is a great opportunity to have fun and give support to North Georgia Shrine Club.
This actually sounds like fun.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Space ice conks sleeping woman on head

Tin-foil hats probably won't be much protection, but you might want to consider sleeping in a hard hat, after a six-pound chunk of "space ice" crashed through a sleeping woman's roof and bonked her in the head.

"Something woke me up," said Mary Ann Foster, who lives in York Township, Pennsylvania. "I felt my head and I had kind of a big — a kind of a bump."

The giant ice cube left a two-feet-across hole in her ceiling, WGAL reported. The iceball broke into three pieces after hitting her.

"If I had been over further, if I had be laying on my back, if a bigger piece had hit me, I could be dead," she said. "Just remember, you never know what's going to happen. Just enjoy everyday."

There you go. Enjoy every day. You never know when you'll get conked on the head by space ice.

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CSA: The Confederate States of America

This week I've been working with a 26-year old, college-educated, happily married black man in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He's not a Mason, but after noticing my Masonic ring, he struck up a conversation about Freemasonry. He knows a few Prince Hall Masons from Pennsylvania, men he went to college with.

After getting past the "do you guys really worship Satan?" stuff that had gotten into his head from too much Internet surfing, we discussed Masonry in an interesting and unique way, with him telling me some things he knows about the workings of Prince Hall lodges.

He also provided me with a unique perspective on what it's like to be an African-American in the South.

He lives in Georgia, right on the border with Tennessee, which is much more "integrated" than the lily-white county where I live in rural north Georgia. He asked how he could join a regular lodge in Georgia. We talked about how he'd never be allowed to do that because of the unwritten rules of racism here.

Granted, I've known him less than a week, but I've spent all day with him several days, and based on what I've seen so far, once I've known him the required time, I'd have no problem with signing his petition and recommending him based on his character.

He's as law-abiding as you or I, yet he's had much more interaction with the police than most of you reading this. Traffic stops, he says, have been and are so routine that he checks his brake and tail lights every couple of days, and always drives under the speed limit.

Once, he told me, sitting a stop light, he was approached by a police officer who told him he'd done a "random" license-plate check and discovered that the car he was driving was not the same color as shown in the records. The tag was on the proper make and model of car, but was light blue instead of white. He'd recently had the older model car repainted.

Apparently, this type of thing is fairly common when you're black in the South. Not being a cop or a black man, I wouldn't know.

But imagine how much worse it would be if the South had won the Civil War.

That's the premise of an intriguing 2004 film called CSA: The Confederate States of America. It's showing tonight — Friday, Oct. 10 — on the Independent Film Channel (IFC). Set your DVR to record it; parts of it you'll want to see more than once.

Imagine a world where the South won the War. Slaves weren't freed. Abraham Lincoln wasn't assassinated; he fled on the Underground Railroad, was captured, imprisoned and then exiled to Canada, where he died in 1905 lamenting that he had never "truly cared for the Negro." Jefferson Davis moved into the White House to run the country. Mexico and South America were eventually conquered by the CSA. America supported Hitler. Television programs and commercials were blatantly racist; you can even buy slaves from home shopping channels.

The movie is presented as if it's a British documentary about the history of America, and you get the feeling that you're watching it on a cheesy UHF channel late at night. During station breaks you're presented with news updates and local and national commercials.

Parts of the movie are high comedy and satire, but some of it is dead-on frightening in its depiction of institutionalized racism.

First in the alternative history of the nation, and later in news updates about current events, you meet a Kennedy-esque dynastic clan that has been involved in national politics since the Civil War. What happens to a fifth-generation senator with higher political ambitions is cruelly hilarious.

In this alternative world, blacks in America were kept subservient and uneducated; this point is counterbalanced with interviews with educated blacks from England and Canada, discussing the state of their brothers and sisters within the CSA borders.

I hope you get a chance to see this film. You can watch a trailer here.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bro. FDR's fireside chat: More comforting than anything Bush, Bernanke, Paulson, McCain or Obama has said

If you're feeling stressed these days over the world's financial, moral and intellectual meltdown, you're not alone.

As Bro. Paul Harvey liked to say, "In times like these, it always helps to remember there have always been times like these."

If Bro. Harvey's colloquialism doesn't especially comfort you, perhaps words from another famous Freemason, one who steered this country through our previous economic depression and through much of World War II, here's a link to Brother and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Fireside Chats.

His very first fireside chat, given via radio on March 12, 1933, was titled "On the Banking Crisis." If you prefer to listen to the chat instead of read it, click here.

FDR was born in 1882, and died in 1945 while serving as the 32nd president of the United States. He served as president longer than any other person, being elected to four consecutive terms. He died in office, and was succeeded by his vice president, Bro. Harry S Truman.

Bro. Roosevelt was initiated October 11, 1911 in Holland Lodge No. 8, New York City. He participated in the Raising of his son Elliott (1910-1990) on February 17, 1933, in Architect's Lodge No. 519, also in New York City. He was present, but did not participate in the Degrees when two other sons, James (1907-1991) and Franklin D., Jr. (1914-1988) became members of Architect's Lodge on November 7, 1935.

FDR was made the first Honorary Grand Master of the Order of DeMolay on April 13, 1934 at the White House.

He was governor of New York from 1929-1933.

Bro. Roosevelt concluded his first chat, about the banking collapse of 1933, with the following words. They're more inspiring than anything coming out of Washington or New York these days:
...[T]here is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support and make it work.

It is your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.

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Casting your fake-vote for fake-president

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's....

Maybe it's baby Kal-El streaking to earth from the doomed planet Krypton.

Astronomers yesterday discovered an automobile-sized meteor hurtling towards our planet. It is predicted to burn up over Sudan this evening at 10:46 p.m. ET, according to Wired Science.

"A typical meteor comes from an object the size of a grain of sand," Gareth Williams of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, which made the prediction, said in a statement Monday. Objects this size are what cause the nighttime streaks that many people think of as shooting stars. "This meteor will be a real humdinger in comparison!"

I hope it really is a red and blue cradle carrying a child who will grow into the Man of Steel. The world needs Superman.

Update, Thurs., Oct. 9: Earth survived. And Great Caesar's Ghost!, it was a big bang.

Unfortunately, it wasn't Superman.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

1776-2008: America as we knew her, may she rest in peace

Welcome to the New World (Dis)Order, and to the United Socialist States of America. Or is it still the same ol' place?

Just moments ago, Pres. George W. Bush signed into law the "Wall Street Bailout," shortly after the House approved the pork-laden "new" version of the bill they had rejected earlier this week.

Seven hundred billion dollars, a "really big number," in one dollar bills laid end to end, would stretch from the Earth to the Sun over 3,700 times (or 370 or 37,000 — knowledge of math doesn't seem to be a requirement anymore, especially in accounting). That's a lot of macaroni and cheese and tomato soup Main Streeters (and their children's children's children) will have to eat while the Wall Streeters renew their standing orders for caviar and champagne.

If you were against this bailout, how can you in good conscience now vote to elect either senator as U.S. president? Both Barack Obama and John McCain supported and voted for this bill that "gives away the farm" and our country.

Here is the list of U.S. representatives who voted yea and nay on Monday. It will be interesting to see who changed their votes today.

U.S. Representative Ron Paul warned against this financial meltdown many times. As you saw during the primaries, the mainstream media wouldn't let Dr. Paul express his views during the debates, and seldom wrote anything positive about him during his campaign.

Former U.S. Congressman Bob Barr is now the Libertarian Party nominee for president, and is being ignored by the press almost as much as Ron Paul was. If you don't like the direction our country is now heading — and as of today, it's heading in a direction we never thought possible — consider the only alternative we may have left. The bailout votes this week should have proven to the world that there really isn't a dime's worth of difference between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.

Image: The U.S. flag flown upside down is a sign of distress, not of disrespect. Long may she wave.

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