"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

AAAiiiieeee! Where'd My Beard Go!

Shaved for surgery, it's the first time my face has seen daylight since 1983.

Off to hospital.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ten Secret Societies With The Goofiest Names

Writing a For Dummies book requires a certain amount of discipline, and neither Alice nor I have any. So when we get told that our manuscript is supposed to be 348 pages long, we turn in 460 pages anyway. The result is that lots of good stuff gets cut.

Case in point was one of our favorite "Parts Of Ten" chapters.

So, here is what was at one time Chapter 19 of Conspiracy Theories & Secret Societies For Dummies:

Ten Secret Societies With The Goofiest Names

♦ Concocting convoluted monikers
♦ Discovering dubious dens of derisive doofuses

The mid-1800’s were a period of explosive growth for secret and fraternal societies in the United States, and another wave happened in the 1920’s. As new fraternal groups developed, it quickly became something of a challenge to find new, untapped sources of inspiration for names, rituals, costumes and traditions.

It’s so hard to just pick ten, when there are gems like Prudent Patricians of Pompeii of the United States of America, the Military Order of the Cootie, the Supreme Order of White Rabbits, the Solar Spiritual Progressive Fifth Order of Melchizedek and the Egyptian Sphinx, and the Royal and Exalted Order of Fleas that had to be left off of the list. Here are our ten favorites.

1. The Order of Bananas
No one could claim there was anything subtle about this organization. Originated at the New York Athletic Club in 1923, 110 members were initiated in one day into “Banana Bunch No. 1, New York Plantation.”
It should be noted that the Order of Bananas disappeared quickly, and is not associated with the International Banana Club or its Banana Museum in Altadena, California.

Just not appeeling to us.

2. The Ancient, Honorable and Fragrant Order of the Pink Goats
For well over 200 years, it has been something of a long running joke within fraternal groups and secret societies that new initiates would be required to be blindfolded and ride a goat. No one can really say where this concept came from for certain, but the legend has curiously wound its way through everything from social clubs and business associations to college fraternities and service groups.
First organized in 1918 at a convention of Rotary members in Buffalo, New York, the Ancient, Honorable and Fragrant Order of the Pink Goats was actually an order within the Rotary. While the majority of the group believed it was all in good fun, more than a few did not, and objected to the idea of a “secret” club within a club, as well as the association with the “evil” goat.

3. The International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo
While this particular group has perhaps the drop-dead silliest name in this list, the organization itself has a serious mission. First formed in 1892 in Gurdon, Arkansas, the Order was created by five men in the lumber business who were stranded in a local hotel, waiting for a delayed train. Lumber company salesmen were constantly traveling the country, often attending trade shows and conventions. These men hit upon the notion of organizing one great “carnival” of lumber trade shows, held in one city, at one place and time, crossing all boundaries of corporate distrust and competition. Moreover, they sought to create a fraternal organization strictly for lumbermen, and make it unlike any other group in existence. There would be no fancy uniforms or regalia required and no permanent lodge buildings.

Then there was that name. At first, the suggested moniker was the Ancient Order of Camp Followers, but it just didn’t have the ring of uniqueness they were hunting. It was Bolling Arthur Johnson, a lumber trade newspaper journalist, who suggested The Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo, which was immediately accepted.

Concatenate is a fancy word for unite. The rest of the name, it turns out, was an industry in-joke. It seems that a Chicago lumberman named Charles McCarer had something of a peculiar hairstyle. While most of his head was bald, he had one odd tuft of hair in the middle of it, which he greased and twisted into a spike. Johnson had nicknamed the tonsorial horror a “hoo-hoo,” and the term quickly made the rounds in the lumber business. In no time flat, “hoo-hoo” had become a gag phrase used by lumbermen to describe anything unusual or out of the ordinary. Weird hats became “hoo-hoo” hats, loud suits became “hoo-hoo” suits, and so on.

In a sign that they were not just picking on McCarer and his greasy hair horn, he was elected (in absentia) as the first Grand Snark of the Universe, as an honor for his pointy-haired inspiration. The mascot of the Order was the black cat, and they patterned their ritual after a somewhat goofy version of Egyptian customs. In honor of the black cat’s nine lives, they made the number nine central to their organization: initiation would cost $9.99, and annual dues were 99¢; the annual convention would be held on the 9th day of the ninth month at nine minutes past nine. And all of this was concocted and decided that one afternoon while waiting for a train.

Amazingly, the Order still exists today. Now expanded into Canada, New Zealand and Australia, the more proper name these days is simply the International Order of Hoo-Hoo, and it remains the only fraternal organization for those employed in the forest products business.
Check out their website at: http://www.hoo-hoo.org

It should be noted they have nothing to do with the similar sounding group of Ham radio operators, the Royal Order of Wouff-Hong.

4. The Horrible Conspiration Club
Mystic Masonic Lodge in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, has a long and proud history. There are few operating lodges of Freemasonry in the U.S. that can trace back 200 years of continuous operation. But Mystic Lodge had a curious club, and inner group of members, that called themselves the Horrible Conspiration Club. Started in 1913, its origin, history and purpose are veiled in either secrecy or bad record keeping.

5. The Ancient and Noble Order of the Gormogons
Sometimes a secret society appears on the scene for the simple purpose of making fun of another ones. This seems to be the case with the Ancient and Noble Order of the Gormogons. A notice first appeared in a London paper in 1724 announcing a meeting of this “Ancient Noble Order” at the Castle Tavern in Fleet Street.

According to the lore of the short-lived group, the Gormogons were originated by Chin-Quaw Ky-Po, the first Emperor of China, thousands of years before Adam, and the ritual was brought to England “by a Mandarin.”. It was clearly from the start designed to have a good laugh at the expense of the Freemasons, promising that there would “be no drawn sword at the Door, nor Ladder in a dark Room, nor will any Mason be reciev'd as a member till he has renounced his Novel Order and been properly degraded.” In addition, it seems to have been a pro-Roman Catholic group – unusual in Britain at the time – and specifically designed to ridicule the Freemasons.

As a result of some defections from London lodges of Masons who went over to the Gormogons, the group published an exposé of Masonic ritual, called "The Grand Mystery of Free-Masonry Discovered." Some Masons believed the Order was a nefarious plot by Jesuit priests to break up London’s Masonic lodges, but no one could ever say conclusively. It seems to have died out in 1738.

6. The Know Nothings
If you were going to start a new political party, you couldn’t have picked a name that was worse for public relations, yet best described the political profession as a whole. Like so many secret societies, the Know Nothings grew out of a nativist movement, a fear that the U.S. was being overrun with “dang foreigners” – most important, “dang” Catholic foreigners. Appearing in the 1840’s as a part of the American Republican Party, and went through several name changes, settling on the American Party in 1855.
Where the funny name came in was from the semi-secret nature of the membership. If asked about the party, members were supposed to answer, “I know nothing,” like some pre-Civil War Sergeant Shultz.

The fear was that hoards of Irish and Italian immigrants owed Catholic allegiance to the pope in Rome, and not to their newly adopted country, so they were, therefore, not to be trusted. Pope Pius IX was contending with rebellion in the Papal States (vast parts of Italy governed by the Pope until Italy’s unification in 1870, when the Papal territory was reduced to the tiny sliver that is today’s Vatican City). The belief of the Know Nothings and other White Anglo-Saxon Protestant groups was that the pope just might be trying to invade the United States. This wouldn’t be the first time such idiocy was believed, and it wouldn’t be the last.

In the 1850’s, the Know Nothings began to win enough elections to upset the political establishment. Because the Democratic Party had a large share of Irish Catholics, the Know Nothing’s message made them easy winners, especially in New England. Republican and Whig candidates kept their Know Nothing membership a secret, but they followed the group’s nativist platform. By 1854, they seemed to be sweeping elections and headed west, with victories in the California governor’s race, as well as electing the Mayor of San Francisco. When they came out of the closet and announced their formation officially as the American Party, they had well over 1,000,000 members.

The Know Nothings died out after the start of the Civil War. They were a popular party in the South, running on a pro-Union platform, but divided internally over the slavery question. By 1860, they had almost completely disappeared.

One of the strangest episodes in Washington D.C. involved the Know Nothings and the building of the Egyptian obelisk-shaped Washington Monument. By 1855, the stone structure had risen 155 feet and had cost $300,000. The Monument Society was broke.

In 1854, Pope Pius IX donated a block of marble from the Temple of Concord in Rome to be placed inside of the Monument, along with commemorative stones that had been donated by the states and many other countries. He was increasingly seen as a tyrant by Protestants all across the U.S. over his actions in the Papal States, as well as some decisions he had made on Canon Law. Pope Pius had defined the startling concepts of Immaculate Conception and the infallibility of the Holy Father when speaking on matters of faith. As a result, Protestants all over the world reacted violently to both pronouncements as heresy. The arrival of the Pope’s stone at the Washington Memorial jobsite was very lousy timing.

One night, ten Know Nothings broke into the Monument’s construction yard and stole the Pope’s marble stone. Rumors were that they dumped it into the Potomac or a power company jobsite, or even that it was ground into powder and used as part of the Monument’s mortar mix. Regardless, it was never seen again. The Church later sent a replacement stone that is part of the Monument today.

The Know Nothings weren’t done. After destroying the Pope’s stone, they went on to actually seize the Washington Monument by taking over the board that was overseeing fund raising and construction. For four years, the new board accomplished absolutely nothing, and the Know Nothings started to get a reputation of being do-nothings. After four years, Congress defunded their share of the Monument out of frustration, and would put no more money into it for another twenty years.

The Know Nothings finally left, but construction completely stopped in 1861 at 176-feet. Freemason Mark Twain remarked that the unfinished stump looked “like a hollow, oversized chimney.” You can still easily see the line on the Monument today where the stone changes color less than halfway up. In 1876, with the war over and the centennial of the Declaration of Independence approaching, Congress finally appropriated $2 million to finish the job.

7. The Mystic Order of the Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm of North America
Most Grand Lodges of Freemasonry across the U.S. turned their backs on the tavern origins of the modern fraternity, and eliminated demon hootch from their neighborhood lodges in the middle of the 19th century. As a result, the Ancient Arabic Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, whose members are known as the Shriners, started in the 1870’s in order to give millions of thirsty Masons a playground in which to shed some of their Masonic seriousness.

Not long afterwards, The Mystic Order of the Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm appeared, with a similar purpose. Most of its members can scarcely remember its official name, and the group is more simply and affectionately known as the Grotto. Over the years, the Grotto has somewhat unfairly earned the unflattering nickname “the poor man’s Shrine,” but there are indeed similarities between the two groups.

In 1889, a group of Masons in Hamilton, New York, met to hold informal meetings and have some good-natured fun. The leader of the group was Leroy Fairchild, and for a while, the group was known as the Fairchild Deviltry Committee. Like the Masons who organized the Shrine, Fairchild believed the lodges had become too serious and that men would be better Masons if the solemn teachings from the lodge could be interspersed with a little socializing and fun afterwards.

In 1890, Fairchild organized the Supreme Council for the M.O.V.P.E.R., and the concept quickly spread. Like the Shrine, it is not technically a Masonic organization – it is a group that requires its members to be Master Masons. The early difference was that the Shrine required members to not just be Blue Lodge masons, but also to have received the degrees of the York Rite or the Scottish Rite as well (a requirement that has been dropped since the 1990’s).

It has an Arabic/Persian motif in its ceremonies, local Grotto chapter names and ceremonies – its ritual was suppoed to have been “discovered” in a secret Tehran vault. Members wear black fezzes with long red tassels and refer to each other as Prophets. Their highest-ranking officer is the Potent Monarch.


Their charity, the Cerebral Palsy Child is a charitable trust, directed by the Humanitarian Foundation of the Supreme Council, M.O.V.P.E.R. Funds are given annually to the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation, as well as to the Dentistry for the Handicapped program. Many millions have been contributed by the Grottoes for cerebral palsy research, along with other philanthropic charities, projects, and organizations.

You can find more information on the Grotto at their Web site (www.scgrotto.com)

8. The International Brotherhood of Old Bastards
Started in 1918 to allow its members to have the “opportunity to prove you’re a real bastard.” Non-discriminatory and open to both men and women, there are close to 1,700,000 members worldwide.

Claiming its origins go back to the 15th century and William the Bastard, the I.B.O.B. has no lodges, but the Order is governed by the Supreme Archbastard. They also claim a link to the original Illuminati, called the Illuminated Bastards. Their newsletter is called Ye Old Bastards Bulletin.

9. The Ancient Mystic Order of Bagmen of Bagdad
You have to love this name. No, it doesn’t refer to Saddam Hussein’s cabinet ministers. The Ancient Mystic Order of Bagmen of Bagdad are the inner circle of the Order of the United Commercial Travelers of America, a fraternal organization originally formed for traveling salesmen. The U.C.T. was founded in 1888, and the Bagmen appeared in Cincinnati in 1892. Obviously patterned after the Shriners, the Bagmen are a pseudo-Arabic order that concentrates on fun, frolics and, undoubtedly, booze. They have a serious side as well, providing funeral expenses for members.

They may have been related to the similar-sounding Royal Fellows of Bagdad. It was an organization of liquor salesmen formed in 1914 to fight states and municipalities from passing restrictive liquor laws. Obviously they didn’t work hard enough. Nationwide prohibition lasted from 1920 until 1933.

The U.C.T. today is open not just to traveling salesmen, but to all. They offer insurance benefits and programs and have many charities across the country. Their website is at http://www.uct.org

10. The Order of the Anti-Poke Noses
As we find ourselves today living in an age of nannies, crybabies and busybodies who can’t seem to get along with their neighbors without taking them to court, the time has come for a revival of this, unfortunately, defunct organization. Originally started in Arkansas during the 1920s to battle against the explosive growth of the new version of the Ku Klux Klan (see Chapter 12), the Order of the Anti-Poke Noses had a lofty mission statement: “To oppose any organization that attends to everyone’s business but their own.”

Hear, hear!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Goiters For Dummies

I’ve been living with this goiter for a couple of months now, and I’ve finally figured out what’s got me annoyed about it – I mean, apart from the $9,842 in medical bills it has taken to diagnose something that doctors during the Victorian Age could have spotted from across the street. But I’ve figured out that the real trouble with being diagnosed with a weird, 19th century, tintype ailment is that there’s no sexy, big-budget commercial hawking the latest miracle drug to treat it.

Fade up on middle aged man standing in a field of wheat, staring off into the horizon, with a look like when David Caruso whips off his sunglasses on CSI. “I should have seen it coming,” he says in a whispery voice-over, as ominous minor chords play on a distant piano.

“I had all the risks,” he says, as we see him pushing aside a salt shaker and just grinding pepper onto his eggs.

“Not enough iodized salt in my diet…” Cut to him chasing a young girl through the woods, “Married to my first cousin… It was only a matter of time.”

Then the tender, caring, and thoroughly unctuous big-budget, vaguely familiar, has-been TV star announcer, takes over.

“Ask your doctor if Goiter-Be-Gone is right for you.”

“Goiter” is one of those words like “bustle” or “crankstarter” that 21st century Americans just don’t hear anymore. They haunt the silvery black and white images of another world, a world we know because of men like James Agee, photographers and historians of the 1930's who trekked, like Lewis and Clark, into the Smoky Mountains, crossing into the Mississippi bayous, conquering Cape Fear and the Great Dismal Swamp. They set out to record a way of life that was quickly dying, mostly with the noble goal of sopping up WPA federal grant money.

It was a world in which the vast majority of diseases, ailments and lumpy growths that took people down were preventable, without the need of a miracle injection or an exciting new treatment. Our parents had the answer for preventing all of them. All you had to do was eat right. (Of course, it also helped to get your sewage a little farther from your drinking water.) Now that modern science and the National Enquirer have discovered all of the bad foods to avoid and the good ones to gobble down as though they have been watered by Ponce de Leon’s famous fountain, we are all supposed to live forever. It must frustrate health food enthusiasts, joggers, and the perennially healthy when they wind up in the hospital anyway, dying of absolutely nothing.

Naturally, when I discovered my own infirmity was the humble goiter – shaped like the state of Florida, and about the size of my nephew’s favorite stuffed rabbit – I did what every modern child of this futuristic age does. I scared the crap out of myself by looking it up on the internet. With the morbid curiosity that propels people to rubberneck car crashes or go see Oliver Stone movies, I began to look into the genetic history of the goiter, and found some fascinating and bizarre twists and turns. Or at least fascinating and bizarre if you’re trying to avoid running the snow-blower after a freak snowstorm in March.

When Americans hear terminology about “racial imperatives”, eugenics, and “genetic inferiority,” they tend to creep out and think of Nazi Germany, and rightly so. Most aren’t aware of the fact that genetic progress, as well as social and educational progress, was part of the terminology of U.S. idealists of the late 1920's and the 1930's who wanted to make mankind’s lot better, generally by recommending the locking up or sterilizing of the NOKD’s (“Not Our Kind, Darling”). These sleek, well-heeled men and women, educated in the best Ivy League schools of the East, crept into the dark backwaters of America as though they were on safari in Equatorial Guinea, and were shocked by what they found – whole valleys and counties filled with people who looked like the kid in Deliverance who gets into a banjo pickin’ contest with Ronny Cox.

These country folks were enduring lack of education, poor diets, and, let’s face it, a lot of what was called consanguinity (defined in the new England Journal of Medicine as “a girl who can’t run faster than her brothers and cousins.”) Consanguinity, or the nuptial commingling of people who are related to one another, isn’t a very good idea. In the Puritanical land of New England, it was sharply discouraged, but in the sparsely populated rural backcountry, it went on with little objection. Nowadays, of course, with the advent of noted and respected research organizations like People Magazine, we can clearly see, for instance, in the ruling Windsor family of Great Britain just what happens to people who routinely marry their cousins. Prince Charles got those jug ears from a gene pool the size of a Holiday Inn Express hot tub.

And so, the U.S. Health Department rolled up its sleeves and set out to conquer ignorance, lack of hygiene, preventable diseases of dietary deficiency, and consanguinity, as well as other causes of birth defects. You don’t hear as much about this anymore, even though programs like the March of Dimes for healthy babies, grew out of it, effectively putting centuries of circus sideshows out of business. Be fair - when was the last time you saw a pinhead (outside of Tod Browning’s 1932 picture Freaks)?

Diseases of dietary deficiency, so rarely seen today, were a house of horrors in their own time. Pellagra was caused principally by a lack of niacin and other vitamins, as well as a diet way too high in corn and potatoes and way too low in meat. British seamen were called “limeys” because, starting in the late 17th century, they drank lime, lemon or orange juice each day to ward off scurvy, a disease my mother used to threaten me with when I refused to eat grapefruit with my chocolate milk. No sooner did I dump the milk and switch to grapefruit, she’d drag out rickets, as a threat for not drinking the moo juice.

So the battle was called in the early half of the 20th century to try to remake Man in the image of Science, by the creepy methodology of selective breeding. Ideas about improving Man’s genetics crossed the Atlantic back and forth like wildfire. But as the 1930's came to a close, Nazi Germany and America diverged on this eugenics issue - Americans backed off the idea that genetic tinkering was all it was cracked up to be, especially when the local health authorities wanted to lock up their favorite mad aunt. The Nazis, on the other hand, got over their squeamishness without quite the same pangs of self-reflection, and set about removing as many NOKD’s as they could build camps and ovens for.

Genetics are back today, and they’re hotter than ever. Since the completion of the Human Genome Project, charting the entirety of man’s DNA, huge leaps forward have been made in predicting the genetic likelihood of certain diseases in a patient, by virtue of which cousin your great-great-great granddaddy nailed behind the waddle hut, or which side of the forest he wandered out of. There’s no denying that had I been a descendant of the “people of the lowlands,” where salt and fish were plentiful, I probably wouldn’t be in this fix. But clearly my family grew out of the tough and wiry “mountain people” (meaning a bunch of lederhosen- wearing hill jacks out of Estonia who could take out a mastodon with just three guys, but whose diet was not high in the foods of the tidewater folks). Well, at least I don’t have webbed toes. But there’s no denying the creepy possibility of some future squint-eyed insurance adjuster demanding a copy of your genetic code to see whether you are a good health risk or a medical liability.

If I have to deal with this lump every day, I demand some self-important attention. So I’ve decided that what goiters need is better PR. I’ve got one, so it’s clearly not just a washed-up, has-been, yesterday kind of affliction. It’s a hip-hop-happenin’, sub-sternal lump of the 21st century! It needs the Goiter Channel. It needs a special colored lapel ribbon to unite sufferers, supporters and sympathetic Hollywood actors who can become goiter experts merely by playing goiter sufferers in movies. It needs Congressional hearings. It needs a whole line of fashion wear (Dame Fashion says drape your goiter this season in swaths of madras!).

And, of course, there’s the obligatory list of famous goiteratti, those legions of noble notables from the ranks of celebrity who led happy, normal, multi-million dollar lives while bravely facing their goiters in the mirror every day and still managing to go on: Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart, Kim Il Sung, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, Muhammed Ali, Joe Piscopo, Michelangelo. (I’m guessing this is the only time Joe Piscopo and Michelangelo have ever been mentioned in the same sentence.) In fact, Michelangelo actually wrote a poem about his goiter, which developed while painting the Sistine Chapel:

I’ve grown a goiter by dwelling in this den-
As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be-
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
Fixed on my spine: my breastbone visibly
Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brushdrops thick and thin.

If he could paint that ceiling with a goiter and still go on, I know I’ll make it too. Take it from me and Joe Piscopo.

My surgery is Tuesday.

World Masonic Leaders Converge on Washington, D.C.

From a press release today:

Grand Lodge of Free And Accepted Masons of the District of Columbia Hosts 9th Annual World Conference of Masonic Grand Lodges

(Vocus/PRWEB ) April 25, 2008 -- For the first time ever, the Grand Lodge of Free And Accepted Masons of the District of Columbia will play host to a historic and grand event, the 9th World Conference of Masonic Grand Lodges, at the Renaissance Washington DC Hotel, May 7th, 2008 through May 10th, 2008.

This conference will bring together international Masonic leaders comprised of high-level officials in government, business and civic service. Specifically, large delegations from Africa, Latin America and Europe are expected to be in attendance. Masonic leaders will discuss how the Society of Freemasonry can utilize its position to promote universal understanding, enlightened ideas, and goodwill globally.

Members of the press are invited to cover keynote speakers, banquets, the World War II Memorial wreath-laying and Masonic award ceremonies. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) is to be honored at a reception on Thursday, May 8th in the Cannon Caucus Room on Capitol Hill for his lifetime dedication to civil rights. Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) will be honored during the May 10th banquet with Freemasonry's Medal of Freedom for his commitment to preserving freedom and liberty across the globe. A number of educational scholarships will also be presented at the May 10th closing banquet, with college scholarships being awarded to 15 D.C. public high school graduating seniors as well as two current American University students.

On May 10th, at 11:00 a.m., a public wreath laying ceremony will be held at the National World War II Memorial to recognize all Freemasons killed during World War II.

As the world's oldest and largest fraternal society with more than half of its membership in the United States, Freemasonry has a rich history of involvement in the founding of America and her development for over two centuries. The 9th World Conference of Masonic Grand Lodges will be the largest international public gathering of Freemasons in Washington D.C. since the laying of the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol building by President and Freemason George Washington on September 18, 1793.

For more information about all events please contact 202-686-1811. Media must RSVP due to security.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"The Law Is A Ass"

* NOTE: This entry has been altered, based on information from the Grand Secretary of Kentucky.*

There has been a flareup of suspensions around the country in the last couple of weeks. I do wish Grand Masters would understand that so much more can be accomplished in this fraternity with whispered admonishment than with public beheadings.

Brother Charles Martin is facing a Masonic trial in Kentucky, and it is a sad situation.

Charles is a member of Bowling Green Lodge in Kentucky, as well as later affiliating with a New York lodge. It seems that during his recent posting in Iraq (he is a defense contractor), he visited a Prince Hall military lodge. Subsequent to that, he posted a description of his visit on the internet.

While New York recognizes the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York, and members of both may intervisit, the Grand Lodge of Kentucky does NOT recognize their own Prince Hall counterpart, or any other Prince Hall GL, for that matter.

Charles - and all regular Masons, for that matter - is bound by the rules and regulations of his Mother Lodge and Grand Lodge in Kentucky first, and New York second. As a result, he faces possible suspension by the GL of Kentucky. That, in turn, will make his suspension in New York likely, as well. Hiram's Forum is the property of the GL of Indiana, and we are bound to honor his suspension, just as he would not be allowed to visit an Indiana lodge.

He spent quite some time attempting over the last few years to procure a charter for a military lodge to be formed in Iraq, but to no avail. In the modern age, military lodges have almost never been chartered by mainstream US Grand Lodges. Unfortunately for Charles and the thousands of servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan now, there is no official US Masonic presence for Masons in those countries, apart from several Prince Hall military lodges. During previous times of war, Grand Lodges looked the other way at issues of regularity and sojourning servicemen who visited lodges in foreign countries, because of this very situation. If a man was willing to risk his very life in a war zone, the issue of whether the lodge he visited was regular or not is about as low on the priorities list you could get. But it seems that the comparatively petty peacetime issues of regularity and recognition all cling on in our modern era of wartime.

This is not to criticize Kentucky - they are simply following the letter of their law. Some will undoubtedly say, 'if this is the law, then the law is a ass, a idiot,' to quote Dickens' Mr. Bumble. But breaking the law and telling everybody about it all over the web is the one sure way to wind up on the outside looking in, and will change nothing. That said, it is unfortunate that the Conference of Grand Master Masons of North America did not lead on this issue immediately after the war started and quickly respond to the situation with suggested language for Grand Lodges to adopt, if only for the duration of the war. However, with Charles' situation now spreading all over the internet, perhaps the issue will yet come up at next month's World Conference of Grand Masters in Washington.

I hope so, but I'm not counting on it.

But this is surely no way to treat Brother Masons serving in harm's way.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

2nd Annual International Conference on the History of Freemasonry

After the success of last year's first International Conference on the History of Freemasonry in Edinburgh, Scotland, the news comes from author, friend and brother Robert Cooper that more is on the way.

The 2nd ICHF will be May 29th-31st, 2009, and it is now expected that the event will be a biannual conference. The intention is to allow contributors ample time to submit proposals during the call for entries, and, if accepted, to then write their papers. Power Point proposals are encouraged.

From the Grand Lodge of Scotland's website:

ICHF is not a Masonic Conference in the way we Freemasons usually perceive 'Masonic Conferences'. ICHF is quite different in that it is the only conference in the world that brings togther academics who are studying aspects of Freemasonry with Freemasons and members of the public.

ICHF is not a profit making body and if, and when, a surplus is made it will be used for charitable purposes.

It is intended that ICHF will be a biennial event. 2009 is special to Scots as it marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of the National Bard - Brother Robert Burns. It is to be hoped that some of the papers at the conference will cover, for example, the impact that Freemasonry had on the life and work of Brother Burns. This is important as ICHF will move elsewhere in 2011.

Although styled an 'academic' conference it was heartening to see the number of Freemasons and members of the public who attended last year's conference and it is hoped that this will be repeated again next year.

The First Announcement and Call for Papers are now available. More information will soon be available on the conference web site www.ichfonline.org

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sublime Princes

The Indianapolis Valley of the Scottish Rite will hold its Spring Convocation this Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Just in time, look what Brother Ted Bastien has posted on Bugsport this week.

It's Kismet.

Course on Freemasonry at Ohio State University

A brother forwarded this article to me from the Grand Lodge of Ohio's The Beacon (page 13):

Students Study Freemasonry at OSU

Worshipful Brother Jose Diaz, a Past Master of York Lodge #563 and an Associate Professor of History, is currently teaching a freshman seminar course entitled "From National Treasure to The Da Vinci Code: Freemasons, Fact, and Fiction" at The Ohio State University.

"I was really surprised by the number of students who wanted to take the class," said Diaz. "At one point, this class had the longest waiting list of any at OSU. I will teach it again in the Spring quarter, and I already have ten students enrolled."

The course syllabus states that by the end of the seminar, students will be able to:
*Understand the origins and history of Freemasonry
*Understand Freemasonry's role in American popular culture
*Search and locate information resources that are helpful in conducting more advanced research in Freemasonry and other fraternal orders
*Understand arguments for and against Freemasonry

The course will meet once a week for nine weeks. Each week will focus on a different topic. The three main textbooks for the class are S. Brent Morris' The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry, Christopher Hodapp's Freemasons for Dummies, and Mark Tabbert's American Freemasons.

Worshipful Brother Diaz will take his class on a tour of the Grand Lodge museum in Worthington, and will conclude the 9th week with a viewing of the Stonecutters episode of "The Simpsons".

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Levant Preceptory Confers Templar Order

I was in Canada for the Alberta Masonic Spring Workshop, and I was unable to participate in Levant Preceptory's first opportunity to confer the Templar Order in full medieval garb. I understand it was cold, but it has been described by those who were there as the most incredible experience they have had at a Masonic Templar event.

Sir Knights participated from the following Commanderies from all across Indiana:

Raper No. 1
Baldwin No. 2
Muncie No. 18
Crawfordsville No. 25
Anderson No. 32
Greenfield No. 39
Hammond No. 41
Trinity No. 62
H.E. Lackey No. 67

More info as I get it. But the photo above (click to enlarge) tells a big part of the story.

More photos on Eminent Grand Commander Andrew Jackson's Myspace page.

From a forum posting by Sir Knight Jim Dillman (Prelate, 2nd from left in the photo above):

What an incredible and rewarding day. Talk about running the entire gamut of human emotions- I don't think I managed to skip more than a handful over the course of the day. I got up this morning feeling much as I suspect someone would feel the day after running a marathon. I was both physically and mentally exhausted and I've spent virtually the entire day horizontal. But enough about me.

There are so many people to thank. Let me start with our hosts at the Indiana Masonic Home. CEO (and now also Sir Knight) John Rose, food services manager Steve Treadway, the IMH staff, and the residents who volunteered set a standard for hospitality that very few will ever measure up to. I have never been associated with more accomodating individuals anytime anywhere. It's not difficult to understand why the Indiana Masonic Home is one of the finest facilities of it's kind in the entire country. The feast was simply amazing. I should add that John Rose was the exemplar in the Order of the Temple. He was a good sport about having to wear sandals for two hours in temperatures not far from freezing and I hope his feet have thawed out.

Eminent Grand Commander Andy Jackson and Grand Recorder Larry Kaminsky were with us from the very beginning. They have both provided not only an immense amount of moral support, but have also opened up their wallets to help us along the way. Grand Prelate Ed Sebring has been one of our biggest fans and he dedicated a lot of space in the Indiana Supplement to Templar Magazine to promoting Levant Preceptory. Many other current and past Grand Commandery officers have offered encouragement, advice, and kind words and it has all been very much appreciated. Sir Knight Mike Ritter did a magnificent job handling the RSVP's and registration of candidates.

Special thanks go to Sir Knights George Kivett, John Gray, and Jason Sawin for lending us a hand with the candidates and setting up the conferral of the Order. I wish I could tell you the name of the Sir Knight from Fort Wayne Commandery who saved me a great deal of embarrassment by donating a box of candles. I somehow managed to misplace a new box of candles and didn't realize it until mere minutes before the conferral of the Order was to begin, the discovery of which resulted in several minutes of pure horror. Several other Sir Knights were kind enough to help out with various tasks over the course of the day and I apologize to them for being unable to list them by name. Much of yesterday is still a big blur.

I unfortunately wasn't able to take the time to watch, but I understand that H.E. Lackey Commandery and Fort Wayne Commandery both did an outstanding job of conferring the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross and the Order of Malta respectively. Congratulations to both.

To all of those who braved the nasty weather, including the candidates, thank you very much. I hope you had an enjoyable day in spite of the lousy conditions.

Finally, to all of my fellow members of Levant Preceptory, I can't adequately express in words how proud I am of all of you and how lucky I feel to have been a part of all of this. You invested an enormous amount of time, money, and effort into making yesterday a huge success. To a man, you have all stepped up in one way or another apart from simply playing a part in the conferral of the Order of the Temple. As SK Roger Van Gorden mentioned to me yesterday, considering that this was the first time out for a group that has never worked together before with most of the members doing parts they have never done before, it could not have gone any better. We have a few minor wrinkles to work out, but I thought it was very impressive. I should note that the only time we have had the entire group together at one time was on Friday night at our dress rehearsal. I'm deeply indebted to all of you and you have my undying admiration.

. . . I don't want to get overly caught up in all of the pageantry surrounding Levant Preceptory's conferral of the Order of the Temple. He was quite right to note that the message of the Order should be our primary concern. The Order of the Temple is a decidedly Christian Order, but the message is universal to the point that men of many faiths have taken the vows of the Masonic Knights Templar without compromising their personal religious beliefs. Christians do not hold an exclusive patent on faith, loyalty, charity, sacrifice, truth, or any of the other chivalric virtues inculcated in the Commandery Orders in general and the Order of the Temple in particular. I hope that Levant Preceptory effectively conveyed the message of this beautiful and inspiring Order.

From a message posted by Sir Knight Robert Coleman (dressed as a monk, 3rd from right in the photo):

Yesterday was one of the most profound experiences in Masonry I've ever enjoyed. I'm especially pleased, because Levant Preceptory is our gift to Templary. But I want to point out that what we did yesterday is only a highlight to the profound truths taught to Templar Masons for over a hundred years. The important thing here is taking the message taught in the conferral back to our home commanderies, and impressing this message on our new Sir Knights--a message I think got through loud and clear.

And to echo Sir Knight Smith, I'll give that message whether I'm wearing short coat, long coat or maille coat.

Oh, Canada

Mike Bayrak, The Dummy, and Bruce Zawalsky

As I sit in the departure lounge of O'Hare waiting for my connecting flight to Indianapolis, I can take the opportunity to start the long list of thanks for the weekend at the Spring Masonic Workshop at Delta Lodge in Kananaskis, Alberta.

First, kudos go to the organizers. When I arrived Thursday, after dinner I joined the committee stuffing conference folders and got to know them. Thanks to Bruce Zawalsky for the invitation and the great job he did as chairman this year; to Garth Cochran, the conference secretary, who works so hard behind the scenes; to Murray Pay for his great sense of humor and boundless enthusiasm; to Dan for his smooth running of the bookstore; and to all of the other members of the committee who labor mightily to pull this weekend off.

The biggest standout is the sheer sense of fun and true love of learning that permeates the conference. Make no mistake - this is not an unsophisticated group of Masons. They are not there out of a sense of duty, but out of the desire to advance the fraternity at the lodge level. This was the 43rd year for the conference, and there was a 10% increase in attendance this year over last year, including 52 men who just became Masons this year.

When you're the guy in the bookstore signing books , it's not easy to hit all of the presentations, especially when the conference runs a three-track program. There is literally something for everybody. Bruce' Zawalsky's presentation on the Kirkwall Scroll was detailed and very in depth, presenting the pro and con sides of its age and origin. Stewart Krause's workshop on change brought up several items I've not seen explored in other similar programs I've seen before. He brought up the Harley Davidson example that the company was selling expensive, unreliable motorcycles during the AMF years, that were likely to have an oil puddle under the crankcase in the showroom - yet, the company itself believed it was the customers who were to blame, who just didn't get it. An interesting lesson for Masons in lodges that fail to attract members...

I will gratefully say the response of the audience for the three times I was inflicted on them was kind and humbling, and I thank each and every one of the attendees. The hotel's kitchen provided plenty of choices for brethren to pick up vegetables to hurl at me, but none did.

It was great to be briefly reunited with fellow Knights of the North Mike Bayrak, Jelle Spijker and RJ Hayes. (Mike Bayrak's blog about the Workshop, along with photos can be seen here.) My presentation with RJ went like a well-oiled machine. He did all of the organizing, the Power Point slides and the outline, and I stood up next to him and interrupted him for an hour. Another influence of the KotN at the conference was that a copy of Laudable Pursuit went into every attendee's folder. Not at my insistence - the organizers decided to include it long before they invited me.

The brethren of Alberta don't realize just how lucky they are to be able to have this outstanding conference in their midst. They don't understand that the rest of the North American Masonic world doesn't have anything like this conference, that brings workable solutions, useful presentations and Masonic scholars from around the world on a regular basis, outside of perhaps Masonic Week in Alexandria. The difference, however, is that this workshop is not for appendant bodies, but for Blue Lodge Masonry. And it is a hallmark of the conference that the GM of Alberta declares for the weekend that there will be no honorific or exalted titles to be used for the duration of the conference. Every attendee is simply "brother." There are no ties, no jackets, no gold chains, bilious medals or grand bling anywhere. Name tags simply say each brother's name and lodge. I believe this has great merit and goes a long way to fostering real camaraderie and friendships, truly meeting on the level.

Apart from the workshops themselves, the true brotherhood and friendships happen in the hallways and the hospitality rooms. The scotch flows freely, and you are likely to find one room packed with guys watching the Simpson's Stonecutters' episode, another filled with Widow's Sons motorcycle brethren, another with three TVs monitoring the hockey playoffs, and yet more with guitar singalongs. Canada being Canada, the accents are a wild smattering of international influences - French, Scottish, Australian, Austrian, and plenty of "eh's?" 85 year old PGMs rub shoulders with 20-something Junior Stewards, all excitedly exchanging reminiscences, programming ideas, or recipes to feed 50 hungry boys on lodge night. It is without question one of the friendliest and most useful Masonic conferences I have ever attended. And every room I went to I kept running into Hugh Young (who I actually heard speak in Scotland last year). I think it was the scotch.

The location doesn't hurt either, and more than 40 brethren brought their ladies with them to enjoy the scenery, the air, the world-class spa, and the fun. If you've only vaguely remembered hearing the name of Kananaskis before in the vestiges of your memory, perhaps it's because the Delta Lodge resort and spa was the location of the G8 Summit in 2002.

Brenda Holden's All Things Beautiful Books & Gifts was a major contributor to the bookstore, and I owe her my personal thanks for her help in getting books for the conference. Brethren near her area in Invermere - do business with her. She's good people.

The conference gets bigger each year. Bruce, Garth and I were all headed for our rooms late Saturday and ran into each other, and wound up sitting quietly in the HQ suite, tossing stories and ideas back and forth, including potential names for future speakers in the coming years. Recent past speakers have included Mark Tabbert, Victor Popow, Karim-Aly Kassam, Tom Jackson, and Dick Fletcher. An added benefit is that there is a progressive group of Masons in Alberta that make certain their lodges provide quality programming and education, along with real fellowship, at every meeting. It can be argued either way that it's because of this workshop, or that the workshop is outstanding because of their dedication. Either way, a win is still a win. Negativity is NOT on the menu at this workshop.

The location is spectacular, and it's hard to go wrong with great rooms, five meals and two full days of programming for a paltry $350 or so per person. This Workshop deserves bigger support, and I encourage those in Canada and the Western US to make the trip. Moreover, I lament that there is nothing quite like it in the US on a regular basis just for Blue Lodge Masonry.

Which makes me think...

So, I'm still sitting in the departure lounge at O'Hare. Haven't had much sleep in three days, and I'm about to toss good manners and decorum to the winds and stretch out on the floor for my three hour layover. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see tiny movement. I look over by my intended nap spot just in time to see a small, gray mouse scamper across the floor. I follow his path with my eyes, and I'm not the only one. What I can only describe as reminiscent of "The Wave" at a baseball game as a row of screaming women all hopped up one after another, yelling, "MOUSE!"

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Kananaskis Springtime Workshop This Weekend

My plane leaves in four hours for Canada where I'll be part of the Spring Workshop in Kananaskis, Alberta, at the beautiful Delta Lodge. Really looking forward to this trip and seeing some old friends (and a few fellow Knights of the North as well).

See the agenda here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

New York's Livingston Library Acquires Vatican Templar Transcript

One of only eight hundred bilingual copies of Processus Contra Templarios, containing a document known as the Chinon Parchment, will be made available to American scholars by the Grand Lodge of New York's Livingston Library. A press release today states:

The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library of Grand Lodge has announced the acquisition of Processus Contra Templarios, an unprecedented publication containing a collection of facsimile manuscripts relating to the trials of the Knights Templar.

The Holy See shocked the world when it announced that the Vatican Secret Archive would publish exclusive and previously unavailable source material on the hearings against the medieval warrior-monks. The announcement was of special interest to Freemasons and students of Masonic history, as many theorists trace modern Freemasonry's origins to the military-religious
order, and the modern Masonic Templar organization is an important part of the fraternity today. To date, there is no proven historical link between the medieval Knights Templar and modern Freemasonry.

Presented to the world in October 2007, the 700th anniversary of the arrest of the Templars, Processus Contra Templarios is a joint project of the Vatican Secret Archives and Italy's Scrinium cultural foundation. This unique work is being published in a limited run of 800 copies, under the supervision of Archive officials, and includes faithful replicas of the
original parchments closely guarded at the Secret Archive, along with exclusive critical commentary on the minutes of the inquiry.

The publication is highly valued for its documents and critical texts. The most exciting manuscript in the document collection is the "Chinon Parchment," which contains Pope Clement V's absolution of the Templars on charges of heresy, which had been the backbone of King Philip of France's attempts to eliminate them. The pontiff had suspended the Templar Order, without disbanding it, and eventually re-admitted the Templar officials and the entire Order back into the Roman Church community. The pope recognized that they were guilty of many other minor crimes, but not heresy. The parchment, also known as the "Chinon Chart," was misplaced in the Vatican archives until 2001, when a medieval historian stumbled across it. The parchment was incorrectly catalogued at some point in history and was the key document historians had been looking for.

The Vatican expected most copies of the work to be purchased by specialized libraries at top universities and by leading medieval scholars. The Livingston Masonic Library may be the only Masonic-affiliated research facility to purchase a copy, and one of only a handful of copies in the entire United States. "We are aware that this purchase will raise some eyebrows, both within and outside the Masonic fraternity," noted Thomas M. Savini, Director of the Livingston Masonic Library. "But the acquisition of this work coincides with our mission to collect, study and preserve the Masonic heritage. The Masonic heritage includes investigation into Freemasonry's historical roots, but also the study of its inspirational roots, which include Rosicrucianism; the study of philosophy from the European Enlightenment; and study of the Knights Templar. This collection of
documents is important not only to students of Freemasonry, but to medieval and religious scholars and historians as well. It is important that someone in the U.S. make this available, and the Library's Board of Directors unanimously agreed that it should be us."

President of the Library's Board of Directors, Barry Mallah, explained the reasoning behind the purchase. "With such an important announcement rippling through the Masonic world, we felt the Livingston Masonic Library should continue its ground-breaking traditions of presenting important works to the research community. We were the first Masonic research library to provide online access to our museum collections and book catalogue, and obtaining the Processus is a continuation of our commitment to research." He also described an exciting opportunity for Masons and the public at large to participate. "To help offset the cost of the book and further our fundraising goals, we are inviting Masons, their lodges, other Masonic organizations, and non-Masonic individuals or organizations to make a donation to the Library on behalf of the Processus. In return, the names of donors will be added to a special commemorative document that will be deposited within the publication."

Original documents of the trials of the Templars have never before been offered to scholars. The epic work of Scrinium is presented in a soft leather case that contains a large-format book with scholarly commentary in Italian and English, reproductions of original parchments in Latin, and replicas of the wax seals used by 14th-century inquisitors. One parchment
measuring about a foot and a half wide by more than six feet long is so detailed that it includes reproductions of stains and imperfections seen on the originals. The precise reproduction of the parchments will allow scholars to study them, touch them, and admire them as if they were dealing with the real thing. It also means the originals will not deteriorate as fast as they would if they were constantly being handled and viewed.

Using a "Wood's lamp," or ultraviolet light, to thoroughly analyze the original parchments, parts of text that were previously unseen were recovered by the conservators at Scrinium. The newly available text, along with standardized designations for both people and locations, will allow scholars to obtain a more accurate and genuine reading of the documents and to amend previously misinterpreted text sections, translations and commentaries. Through their collaboration with Scrinium, the Vatican Secret Archive has given academics access to a precious primary source of research into the facts surrounding the Templar Order. Further to the record and transcription of papers and parchment documents, a section focuses on the
review of the Templar history and on the trial against them.

The Knights Templar have been a subject of both scholarly research and popular fiction for centuries, but never as popular as in recent decades. Legends of their hidden treasures, secret rituals and political power have figured over the years in medieval romances, Victorian novels, modern bestsellers such as The Da Vinci Code, and action films like National Treasure. The Knights have also been portrayed as guardians of the legendary Holy Grail. One theory says that Templars who went underground to
escape the persecutions of the inquisitors in the early 14th century evolved as an organization and emerged in Scotland almost two centuries later as early modern Freemasonry.

Library Director Savini said the Livingston Library makes no claim that Freemasonry is descended from the Templars. "Our Library has a duty to provide our patrons with resources that fulfill their interests and research needs, and that expand the general public's understanding of all areas relating to Freemasonry, including the numerous theories and legends relating to its origins. The Processus is an important work that helps us to serve our patrons."

The Processus Contra Templarios was acquired through the Edward J. Scheider Book Fund.


Thomas M. Savini, Director
Chancellor Robert R Livingston
Masonic Library of Grand Lodge
71 West 23rd Street, 14th floor
New York, NY 10010

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Landmark Reached

There are many landmarks in a man's lifetime, but today one hit me like a ton of bricks.

Some you never see coming.

The AARP magazine arrived at my home today.

And Jaimie Leigh Curtis is on the cover.

Brother Tom Creason and "Famous American Freemasons"

Nice article today in the Champaign News Gazette about Illinois Brother Todd Creason, author of Famous American Freemasons.

From the Amazon description:
Famous American Freemasons is a collection of stories about some of the Masons from America's past. Through little-known stories of some of the fraternity's most influential members, Todd E. Creason shows the amazing range of contributions Masons have made to the causes of freedom, politics, philosophy, scientific discovery, and the arts-contributions that have helped to define the nation. In Famous American Freemasons, author and Freemason Todd E. Creason also gives unique insight into the history and philosophy of Freemasonry in America while debunking common myths and misconceptions about the world's largest and oldest fraternal organization. These famous American men came from all walks of life with different religious beliefs as well as educational, cultural, economic, and career backgrounds. They became patriots, Presidents, military leaders, entertainers, and American legends-and one and all were Freemasons.

Profits from ongoing sales of the books on hand will be divided between the Children's Learning Center and the Valley of Danville, Illinois for building upkeep and other projects.

Masonic Renewal Seminar, Kansas City 8/15-16/08

I noticed this announcement on the website of the Masonic Renewal Committee of North America:

AUGUST 15-16, 2008

A renewal seminar for Masonic Leaders...

We're going to spend a lot of time looking at leadership. How it impacts our organization and what you need to do to create "influential leadership" within your organization.

Friday evening social time will take place, with the program continuing on Saturday. Presenters will be Patton Hart of Kentucky, Neil Neddermeyer of Minnesota, David Dibrell of Texas and others.

We're asking that if you are interested to contact David Dibrell and place your reservation now. You will be notified of our hotel when those arrangements have been finalized.

WHAT: Leadership Development Seminar
WHEN: August 15-16, 2008
WHERE: Kansas City, MO
(Hilton Kansas City Airport $85.00/night)
TIME: Friday, 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM
Saturday, 8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
OTHER: Social, Breakfast, Lunch and snacks along with all course materials will be provided.
REGISTRATION: $100.00 per person

Registration MUST be made in advance by calling David Dibrell at 972-733-0357 or via email at ddibrell@sbcglobal.net

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Yeoman of York

I had the honor yesterday of being made a member of the Indianapolis Yeoman of York Preceptory No. 4.

The organization exists to recognize those who have contributed extraordinary service to the Blue Lodge and to the bodies of the York Rite.

Members of the Yeoman of York are distinguished by a black beret, with a combined York Rite bodies patch. (The image above is a stylized version by Indiana's talented WBro. Steven McKim.)

Thanks especially to Brother Carson Smith for proposing me for this honor.

I previously posted incorrect information about the qualifications for this group. while Yeomen of York is an invitational body, you do NOT have to be a Past-Presiding of the Blue Lodge, Chapter, Council or Commandery. But you cannot be an officer in the Yeomen of York unless you have received the KYCH (Knight of York Cross of Honor).

The Dangers of Blurring Facts with Fantasies

When the published copies of a new Dummies book hits the doorstep at Hodapphaüs, it's always a little surprise. As you could probably guess, both Alice and I write long. The standard Dummies book works out to be 348 manuscript pages long, inclusive of artwork, cartoons, and all of the usual Dummies sidebars, lists, help icons and other ephemera. After it leaves our hands during the author review period, we never see it again until the book is printed, bound, and 4,000 copies shipped out.

Our first submission for Conspiracy Theories And Secret Societies For Dummies worked out to be 120 pages too long. Almost 25% of it had to go.

One of the casualties of the edit was in the introduction, and was a partial explanation of why we wrote the book, and why we think the proliferation of conspiracy theories is such a dangerous development in American and worldwide culture:

Each year, San Francisco’s Bohemian Club holds what amounts to a summer camp for the rich, powerful and well-connected captains of industry, diplomacy, and politics from around the world. It’s held in July at their massive wooded compound in the California countryside, called the Bohemian Grove. The Grove’s annual gathering is a major float in the parade of conspiracy theories, so of course we’ll be hitting on it again throughout the book. They have been accused of many evil activities by a wide array of jittery authors, radio hosts, Christian evangelists and anti-conspiracy crusaders over the years.

Alex Jones is a prime example of a professional conspiracist, a term, and a breed, that is discussed a lot further in Chapter 2. Jones is a man whose entire livelihood depends on there really being a plot for a New World Order. On his radio show he regularly froths that the government is never to be trusted, that government agencies are made up of nothing but criminals engaging in “raiding and looting,” and that there is a vast, unidentified, controlling elite composed of the “most vicious, black, stinking, massive evil” that can be imagined. Daily, he shrieks that the New World Order needs to be (to use his various suggestions) punched, kicked, pole-axed, torn apart, and have its collective neck broken like a Sunday pot chicken. His best advice is to keep all of your guns loaded and ready for the final showdown when the black helicopters land on your lawn to haul you off to an underground prison camp. We’re all for capitalism, but Jones is engaged in an eternal struggle to sell his true believers endless books, tapes, DVDs, gold coins, water filters and survival gear. Like his radio show, his personal appearances are screeching diatribes designed more to pump up an audience’s adrenaline than to actually inform. And if the New World Order turns out to not really exist, but merely to be a figment of his demented imagination (or calculated guile), Jones is out of a lucrative job.

In January of 2002, Alex Jones fan and self-proclaimed “Phantom Patriot,” Richard McCaslin, snuck onto the property of the Bohemian Grove, armed with a knife, a sword, a crossbow, a .45 caliber handgun, a modified MK-1 semi-automatic rifle/shotgun hybrid loaded with 70mm shotgun shells, 30 rounds of .223-caliber bullets, a homemade rocket launcher, and a Bible covered in camouflage. McCaslin admitted to authorities that he was there to “kill child molesters” and Bohemians, whom he believed were practicing human sacrifices. He’d read all about it on the Internet, and he’d heard conspiracy peddlers like Alex Jones talk about it on the radio. It just had to be true. Jones told his audience to fight the evil forces of the New World Order with violence. So, the Phantom Patriot was going to do just that.

McCaslin was not some unintelligent, inarticulate, drug-addled boob, acting out a fantasy as some Earth-saving commando. His actions were carefully planned, and he truly believed that what he was doing would ultimately make him a hero. Shooting some Bohemian Grovers might put a dent in their plans for world domination, and save those children from a pagan sacrifice. Thankfully, the Grovers meet in the summer, or he might very well have killed a whole lot of people.

This problem is a lot broader right now than the tale of the Phantom Patriot. A growing group of so-called “9/11 Truthers,” who are convinced that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were an “inside job,” committed by our own government gets louder and more militant every day. Guys like Alex Jones routinely refer to the people in our government as “murderers.” All over the country, increasingly indignant Truthers are out there “confronting” politicians during their speeches and popping up in talk show audiences, screaming out their accusations. But with increasingly bizarre and inflammatory rhetoric, how long will it be before “confront” becomes “shoot”?

That’s why we felt compelled to write this book. Fantasies are fun. Selling fantasies can be lucrative, as either the Walt Disney Corporation or any prostitute could attest. But when conspiracists don’t just post their theories on the Internet anymore, and instead actually start acting upon their fears and plugging their perceived boogeymen with .45 dumdum rounds, it crosses a very big line. When they arm themselves to go shoot “unseen enemies,” or take poison in mass suicides to join up with some non-existent UFO, that’s when the rest of us need to get nervous. We also need to stay aware.

We live in what may be the most cynical period of time in all history, and the world is rampant with plenty of perennially panicky pundits. College kids who blithely tell you they believe in nothing and no one, suddenly start spouting the “real truth” they’ve discovered, that God is an alien from the planet Zyra, their parents are tools of the KGB, and that the Illuminati are secretly running everything. Some polls show 20% of college students think the Moon landings were a hoax. In 2006, a Scripps-Howard poll showed that 36% of the American public – around 100 million people – believed that the U.S. government had something to do with the 9/11 World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks, either ignoring intelligence intentionally to start a Middle East war, or actually carrying out the attacks themselves.

100 million people.

That’s not just some isolated lunatic fringe. That’s one out of every three of your neighbors. Or maybe you.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

"The Pipe of Tobacco" by John Usher

The Pipe of Tobacco by John Usher

Let the topor regale in his tankard of ale,
Or with alcohol moisten his thrapple—
Only give me, I pray, a good pipe of soft clay,
Nicely tapered and thin in the stapple—
And I shall puff, puff—let who will say enough!
No luxury else I'm in lack o',—
No malice I hoard 'gainst Queen, Prince, Duke, or Lord,
While I pull at my Pipe of Tobacco.

When I feel the hot strife of the battle of life,
And the prospect is aught but enticin'— .
Mayhap some real ill, like a protested bill,
Dims the sunshine that tinged the horizon,—
Only let me puff, puff—be they ever so rough,
All the sorrows of life I lose track o';
The mists disappear, and the vista is clear,
With a soothing mild Pipe of Tobacco.

And when joy after pain, like the sun after rain,
Stills the waters long turbid and troubled,
That life's current may flow with a ruddier glow,
And the sense of enjoyment be doubled,—
Oh! let me puff, puff—till I feel quantum suff.
Such luxury still I'm in lack o'!
Be joy ever so sweet, it would be incomplete
Without a good Pipe of Tobacco.

Should my recreant muse—sometimes apt to refuse
The guidance of bit and of bridle—
Still blankly demur, spite of whip and of spur,
Unimpassioned, inconstant, or idle,—
Only let me puff, puff—till the brain cries enough;—
Such excitement is all I'm in lack o';
And the poetic vein soon to fancy gives rein,
Inspired by a Pipe of Tobacco.

And when with one accord, round the jovial board,
In friendship our bosoms are glowing,
While with toast and with song we the evening prolong,
And with nectar the goblets are flowing—
Still let us puff, puff—be life smooth, be it rough,
Such enjoyment we're ever in lack o':
The more peace and good-will will abound as we fill
A jolly good Pipe of Tobacco!

(from The Home Book of Verse, American and English 1580-1918 by Burton Egbert Stevenson

Images: A reproduction of the pipe that features prominently in the plot of National Treasure. Details show a scene of Knights Templar.

Friday, April 04, 2008

"Imakegarb" Makes Good in UGLE Competition

The Spring 08 issue of Freemasonry Today is online now.

One of the news items concerns the international call for papers by the UK's Internet Lodge No. 9659, sponsored by the United Grand Lodge of England's Pro-Grand Master, Lord Northampton. Of the 77 papers from 16 countries, judged by an international panel, two of the three winning entries were by Americans.

Lady Mason Wins Major Award

There was an international entry for the Internet Lodge Short Papers Competition, sponsored by Lord Northampton, the Pro Grand Master, and this worldwide flavour was reflected in the winners.

Of the 77 entries received, 70 were valid for entry into the competition. Entries were received from 16 countries – Australia, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, England, Greece, India, Italy, Lebanon, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, Thailand, USA and Wales.

There were three award categories: The Northampton Award for the best paper overall, the World Award for the best short paper by a Mason who is not a member of a Lodge under the UGLE and the Nova Award for a Brother who has been a member of the Craft for less than five years and has not been Master of a Lodge.

The winner of the Northampton Award is Alan Bergin. His paper is entitled "Were King Solomon’s Pillars Hexagonal?" Brother Alan is a Dorset Mason, currently living and working in Tenerife and a member of Tenerife Lodge No. 117.

The World Award prize went to Karen Kidd for her paper "I am Regular." Ms Kidd is a member of Shemesh Lodge No. 13 under the Honourable Order of American Co-Masonry in Seattle.

The Nova Award was won by Michael Halleran of Emporia Lodge, Kansas, with his paper "Tomato, To-Mah-To – Shibboleths Beyond the Craft." Michael also presented another paper to Quatuor Coronati Lodge two weeks before the Internet Lodge presentations.

Competition judges were Rich van Doren from the USA., Alan Tibbetts from Canada, Steve Burgoyne from South Africa, Andreas Rizopoulos from Greece and Alan Wyer and Stephen Wall, both from the UK.

The overall quality of the papers was such that the international judging panel had difficulty in choosing the winners. The winners were announced on 14th March at Freemasons’ Hall, Bridge Street, Manchester, with the Pro Grand Master presenting the prizes.

The success of the competition means that it is all set to become an annual event. Details will be on the Internet Lodge website, www.internet.lodge.org.uk shortly.

If you hang out in Masonic discussions forums, you've probably come across postings by Karen Kidd, who travels under the screen name Imakegarb (that's her up top with Lord Northampton). Congratulations to Brothers Bergin, Halleran and Kidd for their work, their contributions and their achievements.

One interesting side note - our English brethren may be feeling infiltrated by Yanks this year. Not only did two of these three awards go to Americans, but the Worshipful Masters of both Internet Lodge and Quatuor Coronati Lodge this year are Americans.

All 70 of the eligible papers are available here.

"Reality Check" on KMOX-FM St. Louis, 4/13

I recorded a segment today with radio host Jon Grayson from KMOX-AM 1120 in St. Louis for his show Reality Check.

The show will air Sunday, April 13th between 9PM and midnight.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Count Cagliostro: The Masonic Magician

I just ran across Pip Faulks' website (well, after Martin pointed me at it). It seems that she and friend and brother Robert L.D. Cooper (librarian of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and author of The Rosslyn Hoax) have collaborated on a book about the mysterious and celebrated Count Alessandro Cagliostro.

The Masonic Magician is due in October 2008 from Watkins Publishing.

Miracle-worker or man of straw? Count Alessandro Cagliostro was a cult figure of European society in the tumultuous years leading to the French Revolution. An alchemist, healer and Freemason, he inspired both wild devotion and savage ridicule – and novels by Alexander Dumas, a drama by Goethe and Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.

Cagliostro’s sincere belief in the magical powers, including immortality, conferred by his Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry won him fame, but made him dangerous enemies, too. His celebrated travels through the Middle East and the capitals of Europe ended abruptly in Rome in 1789, where he was arrested by the Inquisition and condemned to death for heresy.

The Masonic Magician tells Cagliostro’s extraordinary story, complete with the first English translation of the Egyptian Rite ever published. The authors examine the case made against him, that he was an impostor as well as a heretic, and finds that the Roman Church, and history itself, have done him a terrible injustice.

This engaging account, drawing on remarkable new documentary evidence, shows that the man condemned was a genuine visionary and true champion of Freemasonry. His teachings have much to reveal to us today not just of the mysteries of Freemasonry, but of the mysterious hostility the movement continues to attract.