Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pillowcase Talk

Several weeks ago I wrote about, and reproduced some of a comment stream concerning, an incident at a Utah high school. I fully expected the indecent to blow over, and the online taunts to avoid investigation as anonymously untraceable. I was wrong.

The canyons school district put the principal and vice principal on administrative leave. They then investigated possible additional racist activities at the school, and found several. Three students were charged with actual crimes. The department of justice lent a facilitator to help conduct a well attended public meeting.

The principal resigned while on suspension. The vice-principal was moved to a new school. Something like sensitivity training was conducted in classrooms.

This response contrasts sharply with the response related by Raven Rylander to incidents that occurred to her at Alta high school just six years ago. Raven complained of persistent racial taunting. One day she reported to the campus police officer that the phrase “F the N word” (to quote Raven exactly) was scrawled on her locker. The indecent was reported to the school administration and she was counseled to not overreact.

To be fair the administration of the high school may have thought someone was just randomly scrawling potentially racially charged hate-like sayings, and accidentally scrawled one on the locker of one of the vanishingly few black kids in the school. Accidents will happen.

What is the difference between Raven Rylander's situation and Larz Cosby's? The most obvious is that Lars sought help outside of the school system. This threw the administration for a loop, and caused them to miss out on vital elements of the proper managing of the impact of the insult.

The first thing the administration did wrong was allow the KKK hood to ever be called that. Looking at archived TV coverage the description is clearly “KKK-mask” then “KKK-style hood” then “KKK-hoodie”, then “pillowcase that looked like a KKK hood” till it finally settled into “pillowcase that a student interpreted as a KKK hood”. A more competent handling would have fed the media coverage a plausible story like “I think it was part of his younger sister's Halloween costume or something”.  This immediately frames the insult in terms of the insulted person's immaturity and ignorance. The response could then be described as counseling both the insulted and insulting students. Both students have now done something wrong. The problem is manageable.

Regret can then be loudly and often expressed using phrases like: “We are concerned that such a situation could be so misunderstood by both sides”. Here one has equated the insulted and insulter. They are equally culpable. Perhaps they should apologize to each other?

Contrast the bungling of Alta high’s administration with the effortless perfection of Rod Parker. Rod is one of the frontline attorneys for the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) in Colorado City. After the FLDS got fingered supplying the perpetrators for a bonfire of books fueled from a proposed library that they had publically opposed, he said (of the book burners): “They thought they were performing a service by cleaning up this building”.

How ungrateful can people be! Thinking the book removal and burning was a crime! These men worked all night for the common good. According to Parker: “It’s [the future library] been a party place for teens to do, as my clients would say, ‘immoral acts.’ ”

I’m not sure how giant stacks of books would enhance the immorality of those ‘acts’. Picture teens performing ‘immoral acts’ on a stack of Oscar Wilde’s collected works (I’m sure Mr Wilde would have had little trouble picturing this). Now picture them doing it on a bare floor (which is what the FLDS folks prefer to picture). Now picture them doing it in a sunlit meadow under a cloudless sky. Now picture them doing it just about anywhere. Now that you have a better idea of what goes through a teenage mind you should be able to tell me how book piles would contribute to immorality.

I should point out that “Party Place” has a potentially different flavor of meaning in Colorado City/Hildale (2000 census population 3,334) than in many other parts of the country.

The selfless FLDS workers who toiled through the night for the greater good also spent of their own cash in trying to increase the level of morality in the actions of the town’s teens. Driving five tons of books almost a hundred miles must have burned a whole bunch of gas. They arrived in Cedar City in a U-Haul; someone had to dish out some cash for that truck.

I’m sure they drove slowly at night , and took backroads too. They were helped by others who gave them a place to stay when they got tired (It was a couple of days in-between obtaining the books and attempting to donate them to DI). They may have even gotten help covering the U-Haul with camouflage netting to prevent the truck from distracting pilots. Think of how thoughtful and selfless these folks were.
Burning Sage

What about the burning books? Contrary to my suggestion earlier that the fire provided warmth the fire was apparently to dispose of debris cleared out of the building. Picture immoral acts with random debris and you know what was probably going through the minds of those FLDS men.

Yes, there were apparently some books in the debris that were burned, but all the burned books were “damaged beyond repair”. Those irreparably damaged books were probably damaged immorally. See how easy it is for your mind to picture irreparably damaging books performing “immoral acts”; have you ever thought of joining the FLDS church?

Unfortunately the Alta high school administrators apparently had way too much success in simply squashing the reporting of incidents. When the story got out they were caught with their pants down.

According to “Alta parent” Fred Lowry the students at Alta high school in the Canyon's school district “Live in an area that they really truly are colorblind”. Several students interviewed for camera fodder expressed disbelief that there was any racism at Alta high school.

"This is blown out of proportion" was a common refrain. “Out of proportion to what?”, I ask. Out of proportion to the repeated incidents that were not reported personally to each Alta student and parent? Out of proportion to their own microscopic fantasy-world-view?

Just because someone can say something with a straight face does not make it true. Just because someone believes something does not make it reality. What would parents like Fred Lowry know about racism at the school? Do they think that anyone would report incidents to them unless they had to?

One of my favorite threads of response is the 'another black kid saw it and was not offended'. This thread is so popular that someone reproduced a portion of 'some black kid's comments' in the comment section of my delusionati post. If there were enough black kids to form a statistically accurate consensus then a 'black' perspective might provide a cultural perspective of note. With just one black kid (or even a small handfull) I have no idea why they are motivated to make their remarks. Perhaps they are acting up for peer acceptance, I bet there are many kids doing far worse things at Alta for peer acceptance. I heard of one kid who wore a KKK hood. Since it is an internet forum I cannot even be sure they are black.

There are so many truly ignorant voices contributing to the cacophony of response to the Alta high incident that it is difficult to pick out any for specific scrutiny. For instance, one of the comments left on this blog includes the sentence: “Racism and Bigotry cut both ways.”. I love this sentence. I could write an entire essay using only this sentence as a springboard. I would include lines like “Yeah we lynched him, but that was one of my favorite ropes” or “Hobbling is supposed to be painful, but I didn’t count on this nasty splinter form the log”, or “With the price of oil so high tar don’t come cheap these days”.

Silently must the axe-wielding executioner suffer his carpel tunnel pain

The FLDS, on the other hand, speak with the single voice of their attorney. They avoid the uncomfortable soundbites that could occur if members of their church spoke out on the incident. What do you think the media would make of an obese balding plural-teenaged-wived inbreeder describing immoral acts involving teens, books and random debris…assuming such soundbites could be cleaned up for publication.

It might be a better world if the students at Alta high just call up the FLDS and ask them what normal teens should be thinking of. They could avoid all this racism nonsense. Pillowcases are for beds. “Going to bed” with someone is not a euphemism for dressing up like a KKK member and flashing people the Heil-Hitler salute. Instead of punching holes in their pillowcases they could do what is morally right. They should take their pillows down to the local library and get engaged to a fat multiply-married late-middle-aged god-fearing male.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Holy Spray-on Tan

A catholic priest and a rabbi are sitting in an upscale Starbucks. The rabbi looks knowingly over at the priest, and their eyes meet. Soon they are sitting next to each other discussing finer points of theology and faith.

It is Easter -HAPPY EASTER- . Children everywhere are celebrating the miracles surrounding the mutilation of an ancient god with bunny ears and chocolate eggs. Spring is in full stride for most of the well-populated areas of the northern hemisphere, and those with young hearts find their thoughts turned towards love. In a ritualistic homage to the mating dance of the praying mantis children everywhere will bite the heads off of chocolate rabbits.

Silk-Dyed Goose Eggs
The priest and the rabbi settle into their frothy espresso drinks. The conversation turns to things more personal. The rabbi asks the priest where he is going, where he has come from.

“You look like you just graduated from seminary?” asks the rabbi “Off to a small parish outpost in a countryside of heathens?”

“About a month ago...” says the priest, adding with a dull thud “I'm off to Tooele Utah”

“Ahhhh...well...a young priest must pay for the cloth I suppose. Still you look like a young man with great promise. You look like a young man who will go far in life, and the afterlife I suppose. Barring any unpleasantries being found out about alter-boys you should move up fast. Where could you go when your rising star escapes Tooele?” asks the rabbi; a mischievous tic developing in the corner of his right eye.

The priest is a little confused by the mixing of insult and compliment, and decides to interpret it as all compliment.

“I might become a bishop someday” replies the priest.

“Bishop...Bishop...Bishop is good. Pointy hats, curly staff, dresses -if you are into that sort of thing-. Yep, all good. I can see why you would want to be bishop. A young man of your character should become bishop in no time. Barring any unpleasantries surrounding the shuffling of pedophile priests from parish to parish you would move up fast as a bishop. Where can you go from bishop?” Asks the rabbi; the tic now randomly quivering the entire right side of his face.

The priest is a little unsure about whether he is witnessing the beginnings of a stroke.

“I might someday become an archbishop” the priest tentatively offers

“Archbishop....Archbishop....Archbishop. The name is impressive. You get a sash and a yamaka. I like yamakas myself, prevent those nasty sunburns peculiar to middle-aged men. I think a young man of your caliber would become an archbishop in no time. You would do well. Baring any unpleasantries connected to covering up the actions of pedophile priest besieged bishops you should outgrow the position of archbishop. Where can you go from archbishop?” Asks the rabbi; the tic now settling down into a broad smile.

The priest connects the smile to the offhanded pedophile comments, and begins to become irritated.

“A few are summoned to become cardinals” answers the priest, and then adds: “by the grace of the holly spirit I might be amongst them”

“Cardinal...Cardinal...Cardinal. Red clothing always makes me look flushed in the wrong light. I suppose you could powder your face, but if you sweat it would leave a white film on your collar. I think a young man like yourself would be summoned to become cardinal in no time. You would do well. Barring any unpleasantiries associated with some unfortunately unearthed church history you should outgrow the position of cardinal. Where can you go from cardinal?” Asks the rabbi; his smile now broad and toothy.

The priest is confused for a moment. The rabbi has apparently abandoned the pedophile jabs, but for what? Jabs about wardrobe malfunctions? Perhaps he should hit back with some cut about learning to tuck in one's shirt properly. The rabbi's grin is troublesome.

“Pope. The pope is head of the Roman Catholic Church.” replies the priest deadpan.

Pope...Pope...Pope. Pope is good. I'm not sure about that funny aquarium on wheels he rides around on. I would think that would be hot on a sunny day, but what do I know? But you will have to get out more. An old man with pasty white skin wearing that white dress is just a little unfashionable, Perhaps you could get a holy spray-on tan while pope. I think a man of your character would make a great pope. You would do well. But if the pope is head of the Roman Catholic Church then...that's as far as you can go? Where can you go from pope?” Asks the rabbi; the corners of his mouth now stretched so far by his smile that they threaten to connect at the back of his head, and dislodge the top of his skull.

The priest realizes that he is talking to a smiling crazy person. 'holy spray-on tan'...what nonsense...what blasphemy!

The priest decides not to slurp the foam from his skinny caramel machiato, and rises to leave. Thoughts and insecurities whip his confusion into peaks of irritation. He tries to come up with a witty parting shot, and fails.

Jesus Christ!” he murmurs in frustration.

One of our guys made it!” replies the rabbi; grinning.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fahrenheit 451

Just a couple of days ago something like 10 pallets of books were “discovered” at the Deseret Industries store in Cedar City Utah. The pallets were each stacked “about waist high” and must have weighed in at around half a metric ton each. That’s around five tons of books. That is a bunch of books.

The Deseret Industries is a thrift store run by the Mormon (LDS) church. I’ve noticed that their locations in the Salt Lake area have been moving out of their old repurposed (abandoned supermarkets and the like) locations and into new buildings built especially for them. Thrift stores must be a growth industry in Utah. I love thrift stores. I love taking something that is slightly broken, fixing it, and then using it until it is worn beyond recognition.

How could second hand stores fail when tens of thousands of units of literature-manna magically appear before the morning shift even unlocks the front doors?

Someone might ask “where did all those books come from?” or “are these really our beautiful books?”.

If someone like me were there I could picture a snide comment like “Maybe they just didn’t get around to burning them at the rally”

Unfortunately that attractive-but-annoying snide comment riddled fellow would be right.

Over the weekend the soon to be opened library in Colorado City Utah was emptied of books. Someone had stoked a huge bookfire less than a hundred yards down-slope from the log-sided former schoolhouse. Morning found the 20-foot wide ash pile littered with the still-smoldering bindings of various books. Beside the pile was what looked like an upturned log section like the ones used as stools at boy scout weenie roasts.

I’ve always loved staring into the dying embers of an impressive fire.

The fire must have been an important source of warmth as well as entertainment for the team of workers who toiled through the cold desert spring night moving the books from schoolhouse to the waiting pallets. It would have been easiest if they just used a forklift, but they could have gotten by with a bucket-brigade-like team of motivated individuals.

Cedar city is almost a hundred miles from Colorado City. They must have used a large truck or a convoy of pickups to move the books. The big truck or convoy moved the books to some location, stored them a couple of days, and then moved them to the Deseret Industries in Cedar City. Maybe they used Deseret Industry’s forklift to make it easier to unload the heavy pallets at their destination? Perhaps the Deseret Industries folks leave the keys in the forklift in case there are any late night book-burners who want to drop off their extras?

Colorado City is home to the FLDS polygamous sect of Warren Jeffs. Jeffs is in jail and the FLDS property holding company is under control by the state. The FLDS in Colorado City is under extreme pressure, and their numbers may even fall bellow something like 75% of the population of the town (estimate).

The former schoolhouse had not been used in years, and the holding company had agreed to allow it to be used for a library. Former FLDS members scoured the state eliciting book donations. Barnes and Noble donated thousands of dollars worth of books to the cause. The town was finally going to have a library. Many people thought this was a good thing; apparently not everyone though.

I wonder what would happen if it turns out there was a Qur’an in the ashes?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I'm sorry for you

When managing impact one is often forced to deal with people who have been impacted. It is often worthwhile to re-frame the impact in terms of possible intent. Since, in most cases, it is difficult to determine true intent one can re-frame the impact to the extent that the interested parties are receptive. Try telling yourself that you really love everyone so much that you couldn’t have meant harm; so isn’t it really their fault that they chose to be insulted? Try saying that to yourself a few times real slow; it grows on you…doesn’t it?

How far can you take re-framing impact? You can re-frame impact to the extent that the interested parties are receptive. I'll use a hopefully illustrative hypothetical example.

One day Don super glues a bunch of $20 bills to a sidewalk. After the glue sets up he yells: “FREE MONEY LOOK it’s FREE MONEY”. When enough people crowd around trying to prize lose some free twenties Don runs to the top of a nearby building and drops a grand piano on them.

The first thing Don can do is re-frame the insult. He can call dropping the piano out of a 12th-story window something like “Piano Relocation”. The victims were accidentally hurt by PR. This sounds better than “They had a piano dropped on them from a 12th-story window”. This is a good-reframing as it almost sounds like a natural event, and does not imply any perpetrator. This insult re-framing will not work. Sometimes the insult is just so obvious or public that it impossible to gather up all the threads, put them in a jelly jar, and call it a modern tapestry. Re-framing the insult is always worthwhile, but it cannot be relied upon as a sole curative.

Don could also say: “Darn that pesky gravity!”

Don needs to re-frame the impact. The first step should include some accusation. “Why were you standing there?” This suggests that the people under the piano did something wrong.

Some of you are thinking that any conscious survivors would respond with: “We were prying lose twenty dollar bills; you yelled ‘FREE MONEY’ so we came over to get them.” This might appear to be damning evidence, but if the effected individuals are willing to debate the issue things can be made much less clear.

“You were trying to TAKE my money” Don can respond “I said this is ‘NOT free money, it is marking the impact point for a Piano Relocation’.”

Here Don blends moral accusations and lies to create a powerful new type of reality. The victims are actually thieves; don’t they deserve some divine retribution? They ignored warnings; should they also be liable for damage the piano suffered?

Personally I think lying ups the ante too far, but I don’t drop pianos on people. The liar risks getting caught in a lie. The exposure caused by being caught in a lie can translate to re-evaluations of other statements. You don’t want people to re-evaluate your re-framing while picturing you as a source of perjurously incorrect information. Life itself can be much easier if other people just don’t think too much about anything you do or say.

Of course the piano situation is so severe that the threat of dialog itself breaking down is highly likely. I would hope that it would be much more likely for someone to reply with a “Dude, you just dropped a piano on these people so just shut up”. Just like with re-framing the insult, the effectiveness of re-framing the impact is dependent on the severity of the situation. Piano-dropping is quite severe.

Luckily most insults are more insulting than life-threatening. In less severe situations one can pepper a response with ready re-framing phrases. One of my favorite is:

I’m sorry you feel that way

This statement is caring, and empathetic, diabetically sweet, and bears no relationship to almost any situation it is used in. You have feelings. I can see that you are a feeling human being. You are human. I am so sorry for you. Since this implies infallibility on the part of the apologizer it is sometimes called a ‘Papal apology’.

This marvelous statement can be made more effective still by removing the potentially humanizing reference to feelings. Feelings can be called miscommunication or misunderstandings. This makes it a clearer statement about your failure.

“I’m sorry that you misunderstood me”

The statement can be made even better by removing you from it altogether. Perhaps you could actually be “some people” or “people like you”. Personally I think the replacement of ‘you’ is a great opportunity to insert some choice adjectives, but be careful as extreme adjective misuse can quickly turn your audience unreceptive.

“I’m sorry that some ignorant troglodyte has misunderstood me”

Further refinements of impact re-framing statements can be used to craft apologies much more insulting than most typically-encountered primary insults.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Far Fr**king Out

Some of you might find this post offensive; I apologize to you in advance. There, doesn’t that make it all better? What I am trying to do here is manage impact. I may not even get around to insulting you or something you care about, but I’ve worked at managing the impact if I do.

Another way to manage impact is to re-frame the insult. There are many ways to do this, and I like the most immature and transparent methods. One popular way in Utah is with simple word replacement. The word freak is often used to replace the word f**k in common usage.

The first time I thought AOD came into contact with this simple replacement strategy was when an acquaintance (let’s call him Sam) was repairing a spring loaded clip. The ends of the spring’s windings stuck out and pressed against the clip housing to hold it closed. In order to repair the clip Sam needed to put the spring under a little torque while re-assembling the clip’s pivot point. The actual mechanics are not all that important here; picture a spring loaded laundry pin if you need an image.

What inevitably happened was the pivot point parts slipped from his grasp and the one of the spring’s sharp exposed ends tore across his thumb, palm and wrist. Sam dropped the remaining clip parts, grabbed the now slightly bleeding tear in his hand, and exclaimed through gritted teeth:


After seeing that Sam’s injuries were mostly superficial I turned to AOD who looked stunned.

“Do you know what Sam meant when he yelled ‘FREAKING’?” I asked her.

“He really meant to say f**k, but Mormons use the word freak instead of saying f**k” She replied nonchalantly.

I was a bit taken aback. Firstly it was obvious that this was not the first time AOD had come into contact with the freak – f**k replacement strategy. Secondly I realized I should be more careful with my language at home. Thirdly, I realized it was both rather cute and rather disturbing to hear a eight-year-old say f**k with such precision. Fourthly, it appeared as if Sam was more insulted by AOD’s analysis than by the physical insult to his hand.

I have purchased a very large version of the spring that tore through Sam’s hand. I plan on using it in a contraption which builds on the dangerous potential of a high torque spring with tremendous amounts of leverage afforded by long wooden arms. I want to fling moderately-sized projectiles with it. I want them to go long distances. I want the whole flinging motion to present a flagrantly dangerous fluid melding of form and impact. I want people to see this flinging thingamajig in operation and exclaim:

“Holy FREAK”

Big Dangerous Spring and Box Cutter

Sometimes I purposefully oversubscribe the freak – f**k replacement. Since f**k is a colloquial term for other things - like sexual intercourse - I sometimes use freak to replace those terms in statements like: “unprotected anal freaking can increase the transmission rates of diseases such as HIV”.

I have fun with the freak-f**k replacement. Any problem I have with it is in the depreciation of the word freak. Rick James may have used freak ambiguously when he crooned “you’re a super freak”, but the term “I’m freaking out” means something entirely different if you replace freak with f**k. Is ‘Freakanomics’ only concerned with capitalism in the sex industry? While I may enjoy being misinterpreted when I ask to “get freaky” with you the same misinterpretation of: “using the angle grinder on that pipe produces freaky sparks; let’s turn off the lights and do it in the dark” could lead to painful dermal abrasions.

Despite these problems the freak –f**k replacement is necessary in Utah. Enough people become so upset at using the word f**k (they call it “dropping the f-bomb) that accidental use of it effectively halts conversations. Regardless of whether a rational person might think the topic of the conversation is more important than any inadvertent “dropping of the f-bomb”, the f-bombing can transform a conversation into admonitions, apologies, and apoplexy.

I don’t use f**k in conversation very often. This is partially due to my inability to accurately pronounce the ‘*’ character, and partially to avoid insulting people who find the use of f**k objectionable.

I may not mean to insult people when I say f**k, but impact is much more tangible than intent.

Luckily I apologized up front for this post.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


On my latest trip to California I was driven to a location near the corner of Euclid and Imperial highway in La Habra. There I was shown what was unmistakably a medium sized strip mall. The Strip mall was like so many others you can find in any city. There was a large supermarket, and what looked like a half-dozen satellite stores; a couple on each side of the large market. With the parking lot it easily took up a large city block.

It was not till I looked at it much more closely that I realized that it was a church. Not just one of the stores, but the entire strip mall. The entire strip mall was one big church.

“That used to be an Alpha Beta” My guide told me. “Now it's all Calvery Chapel” 
“Wow” was all I could come up with.

If any part of replacing a bunch of strip mall tenants with a single church irritates me it is not the church taking over the property part. Why do large chain stores abandon perfectly good buildings to build new ones just a few blocks away? If it is to increase the amount of sales, why don't they just try plowing the new building funds back into their profit structure, and sell their products for a more competitive price? I think the world would be better off without more occupied or abandoned strip malls.

As we walked around the structure I was struck by how much the whole thing looked like a strip mall, and how little it looked like a church.


At one end of the mall, just where the former sign for a satellite business would be, I saw what I had been taken to this former strip mall to see. Above one of the doors was the outline of a dying seagull and the word “Koinonia”.

Poor Seagull

Koinonia is the anglicisation of a Greek word κοινωνία. The word appears 19 times in the Greek New Testament. In the New American Standard Bible it is translated “fellowship” twelve times, “sharing” three times,“participation” two times, and “contribution” twice.

It is also the name of a fundamentalist Christian institution that provides a unique degree structure. I know this because someone gave me one of their degrees.

The Koinonia degrees are presented as medals. Each medal is almost six inches wide, and over a hundred grams in mass. There are three levels “Bronze”, “Silver”, and “Gold”. I have a Bronze medal.

My Koinonia Bronze Medal

I was given the medal by a native English speaker who had some unintelligible words for the type of education the medal represented to him. I could try and remember them, but to make this entry more safe for work I will not.

I was told that since I knew more about the bible than his professors I should have the gold level medal, but that he only had the bronze to give me.

Apparently if you wear the medal at special events you will be granted some type of special access. The gold level provides the best access. All the medals have the same shape and inscriptions, so I thought it might be interesting to get my medal gold plated. However, I don't really think it worth the effort as I don't get invited to those type of events where my medal would afford me special access.

As I was leaving the parking lot the police drove up and circled wide around me in their cruiser.

I wounder what would have happened if I had been wearing my medal?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Updates 2.0

If you are a regular reader of this blog (And do not be embarrassed, there are several of you; you just don't comment much) you know of my continuing aversion to commenting on current events.

Events unfold before their level of impact can be determined. Events pass from current to historical before they have ripened. Events are understood in the context of society when current, and society is described in terms of its aged events. These are all good motivations to observe (and not comment on) events till the green currentness blushes off, but my motivations are not so pure. I simply do not feel like keeping track of events as they unfold; I like to let my mind, and the focus of this blog, wander.

Some might wonder if there is too much wander in this blog (and my mind for that mater)to even say there is a focus. However, I do consider this an “Atheist” blog. In fact this blog was recently singled out as one of the “Top 25 atheist blogs you Must Read”. I was number '7'. The fact that the collection and ordering was probably arbitrary does not even slow me in my rush to proclaim that “This blog is considered one of the ten best atheist blogs ever”.

When I do talk of current events I try several avoidance behaviors. The first, which I used in talking about the tsunami-following nuclear disaster in Japan, is to only present general information associated with the event. The general information is unaffected by the eventual outcome of the events. The second, which I used recently in discussing the Terry Jones Qur'an-burning, is to sublimate the discussion into one of a fancifully hypothetical story. After the events run themselves to ground any difference between the fantasy and reality is just difference between fantasy and reality. Thirdly I write about obscure events, like AOD's Hitler youth club, which are so local and anonymously attributed that it is unlikely that any of you (even if you personally knew all the actors)could accurately piece together the truth of what eventually happened from what I write. This lets me use examples to touch on larger issues without every being called upon to defend those examples.
Surfing in the fog

Gee, these are all examples from the last couple of months. I guess I do write about current events often.

What I am trying to get at is that I sometimes slip up and actually discuss a recent event in such a way that I really need to re-visit it to describe how I was incredibly wrong (don't hold your breath as this is my blog) or describe how things really turned out. One such recent slip-up was my discussion of the Alta High School KKK event.

Ever since I read Orwell as a teen I have carefully stoked the hidden fires of a mistrust of authority.

Big Brother is watching, and he is not amused!

I fully expected the Alta High School administrators to investigate and find out that nothing was wrong. When I heard that the Canyon School District was doing the investigation I was even more convinced that the resulting whitewash would make the snow covering the Wasatch mountains appear dingy and beige by comparison.

Strangely enough this was not the case. While investigating the KKK incident the CSD found other credible reports of racist acting-out at Alta. The number and severity of the incidents were apparently of great enough concern that both the principal and vice-principal were placed on administrative leave (during the school-year no less). It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

I will re-visit this Alta High School KKK incident.

Unless, of course, I change my mind.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Listen to a story bout a man named Jeb

I heard this popular joke recently. I'm not that great at re-telling jokes, but I'm going to try.

Two guys walk into a bar. No, make that a church. Two guys walk into a church. Hmm...Let's say they walked up to a little white country church.  Sitting out-front in the back of a rusty old pickup is a man with a great big sign that reads:


The two men look at each other, smile, and walk into the church. Did I mention it was an early spring day. The crocuses have just re-discovered sunlight. Snow threatens to fall from the wind-ravaged sky, but lacks the fortitude to stick.

The two fellows saunter up past the pews, past the alter, to a cozy little fire just under a huge full-sized cross nailed to the wall. They pull up a couple folding aluminum lawn chairs, and a beer cooler. One of the men turns to the other and says:

“Terry, it's cold in here. Throw another one of them Co-Rans on the fire wouncha?”

“Gee them Co-Rans burn perty Billy-Bob! Lets film one with your I-phone and post it on YouTube.”


OK... So it's not that funny. It was not that funny when I heard it first either. I've done my best to embellish it with sacrilegious imagery (a cooler of beer in the church. I hope you pictured PBR), and stereotypical southern-redneck details (Folding aluminum lawn chairs, and rusty pickup trucks). Even with the liberal use of culturally insensitive humor it is difficult to make burning Qur'ans in a church very funny.

I might be able to put some real humor into the joke by having the guy with the sign storm into the church and do something stupid. I tread on thin ice using the sign guy for humor because this joke is actually a perverted re-telling of actual events. The guy in the bed of the rusty pickup truck could personify the Islamic over-reaction that has resulted in several bloody beatings, and a few deaths.

It is difficult to tease humor out of the rusty-pickup-guy. I could try and parallel the actual news events and have him burst into the church with a blazing AK-47. Then a mortally wounded Billy-Bob could say to a milky-eyed Terry: “I thought he was supposed to bring the marshmallows”. This is sociopathic, not humorous.

I suppose one could make Qur'an-burning funny by posting on Youtube the burning of a book with the word “Co-Ran” written on the cover in crayon. Then, once the furor erupted, you could post a longer clip revealing that the book was actually a cookbook filled with pork recipes (Something like “The Magic of Bacon”). This would be funny, but even its humor would be extinguished by the level of violence surrounding this latest Qur'an-burning. I often quote: “Its all fun and games till someone looses an eye”, and there must be a old-testament-like-scriptural quote some-place that relates to book burning and states: “A sharp stick for an eye”.

Kosher Bacon

Despite my use of cultural stereotypes that target a specific gun-toting segment of the US population I am not worried. Some might say that is because southern rednecks don't get all spun up about bad humor attacking them. Perhaps it is because there is a level of educated reasoning that prevents the use of extreme violence in trivial cases. Perhaps there is a level of modern civility that obviates even considering violence. Perhaps most violent southern rednecks simply cannot read.

So lets have Jebidiah come in from holding the sign in his pickup with a bag of marshmallows.

“Gosh It's cold out there” says Jeb. “Ive been holding that sign adverteesin' the Co-Ran burnin' for two hours and only you-uns showed yit. The first two boxes of Co-Rans have burned down to coals, so lets roast some marshmallows and weenies on them before we burn the last box”.

Humour can be crafted from illiteracy. The evolutionary disadvantages of an incredibly shallow gene pool can also be the stuff of jokes. Really bad English can also be good, but figuring out how to type it out can present a challenge.

The ability of modern fundamentalist Islamic groups to turn bad humor into human tragedy is shocking. The reaction to the book burning has not been a performance of disgust it has been a disgusting performance. The reaction is so out-of scale with the offense that it appears more like a collective insanity than an expression of damaged cultural sensitivity. The story has become one of scale and self-control instead of book burning.

The reaction is not limited to distant Muslim countries. Here in the US the films of the demonstrations and violence are being shown over-and-over to justify counter-responses. Laws will be drafted, like the one that passed in Oklahoma, to forbid the use of Sharia law in specific jurisdictions (in order to create the illusion that Sharia law has ever been considered in US courtrooms). Meetings of groups that might include head-scarved women will be picketed by suburban demonstrators demanding that the women “go home” because of their dress. Across the nation people will be denied access to jobs, housing, and public amenities due to the “Muslim-like” tone of their skin or accent.

The question: “Wasn't the reaction of the Islamic people violent and wrong” will be asked often. Just because the answer is a resounding YES does not mean that this is the best question to guide our reaction. I think a better question is: “Can we out-stupid fundamentalist Islam?”. I think we can.

Sunday finds Jeb, Billy-Bob, and Terry sitting in a back pew of their church. Standing before his flock is pastor Glenn. Pastor Glenn got an education in the city. Pastor Glenn is upset this Sunday; he is sobbing softly while speaking to his flock.

“This week it happned agin.” he sobs “The three new boxes of Hymnals were burnt right here on the pulpit. It was the violent Muslins agin. They left a sign saying that they hate us, and hate our Love For Jesus.”

Jeb cannot contain himself. He leaps out of his pew.

“Weel shew dem Muslins Pastor Glenn! Weel have us anuthur Co-Ran burnin! Thet'll shew-um!”

Monday, April 4, 2011

Wählen Sie den Richtigen

I discovered that AOD was Hitler Youth the other day. I was a bit surprised; first because I did not know that Hitler Youth was a sanctioned school club, and secondly because AOD is not Bund Deutcher Mädel material. She is tall and blond, but marching around in lockstep wearing the same uniform everyday is not something I picture happening. She never wears the combat boots I bought her, and olive-brown is also “not her color” I am told.

The Hitler youth membership is apparently something she received for being enrolled in honor's English. Everyone in the class was assigned to be either a Hitler youth or a Jew. The Hitler youth even stage Nuremberg-style rallies after school for extra credit; I do not know what the “Jews” do for extra credit. At the rallies the HY are given tickets which they can use to condemn “Jews” to concentration camps.

I had a few questions about this whole Hitler Youth thing.

“So... when you condemn one of the fake-real Jews” it is important to always make the distinction between 'Real Jews' and 'True Jews' (The Mormons were told by god that they were the 'True Jews') in Utah. “Do you put them into forced labor first? You could make them chip bubble gum off the desks while only feeding them the extra-crusty tatertots from the lunchroom”
“Our class has only condemned one Jew Dad”
“Yeah, this friend of mine did it. Well..she's not really a friend, but we've got a couple of classes together. She was mad at another girl about a boy or something like that. So she sent her to the concentration camp. She had another girl turn in the tickets so everyone thinks it was her.”
“Don't you have enough tickets to condemn anyone?” I asked. “It may be cheaper to condemn a Commie or a Gypsy.”
“Actually I'm kinda suspended from the Hitler Youth 'cause I freed too many Jews” she replied.
I was so proud of AOD; using all of her fascist monopoly money to free fake-real-Jews from imaginary death camps.

I spoke with the teacher about this. She had spent time in Germany. There she learned that everyone -by law- was a Nazi during WWII. She wanted to teach some level of tolerance and understanding by having the students take on the character of fake Hitler Youth or fake real Jews.

In my Jr. High there was an art teacher who was rumored to have a number tattoo on his arm. This was in the 70s, and he was the right age to have survived a Nazi forced labor camp as a young man. He also had a strangely psychotic temper which prevented young screw-offs like myself from asking if there was truth behind the rumor.

“Most people don't realize that everyone had to be in the Hitler Youth” AOD's young teacher told me. “It was the LAW”.

I reckoned she was about the age that Saul the art teacher would have been when he was suffering under the hot end of a whip making Wernher Von Braun's rocket parts.

“Wasn't tolerance of the Hitler Youth one of the things that helped cause all that Nazi trouble?” I asked.
“The students will learn that everyone had to be Hitler youth; even if they did not want to be” She replied. “The student's who are Jews will see that that the Hitler Youth were just other kids like them”.
“I would think the whole holocaust thing would be a better springboard for teaching suffering and perseverance rather than tolerance; especially tolerance of Nazis. I'm fairly sure I don't want my kids learning tolerance of fascism”. I countered “And won't this help downplay the impact of the holocaust for the holocaust-deniers in your class?”

I received the 'you are not a professional educator' look. Apparently I was not understanding.

“It's not like we are talking about 'Lord of the Flies'” I continued. “There is a history of suffering beyond the imagination of pampered suburban high school freshman. I like the idea of teaching kids about the 'banality of evil', but this sounds like it might just get across the banality part.”

The conversation was over.

I was a very active high school student so I remember very little of high school. Still, there were the unforgettable incidents which resolved the line between stupid and sane; between banal and evil. High school students play around this line; adults shy away from it.

I remember being told of a small section of scalp the hoses had washed into some grass at the corner of Burdett and River roads. There was some reason why the junior was going so fast in the Camero his parents had given him. I remember telling someone that he was a 'jerk' (Though I may have used more precise wording). He was white and quiet the next time I saw him.

High school students also confuse things like date-rape and seduction. I suppose that one can still hear girls talk about other girls “asking for it” in high school corridors. Like 'it' was some sort of punishment metered out to the 'wrong kind' of girls.

Boys would practice trying to say things loud and often enough to restring truth so that it resonated to their desired note: "She wanted 'it'".

There was a litany of half-backed excuses for sub-human behavior. Somehow the residents of high school believed that the presence of words indicated a presence of truth. Somehow the idea of hidden truth suggested that there were special unwritten rights and responsibilities unique to high school.

One of my favorite excuses has always been “It was just a joke”.

For most 'jokers' in high school there were several people who needed to “just learn how to take a joke”. There was usually a solid group of people who did most of the learning for almost every 'joker' in a high school.

Take the basic bully, add a few wanna-be-bullies, and you've got the makings of a good gang. Empower them with authority from adults, and you've got a good group of fascist thugs. Force everyone into the hierarchy of the thugs (Hitler youth only had 25% attendance before it was made mandatory in 1939), and you've got the Hitler youth of the early 1940s.

In Utah all high school students are separated on the basis of their membership in the Mormon church. Every single public high school in Utah has a Mormon seminary adjacent to it. The location of the seminary is established before the high school is built. Mormon high school students take seminary classes during the school day, and the seminary holds a separate additional graduation. The Mormon students hold special rallies where they march around. The similarities between the Mormon seminary and the real Hitler youth are much greater than the similarities between the fake Hitler youth of AOD's honors English and the Hitler youth of the 1940s.

Monson Youth

I asked AOD if anyone pointed out the seminary similarities in her class.

“of COURSE NOT Dad” she sighed “Over half the kids in the class are IN seminary”.

I'm not sure how a high school student can tell the difference between real and true banality.

Friday, April 1, 2011

All Quiet on The Western Front

I'm writing to you today from behind enemy lines. Instead of shellfire I hear “praise music” blasting from the next room.

Despite my near deafness I can make out the phrase “My God is an Awesome God”. I think this makes the most amount sense if one believes in several gods one of which (at least) is apparently awesome. This interpretation is consistent with the bible's 3rd -of the big ten- commandments (Deu 5:6-21 or Exo 20:2-17) which states “Have no other gods before me”. There would be little purpose in such a commandment unless the biblical god existed in a polytheistic world.

I would love to discus the idea of a polytheistic biblical worldview with the people in the next room, but it might go over worse than a link to this blog.

There is a place in many theologies where philosophy goes to die.

Why does someone need to own twenty bibles? I own one and use it as a powerful tool to convert my children to my evangelical atheistic view. How can one own twenty and not make Richard Dawkins appear more fundy christian than Ted Haggard?

“I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.” – Dave Silverman

I am writing from what must be the world headquarters of Godco incorporated. Just the other day I rode up to an entire shopping mall that had been converted to a church. An abandoned Alpha-Beta formed the main chapel. I took some photos, and was looking in through the front doors, when the police drove up to see what I was doing.

I need to only travel a few blocks here to see some warehouse with a cross on top adrift in an asphalt lake. Usually the lake is empty of cars. What percentage of our GDP is tied up in preventing holy air from contributing to the abundance of other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere?

And it is hot here. When I glanced at a thermometer off Reseda Boulevard today it read 96F. I was in a town called Tarzana, and it felt “Africa Hot”.

I was able to escape to Ventura. There I found waves, and sandcrabs, and smiling half-dressed visions of humans in repose. I got sunburnt. I felt sand between my toes. It was 76F. When the sun dipped towards the horizon its rays broke into a thousand fragments of overexposure on each crashing wave.
A thousand fragments of overexposure

Sunset should have brought another opportunity to miss the fabled green flash, but a strange haze obscured the far horizon.

All is quiet on the western front.