Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How I joined the Mormon church.

For the adult onset atheist the transition from refusing to be identified with something to identifying as a member of some reason-driven group like the humanists does not translate well. Being something is only as well understood as the group one is being is.

People tend to understand the label “Atheist” despite the fact that it is just a special label for putting religion onto the impressive pile of things that I am not. Sometimes I try to liven up being a simple “Atheist” with colorful trimmings of secular ethics or humanist ideology, but the fact that simple Atheism is just not being something bleaches them out.

It is easier for many people to resolve my atheism as not being a particular thing. I live in Utah so I am not a Mormon.

For some reason people who feel the need to tell me that “they are not an atheist” don’t understand me when I tell them that their statement is a double negative.

Not being something creates a description of what one “is” using details of what one is not. In many parts of the US the Mormons are less interesting than local crazies, and little is known about them. I know that my relatives would know more about Mormonism if the quorum of twelve wrangled rattlesnakes or insisted they had cloned Jesus Christ from UFO-supplied DNA. Not being a Mormon simply means that I am: “some guy who lives in Utah, doesn’t drink or smoke, says he is not a polygamist, and reads the disjoint ramblings of some dead guy from New York” except for the part after “lives in Utah”. Unfortunately for this description I don’t drink or smoke, and moved to Utah with two print copies of HOWL. So, unless I start dating heavily, I am a Mormon.

This puts me in the strange position of communicating details of Mormon belief to identify myself out of that group. In order to effectively communicate a subject it is important to understand it, which means, given the nature of Mormon beliefs, that I may remain a Mormon for some time.

In Utah it is not at all uncommon for a stranger to ask if you “are LDS”. In the hopes of finding a way out of the Mormon Church I’ve taken to answering “I’m apparently an inactive Mormon, do you have a daughter who is at least 18 years of age?” Judging by people’s reaction it is also not uncommon in Utah for people to ask this question though I’ve yet to score a phone number.

I am not the only person who is having trouble leaving the Mormon Church. It is even worse if the official church authority has recognized you as a member. The church apparently only excommunicates people who want to remain in the church. In order to be separated you have to write a letter to someone and have them approve your separation. Since many people are recognized as members simply because of family ties there are potentially hordes of people who do not even realize they are members; you may be a member!

Do you think you are safe because none of your relatives were Mormon while they were alive? They may have converted posthumously. You may now be the spawn of a long line of Mormons. Just ask Anne Frank. I think she talks about her conversion in a newly revealed addendum to her diary discovered by translating from its original “reformed Yiddish” a long buried golden scrapbook discovered in Provo.

I suppose I should become more comfortable with my position in the Mormon Church. It looks like I have little choice. I should accept the gift of this Ironic priesthood. Perhaps I can develop some new-age-Mormon fusion spirituality involving full-contact-Reiki or start a trade in slightly used seer stones.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chantilly Lace

I get those e-mails. I get many about interesting things from people who are bringing them to my attention, but I also get those emails. I also get way too many from list servers specializing on specific topics that I had a passing interest in once yet can’t really remember why. I also get LOLcats; lots of LOLcats for some reason.

Those e-mails are the ones presenting anecdotal evidence that either an extremely interventionist deity or a political conspiracy to undermine the USA exists. Judging by the impressive forwarding headers some of those e-mails have they have each circled the globe quite a few times. You know about those e-mails because you have gotten them also; probably lots of them like I have.

I usually delete them. Sometimes I check Snopes or something. It is amazing how long a discredited e-mail will continue to be forwarded in cyberspace. I am convinced that many people just forward the most amazing stories to as many people as they can in the hopes of finding out if they are real.

I got this one once about how “scientists” had proved that the earth really did stop rotating for several days as told in a minor old testament story. The story did not mention the terrible calamities that would occur if one were able to just instantaneously stop the earth’s rotation. For several days I imagined minor aspects of the devastation that would occur.

In the middle of a cup of coffee with good company I would burst out with something like: “And the tsunamis!!”.

I am still a little concerned with how difficult it was for my various companions to tell the difference between these outbursts and my normal conversation.

Sometimes I investigate those e-mails myself. This can be embarrassing.

I do like the awkward god story e-mails more that the conspiracy ones. Unfortunately, since this is an election year, the political conspiracy e-mails have become the norm. These are usually simply deleted.

Despite being expunged from my inbox the same lies keep popping up over-and-over like tap-rooted weeds. They also pop up on facebook pages and blogs.
The teabagger e-mail lie machine appears to work like this:
  1. Truth is based on belief. If you want to believe something it can be true.
  2. Things that support your belief should be sent to as many people as possible, and widely publicized.
  3. People who think the information is wrong are probably lying because they believe something you don’t
  4. If someone successfully proves that the lies you are spreading are wrong they are providing uninteresting information, which there is no need to share.

I just don’t care to even read much of the hyperbolic nonsense about how Obama is penning some new socialist executive order mandating gay marriage or forcing Christians into concentration camps. OK…maybe I do read some of them, if something really outrageous in it catches my eye

It depresses me, however, to read what was tagged onto bills like the 2012NDAA and realize some of the fascist hyperbole is a little too close to reality.

Some of those e-mails come festooned with pictures of of scantily clad young women.  Pictures of scantily clad young women in my inbox have a tendency to catch my eye. This will be a real problem when they finally do mandate gay marriage.

A few weeks ago I got an e-mail with a photo of a woman in underwear contorted into some yoga pose I did not recognize. When I got around to reading the e-mail it stated first lady Obama spent $50,000.00 in a couple hours at a lingerie shop called Agent Provocateur. It went on to describe TFL’s shopping trip as some sort of babe-bonding outing with the Queen of Qatar; another not-unattractive middle-aged famous woman.

I spent a couple moments imagining TFL and QoQ modeling skimpy underthings for each other while making bawdry remarks and giggling.

The e-mail went into the level of detail usually only seen on outright lies or actual truth. Detail, however, makes it easy to fact-check a story so I decided to investigate this story.

First I found out that the shop in question exists. It even has a website with more yoga-esque posing young women; though no pictures of TFL or QoQ. They apparently specialize in bondage-themed lingerie (accounting for some of the yoga poses perhaps), and one article about the incident mentioned a handmade Calais lace corset that went for around a thousand dollars. Would anyone really need a different corset each day for two months?

Next I found a couple of articles describing the event in more detail. There appeared like there could have been a single originating source: the UK’s Telegraph. The Telegraph’s webpage for the story features a picture of a fully clothed Michelle Obama, and another picture of a mostly unclothed woman wearing dark sunglasses.

The QoQ and TFL apparently even closed off a whole city block so they could have privacy while shopping. Privacy maybe, but that is not very inconspicuous.

So, like the memorable photo of god’s goatse, this story initially appeared to be accurate.

On February 10th the Telegraph issued the following retraction:

Further to our article “First Lady’s luxury buys boost Agent Provocateur” (Jan 30), we would like to make clear that the “shopping spree” involving Her Highness Sheikha Moza and Michelle Obama that we referred to in fact never occurred, and that Her Highness has never been shopping with Mrs Obama, at Agent Provocateur or otherwise, and has never sought to have any part of New York closed off to enable her to shop undisturbed. We apologize for the distress and embarrassment this article caused.

So they just made this up. Total fabrication, and of course it made it onto e-mail.

It is interesting to note that, upon further digging, I came across an official white-house denial of the story. Upon issuing a categorical denial of the story (“100% incorrect”) the white-house spokesperson was asked to provide proof. What do you think the reporter wanted as proof to show that TFL did not buy her underwear from Agent Provocateur?

Saturday, February 11, 2012


One hundred and eighty-six years ago today, on February 11th 1826, Ghanshyam Pande wrote the 212 line Shikshapatri. the Bhagwan Swaminarayan, as Ghanshyam was called by his friends, turned out to actually be an incarnation of the Hindu god Narayana.

A large amount of the Shikshapatri concerns itself with sex; mostly about not having it.

They shall never touch nor speak with nor show their faces to any male who is not their nearest relative. – Shikshapatri verse 134

They shall take food once a day only, shall sleep on the floor and shall never knowingly look at any living beings in coitus. -- Shikshapatri verse 168

Narayana and Nara are twin male gods. The story goes like this: Nara-Narayana was -as the Supreme Being- talking up a bunch of folks outside their home when Shiva came in deressed up in his incarnation as Durvasa. Nobody notice him in his fancy flesh suit so he curses the whole lot. After some negotiation Shiva agrees to be satisfied with requiring Narayana being reincarnated in human form. He comes back as Swaminarayan, writes up the Shikshapatri, and a sect if born.

The twin likenesses of Nara-Narayana are often found in temples of the Swaminarayan faith. When Ghanshyam died on June 1st 1830 The sect was estimated at 1.8 million devotees in size. In 2002 the size of the sect was estimated at five million devotees; this despite numerous splits in the lines of accession.

No one shall ever here sermons or religious discourses or philosophical talks from a person whose words are likely to lead one astray from the path of devotion to Lord Krishna and/or from the path of one's own Dharma. – Shikshapatri verse 25

One proof of Ghanshyam’s divinity as an incarnation of Narayana is that he told Reginald Heber (Bishop of Calcutta) that he was divine. Reginald Heber is best known as a hymn-writer. One of his famous hymns is called: “The Son of God goes forth to war” and starts with the line : “The Son of God goes forth to war, a kingly crown to gain”.

They shall never keep close relation with a woman who has any kind of relation with a king. -- Shikshapatri verse 137

Friday, February 10, 2012

Poles Get the Boot

Seventy two years ago today, on February 10th 1940, 220,000 polish nationals from the Soviet occupied Kresy region were rounded up and sent to northern Russia. On April 13th another 320,000 would be sent to Kazakhstan. A third wave of 240,000 deportations occurred at the beginning of July, and a fourth large wave of 300,000 was conducted at the beginning of June 1941. Together with many mini deportation events the Soviets moved an estimated 1.7 million Poles; about a third of them were children. By the end of 1941 an estimated 760,000 of the deportees (about a third) were dead; most of the dead were children.

Half a world away, in Hollywood California, the long running ultra-violent kid’s show “Tom and Jerry” would debut on February 10th 1940. The first episode was called “Puss Gets the Boot”. The plot involved Jerry (the mouse) teasing Tom (The cat; real name Jasper) until he was forcibly removed from his home. Tom and Jerry ran for many years, and would eventually win the Academy Award for animated short film seven times.

On June 16th 1941 Nazi Germany would invade the Soviet Union through occupied Poland, and the deportations were put on hold. Under the Nazis things went from bad to worse for many Poles.

About 140,000 of the first wave of Polish deportees were classified as “Osadniks”. This was the name given to veterans of the 1920 Polish-Soviet war who were given parcels of land in the Kresy region. The battle of Warsaw (August 12-25 1920) was the deciding battle of the Polish Soviet war. The victory was due in large part to the fact that the codes used by Lenin’s forces had been cracked by Jan Kowalewski and a team of Methematicians from Lwow and Warsow universities. The crippling defeat of Bolshevik forces in 1920 coupled to the Soviet desire to annex the Kresy region transformed the “Osadniks” into enemies of the state.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

38th Parallel

Sixty-one years ago today, on February 9th 1951, elements of the 11th division of South Korea’s army began killing people in the Geochang County of South Gyeongsang Province. Over the next two days they would kill 719 purported communist sympathizers. 385 of the communist sympathizers were children.

The 11th division had just come off a two day rest. Two days earlier, on February 7th 1951, they had been massacring people in nearby Sancheong and Hamyang counties of the same South Gyeongsang Province. They only found 705 communist sympathizers on that day, 85% of them were described as either “women, children, or the elderly”.

The commanding general of the 11th division was Choe Deok-sin.

The year before, on June 25th 1950, Kim Il-sung’s North Korean army invaded South Korea starting the Korean war. Two days later, on June 27th 1950, President Syngman Rhee ordered the execution of Bodo League and South Korean Workers Party related people. Over the summer Rhee’s people would find and execute between 100,000 and 1,200,000, but nobody was keeping good count.

American officers photographed some of the mass executions, and reported them to General Macarthur. He replied that the executions were an internal South Korean matter.

British troops discovered one massacre in progress, and seized the site to prevent the massacre from continuing.

The South Koreans initially blamed the mass graves produced by the executions on the North Koreans. The truth was slow in percolating out. As late as 2008 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission discovered a mass grave filled with the bodies of children near Daejon; South Korea’s fifth-largest metropolis. The National Archives in Washington DC has recently released declassified photos taken by Americans at the Execution sites.

Syngman Rhee was South Korea’s first president. Rhee was a rabid Christian, having converted in 1899 while serving a lifetime prison term (obviously commuted) for sedition. In 1904 he traveled to the US where he studied, amongst other things, Christian theology. He returned to Korea in 1910 to become the chief secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association in Seoul. He escaped tensions with Japan in 1912 by emigrating to Hawaii where he began a Christian school for Korean immigrants. Rhee bounced around doing, amongst other things, Christian missionary work until the end of WWII, when he returned to Korea more permanently. With the help of the US he was installed as South Korea’s first president on July 24th 1948.

In 1986 general Choe-Deok sin defected to North Korea. There he served as a chief of the central committee of Chondogyo religious movement.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


One hundred and fifty-seven years ago today, on the morning of February 8th 1855, the residents of South Devon England reported seeing cloven footprints in the fresh snow that had fallen the night before. These footprints were rapidly identified as having been left by Satan.

The news inspired many people to run out to see look for the cloven footprints in the snow. Apparently many people then saw them.

Though Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke had put their newly invented telegraph into commercial use along the nearby London-Blackwell railway over fifteen years earlier it had not reached the south Devon coast. Constrained by the speed of information the sightings were concentrated in a coastal meandering from Totnes to the coast, and then along it to the Exe estuary, then along the coast of that inlet to Exemouth; a total distance of about 40 miles. The next day residents of nearby Dorset county contributed to the collected sightings, and expand the track’s length to 100 miles. Soon residents of Lincolnshire clear on the central eastern coast of England contributed to the amassed data, and increased the length of the track by almost an order of magnitude.

Some sketches were made, but they are uniformly less impressive to me than something that was so immediately identifiable as Satan’s footprints should be.

Many reports of the footprints measured them at 1.5 to 2 inches wide, and eight inches apart. They apparently traveled in a straight line (except as obvious from the map of sightings did not) over houses , walls, and through drainpipes as small as four inches in diameter.

On March 5th 2009 new reports of Satan’s footprints in Devon have been reported. This time in north Devon.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


One hundred and fourteen years ago today, on February 7th 1898, Emil Zola was brought to trial on charges of criminal libel. He was convicted a couple of weeks later, and sentenced to a year in jail. Surprised by the sentence Zola escaped to England with little more than the clothes on his back.

Zola was a prolific author whose best known work at the time was a 20 novel set called the Rougon-Macquart series. Each of these novels presented elements of two families who would respond to the moral dilemmas of the industrial revolution in different ways. He referred to his work as an experiment in psychology; the Rougons were his control group while the Macquarts suffered the effects of experimentation with violence, alcohol, and prostitution.

On January 13th 1898 he would write a short essay which would overshadow all his previous work. The essay was published on the front page of the newspaper L’aurore. The letter was called J’accuse’ and detailed elements of a religiously-motivated conspiracy in the French military. It was because of this letter that Zola would stand trial.

The conspiracy ostensibly concerned an artillery officer named Alfred Dreyfus who had been convicted in a secret court marshal of giving secrets to the enemy, and who was, on January 5th 1895, publically stripped of his rank and sent to Devil’s Island. Shortly after Alfred’s trip to Devil’s Island Information had surfaced proving Dreyfus’s innocence, and by the time of J’accuse’ years of statement and counterstatement had drawn a line between the church-influenced army and a more secular citizenry.

Dreyfus was Jewish. In 1895 he had already been the focus of anti-Semitic attacks by superior officers throughout his short career. As a cadet his war college examination grades were lowered by the anti-Semitic-motivated scoring by General Bonnefond who felt that “Jews were not desired” in command. When Bonnefond performed the same score adjustment for another Jewish cadet (Lieutenant Pickard) the two were able to amass enough evidence to lodge a formal complaint. The director of the school (General Lebelin de Dionne) acknowledged the injustice, but refused to reverse the damage. Because of this Alfred carried the troublemaker brand before his first command.

Perhaps because of his “Jewish Troublemaker” label Dreyfus was seen as a good target to pin the treasonous espionage on. Perhaps he appeared as too attractive a mark for the framing because the evidence concocted would turn out to be insufficient to convince most individuals unclouded by rabid anti-Semitism. When the construct failed the flying accusations spun off into increasingly threadbare and bizarre statements.

Unable to simply wash their hands of the affair the government collapsed. Dreyfus was offered a pardon in 1899, but retained his guilt.

Zola died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1902. Opinions and articles were immediately circulated suggesting that he had committed suicide in response to discovering some hinted-at evidence proving that Dreyfus was guilty all along. Decades later a roofer would, on his deathbed, confess to stopping up Zola’s chimney after accepting money for the assassination.

In 1906 Dreyfus would be completely and officially exonerated of his crimes.

In 1908 Zola’s remains were transported to the Pantheon in Paris. Alfred attended the re-internment ceremony. During it a military reporter named Louis Gregori pulled out a revolver and fired two shots at him at point blank range. Alfred survived with a wounded arm. “My object was to protest against the participation of the army in the glorification of Zola and the rehabilitation of Dreyfus. My blow was aimed less at Dreyfus than at Dreyfusism." -- Louis Gregori

In January of 2007 Jacques Chirac unveiled a plaque in the Pantheon which commemorated the anti-Holocaust activities of the many French citizens who together saved three-quarters of the French Jews from extermination during WWII. In a way that plaque serves as a milestone in the retreat from the anti-Semitic France that put Zola on trial.

“Sous la chape de haine et de nuit tombée sur la France dans les années d'occupation, des lumières, par milliers, refusèrent de s'éteindre. Nommés "Juste parmi les Nations" ou restés anonymes, des femmes et des hommes, de toutes origines et de toutes conditions, ont sauvé des juifs des persécutions antisémites et des camps d'extermination. Bravant les risques encourus, ils ont incarné l'honneur de la France, ses valeurs de justice, de tolérance et d'humanité.” – Plaque in the Panteon

Monday, February 6, 2012


Six hundred and sixty five years ago today, on February 6th 1347, a little girl named Dorothea was born in the Prussian town of Montau. Her mother quickly taught her the secrets of her faith which included daily prostration and hours spent standing with her arms outstretched to form the shape of a crucifix with her body. She was also hung on the wall in the same pose using nails embedded in the wall to hold her arms up when the pain of holding them there became too much for the little girl. Treated this way Dorothea became a fertile ground for the love of jesus that would instill in her the ability to perform miracles; in 1976 she was canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic church.

In the mid 1300s it was a well advertised fact that little girls became sexually aware at the age of seven, and it was at this age that things really picked up for Dorothea. After an unfortunate “accident” that left her scalded by boiling water she finally met Jesus in person. While laid in a cradle with her burns swaddled to protect them the little girl was visited by a handsome well-dressed young man who happened to be jesus.

Dorothea was so struck by the handsome apparition that she systematically tried to recreate the events that brought jesus to her. She would pour boiling water on herself. She would dip her limbs in boiling oil. She would mortify her flesh with hot irons. She would burn herself with candles.

At 16 she was married to an accomplished swordsmith more than twice her age. She would bear him nine children; four would die in infancy. In addition to her physical torments Dorothea would constantly worry that her sanctity was compromised since she was not a virgin.

After the marriage two important things happened: First Dorothea carefully hid her self-inflicted injuries with modest clothing, and second she began having regular visions.

Dorothea experimented with many forms of castigation. She used log pillows, and would throw herself face-first at the ground. She would whip herself with fresh-cut switches till she bled, and she would irritate the slashes by wearing unwashed shirts made of knotted hair. When switches were not available she used leather strips, or rope, or chains, or …just about anything that could cause pain and raise a welt.

When the injuries scabbed she would pry off the scabs with twigs or bits of broken nutshell. She would rub the injuries with stinging nettles to make them swell and bleed fresh. She would soak the oozing cuts in salt water brine to prevent them from closing again.

Awkwardly timed visitations (when IS a good time for spectral visitations anyway?) coupled with prophetic visions can be hard on a new marriage. Dorothea was encouraged to go on multiple pilgrimages, but they did not slake her thirst for the divine. Gunter Grass examined the tribulations of Dorothea’s husband in his novel “The Flounder” (1977). In 1383 four more of her children died from the plague; in 1885 she went on a pilgrimage to Aachen. During the last pilgrimage (to Rome in 1389) of Dorthea’s unhappy marriage her husband, who stayed at home, died.

While married she made sure that the cuts did not extend beyond the collar or hem of her clothing. The injuries became so numerous that they bordered one another over every inch of her unexposed flech. Her breasts demanded special attention from her, and she enlarged the wounds she could reach until she had one continuous sore from the cuff of her sleeve to the center of her chest. Her body resembled “a plowed field”.

One time, while she was tryng to use the extent of her injuries to control her husband’s behavior, she punctured her feet repeatedly. Dorothea was hoping that her feet would fester so badly that she would be excused from dancing. Instead of avoiding the dancing she dressed in heavy stockings to cover the cuts. Her shoes filled with blood while dancing. Later she wore wooden clogs stuffed with marsh rushes to keep the wounds alive and purulent for as long as possible.

With her husband dead she was able to go off to Marienwerder (now called Kwidzyn) and, under the direction of deacon Johannes of Marienwerder, was able to abandon the semblances of sanity so she could get down to really pleasing her god. When Johannes got around to widely publishing the tomes he penned to support her bid for sainthood he had 342 sworn and notarized accounts of miracles and cures performed by Dorothea. He was also able to capture some of the exact wording Jesus used in revealing the holy word to Dorothea:

”Consider how I kept your wounds open; brimful of bitter pain whose scabs sometimes itched as though they were working alive with gnawing worms, at other times they delivered such sharp jabs as if they were shot cramfull by sharp arrows, sometimes they burned as if ignited by fire, at times they swelled until they broke open, at still other times they bled freshly and profusely with excruciating pain as if they were indeed fresh and new. During such times your eyes were filled with such bitterness that even when you were asleep they seemed filled with smoke and soot.” –Christ to Dorothea several weeks after the feast of St Agness 1392

In 1393 Dorothea walled herself into a cell attached to the Marienwerder cathedral. That winter was especially harsh. It probably reminded her of the times when, as a little girl, she would purposfully lie sopping wet on the cold ground till she was frozen to it.

13 months after her inturnment, on June 25th 1394, Dorothea died.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Prince of Tides

Fifty eight years ago today, at 2am on February 5th 1958, a F-86 transonic sabrejet crashed off the coast of Georgia following a mid-air collision.  The pilot ejected safely, and was recovered without incident.  The plane went down near Tybee Island, which is near the mouth of the Savannah River downstream from the Savannah River nuclear power plant. 

Two years earlier, in 1956, reactor C of the Savannah River plant would be the fourth reactor to go critical.  The plant was originally designed to make material for nuclear bombs. 

I can find no information as to whether any Savannah River nuclear material was on the Mark 15 nuclear device with serial number 47782.  That 12 foot long hydrogen bomb was on the B-47 stratojet the ill-fated sabrejet had collided with. 

The B-47 did not crash after the mid air collision.   Col. Howard Richardson bravely fought the controls until he safely landed the Homestead-based bomber at Hunter AFB near Savannah.  Richardson would be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions.  Unfortunately he dropped the bomb while saving his crew.

The model 1 Mark-15 nuclear device was called the “Zombie” device, and officially yielded 1.7(ish) megatons of explosive power.  The later models (which the Tybee device most certainly was) yielded closer to four megatons.  The Mark-15s all weighed about 7,600 pounds (3,450 kg), and were huge (they were almost a 3X12 foot cylinder).  Putting one into any airplane, even the gigantic stratojet, seriously affected how the plane flew.  The Tybee device was in the B-47 just to make the plane difficult to fly and give the crew experience flying with so much weight.  After the collision the air force began using lead weighted dummies for flight-training purposes.

The Georgia coastline is muddy.  If you drop an almost four-ton rock into the mud from way up in the air, while distracted by the likelihood of dying in a fiery crash, it can be hard to find.  So far the Tybee device has avoided all efforts to find it. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Thirty eight years ago today, at 9PM on February 4th 1974, the aptly named “Steven Weed” and his girlfriend Patty were hanging out in their Berkley apartment watching a television show called “The Magician”. Steve was seven years older than Patty. He wore big round glasses and a porn-star mustache. To their surprise three people they had never met before came to visit them at their flat.

One of the visitors was DD Defreeze. DD did not think his own name was cool enough so he preferred to be called Cinque Mtume as a reference to Joseph Cinque who led a slave rebellion on a ship named Amistad in 1839. DD wanted to start a “Black Revolution” in the US, and had gathered almost a dozen followers, but all his followers were white. DD was a desperate escaped convict and criminal mastermind. He had been convicted in 1972 (at the age of 29) of stealing 10$ from a prostitute, and simply walked away from a work gang on the 5th of March 1973.

DD’s friends were Willy Wolfe, and Nancy Ling Perry. Most casual observers would think that “DD Defreeze and Willy Wolfe” would be cool enough names. If anyone needed to change their name to be more like that of a fictional comic book character it would have been Nancy. Nancy was a sweet girl who had given up being a cheerleader, Sunday school teacher, and campaign worker for Barry Goldwater to pursue a future in topless entertainment and drug addiction. Perhaps one of the reasons they beat “Steve Weed” up so violently was that Nancy was jealous of his name?

The actual reason they had come was to meet Patty. She was thin, rich, and impressionable. They would kidnap her, keep her blindfolded for almost two months, and indoctrinate her into their philosophy. Eventually Patty would change her name to “Tania”.

DD called his group the Symbionese Liberation Army. He liked the term symbiosis and thought everybody should live together in peace, and he was willing to shoot a bunch of people in order to make that happen.

“We are of many colors, but yet of one mind, for we all in history’s time on this earth have become part of each other in suffering and in mind, and have agreed that the murder, oppression and exploitation of our children and people must end now, for we have all seen the murder, oppression and exploitation of our people for too long under the hand of the same enemy and class of people and under the same system.” — DD Defreeze from his Symbionese Liberation Army Declaration of Revolutionary War.

Eventually Nancy would take on the name “Fahizah”. DD and most of his followers would die on the 16th of May 1974 in a blaze of peace while firing over 9,000 rounds of assorted ammunition at LAPD officers.

Fahizah would die in the gun battle (mortally wounded in both the right lung and spine), but Tania would survive. Years later a character she was playing would be beaten to death by Sybil Sheppard in John Waters’s film “Serial Mom”.

Patty would find love and marry her bodyguard. He was Named Bernard Shaw. He was eight years older than Patty, and had a bushy porn-star mustache.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Famous Karla

14 years ago today, at 6:45 PM on February 3rd 1998, thirty-eight-year-old Karla Faye Tucker would cement the fame she had long known was her destiny. Twenty-five minutes earlier George “dubbya” Bush had rejected Karla’s plea for a 30-day delay of her execution.

Karla, a pretty young prostitute from Houston Texas, had a smile made to photograph. She smiled for the cameras one last time, and said:

"I love all of you very much. I'm going to be face to face with Jesus now."

Dana Brown, her husband of three years, stood watching as she gasped twice, and silently became history. Tony Thornton, the husband of one of Karla’s victims observed that “Now Dana Brown gets to write his book”. Dana hung around after the execution for a bit to serve-up some sound-bites for the TV cameras. Dana cheerfully described his wife’s execution:

“Just Glowin’. The love of Jesus radiatin’ through her and around her.”

Karla and her lover Danny Garrett had killed two people with a pick-axe in June of 1983. They were quickly fingered, and in September of 1983 they were both indicted for first-degree murder. Within weeks Karla had picked up a bible from the prison ministry and converted to evangelical Christianity. She and Garret would be sentenced to die late in 1984, but Garrett beat the state to the punch by dying of liver disease in 1993. Two years after Garrett’s death Karla would pick up a husband from the prison ministry by marrying minister Dana Lane Brown.

Karla’s Christianity became the centerpiece for emotional appeals for clemency.

Terry Anne Meeuwsen, Miss America 1973, called for commuting of her sentence to life-in-prison. Meeuwsen had toured with The New Christy Minstrels till her miss America gig.  The New Christy Minstrels had won a Grammy a few years before Meeuwsen won Miss Wisconsin for their debut album (Presenting the New Christy Minstrels) which included a cover of Woody Guthrie’s American-Socialist song: This Land Is Your Land. The year Danny Garrett died Meeuwsen became permanent co-host to the Christian Broadcasting Network’s (CBN) 700 Club.

The considerably less attractive Newt Gingrich and Pat Robertson took up her cause also.

Sister Helen Prejean also met with Karla and spoke against her upcoming execution. Prejean was made famous when Sean Penn played a character amalgamated from two rapist murderers whom Sister Helen wrote about in her book: Dead Man Walking. At about the same time Sister Helen was meeting with Karla she was counseling Debbie Morris to write about her forgiving the abduction torture and multiple rapings at the hands of one of Sister Helen’s Walking Dead Men. Debbie wrote about her Christian forgiveness in her book Forgiving the Dead Man Walking after several years professionally traveling from church-to-church testifying about her experiences. In the 1995 movie Susan Sarandon played Sister Helen, and Debbie Morris’s abduction and rape were never mentioned.

Linda Strom visited her. Linda Strom and her husband Dallas run an international network of prison ministries called discipleship unlimited. They started DU in Millwaukee Wisconsin the year after (1974) Meeuwsen was elected to the post of Miss America. They sing a lot in DU. She later (2000) published a book: Karla Faye Tucker Set Free: Life and Faith on Death Row. In 2003 Linda and Dallas moved to Texas; it was, apparently, a better place to grow their ministries.

The Christian publicity machine working for Karla pulled in whomever they could grasp. Beverly Lowry, fiction writer and associate professor at The university of Houston, interviewed Karla extensively. The result was her most famous book: Crossed Over. In it she relates the feelings surrounding the accidental death of her 18-year-old son Peter to the death-row Karla, and find emotional healing. The book was made into a movie with the same name where Diane Keaton plays Beverly Lowry, and Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Karla.

Good publicity requires good sex, or at least it is greatly facilitated by it. The Christian media stories of Karla feature bashful descriptions of her pre-conversion life. They half-heartedly refer to her prostitution. Many of them refer to Karla’s sexual -almost orgasmic- delight at hacking away at the blood-spurting bodies of her victims; she did hack them more than 20 times. One of my favorite Karla sex references mentions an orgy put on at the request of her sister Keri for her birthday shortly before the pickaxe murders.

Strangely, though her life was supposed to be a modern re-enactment of living in a drug-paved Sodom, the stories focus on those last few weeks before the axe murders.

Just after Karla gasped last her sister Keri yelled: “I Love You Karla”.

Yet somehow Karla managed to stay married to the same relatively-normal man, Stephen Griffith, for six years between her 17th birthday and her 23-years-of-age pickaxe murders. By my arithmetic that did not leave a whole bunch of time for a life of depravity.

“She always said that someday she would be famous” – Stephen Griffiths

And she became famous. Famous enough that many who would convert at her suggestion were gilded by simple association with her fame.

Ron Carlson, the brother of Karla’s female victim, was converted to Christianity by Karla. In 1999 Ron got his own movie The Power of Forgiveness, produced by Gateway Films and presented by Vision Video.

And her fame continues. As late as 2011 prison interviews with her and Dana Brown were re-packaged into a shiny-new DVD entitled: Forevermore: Karla Faye Tucker.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Serbian Bear Day

Happy Groundhog day!

One hundred and seventy one years ago today, on February 2nd 1841, the first recorded Groundhog Day was celebrated in Berks County Pennsylvania. Forty six years later, on February 2nd 1887, the first celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania would be celebrated. The celebration in Punxsutawney would become the most famous celebration of this most auspicious holiday.

Hardcore practitioners erect special huts where they sit, drink, and speak only Pennsylvania Dutch (which is German with a bad accent). The highlight of the celebration is when a groundhog emerges from its hole. If the groundhog sees its shadow then there are to be six more weeks of winter.

Thirteen days later in Serbia (February 2nd on the Julian Calendar) there is a similar celebration called Sretenje or The Meeting of the Lord. The Serbians use a bear’s seeing its shadow to predict 40 more days of winter. Because bears are notoriously uncooperative the Serbian bear is often more notional than Punxsutawney groundhog, which has been named “Phil”.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Finally a flop

Fifty four years ago today, on the 1st of February 1958, the United States finally had a successful launch of a earth-orbiting satellite. Explorer I followed the successful soviet launches of Sutnik1 and Sputnik 2. Unlike those two satellites Explorer I would continuously orbit the earth until March 19th 1970.

Almost half of the Explorer I satellite’s weight (13.79Kg) was mercury batteries, which gave out on May 23rd 1958. Until that time the satellite transmitted real scientific data. The Geiger counter alone was responsible for the discovery of the Van Allen Radiation Belt.

The satellite was long and thin, and was designed to rotate like a bullet around it’s long axis. Shortly after entering orbit the rotational axis began to precess. This left the satellite wildly flopping through its orbit. In the end Explorer I flopped around the earth over 58,000 times.