July 2007

That’s not my mouth over there, but that’s what it feels like. I have had a broken lower right side molar for over a month right now. It’s like the jagged ruins of an old Grecian building. It hurts so much right now. Last night I thought that I was going to break down in tears the pain was that excruciating.

I missed work because of it. I was so frustrated about other things to begin with, but the feeling is one that I can’t describe. It is not localized. It spreads across the jaw like a too-tight chin strap and sends jolts of pain shooting down the neck. There’s scarcely a comfortable position asides from some stretches and postures that are meant to divert the minds automatic attention away from the pain for awhile and produce calming chemicals in the brain. I hate this feeling so much.

Right now I’m a temporary office worker with no benefits. Therefore, getting the molar fixed is not an option right now because I don’t have the money to do so. I can’t wait to have a job that provides benefits for health coverage. I’ve never had that.

Having a broken tooth changes your perspective. In between the psychological torture of the throbbing that shoots not only through the body but seemingly every part of perception, there is a feeling that things might be better if you could get to a dentist, a doctor, a specialist of some type. I really want benefits right now, but I guess I’ll have to step in line behind the 50+ million other people who don’t have it. No use in complaining or feeling sorry for myself. That’s stupid anyway and only makes the pain worse.

Where was I when this hit the news? This is the funniest thing; a conversation, via email between recruiter for the United States Army and a private citizen who disclosed to the recruiter that he was gay.

Now, in America there is a stereotype that there are a lot of meat head moronic people in the military. I for one think that is an unfair characterization of all military people, but let’s face it, in the U.S. Military, as in other sectors of public life, there are some people who are complete and utter morons (There, I said it. Keep in mind that you can add to that among other things, sports, entertainment, sanitation and what I do, office work). Marcia Ramode, whose email was listed online (feel free to drop her a line if she hasn’t been dropped herself), doesn’t do the military any favors if you read the exchange she has with Corey Andrew, who posted his resume on careerbuilder.com.

I  won’t get into this too much. It’s old news and I really think that the exchange speaks for itself. This woman is a moron. She’s a complete idiot who has no concept of what our nation was founded to be and yet the fact that she gets a check from the Pentagon gives her an air of moral and intellectual superiority to herself which is surely delusional. I suppose she fits in well in any position wherein she does not need to think and after she is sacked by the Army (if indeed they do that), I suppose she’ll be able to find one. Certainly not West Point material!

I haven’t experienced too much of the wild side of existence, but really these days nothing I read in the newspaper or see on television surprises me anymore. Watching Paris Hilton hauled away, tears streaking, mascara running like an oil spill in the back of a sheriff’s cruiser does absolutely nothing to me. Hearing about genocide in Sudan, as sad as it is, fails to give me pause. Nothing is new under the sun in this crazy world. All the sick and disgusting things that are happening now have happened time and time before and will happen time and time again. Adapted? Jaded? Tough? Who knows, but even I must admit when I watch Dateline NBC’s To Catch a Predator, my heart does start to race a bit. It’s not as intense as listening to the New York Mets at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, but senses to go in hyper mode and I take notice. Again, nothing surprises me when it comes to criminal behavior and certainly I’m not shocked at the chat log excerpts that describe intended sexual activity between an adult man and a decoy posing as a young teenage boy or girl.  To hear Chris Hansen read it, it as if this stuff doesn’t happen every day. Unfortunately, it does.

What captures my undivided attention during To Catch a Predator has nothing to do with the deviant perverted expectations of the unwitting men, but instead the moment of their capture, when standing in the kitchen, living room or sitting on a back patio or beach of the sting operation, Hansen confronts them with the evidence of their deviant perversions.

I’ll never forget when I was caught in a lie several years back (it had nothing to do with little girls, honestly). I was frozen with a feeling of not only guilt but also regret and shame.  Time seemed to come to a halt and at that time I knew the intimate detail of my body, which was tense with fear and nervousness. I’d done nothing criminal either, just dishonest. So, if I had that feeling at that time in my life over an college bursar’s office issue,  imagine how much more it must have felt for a guy like Maurice Jay Wolin when in the process of trying to bed a girl he thought was 13, he spotted an NBC cameraman.

Wolin, who was 48 when Sonoma County, California sheriff’s deputies busted him, was a licensed oncologist working for a drug company. Married and with kids, he used the screename “tall_dreamy_doc”, and told the online decoy he was 29 before making his weekend venture to a home, only to be cuffed, processed and grilled for being a public pervert. I bet Wolin had one of those moments that we all have when we’re caught in deception, or better yet, just step in dog crap…only 100 times as intense. After all, lying on your taxes, fibbing to your boss or walking in some smelly sidewalk mess doesn’t risk your whole career and family the way trying to get freaky with a girl who’s hardly menstruating does. It’s likely Wolin’s license will get yanked and any job he had at the time of his arrest has been filled by a better-qualified, less licentious applicant.

I don’t know what would make someone risk what they have to have sex with a young girl or boy. Certainly the urge is not something I can relate with, but watching Wolin scream and cry during his arrest did very little to arouse in me my human sympathy component that can relate with thieves, drug dealers and even murderers. It took me a while to see Wolin for the pathetic man that he is, a man who guards himself in a doctor’s rigid arrogance and can’t deign to imagine who he of all people who “never did anything” in his life could get caught. But underneath it all is a man who will live each day of the rest of his existence on Earth with the thought that were it not for one bad move, his life would be drastically different. Friends and neighbors and certainly family may love Wolin, but in their minds and his mind too is the thought of his embarrassing brush with the law, his chat logs. Things for Maurice Wolin will never be as they were before late August 2006, when he chucked his sunglasses down in frustration at the sight of officers with guns drawn at him.

I suppose that I would say the same thing for John Kennelly, but for the fact that ONE DAY after Chris Hansen confronted him while he was naked trying to do something dirty with a 13-year-old boy (who was also a decoy), the reporter caught him again trying to do just the same thing at a McDonalds in the Washington, D.C. area.

It seems that with Kennelly the shame isn’t so bad and maybe that’s the beauty of his perverted and deluded mind. Unlike Wolin, Kennelly who was by all accounts unemployed and down on his luck at the time of his arrest, this public pervert can insulate himself in the thought that as bad as things are, they may not have been all that great to begin with. Of course that’s no excuse for trying to rape a child (PLEASE DON’T MISUNDERSTAND ME). But if Kennelly ever does wake up from his haze and feels the tinges of shame and humiliation, I suppose he’ll want to die and not much more.

Watching a special education teacher (pictured below with the neon green shirt) squirm in front of Chris Hansen is not pleasant like watching a well-executed double play or a beautiful woman on TV, but it does give me some satisfaction and captures me in wonder trying to guess what must have been going through the perp’s head at exact moment of his downfall. Before he walked in the door to the sting house he may have been a respected member of his community, a loving family member and a civic volunteer. Albeit his homosexuality, there was likely not much to separate him at least on the outside from the public at large. That is until he was revealed for being a public pervert with an appetite for young boys.

I don’t know who it is more tragic for, the guy caught up in the sting or the unwitting wife or father who gets the call and has to post bond on a person who is now entirely different to them.

It is strange that people will risk what they have for sex with a legal person, let alone an illegal person. It hardly seems worth it, but then again, lurking beneath every soul on this earth is some demon; addiction, predilection or obsession with something that is not helpful to them, whether it be food, cigarettes or sex.

I have trouble garnering up sympathy for a guy like Maurice Wolin. I feel more sympathy for his spouse and the little girls he had to tell her not to bring after she posted a $50,000 bail on him (that’s him below calling home after his initial interrogation).

What if the decoy were not a decoy but a real person? Who is to say he hasn’t done it before and wouldn’t do it again. Who is to say he wouldn’t hurt a young girl to cover his tracks. A man with his apparent ablomb and arrogance, hey, you never now.

No one is perfect–even New York City firefighters–so it should be as no surprise that the man pictured below could also be a sex predator caught on national television.

But maybe his parents didn’t know, or his friends or someone who admired him or loved him.  I’m trying not to go over the top with my speculation about To Catch a Predator. As I’ve said before, too many people are shocked at what lurks inside of certain individuals. For all the good Maurice Wolin, the special education instructor or the fireman may have done in their life, they obviously didn’t care enough to protect what they had and in the end will also suffer shame for it. I feel a Christian sympathy for them as I hope can be felt for me when I make mistakes in my life. But law and pragmatism overcome me and so does a weird resentment that people can be so stupid in life, masquerading as normal and doing such revolting things but not taking responsibility when all is said and done.

I don’t pity Maurice Wolin the individual in American society. From what I’ve seen and read of him, he’s brash, conceited and pompous. The beauty of our nation is that it strives to treat all men and women equally under the law, so long as they are fit to care for themselves and defend themselves and are not in a state of vulnerability as to make them helpless.

A man like Wolin will use lawyers and excuses to get himself out of the felony charges against him when it is clear that by his own transcripts he intended on being pleasured by a middle school-aged girl. Whether or not his preference for younger flesh is biological or freely willed is unimportant. It’s that he didn’t see it’s destructiveness as important that matters. In that sense, let the State of California have its way with him. It’s just too bad he’s got a family to drag down with his stupidity.

My fledgling Christian side hopes he will wake up one morning and love himself again. But I suppose like all of us who commit some type of wrong whether it’s stealing, adultery or other forms of deceit, and are caught in the act, he’s gotta be big enough to admit that he and he alone screwed up by trying to rape a girl. Hopefully if he does wake up on that morning he’ll have dealt with the obvious, that life is not as it was before the national spotlight caught him at the worst moment in his life, ever. Hopefully then he’ll admit what he’s done to himself and to his family and realize that although people don’t forget, some may forgive and that there is some redeeming quality or qualities that he can harvest from him that may grow up and crush the lurking demon inside of him. Until then he’ll maintain the story he told the detective (pictured in the last frame here). And he’ll be stuck on that day when they cuffed his skinny behind.

Joseph Smith and Brigham Young: Religious Prophets or Malignant Narcissists?
I just had occassion to finish reading John Krakauer’s enthralling book Under the Banner of Heaven,  which tells the story of Ron and Dan Lafferty, brothers and members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, who in 1984 carried out the brutal murder of their sister-in-law Brenda Lafferty and niece Erica. The brothers, fanatics by no other name, subscribed to a bizarre mixture of Mormon theology, Old Testament justice and New Age mysticism, killed to attone for Brenda Lafferty’s opposition to their form of Taliban style religious zealotry, particularly their embrace of polygamy.

Although the Lafferty brothers were excommunicated by the Salt Lake City, Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, both subscribed to an orthodox interpretation of the religion’s founder, seer and prophet, Joseph Smith, who in his life claimed to have received revelations from God Almighty to proclaim a new order to replace the apostasy of all other Christian religions. For those such as myself who are not Mormon, LDS theology is a strange bag, a faith that seems to fly in the face of the basic tenets of Judeo-Christian belief, particulary the teaching that mortal man can and will, through the practice of Mormon virtue become himself a god of a celestial kingdom in the hereafter.

Mormonism, among other things, holds that even the dead can be baptized to save them from eternal punishment.

Only a handful of tenets of Mormonism in the thoughts and minds of an unbeliever such as myself are needed to label this American-born religion peculiar at best. Mormon history teaches that upon his death and resurection Christ came to the Americas to establish his church to two lost tribes of Israel, who vanquished each other some 1,600 years ago. Although no credible archaelogical or biological evidence exists to show that the American Indian was descended from Palestine, nevertheless Mormons hold steadfast that at one point there was a thriving Christian society here in the New World, one that dissapeared as all decadent civilizations do. Joseph Smith, a convicted con artist from near Rochester, New York, was the one blessed to have the history of the American people revealed to him.

Theology aside–and I for one will never prescribe to the tenets of Mormonism–I find it a mixed blessing that such a bizarre faith can also exist in modern times, documented as it was by both officials in the fledgling church as well as partisans newspapers who took different degrees of skepticism or outright opposition to Smith and his peculiar new faith, which challenged the old order of Christendom as well as the civil laws of a young nation.

With the history of Mormonism at our fingertips we are privileged as observers of few other religions in that we know much about the founding fathers of the LDS movement. Although there is debate as to the personality and ethics of Joseph Smith, much more is known about him than the lightning rod of orthodox Christian evangelism, St. Paul of Tarsus, the author of more than a dozen letters to the early Christian communities of the 1st Century Mediteranean. Much is said about and speculated of the Greek Jewish tent maker, but only guesses based on varying degrees of analysis can bring us towards understanding St. Paul. 1500 years following his death, in a vastly different world with an accelerated means of disseminating information, the Mormon prophet can be understood better in the context of his time, upbringing and personality.

Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven views Mormonism through the lenses of official LDS teachings as well as the various apostasies and brutalities carried out against and by adherents, including the Lafferty brothers. Although Krakauer does not openly indict Mormonism as the catalyst for all types of social problems, much as the Brahmin, Anglo-Saxon Protestants of the 19th Century did to the horde of Catholic immigrants to America, he does effectively demonstrate how a faith based on such miniscule amounts of historical merit and such copious reserves of personal conjecture and revelation can lay the seeds for the bizzare and brutal goings-on in various communities in the Southwest where an orthodox ideal of Mormonism is espoused, which includes the widespread practice of polygamy and sexual abuse of minors. 

An agnostic, Krekauer does not let other religions off of the hook. One only look at the inquisitions of Jews, the expulsion of Arabs from Palestine and ever-growing suicide attacks of non-believers or infidel Muslims to see that all religion begets, though unintentionally, bad fruit. Even Catholicism, to which I subscribe, has a bloody past.

So much of religion it seems is based on the personalities and beliefs of its early members and modern day officials. Benevolence or outright narcissitic personalities are the foundations for how a religion unfolds in time. Without stirring the pot as I have with Scientology and its obviously self-obsessed founder Lafayette Ron Hubbard, I will venture to say that the founder, seer and prophet of the Mormon faith was if nothing else a narcisstic personality, one who with great devotion to himself and his fanciful ideas used his direct connection to the Almighty to sanction everything from the innocuous construction of temples, to plural marriage (which was very unpopular with many in the early Mormon faith) to the practice of Blood Atonement, as practiced not only by the Lafferty brothers but scores of other Fundamentalist Mormons and even carried out by Smith’s successor Brigham Young, namesake of LDS’ great university and the sire of more than 70 children from dozens of wives.

In Joseph Smith’s short life it seems he was bounded by a great love of himself and mistrust of others. He had hoped to establish a haven here in this young nation that would allow him and his followers to practice freely their faith and peculiar ways free of the infringement of federal authority. At the same time Smith was want to restrict the rights of non-Mormons as well as apostates from his community. The victim of persecutions, Smith too oversaw violent persecution of non-Mormons as a means of correcting the wrongs that even Jesus was powerless to penalize. As Christ said, he who lives by the sword so shall die by it, and in a century of newly honed firepower, Smith was taken down by bullets and thus became a martyr to the strange faith he birthed.

His successor Brigham Young, arguably an astute organizer and loyal Mormon, carried the torch of totalitarian faith a step further in relocating his people thousands of miles away and attempting to establish an LDS theocracy in his the Southwest. Young governed over thousands, taught the inferiority of other peoples and the subhuman nature of Blacks and Indians. In the last Century Mormon historians as well as non-Mormon historians have uncovered evidence that Young gave consent to the execution of more than 120 settlers on their way through Utah in 1857. Several years ago I read a fabulous book about the attack, American Massacre, by a descendent of the murderers, Sally Denton.

Much can be said about charismatic leaders and much should be noted about the founders of the Mormon faith and those who preserve it officially or unofficially. Krakauer’s book succeeded in illustrating the free license Mormons (official or otherwise excommunicated) to take prophecy into their own hands as is evidenced by the many splinter Fundamentalist LDS communities who can trace their polygamy, incest and violence back to the words of Joseph Smith, who declared celestial marriage as a fundamental tenet of his faith (despite the reservations of his own wife!).

To blame Mormons in general for the actions of pedophile-enabler Warren Jeffs of other self-proclaimed Mormon prophets is of course obscene and unfair and would be akin to blaming me for the St. Valentines Massacre of Prostestants in 17th Century France. Mere confession in a faith does not imply complicity. Rather, faith molds for better or worse the actions of the narcisstic fringe element of any religion. In Mormonism, it just so happens that the founders of the faith fit the mold of the self-absorbtion of an anti-social personality and worldview from Smith to Young to John D. Lee, who carried out the massacre of settlers.

I find Mormonism to be interesting. Certainly, I should never subscribe to it, but I have now read four books relating to the faith and hope to read a more official history of the religion to see what separates the average hard-working family oriented LDS member from the self-absorbed prophet. I recommend Krakauer’s book to any of you reading this. It’s a fast read and well worth it in understanding an essential aspect of our collective American history.

Is it 2007 or did someone get the flux capacitor in the Delorean working and I’m back in another time? Let me check. Well, my computer calendar says that it’s 2007, July 3 to be exact. Good. At least I know where I am. That said it sure does feel like we’re back in another time altogether, an era of intellectual pre-evolution? Maybe just 2005.

Last month, Rep. John Murtha, the Pittsburgh area Democrat known for his vocal support of an unconditional withdrawal from Iraq turned the other cheek on rationality and sponsored a bill that would ban desecration of the American flag. Murtha is certainly not the first or only congressman to support the unconstitutional attempt to restrict the inalienable right to freedom of speech nor will he be the last. He’s merely one in a chain of legislators from both parties who believe it is their duty and privilege to tell us what is acceptable speech or not.

Generally speaking, when he or she thinks of flag desecration the average American pictures some misanthrope who looks something like Chubaca setting it ablaze at a rally to support some unpopular leftist cause. In fact, defilement of the stars and stripes has become synonymous in the collective consciousness with fire engulfing America’s most sacred symbol.

But let’s hold that thought for a moment. Put on pause the internal video replay of the man with the Birkenstocks turning red, white and blue to ash and consider some other forms of vandalism that can happen to Old Glory.

Several years ago while I was up at Lake George during the Fourth of July weekend there were several women wearing American flag bikini swimsuits to celebrate the event. As nice as a woman in a bikini is to look at, could that not in itself be a form of desecration? After all we’re talking about intimate body parts and the sacred symbol of liberty and freedom making contact. Still, I’ve yet to hear the outcry from congressmen or flag-waving speedboat enthusiasts.

Here’s another case: How often do we as consumers open the newspaper only to be buried in an avalanche of glossy advertisements peddling televisions, menswear, lawn and garden equipment, intimates and sporting equipment? Next time you dig yourself out from underneath the catalogs and fliers that come from between the sports and business sections take stock of how much the likeness of the American flag is used to illustrate any number of sales events, from Memorial, Labor and Veterans days to the Fourth of July. It could be the Ides of March and you’re still likely to find it. Is that not a form of despoliation as well? After all, those of us dog owners use inserts to clean up after our pooches.

Take for example the irony that is lost on the owner of a car on whose tail bumper is an American flag sticker with the empty slogan “These Colors Don’t Run”. Unless he changes it often those colors do something worse than running. They fade into a mucky yellow and brown that is more evocative of an atomic flash burn than the sight that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the words to our cherished anthem. Isn’t that a sacrilegious neglect of our flag?

Everyone knows tattoos can fade. They also stretch and distend too. Depending on how well a person keeps himself in shape his American flag could end up in rough shape on the body of a careless person. It could get pulled every which way by body fat or cellulite until it is a revolting monstrosity. Certainly that is a form of insulting our national symbol.

To convince someone of the fallacy of his position one need only to reduce its suppositions and foundations to absurdity. I propose that in order to demonstrate how ridiculous the idea of banning the flag desecration is, we appeal less to its obvious unconstitutionality and disregard for the principles for which the flag stand (which are strong) and instead to the simple fact that getting up in arms about desecration is about as rational as flying off of the handle over someone wiping sweat on a Coors Light t-shirt.

Plain and simple, the flag is an image. It may stand for lofty things, but let’s face the fact that it’s really just a piece of cloth or sticker, or plastic or ink. In itself it has no intrinsic value. It can be honored or dishonored and either way the world will keep turning. So, if one is not worthy to stand up for his Coors Light t-shirt than why should he stand up for another inanimate object? It’s a flag. In the end it really doesn’t mean anything but what we individually prescribe to it. For some it’s a symbol of freedom, to others a reminder of the Union and for another crowd it’s a living embodiment of a nation in which one is free to drive a huge truck and shoot animals. You may believe the flag stands for inalienable rights but to your neighbor it represents the power to stampede on your rights and the rights of others.

I personally challenge people to desecrate the flag in anyway the see fit. Certainly, it’s tacky, but let’s face it, so is the Bald Eagle tank top or those meaningless yellow magnet ribbons. Desecrate it in your own way, whether that means making it into clothing, a table cloth, dragging it from your car, putting it on a shopping bag or yes, burning it. I love America, but I love America not for the virtue that it exists, but for what it offers us in regards to our God-endowed faculties of reason, introspection and compassion. These are the virtues on which our republic was constructed and ones on which she will rise and fall, not a piece of cloth which merely serves as a reminder of what we could lose if we follow in the path of those who are bold enough to deny our rights of reason and self-expression.