Sunday, December 29, 2013

Bad Grandpa and the broken angel

I'm well aware of the old saying, “fish and visitors stink after three days.” I've been a visitor in Pennsylvania for eight days now, with four more to go, and I have tried to avoid stinking up the place by being as unobtrusive as possible, not being a burden on my hosts.

Yesterday to my horror I committed a faux pas by breaking a piece of statuary that was on the fireplace mantle. It was of an angel. The family members are practicing Catholics and their home has some religious themed artwork here and there. I was up and dressed before the rest of the household on Saturday morning, so I went to the living room to write on my laptop. I saw a safety pin on the floor by the fireplace. Without thinking I bent down to pick it up and when I stood up my shoulder hit the mantle, the angel hit the tile floor and in seconds was in a thousand pieces. I cleaned up the mess and waited for the folks whose hospitality I had so horribly abused to get up. When they did I showed them the garbage bin with the remains of my transgression and expressed my dismay. Basically, they just blew it off. “No big deal. No need to feel bad.” It didn’t help. I still felt bad.

My grandchildren, Bella (9) and Gabby (7 1/2) were eating their breakfast. “Why didn't you catch it?” Gabby asked, innocently. Her mother jumped right in with an admonition to her to be polite to Grandpa.

“We broke that once,” confessed Gabby.

There is a double standard. If a kid breaks something there is often a punishment. When an adult breaks something they can usually get off with a mea culpa and a heartfelt apology.

(This is one bad luck angel. My wife, Sally, told me she had knocked it over one other time and broken something off which she repaired with super glue. My son David later told me when the kids broke the angel he replaced it out of a catalog for $30, and perhaps I could do the same.)

The kids went back to their room to play. Sally, to whom I had confessed my error, had gotten up and dressed, and went to the kids’ room to wish them good morning. When she opened the door Bella said, “Grandpa broke the angel! He broke its head right off!

Sally said, “Yes, and he feels really bad.”

Gabby said, “Bad Grandpa!” then added, “...and once again, victory is ours!”

Bad Grandpa is the name of a movie, and the title fit the situation. The “victory is ours” I recognize but don’t know where she got it. Maybe she read it in a book, or saw it on television. Maybe she recognized what I just said about the double standard on breaking things, and her comment was aimed at that. It cracked us up, though.

Something I may not have mentioned before in this blog is my overall klutziness, which comes from having my hands or feet move before engaging my brain. I have tried to correct this serious flaw, but occasionally it revisits me.

For the balance of our visit I will attempt to do what I do in antique stores: keep my arms at my sides and think before reaching for anything. And my hope is that after we leave in four more days our kind hosts won't turn to each other and say, “Fish and visitors...”

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How the gay Grinch stole Utah bigots' Christmas

A story in the Salt Lake Tribune for Tuesday, December 24, means a great Christmas for gay people and their friends, families and supporters in Utah, and a very Grinchy Christmas for the sanctimonious moralists, homophobes and bigots.

I'm away from Utah for another week, spending time with family in Pennsylvania, and yet watching Utah make big news over a judge's ruling this past Friday.

Federal Court Judge Robert Shelby determined that laws aimed at restricting marriage between same-sex couples is unconstitutional. This is a double blow for Utah Republicans. First, they had the ruling that parts of Utah's anti-polygamy laws are unconstitutional, and now laws against gay marriage.

I've been reading that the Brethren* are meeting hurriedly to try to figure out what to do to roll back what this "activist judge" (Utah governor Herbert's term for him) hath wrought. They quickly filed a request for a stay in the law so that county clerks could no longer issue marriage licenses to gay couples and Judge Shelby wouldn't budge because as he put it, the request for stay just repeated the same arguments he found unconstitutional. So the State went to the 10th Circuit Court and asked for a stay.

On Christmas Eve the 10th Circuit Court refused to issue a stay. As I write this during the late evening of December 24th gay marriage is still legal in Utah. I believe it will go through the court system and come out with the same result: Utah will be the 18th state in which gay people can legally marry.

I think it's great. It was coming anyway, my fellow Utahns and fellow Americans (even Phil Robertson, the anti-gay Duck Dynasty guy). You had better get used to it because it is here, and within a few years, maybe less than five, the rest of the United States will fall in line, and all those anti-gay "pro-family" folks (pro-heterosexual family, that is) will have to adjust to a changed society.

I also read online that Utah is expecting a white Christmas. To all of you Utah people who feel that Santa left you a lump of coal for Christmas, cheer up. It will not be the end of the world. I leave you with a wish that your days be merry and bright. To the same-sex couples exulting in a Christmas gift thanks to the Constitution, don you now your gay apparel and have a great and wonderful Christmas and New Year.

*It is sometimes hard to tell Mormon ecumenical leaders in Utah from state officials, since they are all poured from the same mold.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Only in Utah

Some recent stories have made the local news that remind me I live in a place which can be a world unto itself. Sometimes we in Utah are members of American society at large, sometimes we are in a theocratic bubble in which the inhabitants try to ignore the laws of the nation.

For over a century it has been illegal to be a polygamist in Utah. It came about when the federal government made it a condition of statehood in the 1890s. The Mormons, after having taught polygamy was immune to man’s laws and only answerable to God, declared that polygamy was no longer part of the religion. Polygamists would be excommunicated. It caused a lot of splinter sects which still practiced polygamy to spin off from the official church into small bands loosely called fundamentalist Mormons.

Last Friday U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups, in answer to a lawsuit filed by members of the family that make up the TLC “reality” show, Sister Wives, declared that parts of Utah’s polygamy laws, those related to cohabitation, were unconstitutional. The rest of the statutes regarding polygamy: no taking of child brides, domestic violence, taking out multiple marriage licenses (bigamy) are still in effect. Polygamists marry in religious ceremonies and don’t take out licenses.

The truth is that except for the more egregious breaches of law no polygamists have been prosecuted in Utah in over half a century solely for being in a polygamous marriage. No polygamists are prosecuted for cohabitation, which would be a total waste of taxpayer money.

So…what changed, and why was it headline news? Well, nothing changed, really, except to make Utah Governor Gary Herbert announce that he would have to study what the ramifications of the judge’s ruling are. He said, “I’m always a little concerned when we have decisions that change public policy by the courts . . .I’d much rather see decisions on social issues come from our legislature representing the will of the people. [Emphasis mine.]

 Gov. Herbert, whose round face makes me think of a grownup Charlie Brown, has that Peanuts character’s wishy-washiness.

In other words, our governor has put himself into the story with his usual pronouncements, implying that any federal law that makes sense trumps a local law that doesn’t. This in regard to a ruling that just affirmed that we are no longer living in the nineteenth century, and laws regarding cohabitation, whether for religious or sexual purposes, are no longer the business of anyone but the people doing the cohabiting. Those laws, which are still on the books in some states besides Utah, are not enforced anywhere in the U.S. because cohabitation may be seen as immoral by some, but is not illegal.

Yet the story made the newspaper front page two days in a row.

Only in Utah.

Another story has to do with a controversy over a long-held belief by Mormons that people of African descent were “cursed in the pre-existence” with black skin to show they had not been as vigilant on the side of right during a war in heaven. So God sent them into the world to be enslaved and discriminated against. I was taught this arcane belief when still a member of the church. Many Mormons used it as a defense of discrimination and prejudice. In 1978 the church changed its policy, declaring that the time of discriminating against blacks for their skin color was over, and that now black people could hold the priesthood in the Latter-day Saints church. Some devout Mormons, who had a tough time giving up those longtime, strongly-held beliefs thought the church was bowing to social pressure, and that the “curse” was still a fact, even if not recognized officially.

Bigot Brigham Young

The story that hit the news last week was that the church has finally admitted that the belief of fence-sitting souls in a pre-existence war who would be born as black was never doctrinal. It came from Brigham Young, church president when the church relocated in the mid-nineteenth century to the wilderness that was Utah. As the church story explained, Brigham Young was “of his time,” and had prejudices relating to his era. All that mumbo-jumbo about a curse was never an official Mormon belief, even though it was taught by church leaders and even defended for many years by devout Latter-day Saints as coming straight from God. (My article about this belief is here.)

My personal feeling was that it became church policy when the Mormons came West in 1847 because the country was being pulled apart by slavery. As a practical matter Brigham Young didn’t want runaway or former slaves to feel at home in Utah. So Brigham did what Brigham did best: he went to the revelation card and claimed God told him that was the way it was. After a century-and-a-half his obvious and odious lie made local front page headlines.

Only in Utah.

Ron Lafferty, tormented by a ghost?

The third story is a little trickier because it hinges on a statement by a defense lawyer defending murderer Ron Lafferty, who lives in Utah State Prison’s death row. In 1985, in some fit of crazy religious zealotry, Lafferty and his brother, Dan, murdered a third brother’s wife and her 15-month-old daughter. Lafferty has never been thought of as a mentally fit person, but the defense lawyer has a unique take on the latest goings-on in this now nearly 30-year-old saga.

Lafferty has claimed to being harassed by the deceased father of the judge. As quoted in the copyrighted article by Brooke Adams in the December 10, 2013 Salt Lake Tribune:
     “Lafferty believes that the ghost of Judge Steven J. Hansen’s father tormented him during the . . . trial, causing him physical discomfort and leading him to act out during the proceedings. The ghost, according to Lafferty, did so because he was unhappy with how the judge conducted the proceedings.
     “While many of Lafferty’s beliefs are rooted in the Mormon faith within which he was raised, this particular belief diverges from [Latter-day Saint] theology about how spirit beings interact with the mortal world, the attorneys say.
     “‘This is not a belief that is shared by Mr. Lafferty’s cultural or subcultural (sic) group,’ the brief says, “Therefore it is a delusion.’”
So let us make clear what the defense is saying. If Lafferty is tormented by a ghost, he’s not delusional in the sense that ghosts do not exist and cannot be tormenting him, it’s a delusion only because the Mormon church does not believe that is how spirits of the dead interact with the living.

Got that?

Only in Utah.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Don Martin’s Great Non-Violent Guns from Mad

Saturday, December 14 is the one-year anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty children and six adults including teachers, a counselor and principal were killed by a crazed man with a Bushmaster 223 assault rifle.

Unlike last year after the tragedy when the National Rifle Association made a lot of noise to beat back the criticism of America’s gun laws, this year I haven’t heard a peep from them, or caught a glimpse of Wayne LaPierre’s ridiculous toupĂ©e. Maybe the NRA is too busy working on beating back any pending legislation of plastic guns that anyone can make with a 3D printer. (Ain’t technology wonderful?)

Don Martin had some funny ideas for non-violent guns in an old Mad magazine. I wish these were the most dangerous weapons available.

Copyright © E.C. Publications, Inc.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

“I wear the chain I forged in life”

Alec Guinness as my favorite ghost.

Of all the Christmas stories I like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol the best. And of the characters in the story, my favorite is one who doesn’t take up much room. It is Marley’s ghost, laden down with chains and cashboxes. Marley is a bellwether for Scrooge, to warn him of the need for changes in his miserly life, and the upcoming visits of three other ghosts.
“I wear the chain I forged in life,'' replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”

Scrooge trembled more and more.

“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!”
The chain is a good metaphor for those things we have done that weigh us down. Unless you have no conscience you probably have mistakes or crimes or cruelties that are still with you, maybe even decades after they happened. I do. (Note to law enforcement: any “crimes” I committed were strictly misdemeanors, for which the statutes of limitations have long since passed. Just thought I’d make that clear.)

What bothers me most are things I said to people I wish I had never said. In a moment of anger I spouted off and said something unkind. It happened fairly regularly, so regularly that in the mid-seventies my job supervisor told me I had a “tongue that cuts like a scalpel.” It was him telling me that made me think of what I was doing. And dammit, I am still thinking of it. I’d say that my scalpel tongue has probably earned me about ten feet of heavy battleship chain by now.

I won’t go into any more of my transgressions because, frankly, they would be boring to you and yet for me, even after forty or fifty years they are still hard to speak of. They would be good for telling to a therapist, though, and some of them I have unburdened to the two therapists I consulted since the mid-nineties. Telling them lightened my chain by at least a couple of pounds.

I don’t believe in sin as a religious concept. There are things we do that are right to do because they do not intrude on or damage our fellow human beings, or make them suffer. There are things we should not do, not because we fear eternal punishment, but because they are the price of living in harmony in civilization.

In that sense I don’t believe in Marley’s ghost except as a literary construction, but a powerful construction it is. That image of Marley and his chains is a visual aid for me to help me decide with how much I want to burden myself, not in some hereafter, but in the here-and-now.

Illustration by Roberto Innocenti.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Where do lost things go? The Twilight Zone?

I’ve been looking for five or six days for my eyeglasses, which have a gold-colored wire frame. They are in my house somewhere, I’m 100% certain, but despite my best efforts I cannot find them. They seem to have disappeared between sometime in the hour between taking them off, and then needing them.

Ever have that happen to you? Of course you have. I don’t know how you handle the situation, but my usual way of finding something is to stop looking. After I’ve made a reasonable attempt to locate the lost object, I will stop looking and then within an undetermined period of time, hours, days or even months, I will suddenly come upon it. “So that’s where I left it!” will usually be the first words out of my mouth. Works like a charm. Usually. Stop looking, find what I’m looking for. Not this time, though.

I started going through a mental checklist of things I am missing that defy my efforts to find them. It’s been a gradual thing over time. Because of that time frame I hadn’t really considered all that has disappeared. It is a considerable amount of small things. Where are they, and a larger question would be, where do things go?

Perhaps they go into the Twilight Zone. Do you remember the 1963 episode, “Little Girl Lost”? A four-year-old falls out of bed right into a dimensional gateway. Her father goes in to find her and bring her back.

When I watched that episode again a few days ago I understood where my lost items are. They are in another dimension, having fallen through a gateway that appeared in my house. I suppose once I find that I will find my lost items.