WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY, KENNETH? Back when I was still optimistic enough to believe conspiracy theories were real, I focused my considerable paranoia on David Rockefeller and his Trilateral Commission. At the time, they had collectively concluded the world suffered from an excess of democracy. Having just turned voting age at the time, I took all this very personally.
At that time, I also worried a lot about the subliminally diabolical machinations of Episcopalians. Having just stumbled onto the writings of C. Wright Mills — the sociologist who proved the existence of a ruling class in America — I knew that people fretting about “an excess of democracy” tended to pray in Episcopalian pews.
I mention this because in one week recently, I found myself approached on three separate occasions by people warning me that behind every bad thing would be a Freemason.
One was a former IT wizard who once fixed my Independent computer when it went on the fritz, a term, it turns out, that is steeped in anti-German bias. Another was a kind soul who rang the Independent’s doorbell one Saturday afternoon in hopes of alerting me to the danger, but my blank stare persuaded him he was casting his pearls before my swine. The last was a candidate in the city’s most recent mayoral campaign, Boat Rat Matt Kilrain — who filed an 81-page legal brief conjoining the Freemasons with the Illuminati and blaming them both for pretty much everything that’s depraved: all the usual stuff about pedophilia rings and child abuse, but more specifically in the emergence of transgender rights. To be accurate, I’m not entirely sure what he was on about, my head having exploded somewhere around page 22.
Over time, I’ve grown dubious about conspiracies. Having tried a few, they’re tougher than they look. Such thinking is for people too weak and scared to accept the world is beyond control. But given that I’m paid to be a reporter, I decided to look into the matter.
The Freemasons — being as diabolical as they are — were hiding in plain sight. They operate out of a magnificent, eye-popping, four-story building right in the heart of Santa Barbara’s financial district that nobody knows is even there. They’re good, right?
I know a couple of speech pathologists with offices on the fourth floor there and asked them what the skinny was. They arranged for me to meet the Grand Poobah. His name is Maurice Sourmany, but he goes by Moe, and technically, his title is Personal Representative. In person, Moe was all sweetness, warmth, and sly humor. “We are not a secret society,” Moe explained, seeking to rebut persistent claims that have dogged the organization since its inception in the days of King Solomon. “We are a fraternal organization that has secrets.”
No wonder Moe was Grand Poobah. He was good.
Sign Up to get Nick Welsh’s award-winning column, The Angry Poodle delivered straight to your inbox on Saturday mornings.
Even more disarming was the extensive array of speech therapy programs the Freemasons provide free of charge up on the fourth floor where the windowpanes are so old the glass drips. Kids from 3 to 5 years old with hearing or speech problems can get the help they need.
Did I say free of charge? That way, when they’re sucked into the unforgiving vortex of elementary-school education, they don’t find themselves so far behind before they’ve even started. Every year, the local Freemasons provide roughly $250,000 in free speech therapy.
That’s how diabolically clever they are.
But what else would you expect from an organization whose members include pretty much every fire chief in city history, as well as T.M. Storke, Santa Barbara’s long-ago press potentate and U.S. Senator; Dr. William Sansum, who put insulin in diabetics and Santa Barbara on the map; and John Stearns, whose wharf allowed visitors to get off the boat and come ashore. My favorite is Burl Ives, the actor and folk singer, whose gentle songs once lulled millions of children to sleep. He too was a member of the cabal. Of course he was.
I left, utterly hoodwinked and bamboozled. Moe — whose family ran the Victor the Florist shop for three generations until COVID shut them down — couldn’t have been nicer and more understated. Of course, I reflected, he would be.
Upon saying goodbye and heading back to work, I had time to lament the extent to which conspiracy theories have been rendered so null and void. We occupy a wrinkle of history where we no longer need secret cabals of nefarious elites conspiring to do us in. The stark truth is that we are more than happy to do the dirty deed ourselves.
A recent study by Dr. Steven Woolf at Virginia Commonwealth University indicates the United States reported more deaths from COVID after the vaccine was made available in early 2021 (478,286) than the year before (350,000). That’s a 38 percent increase in deaths despite the availability of the vaccine. Driving these numbers was the intransigent stubbornness of White people who refused for various reasons to get vaccinated.
While 19 other industrialized democracies reported slight increases in their respective life expectancies in the year of the vaccine, the United States reported a second year of steady decline. In the last two years, our collective life expectancy dropped by 2.3 years. Even among people of color — hardest hit by the pandemic in 2020 — life expectancy flattened out or improved slightly. But in 2021, states with the largest percentages of White people also experienced the largest COVID die-offs and more pronounced drops in life expectancy. “What happened in the U.S. is less about the variants than the levels of resistance to vaccination,” opined Dr. Woolf. No doubt, he too, belongs to a Freemasons Lodge.
Just shows to go: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him think.