Two weeks ago, three people-one adult and two minors-were sentenced to two years in jail for burning a cross on the lawn of a Jewish family in Huntington Beach. While some were outraged at the vile nature of the crime, others were outraged that three kids-the "adult" was all of 18-were doing time for a grossly ill-advised prank, one reportedly suggested by the family's 15-year-old son. Still others were upset that anyone would be put away for burning something in Huntington Beach, where setting fire to things is a time-honored, important cog of local culture.
It was the kind of victim speak we hear every day from junkies and public school attendees, the kind that is killing this country. Fortunately, last week, Orange County Register columnist Gordon Dillow infused a heapin' spoonful of old-fashioned country horse into the fray. Dillow noted that while someone can be put away for desecrating religious objects, the American flag "can be burned, shredded, stomped, spit on and otherwise defiled with legal impunity."
Dillow used an angry letter from a reader to drive his point home. Jon Prun of Mission Viejo wrote: "You can burn an American flag, but you can't desecrate a religious object? That's ludicrous."
I know Prun's frustration. For years, my friends and I have enjoyed burning the American flag. At intimate flag-burning mixers and at raucous "long-may-it-blaze" barbecues. Our Fourth of Julys always had an extra-special glow to them, and June 14 ("Con-Flag-gration Day," as we called it) was always celebrated as if it were Christmas-if people celebrated Christmas by dancing around a big flaming pile of American flags.
But, as Prun's letter suggests, there comes a time when a person seeks other challenges. One tires of flags. Sure, you can amuse yourself with small-scale reproductions of the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore. But eventually, your thoughts turn to the things that matter-the Bible, the cross, the Star of David-and burning them.
But, apparently, the P.C. police have decided that burning sacred objects doesn't fit in with the happy, shiny world they've formulated with the United Nations. And now the real police can arrest you for committing a hate crime.
Well, you'll pardon me if I don't bow down to that Amerika; you'll pardon me if I refuse to march with the rest of the beaten-down droids. I am an American. I still believe in what America stands for, what our Founding Fathers, who passionately hated religion, envisioned. I still believe that the last four letters of "American" are our greatest treasure, as in "I CAN set rosary beads on fire and fling them in a game of Blazing Bolo Bingo."
That's freedom, my friends. Freedom. But freedom scares people, so in exchange for feeling "safe," they're willing to have their kids attend high schools at which productions of Joan of Arc end with Joan choking on a steak.
Or let's say you're a radical Buddhist monk with a match and a political statement to make. Sorry, bald friend, we don't do free speech anymore. Someone might get their feelings hurt.
Or say you're on an Arctic expedition that will bring great acclaim to this country, and while you're heading back from one of the region's snowy areas, your sled breaks down. All you have are the clothes on your back, your faithful dog Shep, and a big, fat, ancient volume of the Upanishadsyou found while exploring.
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You need heat to survive. Burn your clothes? Ridiculous. You'd lose your deposit. Shep? He's been with you through good times and bad. He's even saved your life several times; just one hour before, he had pulled you out of that snow bank. Anyway, what kind of maniac, besides a Norwegian, would set a dog on fire?
So you're left with the Upanishads. The Upanishadsthat are miraculously dry. You reach for them, but then you think about the possible legal problems that could be incurred. You're torn. Death in the cold? Life in prison? Then you light Shep on fire.
And you feel horrible, gasping at the fact you did it and that you had to keep chasing old Shep around with that special Arctic-strength lighter fluid because he kept putting himself out on the snow. And now good old Shep-who never asked for anything, except not to be set on fire-is smoldering, and you're not even getting that much heat off him because you can't get too close to him because he smells so bad.
As Gordon Dillow would tell you, that dog won't hunt.