Friday, 22 October 2010

Quality of Life Improvement 30: A tour of the Lāʻie Hawaiʻi Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church)

Hawaiʻi's Taj Mahal, the Mormon (LDS Church) temple in Lāʻie, will be open to the general public for three weeks starting Friday, 22 October, 2010.

The temple is noteworthy in that it was the first Mormon temple erected outside of Utah, being first dedicated on 27 November, 1919, but to those familiar with the religion's history, this shouldn't be surprising.

To make a very long, outlandish story shorter, the Mormon narrative sharply diverges from Christianity in the belief that, sometime around 600 BCE, a group of Israelites sailed to the Western Hemisphere and established themselves somewhere in the Americas. These Israelites ultimately splintered into factions, principally: the fair-skinned and righteous, the Nephites; and the swarthy, wicked Lamanites. Eventually, Jesus dropped by the Americas after his resurrection and imparted His religion, all peoples were united, and peace reigned for 84 years in the hemisphere.

Then, slowly at first, Lamanite darkies started to fall away from Christ's faith, abandoning themselves to wickedness and sin. After ca 230 CE, war erupted between the Nephites and the numerically-greater Lamanites until, finally, in a series of wars from 236 to ca 400 CE, the "true believers in Christ," the Nephite nation, were completely liquidated.

Importantly, though, before the Nephites were utterly destroyed, their two final prophets and military commanders, Mormon and his son Moroni, transcribed the history of their people and of their religion on tablets that are now knowns as the "Golden Plates." Moroni, in anticipation of his death at the hands of Lamanites, buried the plates in what is now Wayne County, in New York state, whereafter Moroni, the last Nephite, was killed.

On September 21, 1823, the resurrected Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, Jr., and commanded him to first retrieve the Golden Plates from the Hill Cumorah and then to translate the plates into English, so that God's true religion could be once again known to the world. Joseph Smith did just as he was instructed, translating the plates from an unknown script called "reformed Egyptian" to English using at lease two seer stones (rocks, basically). Smith would carefully place the seer stones, known as the Urim and Thummim, in the bottom of his inverted top hat. The Urim and Thummim (plus top hat) would act as miraculous translating goggles, and it was in this manner that Joseph Smith translated the Golden Plates, a work that we now call The Book of Mormon.

This shameless conman and his misogynist cronies were driven out of New York and Ohio and Missouri and Illinois before they walked across the Great Plains to Utah, at that time not fully under the direct control of the United States government, which they dubbed the State of Deseret. The settlers quickly got themselves into trouble with the United States government, famously when they butchered an entire wagon-train of settlers bound for California, the so-called Mountain Meadows Massacre of 11 September, 1857.

With the word out in the United States that Mormons were, at best, a band of polygamist heathens, the nascent church met with little success in its efforts to attract converts. It was decided that the best course of action was to direct the missionaries to England and Scandinavia, not least because, as populations, they were the whitest, blondest and therefore most righteous. Surprisingly, the church succeeded in attracting converts, and, importantly, settlers, nearly all of whom quickly departed for Mormon colonies in the State of Deseret.

At around the same time, the Latter-day Saints sent their first contingent of missionaries to the Sandwich Islands, arriving on December 12, 1850, in Honolulu Harbor. The day following their arrival, the missionaries climbed a hill above Honolulu (Pacific Heights) and constructed the first (albeit crude) Mormon place of worship in Hawaiʻi and prayed. From then on, the church has enjoyed unusual popularity, not only in Hawaiʻi, but across Polynesia.

This popularity isn't completely unwarranted. Though the position has changed, originally, Mormons considered Polynesians to be the forgotten remnants of sainted, Nephite ancestors, and they largely treated them admirably, at a time when purported Christians were shamelessly exploiting Hawaiians (Jack London remarked at the time that "It comes with rather a shock to learn that in Hawaii the obscure, martyrdom-seeking missionary sits at the head of the table of the moneyed aristocracy.") and even stealing their entire country. In addition, the Mormon emphasis on hearth and home must have resonated with the culture-shocked Hawaiians, who loved their extended families and were reeling from demographic decimation and cultural collapse. It's our suspicion, also, that Mormonism represented the "Other" in the minds of both Hawaiians and Haoles of the late 19th century; If Anglicanism was a slap in the face to the children of the Calvinist missionaries, Mormonism was a dead fish wrapped in newspaper on their front lanai.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints centered their colony in Hawaiʻi in the Koʻolauloa district of Oʻahu, at the ancient place of refuge in that district, Puʻuhonua o Lāʻie. The colony prospered, so much so that by the turn of the 20th century a temple was considered justified.

Mormon temples are quite different than meeting houses. The latter are simply the weekly places of worship, similar to regular Christian churches, and all, members and non-members, are welcome to attend. Temples, though, are the holiest of holies in Mormonism, and not only must one be a Mormon to enter, but that Mormon must be in good standing in the church, pass an interview with their bishop and receive something called a "temple recommend," all just to gain entry to the temple.

That's why we read with such interest when the First Presidency of the Church announced a public open house at the Lāʻie Hawaiʻi Temple. This three-week period is a rare chance to enter the temple—something that many church members never get to do.

The open house and the tours that accompany it are possible now because the church has not yet re-dedicated the temple after its recent renovation. Since the temple was completed and dedicated in 1919, it has only been open for tours once before, in 1978 when it was similarly reopened after renovation.

This is the public's opportunity to see for themselves whether Mormon temples are repositories for cryopreserved cadavers (we've heard the names Walt Disney and Howard Hughes mentioned) or immense caches of Pepsi (caffeine-free, we assume) and AK-47s; or whether there is evidence of animal-sacrifice or Masonic rites; or whether members of the church really wear green aprons and confectioner's hats and give secret handshakes while in the temple (we're not telling).

We suggest that you make your reservation and an excursion to Lāʻie. We predict that it will be nothing if not a memorable experience, whether you simply learn the rather banal truth, as we see it, that Mormonism is just plain mass-delusion and groupthink with genuinely friendly people, or whether you only relish in the sight of the spectacularly white temple—itself a "pearl of great price"—standing out against the extravagant black-green of the Koʻolau.

The Lāʻie Hawaiʻi Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) is located at 55-600 Naniloa Loop, Lāʻie 96762-1299, Hawaiʻi, adjacent to Brigham Young University—Hawaiʻi.

For Lāʻie Hawaiʻi Temple Open House Reservations, visit 

Friday, 15 October 2010

Quality of Life Improvement 29: Anatomy of a Tulip (2010)

The closest that we've ever come to affection for corporate America came in the early-1990s, courtesy of (yes, shockingly, we know) United Airlines.

Hong Kong's airport was still the storied Kai Tak (啟德機場) in those long-gone days. The airport's single runway had been carefully inserted on a tiny sliver of land between Hong Kong's mountains and harbor. Owing to the surrounding topography, pilots landing at Kai Tak would descend over Hong Kong, Victoria Harbour and Western Kowloon, passing over the beacon on Lion Rock while executing a tricky, tight 47° final turn, at low altitude, to (hopefully) line up with the airport's runway.

photo © Phil Wells

For any lucky enough to remember, the sight was spectacular—particularly on days with low cloud clogging the mountains. On those days, the scream of engines would be heard, but nothing would be seen. Then, almost instantaneously a 747 would emerge from the murk in a steep bank.

We remember a searing, sappingly hot and humid day in the summer of 1994. While absorbed in some forgotten banality, we heard the familiar sound of approaching engines, and looked around for the horizon, but saw nothing but block after grimy block of flats. Resigned to seeing nothing but laundry fluttering from open windows, we looked upwards again when the sound of the approaching aircraft became even louder and more piercing.

Then there, through the whites hanging on lines, was a United Airlines 747. For a short second after seeing that flash of red, white and blue, something felt familiar. It was as though we had seen a handsome, familiar face among the rows of hanging ducks that lined the streets of Hong Kong. Maybe we heard the last few bars of Rhapsody in Blue and thought of the shiny, muscular United States. Maybe we saw the image that we've seen dozens of times before over the past quarter-century: Diamond Head framed by United Airlines Tulip-emplazoned tails at Honolulu Airport. It reminded us of what's probably the love of our life—Hawaiʻi—and it made us smile.

Many things about that experience we vividly remember, but more than any, we remember the brilliant white tail emblazoned with the familiar United "Tulip," the sylized capital "U" logo created by American design legend Saul Bass for the airline in 1974.

Saul Bass is an American hero, a jack-of-all-design-trades. Beyond United Airlines, he designed now-iconic logos for AT&T, the Girl Scouts, Kleenex, Quaker, United Way, Warner Music Group and, ironically, Continental Airlines' "meatball" logo (1968-1991).

Bass is also known for his contribution to the cinematic arts. In particular, he created famous opening title credit sequences for famous films "The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)," "Vertigo (1958)," "Anatomy of a Murder (1958, with Duke Ellington, no less)," "North by Northwest (1959)" and "West Side Story (1961)," among many others.

Now, decades later and after many crises, United has recently merged with Continental Airlines. To be fair, over the last decade the airline industry has seen rocky, sometimes downright grim days, but the United "leadership" have never lost an opportunity to demonstrate their incompetence and venality.

Don't want to figure out how to pay for your employees' pensions, after you and your predecessors have frittered away their retirement money with foolish, risky investments instead of traditional, conservative investment in the bond market? No problem when you're a member of United's corporate leadership; The answers are simple if you're a CEO at United: fuck 'em with a closet-stick!

Forget the pensions. Forget the pensioners. Blame the unions (since, clearly, they're the ones ruining the United States), but keep your own incomes at vulgar levels. To give just one example, in 2006, United CEO Glenn Tilton's compensation was nearly $40 million. That's right. Forty. At the same time, United employees received generous lessons in the "cyclical nature" of "free markets," and other fantasies.

So by comparison, something like the deletion of a much-loved logo is actually quite minor.

Trivial, really.

That being said, the leadership of the new corporation created when United and Continental merged have decided to keep the United brand—a smart move—but have elected to delete United's iconic tulip in favor of Continental's...mirrorball...or, something...(?).

Almost immediately after the announcement, an outcrying of lament began among those who consider the Tulip part of the US' patrimony, along with the flag and Dolly Parton. Facebook pages sprang up; Online petitions began to circulate; Blogs, like this one, commented angrily about the asinine decision, but it all seems to have fallen on deaf ears at United.

From a commercial perspective, it beggars belief that Continental's bland, unidentifiable logo would be chosen as the emblem of one of the United States' most visible brands. Why quit a logo with longstanding, widespread popular recognition for one that almost no one can conjure from memory on command? It doesn't seem sensible, even by the already low standards of sensibility that we hold out for United's corporate directors.

Our hope is that United is trying to educe an empassioned response from the public, calling—even demanding—for a return of their beloved Tulip, something along the lines of the conspiracy theories surrounding Coca-Cola's experiment with "New Coke" in the 1980s. We hope that United is subtly pulling the publicity strings, and that after "overwhelming popular demand" the Tulip will be triumphantly returned to the tail of United aircraft where it belongs, and in so doing, that it will have created a feeling of renewed likability and familiarity with the United brand after years of acrimony between the airline and the flying public.
That's our hope. The only trouble is that we're not sure that the people at (we kid you not) Wacker Drive are that clever.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Mahalo Norden!

Tak, Danmark, for at være vores tredje mest besøgte land! At du blot besøge vores blog er alle de tilfredshed, at vi kræver, men til vores Skandinaviske familie og venner: Mahalo og tak for dine beskeder! Og hold læsning—The Hawaiian Sybarite elsker dig!