Tag Archives: Oklahoma

Satanists Unveil Oklahoma Monument

Satanist Monument

So, for those of who who haven’t been following this story, a Satanic Temple based in New York has applied for a permit to erect a monument at the Oklahoma state capitol building, arguing that if the state can install a monument to the 10 Commandments, then it’s basically open season for other faiths to erect statues of their own. It’s not like they are the only ones — a Hindu group and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster have also gotten in on it.

Anyhow, the temple unveiled the design for its monument this week, depicted above. The temple’s spokesman, Lucien Graves, explained that the monument “will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation.”

Which, you know, fair enough. I’m not sure the statue of a seated Baphomet is any different from any other deity, when you get right down to it. Some people see God (especially Old Testament God) as a pretty scary dude, and others see Satan as a positive force — or at least one much less negative than he’s made out to be in Christian theology. It’s a matter of perspective. And in this instance, what the temple is trying to do — aside from make a point — is suggest that the Christian perspective isn’t the only valid one, especially not on taxpayer-funded property.

What do you think? Should the monuments — all of them — be built? Why or why not?

Video-game/ADHD study’s attention is in the wrong place // just call Okla. legislator “Will Bill-killer”

A new study from Doug Gentile looks at video games and ADHD. But is he seeing the right things? Photo by Flickr user StacieBee.

Our buddy Douglas Gentile, along with Edward Swing, an Iowa State University psychology doctoral candidate, recently released a new study on ADHD and video games. More specifically, they studied the effects of video games on children with attention-deficit disorder and found that, while these kids were able to focus while they were playing video games, gaming may be distracting them from more important activities that could help them build attention.

Once again, a video-game researcher is treating video games as no more than a distraction — rather than as a potential way of capturing kids’ attention and imagination. Alas, the whole study isn’t online yet, so we have to go with what’s been written elsewhere.

First, the methodology: they asked an unknown number of Singaporean students, ages 8 to 17, to take questionnaires at three intervals — each a year apart starting in grades three, four, seven and eight. The kids also completed psychological tests commonly used to measure attention and impulsiveness.

I’m inferring from the writeups that Gentile and Swing found that video games didn’t help kids’ attention spans in nongame situations, though there aren’t a ton of details. Here’s what Gentile said:

“In most video games or with most screen media, there is constant flickering of light which forces an orienting response. There are also sound effects and noises, and you need to attend to them, too. I think of these as crutches for attention — they support your attention so you don’t have to work hard to attend.

“That’s very different than being in the classroom where the teacher doesn’t have sound effects, lighting, special effects, music and camera angles. The child has to work to attend rather than having external support for attention. Our data suggest that the children who already are most at risk for attention problems play the most games, which becomes a vicious cycle.”

If you’re going to look at games as a distraction, rather than an example of how to engage kids with attention issues, of course you’re going to come to that conclusion. Other research is showing how video games can boost classroom learning — even among kids without attention problems. Jane McGonigal, one of video games’ most enthusiastic current evangelists, points out:

Gamers who play ten hours of games or more a week ultimately bring these qualities into their real lives – they want to be of service to others, objectively plan, an be involved in something greater than themselves.

She highlighted the program: Quest to Learn, a school designed around the concepts of game development. The children do not play games all day (rather much the opposite). Instead, the theory, concepts, and ideas are based around game development theory. The focus becomes mastery and competence rather than performance.

This changes the focus from rote memorization and achievement and rather on mastery of content and development of skills.

So, maybe ADHD kids are benefiting from their game time. Or maybe they need real life and classroom time to be more like video games. So they can actually learn.

“Sin Tax” killed in committee
In related video-game news, Oklahoma legislator Will Fourkiller’s “sin tax” on violent video games was struck down last week. When the Oklahoma House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Revenue and Taxation balked at the idea of a tax, Fourkiller instead proposed a task force that would study the effects of violent video games on youth. It was defeated 6-5.

“Why just video games? Why not French fries or rap music or movies?” asked Representative Pat Ownbey.

Many others pointed out that, in the wake of last summer’s Supreme Court vote vetoing a ban of violent-game sales to minors, that such a tax was likely unconstitutional. Looks like Fourkiller’s going to need to find another cause upon which to hang his re-election campaign.

Oklahoma lawmaker calls for “sin tax” on violent video games, despite available logic

Oklahoma lawmaker Will Fourkiller wants to tax violent video games to pay for childhood anti-obesity and anti-bullying programs. Sort of.

Oklahoma legislator Will Fourkiller has become the latest politician to go up against violent video games. He’s making news for proposing a tax on violent video games. His bill, if passed, actually would collect a 1-percent sales tax on all games rated “T” or above — that is, all games aimed at kids 13 and older — whether they’re violent or not. The tax would only apply in the state of Oklahoma.

Proceeds from the tax would go toward two Oklahoma funds that pay for childhood outdoor education and bullying prevention — worthy programs, certainly. Unfortunately, that’s because he believes the research connecting video games with obesity and with bullying. First, studies have not really singled out violent video games (PDF) as a cause of obesity — they tend to focus on all media. And there’s no compelling research suggesting violent video games cause bullying; in fact, studies so far have found no such correlation.

And then there’s this:

There’s even a game called Bully, Fourkiller pointed out, a situation he reportedly found unbelievable.

Does Fourkiller realize that the game’s name is a nickname for the fictional Bullworth Academy, where the game is set? In fact, the game’s goal is to defeat the school bully. (For what it’s worth, it’s rated “T.”)

Oddly, Fourkiller also referred to a case in which Ohio’s Dustin Lynch “shot a police officer and stole his car. He had been playing Grand Theft Auto.” Apparently Fourkiller didn’t get the memo that this case had been laughed out of court and an attorney involved in the case, Jack Thompson, was disbarred — in part for that involvement.

For more on why Fourkiller’s bill is ill-conceived, Time offers: Oklahoma Bill to Tax Violent Video Games Is Clueless and Inconsistent. Writer Matt Peckham explains:

Worse, in a sense, is that the Oklahoma bill singles out video games and ignores other forms of entertainment, from television to movies and books to music. The evidence any of those mediums elicit meaningfully negative behavior in consumers is equally dubious, uniting them with video games as victims of “moral panic” by people either too uninformed or ideologically blinded to absorb or accept the prevailing science.

For whatever reason, Fourkiller requested that his bill be considered under “emergency rules” because it is “immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety,” according to the text. (It’s unclear how this is any more of an emergency now than it was during any other point during Fourkiller’s legislative career — except that he’s up for re-election this year).

Again, I think the ideals and programs Fourkiller wants to support are mostly good ones. He wants to keep kids out of trouble, get them exercise, and keep them from hurting each other. But this tax, and its wonky application, makes no sense. If you were going to raise money for such programs, how would you go about it?

Top 5 Backward Messages of 2011

I started Backward Messages a year ago, and since then we’ve seen plenty of lively news and discussion. Here are the stories that got the most clicks in our first year of debunking:

1. “Demonic drawing,” Slipknot album linked to grandparents’ murder: Kyle Smith, 17, was arrested in April for allegedly killing his grandparents and then setting their house on fire to cover it up. Police mentioned a “demonic drawing” found in Smith’s bedroom, along with what was most likely a Slipknot CD, as if those had anything to do with the crime. A few months later, Smith pleaded guilty and admitted he was being treated for mental illness.

2. Investigative reporters uncover sex-crazed werewolf roommates in Milwaukee … or not: People couldn’t get enough of the story of two young Milwaukee women, Rebecca Chandler and Raven “Scarlett” Larrabee, who invited an Arizona man to their apartment for some kind of consensual event. All parties involved admitted it “got out of hand.” The man was cut more than 300 times, escaped, then called the police, who made like a trio of books found in the girls’ apartment might be related: “The Werewolf’s Guide to Life,” “The Necromantic Ritual Book,” and a black folder called “Intro to Sigilborne Spirits.” Comments on that post from folks who knew the girls suggest that they had much deeper issues, unrelated to their reading habits.

3. Heavy-metal fan wins disability benefits for his “addiction” to music: Roger Tullgren managed to convince the Swedish government that his love of heavy metal interferes with his day-to-day functioning and qualifies as a disability. Not many of you agreed with this one, but I still think it says a lot about how extremely passionate some folks are about metal — and that’s worth taking seriously.

4. If you dress goth, are you asking for trouble? After Melody McDermott and a friend were beaten on a tram outside Manchester, many recalled the death of fellow goth Sophie Lancaster under similar circumstances. Goths are frequently the targets of harassment and violence; is it up to them to change it?

5. Do video games change kids’ behavior? In the spring, Empowering Parents published a poll in which they asked parents whether games “affect their child’s behavior.” Sixty-two percent said yes, despite ample evidence — which we’ve looked at throughout 2011 — that games themselves aren’t the real problem. If the group does another poll in 2012, following the Supreme Court’s decision not to ban the sale of M-rated games to minors, I wonder if the results would be much different.

If you’re curious what search terms brought people to this blog, here are some of the top queries:

* intro to sigilborne spirits
* satanism
* larping
* history of violent video games
* wicca
* daniel ruda
* jacob leblanc oklahoma
* phil chalmers

Happy New Year! I’ll have plenty more Backward Messages for you in 2012.

Teenagers setting a girl on fire is a lot of things, but “Satanic” isn’t one of them

After a South African girl was set on fire by friends, newspapers called the incident a “Satanic ritual.” Wrong. Photo by Flickr user gotsumbeers.

Today, I want to start out by looking at two headlines side by side.

First: Girl Set Alight In “Satanic Ritual”

Second: Satanic Ritual Planned in OKC

Now, if you read the first story, you might come to the conclusion (the very, very wrong conclusion) that Satanic rituals involve setting people on fire.

They don’t.

Then, if you read the second headline, you’d be pretty outraged. You wouldn’t want that event to take place, in Oklahoma City or anywhere else. You’d be angry at Satanists.

The problem, however, is that the newspaper with the first headline is taking some egregious liberties with the concept of “Satanic ritual.” Several newspapers are repeating this idea, though it’s not clear why. The girl was set on fire by some acquaintances after they went up a hill to drink and look at the view. That’s not Satanic. That’s an adolescent pastime. (Except for the setting-people-on-fire part. That’s not Satanic, either. That’s just horrible.)

Now, the second headline refers to an article about an upcoming religious event. This is the second such ritual — the first one, held last year, turned into a mess because it was so heavily protested. Unfortunately, the newspaper thinks it’s important to mention the former group leader, who had a dalliance with a prison inmate, as though that had anything to do with the group, its beliefs, or its ability to hold a peaceful religious observance. (It sounds like last year’s ritual would have been peaceful if it hadn’t been for demonstrators.)

I know there are plenty of “Satanists” who get into it to frighten people, to seem bad-ass, to “freak the normals.” But I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: media messages like the ones above, particularly the first headline, do very real harm. They harm respectful, peaceful Satanists who have not and would not hurt anyone. They make it more difficult for these people to be open, to find work, to sustain relationships, to keep their children in custody battles, and to stay out of jail for crimes they didn’t commit.

Some people would call this blood libel.

It has to stop.

“Demonic” teen pleads guilty to grandparents’ murder

Kyle Smith is serving life plus 10 years for the murder of his grandparents. Two friends are on 10 years’ probation for helping him set fire to their house.

Of all the posts on Backward Messages, by far the most popular is the one about Oklahoma’s Kyle Smith: “Demonic drawing,” Slipknot album linked to grandparents’ murder. Much has happened since then, so I wanted to provide a brief update.

In August, Smith pleaded guilty to charges that he murdered his grandparents, David and Rose Garrick, before setting their house on fire to destroy the evidence. Did he claim that the “demonic drawing,” or the Slipknot album, had anything to do with his actions?

He didn’t.

During his hearing, he told the court that he has been on medication for bipolar disorder since he was jailed for the crimes. At last word, he was being evaluated for mental health placement.

To be fair, the vast majority of people with bipolar disorder are not violent and do not kill people. It’s tough to say whether Smith’s illness contributed to his crimes. But that’s more likely to be a factor than his taste in music or his doodling — particularly if he was severely ill and unmedicated.

Earlier this month, two of Smith’s friends, Dustin Martin and Jacob LeBlanc, were sentenced to 10 years probation for helping Smith set fire to his grandparents’ house.

If you’re a friend of Smith’s, Martin’s or LeBlanc’s, please comment and let us know how you — and they — are doing.

If you’re close with a bipolar teen, can you provide any tips on helping these kids cope with their illness in a healthy, positive way?

“Demonic drawing,” Slipknot album linked to grandparents’ murder

Kyle Smith, 17, is accused of killing his grandparents and setting their house on fire in Midwest City, Oklahoma.

Kyle Smith, a 17-year-old from Midwest City, Oklahoma, is behind bars after being arrested for allegedly murdering his grandparents, David and Rose Garrick, and then setting their house on fire March 23. Two of Smith’s friends, 18-year-old Dustin Martin and 17-year-old Jacob LeBlanc, are also in jail for allegedly helping cover up the crime, but much of the media focus has rested on Smith and the “evidence” found in the home he shared with his grandparents.

Among that evidence, according to Oklahoma’s News 9 broadcast, is a “demonic drawing,” hinted at in this video. Out of context, a “demonic drawing” means almost nothing: Was it a pentagram (as the broadcast suggests) or something else? (Not all pentagrams are “demonic.”) If so, how do we know which way it was pointing? Do we know if it was Smith’s? Did it have any other writing on it? Was it clear it had anything to do with the occult, or was it inspired by an album cover or other piece of art? Did Smith draw it? Was it hidden away, or was it scribbled on a school-book cover? And what does this have to do with the crimes he allegedly committed?

The newscaster in the video actually gets a few things right, probably more by dint of the fact that she had to produce something about this supposed “demonic drawing,” but didn’t have any information on the drawing itself: she went to someone who knew more than she did about occult symbols and instead had him talk about what it means if a teen has one of these in his/her bedroom. This someone is private investigator Robert Smart, who says he’s had “training on how to read these kinds of drawings.” (Hope his training isn’t from Don Rimer.) His descriptions of the various symbols is less than illuminating, but his encouragement that parents should talk to their kids about these things is spot-on.

Unfortunately, all this is hinged on Smith’s crime, creating the impression that the described “demonic symbol” had anything to do with the murders. (Though Smart does rightly point out that Satanists don’t generally commit murder.)

Another Oklahoma broadcaster, NewsChannel 4, doesn’t do much better:

Inside the walls of the burned home, investigators seized a demonic drawing, a heavy metal CD with a pentagram, along with a hatchet, a samurai sword, a dagger, knives and two gas cans.

… “A heavy metal CD with a pentagram.” That doesn’t really clarify things. Antimusic.dom dug deeper and learned that the album in question was by Slipknot, probably All Hope Is Gone, which features a nine-pointed star, or nonagram, not a pentagram. According to the band’s own Web site, each of the points on this nine-pointed star represents one of the members of the band. How is this relevant to the crime? How many other ways would the reporters like to get their facts wrong? The mind boggles.

So far, there’s been little on Smith’s actual mental state, or his relationship with his grandparents. Was he violent? Disturbed? Abused? Why was he living with his grandparents and not his parents? NewsChannel 4 does stick in one speculative line: “We don’t know why. There’s been questions about the psychological welfare of this 16-year-old suspect. That ‘s up to the experts, we have no idea,” said Chief Clabes. But that comes after this one, which has as little to do with the crimes as the “demonic drawing” or the Slipknot album:

“We’ve been told by residence [sic] in the area they’ve seen him dress in all black, Gothic. Well, we’ve been told they saw him in the backyard throwing daggers at the fence. We’ve been told he listens to heavy metal. That was his own admittance, that he does listen to heavy metal. Is that significant in this case? I don’t know. Does it mean anything in this case? I don’t know,” said Chief Clabes.

All of these comments trivialize the nature of this crime, whether Smith or someone else committed it. This was an awful, brutal homicide, likely committed either by someone in a deeply disturbed state or by someone pushed too far by trauma and circumstance. The fact that reporters continue to grasp at speculative straws — particularly when the suspect is a teenager, gets us no closer to understanding this crime — or any violent crime committed by a minor. And this is something we, as a society, both desperately want and desperately need to undersand.