Thinking About – Where I Stand

Yesterday, I was confronted by an individual I had friended a long time ago on Facebook. This individual told me that I essentially stood for nothing, so they were wondering where exactly I stood on the issues of the day. Frustrated, I wrote the following as a status on Facebook….

What I stand for….

* I prefer the world to see everyone as human beings…not whatever their skin color is. Yes, I believe that All Lives Matter, but that starts with Black Lives Matter because we need to fix that first. After that, everything else should be easy to get to fall under an umbrella of All Lives Matter. But we gotta do what’s needed first.
* I believe that all Confederate statues should be removed. Not destroyed. Removed. And placed in a museum where contextual markers can be created, placing the Confederate aspect of the war in the light it should be portrayed….as wrong.
* I would like to see the Designated Hitter rule abolished for both leagues in Major League Baseball. Not for a current season, but starting in 2021. I do not think Major League baseball should play a season this year.
* I hope to see an America where third parties begin to thrive and gain a foothold in the conversation regarding the governance of this country and the states. Having only two parties seated at the table does our country a dis-service, when it comes to new ideas and the handling of laws that need to be created or changed.
* I want term limits on Congressional members of both the House and the Senate. New faces mean new voices. New voices mean new ideas. New ideas mean that effective change has more than a silent whisper in either chamber.
* I would also like a term limit or perhaps even an age limit, for judges at every level of the Justice system. This includes the Supreme Court.
* I want police reform, now. The usage of choke-holds, kneeling on the throats of detained individuals, and the concept of Qualified Immunity has got to come to a stop. I realize that the first two are far more easily solved than the last one – but all three can be accomplished – even while respecting the very tough job that we have placed our police officers into. This needs to be done in a manner of decorum and respect, not under the auspices of mob rule. I can understand the frustration, but acting in a disrespectful manner does not win the day.

Lastly, if any of this offends you…save your breath. None of this is up for debate with me. These are my views. Don’t like them so much that you are offended…unfriend me, block me….whatever you want to do. That’s your choice. I promise, you’re not going to hurt my feelings.

Now I’m not going to out this particular individual, even going so far as to not using any gender related identifiers. Why? Because (a) I did not get permission from the individual to use their name, and (b) I don’t think it carries much relevance beyond this paragraph.

So why am I frustrated over all of this? Well, its rather simple. I have always felt that I wrote clearly as to where I stood on stuff like this. Apparently, I have danced around the topics enough that some folks are just not sure. So, I wrote this status to clarify. But as I read through it, I noticed a few other things that I have left out.

Kneeling for the US National Anthem. Nine Hells, you can class this for ANY Anthem of any type, National or otherwise. I see nothing wrong with people doing such. Back when all of this kicked up in the national Football League, I wasn’t of the mind that it was something that I would do. But I did (and still do) have my own protest for this. And for much the same reasons that Colin Kapernick stated. Here in the United States, the primary method of how to handle the moment of the National Anthem is to stand, face the American flag, and place your hand over your heart. If you choose to sing, that’s acceptable. For me? I do stand at the National anthem. I do not remove my hat. I place my hands behind my back. I stand quietly. And yes, I have had people approach me afterwards about how disrespectful I am being. That’s about the time that I remind them that I am a US military veteran. I raised my hand and swore an oath to protect the Constitution of this country against all aggressors, foreign and domestic. And so long as Donald John Trump remains President, I see a domestic aggressor against the Constitution. Whatever anyone says to me about that means absolutely nothing to me. My enlistment oath didn’t stop when I left the military. People that don’t like or agree with me on that…I’m perfectly fine with. Not everyone is going to see things as I do.

I know a lot of people are going to have issues with my stance on “All Lives Matter” – that it is something that is necessary. I also know that many of the ALM folks are going to have issues with me prioritizing the Black Lives Matter perspective as well. Look, All Lives do Matter. But to get there, we have to protect and stand up for the Black Lives Matter aspect. They are in danger, especially in encounters with law enforcement. It has to stop. Once we get past that point, it will be far easier to reach the aspect of where All Lives Matter. We can’t run first, we have to walk – one step at a time.

And one last thing. I am a Pagan. I do believe in many distinct Gods. I also believe that not everyone will be on the same Path as I am. Everyone makes their way through Life in the Spiritual perspective that makes the most sense to them. I have no desire to burn down churches, temples or whatever else you can dream up. I also have no desire to see iconography destroyed to make some point about all beliefs being equal. All beliefs are equal in my eyes, and I will defend the rights of anyone to practice whatever beliefs they want. Do we need to march in the streets for that? Well, if you do, I have my colander ready. I’ll be stepping proudly next to the Pastafarians that follow The Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Again, I am frustrated. Frustrated because I thought everyone essentially got the idea of all people are equal. Equal in the eyes of the law. Equal in the eyes of the Gods. Able to practice their beliefs freely. Able to walk in their communities without the fear of an encounter with law enforcement becoming something deadly, simply because of the color of their skin. Paraphrasing the words of G’kar from Babylon 5 – We taught people this lesson before. We can and will teach it to them again. Though it take a thousand years or whatever number of lifetimes…everyone shall be equal and free. That I promise you.

–T /|\

Freedom is Choice – Choose to Decide

Freedom. The concept comes in so many forms. The freedom of a nation to determine its own course. The freedom of an individual to determine their own choices in living life. And so many other ways to think about the concept. But for me, it comes down to one thing: choice. Choice is what provides me with my path into Paganism. I grew up raised as a Catholic by parents who were not church goers. In essence, they forced their own concept of personal spirituality on to me. When I became an adult, I searched through various aspects of religious perspective and spirituality thought before finding Paganism, Polytheism, and eventually Druidry as fame works for my own personal Spirituality.

And I love having the ability to choose things for myself. Its one of the things I cherish about the American format of Life. I can choose the vehicle I want to drive. I can choose the house that I wish to live in; granted, that’s s long as I can afford the payments on it. I can choose, to some capacity, the type of professional career that I want. I can also choose to make a sudden change in that career path if I so desire. I can choose where to shop for groceries; again, that is complicated to some degree by what I can afford. And I can choose the individual that I love – regardless of gender, race, eye color, hair color, maturity level….or at least that’s until the government decides to outlaw same-sex relationships.

So, what would happen if the government did start taking away choice? In other words, what would happen if the government started curtailing my freedoms? Well, its happened to some degree with things such as the so-called Patriot Act, and in some states with the bathroom/gender laws. And for the most part, we in America tend to allow it to happen. I can live with the thought of taking off my shoes at the airport because its a measure to keep us safe. If the government takes away same-sex marriage, it doesn’t bother me – I’m a straight male. But its really an illusion. As some choices get taken from us in the name of security or the “sanctity of marriage” – how long before the next set of choices gets taken? In a society that is driven by definitions and laws created by straight white males, how far can the removal of choices be made before we start to push back??

In my mind, freedoms and choices are for all, not for a chosen few. When a society starts creating a division of haves and have-nots, the concept of democratic principles that apply to all melts away. But how to stop changes like this from happening? That’s actually easy, provided the laws don’t change before you can do something about it. You need to vote.

And you don’t need to just vote, you need to be up to speed on what’s happening before you head to the polling location. Know about your candidates. Know their stances on issues that matter to you. Know the issues for your local area and state that are being put before you. Know what those changes can mean to you, and others.

Now, I am sure that I am preaching to the choir – so to speak – with some of you. But voter apathy is a real thing. People complain about their vote not meaning anything. Well, your vote means even less if you don’t cast the damn thing. We talk about personal sovereignty, we talk about having freedoms….as I said, all that boils down to one thing:  choice. As is stated in the Rush song “Freewill”:

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

 

Storm Clouds Brewing

Would you be willing to die for your beliefs?

Its a scary proposition. I don’t know about you – the individual reading this – but I certainly have no desire to step beyond the veil into the Afterlife. I know it will eventually come, as it does for everyone, but there’s so much to life that I wish to experience.

However. I hear the words that the Gods whisper. I have noticed how different things have begun to look in the world around me. How people are moving more to the extremes in various areas. Politics. Beliefs. Racial tension. Open defiance of governmental control. Governments reaching for more power and control than the established regulations allow (and done in the name of freedom, no less).

Take for example the following clip from the movie Braveheart. Yes, before anyone points it out, its a fictionalized version of the life of William Wallace. I’m not really interested in what is right or wrong, historically, with what is shown here. Its what is being depicted that is more to the point.

 

Wallace has an understanding of what freedom means to him. That he should bend no knee to a king that has essentially invaded his country. He could have capitulated, and remained alive. He could have ignored the cause and continued to live under the rule of the English. Instead, in the movie, he chooses to take a stand. And he does not waver from that.

Make no mistake about it. If you are not of an “established” Christian faith, do not espouse to the politics of a particular party system, have progressive values, are of a racial aspect that is not part of the “ruling class” – you are likely to find yourself in the crosshairs at some point in the coming future. Are you willing to stand by what you hold dear and value in your life? Or will you capitulate, just for the sake of surviving.

For readers of this blog, its no surprise to you – I am a Pagan. To borrow the phrase again (simply because I believe it is a very accurate depiction of who and what I am), I am a polytheanimist. I won’t back down from that description. Would I be willing to go through something similar to that of Mel Gibson’s William Wallace portrayal? Yes. Yes I would.

But its not for some romantic notion that there would be stories told of how I stood up for what I believed. Hardly. I would go through such torture and torment over my beliefs because I am not going to deny who and what I am. I spent many of my adult years as a Pagan, hiding what I was from my family, from my employers — leading a double-life (hat-tip to Styx). I am who I am – and those that cannot handle that, fuck off.

As I recently told someone that could not handle the brutal honesty of dealing with me – I am not on this planet to make you feel comfortable. I have tasks and responsibilities that I have pledged to accomplish with the Gods and Goddess that lay claim to my life. Yes, I believe in the Gods and Goddesses – and the life and connectivity that is all around me in this world. To deny that, even in the face of violence, bodily harm, and death — that would be denying who I am. Essentially claiming my life to be a lie.

Medicine Wheel (Wyoming)
Medicine Wheel (Wyoming)

The storm clouds of a very turbulent war are on the horizon. The thunder can already be heard. You only need to open yourself up to realize its out there. And much like before the rain arrives, you can smell the humid air already, feel the wind starting to pick up, and feel the clamminess on your skin. As I stated before – my staff is for more than supporting my weight while walking.

What about you? Are you prepared to stand up for who you are? What you are? The rights of others to do the same – regardless of their faith compared to yours? I certainly am.

Enslavement Through Analysis

or “How Categorization, Data Analysis, and Factoring Out the Outliers Continues to Enslave Us Outside of Dr. King’s Dream — An Opinion

My job tends to present some weird moments to me. I work with data. Just electronic ones and zeroes. If you were to take my job back a short ways in history – I would be described as a wizard with an abacus. After all, my job is basically to count students, faculty and administration at a community college – and then find new ways to describe that some population set, and count it again. And again. And again. I work under terminology that the average lay-person would not quite understanding:  Success-rate, Withdrawal-rate, Completion-rate, data broken down into gender and racial categories – diced up further over the five physical campuses we have, the method that the class is delivered to the student. Believe me, there’s so many ways to describe the same population of data – merely by re-categorizing the members of the population and running the same mathematical formulas against those. Yah. Exciting stuff, eh? Another way I’ve heard this job position described is “Inside Baseball” stuff. Any baseball stats junkie (like me) would not only catch the reference, but also understand the context it is being placed in.

However, there are so many ways this categorize, calculate, re-categorize, recalculate stuff can be hurtful. Data manipulation has to be approached from a clean, ethical manner. Those of you that know me can stop hiding your smirks and sniggering behind your hands. Yes, even I have to follow some basic rules — such as not harming the individuals from whom I glean the information from. How can I do that? Its really not that difficult. Re-categorization can be done by gender, or by race, or by economic status, or by relationship status, whether the student has children of their own, whether they currently have a job, pay their tuition by financial aid, or out of their own pockets, the type of financial aid they receive or any combination of those factors. Its not all that difficult to play up one side versus another. Its really a matter of how you cut the data. That’s why I spend 90% of my time writing out my methodologies, reasonings, and analysis of the data. So the people reading the reports can understand the whys of my findings. I cannot guarantee that anyone reads that part of my analysis, but I require that it is in any data study I work on when I present the findings. To me, its the most important thing that I do.

I have a dream this evening that one day we will recognize the words of Jefferson that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I have a dream this afternoon.

I have a dream this afternoon that the brotherhood of man will become a reality in this day.

And with this faith I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair. With this faith, I will go out with you and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. With this faith, we will be able to achieve this new day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing with the Negroes in the spiritual of old:

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words in his speech at the Great March in Detroit on June 23, 1963. Now some people may get hung up on the Christian phrasing. Or that Dr. King only addresses the races of black and white. Or the religious aspects of Jews, Gentiles, Protestants, Catholics or even that he only seems to aim his speech towards men. My take? Whatever. You’re letting wording of a time frame that is two years prior to my own birth over-shadow the wording of the overall message. Your right to do so – but that’s not what I am addressing here.

Within the narrow bounds that “modern American” society of his time afforded to him, Dr. King could see a land where divisions created through race, religion, creed – and eventually gender – would be broken down. Where people would see one another as equals with differences such as pigmentation, belief, and gender no longer mattering in the scope of daily life.

Binary WorldHave we reached that point? In some ways, yes. In many other ways, no. We still see racial inequality within the bounds of the United States. We still see how Christianity continues to dominate the cultural landscape in America, and attempt to crowd out all other faiths. We still have an Upper class that dominates a Lower class, while the ever-so necessary Middle-Class continues to shrink ever so much more than before.

Dr. King’s message wasn’t just about equality. Providing equality in a legal aspect is very easily attained – and has been done so in countless manners. His message is not about cracking skulls and forcing a position of equality. His message is about stepping up, being socially aware, being a force towards the one thing that equality cannot give you: respect.

His message was about carving a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair – BUILDING ways towards the future. Paving the road for Hope and Respect for one another. And that’s not going to happen overnight either. The storm clouds will be dark, the rain will be cold and disheartening. People want very fast changes to take effect NOW. If it were only so that we could change hearts of people that quickly…

And violence is not going to solve the problem. In fact, it will only make it worse. Take for example the shooting that happened here in the DFW area just a few days ago. One group of people hid behind the Constitution in order to be as hurtful and insulting as they could towards members of the Muslim faith. During the day of their “event”, a protest area had been setup for Muslims to gather and express their outrage over the “event”. Not one person showed up and utilized the space. The usage of the space was where these folks wanted the media to film and watch. So that angry epitaphs and insults could be filmed and utilized as a “See? Did we not tell you what animals these people are?” However, two individuals in Arizona took enough offense and outrage to drive to Dallas, and open fire on law enforcement in the parking lot of the event. While these two may have felt their actions were vindicated — all they really did was prove the point that these folks were making with the event. Violence did not solve the problem – it only made the issue boil and fester in a way it would never have done if they had never shown up. Instead, the local news and talk radio stations are eating up this entire scenario, and spinning it one way or another to bludgeon their foes in the debate of the danger of Muslims within ANY country in the world. A totally stupid, irrational argument from both sides – which is now being provided the precious oxygen it needs to be “talked about”.

No, Dr. King is right in his words – we need to focus on the hope that we want. As President Obama mentioned several times in his first campaign: We are the ones who will affect change in the world around us. We are the people we have been waiting for. We have the power to change things, by merely making our intention known that we want a world where people are people. Regardless of color, regardless of belief, economic status, and what have you. But sometimes I wonder if this is what we really want? We – Pagans – talk about wanting equal footing, and yet we express our disdain for the entire Christian faith when we hear of a minister doing something wrong – or even an entire group of people (Westboro Baptist Church) do something repugnant. Instead of viewing these people as individuals – statistical aberrations – we paint the entire Christian faith as being just like these folks. I’ve seen it done the other way as well – where Pagans are branded as immoral, child rapists when a Pagan gets arrested for child porn or molestation. Perhaps we just broad-brush everything because its easier to do so – rather than to pick out the small pieces of garbage and differentiate them rather than the other way around.

In statistical analysis, broad-brushing an entire population by a result is done far too often. Particularly when the statistical percentage is over 75% in size. Very rarely do you see an analysis that points out that there were [x] number of points that were outside of the statistical curve. Sometimes, the outliers paint a far more descriptive understanding of the data than the overwhelming population does.

Somewhere…somewhere…I see a single point of data crying out to the rest of the digital environment:

I have a dream this nanosecond that one day we will all be recognized as individual data points. All with differing aspects that provide a unique descriptor of each of us. That one day, ones and zeroes will walk down the broadband avenue towards a user’s GUI presentation, hand-in-hand in the knowledge that we will be given equal representation within the interface by both the CPU and the End User. And we will then be free at last!

::sigh:: Until that day…I continue to fight my own fight within my own part of the world. That each data point represents a person. And regardless of the demographic breakdown of that student – they are an individual, with a unique story – and deserve to be represented as such within any analysis.