Change the Channel and Rip the Knob Off

Last night, as I started to get ready for bed, I heard the rainfall outside. And I let out a sigh of relief. Not because the region I live in needed the rainfall totals, which it does. Because I have always found the sound of rainfall to be relaxing. The sound of waterfalls and the waves gently coming ashore at the sea work this way for me as well. As a matter of fact, if I stay near a river or stream, I always find the time to open the window or door so that I can hear the sound. Moving water, for some reason, is a relaxing sound for me. Except for the sink, bathtub, shower or toilet. Those sounds are just irritating to me.

Coming into work, I knew that it was going to a fairly easy day for me. It usually is when there is rainfall. And in thinking on that – a dangerous hobby for me by the way – I started ticking off the other aural effects that set my mind into a relaxing whirl. A soft gentle breeze blowing through the summer leaves of a tree. The sounds of birds and other wildlife punctuating a lazy summer afternoon. And then my all-time favorite: the stillness of a wooded area just blanketed in a falling snow. Each of these scenarios – and probably dozens of others – will put my mind at ease, putting all thoughts into a slow pause. Just so that I can experience each of those moments in aural splendor.

And then something will interrupt my moment. A passing car. People yelling to one another. A passing plane. Or my cell phone ringing. And of all of those, the cell phone is the only one where I am tempted towards an angry response. After all, its the one thing I have complete control over. I could have powered it off, or just left it back at the house or hotel. This past summer, I had the urge to just let it slip from my fingers and “accidentally” fall into the pool. But, I halted, remembering that its intrusion is my own fault, not its little electronic self. Its my own ass I should be kicking over that.

Not that long ago, I started trying to find moments, like the ones I described above, every single day. Taking a few moments out of my day to see if I could find that one moment, where everything around me went on hold while I just experienced the moment for what it was. Now I had to pick my moments. After all, I did not want to “zone out” while I was behind the wheel of the truck, or when I was walking along the side of the road. There’s a degree of responsibility that needs to be shouldered before picking these moments. I certainly do not want to find myself in an accident or part of the front grill of a vehicle.

That has been the first part of making a conscious change to my immediate environment. The second part of that change has been a bit more subtle, which I realized yesterday morning. Every Sunday, my habit is to get up, make a cup of coffee and stare out my window or wander out to my stone circle. Then, I would come back inside, plop down in front of my Macintosh and pull up National Public Radio to listen to the news. Typically, I would stay on and listen to the news cycle at least twice through. Lately I have only listened to one full cycle of the news, and then shut down the radio app that I use to listen to NPR. I kicked up iTunes and used music as my background noise for writing and thinking and reading for the rest of the morning. As I realized this, I went back through my morning and tried to determine why I had changed my routine in this manner.

The election cycle is in full fever pitch here in the United States. That means that news stories are constantly plastered with it. The talk radio shows are nothing but wall-to-wall analysis of this little factor or that “new” revelation of this candidate or that candidate. Honestly, I am already fed up with it all. The television does not help much either. There are constant ads blaring at me about why this candidate sucks, or why this candidate is better than this other one. My Facebook feed has become wall-to-wall pronouncements of this, that or the other concerning various aspects of the political election season. Unconsciously, I decided to change the channel.

I spend less time on Facebook than I ever have before. I tend to skip most of the political stuff that others post. I focus on what people are doing and what they are talking about where their lives and daily routines are concerned. In other words, I am making the effort to invest my energy in who my friends are – not in what their political beliefs are. I honestly would rather know about what my friends’ pets and children are doing far more than whether or not they believe that Hillary Clinton broke the law with her Email server. And for those that are about to jump on the “so you don’t care about the election” bandwagon…I actually do not. How I vote (or if I even did) is really no one’s business but my own. Tell me about how your day is going…take a picture of your meal…take a selfie so I can see how you did your hair this morning. All of that is infinitely more interesting to me.

So, you want a meaty conversation?  Sure, we can do that. Let’s talk about the manner in which the education system here in America seems to push more and more students to college that are not truly prepared to succeed in that environment. Let’s talk about the issues related to the Dakota Access Pipe Line near the Standing Rock reservation. Let’s talk about how you think your favorite professional baseball team is going to do. Let’s talk about how you are approaching these Winter months from a perspective of your own personal Spirituality.

The election?  Not really interested. I changed that channel a few days ago. Then I ripped the channel knob off the television. So there is no going back.  Sayin’.

 

It Must Be the Cloak….

Ever been to one of the many Pagan-themed conventions?  How about a local gathering?? You know – the places where all the authors, bloggers, podcasters, and well-known Pagans come to?? Ever go all fan-boy or fan-girl on these folks? Well, let me relate an experience to you, along with a handful of observations.

This year, I made my first trek to Pantheacon. My very first time in California. My very first time to a Pagan-themed conference of any sort. Previously, the largest Pagan-themed event I had attended was the Dallas Pagan Pride Day. And I helped work part of that, so I didn’t get to play free-form experience like I did at Pantheacon. There were a metric ton of people there, and then some. And there were a metric ton of authors, bloggers, and even musicians there as well – some of whom I had more than a passing knowledge of their material.

I was lucky enough to have a part-time guide, and roomie for the entire Convention from my local area – John Beckett. Now, John’s a fairly well known Pagan in his own right, and I not only highly respect John’s point of view – some of his blogs have influenced aspects of my own perspective on personal, individual spiritual experience. John provided me with a few helpful hints of how to survive Pantheacon, and even spent a bit of his time walking me around to get the lay of the land (so to speak). But for three days, I was essentially on my own. I had my own panels that I wanted to catch, mostly from Pagans that I knew or had talked with online.

My first experience of meeting someone that I knew/read was with Shauna Aura Knight. It took a few minutes – actually quite a few – to hold back in the background and let other folks talk with her. Eventually, I got my chance to meet her, shake her hand, and talk with her for a short bit. And yes, I fan-boy’d a bit on her. After all, her blog introduced to some of the more difficult to grasp concepts of group leadership – an area, which I admit to being so lousy at, that I tend to stay in the background in most groups I am with. Because I know I am no good at it. Talking with her via Emails and Facebook messages was great, but getting the chance to talk to her face-to-face was a really big moment.

My second experience was catching a panel by Kristoffer Hughes. I had already been around Kristoffer at the East Coast Gathering, but here – he was just off the hook. I was introduced to some of the funniest moments of the entire Pantheacon experience in this panel. Kristoffer’s off-hand comments about the heat of San Jose were nearly side-splitting. His panel was one of the most intense moments I experienced, particularly from a knowledge perspective.

My final experience was in a very laid-back, very cerebral panel on the cross-collaboration between Science Fiction and Fantasy with Mythology. Here, I came face to face (nearly) with an author I had read for a long time in my life – Diana Paxson. She was one of three individuals on what turned out to be a fascinating time, which I have written about in several previous blog posts.

But I found myself doing something I had never realized I had done until long after the fact. Many of the authors, bloggers, musicians, artists, and even us lowly podcasters get placed on pedestals and treated differently than other Pagans. Its almost as if the books that are written, the blog posts that are thought out and articulated, the music that is played, the podcasts that are formulated and mixed down, the sculptures, paintings and other items that are created — its almost as if all that makes those folks different.

None of that stuff truly makes any us different from anyone else. As a podcaster and a blogger, I am just trying to present ideas and points of view that can help people start a discussion – even with just themselves. Our community’s artisans (I will use this as a collective term for all that I have mentioned here – as well as some things I haven’t) are sometimes placed on high pedestals. These folks are championed for having the bravery to place who they are and what they have to say in a format that we all take in and incorporate (or not) into our own lives. Sometimes, we even forget that these folks are just like we are. They laugh, they sing, they have good days, they have bad days. They cry. They do everything that we do. And sometimes we forget that and hold them to an even greater standard. When these folks may have had the shittiest day in their lives for whatever reason; sometimes we expect them to place all that behind them and be there for us. Because we happened to be there. We make them into super-heroes – and they are that indeed – but e forget to let them be ordinary people, too.

We sometimes forget that they don’t always want to talk Pagan stuff. Sometimes, they want to talk about ordinary, everyday stuff too. I had a wonderful time at Pantheacon. I had a wonderful time talking with Shauna, listening to Kristoffer, and allowing Diana and the panel she was a part of to absolutely melt my brain on the concept of modern-day mythology. When I got ready to leave for the airport, I walked over to Shauna to say goodbye. She asked for a hug. And I got my first taste of being treated on equal footing. By someone I admired from a long distance and had spent time in her panel gleaning more information on leadership techniques that I have found ways to apply within my own mundane job. And sitting at the airport, waiting for our flight back to Dallas – I ate dinner with John, and we talked some about American football. Afterwards, I teased John about the many pictures I took of my foot at his panel – waiting for the right moment to get a single shot of him. If I happen to see Kristoffer or Diana at the next Pantheacon, I plan to take a moment and just ask them how their day is going. Nothing of a Pagan-esque nature. Just how their day is going. So they don’t have to be super-heroes every single moment of the day.

Super-heroes. Indeed. It must be the cloak….

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Traffic Stops, Law Enforcement, Politeness and Courtesy – an Opinion

Its an almost everyday news item here in the United States — a police officer is (a) killed during a “routine” traffic stop, or (b) a civilian is killed or injured during a “routine” traffic stop.Occasionally, we get a look at those moments through dash-cam, or (now) body-cam video. And the result is somewhat frightening – from both perspectives.

Most “routine” traffic stops result from a minor violation of traffic laws. The officer will ask for your driver’s license and insurance, check those on his onboard computer system to see if there are any warrants for your arrest, and then typically returns with either a ticket for the offense, or a verbal warning. But the videos that have been provided in many of these instances (taken either by the aforementioned dash-cam and body-cam videos or in other cases, individuals videotaping the officers from a distance), show an escalating issue which seems to start with someone bristling from being “inconvenienced” with the traffic stop. This provides an “air of attitude” towards the officer, who perceives someone challenging his/her authority as law enforcement. The officer then escalates the incident by attempting to assert his/her authority, which incenses the individual more – and the spiraling cycle between the two results in what we have seen on the news.

But let’s set the entire spiral of the incident to the side. That merely sets the entire perspective for what is the real pair of issues:  a sense of attitude versus a misperception of authority and power. In my estimation, this is where the true problem is.

Before I continue any further – let me set a few disclaimers down. I am not, nor have I ever served in any capacity as law enforcement. What I am going to set forth here is merely my opinion based solely on my perspective as an individual observing these incidents as a far-removed third party. Nor am I a Psychologist or Sociologist of any stripe. Again, these are merely my opinions based on my own opinions. Furthermore, if you dislike or agree with my opinion, you are more than welcome to comment – just realize I am not seeking a debate. If you want that, you would be better served opining within the bounds of Reddit or some place similar.

Attitude v. Overuse of Authority

I am sure many officers have heard this on a traffic enforcement stop. “Have you not got anything better to do?  Remember, my taxes pay your salary!” I am not sure how you, the reader, may respond to a statement like that, but it certainly gets my dander up. Plus, the attitude sets the tone for everything else that is likely to happen. But, the officer is trained to not take this kind of bait – and to be honest, that is precisely what it is. In this day and age, people seem to believe that everything can be debated and argued. That seems to have arisen out of the early time frame of President Bill Clinton’s first term. The rhetoric was ratcheted way up by such political shock jocks as Rush Limbaugh. Now, before you think I am blaming Rush Limbaugh for what happens in traffic stops these days – hear me out a bit.

The ramping up of rhetoric started there within the over-amped criticism of the President elect and his attempt towards governing the United States government for the citizenry. Over time, that amped up rhetoric became accepted, and wormed its way into other aspects of life. Until we have reached today’s levels – where debate and argument rule the day in every conversation. Critical, anger-filled statements are common-place. Its only logical that a society fed on this style of discussion would bring it to incidents such as traffic stops.

But police officers are trained not to take the bait in these exchanges. But let’s realize, they are human beings too. They lose their tempers, they have bad days, they respond to certain triggers words. Sometimes, their training fails them – and we see the consequences of that in these incidents.  And no, that does not absolve the officer of his responsibilities. Its merely a factor that plays into everything. We place officers in the position of trying to maintain the professional integrity of the incident and to try and resolve some of the rhetoric being thrown in their faces by the individuals that they have stopped for a simple traffic infraction.

There’s also the flip side of the issue as well. Where police officers see their authority as something to smash into the individuals – barking commands like a drill sergeant, and expecting civilians to quickly obey nd without question. And to be honest, when someone is yelling at you to do something, and you have no ability to question why — it can be frustrating. And if you are slow to comply, the officer may then resort to physical manipulation to get you to obey their commands. And some officers don’t even wait for you to follow through on their initial request (and that’s sometimes putting that lightly). This is where abuse of authority and perceived power comes from.

To be completely honest, most officers are not like that. But the actions of those who are, is typically blown out of proportion by the media. After all, abuse of police authority and power is a very heavy click-generating. People will share those news stories far and wide, and those that they share these stories with will click on them and come to the website to read about this “travesty of justice”. But that’s a whole different direction to think about — the role of the media in all of these stories.

Here’s the simple takeaway from all of this:  even when you are having a bad day, its best to follow the commands given to you by a police officer. Once you have complied with their orders – then ask the question of why. Remember, politeness may not be the over-arching thought of the moment — but if the officer is not willing to ramp-down the situation (as their training dictates they should), a bit of politeness coupled with a calm, reasonable voice and tone can go a long way to diffusing the entire incident. The smart-ass responses do nothing for you, except make the situation worse. If you feel your civil rights have been violated, arguing with the officer will do nothing for you either. Ask for their badge number, and then report them to the ACLU. If they refuse to give you their badge number, write down their patrol vehicle’s number, and call the police station later in the day. Ask to speak to their shift supervisor and get the officer’s badge number that way. They are obligated to provide you with that.

The key is to keep the situation as calm and reasonable as possible. Record the conversation on your cell phone. Above all, be polite. The police officer is a person too, and can have a bad day as well. Sometimes, a touch of politeness on your part can cut through the tension far quicker than firing back a smart-ass comment or attempting to engage a debate with the officer over whether their time is better spent pulling you over for a traffic violation or chasing down a murder suspect. Inflammatory statements are made to invoke a response — it may not be the response you want.

Yes, I do believe that the United States has a wide-ranging issue with local law enforcement. The abuse of power and authority is something that American society has dealt with for a very, very long time. Escalating each incident that you have with the police, merely to showcase the problem, certainly is the wrong way to help them solve the issue. And honestly, the repercussions of escalating those incidents may place you in a far worse spot with them. Politeness, and courtesy go a long way – even when its not extended to you initially.

I Can Hope…

A few folks who have known me for quite some time, remember when I was going through my phase of constantly reading the news and commenting on what I read. I spent a lot of time listening to the Talk Radio programs on the AM dial, and would spend a large part of my evenings watching the various news channels. And you know – I am a fairly opinionated guy (who would have ever guessed, right?) and rarely shy about proffering that point of view. The result was that I got extremely agitated over stuff that I had no control over. And that agitation would spill into normal conversation, turning quite a few people off to holding any conversation with me. Over time, I eventually noticed. And being the type of person I am – I sat down and analyzed every aspect of things to try and figure out what was wrong.

My discovery was a simple one – the news. Particularly the news presented by CNN, MSNBC, and FOX NEWS, where presenters offered very biased opinions of events and situations in angered tones and statements. I realized that the reason it was done this way was that it made for better ratings. That’s right, people shouting and turning purple with rage sells a lot better than someone calmly stating the news. Its interesting to watch people have conflict with one another, and let’s face it – its entertainment. And once I realized how I was being manipulated through this manner of Infotainment (my term for it), I turned off the news I was paying attention to. I sought out other ways of getting news – focusing on sources where the bias was not as harsh (all news has some form of bias from the individuals reporting it) nor where the way it was presented meant that I was watching the intellectual equivalent of Saturday Professional Wrestling. It took quite some time, but I eventually found news sources that seemed not be as biased to me – NPR Radio, and the BBC.

But all of that has gotten me into a mode of thinking (a dangerous place to be indeed)…Is our society of today starting to mimic the anger and overly testosterone-laced posturing that we see on the news programs? You don’t have to go very far on the internet to find conversations between folks on a topic of a political nature. And when you read the attached commentary, it does not take long before the insults and accusations start to get hurled. Oddly enough, I see a lot of this same behavior in public places. People talking politics at a table in a loud manner, trying to be heard over the noisy crowd in the rest of the establishment. The eventual pull of others into the conversation, coming from tables other than the one where the conversation originated. After a few moments, veiled insults and threats get traded.

I VotedI have had this happen to me as well. With my shoulder-length hair, I am frequently noted as being the “liberal hippy” professor at the college I teach at. I happily embrace the hippy moniker – its not only a lifestyle I admire, but I also understand how much influence it has had in our modern society through inventions and progressive thinking. But I am not a liberal, nor am I a conservative. I do not vote in the primary elections here in Texas, as that affiliates you with a political party. I am an independent, unaffiliated voter and am happy to stay that way. I don’t vote a straight party ticket. I vote for the candidate that makes the most sense, and abstain from the races where a single candidate is running. Political parties do not interest me in the slightest. And yet, I am still labeled a liberal based on my clothing and my hair length.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve become a society of angry people. Ready to shout down anyone that does not figure into our equation of what is “right” and “good” in this world. Somewhere, we lost the manner of respecting people who do not completely agree with us on whatever topic. And I am at a bit of a loss to try and explain where it went, why it disappeared from our society’s landscape, or if it can ever be found and reinstalled. But I can hope…

We Take Care Of Our Own – An Opinion on Memorial Day Weekend

609 Comm SqMemorial Day weekend. This day, along with Veteran’s Day, is one of the most uncomfortable times of the year for me. I hear the statements all the time – even today, twenty years removed from my last day of wearing an Air Force uniform.That’s right. I served in the United States Air Force from March of 1986 to April of 1994. And of those eight years, seven were spent as a very open and public Pagan. I have talked about my experiences as a Pagan in the Air Force before (Part One) (Part Two). What I have not talked about is my experiences as a former member of the United States military.

Typically, when folks find out that I am former military, I hear the platitudes – the most common being: “Thank you for your service.” I cringe inwardly every single damn time I hear that statement. Its almost as if I am looked at as someone who joined to fight for something or defend something. I didn’t. Yes, I spoke the oath – “I will defend and protect the Constitution of the United States against aggressors, foreign and domestic. I will obey the lawful orders of my superiors and the orders of my Commander in Chief.” Yada, yada, yada. Back then at the MEPs (Military Entrance Processing location), it was merely a statement that started me on to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Then on to Technical Training school at Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. And then finally on to my first duty assignment at Carswell Air Force in Fort Worth, Texas. That little oath meant nothing to me then – except a way to stay alive, fed, and clothed. I had wasted away a golden opportunity at college, and with no job prospects, and no skillset to work with – I figured this was the best chance I had. I didn’t join to serve and protect – I joined to stay alive.

The oath of enlistment means more to me now – with the sturdiness that twenty years of

Me - USAF - July 1992
Me – USAF – July 1992

hindsight and experience can provide me with. The weight of what it means is far heavier in my mind now than it was back in my early twenties. Thinking back, I was just a dumb, happy-go-lucky kid who had very little understanding of where he was in the world – and didn’t care much about it at all. I was naive about the way the world worked. And I wasn’t worried about fitting in at all.

I’m still the round-peg that is being pounded into the square hole. I am a little more cognizant of where and how I am seen by the rest of the world-at-large. And I am still not worried about the perception of others. But I understand far better what such an oath as the Oath of Enlistment really means. I have a large measure of respect for the young folks of today, raising their right hands, and taking on the burden that the Oath puts to them. And for the most part, I believe that many of them are far more aware of how heavy that burden really is than I was at their age. I truly am thankful for their desire to be of service.

But this is why I cringe inwardly when I hear that statement applied to me. Its why I do not self-identify myself in large crowds as a military veteran. I hear the words stated from folks – and it comes off as an empty statement from them. Like a line that must be parroted so that their own patriotism can be on display. There’s the statement, the obligatory handshake, and then they disappear into the crowd. Almost like its a safe place to make such a statement – with no backing to the words.  And here’s where my rant on this begins….

A few years back, I watched an individual literally give the shirt off of his back to help a lady cover the costs of her food for her and her child. He was a retired veteran, living off his rather meager retirement money. His offer of assistance essentially took the food from his table and put it on to her table. Over the next few days, I watched as he went without lunch and no one else offered him any food – including me. On the fifth day, I watched as he stumbled through the office – obviously weak from hunger. Other co-workers commented that he must be drunk – especially since his appearance was not the greatest in the world. Considering how much money he made – there was no way he could be there in a Gucci suit. When our breaks coincided, I followed him outside to sit on a concrete bench. In that short talk, I found out that he had not only given his monthly retirement check to the mother, but also his last paycheck here at the company as well. When lunch came around, I took him out to eat, and we talked more. His electricity had been turned off for non-payment, and he was not sure how he was going to cover the month’s rent. When I offered to help him out, he refused. He would rather lose his apartment than take charity. After work, I went to his apartment complex, and spoke with the manager there. I paid his rent for the month in-full. When she asked for a name to give to him – I told her “its from a fellow veteran. We take care of our own.” I never spoke to him about it, and he never brought it up to me.  I figure he suspected it was me. But there was no need to discuss it.

We take care of our own. I lived by that creed when I was in the military. As a Non-Commissioned Officer, my job was to not only get the tasks in my duty section taken care of, but I also had to nurture and assist my subordinates. In essence, I was their parent in camouflage. When they had need, I made sure it was met. When I needed tasks completed, I knew they would give me one-thousand percent. Twenty years out of uniform, I still talk with some of my former troops. They still come to me for advice. I will have their back when they have need.  They have mine. But who has ours??

Currently, the news is filled with stories of corruption at the Veterans Administration, concerning waiting lists for veterans seeking medical care. Its difficult to read the stories, because I can literally see the faces of people I served with in those stories. Individuals in need of care. Individuals needing a helping hand. Individuals who proudly wore a uniform, lived a life not governed by the Constitution that they had sworn to uphold and defend. Individuals who put their entire lives on hold to be the ones who would be in the gap when needed. And now that they have given – the most that they get in return is a statement of “Thank you for your service.” And typically, that happens only when you are fairly well dressed – and essentially able to stand on your own two feet.

So, its Memorial Day weekend. Most folks will have a nice cookout in the backyard with hamburgers, hotdogs, potato salad and a few beers. How about remembering what this weekend is really about? Not just remembering the soldiers who have died – giving their lives in the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we all enjoy under the Constitution (here in America). Not just remembering the ones currently in uniform. Not just remembering the people down the street, in their nice homes with a nice job. Let’s also remember the veterans that are sleeping on park benches downtown, underneath the towering overpasses in their cardboard box cities – the ones who desperately need some help. They gave. They had your back. How about having theirs??

Consumer-Driven News…an Opinion….

I tend to avoid the news for a large part of my time. Mostly because its not really news – its just Entertainment sprinkled with bits of Information. All the major news players are guilty of it – Fox, MSNBC, CNN…and the sad part, is that once you leave the tv behind – its not much better on the internet. In fact, you have to be thousands of times more careful about what you read – since there is so much overly-slanted, and outright lies that are set out as “real” news. That’s one of the reasons I am glad there are sites like “The Wild Hunt” out there – which bring some (not all) of the news in a factual manner.

It was through TWH that I found out about the issues surrounding Kenny Klein. It was also through TWH that I found out about the reported ties between the recent Kansas City shooter and aspects of neo-Paganism. Unlike CNN, which seems to have originally reported the ties, TWH presented the story without a major slanted bias. And this is a sad thing. A major news outlet essentially could not see a way to report information as just that:  information.

I teach a class on Business Information Systems at my local college. I spend a lot of class time trying to show students that information presented on its own is just information. However, when a human being gets a hold of it – a bias automatically creeps into the reporting. In essence, when human beings get involved, information takes on the biased slant of the individual compiling the information into an analyzed report. That analysis is a report of the patterns that the data represented to the Analyst looking over the data. Reporting the news is no different. Information is presented to a reporter, that individual then takes the information and presents it in a way that he/she thinks the news outlet’s readers/viewers will understand the reported information. In a manner of speaking, the reporter spins the news report in a way that becomes palatable to the audience. An example would be to look at the different ways that Fox and MSNBC attempt to report any news related to President Obama. Fox spins the story to represent the President in a very unfavorable light. MSNBC will represent the same story in a way that sets the President in a positive light. The reality of the story is somewhere in between the two.

Earlier, I had set aside a point of caution towards trying to identify predators within our Pagan community. When we point fingers based on rumors or hearsay, we run the chance of accusing someone of something that they had no part in whatsoever. The accusation can be withdrawn, but the individual reputation that has been sullied cannot be repaired to its former status. Now, I am not saying that this is the case with the KC shooter. Its fairly obvious that the individual is the one that committed these acts of murder – and further, its obvious that he has a very sick, perverted, and twisted idea of what truth and justice are. An individual consumed by hatred and rage over an individual’s skin color, nationality, religion, creed, eye color, hair color, or what have you – is not dealing with the rational side of the world. It may be that he has some cursory tie to the Heathen community. But there has also been a lot of perversion of Heathen principles and ideals by individuals seeking something to substantiate their twisted hate. By grabbing a few strands of what the Heathen community uses in its principles and concepts, and combining that with perspectives of racial purity from the Nazi principle of Aryan dominance over the world – and braiding in some aspects of radical Christianity…folks like this have created their own sick and twisted idea of how the world should be.

Let’s be realistic here. There will always be radicals within any system of community or belief. There will always be individuals that take the ideals and twist to further or substantiate a socially unacceptable concept or perspective that they hold. History is replete with such examples. Instead of immediately jumping up and painting an entire community or belief system based on the actions of a few individuals – we should be careful not to twist the two together. I remember that many people here in America equated the actions of nineteen cowards with an entire belief system – and then stretched it further by visiting their naked anger and aggression on people who lived in the same town as they did – and sometimes just down the street. Jumping to conclusions based on a few cursory facts does nothing to further the concept of justice…nor does it bring about any sense of equality.

Our media does not help in this matter either. Sensationalized headlines may sell papers, and drive hits to the news outlet’s website – but it also helps feed the fires of irrational fears and actions as well. It also does a disservice to the entire concept of reporting the news. In this world of “Gotcha!” politics – and the desire to be the first to report the “story” – along with the increased readership and reputation that goes with that…we (the general “we” here) have become a society that is fascinated with the every move of certain individuals. How did they cut their hair, what cuss word did they utter to the reporter on the street, did they run over the reporter’s foot when trying to drive away (let’s not mention the fact that the reporter is right up against the vehicle – standing IN THE STREET). There’s no news in that. But it certainly is entertaining to many – otherwise the news outlets would not report such stuff.

Is the shooter in Kansas City news?  Yes. Is the shooter’s beliefs news? Yes. Therefore, since both items are news, we can assume that everyone else that follows that same belief is a psychotic killer in trainer like this shooter? And this is what I mean folks, this is how the news is given its bias. The reporter writes the story, presents some of the facts, and then draws a hard-line correlation between those facts and another point of view.

Can we recover our news outlets?  Can we get back to reporting the facts and letting the reader/viewer make up their own mind? I don’t know. I would certainly try to be optimistic and say its possible. But our consumer driven society places a high premium on “Gotcha!” politics and Infotainment stories. I am at a completely loss to figure out how to change that…

Opinion – Trashy Consumerism

Well, the Superbowl was last night. I think I watched about a quarter of the game. I have never been a big fan of American football. The most exciting parts for me is watching the kickers. The rest.  Meh. Kind of glad that it is over now. That means that I will not have to listen to everyone blather on about this “tactical point” in strategy or that “strategic point” in how to handle the next play. Plus, in less than two weeks, Major League Baseball begins Spring Training (!!!!), and that is a sport I am truly fanatical over.

Yesterday, however, we got a reminder that it is still winter – at least down here in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro-mess. We had some sleet for a short period of time, which left a minor coating of ice on the ground. It will all be gone by this afternoon, provided the weather folks have got the forecast right. However, the temps will be low enough that I will need to drag my big coat out of the closet when I go to class tonight. Read on the news yesterday that the groundhog up in Pennsylvania saw his shadow and bolted back into his home. The “prediction” of more winter. Now, everyone seems to be grumbling about the groundhog’s prediction – and blaming him (even jokingly) for the extended winter forecast. I do not need to blame the groundhog. In fact, I do not need to blame anyone. This is a cycle of Nature. Which takes me to where I am thinking this morning.

Just a few years back, I remember the winter months starting somewhere around the end of October. The temperature would drop considerably, and we would typically have a light dusting of snow in mid-to-late December here in Texas. After that, the temperature would hover somewhere between 30F and 40F until mid March. But these last few years, we seem to have had yo-yo weather here. For instance, last night, our temperatures dipped into the teens, and the day before, we had been in the 60s. Now, I consider myself to be a casual observer of the weather, but I seem to recall a lot of patterns like this in the last few years. And I can only conclude that the weather cycles on this planet are trying to adjust…and I can only further conclude that it is us – human beings – that is the cause of the adjustment. Yes, for those of you that are allergic to former Vice President Al Gore – I am talking Global Warming here.

I am not writing this to debate the entire perspective of Global Warming. In fact, if I receive a response from someone wanting to debate the issue – I am quite likely to let the comment stand, and flat out ignore it. You – the reader – can make up your own mind about the causes of Global Warming or even if it exists. To be completely frank, I am not even sure that Global Warming is the correct term to utilize for what I believe. But I do believe that the wide variances in weather patterns, the occurrences of stronger, more violent weather conditions….these are all parts of the adjustments that have to be made to achieve balance. Furthermore, I am not saying that mankind’s manner of polluting the environment, over-use of the natural resources, and inability/lack-of-desire to even care about the effects of those actions, are the cause of the current change in weather patterns. I do believe that the changes we see would have happened naturally, just not at the rate of speed that we currently are experiencing. I do not have scientific facts to back up what I am saying here – only my own intuition. So, if you are looking to use cherry-picked “scientific” facts to blow holes in my theory – you probably could easily do so. Just as I could do the same thing with cherry-picked “scientific” data to prove that the purple-striped, and pink-polka-dotted hippopotamus will be making a comeback in the near future.

My point is not that we need to make drastic changes to help combat the environmental damage that has been done. The damage is done, and an extreme change in behavior may only cause more drastic changes. Nor am I saying that we need to stay the course and continue with our current behaviors. Again, I am no scientist here – I am just a Pagan living my daily life the best way that I can. Much like pendulum will swing wildly in a large arch in one direction when pushed, the reaction – the return arch of the swing, will also be large, just nearly as much. If we caught the pendulum in the high-point of its arch, and flung it back the other direction – the arch would be just as great, and have another reaction in the opposite direction. The goal was not to make the pendulum vacillate wildly in action/reaction to our second action – taken to combat the action/reaction of our first action. The goal was to slow the rate of action/reaction from the first action. (Aside – I know that may not make too much sense…but its the best I can do with my attempt to communicate this here, so hopefully, you are tracking this line of thought) Thus, I think an immediate and drastic action to slow the reaction to our initial action may cause a secondary – and potentially more damaging – reaction. In other words, I think we need to make slower, more pronounced changes singular changes to our behaviors.

For instance, in our modern age of technology, our modern age of production – I refuse to believe that we cannot package products in more effective ways to reduce the amount of waste that we create. For instance, we create tons of packaging that is not recyclable – styrofoam. We have drinking cups made from it at the fast food joints. We have containers for food in those same locations, that are made from it. Nearly every item I have ever purchased from an online retail location has come with those styrofoam packing peanuts inside the box to protect the item from damage. Well, everywhere except Amazon, which uses an air-filled plastic pillow, which can be recycled. We scream and moan about these companies following practices that discriminate against LGBT couples, or whether they are using GMO foods in their product. Yet, I have never heard a single complaint from anyone over the wasteful way that these same companies package their products. And just to take it a step further, inside the locations of these companies, I have rarely seen a recycling bin. Typically, there is only a trash bin located there, where EVERYTHING is placed. And I have not even started to contemplate the idea of what these companies do with unsold food product at the end of the day – which should, in my not-so-humble opinion – be donated to a local homeless shelter to help feed the people located there. Yes, its not the greatest food in the world, but something is far better than nothing for people who have nothing.

Full Trash CanWe – and I mean the royal “we” here – we are such a wasteful society. We over-indulge on nearly everything that we do. Its a part of our consumer-driven mentality. We get money, we must spend it. We are taught that habit when we are young – by our parents, by the advertising we see on the television, by our peer pressure to have the latest, greatest gadget. We generate so much waste – waste that can be recycled and repurposed, which is sent to a landfill instead. The landfill in the city/suburb located directly south of me, is taller than the five-story apartment complex near it. The landfill for my county is nearly four stories in height. I shudder to think how much of that is food that has been thrown away. Food that could have been repurposed as compost for assisting in growing more food, or that could have fed the needy in their time of need.

This is a big problem – our wasteful usage as a consumer-driven society. And one that I believe should be addressed by the companies out there – as well as the government. I do not know where your heart is in all of this, but I want to leave a sustainable planet for the future. I recycle. I try my very best not to waste food. But I am just one guy. What about you? They say a journey starts with a single step…how about a revolution in the way we think, the way we consume, the way we live on this planet??