Be Offended, B-E Offended…

Every political cycle, stuff seems to get more contentious between folks. And its really not just politics that does this – religion, sports, even statistical programs and analytics methods can bring out the worst in folks. However, I sincerely believe that its not really the subject matter that gets folks on edge, but rather the way they approach their subjects. But with our over-exposed media coverage – particularly here in America, where politics seems to be a hobby for some – it certainly seems like politics is the catalyst for everything.

Let’s face it, depending on your perspective, you either view America as a country that needs to get religion (Ted Cruz), become “great” again (Donald Trump), get civilized in its discourse concerning legislation (John Kasich), needs to continue some (but not all) of President Obama’s policies (Hillary Clinton), ditch every model of government and give everything away (or so it seems) (Bernie Sanders), or just needs a complete change to something new (any third party candidate). Or perhaps there’s some direction I’ve not mentioned for any of the above noted candidates or (seemingly invisible independent) third-parties. To be honest, none of that really matters one bit. Its all an over-generalized (on my part) perspective concerning various perspectives towards electing a figure-head position in a “representative” government, where the true manner of representation for the citizenry is flat-out ignored by that same citizenry. And much like Robert Conrad’s old battery commercials…everyone wears their political perspective on their shoulders, daring everyone to “knock it off”.

See, we’ve created a society that is more interested in getting offended than anything else. We wear our politics on our sleeves. We slam our beliefs under everyone else’s noses. We dare others to be offended over what we say, read, speak, and act upon. We seem to want to pick the fight. And this is especially common during political election cycles. We champion the President of the United States as being the “everyman” – the individual that we want to typify the everyday, average citizen of this country. Its not about electing a spokesperson. Its not about electing an individual that understands how to marshall legislation through the political waters of the Congress. Its not about finding a statesman (person?) who can find common ground with the political opposition in order to find legislative means to benefit the common citizen. No, what we want is a politician that will fight for our rights, trample the rights of those groups we could give two shits about, and tell the media to go fuck themselves while flashing a million-dollar smile. All while balancing a battery on his shoulder, just daring anyone to be “brave” enough to come knock it off. We want someone who is going to stand up and personify the manner in which we want to react to being offended.

Perhaps one day, we will come to our collective senses and realize that our government represents more than just our singular political, religious, sexual identity perspectives. That this country’s (and others’) greatest strength is that we stand together as a diverse group of people, embracing an ideal of freedom of individual choice. That we may choose differently…but we are united in the conceptual freedom of making our own choices. Maybe one day. In the meantime, I guess we will just have to continue looking for ways to be offended….

 

Into the Void….Again…

Every single year, its the same tired statements that arise:

There’s a war on Christmas! People are trying to take Christ out of Christmas! Christmas is a Pagan holiday taken by the Christians to gain converts!

Blah, blah, blah.

IMG_0140Over the past five to six years, I have penned a few blog posts making statements about how there is no war on Christmas, and that it really does not matter where Christmas originated. Its not about which religion it belongs to, it matters what is in your heart.

And that two sentence statement will be all I have to direct towards that. Because the truth is – no one is listening. Particularly on the internet.

What we have with the internet is a vast echo chamber, where people shout into it – expecting to hear a chorus of echoes on what they have shouted. They are not shouting to make a statement, rather they are shouting to be heard. And yes, I am quite aware that I am utilizing the very platform I am criticizing to make this statement.

Take a long, very detached look at the campaign of Donald Trump. He makes wild statements about various topics. Many of these statements are incendiary in nature. The kind of statements that old BBS users would liken to “flame-wars” or “trolling”. When people agree with him, they create the giant echo he is wanting to hear. When people disagree with him openly, particularly people who have some aspect of celebrity status that generates headlines, he berates them and insults them. This tactic is about drawing the message away from his statement, and placing the individual in a position of defending themselves against his baseless accusations. In my many years on BBS “debates” (I am reluctant to call those rolling arguments that wasted hours of time and effort a “debate”), I found this to be a strong tactic of those who were looking for the echo chamber, not a discussion.

But Trump is only a single example of this. A shining example, because of the oxygen that the media give to his claims. That stuff generates web-clicks, and issues sold…stuff that corporate giants need to infuse their systems with the lifeblood of money. Let’s face it folks, the internet has left the idea of being a free exchange of information and ideas long behind its current wake as a monetary intravenous system for companies. Furthermore, platforms such as Facebook – where many of you will click to read the entirety of this blog post here on WordPress – provide the perfect environment for shouting into the Echo Chamber Void that exists. We share memes that quote “famous” people on topics we agree with or in manners which showcase those same celebrities as being wrong-headed about some topic. But a short fact-finding mission can turn up these same quotes attributed to some other celebrity or politician or what-have-you. When your Druidry notes that seeking the truth is an exercise that one should undertake at any time, these confusing aspect of the memes that are quoted becomes extremely suspect. Even when the memes seem to be on target, or have a particular degree of snark that makes them darkly humorous.

Individual:  Hello?

Echo:  Hello?

Individual:  How are you?

Echo:  Doing great!

Individual:  How’s the wife and kids?

Echo:  They’re doing great too!  Thanks for asking!

This was a routine that Disney put out at one time when I was a kid. My father recorded this particular album onto a cassette tape, so we kids could hear some Disney on the long trips through Europe in our family vehicle:  a 1970s Ford Pinto.

On the internet, this is the kind of discourse that many folks do not want. A give and take conversation. They want the people to click the “like” button, and occasionally make a “me too!” comment. After all, knowing that others share your perspective is a powerful way of affirming who you are, what you believe, and provides support for one’s internal question of “why do I believe this.” I’m not immune from this anymore than anyone else. When I attended events such as the ADF Imbolc Retreat in south-central Texas, or the OBOD East-Coast and Gulf-Coast gatherings, I am spending time with people who believe a similar manner to myself. We are not completely the same in our beliefs, but our core values are much the same. Gathering with folks like these, talking with them, discussing/debating/arguing topics with them, and gathering together in ritual – all of that helps me to realize I am not alone in this world with my faith and beliefs. But I am also among folks who will hold me accountable for my statements and actions according to those beliefs as well. In discussion, they will question my reasoning, and help me to place my thinking onto solid ground. Its similar to the Echo Chamber Void that I mentioned, except that there is interaction of a critical analysis nature. Very rarely do you see that within the Echo Chamber Void of the internet.

So, back to the annual Christmas debate thing. This year, I decided not to write a post about why both sides in the fray are wrong-headed. Rather, this year I am choosing not to wade into that fray. No one is going to listen. The shouting there is to merely be heard for the sake of being heard. Neither side is going to resolve the entire issue. Furthermore, its almost a proxy war for other issues.

[initiate dream sequence]

After all, if our side can win the Starbucks red-cup debate and get “Merry Christmas” and a manger scene depicted on the side of the cup; it stands to reason that we can tackle our next major topic of getting the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, right?  And once we tackle and win that topic, we can then petition Congress to set forth legislation that makes America a Christian nation. All people would need to bend their knee to Christ, and profess their faith or get the hell out of our Christian country!  Yes!  ::crowd roars approvingly::

[end dream sequence]

Yeah, sorry to disappoint some, but I have no desire to play in the internet proxy war throughout the social media platforms. If Starbucks wants to depict a manger scene on their cups, and emblazon “Merry Christmas!” all over it – more power to them. If I am in your store, and you wish me a “Merry Christmas”, a “Happy Yule”, or whatever else you might think of – I’ll smile, say “thank you, you too!” and carry my purchases out to my car. I will celebrate Yule as the Pagan that I am. And have no desire that you do as well.

I have no need or desire to shout into the void any longer. Rather, I have a belief system that works just fine for me, a strange triad of Gods and a Goddess that I work with, and no desire to be a Christian of any shape or form. In the end, if my choices concerning this bother you, you may need to re-evaluate how your faith works for you…rather than trying to force it to work for me.

 

Bringing Up the Nightmares of My Past

A few months back, I stopped reading the news. Not because I did not want to be informed, but because I was tired of getting angry at what I read. Particularly in the election cycle. Essentially, this Presidential election cycle in the United States has become a manner of which politician can say the most off-the-cuff, vulgar statement to make headlines – particularly in the nomination for the Republican party’s candidate. Turning off the news provided me with a little peace, but it put me at odds with wanting to be aware of what was going on in the world around me. So I would turn the news on every few days, get an idea of what was taking place, and then shove the news back into the little box I had created for it. All of that worked, until today.

Senator Ted Cruz, from my state of Texas made a statement that brought back all the fears that I had thought I left behind several years back.

We will utterly destroy ISIS. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out. And we are going to make abundantly clear to any militant on the face of the planet, if you wage jihad against the United States of America and try to murder innocent Americans, you are signing your death warrant.

The bold and underlining is my emphasis. His statement here is essentially pointing out that he would consider a nuclear strike against the ISIL contingent. And apparently, he cares very little for all the innocent civilians that would die as a result of this. For me, this makes the man extremely unfit to be the leader of a country in control of a nuclear arsenal.

I grew up in an age where the threat of nuclear strikes both here on US soil, and by US forces was very real. It was a threat that we lived with every single day of our lives. We were taught absolutely ludicrous concepts such as “duck and cover” to avoid the inevitable destruction that a nuclear detonation would cause. It was a 1950s concept that had permeated into the same thinking in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was a useless concept, considering the advent of nuclear fallout, nuclear winds, and radioactivity – just to consider some of the more obvious aspects.

When I was ten years old, I searched for a science project for a school science fair, and settled on showcasing the manner of atom splitting that allowed a nuclear detonation to grow in scope and strength. After that, I researched the concept more and more – until I began to realize what this “neat science trick” was really capable of doing to human beings – both in short-term and long-term effects. Five years later, I was a teenager who was scared of what my government was capable of doing – and terrified of what other governments could do as well. The concept of mutually assured destruction was horrific in my mind.

When I joined the military, I found myself a part of that war machine – ensconced within the command-and-control structure, working in cryptographic communications. When I was stationed in a command-and-control facility as a part of a multi-faceted NATO unit, I found myself in a position where I could potentially be the individual that sent out nuclear release codes to units in the field. It was a very sobering thought to know that I could be in a position to send the codes that could potentially kick of the MAD policy that kept two major superpowers at one another’s throats. Always threatening the other with weapons.

Over time, the Iron Curtain between West and East fell, and I was able to meet Soviet troops for the first time. We could talk to one another, share drinks and coffee, and realize that we were not that different from one another. That essentially firing a nuclear weapon on them would result in the same destruction we would feel within the United States, as well as throughout Europe. They had the same fears we did – that someone in their government or ours, would feel that nuclear weaponry would be an acceptable conclusion to some moronic political difference.

Shortly after I left the United States Air Force in 1994, relations between the Soviets and the United States would normalize. People would talk to one another without posturing with maniacal weapons of destruction. And while we disagreed on the political formation of the world around us – we learned to coexist. My fears had subsided.

Until today. When I heard a Senator from my own state make a passing allusion to weaponry that is indescribable for the usage mentioned. Where a group of people are covered in a blanket statement of being “the enemy” – simply because of where they live or what they believe. Dear Gods and Goddesses above and below, we are apparently forgetting the lessons of our past — not even eighty years looking backwards. We have candidates (Donald Trump, in particular) for the leadership of this country making statements about needing a registry of people of a certain faith. We have another candidate making statements with a passing reference to nuclear weaponry, based on bombing a terroristic organization with no known country affiliation with no regard for the civilian casualties and deaths that would result from it.

For me, its fairly obvious that many individuals here in the United States – and elsewhere – have a hatred for something or some group of people that have a foreing way of life to theirs. The fact that the religious belief in question, and the people that practice it are as different as possible from their own Christian (for the most part) faith only makes it easier for them to dehumanize these people, and strengthen their “us versus them” rhetoric. What disgusts me more, is that many of these people profess to follow a faith that is about peace, love, forgiveness, and understanding – and yet chose to do none of those things. Instead, its about how much you can shove into the offering plate, so that others can see how pious you are as the result of the amount of money you gift to the church. Its not about doing, but about being seen.

In the meantime, politicians can ramp up the rhetoric, bring out a beast from the past – and pretend that its ok to do so.  Because the only individuals having that horrific experience are just “them”. Nobody important. Just a bunch of people who don’t need our sympathy or assistance. No wonder so many of these people become “radicalized” — its a “fight or flight” response. And when your back is against the wall with nowhere to go – the flight response is removed from that equation.

There’s no easy way out of the miasma that we find ourselves in with ISIL and Al Qaeda (among others). But even hinting at a nuclear strike — even meant in jest — is not the way to achieve what you are trying to accomplish (supposedly). We will achieve peace by finding a way to coexist – finding that middle ground. We won’t achieve that with candidates like Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. Not when they begin to call up the nightmares of my past as an option to solving issues such as this. All I can do is write a blog post about how I feel, and hope that note will resonate into the future where these candidates’ are considered.

Deep Peace to You
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.

Eating Dirty Laundry….

Life sometimes gets wild, wooly, and crazy. When it happens, it can feel a lot like a million paper-cuts happening over and over again before the bandaids arrive. Or at least that was the description that my High School English teacher once told me during my Junior year. I like the descriptive, but it really does not seem to fit – at least not lately.

Over the course of the last six months, I have had to deal with the sudden passing of my father – just a short while after the passing of my mother. That was enough to set my world into a small tilt-a-whirl mode. But to be honest, it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t deal with. Added to that, was the craziness of the politics and news of the day.

I’m not going to go into too much detail of those events, because thats not where I am headed with this. But essentially, I watched as the media helped to document the major split within the politics of the United States. Right-wing versus Left-wing. Republican versus Democrat. Conservative versus Liberal. Whatever descriptive you want to give it. However, the media plays this up as if its the ultimate and primary aspect of what defines America. I would submit that this is utter bullshit, designed to drive ratings on “news” channels that rarely report anything resembling the news. After all, sensationalism sells. Or as is put more scrupulously by Don Henley:

We can do the Innuendo
We can dance and sing
When it’s said and done
We haven’t told you a thing
We all know that Crap is King
Give us dirty laundry

–Don Henley, “Dirty Laundry”

My experience of dealing with everyday people, that are not so consumed with defining people by their politics, is that they are more interested in who you are and how they can help (if needed). However, the sad thing is that in the realm of the news, the people who shout the loudest get heard the most. That’s why people like Rush Limbaugh, Randi Rhodes, Sean Hannity, Alan Colmes, and Alex Jones can spout the outrageous comments that they make. They have radio and television to help pump up the volume for their statements. The more outrageous things that they say, the more airtime it gets with the media. Just look at Donald Trump, as another example. Currently leading the Republican nomination polls, I’m not sure that anyone could seriously consider him a viable candidate for the Presidency. And yet, his outrageous statements are like red meat to the more rabid elements of the Conservative political party.

And seriously, why not? It does not take a lot to connect the points. After eight years of President Obama, most right-wing Conservatives are wanting to shake up the so-called “status quo”. Their current leadership has failed to thwart the “Muslim in Chief” (what a stupid descriptive too) in any major manner. Thus, they are no disillusioned with their leadership and want something new, different, and far more radical. This is why Ted Cruz got to where he is. But are the people that are responding to Trump and Cruz the majority of the Republican base? I doubt it.

In a discussion thread on Facebook, I noted that neither the Republican or Democratic nomination processes are really serious at this point. I only wonder how long it will be before both parties get serious.  After the first debate?  Maybe. After the second debate?  More than likely. Until then, we are really working off of the point of entertainment. Who is going to say something outrageous?  How is everyone else going to respond to it?  How many rating points can the network get for the dead squirrel on Trump’s head?  Yeah.  Wake me when things actually get serious….

…and as a final thought, what does this say about us here in America? How shallow do we have to be to allow stuff like this to continue to lead the headlines?  After all, as long as we keep clicking on the links to the websites, tuning into the TV channels – they will continue to provide us with our dirty laundry. Yeah. Kick us when we’re up. Kick us when we’re down. Kick us all around…

A Riff on the Apolitical Blues

A touch on the cold side here in Texas.  It was hovering right around the freezing mark when I got up. Growing up in Europe, this type of weather is a welcome one compared to what the rest of winter would normally bring. Here in Texas, at a far closer location to the equatorial zone, temperatures like this are consideration for parkas. For me, this is weather for a hoodie. Just a difference in experiencing the world – neither is correct or incorrect, except in relation to the individual expressing it.

Its a similar fashion to politics. Over the past week-plus, I’ve noticed that people are starting to gear into the political zone. Of course, we are less than two years away from a Presidential election cycle here in the United States, which means its almost time for the typical political season. Much like Texans tend to dislike cold weather, I dislike the political season.

I’ve never been much of a political animal. During the first Presidential election that Barack Obama was elected, I got caught up in some of the political hype. It was a polarizing event, from which the United States still has not completely recovered.  My supposition is that it goes much further back then the first election of President Obama, but that’s neither here nor there – just merely an observation.

Republic, Liberal, Independent, Conservative, Democrat

Nearly twelve years ago, if I had been asked for a political affiliation, I most likely would have replied that I was a “Libertarian” – though that term is not a true indication of where I sit in the political spectrum. I like the Libertarian principle of smaller, less restrictive government – but I can see where some restrictive governmental legislation may be necessary. These days, when I am asked where my political beliefs fall – I reply that I am an “unaffiliated voter”. In Texas, you declare your political allegiance in the voting mechanisms by voting in your party’s primary election. Thus, I eschew any steps in that direction – I completely ignore the primary elections. This keeps me firmly in the camp of the unaffiliated status.

I also tend to not get involved in the lengthy “talks” that occur in Facebook (and other social media platforms) over this candidate or that politician or these other party members’ choices. Just not something I spend hours of thought and energy on.  I have plenty of other things to put that into.

Like What??

I actually had someone at work respond to me this way not that long ago. If I didn’t care about politics, what did I care about?  I care about stopping environmental destruction, rebuilding the environmental infrastructure that we have destroyed and damaged, spending my time in the environment, and as much as it pains me to think about it – doing my job to the best of my ability. Yeah, it means that I bend slightly to the almighty dollar. Without it, I can’t survive. I have a house payment, I need to purchase food, clothing, and keep my vehicle in proper shape so that I can get to work. But there’s other things I need to spend more time on.  Keeping myself in better shape. I’m nearly 50 now (gasp!) and I’m not nearly in the shape I was three years ago. I have issues with my left shoulder, and my compensation for those issues is starting to take its toll on my right shoulder. I have diabetes that I need to take better care of. Plus, there’s other things to focus on.

In a little less than a year, I will be taking a trip to England. I would like to take another trip to Medicine Wheel in Wyoming and spend more than a half hour there. I want to take the time for some meditation, along with a prayer walk along the edges. I want to take another trip to Wounded Knee, and (again) spend more than a half hour there. Plus, I miss the mountains of Colorado (and will remedy that in April of this year). My focus is on taking the journeys that are set to me in my dreams and visions. And these are only some of the places that have come to me.

Honestly, I would rather spend my time focusing on what I can do for my environment, along with what journeys get placed before my feet than worrying about which political party has been able to curry enough favor from the American voter to gain a Congressional majority. I get that there are people that find politics to be a wonderful topic to sink their teeth into, and that many others enjoy the rigor that debate brings for them. The only thing that truly astonishes me in all of those “debates” is when people get butt-hurt when someone pops up with a perspective that they think denigrates their own. Its almost as if we’re waiting for something to disagree and argue about – and look for any small point to achieve with that.  That, however, is a point for another time….

–Tommy /|\

Let’s Be Confused Together

ArgumentOccasionally, I get folks that ask me what I think about this or that news topic. I am really unsure of what they are looking for — on the one hand, they may genuinely want to know my opinion on something or have a true discussion about the topic in order to help process a different perspective. More often than not, its usually someone wanting to argue or debate a point that they feel is relevant from their perspective. I can understand that – a need to argue one’s point of view in order to derive more meaning from it. I don’t really find it to be all that productive though. After all, a debate tends to seek a “winner” and a “loser” in the end. I’ll point to the definition as outlined in dictionary.com’s entry:

…a formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of proposition are advocated by opposing speakers.

Perhaps I am just a little too old, and a little too set in my understanding of the world around me, but I have no desire to spend time trying to be in a “contest” over an opposing viewpoint. That sounds an awful lot like what the politicians of today do:  endlessly argue over some ultra-fine point of legislation, tying up the entire process until the problem eventually goes away. Then no one needs to make a decision. And then no one gets blamed because something was or was not done — the problem just went away.

Ok, perhaps I am a little jaded over the entire political process. I can admit that in the way I look at politicians and legislators. Endless, pointless arguments over issues with no regard for how the problem is currently affecting people for whom the problem is very real.

In a manner of speaking, this is a lot of the way I see the issues of police force that are currently permeating the news. There are many ways to slice up the information and dissect it to figure out who is at fault. Perhaps its just the police for using the force?  Perhaps its the people that have a blatant disregard for the authority of a police officer to enforce the laws of the community? Perhaps its the individuals that choose to resist arrest for [x] reason?  Perhaps its the officers who profile individuals based on their skin color, clothing, hair-style, gender, brand of cigarette that they smoke, the type of water bottle they carry, the area they live in, or whatever strange, curious or obvious division or descriptive that can be created and utilized??

I hear [and understand] the people that scream for the firing of officers that are involved in incidents such as the ones that have made the news lately. What about the people who choose to set fires to businesses shortly after they are done looting them? I certainly don’t hear or see protesters trying to get these individuals into the hands of the authorities to have them prosecuted for the crimes that they have committed? Perhaps I missed where the looting and burning of stores within the Ferguson, Missouri community were “ok”…

Sure, I hear the racial overtones to things. I grew up in the late 1970s, and early 1980s – where we tried our very best to be inclusive. But I wasn’t foolish enough to believe that racism was over. I have heard that a lot too. That my generation was foolish enough to believe that racism was over. Trust me, many people I knew during that time frame were not foolish enough to believe that. But we had certainly hoped that a large enough dent had been placed in it. Now, thirty some years down that road…I can see that the dent has been pounded back out.

Who am I blaming?  No one.  No one at all. And all of us.  Every. Single, Fucking. One of us. I am not here to debate any of this either. Its the way I think. I tend to keep this stuff to myself. If someone else reading this is nodding and saying “I’m confused about this too”  — have a seat next to me here on the curb. I could care less who you are.  Or the color of your skin. Or what religious beliefs you have. Have a seat and be confused with me…and remember, debating this is going to do nothing. But then again, I have to wonder what can we do?? My only thought is that we stop classifying ourselves according to our skin color and genetics. Perhaps the best step we can take is to start classifying ourselves as human beings. How we get to that point – is, in my opinion, anyone’s best guess.

 

You Spin Me Right Round, Baby, Right Round….

This afternoon, I stopped doing my work for a few moments to catch up on the news.  A few moments. That’s about all the time that it really took as well. Just a quick look at the headlines at http://news.google.com – a deeper look at the Technology news – and then I was back on to doing my work. it took a few minutes for me to realize how little time I spent reading the news.

In the past, I would spend literally hours reading the news – bouncing between four different news sites. Now, I spend far less time reading the “news” as it gets presented to me via the web browser. The other time frame that I gather news is the hour drive to and from work – with my local National Public Radio station on. Once I am out of my car, that’s just about as far as I go for the news.

It used to be, the news reported a large variety of stuff — but now its seemingly nothing really worthy of my time. A political spin on events from one aspect of the political realm or another. The true meaty bits of information tucked between the slices of bread that spin the information this way or that. The news is interpreted by whatever political bend the writer has. And to be honest, if I have to read between the shitty bits of spin just to glean some small facts of what the story is, I just don’t have that kind of time to spend. Nor do I have the patience for it any longer.

I’m not sure who may have said it – but I am starting to see the merit behind the statement:  “true news reporting is dead.” The media – big and small, corporate and independent – report the stories with spin designed to give you the facts with the appropriate tint. Red or Blue, Democrat or Republican, with a cup of Coffee or a cup of Tea. No need for you to think…just read, and swallow the party line.

Honestly, I would rather sit outside underneath my big tree in the backyard – and listen to the Gods and the Spirits of the Land whisper in the leaves and branches above. I would rather feel the sun on my face, and the grass and dirt between my toes. This is where I get my daily recharge from…and honestly, I trust this far more than any media person or politician….

 

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…

Screaming at the Virtual Wall

Its “interesting” to watch the gyrations of the Pagan blogosphere, particularly over the recent debates on Polytheism and Anthropocentrism. People who have normally discussed topics in other veins, suddenly became agitated and enraged over these two areas…simply because their opinions did not match up. Words – and in a few cases hand-drawn cartoons – were flung back and forth like salvos of arrows launched prior to the meetings of two grand hosts on a battlefield. And all over a few simple words.

I have my own personal stance on the issues – or a somewhat stance, as I documented in a few posts a while back. I have a very distinct way of seeing the Gods, but I actually dislike the usage of terms like “Hard-Polytheist” or “Soft-Polytheist”…seriously, what’s the freaking point? I’m a Polytheist…plain and simple. Then comes the back and forth over who is or isn’t using the correct terminology and definitions of Animism and who is further away from having an anthropocentric perspective. Again, who really cares?? If you can understand that you are looking at life through the jaded eyes of a human being – then you tend to understand that your perspective is a little geared towards an anthropocentric position. I try my best not to put that tint into how I perceive the world around me…but I am, after all, a human being. Sort of difficult to remove that from my thinking….

But really…what is the primary point here? Debating over the differences in a manner that suggests “winners” and “losers” as the primary point – that’s not going to be useful, in my opinion. There is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path – as Morpheus reminds Neo in the movie “The Matrix”. There is also a difference between debate and discussion. Drawing that distinction by etching it in the sand with a stick is one manner of distinction…blurring it by rubbing the sand until the line disappears does not remove it…it just makes it more difficult to discern where the distinction is.

We communicate everyday. We use the anonymous distinction of the internet to allow for that distinct between discourse and debate to be blurred, and utilize our words as weapons of blunt force. And to be completely honest, I am doing just that here with my commentary on this. I am not a well known blogger. Fuck, I am not even a well known podcaster – and I have been podcasting for quite some time. In the reality of things, I am more on the edges of the Pagan blogosphere and podosphere (to borrow from the other descriptive term). I am comfortable out here on the edges. But perhaps life is not meant for me to be comfortable anymore.

I grow weary of the bickering, fighting, finger-pointing, and hurled descriptives within the Pagan blogo- and podospheres. It has nothing to do with the topical positions, but rather the manner in which everyone moves forward with their positions. I know the Pagan community can get along, respect one another, and have uncomfortable discussions in a respectful manner. It happened here in the DFW area in early October of last year – Pagan Pride Day. I came away from that day with a feeling of immense pride – people of very divergent perspectives within the Pagan community came together – learned about one another – respected one another – and left at the end of the day with smiles on their faces. But that was face-to-face….

Do internet communications really mean that we cannot bring that same respect online? Does the measure of anonymity really empower us to say things to one another that we would most likely not say in face-to-face communications? Is there really same measure of online “face” that we lose if we cannot “win” an online debate? Do we really have to win an online debate?

In the words of Rage Against the Machine….”How long? Not long. Because what you reap, is what you sow.”

Bending My Political Straw

bendy-straw-a-1I dislike politics. If you have read my blog posts here, my status posts on Facebook or Google-Plus, or listened to me on my old podcast “From the Edge of the Circle” – you are pretty well aware of that point. But its not quite the reason that a lot of people think.

The primary perspective that gets pasted onto me – much like a bad wall-papering job – is that I prefer to stick my head in the sand and ignore the political stuff. The next layer that gets added from that is that I do not understand the political scene, and therefore am not intelligent enough to manage my way through those waters. The last layer usually gets added by those looking to find a target to make – I’m painted as a Liberal or a Conservative – depending on what the view of my perceived attacker/opponent currently has. The reality is that none of these apply. Damh the Bard has a wonderful song that I like to quote – which typically leaves these vociferous “adversaries” scratching their heads quite a bit:

If you thought that we would do nothing,
You’ve misunderstood!
For we are the Sons and Daughters,
of Robin Hood!

Sons and Daughters of Robin Hood, Damh the Bard

There’s a simple point to be made here. Just because I do not participate in the endless – and in my opinion, widely useless – debates and arguments over political issues and points, does not mean that I do not understand or have an opinion on those bones of contention. A lack of vehement expression on my part does not equate to my lack of desire to participate in the support of or contention of a particular political perspective. When I do not share sharply critical memes that lambast a political party or person, this does not mean that I support the individual being lampooned or criticised. And yet, the fact that I have not participated in these measures has brought me plenty of derision from various corners. So, perhaps, its best to be a little clear on my own political perspective.

I hold very tightly to the concepts of libertarianism. To quote from Wikipedia:

Libertarianism is a set of related political philosophies that uphold liberty as the highest political end. This includes an emphasis on the primacy of individual liberty, political freedom and voluntary association.

If you were looking for the base aspect of what I believe in from a political perspective – that’s it right there. And that’s keeping it very simple. I do not associate with a political party – not even the Libertarians, where I get the base of what I believe. I have no desire to be a part of any political party. I have the capability and capacity for individual thought. I do not need a political party nor any particular individual to create my own personal definitions and understandings. I do not shill for any political party, and will only campaign for individuals running for political office if I truly believe in their causes one-hundred percent of the way. As you can imagine, I have endorsed very few candidates over the years. And I am likely to endorse even fewer going into the future. But as Damh points out in his song – if you think I am going to do nothing because of my political stance, you have sadly misunderstood what I am trying to convey here.

I do look at the backgrounds of the candidates that I vote for. I do vote in every election that is held in my district. I have the internet at my fingertips, I am an Information Professional, and I do my research on the candidates. I not only read their platforms and their political statements, but I also read how they voted on issues (for those who held previous offices). If their votes and words do not match up – I consider them to be suspect. If it does match up, I read what their stance is on issues that are important to me – and if they match mine, they get my vote. In cases where none of the candidates match my beliefs – I abstain from the vote. As an example, the current crop of candidates running for governor in the state of Texas match this statement. There’s still a lot of campaigning left to go for the candidates, so there’s still a lot of research for me left to do.

Now, I hate arguments, debates, word-battles – whatever you want to call them. For me, these are Argumentexercises of wasted time and energy. Trolling for internet debates, endless debates over trivial points…for me, none of this solves anything, except to let the combatants howl into the dark forever of the night. When the dust settles, the only thing that gets discovered is who can piss farther up the hill. Rarely have I ever seen things like this change anyone’s mind on who or how they were going to cast their ballots. This even goes for the televised debates. These are typically just red, bloody meat being fed to the adoring throngs of the two major political parties – where the members of the viewing audience spend the next few days talking about which candidate scored the better blows. If I wanted to watch something like that, I would turn on the television and subscribe to a UFC match.

As a podcaster and a blogger, I have a bully pulpit at my fingertips. Granted, I have a small number of readers, and a small number of listeners for the podcast…but I could always utilize both to broadcast my support for a politician or a cause. I try my very best not to do that. I respect the ability of people to make up their own minds on such issues. Besides, if someone asks, I will provide my opinion. But my experience has been that those inquiries are usually precursors to a desired debate. Typically, I provide my point of view, and then when challenged over it – I back away from the conversation. My words are there – there’s no need for me to defend an opinion. After all, its an opinion.

I know there will be people who are disappointed over my stance on politics. There will always be people who disagree or dislike something. Nine Hells people, we all think differently. We all come to different conclusions based on our own experiences. The last thing I want to do is spend my time trying to convince you that your experiences are wrong, and that my experiences are right. And yet, when I choose to not do so – I get roasted over the fires like a sacred cow. ::big sigh:: Well, at least I won’t wind up as part of a McDonald’s Happy Meal….

Violating Our Programming

Today is the designated celebration for the life of Martin Luther King Jr., here in the United States. And while I do find what he did in his lifetime to be not only inspirational, but also historical significance – this small paragraph will be all that you will find me writing on the individual. Its not that I find his lessons to be of no value, or that I object to his race – both could be further from the truth of what I value about his contributions to societal change here in the United States. There are, however, far better tributes to the man, his teachings, and his contributions to change in a tumultuous social environment. Beyond what I have written here, my viewpoint would not be able to do the legacy of his dream any form of justice. Onwards….


Last night, I happened to catch Matrix: Reloaded on the television. The scene was where Neo meets with the Oracle on the bench in the area between two buildings. The conversation lingers over the entire underlying theme of the movie – Causality versus Choice. When she offers Neo some candy, he laments that she already knows whether he will accept the piece of candy or not. She replies that she would not be much of an Oracle if she didn’t know. Then Neo opines with:

Neo: But if you already know, how can I make a choice?

The Oracle: Because you didn’t come here to make the choice, you’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand ‘why’ you made it. I thought you’d have figured that out by now.

As with all three of the movies, the message is neatly folded in under some very interesting and hardcore action sequences. The first few times I watched the movies, I was so focused on the violence and fighting sequences, that the dialogue slid right on by. Then one day, while working at Intuit (yes, I did answer tax calls for a single tax season) a group of us were discussing the movie. I had managed to comprehend how the characters within the Matrix were bending the rules of reality as hackers tend to exploit shoddy programming to make applications dance to their whim. But then the conversation turned to the intricacies of the dialogue, I found myself lost in the conversation. I had never contemplated that the real meat of the story would be in the dialogue between the characters. Over the next two years (2005 and 2006), I began to dig deeper into the dialogue and started to see the philosophical argument underneath. The Hero had to first believe in his abilities…to understand that accepting his position as Hero meant to see life in a different way. Neo does this, when he begins to see the Matrix in terms of the binary programming language that permeates the Matrix environment. From there, he has many more tasks set on his Path, where he meets philosophical challenges, such as Causality versus Choice.

So let’s take a quick peek at that point. To place this into more simplistic terms, it is the difference between Cause/Effect and Choice. Is the world around us constructed primarily of a series of events determined by Cause and Effect? In essence, everything we do becomes a pattern of actions met with reactions, which in turn are met with further reactions – ad infinitum. Or do we have the capacity of Individual Choice? Where we can actually make a choice of how we go about our daily lives. Choosing what we can and will do or not do. Later in the movie, the character of the Merovingian, the information dealer takes up the perspective:

The Merovingian: No. Wrong. Choice is an illusion, created between those with power and those without. Look there, at that woman. My God, just look at her. Affecting everyone around her; so obvious, so bourgeois, so boring. But wait. Watch, you see, I have sent her a dessert…a very special dessert. I wrote it myself. It starts so simply; each line of the program creating a new effect, just like…poetry. First, a rush. Heat. Her heart flutters. You can see it, Neo, yes? She does not understand, why? Is it the wine? No…what is it, then, what is the reason? But soon it does not matter. Soon the why and the reason are gone, and all that matters is the feeling itself. And this is the nature of the universe; we struggle against it, we fight to deny it, but it is of course pretend, it is a lie. Beneath our poised appearance, the truth is we are completely out of control. Causality. There is no escaping it. We are forever slaves to it. Our only hope, our only peace is to understand it, to understand the why. Why is what separates us from them, you from me. Why is the only real source of power, without it you are powerless.

As he succinctly puts this message, there is the inescapable point of cause and effect…action and reaction. It exists, even in a world made of independent Choice. We make choices all the time, with no regard (at times) for its effect elsewhere. I have talked a bit about connectivity in the past few posts, as I have managed to understand from Emma Restall Orr‘s book “The Wakeful World“. The choices and actions we take in this world, reverberate all around us.

Binary WorldWe elect politicians to positions of governmental power – enabling them to make choices of regulation, control, and policy action on our behalf. For the most part, Americans (I cannot speak of the countries I do not live in) vote in politicians based on which political ideology they claim to follow. In essence, we align ourselves according to what is essentially a set of vague and empty promises, in the hopes that these enabled procurators will follow our wishes as a general rule of thumb. Many of them, however, look to the large companies that prowl the hallways of Congress, seeking votes for legislation that allow them to put into motion business practices that are harmful to our environment – all in the short-sighted view of monetary gain. In the meantime, practices such as kerogen oil extraction and hydraulic fracturing cause environmental damage that will potentially be generations in the process of repair and rehabilitation. In some instances, the damage caused is unknown at this moment – a reaction to the actions of the businesses, who were enabled by the politicians that we chose to represent us in our government – choices made by a reaction to a supposed standing of an individual because of which label they had decided to choose when running for that representative office.

We all make choices. Those choices kick of actions, which are echoed by reactions. Much like the pebble dropped into a pool of water, our choices are actions that create reactions. The consequences may not be known initially, but it certainly does begin to beg the question of when we will claim the responsibility of what we have done. Our history, the history of mankind, is littered with examples of choices that spawned action and reaction that had lasting consequences. The two World Wars, the Bopal disaster, the current issues from the Fukushima disaster….each becomes a series of actions and reactions related to a set of choices that were made.  Some may have been well-intentioned, others may have been intentional in relation to the action/reaction chain of events that occurred in its wake.  Yes, we all make choices. Sometimes those choices are influenced by a reaction to a choice made by another. That politician decided to run as a Republican. You hate Republicans. You automatically paint that individual with a broad-brush declaring that individual is influenced solely by white, corporate America. How can one be completely sure that this broad-brush painting of the individual based on a set of empty promises brandished by a political party are reflective of this person’s own convictions?

Cause and Effect or Independent Choice? I argue with my students every semester about whether the proposition of Artificial Intelligence can ever be achieved. They point out that there are scientists continually working on the construct of this theory that are held back by governments and militaries – essentially keeping their findings as “secret” for the purposes of national security. My approach is that to get a machine to actually think – you need to provide it with choice. Currently, machines can make choices based on difference engines, where a determination of success rate is quickly calculated, and the machine’s choice is to adopt the solution with the higher success rate. But real choice isn’t based on a Difference Engine. Real choice comes from the ability to violate the programming, no matter how illogical or unsound the choice is. The ability to ignore the success rate and choose a lower success rate instead. Or to choose not to make a choice from the offered set of solutions. This does begin to beg a deeper question – can we, as humans violate our programming? Or are we looked into a pre-determined set of choices based on our experiences? When we violate the programming and choose another way of solving the problem – are we truly violating our programming??

Causes, Politicians, Newsletters and Mailers – My Perspective

I VotedOver the past couple of weeks, some of my more politically involved friends have decided that adding me to newsletters of their respective candidate of choice would be a most excellent idea. Its not. When I get mailers like this in my physical mailbox, they go into the recycling bin without more than the first glance to see what it is. If it arrives in my Email Inbox, it gets a similar treatment – being sent to the oblivion of the digital version of the recycling bin. When my friends find out I do this to things that they thought would be interesting reading for me or for material they thought would easily sway me to their way of thinking – they tend to get rather pissed off. I get that. I don’t agree with it, but I do understand it. I have my own pet causes.  I have a handful of politicians that I would like to see elected (sadly – most of them have chosen to not run for government positions as of late). I just don’t have to add people to the mailing lists to try and sway my friends’ opinions on any of that. They are grown folks (well, for the most part). They are quite capable of making up their own minds and making their own decisions. They certainly do not need me holding their hand on anything.

But that’s made me wonder a bit. I hear a lot of the one mentality that makes me grind my teeth when I see it:  [Us v. Them]. For instance, and because it is the easiest example to come up with, look at the way the Conservative Tea Party folks treat everyone else around them. If you do not agree completely with them, you are against them. Even when you agree with some of the statements that they make, but disagree with them on others. My favorite, and often stated, quotation from these particular folks is “…if you cannot agree with the principles and statements that we make, then you are not an American Patriot.” That [Us v. Them] mentality. The Tea Party folks take it a few steps further as well. They view themselves as being surrounded by people bent on destroying America from the inside, as well as outside agitators – such as Al Qaida – whose aim is to destroy America from the outside. In essence, the Tea Party is the 101st Airborne of the political arena – dropped into the depth of enemy territory, surrounded on all sides, fighting for their essential survival. Its fairly easy to figure out who you have to fight in an instance such as that – anyone. The reality is something far different. The Tea Party is merely one of several political ideals that a group of people espouse towards in how America should be run. They are not surrounded. The people here in America that they claim to be the “enemy” are actually citizens, who – just like them – are espousing a way that the government should be managed to handle the necessary functions for this country of fifty, independent States. Declaring anyone who doesn’t believe as you, is the truest characteristic of an ideologue. Or if you prefer, a fanatic. Declaring that everyone should think the same as you, is quite similar to what The National Socialist German Workers’ Party espoused in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany. In World History, we know these people as the Nazi Party.

Now, let’s freeze this for a few moments. I am not equating the Tea Party to the Nazi Party. Not at all. What I am doing, on the other hand, is pointing out the similarities in their philosophical drive to get everyone to incorporate into a single way of thinking. And before anyone freaks too hard…the Democratic Party in the United States has some of the same traits in their way of thinking as well.

See, the problem is not one of what they believe – they being people who cling to an ideology. No, the problem is the fact that they cannot find a position of compromise in their thinking. They are far too rigid, unable to bend on certain issues, unable to see that another point of view breathes life into the discussion, and that freedom to choose a point of view doesn’t equate to an individual’s patriotism or commitment to the underlying democratic process. And this is the problem I have with those friends who add me to their political pet causes and candidate’s newsletters.

I have no political party. I honestly want to be part of no political party. I don’t need or desire to hear some individual step up and tell me how I should vote on an issue – “for the good of the party”. I am quite capable of looking at the issue and deciding for myself as to how I should or should not vote on an issue. Here’s the real rub though – there are people who choose to vote that way, allowing a party to make the decisions for them. And I honestly have no problem with that at all. They made a choice as to how they wanted to cast their vote. I don’t agree with the way they came up with their conclusion, but its their vote to cast.

Perhaps, I am far too independent-minded to see a function of a political party in my life. Perhaps its my knee-jerk reaction to a connotation (real or perceived) of over-bearing authority. Perhaps. Regardless, its how I function. Its the way I think on issues. I know where to go to find materials and information on issues and candidates. And while I appreciate the efforts of my friends to provide me with some of that information – for me it smacks of having their perspective shoved down my throat. It smacks of being force-fed their ideology. And in a way, I feel that it insults my ability to make intelligent choices on my own, for myself, and according to what I believe – as an individual.