1) The commentary on the Ghost Ship fire tragedy has been decidedly mixed. Some of it has been thoughtful, some has been wishful thinking, and some has been privileged pontificating. I trust my comments fall into the first category and not the second two.
Building codes exist for a valid reason – to reduce the likelihood of people dying. There is no such thing as 100% safety, but buildings that meet codes are far less likely to turn into death traps like this. It is the responsibility of building owners to make sure their buildings are safe, or at least that they meet codes, whether bringing them up to code is profitable or not.
The problem is that codes and permits are often used not to promote safety but as social control, to keep certain kinds of people and certain kinds of events out of certain neighborhoods, and at times, out of entire cities. This is an abuse of government power.
The answer is not to get rid of codes. The answer is to enforce codes strictly but narrowly. If a building is out of code, don’t force the tenants out into the street. Rather, force the owner to fix the building.
2) Those who complain about the lack of funding for arts and artists have a valid point. Compared to other first-world countries, the United States spends a pittance on supporting artists. Sadly, I do not think this will ever change. The vast majority of Americans like pretty pictures and catchy tunes, but we don’t like to be challenged. And too many people have the idea that being an artist is “easy” and shouldn’t be supported with taxes paid by people who do “real” work. They fail to see the work required to product good art and the value of art as more than entertainment.
Most of the artists I know accept this, even if they don’t agree with it. It falls to the rest of us to support art and artists to the extent we can. We need what they make.
3) Many of us are approaching January 20 with great concern. We don’t know what the next four years will bring, but we don’t like what we’ve seen so far. We feel the need to do something – how can we best deal with this?
We can go about our business. We can stay focused on our spiritual practices. We can form alliances and friendships in this world and across the worlds, and then go about supporting and caring for each other. We can build the kind of relationships and institutions that promote a progressive, compassionate society regardless of who’s running the government.
I’ve been recommending Pagans, liberals, and others make Trump irrelevant in our daily lives. I’m starting to think that’s not possible, even for those of us with more than a little privilege. But we simply must not allow Trump and his minions to dictate the agenda and dominate our lives. “Keep calm and carry on” worked for the British fighting the Nazis – it will work for us now.
4) Don’t eat the fake news clickbait! I keep seeing warnings about fake news. I don’t know that I’d call it “fake news” so much as gross exaggerations and speculations; quotes taken out of context and framed with inflammatory language designed to get an emotional response.
If the headline says “Breaking News!” or “This Changes Everything” or “You Won’t Believe What They Did!” you can be pretty sure it’s clickbait. If it promises something you really really want to be true or something you’re really really afraid of, it’s probably clickbait.
Here’s a good article on how to spot crap. Check the source, check the date, check Snopes (which is not completely unbiased, but is usually reliable), consider the context, and most of all, have a little skepticism. Don’t spread fake news and clickbait!
5) The True Believers are worse. There are sites designed to get you to click on Facebook posts so they get ad revenue. Then there are sites by True Believers: the ones who are completely convinced Hillary is a monster, Obama is a secret Muslim, and the world be a better place if straight white men ran the whole thing and everyone else knew their place.
If you think these people are all about the money you are badly mistaken. They believe what they’re saying, and they’re doing their best to convert others to their way of thinking. They are less concerned with facts and reason than with advancing their beliefs through appeals to emotion.
You don’t have to agree with your political enemies (you shouldn’t agree with them) but you damn well better understand them. We cannot change the True Believers, but if we understand why their followers find them attractive, we can craft effective countermeasures.
6) For-profit news is a terrible thing. There are no truly unbiased news sources and there never have been. Facts are facts, but news is always presented from a specific viewpoint. What to report and how to report it always involves political and ethical choices.
That said, some sources are more biased than others.
When I was growing up, there were three networks. They took news seriously and at least tried to be unbiased. More importantly, they spent money collecting and reporting news first-hand. The news business lost money, but it was seen as a civic responsibility, and it helped attract viewers for prime time programming.Now we have entire networks devoted to nothing but news, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They have to make a profit or they’ll go out of business. And they’ve found that straight reporting doesn’t bring in nearly as many viewers as loud, bombastic opinion pieces (which are cheaper to produce than in-the-field reporting) that tell people what they want to hear.
On-line news is just as bad. Aggregators – including Google News and Facebook – try to show you things they think you’ll click on, not what they think you need to know.
I don’t have a good solution to propose – censorship of fake news will inevitably lead to censorship of real but unpopular news. I scan several sources (local newspaper, CNN, Facebook, Google News) to keep up with what’s going on, and if I need more details I look for three or four sources from different perspectives. If I can distill the facts from all that, I can decide what it means for me.
7) The Path of Paganism is due out May 8. Enough politics. Let’s talk about something really important… or at least, something really important to me. I’m currently going through the first proofs of my book The Path of Paganism. The draft was finished this time last year, but I wrote it without a contract and didn’t try to place it with a publisher until it was done. So while I’ve been over the material dozens of times, it’s somewhat new to me as I read through it – I’m happier with it now than when I finished it.
The blurb on Amazon (taken from my Introduction) says:
For John Beckett, practicing Paganism means more than adopting a set of books, tools, and holidays. Practicing Paganism means cultivating a way of seeing the world and your place in it. It means challenging the assumptions of mainstream society, keeping those that prove true and helpful while discarding those that show themselves to be false. It means building a solid foundation from which you can explore the nature of the universe, the gods, your self, and your community while learning to strengthen your relationship with all of them.
The Path of Paganism is now available for preorders for both print and Kindle. It will be released in early May. If you know you’re going to buy it (you are going to buy it, aren’t you?) please consider pre-ordering now. You won’t be charged until it ships, and large pre-orders from readers will turn into larger orders from Amazon and other book sellers to the publisher, which increases distribution, which means more people will see it, buy it, and read it. This is a book that needs to be read.
If you’ve already ordered it, thank you!
8) ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat. The beginning of the calendar year brings another Pagan gathering season. For the fourth consecutive year, I’ll be teaching at the ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat at U Bar U in Mountain Home, Texas. This year’s retreat is February 10-12. Cynthia is coming with me this time – we’re teaming up to teach a workshop on ecstatic devotion.
If you’re looking for a Pagan gathering but you can’t afford to go flying off to Pantheacon, look for something closer to you. These smaller events don’t have hundreds of people and dozens of events, but they do have good people, knowledgeable leaders, and an atmosphere that promotes deep conversation. For me, that’s far more important – and more enjoyable – than the programming of the larger conferences.
The ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat is drivable from pretty much anywhere in Texas, and it’s not out of the question for those in surrounding states. The cost is modest, the accommodations are more than adequate, and the experience is superb.
9) The Cernunnos Ritual returns. In 2013 I received explicit instructions to lead a public devotional ritual to Cernunnos. And so we did – three times. The first was for a ritual at Denton CUUPS. The second was for the OBOD East Coast Gathering. And the third was for DFW Pagan Pride Day at the largest park in Dallas – you can’t get much more public than that. It was very well received, both among the participants and by the Guest of Honor.
Next year will be four years since we did those three presentations, and I’m getting explicit instructions to do it again. So Denton CUUPS will be doing this as our Beltane ritual on Saturday, May 6, 2017.
It won’t be identical – a lot has happened since 2013 that needs to be incorporated into this ritual. And it’s Beltane – we’ll find a way to work our Maypole Dance into the circle. But the core of the ritual will be unchanged. It will still honor Cernunnos and give everyone a chance to experience Him for themselves.
I rarely promote our local rituals here, since the vast majority of blog readers don’t live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area. And I don’t think I’ve ever tried to promote a ritual five months in advance. But this will be a special ritual, and if you’ve ever thought about making a weekend trip to Denton, this would be the time to do it.