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Four Reasons the “Only 8 Unarmed Black Men Killed by Cops” Argument is Complete Garbage

Apologists for police brutality have a number of tricks up their sleeves for trying to justify the death and abuse suffered by their fellow citizens at the hands of police. They love to throw out half-baked and partially understood statistics in this attempt to shield criminal cops from ever being held accountable for their crimes.

At the current time with such energy behind a movement to reform the country’s corrupt police force, they have seized upon repeating in a mantra like fashion the line that “only 8 (or 14 or whatever) unarmed black men were killed by police in 2019.”

There is so much wrong with this statement that it’s almost hard to know where to begin addressing it all. USA Today published a decent article pointing out multiple flaws with this statement, but they missed some significant details that show the complete irrelevance of this claim and the questionable character of anyone spreading it.

I’m not really going to address the racial issue much, because to me it’s a secondary injustice that only matters because of the primary injustice of police unnecessarily brutalizing and killing people and rarely seeing any significant consequences. I’ll just say this: it is true that Native Americans and African Americans are more likely to be killed when interacting with police than are white people. However, whites get killed by police too because police kill, and racism makes this problem worse.

Below are four specific points that briefly explain how this “only eight” canard is dubious at best and furthermore reveal the lack of discernment being used by anyone repeating it.

1 – Is someone being “armed” in and of itself justification for a cop to kill or brutalize a person?

The people spreading the “only eight” canard are conflating the word “armed” with the idea of an violent criminal. They’re not the same thing at all. They seem to assume or at least want us to assume “armed” means the victim was actively shooting or otherwise threatening someone. But really, it doesn’t tell us much about what conspired at the scene of the killing at all.

I had a recent exchange with a cop who tried to justify a local killing by police of a teenager by telling me the victim was “armed” at the time. However, the victim was riding his bicycle home and was run over by the cop who perpetrated the crime with his car. The kid never brandished a weapon and never threatened anyone. They just happened to find a “weapon” on his body after killing him. He was “armed.”

This is the USA. We have this thing called the Second Amendment that recognizes Americans’ right to keep and bear arms. For this reason the United States is home to the most heavily armed population in the world. A significant number of law abiding citizens carry a weapon, also known as being “armed” on American streets.

A licensed concealed carry holder like Philando Castile could be murdered by police and be listed as “armed” at the time of their killing whether they were engaged in any crime or not.

So, if being “armed” in and of itself is not enough reason for police to kill then why make the point at all? Why not tell us how many people killed by police were actively shooting, pointing their weapon or in some way, ANY way presenting a GENUINE THREAT at the time of their killing? I suspect it’s because they would rather not have that conversation. It would require too much honesty.

2 – “Armed” with what?

What exactly does “armed” mean anyway? I get the idea they’d like us to assume it means the victim had a gun. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. A pocket knife or a beer bottle can be a deadly weapon. To a cop any number of mundane objects can be considered a weapon and a reason to shoot. Maybe it was nunchucks or a really sharp pencil. We just don’t know. All we know is they were “armed.” Or at least we know the police said they were.

Unless we know exactly what each person killed by police was “armed” with, we don’t even know what that statement means. Really, it doesn’t mean anything at all, at least as far as justifying a killing.

3 – Even if the victim was “armed” with some object, that does not preclude murder.

Simply put: A person can be murdered & the cop not even know they were “armed” until after searching their dead body or automobile and finding something they can consider a weapon. If a cop doesn’t even know a person is armed before killing them as it was with the young boy mentioned in point #1 above, it doesn’t even matter. It’s an irrelevant detail only discovered after the fact and then being used in an attempt to justify murder.

A detail like this doesn’t matter to the police brutality apologist. To them all that matters is the victim was “armed.”

4 – How do we even know the victim was “armed” in the first place?

To me, this might just be the most important point on this short list.

Who says the victim was “armed” in the first place? Were there any neutral witnesses or are we just going on the word of police involved in the killing? The “official” report is the police report as reported by the police involved.

Are we supposed to just listen and believe? Should we #BelieveAllCops, as if cops don’t lie and fabricate or plant evidence to cover their asses? Is that your fantasy world? I’ve got news for you. Cops lie and falsify evidence all the time, because they can get away with it.

A cop in Florida was recently caught planting illegal drugs on people for what seemed to be nothing more than his hobby. Dozens of people were sent to jail, and had their lives ruined. At least one person lost custody of their children because of this cop’s lies and this is just a single cop. Bottom line: cops lie. The “official” reports mean absolutely nothing on their own merit.

In conclusion, anyone pushing the “cops only kill a few unarmed people” are one of two things. At best they are naive.
Or they are something much worse; intentionally being deceptive, using meaningless statistics to justify the continued murder of the “undesirable classes.”

Maybe some people have chosen to believe in the myth of these angelic and honorable beings called police who are incapable of doing wrong. They should not be surprised when they are ridiculed for this naïveté because holding and perpetuating such ideas is harmful to a free society.

Opposition to the Redskins Name is About More than Being Offended

The Washington DC football team announced on Monday that it would be retiring it’s racist mascot causing nation-wide discussion. Yours truly has certainly been well into the fray.

A young lad has sought to question me on my stance and impugn the validity of Native American concerns on this subject. As is a standard practice of mine, if it takes more than a couple paragraphs to make my point online, it goes on the blog. So, here we go.

“Yeah that’s some who are offended, I know some indigenous people who aren’t. Aunt Jemaimahs family begged for the company to not issue a rebranding, apparently syrup is now racist too. I’ve never understood why anyone other than a white guy with a sunburn would be offend of the term “redskin”. OUR skin isn’t red. Who cares.”

 

It helps to have taken the time to learn the history of that term and Native Affairs in this country. One who has would be less likely to conflate different unrelated issues while repeating sound bites and talking points from conservative media.

It’s not simply “some who are offended.” It’s the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest, largest and most representative Native organization in the country which has advocated for the interests of Indians for nearly a century. It’s the American Indian Movement, Idle No More, countless tribes, and nations and virtually every native activist movement in this country for 50 years who have recognized the ill social affects of caricatures being the dominant representation of native people in media while rich white people make millions of dollars from it, despite what your buddy on the street might think.

It’s not that the r-word is offensive as in it hurts little snowflake feelings. It is literally the Native American equivalent of the N-word. It is a word used historically as a means to dehumanize Indians.

Throughout the 19th century that term was used to designate Natives as wild savages who were only suited to be killed, hunted down like rabid animals. Bounties were paid for “redskins.” Often times scalps were taken as evidence for the number of “redskins” killed to fetch a higher payment. Be assured when someone called us redskins they were not “honoring” us. They were saying we were less than human and just in the fucking way.

Indians are not honored by a dehumanizing term historically used to encourage and promote our genocide. This is a genocide that continues today by definition as per the UN Council on Genocide, and Raphael Lempkin who coined the term. Natives are still fighting for basic rights and amenities as human beings while mostly white millionaires continue to get rich off the legacy of genocide and colonialism, portraying Indians as the things of their fantasies.

This all gets into media representation and how it impacts the quality of Native life. Indians are only about 1% of the US population. Most of those are concentrated in a few states and mostly in remote communities. So, the average American does not have any meaningful interaction with a Native American on a daily basis, much less a native community. These people get the majority of their perceptions of Indians from media and sports. This includes some natives as well who have been acculturated, are often urban and do not interact with a native community.

How Natives are represented in media affects how we are viewed by the majority of the population. How we are viewed by the majority of the population matters when we need our issues to be taken seriously and acted upon in an appropriate manner.

If we are viewed as impish caricatures, savage beasts, or even romanticized relics of a bygone era, we are not seen as real human beings. That affects the socio-political environment which we as 1% of the population are powerless to overcome on our own.

If we’re not viewed accurately as real, modern humans then our tribal sovereignty is not viewed as something to take seriously. Our land rights are at risk, our religious rights are at risk (did you know Indian religions were outlawed until 1978?), our very existence as Indian people is at risk. And when these harmful stereotypes infect our own youth it has been shown to negatively impact their self perception and limit their imagination as to what they’re capable of achieving in life. This has long-term negative implications for individuals as well as for tribes and nations.

There is far more at stake here than simple hurt feelings about the color of our skin.

The Washington Team Retired it’s Racist Legacy Today

Today was a good day for Natives.

That racist mascot is finally gone. Of course there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth about losing another flagrant display of their beloved white supremacism. They can’t profit from Native dehumanization anymore and they’re sad. Let’s bask in those tears right now.

More importantly, let’s celebrate our success and reflect on how far we have come since the Era of Termination as fuel for the battles ahead. And let’s remember our allies in this.

Today is a result of half a century of grassroots activism, education, demonstrations and building our own media outlets that created enough non-Indian allies in the country to hurt a market for racism.

We’re not fooled that this was some benevolent act by a newly enlightened class of “elites.” We know it is only because enough avenues of income were obstructed that Dan Snyder was losing the only thing he really cares about, money.

And THIS is the real symbol within this multifaceted victory. The word they used to create a literal market for dead Native bodies no longer makes them money. They can no longer capitalize on our dehumanization like that.

While they whine and say goodbye to the “legacy” of their little racist sportsball club, I wish we could truly say goodbye to the legacy of colonialism and genocide in this country. This is a step in that direction. There is still a lot of work to be done.

Today was a good day.

 


The Eight-Fold Wheel of the Year

The Eight-Fold Wheel of the Year is a solar calendar marking the eight seasonal points of the ancient and indigenous western European holiday tradition.

It has always been vital for human survival to live in tune with the seasonal cycle in order to plan ahead and prepare for the various environmental changes that occur over a year. Our lithic ancestors needed to know when berries ripen, when herds migrate or when the snow comes just for basic survival. Along the way certain specific celestial events were noted that marked the beginnings and midpoints of the seasons and these dates were set apart as special. As civilization developed and farming became central to life, celebrations and holidays were created through tradition and the foresight of wise and creative participants. This is such an intrinsic part of our evolutionary heritage that our greatest holidays, those with long histories attached to them still carry these ancient seasonal and astronomical markers.

In the mid 20th century an uncertain group of Euro-traditionalist scholars combined the four-point seasonal holidays of the Germanic Anglo-Saxon tradition with a quite similar though differently organized traditional Celtic holiday calendar to create the Eight-Fold Seasonal Cycle. Though originally combined by neo-pagans to satisfy their need for a holiday cycle and to reclaim the old ways, it corresponds naturally with the holiday cycle already celebrated throughout Western civilization. It serves as a useful toolbox for those desiring to orient themselves with a more naturalistic or even indigenous outlook on life.

The Holidays

There is no “true” beginning or end to the Eight-Fold Seasonal Cycle, and different communities begin their year at different points for cultural and historical reasons of their own. Since I have a strong affinity for the Irish Celtic orientation I would normally begin with Samhain, but for this article I’ll start at at a point that seems like a more natural beginning, Yule.

Each holiday is presented below in brief. Click on the name of each holiday to be taken to a full article describing that day in more detail.

Yule, Dec 21st
A Germanic holiday in its origin, Yule falls at the winter solstice. It’s a time of new beginnings as the midpoint of winter. After two brutal months of winter the days are finally becoming longer once again and there is hope for a new summer just months ahead. It’s a time to celebrate the birth of a new year, and new sun. Yule traditions coupled with traditions from the Roman Saturnalia and transferred into a Christian context have been handed down to us as the modern day Christmas.

Imbolc, Feb 1
Imbolc is an Irish holiday. It’s the first defining evidence of the fulfillment of the promise made at Yule. The young earth is becoming fertile and the young sun has begun to show signs of his virility. This is when seeds that have lain dormant in the earth begin to show the first signs of sprouting. Life is starting to become more active after the hard winter. It is a time for lovers. The symbolism of Imbolc has been adapted into multiple different celebrations such as Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras.

Ostara, March 21st
Ostara falls on the Spring Equinox. At Ostara the Corn Mother is celebrated in her first stirrings of pregnancy. Agriculturally Ostara comes at the end of the Spring sowing season. Flowers are blooming everywhere and the animals are starting their mating dances as pollen wafts through the air. This holiday was wholesale converted, name and all into the Church as Easter and many of its symbolism such as rabbits and colored eggs were adopted along with it.

Beltane, May 1
Beltane is an Irish holiday and is also full of fertility symbolism. As the crops and herds are flourishing and pollinators are active, sexuality is pervasive through Beltane. Ancient customs recall celebrations in which lovers met in the fields, the forests, or along the shores for trysts and escapades. The Maypole with its phallic symbolism was commonly danced at Beltane.

Midsummer, June 21st
The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, with the sun at its strongest, therefore Midsummer represents the triumph of light over darkness. It is the counterpart to Yule, the fulfillment of prophecy. The Solar Hero born at Yule rises to his destiny. He could be King Arthur, Lugh Lamfada or God.

Lugnasadh, Aug 1
Lugnasadh is the first real harvest festival. It means “The Wake of Lugh.” As autumn approaches, summer day’s become noticeably shorter as winter’s grip is only a short way off and the sun begins to die. As a celebration many competitions and public dances are traditional.

Mabon, Sept 21

Mabon is the autumnal equinox. To some degree Mabon is a time of mourning. The Solar Hero is near death, and the cold grip of winter begins moving in steadily to rule the land. The powers of light and darkness are balanced one final time, allegorically locked in combat and the hero meets his doom.

Samhain, Oct 31st-Nov 1st
Samhain traditionally celebrates the last harvest of the season. It was the highest feast day on the old Celtic calendar and often regarded as the Celtic New Year. It represents the end of the active season and the beginning of the dormant season, the season of death as the solar hero lies slain. As such the date is associated with ghosts and dark themes eventually becoming the modern day Halloween.

As you see, the Solar Wheel follows the annual cycle through the activity of the sun and its relationship with the earth in order to sustain life. The symbolism associated with that has been built into allegories, mythologies and cultures, but at their core lays our genuine evolutionary nature. As natural beings, we are dependent upon this cycle of life, the dance between sun and earth. By living in tune with the seasonal cycle along with other traditions, customs and philosophies which I can only call Indigenist, I think we become more centered and grounded as human beings and more complete. With that completeness we lose a lot of insecurity, and anxiety about the meaning of it all and our place within it. This is just such a thing I think can help restore a bit of sanity to modern humanity.


Ostara and the Origin of Easter’s Symbolism

Easter is perhaps the most significant day on the Western liturgical calendar, celebrated in commemoration of the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead after his crucifixion on Good Friday. Many of the symbols and traditions of Easter have their origins in an older, Germanic tradition that is still celebrated to this day by Christians and neopagan revivalists alike, Ostara.

Ostara is traditionally celebrated on March 21, spring equinox as it is the solar compliment to Easter’s lunar reckoning. It is one point on the Eight-Fold Wheel of the Year, and it is regarded as one of the four high holy days in modern Druidry called Alban Eiler: “the Light of the Earth.”

The word Ostara derives from the old Anglo-Saxon word Eostre, the name of an obscure Germanic goddess about whom little is known today. Her name is linguistically related to the word for “east,” giving further credence to the strong solar significance of the holiday. And from this name we also derive the word Easter.

In modern paganism Ostara is regarded as the Festival of the Trees, due to the regrowth of their foliage at this time of year, a strong metaphor for resurrection and rebirth. Agriculturally Ostara comes at the end of the spring sowing season. Flowers are blooming everywhere and the insect population is making a drastic comeback. The animals are beginning to start their mating dances and pollen wafts through the air fertilizing the crops. Colored eggs and rabbits are indicative of this season by virtue of their association with fertility. In such, this holiday is directly associated with the inner Cauldron of Incubation. This is a very inspirational time.

At Ostara the Corn Mother is celebrated in her first stirrings of pregnancy and often symbolically sacrificed as an expectant mother must sacrifice of herself to bare and care for her children. This is a consistent theme amongst many agricultural societies from the Anglo-Saxon John Barley Corn to various Native America manifestations of the Corn Mother.

It’s not all just joy and the pleasures of fertility, however. Ostara also has certain themes of conflict associated with it. As the day that finally signifies the summer’s conquest over winter, the conquest of darkness by light, and allegorically the conquest of evil by the good an d majestic solar hero. And so we see ritual competitive sports and ball games are traditional at this time. Amongst many Western European populations there will be a ritualized and symbolic battle between the seasons, often in the form of a sword dance wherein the participants act out the opposing roles as either teams or one on one.

Ostara may not be Easter, but the two holidays share a common history, symbolism and philosophical character that are significant to the natural cycles of life. The winter has finally ended. There is abundance in life and resources looking forward. The darkness has been conquered.


Trump’s Response to Coronavirus was Better than the Critics

I keep seeing this argument that President Donald Trump didn’t act quickly and decisively enough to combat the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. However, I don’t think that is an accurate or reasonable position to take.

Of course with black-swan events like this it’s always easier to look back with 20/20 vision and criticize activities than it is to deal with a crisis in real time, but from my reading of the timeline of events I just don’t know what more we could have expected of the American President. He was ahead of the World Health Organization, his European counterparts, and the leaders of his opposition party. Suggesting the American President didn’t act quickly enough ignores everything that has happened up until the time being.

Below is a timeline of important and relevant events as they took place with regard to the actions of world leaders with regard to the covid-19 outbreak of 2020.

December 31, 2019
The first time China reported the existence of covid-19, the novel coronavirus. [source]

January 14, 2020
The World Health Organization, the organization which advises the world on matters of health was following China’s lead in saying there was no evidence of human to human transmissions of the coronavirus. They were wrong.

January 20
A man in Washington State who had just returned from Wuhan, China was identified as the first case of covid-19 in the USA. [source]

January 29
The WHO advised against applying ANY international travel restrictions due to the virus. They were wrong. [source page 2]
(page 2)

January 31
President Trump declared the coronavirus a public health emergency and stopped flights from China and six other countries, and suspended entry for foreign nationals who pose a risk of transmitting the virus, DISREGARDING the recommendations of WHO. He was correct. [source]

Democrat leaders including Biden, Pelosi and Schumer were busy calling POTUS “racist,” “xenophobic,” and un-American for his travel bans. They were wrong. [source 1, source 2]

March 10
Italy finally decided to start taking the virus seriously and issued a national stay at home order. [source]

Austria catches up with POTUS and closes its border with Italy. [source]

German Chancellor Angela Merkle was still procrastinating on emergency measures [source]

March 11
WHO finally catches up with POTUS and declares coronavirus a pandemic. [source]

March 12
President Trump suspends travel from Europe to the US. [source]

March 15
Germany, Spain finally catch up with POTUS and *partially* close their borders due to the virus. [source 1, source 2]

March 17
EU leaders finally catch up with POTUS and close off EU borders to foreign travel. [source]

Compared to the greatest minds and leaders of the world and those of his opposition party, the president was ahead of the curve. I don’t know what foresight the critics think President Trump should have had that no other world leaders or the World Health Organization had that would have caused him to act even sooner when he was already taking more decisive action than everyone else.

It’s all political bullshit. Can we just work together to get through this mess without politicizing a pandemic is full swing?

(This article will be updated as more information is discovered.)


Bob Marley’s Rebel Music, My Guiding Light

Today would have been Bob Marley’s 75th birthday if he had lived. Tragically, he died of cancer on May 11, 1981 at the age of 36. Most people know that Bob Marley and the Wailers put reggae on the map, taking it from obscure local Jamaican music and turning it into the international phenomenon it became. But for me, Bob Marley isn’t just another name among the many other ground-breaking musicians of the 1960s and 70s. When we talk about Bob Marley we’re not just talking about music anymore; we’ve crossed into the subject of mysticism and religion. Bob Marley is less like a rock star and more like a biblical messenger.

I grew up in coastal and beach towns, so I always knew who Bob Marley was, but through a lot of my early teens I was more into punk rock and heavy metal. Then in 1993, I was the president of my church youth group at St. Anne’s and we took part in an annual Diocesan Youth Camp Out. This was two nights at an outdoor coastal retreat which brought high school kids together from Catholic churches over the whole Florida Panhandle. The theme that year was “One Love, One Life” and Bob Marley’s hit song was played at all the activities throughout the weekend. The t-shirts had red, green and gold on them. It was a genuine religious experience on a Florida beach with Bob Marley’s message front and center.

I was captivated by how much of Marley’s music was religious in its nature. It may as well be gospel music. Listening to Marley’s lyrics is like listening to a hymn, and that one-drop beat and the rootsy melodies are infectious. It wasn’t a stretch for Marley’s music to become an influential part of my ever-growing spiritual life.

As I grew into my late teens, I became more disillusioned with modern life. I’d had a miserable experience in public school. I came to realized that the Church is full of vipers, but only after I had been bitten. I became aware of the corruption of government. The ongoing and almost unconscious genocide of Native peoples weighed on my mind and my soul. I felt like I had been lied to my whole life, and that everything I thought I knew up to that point was propaganda. I didn’t know who I was.  What does any of it even mean? I became angry and a little bit radical. I learned that thinking for myself is an act of rebellion.

I could have gone bad at this point, but I didn’t. Instead this is when Bob Marley’s music became most important to me. It captured my frustration and soothed what it could, and redirected what it couldn’t into a positive fire. This was real rebel music. It was rooted in positivity and righteousness, rather than the negativity found in so much of other rebellious music. Rather than being angry, self-destructive and nihilistic, I learned to be impassioned about injustice, and constructive while invigorating my faith and maintaining a sense of wonder about the world. This is what held me together. The message I learned from Bob Marley and through him from other reggae artists and the Rastafarian movement is something that has continually been a guiding light for me over the years.


It encouraged me to embrace my roots.
It helped me bridge the gap between my indigenous traditions and my orthodoxy.
It helped me understand the significance of my place in the greater movement of history.
It helped me to see that each native struggle as another front of the same global struggle for freedom, and sovereignty.
It helped me to understand that I have a role to play in this struggle and how I can fulfill that mission through education, prayer, and service to my people and revitalization of our traditional cultures.

I can’t stress enough how important it was for me that this message of reggae didn’t just want to teach me rules and ethics and tell me to be a good boy, and it didn’t just encourage me to rebel without a cause. The Rastafarian philosophy freely recognized and validated my grievances with the modern world and gave me positive means to deal with negative realities.

So today isn’t just another birthday of another popular musician to me. It is the anniversary of the day a great man came into the world who would have a positive spiritual impact on many disillusioned youth throughout the world for over five decades now. He may have saved my life. While Bob Marley should be remembered for his groundbreaking music, he is also remembered for his role as an emissary of the divine, a messenger for the revolutionary word of God – Jah Rastafari.


Imbolc (St. Brigid’s Day)

Imbolc is an ancient Celtic Fire Festival traditionally celebrated on February 1st and heralds in the beginning of spring. For several hundred years this day has been the feast day of Saint Brigid of Kildare and before that of an Irish goddess by a similar name.

As the first day of spring, Imbolc is placed early in the season because Celtic people recognized that seasons begin upon their incubation rather than at their midpoint as the seasons are generally measured today. Similarly, the feast day itself as with all Celtic fire festivals begins the eve before the actual calendar date. Being a fire festival, Imbolc was marked by bonfires, hearthfires and candles. And as is traditional for the Irish any time of year, Imbolc would be celebrated with a solemn visit to sacred wells, or rivers

By Imbolc, the days have become noticeably longer since midwinter’s darkness as the sun continues to mature in the sky. The young earth is becoming fertile and the young sun begins to show signs of his virility. Seeds that have lain dormant in the earth will soon sprout. Life is becoming more active as the cold winter fades away. The stag begins to regrow his antlers and shall soon be searching for his spring-time mate. This is the day for coming of age.

In its earliest incarnations, Imbolc was a shepherd’s holiday likely called Oimelc, meaning “ewe’s milk.” At this time of year, the female sheep have often recently given birth and are lactating. Another proposed meaning of the name Imbolc would translate to “in the belly” carrying forward this theme of fertility, mating and pair-bonding.

Though Imbolc is still celebrated continuously in parts of Ireland and Britain, it was also adopted into the neopagan Eightfold Wheel of the Year in the mid twentieth century. In this progression, Imbolc is the first discernible evidence of the fulfillment of that divine promise of Yule, celebrating the returning of light and the fertility of the earth.


Anciently, Imbolc is the feast day of Brigid, patroness of poetry, medicine and metallurgy and celebrates her as the fertile virgin Earth-bride to be mated to the returning sun of spring personified as the youthful Green Man, an archetype of the springtime blooming. His hair and beard are usually represented as leaves and vines. His symbols are horns, vegetation and snakes. Though, the male hero plays an integral role in this relationship, Imbolc is truly in celebration of the Bride. Amongst her many epithets Brigid is referred to as “mistress of fire,” “old lady of the whirling fire,” and selchi shut emyss; “mistress of serpents.” The Catholic saint is portrayed just as strikingly though far less romantically as a bride of Christ.

The serpent is also a symbol of Imbolc. Much like the similar event of Groundhog Day which falls at this same time, the sighting of snakes at this time of year indicates the arrival of spring. Snakes brumate in the winter; a kind of mild hibernation. They return in the spring, making their reappearance a sign of springtime fertility. Snakes have been seen as symbolic of rebirth in many cultures due to the manner in which they slough their skin and are thus each time ‘reborn.’ The sighting of the first serpent of spring is considered a good omen bestowing virile blessings upon the seer. For this reason, the historical celebrations of Imbolc included the pounding of a serpent effigy and the pronouncement: “Today is the day of the Bride. The serpent shall come from his hole. I will not molest the serpent and the serpent will not molest me.”

As an agricultural celebration and the first fertility rite of the year, Imbolc is a time to prepare the fields for the sowing. Traditional celebrations for this time include breaking ground for new crops or blessing the fields, the plows and other farming tools, and offerings were made of milk, honey or mead, and cakes or bread.

Historically, by this time the winter supplies would be dwindling. Few if any fruits or vegetables were available. Wild animals are quite lean in late winter and so were the people having dropped their summer weight as they entered the lean season the Church would eventually institute as the season of Lent. Since wild foods are scarcest and our favorites scarcer still, this time period has historically marked a time of fasting.


Keith Richards: Life, a Candid Autobiography

Keith Richards’ 2010 autobiography Life is a solid exposé and memoir on the life lived by the Rolling Stones guitarist. Weighing in at 547 pages of narrative, it’s clear that the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer intends for the reader to come away with a full picture of himself, not just as a founding member of one of the greatest rock bands in history, but as an individual apart from that legend.

The autobiography kicks off with a scandalous story from the road of when Keith and Stones’ rhythm guitarist Ronnie Wood were arrested with a number of illegal substances in Fordyce, Arkansas in 1975. It’s one of the more exciting stories in the book and it sets the tone for numerous tales of drugs and legal issues to follow it.

After that, Life immediately shifts to Keith’s childhood, adolescence until he meets and begins playing music with Mick Jagger (p. 77). This was the hardest part of the book for me to get through. It seemed overburdened with trivial details about Keith Richards the child. While some meaningful events and information is relayed her such as his initial introduction to music and guitar a lot of it seemed unnecessary, but then it is the story of his life, not just of his adult music career.

This makes for an autobiography that is well balanced between the author’s personal life and ideas and his superstar music career. It’s not written in a manner that tries to glorify the rock and roll lifestyle or to revel in fame, but it doesn’t shy away from it or wrap itself in false humility. Keith opens up and tells us quite a lot of personal information about himself, his origins, his philosophies, his loves, his strengths, and his weaknesses. He writes intently on the subject of music and how he came to it with passion, the origins or the Rolling Stones, his often adversarial friendship with lead singer Mick Jagger, his addiction, resulting arrests and subsequent rehabilitation.

The book is chocked full of stories and candid details. Some of the points I liked the most include the following.


The Rolling Stones didn’t write their first song until 1963 when their manager Andrew Loog Oldham locked Keith and Mick in a kitchen together in Willesden and told them to “come up with a song.” Before that, Keith thought songwriting was someone else’s job. This is easy enough to understand since up until this time in music history it was very common for the songwriters to be different people from the performers. Truthfully before the Beatles made it fashionable popular bands rarely composed any of their own music.

Keith makes it quite clear that there was never any rivalry between the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, or between any of their respective members. They were friends. Keith refers to the two bands as being a “mutual-admiration society.” He even says that they would call each other up and plan their single releases so to not compete with each other (pg 141). Any amount of rivalry that may have seemed to exist was nothing more than media hype.

As mentioned above, Keith speaks very candidly about his drug addiction. Early on in his life, Keith experimented with recreational drugs, alcohol and cannabis. He was introduced to amphetamines while on tour in the US with R&B acts including Little Richard and Bo Diddly. He talks a bit about LSD in the 60s and a particular three-day trip he took with John Lennon which was so significant that neither of them could quite remember what all had happened. His terrible addiction to heroin however came about in a far less cavalier manner. It happened the same way it seems to happen with the opiate epidemic plaguing the US today; from an injury and overmedication. He was in a car wreck and afterward was in such pain, having a nurse come to clean his wounds everyday that he was prescribed morphine. After several weeks on the drug he became hooked. When the doctor took him off the medication he had severe withdrawals which he treated with underground opiates and eventually heroin which he continues using for the next several years.

I really love that Keith talks about his experiences with Reggae and Rastafarians in Jamaica where he lived for some time. He speaks very highly of the culture, philosophy and most especially the music of the Rastas he became friends with, and how that was a major influence on him and helped him get his head straight from years of excess.

If gleaned properly there is probably a solid handbook’s worth of advice and information on beginning in music, theories on how to approach playing guitar, songwriting, performing live, recording and band dynamics. Keith doesn’t come across with any rock star pretentiousness to speak of. He does get a little preachy and high minded at points, but otherwise stays well-grounded even when telling tales of times when Keith was anything but grounded.

Life is a thorough trek through the years of Keith Richard’s history. It’s sometimes a little wordy, a bit snide, and long. It isn’t always a page turner, but it does hold a reader’s attention fairly well and it delivers all the juicy, candid details a fan of the Rolling Stones, or just rock and roll history will enjoy.


Joker; Best Movie of 2019

The Joker is possibly the most iconic comic book villain of all time. He has been played five times now in live-action television and film since 1966, each interpretation improving upon the previous rendition until that unfortunate thing Jared Leto did in 2016. I was a little apprehensive about a live action Joker origin movie because DC universe flicks have been unimpressive over the past few years and casting has been a major part of the problem. But with Joaquin Phoenix reprising the role, all concerns can be laid to rest. Joker is its own movie not to be conflated with other recent DCU film adaptations, and fortunately it shows.

[WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD]

As the film opens, it’s 1981. Arthur Fleck is sitting in front of a mirror putting on his clown makeup. He’s one of a half-dozen rent-a-clowns shown working for the Haha company to be farmed out for meager gigs. A broadcaster can be heard on the radio reporting the dismal state of Gotham City and the overflow of litter in the streets. Arthur is a sad case, trying to force a smile in the mirror, bewildered by his own misery.

Phoenix gets lost in the character of Arthur, bringing him to life. He’s a proto-Joker based loosely off the Batman: The Killing Joke graphic novel, but more pathetic. He’s a tragic character going through a sad transformation. He lives with his mom in a rundown urban apartment building. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, or any friends to speak of and he never gets any mail. It seems he may as well not even exist. But he does exist and he has to live with himself every day.


Arthur has an unspecified mental disorder causing him to have inappropriate and excessive emotional reactions. He has been seeking treatment from a publicly funded therapist, and even she is little more than a detached bureaucrat just putting in the time but not the effort to see Arthur’s individuality or pay attention to him. A couple scenes later we learn that the City of Gotham is pulling funding for the service and Arthur is going to lose access to his seven different medications. Arthur feels abandoned, rejected. The realization he’s coming to is communicated without sacrificing anything for poetry when his therapist exclaims “they don’t give a shit about people like you.”

Arthur is bullied and ostracized, and he’s not socially or psychologically equipped to deal with his challenges. He is faced with so little respect or empathy that even when he is assaulted and mugged on the street by a roving gang of teens who steal and destroy the sign he was hired to wave, his boss holds him responsible for the loss. When his coworker Randall pushes him to take a gun for protection he feebly tries to refuse and then winds up dropping it at another gig resulting in his being fired. Randall lies to the boss saying Arthur had pressured him for a gun.

Arthur is trying to function in the world, but he just can’t seem to make it work. Being a fan of comedy, he tries his hand at standup only to bomb miserably and to become the object of public mockery when a clip of his performance is played on the Murray Franklin Show, a late night television talk show hosted by a comedian (Robert De Nero) Arthur has admired for years.

When Arthur is assaulted again on the subway by three “wall street guys” and this time pulls out the revolver and blows two of them away it’s a bit sympathetic. After all, the only people he’s harmed so far were handled in self-defense. Then he pursues the third culprit into the station, and shoots him in the back. This is the moment the Joker begins to emerge as Arthur is shortly afterward seen dancing joyfully in celebration. Even he is surprised how easily killing comes to him without any remorse. Over the course of the movie Arthur descends further into violet retribution against the people he perceives have wronged him.

Arthur kills his mother when he discovers that she has lied to him about his father, and his past, and allowed him to be abused as a child by one of her lovers. He later kills Randall for lying about him. Then when he is invited on the Murray Franklin Show to talk about the clip of his embarrassing performance at the comedy club he chooses this moment to reveal himself to the world as Joker. He confesses his murders on the air and makes an impassioned speech about the world’s injustice, and how rich, out of touch elites like Murray Franklin are the problem just before shooting the host in the head, killing him.

Joker is about a man that an increasingly dysfunctional society not only has no use for, but openly disdains. He has a very tenuous grasp on reality, is unable to function or communicate effectively and he is floundering in a state of failure with no one to lean on for support. Media ridicules his genuine attempts to succeed and be accepted while news headlines sensationalize the murderous clown on the loose causing protesters against Gotham’s elite to adopt clown masks the way Guy Fawkes masks have been adopted in the modern world. It doesn’t take long for Arthur’s fragile mind to see where his recognition and validation will more easily be found.

I love that Todd Phillips dispensed with the classic story of Joker’s origin as a villain falling into a vat of chemicals and emerging with green hair, white skin and red lips, and instead chose a story of a troubled man working as a clown, struggling as a comedian who descends into murder and crime. Even as a child I’ve always found the chemical origin silly. This idea that Joker was a professional clown before his criminal career makes a more believable story with more depth to the character. This could really happen. Initially I was less than enthusiastic about the makeup rendering a distinctly classic clown appearance complete with a red nose instead of just resembling a clown as Joker has always been portrayed, but as the character develops this look quickly becomes the face of Joker.

Unlike a lot of superhero universe movies, Joker didn’t require a lot of special effects or CGI to keep it interesting. There were no muscle-bound heroes dominating the screen. In fact it was the complete opposite. Phoenix plays a scrawny, sickly looking character, having lost a remarkable 52 pounds for the role.

Joker is darker than most comic book movies, but the Batman universe usually is. It alternates between gloomy, funny, and tense, providing a range of emotional experience manipulating your perceptions along the way. Sometimes we’re not quite sure who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, just like Joker himself, and we share in his insanity during the show. It seems a fair amount of the story may be nothing more than Arthur’s delusion anyway. We can never be too certain what reality actually is.

Now to the big question that every fan will be talking about; where does Phoenix rank up next to the other live action Jokers? The truth is for me it’s hard to say. The movie is about Arthur Fleck who over the length of the story becomes the Joker. The actual Joker gets very little screen time, and we never get to see the fully developed criminal mastermind that the Joker is known to be. It’s difficult to compare this Joker to the screen time of Ledger’s or Nicholson’s Joker. The character of Arthur Fleck becoming the Joker is however performed amazingly, and the few minutes we get to see the Joker realized is full of promise. I would bet if a sequel is produced Phoenix would give Ledger a run for his money.

To put it simply for me, Joker is the best film of 2019, and one of the best superhero universe films ever.