Sunday, December 31, 2023

Paganism as punching bag. | Deposit Photos

One of the disadvantages of blogging only on Sundays is that if something I'm dying to comment on happens on a Monday, my choices are few. I could: break tradition and post early; yell about it on Facebook; or save it for the following Sunday's post, when the news has become kinda old and stale. 

This week was a prime example. On Monday -- Christmas Day! -- The Atlantic dropped an outrageously ignorant article by David Wolpe entitled "The Return of the Pagans". This opinion piece so angered thought leaders in the Pagan movement that most suggested linking to the free version reposted by MSN, to avoid giving it any more traffic (and The Atlantic any more revenue from clicks) than it deserves. So my link above leads to that free version on MSN.

Wolpe is the Max Webb Chief Rabbi Emeritus of Sinai Temple, a visiting scholar at Harvard Divinity School, and a columnist for New York Jewish Week and the Jerusalem Post. Newsweek has called him the most influential rabbi in America. He may be an expert on Judaism, but it's clear he's no scholar of religion in general, other than his own and perhaps Christianity. If he were a religious scholar, he would have known better than to conflate Pagan beliefs with the worship of wealth and idols like Elon Musk and Donald Trump. If he were a religious scholar, he would have known better than to write such howlers as, "Most ancient pagan belief systems were built around ritual and magic, coercive practices intended to achieve a beneficial result," without acknowledging that monotheism is also built around ritual and magic -- and that Christianity in particular, with its drive to proselytize and convert everyone everywhere, partakes of far more "coercive practices" than any Pagan -- or pagan -- belief system ever has. 

There's a big advantage for me to waiting until today to comment on Wolpe's article: I'm batting cleanup, if you will. A number of those thought leaders in Paganism have already published rebuttals. Sabina Magliocco, chair of the Program in the Study of Religion at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, posted on Facebook her letter to the editor of the magazine. She covers a number of points I was going to get to, chief among them this: "Wolpe distorts the fact that non-monotheistic and Indigenous religions tend to see divinity as immanent as well as transcendent. In other words, all living beings hold a spark of the divine; the gods are manifest in each of us. This idea is intended to inspire respect for all life forms. Indigenous religions, in fact, place primacy not on the individual, as he asserts, but on relationality and community, broadly defined to include other-than-human persons."

Magliocco would also like to inform Wolpe that paganism is not relegated to the misty past; there are several million Pagans in North America today, and a whole lot of us believe things that put us closer to Indigenous belief, particularly the part about immanent deity, than the strawman Wolpe has concocted and dubbed "pagan".

Others who have made valuable contributions to the discussion (so I don't have to!) include Manny Moreno at The Wild Hunt; Jason Mankey on Raise the Horns at Patheos Pagan; John Halstead on Medium; and Angelo Nasios on Hearth of Hellenism at Substack (who is not Pagan but whose area of expertise is Hellenism). Several of them point out that Wolpe is not actually referencing today's Pagans in his piece; instead, he's using the folkloric concept of ancient pagans that's popular with monotheistic apologists when they want to elevate their own belief systems and prove that their religion is so much better than what went before. Except of course that that romantic view of pagan bumpkins whose lives were brutish, nasty, and short is a myth, at least as far as philosophy is concerned (see the Greeks).

Too, Wolpe falls into the trap of Western hubris that insists that the evolution of civilization -- including religion and philosophy -- is more or less a straight line, with each step an improvement. These folks swear that hunter-gatherers died out when farming took hold, that the Industrial Revolution made everyone's lives better by getting workers off the farm and into factories, and so on. Never mind that the archeological record doesn't bear out the first, and the economic and ecological evidence right before our eyes puts paid to the second. What's more, Indigenous thinkers have been criticizing the Western penchant for this feel-good bullshit for hundreds of years (see The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow, which I included on my reading list a while back).

The longer the week went on and the more I thought about Wolpe's article, the more it seemed familiar. Then it hit me. Back in March, The Atlantic posted a similar piece, except that it was by a Christian apologist -- Timothy Keller, the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Manhattan. I even blogged about it at the time. Now, Keller's post isn't exactly the same as Wolpe's, but they do rhyme. Both authors believe that American society is going downhill; both blame it on the emphasis in popular culture on individualism; and both believe the solution is for everybody to turn back to some flavor of monotheism (in Keller's case, his).

So my response to Wolpe is the same as was my response to Keller back in March: The solution to society's ills won't be found in monotheism until you guys can acknowledge how and why your belief systems have alienated so many people. Once you've done that, come on back and we'll chat.* But in the meantime, quit punching "pagan" strawmen to make yourselves feel better.

And to The Atlantic: How about equal time for polytheists?


*A chat with Wolpe won't be happening any time soon. He says he didn't mean to insult modern Pagans (as if that makes it any better) and is declining requests for interfaith dialogue. 


And with that, we close out 2023. Here's hoping for peace and sanity for all of us in the new year.


These moments of punchy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Happy New Year! Imbibe responsibly! Stay safe!

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Some holiday flash fiction for you.

I'm back home tonight after nearly a week on the East Coast, visiting my daughters for Yule. We had a great time together, as always -- but as always, it's great to be home again.

Today was one of those surreal travel days. I had breakfast in Alexandria, VA, just outside DC; barbecue for lunch in Kansas City (as one does); and leftover homemade chicken soup here at home this evening. That layover in Kansas City was so long that I had time to draft this year's ficlet on my phone and email it to myself. Ain't technology grand?

Actually, I kind of hope nobody reads this tonight. It's Christmas Eve, after all, and most folks ought to have better things to do. Regardless, I promised last week that I'd have a ficlet for you tonight. So here you go. This one springs from me watching way too many Hallmark Christmas movies this year. If you've read The Atherton Vampire, you'll recognize the main character; if not, why not head to Amazon and pick up a copy of the trilogy for your Kindle? The books are short and kind of fun.

That's it for the self-promo. Here's the ficlet. 


bigredlink | Deposit Photos

Callie Dailey’s head was whirling. Here it was, two days before Christmas, and she still had so much to do. But work had been crazy, what with her new job as morning anchor for Channel 10 Action News. She had adopted her producer's super-early-to-bed schedule because it allowed her to get up at ten p.m. and spend her evenings with Jerry before she went to work, but it had messed with her body clock something fierce. It was all worth it, she kept telling herself, to keep Jerome Atherton -- the city's celebrity vampire and her main squeeze -- in her life. 

But it wasn't easy. She was tired all the time. She had never had the energy to finish her shopping, let alone make the cookies she had promised to bring for the crew on Christmas Day. True, she could have been more productive in the afternoons, after work and while Jerry was taking his daily rest. But it seemed like all she had energy for was falling on the couch and watching dumb Christmas movies on Freevee. Now here she was, doing it again. 

She counted the tropes of the genre as they manifested on her screen. There was the old red pickup truck that showed up in every movie; there was the perky woman from the big city; there was the precocious little girl who just knew Mr. Perfect and Ms. Perky had fallen in love at first sight and just had to spend the rest of their lives together, after they saved Christmas or the town or something. The only things missing were the tree shopping and decorating and the obligatory kiss under the mistletoe…

…and there they were: the sales lot full of real trees, the little girl selling hot chocolate out front, and that damned red truck parked at the curb. Mr. Perfect got out of the truck and dropped a thousand-watt smile on her. “Here for a tree?” he asked.

“I… don’t think so,” Callie responded. He was adorable -- she had to admit that.

“But it’s Christmas!” the little girl said. “You have to have a tree or Christmas will be ruined!” She smiled winsomely. “Hot chocolate?”

“No thanks,” said Callie. “I’m just waiting for… for…” She frowned. “Wait a minute. What's going on here?" She took in the scene around her more fully. "I’m dreaming, aren’t I? I’m not waiting for anyone. My brain just conjured this up out of thin air…” She started to move away from the man and the girl. “I have to go. I have things to do…" 

“But you have to stay!” the girl pleaded, tears in her eyes.”You have to save our town! You have to save Christmas!”

“Besides,” the man said, “what have you got to go back to?”

The answer came instantly. “Everything,” she said. “My job. My friends. Jerry.”

She awoke to the credits scrolling up the screen of her TV. She'd slept through the movie.

Somebody had once told her that dreams were the brain's way of processing stuff -- that everybody in you see in a dream is actually you, or a facet of you. She rubbed her eyes as she thought about that. Apparently she’d been harboring some doubts about her life. Or she had a savior complex.

Or she’d been watching too many dumb holiday movies. Yeah, that was it.

She still had just two days to get everything done -- but there was no time like the present to start. “Those cookies aren’t going to make themselves,” she said, levering herself up off the couch.


These moments of bloggy holiday tropes has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe and have a great holiday, whichever you celebrate!

Sunday, December 17, 2023

The hidden costs of redoing a kitchen.

I should be regaling y'all with a holiday ficlet today, seeing as how Yule and Christmas are both next weekend and Hanukkah just ended. It'll post one next week, I promise. 

In the meantime, let's talk about the things they don't tell you about when they're encouraging you to redo your kitchen.

Feverpitch | Deposit Photos
This is coming up, of course, because I'm kinda sorta redoing mine. That is not my kitchen in the photo, to be clear; mine is a smallish galley kitchen with zero room for an island. (Although it's about three times the size of the postage-stamp-sized kitchen I had in the apartment I rented when I first moved to Santa Fe. There, the oven was so tiny that my big cookie sheets wouldn't fit. And when you opened the fridge, you couldn't get to the sink.) Mine still has some the original '80s features: golden oak cabinets and ceramic tile countertops. It did still have the original '80s dishwasher, but I replaced that this fall. I also replaced the microwave with a microwave/convection oven this year. Somebody at some point redid the floors -- they're now Saltillo tile -- and the stove and fridge are about ten years old.

If you cruise the internet and talk to any kitchen consultants, they will give you all sorts of advice. I'm supposed to hate those cabinets; the only fixes worth talking about are replacing them, or putting new doors on them, or else sanding them down and painting them, preferably white. And any appliances over ten years old have to go. And you're going to need new countertops! And of course you want to tile your backsplash all the way to the ceiling...

It adds up in a hurry. The average cost of a kitchen remodel is about $26,000. But it could be a lot more -- maybe $41,000 or $50,000, or even more, if you're going to go really crazy. 

I am not going to go really crazy. I am not even going to spend the average, if I can help it. You see, after I thought about it, I realized I really like my oak cabinets. And it turns out that you can actually sand down the worn spots on solid wood cabinets, shove a little wood filler in any big cracks, and give the repairs a couple of coats of polyurethane, and they look great.

Why would the internet keep that info away from me? Well, just like everything else in our late-stage capitalist dystopia, you have to follow the money. Contractors and kitchen designers aren't going to be able to make a living if everybody knows they could rejuvenate their cabinets for a day's time and less than 50 bucks. (I also added fun pulls, which cost another $100 or so.)

I honestly think the whole new-appliances-every-ten-years advice is coming from the same place. See, back when I took macroeconomics in college, big home appliances were considered durable goods -- things that would last at least 20 years.  The ENERGY STAR program was expanded to include major home appliances in 1996; of course a newer model may be more energy efficient than an older one, but there's also an environmental cost to sending a working fridge to a landfill to rot, particularly if your fridge was manufactured before 1995. Back then, fridges used a chlorofluorocarbon refrigerant, which is a greenhouse gas. But the appliance sales folks don't want you to think about that. They want you to Buy Now, so you're not buying in a hurry when your elderly appliance breaks down and you miss out on features you'll later wish you had. Okay, sure. I think I'll live dangerously with my current stove and fridge for a while longer. 

The countertops, though -- those bug me. The ceramic tile is in good shape, but a tiled surface is naturally uneven. It makes it hard to roll out things like cookie dough. And items with narrow bottoms -- like spice jars and some coffee mugs -- sometimes kinda tilt when you set them down. It's unsettling. I'd like a flat surface, please.

So here we go, on another whirlwind trip full of expensive advice: The only countertop materials worth talking about, according to the "experts", are granite, marble, or quartz. Oh, there are other natural stones to consider if you're made of money: quartzite (which is not the same as quartz), soapstone, bluestone, limestone, slate, and so on. And there are, y'know, less desirable options if you have to cheap out: butcher block, laminate, tile, and solid surface (Corian is a brand name). But really, the choices that will get you the biggest bang for your buck at resale time are granite, marble, and quartz. And let's be realistic: granite and marble require upkeep. So obviously, your only choice is quartz. Everybody wants quartz, so you should, too!

Quartz countertop material is an engineered stone -- which is to say it's manmade. It consists of about 90 percent ground quartz (the other ten percent consists of resin to keep the ground stone together, plus some pigments). And quartz -- the mineral, not the manufactured countertop -- is made of silica and oxygen. 

Here is the thing that nobody selling kitchen renovations in the US is talking about yet: Workers who cut or grind quartz countertops are likely breathing in silica dust. And they may be getting sick. Silicosis is a serious disease. A lot of the people who work with engineered stone in the US are young Latinos. Some of them have died from silicosis. Others who have contracted the disease are disabled for life. 

The danger has been known for years, apparently, but it's only recently that officials are beginning to think about how to mitigate it. Australia is way ahead of us -- the government there banned quartz countertops last week

To be clear, consumers aren't in danger from having quartz countertops in their homes (unless the material needs to be cut or ground on site). But if it concerns you to have something in your house that may have made someone deathly ill, you have alternatives. Granite has about 45 percent silica content; marble, less than five percent. This site has a list that includes lots of other alternatives.

Conspicuous by their absence from that list are many of the less expensive options: butcher block, laminate, and solid surface. Solid surface material contains a chemical called aluminum trihydrate that can also cause health problems in people who manufacture it, but it appears to be a lot less dangerous than quartz. I had decided to go with solid surface even before learning about the dangers of quartz to workers, and now I'm glad. I'm hoping to have the counters done in the spring. I'll keep y'all posted.


These moments of bloggy home improvement talk have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe! And happy Yule!

Sunday, December 10, 2023

When your gut gives you a feeling, do you believe it?

So a friend who's an indie author posted a little story on his Facebook business page this week that gave me a *headdesk* moment. It was about a weird thing that actually happened to him several decades ago. The incident could have been a disaster, potentially with lives lost, except for some quick action on his part.

The *headdesk* moment? Here it is, with some edits: "Those of you who know me, know I am a cynic to all things supernatural. But, that day ... I heard a very calm voice say, "[Friend], get in the truck and drive it away ..." When I looked around, I was alone. To this day, I have no idea where that voice came from, but I heard it." Bottom line: He got in the truck and drove it away, a safe distance from a crowd of people. Shortly thereafter, the truck went up in flames.

Well, it's his page and he's trying to sell his books, so I restrained myself in my response. Basically I said I was glad he'd listened to the voice.

But this is my blog, and I don't have to restrain myself here. So here's what I wanted to say: "My gods, man! Even after that, you're still cynical about the 'supernatural'? How much of a sign do you need???"

The whole thing reminded me of an article in a women's magazine I read a few years ago -- I wish I could find it now -- in which the author was determined to discredit anything occult-related as airy-fairy twaddle. As part of her research, she received a Tarot reading that mentioned some things in her life that she wasn't happy about and even made suggestions for making them better ... and she blew it off. As a coincidence or something. (I really wish I could find that article.) The cards gave her useful advice, but she could not heed it because she could not break out of her preconceived idea that all of it was bullshit.

Christianity has a lot of answer for, in terms of how it has warped Western thinking. But one thing that really frustrates me is how it insists that there's only one real god, and anything weird is either a miracle or evil. That dichotomous model has so permeated Western culture that even people who aren't Christian, or who used to be but aren't anymore, employ it -- except for them, anything weird can be explained away by either science or psychology: Either the thing has a rational explanation, or your brain is playing tricks on you.

Apparently my friend has never rationalized away this incident, but also, apparently, he's not comfortable with saying he hallucinated that voice, either. So maybe those aren't the only two possible explanations.

Just as a thought experiment, let's consider what a third possibility could be. Now, alert hearth/myth readers know that I don't believe in the Good vs. Evil dichotomy; I've written about it at least three times. Y'all also know that I'm not Christian (I hope that's not a spoiler for anybody), and it follows that I don't believe in the Christian concept of the devil. So the third possibility I'm proposing has nothing to do with Satan or demons or Hell or any of that stuff.

Here's my third possibility: What if other entities exist in our reality? (This is a thought experiment, remember -- you're not allowed to laugh it off.) What if other beings exist here, or have access to our reality occasionally? What form might they take? 

How about a gut feeling? Or a Tarot reading? Or a calm, disembodied voice that gives us really good advice?

Did the thought of that give you the shivers? I would suggest it's because you've been conditioned to believe, by religion or society or both, that such an entity can mean you nothing but harm. But that can't be right. Modern Christianity actually has a name for a helpful entity: a guardian angel. 

Now, I don't believe in guardian angels any more than I believe in the Christian devil. I don't think any of us is important enough to merit individual attention from a supernatural being on a regular basis. But I do believe that gods and spirits step into human affairs when it suits their purposes, and I think our ancestors sometimes pass along their wisdom to us. And I don't think there's anything weird or scary about it. I think it's as real as biology or physics. It's just the way things work. 


Here's a further thought experiment: Why would someone want to convince you that messages "from beyond" are either scary or impossible? What would they get out of controlling your beliefs in this way? 

My answer to that, my friends, forms a big part of why I quit Christianity. Maybe I'll write about it sometime. 


These moments of supernatural blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe! And listen to your gut!

Sunday, December 3, 2023

The race to replace Twitter has been won by nobody.

si_nyam_nyam | Deposit Photos
It's been more than a year since Elon Musk closed on his deal to buy Twitter. As soon as he gained control and began changing stuff around to suit himself -- firing a bunch of people and rebranding the site as X -- users began beating feet for the exits. Somewhere, anywhere, the reasoning went, has to be better than what X is going to become.

But there wasn't really anywhere else on the internet like Twitter. 

Nor is there yet. It's been more than a year, as I said, and while a whole bunch of sites have taken up some of the slack, no single site is a winner. In fact, none of the sites that got the biggest anticipatory fanfare in the early days of X's implosion are showing much of a market share at all. 

This chart shows that the worldwide social media champ is still Facebook, with three billion active users per month. YouTube (owned by Google -- sorry, Alphabet) is next, with two and a half billion; WhatsApp and Instagram (both owned by Meta, which also owns Facebook) are tied at two billion each. TikTok has 1.2 billion, edging out Facebook Messenger, which has about a billion. You have to go pretty far down the list to find X; it's at a paltry 666 million active users per month. (That's more than Truth Social, which stands at about two million, but still.)

Those are worldwide numbers. In the US, in terms of social media platforms' share of total visits, Facebook had nearly half of them in August of this year. Next was Instagram; then Pinterest; and then X. 

Interestingly, nowhere in either of these lists are any of the sites that sprang up in the wake of Musk's purchase of Twitter. Here's a list of some of the wannabes with the biggest hype, and every single one of them has a major drawback. Bluesky -- created by Jack Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter -- has been in beta forever; if you don't know someone who's already in, good luck getting on the platform. Threads is kind of an offshoot of Instagram (which, you'll recall, is owned by Meta), so it's not really its own thing; it had ten million users at startup, but that number plummeted fast. Mastodon got a lot of attention when Twitter was first sold, but some potential users were put off by the complex sign-up process. TikTok gets a mention on this list -- apparently it recently introduced text posts -- but so does Tumblr, which has been around since 2007.

As for me? I'm on Facebook and the dead bird app, and that's basically it. I've joined some of the platforms mentioned above over the years -- Instagram, WhatsApp (purely for phone calls with the other condo board members), and Facebook Messenger, plus Post and Spoutible. But other than Messenger, I almost never go to any of them. I'm almost always on Facebook; then I check Twitter -- sorry, X -- to keep up with political news and a few friends who I don't see anywhere else. (I started the account on Tumblr approximately a million years ago to promote my books. I cannot remember the last time I was there.)

I'm leery of TikTok's possible connection to the Chinese government (I know it's unlikely, but I just keep thinking there must be a good reason that the US government has banned the app on employees' government-issued devices). As for Threads, I'm not enthused about the idea of restricting all my social media activity to the Metaverse (frankly, I'd quit Insta if Meta would let me).

Does that make me a modern-day Luddite? You tell me. And let me know how your own search for the new Twitter is going.


These moments of social media blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!