Saturday, September 14, 2013

Beth’s Books: The Unlikely Disciple

Beth's BooksI can’t remember where I first heard about this, but it’s been on my wish list for a while. What an intriguing premise: a kid raised in a Quaker home and attending the “liberal elite” Brown University, spends a semester attending the über-religious Liberty University. You know...the one started by Jerry Falwell. So when I saw a good price on Amazon, I grabbed it.

The student/author, Kevin Roose, didn’t go into this with a mean-spirited motive. This was no scathing exposé of abuses at Liberty, or an effort to write a book about how everyone going there is a foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalist. He approached it as a genuine learning experience and decided to make the most of his time there by seeing how religious conservatives live and act. He also learned quite a bit about biblical history while he was at it.

He found out quickly that his hallmates were pretty much like any other student at a secular college, except they didn’t act out on their urges as much as those kids. They didn’t really have much opportunity to, but they also didn’t really want to (for the most part), and some of them even appreciated the strict rules, because it took temptation out of their way. Although he often felt bad about his duplicity (he was posing as a born-again Christian, remember), he came to genuinely like many of the guys in his hall. He found them bright, fun, and overall pretty decent guys. (Except for one virulent homophobe, who happened to be one of his roommates.)

A few things were genuinely jarring and upsetting for him, though. The casual use of using the words “faggot” and “queer” as insults were hard for him to reconcile. Falwell supposedly mellowed in his hateful rhetoric in his later years, but the culture of homophobia remains strong at the college, at least from Roose’s experience. His hope was that when some of these guys get out into the real world and begin to interact with openly gay people, they will realize that they’re not scary, awful people who are going to burn in hell. I hope that for them, too.

What was hardest for him to reconcile was some of the things that were taught. In a couple of mandatory classes for freshmen, young earth creationism was taught, with the professor flat-out saying that evolution was wrong and the Bible was right. It all happened in six days, six thousand years ago. The professor wore a white lab coat and frequently reminded the students that he was a “real scientist.” Perhaps a little too much reminding?

As the end of the semester approached, many of his fellow students expressed concern about the “summer slide.” Away from the strict rules of Liberty, they feared that they would give into temptation and do things forbidden on campus, like drinking and even having sex. Many of these students seemed genuinely fearful of the prospect. So much fear! When the death of Falwell happens a few days before commencement, it sounds like there was almost mass hysteria on campus. It struck me as a bit of false idolatry, the way Falwell was almost worshiped on campus, although many of the students realized that he definitely had his faults. Roose was able to interview him about a week before Falwell’s death, and he found him to be a kind man who seemed to be sincere in his faith and desire to save others from eternal damnation. I’m sure that this was a foreign concept to Roose (raised a Quaker, as I mentioned), but as someone who grew up in an evangelical family, I can testify to the fact that people genuinely want to ensure your salvation. Roose still had a problem justifying Falwell’s extreme homophobic stance, and simply couldn’t do it. That is nothing unusual about evangelicals, though. It’s the “love the sinner, hate the sin” thing.

What really chilled me was his quote from one of the campus pastors to the students towards the end of classes: “My biggest worry about that you’ll become educated beyond your obedience.” In other words, don’t get too educated, because it might make you question your religion. After writing that he’s impressed at the intelligence of many of his classmates as well as their intellectual engagement, Roose put it this way:
[Liberty is] a place where academic rigor is sacrificed on the altar of uninterrupted piety, where the skills of exploration, deconstruction, and doubt—all of which should be present at an institution that bills itself as a liberal arts college—are systematically silenced in favor of presenting a clear, unambiguous political and spiritual agenda.
Roose found that sad, and so do I. The purpose of an education—especially by the time you get to college—is to get you to question and think in a critical manner. If you want to reconcile your beliefs with scientific fact and with what you are taught, you can work around that in whatever way you can. But discouraging kids from questioning because it might shake their faith is just reprehensible in a college atmosphere, in my opinion. That’s not a university...that’s a seminary.

It’s not all sadness, though. When Roose wrote about the anti-masturbation support group one of his advisors asked him to go to, he had me laughing out loud. The name of the group was Every Man’s Battle, and if that isn’t funny enough, they had to talk about their successes and failures of the past week, as well as strategies to keep them from straying. Roose was highly uncomfortable, and when it was his turn to speak, he said something like, “Well, it’s getting warm outside, so girls are wearing less clothing…” and all of the guys groan and agree that they hate this time of year, and one says, “Spring is my Achilles heel.” I just wanted to hug each one of them and say, “Guys, it’s okay. You’re young men, and you aren’t going to hell because you crank one out once in a while...or even a lot. You’re healthy and it’s okay.” But then I guess giving them hugs would have been counterproductive to the purpose of the group, eh? Poor guys.

I liked this book so much that I gave it five stars on Shelfari and found the author’s website and sent him an email to tell him how much I enjoyed it. He went into this project with a kind heart and a willingness to learn about something that was very alien to him, and I think that is admirable. He was able to get by the initial strangeness of the situation and enjoy himself in many ways, and ended up making some very good friends. He kept in touch with many of them, and about a year after he went back to Brown, he confessed to them what he had been up to...that it was an experiment that he was going to write a book about. To his surprise, no one reacted with anger, and they still wanted his friendship. I got the impression that he felt he learned a lot about tolerance and trying to understand others’ viewpoints and beliefs. Even if you don’t agree with them, it’s not really fair to vilify them, unless they are harming others by what they say and do.

Unfortunately, I feel that Jerry Falwell did just that. Because he became so politically active, his beliefs were pervasive in Republican politics, and they continue to this day among a significant faction of the party. I respect your beliefs up until you are doing everything you can to suppress the rights of others based on your version of religion and on your holy book. THEN we’ve got a problem. We don’t base our laws on any religious book, contrary to what some misguided individuals believe; we base them on our Constitution.

I recommend this book very highly. It was a fascinating read.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Feelin’ it

Green Day memeLook, guys...I made you a meme! This is totally me lately. Still stuck in Green Day mode, although I throw some Dropkick Murphys in there once in a while. Don’t worry, I won’t really post all the Green Day...they’ve got a shit-ton of songs out there, and although it may not seem like it lately, this is NOT a blog only about Green Day!

For whatever reason, their stuff is really speaking to me lately. Not just the fun and energetic music, although I really love that. I’m diggin’ the lyrics, too. So much of it seems pertinent in my life lately, whether it’s lines like “I’m sick to death of your every last breath, and I don’t give a fuck anyway!” or “Wake me up when September ends.” Do you ever feel like you can relate to what the songwriter was writing about? Feel like you really get where he or she is coming from? That’s me and Green Day (and Billie Joe, since he’s the main songwriter) these days.

For the past few days, I’ve really been getting deep into “21st Century Breakdown” during my workouts. Now that I think about it, I think I’ve listened to it every day this week. One of my favorites is “¿Viva la Gloria? (Little Girl).” There are some great lines and phrases here, and yes, some of this makes me think of particular people. “Of love and razor blades your blood is surging,” “You’re a stray for the salvation army,” “Your lifeboat of deception is now sailing,” and “You dirty liar, you’re just a junkie preaching to the choir.” Man, that’s some fine writin’ right there! Songs speak to different people in different ways, but I hope you’ll enjoy this one as much as I do. This is a great live version.


Little girl, little girl
Why are you crying?
Inside your restless soul
Your heart is dying

Little one, little one
Your soul is purging
Of love and razor blades
Your blood is surging

From the river to the street
And find yourself with your face in the gutter
You're a stray for the salvation army
There is no place like home
When you got no place to go

Little girl, little girl
Your life is calling
The charlatans and saints
Of your abandon

Little one, little one
The sky is falling
Your lifeboat of deception
Is now sailing

In the wake all the way
No rhyme or reason
Your bloodshot eyes
Will show your heart of treason

Little girl, little girl
You dirty liar
You're just a junkie
Preaching to the choir

From the river to the street
And find yourself with your face in the gutter
You're a stray for the salvation army
There is no place like home
When you got no place to go

The traces of blood
Always follow you home
Like the mascara tears
From your getaway
You're walking with blisters
And running with shears
So unholy
Sister of grace

From the river to the street
And find yourself with your face in the gutter
You're a stray from the salvation army
There is no place like home

Thursday, September 12, 2013

It’s not your intelligence

CondescendingI spent most of the afternoon sitting out on the deck and reading my current book, but came in once in a while to do some things inside and check Facebook posts. Our friend Yasmin across the pond posted this interesting article by a woman named Kate Mulvey, titled “I’m Single at 50. Why?”

I think all of us have experienced guys at a party more willing to talk to some super sexy swingin’ gal rather than us. That just kind of comes with the territory. I also don’t doubt that there is often a dismaying dearth of guys who value intelligence over looks.

However, when I read this woman’s article, my immediate reaction was, “Really? Perhaps you’re single because you are an insufferable bunt who seems hell bent on ensuring that everyone knows exactly how intelligent you are.” I’m not kidding, she comes across as an egotistical bore. I commented to Yasmin that I’m sure it has nothing to do with the author’s superiority and smugness, and that I wouldn’t want to hang out with the woman, either!

Here’s the thing: if some guy would rather focus on the pair of tits that walks into the room rather than finding out that you’re an interesting person, that’s not the kind of guy you want to be with. It’s a good way to weed them out. It’s been my experience in the past that guys value intelligence and a sense of humor in the long run, and the best ones will take the time to get to know you and enjoy your company. If that’s not what they want, then you don’t want them.

When Ken and I first got together, I remember being on a road trip with his kids, heading to Michigan to see our friends Bill and Mary Sue. As we were driving along, his son (probably 9 or 10 at the time) said, “Hey Dad. Who’s smarter? You or Miss Beth?” I looked at Ken like “Well?” Ken didn’t miss a beat and said, “Neither of us is smarter than the other. We’re both smart in our own areas. I’m good in my engineering stuff, but Miss Beth is good in her lab stuff, and she’s also good with writing and spelling.” Good answer, Honey! It is a matter of recognizing and respecting each other’s mutual intelligence.

Here’s a tip for Ms. Mulvey, if she is really seeking someone to have in her life. It is quite possible to be intelligent without beating people over the head with it. You can also be kind, empathetic, and fun rather than an uptight jerk who feels the need to belittle others in order to feel better about yourself. Such an attitude is off-putting to others, whether you are seeking a romantic or platonic relationship. Just reading her words made me dislike her, because of her obviously condescending attitude and easy dismissal of so many as not worthy of her company.

Perhaps she would be happier getting a dozen or so cats and retiring to a little cottage in the countryside. There she can extol her intellectual virtues to her captive feline audience. She obviously doesn’t care much for people, especially those who can’t speak several languages and who are not published authors. Until you make room for everyone, Ms. Mulvey, you will never be happy with anyone...including yourself.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Beth’s Music Moment: The Case for Elvis

Beth's music moment6[4]

A while back, I was emailing with my buddy Jim. I worked with him at the lab, and he’s the guitarist for Cornerstone Blues Band. If I recall, this was before we went to see the Stones in Chicago, so I was in full-blown Stonesmania. I believe I said something about requesting a Stones song next time we see them play, and he told me they didn’t know any Stones songs, and he was just never that much into them. I was like what-WHAT?! Dude, you play in a BLUES band, how can you not do any Stones songs?! (I believe they have been working on one since then...we shall see if they play it next time we’re out to see them!) He then went on to tell me that he thought Elvis Presley is one of the most over-rated performers ever.

I was like, “Man, are you trying to get me to end our friendship? What’s next, you don’t like Johnny Cash?!” We had a good laugh about it, and of course, I would never end our friendship. But I will work on getting him to come around about the Stones, and with this entry, I’m going to try to get him to see reason on Elvis. This is prompted by a couple of the videos I watched for my History of Rock course today, in which the guy talked about “The Rise of Elvis.” I wish I could include the video here, but it is part of the course and not embeddable or linkable. I’ll try to summarize.

Elvis was basically a super-talented guy who was in the right place at the right time. Born in Mississippi, raised in Memphis, he was influenced by all three musical genres that converged in rock and roll: mainstream pop, country & western, and rhythm & blues. His first record was “That’s All Right (Mama),” a blues song sung with a country twang, and the B-side was “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” the famous Bill Monroe bluegrass song, sung with an R&B feel to it. He was really the first artist to blend these sounds together, paving the way for the explosion of rock and roll. There is a case to be made that he took black music and made it acceptable to whites, but this was not an exploitation of the music. He simply loved the music, and it influenced his style. There is a big difference between ripping off an artist and their music, and genuinely loving the music and having it influence you.

Elvis was the first artist to have hit records on all three Billboard charts: pop, C&W, and R&B. This is a remarkable achievement, and it shows the convergence of these styles into a new and powerful type of music.

Elvis did not write his own songs, so there is some disparagement of him for that. Unwarranted disparagement, in my book. He was emerging from an era in which many mainstream pop artists did not write their own music, and his talent was in being a charismatic performer with a great voice, like Sinatra.

ElvisI think it’s important to keep in mind the time frame here, too. Rock and roll was just beginning to be a force; white teenagers were listening to black music; teenagers themselves were finding a new niche as they began to rebel and decided that they wanted to make their own fun. Enter Elvis, with his dark good looks, that mop of hair hanging in his face, that bad boy sneer, the southern drawl, and those swiveling hips. Once people got a look at him on TV, he was an immediate star. His somewhat dangerous, smoldering sexuality made teenage girls swoon—literally. Perhaps his performances seem outdated to some now, but not to me. He has a raw power that just leaps out at the audience. THAT is charisma, and he had a ton of it.

I mean, look at him. Just LOOK at him. Good grief.

This clip of Elvis performing “Hound Dog” on “The Milton Berle Show” is worth a watch. It will make you think, “And people thought Milton Berle was funny because..?” Although I did catch the “You don’t want a want a Miltown” reference. Miltowns were kind of like quaaludes. Interesting that they got a mention on this show! What is impressive here is that young Elvis just OOZED sex appeal. When he slows down the band and does a raunchy bump n' grind to the song, I guarantee that teenage ovaries were exploding all across America. I bet a few Mom ovaries were exploding, too! He was condemned by parents everywhere for his dancing and performance, which only made him more attractive to America’s youth. He was dangerous. Elvis’s power and ultimate talent was to harness this incredible energy that was emerging in America, and channel it back to the audience in his performances. I honestly can’t watch this without getting chills, because this is basically the birth of rock and roll. Many musical elements converged in rock and roll and in Elvis’s performances, but HE was the one who brought it to the masses. HE was the one who broke it open for subsequent performers, and got radio stations to play this emerging force in music.

I maintain that Elvis was the performer who made it all possible, and brought rock and roll to the forefront of music. No rock and roll. At least not as we know it. And that’s a world I wouldn’t want to live in.

I rest my case.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bits and Pieces

Green Day5Good grief, Billie Joe, what an adorable little punk you are! More on that in a moment.

Got the estimate on Blacky today, and good news! It came in at much less than anticipated, and he is totally NOT totaled! The appraiser knows and has dealt with my cousin and his body shop, and I emailed my cousin to start to figure out what we need to do and when to bring it down. They’re going to start looking for parts now, and we’ll probably take it down on Saturday. The insurance company called after they got the estimate, and the agent was super helpful. She’s going to send out the rental voucher as well as medical forms so that Ken can get reimbursed for new lenses on his glasses. (Got a chip on them from the broken glass...if it had been on the edge, no big deal, but it’s right in his line of site.) I told her that I’ve been really impressed with how quickly they are moving on this. Thank you, Farm Bureau! You guys rock!

What a relief, because we would have dealt with it if we’d needed to, but we weren’t quite ready for a new car yet. Very happy that Blacky can be fixed!

It was a warm day today, so after I did my workout, I did a couple of things and then sat outside and read for a while. There was a nice breeze, and it’s not too bad in here. Tomorrow could be another story, because we’re supposed to get hot and humid again, possibly breaking a record. Urgh!

Late this afternoon, I picked up with my Coursera courses, watching the latest video for the Vaccines course. One of the topics was the polio vaccine. It’s amazing to me how many kids have been saved from this virus, and I hope to see it completely eradicated in my lifetime. We’re getting very close! I watched a couple more lectures from this week’s History of Rock lectures, and enjoyed them very much. I’ll try to spread it out a little more this week, instead of watching them all in one day.

I was listening to “Nimrod” while working out today, and I love the song “All the Time.” I LOVE that opening riff! I like these lines, too:

Wasting time down a bumfuck road
And I don't know where the hell it'll go

Man, if that’s not small town life, I don’t know what is. And really, where DID all the time go?

Salud! TURN IT UP!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Strange Days

Strange DaysThe outcome of last night’s ND-Michigan game wasn’t what we wanted, but we had fun watching all the same. I’ve learned to not get depressed about losing. I used to, but life is just too short to let something like a football game dictate your mood, you know? I enjoy watching, I love getting into it, but I don’t mourn when we lose. That’s why I have no regrets about going to the National Championship game last year. We got our asses kicked, but I loved the experience of being down there for the game, and loved being there to cheer for my Irish. So last night, I was like, “Well, damn,” but I didn’t get all weepy or upset. I’m just thrilled to be watching football again and excited about going to more games soon!

Today has been extremely low-key, and we’ve both been just chilling and reading stuff on the Interwebz. A Facebook friend posted an interesting article that wondered if President Obama hasn’t thought all of this Syria thing through with focus on the long-term. That maybe he has a strategy in mind here, and his actions are working to that end. I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but I found it an interesting viewpoint. My original comment was pretty much that, nothing confrontational, just a casual comment on the article. Then there was this:
[One commenter]: So, are we striking Syria or not, Beth?
[Me]: How the hell should I know? I'm not the Decider! But based on what I'm reading, my gut tells me that the House will say no, and the President will go along with that. I don't think anyone really knows what is going to happen, though. It's a very fluid situation.
[Another commenter]: Beth go get some knowledge????? If you can actually read you happen to be wrong. Learn your facts! no hard feelings, but you are a moron!
Well, that just cracked me up. I didn’t respond other than “LOL I see,” because that was just silly. Anyone who knows me knows that I try to stay informed, I’m an avid reader, and I don’t think anyone other than a hater would describe me as a moron. As one friend commented, “The minute they start calling you names, they’ve lost.” Very true. I took no offense at the comment, because it was just so far removed from reality that I could laugh about it.

The “no hard feelings, but you are a moron!” part was funny enough, but what really cracked me up was the “Beth go get some knowledge?????” part, with yes, FIVE question marks. I immediately thought of this, and when I read that comment, I hear it in this voice.

These are strange days indeed, and I’m just hanging on for the ride!