Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book Life 12: Geeky Revisited, Awe, and We Was Po': Another Voice

Once again, it's that magical time of year--those few weeks when, even though one semester has ended and another has yet to begin, there is wonder in the air. What? No, not the holiday season. I mean that small span of time in which there is no homework and I can read whatever I want! I've already gone through 7 books with way too many more waiting in line. Hence, time for another book life blog!

"Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." -Douglas Adams

Even though I've read them before (many times before, as a matter of fact), the five books comprising the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy never fail to amaze me. (And yes, for those of you unfortunate enough not to have read these novels, I did say five books and trilogy.) Funny as hell and just plain well-written. If you've never read them, please do. You will thank me later, and remember "Deep in the fundamental heart of mind and Universe, "said Slartibartfast, "there is a reason."

Just plain beautiful.

I have never met a Sherman Alexie book I did not love and whose children I did not want to bear. War Dances is no different. Gorgeous poetry and awesome stories. That is all.

Down Home Economics

The last book in this post is Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War. Essentially the author, Joe Bageant, moves back home to his small Virginia hometown after about 20 or so years and explores the lower working class culture in which he grew up. While I wasn't thrilled with the underlying tone he took when talking about his brethren at a few points, it was overall a really good discussion of issues not usually covered. The rural poor are generally ignored in favor of highlighting the urban poor. This is not to say that either is more important or poor than the other; both situations have their own peculiar obstacles to overcome. It's just that in academic and political discussions of poverty, the plight of the rural poor is generally overlooked or assumed to be covered under the umbrella of "poverty" which is really just urban. I'm not entirely sure that I agree with some of his views about gun control and a few minor details, but as a whole, this is an excellent book--particularly for those of us from this sort of background lost on planets not of our making. For my fellow religion geeks, he does a fairly good job of incorporating fundamentalism into his observations. And the chapter on the Social Security system, healthcare, and the poor elderly is amazing.

"He would say that my soul is troubling me and that I need to be washed in the blood and redeemed by the grace of him who bled for our sins. I'd say that I am troubled by the distinct impression of approaching trihorned fascism--part Christian, part military, part corporate."--J. Bageant

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

D-i-v-o-r-c-e, In which a lesbian goes ahead and flips her shit , just a little

While scrolling through the Huffington Post this morning, I came across an article entitled something like "10 Funniest Divorce Party Cakes.". I must admit I was rather amused at the cakes themselves, but that is not the point. Here's the issue: I have been with my wife for 13 years now, and it's been 12 years since our committment ceremony. Despite the efforts of fabulous activists and organizations, we still do not have the right to be legally married in a vast majority of these united states. The main excuse used by our opponents? "Gay marriage would violate the sanctity of marriage." So someone explain to me how the straight divorce rate and the apparently new and popular pasttime of throwing parties to celebrate it doesn't violate this so-called sanctity? My wife luckily works for one company that recognizes me as spouse, and so I get vision and dental coverage through it. This, however, does not help out any if we were to find ourselves in certain dire situations. Certain portions of my family would attempt to make life miserable for Anna if they thought they could. Legal marriage rights would fix this...

And somewhere in this country, a divorce party is being planned...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

We Was Po', Part III: Choices and Possibilities

I've written about privilege and dealing with it in academia before, so I will try not to repeat myself. This past week I've had a sort of panicky time of uncertainty about my future in the academic world. While discussing Annie Dillard in religion class Thursday, we had a short conversation about her background and how this affects her writing. She was raised in a wealthy family, and my argument was that given this, her choice of a life of pure introspection and writing was possible. People who are raised in low income environments are less likely to assume that such a life is a career choice. Now, this isn't to say that it isn't possible, just that it is not necessarily seen as a choice. The rest of the class did not agree. It was at this moment that I had my crisis point.

How can I reconcile my background and beliefs with a life among people who truly believe that a low SES background doesn't generally cause exclusions from the beginning or that a privileged background doesn't mean more possibilities than low SES? This is the very reason I decided against a graduate career in women's studies. I was constantly interjecting a low SES rural perspective into conversations mostly to no avail. I couldn't stomach the thought of spending the rest of my life beating my head against that wall. Now, true to my fears, I am facing the same issue in religion.

The major problem is what to do about it. I love, I mean absolutely love, the idea of making a living studying religion, writing about it, and teaching people about it. That, to me, sounds like a good time. However, if I continue along this path, will it mean an eventual nervous breakdown when my brain has to repeatedly bash against these issues of privilege? If so, what else can I do? I don't want to do social work, because I fear ending up in some tangentially governmental office being forced to perpetuate a cycle I would rather destroy. Yes, I know there are plenty of other job possibilities within social work, but still...I thought about library science. I do so love books, and I could maybe work in a public library helping kids love to read. I could be a public school teacher, but it's a bit late in my undergraduate career to start that.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

We was po', part ii: in which a low SES girl discusses salary...

A friend and fellow religion major posted this chart on his facebook feed today...As Religious Studies people we come in at 12th worst paid, and one of my other loves, Women's Studies (listed as Interdisciplinary Studies), comes in at 15th. His comment was that we don't do it for the money, and that's true. No one becomes a religion scholar hoping to make the big bucks. It just doesn't happen, and if you are someone who thought this, you've been lied to, my friend. So, I agree with him, BUT (you knew that was coming, right?) I have a serious issue with the entire thing...

The starting pay for Religious Studies was listed as $34,700. For someone raised in an upper middle to upper class home, this may seem a paltry amount. However, as someone raised in a lower SES home and an economically depressed area and who spent seven years in an even more economically depressed rural area, I'm here to tell you, $34,700 sounds like a fortune. That is, in fact, almost exactly three times what I made at my retail and hospitality jobs in the aforementioned rural area. As my lovely wife pointed out, I am aware that once you spend all this time and money (that you will be paying back until the end of time) getting a degree, maybe some people expect a lot more. I will also grant you that people from my background do attend college to make a better life than that of family who possibly did not get a degree and spent their lives struggling financially. All of this is true, but when I remind myself of this, there is a little nagging at the back of my mind that still protests...

When I returned to college after my little hiatus, I realized quickly that I had stepped into a world where a large portion of the people were speaking an entirely different language. (For more on this, see my post HERE.) This has not changed over the couple of years since then; it has actually become even more apparent. Now, let me say that the people I go to school with are not all bad; i like many of them, even the ones from this other planet called "well-off." It's just that the further I progress, the more like I feel I'm bashing my head against a brick wall. I dropped Women's Studies as a career path for this very reason. Every single WST class I took it seemed I spent half my time attempting to interject a low SES rural point of view into the discussion. I just could not see spending my entire career doing that. Now I'm afraid that Religion will be the same...

I suppose that given a certain kind of upbringing, 35 grand a year might not cut it, but as for me, where do i sign?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

One down, too many to go...

Today Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned California's Prop 8, declaring that it
"the gay marriage ban violates the Constitution's due process and equal protection clauses while failing "to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license...Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples," the judge wrote in his 136-page ruling." (from the Yahoo News article, from which the picture is also taken).

My first reaction is a crazy dance around my living room, all-caps responses to the texts alerting me, and a facebook status filled with many, many exclamation points. This is amazing news!! After all, if the California ban can be shot down by the Constitution, all the others can too, right? I hope so. But I have learned in this fight that it is never a good idea to assume anything...I assumed Florida voters would have enough sense not to pass Amendment 2. I assumed that humans would have more sense and sympathy for their fellow creatures not to protest and say nasty things at funerals. On both counts, I was sadly mistaken.

However, as incredibly sad and beaten-down as I feel everyday about these things, I am given hope today by Judge Walker. SOMEONE sees that we are not trying to destroy anything; all we're doing is trying to build lives and protect those we love, to make those shiny rings on our left hands a true symbol of solidity. Thank you Judge Walker.

Now, please excuse me while I dance!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

i must have missed that memo: in which a feminist ponders the "agenda"

while watching mona lisa smile for the hundredth time, i stumbled on a review of the film that claimed it was solely a vessel for the...dunh dunh dunh..."feminist agenda." i have called myself a feminist for as long as i can remember. i think i may have carried from birth the impulse to correct the imbalances and wrongs women deal with everyday. one of my majors is women's studies, whose main purpose is the study of just that. so imagine my surprise at the rumors of an "agenda."

as long as there has been any sort of women's rights movements, there have been people claiming that there are nefarious plots to destroy the family and the world underlying everything. any movie or book or anything really that appears to even slightly support a feminist idea is immediately labeled a part of our insidious plot to warp the minds of all in our path and generally create chaos. this has lead to the demonization of feminism as a whole, to such an extent that women are loath to use the word let alone use it to describe themselves. frankly, i'm tired of it. i may have made the decision to pursue religion instead of women's studies as a career, but that has its owns reasons, which do NOT include not wanting to be known as a feminist. this is not to say that women's studies and feminism have their problems; they certainly do. it is these and not some desire to distance myself from feminism. but that is a topic for another blog...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Book Life 11: Mr. Monk and the Awesome Stories

Mr. Monk and the Dirty Cop and Mr. Monk in Trouble by Lee Goldberg

Okay, it is no secret that I love Monk, the show and all of the books by Goldberg. These two are the latest in the series, though there's a new one, Mr. Monk is Cleaned Out, coming in a few months I think. They are awesome as usual. Monk, of course, solves not only the mysteries he's hired to solve but also any others lying about. I love them most because they present this brilliant man who is damn near crippled by OCD in not only a sympathetic light but also a true one. He isn't a joke or a fall guy...he's just Monk.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Awesome Spoken Word

Katie Makkai doing her poem "Pretty"...this ought to be required watching for kids...i know i could have used it as a kid...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Let's Talk About Sex: Abstinence and the Preachers of Doom

I've talked about my research on the Quiverfull movement on this blog before, but I haven't gone into one of the more tangential areas related to it--abstinence education. The reason this is on my mind today is a) I just finished a paper a few weeks ago on born again virginity, and b) I'm watching The Education of Shelby Knox on Netflix. Shelby Knox is a documentary about a high school girl in Lubbock, Texas who fought the school's abstinence only policy to try to lower the pregnancy and STD rates there, which were some of the highest in the country. The filmmakers interviewed Ed Ainsworth, a True Love Waits speaker and abstinence proponent; during the course of this interview, AInsworth commented that while he talked about STD's in detail in his presentations, he would never demonstrate how to put on a condom. Then he compared this to showing kids how to use guns.

Okay, first of all, let me say that I am well aware that the only 100% effective way to prevent STD's and pregnancy is abstinence; that is a no-brainer. However, it is incredibly naive to believe that all teenagers are going to save themselves for marriage, and let us not forget that since we in the LGBTQ community cannot, for the most part (depending on where we live), get married, this is effectively saying that we should live completely celibate lives. Neither is realistic. Yes, it would be a perfect world if all teenagers (and adults) for that matter were more careful with their sex lives. STD's, like AIDS, would not be as widespread, and there wouldn't be as many teen and unplanned pregnancies. BUT this is not going to happen. It simply isn't, but these "abstinence warriors" do not want to admit this.

I am not saying that kids should be told that as long as they use protection, it's free love for everyone. However, they should be taught the proper way to use protection, the risks involved in multiple partners, how their bodies function, what STD's are and what they do to you. Unfortunately, many kids don't know the first thing about any of this. Abstinence only proponents claim that if this sort of education were available, there would be more teen pregnancies and STD's, but the evidence shows otherwise. In schools, such as Lubbock, where abstinence is the only line, the rates are much higher than in schools with accurate sex education. Many say that it should be left up to the parents to teach kids these things. Maybe in a perfect world, yes, it should, but the sad fact is that many parents are either unwilling or unable (being products of the same close-mouthed systems as their kids) to provide the education that kids need. As I said in my Mr. Rogers post, kids are exposed to a lot of things, and parenting should be one of those. It is a sad fact that this is not the case, and yet these same parents who are neglecting to tell their kids anything are the ones screaming that parents should have the final line on sex ed at home. Make up your mind. Either parent or allow the school to do it for you, but don't leave these kids to their own devices with no information available. That is dangerous.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Book Life 10: Following the Dead...Presidents, That Is...and How to Blow Up the World

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

This is one of those books that has been on my "to read" list since it first came out--around 2005. At one point, I think we had it out of the library; Anna read it, but I was managing that god forsaken store in Talladega at the time, so....Anyway, Vowell covers the Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley assassinations in an amazingly funny way. Along the way, you learn all kinds of strange information while also following her on her road trips to the historical sites associated with each of the deaths. I don't particularly know what to say about this one except that it was an excellent and quick read, and her other books are on my "to read" list for the next break. Fun Fact: Sarah Vowell was the voice of Violet, the daughter, in the Pixar movie, The Incredibles.

E=mc^2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation
by David Bodanis

When I told my friend Sam that this was a great book, he gave me "the look". You know, the "I'm sure it's great but wow what a geek are you" look lol. While I do read quite a lot of material on astrophysics, etc. that can be, frankly, over my head in places, this isn't one of them. Bodanis wrote this book as a way of explaining Einstein's equation to people who may or may not be familiar with physics, without sounding like he's trying to talk down to you. I loved it. He takes the equation apart and gives the history of each component, which was awesome, because though I kind of get what the whole equation does, I never knew the background of the pieces. For instance, I never knew that there were two women so influential in discovering and researching ideas that made the theory of relativity possible. I also never knew that Heisenberg, of the famous Uncertainty Principle, was basically a flaming Nazi; he was in charge of the Third Reich's atomic bomb program. And I don't mean he worked for them under duress and had serious issue with their actions; he once told a colleague that he knew about the concentration camps, but what can you do, you need the labor. o.0 All in all, of any of this interests you, pick up this book, regardless of whether you are a physics nerd. The chapter explaining how the atomic bomb actually works is worth it on its own.

Book Life 9: Beam Me Up (Yet Again)

Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Infinity's Prism by William Leisner, Christopher L. Bennett, and James Swallow

Ahhh...the all-too-short break between spring and summer semesters is here. You know what that means? OUTSIDE READING! YAY! Don't get me wrong; there are only a few books that I have had in classes that I didn't like. However, sometimes the lovelies lying unread on my shelf call my name, and during the semester, I must ignore them. This particular book has been being ignored since the last break unfortunately...

In any case, if you are a Star Trek geek and are unfamiliar with the Myriad Universes series by Pocket Books, you need to go get them now! Basically each volume (there are 2 already in print with another on the way in December of this year) is three short ST novels, each written with the idea that at least one thing in the standard ST universe did not go as we know it. Hence the name Myriad Universes. I've read both of the ones that are out, and I LOVE THEM. This one in particular is interesting because of the final novel, though the first two are awesome as well.

Seeds of Dissent by James Swallow incorporates not only the characters of ST Voyager but also Capt. Picard (in a tangential way). The historical difference here is that rather than be defeated Khan won in the early twentieth century and his empire in the twenty-third extends beyond Earth to the Trill home world as well as Vulcan and a host of others. What Swallow has done is create a ST version of the classic "if Hitler had won" idea, and it works quite well. The most interesting is the notion of rewritten history. Almost no one in the 23rd century knows that Khan was a bloodthirsty tyrant; the histories available paint him as a savior. It is definitely enough to make one consider the history one was fed in school (if that hasn't already happened)...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Blaming Mr. Rogers: A Critique

Blame it on Mr. Rogers

okay, my awesome friend Shyla posted the above article on facebook this morning. It isn't a bad article or terribly bad theory, but I have issues with it. Basically, LSU finance professor Don Chance claims that the overwhelming sense of entitlement among young people today is due to Mr. Rogers inundating them with "you're special just the way you are" messages. He says that it's all just a part of the ego-boosting aimed at children and the upsurge in "His Majesty, the Fetus" rhetoric from the pro-life groups. Again, not a completely flawed theory, at least when it comes to the ego-boosting and pro-life parts, that is. My main issue with the Mr. Rogers part is that it seems to be just one more way to take attention off of the fact that many parents are simply not teaching their kids how to act. Not only that it de-emphasizes all the good that Mr. Rogers did. Let me explain...

As pathetic as it may sound, as a child of Mr. Rogers-watching age, I was told very little that I was okay as I was. I had little evidence to assume this even without verbal cues, and Mr. Rogers was, somedays, the only person that actually claimed to like me for who I was. I had few friends, and as most of my current friends know, a terrible and usually not present mother. For kids like me, Mr. Rogers provided, if not perfect self-esteem (because let's face it, he was on TV and not entirely invested in my life), a seed of self-acceptance. Yes, I was weird and the biggest geek I knew, but that was okay. I know I was not the only kid for whom Mr. Rogers provided this...

"You're special." On the Yahoo Answers Web site, a discussion thread about Mr. Rogers begins with this
posting: "Mr. Rogers spent years telling little creeps that he liked them just the way they were. He should
have been telling them there was a lot of room for improvement. ... Nice as he was, and as good as his
intentions may have been, he did a disservice."

Even if Mr. Rogers did tell us that we were special the way we are, the entire show was about how to be a better person. Caring, compassion, empathy--these were constant themes. We may be special just the way we are, but we still needed to learn empathy and how to care for others.

That aside, we are living in an age in which children are the all-important and media and culture at large are blamed for everything. Take Columbine. Who was the first to be blamed? Not parents for not realizing the kids had problems, not bullies who caused the problem, but Marilyn Manson--a singer whose music the adults didn't understand and who is different enough to be easily targeted. When a kid does anything--take a gun to school, beat someone up--it is the video games and movies that are blamed. Now, I'm not saying that media and culture don't have any effect. Obviously they do, but think about this. If parents did not expect TV, movies, and video games to babysit their kids, maybe they wouldn't absorb the influences so fully.

One example that Chance points out in the article is calling adults by their first names. Now, maybe this is a regional thing, but I was never allowed to simply call an adult by their given name. When a friend's mom told us to call her by just her name and not Ms. (first name here) and I said it in front of my grandmother, she proceeded to bawl me out. I was to call people Mr. or Mrs. and their last name, or at the very least Mr. or Ms. and their first name. Just a first name was considered the height of disrespect. But apparently other places this isn't as stringently enforced...

But all of this can't be simply the fault of Mr. Rogers. After all, it's only a half-hour show. There are 23 1/2 other hours in the day in which kids can absorb other influences. Maybe parenting should be one of them...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dear Anne Rice: An Open Letter to Someone I Used to Love

Okay, we all know that I am a huge book geek...speaking materially, books are my favorite thing on earth. There are some books I love so very much that I have read them over and over and over again--The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice are in this category. I have a (possibly) unnatural attachment to lestat, and i have read his adventures ad infinitum. In fact, the quote Ihave tattooed on my arm is from something I wrote that grew out of a quote from Tale of the Body Thief. The Chronicles are books I will always have copies of...

Naturally, I also became a huge fan of their creator. Anne Rrice has been among my favorite authors since I first read Interview with the Vampire. I stuck with her after she announced that Blood Canticle would be Lestat's final adventure. I bought the first Jesus book hesitantly, but since I'm a religion geek, I went with it. It actually isn't bad. I had no intentions of reading her new christian endeavor, Angel Time, but still, whatever, Anne.

So, wtf is this blog about, you ask...about 20 minutes ago, I found out that Anne, the mother of my beloved Lestat, granted an interview with The 700 Club, home to one of the most ridiculously evil men on the planet--Pat Robertson. Over the years, this man has blamed 9/11, hurricane Katrina, and now the Haiti disaster on the gay community and assorted nonbelievers. He was once quoted, on the very show that conducted Anne's interview, as saying that AIDS is his god's way of controlling the gay population.

Now, first let me say that it is not Anne's reversion to Christianity that is the problem. As long as you are harming none, I say, whatever gets you through the day. What is the problem is her total disregard for quite a large portion of her loyal fans--the gay community. The Vampire Chronicles, whether intentionally or not, have a way of making people of minority social groups feel not so alone or bad. I don't have the energy to analyze that right now, but suffice it to say that this is true. Not only that, but her son is gay. Further, she called New Orleans home (for herself and multiple characters) for many years, and it's incredibly insensitive to Nola to appear on this show.

I can't say that I will stop rereading the Chronicles, because I think that there's too much beauty and awesomeness in them to do that. But though I'm sure she could care less about one little fan, I am no longer one of hers. Lestat will always be one of my favorite characters of all time, but his creator has abandoned us to the dark side. She speaks now of her older work as the "darkness" she was "called out of", but I think that maybe she has it backwards. The darkness has called her out of the accepting and beautiful world she once inhabited. I am mourning for this betrayal and hope that she sees what terrible things this seemingly insignificant interview means to some of us...