ruminations on religion thanks to Lauren Green & Pope Francis

Let’s start with Lauren Green.

Lauren Green works for Fox News and interviewed an author, Reza Aslan, about his book Zealot: The Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth. In the interview, she obsessively hung on to the fact that Aslan is a Muslim and couldn’t seem to understand why a Muslim would write a book about Jesus.

You can find video of the interview and some typically inane commentary from one of Slate’s bloggers here: http://tinyurl.com/l25u4fr.

The truly embarrassing things about this interview aren’t the interviewer’s obsessive grip on a Muslim writing about Jesus, it’s these 3 things:

1. Jesus didn’t start Christianity. His followers did.

2. Jesus was a Zealot, making the title of the book, though provocative, pretty much accurate. He was a Zealot (note the capital Z) in that he grew up in a region populated/influenced by a group of Jews known as Zealots. This was, at the time, more or less equivalent of calling myself a Libertarian or Marxist. It was one of the four major sects that most Jews identified with in the Roman province of Judea. The Zealots were especially interested in throwing off the yoke of Roman oppression, used Talmudic writings to reinforce their position and acted – often violently – to that end, which is why in modern times we call religious fanatics “zealots”. There’s no indication that Jesus adhered to their political agenda; indeed, Jesus’ teachings would seem to speak directly to the opposite – remember his whole “Render unto Caesar” bit?

3. Muslims believe that not only was Jesus a great prophet, but he was indeed the Messiah, sent by God to one day lead the chosen into the promised land and given the ability to perform miracles by God in order to make sure people knew he was the real deal. The problem was that Man didn’t listen, so God had to send another messenger – Mohammed.

(Muslims, it should be noted, consider Jesus to be a Muslim, because the Arabic word ‘muslim’ translates as “one who submits to God.” That means that, if you believe in God and follow a God-centric religion, you too are a Muslim in the strictest sense of the word.)

The major difference (for the purposes of this post) that separates Christianity from Islam (other than that, while Islam considers Jesus a great prophet, Christianity in its typical myopic nature doesn’t return the respect to Mohammed) is that Islam denies the Trinity. In addition, Islam says that Jesus was not of the same essence as God, was clearly subordinate to him, and was never crucified nor resurrected as told in Christian mythology.

When morons are allowed to ask questions like these in the guise of an interview, they make everybody else that does that same job look like a moron, too. Fox should be ashamed of Lauren Green, who is clearly not qualified for her job. She is so painfully ignorant of Islam that it’s completely laughable and anybody that calls her a reporter or a journalist should be slapped – twice – viciously.

Now, let’s get on to the pope.

After his record-setting trip to Brazil last week, Pope Francis said this:

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

On 21 Dec 2012, Pope Benedict 16 denounced gay marriage, saying that homosexuality destroys the “very essence of the human creature.” B16 was, throughout his reign, vocally committed to “promoting traditional family values.”

On 31 Oct 1986, Pope John Paul 2 issued a statement on homosexuality in the form of an open letter to bishops. Interestingly, it came through a department called the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, which is the modern name of the Inquisition. The statement was, in part: “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” JP2 reinforced this position throughout his reign.

Now, back to Francis’ question, “Who am I to judge?”

Dude. You’re the fucking pope. YOUR WHOLE JOB IS TO JUDGE THE REST OF HUMANITY. IT’S RIGHT THERE IN THE JOB DESCRIPTION.

On the one hand, I am glad to see the head of the Catholic church lightening up a bit on the whole gay thing, until the church starts marrying gays at the altar, it’s lip service. Of course a good Christian won’t treat a gay person with unkindness or disdain just because they’re gay; after all, Jesus said, and I may be paraphrasing here as I am not a Biblical scholar, “Whatever you did unto the least of us, so you did unto me.” As a Christian, when you spit on, assault, disparage, disdain or denounce a gay person, doctrinally speaking, you do that exact same thing to Jesus himself.

Allowing gays to enjoy the religious consecration of their relationships through the sacrament of marriage is the only statement any Catholic leader could make that would have me believe that they’re not truly anti-gay at a fundamental level.

I’m pretty sure that won’t happen in my lifetime, if ever.

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don’t let it get like that in the first place

Due to the vagaries of life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness, I’ve ended up with “clean out somebody’s basement” on my to-do list. I started today – nobody helping me, I was just planning to do as much as I could and get an idea for the larger repercussions (and help needed in the future) of the whole project.

The basement in question suffered at least a 20- to 24-inch flood sometime in the past few years due in large part to a bad sump pump, and I knew that going in. What I didn’t know is that the person responsible for this particular basement was about one empty box of Tide away from being on that TV show Hoarders.

(Quick aside – I am not judging. Well, maybe a little. I freely admit that I am a bit of a pack rat and tend to have “collections” of things that other people would think were more appropriate for use as bonfire fuel. I’ve gotten better, and certainly the prospect of moving from a 1,900 sq. ft. house with an attic, full basement & 2-car garage to an 1,130 sq. ft. apartment with none of those things has caused me to take a very hard look at what was worth keeping & what needed to get donated, given away or taken to the dump.)

I got 12 bags of trash out of one SMALL area of the VERY LARGE basement – that’s all that would fit into my little van, so that’s where I had to stop. When I go back to finish the job, I’m taking a friggin’ army with me – and equipping them with those little breather mask filter thingies because so much of what’s piled up in the basement is covered with mold and mildew.

(Before I get too far & this gets all serious & shit, let me take a moment to tell you one funny thing – I took my “extra” big garbage can to use, along with a box of garbage bags I had from down in my own basement. Turns out the garbage can needs 33 gallon bags & the box contained 30 gallon bags. You’d think, size-wise, they’d be a lot closer together, but you’d be wrong. Instead of having a convenient garbage can into which I could toss stuff, after I used the bag that was already in there, I spent the rest of the morning holding a garbage bag in one hand & stuffing it with the other like a total dumbass.)

The task desperately needs completing, but holy crap, even just the little bit I did today was horrifying.

People, don’t let your basement get like that – or any other room. What happens if you die and somebody else has to clean it out? They will, despite their deep and abiding love for you, curse your name 17 times a minute the whole time they’re working down there. Do yourself – and them – a favor. Go check your sump pump and commit to cleaning out your basement. Get anything made of paper or stored in cardboard a couple of feet (at least) up off the ground. Put one of those little pine-tree looking (and smelling) things down there, and do something to prevent the buildup of mold.

Mold can kill you, no doubt about that. Do something about it NOW before it hurts or kills you – or somebody you love.

extolling the virtues of the S2

Yesterday was an entirely unseasonably cool late July day. The temps stayed in the 70s throughout the morning, barely peaking above 80 in the late afternoon. Just a glorious, beautiful day. I really wanted to go for a ride, but I was busy for much of the day with work, work and more work. I posted a Facebook plea to some folks to meet up for dinner because I was really just going stir crazy.

Last night, then, I met up with some friends – I call them my biker buddies, but we’re more “motorcyclists” than “bikers” I guess. In the world of people who ride BMW motorcycles, “1%er” means something totally different than it does to a Pagan.

Anyway.

It ended up that I was the only one that rode to dinner, and after we were done I decided to go for a ride. I couldn’t think of anywhere specific to go (for which I have been castigated by at least 2 friends), so I got the idea to just do a lap around the Beltway.

Lately I’ve been using my old helmet, an orange Shoei RF1100, far more often than my “good” helmet. The good helmet is really a GREAT helmet; it is one of the more recent models offered by Schuberth, their S2 full-face helmet. It’s super trick and very high tech.

The one I got from Schuberth NA came in plain, stark bright white. Not bad for safety’s sake, but kind of plain. Now it sports some orange reflective tape (lights up when lights hit it) in kind of a random, Eddie Van Halen-inspired design.

The reason I’ve been using the RF1100 so much this summer is because it’s simply more comfortable on super hot days. Compared to the S2, the RF1100 is a damned wind tunnel – it’s wide-open neck hole allows a ton of air and noise to get to the rider.

Past all its high tech awesomeness, the S2 is one hot fucking helmet in the height of summer. The collar/neck roll is very snug against the rider’s neck, which is great for cutting down on noise – and it’s even pretty comfortable once you get used to that feeling, of having the collar ON your neck. Even with the copious amount of air that flows through the top vent, the S2 is simply too hot to wear when the temps get above 85ish degrees. When I ride my R1200GS, the chin bar vent is useless – yes, it flows some air, but the attendant noise from the filthy air flow around the least aerodynamic bike in the universe is crushing. On a bike with good air flow – like a K1200RS – the S2 is a quiet piece of work, with hardly any additional wind noise introduced by opening the chin bar vent. As a matter of fact, when I use the S2 when riding the K12RS, I can often forego using ear plugs. On the R12GS, ear plugs are a constant necessity no matter the helmet.

Well, since it was so nice out yesterday, I decided to throw on that S2 for my dinner/Beltway ride. I hadn’t worn it for a couple months, so it was a really refreshing surprise to put it on and remember what a great helmet it is – amazing fit and finish, incredibly comfortable and when I wear it, I just feel totally safe.

Don’t get me wrong, I like my RF1100 & it’s the helmet I recommend to people that are looking for a good helmet at a decent price, but the difference between the RF1100 and the S2 is like comparing a high school musical to a Broadway musical. It’s not competency that makes the difference – it’s just a different level of professionalism at work.

I have to take a second here to thank Schuberth NA and especially Iron Butt Magazine – IBM will be running my review of the S2 in its Fall issue.

Shoei & Schuberth helmets

Shoei RF1100 on the left, with a Schuberth S2 on the right.

The summer of cheating

Anybody that knows me knows that I am not a positive person. In fact, in the dictionary next to the word “pessimist,” there is a full-page photo of me, very similar to this one:

Image

John Locke believed that we’re all born as the perfect vessels – he called it tabula rasa, clean slate. He also believed that the right form of government could create the right kind of citizens, which in turn creates the right kind of society. I’m sure he fervently believed what he wrote and spoke about, but I think maybe – just maybe – he was an idiot.

I don’t believe it. I think people are born inherently evil, and that evil is based on pervasive selfishness. I look around me at the consumerist, materialistic culture Americans have created for themselves and it makes me want to cry. Don’t get me wrong – I confess I’m fully invested in it and part of the problem instead of being part of the solution. As Jules once said though, “I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd.”

I think that feeling, that effort to suppress my own evil nature to be a good example to my students – in effect, a shepherd at the college level – is what has driven my summer class into the ground like a pile driver setting the foundation of a skyscraper.

It’s come to a head in the last couple of weeks as I’ve dealt with what more or less equates to a cheating scandal in my classroom. It’s not that I’ve never caught cheaters before, but this summer … man. In one 8-week class, I caught FOUR students cheating on exams in my class! Unbelievable. The funny thing (if cheating can be funny) is that the way I caught them was so incredibly simple:  WORDS.

“Words mean things” is one of my mantras. I’m big into words, what they mean, what we think they mean and how we use them. One of these days I’ll blog a riff on the word “accident” to show you what I mean. In the meantime, though, and for the purposes of this entry, let’s look at one word in particular:  Eponymous.

Quick! Define it!

Admit it – you had to look it up. Maybe you remember buying the R.E.M. album Eponymous in 1988. It was a greatest hits sort of album, that is, if you think a band that had only put out 5 albums to a largely smelly, hairy college crowd can have any greatest hits at that point. At any rate, even the college students that made up the vast bulk of R.E.M.’s fan base at that time had to go looking for a dictionary to discover that eponymous means “being the thing for which something is named.” What this means in the music world is simple: An eponymous album is an album with the same name as the band, such as Queen’s 1973 album titled simply Queen. You could refer to that as “Queen’s eponymous debut” or something like that.  (By the way – Queen? Best. Band. Ever.)

My point here is that the average (and even many above average) college freshman doesn’t know what the word eponymous means. When it appears on not one but TWO exams, I’m going to take notice – and not in a good way. There’s two reasons for my noticing such a thing – #1, as I said, most people don’t know what that word means; #2 and perhaps more importantly, I never once used that word when discussing the topic covered by the exam question being addressed.

One thing I’ve learned about college freshmen in my 12 years of teaching (d’oh – just realized I’ve been teaching college now as long as I taught guitar back in the day!) is that, when it comes to test time, they’re pretty much going to use the words that I used in class. That’s what they heard, that’s what they wrote down and that’s what they studied. I would never say ‘eponymous’ in a lecture – I would say “named after himself” because it’s faster. If I used the word ‘eponymous,’ I would instantly see questioning gazes, a hand go up and I’d have to define the word anyway. It’s just faster and more expedient to just say “named after himself.”

Seeing the word ‘eponymous’ on a freshman’s exam, then, attracts my full attention. Believe it or not, grading exams kind of happens on autopilot. I know what the question is, I know what the answer should be – I’m grading 50 of these things, so I’m scanning for highlights and anomalies.  Highlights (question: explain feudalism; answer: contains the words/phrases fealty, vassal, subinfeudation, manorial dues, Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, Oath of Salisbury Field, knight, serf, etc.) mean points. If those words/phrases are there and strung together in a more or less coherent fashion, bingo, somebody gets full credit. If some are there but others are not, that warrants more attention to determine partial credit. Anomalies will snap me out of that autopilot; if you’ve used laissez-faire economics to answer the feudalism question, suddenly I have to figure out what the hell you were trying to accomplish.

Same thing with the word ‘eponymous’ – you use that, I’m paying attention. That’s when I notice your other answers contain similar $5 words, and the language you’ve used to answer the questions is far more formal and studied than I would normally expect to see from a stressed-out college freshman taking a history exam.

It takes me about 10 seconds to type your answer into a Google search and discover that you got the answer from Wikipedia. Getting the answer from Wikipedia means you were relying on your spot way in the back of a crowded classroom to hide the fact that you were using your iPhone to read Wikipedia pages and copy info from them directly onto your exam.

In other words, not just cheating but cheating in a way that’s so laughably easy to discover that you deserve to get caught. This brings me back around to the concept of the tabula rasa – Locke’s clean slate.

Cheating is, in my opinion, not learned behavior. You are either a cheater or you are not, and guess what? Everybody is a cheater. I believe that anybody that has the opportunity and thinks they can get away with it will cheat. I never cheated (in college) because I firmly believed my professors were smarter than I was and would absolutely catch me, then kick me out of college. That fear of consequences is what keeps the majority of people, including me, from cheating. I don’t even cheat on my taxes! (I did make a grievous error once, but sucking at math isn’t the same as cheating.)

Catching these students cheating on their exams also brought to light something very uncomfortable for me to think about, something about myself that I had to look at very closely.

Three of my four cheaters were men, which means one was a woman. The woman, maybe 18 or 19 years old, was the last one I caught. I’d already turned in the other three and even received notification that one of them had confessed by the time I caught the young woman.

Maybe I was shell-shocked at having caught a fourth cheater in one term – and the third on that exam. Maybe it was a moment of general weakness. What happened was, for a period of a couple of hours, I considered going easier on the girl than I had on the boys. Instead of turning her in for punishment and academic sanctions, I considered contacting her, telling her I caught her cheating, giving her an F just for that exam, and letting her stay in class.

I had to think very, very hard about why that idea came to me. I’m no psychologist, but I think it is some kind of deep-seated desire or need for women to like me or at least not hate me. I’ve always been better friends with women than men, so maybe there’s something to that, I don’t know. The point is, for a short period of time, I considered going easy on this young woman simply because she was a woman.

In the end, I decided to turn her over to the same sanctioning process the men would have to go through. One friend I discussed this with said that proved I wasn’t sexist, but I’m not sure he wasn’t just placating me to get me off the phone. I did a quick statistical analysis of two years’ worth of my grades and discovered that women average about 8-10% better grades in my classes than men. Is this a function of some issue I’m dragging around with me? Or is it a function of women being more conscientious (in general) in their educational pursuits than men? I don’t know, and I plan on doing a full analysis of all 12 years of my classes to see if I can dredge up some data.

The point is, this cheating scandal has brought my attention more to myself in a way that I find unpleasant to think about or deal with. Am I inherently a sexist? If I’m a sexist, that means I can be a racist, too, right? What other deficiencies of personality do I suffer from? Will my inherently evil nature (I’m tryin’ real hard) now affect the way I deal with any questionable situation in my classes? Have I lost the last vestiges of faith in human nature? Will I forevermore be the total hard-ass professor that nobody likes?

I hate cheaters. Not because of what they do to themselves, but because of what they do to me.

Danger is my *middle* name

The nerve of some people never fails to amaze me.

Normally, you’d think I’d be talking about Anthony Weiner, former Congressman and current candidate for mayor of New York City.  This is the guy that resigned from Congress in disgrace a couple years ago after word (and photos) got out that he was “sexting” – sending sexually explicit text messages – with women other than his beautiful and then-pregnant wife.

He’s back, and he thinks he’s the man for the job of mayor of the United States’ largest metropolis.  Being a denizen of the greater Washington, DC area that for some inexplicable reason continues to worship at the crack-littered shrine of “mayor for life” Marion Barry, I say New York City will get the mayor they deserve.

It’s that deserving I want to talk about today – and the balls, excuse me – nerve – some people display.

This morning I was watching the news on BBC America (best news in the country – your local news SUCKS in comparison if you’re at all interested in anything – ANYTHING I TELL YOU – that goes on outside the confines of your little town, wherever it may be). I was a little surprised that Weiner made BBC, but what really stunned me was a interview they did with a random young woman on the street.

(I’m paraphrasing here) “I think the sexting thing has no bearing on his ability to be a good leader.”

What the fuck, over?

Let’s look at the sexting thing.

In May 2011, Weiner took a photo with his cell phone of his underwear-obscured boner and sent it to at least one woman, a 21-year old college student in Seattle. There were reports that he sent similar photos to at least 6 other women. In the meantime, the photo “leaked” onto the internet and Wiener claimed his account/phone was hacked.

Weiner soon admitted to sexting with several women, both before and after he got married. At the time all this came to light, his wife was a highly-placed advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and – I think I mentioned this above – pregnant.

Now Weiner is admitting that he continued sexting with women other than his wife AFTER he resigned from Congress and AFTER he claimed to be getting “treatment” for his sexting problem.

Follow me on this, woman-on-the-street-interviewed-by-BBC: If a man can’t be trusted to be faithful to his pregnant wife EVEN AFTER GETTING CAUGHT AND EXPOSED IN FRONT OF THE WHOLE NATION FOR HIS LASCIVIOUS BEHAVIOR, then he can’t be trusted to help run the country or, indeed, to even run its largest city.

Anthony Weiner has consistently shown he is eminently untrustworthy. By ‘untrustworthy’ I mean ‘not deserving of trust,’ as in he cannot be trusted.

I have to wonder what his wife sees in him that she continues to support, defend and even speak out for him when he consistently shows he disrespects her. Anthony Weiner isn’t just a bad husband, he’s a bad choice for political leadership no matter the level. I wouldn’t trust the bastard to run a parking commission.