Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rap Year in Review: Top 5 Albums

In my previous post, I went through my thoughts on rap albums from this year that did not make it into my top 5.  All artists included in the previous post were devastated, I'm told.  Now is the time, however, to talk about my five favorite albums.  Note that the operative term here is "favorite."  My music listening is more or less restricted to the mainstream and its peripheries these days.  I don't have the time or desire to get into the myriad underground artists, rap or otherwise, who are making creative waves.  Sure, there might be some crazy wild indie stuff out there that blows these five out of the water.  But like they say...if an indie artist records a song in his mom's basement, and no one is there to hear it, did he really record a song?

Also, I'm not doing the whole "rank the albums from 1-5 thing."  There isn't one album that stands out as my favorite this year (last year, the Roots How I Got Over was far and away my favorite).  Thus the albums below, in no particular order, are simply the five that I liked and listened to the most.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2011 Rap in Review

Now that the final month of 2011 is upon us, the time is ripe for looking back at the year's best hip hop albums.  Among my circle of friends, I'm mostly alone in my love for the genre.  That probably has something to do with running in a middle-class, suburban Nebraska crowd and being a part of the generation that lived just before hip hop became a suburban, sweater-wearing affair (thanks for that, Kanye).  Since I don't get a chance to discuss the beats and lyrics of the best albums throughout the year, I'm going to dump all my hip hop thoughts here.  This will be the first of two entries.  In this post, I'll talk about the rap albums I've listened to enough to form an opinion about, but which ultimately did not make my top 5 list.  In the next post, I'll discuss my five favorite rap albums from the past year.  But first, a brief background note:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Omaha's History of Crazy Religious Sects, Pt. 1

The time between 1880 and 1920 has been described by historian Jackson Lears as a time when America was imbued with a desire for rebirth and transformation.  It was a time of great tumult and cultural shifts and, within the ever-changing religious milieu, a number of new religious expressions sprang up.  In previous blog posts, I've mentioned some of them:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

American Pentecostalism Beginnings: An Overview

I grew up in a nondenominational, Charismatic church in small-town Nebraska.  Our church operated with little formal structure, partly, I believe, because structure was seen as a hindrance to the free working of the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues and other expressions of the gifts of the Spirit were not unusual, and the worship was often exuberant and expressive.  In short, my church was like many other 20th-century Pentecostal and charismatic churches in the United States.  Because of my background, I've always been fascinated by the Pentecostal strand of American Evangelical Protestantism, but until recently, I've never taken a serious look at the scholarly work done in the field of Pentecostal history.  My latest research project has fortuitously given me a great excuse to dive into the origins of American Pentecostalism, and what follows is a brief summary of what is, more or less, the current consensus story of Pentecostalism in its nascent stages.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Billy Sunday Sermon from his Omaha Revival (1915)

These sermon excerpts were originally printed in the Omaha World Herald.  I scanned copies of them from the Douglas County Historical Society. They are are part of a wide-ranging sermon in which Sunday rails against all sorts of evils and (as he sees it) absurdities.  I'm putting them here along with brief commentary to describe how Sunday's style seems similar to Driscoll's.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Men and the Church

I've been reading a lot about masculinity in the Evangelical church, and how we need more "manly" men to lead churches in America.  As one observer has noted, "There is no country where religion has so strong a hold upon the women or a slighter hold upon the men."  A quick rundown of some other statements will give a clear idea of what Christian leaders think of the problem:
  • "The church should embrace vigorous, robust, muscular Christianity...which shows the character and manliness of Christ."
  • "There was nothing mushy, nothing sweetly effeminate about Jesus...he was a man's man who turned again and again on the snarling pack of his pious enemies and made them slink away."
  • "The calling, not for puny, weak-backed, dyspeptic, priggish apologies for men, but for strong, masculine, muscular fellows, who can hold their own with any man."
  • "There is not enough of effort, of struggle in the typical church life of today to win young men to the church...a flowery bed of ease does not appeal to a fellow who has any manhood in him."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Not for the faint of heart: my grad-school paper on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East..


A Minor-League Exercise in Preventative Diplomacy:
The Kennedy Administration’s Use of the Civil War in Yemen

                North Yemen’s[1] civil war in the 1960s dragged on from 1962 until 1970.  Yet, for all the destructive impact on the lives of the Yemeni people and all their goals and aspirations represented in the fight, in the eyes of the world Yemen’s civil war was never about Yemen.  It was about Nasser and the House of Saud, Arab progressives against Arab conservatives.  It was about colonialism (vis-à-vis the British in bordering Aden), imperialism, and the last gasp of Nasserist pan-Arabism.  It was about Kennedy’s New Frontier, a chance for the United States to prove that it was turning over its imperialist leaf to a new, more progressive one, and that it could do so while still hanging onto its oil-rich, conservative friends.  It was, as everything was in the 1960s, about communism and capitalism, about East versus West.  It was many things, but never about Yemen itself.  As inevitably happens with foreign policy, volatile situations affecting real people with real lives and families become little more than chess pieces in the diplomatic game.  Such was the case with Yemen.

Friday, July 8, 2011

"All of which are the American Dream..."

Standing in the weight room next to the bench press, I had one more set to go.  I scrolled through the songs on my iPod to find the perfect finishing song, and of course I went straight to Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name Of."  I finished my last set, and as I am wont to do, thought about the lyrics to the song and what Zach de la Rocha was probably thinking as he wrote it.  I envisioned him scribbling the lyrics on a notebook while in a Cal-Berkeley class called "U.S. and Latin American Relations during the 20th Century."  He, of course, had a hoodie to cover his dreads and had the old school Walkman, with headphones covering his ears, and Eric B and Rakim's "Microphone Fiend" bumping (I always envision him listening to Eric B and Rakim, mainly because to my delight he covered one of their songs in the Renegades album).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Jerry Sloan, the player

Jerry Sloan is best known as the long-time coach (23 years) of the Utah Jazz.  He was a fixture, a bulwark of stability in the ever-changing landscape of the NBA  Before his coaching career, Sloan was notorious for his intensity, particularly on the defensive end.  I came across this article from a 1972 edition of the Omaha World Herald in which Sloan is provides a couple highlights of unintentional comedy, as well as a glimpse at what made Sloan a successful player and (presumably) coach.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chesterton on Advertising

In the early 1920s, GK Chesteron made a speaking tour through the United States.  He recorded his thoughts and observations on America in a series of essays that became the book What I Saw in America.  When he was in New York, he was struck by the commercialization of the city, with advertisements placed everywhere.
If Mr. Bilge is rich enough to build a tower four hundred feet high and give it a crown of golden crescents and crimson stars, in order to draw attention to his manufacture of the Paradise Tooth Paste or The Seventh Heaven Cigar, I do not feel the least disposition to thank him for any serious form of social service. I have never tried the Seventh Heaven Cigar; indeed a premonition moves me towards the belief that I shall go down to the dust without trying it. I have every reason to doubt whether it does any particular good to those who smoke it, or any good to anybody except those who sell it. In short Mr. Bilge's usefulness consists in being useful to Mr. Bilge, and all the rest is illusion and sentimentalism.
 Chesterton then continued on with a humorous account of the ridiculousness of advertising:
Only a very soft-headed, sentimental, and rather servile generation of men could possibly be affected by advertisements at all. People who are a little more hard-headed, humorous, and intellectually independent, see the rather simple joke; and are not impressed by this or any other form of self-praise. Almost any other men in almost any other age would have seen the joke. If you had said to a man in the Stone Age, 'Ugg says Ugg makes the best stone hatchets,' he would have perceived a lack of detachment and disinterestedness about the testimonial. If you had said to a medieval peasant, 'Robert the Bowyer proclaims, with three blasts of a horn, that he makes good bows,' the peasant would have said, 'Well, of course he does,' and thought about something more important. It is only among people whose minds have been weakened by a sort of mesmerism that so transparent a trick as that of advertisement could ever have been tried at all. And if ever we have again, as for other reasons I cannot but hope we shall, a more democratic distribution of property and a more agricultural basis of national life, it would seem at first sight only too likely that all this beautiful superstition will perish, and the fairyland of Broadway with all its varied rainbows fade away.
 Chesterton wrote those words before the advent of television and internet, and before the explosion of the advertising industry (as depicted so well on Mad Men).  It would be interesting to read what Chesterton might have to write about the prevalence of advertising and marketing now...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Slavery and Servitude in Colonial America

One of the well-known paradoxes of the American Revolution was the fact that a movement purporting to view "all men created equally" actually enslaved about 20% of its population.  The above is just one example of many routine notices put in colonial newspapers for the return of lost "property."  It is taken from a 1765 edition of the Georgia Gazette, the only newspaper published in Georgia during the Revolutionary era.

However, what is not as well-known is that African slaves were not the only group of people considered "property."  Indentured servants and apprentices were also considered to be, at least temporarily, the property of the person in charge of them.  Most indentured servants came from the Netherlands, Germany, or Ireland.  Like the African slaves, if an indentured servant ran away, a notice would be in the newspaper offering a reward for their return.  Below is an example of a typical notice, also from the Georgia Gazette in 1765.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chesterton - What I Saw in America

GK Chesterton, the gregarious British satirist, essayist and author of the early 20th century, is probably most well-known for his "religious" books like Orthodoxy.  Yet, he was also a prolific commentator and evaluator of the culture and spirit of his time.  His age was an age of liberalism, rationalism and the march of progress...survival of the fittest, expressed in economic terms through free-market capitalism, was accepted wisdom.  Yet, Chesterton saw the flaws inherent in the thoughts and ideas of his age, and with great wit and vigor he defended the old ways of thinking and behaving as still relevant and essential to society.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Time for Burning

It is hard to believe that A Time for Burning could have been made without a script.  Released in 1966, the film was a pioneering sort of documentary that wanted to tell a story through the eyes and voice of real people.  The filmmakers wanted to explore the issue of racism in the church, and they settled on going to the all-white congregation of Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, NE.   A new pastor, Bill Youngdahl, had just been hired.  Youngdahl was heavily involved in the civil rights movement elsewhere, and the filmmakers were "looking for struggle, but hoping for success" in Youngdahl's attempts to make Augustana more inclusive.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Common Controversy

If you're a Daily Show fan, then you probably watched Stewart's take-down (part two here) of Fox News' coverage of the latest overblown non-issue to dominate your TV screen.  The latest stir involves the rapper Common, who has a reputation for being a "conscious" other words, he's not a gangsta rapper, or a raunchy party-rapper, but instead is respected for being creative, original, and not pandering to the money-girls-drugs theme that is so often prevalent in hip hop.  Jay-Z, a man who has made millions on the money-girls-drugs theme, noted the respect that Common (formerly known as Common Sense), has for being an intelligent, thoughtful artist when Jay rapped: "Truthfully, I want to rhyme like Common Sense...but I did five mil, and I ain't been rhymin like Common since."