My Ten Favorite Articles That I Wrote in 2016

Since 2013, I’ve highlighted my favorite articles that I’ve written each year—so here are my professional highlights of 2016, including my ten favorite stories I wrote over the year (see below).

Academically, I wrote and presented my thesis, before graduating from The University of Texas at Austin in May.

As a writer, I wrote hundreds of articles for more than a dozen different publications.

I started the year off reporting for the Austin Chronicle, where I wrote 20 news articles, mostly focusing on the city’s battle with Uber and Lyft.

After graduating, I interned over the summer with the Dallas Morning News‘ Editorial Board, where I wrote more than 40 opinion columns and editorials—many of which were also published around the country, from the Charlotte Observer to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald to the Sun Sentinel in Florida to the Albany Times Union to the Virgin Islands Daily News and a handful of other publications in between. Following the Dallas Ambush, I was interviewed on Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, and SPIN 1038, a radio station in Dublin, Ireland. In August, I won the DMN‘s in-house writing award for Commentary and Criticism between April and June. My three winning entries (on sexual assaultTrump, and homophobia) made me the only intern to win an award.

After wrapping up my internship with the DMN, I started working as a news writer for Complex, where I wrote and aggregated 338 articles on just about anything and everything between September 1 and December 29, which was my last day with them.

Throughout the year, I continued to freelance music articles for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News’ GuideLive.

Below, in chronological order, I’ve hyperlinked ten of my articles that I’m most proud of from this year.

  1. Motivated by Sweaters, Dallas Rapper -topic Is on a Feel-Good Campaign– Dallas Observer – February 10 – Music Article

Early in the year, I interviewed Dallas’ own So So Topic (aka -topic) about his project, My Favorite Sweaters. This article was only one of a handful of articles I wrote in 2016 about the local rapper.

  1. Open Carry: Boobs and Breasts – SXSW-timed open carry event overshadowed by toplessness” – Austin Chronicle – March 18 – News Article

By far the most entertaining story I’ve ever reported, I wrote about one of Austin’s weirder days, which included guns, breasts, sex toys, and a life-sized cross. This article was cited by Reason.

  1. All men must work to stop rape culture– Seattle Times – June 9 – Opinion Column

This award-winning column, about the infamous case of Stanford’s Brock Turner and our “boys will be boys” culture, was published around the country.

  1. Trump is a drug — exhilarating, terrifying, and sure to bring a hangoverDallas Morning News – June 30 – Opinion Column

I wrote this column after attending Trump’s campaign rally in Dallas. While some of my writing on Trump didn’t turn out so well, I’m especially proud of this column, which was cited in The Atlantic by James Fallows.

  1. The segregated Second Amendment: America’s long history of unequal gun rightsDallas Morning News – July 7 – Opinion Column

I wrote about the tragic death of Philando Castile as well as the fact that black Americans don’t seem to have the same gun rights as white Americans.

  1. Campus carry is problematic, but not dangerousDallas Morning News – July 18 – Opinion Column

Having previously extensively reported on campus carry, I argued that campus carry has had and will have negative consequences for the University of Texas at Austin, but that it won’t be all that dangerous.

  1. Cutting back on private prisons is progress, but we need to end mass incarceration” Newsday – August 19 – Opinion Column

This column, which highlighted some of our criminal justice system’s problems, also appeared around the nation, including The Dallas Morning NewsThe La Crosse Tribune in Wisconsin, The South Bend Tribune in Indiana, The Intelligencer in Pennsylvania, and the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, among others.

  1. Sex toys in Austin expose the right’s hypocrisy on political correctnessDallas Morning News – August 25 – Opinion Column

Regardless of your opinion on campus carry, you can’t deny that #CocksNotGlocks brought international attention to the issue—and the reaction to the Cocks Not Glocks protest revealed exactly why it was so necessary.

  1. Chance the Rapper Preached His Hip-Hop Blessings at The Bomb Factory – Dallas Observer – October 17 – Concert Review

I’m incredibly passionate about the intersection of hip-hop and religion (which was the topic of my thesis), and I was already a longtime fan of Chance the Rapper—but nothing prepared me for just how gloriously sacred Lil Chano’s concert would be.

  1. Dallas is taking a RIGHT step on mental illnessDallas Morning News – December 28 – Editorial

Even after my internship, I still occasionally contribute to the Dallas Morning News, both as a columnist and on behalf of the Editorial Board. This is a topic that’s especially important to me, so I was glad to write about it on behalf of my hometown paper.

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My Ten Favorite Articles That I Wrote in 2015

Carrying on with a tradition I started in 2013 and continued in 2014, I’ve decided to point out some of my professional highlights of 2015.
Over the year, I’ve continued contributing to the Austin Chronicle, covering news and even writing two cover stories for them this year (my two longest articles ever). I wrote more articles for The Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Observer this year, but I also wrote for The Chicago Tribune and The Houston Chronicle, two of the biggest papers in the country, for the first time this year. At the 2015 Central Texas Colloquium on Religion in February, I presented an academic paper “MCs & Marx: Examining Rap from a Historical Materialist Perspective,” which I will expand into my honors thesis.
With just a semester and my thesis left, if all goes as planned, I will be graduating in May from The University of Texas at Austin with a Plan II Honors, Religious Studies Honors, and History triple-major, with a minor in American Studies. This summer, I will be interning full-time with The Dallas Morning News‘ editorial board.
Below, in chronological order, I’ve included ten of my articles that I’m most proud of from this year.
1. “It’s good to see millennials venture beyond politics as usual” – The Dallas Morning News – Jan. 9 – Opinion Column
After hearing of a young socialists club at my high school, I was reminded of my own history of high school activism, and decided to write in support of those of us who fall outside of the political mainstream.
2. “UT’s Student Government Winners Mix Substance With Satire” – Austin Chronicle – Mar. 27 – News Feature
While lots of people are now familiar with UT Student Government President Xavier Rotnofsky and Vice President Rohit Mandalapu, they first made national news when they campaigned to take over the student government. I wrote about RotMan for the first time following their electoral victory, though at the time, I wasn’t expecting to write so much more about the duo over the year.
3. “Do UT Frats Have a Race Problem?” – Austin Chronicle – Mar. 27 – News Feature
After reporting on incidents of racism in the UT campus community, I talked with Dr. Richard Reddick, a UT alum and professor, and looked into some of the reasons why the Greek community can often seem hostile toward racial minorities.
4. “Written in Stone” – Austin Chronicle – May 29 – News Cover Story
Finally putting my history degree to use, I wrote my first solo cover story (and my longest story ever) in May about the history of racism at UT-Austin and how its physical landscape reflects that.
5. “Dr. Fenves, tear down this statue” – The Dallas Morning News – June 10 – Opinion Column
After reporting in my cover story about the long legacy of racism at UT, I wrote an opinion column in my hometown paper urging UT President Greg Fenves to remove the Jefferson Davis statue from our campus.
6. “‘Southern pride’ is not white supremacy” – The Chicago Tribune – June 19 – Opinion Column
Following my column advocating the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from campus and after Dylann Roof murdered nine people in a historic black church, I wanted to make clear that there’s nothing wrong with ‘Southern Pride,’ but that there’s a whole lot wrong with the South’s history of racism, especially during the Confederacy.
7. “Adios, Jeff!” – Austin Chronicle – Sep. 4 – News Feature
After first advocating the removal of UT’s Jefferson Davis statue back in 2013 and after all the time I had spent covering the controversy and history of the statues, it was a special moment for me to be there live to cover the removal of the statue.
8. “Black lives matter—so should their votes” – Scalawag Magazine – Nov. 11 – Opinion Essay
Originally a longer research paper for my “Constitutional Design” class at UT, I wrote about some of the Electoral College’s flaws, particularly its role in enabling and arguably encouraging racial inequality for the newly-created Scalawag Magazine, which covers the culture of the American South.
9. “Law allowing guns in buildings at colleges will invite trouble” – The Houston Chronicle – Nov. 21 – Opinion Column
Unfortunately, my “pointless screed,” as one unhappy commenter described it, might be behind a paywall for some. Still, it was an honor to have my thoughts about campus carry published in one of the largest papers in the country.
10. “Let’s Go Gun Crazy” – Austin Chronicle – Dec. 18 – News Cover Story
My third cover story ever, this article was one of the most entertaining pieces I’ve ever written, and almost certainly the most absurd.

My Ten Favorite Articles That I Wrote in 2014

Last December, I highlighted my ten favorite articles that I wrote in 2013, and I’ve decided to try it again this year.

First, here’s a quick summary of my 2014: I continued writing for the Austin Chronicle, mostly covering local news. I’m still the opinion editor for The Horn and still occasionally contribute to the Dallas Observer and The Dallas Morning News. I’ve kept writing for the Texas Travesty, which was named the “Readers Best Local Non-‘Chronicle’ Publication” by the Austin Chronicle (and during the fall, I was the Travesty‘s Senior Food Critic). At school, I’ve studied and written about a variety of topics, including history, Christianity, and hip-hop. In the spring, I rapped for charity. In November, I started working part-time for Pluckers Wing Bar, handling marketing and donations.

All in all, I wrote over fifty articles this year. Below, in chronological order, are the ten of my articles from 2014 that I’m most proud of:

1. “For popular rapper, an unusual calling card: sobriety” – The Dallas Morning News – February 14:

I grew up reading The Dallas Morning News‘ Points Section every Sunday morning, and those articles definitely helped inspire me to write. So it was a dream come true when my essay about rapper Macklemore and his struggle with addiction was published in the Sunday Points section.

2. “Facebook ‘Threat’ Case Unresolved” – Austin Chronicle – February 28:

While an especially frustrating case to cover, the story of Justin Carter is an important story for me  – and anyone else who values free speech. My reporting on the case was even cited by NPR.

3. “Online Privacy: Technical, Political, or Both?” – Austin Chronicle – March 28:

As a result of whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s leaks, many Americans are becoming more conscious of their online privacy and security. I interviewed multiple experts for the story, including Phil Zimmermann, Elissa Shevinsky, and more.

4. “Stand up to injustice, even if you stand alone — and remember the ‘tank man’” – The Dallas Morning News – June 5:

The Tiananmen Square protester known simply as ‘Tank Man’ has long been a hero of mine, so I was grateful to get to write about his heroism, twenty-five years after the event.

5. “The Texas GOP Stands on a Platform of Ignorance” – Reason – June 28:

Reason is one of my favorite publications, so I was honored to write for them. Earlier this year, the Texas Republican Party’s 2014 platform condemned homosexuality, arguing that being gay “must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle.” They even supported reparative therapy, a controversial practice aimed at helping homosexuals embrace their “authentic” heterosexual identity. And I wasn’t too happy about that, so I wrote about it.

6. “The Best Bible Verse-Checks in the History of Rap” – On Faith – July 29:

In 2013, I explored the profane by writing about “The 30 Most Disturbing Songs of All Time.” This year, I strayed from the profane and focused on the sacred – I wrote about the best Biblical allusions in hip-hop.

7. “A.Dd+ Chronicle Their Nawfside Love on New Nawf EP” – Dallas Observer – August 12:

Just this last week, Dallas hip-hop duo A.Dd+ won three Dallas Observer Music Awards – Best EP, Best Rap/Hip-Hop Act, and Best Live Act. Back in August, I interviewed the duo about their Nawf EP – which pays homage to ‘Nawf Dallas,’ the neighborhood where the duo is from (and where I’m from as well).

8. “Talking Songs with Joe Purdy” – The Horn – September 10:

Joe Purdy is one of my all-time favorite musicians, and I had the privilege of interviewing the singer-songwriter before covering his concert in Austin.

9. “Pluckers is the bomb – ISIS is not” – Texas Travesty – September 23:

If there’s one thing I love, it’s Pluckers Wing Bar. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s war. So I connected the two in one of my (hopefully) humorous articles as the Texas Travesty‘s Senior Food Critic.

10. UFC Fight Night Pounds the Erwin Center” – Austin Chronicle – November 24:

While I’m generally not too big of a sports fan, I do enjoy MMA, and I was lucky enough to cover a UFC event for the Chronicle. And before covering the event itself, I had the chance to interview UFC featherweight Cub Swanson.

Thoughts on the Revolving Door

Why would interest groups want to hire former members of Congress as lobbyists?  Do you support making this practice illegal?

Former members of Congress have experience in government and have a lot of great access and connections with powerful people – which is obviously ideal for groups looking to hire someone to help their cause. Because of their unique qualifications, former members of Congress can hugely help interest groups – and because of that, the now-unemployed politicians are paid serious amounts of money to lobby for the group.

This so-called ‘revolving door’ between Capitol Hill and K Street (which includes staffers as well, not just actual members of Congress) is unquestionably problematic. For example, in February, The New York Times wrote: “A top aide to a Republican congressman from Arizona helped promote a legislative plan to overhaul the nation’s home mortgage finance system. Weeks after leaving his government job, he reappeared on Capitol Hill, now as a lobbyist for a company poised to capitalize on the plan.” Such mingling of interests could arguably be called corruption. 

While undoubtedly troublesome, making the practice illegal would be extremely difficult, if not flat-out impossible. (Additionally, it should be noted that this issue is a part of the complex and vast problem of well-funded special interests unfairly influencing our government.) Considering how Congress (often under the influence of lobbyists) are the ones who would be in charge of making the practice illegal, it’s almost unimaginable that a Congress (who can’t seem to reach a consensus on just about anything) would pass a bill that would potentially cut millions of dollars from their future earnings. It’s quite frankly absurd to seriously think that the same scumbag politicians and lobbyists who use the revolving door would vote against their self-interests – even if their self-interests directly contrast with the interests of our nation in general. (On a similar and related note, career politicians can be problematic as well, but, as I’ve written before, it’s silly to think that those same career politicians would support term-limits that would shorten their careers.)

While there doesn’t seem to be a complete solution, we aren’t powerless against such corruption. We the people vote for Congress. And we have the power to vote for politicians who are committed to their principles. For example, former Congressman Ron Paul, while controversial to many people, fully deserves praise for refusing to give in to lobbyists – as the notorious Jack Abramoff has explained. Congressman Justin Amash is another good example. It would be much easier for Americans to vote for politicians who won’t submit to lobbyists than to expect our current politicians to make the practice illegal.

Recommended Readings – June, 2014

Every so often, I share some of the articles that I’ve really enjoyed recently, regardless of the subject or length or source. Feel free to check out some of my other recommendations from 2013 (February 17thJune 20thJuly 28th, & August 8th) or earlier this year (March 2014), as I try to make my suggested articles as timeless as possible – after all, as Henry David Thoreau suggested in his Life Without Principle, “Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.” Below, in no particular order, are seven articles that I highly recommend. Let me know what you think.

A cartoon by Tom Gauld, Guardian Review.

A cartoon by Tom Gauld, Guardian Review.

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Christianity & Homosexuality

Written as a personal email to a Christian friend who is struggling with his sexuality, the following is an informal, conversational examination of what the Bible says about homosexuality, and whether or not it’s possible to be both gay and Christian. In honor of Paul’s epistles, I begin the letter with a personal greeting before going deeper into the issue.

Subject: Re: Does God hate how I love?

I’m honored that you trust me enough to discuss this incredibly personal – and incredibly important – topic of whether it’s possible to be gay and Christian at the same time. But before I put on my more formal scholar cap and discuss the Bible more specifically, I feel like I should be open about my personal stance. After all, you’ve always been honest with me, so I’d like to show you the same respect, even at the risk of being a bit too blunt.

Since we’ve discussed what the Bible seems to say about slavery before, you might remember the quote of an abolitionist: “Prove to me from the Bible that slavery is to be tolerated, and I will trample your Bible under my feet, as I would the vilest reptile in the face of the earth.” In the same way – from my perspective, at least – I personally find it easier to reject the Bible because of its homophobia (or what I interpret as homophobia, but I’ll go more into that later), rather than try to reconcile the idea of a ‘loving’ God with a homophobic God. And I’m not alone on this, a Public Religion Research Institute survey earlier this year found that nearly one-third of Millennials (ages 18-33-years old) who left their faith cited “negative teachings” or “negative treatment” of the LGBTQ community as a significant factor in their decision to leave organized faith. Additionally, the survey found that 58% of Americans – and 70% of Millennials – said that religious groups are “alienating young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues.” Even without facing the struggle that you’re going through, I’ve come to terms with my lack of faith, and I have no doubt that you could find such comfort as well.

Again, I don’t think you should feel obligated to hold your faith if you don’t feel your religion accepts who you are as a person. After all, religion is much more of a choice than sexuality. However, I understand that that’s simply not the case for everybody, as I understand and respect how important your faith has been to you.

With that said, I’d like to discuss what exactly the Bible says about homosexuality, why some people think you cannot be both gay and Christian, why some people think you can be both gay and Christian, and, in the end, why it’s your decision more than anything else.

For all the attention and controversy surrounding Christianity and homosexuality, the Bible, perhaps surprisingly, rarely discusses homosexuality, only mentioning the topic in fewer than ten passages. Additionally, given the time when the Bible was written, the Good Book has many questionable (to say the least) ideas about sexuality, gender, marriage, etc., so we shouldn’t take the passages about homosexuality without thinking about them critically. But, yes, at face value at least, the Bible seems to consider homosexual actions to be sinful; homosexuality as a sexual orientation (as we understand it today) isn’t discussed in the Bible.

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18-19 in the Old Testament is sometimes cited as an indication that God condemns homosexual activity. Specifically in Genesis 19:5, the men of Sodom demanded Lot to “Bring them [the male angels] out to us, so that we may know them.” In that context, “to know” means “to have sex.” Later in the chapter (Genesis 19:24-25), “the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.” It seems clear that God wasn’t happy with them. Many have interpreted God’s actions as a result of their homosexual activity. Even in today’s world (although the term is fading), non-procreative sexual activity is often negatively referred to as “sodomy.” Furthermore, while noting that it’s “deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action,” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) wrote in 1986, “There can be no doubt of the moral judgment made there [in Genesis 19:1-11] against homosexual relations.” However, a few things should be noted when discussing this passage. First off, even if you believe that God condemned the cities because of homosexual activity, it’s important to understand that their actions are not the same actions as the way that most people practice homosexuality today. In contrast with today’s world, sex in Biblical times was usually for procreation or to show dominance over another person. Far from looking for a consensual and meaningful relationship that happens to be between people of the same sex, homosexual acts during the time period, such as the intended gang rape in the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, were often intended as a way to humiliate and dominate another man. Additionally, not all scholars even agree that it was the homosexual actions that led to the cities’ downfall. Some, such as Jennifer Wright Knust, claim that the intended homosexual gang rape was one of Sodom’s many sins – such as pride, hatred, injustice, oppression, inhospitality, etc.

In Leviticus 18-20, also in the Old Testament, homosexuality seems to be denounced even more explicitly than in Genesis. Leviticus 18:22 reads, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” And Leviticus 20:13 says, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.” As if the verses alone aren’t clear enough in their disapproval of homosexual actions, such verses are seamlessly intertwined with verses denouncing other sexual interactions, such as prohibiting sexual relations with any animal – a comparison that’s often made today (unfortunately). However, while the verses about homosexuality seem pretty clear, other Leviticus verses, which we often reject, seem pretty clear as well. For example, Leviticus 20:9 says, “All who curse father or mother shall be put to death,” and luckily I don’t know of any Christians who suggest the death penalty for disrespectful children. Later passages in Leviticus seem to condone slavery, such as Leviticus 25, yet we’ve blatantly rejected that as a society anyway. Furthermore, thinking more critically about the rules laid out in Leviticus, recognizing that the Jews were a relatively small group, it would make sense for them to condemn non-procreative sex in order to promote a higher birth rate, especially with the high infant mortality rates.

In the New Testament, Romans 1-2 have often been cited to support homophobic interpretations of the Bible. Specifically in Romans 1:26-27, Paul seems to suggest that, as a punishment for worshipping idols, “God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” To some, this passage is clear; Dale Martin quotes Robert Gagnon who claims that Romans 1 “makes an explicit statement not only about same-sex intercourse among men but also about lesbianism.” However, as Martin notes, this passage, while seemingly a denunciation of homosexuality to some, seems to suggest that said homosexual actions were not deliberate choices, but punishment from God for their idolatry.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, also in the New Testament, Paul writes, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.”  Even if you do think that homosexuality is a sin, it seems extremely unreasonable and unfair to lump “sodomites” together with “thieves” and “robbers.”  While there are questions over the translations of “male prostitutes” and “sodomites,” I don’t think any interpretation of this passage can justify its flaws.  For example, Martin argues that malakos, translated above as “sodomites,” actually has various meanings, and arguably refers most widely to the “entire complex of femininity.” Taking the phrase this way, rather than simply condemning homosexuals, it would seem to condemn “effeminate” males; and considering how the Bible, especially Paul’s letters, seem to portray women, this would seem to be a blatantly sexist insult. Additionally, the following verse, 1 Corinthians 6:11, has been used to justify “ex-gay” “conversion” therapy, which aims to ‘free’ people from their homosexual desires – which many professionals consider to be extremely demeaning and harmful. The now-defunct Exodus International, for example, used the idea that despite “what some of you used to be,” such as a homosexual, you can be “washed” and “sanctified” and “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the spirit of our God.” Having interviewed multiple people who went through various ‘pray the gay away’ programs, some of what they went through is absolutely horrifying.

To be clear, no one has the right to tell you what you can or can’t consider yourself. If, after examining the various arguments, you do consider homosexual actions to be immoral, some people would suggest simply remaining celibate. After all, the Bible does seem to denounce homosexual actions, but homosexual attractions wouldn’t seem to be any more ‘sinful’ than heterosexual lust, which is also denounced in the Bible. It’s also extremely important to recognize that the Bible’s discussion of homosexuality doesn’t even touch on the possibility of a consensual, loving and supportive homosexual relationship, so it’s quite possible that you could remain a Christian even while living “a homosexual lifestyle,” as many gay Christians do today. As I’ve told you before, while writing about a variety of Dallas-Forth Worth churches last summer for the Dallas Observer, the church that I thought was truly the most “Christ-like” was the Cathedral of Hope, which is one of the largest LGBTQ-inclusive churches in the world, with thousands of members and almost 80-90% of their congregation identifying as LGBTQ. In the end, it comes down to whatever makes you feel the most comfortable.

No matter what you decide, know that I will support your decision, and I’m always here to help if you need me.

Sincerely,

Mac McCann

“Test All Things”

Intellectually, it seems the debate over the existence of a higher power remains mostly inconclusive. Sure, there may or may not be some sort of higher power, but it seems to be impossible to know or understand the ‘personality’ of such a being. Most religions, it seems to me, not only claim to know and/or understand the personality of a higher being, but use their beliefs to impose their will on others.

We must, as 1 Thessalonians 5:21 instructs us, “Test all things, and hold firmly that which is good.”

To be clear, I’m a complete supporter for freedom of religion. Religion can make people happier, encourage people to be charitable, provide a sense of meaning and community, and many other positive things. And I largely agree with the brilliant Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia, “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But that’s not always the case.

Of course, ‘godless’ societies have committed their fair share of atrocities as well, so atheism might not be the answer either. To clarify, I’m not necessarily opposed to religion; I’m opposed to unjustified certainty. As C.S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth.”

Still, religion has historically been used to justify some of the worst actions of humanity (for example, the Bible was widely used to justify the institution of slavery). Even today in the relatively free United States, religious arguments are often used to deny equal rights for certain groups of people, and religion is often used to undermine education in our school system, especially regarding science.

Furthermore, history and common sense reveal to us that people can be ‘good without god.’ Religion protects itself from criticism by claiming the support of god and encouraging ‘faith,’ which inherently discourages learning. By glorifying faith, we glorify what we don’t know; by glorifying learning, on the other hand, we glorify discovering what we don’t know.

“The Great Agnostic” Bob Ingersoll, in an 1877 essay honoring Thomas Paine, wrote, “In all ages reason has been regarded as the enemy of religion.” After all, what is the fate of Socrates if not a display of religion’s tyranny over the mind? Corrupting the youth and impiety – the charges that have led to so much of humanity’s progress. Later in the previously mentioned essay, Ingersoll wrote, “The doubter, the investigator, the Infidel, have been the saviors of liberty.”

In his Rules for Radicals, activist Saul Alinsky noted the importance of irreverence and curiosity, which are complementary. He wrote, “To the questioner nothing is sacred. He detests dogma, defies any finite definition of morality, rebels against any repression of a free, open search for ideas no matter where they may lead … for his irreverence is rooted in a deep reverence for the enigma of life, and an incessant search for its meaning.”

Rhetoric of Hip-Hop Blog Friday, February 21, 2014

This week, talk about a hip-hop text that you find interesting. Text here is loosely defined as any coherent presentation of ideas (image, video, song, advertisement, etc.), although since we’ve been working with traditional writing so far, I’d very much encourage you to use another medium. Make the text available on your blog if you can (and acknowledge the source!), and then discuss what you find interesting about it. The text you choose should have to have some sort of connection to the controversy you plan on discussing this semester.

At this point, I hope to discuss Macklemore and the social construction of hip-hop in my final paper. In relation to that topic, I’d like to discuss Macklemore’s song “Otherside” (listen above).

Macklemore’s found himself surrounding by various controversies, over topics such as white privilege and marriage equality. In The Dallas Morning News this past Sunday, I discussed Macklemore and his battle with addiction, and mentioned “Otherside.”

Rather than examining Macklemore’s issues with addiction more generally, in this blog, I’d like to specifically look into the song, “Otherside,” which first appeared in 2009 on the duo’s VS. EP. Seattle rapper Macklemore, along with Seattle producer Ryan Lewis, took the song title and sample from “Otherside” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, a song that also discusses drug addiction.

The song opens with sound bites discussing the death of rapper Pimp C, which was caused by a “combination of codeine and promethazine found in the rapper’s system, coupled with the sleep disorder apnea,” according to The Houston Chronicle.

In the song’s first verse, Macklemore discusses how he got into ‘lean’ (aka ‘syrup’), lured by the realization that lean is “the same stuff Weezy’s [rapper Lil’ Wayne] sippin, huh? / And tons of other rappers that be spittin’ hard?” With wordplay, he described how he “finally got to see what all the hype was on.” At first, Macklemore “loved that feeling” and felt on top of the world, “thinking he was pimping as he listened to the system.”

But despite the highs, “it comes with a cost / Wake up, cold sweat, scratching, itching / Trying to escape the skin that barely fit him / Gone, get another bottle just to get a couple swallows / Headed towards the bottom couldn’t get off it.” Yet, as is often common with addiction, Macklemore  “didn’t even think he had a problem,” even as his life spiraled out of control.

Macklemore begins the second verse by going back to the influence of rappers. He explains that “he just wanted to act like them / He just wanted to rap like him” before lamenting, “Us rappers underestimate the power and the effects that we have on these kids.” He continues:

The fact of it is most people that rap like this
Talking about some shit they haven’t lived

Surprise, you know the drill
Trapped in a box, declining record sales
Follow the formula: violence, drugs, and sex sells
So we try to sound like someone else

Later in the verse, Macklemore continues denouncing rap’s glorification of substance abuse, even specifically discussing Lil’ Wayne again:

Despite how Lil Wayne lives
It’s not conducive to being creative
And I know cause he’s my favorite
And I know cause I was off that same mix

Rationalize the shit that I’d try after I listen to Dedication
But he’s an alien
I’d sip that shit
Pass out or play PlayStation

Months later I’m in the same place
No music made, feeling like a failure
And trust me it’s not dope to be twenty-five
And move back to your parent’s basement

Closer to the end of the song, Macklemore continues to tell his story, an ominous warning to others:

That rush, that drug, that dope
Those pills, that crumb, that roach
Thinking I would never do that, not that drug
And growing up nobody ever does
Until you’re stuck
Looking in the mirror like I can’t believe what I’ve become
Swore I was going to be someone
And growing up everyone always does
We sell our dreams and our potential
To escape through that buzz

The song concludes with a sound bite of Bun B discussing the death of his friend and UGK partner Pimp C, and how it affects the music.

Hip-Hop has long been criticized for its promotion and glorification of drug and alcohol abuse, but critics are usually outside of the genre. In “Otherside,” Macklemore critiques the culture from within the culture, as someone who knows both sides, as someone who’s both a rapper and an addict.

Rhetoric of Hip-Hop Blog 2 January 31

Explore a specific topic related to hip hop that you think you might want to work on this semester. What do you know about it without having done any specific research for this class? What would you like to know more about? Do you already have strong feelings about some of the controversies related to this topic?

As a religious studies major and a hip-hop head, I’m especially interested in how religion interacts with hip-hop. I’ve written about hip-hop on multiple occasions, and I’ve also covered the music of multiple churches in the Dallas Fort-Worth area, so that’s provided me with some insight on the topic. Additionally, I’ve taken multiple religious studies classes, although this is my first hip-hop course.

I’d really love to look deeper into how religion specifically affects some of the hot button issues in hip-hop – gender and sexuality, especially misogyny and homophobia. Is the role of women in hip-hop similar to the role of women in religion? How do they compare and contrast? How does word choice affect the perception of hip-hop in the eyes of larger culture? Are hip-hop’s views of masculinity rooted in Christianity’s views of masculinity?

But also more generally, how was hip-hop changed religion, especially in urban black communities?

How common is hip-hop in churches? Are more churches embracing hip-hop?

How have our perceptions of race affected hip-hop and Christianity? How have hip-hop and Christianity affected our society’s perceptions of race? Is it mostly positive or negative?

How has consumerism affected hip-hop and religion? Has commodification taken them away from their roots? Has that helped or hurt overall? In what ways?

At this point, I haven’t really made any conclusive judgments about these topics – and I don’t think I should until I dive deeper into the issues. Still, these are a few of the many topics that I’d like to learn about during this semester.

My Ten Favorite Articles That I Wrote in 2013

My writing was first published on July 29, 2011 (“Why are public schools so afraid of religion?” in The Dallas Morning News). Through 2012, I had only published opinion columns and letters to the editor. Fortunately, this year I was able to not only continue writing op-eds, but also write news articles, concert reviews, features, interviews, listicles and even a cover story.

For a quick summary of my writing this year: Early in 2013, I was first hired for The Horn, where I am now the opinion editor, an opinion columnist and reporter. In March, I joined the staff of the Texas Travesty, the student-produced humor publication at The University of Texas at Austin. Between June and August, I interned with the alt-weekly Dallas Observer. In October, I began my internship with the alt-weekly Austin Chronicle, where I’m still working.

Below, in chronological order, I compiled my ten favorite stories that I wrote during 2013:

Put the brakes on texting bans – The Horn – April 18, 2013:
Opinion column arguing that banning texting while driving is a bad idea.

Learning the lessons of rejection – The Austin American-Statesman – May 18, 2013:
Opinion column discussing what I’ve learned by dealing with rejection. (A version of this column also appeared in The Dallas Morning News.)

Mac Miller Talks About Religion, Twitter and His New Album, Which is His Best One Yet” – The Dallas Observer – June 25, 2013:
Interview with rapper Mac Miller.

See the world from a different pew” – The Dallas Morning News – August 2, 2013:
Opinion column advocating the benefits of occasionally attending different churches.

Graffiti artist brings clothing company to Austin – The Horn – August 5, 2013:
News feature about artist and entrepreneur Clif Claycomb and his clothing company The Early Hours.

The 30 Most Disturbing Songs of All Time (NSFW) – Phoenix New Times – August 21, 2013:
Listicle of the most messed-up songs of all time. (Versions of it also appeared in the Dallas Observer and OC Weekly.)

Stand-up comedy is the most essentially human art form – The Horn – October 3, 2013:
Opinion column arguing that stand-up comedy deserves more respect as art.

Debate: Should Performance-Enhancing Drugs Be Legalized?” – Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine – October 17, 2013:
An opinion piece in which I argued that performance-enhancing drugs should be legalized. On the opposing side, Thomas Murray, the president emeritus of the Hastings Center, a non-profit bioethics research institute, argued that PEDs should not be legalized.

‘Don’t Call Me Sir’” – The Austin Chronicle – December 6, 2013:
News article about George “Rattlesnake” Ramsey, a fascinating conspiracy-theorist who hopes to become the governor of Texas and then the president of the United States.

Urban Rail: Which Way to Connect?” – The Austin Chronicle – December 13, 2013:
Cover Story (News Feature) about Austin’s Project Connect, that I co-wrote with Michael King.