Saturday, November 27, 2004

Roger Ebert Film Review: Sideways

Roger Ebert / October 29, 2004
The Chicago Sun-Times

Cast & Credits
Miles: Paul Giamatti
Jack: Thomas Haden Church
Maya: Virginia Madsen
Stephanie: Sandra Oh
Miles' mother: Marylouise Burke
Victoria: Jessica Hecht
Fox Searchlight Pictures presents a film directed by Alexander Payne.
Written by Payne and Jim Taylor. Based on the novel by Rex Pickett. Running time: 124 minutes. Rated R (for language, some strong sexual content and nudity).

"There was a tasting last night," Miles Raymond explains, on one of those alcoholic mornings that begin in the afternoon and strain eagerly toward the first drink. That's why he's a little shaky. He's not an alcoholic, you understand; he's an oenophile, which means he can continue to pronounce French wines long after most people would be unconscious. We realize he doesn't set the bar too high when he praises one vintage as "quaffable." No wonder his unpublished novel is titled The Day After Yesterday; for anyone who drinks a lot, that's what today always feels like.

Miles is the hero of Alexander Payne's "Sideways," which is as lovable a movie as "Fargo," although in a completely different way. He's an English teacher in middle school whose marriage has failed, whose novel seems in the process of failing, whose mother apparently understands that when he visits her, it is because he loves her, and also because he needs to steal some of her money. Miles is not perfect, but the way Paul Giamatti plays him, we forgive him his trespasses, because he trespasses most of all against himself.

Miles' friend Jack is getting married in a week. They would seem to have little in common. Jack is a big, blond, jovial man at the peak of fleshy middle-aged handsomeness, and Miles looks like -- well, if you know who Harvey Pekar is, that's who Giamatti played in his previous movie. But Jack and Miles have been friends since they were college roommates, and their friendship endures because together they add up to a relatively complete person.

Miles, as the best man, wants to take Jack on a weeklong bachelor party in the California wine country, which makes perfect sense, because whatever an alcoholic says he is planning, at the basic level he is planning his drinking. Jack's addiction is to women. "My best man gift to you," he tells Miles, "will be to get you laid." Miles is so manifestly not layable that for him this would be less like a gift than an exercise program.

Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is a not very successful actor; he tells people they may have heard his voice-over work in TV commercials, but it turns out he's the guy who rattles off the warnings about side-effects and interest rates in the last five seconds. The two men set off for wine country, and what happens during the next seven days adds up to the best human comedy of the year -- comedy, because it is funny, and human, because it is surprisingly moving.

Of course they meet two women. Maya (Virginia Madsen) is a waitress at a restaurant where Miles has often stopped in the past, to yearn but not touch. She's getting her graduate degree in horticulture, and is beautiful, in a kind way; you wonder why she would be attracted to Miles until you find out she was once married to a philosophy professor at Santa Barbara, which can send a woman down market in search of relief. The next day they meet Stephanie (Sandra Oh), a pour girl at a winery tasting room, and when it appears that the two women know each other, Jack seals the deal with a double date, swearing Miles to silence about the approaching marriage.

Miles has much to be silent about. He has been in various forms of depression for years, and no wonder, since alcohol is a depressant. He is still in love with his former wife and mourns the bliss that could have been his, if he had not tasted his way out of the marriage. Although his days include learned discourses about vintages, they end with him drunk, and he has a way of telephoning the poor woman late at night. "Did you drink and dial?" Jack asks him.

The movie was written by Payne and Jim Taylor, from the novel by Rex Pickett. One of its lovely qualities is that all four characters are necessary. The women are not plot conveniences, but elements in a complex romantic and even therapeutic process. Miles loves Maya and has for years, but cannot bring himself to make a move because romance requires precision and tact late at night, not Miles' peak time of day. Jack lusts after Stephanie, and casually, even cruelly, fakes love for her even as he cheats on his fiancee.

What happens between them all is the stuff of the movie, and must not be revealed here, except to observe that Giamatti and Madsen have a scene that involves some of the gentlest and most heartbreaking dialogue I've heard in a long time. They're talking about wine. He describes for her the qualities of the pinot noir grape that most attract him, and as he mentions its thin skin, its vulnerability, its dislike for being too hot or cold, too wet or dry, she realizes he is describing himself, and that is when she falls in love with him. Women can actually love us for ourselves, bless their hearts, even when we can't love ourselves. She waits until he is finished, and then responds with words so simple and true they will win her an Oscar nomination, if there is justice in the world.

Some terrible misunderstandings (and even worse understandings) take place, tragedy grows confused with slapstick, and why Miles finds himself creeping through the house of a fat waitress and her alarming husband would be completely implausible if we had not seen it coming every step of the way. Happiness is distributed where needed and withheld where deserved, and at the end of the movie we feel like seeing it again.

Alexander Payne has made four wonderful movies: "Citizen Ruth," "Election," the Jack Nicholson tragicomedy "About Schmidt," and now this. He finds plots that service his characters, instead of limiting them. The characters are played not by the first actors you would think of casting, but by actors who will prevent you from ever being able to imagine anyone else in their roles.

Episcopal Church Officially Promotes Idol Worship

[Thanks to my friend Phil for posting this on his blog ( ) sometime ago...I get repeated requests for the article so I'm putting it up here so I can have an easier time finding it]

From the Christianity Today Weblog:
Episcopal Church Officially Promotes Idol Worship
"Women's Eucharist" calls for worship of pagan deities specifically condemned in Scripture.
Compiled by Ted Olsen
posted 10/26/2004

Imagine for one moment that you're a leader in the Episcopal Church USA. You know that within the next few days, a global commission is going to release a report on how the global Anglican Communion should respond to your church, and is likely to be critical of the ordination of an actively homosexual man as bishop. You know, and have said yourself, that the debate isn't just about sexuality: It's about how one views the Bible. And you know that all eyes will be on your denomination over the next few weeks. What do you do?

What the real leaders of the Episcopal Church did was to take an action that makes ordaining a homosexual man as a bishop almost a non-issue. They started promoting the worship of pagan deities.

This is not a joke nor an overstatement. In all truth and seriousness, leaders of the Episcopal Church USA are promoting pagan rites to pagan deities. And not just any new pagan deities: The Episcopal Church USA, though its Office of Women's Ministries, is actually promoting the worship of idols specifically condemned in Scripture.

A Women's Eucharist: A Celebration of the Divine Feminine" is taken almost completely (without attribution) from a rite from Tuatha de Brighid, "a Clan of modern Druids … who believe in the interconnectedness of all faiths." But who cares where it's from? Look at what it says. Here's how it begins.

"We gather around a low table, covered with a woven cloth or shawl. A candle, a bowl or vase of flowers, a large shallow bowl filled with salted water, a chalice of sweet red wine, a cup of milk mixed with honey, and a plate of raisin cakes are placed on the table."

You might be wondering: What's with the raisin cakes? Is it just Communion wafers with raisins?


The plate of raisin cakes is raised and a woman says,

"Mother God, our ancient sisters called you Queen of Heaven and baked these cakes in your honor in defiance of their brothers and husbands who would not see your feminine face. We offer you these cakes, made with our own hands; filled with the grain of life—scattered and gathered into one loaf, then broken and shared among many. We offer these cakes and enjoy them too. They are rich with the sweetness of fruit, fertile with the ripeness of grain, sweetened with the power of love. May we also be signs of your love and abundance."

The plate is passed and each woman takes and eats a cake.

So those raisin cakes have a historical reference: Those "brothers and husbands" banned them. Sound familiar? It's a reference to Hosea 3:1:

And the LORD said to me, "Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins."

Now there are other biblical references to raisin cakes, but this is the only reference (except possibly this one) to them having any kind of role in worship.

Many scholars believe they were offerings to the goddess Asherah, the female counterpart to Baal, but in this context it may be more directly tied to Ishtar/Ashtoreth/Astarte, the "Queen of Heaven."

"Our ancient sisters called you Queen of Heaven," says the Episcopal liturgy. That's a reference to Jeremiah. And not a happy one. In Jeremiah 7, God complains, "The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger."

The liturgy's reference to defiant women worshipping the Queen of Heaven with cakes comes directly from Jeremiah 44:

Then all the men who knew that their wives had made offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: "As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you. But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine."

And the women said, "When we made offerings to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands' approval that we made cakes for her bearing her image and poured out drink offerings to her?"

In other words, it wasn't their brothers and husbands that the women were defying: It was God.

And now Episcopal Church leaders want you to do the same. Defy God. Worship pagan deities. There is no other possible reading of this "Eucharistic" text.It should be noted that the pagan rite isn't on some hidden page in the deep recesses of the Episcopal Church's web site. The site is actually promoting this. The main pages of the web site (there are three: one for members, another for visitors, and a third for leaders) all link to an Episcopal News Service article on the "The Women's Liturgy Project." The article says, in part:

The Office of Women's Ministries is working towards creating a resource to be used by women, men, parishes, dioceses, small groups, within the context of a Sunday morning service, or any other appropriate setting where the honoring of a woman's life passages and experiences beckons a liturgical response. These can include, but are not limited to, liturgies/rites pertaining to: menstruation, menopause, conception, pregnancy, any form of pregnancy loss, childbirth, forms of leave taking, and many others. … There is already a working section on the Women's Ministries website that contains worship resources that are currently available to be downloaded and used by all.

Go to that worship resources page, and there are only nine offerings, the second of which is the "Women's Eucharist." Another troubling entry is the Liturgy for Divorce, which includes this theology:

While the couple have promised in good faith to love until parted by death, in some marriages the love between a wife and a husband comes to an end sooner. Love dies, and when that happens we recognize that the bonds of marriage, based on love, also may be ended . God calls us to right relationships based on love, compassion, mutuality, and justice. Whenever any of these elements is absent from a marital relationship, then that partnership no longer reflects the intentionality of God.Such a view of love and marriage is profoundly unbiblical, but at least there's no prayer to fertility goddesses. (Commenters over Midwest Conservative Journal are discussing both rituals.)

The Anglican Primate of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, has been explaining that the difference between his church and the Episcopal Church USA isn't your standard intradenominational infighting. The Episcopal Church (along with other western churches, he says), isn't even Christian any more. Instead, he says, it's "embroiled in a new religion which we cannot associate ourselves with."One would have thought that the Episcopal Church USA might have argued whether it was really practicing a different religion. Instead, their challenge to Akinola's statement might be that it's not new at all: Their idolatry has been around since Old Testament times.

Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today.
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Kenneth Tanner: U2- Courageous Crooners

November 23, 2004, 8:23 a.m.

U2 Dismantle[s] an Atomic Bomb.

By Kenneth Tanner

U2 continues to defy the conventions of rock on its latest, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, whittling away at the romantic and transient roots of the form on songs like "Miracle Drug" and "A Man and a Woman," and — on their 11th studio album in 28 years — defeating an egocentric tradition that has left many of the best performers and acts in ruins.

At first it seems Atomic Bomb might be an admirable twin of 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind, a stellar record by any standard, but not quite reaching the achievement of The Joshua Tree, or the band's magnum opus, Achtung Baby!

Then the stoic, folksy authenticity of "One Step Closer," the shimmering, convicting irony of "Crumbs from Your Table," and the glittering, expectant wisdom of "Original of the Species" transcend expectations and confirm hopes — and what else does this band trade in but hope?
Another day with the record will banish any doubt that Atomic Bomb is, song for song, a work of art: complex, gutsy, intimate, demanding, eloquent, and ravishing.

Atomic Bomb belongs in the top tier of U2's best records. Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby!, and Atomic Bomb are sonic masterpieces by different measures, separated by more time between their release than any of the best Beatles albums (to take one instance), marked by ascents in the band's songwriting and virtuosity (how many successful acts study music and work with master teachers of their art between records?), and leavened by the band's insatiable collecting of influences.

Lyrically, Atomic Bomb seems the most conspicuously Christian record U2 has released since October (and I'm the sort of believer who considers "Wake Up Dead Man," from 1997's Pop, as faithful a Christian prayer as, say, "Gloria").

The protagonist of Achtung Baby!, a prodigal entranced by a moonlit night and the kiss of seduction, fumbles his way back home only to find that darkness lingers. Now the wanderer is chastened: Romantic notions no longer hold sway, the eyes of the heart rule the intellect, true love is at home. Yet, restless for Love, he wrestles with the Almighty: kneeling (always kneeling), pleading for intervention (how long must the world abide before the new dawn?), over and over again offering his heart ("take this heart and make it break" are the album's closing words), seeking now a kiss from God.

"Yahweh" is a postmodern Christmas hymn. It looks in hope to the birth of Christ ("always pain before a child is born") as it presses home a question the Father's long-awaited gift evokes in honest souls: "Why the dark before the dawn?" "Miracle Drug," "Crumbs from Your Table," "Vertigo," "Love and Peace or Else," "All Because of You," and "Yahweh" not only allude to but even depend on the Gospel to disclose their meaning.

I'm bound for some Paul McGuinness-inspired purgatory for using the words "Christian record" in the same sentence with "U2," but I think the band is big enough (and mature enough) now not to worry overmuch about people getting the wrong impression (who would mistake these guys for Bible thumpers?). The band was right to resist the label — no doubt it would have limited their audience and their art at earlier stages — but it seems time to simply live with the contradictions and let the chips fall where they may.

On All That You Can't Leave Behind and during the subsequent tour, U2 expressed Christian faith with excerpts from the Psalms, hallelujahs to the Almighty, and urgent activism on behalf of "the least of these." During the tour Bono had told one reporter, "It feels like there's a blessing on the band right now. People say they're feeling shivers — well, the band is as well. And I don't know what it is, but it feels like God walking through the room, and it feels like a blessing, and in the end, music is a kind of sacrament; it's not just about airplay or chart position." It was a temperate yet unapologetic witness, not showy or preachy but unashamed, and that spirit continues on Atomic Bomb.

The abandonment of romance for a truer love (of the "tougher," more resilient, eternal, variety) is a common theme on Atomic Bomb, and though it might strike contemporary ears as paradoxical and uncool (is this rock & roll?), it seems Bono's experiences in Africa have taught him to distrust reigning American and European definitions of the beloved. "A Man and A Woman" is a realist's tribute to monogamy and a celebration of Bono's own marriage (the lyric echoes Bono's attempts in interviews to describe the mystery of his bride and the miracle of their relationship).

If Achtung Baby! was the divorce album, Atomic Bomb is the marriage album, and reflected in Bono's marriage to Ali is the singer's marriage to God. When, at the end, he prays "take this mouth and give it a kiss," the Bridegroom of Song of Solomon is the teacher he seems to have in mind, the master who teaches him how to kneel at the album's start and to whom he turns at the end — what to do with his hands, feet, heart, and soul between this broken time and the marriage supper of the lamb?

"One Step Closer" is reminiscent of Dylan, though it judiciously employs techno-ambient tricks. It's a beautiful sleeper that, along with its sonic opposite, "Love and Peace or Else" (a grimy, infectious groover with the fattest Clayton bass line ever), reveals U2's perennial ability to craft strange and deeply appealing songs from motley raw materials.

The music is breathtaking in parts (the Edge, Clayton, and Mullen are at the full flight of their considerable powers here), especially on "Crumbs," "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," "Miracle Drug," and "Original of the Species," which seem the best of the pack — the finest marriage of melody and lyric. Any of these songs is a cinch for Record of the Year in 2006 ("Vertigo," a wonderful wall of noise, is eligible this year). And, as ever, the band reaches out for new sounds while bringing back hints of its quintessential moments past (the best artists always do).

Frederick Buechner once said, "It's really very easy to be a writer — all you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and open a vein." Bono opens several on this record, and for a band that throughout the 90s prided itself on distance, these last two U2 albums explore interiors and reveal intimacies rarely expressed in rock. We've now been given permission to eavesdrop, and the conversation is direct and unafraid.

"Sometimes," written for Bono's father, Bob Hewson, as he lay dying in hospital, is the showstopper, as honest a confession as any rock band has ever laid down. It deftly puts the lie to the notion that rock & roll can't handle (much less recapitulate) the deeper experiences of life. U2 has made a career out of debunking that myth, and the genre will have made a significant stride if the band's contributions win the day.

In recent interviews Bono has said the "Atomic Bomb" of the title is his father ("he is the atomic bomb in question and it is his era, the Cold War era, and we had a bit of a cold war, myself and him"), and in others places he's said it refers to his emotional volatility in the wake of his father's death ("looking back, now I've finally managed to say goodbye, I think that I did do some mad stuff"). Bill Flanaghan's and Neil McCormick's accounts of the band's rise show the metaphor is an apt one for the father and the son. Earlier this year, Bono reportedly asked the songwriter Michael W. Smith if he knew how to dismantle an atomic bomb. When Smith said he didn't, Bono responded "Love. With Love."

Bob Hewson was an amateur opera singer who loved to listen to operas in his sitting room at night, directing the songs, as Bono recalls, with knitting needles. On "Sometimes," when Bono scream-sings "you're the reason I sing/You're the reason why the opera is in me," it occurs that Love is able to dismantle the bomb in the father and the bomb in the son; that Love has the ability to disarm any weapon of destruction, material or spiritual, no matter how large, no matter how small. That comes as good news about right now.

The American theologian Robert Jenson says that, unlike political ideologies, the Spirit makes us free not from each other but for each other. Of all the rock clichés the U2 brothers overturn, it is perhaps their love for each other — held together despite strong wills and tested by time — that enables not only their longevity but an enduring ability to produce albums of rock music that belong among the genre's best.

Neil McCormick reports that after working five-day weeks for about a year the band had nearly the same set of songs ready for release last October, but it sensed an "indefinable magic" was missing. U2 spent another year working to find it. Bono told one reporter, "Whether it's Catholic guilt or whatever it is, it's not on to have this life that we've been given — this amazing life — and be crap."

Their fans can be grateful for a veteran band that refuses to settle for second best, and at a career point when acts think they've earned the right to be mediocre. That might appear to be the band's self-interest speaking (who wants to buy a "crap album"?), but it still takes humility to serve anyone (even rock fans), and the hard work that produced the double-barreled art of U2's last two albums needs not only a touch of grace, but the cooperation of courage. It's faith active in love.

— Ken Tanner works for Touchstone Magazine in Chicago. He is ordained in the Charismatic Episcopal Church.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Daniel Pipes: Spreading Islam in Public Schools

[Where's the ACLU when you really need them?...I guess they're looking for those surreptitiously singing "Silent Night" in public school "Winter Holiday" celebrations. - jtf]

Spreading Islam in American Public Schools

By Daniel Pipes
November 24, 2004

Not only do Islamists want to censure the handling of Islamic topics at U.S. universities, as I noted in “Islamists Police the Classroom [at the University of South Florida],” but they also wish to do the same at grammar schools. More ominously yet, they wish to transform public schools at all levels into venues for spreading Islam.

An undated posting at posts a page titled “18 Tips for Imams and Community Leaders.” The 15th tip, “Establish a parents' committee to monitor public schools,” has special interest. It starts by asking if the local public school is teaching 10-year-olds that Muslims are terrorists and misogynists? If so, parents are advised to set up a committee “to monitor public school curriculum and developments” and arrange for Muslims to deliver talks about Islam and Muslims. For instance, as Ramadan approaches, a parent should explain the holiday to the school or in a social studies class. When a high-profile “incident of terrorism where Muslims are the perpetrators” takes place, the committee should ask to discuss Islam and terrorism. More broadly, the committee should lobby on behalf of Muslim concerns.

Another website points to a far deeper agenda, that of da‘wa, or using taxpayer-funded schools to proselytize for Islam. goals are summed up by an article it hosts: “How to Make America an Islamic Nation.” But what concerns us is a page, “Dawa in public schools,” that portrays public schools as “fertile grounds where the seeds of Islam can be sowed inside the hearts of non-Muslim students. Muslim students should take ample advantage of this opportunity and present to their schoolmates the beautiful beliefs of Islam.” This, the website asserts, is best achieved through both direct and indirect steps. Direct means overt da‘wa:

· Host Islamic exhibitions.

· Start an Islamic newsletter.

· Set up “Dawa tables” offering Islamic literature.

· Carry “Dawa flyers” from the Islamic Circle of North America and pass them out to non-Muslims.

· Place advertisements in the school paper with a toll-free telephone number for non-Muslims to call to learn more about Islam.

· Establish one-to-one contacts with non-Muslim students (along gender lines: “It is advised that brothers work with non-Muslim boys and sisters work with non-Muslim girls”).

Indirect partially means creating a good image for Islam:

· Found Muslim groups that portray Islam “in a positive way,” such as a Muslim Students Association, Islamic Circle, or Quran Study Group.

· Engage in “simple actions that reflect living Islam,” such as saying “Insha Allah” (God willing), praying, and wearing Islamic-style clothing.

· Take advantage of disasters to set up a disaster relief assistance booth to give “a very positive picture of Islam and Muslims.”

Or indirect means increasing consciousness of Islam:

· Make use of the school newspaper: “Being a writer will give you ample opportunity to provide Islamically oriented articles which will Insha Allah [if God wishes] open the hearts and minds of readers.” Ideally, an article on Islam should appear in each issue. If the school does not allow overt preaching, “Alhamdu lillah, there are ways to circumvent this problem,’ such as reporting on Islamic events or writing about Islamic holidays. “This way, you are still presenting an aspect of Islam without coming across as a preacher.” also coyly instructs its adepts “to have a good rapport with the editor and the writing staff of the paper.”

· Lobby to include Islamic dates on the school calendar.

· Add books and magazines on Islam written by Muslims to the school library; if the library does not purchase them, raise the money to donate them.

· Incorporate Islam into class projects. For example, “for a speech class, if there is freedom to choose a topic, an Islamic topic should be selected. Similar opportunities can be created in history, social science, writing and other classes.” concludes by reminding Muslims that the will of Allah, faith, and Muslim creativity combined to win victories in the past and can again in the future:

Schools and campuses are no exceptions as places where Islam can be victorious. … We should use every opportunity to sensitize non-Muslim peers and school staff to Islam and to establish an environment in which everywhere a non-Muslim turns, he notices Islam portrayed in a positive way, is influenced by it and eventually accepts Islam.


(1) This is a total perversion of the American public space, a blatant effort to suborn it to serve Islamic missionary purposes.

(2) Such an attempt by Islamists hardly comes as a surprise but rather complements their already in-place campaign to exploit textbooks and curricula supplements for da‘wa purposes.

(3) The “multikulti” spirit so prevalent in American schools today means that too many parents, teachers, and administrators find themselves virtually helpless to stand up to this assault on the traditional values of the public school.

Daniel Pipes ( is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).

Don Feder: ACLU Plays Scrooge This Christmas

Public Schools and the ACLU Play Scrooge This Christmas
By Don Feder
November 24, 2004

In Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, Scrooge wishes that "every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart."

Scrooge would make the perfect public-school bureaucrat – except he’d insist on calling it a holiday pudding, playing "Winter Wonderland" as background music, and doing it all in the name of inclusiveness, sensitivity, and church-state separation.

In the latest manifestation of what Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Toward Tradition calls "secular fundamentalism," the South Orange/Mapplewood, New Jersey School District has banned playing the instrumental music Christmas carols.

In the early 1990s, the district prohibited the singing of Christmas carols. However, in an embarrassing oversight, bands continued to play "Silent Night" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."

Such gross insensitivity and incipient theocracy shall cease forthwith, the district’s superintendent decreed. From now on, the 40-member Columbia High School brass ensemble will be restricted to uplifting numbers like "Frosty the Snowman," according to the Newark Star-Ledger.

Furthermore, an October 29th directive provides that printed programs for holiday concerts "must avoid graphics which refer to the holidays, such as Christmas trees and dreidels." In the South Orange/Mapplewood School District, they celebrate generic "holiday." Even under torture, they won’t disclose more than that.

The public schools have become a major battleground in the war on Christmas ("Lookout, Santa, incoming!") and, by extension, Christianity. Last year, a kindergartener at a school near Portland, Oregon was told he couldn’t bring cards with a religious message to a school Christmas party. When a teacher noticed that little Justin Cortez’s cards contained the dreaded J-word (Jesus), she confiscated the offending items and forwarded them to the principal who sent them to the superintendent. Thus was the school’s secularist early-warning system activated.

The New York City school system allows menorahs and Islamic symbols in holiday displays, but not nativity scenes. Christians thereby are excluded from inclusiveness, presumably in the name of sensitivity.

n 2002, the mother of a student in the Del Mar Union School District in San Diego was told she could no longer read a Christmas book to her child’s 4th-grade class. Also, at the Sage Canyon School, teachers were ordered to remove jewelry with a Christmas theme. First a flashing Santa pin, then a state church.

Same year, instructors at an elementary school in Sacramento were told not to use the word "Christmas" in the classroom or in written material. A la 1984, in public education, Christmas has become the un-holiday.

In Yonkers, New York, public school employees were ordered to purge holiday decorations with religious themes. Silent-Night sanitizing?

According to Rev. Jerry Falwell, a New Jersey middle school cancelled a field trip to attend a performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. One supposes there was a fear the Ghost of Christmas Past would cause mass conversions – or worse.

When a school displays a modicum of common sense here, secularist vigilantes threaten dire consequences. Last year, the Elbert County Charter School in Elizabeth, Colorado had a holiday program that included such proselytizing anthems as "Jingle Bells." The ACLU and Anti-Defamation League threatened to sue unless the program was cleansed. A joint letter from the censors to the principal claimed, "Jewish students no longer feel safe or welcome" at the school.

Islamist pogroms are going on across Europe, but in Colorado Jewish kids are threatened by jingle all the way.

The ADL/ACLU letter demanded that the Elbert County Charter School "take immediate steps to comply with the constitutional separation of church and state."

Even if the First Amendment required the separation of government and religion (it doesn’t), no federal court has ever held that Christmas carols, Christmas decorations, Christmas cards, Christmas books, or Christmas greetings constitute a violation of the Establishment Clause.

The closest the judiciary has come to a ruling which might effect public-school Christmas celebrations is the Three-Reindeer Rule, in which the Supreme Court held that that there must be a sufficient number of secular items in a Christmas display to allow religious symbols (crèches and menorahs) to pass constitutional muster.

Back in New Jersey, South Orange/Mapplewood Schools Superintendent Peter P. Horoschak explained the rationale behind the new policy, "Rather than try to respond to all the various religions and try to balance them, it’s best to stay away from that and simply have a non-religious tone to them and have more of a seasonal tone."

There it is. If we can’t provide equal time for every religion on earth (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, you-name-it), there can be no reference to – or musical suggestion of – the holiday that’s celebrated by 96 percent of the American people (and many people who are not professing Christians).

When liberals can’t use their convenient misinterpretation of the First Amendment (reading church-state separation into the Establishment Clause), their fall-back position is multiculturalism, inclusiveness, and sensitivity.

Little Omar will feel excluded by trees with tinsel. Myron may fear the onset of another Crusade if he hears the strains of "O’ Little Town of Bethlehem" drifting through the hallways.

But this hyper-sensitivity to religious minorities requires gross insensitivity to America’s majority religion. You know, the one that begins with a "C."

Since at least 9 out of 10 taxpayers are Christians, they foot the bill for a public education system on a search-and-destroy mission against even the mildest expressions of their holidays.

America was founded by Christians and based on Judeo-Christian values. The signers of the Declaration of Independence and drafters of the Constitution all were Christians – not Buddhists, or Wiccans, or Zoroastrians. Were it not for Protestant Christianity, we wouldn’t have limited government, separation of powers, a Bill of Rights, or religious tolerance. In short, without Christians, the United States of America would not exist.

Even in an age when traditional religion is driven underground, our currency still says "One nation under God" – not one nation under Allah, or Shiva, or Buddha. On January 22nd, like all of his predecessors, George W. Bush will take the oath of office on a Bible that tells the story of the Nativity.

The brave men who fought and died for America in every war from the Revolution to Iraq, overwhelmingly were Christians. Count the number of crosses in Arlington National Cemetery (on federal property, no less). Add the Stars of David. Now compare them to the number of crescents.

Yet in a nation founded by Christians on Christian values, defended by Christians from Bunker Hill to Falluja, primarily populated by Christians, and whose public institutions are financed by Christians, most references to the holiday that celebrates the birth of the founder of Christianity have been expunged.

This isn’t just a war over Jingle Bells and holly wreaths, but a war on Christianity, which in turn is a war on the Judeo-Christian ethic.

The public schools are busy inculcating other values: humanism, environmentalism, internationalism, multiculturalism, sexual anarchy, and New Age spirituality. In California schools, there’s even mandatory instruction on the tenets of Islam, including I’m-a-Moslem role-playing.

Reference to America’s Judeo-Christian roots would interfere with the ongoing liberal re-ordering of our society – which, ultimately, will be neither jolly nor result in peace on Earth and good will toward men.

Now, if I had my way, every public school administrator who banned Christmas carols, Christmas decorations, etc., would be boiled with their own anti-Christmas directives and buried with a rolled up copy of the latest ACLU newsletter through their hearts.

Don Feder is a former Boston Herald writer who is now a political/communications consultant.

He also maintains his own website,

Janan Ganesh: Let's Hear it For the Marines

November 24, 2004
Let's hear it for the Marines
By Janan Ganesh
The London Times-

THE MOTTO of the US Marine Corps is Semper Fidelis, or “always faithful”. And faith is exactly what the Western media eschew in their relentlessly cynical coverage of the American Armed Forces, which plunged to a new nadir last week with the outrage at a Marine who shot dead an injured and unarmed Fallujah terrorist. Their determination to portray the Americans as trigger-happy louts and the Iraqi terrorists as mere “rebels” slanders the former, sanctifies the latter and betrays everybody who trusts journalists to be objective.

Each American transgression is covered exhaustively and reproachfully, while triumphs, such as the trouble-free elections in Afghanistan and the reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure, are treated as background noise. The torture of a few dozen prisoners in Abu Ghraib, for example, received far more attention than the restoration of the Marsh Arabs’ homeland.

And this bias predates the Iraq war. If you get your news from Channel 4, you probably believe that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are wide-eyed young gadflies who were enjoying an innocuous 18-30 holiday in glamorous Tora Bora before being kidnapped by rampaging Navy Seals. The truth is that many are al-Qaeda members who fought coalition forces during the invasion, but whose crimes are too legally vague to guarantee a conviction in court. America is therefore faced with the choice of releasing known enemies or detaining them indefinitely. That they choose the latter is not only sensible but generous — any of history’s previous superpowers, such as Soviet Russia — would have shot them on sight.

Jack Nicholson’s “you can’t handle the truth” routine in A Few Good Men has become an iconic monologue of modern cinema, but the point he was making is rarely grasped. The injustice Nicholson laments is not that we expect a noble minority to pay the blood price for our security — it was ever thus — but that we demand the right to tell them how to do it. Shackled by laws, norms and protocol concocted by legalists, the US Armed Forces — who have done more for freedom of the press than all the world’s journalists combined — are put in an impossible position. It is nauseating enough that they are now casually disparaged as “hicks” and “rednecks” by do-nothing civilians, without the supposedly objective media joining in.

Janan Ganesh is a freelance writer

Monday, November 22, 2004

Mitch Albom: Blame it on a Dumb View of Respect

November 22, 2004

And so this morning, like a boxer standing before the mirror after his handlers have gone home, we examine our face to see how badly we are bruised.

Black eyes everywhere. On the athletes, on the fans, on the sport and, yes, on our city. There were extra security guards at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Sunday night, but they were as superfluous as an umbrella after a rainstorm. This deed is done. This stain is in the fabric.

Players have been suspended for chunks of the season, one for the entire season, and police are investigating everything and everyone. You can rail all you want about "who started what," but in the end, it's all about what people remember. And they will remember this:

"Malice at Palace." "Basket-Brawl." "Friday Night Fights."

Oh, sure, had we lived in an era before videotape, the encounter between Detroit's Ben Wallace, Indiana's Ron Artest, several of Artest's teammates, and a handful of delusional Pistons fans might have faded away.

But we do not live in such an era. Instead, the ugly, flailing video -- beer being dumped, punches being thrown, a chair flying into the swarm of bodies -- will replay every time the Pistons and Pacers meet, every time some news network turns its focus to fandom, every ESPN Top 10 Bad Behavior, and, sadly, every time people sum up our city. Never mind that Auburn Hills is to downtown Detroit what Newark is to New York City. People won't take time to distinguish.
And we can't complain about respect.

Fact is, respect is what started this in the first place.

Oh, not real respect. Real respect has traces of kindness. Real respect is deferential, like a young apprentice and his patient mentor. Real respect knows, at its core, humility.
I'm talking about the bastardized "respect" in today's sports world -- where the word means nobody does anything to you that you don't like, want, accept or appreciate.
Or you let them have it.

A Series of Mistakes

Ben Wallace felt "disrespected" by Artest's hard foul late in an already decided game. So instead of shrugging if off, he had to whirl and shove Artest in the neck. Artest, "disrespected" by Wallace's retaliation, couldn't just shrug and say "sorry," he had to jaw back, then argue, then ultimately lie on the scorer's table as if it were a Barcalounger, mocking Wallace in order to even the "disrespect" ratio.

Some idiot fan, who felt "disrespected" by Artest's mocking of Wallace, was compelled to throw beer on Artest, to teach him a "respect" lesson. And Artest, instead of shaking his head at the fan's insanity and asking security to deal with the situation, had to show that such "disrespect" would not be tolerated, so he thundered into the stands -- over a table and a railing and seats -- until he found someone whom he could punch, even though he had no idea if this were the culprit.

The chain reaction continued. Artest's teammates couldn't let the "disrespect" go on, so they joined him and found others to punch. More fans, emboldened, couldn't let the Pacers "disrespect" them, so they confronted several on the floor, where fans should never be. And those confronted players couldn't allow such "disrespect" -- after all, they had egos to protect -- so they swung away.

On it went, through more shoving, grabbing, yanking and tumbling, through a shower of beer and popcorn that was dumped on the Pacers as they entered the tunnel.
And on it goes today, tomorrow, next week and next year.

"You know, a few months ago, people were talking about our crowds as the envy of the league," said Joe Dumars, Pistons president of basketball operations. "It just goes to show you how one foolish moment can change things."

Black eyes everywhere.

The High Price of Justice

That one foolish moment, compounded by another and another, will mean a mountain of games missed. Artest is gone for the season. Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal, who both went into the stands and began swinging, are out for 30 and 25 games, respectively. Wallace is gone for six. Others, with assorted shorter suspensions, bring the punishment to a whopping 143 games.

And you know what? It's appropriate -- particularly for Artest. He has become the NBA's crazy uncle, you never know when he'll go from amusing to dangerous, and if such severe punishment can salvage him and his enormous talent, the league has to lay it on now. Artest, unlike the other parties, had three chances to avoid this ugliness. The first was not to foul Wallace with less than a minute to go in the game. The second was not to lie on a scorer's table as if the whole night were a prop for his one-man show. And the third was his deliberate decision to enter the stands. Without that, this is nothing more than an ugly shouting match.

With it, it's international news.

So Artest deserves the hardest slap.

But if fans think Artest's ignition gives them license to floor the gas, they are dead wrong. Any fan discovered on tape to have instigated anything should be both prosecuted by law and banned from the Palace forever. Yes, forever. Attending sporting events is not some unalienable right. It says on most tickets the arena reserves the right to eject people. Consider them ejected.


Season-ticket holders? Revoke them. Who cares if it seems severe? As much as Artest crossed a line when he leapt into the seats, the fans crossed a line when they went from observers to participants. Understand something, folks: You do not have the right to be a part of the game. Doesn't matter how much money you paid. Doesn't matter how much you think you know sports. Doesn't matter how many fantasy leagues you're in or how many radio talk shows you listen to. You do not count. Get it? You are not part of the game.

Oh. And by the way. Maybe the league wants to notice that the beverages being tossed Friday night were distinctly amber and pungent: as in beer. The hypocrisy of selling alcohol all night, then complaining when people behave like drunks, is beyond comment. Who says you have to sell booze at sporting events? Show me one law. Show me one mandate. David Stern, the NBA commissioner, can get high and mighty, but he surrenders credibility when he wags one hand at drunken behavior but hugs the beer companies' money with the other.

Black-eyed P's. Pistons. Pacers. Palace People. It's funny. While I'm sure he didn't invent it, Isiah Thomas was the first person I ever heard use the phrase "our house." It was back in the late 1980s, and Isiah was doing the prideful athlete thing, sticking out his chest at the Boston Celtics and talking about what they couldn't do "in our house."

Friday night, I heard fans utter the same thing. Our house! Our house!

Get over it. The Palace isn't the fans' house. The Palace isn't the players' house. The Palace is a place of business where customers and workers are rightfully expected to follow rules and demonstrate restraint. Who would behave like that in their own house anyhow?

Only fools who are deluded about "respect." That word is not something you lose when someone does something you don't like, and it is not something you gain with a fist. Respect comes by behaving respectfully.

Under that measure, nobody earned any Friday night. And just as a black eye discolors the boxer's face, the deed now spreads across the landscape, and we'll be paying for it, sadly, for years to come.

MITCH ALBOM will sign copies of "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" at 11:30 a.m. Friday at Borders Express in Novi's Twelve Oaks Mall and at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble on Telegraph in Bloomfield Hills. Contact him at 313-223-4581 or Catch "The Mitch Albom Show" 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch "Monday Sports Albom" 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read recent columns by Albom, go to

Frederica Mathewes-Green: Kinsey Confusion

November 22, 2004, 8:15 a.m.
Kinsey Confusion- The Boomer bummer on the silver screen.

A few years ago I was browsing in a thrift shop and came across a curious volume titled Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique. What's that got to do with Kinsey, the new film about sex researcher Alfred Kinsey? We'll get to that in a minute.

First, let's look this specimen over merely in terms of its cinematic qualities, and set aside the sexual content. If this was a biography of any research scientist, we'd surely give it a solid A for visuals: costumes, lighting, props, cinematography, all contribute to a rich sense of environment and mood. A special gold star for makeup, which renders the players refreshingly real and un-made-up. The score is just about as good — let's say an A-, with supple, rolling piano and violin lines that support a tender and poignant mood. Acting, well, we may be getting down to a B+ here, because although the leads are exceptionally gifted actors (Liam Neeson as Alfred Kinsey, Laura Linney as his wife Mac), they occasionally lapse into announcing their lines, a flaw probably attributable to the director's skills rather than their own.

And that leads us to the script, which was written by the director. Bill Condon has previously given us horror and murder mysteries, and more notably Gods and Monsters (1998), which explored the last days of the director of Frankenstein and his complex erotic relationship with his muscle-bound gardener. The script for Kinsey, however, can't earn more than a C+. Again, setting aside the sexual content and imagining that this is about any researcher, we'd still have to say, Gee, Bill, could you be a little more subtle here? We know he's a great guy, but you're hitting us with a hammer. We've got scenes where the good doctor stands framed in a doorway, white-washed by the setting sun, while his nasty father snarls at him from the couch. Down the camera goes to the miserable, twisted dad; up to the heroic researcher, proclaiming his noble mission. Laid on a bit thick, don't you think? While Condon allows that Kinsey has a few flaws — he's overly clinical and emotionally dry — as far as nobility of character goes he's the next thing to Mother Teresa.

In order to highlight Kinsey's spotlessness, his opponents are presented as the most benighted fools that imagination can supply. While Kinsey does everything but walk on water, his dad is humiliating his wife at the dinner table, shaming his daughter and younger son at the wife's funeral, and in general exhibiting a bitterness of soul so extreme that it strains belief. We're eventually told that it's all because he was prevented from masturbating as a child. Sorry, but Condon has made the dad too evil to be comprehended by such a brisk totalizing theory. It's like the old sexual superstitions in reverse, and is applied with the same hysterical force that preachers once brought against sexual mischief.

But, come to think of it, what do we really know about such preachers? Do we ever look up their own words, or consult what they actually said? No, we're in too much of a rush to have authority figures wag their fingers at us, so we can have the thrill of defying them. Condon litters the film with plenty of stupid moralizers, and he's made up marvelously stupid things for them to say. For example, Kinsey's dad proclaims an ice-cream parlor a venue of lust, and calls the zipper "the most scandalous invention of them all." Lines like these ring distractingly false, in their overeager attempts to render the era's views frightening.

And then we see Kinsey showing Mac a book titled Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique. He opens it and reads a few sentences, which convey prissy objections to two common items of foreplay. Kinsey is enraged and says, "It's morality disguised as fact!"

You want to talk about facts? First published in 1926, Ideal Marriage was written by a Dutch gynecologist, Theodoor Van de Velde, and may be the best-selling sex manual of all time. Over half a million copies were sold in the United States alone, and it enjoyed equal success in Europe. On pages 169-171 of the 1930 Random House edition, Van de Velde takes up one of the items above, and describes technique at length. But rather than condemn it, he pronounces this activity "absolutely unobjectionable and legitimate, ethically, aesthetically, and hygienically" (italics his). The other is treated on pages 164-168, in much more explicit detail than anything the screen Kinsey tells his students. Van de Velde instructs husbands that if ministrations such as these are not sufficiently effective, it would be "both stupid and grossly selfish of the husband" to proceed to intercourse (his italics, again). This is not a prude's book. Young couples who grab a used copy off the Internet may have even as much fun with it as their great-grandparents did.

So why did Condon pretend that Ideal Marriage says the opposite of what it really says? Because Boomers have structured our identities around the idea that we invented sex. We're addicted to the thrill of liberation, and it doesn't work unless there's someone to be liberated from. So we want entertainment that shows us stuffy old moralizers and marches them around, and puts in their mouths the thrilling things we wish they said. If we listened to what they really said, we'd have to be a little more humble about our role in sexual history.

In fact, we have plenty of reasons to be humble about our role in sexual history. Van de Velde didn't invent sex either — I believe scientists now suspect it's been going on for a few centuries, at least. But his book was enthusiastically received because couples found there a warm and eloquent expression of the secret, common joys of the marriage bed. It took Kinsey to drag it onto the steel tables of a laboratory. And whatever is studied begins to change. Over 60 years we have changed into a people who are exceedingly self-conscious about sex. Once people did what came naturally, experimenting and discovering each other and keeping things, as they say, intimate.

Today intimacy is blasted; we are compelled to talk about sex incessantly, to hear about it endlessly, and it becomes ever more artificial. Overexposure has turned sex into another bleached and packaged commodity. We are estranged from our sex lives, from our own bodies, from each other, and there is no end to judging ourselves, our appearance and performance. No end to being judged, either; as Huw Richardson wrote in a poignant post, "Hell is a 'Pride Parade' where no one looks at you, where no one returns your compliments, where no one bothers to notice you — on a day when egos are supposed to be full and fluffy, hell is having one's ego bashed."

The sexual revolution has created a whole new galaxy of ways for people, even gay people, to be rejected. Sex is imagined to be "empowering:" we exercise power when we unveil our stunning bodies and reduce another person to slavish lust. But very few of us have such bodies; for most of us, sex doesn't mean power, but vulnerability. It means trusting another to be kind toward imperfections and scars and sags; trusting that they will be kind because they love you, because they said so, because they sealed it with a ring. This is why marriage is where sex is most exuberantly free, and why it's no surprise that married conservative and Christian women keep topping the surveys of sexual satisfaction.

Kinsey depicts the confusion the researcher encountered due to his dullness at understanding the emotional and relational aspects of sex, but not the outcome of his blundering opacity. He did not expand our knowledge, but contracted it, reducing an experience that had been private, holistic, and rich into solitary or mutual mechanics. There's a lot of wisdom we've lost, whole generations of it. But when we finally admit we're not having fun, we can begin to discover it again.

Frederica Mathewes-Green writes regularly for NPR's Morning Edition,, Christianity Today, and other publications. She is the author of Gender: Men, Women, Sex and Feminism, among other books.