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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, January 8, 2007


Teaching Religion in School

I take it back. I now truly believe that it's time to bring religion into our public schools' system. My apologies to all who love the Bill of rights. (Did I just tell myself "I'm sorry"?)

Behind a picture of our nation's first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison (DEMOCRAT-MI) stood someone holding a sign which read "This is what Democracy looks like" (Gee, where have I seen that before?). On the bottom was a hand-drawn picture of a dove with an olive branch in its mouth.

Where can one learn to be more-than-tolerant in their views and beliefs of other's views and beliefs? Well, judging from the words of those such as Rep. Virgil Goode (REPUBLICAN-VA), who must have graduated from the David Duke University of Racial Harmony, the home is not that place. Public schools are where we can teach Christians about Muslims, Jews about Catholics and any other combinations which you might think of. After all, instead of trying to push one's religion upon another, wouldn't it be better to teach our "youngin's" what makes us so different as much the same at the same time?

Imagine a public school system where we introduce all religions to all students. I know that it's not the "prayer in school" which many on the Right were hoping for, but it is a way to make little Johnny not hate little Mohamed so much- and vice versa as well.

This past fall semester, my son, a suburban New Jersey High School freshman took a course in World History where they learned a bit about the Muslim faith and history. It certainly was more than I ever learned in an urban school system (Brooklyn, NY) and is a step in the right direction.

I think having Imams, Priests, Pastors and Rabbi's as guest teachers coming into our public schools and teaching our middle school, junior high and high school students about their respective religions is an idea whose time has come. There is too much that the older generation assumes, and passes down to their children that really makes teaching religion in schools make sense.

I also think that, as part of the curriculum, students should be required to observe faiths other than their own in prayer. This would mean class trips to Churches, Synagogues and Mosques.

One semester is all I ask for in this practice of tolerance and religious observation. We know the harm that comes with ignorance. What harm can come in understanding?

-Noah Greenberg

A Multi-Denominational Nation

I hope that others of many different faiths, including Islam, along with agnostics and atheists, become elected and add to the mix of ideas in our national government from Congress through the Presidency, and that they are similarly appointed to the Judiciary. It's about time we told the truth about American history. Most of the Revolutionary War leaders, the Founders of the United States Constitution, and the French, English and German philosophers from whom they drew their ideas, were not Christians. Born only a generation or two after the end of the bloody fanatical "Christian against Christian" religious wars of England and Continental Europe, they created the Enlightenment. They were, if anything, anti-Christian.

Some American Founders were agnostics, a few were atheists, a small minority like Hamilton and Patrick Henry were orthodox Christians, but most considered themselves loosely affiliated to the non-organized, non-church religion of Deism. Deists paid homage to Christian (and all other) ideas that promoted liberty, toleration, justice and friendship--but discarded hierarchical dogmas and "true believer" Biblical literalism. Even a superficial reading of primary sources like THE FEDERALIST PAPERS and THE ADAMS-JEFFERSON LETTERS, and the correspondence of George Washington, will quickly reveal that the United States was not intended to be a "Christian" nation, but a Deist one--which meant developing a personal theology of ethical behavior, suspicion of orthodox "top bosses" and hierarchies of all kinds, both secular and religious, while maintaining tolerance of, and respect for, every believer's and disbeliever's views in religion and politics. THAT'S THE AMERICAN WAY. To welcome all faiths, choose from the broadest possible spectrum of political ideas, embrace dissent, tolerate criticism and disbelief--but draw the line at fanaticism, imperialism, and anything else that destroys freedom and justice.

Many don't realize that the U.S. has had several non-Christian Presidents. Although Unitarians and Universalists have our own viewpoint on the history of belief in the Trinity and in Hell, and consider ourselves a legitimate 2,000-year-old alternative to "orthodox" Christianity, we've been considered heretics by the orthodox. That's because we, and our religious ancestors all the way back to the Patristic era, have not subscribed to the divinity of Jesus or literal eternal damnation. If this had been a "Christian" nation there would have been no Unitarian Presidents. Nevertheless there've been five, as recently as W.H. Taft in the 20th century, or four if you consider Jefferson an agnostic Deist who preferred Unitarianism but lacked a local church and never joined formally. Presidential agnostics include not only Jefferson, Madison and others in the Deist era, but Lincoln, who was deeply suspicious of all organized religion. Our worst Presidents--thank heaven, only a tiny minority!--have been the chest-thumping self-styled "Christians" like Reagan and Dubya. And the same types in Congress make me want to throw up--all the way back to the whining NeoNobility before the Civil War who used the Bible to justify slavery, to the recent NeoCons who've been arrested, imprisoned, disgraced, made themselves into laughing-stocks, and/or dumped by the voters.

Let's keep the United States of America what it should be: the land of the free--with liberty and justice for ALL.

-Jenny Hanniver

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 San Francisco Bay Area Reporter

We love the tabula rasa of a new year. All that possibility looming before us, particularly when it comes to TV.

The new shows are already debuting and the old ones are revving up their sparkling new seasons. After the holiday doldrums of Christmas specials and reruns, it’s a relief to have the old tube back.

And then, of course, there’s always that soupcon of politics to spice up the regular programming.

The old year and new year converged with the death of former President Gerald Ford and the execution of Saddam Hussein. The TV coverage accorded each was spectacular in what it did and did not show.

Forty percent of Americans today weren’t alive when Ford was president. Most of those of us who were remember him best as he was portrayed by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live.

The news coverage of his life and times reminded us of who he really was. And also, for those of us who never knew a Republican we didn’t loathe, provided a history lesson: there were once decent men who were members of that party; men who didn’t hate women and queers and blacks and who actually thought that government should stay out of the bedroom.

Try and imagine that, if you will.

The revelations that came posthumously from Ford were stunning. He was pro-choice and thought that the elder Bush had moved the Republican Party to the right by not acknowledging that both he and his wife, Barbara, were also pro-choice. And Ford thought that the younger Bush and his cohort–former Ford staffers–had utterly bungled Iraq and that the war should never have happened.

Ford’s passing also elicited the first-ever TV interview with U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stephens, who was appointed by the former president. Stephens, long considered the Court’s most liberal member (as well as being the Justice who spoke out vehemently over the decision to stop the vote count in Florida in 2000), told ABC news that he still considered himself a conservative, but that the country had moved very far to the right. He also said that Ford had consistently asserted that his appointment of Stephens was one of his lasting achievements and one he never regretted.

The TV coverage also provided us with the picture of elegance and forbearance that is Betty Ford. After six years of Laura Bush’s bovine countenance mewling back at us on the tube with her defense of the indefensible (anything related to her husband or daughters), seeing the 88-year-old Betty and being reminded of her myriad enlightening moments over the years was inspirational, if not a tad depressing as well (in comparison to what we are stuck with). On January 7th , 60 Minutes re-ran the interview Leslie Stahl did with Betty Ford in which she first revealed her addictions. (It’s available on CBS news online.)

We rarely thought of the Fords in the years since he left office, but we’ve thought a lot about them since the funeral saturated the airwaves. Life under the Bush regime has made us forget so much–like how much just a little bit of decency can count for in very dark times.

Speaking of dark times, the execution of Saddam Hussein, another made-for-TV event, did not, just like the war itself, as planned.

ABC’s Nightline declined to air the entire execution (yet showed everything right up until the trap door was sprung, so it’s clearly a fine line they are walking there; decency really is a lost art, isn’t it?), but did explore what went wrong in detail over the course of several nights.

Did we need Nightline to explain it to us? It seems pretty clear. The U.S. let the Iraqis execute Saddam, knowing exactly how it would go down. And those in charge did the same job with the execution that they did with the trial. Can anyone say mob rule? Yes, the Iraqis have learned a great deal from the Bush Administration–how to draft a Constitution and invalidate it all at once. If Saddam was going to be executed (and we oppose the death penalty), then it should have had as much decorum as possible.

Until we got involved in the execution, it seemed incredibly unlikely that Saddam could be made into a martyr by anyone. And now....

Hey, Libya is now going to build a monument to him. Maybe we can just give them that statue that U.S. soldiers toppled back in March 2003. You know, right before the Iraqis welcomed us with open arms and flowers...or was it after?

Speaking of bad news, is there a reason why the American networks are incapable of reporting on any event that doesn’t either take place in the U.S. or directly impact the U.S.? We said it in 2006, we’ll say it in 2007: without BBC World News, we would have no clue about what is going on in the world, whether it’s England losing the world cricket championship to Australia or Somalia being ready to implode due to an Islamist takeover.

And that’s just this week.

Check your local listings for the BBC news–in case you really want to be the citizen of the world that TV promises you can be. (PBS runs BBC World News several times a day.)

While the news remains grim, the rest of the TV landscape is quite perky as befits the warmest winter on record. For example: We are so looking forward to a new show on Lifetime called–wait for it–Gay, Straight or Taken?

Now we are pretty sure we saw a show very like this a few seasons back, but...this reincarnation highlights the question posed by all straight women everywhere. So the show will feature three men and one woman each week. The woman has to test her “relationship radar” (or gaydar) to see which category the hunky guy of the week fits–gay, straight or taken. Hilarity will ensue, or so Lifetime insists. The show is being promo-ed during the tabloid programs, so it’s clear that the audience they are seeking is straight women and gay men.

We have no idea who the audience is for CBS’s Armed and Famous, but we are betting the show gets cancelled after a few episodes. First, no one on the show is really famous. La Toya Jackson, Erik Estrada and Jack Osbourne? In what parallel universe are these people famous? Then the show’s premise that they are trained to be cops and then surprise people when they arrest them. This is an idea from a major network? Really? The best part of the show is discovering that La Toya looks like step three in Michael Jackson’s plastic surgery process.

We predict cancellation before Valentine’s Day.

Speaking of shows devoted to the truly unfamous, Megan Mullally’s talk show was cancelled. What’s that? You thought it already had been? Yes, well, that’s why it was cancelled.

And speaking of cancellations--no more pretty boys and girls on the beach getting up to pornographic hijinks. The O.C. was once the new Dawson’s Creek. No more. Gone by May, unless it gets a Seventh Heaven reprieve.

Speaking of reprieves, we are willing to give The L Word, which premiered its new season January 7th, one more chance to bring the sexy back. One more. Period. That’s it. Do you hear us, Showtime? Just one last chance...probably. But only one more. Really.

Speaking of queer messes, we’re not sure what we want to do about All My Children. We just hate the Bianca/Zarf/Zoe storyline, even though we love Bianca and Zarf/Zoe has been growing on us.

On January 15th Maggie, Bianca’s not-so-ex ex comes back to Pine Valley. And there was Bianca on New Year’s Eve, after she fled from Zarf/Zoe, with old pal Leslie (really–the writers actually named the only other lesbian Leslie), who is clearly still ready to take a tumble with Bianca. So there are some actual lesbian lesbians available for Binx. Zarf/Zoe can develop her transgendered lesbian self with someone else, post surgery and hormones.

We do give Jeffrey Carlson credit–he’s doing a good job with the transgendered storyline, given what he has to work with, which isn’t much, for reasons we cannot discern, because everything else about the storyline is right except the details of his character. And whoever dressed Zoe for the New Year’s Eve reveal did a great job. Carlson still needs some training walking in a dress and heels (we were afraid he was going to pitch over several times), but the outfit, hair and makeup were very flattering–this was not an over-the-top “Call me Liza with a Z” drag debacle. Zarf as Zoe was trying to look like a real girl on New Year’s–elegant and, well, womanly. You know, like a woman would dress for another woman who likes women.

Alas, Bianca did not see it that way. She still thinks Zarf is trying to get into her pants the old fashioned way, by playing “dyke for a day.” She’s very hurt. Enter Maggie.

Can this storyline be saved? We’re unsure. ABC really wants it to work: the network is promo-ing it to death with a voiceover intoning “She’s a woman who loves other women, so why is she attracted to a man....” But it seems that making Zarf such a bizarre character in the first place was a mistake. And then there’s that pesky serial killer angle. And also that Bianca’s siblings Kendall and Josh both think that Zarf wants to bed her like he’s bedded so many other women in his rock star career. And...well, you see the dilemma.

We thought the New Year’s Eve reveal went better than expected, though. Seeing Zarf/Zoe sobbing on one side of the door and Bianca on the other was just classic soap opera drama. Yet we really want to see Bianca with someone who is going to be around for more than five minutes. (And who doesn’t turn out to be a serial killer.) Somehow we can’t see AMC taking us through the whole long process of sex-reassignment surgery.

But we could be wrong.

Speaking of soap opera drama, the Trump versus Rosie fight is going into yet another round. On the January 5th David Letterman show, Letterman asked Trump how he spent New Year’s Eve. The Donald replied, “Basically going on talk shows and bashing Rosie O’Donnell wherever I could.”

Trump then noted that he had always considered Rosie “a degenerate.” Letterman was so stunned he laughed hysterically. Then he sobered up and said he thought Rosie was smart and funny and talented and he liked her and Trump couldn’t just call her a degenerate. To which Trump replied, “Watch me.”

Trump acknowledged he had no intention of proffering an olive branch on this one. But that was clear when the Donald lit into Meredith Vieira the day before, when he appeared on The Today Show.

Booked to promote The Apprentice, the Donald went nuts after Vieira brought up the feud. Trump huffed and puffed and made his mouth cartoon small and admonished Vieira, “Here we are talking about The Apprentice and you don’t want to talk about The Apprentice, you want to talk about Rosie, and you shouldn’t mention them in the same breath.”

Meanwhile, Vieira, not one to back down from a bad hairpiece (after all, she sat next to Star Jones on The View for nine seasons), accused Trump of "fueling the fire."

Then Trump’s wife got into the act, calling around to the tabloids shows to dis Rosie.

Yes, 2007 really does look a lot like 2006.

Especially on The 700 Club. Rev. Pat Robertson will likely never be caught in one of those evangenital scandals, but he does have this predilection for telling his televangelist flock what God has told him on any given day as if it were, well, true.

This week God confided in Robertson that 2007 would see a hideous terrorist attack on the U.S., likely from al-Qaeda and in which millions would die.
Wow. So much for save the cheerleader, save the world. God told him this would happen but didn’t tell him how to prevent it. That seems rather mean-spirited of God, doesn’t it?

Of course Robertson just screams for lampooning and the late nights were quick to do so. Jimmy Kimmel (who decided to grow a beard over the holidays so he can now look like a skid row bum dressed in an expensive suit) did a great bit on his show, in which a booming God-like voice repeats a series of the things God was alleged to have said to Robertson over the past few years, none of which came true. “God told Pat Robertson....” It ends with “God is a liar.”

Craig Ferguson had a slightly different take. Ferguson noted, “I’ve always been of the mind that when you talk to God, it’s praying. When God talks to you, it’s schizophrenia.” Ah yes–and that explains so much about so many, does it not?

Happy New Year. Stay tuned.

In response to, "somehow, all of the failed policies of the Bush administration are the fault of the Democrats and will keep on repeating themselves so that "the propaganda sinks in", Robert Chapman writes:

The GOP refusal to adopt effective policies while simultaneously playing the blame game for their failure is why they lost the 06 election.

The Dems won and will win again in 08 if they can keep focused on presenting the American people with a progressive and responsible agenda for our shared future.

It is time to stop fighting the last war and to concentrate on winning the one that we are in.

Think of how to establish a progressive majority instead of getting even.

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-Noah Greenberg