Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right

It's no secret that the thought of gay marriage scares many Christian conservatives, but is there a deeper agenda -- and a danger to all of America -- in attacks on the gay community? The answer to both of these questions is "Yes" according to Mel White, whose book RELIGION GONE BAD: THE HIDDEN DANGERS OF THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT explores the background, methods, and goals used by evangelical fundamentalists.

Mel White is uniquely authorized to write this book. He was and is religious, he acted as ghostwriter for books by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and he has collected a truly massive collection of quotes, mailings, and videos of speakers attacking the gay comminuty.

White's book is divided into four sections. The first section, "My Friends, The Enemy" describes the most prominent members, past and present, in the evangelican fundamentalist movement. This section covers not just people like Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (who was very active before his reaction to Janet Jackson's bared nipple) but a historical context for the current belief system of the evangelical fundamentalist. White covers the concepts of Biblican inerrancy (the Bible is the inspired word of God, literally perfect, and to be obeyed without question), the movement to purge moderates from the Southern Baptist Convention, the rise of the religious media empires, and the efforts to fill as many positions of authority as possible with like-minded people.

The second section of this work concerns the techniques used by funadmentalists to wage and win their wars. This includes a "secret" meeting to plan out how to remove as many rights as possible from gays, ways to appear secular while advancing a religious agenda, and the spreading of misinformation. (For example, Michael Swift wrote "Homosexual Agenda," an essay lampooning the right's stereotypes about gays. Many on the religious right ignore the opening that says the essay is "an outre, madness, a tragic, cruel fantasy, an eruption of inner rage" and quote from it as what homosexuals really want.)

"The Great Fundamentalist Heresies" explored how funamentalist evangelicals interpret and narrow the Bible to enforce their beliefs with no mercy or felxibility. And the final section, "Resisting Fundamentalism," discusses techniques used by Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi resisted their oppression, while stressing that the way to defeat homophibia is with love.

Mel White makes several extreme arguments -- from parallels between evangelical fundamentalist portrayals of gays to Hitler's portrayals of Jews, to the notion that the ultimate goal of fundameltalists is to turn America from a democracy to a theocracy where homosexuals, adulterers, and unruly children will be killed -- and, frighteningly, backs up these arguments with a mountain of evidence. Rather than simply attacking the opposition, White supports religion, praises those who he respects (notably Billy Graham), and ends with both practical and philosophical calls to remain Christian. RELIGION GONE BAD is a terrifying, believable, and ultimately important work of nonfiction. It should be required reading for anyone who sees nothing more menacing in fundamentalists than people trying to get people to church. The status of the gay community, and the state of democracy in America, are at risk.

Overall Grade: A



I guess with a baby on the way Tom Cruise needed some money, and he decided to make another Mission Impossible film. M:I:3 is the third part of this high grossing franchise. This time it gets directed by the man who did ABC's now defunct Alias show. (As an aside, I was a big fan of that show which dropped a notch every season until the very end.) While they wanted to give us the feel of "trust no one, they're about to double cross you," it's harder to do that in a two hour film than in a full season's worth of episodes. What results is two hours of special effects with a plot that provides barely enough structure to hold up under the weight of the explosions. Cruise plays Ethan Hunt, the semi-retired agent (that now lives in the 'burbs and drives a Volvo station wagon), that goes back in action to rescue one of his students. The opening helicopter chase, and the shootout on the Chesapeke Bay Bridge are both first class special effects, and can almost make the film. Unfortunately, they can't completely remedy the thinly veneered characters and minimalistic plot. Fans of the Mission Impossible series should take a look; the rest of us will do better elsewhere.

Overall Grade: B-

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Gerry Rafferty, Days Gone Down: The Anthology 1970-1982 (Raven, 2006)

For twelve years, Gerry Rafferty had a prolific musical career. He was part of two bands, The Humblebums and Stealers Wheel, and had two separate stints as a solo artist. He combined his pleasant, soulful tenor and melodic songwriting with a number of musical styles, including folk, rock, blues, and jazz. Most of Rafferty's songs reflect the travails of a hard-working musician struggling to maintain his soul and integrity in a field that tends not to reward people like him, and yet Rafferty managed to strike gold twice. Well, the first time his record label struck a lot more gold than he did, but Rafferty's musical legacy is largely defined by his two major hits. "Stuck In The Middle With You," recorded in 1973 with Stealers Wheel, has an irresistible, enduring groove that even its association with a rather disturbing scene in the movie Reservoir Dogs cannot tarnish. "Baker Street," off Rafferty's 1978 solo album City To City, is famous for a saxophone part for the ages played by Raphael Ravenscroft.

This year, Raven Records released Days Gone Down: The Anthology 1970-1982, covering the bulk of Rafferty's professional career. Working mostly in chronological order, the disc contains twenty-one songs and runs nearly eighty minutes. The length is rather daunting, but the disc contains quite a bit of depth and diversity beyond the two obvious inclusions. Early songs like "Steamboat Row" and "Mary Skeffington" reflect Raffery's ability to write folk songs worthy of the traditions of his native Scotland. "New Street Blues" has Rafferty rocking out and evoking Paul Rodgers a bit on the vocals. On "Who Cares?," from Stealers Wheel, Rafferty began the absorption of jazz into his music that would climax with "Baker Street." Even as the music became more successful and more produced, songs like "Royal Mile (Sweet Darlin') continued to echo Rafferty's roots. The album's final two songs, "Home and Dry" and "Days Gone Down (Still Got The Light In Your Eyes)," showed that Rafferty could write love songs full of vitality while lacking sentimentality.

Rafferty has kept a very low profile since 1982, only making two albums since then. Twelve years of paying his dues put him in a position to relax and live quietly and comfortably, and Rafferty has taken advantage of that. Despite two very big hits, Gerry Rafferty's musical output as a whole remains underrated. Perhaps this compilation will cause a positive re-evaluation of Rafferty's career. After hearing this CD, I would certainly argue on his behalf. A few of the arrangements do sound a bit dated over thirty years later, but anybody in the mood for some old-fashioned, electric/acoustic guitar rock will find lots to like on Days Gone Down.

Overall Grade: A-

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Christmas Music on the Radio... in mid-November

You know it's almost Thanksgiving when the Christmas music starts on the radio. And then doesn't stop. Yes, Christmas music is the gift that keeps on giving, whether you want it or not. Don't get me wrong, I do think that there's a time for Christmas music. That time just isn't the middle of November. And when it's time for music, the music should at least be good. Granted, pop radio and good music have generally been mutually exclusive entities anyway since the days when Pat Boone outsold Chuck Berry, but even the minimal normal rules for quality screening go out the window where programming Christmas music is concerned. Normally an obnoxious hit song has its run of a few weeks on the charts and then harmlessly vanishes. Maybe it will resurface when people start getting nostalgic for the decade it came out, but basically it's gone. But an obnoxious Christmas record? It gets played every year! Many times every November, in fact, whether it hit or missed. Who's demanding this? And would I like the answer if I found out?

OK, so maybe I'm just a little bit grumpy because my fiancée's radio alarm woke me up at 6 this morning, blasting out Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You." Waking up to Mariah on any morning is a bad omen, after all. But why limit my complaining to contemporary pop artists raining down fluff on a religious holiday five weeks before the actual holiday? There are plenty of Christmas "standards" I don't really need to hear right now, either. For example, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" conveys the heartwarming message that everybody loves you as long as you are useful to them. Now there's some Christmas spirit. Dreaming of a "White Christmas"? How about a dry Tuesday; it's freaking November!

Oh well, thank God for i-Pods. (For the record, my i-Pod contains Loreena McKennit's version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." I keep it on rotation year round because it's good enough to be played any time of year. Otherwise, nothing seasonal.) Have a Happy Thanksgiving everybody, because if I have not lost my mind -- OK fine, if I have not lost any more of it recently -- that's the holiday we celebrate this week. As for the other holiday, well, I'll get to that at the appropriate time. Weeks from now.

Overall grade: F-

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3 Lbs.

Among ER, House M.D. and Grey's Anatomy, is there really room for another medical program? After previewing the season premiere of 3Lbs. online, I think the answer is a "yes." (FYI: three pounds refers to the weight of an adult human brain).

This medical show focuses on a Manhattan hospital, and its patients with neurological problems. The premiere had patients with the diagnoses of astrocytoma and AVM (arteriovenous malformation). Neurological diseases, at least to me, are always interesting in terms of the presenting symptoms (at least until the CAT scan is completed...). The medical issues are made alive through the use CSI style animations.

The real stars of the show are the doctors. The principals appear to be the senior neurosurgeon, played by the able Stanley Tucci, who has a brillant mind and excellent hands, but can't relate on a personal level to anyone, not even himself (I happen to know a few people like this...). Complementing his abilities is his "fellow " (a doctor who is subspecializing and receiving advanced training). The fellow has excellent interpersonal skills, and ends up translating the "medicalese" with the patients. Rounding out the mix is an attractive and single neurologist, and an antisurgery radiation oncologist.

The interplay of the characters is excellent, and some of the hospital politics is shown. I enjoyed the pilot, but my only concern is if the range of neurosurgical diagnoses can sustain an audience's interest for more than a season or two. In the meantime, enjoy!

Overall Grade: B+

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State of the Union

This is the third part of Brad Thor's popular series of Scott Harvath novels, the totally all American, ex-SEAL, ex-Secret Service agent. This plot is a little different from the prior novels as it concerns itself with Russian suitcase nukes. After Russia "pretends" to lose the cold war, sleeper cells in the US get activated and portable nukes get strategically placed to blackmail our President into pulling back our military from superpower status. The country turns to Harvath (who else can save the world?) to solve the problem, and get inside Russia.

I found State of the Union to be an enlightening twist back to simpler days when Russia was the "evil empire," and we knew who the enemy was. As usual, Thor takes us on a whirlwind tour with robust descriptions of multiple European locales (in his previous life he produced a travel show). The plot is not completely far fetched as there have always been rumors of Russian suitcase nukes that are on American soil. The story is told in a well paced fashion, with only minimal breaks in the action. We also get to see Harvath use some of his prior SEAL training which hadn't come up earlier in the series.

I recommend State of the Union to all readers of adventure fiction. I'm sure they won't be disappointed.

Overall Grade: A

For all of our reviews by Brad Thor, click here.

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Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Vacation has always been the comedic classic of family trip movies. Now RV is the updated version for the new millenium.

Williams has to cancel his Hawaiian vacation when a younger colleague at work threatens his job, big time. He decides to make the best of it by secretly making a family RV trip into a working vacation as they meander from Southern California up to the mountains of Colorado.

Williams comedic genius is well done as he motors across America's West. From running over things, to fighting wild animals, to "trash talkng" kids at the campground, he is truly funny all the way. While there is enough bathroom humor to amuse even a colorectal surgeon, the scene of Williams emptying the toilet of the RV, assisted by fellow campers, is destined to be a classic.

The comedy is strong, but the plot successfully glues the experience together into a meaningful whole. A lot of films promise to make you laugh out loud, but RV truly delivers, which is a rare find. It's destined to be the classic family travel film of this decade. Before you pack your bags and chart your course for the open road, definitely watch RV.

Overall Grade: A
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Lost On Lost, Season Three Interruptus

I've been what I describe as a "casual fan" of ABC's show Lost. I've been intrigued by the multiple interweaving mysteries since the first episodes. I've endured the countless background stories and flashbacks that never seem to really relate to what's currently happening on the Island. There are too many characters to start with, and every few episodes they seem to add a few more. The plot has so many subplots that I can't remember them all, and some basic ones from the first season, like the monsters on the island, are still quite unresolved and no further revealed.

So after enduring the above, I was rather disappointed to find out that after only a handful of episodes this fall, we're now on a three month hiatus. At least they should show the first episodes again, in the interim. They put this silly "filler show" in the meantime, that I think all the Lost fans should boycott simply on principal. Oh well, I guess we'll just have to wait until February to get further confused...
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Tape It Off the Internet

With the many home recording issues I’ve been facing lately, when I heard about the new website “Tape It Off the Internet,” it seemed like it just might be a reasonable solution to my problem. While I used to have two devices to record at the house (two VCR’s, or more recently, a VCR and a DVD recorder), lately I’ve been having real trouble just to have one recording device up and running. I’ve also had some experience using the online video offerings of the major networks, but there are times when I want something more tangible, or at least don’t have to rush to watch it before it disappears into cyberspace as they only have the latest episode up for a week in some cases.

Here's a look at another possible solution...


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Click is a modern day fantasy that plays off of one man's desire to take control of his life. It stars Adam Sandler, who plays the typical "thirty something" suburban professional struggling with his career and family pulling him in opposite directions. When he decides a remote control upgrade is in order, he ends up at the "way beyond" section of Bed, Bath & Beyond. He is given the ultimate remote that has the power to completely control his future.

While the whole premise is rather incredible, it simply degenerates from there. We end up fast forwarding through this family's life. Along the way, the not quite funny jokes are simply crude, and the characters unifaceted with absolutely no depth whatsoever.

I found little to like about Click, and was happy to use my remote to click it off when it was done. While the premise has some potential, the execution is poorly done.

Overall Grade: C-

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Kinky Boots

I must admit that the title, Kinky Boots, did give me pause for a double take, but my local public library had it on the shelf, so I figured it wasn't X rated.

The plot was rather different and unique for this British flick, based on a true story (how could anyone make this up?!). A hundred plus year old British shoe factory is in dire straits. While they make fine men's shoes to last a lifetime, with increased foreign competition, they're on the verge of shutting down. The fourth generation factory manager, after a random encounter with a drag queen, decides to bet the factory on a risky gamble. The idea is to make women's styled boots for men for the niche market of transvestites. If the whole thing sounds zany enough to work, you get the idea of the film.

Kinky Boots combines the themes of tolerance and understanding for cross gender folks,with the business idea of understanding your customer and making a product that he wants to buy. I wish that the American car companies would watch this movie and learn this lesson. The realism of the film is enhanced by shooting it on location in a British shoe factory, and using the factory workers as extras.

What Kinky Boots lacks in star power, it makes up for in realism, and uniqueness. If you're looking for a different film, in a good way, then this is it.

Overall Grade: B+

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