The Big Bang Theory

As you can tell from my mention in a previous post, I’m a fan of the television show “The Big Bang Theory”. In my amateur opinion, the back to back airings of “The Big Bang Theory” followed by “How I Met Your Mother” is one of the finest hours of comedy television American audiences have had access to in a very long time. My husband, a fan of unique storytelling techniques favors “How I Met Your Mother” slightly more. On the other hand, being a fan of geeks, I like “The Big Bang Theory” a touch more than “How I Met Your Mother”. However, before I continue let me stress that you shouldn’t really watch one and not the other. As a package set, they cannot be beat. That said, allow me to indulge and share some fun stuff involving “The Big Bang Theory”, including some help with holiday shopping (hint, hint).

The show has a small ensemble of characters: Leonard Leakey Hofstadter, Ph.D., Sheldon Cooper, Ph.D., Howard Wolowitz, M.Eng., Rajesh Koothrappali, Ph.D., and Penny. The show focuses on Leonard and Sheldon, who are super intelligent and roommates, and Penny, the beautiful blond woman who lives across the hall. Penny is supposed to be the everyman, in other words, not a genius like the other characters, but possessing things like social skills and common sense. Of course, she has a halfway decent apartment in California on a waitress’s pay, so I think she’s way smarter than anyone on the show will give her credit for. Here’s a taste of what we’re talking about:

For some more clips you can check out “The Big Bang Theory” on the CBS website or their You Tube Channel. I guarantee, once you watch Sheldon explain the problem with teleportation, or the Superman issue, you’ll be hooked. It’s okay though, because Season One is already out on DVD, so you can enjoy catching up easily.

Now I promised you all some help with the holiday shopping. My friend Greg from the website What Greg Eats emailed me a link to the most clever fan site ever! It’s called Sheldon Shirts. Yes, some very focused fans of the show went through and collected links on where to buy any number of things featured in the show. Obviously, they worked hard to find you links to purchasing many of the amusing t-shirts that Sheldon and Leonard wear in the series, but they also have belt buckles that the playa Howard wears, where to find the Batman cookie jar from the episode “The Bat Jar Conjecture”, and more! Once you get hooked on this show, you will need the Sheldon Shirts website.


10 Questions with a First Amendment Lawyer

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving (in the United States), a time where traditionally I gush about how thankful I am for the support and enthusiasm of Magical Buffet readers. Which I truly am, but today I’d like to say this, “I am thankful to be an American.”

It’s true. I love this country. No other country gives its citizens the freedoms that America does. Just look through my website, it’s littered with posts about people in other countries suffering because they don’t have the freedoms we have here in America. In my opinion, our Founding Fathers were freakin’ geniuses for our Constitution and Bill of Rights. And as a proud American, I get concerned when I learn that the government is trying to infringe on those freedoms or worse succeeding at it.

This leads to something else I’m thankful for, that there are people willing to help myself and my readers learn more. Take the time to read my interview with Lawrence G. Walters, First Amendment Lawyer extraordinaire.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone! I’ll talk to you after the weekend!

1. What made you decide to specialize in First Amendment law?
Originally, my practice was involved typical, mainstream, commercial litigation work representing banks, insurance firms and construction companies. After about four years of that nonsense, something happened that would set me on my current course. The State Attorney in my home county started prosecuting “Mom and Pop” video stores for renting films he did not like. He had Sheriff’s Deputies hand deliver letters demanding that certain movies be taken off the shelves, or the stores would face criminal prosecution. Although I had no experience in First Amendment law, that didn’t sound right to me, and I offered to help these small business owners, on a pro bono basis, to fight this apparent abuse of prosecutorial power. Fortunately, we won all of the cases, and forced the State Attorney to back down. After that small taste of defending Free Speech rights, I was hooked.

2. Do you feel there are any common misconceptions about the First Amendment?
Definitely. First, the First Amendment only applies to governmental censorship, not the activities of private corporations or individuals. We constantly get questions from people wanting to sue websites like Yahoo! or Google because they have been banned from participating in certain online groups based on their online communications. Private companies can censor all they want, without violating the First Amendment. The same goes for private employers. However, when the government tries to impose some sort of penalty or prior permission on speech-related activities; that is a problem.

Another misconception results from people trying to also blame the First Amendment for keeping the “prayer out of schools.” Students are free to pray all they want in school without violating the First Amendment. It is only when a Public School forces children to participate in prayer-related activities, or punishes them in some way for failing to do so, that the “Establishment Clause” to the First Amendment is implicated.

3. How is something determined to be slander or libel, as opposed to the exercising of freedom of speech?
The concept of libel/slander, both of which are referred to as “defamation,” can be somewhat complex. But in general, all speech is presumed to be protected by the First Amendment with very narrowly-drawn exceptions. One of those exceptions involves defamation, which is defined as publication of a false statement of fact that causes damage to an individual’s reputation. Importantly, the false statement must relate to an issue of fact, and not one’s opinion. Thus I can say, “Ford Sucks” without any legal repercussion, because that is my opinion. But if I say: “The wheels come off of Ford vehicles if the car exceed 40 mile per hour” I can be sued for defamation, unless I have the facts to back up my statement. Truth is always a defense to defamation, so you can make damaging statements of fact about individuals or companies so long as you have the ability to prove the truth of those matters in court.

4. What are the free expression rights of students in public schools under the First Amendment?
Students do not surrender their Free Speech rights when they enter the classroom. But schools are allowed to impose some restrictions on student speech that would not be constitutional if applied to adults outside the classroom setting. Students’ rights under the First Amendment were the strongest in the late 1960’s, when the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Warren, decided the case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. Under that case’s holding, students had the ability to express themselves – even through their choice of clothing, so long as that expression did not materially disrupt the educational environment. Although that is still technically the law, later decisions from more conservative incarnations of the Supreme Court have dramatically reduced the scope of student free speech rights, allowing schools to censor student speech even to preserve decency or morality.

5. Is a public school student’s choice of dress Constitutionally protected? Including hair color, piercings, etc.
Today, the schools can probably get away with restricting or mandating student dress code so long as the school policy is not “content based.” In other words, the school cannot forbid Democratic political messages on t-shirts while allowing Republican political t-shirts. If everybody is required to wear a white t-shirt as part of a school uniform, that is not a content-based decision. Things like piercings, hair color, tattoos, etc., have been held not to be protected by the First Amendment, and therefore the schools can most likely regulate those items.

6. Has the nature of the First Amendment changed during the past eight years?
Unfortunately, yes. Constitutional rights in general have been eviscerated during the George W. Bush Administration. As a result of repugnant laws like the Patriot Act, as well as the appointment of numerous conservative federal judges throughout the country, it is becoming more and more difficult to prevail on First Amendment–based legal challenges to government censorship activities. Often, these conservative courts will evaluate the ‘value’ of the specific message at issue in a given case, instead of treating all speech equally, as is required under the First Amendment. So, for example, political speech is given more protection than erotic speech, or sarcastic humor. Hopefully we can begin repairing some of this damage during the next presidential administration.

7. Are there restrictions to how people can assemble and petition the government?
The First Amendment protects the right of people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. These two aspects of the First Amendment have not been fleshed out by the courts, and there is not much law interpreting these rights. One restriction on assembly rights is the requirement that such assemblies be peaceful, and not advocate any form of violence. Recently, there have been efforts at the state and federal levels designed to force protestors to conduct their assembly in designated “free speech zones.” This is clearly an effort by the government to separate the speakers from the intended recipients of the message. Any restrictions on the time, place, or manner of an assembly must be “reasonable” and must provide for alternative means of conducting the communicative activity.

8. Can employers place restrictions with regard to their employee’s ability to practice their religion, such as attire, garb, prayer needs, or time off for religious observances?
Private employers have more latitude with respect to restrictions on religious activities than governmental employers. However, neither private, nor public employers may discriminate against individuals based on their religion or “creed.” These are protected civil rights under federal law. Unfortunately, employers will often find alternative, non-discriminatory reasons for any adverse employment action, so proving a violation of the First Amendment in such cases can be difficult. But technically, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for the exercise of one’s religion, so long as it does not interfere with the normal functioning of the employee’s duties.

9. What actions can an individual take if they feel they are being deprived of their First Amendment rights?
The first thing is to stand your ground. So many free citizens capitulate to governmental oppression these days, and that is unfortunate. We only have as much freedom as we demand in this country. Government, by its very nature, will always seek to stifle individual freedoms, and try to grab control. It is essential that citizens of this great country stand up, speak up, and be heard. We have the right NOT to remain silent in America. If the government is doing something illegal, there are hundreds of First Amendment lawyers throughout this nation who are willing to take these cases and fight hard for their clients. The First Amendment Lawyers Association,, is a good place to start looking for a First Amendment attorney if one is needed.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.
If you could be guaranteed, for the rest of your life, that you would not be the victim of any crime, harassment, or misfortune, would you be willing to give up your constitutional rights to the government?

That is a very difficult question, and one that I don’t think anyone could honestly answer without being in the actual situation. I’d like to think that when push came to shove I would do the right thing….not give up my constitutional rights. I don’t imagine myself to be particularly brave or heroic, but I’d like to think that I would be willing to die to insure those rights for everyone.


Lawrence G. Walters is a partner in the national law firm of Weston, Garrou, Walters & Mooney, which maintains offices in Orlando, Los Angeles, San Diego and Salt Lake City. Mr. Walters has developed an outstanding reputation for representing the interests of the online entertainment community. He has practiced law for almost two decades, concentrating in the areas of constitutional, media and Internet law. He is recognized as a national expert on legal issues pertaining to Free Speech and the Internet, and frequently contributes to television news programs on networks such as NBC, ABC, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNBC, and CNN. His high profile cases are regularly followed by the print media, and he’s been quoted in such periodicals as the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Wired Magazine, Business 2.0, Playboy, ABA Journal, St. Petersburg Times, Orlando Sentinel, etc.

He began practicing law in Central Florida in 1988, after graduating from Florida State University, College of Law, with Honors. While in law school, he studied English Common Law at Oxford University and interned with a federal judge in the Northern District of Florida. During his career, Mr. Walters has served as a professor at the University of Central Florida, and acted as a Director for the local Bar Association and the local Chamber of Commerce. Among his many civic and community activities, he has served as Chair of the Legal Panel of the ACLU, Central Chapter, and currently participates on the advisory panels for the University of Central Florida’s Law Studies Program, and the charitable group. He has established and directed numerous non-profit associations and trade groups, including the Internet Freedom Association, the Jacksonville Property Rights Association and the Association of Coastal Property Owners. His efforts in helping fight online child pornography earned him the Annual Service Recognition Award from the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection, in January, 2005. Recently, Mr. Walters was recognized as one of the Top 100 News Makers by the media industry group, Xbiz, and was included in the top 10% in the ‘Best of the Bar’ competition, conducted by the Orlando Business Journal.

Mr. Walters’ First Amendment law practice dates back to the late ’80s when he defended numerous video stores in Florida against obscenity charges. In 1997, he formed the Florida Bar’s First Amendment Law Committee, which he currently chairs. He represents hundreds of webmasters across the globe in connection with the regulation and protection of online content. Mr. Walters regularly deals with issues relating to online advertising, Internet gaming, domain name protection and other cutting edge practice areas. His law firm has been established for over 45 years, and handles cases involving constitutional and commercial issues such as civil rights litigation, licensing and zoning suits, intellectual property claims, appeals and complex criminal defense. Larry often represents clients in the fields of online gambling, adult entertainment, online dating and Internet pharmaceuticals. He has initiated over 100 federal law suits, and defended over 30 criminal obscenity cases during his career, many of which involved racketeering charges.

Mr. Walters is a frequent lecturer on Free Speech issues, and has presented seminars across the Country on Internet law, Gaming law and the First Amendment. One of his speeches dealing with the First Amendment and Terrorism, was published in the Representative American Speeches of 2003, along with those of President George W. Bush, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, and Sen. Hillary Clinton. He regularly publishes articles of interest to Webmasters on countless websites and magazines, including legal updates directed at specific industries. His website,, receives over 1.5 million hits per month, and is recognized as a global resource on Internet law issues. He operates several other websites including dealing with legal and legislative attempts to censor video games. Over the years, Mr. Walters has published several law review articles on gambling advertising and obscenity regulation, along with a book chapter on the First Amendment protections of commercial speech. His accolades in the legal field have earned him recognition as an honored member in the Who’s Who Registry of Outstanding Professionals, 2006-07 Edition.

In 2005, Mr. Walters was appointed to the Board of Officers of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, a prominent group of First Amendment practitioners, for which he regularly presents lectures on Free Speech and the Internet. He has earned a “BV” (very high) rating from Martindale Hubbell, the national rating service for lawyers. Mr. Walters is admitted to practice in all state and federal courts in Florida, as well as the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, and the U.S. Claims Court in Washington, D.C. In addition he has been admitted pro hac vice to courts across the country.

Barry Manilow has Rickrolled Us All

Yes, Rickrolled.

This is from Monday’s release of Barry Manilow “Songs of the Eighties” album. According to Manilow’s website, “The Greatest Songs of the Eighties uncovers a bounty of treasures and reignites nostalgia for these fantastic hit songs reinterpreted by Manilow in his signature style – from his duet with Reba McEntire on “Islands in the Stream,” as they pay homage to Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton’s #1 duet of 1983 – to a trio of songs associated with memorable films: Phil Collins #1 hit of 1984, “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)”; Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes’ #1 hit of 1987, “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” (from Dirty Dancing); and Christopher Cross’ Oscar-winning #1 hit of 1981, “Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do),” and much more.

The Greatest Songs of the Eighties moves seamlessly through a selection of major hits from both sides of the Atlantic. The UK is well-represented by “Careless Whisper,” the #1 hit of 1984 by Wham! featuring George Michael; Rick Astley’s #1 “Never Gonna Give You Up”; and a song that Van Morrison first wrote and recorded in 1989, “Have I Told You Lately,” which later became a giant hit for Rod Stewart.

Manilow’s impeccable performances and signature arranging style also breathe new life into a quintet of American classics: “Open Arms” by Journey; Chicago’s #1 “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”; Stevie Wonder’s #1 “I Just Called to Say I Love You”; Cyndi Lauper’s #1 “Time After Time”; and Richard Marx’s #1 “Right Here Waiting.”

(tentative track listing and subject to change):

“Islands in the Stream” duet with Reba McEntire
“Open Arms”
“Never Gonna Give You Up”
“Have I Told You Lately”
“I Just Called to Say I Love You”
“Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)”
“Careless Whisper”
“Right Here Waiting”
“Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do)”
“Hard to Say I’m Sorry”
“Time After Time”
“I’ve Had the Time of My Life”

I’m not very impressed by his cover of “Never Gonna Give You Up”, it lacks the passion of Rick Astley’s rendition. That’s right, I said passion. I love that song! I’ll be intrigued to hear Manilow’s other covers. I’d like to think he’d rock out on “Open Arms” and “Against All Odds”. If any of you hear those, let me know how they sound. What I really want to know is, why no album of original songs? Sure, Barry is an easy target to poke fun at, but at the end of the day Manilow really does “write the songs that make the whole world sing.” Okay, he didn’t actually write that song, but he is a solid song writer and I’ve been told a stellar live performer.

Where Art Meets the Occult: Sacred Art Tarot

For not actually being a tarot reader, I love tarot decks. Perhaps it’s because tarot decks are generally where quality artwork meets the occult, two things that I can appreciate. Although finding most decks pleasing to the eye and a thing to make my inner occult geek go, oh yeah, I rarely feel inspired by them. You know, like maybe I should turn off “The Big Bang Theory”, get my ever widening butt up off the sofa, and learn me some tarot. The “Rider-Waite Tarot” gets me every time, and now I can add the “Sacred Art Tarot” to the list.

The images used on the cards are great classic works of art primarily of a Christian orientation. Yet the way those images are used invoke a very Western esoteric tradition that I find compelling. The creator of the deck, Andre St. Dryden, does say that the meanings are based on the teachings of Qabalists and occultists with a mixture of the creator’s own beliefs and esoteric decks such as the “Golden Dawn Tarot” and Aleister Crowley’s “Thoth Tarot Deck”.

The “Sacred Art Tarot” is a 78 card deck that comes with an instruction booklet and a custom spread sheet. If your tarot tastes run more towards the occult I highly recommend checking this deck out.

An Israeli President and Saudi Arabian King Eat Dinner

This past week saw a two day meeting at the United Nations promoting dialogue on religion and culture. This interfaith event was attended by seventeen heads of state and government, including Israel, the US, Britain, and several Arab countries. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia organized the conference. The big news was that Israeli President Peres Shimon and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia managed to eat dinner together in the same room.

Not the same table mind you, the same room. And hey, that IS big news. If you want the in depth reasons as to why, I happily direct you to “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict” by Mitchell Bard, Ph.D.. Hopefully you’ll have better luck wrapping your brain around it than I did. However, to sum up, in case you didn’t know, traditionally Arabs and Jews don’t get along.

There was criticism as to how legitimate this conference could be when it was put together by Abdullah, Saudi Arabia not being known for its tolerance of other faiths. Many organizations who I deeply respect spoke out about this, such as Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. That’s why it pains me to say this….shut up. I’ve spoken out against Saudi Arabia for its lack of what we here in America call First Amendment rights, but you know what? Israeli President Shimon and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia ate in the same room. Anyone who really thinks that human rights will be protected by these guys NOT interacting raise your hand. If you’re hand is up, than to you I also say, shut up. If not for this event, I never would have had the joyful opportunity to read this:

When Mr. Peres took to the floor, he broke off from his prepared speech to address King Abdullah directly.

“Your Majesty, the king of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I was listening to your message. I wish that your voice will become the prevailing voice of the whole region, of all people. It’s right. It’s needed. It’s promising.

“The initiative’s portrayal of our region’s future provides hope to the people and inspires confidence in the nations.”

Did you see that? They listened to each other. No, there won’t suddenly be peace and all the religious freedom a gal could want in the middle east, but moments like this remind us all, that all governments, religious movements, and organizations are at their heart comprised of individuals. And that lurking inside every individual is the capacity for love, forgiveness, and respect. Except for me, I’m a bitch.

But to prove that even I am capable of forgiveness and respect, I present to you our President.

“Today, the United States is carrying on that noble tradition by making religious liberty a central element of our foreign policy. We’ve established a Commission on the International Religious Freedom to monitor the state of religious liberty worldwide. We strongly encourage nations to understand that religious freedom is the foundation of a healthy and hopeful society. We’re not afraid to stand with religious dissidents and believers who practice their faith, even where it is unwelcome.”

Amen George, Amen.

Beating Perez Hilton

Frequent readers of The Magical Buffet know that I LOVES me some Perez Hilton. I love that he’s a hard-working, self-promotion machine who happens to have a pretty good ear for music. I know, he’s easy to put down, but I will never do that. Perez Hilton’s success is the American dream in action. His website shows up on loads of top whatever lists of influential/powerful blogs. That’s why I am so pleased to tell you….

I beat him! I beat Perez Hilton! I haven’t felt this bad ass since I beat MTV to Raven Digitalis!

Today while catching up on my Perez I noticed that yesterday, November 13, 2008 he had this. Yep. Readers of The Magical Buffet already know about Movember because thanks to friend and art contributor Will Hobbs I posted about it on October 27, 2008.

I know it’s not that big of deal, and it’s not like I really “scooped” Perez on a story, but since Hilton gets the fame, money, and celebrity connections, I’m opting to claim Movember as a resounding victory for the Buffet. Go me!

By the way, there is still plenty of time left to celebrate Movember right by donating to the cause. You can definitely up your Magical Buffet street cred by donating to Will Hobbs’ Mo!

Magical Buffet Mythology: Pandora

Article by Rebecca
Image by Will Hobbs (

We all know the story of Pandora, or do we? It is a simple one, right? Woman is given box, told never to open it, opens the box, evil shoots out all over the place, except for hope, the end. What if I told you Pandora wasn’t just any woman, but the first woman, and that she quite possibly has been given a retroactive bad wrap, would you click to read more?

Hey, thanks for clicking in! As I was saying, it’s often forgotten or overlooked knowledge that Pandora was the first woman. In Greek myth Hephaestus crafted her body and Athena gave her intelligence (later renditions have all the Olympians giving her gifts which coincides with her name Pandora, given to her by Hermes, which means All Gifted). Pandora, and all womankind that came after, were created in retribution for Prometheus gifting fire to humanity. In later versions, just in case the wicked nature of woman wasn’t enough punishment, Pandora was given a jar (which later still became a box) that held nothing but evils. Zeus gave Pandora to Epimetheus and wouldn’t you know it, she immediately scatters the contents of the jar. The only thing left in the jar was hope.

Still a fairly basic story, right? Let’s delve deeper, shall we? Pandora’s name, although frequently referenced as above to mean All Gifted, has been reconsidered by most scholars to actually translate into Giver of All or All Endowed. This name tends to strip away the Greek gods, doesn’t it? Add in a full jar, always a good symbol of the womb, and you may have some sort of proto-Greek fertility deity. Enter the Greek pantheon and their need for a mythology. Where did woman come from? Why is there evil in the world? And faster than you can say, “Eve picked an apple” Pandora is created by the Gods to be the downfall of man by letting loose a bevy of evils from her jar.

Even if you ignore my overtly feminist rendition of the above paragraph, there are still many things about the myth that are open to interpretation, theory, and opinion. I find it surprising because generally regardless of how simplistic the story is, most mythological/religious texts wrap up loose ends and stop up any gaps. Yet here are a few things about Pandora’s story to consider.

Why is hope still in the jar? It doesn’t escape the jar and enter the world, so is hope held back in the jar for humanity’s benefit or punishment? Essentially, is hope being saved for us, or withheld from us? In order for us to experience the evils of the jar, they had to be freed from the container, so what does it say that hope is still locked away? Of course, hope of what? Everything else in the jar was evil, why was hope in that mix? Was it a blessing trapped in the jar with curses, or was it some sort of evil hope, which we were spared by it being left behind? See what I’m talking about?

Moreover, there is the classic did she jump or was she pushed kind of question. Did Pandora intentionally open the jar, knowing what it contained? Did she open it out of curiosity due to ignorance of its contents? It’s unclear whether Pandora acted with intent to cause harm or not.

Pandora endures, whether it’s as the no good woman who opened up the literal Pandora’s box for the world, a curious woman who accidentally doomed us all, or as a deity commandeered into mortality to serve as a lesson regarding the evils of woman. Pandora and her jar/box are referenced frequently in modern times, more often it seems than Zeus, who commanded her creation, and certainly more than any of the Greek poets who helped establish her story. Perhaps despite her rough lot in life, she’s come out on top.

Rebecca’s Defense of Duff

Not too long ago, by some conversational equation I cannot recollect, I was talking to my husband about Hillary Duff. Overall, I’m pretty neutral in regards to yet another one of Disney’s former pop princesses. Her music is essentially what you expect it to be, pop spun of the finest sugars that the children from the “It’s a Small World” ride could gather. In fairness, I always had a soft spot for her song “Do You Want Me”. I suspect it’s because even with me coming into middle age I still clearly recall what it feels like to be a 13 year-old girl who knows, that everything is so painfully important, and nothing more so than the affections of a boy.

Anyway, I was commenting to Jim that unlike some other former Disney girls, Duff seemed to be acclimating to life outside of the mobs of tween fans pretty well. I’m not well versed in her life and career or anything, it’s just I read a lot of celebrity gossip websites, a lot of them, and Duff rarely seems to make the scene, and when she does it always refreshingly dull, like her buying a Starbucks latte in the afternoon. So I figure she hasn’t degenerated into a party girl, or pAArty girl, as Perez Hilton would say.

Then she got a little press for her work with the organization whose goal is “to raise awareness about the prevalence and consequences of anti-LGBT bias and behavior in America’s schools.” Duff even did this amusing ad for them.

Nice, right?

So yeah, I was all about how unlike other former Disney pop gals, Duff seemed to be doing it right. No utter meltdowns like Britney and no unfortunate run-ins with leather chaps like the now reformed Christina Aguilera. And let’s all be honest here, Miley Cyrus seems pretty screwed up and she’s still experiencing the fame and glory of the Disney machine.

Then, like a perfectly timed joke Perez Hilton had this on his site. Go ahead, click it and come back. We’ll talk then.

Yep, there’s Hillary, all rolling on the floor touching herself, making out with her reflection in the mirror, and of course, totally running her hands all over that shirtless dude. Now in all seriousness, it’s not really as bad as all that. She’s 21 years-old, and this video is the closest thing I’ve seen to her really “acting out”, so she honestly is still fairing better than her predecessors, and oddly, her protégés. (Seriously Miley, you can’t get all weepy and claim you feel violated when an absolute artist like Annie Leibovitz takes a photo of you and then turn around and date a 20 year-old and post tawdry photos of yourself on My Space. Knock it off.) The unfortunate timing of this video is what makes my argument of a well adjusted Duff seem a little weak. However, I stand by my initial statement. She’s handling the transition of Disney princess to former Disney princess better than any of the other ones. Trampin’ it up to hustle some records never hurt anyone in measured doses.

Also, it may make me a heathen, but I totally love the sample of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” in that song. Yes, the whole song is such a rip off of Depeche Mode, but darn it if I don’t tap my toes anyway.

For those of you who are curious, this song will be featured on Hillary Duff’s best of album that releases on November 11, 2008.

Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine

Anyone who read Ellen Evert Hopman’s article on female druids here at The Magical Buffet knows that this isn’t any fly by night Pagan, but a knowledgeable expert on all things Druid. Her book “A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine” lives up to the high standards I feel she set with her article. Not only is Hopman a Druid priestess extraordinaire, but a master herbalist. She is such a big deal that she serves on the Grey Council and is a professor of Wortcunning at the Grey School of Wizardry. With “A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine” she combines all her specialties to great effect.

How does Hopman accomplish this? Glad you asked. It’s quite clever really. She uses the Ogham Tree Alphabet as a touchstone to discuss specific herbal associations, Celtic history, and practical applications, such as herbal treatments and rituals. Ogham is an early medieval alphabet used primarily to represent the Old Irish language. By using the Ogham as a guide, Hopman leads the reader through a wealth of information, even including Native American healing methods for indications of how ancient Europeans may have used these trees for healing.

“A Druid’s Herbal” opens with an incredibly informative introduction, which then leads into the examination of each letter of the Ogham Tree Alphabet. The second part of the book explores the Druidic arts. This makes the book more than just an herbal, but a how to guide to Druidism. Follow it up with some handy pronunciation guides and you’re set to go.

I would suggest this book to anyone interested in Celtic history and mythology, herbalism, and/or Pagan religious practices. In other words, most everyone.

10 Questions with Peggy Levitt

1. Can you tell my readers a little bit about your book “God Needs No Passport”?
God Needs No Passport is the story of how new immigrants are changing the American religious landscape and making it just as global as our economy and politics. It’s based on conversations with people from Brazil, Ireland, India, and Pakistan who live in the Boston area and with their friends and family members back home.

Our debates about immigration in this country are out-of-sync with how people actually live their everyday lives in three ways. First, when we think about immigration, most Americans expect people to trade in their membership cards in the countries that they come from for a membership card in the United States. The reality is that more and more people continue to invest, build homes, and vote in their homelands at the same time that they start businesses, establish religious congregations, and join the P.T.A. right here. This is a good thing for our country because they are the bridge builders, translators, and religious diplomats we so desperately need.

Second, when we think about religion, most people assume we mean Judeo-Christianity. The type of religious beliefs and practices that many newcomers import do not fall neatly into the model of “bibles, buildings, and boys” or the assumption that religious life takes place in a formal building, where there is a book we all believe in, that a male leader teaches us about. For many of the people I spoke with, there was a great deal of overlap between religion and culture. Faith spilled over into their living rooms, the schoolyard, and the workplace. What they do outside the walls of official religious buildings is much more important than what they do inside them. If we are concerned about deepening and strengthening religious pluralism in this country, we need to learn to think outside the Christian box.

Finally, just as we learn to think outside the Christian box, so we need to think outside the nation-state box. Grasping that people earn their livings, participate in elections campaigns, or raise children across borders is challenging because many of us take for granted that the world has been and always will be organized into sovereign nation-states. But such a view is short on history. Capitalism, imperial and colonial regimes, anti-slavery and workers’ rights campaigns, illegal pirating networks, and, of course, religions have always crossed borders.

Assuming that social life automatically takes place within a national container blinds us to the way the world actually works. Assuming that political outcomes are decided nationally doesn’t give enough credit to political and social movements involving activists around the world. Taking literally the label, “Made in the U.S.A.” ignores the fact that some piece of that garment was probably made in Latin America or Asia. Eberhard Sandschneider, the Research Director at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin got it right when he told the 2005 Davos delegates that what we are increasingly seeing is a multidimensional system in which states work with businesses and civil society through a dense web of international and interdisciplinary networks. Bush administration officials, who told the members of the 9-11 Independent Commission that what happened was completely beyond their imagination because they could not envision a terrorist operation organized across borders, nor did they have the capacity to respond to one, got it dangerously wrong. So many of the problems we face are transnational problems that need transnational solutions.

2. Why did you decide to research the connections between immigration and religion?
I have been studying immigration for close to 20 years. My first book, The Transnational Villagers, was about people from a small village in the Dominican Republic who settled in one particular neighborhood in Boston. I was fascinated by how the people who moved and the people who stayed behind continued to occupy the same social space, and save money, raise children, and worship together, even though they were separated by physical distance. The Catholic church played a big role in helping them do that. Much research on immigration has left out religion and I thought it was time to change that.

3. How do discuss with a stranger sensitive topics such as religion and patriotism?
I felt incredibly fortunate to share people’s “religious biographies.” Most people I spoke to were extremely generous and open. They want people to understand what they believe in and thought I might help them get their stories out.

4. In your opinion, is religion a threat to America? Is religion dangerous?
Despite predictions of secularization, religion is clearly here to stay. Are there people out there who hold extreme values and want to convince the rest of us of their truth? Of course. But that is religion at the margins. The vast majority of people fall in the religious middle. They care about family and community. They care about good jobs, housing, and the environment. They fall along all sides of the political spectrum and, therefore, represent potential partners on all kinds of issues. The religious right has controlled the political use of religion for too long and its time for the left to reclaim religion and use it to promote progressive causes.

5. What was one of the most surprising things you discovered in your research?
One big surprise was how much people’s transnational connections change over the generations. Let’s take the case of Irish immigrants. The new Irish leave behind the “Celtic Tiger” — a country that is richer and more powerful than ever before. The parents of second and third generation Irish Americans left behind a country that was desperately poor. While these Irish Americans still think of Ireland as the place of leprechauns, green beer, and thatched roof cottages, their contemporary counterparts think of computers and condos. When these newcomers and old-timers meet, an interesting generational clash results.

6. Can you tell my readers about the Transnational Studies Initiative?
TSI is an attempt to get people who are concerned about all kinds of economic, social, and political cross border processes to talk to one another. I work on transnational migration and religion. My co-founder researches transnational social movements and politics. We knew there were many researchers and practitioners doing this work around the world but they did not see themselves as part of the same conversation. Nor had they really rethought things like citizenship, belonging, or identity in response to this shared conversation. TSI organizes these encounters. We’ve also published The Transnational Studies Reader to share our perspective with students and practitioners and to specify how it differs from other ways of thinking about global processes.

7. How can the global community benefit from all of this?
I’ve been amazed at the level of nationalism driving much of the 2008 presidential campaign. A case in point is all the “America First” signs that we saw at the Republican convention. Many Americans are fearful of people who hold multiple loyalties. They say that dual citizenship is like polygamy – it’s impossible to be loyal to two countries at the same time. But this is in our future. And it is entirely possible to be an active, contributing member of two places simultaneously. Immigrants are miles ahead of the rest of us because they have let go of false dichotomies like either/or, in or out and show the rest of us how to live in a global world. We should celebrate and emulate their example rather than thwart it.

8. What’s next for you and your work?
I’m turning to arts and culture. I’m interested in how national artistic and cultural institutions, which were created, in part, to create national publics, change when national life no longer obeys national boundaries. I’m curious about how much these institutions recognize these demographic changes and how they respond to them. I’d like to explore this by looking at museums, media outlets, and American universities that are setting up campuses abroad.

9. With your experiences traveling for your research, what’s the best advice you can offer the international traveler?
Be humble and respectful. Listen much more than you speak because there is so much to learn.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.
I’d like to know more about who your readers are.
Thanks for this opportunity to share my work with you.

I cannot accurately answer that excellent question. Thanks to the wondrous anonymity of the Internet, I’m not sure who reads The Magical Buffet. I would like to think cool people like Stephen Colbert and Joss Whedon check my website daily for information and entertainment, but despite my best rum fueled fantasies; I doubt that’s the case. What I do know is that anyone who reads my site regularly and enjoys it is someone who would probably like me. The Magical Buffet now more than ever, thanks to the relaunch we did in July, is a pretty accurate reflection of who I am, despite that fact, we keep gaining more readers. It’s nice to feel liked.

Peggy Levitt is Associate Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College and a Research Fellow at The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and The Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University where she co-directs The Transnational Studies Initiative. Her book, God Needs No Passport: Immigrants and the Changing American Religious Landscape was published by The New Press in July 2007. The Transnational Studies Reader was also published by Routledge Press in 2007. Her first book, The Transnational Villagers, was published by the University of California Press in 2001.

Peggy Levitt is:

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology Wellesley College (

Author of God Needs No Passport:Immigrants and the Changing American
Religious Landscape

Co-Director of the Transnational Studies Initiative and Associate at The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and The Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, Harvard University