StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

World Gone Wrong

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on April 1, 2010

(This is the album cover for Bob Dylan’s World Gone Wrong,

which I will neither review nor mention again in this tendentious

blog post. Yet it will hover over these words iconically.)

By now, many streetlegalplay readers have gotten used to my whimsical anecdotes and I promise there will be more to come. But this blog is not just a repository for my relentless anecdotes. It’s also a safe haven for my rants.

There are bad things afoot. And I’m not talking about the RNC’s forays into the Voyeur bondage club in West Hollywood. That was brilliant! Keep it up, guys. Your hunchbacked moral posturing is making us far-left freaks look better and better.

And I’m not going to bitch about the Pope trying to squiggle out of a lawsuit. Word has been out about pedophile priests for decades and, while there have been news reports for about as long, these reports have only been rampaging through the media for about a decade. At this point, the dam has burst. When it comes to the kinds of cover-ups in which the Pope was involved, he is now finding that he’ll have to answer to the laws of both God and man. This is a good thing.

But there’s some shit going on right now that’s just plain wrong. I’m not listing them in order of importance, but just as they come to mind (I am, after all, a seat-of-my-pants blogger and have to work according to my own rhythms):

1. Albert Snyder. The Court of Appeals has ordered Albert Snyder to remunerate anti-gay crusader Fred Phelps in the amount of $16K for legal fees related to a case in which the court ruled that Phelps’ supporters were simply exercising their First Amendment rights in spewing anti-gay hate outside the funeral of Snyder’s son, who wasn’t even gay. Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, 20, was killed in a vehicular accident in Iraq around the same time that Phelps was whipping up his Westboro Baptist Church members in Topeka to carry signs, saying things like “God Hates Fags,” outside the funerals of U.S. soldiers. Phelps has reasoned that casualties of war are the result of God’s wrath upon a society that permits homosexuality. I’m sure he would cite this as the reason for the floods in Rhode Island too. Snyder says he will not pay a dime for Phelps’ legal fees until the Supreme Court hands down its own decision on his case. In the meantime, his bill might go into collections and Snyder may lose his home.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t raged about Phelps yet, there’s no need. The proof is in the pudding. Hell is too good for Fred Phelps and his supporters. If only there were a nether-nether land where they’d be forced to suck soiled cocks for all eternity.

Until then, this website tells you how you can help Snyder and his family. I’ve also contacted the Courage Campaign to ask them to consider taking up a collection to keep collections away from the Snyder family’s doors.* {UPDATE: see bottom of post}

2. Offshore Oil Drilling. To be fair, Obama did announce his openness to these measures as part of his campaign in August 2008, although that statement greatly contradicted the one he made in June 2008. Although my sympathies are with the environmentalists on this issue, I must admit that I have read convincing arguments from progressives who are in favor of Obama’s recent decision with regards to offshore oil drilling. Julius himself has said that, until America runs mainly on alternative fuel sources, we have to use “within reason” the oil that we can harvest from our own territory.

But let’s not forget the political calculus here. Obama is getting a half-pat on the back from many Republicans for finally “using some sense.” Hasn’t he let go of his bipartisanship fantasy yet? It’s never going to happen, Barack! They’re never going to like you! Stop trying to appeal to them. They find you utterly unappealing! I thought healthcare reform proved to the democrats once and for all that they are the majority party and that, when it comes to acting on behalf of the common good, they’re on their own! Sure, conservative democrats are in favor of offshore oil drilling but Obama’s progressive base is even more important to his political future than they are, not to mention to the future of the nation.

Now about this issue of applying offshore oil drilling “within reason”: True, Obama isn’t going as far as the conservatives would like him to go in lifting the ban on offshore oil-drilling, but he has opened the floodgates for the Republicans to push for more and more drilling in the coming years. Those of us on the center and left said about healthcare that, though current law doesn’t go far enough in guaranteeing adequate healthcare for all Americans, we can at least build on it. Likewise, current drilling policy doesn’t go far enough to guarantee unlimited offshore oil drilling, but the conservatives can and will build on it. If they have their way, their companies will have unrestricted access to offshore oil, which will not only devastate the environment, but also keep us from expanding our use of wind and solar energy.

This was a bad move, President Obama. And I can’t help but wonder if you made this move with one eye on the corporations, who could potentially (due to a recent Supreme Court decision) kick unrestricted funding into your 2012 campaign.

3. DOJ and DADT. As you can see, I am of two minds when it comes to Obama. At least for now. I was a fervent supporter and I’d like to be one again. I thought he was going to turn over a new leaf once he gained traction with the passage of healthcare reform. But now he’s allowing for more offshore oil drilling and now there’s news that the Department of Justice has upheld Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, just as it upheld DOMA four consecutive times, even though Obama has deemed both policies discriminatory.

The Human Rights Campaign should not have invited Obama to speak at its annual gala this past year. They should have held him accountable. Yes, Obama passed the Matthew Shephard Act for which we are eternally grateful. And he made a most beautiful speech as the HRC’s guest speaker, graciously reaffirming that he is a “fierce advocate” for us. But let’s not forget that there was a gay rights march on Washington the next day. I don’t think he wanted to be on bad paper with the protesters now that we’d noticed that he’d upheld DOMA with a brief that contained language that compared homosexuality to pedophilia and refuted all contentions that gay rights is as significant a struggle as the fight for racial equality.

Now he’s upholding Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – or at least the Justice Department is, under his watch – after decrying it in the State of the Union address. President Obama, I know you’re aware that, for whatever Fred Phelps and his kind say about us, not even they can deny that we’re smart people. We’re going to notice when you uphold the same discriminatory policies you condemn. We’re going to notice when you invite Rick Warren to do the invocation at your inauguration. We’re going to notice when you say “marriage is between a man and a woman,” excluding us from partaking in rights that you yourself freely enjoy. True, it’s going to take a lot for us to turn against you at the ballot box, but be careful not to keep testing us.

Speaking of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, let me express my highest gratitude and admiration to Lt. Dan Choi. He has fought for repeal with the utmost dignity, composure, courage and efficiency. This is the kind of activism that works. Tea Partiers, if you want to win whatever fight you think you’re fighting, behave more like Dan Choi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi and less like a bunch of barn-burning, policy-less lamebrains. And stop following Sarah Palin, for Chrissake! She doesn’t care about you. She only cares about her own limelight.

4. Scott Brown’s fake race against Rachel. Scott Brown is fear-mongering for money in his senatorial campaign against Rachel Maddow, who isn’t even running! I’ll let this sister finish you off…

5. Hutaree Militia. The only thing I want to say about this: this shit is scary! Sure the FBI caught the Hutaree militia but the hate rhetoric out there is spawning the rise of more anti-government (read, anti-Obama, anti-liberal) groups that, when and if caught, will request government-sponsored attorneys just like the hypocrites in the Hutaree militia did! The appeal of the Tea Party and the militia groups is not only that they give people a conservative, catch-all forum in which to vent their spleen, but also that it gives them something to do. A lot of these people have lost their jobs (and are on the government dole, by the way), so it gives their idle hands the devil’s workshop. That’s a big reason that we need a massive jobs bill now!

Okay, that about wraps up what I have to say for the time being. I’ll try to be in a better mood next time. Although, the way things are going…


* Breaking News: Bill O’Reilly is picking up the tab for Albert Snyder. I’m not in the habit of crediting O’Reilly and I’m sure he more wished to promote his own support for an Iraq war hero than to reprimand Fred Phelps, but any which way it happens, I’m glad that Mr. Snyder does not have to be the one to pay the lowlife who ruined his son’s funeral. So, for the first and most likely the last time, I thank you, Bill O’Reilly.

Thoughts on Faith and RELIGULOUS

Posted in Film, Religion, Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on October 21, 2008

We saw Religulous last night at BAM Rose Cinema. I can only raise my shoulders and say, “Eh…so-so.”

I appreciate how Bill Maher provided stark evidence for how the story of Jesus’ life is not an original story; in fact, many b.c. myths in the Mediterranean region told similar and often the exact same tales about a virgin birth, a water-walker, an execution, and a resurrection with three female witnesses.

I like how Maher took many of our elected officials (like John McCain) to task for claiming that the founding fathers were Christians when, in fact, they were Enlightenment Deists, many of whom openly abhorred Christianity.

I appreciate Bill Maher’s debunking of gay conversions.

He wasn’t afraid to expose the messages of violence, intolerance, and hatred in the Bible and the Koran.

He wasn’t afraid to abjure certain Muslims who proclaim Islam a religion of peace and love while, at the same time, advocating genocide and Jihad. (This is particularly ballsy when you consider the fates of Salman Rushdie, who narrowly escaped death for denouncing the Koran in The Satanic Verses, and filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, whose throat was cut in Amsterdam, almost to the point of decapitation, for releasing a ten-minute movie called Submission, which depicted violence against women in Islamic communities.)

But most of the time, Bill Maher came off as a cocky bastard, cornering even well-meaning, average Joe members of various religious faiths with gotcha questions. In the past, I have enjoyed his comedy. I agree with many of his political views, though I’m far more on the Democratic than Libertarian side of the leftist spectrum. I have no problem with him being a staunch atheist/agnostic. But, in his iconoclasm, he’s just as dogmatic as many of the people he condemns.

Religious intrusions into government are despicable. Scam-artist preachers deserve full exposure and, in many cases, prison. Rabbis who side with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are meshuga turncoats. Gay conversions: well, let’s just say I busted out my pompoms the day that call-boy called out Ted Haggard for their crystal-meth booty calls and I’ll be the first one to upload videos on Youtube when we find Fred Phelps in a leather bar.

But why should Maher go out of his way to condemn ordinary people who have a deep, abiding sense of spirituality and who find solace in their religions? Why does he have to bully them? He even claims that they’re enabling the destruction of civilization simply for having found spiritual outlets.

Interestingly, he did not seem to come down so hard on the Catholics – the faith in which he was raised, though his mother is Jewish. He spoke to two priests. One was an astronomer who flatly refuted the doctrine of creationism and fundamentalist approaches to the Bible. This priest was Maher’s ally in this regard and they seemed quite chummy. But I sense that Maher would not have found it so easy to stump that learned clergyman with his trademark smirk and touche line of inquiry in the same way he did with the hayseeds, rubes and moron senator in the Deep South. Maybe that’s why he didn’t try. The other priest was a grizzled Good Time Charlie who chuckled with Maher over how loony Catholics can get, treating saints like polytheistic gods, and how an impecunious itinerant like Jesus wouldn’t have established the Vatican of all places.

If he wanted to bust out the Roman Catholic church, he could have found plenty of opportunities. The plethoric scandals surrounding pedophile priests, for example, were left untouched.

As a Buddhist, I wondered what my favorite Buddhist teachers would have to say about Maher’s peacocking bravado. It was then that I went back to the book Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by the wondrous Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg whom I saw lecture for the second time at The Interdependence Project last week. Here is her passage on skillful doubt:

In order to deepen our faith, we have to be able to try things out, to wonder, to doubt. In fact, faith is strengthened by doubt when doubt is a sincere, critical questioning combined with deep trust in our own right and ability to discern the truth. In Buddhism, this kind of questioning is known as skillful doubt. For doubt to be skillful we have to be close enough to an issue to care about it, yet open enough to let questioning come alive.

In the following paragraphs, she speaks directly to the kind of unskillful doubt that Bill Maher manifested in his treatment of the faithful in Religulous:

Unlike skillful doubt, which brings us closer to exploring the truth, unskillful doubt pulls us farther away…this kind of “walk away” doubt manifests as cynicism. Cynicism is actually a self-protective mechanism. A cynical stance allows us to feel smart and unthreatened without really being involved. We can look sophisticated, and we can remain safe, aloof, and at a distance. Maybe we are frightened and hold ourselves apart from life in order to comment on it, rather than grapple with difficult questions…We feel impervious and confident, knowing that we’re not gullible, we’re not going to be swayed…

The tendency to fixate on big, unanswerable questions – “Is there a God?” “How does karma work?” “Was there a beginning to the Universe? was characterized as “a desert, a jungle, a puppet show, the writhing entanglement of speculation” by the Buddha. Our obsessions with such questions would lead only to personal resentments and sorrow, not to wisdom or peace, he said. When feverish disputes on such issues rose up around him, instead of joining in and offering a theoretical answer, he urged everyone to find answers for themselves, in a way that would help them resolve the suffering in their lives. To arrive at that resolution of suffering is the point of skillful doubt.

I saw some informed perspectives in Religulous, but mostly rude, unskillful doubt.

And I don’t want his hectoring ass coming in my room, asking me why I’m on my meditation cushion. It’s none of his goddamn business.

(Note: documentaries that do far better jobs of revealing the disastrous effects of fundamentalism and orthodoxy: Trembling Before G-d, Jesus Camp, Hell House, and Jihad for Love.)