StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Disturbance in Arizona

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on April 15, 2010

This week, the Arizona House of Representatives passed a draconian anti-immigrant bill that could give free rein to ethnic profiling throughout the state.

What is it about Arizona?  Much as I loathe John McCain, his opponent J.D. Hayworth sounds far worse.  (Notice how Sarah Palin didn’t badmouth Hayworth when she spoke at McCain’s rally.  She might be the biggest twit on the tour bus, but she knows she might need Hayworth later.)  A talk radio host, Hayworth is one of the titans of the bourgeoning industry of misinformation that conservatives churn out big and fast for Tea Partiers and other gullible nitwits.  I hope Democratic challenger Rodney Glassman knows how to roll in the mud with dirty dogs because he’s in for the pit fight of his life.

But I have a friend who moved to Arizona six months ago and loves it.  She’s a nature lover and New Age healer, who has found a vast community out by Prescott where she can openly discuss astral projection, medicine wheels and all sorts of other occult practices that make mine and most other people’s eyes glaze over.  Lest we forget, the rise and fall of James Arthur Ray took place in Sedona.  (Did that story fall off the media’s radar screen?)

Martha Beck has lived in Phoenix for over a decade and has never publicly condemned Arizona’s ultra-conservatism (of course, she’s from Utah; Arizona must look like a nudist colony by comparison).  But in a chapter on the “essential self,” she did offer this discourse on a true-crime story from The Grand Canyon State:

Here in Wild West Phoenix, where real men still have obscene tattoos and keep rattlesnakes as pets, we recently experienced a rash of brazen burglaries.  The thieves entered empty houses to steal any jewelry, silverware, and electronic equipment they could find. In one home, their loot included an expensive camera. The thieves sold the goods at a swap meet later the same week, leaving no clues to their identity – except that they’d taken several pictures of one another burgalizing the houses, then left the film in the camera when they fenced it.  The police had lots of nice photographic evidence to help them find and convict the whole gang.

Many criminals do incredibly stupid things like this, because they’re actually conflicted about breaking the law.  It’s a rare thing to find a burglar who thinks it’s dandy if other people steal his stuff; when it comes right down to it, his deepest self believes stealing is immoral.  Your essential self will fight you by committing ‘stupid’ blunders when you violate your own values.  It’s as likely to happen when you try to be too virtuous as when you break the law.  Do you think it’s an accident that every time your mother-in-law arrives to take you to her Bible study group, she finds you naked in your backyard hot tub, singing the blues and drinking Kahlua through a straw?

I think not.

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Stuck. Progress… Stuck…Progress. Stuck. Progress…

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on March 25, 2010

Murray was having his thirtieth birthday party at the Pour House in Harlem, so I took the 2 train from Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, all the way up to 96th St and transferred to the 1 train to 110th.  Yeah, it was a long-ass ride, so I took a book with me – Saturday Night, Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe, which I didn’t get to finish after I came back from Scotland.  The book is about the stuck life of 1950s factory worker Arthur Seaton, who tries to dispel the tedium of his experience through hard drinking, banging his coworker’s wife and working on his Teddy Boy look.  These stand-ins for progress don’t suffice and, while normally I would yawn over the predictability of plot, Sillitoe’s writing is so eloquent and compelling that I stuck with it the whole ride north.

When I walked up the stairs at Cathedral Parkway station, I couldn’t believe how white Harlem has gotten!  When did this happen?  When Clinton set up his foundation there?  I counted so many young white hipsters, making their way in packs up and down 110th and Amsterdam, I thought I was in fucking Williamsburg!  (Harlem is a lot prettier than Williamsburg, by the way.)  Langston Hughes and Jessie Redmon Fauset wouldn’t recognize the place today, that’s for damned sure.

The Pour House was mostly white too – we’re talking frat-boy white…but there was enough diversity for me to feel comfortable.  I mean, yeah, I’m white but I’m also gay and homogenous environments scare me (even all-gay environments, don’t get me started on that disaster weekend I spent in the Hamptons!), so I always gravitate toward the multicultural.  Quite a few people I know – of all ethnicities and sexual orientations – were there for Murray ’s birthday, so I settled in quickly.

Murray looks like he’s taking 30 well.  Honestly, it’s no big deal, especially these days with the erosion of the generation gap.  Enough twenty-somethings have seen their friends make the transition that it’s hardly the shock it used to be.

Murray ’s got a new girlfriend now, I can’t remember her name, and his old girlfriend Sandhya was there too.  Sandhya and Murray broke up over a year ago but they stayed friends.  Good friends.  They still get together every week.  She texts him several times a day.  Sandhya even renewed her lease a few doors down from Murray ’s apartment in Hudson Heights for another two years.  But next week, Murray is moving all the way down to the Bedford-Stuyvensant area of Brooklyn, where he’ll get twice the space for $300 less a month.  He’s also first on the waitlist for Berkeley’s doctoral program in semiotics, so he might just be moving a lot farther away than Bed-Stuy.  Sandhya will still be up in Hudson Heights, though.

But Sandhya says she’s got a going concern in a new café she might open with a woman she knows.  She’s lamenting that she’s out of work and about to turn 40.  Yet, after working for too many years at jobs that had nothing to do with her passion for cooking, she’s got a shot at opening her own café.  She’s digging her heels in, though.  It’d be a huge commitment.  I felt like telling her, “Honey, everything else is desert and wasteland.  Grab this before it gets away!”

What I didn’t know is that Sandhya didn’t know about Murray’s new girlfriend.  How he kept it secret is beyond me?  Sandhya didn’t even know the other woman was part of the party.  She just thought she was another random boozer.  Murray didn’t tell Sandhya about the new girlfriend until they were getting ready to go back to his place…leaving me with Sandhya, who by now had had more beer than the spot-welder who was counting popcorn kernels and drooling on the bar.

Set ’em, bartender.  We’re in for a looong night.  I ordered Sandhya a Yyenling and I got a Goose Island for myself.  I also got us a heaping order of nachos with the works.  I had a feeling Sandhya would need a couple more drinks to process the girlfriend revelation and I thought it’d be a good idea if we had food in our stomachs while she did it.  As Sandhya collected her thoughts, the quiz-game emcee’s voice came over the loudspeakers from the room next door: “What mythic tribe of women cut off their left boobs because they thought it would make them better archers?”  Ah, shit.  This was going to be a long night.

Sandhya looked up with a beaming smile.  “I’m so happy for Murray,” she said, “I’m so happy he’s out there dating.”  I didn’t know what to say.  So I said, “Yeah!  And he won employee of the year at his job!”  Then I remembered, shit, she’s still out of work!  Better bring up something else.  So I decided to lift the mood by raving about her café prospect.  “Yeah,” she lifted her shoulders and swayed in a lager stupor, “I mean, the neighborhood needs a coffeehouse.  It doesn’t have one.  But…I don’t know…I don’t know how practical it is.”

“But you said it’s one of the things you want to do before you die,” I said.

“Yeah,” she went on waffling, “But sometimes I think, at one point of your life, there’s a time for dreams.  And, at another point, there’s…y’know…a time for…”

“Harsh, cold, unrelenting reality?”

She picked at the nachos and nodded, not even looking at me.  Defeat was thick at the bar as the Rangers game roared in the background with cheers and jeers coming from all around the room.  When will I learn not to talk people into following their dreams unless they pay me first?  But I went ahead and tried anyway.

I told Sandhya about a woman I’ll call Martha whom I worked with at an organization I’ll call the Machiavellian Center for the Dark Arts.  Martha was the Senior Officer for Administration who reported directly to a woman I’ll call Termagant, the Head of Organizational and Financial Affairs.  Martha was a chain-smoking, gum-smacking, middle-aged broad who ranted on about her onerous workload and mistreatment at the hands of Termagant.  Martha was also morbidly obese, terminally single, and steeped in the dramas and traumas of her wildly dysfunctional parents and sisters when she wasn’t at work.  You couldn’t walk past Martha’s door without her pulling you in to report some new horror that Termagant had inflicted or some new spat that her sister had gotten into with Martha’s brother-in-law or niece.  And yet, when anyone else came to Martha in tears over a new insult or dirty deal dealt by Termagant, Martha’s face would screw up as she’d make it clear to the hapless soul that if he or she couldn’t handle Termagant’s wrath, then they might want to think about packing up both their desks and their lives and heading to some gentler planet where only nice people live and work.

Not that Martha never talked back to Termagant.  On the contrary, at least three times a day, Termagant’s door would be closed and you’d hear Martha behind it, upbraiding her for being the kind of boss who wouldn’t even, say, pay for a single 10-mile cab ride home after Martha would put in five 15-hour days in a row.  Martha would then stomp out of Termagant’s office, proud to have made her point.  Yet this never brought her any closer to being able to pay for a cab out of the petty cash box.  It’d been this way from the day Martha had first interviewed for the job and Termagant had said to her, “Maybe we should sit on the floor.  You don’t look like you can fit in a chair.”  Instead of taking this as her cue to walk out of the Machiavellian Center for the Dark Arts as fast as her stubby legs could carry her, Martha shot a stabbing finger at Termagant and said, “You need me in this job because you have no people skills!”  Thus began Martha’s life of unquiet servitude.

To be clear, Termagant wasn’t the only cruel soul at Machiavellian.  Booby traps and viper pits abounded at every turn, which eventually led me to walk into work one day and resign.  Martha couldn’t have been prouder of me.  She got me in one of her bear hugs and swung me all around the room for having the courage to buck the system.  And she had more news.  She was interviewing for another job!  She’d often told me that, before she joined Machiavellian, she’d worked in the HR department of a social service agency where she’d been one of the layoffs after a merger.  But working for her former employers had been the happiest period of her life.  Although she’d always struggled with obesity, in her tenure at her old nonprofit, she weighed much less and smoked much less and her boss couldn’t have showered her with more praise for her hard work.  Now she was interviewing at a similar agency, in the same field, with the same vibe and with more money attached.  I told her that, since I’m no longer a Catholic, I’d leave it to my mother to say a novena for her.

Martha kept in touch after my last day on the job.  She’d tell me about every last mean thing Termagant was saying or doing.  She’d tell me who got fired and who was about to be.  She’d tell me about how the Machiavellian Center for the Dark Arts was about to collapse under the heft of its own evil.  And one day she told me that my mother’s novenas must have done the trick because, for however hard it is for a person of size to get a job in our body-conscious society, she’d landed the very job she’d so coveted at the social service agency.  I cheered.  There were tears of joy in her voice as she told me, “I’m going to tell my new job that I want to give Machiavellian three weeks’ notice instead of two.  But I’m not giving three weeks.  I’m only giving two!  I’m taking a week off before I start. I haven’t had a week off in two years!  I’m sleeping in.  I’m taking long walks around Central Park and I’m going to catch all the movies I haven’t seen because I’m always slaving in Termagant’s fields! I’m getting a week off!”  My heart caught in my throat as Martha celebrated her liberation.  “I’m going in tomorrow,” Martha told me, “and I’m telling Termagant that I quit!  I QUIT!  And I’m going to tell her everything that’s wrong with her and her stupid job!”

Much as I try to stay out of people’s business, I couldn’t help but wonder about Martha the whole next day.  I had asked her to report back to me on just what happened when she cussed Termagant out.  I turned my cell phone up to top volume and, lest I miss her call on the subway, I even elected to walk all the way from my apartment in Brooklyn to an appointment I had that afternoon in downtown Manhattan.  Day faded into night, though, and her call hadn’t come.  By about 10 pm, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I called Martha.

Without even saying hello first, Martha told me she’d gone into Termagant’s office and told her she was quitting.  Termagant said, “You can’t.”  Martha said, “Yes, I can.”  As per usual, their exchange resulted in a verbal brawl.  They called each other names.  Martha stormed out of Termagant’s office and slammed the door to her own office, where she got busy with what she was determined to make the last of her work at the Machiavellian Center for the Dark Arts.  Termagant turned up at her door and Martha said that, if Termagant came any closer, she’d grab her purse and leave today instead of in two weeks.

So Termagant got every board member to call Martha and exhort her to stay.  For six hours on the telephone, with a few cigarette breaks in between, Martha pulled no punches in detailing her every reason for leaving Machiavellian and for loathing Termagant.  She raged and shed tears as the board members cajoled.

“I might not know everything,” I told Sandhya, “But I know this much.  When you’re just about to cross the threshold into the life you want, some sort of adversity shows up to either scare or coax you off the path.  And for Martha, that adversity took the form of Machiavellian’s founder, George W. Rove.”

George W. Rove and Termagant couldn’t have been closer if they’d slept in the same bed, which I don’t think they ever did since they were both balding and only attractive to their subjugated, optionless spouses.  While Martha battled the pleading board members, Termagant ran to Rove to tell him her favorite whipping post was pulling up stakes.  George W. Rove waited until Martha had lain down shield and sword after beheading her last Dark Arts, board-member dragon.  Then he strode into her office in his glorious Brooks Brothers raiments, shut the door behind him and sat down for a down-on-our-haunches, eye-to-eye deal-brokering session.  Like Nixon deftly telling Soviet Russia that under capitalism, they can each have two cars and a washing machine, Rove told Martha that, if she stayed, she could have a 50% raise, an assistant to help her with her workload and she would only be subordinate to Termagant in title.  In effect, he told Martha that she and Termagant would be equals.  With no more fight left in her, Martha shook hands on the deal as Rove walked out of her office with the status quo in tact and his fingers crossed behind his back.

I begged Martha to call Rove’s voicemail.  I told her to leave a message saying, upon reflection, she has decided to turn down his empty offers. “Don’t talk to him directly,” I told her, “He’ll con you out of it.”  She said it was too late, she’d already told the other agency that she’d accepted his counter-offer.  “Call them back!,” I yelled, as if it was my own soul I was trying to buy back, “Say you see the light!”  She said, “Nah.  When you make these agreements, you have to stick with them.”

I didn’t hear from Martha again, but I heard from another former coworker that, the minute Termagant got wind of how George W. Rove had promised Martha that she’d no longer be a subordinate, Termagant raised holy hell until Rove reinstated the old chain of command.

A year and some months later Rove lost a huge part of his net worth in a Ponzi scheme.  Termagant called Martha into her office and told her that there would be budget cuts, staff reductions, hour-cuts and no benefits for part-time employees.  Termagant then informed Martha, “We’re cutting you down to part time.”  Being both obese and a heavy smoker, Martha knew Termagant had her over a barrel.  She clutched at her heart and said, “I need my benefits, Termagant!  I have to work full-time.”  At this, Termagant looked at her with undue calm and said, “Then you’ll have to go back to your old salary.  And, I’m sorry, we can’t afford to hire the assistant that George W. had promised you.”

Sandhya looked at me bleary-eyed.  We were almost done with our nacho plate.  I ordered her another Yyeling and me another Goose Island.  “What’s Martha doing now?” Sandhya asked me.

I told her about how, a year ago, I happened to be near the Machiavellian Center for the Dark Arts and thought I’d give Martha a call.  I hadn’t heard from her in well over a year, maybe two, and I’d sent her Christmas cards and a With Sympathy card when I heard her dad died.  I called Martha and she said she’d come down and talk to me.  When she saw me, all she did was turn up an eyebrow and say, “You look…the same…”

The comment actually had teeth, implanted and sharpened by the punishing tone in her voice.  I thought to myself, “I’ve been taking good care of myself.  Working out, eating well, following my dreams.  And here she is giving me that tone, telling me I look no different and no better than before.”  Meanwhile she was more roly-poly than ever!  Her face looked as wrinkled as the bottom of a mushroom blossom.  And she complained about Termagant, same as before.  And she also told me my replacement was doing a better job than I used to do.  To this, I said, “Well, now I’m on my own, doing what I love and I’m damned good at it.”  She stomped out her cigarette well before she smoked it all and said, “It’s cold, so I’m going back inside.  I still have your number…”  The door hit her in the ass on her way in.

Sandhya took a sip out of her beer.  I still hadn’t picked up my new beer yet.  I wanted to finish the story with a moral first:  “You see, Martha had convinced herself that she was the good one and I was the bad one.  She was a better person because I didn’t stick with a bad situation as long as she did.  Tell me, did she follow her dreams?  Did she do what’s best for her?  Or was she straining to reach around and pat her own back because she did what was expected of her?  Now, as for this café of yours, Sandhya…”

The bartender interrupted and said, “Let me get these nachos out of the way for ya.”  He reached over the bar and knocked my Goose Island beer straight on to my lap, where it proceeded to pour down my leg and waterlog the whole right side of my cargo pants.  That’ll learn me to tell someone else what to do with their life.

After some clean-up and poise-maintenance, I told Sandhya I’d walk her to the subway.  She was stumbling at this point.  I don’t know if it was because she drank too much or because my cautionary tale was too long.  But my right shoe squeaked as I squired Sandhya down three different streets as she pointed in one direction saying, “I live this way,” and then later pointing in another direction, saying, “No, I live that way.”

In order to take the edge off my rotten mood, I asked Sandhya to tell me more about the rituals that her relatives in India practice in their Jain religion.  She slurred out the words, “They…they…they swa…swa…swa…”  I said, “Sweep.”  She snapped her finger and said, “Yes.  They swa..eep.  They sweep.  They sweep…”  I said, “The bugs out of the way?”  She snapped her finger again, “Thank you.  Yeah.  They sweep…the…um…”  I said, “The bugs out of the way when they walk down the street.”  She smiled, giggled and nodded a la stumble drunk as a chill wind froze all the beer that clung to my right leg.

Never in all my born days have I been so glad to see the 1 train.  I took Sandhya right to it and caught the first cab I could on the corner of Broadway and 110th Street.  There was no way in hell I was taking the subway with my squeaky shoe and beer-stained leg.

Julius called my cell phone while my cab was speeding down the West Side Highway.  He was watching CNN and saw how the Republicans are obstructing all the progress they can after having lost the healthcare battle in congress.  They found some weird provision in the laws of congress that said that, as long as they make up a reason – any reason – they can get out of conducting legislative business in the senate after the hour of 2 pm.  With that, they’re now refusing to do any business with democrats.  John McCain has vowed to do no further business with congress for the rest of his term.  He’s a senator!  The taxpayers pay him to do his job and he decrees that he won’t do it.

Worse, the head of the Tea Party in Alabama said his constituency is “cleaning their guns as we speak” and heading up to a rally, within shooting distance of Washington D.C., toting their rifles.  Republicans are egging them on with incendiary commericals and, not until this morning, after a barrage of bad press, did House Minority Leader John Boehner agree to make an official statement condemning Tea Party violence.  One Republican senator said healthcare reform is the single greatest injustice ever perpetrated upon the American people, which would mean it’s even worse than slavery!

Julius told me he spoke to our friend Tony, who heads up a large firm in Atlanta.  A couple of his staff members, who belong to Southern Baptist and other reactionary churches, have participated in Tea Party activities.  Recently, the firm had a workshop and all the participants were supposed to take turns, standing up and saying a little bit about themselves.  Most people got up and talked about their spouses and children.  So did Tony.  He talked about how his spouse, Rick, is directing a production of Brecht’s Galileo across town and, even though it’s a demanding piece, he’s still found time to work with their daughter on her project for her school’s science fair.  The aforementioned staff members looked away as he spoke.  One sighed.  And a member of the team he heads up, whom he lets out early every Wednesday for worship at his fundamentalist church, stormed out of the room.

I’ve been feeling the vitriol in the air ever since healthcare passed on Sunday night.  What scares me as much is that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations can pour unlimited funds into the campaigns of candidates who seek to do nothing but make the rich richer and the poor poorer.  Stuck.  Progress…Stuck….Progress.  Stuck.

Harry Reid kept debate over the healthcare amendments going in the senate and, last night, there was word he’d keep it going all morning to plow through Republican delay tactics.  But, lo, the Republicans succeeded in sending the bill back to the House at 10 o’clock this morning.  Stuck.  BUT if it’s back in the house, this means that Pelosi can reinsert the public option!  She has the votes! And Reid says he does too!  Progress!  But democrats don’t want to make those kinds of waves right now.  Stuck.

To make matters worse on my cab ride, when we crossed the Battery Tunnel, the bridge to the Prospect Expressway was clogged.  Clogged.  Clogged.  Clogged.  I could have passed out from the beer fumes on my leg as Julius read me a furious email he’d written to get Olympia Snowe to keep her party from shutting down the government just because they didn’t get their way this time.  The cab inched forward.  I thought about how the wifi is out at our house, so I couldn’t rifle off all the petitions I want to sign and send to friends when I get home.  Stuck.  But I fired AT &T; the Geeks Mobile guy set up our modem yesterday morning; and the Verizon guy will connect us on Monday.  Progress!  But as Julius read me his email to Snowe and my pant leg stiffened like a brewery rag, the cab driver leaned over and said the traffic jam was caused by how the construction guys had closed off all lanes to the Prospect Expressway.  Stuck.

“Fuck!”  I screamed for more reasons than one.  Julius asked me what was wrong and I told him about the Prospect Expressway blockade.  “So where are you now?” he asked.

I said, “The Verrazano Bridge.”

“What!” he screamed.

I said, “It’s okay.  We’re getting off at 39th Street and we’ll drive home from there.”

“Oh no you won’t!” Julius barked, “You get out of that cab right now!”

“Get off on the highway?”

“Yes!”

Looking at the gridlock, I said, “Are you fucking craaazzzy!”

He said, “That cab driver is just trying to take you for a patsy.”

I said, “Hey, I’m an adult too!  I know when I’m being had.  And this time, he didn’t know any better than I that the Prospect Expressway was closed!”

“Oh yes he did,” Julius said.  “Tell him that you’re talking to me and I have the cops on the phone and he’d better let you go!”

“Julius,” I said, “I’ll talk to you later.”  I hung up.

Stuck.  Stuck.  Stuck.  For at least fifteen minutes until 39th Street in Brooklyn.  Then, when we got off the Verazzano, we got all green lights to 3rd Street.  Progress!  I was home within 10 minutes.

Right when I walked in the door, my cats milled around my legs, blocking my every step as they smelled my pant leg.  Stuck.  I found a clear path.  Progress!  My right shoe squeaked as I ran upstairs with both cats on my heels.  I took my clothes off and threw my pants in the hamper first.

I got into my flannel pajama bottoms and my 2008 Obama T-shirt, flopped down on the couch and turned on msnbc.  There’d be a full hour of Chris Matthews before the rebroadcast of Rachel Maddow.

Stuck.

Nazi Skinheads, Al Qaeda on the Campaign Trail

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on October 28, 2008

When I was growing up, there were Nazi skinheads and anti-Nazi skinheads. To me, as a gay kid on the punk scene, both were equally heinous. The anti-Nazi skinheads’ politics were a little better, except with regards to gays as I mention in 85A. Both camps were bullies and could do a job on you with their steel-toed boots and sometimes broken bottles and knives. The difference between then and now: as far as I know – and I knew the stories – neither camp carried firearms.

Yesterday, I was both shocked and relieved to read the news. The FBI had foiled an elaborate plot that two Nazi skinhead youths – Paul Schlesselman, 18, from Arkansas and Daniel Cowart, 20, from Tennessee – had hatched to decapitate 14 black kids and otherwise kill 74 other black kids before assassinating Barack Obama.

Police had pulled Schlesselman and Cowart over after they’d shot out the window of a Tennessee church. Their car was scrawled with swatstikas, racial epithets, and the numbers 14 and 88, which hold special symoblism in white supremacy and which also signify (a) the number of blacks they planned on beheading (14) and (b) the total number of blacks they planned on killing (88) at an unnamed local high school. Police also seized an unspecified number of unregistered firearms from Schlesselman and Cowart’s car. The two were allegedly on their way to a local gun-dealer whom they were going to rob in an effort to stockpile weapons for their high-school massacre.

After killing 88 blacks, Schlesselman and Cowart planned to don white Tuxedos and top hats and drive off to find and kill Barack Obama. FBI agents doubt that they could have pulled off the Obama assassination. But they at least might have at been able to put a dent in their high-school assassination plans.

Schlesselman and Cowart are being held without bond.

This level of hatred, within 8 days of the likely election of America’s first African-American president, makes the Bradley Effect look like miscegenation.

This morning, I had a hard time waking up. That is, until Julius jumped out of the shower and ran into our room, forgetting his towel, to rouse me with the news that Al Qaeda has endorsed McCain. I yawned and said, “Well, why would they do a fool thing like that?”

Nine hours later, I’m still at a loss for answers. Liberals might say that Al Qaeda wants McCain to win so that he’ll get trigger-happy, drain our economy to the dregs, and leave us as sitting ducks for a terrorist arrogation of the United States. Conservatives might say they’re trying to turn Americans off to McCain so that we’ll elect a “weak” leader like Obama, who will let terrorists run roughshod over the nation and the world.

Julius believes that Al Qaeda wants McCain to win so that they can show the world that the Bush administration will essentially continue for a minimum of four more years.

We must recall, though, that Al Qaeda didn’t like Clinton any more than Bush. Their first attempt on the WTC was in 1993 during Clinton’s first year in office. It seems to me that Al Qaeda hates all Americans, Republican or Democrat.

Whatever their rationale, it’s no feather in McCain’s cap that he’s won an Al Qaeda endorsement nor that two Nazis sought to eliminate his opponent.

Before I make my next point, let me qualify that I love Barack Obama, he’s one of my heroes and he has my vote handsdown. I have to come clean and admit, however, that I do have some misgivings about him becoming president. I don’t have any doubt that he’ll do a bang-up job at defending our nation against foreign terrorists. But can he defend himself against domestic terrorists?

This is something we’re going to have to watch as McCain and Palin’s New Red Scare progresses.

“In Hard Times, Tent Cities Rise Up Across the Country” (The Associated Press)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on September 19, 2008

This is so sad. The Great Depression has already started. From The Associated Press, “In Hard Times, Tent Cities Rise Across the Country,” September 18, 2008.

By EVELYN NIEVES, Associated Press Writer

RENO, Nev. – A few tents cropped up hard by the railroad tracks, pitched by men left with nowhere to go once the emergency winter shelter closed for the summer.

Then others appeared — people who had lost their jobs to the ailing economy, or newcomers who had moved to Reno for work and discovered no one was hiring.

Within weeks, more than 150 people were living in tents big and small, barely a foot apart in a patch of dirt slated to be a parking lot for a campus of shelters Reno is building for its homeless population. Like many other cities, Reno has found itself with a “tent city” — an encampment of people who had nowhere else to go.

From Seattle to Athens, Ga., homeless advocacy groups and city agencies are reporting the most visible rise in homeless encampments in a generation.

Nearly 61 percent of local and state homeless coalitions say they’ve experienced a rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The group says the problem has worsened since the report’s release in April, with foreclosures mounting, gas and food prices rising and the job market tightening.

“It’s clear that poverty and homelessness have increased,” said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the coalition. “The economy is in chaos, we’re in an unofficial recession and Americans are worried, from the homeless to the middle class, about their future.”

The phenomenon of encampments has caught advocacy groups somewhat by surprise, largely because of how quickly they have sprung up.

“What you’re seeing is encampments that I haven’t seen since the 80s,” said Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, an umbrella group for homeless advocacy organizations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore. and Seattle.

The relatively tony city of Santa Barbara has given over a parking lot to people who sleep in cars and vans. The city of Fresno, Calif., is trying to manage several proliferating tent cities, including an encampment where people have made shelters out of scrap wood. In Portland, Ore., and Seattle, homeless advocacy groups have paired with nonprofits or faith-based groups to manage tent cities as outdoor shelters. Other cities where tent cities have either appeared or expanded include include Chattanooga, Tenn., San Diego, and Columbus, Ohio.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently reported a 12 percent drop in homelessness nationally in two years, from about 754,000 in January 2005 to 666,000 in January 2007. But the 2007 numbers omitted people who previously had been considered homeless — such as those staying with relatives or friends or living in campgrounds or motel rooms for more than a week.

In addition, the housing and economic crisis began soon after HUD’s most recent data was compiled.

“The data predates the housing crisis,” said Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for HUD. “From the headlines, it might appear that the report is about yesterday. How is the housing situation affecting homelessness? That’s a great question. We’re still trying to get to that.”

In Seattle, which is experiencing a building boom and an influx of affluent professionals in neighborhoods the working class once owned, homeless encampments have been springing up — in remote places to avoid police sweeps.

“What’s happening in Seattle is what’s happening everywhere else — on steroids,” said Tim Harris, executive director of Real Change, an advocacy organization that publishes a weekly newspaper sold by homeless people.

Homeless people and their advocates have organized three tent cities at City Hall in recent months to call attention to the homeless and protest the sweeps — acts of militancy, said Harris, “that we really haven’t seen around homeless activism since the early ’90s.”

In Reno, officials decided to let the tent city be because shelters were already filled.

Officials don’t know how many homeless people are in Reno. “But we do know that the soup kitchens are serving hundreds more meals a day and that we have more people who are homeless than we can remember,” said Jodi Royal-Goodwin, the city’s redevelopment agency director.

Those in the tents have to register and are monitored weekly to see what progress they are making in finding jobs or real housing. They are provided times to take showers in the shelter, and told where to go for food and meals.

Sylvia Flynn, 51, came from northern California but lost a job almost immediately and then her apartment.

Since the cheapest motels here charge upward of $200 a week, Flynn ended up at the Reno women’s shelter, which has only 20 beds and a two-week limit on stays.

Out of a dozen people interviewed in the tent city, six had come to Reno from California or elsewhere over the last year, hoping for casino jobs.

“I figured this would be a great place for a job,” said Max Perez, a 19-year-old from Iowa. He couldn’t find one and ended up taking showers at the men’s shelter and sleeping in a pup tent barely big enough to cover his body.

The casinos are actually starting to lay off employees.

“Sometimes I think we need to put out an ad: ‘No, we don’t have any more jobs than you do,'” Royal-Goodwin said.

The city will shut down the tent city as soon as early October because the tents sit on what will be a parking lot for a complex of shelters and services for homeless people. The complex will include a men’s shelter, a women’s shelter, a family shelter and a resource center.

Reno officials aren’t sure whether the construction will eliminate the need for the tent city. The demand, they say, keeps growing.

We can’t continue the Bush-McCain economy. Please vote for Obama in November.

Two-Pronged Strategy to Combat Republican Allegations of Sexism

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on September 7, 2008

Dear Readers:

Please forgive me for not keeping up with my blog. I’ve had lots of paying work to do. I have also been in an abject funk over how effectively McCain has plied petty politics, especially through the ludicrous addition of Sarah Palin. I normally deck my blog with pix but Sarah Palin is so vile in body and soul that I can’t even bear the sight of her.

At the RNC, Wolf Blitzer said, “She hit it out of the park with that speech.” What! I only saw a big nerd reading a lot of Hee Haw, hockey-mom hooey – off note cards, no less – that some speechwriter wrote for her and that spoke to anything but the real issues facing our nation. Then Anderson Cooper and company checked the applause meter and decided to nod in agreement with Blitzer. Palin knows how to be smug, shrill and catty, but let’s not confuse that with charisma or intelligence. She doesn’t come up to Hillary Clinton’s anklebones.

Our friend Frances Rodriquez gave the best description of Sarah Palin yet: “She’s Anne Coulter, but worse.” The woman is a vociferous liar, a bully and book-burner, not to mention eminently unqualified. The list of charges against her is growing sky-high (if any of those same charges were leveled against Obama, the GOP would demand that he be run out of the race and the senate).

Yet, in a strange change of face, the Republicans are screaming sexism whenever the media digs up any dirt on Palin, when in fact media researchers are treating her the exact same way that they have treated her male opponents all along – and the media itself has made her its darling. The McCain camp wants Barack and Biden to lay down before each one of Barracuda’s stiletto digs, lest they crush this poor shrinking violet with their big, insensitive man feet.

So, Barack and Biden, here’s how to handle this farce. If any Republican smears you as sexist for defending yourselves and attacking Sarah Palin’s record and positions:

1. Keep Talking. Don’t capitulate. If they scream, scream louder, affirm your stance.

2. If you must defend yourself against these calculated allegations, use one simple sentence: “If she’s gonna dish it out, she’d better be able to take it.”

What would be truly sexist would be to give Palin special treatment for being a woman.

She’s only been on the scene a couple weeks and she’s already dishing it out worse than anybody throughout this whole election race (though she has yet to face the press unscripted). Now she’d better be able to take it.

Senator Biden, please take her to the mat.

I will write more in the coming days. Stay tuned.

Kyle Thomas Smith

Selling Us Down the River, Barack?

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on August 17, 2008

Tonight, we stayed in and caught some of the Faith Forum on CNN.

There’s Barack, courting votes and racking up applause at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church by pronouncing, “Marriage is between a man and a woman.”

(Remember during the 2004 Vice-Presidential Debates when Barack’s compatriot John Edwards went one better than Barack by saying, “Marriage is between a man and a woman, period.” Almost four years later, at the Democratic primaries, Edwards shuddered as he stated how difficult it was for him to concede even civil unions to gay couples. A few months after that, the lid was blown off just how much Edwards honors the very institution of marriage that he wishes to exclude gays from sharing with his more righteous set.)

Another sell-out sound byte from Barack, “I’m not someone who promotes gay marriage.”

He capped off his defense of civil unions by saying that hospitals should allow gay partners to visit each other “whether I personally agree with it or not.” The “it” is homosexuality – whether or not it’s morally right to be in a same-sex partnership. And, by the tone and context of his statement, he was trying to reassure evangelicals that he doesn’t believe gay relationships are right.

As far as I can tell, Barack, you’re no better than McCain on this issue. Not now, that is. It wasn’t always like this.

I used to love you, but you’ve steadily lost my respect.

You’ve deeply offended me.

Is It Complacency or Just Plain Good Sense?

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on August 16, 2008

I’ll start with a segment of an article I found from the great Martha Beck called “Martha Beck’s Anti-Complain Campaign.” It was published in a 2007 edition of O – The Oprah Magazine. (I don’t know which month.) The following paragraph – about a young woman named Dinah – specifically addresses why it is foolhardy to bitch and moan about the government:

College sophomore Dinah spent hours with her friends ranting about a certain high-ranking elected official, who shall remain nameless. This, Dinah told me, was activism. I said it looked more like passivism — neither activism nor pacifism but an excellent way of feeling intelligent and important without studying.

Today, I found myself thinking the following:

I know who I’m voting for. I support Barack. I give him money. I sign petitions. I volunteer. But do I have to keep checking polls? Do I have to keep blogging about this election? Do I have to keep taking the GOP to task? Should I even bother talking about the presidential race? About Barack vs. McCain?

Frankly, should I even care? I mean, how much can little ole me do to turn the tide of stupidity, the kind that the majority of American voters raised to such overwhelming heights in 2004?

Why don’t I just go merrily on my own way and let the chips fall where they may?

Then another monologue starts up in my head:

Why are you even letting that complacent bullshit run through your head? The fate of the world is at stake! Even if stupidity overruns this nation again (which it might with the electoral college, at the very least), I for one should not let us suffer silently!

But, if I were to cling to that line of thought, wouldn’t I just exhaust myself in an attempt to control – or at least inveigh against – what I cannot control?

Wouldn’t I be better off just making my donations of time and money to Barack and then stop checking polls and just ignore the presidential race entirely until voting time?

I can’t be the only one out there weighing these same questions.

I welcome any answers anyone might have.

Georgia on My Mind

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on August 14, 2008

This all came on so suddenly. Georgia is in shock from the invasion. It went into even greater shock when the Russians went back on the cease-fire. Russian troops are now staking out the rest of Georgia and surrounding territories from their strongholds in South Ossetia and Abkahzia.

For once I agree with the Bush administration. It’s true, we can’t let this go unnoticed. Like Condelezza Rice said, we have to send a message to Russia that this is not Prague 1968 and they can’t feel free to arrogate neighboring regions to expand their power and influence. I’m glad we’re sending aid to Georgian refugees. (Having said all that, let me clarify that I don’t think Bush himself has any right to take a moral high ground on this tragedy, not after all the atrocities he’s committed in Iraq to line the oil company’s pockets and settle his daddy’s score with Sadaam.)

Julius and I discussed all this last night at a sushi restaurant on 7th Ave.

“I’d hate to say this, but we have to stand up to the Russians,” Julius said, “They have been imperialist throughout their history. If they take over Georgia, they’ll be able to force every other former state to rejoin their union.”

“I agree,” I responded, “But what does standing up mean?”

That’s the question we’re left with for now. Are economic sanctions enough? Europe might join with us in those to some extent, but, then, they are dependent on Russia for so much of their natural gas. If they stop trading with Russia, EU economies will tank.

I don’t want to see us go to war if we can avoid it. I understand that sometimes military aid and intervention are necessary. I just hope it doesn’t come to that. Afghanistan is a stone’s throw away from the former Soviet Union. I’d hate to be a prophet of doom, but, along with all the horrors of war in the mid-east, the Russian insurrection could spark a world war. America’s economy and military is in no shape to deal with this.

Again, I’m hoping that it doesn’t come to that.

I’m going to go back and read Pema Chodron’s Practicing Peace in Times of War. Buddhist perspectives are of tremendous value in times like these.

Naturally, I’m also concerned that the invasion’s timing is poor as can be for Barack. Will the American people be snookered into thinking we need McCain, a Vietnam Vet, as a wartime president?

(By the way, how can McCain get away with passing himself off as a maverick reformer when he has supported a full 95% of Bush’s initiatives?)

If the worst were to happen as a result of the Georgian ordeal, McCain wouldn’t have any interest in peace-making missions. He’d only want an American victory.

But maybe, instead of getting all riled up over things I can’t control, I should go back to my meditation cushion and hope that one’s own spiritual practice does indeed have effects beyond what one can perceive or even imagine.

Disappointing Me, Barack…

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on August 4, 2008

Listen, Barack. You know you got my vote, but I don’t want this to become another John Kerry situation where I’m just voting you in to keep the Republicans out. But just like Kerry with Bush, you’re giving McCain cause to call you a “flip-flopper.” (A dog-tired if correct accusation, much like that hackneyed “playing the race card” claim. Can we be any more unoriginal, Mr. McCain?)

First, Barack, you amended your timetable for troop withdrawal. Look, I know my views on this are radical. I want our asses out of Iraq by midnight tonight. I understand that not everyone shares my opinion on this and I can see why you would want to “see what’s happening on the ground first.” But why didn’t you state this at the beginning of your campaign? Because it would make you seem less firm on your positions? Well, guess what: you are less firm on your positions than you’d originally claimed.

Now, you’re “willing to compromise” with regards to your opposition to off-shore oil drilling. Why? Because McCain’s got Middle America sold on the lie that further environmental destruction will drive down gas prices. (It won’t. Not for about ten years anyway – and, even then, only by a slim margin.) I know that you mitigated this by correctly proposing that we tap our own oil reserves first. You’re also right that McCain, like most of the GOP, is “in the pocket of Big Oil.” (Who does that surprise?) But your campaign took money from Big Oil companies too! And they’re right: you flip-flopped on off-shore drilling. Although, as with your stance on troop withdrawal, you oddly claim that this sudden willingness to compromise remains consistent with your original position.

Now, is McCain a flip-flopper? Shit, yeah! He said he wasn’t going to run a negative campaign. Next thing you know, he hires Bush’s propagandist p.r. team, the same ones who crushed McCain himself in 2000 and 2004. Suddenly, over 1/3 of his ads are attacking your character, Barack, like that lame-ass piece of character assassination where he compares you to Britney and Paris. Then there are other scare tactics like the old chestnut about how electing you will plunge us into a depression. Until recently, McCain also opposed off-shore oil drilling. Now he’s its foremost political proponent, once again, quite ingeniously convincing Middle America that this disastrous maneuver will be to its advantage.

But let’s be real here. A Republican can flip-flop all he or she wants and Middle America will cut them all the slack in the world. A Democrat has to work a hundred times harder and be a trillion times more consistent to win heartland votes. It isn’t fair, it isn’t equitable, but since when has politics ever been fair and equitable?

And you got far more to lose being a black Democratic candidate, Barack. A recent NPR poll revealed that, when asked, 10% of whites came right out and admitted that they would not vote for you, based on the color of your skin. 10% admitted that. How many more share the same view but won’t admit it? Again, it’s sad but true.

Barack, you did play the race card. You played it and I don’t blame you for it. If McCain doesn’t try to strike fear into people’s hearts based on how you “don’t look like the rest of the presidents on those dollar bills,” his backers at Fox News will – and have! You brought the matter of race squarely into the campaign. As well you should. Everybody knows it’s the pink elephant in the room and finally someone – you, Barack – had the guts to say it. But your campaign spokesman Robert Gibbs claims that you were referring, not to race, but to how you’re not as weatherbeaten and Washington-beaten as the dead presidents on American currency. Does Gibbs expect us to buy that rationalization?

The polls now say that you and McCain are tied. Convincing reports have surfaced, however, stating that you are actually way ahead of McCain and that the media has cooked the books on the polls to make this election look like more of a horse race than it is. I hope those reports are right.

But you will lose this election if you, Mr. Democratic Senator, keep changing your mind on your core values and strategies. We can’t afford for that to happen. Given the state of Iraq and our international relations, the fate of the world rests on your winning this November. Stop letting us down.

Laurie Anderson at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 27, 2008

The Bacchae with Alan Cumming and The National Theatre of Scotland proved a tough act for Laurie Anderson to follow in Lincoln Center Festival ’08, but Anderson proved much more a match than a follow-up to that excellent production. In her first Lincoln Center appearance since 2002, Laurie Anderson played the entire set of her 2008 album Homeland.

Anderson deliberately avoided fanfare by stepping on to the candlelit stage unannounced and immediately picking up her violin. The title Homeland derives from the government’s exploitation of the term “Homeland Security,” which juxtaposes coziness with bureaucracy and doom.

Anderson began her set by formulating a myth for the audience about a flock of birds who flew above the earth before there was such thing as land. With nowhere to land, all these birds ever did was fly around, fly around, fly around. There was nothing else to do, nothing to remember in the repetitive activity of simply flying. Then, one day, the father of one of the birds died. The flock had to bury him, but there was no land in which to inter the body. After careful consideration, the dead bird’s daughter decided to bury her father in the back of her head. And that, according to Anderson’s newly spun lore, is where Memory was born. Anderson, 61, has remarked that she weaves myths in this day and age to counter the trend of new mythology that the American government infuses into the post-9/11 media.

Shortly after introducing the Memory myth, Anderson began citing a roll call of American war crimes in the song, “Bad Guy.” The song ends with the words, “I would fly away/But the war is here to stay.” She continues stating, “the war is here to stay.”

There are whimsical bits to the show, however, such as one where she asks us to contemplate the role of underwear studs on Calvin Klein billboards. What would happen if those giant pictures on those billboards were to come to life? Would they march up LaFayette Street in their underwear and start crashing bars and stepping on cars? Even us angry liberals have to have a laugh sometimes. The media isn’t all American Pravda. Anderson doesn’t lose sight of how funny it is. If the earth is still around centuries from now, anthropologists will be busting a gut over what our beloved fashionistas’ sense of sexy was.

Anderson also made an unexpectedly positive statement about John McCain – although, knowing her music as well as I do, I would not be so quick to regard it as an endorsement. She mentions that John McCain once called Rush Limbaugh a clown. When a reporter asked McCain if he felt he should apologize for that remark, McCain said: “Yes. I’d like to apologize to all the clowns – Crusty, Bozo, and all other clowns – for lumping you all in with Rush Limbaugh.” Anderson neither elaborated on this anecdote nor did she make additional commentary on Obama. It remains somewhat of an enigma why she brought this McCain tidbit up in the first place.

Later, Anderson discussed former Texas Governor Ann Richards. She related how the NRA had advised all the women of Texas to carry handguns in their purses. Richards responded, “I’m not sexist, but I will declare that no woman in Texas will ever be able to find a handgun in her handbag.” Once again, the story went nowhere; it’s hard to piece together why Anderson inserted it at all.

Still and all, the music was brilliant with violin virtuoso Anderson playing alongside gifted musicians such as Joey Baron (percussion), Rob Burder (keyboard), Greg Cohen (bass), Eyvind Knag (viola).

Toward the end of the set, Anderson’s husband Lou Reed made a surprise appearance to accompany her on the 2008 songs “Lost Art of Conversation” and “No Man’s Land.” Time may have taken its toll on Reed’s looks but his guitar sounds just as good as it did in his Transformer days.

The entire Homeland experience reached the apex of sublimity for a rapt audience. Some of the drum-machine tempos brought back some of the best that the Eighties had to offer in its Talking Heads heyday, where Anderson played a vital, if underground, role. Anderson is a true artist who showcases her music for the purposes of communication and social and political inquiry, rather than as a fishing for applause (The Rolling Stones would do well to learn from her example – see my earlier blog on Shine A Light). The simplicity of the set, where there was candlelight but no video installations, threw the profundity of Anderson’s music and political message into full relief.

An arts reporter, who was interviewing Laurie Anderson about her new album and concert series, asked her, “Do you think people are afraid to speak out because they’ll be called un-American?” Anderson answered:

Yes, absolutely! And I find that extremely distressing especially now that the elections are going on and every candidate has his story about how the world works and what’s going on. And people are scrutinizing their stories. A war that will last a hundred years? Why is he telling that particular story? What’s behind it? But we live in a country that is very story savvy and it is the person who tells the best story who gets heard. And that’s what I’m interested in…I want to tell a better story, a truer story.