Saturday, December 31, 2011

Harper Stanfield Delattre

This sweet little girl, born in late 2010, is proof that there's still remarkable beauty in the world.

Hall & Oates - Kiss On My List

Don’t use these words and phrases anymore, eh?*

Every year Lake Superior State University – or “Lake State,” as the locals call it – issues a “Banished Words List” containing words and phrases that are either misused, overused or useless and therefore deserving of exile from our collective vocabulary. The list has been released every year since 1976; people nominate words and phrases from everyday speech throughout the year and a special committee selects the “winners,” as it were (“as it were” didn’t make the list), and announces ‘em on New Year’s Day.

For whatever reason (didn’t make the list), we don’t have to wait until Sunday this year – the 2012 list was posted in Facebook yesterday.

I’m not sure why everybody cares what Michigan’s smallest university – its student population stands at just 3,000 – thinks about word usage. The school, located in Sault Ste. Marie in the northeastern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is known for its fisheries and wildlife management, criminal justice, fire science and environmental health programs and houses a robotics laboratory valued at over $3 million. I can see the place being famous for that, or for the big snowmobile race held on its campus each year, or for its tradition of burning a giant snowman every March to declare an end to winter – the practice was cancelled in 1992 because environmentalists protested but the community objected and the tradition was resumed the following year – but I’m not sure why it’s become the harbinger of acceptable language. Go figure (didn’t make the list).

Anyway, without further ado (didn’t make the list), the list for 2012:

  • Amazing
  • Baby Bump
  • Shared Sacrifice
  • Occupy
  • Blowback
  • Man Cave
  • The New Normal
  • Pet Parent
  • Win the Future
  • Trickeration
  • Ginormous
  • Thank you in advance

Of these 12 words or phrases, I admit to regularly using five (“amazing,” “shared sacrifice,” “occupy,” “man cave” and “thank you in advance”) and occasionally using two more (“baby bump” and “ginormous”). I’ve ridiculed President Obama for using “win the future” and would pull my eyelashes out with a pair of needle nose pliers (didn’t make the list) in the dark before I ever used “the new normal,” “pet parent” or “trickeration.” I’ve never used “blowback” but I’ve received a fair amount of it in response to some of what I’ve written so I may incorporate the word into my vocabulary irregardless of what Lake State advises. (Just kidding; I never use “irregardless.”)

For a list of every word or phrase that ever made the list, visit here. To nominate your own least favorite words and phrases, visit here. Just don’t nominate anything you found here at “What’s the Diehl?,” okay? I’ll be grateful for the foreseeable future (made the list in 2002), dawg (made the list in 2006). Thank you in advance.

Have a good one (made the list in 2001)!

* “Eh” made the list in 1979

Friday, December 30, 2011

Queen & David Bowie - Under Pressure

Tehran and Testosterone

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If you want to wage war on Iran, feel free to head to Tehran, Shiraz, Mashhad, Tabriz or any other Iranian city and have at it – but leave my country out of it.

Yes, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is an arrogant, unlikable little sh*t who apparently sees nothing wrong with murdering young Iranian women in the streets of Tehran when they get out of line and protest his disputed election.

And yes, Israel, which controls American foreign policy and is the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid – the U.S. gave Israel more than $113 billion in direct aid from 1949 to 2008; the $3 billion or so per year that it receives from the U.S. amounts to about $500 per Israeli – hates Iran and would love for the U.S. to concur with its puppets supporters in Washington who demand that President Obama grow a pair and launch a military strike (as if active troops, military advisors or drone attacks in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria and Uganda – and until recently, Iraq – haven’t made enough of a mockery of his Nobel Peace Prize).

But it’s not like they’re feuding next-door neighbors or anything – Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait all lie between Israel and Iran, and the two countries’ main nuclear and missile sites are 1,250 miles apart. In the words of Rodney King, can’t we all just get along here, people?

Iran refuses to recognize Israel, which is silly. But what’s sillier to me is that anybody thinks we have the right to tell Iran that it can’t have nuclear weapons even though Israel, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and the United States do. Iran is more of a threat than North Korea or Pakistan, which harbored Osama bin Laden for ten years? Seriously?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said “it’s the policy of this administration that Iran cannot be permitted to have a nuclear weapon and no option has ever been taken off the table” and Vice President Joe Biden is on record insisting that Israel has the right to attack Iran. (I wrote about this in a post entitled, “Sorry, Iran” on November 19, 2011.)

This is why Iran just threatened to seal off the Strait of Hormuz, through which around 17 percent of the world’s oil passes – because the European Union decided to tighten sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. (The U.S. just tightened our unilateral sanctions as well.) This has our testosterone-driven military dudes rattling their sabers and vowing to preserve oil shipments; Pentagon spokesman George Little recently said, “Any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz will not be tolerated. This is an economic lifeline for countries in the Persian Gulf region.” Our Navy’s Fifth Fleet – which consists of more than 20 ships, combat aircraft and 16,000 personnel – has what one source described as a “robust presence in the region.”

Adding to the tension is former vice president and shooter-of-hunting-pals Dickhead Cheney, who said back on December 12 that President Obama should have ordered an “air strike” on Iran after they recently captured a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drone. Obama asked for it back but Iran wants us to apologize, saying we broke international laws by violating its airspace.

Maybe we did. It’s not like our record of honoring laws and treaties is unblemished.

Incidentally, does anybody else find it interesting that Cheney’s former employer, the Halliburton Company, “sold key components for a nuclear reactor to an Iranian oil development company as recently as January of 2005,” according to the Media Freedom Foundation? (Cheney was Halliburton’s chairman and CEO from 1995 to 2000 and received a $36 million severance package when he stepped down. He reportedly still owns stock.) Seems like somebody ought to tell the old man to refrain from urging military attacks on any Islamic republics with which he has ties.

I sure wish the less-endowed among us – yes, Lieberman and Cheney, I’m talking to you – would STFU about war with Iran and focus on solving the Lake Superior-sized problems that are going unaddressed here at home. Y’all are making me embarrassed to be an American again.

I was just about to turn off my laptop after writing this when I decided to sign in to Facebook for a second. My friend Will Sanborn posted something that caught my eye: a December 21 article in the Telegraph newspaper entitled, “US military ‘ready to engage in a conflict with Iran'.” Apparently military officials just need a green light from Obama and we’re ready to go.

Here we go again.

Sources: USA Today, Reuters, Raw Story,, Media Freedom Foundation’s Project Censored.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stevie Wonder - Isn't She Lovely?

If they can’t spell “tiara,” they shouldn’t compete for one

When it comes to mindless television entertainment, Anita and I seem to gravitate to TLC.

I’ve already written about “All-American Muslim” (“Feelin’ Low about Lowe’s,” December 13, 2011) and the now-cancelled “Sarah Palin’s Alaska (“I Visited Alaska with Sarah Palin and Didn’t Even Get a Shirt,” June 20, 2011); we’ve also watched “Cake Boss,” “Extreme Couponing,” “Say Yes to the Dress,” “Four Weddings,” and “What Not to Wear.” (I refused to watch “Kate Plus 8” more than once because Kate Gosselin was absolutely insufferable and although my family’s not small, it struck me as irresponsible to pump out so many children that you had to film their every move in order to generate enough income to feed and clothe them.) I now have a better idea of what kind of cake to order when I throw myself a debutante ball, know to avoid horizontal stripes if I want to look slimmer, and have pledged to arrange my money-saving coupons in photo albums in order to achieve maximum shopping efficiency at my local grocery store.

The votes have been tallied and the results are in: “Toddlers and Tiaras” has won the Singh-Diehl Trophy for Most Puzzling, Repugnant and Oddly Compelling of the TLC Reality Shows.

What’s puzzling is how the producers are able to obtain any of the participants’ permission to broadcast their abhorrent behavior on national television. Don’t these people realize how yucky they seem? Are the producers promising them so much fame and fortune that they’re willing to reveal their poor parenting skills if they can laugh all the way to the dance studio or children’s boutique?

People have already objected to how the show sexualizes little girls. But wait. It gets worse.

We’ve lost count of how many mothers are obviously striving to achieve their own dreams of enhanced self esteem, trophies and tiaras and the adulation of small audiences crammed into hotel ballrooms at the expense of their innocent, trusting, nose-picking dependents. (I’ve never witnessed so many little digits unabashedly exploring so many tiny nostrils for such extended periods of time before.)

We’ve learned that nose-picking isn’t the only thing young pageant participants like. More than one claimed to enjoy cheerleading, dancing and playing with Barbies. Another preteen said her favorite activity was competing in pageants; surely there was no coaching involved in that revelation. A competitor named Cassadee “wanted to be a teenager and then a dentist” while another participant planned to be a “doggy-doctor” when she grew up. And it was disclosed that one eighteen-month-old’s favorite food was popsicles. (I was quite surprised since I assumed toddlers preferred coq au vin and ratatouille.)

We’ve stopped asking each other why the mothers aren’t brought up on charges or at least investigated by children’s protective services, why the fathers all seem like spineless twits who lack the ability to discern when their spawn are being emotionally damaged, and why the kids themselves don’t run away and hop freight trains bound for Tallahassee and Little Rock in the middle of the night since they’re clearly not enjoying the pageant experience to the extent their mothers insist they are. (I realize editors can work wonders in the cutting room but we’ve yet to see a child claim to want to don a giant heart costume, tutu or Daisy Dukes and prance across a raised platform without appearing coerced, and the number of major meltdowns and temper tantrums we’ve watched sure don’t convey “I really love this stuff, Mom” to us.)

We’ve agreed that it’s offensive when mothers insert religion into the question of whether their little girls are going home with the Super Duper Age Group Queen or Ultimate Grand Supreme title (which in one episode came with enough cash to buy Skittles, cotton candy, cheese dip and Beef Jerky and still have some left over). A hairstylist in Arkansas referred to “Jackin’ it to Jesus,” which meant teasing a little girl’s hair so it stood high on her head and she was closer to the Lord. And a mother was shown bowing her head, clasping her daughter Saryniti’s small hands in her own and stating with conviction, “May this problem we’re experiencing be smoothed over and patience and compassion be found in the hearts of the judges, in Jesus’ name we pray.” The monumental dilemma to which she was referring? The issue she felt so deserving of attention by none other than the Son of God that she would fall to her knees in the hotel hallway as strangers scurried about? Saryniti’s hairdresser, a family friend, had forgotten to bring a hairbrush and hot rollers and they were running short on time.

I’m not sure why we watch. Maybe it’s because we feel better about our own parenting, our judgments and sacrifices. Maybe it’s because the show is a welcome distraction from what’s happening right now in Lansing, Washington and wherever politicians congregate. For whatever reason, we’ve found that “Toddlers and Tiaras” is the perfect complement to clothes-folding and mail-reading.

TLC should prepare to produce follow-up or reunion shows so we can see how many of these poor little youngsters grow up to develop eating disorders and body image issues. We wonder how many will skip class or overachieve and which ones will demand the unreasonable from their partners, friends and family members. We’re curious to know if they’ll envy their neighbors or harbor resentment that requires medication and counseling, if they’ll emphasize the superficial over the substantive, and if any of them ends up climbing a tower with a high-powered rifle.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Frank Sinatra - Call Me Irresponsible

If not EFMs, then what?

My friend Chris Savage at Eclectablog has been making a compelling case against Governor Rick Snyder’s Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) law, Public Act 4 of 2011, which allows Snyder to install dictators in Michigan cities to nullify contracts, fire elected officials, reverse agreements with unions, sell off or privatize community assets and otherwise kill representative democracy.

In his latest post, Chris makes the case that “emergency managers do not solve the systemic problems that bring cities and school districts to the crisis point. They are simply a band-aid on a gaping wound, temporarily staunching the flow while private businesses reap profits and anti-union forces play out a long-awaited plan to rid the state of public employee unions.”

Dave Bing (AP Photo)
The Detroit Public Schools and the cities of Flint, Pontiac and Benton Harbor already have state-appointed EFMs. Snyder administration officials have threatened to appoint one to run Detroit – which faces an accumulated deficit of more than $200 million and a $45 million cash shortfall by April – and the city’s mayor, multimillionaire Dave Bing, has stated publicly that he wouldn’t mind if Snyder appointed him to the post.

I’ve opposed Snyder’s power grab from the beginning. Snyder administration officials love to point out that they’ve only strengthened something that was originally signed into law by Governor Jim Blanchard back in 1988. And they claim that contrary to media and Internet claims, Snyder doesn’t have the authority to remove local elected officials at will – an EFM fact sheet put out by the state insists that “local officials can only be removed from office if they refuse to provide information or assistance.”

I’d laugh if this weren’t so serious.

Earlier this month, Congressman John Conyers (D-Detroit) asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to review the law’s constitutionality in an attempt to block the governor from installing a manager in the D. And Conyers – who thinks the law is “being applied in a discriminatory fashion” in Michigan municipalities with large African-American populations – appeared at a press conference with celebrity activist Jesse Jackson to promise civil disobedience and protests against Public Act 4.

Tom Watkins
My friend Tom Watkins, who served as state superintendent of public schools from 2001 to 2005 and is now an education and business consultant, thinks the EFM law is responsible leadership, not a power grab by the state.

In a Facebook exchange, when I objected to embracing the EFM law at the expense of representative democracy, Tom told me that “doing the same thing and ignoring the problems is crazy” and said “having a thoughtful debate on alternatives makes sense.” He pointed out that the people of Detroit pay some of the highest taxes and get little in return, and they deserve better.

So what do “What’s the Diehl?” readers think? If Tom is right and just saying “no” to EFMs is irresponsible, how should local fiscal problems be addressed?

Sources: Detroit Free Press, Washington Post, Detroit News, Michigan Forward.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Missing among the missiles...

Clair de Lune

An obscenely joyful Christmas

I forgot about the tsunami.

I was enjoying the Christmas holiday yesterday with Anita and the kids, feeling grateful for my family and a tad sad that I wasn’t able to shower them with material goods to the extent that I’d have liked, when I signed into Facebook and saw my friend Nikki Motson’s status update:

In Remembrance ~ For the rest of my life I will remember December 26th as the day hundreds of thousands of people vanished into the ocean. As the waters came rushing forth, my friends and I were spared, safe while snorkeling off the coast of Thailand between the tiny Koh Rok islands. It’s impossible to predict when chance will change your life forever. Peace to all those who lost loved ones in the tsunami of 2004.

Nikki's reminder about the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of December 26, 2004, that killed 230,000 men, women and children in 14 countries put everything in a decidedly different perspective for me.

As if the magnitude-9.1 quake off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, wasn’t enough, it spawned towering waves up to 98 feet high that engulfed coastal communities and caught people by surprise. An unbelievable 130,736 human beings were confirmed dead in Indonesia alone; an additional 35,322 died in Sri Lanka, 12,405 died in India, and 5,395 lost their lives in Thailand. These are confirmed deaths; estimates are much higher. Almost 46,000 were missing and almost 1.7 million were displaced by the disaster.

Although terrible things have happened since 2004, this remains one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.

A village in Sumatra, Indonesia after the tsunami
I remember watching a news clip of a new mother in the Aceh province of Indonesia who lost her baby and couldn’t speak, couldn’t catch her breath, couldn’t even answer an interviewer’s questions because the raging waters had literally yanked her blanketed infant from her arms and took it away. I felt such pity for her, to have experienced such horror, to have her life destroyed, her spirit killed in seconds by the merciless force of nature. I couldn’t imagine what she must have felt, the terror, the desperation, the numbing despair. One minute you’re struggling to protect and hold onto that which is most precious to you in the world; the next you’re screaming as your son or daughter is stolen from you, floating away with debris, and nothing else will matter, ever.

I wonder if this young woman still commemorates Ramadan, when Muslims refrain from eating and drinking in order to learn patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God. I wonder if she still believes in God. I wonder if she still lives.

It’s interesting how we’re brought together as people by these occurrences – this and September 11 and the Haitian earthquake and the madman in Norway and the Japanese earthquake and the school massacre in Beslan, Russia – and for a time we feel closer, more empathetic, more compassionate toward our neighbors on Planet Earth...and then the feeling of commonality fades, the differences in language and culture and economic status and skin color and politics and religion become significant again and we turn away, refocus on what matters only to us, to the people in our homes, our immediate circles.

Why does it take evil and tragedy to bring us together, and why don’t we stay that way?

My Christmas was almost obscenely joyful, relatively speaking.

A woman mourns the death of her relative in Cuddalore, 
112 miles south of the southern Indian city of Madras, 
on December 28, 2004. REUTERS/Arko Datta.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tebow trivializing...

Aretha Franklin - Respect

Don't sue me, bro!

I’m glad I’m not Crystal Cox.

The “investigative blogger,” as she calls herself – she also calls herself a “Reputation Manager,” “Real Estate Broker Owner” and “Nutritional Supplement Distributor” for Good Life International dietary supplements – was found guilty of defamation in federal court in Oregon recently. The jury voted unanimously to fine her $2.5 million.

Crystal Cox
In a Raw Story report entitled, “Federal judge: Blogger not entitled to media protections,” writer Eric W. Dolan explains that “Crystal L. Cox of Montana was sued in January by the Obsidian Finance Group for defamation after she claimed the firm’s co-founder, Kevin Padrick, acted illegally during bankruptcy proceedings. She posted that he was a ‘thug’ and a ‘thief,’ which she claims was based on an inside source. But U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez ruled that Cox was not protected by Oregon’s shield law, which allows journalists to protect their sources.”

The judge also said there was no proof that Cox adhered to journalistic standards and she had no professional qualifications as a journalist.

I don’t have a journalism degree and don’t always refer to my journalistic standards checklist before clicking on “post” either. I strive for clarity and accuracy and deal with verifiable facts and truths, to be sure, but part of capturing and keeping readers is writing compellingly, I think, even if it means peppering sentences and paragraphs with names, words and phrases upon which necktie-wearing New York Times editors might frown.

Defamation is defined as “any intentional false communication, either written or spoken, that harms a person's reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person.”

I don’t intentionally disseminate false information. I think politicians are fair game and I don’t lose sleep because I’ve written disparagingly about ‘em or somehow diminished the respect they enjoy. (A New York Times poll back in October found that just nine percent approved of Congress. I’m pretty sure I’m not responsible for more people approving of polygamy than Washington lawmakers.) But it does concern me that bloggers have been hit with $47 million in defamation judgments, according to the Media Law Resource Center (up from $17 million just two years ago.)

Interestingly, Cox’s website includes the following prominently-featured quote: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

Know who said this? Buddha. (At least that’s what Crystal Cox claims.) I bet he had more money to pay attorneys than I do.

Sources: Raw Story, Huffington Post,

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Love Makes a Family

Lansing's Got Balls

I hope your Christmas, Solstice, Chanukkah,
Saturnalia, Yuletide, Kwanzaa, Festivus
or whatever you celebrate
is peaceful and full of joy.

Photo courtesy Bonnie Bucqueroux.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Last appeal before Christmas...

I hope “What’s the Diehl?” readers enjoy the fruits of my labor – I hope you’re provoked, informed, motivated, amused, entertained and even irked by what I write each and every day. I hope you like the music and photos I share and realize that my posts take time, energy, thought and research. (Few one-person operations post new content on a daily basis.) As much as I enjoy doing this and as thankful I am to have so many readers, I do have bills to pay and mouths to feed. Why not use the “Donate” button on the upper right to let me know that even though the Series of Tubes are free, you think “What’s the Diehl?” is worthy of your financial support? Please. I dare you.

I wish for peace on Earth and happy holidays from my family to yours.

Anita Ward - Ring My Bell

Forgive the Bell Ringers for They Know Not What They Do

I almost hate to post this – I read that a jury in Washington State just found a blogger who had been sued for defamation guilty and awarded the plaintiff $2.5 million – but the bell-ringers are out and the truth needs to be shared.

If you hate gay people, the Salvation Army is a fine charity to support. But if you believe in equality and tolerance – if you agree with my six-year-old that “love is love” – then you should walk right by the bell-ringers and save your coins for another group or individual.

People don’t know that the Salvation Army is run by a church with conservative Christian beliefs. Its own mission statement declares that “marriage is between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” and that “scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex.”

In 2001, the Washington Post disclosed details of a secret deal the Salvation Army made with the Bush administration that allowed the charity to disobey state and local laws prohibiting discrimination against gay people. Dubya’s administration had made a “firm commitment” to exempt them from the law but backed away from granting an exemption after the deal was made public.

In 2004, the Salvation Army threatened to close every soup kitchen and homeless shelter in New York City rather than follow the law that required city contractors to provide equal benefits to domestic partners. Apparently, helping the homeless just wasn’t as important as discriminating against gay people. According to the Bilerico Project, a respected LGBTQ website, “If you support the Salvation Army, you’re supporting bigotry. This is how they’re spending your money: on anti-gay religion and anti-gay politics.”

Agents of Satan?
The Salvation Army is also known to be pro-life and anti-euthanasia. And I’ve heard that some Salvation Army chapters refuse to accept and distribute Harry Potter- and Twilight-themed toys to poor kids because the Potter and Twilight books and movies promote sorcery.

Back in 1994, the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that the Salvation Army, with its thrift stores and red kettles, was “the fourth most popular and credible charity/nonprofit in America.”

That don’t impress me much. It was 17 years ago. And in 2004, Dubya won 286 electoral votes to John Kerry’s 251. We all know what a mistake the Bush presidency turned out to be.

It’s quite possible that the dedicated, personable bell-ringers wearing red aprons, standing out in the cold and wishing passersby a “Merry Christmas” aren’t the least bit bigoted. But the charity for which they’re raising money is. And there are lots of other organizations that help needy people and those impacted by natural disasters regardless of their sexual orientation or political, cultural and religious beliefs. There’s no place for hate in charity.

Source: The Bilerico Project.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The hawks switch their focus...

En Vogue - Free Your Mind

Astrophysicist Discovers Reading Rainbow

My friend Rob South posted a link in Facebook to a list of eight books that noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks “every intelligent person should read.”

According to Tyson, if you read all the books on his list, you’ll “glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”

Okay, so I didn’t earn a bachelor’s from Harvard, a master’s from the University of Texas at Austin or a doctorate from Columbia. Maybe I didn’t win the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal and haven’t published books on astronomy or hosted a miniseries on PBS’s NOVA. I still love to read and am happy to share my recommendations although no one asked.

I’m currently reading God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens, The End of Faith by Sam Harris and Reefer Madness by Eric Schlosser. I just finished Smells Like Dead Elephants by Matt Taibbi, Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich and Sex, Art and American Culture by Camille Paglia.

Other books I found fascinating or learned something from include Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Persig, Fast Food Nation by Schlosser, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast, What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank, Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam and The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken.

I’d also recommend Seven Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line by Ben Hamper, Asphalt Nation by Jane Holtz Kay, Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins, and George Orwell’s 1984 if you’re one of two people in this country who hasn’t read it.

If that’s not enough, I suggest you pick of copies of On the Brink: The Great Lakes in the 21st Century and Ruin & Recovery: Michigan’s Rise as a Conservation Leader, both by my friend Dave Dempsey. Dave’s name is at the top of my “People I Dig” list; I learned a lot about writing, and life, from him.

If you’re more impressed by guys who head planetariums, appear on “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show,” receive honorary doctorates from 14 institutions of higher education and are named People magazine’s Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive, then you probably want to know what made Tyson’s list:
Neil deGrasse Tyson

1.) The Bible
2.) The System of the World by Isaac Newton
3.) On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
4.) Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
5.) The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine
6.) The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
7.) The Art of War by Sun Tsu
8.) The Prince by Machiavelli

I can proudly say that I own three of these, have read one completely, skimmed two others and have heard of every last one of ‘em. It hasn’t gone to my head though.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Eli "Paperboy" Reed - Pick Your Battles

Doin' the Depot Again

A week ago I wrote about Lowe’s, the Big Box home improvement store, capitulating to bigotry by pulling its advertising from “All-American Muslim” – the reality television show depicting Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan as being just like everybody else – at the request of the small-brained, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing dimwits at the Florida Family Association.

I mentioned that Anita and I have dropped lots of cash at Lowe’s in recent months but would be taking our business elsewhere in light of the corporation’s decision to endorse ignorance and prejudice.

So in addition to ramping up the amount of time and money we spend at Michigan-based ACO Hardware, we’ve decided to give Home Depot another chance since for the past year company officials have ignored the American Family Association’s repeated attempts to persuade ‘em via a boycott to stop publicly backing gay rights. (The Atlanta-based company continues to participate in the city's gay pride parade, as it has done for years.)

What is it with these frikkin’ “family associations” anyway? They sure don’t represent any of the families I know. As I’ve written before, “family” means “togetherness,” not “separation” and “force others to embrace my narrow religious beliefs.”

I’m aware that Home Depot isn’t perfect – its political action committee has donated to Eric Cantor, John Boehner and other pond scum GOP politicians – but we’ve got to pick our battles, right? Home Depot has worked hard to improve its environmental record, curbing the sale of lumber from endangered forests in Indonesia and Chile, planting trees to offset carbon emissions and spending big bucks to build green, affordable homes.

And the American Family Association, which brags that it’s been on "the frontlines of America's culture war" since 1977, makes me sick. An AFA stooge said, “Home Depot should be like a lot of Fortune 500 companies and simply remain neutral in the culture war – don’t give money, don't give vehicles, don't lend employee support to homosexual activities on Main Street USA.”

First of all, the “culture war” is b*llsh*t made up by conservatives to distract the myopic masses from the illegal, immoral, unethical actions of politicians in their pockets. (“Look! They’re building a mosque on hallowed Ground Zero, people!” “Barack Obama is taking Christ out of Christmas!” “Radical feminists want to turn your little girls into lesbians!”)

Secondly, I don’t want any one individual or organization, conservative or progressive, telling everybody else what they should and shouldn’t think, do, support or oppose.

And lastly, I haven’t seen any homosexual activity on Main Street USA but I have seen a lot of empty buildings and boarded-up windows because Mom and Pop couldn’t compete with the corporate playas who ran ‘em out of business and laughed all the way to the unscrupulous banks. (Yes, Lowe’s and Home Depot, I’m talking about you too.)

You gonna do anything about that, American Family Association?

See you at ACO and Home Depot.

Sources:, Daily Finance.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Performance Evaluations

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony - Rebirth

John Walsh: Laying Off the People We Need the Most is Criminal

John Walsh

I met John Walsh once.

I didn’t really talk to him, actually – I shook his hand as he was entering an office in our State Capitol Building and I was leaving. This was in the early 1980s, before “America’s Most Wanted,” his anti-crime show on FOX, made him a household name but after his six-year-old son, Adam, was murdered in South Florida. I remember him not being the friendliest man I’d ever met but I might be projecting. If my six-year-old had been abducted and decapitated, I doubt I’d feel like turning on the charm while shaking hands with strangers.

I subsequently caught a few episodes of “America’s Most Wanted” but found the show’s testosterone levels too high for regular viewing. I respect the fact that the show – which featured dramatic re-enactments of crimes and demanded that viewers contact the police with whatever information they may have “so we can put these jerks in jail where they belong” – contributed to the capture of more than 1,000 fugitives during its 23-year run (1988–2011) but Walsh’s hard-hitting, pro-cop demeanor always made me a little uncomfortable. Sure, I oppose crime as much as the next person. But Walsh’s show seemed to reduce complex human beings into one-dimensional caricatures, with the police always portrayed as dedicated, selfless, beyond-reproach “good guys” and the criminals always being scary, rabid bogeymen, unscrupulous, deficient vermin to be locked up in cages as soon as more prisons can be built.

So I hadn’t seen the guy in years until I ran across a video (posted below) in Facebook in which he defends teachers, cops, firefighters and paramedics, expresses opposition to the wholesale layoffs taking place in municipalities across America, and points out if we’re being burglarized, we’re not gonna get help from Citigroup or Wells Fargo; it’s the police upon whom we rely when we're in a fix.

Walsh also objects to how some Fortune 500 companies pay no state taxes at all, says the increase in crime is because of poverty, and declares that laying off these public servants is a quick fix, maybe, but not a good fix. He closes by encouraging viewers to “speak up, call your legislators, write ‘em, e-mail ‘em.” (I’m not sure what crime increase he’s talking about since our crime rate in 2009 was roughly the same as in 1968, according to the FBI, with the homicide rate being at its lowest since 1964. Maybe he has access to newer statistics.)

Walsh is at his most persuasive in my opinion when he mentions Cleveland, Ohio, which let 321 people go, more than a third of whom were cops; Patterson, New Jersey, which laid off 125 police officers and saw a 15 percent spike in crime; and “lovely” Flint, Michigan, which laid off two-thirds of its police force and has become “one of the small-city murder capitals of the U.S.”

John Walsh is the latest addition to my “People I Dig” list for speaking out against penny-wise and pound-foolish efforts to balance budgets by decimating essential public services so that “companies,” as he refers to the large corporate monsters that have screwed us without lubricant, can enjoy record profits at our expense.

Before you call and write your legislators, watch this video:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Jackson 5 - ABC

There once was a little girl named Maya...

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Maya.

Maya lived near Lansing, Michigan, with her loving mother, two sisters, brother, stepdad and two Maltese puppies named Ben and Jerry. Her 71-year-old grandmother, who was from India and who Maya called “Nani,” lived nearby, and her stepdad's parents, who commented on Maya's charm every time they saw her, were only half a day's drive away. She had lots of friends, too; her bestie was named Alyna.

Maya was lovable for lots of reasons, but mostly because she was so special. Different. Unique. One-of-a-kind. She was like other little girls in the way she talked back to her mommy sometimes and was so easily frustrated and argued with her siblings – especially her brother, who was one year older – but she had what her stepdad referred to as a special “spark,” a personality that was precocious and advanced and compelling and noteworthy and exceptional.

It was assumed that Maya would one day become a movie star or famous stage actress or something artistic because she had such a flair for the dramatic, was so expressive and funny, and could be so much larger than life. It wasn’t a talent for singing or dancing that led people to assume this; it was the sheer force of her personality, the spark. She wasn’t loud. She was just special. She didn’t demand that people pay attention to her. They just did because she stood out.

All parents think their children are special – well, if they’re good parents, they do – but Maya really was something to write home about. She was so lovable and likable and smart and sensitive and vaguely fragile that her mom and stepdad worried about her, were afraid that she would be hurt or make the wrong choice because they knew that underneath her confident exterior was a little girl who wanted to be loved, who liked attention, who wasn’t afraid to compete and bend the rules. All little girls want to be loved, of course. But people were drawn to Maya. And her parents worried that this might include people who would take advantage of Maya’s beauty and goodness and spark. Not everybody’s good. Not even in Maya’s world.

So Maya turned nine years old. Her family sang to her and she received gifts and attention and even more love. Ben and Jerry licked her face and wagged their tails even more than usual when they saw her on birthday morning. She smiled her megawatt smile and thanked people without being told to and generally proved over and over again why people were lucky to know her. And at one point during the day, everybody – her mom, her brother Bryant, her sisters Nikita and Devina, her stepdad and even the dogs, we think – took a moment to be thankful that someone so magical, so different, so special and striking, so beautiful inside and out, was in their family.

Happy birthday, Monkey.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Marisa Monte & Cesária Évora - É Doce Morrer no Mar

Sunday poetry

Church Going

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

~ Philip Larkin

Saturday, December 17, 2011

To Hitch

Farewell, Hitch.

Christopher Hitchens, the 62-year-old writer, intellectual, lecturer and noted atheist with the British accent and lightning-fast mind who was known as “Hitch” to his friends, died yesterday of pneumonia, a complication of his esophageal cancer.

You don’t have to be a heathen to mourn Christopher Hitchens’ death. Yes, those who reject organized religion and deny the existence of God have lost one of their most provocative and eloquent spokespeople. But Hitchens wrote and lectured on a variety of topics and even those who attend church religiously must admit that he was supremely talented – absolutely brilliant, in fact – and his departure from the planet creates a void.

He wasn’t just a gifted author of 11 books and several collected essays, pamphlets and collaborative works; he could think on his feet and immediately respond to a question or assertion with facts, wit and often irrefutable posits and anecdotes that rendered his questioner or debater impotent and speechless. He had such power, personality and staggering intellect. It’s possible that he was insufferable in person, as those who are aware of their awesome intelligence or pleased with what they have achieved in life can be – although from what I’ve read, he wasn’t – but I still would have liked to have personally met, talked with, listened to and learned from him. It’s not every day that we can share air with true genius.

I didn’t agree with Hitchens about everything – he supported hawkish neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz and the Iraq war, insulted Cindy Sheehan and rooted for Ralph Nader for president in 2000 – but I respect him like few others, not only for his smarts and wit but for the self-confidence and courage that it took to appear on national television or stand before hostile audiences and slice their realities to bits, to turn people’s deeply-held convictions upside down and inside out in less time than it takes me to reboot my laptop. He challenged listeners and readers, made important points, shared unique insights, rejected the ridiculous and warned that the barbarians weren’t merely at the gates, they were well inside, having been let in by the faithful.

As one friend posted in Facebook after Hitchens’ death became known, “We all saw this coming yet it is never easy.” (He interrupted a book tour to undergo treatment for his cancer in June of 2010.) Indeed, it’s hard not to feel sad or even downright depressed when someone like Hitchens or Steve Jobs or Dennis Ritchie or Geraldine Ferraro or Betty Ford or Jack LaLanne or Gil Scott-Heron or Howard Zinn dies and you know the world will never be the same, that someone who may be imitated but never duplicated has left this mortal plane, someone who in one way or another made life better, made a lasting contribution.

Here are some quotes that reveal Christopher Hitchens’ brilliance (I tried to choose a favorite but couldn’t so they’re listed in no particular order):

“Religion ends and philosophy begins, just as alchemy ends and chemistry begins and astrology ends and astronomy begins.”

"The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more."

“Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.”

"[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction."

"The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals."

“That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

“Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”

“To terrify children with the image of hell, to consider women an inferior creation – is that good for the world?”

“To 'choose' dogma and faith over doubt and experience is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid.”

“One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody – not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms – had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance and other infantile needs). Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion, and one would like to think – though the connection is not a fully demonstrable one – that this is why they seem so uninterested in sending fellow humans to hell.”

“Exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence.”

“For a lot of people, their first love is what they'll always remember. For me it's always been the first hate, and I think that hatred, though it provides often rather junky energy, is a terrific way of getting you out of bed in the morning and keeping you going. If you don't let it get out of hand, it can be canalized into writing. In this country where people love to be nonjudgmental when they can be, which translates as, on the whole, lenient, there are an awful lot of bubble reputations floating around that one wouldn't be doing one's job if one didn't itch to prick.”

“[George W. Bush] is lucky to be governor of Texas. He is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.”

“The gods that we’ve made are exactly the gods you’d expect to be made by a species that’s about half a chromosome away from being chimpanzee.”

“I suppose that one reason I have always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate the idea that the universe is designed with 'you' in mind or, even worse, that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not. This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me.”

“Organized religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.”

“We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.”

“The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.”

“To be the father of growing daughters is to understand something of what Yeats evokes with his imperishable phrase 'terrible beauty.' Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it's a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else's body. It also makes me quite astonishingly calm at the thought of death: I know whom I would die to protect and I also understand that nobody but a lugubrious serf can possibly wish for a father who never goes away.”

“How dismal it is to see present day Americans yearning for the very orthodoxy that their country was founded to escape.”

“An old joke has an Oxford professor meeting an American former graduate student and asking him what he's working on these days. 'My thesis is on the survival of the class system in the United States.' 'Oh really, that's interesting: one didn't think there was a class system in the United States.' 'Nobody does. That's how it survives.”

“My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilization, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can't prove it, but you can't disprove it either.”

“Faith is the surrender of the mind; it's the surrender of reason, it's the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It's our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.”

“It [Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize] would be like giving someone an Oscar in the hope that it would encourage them to make a decent motion picture.”

“When the late Pope John Paul II decided to place the woman so strangely known as 'Mother' Teresa on the fast track for beatification, and thus to qualify her for eventual sainthood, the Vatican felt obliged to solicit my testimony and I thus spent several hours in a closed hearing room with a priest, a deacon, and a monsignor, no doubt making their day as I told off, as from a rosary, the frightful faults and crimes of the departed fanatic. In the course of this, I discovered that the pope during his tenure had surreptitiously abolished the famous office of 'Devil’s Advocate,' in order to fast-track still more of his many candidates for canonization. I can thus claim to be the only living person to have represented the Devil pro bono.”

“Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities in every department of human life – except religion.”

“If I was told to sacrifice [my three children] to prove my devotion to God, if I was told to do what all monotheists are told to do and admire the man who said, ‘Yes, I’ll gut my kid to show my love of God,’ I’d say, ‘No, fuck you!’"

“God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was quite the other way about, which is the painless explanation for the profusion of gods and religions, and the fratricide both between and among faiths, that we see all about us and that has so retarded the development of civilization.”

“My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass.”

Friday, December 16, 2011

Seal - It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World

If anyone needs me, I'll be in the bathroom

A few days ago, Anita sent me a link to a story in Gongwer, a state government newsletter, trumpeting the fact that Michigan’s unemployment rate “plunged” by 0.8 percentage points to 9.8 percent. It’s the first time in three years that the state’s unemployment rate dropped below 10 percent. (The national November unemployment rate is 8.6 percent.)

I wasn’t aware that a drop of eight-tenths of one percentage point was a “plunge,” but maybe I’m obsessing over word usage.

This was on the same day that I ran across an internet meme in Facebook stating, “There are more than 4 people unemployed for every open job; maybe ‘just get a job’ isn’t that simple.”

This is a reference, I assume, to comments made by that pompous, repulsive, insensitive slug known as Newt Gingrich, the GOP presidential candidate who admonished Occupy Wall Street protestors on Thanksgiving to just “get a job after you take a bath.”

Or maybe it relates to former Gingrich competitor Herman Cain’s insistence that if people who aren’t rich don’t have jobs, they have no one to blame but themselves.

In any event, Anita might have sent the link as just an FYI...or maybe it was because she’s tired of being the moneymaker in the family. My freelance writing career has thus far proven less than lucrative, to put it mildly, and she’s been shouldering the financial burden of our six-person family for some time now. It’s little comfort that in recent years there’s been a sharp rise in the number of married couples where a woman is left to bring home the bacon because hubby is unemployed.

According to the Center for American Progress, “The reason that more married couples now boast women as the primary breadwinners is because men have experienced greater job losses than women over the course of this recession, losing three out of every four jobs lost.”

So is it still a man’s world? Yes and no.

Wage inequality remains a problem. In 2007, the median weekly earnings of women working full-time were $614, or 80 percent of men's $766. And when comparing the median weekly earnings of people aged 16 to 24, young women earned 92 percent of what young men earned ($409 and $443, respectively).

But women did account for 51 percent of all workers in the high-paying management and professional occupations in 2007. They outnumbered men as financial managers, human resource managers, education administrators, medical and health services managers, accountants and auditors, budget analysts and physical therapists as well as in occupations like registered nurse and preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle and secondary school teacher. Women also outnumbered men in the fields of property, real estate, and social and community association management.

I wonder how many employers replace men with women because they can get away with paying women less.

Another information source, the Pew Research Center, contradicts the Center for American Progress. According to its analysis of more recent data, men gained 768,000 jobs and lowered their unemployment rate by 1.1 percentage points to 9.5 percent from “the end of the recession in June 2009 through May of this year.”

Guess I’d better take a bath now.

Sources: U.S. Department of Labor, Think Progress, Center for American Progress, Pew Research Center.