Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Annie Lennox - Why?

Why do we kill our kids?

I was distressed when I read that fireman Roni de Macedo, who responded to a shooting at the Tasso da Silveira school in Rio de Janeiro last month that left 12 elementary school children dead, was quoted as saying, ‎"I've never seen anything like this. It's like something in the United States."

I was sad not only because 12 Brazilian kids were lined up against a wall and shot at close range, but also because the world thinks of my country when these despicable acts occur.

Regular “What’s the Diehl?” readers know that four of my five children are preteens who ride the bus to public school each morning. What you might not know is that most days, as I’m kissing them goodbye, I have to push the scary thought out of my head that I might not see them again.

  • In September of 2004, terrorists took more than 1,000 people hostage at School Number One in Beslan, North Ossetia, Russia. At least 334 were killed, including 186 innocent little boys and girls, probably all dressed up and excited about their first day of school. Hundreds more were injured and reported missing.

    • In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in October of 2006, an Amish one-room schoolhouse was taken over by a gunman who shot ten little girls, killing five, before committing suicide.

      • Fifteen people, including nine students, lost their lives when a 17-year-old opened fire at a secondary school and car dealership in southwestern Germany in March of 2009.

        • Back in June of 2001, a former janitor entered the Ikeda Elementary School in Osaka Prefecture, Japan, and started stabbing anyone he saw, killing eight seven- and eight-year-olds and seriously wounding 13 other children and two teachers.

          • Who can forget Colorado’s Columbine attack in April of 1999 and the Virginia Tech massacre in April of 2007? Twelve students and a teacher died at the hands of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold before they turned their weapons on themselves; 32 people lost their lives and many others were wounded before the Virginia gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, committed suicide.

            • Nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green was among six people murdered this past January in Tucson, Arizona, during a public event hosted by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head and is expected to recover.

              • I wrote before about nine-year-old Brisenia Flores of Arivaca, Arizona, who was shot in the face twice as she begged for her life.

              I was planning to collect gun fatality statistics and compare mortality rates by country and research the solutions being proposed and share the experts’ commentary about cause and effect but I can’t. I need to go hug my six-year-old.

              Sunday, May 29, 2011

              Pure Michigan: Monsoon Season

              Sunday poetry

              The Early Purges

              I was six when I first saw kittens drown.
              Dan Taggart pitched them, 'the scraggy wee shits',
              Into a bucket; a frail metal sound,

              Soft paws scraping like mad. But their tiny din
              Was soon soused. They were slung on the snout
              Of the pump and the water pumped in.

              'Sure isn't it better for them now?' Dan said.
              Like wet gloves they bobbed and shone till he sluiced
              Them out on the dunghill, glossy and dead.

              Suddenly frightened, for days I sadly hung
              Round the yard, watching the three sogged remains
              Turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung

              Until I forgot them. But the fear came back
              When Dan trapped big rats, snared rabbits, shot crows
              Or, with a sickening tug, pulled old hens' necks.

              Still, living displaces false sentiments
              And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown,
              I just shrug, 'Bloody pups'. It makes sense:

              'Prevention of cruelty' talk cuts ice in town
              Where they consider death unnatural,
              But on well-run farms pests have to be kept down.

              ~ Seamus Heaney

              Saturday, May 28, 2011

              Gil Scott Heron - Inner city blues

              Feelin' lucky at the library, punk?

              My first post-divorce apartment was in downtown Lansing, across the street from Reutter Park and a block from the Capital Area District Library’s (CADL) downtown branch. I used to take Amelia to the library to explore the magical world of children’s literature.

              This was before a group of gun nuts decided to get their names in the newspaper by walking around the library carrying shotguns on their shoulders.

              Late last year, a gun advocacy group known as “Michigan Open Carry” decided to protest CADL’s no-weapons policy, stating that the library board lacks the authority to ban guns because the library doesn’t qualify as a “pistol free zone,” like a church, school or arena.

              Why a public library frequented by preteens shouldn’t qualify in anyone’s mind as a “pistol free zone” is beyond me.

              “I ask and demand that the city update training of library staff to prevent citizens from being harassed any further,” Michigan Open Carry president Scott Webb told a local newspaper, referring to two incidents when men were asked to leave the library for openly carrying a shotgun and a handgun.

              It really frustrates me to hear stories of large, armed, gun-rights bozos being harassed by self-righteous little librarians, dammit.

              One of the twits said he worries for his own protection when he’s not allowed to carry a gun.

              “I have a right to defend myself,” the guy told Lansing City Pulse. When asked who he was defending himself against, he said some of the people congregating outside the library “don’t look exactly friendly. People that look at you when you walk out. Like people that are in need of something and they might try and get it from you.”

              Why are mouth-breathing idiots like this allowed to get their paws on firearms at all? And what’s the guy doing in a library anyway? Aren’t they primarily for people who read?

              The library pointed out that those with permits can still carry concealed weapons on the premises. Not good enough for the gun nuts. They didn’t care that staff and patrons were alarmed and panicked at the sight of men with firearms roaming the bookshelves either. So the police were called and temporary injunctions were issued and the pro-gun zealots even tried to get the Lansing City Council to encourage CADL to change its policy.

              Finally, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina ruled that the library doesn’t fall under a “local unit of government” such as a city, village, township or county – which under state law cannot prohibit open carry of firearms – and therefore does have the authority to ban people who openly carry guns.

              Now that Governor Rick Snyder and his minions have stuck it to consumers by trashing our item pricing law and removing the requirement that businesses pay taxes, maybe he can find a second to examine the ridiculous state law that allows yahoos to play Cowboys of the Wild West at places where children do their book learnin’?

              On second thought, forget it. He probably supports it.

              Sources: Lansing City Pulse, Capital Area District Library, Michigan Open Carry, Inc.

              Friday, May 27, 2011

              Andy Gibb - I Just Want to Be Your Everything (HQ with lyrics)

              You're going after the wrong SOB, dammit!

              It’s a shame.

              It’s disappointing that leaders at Daily Kos, the powerhouse progressive website that gets 13,000 visits each week, have decided to champion the fledgling Recall Rick Snyder effort in Michigan.

              I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. Using valuable resources to try to recall Rick Snyder is the wrong response to his evil machinations.

              If Snyder is recalled, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley will sit in the governor’s chair for the remainder of the term. (There is no special election to select Snyder’s successor.) I sure don’t want Brian Calley – who was born when “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” by Andy Gibbs was a top hit and I was trying to get the girls in my high school sophomore class to look beyond my acne and see the real me – calling the shots.

              Calley was named "Legislator of the Year" by the Small Business Association of Michigan in 2008. He’s a member of the National Rifle Association and Right to Life of Michigan. A former banker, he earned a measly 17 percent score for 2009–2010 on the Michigan League of Conservation Voters scorecard. Who thinks things would be better with this guy signing the GOP’s bills into law?

              I’ve written about how evil and wrong Rick Snyder is for Michigan. (It sure would be nice if my blog received 13,000 hits per week.) I’ve addressed his effort to bust unions and bring fascism to Benton Harbor and elsewhere through his emergency financial manager (EFM) scheme. I’ve covered his attempts to rob the poor to give to the rich through his pro-business, anti-everybody else budget proposals. I’ve pointed out that the far-right, Koch-funded Mackinac Center is a key puppetmaster here, pulling Snyder’s strings until he dances the merengue. I’ve revealed that I dislike the Turd Nerd more than I did John Engler, the last GOP governor who used a “scorched earth” approach to public policy development in Michigan. (At least Engler was politically astute.)

              But recall supporters need to collect 850,000 petition signatures between now and August 20. And Snyder’s deep-pocketed overlords are already hard at work casting this as a fight between the yucky, self-serving Michigan Education Association and a fresh, honest reformer who’s just trying to rein in those tax-and-spend liberals and put our fine state back on track. Sadly, this is going to be tough – and expensive – to counter.

              It makes more sense to go after the composition of the state legislature – where Republicans currently control everything, including the scheduling of bathroom breaks – because less money and fewer petition signatures are required in a district than in a statewide recall campaign. Taking away GOP control of either chamber would provide the brakes needed to slow the Snyder/Calley train wreck. (And would probably elevate the importance of the judiciary, but that’s another blog post.)

              It’s heartening to learn that Republican state legislators in several counties – including Wayne, Macomb, Washtenaw, Monroe and Huron – have been targeted for recall because they won narrow victories in 2010 in traditionally blue-leaning districts. There’s clearly a lot of passion and anger out there that needs an outlet. It just seems logical to make the most of it.

              I remember when a recall campaign was mounted against Governor Jim Blanchard, my boss at the time, back in 1983 for increasing the state income tax. (Brian Calley was six years old.) The effort failed miserably. However, two state senators, Phil Mastin and Dave Serotkin, did lose their seats for voting for the plan. This gave the Senate to the Republicans and allowed a young backbencher from Mt. Pleasant named John Engler to come forward. He was elected Senate Majority Leader in 1984. The rest is history.

              Philosopher George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

              Can we stop making the same mistakes over and over, progressives? Can we pretend we’re Republicans and focus on tactics and strategy rather than emotion for just a minute? Please?

              Sources: Daily Kos, Blogging for Michigan, National Conference of State Legislatures, Project Vote Smart, Michigan League of Conservation Voters

              Wednesday, May 25, 2011

              War - Edwin Starr

              War is good for nothing unless you're a contractor

              This photo of wounded Iraq War veteran Ty Ziegel and his bride, Renee Kline, was taken by Nina Berman. Ziegel was burned after a suicide bomber blew himself up by his truck in Iraq. After months in the hospital, he returned home and married his high school sweetheart. A few months later, the couple divorced.

              There are two things that instantly raise my blood pressure and put me in an unbelievably foul mood the second I think about them: 1) Anita’s psychopathic ex-husband, and 2) the fact that my country is waging endless war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan and not enough people give a sh*t.

              I’m not writing about the former because it’s Anita’s business and it’s too personal.

              The latter, however, is everyone’s business. Everyone’s paying, and not just financially. There’s a moral debt being incurred here – the kind that won’t be erased by helping old ladies across the street or warming a pew for a few consecutive Sundays.

              We’re spending money we don’t have and robbing our children’s future and killing innocent human beings. We’re destroying families and villages and livelihoods and marriages and hope. We’re trashing our nation’s reputation and creating fertile breeding grounds for hatred and terrorism and making it so we’ll never be able to fly to Cincinnati without taking our shoes off before boarding the plane. We’re killing people’s sons and daughters. We’re relegating our youth to scarred, limbless lives, to wheelchairs and veteran’s hospitals, to closed doors and alcoholism and nightmares that won’t end. For what?

              Where’s the outrage? Where’s the media assault? Why aren’t we forcing – literally forcing – politicians to bring our soldiers home before doing anything – anything – else? Why aren’t we demanding that Barack Obama send his Nobel Peace Prize back to Oslo on the next flight?

              The total cost of both wars since 2001, as of this moment, is $1,199,438,362,683.

              The tab for the Iraq war stands at $792,093,672,547; Afghanistan comes in at $407,345,258,772.

              We’re spending more than a trillion dollars on unjustifiable wars and our elected officials are wrangling over what to cut in the federal budget. We’re mortgaging the future of the United States and no one has the time to march in the streets or write to their representatives or fill the airwaves with indignation. No one’s trying to levitate the Pentagon or hold sit-ins or burn anything. Men and women and boys and girls are dying in Fallujah and Haditha and Tikrit and Kabul and Kandahar and some people can't even be bothered to vote.

              Cindy Sheehan camped out near Dubya’s “ranch” in Crawford, Texas, for a while a few years ago but she became the butt of Jay Leno’s jokes rather than the leader of a revived anti-war movement. It’s a mystery to me why a mother who was trying to draw attention to the fact that she dressed her son in his best suit, placed him in a casket and buried him under six feet of dirt for no clear reason became an object of ridicule.

              Sheehan lost her child and we have no shame.

              I remember marching on a cold day back in 2003 with millions of others around the world to protest the possibility of war with Iraq. The United States bombed Baghdad the following month. Is this why we shrug our shoulders now and let Halliburton, Congress and others steal our money and our souls? Because we tried for one day to stop something and it didn’t work?

              The next politician who claims to support our troops but has done nothing to bring them home had better be thankful that I’m on medication.

              Source: costofwar.com

              Tuesday, May 24, 2011

              Our six-year-old in heaven

              Player - Baby Come Back

              Baby, come back!

              Mackinac Island photo © Laura Sternberg

              Anita’s gone and I’m messed up.

              She’s not gone for good. She’s chaperoning our nine-year-old’s class trip to Mackinac Island so I have the next three days in which to screw things up and be reminded of how much she does around here and how well she does it.

              I need to chauffeur three young girls to and from appointments, grandma’s, swim practice and a birthday party.

              I need to be prepared to drop everything and go pick eight-year-old Maya up from school if she has a tummy ache because apparently kids can’t learn anything when their tummies hurt anymore. (When I used to go to the office complaining that my stomach hurt, the nuns would tell me they hoped I felt better soon and I’d better turn around and march right back to class or my backside would soon hurt more than my tummy did.)

              I need to prepare meals that don’t include Pringles, pretzels, Pop-Tarts or popsicles. (Anything by Chef Boyardee is out too because I love my children and don’t want them ever to know the kind of pain I felt after thoughtlessly ingesting some pseudo-ravioli the other night.) The kids don’t buy my “Cool people eat Lucky Charms for dinner, guys” shtick anymore and I decided to refrain from doing the pizza thing right about the time when Anita told me to refrain from doing the pizza thing.

              I need to try to keep track of shoes and homework and library books and hair brushes. I have to avoid relying too much on eleven-year-old Nikita for help since she too is just a kid. I’m supposed to make sure the house stays somewhat inhabitable and everyone brushes their teeth at least two or three times before Mommy comes home. I need to dispense six-year-old Devina’s medication, moderate conflicts, monitor television viewing and keep track of who went to play with which neighborhood kid and when.

              All by myself.

              I don’t know how single parents do it. They have my respect and astonishment.

              Sometimes I find my family challenging even when Anita and I are sharing the load. (I’m pretty sure she would dispute my use of the word “sharing.”)  I’m always thrown for a loop when she heads out of town and I’m lucky that she doesn’t leave often.  She and Bryant left before dawn this morning and I've been telling myself, "She's only 215 miles away" ever since.

              Even if they forget to bring us back some Ryba’s Mackinac Island fudge, they'll still be welcomed home with eight open arms.

              Monday, May 23, 2011

              Fearless PJ Carter, 15 months old

              Maple Leaf Rag played by Scott Joplin

              Sorry, Joplin.

              (Charlie Riedel/AP Photo)

              I intended to write more about Bibi Netanyahu and Israel and the POTUS’s speech to the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) yesterday. But I can’t.

              I can’t stop thinking about a certain city in Jasper County, in the southwestern corner of Missouri, right smack dab in Tornado Alley.

              When I went to bed last night, one person in Joplin had died because of fierce tornadoes. When I woke up this morning, Anita told me the death toll was around 90; a local hospital and many homes and schools were damaged, too.

              I signed into Facebook and saw that one “friend” felt it necessary to point out that Joplin was the site of a number of meth labs when he lived in Missouri, as if Joplin’s criminal element brought nature’s fury down upon the community and it got what it deserved. If there’s suddenly a correlation between the crime rate and the occurrence of severe weather, I know a lot of places where residents need to head to the basement posthaste.

              My favorite poet, Langston Hughes, was born in Joplin. So were Hale Irwin, one of the greatest golfers of all time, actor Dennis Weaver – who will always be Marshal Sam McCloud to me – and jazz saxophone player Charles McPherson, who was raised in Detroit and played with the great Charles Mingus. Back in 1933, Bonnie and Clyde spent a few months in Joplin, robbing businesses and taking photographs. Joplin has a typically bombastic motto: “Proud of our Past...Shaping our Future.”

              Every place is noteworthy to someone, for some reason.

              I wish I could do more than just send best wishes, Joplin.

              Sunday, May 22, 2011

              Corinne Bailey Rae - Put Your Records On

              Sunday poetry

              I Thought It Was Tangiers I Wanted

              I know now
              That Notre Dame is in Paris,
              And the Seine is more to me now
              Than a wriggling line on a map
              Or a name in travel stories.

              I know now
              There is a Crystal Palace in Antwerp
              Where a hundred women sell their naked bodies,
              And the night-lovers of sailors
              Wait for men on docks in Genoa.

              I know now
              That a great golden moon
              Like a picture-book moon
              Really rises behind palm groves
              In Africa,
              And the tom-toms do beat
              In village squares under the mango trees.

              I know now
              That Venice is a church dome
              And a network of canals,
              Tangiers a whiteness under sun.

              I thought
              It was Tangiers I wanted,
              Or the gargoyles of Notre Dame
              Or the Crystal Palace in Antwerp,
              Or the golden palm-grove moon in Africa,
              Or a church dome and a network of canals.

              Happiness lives nowhere,
              Some old fool said,
              If not within oneself.

              It's a sure thing
              Notre Dame is in Paris,
              But I thought it was Tangiers I wanted.

              ~ Langston Hughes

              Saturday, May 21, 2011

              The Doors - The End

              Jimmy Carter was right about Israel

              Image courtesy of Oriental Review

              So President Obama gave a big speech about the Israel-Palestine conflict the other day and Israel’s not happy about what he said.

              What a surprise.

              The POTUS said, among other things, that peace negotiations should begin with a discussion of returning to the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East War. (During the war, Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula. The Sinai has since been returned to Egypt. Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, a move that Syria condemns and the international community doesn’t recognize.)

              Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the right-wing graduate of MIT and Harvard, responded that such a move is impossible “in light of current security concerns and demographic realities.”

              Netanyahu, a former Israeli Defense Forces captain who for his own political reasons has been stalling the peace process since he took office in 2009, said "Israel wants peace. I want peace. But a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality."

              If you looked up “not everyone who claims to want peace really wants peace” in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of Bibi Netanyahu.

              This is the guy who compared the leadership of Iran to Nazi Germany and has refused to support the creation of a Palestinian state or freeze the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank or stop demolishing Arab homes in East Jerusalem.

              This is the guy who was caught on video back in 2001 saying, “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move in the right direction. They won’t get in our way.”

              Now Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has joined other disciples of AIPAC in opposing Obama’s call for a two-state solution to the conflict. He’s promised to introduce a resolution in the U.S. Senate opposing Obama’s proposals.

              Oh, no, Orrin! Not that!

              In fact, Obama didn’t call for a direct return to the 1967 borders for Israel, as conservatives and Netanyahu have represented. Instead, he reiterated what other U.S. presidents and others in the international community have stated: that those lines should be the initial basis for talks. And refreshingly, he rejected our government’s blind allegiance to Israel in the process.

              In his bestselling book, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, former President Jimmy Carter – who knows a thing or two about the Middle East – argues that "Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East."

              I used to feel sorry for the Palestinians. Now I feel sorry for the people of Israel too.

              Sources: CNN, Talking Points Memo, The Daily Beast, BBC News, The Guardian.

              Friday, May 20, 2011

              Jeff Beck - Drown in my own tears

              Please, guvnor, I want some more...

              It infuriates me when media outlets refer to Rick Snyder’s budget hijinks as “reform” and cast his blatant money grab as an effort to restore integrity to a structurally flawed budget process. Even Michigan Public Radio used “reform” in one story to describe an element of his evil plan.

              Let me be clear: Rick Snyder and his Republican cronies are robbing from the poor to give to the rich. This is not responsible realignment; this is burglary and class warfare.

              The results of budget negotiations were announced yesterday. Although some things ended up a tad bit better than the more cynical among us anticipated, I’m not dancing in my dining room or retracting any of the harsh things I’ve said about the Turd Nerd yet.

              According to Nathan Triplett, an East Lansing City Councilmember who spent years working as a legislative aide in the state House of Representatives and is paying close attention, the latest budget agreement includes a restoration of $310 million in funding for K-12 schools: $150 million on a per-pupil basis to districts that use "best practices" and $160 million for retirement costs. The per-pupil reduction to schools in Fiscal Year 2012 will now be less than $100.

              Final budget targets will also include an additional $30 million for local units of government. Substantial reductions remain but, as Triplett said, it’s nice to see some recognition that we can’t cut our way to prosperity.

              Triplett pointed out how ridiculous it is for Republicans to claim credit for giving “extra” money to K-12 education when they were the ones who slashed funding in the first place. Lucky the electorate doesn’t pay attention, huh, guys?

              I guess we’re supposed to be like Oliver Twist, grateful to the master for giving us a little more gruel even as he cuts our portions and increases his own.

              Other budget developments:

              • Representative Dave Agema (R-Grandville) wanted to penalize universities that offer health insurance coverage for employees who live with other adults outside of marriage by subtracting five percent of state funding going to those universities but his proposal didn’t remain in the agreement. (This is the kind of odious garbage that passes for reasonable public policy these days.)

              • Legislators agreed to reduce concessions being sought from state employees to $145 million from $180 million.

              • Michigan will add $255 million to the state's rainy-day fund.

              • Lawmakers added $50 million to the Michigan Strategic Fund for economic development, brownfield redevelopment and historic preservation.

              Last week, at Snyder's bidding, legislators passed a broad tax restructuring plan that introduced a flat, six percent corporate tax in place of a state business tax.  Get this: the new tax only applies to "C" corporations that issue private or public stock. Most businesses, including limited liability companies, partnerships and sole proprietorships, will no longer pay business taxes.

              To pay for that gift to his business overlords, Snyder is taxing pensions, eliminating a bunch of tax credits and raising the state income tax.

              I was fired up about the Recall Snyder movement that’s gathering steam in pockets of the state until a wise friend pointed out that 1) cash-strapped municipalities have to shoulder the costs of a recall election; the state doesn’t contribute a penny, and 2) Snyder’s lieutenant, Brian Calley, would sit in the governor’s chair until a new election took place and Calley leans farther to the right than Snyder. That wouldn’t be good. Perhaps focusing our ire and energy on legislative districts is more pragmatic since the GOP has a lock on both chambers in Lansing.

              As Anita and I were heading out this morning, we caught Senator Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), the Senate Minority Leader, saying something on the radio about how Snyder defended his decision to pay his budget director, John Nixon, a quarter of a million dollars per year by saying, “You get what you pay for.” Whitmer pointed out that the same axiom applies to our support of education.

              It's Rick Snyder and his chums who are getting what we're paying for.  We ought to remember these budget negotiations and keep in mind which politicians are pretending not to hear us when we beg for more.

              Sources: Wall Street Journal, Detroit News.

              Wednesday, May 18, 2011

              Luciano Pavarotti - Ave Maria

              Straying from the Flock

              I attended Shrine of the Little Flower Elementary School at 12 Mile and Woodward in Royal Oak, Michigan, until I was 12. I wore the school uniform of navy pants, a white shirt and a clip-on navy tie. The principal and most of the teachers were nuns, the kind who dressed up like the Flying Nun with starched habits and dark robes, although a few women who dressed normally had managed to join the faculty.

              I can’t remember if there were any male teachers, although I remember the priests at the beautiful round church across the street. The church, which included a massive tower featuring a 28-foot-tall figure of Jesus on the cross – a cross “the Ku Klux Klan couldn’t burn,” people said – had been the site of Father Charles Coughlin’s famous and controversial radio broadcasts back in the 1930s.

              I was an average student but I could sing so I joined the choir and performed in all of the fundraising talent shows. (And I regularly sang along to my mom’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” album after school instead of doing homework.) I was an altar boy, too, which didn’t stop me from being paddled by Sister Patricia Marie, the principal, for misbehaving. My parents were married at that church, I think, although that marriage ended when I was 11 or so.

              After sixth grade, we moved to Birmingham and I stopped going to Catholic Church. I attended Unitarian-Universalist churches for a while, and then pretty much only sat in pews for weddings and funerals and the occasional Christmas Eve mass.

              I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was no longer a believer; it was a gradual process. (I still remember being moved by Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”) I couldn’t embrace the idea that women couldn’t be priests and needed to be subservient to their husbands. I was repulsed by the widespread sexual abuse of children and the cover-ups by church leaders. I couldn’t understand why there was so much suffering and pain and hardship and evil in the world if there was a loving, omnipotent, omniscient god floating on a cloud somewhere. I was turned off by hypocritical, politically-active preachers and congregants who didn’t pay taxes but wanted to tell me what could be done with mine and who urged me to be faithful to my marital vows even as they violated theirs with other women, men and children.

              Then I heard that church leaders had moved to suppress the discovery of the Gospel of St. Thomas back in 1945 in Egypt. I was told that these were the words of Jesus himself and because they contradicted church teachings, the Big Dogs tried to squelch the discovery.

              That was probably when my straying from the flock became complete.

              I’m not comfortable saying I don’t believe in God. I am comfortable saying there’s a lot to suggest he was created by man and not the other way around.

              The last time I was in Shrine of the Little Flower was in 2005. I attended Christmas Eve mass with my ultra-religious second wife, Alessandra. In keeping with family tradition, we subsequently divorced too.

              Tuesday, May 17, 2011

              J. Geils Band - Freeze Frame

              Israel, You're Really Pissin' Me Off, Man

              First it was shooting Muhammad al-Durrah, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, dead in Gaza back in 2000.

              Then it was running over 23-year-old Rachel Corrie with a 60-ton, armor-plated, American-made bulldozer in Gaza in 2003.

              Now I read that Israel a) is hosting Glenn Beck, that loony freak who makes me embarrassed to be a white man, for a "Restoring Courage" rally in Jerusalem this August, and b) just attacked a Malaysian ship named “The Spirit of Rachel Corrie” in international waters as it headed to Gaza with 4.5 miles worth of plastic sewage pipes to help restore Gaza’s devastated sewer system.

              Beck said the purpose of his event is to stand against the “force of darkness” and the “gates of hell” that he said were threatening Israel.

              I don’t even understand that. Ask a Palestinian who the “force of darkness” is and you might hear "the Israel Defense Forces” in response.

              The ship, which was sponsored on this humanitarian voyage by Perdana Global Peace Foundation, left Greece on May 11 and was fired upon by Israeli and Egyptian ships and forced to anchor in Egyptian waters. Eleven anti-war activists and journalists were on board.

              Back on March 23, I wrote about Israel and said I thought it was sad that veteran Washington reporter Helen Thomas was fired for criticizing Israel (especially when Pat Buchanan gets to spew his anti-Semitic crap ad nauseam). I lamented the power of Israel’s Washington lobbyist, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and pointed out that as of 2008, Israel was the Number One recipient of US foreign aid. I also said I didn’t think the Israel Defense Forces needed to come on so strong all the time.

              I’d settle for someone convincing that pro-Israel floozy, Joe Lieberman, to stop ranting and drooling about bombing Iran.

              I’m not a Holocaust denier. I’m not anti-Semitic. I’m not unmoved by the plight of persecuted Jews and I think everyone is entitled to a homeland.

              Including Palestinians.

              Speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Obama said today that the U.S. will continue seeking "an equitable and just solution to a problem that has been nagging the region for many years."

              A promise from a politician who’s scheduled to meet with AIPAC this coming Sunday. How encouraging.

              Sources: The Global Realm, USA Today

              Monday, May 16, 2011

              TLC - Red Light Special (Dirty Version)

              Hope the ACLU doesn't end up SOL like ACORN

              After the first World War, which occurred between 1914 and 1918, the United States was as afraid of communists as Dick Cheney is of a pacemaker malfunction. That fear resulted in then-Attorney General Mitchell Palmer unconstitutionally rounding up and deporting so-called radicals in what became known as the “Palmer Raids.”

              To fight the raids, a little group that called itself the American Civil Liberties Union was created. The ACLU championed Palmer’s targets, supported the right of trade union members to meet and organize, and helped secure the release of hundreds of activists imprisoned for anti-war activities. (Almost a century later, dim-witted conservatives still attack the ACLU for "sympathizing with communists.")

              The ACLU has since evolved into one of the country’s leading defenders of the Constitution and a lightning rod for conservatives who want to be able to do whatever they want to their enemies without having to worry about constitutional protections.

              Now, with more than half a million members, 200 attorneys on the payroll and offices throughout the nation, the ACLU is at times the only group standing up for a woman’s right to choose, the right to privacy, freedom of speech and other rights that most of us take for granted until they’re taken away by jack-booted thugs with marching orders from the Dark Side and right-wing politicians with American flags on their lapels.

              It was the ACLU that recruited biology teacher John T. Scopes to challenge a Tennessee state law banning the teaching of evolution back in 1925 and partnered with “sophisticated country lawyer” Clarence Darrow to take on William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Monkey Trial.

              It was the ACLU that spoke out against the “relocation camps” to which more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans were sent during World War II.

              It was the ACLU that joined with the NAACP to challenge segregation in public schools back in the early 1950s, leading to Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision ending the “separate but equal” era in American life.

              The ACLU - which was also involved with Roe v. Wade, the Supremes’ 1973 decision guaranteeing women the right to control their own bodies - really tweaked the ears of conservatives back in 1978 when it defended the First Amendment rights of Nazis who wanted to march in the Chicago suburb of Skokie.

              More recently, the group has supported free speech on the Internet and equal treatment for gays and lesbians. It has opposed torture, bringing religion into high school biology classes, and the obnoxiously-named Patriot Act, signed by Dubya in October of 2001 to give law enforcement more power and discretion and make it easier for government to spy on Americans, regulate our financial transactions and detain and deport immigrants.

              I’m pleased that the organization's finances appear healthy in spite of the fact that it's maligned and disparaged at every turn by conservatives. (The ACLU's IRS Form 990s for the past five years are available at its website.) But because it defends the rights of people of color, gay and transgendered people, women, prisoners, people with disabilities and immigrants, I fear it might nonetheless end up in the same dark abyss that swallowed ACORN, that evil, nefarious advocate for poor and minority Americans.

              We learned in 2009 that you can’t promote affordable housing and neighborhood safety, work to increase access to health care, and register voters and expect to be left alone by conservatives. Sooner or later, someone’s going to act like a prostitute and then selectively edit the video to make you look bad to donors and ruin, almost overnight, the unblemished reputation that you earned over four decades.

              If they can destroy a group that focused on organizing in poor, black communities, imagine what they might try on an organization that once fought to protect the rights of communists and Nazis.

              It's okay to try to enhance the quality of life for rich, white Republicans. But if you want to speak up for the rest of us, you just might find a wingnut pretending to be a pimp waiting in your office.

              Sunday, May 15, 2011

              Counting Crows - Round Here

              Sunday poetry


              Democracy will not come
              Today, this year
              Nor ever
              Through compromise and fear.

              I have as much right
              As the other fellow has
              To stand
              On my two feet
              And own the land.

              I tire so of hearing people say,
              Let things take their course.
              Tomorrow is another day.
              I do not need my freedom when I'm dead.
              I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.

              Is a strong seed
              In a great need.

              I live here, too.
              I want freedom
              Just as you.

              ~ Langston Hughes

              Saturday, May 14, 2011

              Lenny Kravitz - American Woman

              We're No Longer Number One

              Image courtesy of school-clipart.com

              On “Real Time with Bill Maher,” New York Times columnist and author Adam Ross Sorkin relayed a conversation he had with an American CEO who had just hired 5,000 people, 4,000 of whom were outside of the United States. When Sorkin asked why more of the new hires weren’t Americans, assuming they were call center jobs, the CEO answered, “No, it’s because the others were smarter.”

              Yesterday I wrote about the “dumbing down” of this country and blamed our lethargic populace and the media. I pointed out that those invested in the status quo are the ones who benefit from our intellectual laziness. I should have included our competitors in the global marketplace on the list of beneficiaries.

              The chest-beating platitudes of drunken sports fans aside, the U.S. is no longer Number One in a number of ways. Only 36 percent of Americans think we’re a world economic leader; in a recent standardized test of math proficiency, we’re way behind Taiwan (No. 1), Hong Kong (No. 2) and Korea (No. 3), and we can’t even compete with the likes of Slovenia and the Slovak Republic. (The “Real Time” panelists blame Big Oil and its powerful lobbyists for our minuscule investment in green energy compared to other nations.)

              “American children have school for only 180 days year, compared to the 195 days in Germany and 200 in East Asia. Furthermore, they only have about two to three hours of homework per night and are not pressured by society to take extra classes after school; a fact that appalls nations such as Japan and India, whose children take after-school classes regularly to help them with their studies.”

              The preceding well-written paragraph came from the pretty smart journalism students at Saratoga High School in Saratoga, California.

              Anita adds that teaching critical thinking skills – observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation and explanation – is much more important than demanding rote memorization of dates and formulas.

              I don’t like blaming all of our academic failings on educators. I’ve had some excellent teachers and so have my kids, and the right-wing attacks on this profession are irksome and pandering. I think the aforementioned media have some responsibility, and certainly lazy, unplugged parents, and students themselves, who know why they’re in school and shouldn’t need to be coddled and cajoled to the extent that some do. Apathetic voters are part of the problem, too, as are politicians who fund unnecessary wars while schools close and crumble.

              I’m thankful that I was born here and recognize the benefits of being American – but the older I get and the more I learn, the less inclined I am to beat my chest and wave the flag.

              Sources: “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Saratoga Falcon, The Hill

              Friday, May 13, 2011

              Keyshia Cole - Love

              Dumb and Dumber

              So Osama bin Laden collected porn.

              So what?!

              And so what if Bristol Palin had plastic surgery and Ashton Kutcher’s replacing Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men” and Michele Obama has toned arms and Oprah might be gay?

              I try to keep my mouth closed. I really do. I try to remember that what’s important to me isn’t important to everyone and people like to be distracted from negative news. But come on! We’re fighting three wars right now, for Pete’s sake! Our government is imploding at all levels. Bridges are crumbling and nuclear reactors are melting and floods and earthquakes are burying whole cities and politicians are taxing the poor to give to the rich and children are dying and oil companies are stealing billions...and I’m still hearing people talking on the radio about last month’s marriage of William and Kate.

              Something’s wrong with this picture.

              I watch mindless television, scroll down the Facebook wall, get lost in music and think about things that don’t really matter too. But I also read and write about things that affect the world, things I can't always control, things that will impact my children’s future. I’m supposed to do this. It’s part of being a grownup.

              I spend hours gathering facts and information on what's going on in Lansing and Washington for my blog posts and hear nothing. But someone posts a video clip of a laughing baby on Facebook and it gets 50 comments. I love laughing babies too, but how many times do we need to see the little tykes, really?

              Maybe if more people paid attention and did something – say, wrote a letter or sent an e-mail or called a friend or voted, even – instead of shrugging their shoulders and picking up People magazine, some of the bad stuff wouldn’t happen as much. Just maybe. If the media were told to stop shoveling so much crap and drivel and pablum down our throats, they just might.

              Ask yourselves one question: who benefits from the “dumbing down” of America? Those who embrace the status quo, that’s who. People named Koch and Bush and Boehner and Palin. If you’re fine with things the way they are, then by all means buy The Situation’s next book. But if you think life is about more than escaping from reality, as ugly as it sometimes gets, then get mad and fret and do something. Anything.

              That’s what I do.

              Coolio - Gangster's Paradise

              Kwame Kilpatrick Killed Detroit

              I have fond memories of the Motor City.

              Growing up in a northern suburb in metropolitan Detroit, it was no big deal to head downtown for fun, food and music.

              I vaguely recall shopping at Hudson’s with my mom after the riots of 1967. I remember floating down the Detroit River in the early 1970s on a Boblo Boat headed for Belle Isle, an island park, with my Catholic school classmates, and visiting the Detroit Zoo on another field trip, back when monkeys would wear pink tutus and ride tricycles on stage and toot horns and make children laugh.

              I remember catching a train with my little sister that departed from the old Michigan Central Station to visit an aunt in Chicago all by ourselves, and skipping school in the late ‘70s to hang out at the newly-built Renaissance Center. I once took a date to the Fisher Theater to see “Annie” and locked my keys in the car while visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts with another. The tow truck wasn’t cheap, I recall.

              When the candidate for whom I was working, Jim Blanchard, won the governor’s seat in 1982, he held a party at the famous Book Cadillac Hotel. I went to Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners and political conventions at Cobo Hall and one time found myself walking down the same small hallway as the legendary and intimidating Coleman A. Young, Mayor of Detroit from 1974 to 1993, although his entourage was significantly larger than mine.

              I attended a dedication ceremony for an historical marker at Hitsville U.S.A, the old Motown Studios on Grand River Avenue, and hobnobbed with Martha Reeves, Smokey Robinson and the Contours. I’ve stayed at the Pontchartrain Hotel and worked phone banks in union halls on Election Day and enjoyed jazz festivals at Hart Plaza and waved to clowns at the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

              I met the state’s attorney general at a rooftop party during the Detroit Grand Prix, and greeted newly-freed Nelson Mandela back in 1990 at the old Tiger Stadium on Trumbull and Michigan along with the Queen of Soul, Stevie Wonder and 49,000 other fans. I ate in Greektown and drank at The Old Shillelagh and attended a fundraiser featuring Hillary Rodham Clinton at the spectacularly-renovated Fox Theatre and experienced one of the best concerts ever, Luther Vandross and Anita Baker, from a private suite at Joe Louis Arena.

              All of these memories came back to me when I heard on the radio this morning that Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor who’s cooling his heels in federal prison, is facing new corruption charges that could add 30 years to his five-year sentence.

              Kilpatrick “served” as mayor from 2002 to 2008 – from what I’ve read, the city served Kilpatrick a helluva lot more than he served the city – and tarnished Detroit’s reputation in a way that extreme poverty and urban decay cannot.

              Lying under oath. Scandals and corruption. Improper use of public funds. Preferential hiring. Bribery. Abuse of power. Tax evasion and mail fraud. Using his city-issued credit card to charge spa massages, extravagant dining and expensive wines and paying the impoverished city back just $9,000 of the $210,000 he charged – less than five percent – once his spending habits were discovered.

              When I first heard that Tamara Greene – a 27-year-old stripper who allegedly performed at a raucous party held at the mayor’s official residence back in 2002 and angered the mayor’s wife, Carlita – was shot to death the following year by someone with the same type of gun used by Detroit Police at the time, I couldn’t believe the insinuation.

              When the crude, explicit text messages he exchanged with his mistress were made public, any respect I still had for the chief executive of the 18th most populous city in the country evaporated.

              And when he resigned in disgrace in September of 2008, I no longer thought of Detroit as the Arsenal of Democracy during World War II or the place where I made so many memories. I thought of it as just another cesspool to be avoided, another sad, ugly place where unethical politicians wreak havoc with public dollars while the hard-working residents suffer and pay and do without as their streets crumble and their schools close.

              I resent Kwame Kilpatrick for that.

              Wednesday, May 11, 2011

              Jackson 5 - Who's Lovin You

              Lights! Cameras! Inaction!

              The Detroit News reported this morning that the state’s fledgling film industry is fading to black, thanks to the dickhead sitting in the governor’s chair.

              First Rick Snyder announces – after the election, it should be pointed out – that he wants to limit tax incentives offered to the film and television industry, then businesses close and people get laid off:

              • Maxsar Digital Studios in Livonia has laid off all 50 employees and idled all production.

              • 10 West Studios in west Michigan has lost two film deals and one of its founders has moved to Los Angeles.

              • A Madison Heights studio operated by S3 Entertainment Group was evicted for nonpayment of rent.

              Snyder is working this week to persuade state lawmakers to sign off on his proposal to cap the incentive program at $25 million. (It was created in April 2008 with no funding limit and currently covers up to 42 percent of expenses.) But apparently industry types aren’t waiting around to see if the Stepford Wives in the State Senate will rubber stamp yet another ill-advised, penny-wise and pound-foolish Snyder idea.

              The Michigan Film Office, created back in 1979 to attract production companies to the state, reported that in 2010, $293 million was spent by productions shooting in Michigan. Film incentives equaling $115 million were given back to producers. This means the state made $178 million.

              Ernst and Young reported that for every $1 spent on film incentives, an additional $6 in economic activity was created.

              One can read the success stories at the Michigan Film Office website to see that the program is a good idea. Or you can listen to celebrities like Mitch Albom, Mike Binder and Jeff Daniels and the hundreds of regular folks who’ve participated in well-attended rallies protesting the plan.

              Too bad Rick Snyder doesn’t listen to anyone or anything except the Mackinac Center, the right-wing think tank that pulls his strings.

              Most people understand that government can’t do everything everybody wants, no matter how worthy the undertaking. But why provide hundreds of millions in tax breaks for corporations while gutting a popular program that makes money and showcases the state? Could it be that Snyder’s real goal isn’t to rein in government spending at all, but rather to redirect it into the pockets of his cronies in gated communities?

              Somebody ought to make a movie about that.

              Sources: Detroit News, Michiganfilmproduction.com, Michigan Film Office

              Tuesday, May 10, 2011

              Sade - Cherish The Day

              Paul and Pat Agree

              Congressman Ron Paul using a surprisingly different
              pose and setting than most politicians do in photos

              A Facebook friend shared an essay by Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), who ran for president twice – as a Libertarian in 1988 and a Republican in 2008 – and sired two things I dislike: the Tea Party movement and U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), one of the scariest politicians in Congress. My friend said she was interested in my response to the piece, entitled, “On the Elimination of Osama bin Laden.”

              My reaction is that I agree with everything Paul says in this statement.

              I agree that “targeted retribution is far superior to wars of aggression and nation-building.”

              I agree that it’s “tragic that it took ten years, trillions of dollars, tens of thousands of American casualties and many thousands of innocent lives to achieve our mission of killing one evil person.”

              I agree that “the elimination of Osama bin Laden should now prompt us to declare victory and bring our troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq."

              And I agree that we ought not to spend another dime on foreign aid to Pakistan, which harbored bin Laden for years and has been tied to the 2008 terrorist massacre in Mumbai, India, that left over 100 dead.

              It’s too bad that Paul wants to withdraw from the United Nations and build a big fence on the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s unfortunate that he supported Pat Buchanan, the pompous and creepy defender of Nazi war criminals, for president in 1992. Newsletter content attributed to Paul has been interpreted as racist and I don’t think he should run for president anymore. (He apparently is.) He’s on record as opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and supports term limits, controlling women’s bodies, and eliminating most federal agencies.

              On the plus side, he voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2001 and opposes farm subsidies (because they’re paid to large corporations instead of small farmers), torture, domestic surveillance, the draft and the War on Drugs. And he doesn’t support going to war with Iran, which in my book makes him more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize than another politician I won’t name who works in an oval office.

              Halliburton shareholder Dick Cheney notwithstanding, most Americans want us out of Afghanistan. It’s time to bring our troops home.

              On this point, Paul and Pat agree completely.

              Joe Cocker - You are so beautiful (nearly unplugged)

              Monday, May 9, 2011

              Smarter than the Average Bear

              My six-year-old scares me.

              It’s not because she’s odd or prone to outbursts or likely to appear at the foot of my bed some night wearing a hockey mask and gripping a machete.

              It’s because she’s so smart and charming and likable and advanced.

              It would be nice to be an expert on child development since I’m charged with helping to develop four of them, but I’m not. So I’m not sure what percentile she claims or how she officially compares to others or what her test results show. But I’m willing to bet my wife’s Chevy Venture minivan that Devina is smarter than the average bear.

              All kids hit those periods when they come home from school knowing ten new words each day and grow out of their new pants in three weeks and announce that apple juice is for babies and they can cut their own sausage, thank you. But Devina’s different. She makes jokes that I would make. We talk about subjects that challenge my understanding and ability to explain. She picks up on new things so quickly and remembers things that I forgot and is already at the point where she wants me to hurry up with my point and not beat a dead horse ‘cause she’s got it and she’s getting bored.

              She wants to be treated like her older siblings and stay at school all day like they do. She claims to be interested in the same shows they watch, iCarly and Degrassi, and denies still liking Dora the Explorer and the Backyardigans. She takes every chance she gets to demonstrate her independence, whether it’s heading down the street on her two-wheeler without permission or refusing to kiss us goodbye in the morning like the other children do, choosing instead to head out the door confidently, head held high, and throw a quick “See ya” back in our direction.

              She’s surprisingly fun to be with. Not just because I love her or it’s fascinating how children look at the world with innocence and naïveté, although I do and it is. It’s because she makes me laugh and makes me think. She also makes me wish the clock weren’t ticking so damn quickly.

              I really wish the minutes and hours and days and years weren’t blowing by so fast. As any parent knows, just yesterday she was in diapers. Today she’s writing her name and mine and everyone else’s she can think of – in cursive. Tomorrow she’ll be wearing a cap and gown and the day after that she’ll be changing her own baby’s diapers. I know this. I forget sometimes, when I get frustrated at having to repeat myself or discipline her and I end up not being as gentle as I should. But I know I need to cherish this time ‘cause it’s so fleeting.

              Yesterday the kids and I celebrated Mother’s Day by taking Anita and her mother to Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, 40 minutes away. When we got there, I gave Devina the zoo map and made it a point to ask her every 15 minutes or so where we were or how close we were to the zebras or the tram or the ice cream or the python. She seemed to relish the role and she seemed so mature, making her proclamations and sharing her estimations. I was pleased and a tad chagrined to learn that my six-year-old – who couldn’t even read six months ago or count to ten a year ago – can navigate a family of seven through an unfamiliar, 433-acre zoo with over 140 animal species.

              I‘m cherishing my Darling Devina. I’m digging her like crazy.

              Sunday, May 8, 2011

              Kate Bush - This Woman's Work

              For Sharon Kay Diehl on Mother's Day

              She was a single mother before it was cool, skimping and sacrificing and providing and parenting, alone.

              She was Mary Tyler Moore, tossing her knit hat into the air and catching it while someone sang about her making it after all. Her friends were Joni and Marilyn, not Phyllis and Rhoda, but she was making a new life just like Mary, only with two young children depending on her.

              She drove an eggshell blue Pinto and worked as a teacher, then a paralegal, moving my little sister and me to Birmingham and making sure we experienced summer camp and had bicycles and plenty of clothes and opportunities to have fun at Camp Dearborn and Cedar Point. She arranged for us to travel from Michigan to Arizona by car with her parents so we could see the Grand Canyon, experience the country, know our Grandma and Grandpa better and have the best “What I Did During Summer Vacation” stories of any kid in school.

              One time, when we were small, she took my sister and me to a carnival in the parking lot of a shopping mall and when we screamed for the guy to let us off the Ferris Wheel because we were scared out of our minds, she told him not to stop, just to slow down, because she didn’t want us to grow up afraid to try new things.

              She called in sick at work to chaperone our field trips and always cooked us tasty dinners and paid for my guitar lessons and funded my sister’s and my participation in the junior high ski club – which wasn’t cheap, even back then – and took us to a family restaurant on Coolidge and Maple Road at the Troy/Birmingham border for the “birds and the bees” talk when it was time. She defended me when my uncle dissed me and she went through a slew of babysitters of all types and ages trying to make sure we were in good hands from the time school let out at 3:00 until she returned home from work at 5:30.

              She forgave us for getting in trouble and fighting with each other and not doing well in class and she sent me to summer school so I’d pass algebra and she knew when to be tough and when to be soft and tender. She taught me to care about other people and to try to make the world a better place rather than concentrating on making money and driving fancy cars. She even sent me to live with my real father in Rochester for a few weeks one summer to show me she wouldn’t tolerate bad behavior, but when she found out my bed was in his dusty basement she demanded I return home so my allergies wouldn’t get worse.

              She shared her love of music and let me play her records after school and I learned to love Rod Stewart and Janis Joplin and Barry Manilow and Earth, Wind & Fire and Laura Nyro and Patti LaBelle and Jesus Christ Superstar and Johnny Mathis and Barbra Streisand and one year, for my birthday, we went to the movies and saw “Funny Lady,” just the two of us. And she took us to more live concerts at Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston than I can count or remember; I saw Bob Seger and George Benson and the Doobie Brothers and Wayne Newton and the Carpenters and Fleetwood Mac and Chicago and many, many others in person because of my mom.

              And when she fell in love again, she made sure it was with a good, charming, unique, amazing, real man with integrity and intelligence and compassion who would accept us as his own and give us the paternal love and education that was lacking in our young lives. She didn’t just find a partner for herself; she made us whole again, too.

              I smile when I think of all the things she did for me and I wince when I think of all the things I did wrong, all the times I made the wrong choices and made her worry and sigh and forced her to dig deep into that reservoir that mothers have to find new energy and tolerance and patience and acceptance. The unconditional acceptance you get from your mother is like no other.

              I used to talk with her every day, even in my 20s. But then marriage and relocations and kids and friends and other things of lesser importance distracted and interfered and intervened until I find myself now, at 49, missing her like crazy and regretting how far apart we are, figuratively and literally, and trying to ignore the nagging awareness that she’s not getting any younger and I should be doing whatever I can to connect with her while I still can. There’s a huge difference between not calling her and not being able to call her. I’m not ready to not be able to call her. My heart hurts right now at the thought.

              “Thank you” isn’t enough. Hallmark cards and flowers aren’t enough. Trying to live a good life and be a good man aren’t enough. Raising my kids to be like her isn’t enough. I need a statue. Yeah, a monument somewhere, maybe a concrete monolith surrounded by lush green grass, with small, colorful birds and butterflies flitting about and a babbling brook nearby and a plaque describing how special she is and how much she is loved and how grateful I am. Because I am so hugely grateful for my mom.

              Saturday, May 7, 2011

              My Latest Purchase

              I've decided to buy this piece of the sky.

              Elton John perfoms Benny and The Jets on Soul Train

              Being gay must suck these days

              Matthew Shepard visiting California's Alcatraz prison in January of 1998

              Last Thursday the Michigan House of Representatives approved an amendment to the education budget that penalizes state universities and colleges five percent for offering domestic partner benefits for same-sex or unmarried partners. And Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed suit yesterday to block the state Civil Service Commission from providing domestic partner benefits to state employees. Republicans – who control both chambers of the state legislature, the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, the secretary of state and the state Supreme Court – cite cost as the reason for their opposition.

              I bet the liars’ pants are really ablaze.

              The domestic partner benefits proposal is expected to cost $6 million; Michigan’s budget for fiscal year 2011 exceeds $8 billion.

              Most of Governor Rick Snyder's top leaders and advisors are being paid more than their counterparts under his predecessor. Agriculture and Rural Affairs director Keith Creagh and Environmental Quality director Dan Wyant are being paid $5,000 more than their predecessors. Transportation director Kirk Steudle got a $5,000 raise. Snyder’s state budget director, John Nixon, is being paid $250,000 – a whopping $114,748 increase over what his predecessor earned.

              The highest earner in the Executive Office is chief of staff Dennis Muchmore at $171,000. Senior Advisor Dick Posthumus is paid $170,000. Deputy chief of staff Jeff Barnes makes $145,000. Communications director Geralyn Lasher, strategy director Bill Rustem, external relations director Terri Reid, legal counsel Mike Gadola, and Washington, D.C. office director Bill McBride are each making $140,000. Office manager Allison Scott is pulling down $120,000 and administration director Marsha Quebbeman is raking in $100,000.

              Doesn’t sound too belt-tighteny and shared sacrificey to me.

              I can’t forget the story of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old guy from Wyoming who was pistol-whipped, tied to a fence and left to die by two homophobic freaks back in October of 1998 because he was gay. He suffered head fractures and severe brain stem damage and never regained consciousness.

              The cyclist who found the bloody 5’ 2”, 105-lb. man hanging on the fence 18 hours after he was left there thought he was a scarecrow at first. I can’t stop thinking about how he must have felt during those 18 hours, how betrayed he was by fellow human beings, how much he suffered and hurt, and how devastated his mother must have been when she found out what had happened to her baby.

              Anita and I are teaching our babies that it’s wrong to look down on someone just because you don’t share their musical taste or sexual orientation or income level or religious beliefs or body type or wardrobe preferences. (I used to include “politics” in this list but that changed for me when the Republican Party eliminated its moderate wing and became hell-bent on robbing from the poor to give to the rich.) It’s none of our business if someone chooses to end her pregnancy, or a man loves a man or a woman loves a woman, or someone prefers Marilyn Manson to Marilyn Horne or vice versa.

              We tell our kids that if someone is compelled to judge others and try to make their lives miserable because they don’t live as that person wants them to live, well, we have to fight ‘em. If an elected official panders to the mouth-breathers and represents the few and not the majority, we have to fight ‘em. If someone feels like causing physical harm to someone else because the other person is different, we have to fight ‘em. If lawmakers try to codify ignorance and prejudice into law, we have to fight ‘em. And if a person tries to justify their stupidity by quoting selectively from the Bible – surely the most contradictory reference manual ever printed – we have an obligation to fight their judgmental ass.

              I think the Bible teaches that hate begets hate, doesn’t it?

              Sources: Michigan Messenger, Vanity Fair, Mlive.com, Michigan Truth Squad

              Friday, May 6, 2011

              Art Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water

              Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

              I worked briefly for an eccentric state senator who was renowned for his support of the arts. Interestingly, I worked for him just as Michigan’s new governor, rotund Republican John Engler, was changing school funding procedures, throwing the mentally ill out on the street, eliminating public assistance programs – leading poor people and their advocates to sleep in tents on the Capitol lawn in protest – and proposing significant cuts in general fund spending on environmental protection, arts and cultural affairs, and other “extravagances.” My new boss was unhappy and cantankerous and my tenure on his staff was short. I blame the experience on art.

              This was when I first heard the expression, “penny wise and pound foolish” – my boss used it on the floor of the State Senate while railing against the governor's budget. Although I considered myself a cultured fellow who appreciated the finer things in life as well as bowling, beer and babes, I struggled internally with the question of whether we should be spending millions of taxpayer dollars to enable artists to sculpt, paint and perform while people were sleeping in tents and being told by state officials that they needed to “learn to be survivors.” Was civilization really falling, I wondered, just because museums were shortening their hours and galleries were canceling shows?

              I didn’t realize until later that fiscal responsibility wasn’t at the heart of the conflict. What was happening, I learned, was that a conservative politician was enacting policies that suited his ideology and personal preferences and disingenuously doing so in the name of budget balancing. He wasn’t representing the people who foolishly elected him; he was trying to make the state reflect Utopia as only he and his ilk defined it.

              This is what’s happening here now, too, and in Madison and Columbus and Indianapolis and Augusta and DC and Topeka and elsewhere where conservatives are calling the shots. Rather than representing their constituents and truly trying to get more bang for the public buck, Republican politicians are presenting their Utopia-building and government-shrinking and union-busting as the right thing to do economically even as nonpartisan economists are crying, “Foul!”

              The United States spent an estimated $25 billion on foreign aid in 2008. What do the feds spend on arts and culture here at home? The 2011 budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is $168 million. (President Obama has proposed cutting this number by $22 million for 2012.) This investment brings:

              • 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs
              • $104.2 billion in household income
              • $7.9 billion in local government tax revenues
              • $9.1 billion in state government tax revenues
              • $12.6 billion in federal income tax revenues

              Notice that our largest source of direct national funding generates a tax return of 75 times the initial investment? Spending on the arts sure pays off, huh? Yet I heard on Michigan Public Radio this morning that my state now ranks 48th in the nation in arts spending. (I wonder why conservatives want to do away with public radio.) Enjoy your Utopia, Republicans.

              Sources: Artsusa.org, Michigan Public Radio, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

              Thursday, May 5, 2011

              Melissa Etheridge - Come To My Window (1994)

              A Missive to Misogynists in Washington

              Anita and I were driving our eleven-year-old daughter to swim practice last night when we turned on the radio in time to hear the Weeper of the House saying something about how a ban on taxpayer funding of abortions is the will of the people, dagnabbit, and ought to be the will of the land. Then the announcer mentioned something about the Hyde Amendment (the legislative provision prohibiting federal funds from being used to pay for abortions) and how Republicans are committed to making it the Ultimate Written-in-Stone Rule of All Time. And then some other pandering politician – undoubtedly white, conservative and poorly-endowed – started expressing outrage that so many sweet, innocent little unborn babies are brutally assassinated in this country but I quickly switched off the radio for fear of throwing up and crashing the van into a tree.

              Thanks to Google, I learned why Boehner was polluting the radio waves last night. In a 251 to 175 vote, 16 anti-choice Democrats joined House Republicans in passing H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Among other things, this proposal:

              • excludes statutory rape cases from being eligible for Medicaid coverage.
              • bans using tax credits or deductions to pay for abortions or insurance and turns IRS agents into “abortion cops.” If audited, a woman would have to prove that her abortion “fell under the rape/incest/life-of-the-mother exception, or that the health insurance she had purchased did not cover abortions.”
              • prohibits abortions in the District of Columbia.

              I sure hope the U.S. Senate and the POTUS do the right thing and kill this offensive waste of time and resources.

              Back in February, I read an editorial in the New York Times entitled, “The War on Women.” The essay, which talked about the GOP’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, eliminate support for Title X (the federal program that provides birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and HIV and STD testing to poor women) and forbid awarding federal funds to any group that even talks about abortions, among other evil ideas, closed this way:

              These are treacherous times for women’s reproductive rights and access to essential health care. House Republicans mistakenly believe they have a mandate to drastically scale back both even as abortion warfare is accelerating in the states. To stop them, President Obama’s firm leadership will be crucial. So will the rising voices of alarmed Americans.

              I’m one of those alarmed Americans to whom the Times refers. I don’t understand this whole ‘restrict all abortions in any way possible’ philosophy. Sure, abortion should be a last resort and not a form of contraception. Most thinking people agree on this. But most people support keeping abortion legal in the first trimester, too. (An October 2007 Harris poll asked if people favor or oppose Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision making abortion at up to three months of pregnancy legal, and found that 56 percent of respondents favored the decision.) Why do Republicans want to force women and girls to experience more shame, distress and depression than they already must feel?

              I get that the issue is controversial. So are taxes and eminent domain and desegregation and the Internal Revenue Service and war and Kenny Rogers’ plastic surgery. What I don’t get is why white, conservative, male politicians have to be such dicks and try in every way possible to prevent women from having control over their own bodies. Why the War on Women, Weeper?

              It’s been almost four decades since the highest court in the land (all guys, by the way) made its ruling. Abortion is legal. Yes, some people are against it for religious reasons – but some people’s religious views dictate that they avoid eating meat on Fridays and fly airplanes into skyscrapers too and you don’t see conservatives fawning and pandering and passing resolutions about that. You lost this one, fellas. Move the hell on. How about starting on that job creation thing now?

              And stop making me feel ashamed to be a man, willya? I’ve got a wife and four daughters, for Pete’s sake.

              Sources: Between the Lines, New York Times, Thinkprogress.org

              Tuesday, May 3, 2011

              Twista feat. Kanye West - Overnight Celebrity

              On Writing

              Sometimes the words and thoughts and ideas spew forth and I’m challenged to get them all down in my rapid hunt-and-peck typing style without losing some. At other times I sit in front of the computer for an irritatingly long time, stroking the spacebar expectantly, but nothing comes up or out.

              It helps when something big happens like the Number One Boogeyman in the World is captured and executed or a band of loser politicians bends the President of the United States over a budget barrel as a government shutdown looms.

              It also helps, I’ve found, to read other writers. Good ones, especially. Writers like Matt Taibbi, my current favorite, and Christopher Hitchens (god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything) and Sam Harris (The End of Faith) and Viktor E. Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning) and Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation, Reefer Madness) always get my own juices flowing.

              I’ve already plugged Taibbi’s Smells like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire. Do yourself a favor and read his other stuff too. The results of the guy’s investigative journalism are guaranteed to piss you off, and he writes in a colorful, easily-understandable style. Taibbi’s a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine whose most recent book, Griftopia, is about the economic meltdown. (I haven’t read it yet.) He’s written “Why isn’t Wall Street in Jail?” and “The Real Housewives of Wall Street” for the magazine; recent blog posts include “Best Way to Raise Campaign Money? Investigate Banks.” and “Tax Cuts for the Rich on the Backs of the Middle Class; or, Paul Ryan Has Balls.

              Speaking of Christopher Hitchens, this guy would make a great subject for a book himself if it hasn’t happened already. A Marxist and atheist, the controversial writer is a fan of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and George Orwell and a critical foe, at least on paper, of the Clintons, Kissinger, St. Ronnie of Reagan and even Mother Teresa. Although by no means a liberal, Hitchens – who’s written for Vanity Fair, The Nation and The Atlantic Monthly, among other publications – supported Nader in 2000 and opposes the War on Drugs. He’s had to cancel recent appearances due to esophageal cancer but I doubt he'd want us to pray for him.

              There was a time, briefly, when I entertained the idea of writing poetry but when I shared a few pages with an honest friend who was a poet, I learned I should probably leave this genre to the professionals. Reading the words of Charles Bukowski and Langston Hughes and Wisława Szymborska and Walt Whitman and Robert Frost and Seamus Heaney is a whole lot more fulfilling than trying to write like them.

              I’m always moved by something I read in The Sun magazine, an independent, ad-free monthly with top-notch, provocative writing. The magazine’s editor, Sy Safransky, is on my list of "Top Ten People with whom I’d like to Dine and Drink." (Notice how I didn’t end that with a preposition? Yeah, I’m that good.) One of my best memories is of being with Anita in our kitchen, drinking Port wine and reading out loud to her from the latest issue which had just arrived. The magazine’s “Readers Write” feature is one of our favorites.

              My kids gave me a subscription to Harper’s magazine for my birthday; it’s good that few people are around in my neighborhood at noon because I can’t help skipping and jumping when I check my mailbox and Harper’s is waiting. Check out the article in last month’s issue entitled, “Democracy 101: Mark Twain’s Farewell Address” by Lewis H. Lapham, the magazine’s former editor who’s credited with creating the fun and interesting "Harper’s Index." Now that’s some good writing.

              I used to make a nice income through my writing, but being a grantwriter for a major environmental organization or a state employee are different than being a blogger/freelance writer. Anita presented me with a copy of the 90th anniversary edition of Writer’s Market a few weeks ago. The book contains “over 3,000 updated listings to help me sell what I write including literary agents, book publishers, magazines, newspapers, production companies, theatres, greeting card companies and more.” I think she wants me to start getting paid again.

              Monday, May 2, 2011

              Frédéric Chopin - Marche Funèbre - Funeral March

              No, really. Mission Accomplished.

              Last night Barack Obama wrapped up the 2012 presidential contest.

              Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 that resulted in the deaths of 3,497 human beings, died at the hands of the American military at a fortress-like compound – not a remote mountain cave – in Abbottabad, Pakistan, near Islamabad. The operation was authorized by the POTUS himself.

              That’s right. While a puffed-up Donald Trump was crowing about how proud he was to have held the nation’s attention hostage for so long on an issue that had already been decided in the minds of thinking people and meant absolutely nothing in the whole scheme of things, Barack Obama was planning the end of the mission begun by his disingenuous, dim-witted predecessor back on March 18, 2003 when the United States began bombing Baghdad.

              I remember when Dubya did his One Tough Cowboy impersonation for the nation, growling back on September 18, 2001, one week to the day after the Towers fell, that he wanted Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.” Then, just six months later, he responded to a reporter’s question by telling the world that he was "truly not that concerned" with catching bin Laden. “I don’t know where he is, nor do I…I just don’t spend that much time on him,” the drooling idiot had said.

              I also remember May 1, 2003, when he stood before cameras in his Fighter Pilot Halloween costume on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, under a huge “Mission Accomplished” banner, and declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq. And then guerilla warfare in Iraq increased. (The vast majority of civilian and military casualties occurred after Bush’s arrogant pronouncement.)

              Well, Barack Obama never stopped being concerned about finding bin Laden and bringing him to justice. And our 44th president was able to focus on the actual country in which bin Laden was hiding, not just any ol’ sovereign, oil-rich nation ruled by a despot who used to be our ally until he invaded Kuwait in 1990 and ticked off Dubya’s daddy.

              In announcing that we had taken down the Number One Boogeyman, President Obama said, “On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.”

              My initial reaction was similar to many on Facebook: pride and jubilance and the patriotic feeling that “Our president is a badass and Chuck Norris better make sure Obama isn’t in his closet.” But the more I watched people on TV waving oversized American flags and whooping it up as though we just beat the Soviets at Lake Placid, the less jingoistic I felt. As the crowds grew into the hundreds in the park across from the White House, at Ground Zero and elsewhere, I realized that a man was dead. That’s all. Yes, he was evil and ugly and had caused pain and sorrow and unending grief for thousands of families. But he was one warped man. I doubt there is a shortage of haters willing and able to step into ObL’s role.

              While mostly Americans were killed in the 9/11 attacks, 327 foreign nationals from the following countries also lost their lives: Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Cote d'Ivoire, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ecuador, France, Germany, Ghana, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela.

              I wondered if people were cheering and dancing and waving these flags somewhere too.

              My Facebook friend Terry West responded to the news by posting the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”