Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dixie Chicks - Not Ready To Make Nice

On Independence Day

Photo courtesy the Chronicle/Christina Koci Hernandez

I’m a little conflicted about the Fourth of July. In fact, I’m a little conflicted about patriotism in general – which I learned is the last refuse of scoundrels – and the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance and the good ol’ USA.

I used to be moved to tears whenever the Star-Spangled Banner was sung at public events. I always rose from my chair and took off my hat and placed my hand on my heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. I was always proud of my country and grateful to be an American.

Then Dubya came along.

The things that he did in my name – the way he tarnished my country’s reputation in the international community and lied about motives and agendas and mandated that I take off my shoes at the airport while doing nothing about the safety of the U.S. port system and took advantage of people’s goodwill and vulnerability in the days and weeks and months after the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil – caused me to question the whole “Proud to Be an American” thing.

When Bush signed the civil liberties-stripping Patriot Act into law weeks after September 11 – which authorized the government to monitor any religious and political institution it wants, jail suspects indefinitely without charges, deny lawyers to Americans accused of crimes, and search and seize our papers and effects without probable cause, among other intrusive provisions – I realized that my government wasn’t going to protect me from enemies; my government was an enemy.

Dubya resurrected the whole “You’re either with us or agin us” mentality. Suddenly if you questioned the administration you lost your American-ness. The French opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq so “french fries” became “freedom fries.” The Dixie Chicks became persona non grata for daring to exercise their freedom of speech.

But it wasn’t just the fake cowboy from Crawford who burst my bubble. The wonders of technology and the internet enabled me to communicate with people all over the world – in Germany and Thailand and China and Pakistan and Brazil and Iran – and I saw that people everywhere can be good and complex and kind and well-meaning. The world became far less black and white for me.

I became online friends with a young woman in Tehran who proved it’s possible to like a people and hate their government. She was smart and sensitive and passionate and caring and a bit of a rebel (she said she’d be imprisoned and probably hanged if officials ever found out what she told me about Iran) and whenever we communicated I simultaneously felt glad that my government didn’t oppress its citizens like hers did – yet – and disgusted that the Iranian people were depicted as savage, America-hating radicals by my country’s government and media.

I also made the mistake of reading a book entitled Don't Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know about American History but Never Learned by Kenneth C. Davis. I use “made the mistake” because it was a lot easier for me to stand and pledge allegiance to a flapping piece of nylon when I didn’t really know what my country had done to black people throughout history, to Native Americans, to Japanese-Americans during World War II, to hippies and peaceniks in the 1960s, to anyone who didn’t conform and kowtow to the establishment.

This is about the time when I stopped facing flagpoles, putting my hand on my heart and mechanically mumbling words that had lost all meaning for me.

The Fourth of July – like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day and Christmas and Easter and Dr. King’s birthday – has become just another holiday with an obscured true meaning anyway, just a reason to barbeque and stay home from work and parade down Main Street. I’m pretty sure the thousands of people who, like me, witnessed the most awesome fireworks show in the history of humankind at Stone Mountain, Georgia, last year weren’t reflecting upon the rights and privileges afforded us by the Constitution of the United States. The “oohs” and “ahhs” were for the loud booms and pretty colors. (Anita and I were among the few who sat on our hands when the crowd jubilantly cheered the Confederate flag depicted in lasers on the side of the mountain.)

I don’t think the way people rush out of our houses to assist victims of car crashes is uniquely American. I don’t think the way we help old ladies across the street and take our children to Disney World and watch football together on Thanksgiving are the result of being born here. Wonderful people and magical places and great things do exist here. But not only here.

I’m thankful that I was born in Motown. I understand America’s allure to others and I appreciate the opportunities that come with living here. But I also know there are reasons to be ashamed of my government. So I’ve decided to love my fellow Americans while disliking our rulers. And I won’t be twirling sparklers this holiday weekend. Although I might still barbeque.

If anyone wants to challenge my citizenship, I’ll gladly put a boot up their ass. After all, Toby Keith said it’s the American way.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Eisley - Memories

I Can't Complain

Because I get as tired of writing about politics and family dysfunction as “What’s the Diehl?” visitors do reading about it, I’m sharing a few happy memories to prove that I have them.

The day my daughter Amelia was born tops the list, of course. I still remember being afraid that she wouldn’t be perfect (and then she was), cutting the umbilical cord, holding her for the first time, nervously driving her home from the hospital and feeling so different because suddenly I was a dad. I miss that day. I miss Amelia.

The day I met Anita for lunch at Dagwood’s here in Lansing and we became more than friends ranks right up there too. I was running late and was afraid she wouldn’t still be waiting when I parked the car and ran inside but she was. I remember suggesting we move from a table in the center to a booth in the back, loving my olive burger and Long Island Iced Tea, and feeling so happy that I was spending Saturday afternoon with such an enchanting, beautiful woman.

I remember my mom taking my little sister and me to Cedar Point in her eggshell blue Pinto with her friend, Marilyn, when I was nine or ten. My mom always put us first and made sure we had positive experiences to remember. I remember waiting with her in a YMCA parking for the bus to arrive that would take me to Camp Nissokone, near Oscoda. I remember walking around the Detroit Zoo and skiing at Pine Knob and going to the movies and visiting libraries and farmers’ markets and spending a day at Camp Dearborn in Milford, where we swam, picnicked, rode in a paddle boat and played putt-putt golf.

I remember when my sister and I drove across the country with my Grandma and Grandpa back in the early 1970s, heading from Royal Oak, Michigan, to Tucson, Arizona, where they had moved. I remember stopping at Stuckey’s a few times along the way because my grandpa was in the Stuckey’s Coffee Club and visiting the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest and Old Tucson and Saguaro National Park and seeing a real road runner for the first time and thinking it didn’t look anything like the dude from Looney Tunes who gave Wile E. Coyote such a run for his money. We stopped at the 50,000-year-old Meteor Crater, east of Flagstaff, but there were too many steps leading up to the rim for my grandpa to navigate so we never actually saw it.

I remember picnicking on the lawn at Pine Knob in Clarkston with family and friends and enjoying more concerts than I can remember. Fleetwood Mac and Wayne Newton and Patti LaBelle and George Benson and Chicago and Peter Frampton and Barry Manilow and Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band and The Carpenters and Jeffrey Osborne and Depeche Mode and The Doobie Brothers and James Taylor are just a few of the acts that I enjoyed in person at what’s now called the DTE Energy Music Theatre but will always be Pine Knob to me.

It occurs to me that I’ve attended a lot of concerts. In addition to the Pine Knob experiences, I’ve seen Diana Ross and Journey and Boston and Sammy Hagar and The Rolling Stones and The Who and Prince and Genesis and Ray Charles and Macy Gray and the Dave Matthews Band and Peter, Paul & Mary, among others. One of my all-time favorites was a Luther Vandross/Anita Baker concert at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena back in 1989; it was the first and only time I’ve ever seen a concert from a private box.

I remember driving across the country again in 1983, this time from Lansing to Santa Cruz, California, with my stepsister, Karen, who had been accepted to UC Santa Cruz and needed help finding a place to stay. After spending three and a half days bickering in the car, then another several days apartment-hunting in the heat, she finally found a place and I flew back to Detroit alone. My parents met me at the airport and told me Karen was right behind me – she had changed her mind and caught the next flight back. I still have some great photos and memories of that trip, including listening to lots of Bananarama and Cyndi Lauper and Kenny Loggins and seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

I remember standing in the living room of the governor’s residence in Lansing during a reception for the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ireland, and listening to an Irish woman singing the most beautiful version of “Danny Boy” that I had ever heard. I remember being up north in 1987 – Michigan was celebrating its Sesquicentennial that year – for the National Governors’ Association conference just outside of Traverse City. I met Bill Clinton and Mike Dukakis and the Four Tops and Martha Reeves and Junior Walker – who I mistook for the Four Tops’ tailor – and had dinner with my natural father, Mike Conroy, who I hadn’t seen in years. (He spent most of our reunion quizzing me about my little sister; that was the last time I saw him.)

I remember partying and playing games with a number of friends at a remote campsite in the middle of Michigan somewhere, and canoeing down a nearby river under the bluest of skies. It was called “Soule Survivor weekend” – our hosts/property owners, Thom and Missy Soule, loved the TV show “Survivor” – and it included obstacle courses, drinking and shooting games, races and other contests to determine who was the coolest and most worthy to plan the following year’s competition. I participated in this awesome gathering three times, I think – including once with Anita – and I’ll never forget how fun it was as long as I live.

I’ve already written about visiting the White House in June of 1996 for an intimate reception with hundreds of other guests and schmoozing with Bill Clinton and Al Gore. I’ll never forget sitting on Dolley Madison’s couch and eating jumbo shrimp while the Big Dog stood a few feet away, charming male and female alike with his magnetic personality. Say what you will about the Clinton presidency but the man himself is one of the most compelling, intelligent human beings I’ve ever met.

I remember flying to Georgia with Amelia when she was 11 or 12, and driving back to Lansing together in a U-Haul because my parents gave me a huge leather sectional. My parents are quite generous; I can’t count or remember all the things they’ve given me, including their time, unconditional acceptance and love.

I remember tossing a football with Bryant and sitting at the end of Nikita’s bed as she played her French horn for me. I remember cuddling with Maya and dancing with Devina. I remember each and every time they’ve made me breakfast in bed and made me laugh and made me feel like the luckiest dad in the world. I’d list more of the memories I have with the kids but I don’t want to break the internet.

I remember baseball at Tiger Stadium and football at the Silverdome and hockey at Olympia and basketball at Cobo. I remember how exciting it was when I bought my first house. I remember how my loving dog, Emma, a Springer/Chihuahua mix, used to jump up on the bed and lick my face. I remember Times Square and Central Park and Shedd Aquarium and the Hollywood Bowl and the Statue of Liberty and the Vegas strip.

I remember operas and plays and first dates and first kisses, and dancing and seeing comedians and walking in the woods. And I remember waking up this morning next to the love of my life, and knowing it wasn’t the first time and hopefully won’t be the last.

Yeah, my life has been pretty good so far.

If we could just do something about the crap in Washington...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fuck You - Lily Allen

All politicians are not alike

I have this Facebook friend who’s an unabashed conservative. He’s nice enough, I guess, but he regularly responds to my posts by either defending Republicans or placing Democrats in the same class as the Dark Side. I even unfriended him but he asked to be friends again and I wanted to be a better man so I accepted. Now he’s back to not even considering what I post or where I’m coming from and offering nothing substantive to make me change my mind. He’s like a worm that appears in the driveway after it rains – brainless and a little icky but not a Tier One concern and a part of the web of life so I just step around him.

Worm rankles me whenever he leaves messages tying Republicans and Democrats together because I always think of two major crimes committed by George Bush and his ilk that I doubt Democrats would be able to pull off even if they had the competence and capacity: 1) stealing the 2000 presidential election, and 2) lying this country into a war that’s cost $784,951,989,565 to date and killed 1.2 million human beings.

Stealing the Election
The State of Florida purged its voter lists of over 50,000 people – mostly African-Americans – in the months leading up to the 2000 presidential election. Jeb Bush, Florida’s Republican governor and candidate George’s brother, and rabid Republican secretary of state Katherine Harris worked with a computer firm with strong Republican ties to discourage and prohibit voting by likely Al Gore supporters based on false accusations that they were felons.

Gore “lost” Florida, and thus the presidency, by 537 votes.

This is not a conspiracy theory put forth by a few aluminum hat-wearing paranoids with a grudge against fake cowboys. A reputable American investigative journalist named Greg Palast – who reports for the Guardian, the Observer and the BBC – uncovered paper trails, computer disks and other credible proof of the shenanigans that kept our 45th vice president from capturing the top job. Sadly, Palast couldn’t get American networks and news organizations to give his findings the attention they deserve.

Unnecessary War
About Iraq, Paul Krugman of the New York Times wrote in June of 2003, “It’s no answer to say that Saddam Hussein was a murderous tyrant...many of the neoconservatives who fomented this war were nonchalant, or worse, about mass murders by Central American death squads in the 1980s...The public was told that Saddam posed an imminent threat. If that claim was fraudulent, the selling of the war is arguably the worst scandal in American political history – worse than Watergate, worse than Iran-contra. Indeed, the idea that we were deceived into war makes many commentators so uncomfortable that they refuse to admit the possibility.”

I know this is old news but I just can’t let it go. It’s just so infuriating, so unfathomable and alarming and exasperating. It’s so distressing to me, so insomnia-causing, so jarring to think that there’s no one – no Fourth Estate, no supreme law enforcement entity – to protect us from madmen, from liars and evildoers and greedy, corrupt, myopic politicians who will stop at nothing, literally nothing, to achieve their selfish, twisted goals at the expense of my children and my country and my democracy.

On June 18 I wrote that I was no longer a Democrat and expressed my disgust and disdain with that party’s leadership. This is not, therefore, a partisan attack on the GOP. This is an attempt to express my still-boiling outrage at what’s happened in and to politics in the last three decades.

No, all politicians are not alike. Democrats are generally pandering, bumbling, unreliable, disappointing, capitulating enablers who don’t deserve the respect they’re still afforded in some corners. But the new era of unscrupulous Republican politicians – Boehner and Barbour and Cantor and Cheney and Dubya and DeLay and McConnell and McCain and Rove and Rumsfeld and Reagan – will say or do anything to get what they want, to capture and hang on to power, to hide the truth and fan the flames of fear and anger and ignorance.

Aided by Matt Drudge and Andrew Breitbart and Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch and Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh and the supposedly “liberal” media who report every outlandish assertion as if it’s fact, they’ll obstruct and obfuscate and conceal and circumvent and distract and deflect and divide and forsake their oath to faithfully discharge the duties of their offices.

Democrat Bill Clinton lied to the nation about extramarital sex; no one was hurt besides his wife.

Democrat Anthony Weiner lied to the nation about icky text messages; no one was hurt besides his wife.

Republican George Bush lied about the reason for war; billions of tax dollars are gone and more than a million people are dead or wounded.

George Bush’s Republican accomplices lied about the 2000 election; possibly the worst president in the 229-year history of the United States of America was given free rein to plunder and pillage and destroy and desecrate and vex and violate.

The differences are stark, as any lumbricus terrestris can see.

This is why I lie awake at night.

Sources:, The I Hate Republicans Reader (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003), The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (Plume/Penguin Putnam, 2003),

Monday, June 27, 2011

Montgomery Gentry - Something To Be Proud Of

The Jewel of the Nile

My mom is finally going to read a report card that makes her proud.

It’s not mine. It’s Nikita’s, my eleven-year-old, who just wrapped up sixth grade and is heading to junior high.

My mom, a former teacher, always urged and pleaded and begged and cajoled and demanded that I did my best in school, did my homework as soon as I came home, emphasized my academic goals and made her proud.

She’s still waiting.

Since she turned 71 last week and I don’t know how much longer she can wait, I’m mailing Nikita’s latest report. They don’t use letter grades anymore – my mother has thankfully seen her last “D” – opting instead to offer number assessments ranging from 1 (is not meeting grade level expectations) to 4 (meets end of year grade level expectations). Nikita’s report “card” is a five-page document with nothing but 4s under 22 different subject headings – from Earth Science and Language Arts: Writing to Mathematics: Data and Probability and Social Studies: Economics – followed by written comments from her teacher:

  • Nikita is a responsible, respectful, conscientious and delightful young lady who always works hard in class and goes above and beyond on each assignment.

  • Nikita is well liked by her peers.

  • Nikita is such a gem! It has been an absolute pleasure working with her this school year.

  • Nikita excels in math and science.

  • She understands all concepts taught in Language Arts and Social Studies.

  • I am so thankful that Nikita is in our learning community!

  • We look forward to hearing about all of Nikita’s future successes.

Not only does Nikita kick *ss academically, but she makes me smile in other ways too. The way she cuts through the water when swimming the backstroke is a sight to behold. Her sense of humor is as advanced as the rest of her – I disagree with those who think eleven-year-olds aren't developmentally ready for sarcasm since Nikita uses it as effectively as the grownups in this house – and she’s one of the most sensitive and talented and disciplined human beings I’ve ever met.

She tolerates her three rambunctious siblings with the patience of Job, deals with her crazy natural father with the wisdom of Solomon, and fills any room with light and good energy. She folds her clothes and brushes her teeth and makes her bed and helps cook and clean, unasked, and practices her French Horn without being told and doesn’t yet talk on the phone too much.

Where are the wet towels she’s supposed to leave crumbled on the bathroom floor? Where’s the long hair she’s supposed to leave in the sink? Where’s the tardiness and moodiness and irritating precociousness and disrespectful eye-rolling that she’s supposed to display? This kid is too good. I don’t deserve her.

I’m learning that I need to watch for cues with Nikita because sometimes she’s still a little girl who wants to sit on my lap and sometimes she’s embarrassed by the way I breathe and would prefer that I stay out of sight. Sometimes she wants to watch “The Voice” with the rest of the family and sometimes she wants to isolate herself in her room, doing whatever it is that young girls do behind closed doors for hours. Sometimes she wants to wrestle with her ten-year-old brother and sometimes she wants to wrestle privately with her feelings, which are often raw and perplexing to her and to me. There are times when we don’t connect, when things are a tad challenging, but thankfully those times are still few and far between.

I’m a lucky man indeed. The love of my life came with four amazing, beautiful children, and the oldest of them is like the Jewel of the Nile.

Now my mom can finally brag with the best of ‘em.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Jolene - The White Stripes

Sunday poetry

On Trying to Explain A Friend’s Divorce to My Young Son In The Kitchen One Morning

Why? he says while working away at a tiny piece of toast and a vast mountain of jam.
They just weren’t getting along is probably the best way to explain it, I guess, I mutter,
And then for the next few minutes, as I perform the coffee ablutions and he guzzles jam
And neither of us says a word, I think of all the words that could be said but will not be,
Affair and recrimination and despair and arguments and shrieking and weeping and lies,
And kids and counselor and house and pain and contract and money and rights and law,
And visitation and separation and tears and grief and disbursement and death of warmth,
And all the other words now packed in boxes, joy and babies and laughter and promises,
All the hard work between them, all those dishes washed, all those nights with sick kids,
All those days side by side silent in the garden, and one hands the other a bottle of beer
Without a word, and the other grins, and they sit for a moment watching hawks overhead,
All the lines of conversation they finished for each other at diners with friends, all those
Hours driving when nothing needed to be said because each knew the other well enough
So that she would turn the radio louder just when she senses he was weary at the wheel,
All the times he did what he did not want to do because he knew it would mean so much,
All the mornings when neither was awake but neither was asleep and the hours were rife
With small pains and great promise, when no matter what broke they would figure it out.
They just weren’t getting along, is probably the best way to explain it, I say again quietly,
And my son, a subtle and intelligent soul, finishes his mountain of jam and disappears.

~ Brian Doyle

Don't Burst My Bubble - Small Faces

The Ghoul of Calcutta?

Several years ago, when I was just beginning to get tangled in the World Wide Web, I purchased a six-inch wooden cross that was purportedly blessed by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I was still religious back then – and naïve in the ways of eBay – and I assumed the seller wouldn’t make such a claim were it not true.

I remember feeling as excited as a five-year-old on Christmas morning when the package appeared in my mailbox a week or so later. I could hardly believe that something hanging on my wall had been blessed by the most famous nun in the world, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India.

At the time of her death in September of 1997, the Missionaries of Charity was operating 610 missions in 123 countries, including hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children's and family counseling programs, orphanages and schools. Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and India's highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, in 1980, and St. Ronnie of Reagan gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony in 1985.

Although my spiritual journey was subsequently sidetracked by Agnostic Atheism, I still thought highly of this wrinkled old woman with all the awards who seemed to care a lot about the least among us. So when I stumbled upon a Facebook group that trashes Mother Teresa, I was disappointed.

The group, STOP The Missionaries of Charity, exists to “hold Mother Teresa's charity accountable for their monumental medical negligence and financial fraud.” I’m not sure how a Facebook group holds anybody accountable for anything but it did provide this former fan with food for thought about the old woman whose photo once adorned my refrigerator and who supposedly kissed my cross.

  • The group disapproves of the conditions in Mother Teresa’s orphanages and points to charges of gross neglect and physical and emotional abuse.

  • Some group members are ticked off that she was “beatified” by Pope John Paul II following her death and given the title “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.” (Beatification, the third of four steps leading to canonization in the Catholic Church, is the recognition of a person’s entrance into Heaven and “capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name.”) One of the prerequisites of beatification is the performance of a miracle and some say she failed to meet this criterion.

  • Group members say many of Mother Teresa’s “houses” are “nothing more than hostels for nuns and priests in training who travel around the world spreading the dogma of their religion” and decry the alleged “extremely low standard of medicine practiced in the medical facilities operated by the Missionaries of Charity – no pain killers, syringes washed in cold water, a fatalistic attitude toward death and a strict regimen for the patients.”

  • Someone even posted a video clip of noted author, intellectual and atheist Christopher Hitchens – no stranger to controversy himself – calling Mother Teresa a “fanatic, fundamentalist and fraud who was responsible for innumerable deaths and untold suffering and misery.”

In 1995, Hitchens – who once called this frail old woman the “Ghoul of Calcutta” – wrote a book entitled The Missionary Position in which he accused Mother Teresa of failing to treat people, particularly children, placed in her care and criticized her positions on contraception and abortion and her mission of encouraging the poor to embrace their poverty. (I haven’t read the book yet; I found the summary online.) He also criticized her for using donations to open convents in 150 countries rather than establishing the teaching hospital that donors assumed they were funding, and for accepting large donations from criminals like Charles Keating and Haiti’s Duvalier family, who tortured and murdered thousands.

I’m not sure what to believe. The sources and links found in the Facebook group don’t seem overwhelmingly credible. Hitchens is persuasive, if pompous, but he’s only one guy. I’m at the point in my life where heroes and heroines are in short supply and dwindling. For some reason, for whatever reason, I wish this particular bubble wouldn’t have been burst.

For Sale
Six-inch wooden cross
Possibly blessed by controversial, beatified nun
$1 million or best offer
If interested, send e-mail to saddened former altar boy/lapsed Catholic at

Sources: CNN, STOP the Missionaries of Charity,

Friday, June 24, 2011

Aya - Shame On You

Eric Cantor is not welcome at my picnic

Photo courtesy Reuters

As you get ready for your summer weekend – your swimming and boating and lawn-mowing and bush-trimming and garage-cleaning and steak-grilling and car-washing – keep in mind that the politicians we pay $174,000 per year to represent us in our nation’s capital are instead cutting taxes for the rich, continuing unnecessary, immoral wars and storming out of budget meetings like angry, grandstanding little prima donnas who refuse to perform if their dressing rooms aren’t stocked with fresh flowers and chilled champagne.

Apparently House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) made a big show of withdrawing from budget talks led by Vice President Joe Biden because they’re adamantly opposed to increasing revenue by ending the tax breaks we give oil and gas companies.

Cantor – who’s fast replacing Joe Lieberman as the biggest *ssh*l* in Washington – even told the President of the United States to wave his magic wand and make everything better for greedy, evil Republicans, saying it’s "time for President Obama to speak clearly and resolve the tax issue."

Yeah, like there’s such a thing as resolving anything with the GOP. “Resolution” means “Our way or the highway” to today’s Republicans. (I still can’t grasp why they’re allowed so much power since they only hold the lower chamber of our bicameral legislature.)

According to the New York Times, budget negotiators agreed on about $2 million in spending cuts over the next 10 years as long as they’re phased in gradually and don’t hurt the most vulnerable. But Democrats want balancing increases in revenue in return, such as curbing tax deductions for the very rich, and Republicans are saying, “No frikkin’ way.” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who looks like a homely turtle and dodges questions like the slimy politician that he is, pompously declared this week that revenue increases are the same as raising taxes and are therefore unacceptable.

These budget talks are supposed to lead to deficit reduction legislation and an increase in the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. (Top officials have said that without an increase by August 2, the country faces a first-ever default with potentially catastrophic consequences for the economy.) Instead they’re the setting for an embarrassing soap opera, with ugly actors, Orwellian dialogue, unbelievable plot lines and suspenseful cliffhangers that threaten to screw the viewers.

It’s pretty unbelievable that Republicans are stomping out of meetings and attacking Democrats for refusing to cut Medicare and other government programs without also ending tax breaks for Exxon Mobil.

If we were at a backyard barbeque with Eric Cantor, he’d probably demand the hot dogs, buns, ketchup and mustard and whine because we kept a little relish for ourselves.

Sources: New York Times, Associated Press.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Dictators - Stay with Me

Look out, Snyder! Sugar Law is on the Case!

Back in April, I wrote about Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) law being used to usurp the authority of elected officials in predominantly African-American Benton Harbor, Michigan (“Fascism comes to Benton Harbor,” April 19, 2011). I lamented the fact that this municipality had the dubious honor of being the first to experience Governor Rick Snyder’s assault on representative democracy.

Snyder – who must have the most off-putting, high-pitched, nasally voice of any politician in Michigan history – signed the law in March to provide what he said were “necessary tools to help deficit-ridden cities and school districts bring their finances back into the black.” It allows him to appoint emergency managers to take over local units of government, fire elected officials, sell off or privatize community assets, nullify contracts and even dissolve whole cities.

If that’s not bad enough, the cash-strapped communities must pay the salary, benefits and expenses of the autocrat manager – and the costs of any employees or contractors he or she hires. According to Michigan Messenger, these expenses can be substantial: Benton Harbor’s emergency manager, Joe Harris, is paid $11,000 per month.

That’s kind of like being forced to buy the condoms for your rapist, isn’t it?

Looks like the plaintiffs represented by the Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice – a national, nonprofit law center that defends the rights of working folks – aren’t cool with the blatant power grab either. Sugar Law filed a lawsuit yesterday in Ingham County Circuit Court asking that the EFM law be declared unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs contend that the right of citizens to elect their local officials is guaranteed in the state Constitution and financial stress is not a legitimate ground for scrapping the democratic process. And the law is so extreme, they say, that it “establishes a new form of local government, previously unknown within the United States or the State of Michigan, where the people within local municipalities may be governed by an unelected official who establishes local law by decree.”

I never thought I’d use words like “fascism” and “autocratic” when referring to my government. Then again, I never thought I’d see Republicans openly wage class warfare and utilize Orwellian doublespeak to explain and justify their actions.

I’m just not seeing how forcing a deficit-ridden city to incur additional expenses and fund its own conversion from a democratic entity to one subject to the decrees of a dictator helps to bring its finances back in the black.

Even if Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina – to whom the case was assigned – rules in favor of the plaintiffs, Snyder will appeal. And if it goes before the GOP-controlled Michigan Supreme Court, I won’t be holding my breath for a favorable result.

I’m glad the folks at Sugar Law aren’t as cynical and pessimistic as I’ve become.

To learn more about Michigan’s new “government by decree” policy, visit Sugar Law’s “Democracy Emergency” website.

Sources: Michigan Messenger, Detroit Free Press, Lansing State Journal.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Men At Work - Down Under

Wal-Mart sucks. A lot.

Yesterday I posted a snotty Facebook status update about Wal-Mart following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that denied women the right to proceed with a sex discrimination suit against the company.

A decade ago, a group of female employees sued Wal-Mart, claiming the company paid them lower wages and awarded them fewer promotions than men even when they had higher performance ratings and more seniority than their male counterparts. By a 5-4 vote along ideological lines, the court said there were too many women in too many jobs at Wal-Mart to wrap into one lawsuit. The lawsuit could have involved up to 1.6 million women and Wal-Mart could have faced billions of dollars in damages.

Instead of receiving the type of concurring responses that I expected from my liberal Facebook friends, it was pointed out that the Supremes’ decision was based on a “narrow procedural point” which means, I assume, that my friends thought it was just.

I’m not an attorney but I don’t see how making it more difficult for women to come together as a group to claim discrimination by the world’s largest corporation is a good thing by any definition. (Isn’t this the same court that ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations have the same rights as people?)

Another Facebook friend responded by asking, “What do you have against people who work at Wal-Mart?” My answer is: nothing. Wal-Mart employs one out of every 123 U.S. workers and nearly one out of every 20 retail employees and I feel sorry for each one of them. It’s the corporate monster, headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, that rubs me the wrong way:

  • Wal-Mart pays its employees next to nothing, forcing many to sign up for public assistance.

    • Wal-Mart enjoys taxpayer subsidies although its annual revenue exceeds $420 billion.

      • Wal-Mart violates environmental laws and promotes sprawl and farmland loss.

        • Wal-Mart squashes Mom and Pop stores and alters communities.

          • Wal-Mart actively fights employee unions and organizing efforts. The company's been mobilizing managers and supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize.

            • Wal-Mart supports the Chinese economy. In fact, experts estimate that as many as 80 percent of Wal-Mart’s 6,000 global suppliers are based in China. The corporation itself estimates it imports $15 billion worth of Chinese goods every year and concedes that the figure could be higher; some estimates range as high as $30 billion.

            I’m not surprised that a company headquartered in the good ol’ USA pays its employees an average of just $250/week and buys mostly from Chinese suppliers. I am surprised that the highest court in the land sided with this company over American women – and that anyone thinks this is okay.

            P.S. For more information, watch “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price,” a documentary that “uncovers a retail giant's assault on families and American values.”

            Sources: Huffington Post,, Crooks and Liars, USA Today, PBS.

            Monday, June 20, 2011

            Sassy Maya

            Brian McKnight - Sara Smile

            I Visited Alaska with Sarah Palin and Didn't Even Get a Shirt

            Photo courtesy TLC

            Anita and I made the mistake of watching a few episodes of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” on TLC last weekend.

            I think it was a mistake for a few reasons.

            I found myself at times disliking Palin slightly less than I did before seeing the show (which was, I assume, someone’s goal). Anita and I agreed that she poses and postures and panders and probably isn’t quite the experienced wilderness woman that she pretends to be – and we cringed when she used famous Palinisms such as when she insisted while camping that Russia could be seen to her right or took Bristol to a shooting range and advised, “Don’t retreat, reload” – but there were moments when I found myself thinking, “She’s not so bad.” If doctors could surgically remove the Blackberry that’s apparently permanently attached to Mama Grizzly’s paw, I might even be able to spend a few minutes in the same room with her without losing my lunch.

            I found myself respecting her husband, Todd. First, he’s apparently the real deal: a salmon fisherman, pilot, hockey coach and champion snowmobiler who’s won the 1,971-mile Tesoro Iron Dog snowmobile race – the longest race in the world – not once or twice but four times. (Temperatures are well below freezing; 50 degrees below zero is common.) And secondly, he endures his annoying wife and her annoying celebrity with quiet strength, occasionally revealing a slightly bemused expression but otherwise keeping his mouth shut and his attitude positive. What occurs behind the camera might be a different thing, of course, but on the show he comes off as the kind of guy with whom I’d like to have a beer or two.

            The episode featuring guest appearances by Kate Gosselin and her kids made me want to cause bodily injury to another human being. I started out respecting Kate’s aversion to guns and blunt persona but was amused, then irritated, then really bothered by her refusal to even try to enjoy camping in the rain with her children and the Palins. Voicing one’s discomfort is one thing; being a major pain in the ass who neglects one’s own spawn and complains incessantly as if one is suffering in the trenches in Normandy is another.

            Although I dislike her slightly less, Palin still seems like an insincere advocate for “special needs” children. In the episodes we watched, she spent more time on camera with her autistic nephew than with her own son, Trig, who was born with Down syndrome. When she decides to take a road trip to Homer, Alaska, Sarah is shown dropping Trig off at Todd’s parent’s house first, leading Anita and me to assume the trip is for adults only. But the next scene shows Sarah and Todd heading down the highway in a huge RV with daughters Bristol, Willow and Piper and grandson Tripp, Bristol’s baby. Either Trig has medical issues that prevent him from traveling with the family or Sarah chose to banish her most challenging child. As parents of four children, we found his exclusion from the family trip puzzling and the producers’ decision to allow us to view it surprising.

            My desire to visit the largest state in the country sure skyrocketed to an uncomfortable degree. The show's aim, according to Palin, is to bring "the wonder and majesty of Alaska to all Americans." It succeeds. The picturesque scenery, rushing waters, breathtaking vistas, aerial views and mountains disappearing into clouds elevated our 49th state to the top of my list of Places I Really, Really Need to Visit Before I’m Too Old to Travel.

            I once told Anita that if Sarah Palin ever knocked on my door at night during a thunderstorm and reported that a flat tire had stranded her in my neighborhood, I’d tell her to seek cover and slam the door in her face. But now, having seen this show (which was not renewed for a second season), I’d change her tire and send her on her way.

            That would probably be a mistake.

            Sunday, June 19, 2011

            Babul ki Duayen Leti jaa By Azam Baig

            The Bidai song – an Indian song typically played when the daughter leaves the parental home - that Anita and her dad liked.

            Happy Father's Day, Dad! Love, Anita

            It still hurts when I think of my dad.

            It’s been almost four years since he passed away (I hate saying “died”) and as I sit here and write, tears well up in my eyes.

            I know I was lucky to have him as my dad. I respected him – not just for being so smart, at the top of his class, and for earning a scholarship to study in the states and getting his Ph.D. – but for how selfless he was. His kids came first and helping others came first, and principle was very important.

            My dad used to take me to his lab and show me how to titrate. I learned what an acid was and what a base was. I learned about plant diseases during walks in the park. I learned about politics from the many debates and discussions that took place in our house and also from NPR that my dad always had on in the car.

            My dad helped me move into my dorm room at college. It was only three miles from home. He called me that first night and I didn’t answer. I had of course gone out and stayed out late that night, tasting my first night of freedom. He was so mad when I called home the next morning. He was scared that something had happened to me. He loved me.

            When we were planning my wedding and picking out songs, and I played a Bidai song – an Indian song typically played when the daughter leaves the parental home – he started to cry and asked me not to play it at the wedding reception because he didn’t want to cry in front of the guests. He loved me.

            I was at my parent’s home when I went into labor with my first child so my dad told us to hurry to the hospital. We left my mom and dad’s home and went home first so I could take a shower. I just wasn’t ready to go to the hospital. When we arrived about ninety minutes later, my dad was almost frantic. My OB/GYN said he was this close to calling the police because my dad was worried that we had driven into a ditch. He loved me so much.

            I loved how he would come home from work and immediately take one of my babies and carry them around the yard in his suit and dress shoes, bouncing them a little and letting them touch the trees and feel the grass while he whispered in their ears. I would watch from the window and feel a contentment that I don’t get to experience now.

            When he got sick, it was so incredibly hard. Watching him die. One Sunday night we watched “60 Minutes” together and Elizabeth Edwards was on, explaining that she had come to terms with the fact that she was dying. I tried hard not to look at my dad because I knew, I could feel, that he was trying not to cry, and trying to come to terms with his death which was only a few months away.

            We were waiting for the urologist to come into the room one time and my dad, who wasn’t dressed, fell off the examining table. It was hard trying to pick him up – he had lost 40 pounds – and act as if he still had all his dignity. I wanted him to feel my respect so he wasn’t embarrassed. I loved him.

            I loved when the kids and I went to see my parents. We only live five miles away from their home where I grew up. My youngest, Devina, who was two when he got sick, would run into the house and yell out, “Where is Nana? Where is Nana?” (“Nana” is Hindi for “grandfather.”) And when my dad saw her, his eyes would twinkle again like they did before he got sick and he would gingerly hug and kiss her. He loved his grandkids too.

            I am thankful that Daulat Singh was my dad. That I had him for the years that I did. I just still wish he was here so my kids and I could wish him a Happy Father’s Day, and so my mom wouldn’t be so sad. I know he loved me, and God, I loved him so much. I miss him so much.

            I just wish you were here, Dad.

            Saturday, June 18, 2011

            Seal - A Change is Gonna Come

            Why I'm No Longer a Democrat

            Yesterday I posted the following as my Facebook status:

            “Patrick Diehl is officially no longer identifying myself as a Democrat or supporting that party. I’m now an independent who’s looking at the candidate, not the affiliation.”

            I’ve already received a fair amount of flack for this and it hasn’t even been 24 hours.

            The decision by the Democratic leadership to abandon Anthony Weiner, to turn on him and join with those demanding his resignation, was the last straw for me.

            I can’t recall Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi or Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the new chair of the Democratic National Committee, saying anything when it was revealed that David Vitter, a married Republican senator, was paying prostitutes to change his diapers.

            I can’t recall them expressing one iota of outrage when the extramarital antics of Republicans Newt Gingrich and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Senator John Ensign and Arnold Schwarzenegger – who fathered a son with his housekeeper 14 years ago – were disclosed.

            But when a Democrat sends icky text messages, well, that’s an affront to everything good and holy, huh?

            North Carolina’s John Edwards and Pennsylvania’s John Murtha and Colorado’s Gary Hart and Louisiana’s William Jefferson and The Big Dog from Arkansas are proof positive that Republicans don’t have a lock on unseemly behavior. It’s not the corruption and infidelity that’s driving me out of the party; it’s the irrefutable, cumulative evidence that Democrats will pander first and fight for their own second that has me walking away in disgust.

            I used to tell myself over and over, every time they stumbled, that I needed to stick with them; they weren’t as bad as the Republicans.

            Well, I’m tired of “not as bad.”

            I’m tired of spineless leadership from Democrats who betray their campaign vows and take their supporters for granted.

            I’m tired of Democratic politicians who claim to be anti-war and then escalate military activities once in office.

            I’m tired of Barack Obama demanding that Weiner leave Congress but insisting that everybody leave Joe Lieberman alone - even though Lieberman actively campaigned for Obama’s opponent and throws stones at him at every opportunity.

            I’m tired of Democrats refusing to fight for a public option in health care reform but forcing me to enrich the coffers of private insurance companies.

            I’m tired of Democrats being as cozy with Wall Street and corporate America as the Republicans they assail for those same ties.

            I’m tired of being told to stay loyal like the Republicans. I don’t want to be like the Republicans.

            I’m tired of being more progressive than the supposed party of progressives.

            I’ve worked for Democrats since 1982. I’ve knocked on doors and stuffed envelopes and worked phone banks and driven people to the polls and participated in caucuses at state party conventions. I was on the staff of a Democratic governor for eight years and drove all over the state to represent my boss at dinners and events. I’ve attended election night parties and candidate forums and training sessions and meetings at Hart-Kennedy House, the state party headquarters on Townsend Street in Lansing. I’m not a fickle Johnny-come-lately making a spur-of-the-moment decision here. This has been a long time coming.

            You don’t have to attend the Catholic Church in order to have a relationship with the Bearded One Who Floats on Clouds and Awards Grammys. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to embrace the Democratic Party in order to vote, pay taxes and support progressive politicians.

            The party left me years ago; I’m finally returning the favor.

            Friday, June 17, 2011

            Michael Jackson - Who's Lovin' You & Ain't No Sunshine

            When I was a kid, I walked a mile to school...

            My sister and me at the Grand Canyon, 1971

            When I was a boy, I was into yo-yos and bike rides, not Xbox and Nintendo DS.

            Duncan yo-yos were all the rage for a while, I remember. I became pretty good at making my Butterfly yo-yo loop and walk the dog and do the sleeper.

            My little sister, Jenny, and I used to fill a canteen with water and make bologna sandwiches and head out on our Schwinn bikes with the banana seats from our house in Royal Oak to Madison Heights and Troy and Berkley and Ferndale and Huntington Woods and even Warren. We would leave in the morning and not return until in mid-afternoon, our muscles twitching from the activity, our arms and noses sunburned.

            One time we tied a rope ladder to a branch of the tree adjacent to our driveway, between our house and the neighbor’s, and used it to climb up the tree then out onto the neighbor’s roof which I remember was really scary because there was the little matter of getting back down. Another time we put on a talent show for the neighborhood kids in that same driveway, but my dad came home early, saw me dancing in a dress, and killed my entertainment career right then and there.

            My mom took me to the Boy’s Club of Royal Oak a few times – it was just for boys back then – and I played with slot cars and learned to use a lathe. She also paid for guitar lessons for a while and sent me to a YMCA camp in northern lower Michigan where I canoed down the Au Sable river and swam in Lake Van Ettan and put on another talent show – my dad was out of the picture by then – and charred marshmallows in a campfire and drank bug juice in a mess hall.

            Later, after we moved into a condominium in Birmingham, Jenny and I got in trouble one time, real trouble, when some crotchety old neighbor found it necessary to call the police just because we were climbing up on the garage and jumping off onto people’s cars. That’s when I learned what “malicious destruction of property” means.

            We didn’t have Wii or belong to the Michigan Athletic Club, with its pool and gyms and restaurant and exercise equipment and tennis courts. We didn’t worry about pedophiles and child killers – at least not until March of 1977, when 11-year-old Timmy King went missing in Birmingham and was found dead in a ditch in Livonia six days later – and we were fine with the fact that we were latchkey kids, even though we didn’t know the term, ‘cause it meant we could play for hours every day as long as we looked busy and well-behaved when our mom’s car pulled into the driveway.

            I remember having a carefree childhood. I wanted more friends, as I recall, and I missed my dad, but I didn’t see a counselor every week. I wasn’t prescribed any medications and don’t remember suffering because there was no such thing as cable television or giant inflatable water slides or cell phones or DVDs. No one chauffeured me to school in inclement weather; I walked almost a mile down Woodward Avenue and almost a mile back home, every day. I remember enjoying having that time to myself.

            I guess it’s true that less can be more.

            Thursday, June 16, 2011

            Will Smith - Just The Two Of Us

            Happy 10th birthday, Bryant!

            Ten years ago today, at 6:36 a.m., a special gift weighing eight pounds and four ounces arrived at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing and made the world better.

            My son, Bryant – my dream, my light, my ally, my partner, my sidekick – was that baby. I thank his mother for this, and the universe, and even his natural father, because I can think of nothing, truly nothing, more wonderful and beautiful and awesome in the true sense of the world than Bryant Singh Welch.

            He is so strong and sweet and sensitive and smart and silly. He’s masculine and gentle and funny and brave and athletic and devoted to his family and friends. He’s surely the most likable kid on this block, if not the county or state or nation.

            Maybe even the world.

            My son just might be the most likable boy in the world.

            I like how he grabs his little sister’s backpack, unasked, as they’re hurrying to the bus stop so she can run faster.

            I like how he snuggles up next to me on the couch when we’re watching TV and reaches for my hand when we’re walking somewhere.

            I like how he offers to help make dinner and grabs water for his siblings when we’re heading out together on a warm, sunny Saturday. I like how his eyes twinkle when he laughs. I like how he plays four square and Xbox to win but checks to make sure his opponents are having fun.

            I like how it’s our special thing, his and mine, to feed dollars into the crane machines at Meijer and the mall while the girls go shopping, trying to snag that must-have stuffed animal even though we already have hundreds.

            It’s never a waste, really. I always get much more than my money’s worth.

            I like how charming and reliable and fair he is. I like how happy and easy-going he seems to be and how many times I have to answer the door because all the boys in the neighborhood want to play with him. I like how his teachers always sing his praises at parent-teacher conferences. I like how if I tell him to be back in an hour, he’s sure to reappear in 57 minutes every time.

            I like how much better our lives are because Bryant’s here.

            According to 18th Century German poet and philosopher Friedrich von Schiller, “It is not flesh and blood, but heart which makes us fathers and sons.”

            I couldn’t agree more.

            Wednesday, June 15, 2011

            Sheryl Crow - If It Makes You Happy


            There’s this guy.

            Growing up, he didn’t have a lot of friends and wasn’t the happiest kid on the block.

            When he became an adult, it was easier to make and keep friends for some reason, and to laugh more and become more outgoing and experience comfort and security and self-respect and pride and even love.

            It’s true that things can get better with age.

            But it’s also true that fate can be a fickle bitch and things can suddenly take a turn for the worse and it doesn’t have to be because of One Big Thing, like a tumor’s been discovered or somebody’s died or the house has burned down. Longtime friendships can just unravel and jobs that seemed permanent can be lost and women who seemed happy can leave in the middle of the day, when you’re at work, and you can become estranged from your firstborn who decides to legally change her last name and everything can just pile up until you realize you’ve become a regular at the neighborhood liquor store and you’re lying to the people who still care enough to ask what you’re up to these days.

            So this guy who was loved by family and liked by friends changed. His woman left him and he lost his motivation and became depressed and started isolating himself and drinking and watching insipid reality shows and dipping into his retirement and chatting on his computer with lonely people in other countries who he would promise to meet in real life someday even though he had no intention of doing so. Dirty dishes sat in the sink for days and dirty laundry piled up in the empty room that used to be his daughter’s. His existence became rudderless and monotonous.

            Then Fate decided to horn in again and one sunny Saturday the guy got out of bed before noon to meet a female friend for lunch at a neighborhood pub. He found out his friend – whom he had known professionally for years and always thought was more than a little charming and attractive but had a husband and kids – was now husband-less. So very quickly, he started doing whatever he could to spend time with her and get closer to her and straighten up a little bit because everything seemed better when he was with her or about to be with her or even just thinking about her. He was as excited as a puppy when he heard her footsteps on his front stairs. He was anxious for a different life. With her.

            She gave him love and laughter and family and hope and a future.

            Things are by no means perfect but they’re better than a few years ago when he was falling asleep in his clothes and doing his grocery shopping at Al’s Party Store. He knows he’s not supposed to put all his eggs in one basket and depend so much on another person for his own happiness. But she makes him so damn happy.

            Tuesday, June 14, 2011

            Johnny Cash - Personal Jesus

            Sending in the clowns

            Photo courtesy ABC News

            The Talking Points Memo website listed the top five moments of last night’s GOP presidential “debate” – if by “debate,” you mean completely ignore the question and offer your cute sound bite or pandering platitude in a desperate attempt to get featured on Youtube and CNN – as follows:

            1. The boring governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, decides not to insult Robotron Romney to his face – they were expected to lock horns over Pawlenty’s recent attacks on Massachusett’s health care plan – opting instead to prove that he’s even more milquetoast than, well, milquetoast.

            2. The batshit crazy Michele Bachmann “steals the show” by officially declaring she’s an Oval Office contender. This means political celebrity Sarah Palin will have to continue to share the Spotlight of Stupid with another ditz with big hair who thinks history is malleable and ignorance is appealing.

            3. The rich black guy who made his fortune selling pizzas reveals he’s still a racist prick. Asked for clarification regarding past anti-Muslim comments, Herman Cain essentially says he still isn’t eager to employ followers of Islam in his administration.

            4. Newt Gingrich criticizes the GOP’s radical Medicare plan again – under the plan, crafted by Paul Ryan (R-WI), the government would no longer cover seniors' health expenses as Medicare has since the 1960s but would provide a certain amount of money to health insurers, with the exact coverage not locked in – and reportedly says, “If you can't convince the American people it's a good idea, maybe it’s not a good idea.” Kinda like your candidacy, Newt?

            5. Governor Milquetoast announces he’s got a Medicare plan that’s better than Ryan’s. Then he says, “neener neener neener.”

            I confess that I didn’t actually watch the “debate.” I tried to. I turned it on just as moderator John King – who, if he was paid a dollar every time he followed up with “Uh huh” after an answer, became a very rich man last night – was asking Bachmann if she was a fan of Elvis or Johnny Cash. Although she was supposed to choose one answer, she replied, “Both.” Looks like we have another maverick on our hands, folks.

            Not in the mood to consider such serious, complex, probing questions, I chose instead to watch Christina Aguilera behave like a snotty, conceited wench on NBC’s “The Voice.” I figured if I was going to watch a bunch of people try to outdo each other and pander to the audience, there might as well be music.

            By the way, I would have answered, “The Man in Black.”

            Source: Talking Points Memo

            Monday, June 13, 2011

            Afroman - Because I Got High

            Better Conscious than Unplugged...

            Photo of LeBron James courtesy ABC News

            I really hate conflict. You wouldn’t know it from my actions, but I do.

            I hate having two ex-wives and not speaking with either, and practically losing my daughter, my precious first baby, in part because her mother and I can’t be civil and she felt she had to choose sides and she chose mommy.

            I hate how my little sister and I haven’t talked in years and probably never will. I know there’s some bad karma floating in the sky above me because of this and I wish it, like the relationship, would just go away.

            I hate the stress and turmoil and anger and frustration in my life because of my wife’s psycho ex-husband. I hate how much power he still has, and wields, over the people I love and therefore over me.

            I hate always having to be tough and strong and powerful. I hate always finding things unacceptable and standing up for myself and others.

            I even hate it when someone “unfriends” me in Facebook, taking the lazy way out instead of trying to find common ground. I’m opinionated but my mind isn’t closed. I know it’s silly but I feel sad when my number of friends drops, especially when it’s someone with whom I have common friends, as if I snuck into our group by mistake and really don’t belong.

            The latest conflict that has me feeling out of sorts was with this guy who runs a website that I wrote for until last night. He embraces a set of editorial standards that he refuses to share with his writers – there’s nothing in writing or in stone, he said, but like pornography, he knows a violation when he sees it. His standards apparently include writing about Barack Hussein Obama as if he’s the Second Coming of Christ and avoiding references to marijuana lest impressionable young readers become compelled to run out and purchase water bongs and tie-dyed t-shirts and "The Best of Cheech & Chong."

            When I asked, online, why he recruited other writers if he only wants submissions with which he agrees, he jumped all over me like a gymnast on a trampoline. I responded that not even my wife can use such a tone with me and she does a lot more for me than he does and I wished him a good life. He then sent a lengthy follow-up message accepting my decision to disassociate myself from his website – whew! – and pointing out that he would have fired me for my insubordination (his word) if he could have. (Since he didn’t pay me a penny to write for him, I didn’t share his view that he was my “boss.”)

            I acknowledge that the guy can do whatever he wants with his site. I get that he doesn’t have to issue writer’s guidelines or share his “standards” in advance if he doesn’t feel like it. And I know that in the whole scheme of things this means about as much as LeBron James in the fourth quarter of a basketball game. But it still throws me off when someone talks to me as if I’m their child and a relationship – any relationship – goes sour.

            Thank goodness I didn’t post photos of myself in my boxers on his site. That really would have sparked demands for my resignation.

            The older I get, the less interested I am in confrontation or capitulation. It takes time and energy to engage with people who see things differently; I’d just as soon get the last word in and walk away. But I’ve come to realize that human connections are all that matter, really. Love and respect and happiness and comfort come from family and friendships and relationships, not clever blog essays and Facebook posts that are liked a lot. It doesn’t really matter if someone talks to me as if I’m a child, I need to remember, because children don’t have beer bellies or need bifocals. It doesn’t really matter if someone does what they shouldn’t or won’t do what they should; I’m not their judge and they’re not mine. I need to keep in mind that I am who I am, good and bad, no matter what anyone else says or does.

            The late psychoanalyst Mary Esther Harding once said, “Conflict is the beginning of consciousness.” Sometimes it’s a drag being so damn conscious.

            Sunday, June 12, 2011

            Keyshia Cole - Love

            Sunday poetry

            Daniel, my brother

            We sat in the Emergency Room that night,
            concerned and puzzled about your health
            since all your life you had been sickly.
            You nearly choked to death as an 18 month old baby,
            until the nurse that lived across the street was summoned over.
            She was able to save your life, but somehow lost her own exactly one month later.
            And then the time on the road to Abuelita’s house,
            you fell asleep in the back of the old station wagon we had.
            With the window down, the Carbon Monoxide that leaked
            from the muffler had secretly tried to steal you away.
            Your six year old limp body that would not awaken nor respond,
            as if it was already too late.
            The hospital nearby that administered pure and sweet oxygen
            And fate decided again it still was not your time.
            You survived countless hospital dashes when severe asthma
            held you from breathing, from inhaling, from exhaling
            And that dreary look of fatigue from fighting, from struggling for every breath.

            Now we are at the hospital again searching for that saving grace once more.
            Hoping for that miracle cure to somehow save you again,
            to free you again, to make you whole again,
            like the cat with nine lives who would not die.

            ~ Rosey Ramos Abuabara

            Note: Rosey wrote this poem while waiting with her brother at the hospital to find out if he was HIV-positive. He was. That was over 18 years ago.

            Saturday, June 11, 2011

            Nearer My God to Thee by Dr. Jack Kevorkian (1994)

            Sheryl Crow - I Shall Believe

            Favorite Status Updates Part 3

            Time for more favorite Facebook status updates, in random order:

            • Patrick Diehl is sorry to kill your Friday night party buzz, but does anybody else wonder why we're bombing Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and Yemen? I shudder to think how things would look if we didn't have a Nobel Peace Prize winner in the White House.

            • "You know what makes a really great businessman? When your father has $400 million dollars, and dies. Or as Trump calls it, 'the art of the deal'." ~ Bill Maher

            • It's the hypocrisy of the right that spurs me to give Anthony Weiner a pass. No one's vilifying Gingrich or Vitter or Sanford or Ensign or Schwarzenegger for genuine infidelity, yet Weiner's being clobbered for a less significant, albeit stupid, transgression. It's the double standard that offends Weiner supporters, myself included.

            • Patrick Diehl thinks it must be hotter than Satan's hemorrhoids out there today.

            • Patrick Diehl lost five pounds by spending hours mowing the lawn in 95 degree heat. Still willing to tweet photo of myself in boxers but I won't resign.

            • Visiting Thomas Jefferson’s historic Monticello today, Sarah Palin paid tribute to the nation’s third President, telling an audience of supporters, “We must never forget the wisdom of Jefferson and his wife, Weezy.”

            • Patrick Diehl is watching the French Open with Anita and the kids. When told Roger Federer is Swiss, eight-year-old Maya said, "He sweats? Well, you would too if you played tennis."

            • Patrick Diehl hopes that when Joe Biden met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican today, he didn't mention what a big f*cking deal it was.

            • Patrick Diehl was just informed by my eight-year-old that the neighbor's dog is a mix of "shit stew" and Yorkie.

            • Oprah quit? Who does she think she is, Sarah Palin?!

            • Patrick Diehl is amazed at how the mosquitoes in my area are more aggressive than my first ex-wife after a night of heavy drinking.

            • Patrick Diehl swears that if I ever meet Chef Boyardee in real life, he's gonna pay for what his canned ravioli did to me last night.

            • Patrick Diehl waited and waited but no one started floating skyward today so I had to mow the lawn. Rapture my *ss.

            • Patrick Diehl learned that my nine-year-old ran into Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero at a picnic today and complimented him on his recent appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show. I hope the mayor was as impressed as I am.

            • Patrick Diehl must admit before it hits the papers that I fathered a child with a member of the household staff ten years ago.

            • Patrick Diehl doesn't give a crap if Osama bin Laden collected porn.

            • Patrick Diehl thinks Bristol Palin made the wrong choice when she opted for a new face instead of a new mom.

            • Patrick Diehl is surprised that Dick Cheney doesn't want us to leave Afghanistan now that bin Laden is shark bait. I mean, it's not like the Halliburton shareholder has a vested interest in staying there as long as possible or anything.

            • Patrick Diehl thinks it would have been nice if the same verification process was applied to the "Saddam has WMDs" claim that's been used to discredit a quote by Dr. King circulating in Facebook.

            • Patrick Diehl went to the eye doctor yesterday and was told I need bifocals and reading glasses. What's next? Viagra and Depends?

            • Patrick Diehl is relieved to read that Exxon earned nearly $11 billion in the first quarter of 2011. I was a little concerned about the company's financial health.

            • Patrick Diehl thinks Donald Trump calling Robert DeNiro a "dim bulb" is kinda like Michael Jackson calling Cher "eccentric."

            • Patrick Diehl wonders if "nonpartisan" Steph Willis Schlinker, who unfriended me 'cause I disagreed with her, still thinks Rick Snyder is a refreshing, positive politician.

            • Patrick Diehl wants a president who's more used to saying, "You're hired" than "You're fired."

            • "The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it." ~ George Carlin

            • A teen pregnancy prevention nonprofit paid Bristol Palin $262,500 in 2009?! Why, oh why couldn't my mother be a stupid ex-governor of Alaska and media whore with a rabid following of ignorant hangers-on?

            • Patrick Diehl wishes Facebook would notify us when someone unfriends us so we'd know who to stalk.

            • Patrick Diehl just heard this on NPR: "Michele Bachmann said she wants to go to Israel because she wants to see the Eiffel Tower."

            • Patrick Diehl is becoming more cynical by the minute.

            Friday, June 10, 2011

            Marilyn Manson - The Fight Song

            Is that the sound of chickens I hear?

            Back on May 27, I wrote that as much as I dislike Rick Snyder, I thought it was unwise to waste time, money and energy trying to recall him and it made more sense to go after Republican state legislators.

            Now I read that 20 of ‘em are in the crosshairs being targeted at risk of being forced to join the other 483,578 people looking for work in Michigan.

            The official paperwork hasn’t yet been filed in some cases and the proposed wording for recall petitions is still being reviewed in others but at least Snyder isn’t the only SOB from the GOP in hot water for attacking democracy, robbing from the poor to give to the rich or other political shenanigans designed to please greedy conservatives at the expense of the rest of us.

            The smug pundits and know-it-alls are blabbering about what liberal organizations are behind the campaigns and how exceptionally difficult it is to recall entrenched politicians. Let’s hope the dedicated men and women organizing in legislative districts throughout the state don’t get daunted by the opinions of the Lansing-based, often-as-surprised-as-everybody-else talking heads. Sometimes dismissive comments mask true concern.

            Snyder himself told reporters earlier this week that the wave of recalls is "part of democracy." He said, "As a practical matter, to be recalling people…I know in my case I'm just following through on what I said I was going to do."

            I paid close attention to the gubernatorial campaign, you lying sack, potatoes, and you never said anything about installing emergency financial managers in predominantly black communities or taxing pensions or killing consumer protection laws or removing the requirement that businesses pay taxes in Michigan. In fact, you didn’t say anything substantive; you relied on clichés and platitudes and a lazy press corps that wouldn’t know a follow-up question if it bit ‘em in the ass. (Note to Tim Skubick: being bombastic and interrupting a lot doesn’t make you a hard-nosed reporter.)

            It’s because Snyder’s opponent, Virg Bernero, rubbed people the wrong way and the media decided the election two weeks before it happened that Snyder found himself in the position to plunder and pillage. Thankfully, some of those who supported his misguided machinations will now have to work a little harder to maintain the GOP’s lock on Lansing. They include:

            • House Speaker Jase Bolger (63rd House District), Marshall
            • Kurt Damrow (84th House District), Port Austin
            • Jeff Farrington (30th House District), Utica
            • Anthony Forlini (24th House District), Harrison Township
            • Nancy Jenkins (57th House District), Clayton
            • Joel Johnson (97th House District), Clare
            • Andrea LaFontaine (32nd House District), Richmond
            • Rick Olson (55th House District), Saline
            • Mark Ouimet (52nd House District), Scio Township
            • Al Pscholka (79th House District), Stevensville
            • Mike Shirkey (65th House District), Clarklake
            • Pat Somerville (23rd House District), New Boston
            • Dale Zorn (56th House District), Ida
            • Sen. Majority Leader Randy Richardville (17th Senate District), Monroe
            • Tom Casperson (38th Senate District), Escanaba
            • Judy Emmons (33rd Senate District), Sheridan
            • Mike Green (31st Senate District), Mayville
            • John Moolenaar (36th Senate District), Midland
            • Mike Nofs (19th Senate District), Jackson
            • Howard Walker (37th Senate District), Traverse City

            If these recalls are successful and Democrats win the seats, it tips the balance of power in the Legislature, giving the minority party power to influence or block legislation.

            I love it when chickens come home to roost.

            Sources: Detroit News,, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

            Thursday, June 9, 2011

            Four Tops - Baby I Need Your Lovin'

            How about if women control their bodies and we control ours?

            I saw on television last night that intolerant bottom-feeders from a group called “Personhood USA,” emboldened by successful efforts to restrict abortion in various backwards state legislatures, are now brazenly going after the practice of contraception. They want to define “personhood” as beginning at fertilization, in effect making the use of birth control a crime.

            First of all, don’t these single-toothed, knuckle-dragging, cousin-diddling freaks see the ridiculousness in making sure all the cute little babies get born only to abandon them to lives of potential abuse and neglect, underfunded education, limited and finite resources, questionable opportunity and reliance in many cases on tattered, shrinking social safety nets?

            Secondly, can’t these narrow-minded, Bible-thumping, arrogant, self-righteous twits keep their religion in their homes and churches and stop trying to force it down everybody else’s throats like the puréed peas I used to make my infant daughter consume much to her displeasure?

            Thirdly, can’t these stupid, mouth-breathing, Wal-Mart-shopping, creationist dweebs find a different issue on which to motivate their feeble-minded brethren, perhaps something based on science and not the rudimentary and contradictory writings of ancient, ignorant, controlling men? The medical community has long believed fertilization doesn’t mark the beginning of a pregnancy; fertilized eggs must first be implanted, and only about half of fertilized eggs actually result in a pregnancy.

            Around 11 million American women use birth control pills and another two million use intrauterine devices (IUDs). If the zealots from “Personhood USA” succeed in getting their laws passed – they intend to get proposals on the ballot in nearly half the states by next year – and the laws then survive court challenges, countless women could suddenly find themselves at risk of criminal prosecution for controlling their own bodies.

            What about all the ectopic pregnancies – when fertilized eggs implant outside the uterus, most often settling in the fallopian tubes – and spontaneous abortions, which are surprisingly common and occur so early in many cases that women never know they were pregnant?

            I hate how pandering politicians disregard the input of people who go to esteemed medical schools and study science and become experts in human reproduction, listening instead to the unreasonable, emotion-laden declarations of people who believe in talking snakes and zombies emerging from caves and ascending to Heaven. I can’t figure out why a growing number of politicians support a nutzoid fringe group’s attempts to buck medical expertise and stuff their faith down the country’s throats. And I can’t for the life of me explain to my children why everything in Lansing and Washington is so frikkin’ crazy and is only getting worse.


            Wednesday, June 8, 2011

            Showing off

            Good Charlotte - Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous

            I guess some state employees are just better than others.

            As a former state employee who’s married to a state employee and has known a lot of talented, hard-working state employees, I know it’s not cool for me to say this but some of the paychecks that some of these folks bring home are ludicrous.

            Having said that, the effort by Michigan’s top dogs to take away state employee benefits and force union concessions while paying themselves enough to afford champagne wishes and caviar dreams is really offensive.

            Governor Rick Snyder, a multi-millionaire, makes almost $160,000. His lieutenant, Brian Calley, is paid $111,500. Lawmakers make $71,685, not including their supplemental salaries. (The Speaker of the House gets an additional $24,300; the Senate Majority Leader brings home an additional $23,400; and even the Minority Floor Leader enjoys a $9,000 supplement.) Snyder's minions are doing okay too:

            • John Nixon, the 38-year-old state budget director from Utah, makes almost $115,000 more than what his predecessor earned.
            • 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.
            • The highest earner in the Executive Office is chief of staff Dennis Muchmore at $171,000. Deputy chief of staff Jeff Barnes makes $145,000; senior advisor Dick Posthumus is paid $170,000.
            • 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 paid $140,000 each.
            • Office manager Allison Scott is pulling down $120,000 and administration director Marsha Quebbeman is raking in $100,000.

            Will someone please tell me why the governor’s office manager needs to be paid $120,000? No wonder state employee morale is low and many of the common folks are opting to retire. Maybe someone can conduct a study to determine how the mass exodus is going to impact the quality and availability of the government services that taxpayers demand but allegedly don’t want to pay for.

            Now the State Officers Compensation Commission (SOCC) – the body charged with determining the salaries and expense allowances of the governor and lieutenant governor, legislators, attorney general, secretary of state and Supreme Court justices – is recommending that the Supremes receive a three percent raise in 2013 and another three percent increase the following year. Their salaries would go up to $169,548 in 2013 and $174,634 in 2014. And since the salaries of the more than 600 other state judges are tied to the Supreme Court level, they also receive increases.

            The seven members of the SOCC are appointed by the governor.

            I’m tired of hearing that we need to pay exorbitant salaries in order to attract top talent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan’s unemployment rate is over 10 percent. I’m willing to bet employers don’t need to struggle too hard to find applicants in today’s economy who are qualified and would accept less than a king’s ransom to take the jobs.

            By the way, there’s a website run by the Lansing State Journal that allows you to find out what most state employees are paid. I made the mistake of looking up what Ex-wife Number One makes one time. That’s when I learned there is no god.

            Sources: Detroit Free Press, Gongwer News Service, Michigan Department of Civil Service, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

            Tuesday, June 7, 2011

            Natalie Merchant - These Are Days

            Why whine about Weiner and not Wall Street?

            It turns out that Anthony Weiner is a real dick.


            Have the residents of New York’s 9th congressional district suffered from Weiner’s inappropriate online liaisons? Was he on the clock or did he use government property to bend his marital vows? Was he collecting kiddy porn or trying to entice underage boys to meet him at seedy Brooklyn motels for twisted trysts?

            No. He lied. He made a mistake and he lied about it.

            And even though the only person to whom he needs to answer is his spouse, Huma Abedin, whom he married last year, he’s being excoriated on the radio and online. I can’t scroll down my Facebook wall without being inundated with Weinergate-related headlines:

            • Pelosi Calls For Ethics Investigation Of Weiner In Wake Of Sexting Scandal
            • Republicans Look To Tar Democrats With Weiner Scandal
            • Anthony Weiner's Survival Chances Deemed Slim By Insiders, Experts
            • Anthony Weiner's Twitter Sex Scandal: 9 Theories on Why Men Cyber Cheat
            • Weiner Fesses Up to Online and Phone Relationships, Won't Resign
            • Anthony Weiner Finds Few Close Allies in His Party

            I’m not Weiner’s Number One fan – he voted for the Iraq war in 2002 and is pro-Israel to a fault – but I respected his eloquence and toughness until this earth-shattering scandal broke. Now I’m just annoyed that a man as smart and helpful at times as this SUNY Plattsburgh graduate allowed himself to be neutralized by conservative blogger and right-wing smearmeister Andrew Breitbart.

            Is sending a photo of yourself clad in tight boxers to a young woman in Seattle who follows you on a criminal act? No. Is lying about it reason to remove you from office and send you to the Slammer? No. Is the whole mess worthy of a congressional investigation, as Nancy Pelosi has promised? Absolutely not. Weiner showed an immature lapse in judgment and a peculiar understanding of what it means to be faithful to one’s spouse. His actions, however sleazy, didn’t result in a single person drowning near Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. Weiner didn’t cause anyone’s life savings to vanish into thin air or reveal the secret identity of any covert Central Intelligence Agency operatives.

            A few months ago, one of my favorite writers, Matt Taibbi, wrote a report for Rolling Stone magazine entitled, “Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?” that includes the following:

            “Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world's wealth — and nobody went to jail. Nobody, that is, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant and pathological celebrity con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people.”

            Taibbi goes on to point out, “The rest of them, all of them, got off. Not a single executive who ran the companies that cooked up and cashed in on the phony financial boom — an industry-wide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities — has ever been convicted.”

            I bet Congressman Weiner is wishing he stole billions from thousands right about now instead of sending yucky pictures to a few adult women.

            I started to bicker a bit yesterday with one of my Facebook friends, an intelligent and opinionated woman who posted judgmental statuses and prosecutorial tweets about Weiner. Then I realized it’s futile. People are going to vilify any public official who does anything wrong because we’re so tired of them doing so much wrong. Our ability to prioritize, our sense of perspective, of what’s Tier One and what’s not, are so skewed and worn down by greedy, scummy politicians of both parties that we’ve run out of patience and we’re ready to crucify at the drop of a pair of gray boxers. We hear so much crap about so many office holders – some true and some not – that rather than take a fresh look at each revelation, we lump all offenders in the same category and move on with our sanctimonious day. And the marketers of sleaze, the Breitbarts and Roves and Limbaughs, who are counting on our fatigue and resultant lack of discernment, laugh all the way to the bank.

            Anthony Weiner isn’t a dick because he tweeted suggestive photos. He’s a dick because he reacted the same way my six-year-old does when I catch her in the act of doing something wrong: he denied it, then blamed it on someone else, then confessed when he realized that’s the best course of action. And for that, people on the left lost a powerful spokesperson and gained one more reason to be disappointed.

            Sources: New York Times, Rolling Stone.