Monday, October 29, 2012

Chubby Cheeks

Bob Dylan - Knockin' On Heaven's Door (Unplugged)

Getting Old’s Not for Sissies

I don’t want to get old.

I remember leaving the nursing home, er, I mean “assisted living center” outside of Atlanta where my sweet, charming, 94-year-old grandma lived a few years ago and hearing her sobbing loudly – a horrible, discombobulating sound that I couldn’t get out of my head for days. She had Alzheimer’s toward the end; she had to be reminded who and where we all were and that her beloved husband, Bob, my grandpa, wouldn’t be coming to see her because he had been dead for over ten years. She wasn’t crabby or in distress, though – the disease had turned her into a wrinkled old child: sweet, smiling, happy to have visitors and devastated when we’d leave.

The last time I saw her, that sunny day in December when her sobs echoed down the hall, I thought to myself, “What kind of life does she have when all it consists of is waiting for her dead husband to reappear, hoping for visitors and being crushed every time a visit ends?” Before we were even out of the nursing home’s parking lot, I told my 15-year-old daughter, who was with me, that I didn’t want to live that long. Grandma didn’t live to see another Thanksgiving.

Mom and me
My mom’s the one who told me, “Getting old’s not for sissies,” I think, or maybe it was my dad. I can’t remember. (The memory’s the first to go.) He or she was referring to the decline of their bodies and the health challenges that seem to befall most of us once we hit the big Seven Oh. Did you know that more than 242,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year and more than 28,000 of them will die from it? Did you know that the most significant risk factors for breast cancer are gender (being a woman) and age (growing older)?

To add insult to injury, I just read that although our country’s elderly population has grown steadily, the ratio of geriatricians to seniors is projected to fall from one for every 2,620 Americans age 75 and older today to one for every 3,798 in 2030.

That’s right. If I make it to age 68, I’ll have to compete with an additional 1,178 old folks for the attention of a doctor who specializes in medical care for geezers.

My dad and me
Speaking of my parents, although FDR was in the White House when they entered the world – which means they’re each well into their seventh decade on Planet Earth – I still think of them as the young, hip couple of the 1970s who used to go on long motorcycle trips, knew all of the hot spots and cool restaurants in metro Detroit and vacationed every year on a Caribbean island with a bunch of friends. Now I worry if they drive from Georgia to Michigan for a visit.

I still think of my dad as the guy who always beat me at racquetball and arm wrestling; in my eyes, my mom’s still the loving, 40-something woman who would write my name in Pig Latin on the outside of my paper lunch bag. Now he can’t hear the TV if the volume isn’t deafening, she goes to bed earlier than my kids, and their idea of “hip” is to watch “Wheel of Fortune” during dinner instead of afterwards.

I don’t think the popular adage, “You’re only as old as you feel” is true. We’re expected to behave in a certain way based on what our birth certificate says and are chastened and rebuked if we stray from the norm. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me to “act my age” – and another for every time I’ve admonished my own kids to do the same – I’d be sitting on a big ol’ pile of cash and wouldn’t need to order so many magazines in order to compete in the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. (Anyone who really believes that purchasing something doesn’t improve your odds of winning probably also believes Oswald acted alone and Iran’s close to having nuclear weapons.)

I’ve written about or alluded to age before – see “Kwame Kilpatrick Killed Detroit” or “What I’ve Learned in 50 Years” or “I Can’t Complain," for example – and I don’t want to beat a dead horse but I don’t want to get old. What’s the use of spending decades accumulating knowledge and wisdom if you can’t apply it once you’re knocking on Heaven’s door?

Norma Jean
I was born on the Ides of March in 1962, less than two years after Camelot came to Washington. The first Wal-Mart opened its doors that year, Nazi Adolph Eichmann was executed for crimes against humanity, and Students for a Democratic Society finished the Port Huron Statement. The U.S. Supremes ruled that mandatory prayer in public schools was unconstitutional, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her bed, and Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best as drummer for the Beatles.

Know how much of this historical information my 12-year-old has heard of? By her own estimation, “less than a quarter of it.”

As Grandma used to say, the world’s going to hell in a handbasket, I tell you.

Sources: Prostate Cancer Foundation, Association of Directors of Geriatric Academic Programs,

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Edward Hopper
Early Sunday Morning
Oil on canvas
35 x 60 in.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Luther Vandross and Mariah Carey - Endless Love

Sunday poetry

endless love

I've seen old married couples
sitting in their rockers
across from one another
being congratulated
for staying together 60 or 70
either of whom
long ago have
settled from something
else, anything else,
but fate
fear and
circumstances have
bound them
eternally together;
and as we tell them
how wonderful
their great and enduring love
only they
really know
the truth
but they don't tell us
that from the first day they
it didn't mean
all that much:
waiting for death
it was just an endless determination to

~ Charles Bukowski

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

He Can't See

Michael Franti: Hey World (Don't Give Up)

Michael Franti on Election 2012

Michael Franti, 46, is a talented poet, composer and musician who fronts Michael Franti & Spearhead, a band that blends hip hop with funk, reggae, jazz, folk and rock. An outspoken supporter of peace and justice issues, Franti recently posted the following essay in Facebook:

ELECTION 2012: There has been a lot of chatter on this page about who I am voting for this election. Rather than address each post or engage in an online yelling match, I have decided to post one statement about it.

I have two criteria for choosing a Presidential candidate to vote for:

1. Do I GENERALLY agree with their principles more than the other candidate?

2. Does their party have votes in the U.S. Congress and Senate?

I'm an idealist in my personal life, but a pragmatist when it comes to presidential politics. I don't believe any President of the United States can solve all our nation’s problems, or should be called upon to meet all of my personal expectations. There are over 300 million people in our country, so the chance that the prez is going to please all of us all the time is ridiculously slim. Newsflash: Presidents disappoint! So when it comes to Presidential elections, I vote for the candidate whose ideas I GENERALLY agree with more than the other candidate. I don't vote for Superman (who never fails), a Supreme Ruler (who always gets what they want) or Santa Claus (who always gets me what I want). I vote for the person who I think just might (emphasis on the "might") steer things economically, socially and geo-politically in the direction I hope to see.

So here are some important issues to me. (Not listed in order, and these aren't all of them)

-We should end the war in Afghanistan as soon as possible.
-Wealthy people and corporations should carry a greater tax load than they currently do and middle class people should receive a reduction.
-Freedom of marriage for ALL people.
-We should preserve a woman's right to choose.
-We should increase spending for education.
-All citizens should have access to affordable health care.
-Prosecution of Wall Street criminals.
-Legalize Marijuana
-Campaign finance reform (Put an end to Super PACs and big money election spending)
-Make environmental sustainability a national priority.
-We should end all bombing in other countries (we don't like it when it happened to us, what makes us think another country likes it happening to them)
-Create a Department of Peace
-Bring back music and arts education in public schools

On all of these issues I feel Obama is CLOSER to my opinion than Romney. This does not mean I agree with everything Obama does or has done. For example, I want to see an immediate end to drone weapon attacks in Pakistan and an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan and aid for schools and economic development to the Afghan people as was promised to them when they pushed Russia out of their country in 1980. Obama says he wants to end the Afghan war in 2014, Romney says he sees no reason for a deadline.

To my second point: Once a president gets elected their ability to accomplish their goals is largely based upon how many votes they have in Congress and the Senate. If their party doesn't have the votes, it's doubtful any of their legislation will ever get passed. Simple as that. This is why as much as I might personally love a candidate whose ideals are closer to mine, I don't spend my vote on a third party presidential candidate whose party has zero votes on Capitol Hill. I save that idealistic kind of vote for primary elections, local offices or "liking" a kitten video on YouTube.

Finally, I really don't enjoy political arguments, pundits, bullies and loudmouths. I didn't like them in seventh grade civics classes and I don't like them now that the Internet and cable TV has given us all a vehicle to berate each other behind the relative anonymity of our screens, which is why I don't usually comment on Facebook or Twitter. That being said, I love the fact that people care enough to express opinions with me and are motivated enough to engage in positive discussion on line.

There are 1461 days between presidential elections that all of us have an opportunity to make the world a better place, regardless of who gets elected. Don't leave it just to politicians, get out there and DO SOMETHING POSITIVE. We need everybody to tackle the world's problems. The best science has to offer, the wisdom of indigenous nations, the common sense of everyday people, Non-Governmental Organizations, the resources of the corporate world, the cooperation of governments, the spending power of consumers and the commitment, creativity and enthusiasm of all generations.

If you disagree with some or all of my beliefs I'm okay with that, we all come from different lives and experiences and have different dreams and values. That is why I never suggest to others that they vote for the candidate that I like. Rather, I always say be the most well informed voter you can be, show up on Election Day and vote for whoever you want. I hope everyone reading this does just that.

Be your best. Serve the greater good. And rock out wherever you are.

~ Michael Franti

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Peace in the Sky

Bruno Mars - Count On Me

Is Mitt Counting on Tagg?

The only way this twit can win is if someone who loves him owns the voting machines. Oh, wait...

There’s now a plausible explanation for why Robotron Romney is still campaigning for president.

A few weeks ago, even after POTUS’ disappointing performance in the October 3 Obama/Romney debate at the University of Denver (moderated by a comatose Jim Lehrer), he was ahead in the polls. Robotron may have enjoyed a small bump coming out of the Colorado debate – for an Oscar-worthy performance in which he depicted himself as a fired-up, moderate Republican even though the positions he embraced contradicted his own website and were disputed by his own aides – but I was one of those who doubted his campaign could recover from the revelation in mid-September that he decided to write off 47 percent of Americans. (Click here.)

So I cursed the media for irresponsibly promoting a false equivalency between the two contenders and focusing on campaign minutia instead of the candidates’ positions on issues. (While killing time in a hospital waiting room on October 5 – a family member was recovering from surgery – I watched a story on CNN about how the candidates’ body language and voice inflections during the Denver debate were examined on a frame-by-frame basis and “scientists” found that Romney was the stronger man.) And I started to relax, thinking the electorate might just have come to its senses after mistaking Dubya for a man of skill and talent a decade or so ago and then giving Democrats a “shellacking” during the 2010 midterms.

Then polls started tightening – Gallup even announced that Romney now leads Obama by six points – and the media became entangled in the earth-shattering question of whether or not Candy Crowley, moderator of the October 16 presidential debate at Hofstra University, was right to confirm facts in real time instead of just perching on a stool and letting Romney take credit for the polio vaccine, the Osmond Brothers’ success in Branson, Missouri, and Richard Petty’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. (Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Robotron was just eight years old in 1955 when Jonas Salk announced his vaccine.)

I was still scratching my head and reassuring myself that the only poll that really matters is the one on November 6 when I ran across a Facebook post claiming that Robotron’s pugilistic son Tagg – the nitwit who publicly announced that he wanted to punch the Leader of the Free World during the New York debate – is the proud new owner of several electronic voting machines to be used in Texas, Oklahoma, Washington, Colorado and Ohio. I’ve since seen stories about this at several blogs and websites. (One website insists that Tagg-owned machines are only being used in two counties in Ohio and that the “rigged machines myth” is harmful and distracting. I’m not sure who funds the site.)

I’m solidly in the “This is not good news” camp.

This explains why Robotron is still campaigning for an office that no one except the media thought he had a chance of capturing, legally, just a few weeks ago. It explains why he seems so unconcerned about the easily-verifiable claims and contradictions that make up the new and improved Willard Romney. It explains why his gaffes and half-truths are instantly treated as water under the bridge by the Fourth Estate. If they can’t win or suppress the vote, they’ll just change the totals. (It was none other than Joseph Stalin, the dictator who ruled the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1953, who said something to the effect of, “It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.”)

I tuned in to the final debate last night, moderated by avuncular Bob Schieffer of CBS News and held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. I thought the President was a tad aggressive in the beginning – causing Robotron to complain that attacks on him did not an agenda make – but he found his groove, slipped in a few good lines (“Governor Romney, the 1980s called…they want their foreign policy back”) and in my view demonstrated the same intelligence and eloquence that convinced over 69 million Americans to send him to the White House in 2008. It seemed to me that Obama edged out Robotron “I’m Still Speaking” Romney for the win, but when I visited a prominent political website afterwards, they claimed it was a tie. (Schieffer closed the event by quoting his late mother, who used to tell him, “Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong.” That’s what my mom said would happen if I drank milk and Anita’s mom told her would happen if she studied hard.) The race just doesn’t seem as close to me as I’m being led to believe. I wonder why.

Let’s talk about Ohio for a minute. No Republican candidate has ever lost that state and still made it to the White House. Consider this excerpt from an October 18 article at the Free Press website:

In 2004, in the dead of election night, an electronic swing of more than 300,000 votes switched Ohio from the John Kerry column to George W. Bush, giving him a second term. A virtual statistical impossibility, the 6-plus% shift occurred between 12:20 and 2am election night as votes were being tallied by a GOP-controlled information technology firm on servers in a basement in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In defiance of a federal injunction, 56 of Ohio's 88 counties destroyed all election records, making a recount impossible. Ohio's governor and secretary of state in 2004 were both Republicans, as are the governors and secretaries of state in nine key swing states this year.

It’s understandable that Tagg would want to help his dad’s floundering and not-even-close-until-now campaign if he could. And how better than to manipulate the vote count electronically in a few key counties? (Remember that Dubya took Florida by a mere 537 votes after recounts were halted.)

Sadly and surprisingly, there are quite a few “Romney/Ryan” lawn signs in my area. I’m not sure why. I just can’t accept the idea that anyone would want to return to the failed policies of the past, policies that favored the rich, took the economy to the brink of collapse, and included not one but two expensive, unjustifiable wars in which hundreds of thousands of human beings were murdered. I’ve got to think people just don’t know – or want to know – what might be going on under the surface, electronically and otherwise.

P.S. As an aside, I know it’s immature to make fun of someone’s name – and I’ve certainly been teased about mine – but what is with this Tagg/Bristol/Willow/Piper/Trig/Track crap anyway? Don’t GOP parents realize their offspring are already saddled with big negatives and naming them after forest nymphs and comic book characters doesn’t really help?

Tagg Romney photo courtesy The Tribune.
Debate photo courtesy Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Sources:, Forbes,,, The Hill,,,

Sunday, October 21, 2012

For Respite

Amy Winehouse - Tears Dry On Their Own

Sunday poetry

Tears, Oily Tears…

Crying is a habit with me.
You mustn’t mind: onions make me
headlines in the Daily News,
not getting enough sleep
going to the movies and not going.
Fear of getting bawled out by people shorter than me,
animals in zoos,
deserted buses late at night,
teargas, hunger, frustration
and, oh, yes,
superfluous lines of verse and great beauty
move me to tears,
sliding out of me like oil
out of an over-oiled electric fan

~ James Schuyler

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Abandoned Ward

Beyoncé - Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)

I Propose Fewer Proposals

At first I couldn’t decide if I should write about the six – yes, that’s six – ballot proposals facing Michigan voters 19 days from now.

See, it irks me that state lawmakers have relegated so many complex, tough questions to an unsophisticated electorate rather than stepping up to the plate and doing the job voters sent them to Lansing to do. Their unwillingness to take a stand – potentially incurring the wrath of some of their constituents – has opened the doors for various interests to flood the airwaves with erroneous and confusing advertising, making it even less likely that sound public policy will be decided this year. (I’m not as opposed to citizen referenda as I am to legislative responsibility-shirking but for the purposes of this blog post I’m assuming lazy politicians are why we’re looking at six questions.)

I don’t believe in amending Michigan’s Constitution on a whim and I think the ballot proposal option should be used sparingly – like amputation, commas and economic sanctions (which, I’m told, inevitably hurt the populace of a country more than the politicians). This is especially true in light of the fact that just 66 percent of my state’s eligible voters showed up at the polls in 2008 and only 43 percent went to the trouble in 2010. I want most people amending the constitution and making important decisions that affect all of us, not just some people. And I want to be represented by my state legislators, who are each paid more than $71,000/year plus expenses to do just that, rather than being at the mercy of the special interest with the deepest pockets and/or the most effective GOTV effort.

But since we can seldom count on most politicians to do what’s right and voters need to know what they’ll be facing in less than three weeks, here’s what I think and know:

Proposal One: This proposal seeks to invoke the right of referendum for the controversial emergency manager law, Public Act 4 of 2011, about which I’ve written before. A “no” vote repeals the law in its entirety. PA 4 gives too much power to unelected managers to nullify contracts and collective bargaining agreements of cash-strapped communities and undermines the authority of locally-elected officials. I’ve opposed it since March of 2011 and my opinion hasn’t changed. I’m voting “Hell No.”

Proposal Two: This proposal, if approved, will amend the state constitution to create a new right to collective bargaining. I believe in the fundamental right of collective bargaining – and in protecting public and private employees’ jobs, wages and benefits – so I’m voting “Absolutely.”

Proposal Three: This proposal, if approved, will amend the state constitution to require utilities to obtain at least 25 percent of their electricity from clean renewable energy sources (wind, solar, biomass and hydropower) and will encourage the use of Michigan-made equipment and the employment of Michigan residents.

George Wood, the guy representing Consumers Energy who’s performing an energy audit in my home as I write this, supports Proposal Three. “By making utilities use renewable energy, we create a whole new industry in Michigan which we don’t have now,” George said. “If utilities are required to provide this, it will become a reality. We ought to be allowed to participate in the renewable revolution.” This proposal also protects consumers in the short term by capping rate increases caused by renewable energy regulations at one percent/year. I’m voting “Of Course.”

Proposal Four: This proposal, if approved, will amend the state constitution to establish the Michigan Quality Home Care Council to run background checks on home health care workers, provide training, ensure collective bargaining rights for around 42,000 workers, and maintain a registry of workers to benefit our elderly and disabled residents. I would support this except no one’s made the case for why it needs to be locked into the state constitution. I’m voting “I Think Not.”

Proposal Five: This proposal, if approved, will amend the state constitution to require that two-thirds of state lawmakers in both chambers, rather than a simple majority, have to agree on any and all new taxes in order for them to take effect. It also allows lawmakers to punt tax increase questions to voters if they can’t agree, which is just what we need: Joe the Plumber determining tax policy for the 12th largest state economy in the country. Democrats and Republicans agree that Proposal Five, if passed, will result in devastating cuts to education, public safety and infrastructure spending and will hinder any future tax reform. I’m voting “When Pigs Fly.”

Proposal Six: This proposal, if approved, will amend the state constitution to require a vote of the people before state officials can construct or finance any new international bridges or tunnels. And get this: it will also define “new international bridges or tunnels” as “any bridge or tunnel which is not open to the public and serving traffic as of January 1, 2012.” The Senate Fiscal Agency points out that if a special election is required every time officials want to build a bridge, it could cost taxpayers $10 million a pop.

Greedy, unscrupulous billionaire Matty Moroun, about whom I’ve written extensively, is behind this despicable effort to preserve his cash cow – he owns the Ambassador Bridge connecting the United States and Canada – and his blatantly misleading television and radio commercials pander to the short-sighted “No Spending Of Any Kind For Any Reason Whatsoever” segment of the population (the same folks who join the Tea Party and elect far-right politicians who worship at the altar of Grover Norquist). I don’t want Tea Party ignoramuses making fiscal, engineering and international trade decisions on my behalf so I’m voting “No Frikkin’ Way.”

I’m fearful that Michigan voters can’t or won’t take the time to study these six issues before stepping into the voting booth next month. I’m afraid that a small minority will make decisions that impact all of us. And I’m not sure how many of my fellow Michiganders even read “What’s the Diehl?” Well, at least no one can say I didn’t do my part.

Sources: Citizens Research Council of Michigan, State Senator Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing),, Michigan Department of State.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

In tribute...

Malala Yousafzai

Michael Jackson - Man In The Mirror

Sunday poetry


He was back. Said nothing.
But it was clear something had upset him.
He lay down in his suit.
Hid his head under the blanket.
Drew up his knees.
He’s about forty, but not at this moment.
He exists – but only as much as in his mother’s belly
behind seven skins, in protective darkness.
Tomorrow he is lecturing on homeostasis
in metagalactic space travel.
But now he’s curled up and fallen asleep.

~ Wisława Symborska

Friday, October 12, 2012

Beautiful Girl

Photo by Gansforever Osman

The Boomtown Rats - I Don't Like Mondays

No Peace for Malala

This is another one of those times when I doubt I can write anything that hasn’t been written about this topic already but I feel compelled to do it anyway.

You’ve probably heard about Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani activist who was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban while waiting for the school bus the other day because she’s “pro-West.” The winner of her country’s first National Peace Prize is stable and unconscious as she recovers from emergency surgery. (Conflicting reports have one or two other girls also injured in the attack.)

The Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the crime, said in an official statement: "The Pakistani Taliban successfully targeted Malala Yousafzai in Mingora. Although she was young and a girl and Taliban does not believe in attacking women but whomsoever leads any campaign against Islam and Shariah is ordered to be killed by Shariah. It is not merely allowed to kill such a person but it is obligatory in Islam."

Wow. I wasn’t aware that Malala’s insistence that girls be allowed to attend school in Taliban-controlled areas of Pakistan represented an assault on Islam. I also didn’t know that the Taliban “does not believe in attacking women.” I guess those grainy cell phone videos on the internet of women and girls in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia being stoned and decapitated were anomalies then. The reports of the systematic flogging, rape and murder of thousands of women in Afghanistan must have been exaggerated. The world community must have been mistaken when it condemned the Taliban for “brutal repression of women” a decade or so ago.

I’m not sure what to write. It’s too easy to condemn misogynistic terrorist groups, to trash Islam and religion, to vilify the country that harbored Osama bin Laden and can’t protect someone from being attacked for the despicable crime of demanding equal rights. Most people already find it dreadful that we live in a world where little girls are shot outside their schools (if they’re even allowed to attend). Men persecute, degrade and abuse women and girls all over the world, not just in South Asia. And for every tragic situation and distressing circumstance that captures the media’s interest, there are hundreds of others that never make the front page or the nightly news.

But still. Malala was just waiting for a school bus.

One Al Jazeera reader commented, “Malala is no different than riders of a bus in London, or a train in Spain, or those cuing up at the American embassy in Nigeria, or on a plane that flew into the World Trade towers, or attend a funeral or wedding or a hotel in India. The Taliban did not commit the majority of these crimes but those who believe in Islam did, and are proud. Something is terribly wrong with Islam that so many Imans command their followers to commit these atrocities. Like all previous ‘outrages,’ nothing much will come from this.”

I share the commentor’s cynicism: I’m sure we’ll hear more about Malala in the days ahead – the Taliban has promised more assassination attempts if she survives – until some other distressing crime occurs, some other innocent person is killed or hurt by a religious zealot, gun nut, terrorist group or monster who doesn’t like Mondays.

I suppose the Taliban seeks to squelch dissent and control Pakistanis through fear but it’s likely to backfire in this case. People tend to band together when their children are shot at bus stops. It’s possible that Malala will be too afraid to continue to speak out against injustice and unfairness once she heals (and I join the millions of others around the globe who are hoping for a complete and speedy recovery). But the opposite could happen: her suffering could serve to galvanize others to join her in condemning the unacceptable and working for change.

I hope this is what results from this horrendous attack. I hope Malala’s assailants are caught and punished. And I hope I never have to explain to my children why men are so awful.

Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, Detroit Free Press, International Herald Tribune, Al Jazeera.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Late Afternoon in Manhattan

Shontelle - Impossible

Hard but Not Too Hard

Anita and I found ourselves behind a dilapidated old blue Chevy van on the way home from Target yesterday. The vehicle, driven by a middle-aged, sullen-looking white dude with a scruffy beard, was adorned with three bumper stickers that we found interesting: “Pray/Vote/Pray,” “Romney/Ryan 2012” and “I Support Stem Cell Research.”

I found these expressions of opinion a little contradictory. I told Anita that advocates for science aren’t known for sitting in church pews and chanting ineffective incantations to unseen, otherworldly deities. She responded that there are a lot of doctors and scientists who embrace religion, who compartmentalize or see no contradiction or are fine with the incongruity.

When Robotron Romney was Governor of Massachusetts in 2005, he vetoed a bill that would have expanded embryonic stem cell research. The flip-flopping equivocator extraordinaire is on record as supporting using adult stem cells and leftover frozen embryos from fertility clinics for research but opposing therapeutic cloning (where scientists create a cloned embryo to harvest stem cells and treat or cure diseases). And Congressman Paul “Eddie Munster” Ryan voted against stem cell research bills in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Crabby Bearded Guy probably wasn’t thinking of test tubes and microscopes when he slapped the Romney/Ryan sticker on his automobile’s rear.

This brief encounter in south Lansing instigated a conversation in which we pinpointed one of the biggest problems facing the United States today: too many people only care about themselves and their loved ones. The sense of community, the idea of a greater good, of thinking about our neighbors and even the plight of those we don’t know when making our electoral choices, seem out of fashion.

We’ve both heard of folks who unabashedly – even rabidly – support out-of-touch conservatives who disparage science and worship He Who Floats on Clouds and Awards Touchdowns and Emmys until someone they know and/or love suffers a spinal cord injury, develops diabetes, is diagnosed with heart disease or exhibits the telltale signs of Alzheimer’s. Then suddenly they revisit their position on science vs. prayer, take a second look, and decide that prayer alone might not work for everybody after all.

We’ve both met people who insist they know what’s best for everyone based only on what’s best for them – and don’t always relent, repent or concede when confronted with new developments and additional information. And this self-centered short-sightedness accompanies them into the voting booth like a young child or a persistent cough.

Crabby Bearded Guy might be one of the most flexible, complex or progressive fellows around. Maybe different people affixed the stickers, maybe they were on it when he bought it, or maybe it wasn’t even his van. We’ll never know.

We’ll also never know if he tried to take any of ‘em off. He might have. It is difficult to remove bumper stickers but it’s not impossible. And it can be difficult to broaden our perspectives, to look beyond our families to the larger community, to what’s best for the nation, to what furthers humankind. But that isn’t impossible either.

Sources: Associated Press,, U.S. News & World Report.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Old Workhorse

Photo by Ronald Broome

Heart - Alone

Sunday poetry


I'm driving home from school when the radio talk
turns to E.B. White, his birthday, and I exit
the here and now of the freeway at rush hour,

travel back into the past, where my mother is reading
to my sister and me the part about Charlotte laying her eggs
and dying, and though this is the fifth time Charlotte

has died, my mother is crying again, and we're laughing
at her because we know nothing of loss and its sad math,
how every subtraction is exponential, how each grief

multiplies the one preceding it, how the author tried
seventeen times to record the words
She died alone
without crying, seventeen takes and a short walk during

which he called himself ridiculous, a grown man crying
for a spider he'd spun out of the silk thread of invention -
wondrous how those words would come back and make

him cry, and, yes, wondrous to hear my mother's voice
ten years after the day she died - the catch, the rasp,
the gathering up before she could say to us,
I'm OK.

~ Sarah Freligh

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Photo by Kirsty Kelly

Lying From You - Linkin Park

Recapping the Debate

It’s funny how one’s preconceived opinions and beliefs dictate reality.

Take last night’s presidential debate at the University of Denver. The talking heads are all saying the pumped-up Romney emerged victorious. Fans of the POTUS are saying his indistinct performance is all part of his secret plan to pounce when the time is right, that he skillfully goaded Robotron into giving him the outrageous sound bites he needs for his upcoming media buys. People are claiming that Romney lied through his pearly whites and that Obama appeared appropriately reserved and presidential. The only thing about which there seems to be universal agreement is that doddering debate moderator Jim Lehrer should have been there but clearly wasn’t.

At first I wasn’t even going to watch. Someone had made the point that few minds would be changed by the dog and pony show and that the candidates never respond to the questions they’re asked anyway. But my wife made the good point that voter turnout could be impacted by the guys' performances, that their supporters could either be fired up or devastated by the way their candidate handled himself. So I poured a fishbowl-sized glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, grabbed a slice of pizza and settled in to watch my choice – the incumbent, in case you don’t know – mop up the stage with his gaffe-prone, disingenuous challenger.

It didn’t turn out that way.

Watching this production, which focused on domestic issues, proved to be a painful way to spend 90 minutes. The president opened with his take on our situation:

“Four years ago we went through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of jobs were lost. The auto industry was on the brink of collapse. The financial system had frozen up. And because of the resilience and the determination of the American people, we've begun to fight our way back. Over the last 30 months, we've seen five million jobs in the private sector created. The auto industry has come roaring back and housing has begun to rise.”

I immediately began wondering just how a financial system can “freeze up,” where and how high housing had risen and why, if the American people are so resilient and determined, we still have so many unmet challenges.

The next thing I knew, Robotron was talking about his view, which was that everything will get infinitely better if we just become energy independent (at which point we’ll gain four million jobs), open up trade in Latin America, crack down on China when they cheat (he didn’t say on what), improve schools (he didn’t say how), balance the budget and champion small business. (We have to champion small business, whatever that means, because according to him, new business startups are at a 30-year low.) He insisted that we must abandon Obama’s commitment to Big, “Trickle Down” Government – with its increased spending, taxing and regulating – if we ever want the sun to rise and the birds to sing again.

I waited for Obama to come out swinging at this point, to really let loose with his superior oratorical skills, to ramp up his energy level and take his smarmy opponent to the woodshed. He chose, however, to maintain his lackluster demeanor and try to curry favor with his enemy, claiming that, “On energy, Governor Romney and I agree that we've got to boost American energy production” and “Governor Romney and I share a deep interest in encouraging small-business growth,” etc. Way to debate like a boss, Barack.

Robotron declared that he had no intention to raise taxes on middle-income families. He promised, in fact, to lower them. He insisted that he wouldn't reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans and that his opponent’s plan to increase the tax rate on successful small businesses from 35 percent to 40 percent would, according to the surely-impartial National Federation of Independent Businesses, cost 700,000 jobs. (He didn’t say how, why or where.)

POTUS pointed out that Robotron was making the same sales pitch that was made in 2001 and 2003, when we ended up with the slowest job growth in 50 years. “We ended up moving from surplus to deficits,” Obama said, “and it all culminated in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

Romney claimed that 32 million Americans were on food stamps when Obama took office and now 47 million require assistance. He announced his intention to kill Big Bird and his buddies by stopping the subsidy to PBS and he worked in the obligatory reference to Our Heavenly Father, saying, “I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country…we are endowed by our Creator with the right to pursue happiness as we choose.” I should have pursued happiness by turning off the television at this point but I didn’t.

Now that's clean!
When Robotron declared, “And by the way, I like coal. I'm going to make sure we continue to burn clean coal,” my asthmatic wife and son cheered because they were so happy to learn that there is such a thing as clean coal. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that “clean coal” is in the same category as “frugal spendthrift” and “chaste whore.”

Obama and Romney covered or referenced the Commission on Presidential Debates, Simpson-Bowles (a proposal to slash the federal deficit and lower tax rates), Big Oil and green energy, Solyndra (a California-based solar energy company that had received government loans but ended up filing for bankruptcy and laying off employees), Obamacare, Medicaid and Medicare, shipping jobs overseas, Obama’s dead grandmother and entitlements, Dodd-Frank (a financial regulation/Wall Street reform proposal signed into law by Obama in 2010) and even Osama bin Laden. The uninspiring, detail-rich conversation spurred one of my Facebook pals to post at one point, “Geez, guys! Less wonk, more vision!”

At the end, POTUS even thanked Governor Romney for a terrific debate. Talk about a shellacking!

The next campaign debate will take place on October 11, when Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Congressman Eddie Munster brawl and bicker in Danville, Kentucky. I’d watch it but that’s when I’m scheduled to count how many blades of grass are in my backyard.

Sources: Reuters, NPR.