Monday, January 30, 2012


Rocco DeLuca - I Trust You to Kill Me

Nick and Rocco Are Together Again

I was scanning my Facebook news feed yesterday, looking for writing topics, when I ran across a story in the New York Post about Nick Santino and Rocco.

Mr. Santino was a struggling soap opera actor – “All My Children” and “Guiding Light” viewers might recognize him – who lived on New York’s Upper West Side with his beloved pit bull, Rocco. In 2010, his condo board issued harsh new rules regulating dogs in the building. Although Rocco was exempted from a new ban on pit bulls, friends and neighbors claim Mr. Santino started getting harassed by his neighbors. Rocco wasn’t allowed in the main elevator, he couldn’t be left alone in Mr. Santino’s apartment for longer than nine hours, and he was accused of barking too much.

So last Tuesday, after months of stress and aggravation, Mr. Santino had Rocco put to sleep. It was his 47th birthday.

But wait. There’s more.

Guilt-ridden and despondent over what he had done, Mr. Santino killed himself by overdosing on pills. He left a suicide note in which he wrote, “Today I betrayed my best friend and put down my best friend. Rocco trusted me and I failed him. He didn’t deserve this.”

Anyone who’s ever loved and relied on a dog can understand how Mr. Santino must have felt. Yes, there may have been other issues that contributed to his decision to end it all. But I can imagine how stressed and devastated he was by what his neighbors – and then he – had done to his canine companion, how overwhelmed he was by sadness and guilt.

The whole thing makes me cry.

This is not a post about my love for dogs. (I just did that. Click here.) And I’m not trying to defend pit bulls (although anyone who thinks all members of the breed are vicious and unlovable is misinformed, ignorant and unwelcome in my home). I’m writing about this because it’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with the world today.

People are assholes.

I’ve been around lots of dogs – and people – who were less than likable. I haven’t always been enamored with all of my neighbors. I’ve regretted living with or near certain people for what I thought were good reasons. I wasn’t always friendly, to be sure, but to my knowledge I never drove anybody to suicide.

Sometimes it’s possible, even necessary, to change the world so that it lines up with what’s right. (I’m thinking of people of color having access to the same drinking fountain that I use, for example.) But sometimes the task is to change ourselves – our own perceptions, expectations or interpretations – and accept the world as it is. Sometimes we all just need to live and let live.

Even if Rocco was known to bark loudly every night beginning at dinner time and ending at sunrise, is the best response to make life miserable for his owner? Couldn’t cordial meetings have been held instead? And let’s say people tried to be nice but Mr. Santino’s loyalty to Man’s Best Friend exceeded his commitment to neighborliness. Were his fellow residents then entitled to harass him and make him feel like his only option was to do away with his beloved companion and then himself?

We’re all floating through space on this watery orb together. And people are struggling, some obviously and some secretly. It seems like this could have ended better.

“No matter how deep my sleep, I shall hear you, and not all the power of death can keep me from wagging a grateful tail.” ~ Eugene O’Neill

Nick and Rocco photo courtesy New York Post.

Sources: New York Post,

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where's the pic-a-nic basket?

Adele - Turning Tables (Live from the Artists Den)

Sunday poetry

black and white

I sit for Leyburn street
and poor red brick

I sit for unholy crucifixes
carved in shoepolish

I sit for hours because the cigarette went out
while dregs drink dregs of bitter pint
and life
staving off the looking glass
that spies bar oak and

I sit for housewives etched in doorways
and the milk that went off when
he did

I sit for the garden full of rust and broken toys
like beautiful postcards from Italy but
from cot dead ghosts

I sit for the sad hookers in the window
of the florist

I sit for the facedown on burnt orange laminate
saturated and pathetic
her bare arse revealed under
floral white dress
that’s suddenly blooming red

I sit for a girls bare breasts
and that one eye
still holds a sign that says
sad love

~ Ross Johnson

Read more poetry of unusually high unusualness at Clutching at Straws.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Weezer - "Memories"


Anita and me at the Lower Tahquamenon Falls last year.

There are some images that stay with you for longer than you might expect.

I remember the day my oldest daughter, Amelia, was born as if it were yesterday. I remember her brown hair and the strawberry mark on the top of her head and my feeling of amazement that she had finally joined us, that she was here, that I was a dad. I felt vaguely stoned, like my feet weren’t firmly touching the hospital room floor. I remember the blood and cutting the umbilical cord – I was surprised that it required two snips – and feeling awed by my wife at the time, so proud and respectful and relieved that she and our new baby girl were okay. More than okay. Perfect.

Amelia will be 21 next month. We haven’t seen or talked with each other in months and months. (I don’t even know for sure how long our estrangement has gone on – it’s not something that I allow myself to think about too much.) Nothing can remove the image from my memory, though, of my newborn baby girl, all purple and brown and bloody and beautiful, back on the morning of February 26, 1991.

Another image I can’t shake is that of another little girl: the “Girl in the Red Coat” whom Oskar Schindler watches from high atop a hill as she walks almost methodically through the streets of the Kraków Ghetto during its violent liquidation by the homicidal Nazis in the 1993 movie, Schindler’s List. Schindler’s eyes, and ours, are drawn to the child because director Steven Spielberg made her coat a vivid red in the otherwise black-and-white film. I won’t reveal what happens after that in case you haven’t seen the film but it’s a powerful scene in a powerful movie that’s stayed with me for almost two decades.

Other images come to mind – older and newer:

  • The look in Anita’s eyes as we said goodbye in the driveway and I got in the car and headed to Atlanta 25 days ago. She was holding Ben and Jerry, our Maltese puppies, so that I could say goodbye to them too. I could see pain and sadness and anger in her eyes. I could see these things. I’ll never forget it.

  • The white dome of Michigan’s State Capitol Building the first time I saw it, lit up at night. I was driving from my home in metro Detroit to downtown Lansing, which I’d never visited, for one of newly-elected Governor Jim Blanchard’s inaugural balls in the first week of 1983 – this one at the Lansing Civic Center, which no longer exists – and when the illuminated dome first emerged from behind the other buildings that comprised the skyline, I was unjustifiably awed. (If I knew then what I know now about what happens and doesn’t happen in that building, my reaction would probably have been different.) 

  • Nikita, Bryant, Maya and Devina laughing and smiling and playing and just being the beautiful children that they are. There are too many of these images to recount here, of them playing on the giant water slide that we used to inflate in the backyard, and sledding with me down “Dead Man’s Hill” while Anita poured hot chocolate from a thermos, and riding on the ferry as we headed from New York’s Battery Park to Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty in real life for the first time, and cuddling with our new puppies in front of the fireplace, and Bryant competing in his first Pinewood Derby and Nikita slicing through the water at a Spartan Swim Club meet and Maya dancing to Nicki Minaj and Devina emerging from her kindergarten class as I waited to pick her up from Midway Elementary School...I could go on and on.

  • Seeing the Upper Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for the first time, which the locals apparently call “Root Beer Falls” because of the water’s brown color (although I never heard anyone refer to them by that name). The water gets its dark color from the decay of vegetation; the upper falls are 200 feet wide and around 45 feet long. It’s loud – in the spring, 50,000 gallons of water fall into the Tahquamenon River per second – and powerful and breathtakingly beautiful.

  • Meeting Bubba Clinton outside of a Democratic Leadership Council meeting in Southfield, Michigan, back in the spring of 1991 when his hair was still brown. He was the governor of Arkansas then; this was before he formally announced his presidential run so not everybody knew who he was. I was standing in the hotel hallway, waiting for the meeting to end, when he appeared in the doorway, walked right up to me and introduced himself with an outstretched hand and a smile. We chatted for about 120 seconds, just Bill and me, before other politicians and staffers descended upon us and he excused himself. Our paths crossed three or four times after that, actually – I used to be somebody – but I’ll always remember the first time I chatted alone with the big, charming guy who would become the 42nd President of the United States less than two years later.

  • Watching my natural father struggle with a large tree branch that was determined to knock him out of the back of our canoe as we floated down a river in downtown Rochester, Michigan, in 1976, when I was 14. The branch won; to this day I remember feeling embarrassed because I shouted, “Daddy!” as he hit the water although I was much too old to use that term. Believe it or not, that’s one of just three memories I have of him.

  • Speaking of water, having to abandon our campsite in the Manistee National Forest last Labor Day weekend because of sudden, torrential rain and taking refuge in a tavern in downtown Manistee. Soaked, cold, hungry and miserable, we watched the weather report on the television in the bar; upon hearing that the forecast called for more of the same, we agreed that returning home early was preferable to drowning in a dome tent.

Several other images and experiences are flooding my brain as I write this. My memory’s not great (I relied heavily on Anita to remind me of appointments, tasks and obligations) yet I’m able to recall a number of things as if they occurred yesterday – which, depending on the memory, is either a blessing or a curse.

Friday, January 27, 2012

We Are Spartans

The Beach Boys - Barbara Ann (live)

My Pro-Peace Post

Samar Hassan screams after her parents were shot by U.S. troops in Tal Afar in January 2005.
Hussein and Camila Hassan died when they failed to stop their car at a checkpoint.
Photo courtesy Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

~ Former Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower

I’m with the hippies on this ‘peace is preferable to war’ thing.

I’m opposed to war unless an enemy is threatening us on our own soil or territories.

We have soldiers deployed in 150 countries around the world; more than 205,000 of our 1,425,000 active-duty military personnel are serving outside of the United States. We have troops all over the globe – in Africa and the Middle East, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Italy and Spain, among other locales. We even have troops in Canada and Greenland.


I should know better than to assume our leaders cherish peace. We’ve been at war longer than we’ve been at peace (see image at right) – from the Revolutionary War (1775 to 1783) , Civil War (1861 to 1865) and World Wars I and II (1914 to 1918 and 1941 to 1945, respectively) to Vietnam (1962 to 1973), Operation Desert Storm (1991 to 1992) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003 to 2011). (Sadly, I’ve left a number of wars and military actions out of this paragraph.)

Now the POTUS and others are hinting at war with Iran, which has threatened to stop the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz if the U.S. and our allies impose sanctions because of its nuclear ambitions. (This is a big deal because 20 to 30 percent of the world’s oil supply passes through this waterway each day.) It’s nonsensical to go to war with Iran to prevent Iran from causing war – and why aren’t we as worried about Pakistan, North Korea and Russia, all of which already have nukes, as we are about Iran?

The American Enterprise Institute – a conservative, “inside the beltway” think tank that boasts loony former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and current GOP philanderer frontrunner Newt Gingrich as fellows – admitted that Iran may not be the Evil Empire that hawks and right wingers claim:

"The biggest problem for the United States is not Iran getting a nuclear weapon and testing it, it's Iran getting a nuclear weapon and not using it. Because the second that they have one and they don't do anything bad, all of the naysayers are going to come back and say, 'See, we told you Iran is a responsible power. We told you Iran wasn't getting nuclear weapons in order to use them immediately.'...And they will eventually define Iran with nuclear weapons as not a problem."

Gee, maybe there's something to the claim that we go to war to make some people rich (no-bid Halliburton contract, Mr. Cheney?) and perpetuate a particular ideology rather than to preserve freedom or promote democracy.

I’ve written before about being disappointed that President Obama has curried favor with hawks and made a mockery of his Nobel Peace Prize in the process, so I won’t beat that dead horse anymore – except to say that as long as the guy who broke his campaign promise about Iraq, ramped things up in Afghanistan before winding things down, and launched military action in Pakistan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen insists on marching us to war with Iran, he’s going to find a lot of people sitting on their hands in disgust this coming November 6.

We can’t even count on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom I thought was a woman, to stand up to pro-war males and serve as a voice for reason in the administration, to prove that Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice were anomalies, that female Secretaries of State can urge continued diplomacy and promote alternatives to the wholesale destruction of villages, cities, countries, families and human lives. (Albright reportedly once argued for the use of military force in Kosovo and Bosnia by asking Colin Powell, “What’s the point of you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can't use it?”)

That’s too bad because as we’ve seen time and time again, war makes people do really bad things. Just ask those who knew 14-year-old Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi, who was gang-raped raped and murdered (and whose parents and younger sister were slaughtered) by five American soldiers in Mahmudiyah, Iraq, in March of 2006, or anyone who remembers the Holocaust, with its pogroms and concentration camps and the mass murder of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II, or the slaughter of 500 unarmed civilians by U.S. Army soldiers in My Lai, South Vietnam, in 1968, or anyone who viewed the recent video of U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Afghanis.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Dubya stated that he opposed nation building and foreign military entanglements – he said in a debate that he wasn’t sure the role of the United States was to go around and say to other countries, “This is the way it’s got to be” – and then promptly did just that, ignoring millions around the world who protested against bombing Iraq and waging war in Afghanistan. Together, these despicable enterprises have cost thousands of human lives and $1,296,182,660,793 and counting.

For what?

Why do we posture and pretend to value human life – even going so far as to restrict the legal right of American women to control their own bodies and abort their fetuses – while tacitly approving the abuse and murder of those whose only crimes are that their skin color, language and/or religion are different or they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time?

I know most soldiers don’t cross over to the Dark Side – although last I checked, killing was part of the job – and it’s worth repeating that you can support our troops and be grateful to them for risking their lives and sacrificing so much while at the same time opposing the conflicts in which they’re participating. (Whenever I spot a “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker on the road - usually on a minivan or sport-utility vehicle - I always have to resist the urge to pull up alongside the driver and shout, “How?! How are you supporting our soldiers? What are you doing to support ‘em besides slapping a 12-inch by three-inch sticker on your gas-guzzling SUV?”)

The best way to support our troops is to stop putting them in harm’s way for oil or nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, to bring them home to their spouses and children and parents, and to vote for politicians who believe that war should be a last resort, not a Tier One policy option.

I can overlook some political differences but this testosterone-driven, narrow-minded chest-beating, saber-rattling, weapon-brandishing, "let’s-bomb-‘em-‘cause-sanctions-failed" policy, this predilection for violence and mass murder on the part of politicians is shameful, barbaric and beneath us as evolved human beings, as men and women of the 21st Century.

I’m not some naïve, flighty, Department of Peace-wanting, Ron Paul-supporting isolationist and I rely on oil in my daily life just like everybody else. I realize it would be challenging to heat my house, drive my car or maintain a comfortable lifestyle using less or alternative energy. But I’m willing to try, to make changes. It’s not worth the death of innocent people. It’s not worth the sleepless nights and the blood being shed in my name.

Call me a wuss or hippy or peacenik or bleeding heart liberal if you must. I’ll just turn the other cheek.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

~ Five-Star General Dwight D. Eisenhower 

Sources: Huffington Post,, CBS News,

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Zac Brown Band - The Devil Went Down To Georgia

Obama Could Sell Shampoo to a Bald Guy

“He gives good speech. Now it’s time to deliver.”

~ Brad Lang

The Washington Post reported that around 38 million people watched President Obama’s campaign, I mean State of the Union speech Tuesday night (and that’s not counting PBS and C-SPAN viewers). I was one of ‘em. As I posted in Facebook, it was that one time of year when I was completely pro-Obama, proud that he was my president, and ready to work for him. I also said, “We’ll see how long this will last.”

There was a lot to like about this speech. I liked how the POTUS has put new rules in place to hold Wall Street accountable and has promised more bank regulation and more investigations of abusive lending practices that have hurt homeowners. I liked how he mentioned Detroit or Michigan three times, and mentioned how the auto industry is growing and investing and has added nearly 160,000 jobs since he took office.

He referenced our crumbling infrastructure and said we need to bring back manufacturing and revise the tax code and give community colleges more resources and quit bashing teachers and teaching to the test. He said that every state should require all students to stay in school until they graduate or hit 18, we should extend the college tuition tax credit and expand work-study programs, and colleges and universities need to do a better job of keeping costs down.

I thought his suggestion that the Senate give all judicial and public service nominations a simple up-or-down vote within 90 days was good. He demanded more jobs for veterans and urged lawmakers to pass the payroll tax cut and said he was setting up a new office to investigate unfair trade practices in countries like China. (Did you know, by the way, that China spent nine percent of its GDP on infrastructure last year to our 2.5 percent?) What’s not to like about any of this?

It made me nervous, however, when he talked about “outdated, unnecessary or costly regulations” – he said, “I’ve ordered every federal agency to eliminate rules that don’t make sense” – and when he started up with the obligatory anti-Iran saber-rattling:

“Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.”

Nor was I elated when he promoted more domestic drilling for oil and fracking for natural gas:

“Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I'm directing my Administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources...We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.”

Still, this speech – like most of his speeches – contained language that made me remember why I voted for the guy in November of 2008 and wore an “Obama” t-shirt for months afterward:

“I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here. We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That's long enough. It's time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.”

“Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.”

“Right now, we’re poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else – like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both.”

My favorite lines were when he talked about “lowering the temperature” in Washington:

“We need to end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction; that politics is about clinging to rigid ideologies instead of building consensus around common sense ideas.”

and when he pretended to be a fighter:

“I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.”

The speech’s central theme (according to Bob Schieffer, I think it was) was “economic fairness.” I don’t think this was a bad theme for the POTUS and his speechwriters to choose, given that:

  • Since 1985, the federal tax rate for the 400 wealthiest Americans dropped from 29 percent to 18 percent.

  • The top 1 percent takes home 24 percent of the nation’s income, up from about 9 percent in 1976.

  • In the last three years, 30 major corporations spent more on lobbying than they paid in taxes.

  • The top 1 percent owns 40 percent of our country’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent owns only 7 percent.

  • 50 percent of U.S. workers make less than $26,364 per year.

Sixteen seconds after the president’s obligatory, “God bless you and god bless the United States of America” conclusion, one of ABC’s talking heads started her analysis by babbling about how the president was “conciliatory” and “not aggressive” and finished it by insisting that Obama “picked a fight with the Republicans.” I guess they don’t teach you not to contradict yourself in commentator school.

It was a good speech. But Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I’ve been fooled by our charming, silver-tongued president before so this time I stifled the urge to stand up and applaud after he was done. I’m waiting and seeing.

For the text of the speech, click here.

Sources: Washington Post, Huffington Post,,

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Best image from last night

President Obama embraces Representative Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords (D-AZ) last night at the State of the Union address.  Courtesy Pete Marovich/Zuma.

Mary J. Blige - I'm Goin' Down

"The situation is under control..."

I just read an article about the Costa Concordia cruise ship, which slammed into rocks off Italy’s Tuscan coast near the tiny island of Giglio on Friday, January 13, with 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members aboard, tearing a huge hole in its hull and capsizing.

As of January 23, the bodies of 14 passengers and one crew member have been recovered from the ship – which is owned and operated by a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Lines – and at least 17 people are still missing.

One account had the gash in the ship’s hull at 160 feet long; another claimed it was 230 feet. I read at one website that 17 people are missing; another source claims it’s 19. I’ve heard that the captain, 52-year-old Francesco Schettino – a husband and father – was flirting on the bridge with a young, blond Moldovan dancer named Domnica Cemortan (with whom he had earlier had dinner and drinks) and was distracted; another account had him steering manually while drunk in order to get close enough to the island to “salute” a retired ship captain who lived there.

One thing is clear: the guy’s a piece of sh*t.

He’s currently under house arrest in Naples as investigators determine whether or not he should be charged with manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing a shipwreck. He says he “tripped into a lifeboat” and then coordinated the rescue operation from aboard the lifeboat and then from the shore. Witnesses say he panicked and deserted the capsizing vessel while hundreds of passengers were still desperately trying to get off.

There are a few things I don’t understand about this:

  • Why, if 4,200 human beings were all floating on the same big vessel, there were no drills, no procedures in place in case the need for evacuation arose? In amateur video footage taken by a passenger, it’s clear that no one knew what the situation was in spite of someone on the intercom insisting that “the situation is under control" and everybody should remain calm and move to their muster stations. (I had to look “muster” up; turns out it means, perhaps fittingly, “to round up livestock.”)

  • If a ship is so large, expensive – the Costa Concordia is worth an estimated $570 million – and computerized that it boasts 13 decks, 1,500 cabins, a spa, fitness center and gym, four swimming pools, five restaurants, 13 bars, a three-level casino, theater and disco and an Internet café, why is a lone individual even able to turn off automatic systems and manually bring the vessel so close to the shore than it runs aground? Shouldn’t alarms sound and software programs override manual efforts and GPS systems warn of impending doom?

  • In this day and age, when there are more public relations experts, legal advisors and image counselors per square mile than there are cornstalks in a cornfield, why would a major corporation contact accident survivors to quiz them about nightmares and insomnia and offer a 30 percent discount on their next cruise, as representatives of the cruise operator allegedly did?

  • Why was a 952-feet-long ship with 17 double-lined fuel tanks carrying half a million gallons of fuel allowed to veer off course in a protected, seven-island marine park? I’m glad that oil barriers have been laid to protect marine life and the pristine waters – which are prime fishing grounds and a protected area for dolphins and whales – but officials acknowledge that some environmental contamination has already occurred (besides the fuel, there are tons of diesel and lubricants on board as well as chlorine and cleaning chemicals) and it’s doubtful that the fuel-removal operation won’t result in additional pollution.

So much loss – all because of one irresponsible jackass.

Friends and family members have gone on cruises but I never have. I always think of poor Leslie Nielsen, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters and the others fighting to get up to the bottom of their capsized cruise ship in The Poseidon Adventure (the 1972 original, not the crappy 2005 made-for-TV remake). And I still haven’t gotten over Jack Dawson losing Rose Bukater, the love of his life, and life itself – along with 1,517 others – when the Titanic went down back in April of 1912.

It’s even worse when I realize the Titanic tragedy was real. And now they’re pulling bodies from the Costa Concordia.

Since roughly 12 million Americans take cruises each year, I’m pretty sure no one will notice if I do the landlubber thing.

According to Wikipedia, the name Concordia was intended to express the wish for "continuing harmony, unity, and peace between European nations.” Since the missing include French passengers, an elderly American couple, a Peruvian crew member, an Indian crewman and an Italian father and his five-year-old daughter, there’s definitely international unity going on here in the sense that diverse countries are being united by loss and grief.

The lawyers are going to be pretty busy.

Photos courtesy Getty Images.

Sources:, Daily Mail, BBC World News,

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Escape from Loneliness

Dean Martin - You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You

Mark + Gabby

I’ve added U.S. Representative Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords (D-AZ) and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, to my “People I Dig” list for a number of reasons.

First, it’s worth stating again how amazing, how utterly magical and fantastic and kickass it is that someone can get shot through the brain and not only survive but recover, undergo rehabilitation and learn to walk and talk again, and even return to their job (albeit briefly). Just a year after the assassination attempt outside a suburban Tucson grocery store that critically wounded her, killed six others and injured 13 more, Representative Giffords announced herself – not through a staffer or spokesperson – that she’s stepping down as congresswoman for Arizona’s 8th congressional district to focus on healing (and presumably to enable her constituents to be served by someone better able to concentrate on the job).

Secondly, Mark Kelly is a frikkin’ Space Shuttle Commander (I don’t know if that should all be capitalized but it just seems like it to me), pilot and U.S. Navy captain who flew combat missions during the Gulf War and has earned 16 medals, including the Legion of Merit award and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He explored space in 2001, 2006, 2008 and last May, when he commanded the space shuttle Endeavor. How cool is that?!

But the main reason I’m writing about these two is because my friend Tanya Cabala posted a video clip in Facebook a few days ago of Representative Giffords announcing her temporary retirement from public service (see below). The video contains a number of heartwarming images, including Mark keeping vigil at his wife’s hospital bed while clutching her hand (:19) and the two strolling hand-in-hand down the sidewalk (1:14). There’s a photo at 1:41 of Gabby and Mark at a food kitchen; she has her arm around his neck and she’s smiling at the camera. He’s smiling too, but he’s looking at her, not the photographer, and I may be full of sh*t – this might be nothing more than romantic projection on my part, I admit – but I see love in his eyes, love and fear and commitment and attachment, and it’s just beautiful. He almost lost her and his expression seems to convey that he knows it, how lucky she is and he is and they are.

Maybe he’s not even looking at her – maybe some good-looking newswoman or kitchen staffer caught his eye as she walked by out of frame – but I prefer to think he’s looking at the love of his life and feeling thankful that photos like the one being taken right at that moment can still be taken, that their bond continues, that they’ve made it through a dark, horrible tunnel and they’re emerging into the light, together, arm-in-arm.

No one knows how challenging it can be to maintain a relationship with another person better than I. I know how rare it is to find true love and I’ve learned how fragile it can be. So the fact that Mark remains at Gabby’s side is more than just a testament to his character or more proof that tragedy can strengthen ties and bring people closer together just as easily as it can send them on their separate ways. It speaks, for me, to the awesome, magical, almost scary power of love.

I hope they don’t split up in the coming months or years. (Couples I’ve admired have done this, which really disappoints me.) I hope they grow old together like my parents – who celebrated their 32nd anniversary last month – or Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, who’ve been married since 1988 which in Hollywood years equals 161 years.

Because life really is enriched, better, brighter and more rewarding when it’s shared with a best friend. I learned this when I lost mine.

Thank you for your service, Gabby and Mark, and congratulations.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Voting for Obama

Queen - Fat Bottomed Girls

News Flash: Obama Wins in South Carolina!

“The idea that a man like Newt, already once resigned in disgrace from high office and having lived a life now shown to be of almost unimaginable hypocrisy, could be considered a serious presidential contender - well, it's just frightening. How stupid can Americans be?”

~ John Cerullo

“Stupid enough to keep Dubya in the Oval Office in 2004. Stupid enough to make Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson multi-millionaires. Stupid enough to think the current president isn’t American.”

~ Patrick Diehl

So Gingrich beat Romney in South Carolina’s GOP primary last Saturday.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the Pompous Philanderer snagged 242,417 votes (40.4%) to Robotron Romney’s 167,419 (27.9%). I read that Robotron went into South Carolina with a 20-point lead which proves my point that polls don’t mean sh*t. It’s the votes that count. And the good Republicans of the Palmetto State apparently decided that they want an arrogant, disingenuous, gaseous prick who lacks the temperament to be president and has no chance of beating Barack Obama in the general election to come out ahead of an adMITTedly (see what I did there?) wooden but nonetheless infinitely more palatable candidate.

And to think I actually wanted to visit South Carolina once.

Rick “The Disciple Who Digs Sweater Vests” Santorum garnered 101,914 votes (17%) and Ron “I’m Racist and I Have Two First Names” Paul collected 77,943 votes (13%).

I briefly tried to discuss the results with my parents at dinner on Saturday night. I shared that I thought 1) Barack Obama could smash Gingrich into an unrecognizable lump of tissue and blubber on a debate stage, and 2) Gingrich won’t be the nominee because the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove know he’s a loser and don’t want their best chance to get rid of Obama to be ruined by a bunch of out-of-line renegades who march to the beat of their own southern drum. I expected a lively discussion to commence at this point but my mom grabbed the remote to increase the volume of “NCIS: Los Angeles” and my dad told me to pass the peas.

I guess the results in South Carolina signify that the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and St. Ronnie of Reagan now sees a cruel, abrasive, impudent, unscrupulous, volatile, condescending, self-absorbed, deceitful has-been who’s too vain to realize he jumped the shark years ago as a viable contender to become Leader of the Free World, one who can best inspire and lift us up like good leaders do, one who offers more, knows more, is better equipped to solve our nation’s problems and appeal to our best selves than the current occupant of the White House.

Or maybe it’s just because Newt’s white.

I don’t presume to know what was in the minds of conservative South Carolinians when they chose to buck the conventional belief that Robotron has the best chance of beating Obama this November. I know they elected Nikki Haley governor and sent Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint to the U.S. Senate so I really shouldn’t have expected much from them last Saturday. Some observers are saying the uncertain economy fueled Gingrich’s victory but that doesn’t make sense to me because Robotron’s campaign seems to have embraced economic issues more tightly than Gingrich’s.

Talking head and former Clinton advisor Paul Begala wrote in Newsweek last month, and I’m paraphrasing, that when he looks at the Republican field, he thinks Obama’s looking at a second term for sure; when he looks at the economy, it occurs to him that Obama’s in some serious sh*t.

And Newt Gingrich is going to be able to use the economy to his advantage? What about his opposition to unions and his blind allegiance to Israel? What about his desire to take away the right of women to control their own bodies and replace school janitors with schoolkids? (He thinks our child labor laws are “truly stupid.”) What about his comment in Iowa back in December that poor kids have “no habits of working and nobody around them who works” or the fact that he’s currently polling at 40 percent to Obama’s 51 percent? (I know, polls don’t matter. But still.)

Another former Clinton strategist, obnoxious talking head James Carville, recently wrote that Republicans have “a first-class disaster” on their hands with the rise of Gingrich and Robotron’s floundering. “It’s been a terrible time to be a Republican,” he wrote. I’d laugh and clap and do a little tap dance if it weren’t so sad, and if I had more faith in the electorate to examine the candidate’s positions on issues rather than closing their eyes and ears and pulling whatever polling machine lever is in vogue among their ignorant friends and neighbors.

After the results were in, my friend Cecilia Garcia posted in Facebook, “I am terrified that so many people think hypocrisy, arrogance, ignorance, racism and hate are strong leadership qualities.”

I’m terrified too, Chica. Gingrich has been described by one Republican fundraiser as “a ticking time bomb.” I sure don’t want to be anywhere near the Bloviator from Georgia when he blows.

Sources: Detroit Free Press, CNN, Huffington Post, New York Daily News, Real Clear Politics, ABC News.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Family Values

Sometimes I Wonder - Jill Scott and Darius Rucker

Sunday poetry

Letter To A Friend About Girls

After comparing lives with you for years
I see how I’ve been losing: all the while
I’ve met a different gauge of girl from yours.
Grant that, and all the rest makes sense as well:
My mortification at your pushovers,
Your mystification at my fecklessness—
Everything proves we play in separate leagues.
Before, I couldn’t credit your intrigues
Because I thought all girls the same, but yes,
You bag real birds, though they’re from alien covers.

Now I believe your staggering skirmishes
In train, tutorial and telephone booth,
The wife whose husband watched away matches
While she behaved so badly in a bath,
And all the rest who beckon from that world
Described on Sundays only, where to want
Is straightway to be wanted, seek to find,
And no one gets upset or seems to mind
At what you say to them, or what you don’t:
A world where all the nonsense is annulled,

And beauty is accepted slang for yes.
But equally, haven’t you noticed mine?
They have their world, not much compared with yours,
But where they work, and age, and put off men
By being unattractive, or too shy,
Or having morals—anyhow, none give in:
Some of them go quite rigid with disgust
At anything but marriage: that’s all lust
And so not worth considering; they begin
Fetching your hat, so that you have to lie

Till everything’s confused: you mine away
For months, both of you, till the collapse comes
Into remorse, tears, and wondering why
You ever start such boring barren games
—But there, don’t mind my saeva indignatio:
I’m happier now I’ve got things clear, although
It’s strange we never meet each other's sort:
There should be equal chances, I’d’ve thought.
Must finish now. One day perhaps I’ll know
What makes you be so lucky in your ratio

—One of those ‘more things’, could it be? Horatio.

~ Philip Larkin

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Etta James - I'd Rather Go Blind

And there you are in heaven, Etta James

The amazing Etta James died yesterday after battling leukemia and dementia. She would have turned 74 next Wednesday.

Everyone thinks of “At Last” whenever she’s mentioned but my favorite Etta song is her heartfelt, tear-inducing rendition of “I’d Rather Go Blind.” I’ve heard it hundreds of times and I still cry every time.

Although “At Last” became her signature tune (and was covered by Stevie Wonder, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King and Diane Schuur, among others), there are many other Etta James songs that you should immediately – as in right this minute – check out on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes or whatever, including “Trust in Me,” “Tell Mama,” “Baby, What You Want Me to Do,” “Piece of My Heart,” “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” “Stop the Wedding” and “I Just Want to Make Love to You.”

I also recommend “A Sunday Kind of Love,” “Don’t Cry Baby,” “If I Can’t Have You,” “The Fool That I Am,” “Only Women Bleed,” “Dance With Me, Henry” and “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.”

Simply put, I think Etta James was one of the greatest female blues/jazz/R&B/doo-wop/pop singers not just of the 1950s and 1960s but ever. She didn’t just read lyrics into a microphone. She felt what she was singing, the hurt, anger, regret, melancholy, love, lust, happiness and despair, and I could feel the emotions she was feeling too, from the first note to the last.

There’s no shortage of gifted, powerful, impressive vocalists – Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey come to mind – who can really belt out the notes and make you want to get up and shake your moneymaker, but they don’t make me smile or reduce me to tears after six words like Etta James could with her sultry, often lugubrious contralto. It seemed like she infused the lyrics – each word, each syllable – with some kind of emotion, with pain or fatigue or resolve or hopefulness or strength or fragility or vulnerability or joy.

Etta James didn’t just entertain. She moved me. She altered me. She made me change my mind and gave me hope and forced me to smile and told me that I’m not alone, that others have been where I am and lived to see another day and I can too. She made me realize that some singers have layers, dimensions, scars and wounds, and that an almost-otherworldly singer like her is worth at least three or four of the photogenic, ass-shaking, tummy-flashing warblers on X Factor and American Idol.

I’m glad she received recognition for her gift while she was still able to enjoy it. (She was ranked #22 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time,” received the NAACP Image Award, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and six Grammys – including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 – and was inducted into both the Blues and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.) But I’m not glad that she had such a hard life. She was abused as a girl, wasn’t close to her mother, didn’t know her father – interestingly, she thought he might be pool player “Minnesota Fats” and met him in 1987 but paternity was never determined – and struggled with drugs, rehab and legal problems throughout her life. I’ll never understand why some seem to have it so easy while others need Herculean strength and good fortune just to make it through the day.

I also wonder why artists in pain – people like Etta James, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, Billie Holiday, Amy Winehouse, Vincent van Gogh and Janis Joplin – always leave the biggest marks. What is it about hardship, loss, sorrow and demons that make a good singer, writer or painter great, that lead to cult followings and stand-out performances and creations that are revered for decades?

It’s no wonder Ms. James has been cited as a major influence by countless notable talents, including Diana Ross, Beyoncé, Janis Joplin, Rod Stewart, Bonnie Raitt, Ms. Winehouse, Joss Stone and Adele. She was a true groundbreaker, a raw and uniquely talented woman who could permanently affect the lives of strangers just by singing a song.

Thanks to Spotify and my CD collection, she hasn’t really left.

Photographed at New York's B.B. King Blues Club on May 12, 2009.
Courtesy Jamie-James Medina.

Sources: New York Daily News,

Friday, January 20, 2012

Upholding Tradition

Worst That Could Happen/Wedding Bell Blues - 5th Dimension

Worst Americans? I Think Not.

I watched CNN’s webcast of the GOP presidential debate in South Carolina last night. Impuissant moderator John King incurred Newt “I’m a Whiny, Repugnant, Hypocritical Windbag who Oozes Arrogance from Every Pore” Gingrich’s indignant wrath right off the bat by opening the debate with a question about the claim made yesterday by Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, that he wanted an “open marriage” so he could invite his then-mistress, Callista, who became his third wife, into their bed.

On one hand, I agree that there are more pressing issues on which to focus. On the other hand, I remember when the rabidly partisan, controversial, holier-than-thou Georgia congressman – against whom 84 separate ethics charges were filed during his reign as Speaker of the House – led the effort to impeach Bubba Clinton for marital infidelity back in 1998. It’s amazing what some politicians try to get away with given the short memory of some voters.

I got tired of the four candidates slamming and demonizing the POTUS – Gingrich called him a “Saul Alinsky radical who’s incompetent” and Robotron Romney accused him of turning America into an “entitlement society” – and since there seem to be more GOP debates scheduled this political season than there are needles on a pine tree, I’m sure I’ll have additional opportunities to write about these pandering clowns.

So I decided to write instead about a link someone posted in Facebook the other day to a story at entitled, “The 40 Absolutely Worst People in America.”

I expected to read about Jared Lee Loughner, the Tucson gunman who murdered six people and wounded 14 others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, just over a year ago, or Seung-Hui Cho, the guy who killed 27 students and five teachers before killing himself on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, in April of 2007.

Timothy McVeigh
I thought I’d see Charles “Helter Skelter” Manson or Timothy McVeigh – the guy who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City back in 1995, killing 165 people, including 19 children – mentioned, or maybe Casey Anthony, who some say murdered her two-year-old, Caylee, and got off scot-free.

Instead, the article featured a bunch of nameless fools who had posted vitriolic, racist status updates, presumably on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Most used the “N” word; all were cloaked in anonymity so readers couldn’t know who these losers are, under which rocks they live or how long they’ve been sharing air with the same African-Americans that they apparently despise.

Instead of educating folks about the crooks on Wall Street who’ve destroyed our economy or the unethical politicos in Washington who sent 1,140 American soldiers to their unnecessary deaths in Afghanistan and 4,414 in Iraq, Buzzfeed chose to reward a bunch of ignorant racists and elevate them to the Notably Bad Hall of Fame for typing a few noxious words in a social network.

Rather than reminding us that true evil exists among us, evil that’s manifested itself in the taking of innocent life, and encouraging us to hug our loves ones extra tight tonight, to cherish life and love and goodness, the website decided to shallowly repulse us for the sake of repulsion, to give us not helpful warnings or illuminating stories of good coming from bad but rather to prove that in today’s world, immature little jerks can post toxic slurs online and achieve a level of notoriety that they don’t deserve.

Anybody who thinks it’s funny or cool or edgy to type “Happy N*gg*r Day” in Facebook probably isn’t too distressed to learn that his or her photo has been included in an online list of asinine imbeciles.

Did we need another hard-hitting exposé like this in order to be convinced that prejudice against people of color is alive and well in this NASCAR-loving, Keystone-drinking, Confederate flag-waving, tabloid-reading, camouflage-wearing country of ours? All we need to do is pay attention to how little respect the 44th President of the United States receives in certain quarters to know that Dr. King’s dream of a beautiful symphony of brotherhood hasn’t yet come true.

Andrea Yates
Way to ignore Lee Harvey Oswald, Mark David Chapman and Andrea Yates, who drowned her five young children in Houston, Texas, back in June of 2001, Buzzfeed, while amplifying the six-word rants of attention-seeking morons for whom being featured in your article, albeit anonymously, is probably the biggest mark they’ll ever leave. Way to further blur the line between what’s noteworthy and provocative and what’s just stupid and banal.

You could have at least included the Republican presidential candidates.

Sources:, New York Times, ABC News, CNN,