Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Everyone smiles in the same language


We Are All Trayvon Martin

Devina and I attended a rally in downtown Lansing yesterday in honor of Trayvon Martin.

We had learned about the event, which went from 4:00 to 7:00, from a Facebook posting earlier in the day which is why, I assume, the number of attendees was smaller than I expected. (I estimate the crowd at a couple hundred; my seven-year-old says it was more like 71.) Most of those on the State Capitol lawn were people of color and the vibe I felt wasn’t as unified as at previous rallies. For some reason I was conscious of my whiteness – I felt like pointing out that Trayvon’s murderer, George Zimmerman, is a slovenly Hispanic dude whereas I’m a slovenly Irish guy – and it seemed like Devina and I were given a wider berth than necessary but maybe it was my imagination.

In addition to Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero – who started out slow but found his groove – the speakers included a couple of preachers who made more references to the Almighty than I could count, Lansing Police Chief Teresa Szymanski, a woman who lost a son to violence a few years ago and read a religious poem she had written while grieving, State Representative Joan Bauer (D-Lansing), a woman who sang about letting go and letting God, Sakinah Tillman from the Black Law Students Association of Cooley Law School and a woman from the NAACP. (There were others but we arrived late and left early.) The organizer /emcee, an energetic, likable guy whose name I didn’t catch, did a superb job and should be commended. He kept things moving and kept the crowd pumped up.

I respect both the unity of the black community and its suspicion of outsiders – we white folks haven’t exactly earned their trust – and the right of people of faith to practice their religion. But I showed up yesterday ready to commiserate and left feeling like I didn’t belong. I know the event was about Trayvon and not me but I just wish there were a way to grieve together, to feel sorrow, anger, disgust, rage, frustration, sadness and compassion together, without factoring in the way we each appear.

Plenty of white people would personally haul George Zimmerman’s fat ass to jail if we could. Most thinking, feeling people want justice for Trayvon and his family. (Conservatives who are trying to paint Trayvon as a pot-smoking thug are doing the bidding of the NRA and deserve to be dismissed out of hand.) And not everyone gathering at rallies across the country takes comfort in promises that God will ensure Trayvon didn’t die in vain. I won’t take this opportunity to slam religion but I didn’t expect to have to bow my head last night while pastors prayed to Our Loving, Merciful Father Who Sacrificed His Only Son for Us.

It’s up to us to right the grievous wrong that took place in Sanford, Florida, on February 26. It’s up to us to repeal “Stand Your Ground” laws – which the mayor pointed out are really “Shoot First and Ask Later” laws – and demand Zimmerman’s arrest and tell our politicians that enough is enough, that the Second Amendment isn’t a license for bigoted morons to gun down black kids who like Skittles, that the founders of this country didn’t intend for the right to bear arms to trump common sense and for innocents in Tucson, Sanford, Columbine and Blacksburg to die when unstable losers decide to take their frustrations out on the rest of us.

The feeble protestations of conservatives notwithstanding, this is about race. Comedian Andy Borowitz’ Facebook status from a few days ago supports this assertion:

"Remember when that black guy killed that white kid and it took forever to arrest him? Me neither."

Rally photo courtesy

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


"Gas" by Edward Hopper (1940)

Simon & Garfunkel - The 59th Street Bridge Song


I've concluded that I need to follow the example set by other bloggers who go it alone: I'll be posting frequently but no longer daily. If y'all wanted to donate to "What's the Diehl?," I'd maintain a prolific pace. But since the number of donations to this endeavor thus far is equivalent to the number of people who know Newt Gingrich's middle name, I'm obligated to change my schedule.

Hope you don't stop stopping by.

It's Leroy, by the way.

Monday, March 26, 2012

They Don't Want to Die

Billy Idol - Rebel Yell

Happy birthday, Governor Milliken!

There’s this gentleman.

If you’re lucky enough to meet him, you’re struck by what a gentle, modest, gracious, classy guy he is. He seems to exude integrity and warmth and sincerity and has that hard-to-describe aura by which some important people are surrounded. I only talked with him for a few minutes – I was at a book-signing at the Library of Michigan back in 2006 – but I left with much more than his signature in my copy of Dave Dempsey’s William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate.

Dempsey and Milliken
I left with the happy memory of a brief encounter with a charming old man, a former governor who didn’t come across as a politician at all but rather as a smart, sweet, avuncular fellow who didn’t belong in today’s dirty political arena because he was too good for it.

Born in Traverse City, Michigan, on this day back in 1922 – when songs like "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” “I Found a Four Leaf Clover” and Al Jolson’s “Toot, Toot, Tootsie Goodbye" were popular – Milliken served in the Army Air Corps (forerunner of the Air Force) during World War II, earning the Purple Heart, and later graduated from Yale and married Helen Wallbank.

The tall (he’s 5’11”), slender man was elected to the Michigan State Senate in 1960 and become Governor George Romney’s lieutenant in 1966. When Romney left office to serve in the Nixon administration in 1969, Milliken became governor; he won the office in 1970, 1974 and 1978. He served until 1983 when my former boss, Jim Blanchard, succeeded him as the state’s chief executive. (Milliken was Michigan’s longest-serving governor.)

When I think of Governor Milliken, I think of how he strayed from the mold of the stereotypical Republican by demonstrating a commitment to public and environmental health:

  • A major public health crisis occurred in 1973, during his watch, when it was discovered that cattle feed had been inadvertently contaminated with polybrominated biphenyls, or PBBs. An estimated nine million state residents had consumed contaminated meat and milk for at least a year; by the end of 1975, nearly 30,000 cows, 6,000 pigs, 1.5 million chickens, five million eggs and 27 tons of dairy products were destroyed. Milliken fought with agriculture officials to lower the risk to humans.

  • Michigan’s renowned “Bottle Bill” – which diverts an estimated 600,000 tons of bottles from landfills each year – became law in 1976.

  • The Wetlands Protection Act was adopted in 1979.

  • His administration championed Great Lakes protection – he won limits on phosphates used in laundry detergents in 1977, which greatly enhanced the recovery of Lake Erie, and he led the formation of the Council of Great Lakes Governors in the summer of 1982.

  • According to former aide Bill Rustem, Milliken is responsible for the Natural Resources Trust Fund, the Environmental Protection Act in 1970, the Inland Lakes and Streams Act, the Sand Dunes Act and more.

He also left his mark in other areas:

  • His administration created an Office of Urban Affairs to underscore the importance of our cities and address urban issues throughout the state.

  • He worked to improve mass transit.

  • He advanced several economic development and diversification initiatives.

  • He signed the Consumer Protection Act of 1976.

  • His administration reformed education and restructured public school funding.

  • He supported women’s rights and “Open Housing” (now known as “Fair Housing”) programs.

I learned from reading William G. Milliken: A Touch of Steel, a 1970 book by Dan Angel, that Milliken reads five newspapers each day – and, one assumes, could name them if Katie Couric asked – and identifies himself as a “pragmatic Republican.” Angel writes, “No desk pounder or brow beater, his weapons are persuasion and reason, united with facts and diplomacy.”

Sure isn’t what you think about when someone mentions John Boehner or Eric Cantor, is it?

Milliken, who walked with Martin Luther King, Jr. during a rally in Detroit in 1966 – another thing I can’t imagine today’s GOP leaders doing – once said, “I don’t believe civility is a sign of weakness.” He also said he believes good government is good politics.

Are you listening, today's GOP? Of course you're not.

Rubbing elbows with the Big Guys
I skimmed Milliken's 1981 State of the State Message – which is 96 pages long and was printed using quite a small font – and was struck by how far-reaching, substantive and compassionate it was. In it he wrote about rising above partisanship and taking care of the less fortunate. And he said, “The worst thing that could happen to us as a state is to let fear of the future overwhelm us, to give up and forget the bountiful and unique resources which have made this a great state for so long and which give us good reason to be optimistic about the future.”

This Republican politician tried to dispel fear back in 1981, not encourage and base his campaigns on it like so many do today.

Milliken strayed from the party line and endorsed John Kerry for president in 2004 because he didn’t think Dubya spoke for him or other moderate Republicans on most issues. He endorsed John McCain four years later but backed away from his endorsement after the McCain camp began attacking Barack Obama. He told a newspaper at the time, “He is not the John McCain I endorsed.” And he publicly chastised the GOP for its drift to the rigid right.

The guy is definitely near the top of my "People I Dig" list.

His life hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies. On October 6, 1993, his daughter, Elaine Wallbank Milliken, died of cancer at the age of 45. He battled excessive drinking at one point. And he endorsed Rick Snyder for Governor two years ago – a serious and inexplicable mistake, in my opinion. (I know the loss of a child doesn’t equate to supporting a disingenuous idiot for governor but it’s hard to think of negatives when writing about Bill Milliken.) The Snyder endorsement notwithstanding, he is to me one of the greatest leaders ever to grace the public stage, someone worthy of emulation by other politicians and deserving of thanks and praise from all of us.

Thank you, Governor Milliken, and happy birthday.

Click here to read a short tribute by former Milliken press secretary George Weeks.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Blood, Sweat & Tears - God Bless The Child

Sunday poetry

I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

~ Langston Hughes

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Be Back Soon

I need to catch up on some work and errands. Miss me and stay classy, "What's the Diehl?" readers.


Lenny Kravitz - Lady

In Praise of Michelle Obama

I don’t normally fawn over First Ladies but I’m making an exception in this case. Michelle Obama is the absolute sh*t.

I watched her on "Late Show with David Letterman" last night and was awed by how cool she is. She’s not the least bit threatening or arrogant or bland or bitchy as other recent presidential spouses have been; she’s charming, witty and extremely likable. She seems real – she doesn’t seem to measure her words before she uses them like some politicians – yet I didn’t wince once.

I was surprised to learn that I’m almost two years older than she is (she was born on January 17, 1964) because she’s so darn accomplished, poised, confident and classy. Raised on Chicago’s tough south side, Michelle went on to graduate from Princeton and Harvard Law, which tells you a lot about her drive and character. She held big jobs – including working at a law firm, for Windy City mayor Richard Daly and for the University of Chicago Medical Center – before joining her hubby on the road to the White House. There’s obviously a lot more to her than the fancy ball gowns she sometimes must wear might lead you to think.

Speaking of Barack, say what you will about his presidency but you can’t deny that he snagged a real winner, which says something about him. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by his or her partner. I don’t know her, of course, but Michelle comes across on the Boob Tube as elegant, personable, interesting, strong and wise. There must be something special about the guy to have attracted someone like her to him.

I was going to compare her to other First Ladies but I changed my mind, not because I’m short on time or low on energy but because Michelle Obama deserves to be recognized for who she is rather than how much better she is than her predecessors. I got the sense last night that she’d be just as impressive as a car dealer, wedding planner or insurance saleswoman; she seems exceptional in spite of the fact that she shares a bed with the Leader of the Free World, not because of it.

She told Letterman last night that she has two girls, Malia and Sasha, and a boy, Bo, who’s the smartest dog on the planet. Although she didn't need to score any more points with me, the dog lover thing put her over the top. Oh, and she’s sensitive about people’s weight issues; when Letterman complimented her for helping “fat kids” – a reference to her efforts to promote healthy eating and nutrition – she gently but immediately corrected him, saying, “I don’t talk in terms of weight, David, but in terms of health.” As someone who dreads getting on the scale at the Michigan Athletic Club, I can dig that.

Last night I posted a pro-Michelle status update in Facebook. So far, 23 of my friends have “liked” it; one of ‘em, Mike Little, responded that he’s voting for her in 2016.

That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day.

Click here for a few video clips from last night.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Madness - Embarrassment

March Madness

I don’t really care if people stop reading “What’s the Diehl?” because you’re tired of negative news. It’s not like I’ll be forced to take a pay cut.

It’s despicable that in this day and age, a fat, dumb racist with a gun can shoot an innocent, unarmed 17-year-old black kid in the chest, killing him, and not even spend 10 minutes inside a jail cell.

I like to write about topics that others aren’t writing about and I try to refrain from jumping on bandwagons but the Trayvon Martin case is different. I feel obligated to add my voice to the many others decrying the way in which this situation has been handled by the incompetent Keystone Cops of Sanford, Florida.

George Zimmerman
Hopefully you’ve heard about how 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a cop-wannabe who carried a 9 mm handgun while patrolling his gated community as a Neighborhood Watch captain, came upon Trayvon last February 26 and shot him in the chest outside of his family’s home. (Trayvon was from Miami; he was visiting his dad, stepmom and little brother.)

Trayvon had just returned from the local 7-Eleven with Skittles and an iced tea when he was spotted by Zimmerman, who decided he was acting “suspicious” and called 911. Even though the dispatcher told him not to approach Trayvon, to wait for police, Zimmerman ignored the directive and shot the kid in cold blood.

Zimmerman, who wasn’t even arrested, let alone charged, claimed that he reacted in self-defense when shooting Trayvon even though the high school junior had no weapon and posed no threat. Police declined to charge him because “there are no grounds to disprove his story of what happened.”

Which story is that, you bumbling idiots? The one where Zimmerman ignored the emergency dispatcher’s instructions and gunned down an innocent high school kid (who happened to be black) for no frikkin’ reason?

It’s good that this story is receiving media attention – unlike so many others involving African-Americans in this country. Hopefully the police will reverse themselves and emphasize justice over protecting a dumbass who shouldn’t have been allowed to leave his home unsupervised, let alone patrol his neighborhood with a loaded handgun.

It’s bad that we seem to be going backwards as a people – to a time when killing “the coloreds” was no big deal, women couldn’t control their own bodies but were expected to be barefoot and pregnant, and politicians appealed to the worst in voters and took an “us vs. them” approach to campaigning and governing.

Talk about March Madness.

Sources: ABC News,, CBS News.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cheshire Canine

The Night Beats : Scrambled Eggs

Sunday poetry

Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey

Scrambled eggs and whiskey
in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes. And
weren’t we fine tonight?
When Hank set up that limping
treble roll behind me
my horn just growled and I
thought my heart would burst.
And Brad M. pressing with the
soft stick, and Joe-Anne
singing low. Here we are now
in the White Tower, leaning
on one another, too tired
to go home. But don’t say a word,
don’t tell a soul, they wouldn’t
understand, they couldn’t, never
in a million years, how fine,
how magnificent we were
in that old club tonight.

~ Hayden Carruth

Saturday, March 17, 2012


House Of Pain - Top O' The Mornin' To Ya

Happy Day of Saint Pádraic

I grew up thinking St. Patrick’s Day was all about snakes and green beer.

It’s actually a cultural and religious holiday commemorating the arrival of Christianity in Ireland but judging by the inebriated crowds in and outside of any bar named O’Dooley’s, Dublin Pub, Kelly’s, Lucky’s, O’Shaughnessy’s, Paddy O’Malley’s or any other Irish-sounding name on the 17th of March, it’s an occasion to wear green clothes, drink green beer and demonstrate decidedly intemperate behavior, all in the name of the patron saint of Ireland, Patrick.

Legend has it that St. Patrick banished all snakes from Ireland by chasing them into the sea after they attacked him while he was fasting on a hilltop. (In reality, evidence suggests that post-glacial Ireland never had snakes.) I learned only recently that the world’s first snake whisperer was actually a Christian missionary who was active in Ireland during the second half of the 5th Century.

I vaguely remember riding on the Ancient Order of Hibernians’ float during Detroit’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade one year when I was a very young boy, although I don’t recall how the festivities were explained to me, if at all. (The Ancient Order of Hibernians is an Irish Catholic fraternal organization. My natural father was Irish Catholic.) Perhaps my parents told me St. Paddy’s Day is all about celebrating Irish culture, and perhaps that’s why for years I assumed Irish culture was all about drinking until you can’t stand up, admiring scantily-clad women who may or may not actually be of Irish heritage, searching for pots of gold underneath weather phenomena and never having to eat another potato as long as you lived if you were lucky enough to find a clover with four leaves instead of three.

Today, St. Patrick's Day is probably the most widely celebrated saint's day in the world, celebrated in Great Britain, Canada, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand as well as here and in the Emerald Isle. If it were any other Christian missionary being honored, I’d expect the celebration to be a solemn and reserved affair. But this is the badass dude who rid an entire nation of slithering reptiles, so bottoms up!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Location, Location, Location

Atmosphere - Yesterday

First World Problems

Yesterday was interesting.

It started out with Anita and the kids showering me with birthday cards, congratulations and more love than usual. Then everyone left for school – Anita chaperoned Devina’s field trip – and I ran errands, read and wrote until they came home and Anita and I headed to Maya’s and Devina’s school for parent/teacher conferences. (On the positive side, we were informed that our children are still the best students in the history of the world. On the less-than-positive side, we had to spend time in the same classrooms as Anita’s ex who’s the most repugnant man I’ve ever known.)

On the way out, I bought some Girl Scout cookies from a little girl who was ingenious enough to set up a table directly inside the school’s front door – you’d think after all this time, Anita would buy some of my favorite Tagalongs instead of going exclusively with Samoas all the time, wouldn’t you? – and we returned home, grabbed the kids and headed back out in separate cars for shopping, more errands and appointments.

At one point, Bryant and I waited for Anita and the girls to arrive at the place where I thought we were supposed to rendezvous but they didn’t show up so we went looking for them (it was the first time that I questioned our decision to save money by discontinuing our cell phone service). I found them leaving Biggby’s but the line was too long and there was no time for me to snag an iced coffee before our next appointment.

After taking Bryant to get his hair cut and then dropping him off to visit his grandmother (who’s recovering from hip surgery), I found myself waiting in line at the Taco Bell drive thru (yes, my recently-announced commitment to vegetarianism needs strengthening), alone, ordering three hard tacos and a quesadilla for my birthday dinner.

I returned home, got online and was overwhelmed by more than 100 birthday wishes on my Facebook wall, from close friends and people I’ve never met, ex-girlfriends and pals from high school, former colleagues and kindred political spirits. I wiped my tears – there was sawdust in my eyes, I think – and swallowed my last bite of the ground beef-like concoction in my tacos just as Anita and the kids returned home with a chocolate pie and more birthday presents. My parents called from Atlanta to express their disbelief that I’ve lived so long, then we all puttered around online until the kids’ bedtime. Because I’m officially no spring chicken anymore, I retired to our bedroom earlier than usual to watch “King of Queens” reruns – that Doug Heffernan cracks me up – until slumber replaced consciousness.

I share all of this mundane information to paint a picture of how fortunate I am. My days may be harried and everything may not go as planned, but “First World” problems are good problems to have.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


U2 - Bono & The Edge - Happy Birthday 2U

What I've Learned in 50 Years

Today is my 50th birthday. I assumed it would be just another day but as I drove from one errand to the next this morning, with Ben and Jerry trying to sleep in the passenger seat, I found myself thinking, “Holy sh*t! I’m 50!” Then I said, “I’m half a frikkin’ century old!” and “I’ve got five stinkin’ decades under my belt!” out loud. My dogs looked at me as if to say, “We couldn’t care less, dude. Just shut up and drive, willya?” So I decided to post my reflections and mutterings here in “What’s the Diehl?” instead:
  1. I’m an extremely lucky man.
  2. “You’re only as old as you feel” is true.
  3. Life doesn’t get easier as one grows older; it becomes harder in lots of ways.
  4. Growing old, as my parents say, isn’t for wussies.
  5. Selfless politicians are the exception, not the norm.
  6. Children, exercise, love and a good diet keep us younger.
  7. Old dogs can learn new tricks.
  8. War is wrong.
  9. Life is better when it includes love.
  10. Speaking of dogs, life is better when it includes them too.
  11. Money may not buy happiness but happiness is much more likely if we don’t need to worry about money.
  12. I wish I knew when I was young what I know now.
  13. I wish I knew more now.
  14. Those who can go to college should go.
  15. Those who go to college shouldn’t drop out.
  16. Religion is bad.
  17. Masturbation is forever.
  18. A majority of the things that matter when we’re young stop mattering at some point.
  19. One can never eat too much asparagus, beef stroganoff, grilled cheese sandwiches or ice cream cake.
  20. Cotton candy, black licorice, sushi, beef jerky and feta cheese were created by Satan to remind us that evil exists.
  21. We grow up thinking most people are basically good; at some point we come to the realization that the good ones are in fact the exception and should be cherished like the last present on Christmas morning.
  22. Beta fish are not supposed to live longer than the time it takes to change a light bulb.
  23. It’s true that we don’t know what we got ‘til it’s gone.
  24. “Live and let live” should be viewed as a commandment, not a song lyric.
  25. The sexual orientation of others is none of my business.
  26. Books are good.
  27. We’re going to hurt the ones we love; we’ve got to make sure it’s never on purpose.
  28. It’s a shame that so many of us take our parents for granted.
  29. Alcohol, mirrors and sport utility vehicles are overrated.
  30. As my friend Carol Misseldine taught me, everyone’s trying to manage their lives as best they can given their backgrounds, resources, wants and circumstances so it’s wise to look upon others with compassion and tolerance rather than judgment and contempt.
  31. Tattoos are cool.
  32. Some things really are stupid. These include attending high school reunions, wearing toupees, getting breast implants and voting for someone based on celebrity endorsements.
  33. It’s easy to forget how exciting the first day of school and last day before summer vacation felt.
  34. It’s true that those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
  35. Regret is helpful only to the extent that it spurs us to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
  36. Forgiveness is sweeter than revenge.
  37. Spending time in jail is nothing to be ashamed of if it helps us learn something.
  38. Online friendships, pencil sharpeners and toothpaste are underrated.
  39. Everything changes and nothing is guaranteed.
  40. It’s fun to say, “Ypsilanti,” “cornucopia,” “onamonapia,” “mackerel,” “plethora” and “salutations.”
  41. Obligations suck.
  42. Just because family members share the same blood doesn’t mean they deserve to be in our lives.
  43. Being estranged from one’s offspring, however, never stops hurting.
  44. Few things are as beautiful as tears of joy, the laughter of a child, being rewarded for hard work and feeling loved.
  45. Thankfully, time does heal most wounds.
  46. Marijuana ought to be legal.
  47. Ferris Wheels ought to be illegal.
  48. Having potential doesn’t mean sh*t if it isn’t used.
  49. It’s important to keep promises.
  50. The meaning of life is to find meaning in life.

I look forward to posting another 50 pearls of wisdom on March 15, 2062.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Elephant Joy

Simon & Garfunkel - America

Prideful Patriots

“I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world.” ~ Eugene V. Debs

I’m not proud to be an American.

Someone else pointed out that it’s silly to feel proud of something over which you had no control and I agree. It was the luck of the draw that caused me to emerge from my momma at Motown’s Providence Hospital on the Ides of March back in 1962. I could have been born in Lima, São Paulo, Naples or New Delhi. I could be fighting right now to re-enter Gaza from Israel instead of fighting sleep as I type on my laptop in a mid-Michigan subdivision.

It wasn’t until I read Kenneth C. Davis’ Don't Know Much about History: Everything You Need to Know about American History But Never Learned back in the early 1990s that I first started to question why we salute the flag and remove our caps at the first bars of the “Star Spangled Banner.” (I never liked ritual anyway – my Catholic upbringing, with its genuflecting and making the sign of the cross when entering the pew and chanting the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary and Apostle’s Creed and mumbling “Amen” and “Peace be with you” in unison with the rest of the congregants, turned me against anything that felt cultish.)

Davis’ book, which spent 35 consecutive weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and sold a million and a half copies, opened my eyes to the blemishes on our record, the shameful facts that were glossed over or omitted in history class. With my new, broadened perspective, I made a conscious decision to pay less attention to borders drawn on maps by men and think of everyone as neighbors, if not friends, on Planet Earth.

I can’t remember if I also read Howard Zinn’s celebrated A People’s History of the United States but I found it online and have added it to my lengthy “Must Read Before My Children Have Drivers’ Licenses” list.

Speaking of lists, I ran across an interesting one online the other day. (I can’t credit the source or verify the information because I don’t remember where I found this.) Consider this:

  • America has the highest incarceration rate and the largest total prison population in the entire world by a good margin.

  • There are more car thefts in the United States than anywhere else in the world by far.

  • Of all the major industrialized nations, America is the most obese. (Mexico is #2.)

  • The average American drinks more than 600 sodas a year – the most in the world.

  • U.S. corporations sell more fast food and more soda than anyone else in the world by a wide margin.

  • Nobody watches more television per week – 28 hours – than Americans do (although the people of the United Kingdom are tied with us).

  • The United States leads the world in credit card fraud.

  • The United States has the highest percentage of one-person households on the planet.

  • The United States has the highest divorce rate in the world by a good margin.

  • The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the world by far.

  • There are more school shootings in America than anywhere else in the world.

  • The United States has the highest child abuse death rate in the world.

  • There are more “deaths by reptile” in America than anywhere else in the world.

  • The United States has the most lawyers per capita in the world.

  • The United States produces more pornography than any other nation in the world.

  • Americans take more prescription drugs than anyone else in the world.

  • More is spent on prescription drug advertising in America than anywhere else in the world.

  • The percentage of women taking antidepressants in America is higher than in any other country in the world.

  • More people have been diagnosed with mental disorders in America than anywhere else on earth.

  • The United States has the highest rate of illegal drug use in the world.

  • There is more credit card debt in America than anywhere else in the world.

  • There is more mortgage debt in America than anywhere else in the world.

  • There is more student loan debt in America than anywhere else in the world.

  • The United States spends more money on government schools than any other nation on earth.

  • U.S. citizens spend more time in school than anyone else in the world.

  • Nobody in the world gets more plastic surgery done than Americans do.

  • The United States leads the world in eating disorder deaths.

  • According to, the United States has the most total reported crimes in the world by far.

  • Nobody has more airport security thugs groping women and children than America does.

  • The United States spends much more on health care as a percentage of GDP than any other nation on the face of the earth.

  • The United States has the most complicated tax system on the planet.

  • The United States has the most laws on the planet.

  • The United States spends more on the military than the next 12 nations combined.

  • The United States has the most foreign military bases in the world by far.

  • The United States exports more arms to other countries than anyone else in the world.

  • Americans spend more time sitting in traffic than anyone else in the world.

  • Americans spend more money on elections than anyone else in the world by a very wide margin.

  • Every year, the United States has the largest trade deficit in the world by far.

  • The U.S. government wastes more money than any other government on earth.

  • The United States has accumulated the biggest mountain of government debt in the history of the world.

I’m not crazy about this list. (I’m not sure what the compiler means by “government schools,” for example, or how “waste” is defined.) But the fact that even some of these claims might be true makes me ashamed, not boastful, that America is Number One.

There are reasons why I love this country. Its physical beauty is breathtaking, from the Grand Canyon and the Great Lakes to picturesque neighborhoods and unnamed forests and fields. Some of the Americans I’ve met, know or have read about are fantastic, charming, amazing and unforgettable.

We’ve contributed great things to the world and I’m glad I live here, in this day and age, as opposed to, say, when Herbert Hoover was president and a million families lost their farms in the Great Depression. I’m glad I didn’t reside in Western Europe during the 12th Century or Germany during World War II. I’m thankful that I’m not struggling in Moscow, Havana or the favelas of Brazil.

I’m pleased to be American but I’m not proud.

“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” ~ Howard Zinn

“Can anything be stupider than that a man has the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of a river and his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have not quarreled with him?” ~ Blaise Pascal

“Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism - how passionately I hate them!” ~ Albert Einstein

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” ~ Samuel Johnson

“It is lamentable that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.” ~ Voltaire

“No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.” ~ Barbara Ehrenreich

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How cool is this?!

H/T to Shawn Misener at Clutching at Straws for the idea.

Good Old War - Coney Island

Gunning for Joseph Kony

A Ugandan child soldier

I was going to jump on the internet bandwagon and post some anti-Joseph Kony photos here and in Facebook until I learned that things aren’t as black and white as they seem.

A group known as Invisible Children is working to increase public awareness of Kony, an African warlord who took over an extremist rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and has for decades kidnapped local youngsters and turned them into child soldiers or sex slaves, even forcing them to murder their own parents in some cases. Invisible Children – which “uses film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony's rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in central Africa to peace and prosperity” – released a 30-minute documentary of sorts that’s been viewed over 100 million times in the week since it was uploaded to the net. You've got to see it.

One website claims the video is nothing more than “an attempt to influence viewers to support U.S. military operations in resource-rich Central Africa under the pretext of capturing the LRA’s commander.” Nikita, my 12-year-old, saw it in her fifth period English class yesterday and came home all fired up about sharing it with her family and hundreds of her closest friends. So I checked it out.

Gavin Russell
The video – which opens with the quote, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come” – is indeed compelling if somewhat self-congratulatory. It makes the case for online activism and features a number of clips that have gone viral. It introduces us to a young Ugandan boy named Jacob who’s reduced to tears by the memory of losing his brother to Kony’s henchmen. The filmmaker’s young, smart, cute-as-a-whistle (and very white) son, Gavin, appears several times, as do U.S. Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and John Kerry (D-MA), Luis Moreno Ocampo (an International Criminal Court prosecutor), Bono, George Clooney and Kony himself. It’s at times gripping and at times heavy-handed; I resist obvious attempts to yank my heartstrings and this was no exception. And the video’s simplification of what one can safely assume is a complex situation struck me as condescending.

Who doesn’t think Kony is an evil war criminal who should be captured, tried and punished to the fullest extent of international law? Who doesn’t think all children have the right to live free from fear, to not be forced to slaughter their families and commit despicable acts at the direction of a madman? Of course I’m opposed to the use of child soldiers and want the guy stopped – but I feel a tad uncomfortable with how much attention this campaign is receiving online and in real life at the expense of a host of other pressing issues.

The bad guy
According to Invisible Children, President Obama finally succumbed to pressure and sent 100 “military advisors” to Africa to help find Kony. But we’ve got to keep pressing our politicians, the video warns, or their commitment to freedom, justice and the American way just might wane.

A website called Money Trends Research makes some less than flattering points about Invisible Children, including that the group earned just two stars for accountability from Charity Navigator, the independent charity evaluator; that less than a third of the group’s funding actually goes toward helping people; and that Invisible Children supports the Ugandan government’s army which is itself corrupt and kind of rapey.

Additionally, it’s common knowledge that Kony hasn’t been active in Uganda in over five years. Yet Invisible Children has 100 full-time employees in Uganda and another 42 at its San Diego headquarters. In 2010, the group paid its top dogs between $87,000 and $90,000 which some say is low or average for charities of its type but seems like a lot to me.

Invisible Children’s website includes an entire page devoted to answering its critics and responding to the accusations of Money Trends Research and others. I’ve decided that although I’m not sending ‘em any money, I’ll still mention ‘em here at “What’s the Diehl?” and even offer links. (Speaking of links, visit this one for a heavy, cynical take on Invisible Children’s campaign.)

I asked Nikita if she thought the admittedly disturbing plight of Kony’s victims was more worthy of our time, attention, money and military intervention than, say, the current situation in Syria. She knew nothing about it. I asked her if last Sunday’s airstrikes on innocent civilians in the Gaza strip by the Israeli military were any less noteworthy of online activism. She knew nothing about it. I asked her if it made more sense to take to the streets to oppose our own country’s seemingly inevitable attack on Iran than to marshal our forces against an admittedly bad dude whose army, however, numbers no more than 250 soldiers. She couldn’t say. Then she told me that in the time it took for me to ask those questions, I could have forwarded the video to all my friends and actually made a difference. I would have sent her to her room for being insolent at this point but she was already on her way upstairs.

When I checked her Facebook page later, I noticed that she posted a Syria-related video along with her Kony-related posts and even typed, “This is so horrible! People are getting massacred by the police who are supposed to help.” Underneath she typed, “I still think Kony should be stopped wherever he is.”

I made a difference.

This mocking photo of Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell and other staff posing with guns and members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army at a Lord’s Resistance Army camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo wasn’t well-received; Russell later apologized.

Sources: Los Angeles Times,,