Sunday, May 27, 2012

Afghani Girls

Robin Gibb - Massachusetts

Sunday poetry

Because These Failures Are My Job

This morning I failed to notice the pearl-gray moment
just before sunrise when everything lightens;
failed also to find bird songs under the grinding of garbage trucks,
and later, walking through woods, to stop thinking, thinking,
for even five consecutive steps. Then there was the failure to name
the exact shade of blue overhead, not sapphire, not azure, not delft,
to savor the soft squelch of pine needles underfoot.
Later I found the fork raised halfway to my mouth
while I was still chewing the last untasted bite,
and so it went, until finally, wading into sleep's thick undertow,
I felt myself drift from dream to dream,
forever failing to comprehend where I am falling from or to:
this blurred life with only moments caught
in attention's loose sieve --
tiny pearls fished out of oblivion's sea,
laid out here as offering or apology or thank you

~ Alison Luterman

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Can't be cooler than Cash

Johnny Cash - A Boy Named Sue! (Live at San Quentin)

Sunday poetry

A Blessing

Sure, there may be no
angels guiding us towards light,
nor higher power

arranging scholarships,
nor parking spaces
that suddenly materialize

in front of the Olympus Theatre,
where your new play,
Sink or Swim,

is triumphing.

But then again
there is my neighbor, Mrs. Susan North, 
with her aluminum walker

and oxygen mask,
who takes her dog out twice a day 
and wears a plastic baggie

over her left hand
to pick up shit
so all the other living people 

won't have to step in it.

~ Tony Hoagland

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Roots

Artwork by Alexander Knapman, an eighth grade student at Holt Junior High School in Holt, Michigan.

The Doobie Brothers - China Grove

Congressman Mike Rogers: Right Wing and Wrong

I received a huge postcard in the mail from my congressman the other day that really ticked me off.

Mike Rogers, the former G-man and rabidly-partisan, disingenuous Republican politician who’s represented Michigan’s eighth congressional district since the year when those planes took out the Twin Towers, used taxpayer dollars to send me a huge, 8 ½-inch by 12-inch, two-sided document on card stock declaring that he’s Fighting for Michigan Jobs and Taking On the Economy and has introduced a jobs plan that will help “create certainty” among employers and job creators.  (I thought employers were job creators but what do I know?)

Rogers’ plan calls for a two-year moratorium on new taxes and regulations. He says “government doesn’t create jobs but we can help create certainty in the private sector.” We know that government has in fact saved or created millions on jobs in recent years (read “Government Spending Can Create Jobs—and It Has” at the Center for American Progress website) but Mr. Rogers apparently subscribes to the GOP’s “If it doesn’t fit with my beliefs, let’s not acknowledge it” philosophy.

The missive also points out that Rogers wants to stop “China’s cyber attacks that threaten U.S. jobs” and warns that China “is literally trying to steal our prosperity and our way of life out from under us.” It kinds of likens the American way of life to a checked tablecloth being pulled out from underneath our finest china by a dastardly foe clad in black, doesn’t it? In Mr. Rogers’ world, “Thieves from countries like China and Russia work feverishly to steal American innovations so they can compete unfairly against U.S. employers.” He doesn’t specify which innovations he’s referring but since U.S. patent filings have declined in recent years,  surely evil foreigners are the culprits.

I couldn’t stifle a chuckle when I read, “This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense. It is provided as a service to 8th District Constituents.” You know what would make me feel served, Mr. Rogers? If you refrained from spending taxpayer money on missives intended solely to promote you and your conservative ideology. Better yet, if you abandoned your commitment to partisanship and subterfuge and started putting the needs of your constituents above your own. Actually, the best thing you could do for my neighbors and me is to throw in the towel so that the guy who wants to replace you, Lance Enderle, can begin to restore our faith in our congressional representative.

Wanna know one of the reasons why I really dislike the guy? Because on his Wikipedia page, he touts legislation he wrote while in the state senate from 1995 to 2000 that created the “Michigan Education Savings Plan” allowing people to set aside tax-free funds for their kids’ college education. Rogers conveniently leaves out that the idea was originally implemented years before by my boss, Governor Jim Blanchard; Blanchard’s successor, John Engler, killed the “Michigan Education Trust” and Rogers then reinvented the wheel.

This is politics at its muddiest, and Mike Rogers is a wizard at it.

Back when I worked for politicians – eight years on Blanchard’s staff and a year as a state senator’s aide – we had to be really careful about using public monies to mail anything that could be construed as partisan or political. I guess that’s one of the regulations Mike Rogers has deemed unnecessary.

America's New Flag?

Sources: Center for American Progress, Rogers mailing, CNN Money.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mom and Me

Genesis - Mama

Sunday poetry


The mornings are his,
blue and white
like the tablecloth at breakfast.
He’s happy in the house,
a sweep of the spoon
brings the birds under his chair.
He sings and the dishes disappear.

Or holding a crayon like a candle,
he draws a circle.
It is his hundredth dragonfly.
Calling for more paper,
this one is red-winged
and like the others,
he wills it to fly, simply
by the unformed curve of his signature.

Waterwings he calls them,
the floats I strap to his arms.
I wear an apron of concern,
sweep the morning of birds.
To the water he returns,
plunging where it’s cold,
moving and squealing into sunlight.
The water from here seems flecked with gold.

I watch the circles
his small body makes
fan and ripple,
disperse like an echo
into the sum of water, light and air.
His imprint on the water
has but a brief lifespan,
the flicker of a dragonfly’s delicate wing.

This is sadness, I tell myself,
the morning he chooses to leave his wings behind,
because he will not remember 
that he and beauty were aligned,
skimming across the water, nearly airborne,
on his first solo flight. 
I’ll write "how he could not
contain his delight."
At the other end,
in another time frame,
he waits for me—
having already outdistanced this body,
the one that slipped from me like a fish,
floating, free of itself.

~ Cathy Song

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Looking Up

Nicki Minaj - Stupid Hoe (Explicit)

Seriously, voters?

Voters in my community defeated a proposal yesterday that would have added a measly $1.20 each month to our water bills to pay for a sludge dryer so we could sell four million gallons of crap each year to buyers who would use it to generate energy instead of dumping it on our farm fields as fertilizer. (See “Sludge and Stupidity in Delhi Township,” April 25, 2012.)

As the Associated Press reports, "the proposal would have created a system to dry sludge from the community's wastewater treatment system. Michigan State University said it was willing to buy a ton a day for its power plant."

If approved, the sludge dryer project would have turned a liability into an asset since we currently pay $38,000/year to give the crap away. But according to a Michigan Public Radio story I heard this morning, “Opponents questioned the need for the project.”

Opponents questioned the need to abolish slavery too.

Opponents questioned the need to send a rocket to the moon.

Opponents questioned the need to give women and people of color the right to vote.

Opponents questioned the need to create the national parks and highway systems.

Opponents questioned the need for public schools and transportation.

Opponents questioned the need for separation of church and state.

I would expect people on both sides of any issue to have questions. And I would expect everyone to listen to the answers and then come together to identify what’s in the community’s best interest, not for factions to advance personal agendas, mount attack campaigns and mischaracterize the facts and the motivation of those with whom they disagree.

Guess which scenario played out in Delhi Township.

I’ve also heard more than one politician pander to the electorate by claiming, “The voter is always right” in recent days. That, too, is a bunch of crap.

Were North Carolina voters right to amend their state constitution to discriminate against gay people? They overwhelmingly voted yesterday in favor of a constitutional amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman as the only legal union recognized by the state. (Same-sex marriages were already banned by law but proponents decided they need to disallow civil unions and other types of domestic partnerships just to be safe.) The vote makes North Carolina the 30th state to adopt a ban on gay marriage. (I’m ashamed to admit that Michigan is among them.)

Were voters right to mandate term limits for politicians instead of using the regular election process to get rid of those they didn’t like? Experts on both sides of the aisle insist that the lost institutional memory and inability to establish positive working relationships within the shortened time frame have led to increased partisanship and gridlock at the state and federal levels.

Were Michigan voters right in 2010 when they chose a spewer of clichés who refused to offer specifics to be governor instead of the guy who the media christened an “angry mayor” – only to find out after Election Day that the angry guy with the record would have been better than the evasive nerd who proceeded to trash the democratic process and rob from the poor to give to the rich?

Were voters right in 2004 when they re-elected Dubya, arguably the worst president in the history of the United States?

Are voters right to base their selections on mudslinging and misrepresentation, appearances and endorsements, slogans, sound bites and spin rather than careful research and a commitment to leaving a better world for our kids?

No, the voter is not always right. Sometimes the voter really screws up. Like yesterday. And sometimes I’m more disgusted by the ugliness of today’s politics and the ignorance of the electorate than I can express.

Source: Associated Press.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Cost of Not Voting

Anthony Hamilton - I'll Wait (To Fall In Love)

Sunday poetry


I hunted heaven
for him.

No dice.

Too uppity,
it was. Not enough 

music, or dark dirt.

I begged the earth empty
of him. Death

believes in us whether
we believe

or not. For a long while
I watch the sound

of a boy bouncing a ball 
down the block

take its time
to reach me. Father,

find me when
you want. I’ll wait.

~ Kevin Young

Saturday, May 5, 2012

My God

Simon and Garfunkel - Old Friends


I’m writing about last night because it was really cool.

Anita and I drove to Grand Rapids, an hour or so away from our home, to have dinner with a guy with whom I worked in the governor’s office back in the 1980s and hadn’t seen since. My former co-worker – let’s call him “Cal” – had earned his law degree, moved up north and become a prominent and successful defense attorney in the years since we toiled in cubicles in the Hollister Building on Allegan Street in downtown Lansing.

On the way to west Michigan, I told Anita I was looking forward to seeing Cal again because I didn’t think I was as kind or friendly to him as I should have been in the past and I was glad to have the chance to make amends. Anita found a parking space on the street adjacent to the restaurant – we were meeting Cal at the elegant Chop House on Monroe, across the street from the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel – and soon we were seated at a large round table underneath an ornate chandelier, talking and laughing and reminiscing and getting reacquainted.

The food was delicious, the waitress excellent and the conversation surprisingly relaxed considering that decades had passed since we last spent time together. We talked about “What’s the Diehl?” and writing and religion and criminal defense law and Facebook friends and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Cal’s wife and daughter and three horses and our four kids.

Cal complimented me on my writing skills and told me he appreciated how I did my job when we worked together. I told him I was impressed by his success, regretted not being nicer to him before and loved being able to discuss hot-button issues like God and the Bible without anger or defensiveness or disrespect, as we did. (We couldn’t be further apart on the topic of spirituality but no one’s blood pressure increased during our conversation.) Cal’s generosity was notable – the expensive dinner was his treat – and I repeatedly offered to reciprocate and at least contribute toward the tip until Anita kicked me under the table and told me to stop.

We really had a wonderful time.

I was reminded of a few things last night. I realized that my perception of the past may not be the same as that of others who populated it. I was made aware that it’s never too late for acquaintances to become friends, that some successful attorneys are modest and quite likable, and that the Chop House’s Grilled Hearts of Romaine Salad is so good it should be illegal. And I was reminded of how lucky I am to be with someone as beautiful and charming as Anita, who looks as good in fancy restaurants as she does at home.

The only thing that could have made the evening better is if I had memorized the special code to the new keyless lock on our front door so that my tired spouse wouldn’t have had to wait on the porch for 15 minutes upon our return until I stumbled upon the right combination. I’m thinking of suing the lock company now that I’m friends again with a lawyer from Marquette.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

And your point is...?

Bon Jovi - Living on a Prayer (Acoustic)

Praying for Reason

“I prayed for 20 years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”
~ Frederick Douglass, escaped slave and leader of the abolitionist movement 

I like the idea of a National Day of Reason.

Even when I was still religious, I was uncomfortable with the whole “National Day of Prayer” thing. I didn’t like how it violated my understanding of the concept of church/state separation. I didn’t like how politicians of all stripes and persuasions pandered to the prayer-mongers among us. I didn’t like how it took what I always thought was a selfish, lame activity – talking to a possibly nonexistent being about our wishes and desires as opposed to doing things that might actually cause our goals to be achieved – and elevated its legitimacy.

Now that I’ve come to believe organized religion is a sham and my Higher Power is my family, I find a National Day of Prayer even more ridiculous – and the efforts of public officials to glorify it distressing.

Although the National Day of Reason was started in 2003 by the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists who thought government participation in the National Day of Prayer was a violation of the separation of church and state, I just heard about it yesterday. Scheduled on the same day as the National Day of Prayer (Thursday, May 3), the NDR is when people who don’t need religion in order to be good hold blood drives, launch voter registration efforts, march, rally and socialize.

Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA) even issued a proclamation in the U.S. House of Representatives acknowledging the National Day of Reason. His proclamation states in part, “Our nation faces many problems – bringing our troops home from Afghanistan, creating jobs, educating our children, and protecting our safety net from irresponsible cuts. We will solve these issues through the application of reason. We must also protect women’s reproductive choices, the integrity of scientific research, and our public education system from those who would hide behind religious dogma to undermine them.”

I’m all for that.

I see the similarity between prayer and meditation and therefore begrudgingly concede that it’s not wholly without benefit. But falling to one’s knees in the end zone after scoring a touchdown and embracing official proclamations that designate certain days as being best for communicating with the Bearded White Dude Who Floats on Clouds and Awards Grammys are beyond silly. Teaching our kids that submitting requests to an unseen mythical entity is in any way productive makes about as much sense as teaching ‘em that an obese dude in a red pantsuit who travels the world in a flying sleigh once a year will place just what we want under the dead tree in our living room as long as we leave milk and cookies next to the fireplace.

If I were the type to wear a tin-foil hat and believe in vast conspiracies, I might even entertain the notion that pacifying and distracting the masses is at the heart of the National Day of Prayer. Why else would politicians and “news” outlets trip all over themselves to promote participation?

It’s pretty simple. If someone wants to kneel at his or her bedside and participate in one-sided dialogue every night before retiring, that’s his or her prerogative. If entire congregations want to bow their heads and send fervent pleas to the Object of Their Worship, that’s fine with me. But I’m not happy about the use of public resources to promote an activity that’s more akin to a cult ritual than the behavior of competent adults. Our problems and challenges are real. Shouldn’t our responses be as well?

"Faith means not wanting to know what is true."
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“Human decency is not derived from religion.  It precedes it.”
~ Christopher Hitchens

“Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.”
~ Benjamin Franklin

“Those who believe absurdities will commit atrocities.”
~ Voltaire 

Sources: Huffington Post, American Humanist Association.