Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Face as Art

I Only Have Eyes for You - Art Garfunkel

I'm No Art Fanatic but Come On!

So far, more than 9,000 people have “liked” a Facebook group called “Save the DIA.” (DIA refers to the Detroit Institute of Arts, the 658,000-square-foot institute on Woodward Avenue that was founded in 1885 and is home to an impressive billion-dollar art collection.) And more than 5,500 folks have signed a “Save the DIA” petition at a Save the DIA website.

Does this matter to Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, and his myopic minions? I’m gonna say no. The City of Detroit (which, technically, owns the DIA’s art) is in bankruptcy. What better time for the rich to get their hands on some of the most amazing art ever created by humankind to hang in their foyers and great rooms?

(Click here to read, “Detroit bankruptcy creditors ask judge to take steps toward sale of DIA treasures,” Detroit Free Press, November 26, 2013.)

Detroit’s population last year stood at 701,475; the state is home to over nine million people. If we don’t allow for duplications and add 9,000 and 5,500, we get 14,500, which is just over .02 percent of the city’s population. (For the purpose of this blog post, I’m ignoring the fact that some Detroit residents are under 18 and can’t vote.) Snyder’s proven time and time again that he doesn’t care what a solid majority thinks about robbing from the poor to give to the rich, making Michigan a “right to work” state, killing representative democracy in our cities and other issues; it’s a pretty safe bet that relatively miniscule numbers aren’t going to persuade him to respect the importance of art in the D and in this state as a whole.

I’ve only been to the DIA three times: once when my mom took me as a kid; once in the 1980s when my boss at the time, Governor Jim Blanchard, held an inaugural celebration there; and once in the 1990s when my friend Carol Misseldine and I headed downtown. (Unfortunately, I put a damper on that visit by locking my keys in the car and necessitating that we spend $65 to get a tow truck driver to let us back in.) I don’t remember any of the art – except for the wonderful Diego Rivera murals that adorn the walls of Rivera Court – but I remember being impressed that so much of the most undeniably precious artwork in existence, so much of the best that our civilization has produced, is located in a city that’s so often trashed and maligned by friend and foe alike.

And now our short-sighted Republican politicians want to solve the city’s budget problems in part by selling off the works of a significant number of artists, people I’ve heard of and people I haven’t, masters like Cézanne and Degas, van Gogh and Gauguin, and luminaries like Andrew Wyeth and Andy Warhol, Winslow Homer and Georgia O’Keeffe, John James Audubon, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and James McNeill Whistler.

Violinist and Young Woman, 1870–72
Edgar Degas
The museum, which contains 100 separate art galleries, once boasted an endowment of $350 million. But a bad economy – combined with unexpected costs and a decrease in contributions – reduced the endowment balance to critical levels. And revenue from admissions, the museum restaurant and the gift shop only generates around 15 percent of the DIA’s annual budget. (A property tax shouldered by residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties generates most of the DIA’s $22 million annual budget.)

So what do the city’s largest creditors decide to do?

They just filed a motion in federal court asking the judge to appoint a committee “to oversee an independent evaluation of the market value of the multi-billion dollar city-owned collection at the DIA,” according to the Detroit Free Press. In their filing, they insist that Detroit’s emergency manager, Snyder crony Kevyn Orr, isn’t moving aggressively enough to schedule a fire sale.

(Click here to read, “Can *I* Be an Emergency Manager? Please?,” January 5, 2012.)

Not only are the rich greedy, but they’re impatient too.

I'm no expert on Detroit's finances or politics and I concede that I don't have the slightest idea how to address the D's budget woes. It just seems to me that selling off - and essentially destroying - one of the few gems left in Motown isn't the answer.

Portrait of a Nobleman, 1623
Diego Velázquez

Click here to help provide ongoing operational support by contributing to the DIA Annual Fund or send your check to DIA Annual Fund, Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48202-9930.

(Click here to read, “Why the Rich Are Less Ethical: They See Greed as Good,” TIME, February 28, 2012. And click here to read, “The DIA's priceless art: What some of their most valuable pieces could be worth,” Detroit Free Press, May 26, 2013.)

Sources: Detroit Institute of Arts, Save the DIA, Detroit Free Press, Wall Street Journal, TIME magazine.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Talia and the Man

Dead Presidents - Nas

We Lost More Than Our President

“Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.”

~ Nellie Connally, First Lady of Texas, November 22, 1963

“To mark the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, the networks have decided to make as much money from it as possible.”

~ Andy Borowitz, November 21, 2013

Regular “What’s the Diehl?” readers know that I’m a middle-aged progressive who’s pro-choice, supports gun control, loves good music and thinks Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor should be gagged, bound together and set adrift in the north Atlantic in a decrepit old boat with insufficient food and water and a burlap bag stuffed with several hungry, angry, venomous snakes. But what you may not know is that I grew up fascinated to a fault by the assassination of the 35th President of the United States.

While other boys were honing their athletic skills and watching Gunsmoke and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I was learning that the murder of John F. Kennedy was caught on tape by a Dallas dressmaker named Abraham Zapruder, who was convinced by his employees to return home to get his 8-millimeter movie camera before heading to Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, when I was 20 months old.

Lee Harvey Oswald
I learned that a 24-year-old ex-Marine, Communist sympathizer and loser named Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at JFK from his perch on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository – 265 feet away from the presidential limousine – two of which struck the president from behind. (Some say a second gunman also fired at Kennedy from his hiding place on the “grassy knoll,” in front of the motorcade.)

I learned about the “Single Bullet Theory,” which has helped bolster conspiracy theories for decades. Because one of Oswald’s three shots missed the limousine entirely and another caused JFK’s fatal head wound, that means only one bullet could have caused seven other sounds to the president and Texas Governor John Connally, who was riding in the limo and was seriously injured that day but survived. Some folks find this implausible.

The Kennedys at Love Field in Dallas
I learned that Oswald was in fact not arrested for killing JFK but was charged with the murder of Dallas patrolman J. D. Tippit, who had stopped Oswald for questioning 45 minutes after the assassination.

I learned that Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who shot Oswald two days after JFK’s assassination as Oswald was being escorted by police through the basement of police headquarters, had ties to the mob and died of lung cancer at Parkland Hospital, the same place where JFK and Oswald had been pronounced dead three years earlier.

I remember one old magazine article – I can’t remember which one – describing JFK’s head exploding thusly: “Brain matter spewed forth that resembled a mixture of tomato soup with rice.” To this day I can’t consume even a spoonful of soup that contains rice.

Last Sunday, I awoke to a CBS Sunday Morning piece on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. Face the Nation, which followed, was devoted to the same subject, although curmudgeonly Bob Schieffer was much more insistent than Charles Osgood that a lone gunman was solely responsible for the murder of perhaps our most beloved president. (According to a recent poll, just 39 percent of Americans believe Oswald acted alone; others blame the Mafia, the CIA, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Lyndon Johnson, the Ku Klux Klan and even the Soviets.)

I realized that that was just the beginning of an onslaught of maudlin commemorations, preemptions and Very Special Episodes marking the assassination’s golden anniversary. Television, with its propensity to beat a dead horse so thoroughly that there’s nothing left of the carcass but dust, would surely devote the entire next week to overwhelming and inundating viewers with all things Dealey Plaza to such an extent that some will feel like cursing myopic network executives while heaving their sets right out of their windows. Sadly, I was right.

I’m sorry that President Kennedy suffered such a gruesome fate. (Anyone who’s viewed the Zapruder film and autopsy photos knows why I use “gruesome.”) I’m sorry that the First Lady had to experience the sensation of her spouse’s head exploding inches away from where she sat in the presidential Lincoln Continental and that two young children lost their daddy. I’m sorry that November of 1963 marked a turning point, one in which this country’s heart, our nature, went from hopeful and trusting to cynical and divisive. I’m sorry that the most noteworthy unsolved mystery in our history continues to generate argument. And I’m sorry that five decades later, we still almost gleefully dwell on this terrible tragedy for ratings, callously exploiting the pain associated with this jarring event in our everlasting quest to sell soap and soda.

I shouldn’t have added to the din with this blog post but if you can’t beat ‘em...

Sources: New York Daily News,,, New York Times, The Olympian.

Friday, November 8, 2013

See What You Want

Life is Better With You - Michael Franti

Warning: I Was Cynical When I Wrote This

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little."

~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

For my first quarter century of life I resisted the urge to trash politicians, to buy into the whole “Congressmen are a bunch of crooks” and “Washington is a cesspool” mentality. “Politics remains a noble profession,” I insisted to anyone who would listen – which consisted primarily of my mother – and you can’t condemn all officeholders because of the actions of a few. That’s unfair, right?

Clearly there’s no such thing as fairness anymore.

I finally stopped repressing my cynicism. Armed with the knowledge that comes from working directly for elected officials and on political campaigns combined with facts gleaned from television, newspapers and the net, I can no longer deny the truth: although not all candidates throw their hats into the ring intending to serve just themselves or the few, most end up that way. Absolute power does indeed corrupt absolutely. I’ve seen it. And money talks louder than a carnival barker or a preacher on Sunday. It buys favors from lawmakers and silence from staff.

I’ve written about this before, I know, and it’s not news to most readers or political observers. But I feel obligated to sound the alarm again lest anyone on this sinking ship we call the US of A remains unaware of how flawed our system has become, how dysfunctional and dirty and repugnant today’s public policy process really is.

(Click here to read, “I Pray that They’ll Pay,” here to read, “On Subsidizing Agribusiness and Giving Hungry Folks the Bird” and here to read, “Snap to It, Congress! Stop Spending So Much to Feed the Hungry!”)

Two things have compelled me to post this latest lamentation:

1. If you asked nine-year-old Nabila Rehman, who lives in a remote village in northwest Pakistan, how she felt upon traveling over 7,000 miles last month to testify before Congress about the U.S. drone attack that killed her beloved 67-year-old grandmother (and injured her and her older brother) a year ago only to be stood up by all but five Congressmen (the five who listened were Democrats), I imagine she’d admit to being surprised that so few American lawmakers would or could find time to listen to her heartfelt story. Of course it’s not possible for these busy men and women to sit down with every person who wants to bend their ears but if American foreign policy results in the murder of innocent civilians, one risks being labeled incompetent at best and insensitive and ignorant at worst when one skips an official hearing on the subject. (The United Nations estimates that 400 Pakistani civilians have been killed by U.S. drones since 2004.)

Not that the members of a body that enjoys a five percent public approval rating care a whole lot about labels.

Evidently young Nabila doesn’t realize that the Benghazi non-scandal and a malfunctioning website are far more noteworthy than the murder of her grandma.

2. I just read a story pointing out that through the Farm Bill, taxpayers have provided more than $11 million in subsidies to businesses connected to 50 of the country’s billionaires between 1995 and 2012. The subsidies – created to help family farms when the price of certain crops dropped too much – now go mostly to large farming corporations. And get this: in both versions of the bill currently under consideration in Congress, subsidies to billionaires increase – yet politicians have determined that we can’t afford to help hungry folks so they cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) and took food out of the mouths of 47 million Americans.

(Click here to read, “SNAP Benefits Will Be Cut for All Participants in November 2013.”)

I know $11 million is chump change to politicians and celebrities – that’s how much Kanye West and Kim Kardashian paid for their new 10,000 square-foot Bel Air mansion earlier this year; it’s just half of what New York Yankee Derek Jeter was paid in 2010; and it’s how much Michigan Governor Rick Snyder spent on his 2010 campaign – but that’s how much it takes to run the entire government of Somalia for a year. You could buy 122 houses in Lansing, Michigan; donate 63,583 men’s bicycles to charity; or feed 45,833 families for six months for just under $11 million. It’s not chump change in the real world.

I posted the following status update in Facebook the other day:

I just realized that all four of my kids have run for student council and can therefore be considered "politicians." I'm not sure how I feel about this.

In response, one of my friends chided me gently for buying into the “government IS the problem” mindset. Others reminded me that our children represent our hope for a better future, that they have the power to change the world and it bodes well for them to engage. I don’t know, though. My kids are still good. They’re not pessimistic or opportunistic or self-serving or calloused or jaded. They still believe in right and wrong. They still care about other people. I’d hate for them to be sullied by what passes for politics these days. I’d hate for them to lose hope and become hardened.

It’s my fault that everything’s so messed up, really. And yours. We keep electing these clowns. We passively accept the crap that the unscrupulous foist upon us, the conflicts of interest and the lies and the audacious commitment to the best interests not of constituents but of corporate overlords, the string-pullers and campaign funders and one percent of Americans who never have enough and have no problem taking from the lower classes to expand their wealth. We keep allowing ourselves to be distracted and discounted and turned against each other. Sadly, we’re okay with unfair and incompetent.

Sources: Huffington Post, The Guardian, New York Daily News,, Ann Arbor News, Centre for Research on Globalization,, Feeding America, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Naked Eye

É isso Aí - Ana Carolina and Seu Jorge

Sunday poetry

To This Day

When I was a kid
I used to think that pork chops and karate chops
Were the same thing
I thought they were both pork chops
And because my grandmother thought it was cute
And because they were my favourite
She let me keep doing it

Not really a big deal

One day
Before I realized fat kids are not designed to climb trees
I fell out of a tree
And bruised the right side of my body

I didn’t want to tell my grandmother about it
Because I was afraid I’d get in trouble
For playing somewhere that I shouldn’t have been

A few days later the gym teacher noticed the bruise
And I got sent to the principal’s office
From there I was sent to another small room
With a really nice lady
Who asked me all kinds of questions
About my life at home

I saw no reason to lie
As far as I was concerned
Life was pretty good
I told her, “Whenever I’m sad
My grandmother gives me karate chops”

This led to a full scale investigation
And I was removed from the house for three days
Until they finally decided to ask how I got the bruises

News of this silly little story quickly spread through the school
And I earned my first nickname

Pork Chop

To this day
I hate pork chops

I’m not the only kid
Who grew up this way
Surrounded by people who used to say
That rhyme about sticks and stones
As if broken bones
Hurt more than the names we got called
And we got called them all
So we grew up believing no one
Would ever fall in love with us
That we’d be lonely forever
That we’d never meet someone
To make us feel like the sun
Was something they built for us
In their tool shed
So broken heart strings bled the blues
As we tried to empty ourselves
So we would feel nothing
Don’t tell me that hurts less than a broken bone
That an ingrown life
Is something surgeons can cut away
That there’s no way for it to metastasize

It does

She was eight years old
Our first day of grade three
When she got called ugly
We both got moved to the back of the class
So we would stop get bombarded by spit balls
But the school halls were a battleground
Where we found ourselves outnumbered day after wretched day
We used to stay inside for recess
Because outside was worse
Outside we’d have to rehearse running away
Or learn to stay still like statues giving no clues that we were there
In grade five they taped a sign to her desk
That read beware of dog

To this day
Despite a loving husband
She doesn’t think she’s beautiful
Because of a birthmark
That takes up a little less than half of her face
Kids used to say she looks like a wrong answer
That someone tried to erase
But couldn’t quite get the job done
And they’ll never understand
That she’s raising two kids
Whose definition of beauty
Begins with the word mom
Because they see her heart
Before they see her skin
Because she’s only ever always been amazing

Was a broken branch
Grafted onto a different family tree
Not because his parents opted for a different destiny
He was three when he became a mixed drink
Of one part left alone
And two parts tragedy
Started therapy in 8th grade
Had a personality made up of tests and pills
Lived like the uphills were mountains
And the downhills were cliffs
Four fifths suicidal
A tidal wave of anti depressants
And an adolescence of being called popper
One part because of the pills
Ninety nine parts because of the cruelty
He tried to kill himself in grade ten
When a kid who could still go home to mom and dad
Had the audacity to tell him “get over it” as if depression
Is something that can be remedied
By any of the contents found in a first aid kit

To this day
He is a stick of TNT lit from both ends
Could describe to you in detail the way the sky bends
In the moments before it’s about to fall
And despite an army of friends
Who all call him an inspiration
He remains a conversation piece between people
Who can’t understand
Sometimes becoming drug free
Has less to do with addiction
And more to do with sanity

We weren’t the only kids who grew up this way
To this day
Kids are still being called names
The classics were
Hey stupid
Hey spaz
Seems like each school has an arsenal of names
Getting updated every year
And if a kid breaks in a school
And no one around chooses to hear
Do they make a sound?
Are they just the background noise
Of a soundtrack stuck on repeat
When people say things like
Kids can be cruel?
Every school was a big top circus tent
And the pecking order went
From acrobats to lion tamers
From clowns to carnies
All of these were miles ahead of who we were
We were freaks
Lobster claw boys and bearded ladies
Juggling depression and loneliness playing solitaire spin the bottle
Trying to kiss the wounded parts of ourselves and heal
But at night
While the others slept

We kept walking the tightrope
It was practice
And yes
Some of us fell

But I want to tell them
That all of this shit
Is just debris
Leftover when we finally decide to smash all the things we thought
We used to be
And if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself
Get a better mirror
Look a little closer
Stare a little longer
Because there’s something inside you
That made you keep trying
Despite everyone who told you to quit
You built a cast around your broken heart
And signed it yourself
You signed it
“They were wrong”
Because maybe you didn’t belong to a group or a clique
Maybe they decided to pick you last for basketball or everything
Maybe you used to bring bruises and broken teeth
To show and tell but never told
Because how can you hold your ground
If everyone around you wants to bury you beneath it
You have to believe that they were wrong

They have to be wrong

Why else would we still be here?
We grew up learning to cheer on the underdog
Because we see ourselves in them
We stem from a root planted in the belief
That we are not what we were called
We are not abandoned cars stalled out and
Sitting empty on a highway
And if in some way we are
Don’t worry

We only got out to walk and get gas
We are graduating members from the class of
We made it
Not the faded echoes of voices crying out
Names will never hurt me

Of course
They did

But our lives will only ever always
Continue to be
A balancing act
That has less to do with pain
And more to do with beauty

~ Shane Koyczan