Friday, January 31, 2014


Stairway to Heaven - Rodrigo and Gabriela

The Kids Are Still Alright

Anita and I went to Bryant’s “Winter Talent Show” this morning at the junior high auditorium. It was originally supposed to happen a few weeks ago but the lovely Michigan weather put the kibosh on that and it was rescheduled for today.

Bryant, who chose to wear a tuxedo – a gift from a relative – had been practicing Bruno Mars’ “If I Was Your Man” for weeks. He seemed a little nervous last night when he returned home from the barber’s with a fresh, new haircut but he didn’t say so. I was nervous for him, though. Some of the notes in that song are pretty high and the auditorium seats hundreds. I needn’t have worried.

I don’t want to reveal too much without the permission of those involved but suffice it to say that the sweetness and sensitivity of the 7th and 8th graders in the audience almost brought me to tears. They clapped and cheered and waved their hands in the air to support those on stage who were perhaps not American Idol material but who had the guts to sing in front of a large crowd anyway. One could see the impact this support had on the performers, who smiled and stood up a little straighter and sang or played their instruments a little louder. Even when the song was too long and the singer’s voice too “pitchy,” the boys and girls cheered and whistled. It was truly beautiful. These kids made me feel real good.

Bryant, incidentally, was amazing. If the screams and roars that erupted at the mere mention of his name are any indication, he’s really popular at his school. And he looked and sounded great; when he left the stage with a flower in one hand and the microphone in the other to walk through the audience and hand the flower to his special girl, singing the whole time, we couldn’t even see or hear him because of his standing, jumping, clapping, cheering, excited fellow students. I can’t take credit for what a fantastic young guy he is or what an excellent job he did but I sure was proud.

The second reason why I’m feeling good about the youth of today is because of what happened at Olivet Middle School – 35 miles southwest of my Lansing suburb – last October. You might have seen video or known about this already but I just heard about it on the radio this morning as I drove home from Bryant’s school.

The middle school’s football team – quarterback Parker Smith, wide receiver Justice Miller and the rest of the guys – decided to do something nice for one of their own: Keith Orr, a 95-pound teammate who’s well-liked and learning-disabled. They didn’t disclose their plans to the coaches or anyone else; they just made it possible for Keith to know how it feels to score a touchdown during a home football game. (Check out the CBS News video here.) They wanted, in the words of Justice Miller, “to make someone’s day. To make someone’s week. To make someone happy.”

They sure made me happy. And so did Bryant and his fellow students. We read and hear a lot about the young punks and smart-alecks and criminals among us, it seems, but we seldom hear about the wonderful ones, the respectful and kind and generous kids, the boys and girls who don’t make fun of their peers but lift them up instead.

Today was an uplifting day.

Source: CBS Evening News.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pete Seeger (1919 - 2014)

Space Oddity - David Bowie (live)

Yesterday's Challenge

I was working in Michigan Governor Jim Blanchard’s office on January 28, 1986, the day the Challenger space shuttle exploded 73 seconds after takeoff. I don’t remember any work stoppages or tears or gatherings in the hallways or staff announcements. I just remember seeing news footage of the errant plume of smoke in the blue sky when I got home that night and liking what Ronald Reagan was quoted as saying:

"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God.'"

I still believed in God back then and assumed that Reagan was as devastated by the accident as the rest of us. I didn’t know until recently that some people blame him for what happened to Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik, Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee and Ron McNair. (Yesterday, someone in Facebook typed, “They launched Challenger against engineers' precautionary warnings because Ronald Reagan had scheduled a ‘chat’ with 'the First Teacher in Space,' Christa McAuliffe, for television that night. Reagan killed 'em as surely as if he'd lined 'em up against a wall and shot the poor bastards.”)

Reagan was scheduled to deliver his State of the Union Address that night and may have wanted to include a live conversation with McAuliffe – a 37-year-old teacher from Concord, New Hampshire – in the speech. He ended up addressing the nation about the disaster instead and postponing his big speech until February 4.

I googled the disaster and learned that the following was the cause:

"The accident was caused by a failure in the O-rings sealing a joint on the right solid rocket booster, which allowed pressurized hot gases and eventually flame to 'blow by' the O-ring and make contact with the adjacent external tank, causing structural failure. The failure of the O-rings was attributed to a faulty design, whose performance could be too easily compromised by factors including the low temperature on the day of launch."

Because that dry, technical explanation leaves a little to be desired in the “compelling” department, I’m including the recollections of one of my closest Facebook pals, Deb Gelep, a Florida resident who witnessed the tragedy 28 years ago:

We watched the liftoff every chance we could. The utter amazement of such a monster shooting into space never failed to amaze. The night blasts were our favorite as they lit up the skies with a gold and deep red glow. This one was special to us, though – there were women involved in this adventure – and my 16-year-old daughter, Robin, was witnessing the female species exceed goals and expectations and bridge barriers. This one was more.

I was standing in our backyard with Robin watching the live liftoff, my heart racing for the unimaginable excitement of their adventure. The vapor trail behind the shiny spaceship and the sun shining on a beautiful blue-skied day was a most perfect setting. We were watching intently, heard a boom, first stage separation we thought, but the vapor trail got squiggly, and a couple trails went seemingly a little haywire, and then the vapor trail turned into a Y and we knew something was terribly wrong. I told Robin to run in and turn on the television. I was glued to the vision of that trail, hoping it would start its straight trek into the heavens again, but more things looked to be coming out of the stream and it was heading back to earth. Tears began streaming - as they are now as I recall so vividly the day we lost true adventurers.

We later sat perched together on the edge of the couch, tear stains on our cheeks, watching the reruns, waiting for an explanation, but both pretty quiet. Hopes felt frayed. We witnessed a tragic event. There have been far worse that have hurt our country and her people, of course, but that one was in my backyard.

Another Facebook commenter posted, “I still remember where I was and who I was with when we heard the news. As a kid who grew up a space flight junkie, this event really tore me up, and still bothers me today, knowing as we do now that it didn't have to happen.”

I’m always torn up when people die unnecessarily. I tell myself that everything happens for a reason, though, and maybe in this case NASA’s “flawed decision-making process” and unrealistically optimistic launch schedules wouldn’t have been disclosed if the disaster hadn’t occurred. Maybe the Challenger crew was lost in order to remind us of how precious life is. How courageous some people are. Or how, as Joni Mitchell sang back in 1970, we don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

Almost three decades later, I hope the Challenger heroes are resting in peace and that their loved ones derive comfort from knowing that they have not been forgotten.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Say Something - A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera

Sunday poetry

View With a Grain of Sand

We call it a grain of sand
but it calls itself neither grain nor sand.
It does just fine without a name,
whether general, particular,
permanent, passing,
incorrect or apt.

Our glance, our touch mean nothing to it.
It doesn't feel itself seen and touched.
And that it fell on the windowsill
is only our experience, not its.
For it it's no different than falling on anything else
with no assurance that it's finished falling
or that it's falling still.

The window has a wonderful view of a lake
but the view doesn't view itself.
It exists in this world
colorless, shapeless,
soundless, odorless, and painless.

The lake's floor exists floorlessly
and its shore exists shorelessly.
Its water feels itself neither wet nor dry
and its waves to themselves are neither singular nor plural.
They splash deaf to their own noise
on pebbles neither large nor small.

And all this beneath a sky by nature skyless
in which the sun sets without setting at all
and hides without hiding behind an unminding cloud.
The wind ruffles it, its only reason being
that it blows.

A second passes.
A second second.
A third.
But they're three seconds only for us.

Time has passed like a courier with urgent news.
But that's just our simile.
The character's invented, his haste is make-believe,
his news inhuman.

~ Wisława Szymborska

Monday, January 20, 2014

Playing with Friends

You've Got a Friend - Carole King

Don't Unfriend Me, Bro

I hate being unfriended in Facebook.

Anita and I were talking about this yesterday because I had noticed that my Facebook friends number had decreased by two. She thinks it’s ridiculous that I would even keep track or devote brain cells to this issue. (She unfriends and unfollows people all the time.) So do the few folks who’ve commented on status updates I’ve posted lamenting being unfriended again. It doesn’t matter, they’ve assured me, and I need to get a frikkin’ life.

But sadly, Facebook is part of my life. For me, social media has taken the place of the face-to-face networking I used to do in the 1980s and 1990s. I don’t talk with many of the people who used to comprise my network. They’ve been replaced by the online relationships that I’ve developed over the last four or five years. This is why it seems especially disconcerting when someone gives me a virtual slap in the face, which is how I feel whenever one of these online rejections occur.

It hurts when someone jettisons me in the Land of Lord Zuckerberg. Take my friend Peter, for example. Our friendship dates back 30 years. We worked together. We hung out together. We traveled together and drank too much together and stood up at each other’s weddings and bought our first houses and had kids at around the same time. We gradually grew apart, of course, as people do when marriages end and folks move and priorities and opinions and schedules and even political views change. But we remained connected via Facebook. We still had a tie. We still meant something to each other. Our three decades of friendship still meant something.

Until he unfriended me recently, that is. I don’t know why. Maybe he didn’t find my thoughts and posts interesting enough. Maybe I posted too much or too little. Maybe I served my purpose, whatever it was.

Or take a guy I know who writes a political blog. We’ve never met in real life but we shared a political orientation and our blogs complemented each other, I thought. We linked to each other’s blogs and shared a few e-mails but we weren’t close. Still, I was bothered when he removed his link to “What’s the Diehl?” a few months ago – when I sent him a message asking why, he responded that he decided to link only to those blogs that he reads – and downright hurt when I noticed yesterday that he unfriended me too.

I told Anita that I don’t mind paying for my mistakes and sleeping in whatever bed I made for myself but I resent being “punished” when I haven’t done anything wrong. “Maybe he just didn’t want to see your posts on his news feed anymore,” she answered, “or maybe he was threatened by you. In any case, why look upon unfriending as punishment? You could just shrug your shoulders and realize it’s meant to be.”

She has a point. I do have more than enough drama in my life already. I know I shouldn’t let other people have so much power. It’s their loss, I can tell myself. Still, I’d be lying if I claimed not to care whether or not people want to be connected to me. If I wanted more divorces, I’d call my attorney.

Told you I can be hypersensitive.

Maybe an unfriender could be required to submit a 50-word explanation to the intended unfriendee of why the unfriending needs to occur prior to implementation. That way the unfriendee would know 1) who’s going to unfriend them, 2) why, and 3) who should be stalked as time and resources allow.

Now who wants to read about how I was unfairly blocked by a guy in Twitter?

Click here to read, “University of Colorado Denver Study Shows Facebook Unfriending Has Real Offline Consequences.”

Sunday, January 19, 2014

a Venezia

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? - Al Green

Sunday poetry

The Heart of Herakles

Lying under the stars,
In the summer night,
Late, while the autumn
Constellations climb the sky,
As the Cluster of Hercules
Falls down the west
I put the telescope by
And watch Deneb
Move towards the zenith.
My body is asleep. Only
My eyes and brain are awake.
The stars stand around me
Like gold eyes. I can no longer
Tell where I begin and leave off.
The faint breeze in the dark pines,
And the invisible grass,
The tipping earth, swarming stars
Have an eye that sees itself.

~ Kenneth Rexroth

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Let the Sun Shine In

Sonata heróica - Paola Requena

The Reason Why I'm Sad Today

It was back in 1985 or 1986 – I can’t remember exactly when – and incumbent state Supreme Court Justice Patricia Boyle was running to retain her position on the court. She had been appointed by my former boss, Governor Jim Blanchard, but her term was up. One night, they were looking for warm bodies to serve as extras in a campaign commercial that they were filming in her office after hours so a friend and I hurried over quickly – this was before the imposing Michigan Hall of Justice was built and the Supreme Court was still in the less-impressive G. Mennen Williams state office building – and we ended up in the commercial.

The funny thing about this memory is that at the time, I had been experimenting with a hair-lightening spray called “Sun In” – I had grown up with dark brown hair and thought it might be fun to be blond – which, when sprayed on my head, turned my hair a vivid orange. So when the commercial aired, I was forced to tell my parents that the carrot-topped young clown in the background was in fact their son. Fortunately, Patty Boyle was victorious in spite of my appearance in her commercial and my hair eventually returned to normal.

I didn’t really know her back then but through the magic of the Internet, we became Facebook friends decades later and communicated fairly regularly via comments and private messages. She was an avid “What’s the Diehl?” reader and suggested topics and shared reactions to my posts on U.S. Senator Carl Levin; conniving, greedy slumlord and Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun; and even my increasing atheistic tendencies. (She was a gentle but firm believer.) We talked about presidential politics and the Detroit mayoral race and even my estrangement from my oldest daughter. I had asked her to author a guest post on the topic of her choice more than once because she was so wise and personable but it never happened; she seemed to enjoy our private dialogue but apparently didn’t want to branch out.

It’s too bad because I just learned this morning that Patty Boyle, 76, died of respiratory failure three days ago while visiting her sister in Florida.

Her Official Portrait
Born on March 31, 1937, in Detroit, Patty graduated first in her class from Wayne State University Law School in 1963. Her first law job was as a clerk for a federal judge in Detroit. She worked as assistant U.S. attorney from the mid- to late 1960s and then joined the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. She served as director of research training and appeals for the prosecutor’s office from 1971 until 1976, the same year she was appointed to Detroit’s Recorder’s Court.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter named her to the U.S. District Court in Detroit. She served there until 1983, when she gave up that coveted lifetime position to accept Blanchard’s appointment to Michigan’s highest court – just the third woman to serve in this capacity. She retired at the end of 1998.

Patty earned numerous awards, including two National Organization for Women Feminist of the Year awards and induction into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1986. She and her husband, the late Wayne County Circuit Judge Terrance Boyle, had four sons, one of whom is an Assistant Prosecutor in Oakland County.

I’m really sad about this. Although she lived a long and illustrious life and was loved and respected by many, she still had much to offer her friends and family. This state. This world. Me.

Rest in peace, Justice Boyle. Thank you for everything.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Bel-Air

Daughter - Youth

Dolts on the Holt School Board?

"All politics is local."
~ Former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O'Neill

The late Mr. O’Neill is credited with coining this phrase which, according to Wikipedia, “encapsulates the principle that a politician's success is directly tied to his/her ability to understand and influence the issues of his/her constituents.”

The seven elected members of the Holt Public Schools Board of Education apparently never learned this.

They and Superintendent Dr. Johnny Scott have ignored community input on a number of school reorganization issues within the past several months and have enraged parent and student alike. First there was the proposal to “repurpose” the elementary school, Midway, where my older three children all attended and my youngest still goes. To erase a significant budget deficit, Midway will become an early childhood center, whatever that is. (School officials have already changed one of the district’s other five elementary schools, Sycamore, to operate year-round.) All I know is that this move is supposed to save $300,000 and Midway’s 350+ five- to ten-year-old students will soon be going elsewhere. (Devina, my eight-year-old, is heading to a different, completely unfamiliar school next year.)

Anita and I read the district’s “Review of Proposed Plan for Educational & Economic Stability” – aka ‘the plan’ – last March and sent Superintendent Scott a respectful letter asking him to reconsider but he never responded.

Another component of the school district’s plans involves relocating next year’s high school seniors to what is currently the freshman campus building across the street from the main school and bringing the freshman into the high school. No one seems to know why this swap is taking place – it’s supposedly to save $200,000 per year and offer early community college credit opportunities – but a multitude of parents, students and teachers attended last Monday night’s school board meeting and urged the politicians to reconsider. They refused.

This prompted 200 high school students to stage a real, live sit-in yesterday at the high school. Although the kids’ behavior was said to be calm and peaceful, the powers-that-be still thought it necessary to arrange for eight – yes, that’s EIGHT – police cars to converge upon the school at one point. (To add insult to injury, the cops left their vehicles running while they assumed positions inside the school.)

It was at this point that Anita decided to head to the ninth grade campus and bring our 14-year-old freshman, Nikita, home to keep her safe. (Police officers in this country have pepper-sprayed, shot and killed innocent people and animals. Not that the coppers who were at Holt High School were there to do any of that – but why were they there?)

Courtesy April Jones-Cole
I’m not sure what lesson our young people learn when their efforts to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly are met by a small phalanx of armed, uniformed officers. Nikita told me that the police should not have been there – “There were enough teachers to deal with the few students who had bad intentions,” she said – and that the sit-in was democracy in action. “The power pyramid is upside down,” she added, “and it needs to crumble. Students need to have a stronger voice.”

Spoken like a true long-haired member of the Chicago Seven, huh?

I spent a little time in a Facebook group entitled, “Holt Community Matters” yesterday and saw how much folks resented being given short shrift by the politicians on the school board. A sample of their comments:
  • I have never witnessed before Monday night's board meeting such blatant disregard by a school board of their community. The unanimous vote to move ahead with ‘The Plan’ in the face of such concern by parents, students and residents should speak volumes to every one of us about how our school board and administration view their tax-paying constituency. 
  • If you cut 10% of the administration's pay, that represents $207,032 in savings right there.
  • The administration and board repeatedly tell us they have community support for this plan. I would like to see their proof. I have asked to see it, but they have none. The board was extremely condescending last night. Don't tell me what's best for my kids. I already know, thank you. We handed them over 600 signatures against this plan. They blatantly disregarded us.
  • This is not about fear of change. It is about not wanting to make change for change's sake. The administration does not have a clear plan for this, no research to back up their plan and it is being forced through for next year ONLY to make room for more Schools of Choice students. It is not that we don't want any Schools of Choice, it is that we already have a quarter of our enrollment from Schools of Choice and enough is enough.
  • What stands out to me is the rabid, unwavering position some of these folks have. There is little discussion on this board, but rather inflammation, rhetoric and lots of finger pointing. There has to be a better way.
One commenter warned, “The district will become broke as the State of Michigan's K-12 funding cuts kick in next year and the year after. That's why this is all happening: we voted in people who cut funding to schools. We're just feeling the effects now.”

Courtesy Abby Mealy
Everyone knows that Holt Public Schools’ deficit has to be addressed somehow and that years of reduced state aid haven’t helped. (In the 2011-12 school year, the state cut school aid by $470 per pupil. Note: as I write this, state politicians are trying to decide how to spend a $971 million state budget surplus.) The people of Holt just don’t take kindly to being treated callously and kept in the dark by school officials.

Authorities insist that the process has been collaborative – community meetings and forums have been held for some time that have included school personnel, parents, PTOs, band and athletic boosters, service clubs and even the “ministerial alliance,” whatever that is. But I can attest that the “Review of Proposed Plan for Educational & Economic Stability” is lacking in specifics and clarity, and the hundreds of parents and students who feel shat upon can’t be wrong, can they?

Feel free to visit the school district’s main website or the “Reinventing Holt Public Schools” website or read a FAQ about ‘the plan’ if you’re so inclined. There will be no test, however. I can’t afford it.

Update: In their infinite wisdom, school honchos have decided to meet with students only tomorrow afternoon. Parents and media are not invited. Odd, huh?

Sources: Nikita Welch,, Lansing State Journal, Holt Public Schools.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Rock On


Sunday poetry

For Hürrem Sultan

My resident of solitude, my everything, my beloved, my shining moon
My friend, my privacy, my everything, my shah of beautifuls, my sultan.

My life, my existence, my lifetime, my wine of youngness, my heaven
My spring, my joy, my day, my beloved, my laughing rose.

My delight, my wine, my tavern, my lamp, my light, my candle
My orange and pomegranate and sour orange, my candle of night.

My plant, my sugar, my treasure, my delicate in world
My saint, my Joseph, my everything, my Khan of my heart´s Egypt.

My İstanbul, My Karaman, my land of Rum
My Bedehşan, my Kıpchak, my Bagdad, my Horosan.

My long-haired, my bow like eyebrow, my eye full of discord, my patient
My blood is on your hands if I die, mercy o my non-Muslim.

I am a flatterer near your door, I always praise you
Heart is full of sorrow, eye is full of tears, I am Muhibbi and I am happy.

~ Suleiman I (The Magnificent)

Thanks to Michelle Young for this suggestion.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Winter Wonderland

Photo by Tom Watkins
Shot from his window across the street
from Masonic Temple

Underrated - The Rocket Summer

Sunday poetry

In Praise of Self-Deprecation

The buzzard has nothing to fault himself with.
Scruples are alien to the black panther.
Piranhas do not doubt the rightness of their actions.
The rattlesnake approves of himself without reservations.

The self-critical jackal does not exist.
The locust, alligator, trichina, horsefly
live as they live and are glad of it.

The killer whale's heart weighs one hundred kilos
but in other respects it is light.

There is nothing more animal-like
than a clear conscience
on the third planet of the Sun.

~ Wislawa Szymborska