Photo by Issaf Turki
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Sudden Appearance of a Monster At A Window
Yes, his face really is so terrible
you cannot turn away. And only
that thin sheet of glass between you,
clouding with his breath.
Behind him: the dark scribbles of trees
in the orchard, where you walked alone
just an hour ago, after the storm had passed,
watching the water drip from the gnarled branches,
stepping carefully over the sodden fruit.
At any moment he could put his fist
right through that window. And on your side:
you could grab hold of this
letter opener, or even now try
very slowly to slide the revolver
out of the drawer of the desk in front of you.
But none of this will happen. And not because
you feel sorry for him, or detect
in his scarred face some helplessness
that shows in your own as compassion.
You will never know what he wanted,
what he might have done, since
this thing, of its own accord, turns away.
And because yours is a life in which
such a monster cannot figure for long,
you compose yourself, and return
to your letter about the storm, how it bent
the apple trees so low they dragged
on the ground, ruining the harvest.
~ Lawrence Raab
Sunday, February 16, 2014
This evening, the sturdy Levis
I wore every day for over a year
& which seemed to the end in perfect condition,
How or why I don't know,
but there it was--a big rip at the crotch.
A month ago my friend Nick
walked off a racquetball court,
got into his street clothes,
& halfway home collapsed & died.
Take heed you who read this
& drop to your knees now & again
like the poet Christopher Smart
& kiss the earth & be joyful
& make much of your time
& be kindly to everyone,
even to those who do not deserve it.
For although you may not believe it will happen,
you too will one day be gone.
I, whose Levis ripped at the crotch
for no reason,
assure you that such is the case.
Pass it on.
~ Steve Kowit
Sunday, February 9, 2014
One day in a popular quarter of Kharkov,
(O that southern Russia where all the women
With white-shawled heads look so like Madonnas!)
I saw a young woman returning from the fountain,
Bearing, Russian-style, as Roman women did in the time of Ovid,
Two pails suspended from the ends of a wooden
Yoke balanced on neck and shoulders.
And I saw a child in rags approach and speak to her.
Then, bending her body lovingly to the right,
She moved so the pail of pure water touched the cobblestone
Level with the lips of the child who had kneeled to drink.
One morning, in Rotterdam, on Boompjes quai
(It was September 18, 1900, around eight o'clock),
I observed two young ladies on their way to work;
Opposite one of the great iron bridges, they said farewell,
Their paths diverging.
Tenderly they embraced; their trembling hands
Wanted, but did not want, to part; their mouths
Withdrew sadly and came together again soon again
While they gazed fixedly into each other's eyes...
They stood thus for a long moment side by side,
Straight and still amid the busy throng,
While the tugboats rumbled by on the river,
And the whistling trains maneuvered on the iron bridges.
Between Cordova and Seville
Is a little station where the South Express,
For no apparent reason, always stops.
In vain the traveler looks for a village
Beyond the station asleep under the eucalyptus:
He sees but the Andalusian countryside: green and golden.
But across the way, on the other side of the track,
Is a hut made of black boughs and clay,
From which, at the sound of the rain, ragged children swarm forth,
The eldest sister, leading them, comes forward on the platform
And, smiling, without uttering a word,
Dances for pennies.
Her feet in the heavy dust look black;
Her dark, filthy face is devoid of beauty;
She dances, and through the large holes of her ash-gray skirt,
One can see the agitation of her thin, naked thighs,
And the roll of her little yellow belly;
At the sight of which a few gentlemen,
Amid the aroma of cigars, chuckle obscenely in the dining car.
Post-ScriptumO Lord, will it never be possible for me
To know the sweet woman, there is southern Russia,
and those two young friends in Rotterdam,
And the young Andalusian beggar
And join with them
In an indissoluble friendship?
(Alas, they will not read these poems,
They will no neither my name, nor the feeling in my heart;
And yet they exist; they live now.)
Will it never be possible for me to experience the great joy
Of knowing them?
For some strange reason, Lord, I feel that with those four
I should conquer a whole world!
~ Valery Larbaud
Translated from the French by William Jay Smith
Friday, February 7, 2014
It's been a while since I last asked for some coinage from "What's the Diehl?" readers. I've been plugging away, however, to give you something to read, something to think about and hopefully, something to support.
Whether it's the provocative poems that appear on Sundays, the cool music clips or the essays on politics, current events, Facebook and family, there's something for everybody - assuming you're open-minded, tolerant and at least a little left-of-center, that is.
Won't you click on the "donate" button on the upper right and make my day?
Barack Obama’s visiting my community today. He’s expected to sign the controversial Farm Bill into law this afternoon just a few miles from my home near Michigan State University.
Why is it controversial? As the Washington Post pointed out last week in an editorial entitled, “This Farm Bill Deserves a Veto”: “It is only a slight exaggeration to say that this legislative grotesquerie gives to the rich and takes from the poor.” (I want to buy the person who came up with “legislative grotesquerie” a beer.)
After the U.S. Senate passed the almost 1,000-page bill, which funds agriculture and food stamps and represents around $1 trillion in spending over the next decade, President Obama praised its passage and insisted that it would “protect the most vulnerable Americans.”
B*llsh*t. It protects the status quo. The only thing that’s different is how.
here to read, “Snap to It, Congress! Stop Spending So Much to Feed the Hungry!,” June 1, 2013; here to read, “On Subsidizing Agribusiness and Giving Hungry Folks the Bird,” July 13, 2013; and here to read, “Warning: I Was Cynical When I Wrote This,” November 8, 2013.) I couldn’t understand then and I can’t understand now why U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) – who I used to know and support – goes along with literally disgusting cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) while allowing Big Ag to continue to receive the government largesse to which it’s become accustomed. (Senator Stabenow was quoted as saying, “This is not your father’s farm bill.” Since I’m pretty sure my father wouldn’t want to subsidize Big Ag at the expense of hungry children, I’d have to agree with her on this.)
In the blink of an eye, the debate seemed to move from “Should we allow SNAP to be slashed at all by heartless, pandering Republicans?” to “Can we agree, albeit grudgingly, to significant cuts to SNAP that will certainly hurt millions of America’s poorest because, well, they’re not as devastating as what GOP politicians originally were threatening?” There was also that silly “food stamps don’t belong in the Farm Bill anyway” distraction; conservatives tried to justify robbing from the poor to give to the rich by pointing out that our legislative process is complex and convoluted. (How would pols hide their audacious pork barrel spending if everything were streamlined and transparent?)
Photo courtesy Reuters/Rebecca Cook
Why the Associated Press called the SNAP cuts “mostly symbolic” is a mystery to me. According to Takepart.com, “For the 47 million people enrolled in the food assistance benefit program, the average monthly household income is just $744. Last November, when $4 billion of stimulus funding for SNAP ended, all recipients were hit with an average reduction in benefits of roughly $38 per month. Now, the new farm bill will add a further average cut of $90 per month for some 1.7 million people.”
It’s really necessary to cut food assistance for 850,000 households and force people to choose between paying rent and buying food?! I don’t know what world D.C. politicians live in but it sure isn’t the same one that I inhabit.
Senate Passes Long-Stalled Farm Bill, With Clear Winners and Losers” includes the following: “Unlike the food stamp program, the federally subsidized crop insurance program was not cut. The program, which is administered by 18 companies that are paid $1.4 billion annually by the government to sell policies to farmers, pays 62 percent of farmers’ premiums.” (And get this: a provision in the bill prohibits the U.S. Department of Agriculture from renegotiating smaller payments to these private insurance companies over the five-year life of the bill. Sweet, huh?)
Here’s what the same Takepart.com article said about the ag side of things:
“The 10 percent of farmers who have received 75 percent of all subsidies between 1995 and 2012, according to the Environmental Working Group, have earned an average of $32,043 per year in federal payments. While it lays to rest the direct payment program, which guaranteed farmers a chunk of cash regardless of what they grew or how prices or weather fluctuated in a given year, the new farm bill shifts that money into the crop insurance program. The corporate welfare status quo is therefore largely maintained. Under two new programs, Agriculture Risk Coverage and Supplemental Coverage Option, eligible growers will be guaranteed revenues of at least 86 percent of earnings from recent years – years when crop prices hit record highs.”
Doesn’t that put your mind at ease? If my math is correct, $32,043 divided by 12 (months per year) equals more than $2,670 per month for farmers. I like and respect family farmers as much as the next person – Big Ag, with its contemptible concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and massive waste lagoons, is a different story – but I just can’t swallow taking food out of the mouths of babes, literally, anywhere in this country which is what these SNAP cuts are going to do.
(If you missed the speech and it wasn’t on purpose, click here.)
As if this isn’t bad enough, out of all the places in America where agriculture is important, the president has to come to my neighborhood to sign this grotesquerie into law. Thanks a lot, Obama.
Sources: MLive.com, Takepart.com, Washington Post, New York Times, ABCNews.com.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
This post is about civility in Facebook – or rather, the lack of it in some quarters.
I noticed an interesting meme in a Facebook group yesterday:
As I read the comments below the post, I felt compelled to disagree with those who found the meme offensive and untrue. All I said was, “I disagree. I find the meme provocative and sadly accurate.”
Well, you’d think I called the original poster a Nazi and his mother a whore. He instantly went into attack mode, telling me I knew nothing about the Holocaust and ridiculing my use of the word “provocative.” Another Facebooker weighed in, agreeing with me, but Original Poster would have none of it. He reverted to the habit of shouting – AKA TYPING IN ALL CAPS – which should have been my cue to exit the “conversation.” Instead, I stuck around to see him post an educational video clip and accuse me of “slandering the living hell out of Holocaust victims.” How he got from “I disagree” to “Holocaust victims were ugly, unscrupulous jackasses who didn’t have the sense God gave a goose” is beyond me.
Fortunately, Other Facebooker who I mentioned above posted the following summative comment:
"One of most appalling lessons to be learned from that nightmare is that seemingly good people are capable of allowing horrendous things to be done to their neighbors and friends without batting an eye or intervening."
I ended up being blocked by Original Poster – who also blocked Other Facebooker and deleted the entire exchange, meme included – and gaining a new virtual friend (Other Facebooker). After Original Poster erased all traces of our reasoned debate, another friend pointed out that shutting people up and removing all traces of them was in fact something that Hitler also tried. Is that ironic or what?
Groupthink. Maybe some folks just can’t handle being challenged or consider any viewpoints other than their own. Maybe it’s Obama’s fault. Or maybe it's my fault. As I’ve aged, I’ve embraced the idea – right or wrong – that I’ve earned the right to speak my piece without caring if others like me or not. I really should temper my temper and remind myself that I’m probably not going to change any minds in the Land of Lord Zuckerberg. But it’s just so aggravating when people are wrong.
At least I never type IN ALL CAPS.
Monday, February 3, 2014
I'm straying from my normal routine of posting a music clip because I think this ad - which supposedly aired during last night's Super Bowl XLVIII although I missed it - is really well-done and needs to be seen. I'm doing my part.
Update: I'm told the ad was from last year's game. It's still good.
Update: I'm told the ad was from last year's game. It's still good.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Nancy Pelosi refused to appear on Comedy Central’s Emmy Award-winning “The Daily Show” again anytime soon.
Ms. Pelosi, the top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, appeared...er, let’s just say “out of touch” during her interview with Jon Stewart last Thursday night. It was so bad, in fact, that I wanted to fly to the Big Apple, barge into the studio on 11th Avenue, sneak onto the set, take her hand and gently guide her offstage before she could look any worse. Lucky I remembered the show was taped and I was watching it two days later.
She appeared scattered and confused during much of the interview (see below); although it was obvious that she had a great deal of knowledge and wisdom stored in her cranium, she wasn’t successful at sharing it with the Comedy Central audience. I was on her side when she took exception to Stewart insisting that Democrats have been just as corrupted by money in politics as Republicans. I thought she was right to point out that the important thing is not to pass legislation just to pass it; rather, it should be crafted in such a way as to actually be implementable. And I agreed with her that progressives seem to care more about clean air and water and public health, housing and transportation than conservatives.
Open Secrets, almost 30 current and former Pelosi staff members have gone through the “revolving door.”) And her insistence that conservative politicians were responsible for Congress’s lack of productivity, while true, came across as juvenile.
I’m not familiar enough with the former Speaker of the House to know if this feeble performance was the norm or the exception but given her achievements, I expected more from her. (I imagine she didn’t expect the more-liberal-than-conservative Stewart to prove as challenging as he did. He may have been responding to criticism that he’s not sufficiently hard-hitting when interviewing politicians.) What pleased me most was Ms. Pelosi’s quick acknowledgement that both legislative and executive branch Democrats suck at messaging. That’s been one of their biggest flaws for years in my opinion.
The House minority leader’s voting record is a mixed bag. I like how she supports increased background checks for potential gun owners and an assault weapons ban. She supports raising the minimum wage, medical marijuana and Obamacare. (She was an early and instrumental supporter of health care reform.) Back in 2002, she opposed the Iraq War resolution authorizing George W. Bush to use military force against that country. (She was no fan of Dubya.) And she voted against allowing oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
|Curie, Corrie and Thomas|
I was sad that her appearance was so wince-worthy because as stepdad to three girls, I’m always looking for female role models to introduce to Nikita, Maya and Devina. If she’s not careful, Ms. Pelosi will fall below Marie Curie, Rachel Corrie and Helen Thomas on my “Women I Dig” list. Who wants that?
Sources: Center for Responsive Politics, TheBlaze.com, Mediaite.com, Washington Times, Comedy Central.
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Watching Football on TV
It used to be only Sunday afternoons,
But people have got more devoted now
And maybe three or four times a week retire
To their gloomy living room to sit before
The polished box alive with silver light
And moving shadows, that incessantly
Gives voice, even when pausing for this message.
The colored shadows made of moving light,
The voice that ritually recites the sense
Of what they do, enter a myriad minds.
Down on the field, massed bands perform the anthem
Sung by a soprano invisible elsewhere;
Sometimes a somewhat neutral public prayer.
For in the locker rooms already both
Sides have prayed to God to give them victory.
Totemic scarabs, exoskeletal,
Nipped in at the thorax, bulky above and below,
With turreted hard heads and jutting masks
And emblems of the lightning or the beast;
About the size of beetles in our sight,
Save for the closeup and the distant view,
Yet these are men, our representatives
More formidable than ourselves in speed and strength
And preparation, and more injured, too;
Bandage and cast exhibit breakages
Incurred in wars before us played before:
Hard plaster makes a weapon of an arm,
A calf becomes a club. Now solemnly
They take up their positions in the light,
And now their agon will begin again.
~ Howard Nemerov