Friday, April 29, 2016
|Courtesy Rebecca Cook/Reuters|
Everybody on the planet – except, perhaps, the scruffy, bearded man who lives in the woods near my house – has probably heard about the water crisis in Flint. In short, poor decision-making by politicians led to residents being forced to drink and bathe in lead-contaminated water for several months. What’s made matters worse is watching Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, dance clumsily around the fact that either he or his people knew about the unfolding tragedy long before it hit the international news. He’s astounded Democrats and Republicans alike by blaming virtually everyone – from “career bureaucrats” in Lansing to U.S. EPA officials and from Flint politicians to his own staff – for poisoning thousands of individuals in this predominantly African-American community. I’m surprised he hasn’t pointed a disingenuous finger at the scruffy, bearded man who lives in the woods near my house.
Anyway, federal GOP lawmakers voted last week in favor of an amendment – known as the “Coats Amendment,” named after Indiana GOP Senator Dan Coats – to an Energy/Water spending bill that gutted an advanced vehicle manufacturing program within the Energy Department. The money for that program could have been used to fund infrastructure repairs in the city. (Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said at the time, “Today, Republicans voted to remove a funding source for legislation to tackle Flint's water crisis without offering a single dime to clean their poisoned water.")
Click here to read, “Democrats Blast GOP Senators for Vote Against Flint.”
I don’t understand how anyone can publicly flip the bird to an entire community, to go on record saying, in essence, “F*ck you, Flint. Tax breaks for millionaires and unnecessary wars are more important than helping children who are forced to drink and wash in lead-contaminated mud.”
Click here to read, “Do presidents stop nominating judges in final year?” at Politifact.com. And click here to read, “Obama can appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court if the Senate does nothing” in the Washington Post.
Although I think the Post author unfairly paints Democrats with the same brush as Republicans, this excerpt sums things up well:
Today, the system seems to be broken. Both parties are at fault, seemingly locked in a death spiral to outdo the other in outrageous behavior. Now, the Senate has simply refused to consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, dozens of nominations to federal judgeships and executive offices are pending before the Senate, many for more than a year. Our system prides itself on its checks and balances, but there seems to be no balance to the Senate’s refusal to perform its constitutional duty.
It’s infuriating how Senate Republicans refuse to do anything or let President Obama do anything – and then complain about the dictator in the Oval Office, the imperial president who has the gall to jump over the roadblocks they’ve placed before him at every turn to actually serve the people and achieve something and earn his paycheck.
I know I’m not the only person who can remember when lawmakers came together in times of hardship or crisis, when they rejected partisanship and focused on what constituents needed. It’s not news that somewhere in the years that have passed, screwing voters has become the standard response to any crisis or proposal. What’s looked at first on each piece of legislation is the party affiliation of the sponsor(s) and whether or not Barack Obama supports it; if he does, it’s sent to a committee to die. The merits of the bill, the need it fulfills or the problem it addresses, have become secondary. Partisan gridlock has replaced compromise and getting money for nothing – while denying it to those who deserve it – has replaced forming sound public policy. Sadly, making the rich richer and the poor poorer is now the modus operandi in Lansing and Washington.
How do we fix this? Four letters, people: v-o-t-e. And just don’t be an African-American resident of Flint, Michigan.
|This photo of Senate Majority Leader |
Mitch McConnell, one of the most disgusting
politicians ever, is courtesy Scott Applewhite/AP
Sources: Politicsusa.com, PBS.org, Inquisitr.com, RT.com, WNEM.com, WDET.org, WashingtonPost.com, Politifact.com, rollcall.com, MLive.com.
Friday, April 22, 2016
I saw Prince and the Revolution perform live at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit back in 1982 when he was just becoming the superstar that he is/was. I didn't pay as much attention as I wish I did now. And last year I needed money so I sold all my records - including Prince’s Controversy, 1999, Purple Rain and Around the World in a Day albums – which adds to the already-deep sadness I feel today.
He wasn’t just a rich and famous celebrity to me. He was my 20s, when everything was fresh and new and the possibilities were still endless. He was my first marriage, which I thought would last forever and didn’t. He was funk and creativity and dance and confidence and genius and escape and magic. He was anti-corporate before anti-corporate was cool, a former slave who wouldn’t be quiet, an unpronounceable symbol for a time because that’s how he rolled.
He made race irrelevant and unnoticeable. He made me want to have swagger like him. He could say with a look what I needed a paragraph to convey. He could take a color – purple, of course – and make it his. If he wanted to use eyeliner and carry a cane and bare his ass in pants that didn’t seem finished, he did. If he wanted to captivate with his sensuality, he f*ck*ing did it and if you had a problem with it, the problem was yours. The neighbors in my first apartment building must surely have wondered why a heterosexual guy from the suburbs would play “Do Me, Baby” over and over again with the volume dial at 11. This little man was huge.
His oddness was part of his allure. He was a recluse but not in a monkey-carrying, Ferris Wheel-riding way; it was a genius-exploring- musical-boundaries-and-writing-songs-that-would-be-played-for-decades kind of way. He was “Darling Nikki” – my favorite Prince song – and “Diamonds and Pearls” and “Sign O’ the Times” and of course “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry” but also “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Controversy” and “Little Red Corvette” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” He was “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “I Would Die for U” and “Delirious” and “U Got the Look” and “Raspberry Beret” and “Cream” and “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Kiss.”
I reference all of these songs not because I’m a lazy writer who needs to lengthen my blog post; they’re listed because each has such meaning, such “listenality,” such “Princism.” Each is noteworthy and more than funk or pop or story-telling. Each, in its own way, marks days and weeks and months and years in my life. I don’t remember what I ate for dinner last night but I remember where I was, who I was with and what we were doing when I heard each of these songs for the first – and second and third and fourth, etc. – time.
One of my all-time favorites, perhaps surprisingly, is not a Prince song, although no one who’s heard the version to which I refer – with Prince, Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne, Billy Preston and others during a 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame tribute to George Harrison – would argue with you if you said it was. Because he OWNS it. His truly indescribable guitar solo during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which seems so effortless and fun for him, is earth-shattering, musically, for me. It’s one of those songs (and videos) that I can hear and watch again and again and again, until the person I’m with begs me to stop or my head explodes, whichever comes first. The Beatles may have first recorded it in 1968 but Prince & Friends revive it, kick-start it, breathe new life into it and turn it into a monster, something with which you’ll instantly fall in love whether you’re a music aficionado or a casual listener.
As I shared in Facebook yesterday, I know there are important things going on in Washington and around the world right now. I know there is suffering and pain, politics and problems, hunger and taxes, and that the death of a rich and famous music superstar can become a distraction from what really matters. But Prince really matters to me. His music really matters, and his persona, and his untimely, way-too-young death (he was 57, only three years older than yours truly), and his memorable contributions to our culture matter. It’s always sad when people lose loved ones, when lives end, when the unexpected passage of celebrities shocks us and reminds us of our mortality. But this is a big one. This is huge. This is something to write home about, or at least blog about. This one really hurts.
Rest in peace and power, Prince Rogers Nelson, and thank you for adding dimension to my life and memories that make me smile and cry.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Prince had more talent than any one human being should have.
I know there are momentous happenings, great suffering
and significant developments all over the world but for now, I mourn the death
of a guy I never met whose music made my life so much better.
and significant developments all over the world but for now, I mourn the death
of a guy I never met whose music made my life so much better.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
For the babies who read “What’s the Diehl?,” there was a time when the Republic of Iran was scarier than a gulag in the USSR or a dark neighborhood in Detroit, when just saying the word “Iran” made people shiver, swear or sigh. This is partly because we always need Boogey Men – be they Russians or North Koreans, Cubans or Mexicans – to distract and scare us, and partly because some Iranian students did kidnap more than 60 Americans in November of 1979 and hold them hostage for 444 days. (They were released minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as our 40th POTUS in January of 1981.)
It’s still difficult for some to reconcile images of the frowning, stern-looking Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s Supreme Leader and the Osama bin Laden of the late 1970s, with those of smiling Iranian citizens waving American flags and holding their babies. But I can.
I used to have friends in Iran – in Tehran and Shiraz, to be exact – with whom I’d chat online. This was back around 2009 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president and his re-election, which many thought was rigged and invalid, was the impetus for massive riots in the streets of several Iranian cities. I lost touch with these folks, sadly, but not before I learned that contrary to what I was led to believe by my government and media, Iranians aren’t ignorant, savage terrorists. Most are honorable, intelligent, peace-loving individuals who dislike their government as much as many of us disliked ours when Dubya was screwing things up over here in ‘Murika.
It was during the anti-Ahmadinejad protests that Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old student who was watching the action in Tehran but not participating, was shot in the chest and killed by Basij, the volunteer paramilitary force established by Khomeini in 1979 to police morals, suppress dissident gatherings and back up law enforcement. Neda’s death was captured on video by bystanders and was broadcast over the internet. I saw it and still can’t forget it.
See “Sorry, Iran” from November of 2011.
|Courtesy Hamed Saber|
Then I received an e-mail asking me to join in the call for the release of Bahareh Hedayat, a women’s rights defender and activist in her mid-30s who was sentenced in 2010 to years in prison for “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “acting against national security.” When I asked the one Iranian friend I still have – let’s call her “Mandana” – about Bahareh, she responded this way:
“It’s a heart-wrenching story. It’s made the international news and I hope they release her soon, but there are thousands more just like her who may never see the light of day.
“Human rights abuses around the world are beyond the average American’s comprehension,” she added, “and still we want to throw up roadblocks needlessly for folks fleeing these cesspools.”
(This is exactly why I find the carnival freak show that is Donald Trump alarming, not amusing. But more on this in a future blog post.)
But Mandana wasn’t finished.
“I have a knit blanket that was made by a 20-something woman who had acid poured on her by the Basij for having hair showing out of her hijab. She was blinded in the attack and learned how to knit just one pattern. She made baby blankets to earn a living. I never had the heart to use it with my babies; there was just too much pain in the thing. I still have it, though.
“The Basiji are assholes. It triggers all kinds of similar fears when I see armed Trump supporters roaming to ‘protect’ their own at rallies. We just never learn.”
Mandana and I agreed that the ignorance of humanity and our collective insistence on repeating the same mistakes are worse than hemorrhoids, snakes and sour milk combined.
The petition for Bahareh Hedayat has been signed by 130,665 supporters; organizers need just 19,335 more to reach their 150,000 goal. As Mandana said, there’s an untold number of others suffering like her but I don’t know their names or if they have petitions. I do know, now, about Bahareh.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
~ Pastor Martin Niemöller
By the by, my country is not entirely peace-loving and guilt-free. Few Americans are taught that the U.S. shot down a civilian Iranian airplane in the summer of 1988 over Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, killing 290 innocent passengers and crew – including 66 children. And I read that America has been at war 222 out of 239 years since 1776. So there’s that.
I love this photo of Iran's Sadegh Saeed Goudarzi
and American Jordan Ernest Burroughs embracing
on the medal podium after a wrestling match
during the 2012 Olympics (Reuters)
Mandana fled Iran during the 1979 Revolution, came to the United States, married and raised two children. (She’s now divorced; her daughter is 19 and her son is 17.) She gave me permission to share what she told me.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
The above photo is one of the most touching that I’ve ever seen. I was lucky enough to run across it in Facebook this morning.
The photographer – who I don’t know or else I’d credit her or him – did what I imagine is the goal of every person with a camera: (s)he made me think. A lot. This photo make me think of my frail, maternal grandmother, who passed away a few years ago after a long, relatively healthy life (albeit a sad and lonely one toward the end, being a widow and the resident of a senior citizens’ home hundreds of miles from her grandkids and great-grandkids).
It also made me think about my 76-year-old mother, who lives almost 12 hours away and who I haven’t seen in years. As I may have shared before – the memory’s the first to go, they say – we used to be very close but have drifted apart in recent years. This is through no fault of hers; she’s made every effort to stay in touch, even friending me in Facebook and periodically posting “Don’t forget your mother because she won’t be here forever” memes on my wall. I’m almost entirely to blame for what must surely appear to be conscious neglect but is in fact due to two things: 1) I’m not good at juggling the many important people and things in my life, and have gotten worse with depression and the passage of time, and 2) I don’t want to burden or alarm my parents with my problems, my unhappiness and even my shame about certain aspects of my life at 54.
I’m not proud of this. And I know that at some point – I hope not any time soon, of course – I will have to face what Anita’s already faced and so many others my age face: the dreaded phone call and resultant feelings of devastation, shock, misery, guilt, loss, sadness, anger and emptiness, the disbelief and the never-ending pain and regret. So why the hell don’t I visit more often, call more often, show love, respect and appreciation while she’s still here rather than in her eulogy?
I really don’t know.
After years of therapy, I learned that I’m holding on to some resentment because my parents decided to move 700 miles away, to abandon me two marriages ago for their own reasons relating to their careers and finances, the weather and the opportunities that come with a significant relocation. They aren’t close enough to loan me money, provide free babysitting, host me for the holidays or fix my house and car like some of my peers enjoy. Their ability to offer advice is limited and I can’t just get in my old, rusty Buick and drive five miles to their home when I need mom and dad. I know this now, and I’m embarrassed to admit it because it’s not like I’m a little boy or even a young, self-absorbed adult anymore. I’m old enough to be a grandparent myself. And I wouldn’t want my parents or my kids to put their own lives on hold to support mine, to pass up opportunities and suppress their goals.
My grandma lived into her 90s so part of me hopes I’ll have time to fix this, to be there for my mom like she was there for me, time and time again, throughout my childhood, challenging teen years, early adulthood and every time, without fail, when I’ve asked for help since then. But of course there are no guarantees and as Ben Franklin or Leonardo DeCaprio or Plato or Aesop or Dr. Seuss suggested, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
I probably won’t be able to hold my mom in my lap, to wrap a blanket around her and tell her how much I love her and show her that I mean it by caring for her as she cared for me. But maybe I will. And I hope that if and when I do and someone happens to take a snapshot of the two of us, people who look at it will be able to see the same strength, love and devotion that the man above clearly shows.
I’ve got to go call my mom now.
Friday, April 8, 2016
I love my kids. I really do. But it amazes me how they can aggravate, frustrate and agitate me like Donald Trump or my partner’s ex. I know I’m not shattering Earth with this pronouncement. But I’m sharing it nonetheless because one of my therapists advised me once to get everything off my chest except nipples and hair.
I know all about the “adjusting the boundaries” and “cutting the apron strings” and “letting them learn to find their own way.” But what about “causing you to develop stress acne” and “making sure your wallet never contains green paper for long?” What about “good kids will be bad” and “prepare to be insulted like your worst enemy insults, only nastier?” How come Spock didn’t tell us to prepare to become Uber drivers because progeny have places to go? How come nurses don’t hand out “Get Ready for This, Chumps” brochures with our swaddled newborns when we leave the hospital?
|Seems Like Yesterday|
Take my 16-year-old, for example. How can she laugh with me, make me smile, turn me on to great new music and sit next to me on the couch instead of across the room one minute and scream that she hates me – really despises me, wishes I were dead and promises to help make that happen while I’m asleep – the next?
How did my 14-year-old go from a loving little boy, a genuinely sweet and happy, respectful and talkative child one day and suddenly prefer to spend 1,435 minutes behind the closed door of his room every day (when not at school or with friends) and the other five towering over me, grunting and complaining and demanding that I buy him something that he absolutely, definitely, urgently needs for this practice or that field trip, for this planned outing with pals or that simple whim?
How did my 13-year-old go from being active and energetic, aware of the world around her and excited to interact with people and animals to preferring to lay on her bed, isolated, Samsung Galaxy 6 in hand, watching Desperate Housewives and The Walking Dead on Netflix all day, every day?
I can’t include my 11-year-old in this mild rant because she still listens, cleans up and creates special moments to be savored and remembered. For now.
There are times, of course, when they do something nice or something I asked immediately and without complaint. There are times when they say or write something sweet and hang their wet towels instead of dropping them on the floor. But these moments are now fleeting and few and far between.
I know their happiness should be my number one concern, that I should tolerate and alleviate and mitigate the negative and prepare them to be compassionate, productive, grateful citizens when they leave the nest. I know I should strive to make sure they’re well-mannered and well-spoken, free of the sense of entitlement and unrealistic expectations that so many permissive parents breed in their offspring. But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I just want to escape to somewhere with TV remotes I can control, floors I can see and beer I can drink without guilt. Sometimes I just want to be relieved, albeit just temporarily, of the need to break up fights, adapt to moodiness, give up plans and tolerate slammed doors. Sometimes I just want to focus on me.
I guess this is what I get for helping to propagate my species.
My children can be truly wonderful – when they’re around their Mom and others. They can display potential and understanding, good humor and determination, flexibility and likability when not in my presence. I am crazy about them and I'm thankful I don’t have the kind of kids I read about – when I get a chance to read.
Saturday, April 2, 2016
Josh Fielder, my good friend and fellow writer (see “Facebook Friends Like Fielder”), touched on something in a recent essay that I want to write about as well: the inaccurate labeling of Bernie Sanders as a Ralph Nader-esque spoiler whose candidacy is going to give us President Trump just as Nader’s helped to give us Dubya the Dense back in 2000. This is just plain wrong and I’ll tell you why.
Nader’s participation in the 2000 presidential campaign was never taken seriously by anyone other than Green Party members who supported him (and others who considered themselves mavericks but were in actuality just neophytes and naysayers desperate to break the lock that our two parties have on politics in America). He was an oddity, an activist with great name ID and lousy interpersonal skills who based his campaign almost solely on fixing this country’s broken political machine rather than on anything that most voters cared about. His persona was underwhelming; he was like the crabby uncle who was newly sober and who showed up for Thanksgiving bitching about the traffic.
Nader wasn’t leading a revolution; he had already made his mark as the most prominent of consumer advocates, the guy who killed Chevy’s Corvair by labeling it “Unsafe at Any Speed” and who, together with “Nader’s Raiders,” helped bring about the Clean Water Act and other milestones of the time. Young people didn’t know who he was and old people thought he was a fool to throw his hat into the ring and tarnish his formerly-stellar reputation as the King of Consumer Protection.
Sanders is leading a genuine revolution, bringing young and old into his unconventional tent with his promise to really clean up the system and make life better for all of us, not just the one percent. His rallies pack stadiums and his fundraising success impresses even the most seasoned political moochers. Unlike Ralph Nader, Bernie Sanders has become a real threat to the Powers that Be and a stark difference from his Democratic opponent with her flip-flopping messages and corporate ties.
|You Know Who|
In fairness to the guy, he did found Public Citizen, a respected NGO that focuses on consumer rights in Washington, D.C. He did fight nuclear power and promote environmental protection before it was cool. He was anti-war and pro-Civil Rights. He did step out on a limb again and again to advocate for the voiceless. If only he hadn’t run again and again for a job that he had no real shot at getting.
Sanders, conversely, does have a shot. A real one, to the chagrin of many. He’s not trying to spoil Hillary Clinton’s chances. He’s trying to win and he might.
Friday, April 1, 2016
I don’t have a problem unfriending people in Facebook. It doesn’t matter if I know them in real life or not. It doesn’t matter if they’re family, female or male. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been friends forever or have friends in common. If they’re churlish, condescending, childish or combative, they’re gone.
I’ve decided that at my age – I turned 54 two weeks ago – I shouldn’t have to suffer fools gladly or tolerate behavior from adults that I don’t allow my own children to display. And because this is a particularly divisive political season, with a seemingly gigantic chasm separating Clinton and Sanders supporters, I find myself rubbed the wrong way by some folks almost daily. Well, guess what? I’m done.
As the following video clip conveys – much more eloquently and precisely than I could – it’s not the fact that some folks are behind Clinton and not Sanders. It’s the condescension, the dripping sarcasm and belittling and better-than-thou posturing that are so infuriating. I’ve been in or around politics for over three decades now and I can’t remember the last time I felt this insulted, this patronized and disregarded by people on my supposed side of the aisle. I expect this kind of intolerant, unacceptable behavior by GOP clowns but the fact that vitriol and ridicule are being leveled by my supposed allies is surprising and downright depressing.
I concede that some in Sanders’ corner are shrill and strident. But downright rude and bulldozer-like? That’s coming from Clintonites. This Facebook status is a case in point:
You should care, folks. You should care that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, are flocking behind Sanders and joining his “revolution.” You insult and ignore us at your peril. And listen to this: I started out respecting those in the Clinton camp even while I didn’t share their preference in candidates – see “Why I’m Not Voting for Hillary Clinton” – but I’ve been mistreated and had my feathers ruffled to such an extent that I can’t envision myself voting for her should she indeed be coronated by the Democratic establishment. I’ve gone from “If she becomes the nominee, I’ll hold my nose and vote for her” to “Screw her and let’s let the chips fall where they may.” You can thank yourselves, Clinton supporters, for turning dedicated Democrats into disgruntled observers who would sooner sit on their hands than turn out for the “lesser of two evils” on Election Day.
I’m tired of hearing about how important potential Supreme Court appointments would be and how Sanders won’t be able to get anything done and how it’s time for a woman to occupy the Oval Office. At the risk of sounding like a middle-aged white guy, no, it’s not. It should be about voting record or policy positions, not penis or vagina. I would like to be able to vote for a female candidate, in fact, but not this one. Not this pro-establishment, pro-corporation, pro-status quo female. Not this two-faced, flip-flopping, disingenuous, unlikable, war-mongering individual who actually does women a disservice by running the kind of campaign that she’s run and allowing her surrogates and supporters to take swipes at her progressive opponents instead of defending her positions.
Think she’s not unlikable? Watch this:
It’s fitting that this piece is being posted on April Fool’s Day. Why? Because only fools would allow Facebook “friends” to malign and marginalize them for leaning toward a guy who’s been fighting the good fight for decades rather than someone who regularly changes positions and chastises those who point this out. Instead of warning me not to sit on my hands, Hillarybots, how about not making me want to?
If it’s wrong of me to act pissed off and petulant, so be it. At 54, I’d rather retain my self-respect than tell my kids that I didn’t do what I should have done because my Facebook friends didn’t want me to.