Nov 30, 2005

Getting Out The Word About Their Return

NSM's Sergeant Mark Martin of Dayton, at the October 15 visit; photo by historymike

There has been a flurry of neo-Nazi activity the past few days in Northwest Ohio. Several Toledo media outlets have reported the appearance of swastikas spray painted on Point Place properties. No suspects are yet in custody.

In Bowling Green, the NSM's Mark Martin got into a little trouble Saturday night. BG News is reporting that Martin was caught putting flyers on cars in the Meijer parking lot, which is in violation of store policy. He left after being confronted by store security.

Approximately one hour later, Martin and other NSM members were stopped by Bowling Green police for placing flyers in newspaper boxes and handing out fliers to passersby on Main Street. The NSM members left without incident after BG police explained the ordinance to them.

NSM's Commander Jeff Schoep was not pleased with what he saw as a double stndard.

"I’m just wondering why communists are allowed to pass out their literature and white nationalists are not,” he told BG News.

Addendum, 3:00 PM: Bill White announced on his website today that the city of Toledo has granted NSM's request for a permit for the planned December 10 rally. This is despite campaign claims by Mayor Ford that he had a legal strategy to prevent or hinder an NSM return. The rally will be held at One Government Center December 10, 2005 from 2 PM to 4 PM.

Lieutenant Ron Navarro also confirmed to me that the group has received permission to rally, but noted that the State of Ohio was the party of record, because One Government Center is technically state property.

Nov 29, 2005

NSM's Bill White Blasts Local United Church Of Christ

Left: NSM members at the aborted October 15 rally in Toledo; photo by historymike

(Toledo, OH) National Socialist Movement (NSM) spokesperson Bill White lashed out at local members of the United Church of Christ in response to the church's plan to develop "peace teams" to be on hand for the return of the NSM on December 10 in Toledo.

Labeling the UCC a "small, heretical sect," White said that the formation of the peace teams to "presumably break the law and disturb the peace in order to stop the National Socialist Movement from saying things the United Church of Christ disagrees with."

The UCC has approximately 1.3 million members in 6,000 churches across the US.

White said that the local Toledo UCC is confronting the NSM over several issues, including "burning of their churchs throughout the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge mountain area" and a "gay UCC activist" who purportedly posted comments at Google News that White is gay.

The pastor of Pilgrim Church UCC, Reverend Larry Cameron, disagreed with White's charges.

"I know absolutely nothing about his claims," he said, declining an invitation from me to email him a link to the website. "The formation of the peace teams is in response to the violence in Toledo on October 15, and our desire to avoid any future violence here in Toledo."

Contrary to White's claims, Cameron said that peace teams are expected to remain completely within the law.

"These peace teams are composed of ordinary people who go through special training in de-escalating violence," he said. "At no point are members of the peace team allowed to break any laws."

Cameron believes that the misconception about peace teams arises from the actions of radical members of the peace movement.

"Perhaps anyone drawing that conclusion is thinking of people chaining themselves to fences, or lying down on roads to block traffic at military bases," he said. "Peace teams are not about that; they work together as a non-anxious presence between groups for which there is the possibility of violence."

White implied in his post that the peace teams will likely disrupt the December 10 rally by "blocking roads and peacefully breaking the law and disturbing the peace." The true goal of a peace team, said White, is to "disrupt the free speech of people it disagrees with."

Cameron, however, denied that any such activity will take place, and described the goal of peace groups as "apolitical."

"All people deserve the right to freedom from violence," he said. "Peace teams do not take sides, and they gather solely for the purpose of helping calm down situations where there is conflict."

Much of the activity of peace teams revolves around dialogue, said Cameron.

"We have found that people are less likely to act in a violent manner when they are talking calmly," he said. "By listening and getting people to calm down, peace teams have been successful in reducing conflict and avoiding violence."

Pastor Cameron added that persons interested in becoming a member of a peace team can attend a training session this Sunday (December 4, 2005) at 12:30 PM. The training will take place at Pilgrim UCC, which is located at 1375 Sylvania Avenue between Jackman and Lewis.

Nov 28, 2005

The Hawaiian Islands: Peace, Love, and Depopulation

Left: King Kamehameha I, from Hawaiian State Archives

The effects of the introduction of Eurasian diseases upon an immunologically naïve population can perhaps be best illustrated by the example of the Hawaiian Islands. Not only were the islands of King Kamehameha I geographically isolated, but firm data for the decline of Hawaiian population has survived. A sophisticated island culture that evolved over a period on thousands of years had been reduced, in little more than a century, to a society on the brink of extinction.

When Captain James Cook stumbled upon the Hawaiian archipelago in 1778, the chain boasted a population of between 500,000 and 800,000 people. While he might have been preceded by Spanish galleons on their journeys between Mexico and the Philippines, Cook was the first Pacific explorer to leave a record of reaching Hawaii. He revisited the region one year later to discover the remainder of the major islands, dropping anchor in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island. He named the cluster of islands the Sandwich Islands in honor of the Earl of Sandwich.

The first recorded disease epidemic, referred to in local tradition as oku’u, occurred on the Hawaiian Islands in 1804. This outbreak may have been typhoid fever, since high fever was accompanied by severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Hawaiian oral tradition estimated that over one-half the population died during this epidemic; King Kamehameha himself suffered (but survived) from the deadly illness. The King’s military forces, which were massed in preparation for an attack on Kauai, suffered devastating losses, as over two-thirds of the soldiers died before the disease ran its course.

The Hawaiian monarchs traveled to London in 1823 to visit King George IV, taking up residence at the Caledonian Hotel after a six-month journey. King Liholiho and Queen Kamamalu visited theaters, dined with leading dignitaries, and acquired a variety of European goods for their palace. In addition, they acquired something unanticipated, which was a relatively mild (for Europeans) childhood disease: measles. Unfortunately for the immunologically-naïve Hawaiian sovereigns, measles proved to be fatal; the King and Queen died in July 1824 in London.

The simultaneous introduction of measles, whooping cough, and a strain of influenza dealt a triple blow to native Hawaiians in 1848-49; the death rate of the sick during this period was estimated at 10%. On the heels of this disease wave came smallpox; the 1853 outbreak had a mortality rate in excess of 20 percent.

From an estimated population of 500,000 persons in 178, the number of indigenous Hawaiians dwindled to 40,014 in 1884; this represents a decline in population of 91.99% in slightly more than a century. What is even most striking about these census figures is that the population figures include persons of partial Hawaiian ancestry.

The arrival of tuberculosis most likely coincided with that of Cook’s ships in 1778; according to expedition records, numerous shipmates were afflicted with this malady. In a previously unexposed population, the mortality rate of tuberculosis has been demonstrated to be approximately 10%.

Another pathogen entered the Hawaiian environment, perhaps as early as Cook’s voyage in 1778, which not only extracted a high death toll but also depressed birth rates: syphilis. The island chain had become a major stopover in Pacific expeditions for provision replenishment, repairs, and shore leave. A physician, William Hillebrand, summed up the ravages of this disfiguring and sometimes deadly disease:
…[this is] no random assertion, but one based on experience and approximative calculation, that in 10 natives, 9 have been infected with this disease [syphilis] at one time or another in their life.

Thus, the experience of the Hawaiian Islands mirrors those of indigenous groups throughout the Americas: an immunologically-naïve native population, through the introduction of Eurasian diseases, underwent depopulation rates as high as 95% during the first century after contact. Any inherited immunity to the new diseases among the natives did not express itself as a regenerative factor in such populations until numerous generations had passed.

This is an excerpt of a book project I am working on, which focuses on the role of epidemic disease in history.

Nov 27, 2005

Fun Site To Map The States You Have Visited

I don't usually post these things, but I had a lot of fun recalling the various states I have visited in my life.

Looks like I have a lot of places in the West to explore!

create your own personalized map of the USA
or write about it on the open travel guide

Thanks to Valbee for the fun weblink.

On The Role Of Bloggers In Journalism

This is an unpublished essay that has been languishing on my hard drive for a few weeks; I am looking for input from you, my blogo-friends, to more fully develop it for publication.

(Toledo, OH) The ubiquitous PC and the explosion of Internet activity have changed the nature of communications in general and journalism in particular. Perhaps no phenomenon in the information revolution, however, has the potential for transformation as the weblog.

Designated homepages were once the province of computer geeks, and tended to focus on more mundane content such as family life and technical arcanity.

Matt Drudge jolted the world of journalism with his arrival as the first truly virtual news site. He was the first to break the Monica Lewinsky saga, and the Internet was no longer seen as a novelty.

The emergence of the weblog (known colloquially as the “blog”) brings the power of publication to anyone with a modem or wireless connection. From one’s front porch the events of the day can be recorded for the world to see.

From personal experience I have found that bloggers have a competitive edge over mainstream media in their ability to get unfiltered information out in near-real time. Wireless signals can be found in the most unexpected places – even in the middle of neo-Nazi rallies and urban riots – and digital photography and video allows images to be broadcast across the globe without the interference of a corporate bureaucracy.

I dance on a tightrope between both jorunalistic worlds (not to mention my academic writing); I freelance for local and national publications while simultaneously devoting a lot of time to blog work. I am thus looked on with suspicion by some bloggers, who see me as tainted with mainstream media biases. Mainstream journalists, though, tend to view bloggers with disdain, and I have been chided for "wasting my time" by shortsighted traditionalists who have yet to recognize that the Internet is permanently changing the field of journalism.

The blogosphere, however, lacks any sort of consensus as to traditional standards of journalism. Some argue that this is the height of freedom, while others fear that non-professionals entering the field of journalism pose a threat to the quality of published news.

Personally I believe that a balance will be achieved between the two extremes, and that bloggers will act as both a check against the mainstream media as well as being a supplement. Stories ignored by the mainstream media will get the coverage they deserve, while extremists and conspiracy theorists will still occupy their position on the rhetorical fringes.

Nov 26, 2005

Annual Tree Ritual

Left: The children embarking on an arboricidal mission

(Toledo, OH) With sunny skies and warmer temperatures, we ventured out today to to complete one of our annual family traditions - the slaughtering of a pine tree for our holiday decorating.

More specifically, the kids gravitated toward the Douglas firs this year. After more than a few minutes of occasionally heated debate, the arboreal victim was chosen, and each of the children took a few participatory slices through the tree's trunk.

Our family holiday traditions bear more in resemblance to those of Chevy Chase than Norman Rockwell. The snow, in today's balmier weather, happened to be excellent packing, and various sibling grievances were aired out in snowball form.

Left: The sacrificial victim moments before the saw ended its peaceful existence

The eight-mile ride home took an interminably long time given the horrific conditions to which my children were subjected. The middle seat of our gas guzzling SUV, the scene of one of the aforementioned snowball skirmishes, became the least desirable position given the melted snow ("Idiot! YOU threw the snowball, so YOU sit in it!"). A last-minute decision to tightly bale the tree and put it in the truck, rather than historymike's vision of strapping it to the roof, became a source of consternation as kids kept moving it away from themselves (and toward the nearest sibling: "Stop pushing that thing into me! It's making my eczema worse!").

And yet, despite the squabbling, everyone was pleased with the choice, and the event is now part of family lore.

Let's just hope that no squirrels were hiding in the tree.

The Patois of Denial: The Legacy Of Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-83)


Left: George HW Bush with former Argentine President Carlos Menem

History, Terror, and Deformed Language

The use of language to describe historical events is not simply the province of academics; the very purposes of spoken and written words are to communicate knowledge and ideas to other people. As an important part of shared culture, recorded history provides an element of cohesion between members of a social group.

Language, however, also proves to be a useful tool to those who might wish to manipulate collective memory. The efforts by the Japanese government to deny or downplay the appalling atrocities committed in 1937 by the Japanese Imperial Army in Nanking are a consummate example of the deliberate use of rhetoric in an attempt to rewrite history. Seisuke Okuno, serving as land agency chief in Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita's cabinet, declared in 1995 that, despite the deliberate massacre of between 300,000 and 400,000 Chinese civilians:
[t]here was no intention of aggression. The white race had made Asia into a colony, but only Japan has been blamed. Who was the aggressor country? It was the white race. I don't see why Japanese are called militarists and aggressors.

A similar culture of deliberately misdirected language arose in Argentina during and after la guerra sucia ("dirty war"), in which as many as 30,000 Argentine citizens were murdered by right wing death squads. Far from being an ancillary product of political turmoil, disingenuous rhetoric was a deliberate, planned behavior by individuals who, for varying reasons, sought to minimize, justify, or deny the horrors of Argentina’s Dirty War. The comments of Admiral Emilio Massera underline this premeditated linguistic intent: “We know that in order to repair so much damage we must recover the meanings of so many embezzled words.”

The Responsible
Los desaparecidos ("the disappeared ones") received their respective fates at the hands of quasi-military operatives, whose actions were at least tolerated, if not actively encouraged, by the highest levels of the military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976-83. These individuals, understandably, necessarily approached any discussion of their activities with an element of self-preservation. The examples of the convicted Nazis in the Nuremberg trials likely lingered in the minds of these Dirty Warriors, and efforts by such persons to rewrite history should be understood within this context.

On its way out of office in 1983, the military junta released its Documento final de la junta military (Final Report), which sought to provide an official report on the past seven years of dictatorship-by-committee. The document contained the following quote that attempted to settle any lingering grievances over the kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder of Argentine citizens by announcing “genuine Christian pain over any errors [emphasis added] that may have been committed in the fulfillment of its assigned mission.”

The Final Report also broached the subject of the many thousands of los desaparecidos. The document’s authors asserted that the missing individuals were “living in exile”, “residing in Argentina with false identities”, or else they “should be considered dead, even when it is not possible to determine the date, place, or cause of death.” In an ominous note, General Videla intoned that many of these would be “absent forever.” Indeed, the Final Report took the art of obfuscation to new rhetorical heights, as vicious crimes were linguistically reduced to innocuous-sounding phrases.
Left: Montage of vicitms of Argentina's Dirty War

The very existence of the detention centers, which numbered some 340 during the years 1976-83 , was ignored by the outgoing junta in its assessment. The report simply ignored the detention, torture, and death of the thousands of arrested citizens. The generals erected a wall of silence in the form of the Final Report, seemingly arrogant in the face of outrageous abuses of human and civil rights.

The passage of time has not softened the rhetoric of those responsible for los desaparecidos. An unrepentant General Jorge Rafael Videla, former President during the Dirty War, emerged from prison following his 1990 pardon and made the following statement: “[w]e should be thanked for saving the Nation from chaos and the menace of subversion.” Frustrated at the demonstrations by victims and victims’ families that occurred during the twentieth anniversary of the reign of terror, Admiral Massera went on the offensive. He opined that “the so-called victims brought it on themselves.” One of the most brutal torturers, Julio Simón (also known as Julián the Turk), adamantly defended his actions: “What I did I did for my Fatherland, my faith, and my religion. Of course I would do it again.” He also defended the brutality of the camps with the following justification: “Look, torture is eternal. It has always existed and always will. It is an essential part of the human being.”

As architects, builders, and executors of the Dirty War, it is not surprising that those responsible have sought to reduce, refute, and rationalize their crimes against humanity. Avoidance of prosecution and retribution are powerful motivators. The motivations those whose hands are not stained with the blood of the victims and, yet, seek to engage in rhetorical distortion are more difficult to comprehend.

The Compliant
The next category of those who would misrepresent the realities of la guerra sucia I refer to as “the compliant;” that is, individuals who acknowledge historical reality but seek an end to its ability to influence the present. During and after the terror, many individuals acquiesced in the face of mounting evidence of horrific transgressions committed and justified under the guise of due obedience.

Leading this category is former Argentine President Carlos Menem, and a hint of his accommodating nature could be found in his inaugural speech, in which he said: “I hate to see even birds in cages.” Within the next twelve months, Menem would issue an executive order that pardoned hundreds of military officers who were still subject to prosecution for their Dirty War crimes, as well as a pardon that freed the convicted ex-commanders. Ever the pragmatist, Menem also pardoned purported leftist subversives; unfortunately, three of the “pardoned” were long dead, six already had cases dismissed by the courts, and four had already been released. In a moment of “balance” that strains credulity, Menem described his actions as seeking equilibrium between the “two demons” of la guerra sucia.

In a much-maligned speech during the twentieth anniversary of the coup, Menem continued to defend his decision to issue the pardons:
Events have proven me right [declared Menem in the March 24, 1996 speech]. I regret nothing. We had to pacify the country in order to transform it. We have definitely closed the wound.

Many officials of the Catholic Church have earned a place in the category of the compliant. Italian Cardinal and Papal Nuncio Pio Laghi was among those who were well-versed in the horrors of the military regime but chose to go along with a policy of accommodation. He chastised local priests following a special mass; in the words of one priest who witnessed the admonishment, “he said we were overly concerned with politics.
Left: Papal nuncio Cardinal Pio Laghi with Pope John Paul II

On the subject of the general repression, political prisoners, and disappearances, he was ambiguous…” A master of double discourse, Laghi “repeatedly denied ever having known anything about the inner workings of the repression,” even as other Church officials simultaneously “praised him for having saved people.”

Joining the Papal Nuncio in this group was Monsignor Emilio Grasselli, who was the secretary to the Military Chaplain. Grasselli compiled a list of some 2,500 victim names – in index card form – during the Dirty War. On this ecclesiastical list, the names of those known to be dead at the time were denoted with a cross next to the victim. Grasselli, however, acted as a sympathetic voice for the junta, as recounted here in the words of a family member:
He [Grasselli] told us that the young people [detainees] were in a rehabilitation program in houses that had been set up for that purpose and where they were being well treated…he told us that Videla was the charitable soul [emphasis added by Feitlowitz] who thought up this plan…he said the work was carried out with psychologists and sociologists, that there were medical teams to deal with their health, and that for those who could not be recuperated, it was possible that ‘some pious soul’ might give them an injection to make them sleep forever…

The compliant, as a group, might be considered to be utilitarian bureaucrats who see historical reality as an inconvenient roadblock to an orderly society. As political figures with substantial investment in the Argentine establishment, the warped rhetoric of Menem, Laghi, and Grasselli follows a certain crass, though lamentable, logic. The actions – and inactions – of those who refused to believe the increasingly obvious terror defies easy comprehension.

The Unseeing
Many Argentines, both during and after the Dirty War, chose to live their lives in a state of blissful ignorance. As long as the terror did not directly affect them, or their loved ones, many citizens simply paid no attention to evidence of government-sponsored terrorism. The rhetoric of the “unseeing” is filled with such logical inconsistencies.

Of course, a certain proportion of the mass sightlessness can be attributed to the government, which labored to induce social anesthesia. Acting as the junta mouthpiece, La Prensa issued the following proclamation under the headline of “Activity All Over the Country Is Normal”:
Yesterday was another day of absolute tranquility in the interior of the country…business and industry, as well as urban and suburban transportation, were normal. By the afternoon, more people could be seen downtown, shopping and carrying out their usual activities in provincial administrative offices, which also functioned normally…

Like the Ozzian Wizard, the junta deftly attempted to direct the public’s gaze away from what was painfully apparent: Argentine citizens, en masse, were disappearing.

Some of the unseeing were frightened into blindness, as “seeing” could become one’s ticket to a detention center. El silencio es salud – “silence is health” - became a wry commentary on life in day-to-day Argentina. In the words of Soledad B., an Argentine interviewed by Marguerite Feitlowitz, “you got to a point where you didn’t dare to direct your gaze, you were no longer able to focus.” The escalating violence itself became the numbing agent desired by the government.

Other Argentines seemed to force themselves into denying that which they had witnessed, almost as if they engaged in a willful suppression of the truth. Feitlowitz interviewed a resident of Villa Devoto named Suki M., who initially stated: “Us? We knew nothing. Nothing!” The professional party-planner claimed no knowledge of the brutal repression that occurred mere blocks from her house.
Left: Tumba colectiva ("mass grave") of Argentine dead

The conversation, however, suddenly took a strange twist, as Suki suddenly began to describe the kidnapping of a young woman. While dropping off an invitation order at a printer, she witnessed “two men shoving her, stuffing her –oof! – into a car.” Suki continued: “Even now, you have to wonder. Did it happen? Can it be?” Pressed for further details by Feitlowitz, Suki seemed to switch to a willful denial of her newly-uttered words: “No. We knew nothing. Even now.”

Whether to deny, mitigate, or excuse the realities of the Dirty War, individuals have employed – and continue to employ – a calculated language of distortion towards the era of los desaparecidos. Denial of historical reality, however, provides the gainsayer scant fortification, as John Locke asserted:
The ignorance and darkness that is in us, no more hinders nor confines the knowledge that is in others, than the blindness of a mole is an argument against the quicksightedness of an eagle

This is an as-yet unpublished essay that was inspired by the excellent book A Lexicon of Terror by Marguerite Feitlowitz (1998).

Nov 25, 2005

Living Simply, Simply Living: The Relevance Of Thoreau’s Walden In A Hyper-Capitalist World


On this, the most holy of days in the religion of consumerism, I am reprinting an essay I wrote for the journal Swans. I hope that you are able to keep in perspective that which is most important this holiday season.

The landscape of the present-day United States bears but little resemblance to the land described by Henry David Thoreau in Walden; the nation today is crisscrossed with multilane interstates, pocked with shopping malls and big box retailers, and the American wilderness has largely carved into zones for suburban and exurban housing.

It might be tempting for modern students to conclude that Thoreau has nothing to offer contemporary readers, since the land that he portrayed has changed so dramatically during the years since the publication of his literary magnum opus. Such a superficial dismissal of Walden is indicative of more than the usual undergraduate complaints about irrelevant classics; it suggests a national mindset that Thoreau’s ideas are incompatible with the modern American consumerist ideology. With this backdrop, a strong case can be made for the argument that Walden’s messages have even more relevance today than when Thoreau wrote the book; his advice of living simply – and simply living – takes on greater urgency in this era of fanatical consumption.

Thoreau believed that human beings did not require massive, palatial dwellings in order to live a healthy and joyful life; he decried the tendency to construct “for this world a family mansion, and for the next a family tomb.” His experimental home near Walden Pond reflected this philosophy, as it was largely constructed from second-hand materials. Thoreau built the house with an eye toward utility; there was virtually no wasted space, and every accoutrement had a useful function. At one point in the narrative, Thoreau considered the value of several rocks that once occupied a place on his desk:

I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw them out the window in disgust. How, then, could I have a furnished house? I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on the grass, unless where man has broken ground.

Thoreau perhaps foresaw the present American obsession with expensive suburban homes, recognizing a growing demand for domiciles that did not simply provide protection from the elements. The typical modern three-bedroom urban bungalow – which dwarfs most of the dwellings from Thoreau’s era – is no longer seen as the ideal home that it once was in the post-World War II building frenzy. Consumers seek, and builders construct, extravagant structures on large lots, and this high-end focus is fed by a consumerist obsession with grandiosity and newness. In America the dominant belief is that excellent living can only be accomplished through ownership of a newly-built palace with acres of perfectly-manicured lawns.

Left: Walden Pond today

This lifestyle, of course, cannot be maintained without a hefty income, and Americans are thus forced into the position of requiring high-wage employment to support their suburban estate. The manor cannot be preserved if its inhabitants do not work over half of their waking hours in slavish devotion to obtaining money; Thoreau presciently noted that “we may regard one third of that toil as the cost of their houses.” Thoreau suggested that this dilemma was evidence that “men have become tools of their tools.” The suburban house, then, rules over its residents, who must scurry about like so many worker ants to sustain it.

The culture of conspicuous and redundant consumption that has evolved in the United States pressures individuals to acquire luxurious possessions and to replace perfectly functional goods with those that are purportedly newer and improved. Thoreau noticed this phenomenon during his lifetime, declaring that the “childish and savage taste of men and women for new patterns keeps how many shaking and squinting through kaleidoscopes that they may discover the particular figure which this generation requires today. The manufacturers have learned that this taste is merely whimsical.”

This neurotic consumerism further increases the pressure on people to work more, leaving less time for more enjoyable pursuits. The typical American worker annually toils away for two weeks’ worth of vacation time, the earning of which leaves him too exhausted to enjoy his respite; he hopes to live long enough to pass his twilight years sitting in a tattered chaise lounge watching shuffleboard on the activity deck of a Sunbelt retirement center. Thus, one toils countless hours during the prime of life to be rewarded with a few short moments when the physical ability to take pleasure in living is in rapid decline. Thoreau noted the absurdity of this philosophy, and extolled the virtues of simplicity:

In short, I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one's self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely; as the pursuits of the simpler nations are still the sports of the more artificial.
Left: View across Walden Pond submitted by a regular reader of this blog; I love the way the sun's rays streak down in this photo

Life, in a society that worships possessions and acquisitiveness, could more accurately be described as drudgery. For a person trapped in the continuous cycle of consumption, there is precious little living; one cannot suddenly decide to spend time enjoying the natural world when there are financial obligations that loom, Leviathan-like, overhead. Thoreau argued that he had obtained a wealth – simple living- that had far greater significance than monetary gain:
Many a forenoon have I stolen away, preferring to spend thus the most valued part of the day;for I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days, and spent them lavishly; nor do I regret that I did not waste more of them in the workshop or the teacher's desk.

In an era that had just recently lost the sobriquet of “frontier,” Thoreau recognized that the natural wilderness of the country was integral to the health and well-being of its human inhabitants. He argued that there is a certain restorative quality provided by nature, which he called the “tonic of wilderness.” Man, according to Thoreau, was inextricably linked to the world in which he lived, and that any attempt to divorce oneself from nature was an exercise in foolishness. This advice goes largely unheeded in an American society fixated on attempting to remove or control every last vestige of nature.

Corporations promote poisons to eliminate insects and rodents from our immediate surroundings, while convincing consumers that they are inadequate homeowners if any plant other than hybrid Kentucky bluegrass dares to push through their neatly-trimmed and herbicide-laden lawns. Human hair, which developed on the body over many millennia as a form of protection against the ultraviolet rays of summer and the chill of winter, is portrayed today as an undesirable trait – except on the top of the head – and thousands of products are marketed to eliminate this vital bodily component from our legs, backs, nostrils and ears. Finally, our desire to conquer nature has engendered in Americans a collective lack of concern for the environment; the very air that we breathe and the water that we drink have become fouled, and the possibility exists that we may so pollute and degrade the planet that human life may no longer continue.

As a journalist I once covered a municipal council meeting on the application filed by a corporation to amend the zoning laws in order to allow the company to build a controversial coking plant. Advocates for the facility argued that it would bring jobs and tax revenues to the city of Toledo, while opponents argued that the plant would produce toxins that could wreak havoc in an already-polluted regional watershed. I was most struck by a corporate supporter, who claimed that the environmentally-minded activists wanted everyone to “live like hermits in a shack, like Thoreau.”

Left: Chipmunk in a tree near Walden Pond submitted by a regular reader of this blog

Of course, Thoreau specifically warned readers that he was not advocating his extreme experiment in asceticism, admonishing that “I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account.” He was demonstrating that it was possible to live in such a manner as did not require endless, senseless toil. The advocate for the coking plant constructed her argument with the false dilemma that we have only two choices: industrial development or a Neanderthalian subsistence. Unfortunately, many Americans subscribe to this corporate ideology, and fail to recognize that it is possible to find a middle ground that encourages responsible stewardship of the planet’s resources and a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity.

The act of living simply, unfortunately, requires a leap of faith on the part of the individual; members of the cult of consumerism are barraged with media messages exhorting them to worship the god of consumption. To preach against this religion is akin to cultural heresy; people who advocate a simpler lifestyle are viewed as lunatics or, even worse, Marxists.

Left: Thoreau's restored cabin today

Merely mentioning the idea that one might, say, trade in a car for a bicycle is enough to raise eyebrows (assuming that the person still has hair above their eyes, and that they have not been waxed or shaven in an attempt to meet the fashion ideal of a hairless human). Thoreau recognized that this belief is a precursor to change, and that a man who “has not faith, he will continue to live like the rest of the world, whatever company he is joined to.”

Perhaps we should not be too concerned with converting the mass of humanity to a simpler life, and should just live the ideal. Internal resistance in people cannot be overcome with an external force, and people must want to alter their behavior before change can occur. The example we set by living a simple life might be the best medicine for the consumptive disease that has infected the American body politic.

Living simply produces hidden benefits to followers, and not the least of these is one’s physical health. The stress of struggling to meet the financial burdens of a lifestyle of excessive consumption takes its toll on the human body; what for example, is the physical cost of a daily one-hour, one-way commute? In one calendar year, such work travel – which is not unusual in bigger cities – adds up to over 500 hours of time spent cramped in a shiny metal box breathing air laced with automobile exhaust. Simply living is perhaps the best advice that Thoreau offered; as a slave in the service of the consumer economy of the modern United States, a person has precious little time to enjoy living. Voluntary simplicity offers people an opportunity to reduce the amount of time spent in mindless acquisitiveness, and frees them for more rewarding pursuits.

Nov 23, 2005

First Winter Storm Of The Year

Left: Radar image of today's storm courtesy of

(Toledo, OH) Northwest Ohio received its first legitimate winter storm today, snarling traffic on one of the busiest travel days of the year. Perhaps 2-3 inches of snow have fallen in my neighborhood.

As usual, the first snow also brought an avalanche of accidents in the city (sticking with the motif) caused by people not used to the slippery conditions. My auto was among today's dented vehicles; a careless driver pulled right into me. Luckily for both of us I was driving one of my ancient beaters, as the damage was too insignificant to even do more than shake hands and drive away.

My faithful friend Hershey, a senescent Labrador, knew exactly where to be tonight. He is the ultimate outside dog, and only comes in when temperatures dip below zero. He keeps receiving stays of execution from his procrastinating human cohabitants, and seems determined to prove the veterinarian wrong.

As long as he can still walk without assistance, and canine aspirin holds his arthritis at bay, I will continue to stoically put off his date with the Grim Reaper (historymike's tongue firmly in cheek).

If nothing else, Thanksgiving will have the blanket of meteorological authenticity that we always hope for, but detest driving through.

North End Resident Wins Gun Case, Slams Nazis

Left: Tom Szych; photo by historymike

(Toledo, OH) Tom Szych, the Bronson Street resident whose dispute with a neighbor was used by the National Socialist Movement (NSM) as justification for their failed October 15 rally, recently had charges dismissed against him.

Szych was also able to reclaim his .38 caliber pistol and ammunition, seized by Toledo Police on August 3 after neighbor children claimed that he pulled his gun on them.

The length of time it took for the case to work its way through the system was frustrating to Szych.

“The court kept sending me back to a mediator to settle the dispute,” he said. “I finally demanded my day in court, because I knew that I had done nothing wrong.”

Szych said that his lawyer is finishing work on a lawsuit against officials of the city as well as NSM. He said that he was unfairly targeted as the reason for the neo-Nazi group’s demand to march in Toledo.

“The mayor and the police chief both knew that I was not involved, but kept naming me as the cause for the Nazis coming,” he said. “Their actions caused people to blame me and attack my house.”

Szych was especially angry at the actions of the neo-Nazis.

“I never met with NSM at any time,” he said, adding that he has an affidavit from an NSM spokesman to that effect. “They showed up in September and spoke to my dad, but never told him who they were. They just said that they were setting up an organization to deal with gang problems.”

Szych said that his father felt deceived by the NSM.

“Once he found out that they were Nazis, he told them to leave,” he said. “My dad was even angrier when they tried to con my brother the same way.”

One of the most difficult things for his family has been the accusations that Szych is a racist.

“If I was a racist, why would I live in this neighborhood, or send my kids to an integrated school?” he asked. “Why would I sit on my front porch and hang out with one of my friends who happens to be black?”

A neighbor also filed a complaint alleging aggravated menacing against Szych, and claimed that the incident occurred during the riot.

"There was a big problem with the complaint, though," he said. "I wasn't even in town that day. Luckily, I had the paperwork to prove to the investigating detective that I was in another state that day."

Szych, who volunteers as a local PTA officer, said concerned parents at one of his children's schools began to make wild accusations.

"One parent insisted that I show her the PTA's books and prove that I was not using organization money to fund the Nazis," he said, adding that things are beginning to return to normal. "So we had to go to the principal's office and answer this ridiculous accusation that was based on faulty information."

Szych remained surprisingly charitable toward those who rioted and vandalized his home and property.

"The rioters did some stupid and violent things, but they were mostly kids," he said. "What they did was not right, but the City never should have allowed the Nazis to come in the neighborhood. I would be mad, too, if I was a kid and the Nazis showed up like that."

Szych had especially strong words for NSM's Bill White.

"If he were here right now, I would tell him to kiss my ass," he said. "The man lied and twisted everything to fit his own agenda. When I found out about it and called him on it, he just said: ‘I wouldn't be able to get anyone to show up if I told the truth.' "

Addendum, 9:30 PM: Bill White had a rebuttal that has since been deleted on his website. Among other things, he referred to Mr. Szych as "slightly unstable" and the Free Press as "not very reliable." I did not save the post as an HTML file, but it was at this link until tonight.

This is an article of mine that appears in this week's Toledo Free Press. Not only should you read TFP, but you should be advertising with them.

Nov 22, 2005

Lucas County GOP Surprises Pundits In Election


(Toledo, OH) Conventional wisdom held that 2005 would be a year in which the Lucas County Republican Party would get crushed by Democrats; after all, this was the year of Coingate and possible campaign finance violations by local Republicans, as well as the year in which Governor Bob Taft was convicted on misdemeanor ethics charges.

Fortunately for local Republicans, the conventional wisdom could not have been more wrong.

Republicans picked up a seat in Toledo City Council, swept the trustee race in Sylvania Township, and also gained a council seat in the suburb of Oregon.

In addition, Republican judicial candidates won three seats in Toledo Municipal Court, bringing their total to five of the seven positions.

County commissioner Maggie Thurber credited the candidates themselves for GOP electoral success.

“The quality of the candidates helped a great deal,” she said. “We had some stellar people running for office, and you can’t help but win a few races when you have good people on the ballot.”

Thurber considered the elections in Swanton Township and Maumee to also have been significant.

“Jim Irman, a Republican, replaced a Democratic incumbent,” she said. “We also took three of four seats on the Maumee city council.”

Outgoing interim chair Doug Haynam believes that the party’s volunteers were the key to its achievements on November 8.

“I would love to take all the credit, but the fact remains that it was the phone bank workers and grassroots activists that made the difference,” he said. “The party’s volunteers believe in what we are doing, and they are the reason we were so successful.”

Somewhat overlooked in the local electoral results was the fate of Issues 2-5, according to Haynam.

“The defeat of these ballot initiatives was a big win for the state party,” he said. “But people forget that Lucas County voters soundly voted down these proposed amendments, which is remarkable considering the large number of registered Democrats in the county.”

Another reason for Republican victories, according to Haynam, was the party’s message.

“We focused on the issues, while our opponents focused on people,” he said, obliquely referring to the some of the political scandals. “Voters simply listened to our candidates talk about the issues, and did not get sidetracked by attempts to paint all Republicans as corrupt.”

Toledo city council representative Frank Szollosi, a Democrat, saw an additional reason for GOP gains in the county elections.

“The split in the local Democratic Party no doubt contributed to their wins,” he said. “We spent a lot of time, money, and energy fighting each other, instead of focusing on the Republicans.”

Haynam was optimistic that the 2005 results could translate into momentum for future elections.

“We have a lot of work to do as Republicans to get our ticket ready for the 2006 elections,” he said. “It appears that we are going to have a vigorous primary, as there are three strong gubernatorial candidates, and none of them appear to be backing down.”

Haynam believes that all three announced Republicans would make excellent choices for the top of the GOP ticket.

“Many of the local leadership certainly support Betty Montgomery, as we consider anyone from Wood County to be one of our own,” he said. “However, in talking with people at the grassroots level, there is a lot of support for Ken Blackwell, and, despite Marc Dann’s claims to the contrary, Jim Petro has done a terrific job as state auditor.”

Haynam credits the continued successes of the state GOP to state chairman Bob Bennett.

“We truly do have a master at the helm in Bob Bennett,” he said. “He has managed the party well and provided it with real vision.”

There was one election that was of paramount importance to Haynam.

“Without a doubt, I was most concerned with the Sylvania school board election,” he said of what might be considered by most pundits to be a lesser race. “My wife ran for a seat, and you better believe that I was sweating until those results came in.”

This article of mine appears in this week's Toledo Free Press, a terrific weekly paper.

Nov 21, 2005

On The Costs Of White Supremacist Rallies

Left: Podcaster Hal Turner

(Toledo, OH) The Toledo Blade ran an article today that quoted city, county, and state officials on the costs associated with the October 15 NSM rally and subsequent violence. The paper arrived at a figure of $336,000, which does not include damages to private businesses and residences.

Officials in Kingston, NY - the site of a pro-white rally on Saturday - gave a preliminary estimate of $100,000 as the cost of maintaining the peace when Internet podcaster Hal Turner was joined by NSM, Aryan Nations, and other white supremacist groups.

The costs associated with providing protection to neo-Nazis and white supremacists do not go unnoticed by the racist right.

"We'll come back again and again until we bankrupt this city," Turner told onlookers Saturday. My sources on the ground said that Turner seemed giddy about the effect that his rally had on local finances.

"It was clear that he took a perverse delight in sticking the city of Kingston with these expenses," said one observer. "Turner has been bragging about it on his show and to any reporter who will stick a microphone in his face."

Cities such as Kingston and Toledo face difficult choices when it comes to the arrival of white power rallies. If a city were to eschew police protection for the hatemongers, they would leave themselves open for much costlier lawsuits should violence break out. At the same time, citizens of a given city would much rather see administrators spend limited resources on items like education and protection of local citizens.

Furthermore, the purported reason for gathering used by many white power activists these days revolves around protesting crime (specifically for them, black-on-white crime). Are these groups really helping cash-strapped cities use their resources wisely, or is this just a pretense to get more exposure for their racist ideology?

Addendum: I would like to close with a quote from Hal Turner from his Kingston speech; I think that this is telling of the mindset we are dealing with:

But we are at the end of our rope and hope that you correct these problems black america [sic]; because believe me, being at the end of a rope is not a nice place to be.

UT To Sponsor Diversity Forum

(Toledo, OH) There will be a community forum held at UT's Driscoll Center on Thursday, December 1 at 7:30 PM. The meeting will last approximately 90 minutes, and is open to the public. The October 15 riot will be one of the major topics of the evening.

There will be a series of speakers giving 8-10 minute presentations on a variety of topics, and the floor will be opened to dialogue after the scheduled speakers.

The goals of the forum are as follows:
We hope that, through direct interaction and constructive dialogue with one another we can begin to get past our shared internal biases and prejudices, and to begin seeing each other for who we really are; furthermore, we hope to cultivate an appreciation for one another as individuals and members of our community as a whole.

For more information, please contact Craig Wescoe.

Nov 19, 2005

Kingston NY Rally A Bust For White Supremacists

Left: Photo of counter-protesters from MidHudson News

(Kingston, NY) A rally in Kingston, NY that was initiated by white supremacist podcaster Hal Turner drew approximately 50 supporters, according to wire service reports and my contacts on the ground at the rally. The police, however, had the largest presence, numbering between 175 and 200 officers, outnumbering both pro-white and anti-racist forces.

The small turnout is a credit to community leaders in Kingston, who effectively campaigned for residents to boycott the rally. At least a half-dozen community events were scheduled away from the rally; this is in marked contrast to the October 15 neo-Nazi rally in Toledo, in which the only alternative event occurred less than a mile from the rally site.

Hal Turner went into spin mode even before the rally, with a post on his website at midnight last night that his rally "separates the wheat from the chaff in the movement." Turner also preemptively complained that potential supporters "had three weeks notice but they didn't show up."

It should be noted that Turner himself is something of a paraiah in the white power movement, and that a number of white supremacist groups boycotted this rally. Will Williams, who has bounced around the white power movement for decades, has reportedly placed a $1,000 bounty for anyone who would break the skull of Turner.
Left: Internet racist broadcaster Hal Turner

Turner's show has repeatedly advertised an imaginary product called the "Portable Nigger Lyncher." Here is the text of the parody ad that Turner ran:

"Does the community where you live tend to be getting darker and darker. Are you looking for an evening of entertainment with your friends and family? Well, folks, this is the answer to your prayers. The one and only PNL — Portable Nigger Lyncher. Complete with two ropes and custom hand-tied nooses."

Turner, who has had threats against him phoned in during his podcast, attempted to taunt members of the crowd into violent action against him.

"Here I am! Now's your chance!" Turner shouted. "You talk all tough on the phone, but you are too chicken to carry it out!"

No one in the crowd took the bait, unlike October 15 in Toledo.

Lessons for Toledo from the Kingston flop:

1. Schedule many alternative events on December 10, and make sure that they are held a fair distance from the rally site.
2. Get the message out to boycott the rally in as many venues as possible. Despite the fact that Turner was able to stage his rally at the high school (like Toledo), my contacts at the rally say there were very few teenagers present. Kudos to the school officials at Kingston High School.
3. Let the neo-Nazis have their minutes of spewing hate, and let them leave. Denying them their free speech rights is not only unconstitutional, but also make them look like martyrs instead of idiots. Let's not allow these clowns to derive any sympathy by giving them the right to claim victimhood.

Epilogue: NSM's Bill White decided to sit this one out, although he did take the opportunity to claim that "that there were more white activists than anti-racists" based on wire service reports. As of this writing, there has been no official word on Hal Turner's website.

Addendum (10:30 PM): Turner is predictably labeling the event a "tremendous success," and he chastised the "thousands of 'pro-white' keyboard commandos who stayed safely at home and did nothing." Turner agrees with wire service reports and my on-site collaborator that there were about 50 pro-white supporters and approximately 100 counter-demonstrators.

Funniest - And Stupidest - Blade Headline Of The Year

Left: Outgoing GOP chair Doug Haynam

(Toledo, OH) Yesterday I got lucky; I happened to be sitting at Cafe Marie with outgoing Lucas County GOP interim chair Doug Haynam hours after he made the decision to resign. We had a productive conversation and talked about politics, families, and of course, football (Haynam predicts an OSU victory - poor deluded Buckeye).

So I dashed to the nearest PC and cranked out a short article for the Free Press to post on Haynam's decision, which was based upon his desire to devote more time to his family, his work as a partner at Shumaker, Loop, and Kendrick, and his position on Sylvania City Council.

This morning, though, I surfed over to the Web version of the Toledo Blade and read one of the most ridiculous headlines ever churned out by our daily paper:

"Chairman, 2 Others To Leave Republican Party Posts; Fatigue From Noe Scandal Is Blamed."

Now the Blade did get scooped by us on the Haynam story, and the reaction of any media outlet who has been beaten to a story is to find an angle that the other people did not cover. Fair enough.

I find it reprehensible, though, that the Blade - and its obsession with the Noes -created a way to connect Doug Haynam and other outgoing party officials to the various scandals surrounding the party. Haynam, Kriner, and Hornyak accepted difficult positions in the party in a time of chaos, kept the organization running, and left with the party in better shape than when they inherited it.

For those who like to believe in a liberal conspiracy on the part of the Blade: I respectfully disagree. This has much more to do with a desire to snag a second straight Pulitzer, in my opinion. By keeping the focus on Tom and Bernadette Noe, the editors of the Blade puff themselves up with the idea that their exposé is the most deserving of journalism's top award.

Nov 18, 2005

Local GOP Chair Announces Resignation

Left: Doug Haynam; photo by historymike

(Toledo, OH) Lucas County Republican Party interim chair Doug Haynam announced his resignation last night in a statement to central committee members.

Citing conflicts with “personal and professional commitments,” Haynam said that the duties of the position were more than he could realistically continue to juggle.

Want to know more? Go to the Toledo Free Press website for my coverage of this story.

I had breakfast this morning with Doug (paid my own tab - sorry, Toledo Blade, no scandal here). He seemed at peace with his decision.

"I am a father first," he said. "I have had a blast as chair, but I would like to return to a more normal life."

Nov 17, 2005

On Poor Designs And Creative Solutions


My Compaq Presario laptop is a little over one year old. A few months ago one of my kids tripped over the AC cord and twisted the connection into which the cord is inserted in the back of the machine.

The problem with this scenario is the connection is soldered directly into the motherboard. Prognosis: everyone says that my only option is to ship the machine back to Compaq and pay for a new motherboard. Great racket for Compaq; you either shell out big bucks for repairs or bigger bucks for a new laptop.

The word "mother" came to mind, but not in association with the word "board."

I have yet to find anyone in town who will do what I request, which is to find some way to rig this device. I found an online discussion that looks promising; the photo on the left is the solution that a clever techie suggested.

Any suggestions, comments, or alternate ideas are very welcome. I would like to get at least another year out of this laptop, and I am not afraid to tear this "mother" down and try this Frankenstein-esque modification.

Bondage, Business, And Blood Debt: The Case For Slavery Reparations

Given the number of white supremacist visitors to my blog recently, I decided to treat them with a reprint of this essay, which was originally published in the journal Bad Subjects.

I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life; so that, with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat...I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me.
— Olaudah Equiano, recounting the Middle Passage

The destruction wrought by centuries of the human trafficking of native Africans is a historical legacy that cannot be denied, though some might minimize the plight of slaves, and others attempt to wash their hands of any guilt. Tens of millions of human souls were transported from their homes in Africa under appalling conditions to lives of servitude in the Americas.

However, neither the descendants of these slaves nor the societies from which enslaved Africans were expropriated have been compensated for the massive losses caused by the Atlantic slave trade. Even the short-lived "forty acres and a mule" edict issued by Union General Sherman in 1865 was quickly reversed by the actions of President Andrew Johnson. Irrespective of the amount of time that has passed since the official abolition of the slave trade, the debt incurred by slavers remains due and must be paid.

One of the most troubling questions with regard to slave reparations involves the difficulty in deciding on the beneficiaries of any proposed reparations. To simply offer cash to any person who can claim slave ancestors might produce some undesirable results. For example, should a Donald Trump or Bill Gates discover an enslaved ancestor in their respective family trees, would these oligarchs then be entitled to some form of reparation, or would their skin color preclude them from collecting any funds? What level of "whiteness" or "blackness," or what level of income, would be the dividing point between being eligible and not eligible? In addition, the potential for entrepreneurs to exploit the altruistic intentions of slave reparation legislation should could potentially be problematic, and should be evaluated.

The modern phenomena of Native American groups and their links to casinos comes to mind; big-money interests have aligned themselves with Amerindians in order to profit from government efforts to redress the wrongs of neo-European westward expansion in the 16th to 19th centuries. In downtown Detroit, for example, casino interests and representatives from seven tribes convinced the state of Michigan to create petite urban "reservations" for the sole purpose of erecting casinos. The Greektown casino, 90% of which is owned by the Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa Indians, is actually a converted warehouse, and total reservation real estate is a mere 75,000 square feet. While the Sault Chippewa derive financial benefit from their casino interests, one cannot help but question the efficacy of a system that simultaneously excludes other indigenous groups, such as the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, who have been shut out from cashing in on casinos. Finally, can such a system of reparations, which largely draws its revenue from working class gamblers, really exact restitution from the groups that benefited from race-based exploitation?

The answer to this dilemma could be found in identifying particular groups and geographic locales that continue to suffer from the cumulative effects of centuries of slavery. Rather than trying to target deserving individuals, reparations should be extended to impoverished neighborhoods in predominately African-American, low-income urban areas and rural counties; the same could hold true for such communities throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. In addition, the African nations that occupy the regions most heavily devastated by the harvesting of humans in the 15th to 19th centuries could also be the beneficiaries of reparations.

Previous legislative attempts in the US to redress the centuries of forced labor have not been successful, as elite interests have repeatedly used race to divide the working class and generate grass-roots opposition to reparations proposals. Congress debated over nine bills in 1890 that sought - via federal pensions - to compensate former slaves, but this legislation failed to win sufficient support from Southern Democrats to become law. Activists attempted to use another avenue of redress, the United Nations, in a 1962 petition that sought to put international pressure on the US to pay slavery reparations. More recently, Massachusetts state Senator William Owens introduced legislation in 1989 that would compel the state to establish a reparations mechanism. Detroit Congressman John Conyers has attempted to use his position on the House Judiciary Committee to push for a federal study that will examine the issue of slave reparations, but his annual reintroduction has never cleared the Committee.

Equally difficult in the evaluation of the merits of such legislation is the determination of parties responsible for paying slavery reparations. Given the fact that the last nation to abolish slavery, Brazil, did so in 1888, there are no longer any living, culpable persons from whom damages could be demanded. Additionally, many of the corporations and organizations that facilitated the slave trade may no longer exist in a legally binding sense.

The solution lies in identifying those nations whose citizens and economies demonstrably profited from the trade. The coastal slave trader in what is now modern-day Benin eked out a living selling Africans into slavery, and the average senhor of a Brazilian engenho wrested a fairly comfortable lifestyle in comparison with that of his slaves, but the vast majority of the dividends of bondage were enjoyed by shareholders in such entities as the WIC (Dutch West India Company) and the French Compagnie des Indies, as well as the principals of international banking houses.

These corporations sought to meet the American demand for cheap labor, which Ira Berlin referred to as "the relentless engine of plantation agriculture." Researchers have identified a number of multinationals that have profited from (or purchased firms that profited from) the slave trade. Included among the modern benefactors of forced labor are Aetna, JP Morgan Chase, Lloyd's of London, and Fleet Boston.

Additionally, the western European nations most directly involved in the slave trade, along with the United States, should foot the vast majority of the bill for reparations, since the wealth of these nations has been derived, to a substantive extent, from the unpaid labor of millions of African slaves. Finally, the Vatican bears some financial responsibility for issuing this 15th century stamp of papal approval to the notion that slavery could be justified if it involved the prisoners of a "just war:"
We grant to you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property...and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery.

The exact nature of any proposed reparations is yet another thorny issue that needs to be addressed. Rather than an over-simplified payment scheme to descendents of slaves, reparations should be directed towards both needy communities and socially desirable projects. For example, investments into the school systems and hospitals of predominately African areas would pay much greater long-term benefits than a lump-sum distribution to slave descendants. The financing of much-needed modernization projects, such as water systems, transportation networks, or electrification plans would also help citizens in underdeveloped African nations achieve a higher standard of living and, in some way, compensate for the forced removal of millions of productive Africans from regional economies over the previous five centuries.

The argument for reparations, fortunately, does not lack for historical evidence in its justification for belated action. The above image of the slave ship captures both the brutality of the institution and the economic foundations of the practice. The viewer must confront the appalling conditions into which human beings were herded and housed, as well as the forces of capitalist ideology that drove slave traders into committing and rationalizing acts of utter inhumanity. The narrative of former slave Thomas Hall illustrates this duality of cruelty and profit. Hall argued that the only purpose that slave owners would permit any form of slave matrimony was "to raise more slaves in the same sense and for the same purpose as stock raisers raise horses and mules, that is, for work." Slave women who proved particularly fertile had tremendous profit potential; Hall noted that such a woman would "bring a good price on the auction block."

The seeming incalculability of millions of stolen lives and billions of unpaid hours of labor must not preclude justice from achieving fruition. The nations of Western Europe and the United States owe a significant portion of their enormous wealth to the mostly nameless, faceless African souls who were sacrificed at the altar of capital; the debt of blood is still outstanding, and the passing of time does not somehow bring about a diachronic discharge of this due balance.

Nov 16, 2005

Alternative Anti-Nazi Events In The Toledo Area

(Toledo, OH) There are a number of activities in the works being organized by anti-hate groups in anticipation of the December 10 return of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) to Toledo.

This Saturday, November 19, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) is hosting a presentation and public discussion entitled "How Do We Fight Racism?" The event features Chicago author and activist Keeyanga-Yamahtta Taylor as the lead speaker. This will be held at the Wilson Park Shelterhouse (also known as the Caldwell Community Center Annex), at 2 PM.

December 10, by coincidence or NSM design, is International Human Rights Day.

Human Values for Transformative Action (HVTA) is planning a film on that day from 1:00 to 3:30 PM, at the Main Library. The film is titled "Promises", and is about seven children living in diverse areas of Israel and Palestine. PBS writes the following about the film:
Through candid interviews, the film explores a legacy of distrust and bitterness, but signs of hope emerge when some of the children dare to cross the checkpoints to meet one another.
This is a good opportunity for people to do something besides heckle the brownshirts when they return.

Thank you to the anonymous emailer who forwarded this information to me.

Europeans, Disease, And Death Arrive In New England

This is an excerpt of a book I am writing on the effects of Eurasian pathogens on Native Americans in the first century after European contact.

Left: Photo from CDC of one of the last known victims of smallpox, circa 1974.

The first documented instance of epidemic disease in New England occurred in the years 1616-1619; this manifestation seemed to be centered on Boston Bay, radiating up and down the Atlantic Seaboard. The exact nature of the disease is itself the subject of some debate; scholars are torn between labeling the epidemic one of smallpox, yellow fever, or of bubonic plague.

Regardless of the exact pathogen, the pestilence was surely one to which natives were not immune; contemporary reports indicated that natives were devastated to the extent that “the twentieth person is scarce alive.” Jesuit Father Biard made the following observation about the Abenaki Confederacy during this period:
They are astonished and often complain that, since the French mingle with them and carry on trade with them, they are dying fast, and the population is thinning out.

The Abenaki had good reason to be wary of interaction with Europeans; a population that has been estimated at 32,000 in 1600 dwindled to fewer than 8,000 people by the end of the seventeenth century. Occupying most of present-day Maine, the Abenaki were among the first indigenous people of New England to be struck down by the diseases that traveled with Europeans.

Another eyewitness account of the destruction produced by the 1616-19 epidemic was documented by Captain Thomas Dermer in 1619:
[The expedition] passed along the Coast where I found some ancient plantations, not long since populous now utterly void; in other places a remnant remains, but not free to sickness. Their disease the plague, for we might perceive the sores of some that had escaped, who described the spots of such as usually die.

Left: 17th-century drawing of Abenaki village in throes of deadly epidemic

The demise of the Algonquin-speaking Massachuset people in the Boston Bay area began with this mysterious 1616-19 epidemic. It has been estimated that there were approximately 30 villages containing as many as 3,000 people at the beginning of the epidemic; this number fell to a mere 500 by Pilgrim count in 1631. Most of the remaining Massachuset succumbed to the successive waves of epidemics in the seventeenth century. Amalgamation by the small number of survivors into other regional tribes caused the Massachuset to disappear as a distinct group.

Captain John Smith noted the decline of the Massachuset in one of his colonial propaganda pieces:
A fishing boat being castaway upon the coast, two of the [English] men escaped on shore. One of them died, the other lived among the natives till he had learned their language. Then he persuaded them to become Christians, showing them a Testament, some parts thereof expounding as well as he could. But they so much derided him, that he told them he feared his God would destroy them. Whereat the king assembled all his people about a hill, himself with the Christian standing on the top, and demanded if his God had so many people and able to kill all those? He answered yes, and surely would, and bring in strangers to possess their land. But so long they mocked him and God, that not long after such a sickness came, that of five or six hundred about the Massachusetts there remained but thirty, on whom their neighbors fell and slew 28. The two remaining fled the Country till the English came, then they returned and surrendered their country and title to the English.

While Smith’s overall veracity may be suspect (his embellished romance with a certain Pocahontas being only one of a series of fabrications), his version of the events correlates with contemporary accounts.

The first smallpox epidemic in New England for which there seems to be a historiographical consensus was that of 1633-35; this outbreak struck the Narragansett with particular virulence, killing a reported 90% of the population. William Bradford blamed the outbreak on traveling Dutch traders; irrespective of the original source, the disease brought forth this observation from Bradford:
[The natives] fell sick of the small poxe, and died most miserably; for a sorer disease cannot befall them; they fear it worse than the plague; for usually they that have this disease have them in abundance…they dye like rotten sheep.

Evidence of the deadly nature of this disease to natives as well as the immunity of the English was also demonstrated in Bradford’s account; he wrote of the perceived divine favor that accompanied this outbreak:
…But by the marvelous goodness and providens of God not one of the English was so much as sicke, or in the least measure tainted with this disease…

It is small wonder then that Europeans looked upon epidemic disease as proof positive of providential displeasure with native groups. Given the incomplete understanding of disease transmission, the ability of Europeans to avoid developing diseases that felled natives must have seemed to be compelling evidence of divine favor.

Nov 15, 2005

Bill White Dissects The Mayor's Race

Left: NSM spokesman Bill White; photo by historymike

(Toledo, OH) From his perch in Roanoke, VA National Socialist Movement (NSM) spokesman Bill White has weighed in on last Tuesday's Toledo mayoral election, declaring that "half-Jew candidate Carty Finkbeiner" won the election on the basis of "white electoral power."

White does not cite his sources (if indeeed they exist), but claims that "80% of Toledo's white population voted to expel Toledo's black Mayor Jack Ford," and that Ford received 90% of the black vote.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, White could not resist the temptation to offer his racist interpretation of the election (although he stopped short of taking credit himself for Ford's loss). The problem with White's conclusions is that Ford's support was weak well before the riot, and that the riot seemed to have had little influence on the outcome of the election.

Carty Finkbeiner led this race almost from the day he announced his candidacy, and his skillful campaigning and deceptively simple marketing message - "Carty Gets Results" - brought him back to the 22nd Floor of One Government Center, not White's absurd model of an awakening of a latent white supremacism.

As far as a racial component to the election, reality does not neatly separate itself into black/white categories as Mr. White implies. Had Ford really pulled 90% of the African American vote, he would have been reelected, because there were many crucial areas- like Old Orchard - where the contest between Ford and Finkbeiner was fairly close.

Certainly there are a handful of white voters who would never vote for a black candidate, and the same can be said about fringe elements of the black community.

But for most Toledoans, as anyone who actually lives in the city knows, this was a referendum on one question: Who can move this city forward and improve the local economy? In 2001, that person was Jack Ford, and in 2005, the voters chose Carty Finkbeiner.

If anything, Jack Ford may have picked up a few votes with his efforts to calm the angry crowd on October 15. Many mayors would have safely hidden themselves behind a wall of police, but Ford stepped into the middle of the riot in an attempt to defuse the situation.

White, of course, missed this, because he and his NSM supporters had long since scooted away to the safe confines of a certain Sylvania Avenue tattoo parlor when the rocks began to fly.

Then again, we should remember that race-baiting is White's stock in trade. Should I have expected any other sort of rhetoric in his analysis? The man is unwilling to see the world in any other terms.

Nov 14, 2005

Christmas Radio: Early Start To The Barrage


(Toledo, OH) I like Christmas, and I am far from a cynical holiday curmudgeon who, fist raised to the sky, detests all things Yuletidinal.

That being said, I was surprised to turn to 101.5 FM on Saturday November 12 and hear that the station has started its "all-Christmas, all-the-time" rotation, even if it is a weekend-only phenomena at the moment.

Is this the earliest start for the annual audio assault on listeners' ears, or have there been years in which programming directors sought to capitalize on the holidays with an earlier start than this?

Remember, I am a person who actually likes Christmas carols, at least in moderate doses. Last year, though, local radio hit a new low for holiday overkill. WRQN, Oldies 93.5, joined the Christmas crowd by playing five weeks of holiday oldies. Stations like the classic rock WXKR and "Toledo's Rock Leader" WIOT also found plenty of holiday rock programming with which to subject us.

There were more than a few moments last Christmas season when there were more stations playing holiday music than those on a regular format.

Can there be that much of a demand for Christmas music? Is there truly a market share to be found when three, four or five stations simultaneously blast the same songs ad nauseum?

I am not even addressing the obscene commercialization of the holidays, for which my ranting can have little effect except to cause a half dozen like-minded souls to nod their heads and say: "Amen, brother." All we ask is for some balance in the music played this season.

Remember, too, that while self-identified Christians dominate local demographics, they are not the only consumers. Toledo boasts sizeable populations of Muslims, Jews, atheists, Bahá’í-ists, and Buddhists; I have to believe that their dials spend little time on an all-Christmas station.

Toledo programming directors: it is not too late to rethink your holiday rotation plans. Have mercy on your listeners, and spare us the holiday overkill.

Ohio Beekeepers Struggle With Deadly Parasites

Left: Honeybees in a Monroe County hive; photos by historymike

(Lambertville, MI) The droning sound of thousands of agitated honeybees flying around your head is difficult to describe; it has an almost electric quality to it, as the bees synchronize slight variations their collective pitch.

State bee inspector Fritz Gehring explained the sound as he directed a small stream of smoke toward a colony.

“When the hive is disturbed, they send out an alarm warning,” he said. “They are responding to their perception of imminent danger.”

Gehring used the smoke to help calm the bees. This reduces their ability to smell a compound released by the colony's guards in times of danger, sort of like a chemical bugle call.

While many people find bees annoying, they play an important role in the pollination of Ohio crops such as melons, squashes, and cherries, and also produce millions of dollars worth of honey each year.

I accompanied Gehring to a collection of his personal honeybee hives just across the border in Monroe County. We were in search of Varroa mites and small hive beetles, two pests that – untreated – can be deadly to a colony of honeybees.

Luckily for Gehring, neither pest was to be found in his hives.

“The Varroa mites – nicknamed ‘vampire mites’ – gradually drain the life out of bees,” he said. “By the time winter arrives, there are few bees left in the hive, and the colony will not survive.”

The parasitic mites were first detected in the US in 1987, and have virtually wiped out all feral (wild) honeybees in North America. Untreated hives commercial hives face a similar fate, and part of Gehring’s job is to educate beekeepers about current treatments.

Even more worrisome to state agricultural officials like Gehring is the possibility of an invasion of small hive beetles, a pest that was first detected in Florida in 1998, arriving from South Africa. The beetles have wreaked havoc in the South, causing millions of dollars in damage to hives and a reduction in the yield of crops that depend on honeybees.

John Grafton, an apiarist who works for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said that Ohio’s cold winters may save the state from a fate similar to that of southern states.

“After destroying the hive’s comb, the small hive beetle larvae goes into soil,” he said, adding that the beetles also cause the honey to spoil. “The winter months in Ohio disrupt their life cycle, which seems to have slowed the advance.”

Grafton said that bee inspectors help ensure the vitality of Ohio’s agricultural output.

“Without inspectors, infestations like Varroa mites and small hive beetles would destroy Ohio’s honeybees,” he said. “This would lead to poor crop yields and low-quality crops.”

Grafton said that it is too early to tell just how destructive the Varroa mites will be this year in Ohio.

“Right now the infestations seem to be down a little bit due to a concerted effort by beekeepers to use integrated control techniques,” he said. “We will not know for sure until later in the summer.”

Researchers in Ohio, according to Grafton, are conducting some of the world’s most advanced studies on techniques to combat the pests.

“Ohio State’s labs are developing queens that are more resistant to pests,” he said, adding that a commercial firm called Ohio Queen Breeders has also experienced success in breeding a Varroa-resistant line of honeybees.

An enthusiastic apiarist, Gehring would love to covert more people to the hobby, but cautions neophytes to get trained before they take up beekeeping.

“It is very easy to waste your money getting into this unprepared,” he said as he opened another hive. “I have seen amateurs allow entire colonies to be destroyed because they didn’t know what they were doing.”

As we talked, numerous honey bees landed on my arm; my choice in shirts had sparked the interest of the bees.

“That light blue color is very attractive to bees,” he said. “As long as you don’t flinch you will be fine.”

I managed to stifle the urge to bash them, but it was several minutes before I got used to the idea of bees on me. I avoided any stings during our hours together.

“I was once stung 30 times,” he said of his worst encounter, “and that was because I did not do the right things. Since they die upon losing their stingers, honeybees would rather avoid stinging people.”

Gehring and I sampled the honey from a hive before we left. The idea of sticking my hand into a buzzing hive seemed insane, but summoning courage, I poked my finger in a pool of fresh honey.

Gehring said that each hive could produce different flavor variations.

“It depends what types of plants the bees visit,” he said. “The honey of a hive near an alfalfa field will taste much different from one near, say, a melon field.”

The bees never paid any attention to the human hands in their lair.

“They have better things to do than notice us,” said Gehring.

This is an extended version of an article of mine that first appeared in the Toledo Free Press, an excellent local weekly paper.