Sep 30, 2005

Norman Finkelstein Visits University Of Toledo

Left:scholar Norman Finkelstein

Author Norman Finkelstein, whose book Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History has taken both the academic and political worlds by storm, visited the University of Toledo Thursday night. I and a small group of graduate students met with him Thursday afternoon before his public appearance.

Unlike some appearances by Finkelstein, Toledo proved to be a relatively calm visit for the political scientist from Depaul University. The author has experienced cancellations and organized protests at some stops on the tour.

"I have ben called such things as a 'Holocaust denier' and 'self-hating Jew,'" said Finkelstein. "Of course, I'm not sure that I would want to be a 'self-loving Jew.'"

Finkelstein's parents were Holocaust survivors, and he bristles when people question his understanding of the horrors of Nazi Germany.

"Anyone who knows me understands that there is not a day that goes by when I don't think about the Holocaust," he said. "At the same time, I think it is fair to take a critical look at all issues, including the rise of what I term the Holocaust industry."

The crux of Beyond Chutzpah is Finkelstein's criticisms of Alan Dershowitz and his book The Case for Israel. In his book Finkelstein found over 20 passages that Dershowitz plagiarized from a 1984 book by Joan Peters entitled From Time Immemorial.

Finkelstein said that Dershowitz has been on a nonstop campaignt to prevent the publication of Beyond Chutzpah, as well as to discredit him.

Dershowitz even contacted California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in an effort to prevent the University of California Press from publishing Finkelstein's book.

"To his credit, Governor Schwarzenegger denied Dershowitz's request," he said. "The governor duly noted that this is an issue of academic freedom."

Finkelstein has found himself in a strange place; by attacking a liberal icon in Dershowitz, he has lost friends on the left. Conversely, by debunking the pro-Israel rhetoric of Harvard University's Dershowitz, he simultaneously found few allies on the right. The author, however, remained resolute in his goals.

"This is about truth," he said. "This book is about exposing the intellectual rot that has settled in many of our institutions of higher education."

Sep 29, 2005

Fire Destroys Historic Toledo Building

A massive fire broke out at 114 Ontario Street just past noon today, and firefighters continued to battle the blaze well into the night. There were no reported injuries.

Crews began this evening to demolish the rest of the structure in an effort to keep the flames from spreading to nearby buildings. Portions of the structure collapsed earlier in the day, and there were reports of damage to parked cars.

The building, vacant for most of the past decade, was built in 1887, and was once home to Arbuckle, Ryan, and Company. Fire officials called the fire "suspicious."

Left: Lucas County Assessor photo of the building, circa 1999

Another piece of Toledo history is gone, this time to a three-alarm blaze. I hope that the fire was not intentionally set; preservation efforts in Toledo are difficult enough without arsonists willfully practicing their fiery craft.

Interesting note: both the Blade and WTVG put the date of construction at 1895, while the county records clearly list it as 1887. WSPD and WNWO were the closest, each calling the structure a "120-year old building." Want the facts? Turn to historymike, who has been trained to be concerned about things like details.

Addendum: in this morning's edition (9-30), the Blade got the date right.

Sep 28, 2005

Unintended Consequences: European Colonialism and Sleeping Sickness

Left: African tsetse fly (Glossina morsitans) courtesy of OSU

One of the most devastating health crises in modern Africa is African sleeping sickness, or trypanosomiasis. The disease is caused by one of several parasites: Trypanosoma brucei gambiense, which affects countries in central and western Africa, and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, which affect countries in central and southern Africa. The parasite is transferred to mammals by the bite of the tsetse fly; untreated, the disease is always fatal.

While noted in literature as early as the fourteenth century by Ibn Khaldoun in his History of the Berbers , the extent of the destruction of the disease was not noted until the early twentieth century.

The spread of trypanosomiasis cannot be viewed in isolation as a mere example of disease evolution; instead, the disease must be examined within a historical context, and the effects that human activity has contributed to the emergence of the disease as a major health concern in the twentieth century.

The type of parasite that causes sleeping sickness is known as a trypanosome; these parasites have a unique ability to evade attempts by the human immune system to combat the intruder. Evolutionary parasitologists are not in agreement as to the mechanisms by which the parasite evades its hosts, but a large body of evidence suggests that mammals are able to develop resistance to trypanosomes.

It is widely believed that wild game animals, such as antelope and deer, are the reservoirs for the parasites that cause trypanosomiasis; areas that are prone to epidemics of sleeping sickness tend to be those that are near dry, savannah-like areas. Humans come into contact with the tsetse fly when they encroach upon the natural habitats for the insect. In addition, livestock are equally prone to infection after tsetse bites, and can serve as secondary parasitic reservoirs.

The rinderpest epidemic of 1896, itself a manifestation of an unintended side effect by the introduction of European cattle into Africa by colonialists, had a secondary, more far-reaching result: indigenous wild and domesticated animals with trypanosome resistance were wiped out . As a result, the cattle that were imported to replace the herds destroyed by rinderpest did not have resistance to trypanosomiasis, and this lack of immunity created an environment ripe for the rise of trypanosomiasis.

A number of additional colonial behaviors contributed to the spread of trypanosomiasis. The demands for products such as rubber created coerced labor forces that traveled to unpopulated areas in the effort to gather rubber; these activities not only enabled the disease to migrate, but caused trypanosome variants to move as well. Trypanosomes with different antigen properties can cause illness in mammals that have developed antibodies to a slightly different version; this “antigenic switching” is one of the ways that trypanosomes “fool” the immune system.

Forced resettlement was another loathsome hallmark of colonial rule; there are numerous instances of entire tribes being relocated (along with their livestock) to areas that more completely fit the desires of the colonialists. The unexpected result of the migration of large groups of people and animals to distant lands is, again, the scattering of trypanosome variants.

Population declines in many agricultural and pastoral regions have contributed to the spread of trypanosomiasis. As an area becomes depopulated, the habitat reverts back to bush country; this, of course, is the natural habitat of the tsetse fly. Giblin cites a number of colonialist-inspired actions that have caused depopulation in rural regions: intense labor conscription during World War I by the British and Germans, famines that were the direct result of ill-conceived water-control projects, such as dams and canals, and the disruption caused by German and British troop movements.

A harmonious balance between competing populations- humans, livestock, wild animals, tsetse flies, and trypanosomes – existed in the pre-colonial era. The modern emergence of trypanosomiasis is not simply a matter of parasitic evolution, but a result of a disharmony within the ecosystems.

Some researchers, such as Giblin and Ford, argue that the primary responsibility for the spread of trypanosomiasis was the inadvertent actions of European colonialists. Such an approach is not without historical precedents; for example, the travel of bubonic plague in fourteenth-century European merchant vessels from Asia, the spread of smallpox in the New World by European conquerors, and the introduction of syphilis to the Old World by the same Europeans upon their return to Europe all involved the interplay of history and disease pathology.

However, Giblin discounts the incredible mutative abilities of trypanosomes in his examination of the increase in the incidence of trypanosomiasis; these organisms have a sophisticated mechanism of survival that have, until this point, defied the best minds of modern medicine. While the role of Europeans in the spread of trypanosomiasis cannot be overlooked, the primary cause of the spread of the disease is the biochemical nature of the organism itself.

Giblin also fails to acknowledge the role of data collection and reporting in his analysis of African health statistics. Part of the rise in reported trypanosomiasis cases could be due to the fact that improvement in reporting systems may simply mean that more cases are being reported; it is very likely that rural cases may not have been properly documented in the past.

In addition, Giblin neglects to consider sociological aspects of the disease; in particular, the socio-economic status of the victims of African sleeping sickness was not discussed. The disease strikes a highly disproportional number of the rural poor, and the plight of disadvantaged groups has generally been ignored in the past. A statement by the Center for Disease Control reinforces this point:
African sleeping sickness is a low-priority rural disease. Effective, sustainable control is unlikely until traditional uses of land change and socioeconomic conditions improve in rural Africa. The primary approach to control is treatment with drugs that are expensive and not readily available.

Giblin, meanwhile, argues, “alternative approaches based upon historical African experience may actually be the most feasible options in trypanosomiasis control.” This statement suggests an impractical, Pollyanna-esque return to an ancient pastoral society; the likelihood of recreating the harmonious balance (if, indeed, it ever existed) between the populations in the models of John Ford and James Giblin simply may not be possible.

Sep 26, 2005

A Victim Of Justice: Danny Brown's Fight To Regain His Name


Danny Brown stands next to my police-like Crown Victoria as we survey an apartment building in the Toledo’s Birmingham Terrace, which is not one of the East Side’s tonier residential complexes. Circling teens on bikes and noses pressed against the apartment windows speak of a curious neighborhood. The irony of being mistaken for an undercover officer is not lost upon him.

“I’ll bet they have us pegged as narcs,” he laughs, crushing a cigarette butt under his shoe. Little do they know that Danny is a man who spent 19 years in state prisons, convicted of a horrible crime.

The faces in the panes continue to peer out, wondering what these strangers are doing in their neighborhood.

December 1981

In December 1981, Ronald Reagan was finishing his first year in office. Joe Montana was emerging as a star in his 3rd season with the San Francisco 49ers, en route to a victory in Super Bowl XVI. The top pop single of the month was “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John, and moviegoers turned out en masse to view Stephen Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

In December 1981, a woman named Bobbie Russell was raped and murdered in the Birmingham Terrace apartments. In the late evening hours of a frigid night, after her children were put to bed, an assailant (or perhaps, assailants) entered her home, raped, and strangled her with an electrical cord pulled from the newly decorated Christmas tree that stood silent sentry over the brutal events in Bobbie Russell’s living room.

And also in December 1981, Danny Brown was arrested and charged with this hideous offense.

Mr. Brown was tried and convicted by a jury of his peers, and sentenced to a term of 15 years to life. A gruesome crime had been committed, the public demanded justice, and the system delivered a guilty verdict. Another open-and-shut case drew to a close, having wound its way through the criminal justice system like a custom-ordered Jeep from the assembly line.

In the automobile business, however, vehicles are occasionally produced with serious flaws; in common parlance, such a car is a “lemon.” While an inconvenience to the consumer, remedies are available to address the problems.

In Danny Brown’s criminal case, there was also a significant problem: he was convicted for a crime that he didn’t commit. The justice system in Lucas County, Ohio manufactured a lemon. Unfortunately for Danny, there are few legal procedures to mend his shattered life, and the roads to rebuilding his life are strewn with state-imposed barriers and outright government interference.

The Production of a Judicial Lemon

Danny Brown awoke on the morning of December 6, 1981 and looked outside the window of the house of a high school friend; the party from the night before had ended rather late, and Danny chose to spend the night rather than walk back to his parents’ house on Detroit Avenue. The frost on the windowpane sparkled in the morning light, creating a sense of peaceful tranquility that would stand in stark contrast with the shocking scene across the Maumee River at the apartment of Bobbie Russell. The yellow police line tape restricted access to the place where the young woman’s brutalized body had been covered by a starched white sheet.

Bobbie and Danny knew each other and had dated a few times in the months preceding her murder. Thus, word of her death on the noon news saddened Danny, and he, like the rest of the public, was outraged at the savage killing.

As an acquaintance of Bobbie’s, Danny was not surprised that the police would want to talk with him. He went to the police station on his own, and waived his right to an attorney during questioning; he felt that he had nothing to hide, and wanted to help the police in any way that he could. However, it was clear early in the investigation that the detectives had a very short list of one suspect in the murder of Bobbie Russell: Danny Brown.

Though lacking physical evidence tying Danny to the crimes, and faced with over twenty possible alibi witnesses able to testify on Danny’s behalf, the prosecution built a case upon the testimony of Bobbie Russell’s six year-old son, Jeffery. While his version of the events of December 5, 1981 were riddled with inconsistencies, factual impossibilities, and outright fabrications, it was Jeffery’s insistence that “Danny did it” that led to the conviction of Danny Brown.

Jeffery changed his story several times during the investigation and trial. For example, the number of assailants began at one in the initial interview, went to two men during the investigation, and reverted back to one man during the trial.

In his testimony, Jeffery described events that could not have been witnessed from his location. For example, at a point where he was supposedly hiding under a bed, he described in great detail how the killer attempted to strangle his three year-old sister with a coat hanger. He also described seeing Danny kicking at an outside door; unfortunately, a concrete awning covered this door, and anyone kicking the door could not be visible to someone on the second story.

A national debate over the reliability of child witnesses is occurring in the legal world. The suggestibility of and ease with which young children can be “coached” has created an environment where children are often perceived an unreliable in their testimony. In the case of New Jersey vs. Michaels (1994), the court ruled that “the questioning of the children was so suggestive and coercive that they were rendered incompetent to testify." In another case, Hawaii vs. McKellar (1985), the judge discounted the testimony of small children, arguing that their responses were the result of "layers and layers of interviews, questions, examinations, etc., which were fraught with textbook examples of poor interview techniques.”
It is possible that Jeffrey, in his zeal to help the police catch his mother’s killer, unknowingly helped convict an innocent man. The possibility also exists that the interrogative techniques used by detectives may have improperly influenced Jeffery’s recollection of the events.

There were numerous attempts by the prosecutors to secure a plea bargain from Danny Brown; the complete lack of physical evidence and shaky testimony of the sole witness must have seemed to be a weak case. At one point, Danny was offered a sentence of one to ten years at Mansfield Reformatory in exchange for a plea of involuntary manslaughter while in the commission of a misdemeanor; with time served, Danny could have been out of prison in one year. However, Danny Brown knew he was innocent, believed in the ultimate power of truth, and wanted to go to trial to clear his name.

The guilty verdict rendered by the jury on September 24, 1982 shocked Mr. Brown; how could a man be sent to prison for a crime that he did not commit? Brown says: “I stood there, dumbfounded. I could not believe that the system could fail so miserably. “

The solution to this question has no easy answer; however, two important factors were in the favor of Lucas County prosecutors: Danny Brown was poor, and Danny Brown was black. In America, these two attributes will bring about a different source of justice than that received by more affluent white defendants. Figures from the U.S. Department of Justice illustrate this point: African-Americans are incarcerated at a rate 5 times higher than whites, and an estimated 32% of all black males will enter state or federal prison in their lifetimes.

Danny did time in some of Ohio’s toughest prisons: Mansfield Correctional, Richland, and the infamous Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville, where nine inmates and one correctional officer lay dead after 11 days of rioting in 1993. He does not like to talk about his time behind bars, but one gets the sense that some things just do not need to be told.

Wrongful Convictions in America

Quantifying the extent of the problem of wrongful convictions in American prisons is a difficult proposition; given the fact that the current U.S. incarcerated population has crossed the two million threshold , the sheer volume of cases makes a thorough examination a Herculean task. However, in figures compiled by the Law School of Northwestern University, 17 out of 298 convicted murderers facing the death penalty in Illinois have subsequently been exonerated since capital punishment was reinstated in 1977 ; this translates into a wrongful conviction rate of 5.7%. At this level, there could be over 100,000 wrongly convicted citizens in our nation’s prisons.

The reasons for wrongful convictions are varied; however, in figures complied by the Innocence Project, a Cincinnati-based non-profit organization, the top causes of improper incarceration are mistaken identity, serology inclusion, defective or fraudulent science, and police/prosecutorial misconduct. The Danny Brown case is but one of thousands of cases of wrongful conviction in America.

“What happened to me could happen to any citizen,” Brown says. “If you cannot afford the elite lawyers and the associated costs involved with proving innocence, you run the risk of being falsely imprisoned.”
Freedom, Justice, and Other Things

Danny Brown was freed on April 9, 2001 through the efforts of a Princeton, NJ group known as Centurion Ministries. Founded by James McCloskey in 1983, the group has successfully obtained the release of 26 wrongly convicted persons throughout the United States.

Left: Danny Brown with James McCloskey

The Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office was satisfied with the one-assailant theory for nineteen years, until the point when DNA evidence proved conclusively that Danny Brown could not have raped Bobbie Russell. The testing not only eliminated Brown as a suspect, but also identified a man named Sherman Preston as the person from whom the semen originated. Ironically, Preston is incarcerated for the 1983 murder of Toledoan Denise Howell, in a rape-murder case that shares many similarities to the killing of Bobbie Russell.

After the bombshell of the DNA testing, and Brown’s successful passing of a polygraph test in 2001, Lucas County prosecutors suddenly dusted off the two-assailant conjecture. They have steadfastly refused to eliminate Brown as a suspect, referring back to the phantom “second man” in Jeffery Russell’s vacillating witness statement to police in 1981.

In an interview with John Weglian, division chief of the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office, the county is committed to bringing this case to a close. Weglian insists that there remains an “active investigation,” although he would not disclose any details of its efforts to prosecute those responsible for the death of Bobbie Russell. The County contends that both Brown and Preston are suspects.

This statement comes as a surprise to family members of Ms. Russell. Betsy Temple, niece of the murdered woman, says that there has been no communication between family members and the Prosecutor’s Office in “years.” The idea that there is an active investigation on the part of the county strikes family members as a cruel “joke.”

The family feels that justice was served in 1982, and does not understand why, if the county believes that Danny Brown killed Bobbie Russell, the prosecutors do not retry the case. In addition, since no one is jailed for the crime, it is possible that the killer remains at large; as a result, Ms. Temple indicated that family members fear for their safety. They long for a day when the nightmare will finally end, and the family can achieve some sort of peace.

Danny Brown Today

A large part of Danny’s life has been stolen from him, and a cloud of seemingly infinite suspicion continues to hang over his head. A young man in 1982, he is now 49 years old; while freed, he has not been officially exonerated. For the State of Ohio to admit that Danny was wrongfully convicted would make a civil suit seeking damages something of a slam-dunk (Danny Brown has filed a civil suit against the State of Ohio, naming the State, the County, and the City of Toledo as defendants; John Weglian refused to comment on the civil litigation). The State continues to throw up obstacles in the path of Danny’s attempts to gain three major goals: apology from the state, complete exoneration, and restitution. In fact, one can still view Danny Brown’s Ohio Department of Corrections file on the Internet; in the eyes of the State, he is simply an ex-convict.

Danny says that one of the most difficult aspects of the entire ordeal has been the cloud of suspicion that continues to hang over his head. “Even though I am released, I am still looked upon as a criminal,” says Brown. “At what point can I reclaim my name?”

In 19 years, Danny could have earned many hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages. In addition, what value can be placed upon the pleasant things most of us take for granted in our daily lives, such as watching a child be born, enjoying a basketball game, or attending the wedding of a family member?

While an exact dollar figure for the damage done to Mr. Brown’s life may be complicated to obtain, any amount would be better than what was paid to Danny Brown upon his release in 2001:


In a gesture that borders on the Kafkaesque, Danny Brown was not even paid the normal release stipend, or “gate money,” that prisoners traditionally receive. The State of Ohio normally supplies released inmates with “one set of clothing suitable for weather, plus three sets of underwear and socks and other accumulated clothing; from $25-$75 and personal, accumulated funds and property; applicable papers.” He walked out of court on April 9, 2001 after 19 years in prison with nothing but the clothes on his back. However, his release was bittersweet: “I was elated to be free, but somewhat resentful to be jailed for a crime that I did not commit.”

Today, Danny’s life has taken some turns for the better. He has married, and considers his wife Rhonda to be a blessing. He has worked several unskilled jobs since his release; the Associate’s Degree he earned while incarcerated has not yet opened doors to a rewarding career. He is also taking classes at the University of Toledo, hoping to get a degree in a criminal justice-related field.

For a man treated so poorly by the system, Danny is surprisingly upbeat, positive, and does not exhibit bitterness.

“I want to change the system; I’m not angry at any particular person,” he says as we look at the building where Bobbie Russell was murdered almost 23 years ago. “I hope to spend the rest of my life working to prevent this type of injustice from ever happening again.”

The children in one of the apartments continue to stare at the odd pair of strangers standing on their grass. The muscular black man and the gangly white dude must be cops; why the hell else would they be snooping around this neighborhood?

This is an extended version of an article I wrote for the Toledo City Paper that won the 2004 Touchstone Award for Best Non-Daily Article. As of this date, the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office continues to consider Danny Brown a suspect in the murder of Bobbie Russell, while simultaneously continuing to deny him a retrial.

Sep 24, 2005

Commercial Excess - A Sign Of The Times?


This Valvoline Instant Oil Change establishment seems to be aiming for a new record in flouting city sign laws, with seven illegal exterior banners and roadside signs.

Now, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for retail business owners, especially in an economically-challenged city like Toledo. With depressed incomes, population losses, and high unemployment, it can't be easy to make a buck in this city.

In addition, I personally slogged it out as a business owner in Toledo for a decade. In various incarnations I was a restauranteur, carryout owner, and co-owner of a resale shop.

I, too, gave in to commercial temptation and planted the occasional roadside sign touting a special. Signs are inexpensive, traffic-building, and very visible, and I found that the occasional citation was a small price to pay for an extra sign.

But seven promotional signs and banners at this Secor Road location? Even the most die-hard, laissez faire-loving free market afficianados can recognize the need for a municipality to place some restrictions on commercial clutter.

The manager of the Valvoline shop suggested that I contact the corporate office, so I will wait until Monday to get an official response. He did agree, however, that seven signs seemed "kind of extreme."

Now, if we could just get the political candidates to self-monitor their signage...

Sep 23, 2005

What A Long Strange Trip It's Been

Left: "Brady," warming up the crowd

Tonight I covered a rally for anti-war protesters, but for a tangential reason (read Wednesday's Toledo Free Press for that story). I am still trying to sort out this event; I am not sure whether to laugh, cry, or sink into a deeper level of cynicism after witnessing this event.

Over a hundred well-intentioned people gathered in the parking lot of UT's Rocket Hall to send off two busloads of protesters who will join the huge DC rally this weekend. The crowd was a blend of sixtyish ex-hippies, hemp-wearing coeds, and assorted peace activists and radicals.

Vendors hawked the Socialist Worker, the Final Call (Farrakhan's publication), and others passed out flyers for every group between NOW and Reform Ohio Now. A folk band played classic protest songs, and people milled about waiting for the busses.

Several thoughts came to me as I snapped photos and talked to people. I was first struck by what I perceived to be a small turnout; if the polls can be trusted, there are surely more people against this war. Why are we so apathetic?

I also questioned the money being spent on this endeavor. If sixty Toledoans are spending $400 on this trip (no matter how well-intentioned), how could that $24,000 have been spent locally to improve life right here? Will their presence in DC change anything?

Is this, in the words of one person I spoke with tonight, just "political tourism" designed to make the participants feel better?

Note: I am against the war in Iraq, and have been since day one. I also do not question the motives of the participants.

But will anything be accomplished? Will our soldiers be more likely to return home?

First Lady Of Secor Road

Photo by historymike

Every regular traveler on Secor Road knows of the black dog that patiently sits in front of Sweeper World, located near Monroe Street.

Not many people, however, know the pooch's story.

Her name is Daisy, and she is a 10-year old black chow. Owner Dennis Gillen says that the well-behaved dog is self-taught.

"I used to bring her to work with me, and one day I left the door open because it was hot," he said. "Daisy just ambled out and sat down, and now prefers to sit outside and watch the world go by."
Left: Owner Dennis Gillen and Daisy, in front of Sweeper World

Gillen said that Daisy does have one distraction - squirrels.

"We don't get many squirrels on Secor, but she will chase them away if she sees them," he said. "One day she sat under a pole for two hours watching one."

Gillen said that motorists used to phone in calls to the police about dead or runaway dogs.

"Everyone at the dispatch knows Daisy now," he said. "Now the only calls that come in are from people wondering why they didn't see Daisy that day."

Daisy, according to Gillen, is the perfect business ambassador.

"She loves everybody, and people go out of their way to pet her," he said. "Many times people have stopped by to say 'hi' to Daisy, and then come into the store to buy something."

Several callers to Sweeper World this week noted Daisy's new attire - yellow ribbons.

"You know that she is a lady because she loves the beauty salon so much," quipped Gillen.

Sep 20, 2005

Recovering Northwest Ohio's Epidemiological History


Left: Anopheles quadrimaculatus, carrier of malaria in the Americas

In the most recent survey of the “Best and Worst Cities for Men,” the popular magazine Men’s Health ranked Toledo, OH 94th out of 100 cities surveyed. In addition, Toledo was the only US city to record scores of “F” in the categories of “Fitness,” “Quality of Life,” and “Health.” While hardly scientific, and mostly the fodder of talk radio hosts, the survey nonetheless mirrors a similar nineteenth-century perception of Northwest Ohio as being an unhealthy region.

Inhabiting an area notorious for its dense marshes and fens, the cities and villages of Northwest Ohio possessed another demographic- and commerce-inhibiting feature: a reputation for the poor overall health of the men and women who lived in and around the region known as the Great Black Swamp. Municipalities such as Toledo, Maumee, Sandusky, and Perrysburg struggled to project a healthy image while concurrently harboring deadly microbes, witnessing bouts of epidemic disease, and burying citizens who succumbed to the frequent pestilential occurrences. The presence of endemic malarial parasites in the region contributed to a disease environment ideal for the spread of infectious disease, despite the boosterism of local leaders. Northwest Ohio’s historical legacy as a region of insalubrity merits inclusion among traditionally recognized zones of poor health, such as the notoriety often accorded to cities such as New Orleans.

Left: Lake Maumee, precursor to Lake Erie and the Great Black Swamp

Occupying an area approximately 120 miles long and as many as 40 miles wide, the area known as the Great Black Swamp was once the southwestern bed of Lake Maumee, the predecessor to Lake Erie. Carved by advancing and receding glaciers over several thousand years, the Maumee Valley with its heavy clay soils retained much of the water from the melting glacial ice. The presence of so much free standing swamp water created ideal conditions for malaria-bearing mosquitoes, such as Anopheles quadrimaculatus; this particular species is thought to be the most important malaria vector in North America, and has been found as far north as South Dakota.

The omnipresent regional threat of malarial illness – often called “Maumee fever” by residents - was the subject of the following poem, published in an 1837 edition of the Maumee Express. The dark humor of the poetry does not minimize the extent to which residents of the areas in and around the Great Black Swamp suffered from the effects of P. falciparum and its parasitic, disease-causing cousins:
On Maumee, on Maumee,
'Tis Ague in the fall;
The fit will shake them so,
It rocks the house and all.
There's a funeral every day,
Without a hearse or pall;
They tuck them in the ground
With breeches, coat and all!

Clark Waggoner, nineteenth-century chronicler of Toledo, described the disease legacy of the region in his 1888 book History of the City of Toledo and Lucas County:
At this time [early nineteenth century] there was, perhaps, no more unhealthy place upon the whole continent than at this point of Wood and Lucas Counties…[t]he land, being flat and covered with forests, with no drainage, was a hotbed of miasm, and was as uninviting as possible to the frontiersman. As the land was redeemed from its primitive condition, after the plow-furrow followed the malaria, until whole communities were prostrate with the dread fever and ague.

The reputation of the region as an unhealthful quarter was not restricted to inhabitants of the Old Northwest; indeed, the Great Black Swamp gained national prominence as a center for insalubrity. Daniel Drake repeatedly noted the poor health to be found in the Maumee Valley in his 1850 treatise on the diseases of North America, and in particular described the endemic malarial disease environment to be found in and around the Great Black Swamp in the following passage. Drake argued that a contemporary theory on the source of malarial contagion – noxious gases released by agitated water, such as found in the rapids of a river – did not hold up under closer scrutiny:
Thus Wetumpka [Alabama], at the foot of the long rapids of the Coosa river; Louisville, at the falls of the Ohio River; and Maumee City, at the termination of the rapids of the Maumee River, are all infested with autumnal fever; but other towns, on the same rivers, are likewise scourged with that disease…

It is precisely this background malarial endemicity that made Northwest Ohio such an unhealthy place, as individual immune systems – bogged down with fighting recurrent parasitic infections – struggled to meet successive waves of epidemic disease.

This is an excerpt of my master's thesis, parts of which I am also carving up into academic articles.

Sep 18, 2005

Toledo Blade: Repeat A Lie Long Enough...


Left: Toledo Blade building, courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Library's "Images in Time"

It was with interest that I read Blade ombudsman Jack Lessenberry's response to my email concerning the paper's decision to devote a 356-word article to the first-time DUI conviction of a publishing competitor.

Once again, both Kurt Franck and Jack Lessenberry obfuscate the real issue with information about the number of Americans killed by drunk drivers, or the fact that the Blade prints line-item notices in the "Daily Log" on DUIs. The Blade reporter skulking in the coutroom did not even bother to walk over to the individual being singled out for the attack.

I will ignore Lessenberry's condescending remarks about me in the blurb, as well as the fact that Lessenberry chose to ignore printing the fact that the named individual is the owner of a publishing competitor. I will not, however, ignore the Blade's despicable tactics, and I will continue to point them out when I see them.

Note: my stance and willingness to take on the Blade makes me a marked man, both in terms of future employment prospects as well as in my current ability to write about the media for a paper like the Free Press. However, more people need to step up and call the Blade out when it acts in this fashion. (full disclosure: historymike is a frequent contributor to the Toledo Free Press).

The Toledo Blade saw an opportunity to take a cheap shot at a publishing competitor, and now tries to hide behind a moral stance against drunk driving as its tepid defense for this journailstic abomination. Once again, drunk driving is stupid, dangerous, and irresponsible, but this is not the issue, Jack.

It's sad that no one in a position of authority at the Blade has the guts to admit that the paper erred in running this article (note: no byline was attached; not sure if the writer wanted anonymity, or the editorial staff wanted to pass this off as too small to merit a byline, but I sure would not want to stick my name on such a terrible piece of writing) if I were employed at the Blade).

Finally, Lessenberry's credibility as an autonomous voice was seriosuly undermined by his flippant dismissal of these charges. What began as an experiment in maintaining the journalistic integrity of the Blade has degenerated into a position that merely rubber-stamps what the Blade runs.

Sep 17, 2005

Bag Boys: Inhalant Abuse Among Teens


“Jason” is a twenty something Toledoan who is a former abuser of inhalants. He agreed to an interview with a request for anonymity.

“This isn’t exactly the thing you want to broadcast,” he said. “I have a job and parents, and I’m sure that they would not want to see me in the paper like this.”

Media attention to drug abuse tends to focus on illegal substances like heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.

Little notice, however, is paid to a growing underground phenomenon, chiefly among teenagers. Inhalant abuse, or “huffing,” utilizes common household products such as glue, nail polish remover, spray paint, deodorant, whipped cream canisters, and cleaning fluids.

Jason said that he began the habit at age 15, starting by huffing gasoline.

“That’s a harsh buzz, but it’s cheap and easy to get,” he said. “It gives you hallucinations like LSD.”

One of the most popular inhalants, according to Jason, is a computer keyboard cleaner called Duster.

“We called it getting ‘dusted’,” he said. “It makes you completely numb, like laughing gas.”

One method of getting high with inhalants involves filling a paper bag with the contents of an aerosol can. Jason said that this solves two problems.

“With a bag, you can keep the fumes contained,” he said. “Plus, you don’t get paint or whatever else is in the can all over your face.”

The Hidden Crisis

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 22.9 million Americans have abused inhalants. More startling is the data on teenagers, as a NIDA study concluded that 17.3% of the nation’s 8th graders have abused inhalants.

Three percent of US fourth graders have already “huffed,” beginning what for some will be a lifelong career as addicts.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates that there were 979,000 new abusers of inhalants in 2000, and that the nation’s emergency rooms see thousands of cases of inhalant abuse each year.

Jason, who attended Bedford and Toledo Public schools, said that many people are unaware of how common huffing is.

“At least 20 percent of the kids I went to school with huffed,” he said. “It was even worse in Toledo, because a lot of girls use in Toledo.”

James Perrin, program manager of Connecting Point’s residential unit, said that inhalant abuse is a significant problem in Northwest Ohio.

“We have seen teenagers who started as young as 11,” he said, adding that his facility works with children 13 and older. “Huffing is common because because kids can just look in mom’s pantry and find all sorts of ways to get high.”

Abuse of inhalants cuts across most demographic boundaries, and is both an urban and rural problem. The only common denominators are a history of childhood abuse, difficulties in school, and relative poverty.

Jason said that inhalant abusers can be hard to spot.

“In school kids used to keep Whiteout bottles in their desk,” he said. “Some used to soak their sleeves in lighter fluid and sniff.”

Another method, according to Perrin, involves dipping a rag in gasoline.

“They keep the rag with them and inhale from the rag,” he said. “That way there is no obvious sign of abuse.”

Perrin said that users also tend to have concurrent mental health issues.

“Many abuse inhalants to escape,” he said. “Huffing can also lead abuse of illegal street drugs -often the kids are doing other drugs such as marijuana or alcohol.”

Jason agreed that inhalants can be a gateway drug.

“Huffing is definitely a gateway,” he said. “Once you start with something hard like huffing, you will try almost anything. I graduated from huffing to pot, coke, and almost anything you can imagine.”

Physical Destruction

While no drug is without its long- and short-term side effects, perhaps no behavior is more injurious to the human body than huffing.

Immediate consequences include asphyxiation, choking, seizures, and coma. Medical practitioners have developed a new term in response to the deaths of huffers: “sudden sniffing death syndrome.” The syndrome can occur in seemingly healthy teenagers as early as the first experience.

A 17-year old California teen named Josh Edmond died this month from the syndrome, overdosing from intoxicants inhaled from a keyboard cleaner called Blastaway.

Perrin said that many inhalant abusers are not recognized as such until an emergency.

“Many of our kids come to us after a trip to the ER,” he said. “They get brought to the hospital because they passed out or for a toxin-related illness.”

Abusers who avoid instantaneous death face severe long-term effects, including damage to the brain, lungs, heart, kidneys, and liver. Researchers have also documented many cases of hearing and vision loss, and extensive inhalant abuse can induce severe dementia.

Jason said that he knew people who went through detox programs for their inhalant habits.

“One kid I knew had to go through an inpatient treatment place,” he said. “He could not stop getting high.”

Connecting Point’s Perrin said that inhalant abuse tends to be highly addictive.

“It is difficult to break the habit because inhalants are everywhere,” he said. “Even if parents lock up all aerosols, all kids have to do is go to a friend’s house or steal a few cans.”

New research has also shown a link between inhalant abuse and destruction of the body’s immune system, and other researchers are exploring links between huffing and cancer.

Jason said that teens disregard the dangers of huffing for a variety of reasons.

“First of all, they are just stupid,” he said of huffing’s harmful effects. “They think that nothing bad will ever happen to them, and they just like the feeling.”

Peer pressure, according to Jason, is also a factor.

“It’s just like any drug – if you are around people doing it, you will join in,” he said. “Pass a bottle, pass a joint, or pass the bag – it’s all the same.”

This is an extended version of an article I wrote for the Toledo Free Press in July.

Sep 14, 2005

On Toledo's Primary Election


Left: Toledo voters heading to the polls - photo inspiration from UT's Dr. Tim Messer-Kruse

I was not surprised to see that Carty's lead dropped from the 20-30 point "lead" he had in the polls. I was also not surprised to see Jack Ford's numbers improve; this will, like the past three elections, be a very close race in November.

The results of the council primary, however, were disappointing, as 5 of 6 sitting council members took the top spots. How can change occur if we keep sending the same people back to council chambers?

Note: I have respect for a number of sitting councilpersons, and I am not a "throw da bums out" knee-jerk type.

I am disgusted, however, with sending people like Bob McCloskey back. The man faces an extortion trial in early 2006 for his taped quid pro quo "donation" request. He also shamelessly switched from a district council seat to an at-large seat to get around the term limits law.

Left: McCloskey did not even bother to buy new signs - note the olive-green paint covering his old district info, and his false claim to party endorsement

Bob McCloskey is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with Toledo politics, and yet he is somehow the top vote-getter in the primary.

Promising new faces, such as Dave Schulz, still have a chance, but they face an uphill battle against entrenched, well-financed incumbents like McCloskey and Betty Schultz.

Toledo: these two must go if real change and fresh thinking are going to happen in our city.

Sep 13, 2005

The Blade's Attack On Tom Pounds, Part II


Left: Toledo Blade building, courtesy of Toledo-Lucas County Public Library's "Images in Time."
As recounted on Friday's post, the Toledo Blade decided to dedicate an article with no byline to the first-time DUI of publishing rival Tom Pounds. Out of curiosity, I searched the Blade's archives for "DUI" to see just how many articles had been dedicated to the subject, and what types of people were profiled for first-time DUIs.

There were 77 articles dating back to 2003 on Sunday when I conducted the search, most of which were dedicated to DUI checkpoints, fatalities involving drunk drivers, and drivers with particularly egregious violations, such as the infamous Antonio Briseno, who recently logged his 18th DUI.

Strangely, though, this morning's search of the archives using the term "DUI" gives this answer from the Blade search engine:

"Search results for "DUI offense":
The search returned too many articles. Please use more search words to refine your search."

Worked Sunday, does not work today. Coincidence?

Individuals singled out for their DUI offenses tended to be either elected officials (Ray Kest, Alice Robie-Resnick) or who were involved in unusual circumstances (city employees on the job, fatal accidents). I could not find an example of the Blade doing an extended story on a private citizen who received a first-time DUI in which their were no compelling circumstances to make an extended story.

What I found especially unusual was the faux courtroom drama that the unnamed reporter decided to capture. A court case that likely lasted five minutes was turned into a 356-word piece by the unnamed reporter.

Tom Pounds, who I spoke with on Sunday, said that the Blade seemed to spend quite a bit of time on the story.

"They called all of the boards that I sit on to make sure I was still associated with these groups," he said. "Of course, they didn't bother to call me for a quote, nor did the Blade reporter bother to walk over to me in the courtroom and ask for a statement."

This is a cheap shot from a paper with a history of concerted attacks on individuals with whom it chooses to bully, and which uses its corporate power to try and impose John Robinson Block's vision on the citizens of Northwest Ohio.

Ron Royhab, Kurt Franck, Jim Wilhelm, or whoever approved this writing: explain this to the community. Explain why you gave this story the green light, and why Mr. Pounds has been singled out for this attack.

Jack Lessenberry, Blade ombudsman: get working on this. I believe that you are supposed to ensure that the paper lives up to its ideals.

John Robinson Block: Show us where the Blade makes it a point to write about "prominent businessmen" with first-time DUIs, or apologize to Mr. Pounds. Your integrity is being called into question here.

Sep 11, 2005

Brain Gain: Domestic Partner Benefits As A Tool For Regional Growth


Drs. Carol Bresnahan and Michelle Stecker

The flurry of state initiatives in the last election seeking to ban same-sex marriages has brought the issue of domestic partner benefits to the attention of mainstream America.

“Domestic partner benefits were not a national issue until conservatives led a drive to get gay marriage bans on the ballot last year,” said Dr. Carol Bresnahan, a professor at the University of Toledo. “What was a mundane human resource matter has now made the headlines.”

The movement to offer benefits to the same-sex partners and opposite-sex unmarried partners of employees traces its roots to the Village Voice newspaper, which began the practice in 1981.

Over the past 20 years, there has been an exponential increase in the number of institutions – both public and private – that offer benefits to couples not falling under the traditional definitions of marriage. Firms as diverse as Microsoft, Aetna, and the Walt Disney Company offer some form of benefits to employees who are in non-traditional relationships, and a number of states and municipalities have followed the trend.

Owens Corning and WTVG-13 are among the Toledo-based corporations that offer DP.

Toledo City Council President Louis Escobar said that benefits to city employees vary by union contract.

“The police and fire contracts offer death and sick leave benefits to union members,” he said. “I have urged the other city union leaders to push for these benefits as contracts come up for renegotiation.”

Bresnahan, who is also a university vice-provost, said that employers have several compelling reasons for adopting more inclusive benefits packages.

“Many employers recognize that this is an issue of fairness,” she said. “However, every institution that offers DP benefits recognizes that it just makes good business sense to attract the most talented employees – regardless of the type of relationship they are in.”

Bresnahan believes that employers in Northwest Ohio - which has suffered from the perception of a regional “brain drain” due to the exodus of talented residents - would be well advised to recognize the value of offering DP benefits.

“DP benefits are one way to reverse this trend,” she said. “Losing skilled people due to a reputation of being intolerant would not be in the region’s best interests.”

The region of Northwest Ohio has suffered from significant population losses in the past few decades. According to the Census Bureau, Lucas County experienced a decline of over 11,000 residents from 1990 to 2004. Toledo has lost over 23,000 residents in that period.

UT and DP Benefits
A lucrative job offer last December at an eastern university almost lured Bresnahan from UT after two decades.

“The ad for the position prominently displayed a disclaimer that DP benefits were part of the package,” she said. “Had my circumstances been different, I would have taken the job.”

In Ohio, five of the nine major public universities - Ohio State University, Cleveland State, Youngstown State, Miami University and Ohio University – currently offer such benefits.

The University of Toledo, however, offers benefits only to employees in traditional marriages. Bresnahan said that there has been an active movement at UT to achieve benefits parity for over a decade.

“The issue was before the Board of Trustees last summer, but the matter was shelved after the November elections,” said Bresnahan.

Domestic partner benefits have since sparked contentious debate at the University of Toledo, where BOT President Dan Brennan has steadfastly refused to bring the issue up for a vote. At a February meeting of the trustees, several dozen protestors staged a silent demonstration against what they perceive as an effort by the Board to silence them.

Each of the protestors marched into the meeting, mouths covered with tape, and hummed in solidarity. One of the most prominent in the demonstration was Dr. Michelle Stecker, a local minister and historian who is also finishing a law degree at UT. She and Bresnahan are partners, and own a home not far from campus.

“The Board has been using the passage of Issue 1 as an excuse to avoid taking action on DP benefits,” she said. “However, the University’s own law professors have advised the Board that the school will not run afoul of the law by offering DP benefits.”

Escobar, who is also concurrently employed at UT, agreed.

“It is my understanding that one member of the Board had concerns that DP benefits would be in conflict with Issue 1,” he said. “This was a poorly-written law designed by people who wanted to use gays as a way to stir up religious conservatives and get them to the polls.”

UT President Dan Johnson has steadfastly supported DP benefits in recent public statements. Bresnahan believes that the movement will ultimately prevail.

“I have heard that the Board will review the issue again this month,” she said, adding that she was “cautiously optimistic” that the measure will be passed.

Misconceptions and Lost Opportunities

The public holds a number of misconceptions regarding DP benefits, said Bresnahan. One of the most common is that this is only an issue among gays.

“This issue affects everyone, because it is ultimately a matter of civil rights,” she said. “The elections of last November have caused many fair-minded people to recognize that there are larger principles at stake.”

Another misconception is the idea that the proverbial floodgates would open, and institutions would be swamped with requests for coverage.

“There is a great deal of statistical evidence demonstrating that DP benefits have very little effect on insurance costs,” said Bresnahan. “When the University of Illinois began a DP program last year, only 12 individuals- out of a community of 39,000 people – signed up at the first open enrollment.”

Escobar agreed.

“Many people use the excuse that DP benefits are an undue cost, but studies show that is not the case,” he said. “Why is it acceptable to discriminate against people who do not fall under the definition of ‘traditional marriage’?”

Left: Toledo City Council President Louis Escobar

A 2000 study by Hewitt Associates, a global human resource consultant, found that only 1.2% of employees eligible for DP actually used them.

Bresnahan said that the University’s reluctance to offer DP benefits has a number of negative consequences.

“During a hiring search this spring, each of the three finalists for the position brought up the subject,” she said. “Anecdotally, I have heard of a number of talented candidates who passed up UT positions to take opportunities at institutions that offer DP benefits.”

Stecker echoed this observation.

“At UT’s law school, I have been told that we have lost several applicants who changed their minds upon finding out that DP benefits are not offered here,” she said. “The University’s ability to attract the best and the brightest is limited by its benefits package.”

Escobar said that communities that discriminate will find that other regions are more than willing to welcome non-traditional couples.

“I would hope that communities in Northwest Ohio would recognize that it is important to attract the most talented citizens, regardless of race, color, religion, or sexual orientation,” he said.

When Serious Illness Strikes
While many of her coworkers have been sympathetic to Bresnahan’s fight for equality, the ramifications of the problem became much more apparent in March, when her partner contracted viral meningitis.

“My friends at work suddenly understood why this is such an important issue,” said Bresnahan. “We did not qualify for the things that most employees take for granted: hospitalization coverage, prescription benefits, and family leave.”

Stecker - who was in poor health for many weeks – said the couple has been hit with substantial medical bills.

“One prescription alone was $480,” she said, adding that bills from her illness may exceed ten thousand dollars. “The uninsured of this country run a risk of financial ruin if they get seriously ill.”

Escobar related a similar anecdote.

“I was in between jobs in the 1990s and suffered a heart attack,” he said. “My partner’s insurance did not cover me, despite the fact that we have been together 16 years. The only thing that saved me from incurring huge hospital bills was that I was able to get COBRA benefits from my previous job.”

Bresnahan said that the University’s unwillingness to extend benefits to employees makes its official commitments to diversity ring hollow.

“If the University professes that it does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, then it should honor that commitment,” she said. “Otherwise, employees become skeptical, and the net result is that people do not trust in UT’s sincerity.”

The net result of the University’s stance on DP benefits, according to both women, is that UT places more value in the work of employees who happen to be in traditional marriages.

Bresnahan saw a number of positive developments as a result of the current struggle.

“The anti-gay ballot initiatives last year galvanized people from all walks of life to recognize this threat on civil liberties,” she said. “But I am most moved by my students, many of whom have been active in standing up for equality.”

This is an extended version of an article I wrote for the Toledo Free Press in June.

Sep 9, 2005

Toledo Blade Sinks To New Low In Yellow Journalism


Left: Toledo Blade building, courtesy of Toledo-Lucas County Public Library's "Images in Time."
I purposely do not link to the Toledo Blade in my "Life in Toledo" section for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the ferocity with which they target individuals and groups for campaigns of journalistic assault. Ray Kest, the Port Authority Board, and Tom Noe are just the latest in a long line of "run-'em-out-of-town" offensives directed against those who oppose publisher John Robinson Block.

Should JRB's opponents be considered saints? Hardly. Noe will most likely be facing criminal charges for misappropriation of BWC funds, and Kest's fast-and-loose style of money management certainly warranted criticism. The Blade, however, seemed hell-bent to destroy these men, not resting until they were long gone.

The Blade surpassed its own standards of despicable behavior in an article in today's paper that detailed the DUI of Toledo Free Press publisher Tom Pounds, who was once a VP for the Blade (full disclosure: historymike is a frequent contributor to TFP).

It is simply wrong for the Blade to devote nearly a quarter page to a first-time DUI of a publishing competitor. There was no accident, no injuries, nothing newsworthy of this particular offense - except that the Blocks and the Blade want to destroy Tom Pounds.

To drink and drive is illegal, dangerous, and irresponsible. Tom Pounds admitted his guilt and accepted his punishment. End of story.

Except when the Blade can use such an incident to discredit an adversary.

I am not paid for what I write on this blog, and no one from the Free Press has asked me to compose this essay. In fact, one could argue that I just signed a contract of permanent exclusion from the Toledo Blade, who will likely treat me as anathema for having the audacity to excoriate the paper for this rhetorical obscenity.

So be it. I cannot sit idly by and watch the Blade run another shameless smear campaign. It is time that more Toledoans speak out against the self-annointed Block-ocracy, who use their considerable power to dominate life in Northwest Ohio.

Sep 8, 2005

Arlington Midwest Vandalized On UT Campus


"Arlington Midwest," an exhibit of white tombstones fashioned from wood, opened yesterday for its second display at the University of Toledo.

Sponsored by Veterans for Peace, the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition, and the UT department of women's and gender studies, the display was designed as a solemn place for people to remember those who died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Vandals, however, toppled all but 12 of the more than 2,000 tombstones, each of which bears the name of a soldier killed in the Middle East conflicts.

Irrespective of one's political views, this stupidity is an insult to the soldiers who died. I hope that the perpetrators are caught and severely punished; I am sickened at the level of hate that would cause someone (or someones) to destroy this moving tribute.

In a campus-wide letter condemning the actions of these vandals, UT President Dan Johnson weighed in:
A college campus is a place to exchange ideas in a positive and productive manner; and regardless of your opinion of the content or intentions of the display, this deplorable act of vandalism strikes directly at one of our institution's core values: freedom of expression.

Was the memorial organized by antiwar protesters? Yes.

Does this in any way minimize the contribution of these dead soldiers, or justify the desecration of this monument? Absolutely not.

It is my fervent hope that these disturbed cretins face public censure and an appropriate punishment for this cowardly act.

Sep 6, 2005

On "Pocahontas" and Ohio History


Left: 1616 engraving of Pocahontas by Simon van de Passe

A recent survey of 57 students in a survey-level history course at the University of Toledo provided interesting data on the general awareness of this sample group toward the history of indigenous peoples who formerly populated Northwest Ohio. For the purposes of the study, students who were raised outside the rough parameters of “Northwest and Northern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan” were eliminated from the analysis, since they would ostensibly have less connection to the history of the area. The remaining students, who numbered 49, were asked to name any Native American groups that they believed once lived in this region.

While the survey size was relatively small, the results provided some meaningful data. Nearly 37% of respondents could not name any Native American group, or felt compelled to jot down answers outside the purview of the survey. Approximately 22% of respondents answered with a Native American group, such as the Seminoles, that did not have a direct historic connection with the region in and around Northwest Ohio. Only 20% of respondents could name 2 or more Native American groups. Finally, out of 49 respondents, exactly zero could name the Potawatomi as a group of people who once populated the Great Black Swamp and surrounding areas.

The recollections that students had from childhood, pop culture, and secondary schools provide insights into the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of social studies curricula in regional schools. Students were much more likely to recall information on Native American groups from movies than from secondary schools.

Not surprisingly, students most frequently noted the Disney film “Pocahontas” as their number one source for information about Native Americans. In fact, over 42% of survey respondents claimed that their secondary schools provided little or no instruction on Native American history or culture, or that they have no recollection of this material being presented to them. A number of students pointedly chastised their schools for a curricular focus that was almost entirely 20th century and American in its coverage of history.

While the sample size in this survey was small, the results unquestionably indicate a general lack of awareness among college students on the indigenous peoples who lived in Ohio.

The questions now before us: Should we care, and should we rely on the Disney Corporation to provide education on Native Americans?

Sep 4, 2005

Progressively Traditional: The Failure of 19th-Century Latin American Liberals To Enact Democratic Reforms


Left: Juan Bautista Alberdi, Argentine political philosopher, patriot, and diplomat

The failure of Liberal governments to bring to fruition political freedoms in the neocolonial period of post-independence Latin American history can be traced to a variety of causes. The influence of contemporary philosophical thought on nineteenth-century Latin American leaders certainly bears consideration, and the effects of the centuries of transculturation must be taken into account. In addition, factors such as the export boom, literacy, managed elections and increased social mobility all played roles in the period of neo-colonialism. However, the Liberal leaders shared one important consideration with their conservative predecessors – status as social elites – that, in retrospect, was certain to influence the nature of any political changes undertaken in the age of Progress. As described by Jonathan C. Brown, “racial discrimination remained an operative social habit, the social elite preserved itself, and political authoritarianism endured.”

Political Pendulation

The return to power by the Liberals in the mid-nineteenth century might be viewed as a return swing of the political pendulum. After several decades of post-independence rule by conservatives, the promise of something greater than stability and tradition began to resonate throughout the populace of many Latin American nations. Seizing the opportunity offered by rising discontent, Liberal leaders positioned themselves as the vehicles of Progress.

The Mexican presidency of Benito Juarez is illustrative of this oscillating political nature in Latin America. After decades of conservative traditionalism- marked by ardent defense of the Catholic Church, protectionist trade policies, and antagonistic relations with the United States - Juarez and his political cohorts drafted an arrangement to oust Santa Anna known as the Plan of Ayutla. By 1858, after the resignation of Ignacio Comonfort, Juarez had assumed the presidency of Mexico.

The Juarez years promulgated a series of laws known collectively as La Reforma. These edicts abolished the fueros, curtailed ecclesiastical property holdings, introduced a civil registry, and barred the church from charging excessive fees for administering the sacraments, and were much in keeping with Liberal ideals. These principles were in sharp contrast with the conservative battle cry of “Religion and Fueros!”

Chief among the Liberal traditions embraced during this period were those of political economy. Guillermo Prieto, treasury minister during La Reforma, extolled these virtues: “The faith I have in free trade is the faith I have in all sublime manifestations of liberty.” First and foremost, Liberals wanted to promote trade, modernize their respective countries, and metaphorically claim a larger slice of the economic pie for their class.

The Myth of Republicanism

The independence movement created nations out of former Spanish colonies, with the constitutional republic being the form of government most frequently imposed on the new states. While triumphed at independence as vehicles of equality, the reality was that these governments and their constitutions were designed in order to maintain the status quo. Far from being, as illustrated in the case of the Mexican Constitution of 1824, documents “to establish and fix its political Independence, establish and confirm its Liberty, and promote its prosperity and glory,” the true aims of republican governments were the protection of the existing social hierarchy.
The Liberal renaissance in the second half of the nineteenth century proved to be a continuation of politics by exclusion. In the case of Mexico, out of a total population of between eight and nine million people, only 9,000 electors participated in presidential elections between 1867 and 1877. In Buenos Aires, during the period from 1862-1880, only two percent of the total population of the city ever reached the polls. Finally, in Colombia, strict literacy and property qualifications reduced the vote in national elections to a fraction of the male population during the period of Liberal reascendancy. Thus, the Liberal ideal of participatory democracy was not a fact of political life in neocolonial Latin America.

“Managed elections” were a contributory factor in the failure of Liberals to usher in an era of democratic pluralism. Elections in nineteenth-century Latin America were less a measure of popular will than they were “contests of force” that demonstrated which party controlled a region. Vote manipulation, use of police to determine election results, and outright fraud were a staple of Latin American politics. In addition, the recruitment and delivery of voters to the polls by powerful individuals was a frequent tactic used by party leaders to affect electoral outcomes. Sabato wrote:
Foremen and overseers who were at the same time political bosses were a key link in the recruitment of these gangs of worker-voters…it is easy to see that, however, such were far removed from the image of the individual citizen in command of his political rights.

Thus, Liberals engineered elections with the much the same audacity as the conservatives.

Neocolonialism, the Great Export Boom, and the Inferiority Complex

The Iberian backlash generated by centuries of colonial rule drove Latin American elites away from their traditional political and economic inspirations – Spain and Portugal – and towards what were seen as the more liberal and progressive models found in Britain and France. Simultaneously, the mid-nineteenth century is noted for the beginning of the export boom, which brought not only foreign investment and profits, but also the return of the spectre of a renewed dependency on European countries.

Left: Benito Juarez, Mexican president from 1861-63 and 1867-72

Mexico, for example, saw a 900 percent rise in trade between the years 1877 and 1910. Wheat exports from Argentina were over 1,000 times higher in 1900 than the twenty-one tons exported in 1876. Finally, Brazil produced approximately two-thirds of the world’s coffee by the turn of the century.

The profits of the export boom benefited the landowning class more so than any other group, as the products of their property were sold on an increasingly global market. Large landholders near railroads also profited from soaring property values. The export boom also had secondary beneficiaries in a rising middle class, composed of merchants, office workers, and specialized professionals. However, even the Argentine middle class- the largest in neocolonial Latin America- constituted only a little more than one quarter of the nation’s population. The lot of the common man did not improve and, in many cases, suffered as a result of Liberal economic philosophies.

The export boom’s upward pressure on real estate values exacerbated the effects of Liberal land reforms, such as the Ley Lerdo of 1856 in Mexico. Ostensibly created in order to divest the Catholic Church of its vast landholdings, the law had the additional effect of stripping communal village properties. Any land that was not used for day-to-day purposes and held by institutions (“las corporaciones civiles ó eclesiásticas de la República” ) was forced on the market for sale. Liberals had hoped to both weaken the Church and collect taxes on the newly-privatized lands, but the end result was the rapid increase in the number of landless peasants throughout Mexico.

The export boom also created another dilemma for neocolonial elites: their continued prosperity was dependent upon the continuity of foreign investment. As such, the desire by U.S. and European investors for a safe investment environment created situations where Liberal governments found themselves pleasing a new generation of overlords, now financial instead of political. Chasteen described the Liberal reaction as “swallowing hard and throwing a party for their guests.”

This neocolonial economic dependency also became intertwined with Latin American idealization of European, and to a lesser extent American, culture. Chasteen described Paris as the fashion and literary “Mecca,” while Great Britain was considered to be the economic and political pinnacle for Latin Americans. Such cultural adoration, by definition, implies a sense of self-denigration; indigenous forms became seen as something less than ideal, and in many cases, barbaric.
This philosophical dichotomy was exemplified in the person of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, noted Argentinean writer, pundit, and politician. While considered to be one of the leading lights in the move towards public education, he nonetheless looked upon persons of indigenous or mixed heritage as something less than desirable. Sarmiento successfully pushed for policies that would promote European (i.e., “pure”) immigration, while simultaneously excoriating the value of the Argentine gaucho in a missive to General Mitre in 1861:
Do not try to save the blood of the gauchos. It is fertilizer (like the blood of animals from the slaughterhouse) that must be made useful to the country. Blood is the only thing they have in common with human beings.

The “Civilization and Barbarism” polarity expressed by Sarmiento in his work Facundo typifies the mindset of neocolonial Latin American elites. European forms were the civilized models to which forward-looking Latin Americans should aspire, while traditional rural values were to be viewed as disgraceful elements of a barbaric, backward culture.

Assessing Neocolonial Liberals: Profits, Progress, and Prejudice

The return to power by Liberal Latin American governments in the second half of the nineteenth century presents the aforementioned conundrum: that is, how elites with philosophically liberal beliefs nonetheless failed to achieve democratic political reforms, which are at the very core of traditional liberalism. The answer to this dilemma lies in an examination of the purported “liberal” nature of the neocolonial leaders.

“Progress,” as understood by nineteenth-century Liberals in Latin America, did not necessarily correspond with the traditional liberal definition. To Latin American elites, “Progress” was equated with modernity and economic growth; however, political progress as envisioned by Enlightenment thinkers was anathema to neocolonial Liberals. The very idea of political equality with persons considered as inferior was seen as destructive to the established social order, and as something that would also be disruptive to the economic prosperity enjoyed by the ruling class.

It comes as no surprise that the Brazilian flag so prominently displays the axiom “Ordem E Progresso” (“order and progress”) on its national flag. More than any two other words, these succinctly symbolize the most important components of what would constitute an “ideal” state to neocolonial Liberals. In addition, this slogan was the mantra by which August Comte launched his Positivist movement.

Left: August Comte, positivist philosopher

Positivism, among other things, attempts to build a model for human development, with human societies passing through various stages until the highest form of human progress – a posteriori – is achieved. Coupled with other forms of social Darwinism, a philosophical (read: scientific) basis was postulated by neocolonial elites as justification for social stratification. People in lower socio-economic classes, by this logic, were simply in a lower stage of human development, and would thus be incapable of good governance. Conversely, the business of government should be the domain of those that Chasteen called “the nation’s supposedly ‘best and brightest,’ which amounted, in most cases, to its richest and whitest.” In essence, social Darwinist theory attempts to create a scientific basis for institutionalized racism.

The epitome of neocolonial philosophy might be found in the writings of Juan Bautista Alberdi, whose “Bases and Points of Departure for the Political Organization of the Argentine Republic” provided much of the rhetorical foundation for the Argentine Constitution of 1853. Sharing Comtean notions of stages of social development, Alberdi argued that Argentina must first pass through a period that he called the “possible republic” – an era distinguished by restricted suffrage under an authoritarian government – before it could reach the stage of “true republic.”
Alberdi viewed white Anglo-Saxons as the most desirable component of an ideal society; encouraging the immigration of Anglo-Saxons was, in Alberdi’s eyes, an important duty of a forward-looking government. Alberdi argued that this members of this ethnic group
…are identified with the steamship, with commerce, and with liberty, and it will be impossible to establish these things among us (Argentines) without the active cooperation of that progressive and cultivated race.

Finally, the pervasive influence of Liberal notions of racial hierarchy can be demonstrated by the actions of Mexico’s Zapotec President, Benito Juarez. A symbol of pride to indigenous peoples throughout the region, Juarez showed the possibilities offered by Liberal governments: any person, irrespective of ethnicity, could attain positions of power and influence in a modern republic. However, this icon of pluralism was offended by suggestions that he was an “Indian,” he used rice powder to lighten his natural complexion. More than any other illustration, this poignant anecdote captures the essence of neocolonial Liberal attitudes in nineteenth-century Latin America.

Sep 2, 2005

On The 'Anarchy' In New Orleans


Left: refugees stranded in New Orleans - TV New Zealand

The breakdown in social order ocurring in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina has produced desperate conditions for the citizens still stranded in the beleaguered city. Rampant crime, scarce resources, and an unhealthy environment have completely disrupted established social norms, leading many mainstream journailsts to describe the city as falling into "anarchy."

In a technical sense, they are partly correct, for "anarchy" is derived from the Greek word αναρχία (anarchia), which roughly translates into "without a ruler" (an- means "without", arch- the root that denotes "rule"). The destruction of communication and power systems have indeed left the city, state, and federal governments at least temporarily incapable of rule, and armed gangs still control sections of the city tonight.

"Anarchy," though, is not an accurate description of the situation in New Orleans; what may seem to be linguistic hair-splitting has a subtext of several millenia of governmental self-justification. Entrenched governments typically view notions of anarchy as threats to power, and citizens are taught to make an association between "anarchy" and "chaos." We are also taught from an early age that government's role is paternal, benevolent, and natural; while I was heartened to see President Bush tour the Gulf coast today, the constant media references to "Compassioner in Chief" were surreal.

As a utopian ideal, anarchy is shared by groups as diverse as libertarians and Marxists. Both types of political outlooks envision a world where self-actualized people no longer need a government, and social relations are voluntarily and freely established between individuals. Anarchism, in its theoretical forms, is a vision of how a stateless and non-authoritarian society might work.

Left: patrols attempt to restore order in New Orleans - Guardian

Shifting gears after my lesson in political linguistics, I am both profoundly disturbed and morbidly intrigued by the bizarre resistance from organized bands of thugs to attack relief workers in New Orleans. Shots have been fired at numerous rescue personnel, a Chinook helicopter took fire yesterday, and fire fighters were penned in by snipers this afternoon.

Are these actions simply hooliganism at its worst, or do they represent some misguided anger toward authority? It is easy to write this phenomena off as mere criminal behavior by disturbed individuals, because we do not have to raise questions about American democratic capitalism this way. Find 'em, round 'em up, and book 'em, Dan-o.

The stranded refugees, interviewed by network reporters, possessed a high degree of anger at the failure of the government to protect and rescue them. This anger, however, seemed to be deep-seated, and oriented around a long period of bleak prospects.

The city of New Orleans has had chronic problems with poverty and unemployment; one can debate the reasons for these conditions, but the fact remains that there are few opportunities for poor residents of the Big Easy to exit the cycle of poverty. Should the violence directed toward agents of the government be chalked up as typical criminal behavior, or are these disturbing scenes indicative of deeper problems in America?

Sep 1, 2005

Hell-Storm Katrina


Left: Thousands of refugees walking on an elevated expressway in New Orleans - Reuters

The images of chaos from New Orleans have been haunting me for days, especially given the fact that the initial reports from the networks were that the city managed to avoid catastrophic damage. New Orleans is experiencing death and misery on a scale perhaps unprecedented in modern American history.

Left: N.O. Police officer guarding a fuel truck - London Times

Perhaps most disturbing have been the images of residents reduced to looting retail businesses. There have certainly been opportunistic thieves hellbent on grabbing flat-screen TVs, expensive audio equipment, and Oxycotin, but seeing desperate people wading through chest-deep sewage to steal bottled water, food, and diapers is horrifying. Would that I never have to live in a place reduced below the level of existence of the worst Calcutta slum.

Left: BP station at Central and Cherry - historymike

Closer to home, of course, we are seeing the unseen hand of the free market working its disinterested magic upon gas prices. Fears of long-term damage to oil refineries, offshore wells, and Gulf coast ports have sent the pump prices well above $3.00 a gallon. I was intrigued to see two BPs (Secor/Monroe and Central/Cherry) have different prices 15 minutes apart today ($3.14 to $3.19). Numerous stations have just given up posting prices on the marquee signs, since the price is seemingly changing by the minute.

Left: (clockwise) Mayor Jack Ford, Fire Chief Mike Bell, Cynthia Savage, Councilman Frank Szollosi, Juanita Greene (BCR), Traci Jadlos (Youth Commission) - historymike

Toledo Mayor Ford and numerous city officials gathered at 4:30 today to participate in a conference call with mayors from across the nation to discuss the destruction of New Orleans. The city is assembling a team of firefighters to send to New Orleans to assist with rescue efforts; these volunteers will be paid through administrative leave. Ford said that fundraising efforts will likely be coordinated with the local Red Cross.

The scale of this disaster is almost beyond comprehension; the destruction of buildings and infrastructure in New Orleans may be akin to that of Hiroshima or Dresden, since many of the city's buildings will have to be leveled once the water is pumped out. The idea that a modern American city can be reduced to utter devastation ought to be a sober reminder to all of us about how quickly one's fortunes can change.

To assuage the survivalist in me, I am going to stock up on a couple of cases of bottled water, some flashlight batteries, and a few extra canned goods.