Jan 31, 2006

The Passing Of A Reluctant Icon

Left: Coretta Scott King in 2004, courtesy of jsonlie.com

(Toledo, OH) It was with sadness that I read of the death of Coretta Scott King, the widow of the late Dr. Martin Luther King. She was a woman of poise, strength, and courage whose quiet demeanor and resolute passion for civil rights made her, in many ways, the equal of her more famous husband.

After suffering a stroke last August, Mrs. King had been quite ill in recent months. In her few public appearances in the last year she did not speak and was using a wheelchair.

Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, told reporters this morning that "President Bush and first lady Laura Bush were always heartened by their meetings with Mrs. King. What an inspiration to millions of people. I'm deeply saddened by today's news."

The world was made a better place by the life of Coretta Scott King, and she will be sorely missed.

La Florida: The Land Of Flowers Became A Graveyard

Left: Map of early Spanish explorations courtesy of luddist.com

This is an excerpt of a book project I am working on that deals with the role of epidemic disease in the European conquest of the Americas

Beginning with Ponce de Leon in 1513, the Spanish began a campaign of conquest and exploration in the land that they called La Florida. This territory encompassed not only that of present-day Florida, but parts of Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi.

The largest ethnic group in the region was the Timucua, who dominated the northern third of La Florida. Demographic estimates of the population size of the Timucua range from 200,000 to 500,000 people; the difficulty in quantifying population size is a function of the decentralized nature of Timucuan society. There were approximately 30 Timucua kingdoms of various sizes, and the lack of a formal system of writing has hampered efforts to determine the scope of Timucuan civilization.

The first epidemics in La Florida have not been as well-documented as those of Hispaniola, Mesoamerica, and Peru; however, there is strong evidence of catastrophic depopulation among Timucuan peoples. The number of chiefdoms had dwindled to 13 by 1595, and the population had fallen to an estimated 50,000 people.

The colonizing expedition of Hernando de Soto was instrumental in describing and cataloguing the various ethnic groups of La Florida. Without these narratives, it is possible that the names of entire indigenous groups might have vanished from history. Of course, de Soto’s expedition and the Eurasian microbes that tagged along may, in and of themselves, have triggered an initial wave of demographic disaster for the original inhabitants of the Floridian peninsula.

The century after initial European contact was, for the Timucua-speakers, one of massive depopulation. The exact date of epidemics is not known; what can be pieced together from contemporary accounts is the large number of empty villages in the southeastern United States that developed between the expeditions of de Soto and LaSalle.

The maelstrom of disease and death that may have been roiled by de Soto apparently extended across the entire Southeast. The Coosa city-states of western Georgia and the Caddoan-speaking civilization, centered on the Texas-Arkansas border, collapsed soon after the de Soto foray. The Caddo were renowned for their taste in colossal construction: public plazas, ceremonial platforms, mausoleums.

After the period of de Soto’s travels, the Caddo stopped building community centers and began digging community cemeteries. Between the expeditions of de Soto and La Salle, the Caddoan population plummeted from about 200,000 to an estimated 8,500 people - a drop of nearly 96 percent.

OTA Link Day


(Toledo, OH) On Tuesdays, I will perform my duties as a member of the Open Trackback Alliance and highlight some articles that I found noteworthy on the sites of other members.

Follow this link to learn more about the project, which was developed by Samantha Burns.

Aaron at Grandinite has an interesting article on magnesium depletion including a checklist that discusses the physical symptoms of magnesium deficiency.

Lyn at Bloggin' Outlouddiscusses yaks and their human counterarts in an allegorical post.

Those of you who believe the Minutemen hold the keys to slowing illegal immigration should read this post over at Freedom Folks. Warning: this article will offend those who beieve the Hastert/Sensenbrenner “border security” bill to be a dangerous trend that unfairly targets illegal immigrants as felons.

Jan 30, 2006

Rice Announces: No US Aid To Hamas Government

Left: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; photo courtesy of BBC.

(London) In a move that will likely increase tensions in the region, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced today that the US will not provide financial assistance to a Hamas-led government in Palestine.

Meeting members of the "Quartet" - the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations - Rice said that the US "is not prepared to fund an organization that advocates the destruction of Israel, that advocates violence and that refuses" to honor the previously negotiated peace framework.

The statement seems to indicate a shift in administration policy; the President's spokespersons previously asserted that the electoral results demonstrated a Palestinian desire for change and not necessarily an endorsement of Hamas per se.

The situation in Palestine is grim, as high unemployment, a sinking economy, and increasing violence portend an imminent political crisis. The question is whether a Hamas-led government can quell the unrest and stablize the country before the Israelis begin loading the tanks and armored personnel carriers.

The worst case scenario is a Palestinian civil war that brings more parties into a wider regional conflict.

It would seem more prudent to delay a cessation of aid for at least a few months to see if Hamas can bring a return of order to the nation. The administration's decision seems reckless and poorly-timed, unless this is merely a rhetorical negotiating ploy to send a wakeup call to the leaders of Hamas. To cut off aid at this juncture would likely strengthen, not weaken, Hamas, as it would be "evidence" that Palestinian leaders could show to demonstrate the supposed ill will of the West toward Muslims.

Not unlike the 1990s claims of a certain deposed dictator in the region, who was able to parlay economic hardship into sympathy as a means of retaining power for another decade.

Dr. William White On AIDS


(Toledo, OH) I realize that the National Socialist Movement's spokesperson Bill White thrives on outrageousness. I realize, too, that even mentioning his name in a post increases the likelihood that the clown will retaliate with another of his patented attack pieces (he has penned a number of defamatory statements about me in the past few months, along with at least a dozen Toledoans he views as enemies).

And yet, like an itchy scab, I find myself picking at another of his more ridiculous posts.

I tell myself: "Michael, he's a blowhard, a narcissist, and an utter fool. Why do you feel the need to even address his lunacy?"

In the interest of public health, though, I will examine an article in which Dr. William White - NSM spokesperson and public health minister - addresses AIDS.

He begins by providing a few statistics about AIDS and the African American population; while not citing his sources, they appear to be reasonable estimates. As a rule, I do not link to the Overthrowup website, so use Bill's search engine if you must read his blatherings.

However, in true Bill White form, he takes a nugget of truth and spins an article of the most incredible fantasy. White asserts that "Jewish-controlled media sources do not like to publicize the fact that white people are almost completely immune to AIDS from normal sexual intercourse, whereas AIDS has peculiarities which blacks particularly vulnerable." Uh, Bill? The reason that the death rates are so high for people of African origin is that most of them do not have access to quality hospitals, let alone life-saving AIDS medications.

Interestingly, Dr. White proposes the theory that "Whites... can generally only contract AIDS through contact with the blood or feces of an AIDS victim," while blacks "can contract AIDS through contact with semen, vaginal fluid and saliva." Must be those ultra-Aryan immune systems hard at work, eh Bill?

White cannot help but gleefully predict that AIDS "promises...to leave the world virtually devoid of blacks by the end of the next century." Hey Bill: the fundamentalists had the same genocidal wishes about gays in the 1980s, but shucks - it didn't happen that way.

The only good news out of this? If his semi-literate neo-Nazi pals actually believe this claptrap (pun intended), then they may put themselves in danger of contracting the virus by thinking they are immune.

Which just might mean that a few fewer children will be borne to ignorant racists.

Jan 29, 2006

Jeep Managers Fired For "Creative Accounting" Practices

Left: Aerial view of Toledo North complex courtesy of Safety Bubba.com

(Toledo, OH) Local news reports noted the firing of four management personnel and disciplinary action taken against nine others at the Toledo Jeep complex.

Ed Saenz, a spokesman for the DaimlerChrysler in refused to divulge the nature of the charges, except to say that it "involved violations of the firm’s policies and procedures."

Sources at Toledo Jeep provided me with more detail on the reasons why the 13 management personnel came under investigation.

"Everyone in the plant knows what's going on, because this is the way things work around here," said one source. "DaimlerChrysler is notrious for making their suppliers wait 3-4 months for payment, and these managers were facing a lot of pressure from suppliers to get paid."

The suppliers and managers worked out a plan: suppliers would get overpaid on invoices, creating a sort of financial cushion against the DCX strategy of holding onto invoices. Managers would then be able to get supplies they needed, since suppliers no longer threatened to withhold delivery.

"This was a way that these employees could keep the plant running," he said. "If a part cost $500, and I as a manager agreed to submit an invoice for $1000, then the supplier had a float of $500 to protect him against DaimlerChrysler's 'slow-pay' philosophy."

The source said that smaller suppliers are the firms most likely to be put on the 'slow-pay' system.

"Face it - DCX is a huge company, and if they can get away with sticking it to small suppliers, they will," he said. "Imagine what $50,000 is worth over 4 months at 10% interest."

It is unlikely that the disciplined managers personally profitted from the scheme, said a source.

"This is how average people deal with a situation created at the top of the company. If you need a part for a robot that will stop the line, and the supplier refuses to deliver it because DCX is 4 months behind in payment, you work a deal with the supplier," he said. "Anyone who has ever had to sign a supplier's invoice knows that this company stalls as long as possible to pay their bills, and essentially holds hostage the small suppliers."

One source added that he knew some of the disciplined and fired men.

"These are good people, and some of them have been here for many years," he said. "It's a shame that they are being disciplined for trying to keep the plant running."

Developing story...

Jan 28, 2006

Viva La Revolucion? Another South American Nation Turns Socialist

Left: Newly elected Bolivian president Evo Morales; photo courtesy of lostiempos.com

(Bolivia) The surprising victory by Evo Morales in Bolivia's national elections is merely the latest in what has quietly become a continental shift away from the free-market ideology pushed by the United States and the IMF.

Morales joins the leftist ranks of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez Argentina's Nelson Kirchner, Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and Uruguay's Tabare Vazquez. Another left-leaning candidate, Ollanta Humala, could win the election next month in Peru election.

And let us not forget Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader of Nicaragua in the 1980s, who is making noise about a comeback bid.

Morales took the reins of power this week after an election in which he not only took 54% of the vote, but also in which he became the first candidate in over 20 years to receive an electoral majority. He is also the first indigenous ruler in the region now known as Bolivia since the time of the Incas, a period of over five centuries.

This, of course, poses a dilemma for the Bush Administration. One one hand, the Bolivian elections were a democratic process, which President Bush has made a cornerstone of his foreign policy. On the other - the neo-conservatives and corporate lobbyists who advise the President must be beside themselves with horror at the prospect of yet another socialist rising to power in the hemisphere.

Morales, while not a diehard Marxist, nonethless represents a threat to US hegemony in the region. His opposition to the power of multinational corporations is apparent, particularly in his statement about basic human rights.

Will Bush embrace the ideal of democratically-elected governments, or will he cave in to the pressue of the neo-conservatives to vigorously oppose what appears to be a groundswell of hemispheric support for socialist governments?

Jan 27, 2006

Historical Immersion: Jacques Pluss And His Infiltration Of The NSM

(Toledo, OH) This is an excerpt of an upcoming article I am working on for a national periodical.

I posted a short article a few months ago about Jacques Pluss, a medieval historian who abruptly left the National Socialist Movement (NSM) in October 2005.

The story originally caught my eye not because of its connection to the NSM but rather because I found intriguing the idea of an academic joining forces with this particular neo-Nazi group. Why, I wondered, had this man chosen to leave the world of academia to attend marches with a collection of Nazi fetishists?

Pluss is no academic slouch by any means. He received his PhD in medieval history from the University of Chicago, generally considered one of the top five history programs in the US.

Stranger still was the reaction by members of the NSM to his departure. NSM spokesman Bill White posted on October 19 that Pluss was "seriously depressed and taking psychiatric medication for emotional issues since his dismissal from Farleigh Dickinson University. Recently, I am told, he had his prescription and / or dosage changed, and began behaving bizarrely."

White maintained that the NSM placed Pluss on "a leave of absence."

Pluss was ousted last spring from a position as an adjunct instructor from Farleigh-Dickinson University. He said that he actually exposed himself, mailing a letter from Ireland detailing his "involvement" with the NSM.

It turns out that Pluss, who is Jewish, actually infiltrated the NSM in order to obtain background information for a book project. He recently made public his ruse at History News Network.

Contacted at an undisclosed East Coast location, Pluss provided me with some interesting information about the NSM and the white nationalist movement.

"My decision to join the NSM was inspired by the work of [philosophers] Michele Foucault and Jacques Derrida, who believed that a researcher needed to "become" the research subject," he said. "After filling out the one-page form and sending in my $20, I was officially a member of the NSM."

Among the duties that Pluss performed for the NSM was the production of a weekly Internet radio program.

"I created a persona for the program, and the formula was pretty simple: all I had to do was rail against blacks, Jews, and people south of the border," he said, adding that his shows have since been removed from the NSM archives. "Since I also had the ability to do it with a level of discourse above the 10th grade leel, all the better; as long as I could obnoxiously villify people of color, they loved me."

The NSM also loved the fact that Pluss was an academic; the following is from a February 2005 memo from NSM commander Jeff Schoep:
I stated that we had a surprise coming, and this will be welcome news for all throughout the White Patriot Movement. This is a move of Historical Proportions in our struggle, that a man with such credentials is stepping forth with such a sound and resonating message of Truth, beaming forth directly from the National Socialist Movement!
"They recognized that I brought a measure of legitimacy to the group with my presence," he said. "I can only imagine how shocked they were when they realized that they'd been had."

Pluss, who described his true political views as "mainstream Republican," said that he and his fiancée have received numerous threats since he left the NSM.

"In addition to the Internet vilification, I received three calls threatening my life, which I registered with the local police," he said. "My fiancée was also threatened over the phone – the caller said that he would cut her throat."

The NSM, said Pluss, is not the rapidly expanding movement that its leaders make it out to be.

"The national meeting in Kansas City garnered about 30 people, eight of whom were women," he said. " At the Yorktown rally I counted 115. The notion that this is 'fastest-growing' white supremacist group is nonsense, unless you consider that the rest of the racist groups all have about three people."

Most of the NSM units, according to Pluss, are small.

"A lot of these so-called 'units' are basically one guy in a given city," he said. "They consider groups larger than six people to be a huge success."

Pluss, a Vietnam veteran, provided an impression of what he considers to be the typical NSM member.

"They are generally lower working class males in their 20s and 30s, and theya re lucky if they have a high school education," he said. "Most of them are unemployed or just scraping by, and there are large number on some form of disability."

Also trained as a psychoanalyst, Pluss offered a psychological profile of the typical follower of the NSM.

"Life really isn’t working out for these people, and from a psychological perspective they tend to be rage-filled individuals who treat hate as a matter of religion," he said. "They likely suffered some form of childhood abuse or neglect, and many seem to suffer from paranoid personality disorder."

Pluss speculated on why groups like the NSM are able to attract members.

"These individuals tend to gravitate toward an individual or idea to fill a void in their lives," he said. "They likely lack a father figure, and they tend to compare favorably with people who wind up in religious cults."

The historian took aim at the leadership of the NSM.

"“I think the Bill White is three steps below Satan,” he said. "He is a dangerous character, probably spent a lot of time in a psychiatric institution."

Pluss also spoke out about the NSM's commander, Jeff Schoep.

"Schoep is a complete mediocrity who is not very bright," he said. "The national offices of the NSM are in his mom’s basement, and he collects he’s on food stamps, draws welfare, and lives in a trailer."

Despite his derision of the NSM and similar groups, Pluss was quick to point out that they must not be ignored.

"The white power movement is a dangerous thing - even though they are small in numbers they are very dangerous, because they are made up of thugs," he said. "They are networked very well, and they can definitely hurt people."

Pluss spends his days tending to his horses.

"I have a lifelong interest in riding and training hunter-jumper horses since I was 13," he said, adding that he has an interest in a commercial farm. "However, since the economy went south we wound up with a bunch of furry lawn mowers."

Blog Idea - Seeking Input

(Toledo, OH) Years ago I participated in a unique experiment in collaborative writing in which posters would pick up the thread of a story that was left by the last visitor. The result was an evolving work of fiction that carried the imprint of a variety of writers.

One of the problems with the site was its lack of moderation; there would be a half-dozen serious writers whose work would be interrupted by cyber-clowns posting stupidity.

The thought that crossed my mind was to set up a similar project in a blog format. Invited members of the blog would be free to log in and make posts, carrying the story forward (this would eliminate the problem of trolls). The comments section could be used to critique the writing as well as to offer suggestions on where the next writer could go.

What do you think? What sorts of gound rules do you see as necessary for this project to be successful (or at least entertaining)?

Jan 26, 2006

On The Palestinian Election

Left: Supporters of Hamas celebrate in Ramallah; photo courtesy of AP.

The stunning victory by Hamas in yesterday's election likely signals an era of increased conflict in the Middle East, and it appears that the militant political group has achieved a majority of the seats in the country's Legislative Council.

Whatever the true aims of Hamas, which has a history of supporting terrorist acts against Israeli civilians, it is difficult to see how the electoral results can be shown in a positive light.

Israeli politicians will likely perceive this turn of events as an affront to any good faith efforts they have put forth, and this probably bodes well for hard right Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli voters take to the polls in a little over two months, and the fear of increased violence will weigh heavily on their minds.

Some try to spin this as a sign that Palestinian voters are frustrated with the corruption and ineffectiveness of Fatah, and there is a good case to be made that the death of Yasser Arafat doomed the party he founded.

That is little consolation for those who desire peace in the region, though. Yes, the Palestinians may have voted for Hamas in a collective fit of "throw da bums out," but it is difficult to find a hope for peace in the rhetoric of Hamas, which refused to back away from its official stance that Israel should be "destroyed."

It is also unclear if the Hamas-led government will even achieve recognition by Western nations, which will deal a blow to President Bush's vision of a democratic Middle East if the US chooses not to recognize the democratically-elected Palestinian government.

In any case fears of a widening Middle East war loom even larger.

Update: I just listened to the President's news conference.

"I don't see how you can have a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform," he said. "I know you can't be a partner in peace if your party has an armed wing."

It should also be noted, as an observant reader reminded me in an email, that Hamas is still on the US government's terror watch list.

Jan 25, 2006

Another Graffiti Mystery


(Toledo, OH) Over the past few months I have seen quite a few of these stenciled James Dean images around town.

They tend to be found on metallic electrical or traffic boxes near street corners; this image is on a traffic box located at the intersection of Secor and Laskey.

So, the question before my astute readers is this: Why are indivduals spray painting this image around town?

Has James Dean become some sort of icon for a political or environmental group?

Your thoughts (and possible solutions) will be greatly appreciated, as my curiosity has reached the impatient stage.

Addendum: babbleman at Toledo Talk made a good argument for this to be an image of Jack Kerouac, the Beat author.

Political Brainwashing, Or Healthy Debate?


Image courtesy of Duke Magazine

(Toledo, OH) The debate over academic freedom heated up again with the revelation that the founder of UCLA Profs.com offered students up to $100 in return for "information about abusive, one-sided or off-topic classroom behavior" by professors.

Similar sentiments led to the introduction of legislation in Ohio last year for an "academic bill of rights for higher education" that would impose state-mandated limits on what professors could say in their classrooms.

The California group argues that professors who provide alternative viewpoints bring about "debased education," and are "are actively proselytizing their extreme views in the classroom."

There are several assumptions at work here, and the first is the most damning of this type of academic McCarthyism; namely, that students are too stupid to sort out political discussion for themselves, and that these crafty leftists will somehow lead otherwise innocent students astray.

Let's see - it seems to me that the political winds have been blowing from the right for several electoral cycles now. If this "conspiracy" was so powerful, one might think that the national elections would provide evidence of the effectiveness of this "indoctrination." In a similar vein the conservative academics of the 1960s seemed to have little effect on the burgeoning counterculture that blossomed in spite of staid, traditional instructors.

Furthermore, it has been my experience that universities contain people of all political persuasions. I have been instructed by Marxists, Democrats, Republicans, and at least one neo-con so hardcore right wing that John Birch himself would look like a pinko.

And you know what? I have learned something from each of them.

One of the benefits of taking classes with instructors whose political viewpoints differ from your own is that you can develop strong debating skills.

I have never met an instructor who tried to force their views on other students, and I suspect that the difficulties are to be found as much in students who are stubborn ideologues as they are in "proselytizing professors."

This, by the way, is a phenomenon as likely to be found on the left as the right. Some of the most intolerant people I have met have been diehard leftists whose obsession with their version of "truth" made them incapable of friendly dialogue with anyone who did not match their doctrinnaire zealotry.

What the debate over professorial politics really centers on is the freedom of professors and students to engage in thought-provoking discussion about the world. Despite the fears of UCLAProfs.com that political discourse may not be "relevant to the class topic," politics pervades every aspect of human existence. Even "pure" and "scientific" disciplines like biology are subject to political debate; one need look no further than the issue of stem cell research to see this connection.

The specter of fascist Germany seems alive and well in the political witch hunts that masquerade as attempts to rein in "radical" professors.

Review: Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book Of The Dawn Of Life And The Glories Of Gods And Kings


Left: Stone carving of the Mayan god Zipacna; image courtesy of FAMSI website

Translated by Dennis Tedlock; New York: Touchstone, 1996

The Popol Vuh is a Quiché text that attempts to explain the creation and meaning of the universe. Tedlock’s translation began with the acts of Mayan gods in a world in which there only exists “the pooled water, only the calm sea” and ended with the coming together of the three Masters of Ceremonies who founded the Quiché kingdom in the Guatemalan highlands: lords of the Cauecs, Greathouses, and the Lord Quichés. Originally written in Mayan hieroglyphs, the Popul Vuh was later transcribed into the Roman script; despite the attempts of Spanish missionaries to destroy all copies of the sacred writing, original hieroglyphic manuscripts were still in use at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

The only surviving copy of the text in Quiché (in the Romanized script) was discovered by a Dominican friar named Francisco Ximénez. He not only copied the Quiché writing but also added a side-by-side Spanish translation. In the mid-nineteenth century, two translations were undertaken; the first by an Austrian physician named Carl Scherzer in 1857, and the second by a French missionary named Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg. The Ximénez text is now archived at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

The merits of the text, of course, are that this is most likely the closest that scholars will ever get to a text written by pre-Columbian American peoples. The irony, of course, is that the text may show some signs of cross-culturation, both by other Central American peoples as well as by European Christians. There are numerous examples of creation myths in the Popol Vuh that mirror Christian concepts; the Quiché belief that the first incarnations of man were imperfect and needed to be destroyed is reminiscent of the Biblical stories of Noah and Lot. The appearance of the Plumed Serpent in the Popol Vuh has a likely connection with the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl, suggesting the interconnectedness of peoples in Mesoamerica.

The Popol Vuh is fascinating reading as a work of mystical appreciation for the wonders of the universe. While this reviewer does not ascribe to the sort of weepy romanticism often associated with exotic religious texts, one cannot help but be moved by passages such as the following:
They were good people, handsome, with looks of the male kind. Thoughts came into existence and they gazed; their vision came all at once. Perfectly they saw, perfectly they knew everything under the sky, whenever they looked. The moment they turned around and looked around in the sky, on the earth, everything was seen without any obstruction. They didn't have to walk around before they could see what was under the sky; they just stayed where they were. . . . After that, they thanked the Maker, Modeler.

Most of all, the text is a beautiful slice of humanity, and the writing is at turns magical, humorous, and historical. Rather than being seen as some sort of compendium of anthropological data, or as the long-lost key to the universe, the Popol Vuh should be seen as a snapshot of a unique worldview that continues to influence millions of believers in the modern Quiché world.

Jan 24, 2006

McCain Riles Up The Venezuelans

Left: Senator John McCain, courtesy of Mosnews.com

(Toledo, OH) I find John McCain intriguing as a possible 2008 presidential candidate; he is outspoken, charismatic, and projects himself seemingly above much of the partisan political fray that is Washington.

And yet, perhaps his willingness to say what is on his mind may end up being his undoing.

"We've got to get quickly on a track to energy independence from foreign oil and that means, among other things, going back to nuclear power," Senator McCain said on Fox News Sunday. "We better understand the vulnerabilities that our economy, and our very lives, have when we're dependent on Iranian mullahs and wackos in Venezuela."

"Wackos in Venezuela."

Now, Senator McCain might disagree with the leftist politics of such people of Hugo Chavez, and that is understandable. It should be noted, however, that popular elections put Mr. Chavez into power, and he has also survived a US-backed referedum to have him removed from power.

Chavez is a socialist, but he is far from a "wacko." He is a shrewd politician who has endeared himself to many of the South American nation's poor, and has figured out that gaining greater control over the nation's oil reserves is an excellent way to improve the standard of living among the country's most impoverished citizens.

Is this good economic policy? Perhaps not. Is Chavez insane for undertaking such a course of action? Definitely not.

McCain's comments only serve to worsen relations between Venezuela and the US. Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel responded in kind, telling McCain that he can "go to hell" for his remarks.

"Maybe he has got nothing to do over there in the United States," said Rangel, adding that the US has "so many problems, 40 million poor people, 30 million drug users, and an American senator is paying attention to us."

While I share McCain's enthusiasm for energy independence, I believe his words only increased the tension between the governments of Venezuela and the United States, and the Senator needs to choose his rhetoric more carefully.

OTA Link Love


(Toledo, OH) As today is Tuesday, I will perform my duties as a member of the Open Trackback Alliance and highlight some articles that I found noteworthy on the sites of other members.

Mice at Miceland has an interesting article that
extolls the virtues
of Zen Buddhism, as well as providing some recommendations of Zen-related texts for people unfamiliar with this philosophy.

Aaaron Braaten at Grandinite offers his views on the Conservative party victory in the Canadian national elections, along with a snippet of related 2Pac lyrics. Me? I much prefer Pete Townshend and The Who's take on electoral politics:

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss.

There is a very funny parody ad at Pirates - Man Your Women about BMW owners that mirrors some of the recent conversation in which we engaged about lousy drivers. Worth repeated clicks.


Third World Country shares: Head 'em up; move 'em out!
Excerpt: Here's a roundup for ya: It Is About Time We Were Politically Incorrect Part II from All Things Beautiful. Preach it Alexandra. (And don't miss It Is About Time We Were Politically Incorrect Part I.) Regarding the intolerance of the left for religion...

Freedom Folks joins in with: Help the Solution, Not the Problem
Excerpt: If an immigration reform bill moving through Congress becomes law, nonprofit organizations that help day laborers find work without making sure each client has a legal right to work in the U.S. could be subject to criminal prosecution, jail sentences...

Jan 23, 2006

Plug For Toledo Restaurant Reviews


(Toledo, OH) Here is a link to a new restaurant review site I am editing. We plan to post at least one review per week, depending on schedule and incoming contributions.

Submissions by readers are very much welcomed, as well as suggestions on restaurants to review. Contributors can use their real names or a nom de plume.

The goal is to create an objective site by which readers can make informed dining decisions. Restaurant reviews will not be limited to the Toledo area, although I suspect that ninety percent of the reviews will be of Northwest Ohio eateries.

Comments, contributions, and site traffic have exceeded my expectations for the first month, and I hope that this venture continues to grow in popularity.

The Height Of Hyperbole

Left: Map of Iran's missile capability courtesy of indepundit.com

(Manhattan, KS) President Bush, addressing students at Kansas State University, said that he believes Iran poses a "grace threat" to world peace, as well as this gem:

"The world cannot be put in a position where we can be blackmailed by a nuclear weapon."

I, too, am concerned about the buildup of nuclear arms in the Middle East and Central Asia. However, "the world" will not be blackmailed if Iran is able to develop nuclear weapons.

Tel Aviv, perhaps. Baghdad, certainly. But not the world.

While not as reckless as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "wiping Israel off the map" comments, President Bush nonetheless engaged in rhetorical overstatement that is most likely designed to begin the process of building support for military action in the Middle East.

Iran lacks the means to deliver a long-range nuclear payload; its Shahab-3 missile has a maximum range of only 1,500 kilometers (about 931 miles). In addition, its tests with the Shahab-3 have been at best partially successful, and one test in 1998 resulted in a Shahab-3 exploding 100 seconds after liftoff.

Getting a weapon to a target is only half of the equation, however. While Iran will likely produce enough nuclear material for weapons within a year, it will likely be several years before they perfect the technological process to begin arming missiles.

Mr. President: while I share your concern for the proliferation of nuclear arms, I believe that your statement only increases tensions in an already-volatile region. Save the hyperbole for your golf game or the Super Bowl.

Noted Author To Speak At UT


(Toledo, OH) Author and historian Dr. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz will speak at the University of Toledo On Thursday, January 26 at 7:30 PM. The lecture will take place in Rocket Hall, room 1520. Rocket Hall is part of the Southwest Academic complex, and can be accessed from Secor Road just north of Dorr Street.

Her most recent book, Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War was published in 2005. The book is equal parts historical and personal narratives; Dr. Dunbar-Ortiz made over 100 trips to Nicaragua and Hoduras between the years of 1981 and 1989.

Much of the work of Dr. Dunbar-Ortiz has revolved around issues regarding indigenous populations in the Americas.

I have just picked up a copy of the text, so I am not in a position to offer a review yet. However, the reviews on Amazon were quite favorable.

The event is free and open to the public, and is another presentation of UT's Engaged History lecture series.

Blog Tag

(Toledo, OH) Having voluntarily been "tagged" by Lisa Renee at Liberal Common Sense, it is now my duty to keep the virtual game going.

Very simple to play - you just answer four questions and then name four "tagees."

With that, let's play:

Four Jobs You Have Held
Multi-unit restaurant owner
Concessions manager at a sports arena
Staff writer for a newspaper

Four Places You Have Lived
Detroit, MI
Mount Clemens, MI
Dallas, TX
Toledo, OH

Four Vacations You Have Taken
Bar Harbor, ME
North Myrtle Beach, SC
Florida Keys
Palm Desert, CA

Four Vehicles You Have Owned
1979 Mustang
1981 VW Rabbit (diesel)
1985 Yugo
1999 Suburban

Four Bloggers You Want To Tag
Hooda Thunkit
Frank Szollosi
Liberal Dem

Jan 22, 2006

Orbiting Debris A Hazard To Space Missions

Left: Image of space debris courtesy of Field of Vision website.

(Toledo, OH) The accumulated debris from human activity in space poses a significant risk to space activity, according to NASA.

An entity known as the US Space Surveillance Network tracks more than 13,000 human-made objects - with a diameter greater than four inches - orbiting the Earth. The "space junk" includes everything from rocket bodies to discarded gloves.

One of the problems with the orbiting jetsam and flotsam is the speed at which the material is traveling. Some of the objects maintain a velocity up to 17,500 MPH.

Examples of the potential damage caused by space junk are startling; the following information is from a BBC article on the phenomenon:

* A 1 mm metal chip could do as much damage as a .22-caliber long rifle bullet. Bits this size don't generally pose a large threat to spacecraft, but can erode more sensitive surfaces and disrupt missions.

* A pea-sized ball moving this fast is as dangerous as a 400-lb safe travelling at 60 mph. Debris this large may penetrate a spacecraft. If this happens through a critical component, such as the flight computer or propellant tank, this could be fatal.

* A metal sphere the size of a tennis ball is as lethal as 25 sticks of dynamite. This debris will penetrate and seriously damage a spacecraft.

Researchers are currently working on possible solutions to the problem, but funding is a perennial concern; extraterrestrial trash is certainly less glamorous than, say, designing new sateelites.

The Spaniards, Microbes, and the Caribbean

Left: Depiction of the Taino from a 1493 letter of Columbus, courtesy of Athena Review Image Archive.

The arrival of the Spaniards into the Americas ended the period of near-complete continental isolation. At the time of the appearance of Columbus, the island of Hispaniola boasted an indigenous culture composed of Arawak-speaking peoples known as the Taino. These Arawak/Tainos Indians were, before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the predominant group of Native Americans inhabiting an area that stretched from present-day Florida, through the islands of the West Indies, and along the coastal area of South America.

Pre-Columbian population estimates of the Taino population on Hispaniola range from 400,000 to 2 million people; Columbus himself, while perhaps in a moment of hyperbole, summed up his belief that the natives “were innumerable, that I believe there to be billions of them.” Irrespective of the exact number, the Taino were a people with a sophisticated social structure, complex religious cosmology, and a tropical culture that dated back to 5000 BP.

The Taino, however, were not in possession of antibodies to European microbes; wave after wave of epidemics began to take their toll shortly after the second voyage of Columbus. While there is considerable speculation as to the particular infectious agent, primary source accounts agree that large-scale depopulation occurred among the Taino in the years 1493-96. Bartolomé de las Casas wrote:
There came over them (the Taino) so much illness, death, and misery, from which infinite numbers of fathers and mothers and children died…according to what was believed there did not remain a third part of the multitudes of people that were on this island (Hispaniola) from the year of 1494 until that of 1496.
If a Taino survived the unknown infection(s), this was not necessarily a blessing; it appears that an episode of starvation followed the period of sickness. In October 1495, Columbus wrote that he found “the land (Hispaniola) depleted of foodstuffs, and so much that, innumerable Indians had died of hunger.” It is likely that the first waves of illness disrupted normal agricultural patterns; it is possible that crops may not have been planted, and the surviving populace may have been in such poor health that ordinary systems of crop harvest and food distribution did not function.
Left: Cover of 1552 text by las Casas, courtesy of website of Dr. Rita Raley, UCSB

The death toll taken by disease in the first decades following the arrival of Columbus was not limited solely to the residents of Hispaniola; according to de las Casas:
Thus, the multitude of vecinos and peoples who were on this island were being consumed, who according to what the admiral (Columbus) wrote to the monarchs had been innumerable…and in the eight years of that administration (first royal governor, Nicolas de Ovando) more than nine-tenths perished. From here (Hispaniola) this drag-net passed to the island of San Juan (Puerto Rico) and Jamaica, and afterwards to Cuba…and thus it spread and infected and devastated all this sphere.
The islands of Boriken (Puerto Rico) and Xaymaca (Jamaica) did not escape the swath of death that accompanied the influx of European diseases into the Caribbean; while not as densely populated as Hispaniola, these islands witnessed a comparable period of depopulation in the decades following the arrival of the Spaniards. Las Casas described the devastation in the following manner:
Before the arrival of the Spaniards there had lived on these islands (Boriken and Xaymaca) more than six hundred thousand souls, it has been stated. I believe there were more than one million inhabitants, and now, in each of the two islands, there are no more than two hundred persons, all the others having perished without the Faith and without the holy sacraments.
As with the accounts given by Columbus, the population figures described by las Casas are, at best, informed estimates; given the ideological convictions of las Casas, it is possible that the priest purposely exaggerated the information that he recorded in order to sway his readers. Nonetheless, his claims of widespread death from epidemics in Spanish colonial holdings have been substantiated by a wide variety of his contemporaries; for example, the Spanish historian Oviedo estimated that out of an original population of one million, “there are not now believed to be at the present time in this year of 1548 five hundred persons who are natives…” Historical accounts generally disagree only in the reasons for the deadly epidemics in the native populations.

Disease alone cannot fully account for the drastic reductions of Taino populations in the Caribbean. Food shortages, brutal working conditions, and warfare are among the contributory factors leading to indigenous depopulation trends in the Spanish Caribbean. Las Casas recounts a scene of colonial brutality:
…And the Christians, with their horses and swords and pikes began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against them (the Taino). They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughterhouse…They took infants from their mothers’ breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, “Boil there, you offspring of the devil!”
However, such brutality represented the exception, rather than the rule, in the massive depopulation of the lands of the Taino. One smallpox-infected Spaniard could wreak far greater destruction than ten thousand musket-bearing conquistadores; the spread of microbes by European invaders set in motion a chain of epidemiological events that would only end when microbial balance returned to the hemisphere.

This is an excerpt from a book project I have been working on for a few years; the goal is to highlight the role of epidemic disease in the European conquest of the Americas.

Jan 21, 2006

Recycling And Opportunism

Left: unidentified entrepreneur raiding the county recycling bins; photo by historymike

(Toledo, OH) I originally thought I would post a short missive on the importance of recycling; I planned to take a few photos of Lucas County recycling bins at the Secor/Monroe Kroger location.

A rustling in one of the dumpsters, however, confirmed that the West Toledo Recyclable Bandit was hard at work.

I have seen him in and around the bins several times; I am not sure if he is collecting metal containers for scrap metal, or if he is driving across the border into Michigan to redeem containers for the $.05 and $.10 deposit (Ohio is not a deposit state).

Left: A sampling of the income potential in county bins

As a person who generally adheres to the principle of "live and let live," it does not cause me much chagrin to see this man gleaning a few dollars from the refuse of other people.

That being said, this represents some income loss for the county, and ostensibly my taxes underwrite this man's extra-legal behavior.

What do you think? Should people like the Recycling Bandit be viewed as criminals, entrepreneurs, or in a larger sense, evidence that there is an underground economy fueled by people who struggle to succeed in mainstream America?

On The Davis-Besse Indictments

Left: Davis-Besse nuclear facility, photo courtesy of CBS News.

(Toledo, OH) The announcement this week that FirstEnergy will face a $28 million fine from the federal government for covering up information about the corroded reactor head at the Davis-Besse nuclear facility surprised me; in my jaded middle age I tend to assume that corporate wrongdoing will get swept under the rug, and - at least on the surface - the headlines lead one to believe that justice has been done.

Somewhat lost in the saga are the three individuals indicted by the Justice Department for their roles in the subterfuge. Former employees Andrew J. Siemaszko and David C. Geisen each face five criminal counts, and FirstEnergy consultant Rodney M. Cook faces four. The three men could receive a fine of up to $250,000 and as much as five years in prison.

The potential for disaster in this case was quite high; the corrosion from boric acid ate through the 6.63-inch carbon steel reactor head, coming within fractions of an inch of causing a breech in the reactor core. Think Chernobyl if you are looking for an idea of the magnitude of the possible ramifications of this incident.

It seems to me that these individuals are nothing more than sacrificial offerings to the government. I find it difficult to accept that a handful of middle management types, of their own doing, decided to conceal information about the reactor head.

A quick anecdote: in the 1980s as a young man I was directed by a corporate employer to engage in an act of deception that brought considerable profit to that employer. While I will avoid any specifics (who knows what the statute of limitations is!), it always bothered me that I allowed myself to "play the game" and be tainted with the corporate corruption around me. Worse still, I am sure that I personally profited in the form of future promotions and opportunities, as I was then marked as a real "company man."

I knew full well what I was doing, and chuckled along with my superiors at how "smart" we were for pulling a fast one on a bunch of municipal bureaucrats. It is only as I matured, and recognized the importance of integrity, that I started to look back on that series of events as a moment of personal shame.

Back to the present day...

My suspicion is that these individuals were directed by corporate leaders (at least at the regional VP level) to keep the plant running at all costs while they found a solution. These men had little to gain (save recognition as "good company men") for covering up the potentially catastrophic reactor head corrosion.

First Energy, however, stood to profit from keeping the plant operational.

Dennis Kucinich spoke out against this mockery of the judicial process, correctly noting that the $28 million fine was less than one percent of FirstEnergy's profits.

If the federal government is serious about prosecuting the wrongdoers and holding the feet of the nuclear power industry close to the metaphorical fire, it needs to look higher than the middle management personnel it has cast as the villains in this case.

Jan 20, 2006

Po Moe's: Grilling Up A Slab Of Heaven

Left: Po Moe's mobile restaurant; all photos by historymike

(Toledo, OH) Technically speaking this post belongs on Toledo Restaurant Reviews, a site launched by a loose collection of local writers and culinary afficianados. However, there is much more to this story than raving about some great barbecue.

"Po Moe" is Morris Stanley, a Toledoan with dreams of bringing his love of preparing great-tasting food to a wider audience. His operation is based in the cental city on the corner of Bancroft and Sylvan, just west of Detroit Avenue.

"It's called "Po" Moe's because there are few people poorer than me," Stanley joked. "But we love what we're doing and people keep coming back."

Left: ribs and chicken grilling on one of Po Moe's outdoor grills

The restaurant follows the summer festival cicuit in the region.

"We cover a lot of the Detroit area festivals," said Stanley. "We also hit quite a few in Toledo."

One festival in which Stanley will no longer be participating is the Toledo Rib-Off.

"When it was on the riverfront we were there every year," said Stanley. "But we are not going down to Maumee. They want $3800 up front, and there is no boater traffic like when it was on the river."

Left: tending the grill

When not traveling to an event, Stanley keeps the operation up and running on Bancroft.

"We open up on weekends, and any day the weather is decent," said Stanley. "People see the smoke from the fires and smell the barbecue, and they pull right up."

Stanley also holds down a full-time job at BP, so he opens up the restaurant "whenever I can."

I have always been unable to resist passing up good barbecue, just like my inability to decline a bratwurst with sauerkraut. The next time you are traveling near Po Moe's, pull off for some of the best barbecue in the city.

However, you won't be able to find Po Moe's open on February 5.

"We are traveling up to Detroit for the Super Bowl," Stanley said. "We have a spot on Woodward across from the Hard Rock Cafe."

Could there possibly be a better way to spend a day than eating barbecue and watching the Super Bowl?

Soliciting Opinions On The Direction of This Blog

(Toledo, OH) I started this online project about six months ago, and I am fascinated with the directions in which it has traveled.

I initially envisioned this site as merely a way to publish some of my academic material, as well as being a place where I could engage in some lengthier essays while soliciting the sort of feedback that goes along with blogging.

However, I am considering the possibility of splitting this site into two or more separate blogs.

A few questions, though:

1. Do those of you who visit this site for local news stories read any of the academic material?
2. Do those of you who are more interested in national and international topics read the local coverage?
3. If you visit for one particular topic, do you find postings from different genres distracting, or do you just skip over them?
4. If you were me, would you create seperate blogs, or keep the single blog with its somewhat schizophrenic nature?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you might be willing to share.

Review: The Russian Empire: A Multiethnic History

Left: Map with estimates of various ethnic groups in the former Soviet Union; images courtesy of the excellent Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas

Kappeler, Andreas. Essex, UK: Pearson Education Limited, 2001.

Kappeler sought to overturn the historiography of the Russian Empire, which has been dominated by imperial and Soviet historians who stressed a national homogeneity that belies the diverse ethnicities found in the empire. Far from being a unified nation of willing citizens, the Russian Empire was a complex conglomeration of peoples comprised of at least four major religions, dozens of language groups, and over 100 distinct ethnic identities. The author followed a chronological approach to the book, beginning with the conquest of the Khanate of Kazan in 1552 and continuing through the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Kappeler chose the acquisition of Kazan to demark the beginning of the imperial period because the Khanate was the “first independent polity to come under Russian rule which possessed a historical tradition, dynastic legitimacy and an upper class that not only spoke a different language but also belonged to a different world religion and civilization, Islam.” The author noted, however, that the original Kievan Rus themselves were not a distinct, homogenous ethnic political entity, but contained a variety of eastern Slavs. Thus, from its earliest origins the Russian Empire was a multiethnic polity that lacked cultural unity.

The multiethnic character of the Russian Empire continued as the drive to expand came in to full force. Kappeler argued that the expansionist impulse was traced to two historical philosophies. The first of these was termed as the “gathering of the lands of the Rus,” in which those lands believed to have some historical or folkloric connection to the Novgorodian and Kievan monarchies were added to the duchy of Moscow.

The second of these philosophies centered on the “gathering of the lands of the Golden Horde,” and this drive owed much to the struggle between Muscovy and the Khanate of Kazan. Kappeler argued that the oaths of allegiance sworn by the steppe peoples to Ivan IV were interpreted by the Khanate as a temporary alliance, while the Russians viewed the oaths as “acts of eternal submission.” Regardless of either side’s true intentions, this became the foundation of Russian territorial acquisitions in southern and eastern Asia. Kappeler used these two themes of reclaiming ancient lands as a backdrop to his examination of Russian imperialism.

The author devoted a significant portion of his work to the study of resistance by peoples in the lands annexed by the Russians. Contrary to the traditional claims of imperial and Soviet historians, the acquisition of territories by the Empire did not occur in smooth, mutually agreeable fashions. Kappeler argued that the conventional view, for example, of the annexation of the Ukraine was that “it represented the liberation from the Polish yoke of eastern Slav brothers who had been separated from them after the decline of the Kievan state.” However, the Russians successfully co-opted the Ukrainian nobility by incorporating them into similar positions in Muscovy, and the destruction of the Zaporozhian Sich in 1775 left the Ukrainians without a power base from which to mount effective resistance. While the appropriation of the Ukraine was less violent than many other Russian imperial acquisitions, it nonetheless cannot be summed up as a friendly, mutually desirable merger.
Left: Russian empire in 1820

As a rule, the annexation of territory by the Russian Empire rarely occurred without some bloodshed. The initial conquest of the Khanate of Kazan came about only after a protracted, 5-year war, and subsequent rebellions and uprisings continued to plague the imperial forces for the next century. While the acquisition of Poland in a series of partitions owed much to European politics, the rebellion led by Tadeusz Kosciuszko in 1794 and the 1830 November revolution were among the most significant revolts in the western Empire. Campaigns against the Kirgiz, Uzbek, and Turkmen were particularly brutal; the Russian army suffered a bitter defeat in 1879 against the Tekke-Turkmen, and did not crush the resistance until 1881. The Avar leader Shamil developed a mountain imamate in the Caucasus that resisted Russian military expeditions for a quarter century, and the long-term effects of his successful resistance movement can still be witnessed in the nationalist movements of such groups as the modern day Chechens.

Kappeler argued that one of the reasons for the success of the Russians in building their colossal empire lay in the willingness of government to tolerate different religious faiths among the peoples of the acquired territories. Despite a few periods of attempts to conduct missionary activities on behalf of the Orthodox Church, for the most part the monarchy tried instead to put the different religious organizations under state control, with bureaucratic appointments of muftis and lamas. Islamic peoples such as the Tatars and Bashkirs were accorded some measure religious freedom, and operated their own schools in the territories. Kalmyk and southern Buriat regions were also given a degree of religious freedom to practice their Buddhist beliefs. Other religious groups given relative freedom by the imperial government included Jews, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics. It must be added, however, that this policy of tolerance varied over time, and some groups were subjected to periods of intense repression. Finally, Russian religious benevolence did not extend to groups considered heretical by the Orthodox Church, such as the Uniates and the Old Believers.

Kappeler argued that, much like their imperial counterparts in Western Europe, the Russians began to develop a distinct sense of cultural superiority in the 19th century in relation to non-Russians in the Empire. These ethnocentric tendencies also became a justification for imperial expansion, as ethnic minorities in the annexed and soon-to-be annexed lands were often seen as backward, inferior peoples in need of being “civilized.” Kappeler contended that Russians viewed the Transcaucasian territories as lands “inhabited by uncivilized Asiatics.” Peoples in the Caucasus, according to the author, were generally not seen as distinct ethnic groups, but as barbaric savages lumped together under the pejorative “gortsy.” The imperial government used the Tatars to “civilize” the backward Kazakhs, whose economy in the 19th century was one based on pastoralism and barter. Typical of mainstream Russian cultural supremacy were the views of foreign minister Alexander Gorchakov:
The situation of Russia in Middle Asia is that of all civilized states which come into contact with semi-savage and itinerant ethnic groups without a structured social organization. In such a case the interest in the security of one’s borders and in trade relations always makes it imperative that the civilized state should have a certain authority over its neighbours, who as a result of their wild and impetuous customs are very disconcerting.
There are striking parallels between the civilizing mission of 19th century imperial powers like the Russians and the modern American obsession with “bringing” democracy and freedom to countries like Iraq and Iran. Indigenous peoples and sovereign nations that do not fit the imperialist concept of “civilized” are subject to intervention by the imperialist power under paternalistic rationalizations. Concomitant with this civilizing urge is the demonization of resistance movements; ipso facto, persons not wholeheartedly embracing the imperialist intervention are characterized as barbarous or terrorists.

Kappeler noted that two of Russia’s most revered liberal leaders – Alexander I and Alexander II – were also among the most brutal repressors of non-Russian resistance movements. As the tsar best known for his continental diplomacy, liberal reforms, and mystical tendencies, Alexander I also led the drive to annex and subjugate Transcaucasia. Similarly, the tsar who liberated the serfs, embarked on the great railway movement, and made sweeping changes in the Russian economy was also on the throne during the vicious suppression of the gortsy. Finally, Russian expansion into the Middle and Far East heightened during the reign of Alexander II, and violent uprisings in Warsaw in 1861 were met with swift retaliation.

One of the book's strongest points is in its examination of the Soviet era. The Soviet historiography, in general, tended to minimize both the extent of ethnic diversity as well as problems associated with the multiethnic character of the Empire. Kappeler argued that nationalist movements received a tremendous boost during the Bolshevik Revolution, and the Soviet Union lost such important provinces as Finland, Bessarabia, and Georgia after 1918. The Stalin era brought both modernization and repression, helping reclaim much of the lost territory, but nationalist movements merely took a less visible form during the height of Soviet power. The Gorbachev reforms gave new life to nationalist movements, and Kappeler argued that these movements were an important component in the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The author presented a much more complete picture of the ethnic diversity present throughout the imperial and Soviet history of the Empire than those found in the traditional historiography. The depth of analysis and breadth of subject matter necessitate some prior familiarity with European, Asian, and especially Russian history. This text would make an excellent addition to a graduate-level seminar, or perhaps a very advanced undergraduate Russian history course. While Kappeler’s style is accessible, a good grasp of geography is crucial to fully appreciate the book, as there are no maps included. The author did provide a number of tables devoted to population data, and included a very useful glossary.

Jan 19, 2006

On Climate Changes And Protocols

Above: Map showing nations and their positions on the Kyoto Protocol, courtesy of Wikipedia

(Toledo, OH) An editorial by the New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert has been gnawing at me for several weeks, and I urge you to give it a few minutes of your time. Kolbert builds a strong case that we are approaching a point in which humans not only affect the global climate, but in which we may not be able to reverse the effects of such changes.

The US and Australia are the only major nations who have yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to limit global production of greenhouse gases (note: the US is a signatory, but has not officially ratified the protocol; Australia refused to sign).

Opponents fret about the possible effects on economic growth and employment. President Bush also argued that the agreement gave unfair advantge to China and other developing nations.

Failure to act, though, may have profound consequences for future generations, and I believe that the US needs to take the lead in environmental protection. Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol is an important step in protecting the global environment, and the Bush administration needs to join the near-unanimous world chorus on this issue.

Lions Name New Head Coach - Again

Left: New Lions head coach Rod Marinelli; photo courtesy of Seattle Post-Intelligencer

(Pontiac, MI) As a long-suffering Lions fan I should not get excited about the hiring of a new coach. I promised myself after Steve "Mooch" Mariucci got unceremoniously dumped in November that real hope could only appear when the Ford family (and GM Matt Millen) have the team forcibly removed from their fingers.

And yet, today I find myself getting sucked in by the hype.

Rod Marinelli is a highly-respected coach whose teams, while not always winners, always compete. I suspect that Marinelli may be the sort of no-nonsense leader who will get the most out of the players he has. Here is a Marinelli quote from the press conference, which ended a few minutes ago:
"The issue is, how hard are we willing to play?” he said. “Fundamentals, details and learning to finish everything we start as a football team. None of that takes any talent, right?"
Let's face it - the Lions were stoked with talent this season, and many football pundits predicted them to be a playoff contender. With quality personnel at all of the skill positions, and a solid defense, this should have been at least a 9-7 team.

Not so. The Lions limped along to a 5-11 year, and Marinelli is the 23rd head coach in franchise history. The team has not won a playoff game since 1991, and has been so bad the past few seasons that we look back fondly on the Wayne Fontes era as "the good old days."

However, I am sure that, in true diehard fashion, I will begin the 2006-7 season with my usual optimism, hoping that this will be the season my team finally brings home a title.

Jan 18, 2006

On Inconsiderate, Inexperienced, And Downright Inept Motorists

Left: One of historymike's pet peeves; photo courtesy of US Census Bureau.

(Toledo, OH) There is something about a snowfall after a period without frozen precipitation that makes the worst drivers seem even more of road hazard. I witnessed more highway stupidity this morning while running some errands than I have seen in the past two weeks.

To the moron who faced me at an intersection in which we were both turning into the same lane: the right of way goes to the person turning right. Pretty simple, isn't it?

To the numerous imbeciles who think that turn signals are optional: not only are they required by law, but they are also a means of protecting your automobile from damage by other vehicles, driven by people who assume that you are not going to make unannounced turns. Use your turn signals!

To the jackasses who seem to believe cell phone calls take precedence over operating a multi-ton machine: Watch the f***ing road, nimrods. Turn off your cell when you are driving, and there will be messages waiting for you when you arrive at your destination (if, that is, on the off chance that the call was important to begin with).

To the simpleton who is the first one at the stoplight, but who invariably nods off when the green arrow lights up: there is a special circle in Hell reserved for you, and I hope that you suffer an eternity of torture watching "Charles in Charge" reruns.

Review: Mayan Society Under Colonial Rule

Left: Map of Mayan civilization during the Classic period, courtesy of civilization.ca.

Fariss, Nancy. Mayan Society under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival.

Nancy Marguerite Farriss is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, and she is an ethnohistorian who was bestowed with the MacArthur Fellowship. Her book examines the reasons behind the ability of the Yucatan Maya to preserve their collective ethnic identity despite centuries of colonial rule.

Farriss argued that one of the reasons for the ability of the Maya to maintain an independent identity during the colonial period was due to what she termed as the Yucatan Peninsula’s status as a “colonial backwater.” The region, according to Farriss, did not possess significant natural resources that, for Europeans, could be exploited for commercial gain. In addition, the Yucatan possessed climatological barriers to European domination, possessing both “steamy heat “and a “teeming population of noxious insects.” The growth of commercial agriculture was stymied in the by these and other ecological considerations, which contributed to “the retardation of the landed estate.” The author noted that soil conditions were not favorable for many crops with commercial potential, and only the traditional maize and beans fared well in most of the region.

The author next examined demographic evidence in her effort to explain the cultural resiliency of the Maya. While waves of epidemic European diseases raged through the immunologically-naïve Maya with the same virulence as other Amerindian groups, peoples of the Yucatan did possess one significant demographic advantage: the ratio of Spaniards to Amerindians was lower in the Yucatan than most of the other regions in New Spain. Spaniards in Mexico City, for example, made up 50.3% of the population, as compared with a mere 7.9% of the Yucatan in the late 18th century; for the region as a whole, Spaniards constituted 18.6% of the total population of New Spain.

Thus, the sheer numerical dominance of the Maya population in the Yucatan helps explain why Spanish culture failed to extinguish Mayan ethnic identity. In addition, the physical territory controlled by the Spanish was quite limited, and effective control was limited to a few cities and outposts. Farriss characterized Spanish holdings as “islands, at best archipelagos, in a hostile Maya sea.” Finally, the low numbers of Spaniards in the colonial Yucatan reduced the effects of miscegenation, unlike the “melting pot” outcome experienced by other indigenous groups in Mesoamerica.

Left: Ruins at Uxmal; photo courtesy of schwarzaufweiss.de

The relative poverty of the colonial Yucatan, according to Farriss, conversely bode well for cultural survival of the Maya. Colonial Yucatan elites - not buoyed by the wealth of silver mines, profitable agriculture, or lucrative ranching – could thus ill afford to import many African slaves, thus further reducing the melting pot effect. Likewise, the cash-starved colonial missions in the Yucatan could only meet the expenses of schools for the wealthiest inhabitants, and the only education most Maya received came in the form of catechism classes, which were conducted by native speakers in the Mayan tongue. Such regional poverty also reduced the opportunities for any would-be hierarchical ladder climbers among the indigenous population to embrace the social world of the Spanish colonizers.

Farriss turned next to the social structure of the Mayan society, which had a number of characteristics that served well the cause of cultural survival. The author noted the near-complete self sufficiency of local groups, whose basic needs could be met without the development of local and regional markets. A self-contained economy, therefore, reduced the need for interaction with both Spanish and regional indigenous peoples, and concurrently reduced the influences of such groups upon Mayan culture.

Perhaps the most groundbreaking importance of this work is the development of a sociological model by Farriss to explain the basic unit of Mayan society: the patrilineal, milpa-based extended kin network of the Maya. This extended family, or “milpa gang,” acted cooperatively and collectively for the mutual benefit of individual members. Farriss argued that Mayan communities, composed of these independent extended families, served in the manner of modern corporations in that they “combined forces to promote the common good” and “spread the burden and risk of individual hardship or calamity more evenly among all its members.”

In addition to her skills as a researcher, Farriss exhibited in Mayan Society a superb ability to create compelling prose. The author’s description of English palo de campeche camps on the Gulf coast was particularly memorable: “…the miserable little settlements of dyewood loggers in Belize managed to sustain a brisk commerce in luxury goods out of all proportion to their size and wealth.” A dry wit is evident throughout the book; Farriss, in describing the Spanish imposition of the onerous taxes, tributes, and repartimientos borne by the Maya, acknowledged that her summary did not “count the many unauthorized supplements devised by the fertile colonial mind.”

Jan 17, 2006

Lots Of Strike Chatter At UT

(Toledo, OH) It appears that all sides are gearing up for a strike at the University of Toledo. Both the Amaerican Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) have announced January 23 as the strike date, and they have been joined by the union for campus police officers.

In my dealings with various university departments, the focus seems to be on strike preparation, not on mediation. I fully expect that the University will be facing its first collective action in its history next Monday, barring some eleventh-hour deals.

It is unclear how, exactly, this strike will affect students. I have heard that professors will still work, but will not teach; it is possible that TAs will cover courses during the interim. However, I doubt that the administration has enough personnel to operate all of the important functions that CWA employees perform.

Would students continue to show up for class, even if it constituted breaking a picket line? Should they even be expected to?

Strange days are in the offing for UT in the coming week. My hope is that a deal gets inked, and soon. The last thing that UT needs is a disruption of the education of its students, and I suspect that a strike will further damage the university's ability to attract students in this era of hyper-competition between universities.

Open Trackback Alliance

(Toledo, OH) At the urging of Lisa Renee at Liberal Common Sense, I've joined a webring called the Open Trackback Alliance. Follow this link to learn more about the project, which was developed by Samantha Burns.

Tuesday will be the day in which I participate, and I will be posting links to articles from other members of OTA that I found interesting reads.

Kevin at Liberal Wrong Wing discusses wiretaps, Alito, and the imperial Presidency in a thoughtful post.

TMH over on the Bacon Bits blog offers a different perspective on problems at the US-Mexico border, and worries about conflict between US and Mexican security forces.

More links as I read other OTA blog articles.

Trackback url: http://www.historymike.blogspot.com/open-trackback-alliance.html

CR Boxer: A Brief Look At The Historian-Spy

(Toledo, OH)“Boxer. B-O-X-E-R. Start with CR Boxer.”

Such was the advice I was given when discussing books to read for an undergraduate thesis on the Portuguese Estado da India. Although I did not know the significance of the suggestion at the time, this was the beginning of what may turn out to be a lifelong research interest in the field of European expansion. What I read in The Portuguese Sea Borne Empire and other works from the Boxer canon inspired me as both a historian and a writer; here was a researcher who could write, and who could write history that met the rigorous demands of the academy while remaining accessible to the intelligent non-specialist.

I have continued to work my way through this massive body of work, which encompasses over 350 books and articles. While certainly one should feel no obligation to read everything that the man wrote, the fact remains that Charles Ralph Boxer is the definitive starting point for any scholar entering historical studies of the Portuguese and Dutch colonial empires, as well as a general course of study in the field of European exploration, expansion, and exploitation of the globe.

Born in 1904 on the Isle of Wight to a family for which military service was seen as a noble calling, Boxer spent many of his formative years in the southern English county of Dorset, living in a country house owned by his grandmother. The third son of Major Hugh Boxer of the Lincolnshire Regiment, he attended Wellington and Sandhurst military academies, aiming for a career in the Navy. However, his dreams of following in the footsteps of his nautically-oriented forbears were dashed when the Navy rejected his application due to poor eyesight. Undeterred, he became a soldier; appointed as 2nd Lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment in 1923, he spent the next twenty-four years of his life in military service. He found time in 1925 to make his first visit to Lisbon, perusing archival collections at Biblioteca Nacional and Torre do Tombo. After the first seven years, which he spent in Northern Ireland, he was stationed in Japan, where he performed diplomatic and military duties as an officer and interpreter; he had demonstrated his gift for languages by rapidly gaining fluency in Japanese. In 1936 he was promoted to Major and placed in Hong Kong, serving the Asian operations of the British Military Intelligence Service.

Boxer’s academic career began in 1926, when he began publication of articles that examined the earliest years of European contacts in Asia. Though never formally trained in a university setting, and lacking an advanced degree, Boxer nonetheless began the writing that would elevate him to the highest pantheons of academia. Most significant among his earliest writings was his 1930 translation of the Commentaries of Ruy Freyre de Andrada. Edgar Prestage had reputedly contracted with the Hakluyt Society to produce an English translation of the text, but the quality of Boxer’s work caused the Society to cancel the Prestage project.

The unique position that Boxer had in Asia allowed him to acquire a library of incredible scope; he procured rare texts, maps, and documents the equal of any university archive. From this treasure trove of resources Boxer began to publish English works without parallel on the rise of the Portuguese and Dutch seaborne empires, including his first monograph in 1936: Jan Compagnie in Japan. He developed important contacts through his work at the British Embassy in Tokyo, including the influential Dutch ambassador Jean Charles Pabst, who shared Boxer’s loves of languages, history, and rare books. During this time, Boxer also married his first wife, Ursula. He described the circumstances of their relationship as being attributed to determinism: “It always happens when one lives in Hong Kong, you know, more than four years. One either becomes a hopeless drunkard or one marries. I did both.”

In December 1941, after having been wounded during the Japanese attack on Hong Kong, he was captured and made a prisoner of war. While in a Japanese concentration camp he dedicated himself to deepening his knowledge of the Portuguese language and Portuguese history; his period of imprisonment and concurrent lack of adequate medical care for his war injuries left him with a partially disabled left arm and hand. He also gained, however, a new relationship: his highly-public affair with the American Emily Hahn, a correspondent for the New Yorker.

After the war and his release from captivity Boxer traveled to New York; he and Hahn were married under the glaring lights of the American media. They returned to England in 1947 to open their house in the country, just outside of Dorset. Though technically still in the army, Boxer had no official post. He spent his first months back buried in research and writing; he described this period of his life in the following manner:
Since I agree with Mr. W.S. Lewis that “the collector’s work is only partly done when he has formed his collection: until it is used, it is like bric-à-brac in a cabinet,” this book has been written mainly from the resources of my own library.
Also in 1947 Boxer was appointed to the Camões Chair of Portuguese Studies at King’s College in London. While surprising in that he held no university education, Boxer was offered the position based on the advice of Edgar Prestage, who recognized the tremendous scholarship of the self-taught historian. He lacked, however, formal teaching experience; he was assisted by a number of lecturers more skilled in the pedagogical arts. Newitt recounted an anecdote, which he considered of questionable veracity, in which Boxer – worried about his inexperience in teaching Portuguese – was told by the chair that the students could always go and learn the language at the Berlitz School.”

His lack of formal academic credentials undoubtedly gnawed at Boxer throughout his illustrious career; one can only imagine the unspoken stigma attached to a person who has achieved success without the official stamp of intellectual approval. University politics are cruel enough when one has a PhD from a “lesser” school, and must be doubly so when a prestigious chair is occupied by someone without any degree. Conscious of his separateness, he occasionally commented at formal academic gatherings that he was just “the man who called about the gas,” a reference to his business suit standing out in a sea of purple and scarlet gowns. He earned, over the course of his academic career, honorary doctorates at the Universities of Utrecht (1950), Lisbon (1952), Bahia (1959), Liverpool (1966), Hong Kong (1971), and Peradeniya (1980).

Given the hundreds of scholarly works that Boxer produced during some seven decades as a historian, one might be tempted to conclude that his record as a teaching professor might be less than stellar; during his tenure at King’s College that saw Boxer sometimes published two books per year and as many as thirteen journal articles in a calendar year. However, students of Boxer generally described the professor as an excellent mentor, and he was legendary for always having an open door for visitors. Sinnappah Ararasaratnam, who had Boxer as his dissertation advisor, said that “Charles has been one of the formative influence of my life…and I owe what little I have achieved…to his initial encouragement and subsequent constant support.”

Boxer spent over twenty years at King’s College, producing scholarship on a Herculean scale. He defied the trend toward specialization, with research interests that spanned continents, although he rarely strayed from the Portuguese and Dutch empires. However, it was his interest in the matter of relations between the races that sparked a long feud with the Portuguese government of Dr. Antonio Salazar.

In 1962 Boxer gave a series of lectures at the University of Virginia that attempted to assess the Salazar-inspired belief in the supposed benign nature of Portuguese relations with indigenous peoples. On the contrary, Boxer built a strong case for the idea that the Portuguese could be every bit as racist as other European interlopers. This, of course, did not go over very well in Portugal; Boxer was reviled by the Salazar administration, and Portuguese scholar Armando Cortesão called the book O Livro Insidioso. Despite the persona non grata status in Portugal that he incurred because of his stance, Boxer steadfastly refused to accommodate the regime, arguing “I like action - moral courage is much less common than intelligence.” Boxer would ultimately triumph, being awarded – after the fall of the Salazar regime - the Order of Santiago da Espada and the Grand Cross of the Order of the Infante Dom Henrique.

After his retirement from King’s College in 1967, Boxer began another career as a sort of traveling academic, holding chairs at Yale and Indiana Universities in the US. He edited collections, presented papers at conferences, and corresponded with scholars around the world. He was elected vice-president of the Hakluyt Society, and a member of the Council of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. As acknowledgement to the extraordinary scholarship and influence of Boxer, King’s College named its Chair in History in the Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies after him.

Preceded in death in 1997 by his beloved wife Emily, Charles Ralph Boxer died on 27 April 2000 at the age of 96. Some researchers begin the process of becoming obsolete before their books hit the press, while others live to see the relative decline in the usefulness of their work while they finish out their years on the beach of some forgotten retirement community. Boxer, however, remains relevant after his death, and will likely continue to influence generations of historians well into the 21st century.