Oct 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

(Toledo, OH) May your ghosts and goblins have a safe and happy foray into the dark in their searches for candy, cash, and goodies.

I am off to perform the supervisory detail, as the youngest of my urchins has decided that she is not too old (12) to still go trick-or-treating.

Might be my last year in that role, at least until grandchildren arrive.

Book Review: Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution

Simon Schama, Rough Crossings Schama, Simon

New York: Ecco Press, 497 pages, 2005

Simon Schama’s Rough Crossings documents a long-ignored episode in Atlantic history: the American slaves who joined forces with the British during the Revolutionary War only to find that their British “emancipators” were a duplicitous lot whose ideas of “freedom” bore a striking resemblance to the institution of slavery left behind in the American colonies. The author also places the narrative within a larger context of the abolitionist movement, and key figures from the period are woven into the book. Schama is to be commended for bringing this tale of denied, delayed, and debased liberty to a wider audience, but his beautiful prose too frequently delves into the sort of pleasant mythology filled with righteous Protestant white liberators and hapless black victims that many white American publishers and readers enjoy devouring in order to assuage any lingering collective guilt they might feel toward the historical treatment of African slaves.

Schama described Granville Sharp, noted English abolitionist, as the “apostle of freedom” who found “inconceivably abhorrent” the idea that white loyalist planters and merchants in Nova Scotia would consider recreating the slavery thought to be left behind in the United States. Thomas Clarkson, fellow traveler of Sharp’s in the abolitionist movement, became the “patriarch of the Cause,” while English parliamentarian William Wilberforce had “broken his health for the cause and for some weeks in 1788 had collapsed altogether.” The English abolitionists, in Schama’s eyes, were men of action and conviction who – seemingly by force of will – were able to bring the light of truth to the world.

In Schama’s vision of an Atlantic world, however, slaves, ex-slaves, and African freemen were - in the main – passive objects of pity, rather than active participants in the movement to abolish slavery. Jonathan Strong, the maltreated slave who was the subject of Sharp’s first legal challenge to British slave laws, was described as a “ruin of a creature…discarded in the gutter” who, like a wounded dog licking a master’s hand, lay patiently outside the office of surgeon William Sharp. The Haitian slave revolt, which is the most visible historical example of black abolitionist agency, gets a lonely one-sentence mention on page 259 as “a long and bloody war,” despite the fact that this black-led rebellion shook the Western world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Even Frederick Douglass, the self-made ex-slave who became a symbol of black potentiality, was reduced to a sycophantic admirer of Thomas Clarkson in the book’s Epilogue.

Thus, the views about slavery promulgated by Simon Schama in Rough Crossings – while documenting hidden Atlantic history and recounting forgotten black narratives – are as nauseatingly patriarchal and condescending in their own way as those put forward by Margaret Mitchell in Gone with the Wind. In Schama’s world, blacks are still dependent upon whites, and the traditional stereotypes of passive African victims and active European emancipators are rarely challenged. Readers, unfortunately, get only half of the story.

Oct 30, 2006

The Quote Shelf

book shelf A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Teach thy tongue to say 'I do not know,' and thou shalt progress.

Oct 29, 2006

Pumpkin Picking in Northwest Ohio

Pumpkins in the fieldLeft: Ripe pumpkins in the October sun

(Toledo, OH) We completed an annual family ritual today, driving out to our favorite pumpkin patch on Albon Road and the turnpike.

Given the fact that Halloween is almost upon us, the proprietor of the farm had dropped his prices to $1 for every pumpkin we picked.

Adding some acorn squash and cider, we loaded up the truck with produce for just a few dollars today.

Sign warning visitors not to smash pumpkinsLeft: Some previous visitors might have been overly agressive with the pumpkins

My 16-year-old genius of a son could not resist defying authority and heaving a rotten pumpkin at one of his siblings, much to my chagrin.

The trip was also noteworthy for my first experience getting hopelessly stuck in the mud, as our Suburban became one with the field muck. It was quite an experience rocking the SUV out of the muddy soup, but we ultimately triumphed.

My children were entertained with several unique forays into vulgarity that I let fly, especially when I got stuck a second time after finally freeing the vehicle. All told, though, we added yet another page to family lore, and the kids have new vocabulary to share with their friends at school tomorrow.

The Quote Shelf

book shelf A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.
--Umberto Eco

Oct 28, 2006

Scoured and Shorn

Shumard oak after winds blew off its leaves (Toledo, OH) Wind gusts approaching 40 mph are tearing through Northwest Ohio today, and many of the leaves that remained on my trees have been forcibly removed from their branches.

For that matter, many branches have been blown down as well by the gale force winds from the northwest. The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory for the area, and the low pressure system causing the high winds will be out of the region by tomorrow. Here is the text of the NOAA alert:


FirstEnergy is currently reporting about 8,500 customers without power in Northwest Ohio. Many thousands more are without power in municipalities in and around Cleveland.

My Shumard oak tree, pictured above, has nary a leaf left on it. Most of its leaves have been blown to the property of my neighbors to the east, but alas - they were replaced by leaves from other neighborhood trees further west.

Oct 27, 2006

On the Beauty of Rainy Days

(Toledo, OH) I woke to the sound of raindrops on my roof early this morning, and unlike many people, the realization that rain was in the forecast did not bring me down.

Oh, I enjoy a sunny day as well as any beach bum, and I admit that I am as chagrined as anyone else when an outdoor event I planned to attend is rained out.

But I must also admit that I have a secret fondness for days in which the rain never lets up.

I am one of those neurotically-driven people for whom "sunshine" means that I should be outdoors: working in the garden, taking the dogs for a walk, or painting my picket fence. Any outdoor activity means that I am being productive and fending off those inner voices that push me.

A rainy day, though, is like my ticket to slackery. The reading of books, watching of videos, or listening to Andres Segovia becomes "acceptable" when the skies open up, and I no longer feel compelled to be productive.

The air on a rainy day smells different than any other time, and I enjoyed allowing some rain to wash over my face as I waited for my dogs to finish their trips to the backyard about 4:00. I must have looked like a lunatic, standing in the rain on my leaf-strewn lawn, but there is something primordial and universal about letting raindrops splash over you.

As I write these words I am sitting near an open window listening to the steady fall of rain on my driveway this evening. I did not get a lot accomplished today, but the cool breeze coming from the west chases away any lingering guilt at being a bit lazy on a Friday afternoon.

The Quote Shelf

book shelf A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Stripped of ethical rationalizations and philosophical pretensions, a crime is anything that a group in power chooses to prohibit.
--Freda Adler

New Site Examines Political Ads in Northwest Ohio

Left: Ad from the DeWine campaign attacking opponent Sherrod Brown

(Toledo, OH) Joel at Politics @ 30 Frames per Second has created a site dedicated to presenting all of the political ads being run on television stations in Northwest Ohio during this election.

His goal is to gather all of the ads at one site so that people can compare and contrast the information being presented.

As someone who watches less and less television, my opinion might not be representative of the general public, but it seems to me that this has been one of the most vicious years for political mudslinging that I can recall.

Or maybe I am just growing weary of political ads that merely attack the opponent.

At any rate, political junkies and voters looking for particular ads will find Joel's site useful.

Oct 26, 2006

Rapid Rhetoric: CONTUMACIOUS

This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

contumacious \kon-too-MAY-shuhs\ adj. Obstinate; rebellious; stubbornly disobedient; recalcitrant; persistently, willfully, or openly defiant of authority.

Contumacious is derived from the Latin word contumax, meaning "insolent" or "rebellious."

There are noun forms of the word ("contumacy" and "contumacity"), as well as an adverbial form ("contumaciously").

Ideas for Toledo Public Schools


(Toledo, OH) Chris Myers is a Toledo citizen who is interested in helping revitalize the beleaguered Toledo Public School system. He has created a website called Ideas for TPS in which visitors can offer suggestions on improving the city's schools and saving money for the district.

Subtitled "Citizens Providing Solutions," the site also offers visitors the opportunity to vote on submitted ideas, and ranks the suggestions by a variety of criteria.

Chris is interested in increasing the number of contributors, so if you have ideas for improving public schools be sure to visit "Ideas for TPS."

Oct 25, 2006

On Future Scofflaws and Trash in Toledo

Trash in Toledo, OH Left: taking out the trash too early may soon be illegal in Toledo

(Toledo, OH) I have a neighbor who is approaching 80 years of age. I watched as she used her walker to carry out her trash to the street this afternoon at 2:45 pm. Pictured at the left is the focus of her afternoon exertion.

Beginning next week my neighbor - who shall remain nameless - will be subject to a fine of $75 for such behavior. Toledo mayor Carty Finkbeiner has determined that the city will be a cleaner place to live if residents are prohibited from taking out the trash before 5:00 pm the day before pickup. Additional violations will result in fines of $150.

Toledo - it is no secret - has many problems. Unemployment is running near 8 percent, and in some sectors of the population (say, young central city males) it is as high as 25 percent. Crime problems in many neighborhoods make going out at night quite a risky proposition, and economic investment in the city is, at best, stagnant.

But Mr. Finkbeiner sees garbage as an important area of focus for city inspectors, and he intends to punish citizens who are early in their curbside trash placement.

I have heard many dubious ideas developed by politicians in the four score plus years I have walked upright, and more than a few of those have been by this particular mayor. The Toledo Trash Initiative, however, is among a select group of boneheaded laws that is likely to further alienate citizens of Toledo.

Mr. Finkbeiner: you were elected to manage city government and promote economic development, not to engage in bureaucratic terrorism of law-abiding citizens. Get to work on the important issues that face Toledo, and stop wasting our time with harebrained schemes such as this.

Oct 24, 2006

On American Monarchophilia

The Prince and Princess of Wales return from their wedding at St Paul's CathedralLeft: The Prince and Princess of Wales returning from their 1981 wedding

For a nation that was created by men espousing the virtues of representative government - and who railed against the abuses of English monarchs - citizens of the United States display a curious affinity for all matters royal. The latest example of American monarchophilia can be found in the crowds flocking to see Sofia Coppola's sympathetic portrayal of the Capetians in Marie Antoinette, which has been drawing about $6,000 per screening since it opened last weekend with a total US take of over $5 million in three days.

Coppola's film should easily pass the box office gross of another recent cinematographic effort to rehabilitate the historical reputation a of despotic monarch, The Madness of King George , which raked in $15 million in domestic theaters in 1994. Thank goodness for Hollywood, or we might continue to harbor resentment against monarchy.

The traffic drawn by these films, of course, pales in comparison with American attention paid to living monarchs. The 1981 wedding of Charles and Diana found 58 million Americans glued to their television sets, while the funeral of Princess Diana drew an estimated 33 million US viewers. American news and cable networks devoted over 25 hours of programming to the funeral of Diana.

For those among you who might argue that we already have a tyrannical despot in our current President, you should know that Diana is a thirteenth cousin once removed from George W. Bush, so he at least has a minute - though very distant - claim to the throne.

Maybe what Americans really want is a firm royal hand to whack them when they need it. Perhaps, deep down, we would collectively prefer to let parasitic social "betters" run the country.

After all, we allow corporations and special interest groups to buy our politicians for us. Americans could take the tens of billions spent on national, state, and local elections and buy ourselves some expensive monarchs to worship.

Then we could begin the process of revolution all over again. This time we might just get it right.

Oct 23, 2006

The Quote Shelf

book shelf A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

But thus do I counsel you, my friends: distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!
--Friedrich Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra

Oct 22, 2006

Book Review: The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, 1945-46: A Documentary History

The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, by Michael R. Marrus Marrus, Michael R.

New York: Bedford Books, 1997, 276 pages

Marrus developed this book as part of the Bedford Series of History and Culture in order to present a documentary look at the Nuremberg trials, and he relied heavily on court transcripts to weave a narrative of the events involving the International Military Tribunal (IMT).

One of the more intriguing sections of the text was a chapter on the historical precedents of the Nuremberg trials, and Marrus included relevant excerpts of such documents as the Treaty of Versailles (1919), the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928), and the Hague Convention of 1907 to provide a glimpse at the legal tradition behind the creation of the IMT. Also worth noting is the account of the testimony of Hermann Göring, whose intellectual prowess and combative, unrepentant demeanor made for riveting courtroom drama.

The text follows a chronological approach in its treatment of Nuremberg, and footnotes are provided for the reader. Marrus included a lengthy bibliography of primary and secondary sources for students and scholars interested in further research. Also included are a brief chronology of major events, synopses of the fates of the defendants, and a table that summarizes charges, verdicts, and sentences.

The illuminating commentary provided by Marrus in between documentary excerpts makes the text a valuable addition to the libraries of German and Holocaust historians. In addition, the text is also useful for the general reader who seeks a fuller understanding of the Holocaust, and requires only a minimal amount of familiarity with Holocaust history to be understood. .

Oct 21, 2006

The Quote Shelf

book shelf A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Most people are fools, most authority is malignant, God does not exist, and everything is wrong.
--The motto of Ted Nelson

Honest Housekeeper Returns $12,450 in Cash

(New York) Marie Toussaint, a housekeeper at St. Luke's Hospital in New York, found an envelope holding more than twelve thousand dollars in cash under a pillow after an elderly patient had checked out.

Toussaint, who moved to the city from Haiti in 1974, never considered keeping the money.

"The envelope fell on the floor, and I took it outside right away because we had another patient in the room," said Toussaint, 50. "I didn't look in it - I just saw it was big money, and walked outside to give it to the nurse in charge."

The reason that she did not take the money, said Toussaint, was simple.

"The money didn't belong to me, and I wasn't supposed to take it," she told the Associated Press. "That's the normal thing to do."

The hospital worker believes that she has already been rewarded.

"I came here when I was really young, and I worked really hard to have everything in my life," she said. "I've always got a reward here. "I don't need money - I've got everything God has given to me."

Amen to that.

Oct 20, 2006

The Quote Shelf

book shelf A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
--Elie Wiesel

Oct 19, 2006

A Plug for Animal Adoption

(Toledo, OH) Pictured are the two loveable mutts we have adopted in the past six months. Jimmy is the brown-and-white Sheltie mix we brought home in May from the Toledo Humane Society, and Candy is a poodle mix who came to live with us last weekend.

Both dogs have excellent dispositions, and they have quickly bonded with each other. While Jimmy still gets a little jealous of any affection showered on Candy, they have become inseparable.

Candy had been listed for euthanization because of her chronic illnesses, which included severe dermatitis, hair loss, and flea infestation. The Toledo Humane Society was skeptical about her chances for adoption, given her serious medical needs. A kind foster owner, however, nursed her back to health, and she is flea-free, with healthy skin and hair that is growing thicker every day.

One of the many benefits of adopting a pet is that you get a ready-made companion. Both of these dogs had all of their shots, were housebroken, and each was was spayed/neutered prior to adoption.

At any rate, please consider adoption the next time you think about becoming a pet owner. Both of our dogs have been wonderful additions to the family, and we feel lucky that we wandered across a web page for pet adoptions. For more information, see The Toledo Area Humane Society, Planned Pethood, or Petfinder.com.

Instantaneous Yellow

Yeloow maple leaves (Toledo, OH) I admit that my research sometimes causes me to be oblivious to changes that occur around me, but I would bet a dollar that the leaves on this maple tree in my yard were still green yesterday.

This tree stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the arrival of fall. Our 150-foot Shumard oak has already lost most of its leaves, but this maple tree seems reluctant to acquiesce into the change of seasons.

Our pines, of course, thumb their coniferous noses at those of the deciduous variety.

Though it was one of the last trees in the neighborhood to stay green, its days of providing shade are numbered. I suspect that we will be without leaves on our property within the next 10 days.

That is, not including those lying on the ground. I am never in a hurry to rake, being one to view early rakers as people who waste a lot of energy chasing leaves around the yard. I prefer to wait until the leaves have fallen from the tress, and when I know that the city plans to send the leaf trucks in the neighborhood.

Book Review: Mixtionary


John Nee, Scott Lobdell, and Mia Christou

San Diego: IDW Publishing, 102 pages

I currently have over 50 books checked out of libraries, as I am up to my bicuspids in research. Some of these academic texts are so dense that my head begins to hurt after 30 pages or so.

It was in this context that I glanced at Mixtionary, described by its authors as a "guide to communicating efficiently in the modern world, in which new-fangled ideas and phenomena leave us at a loss for words." The term - no surprise - is derived from a combination of "mixed up" and "dictionary."

I have learned that it is important to take breaks when in the middle of large projects, and Mixtionary serves this purpose well.

Readers will come across newly-coined terms such as nevervoyant, defined as "devoid of any sense of an impending situation." Accompanying each definition are light-hearted illustrations, and the table of contents is categorized in topical fashion.

The authors seemed to strive for witty material that is not bogged down with an ideological bent, and they stay well within the bounds of good taste, unlike, say, the depraved lunatics at National Nitwit.

I recommend this friendly little book, which would make an excellent stocking stuffer, and it is available at retail stores, online booksellers, or the Mixtionary website. It's the perfect antidote to stress-induced headaches.

Oct 18, 2006

Another Messy Ohio Election Year?

The much-maligned Diebold voting machineLeft: The much-maligned Diebold voting machine

(Toledo, OH) There is a low rumbling in Ohio this week, as pundits begin to forecast another round of poorly-executed, manipulated, and embarassing elections in the state that sent George W. Bush back to the White House in 2004.

While Daily Kos can sometimes be annoyingly partisan, there is a disturbing post by one of the more reliable DK denizens in the Beltway, KStreetProjector, who claims to have sat in on a meeting in which GOP legislators leaked their plans for putting up roadblocks to "marginal" Democratic voters. (Hat tip to Microdot for sending me the link)

The Cincinnati Enquirer is reporting that some Ohio counties are struggling to meet the expectations of new laws regarding absentee ballots, while the NAACP announced that Ohio is one of the states in which it will be sending workers to monitor the elections.

The New York Times, in an article that hit the wire just 20 minutes before this post, lists Ohio as of the states "most likely to experience difficulties" in November.

“We’ve got new laws, new technology, heightened partisanship and a growing involvement of lawyers in the voting process,” said Tova Wang, an election specialist for the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. “We also have the greatest potential for problems in more places next month than in any voting season before.”

Brace yourselves, folks. Looks like Ohio might once again be a hotbed of electoral controversy and charges of election fraud.

Intriguing Site on the History of Homes

Left: The Old Stone House in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC; photo by historymike

One of the most rewarding parts of establishing a website is the interaction in which you partake with people across the globe.

One such person is Bill Jackson, who clued me into a new site he has created called The Story of My Home, in which visitors are encouraged to post a "recollection of the home and its inhabitants."

So far homes in 31 communities have been profiled, and Bill's goal is "to have every home in the US and Canada listed on this site."

Bill is very much an advocate of microhistory, and argues that "the details of our everyday lives and the cumulative history of millions of families are vitally important to maintaining the cultural heritage of our society."

The anecdotes attached to the basic home information have been the most rewarding for me to read, such as this narrative from the former occupant of a home in Pasco, WA.

Happy reading and reminiscing!

Oct 17, 2006

On North Korea's War Rhetoric

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il with DPRK soldiers Left: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il with DPRK soldiers; photo courtesy of AP

The North Korean foreign ministry said Tuesday that, in essence, the United Nations declared war on the country when it imposed sanctions for the North's nuclear test.

"It is quite nonsensical to expect the DPRK [North Korea] to yield to the pressure and threat of someone at this time when it has become a nuclear weapons state," the statement read. "The UNSC resolution ... cannot be construed otherwise than a declaration of a war against the DPRK."

I have been unable to locate the statement on the website of KCNA (Korean Central News Agency), the official mouthpiece of the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea). Still, the rhetoric is consistent with the bombastic tone generally found in press releases by the DPRK, and I have no reason to question the news reports that quote KCNA.

It is important to read DPRK statements with a built-in propaganda filter, and we should not be overly alarmed by the hyperbole present in its rhetoric, even in phrases such as the "merciless blows" it will mete out to those who violate its sovereignty. This is stock in trade for a regime that has consistently demonstrated a ferocious bark without the proverbial bite.

Chun Yung-Woo, South Korea's lead negotiator in the six-nation talks on the disarmament of the DPRK, described the statements as "the usual rhetoric that they have been using" and that there were "no surprises" in the foreign ministry release.

Unfortunately, my gut reaction is that the Bush administration will use these statements will be used as "evidence" in a continuing campaign to boost support for military action against North Korea, something even South Korea wants to avoid.

Propaganda and spin, alas, are not wholly-owned subsidiaries of the DPRK.

Oct 16, 2006

Book Review: Historical Atlas of East Central Europe

Magocsi, Paul R.

Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1993, 218 pages

Magocsi earned his doctorate from Princeton University in 1972, and was a member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. He has been a professor of history and political science at the University of Toronto since 1980 and was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1996. This atlas is a component of the History of East Central Europe series produced by the University of Washington Press.

The book follows the format of the other entries in the series, which is to say that the geographic boundaries are those lands between the German- and Italian-speaking peoples in the west and the boundaries of the former Soviet Union in the east. Magocsi expanded these boundaries by including maps that examined parts of eastern Germany (such as Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, and Prussia), Austria, Venetia, and lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian kingdom (such as Belarus and Ukraine).

The text includes historical maps dating back to 400 CE and continuing through the end of the Soviet era. Magocsi also provided a great number of maps that included Anatolia, and the atlas does not fall into the trap of some Western-oriented works that overlook the important role of the Seljuk Turks and the Ottoman Empire in European history.

The text follows a chronological format, and alternates between sections covering wider areas of east central Europe and narrow foci on individual states. In addition to the typical political boundary maps, the author included maps covering demography, ethnicity, economies, military concerns, education, and ecclesiastical structures. In order to achieve consistency within the text (and thus addressing the problem of historical naming), Magocsi used the official language in the present-day state as the basis for choosing place names.

However, the author used Webster’s dictionary as the final arbiter, choosing the first listed name in cases of multiple accepted spellings; the author noted that every naming decision is likely to produce a charge of linguistic bias from some readers, and opted for an English-language orientation given his assumed readership. Thus, Kraków is rendered Cracow in the maps of the atlas, and readers will find Gdańsk in place of the Germanic Danzig. In cases where a strong argument might be made for several variations of the same name, the author placed the first name above the parenthetical second, as in the example of Posen and Poznań and Ragusa and Dubrovnik.

Map of Europe about 1560 Left: Europe about 1560 (click to enlarge)

In addition to composing the text Magocsi created the first drafts of the maps used in the text. The initial color drawings were delivered to the Office of Cartography at the University of Toronto, and a team of cartographers produced the camera-ready artwork that appeared in the final version of the book. Despite the input of many hands in the project, there is an aesthetic continuity throughout the atlas, which is helpful for readers who like to flip back and forth between different maps, and Magocsi credited Geoffrey J. Matthews for the overall visual appeal of the artwork.

Perhaps following in the footsteps of Fernand Braudel, Magocsi opened the text with an examination of the geographic and geologic features of east central Europe. The non-specialist will be struck, for example, by the relative isolation of the Hungarian Plain, surrounded as it is by the Alpine, Carpathian, and Dinaric ranges; the historical continuity of Hungarian language and culture make more sense in this geographical context. Comparing the maps of “Average annual rainfall” and “Vegetation and land use” helps readers understand the climactic role in the development of particular agricultural products in east central Europe.

Interestingly, the Danube River has traditionally been seen as the northern boundary of the Roman Empire, but by glancing at the rainfall map readers will note the presence of a frost-line (0° C in January) that also mirrors much of the northern boundary of the Romans. One might make a convincing argument that the imperial ambitions of the Romans were influenced in part by the regular presence of frost in the Hungarian Plain and the Bohemian Basin.
The industrial history of east central Europe can also be better understood through the use of maps provided in this atlas.

The map that examines the history of canal and railway development is particularly intriguing, as the vast majority of railway construction prior to 1850 occurred in German and Austrian territories. Also noteworthy are the maps of east central Europe that depict population density in 1870 and 1910; the confluence of a lack of railways and low population density put many of the Slavic regions at a distinct economic disadvantage with Western Europe in the race to industrialize.

The atlas contains an extensive bibliography, broken up into historical atlases, geographic atlases, thematic atlases, and historical texts that provided additional source material. The cross-referenced entries in the index begin with the main forms, and are followed by linguistic variants (helpful language abbreviations are also included). Magocsi also included a section that listed the original sources for the maps that he consulted for each map in the text. Throughout the text there are also a significant number of informational tables; readers, for example, desirous to know the ethnolinguistic-national composition of Yugoslavia or the Orthodox population of east central Europe will find such information compiled in a tabular format.

Map of Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1911 Left: Austro-Hungarian empire in 1911 (click to enlarge)

Unlike many historical atlases, in which narrative text plays a small role, Magocsi’s work can be read in the manner that one might read a textbook. A reader might, for example, follow the maps on “East Central Europe in 1648,” “Partitions of Poland,” “Campaigns of Napoleon,” and “East Central Europe in 1815” for a narrative and cartographic overview of the political changes that occurred in the region between the Peace of Westphalia and the Congress of Vienna. Similarly, the series of maps that begin with the “Austro-Hungarian Empire” through “Conflicting claims to Macedonia” and “The Balkan Peninsula 1912-13” gives a reader greater understanding of the wide variety of ethnolinguistic and political groups in east central Europe prior to World War I. In comparing such maps one is struck not so much by the ability of the Habsburgs to rule over multiethnic empire but rather by the fact that such an unwieldy amalgamation could have been held together so long.

A Historical Atlas of East Central Europe should be considered the definitive historical atlas for the region, and is a must for every student and specialist of the history of east central Europe. Moreover, general readers with an interest in east central European history would benefit from the use of this book; one could envision that genealogists in particular would find this text to be of immense value. Magocsi has produced a work that will continue to be an important reference tool for decades.

The Quote Shelf

book shelf A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

The bureaucracy is a circle from which one cannot escape. Its hierarchy is a hierarchy of knowledge. The top entrusts the understanding of detail to the lower levels, whilst the lower levels credit the top with understanding of the general, and so all are mutually deceived.
--Karl Marx

Oct 15, 2006

Rapid Rhetoric: JERQUE

This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

jerque - v. to examine the papers and manifest of a ship, or to physically search the vessel, in order to ascertain if smuggling is occurring. A jerquer is a customs agent who engages in the process of jerquing, and a "jerque note" is issued by the customs officer for the vessel's clearance.

The archaic term "jerque" is of French origin, from the verb chercher ("to search"). Some speculate that the word is related to the Jamaican dish jerk chicken.

Oct 14, 2006

New Dog in the 'Hood

(Toledo, OH) We have another addition to the family - a dog of mixed ancestry whose name is Candy. This 4-year-old dog appears to have elements of Westie, cockapoo, or Chinese crested in her.

Like our other dog Jimmy, we adopted Candy from a shelter. This time we used Planned Pethood, a non-profit, Northwest Ohio based organization that fosters dogs until it can arrange adoptions.

Candy had much of the fur shaved off her back end due to some skin problems caused by fleas and neglect, but she received excellent care in her foster home. Her curly white hair is growing back in, and she seems to be doing well. She is very affectionate and wants to play with Jimmy, but he seems to want more alone time than she is willing to give him.

Left: A pair of dogs chase each other through the leaves in my backyard

Candy also has been exhibiting some mounting behavior since we got home, which seems to annoy Jimmy. We are making sure that Jimmy gets some extra attention so that he does not feel slighted during the adjustment to a two-dog house.

We were quite pleased with the efforts extended by Planned Pethood, and we recommend the service to anyone seeking a canine companion. The organization brought several dozen dogs to PetSmart in Rossford today, and I would have gladly taken home six or eight more dogs if I had the room in my home and a large enough bank account.

The Quote Shelf

book shelf A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

You need only reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in their struggle for independence.
--Charles A. Beard

Oct 13, 2006

Transitioning to "Toledo Tech"?

University Hall at the University of Toledo The notion that every well educated person would have a mastery of at least the basic elements of the humanities, sciences, and social sciences is a far cry from the specialized education that most students today receive, particularly in the research universities. -- Joseph E. Stiglitz

(Toledo, OH) I received a leaked copy this week of the "White Paper" prepared by University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs, and my initial reaction is that this is yet another attempt by short-sighted administrators to gut the humanities and social sciences in favor of engineering and health services.

This controversial document is the basis upon which Dr. Jacobs intends to lay out the direction in which UT will travel in the next few decades. A short article on the paper is available at this UT link.

Dr. Jacobs envisions a university focused on the STEM² (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) curriculum. He believes that, by 2011, the University of Toledo should phase out "all non-state funded PhD programs." He argues that new PhD programs should be limited only in "STEM² and professional colleges; e.g.: Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, Doctorate in Nursing Practice, etc."

There are three key "thematic areas" that Dr. Jacobs believes should be the primary focus of UT:

1. The environment and its impact on human life, wellness, and health;
2. Renewable energy sources and uses of and intermodal transportantion; and
3. Cell signalling systems as applied to the maintenance of human health and the prevention, early detection, and treatment of disease.

Dr. Jacobs, it appears, views the future of UT as an organization in which the emphasis should be squarely upon a few narrow technical specialties, and in which other disciplines merely serve to prepare students for their futures as tomorrow's technicians.

Unfortunately, this type of philosophy is all too common in American universities. Facing declining tax revenue, many states have begun to cut funding to their public universities, preferring to support only those programs with immediate, short-term payback. In Ohio this trend accelerated in the 1990s; the state once supported about two-thirds of the operating revenue of state universities, but currently provides about one-third of the funds necessary to maintain the system of public higher education.

Budget-cutting at the University of Toledo Universities then pass on these shortfalls to students in the form of higher tuition and reduced services and programs. Dr. Jacobs is merely the latest in a series of UT presidents who have tried to develop a solution to the funding dilemma.

The University of Toledo in particular - and Ohio in general - will thus sacrifice long-term quality in favor of short-term financial shell games. The gutting of graduate programs in the humanities and social sciences (and likely the Colleges of Education and Business) and the "aligning of interdisciplinary institutes and centers to the research themes" (shorthand for slashing the budget of the College of Arts and Sciences) will only exacerbate the deteriorating state of higher education in Ohio.

"Penny wise and pound foolish" was the maxim my mother preached to me as a child, and this phrase succinctly describes the thinking of the new administration of the University of Toledo and the government of the State of Ohio.

Onward and downward, mateys!

(Full disclosure statement: the author is a graduate student in a "non-state funded PhD program" at UT whose department will likely be among the first that the budget-cutting chainsaws will slice through)

Oct 12, 2006

First Fall Snowflakes in Toledo

(Toledo, OH) While taking a walk with the dog in the brisk wind that is currently gusting at over 30 MPH, I saw the first snowflakes of the season just after noon.

I had to stop and glance at the windshield of a parked car to be certain, thinking I might have mistaken a leaf or a small piece of wind-blown debris for a snowflake. The presence of multiple white specks confirmed my suspicion.

I watched the first frozen flecks melt into water droplets on the glass, knowing that winter is not far away.

Later in the day there appeared a number of snow squalls that added a precipitatorial punctuation mark to the arrival of the cold weather.

Temperatures are expected to fall to 30 degrees tonight. I'd better pick the last of my peppers and tomatoes, lest they freeze in the winds that follow in the wake of the cold front that is roaring through the Midwest.

The Quote Shelf

book shelf A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Defending the truth is not something one does out of a sense of duty or to allay guilt complexes, but is a reward in itself.
--Simone de Beauvoir

Oct 11, 2006

The Legacy of an Urban Riot

Toledo riot - Teargas and policeLeft: Riot police march through thick teargas south on Toledo's Mulberry Street toward protesters on October 15, 2005. Photo by Isis

Toledoans joined television viewers around the world on October 15, 2005 and watched in disbelief as hundreds of angry people faced off against the police for four hours on that sunny Saturday afternoon at Mulberry and Central.

After police finally dispersed the rioters, many people were content to write the incident off as the isolated work of violent, lawless hooligans and gang members.

We might take comfort in the fact that there were no fatalities, and that injuries and property damage were limited, at least in terms of American urban riots.

Some might also view the episode as a learning experience for police and city officials, as the second visit on December 10 from the neo-Nazi group known as the National Socialist Movement ended without violence or property damage (we shall set aside for the moment any concerns about freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, or other pesky constitutional issues that were raised by anti-racist activists who claim to have been denied such rights).

Unfortunately, the conditions leading up to the October 15 riot have changed little in the past year, and remain as potential fuel for another conflagration in Toledo. The presence of the swastika-wearing, goose-stepping members of the NSM was merely a lit match placed in the middle of a potentially flammable environment in the North End.

Toledo riot - Toledo protesters at Mulberry and Central Protesters at Mulberry and Central

I have spoken with many people over the past year, and there is a decided unwillingness on the part of most observers to recognize that the rioters acted with at least an element of political activism (albeit of a violent, illegal, and unconventional fashion). Most local pundits, if they even consider the possibility of political awareness among the rioting protesters, would rather blame the “outsider” socialists and anarchists for “stirring up” the youth in the North End.

Both viewpoints are sadly mistaken, and reek of condescension toward those who gathered to object to the presence of white supremacists in their neighborhood.

In addition, many protesters that I interviewed during and after the events of October 15 complained about unemployment, poor economic circumstances, and police harassment as factors that led to their involvement in the rally and subsequent riot.

Man being arrested in North Toledo riot Left: Unidentified man being arrested on Mulberry

Aside from some civic window dressing, little has changed in North Toledo since the riot. There have been some public forums, and extra attention paid to the abandoned homes that blight the area, but the economic and social conditions that created an environment primed for combustion remain.

Any future civil unrest in Toledo’s North End might not be as quickly contained, or result in as little comparative damage, as last year’s riot.

The challenge, then, is for city officials and community leaders to avoid the temptation to dismiss the events of 2005 as an aberration, and to recognize that much work remains in the process of restoring LaGrinka as a vibrant neighborhood.

Failure to do so will most assuredly be a prescription for more of what we witnessed last October.

This is an op-ed piece that appears in this week's Toledo Free Press, which reexamines the North Toledo riot one year later.

Oct 10, 2006

Ducking Around

A. platyrhynchos - a flock of mallard ducks (Toledo, OH) The stream that flows through Foxglove Meadow park in West Toledo has become the summer home for a flock of ducks. These particular ducks are of the mallard variety (A. platyrhynchos) and, while quite common in the United States, are nevertheless enjoyable to watch.

This particular flock began the season as two nesting pairs, and I have seen as many as 15 ducks congregating at any one time. I observed quite a bit of aggressive behavior among the two males earlier in the year, but the flock seems to be getting along better in the fall.

A. platyrhynchos - a pair mallard ducks This pair seemed content to stand beside each other as the other ducks chased after some bird seed I brought along.

Perhaps they had already eaten, or perhaps they were watching the festivities with the same sort of bemusement as I.

It was a pleasant afternoon to be wandering along the stream banks and passing time with water fowl. Soon the flock will head in a southerly direction for unknown parts; I hope that they return to my neighborhood next year.

On Unbottled Genies and Geopolitics

Left: North Korean nuclear facility at Yongbyon

The announcement by the North Koreans that they have successfully completed an underground nuclear test is merely the latest chapter in the proliferation of nuclear technology around the globe. Unfortunately, it appears that this trend will continue in the forseeable future.

It is interesting to note that the media has been quick to focus on North Korea as a "rogue" state in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, yet nations such as India, Pakistan, and Israel - all armed with nuclear devices and all non-signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - seem to get a free pass.

The "rogue" state of Iran, on the other hand, is a signatory to the NPT, and argues that its uranium enrichment program is permitted under the "peaceful uses" clause of the NPT. We may have our doubts about Iran's sincerity, but that nation is at least paying lip service to the NPT.

If the President was serious about nuclear non-proliferation, he would not have given India the nuclear green light last year in his surprising joint agreement with India. It seems to this writer that a "rogue" state is one that operates outside of international law; surely India, Pakistan, and Israel thus qualify for "rogue" status.

Instead, the President seems to be saying that the United States should be the final arbiter on the question of which nations should possess nuclear technology. In addition, the unspoken message to would-be nuclear powers is this:
"Don't worry about the NPT - once you attain nuclear status, you will be among an elite group of world powers who hold an atomic trump card, and you will be able to negotiate from strength."
The North Koreans - whether they actually detonated a nuclear device on Sunday or not - realize how the game is now played, and know that they are in a position to command much more respect with nukes than without. Unless all nations are held accountable to the NPT, the document is meaningless.

The net result of the undermining of the NPT by President Bush - and to a lesser extent some of his predecessors - will be that more states acquire nuclear weapons, increasing the likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used.

Of course, perhaps some of the President's advisors actually favor the unbottling of the nuclear genie, and look forward to the day when the American nuclear arsenal can be a legitimate - and not theoretical - component of military strategy.

That, my friends, would be a frightening scenario.

OTA Link Love

(Toledo, OH) As a member of the Open Trackback Alliance, I highlight sites and posts that I found to be noteworthy in the past week.

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

I have just started following Charleston Daily Mail columnist Don Surber's blog. He is right of center, but not obnoxiously so, and devotes more space to non-political posts than to the political.

Other interesting OTA blogs I visited this week: TMH's Bacon Bits, the unusual Quietly Making Noise, the wretched hive of scum and villainy at Pirate's Cove, Canadian-style politics at Grandinite, the good fun at 7 Deadly Sins, and my regular trips to Liberal Common Sense and Glass City Jungle.

Oct 9, 2006

The Quote Shelf

book shelf A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

A very considerable handicap to our contentment is our failure to temper our ambition, as a skipper reefs his sails,to the energy available.

Oct 8, 2006

On Anna Politkovskaya and Employment Risks

Left: Anna Politkovskaya, courtesy of Time.com

News that a Russian journalist who chronicled military abuses against civilians in Chechnya was found shot to death Saturday hit close to home with me, as I have spent a few years in the profession.

Anna Politkovskaya, 48, was found dead in an elevator in her apartment building in central Moscow Saturday. Police and prosecutors believe the killing was related to her investigative journalism.

The murder is especially chilling for journalists in Russia, as that nation is among the deadliest countries for those involved in the investigative journalism. At least a dozen members of the press have been killed in contract-style slayings since 2000, the year Vladimir Putin took office.

While tragic, those in the business know that journalism is not pretty, and that bad things can happen to good people. I have been on the receiving end of email and voicemail threats myself, and - at the very least - these forms of intimidation make a person cautious.

If not paranoid.

And yet anyone who has worked in the press knows that violence is an inherent risk. While journalists enjoy a somewhat less precarious existence in the United States, it only takes one angry reader to cut short your life.

Or one angry person in the field. While working on a series that documented abandoned houses in Toledo for the Toledo Free Press, I incurred the wrath of a wild-eyed, inebriated man who was living in the basement of a hovel on North Erie Street.

He was under the impression that I was taking pictures of him, rather than the dilapidated building in which he was squatting. He charged at me with a can of gasoline and threatened to douse me and ignite me. A nearby maintenance man joined the mini-scuffle with a sharp yard implement and convinced the hooligan that he might be better off calling it a day.

Ah, the special memories.

And who could ever forget the North Toledo riot of 2005, in which local journalists could choose from a variety of methods by which to endanger themselves. By standing near the police, one was subject to being hit by thrown projectiles, while standing near the protesters meant that a journalist could be be greeted with teargas, knee-knocker pellets, and flash-bang explosives.

Anna Politkovskaya faced far worse, and persevered until her untimely death. Russia has lost one of its most important journalists, and truth may be suppressed for some time in the gangsterocracy.

Politkovskaya, however, would likely return to the same course of action if given the chance to return. The quest for truth can be a deadly addiction for journalists, but freedom and democracy depend on people like Anna Politkovskaya for their existence.