Nov 30, 2006

A Looming Storm

Radar snapshot courtesy of

(Toledo, OH) Dark clouds are entering my neighborhood from the southwest, as Toledo prepares for the first major winter storm of the season.

At the moment it is a balmy 58 degrees outside, but conditions will change in the next 24-36 hours. Depending on the track of the system, my area could get as little as 2 inches of snow, or perhaps as much as 4, by Friday evening.

Local meterologists, however, believe that the warm ground temperature may prevent significant accumulation of snow.

This same storm is currently wreaking havoc across the Great Plains, with areas of Kansas and Missouri expecting a foot or more of snow. Temperatures behind the storm front are quite cold, dropping below zero in parts of Montana and North Dakota and into the low teens as far south as New Mexico.

My forecast: local grocery stores will be packed this evening, as the year's first snowfall always sends residents into a preparedness mode.

Nov 29, 2006

Half-Hearted Temper Tantrum

My sister sent me a link to this YouTube video of a manipulative little tyke, and it is priceless.

One of my favorite parts of this clip is the family dog - watch how the pooch follows Mom and Dad.


Nov 28, 2006

On Academic Specialization and the Concept of an Atlantic World

Map of the Atlantic OceanOver the past few years I have become interested in broader, more global views of history, and one particular trend that I believe holds great potential is that of Atlantic history. This subfield is based on the supposition that the Atlantic Ocean served as a sort of liquid highway to connect people on four continents, and that these connections make the study of national history artificially narrow.

Some historians view the trend toward examining history in terms of a wider Atlantic perspective as a means of strengthening the bonds between Europeans and neo-Europeans in North America, or as a sort of continuation of the spread of European culture across the Atlantic (see for example Bernard Bailyn's Atlantic History, 2005). I posit that the impetus behind the conceptualization of an Atlantic world has more to do with a desire to describe the interconnectedness of peoples, and the symbiotic relationships that formed between people in transatlantic cultures. Nineteenth-century naturalist, philosopher, and explorer Alexander von Humboldt eloquently expressed this belief in the universality of knowledge:
I have the extravagant idea of describing in one and the same work the whole material world – all that we know today of celestial bodies and of life upon the earth – from the nebular stars to the mosses on the granite rocks – and to make this work instructive to the mind, and at the same time attractive, by its vivid language.
Like most disciplines, the field of history has become dominated by specialists; modern universities herd scholars into narrowly-channeled lines of inquiry that are not conducive to holistic thinking. Many mainstream historians view the metanarrative and the wide historical perspective as the archaic forms of antiquarians, and the prescient admonition of nineteenth-century geologist Clarence King to “ironize and ridicule specialism” reminds us that this conflict between generalists and specialists has a long history. In light of this disciplinary drive toward narrow specialization, the Atlantic world can also be seen as a form of resistance by historians who reject these notions of how history ought to be told.

Nov 27, 2006

A Surreal Moment

Fall sky (Toledo, OH) While I was walking to teach a class today, the carillon at the University of Toledo began to play the beautiful English folk song "Greensleeves" (also known as the Christmas carol "What Child Is This?").

I have always enjoyed that haunting tune, but my reverie was interrupted by the whup-whup-whup of helicopter blades, as the Toledo Police helicopter passed overhead.

I looked up through barren trees at a blue sky near noon on an unseasonably warm November day, momentarily disconcerted by the strangeness of the scene.

Police chases and Christmas carols. November and sunshine. Music and mayhem.

Finishing my carbonated can of liquid caffeine, I went on, muttering to myself that thinking can be dangerous, or at least distracting.

The Quote Shelf

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

People often say that I'm curious about too many things at once... But can you really forbid a man from harboring a desire to know and embrace everything that surrounds him?
--Alexander von Humboldt

Nov 26, 2006

Killing Sasha: Thoughts on the Murder of Alexander Litvinenko

Alexander Litvinenko in hospital bedAlexander Litvinenko in his hospital bed; photo courtesy of The Guardian

(Toledo, OH) The death of Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-KGB operative, was a particularly gruesome crime. Known to his friends as Sasha, he died in London on Thursday night after a three-week illness attributed to poisoning. His hair fell out almost immediately, his internal organs failed, and his body slowly fell into systemic collapse.

Doctors found deadly levels of polonium-210, a radioactive substance, in his body. Traces of polonium were found in locations he had visited shortly before falling ill, and urine samples taken from Litvinenko also showed the poison.

Given the fact that Litvinenko was an ardent critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, the temptation among many pundits is to assume the worst - that Putin, in classic gangster fashion, simply ordered a hit on one of his enemies. Given the fact that vocal critics of Putin tend to become the victims of unusual acts of violence (consider the 2006 murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the 2004 dioxin poisoning of Ukranian president Viktor Yushchenko), such a scenario is certainly within the realm of possibilities.

While I am in full agreement with the idea that Russia is devolving into a gangsterocracy, I am not convinced Vladimir Putin ordered the hit on Litvinenko. It is equally plausible that elements within the FSB (the successor security body to the KGB) initiated the murder on their own.

It is also possible that rival political factions might have murdered Litvinenko in an effort to embarass Putin, whose term expires in 2008. Russian media sources are floating the specious idea that organized crime elements contracted the murder in an effort to discredit the FSB and, by default, the nation of Russia. Pravda suggests notorious Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky as a prime suspect, and also points the accusatory finger at Chechen exile Akhmed Zakayev

But whatever the real truth - which the world may never know - what is certain is that politics in Russia is a deadly business, and whoever poisoned Alexander Litvinenko with polonium-210 wanted to send that message in a very visible, gruesome manner.

Nov 25, 2006

Book Review: The Ottomans - Dissolving Images

The Ottomans: Dissolving Images Wheatcroft, Andrew

New York: Viking Press, 322 pages

Wheatcroft is a lecturer in the Department of English Studies at Scotland’s University of Stirling, and one of his areas of specialization is in the textual and graphic presentation of history. He has published numerous books related to the historical representation of intellectual thought in print and graphic media, and this work shows the influence of the self-fashioning models developed by Stephen Greenblatt.

In The Ottomans: Dissolving Images Wheatcroft approached the topic from both European and Turkish perspectives, using accounts from Western travelers as well as historical Ottoman narratives in an attempt to provide a relatively balanced examination of the Osmanli dynasty in the seventeenth through twentieth centuries. Wheatcroft produced a text less concerned with the traditional history of the Ottomans as much as the ways in which the internal and external images of the sultanate changed over time.

The text roughly follows a chronological approach, with chapters that revolve around particular themes related to stereotypes and myths – both internal and external – of the Osmanli. Accompanying the text are several sections of paintings and photographs – for which the author strove to avoid Orientalist caricatures (except when discussing Western misconceptions) - that provide readers with visual representations of the textual analysis. Notes accompany the sections with illustrations, offering additional insight into the visual representations of the Ottomans. The author provided footnotes throughout the book, included an 18-page bibliography, and added a list of Ottoman sultans from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the abolition of the sultanate during the reign of Mehmed VI in 1922.

One of the most pernicious of Western stereotypes of the Ottomans is that of the “Lustful Turk,” the grotesque caricature of Turkish people and rulers as sexual deviants with insatiable appetites. Wheatcroft traced this notion to the early eighteenth century, and argued that this warped view reached its peak in the nineteenth century in Western literature. Of particular prurient interest to Europeans was the concept of the harem, which became lodged in the collective mind of Westerners as a sort of majestic brothel. Wheatcroft provided numerous examples of these Western misconceptions, and argued that this stereotype was reinforced by the fact that male Western visitors were not permitted to enter the harem. Being barred from the harem, Wheatcroft argued, male Europeans could only speculate what happened behind its closed doors:
…cut off from the light and the open air, it was thought, women deteriorated physically and psychologically. The harem, with its blank windowless walls, remote from the outside world, seemed to [European] men an inevitable breeding ground for vice and moral decay.
In addition, Wheatcroft demonstrated that Europeans later began to envision a sultanate in which sodomy, incest, and even rape were supposedly normal sexual occurrences. In an 1870 work entitled The Sultan’s Reverie: An Extract from the Pleasures of Cruelty, the Ottoman sultan moves from his harem to raping his own mother-in-law in an attempt to satiate his deep lust. The author also included a dubious passage from T.E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph in which the British liaison officer implied that he had been raped by the Bey of Deraa.

Map of Ottoman Empire in 1885

Yet another Western stereotype of the Ottomans that began to circulate in the late medieval era, and gaining much greater currency in the eighteenth century, was that of the “Terrible Turk.” Wheatcroft argued that, for Europeans well versed in the arts of brutality, “the cruelty lay not so much in the punishment inflicted as its arbitrariness.” These Western beliefs were seemingly “verified” in violence by Turks against Christians in the nineteenth century in such groups as Greeks, Bosnians, Bulgarians, and – most notoriously - the Armenians in the two decades prior to World War I. Wheatcroft noted that the press-driven documentation of Turkish atrocities conveniently ignored similar acts of group violence against Turkish-speaking peoples in the same conflicts.

Wheatcroft did not include a discussion in The Ottomans: Dissolving Images of the nineteenth-century development of scientific racism as a contributory factor in the rise of these more noxious stereotypes of the House of Osman. This is a puzzling omission, as the literary portrayals of Ottomans as lustful and terrible owed much to the credibility these stereotypes gained from the pseudo-scientific theories of racial hierarchy espoused by such European thinkers as Arthur de Gobineau, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Herbert Spencer.

Wheatcroft centered the text squarely on Stamboul (which the author called a “microcosm of the empire” ) and the suburbs of the Ottoman capitol city, reflecting the importance of the imperial heart. Readers, however, do not get a sense of the workings of the Ottoman administration in the Balkans, the Levant, and North Africa, areas crucial to the longevity of the Ottoman Empire. While the Ottomans did rely heavily on the talents of local elites, it is misleading to believe that areas beyond the Golden Horn were mere peripheries, and the book’s narrow geographic focus makes it seem a bit myopic in its analysis of the House of Osman.

Wheatcroft relied more heavily on secondary than primary sources in this synthesis, and there is a striking imbalance (skewed in favor of the West) between the European and Turkish sources. In addition, the material is centered squarely on Constantinople/Stamboul, with the result that readers learn little about the rest of the Ottoman Empire. While the text itself is – on the surface - balanced in its presentation, there is an overtly Western European feel to the finished product; one leaves the text with the impression that Wheatcroft was unable to transcend his roots, and that the author remained a sort of historical tourist. This Wheatcroft freely acknowledged, and is one of the book’s most significant arguments:
The theme of this book is that there is no closure: that the relationship between the Ottoman and Europe, between the Turk and the West, is constantly changing and reforming. But equally it can never escape from the embrace of fundamental misunderstanding.
This “fundamental misunderstanding” by the West of Middle Eastern peoples continues to this day, and Wheatcroft’s book should be required reading for Western diplomats, policy makers, and scholars in the social sciences and humanities. While this reviewer disagrees with the assertion that we – as Europeans, neo-Europeans, and Westernized peoples - “can never escape” the inability to understand cultures different from the West, Wheatcroft’s work is an important contribution to understanding the historical barriers that separate the West from the rest of the world.

Nov 24, 2006

Album Review: Hello Love - The Be Good Tanyas

The Be Good Tanyas are (left to right) Samantha Parton, Trish Klein, and Frazey Ford The Be Good Tanyas are (left to right) Samantha Parton, Trish Klein, and Frazey Ford

I came across this band while recently browsing in a record store, intrigued by the eclectic blend of folk, country, blues, and pop that is The Be Good Tanyas.

The band hails from Vancouver, although their music is sometimes described as Americana. Every once in a while a listener can hear the slightest twinge of a western Canadian accent, giving the band's music a distinctive flavor.

Hello, Love mixes traditional ballads, original tunes from band members, and a handful of well-selected covers. The core sound is based on guitar, banjo, and mandolin, and the group brought in some session players to round out their sound on several tracks.

One of the many joys of this disc is the delicious three-part harmonies of the Tanyas. Unlike many roots acts, the singers avoid settling for simplistic first-fifth-tweflth structures, and branch out into some creative aural experiments.

The lead vocals are shared by Frazey Ford and Sam Parton, who bring distinctive approaches to the songs they sing. Ford has a throaty delivery, sometimes delving into a style that uses the cheeks as resonators. Even more impressive is when Ford breaks into vibrato while reaching back with her full-throated style as she does on the song "Ootischenia."

The Be Good Tanyas - Hello Love
Parton's style is somewhat breathy, a voice that can alternate between the fragile and deadly serious. Her best performance is on "Song for R.", in which her voice drops to a plaintive whisper as she narrates a tale of self-destruction accompanied only by piano and a lonely cello droning in the background.

The songwriting is strong, with poignant lyrics addressing a wide variety of themes. The band also manages to keep the listener guessing about structure; just when you think you know where a song is headed, they throw in a musical curve ball. The songs have a loose feel, like friends who just got together for a jam session, but the playing is anything but sloppy - The Tanyas are no instrumental slouches, and Trish Klein's guitar solos give many of the songs an added punch.

One of my favorite tracks among the thirteen tunes on this disc is the apocalyptic "Scattered Leaves," a cover of the Jeremy Lindsay (of JT and the Clouds fame) song. One can envision Frazey Ford standing in the middle of a wind-blown cemetery singing this creepy dirge:
Don't you go looking so surprised, baby don't you look so stunned
Didn't I tell you that a cold November'd come?
And deliver the leaves from green to red
To blowing in the wind stone dead
After you purchase this disc (and you will, because it is that good), be sure to stick around for the hidden thirteenth track, which is a stripped-down cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry." The percussion is reduced to brush, high-hat, snare, and bass drum, and Frazey Ford reinteprets this 1980s staple in a catchy manner that all but recreates the song.

Buy it, play it, and love it.

Nov 23, 2006

Over the River, Through the Woods

Foggy morning outside of Toledo, OHThe fog rolled into Northwest Ohio sometime around 10:00 am on Thanksgiving, and the dense mist created eerie scenes as we drove north into Michigan to my parents' house.

The pine tree standing among some leafless tree trunks looked like some sort of ghoul warning us of impending doom, or perhaps a wraith-like being stalking us as we set out on our holiday trip.

The fog burned off north of Ann Arbor, though, and the weather in central Michigan was clear and unseasonably warm, with temperatures in the fifties.

Huron River flowing through Milford, MI My wife and I took a walk along the Huron River in Milford, enjoying a late fall reprieve from the cold. Jackets were not needed, but I wore mine anyways.

There were no boaters on the river, but quite a few residents of this Michigan village took advantage of the pleasant day to walk in the November sun.

I am always amazed at the friendliness of people in small towns, and we were greeted by quite a few people as we walked. Hearty hellos, too, not the sort of suspicious nods strangers often give each other in large cities as they keep an eye out for possible threats.

Geese swimming in the Huron River in Milford, MI We saw numerous water fowl on the river, and the southward migration instinct has not yet driven the denizens of the Huron River to find warmer climes for the winter.

These geese were particularly noisy today, and their agitated honks echoed across the valley.

Many of the ducks and geese swam toward us, hoping that we brought some form of edible treat with us. Unfortunately, we were not prepared to feed the hundreds of birds in the river, and - truth be told - we had just finished eating a healthy portion of one of their turkey cousins.

Swans swimming in Huron River in Milford, MI Most impressive among the river creatures we encountered were a pair of swans, which appeared to stand three-and-one-half feet tall. The bodies on these birds were larger than the turkey my mom cooked to feed a group of fifteen people.

I cannot remember the last time I saw swans, especially two as large as these particular birds.

These appear to be Mute Swans, a subspecies of swan that originated in Eurasia and which has been introduced to the United States. Wingspans on these tremendous birds can extend up to eight feet.

Foggy night outside of Toledo, OH On the trip home the fog returned, once again north of Ann Arbor. By the time that we passed Milan, the fog was so thick as to reduce effective visibility to perhaps 100 yards. Had the notorious Tom Noe been in the yard of the Milan federal prison, we would not have been able to see him, nor pick him up were he hitchhiking on the side of the road.

We had to slow down to a speed of about 45 the last thirty miles of our trip. Given the fact that our trytophan-laden bodies had entered a state of laziness, and the desire to race between destinations is lessened on holidays, no one minded that the trip home took a few extra minutes.

I stared out the window at the unseen fog ghouls, and all was right in my world.

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanskgiving dinner (Toledo, OH) For those of you celebrating the American holiday, I hope that your Thanksgiving is a pleasant day spent with your family, or, at least, a quiet day away from the hyperactive modern world.

For those of you stuck working on this holiday, I hope that you either: a) find a better job; or b) lead a revolution against the profit-minded corporate types who forced you to work today.

For those of you living in a place in which this holiday is not being celebrated, I hope that you have a few moments of peace today.

May the hapless Detroit Lions win their game today, and may Terrell Owens score three touchdowns to lead my fantasy football team to victory.

Nov 22, 2006

On Borat, Race, and America

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan I played hooky today and went to see the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

The film says much more about contemporary America than it does about Kazakhstan, and the film actually says very little about Kazakhstan that is not complete fabrication (the filmmakers do correctly place the nation on a Central Asian map, but that is about the extent of factual information about Kazakhstan).

For those unaware of the film's premise, Borat Sagdiyev (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) is a fictitious Kazakhstani journalist who travels across America creating an equally specious documentary. Akin to an R-rated Candid Camera, Borat chronicles the misadventures of the film's title character and the people with whom he comes into contact.

The brilliance of Cohen is his ability to persuade people to believe that he really is a Jew-hating foreigner, and through this ruse get them to forget the cameras are rolling. Borat received an invitation to a Southern dinner party (held, appropriately enough, on Secession Lane), and his hosts enjoy his presence until his "date" arrives: a black prostitute (played by comedienne Luelle).

Party over.

Borat captured on film a rodeo promoter suggesting that Americans ought to jail and murder gays, a group of Southern fraternity boys promoting the idea that America ought to return to slavery, and a gun store owner suggesting the best types of handguns for shooting Jews.

The film, beneath the surface humor, demonstrates that there lurks in America deep-seated racism, xenophobia, and a distrust of people who are different. For those who might think racism is the sole province of swastika-wearing buffoons like the National Socialist Movement, Borat is an eye-opener.

Borat's warmest reception - and one of the funniest bits in the film - occurs when he stops to ask directions to California from a group of dice-rolling black teens. After initial distrust of the strange, polyester-suited Borat walking up to them, the young men open up and give him some lessons in street fashion and gangsta language.

Prepare to be entertained, grossed out, and perplexed in viewing Borat, and plan to leave the theater knowing little about Kazakhstani life - but knowing a bit more about race relations in America.

Nov 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.

I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.
Kurt Vonnegut

Nov 20, 2006

On Melville, Revolutions, and Sailors

Herman MelvilleI have been doing quite a bit of reading and thinking about Herman Melville of late; this is a work in progress reflecting that spent time.

Being over two centuries removed from the revolutionary Atlantic, the events of that period might seem distant to the modern reader, bombarded as we are with electronic reminders of the geopolitical affairs of the twenty-first century. For Herman Melville, writing in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, the waves of revolution had not yet receded into the dim collective memory, nor had the process of patriotic mythologization fully distorted history. In Benito Cereno the author examined a slave rebellion set on board a Spanish merchant ship in 1799; in the following passage Melville described the narrator – Captain Amasa Delano – first viewing the beleaguered vessel:
Whether the ship had a figure-head, or only a plain beak, was not quite certain, owing to canvas wrapped about that part, either to protect it while undergoing a refurbishing, or else decently to hide its decay. Rudely painted or chalked, as in a sailor freak, along the forward side of a sort of pedestal below the canvas, was the sentence, "Seguid vuestro jefe" (follow your leader); while upon the tarnished head-boards, near by, appeared, in stately capitals, once gilt, the ship's name, "SAN DOMINICK," each letter streakingly corroded with tricklings of copper-spike rust; while, like mourning weeds, dark festoons of sea-grass slimily swept to and fro over the name, with every hearse-like roll of the hull.
It is not insignificant that Melville chose to change the name of the slave ship to that of the pre-revolutionary moniker of Haiti. The slave rebellion aboard the San Dominick in many ways mirrored the Haitian Revolution, as blacks in both cases rebelled against their white masters to overthrow a slave regime. In each case paternalistic whites struggled to understand the changes: how could these black rebels – believed to be from an “inferior” race – pull off acts that clearly required reason, political awareness, and cunning, all of which were supposedly the traits of “superior” peoples?

Left: 18th-century British gun ship known as a seventy-fourLeft: 18th-century British gun ship known as a "seventy-four" for the number of cannon it could fire

The revolutionary Atlantic was also the setting for Melville’s Billy Budd, which describes the events surrounding a seaman aboard the British ship Bellipotent in the year 1797. In the following passage Melville described the process by which Billy Budd became a sailor in the Royal Navy:
Such a cynosure, at least in aspect, and something such too in nature, though with important variations made apparent as the story proceeds, was welkin-eyed Billy Budd, or Baby Budd, as more familiarly under circumstances hereafter to be given he at last came to be called, aged twenty-one, a foretopman of the British fleet toward the close of the last decade of the eighteenth century. It was not very long prior to the time of the narration that follows that he had entered the King's Service, having been impressed on the Narrow Seas from a homeward-bound English merchantman into a seventy-four outward-bound, H.M.S. Bellipotent; which ship, as was not unusual in those hurried days, having been obliged to put to sea short of her proper complement of men.

In times of war the British navy was forced to impress sailors to sufficiently staff its warships, and the press gangs were a despised lot. Impressment meant a loss of freedom for sailors, and increased the risk of injury and death in a profession already dangerous. The issue of impressed sailors was also a source of confilct between the British and the newly independent United States, and was a factor in the renewed hostilities between the two nations in 1812.

While seemingly an archaic term to Americans - living as we do in the era of "An Army of One"- impressment was very much alive in the sailor lore that influenced Melville's writing, and was a fact of life for seamen in the revolutionary Atlantic.

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 beauty myth moves for men as a mirage; its power lies in its ever-receding nature. When the gap is closed, the lover embraces only his own disillusion.
Herman Melville

Nov 19, 2006

On Surly Teenagers

Surly, rude teenager (Toledo, OH) In our home my wife and I currently have three teenagers in the 16- to 17-year range, hereafter referred to as the Cranky Years.

Oh, the unmitigated joy that accompanies these precious moments! Perhaps a recent example might best illustrate the phenomena:

Parent: Good morning, Child X!

Child X: (unresponsive)

Parent (repeating): Good morning, Child X!

I try to maintain good humor and a longer-range perspective through this phase, which I see as "hormones meeting drive for independence." This is the age in which teenagers subconsciously begin to define themselves through distance, or as the antithesis of some aspect of their parents.

We have already survived two of these phases with our oldest children, and the fact that this period seems to last about a year lessens the severity of having loving children turn into churlsh, self-absorbed cretins.

Still, I suspect my own father would have whooped the tar out of me had I said some of the things that have come out of my children's mouths.

Then again - maybe I am minimizing and glossing over my own Cranky Years.

Nov 18, 2006

Game Day Blogging - Michigan vs. Ohio State

12:44 First Quarter
Very impressive opening drive for the Wolverines, who relied heavily on the pass to drive for a quick touchdown. Mike Hart ran it in for a 1-yard TD: 7-0, Michigan.

"Somewhere Bo Schembechler is smiling," said ABC's Brent Musberger.

7:53 First Quarter
Ohio State answered with a strong drive, overcoming a Michigan sack and some heavy defensive pressure for a Troy Smith to Roy Hall touchdown: Michigan 7, OSU 7.

0:56 First Quarter
Both defenses force the respective offenses to punt in back-to-back series. OSU is struggling to run the ball against the fearsome Michigan defensive front four, netting only 7 yards on the ground in the first quarter: Michigan 7, OSU 7.

12:44 Second Quarter
Michigan missed a tackle in the backfield on RB Chris Wells, and the 235-pound freshman made them pay with a 52-yard touchdown run: OSU 14, Michigan 7.

10:11 Second Quarter
Michigan catches a huge break as OSU picks up a 15-yard penalty on a 4th and 13: OSU 14, Michigan 7.

6:11 Second Quarter
Ugh. Troy Smith faked a handoff to Antonio Pittman, and everyone but Ted Ginn Jr. bought the fake. The result is a 39-yard TD: OSU 21, Michigan 7.

2:33 Second Quarter
Nice pass from Chad Henne to Adrian Arrington for a 37-yard TD: OSU 21, Michigan 14.

0:20 Second Quarter
Impressive two-minute drive by OSU, and they march down the field for a quick TD from Smith to Gonzalez. Michigan has to figure out how to defend the OSU spread offense in the halftime: OSU 28, Michigan 14.

12:33 Third Quarter
After a 3-and-out by the Buckeyes, Michigan marches the ball down the field largely on the legs of RB Mike Hart, who racked up 49 yards on 4 carries this drive. A 1-yard Hart TD makes it: OSU 28, Michigan 21.

10:52 Third Quarter
Huge break - Michigan gets an interception on a tipped ball. If they score a TD on this possession it's a tie game: OSU 28, Michigan 21.

8:41 Third Quarter
Grrr...Michigan has to settle for a 39-yard field goal by Garrett Rivas. Still, starting off the third quarter with 10 straight points means Michigan has momentum. Another 3-and-out for the Blue defense would be huge here: OSU 28, Michigan 24.

8:36 Third Quarter
Stupid penalty by Michigan on the kickoff, as Ted Ginn got an unnecessary shove as he was already out of bounds: OSU 28, Michigan 24.

8:04 Third Quarter
Ugh. Antonio Pittman breaks the line of scrimmage and runs for a 56-yard TD: OSU 35, Michigan 24.

4:12 Third Quarter
Michigan goes for it on 4th-and-10; nice pass to Steve Breaston, but he slipped and did not get the first down. OSU gets the ball back: OSU 35, Michigan 24.

2:50 Third Quarter
Excellent 3-and-out by the Michigan defense; they get the ball back and need a TD on this drive: OSU 35, Michigan 24.

1:31 Third Quarter
WTF???? Lloyd Carr, why the hell are you throwing the bomb on a 3rd-and-1? It was almost picked off, overturned by review: OSU 35, Michigan 24.

0:56 Third Quarter
Thank you, Jesus! Michigan recovers a fumble at the OSU 11: OSU 35, Michigan 24.

14:41 Fourth Quarter
A touchdown was taken off the board for Michigan, as the replay referee said Steve Breaston was down. Mike Hart busts a TD on 3rd-and-inches: OSU 35, Michigan 31.

12:02 Fourth Quarter
FUMBLE! The OSU center inexplicably muffed a snap and Michigan recovers. Michigan cannot turn this gift into points, though, as Lloyd Carr again calls a pass play on third-and-short: OSU 35, Michigan 31.

6:40 Fourth Quarter
Another stupid Michigan penalty, as Crable nailed Troy Smith with a helmet-to-helmet smack. Instead of getting the ball back, now Ohio State keeps the ball with first-and-10 at the 25. OSU 35, Michigan 31.

5:35 Fourth Quarter
Crable's stupid penalty turns into an OSU touchdown, and Michigan will need a miracle now: OSU 42, Michigan 31.

2:13 Fourth Quarter
TD Michigan, and they get the 2-point conversion: OSU 42, Michigan 39.

2:02 Fourth Quarter
OSU recovers the onside kick; just a matter of running down the clock: OSU 42, Michigan 39.

0:00 Fourth Quarter
Sorry, Bo. Not enough clock left for one last drive. Final: OSU 42, Michigan 39.

Good game, but I obviously would have rather had a Michigan victory. You think back over the game about wasted timeouts, stupid penalties, and dropped balls, but ultimately OSU won the game.

Perhaps we'll get lucky and see these two teams in the BCS Championship game.

Prediction: Wolverines 31, Buckeyes 27

(Toledo, OH) The Game, alas, goes on.

With the death of legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler yesterday, there is an additional factor weighing on the outcome of the matchup between the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

I think Michigan will jump out to an early 14-0 lead and then hang on as Ohio State battles back. Michigan's defense will hold off a last-minute OSU drive with a pick of Heisman candidate QB Troy Smith.

Wherever you are, I hope that you enjoy The Game today, and that both teams play well, that there are no officiating controversies, and that the Big Ten is well represented.

Oh - and that Michigan wins. Heh!

Nov 17, 2006

Remembering Bo Schembechler

Bo Schembechler As a lifelong Maize and Blue fan, I am saddened to hear that former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler died today after taping a TV show on the eve of the Wolverines' No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle with rival Ohio State.

Bo coached the Wolverines from 1969 until 1989, winning a total of 194 games, losing only 48, with a winning percentage of .796 in his time with the team. The coach led the Wolverines to a total of 17 bowl games in 21 years, and his teams won or shared 13 Big Ten titles and made 10 Rose Bowl appearances.

I cannot recall Michigan football without Bo, and The Game will seem very different without him.

There were times when I would cuss at Bo (through the television, of course) for his sometimes-conservative playcalling, but Michigan teams were always well-prepared, disciplined, and composed of players who bought into his system.

I originally planned to post a prediction about The Game (Michigan 31, OSU 27 is what I read in the swirling tea leaves), but the death of Bo Schembechler makes the game seem a little less important.

Bo: it has been a pleasure to know you, and you brought a great deal of joy to people struggling in the middle of the Rust Belt. On fall Saturdays in the 1970s and 1980s, the problems of the world could be momentarily put aside for a few hours.

Nov 16, 2006

Foxglove Meadows: A Stroll through a Reinvigorated City Park

Bridge over creek in Toledo's Foxglove Meadow(Toledo, OH) I have lived in the neighborhood near Foxglove Meadow park for many years, and it has traditionally been a sort of forgotten patch of public land.

The park, moreover, became known as a hangout for local hoodlums, and one was likely to see empty liquor bottles, teens smoking pot, and people dumping garbage in this space. The tennis courts fell into disrepair, and the place was largely an eyesore instead of a center of community.

On trips through the park I would have my guard up, convinced through experience that I was likely to run into various lowlifes.

Path in Toledo's Foxglove Meadow parkThe city has embarked on a campaign to improve its public spaces, and Foxglove Meadow is one of the targeted parks that are receiving long-overdue attention.

One of the most prominent changes has been the installation of an 8'-wide path around the perimeter of the park. The path makes better use of an extensive floodplain surrounding Tifft Creek, land that formerly sat empty except during periods of flooding.

I am not sure of the exact distance of the main path, but using the "one stride equals one yard" method, I estimate it to be approximately one-half mile in length.

Muskrat in Toledo's Foxglove Meadow parkOngoing drainage improvements in the local watershed have increased the amount of water in the section of the creek passing through Foxglove Meadow, and it holds a greater depth of water throughout the year.

The park has begun to attract a greater diversity of wildlife, including at least four muskrats.

The cold weather did not seem to deter the two muskrats I saw today; their thick, waterproof brown fur insulates them well in the cold Ohio winters.

Mallard ducks in Toledo's Foxglove Meadow parkEfforts by area residents to provide bird seed and ground corn have also attracted a growing population of ducks to the park. Today I counted 57 Mallards waddling in and around the creek.

I met a woman today who has been feeding the ducks, and she said that she spends about $5 every two weeks on a 50-pound bag of ground corn.

There were very few ducks prior to 2006 in Foxglove Meadow, and those that appeared tended to be transient in nature. This season the duck poulation has taken flight (pun intended), and I hope that any ducks who migrate south this winter will return in the spring to the park.

Benches in Toledo's Foxglove Meadow park The city installed benches at strategic locations throughout the park, which provide seating for tired walkers as well as those who wish to simply sit back and enjoy nature for a few minutes.

Even on this dreary, rainy November morning there were eight people making use of the park. On sunny days one can find dozens of people walking, jogging, or taking their dogs for a stroll.

Before the renovation of the park, few residents ventured into the place beyond the aforementioned nefarious types. I used to discourage my children from playing there, because they were more likely to discover crack pipes than to explore the beauty of nature.

Picnic tables in Toledo's Foxglove Meadow park The city worked with a contractor named Kohne, Inc. on the renovation. Also included in the design was a small picnic area, and improvements to the wooden bridge that crosses the creek.

The funds used to redevelop this park have improved the quality of life for the several thousand people who live within a mile of the space. While I am often critical of wasteful government expenditures, I should also now congratulate the city of Toledo for money that - in my opinion - has been well spent.

More importantly, I see people picking up trash, chatting with one another, and treating the park as a community center in a neighborhood that previously lacked a true focal point.

Nov 15, 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.

My computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing.
Emo Philips

Nov 14, 2006

Mastering the Art of the Dual Dog Walk

Walking two dogs at once (Toledo, OH) I have a few hours on Tuesday and Thursday mornings that I spend at home, and this is a good time to take my dogs Jimmy and Candy for a walk.

The act of one person simultaneously walking two dogs, however, requires a fair amount of dexterity and patience. This endeavor is all the more challenging when one, for example, hopes to also photograph the event for his blog.

I think that the most important factor is the walker's anticipation of the direction in which the leashed dogs intend to go. Switching leashes from hand-to-hand as the dogs cross paths prevents them from getting tangled, I have learned.

We use the retractable leashes, and learning how to use them in the manner of fisherman's reels helps avoid entanglement.

Two dogs sniffing for a place to do their business Left: Sniffing in this manner usually means one thing

Responsible dog owners - as I try to be - carry with them bags for the inevitable bathroom breaks dogs must take. No matter how many times dogs have defecated on a given day, they always need to let loose when going for a walk.

And the most well-manicured, leaf-free lawn always seems the most suitable place to call "toilet," in a dog's eyes.

Thus, one has never truly mastered the art of the dual dog walk until scooping excrement from one dog while another is straining at the leash to chase a squirrel.

Be patient, young grasshopper, for victory favors the clear-minded.

Nov 13, 2006

Green, Black, and White: A Brief Look at a Few Colors of the Revolutionary Atlantic

Left: Half-hanging of a suspected United Irishman by English troops, 1798 Left: Half-hanging of a suspected United Irishman by English troops, 1798

After the English put down the Irish Rebellion of 1798, an important destination for the outlawed United Irishmen was the newly independent United States.

While sharing with many revolutionary Americans a belief in republicanism and anti-monarchical philosophies, Irish republicans were far from welcome guests in the nascent United States. There was a clear anti-Irish bias already forming among the new American elite, and the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 reflects this predisposition. Whelan collected some of the most polemic attacks against the Irish by Federalist sympathizers:
William Cobbett described them as a “reckless and rebellious tribe of Jacobins,” “factious villains which Great Britain and Ireland have vomited from their shores.” A Federalist politician described Irish republicans in 1800 as “United Irishmen, freemasons, and the most God-provoking democrats on this side of hell.” In Congress in 1797, Congressman Harrison Gray Otis of Boston said that he did “not wish to invite hordes of wild Irishmen nor the turbulent and disorderly of all parts of the world to come here with a view to disturb our tranquility.” 1

Left: Thomas Russell

The United Irishmen, however, also espoused beliefs antithetical to the commercial interests so dear to American Federalists. In his Letter to the People of Ireland (1796), Thomas Russell delineated a particular viewpoint that would surely be met with suspicion by the American elite:

Do they know that that horrid traffic [slavery] spreads its influence all over the globe; that it creates and perpetuates barbarism and misery, and prevents the spreading of civilization and religion, in which we profess to believe? Do they know that by it thousands and hundreds of thousands of these miserable Africans are dragged from their innocent families like the miserable defenders, transported to various places, and there treated with such a system of cruelty, torment, wickedness, and infamy, that it is impossible for language to adequately express its horror and guilt, and which would appear rather to be the work of wicked demons than of men.2
Left: 19th-century English portrayal of an Irishman as a subhuman, apelike creature Left: 19th-century English portrayal of an Irishman as a subhuman, apelike creature

Such rhetoric could hardly inspire the confidence of the leaders of a new nation in which perhaps as many as one million Africans were under bondage. The newly arrived Irish republicans – with their embrace of abolitionism – were seen by the American elite as potential fomenters of unrest, rather than as republican compatriots. Despite experiencing English racism themselves, United Irishmen who had immigrated to the United States in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had not yet embraced the “whiteness” process of new immigrants described by historian David Roediger, and still adhered to the revolutionary notions of liberté, égalité, fraternité. 3

1 Whelan, Kevin. “The Green Atlantic: Radical reciprocities between Ireland and America in the Long Eighteenth Century,” in A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity, and Modernity in Britain and the Empire, 1660-1840. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 228.
2 Russell, Thomas. A Letter to the People of Ireland (1796). Belfast.
3 See especially Roediger, David. Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White -The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs. New York: Basic Books, 2005.

Nov 12, 2006

Attack on McDonald's the Latest in Oaxaca Unrest

(Oaxaca, Mexico) Four youths wearing masks tossed gasoline bombs at a McDonald's restaurant in the city of Oaxaca on Sunday, damaging the building but causing no injuries. A similar act was carried out last week against a Burger King franchise in Oaxaca.

Leaders of the protest movement denied that their members were responsible for either attack.

The restaurant is near Oaxaca Autonomous University, where protesters set up their headquarters last month after riot police drove them out of the city‘s central plaza. The protesters had occupied the space for five months in a bid to improve funding for rural schools, but the protest evolved into a more general movement to oust the Oaxaca state governor.

On June 17, the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO, from Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca) declared itself the governing body of Oaxaca.

Brad WillLeft: Passersby try to help independent journalist Brad Will after he was shot in Oaxaca; photo courtesy of La Reforma

Among the dozens of people who have been killed in the conflict are teachers, social workers, and journalists. Bradley Roland Will, a 36-year-old freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker from New York, was shot on October 27 while filming a gunbattle between protesters and suspected paramilitary forces.

Evidence that the unrest is spreading can be found in three explosions in Mexico City on November 6 that damaged a ScotiaBank branch, Mexico's Federal Electoral Tribunal, and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) headquarters. Guerilla groups from the Oaxaca province claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the APPO denied involvement.

"We don't condemn anything, but we also don't have anything to do with these acts," said protest leader Flavio Sosa.

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 the consolation of having added nothing to my private fortune during my public service, and of retiring with hands clean as they are empty.
Thomas Jefferson

Nov 11, 2006

Transporting Rescue Dogs Across the Country

Traffic on the Ohio TurnpikeLeft: Traveling on the Ohio Turnpike with rescue dogs

(Toledo, OH) My recent posts about the rescue dogs we have adopted caught the attention of a transport coordinator involved with the Canine Underground Railroad. The group was formed in 1991 to aid in the ground transport of rescued dogs.

A pair of rescue dogs needed rides to get to a new home in Iowa, and the Railroad helped coordinate a total of twelve legs of the journey. My wife and I handled a small Ohio segment, from Norwalk to Toledo.

Shepherd mix puppy Left: Delaney, a 6-month-old puppy

Delaney is a 6-month-old Shepherd mix who was saved from euthanasia in an Ohio shelter 2 weeks ago. He was not feeling especially well today, and threw up twice on earlier legs of the trip. He slept most of the trip for us, though; lying in the middle seat of our Suburban, he patiently went through with what must have been a rough ride for him.

While picking up the dogs from the previous transporter, a pair of strays showed up in the cold November mist. There was a certain irony in leaving these strays behind at the gas station, which was heightened further by the playing of "Rescue Me" by Fontella Bass on Oldies 93.5 WRQN as we got back on the highway.

Coincidence? Decide for yourself.

Male coon houndLeft: The loveable Gunner

Gunner is a black and tan male Coonhound who was saved from a Ritchie County (Virginia) pound about six months ago. He is very affectionate and rode well in the truck.

Gunner's fur is very short, and has a sleek quality akin to that of a thoroughbred horse. While good-natured, he has that mournful-looking face exhibited by coonhounds, and it was hard for us to say goodbye to him.

We wish both dogs well, and hope that they find the happy home they deserve.

For more information on adopting rescue dogs, see The Toledo Area Humane Society, Planned Pethood, or

Nov 10, 2006

On Cosmetic Changes and Public Gullibility

The congressional victories by the Democratic Party Tuesday were greeted with joy by many people that I encountered in the last few days. Even more cause for rejoicing was the news that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tendered his resignation.

The fact remains, however, that some 133,000 US troops are still hunkered down in Iraq, and that a new lineup of legislators and a new Defense chief will have little - if any - short-term effect on the violence in that turbulent region.

My enthusiastic acquaintances must be seeing me as a bit of a sourpuss as I point out these facts.

I have also been skeptical of what I perceive to be the motives behind the sacking of Rumsfeld (I do not buy for a moment the idea that Rummy unilaterally handed in his resignation). I see this move as an attempt to defuse the anger of the American electorate by handing over the head of the detested Secretary.

I hope that I am wrong, and that the President is sincere about a new direction in Iraq, but my suspicion is that this act is little more than window dressing.

I will be more inclined to believe that change is in the offing when our troops begin to come home.

And not in body bags, that is.

The Quote Shelf

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

If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awake - Aye, what then?
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Nov 9, 2006

Book Review: The Habsburgs - Embodying Empire

The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire Wheatcroft, Andrew

New York: Viking Press, 384 pages

Wheatcroft is a lecturer in the Department of English Studies at Scotland’s University of Stirling, and one of his areas of specialization is in the textual and graphic presentation of the Habsburg dynasty. He has published numerous books related to the historical representation of intellectual thought in print and graphic media. In The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire Wheatcroft traced the lineage of the Habsburg dynasty from Rudolf I through the 1918 Finis Austriae and continued up to the 1993 wedding of Archduke Karl to Francesca, the daughter of Baron Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemizza.

The author attempted to create more than a mere list of rulers and domains, but rather a cohesive narrative that captured the essence of the Habsburg mentalité and legacy. Of paramount concern to Wheatcroft was source material that contained textual and visual representations of Habsburg figures. Reminiscent of the concepts of self-fashioning developed by Stephen Greenblatt, the author argued that Habsburg rulers actively created and recreated their public personae, keeping eyes on both history and posterity. The result was a book that provides a sympathetic – but not sycophantic – examination of the House of Habsburg within a context that is both impressionistic and analytical.

The text follows a chronological approach, with chapters that revolve around a particular theme derived from noteworthy Habsburg personages. Accompanying the text are several sections of paintings and photographs covering over 600 years of Hapsburg lineage, which provide readers with visual representations of the textual analysis. One unfortunate problem with the inclusion of these beautiful images is likely an inherent editorial decision based on expediency; readers must search through the various image groupings to find the particular material being discussed. Still, one might first peruse the illustrations - gathering an impressionistic overview at the outset – and then delve into the text. The author provided footnotes throughout the book, included a 21-page bibliography, and produced detailed family trees to follow the sometimes-convoluted lineage of the various branches of the Habsburgs.

Habsburg heraldryLeft: Habsburg heraldry

As an avowed anti-monarchist, a social historian, and one who bristles at the mere hint of elitism and aristocracy, this reviewer approached The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire with no small degree of disdain. After all – how many texts on dead European monarchs does the world really need? Yet Wheatcroft’s work neatly avoids succumbing to the temptation of aristocratic glorification, and the author developed convincing arguments for the historicist assessments of the Habsburg rulers he profiled.

One of the Habsburgian themes explored by Wheatcroft was the concept of a universal emperor, in which the House of Habsburg (through its control over the title of Holy Roman Emperor) would be able to fulfill the Divine admonition in the Reformatio Sigismundi to “prepare the way for the Divine Order.” The Habsburgs thus viewed their status as the foremost European aristocratic house to be of Divine will, and that their mission to extend Habsburg rule over Europe and beyond to possess God’s blessing. Wheatcroft argued that the Habsburg ideal of universal emperor first became manifest with the ascension of Maximilian I as HRE in 1493; this was most evident in his decision to assume the title of Elected Roman Emperor (Erwählter Römischer Kaiser), ending the custom that the Holy Roman Emperor was required to be crowned by the pope. Wheatcroft also included a number of passages from Maximilian’s autobiographical works that demonstrate that the Emperor was keenly involved with and aware of the effort to create an image of Maximilian as an annointed ruler with a saintly lineage who would bring order to the world.

Habsburg heraldryLeft: Medallion of the Order of the Golden Fleece

The preoccupation of the Habsburgs with the chivalric Order of the Golden Fleece is another theme dissected by Wheatcroft, and the monarch most closely associated with the Golden Fleece was Charles V. The order was founded in 1430 by Duke Philip III of Burgundy as a means to legitimize his efforts to elevate his position to that of a king, and sovereignty of the Order passed to the Habsburgs with the marriage between Habsburg Archduke Maximilian to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. Wheacroft argued that the order was conceived as an organization that blended classical and Christian elements in its textual and artistic symbolism:
The golden ram stood for the simple ideals of chivalry and presented them as an answer to the manifold exigencies of a chaotic world. The knights, like the Round Table of the Arthurian legend, would reverse the spirit of discord, would begin to restore order to a world where the forces of the Antichrist were about to conquer. (Images of the Antichrist were now often depicted with the features of the Turk, seen as coarse and cruel). These heroes, the new Argonauts, were to be the most selfless, loyal, and dedictaed men in Christendom and this new unifying power would emerge from the dukedom of Burgundy, always foremost in chivalry.
The Habsburgs, argued Wheatcroft, “expressed their mission and their objectives obliquely, through a kind of code…exchanged between those who readily understood its meaning,” and the author provided numerous examples of this Habsburgian use of images and text that functioned as a sort of dynastic cryptography. Frederick III coined the acronym AEIOU (“Alles Erdreich Ist Österreich Untertan,” or “The whole world is subject to Austria”) that appears on family crests, minted coins, and royal buildings. Upon his election as Grand Master of the Order of the Golden Fleece, Charles V created a personal emblem with two classical columns rising from the sea with the phrase Plus Ultra (“still further”); this was seen as a transcendent symbols that defied the ancient Greek belief that ne plus ultra was etched onto the Pillars of Hercules (the Straits of Gibraltar) as a warning to ships not to sail further to the west. Leopold I frequently commissioned artwork that drew a linkage between his reign and Divine blessing, and his artists placed the monogram of Christ (IHS – In Hoc Signo) in portraits to reiterate this desired connection. Emperor Franz Joseph developed the acronym KK (also written k.u.k or k-k for “kaiserlich und königlich”) to denote the union between Austria and Hungary after 1867.

Franz Joseph ILeft: Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I

Wheatcroft’s text serves as both a useful introduction to the House of Habsburg as well as an important reinterpretation of the dynasty, and belongs on the shelves of scholars and knowledgeable general readers, although undergraduates might struggle with the more complex intellectual themes; some basic familiarity with early modern and modern European history would be helpful in the course of reading this text. One leaves The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire not with a collection of facts, dates, and trivia, but rather with heightened sense of the intellectual dynamics that shaped the formation of the evolving Habsburgian image, as well as a more literary understanding of one of Europe’s most enduring aristocratic families. Traditional scholars might disagree with some of Wheatcroft’s interpretations, but his book challenges readers to examine the active process by which the Habsburgs sought to manipulate their corporate image.