Feb 28, 2006

Detroit News To Cease Sunday Edition In May

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(Detroit, MI) The Detroit News, a mainstay in the Motor City for over 130 years, will no longer publish a Sunday paper effective May 6. The final edition of the Sunday News will hit the stands on April 30.

The News, which formed a 100-year joint-operating agreement in 1989 with rival Detroit Free Press, debuted in 1873. In 1919 the News purchased the Detroit Tribune, bought out the Detroit Journal in 1922, and it bought out and closed the Detroit Times. The Evening News Association, parent company of the News, merged with Gannett International in 1985.

"We believe there are great things in store for Detroit readers," said Paul Anger, vice president and editor of the Free Press. "Readers will receive huge doses of local news plus all the things that the Free Press is known for, like watchdog journalism and great photography, and we'll provide some nice surprises, too."

The Free Press and the News will continue to publish separate Saturday editions.

I grew up in Detroit, and delivered the News for a couple of years. This was in the distant past, when 12-year old kids pedaled the papers on bicycles. The Sunday edition was a real chore, because carriers had to put the paper together and stick in all the advertising inserts.

The canvas delivery bags must have weighed 40-50 pounds each, and I recall the difficulty in maneuvering a "paper bike" when fully loaded.

So long, Sunday News. It has been a fantastic run, and you will be missed.

McCloskey Pleads Not Guilty To Extortion Charges

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(Toledo, OH) Toledo city council rep Bob McCloskey pleaded not guilty in Lucas County Common Pleas Court today to felony charges.

McCloskey is accused of attempting to solicit a $100,000 bribe from companies attempting to do business with the city of Toledo. One of these "requests" was caught on voicemail.

If convicted, McCloskey could face a potential prison sentence of one to five years and a potential fine of $10,000 on each count. Also, a person convicted of bribery is barred from holding public office in the state of Ohio.

A trial date of May 9 was set by Judge James Bates, who ordered McCloskey released on personal recognizance.

Pipe Dreams? Chavez Weighs Options

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(Caracas) Venezuela's oil minister warned Washington in comments Sunday that his country could decide to divert oil exports away from the US and toward markets such as China.

The threats follow the recent gas pipeline agreement between Venezuela and Colombia; the pipeline deal was signed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on November 24, 2005.

The Venezuela-Colombia pipeline agreement is the beginning of a larger petroleum project that will transport crude oil from Venezuela to the Pacific Ocean, where it could then be transported to Asia.

Minister Rafael Ramirez, in an interview with the newspaper Ultimas Noticias, seemed unconcerned with replacing the US as a petroleum customer.

"We're prepared to diversify our markets and will work toward that," he said. "The easiest thing is locating it. That will not be a problem."

Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest oil producer, and currently supplies over 10 percent of the US demand for imported oil. The country exported an estimated 3.3 million barrels of oil per day in 2005.

The Pacific pipeline, however, pales in comparison with a proposed partnership with
Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras), Brazil's state-owned oil company.

The natural gas pipeline would begin in Venezuela, pass through Brazil to Argentina, and provide links to Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay; the project could transport natural gas equivalent to 1 million barrels of oil per day to Brazil at much lower costs.

Open Trackback Alliance

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

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

MacBros describes a visit to the tax preparer. Amusing, with pictures of the low-budget tax return office.

Feb 27, 2006

Review: Revolution Here And Around The World

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(Toledo, OH) The anarchist group type A Collective is producing an eponymous quarterly magazine; this month's theme is Revolution Here And Around The World and it is available in local coffee shops and clubs. I picked up a copy at Beaner's in Cricket West, but I have seen the magazine in other locations.

Rather than dwell on the politics of the group (they are avowed anarchists), I would rather examine the effectiveness of the periodical as a form of communication and literature. Of course, by doing so, I open myself to criticism as the sort of bohemian nihilo-aesthete so despised by anarchists, but I digress.

Eschewing color, the editors instead chose a stark black-and-white format; some might cynically suggest that this reflects a small budget, but I think it is worth noting that this design is also in keeping with the anti-commercial stance of the members of type A.

The magazine includes local, regional, and international news, focusing on stories that involve state repression and the responses by activists against racism, fascism, and globalization.

An interview with author, editor, and activist John Zerzan takes up a portion of the magazine. This interview discusses theories of anarchism as well as more philosophical discussions regarding the environment, language, and human existence. Irrespective of one's political views, Zerzan's work is thought-provoking, sometimes maddening, but guaranteed to force the reader into looking at the world in a different way.

type A features eye-catching "public service announcements" with slogans such as: "For a worthwhile education learn the three Rs: RESIST, REBEL, REVOLT!"

Though heavy on propaganda, the writing is clear and forceful. In an article entitled "Toledo's State Of Disunion: 2005 In Review," the anonymous author showed a particular flair for dynamic rhetoric. Regarding the October 15 riot in North Toledo:
The violent eruption in October was, however, merely the culmination of a long, pervasive restlessness...seeing Toledo Police working as an armed security force for a group of neo-Nazis was a stonger catalyst than was probably necessary for violence to finally occur.
Certainly the above passage has a political perspective, yet the author adroitly captures an important detail about the causes of the riot: community grievances - irrespective of their validity - contributed to the direct action against Toledo Police.

One leaves type A with a clearer sense of the views of the local and regional anarchist communities, and the magazine provides a perspective that cannot be found in any other local periodical.

And it is free.

Palestinian Authority On The Brink Of Financial Collapse

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Left: James Wolfensohn, courtesy of Jerusalem Post.

James Wolfensohn, an international envoy, cautioned mediators today that the Palestinian Authority is in danger of financial ruin within two weeks, in part because Israel has stopped the flow of tens of millions of dollars in taxes and custom duties to the incoming Hamas government.

Wolfensohn said a financial crisis could escalate to political violence and chaos. He implored the EU and the US to develop a plan to address the Palestinian revenue situation.

There are 140,000 people drawing paychecks from the Palestinian Authority, including 58,000 security personnel. The likelihood of violence in the region certainly increases in exponential fashion if the security forces do not get paid.

Meanwhile, the European Union today authorized roughly $163 million in emergency aid to help the Palestinians meet essential services until Hamas forms the next government.

Rami Tahboub, an employee of the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, said that it was not in the world's best interests to ignore an imminent Palestinian Authority implosion.

"I don't believe the world will stop funding the Authority because if it does, it will weaken Mahmoud Abbas and lead the PA to collapse," Tahboub said.

Review: Money in Sixteenth Century Florence

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Carlo Cipolla. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

Cipolla was an economic historian at the University of California – Berkeley whose writings transcended the somewhat narrow confines of economic history. Money in Sixteenth Century Florence is, on the surface, a numismatic and economic snapshot of the latter half on the Cinquecentro, but the author also delved into social and political history in this text. Cipolla argued that the combination of tight monetary policies by Florence’s grand dukes and the influx of New World silver bullion were the two most important factors in the commune’s banking crisis in the second half of the sixteenth century.

The author provided a currency primer to assist readers in understanding the intricacies of the Florentine monetary system. The commune had three types of coins: a) gold coinage, embodied in the gold fiorino (florin); b) silver coinage, which took the form of the grossi (groats); and c) biglione, poorly-refined metal coins such as the quattrino and denaro (also known as the picciolo). Cipolla demonstrated that the florin retained its original fineness and weight throughout the centuries, while the value of the silver grosso was steadily debased over several centuries; the Florentine mint, however, maintained silver fineness at the ratio of 958.33/1000, or the lega del popolino. The debasement occurred as heavier silver coins were minted, but given a proportionally smaller par value. The florin also competed with other gold coins of the period, especially the Venetian ducato, which had approximately 9% less gold per ounce. The net result of the debasement of silver coinage in Florence and the competition from less pure gold coins was the gradual disappearance of the gold florin from circulation.

The influx of silver from the Americas in the second half of the sixteenth century further exacerbated the currency crisis in Florence. The bimetallic monetary system that developed in Europe was built on the premise that a given value of silver could be exchanged for gold, and there was considerable administrative resistance to adjust the exchange rates, despite market pressures. Thus, overvalued silver coins tended to replace gold coins in circulation; Cipolla cited this as an example of Gresham’s law. Florentine officials created a new coin, the gold scudo, with a slightly lower gold content, to counteract the contraction of the florin supply.

The traditional money of account in Florence was the lira, and the florin remained stable at 7 lire until approximately 1530. However, the changes in exchange rates caused merchants to find creative ways to account for the inflationary pressures, since the official exchange rates were mandated by the government. The result of the stubborn refusal by Florentine officials to acknowledge the very real market changes in the value of gold and silver caused chaos in bookkeeping practices and, more importantly, an even greater scarcity of the florin and scudo.

Left: Florentine fiorino

The crisis began to accelerate with a 1564 audit of the Florentine mint, when it was discovered that the mint scales had been tampered with and that the mint had been underreporting its production by about 0.7%. Almost simultaneous with the escalation of the monetary crisis was the arrival of Francesco de’ Medici, who took administrative obstinacy to a new level. Cipolla recounted numerous examples of Francesco’s legislative attempts to outlaw the realities of the currency markets, much to the detriment of the Florentine economy. The problems extended beyond mere currency scarcity, as Florentine merchants found themselves unable to obtain credit on the international market since they could not procure the necessary gold coins to settle accounts; massive merchant bankruptcies inevitably followed in the economic meltdown of Florence.

Cipolla used a massive amount of tax records, merchant registers, and correspondence in his quest to illustrate this complex financial catastrophe. He provided extensive tables to summarize his findings, yet maintained a narrative that does not require a doctorate in economics to follow. Interspersed throughout the text are anecdotal accounts from Florentines that break up what could have been just another dry economic analysis. Finally, his portrayal of the misguided, late-medieval-man-in-an-early-modern-world Grand Duke Francesco is almost comical in its patheticity. Francesco’s blundering was best summed up in the following August 1577 decree: “It is not permissible to pay or receive any scudo at a higher value than 7 lire and 10 soldi,” as if ducal will, alone, could control the powerful forces of the currency market. Cipolla’s groundbreaking work manages to both inform and entertain the reader, not an effortless task in the arcane world of economic history.

Wyoming Hunting Bill Would Have OK'd Machine Guns, Silencers

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(Cheyenne, WY) A bill proposed by the Wyoming legislature would have permitted hunters to carry automatic weapons, and would have also allowed the use of silencers on these guns.

Titled Senate File 79, the bill was quietly defeated in the Wyoming state Senate last week.

Not all Wyoming officials were enthused about the bill.

"As a hunter, I know there's enough firepower in the woods right now to go after any game without automatic weapons," said state Sen. Mike Massie, who represents the Laramie area. "And a silencer? No hunter I know would ever even think of using such a thing."

The bill's sponsor, state Senator Cale Case, said that the bill was designed in part to protect hunters from bears.

"I'm not a big hunter," Case said, "but my family and I camp in those areas, and we try to make as much noise as we can to alert the bears. But hunters don't want to make noise. They want to be silent. Allowing them to have handguns and even handguns with silencers, not to hunt but to protect themselves from bears, seems like a good idea."

"It would allow them to defend themselves from a bear and then quietly move on and continue to hunt," Case added.

Feb 26, 2006

33,000 March Against Racism In Paris

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Left: Parisians marching against racism, photo courtesy of AP.

(Paris) Tens of thousands of demonstrators, including a wide variety of ministers and politicians, joined in a show of solidarity against racism and anti-Semitism on Sunday.

This is in sharp contrast with the pathetic showing by 22 neo-Nazis in Orlando yesterday promoting racist ideology.

The Paris march was announced after a 23-year old Jewish salesman, Ilan Halimi, was kidnapped January 21. The man was hidden and tortured for three weeks in the southern Paris suburb of Bagneux. Halimi was found naked, handcuffed and covered with burn marks on February 13 near railroad tracks south of Paris, dying on his way to a hospital.

From Reuters:
Youssef Fofana, a French citizen, has been arrested in Ivory Coast on suspicion of leading the gang that kidnapped him.

"There is no political connotation (to the march). This is a demonstration by the people of France who are more than outraged by what happened," said Joseph Sitruk, France's chief rabbi.

"We are here also to say that all racist crimes are unacceptable in our society and that we must be very vigilant because it is a situation which is starting to be worrying," said Jean-Michel Quillardet, head of the Grand Orient of France.

Roger Cukierman, head of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, said that it is "important for French society to realise that little anti-Semitic and racist prejudices can have terrible consequences."

The same, I believe, is true in the United States.

Globalization and Deprivation: An Examination Of The Nation Of Burkina Faso

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Burkina Faso is a small, landlocked country in western African, sharing borders with Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire. Slightly larger than the state of Colorado, Burkina Faso consists mainly of flat, occasionally undulating plains undercut with branches of the Volta River (Black, Red, and White). The branches of the Volta are not navigable by large commercial vessels.

In contrast with its southern neighbors Burkina Faso is poorly endowed with natural resources, has very limited rainfall, and has no coastal access. Small deposits of gold, manganese, copper, nickel, and silver exist, but the known quantities have not been of sufficient size to interest any significant international investment.

Over sixty distinct ethnic groups comprise the population of Burkina Faso; of these, the Mossi represent over 50% of the population. The nation is composed of a variety of religious groups; 50% are Muslim, 10% are Christian, and the remaining 40% are of indigenous animist faiths.

Per capita income is one of the lowest in the world; 2001 income estimates by the World Bank are listed at $210 US per day. Due to the lack of employment opportunities in Burkina Faso, many citizens migrate on a seasonal basis to nearby countries, such as Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. On the Human Development Index scale developed by the United Nations Development Programme, Burkina Faso scored 171st out of 176 nations.

As to be expected in a nation with such a low income, social indicators are generally poor. The nation has a literacy rate of only 19%, and life expectancy is a mere 45 years. The infant mortality rate is over 10%, and the rate of access to safe water is estimated at only 42%.

Health care in Burkina Faso is virtually non-existent; there are only 3 physicians per 100,000 people. Due to the structural adjustment program implemented by the government under the watchful eye of the IMF, health care spending has declined in the past ten years. This, coupled with West Africa’s 2nd –highest AIDS rate (officially, 6.9%; unofficial estimates exceed 10% of persons 18-54), has driven life expectancy down to 45, from 47 in 1990.

Over 90% of the population is involved in subsistence agriculture and nomadic stock keeping; however, only 13% of its area consists of arable land, and nearly 45% of the nation consists of arid and semiarid terrain. The Sahel (Arabic for “shore”, likening the southern boundary of the Sahara to the shore of a great sea) comprises the northern third of the country.

Recent droughts have negatively impacted agricultural activities; the nation has also been faced with several major insect plagues in the past ten years. Overgrazing, soil degradation and deforestation also present environmental problems; the Sahel region is in danger of becoming incapable of supporting future agricultural endeavors.

Left: Thomas Sankara, courtesy of BBC.

On August 4, 1984, Upper Volta changed its name to Burkina Faso, meaning "the land of honorable people." Thomas Sankara, a charismatic socialist, sought to mobilize the masses and launch a massive bootstrap development movement. Sankara was venerated by the Burkinabe for imploring them to embrace and be proud of their African identity. For example, he made a point of eating local dishes on national television instead of avoiding them in favor of Western recipes.

Sankara was a proponent for a radical debt initiative: debt cancellation. In the following passage, he outlined his philosophy on African debt to Western concerns:

The debt problem needs to be analyzed starting from its origins. Those who lent money to us are the same people who colonized us, are the same who so long managed our states and our economies; they indebted Afrika with `donations' of money. We were not involved in the creation of this debt, so we should not pay it... In today's shape, controlled and dominated by imperialism, the foreign debt is a well-organized tool of colonial re-conquest: in order to make the Afrikan economy a slave of those who were so clever as to give us capital with the obligation of reimbursing them. We are asked to reimburse our debt. But if we do not pay, the capital lenders will not die; if we pay, we will die. We cannot pay; and we don't want to pay.

Thomas Sankara envisioned for Burkina Faso a nation that would become self-sufficient, not beholden to Western financial interests. IMF overtures were rejected; instead, his energy was focused upon agricultural price supports and domestic textile initiatives. By building a more stable agricultural base, he reasoned, Burkina Faso would be on better footing in the world marketplace. Author David Richards describes the Sankara era in this fashion:

Sankara took his idealism seriously. Reckoned the world’s poorest president, his most valuable possessions were a car, a refrigerator and four bicycles. Intrusive Coca-Cola culture was confronted by using African dance, music, film and popular theatre to raise awareness of key issues. Health posts were set up. Improved farming and soil conservation were promoted under the slogan of a ‘Green Burkina’. An innovative renewal programme gave the urban poor legal protection, provided basic amenities and encouraged self-help work. Women were given rights to property, credit facilities and access to literacy programmes.

However, many of the austerity measures taken by Sankara met with growing resistance and disagreement; in particular, his anti-corruption programs alienated him from government bureaucrats. In spite his initial esteem and personal charisma, problems began to surface in the implementation of the revolutionary ideals. The Committees for Defense of the Revolution, or CDRs, which were formed as popular mass political organizations, deteriorated in some areas into gangs of armed thugs; violence grew unabated, often clashing with trade unions. On October 15, 1987, Sankara was assassinated in a coup that brought Blaise Compaore to power.

Left: Blaise Compaore, courtesy of BBC

Compaore formed the Popular Front (FP), which pledged to continue the goals of the revolution, thus rectifying Sankara's “deviations” from the original neo-Marxist aims. The new administration, realizing the need for popular support, tacitly moderated many of Sankara's policies; thus, as part of a much-discussed political "opening" process, numerous political organizations (three of them non-Marxist) were accepted under an umbrella political organization created in June 1989. By the end of the year, Compaore had officially eschewed himself from Marxist doctrine.

Compaore’s presidential position was officially recognized in 1991, following his unopposed election. During the years subsequent to the vote, Compaore has publicly created the impression of broadening his base of support. Compaore won the 1998 presidential election as well, earning a second seven-year term against weak opposition from two minor party candidates. However, the major opposition parties boycotted the election.

Interestingly, Compaore received an additional benefit in 1998; legislation was passed granting the President an unlimited term of office. The effect of this legislation, known as Article 37, essentially makes Blaise Compaore President-for-Life.

There continues to be a climate of political violence in Burkina Faso; while direct ties to Compaore have not been established, it is safe to say that people who are outspoken against government policies have a habit of turning up dead. Most notable among the series of political murders was that of journalist Norbert Zongo, who was killed along with companions in December 1998.

Left: Former Liberian president Charles Taylor

Compaore has also been very active in regional instability; he provided significant funding, arms, and soldiers to his good friend Charles Taylor in Taylor’s overthrow of the Liberian government in 1990. Taylor, who had been jailed for embezzlement until his escape from a US prison in 1984, has garnered the nickname of “The Butcher of Liberia” for the brutality exhibited by his soldiers.

President Compaore has also been implicated in rebel movements in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Angola, and Sierra Leone. It is not clear if Compaore’s actions are indicative of greater regional ambitions, but he is certainly not known as a force of unity, harmony, and leadership in West Africa.

Compaore, due to his courtship with the IMF and Western powers, has significant international backing. However, his domestic support is less than stellar; the CDP took only 57 of 111 seats in 2002 parliamentary elections. The 2002 elections were the first in which major opposition parties chose to end their boycotts. However, in typical Compaore fashion, all opposition was excluded from government minister posts; the nation continues to be dominated by Blaise Compaore.

Living conditions in Burkina Faso have worsened during the period of the IMF’s structural adjustment program implementation. Life expectancy has fallen from 47 to 45 years of age, literacy rates have remained at approximately 20%, and access to safe water has not improved significantly during this time period (1991-2001).
In addition, Burkina Faso’s external debt has risen by 67.8% in this ten-year period. Much of the new debt is simply borrowing to pay older loans or to lower regular debt service; the policy of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” has been the modus operandi for the past decade. By the year 2010, the IMF itself projects that debt will equal GDP.

This projection also includes the IMF’s rather rosy 10-year growth projections; during the period from 2000-2010, the IMF is projecting a 5.6% annual growth rate. Considering that the nation grew at an annual rate of 3.9% during the 1990’s, this seems to be an overly optimistic assessment. This buoyancy is doubly specious when considering the lethargic state of the world cotton market. Most of the growth in the 1990’s occurred before 1996; in fact, in the period from 1999-2001, the growth rate was only 2.9%.

Left: Burkinabe cotton farmer, courtesy of World Bank.

Interestingly, the IMF projects a 5.5% increase in exports from 2000-2010. One wonders what, given the stagnant cotton market, the Burkinabe will export that can generate this type of export growth. With little capital and foreign investment, Burkina Faso cannot make any rapid adjustments to a changing world market. Periphery nations like Burkina Faso find themselves in dire straits when their principal commodity is hammered by falling prices.

It is absurd to suggest that Burkina Faso can compete in the world marketplace under current conditions. The huge advantage given to US cotton producers prevents the Burkinabe from even playing on a level playing field.

The prospects for change in Burkina Faso are not promising under the current regime. Blaise Compaore has demonstrated that his primary concern is for the maintenance of his own power; many in Burkina Faso and West Africa view him as a puppet of the West.

Some form of permanent debt cancellation is the only realistic way for nations like Burkina Faso to extricate themselves from the web of debt entanglement. Whether this takes the form of international agreement, such as proposals to create bankruptcy procedures for impoverished nations, or unilateral debt repudiation by Burkina Faso, the situation cannot continue ad infinitum.

Feb 25, 2006

Orlando Yawns As Neo-Nazis March

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Left: Photo of neo-Nazis courtesy of MSNBC.

(Orlando, FL) 25-30 neo-Nazis marched through the Parramore neighborhood of Orlando today. Police arrested at least 17 people on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to battery.

Neighborhood residents were displeased by the arrival of the National Socialist Movement (NSM).

"For them to come into our neighborhood it's wrong, it's a slap in the face," said Donnell Jones, 33, who opposed the marchers.

The rally area was patrolled by over 300 police officers, with support from helicopters and SWAT teams.

The anti-Nazi crowd, estimated at several hundred, refrained from the sort of violence that erupted in Toledo on October 15, 2005. Congratulations to the city of Orlando on handling the clown invasion, and kudos to the populace, who largely ignored the race-baiting and lunacy of the white supremacists.

Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Jesuits, The Council Of Trent, And The Counter-Reformation

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Left:Piazza del Duomo, center of the city of Trentino

At a time of growing crisis in the Catholic Church, the Jesuit movement and the Council of Trent each, to some extent, carried the banner of reform; however, the role that each played in the Church’s sixteenth century reinvigoration by underscoring doctrinal orthodoxy was just as critical in staving off the power of the Protestant reformation. The documents Council of Trent: Rules on Prohibited Books and Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises reflect this conformist approach towards achieving a more robust Church.

Both documents place a high degree of emphasis upon a military-like obedience to the hierarchy of the Church. Loyola, by placing this concept in his First Rule, wasted no time in exhorting the faithful to comply with Church teachings: "All judgment laid aside, we ought to have our mind ready and prompt to obey, in all, the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, which is our holy Mother the Church Hierarchical."

This sense of individual submission to the precepts of the Church is given further emphasis in the Thirteenth Rule:" To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it..."

Clearly, Loyola did not wish for there to be any doubt as to the degree with which followers should conform to the governance of the Catholic Church.

Left: St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus

The same spirit of obedience is apparent in the Rules on Prohibited Books, a document that sought to prevent the spread of heretical thought. The authors, like Loyola, did not leave room for speculation on the intent of their directive: "...all the faithful are commanded not to presume to read or possess any books contrary to the prescriptions of these rules…if anyone should read or possess books by heretics...he incurs immediately the sentence of excommunication."

The issue of doctrinal solidarity was of great importance to both Loyola and the Council; both documents show recognition of the Church’s need for theological accord. In the Ninth Rule, Loyola reminded his readers of this topic: "...to praise all precepts of the Church, keeping the mind prompt to find reasons in their defense and in no manner against them."

In a similar vein, the Council of Trent reiterated this distinct sense of theological primacy in the Rules on Prohibited Books; the outlawed works are described, at various times, as “absolutely condemned,” “absolutely forbidden,” and “absolutely repudiated.” Such language demonstrated the Church’s desire to battle what it perceived as the armies of heresy.

Left: Council of Trent (1562)

The Protestant Reformation was certainly not unnoticed by either Loyola or the Council; while Catholic reform movements had existed long before Luther and other Protestant thinkers, it is clear that both documents were written, in part, to contradict the arguments put forth by dissenters. In his Spiritual Exercises, Loyola specifically authenticated many practices and beliefs scorned by the Protestants; the Sacraments, celibacy, and veneration of Saints and relics were all upheld as praiseworthy.

While Loyola conceded to the Protestants the theological soundness of predestination, he was quick to point out in the Fifteenth rule that the concept could, indeed, lead people astray: "We ought not...to speak much of predestination...(for the people), growing lazy, they become negligent in the works which lead to the salvation and spiritual profit of their souls."

In the Rules the Council of Trent discussed a great many writings; however, the emphasis here was also on the Protestant reformers. The document singled out in particular those thinkers at the forefront of the Reformation: "The books of those heresiarchs...as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Balthasar Friedburg, Schwenkfeld, and others like these…are absolutely forbidden."

The sixteenth century was an epoch of great upheaval for Christianity; wars were fought not just in the centers of learning, but on the battlefield as well. The writings of Loyola and the Council of Trent paint a picture of a Church that recognized not only the threat from the forces of Protestantism but also the need for a unified Catholic Church in the conflict over millions of Christian souls.

True To Form: Sex Pistols Tell Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame To Stick It

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(New York) Despite a coveted induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, punk band the Sex Pistols refused to participate in the ceremonies.

They did so in characteristically punk fashion, as well; the band posted a handwritten, crudely-worded decline to the invitation on their website, The Filth and the Fury.

"Next to the SEX PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain," the statement reads. "Your museum. Urine in wine. Were [sic] not coming. Were [sic] not your monkey and so what?"

The ceremonies are to be held March 13 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. The band lashed out at the fact that main floor tables are selling for $25,000 apiece, while "to sqeak up in the gallery" requires the payment of $15,000.

The Sex Pistols were one of the most influential of English punk bands, despite the fact that they released only two studio albums. The band achieved recognition through iconoclastic punk songs like "God Save The Queen," and no other band - punk or otherwise - of the era made such a lasting impression on British pop culture.

Some might view the band's response to the invitation a predictable act of faux defiance from the band to strengthen their punk credibility, but I find that the rhetorical condemnation of the excesses of the music industry to be heartening.

From the Sex Pistols song "The Great Rock and Roll Swindle" (1977):

E.M.I. said you're out of hand
And they gave us the boot
But they couldn't sack us, just like that
Without giving us the loot

Thank you kindly A & M
They said we were out of bounds
But that ain't bad for two weeks work
And 75,000 pounds

The time is right to do it now
The greatest rock'n'roll swindle
The time is right to do it now


Feb 24, 2006

Kennewick Man Back In The News

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(Seattle, WA) The dead man was likely laid to rest beside the Columbia River, his arms at his sides with palms face down, his body inclined with his head slightly raised above his feet.

For more than 9,000 years the remains of this unknown human lay buried, with the river flowing parallel to his body, and his skull pointing upstream. Things changed on June 10, 1996, as the Columbia's waters rose and the a gorged springtime river swept past Kennewick, Washington.

The skeleton was discovered in a few weeks later in the river near the Tri-Cities town of Kennewick. Carbon dating has shown that the bones are about 9,200 years old.

The skeleton created controversy when it was discovered, as the Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Colville tribes argued that the skeleton should be reinterred without study; their claim was based upon an interpretation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Douglas Owsley, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, discussed his research in remarks prepared for delivery at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Seattle.

"We know very little about this time period," Owsley said. "This is a rare opportunity to try and reconstruct the life story of this man. This is his opportunity to tell us what life was like during that time."

The “Clovis” model best represented the conventional mid-to-late twentieth century view of the earliest North American peoples; an archaeological site near Clovis, New Mexico is the source of the group name. This model posited that the first humans in the Americas traveled from northeast Asia across Beringia, a land mass located in the present-day Bering Strait that was uncovered by lowered sea levels in the late Pleistocene. Clovis proponents set a date of 12,000 BP (before present) as the earliest instance from which entry into the Americas could have occurred, as glacial masses would have prevented earlier travel beyond Beringia.

The Clovis model, however, has fallen out of favor in the last decade; a number of recent archaeological discoveries have undermined the accuracy of the model. A site at Mount Verde, Chile posed particular problems for the Clovis model, as radiocarbon dating established a date of 12,500 BP for the site. While only 500-1000 years before the Clovis model (at the far end of the margin of error for radiocarbon dating), the idea that nomadic peoples could travel from Alaska to Chile in such a short window of time borders on the fantastic. In addition, there are many archaeological differences between the Clovis model and the Mount Verde site; spear points, for example, are of much different formulation than fluted spear points associated with the Clovis people.



Further difficulty for the Clovis model arose in 1996, when two young men discovered the skull of Kennewick the Columbia River; while radiocarbon dating of the remains was estimated at 9,200 BP (before present), the distinctive lack of Native American features made him an archaeological anomaly. Cranial analysis indicated that the features were more consistent with a European or South Asian human, while dental analysis suggested a person with Polynesian ancestry. In any case, the distinctive features that Native Americans typically share with North Asian peoples were not found in the Kennewick Man.

Using a CT scanner, Owsley was able to study the skeleton in fine sections and also get a better look at a spear or dart tip embedded in Kennewick man's hip.

The point has previously been described as a Cascade point, typical of the region, but Owsley said that is not the case. Cascade points tend to have two pointed ends and are sometimes serrated, he said, while the point in Kennewick man has a pointed end and a stem.

The point was not the cause of death, he said, adding that thew wound was "a healed injury."

"There was no clear indication in the skeleton of cause of death," Owsley said. Kennewick man had undergone "a lot of injuries, this guy was tough as nails."

Review: The Journal of Christopher Columbus (El Diario del Primer Viaje)

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Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón), translated by Cecil Jane. London: Anthony Blond, 1968 (English translation), Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, Ltd., 1990(Spanish version)

Doubtless convinced that he was on the verge of a momentous voyage, Christopher Columbus kept a record of the trip through ship logs and charts. This was somewhat unusual for its time, since this was not a requirement of captains of Spanish-flagged vessels until 1575.

Queen Isabella of Spain had the original journal transcribed, giving the copy to Columbus and keeping the original for herself; the original manuscript has not been seen since 1504. The copied journal had a storied life, passing through the hands of numerous descendants of the Great Invader, allegedly being sold by Columbus’s ne’er-do-well grandson Luis to pay off debts. This copy, too, has disappeared.

The text that has survived the ravages of both time and debauched progeny is that produced by the Dominican historian and former conquistador Bartolomé de Las Casas. This account is most likely a summary of the second copy, with extensive word-for-word quotes at places “he thought were particularly interesting or worthy of quotation in full.”

Thus, historians face considerable difficulty in ferreting out which parts were pure Columbus, and which show the hand of Las Casas. Unfortunately, barring the sudden rediscovery of the original text or the Isabella-financed copy, this is as good as it gets. I have chosen two texts – both of which are translations of the Journal – to compare word choice and to educate myself on translation techniques; the second book has the original Spanish plus an English translation by B.W. Ife. I added the second book out of curiosity, and I wanted to compare some pages of the new translation with the Jane version to note any significant changes in the text.

There are some linguistic issues with this text about which readers need to be aware. Columbus was Genoese, and likely spoke a northern Italian dialect as his first language. He lived in Portugal for nine years, gaining fluency in Portuguese, although any extant Columbian writings in Portuguese have not survived. Columbus moved to Cordoba in Spain, and spent the rest of his non-voyage years there until his death in 1506.

The only language in which Columbus could demonstrably exhibit written competency was Castilian, although some letters exist from Columbus to Italian relatives that were composed in a badly written Tuscan. The Journal is written in a serviceable Castilian, with elements of Portuguese and Genoese terms interspersed. The navigational and sailing terms, according to Ife, are the words most likely to exhibit Lusitanian influence; this makes sense, as Portugal was the hub of 15th-century European seafaring activity. Finally, readers should consider the university-trained hand of Las Casas, whose efforts at transcribing, translating, and summarizing add an additional level of participation into the mix.

The motivations for the voyages of Columbus are similar to those expressed by the Portuguese in their explorations. He indicated that, like the Portuguese fascination with the mythical Prester John, the Spanish sovereigns hoped to link up with a powerful eastern ruler who might aid them in their conflicts with the Saracens:
…and then in the same month [that the Spaniards reconquered Granada] from information which I had given Your Highnesses about the lands of India and a prince called the Great Khan, which means in our language King of Kings, and how he and his ancestors had many times sent to Rome for learned men to instruct him in our holy faith…
This eastern potentate, who Ife argues is most likely the Mongol emeperor Togon-temür, would provide a valuable ally against the spread of Islam. Indeed, there is a realm of research into the evolution of the Prester John myth that links powerful Mongol rulers with the European belief in great eastern monarchs who reigned over lands with incredible wealth. Whether called Gran Can, Prester John, or Genghis Khan, the European conviction that potential partners existed in the Indies was a primary motivation for explorers such as Columbus.

Economic motivations were certainly a component of the voyages of Columbus, and few entries after landfall fail to show evidence of the admiral’s desire for the riches of the Indies. He wrote on 13 October 1492 that he “was attentive and labored to know if they had any gold;” two days later the ships reached Santa Maria de la Concepción (Rum Cay in the Bahamas), where he noted in his journal that he “anchored off the said point to learn if there were gold there.” On the same day his obsession with gold reaches a fever pitch in the following entry:
These islands are very green and fertile and the breezes are soft, and it is possible that there are in them many things, of which I do not know, because I did not wish to delay in finding gold, by discovering and going about many islands.

Columbus mentions the proselytizing motivation in the text a few times, particularly in his salutation to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. He was certainly charged by the sovereigns with carrying out this Gospel mission. However, his focus throughout the Journal remained firmly on profit-generating commodities, such as gold, spices, and wood.

The differences between the translations tended to revolve around syntax and word choice, rather than any substantial thematic changes. The following passage is typical of the differences between the Jane and the Ife translations:
(Jane) Monday, Decmber 17th. That night the wind blew strongly from the east-north-east; the sea was not very rough, because the island of Tortuga, which is opposite and forms a shelter, protected and guarded it.
(Ife) Monday 17 December. The wind blew strongly that night from the ENE; the sea did not get up very much, as it is protected and shielded by the island of Tortuga which is opposite and forms a shelter.
The Ife text has a reputation for doing a better job of translating seafaring terms, flora and fauna names, and providing better translations for Portuguese words that Columbus tried to Castillianize.

Feb 23, 2006

Prairie Thaw: A Late Winter Visit To Irwin Nature Preserve

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Left: View of the sedge meadow from the observation deck; all photos by historymike

(Toledo, OH) With the sun out and temperatures in the 40s I decided to pay a visit to one of my favorite outdoor haunts - the Irwin Prairie, part of the state nature preserve system.

Irwin Preserve is one of the last natural prairies in the area, and this 187-acre park is a peaceful reminder of what Northwest Ohio once looked like before the nineteenth century. Outcroppings of prairie like this were like oases in this swampy region.

Portions of the preserve are swamp and marsh, remnants of the Great Black Swamp that once dominated the area.


Left: Iced-over swampland in Irwin Prairie

There is a boardwalk that traverses through the preserve for pedestrians; it is a 1-1/4 mile loop trail beginning at the Bancroft Street parking lot. The posted signs remind parkgoers to remain on the boardwalk, but given the marshy conditions throughout, most visitors will heed this advice.

The DNR website for the preserve indicates a number of rare animals have been reported from Irwin Prairie, including sedge wrens, Bell's vireo, the least bittern, the golden-winged warbler, spotted and blandings turtles and the purplish copper butterfly.


I heard a hawk, but the only bird that came near me was a small warbler. After eyeing me for a few minutes, he apparently decided I was not going to provide him with anything resembling a meal, and he flew off.

If other animals were present, they were ensconced in burrows or nests. Unlike me they were not deceived by the appearance of the sun; the winds in the prairie blow much harder than they do in my West Toledo neighborhood, and it was not long before I regretted leaving behing my hat and gloves.


The path winds through several dense swamp forests. Some of the trees in the preserve tower above the others, and likely date back 150-200 years.

Howling through the trees the wind made a lonesome moaning sound, and I had a few moments of apprehension even though it was broad daylight. I was only a few miles from the modern world, and yet I could just as easily have been light years away from the nearest human being.

I suspect that Irwin Prairie would be positively creepy at nighttime.

This is part of a continuing series in which I profile area nature preserves.

Mutation Rate Of Zoonotic Diseases Rising Rapidly

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The mutation of animal diseases that can infect humans is rising at an "unsustainable rate," with the arrival of one new pathogen capable of causing infectious diseases reported per year over the past 25 years, according to a survery conducted by Mark Woolhouse, of the University of Edinburgh.

"The human population is accumulating novel pathogens at a rate of more than one new species per year, plus a host of variants of existing pathogens," said Woolhouse yesterday. "This does not seem to be sustainable over evolutionary timescales; we would be overrun with pathogens."

About two-thirds of the new human pathogens are RNA viruses, which have a smaller number of genes, making them more susceptible to mutation. There are more than 1,400 different pathogens that can infect humans, and Woolhouse said that 58 percent of those are zoonotic (animal in origin, with or without direct transmission).

Avian flu, more properly the H5N1 virus, is just the latest in zoonotic diseases. Tuberculosis, malaria, and smallpox made the jump from animals to humans thousands of years ago, while more recent zoonoses include SARS, Ebola, and Rift Valley fever.

The key to managing emergent zoonoses, according to Woolhouse, is surveillance.

"We have to expect the unexpected, making sure that effective surveillance is in place to detect and, if necessary, act upon unusual infectious disease events," he said. "Human infectious diseases do not evolve in isolation, but have strong epidemiological and evolutionary links with infectious diseases of other animals."

Feb 22, 2006

Iraqi Mosques Attacked, Country Descends Into Wider Violence

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Above: Before and after photos of Samarra shrine's distinctive golden dome courtesy of Associated Press.

A predawn bomb attack wrecked an important Shia shrine in Samarra on Wednesday, sparking widespread protests and forcing the government to issue an urgent appeal to avoid sectarian reprisals.

Tens of thousands of people staged protests across Iraq after the detonation of two bombs inside the holy shrine. Dozens of Sunni mosques were later reported to have been targeted with six Sunnis killed.

The most dread of terms - civil war - is beginning to be whispered by Washington policymakers and pundits. If the violnce escalates into a factional, countrywide war, hopes that American troop withdrawals would begin this year will be dashed, and it is likely that troop strength in Iraq would need to be increased to quell the violence.

If the flames of ethnic and religious violence could be quenched at all.

In the southern city of Basra Shia militiamen attacked a prison and lynched at least eleven Sunni inmates. Among the victims were at least two suspected foreign insurgents.

The shining dome of the 1200-year old Askariya shrine crumbled to the ground, and leaders on both sides called for peace.

"We are facing a major conspiracy that is targeting Iraq's unity," said President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd. "We should all stand hand in hand to prevent the danger of a civil war."

Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a statement forbidding attacks on Sunni mosques and calling for seven days of national mourning. He broke with past practice, though, and also called for public protests.

Respected Middle East scholar Juan Cole was especially disheartened by the events:
Tuesday was an apocalyptic day in Iraq. I am not normally exactly sanguine about the situation there. But the atmospherics are very, very bad, in a way that most Western observers will miss.

Strap yourselves in, folks. I believe that the situation in Iraq is about to take a sharp nosedive into chaos.

Review: Marriage Alliance in Late Medieval Florence

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Left: Woman with a Veil (La Donna Velata), 1516 - Raffaelo Sanzio

Anthony Molho. Princeton, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994

Molho’s book examines the evolution of a Florentine patrician class that used marriage as a means to maintain social positionality. Drawing mainly from two sources – the catasto of 1480 and the records of the monte delle doti (a Florentine dowry fund akin to a modern 529 Plan for college tuition) – Molho developed a sort of Florentine “Who’s Who” list of the 417 families in the commune’s ruling class.

It was Molho who first noted the importance of the dowry fund, and this book is a continuation of the process of bringing the results of the author’s archival research to a wider audience. Mohlo argued that Florentine patricians labored to confine the marriages of their children to a small circle of social equals, and these efforts – along with strategic investments in the dowry fund, which then kept wealth circulating in that same circle - ensured the continued stability and dominance of the commune’s elite class. A family’s social positionality in Renaissance Florence was of the utmost importance; individuals and families rarely failed to take into account the hierarchical considerations of their political, social, and economic actions.

On the surface, the research is standard economic history; Molho organized the data into several dozen tables that examine wealthy Florentines from a wide range of statistical perspectives. In addition, the author provided for scholars nearly 100 pages of appendices that summarize the findings of his archival research. The data collection project itself was groundbreaking, as Molho and his assistants entered the information from over 20,000 Florentine marriages into a computer database.

However, to dismiss the book as mere quantitative gymnastics is to miss the importance of Molho’s findings and his interpretation of the data. Where possible, the author compared monte records with family ricordanze to illustrate the mentalité of the account holders; the simple maxim written down by Alessandra Strozzi – “He who wants to eat dinner on time, better plan dinner ahead of time” - provides valuable insight into the motives of the Florentine elites. The very acts of controlling marriages and funding dowries were, according to Molho, methods by which elites could perpetuate their continued power:
Property that left one house could be expected, rarely in direct ways but almost certainly through indirect and circuitous paths, to return to its place of origin, from where it would once again depart in generally predictable directions.
The very title of Molho’s work suggests a particular direction in which the book travels. Choosing the phrase “late medieval” instead of alternatives such as “Renaissance” or “early modern” was a deliberate signal to the reader that the author was reluctant to ascribe characteristics of modernity to quattrocento and cinquecento Florentine society; given its place at the center of nascent merchant capitalism, historians – including Burckhardt - are sometimes too prone to periodization and foist the label “modern” upon the commune.

Throughout the book, Molho avoided this temptation, and argued that Renaissance Florence was “an uncompromisingly nonmodern [emphasis added] world.” The commune had more in common with medieval feudalism than more modern social organization, and individual mercantile exploits garnered more glory for the family as opposed to the merchant. Molho’s work provides both quantitative data and reasoned analysis on the monte delle doti, as well as insights into the ways in which Florentines sought to adapt to and modify the existing social hierarchy.

Treacherous Terrorists Or Blundering Bombers?

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Left: Mugshot of Mohammad Zaki Amawi, courtesy of FOX News

(Toledo, OH) News of the indictment of three Toledo area men on terrorism charges spread quickly through this Midwestern community. The indictment alleges that one man, Mohammad Zaki Amawi, twice threatened to kill or inflict bodily harm against President Bush while speaking with others in a plot that began in November 2004, while the three also conspired to attack US troops abroad.

Amawi is a citizen of Jordan and the United States. The other men indicted in the plot are Marwan Othman El-Hindi, a US citizen born in Jordan; and Wassim I. Mazloum, who came to the US from Lebanon in 2000.

One wonders, though, just how dangerous these men were if indeed they are guilty of the crimes for which they have been charged.

I do not mean to say that men training with weapons, or studying bomb-making, are not dangerous. Rather, the plot comes across in the indictments as the work of amateurs.

According to the indictment documents, the men visited a local indoor shooting range, used the Internet to download bomb-making instructions, communicated via email with alleged terrorists in the Middle East, and actually traveled to Jordan to deliver five laptop computers to their "brothers" waging jihad.

Now, I am not a counter-terrorism expert, nor do I purport to be. That being said, it seems like these men - if guilty as charged - left electronic and paper trails that would be easy to follow, and which likely raised all sorts of red flags.

We may have been lucky that the indicted men were not seasoned veterans of terror circles; we may not be so fortunate in the future.

Feb 21, 2006

Toledo Terror And "The Trainer"

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Left: Terror suspect Wassim I. Mazloum being led from the courthouse in Toledo, courtesy of FOX News

(Toledo, OH) Perhaps lost amidst the startling indictments of three Toledo area men today on terrorism charges was the mention of a fourth man, who was identified as an informant nicknamed "The Trainer" in court documents.

A Justice Department statement today indicated that the informant "has been cooperating since the beginning of this investigation and acting on behalf of the government."

Very few clues can be derived from the indictments; "The Trainer" is described as "a US citizen...not named as a conspirator herein," who "has a US military background, and, in 2002, was solicited by [defendant] el-Hindi to assist in providing security and bodyguard training."

Who is this unnamed "trainer?"

The Justice Department indictments imply that the defendants sought out "The Trainer," but it seems odd that they would just "happen" to seek out an ex-US military man any more than they would just "happen" to seek out a butcher, a doctor, or a blogger. Just dumb luck on the part of the alleged terrorists?

This, to me, seems unlikely.

One theory of "The Trainer" is that he is a terrorist-turned-informant being used by counter-terrorism agencies to ferret out terrorist cells, trading his knowledge of terror cells for freedom.

In Mafia circles, "The Trainer" might be called a rat.

There is also speculation, though, that "The Trainer" is a trained US operative who is seeking out potential terrorists and enticing them across the line into criminal behavior.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales did not tip his hand in prepared remarks read before the press today, staying close to the script. He repeatedly cited "ongoing investigations and criminal cases" as a reason to defer specific questions about the investigation of the accused men.

And well he should; if indeed there are active terror cells, perhaps it is best that we are kept in the dark on the investigative end.

The indictment alleges that one man, Mohammad Zaki Amawi, twice threatened to kill or inflict bodily harm against President Bush while speaking with others in a plot that began in November 2004.

Amawi is a citizen of Jordan and the United States. The other men indicted in the plot are Marwan Othman El-Hindi, a US citizen born in Jordan; and Wassim I. Mazloum, who came to the US from Lebanon in 2000.

It will be interesting if the trials of the three men accused of terrorism will be open to the public, or if they will be carried out behind closed courtroom doors. Will we also see that these suspects claim entrapment by "The Trainer" and his handlers?

Or will the identity of "The Trainer" be the subject of articles 50 years down the road, when documents containing his name are unsealed?

Addendum, 9:40 PM: The Akron Beacon-Journal has an excellent article on the families of the suspects. Kudos to AB-J for getting this out so fast.

Addendum, 9:55: WLS-TV in Chicago is reporting that the accused three men may have set up a 2-man terrorist cll in the Chicago area, claiming that the "terror ring leaders had planted two operatives in Chicago who were being seasoned to help execute the deadly attacks on American soldiers."

Addendum, 11:11 PM: Time Magazine has a story online now; here's the important bits on "The Trainer":

A retired U.S. Special Forces soldier helped the FBI to uncover an alleged nascent terror cell in Toledo, Ohio, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney in Cleveland Thomas Getz. Three men, two U.S. citizens originally from Jordan and one U.S. resident from Lebanon, had asked the former U.S. commando for help in coordinating "jihad training exercises," according the indictment. But what the suspects didn't know, was that the retired soldier was working with investigators all along.

Identified in court papers only as "the Trainer," he earned the trust of the three men because, says Getz, "he was from the Muslim community." Getz would not say if "the Trainer" is of Arab descent or a long-time Muslim but said that he had cooperated voluntarily with the government from the beginning of the investigation going back at least to November 2004 and he was "acting on behalf of the (U.S.) government" the entire time


Toledo: Terror Central?

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Left: Used auto lot operated by Wassim I. Mazloum and his brother, photo by historymike

(Toledo, OH) A federal grand jury indicted three Toledo-area men on terrorism charges today, alleging that they plotted to kill US military personnel in Iraq and other countries.

The indictment alleges that one man, Mohammad Zaki Amawi, twice threatened to kill or inflict bodily harm against President Bush while speaking with others in a plot that began in November 2004.

Amawi is a citizen of Jordan and the United States. The other men indicted in the plot are Marwan Othman El-Hindi, a US citizen born in Jordan; and Wassim I. Mazloum, who came to the US from Lebanon in 2000. Mazloum reportedly operated a car business in Toledo with his brother, Jerry's Auto Sales (also known as City Auto Sales) at 1921 N. Reynolds Road in Toledo.

No one was in the building when I stopped by today to speak about the indictments.


A sign on the door said that, if no one was in the building, to call "Waseem." Unfortunately, "Waseem" is likely one of the arrested men. Waseem's cell phone rang, but did not go to voicemail.

Iside the building were a few empty cans of soda at what apeared to be the sales desk. The sales lot had but seven vehicles in it.

Dear Joint Terrorism Task Force: If my number comes up on the cellular phone of Waseem (Wassim) I was calling in an investigative capacity. Honest.

Addendum, 3:06 PM: These are the first pictures of "Toledo Terrorist Central" on the planet. Once again citizen journalists trump the "real" media. CAW! CAW!

Addendum, 3:50 PM: An email from UT President Dan Johnson indicates that one of the accused men, Wassim Mazloum, is currently a University of Toledo student, and another, Mohammad Zaki Amawi, is a former student.

Johnson said that "as we categorically reject terrorism individually and as a society, we must be careful not to be similarly indiscriminate in our projection of blame."

He also added that "at this point I would only say that this is a very serious matter, that UT will cooperate fully with all authorities, and that it is important to let the investigation and the legal process run its course."

Toledo-Area Men Arrested In Alleged Terrorist Plot

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Left: Suicide vest siezed by US troops in Baghdad, courtesy of CNN

(Toledo, OH) A federal grand jury has indicted three Toledo-area men on terrorism charges, alleging that they plotted to kill US military personnel in Iraq and other countries.

The three men, who all lived in Toledo in the last year, were arrested over the weekend, said Assistant US Attorney David Bauer in Toledo.

The suspects allegedly recruited others as early as November 2004 to train for a jihad against the United States and its allies in Iraq, according to the indictment.

The indictment alleges that one man, Mohammad Zaki Amawi, twice threatened to kill or inflict bodily harm against President Bush while speaking with others in a plot that began in November 2004.

Amawi is a citizen of Jordan and the United States. The other men indicted in the plot are Marwan Othman El-Hindi, a US citizen born in Jordan; and Wassim I. Mazloum, who came to the US from Lebanon in 2000. Mazloum reportedly operated a car business in Toledo with his brother, Jerry's Auto Sales at 1921 N. Reynolds Road in Toledo.

Amawi was charged with downloading a video entitled "Martyrdom Operation Vest Preparation," which details the process of making a suicide bomb vest.

WTOL is reporting that the indictment accuses Mazloum of "offering to use his dealership as a cover for traveling to and from Iraq so that he could learn how to build small explosives using household materials."

WTOL also noted that the indictment also names an unindicted co-conspiratory called "The Trainer," who has U.S. military backround in security, and bodyguard training.

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez is expected to announce more details on the indictments at a news conference this afternoon in Washington, DC.

More online kudos to WTOL for providing a PDF file of the indictment. They are all over this, and must have ramped up their server space. I can't even get the Blade's main page to open.

Addendum, 1:53 PM: Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez just finished speaking to reporters. He indicated that, if convicted of all charges, the men could receive up to life in prison.

Gonzalez refused to speak beyond the indictment itself, but seemed to hint that the terror investigation might be linked to yesterday's Treasury Department announcement of an investigation into the charitable organization KindHearts. He called the two investigations "separate but coordinated investigations."

Gonzalez said that he believes the government "has a strong case," and said that the men "had the motivation and the means" to carry out the aleged terror activities.

More as this story unfolds...brrreeeport krugle

Open Trackback Alliance

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

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

MacBros describes a visit to the tax preparer. Amusing, with pictures of the low-budget tax return office.

Feb 20, 2006

On Holocaust Historians And Legal Stupidity

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Left: David Irving, courtesy of Institute for Historical Review

(Vienna, Austria) The news that a British historian has been sentenced to three years in prison for his views on the Holocaust should send shivers down the spine of every person who cares about freedom of speech.

Irving was sentenced to three years in prison today after admitting to an Austrian court that he once denied the Holocaust - a crime in the country where Hitler was born.

The 67-year old historian heads to prison for statements he made during a lecture in Austria in 1989. At the time he said that the gas chambers of Auschwitz were a "fairy tale." In addition, Irving is also on record as declaring that the number of Jews murdered by Nazis was greatly exaggerated, that most Jews died of diseases during World War II, and that until 1943 Adolf Hitler never heard of the Holocaust.

Irving may or may not be a poor historian, but he should be free to speak and print his views on the Holocaust (he now claims that he has backed away from his earlier "denial" statements, and that some of his statements have been taken out of context). I have not personally investigated his research, not do I care to do so; the issue at hand is Irving's right to free speech.

There seems to be a double standard at play in the EU these days: it seems to be acceptable to lampoon the beliefs of one religious group - Muslims - while anyone who attacks historical tenets held by another - Jews - is branded a criminal.

The EU needs to decide just how willing it is to embrace freedom of speech, because this verdict is an embarassment; it also seems more like the type of prosecution prevalent in the Nazi regime the Austrian law purportedly condemns.
brrreeeport krugle

On International Teaching Assistants

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(Toledo, OH) A contoversy is smoldering at the University of Toledo - the flames of which will certainly be fanned by this Independent Collegian article - over a proposal by the Student Senate to "reward" international teaching assistants (TAs) who improve their English speaking skills.

"A lot of the grad students, at least in the sciences, are foreign," said student senator David Kvale. "Sometimes, using a second language makes it hard to communicate effectively."

The underlying complaint, of course, is the belief that many international TAs cannot speak English in an effective manner with which students can learn.

I have taken many classes with international TAs. I have never encountered a single TA whose grasp of English was less than adequate, or whose accent impeded the instruction process. The only time I ever had some difficulty understanding an instructor was a professor I had at U of M who had severe cerebral palsy, and, within a day or so, I became used to his unique pronunciation.

The University of Toledo has progams already in place for non-native TAs, and they are required to produce a mock lecture for tenured faculty before they ever set foot in a classroom.

In addition, in my work as a writing tutor on campus I have never encountered an international student (let alone a TA) who could not be understood. In fact, the precision with which many international students speak and write English puts to shame many "native" English speakers.

I might also suggest that it is not the accent of the TA that throws students as it might be their lack of colloquialisms and slang. I sometimes feel when my kids turn on one of the music television stations that I am hearing a foreign language.

In a UT lecture today I witnessed at least 10 students sleeping, another 8 wearing iPods while jotting down notes from the slides (missing the verbal portion of the lecture), a half-dozen chit-chatting through the lecture, 3 taking cell-phone calls, and several reading the newspaper. I offer that one's ability to understand any instructor is limited by these factors.

This class today contained about 150 students. That sounds like a lot, except when you consider the fact that the enrollment is about 210.

So, by my estimation, 90 of 210 students engaged in some form of behavior that severely inhibited their potential to learn the material being discussed.

I suspect that students who are struggling in a class taught by an international TA might first look to their own habits before passing blame along to the instructor.

Finally, in a fast-paced modern world increasingly affected by globalization, there is an added benefit for students to get used to people speaking with accents. The idea that we can isolate ourselves, or demand that the rest of the world behave the way we want them to, is an archaic relic of a nativist past.
brrreeeport krugle