Jul 31, 2006

Toledo: 105 Heat Index Today

Heat index chart Left: Heat index chart courtesy of National Weather Service

(Toledo, OH) At the outset I must confess that I am perhaps the world's biggest whiner when it comes to hot weather. I sweat profusely, get irritable, and generally am not pleasant to be around when I am hot.

Give me a blizzard any day of the week.

The "heat dome" that has now enveloped Toledo, though, is especially unbearable. We are expected to hit a high of 96º today, and hit a heat index 0f 105º. The digital thermometer on my GMC already reads 98º in the sun.

Yes, swampy Toledo summer weather is here, and will stay for several more days. I, for one, plan to avoid the outdoors as much as possible. After only one hour in the garden yesterday I must have sweated off a quart of water and felt as though I just ran a marathon.

Of course, I just HAD to work at three in the afternoon; I couldn't use my common sense and wait until sunset and instead risked heat exhaustion.

Anyways, stay cool, drink lots of water, avoid caffeinated beverages, and don't be like me.

Rapid Rhetoric: LACUSCULAR

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

lacuscular - adj. pertaining to pools, pool-like.

Sharp readers will recognize that the word is derived from the Old French lac and from Old English lacu, both of which came from the Latin lacus.

Jul 30, 2006

The Quote Shelf

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

Yes, there is a Nirvanah; it is leading your sheep to a green pasture, and in putting your child to sleep, and in writing the last line of your poem.
--Kahlil Gibran

St. George Festival: Culinary Heaven

St. George Antiochian Orthodox Left: St. George Antiochian Orthodox

(Toledo, OH) During the summer many churches in the Toledo area hold festivals, but none compare with the 30th annual St. George Antiochian Orthodox gala.

Sure, some festivals have better rides, and some offer gambling, but only St. George offers delicious Middle Eastern food.

And not just a bunch of warmed-over gyro sandwiches, either.

Pictured at left is the combination platter, featuring baked kibbe, stuffed grape leaves, a meat pie, and a lamb/beans/rice medley. I admit that I arrived hungry, but I have never eaten so well at a church festival; most of the local fairs feature the typical hot dogs, cotton candy, and other barely edible items.

The food quality was on par with the better Lebanese and Greek restaurants, and there is nothing better than finishing a meal with a Turkish coffee and baklava.

Today is the last day for the festival, so be sure to visit. The church is located at 3754 Woodley Road between Sylvania and Central, and runs from noon until 9 pm today; admission is $2 today. Be sure to take one of the tours of this beautiful church, as well.

Jul 29, 2006

Toledo Residents Protest Israeli Military Campaigns in Lebanon, Palestine

(Toledo, OH) Approximately 100 Toledoans gathered on the corner of Talmadge and Sylvania to express their desire for peace in Lebanon and Palestine.

Many of the vehicles passing honked horns and waved. I did not see any counter-protesters at the rally, which took place during a heat index of 100 degrees.

Most of the protesters carried signs calling for peace, or for the US to take a more active role in brokering a cease-fire. There were a few more pointed placards that referred to Israel as a terrorist state.

I only saw one media outlet (WTVG-13) at the rally, although others may have arrived and left by the time I visited. It will be interesting to see if the local media covers this event with a comparable amount of attention as was given the rally at the Jewish Community Council last Monday.

The military campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, begun 17 days ago, has resulted in the deaths of over 400 civilians and billions of dollars worth of damage to roads, power plants, bridges, and airports. Approximately 130 Palestinian civilians have been killed in the concurrent military offensive in the territories of Palestine.

The US continues to refrain from endorsing any cease-fire deal that does not include the de-arming of Hezbollah and other preconditions, what US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice called an "urgent, but enduring" Middle East ceasefire.

Israel, however, today suggested for the first time that it might accept a cease-fire without an immediate disarming of Hezbollah, which may prove to be a major breakthrough.

Mel Gibson Blasts Jews During DUI Arrest

(Malibu, CA) I originally was going to ignore the news that Mel Gibson received a DUI early Friday morning. While drunk-driving is reprehensible, Gibson is hardly the first celebrity to rack one up.

Gibson, according to the sleuths at TMZ.com, apparently became belligrent, threatening officers and condemning Jews during a lengthy, drunken tirade. A copy of the handwritten report is available on the TMZ website.

The report notes that Gibson uttered a slew of anti-Semitic statements: "F*cking Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."

After this particular exchange Gibson then asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?"

The report indicates that Gibson told the deputy, "You mother f*cker. I'm going to f*ck you." The report also says "Gibson almost continually [sic] threatened me saying he 'owns Malibu' and will spend all of his money to 'get even' with me."

TMZ has a police department source that claims Gibson harassed a female sergeant, yelling, "What do you think you're looking at, sugar tits?"

Gibson took two videotaped blood alcohol tests, and repeatedly said how "f*cked" he was and how he was going to "f*ck" the deputy that arrested him for drunk driving.

TMZ also has some interesting information on how police officials may have tried to censor the report of the arresting deputy.

Gibson, who came under fire by some Jewish groups for the supposed anti-Semitic slant in Passion of the Christ, will likely have a lot of 'splaining to do, as the deputy's report is almost completely substantiated by video cameras.

Addendum, 6:08 pm: Since this story broke, actor Mel Gibson issued a statement apologizing for his drunk driving arrest and saying that he has battled alcoholism throughout his life.

"I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested," he said in a statement issued by his publicist. "I disgraced myself and my family with my behavior and for that I am truly sorry. I have battled with the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life and profoundly regret my horrific relapse."

While acknowedging that he "said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable," Gibson did not specifically apologize for anti-Semitic and sexist remarks he made.

Gibson, 50, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol after deputies stopped him for speeding at 2:36 a.m. Friday. Deputies clocked him driving 87 mph in a 45 mph zone, and a field breathalyzer recorded Gibson's blood-alcohol level at 0.12 percent.

Addendum, 11:04 pm: CNN has the full text of Gibson's apology letter.

Reviewing My 2006 Resolutions

New Year's Resolutions
(Toledo, OH) I am a little late on this, but I decided to dust off my 2006 resolutions and do a mid-year review.

1. "By June, to lose this 20 pounds..." It's the end of July, and I have lost 6 (from 228 to 222). Too frequently I settle for quick meals on the run, or fall into the "skip-a-meal-then-overcompensate" trap. Grade: C-.

2. "Exercise daily." I am taking walks with my wife and/or my dog Jimmy every day, but I have definitely been slacking on the heavy aerobic exercise. Grade: C.

3. "Increase my volunteer work." Nothing concrete here; I have passed up several opportunties, but continue to be a foster parent. Grade: B-.

4. "Settle on my field of specialization in my doctoral work." This is a go. My major field is European Expansion, and my minor field is Imperial Russia. Grade: A.

How are YOU doing with your 2006 goals?

Book Review: The Modern Uzbeks: From the Fourteenth Century to the Present


The Modern Uzbeks Allworth, Edward A.

Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1990, 410 pages

Allworth is Emeritus Professor of Turco-Soviet Studies at Columbia University, and he was the director of the Center for the Study of Central Asia as well as director of the Program on Soviet Nationality Problems. The Modern Uzbeks considers the historical origins of the Central Asian people, and discusses their efforts to pursue autonomy and independence under the Soviet system. While the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 might make this text appear outdated, Allworth’s synthesis remains the definitive source for a historical and cultural overview of the Uzbek nation.

The Uzbeks are a Turkic-language people of Central Asia who comprise the majority population of the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, and significant Uzbek populations can be found in Afghanistan, Tajikstan, and other Asian nations. Allworth first focused on the controversy involving the historical origins of the designation Uzbek as a term of self-identification and as a term used by outsiders for group identity. While the people who make up the modern Uzbek population can trace their roots back several millenia, the term Uzbek itself began to be used by Tatar tribesmen in the fourteenth century; they were followers of a descendant of Ghengis Khan, Ghiyath ad-Din Muhammad Uzbek Khan.

Allworth notes, however, that some historians and linguists argue that Uzbek might actually be derived from a combination of the Turkic reflexive pronoun öz (self) and the noble title of bek, creating a new term that could be translated roughly as “one’s own master.” More problematic for historians, however, is the historical tendency of Central Asian people to self-describe according to the name of the leader at a given time, and the use of Uzbek as an eponymous group identity has varied since the fourteenth century. Even more confusing for historians is the fact that the term Uzbek was used by Persian scribes as a general pejorative to describe foreign invaders, much the way that Europeans used the word "barbarian" in the medeival and early modern eras.

Allworth argued that one of the most important leaders of the Uzbeks was Abul-Fath Muhammad Shaybaniy Khan, who ruled from 1451-1510. Shaybaniy fought successful campaigns against Zahir-ud-din Mohammad Babur, founder of the Mogul Empire. In 1505 he captured Samarkand, while taking Herat in 1507. More importantly, the military, political, and cultural contributions of the Uzbek leader created the enduring idea of an Uzbek nation, which survived until the presnt day.

Allworth traced the relationship between the Russians and the Uzbeks to a series of trade missions in the late 16th century. Within a few generations of Shaybani Khan's death, the Uzbek state had split into three major khanates centered in Bukhara, Khiva (Khwarazm), and Kokand (Qoqan). The Russian tsars, however, did not view the Uzbek khanates as “equals” in the way that they accepted the Persians and Turks, and over the next two centuries became increasingly hostile toward the Uzbeks. Furthermore, the rise of Russia as an imperial state under Peter the Great coincided with a period of decline in the Uzbek khanates, and by the 1730s, argued Allworth, Uzbek leaders “subsisted on fantasies of grandeur from a more glorious past.”

Uzbekistan mapLeft: Map of modern Uzbekistan

Allworth places the eventual defeat of the Uzbek khanates not on the might of the Russian imperial army, but rather in the hands of Nasrullah Bahadur-Khan, amir of Bukhara. He described Nasrullah as “universally hated and feared,” and saw as pivotal in the decline of the Uzbek khanates Nasrullah’s destruction of Kokand in 1841-42. In additon to his ill-designed imperial moves, Nasrullah appointed foreigners to positions of authority in the government while attempting to reestablish traditional tribal leaders in outlying areas, thus increasing the “vulnerability of the periphery to outside incursions.” Nasrullah’s “most negative legacy,” according to Allworth, may have been his son Muzaffar, who “combined stupidity and stubbornness to his father’s cruelty.”

The author devoted several chapters to the disintegration of khanate structures during the imperial Russian and Soviet eras, as well as to the imposition of new, externally-created social, political, and economic structures. Reform-minded Uzbeks initially embraced the post-1905 creation of the state Duma, at least until setas for Turkistan were revoked in 1907. This prompted the new khans in Khiva and Bukhara in 1910 to begin a process of aligning more closely with the tsar in an effort to create a unified authoritarian Russian empire, and reformists slowly built support that culminated in the creation of a Khwarazmian state on April 17, 1917.

The newly-won independence of a democratic Uzbek, however, was short-lived; by 1917 the Soviets had created an all-encompssing Autonomous Turkistan Republic (ATR), which contained dozens of ethnic groups and stretched across much of the southern steppe. This proved to be unwieldly, and the Soviet government created the Uzbek SSR in 1924. Allworth argued that this proved to be both a blessing and a curse for Uzbek intellectuals, who were able to recreate a sense of a unified Uzbek nation while simultaneously finding themselves a constituent segment of the Soviet Empire. The Uzbekistan Soviet Socialist Republic (UzSSR) began its existence as a theretical framework into which the politicians of Moscow expected the leaders in Samarkand and the other principal cities to fit appropriate content.

The Soviet era, thus, became one in which state-decreed ethnicities were imposed upon groups, irrespective of whether the people in that particular geographic region self-identified in the “official” manner. Efforts to preserve the cultural heritage found in literary languages such as Chaghatai became seen as counterrevolutionary acts, and intellectuals who deviated from the state-imposed Uzbekistani language, culture, and history were rooted out and imprisoned; some notable figures, such as professor Abdalrauf Fitrat, were executed. Allworth, writing from 1987-90, noted that the Soviets never “solved” the problem of ethnicities, and astutely predicted that regional ethnicities would eventually reasset themselves.

Abdalrauf FitratLeft: Uzbek intellectual Abdalrauf Fitrat

The author drew from a tremendous amount of archival material, pulling from Arabic, Persian, Soviet, Chinese, Hindu, Turkish and European sources. It appears that Allworth has written fluency in more than a dozen languages, and his ability to not only translate but to pick up rhetorical subtleties is simply phenomenal. Readers, though, need to be prepared to keep up with the wide-ranging material that crosses not only sub-fields in history but also incorporates archaeology, linguistics, and anthropology in its efforts to capture the essence of the Uzbek peoples.

Allworth arranged the material in thematic fashion, but readers should be forewarned that regular textual detours are taken by the author throughout the book. Sections that appear to be devoted to narrative history suddenly find Allworth exploring the historical writings of Safavid scribes, or Timurid commentary on the Uzbeks as “enemies and immigrants.” The author also devoted a significant portion of the text to the writings of Shaybaniy Khan, who was also a poet and trained in an Islamic madrassah. Passages such as the following were used to illustrate the historical influence of Shaybaniy on later Uzbek leaders and philosophers:
O shepherd, even if thy enemy be the hero of the age,
Perturbations will be lifted with good deeds.
Thou didst not wrong the Timurid princes.
The Lord surely will not wrong the tribes who are good.
Thy goodness with Yunus Khan’s progeny was proper,
For they acted wrongly and finally found retribution.
The Modern Uzbeks is no simple chronological examination of the history of the Uzbek people, and Allworth frequently delved in challenging analysis of the intellectual history and literature of Uzbekistan. Prior knowledge of Asian history, Islamic culture, and linguistic studies are helpful in understanding this text. For those readers willing to travel down such arcane intellectual pathways with Allworth, the journey is rewarding.

Jul 28, 2006

Pranksters Infuriate TV Anchor


(New York) "Good Day New York" anchor Jodi Applegate became irate yesterday when a pair of brothers simulated an unplanned power-tool accident on the live show.

Casey and Van Neistat, independent filmmakers, were scheduled to demonstrate the ease with which bicycles can be stolen in New York.

Instead, well... watch the video.

For those of you who do not fall into the Video Nazi category, visit the Neistat Brothers website and watch some of their quirky short films. Some take a few minutes to load, so be patient; I found the "Goldfish," "I-Pod's Dirty Little Secret," and "Truckfire" videos particularly entertaining.

The Quote Shelf

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

Just like Pagliacci did
I try to keep my sadness hid
Smiling in the public eye
But in my lonely room I cry
The tears of a clown when there's no one around

--Smokey Robinson, "Tears of a Clown"

Jul 27, 2006

About Site Sponsors

(Toledo, OH) Far be it from me to tell readers what to do, but if the text of site advertisers catches your eye, you might want to pay them a visit.

Rumor has it that a certain starving writer might Conceivably Land Income from Clicking Kindness by site visitors.

And I am in no way, shape, or form seeking to induce people to c_l_i_c_k on ad banners. That would be verboten.

Book Review: Iron and Blood: Civil Wars in Sixteenth-Century France


Henry Heller's Iron and Blood Heller, Henry

Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991, 191 pages

Heller is a professor of European history specializing in Reformation and Renaissance France at the University of Manitoba. Iron and Blood examines the civil wars that wracked France in the decades after the death of Henry II. Heller challenged the assumptions of many traditional historians, who accepted the challenges posed by Calvinists as the primary basis for conflict, while dismissing the theory that religion was merely a “cloak” to disguise hidden political agendas by such members of such noble houses as the Guise, Bourbon, and Montmorency. Heller instead viewed the hostilities from a neo-Marxist perspective, arguing instead that the recurrent wars in sixteenth century France were primarily due to increasing levels of social conflict. The “fundamental conflict,” in Heller’s eyes, existed between “the excluded majority [rural peasants, small producers, and artisans] and the existing social orders” of the clergy, nobility, and the urban bourgeoisie. Moreover, the use of the term “civil wars” in the subtitle of the book underscores Heller’s conviction that religious beliefs played a much smaller role in the Wars of Religion than claimed by many early modern French historians.

Heller attacked the traditional idea of the “vertical” social order of the three estates, arguing instead that there existed a “horizontal” order composed of the monarchy, nobility, and wealthy merchants who were opposed by the rest of French society; the view of French society as being “ordered” in the form of the three estates, in Heller’s eyes, was merely a surface illusion. Conflict in the decades preceding the civil wars took a number of different forms:
The struggle over rent between peasant and lord…incipient conflict over profit and wages between agricultural entrepreneurs and labourers…division between town and countryside in which the peasants and small-town bourgeoisie would find themselves at loggerheads with the patricians and great merchants of a regional metropolis.
Heller analyzed the history of sixteenth century popular revolts in order to provide anecdotal evidence of the existence of class conflict in the period leading up to the Wars of Religion. In addition, the author assembled in tabular form a quantitative analysis of the “popular contestations” that occurred between 150 and 1560; grain shortages, economic oppression, and political exclusion were among the most common causes of civil disturbance. Heller also noted that conflicts between the urban bourgeoisie and the monarchy were almost non-existent prior to 1550, and only the “weight of growing economic difficulties and unrelenting royal fiscal pressure” caused a rift between these previously-aligned segments of French society.

Like Ladurie, Heller held that the model of “artisan as Calvinist and peasant as Catholic” remained valid, although the author cautioned against overemphasizing the religious spilt between urban and rural populations. Heller maintained that the areas in which urban Protestantism was most successful were those in which popular discontent was connected with Calvinist evangelism to produce a sort of hybrid religious-economic rebellion. Conversely, the Calvinist revolt was least successful when Protestant notables failed to generate an anti-aristocratic sentiment among the lower classes. An important point missed by many scholars, argued Heller, was that there existed in the early 1560s a widespread refusal – among Catholics as well as Protestants – to pay the tithe, which provided the financial foundation for the Catholic Church in France. While conceding that the Protestant movement was the catalyst against the oppressive religious tithe, Heller argued that there existed a general movement from below that was more anti-oligarchic in nature than anti-clerical.

Protestant theologian John CalvinLeft: Protestant theologian John Calvin

One of the most interesting examples Heller cited to demonstrate the failure to achieve a Huguenot reform involved the city of Aix, in which the Calvinist elite produced a counter-reaction against Protestantism by Catholic commoners. During an annual Catholic procession, barefoot pilgrims walked to the shrine of St. Mark; Calvinist zealots spread thorns on the path in order to disrupt ceremony of the Catholic faithful, and appeared the next day to “mock the pilgrims as they made their way to the sanctuary.” For Heller, the Calvinist movement in the 1560s was really a popular revolt with a Protestant mask that “began as a movement of class from below [that] turned into a class war from above,” and, after the popular revolution failed, the conflict turned into a civil war dominated by Protestant and Catholic nobles who dictated the terms of the conflict.

Heller culled dozens of popular revolts from archival sources to build a convincing case for the primacy of economic conflict in the Wars of Religion. His interpretation of the rise of the Catholic League, however, is especially unique in its analysis. Traditional historians have seen the League as largely religious in nature, with devoted Catholic commoners led by the Guise faction banding together to preserve their faith and exterminate the heretical Calvinists. Heller, while recognizing the religious component, argued instead that the League should be viewed as “part of the broader pattern of popular rebellion against military occupation and oppressive fiscalism.” For most members of the Catholic League, Calvinists were seen lass as heretics than as disruptive elements whose zeal brought misery and deprivation to people across France.

Accompanied with a glossary, hearty bibliography, and cross-referenced index, Iron and Blood is a provocative book that cannot be dismissed as a mere exercise in reductionism. Even for historians who look with disdain upon analyses the notion that social class and economic constraints largely determine historical outcomes, Heller’s book makes persuasive argument for the primacy of economic conditions as causative factors in the Wars of Religion.

Condi to Play Piano at Forum; I Keep Hearing the Name "Nero"

Condoleeza Rice on Piano with cellist Yo-Yo Ma Left: Rice with cellist Yo-Yo Ma during a National Endowment for the Arts ceremony

(Kuala Lumpur) US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will perform a piano recital at this week's annual ASEAN Regional Forum.

Rice — a trained classical pianist — is expected to perform a variety of works from one of her favorite composers, who include Mozart, Brahms, and Shostakovich.

At 15 Rice performed Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor with the Denver Symphony Orchestra as a prize for winning a student music competition.

Four words, however, keep up an annoying effort to pop into my head right now: "Rome," "Nero," "fiddle," and "burning."

Thinking About Jim Croce

Jim Croce (Toledo, OH) Driving through the rain this morning I took out a Jim Croce CD and found myself taking a melancholy detour into the past.

Croce, for those unaware, died at age 30 in a plane crash on September 20, 1973 along with his musical sidekick Maury Muehleisen. The sudden passing of this brilliant singer-songwriter hit me particularly hard as a child, for the sounds of Croce's music appealed to both me and my parents: his songs were one of our few areas of musical agreement.

Songs such as "Time In A Bottle," "I Got A Name," and "I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song" have aged quite well, and Croce's body of work - cruelly limited by the whims of Fortuna - stands as an essential component of American pop culture. The guitar duets of Croce and Muehleisen remain as beautiful and evocative as ever.

As with any life cut short, one wonders what Croce might have accomplished in the 33 years since his passing. Croce, however, had just entered an incredibly creative streak after signing his major label contract, and he released his three studio albums in 14 months after joining ABC Records.

There are prolific songwriters, and then there are creative virtuosos who seem to tap into another entire dimension of inspiration, something spiritual, something otherworldly.

Jim Croce was that sort of person, and I will forever miss him.

Jul 26, 2006

Condi Strikes Out; War Rages On

Left: US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, courtesy of AP

(Rome) US, European and Arab representatives held crisis talks today on Lebanon, but failed to come to agreement on an immediate plan to bring an end to the fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah forces.

While most of the 15 countries represented pressed for an immediate, unconditional end to the fighting, the United States - backed by Britain - refused to accept a cease-fire that does not include conditions on de-arming Hezbollah.

"We all committed to dedicated and urgent action to try to bring about an end to violence that would be sustainable" and leave the Lebanese government in full control of its territory, Rice told reporters, and added that a UN peacekeeping force is needed with "a strong and robust capability to help bring about peace, to help provide the ability for humanitarian efforts to go forward and to bring an end to the violence."

However, no significant progress was achieved toward getting the warring parties to agree to a cease-fire.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow tried to put the collapse of peace talks in a positive light.

"If the talks broke down, they wouldn't have come out with a joint statement that showed that they are knitted up on the key items," he said.

The military actions of the Israelis in Palestinian and Lebanese territories have come under increasingly harsh attack by many world leaders, and the destruction of a UN observation post by Israeli forces yesterday brought international condemnation.

Even more disturbing is the revelation that Egyptian Unifil soldiers were fired on by Israeli troops as they tried to retrieve the four dead bodies of the UN workers.

Israeli officials have publicly denied that the UN post was deliberately targeted, and offered condolences to the families of the dead UN workers.

The Quote Shelf

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

He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.
--Albert Einstein

Jul 25, 2006

Saudi King Warns of Wider War

Left: Israeli tanks in Maroun Al Ras, a Lebanese village overlooking the border

(Riyadh) Facing criticism at home, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah warned the United States that Israel's miltary actions could result in a wider war if not checked.

"Saudi Arabia warns everybody that if the peace option fails because of Israeli arrogance, there will be no other option but war," he said to state media. "Then, only God would know what wars and conflicts the region would see, which would harm everyone, even those prompted now by their military power to play with fire."

The king announced donations totaling $1.5 billion to Lebanon, according to the royal court statement. $500 million has been targeted for the reconstruction of Lebanese infrastructure, and $1 billion will be deposited in Lebanon's central bank to prop up the sinking economy. Aid totaling to $250 million will be given to the Palestinians to help rebuild the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The military campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, begun 14 days ago, has resulted in the deaths of nearly 400 civilians and billions of dollars worth of damage to roads, power plants, bridges, and airports. Approximately 120 Palestinian civilians have been killed in the concurrent military offensive in the territories of Palestine.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair prior to a planned visit to Washington.

"I think we both agree that the real solution is to have Lebanon come back to its sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said to reporters afterward. "For that to happen there must be a first step, which is a ceasefire to stop the bombing that is happening."

The US continues to balk against any cease-fire deal that does not include the de-arming of Hezbollah and other preconditions, what US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice called an "urgent, but enduring" Middle East ceasefire.

Rapid Rhetoric - NILGAI

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

nilgai - n. a bluish-grey Indian antelope with short horns.

The animal has an appearance that is somewhat ox-like, and also goes by the name of the "Blue bull." Belief in the bovine nature of the nilgai in the Hindu-dominated areas in which it lives has brought about a ban on hunting the animals.

Jul 24, 2006

On Lawn Rocks and Drunk Drivers

(Toledo, OH) I recently came into possession of a collection of large rocks that I have strategically placed in a decorative fashion around my lawn. The previous owner of the boulders was my next door neighbor, who - at age 85 - feels he is too old to use the weed trimmer to cut around the rocks any longer.

We worked a deal where I will cut a section of his grass that is inaccessible to his riding lawnmower. I get rocks, he gets free grass cutting - it's win-win, baby.

But I digress.

My lot is on a fairly busy residential corner, and over the years my lawn has been terrorized by inebriated motorists who cannot seem to keep their vehicles on the actual pavement. While I looked to the newly-acquired chunks of granite and sandstone as "decorative," I could not help but gleefully envision the night when the next sloshed buffoon would barrel through my grass and, well, pay a toll for his stupidity.

For the record - I am no lawn Nazi, and one will find crabgrass, dandelions, and clover jockeying for position with my fescue. That being said, pairs of tire tracks in the front yard do detract from its aesthetic appeal, and I do my best to cut and trim my motley lawn on a regular basis.

My weeds are very short weeds.

Since the placement of the weighty stones last month I have not seen a set of tire tracks on my lawn, and I believe two vehicles have "kissed the gneiss." I thus have a better-looking lawn, and at least two dweebs have learned lessons about wandering off the road.

A quick question, though - are there ordinances that specify the distance such rocks must be placed away from the road? I have mine about one foot off the pavement, but I have neighbors who place theirs right on the road's edge.

The last thing I would like to do is be the recipient of a city citation, or wind up on the losing end of a frivolous lawsuit.

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 you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.
--Dorothy Parker

Jul 23, 2006

On Walking Alone at Night

(Toledo, OH) I consistently preach to my children that people should always walk in groups, and that walking at night is dangerous.

Yet I found myself last night doing the thing I have warned against: walking alone at night.

I had intended to leave the going-away party I attended before dark, but found myself chatting until well after 10:00 pm. It was quite dark when I said my goodbyes.

I do not live in a particularly dangerous neighborhood, but criminals respect no boundaries these days. It took only a minute for my guard to go up, but heck - it was only a mile, and the weather was nice.

The night world is very different from the day, and you hear quite a variety of sounds while walking along a dark road: fireworks off in the distance, cicadas shrieking in the trees, emergency sirens, people laughing, people arguing.

A van blew the stop sign at McGregor and Harvest while I approached the intersection. It came to a halt thirty yards down the road and a woman got out.

"Why are you acting like this?" she cried in the dark.

"F** this - I'm out of here!" was the unseen man's reply as he sped off.

I decided not to stick my nose in a domestic quarrel and continued walking.

A carload of teens whizzed by, flashing their brights and honking the horn at me, the loon who was walking on the side of the road.

"Faggot!" was the rhetorical brilliance offered by one of the passengers.

My response was a one-fingered salute, which caused them to brake and turn around.

"Here we go," I thought as the car circled back. I began to look for a stick or large rock to defend myself when the car passed. A 20-oz soda bottle was hurled in my direction, and the group shouted some more colorful phrases, but they evidently tired of the "Taunt-the-Pedestrian" game and did not return.

I arrived home unscathed, and really no worse for the wear, but I vowed that any exercise benefits derived from late night walks are more than canceled out by the inherent danger of walking alone at night.

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 can't listen to that much Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland.
--Woody Allen

Jul 22, 2006

Book Review:A History of France, 1460-1560 - The Emergence of a Nation-State


Potter, David

New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995, 438 pages

Potter is the director of Centre for Medieval and Tudor Studies at the University of Kent, and among his research interests are the French aristocracy in the 16th century and Renaissance diplomacy. Both of these areas are highlighted in A History of France, and yet the text goes far beyond the mere political history suggested in the book’s title and the chapter headings. Potter also incorporates economic, social, and literary history into a synthesis that makes a convincing case for an earlier rise of French nationalism than traditional historians have claimed.

The author eschewed a chronological approach in favor of organizing the text around a series of themes. Even within the thematic schema Potter avoided the temptation to follow strict chronology, and he showed a remarkable ability to jump between periods while maintaining narrative cohesion. Potter began with a brief overview of late medieval French political, social, and economic conditions, and proceeded to examine the monarchy, the nobility, the Catholic Church, and the systems of taxation that existed in the century preceding the Wars of Religion. The author also devoted chapters to French foreign policy and the rise of a central bureaucracy during the period.

Potter argued that the monarchy in this period of state emergence engaged in both conscious and subconscious efforts to incorporate symbolic ritual into political life as a means of reinforcing central authority. While cautioning readers against assuming that such “fictions” were interpreted literally by the populace, the author nonetheless created a convincing argument for the simultaneous rise of national mythology and that of a nascent French nationalism. State symbols, such as the fleur-de-lis, began to prominently appear in French Catholic churches during this time, as was the symbolic use of the sun to denote royal power (later to be employed to greater effect during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King).

Left: 15th-century stained glass featuring fleur-de-lis in cathedral of St. Etienne in Bourges

Also contributing to the emergence of the idea of a unified French state, according to Potter, was the growth of the royal court as a political and cultural center. Rather than seeing the court exist as a “beleaguered island” in a sea of incivility, as many traditional historians have maintained, Potter argued that the royal court acted as a magnet for those seeking favor with the monarch. The author also argued that, by the late fifteenth century, the courts of great principalities such as those in Bourbon and Moulins could no longer compete with the grandeur of the royal court. The ability of the court to offer access to the king, with his ability to dole out cherished political positions, created by the late fifteenth century a view that the court of the French monarch was the center of activity, and subtly reinforced the idea of a centralized French state.

The rise of a distinct class of royal officials, in Potter’s estimation, served a number of purposes that helped foster the emergence of a unified France. Such pensioned positions created hierarchical competition between the traditional nobility and those who sought to improve their lot in life through royal patronage. The growth of the royal administrators – often drawn from the ranks of the traditional nobility – simultaneously meant that a larger portion of collected taxes found its way into royal coffers instead of traditional noble pockets. Potter argued that what emerged in the sixteenth century was a nascent centralized administration composed of individuals with greater allegiance to the crown who were “effective guarantors of the unity of the kingdom.”
Potter disagreed with traditional assessments of the French nobility that suggest that nobles, as a group, entered into a period of economic decline that forced them to become dependent upon the largesse of the crown in order to survive. Instead, Potter argued that the nobility “gradually adapted to new political conditions that precluded the automatic control of provincial power by great magnates and their retinues.” Rather than being forced from the traditional ideals of military leadership and landed gentry, French nobles willingly entered the competitive field of royal administration as a means to improve their financial position and their individual status. Such closer association with the crown, argued Potter, also meant that the traditional suspicion and hostility with which the French nobility viewed the monarchy began to fade into the background.

Potter maintained that the close association between church and state in early modern France also helped reinforce the concept of a unified nation, while simultaneously stifling the spread of Protestantism in France. By the reign of Henry II, Protestants came to be viewed not only as heretics but also as traitors, for the renunciation of the Gallican church was, ipso facto, an abomination in the eyes of both God and king. By the time of the Wars of Religion the interconnectedness between church and state had produced strong bonds that could not be easily severed by the religious fervor of the Calvinists.

Prior familiarity with the history of the Reformation and the history of France are helpful when digesting The Emergence of a Nation-State. Readers should have at ready reference both French and Latin dictionaries, as Potter was oftentimes overly generous with the dispensation of foreign terms. Still, the text provides ample literature review for the various themes, and Potter’s own interpretations of the century preceding the Wars of Religion are stellar. This text should be considered the definitive synthesis of the period it covers, and should also be on the shelf of every early modern Europeanist.

To A Friend

(Toledo, OH) I was heartened to hear that you have checked yourself into an inpatient facility for your addiction. I am not sure if you have Internet privileges in this stage of your treatment, so I do not know if you will read this.

We have not spoken since I learned that you were falling into the pit of addiction. Some might see this as selfish, or as turning my back on a friend, but I have other reasons for my reluctance to associate with hard partiers - I simply cannot afford to let myself get caught up in a world of inebriation, deception, and self-destruction.

You have a lot of hard work ahead of you; the process of sobering up is only a small part of recovery. The difficult part is getting your thinking straightened out, because years of addiction have created changes in your brain.

I am not referring to the physical damage in terms of depleted brain cells, or the wholesale disordering of the neurotransmitters that normally regulate brain activity.

I am instead referring to what might be called "junkie-think," or the self-deception in which addicts engage. You know - thoughts like "I can quit at any time," or "I control the drug," or "It's only one little hit," or "I'm just hanging out with my (drug-using) friends - it's no problem, I won't go back out."

That sort of thing.

It takes months, and even years, to retrain your brain to how to think normally again. There will come a point in your recovery, perhaps around three months of clean living, when you may try to convince yourself that you are "cured."

Nothing could be further from the truth.

If I have learned anything in this life, it is that people prone to addiction never become "cured." They can maintain sobriety, they can lead healthy and happy lives, and they can become pillars of the community, but they are never "cured."

The minute you begin to believe the lie of being "cured," you are doomed to repeat the cycle of addiction. Don't go there.

I wish you good luck in your recovery, and I will visit soon.

The Quote Shelf

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

One foot in the door
The other one in the gutter.
The sweet smell that they adore,
I think I'd rather smother.

--The Replacements, "I Don't Know"

Jul 21, 2006

Akron Professor Still Jailed in Israel

Left: Dr. Ghazi Falah, courtesy of University of Akron website

(Akron, OH) An Ohio geography professor remains in an Israeli jail 12 days after he was arrested on unknown charges, according to family members.

Ghazi Falah, 53, who teaches at the University of Akron, was detained July 8. Falah's wife Jamila said that her husband was detained after taking photographs on a tourist beach near Nahariya, and was later transported to a jail in Haifa.

"They [Israeli authorities] are not saying anything and they told the lawyer he’s not allowed to give any information," she said. "I’m so worried here."

Janelle Hironimus, a spokesperson for the US Department of State, said officials will not intercede because Falah is not a US citizen. He is a citizen of both Israel and Canada.

"A consular official from the embassy would be allowed to visit him in jail, but because he is not a citizen we don't have access to him," she said.

Israeli officials refuse to provide information about Falah to family members, and they have denied him the right to speak with his attorney. At a detention hearing last week, Falah's attorney was not allowed to be present.

Falah's family must wait and hope for the best.

"This is a ridiculous situation," his 23-year-old son Naail said. "We didn't even tell my youngest brother about it until TV cameras started showing up this morning. He should not be sitting in an Israeli prison."

Falah traveled to Israel to be with his mother, who underwent surgery in a Haifa hospital for a brain tumor.

The Quote Shelf

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

One day President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once 'The Unnecessary War'.
--Winston Churchill

Jul 20, 2006

Dear Hummer-Driving Business Owner


(Toledo, OH) I am not one to begrudge anyone being successful; if entrepreneurs make a healthy profit and want to invest in expensive toys, more power to them.

I was passed by a brand-new Hummer today on a Toledo thoroughfare. This, in itself, is nothing particularly noteworthy, as Hummer drivers - in my experience - tend to be a bit on the aggressive side.

What I found curious was the sign affixed to the rear windows, which advertised a local plumbing business (name withheld). It seems to me that, despite the temptation to self-promote, a business that caters to lower- and middle-class customers might not want to associate its name with high profits.

Plumbers as a group, after all, are not among the most trusted of professionals, and I suspect that everyone reading this has had a negative experience with a plumber in which they felt ripped off. It took me five years in Toledo as a business owner to find a plumber I trusted (hat tip to Coyle Mechanical).

Anyways, happy motoring and do consider how your sign might be interpreted by the people whose plumbing work you are performing.

Fiji Water Slams Cleveland; City Gets Last Laugh

(Cleveland, OH) The Fiji Water company has irritated Cleveland residents with an ad campaign that mocks the city's old reputation for unhealthy water.

The Fiji ads, placed in print and Internet vehicles, announce that "The label says Fiji because it's not bottled in Cleveland."

Fiji president Edward Cochran grew up outside of Cleveland in Bay Village, and he took credit for the ad.

"It is only a joke," he said. "We had to pick some town."

Cleveland Public Utilities Director Julius Ciaccia, however, procured a bottle of Fiji and tested the water for impurities. The tests measured 6.31 micrograms of arsenic per liter in the Fiji bottle. Cleveland tap water, plus Fiji competitors Aquafina, Dasani and Evian did not show any traces of arsenic.

Fiji also showed the highest levels of all the samples for the toxic chemicals styrene and toluene.

Cochran dismissed the findings, saying that his own company's tests found much lower levels of arsenic in Fiji Water. He also questioned the validity of the tests, noting that an independent testing facility should have been used.

Jul 19, 2006

Quick Blog Note

(Toledo, OH) Sometime in the next 24 hours this site will register its 100,000th visitor.

If you happen to be the person who loads visit number 100K, would you be so kind as to make a short comment for posterity? I am holding my breath to find out who that person is; with my luck it will be one of the hordes of people searching for information on the two-faced cat of Grove City, OH who have been flocking to my site. Google has me highly ranked on this odd story.

For that 100,000th visitor I dug through my couch cushions and assembled a grand prize package:

** $.23 in change
** Half-eaten bag of Doritos (2 oz.)
** One ball-point pen (no cap)
** Corkscrew with broken lever

Book Review: Lucca 1369-1400: Politics and Society in an Early Renaissance City-State

book shelfMeek, Christine

London: Oxford University Press, 1978, 427 pages

Left: Luccan merchant and political patrician Paolo Guinigi

The Tuscan city of Lucca, located between Pisa and Florence north of the Arno River, achieved a level of financial success during the Renaissance despite being dragged into wars between the aforementioned city-states. Meek’s book examines the period between its freeing from Pisan rule to the rise of the despotic Paolo Guinigi in 1400. The author argued that “the will and ambitions of the Guinigi themselves” were the decisive factors in the end of Lucca’s short-lived experiment in republican governance.

The book is an outgrowth of the author’s doctoral thesis, and Meek spent a commendable amount of time in the archives of, among other cities, Lucca, Florence, and Pisa. Thorough footnotes accompany the text, and the author provided detailed commentary on issues in many of these notes. Meek’s research, however, did not translate into a book that accomplished much more than providing an encyclopedic snapshot of 31 years of financial and governmental life in Lucca. The author, in a passage describing Lucchese territorial rights over lands also claimed by the commune of Florence, decided to delineate every entity, rather than a brief geographical summary:
They were mainly lands in the Valdinievole and Valdarno between Lucca and Florence and included Pescia, Uzzano, Buggiano, Stignano, Montecatini, Monsummano, Montevettolini, Pietrabuona, Fucecchio, S. Croce, Castelfranco, S. Maria a Monte, Montecalvoli, Montefalcone, Orentano, Galleno, Staffoli, and Montopoli.
The text is almost evenly divided between economic and political history; readers should not be misled by the inclusion of the word “society” in the title that any significant social history is to be found in Meek’s work. While the author, for example, examined in great detail such issues as the struggles of the Lucchese to grow enough corn to meet the needs of both the commune and the contado, there is a decided lack of purpose to the work. While it may have filled a void on general works about the history of Lucca, Meek’s book does not provide scholars with any challenging analysis. In addition, the book has shortcomings as a book for general readers, since the text included frequent lengthy quotations of primary source documents in Italian and Latin, instead of the more customary English in text with original quotes footnoted.

Meek’s assertion that the 1400 end of republican government was due to the will of the Guinigi to seize power is puzzling; one wonders how many despotic rulers, in all of history, were reluctant in their assumption of power. What is even more frustrating, as a reader, is that Meek’s thorough research provided plenty of possible arguments to explain the rise of the Guinigi regime. For example, Meek debunked the belief that the Lucchese silk trade rebounded after the end of Pisan rule in 1369, and provided evidence that the economy of Lucca actually declined in the decades following the formation of the republic. An argument begging to be elucidated might look something like this: “The despotic regime of the Guinigi owed much to the declining fortunes of the Lucchese silk industry and the stagnant economy of the commune in the late 14th century.” Another thesis might be that Lucca’s geographical location – between warring Florence and Pisa, while without direct access to the Ligurian Sea – worked against the commune, and its economic decline could have a significant geographic component. Meek, however, settled for a sort of “great family” explanation for the rise of the Guinigi, and the book fails to integrate its impressive amount of detail into a compelling argument.

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 write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.
--Joan Didion

Jul 18, 2006

Sources: Bush Gave Israel "Green Light" for Lebanon War

Left: Israeli heavy artillery firing against a suspected Hezbollah target in South Lebanon; courtesy of AP

(London) British, European and Israeli sources told British newspaper The Guardian that US President Bush gave Israel the "green light" for its widely condemned military attacks in Lebanon.

"It's clear the Americans have given the Israelis the green light," said a senior European official. "They [the Israeli attacks] will be allowed to go on longer, perhaps for another week."

Over 240 Lebanese civilians have been killed in the past week from attacks by Israeli forces. Power stations, roads, bridges, and other civilian infrastructure have been targeted in addition to suspected Hezbollah strongholds.

13 Israeli civilians have been killed by Hezbollah rockets fired from southern Lebanon, mainly toward the Israeli port city of Haifa.

Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora said that Israel was "opening the gates of hell and madness" on Lebanon, and that Israel's response to the capture by Hezbollah of two soldiers had been disproportionate.

"Israel now is a terrorist country that is committing every day a terrorist act," he said. "What Israel has been doing is cutting the country to pieces."

Siniora estimated that the damage to Lebanese infrastructure is in the billions of US dollars.