Sep 30, 2007

On the Continued Decline of the Rust Belt

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A poster at Toledo Talk raised the question of how to stem the tide of population and business losses that the area of Northwest Ohio continues to experience. Between 2000 and 2006, the population in Lucas County has decreased 2.1 percent, while the population in Toledo fell by 1.5 percent in the same period.

The population declines in Northwest Ohio are part of a much larger historical phenomenon of the exodus of industry from the Midwest to the Sun Belt and overseas, which can be traced as far back as the rural electrification projects of the 1930s. Projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority brought cheap electrical power to the South and West, giving these regions a competitive advantage that began to take fruit in the 1960s, and the lower labor costs in these formerly underdeveloped areas of the United States were an additional attraction.

From the period of 1970 to 1990, the population in Lucas County fell by over 20,000 people, or nearly 5 percent. During this same period of time, the population of the United States increased by 69 million people, a rate of population growth of over 38 percent.

While I applaud (and encourage) efforts to keep businesses and individuals from leaving the area, I think we have to recognize that this is a difficult trend to reverse. We do have one natural resource (fresh water) that will be in much greater demand in the coming decades, but the likelihood is that there will be great temptation to create fresh water pipelines to the Sun Belt.

It's cheaper to move water than people.

Some of the arguments put forth to "fix" the Rust Belt - the lowering of taxes, weakening of unions, or improving of government services - are more like short-term Bandaids than "cures." While I am not necessarily an advocate of massive government spending to reverse the demographic trend of movement away from the Rust Belt, we will not see significant change unless there is some exterior force brought to bear on the problem.

This might be technological in nature (paradigm-changing transportation innovations, akin to the early 1900s and the automobile), meteorlogical (sudden climate change), sociopolitical (government subsidies to encourage investment or relocation), or some other radical change in the status quo.

Placing the blame for decades-long demographic trends on such problems as weak public schools, poor delivery of government services, or high municipal/county/state real estate taxes might make us feel better in the short run, but does little to recognize the larger phenomena. People pack up and leave an area en masse only when conditions become so unfavorable that other areas seem like paradise.

We might grumble about taxes, schools, and trash pickup, but we leave when there are poor opportunities in our hometown.

One field in which I have some interest is that of education. Newly-certified teachers in Ohio can hang around here and hope that they find an opening (with the exception of math and science teachers, for whom there is still demand), or they can pick up a newspaper and find high-paying positions galore in places like Florida, Texas, and Nevada. Recruiters at annual job fairs at UT and BGSU are signing up graduates from Northwest Ohio by the busload, and in some ways it is ironic that Ohio taxpayers are paying to train the next generation of teachers for cities like Las Vegas and Orlando.

I wish I had simple solutions for the problem of demographic hemorrhage, but taking the approach that reversing this trend is simply a matter of cutting taxes or privatizing schools is like standing on the beach trying to punch the oncoming tidal waves.

Sep 29, 2007

Book Review: Absolutism in Seventeenth-Century Europe

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Louis XIV, baptised as Louis-Dieudonné, King of France and of NavarreMiller, John (ed.)
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990


Left: Louis XIV of France

John Miller assembled historians with specialties across the European continent for this collection of essays on seventeenth-century absolutism. The authors typically focused on the most exemplary of monarchs depicted as absolutist in nature; Roger Mettam’s chapter on France, for example, highlighted Louis XIV, while Jean Bérenger examined the reign of Leopold I in his essay on absolutist Austria. While the contributing authors in Absolutism in Seventeenth-Century Europe approached the topic from a variety of methodological and philosophical perspectives, most of the essays tended to downplay or even disagree with the idea that there existed absolutist regimes in this period of European history.

The book is organized in thematic fashion, with each chapter dedicated to one of the seventeenth-century European powers. The contributing authors provided a wealth of footnotes for their sources, which tended more toward the secondary than the primary. There is a cross-referenced index that is quite thorough in its depth, and Miller provided a brief biography for each of the contributors. Unfortunately, there is no bibliography that accompanies the text, forcing readers who desire additional information on absolutism to pick through footnotes for bibliographical material.

J.H. Burns contributed an informative essay entitled “The Idea of Absolutism” that traced the evolution of absolutist theory, both in historiographical and philosophical terms. Burns credited Perry Anderson and his Lineages of the Absolutist State (1974) with being one of the most influential texts that support the idea of the presence of absolutist regimes in seventeenth-century Europe.

Mettam, as would be expected, disputed the idea that the term “absolutism” could be used to accurately describe seventeenth-century France during the reign of Louis XIV. For the Sun King, argued Mettam, absolutism remained “a hope rather than a certainty,” and the author dissected many facets of the Bourbon ruler’s sovereignty that have often been described as absolutist. Mettam dismissed the idea that the king and the parlements were often at odds with one another during the reign of Louis XIV – which might support the idea of an absolutist regime – citing recent research that indicates the conseil prive and the parlements “worked closely together in their attempts to give good justice.” Mettam also argued that the noblesse d’épée were quite vocal in their criticisms of Louis XIV throughout his reign, and that noble members of such international aristocratic houses as Guise, Bouillon, and Rohan often interfered with and influenced French foreign policy. While acknowledging the expulsion of the Huguenots with the 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau, Mettam argued that “most of the royal plans for reducing papal interference in the internal affairs of the realm were unsuccessful,” citing such failed attempts by Louis XIV to divert papal revenues to the treasury and to sieze papal territory in Avignon. Moreover, noted Mettam, the attack on the Huguenots unleashed a period of blistering criticism by French writers who were “focused on the inadequacies of this particular king.”

Philip IV (Felipe IV), King of Spain from 1621 to 1665Left: Philip IV (Felipe IV), King of Spain from 1621 to 1665

The essay by I.A.A. Thompson on the question of absolutism in Spain begins with a title – “Castile” – that hints at the author’s perspective. Seventeenth-century Spanish monarchs, argued Thompson, ruled over territories in the Iberian peninsula, the Americas, the Italian peninsula, the Low Countries, and in the Far East, and subservience to the crown began a downward-oriented slope the further one traveled from Castile. Thompson noted that there was no belief among subjects of a divine origin of the Castilian monarch, citing a 1523 Cortes ruling that informed Charles V that he was the created “mercenary” of the people. While acknowledging that the Castilian monarch alone possessed the power to make laws, Thompson noted that the Cortes retained the right to determine “the legitimate form and substance of royal decreees and how they were to be received.” During the reign of Philip IV, argued Thompson, financial grants by the Cortes represented 60 percent of royal revenue, and many of these grants carried the stipulation that full administration of the associated monies remained in the hands of local officials. Thompson summarized the state of Castilian royal absolutism as “the maximum concentration of authority at the summit, and the minimum extension of power to the base.”

Philip Longworth, in “The Emergence of Absolutism in Russia,” argued that the traditional dating of Russian absolutism to the reign of Peter the Great is faulty, as “the chief elements of absolutism… were already established by 1700,” and that the entrenchment of absolutism should more accurately be attributed to the period of rule of Peter’s father, Tsar Alexis I (1645-76). Among the accomplishments of Alexis that Longworth argued have been overlooked by historians of absolutism include the formation of a modern army, the encouraged influx of Western technological specialists, and the development of legislation that fostered Russian-style mercantilism.

Absolutism in Seventeenth-Century Europe also includes essays that examine the phenomenon of absolutism in such European countries as Sweden, Brandenburg-Prussia, Austria, and Britain. Several of the essays also included discussions about contemporaneous theorists of absolutism-related philosophies, such as Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes, and Justus Lipsius. While the contributing authors, in general, question the degree to which seventeenth-century European monarchs achieved absolutist regimes, the essays should be considered essential reading for scholars and non-specialists desirous of understanding the origins and effectiveness of European absolutism.

Quirky Website of the Week: MulletJunky.com

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The Quirky Website of the Week is a regular feature on this site. Feel free to recommend other quirky websites in the Comments section.

This week's site was suggested by LTLOP, and MulletJunky.com describes itself as "a hard-core mullet page... designed for the above-average mullet enthusiast." Visitors will find examples of femullets (women with mullets), mullatinos (Hispanics with mullets), and even Crystal Methullets (meth-heads with mullets, no drug rehab jokes, please). Best of all are the skullets, which are "forced mullets" grown by balding men.

The site even offers mullet hunting tips for those who wish to photograph mullet-wearers in the wild. Here is the recommended technique known as the "Bait" method:
You have a friend stand next to the mullet and pretend like youre taking a picture of you're friend (the bait). This works well because you can get a nice close up of the mullet. You might get a few strange looks from the prey...but whatever, that's part of the fun of hunting.

RESULT:Decent pics with minimal risk of physical harm.
Be sure to visit MulletJunky.com today and celebrate the virtues of the mullet.

Sep 28, 2007

On the Probability of War with Iran

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Those who make a habit of reading the tea leaves related to the Bush Administration's obsession with provoking war with the Iranians know that the U.S. has been actively drawing up war plans against Iran since at least 2004. The debate among administration officials these days seems to revolve around the type of war that will be delivered to us.

One scenario envisioned by the war hawks involves merely targeting suspected nuclear facilities in Iran, while other Bush advisors call for attacks on up to 2,000 of Iran's military installations, communications centers, and related targets.

The Bush administration has even managed to convince many Democrats to join in on the anti-Iranian festivities, as the Senate, in a 76-22 vote on Wednesday, approved a non-binding amendment to the 2008 defense authorization bill that designated Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a "foreign terrorist organization". This is in response to claims that Iran is providing weapons and training to Shi'ite militias in Iraq, but the net result of this action will be to drive even more support behind Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian hardliners. Here are some of the relevant paragraphs of Senate Amendment 3017:
(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies;
(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy described in (3) with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies;
(5) that the United States should designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and place the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, as established under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and initiated under Executive Order 13224;
Senator Clinton voted for the amendment, while Senator Obama abstained. The only significant criticism of this piece of noxious legislation came from Senator Jim Webb, who called the move Vice President Dick Cheney's "fondest pipe dream."

The demonization of the Republic of Iran began many years ago after the Iranian Revolution, and the visit this week by Ahmadinejad to Columbia University ended up being another public relations coup for the Bush Administration. University President Lee Bollinger played an important role for the Bush administration in the run-up to a war with Iran, introducing the Iranian President as a "petty and cruel dictator" and someone whose comments on the Holocaust demontrate that he is "either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated."

While Ahmadinejad is indeed a poor historian, he is the leader of a sovereign nation, and it is clear that there is a concentrated effort by American elites such as Bollinger to justify war with Iran through the process of demonization, whether as willing participants or as unwitting dupes. This is regrettable, because an attack on Iranian military targets will likely mean at least a significantly wider regional war, and perhaps be a trigger for a new world war.

I am of the opinion that military actions against Iran will commence in February or March 2008, and that the net result of this foolhardy plan of action will be an inescapable escalation of the conflict into a wider war with the use of nuclear weaponry for the first time since 1945.

May God have mercy on all of our souls if this comes to pass.

On Weird Dreams and Episodic Memory

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The other night I woke from a dream repeating an unknown address, and I mananged to recall this address when I went down to my computer in the morning. I Googled the address, and it turned out to be the residence of the principal and music teacher of a parochial school I attended from 1976-78.

This man died some years ago, but his widow still lives in the same home.

I am open to interpretations on what the dream means, but what most intrigued me was that this completely obscure fact figured prominently in my dream. Much of the plot of the dream has faded, but it did involve this old school of mine. Yet it is not as though I had more than a passing acquaintance with the address of the late principal, and my fuzzy memory tells me it was printed on a church bulletin (he was also the organist, choir director, and an elder in the church affiliated with the school).

This incident shares some similarities with a recent post in which the subject of episodic memory was the focus. The human brain - a biological computer the schematics of which have yet to be mapped - remains in large measure a mystery to those who possess one, and the reasons why some seemingly irrelevant pieces of data remain forever lodged in our heads.

Sep 27, 2007

Chihuahua Needs a Good Home

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(Toledo, OH) Pictured on your left is Peanut, a 5-year-old Chihuahua whose owner can no longer care for him and had to surrender him. He is a loveable boy who walks well on a leash, likes to cuddle, and is extremely well-behaved.

This handsome 15-pound dog came to our home today, and is slowly getting used to the busy new environment. His previous owner trained him on potty pads, so we are working on a more permanent form of housebreaking. He is in good health, has had all his shots, and has already been neutered.

For more information on adopting Peanut, or any other wonderful rescue dogs, see the Planned Pethood website.

On Losing Weight and Living Healthier

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I am about ten days into my effort to lose weight per my doctor's admonishments over my girth and high triglyceride levels. I have dropped from a high of 236 pounds last year to 228 pounds last Monday, and this morning I had cut an additional five pounds to wind up at 223.

In a moment of dense-mindedness, I was puzzled why the scale read "223.2", but every time I went to take a picture for the blog, it said "224.0." Then it dawned on me that my Kodak P850 carries with it some weight. Duh.

Five pounds in ten days is the best I have ever accomplished in my numerous attempts to lose weight, and I am excited to start this health change off with significant results. It would be depressing to stick to a 1600 calorie per day diet and wind up with, say, one pound in weight loss.

I am eating a lot of fruit, and augmenting this with protein bars, granola cereal, salad, and vegetables. I have had a few moments when I thought I would cave in and order a pizza, but so far have resisted the urge to gorge myself. I have also yet to turn to weight-loss supplements, such as Miracle burn, in my quest to lose weight.

In adition, I found that the Weight Watchers trick of eating slowly works well for me. Yesterday I splurged and ate a 190-calorie container of microwave ravioli, and spent almost 25 minutes eating it, savoring every mini-ravioli for a minute or two.

After more than a week of eating foods almost devoid of fat, Chef Boyardee tasted like the finest Italian cuisine I can remember.

Finally, I have been making sure that I am exercising every day. While the Olympic triathlon competitors in Beijing will have no fears, my efforts to incorporate more walking, weight-lifting, and exercises such as pushups have begun to pay off dividends.

These lessons I am learning are probably self-evident to most of you reading this, and I understand that writing about one's weight loss is itself an exercise, albeit one of vanity. Yet I hope that documenting my own small battle with accumulated lipids will be of some inspiration to others who need to lose weight. And - to those readers considering weight loss themselves - I would also be interested in a friendly competition with another blogger or group of bloggers, as I have read that it is helpful to be a part of a weight loss community.

Sep 26, 2007

Possible Sighting of Missing Madeleine McCann in Morocco

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Left: Is this photo a picture of Madeleine McCann?

The Associated Press is reporting that Portuguese police and Interpol are examining a photo that could provide a breakthrough in the case of missing British girl Madeleine McCann.

The photograph, taken by a Spanish tourist in Morocco in late August, contains the image of a young blonde girl being carried on a woman's back. There have been previous reports of a girl matching Madeleine's description in Morocco, but this photo is the first documented evidence supporting the theory that Madeleine was kidnapped.

Madeleine McCann disappeared from her parents' apartment in Praia Da Luz, Portugal, on May 3. Although recently being declared suspects in the disappearance of their daughter, Gerry and Kate McCann have repeatedly insisted that they believe Madeleine could still be alive.

Sep 25, 2007

On College Newspapers and 'F**k Bush' Headlines

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By now most of you have heard about J. David McSwane, the editor-in-chief of The Rocky Mountain Collegian, the daily student newspaper at Colorado State University, whose four-word diatribe against President Bush set off a debate about free speech.

The text of the "op-ed" read as follows: "Taser this…F**K BUSH".

As far as I am concerned, David McSwane can print anything he wants at The Rocky Mountain Collegian about President Bush, at least short of advocating assassination. And the College GOP at Colorado State just happens to be right about calling for McSwane's resignation, albeit for the wrong reasons.

David McSwane issued a statement in which he bravely declared the following:
Our intention was to make a statement in support of the First Amendment by exercising the rights therein. This issue, we think, has snowballed into a national controversy because our use of profanity, which can't be stopped or punished by the university.
I remain underwhelmed, though.

To call this exercise in pointless profanity "sophomoric" is to insult immature, pimply-faced high schoolers across the land. McSwane's stunt was asinine, childish, and borderline retarded, and only serves to underscore the decline in American culture. When the F-bomb becomes the standard for cutting edge political debate, we will have descended to the cultural gutter.

Perhaps Mr. McSwane would be better served trading in his journalistic spurs for a stint as a host on MTV or BET, where mindless profanity and stupidity-for-stupidity's sake is a job requirement. After McSwane's inevitable departure - either through resignation, forced removal, or his eventual graduation - the staff at The Rocky Mountain Collegian will have the unfortunate task of cleaning up after his rhetorical defecation, and the world will soon forget J. David McSwane.

But civil discourse in American politics will sink a notch lower, and the degradation of American civilization continues on its slow descent.

Sep 24, 2007

The Quote Shelf

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Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Be not the slave of your own past. Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sep 23, 2007

Neo-Nazi Bill White Declares: "Lynch the Jena 6"

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Bill White and unidentified NSM supporter before the 2005 North Toledo riotBill White and unidentified NSM supporter before the 2005 North Toledo riot

I usually resist the idea to post about neo-Nazi Bill White, with whom I have had the opportunity to study ad nauseum. Yet I was surprised to see that White had the reckless stupidity to call for white racists to lynch the Jena 6, a public declaration to promote violence.

The link to White's website Overthrow.com may be temporarily down, as his ISP pulled the plug today after complaints from Roanoke activists. Still, even with the temporary web hosting issues, White and ANSWP have garnered a tremendous amount of free publicity with their call for the murder of the Jena 6 defendants. Here is the text of the call to violence, which first appeared 20 September 2007:
The American National Socialist Workers Party anxiously awaits the release of the Jena 6 niggers, responsbile for an unprovoked assault on a white high student, so the six can face true justice.

"If these niggers are released or acquitted, we will find out where they live and make sure that white activists and white citizens in Louisiana know it," ANSWP Commander Bill White stated today, "We'll mail directions to their homes to every white man in Louisiana if we have to in order to find someone willing to deliver justice."

The six niggers involved in the crime are currently being held pending trial on felony charges of assault.
White also repeatedly provided readers with names, home addresses, and telephone numbers of the Jena 6 defendants and their relatives.

It would seem to me that White has broken a wide variety of federal and state laws in his call. One might argue that Virginia statute 18.2-408: incitement to riot would certainly apply, as would 18.2-485: conspiring to incite one race to insurrection against another race. The first is a Class 4 felony, while the second is a Class 5 felony.

White's exhortations of violence also seem to be in direct violation of Title 18875-c: Interstate communications, which reads as follows:
Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
Bill White has a long tradition of promoting violence and inciting his followers to commit acts of violence on his various websites. The fact that federal and state officials have never taken action against white has led many in the white nationalist movement to claim that White is really a federal informant.

While not prone to believing in conspiracies, I too wonder why White continues to flout the law seemingly without recourse. World Church of the Creator leader Matt Hale is serving a 40-year prison sentence for less egregious statements than has Bill White.

I trust that federal and state authorities will take the appropriate legal steps to either reign in Bill White, or prosecute him for his acts of virtual terrorism. While I am in general a proponent of free speech, I fail to see how the public call by a white racist to murder six young black men is "protected speech."

UPDATE: Google has blocked Bill White's Overthrow88 Blogspot site. It appears that White is inviolation of at least two of Blogger's Terms of Service:

HATEFUL CONTENT: Users may not publish material that promotes hate toward groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, and sexual orientation/gender identity.

VIOLENT CONTENT: Users may not publish direct threats of violence against any person or group of people.
Many visitors to White's Overthrow blog now get the following message: "This blog is in violation of Blogger's Terms of Service and is open to authors only." I have been able to find some back doors to the blog, but it appears that Google and Blogger have been petitioned to sanction White for calling for the lynching of the Jena 6.

Toledo Architectural Mystery

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I never cease to be amazed at the interesting contacts I make with people around the world as a result of having a Web presence on this blog. Over the past two-and-a-half years my writing has reached people on every continent (yes, including Antartica) and I have enjoyed making many hundreds of virtual acuaintances.

I received an email from a man in Arizona who is seeking answers to a riddle involving local architecture. Here is the text of the email:
Mike,
I was talking with an elderly woman from the Toledo area, who now lives in Arizona. She was telling me about this beautiful old home in the Ottawa Hills area where the Kennedy family had once lived. She described a grand staircase guarded by two Knights in armor, gargoyles on the exterior and an old carriage house. Does this place exist... I thought if it did, someone would have some photos and a story to go along with it. I searched and searched, I came up with zilch. I found your blog on the internet and I thought you would be the one to ask.
So, dear readers, if you have any knowledge of the home or family in question, feel free to chime in.

Sep 22, 2007

Gotta...Lose...Weight

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My expanding girth must be reduced

At my recent physical my physician chastised me for my failure to make some appreciable improvements in my weight. I am currently at 228 pounds, with an ideal weight somewhere between 190 and 200 on my 6'5" frame. I set a goal to lose twenty pounds this year, and to date in 2007 I have managed to see a mere two pounds melt away. Even worse, my triglycerides level (420/mg/dl) was through the roof, and there are fatty deposits in my liver from the excess lipids floating around my bloodstream.

Thus, I am now taking seriously the need to lose weight and improve my physical fitness.

For the past three days I have averaged about 1600 calories, and have integrated some walking, weightlifting, and other exercise into my routine. I have read that 10,000 steps per day is ideal to maintain weight, and 12,000 to 15,000 steps a day will help reduce weight more quickly.

Bananas and apples are my snacks of choice, while I am making a concerted effort to replace fatty foods with healthier fare. I am also focused on eating smaller portions and eating more slowly, as opposed to my typical gorge-like-the-food-is-running-out style.

I am also interested in hearing the success stories of other dieters. For years I was a person with a high metabolism who seemed to be able to eat anything in sight without worrying about weight gain, but in the last seven years I have put on 25 pounds that need to go.

So feel free to weigh in (pun fully intended) on other weight loss tips you might recommend.

On Ramadan, Neighbors, and Good Will

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I have been enjoying Ramadan this year even though I am not a Muslim. We have neighbors who are of Lebanese descent, and they have been practicing the ritual of Iftar by bringing my family fattoush and lamb soup after sundown.

Ours is a curious friendship, as our neighbors struggle with English, while my knowledge of Arabic is quite limited beyond courtesy words such as shukran ("thank you") and cuss words I learned as kid from my Arabic neighbors. Yet there are distinct advantages to the process of making friends with these fine people.

My wife, the mathematics whiz, has helped tutor a few of their children in math, and has helped the family with government forms like taxes. In return, we get a ton of delicious food, advice on mechanical matters, and free lessons in Arabic.

Some might quote David Ricardo and call this an example of comparative advantage, but I prefer to think that each family really benefits from neighborliness and good will more than any material aspects of the relationships that have evolved.

And to Representative Peter King: perhaps the problem is not the number of mosques in the United States, but the fact that too many Americans have been trained to fear their Muslim neighbors. Maybe American Muslims would not be so frightening to people like Peter King if they spent a few minutes getting to know their Islamic neighbors.

Sep 21, 2007

Star Simpson: Idiot Prankster or Absent-Minded Geek?

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Left: Hooded sweatshirt of Star Simpson that created an airport furor

By now most of you have heard about Star Simpson, the 19-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student who walked into Boston's Logan International Airport on Friday with what has been described as a fake bomb strapped to her chest.

Simpson claimed that the black hooded sweatshirt, which featured a computer circuit board with battery-operated, flashing green lights, was actually created to get attention at Career Day.

State police, who were called to Logan by an airport employee, arrested Simpson outside Terminal C and charged her with disorderly conduct and with "possession of a hoax device." Simpson pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on a $750 personal bond.

On Star Simpson's website, she described herself as "an inventor, artist, engineer, and student," as well as a person who loves "to build things and I love crazy ideas." Check, check, check, check, and check to all of the above.

Still, if indeed Simpson did not intend to pull a prank on adrenalinized airport police at Logan, she certainly qualifies as someone who is a bit daft. While one might make a case that Massachusetts police overreacted, Simpson should have enough common sense to recognize that airports in the post-9/11 world have become hyper-vigilant fortresses with security personnel prepared to kill.

So the world awaits, with semi-bated breath, the first post-jail interview with Star Simpson to get a look at the young woman who came close to taking a few 7.62 mm caliber rounds to the head with her choice in fashion today.

Quirky Website of the Week: StreetMattress.com

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I like the concept of regular features on a blog, which is probably indicative of the journalist that lurks within me. Thus, I am proud to announce the creation of yet another reason to return to this site (or an excuse to stay the hell away): Quirky Website of the Week.

This week's site is entitled StreetMatress.com, which features photographs of discarded, transitional, and rotting mattresses in a wide variety of outdoor settings. To date, over 2000 mattress photos have been submitted, representing 42 U.S. states and 60 world countries.

Ohio is currently sixth on the list of discarded mattresses, racking up 206 submissions, none of which appear to have been taken by future vistors to drug rehab centers. Thus, it is a matter of both civic and virtual pride that I implore all Ohioans to start documenting rotting mattresses statewide, and catapult the Buckeye State to the top of the mattress heap.

Sep 20, 2007

Rapid Rhetoric: NE EXTEAT

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Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

ne exeat (nay EX-ee-aht) n. A writ to restrain a person from leaving the state, the country, or the jurisdiction of the court.

The literal Latin translation of this phrase is "let him not go out," and ne exeat regno ("let him not go out of the kingdom") is a writ that prevents someone from leaving the country. The U.S. Code provides for write of ne exeat by federal judges:
Writs of ne exeat may be granted by any justice of the Supreme Court, in cases where they might be granted by the Supreme Court; and by any district judge, in cases where they might be granted by the district court of which he is a judge. But no writ of ne exeat shall be granted unless a suit in equity is commenced, and satisfactory proof is made to the court or judge granting the same that the defendant designs quickly to depart from the United States.

The Quote Shelf

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Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

All the gold which is under or upon the earth is not enough to give in exchange for virtue. -- Plato

Sep 19, 2007

One Afternoon at the Mental Health Clinic

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I have on occasion the opportunity to visit one of the area's largest mental health facilities, which also serves as one of the largest providers of services to some of the poorest segments of the population. As I am not a client at the center, merely the chauffeur for one, I get the privilege of spending a fair amount of time people-watching.

You see quite a variety of people while sitting in the waiting room, ranging from people with manageable disorders such as moderate depression to folks with serious mental health and substance abuse issues.

Now, normally for me the idea of sitting in the physician's waiting room is not appealing, as wireless signals are not often a featured amenity and I find this to be dead, unproductive time. The hour I spent on Monday, though, was a fascinating look at the dysfunctional people who live on the margins of society.

"Nancy" was a 50-year-old cocaine addict who lives at home with her mother, and who has maintained at least three residences in the last year all over town. I know this because the chattering Nancy was wired, either high as a kite or coming down. She paced the floor of the waiting room, complaining out loud to her friend about how long the wait was, and keeping up a steady conversation about her screwed-up life.

"Mother f**kers better give me my prescription today," she said of her antidepressants. "I only have enough to get me through Friday."

Nancy engaged in a stream of consciousness monologue about the thoughts that ran through her head. Cocaine Anonymous (CA) only made her "want to go out and do more crack," while Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was "full of a bunch of old bastards who don't want cross-addicted people spoiling their litle party."

Of special focus of Nancy's ire was the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority. The LMHA, it appears, has been taking too long to meet Nancy's housing needs. Perhaps they should also help her find a new set of golf clubs, too.

"I have my food stamps and my medical, but I have to have a place to live," she said. "If I have to spend another month with my mom I will f**king go crazy."

Of course, the phrases "get a job" and "go through rehab" went through my head, but far be it from me to interrupt a performer on stage.

After Nancy was called back, my attention turned toward a group of people seated across the room. There was a nineteen-year-old mother of two toddlers, both of whom were in tow, and along for the ride were the young woman's brother and grandmother. At first I made a snap mental judgment about people who feel the need to bring the entire family on a routine medical appointment, clogging up the waiting room with screaming kids and loud talking.

After the young woman went back with her brother - and the grandmother began talking to the receptionist - I learned a bit more.

"Reba says she is going to kill herself and her babies, but they won't let me back," she complained. "They say I'm 'not on the list.' How do I get on the list?"

The receptionist explained that the young woman maintains the right to tell the agency who can and cannot go back with her on appointments with the psychiatrist. This did not pacify the grandmother, who reiterated her conviction that the young woman and her children were in danger.

A woman across the room suggested that the grandmother contact Children's Services.

"Children's Services? Hmmmph!" snorted the grandmother. "They are the reason we're here in the first place!"

The young woman's children, meanwhile, wandered around the waiting room while their great-grandmother vented her frustrations. Another person waiting attempted to keep the older child from digging in the planter that housed the plastic tree, while the younger child whined in its stroller.

So I sat and watched these mini-dramas around me, both repelled by and morbidly curious about the sorts of folks for whom life is an endless struggle, and whose concept of the word "normal" must be quite a bit different than mine.

Sep 18, 2007

Unbelievable : Florida Student Tasered, Arrested at John Kerry Forum

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I was disturbed to read about University of Florida student Andrew Meyer, 21, who was Tasered and arrested yesterday after trying to ask questions of U.S. Senator John Kerry during a campus forum.

Meyer was charged with disrupting a public event and placed in the Alachua County jail. He has a hearing this morning before the county court.

Kerry can be heard saying: "That's alright, let me answer his question," before UF police began to drag away Meyer. Members of the audience began clapping as Meyer left; it is unclear if they were clapping because he was dragged away, or if they approved of his questions.

Videos of the incident posted on the Internet show officers pulling Meyer away from the microphone after he asks Kerry about impeaching President George W. Bush and whether he and Bush were both members of the secret society Skull and Bones. Here is one clip, which has been uploaded to YouTube.com:



While Meyer was clearly emotional during his questions and as he began to be led away, I think the police officers escalated this incident. Early on, as Meyer began to talk on the microphone, the officers were already beginning to put their hands on him.

Tasering a student after expressing his political opinions is simply madness, and it is clear during the video that Meyer had agreed to leave the room if the police would have taken their hands from him. When Meyer mentioned the words "Skull and Bones," the police began to restrain him and drag him away. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, or perhaps the Skull and Bones set needs to update its budgeting software.

At no point did I see Meyer engage in any behavior that could be construed as a threat to the police. I trust that university officials will discipline these officers accordingly, as this is indeed a dark day for American academia.

Sep 17, 2007

On the Rise of "Bitch" and "Jackass" Culture

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While waiting in line for a cup of coffee I happened to overhear a conversation between two young women. They were discussing the relative merits of the phenomenon known in a colloquial sense as "being a total bitch."

"Jake says he appreciates that I am such a total bitch," enthused the first young woman. "I tell him straight up what he needs to hear."

Admittedly I was raised in a different generation, and the connotations of the word "bitch" are perhaps different. I suspect my father would have whooped the living bejeesus out of me had I ever used the term "bitch" to describe a human female, and I grew up with this cultural belief deeply ingrained in my psyche.

Yet, even while acknowledging my cultural biases, I sense that there is still an element of personal debasement involved in the embracing of the moniker "total bitch." To my ears, this is a person parroting ethically-challenged nonsense from reality drivel such as MTV's Real World, and I shudder to think of a world in which women are reduced to "total bitches" and men to drunken jackasses. There is even a cosmetic line of products dedicated to women who want to be seen as the Total Bitch.

To my eyes this seems to be more than mere fleeting fashion, and I see evidence that this mindset is manifesting itself at ever younger ages. Mall stores and online retailers are filled with clothing advertising such My Boyfriend is Out of Town, Pillow Talk is Extra, or Bros Before Hoes, and clueless parents think it is "cute" for their daughters to wear Lolita-like outfits and their sons to strut around in boxer shorts like oversexed animals in heat.

I will inevitably get emails and comments that I am being a hopeless prude, or that I ought to get out more, both of which contain elements of truth. Yet over the past two decades I have seen a gradual degradation of human dignity that I think transcends the momentary shock value of Total Bitch T-shirts and Jackass videos. I sense that there is a sort of reverse individualism at work here: in embracing these negative stereotypes and cultural exemplars, we are simultaneously reinforcing the notions of inferior social castes. While I am not ready to argue that this is some vast conspiracy to expand the Lumpenproletariat, at the same time I despair at seeing a generation of youth for whom "cum dumpster" and "bitch magnet" are seen as interpersonal ideals.

The Quote Shelf

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Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
-- Pink Floyd, "Time"

Sep 16, 2007

Gosh - Iraq War Was Really About Oil?

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The blogosphere and Sunday morning talk shows are all abuzz today with the news that former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan acknowledged that the Iraq War was really initiated over concerns about control of oil supplies.

Well, after hearing this news you could have knocked me over with a blue jay feather. After all, President Bush assured me in 2002 and 2003 that the invasion was necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from using his weapons of mass destruction to annhilate people around the world. Then he let me know that Hussein and al-Qaeda were plotting terror together.

And he also told me that the war was a way to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. Freedom and democracy are good things, right?

But now here comes Alan Greenspan: "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows. The Iraq war is largely about oil."

Huh?

Gosh, if that is true, then that means my President has been lying to me all along. I think that Mr. Greenspan is just telling a pack of lies to sell his new book, because I cannot reconcile these disclosures with the President's speeches. Why, if that were true, we would at least have $1.30 per gallon gas here in America, right? Yes, that crazy old Alan Greenspan must be an al-Qaeda plant or something, and we'd better haul him off to Guantanamo Bay before he causes any more trouble.

Sep 15, 2007

Fixing an iPod Hard Drive Problem

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I began to experience problems with my iPod, and my technologically-savvy wife began to search the Web for ideas. It appeared that there was some sort of hard drive problem with the iPod, and we considered sending it off to Apple for repair.

Then my wife came across a page on wikiHow that recommended smacking your iPod to fix it. Voila: after a few well-placed smacks she managed to get my iPod up and running.

I am not guaranteeing this method will fix every iPod, but it has been 24 hours since the smack-down, and my iPod is the very picture of excellent performance.

From the wikiHow page:

1. Turn your iPod on. Make sure the battery is charged up enough to turn it on.

2. The sad iPod or sad folder should pop up on the screen.

3. Put your ear up against the iPod and you will hear the clicking sound inside (it sounds like a car trying to start up, whenever it takes a few tries turning the keys).

4. While the iPod is still making these sounds, take the iPod in one hand, open the palm of your other hand, and smack the narrow side of the iPod against the palm of your other hand. [WARNING: This method is proven to work as an effortless way to repair iPod hard drive misalignment, but it may result in future hardware problems. This is only a TEMPORARY solution to fixing an iPod, and the problem may come back (experiences vary). Other methods of reviving a dead iPod are available below and may be much safer]

5. Continue smacking it on its side for at least 6 times, while the iPod is trying to turn on. The key is to loosen the hard drive.

6. After this is should resume normal function. If it doesn't, read on.
Anyways, it worked for me, and perhaps it will also work for you, and then you can break out the wine coolers in celebration.

Rapid Rhetoric: DECASTICH

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Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

decastich (DECK-uh-stitch) n. a poem containing ten lines.

A decastich can be used with or without a rhyming scheme, so long as there are ten lines per stanza. The word is derived from the Greek prefix deca- ("ten") and sti'chos ("line," "row").

If you like to rhyme and compose ten-line poems, consider developing the poem known as the décima, which is a Latin American poetry form that follows the rhyming scheme A-B-B-A-A-C-C-D-D-C .

Here is an English example of the décima that was composed by Ina Cumpiano for the website The Puerto Rican Décima:

Play me a décima, friend.
Play me a song from the island.
Play me the sea and the sand…
When cuatro and sunlight blend
I’m a sick man on the mend.
Where, in the tree branch, coquí
Sings his two notes in high C,
There where the sun’s a bright mango
And a plena more real than a tango,
Play, borinqueño, for me.

Sep 14, 2007

On Grey Skies, Melancholia, and Life Cycles

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The dark grey clouds that rolled into Northwest Ohio this afternoon matched my melancholic state of mind today. I'm not quite depressed, nor am I particularly anxious, but rather in something of a creative funk.

I have stayed busy today, catching up on a few errands and some reading, but the writing muse never arrived. I have days when cranking out even a paragraph of the most perfunctory prose is a chore, and I have learned not to stress much when the words are few in number.

Better to move on to other activities.

And, really, how could we appreciate those days when everything runs smoothly - or when our ability to solve problems and express our creativity is at its peak - if there were not grey days? It is when we view ourselves as most vulnerable and incompetent that we recognize our inner talents.

Just as the grey clouds will give way to sun later this weekend, my melancholia will soon dissolve and be replaced with creative vitality.

But I still have nothing else to say...

Check Out This Handsome Dog!

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Pictured on your left is Attica, a one-year-old mixed-breed dog we are fostering. He was named this by volunteers at Planned Pethood because he was picked up from the Fulton County dog warden on the anniversary of the Attica prison riots, but if you adopted him you could call him anything you wanted.

Attica is a bit shy at first, but he warms within a few hours. This 16-pound handsome pooch gets along well with children as well as other dogs, and we are working on housebreaking him. He is a sweet boy who just needs a place to call home, and he will be at the Dog Adoptathon at the PetSmart in Spring Meadows this weekend.

For more information on adopting rescue dogs, see the Planned Pethood website.

Sep 13, 2007

Gas Contest Winners

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Left: Speedway station at Secor and Laskey, Thursday May 24, 2007

This is an update on our contest on gas prices, which just finished its fourth month. Contestants were bidding for a $20 Speedway gas card that I will now award to the person closest to the highest pump price between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Second place will be a book of my choosing, based upon what I think the winner's interests are. I guarantee that this will not be a book on how to assemble a jigsaw puzzle, though.

So far the highest price I have seen for 87 octane is $3.46 which occurred in late May (I can't remember the date; sue me). Here are the winning contestants and their entries:

Michael D. (Toledo) - $3.59
Screaming Nutcase (Toledo) - $3.65

I will contact the winners via email to arrange for delivery of their winning bid. Congratulations, and thanks to everyone for playing!

Sep 12, 2007

I'll Chose Luck Over Skill Any Day

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Wednesdays are a difficult day for me, as I work in one capacity or another for about thirteen hours. As a result, I tend to be a bit scatter-brained on this day, and I make mistakes like leaving my headlights on for four hours.

Like tonight, when I walked to my car after teaching my Wednesday night class.

As soon as I spotted my car, which is a twelve-year-old Hyundai, I was sure that I was in trouble. The headlights have a shutoff feature for nincompoops like me, but I figured that four hours with the running lights just a-blazing away could not be good for the dusty five-year-old battery in this car.

Yet the car started without even a moment's hesitation.

Thus, the old adage of New York Yankees ace Lefty Gomez applies here: "I'd rather be lucky than good."

The Quote Shelf

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Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

I have gained this by philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law. -- Aristotle

Sep 11, 2007

On Chicago, "Dialogue (Part I & II)," and Iraq

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One of my all-time favorite songs is the two-part jazz-rock musical conversation "Dialogue" by Chicago, which was released on the 1972 LP Chicago V.

For those of you too young to remember the song, or who destroyed too many brain cells in the 1960s and 1970s, here is a clip of the band performing "Dialogue" live in 1975:



Trading lead vocals in the song are the late guitarist Terry Kath and bassist Peter Cetera, who skillfully bring to life a discussion between friends about war. Kath's character is a somewhat pessimistic, quasi-liberal person who questions the merits of war in a time of widespread hunger, while Cetera's character is a more optimistic, pro-establishment type who "always thinks that everything is fine."

What I always appreciated most about the song is that neither the war protester nor the government supporter are demonized. Neither of them claims to have the answers to the world's problems, and each recognizes the validity of the other's perspective despite their disagreement:
Kath: Don't it make you angry
The way the war is dragging on?

Cetera: Well, I hope the President knows
What he's into, I don't know.
It would have been easy for the band to turn the Cetera character into a blind fool who keeps his head in the metaphorical sand, but instead they chose to capture this moment of Platonic dialogue in a manner that treats both characters with dignity, even when the position held by the pro-war Cetera is untenable. Part II ends with Kath and Cetera singing about changing the world and saving its children.

And yet, as I listen to the rhetoric used by the opposing camps in the debate over the Iraq War, I become discouraged. The discourse between those who support the war and those who oppose it has eroded to the point where rational and reciprocal dialogue no longer occurs. True, this was also the case at the height of the debate over the Vietnam War, but a part of me still believes that humanity can rise above gutter-level rhetoric.

Believe it, people. We can change the world.

The Quote Shelf

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Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Music is everybody's possession. It's only publishers who think that people own it. -- John Lennon

Sep 10, 2007

Convictus Interruptus: Larry Craig Files Papers to Change Plea

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Mug shot of US Senator Larry Craig following his arrest in a restroom sex stingU.S. Senator Larry Craig filed papers with a Minnesota court today asking that he be allowed to take back the guilty plea he made after his arrest in a men's restroom sex sting, saying he is innocent but that he was "anxious" and "deeply panicked" during the interrogation.

"Senator Craig has never changed or recanted his assertion that he did not engage in improper conduct, and, at the time the plea offer was drafted, both the police officers and prosecutors were aware that he steadfastly denied engaging in any improper conduct," reads the affidavit, the full text of which is available at The Smoking Gun.

The prosecutor in the case will oppose Craig's filing, said Patrick Hogan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

"We will oppose the motion filed today by the senator and defend the case vigorously in court," Hogan said.

Under Minnesota law, withdrawal of a guilty plea may be permitted by a court if "necessary to correct a manifest injustice". Craig’s lawyers maintain that because the senator did not consult with a lawyer and never entered his plea before a judge in open court, he was never made aware of the potential consequences of his guilty plea – or of the potential for humiliation if news of the conviction became public knowledge.

Larry Craig knew full well the implications of his plea, and the fact that reporters had been digging into his sexual activity in the months preceding the arrest in the airport restroom is no coincidence. While perhaps the sensationalism attached to this case violates Craig's privacy, at the same time it is difficult to accept the notion that Craig is somehow a "victim." Craig would better serve his constituents by immediately resigning from the Senate and putting this all behind him.

Of course, the fact that he has retained high-priced attorneys to help him out of the mess he created for himself suggests that Craig fully intends to make an embarassing situation much worse.

On General Petraeus, Troops Surges, and Iraqi Violence

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General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, told a joint session of the House foreign affairs and armed services committees today that the United States would start to withdraw troops later this month with the goal of returning to pre-surge levels by summer 2008.

"I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve," Petraeus told members of Congress, while acknowledging that the situation in the Iraq remains "complex, difficult and sometimes downright frustrating."

Petraeus provided members of Congress with a a series of slides on progress in Iraq, and he claimed that the troop surge has led to reduced violence in Baghdad and Anbar provinces.

Unfortunately, even by Petraeus's own figures, the most significant decreases in sectarian violence and civilian deaths occurred in December 2006 and January 2007. New troops from the US surge did not begin arriving until February 2007, and the only way Petraeus can claim credit for these decreases is if he wants us to believe that the mere threat of new troops scared insurgents out of Anbar and Baghdad.

For those of you seeking some balance to the happy-face spin that Petraeus and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker provided Congress today, I suggest that you read "Security in Iraq still elusive" by Leila Fadel of McClatchey's Baghdad bureau. For those of you too jaded to care any more, or who accept at face value the disinformation being dished out by General Petraeus, feel free to return to your fire table, plasma television set, and stainless steel refrigerator with the spotless glass doors.

Book Review: The Pity of War

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Front cover of Niall Ferguson's 'The Pity of War'Ferguson, Niall

New York: Basic Books, 1999


Niall Ferguson is a Scottish-born economic historian who is currently the Laurence Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, and he has written numerous books on European imperialism and twentieth century warfare. The Pity of War delineates what Ferguson describes as ten “myths” about the First World War, and the author attempted to disprove these statements largely through the use of economic data. In addition, Ferguson made use of counterfactual history throughout the text, suggesting a number of possible continental futures had the European powers chosen paths different from those that led to the outbreak of war in 1914.

The book is organized in thematic fashion, with most of the chapters dedicated to one of Ferguson’s particular war “myths.” The author provided a wealth of footnotes for his sources, which tended more toward the secondary than the primary, and drew most heavily from English and German writers. There is an impressive 24-page bibliography for further reading, and the book contains quite a few charts and tables, as well as previously-unpublished photographs from soldiers who participated in the First World War.

The first historiographical debate Ferguson took on in The Pity of War is the idea that the First World War erupted due to a European cult of militarism in the decades prior to 1914. This view was popularized by American President Woodrow Wilson, and was often a component of anti-German propaganda, especially those works that focused on the prominence of Prussian military leadership in the German government. While acknowledging the widespread presence in Europe of militarist literature in the decades leading up to the war, Ferguson argued that political and electoral trends in Europe instead suggest that anti-militarism was a more prominent feature of European politics:
Militarism, then, was far from being the dominant force in European politics on the eve of the Great War. On the contrary: it was in political decline, and not the least as a direct result of democratization… overtly anti-militarist socialist parties were in the electoral ascendant in most of the future combatant countries.


Kaiser Wilhelm IILeft: German Kaiser Wilhelm II

The author next confronted the idea that European imperialism was a contributory factor in the outbreak of hostilities in 1914. This view can be most prominently found in Vladimir Lenin’s 1916 Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, and Ferguson wasted little time dismissing European imperialism as a significant cause of warfare. Instead, argued, the author, European bankers and industrialists feared the eruption of war on the European continent, as war “threatened to bankrupt most if not all of the major acceptance houses engaged in financing international trade.” Ferguson argued that Britain, as the preeminent imperial power, instead often appeased imperial rivals such as France, Russia, and the United States, and Germany’s position as a minor imperial player posed little threat to the British Empire.

Much of the blame for the eruption of the First World War, argued Ferguson, should be laid at the feet of British politicians. He noted that British military planners as early as 1905 made preparations for naval and military support for France in the event of a Franco-German war. He also cited 1912 British diplomatic documents that Belgian neutrality would have been disregarded by the British in the event of a continental war, and argued that “if Germany had not violated Belgian neutrality in 1914, Britain would have.” Moreover, argued Ferguson, the uncertainty about the British position on the possibility of a continental war (especially what the author termed as Sir Edward Grey’s “Germanophobia and zeal for the Entente with France” that was in opposition with Liberals in Parliament) should be considered a primary cause of the First World War. The Germans, Ferguson maintained, felt compelled to engage in a pre-emptive strike as a result of the lack of clear British intentions in the months leading up to the war. On a related note, Ferguson dismissed the idea of the arms race as a primary cause of war, arguing that Britain and the Allies had a decisive edge in naval and land forces prior to the war, and that it was the fact that Germany had lost the arms race that caused German leaders to fear encirclement by stronger European powers.

Ferguson dismissed the long held idea that the outbreak of war in 1914 was greeted by widespread public enthusiasm, arguing that there is a “growing body of evidence which qualifies, if it does not wholly refute, the thesis of mass bellicosity.” He noted that many German leaders, including Helmuth von Moltke and Kaiser Wilhelm II, were quite pessimistic about Germany’s chances during the war. Moreover, antiwar protesters such as philosopher Bertrand Russell were subject to arrest and incarceration for publishing and orating against the war, leading Ferguson to deduce that wartime prosecution of antiwar activists is evidence of a larger movement against the war.

1915 Photograph of British economist John Maynard KeynesLeft: British economist John Maynard Keynes

Ferguson seemed to express an intense dislike for John Maynard Keynes, whose 1919 Economic Consequences of the Peace blasted the Treaty of Versailles. In particular, the author felt a need to include salacious anecdotes on the sexual identity of Keynes, arguing that after the outbreak of war the noted economist’s “sex life went into decline, perhaps because the boys he liked to pick up in London all joined up.” Ferguson even went so far as to speculate that Keynes’s anti-reparations position at Versailles was due to a homosexual attraction to German negotiator Carl Melchior. The unusual personal vitriol toward Keynes detracts from Ferguson’s analysis of Economic Consequences of the Peace and other postwar writings of Keynes, and suggests that the author’s avowed neo-conservative views cloud his ability to dissect the writings of the liberal economic icon in an objective fashion.

Ferguson’s economic analysis of German reparations and their effects on the postwar German economy leaves much to be desired. He argued that German payments made between 1920 and 1923 ranged from four to seven percent of total German national income in the period, and that this figure was comparable to French reparations after the Franco-Prussian War. Ferguson conveniently glossed over the fact that these payments represented roughly one-third of all Reich expenditures during this period, arguing that the Germans should have raised taxes in order to finance the reparations debt. This simplistic argument ignores the fact that postwar Germany sat precipitously between the diametrically opposed political poles of communism and fascism in the 1920s, and that a German government that sought to pass off the war reparations on an already-beleaguered German population would be committing political suicide. Ferguson also pays little attention to the fact that the postwar German Reichstag was a brand new experiment in democracy and federal government, and his suggestion that reparations were simply a matter of passing the proper legislation is a naïve exercise in counterfactual speculation that overlooks the fragility of Weimar democracy.

The Pity of War is a useful text for non-specialist scholars looking for historiographical background on the causes of the First World War, as Ferguson frequently referenced historical debates in his analysis. Historians of the war, however, will find little in the way of novel approaches to these debates, and Ferguson often comes across in this text as a writer more interested in pushing political agendas than in furthering historical analysis.