Dec 31, 2007

"Sorry, Bro": Drunk Kills Five, Injures Three

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Left: Image of crash scene by Lori King/Toledo Blade

Those of you who plan to imbibe on New Year's Eve ought to read the Toledo Blade account of the drunk driver who killed five members of a Maryland family Sunday night. 24-year-old Michael P. Gagnon, of Adrian MI, drove the wrong way on I-280, smashing into a minivan.

Dead on the scene were Bethany Griffin, 36, Jordan Griffin, 10, Lacie Burkman, 7, Haley Burkman, 10, while Vadi Griffin, only six months old, was pronounced dead at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center. Danny Griffin, 36, Sidney Griffin, 8, and Beu Burkman, 8, remain hospitalized.

In typical drunk-driver-accident-causing fashion, Michael Gagnon survived and was walking the scene around complaining of jaw pain after the crash. He is expected to be released from the hospital in the next day, at which point Gagnon will be charged with five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide. He will likely be facing punishment for first degree felonies under ORC 2903.06, which brings penalties up to 10 years in prison and up to a $20,000 fine on each count. The penalties increase if Gagnon has prior alcohol- or drug-related offenses on his record.

Gagnon registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.254, which is over three times the legal limit of .08 in Ohio. Compounding Gagnon's stupidity, of course, was that the idiot decided to get liquored up at the Rodeo Bar in Oregon, OH, meaning that he had a 35-40 mile trip back to his home in Adrian, MI, if that was indeed his destination. News reports indicated that Gagnon's brother Samuel called the intoxicated driver minutes before the crash, only to be told by drunken schlep: "Sorry, bro."

"Sorry, bro"? Drunkenness aside, Gagnon is the epitome of the selfish drunk, who puts his own inebriated impulses in front of the lives of other motorists.

Gagnon leaves in his drunken wake the bodies of five innocent victims, with another three injured survivors. Countless other lives of the people who knew the victims will be affected by the tragedy, and every person with a conscience who reads about this horror will shudder at the utter senselessness of the asinine choices of Michael Gagnon.

Yet, if this tragedy manages to remain lodged in the head of a few dozen drunks this New Year's Eve, perhaps other fatal accidents will be averted. Maybe - just maybe - there can be a positive ripple effect from the incomprehensible, deadly idiocy of Michael Gagnon, and perhaps unknown future lives will be saved by inebriated persons who act in a responsible fashion and hand over their keys to a sober friend.

Dec 30, 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.

When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere. -- François de La Rochefoucauld

Dec 29, 2007

Quirky Websites - The Stained Apron

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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.

I worked for the better part of three decades in the food service business, working in almost every conceivable position from dishwasher to owner. It was as a server in a high-end restaurant a few years back that I really began to understand the business in a way that I previously had not.

The Stained Apron is a website dedicated to "the venting of food servers' frustrations and a harsh education of the dining public," and spending some time on the site will provide people who have never served food to others quite a few insights.

Sure, there are a handful of irate servers whose anger drives them into inappropriate actions of retribution, but these are a small minority. Beyond tales of server vengeance, you can read about celebrity diners, sadistic managers, and horror stories of evil customers. The site is a source of humor and pathos for current and former servers, as well as an eye-opener for clueless guests.

Dec 28, 2007

What Next For Pakistan?

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Funeral procession for Benazir Bhutto (بینظیر بھٹو), former prime minister of PakistanLeft: Funeral procession for Benazir Bhutto (بینظیر بھٹو), former prime minister of Pakistan

While sitting in the waiting room at my doctor's office yesterday, I continued my obsessive viewing of the news channels and their coverage of the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto. An older woman sat down, glanced at the television, and asked me if "these are the ones who want to build a nuclear plant?"

I informed her that she was thinking of Iran, and she chatted away in her blissful ignorance about world politics and the holidays and her husband's illness. I half-heartedly participated in the conversation, keeping one eye on the scenes of chaos, violence, and carnage being broadcast from some of Pakistan's major cities.

I did not see the need to worry this person about the dozens of nuclear warheads that Pakistan possesses.

Now, admittedly, I woke up this morning in a bit of a funk, and perhaps the pessimistic assessment I am posting reflects my cynical state of mind. Yet there is little in the way of positive news that I can see about the future of Pakistan, and I suspect a Pakistani civil war might be the least of our fears.

The possibility of the fracturing of the Pakistan state has never seemed more likely than at the present moment, and the Sindh province might become the center of a secession movement. Much of the country's industrial and commercial wealth is centered in Sindh, especially in the sprawling megalopolis that is Karachi. This modern city, with its millions of middle class citizens, lies in sharp contrast to the considerable poverty and religious traditionalism found in the northwest regions of Pakistan.

The Pakistani military might be strong enough to stave off the immediate turmoil that seems to be sweeping through Pakistan, but my reading of the geopolitical tea leaves leads me to believe that sections of the country are pulling in completely different directions. The killing of Benazir Bhutto was much more than just another example of Pakistani political violence; despite her flaws, Bhutto represented a vision of Western secularism that some powerful factions in Pakistani politics reject.

Lurking in the background, too, is the simmering dispute with India over the fate of the contested Kashmir region. India and Pakistan - both nuclear armed powers - have fought a series of small wars over the territory, and recent saber-rattling between the two nations does not bode well for the maintenance of peace in light of the current political chaos in Pakistan.

Also bouncing around my head is the historic parallel between the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and a similar act of political violence committed against an unpopular Archduke in 1914. My greatest fear is that this killing in Rawalpindi will be the spark that ignites a global conflagration that will make the First and Second World Wars resemble playground disputes.

Dec 27, 2007

Book Review: I Am America (And So Can You!)

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Colbert, Stephen
New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2007


Those of you who are in withdrawal due to the cessation of production of the Comedy Central program The Colbert Report during the writers' strike will find your fix in Stephen Colbert's first tome. I Am America (And So Can You!) is a highly entertaining, occasionally off-color, look at the modern day United States, coupled with Colbert's answers to the problems facing the country.

Colbert, for those unfamiliar with his shtick, parodies conservative television hosts like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. The real genius of Stephen Colbert, though, is that viewers can never really be sure when Colbert is putting them on, and the line between parody and persona is often blurred. The book is filled with nuggets of reactionary wisdom such as this:
If there's a bigger contributor to left-wing elitist brainwashing than colleges and universities, I'd like to see it. There's an old saying, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Which means a lot of knowledge must be a really dangerous thing.
Be sure also to read the text in the margins and the footnotes of I Am America, for some of the funniest material appears here, some of which parallels the Colbert Report's "Wørd" segments. Colbert's book provides several hours of hilarity, and if you limit yourself to ten pages a day, you might survive until The Colbert Report returns to the airwaves.

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.

The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act. A general association takes place, and common interest produces common security. -- Tom Paine

Dec 26, 2007

Red-Light Camera Protest in West Toledo

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Protest against red-light cameras in West Toledo (Toledo, OH) As I have mentioned before, there lurks deep within me the makings of either an anarchist or a libertarian, and when I saw this spontaneous protest against Toledo's red-light camera program, I must admit that I smiled. This is also a less destructive method of protest, unlike the actions of the Knoxville man who allegedly shot a red-light camera after he was photographed by the device.

This particular red-light camera is mounted at the corner of Secor and Laskey Roads in West Toledo, and is designed to document the actions of motorists driving north on Secor. My guess is that the creator of the protest sign was likely the recipient of an automated ticket, but the concerns about the infringement upon civil liberties of motorists admittedly are shared by many people who have never been ticketed in such a manner.

The Toledo program is expected to generate revenue of $2.2 million in revenue if a proposal by the Toledo Police Department is implemented. The plan calls for additional cameras and an increase in the ticket for a red-light camera infraction from $95 to $120. This is quite a bit of money drained from the local economy, and consumers who might be buying a new HD television set or a plasma tv lift instead send off checks to the government.

While this protest is hardly akin to the greatest moments in American political protest, it is indeed heartening to see individuals speaking out against the encroachment of the state upon the rights of citizens, especially in the crass, money-grubbing extortion known as Toledo's red-light camera program. Of course, I should also add that the sign-hanger could also face a $75 fine in Toledo for posting this illegal sign, as Toledo is quickly becoming the capital of the legislative creation of penny-ante infractions and misdemeanors.

Rapid Rhetoric: RAMAGE

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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.

ramage (RAM-edge, RAHM-edge) n. the branches or boughs of a tree or large bush; the warbling of birds gathered in foliage; adj. the state of being wild or untamed.

Ramage comes to the English language from the Latin word ramus ("branch"), and, though somewhat obsolete, is most typically used to describe landscape and scenery. The following passage from the 1921 novel Scaramouche, by Italian writer Rafael Sabatini, illustrates the word "ramage" in rhetorical use:
And so, within a few minutes, all arrangements were concluded, and you behold that sinisterly intentioned little group of four assembled in the afternoon sunshine on the bowling-green behind the inn. They were entirely private, screened more or less from the windows of the house by a ramage of trees, which, if leafless now, was at least dense enough to provide an effective lattice.
Ramage is also a fairly common family surname, leading one to suspect that there is some relationship between ramage and the concept of a family tree.

Dec 25, 2007

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Joyous Eid ul-Adha

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From my family to yours, may all of you enjoy a happy and healthy holiday season, and may 2008 be a year of prosperity and blessings.

Dec 24, 2007

Meet Lilliput, an Affenpinscher Who Needs a Good Home

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Lilliput is a 15-pound, 4-year-old Affenpinscher mix, which is German for “monkey dog.” Her wiry black hair is easy to maintain and requires hardly any grooming. A bath and a brush is all she needs to keep that monkey hair tamed. Lilliput, by the way, is the country of the Lilliputians in Gulliver's Travels, but she responds to just about any name spoken in a warm tone.

Lilliput is cautious at first about meeting new people and she takes a while to warm up. Within a few minutes, though, she likes anyone who wants to pet her and talk sweetly to her. Lilliput will sit in your lap or snuggle on the couch with you, and she also rides well in a car. If you hold a treat over her head, Lilliput will dance on two legs across the room.

Lilliput was a stray and ran loose around a trailer park all summer long. When the weather turned especially cold, she made a nest under one of the trailers. Finally, a resident in the park decided Lilliput needed help and called Planned Pethood. Since she has been in a foster home, she has not demonstrated inappropriate chewing behavior, she is housebroken, and she knows a number of basic commands. Lilliput plays well with other dogs, big and small, but she will snip at other dogs when they invade her space. Lilliput would probably best thrive in a home with older children and calmer dogs.

If you are interested in adopting Lilliput, be aware that she will be quite shy and reserved for the first few days. However, our experience has been that Lilliput comes out of her shell once she learns the new routines of the house, and she is a sweet dog who is eager to please the people around her. Any abuse that Lilliput might have suffered does not seem to interfere with her ability to be a loving dog.

For more information on adopting Lilliput, or any other rescue dogs, see the Planned Pethood website. If you would like to see Lilliput in person, she will be at the Adoptathon at the PetSmart in Spring Meadows on Saturday, December 29, from 11 am to 2 pm.

On Blogging and the Renaissance of the Essay

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One of my favorite forms of writing has long been the humble essay, which allows me the freedom to explore in written form an idea that has been bouncing around my head. At times I use the essay as the basis for a longer academic article, while at other times this method of writing simply clears out some of the cranial cacophony.

Pundits over the past decade have increasingly bemoaned the death of the essay as a literary genre, and these funereal pronouncements on the demise of the essay have not been without evidence. Certainly essayists find fewer outlets for publication in an era in which an news-addicted public craves short political and entertainment articles and op-ed pieces, and the carnage of print media that will follow in the wake of the digital revolution will reduce further the number of periodicals willing to publish essayists.

Yet I perceive opportunity in the digital crisis, and I think that the rise of blogging offers hope for those concerned about the future of essays as a genre. The well-written blog post, like the essay, tends toward a narrow topical focus, and the relative brevity of essays is in keeping with the shorter word count typically found in blog posts.

More important than the structural similarities between essays and blog posts is the ease with which essayists can adapt to a blog format from traditional print media. The lag time between conception and publication is all but eliminated, and time formerly spent licking stamps and hounding editors can be better used in the development of new material.

Certainly essayist may find themselves constrained in their art by the necessity of developing some familiarity with programming languages like HTML, or by the need for bloggers to be cognizant of the role of graphic arts in a high-quality blog, but a writer simultaneously can reach a sizeable, global audience within months of designing a blog. In my own experience, my work has been viewed by nearly a half-million site visitors in two years, and I have achieved a greater level of distinction through my blog than had I simply followed the traditional print routes of publication.

And - in all honesty - I have not spent much time in the act of shameless self-promotion with this site as I might have; a writer with more time and a larger ego could turn a similar site into a Web powerhouse with daily effort at site promotion. Blogging, thus, offers essayists significant opportunities to hone their craft and, more importantly, bring about a rebirth of the essay.

Dec 23, 2007

Westhaven Group, Redux

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While driving down Tremainsville Road, I could not resist taking this photo, which makes a statement of pathetic irony about the toppled house of cards that once was the real estate empire of John Ulmer and the Westhaven Group.

For those unfamiliar with the business model of the Westhaven Group, the company used investor monies to buy dilapidated properties, make modest improvements, and sell them to sub-prime buyers at double-digit interest rates. The company, later found to have committed securities fraud, had $16 million in assets and owed some 280 investors $28 million by the time it was shut down by the state in 2005.

Court-appointed receivers Gerald Kowalski and John Czarnecki, in their report to the state, noted that "insolvency, new investor money financing payment to earlier investors, high rate of return, commingling of funds, eventual collapse of the enterprise" were indicative of "the classic Ponzi scheme."

I'm not sure what the Ulmers are up to these days, and for all I know they might be checking out North Carolina land for sale. John Ulmer still has his website that touts his seminars, and Ulmer bills himself as "the #1 mentoring coach in the nation."

The headquarters of the Westhaven Group, which was once a nursing home facility, sits in West Toledo waiting for a buyer, slowly falling into disrepair as investors hope a few more nickels roll in to cut their considerable losses from disgraced moguls John and Scot Ulmer. Cold winter winds made the empty flagpole out front clang like a tolling death knell for the company, and I walked back to my car feeling like I was observing a train wreck.

Dec 22, 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.

I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.
-- Bill Watterson

Dec 21, 2007

Rapid Rhetoric: TABLE D'HÔTE

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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.

table d'hôte (TAHB-leh-DOH) n. a communal table for the guests at a hotel or restaurant; a full-course meal that offers a limited number of choices at a fixed price in a restaurant or hotel.

The term table d'hôte has a literal translation from French as "table of the host," and the opposite of table d'hôte is à la carte. I have seen the term before, but most recently came across table d'hôte in the novel The Gambler, by nineteenth century Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky:
In Paris, anyway in my hotel, they began to treat me much more attentively when I told every one about my passage-at-arms with the abbé. The fat Polish pan, the person most antagonistic to me at table d’hôte, sank into the background.

Dec 20, 2007

On Recycling, Resistance to Change, and Apathy

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Left: Two weeks' worth of recycled items at Château Brooks

(Toledo, OH) I have long been an advocate of recycling efforts, which no doubt reflects the fact that I grew up after the environmental movement became influential in American politics and society. I dutifully recycle containers, cardboard, and paper, marking my calendar to keep track of the bi-weekly pass of the Toledo recycling truck. I mulch my grass clippings, recycle used batteries, and even mix in food scraps to my compost when I remember, or when our wily canines have failed in their panhandling efforts.

Since we began curbside recycling in Toledo, I have noticed that our weekly trash production is about half of its former levels. It is rare that we fill up all three of our 32-gallon containers, and many weeks see our large family setting only two cans at the street.

I say this not to applaud my own insignificant contribution to a reduction in the 251 million tons of solid waste dumped in municipal landfills each year, but rather to examine the reluctance of many Americans to recycle. In my neighborhood this morning, less than 25 percent of my neighbors bothered to put out recycling containers this week, and most of these houses provided ample evidence that they put forth no effort to recycle.

This is especially surprising in Toledo, where non-recyclers pay a higher rate for trash pickup. A non-recycling homeowner pays an extra $30 per year as compared with a resident who signs up for the city program, which provides an additional incentive beyond lofty ideals about reducing municipal solid waste (MSW), trash incineration, and groundwater and air pollution.

Left: Annual U.S. municipal solid waste production trends; click to enlarge

Toledoans, however, seem fairly typical in their anemic efforts to recycle. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the recycling rates of the major components of MSW demonstrate that there is a great deal of room for improvement:

Auto batteries: 99.0%
Steel Cans: 62.9%
Yard Trimmings: 62.0%
Paper and Paperboard: 51.6%
Aluminum Beer and Soft Drink Cans: 45.1%
Tires: 34.9%
Plastic Soft Drink Bottles: 30.9%
HDPE Milk and Water Bottles: 31.0%
Glass Containers: 25.3%
Yet some combination of apathy and resistance to change continues to plague American consumers, as the per capita generation of waste moved from 2.7 pounds per person per day in 1960 to 4.6 pounds per person per day in 2006.

But heck: what do I know? I mean, people are busy and stuff, and recycling takes, like, time and stuff, right? Who wants to rinse out milk cartons and place newspapers in bins when they could be popping a Justin Timberlake CD in their stereo cabinet, or watching exciting installments of "Deal or No Deal?" Why keep a bunch of old inkjet cartridges, cell phones, and AA batteries laying around when you can just toss them in the garbage and forget about them?

Sheesh.

Dec 19, 2007

Quirky Websites: Fast Food - Ads vs. Reality

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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.

The designers of the site Fast Food: Ads vs. Reality took it upon themselves to procure advertising photos of a variety of fast food items. These folks then visited the respective restaurants, purchased one of the advertised items, and took photos of the purchased products.

Let's just say that there is a decided gap between what has been promised and what has been delivered, but we all knew that, right? Anyways, this site is a good way to kill at least 60 seconds, and might just prove to be the deterrent that keeps you from succumbing to one of those late-night fast food spots, and later needing to make use of medical jewelry due to your lifestyle-oriented health conditions.

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.

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. -- Andre Gide

Dec 18, 2007

On Mike Huckabee, Religious Imagery, and Politics as Usual

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Mike Huckabee and the controversial cross ad The media is having a feeding frenzy over the new advertisement by presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, which includes a Merry Christmas message from the former Arkansas governor declares that "what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ." You can follow this link to see the Mike Huckabee ad with the purported cross in its entirety.

Typical of the responses is that of Bill Donahue, the president of the Catholic League.

"The whole idea is to give the appearance of a cross," Donahue said. "This is just injecting religion into politics even too far for guys like me... Every other word out of [Huckabee's] mouth is that 'I'm Christian.'"

My suspicion is that the Huckabee people knew exactly what they were doing, and that they purposely illuminated the window in a cross-like fashion in a rope-a-dope attempt to make Huckabee look like the victim of Christian-bashing. I imagine that a response from a Huckabee spokesperson will go something like this:

"No, we did not intend to put a 'subliminal' cross in the ad, and the Mike's opponents are once again just trying to smear him for his faith. But yes, now that you mention it, the window does look like a cross, and Mike Huckabee is proud that he is a Christian. Next question."

I think that this ad is political brilliance (while also being an example of shameless pimping of one's faith), and that the chorus of condemnation in the media is merely a group of suckered pundits who have yet to realize that they took the bait.

Left: Montage of major American politicians depicted in a religious manner; click for full-size image

Huckabee, of course, is hardly the first politician to use religious imagery as a way of subtly appealing to voters for whom religion is a primary factor in their decisions about candidates. Pictured on the left is a montage of political heavyweights from both sides of the aisle whose photographs and portraits make them look, well, kind of holy.

Admittedly, some of the shots have as much to do with the motivations and intentions of the individual photographers, but I have yet to hear politicians complain when their public images contain sneaky halos, Stars of David, or crosses.

Huckabee, thus, is merely the latest in a long line of politicians who have used their religious faith as a political tool to sway voters. People like Bill Donahue should take a deep breath and recognize that this is, unfortunately, how the presidential campaign game is played.

Sickening? Certainly. Sacrilegious? Possibly. Effective? You bet.

Dec 17, 2007

DVD Review: The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

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The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamaraSony Pictures, 2003, 107 minutes

The Fog of War was released in December 2003, and I missed the film when it briefly hit the theaters. I had forgotten about this documentary, was directed by Errol Morris, until I came across it this evening at the public library.

The film intersperses interviews with Robert S. McNamara, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense who some have called the "architect of the Vietnam War." Certainly there is an element on the part of McNamara to spin his role in the war, but one gets the sense in watching this film that McNamara made good faith (though unsuccessful) efforts to steer President Lyndon Johnson away from escalating the war.

Yet the conflicted McNamara provides innumerable insights beyond the eleven titular lessons, and I found myself both sympathetic to and repulsed by the former Secretary of Defense. McNamara could be simultaneously idealistic and coldly calculating, and his unwillingness to answer direct questions about his role in certain aspects of the Vietnam War demonstrates that the elderly statesman remains first and foremost a politician.

Why, one asks, if McNamara was so set against the war did he supervise its escalation for over three years? True, he penned a controversial 1967 policy memorandum to Johnson calling for a change in strategy, but how did McNamara live with the blood on his hands if he is as "sensitive" as he described himself?

I have to admit that I am at best only a casual student of the Vietnam War, and my perspective is one that is based upon growing up during the conflict, my childhood television programs briefly interrupted by the likes of Walter Cronkite and Harry Reasoner with news reports. I left The Fog of War with a greater understanding of how the war began, but I remain largely ignorant of why Johnson, McNamara, and associates allowed the United States to get dragged into what was essentially a civil war in post-colonial Vietnam, at least beyond McNamara's insistence upon a sort of Cold War, domino theory paranoia.

Perhaps, though, the most important lesson McNamara can offer us in the film is that rational actions based upon irrational assumptions or inaccurate information can bring great harm to the geopolitical interests of the United States and - more importantly - to the lives of American soldiers and foreign civilians.

Find the film, watch the film, and take to heart the lessons McNamara imparts. The former Secretary might be spinning yarns to save his legacy (or soul), but the look inside the Kennedy and Johnson administrations is alone worth the 107 minutes of your time.

Book Review: Never on These Shores

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Pastore, Stephen A.
Clarks Summit, PA: Cohort Press, 2007, 288


Fans of the genre of counterfactual history and those who enjoy tales about American patriots will enjoy Never on These Shores, Stephen R. Pastore's newest novel. The book describes a fictional 1942 invasion of the United States during the Second World War by Japanese, German, and Italian forces, as well as the spirited defense of the nation by those left on the homefront: women, the elderly, and gay men.

Pastore creates an intriguing premise, depicting a world in which Adolf Hitler listens to the advice of Erwin Rommel, and elects to turn his Wehrmacht to the West instead of toward the Soviet Union. The result is a coordinated invasion of North America, with Italians setting up bases in the Caribbean, the Germans invading through Mexico, and the Japanese landing along the West Coast. From a capitulated northern neighbor known as Vichy Canada, the Axis powers begin a protracted air campaign that destroys the industrial might of America.

In the process of invasion, a number of less-than-red-blooded Americans see opportunity in collaboration with the Axis powers. Some of the political turncoats, such as the scheming Senator Philip "Rooster" Reilly, give the novel an unexpected complexity, and also provide Pastore with possibilities for sequels (a second installment has the prospective title of "Battle for the Heartland").

While the dialogue in Never on These Shores is at times strained (I groaned at reading a 1942 teen use the phrase "Fuckin'-A!"), and one must resist the urge to poke holes in the logistical scenario of transporting over two million Axis invaders across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the book is an entertaining read, perfect for a snowbound day. If you enjoyed the 1984 film Red Dawn, you will no doubt find Never on These Shores to be a historical thriller of interest.

Dec 16, 2007

Thus Ends the Storm

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(Toledo, OH) I stepped outside with the intention of snapping a quick image of the snowfall from the major winter storm that blasted through Northwest Ohio, but I was stunned to see the beauty of the sunset this evening.

Knowing how quickly these colors can change, I went inside and grabbed my tripod. In the ensuing two minutes, the sky colors already began to fade, but I still caught enough of the panoramic explosion of color to make the extra work worthwhile.

And three minutes in the cold without a coat, hat, or gloves reminded me just how rapidly the human body can lose its heat.

On Wikipedia and the Democratization of Information

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While doing some research recently, I noticed an empty space at Wikipedia, so I created a article on the long-forgotten Russian revolutionary Petr Tkachev. The idea that there can be universal access to the world's information appeals to the pure democrat that lurks within me, and I spend a fair amount of time contributing to this information commons.

I briefly touched upon the concept of the democratization of information a few weeks ago in another post about Wikipedia. I continue to be fascinated by the idea that every citizen of the planet can have equal participation in the acquisition and supply of knowledge.

I think back to an era in the not-so-very-distant past in which access to knowledge was a function of wealth. While my blue-collar childhood in Detroit was not one of deprivation, I knew early on that I had an advantage over other kids in the neighborhood because my parents bought an expensive set of the Encyclopædia Britannica. I spent countless hours wandering through the dozens of volumes, and looked forward to the annual release of the Book of the Year that was mailed out each spring.

As we continue through the information revolution, access to the world's collective knowledge is becoming no longer the province of the wealthy. With an Internet connection and a computer, a person can interact with other users around the planet, and information can be obtained on any topic. I see Wikipedia - even with its flaws - as emblematic of the democratization of knowledge, and I believe that the information revolution will have ramifications far beyond our current abilities to visualize.

Dec 15, 2007

Blizzard of 2007 - Live Driveway Coverage

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(Toledo, OH) Northwest Ohio appears to be just south of the center of the major winter storm that will menace the Midwest and Northeast over the next two days. At present (8:16 pm Saturday) we have about one-half inch of accumulated snow.

I am choosing the appellation of "blizzard" to describe the winter storm, and my choice reflects a few factors: my work as a journalist (we like extremes in stories and headlines) and the fact that the gale force winds that will be accompanying the storm tomorrow are expected to create blizzard-like conditions.

By midnight we should approach two inches of the white stuff, and total accumulation for the storm will be between 6 and 12 inches in my area. Good thing I don't own any silver cufflinks, as my lot in life over the next 24 hours will be one of hearty shoveling.

At any rate, I'll be updating with weather pictures and amateur meteorological observations until the storm passes, or until I get bored with the idea.

Update #1, 10:26 pm:
We have about an inch of snow at the moment in West Toledo, and the intensity of the storm started to increase about 45 minutes ago. It looks like we are well on our way to the two or more inches predicted by midnight tonight.

The snow has also started to accumulate on the main thoroughfates, in spite of efforts by city crews to lay down a preemptive strike in the form of pre-storm salt. The current temperature according to the digital thermometer on my front porch is 30.0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Left: Radar image of the winter storm courtesy of Intellicast.com; click to enlarge

From the radar image, it appears that the heaviest snow will start in about two to three hours. There are sections of Indiana that are currently reporting snowfall amounts in excess of two inches per hour. The current temperature according to the digital thermometer on my front porch is 29.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

Time to make a first pass with the snow shovel...

Update #2, 8:03 am Sunday:

I woke to the sound of my neighbor's snowblower this morning, and it is evident that the worst of the storm skirted just north of the Toledo area. It appears that points north of Monroe, MI will be receiving the snowfall in amounts closer to a foot.

The temperature is currently 27.5 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind has yet to pick up, with the occasional gusts only reaching about 10 mph so far.

It looks like we have received about 3.25 inches of snow at the moment, though the snow will continue to accumulate until 6:00 pm, according to the latest projections.

My efforts to shovel the snow last night are difficult to discern, but I know that my back will appreciate the lighter loads this morning.

Update: 12:12 pm, Sunday:

We have accumulated over six inches of snow in my neighborhood, and the winds are beginning to pick up in Northwest Ohio. I have felt a few gusts in the last hour that seemed to be in excess of 25 mph, and snow is beginning to drift.

The current rate of precipitation is a little more than a half-inch per hour, and the current temperature according to the digital thermometer on my front porch is 28.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

I also had to shovel a path and "elimination zone" for my dogs, who exhibited a reluctance to venture outdoors. I wish my young adult children would take a cue from the canine members of the household, as they keep testing Fortuna by making "important" trips with their cars into this nasty weather.

Update: 5:22 pm, Sunday:

Total accumulation in my yard was about 8 inches of snow, and the current temperature is down to 27.2 degrees Fahrenheit. The winds are quite strong, though the predictions of gale-force winds were overblown.

Heh.

We did get quite a few strong gusts, though, and I watched as some decent-sized drifts grew in my yard.

Santa Welcomes Dogs and Cats

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(Toledo, OH) Santa Claus never forgets our pets, and the Jolly One is making visits at the PetSmart location in Spring Meadows on Saturdays and Sundays before December 25 to wish good doggies and kitties a Merry Christmas.

Now, given the American predilection for overfeeding our pets, I might suggest that a treadmill is in order for some of these hefty critters, but my excess baggage leaves me hardly in a position to criticize overweight dogs and cats.

Santa's visits are sponsored by Planned Pethood, a worthy animal rescue group in Northwest Ohio for whom my wife and I foster dogs. In case you were wondering, the beautiful female Jindo we were fostering was adopted today. While we grew quickly attached to this 2-year-old sweetie, we are glad that she has found a good home.

Book Review: Absolutism and Its Discontents: State and Society in Seventeenth-Century France and England

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Absolutism and Its Discontents - State and Society in Seventeenth-Century France and England, by Michael S. KimmelKimmel, Michael S.
New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1988


Michael S. Kimmel is a professor of sociology at SUNY-Stony Brook whose recent work has moved away from the historical sociology methods used in Absolutism and Its Discontents. Unlike interpretations by doctrinaire Marxists, who argue that early modern change occurred at the level of production, Kimmel argued that absolutism was a “transitional social formation, the political form of the transition from feudalism to capitalism.” The author examines the English Revolution and the Fronde, which were seventeenth century events that Kimmel argued were “movements of resistance against a perceived absolutist centralization of political power in the hands of the monarchy.” Revolutions, noted the author, have historically been social and political responses to state fiscal crises more than any other factor, and Kimmel is especially interested in this text as to the reasons why these nearly simultaneous attempts at revolution led to such divergent outcomes.

Kimmel argued that there are four issues upon which “dynamic tension” exists between state and society: the preservation of property relations, the maintenance of order and stability, the military resources of the state, and resources from taxation. The manner in which the French and English societies and states interacted with these factors, maintained Kimmel, determined the direction in which their respective revolutions headed. Ultimately, noted the author, the differences between the English Revolution and the Fronde can be attributed to the fact that the “impulse for change in the relationship between state and society came from the crown in France and from mobilizing social forces in England.”
Despite the opulence exhibited by the French crown, Kimmel maintained that seventeenth-century France “was also a very poor country.” French monarchs ruled over a land that failed to maximize its agricultural, commercial, and industrial potential, and Kimmel estimated that “over 80 percent of the population was chronically malnourished.” The author argued that absolutism developed under Louis XIII and his finance minister, Cardinal Richelieu, as a “method of meeting fiscal demands without generating social reform.” Absolutism, maintained Kimmel, was “both the cause and the outcome of Richelieu’s fiscal policies,” and the finance minister’s efforts to extract revenue from every conceivable source led to increases in both government centralization and political opposition to the Bourbon regime.

Louis XIII of France, also Louis II of Navarre, also called Louis the Just, King of France and NavarreLeft: King Louis XIII of France

Richelieu’s attempts to increase tax revenues without structural reform, argued Kimmel, highlighted the “contradictions of absolutism.” The French crown achieved a degree of increased centralization and minimal increases in revenue, but the costs of the new administration of Richelieu’s policies consumed the vast majority of new revenue; the crown also engendered powerful political opposition from a wide variety of social groups across the realm though the actions by the unpopular finance minister and his successor, Cardinal Mazarin. The author argued that the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, coupled with an underage French king, led to a “legitimacy crisis” that “spilled out of the sovereign courts and into the streets of Paris.” The failure of the Fronde, however, can be attributed to the strength of the French monarchy, whose use of venality of office had “incorporated into the structure of absolutism precisely those class elements that might have sustained a revolutionary challenge.”

Turning to England, Kimmel dismissed scholarship by revisionists that placed emphasis on the causes of the English Revolution on such factors as overreactions by local leaders, the psychology of Charles I and his opponents, or the idea that the religious struggle between Anglicans and Presbyterians was the basis for the English Civil War. Instead, the author argued that the “contrapuntal relationship between the monarchy and the nobility” – and between the state and agrarian society – created “deep fissures in traditional English social structure that made revolution possible.” Kimmel maintained that the personality clashes between Charles I and his adversaries provided only a “surface-level immediacy to the struggles;” the author also noted that the religious aspects of the English Civil War began to appear after the revolution began, and served in the main as a means of maintaining the unity of political coalitions.

Kimmel noted that the England inherited by James I was “increasingly ungovernable by a centralizing monarchy,” and that the nation’s “social, financial, political, and religious institutions rested on increasingly shaky foundations.” Elizabeth I, argued the author, left a legacy of inflation, war debt, factionalism, and corruption, and it was the “constant scramble for money” that forced James I to pursue absolutist policies. Kimmel held that the 1621 decision by the English king to dissolve Parliament caused James I to throw himself “into the hands of the Spanish rather than giving in to demands for structural reforms.” The eventual collapse of the English monarchy under Charles I, argued the author, could be attributed to structural causes:
Of course, the failure of the war against the Scots was simply the trigger that set off the Revolution, the revolutionary moment… Long-run changes in the structure of English society— the decline of the traditional moral economy of the English village and the commercialization of agriculture; the rise of sectarian religious ideologies; the changing political relationship between court and country; and the social transformation of the English class structure — provided the backdrop for the events of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The endemic fiscal crisis of the Tudor and Stuart state was an expression of these changes, and the crown’s search for revenues precipitated the outbreak of revolution by galvanizing the opposition into a political coalition.


Charles I, King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 1625 until his execution in 1649Left: King Charles I of England

The success of the English Revolution, argued Kimmel, was due to the greater unity in the opposition coalition than was the case with the Fronde. Religious ideology, the author noted, generated “ideological cohesion despite differing economic interests” among members of the political opposition to Charles I. In addition, Kimmel argued that the fear among social elites of social upheaval posed by radical groups such as the Levellers and the Diggers served as a unifying force among the nobility. Finally, the English Revolution owed its success in part to the monarchy’s inability to “absorb political contenders” due to its “smaller administrative structure and the traditions of autonomous local administration.”

The author used a thematic approach in developing this synthesis, relying in large measure upon secondary works related to European absolutism. Absolutism and Its Discontents also incorporates some primary source material in its examination of the English and French political systems of the seventeenth century. Endnotes are supplied to individual chapters, and the book uses a curious mix of in-text and end note references. Wilson also included a 30-page bibliography of primary and secondary works, categorized by topic, which will prove useful to scholars unfamiliar with the historiography of absolutism and the sociological interpretations of European monarchies. Unfortunately, the five-page index is woefully short, and there are a number of entries that would have benefited from additional cross-referencing.

Absolutism and Its Discontents, by nature of its efforts to develop broad models to explain the reasons for the respective success and failure of the English Revolution and the Fronde, occasionally drifts into elliptical generalizations and oversimplifications that might make narrow specialists in either field cringe. Kimmel, for example, argued that the failure of the Fronde was due in part to “both the ambivalent royalism of the Huguenots and the divisions within the Catholic church,” glibly sidestepping over a century’s worth of religious-focused warfare that tore France apart in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and contributed to the Thirty Years’ War. Still, Absolutism and Its Discontents provides an adequate summary of the efforts of English and French monarchs in the seventeenth century to pursue absolutist policies, and the book offers non-specialist scholars and general readers with thought-provoking models to explain the successes and failures of the various revolutions in these nations.

Dec 14, 2007

Book Review: Monarchy, Aristocracy, and the State in Europe, 1300-1800

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Monarchy, Aristocracy, and the State in Europe, 1300-1800 by Hillay ZmoraZmora, Hillay
New York: Routledge, 2001


Hillay Zmora is a senior lecturer in history at Ben Gurion University, specializing in early modern Germany and early modern European nobility. In Monarchy, Aristocracy, and the State in Europe, Zmora disputes the historical model of the clash between a declining nobility and a rising bourgeoisie in absolutist regimes in early modern Europe. Instead, Zmora argued that nobles, in general, adapted to changing sociopolitical environments, and that “it was the transformation of the medieval kingdoms into states which shaped the nobility.”

Zmora argued that one of the most important factors in state-formation – and in shaping European nobles – was the evolution of “endemic and incessant” warfare. The expenses associated with newer forms of waging war, argued the author, forced European monarchs to develop systems of revenue creation, which simultaneously necessitated that concessions be made to the nobility to facilitate the tax collection procedures. Zmora argued that the ability of French and Castilian kings to create and maintain permanent systems of taxation was interwoven with the rise of absolutist regimes in these states. Conversely, maintained Zmora, the experiences of the city-states of the Italian peninsula and the Austrian Habsburgs suggest that the inability to create permanent systems of taxation inhibits both the rise of absolutist regimes and, ultimately, strong nation-states.

Historians have sometimes associated the rise of absolutist regimes in Europe with a decline in the fortunes and power of the noble class. Zmora, however, argued that many nobles played an important role in facilitating the growth of state power, and that those nobles who enjoyed “proximity to the state relied on it for the better part of their livelihood” as a reward for their financial an political support of the state. Noble support for monarchs such as Charles V owed less to “personal affinity” as to “royal rewards,” argued Zmora, and the author noted that a “continuous reliance on the nobility was an ineluctable course of action.” Moreover, noted Zmora, relations between the state and the nobility should not be seen as a zero-sum game:
The analysis of the system of governors in various early modern states suggests that, for all the inherent conflicts, a strong monarchy and a strong nobility were not mutually exclusive. In fact, their power grew in tandem during the first half of the sixteenth century.
Changes in the structure of the courts of European monarchs, argued Zmora, were responsible for the rise of the Court as the “focus of political authority of the realm.” Chief among these changes was the movement away from itinerant courts that existed “on the back of the riding-horses, beasts of burden and wagons” and toward permanent, sedentary courts that were centers of culture and power. While noting that some nobles left behind accounts suggesting their fondness for the simplicity of manorial life, Zmora argued that European nobles began to see the Court as necessary component of their station in life, noting that nobles were attracted to the Court for practical considerations:
The principal reason why nobles repaired to the Court is that they had an eye for the main chance. In the first place, a lot of money circulated at the Court. It sometimes was the third largest area of state expenditure after warfare and debt service… It was also the point of contact par excellence for the political elites. With the expansion of the early modern monarchies, it became the apex of a vast patronage system that held the state together.
Zmora, while by no means parroting traditional historiographical models of absolutism, nonetheless disagreed with revisionist historians who call for the elimination of the term altogether. There might have been differences between the absolutist rhetoric of rulers such as Louis XIV and the political realities in these same ancien regimes, noted Zmora, but the concept of absolutism nonetheless remains a valid interpretation of the sociopolitical structures of the major early modern states. Zmora delineated the sources of the absolutist successes of Louis XIV :
The secret of Louis’s achievement was not Versailles in itself. It was rather that his initiative was more restorative than innovative. His genius lay in an uncanny knack for moulding and consolidating the social order in a manner that both increased his own authority and benefited the traditional élites.
Monarchy, Aristocracy, and the State in Europe is a synthesis, drawing heavily from French, German, and English sources, although the author also includes some archival material. At times, the theoretical generalizations developed by Zmora seem strained, though the author typically noted the exceptions to the models he put forth. The book follows a thematic approach to the topic, and referential material is provided in an endnote format for readers interested in further research on a given topic. Appendices include a 10-page bibliography and a cross-referenced index, though the index seems insufficient for the range of textual material. Some previous familiarity with the early modern European history would assist readers in textual comprehension, and the high level of theoretical discourse makes this text difficult to recommend for survey-level college history students. The text does serve as a thoughtful approach to the study of absolutism for non-specialist scholars, and would be a useful companion to the studies of upper-level undergraduates and graduate students.

Video Review: The French Revolution - Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

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A&E Home Video, 2005, 100 minutes

I missed the History Channel's debut of the feature-length documentary The French Revolution when it debuted on cable in 2005, and I have to admit I might have been dissuaded by the promotional advertisements, which suggested that the film emphasized the bloodiness of the revolutionary years.

Yet the film performs an admirable service in providing a depiction of the French Revolution that is accesible to general viewers, while approaching the topic with an eye toward scholarly merit. Interspersed throughout the dramatic reenactments are interviews with some of the leading historians of revolutionary France, such as William Doyle and Sarah Maza.

True, the film contains its share of inaccuraices and oversimplifications, such as the insistence by director Doug Shultz to keep the focus on such larger-than-life figures as Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Jean-Paul Marat, and Maximilien Robespierre. In addition, the film ignores some of the less obvious causes of the French Revolution, such as social contradicitions between a semi-feudal aristocracy and the rising wealthy urban bourgeoisie.

The film, however, excels in recounting the major events of the Revolution, and provides viewers unfamiliar with the period a solid overview of revolutionary France. I would recommend this DVD to a general audience, and I think the film would work well in upper-level high school classrooms and survey-level college courses. The violence depicted in the film, though, means that the History Channel's The French Revolution might not be suitable for younger audiences.

Dec 13, 2007

Rapid Rhetoric: PARAGEUSIA

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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.

parageusia (PEAR-uh-GOO-zhah) n. medical term that describes a bad taste in the mouth; a disturbance in the sense of taste; complete or severe loss of the perception of taste.

Derived from the Greek prefix para ("beside") and the Greek word geusis ("taste"), parageusia is typically a symptom associated with an underlying medical condition. The disorder can also appear as a side effect of certain medications. The term dysgeusia is sometimes substituted interchangeably with parageusia.

A common manifestation of parageusia is the perception of a metallic taste in food. This can be a side effect of a number of medications, including acetazolamide, metronidazole, or etoposide.

Parageusia is not problematic in and of itself, though one's quality of life diminishes with the reduced ability to enjoy food. Severe parageusia that affects a person's appetite could negatively affect chemotherapy patients and people with compromised immune systems, as valuable nutrients might be missing from the diet of an individual whose food consumption shrinks with parageusia. Od course, there's nothing like a good deal on Wilmington NC real estate to cure a case of parageusia.

Dec 12, 2007

Book Review: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

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Marx, Karl
New York: International Publishers, 1979, 264 pages


Many of the ideas that Karl Marx developed for his 1858 book Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy found their way into the more comprehensive Das Kapital, but each work should be recognized for its individual merits. Marx intended Das Kapital to be the first of a multi-volume treatise on capitalism, but only finished this first volume before he died in 1883. Later volumes were edited by Friedrich Engels, a close friend and collaborator of Marx. Unlike Das Kapital, which is also noteworthy for its employment of such diverse disciplines as social history, anthropology, and political philosophy, Critique of Political Economy focuses solely on the underpinnings of the system of capitalism and the process of historical materialism that, according to Marx and Engels, explains human history.

The term political economy itself merits a brief discussion. As used by Marx, Adam Smith, and other classical theorists, “political economy” is simply an earlier moniker for economics. More recently, though, political economy has developed as a social science that studies the interrelationships between political and economic institutions.

Marx began his Critique with an analysis of commodities, which he calls “an object of human wants,” or “anything necessary, useful, or pleasant in life.” The wealth of bourgeois society, according to Marx, can be measured in commodities. These basic units of the measure of wealth have two distinct characteristics: use-value and exchange value. An object’s use-value can only be determined through use, as when an ear of corn is consumed. The exchange-value of an object can only be determined as commodities are exchanged; if the same ear of corn could be exchanged for, say, a pencil, one could express the exchange value of one ear of corn as one pencil.

Marx posited that the exchange-value of a given commodity also contains the value of the labor used to produce the commodity. Without labor, Marx argued, the ear of corn would not have been produced, and the pencil could not have been fashioned. Thus, the value of labor inherent in the exchange-values of commodities can also be used as a measure of wealth.

Marx next tackled the use of money as a medium of exchange. The impracticality of exchanging, in the previous model, ears of corn for pencils is bypassed with the introduction of money as a commodity by which all other exchange-values can be expressed. Money, concurrently, then can also be expressed in equivalent terms of human labor.

Karl Heinrich Marx, 19th century philosopher, political economist, and revolutionaryLeft: Karl Heinrich Marx, 19th century philosopher, political economist, and revolutionary

At this point Marx began to move away from traditional political economy; he argued that money, in the capitalist system, ceased to be merely a reflection of the exchange value of commodities, or as the medium of exchange. Instead, money became a commodity used for enrichment and aggrandizement. Hoarding, or the stockpiling of money, thus represents the ability of an individual to achieve great wealth through the labors of workers.

The Marxian concept of historical materialism is more fully developed in Critique than in the earlier writings of Marx. Drawing on the Hegelian dialectic (thesis-antithesis-synthesis), Marx posited that the material productive forces of a given society come into conflict with the existing superstructure of production relations. Under capitalism, for example, Marx argued that this conflict is manifest in the opposition between workers and capitalists, since the goals of workers (such as higher wages, better working conditions) are diametrically opposed to those of capitalists (such as higher profits, increased productivity). This conflict, according to Marx, will ultimately lead to social revolution, and the evolution of a new system of economic relations.

One of the most important contributions by Marx to the discipline of history was his dismissal of the role of “great men” in history. For Marx, historical figures were merely surfers on the waves of existing social movements, rather than causing the wave in the first place.

Marx also forced historians to consider the ideological and material context in which a given period of history is studied. One cannot, for example, study the French Revolution in isolation; for a full understanding of the period, the scholar must take into account such factors as the histories of the French monarchy, the rising bourgeoisie, and that of the entrenched feudal character of eighteenth-century France.

One need not be a doctrinaire Marxist in order to find usefulness in the analytical methods pioneered by Marx. To be ignorant of the social and economic movements of a particular period is to engage in historical provincialism and myopia. Marx’s Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy turned upside-down the worlds of historiography and historical analysis, and the debate over his influence continues to the present.

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.

It is impossible to make people understand their ignorance; for it requires knowledge to perceive it and therefore he that can perceive it hath it not. -- Jeremy Taylor

Dec 11, 2007

On Bad Days that Turn Around

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It was one of those days I would prefer to forget, and it started with the predawn misery of my residual influenza symptoms. I crawled out of bed, slugged down some coffee, and trudged out into what would be a miserable day.

My car decided that the heavy rains were not to its liking, and my many errands today were spent coaxing my sputtering Hyundai along the still-icy roads of Lucas and Monroe counties. I was stuck for five miles behind some twit driving 30 in a 45 mph zone, and I could not seem to get my car out of its apoplectic third gear. The hundred percent humidity also meant that my windows remained coated with mist all day.

Given my laryngitic throat, I decided that I would mix in some video during my lecture, and chose an interesting film on the medieval trans-Saharan gold trade. As I arrived to my class, it dawned on me that I left the film back at my home, some 30 miles away. I now had 17 minutes to pull a lecture out of my arse, and to hope my voice would last long enough to teach.

And yet, bad days do not have to stay that way.

I made it through the lecture relatively unscathed, and my car behaved in a less-disruptive fashion on the trip home. The rain also let up, making my trip a bit less white-knuckled. Walking into the house, I saw that my youngest daughter - without prompting, I might add - had cleaned our train-wreck of a house to the point where it looked, well, pretty decent.

We then gathered the kids together and drove to find a Christmas tree, an annual family tradition. For one evening, my whole family was together, and we also managed to eat a lasagna dinner without any bickering between siblings.

And lo and behold: my angst-ridden teenagers actually laughed in the process of tree decoration, the house filling with a collective mood that approached joyful in a month that has been filled with stress and crisis. As I write this post, my kids are singing along with Karaoke Revolution at a level that would have grated on my nerves a few hours ago, but which I now find to be pleasant. Truth be told, I even scorched my aching vocal chords by jumping in with renditions of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" and a-ha's "Take on Me."

Even rotten days can turn around.

An Open Letter to Karyn McConnell-Hancock, Toledo's Disgrace

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Karyn McConnell-Hancock, the pregnant Toledo lawyer who fabricated her own kidnappingWhen I first learned of your disappearance last week, I was genuinely worried for you, and I offered up a prayer for your safe return. Given the recent high-profile missing person cases like those of Laci Peterson and Lisa Stebic, I feared that harm had come to someone with whom I had at least a passing familiarity.

Even as evidence mounted in the last few days that pointed in a different direction, a part of me remained hopeful that the puzzling inconsistencies in your story would be resolved. I refrained from posting about the case until I learned the details that were finally made public, and frankly - only a sadist would gloat over seeing the fall of a person of prominence and public esteem.

Yet I have to admit that the news today that you faked your own disappearance did not surprise me. Nor did disclosure of your debts to the Internal Revenue Service of $97,524 for unpaid income taxes in the years 2001, 2002, and 2003 come as a shock, and I cannot help but think that your financial woes are interwoven with what appears to be your mental instability.

By the way - I once owed the IRS over $24,000 from an old business I owned, so I know the fear and self-loathing that accompanies tax troubles. But instead of buying expensive cars and living a lavish lifestyle (nice move, I might add, keeping the Mercedes Benz and the condo in your husband's name, away from the claws of the feds), I invested in $700 clunkers, ate a lot of canned soup, and worked a ton of part-time jobs to pay down my tax debt. Yes, IRS liens suck, but so does jail time, which it appears you will be facing after your cowardly scheme.

Your decision to fabricate a scenario in which two white men and a black woman abducted you at gunpoint and drove around with you for days, however, brings shame on your family, your church, and community. How do you think all those good people feel who gathered at the prayer vigils dedicated to you? How embarassing must this be for your father, Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell, who publicly humiliated himself by standing by you?

And what about your husband, Bishop Lawrence Hancock, who made public pleas in the media and showed such gratitude when you were found safe on Saturday? Did you ever stop to think about the distress you caused him?

What about the members of the Final Harvest Church, which describes you as "First Lady" to your bishop husband? You have let down the faithful congregation of the church, who steadfastly prayed, supported, and vouched for your integrity.

But enough with the judgmental questions, Karyn. My advice to you is simple: get some help. Negotiate a reasonable repayment schedule with the IRS, live within your means, and seek psychological counseling for the demons with which you seem to be battling.

And first and foremost: take responsibility for your actions, Karyn McConnell-Hancock. People will be willing to forgive you with a sincere and public apology, but if you try to duck out like a weaselly politician from the mess that you created, your reputation will be forever destroyed.

Dec 10, 2007

Quirky Websites: Movie Profiler

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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.

The process of determining which movie to rent might become easier by using the Movie Profiler website. The designers of the site bill Movie Profiler as "a movie search engine that listens to your emotions," deriving information from you through a short questionnaire.

Based upon my answers, the Profiler suggested the films Chinatown, 28 Weeks Later, and The Abyss as films to match my current mood, which I might currently describe as a blend between cynical, phlegmatic, and irritated.

Don't ask...

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.

In revolutions authority remains with the greatest scoundrels.
-- Georges Jacques Danton

Dec 9, 2007

Ice Storm in Toledo

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Backlit ice on tree branches creates a surreal effect after an ice storm in Toledo, Ohio(Toledo, OH) The ice in the trees near my garage looks a bit like an illuminated spider web, and though the ice storm turned out to be less severe than predicted, the night landscape in my area is covered with a glistening sheen of reflected light.

Nighttime noises seem to echo with an especially tinny reverberation this evening, and those who venture out should be aware that many roads are quite slick. I nearly wiped out in my own driveway just taking out the trash tonight, and I trust that by morning the city will have dumped enough salt to make my commute less hazardous.

Meet Scarlett, a Rescue Jindo

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Scarlett, a 25-pound rescue Jindo in Toledo, Ohio who needs a good homePictured on your left is Scarlett, who is a beautiful 2-year-old Jindo rescued last week from the Fulton County dog pound. Scarlett is a good-tempered and highly intelligent dog who seems to bond very quickly with caregivers. She is housetrained and was crate trained in her previous foster home, and gets along well with the other dogs in our home.

Scarlett has a long, loping gait not unlike that of a wolf, and to watch her run is truly a moment of natural grace. She seems to crave affection, and already knows some basic commands. Though not a frequent barker, Scarlett has a deep voice and has a commanding bark when strangers come to the door.

A word about the Jindo breed: while these are not hyperactive dogs, they do require exercise and room to run. Jindos can be very affectionate, and love to cuddle, but they should be matched with owners who can ensure their need for physical activity.

Scarlett seems to bond first with men, and follows me around the house most of the day. As I write this post, she is laying next to me on my bed, content to pass the time with human company. In our first days together, I have not witnessed any negative behaviors with her, and she seems like the ideal dog for a family with older children (I have not seen her near young children yet).

For more information on adopting Scarlett, or any other rescue dogs, see the Planned Pethood website. If you would like to see Scarlett in person, she will be at the Adoptathon at the PetSmart in Spring Meadows on Saturday, December 15, from 11 am to 2 pm. You can also see a short video of this gorgeous dog by following this link.