Feb 29, 2008

The Quote Shelf

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

Insurrection by means of guerrilla bands is the true method of warfare for all nations desirous of emancipating themselves from a foreign yoke. It is invincible, indestructible.
-- Giuseppe Mazzini

Feb 28, 2008

On Intoxicants, Writing, and the Destructive Myth of Chemical Creativity

It is not my intention in this post to condemn those who responsibly imbibe using their favorite intoxicants, as I know that a high-stress environment can make attractive the relaxing powers of, say, a tall glass of Johnnie Walker Red on the rocks. I am rather interested in dissecting the persistent fiction that talented artists - especially writers - can somehow tap into creative realms that would otherwise be locked away, all by finding the right chemical assistance.

Hunter S. Thompson. Truman Capote. Dorothy Parker. Arthur Rimbaud. Ernest Hemmingway. Jean Stafford. The history of literature contains countless examples of brilliant writers whose dependency on intoxicants is intertwined with a romantic air of degeneracy, and a twisted mythology exists that links creativity and the consumption of drugs and alcohol.

As I write these lines, I have not tasted an alcoholic beverage in nearly six years. I say this not as a moment of pious boasting, but as an acknowledgement that my own drinking career started to become one of addiction. I am blessed that I am married to a woman who has extensive experience with addicted family members, and who early on saw that my love of liquid relaxation was both excessive and unhealthy. She insisted that I get honest about my behavior, and I consider myself fortunate that my period of self-abuse was relatively short in both duration and physical damage.

Yet a part of me also recognizes that I wholeheartedly bought into the writer-as-conflicted-drunk mythology, not only justifying my own regular inebriation, but also as a rite of passage, or a badge of honor in the mythical fraternity of chemically-fueled writers. We writers drink, I told myself, because we need a vehicle to transport us to that creative realm that is otherwise difficult to reach while sober.

Of course, the fact that I was unpublished, and that my literary production consisted of dozens of unfinished pieces of ho-hum material did not stop me from perpetuating the myth each night. I liked to pour a tall tumbler of vodka to help me unwind after work, a glass that reached ever-higher levels as my body - as though it were equipped with the liquid equivalent of air cleaners - developed increased tolerance.

Since embarking on a healthier lifestyle, eschewing intoxicants (save caffeine) in favor of deep breathing, long walks, and meditation, I have achieved a modest level of success as a writer and academic. More importantly: I realize that alcohol and chemicals at best offer only a temporary route to the relaxed state of mind conducive to creative thought, and that intoxicants act as a duplicitous chimera, luring a person into a downward spiral of self-destruction that has delivered many folks to loathsome consequences.

I cringe when I see continued efforts to keep alive the destructive fantasy of the tortured alcoholic writer, like the Johnny Depp portrayal of Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. An entire new generation of budding writers gets to worship the bottle, the needle, and the coke spoon as holy relics in the quest for inspiration. Moreover, the talented-but-debauched Thompson can inspire a fresh cadre of imitators to view him as an literature icon, as opposed to an unstable and chemically-dependent recluse whose obsession with altered states meant that many of his writing projects remained unfinished at the time of his 2005 death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

So enjoy your favorite intoxicating pastimes, dear readers, and imbibe responsibly. Just avoid the deceptive song of the Sirens that is the myth of chemical creativity, a seductive serenade that has lured many writers to rocky shores.

Feb 27, 2008

Rapid Rhetoric: COIR

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.

coir (KOY-ehr) n. a stiff and somewhat coarse fiber derived from the outer husk of a coconut.

Derived from the Malayalam language, coir is the Anglified version of kayar, meaning "cord." While typically used for making rope and floor matting, coir also has uses as a renewable potting compost, serving as an excellent substitute for peat moss.

The fiber is also known for its waterproof nature, as well as for the fact that it is resistant to salt. For this reason coir mats are useful in coastal settings, or in areas like Northwest Ohio that use salt to melt snow and ice.

Sri Lanka, India and the Philippines are the world's largest producers of coir, and tens of thousands of residents on the island of Sri Lanka generate approximately one million cubic meters of coir each year.

Feb 26, 2008

On Days with Heavy Snow

A winter storm is passing through Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan as I write this post, and snowfall in my area will likely wind up between 10 and 12 inches by the time the precipitation ends. There are already 5.5 inches of snow in my yard according to my unofficial measurement.

I normally view winter storms with a measure of chagrin, as colleges are among the most reluctant of institutions to close for inclement weather. Yet I was pleasantly surprised to find that the college at which I was scheduled to teach today made the wise decision to cancel classes.

This is the first time that I have personally benefitted from a snow day since perhaps 1980, and I am quite pleased with this outcome. Had the college stayed open, I would have driven at least an hour each way in treacherous conditions to teach a class likely half its normal size. Instead, I gain four hours of time that I can use to catch up on a mountain of work.

For those who must still venture out in the storm: you have my condolences, and I hope that you exercise caution on the roadways. As for me? I look forward to a snow day with even more appreciation than I exhibited decades ago as a kid, though I doubt I will venture dust off a toboggan in celebration.

Feb 25, 2008

The Quote Shelf

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 possible to lead astray an entire generation, to strike it blind, to drive it insane, to direct it towards a false goal. Napoleon proved this.
-- Alexander Herzen

Feb 24, 2008

On Puppy Mills, Rescue Dogs, and Righteous Zeal

Pictured on your left is Beatrice, an eight-year-old Pug who was rescued from the Fulton County pound by Planned Pethood. She was dumped at the pound by the owner of a breeding operation, ostensibly after he no longer had economic use for this older pooch.

We acted as the foster family for Beatrice, and I am happy to announce that she will be adopted today by a kind family from Catawba Island. However, even as an experienced canine foster, I was shocked at the condition of this beautiful dog when the breeder ended his working relationship with Beatrice.

This poor animal suffered from eye infections, ear infections, a cornea ulceration, whipworms, and a half-dozen rotted teeth that neded to be extracted. In addition, it is apparent that Beatrice has had little in the way of socialization in her life, and the dog is quite fearful of humans. It took her three weeks just to venture to the edge of the kitchen, where she spends her days, and even longer for Beatrice to take a treat from a human hand.

Her eyes were so clouded with infection that the poor creature fell down a step on our outdoor deck, as her blinded eyes were unable to recognize that there are two steps down to the ground.

Her health issues appear to be resolved, but Beatrice has a long way to go before she recovers from her long period of canine reproductive slavery. I know that animal rights activists are quick to slap the "puppy mill" label on breeders, but Beatrice is a prototypical example of the utter disregard for the needs of dogs exhibited by the worst sorts of irresponsible breeders.

Long denied basic health care and interaction, Beatrice will begin her life again with her adoptive family. I grew fond of her in the month that she has been with us, and I am glad that I could contribute to her recovery from her years of neglect and abuse.

Yet there is a part of me that rages like an Old Testament prophet at the evils of puppy mills. To white, here is a quote from the Book of Amos (8:4-7) that sums up my fire-and-brimstone mood:

Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land,

saying, "When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?"—
skimping the measure, boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The Lord has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done."
Or perhaps I should just have a cup of coffee, clip some Sports Authority coupons, and chase away the indignation. This kind of stuff will give me ulcers if I stew upon it too long.

Feb 22, 2008

On Kosovo, Russians, and the Balkan Powderkeg

Serb protesters attacking the U.S. embassy in Belgrade on Thursday; photo courtesy AP

As a historian whose primary field is modern Europe, it should be no surprise that I am closely following the events in the Balkans over the past two weeks. After all, the region of the South Slavs has been the scene of more wars than I can count on two hands in modern history, and the news of Kosovo's declaration of independence did not sit well with nationalist-minded Serbians.

It is also tempting to draw parallels with the First World War, where a certain faction of Serbia nationalists assassinated an unpopular Austrian archduke in an act that ignited over four years of unprecedented bloodshed. Yet I am less concerned with the potential for violence and terrorism among radical Serbs than I am for the further deterioration of the relationship between the United States and Russia.

The Russians and Serbs have a lengthy history of mutual admiration and support that is equal parts political and cultural. The Russians have traditionally viewed the Serbs as part of a larger Slavic ethnicity, and when forced to choose sides, the Russians have stood by their Serbian cousins though countless diplomatic and military conflicts.

I am disappointed that the United States and the European Union did not work more proactively to slow the Kosovar move to independence as a means of easing the transition to statehood. I think that a longer period of Kosovar autonomy - without formal independence - would have defused the predictable Serbian outrage while keeping the Russians on the sidelines. The seemingly unequivocal embrace of Kosovo's independence by the United States also suggests that the State Department is either brazenly reckless or woefully ignorant of the history of the region. Of course, these are the folks whose ham-fisted aria of "freedom and democracy" has been a dismal failure elsewhere, so I suppose that I should not be surprised at the lack of awareness of matters Balkan among members of the Bush administration.

I fully support the right of the Kosovar people to the principle of self-determination, but I also recognize that this process is akin to navigating a minefield. Ethnic Albanians and Serbs have legitimate historical and political claims to the region, while imperial meddling by the Ottomans and poorly-considered provincial carvings by Josip Broz Tito left Kosovo with an unharmonious blend of ethnic and religious strife.

It should also be pointed out that the Russia of 2008 is much healthier than the post-Soviet nation in disarray that could offer only a token protest in the face of a US-led NATO effort during the 1999 Kosovo War. Russia has the world's largest natural gas reserves, the second largest coal reserves, and the eighth largest global oil reserves, and the Russian economy has benefitted from the skyrocketing energy prices. More importantly, the government of Vladimir Putin is a far cry from the bumbling, drunken, kleptocratic chaos that was the Boris Yeltsin administration.

Will the crisis in the Balkans spark a Third World War? Probably not, at least not in the next few years. However, I see the US-Kosovar love fest as a wedge that drives further away the Russians from rapprochement with the West. Moreover, the possibility of a Russian-Iran axis - or even a Russia-China-Iran bloc - becomes a more likely prospect with each bungled American diplomatic move.

And that, kiddies, is a scary scenario.

Toledo in the Presidential Campaign Spotlight

Toledo in warmer weather

As an independent voter, I have less interest in the upcoming Ohio primary on March 4 than do partisan types, but as an observer of history and politics, this is a unique time to be living in Toledo. John McCain visited the area yesterday, while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have events scheduled thsi weekend in the Glass City.

I think I will skip the Clinton event at 9:00 pm tonight, which will take place at Whitmer High School. Part of me would like to see the event, at the very least as a lesson in political sociology, but the thought of listening to the wonkish Senator Clinton for an hour is not appealing. She might yet find a way to the White House, but it will not be through her calculating, les-than-lively speeches.

Barack Obama will hold a rally at The University of Toledo's Savage Hall this Sunday, Feb. 24, beginning at 4:20 p.m. I may attend this event to see the Obama phenomenon up close, though if I attend I will probably spend more time watching the crowd than listening to the Illinois senator's rhetoric. If nothing else, there is a passion and devotion among Obama supporters that borders on the religious, and I would like to witness firsthand the mania.

I also feel fortunate as an independent voter that the three most likely bodies to occupy the Oval Office - Obama, McCain, and Clinton - are all people I could at least learn to live with. McCain is to my mind the Republican least likely to continue the hardline partisanship of the last thirteen years (though his pro-war stance is off-putting, and I hope that he is a purchaser of medical id bracelets), while Obama and Clinton offer at least the promise of a change in direction after eight years of the failed presidency of GWB.

Or maybe this slight optimism is a function of my third cup of coffee.

Feb 21, 2008

The Quote Shelf

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

La religion est ce qui empêche les pauvres de tuer les riches (Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich).
-- Napoleon Bonaparte

Feb 20, 2008

On Free Markets, Presidential Candidates, and What Happens After Capitalism

Do you see it? Do you believe?

I watched with more than passing interest the rousing speech that Barack Obama gave after winning the Wisconsin primary last night. I must admit that the senator from Illinois is one of the best public speakers I have ever watched, and his appeal owes much to his ability to inspire a crowd.

The rhetoric was typical of the Obama-isms to which we have become accustomed, filled with references to "change" and "hope," as well as hip phrases like "in the house" and "shout out." About halfway through the speech I heard Obama tell the audience of Texans: "I believe in the free market."

Now, I am sure that Obama planned this bit of rhetoric, and that this was no slip of the tongue. This no doubt reflects his worldview, though I suspect that free market afficianados on the right would chortle at the idea of Obama as a stalwart capitalist devotee.

I, however, do not believe in the Gospel of the Free Markets. I am a product of a capitalist society, and I am a cog in the great machine of American capitalism, and I gladly grab the cash that comes my way on the merry-go-round of the working world, but I do not delude myself with the trappings of the quasi-religion of the disciples of Adam Smith.

Lest casual readers dismiss me as some sort of doctrinaire Marxist, let me state that I never possessed illusions about Soviet-style communism, nor do I believe that Fidel Castro or Kim Jong Il are poster children for an earthly paradise. As far as I am concerned, Karl Marx did not adequately account for such variables as greed, selfishness, and cartel-like behavior in his attempt to develop a scientific model of a socialist utopia.

Yet many of Marx's critiques of capitalism resonate just as forcefully as they did 150 years ago. We live in a world in which sudden capital flight can destroy the economies of entire nations, a world in which faithful workers can be tossed aside in favor of cheaper labor overseas, and a world in which such quintessential public resources as water and parks are increasingly becoming privatized.

All of this is occurring as presidential candidates like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain bow at the altar of free markets, offering prayers to the Cult of the Invisible Hand so fervently described by capitalism's Holy Prophet, Adam Smith. All promise some version of "change," but I have my doubts that these well-dressed folks plan anything more than minor tweaks of the system.

I have been thinking over the past few months about what a post-capitalist world might look like. Again, I am chucking Das Kapital as a blueprint for change, and rather trying to envision a world economy in which socially-necessary labor is valued more than socially-predatory behavior. In my mind, the most necessary labor for the survival of the human species is raising children, yet people who choose to stay home and care for children are often derided as lazy or old-fashioned.

Those who grow food have traditionally been among the poorest members of human societies, yet the rest of us would quickly starve without their labors. The same can also be said about the people who perform any number of necessary-but-underpaid positions.

I know that I possess a few trump cards that have allowed me to hold a privileged niche in the modern world. I came from a middle class, two-parent household that prized education; I was born in the United States; I was born white, male, tall, and drop-dead handsome.


However, had I drawn my first breath in a zone of widespread poverty, like Calcutta or Ouagadougou or Mexico City, there would be no way that you would be reading this post. In fact, it is doubtful that I would even have access to the Internet as a means of conveying my thoughts about a post-capitalist world.

Those of you who are also true believers in the Gospel of the Free Markets will resist the idea that a system will evolve to replace capitalism. That is perfectly understandable, as I, too, was conditioned to believe that free markets are the highest form of socioeconomic organization.

Just remember that those who lived under pre-capitalist systems typically believed their way of life to be the ultimate form of living, if they even could conceive of other ways of living. This is a logical fallacy sometimes known as triumphalism, and though capitalism appears to be in an ascendant phase, there is no guarantee that humanity will be as enamorated with capitalism in 50 or 100 years as we seem to be in 2008.

So be sure to vote for the candidate who convinces you that he or she will fit your definition of "best." At the same time, though, I ask you to take a minute and consider alternatives to the religion of privatization being foisted upon us as the unsurpassed answer to every human problem, and that you try to visualize a world in which profit is not the path to salvation.

Feb 19, 2008

OH NOES: It's an Emailed Death Threat!

Left: Artist's rendition of the hit on Historymike

It is with deep regret that I must inform my readers that I am the target of a hitman, and that my days on this earthly vale of tears may be limited. After all, I received the following emailed death threat today, and after scanning the header and finding out that the sender is from Nigeria, I realized that I am dealing with a world-class criminal outfit, far too sophisticated for a Midwestern rube such as I.

It is clear from the following letter that these dangerous folks mean business, and that I had better get my affairs in order for the upcoming assassination attempt, as sent to me by killersmission009@gmail.com:


I am very sorry for you Xxxxxx, is a pity that this is how your life is going to end as soon as you don't comply. As you can see there is no need of introducing myself to you because I don't have any business with you, my duty as I am mailing you now is just to KILL you and I have to do it as I have already been paid for that.

Someone you call a friend wants you Dead by all means, and the person have spent a lot of money on this, the person also came to us and told me that he wanted you dead and he provided us with your name ,picture and other necessary information's we needed about you. So I sent my boys to track you down and they have carried out the necessary investigation needed for the operation on you, and they have done that but I told them not to kill you that I will like to contact you and see if your life is Important to you or not since their findings shows that you are innocent.

I called my client back and ask him of your email address which I didn't tell him what I wanted to do with it and he gave it to me and I am using it to contact you now. As I am writing to you now my men are monitoring you and they are telling me everything about you.

Now do you want to LIVE OR DIE? As someone has paid us to kill you. Get back to me now if you are ready to pay some fees to spare your life, $15,000 is all you need to spend You will first of all pay $8,000 then I will send a tape to you which i recorded every discusion i hade with the person who wanted you dead and as soon as you get the tape, you will pay the remaining $7,000. If you are not ready for my help, then I will carry on with my job straight-up.


So if you read about me in the paper, my bloody skull splattered all over my TV lift cabinet like a rotten pumpkin, know this, friends: the Nigerian hitmen are a dangerous lot, and should not be trifled with.

Feb 18, 2008

On Spy Satellites, Navy Missiles, and Lurking Suspicions

Left: Artist's rendition of spy satellite USA 193

I have been following with some interest the news that the U.S. Navy will likely attempt to shoot down a crippled spy satellite this Thursday. Military and administration officials justify the mission on the basis that the satellite carries hydrazine, a toxic fuel that could cause injury to any people nearby if the chemical reaches the ground.

A missile fired on Thursday will allow the Navy to take a second shot if the first fails, well before the USA 193/NRO L-21 satellite hits the Earth's atmosphere.

Diplomats in both China and Russia have expressed concerns about the upcoming mission. A representative from Russia's defense ministry said the mission is really a test of the American "anti-missile defense system's capability to destroy other countries' satellites."

My sneaking suspicion, however, is that this shoot-down attempt has as much to do with has been described in media reports as a sophisticated and secret imaging sensor that would be prized by other competitors in space, especially the Chinese and Russians, which is not an item found at a retailer such as DirectBuy. Of course, life would be simpler if I just drank the proffered governmental Kool-Aid and swallowed whole the idea that the U.S. government just wants to protect us all, but I've ben lied to by my leaders too many times to accept this story at face value.

Feb 17, 2008

The Quote Shelf

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

A petty reason perhaps why novelists more and more try to keep a distance from journalists is that novelists are trying to write the truth and journalists are trying to write fiction.
-- Graham Greene

Feb 16, 2008

On SEO, Breaking News Stories, and Blogs as Legitimate Media

Blogger Beta icon Like everyone else, I was disturbed and saddened at the Northern Illinois University massacre, which took the lives of six young persons, including that of the deranged shooter, Steven Kazmierczak. I posted about the killing spree yesterday, and through my digging I was able to break the name of the shooter on the Internet about 90 minutes before the police allowed the mainstream media release the killer's name.

As a result of this minor scoop, this website ranked at the top of Google Internet results yesterday for a number of search groupings, such as "Steven Kazmierczak" and "NIU Steven Kazmierczak." Now, while I create post titles and keyword hyperlinks with an eye toward search engine optimization (SEO), I did not go out of my way to maximize this blog's search rankings on the tragedy. In fact, beyond a relevant link at Toledo Talk and a submission of the post to Digg, I did not engage in the practice known as "blog pimping."

I did, however, take advantage of a trick I learned at Andy Beard's excellent site. I resubmitted my site's feed to Google as a site map after publishing the post, which caused the Google bot to crawl my site. Normally Google will visit your site on a predetermined basis, which in the case of this website is every 1-2 days. The result of my decision to resubmit my site feed was that Google placed Historymike at the top of the rankings when the AP first hit the wire with the name of "Steven Kazmierczak" as the shooter. For some search combinations, this site is still at the top of results over 30 hours after the story broke.

The results were quite impressive, as my site traffic jumped thirty-fold, moving from its previous 30-day average of 814 unique visitors per day to over 25,000 uniques yesterday, and visitors perused some 80,000 website pages yesterday. Over 200 visitors left comments on the post, and the number of people who subscribe to my Google feed increased as well, which bodes well for future traffic.

I would not recommend frequently using this technique, as Google probably recognizes that this can be a way to game the system. Still, if you have a time-sensitive post that could vault you to the top of search results - like a breaking news story on a previously insignificant person - this can bring you an impressive amount of site traffic.

Of course, there is something kind of creepy about "benefitting" from tragedy, but I do not get up in the morning and stick a finger in the wind to see what will draw traffic. I write about those topics that move me, interest me, or anger me, and I would have written about the NIU tragedy whether I had fifty readers or fifty thousand. Academia is a large part of my life, and the massacre served as a reminder that the college campuses at which I work and study have the potential to be killing fields.

Yet the nature of the Internet is such that every website owner has the potential to cover topics that are being ignored, suppressed, or buried by the major media. Conversely, information-seekers no longer have to wait for the media and governments to decide when we need to know a given piece of information, which brings an element of democracy to the news.

Quirky Websites: Internet Anagram Server

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

Those of you who enjoy the delights of wordsmithery will no doubt find the Internet Anagram Server to be an entertaining diversion. The clever folks who designed the site realized that the name also spells "I, rearrangement server," and such a tool could be handy when designing party invitations for events at which your fellow word geeks are likely to attend.

My first name can be reaaranged in a number of interesting fashions, including: "Male Chi," "Lame Chi," and "Ham Lice." When I entered the letters of my city, Toledo, into the site sever, the first anagram generated was the word "looted."

This was both ironic and accurate, given Toledo's history as a center of the American Rust Belt. After all, as the site reminds us: "All life's wisdom can be found in anagrams. Anagrams never lie."

Feb 15, 2008

On NIU, Steven Kazmierczak, and Mass Murder

Emergency personnel move an injured person out of Neptune Hall, a residence hall at Northern Illinois University; photo courtesy AP

I understand how depressed persons might want to take their own lives. I also understand how enraged people might want to target someone who has brought them harm or pain.

But I have never been able to comprehend how a person like Steven Kazmierczak - the gunman in the Northern Illinois University shooting - can target innocent bystanders in his violent response to his life circumstances.

Kazmierczak was an award-winning graduate student at the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was vice-president of the NIU Academic Criminal Justice Association in 2005, and he also contributed to an article on self-injury in prisons. This is hardly the stereotype of the loner gunman, and yet Kazmierczak's violent spree left seven people dead and another 15 injured.

The thought of such violence sickens me, and I struggle to come to terms with the mindset of someone who could bring so much pain and death to so many random people. There have been low points in my life when I questioned the merits of living, and I can recall several occasions where my rage at those who brought harm to my family members led to some violent thoughts. Of course, there is a tremendous difference between the fleeting moments of despair I have experienced and a person who actually carries out an act of suicide or violent revenge, but at least there is some rational process for these types of behaviors that I can understand.

At no point, though - even during my darkest hours - has the thought entered my head to harm innocent people, and I just cannot fathom how a person like Steven Kazmierczak can arrive at the conclusion that the optimal way to end his pain is by killing innocent students on a college campus.

Then again, perhaps my attempt to find a rational basis for mass murder is itself an exercise in futility. There may not be a logical progression in the thoughts that go through the mind of someone like Kazmierczak, despite the seemingly cold calculation and planning that preceded his minutes of bloody horror on the campus of NIU.

So I sit at my desk this morning, shocked and saddened at the senseless violence that occurred at a campus similar to others at which I have taught and studied, and I feel frustrated at my inability to understand why these incidents keep happening.

And I thank God that this was not my time to die.

Feb 14, 2008

Rapid Rhetoric: AMORETTO

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.

amoretto (ahm-oh-REH-toe) n. in art, a small plump boy that represents Cupid.

The word amoretto is a diminutive of the Italian word Amore ("Cupid"), and both words trace their origin to the Latin word amor, meaning "love." Some of you may have jumped to the conclusion that this was related to the Italian liqueur amaretto, but this word is derived from the Italian amaro, meaning "bitter."

Another word for this mythical creature is the putto, often found in Italian Renaissance art. Careful with this term, though: the feminine version of putto is putta, which roughly translates as "slut." Puto and puta carry equally pejorative connotations in Portuguese and Spanish, but I'll let you figure those out on your own, and let's just say that the words have nothing to do with how to lose weight.

Gotta keep it clean for the kiddies, folks, especially on Valentine's Day.

Feb 13, 2008

Digital Audio, Video, and Image Resource for Ohioans

A colleague recently clued me in to the OhioLINK Digital Media Center, which contains a wealth of audio, video, and image sources. I have enjoyed perusing this excellent resource, and I have found the digitzed video collection to be especially impressive.

The collection is available to students, faculty, and staff of OhioLINK member institutions; Ohio public library cardholders; and Ohio K-12 students, teachers, parents and staff. There is an amazing colection of images and audio files, and some 2,191 videos have been digitized in a streaming video format that uses the RealPlayer platform.

This evening I watched a pair of 30-minute videos from a series entitled History's Turning Points. One dealt with the fall of the Bastille in 1789, and the second examined Napoleon's disatrous 1812 invasion of Russia. I found both films to be concise, well-produced documentaries suitable for secondary and college classrooms, and I wholeheartedly recommend the collection as an entertaining and educational way to pass the time.

Feb 12, 2008

Chesapeake Sweep: Obama Takes VA, MD, and DC

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., greets commuters in Washington, DC; photo courtesy AP

In a stunning setback to the Clinton camp, Democratic presidential candidate and now front-runner Barack Obama scored victories in the primaries held in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Given Obama's fundraising advantages going into these contests, it is difficult to see how Hillary Clinton can come back in the coming weeks, as her opponent has both electoral and financial momentum on his side.

Most surprising of the victories is undoubtedly Virginia, where it appears that Obama will rack up over 60 percent of the total vote. As late as this weekend, Clinton campaign officials were cautiously optimistic that they could squeak out a victory over Obama.

The polls in Maryland will remain open until 9:30 pm EST, but exit polls show Obama with a 3:1 lead over Clinton in the Old Line State, and I fail to see how he can lose. Thus, the election center that is my laptop is making the calls ahead of the media, solely with the goal of generating traffic for my blog.


Clinton held a slim 28-delegate lead over Obama in delegates going into today's races (1136-1108), but these figures include superdelegates, who are allowed to switch their votes. Many pundits argue that it is Obama who really leads in delegates, and respected sites such as RealClearPolitics.com showed the Illinois senator with a 5-15 delegate lead before tonight's results.

There are 168 delegates up for grabs tonight, and I suspect that Obama will snag 100-110 of those. He might very well have a 50-60 delegate lead over Clinton by the end of the evening, and it is quite possible that his lead could surpass 150 delegates before the last-gasp primaries in the states of Ohio and Texas arrive on March 4 for Hillary Clinton.

Even those primaries, which appeared to be locks for Clinton as late as mid-January, look like hotly-contested races now. By the way - I claim creation of the phrase "Chesapeake Sweep", which I used in a post last week, and which has been popping up on the Internet ever since.

Feb 11, 2008

On Copiers, Exams, and Jumping into Modernity

I am giving a midterm today in one of the world history classes that I teach, and I gave myself extra time to get copies printed and stapled. When I arrived at the copier, I made a decision that turned out to bode well for my future productivity: I read the copier manual to learn how to collate and staple my five-page test.

Now, those of you who work full-time in an office setting are probably well versed in the art of copier use, either through personal expertise or because you can delegate copying tasks to a subordinate. In my case, I know little beyond the basics of one-sided, one-page copying, and I have always stapled my own multi-page projects.

Heck, I have trouble just getting the machine to collate, so I usually end up with a bunch of piles from which I assemble syllabi and tests. Remember, too, that my stubborn pride prevents me at most times from asking for help. God forbid I should admit my incompetence at copying, so I suffer in silence, slinking off to staple my non-collated pages by hand.

After spending ten minutes reading the Sharp instruction manual, I felt prepared for the leap into modernity. After feeding the originals, like electronic magic the stapled exams appeared in the exit tray, ten smoking-hot sets per minute. In less than three minutes time, the machine produced what normally would have been a 20-25 minute manual sorting and stapling process.


The lessons learned from mastering such a skill go beyond the additional free time, though. It is when we continue to stubbornly refuse to change that we deny ourselves opportunities to grow, even in such a mundane task as copying multi-page documents. Perhaps this moment will serve as a reminder of the potentially obstructive and stunting power of my ego, which can act as a barrier to self-improvement.

The Quote Shelf

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

A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.
-- Franz Kafka

Feb 10, 2008

Songs That Quote Other Songs

One of the secret pleasures I have as a music afficianado happens when I recognize a verbal or musical quotation in a song. Sometimes a band or songwriter wants to pay homage to an earlier performer, while at other times musicians quote their own work.

Of course, only a geek like me tries to make historical connections with music, and I recognize that most folks simply tap their feet and sing along to a tune. Still, for those of you who share my passion for arcane references to other songs in a given composition, here is a brief list of some of my favorite musical quotes. I am avoiding the phenomena of direct sampling, which is a staple of the hip-hop world, but rather focusing on those sly quotations that fly under the aural radar.

Feel free to chime in with any other quoting songs that you can find.

"Centerfield," John Fogerty - Fogerty borrowed the line "Rounding third, headed for home, it's a brown-eyed handsome man" from one of rock-and-roll's greatest poets, Chuck Berry, whose "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" tells the story of, well, a bunch of brown-eyed handsome men.

"Gone Daddy Gone," the Violent Femmes - The Femmes lifted a complete verse from Willie Dixon's 1954 "I Just Want To Make Love To You," which was later butchered by Foghat. Gordon Gano, to his credit, listed Dixon as a cowriter on the debut Femmes LP for borrowing the verse that begins: "I can tell by the way you that you switch and walk, I can see by the way that you baby talk..."

"Feelin' Stronger Every Day," Chicago - You will have to listen closely for this quote, which occurs during the uptempo musical break before the repeated lines of "Feelin' stronger every day" at the end of the song. Those with sharp ears will hear "Jumpin' Jack Flash, it's a gas gas gas" sung by Peter Cetera, Robert Lamm, and Terry Kath, paying homage to the Rolling Stones.

"Come Together," The Beatles - John Lennon's "Here comes old flat-top, he come grooving up slowly" was snagged from Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me," which sparked a lawsuit from Morris Levy, who owned the rights to the original song.

"Tainted Love," Soft Cell - This 1980s techno-dance tune quotes The Supreme's "Where Did Our Love Go?" on the extended versions, though I think this is missing from the abbreviated MTV video.

"Into the Great Wide Open," Tom Petty - The line "Rebel without a clue" first appeared in the 1989 Replacements song "I'll Be You." Petty insists that he did not intentionally swipe the line, but the Replacements were opening for TP on a 1989 tour, the year that "I'll Be You" was released as a single. Hmmmm....

"Glass Onion," The Beatles - Lennon quoted and referenced a number of Beatles songs in this tune, including "Strawberry Fields," "I am the Walrus," "Lady Madonna," "The Fool on the Hill," and "Fixing a Hole." I am of the opinion that Lennon liked jerking the chain of those who spent hours analyzing Beatles songs for clues to larger mysteries, and that "Glass Onion" is Lennon poking fun at people who are a bit too serious with his songs.

"All You Need is Love," The Beatles - Lots of musical and lyrical quotes happening in this song, from "La Marseillaise" to J.S. Bach's "2-part Invention #8 in F" to "Greensleeves." A saxophone plays snippets from Glenn Miller's "In The Mood," while Paul and John reprise the chorus of their own "She Loves You" at the end of the song.

"The Song is Over," The Who - The end of this Who's Next tune features a quote from "Pure and Esay," a song that was cut from the LP, but which later showed up on the Odds and Sods and Who Came First LPs. The Who's Next LP is actually the remnants of a larger project called Lifehouse, and "Pure and Easy" was supposed to be the closing song in the unfinished rock opera.

Feb 9, 2008

Rapid Rhetoric: HAVELOCK

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.

havelock (HAV-lawk) n. a cloth covering for a cap with a flap that extends over the back of the neck to protect from the sun's rays; any cloth covering for the head and neck that is typically used by soldiers as a precaution against sunstroke.

The havelock is named after Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, who is best known for his recapture of the cities of Cawnpore and Lucknow from rebels during The Indian Mutiny of 1857. Armies on both sides of the American Civil War adopted the havelock, and one of the most famous wearers of the havelock was Lawrence of Arabia.

An 1861 ballad by British poet David Mitchell Aird entitled Havelock To His Warrior Band celebrates the major-general, who died of dysentery after the capture of Lucknow:

Hark! Hark! 'tis the shriek of the children!
And the wives of the brave who were slain!
Who in cold blood were brutally slaughtered,
While pleading for mercy in vain!

O spare, spare my wife, cries the soldier!
The mother, she pleads for her child!
But alas! Barbarity triumphs,
And Cawnpore with victims is piled!

On, on, then! cried Havelock the brave,
Nine battles we've fought on these plains;
The tenth will hallow our glory!
Charge! Charge! Till no rebel remains!

Feb 8, 2008

Floodwaters Recede in Northwest Ohio

Left: Aubadon Island, or at least what can still be seen of the land mass

(Maumee, OH) To your left is the mighty Maumee River, which reached the flood stage at a number of communities on its banks. Much of Aubadon Island, the largest island in the river, remained submerged today when I was driving along River Road in Maumee.

Towns like Grand Rapids were especially hard hit by the flooding, whch was caused by heavy rains and melting snow earlier in the week. Much of Northwest Ohio falls within the region once known as the Great Black Swamp an area approximately 120 miles long and as many as 40 miles wide.

I spoke with a resident of Sylvania whose sump pump stopped working when snow brought down powerlines in his neighborhood. He borrowed a neighbor's antiquated portable generator to get the pump going again, and said that the noise from the two motors made sleep impossible last night.

Left: High water sign on Toledo's Violet Road

Even for folks who live some distance from flood-prone zones, and who are less inclined to shop for home insurance quotes that offer flood coverage, high water posed hazards on local roadways. There were quite a few underpasses in the area that were unpassable, and the pictured intersection in my neighborhood has been under water for five days.

Yet these have been far from historic floods, and residents of the former Swamp grow accustomed to the unpredictable water levels. The saturated ground on my property now looks like a series of small ponds, though I have been fortunate in my thirteen years in this house to have avoided a flooded basement.

Except, of course, the time a water hose blew on my washing machine, but that is another story.

On Squirrels, Frozen Crabapples, and Inner Peace

Fox squirrel eating a crabapple

Though I am occasionally miffed at the raids on my bird feeders perpetrated by the squirels that reside near my home, I confess that I find their rodential antics to be a source of entertainment. This morning a squirel briefly diverted me from my work with its efforts to harvest some frozen crabapples from a tree outside my window.

My dogs alerted me to the squirrel's presence, perched as it was some ten feet above their yapping heads. After herding the pack back into the house, I sat by the window and watched the squirrel engage in a series of dexterous moves in its pursuit of food.

Admitedly, there is nothing extraordinary about the ubiquitous urbanized squirrel, and I have yet to live in a city that does not boast a healthy population of these hardy scavengers. Yet I find the activity of squirrel-watching to be a unique form of relaxation that offers the participant an opportunity to put aside the stresses of the moment in favor of improving one's peace of mind.

My dogs, of course, completely disagree with this assessment, as they recognize the lowly squirrel as a four-legged foe, hell-bent on acts of terror against canines. My Puggle, a rambunctious fellow named Eddie Haskell, stalks squirrels much in the manner of a savannah lion, slowly creeping through the grass before a final mad sprint to the nearest tree. He has not yet scored a victory in his dedicated efforts at squirrel-catching, but he seems to enjoy the pastime.

As do I.

Feb 7, 2008

On Losing, Humility, and Being a Better Person

A friend reminded me today of an experience that taught me a few lessons, and I began to think about the process of losing and what it means to a person's character.

The specifics of the particular loss are irrelevant, save to say that the experience involved an academic award. Having racked up a series of significant academic and journalistic honors over the last few years, I have to admit that I began to view this award as something I had already won, as well as something I deserved.

Some might rightfully describe this attitude as "cocky" or "arrogant," and - truth be told - they are right.

I am convinced that God intended for me to lose, and that I needed to be knocked down a few pegs from my haughty perch. There were plenty of other people who were deserving of the particular award, not the least of whom was the actual winner, and I am somewhat ashamed to acknowledge that I whined about losing for a few days afterward. Ah, if we could travel back in time and give ourselves a knock about the head when we needed it, right?

I say somewhat ashamed, because part of the process of embracing the virtue of humility as a part of one's personality is being willing and able to publicly admit one's failings. This is not to wallow in my failure, mind you, but to view a defeat as a part of life and a part of who I am.

So, thank you, God, for the defeat and the greater lesson in being humble. It took me a few months to understand the manner of Your ways, but I think I have this one figured out.

Feb 6, 2008

Super Tuesday: Winners, Losers, and Questions

I stayed up too late last night watching the primary election returns roll in on the networks, and even after I pried myelf away from the television, I drifted to my laptop for another half-hour of electoral overload. I woke this morning to the sound of the campaign spin machines in action, with each candidate claiming victory.

Here, then, is my take on the ramifications of Super Tuesday, what the pundits are describing as the "first national primary":

Mike Huckabee: A surprisingly strong showing yesterday by the former Arkansas governor breathed life into what semed like a gasping campaign. Victories in five states means that Huckabee lives on to fight another day, though Huckabee's momentum must translate into upset wins in important states like Texas, Oho, and Wisconsin if he wants to battle McCain on the convention floor.

John McCain:While some question the McCain strategy of spending time and money in Romney's home state of Massachusetts, McCain clearly benefits from the Huckabee-Romney wooing of social conservatives. McCain will likely roll to the nomination unless he commits some unprecedented collapse, and I suspect that this veteran campaigner is too smart for that.

Ron Paul:The unlikely libertarian surge ran out of gas weeks ago. Paul still has a few million from the cash he raised in that fleeting moment of Web-mania, but he has racked up only 14 delegates to date, which is not enough to make convention noise if we spotted them a dozen bullhorns and a truckload of Papermate pens.

Mitt Romney: Cooked. Done. Even if Romney digs deep into his own pockets and finds another $30 million, there seems to be no way he can stop the momentum that McCain gained yesterday, especially with Huckabee splitting the conservative votes. He vowed today to fight on to the convention, but this rings hollow after McCain moved to more than a 2-1 lead over Romney in the delegate count.

Hillary Clinton: Yes, she won California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, but Obama beat her in Missouri and Connecticut. Clinton victories in those states would have been deadly to Obama, but she failed to deliver the knockout blow she needed. And, for months now, Clinton campaign strategists have been touting Super Tuesday as the moment Hillary would gain a commanding lead. Instead...

Barack Obama: Obama won 13-8 in states, with New Mexico still being counted, and appears to have gained 10-15 delegates over Clinton after Super Tuesday. While Clinton has something like a 70-delegate lead at the moment, Obama raked in over $32 million in January, more than doubling the Clinton haul. Polls also show Obama performing quite well in the upcoming Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington, Maryland and Virginia primaries.

Some lingering questions:

1. Can Hillary Clinton milk her extensive PAC contributors to make up for the tens of millions of dollars that she is behind Barack Obama?
2. If Obama pulls a Chesapeake Sweep in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, is there any hope left for Clinton?
3. Is the Huckabee-McCain love fest just a run-up to an eventual presidential ticket designed to keep conservatives on board with McCain?
4. Is Romney, the astute businessman, willing to risk any more of his fortune on what appears to be a sinking campaign?

Feb 5, 2008

Frederick Douglass Exhibit on Display in Temperance

1879 photograph of American abolitionist, editor, orator, author, statesman and reformer Frederick Douglass, by George K. Warren1879 photograph by George K. Warren of American abolitionist, orator, author, statesman, and reformer Frederick Douglass

(Temperance, MI) In conjunction with Black History Month, Monroe County Community College's Whitman Center in Temperance will be hosting the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History traveling exhibit entitled "Frederick Douglass from Slavery to Freedom: the Journey to New York City."

The exhibit can be viewed Monday - Thursday from 8:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m., Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., and Saturday 8:00 a.m. - noon.

The exhibit traces the life of Frederick Douglass as a slave and during his journey to freedom, and is based upon excerpts from the African American abolitionist's autobiography. The exhibit highlights the role of literacy in enabling Douglass to resist bondage and, after gaining freedom, to champion civil rights for all Americans.

The Whitman Center will also host a talk by historian Janet Rozick on the Underground Railroad on February 27 from 3:00-4:00 pm in Room 4. Rozick, who is staff historian for the Toledo Metroparks system, is a knowledgeable speaker who has devoted a considerable portion of her academic career to the Railroad, and I recommend the talk for all age groups.

The Quote Shelf

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

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

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

Feb 4, 2008

Joran van der Sloot: Cold-Blooded Killer, or Borderline Idiot?

Patrick van der Eem, the Dutch man who laid a trap for Natalee Holloway suspect Joran van der SlootPhoto courtesy of ABC News

I read with more than a little interest the ABC News report on Patrick van der Eem, the Dutch man who laid a trap for Joran van der Sloot, long considered to be a suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway. ABC will be running a special this evening on the taped confession of van der Sloot.

Translated excerpts of the videotape have been appearing all over the Internet, and van der Sloot certainly loses any credibility he once had. We are faced with a dilemma, though: do we accept the videotape at face value, believing van der Sloot's tale of dumping a comatose Natalee Holloway from a boat off the shore of Aruba, or do we believe his new story, which is that he lied on the tape to impress the faux gangster van der Eem?

Unfortunately for the Holloway family, it appears that authorities believe the tape has no value in a prosecution, as Aruba’s examining judge refused to issue a new warrant for the arrest of van der Sloot. Holloway's mother, Beth Twitty, told reporters that she felt a "kind of relief" at the revelations on the tape.

As I watched the tape and read the transcripts, I did not get the sense that van der Sloot told a story that was complete in its fabrication. I think the drug-using punk at the very least knows the details of Holloway's death, although he may have embellished the story to score points with his "gangster" pal van der Eem. At any rate, may van der Sloot be dragged into a dark alley by leather-clad dudes with lead pipes and chains for a serious arse-kicking, if for no other reason than being such a smarmy schmuck.

Feb 3, 2008

Giants 17, Patriots 14, and I Get Bragging Rights

Left: New York Giants QB Eli Manning celebrating a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots; photo courtesy of Reuters

This was one of the most entertaining of Super Bowls, and I especially enjoy the fact that the game went right down to the last seconds. Congratulations to the New York Giants, who thumbed their noses at the bettors, who pushed the betting line up to two touchdowns in this game.

I get to do a celebratory dance, having picked the G-Men to win by three points, albeit by a predicted score of 27-24. Besides Frank Caliendo, the only other people I saw picking the Giants were Dr. Z and Damon Hack at SI.com.

My only complaint was that this year's crop of Super Bowl commercials was mostly forgettable. I had only two legitimate chuckles during the entire run, both courtesy of Bud Light. I laughed at the fire-breathing spot, and when the subtitled caveman pronounced: "Wheel suck."

Anways, congrats again to Eli, Plaxico, the G-Men defense, and the rest of the team, who proved once again that it is good to get hot at playoff time.

On Learning Foreign Languages and the Internet

I have long been fascinated with learning languages other than my native English, and I can remember as a child that I would find, say, a cross referenced Spanish-English dictionary, to provide hours of entertainment. I continue to slowly develop my ability to communicate in a multiplicity of languages, and I have found the Internet to be a useful medium for polishing foreign language skills.

As a historian whose primary field is modern Europe, I have a vested interest in being able to jump back and forth betwen languages with at least a beginning level of comprehension. Still, there is something especially gratifying about meeting a foreign visitor and at least being able to say "Hello" in their native tongue. When I used to wait tables, I kept a piece of paper with me that contained fifteen languages and a dozen or so basic phrases. You'd be surprised how quickly, for example, a table of Pakistani expatriates would warm up when I said "Thank You" (shukriya) and "You're Welcome" (koi baat nahin) in Urdu, and I am sure that I was able to improve my gratuities by taking the extra effort to communicate with foreign guests.

The Web allows a person to instantaneously connect with people from all over the planet in conversation. The other night I was bored, and decided to play backgammon on Yahoo Games. My partner for the moment was a 36-year-old man from Istanbul, and we traded a few bits of language and culture in the three games we played.

In my email box each morning arrive foreign words of the day from Transparent Language. When I click on the links, I can hear native speakers pronounce the word and use it in a sentence. I currently receive Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and French words to practice each day, and this helps me keep fresh a language that I do not often use. In addition, the Internet seems to be able to provide an almost unlimited number of language dictionaries, making available such previously obscure languages as Yucatecan Maya or Ulwa available to a global audience.

My interest in Wikipedia, while occasionally a time-sucking habit, nonetheless allows me to connect with native speakers in dozens of languages. I am also able to use my Wikipedia user page to link with other users who share a given interest in linguistics and specific languages.

While there is no substitute for complete immersion in a culture to speed up the language acquisition process, the Internet has opened quite a few doors for me in my quest to master foreign languages. I suspect that there are many more opportunities on the Internet than the ones I have mentioned to polish language skills, and I eagerly await the continued evolution of the Web as a medium of interlingual exchange.

Feb 2, 2008

Rapid Rhetoric: FAMULUS

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.

famulus (FAH-myoo-luss) n. attendant to a sorcerer, scholar, or magician; a close personal attendant.

The word famulus has Latin orgins, and was originally used to mean "household slave." A 1053 Latin dictionary by the medeival lexicographer Papias of Lombardy lumped together the words famulus and manceps under the general category of servus ("slave").

I came across the word while perusing the York Cycle, which is a collection of forty-eight mystery plays that illustrate sacred Judeo-Christian traditions from Creation to the Last Judgement. Play 10, which examine's Abraham's sacrifice, contains dialogue between two famuli:

114 Famulus 1. Att youre biddyng we wille be bowne
115 What way in worlde that yoe wille wende.

116 Famulus 2. Why, sall we trusse ought forthe a towne
117 In any vncouthe lande to lende?

118 Famulus 1. I hope tha haue in this sessoune
119 Fro God of heuyn sum solayce sende.

120 Famulus 2. To fulfille yt is goode reasoune,
121 And kyndely kepe that he has kende.

122 Famulus 1. Bott what thei mene certayne
123 Haue I na knowlage clere.

124 Famulus 2. It may noght gretely gayne
125 To move of swilke matere.

Feb 1, 2008

A Day's Difference in the Yard

(Toledo, OH) I planned to take before-and-after photos of my yard as a winter storm approached the area, but I forgot that my digital camera tends to cloud images with a bluish hue in late afternoons without sunlight, not unlike that given off by plasma cutting tools.

At any rate, we received about five inches of heavy snow overnight, closing schools in the area and giving me an excuse not to leave the house.

BTW - I hope that no one tells Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner that my neighbors left their trash cans out an extra day, as it appears that the house across the street contains trash can scofflaws.