Jan 31, 2008

All-Time Worst Pop Songs

We all have a song or two (or twelve) that make us cringe, or dive to change the station before we are subjected to aural torture. With this thought in mind, I have assembled some of what I believe to be the worst-ever moments in pop music.

Feel free to chime in with a comment about your least favorite pop songs, or to offer a vehement defense in favor of a maligned song.

"Honey," Bobby Goldsboro - Not only is this a sappy piece of musical drivel, but what kind of angels sneak up on someone and take them away? Sounds more like B-movie horror than a fatal love dirge.

"PopoZão," Kevin Federline - Whatever crumbs of street credibility K-Fed ever possessed disappeared with the release of this God-awful blend of hip-hop and Brazilian funk. Set this disc on a wall, grab a 12-gauge, and take aim.

"Elusive Butterfly Of Love," Bob Lind - Dreck. Dreck. Dreck. "Don't be concerned, it will not harm you," croons the singer, but it sounds more like a bright elusive butterfly of STALKERY to me.

"Playground In My Mind," Clint Holmes - Admittedly, my dislike of this song owes much to its incessant "Michael and Cindy, when we get married, we're gonna have us a baby or two" chorus, which was the source of much taunting when I was a kid and lived next door to a girl named Cindy. Still, this attempt at reminiscing about the innocence of youth is way over the top.

"These Boots Are Made For Walking," Jessica Simpson - The original Nancy Sinatra version had an element of vampiness and goofy Sixties cachet, but Jessica Simpson completely butchers this tune with her phoned-in, bored vocals.

"Achy, Breaky Heart," Billy Ray Cyrus - And as if this musical abomination wasn't bad enough, the talentless Hannah Montana is a product of Billy Ray's loins. More than enough reason to demand federal legislation mandating a vasectomy for him.

Scam Email Promises IRS Tax Refund of $129.72

Left: screen capture of fake IRS site

In my Inbox today arrived an official-looking email from what purported to be an IRS email address: service@irs.gov. Extra cash is always appreciated on my end, so I read on.

Here is the text of the email:

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have
determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $129.72.
Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 3-9 days in order to
process it.

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline.

To access your tax refund, please click here

Best Regards,
Tax Refund Deparment
Internal Revenue Service
Hidden in the clickable link, however, are a series of Redirect commands that move you from the URL http://audio-master.com.ar/catalog/images/secure.php to another URL http://promoexpo.com.mx/cp/scripts/.secure/www.irs.gov/0,,id=96596,00.html.

To the unwary recipient of the email, this might seem to be an opportunity to collect some unexpected money, but the purpose of this scam is simply to collect your personal information. Don't be a sucker - the IRS never asks for personal identifying or financial information via unsolicited e-mail. Furthermore, taxpayers do not have to complete a special form to obtain refunds, since any owed monies are automatically remitted by the IRS to the taxpayer.

Jan 30, 2008

Arctic Blast Claims First Victim

(Toledo, OH) The sudden arrival into Northwest Ohio of a cold air mass from the Arctic meant the demise of the driver's side door handle to my 1995 Hyundai Accent. Given the fact that biterly cold winds followed last night's heavy rains, my doors were iced over.

I thought that I was applying gentle pressure in my efforts to free the door, but alas, the molded plastic handle snapped like a cheap matchstick.

The irony of this, however, was that I was preparing to take another vehicle to the repair shop for a door handle replacement (not weather-related). For the moment I am now the proud owner of two vehicles for which the normally effortless task of opening the driver's door is now a complicated, cross-vehicle excursion across motorized real estate.

Jan 29, 2008

Waiting for the Storm

Left: My wet driveway

(Toledo, OH) Northwest Ohio is bracing for an unusual weather pattern for the next 24 hours that will begin with rain, but which will get strange as high winds bring in extremely cold temperatures. We might see only a few inches of snow, but the sudden onslaught of cold winds will likely mean the formation of a layer of ice below the snow.

The National Weather Service issued both a Hazardous Weather Outlook and a High Wind Warning for the area, with winds gusts as high as 55 mph, occasioanl thunder, and wind chill values as low as -8.

At the moment, the temperature is an almost-balmy 48 degreees Fahrenheit, and there is a light drizzle. The cold front is over central Indiana at the time of this writing, and we will see a 35-40 degree drop in temperatures in the next eight hours or so.

My wife and children are crossing their fingers for a snow day tomorrow, but Wednesdays are a light workday for me, so I am ambivalent about the weather prospects. That being said, I much prefer my current life in academia than my old career as a retail business owner, in which winter storms meant poor sales, stranded employees, and hard-to-find snowplow drivers.

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.

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
-- Jack London

Jan 28, 2008

On Avoiding the State of the Union Speech

I typically make it a point to watch the annual dog-and-pony show known as the State of the Union Address. Although I am a lifelong political independent, I still find the event to offer some insight into contemporary politics, and there is usually enough drama to keep me entertained.

I think that I have watched all or part of some thirty SOTU speeches over my lifetime, and I have considered this to be a civic duty almost on par with voting. Of course, I spend more time scoffing at the inanity of the speakers and commentators, but we all have our reasons for watching, right?

This year, though, I feel no compelling desire to watch President Bush give his final SOTU speech. He is unlikely to reveal any innovative domestic policies, as evidenced by his relative lack of domestic initiatives to date as a President. He will likely repeat the same Iraq mantras to which we have grown so accustomed, and will no doubt point to a recent decline in Iraqi violence as "proof" of his administration's failed Iraq policies.

There will also likely be the usual staged opposition pageantry, with choreographed standing, sitting, clapping, or silence from Democrats at the expected moments. We can also expect a number of extended camera shots on any Presidential candidates who happen to be in the House Chamber tonight, along with every war hero, orphaned child, and insurance-less cancer patient that the assembled politicians can squeeze in to the festivities.

Folks, I am just tired. I am tired of the political shenanigans, tired of a lying President, tired of a spineless Congress, and I am tired from working harder than a two-dollar Thai hooker on fifty-cent night just to make ends meet. So I will probably find a book, read about ten pages, and fall asleep before the last drop of insincerity sprays from the mouth of President Bush, well before the predictable Democratic responses, and long before the last of the pundits blathers on about what we already heard in the previous hour.

Wake me if something significant happens, will you?

Jan 27, 2008

Rapid Rhetoric: KERMES

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.

kermes (KEHR-meez) n. a crimson-red dye made from the insects Kermes ilicis and Kermes vermilio; a type of Mediterranean shrub, rsembling an oak, that is an important source of food for Kermes insects; a genus of scale insects in the order Hemiptera that feed on the leaves of evergreen oaks and produce a crimson dye.

I was previously familiar with the New World dye known as cochineal that is produced by the insect known as Dactylopius coccus as they devour cacti, but "kermes" was a new term to me.

Kermes is one of the oldest dyes in recorded history, and was mentioned in the book of Genesis (38:28) as "scarlet." The kermes dye trade of Sardis, the capital of Lydia, was so renowned that the expression "the red bath of Sardes" arose. Kermes was an important trade product until the sixteenth century, when cochineal began to replace it as a superior red dye.

Those who produced dye from Kermes insects would gather them and allow the bodies to dry. The dried insects - females contained the highest concentrations of carmine, the active chemical - would then be crushed and boiled to extract the dye. The resultant solution would then be mixed with a mordant, such as with alum, cream of tartar, stannous chloride, or potassium hydrogen oxalate.

Jan 26, 2008

On Wikipedia and Random Articles


When I am bored with my usual Net surfing, I occasionally visit Wikipedia and use the Random Article function. This is located on the left sidebar of Wikipedia, and clicking the link sends the computer user into unknown and often fascinating journeys into accumulated knowledge.

Now, even though I am a borderline Wikipediholic, I recognize that the articles are only as accurate as the last revisions. Still, I find the site to be an excellent basic reference for initial inquiries into a topic with which one is unfamiliar.

Today I began with an article on Tabon man, which is a set of human remains found in the Tabon Cave in Quezon, Palawan, Philippines that are between 22,000 and 24,000 years old. My next click took me to the article entitled Clastic rock, which is composed of fragments, or clasts, of pre-existing rock, and which is a term most often applied to sedimentary rocks.

I next visited an article on Kvarnbron, which is a bridge in central Stockholm, Sweden that serves a light rail line called Tvärbanan. The name of the bridge in the Swedish languag translates as "The Mill Bridge." After perusing this article, I traveled halfway around the world and learned about Peter Waite, South Australian pastoralist and public benefactor. This article lacked citations and artwork, and needed cleanup, so I ended up spending about 15 minutes improving it.

Also needing a bit of wiki-TLC was an article on Nertera granadensis, which is a ground cover plant with orange berries of the genus Nertera. I found a public domain picture, added references, and improved the text in my 20-minute detour from random articles.

Wiki-surfing can open up a person to areas of knowledge from which they have previously been woefully ignorant. The practice, of course, can be a exercise in time-suckage, so be sure to place limits on random article scanning.

Jan 25, 2008

Melissa Arrington, Remorseless Drunken Killer

Melissa Arrington, 27, who killed bicyclist Paul L'Ecuyer in 2006 in a drunk driving accidentLeft: Melissa Arrington; photo courtesy of Pima County Attorney's Office

Melissa Arrington swerved from the road twice when she was driving drunk just before she struck and killed Tuscon bicyclist Paul L'Ecuyer in December 2006. She was driving despite having a suspended driver's license from a previous DUI.

Now, these facts in and of themselves are not especially newsworthy in an era when drunk driving fatalities are everyday events. 17,602 fatalities occurred in 2006 in alcohol-related crashes. Between 1983 and 2006, more than 210,000 people have died in crashes involving what the NTSB calls "hard core drinking drivers."

Melissa Arrington, though, is a particularly reprehensible drunken killer, as she was taped by jailers in a conversation with a friend in which she laughed at the victim. You can listen to excerpts of the taped jailhouse phone call at this link.

The man with whom Arrington spoke, in a bizarre attempt to cheer up the incarcerated woman, made light of the fatal accident that took the life of L'Ecuyer:
John says as far as he's concerned, you did the world a favor. Because you took out a f***ing tree hugger, a bicyclist, a Frenchman and a gay guy all in one shot. He's proud of you. He says as far as he's concerned, they should give you a medal and a f***ing parade.
On the audio recording, Arrington can be heard laughing at the comments. She later acknowledged that admitted that she is "not supposed to be laughing at stuff like that,'' but then chuckles and tells the caller that "I would have to agree with that."

Absolutely chilling.

The jury in the case acquitted Arrington of manslaughter, the most serious charge against her, and convicted her instead of negligent homicide. The audiotape was not allowed as evidence in the proceedings until the sentencing phase.

If there can be any positive news in this sordid tale, it would be the actions of Pima County Superior Court Judge Michael R. Cruikshank. The judge told Arrington that the phone call was "breathtaking in it's inhumanity," and Cruikshank sentenced her to a maximum sentence of 10-and-a-half years in prison, where she will not be likely to need travel insurance.

In an essay like this, I typically close with a condemnatory passage or two about the profiled idiot. In Arrington's case, though, her own words and behavior say more than I ever could about her utter lack of human decency.

Jan 24, 2008

On the Proposed Economic Stimulus Plan

I read with interest the announcement by President Bush that his administration reached a bipartisan agreement with House leadership on an economic growth packagethat would provide tax rebates of up to $600 for individuals and $1,200 for couples. Families eligible for this program would also receive an additional $300 per child.

In my case, we would receive $1800 from the federal government sometime around mid-April to mid-May, depending on how quickly Congress gets the compromised bill back to the President.

As I mentioned previously, I will gladly cash any federal check that the Treasury Departent wants to send me. I remain skeptical, though, that $150 billion in tax rebates and business tax credits will provide much more than a temporary boost to the $13.86 trillion U.S. economy. Moreover, the tax rebates will exacerbate the projected $219 billion budget deficit in 2008, making the federal government a competitor in the shrinking credit market.

Given the rampant pessimism about the economy - nearly half of Americans fear a recession is on the way - I suspect that most people will be conservative with any rebates they receive, using the money to pare down debt, to purchase home improvements like tankless water heaters, or to boost emergency savings, much like blogger Momof3 plans to do.

Me? Most likely we will pay a few annoying bills, and take any leftover cash with us when we travel to Europe this summer. In our case, little of the tax rebate will spark economic growth here at home, though a few bistros in Barcelona and Milan might be appreciative.

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.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

-- John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

Jan 23, 2008

Yet Even More Thoughts on Improving Your Writing

This is part of a continuing series of posts on improving your writing and on getting published.

Many writers have a solid grasp of basic writing skills, and they avoid the most egregious mistakes that send subtle and unfair messages about educational levels. There are a number of less obvious mistakes that writers make, however, that separate them from more polished and confident writers.

Today we will examine a few stylistic and grammatical problems that I frequently encounter as an editor and writing coach.

1. Make sure that pronouns match antecedents in number. An antecedent is the noun to which the pronoun refers, and it is typically found before the pronoun. The best way to illustrate this phenomenon is through an example:

A teacher should carefully prepare their lesson plans. (incorrect)

Teachers should carefully prepare their lesson plans. (correct)

2. Be cognizant of the dreaded comma splices. A comma splice is a type of run-on sentence in which two independent clauses (complete sentences) are incorrectly joined together with a comma. Here again the problem can best be defined by examples:

I ran to the corner, the ice cream truck had sped away. (incorrect)

I ran to the corner, but the ice cream truck had sped away. (correct)

The use of the conjunction "but" in this example corrects the mistake.

3. Be judicious in your use of the passive voice. With sentences that use the passive voice, the subject receives the action expressed in the verb, or the subject is acted upon. Typically the passive voice uses a form of the verb "to be" with a participle. There are examples, such as in business or legal writing, where groups prefer the passive voice, but in general writers create stronger sentences using the active voice. Here are some examples:

The mouse was chased by the cat. (passive voice)
The cat chased the mouse. (active voice)

The novel Beowulf was being read by the literature students. (passive voice)
The literature students read the novel Beowulf.(active voice)

Jillian is loved by Mergatroid. (passive voice)
Mergatroid loves Jillian. (active voice)

Again, use of the passive voice constitutes correct grammar, but most sentences improve by using the active voice.

4. Be prepared to annhilate the adverb 'very' from your writing. This overused adverb adds little to the average sentence, and writers who litter their prose with "very" run the risk of being seen as prone to exaggeration.

Meet Gretl, a Rescue Dachshund

Gretl is a four-year-old, twelve-pound Dachshund who suffered years of abuse and neglect as a breeding dog at a puppy mill. She was rescued by a Planned Pethood volunteer from a local pound, and was scheduled to be euthanized at the time of her rescue.

Gretl has spent most of her four years locked in a cage, and at the time of rescue was suffering from an inguinal hernia that the breeder neglected to fix. The vet repaired her hernia in the process of spaying her, and she is fine now. She is a bit skittish around new people, though she warms up quickly. We are working on housebreaking Gretl, and teaching her basic social skills, such as walking on a leash and going outdoors on her own.

The perfect home for Gretl would be one that understands that this dog needs some time and a lot of love to overcome the years of neglect. Gretl is easily startled by loud noises and sudden movements, but she will sit quietly if picked up and petted. She has not demonstrated any negative behaviors, and she has a streak of Doxie inquisitiveness about her.

Gretl will provide many years of love for a person who has the patience to wait for trust to build between dog and owner, but she would probably best thrive in a house with regular routines and a lower level of activity. For more information on Gretl, or any other rescue dog, please visit the Planned Pethood website.

Jan 22, 2008

Super Bowl Prediction: New York Giants 27, New England Patriots 24

I chuckled when I saw the initial point spread for the Super Bowl that showed the New England Patriots as two-touchdown favorites over the surprising New York Giants. Even in a game that has featured a few blowouts over the years, there is no way that so many bettors can be suckered by such odds.

Now, let me be upfront: I am in no way a Patriots hater, though I am a bit tired of seeing them in the Super Bowl. The idea that I might witness a perfect 19-0 season intrigues me, at least in the way that I will someday be able to bounce a grandkid on my knee and talk about the good old days.

But what I have seen of the Giants in the past four games leads me to believe that we are looking at one of those teams that is starting to fire on all cylinders at the right time. Eli Manning has finally shown the type of leadership expected of him as the first overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, and he has eliminated the occasional stupid pick that leaves Giants fans groaning. Since Manning was intercepted by the Patriots’ Ellis Hobbs with 9:53 remaining in the fourth quarter of the regular season finale, the Giants offense has had 33 possessions and run 194 plays without a turnover.

The Giants' running game is one of the best in the league, and the two-headed, four-legged monster of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have averaged 108 yards per game against some stout rushing defenses. The receiving corps of the Giants has also cut down on the league-leading 42 drops that at times crippled the team this year.

But it is the defense of the Giants that has carried the team so far in the playoffs, and this team always seems to get a turnover or a stop just when it is most needed. During the playoffs the Giants are plus-five in turnover differential, and plus-eight in penalty differential, committing only 14 penalties to 22 by their opponents.

It is a gut reaction, more than anything else, that leads me to believe that the Giants will prevail. There is infinitely more pressure on the Patriots to close out this season with a victory in order to seal their status as perfect 19-0 team, while no one expects much from the Giants besides putting up a good fight.

At least, no one but the Giants seems to expect much from the team. I think the difference will be the lanky Plaxico Burress making receptions against safeties and corners 5-8 inches shorter than he, along with a couple of timely interceptions against the suddenly-human Tom Brady.

Jan 21, 2008

U.S. Stock Market: Calm Before the Storm?

Global stock markets tanked Monday following declines on Wall Street last week, and global investors seem unpersuaded by the U.S. government's stimulus plan to prevent a recession by issuing $800 tax rebates.

India's principal index tumbled 7.4% Monday, falling 1408 points to 17,605, while China's Shanghai Composite Index dropped 266 points, or 5.1%, to 4914.

Germany's DAX index fell 381 points to 6933, while the CAC 40 in France was down 238 points at 4854; these represent declines of six and four percent, respectively. Some £77 billion in value was erased from UK blue chip shares today, as investors brace themselves for what appears to be a U.S. economy running headlong into recession.

The Dow is currently 14.6 percent below its October 9 record close of 14,164.53, and the index is less than 100 points away from slipping beneath the benchmark of 12,000. A number of analysts are discussing the possibility of a drop of 500 or more points when trading opens in New York Tuesday morning.

Personally, I am going to ride out what seems to be a financial tsunami looming ahead. We have enough equity in our home to avoid almost any conceivable real estate disaster, and we will not be cashing out our 401-K and IRA funds for a couple of more decades, anyhow. Still, it is difficult to keep from drawing comparisons between 2008 and 1929.

Thus, I will keep one eye on FNN tomorrow as I prep for my lectures, much as I would slow down to see a horrific accident. Kind of hard to ignore, right?

Quirky Websites: LibraryThing

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 know, I know: the last thing that busy people need is another social networking website, but I think that the site known as LibraryThing offers bibliophiles a useful site to learn about excellent books and to meet like-minded fellow readers.

Follow this link to take the LibraryThing tour and learn the possibilities inherent in this unusual site. LibraryThing acts as an online cataloguing site in addition to its networking unctions, and over 330,000 users have catalogued 22 million books. There are forums to talk about specific books or genres, and users write reviews about the books they read.

Knowing what you like to read, the LibraryThing software will recommend up to 100 books you might want to read, as well as offering an UnSuggester tool that gives you humorous suggestions of books to avoid. I quickly entered a dozen books from the historymike library, and I am now able to receive recommendations and conect with other readers.

Those who enjoy the service can also upgrade to premium user status for $10 a year, or $25 for a lifetime membership. Hey - the creator needs to make a buck to eat, and server space is not exactly free.

Jan 20, 2008

On the American Economy and $800 Tax Cuts

The beleaguered taxpayer within me, I must admit, salivated at the idea bandied about by President Bush to issue a one-time tax rebate of $800 per adult taxpayer as a means of stimulating the sluggish American economy. After all, I need to replace the screen door that was ripped from my house by a recent windstorm, and my wife and I are working a total of one full-time job and eight part-time jobs in an effort to stay afloat and to pay for a planed trip to Europe this summer.

The Bush plan will pump an estimated $145 billion into the economy, with the expectation that consumers will use the money to purchase big-ticket items such as new cars, houses, and refrigerators. Perhaps such a move might quiet the stock markets, whose instability took a turn for the worse this week amid announcements that Citigroup, JPMorgan, and Merrill Lynch initiated massive writedowns.

The fiscal conservative in me questions the wisdom of adding to budget deficits in a time when the nation already faces a serious credit crunch, and when the U.S. dollar is in a near free-fall on world currency markets. Deficits, of course, put the government in the position of competing for credit with businesses and consumers, and typically drive up interest rates. In addition, one-shot tax rebates have a rather poor record of acting as economic stimuli, and a similar scheme in 1975 had little real impact on consumer spending.

Moreover, $145 billion seems relatively inconsequential at a time when the American economy is estimated to be over $13 trillion. While there will undoubtedly be some short-term stimulus from such a rebate, the underlying economic problems in the American economy - such as stagnant employment growth, the continued loss of manufacturing jobs, rising inflation, and the credit crunch - will not be addressed in this warm and fuzzy taxpayer moment.

So, as a taxpayer, I will happily cash any check that the federal government decides to send me, but I am simultaneously preparing my family for the recession that looms on the horizon, an economic downturn that sober pundits like Robert Kuttner and William H. Donaldson liken to a certain depression that most of us are too young to remember. We are more likely to pay some debts than to make any significant purchases with any hypothetical rebate, and I know that this bunker mentalité is shared by many of my friends.

Buckle up those seatbelts, folks - it looks like financial turbulence ahead.

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.

We don't have a lot of time on this earth. We weren't meant to spend it this way. Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.
-- Peter Gibbons, Office Space

Jan 19, 2008

Rapid Rhetoric: TELESTHESIA

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.

telesthesia (tell-uh-STEE-zhah) n. perception of events or objects not actually present or near; clairvoyance; response to distant stimuli through extrasensory methods; extrasensory perception.

Also spelled telaesthesia, the term comes to English from the Greek roots tele ("far") and aisthesis ("sensation"). Those who claim the power of telesthesia are known as telesthetics. I am not sure if telesthetics need to be concerned about such modern considerations as travel health insurance, though.

Anyways, Telesthesia is also the title of a black-and-white 2005 silent film by independent filmmaker Jarrod Whaley.

Jan 18, 2008

On the Joys of a New Laptop

Left: my new laptop

While I have certainly received my money's worth from my trusty Presario V2000, a floor model I purchased for a mere $455, it became evident that my online workload necessitated a machine that could more quickly process data, and I was also in need on a laptop that possessed the ability to run Vista and the Microsoft 2007 Suite.

No snide comments from Mac users, as I fully realize that I am a slave to the Microsoft/PC Matrix.

I purchased a Sony VAIO Notebook for $549 that has over one gigabyte in RAM and 141 total gigs of memory. I noticed that moderate-sized video clips download almost instantaneously with no buffering or getting hung up. MS-Word and other Evil Monopoly programs open immediately, and the virus check on files is measured in microseconds instead of the eight-second delay on my older machine.

Better still, my techno-savvy wife uploaded Vista and the Microsoft package for me, as well as being incredibly kind enough to download all my files from the old laptop to an external server and then on to my new laptop. Bachelors: marry a woman whose skills complement your own, and you will live a happy life. My wife is also a whiz with electric saws, sewing machines, T-squares, and differential equations, none of which I exhibit even the slightest compentency.

Jan 17, 2008

On Cell Phones and Idiot Drivers

Toledo boasts sections of I-75 that twist and turn for several miles, creating additional hazards for those who drive this treacherous highway. While I was driving on the freeway today, traffic suddenly stopped just before the South Avenue exit. I put my hazards on in an effort to help warn drivers behind me coming around the curve.

As I looked in my rearview mirror, I clearly saw the driver of a Chevy Blazer yakking on his cellphone. He realized almost too late that traffic was stopped, slammed on his brakes, and skidded on the wet pavement into a parabola, winding up facing 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Miraculously, the driver somehow avoided hitting any other cars, and came within inches of smacking the cement wall on the shoulder.

He missed my car by perhaps twenty yards, so the scene was more surreal than scary. The interesting moment to me, though, was when he finally turned his truck around and drove past me to get onto the exit ramp for South Avenue.

True to form, the twit was still talking on his cell phone.

Now, I am far from someone who is a fan of extra legislation, but there are definite risks associated with drivers on their cell phones. The problem has a name - "cell phone distraction" - and it is responsible for 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States every year.

Turn your phones off while driving, folks, and if you need to make an emergency call, pull off the road. The idiot with the cellular I saw today came within perhaps a half-second of smoking my car in the rear at 70 miles an hour, and you might have been reading my obituary instead of a blog rant.

Jan 16, 2008

On Being Out of Shape

I have previously posted about my efforts to lose weight, and I was able to drop from 236 in 2006 to 220 by October 2007. Alas, the holidays saw my weight creep back up about six pounds, and I decided this term to make regular visits to the gym as a way to combat my overeating and improve my health.

While I have been engaged in walking and light weightlifting, it would be inaccurate for me to suggest that my 6'5" self is anywhere near being "fit." My visit to the UT Rec Center this afternoon was a startling reminder that I have neglected exercise for too long.

I walked at a 4 mph pace on the inclined treadmill for 30 minutes, listening to the Pete Townshend album Empty Glass as I got my blood pumping. This fast walking caused my heart rate to rise between 130 and 150 bpm, and I worked up quite a sweat in the two virtual miles I covered. There are lots of cool statistics on the Matrix machine, including the estimation of 200 burned calories.

After getting off the treadmill, however, I realized that there is a considerable price to pay for neglecting one's cardiovascular needs. I was winded and disoriented, and I suspect that I should start with shorter walks on my next visits.

No need to induce a heart attack trying to shed another 20 pounds.

Anyways, for the twentysomething slackers who might be reading this post: middle age creeps up rather quickly, and I advise you to put down the potato chips and go for a long walk every day. One or two pounds a year adds up faster than you might think, and getting rid of excess baggage really sucks.

Jan 15, 2008

On Distance Learning, Busy Lives, and American Budget Follies

Left: hour-by hour student visits to a distance learning course

I am teaching a distance learning course this semester, and I have been paying attention to the usage statistics on the site. The college at which I am teaching uses the Blackboard platform, which offers statistical analyses of a variety of user characteristics.

Now, in spite of the fact that I am a person who works with the written word for a living, I still enjoy statistics. Call me a multi-level geek, or someone who needs to spend more time outdoors, but I can appreciate the inherent beauty in numbers almost as much as well-written poetry.

Okay, perhaps not that much.

Distance learning courses are useful for people who have full-time jobs and lack the flexibility to attend classes on campus, or whose family and business lives consume much of their waking moments. Over 20 percent of the online coursework in my class occurs after 7:00 pm, and some folks are up past midnight working for this course.

At the same time that I applaud people who push themselves to attain college degrees (especially since they keep me gainfully employed and away from the bars), I am critical of an American society that increasingly pushes more of the cost of education on the students. I live in Ohio, a state that has gone from subsidizing over 65 percent of the cost of higher education in the early 1990s to slightly more than 30 percent in the current budget. The federal government has also been busy reducing subsidies to higher education, and the recent cuts in the Pell Grant program are typical of the lack of esteem with which Washington holds higher education.

There are tremendous social benefits to producing an educated workforce, and it is not only corporations who reap these gains. Highly-skilled and educated workers earn greater incomes and can better compete in the global marketplace, raising tax revenues.

Europeans seem to understand the long term payoffs from subsidizing higher education. Students in Sweden are not charged tuition, and most German states not only eschew tuition bills, but also provide grants to subsidize college living expenses. In the UK, an annual fee of U.S. $1641 is charged to students who come from households with incomes greater than $30,534. India plans an almost ten-fold increase in state expenditures for higher education in the next decade, although there is considerable resistance to plans that will raise the student tuition costs from 5 to 20 percent.

Yet, just like other areas in which our obsession with markets clouds our long term thinking, Americans continue to cling to the Gospel of Saint Adam Smith with tenacity. Many students in the classes I teach work full-time jobs while juggling college responsibilities, and quite a few of these students must also take out loans to make ends meet.

The federal government wants to dump the subsidies on the states, and the states pass back the costs of higher education onto the students. Yet it is the corporations and governments who ultimately benefit from a highly educated workforce, and who shirk from funding this needed social expenditure.

Of course, by merely asking questions of the Received Truths carved into stone by Smith's Invisible Hand, I am committing heresy, and probably opening myself up to the label of "closet Communist" or something.

So be it. Better to be scorned for telling the truth than to pretend the Emperor is fully clothed.

Jan 14, 2008

To the Jackass Who Ran Over My Daughter

My heart dropped when I answered the phone and my 19-year-old daughter was crying.

"What the hell is wrong with people and I was just walking in the parking lot to my car and some a**hole ran me over and he said 'Are you all right?' and I said 'WTF!!!' and I can't believe this and my hand and leg are scraped up..."

Mr. Sensitive drove off before my daughter could get his license plate number, which means this crappy driver gets away with a Mulligan. Today.

Dear Jackass: You are lucky for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that no one was nearby to witness the incident. You likely avoided any insurance mess and an expensive ticket for careless driving.

But most of all? You avoided having to deal with me. When it comes to my children, I am something like a maniacal, rabid grizzly bear, and my desire to protect my kids from idiots like you is quite strong. Be thankful that I was not there to swing the mighty Louisville Slugger of Justice on your bumper or skull.

My only consolation at the moment is the fact that karma can be one nasty, unforgiving vixen, and I am confident that your reckless driving and your cowardly flight from an accident scene - with an injured young woman lying on the wet pavement - will eventually bite you on the arse. Hard.

In the meantime, may a thousand ticks with communicable diseases attach themselves to your groin, punk.

Jan 13, 2008

Quirky Websites: Tasty Insect Recipes

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 name of this website says everything you really need to know about its author's aims: Tasty Insect Recipes. Sponsored by Iowa State University's entomology club, the site offers readers a variety of ways to prepare crawling critters that most of us would just as soon smash than eat.

A visit to the site brings recipes for such culinary delights as Mealworm Fried Rice, Corn Borer Cornbread Muffins, and Rootworm Beetle Dip. I suppose that these items probably have palatable tastes, and that I might even unwittingly enjoy them, but it is certainly difficult to overcome the socially-induced Western revulsion toward eating insects.

At any rate, bon appétit!

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.

If this is paradise, I wish I had a lawnmower.
-- David Byrne, "Nothing But Flowers"

Jan 12, 2008

Meet Chantilly, a Rescue Maltese

Chantilly is a six-year-old, seven-pound Maltese who suffered years of abuse and neglect as a breeding dog at a puppy mill. She was rescued from a local pound and was scheduled to be euthanized at the time of her rescue.

Living a life at a puppy mill can be horrific, and Chantilly has spent most of her six years locked in a cage. In spite of such unpleasant conditions, though, she is a sweet little dog who needs a patient, quiet home in which to blossom. We are working on housebreaking Chantilly and teaching her basic social skills, such as walking on a leash and going outdoors on her own.

The ideal home for Chantilly would be one that recognizes that this dog needs some time and a lot of love to overcome the years of neglect. She is easily startled by loud noises and sudden movements, though she has already started wagging her tail and showing signs of fondness for the people in our home.

Chantilly will provide many years of love for the right home, but she would probably best thrive in a house with regular routines and a lower level of activity. For more information on Chantilly, or any other rescue dog, please visit the Planned Pethood website.

Graduation Day for Doggies

Pictured on your left is our Puggle, Eddie Haskell. He graduated from dog obedience school at the PetSmart location in Spring Meadows today, and is now a certified Beginner.

Yes, there is much anthropomorphizing here (especially with the graduation cap), but Eddie is a terrific canine companion, and his progress through obedience training has made him an even more valued member of our family.

Better still, we are smarter owners now that we have learned some useful techniques to encourage better behavior on Eddie's part.

Jan 11, 2008

On Bad Poetry, Good Karma, and Intellectual Elitism

I am a voracious and compulsive reader, a person who finds it difficult to simply sit and meditate when he has a few spare moments. I recently had several minutes to kill while waiting for an appointment, and I paused to read a collection of poetry and prose I found in the waiting area.

Without giving away any particular details, let's just say that this was obviously a journal that did not compensate its poets and authors, and likely would have published every submission it received. Most of the writers were likely in the 16-20 age range, and the poems and short stories reflected the pervasive angst and limited life experiences of these young adults.

At first I found myself slipping into a sort of literary critic mode, critiquing the predictable structures, wooden characters, forced dialogue, and excessive clichés that the poems and stories possessed. Yes, there was even a shape poem about young lovers, which took the form of a heart.

I even chuckled to myself at some particularly stilted passages.

I admit that I have some negative views of contemporary pedagogical techniques in secondary English classrooms, and I believe that too much emphasis is placed upon encouraging student self-expression at the expense of developing students who have some mastery of grammar, style, and the mechanics of writing.

I paused, though, in my moment of haughty disdain toward these young writers, and began to chide myself for exhibiting the sort of elitist mentalité that I have long loathed as an up-and-coming writer. Who the hell am I to scoff - even internally - at the work of a budding writer? After all, I am the person who was once a 19-year-old would-be rock star, and who penned execrable verses like this:

I was thinking of a friend today
Pleasant thoughts indeed
I realized that we drifted away
Our gardens growing weeds
--M. Brooks, circa 1983

I am not sure whether to laugh, cry, or retch as I read my own beginning efforts at poetry and prose. Yet all writers pass through phases of creative growth, and even though some authors and poets are quick studies, the process of individual literary development cannot be circumvented.

So write from your hearts, all you young poets and novelists, and never let stuffy, middle-aged elitists dampen your spirits. Surround yourself with supportive people who will help you polish your skills, and ignore those who would engage in intellectual intimidation to maintain literary hierarchies or to assuage their own feelings of inadequacy.

Write on.

Jan 10, 2008

Rapid Rhetoric: VILLANELLE

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.

villanelle (vill-eh-NELL) n. a 19-line poem that consists of five tercets and a quatrain, with the first and third lines of the first tercet repeated alternately as a refrain closing the succeeding stanzas and then joined as the final couplet of the quatrain.

Derived from the feminine form of the Italian word villanella ("rustic"), the villanelle has its roots in traditional peasant dances that were accompanied by singing, in an era in which people did not concern themselves with items like HDMI switches. One of the most famouus English examples of the villanelle is the Dylan Thomas poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Jan 9, 2008

On Waiting in Long Lines and Finding Creative Solutions

1925 photo of lines of Italian immigrants waiting for the Italian-language newspapers with news from turbulent Italy

The University of Toledo, in its drive to improve its reputation as a student-friendly campus, came up with a new system called Rocket Solution Central. This new center combines the services previously offered by the Financial Aid and Registrar offices, with the upside that students will not have to visit several different offices to take care of related matters.

Unfortunately, what this means during the beginning of the semester is that there is now one really long line instead of two smaller ones. This is especially irritating when a person has a simple request, like my need to drop off a transcript request form.

So I waited in the twisting, slow-moving line for nearly thirty minutes before making it to the front, listening to the many people with complicated financial aid snafus and other time-consuming needs. When I was the next to be summoned to the desk, I heard a young woman in a waitress uniform muttering aloud about the excessive lines.

"They ought to have an Express Line for litte s**t," she grumbled after learning that she needed to join the massive line for a simple request. "I have to be at work in like ten minutes. Dammmit... dammmit... dammit."

I expressed my agreement with this assessment, and then watched with interest as she stood next to me at the front.

"F**k it - I'm making my own motherf**king express lane," she declared, and waltzed right up to the counter as two clerks opened up simultaneously. I may have unwittingly helped create a monster with my implicit agreement. No jokes about anyone's need for drug rehab, please.

I heard some people grumbling back in the line, and I was torn between my sense of fair play and my admiration for this person's creative solution to her time dilemma.

Let's call this a "wait your frigging turn" versus "down with the machine!"

Yes, our impatient subject had to endure a few muttered "what a b**ch" comments but, truth be told, she finished her business at the window faster than I did with my 30-second paperwork processing. I am sure that she made it to work on time, and I doubt that a few red lights would stop her, either.

Still, I am not sure I would attempt to duplicate her feat. I think I would come off looking like a yuppified, self-centered idiot rather than a harried, underpaid restaurant server.

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's first step in wisdom is to question everything - and one's last is to come to terms with everything. -- Georg C. Lichtenberg

Jan 8, 2008

Trying to Figure Out the Obama and Clinton Campaigns

I have been watching with some interest the meteoric rise of Barack Obama to the front of the Democratic pack as the 20o8 presidential primary season unfolds. Simultaneously, I am scratching my head at what appears to be an implosion of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

What puzzles me is this: are voters turning out in droves because they buy into the hype about Obama, or are they simply tired of the Bush - Clinton - Bush - Clinton political refrain?

I will admit that I am a cynical political observer who has witnessed the rise and fall of a slew of "outsider" presidential candidates, from John Anderson (1980) to Jesse Jackson (1984) to Ross Perot (1992, 1996) to Ralph Nader (2000), all of which at least briefly tapped into widespread voter discontent. Yet the media hysteria over Barack Obama far exceeds anything I have ever seen.

I concede that Obama is a charismatic and talented orator, and that some of his recent speeches have evoked memories of certain acronymic American political icons like JFK, RFK, and even MLK. I have yet to se much in the way of specific policy initiatives from Obama, though, and beyond the repetition of the word "CHANGE," his campaign seems bereft of content.

Senator Clinton, on the other hand, has seemingly failed to ignite on the campaign launchpad, despite perhaps the most well-funded and experienced campaign staff. It is entirely conceivable that Clinton could reach Giga Tuesday with exactly zero primary victories, something that was inconceivable as recently as late November. Clinton aides privately hope that she gets clobbered by less than a double-digit margin today in New Hampshire.

So, the question before us is simple: is the Obama insurgency a legitimate threat to the Clinton-dominated Democratic machine, or will Obama flame out like so many prior pan flashes?

Jan 7, 2008

Record High Temperatures in Northwest Ohio

(Toledo, OH) The official high temperature for January 7 in Toledo is 61 degrees Fahrenheit, which was set in 1907. At the moment, my external temperature gauge (yes, I am a weather geek) reads 65.3 degrees.

Somewhat oblivious to the weather forecast, I thought I was developing a fever when I was working on an op-ed article for a local paper today, and beads of sweat appeared on my forehead. After determining that the warm air and high humidity were to blame for my overheating, I decided to open some windows and let in the fresh air.

My dogs also enjoyed the warm weather, and they have been outside much of the day. I share their enthusiasm for stretching the legs and sucking in some warmer air after a few weeks on temperatures between 10 and 40 degrees.

Jan 6, 2008

BCS Championship Prediction: LSU 24, OSU 17

Even though I am at heart a fan of the Michigan Wolverines, I still root for Big Ten teams in their postseason bowl games. Still, I think that the Ohio State Buckeyes will not prevail in their efforts to erase the memory of their dismal performance in last season's title game, a 41-14 loss to the Florida Gators.

The Louisiana State University Tigers are a formidable opponent from the Southeastern Conference who bring a pair of mobile quarterbacks in Ryan Perrilloux and Matt Flynn. Coupled with its heralded "stable" of running backs Jacob Hester, Charles Scott, Keiland Williams, Trindon Holliday, and Richard Murphy, LSU can run the ball as well as anyone in the country, as the Tigers rolled 2,846 rushing yards for an average of 218.9 yards per game.

Despite a defensive unit that allowed only 77.1 yards per game on the ground, I suspect that the defensive line of the Buckeyes will wear down by the third quarter against the relentless rushing attack of the Tigers. The opposing team that most closely resembles the Tigers on the Buckeyes' schedule was Illinois, who shredded the vaunted OSU rush defense for 260 yards in the team's only loss.

I am also troubled by Ohio State's somewhat anemic 14-3 effort against a injury-riddled Michigan team on November 17. While the weather played a factor in the low score, I thought that Ohio State's offense should have been able to take better advantage of field position in that game.

In my opinion, the Buckeyes peaked too early, and their 51-day layoff will find the team starting rusty. The return of DE Glenn Dorsey will also bode well for the Tigers, and I think the key to the game will be LSU's ability to rattle OSU QB Todd Boeckman into a few drive-killing interceptions that prevent the Buckeyes from another national title.

OSU fans: feel free to point out in the comments section the reasons why my analysis is flawed, and why my prediction is evidence of my knuckle-dragging stupidity.


Rapid Rhetoric: SADHU

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.

sadhu (SAH-doo) n. a Hindu ascetic holy man; a practitioner of yoga; a wandering mendicant who eschews worldy concerns in favor of the pursuit of spiritual truth.

The word sadhu comes to English directly from the Sanskrit, and has connotations from the root word sādh suggesting "accomplish" or "practice." A sadhu is one who follows a sadhana ("path"), and while a sadhu is traveling on the path, he is known as a sadhaka. When the sadha reaches the spiritual quest, he becomes a siddha ("one who has accomplished").

Sadhus are often referred to as baba ("uncle," "father") by people they encounter. While many revere the sadhus for their holiness, the fear of sadhu curses causes them to be viewed with suspicion by some members of Indian society.

Criminals and con artists sometimes pose as sadhus in an effort to prey upon tourists, which is a source of concern for Indian law enforcement officials.

Jan 5, 2008

Quirky Websites: How Many of Me?

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 have a fairly common family name, and my first name (Michael) has been one of the most popular male first names for several decades running. In fact, there are approximately 4,010,283 people in the U.S. with the first name Michael and some 312,805 people in the U.S. with the last name Brooks.

There are approximately 4,131 Americans named Michael Brooks.

I know this from visiting the website called HowManyofMe.com. Billing its algorithm as "more accurate than a Magic 8-ball" while being "less accurate than distributing and collecting 300 million surveys," the site uses Census data to give you an idea of the popularity of your name. Worth a quick visit on an afternoon when you are bored and surfing the Net.

Jan 4, 2008

On Seabiscuit Candidates

When Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, told New Hampshire supporters that her husband is the "Seabiscuit" candidate, I chuckled and assumed that this comment was an off-the-cuff moment from a tired campaigner.

But then Edwards himself repeated the phrase, shouting to the crowd: "We are Seabiscuit!" At that point I rubbed my eyes and went to pour a cup of coffee to clear my head of the cobwebs that had surely collected in my head.

By the way, John and Elizabeth: Seabiscuit won a bunch of races he was supposed to lose. Coming in a distant second in Iowa cannot be considered a victory, unless your goal was only to beat Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama cleaned out the track stalls of all Democratic contenders yesterday, in keeing with the metaphor.

Not to be outdone, GOP hopeful Mike Huckabee this morning also claimed a linkage to the legendary racehorse, telling Fox & Friends: "I feel like Seabiscuit."

Let's see... exploited animal being used by big-money interests... a creature that is shaped and molded by professional trainers... unnatural stress on competitors... losers sent to slaughterhouses... nefarious characters attracted by the money and bright lights... perhaps the racehorse metaphors are appropriate for presidential campaigns.

And, as a bland cracker that causes one to wish for something more substantive, "sea biscuit" might also be an appropriate description for most of these hollow politicians, who fail to provide much in the way of policy specifics to hungry voters.

Jan 3, 2008

Iowa Caucus Predictions

Even though I am a cynical independent voter who believes that the federal government is a Leviathan-like beast that is too deeply rooted for real change to occur in Washington, I will look with interest on the events in Iowa this evening.

Heck, given the television writer's strike, there is nothing else on this evening, so I may as well feed my latent political addiction.

My pre-caucus projections in the primaries are as follows:

1. Barack Obama
2. John Edwards
3. Hillary Clinton
4. Bill Richardson
5. Dennis Kucinich
6. Joe Biden
7. Chris Dodd
8. Mike Gravel

1. Mike Huckabee
2. Mitt Romney
3. John McCain
4. Rudy Giuliani
5. Ron Paul
6. Fred Thompson
7. Duncan Hunter

While Clinton seems to be clawing back from what looked a few weeks back like an electoral implosion, I think the campaigning efforts by Obama and Edwards will ultimately resonate better with Iowan voters than the bland, lifeless campaign run by Hillary. Sound the death knell for Biden and Dodd (Gravel never really took off).

I am not buying the "peaked too early" assessments of Mike Huckabee being bandied about today by political commentators, and I think the preacher-governor will take the top spot today. Romney's campaign will be dealt a difficult loss tonight, and McCain - who is banking on a big win in New Hampshire next week - will not hurt himself with a strong third place finish. Ron Paul will flame out much like Howard Dean in 2004, despite his tremendous fundraising efforts via the Internet. Hunter and Thompson will be cooked after tonight, and Paul's virtual ATM will run out of cash, as disillusioned libertarians will no longer believe the hype.

Feel free to weigh in with any prognostications of your own.

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.

Tears are the silent language of grief. -- Voltaire

Jan 2, 2008

For Those Who Wish to Help the Griffin Family

Friends and family members of Bethany and Danny Griffin, whose family was almost obliterated by the drunken, wrong-way freeway rampage of Michael P. Gagnon, have set up several means by which concerned citizens can donate to help the surviving members.

The PayPal address for those who wish to contribute to help with the family's expenses is as follows:


If you do not have a PayPal account - which is easy to set up - you can also make a donation to the family by way of a special account called the "Jordan Griffin Memorial Fund" at TCF Bank using account number 4883611406.

Please consider making any donation that you can afford, and I hope that Toledo residents will demonstrate that this area is filled with kind, generous people who are horrified that a person like Michael Gagnon could cause so much wanton destruction.


A local account has also been set up at Fifth Third Bank for Toledoans who want to help the Griffin-Burkman families. Follow the above link for credit card donations, or you can mail a check made out to Fifth Third fbo Griffin Family to:
Attn: Griffin Trust Donation
Nemsys LLC
321 Perry St
Toledo OH, 43604

Jan 1, 2008

Faces From a Tragedy

The Griffin family of Parkville, MD: Danny Griffin, Jr., Bethany Griffin, Jordan Griffin, Lacie Burkman, Haley Burkman, Vadie Griffin, Sidney Griffin, and Beau Burkman(Toledo, OH) I have thought often over the last two days about the Griffin family of Parkville, MD, five members of which were killed by a drunk driver in a horrific accident on I-280 in Toledo Sunday night. Photos of the victims and the perpetrator of this tragedy have been released by family members and Toledo police, and we now can put faces to the names of the individuals.

As a parent, I just cannot fathom the pain and sorrow the surviving family members must be feeling over their losses. As a citizen of Toledo, I am saddened that this beautiful family had to be so traumatized just a few miles from my home.

In a way, I almost feel as though the Toledo area has some connection to these folks beyond being simply the scene of carnage and death, and I hope that Toledoans will join me in contributing to a fund for the family (details forthcoming).

Drunk driver Michael P. Gagnon, 24, of Adrian, MI, who was charged with five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide Then, of course, we have the image of the much reviled Michael P. Gagnon, of Adrian, MI, the drunken imbecile whose wrong-way rampage on an interstate ended in the deaths of these innocent people.

Gagnon, described as "uncooperative and belligerent" when he spoke with police yesterday, managed to survive the crash with only minimal injuries, and was observed by accident witnesses walking around and complaining of jaw pain at the scene late Sunday night.

One can only hope that justice will find a way to serve itself on this repugnant human specimen, and that this senseless tragedy will serve some as yet unknown higher purpose.

And, Mr. Gagnon? I suggest that you at least learn how to fake remorse before your court dates, as belligerence does not play well with most judges. If you ever find your way out of prison in a few decades, I also suggest that you move far, far away, as your name will likely be anathema for many years to come 'round here.