Apr 30, 2008

On the Social Cancer That is Grand Theft Auto IV

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I read with some surprise that analysts expect the video game Grand Theft Auto IV to generate first-week sales of up to $400 million, and that lifetime sales of the game may approach 20 million units.

The media buzz for the game undoubtedly helps fuel consumer demand for this appallingly amoral electronic dystopia, where players beat prostitutes and kill police officers while they simultaneously steal and destroy a variety of vehicles. A player "wins" at Grand Theft Auto IV by becoming the biggest, baddest thug in Liberty City, a place that bears a striking resemblance to New York.

Now, I am far from a moral prude, and I generally adopt a live-and-let live attitude toward the lives of other people. But what does it say for the United States when our leading form of entertainment is a video game that promotes wanton violence, drug use, and criminal activity?

I have not played this version, though as adolescents my sons managed to get their hands on copies of previous editions of GTA before we found out what they were playing. What I saw in these games was disturbing enough, but the sound of my children laughing as they shot an innocent bystander was surreal and frightening.

The sense of indignation I feel when I see television reporters chatting aimlessly about this repugnant game is hard to describe, save to say that an otherwise easygoing person like me feel the urge to wear a sackcloth and stand on the corner, preaching about the pestilence upon the land. I simply see no merit to a game that promotes the very social ills we supposedly want to eliminate.

Perhaps there is a hidden value to this game, an angle I am missing, and maybe Grand Theft Auto IV has redeeming features that I have overlooked. If so, please inform me about the ways in which I am mistaken, and reassure me that the popularity of the Grand Theft Auto franchise is not a looming sign of moral collapse in our once-great nation.

Because from what I see, this game is a harbinger of social decay.

Apr 29, 2008

Pet Killer Lurking in West Toledo?

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(Toledo, OH) Pet owners in the area might want to keep a closer watch on their animals, at least if signs posted on area telephone poles are any indication. The picture on your left was taken at Violet Road and Willis Boulevard, which is behind the Hooter's location on Monroe Street.

The signs, however, do not provide contact information or specifics on the purported killing, so I was unable to follow up with the grieving pet owners. I did not see any references in local media, either, so I'll be cross-posting this on some local bulletin boards.

Still, the creators of the signs have taken quite a bit of time to design an eye-catching notice, leading me to believe that their painstaking efforts are the work of angry residents and not pranksters.

If you have any information about this disturbing situation, feel free to contact me via email or in the Comments section. I know that I will be even more vigilant in supervising outside time for my dogs with the possibility of an animal-killing sick freak.

Rapid Rhetoric: FELO DE SE

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

felo de se (FEH-low-deh-SAY) n. a person who kills himself; the act of suicide; a person who dies as a result of having committed an unlawful or malicious act.

The translation from Latin is something akin to "evildoer to oneself," but this archaic legal term typically refers to suicide.

Until the year 1823, English citizens were not permitted to bury suicide victims in a cemetery, and such bodies were supposed to be buried at a cross-roads with a stake driven through the heart. Between 1823 and 1882, the burial of the body of a felo de se was allowed between the hours of 9pm and midnight, though religious services could not be administered. These restrictions were lifted in 1882.

The 1834 edition of Henry John Stephen's Summary of the Criminal Law also noted that a verdict of felo de se meant that all real and personal property was forfeited, even property held jointly with his wife.

I'd make a joke about how this would be a stiff sentence, but this would be in poor taste.

Apr 28, 2008

On Boating and the Great Lakes

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Left: Boaters on the Detroit River

(Wyandotte, MI) As a longtime resident of cities located near the Great Lakes, I can attest to the fact that boating is a past time enjoyed by people from a wide variety of demographic categories. No matter where you live in this region, you probably know someone who owns a boat, and the first warm days of spring mean that waterways in and around the Great Lakes become quite busy.

I spent a few hours on the Detroit River yesterday, watching boats of various sizes cruise along the riverfront. Part of my fascination with boats owes something to the fact that I have never owned one, and I simultaneously feel a strong connection with the water, even a less-than-pristine waterway better known for the presence of toxic waste runoff or floating cardboard boxes.

Perhaps my ancestors were mariners, and large bodies of water strike some chord deep in my DNA, or perhaps my personality is such that quiet hours spent on the water soothe my soul.

Joining the dozens of small watercraft on the Detroit River yesterday was the Edward L. Ryerson, a 730-foot straight-deck bulk carrier that often carries taconite pellets from Minnesota and Wisconsin to steel mills near Lake Erie. The graceful ship took the eastern route around Grosse Ile, so I did not get a closeup look at the magnificent freighter.

And only a person from the Great Lakes can listen to a song like Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and not snicker. I was a kid when the song hit the charts, and it still causes me to pause and reflect on the dangers of a mariner's life on the unpredictable Great Lakes. I remember watching a parody of Lightfoot on television some years back, and the performers had a grand time mocking the song for its provinciality, and getting a bit peeved that this tune - which borders on the sacred in some parts - was being made the object of derision.

It must be a Great Lakes thang.

Apr 27, 2008

Down and Out in Wyandotte

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(Wyandotte, MI) I never got a chance to talk with this disabled man in Wyandotte's Bishop Park. I first noticed him wheeling himself along the Detroit River while I was attending an outdoor family function. He did not appear to be a panhandler, though the presence of a sleeping bag suggested that the man might be homeless.

By the time I disengaged from the party, the subject of my interest had climbed from his chair and fallen asleep in the warm spring breezes, using his winter coat as a pillow. I thought it would be poor form to roust the snoozing man from his slumber just for the benefit of my own curiosity, or to question him about something equally absurd, like his choice in cell phone amplifiers.

So I continued my own walk along the riverfront, pausing to thank God for my own blessings and feeling grateful that my lot in life includes a house in a quiet neighborhood and the opportunity to choose from a number of enjoyable and fulfilling employment options.

Apr 26, 2008

Vicious Dog Fight Picture

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Truth be told, I used the above post headline as a shameless traffic-drawing technique, since 200 people will now visit my site in the next hour for this ho-hum picture. I'm not sure who this reflects more poorly on: me, for preying on the craving that Net surfers have for violence, or the sick freaks who enjoy watching dogs fighting.

My two-year-old Puggle, Eddie Haskell, got into a dust-up with a Miniature Pinschser that we are currently fostering as I was taking pictures of tulips, and I happened to snap their picture just as they both jumped up in the air during their short-lived battle. In fact, no fur even flew during this bilateral attempt to assert canine dominance, and a quick "knock it off" returned the pooches to a state of camaraderie.

Too bad we couldn't use the same technique with, say, George W. Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "GWB: knock it off, or I'll get the water spray bottle!" or "Mahmoud: BAD DOG!"

If that day comes, I volunteer to be the Keeper of the Spray Bottle of Diplomacy.

Apr 25, 2008

On Spring Afternoons and Unexpected Joy

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After a harried late-semester week, I spent the morning cramming for the last session of an independent study course that might be the last coursework I need to complete my PhD. I rushed to finish the last 200 pages of reading material, and the written project that was due today needed more work, so the run-up to the class was frenetic.

And then came a blessing: my minor field advisor, who is getting married next week, had to reschedule our appointment.

Now, instead of two-hour grilling on material for which I was less-than-prepared, I found myself with a block of free time. I decided to head home and divest myself of dress clothes, opting instead for a pair of shorts in this unseasonably muggy 80-degree afternoon.

I walked through the one-third acre of urban landscape that is my double lot, warm mud squishing in between my bare toes. My first stop was to inspect and photograph my tulips, which chose this week to fill my yard with color.

Some day I am going to spend a few hundred dollars on enough bulbs to create one of those dense tulip displays with thousands of colorful petals dancing in the spring breezes. For now, though, I appreciate the few dozen tulips that grace me with their annual return.

I next paused to gaze at a large nest that is home to an unknown species of bird. I noticed the avian construction last week, but as yet I have not seen the owners of this arboreal high-rise, located about 80 feet in the air on an oak tree.

My birdwatching was interrupted by the buzzing of some agitated carpenter bees, whose work I must have disturbed. I am not sure of the location of their nests, but they may be using a nearby telephone pole as a base.

The warm weather seems to have roused quite a few insects in the past few days. My travels have brought me into contact with Asian lady beetles, houseflies, and yellow jackets, most of which remained in hibernation until this week.

I ended my brief shoeless sojourn with a visit to some of my variegated hostas, which chose this week to transform themselves from quarter-inch shoots to burgeoning foliage. Until the hostas arrive each year, my yard looks especially empty, but their appearance is a sure sign that the change of seasons has hit its next phase.

So it was back to the mountain of work that needs to be wrapped up in the next ten days, but I am ever so grateful for the chance to spend a few free moments enjoying the outdoors instead of working indoors on, say, a pair of tankless water heaters. Too often we pass up such opportunities in the name of "productivity" or "multi-tasking," and I resolve to spend more time with mud on my feet this summer.

Apr 24, 2008

The Quote Shelf

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

The man who has nothing to boast of but his illustrious ancestry is like the potato - the best part under ground.
-- Thomas Overbury

Apr 23, 2008

Meet Abbi, a Miniature Pinscher

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Pictured on your left is Abbi, a 9-month-old, 9-pound Miniature Pinscher who was rescued from Defiance County. When she first meets people, she is a bit shy, and she barks at male strangers until she is more comfortable. After warming up, though, she is a friendly and affectionate dog, and likes to have her belly rubbed.

While an active dog, Abbi is not hyper, and she likes to sit with the people in our home. She is quite athletic, and prances about the house and yard with what appears to be springs in her legs. She gets along quite well with the other dogs in our home, and likes to wrestle, play tug-of-war, chew on toys, and splash in the walk in tub. When motivated by a treat, Abbi can nimbly dance on two legs, and we are working on the commands on "Sit" and "Stay" with her.

Abbi is still working on being fully housebroken, so her the people in her forever home need to be willing to patiently continue positive reinforcement. She comes when you call her name or when you whistle for her, and she loves to run in the backyard. On a leash, Abbi pulls a bit, so she might do better with a harness on walks in the neighborhood. This skinny girl is a bit underweight, so folks with a picket fence need to watch Abbi to make sure she doesn't slip through, although I should add that Abbi has not exhibited any runaway behavior to this point.

At this point we have not encountered any negative behaviors with Abbi beyond typical puppy curiosity, such as nosing in the trash or chewing on things she finds on the floor. Abbi has been sleeping in a crate at night, which she willingly enters without resistance, suggesting that she was crate-trained at some point. She would probably do best in a home with a higher level of activity, or with an owner who has the time to play with her during the day.

For more information on Abbi, or any other rescue dog, please visit the Planned Pethood website.

Apr 22, 2008

On the Pursuit of Excellence versus Obsession with Perfection

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In a recent post I described my participation in the academic rite of passage known as comprehensive doctoral exams, which have both a written and oral component in the history program in which I am enrolled. I successfully passed the written exams, and I finally took and passed my oral exam today.

Yet in the process I recognized in myself a recurrent tendency that interferes with my ability to enjoy such successes. Instead of treasuring the praise extended by members of my exam committee on my work, I focused on the grammatical and factual mistakes I made in these exams. Most of these were quite minor, yet I chided myself for making simple errors. For example, I referred to the 1890 German Empire as "Prussia" at one point (Prussia ceasing to exist as of the 1871 German unification), and I incorrectly substituted the Russian word khutor when I meant kulak.

These are insignificant in the scheme of a pressure-filled, make-or-break graduate exam without the benefit of reference texts, yet I could not let go of my self-criticism today. I also spent an hour after the oral exam kicking myself for not seeing a way to outmaneuver my adviser's successful attempts to punch holes in a sub-argument I made about the period of Portuguese history known as the Spanish Captivity.

Mind you: these exams are pass-fail, and - while a PhD student wants to excel to avoid the ignominy of being booted from a doctoral program - there are no academic plums that await someone who turns in an error-free and impeccable set of exams.

Now, I am not a perfectionist in all facets of my life, as a quick inspection of my messy desk will demonstrate, yet I sometimes demand a level of perfection in my research, teaching, and writing that is impossible to attain. The precise term for this personality quirk is maladaptive perfectionism, and I exhibited this tendency once again by editing the just-linked Wikipedia article.

My perfectionist inclinations, however, are self-directed in nature, as I am not bothered by other people failing to achieve perfection (except my favorite sports teams). I feel no compulsion to point out the errors of others, or to fix their mistakes, yet even the smallest mistake in my own work can set me into a cycle of personal faultfinding that sometimes interferes with my productivity, like a person whose face is usually blemish-free but who spends hours searching for the perfect acne treatment.

I appreciate the opportunity to vent my self-criticism, and I always enjoy suggestions, but in re-reading this essay (keeping in perfectionist mode), I suspect that even the process of publicly outing myself as a maladaptive perfectionist is an exercise in clandestine perfectionism.

Boo-yah.

Apr 21, 2008

McCain in Toledo Tomorrow

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At the risk of sounding like I am engaging in the politics of class envy, I have to admit that I found it puzzling that Senator John McCain would believe that a visit to the Toledo Club would be an ideal way to learn about the problems in the heartlands of America.

McCain will be addressing attendees shelling out $2,300 apiece for the event. I suspect that those who are in a position to cough up that kind of cash might provide the senator with a much different view of the region's economic woes than would, say, residents of the nearby Cherry Street Mission. Perhaps the senator might take a short walk down the street for some balance to his perspective.

Those of you who wish to communicate your views on the problems in the Rust Belt might want to join a March on McCain demonstration being organized by local Democrats and Progress Ohio. I doubt that you will get to sample some of the Toledo Club's fine cuisine, but the event promises to be worthy of participation if you question Senator McCain's economic policies.

Apr 20, 2008

On the Rust Belt, Political Accountablity, and Vexing Truths

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I entered an existing discussion on a local website about the economic deterioration of Toledo, responding to a widely-held view that local Democratic officials are responsible for regional stagnation and decay. While I am hardly a shill for the Democrats, I believe that people are rather quick to point the finger at their local leaders for socioeconomic trends that are much larger in scope.

I also benefit from the perspective of living for 25 years in another nucleus of Rust Belt atrophication - Detroit - while having also lived for a time in Dallas, a successful Sun Belt city.

I don't find the local Democratic machine being the root of Toledo's problems, though I'll be happy to toss them some blame for the continuation of Toledo's decline. The exodus of manufacturing jobs in the Rust Belt - as well as the flight of wealth from the urban center to the suburbs - are phenomena much larger than the machinations of a few dozen local pols, and these trends are mirrored in many large cities in the region.

The Dems were just the party in power when the giant sucking sound of vanishing Midwestern factories rolled into high gear, and they have held power in most Rust Belt cities during nearly four decades of economic malaise because the Republicans have failed to present a cogent and compelling reason for voters to switch. There has been too much GOP focus on conservative rural voters with trumped-up, fear-mongering issues like gay marriage and flag-burning for urban Democrats to be able to pinch their noses and hope that the GOP is serious about economic growth in the Rust Belt.

Besides, the GOP is more interested in the blue-red dichotomy in state and national elections than it is in local politics. Control the state legislatures and you control the districting process, and larger cities can be written off if they can be outweighed by conservative rural communities. The GOP would rather live with isolated pockets of heavily Democratic districts like that of Rep. Marcy Kaptur if they can match her vote with one or two others elsewhere in Ohio.

The current congressional lead is 11-7 in Ohio for the GOP, and the party has successfully used this urban-rural political dichotomy to achieve its state and national goals for over two decades.

Yet the problem of industrial devolution cannot be legislated away, nor would simplistic notions like radical tax cuts suddenly induce a thriving company in a city like Tempe, AZ to relocate here. Maybe it is time for Toledo to embrace demographic and industrial shrinkage in the way that Youngstown is doing.

Of course, that would mean that a politician would have to stand up and tell the truth that Toledo has been on the decline for decades, and voters prefer to elect candidates who wave the flag or who tell us that prosperity is simply a matter of enough people exhibiting positive thinking. Why, I imagine that a politician who got in front of a microphone and spoke of the declining population, shrinking tax base, and lousy public schools would get pelted with rotten tomatoes and run out of town within minutes of such a political faux pas.

Not that I am endorsing Barack Obama here, but when he drifted away from the feel-good "Change" and "Hope" mantras to tell the truth about bitter people in small town America, pundits from both parties crucified him. The only thing wrong with Obama's statement is that he limited his comments to small towns, and not the many millions of unemployed, underemployed, and downsized workers in metropolitan sinkholes like Toledo.

And see just how quickly Obama scampered away from truth-telling! That kind of behavior is dangerous to the career of a pol, and I am sure that Obama's advisers reminded him afterward of the necessity to avoid reminding voters of unpleasant certainties.

What is even more important here is that the Rust Belt is not simply an aberration in the American economy, but rather a bellwether of the future. Industrial firms that relocated to the Sun Belt in the last few decades in search of such factors as inexpensive power, lower taxes, and reduced labor costs are continuing their rational pursuit of low-cost manufacturing locales around the globe. I suspect that the definition of the Rust Belt will continue to expand in the next five decades, perhaps to the point where low-wage American workers might one day stand in line for call center jobs from firms based in China and India.

Apr 19, 2008

The Quote Shelf

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

Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.
-- Blaise Pascal

Apr 18, 2008

I Missed Another Earthquake

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Seismic hazard map of West Salem earthquake that measured 5.2 on the Richter scaleSeismic hazard map of West Salem earthquake courtesy of United States Geological Survey (USGS)

One of the thematic consistencies of my life has been my seeming inability to experience an earthquake. Now, I know that those of you who have survived a major quake will be inclined to say something like "You would NEVER want to live through what I witnessed," but at some point I would like to at least feel the ground tremble beneath my feet, or maybe just a little side-to-side shaking, with a couple of pictures on the wall getting knocked off.

That sort of thing.

There was an earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale with an epicenter in West Salem, Illinois today, and people in my vicinity felt the quake. I slept through the 5:36 AM event, though my dogs were barking at that time. I like to think that the quake was detected by their heightened sensory abilities, but my wife believes they were barking at the newspaper delivery guy.

There have been a number of earthquakes centered in Lake Erie in the past two decades that I missed. During one Lake Erie earthquake in 1986, I was working on an old car I owned that had no exhaust, and the tremors were indistinguishable from the ground-shaking shock waves of that 1979 Subaru wagon. I also slept through a 3.2 magnitude quake in the lake in 1992, and the various subterranean rumblings in Lake Erie between 2003 and 2008 have all caught me unawares.

Even when I have traveled in earthquake zones I can't seem to catch a quake. I was in Palm Desert at a business convention during the 1992 Joshua Tree earthquake, which registered a hefty 6.1 on the Richter scale, but I slept through the event because I had jet lag and went to bed early. Other conventioneers spent the rest of the next day talking about the quake and the aftershocks, while I sheepishly had to admit I missed the whole thing.

However, I at least have one anecdote related to quakes: I attended a first-run screening of the 1974 Charlton Heston film Earthquake, which featured the novelty technology known as Sensurround. I remember being underwhelmed by the experience, as I expected something a little scarier than a low rumbling through the floor that felt more like a vibrating mattress, and there was also a problem synching the Sensurround system with the on-screen events. At a few points in the film, the rumbling started about a half-second after buildings were toppling around Heston's head.

Of course, my desire to experience an earthquake might be one of those situations that I could regret if it were to occur, so perhaps I am better off remaining blissfully ignorant of what it is like to feel the earth...move...under my feet (sincere apologies to Carole King).

Apr 17, 2008

On Canned Sardines and Nostalgia

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While shopping with my wife today, I came across a delicacy I have not sampled in quite a few years: canned sardines. I especially like the variety that is smothered in mustard sauce, which is a taste I acquired at my grandparents' house.

My grandmother, ever sensible, never much cared for sardines, though my grandfather used to take them in his lunch at his job as a tool-and-die maker outside of Detroit. Though I was somewhat picky as a young eater, I thoroughly enjoyed opening tins of sardines, using Ritz crackers to mop up the liquefied mustard.

One of the features of sardines that I always liked are the crunchy bones of the cooked fish, which - unlike the skeletons of larger aquatic creatures - can be consumed whole. I was surprised when I became older and learned that the bones of most types of fish are anything but edible.

I liked to take tins of sardines in the backyard of my grandparents' house and pretend they were camping rations. A sheet stretched across two clotheslines served as my tent, and my grandparents' cats would saunter out in search of the fishy aroma that wafted across the half-acre property.

On a recent trip to visit my grandparents, who are now in their early nineties, I had to open the cupboard next to the sink and see if there were still cans of sardines there. Sure enough, there were a half-dozen cans of both mustard and oil sardines, and they were the brand I learned to love as a child: Bulldog Sardines. I grabbed a fork and a can and took a walk in the backyard, which seemed much smaller than when I was a child.

But the sardines tasted as delicious as ever.

Apr 16, 2008

On Downward Mobility, Check Cashing Joints, and the Rust Belt

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Pictured on your left is one of those ubiquitous check-cashing/payday loan businesses located at Dorr Street and Westwood Avenue. It is no secret that one of the few industries thriving in Toledo is the much-maligned cash advance business, given the city's location smack dab in the middle of the American Rust Belt.

What I find interesting here - as well as with the other similar businesses - is that this company set up shop in a building that once housed a Domino's Pizza. This is a recurrent scene in Toledo, and I wonder what it bodes for the city's future when even small retail businesses cannot succeed.

I happen to know the former Domino's franchisee who operated the pizza business, and he was an ex-corporate multi-unit supervisor for the chain. It was not for lack of experience or effort that his business crashed, and this should have been a winning formula, so close to the University of Toledo.

Yes, the pizza market is competitive (I myself was a multi-unit franchisee of another chain for ten years here in Toledo), but there are quite a few fast food businesses that closed up shop only to be reoccupied by a check-cashing business. Certainly the landlords of the properties cannot be faulted for maximizing the rental value of their buildings, and despite my moral disgust with businesses that charge usurious rates of interest, they are completely within the limits of state law.

Yet my view of the future of this city darkens as I drive its streets and see that these modern-day money changers are among the few scraping a profit, and knowing that the money they make is in large measure off the backs of the poorest citizens, siphoned off to corporations headquartered far, far from Toledo.

Apr 15, 2008

Dogs and Mail Carriers

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Left: Image of mail truck courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I am writing this post in large measure just to vent, as well as to hear some suggestions from folks in similar situations. Feel free to leave thoughts in the comments section.

Several months ago, my dog snuck out the front door and jumped on the mail carrier, who claimed that the dog bit her. She rolled up her government-issue winter coat and pointed to her forearm, but I did not see any marks. Still, I didn't want to get her any more agitated, so I apologized profusely and let the matter go rather than get into an argument about what constitutes a bite.

The dog in question is my 2-year-old Puggle, who is about 20 pounds. He has never bitten anyone before, though I do acknowledge he can be a bit hyper. On the occasions when he has gotten out, he stays right by the house, though I know this is no excuse and we need to be more vigilant about the dog.

Last week the same dog got out again while the carrier was two houses away. He just stood outside the fence and barked, but did not charge or jump on her. The carrier hollered at me for permitting the dog to get out.

Now, I understand that carriers have a right to expect owners to restrain dogs, and I also know that it is my responsibility to keep my dog under control. However, by the weekend the carrier made a unilateral decision to stop delivering my mail because the dog ran along the fence and barked.

Not "jumped." Not "bit." Just "ran along the fence and barked."

Of course, it takes a few days to figure out the mail has stopped, and we did not get any notice. I called the station yesterday, and the employees knew of no reason why my mail was not being delivered, nor was my mail at the station.

So I waited for the carrier today, and she took a few extra minutes to gossip with my neighbors about the "dog problem." When she showed across the street from my house, she was belligerent and informed me that she would not deliver mail to my house - or any house within an undefined area she called "your neighbors" - if the dog was outside. She was also pissed that I "called her boss and complained" the prior day, which was not the case. My call was of short duration, focused solely on the missing mail, and was conducted with the person who answered the main number.

Every word out of my mouth was met with a combative reply. After she brought up the "bite" and I asked if she had any medical bills (thinking I would do the honorable thing and pay them), she accused me of calling her a liar. Since she refused to cross the street to my house, I had to raise my voice to be heard, at which point she hollered: "Don't yell at me!"

It was like one of those pointless circular arguments with one of my drama-loving teenagers, except the stakes were a lot higher, and I can't send the carrier to her room.

:-}

Moreover, she absolutely refused to entertain suggestions I offered to solve the problem, such as having her give the dog treats, or letting me walk the dog on a harness to acclimate him to the carrier. Her ultimatum was clear: if the dog is outside, nobody gets mail, and she threatened to call the dog warden on us.

My dilemma is this: I believe that if I try to go over her head and complain, all I will wind up with is a carrier with an axe to grind. Yet the carrier is being unreasonable, and I am concerned that she will go ballistic and accuse me of being provocative if I happen to be walking the dog when she is in the neighborhood, or if I act in any other innoccuous manner that she decides puts her at risk from my dog.

And at no point did I receive the dreaded "dog letter" that the postmaster is supposed to send out when service is disrupted due to dog problems.

Then there is the issue of my missing mail: if it wasn't at my house, and it wasn't at the post office station, where the hell was it? Does the carrier take other customers' mail home with her when decides they have broken the rules? Does it sit in a truck? In her locker?

Thanks again for allowing me to vent, and I look forward to the opinions of readers.

Apr 14, 2008

Walking in a Cemetery on a Sunny Day

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Left: Front gates of Toledo's Calvary Cemetery

Even as a young child, I was always fascinated with cemeteries. I liked to wander around in graveyards, looking for the most ancient headstone I could find, or practicing my subtraction skills by comparing birth and death dates to find the person who was the oldest at death. I also found the abundant plant and wildlife to be a curious contrast with the primary reason for the places: death.

Yes, I was a little odd even as a kid - just ask my mom and dad.

Anyways, I still find a stroll through a cemetery to be relaxing, and I spent some time this afternoon walking through Calvary Cemetery, a 140-acre burial ground in the center of Toledo. Founded in 1886, Calvary is the final destination for the bodies of over 102,000 former residents of Northwest Ohio.

Left: Headstones of infants who died decades ago

I stumbled across one of the infant burial sections of the cemetery, and many of these markers did not contain first names of the buried babies. I assume that these were stillborn infants, or perhaps babies who died during childbirth, and that local hospitals had an arrangement with the Calvary administrators for these youngest of cemetery residents.

As a parent, I find the idea of the death of a child to be horrifying, but I think that the death of an infant must be especially difficult to bear. There is something about such a sad event that seems completely contrary to the natural order of life, and - unless one adopts a coldly rational and detachedly robotic viewpoint - the death of a tiny child is one of those conundrums that makes me want to raise my arms to the heavens, demanding an answer from God.

Left: Freshly-decorated grave of a long-dead child

But then I came across the headstone of an infant named Maryann Brantmyler, who died in September 1938. A wooden white cross stood above the etched marble stone, dressed with a pink ribbon, some daisies and asters, and highlighted with a few branches of Gypsophila.

Seven decades have passed since Baby Maryann died, and her grave is still visited and decorated by a family member. Her unknown mother, should she still be alive, is likely in her nineties, while her siblings must be in their sixties or seventies.

This selfless devotion to the memory of such a short life brought a few tears to my eyes, and I found myself clearing off a few markers on the long-forgotten babies, moist earth collecting under my fingernails as I dug away clumps of turf that served as a reminder of the ground's relentless efforts to swallow the last physical memory of young lives taken too soon.

And I thanked God I have never had to bury a child.

Launch of a News Site - Daily Source

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I know, I know - the last thing you need is another way to waste time on the Internet, but I found the debut of Daily Source to be worthy of mention. The site is produced by a public service, nonprofit organization that sets the lofty goal of becoming the highest quality news site on the Internet.

Site visitors gain access to news and commentary from over a thousand publications, including daily papers, television network sites, newsmagazines, journals, and blogs. Unlike sites with a decidedly political slant to the news, such as the DrudgeReport or the Huffington Post, Daily Source places the emphasis squarely on accuracy, fairness, and truth.

The site has a paid staff of experienced journalists from across the United States, including Yvonne Lee, who prior to joining the Daily Source won an Emmy for her work covering September 11 for CNN, and Vince Winkel, who has won 20 awards for excellence in broadcast and online journalism while working for media outlets like CBS, NPR, CNN, and the BBC.

No, this is not a paid plug - just a brief testimonial from a site visitor who is impressed with the launch of the Daily Source, and from a person who does not reach for a Riedel wine glass when a plastic cup will do.

Apr 13, 2008

On Writing, Midwestern Backwaters, and the Internet

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Newsday columnist John Jeansonne has a thoughtful essay today in which he argues that being an athlete can't hurt presidential chances. I also mention this because Jeansonne and I had a recent virtual conversation about my essay examining Barack Obama and bowling, and some of my followup thoughts wound up in the Newsday piece.

I point this out not to highlight my own brief quotes, but rather to examine the ways in which the Internet helps writers and artists of all varieties transcend geographical limitations. No longer need a person remain isolated in an area not known for its cultural contributions, as access to the web can connect an artist to an unlimited audience.

Now, those who live in and around Toledo know that there is no shortage of talented folks whose creative pursuits can match virtuosos anywhere else in the world. Yet Toledo's international reputation for culture is limited to such oddities as Maxwell Q. Klinger, Tony Packo’s, and the Toledo Mud Hens, while the city's reputation as a center of American obesity makes us likely to be well known for a colective need for prescription weight loss pills.

However, the web allows a Long Island journalist to search for like-minded writers on a given topic, while a Midwestern yokel like me finds a more level playing field upon which his work can be judged. Over the past three years, dozens of major news sites have quoted or linked to my writing, opening up opportunities that even ten years ago would have escaped me.

I am also something of a late-blooming writer, with little in the way of work I would ever wish to see in print. The Internet shortened the period of dues-paying for me, giving me the ability to get my writing in front of a global audience as soon as I hit the "publish" icon. Granted, on many days the results of my creative endeavors are run-of-the-mill, or even trite, but when I really nail an essay, my writing does not wind up buried in a notebook to be forgotten.

Geography no longer serves as a barrier for a creative person who wishes to get exposure, and I think that the world is better for this interconnectivity.

Apr 12, 2008

On the FLDS, Age of Consent, and the Concept of Normalcy

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Left: Screen capture of CNN coverage of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

I have been scratching my head for weeks over the events related to the raid on the YFZ Ranch (Yearn for Zion), a religious and residential compound owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Admittedly, I find some of the philosophies of the FLDS - such as promoting polygamy and child marriage, or condemning interracial marriage - to be abhorrent and alien to the culture in which I grew up. To my way of thinking, these folks are attempting to recreate an antiquity that long since passed, and I can't say that I miss some of that cultural past that FLDS members choose to venerate.

Yet I must admit that there is a part of me that is disturbed by the ability of the state to interfere with the religious and political beliefs of a group of separatists, even misguided ones. Sure, the FLDS is an organization that few Americans would find attractive, and the idea of old men marrying young teens certainly borders on pedophilia, at least by mainstream definitions. However, there are still states like New Hampshire that permit males as young as 14 and females as young as 13 to marry, so the beliefs of the FLDS might not seem so archaic as a first glance might seem.

Moreover, even mainstream America is only a few generations removed from a time when younger marriages were common. As creepy as the idea seems to me of a 50-year-old man marrying a young teen, I have no doubt that among my not-so-distant ancestors there were similar relationships.

Is the targeting of the FLDS an example of the proverbial slippery slope? Will we next be targeting religious groups that, for example, require male circumcision, or groups that encourage the piercing of the ears of infants?

I am also shaking my head at the coverage of the raid by Texas authorities, as evidenced by the CNN headline pictured. Here is the front page text that accompanied the story entitled "Mental health experts enlisted to help with children of sect":

Texas officials have brought in mental health professionals and behavioral experts in an effort to ensure a sense of normalcy for the more than 400 children removed from a polygamous sect's enclave.
"Normal," for these children, is the compound and families with which they lived until April 3. The splitting up of families and intervention by the state is just about as "abnormal" as life can get for these children, irrespective of our dislike for their lifestyles. After all, the outside world is obsessed with age-defying nonsense like botox treatments and the search for the best wrinkle cream, while members of the FLDS simply want to live the way that their forebears lived.

Again, the allegations by the as-yet-to-be-located 16-year-old FLDS member deserve to be investigated, but the removal of 416 children from their homes based upon two telephone calls seems extreme to me, and anything but "normal." Yet quite a few people with whom I have spoken have no problem whatsoever with the raid on the FLDS compound, and they justify their views almost exclusively on the issue of teenaged marriage and sensationalized media reports, like this BBC headline that screams Texas sect temple 'used for sex'.

But heck - why should I question the demonization of the FLDS, a group thousands of miles and philosophical light years away from me? Why, these inbred rubes don't even have Internet access, so it's not like they will flood my Comments section with a ton of spam, and besides - I have trash to take out, and NetFlix just sent me a few DVDs with which I can forget troubling government raids on unpopular groups.

For a few hours, at least.

Apr 11, 2008

Adopt This Handsome Dachshund!

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Percy is a 1-1/2-year-old, 18-pound male Dachshund who was originally a rescued stray from Fulton County. He found an adoptive home a few months ago, but the adoptive owners decided that they could not handle housebreaking Percy, so he is back with us.

We are hoping that he gets adopted soon, because we are becoming quite attached to the handsome fellow.

This is Percy's second time in our home, and he really is a sweet, sweet boy who loves to cuddle and play. He gets along fine with other dogs and children, and he is quite protective of his foster home, possessing a deep bark that he uses when strangers appear. Around the other dogs he generally defers to the alpha, but he certainly knows how to stand up for himself, in spite of his four-inch Dachshund legs.

One of Percy's best traits is his easy-going, agreeable manner, and he is always game for whatever the rest of the house wants to do. He likes rawhide bones and dog toys, though he will occasionally chew on inappropriate items left on the floor, such as pencils and pens.

Since he returned to foster care, we discovered that Percy had a urinary tract infection, and since undergoing antibiotic treatment, he has been just about accident-free for the past month.

However, we must insist that Percy's next home be one in which the owners will make a commitment to properly train him to go to the bathroom outside, or who can live with the occasional accident. He has bounced around too many homes in the past year, but in spite of the chaos he remains one of the nicest dogs you will ever meet.

For more information on Percy, or any other rescue dog, please visit the Planned Pethood website.

Apr 10, 2008

The Quote Shelf

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

Don't think of retiring from the world until the world will be sorry that you retire. I hate a fellow whom pride or cowardice or laziness drives into a corner, and who does nothing when he is there but sit and growl. Let him come out as I do, and bark.
-- Samuel Johnson

Apr 9, 2008

Jeep Worker in the Fight of His Life

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Media reports this week highlighted the hiring of Toledo Police officers at the Toledo North Jeep plant in light of alleged threats made by a former employee, William Birr. In the past few days I have had the opportunity to read the police reports and related documents in the case, yet the picture painted in these reports and in the media seems at odds with the mild-mannered Birr.

Charged with numerous felonies, Birr faces up to five years in prison if convicted of aggravated menacing and inducing panic.

I had breakfast with Birr once, but under the advice of his attorney he is not speaking to the media at this time, and neither - I should add - are company officials or representatives of the prosecutor's office, citing ongoing criminal and civil cases. I can say that Bill Birr seems nothing like the AK-47-wielding stalker depicted in the interview statements, and I found him to soft-spoken and well-balanced. Moreover, I find the turn of events that brought Birr into the media spotlight to be a shocking abuse of the justice system, as well as a disturbing example of the power of large corporations to destroy the lives of individuals.

Birr was initially fired in October 2006 for leaving the plant without a supervisor's permission. He had been forced at the last minute to work four hours of overtime, which interfered with his ability to keep a followup appointment with his eye surgeon. The union contract only requires employees to work one hour of overtime, which Birr worked, but when he realized he was in danger of missing the appointment, he left the building without the appropriate authorization, and the company fired him five days later, even though he returned to finish his shift after the doctor's appointment.

Thus began a bizarre tale in the life of Bill Birr, who not only lost his job for leaving the plant, but faces the frightening prospect of five years in prison.

In the past few days I spoke with a number of Jeep employees who are familiar with the case and who personally know Birr. They describe a man who was abandoned by his union during the arbitration process, targeted by his employer for dismissal, and ultimately "railroaded" into the legal system unjustly.

"It is no secret that the company, Chrysler, wants to get rid of higher paid employees, especially in skilled trades - and Bill is an electrician," said George Windau, a millwright at Toledo North. "The company wants to get rid of higher paid workers and replace them with new-hires with half the age and half the wage. And union guys who want to be bosses after their term of office expires want to help the company get rid of workers instead of paying a buyout to each worker they want to get rid of."

Windau referenced publicized efforts by Chrysler to offer buyout packages to high seniority employees that range from $70,000 to $100,000. Windau pointed out that - despite the work infraction - Birr was still able to collect unemployment after his discharge.

"This whole demonization of Bill Birr is a distraction to make people look away from the fact that Bill was fired unjustly," he said. "Don't believe me? Just look at the decision that the State of Ohio gave toward this idea that Bill was fired unjustly. The State of Ohio awarded Bill Birr his unemployment benefits and the State of Ohio does not give unemployment benefits to workers who are fired for good cause."

Jeep workers with whom I spoke said that the company normally just docks the pay of employees who leave the building, or - in extreme cases - issues a three-day suspension. The initial police report contained a request by the company to charge Birr with theft of company funds, but the prosecutor's office declined to file this charge.

The alleged threats occurred almost a year after Birr was fired, and police reports indicate that they purportedly occurred during telephone calls between the company, union officials, and Birr.

However, police reports also noted that the investigating lieutenant "pink-slipped" Birr as a threat to public safety, and the former Jeep worker found himself involuntarily committed to a 28-day stay in a state mental hospital. Moreover, while being assessed by state psychiatrists, Toledo police took the unusual step of placing a tracking device in Birr's vehicle, telling Birr's wife that they just wanted to check the vehicle for "hidden compartments" in which Birr might hide a weapon.

Windau said that he was having lunch with Birr in December at a Manhattan Boulevard diner when they received a surprise visitor.

"All of a sudden this TPD sergeant walks in and stands over our table, made a little small talk, and then left," he recalled. "It was only after I found out that they were tracking Bill's every move that I understood they thought he was coming to the plant, since the diner is a few miles from Toledo North. The guy can't even eat a meal in a restaurant without getting harassed."

A number of workers at Toledo North believe that the company and union are working together to target high-wage union members for dismissal. Keith Cameron, a team leader in production at the plant, said that it is "common knowledge" that long term employees face harassment.

"They want the high-dollar people out, and they try to set people up by getting them mad and then firing them for insubordination," he said. "All I can say is this: watch your back, and do not get mad at a supervisor or a union steward."

Cameron said that at a recent team leader meeting, union and company officials told an unusual story about Birr.

"They said that the Toledo Police caught Bill Birr in the parking lot with weapons, and that he was arrested and in custody," he recalled.

Puzzled, Cameron and another employee called Birr at home, who reassured them that he was at home watching Star Trek reruns. Windau believes that the incident is part of a coordinated campaign to smear Birr.

"Now, on top of firing Bill unjustly, Jeep management and his wonderful union brothers want Bill to go to jail for five years under a charge of creating a public panic (causing more than $100,000 damage) and the list of Toledo cops on Jeep's payroll to the tune of $132,000 in expenses is the basis of this felony charge of 'creating a public panic,'" he said. "But the cops don't work for Jeep anymore. Must not be much of a public panic if Bill Birr is still walking around, and nobody is protecting the vulnerable workers at Jeep who will have to face Bill Birr and his invisible machine gun without Toledo cops on the factory site."

Windau also criticized media reports of the alleged threats.

"There is so much more to this story, but Bill Birr can't talk about it. His attorney forbids Bill to talk to the news media. And why should Bill want to talk to the media anyway after what "My Fox" Channel 36 did to him on Monday?" he asked, describing the news coverage as a 'perp walk.' "Fox equated Bill Birr with [2005 Jeep shooter] Myles Myers, accusing Bill of being a homicidal maniac, which isn't true, and which nobody at Jeep believes. Only the uninformed would believe this incredible lie about a Marine Corps veteran, a devout Christian, and a devoted husband and family man. Bill's only crime is that he wants justice and he won't go away."

Apr 8, 2008

On Creating a Joyful Marriage

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Now, from the outset I have to admit that my qualifications for offering advice on building a happy marriage are limited solely to any wisdom that managed to stick in my skull after twenty-two years of marriage, and - truth be told - my wife and I have had our share of rough years. What is more: I think that it took at least twelve years for me to get even a clue about what makes a marriage successful, at least beyond such temporary diversions as designer jewelry.

Yet, as I survey the relationships of married couples I have known, I recognize that my wife and I have managed to build a strong marriage in spite of the problems we encountered.

In the spirit of understanding what has worked for us, I humbly offer a few suggestions to readers in the hope that I might help someone whose marriage is struggling. I also hope that other readers will weigh in on this important topic and share in the Comments section those items that worked in their own marriages.

1. Be honest. Here I am not only thinking about avoiding egregious violations of trust - like affairs, addictions, or other examples of secret lives - but also about your own likes and dislikes. Going along and pretending that you are satisfied with a spouse's decision that rankles you will only build resentments.

2. Make time for each other on a regular basis. My wife and I have a lunch date every week, and we do not let anything interfere with our time together. No kids, no other couples: just a married couple enjoying each other's company and an inexpensive meal.

3. Treat each other with kindness and respect. Even when we have been angry with each other, my wife and I never slip into the temptation of calling each other cruel names like "idiot" or "dumbass." Yet I occasionally hear married couples use some of the most belittling and hurtful terms to describe their spouses. You might also be surprised at the effect that a "Hello, beautiful!" or a "Hiya, handsome!" can have after a tough day at work.

4. Don't be afraid of public displays of affection. Do you hold hands with your spouse in public, or are you too reserved to broadcast your love this way? My wife and I hold hands almost everywhere we go, and I am not such an insecure twit that I would ever be embarrassed by kissing her goodbye in a crowded room.

5. Allow your spouse some outside interests. There will undoubtedly be some areas in which the interests of even the most perfectly-matched couple do not intersect. I could spend hours sitting on the beach, while my wife would go batty with such a sedentary pursuit. We each have hobbies and friends in which the other is not necessarily interested, and that's just fine.

6. Develop some mutual interests. Sure, this is just the flip side of the previous item, but married couples need some common activities that bring them closer together. For us, this can be as simple as a game of Scrabble or backgammon, or something longer term, like our lives as foster parents or volunteers with Planned Pethood. Otherwise, what would we talk about at the dinner table?

7. Agree upon a fair division of the work. I do the dishes, trash, and lawn without asking, because these are chores my wife dislikes and, frankly, they have become ingrained into my personality after decades in the restaurant business. My wife does the shopping, the bills, and most of the cooking, and she is a whiz with a circular saw or wallpaper. The rest of the work we divvy up as needed.

8. Do things for your spouse without being asked or cajoled. No one likes to have to beg for attention or help, so get off your duff and offer to help your spouse. Better yet, surprise your significant other by anticipating some need and being there with the help.

9. Show spontaneous physical affection to your spouse. No, getting jiggy once in a while does not count for this item, you Neanderthals in the audience. As I wrote this post, my wife came up behind me, put her arms around me, and kissed me on the ear as she told me she loved me. Not only did I feel special and loved, but my mood improved by this thoughtful gesture.

10. Have fun with your spouse. Some of the heartiest laughs I have experienced have been at jokes my wife told, and most of my favorite life memories are those in which we set aside our daily routines and enjoyed life with a walk or a movie. Remember: this is the person you chose to grow old with, so make the time and effort to cherish the limited time that you have together on the planet.

Apr 7, 2008

Rapid Rhetoric: SCAGLIOLA

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

scagliola (skahl-YOH-lah) n. marble-like plasterwork for interior decoration, especially columns and sculptures.

The word scagliola is a direct import from the Italian language, and translates roughly as "chips." This form of imitation marble is typically composed of alabaster or gypsum plus an adhesive, with colored stone dust or chips then set into the surface for effect.

The scagliola process is similar to the more common technique known as terrazzo. While scagliolists have likely practiced their craft for a thousand years or more, the word did not appear in European texts until some point in the sixteenth century. Scagliola was a popular feature in buildings that adopted elements of Italian Baroque, and modern scagliola reputedly owes its origins to impoverished Italian monks seeking an ersatz decorative technique for monasteries.

This art form is certainly much more creative than modern technological specialists, who are more concerned with such items as bulk cable than aesthetics.

Apr 6, 2008

Bees: A Sure Sign of Spring

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There are many indicators of the changes in seasons used by people to gauge when spring arrives. Some folks rely upon the appearance of certain flowers, such as members of the crocus family, while others use the presence of tree buds to make the official announcement.

For me, the sighting of the year's first honeybee told me that winter has passed.

Temperatures were in the mid-50s today in Northwest Ohio, and this particular bee was far from at the height of its metabolism, but it methodically bounced from flower to flower, gathering nectar and distributing pollen to the plants it visited. After a moment the honeybee rose into the sky, and returned to its nest with the acquired plant products.

My dog by this time was getting impatient, as we were in the midst of a walk through the neighborhood. He did not share my interest in the natural world, except as it pertained to the presence of squirrels and cats.

Apr 5, 2008

Jeep Paying Toledo Police for Extra Security at Toledo North

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(Toledo, OH) I received a document from a confidential source that details the amount of money that Chrysler LLC is spending at the Toledo North Assembly plant on Toledo police officers. Neither TPD nor Chrysler has returned my calls as to the reason for the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in the past few months.

The photo shows an invoice detailing the wages paid to individual officers. For their personal privacy and safety I cropped the image to remove their names and addresses. Since the special operations at Jeep began, Chrysler LLC has incurred $132,440.00 in expense to keep Toledo police on the site.

I know that Jeep normally utilizes the services of the security conglomerate Wackenhut, so I doubt that this is merely an attempt to cover labor shortages. Besides, with an unemployment rate in Toledo approaching 8 percent, I am sure that there are plenty of qualified people who could be hired to handle basic security functions.

It also does not appear from the invoice that TPD officers are moonlighting, as the figures listed are assigned a single invoice number. It appears that Jeep is sending weekly bills to the City of Toledo for the work that the officers are performing.

One reliable source in the plant heard that Jeep management believes that there are "up to 50 people" the company believes might be capable of workplace violence, and that they are concerned about the possibility of another tragedy like the bloody rampage of Myles Meyers in 2005. Another source cojectured that there might be a major theft ring being investigated, and that the officers are working undecover to ferret out people who may be engaged in theft of company property.

If you work at Jeep and know more about this situation, feel free to leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

Apr 4, 2008

Julia Bates: How Long Will You Deny Danny Brown His Day in Court?

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I was watching the news this morning, and the mainstream media is filled with tributes to the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. I have tremendous respect for the man, and I know that the world is a better place because of Dr. King.

Yet my heart is simply not geared toward joining in on the chorus. Instead I have been thinking about a friend of mine, Danny Brown, who was wrongly convicted in 1982 of a rape-murder and who spent 19 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. DNA evidence later exonerated Danny, and he walked out of a Toledo courtroom in 2001 with the right to a new trial.

Unfortunately for Danny, Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates steadfastly refuses to give him his day in court, or to do what common sense would dictate: declare him no longer a suspect. The DNA sample, you see, matches a man named Sherman Preston, who is serving a sentence of 20 years to life for a similar rape-murder.

So my thoughts stray from April 4, the date of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and toward April 9, the day that Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Doneghy declared that Danny Brown deserved a new trial. I think that Dr. King, were he still alive, would be more concerned about people like Danny Brown than he would about a media lovefest on his behalf.

Julia Bates: give Danny Brown a new trial, or announce that he is not a suspect in the killing of Bobbie Russell. Either of these decisions would allow Danny Brown to be compensated by the State of Ohio for wrongful incarceration, which he is entitled to under state law. Unfortunately, by taking some action, Julia Bates will expose the judicial system in Lucas County to a good deal of unfavorable press, and God knows how important public image is to an elected politician: like well-polished teak furniture.

So she continues her indecisive middle path, leaving Danny Brown in legal limbo while letting Sherman Preston get away with murder.

I suspect, however, that Julia Bates will continue to pretend that Danny Brown does not exist, and that she will continue to divert attention away from the rug under which she has swept the justice due Danny Brown. I do have one question, though, Julia Bates:

How do you sleep at night with the guilt, and with the knowledge that your continued inaction perpetuates the miscarriage of justice that was the wrongful conviction of Danny Brown?

Oh, and one more thing: Danny Brown is getting older, and perhaps one day the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office will get lucky. Perhaps Danny Brown will die one of these years, and there will be a convenient way to close this chapter in American injustice. Maybe tossing dirt on Danny Brown's body in that six-foot hole will be better than having to deal with the unpleasant facts of his story.

Maybe luck will be on the side of Julia Bates. It sure hasn't for Danny Brown.

Apr 3, 2008

On Grasping the Magnitude of the Housing and Credit Crises

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The crises in the credit and housing markets can seem like abstract concepts unless, for example, your house is in foreclosure or you lost your job processing mortgages. I came across a website called Realty Trac, however, that you can use to map the foreclosures in your neighborhood.

I mapped a section of the 43623 zip code in West Toledo, which is a middle-to-upper-middle class neighborhood near the Franklin Park Mall. Houses range between $100,000 and $200,000 in this area, putting it slightly above average for the region. In the above zip code there are currently 763 houses in various stages of foreclosure, and since the 2000 Census listed 5,844 houses in 43623, over 13 percent of homeowners in this fairly affluent area have the specter of foreclosure hanging above their heads.

This is about double the rate for the entire city of Toledo, which by the Realty Trac count boasts some 5,324 houses in various states of foreclosure. This makes sense, since the rates of home ownership in some areas of the city are much lower.

On a walk down a street of the 43623 zip code, then, a pedestrian is likely to encounter a house facing foreclosure about once every seventh property. Some of these folks will likely find some way to save their homes, of course, but this is still a lot of struggling people.

And this will be a lot of vacant bank-owned properties if the situation continues to deteriorate or - God forbid - we move from a recession to a full-blown depression akin to those that commenced in the years 1873, 1893, and 1929. I imagine that being surrounded by empty houses will not bode well for one's ability to use home equity as a store of wealth.

Well, it sure is a good thing that American leaders have figured out how to prevent those pesky economic catastrophes, isn't it? Whenever I bring up the subject of the possibility of an epic depression, my sober-minded audiences are quick to remind me that periods like the Great Depression are in the distant past, and that I need not worry about selling my house and checking out low-priced real estate Branson.

I'm glad I have such even-keeled pals to keep me from thinking such crazy thoughts!

Apr 2, 2008

The Quote Shelf

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

Because we don't think about future generations, they will never forget us.
-- Henrik Tikkanen

Apr 1, 2008

On Barack Obama and Bowling

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I grew up in Detroit, a blue collar city for which bowling is much more than a mere sport. In the smoky environs where the game is played, participants take bowling seriously, and league matches with large payouts assume the importance of the Final Four in their sublimity.

Moreover, bowling in Detroit is not only intertwined with individual masculinity, but also with one's group acceptance as a stand-up human being. The failure to pick up a crucial spare in the tenth frame, thus sealing a win for your team, can lead to ignominy.

It is within this context that I pondered over the effects of Barack Obama's pathetic bowling score of 37 in an Altoona, PA bowling establishment last weekend. The visit to the center was an attempt to woo blue collar voters in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary, but I suspect that the move might have hurt Obama's image.

For the record: bowling does not have the racial exclusivity associated with it that does a sport like golf. Black and white bowlers compete, sometimes on the same teams, and a bowler's skill level is the determining factor in the hierarchy of bowlers, pure and simple. I remember being in youth leagues in which there were "black" teams and "white" teams in the 1970s, but there was always a grudging respect when your team got soundly trounced by a team whose members were of a different race.

My father instilled in me the virtues of being a quality bowler, and he was talented enough to have turned professional. Even in his seventies, my dad still carries a 200 average, and is a threat to add to his collection of 300 and 299 gold rings. He and I could bowl 20 games, and I bet he would whoop me in at least 18 of them.

I carry about a 160 average, though it has been years since I was last in a league. I recall bowling with my teenaged son a few years ago at a point when our relationship was a bit strained. He was in a high school league and carried a 150 average, learning as he was to roll a 15-board hook. I dusted off my sanded Gyro, rolled a few practice frames, and proceeded to toss a 235 in my second game, much to the awe of my previously-cocky kid.

Now, bowling cannot cure family problems, but there is much to be said for the values associated with the sport, and for a few hours my son and I were able to put aside our generational differences and connect.

My suspicion is that Obama's political advisers - those Washington elites who thought that a few video clips of Barack Obama tossing a bowling ball would help him similarly connect with blue collar voters - are even more clueless than Obama about the significance of bowling to its working class aficionados. While I doubt that the abominable 37 pin count will cause as much PR damage as, say, Michael Dukakis on an M1 Abrams tank, Barack Obama failed to score in more than one way in Altoona.