Jun 29, 2009

On Guns and Jesus

Left: Guns and salvation

I did a double-take when I passed the sign at Northwest Baptist Church that advertised a "Right to Keep and Bear Arms Rally" at the church. Now, as a supporter of the Second Amendment, I have no problem with people in a violent society making informed decisions on how to best protect themselves and their families, but I found a bit odd the idea that a church would so strongly weigh in on a political issue that seems at odds with Christ's teachings.

At first I thought this might be a mistake on my part, so I called the church and a friendly woman verified to me that, indeed, the purpose of the rally was to validate the Biblical basis for gun ownership. The church's special events page also offered more information that confirmed the nature of the night's rally.

In case the link changes, I saved a screenshot of the web page advertising the pro-gun rally at the church:

Left: screenshot of web page announcing the rally; click for larger image

The grounds outside the church were decorated with quite a few American flags that waved in the evening breeze. The flags served to highlight the theme of patriotism inherent in the rally, which claimed to examine if there was a "conflict between being a Patriot and being a Christian."

To my way of thinking these are completely separate issues, and I reject the notion that Christ would be fully supportive of the members of His church packing heat. In fact, I think He would be highly pissed that folks like Dr. Bryan Sharp would desecrate His church with political discussions of earthly violence, much like the moneychangers in the temple learned.

I suggest the following passages: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21) or the following admonition from Christ on the matter: "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Luke 6:27-31).

I believe that Christ would be appalled at the idea that people like Dr. Sharp speak for Him, and that they would use His temple as a pulpit to promote violence, even violence in self-defense. Should people also start packing their pistols for services when they attend Northwest Baptist Church? Does Jesus want the Sunday School teachers to include lessons on gun maintenance and target practice?

And this essay, mind you, comes from someone (me) who is both a Christian and a supporter of the Second Amendment, so any trolls doing a virtual drive-by better not start throwing the "socialist" label around. Otherwise, I'll get my closeted, ultra-secret hammer-and-sickle Communist Conspiracy membership card out and smite you.

Jun 28, 2009

Enough With the Michael Jackson Coverage

I must admit at the beginning of this essay that I never much cared for the music of Michael Jackson or - for that matter - the Jackson Five. I grew up in Detroit, the former home of Motown Records, and yet Michael and his brothers were not exactly radio superstars in the 1970s and 1980s in the Motor City.

The Motown stars more likely to be played when I grew up in the 1970s were the grittier and more lyrically substantial artists like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, while acts such as Sly and the Family Stone and Parliament-Funkadelic led the non-Motown soul and R&B groups one would be likely to hear.

In the 1980s Detroit was better known as bastion of Prince fans than it was for being a hotbed of Michael Jackson aficionados. True, MJ's 1984 Victory Tour with the rest of the Jackson brothers did well in three shows at the Pontiac Silverdome, but even this mega-hyped tour did not fare as well as the seven sellouts in nine days that Prince racked up at Joe Louis Arena that year. This, of course, came after Prince played nine shows in four months during the 1999 Tour, where Detroit became a sort of second hometown for Prince due to his massive fan base.

I always found the musical catalogue of Michael Jackson to be vapid, even soulless, at times, and I am hard-pressed to think of one MJ song I actually can say that I like. As a kid I found "Ben" to be listenable, and I give him kudos for the crossover "Beat It" with Eddie Van Halen on lead guitar, but beyond these two songs I find most of Michael Jackson's to be forgettable, and much of it sounds antiquated these days.

Anyways, I was saddened to hear that this tormented, strange, and perhaps perverted little man had died, but to afford the death of Michael Jackson this much coverage is beyond overkill. He certainly recognized the growing power of music videos as a marketing tool, and as a choreographer and dancer he proved himself to be an innovator, but in the end he was little more than another washed-up pop star trying desperately to re-ignite a creative flame that had begun to fizzle as early as the 1987 Bad album.

So: rest in peace, oh proclaimed King of Pop, but it is time for the networks to move on.

Jun 27, 2009

On the "Re-Homing" of Pets and Crass Euphemisms

Left: give me a house full of shedding dogs any day of the week, and I'll worry about the carpet later

I came across a post on a local discussion board regarding what the poster described as the "re-homing" of pets. This is a euphemism that has emerged in the last few years for giving away a dog, cat, or other pet that is no longer wanted or for which the owners can no longer provide responsible care.

The person who started the thread faced a dilemma: should she get new carpeting and get rid of the shedding dogs, or should she suffer with the old carpeting and keep the dogs?

As you might suspect, few respondents supported what came across as a heartless post, and all but a few roundly condemned the poster. Several tried to find a middle ground, suggesting that a product like the FURminator might mean that she could have a new carpet AND keep the dogs.

As a pet owner and volunteer with Planned Pethood, I of course am of the belief that you make a lifelong commitment to a pet when you adopt or purchase said animal. I am also the kind of person that would rather give up human luxuries before I would make my dogs do without their necessities, and we once spent over $1800 restoring the health of one of our dogs when she was accidentally burned by hot chicken soup.

Moreover, each of my dogs becomes part of our family, and the idea of giving up on a family member is anathema to me. They provide unconditional love, 24-hour security services, and lifelong companionship all for the price of 40 cents worth of food a day and perhaps a bit more than that in regular vet bills.

So let's call "re-homing" what it really is: giving away your dog or cat. Sometimes the reasons for doing so are valid - such as an elderly person who can no longer take care of a pet, or a financially-strapped family who must move into smaller quarters where pets are not allowed - but using a feel-good term like "re-homing" fools no one but the ex-owner.

Oh: and also the dog or cat you give away, since they know the real score.

Jun 26, 2009

Puggle with an Ouchie

Pictured on your left is our Puggle Eddie Haskell, who is recovering from an injury sustained during a period of rough-housing with our other two Puggles. He somehow ripped out the nail from one of his toes, and my daughter noticed Eddie limping around last night.

One of the many endearing qualities about Eddie is that - despite his tough exterior and position as house alpha dog - he is a complete baby when he does not feel well. He is hyper-sensitive to people poking around any injury, and the vet tech this morning used the phrase "doggie drama" to describe his howling when she cleaned his wound and put on the green bandage.

Yet I must add that Eddie is a model patient, as he has not so much as sniffed at his bandage. Many dogs we have owned or fostered cannot wait to start tearing at any bandages or sutures, but Eddie's stoicism and patience are exemplary, at least as far as canines go.

Of course, I cannot discount the fact that Eddie might be milking the extra attention a smidgen, given the fuss that everyone has paid him since he returned from the clinic. Lord knows that everyone in the house has been showering him with "you poor baby" and "awww...poor Eddie" all day. More importantly he has been able to get some quality time with Mama today, so I think Eddie will play along and get his money's worth out of this bandage.

Jun 25, 2009

A Quick Note

Someone called my cellular phone today and I did not get all the information left on voicemail. The call went something like this:

"Hi Mike...(garbled)...fire...church...(static)...pictures for your blog."

The call might have been in reference to this fire at Toledo's First Alliance Church on Monroe Street. Anyways, I appreciate the heads up, and contact me later if you are still interested.

Jun 24, 2009

On Governor Mark Sanford and Astonishing Arrogance

Tearful when caught

When news broke late last week that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was missing, I have to admit I bought into the pack of lies his staff dished out: the governor was simply hiking somewhere along the the Appalachian Trail after an especially stressful legislative session. In hindsight, I suppose my BS meter should have been going berserk, but the story seemed plausible enough, and who among us has not occasionally wished for some solitude from life's challenges?

It turns out, of course, that the wayward governor slinked away to Argentina to meet a woman with whom he had been intimately involved with for the past year. What most surprised me was not that Sanford committed adultery, or even that he told the most outrageous whoppers when trapped by reporters at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but that Sanford actually thought he could pull off this high-profile disappearing act.

My suspicion is that Sanford is quite adept at the Big Con - even for a politician - and that the magnitude of the current deception only reflects the likelihood that the governor has been getting away with lesser lies for many years.

Beyond the fact that Sanford is a first-class weasel for betraying his wife - and for making matters far, far worse by high-tailing it to Buenos Aires for a goodbye fling with his mistress - the governor's political career might be completely finished. Certainly any hopes Sanford had about a 2012 presidential run evaporated during the Argentina scandal, and I doubt that he will be able to withstand the fierce calls for his resignation from members of both major parties.

An extramarital affair is toxic to a political career, but being caught on camera lying his arse off to reporters is the height of stupidity on the part of Mark Sanford.

Or maybe the height of hubris.

Of course, the new trend is for disgraced politicians to make the reality television circuit. A repulsive snake and generator of crocodile tears like Mark Sanford would fit in well in a low-country swamp setting for a season of Survivor, would he not?

Jun 23, 2009

On Poor Health, Wake-Up Calls, and Providence

I recently wrote about learning that I have hypothyroidism, which I hoped would be the Magic Diagnosis that would cure my various ailments with a single daily dose of levothyroxine. Unfortunately, human medicine is rarely this simple, and I received a call yesterday from my physician's office that I needed to come in and see him.

As in "first thing tomorrow morning." As in "we have some test results we need to discuss with you." As in "8:00 am, before he starts seeing his patients."

Now, being a person prone to anxiety and depression, I of course interpreted this brief conversation as "We have really bad news for you," and I spent most of the day mulling over the various terminal diagnoses that might await me. Even worse was trying to get to sleep last night, believing as I did that I was likely to learn unpleasant truths in the morning.

Dragging myself to the clinic this morning, I learned that my doctor had a whole host of diagnoses for me. I officially have a borderline case of type 2 diabetes, since two straight glucose tests butted right up against the fasting plasma glucose levels of 126 mg/dl that the World Health Organization defines for diabetes. In addition, my CT scan and ultrasound revealed that I have splenomegaly, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and a growth on my pancreas that my physician believes is a supernumerary spleen. Add to this my previously diagnosed thrombocytopenia and peripheral neuropathy, and it became apparent that my body is in some serious trouble.

My response when I returned to my vehicle should not be reprinted, though it involved a lot of "f**k me" and "what the f**k" and "f**king bulls**t" and assorted other colorful phrases. I mean, how can one person who has been relatively healthy for four decades suddenly turn over the course of a few months into a walking collection of a half-dozen serious medical conditions?

Yet after an hour or so of wallowed self-pity, I started to put this news in perspective. First of all, there are hundreds of millions of people whose health is a helluva lot worse than mine, people with metastasized cancers and brain aneurysms and failing hearts. While I might complain about the unfairness that other people can eat carbohydrates, salt, and fatty foods until they burst, I do have some choices.

Folks with incurable terminal illnesses do not, save whether they choose to die at home and whether they choose to fade away in a heavily opiated haze.

I get to choose a healthier diet, and I get to choose whether I follow my doctor's admonitions to exercise 30 minutes a day or more. In essence, what I received today was not depressing news, but rather an opportunity to radically change my lifestyle to meet the conditions my body must have for optimal health.

I also experienced what I am sure was an unpleasant day of especially heightened glucose levels on Monday. Sunday was Father's Day, and while I did not exactly gorge myself, I did eat a couple of thick slices of a sweet lemon cake and enjoyed I think four meals over the course of the day. I woke up yesterday feeling lousy, and I only began to feel better after I went eight hours without eating.

I suppose we could call this a glucose hangover.

Unfortunately, in retrospect I think I have experienced many of these high-glucose days in the past year, and I never made the logical conclusion that my lifestyle directly diminished my quality of life, causing me to feel extremely fatigued and bringing on a host of health problems. After all, I reasoned, I do not drink, smoke, or use illegal drugs, and I eat a fairly balanced diet (though admittedly I have a few culinary weaknesses, like bratwurst and Moosetracks ice cream). However, my metabolic system is simply one that does not tolerate even moderate amounts of such guilty pleasures, and I have to steel myself that I need to be on guard for the rest of my life against foods that other people can eat seemingly without consequence.

Life is unfair, in short, and I better deal with that s**t. Now.

However, it is also interesting that many of the people who crossed my path today at work seemed to offer unsolicited advice that had to have been specifically directed my way. I did not broadcast to people (at least not until this post) my problems, and yet one student happened to bring up the topic of the benefits of yoga, another discussed visiting the university rec center, while a coworker happened to mention that she found a great-tasting whole grain bread.

The moment I knew that higher powers were involved came after I went to get a haircut this evening. I walked out and my grumbling stomach reminded me that my carb-and-fat boycott meant that I probably consumed only 400 calories by 6:00 pm. On my right was Johnny's Lunch, which promised me a couple of tasty coney island hot dogs to instantly ease my hunger. On the left was Aladdin's Eatery, which offered a variety of healthy vegetarian and low-fat Middle Eastern dishes.

I sighed and went to Aladdin's, choosing a Greek salad with low-fat dressing and some vegetarian pita rollup sandwich in which I only ate half of the pita. I will not embellish the story by claiming that I was awakened to the intrinsic beauty of the Hummos Tabouli Garden Rolled Pita - or that a light shone from heaven as I munched this meatless, low-carb meal - but at the same time the food was tasty enough, and perhaps I helped jump-start my way to health.

My decision to post all of this was two-fold: to help me wrap my own stubborn head around the fact that I need to change - now - if I want to live past age 55 or so, and to perhaps inspire a few other readers who need to make lifestyle changes but who have been putting off such necessary modifications to diet and behavior.

We are lucky in life to receive even a single second chance, and I have to begin today to reverse the health course upon which I find myself.

Female Hybrid Duck

In the past I have documented the presence of a few black-and-white hybrid ducks that are part of a large flock of Mallards in a park by my house. We also have seen the occasional domesticated Pekin duck floating along the local creek, and it appears that these white ducks have produced some hybrid offspring.

The female Mallard-Pekin hybrid in the photograph happened to be resting near another Mallard female, so you can see the differences as a result of the hybrid process. The hallmark wing band on the female Mallard remains in the hybrid, though the color of the banding changed from a metallic blue to brown. The head and bill coloring of the hybrid seem similar to the female Mallard, though the rear half of the bird is mostly white.

Their appetites are about the same, though.

Jun 21, 2009

History Documented

Those who are interested in oral history and military history might want to check out History Documented, a website dedicated to recording and archiving firsthand accounts of veterans in the nation's wars. Toledo natives Chris Wulf and Rick Neeley have assembled a wide variety of video interviews they conducted with veterans, and they organize the profiles in a blog format as they post the interviews.

Even more commendable is the fact that Wulf and Farley are self-financing this important local history project. The site serves as a reminder that we are both inseparable from and intimately connected with the history of American military actions through the local survivors of these conflicts. Follow this link to a nine-minute video that explains the mission of History Documented.

Those of you with a few extra nickels to spare can also donate to History Documented to help these folks in preserving the experiences of war veterans for posterity.

Tiger Lilies Arrive

I have been in the habit the last few years of using my garden photography and blog posts as virtual harbingers of the seasons, and the arrival of the year's first tiger lily sent me back into the blog archives. The first of these orange beauties arrived on June 18 last year, while tiger lilies first bloomed in my yard on June 17 in 2006.

Thus, the tiger lilies are 3-4 days late by my reckoning this year, unless the previous examples were aberrations. I am not enough of a horticultural expert to know if this is a significant variation, but I do find it curious nonetheless. I also find it curious that the tiger lilies of some of my neighbors started blooming a few days ago, while my reluctant plants held out for a few more days.

Maybe this is a function of fertilizer, since I rarely add any store-bought nutrients to my gardens (and never waste it on the easy-to-grow tiger lilies). Perhaps next year I will target a few isolated plants to see if fertilized tiger lilies grow any faster or with more heartiness than the lilies that manage on their own.

Yet no matter when the tiger lilies first bloom in my yard, they are always a sure sign that summer has arrived, and that the hottest days of the year await us. It is time to start doubling up on the water I consume when gardening, and also for me to dust off the sprinkler for those inevitable 7-to-10 day stretches without a decent summer rain.

Jun 20, 2009

My Wife is SuperWoman

Pictured on your left is the meal dinner feast my wife prepared for us this evening, which was an early Father's Day present to me (we have other dinner plans tomorrow). I walked outside and was astounded by the presence of marinated T-bone steaks, pierogies, cucumber salad, fresh-baked French bread, sliced watermelon, and for dessert, a pair of custard-filled chocolate eclairs big enough to have their own zip codes.

No, that's not beer in the photo: it's Reed's Premium Ginger Brew. I quit the hooch the better part of a decade ago when alcohol and I became far too friendly. If I wasn't yet an alcoholic, I was certainly flying headlong down the road to Alkyville with an open fifth of Stolichnaya in my hand, howling at the moon and doing my best impersonation of Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend.

But I digress.

As I compose this post three hours later, I am still full from the culinary expertise my wife demonstrated in her role as domestic Chef de Cuisine. She does 90 percent of the cooking, while I handle the dishes and cleanup.

A near perfect division of labor, that one.

Yet my wife is far more than just a pretty face in the kitchen. While I went outside to burn off some calories by mowing the lawn and weeding the gardens, she built a wooden shelf upon which our flat-screen television now sits. All I had to do was lug a few heavy boards and help hoist the 65-pound behemoth onto its new perch.

Trained first as an engineer, my wife utilized this particular skill set, and she designed, measured, mitred, sawed, leveled, and assembled this fine piece of carpentry. Me? If it involves much more than pounding a nail or driving a wood screw, count me out: I lack the ability to visualize any skilled carpentry job, and let's just say that my previous attempts at working with wood on my own to create something permanent have been utter failures.

But electrical? Oy! I can still kick arse in that department, and I have yet to kill myself, though I once had a bad run-in with a live 480-volt wire and a socket wrench when I was fixing a pizza oven years ago.

Even after a full day of home improvement projects and cooking the Meal of the Year, my wife still found time to pay a short visit to see my oldest son at a DJ gig he landed at Claddagh's Irish Pub at Westfield. So I need to add the title "SuperMom" to my wife's résumé, and even though we are about to celebrate Father's Day, it is the mom in our family who really rocks.

Jun 19, 2009

Department of Imbecility: Fireworks in the Garage

As I briefly consider the myriad examples of human stupidity that I have witnessed over the course of my life, I am hardpressed to top the collective brainlessness exhibited by some neighbors this afternoon. You see, not only were these amateur pyrotechnicians engaged in feats of half-witted recklessness involving the aiming of combustible missiles at each other, but these simpletons used their garage as the staging ground for the fireworks battles.

Yes, the garage: that building that houses such incendiary supplies as cans of gasoline, paint, and charcoal lighter.

When I heard the initial bursts of firecrackers and bottle rockets, I ushered my dogs in the house lest they be hit by a stray explosive device, or in case they freaked out and escaped the yard in their fright. As I looked across the street, though, I saw a 20-foot-high plume of gray smoke, and it was only after it cleared that I realized it was coming from inside the garage.

Now, I am not immune to moments of dubious reasoning - and admitedly as a young teen I parlayed some paper route earnings into fireworks - but I boldly declare that lighting fireworks in the garage is an idea that never popped into my head before today.

Just like the way that such ill-conceived schemes as laying down on the freeway or jumping into a cage with a lion never occurred to me.

Fortunately, there is about 50 yards of space between the garage these clowns might engulf in flames and my house. I suspect that any fires that result would not leap this distance, especially with the flash flood conditions in Northwest Ohio today, but do not be surprised if these mental defectives make the news.

In a bad, bad way.

On Stubborn Independence, Cheating Death, and Ticking Clocks

I have been spending a lot of time lately with my maternal grandfather, who is the man pictured on your left. Part of this is because he recently had surgery, and I wanted to make sure that he and my grandmother - both of whom are in their early nineties - had everything they needed. Yet I have to admit I also have been spending time with these terrific folks to make up for some years when work and school took precedence over visiting with family members: I somewhat selfishly want to glean all the wisdom and memories from him that I can while his mind is still so sharp.

Oh, and he and my grandmother are excellent company, too. Sometimes my wife and I go up for a "quick" visit that ends up being five or six hours, and we are amazed that so much time has passed just drinking coffee and hearing old stories about me peeling off vinyl wallpaper in a hallway when I was four.

My grandfather is fiercely independent, and he has steadfastly refused to consider moving out of the home he has owned since the early 1940s. Up until the last few years he has been the picture of perfect health, but arthritis is beginning to take its toll on his knees and right hip. Yet how long, exactly, can he defy the odds and cheat infirmity and death?

My mom has been at odds with my grandfather in her gentle-but-persistent efforts to get him to move to an assisted living facility. She worries about these old folks, and knows that my grandmother is completely reliant upon my grandfather due to her near-complete loss of vision. Yet I refuse to get in the middle of this debate, in large part because my grandfather is still managing quite well on his own: he still drives, does the grocery shopping, and takes care of a lot of the housecleaning.

My grandfather is also blessed by having a pair of angels in his next door neighbors, who often bring hot meals and help out with all sorts of neighborly kindness, like cutting his lawn and carrying out his trash cans for him. These saintly people watch out for my grandparents as if they were their own family, and I am almost ashamed when I look at the comparatively paltry amount of help I offer my elderly neighbors here in Toledo.

Yet despite the help of his neighbors, and the fact that my wife and I often drive up to visit and check up on them, my grandparents will not live forever. I dread the day when I get the inevitable phone call, but this thought is also a powerful motivator: no matter how much longer my grandparents continue to defy death, I know that I will not have pangs of regret for missing out on their last years.

And if I inspire just one reader to phone an elderly relative or to take a long drive to check up on someone, this will be the most important post I write this month.

Or maybe any month.

Jun 18, 2009

On Sunsets and Photographic Luck

I find great pleasure in watching picturesque sunsets, especially those hazy summer color extravaganzas like the one pictured on your left. I feel the urge to grab my camera every time I see lots of red and magenta hues, though my wife tells me to just sit back and enjoy them rather than obsessing over saving a sunset forever.

This particular image was taken as we traveled 55 miles an hour down US-24 north of Monroe, Michigan the other night. I found the halo effect around the setting sun to add to the picture instead of representing a defective technique.

Yet I have to admit that sheer luck is involved in almost every decent image. The photographer either happens to be in the right place at the right time, or the equipment performed in a fortuitous way. Sure, talented photographers can frame images a certain way, and they know how important it is to master the technology, but ultimately the "perfect" photograph has much to do with luck.

In this case (though I hardly make claims to excellence here) I simply pointed the camera out the window of a moving vehicle and let the shutter rapid-shoot. I later sifted through the dozens of images and found one with some eye appeal.

Oh, and then there's the old saying: "The only difference between a good photographer and a bad one is that you never see the crappy pictures of a good photographer."

Jun 17, 2009

Rapid Rhetoric: NOMOTHETIC

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.

nomothetic (noh-moh-THEH-tick) adj. related to or involved in the search for abstract universal principles or general scientific laws.

I came across the word nomothetic today while proofreading the work of another scholar. The Greek root word nomothetikos translates into an English equivalent of "law-giving."

Different disciplines have alternative uses for the term "nomothetic." Sociologists contrast nomothetic explanations - which involve a generalized understanding of a given case - with idiographic explanations, which present full descriptions of a given case. In law nomothetic propositions are those that are invariable facts of life that cannot have viable alternative explanations, such as "the sun rises in the east because of the Earth's rotation and orbit."

I should also mention the phenomena of the nomothetic fallacy, which can be summarized as the idea that simply naming a given problem solves it. As an example, a psychiatric patient might temporarily find some relief upon hearing a diagnosis of panic disorder, but the temporary relief gained from the acquisition of this knowledge does not constitute a cure.

Jun 15, 2009

Three Sleeping Puggles

All right, the post should really be titled "Two Sleeping Puggles and One Puggle With His Eyes Open," but the journalist in me prefers snappy titles. From the left are Atticus Finch, Eddie Haskell, and Chauncey Gardiner, which also works as a singular left-to-right linear axis of rascally and impish behaviors: Atticus is the most mellow, while Chauncey is the most likely to instigate.

Anyways, despite the rather energetic nature of Puggles, I found the three of these fellows at rest in the early afternoon today. True, one might make a Three Stooges comparison, but the peacefulness of these friendly canines was contagious, and I had to fight off the urge to join them for a nap before I teach tonight.

On Texting While Driving

Over the past year I have noticed an increasing number of motorists whose idea of multi-tasking involves the reading and composition of text messages while they operate a motor vehicle. The texting while driving phenomenon astounds me, even more than does the incessant need some folks have to gab on their cell phones while driving.

Full disclosure: while I embrace most of the digital technology that has emerged in the past two-plus decades, I find cell phones to be annoying and intrusive. I frequently turn mine off for days, and I encourage people to use email on time-sensitive matters that need my attention.

In the accompanying photograph is a man texting while driving yesterday on 14 Mile Road in Warren, MI. To his credit, he looked up every 4-5 seconds, and he did not veer into our lane or drive inappropriately, but exactly how much attention to the road can this goofball really be paying as he reads and responds to text messages?

Then there are the teenaged texting drivers, who combine an inexperience behind the wheel with an even greater addiction to such inane snippets of conversation as "u went 2 da sho 2 nite" or "i look at wot i need 2 do and das about as far as ive got lmao!!!" (actual text messages I read on an old cell phone one of my teens discarded). I already shudder at the idea of sharing the road with 16-year-old wunderkinds who have a mere 20 hours of driving under their belts when licensed, and now these drivers spend half of their time texting other texting drivers?


So to those of you who feel the compulsion to immediately read and respond to every text message you receive: pull off the farking road. Your obsessiveness with texting could kill someone, and any messages that you receive can wait until you park the car. Finally, do you REALLY think that messages like "OMG n WTF! u neva do dat 2 me cuz dats like fkin gay" are important enough to jeopardize the lives of other motorists?

Jun 13, 2009

Need Your Vote: Useless Weed or Pretty Flower?

Pictured on your left is a plant in a shaded garden at my house, and my wife and I disagree over whether to keep or kill this flowering plant. My guess is that this is a specimen of mayweed chamomile, also known as Anthemis cotula.

My wife argues that this is little more than an opportunistic weed, and that it should be simply pulled, ground up, and discarded into the compost pile. My argument in favor of a stay of execution for the plant is that this area receives little sun, and that only hostas and springtime tulips seem to fare well there.

Besides, it was a free botanical gift courtesy of the wind or the excrement of a passing bird.

The loser of the contest has agreed to abide by a simple majority vote from a tabulation of comments from those who support life and those heartless accessories to murder who wish to see this harmless, innocent plant snuffed out like the victim of a PCP-fueled, AK-47-carrying psychopath.

OK: a bit of hyperbole to bolster my case, but I wrote the blog post. Anyways, what say ye: kill the weed or cultivate the flower?

Blowing Grains

While attending the 30th Birthday Party for Planned Pethood today, I came across a local bluegrass/country combo whose music might be better characterized as Americana. The group's name is Blowing Grains, and the bass player told me that they play around town at such venues as the Glass City Cafe and Woodchuck's Bar and Grill.

I listened for a few songs until my wife pulled me away to be more social, and I found Blowing Grains to be steeped in traditional American folk music without merely parroting traditional artists like Jimmie Rodgers and Bill Monroe. The fiddle player especially accents this timeless sound, and his style reminds me of the late, great Jerry Rivers (of Drifting Cowboys fame).

I closed my eyes, tapped my foot, and quietly added tenor harmonies to the group's selections, thinking back to a time when I passionately cared about music and kicked around bands and combos before I drifted away from playing music. A part of me longs to join such a relaxed group, while another "mature" part of me chides such frivolous pursuits. I trust that my "frivolous" part soon kicks the arse of my "responsible" self.

Anways, I highly recommend Blowing Grains if you come across the group.

Jun 12, 2009

On Readi-Cat and Queasy Resignation

Left: Mucilaginous, milky, and mephitic

I have some health issues going on that may or may not be related to my recent diagnosis of hypothyroidism. Among these are some elevated liver enzymes and problems with polyneuropathy in my feet, and this morning I headed to Flower Hospital for an abdominal CT scan and an electromyography (EMG) test.

To prepare for the CT scan I needed to drink a bottle of a noxious liquid called Readi-Cat, a watery solution of barium sulfate. For those who have never consumed said cocktail, Readi-Cat has the consistency of runny plaster with a taste not unlike, well, runny plaster.

The hardest part of drinking this vile concoction is not the actual taste - which is really rather like tangy flour water - but forcing yourself to drink what appears at first sight to be either curdled milk or soggy wallpaper paste. Your mind is telling you that anything that looks this congealed must be both disgusting and dangerous, and I ended up closing my eyes to keep the gag reflux at bay.

If you ever have to drink Readi-Cat, I suggest refrigerating it first, which creates the temporary illusion that you are drinking a milkshake. A wholly unappealing milkshake, mind you, but I imagine that trying to drink this nauseating nectar at room temperature or higher would be akin to drinking a talcum powder smoothie.

I had to drink eight ounces at 11:00 pm last night and gulp down another eight ounces at 6:30 this morning, and all the while I was denied water and food until after the test. After a purgatorial delay of almost an hour at the Flower Hospital outpatient registration, I headed off to the CT scan.

At which point they handed me another eight ounces of Readi-Cat.

So there I was, thinking I was in the clear, when the technician informed me that the my previous two forays into the world of Readi-Cat were not enough. Unfortunately, there was no place to discreetly toss the repellent cup of loathsome liquid, and I choked down another three mouthfuls. I managed to engage in calming self-talk that kept me from heaving back up this revolting elixir, but the last dose was nearly a one-way ride to Upchuckville.

Feel free to commiserate in the comments section on the evils of Readi-Cat, on other noxious medicinal products, or even how you secretly enjoy the taste of liquefied barium sulfate.

Jun 11, 2009

On Jury Duty and Luck of the Draw

A couple of months ago I received that most dreaded of pieces of mail: the jury summons. Given the fact that I had a hectic schedule, I bargained with the court for a rescheduling, hoping that the date further in the future would fit better.

Now, I am not by nature one to shirk civic responsibility, but serving on a jury is to me one of the least productive ways I can serve my community. Heck, I would rather cut weeds on the roadside or pull tree trunks out of a drainage creek than to be bored out of my skull sitting all day in that waiting room watching a bunch of sappy films from 1985 like they always show.

I was once the master of getting people out of jury duty when I owned my own business. I composed the most heartfelt letters explaining how Employee X was the most valuable employee on my staff, and how my struggling business would collapse overnight if I lost Employee X for the two critical days that jury duty required.

Interestingly, when I wrote letters on my own behalf about how I could not afford to be away from my business all that time, my own requests were denied, and I was forced to twice sit on jury panels. That must have been karma paying me back for getting a dozen or two people out of jury duty.

Anyways, my stay of execution (pun intended) passed, and on I was due to serve Wednesday and Thursday of this week. On Tuesday night, though, I received gratifying news on the court phone system: All jurors scheduled for Wednesday were no longer needed.

Hallelujah! My time in judicial purgatory had been cut in half, and I received what was in essence a free day yesterday to catch up on work. Yet I kept looking at the clock, knowing that I knew of no one in the history of jury service who lucked out two days in a row.

I almost did not want to make the call, what with the euphoria of my one-day freedom waning. I dialed the number, and to my utter surprise the voice on the recording told me the following words of joy:

"All jurors scheduled for service on Wednesday and Thursday are excused from service."

Forget your Mega Millions or PowerBalls, people. I hit the Grand Bifecta of good fortune, and no one will convince me otherwise that I may be at the start of an incredible streak of luck. Best of all, I am off the hook for at least a couple of years, at which point I will drag out and rub my Lucky Jury Summons of 2009.

You just never know.

Jun 10, 2009

Say Hello Again to Atticus Finch, a Rescue Puggle

A few weeks ago I wrote about Atticus Finch, a Puggle we are fostering with Planned Pethood. Surprisingly, there have been exactly zero applications on this terrific dog, so I figured I would update readers on this handsome fellow.

Atticus is a 26-pound, 2-year-old male Puggle who is very friendly and affectionate. He is fine around children and gets along quite well with the other dogs in our house. While Atticus loves to romp around the backyard, his personality is rather laid back, more like a good-natured hound dog than the typically high energy Puggle.

This is a dog who is eager to please people, and he is housebroken. He has a few behaviors that his new owners will need to keep working on, like tipping over the trash can and climbing on the kitchen table when he thinks no one is looking, but Atticus is really a nice dog who just wants to be loved.

And he is indeed loved, which is why I am updating his story. You see, the longer a great dog like Atticus stays around, the harder it is to say goodbye. I am already starting to dread the day he gets adopted, because he and I spend a lot of time together, and he listens well when I work with him.

To learn more about adopting Atticus Finch, or to help financially support Planned Pethood's mission to rescue dogs and cats in Northwest Ohio, visit the Planned Pethood website for more information.

On James von Brunn, White Supremacists, and Holocaust Denial

Left: James von Brunn, photo from his website

It was with great sadness that I learned of the act of racist terror perpetrated today at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum by James von Brunn. The neo-Nazi activist, once jailed for attempting to arrest governors of the Federal Reserve Board, entered the Washington, DC building this afternoon with a rifle and shot museum security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns.

Johns was pronounced dead at George Washington University Hospital a few moments ago, while von Brunn remains in critical condition after other museum guards returned fire.

I have studied at great length the racist right for several years now, and while I am shocked and disturbed by the shooting, it does not surprise me that a neo-Nazi would perpetrate an act like this. Over the past year I have written less on the subject, in part because of my efforts to finish my dissertation.

Yet part of me simply grew tired of writing about the same dysfunctional loons who populate the racist right. I also grew weary of the real-life harassment and cyber-terror these clowns perpetrate, including death threats and employment disruptions carried out by some of the racist vermin who lurk in our midst. However, from time to time I am compelled to weigh in on the various movements that can be lumped together under the catch-all term "white nationalism."

Or maybe my urge to write about white supremacists is more akin to picking a scab over and over again. Who knows?

Left: Screen shot of von Brunn's favorite websites; click to enlarge

Von Brunn's writings on his website, Holy Western Empire.org, are the usual hodgepodge of whacked-out conspiracy theorists. His magnum opus, a book entitled Tob Shebbe Goyim Harog, contains a blend of diatribes against the Illuminati, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and the latest doctrine in the racist canon: Holocaust denial. I read a few chapters looking for some insight into the mind of von Brunn, but essentially this is a cut-and-paste collection of quotes interspersed with von Brunn's delusional ramblings. Here is a typical passage, taken from von Brunn's Foreword:

The Rules of Navigation tell us that to set a new course we first must know where we are; to know where we are we must know where we have been. Therefore, we intend to briefly examine the history of the CONSPIRACY; followed by a description of the CONSPIRACY in action: LIBERALISM/MARXISM/JEWRY; and finally we will offer a plan to remove the cancer from our Cultural Organism. If it is not removed we die.

REMEMBER: White genes cannot be created, they can only be transmitted. We Aryans can always build another State upon the ruins of the old; but once the White genepool is polluted YOU CAN KISS THE BLONDES, REDHEADS AND FAIR SKINNED BRUNETTES GOODBYE FOREVER!
There is little hope in having a reasoned discussion with misguided people who eagerly swallow such tripe, as I have learned over the years. The true believers of the racist right begin with fraudulent pieces of disinformation such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and theirs is a worldview sustained by the writings of a handful of influential zealots who distort history in their pursuit of goals such as white homelands, forced migration of non-whites, or genocide.

Von Brunn's despicable act today might serve as a temporary wake up call to the world of the dangers posed by the unstable elements among the racist right, but unfortunately I suspect that the shock value of the killing of Stephen Tyrone Johns will only last a few days. The racist thugs who are convinced of a Jewish conspiracy to exterminate whites will continue to spew their idiocy, and occasionally the more demented in their lot will continue to kill.

And most of the rest of us will pretend that the racist right is harmless and should be ignored.

Jun 9, 2009

Rapid Rhetoirc: MARCESCENT

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.

marcescent (mahr-SEH-sent) adj. (botany) withered but not falling off, as in leaves that stay attached to a plant.

Derived from the Latin verb marcescere ("to wither," "to decay"), the word marcescent describes dead parts of plants that remain secured to the plant. I actually came across this word in a poetic context while perusing an 1893 compilation of the Atlantic Monthly:

How often is the flower of human life marcescent, tenacious of its old estate when the blooming-time is past. Better, how much, to wither and fall than to wither and cling! Wise are they who, marking the deciduous turn of the season, softly shed the desires and exactions suitable to youth, but not to the waning year; remembering that

"Quiet coves
The soul has in its autumn."

I thought the word might serve well in a more cynical context, perhaps in a hypothetical case of a crotchety old man who refuses to die. I have no one in particular in mind, but as I write this I suddenly considered it might also apply to politicians who overstay their welcome.

Jun 8, 2009

A Hypothyroidism Story

Levothyroxine: my new best friend?

My physical and mental well being have been on the decline for quite some time now, though I have tended to attribute this to the onset of middle age. However, my energy levels and alertness have nosedived the last few months, and I decided to finally visit my physician between semesters.

To be more truthful, I thought a 10-day reduced workload would "cure" me, and I only went to the clinic after rest failed to rejuvenate me.

I have a number of items that concerned my doctor - such as higher serum cholesterol and blood pressure that now falls into the pre-hypertensive category - but what jumped out from the blood tests were low levels of T3 and T4, the hormones produced by the thyroid gland. In short, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

Now, I am hardly ecstatic to learn that I have a debilitating illness, but it is of some comfort to know that this is a condition that is: a) treatable with medicine; and b) responsible for many health-related problems I have noticed as my body approaches its fifth decade. Moreover, a diagnosis like hypothyroidism is certainly better than learning of something like mesothelioma cancer.

My sense of smell began to disappear sometime in the last few years (this is known as anosmia), and today I can only smell items placed directly in front of my nose. I have also noticed a decrease in memory-related functions, especially short-term recall, and my ability to concentrate has diminished.

Of particular concern, though, is the amount of fatigue I have experienced the last few months, as it takes much of my energy simply to deliver a few hours of lectures a day. No amount of sleep seems to recharge my batteries, and I have had to cut back on my workload to save my energy for the most important job functions.

So I will dutifully swallow my prescribed levothyroxine with the hope that I will begin to return to some state of normal in a few weeks. So far the only effect I have noticed in three days of taking levothyroxine has been a significant increase in hunger, which probably reflects that my metabolism is ramping up.

Feel free to leave in the comments section any experiences you or someone you know has had with hypothyroidism. I look forward to reading your stories and perhaps learning more about this condition.

Oh, and yes: I did smugly tell someone this weekend that my extra 20 pounds are in part due to a "glandular problem." Kind of cool, that.

Jun 7, 2009

On Yellow Roses and Family Obligations

My oldest son did something especially goofy last night. After losing his keys, he decided the best way to get into his apartment would be to kick out his window, and in doing so, he managed to also puncture his leg with the jagged edge of the glass.

This necessitated a 5:30 am phone call to his parents, and my wife dutifully drove him to the ER. Luckily, he did not sever a major blood vessel, and after a couple of shots, an X-ray, and some steri-strips, he was discharged.

This, of course, is what families do for each other. The time to lecture him will be later, though more likely this will become a source of mirth at a family gathering: "Remember the time when ---- tried to kick in his window..."

While watering my plants later this morning in a sleep-deprived state (I had difficulty falling back asleep knowing my son was gouged), I noticed my roses were beginning to blossom. In particular, I was pleased to see that our yellow rose finally emerged.

This plant usually gives us a pair of blossoms each year: one flower in late spring and one later in the summer. The plant never seems to get larger, and a few times I thought it was dead, but it keeps chugging along with its simple two-flower output.

The plant also represents a piece of family lore, as it was my mother-in-law's favorite plant. She came to live in our house for a few years after a series of strokes left her paralyzed in her late fifties, and she loved to look out the window at this single yellow rose.

It never occurred to us to ship her off to a nursing home after the second massive stroke made her left side useless. This is what families do for each other, and though at times it took some juggling to make sure that she had someone home, we pulled it off, and I am sure our children benefited from having their grandmother around the house for a few years before her inevitable passing.

I like to think that the yellow rose is a reminder of my wife's mother. I am not one to suppose that she somehow lives on in the form of the flower, but if people think such things, who am I to criticize? After all, they could be right, and I could be a cynical existentialist; moreover, if such thoughts make people happy, perhaps this is a healthier way of thinking.

Jun 5, 2009

On Glazed Pecan Paint and Home Improvements

Pictured on your left is my wife, who is applying a variety of paint samples to our living room wall in her efforts to determine the color scheme for the horror painting in which we will soon jointly participate. She is currently leaning toward a hue known as "Glazed Pecan," which suggests to me an ice cream topping more than a color of paint.

Glazed Pecan is the color that she is applying in the image, should you be curious.

I do not mind the painting so much as I do the intolerable prep work of moving furniture, laying drop cloths, and washing walls. Still, with a rather heavy workload this summer, I am reluctant to plunge into any home improvements much beyond chores like changing the empty toilet paper roll.

My wife, conversely, is the kind of go-getter who eagerly plunges into home improvement projects and maintains her enthusiasm through about 95 percent of the job. Somewhere right before the end of a given project she often starts looking ahead to the next fun task, and consequently we have more than a few just-about--but-not-quite-done projects in the house, like the last sections of molding missing in the kitchen or the couple pieces of quarter-round that still need to be replaced in some flooring projects.

Yet I love her all the same, since if it were up to me, no home improvement projects would reach a stage beyond the imagined. In fact, I find her works-in-progress style of home improvements to be endearing, at least after the dust settles.

But in the meantime I grumble and resign myself to following her muse on such matters.

Jun 4, 2009

Railroad Man

While stopped at a rail crossing on the east side of Toledo, I noticed the pictured man in overalls walking along the tracks. As the train slowed to a crawl, the man uncoupled two box cars, and the separated sections each began to travel in different directions.

I have long been fascinated by trains and the rail system, though I know little about the nomenclature. I am fairly certain that the worker in the picture is a brakeman, though I am sure that sharper-eyed visitors will correct me if I am mistaken.

Anyways, passing time at the railroad crossing was more interesting with the show put on by the man in overalls. He hopped between the rolling cars without hesitation, nimbly picked his way between tracks, and almost effortlessly unhitched the cars in a matter of seconds. He certainly seems to get enough exercise to have little use for a product like Liporexall, that's for sure.

Jun 3, 2009

On Nankin Township, MI and the Eloise Asylum

Left: Taxi license from the defunct Nankin Township; image courtesy of Whitworthfamily.org

Spending a few hours with my 93-year-old grandparents is always an exercise in participating in living history, and they frequently make references to topics that pique my curiosity. Today when my wife and I traveled to visit, my grandmother referenced Nankin Township, a place previously unfamiliar to me.

That is, I was unfamiliar with the name. Nankin Township, which was formerly known as "Bucklin Township" at the time of its original incorporation, contained land that would later become the Michigan cities of Westland, Garden City, Livonia, Wayne, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Inkster, and Redford Township. Over time sections of the township began incorporating as cities, and the last parcels of land in the township became the city of Westland on 16 May 1966.

Nankin Township is also noted for being the home of the Wayne County Poor House and Asylum, also known later as the Eloise Complex. Here is an 1860 census of all persons living in the Poor House and Asylum for those curious to know more about the wretched folks who populated the place.

I remember hearing as a child many tales about Eloise, including stories that the grounds were haunted by the ghosts of former inmates. Little remains of Eloise, and more work remains to be completed on the history of the complex, but suffice to say that the brutal institutionalization in places like Eloise of so many innocent people was a horror on a rather vast scale for a country that prides itself on freedom and human rights.

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.

Love, peace and harmony:
Very nice, very nice, very nice
But maybe in the next world.

-- Morrissey (The Smiths), "Death of a Disco Dancer"

Jun 2, 2009

A Dog Who Loves Bowling Balls

While visiting some friends the other day, we were entertained by their dog Bella, who is a rather large black-and-tan German shepherd. Bella, you see, has quite an affinity for her own personal bowling ball, and she spends quite a bit pushing the ball around the yard with her nose.

Bella has yet to master the ability to use one of her paws to throw a 15-board hook, but she displays greater bowling skills than any other dog I have known, and is perhaps a better bowler than at least a few humans. She also has absolutely no use for weight loss pills, as Bella is in fine shape.

Not that any sensible person would give such things to dogs, mind you.

Bella is also quite a serious bowler, and she growls if anyone tries to interrupt her while bowling. I should try this technique the next time I get ready to throw my first ball and some screaming kids are on the next lane during open bowling: "G-R-R-R-R-R-R!"

Wait... I think that already describes my demeanor when some tool breaks my concentration as I look for my mark. Never mind.

Jun 1, 2009

Wings Up 2-0; Series Goes to Pittsburgh

Left: Evgeni Malkin and Henrik Zetterberg exchanging punches in Game 2; photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

I normally do not devote a great deal of blog space to sports, in large measure because the Internet is already filled with sports-oriented blogs. However, I am especially fired up that my favorite hockey team - the Detroit Red Wings - won their second straight game against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night in a 3-1 nail-biter.

Full disclosure: I grew up in Detroit, and for the first two decades of my life the Wings were horrible. I also worked at Joe Louis Arena from 1982-90 in a variety of managerial capacities, and I could no more ignore the Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals than I could willfully stop my heart from beating.

Anyways, last night's game was one of the most entertaining professional hockey games I have seen in years. Both teams played at an amazingly high level of intensity, and the game was much, much closer than the two-goal margin might imply.

Much has been made about the Wings keeping Penguins star Sidney Crosby without points in the first two games, but Wings fans should not deceive themselves: Crosby will score important goals in this series, and he had some excellent opportunities last night (including one that clanged off the post).

The player that the Penguins need to improve is center Evgeni Malkin, whose emotions caused him to take some stupid penalties in the second game. He nearly wound up with a game suspension for instigating in his late-game fight with Henrik Zetterberg.

I was especially impressed with the gutsy play of somewhat unheralded left winger (at least outside of Pittsburgh) Ruslan Fedotenko, who has scored seven goals in the playoffs this year. Fedotenko took some excellent shots, played tough along the boards, and showed a tremendous amount of hustle last night. I suspect that Detroit fans will learn to better appreciate the grittiness of Fedotenko by the end of the series.

I originally predicted a 7-game Wings victory for the Cup, and I am standing by that prediction. I suspect that Pittsburgh will come out in Game 3 Thursday like a collective hurricane, and I see the Pens winning games 3 and 6 in Pittsburgh along with Game 5 in Detroit. After that I see the Pens heading to beach houses in places like the Outer Banks - sorry, Pens fans.