Mar 31, 2009

Getting Ready for Conficker

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The flurry of news reports over the past few days about the imminent morphing of the Conficker.C worm prompted me to update my Norton 360 subscription, download a few Microsoft updates, and run my antivirus programs. So far, my trusty laptop seems Conficker-free, but the evasive nature of this worm leaves me still apprehensive about what tomorrow will bring.

Of course, I often use zip drives on university networks, so even my careful web-surfing and up-to-date virus protection might not be enough to keep my computer and its files safe. I did follow the protocol outlined in this PC Magazine article, but there are wildly conflicting media reports about the fallout of the worm. The best headline on the topic was from the Washington Post: "Conficker: Doomsday, or the World's Longest Rickroll?"

The truth is that no one really knows what will happen when Conficker shifts into a higher gear tomorrow. I suspect that the crashed-Web scenarios will not occur, since a dead Internet means that the designers and directors of Conficker cannot make money if the Web goes down. Still, April 1 will probably be a banner day for the spammers, phishers, and other virtual lowlifes who unleashed this worm.

Having already lived through a half-dozen major virus scares in the past decade, I am reluctant to buy into the doom-and-gloom scenarios. Still, the reports I have read indicate that this is one of the most sophisticated worms unleashed on a vast scale, and I expect that more than a few networks will suffer some serious harm as April Fool's Day arrives.

Mar 30, 2009

Take Back Toledo Gathers Signatures

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Volunteers from Take Back Toledo set up shop in a vacant lot in West Toledo today in their efforts to gather petition signatures to place an initiative on the ballot to recall Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. The folks I spoke with said that they were "pretty busy" today at the intersection of Secor and Laskey, though they did not offer any specifics on the number of people signing the petition.

In the ten minutes or so that I meandered about, I saw six people pull in the lot and fill out the petition, which would translate into a few hundred people over the course of a day.

Interestingly, a city road crew set up shop on both sides of Secor, closing the road down to one lane for both northbound and southbound traffic. Now, I am not a conspiracy nut, and there have been some water main problems nearby recently, but it certainly is curious that motorists would be so inconvenienced on the same day that Take Back Toledo happened to be nearby.

But hey: perhaps the warm sunny day was just ideal for road work.

I have mixed feelings about the petition drive. One part of me believes that anti-Carty activists would be better off funneling this energy and money into a viable challenger to Finkbeiner, who is also expected to run for re-election in the fall. The TBT campaign received a significant boost from local news-talk station WSPD and its Clear Channel partners in town, which have been running pro-TBT ads featuring Clear Channel VP Andy Stuart.

I used to think TBT might fail to make the ballot because of the antics of WSPD's Brian Wilson, who regularly refers to Finkbeiner with such epithets as "Mayor Pantload" and "S for Brains." I now think that Loose Cannon Brian will end up making Carty look like a victim, and on-the-fence people will vote for Carty because they think he's being unfairly demonized.

Which, of course, he is. WSPD is breaking new ground by throwing all its weight behind TBT, but do we really want powerful media outlets being local political power brokers? Yes, John Robinson Block and the Toledo Blade are at times guilty of this, but at least they put on the appearance of impartiality in the news, and they limit their shilling to op-ed pieces and photo ops. I have been hearing nonstop TBT ads featuring Andy Stuart on every Clear Channel stations for weeks now, and the local talk shows on WSPD are attacking Finkbeiner and pimping TBT at a furious pace.

Very strange.

Carty may be a corrosive force in the city's recovery, but Wilson and Stewart could singlehandedly turn him into a martyr with whom people will sympathize. The 2007 recall campaign by local activist Tom Morrissey was seen as a grass-roots effort by average citizens, but Carty's people will turn this into a "Clear Channel vs. Aw-Shucks-It's-Just-Me-Carty" farce.

"Yes, it's Mr. Finkbeiner, Man of the People, taking on Big, Bad Corporate America," or so says the imagined campaign ad in my head. In the middle of a major recession and AIG-bailout anger, I suspect that this message will play well among the sheeple.

In the meantime, though, folks can follow the above link to Take Back Toledo if they want to learn about volunteering or signing a petition. At the very least, the issue is worthy of consideration on a ballot.

But can you imagine how strange this city's politics would be if Carty Finkbeiner lost a recall election in August but won in November during the general election? Only in Toledo could such a bizarre electoral drama play out.

Mar 28, 2009

Marketing Apocalypse Fears: Survival Seeds

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Occasionally I visit the Drudge Report to scan headlines, and lately there have been header banner advertisements from a site hawking "Survival Seeds." The site's attention-grabbing headline promises that customers will be able to "Plant A Full Acre Crisis Garden!"

Now, let me be up front and acknowledge that the current economic meltdown frightens me, and as an avid gardener I am 100 percent behind the idea of people growing their own food as a hedge against food shortages or food price spikes. Heck, growing your own vegetables just makes for tastier meals, if nothing else.

The folks at Survival Seeds, however, are marketing a "Survival Seed Bank" that includes 22 packets of common garden vegetables plus a small bottle of liquid nitrogen fertilizer for $129. Granted, these are purportedly heirloom varieties, and they are sealed in shiny foil-like packets that the vendor claims can be buried "for 20 years," but I would have a difficult time shelling out $5.83 per seed packet.

The funniest part of the website's apocalyptic pitch is the picture on your left, which is accompanied by this frightful questions: "What will your family eat when grocery store shelves are empty?"

The rest of the ad mixes Biblical references with doom-and-gloom scenarios from such dubious sources as WorldNetDaily, a site which is kind of like the National Enquirer without the alien baby and Sasquatch stories. Here is a sample of some of the most over-the-top rhetoric:

You don’t have to be an Old Testament prophet to see what’s going on all around us. A belligerent lower class demanding handouts. A rapidly diminishing middle class crippled by police state bureaucracy. An aloof, ruling elite that has introduced us to an emerging totalitarianism which seeks control over every aspect of our lives.

As the meltdown progresses, one of the first things to be affected will be our nation’s food supply. Expect soaring prices along with moderate to severe shortages by spring. If you don’t have the ability to grow your own food next year, your life may be in danger.
[emphasis added]

Anyways, feel free to get your hands dirty and plant an extensive garden this year, but be sure to use common sense and shop for quality seeds at reasonable prices. I suspect I could get three times as many seeds of equal or better quality for half this price - which, of course, is "marked down" from the future rollout price of $249 when the Survival Seed Bank is made available to the general public at some point closer to the Apocalypse.

No mention on the site if cell towers cause skin cancer or any similar specious claims.

Mar 27, 2009

On Rethinking U.S. Drug Policies

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Left: Elvis, the original drug warrior

I entered a debate recently on a local bulletin board about a news story documenting the fact that eight states want to enact drug-testing laws for welfare recipients, and this essay is an outgrowth of that conversation. The proposal seems ill-advised on a number of levels, and I view such schemes as nefarious efforts by governments and corporations to further encroach upon the private lives of individuals.

I am concerned first about the children of drug abusers. Should kids get penalized because their parents might smoke weed? I am all for reasonable limits on public assistance, especially direct cash aid, but to deny WIC or housing subsidies because a parent also has substance abuse issues is short-sighted.

Besides, the intrusion of drug-testing in so many facets of our lives should be disturbing to people who purport to uphold freedom. If a person chooses to imbibe, and harms no one (i.e., intoxicated driving or drugged out domestic violence), why should the government or employers be able to have this much power over the private lives of individuals?

The so-called War on Drugs has been an utter failure, and this is just an extension of these wrong-headed policies. Decriminalize drugs, tax them, and use the tax proceeds for education and addiction treatment. Five percent or more of the population is going to choose self-destructive drug-abusing behavior at some point, and no laws will stop people from frying their brains. There are more ways to get high - legal and illegal - than the government could possibly outlaw, though they sure love to try to do so.

We should instead follow the model of the Dutch or the Portuguese: cordon off "safe zones" where users can get inexpensive fixes, while putting the emphasis on addiction treatment instead of punishment. The focus for prosecution thus returns to organized crime rather than nickel-and-dime addicts, freeing up jail spaces and lowering incarceration costs. The major benefit to non-users is that there are lower crime rates, since addicts no longer have to steal the possessions of everyone else to feed their artificially expensive habits. Add to this lower health care costs, since users have access to clean paraphernalia (fewer cases of AIDS or hepatitis), and the knowledge that standardized drug purity reduces overdoses.

I grow tired of reading about more Neanderthalian lawmakers who think the solutions to our drug problems are more laws and greater police powers. This sort of sneaky fascism actually reduces personal freedoms in the guise of crime prevention. Of course, most folks have been programmed to never question the received wisdom of the government, so my ruminations here will likely fall on plugged ears, but it is time to rethink the many failed drug policies that provide the foundation for the War on Drugs.

Which drug will be next, by the way? Nicotine is already heading in that direction, and I now have to answer to the government every time I pick up a package of Sudafed. Will they chase down caffeine in the expanding War on Drugs? How about alcohol, the number one drug associated with human death?

At some point we have to recognize that this mania over drugs is more trouble than it is worth, and this statement does not even take into consideration the many billions of dollars spread out by drug kingpins into the palms of corrupt government officials around the globe (and yes, even in the good ol' U.S.A.)

But go ahead, folks: stay focused on the WELFARE CHEATS and CRAZY DRUG ADDICTS who are STEALING YOUR TAX DOLLARS and LIVING LARGE LIKE LEECHES. It is much easier to sleep at night when you have such simple headlines featuring cartoon-like villains to blame. Thinking about government corruption and bankers laundering tens of billions of dollars in drug money is hard work, and will give you headaches like the one I am getting right about now.

Yes, nothing to see here. Go back to your happy lives and keep nodding your head when Joe or Jane Politico thumps the legislative podium and denounces DIRTY DRUG ABUSING SCUM. Oh, and practice that Deutscher Gruß - you might be needing it in a few years.

Mar 26, 2009

More Signs of Spring Life

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Yes, I cheated in this image by positioning my camera slightly below the ground level in this circular raised garden in my backyard, but if you were an ant, this is how my lilies and tulips might appear.

That is, if you were an ant with human-like vision, and if you could pause from your ant duties of food-gathering, marching, and formic acid spraying and so forth. Of course, as an ant you might need to buy HGH to attain human-like capabilities.

OK, if you were an ant, you would have absolutely no interest in my lilies and tulips, unless they were drizzled with honey or a melted Popsicle, but I think you get the point. Spring is here, and the greenery is brightening the scenery.

Speaking of scenery, I always thought Paul Simon should have rhymed the word "scenery" with "magazinery" in the song "America":

Original: So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine...

My change: So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazinery...

I would have allowed him this moment in poetic license had he so chosen to write the song in this fashion. Of course, perhaps that is why Paul Simon is a Grammy-winning, gazillion-selling artist, and I am a Midwestern, middle-aged, upper-middlebrow, mono-brow academic.

Mar 25, 2009

Prayer Request for a Baby

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I am not much for asking for help from others, having an independent streak in me a mile wide, but this is one of those moments where I have no other choice but to swallow my pride.

Pictured on your left is my infant niece Elena in a recent picture with my 93-year-old grandfather. Elena was diagnosed with tetralogy of Fallot at birth, and she currently just came out of open heart surgery. Unfortunately, after a few episodes needing CPR last night, the doctors stopped Elena's heart from functioning altogether and placed her on a bypass machine. Elena's uncontrollable blood pressure was in danger of causing the rest of her organs to shut down.

The current goal is to reduce swelling and the tremendous amount of body fluid that they believe may be causing too much resistance in her blood flow. When that has been accomplished, Elena's heart will once again be started.

Anyways, this is one of those moments where prayers sure cannot hurt. Of course, given the ne'er-do-wells and malcontents who visit this blog, God might have a good chuckle at the sudden influx of supplications from this bunch, but He always listens, right?

So if you are the praying type, keep this baby in your prayers today.

Mar 24, 2009

Toledo Foreclosure Defense League Takes Aim at Evictions

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Left: Members of the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League with today's list of Sheriff's sales from foreclosures

I attended a press conference this afternoon held by local residents who formed a group that plans to fight the record number of foreclosures in the area. The Toledo Foreclosure Defense League plans to use non-violent tactics of civil disobedience in an effort to keep Toledoans from being evicted from their homes, according to group spokesperson Keith Sadler.

The group plans to establish "community defense teams" that will arrive at homeowner’s property and risk arrest by non-violently interfering with evictions. If the eviction has already taken place, noted Sadler, the group plans to "move those people back in."

"If we have to, we will make the Sheriff's Department look like the Nazis they have to be when they evict people," he said.

Sadler said the group will consider such options as picketing, directly blocking foreclosure and eviction actions, and even "interfering with Sheriff sales" in order to keep people in their homes. The group is also studying the option of finding vacant properties to move homeless people into.

Left:Ben Konop

Also in attendance today was Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop, who said that Toledo-area residents have gotten a "bum deal from the powers that be for a long time."

Konop noted that the proposed actions of the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League were "not unprecedented," and that this sort of grass-roots activism is occurring throughout the Midwest.

"What we see is a serious imbalance of power here," Konop added. "In DC there are thousands of lobbyists descending on the halls of Capitol Hill, and they are getting trillions of taxpayer dollars."

Konop issued a similar call to the Sheriff earlier in the month for a 90-day foreclosure moratorium, but Lucas County Sheriff James Telb so far has refused to follow the lead of sheriffs in jurisdictions such as Cook County, IL, Butler County, OH, and Wayne County, MI in halting evictions.

Left: Elsie Jarrin of Toledo

Among the attendees were a number of people who face imminent foreclosure and eviction. Elsie Jarrin attended the event on behalf of her daughter, Dawn Price, whose home is in foreclosure. Price, a single mother of three children who is also eight months pregnant, has been rebuffed by Deutsche Bank in every effort she has made to get an extension.

"Dawn offered to pay rent until June, after her baby is born, but the lawyer for Deutsche Bank said his client refused," she said. "Deutsche Bank gets $11.8 billion in bailout money, but they can't help a pregnant mother with three kids. Unbelievable."

Jarrin also noted a new phenomenon that lurks as a result of the rash of foreclosures and evictions: escalating rental costs. Her daughter missed out on three rental properties in what amounted to bidding wars between potential tenants.

"This weekend she received an email from the landlord advising her that even though she was the better candidate, some people came along with $2,000," she said. "Wit the economy the way it is, they had no choice but to rent to them."

Manuel Gonzales described how the three homes he owns are in foreclosure after the collapse of his contracting business. Gonzales called for greater activism to end the foreclosure sales.

"Power comes in numbers, and we have to stick together," he urged. "The only way we can fix this is to stop those Sheriff sales. Period."

If you are facing eviction or foreclosure, you can contact the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League by email at foreclosuredefenseleague AT gmail DOT com. You can also call 419-931-6517 or 419-304-2098 to speak with a representative of the group. The Toledo Foreclosure Defense League will also be hosting a public meting on March 31 from 5-7PM at the Mott Branch Public Library (1085 Dorr Street).

Mar 23, 2009

Meet Bach, a Rescue Cocker Spaniel

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Pictured on your left is Bach, a male 17-pound cocker spaniel who is about two years old. He is a friendly and affectionate dog who was rescued from a dog pound in a western Ohio.

Bach seems to have learned socialization well in his previous home, and he gets along well with both people and other dogs. Though he is fully grown, Bach probably needs about 3-4 more pounds on his somewhat emaciated frame, as you can feel his bones poking out from under his coat when you pet him.

Bach knows a few commands already, and he is not aggressive with food or toys. His new owners will have to reinforce housebreaking, though he seems to know that outdoors is the preferred destination for his business. He likes to sleep in a bed with people, as it does not appear that he was crate trained.

One of Bach's many assets is his interesting blend of coat colors. Underneath his fur is a darker reddish-orange, but he has lots of streaks of blond highlights that create quite the handsome effect. The blond hair on the top of his head looks like a wild toupee right now, but one of the fun parts of owning a long-haired dog like Bach is that his owners can give him a new style every time he gets groomed, if they so choose.

To learn more about adopting Bach or any other Toledo-area rescue dogs, visit the Planned Pethood website for more details.

Mar 22, 2009

Ingenious Bird's Nest

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While wandering around the back forty of my grandparents' house yesterday with my camera, I saw what I first thought to be a large solitary bird about 100 feet up in an old poplar tree. As I drew closer, I nest thought that this was a wasp nest, but it turned out to be a bird's nest.

This, however, was not just any old bird's nest, as its creators used some sort of twine or thread to more securely suspend the nest in between branches of the poplar. Despite some brisk spring breezes, the nest seemed to float in between the branches like schooner riding ocean waves.

I did not see the occupants of the nest, and for all I know it might be vacant, though I doubt the human housing crisis has affected the lot of our avian friends. In fact, the availability of so many more empty human habitations might mean that birds have fewer nests to build, since they can have their pick of empty attics and garages for the foreseeable future. Heck, they might even be able to pick through useless human supplies like Colonix kits or Bo-Flex machines, should they so desire.

Mar 20, 2009

Finding Pasties

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Some months ago I embarked on a quest to find an honest-to-goodness Yooper pasty in Northwest Ohio, but my efforts remained unsuccessful. This week, though, a poster on a local message board took the time to recommend a pasty made by JB's Sarnie Shoppe a new sandwich restaurant at Levis Commons in Perrysburg.

The folks at JB's Sarnie Shoppe indeed have the taste of the traditional Cornish pasty down perfectly. I was impressed by the size and quality of this delicious pasty, and the heavy pie crust was exactly the taste I recall from my years of living in Michigan.

Thus, folks in the area who crave a good old-fashioned pasty need look no further than Perrysburg, and I heartily recommend the drive to Levis Commons.

Mar 17, 2009

Blog Hiatus

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I have an unusually busy stretch for the next few days, including a doctoral exam for which I need to study and a mountain of work obligations. Hence, I will be taking a break from blogging until Friday to make sure that I keep my priorities in order.

In the meantime, most of you in the Midwest are probably outdoors enjoying the warm spell, so I urge you to continue to bask in the warm weather like the robin pictured on your left and stay away from your keyboards.

In fact, play hooky from work for the next few days, as well. It's not like there are customers actually buying merchandise or placing orders for big-ticket items in this rancid economy, right? Your boss probably won't even miss you.

Mar 16, 2009

First Flowers of Spring

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On a walk with my wife and dogs through the neighborhood this afternoon, we spotted the first flowers of spring, at least by our reckoning. One of our neighbors had quite a few white and lavender crocuses blooming in the 55 degree spring sun.

In our own gardens, my wife and I have been at a crocus impasse for several years now. I prefer all my flowers to be in their designated areas, while my wife has visions of planting crocus bulbs all over our lawn in the fall. She wants to be able to look out on a spring day like today and see hundreds of crocuses popping up all over the lawn, while the traditionalist in me (read: anal retentive) believes that flowers belong in well-defined areas.

I suspect that she will win out this fall, but for the moment, we have to gaze upon the crocuses of others.

Mar 14, 2009

On Toledo Edison Power, Tiger Stadium, and Traditions

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I came across this old manhole cover in downtown Toledo the other day, and the letters "T E POWER" reminded me of how much time has elapsed both since I have lived in this city and since someone plopped down that manhole cover.

The Toledo Edison Company merged with Centerior Energy in 1986, though they still sent out bills with "Toledo Edison" on the letterhead for many years. Then Centerior merged with some other power companies in 1997 to form FirstEnergy, and the electric bills have this new name. However, most local people still call the electric company the traditional "Toledo Edison" or "Edison" just like they still call the Westfield Franklin Park Shopping Center the "Franklin Park Mall," its name before being bought out a few years ago.

Sometimes new names take a long, long time to catch o with the public.

Of course, I grew up only knowing the name Tiger Stadium to reference the old ball park at Michigan and Trumbull where I watched so many games as a kid. As an avid reader of baseball programs, I knew on an intellectual level that the facility and its forebears used to be named Bennett Park, Navin Field, and Briggs Stadium, but I never heard any old timers say something like: "Let's go to Briggs Stadium and catch a game."

No way, man: it was always Tiger Stadium, and the place will forever have a cherished corner of my heart.

My favorite memory of Tiger Stadium, by the way, does not involve the 1968 or 1984 World Series Championship teams, though I certainly have some memories of each team from those years. No, this was the night of July 3, 1976, the day before the Bicentennial celebration, and there were fireworks and music after the game that would turn even the most cynical person into a flag-waving patriot.

Left: The Bird

But I did not go to the game for the fireworks. Instead, my dad took us to see Mark "The Bird" Fidrych pitch against the Baltimore Orioles in front of a crowd of over 51,000 screaming kids and their parents.

I closely followed The Bird's season, and I clearly remember watching him pitch his very first game, which was a 2-1 victory over Cleveland on a Saturday afternoon. This was a televised game, and as a 12-year-old, I began to idolize the quirky, lanky righthander who captivated the baseball world with his good-natured antics.

In looking over the box score, I see that Fidrych only struck out four Orioles on that summer night, and the passing of 33 years has me believing he must have struck out 20 or more batters. Still, I remember the rumbling of the building from the stomping feet, and the loud cheers that accompanied every 1-2 and 2-2 pitch The Bird hurled. From the amount of noise, you would have thought he struck out the side nine straight innings.

This was a marvelous 4-hit shutout and a complete game, no matter if The Bird only fanned four hapless Baltimoreans. Fidrych went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year in a 19-9 season that was the only bright spot on an otherwise poor 74-87 Tigers season.

The fireworks? Meh - I had seen plenty, and had blown off even more, but seeing Mark "The Bird" Fidrych slaughter the Orioles? Priceless, and the tradition of fathers and sons going to baseball games cannot get better than that hot July evening.

Mar 13, 2009

Wandering Around Ann Arbor

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Left: William L. Clements Library

(Ann Arbor, MI) Ostensibly my trip to Ann Arbor today involved visiting the William L. Clements Library, which is pictured on your left. I hoped to research some manuscripts for my dissertation, but I neglected to take into consideration the reading room hours, and I found myself with time on my hands in the middle of the campus of the University of Michigan.

Interestingly, though I have spent over 90 percent of my life within a short drive of Ann Arbor, I know little about the city. My trips have always revolved around football games, concerts, or academic pursuits, and all have been of the "get-in-and-get-out" variety.

Thus, the idea of strolling around Ann Arbor on a sunny spring day appealed to me.

Left: activists protesting human trafficking

I always enjoy the experience of walking on the campus of a major metropolitan university, seeing the thousands of people from all over the world who go about the business of higher education. I encountered a group of students in the center of campus leading a small rally against human trafficking and modern slavery. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and I signed their petition; after all, only a sociopath could be "for" the inhumane treatment of fellow human beings, and truth be told, I felt a little of my world-weary cynicism fade for a moment.

Sure, these may be hopelessly idealistic college students, but perhaps they actually can make a difference in the plight of the 27 million human beings working in such nefarious settings as child brothels or industrial debt bondage. At worst, the NSA will steal their email list and put me on the ever-expanding terror watch list as a suspected subversive.

That's a joke, I think.

Left: The Law Quadrangle at the University of Michigan

I spent some time exploring the beautiful architecture of the campus, like the Law Quadrangle pictured on your left. I took this image from the South University Drive side, with the sun slightly behind the tower. The Gothic Revival style appeals to the traditionalist that lurks within me, and I always prefer Gothic churches over those modern pulpit-in-the-round houses of worship.

I suppose that people who live and work near such magnificent buildings eventually become habituated to them, but I stood in silent awe at the majestic spires that reached toward the heavens and the intricate stone detail on the doorways of the buildings.

Preoccupied students walked past me with heads in books or chatting on their cell phones, seemingly oblivious to the splendor, but perhaps puzzled at the tall stranger wandering in circles and taking photographs of the complex.

Or maybe people walking in circles and talking to themselves is more common in Ann Arbor than I thought. My own fascination with my springtime surroundings may have diminished my "raving psychotic" radar.

Brightly-colored mosaic

Yet of all the sights I encountered today, I spent an inordinate amount of time staring at a dumpster enclosure outside a building on East Washington. Only in a city like Ann Arbor would people even be concerned about aesthetics for dumpsters, as most cities are fine with simple wooden fences, or those chain-link fences with colored slats.

This enclosure had glazed ceramic tiles on its exterior, with somewhat muted colors like vermilion and forest green. As I contemplated the workmanship that went into this tiled wall, I tried to discern patterns in the placing of the tiles. Along the vertical and horizontal axes, no color is repeated more than twice, but there are as many as eight consecutive diagonal tiles. Still, I failed to see an overall pattern, and I think it is much harder to recreate the appearance of randomness than it is to follow a predetermined pattern.

My wanderings around Ann Arbor had no purpose beside simple time-killing, and I think I especially enjoyed the purposeful rejection of time constraints for an afternoon. Yes, I have three dozen emails to answer, and a half-dozen phone messages, but the "real" world was still there when I pulled into my driveway after an afternoon of meandering.

I endeavor to meander more often.

Mar 11, 2009

Losing Everything: A Fire Story

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Pictured on your left is what is left of the house that Kirk and Julie Summey once called home. Last Monday, while everyone in the family was out working or running errands, their East Toledo house caught fire and burned to the ground.

I walked in front of the house this evening and stared at the charred debris, trying to recognize the pieces that once were part of the lives of the Summeys. For the most part there was nothing salvageable, though a child's swingset and an RV out back seem to have survived.

Unfortunately for the Summeys, they did not have content insurance, and this Toledo family is starting over completely from scratch. In almost an insulting twist of fate, their insurance also did not provide for post-fire cleanup, and the Summeys were facing the prospect of paying up to $10K to clear the rubble until a neighbor stepped in and agreed to clean out the lot in exchange for the title to the soon-to-be-vacant lot.

I know Kirk and Julie through their volunteer work with Planned Pethood, and I am sad to report that although no family members were home, all five of the dogs and a litter of cats died in the fire. Three of the dogs were PPI fosters, and I cannot imagine the horror of not only seeing your house in flames and all the while knowing of the poor animals trapped inside.

Something bizarre I learned today: homeowners without content insurance actually have to pay to get the fire department to investigate a fire. Normally the insurance company will pay for the investigation so they can rule out arson as a cause, but since there is no financial incentive here, the Summeys would have to cough up about five grand to investigate their own house fire.

Strange, but even stranger is the complete lack of local media coverage on the fire and of the couple's plight.

My wife and I visited briefly with Julie Summey this evening, dropping off what we could afford to help with from the lengthy list of necessities someone emailed us. Yet even the generosity of the other folks who already donated is woefully inadequate to help a family who lost everything they owned. For the moment they have a place to live, but soon they will have to start paying rent, utilities, and begin slowly replacing the many possessions that they lost.

Donations to help Kirk and Julie are being accepted at First Federal Bank branches, and this is listed as the "Summey Family Fire Victim Fund." Here are the branches in Northwest Ohio that are participating, and if you live out of the area you can call the bank at 1-877-FOR- U1ST (367-8178) for information on electronic donations:

2760 Navarre Ave, Oregon, OH
417 W Dussel Dr, Maumee, OH
1077 Louisiana Ave, Perrysburg, OH
3234 N Holland Sylvania Rd, Toledo, OH
22020 W State Route 51, Genoa, OH
1226 W Wooster St, Bowling Green, OH


Thank you in advance for any help you can provide.

On the Demonization of the Song "Kumbaya"

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Left: Kumbaya T-shirt logo available at Rightwingstuff.com

I came across yet another reference to the song Kumbayathe other day in a political context. I am puzzled about the sudden demonization of a simple folk spiritual that I learned as a young child at vacation Bible school.

The typical disparaging usage of Kumbaya is similar to the context in this LA Times story on a bipartisan legislative meeting. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) told reporters that the meeting is like "asking people to join hands and sing 'Kumbaya' and expect the world is going to be better." Generally the term Kumbaya is used to attack perceived liberals and those who (GASP) would dare to sit at a table and meet with political opponents instead of reducing them to simple caricatures. The essence of the Kumbaya insult is to suggest that the recipient is a naïve fool who fails to recognize the seriousness of a dangerous world.

What is especially disturbing about the effort to link the song "Kumbaya" with politics is that this is a decidedly apolitical hymn with a universal message of hope and peace. The words are from the Gullah language, and mean "come by here." The song is simply a call to God to be with its singers, and even though left-leaning folk artists such as Peter, Paul, and Mary or Joan Baez recorded "Kumbaya" in the 1960s, this is hardly a reason to forever banish the song to cultural Hell.

By the way: if you want to hear a really transcendent cover of "Kumbaya," try to dig up the version by the band Guadalcanal Diary on their 1984 album Watusi Rodeo. This is a frenetic, thrashing punk-pop rendition that is reminiscent of early work of The Who, and it reminded me a bit of "I Can See For Miles" with its wild drumwork and exploding guitars.

Anyways, it is time to reclaim "Kumbaya" as the inspirational hymn of humble supplication that it once was. If rightist insult machines need a musical replacement, I suggest "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion. Feel free to offer your suggestions in the comments section, as "Kumbaya" is too cool of a song to be dissed in this manner.

Mar 10, 2009

Goodbye to a Good Old Dog

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I knew when you wouldn't eat much food the last few days that you were taking a turn for the worse, Jimmy, but you have cheated death so many times that I figured you would once again bounce back. You came to us with congestive heart failure almost four years ago, and you have gamely trudged on, never once complaining about your health problems.

At least, not that I could tell. You certainly were more stoic than me, a person who whines over relatively modest illnesses.

Unfortunately, your kidneys and liver just about shut down the last few days, and the vet told me that any efforts to prolong your life would just be extending the obvious discomfort you feel. This also saddened the folks at Graber's Animal Hospital, where you were known by everyone as a patient and gentle dog, though the fact that they knew you so well also meant that you have been a frequent guest for treatments. So I drove back to the animal hospital knowing that this would be the last time I was able to pet you.

I made such a trip a few years ago, and it never gets any easier to say goodbye to an old friend. This time I chose to hold you while the vet injected the drug that would put you to sleep for good. It was obvious that the opiated cocktail brought you rapid relief, and you gazed up at me for about 30 seconds with a dreamy, peaceful appearance before the vet checked one more time for your fading pulse.

I take home another empty collar, eyes welling with tears as I am already missing your goofy bark, that joyful "BAH-ROOOO" howl you made when you wanted a treat. I am also missing your quiet insistence on getting petted, where you would nudge your nose under my hand and make me notice you.

Hope to see you again someday, old friend. You were a very good doggie, indeed.

Mar 9, 2009

Odd Date Glitch: Kodak Camera Card Reads 12/31/2047

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Click for larger image of puzzling screen shot

While my Kodak EasyShare P650 digital camera and its memory card work fine otherwise, I notice a strange date of 12/31/2047 on the folder containing images. This is the "date modified" data, though the correct date will appear on the camera if I use the stamp function.

This is obviously of little concern to the camera's functionality when photographing items such as our crape myrtle, but the strange date makes me curious if this akin to another Y2K-type glitch. Feel free to offer any insights / educated guesses / wild-ass conspiracies in the comments section.

Mar 8, 2009

Documenting the Recessionary Carnage

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Left: MC Sports

I have lived through several significant economic recessions, so I am relatively familiar with the effects that a downturn can have on a local economy. What continues to surprise me, though, is the number of larger and higher profile retailers that have closed their doors in the area during the current recession.

I drove in a one-mile radius from my home with the intention of scouting out some of the most visible signs of recessionary business closings. One of the first places I noticed that recently closed was MC Sports, which had been the anchor of a midsized strip mall on Secor Road for many years. The store closed in mid-January after the holiday rush.

Our family was a fairly regular customer of MC Sports over the years, and I remember many trips to the store for the various accoutrements needed for the sports in which our children participated.

Left: S&K Menswear

Another casualty of the recession was the S&K Menswear location at Talmadge and Monroe. I recall purchasing a pair of suits there some years ago and receiving quality service, but frankly since I shifted from business to academia, I rarely wear a suit these days.

Funerals and weddings, I like to joke, are about the only time you will see me in a suit and tie.

S&K Menswear is currently working its way through bankruptcy court, and the closing of the Toledo store is part of a larger reorganization effort. Of course, that is not much consolation to the local folks whose lives were disrupted through the corporate downsizing.

Let's hope the pink-slipped employees all found gainful employment, or that they received some sort of severance to ease the shock of unexpected unemployment.

Left: Penzoil oil change outlet

To my way of thinking, auto service businesses might be as close to recession-proof as a business could get. When people stop buying new cars, they usually take better care of their current vehicles, and I assumed that this process would begin with changing the oil in cars.

Not so for the former Jiffy Lube on Secor at Monroe, which went by the name of Secor Quality until a few weeks ago. This seemed like an excellent location for an oil change business, located as it was in a busy Kroger shopping center, as well as being positioned at one of the busiest intersections in the city.

I am guessing that in the nearly two decades I lived in Toledo I must have visited this oil change business at least 75 times in its various incarnations. Yet today all that remains is an empty building littered with the detritus of a dead business.

There are many more closed businesses in and around Toledo these days, far too many for me to even list here. Yet unlike my previous experiences with recessions - where the closings were typically limited to marginal businesses that looked shaky before the slowdown - the current recession seems to be taking out some businesses that appeared to be thriving.

I just hope that this is the peak of the retraction, and that these higher-profile closings are not harbingers of a worsening decline.

Mar 7, 2009

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.

Take the course opposite to custom and you will almost always do well. -- Jean Jacques Rousseau

Mar 6, 2009

On Puggles and Squirrels

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Left: A trio of puggles

The frantic barking some 30 seconds after I let my dogs outside alerted me to the fact that I needed to check up on the pictured group of puggles. Now, normally I might be irritated that I no sooner returned to my dissertation when these clowns started acting up, but given the fact that temperatures in Northwest Ohio approached 65 degrees, I decided to spend some time wandering in the backyard with the canine crew.

Armed with camera and water bottle, I entered the one-third acre of urban wilderness known locally as my backyard. In the foreground is Sophia, a 3-year-old puggle we are fostering, while in the upper left is Eddie Haskell, followed by Chauncey in the lower right. Both of these male puggles we adopted through Planned Pethood, a local pet rescue group.

The object of their collective frustration was a squirrel they chased up my crabapple tree. Given the fact that the tree is only about 20 feet tall at its peak, this meant that the treed squirrel could chatter just beyond leaping range at the puggles without consequences.

So tantalizingly close, yet so frustratingly distant

Puggles inherit from their beagle parents a hound's sense of smell and a love of tracking and stalking game. Unfortunately, when you are in the 20 to 25 pound range, "prey" is pretty much limited to squirrels and field mice, but puggles have their fun.

Tiring of taunting the dogs, and perhaps seeing me as an equalizer in the game, the squirrel leaped from atop the crabapple tree and bounded for a much taller pine tree, catching the puggle brigade off guard long enough to achieve a clean getaway. The puggles gave chase and bayed up the tree (OK, it was more like "whined," but work with me here), but it was clear that their target bested them.

Again.

Yet the puggles persevere nonetheless, serving as a metaphor for an inspirational tale of indefatigability in the face of adversity and overwhelming odds that - in reality - probably belongs on a Hallmark card or some sappy broadcast equivalent.

I'll skip the effort of trying to provide a moral to this puggle story: after all, these are just dogs. Chasing squirrels is what they do.

Mar 5, 2009

Prom for Paws Fundraiser

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If you have a prom dress, a pair of prom shoes, or other prom-related accessories that are in good shape, please consider donating them to Planned Pethood. Items can be dropped off until March 27th at the following First Federal Bank location:

1077 Louisiana Ave.
Perrysburg, OH 43551
419-872-8326 OR 419-340-5631


The bank is open MON-THU 9-5, FRI 9-6, and SAT 9-12. This prom dress resale event to benefit will take place on the following days and times:

Friday, April 3, 6 - 9pm
Saturday, April 4, 11am - 6pm
Sunday, April 5, 1 - 4pm
418 Louisiana Ave., Perrysburg (Corner of 5th and Louisiana Ave.)


All proceeds from the fundraiser will go directly to help the dogs and cats of NW Ohio and SE Michigan. Please visit the Planned Pethood website for more details.

Mar 4, 2009

Cheap is ALWAYS Chic

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Left: Stylist Philip Pelusi and some equally brain-dead models; photo courtesy CNN

One of the most useless links I have clicked on in recent memory - one of those wasted moments where you wish there existed a Department of Time Refunds that could give you back those forever lost minutes - has to be a CNN fashion piece entitled "In a recession, cheap is chic".

In retrospect, I am not sure why I felt a compulsion to click on the link. I intuitively knew that this would be a vapid piece of writing featuring interviews with idiotic fashion experts and marketing twits trying to find a way to keep the cash rolling in for their worthless products, and that it would be geared toward shallow folks for whom their clothing, haircuts, and makeup are the most important aspects of their lives.

Yet I still clicked, and yet I still kick myself for clicking.

For those of you unfamiliar with my sense of fashion, it revolves almost entirely around the nexus of price and quality. I am more interested in questions like "can this same item be purchased cheaper elsewhere" and "will these pants last for five years or more" than I am with one such as "does this make me look hot?"

Now, I try to avoid looking like a complete tool, but my academic employment wardrobe consists of khakis, plain work shirts, and a jacket that at least remotely matches one or the other. Blue jeans and sweaters fit the bill for days when I am working at home or when my already limited attention to fashion wanes.

All of these items, mind you, can be purchased from places like the Salvation Army and local Goodwill stores, and I pride myself when I find a like-new button-down shirt for $3. I suspect that something like half of my attire originated at a resale shop, and while I will never make the cover of GQ, I funnel those unspent clothing dollars into more useful pursuits, like investments or home improvements.

But hey: make sure you Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, and Hollister slaves keep shelling out your hard-earned cash for this overpriced clothing. Someone has to keep our consumer-driven economy rolling, and besides: when I retire, I'd like there to be lots of credit- and fashion-addicted fools to be forced to work and pay the taxes that afford me to collect what remains of my Social Security contributions.

Mar 3, 2009

On Overcoming the Printer Driver Jinx

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Left: no longer vexed by stubborn printer drivers

I consider myself to be a fairly tech-savvy person, and though I often draft my wife into assisting me with new hardware and software installation, that is only because she is a technical wizard, and it takes her 30 seconds to accomplish a job that would take me 5-10 minutes.

Let's just sum this up as my application of the theory of comparative advantage rather than dwelling on my occasional technological daftness. Anyways, with my wife at work this morning, I found myself stuck solving my least favorite of all techie tasks: hooking up a printer to a computer.

Now, the act of plugging in a printer to the USB port and turning on the machine certainly does not faze me, but my track record at getting printers to find and use the correct drivers is abysmal. Were I to hazard a guess at my won-loss tally in this field, I suspect that it would be something like 0-for-10, and I have left a trail of printer detritus and technical failure that would stretch halfway down my block if I lined up all the machines, power cords, and cables.

Until today, that is.

I will not make any claims to rapidity or fluidity regarding my ability to make my Sony VAIO interface with my wife's HP Photosmart 4280 (gosh, that sounds kind of sexy). However, after 45 minutes of putzing around, I succeeded in making the printer actually produce the document I needed to whisk off in the mail.

So beware, virtual gremlins: if I can foil your best efforts to disrupt this printer-laptop merger, there is no stopping me. I'll bet I can even figure out how to get MS-Word 2007 to tabulate the Table of Contents for my dissertation, or how to remove a page break I accidentally inserted in the same document.

Boo-yah.

Mar 2, 2009

On Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon

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Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon

Calls for the resignation of Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon increased last week after news of the killing by a deputy warden of an unlicensed Pomeranian mix named Princess via tranquilizer dart. Joining in with the chorus was the Toledo Blade, which published an editorial demanding "a change at the top" of the Lucas County dog warden's office.

Personally, I bear no animosity toward Tom Skeldon, and the one time I briefly met him he seemed pleasant enough. OK, I did refer to him as "Herr Skeldon" over at a local bulletin board, which was a bit over the top, but I do not see Skeldon as the problem.

He's just the face of the problem, which is that the dog warden's office operates with little oversight and accountability. As I mentioned on another related post at Glass City Jungle, I could care less if Skeldon remained dog warden for life, so long as his department had greater accountability and that he took into consideration the public will.

For starters, Skeldon's policy of euthanizing all dogs he deems as "vicious breeds" clearly must be scrapped. I have known dogs belonging to "vicious" breeds that were as gentle as sedated lambs, while I have encountered snarling, biting dogs from supposedly friendly breeds. The solution? Skeldon's people should perform aggression assessments on all dogs that come into the system, and only those dogs with obvious aggressiveness (and thus those that cannot be adopted out) should be euthanized.

In addition, Tom Skeldon's stubborn refusal to allow rescue groups to facilitate the adoption process is foolish. Most of the county dog wardens in Northwest Ohio allow volunteer groups like Planned Pethood, Maumee Valley Save-A-Pet and the Toledo Animal Shelter to assume responsibility for the many thousands of dogs and cats who wind up at county animal shelters. Unfortunately, the Lucas County Dog Warden will only work with the Humane Society, and thousands of adoptable dogs get euthanized every year in Lucas County because of this shortsighted policy.

So Mr. Skeldon? Most of us in the area have no real interest in seeing you join the ranks of the unemployed, but quite a few folks demand sensible changes in your policies. Either join the 21st century with reasonable policy modifications, or face ever more insistent calls for your immediate termination.

(Disclaimer and full disclosure: historymike writes in his own capacity as an area citizen, and not as a spokesperson for any animal rescue groups with which he is affiliated)