Apr 30, 2009

Wry Cartoon on Memory

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My sister emailed me the minimalist cartoon on the left, which eerily approximates my own oft-befuddled daily meanderings in search of missing items. I am able at will to recall the lyrics from songs I have not heard in 20 years, yet remembering the location of items such as my car keys or my iPod is a regular challenge.

This morning I finished my shower and I could not recall if I washed under my arms. I then had to get back into the shower and wash as a precaution against memory loss.

Better safe than odoriferous, I say.

Apr 29, 2009

Picture in Need of a Caption

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While downtown recently, I took a picture of a mounted patrol officer, and after I snapped the picture I realized the scene was a bit surreal, perhaps even ironic. TARTA stands for the Toledo Area Regional Transportation Authority, which provides less-than-thorough bus service in Northwest Ohio. I really just wanted the image of the stoic horse, but now I have an image that begs for a descriptive tag.

The few people who have seen this picture generally laughed without being prompted, and yet I cannot think of a decent caption. There is the contrast between traditional transportation (horse) and modern forms of transit (bus), and there is the irony that one could probably reach some parts of town faster on a horse than by taking the bus.

Then we might consider that the officer stands a chance of being laid off this Friday, as Toledo's mayor has threatened to cut 150 uniformed officers in an effort to close a $20-plus million budget gap. Finally, both the officer and the horse seem to be patiently waiting for something, which in this case might be one of TARTA's late or out-of-service buses.

Anyways, if you think of a decent caption, leave your suggestions in the Comments section. I look forward to reading your witticisms.

Apr 27, 2009

Swine Flu: All Quiet on the Manitoban Front

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Left: Keeping epidemiological vigil in Manitoba

I hate to make light of a potentially deadly swine flu pandemic, but I did scratch my head and chuckle at this headline from the website of CJOB-68, Manitoba's Information Superstation. I suppose that with the rapidly growing number of swine flu cases, Manitobans have a legitimate interest like the rest of us to wonder about the appearance of the disease in their province.

Initially it seemed odd to me that folks living in this heavily rural region would be particularly concerned about swine flu. After all, with the exception of Winnipeg, Canada's fourth-largest city, Manitoba is relatively isolated from the global air and sea traffic that will likely be the hopping-off points for infected carriers of the virus.

"What next?" I laughed to myself. "News stories about swine flu in Nunavut and Greenland?"

But then I read that Manitoba has a billion-dollar pork industry that employs approximately 15,000 people, and the headline seemed a lot less funny. Those who work in the pork industry would of course be at much higher risk for swine flu, and they could become primary carriers of the disease to the surrounding cities and towns.

Sorry, Manitobans: you have every right to be worried about swine flu.

Tulip Explosion

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OK, so "explosion" may be a rhetorical leap, and the squirrels ate at least one-fourth of the bulbs we planted last fall, but the sudden blossoming of dozens of tulips overnight amazed me. Yesterday afternoon this small garden had about six tulips, and today there are almost four dozen flowers waving back and forth in the strong southwestern winds.

Tulips are among my favorite flowers, and the brief springtime weeks that they hold center stage are a source of visual enjoyment for me bordering on the magical. This is especially refreshing now that my children are past the "ooooo, let's pick the pretty flowers" stage. Years ago the little urchins tended to pick the tulips in bunches the first day they bloomed, and I might come home to find only two or three spindly tulips after the child-harvesting.

THAT is a memory I will not miss when the last of my children leaves home in the next year or so. I fact, I think I will present gifts of tulip bulbs to each of my adult progeny with the hope that their own spring tulip enjoyment gets cut short by the excited little hands of my future grandchildren.

Meet Prudence, a Rescue Puggle

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As the owner of a pair of Puggles, I can testify to the fun-loving nature of these affectionate dogs, and Prudence (pictured on your left) possesses all the loveable qualities about Puggles.

Prudence weighs about 25 pounds, and she appears to be in excellent health. We are not quite sure about her age, but her energy level suggests that she is about two years old. Prudence loves to sleep in bed with people, and she enjoys sitting on your lap and smothering you with kisses.

So far Prudence appears to be housebroken, with no accidents in her first few days. She is an agreeable dog who wants to please people, but I think her previous owners spent little time on training, as she could use some reinforcement with jumping up when she is excited and also pulling when she is leashed. Prudence gets along well with the other dogs in the house, and has spent much of the past two warm spring days romping around the backyard.

To learn more about adopting Prudence, 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.

Apr 26, 2009

Robin in Flight

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The quality of this photograph is not especially high, and the gray skies in which I snapped my shutter dulled the colors, but I enjoyed finding the results of my digital snappery. The robin's wings happened to be close to its body when the image became digitized, and the effect is something live an avian missile in flight.

The bird looks like a flying superhero, or perhaps like a German V-2 rocket from the Second World War screeching toward London. The bird also seems to have a rather fierce determination in its rapid flight away from my dog and me as we wandered about an empty field in Rossford yesterday.

Apr 24, 2009

On Being a Slave to Routines

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I have a habit when I teach a class in which I arrive at least an hour prior to arrival of students. I upload my PowerPoint to the computer, make sure all the technology in the room is working, review my lecture notes, and perform any last-minute changes to the material I am presenting.

For some lectures - especially those once-a-week, three-to-four-hour marathons - I am known to show up as much as two hours early if the room is empty. I find the quiet time an excellent way to focus on lecture preparation, and something about the classroom environment sharpens my attention to the upcoming lecture.

Perhaps this is akin to an athlete arriving at a stadium, or a politician arriving at the venue where a speech will be given. The military uses the phrase "it's go time" to describe the no-nonsense moment where preparation meets action, and though a college history lecture is hardly equivalent to a soldier entering combat, "go time" for me begins when I walk into the classroom.

Except on days when some fellow instructor camps out after a previous class, and my pre-lecture ritual falls by the wayside. Such was the case yesterday, when I walked into "my" room 90 minutes early and another lecturer was using "my" classroom's computer.

As luck would have it, I left my laptop at home, and I had to find a backup work station in the noisy student computer lab to finish my lecture prep.

Had I been born twenty years later, professionals might have slapped a label on me, such as obsessive–compulsive personality disorder, Asperger syndrome, or ergophobia. However, I prefer to simply sum this up as being a slave to my routines, and on most days this desire to make sure the classroom is close to perfection before the lecture starts does not interfere with my life.

After 15 minutes of being denied access to "my" room, I began to get fidgety. Peeking in the classroom, I noticed the other instructor was still ensconced at the computer, and I began to imagine that the person was wasting time on Second Life or instant messaging. This, of course, was my own projection of irritation onto the classroom interloper, who likely was engaged in legitimate computer use.

Finally my perceived adversary removed his belongings, smiled at me on the way out, and I sheepishly reclaimed my routine. There was still 30 minutes before even the earliest student would arrive, and I could have given my Cold War lecture without any preparation, as I have delivered it many times, but my slavish devotion to routine had to be followed for the lecture to be a "success," at least in my head.

I am sure the students noticed nothing amiss, and truth be told, I caught oratorical fire in the second hour in debunking some notions about the fall of the Soviet Union. Still, I could have been on par with Cicero yesterday if only I had those 30 minutes back...

Apr 23, 2009

On Tulips and Seasons

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Left: red parrot tulips in one of my gardens

These parrot tulips bloomed yesterday, and I found it interesting that their blossoms appeared about a week later than they appeared in 2006. This was a fairly mild winter, at least as the cold season goes in Northwest Ohio, so I would have expected the tulips to be early, if anything.

The tulips join our daffodils and hyacinth in brightening up the yard after months of white snow, dead brown foliage, and scraps of loose paper with barcode scanner coding. Coupled with the many green leaves of as-yet unopened irises, tulips, and lilies, the yard is beginning to look like it contains life once again.

And regrettably the yard looks like it needs a good mowing.

Apr 20, 2009

On Julia Bates, Danny Brown, and Justice

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Danny Brown in front of Lucas County Courthouse

I have written about my friend Danny Brown many times in print, in journals, and on this blog. He is a man wrongly incarcerated for a 1981 rape-murder, and who DNA evidence helped free in 2001.

Danny, however, remains in legal limbo because Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates and her investigators still consider Danny Brown to be a suspect. Given the fact that there is no statute of limitations on murder cases, Danny could conceivably remain under a cloud of suspicion for the rest of his life. Moreover, as long as Danny is a "suspect," he cannot collect the compensation due to him under a state program set up for such cases of wrongful incarceration.

I met with Danny today for a few hours, and I picked him up in front of the courthouse. Lately he has been on a one-man picketing crusade at the building, trying to get people interested in this ugly case of injustice. At the downtown library we passed Jack Lessenberry, ombudsman of the Toledo Blade, who promised he would try to help if Danny came to his office with his story.

Bates, of course, has no incentive to take such a case to court, since there is no physical evidence linking Danny to the murder victim. Moreover, Danny passed polygraphs and provided prosecutors with 13 witnesses who testified that Danny was at a party on the other side of town when the murder occurred.

So Jack Lessenberry's help, should it materialize, will likely be just another of many editorials and articles pointing out the horror that has been perpetrated on Danny Brown. It will take a governor, a state attorney general, or ten thousand angry peasants with pikes and torches to get Julia Bates to change her tune.

So if you would like to join the mob of angry virtual peasants, feel free to call Julia Bates at (419) 213-4700. Julia Bates can be emailed at jbates@co.lucas.oh.us if you would like to let her know your feelings about the injustice her office continues to heap on Danny Brown. You can also follow this link to learn more about Danny Brown's fight for justice in greater detail.

I will also provide information on this site in another week or so for anyone who would like to provide financial help to Danny Brown in his campaign to clear his name and to collect what he is owed for the 19 years he rotted in state prison cells. Up to this point Danny has been too proud to ask for any help, but I think the past eight years of legal limbo have worn down his pride a bit.

Apr 19, 2009

Timber!

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I chanced upon a group of people in West Toledo today who were in the midst of cutting down a 60-foot pine tree. The arrival of raindrops did not deter the tree-cutters from finishing their goal of arboreal annihilation, and a small crowd of gawkers joined me to watch the tree's last minutes of direct connection with the soil.

There were no stays of the impending execution, and six people with a rope helped along the process. The felled trunk smacked the ground with a satisfying THUD that I could feel through a nearby lawn as I stood across the street from the action.

The folks I found most surprising were those with children in a car on the street. They paused to watch the felling, and ended up being perhaps 15 feet from where the trunk hit the ground. From where I stood, this was a bit too close for comfort, especially since there were three children in the back seat, but admittedly I tended to be overly cautious when my children were young. Perhaps the family has well-funded travel medical insurance; who knows?

Still, had the tree veered to the left 10 or 15 degrees, the four-door sedan (just out of sight in the bottom left of the image) would surely have been in the path of the falling trunk. Way uncool, that.

Apr 18, 2009

On Successful Marriages and Closed Mouths

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Left: a couple of crazy kids

My wife and I visited my grandparents this evening, and we spent four hours just conversing with these fine people, both of whom are in their nineties and still living on their own in the same house they bought at the end of the Great Depression. I could not remember the year that they married, and I am writing the date down in this post (1936) for my own benefit as well as to publicly marvel at a couple who will celebrate 73 years of marriage in a few months, God willing.

I have written before about keys to making a successful marriage, and while at times I have been far from a hall-of-fame husband, I have managed to learn a few things about what makes a relationship work.

My grandfather, though, possesses an inimitable ability to succinctly describe complex concepts, and he offered this piece of advice on how my grandparents have managed to stay together so long.

"Well, June likes dumb jokes, and I like to tell dumb jokes, so it works out just fine," he deadpanned, and then he provided an even better suggestion: "At some point in every argument, somebody has to shut their mouth to end the fight."

Once again, my grandfather nailed it.

Sometimes we are too proud to back down, or we are so convinced of the correctness of our positions that to end the argument is tantamount to failure. Yet if both parties keep their jaws flapping, the fighting continues, even if the decibel levels happen to decrease.

And as I reflected on this received wisdom, I realized that having the ability to simply shut your mouth can be quite helpful in keeping peace during times of stress or conflict. Conversely, some of the times when I found myself in a fierce struggle with another person had at least something to do with me being insistent on keeping my big mouth moving.

Yes, fair solutions need to be developed for all conflicts, but ultimately a fight cannot end until at least one person takes the high road and shuts the proverbial pie-hole.

Meet Sissy, a Rescue Dachshund

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Pictured on your left is Sissy, a 6-month-old, 7-pound miniature Dachshund who was rescued from a county dog pound in Northwest Ohio. Still a puppy, Sissy is full of the enthusiasm that goes along with being young and being a dog.

Sissy is quite affectionate, and if she gets close to your face she will smother you with kisses. She has a surprisingly deep bark, sounding more like a basset hound when she gets alarmed. Unlike some Dachshunds, she has no trouble navigating her way up and down stairs, climbing up on the couch, or even reaching the bathroom faucets.

This beautiful dog gets along well with all the other dogs in the house, although the older dogs grumble a bit at her puppy hijinks. Her new owners will need to continue working with her on being housebroken, as she still has some accidents inside.

To learn more about adopting Sissy - or to adopt any other Toledo-area rescue dogs or donate to help save more animals - please visit the Planned Pethood website.

Apr 17, 2009

Just Friends...Honest

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I did not intend to interrupt this moment of affection tonight between catcher Chris Gimenez and pitcher John Meloan of the Columbus Clippers. As God is my witness, I snapped hundreds of pictures tonight, and only as I reviewed the images I collected did I notice the comradely rump-slapping between the two players.

Anyways, it was a beautiful spring evening for baseball at Fifth Third Stadium, just as it was for man crushes, and the Toledo Mud Hens defeated the Clippers 5-3 in front of over 10,300 fans. We went to the game with our friends Jim and Emily, who were kind enough to provide us with tickets, and it was warm enough that I did not need a jacket.

Starting pitcher Lucas French looked quite impressive, striking out eight Clippers in six scoreless innings, and Ryan Raburn capped a 3-for-3 night with a home run to left-center that energized the crowd.

And I promise not to make any wisecracks about ways in which Chris Gimenez and John Meloan may have comforted on another after the loss, and no jokes about how they might have matching home theater chairs. I have insulted them enough already, though I have to admit my 18-year-old son found this picture to be especially hilarious.

Chalk this up to my inner Beavis and Butthead.

Apr 16, 2009

Rapid Rhetoric: SAMOGON

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

samogon (SAH-moh-gohn) n. a homemade distilled liquor produced in Russia through a variety of methods and ingredients.

From the Russian word самогон, which literally means "self-fire" or"self-distillate," the production of samogon is even more time-honored in Russia than moonshine is in the United States. The production of distilled spirits was a state monopoly in Russia from the sixteenth century through the Soviet era, and taxes from liquors such as vodka provided an important source of state revenue.

As much as 50 percent of distilled spirits in the Soviet era consisted of samogon, and one estimate suggested that 40 percent of Russian peasant households produced their own samogon in 1928.

Samogon production was a pressing issue for the administration of Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s. Efforts to eliminate samogon distillation - part of a wider anti-alcohol campaign - served only to increase samogon consumption and dry up tax revenues from legal alcoholic beverages, both of which came back to haunt Gorbachev.

Apr 14, 2009

On Insecurities, Writers, and Hidden Genius

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I have been employed as a writing tutor for about six years, and during that time I have worked with writers from all across the talent spectrum. There are times when I admit I sort of coast through some sessions, especially when I happen to work with four or five students in a row with the exact same paint-by-numbers assignment from a freshman composition course.

By the way - writing centers on college campuses are not necessarily remedial in nature, and some of the best writers on any given campus make use of writing tutors in the same way that golf aficionados seek out course professionals for advice. So, to college students reading this: visit your writing centers and polish your skills.

When I work with advanced undergraduates or graduate students, I generally learn about topics with which I am otherwise unfamiliar. Still, academic writing is generally not the most exciting prose, and it is somewhat rare that I come across a college writer with a flair for the written word that makes for enjoyable reading during a tutoring session.

Even rarer still is a writer like the one I have been working with for a few weeks now, someone who has the sort of talent that jumps off of the page and grabs the reader by the lapels, demanding to be reckoned with and slapping the reader around if his eyes dare to leave the page.

This writer, though, has exactly zero self-confidence, and she is so insecure about her prose that she does not allow me to read aloud her work for fear that someone else in the center would hear. Instead I read silently, pausing to write on paper any suggestions I might have for her work.

These comments, of course, are quite limited in number, and mostly focused on reining in her wildly creative passages - those with ebullient word-play and extraordinarily complex structures - in order to better fit the modest expectations of analytical writing. Imagine that: reminding a writer that her academic audiences might not be able to keep up with her rhetorical gymnastics.

I am not in awe of this writer's considerable talents so much as I am baffled by the crippling insecurity this writer exhibits. Working with this student is akin to rehearsing with someone of the talent level of a Paul McCartney, only to hear the hypothetical Beatle shrug his shoulders and say: "my songs pretty much suck."

I have been working to get across to this student that her writing is not just competent, but rather bordering on the brilliant. However, I see the resistance to my effusive praise, and though she wants to believe the words, deep down it is apparent that her deep rooted self-doubt keeps her from really accepting compliments.

Yet there is only so much that a person like me can do for someone whose wounded psyche hobbles her ability to bring her work to a wider audience. The fear of either failure or rejection can be paralyzing, and external forces like sympathetic tutors pale in comparison with the internal voices that can be the harshest critics.

So, to any other insecure writers reading this post: the surest way to polish your craft is for other people to read it and offer feedback. Hide behind a pseudonym if the worries about criticism terrify you, and seek safe audiences to get used to the process of opening up your work (and your soul) to other people. The more you share your work, the less frightening this experience becomes.

Could there be a sadder fate than to be blessed with creative genius but be cursed with crippling self-doubt?

Apr 13, 2009

On Water Access, Fishing Regulations, and Unbridled State Power

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Left: Cold, deep, and hard to reach

I am a person who is drawn to water, and while driving up I-75 from Perrysburg recently I had the urge to stop and gaze over the Maumee River. I yearned to watch the choppy spring waves splash against the shore, and I entertained a thought of sticking a bare foot in the water, just to say that I did.

Unfortunately, the Maumee also attracts development, as is the case for virtually any American body of water. Members of the public who do not own property on the shore are limited to those few parcels of land reserved for public use, and I must have spent 30 minutes doggedly driving through Rossford and Perrysburg to find public access.

Of course, I could have just parked my car in a subdivision near Eagle Point and walked to the river, but I did not know how strictly the "No Trespassing" and "No Public Access" signs would be enforced by the local police. Besides, I am too cheap to fork over fines for illegal parking, and the last time I got mouthy about my rights with a cop, he paid me back by ordering my car towed to the impound lot.

Lesson learned, and that is a story for another day.

I have railed before about beaches and privatization, and the same questions burrow under my skin. If waterways are public and part of the traditional commons, why is access to them so difficult to attain? Why are people so willing to settle for tiny scraps of what is rightfully theirs?

I finally found a small sliver of access in the form of a 30-yard wide boat ramp just outside of downtown Perrysburg, and I watched a half-dozen fishermen unload their boats into the river. By the way: what is it with fishermen and camouflage attire? It is not as though the fish are going to be fooled by camouflage jackets and hats.

Admittedly my fishing knowledge is quite limited, but perhaps camouflage has properties of which I am unaware.

Anyways, after satiating my desire to connect with the water, I noticed quite a few signs posted that informed fishermen of their limits on fish, the size of fish that they can keep, and whole assortment of government regulations that infringe upon a person's ability to derive nourishment from the public waterways.

Left: They are watching you

I scratch my head at the logic of laws that allow commercial fishing operations to use nets and haul in millions of pounds of fish for profit, while if an individual angler used certain types of nets to catch fish and feed a family, he would be denounced as a poacher or a thief.

The State of Ohio issues steep fines for anglers who exceed their daily limits, and I read that fines of $50 per walleye over the limit plus jail time are possible for such "thieves." How about $250 fines for illegal methods to trap steelhead in a tributary of the Chagrin River in Cuyahoga County? Of course, these "criminals" made the mistake of posting on YouTube, never a smart idea for would-be lawbreakers, but it never ceases to amaze me how the state exerts its power over time-honored human activities.

Yet people humbly acquiesce to these incessant attacks on their natural rights, while condemning as scoundrels those who dare to ignore the state's legal impositions. We are so browbeaten that most of us buy into the flawed logic that the state is really "protecting" fish populations, instead of realizing that our rights are (pardon the pun) being sold up the river with the license and limit schemes enforced by jackbooted DNR police.

(Full disclosure: on the rare occasions when historymike fishes, he purchases a license and observes the limits. He might have philosophical disagreements with the principles behind these laws, but he prefers reduced freedoms outside of prison to a life behind bars after taking on the state in a pissing contest)

Apr 12, 2009

On Late Night Grocery Shopping, Cell Phones, and Laziness

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My wife and I needed to visit the grocery store last night for some items she needed for Easter dinner today. I prefer to hit the Kroger's on Secor at Monroe, which is closer to our house, but my wife prefers the Kroger's at Miracle Mile (Laskey at Jackman) for a reason too lengthy to disclose in this post.

Yes, Toledo is like that: Kroger must control 50 percent of the grocery market, and for many folks, the decision on where to shop boils down to a choice between Kroger's, a grocery chain that also features items such as outdoor supplies and office furniture.

Anyways, late night shopping always brings out the strangest folks, and the store at Miracle Mile is located where people from almost all walks of life will visit. There are some expensive homes up near Alexis, as well as lower-income housing complexes like the apartments at Brooke Park and those at Larchmont Gardens.

Last night was a night where the store was populated by the type of folks who will spend $15,000 to trick out a 1982 Oldsmobile Cutlass while living in a rusty trailer or a roach-infested apartment. You know the kind: baggy expensive velour track suits, $200 tennis shoes, and lots of hair grease.

And that's just the women.

Anyways, while shopping and people-watching, I saw a mother with three kids walking along the cereal aisle. The children were pulling a dozen varieties of cereals off the shelves, while the mother talked on her cell phone and shook her head at their sugary choices. She leaned heavily on her shopping cart, being quite large in girth and perhaps fatigued from a long day of TV watching.

OK, that was a bit mean, since I have not walked a mile in her forest green Timberlands, but trust me on this part. She paused from her conversation to make the following request of her daughter, who appeared to be about 10 years of age:

"SKYLAR! Reach around and pull up my pants. They falling down." (Note: requisite auxiliary verb omitted in original dialogue)

Not missing a beat, she returned to her phone conversation and cart-leaning, and her daughter did in fact hoist up the spandex-waisted track suit over the woman's hefty hips before returning to her cereal selections.

It must be love. If one of my relatives (at least, those not with a relevant disability) asked me to pull up their pants, I would have been irritated and told the lazy sot to put down the cell phone and lift her own clothing.

And what kind of name is "Skylar," anyways? Yeah, I know: "Tyler" plus "sky," but I guess I am just reaching the age where I am growing weary of incessant individualism.

Or maybe I am just a cranky curmudgeon who needs to chill out.

Update: Missy, an Abused Dog

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Thanks to everyone who emailed and expressed concern about Missy, a terrier-mix we are fostering with Planned Pethood. She visited the veterinarian yesterday, and in spite of years of abuse and neglect, she has no major medical issues beyond her skin infections and malnutrition.

Missy weighed only 12 pounds when I put her on the scale. The vet believes her ideal weight should be somewhere in the 18-20 pound range, meaning that she is between 40 and 50 percent below her normal weight. To put that in perspective, that would be like a 180-pound man being starved to 110 or 120 pounds.

Like Auschwitz starvation, if you prefer.

We are optimistic that Missy will make a healthy and full recovery, and she is already starting to come out of her shell. Initially she was reluctant to move around the house, but she is now exploring and no longer acting like an inmate. When I spoke with the kind person who tipped off Planned Pethood about this abused dog, she told me that the former owners let the dog out of the cage no more than 20 minutes a day for the last 6 months. While I cannot disclose the reasons for her inside knowledge, I am quite confident that this assessment was not an exaggeration.

Missy is now sunning herself on the deck on this warm spring day, perhaps the first time she has been able to relax and enjoy a stress-free environment in years. Yet loud sounds cause her to jump, and sudden movement causes her to cringe, and it will be many, many months before she recovers from her years of terror.

And another quick plug: to learn more about adopting Toledo-area rescue dogs, or to financially support Planned Pethood's animal rescue efforts, visit the Planned Pethood website for more details.

Apr 10, 2009

When Humans Act Like Monsters: A Rescue Dog Horror Story

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My wife and I have volunteered with animal rescue groups for a few years now, and we have helped some dogs who have survived some pretty horrific abuse and neglect. Yet just when we think we have seen the worst that human beings can inflict upon canines, along comes a dog like Missy, who is pictured on your left.

She arrived unexpectedly today after her former owner threatened to euthanize the dog if Planned Pethood did not immediately drive out to an outlying rural town and pick up this little pooch. I was shocked at the severely emaciated dog I met today, and she is probably at least 40 percent under her ideal weight. This dog is nothing but bones, skin, and what remains of her hair, much of which appears to have fallen out due to either nervousness or perhaps an allergic skin condition.

Missy, it seems, spent virtually the entire day in a small cage because her former owners fought about the dog being allowed in the house. The husband hated the dog, I am told, and physically beat the dog, referring to it by such endearing names as "stupid" and "f***ing beast." Neither human owner properly fed or groomed this dog, whose nails curve around under her feet like crusty letter Js.

Yet this dog is very sweet, although she cannot quite get used to the idea that a human hand does not mean a beating. Unfortunately, her legs are spindly due to overcrating and malnutrition, so she spends most of her time laying down, but she seems quite happy to sit peacefully by us and watch television.

At this point Missy has yet to see a vet, as I could not make a last-minute appointment on Good Friday, so I cannot disclose any health issues she might have beyond emaciation and neglect. However, at first glance she seems to be free from any obvious health concerns, despite her history of abuse. More to come as we learn about this poor dog, who is in such disturbing shape that I cannot even make an educated guess about her breed.

Out of a sense of organizational professionalism I am going to refrain from launching into a full-blown tirade against the sort of people who could allow a sweet little dog like this to suffer in such an obvious fashion. This is also due to the fact that confidentiality assurances may have been made to the person who tipped off Planned Pethood, and I could jeopardize any arrangements unknown to me.

But you know where the comments section is located, and free speech is a tenet for which I have great respect. Moreover, I understand that karma is quite the unforgiving and unrelentless vixen, so I take solace that the twisted perpetrators of this abuse will reap similar harvests from the pestiferous seeds they have sown.

Anyways, to learn more about adopting Toledo-area rescue dogs, or to financially support Planned Pethood's animal rescue efforts, visit the Planned Pethood website for more details.

Apr 8, 2009

When the Cards Fall Right in Vegas Solitaire and Playing Hunches

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One of my brain-draining exercises is playing the Vegas-style solitaire that accompanies the crappy PCs to which I am enslaved. I am not particularly good, usually winding up winning about 8-10 percent of the time, and winning about as much money as I lose on average.

Yet the other day I hit this...zone. Truth be told, I was bummed out and just going into a lengthy bout of gastroenteritis, and my head was hardly even in the game. All of a sudden, I went on this weird winning streak, something like 6 straight games and 9 of 12, and the cards were just flying. At the time of the strange streak, I was down about $500 dollars, and within 25 minutes or so, this parlayed into winnings of $1348.

Of course, I still have yet to figure out where the chip slot is on my laptop to actually collect that cash, but this is beside the point. There are inexplicable moments in life where everything seems to click, and even disinterested gamblers wind up winning, cashing in on sports gifts and raking in the dollars.

I just finished re-reading Jack Kerouac's On The Road, and I was momentarily influenced by the scene in which Sal and Old Bull Lee neglect to follow a hunch that would have paid off 50:1. I toyed with the idea that forces in another dimension were trying to get me to play the lottery by alerting me via Vegas Solitaire that this was my lucky day.

However, I dismissed the notion as goofy, and now I will never know if that $5 I was tempted to play in scratch-off tickets would have paid off. Of course, I still have the $5, which these days is still quite useful, but perhaps this is one of those "what if" moments I should have pursued.

That being said, I always get so ticked at myself when the urge strikes me every six months or so to blow a dollar on the lottery, so maybe I am better off not knowing.

Apr 7, 2009

On the Restorative Properties of Ramen Noodles

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I came across a vile microbe sometime Saturday that proceeded to make quick work of my gastrointestinal system, and I spent most of the past two days bed-ridden, delusional, and dehydrated due to the multiple orifices that served as exit points for my body's diminishing electrolytes. It was only yesterday that I attempted to consume anything other than clear liquids, and the first food I held down was a package of Ramen noodles.

My sodium levels became quite low in the process of sending gallons of liquid flying hither and yon for 24 hours, and the annoying cramps in my legs and arches confirmed this electrolyte problem. Yet within an hour of quaffing Ramen noodles, the cramping ceased. In addition, I noticed a clarity of thought that had not been around for 36 hours, and - though still weak - I now had enough energy to take a shower and read a book, while keeping my eyes peeled on an online auction for a heart pendant necklace.

So, while I am not ready to pronounce Ramen noodles as a cure-all, you could do worse as a source of simple food in a period of illness recovery.

Apr 4, 2009

Goodbye to a Beautiful Baby

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I met my four-month-old niece Elena only three times, and since my sister and I live six hours apart, I unfortunately only spent time with Elena Lindsey Bolton while she was in the hospital in Ann Arbor. After a 10-day struggle to recover after open heart surgery, Elena's small heart finally gave out this morning.

Yet despite the fact that my only time spent with Elena was when she was under sedation, a bond formed between us after the first picture we received from her parents. Since she was hooked up to dozens of wires, IVs, and drainage tubes, I was never able to hold Elena, though I did get to touch her foot and see her toes wiggle.

I am told Elena was a very happy baby who was good natured and quick to smile. Last night I thought I saw your eyes move under your eyelids, and I like to think that you heard our voices. Of course, I had no way of knowing that last night would be the last time I would see you taking your peaceful baby breaths, though certainly when I left C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, I knew that the prognosis had taken a turn for the worse.

So Elena: I pray that you are in a more peaceful place, where children need not worry about heart bypass machines and where they can run and jump and climb trees and do all the things you did not get a chance to do. I take some comfort in the fact that you are no longer suffering, though I am sad that I will not get to play tag or kick a soccer ball with you.

Elena, you probably already know this, but your parents were at your bedside every day for these difficult days, only leaving when the doctors kicked them out or when they paused to eat some cafeteria food. What your mom missed the most, though, was to simply pick you up and hold you, running her fingers through your hair and giving you kisses.

And truth be told, so did I, though you have to promise not to ruin my reputation as a would-be tough guy by letting anyone know this.

I wish for you to be in a place where the sun always shines and where you can roll in he grass with goofy puppies and eat as much Halloween candy as you want. Or for you to simply enjoy another life, a chance to live the life that was cut short in this world.

And I hope that we meet again some day, and you can tell me all the corny kid jokes you never got to share.

Goodbye, beautiful baby.


Elena Lindsey Bolton

November 20, 2008 - April 4, 2009

Apr 3, 2009

On Human Hearts, God, and Making Sense of the Senseless

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I am beyond tired at this moment, which happens to be almost midnight at the end of an especially long week. The particulars related to my exhaustion are irrelevant, but I note my tired state only to place in context my upcoming questioning. You see, I am in one of those existential places where I find myself wondering if God really exists - really exists - or whether He really pays much attention to what happens on this planet.

"It's just the sleep deprivation," you might say, that is responsible for my dark mood. Of course, it could be the news about the laid off IBM worker who killed 14 people today in New York, or the fact that my 4-month-old niece continues her tenuous grip on life.

But for the moment, I have little faith that God actively participates in what happens on the planet.

Perhaps after some rest the world will make more sense, and perhaps then I will understand why English language students like Zhanar Tokhtabayeba suddenly find themselves facing a psychotic killer wielding semi-automatic handguns. Maybe in the morning I will understand why the heart of a four-month-old baby can be so problematic, while the heart of an overweight 45-year-old like me - someone who used to smoke, who drank too much, and who eats fatty foods like it is his full time job - why this heart keeps ticking away despite my efforts to weaken it through unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Now, I am not saying I want to go to the Great Beyond, at least not yet, but what sense is there in a four-month-old baby struggling to keep her beat while people like me routinely abuse our hearts and wake up every morning just to abuse the blasted organ some more?

Yes, maybe this will make sense in the morning, but I suspect I will still have my doubts.

Apr 1, 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.

Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing. -- Eric Hoffer