May 31, 2010

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal

(Montreal, QC) Pictured on your left is an image from the interior of the beautiful Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal. We attended Mass at the basilica on Saturday evening, and then returned for a light and sound show entitled "And Then There Was Light" later that evening.

The priest delivered the Mass in French, and I was surprised at my low level of linguistic comprehension. I play around a bit with French, and I can usually discern the meaning of phrases and short passages based on my familiarity with other Latin languages, but of course spoken French takes a different set of skills and practice routines than written French. Still, I was at least able to figure out most of the times at which the congregation was expected to stand, sit, or kneel, and the "Amen" while receiving the Eucharist is pretty much a universal response.

May 30, 2010

Montreal Organ Grinder

(Montreal, QC) Though in some parts of the world an organ grinder might be vilified, I took a moment to listen to the music and singing of the street musician pictured on your left. I also found intriguing the musician's attempt at a period costume, resembling as he did the sort of busker one might find in fin de siècle Paris or London.

Unfortunately, before I walked back across the street to talk with the organ grinder, an annoying woman with a New York accent interrupted him. She insisted on a picture with the organ grinder, which her husband took, and then chatted with him before I grew weary of waiting for her to finish yakking.

Best part: she sucked up five minutes of his time and didn't even toss him a quarter: Gimme, gimme, gimme, then "see ya!"

And we wonder why Americans sometimes have a negative reputation around the world. Some of us can't even toss a humble hurdy-gurdy performer some change after making use of his services.

May 29, 2010

Unhappy Danielle Steel Reader

(Montreal, QC) While walking through Vieux-Montréal this morning, I spotted a copy of the 2008 Danielle Steel novel A Good Woman on the edge of a municipal trash can. Now, no offense to the readers of Danielle Steel's literary endeavors, but the placement of the novel in a trash can makes something of critical statement.

Yet closer inspection of the scene provided an additional of humor: the previous owner of the discarded novel crossed out the word "Good" in the title and replaced it with a hand-scrawled "DIRTY." Apparently the rather risque rhetorical stylings of Danielle Steel did not sit well with the reader.

I remember as a kid hearing that some Danielle Steel novel was "racy," and I of course surreptitiously sequestered a copy up to my bedroom. Unfortunately, my grandmother's definition of "racy" was a far cry from the steamy sex scenes I thought I was going to read.

However, the reader of A Good DIRTY Woman evidently thought Steel's fairly tame representations of human sexuality were too much for delicate eyes, and the book remains perched on the edge of oblivion as I type this short post.

May 28, 2010

Montreal Bound

I am driving to Cleveland to hop a flight to Montreal for the holiday weekend. This is the first time either my wife or I have been to La Belle Ville, and we are looking forward to exploring this beautiful Canadian city.

Feel free to leave suggestions about places to visit in the area, as we are traveling without a definite plan beyond "see a few interesting sites." On many vacations my wife doubles as tour planner, but this trip is a bit of a last-minute whim.

May 27, 2010

Traffic Enforcement Alert: Interstate 75 in Michigan on Memorial Weekend

A quick tip to anyone driving Interstate 75 through southern Michigan this Memorial Day weekend: Michigan State Police troopers are out in droves. I made a trip up to Detroit today, and on each leg of the journey I saw at least six state police vehicles on the freeway between the Ohio border and Telegraph Road, a span of about 35 miles.

This works out to a traffic-focused police vehicle every six miles or so (assuming I noticed every vehicle), and this does not count the local departments who are also likely gearing up to cash in on the increased traffic due to the holiday. Thus, if you are not desirous of a speeding ticket (the cheapest speeding fine in Michigan is $90 plus court costs) then I suggest you slow down.

In years past I would have chalked up this extra activity to concerns about safety, but in 30 years of driving on I-75 I have never seen so much concerted police enforcement activity. Methinks the state of Michigan will put a small dent in the ongoing budget deficit this weekend.

Quick Blog Note

I am having problems with an annoying and persistent link spammer from Korea, so to discourage said piece of human filth I am going to restrict comments for a short period of time. I just deleted over 40 spam comments derived from Korea Telecom IP address, and the idiot was very busy last night as well.

The spammer is linking tons of sites selling cheap fashion knockoffs, porn, and computer software. Crawl away and die, please: you are wasting your time, because no matter how many spam links you bomb this site with, I will delete them all. The only commercial promotion I permit on this site is that which I choose, like the excellent deals on used golf balls you can find on the Internet.


Even stranger with this spammer: I use the word verification feature on Blogger, and the twit had the persistence to manually type all those word verifications to spam-bomb me. That is a lot of effort for trying to siphon a bit of PageRank link value from a middle-of-the-pack blog like mine.

May 26, 2010

Rapid Rhetoric - ATTIC SALT

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 or phrase I came across that I have never previously used.

Attic salt (AH-tick sawlt) n. a pointed and graceful wit.

I came across the phrase "Attic salt" this morning while reading Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina:
Koznyshev, who knew better than anyone how at the end of a most abstract and serious dispute unexpectedly to administer a grain of Attic salt and thereby to change his interlocutor's frame of mind, did so now.

The phrase has its origins in the Greek region of Attica, which includes the traditional Greek capital city of Athens. Thus an Attic salt (sometimes expressed as an "Attic wit") conveys a sense of refinement associated with high society. Tolstoy used the phrase to describe the conversation occurring at a formal dinner party at the home of Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky, and I suspect that the topics of conversation likely included nineteenth century equivalents to products similar to those found on

May 25, 2010

Charlie Bit My Finger

I am surprised that - when I mention the world's most-watched YouTube clip to people - there are still quite a few folks who have not seen the "Charlie bit my finger" video:

If you have already viewed the video, please pardon the posting overkill. If you have yet to watch the clip, it is quite short in duration (56 seconds or so), and there are many worse ways to kill a minute on the Internet, at least unless you are the kind of person who regularly spends 20 hours a week trying to locate online reviews of diet pills that work.

May 24, 2010

Book Review: Tales From a Tin Can

Author: Olson, Michael Keith

Publisher: Zenith Press, 2010

336 pages

The USS Dale served important roles during the Second World War. Not only did the ship emerge unscathed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but the USS Dale also managed to span the entire Pacific War without a single crewman lost to enemy fire. Olson's book, an oral history drawn largely from interviews with former crew members of the USS Dale, is a fascinating look at World War II as seen from the decks of a single naval vessel.

The USS Dale, originally commissioned in 1935, was a 1500-ton Farragut-class destroyer that at various times screened aircraft carriers, troop transports, and fire support ships in the Pacific theater. The vessel took part in a number of important campaigns during the war, including missions during the Guadalcanal, Aleutian Islands, Marianas, Philippines, and Okinawa campaigns.

Tales From a Tin Can follows a chronological approach in the narrative, and the major battles at which the vessel took part are peppered with quotes from its former sailors. The book also includes a lengthy section of previously unpublished photographs, many of which came from the personal collections of sailors who served on the USS Dale. One of the passages that caught my eye was from a sailor who described an innovative way to break the monotony while on the ship:
I had talked the mess gang into giving me the juice from some canned cherries. I poured a bunch of it into a five-gallon jerry can and then added some water and sugar. After it fermented into a tolerable cherry wine, I poured it into smaller containers, took it to the ship's movie, and passed it around.
Olson's book is highly recommended for scholars interested in the military history of the U.S. Navy in the Second World War. The book is also accessible enough for the general public provided readers have at least a working knowledge of the major events of the Pacific theater. The interviews with former crew members - coupled with entries from the ship's log and commentary from the author - make for a revealing look at the war from the perspective of the sailors who served on the USS Dale.

May 23, 2010

Making Pasta

My wife recently spotted a pasta maker at the local Goodwill store, and she decided to invest a few dollars in the appliance. The difficulty in making pasta, though, is in locating a stable supply of semolina around this city. We had to visit quite a few stores (and eventually use the Internet) to locate a purveyor, which ended up being Bassett's Health Foods on Secor.

There is no price advantage to making one's own pasta, as semolina sells for at least two dollars a pound around here, and homemade pasta is probably going to be at least double the cost of purchasing manufactured pasta. Yet the aroma of the fresh pasta quickly filled the house, and the delicious taste of homemade pasta is distinctive and worth the effort.

I was surprised at how doughy the pasta was coming out of the pasta maker. My wife was tempted to say "duh" when I shared this observation, as of course a flour-based product would achieve a doughy consistency when mixed with water and eggs, but always the good sport she refrained from piling on after my could-not-be-more-obvious statement suggested I needed to learn more about the process.

Add some homemade puttanesca sauce, and Buon appetite!

May 22, 2010

On Blue Iris and Family Heirlooms

Some folks salivate at the monetary or luxury items left for them in the wills of their elderly relatives. I suppose that is fine for some people, especially the greedy ones, but I am much more interested in recreating the horticultural collections of my family members. Pictured on your left is one of the stunning blue irises that my 93-year-old grandfather planted many years ago on his property, and I have to admit that these hold much more fascination to me than any worldly goods.

Over the past year I have been surreptitiously collecting samples of seeds, clippings, and bulbs from around his yard in an effort to "save" some of the efforts he put into his landscaping in the nearly seven decades he has lived in his house. The red poppy seeds I harvested last fall have sprouted like wildfire in the past two weeks, and several Rose of Sharon seeds I collected have also sprouted. I also dug up a few daffodil and lily bulbs in my quest to keep a living memory of this wonderful man, a tough character who still drives his own car and whose mind is still sharp enough to hold his own in a political debate, and a person who would never have much use for a product like Clinicallix.

My goal is to be able to look out at these flowers every year and know that there is still a connection to a person who has been such an important part of my life in more ways than I could ever recount or repay. This summer will be the first year in which my transplanted gleanings will blossom, and every time I walk around his half-acre of semi-rural paradise I find another hidden treasure that calls out my name.

Then in a few years I will have to complete the same task with my mom's gardens. She is another green-thumb type with an endless collection of botanical gems waiting to be harvested, split, and nourished.

The Quote Shelf

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

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. -- Robert Louis Stevenson

May 20, 2010

Lawn Job Vandals in West Toledo

While walking through my neighborhood with my wife this evening, I saw the destructive results of a vehicle that had been intentionally driven across at least four lawns last night. The lawns I noticed were all on corner lots, and the lawn vandal drove perilously close to the homes of the people whose lawns were vandalized.

The disturbing aspect of this vandalism is the seemingly random nature of the idiocy, as the houses were spread out over a three-block area. The driver of the vehicle chose an opportune moment to strike, given the fact that four of the past five days have featured heavy rains.

Unfortunately for the homeowners, there will be some significant labor involved in repairing the damage. It also disturbs me that my once-quiet middle class neighborhood increasingly endures this type of senseless stupidity, as idiotic as a person using up all the color printing cartridges to print test images.

Were this a single house I might write off the lawn vandalism as a single act by a drunken driver, but it is clear that the driver of the car went out of his way to target all these houses (I am assuming that this was teenagers on a bender of destruction). I also felt sad for the elderly woman at one of the houses who I see tending her gardens and lawn, as she has quite a bit of work (or expense) ahead of her.

Karma, as they say, is something of a fickle vixen, and I trust that the vandalism meted out by the idiots comes back threefold.

May 19, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Summer College Courses

Most universities and colleges feature summer semester course offerings, and frequently these courses run on shortened and condensed schedules. For example, the typical 16-week semester gets condensed into 5-, 6-, or 8-week varieties with longer class meeting times and/or more frequent classes.

As a result the college student in a summer semester has to work at 2-3 times the pace of a class offered in a 16-week semester. This allows students the opportunity to knock out a few credits in a shortened term, but the downside to this curricular acceleration is that many students struggle to keep up with the pace.

I normally caution my summer semester students to jump into high gear immediately, though this advice occasionally gets ignored by the unwary. I am also amazed at the number of students who show up for a summer class and who have yet to purchase the required textbooks, which I always post months in advance. Even stranger was the student who recently asked me if "all of these books are actually going to be used."

Uh, yes: that's why I assigned them, dear student.

Admittedly I once learned the hard way about the accelerated pace of summer classes. I signed up for 20 undergraduate credits in the summer 0f 2002, being in a hurry to finish my BA. This was tough enough, but what I failed to consider in my zealous optimism was that 13 of these credits fell in the first 8-week summer session, meaning that I was essentially signed up for a 26-credit load over that shortened semester.

I slogged through and managed three As and an A minus, but I was exhausted after putting in many 14-hour days of study and class (plus I was working 40-plus hours as a server and bartender). Thus it is with the voice of experience that I urge everyone reading this short missive to pause before assuming that summer courses are somehow easier than a regular semester simply virtue of their length.

That, friends, is a dangerous assumption.

May 18, 2010

Great Foster Dog Seeking a Forever Home

Foster dog named Shadow, a terrier mix with Planned Pethood Every once in a while a dog we are fostering simply does not get adopted, despite the fact that said pooch is a lovable canine friend. Such is the case with Shadow, who is pictured on your left, and he has been with us for over two months.

Shadow is a 4-1/2-year-old terrier mix who was surrendered by his elderly former owner after her living circumstances changed. Shadow is a quiet and friendly little dog who quickly warms up to new people, and I am utterly puzzled as to why this handsome fellow has not been adopted. In fact, Shadow has yet to have a single application placed for him, which is pretty rare for a well-behaved small dog (sometimes larger breeds like retrievers can go many weeks without an application, but smaller breeds tend to be adopted quickly).

As you might imagine, Shadow has completely become relaxed in his foster home, and he no longer exhibits a fearful demeanor. He follows me around the house the entire day, and it is clear that this is a loyal little dog who just loves being around people.

If I may say so, Shadow is the perfect little companion: he is housebroken, calm, and hilarious. He is fine around children, cats, and other dogs, and he is easily one of the coolest foster dogs we have ever rescued. He would probably thrive best in a house with a lighter activity level, such as with an older couple or in a home where the only "children" that remain are of the pet variety.

To learn more about adopting Shadow, or if you want to financially contribute to Planned Pethood's mission to rescue dogs and cats in Northwest Ohio, visit the Planned Pethood website for more information.

May 17, 2010

Heavy Spring Rain

The blurry white streaks in the accompanying photograph are from especially heavy raindrops that poured down during a springtime rain that is expected to dump several inches of rain in the next 12-24 hours in Northwest Ohio. The storm, which does not feature heavy thunderstorm activity, is a slow-moving meteorological beast laden with precipitation.

These fat raindrops splattered on the ground with an authoritative smacking sound, and some of these showers might be strong enough to damage some of my seedlings. I am particularly concerned with some pepper and tomato plants that are just beginning to take root, although any plants destroyed by heavy rains means less plant thinning I will need to perform later.

I always feel a bit guilty when it comes time to decide exactly which plants will live and which will be snipped in the prime of their lives. Then there is the second-guessing involved: what if I decide to thin a plant that really is better suited for local conditions and which just happened to get off to a slow start?

The rain continues to soak the ground and pummel the plants, and it might save me the trouble of playing God next week with my seedlings.

The Quote Shelf

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

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man's growth without destroying his roots. -- Frank Howard Clark

May 16, 2010

Uninhabited and Unnamed Island in the Straits of Mackinac

I sometimes play a mental game when I am near a body of water and I spot an uninhabited island. I imagine what it would be like to claim the island as my own, perhaps constructing a small domicile and then having a place of near-total isolation from the problems of the world.

Such was the case when I gazed out over the Straits of Mackinac and spied the pictured island the other day. This unnamed patch of land is about a half-mile from the northern shore of the Straits on the edge of the shoals, and it appeared to be only a few dozen yards in length (the image was taken with a 12X zoom lens).

This island - which appears as just an insignificant dot on nautical charts of the Straits of Mackinac - would not be well suited for long-term human habitation. In fact, I suspect that all or much of the island might be periodically submerged, as the natural fauna seems to consist only of grasses and small scrub brush. Besides, the Straits of Mackinac produce high winds much of the year, and a person would need to be quite hardy to scratch out a life on this desolate stretch of rock and sand.

And how would a person be able to receive quality HDTV signals on such a technology-challenged rock?

May 14, 2010

Mackinac Bridge

We took a few minutes today on our trip home from Sault Ste. Marie to pull off Interstate 75 just north of the Mackinac Bridge to view up close this engineering marvel. I think I have traveled over the bridge fifteen times in my life, but I never really paused to study the longest suspension bridge between anchorages in the Western Hemisphere. This bridge carried over four million vehicles per year on journeys between Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

On the north shore of the Straits of Mackinac just before the bridge's toll booth there is a visitor center with some detailed information on the construction of the Mackinac Bridge. Five workers died during the construction of the 5-mile-long causeway and bridge, and the $99 million construction cost of the bridge - which opened in 1957 - would translate into over $700 million in inflation-adjusted U.S. dollars today.

I have long understood the power of the strong winds that often whip through the Straits of Mackinac, but standing on the shore reinforced my appreciation for the wild gusts that sometimes appear. The wind was so strong that my door closed on my leg while getting out of our van, and I estimate the gusts today were in the 40-45 mph range: a person need not worry about purchasing fitness equipment in the ongoing battle against such winds. Though today was mild mid-May weather in the rest of the state, in the Straits of Mackinac the winds still felt like frigid March gales.

May 13, 2010

Soo Locks - Federal Mackinac

(Sault Ste. Marie, MI) Ever since I was a child growing up in Detroit I have been fascinated with the massive freighters that traverse Great Lakes waterways. While finding myself with a few minutes to kill this afternoon in Sault Ste. Marie I spotted the Federal Mackinac, a cargo freighter flagged in the Marshall Islands, passing through the Soo Locks.

This vessel is especially large, with over 27,000 metric tons of displacement and boasting a hull over 600 feet in length. Built in 2004 in China, this freighter possesses three cranes that are each capable of hoisting 30-MT loads.

Interestingly, my enthusiasm to photograph the freighter caught the attention of an armed Homeland Security official in a white Border Patrol SUV. I suppose I was technically violating the demarcated Homeland Security Zone space by sticking my arms and camera through the fence to take this image, but it was a bit surreal for me to see such a strong federal presence in a region that is not exactly a hotbed of terrorism.

Hey man: no harm, no foul, and just taking pictures here, mister.

May 12, 2010

Rapid Rhetoric: HASTATE

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.

hastate (HAS-tayt) a. (botany) possessing the shape of spear point but with the basal lobes pointing outward at right angles; shaped like a spear point with pointed lobes at the base.

I came across the term hastate in a horticultural book, and it might be easier to simply show a picture of a leaf with hastate features than to try to explain this shape:

Left: a leaf with a hastate shape

The term is Latin in origin, derived from the word hasta ("spear"). The use of the term hastate to describe leaf shapes probably owes something to the similarity in shape of the medieval battle weapon known as the halberd.

May 11, 2010

Interesting Retail Clothing Innovation

For as long as I can remember, new dress shirts always came with 6-10 straight pins inserted to help the clothing article stay together during shipment. On more than one occasion in my life I have started to put on a new shirt only to be stabbed by a straight pin that lurked in a place I had not considered to look.

I traveled to a local department store to purchase a new dress shirt for a job interview I have this week, and when I returned home I was pleased to discover that the usual straight pins had been replaced by metallic objects that somewhat resemble thick paper clips (see image). The ends of the half-clips have a rounded ball, meaning that I would have to work very diligently to stab myself with one of these devices.

Of course, if I do not land the aforementioned academic position, I can always blame the break in tradition represented by the manufacturer's replacement of the time-honored straight pins with these mbɛn-shaped clips.


May 10, 2010

Black and White Cabs

You will not be able to see in this image, but at the moment I pulled into the Rite Aid parking lot near Secor and Monroe there were a total of six vehicles bearing the logo of the Black and White Cab Co. I often see these cab drivers parked at this location, and I have wondered what the appeal is for this particular Rite Aid to attract so many cabbies.

My wife thinks that the lot has a central location in the Toledo area, and certainly the lot's close proximity to Interstate 475 offers the cab drivers easy access to the Toledo freeway loop. This pharmacy is also close to the Toledo Hospital, Westfield Franklin Park, and the University of Toledo.

One of these days I will make it a point to stop and chat with a few cabbies and learn the secret. Maybe the real reason this place is heavily trafficked by cab drivers is that it is a stone's throw from Netty's Hot Dogs, the ultimate in eating-on-the-go.

May 8, 2010

Jesus Saves Stock Car Drivers

I came across an interesting sight on southbound Interstate 75 near Monroe, MI. Pictured on your left is a box truck towing a stock car, and emblazoned on the rear spoiler of the racing machine are the words "JESUS SAVES." In the cab of the truck were two men who probably can best be described as "good old boys," a pair of baseball cap wearing, sleeveless T-shirt types drinking Mountain Dew on a hot spring afternoon likely en route to a weekend race at the Toledo Speedway, which was hosting the Valvoline Summer Racing Series until the storms cancelled the event.

Now, it is not the fact that these motor sport enthusiasts chose to express their religious beliefs on their vehicle that amused me. Instead, it is the plethora of safety gear on the stock car that seems to be the hedging of a bet: if indeed a driver can count on the saving grace of Jesus, why bother retrofitting the vehicle to prevent accident-based injuries?

Just askin'.

May 7, 2010

Police Arrest Keith Sadler and Toledo Foreclosure Defense League Supporters

Left: still of arrest from video inside house

The Wood County Sheriff sent the S.W.A.T team at approximately 6:30 am this morning to arrest the barricaded Keith Sadler at his foreclosed home in Stony Ridge. Local news media outlets have not yet reported on the situation, but Keith's cameras recorded the first minutes of the arrests before a deputy shut off the camera.

Update 7:55 am: WTOL just reported that "several supporters" had been arrested, but that Keith Sadler is still in the house. The reporter on the scene said that the group used PVC piping to link themselves together.

And to the person who emailed me: no, I will not be driving out there this morning.

Update 9:10 am: Keith and the supporters in the house have been arrested and transported to the Wood County Jail. Initial reports said that no one outside the house was arrested, but WNWO is reporting that protesters outside were also arrested.

Update 9:48 am: WTOL is reporting that Keith and the other arrested supported will be arraigned via video in Perrysburg Municipal Court later today (no time announced). No word yet on the exact charges that will be filed, and at this point WNWO is the only media outlet reporting that the people arrested includes protesters outside the home.

Update 9:58 am: WTVG reports the total number of arrested people at six, which would match the number or protesters originally barricaded in the house.

Update 10:11 am: The Toledo Blade has an interesting photo of Keith Sadler being carried out of the house:

Left: photo of the arrest of Keith Sadler courtesy of Toledo Blade/Dave Zapotosky

In the picture Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn is marching in front of the officers carrying the shackled Sadler out of the house. I suspect that this image will not hurt the sheriff among law-and-order voters in his reelection efforts this fall.

Update 11:25 am: The Toledo Blade is now reporting that seven people have been arrested, which indicates that at least one outside protester was also jailed with Keith and the supporters inside the house. Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said that the seven people face misdemeanor charges of obstructing justice and trespassing. The Blade said that they would appear in Perrysburg Municipal Court after 1:30 pm, but one of the commenters on the UStream site said that at least one of the arrested protesters is already in court.

Update 11:37 am: One of the commenters at the UStream site said that police would not allow activist Wesley Flowers to retrieve his shoes, and that he had to hitchhike barefoot to the Wood County Jail for the followup protest. The commenter indicated that Flowers was also stopped by sheriff's deputies while hitchhiking, but that he was not arrested.

Update 12:18 pm: Jan Larson of the BG Sentinel-Tribune has by far the best coverage to date of the arrest of Keith Sadler and the TFDL activists. The reporter took the time to talk with quite a few people on both sides, and the report is quite balanced. Larson also noted that Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn originally planned to raid the house next week, thinking that media attention would die down, but that plans by the activists to set up for events attracting large groups prompted him to commence the raid this morning. Lots interesting quotes and observations - recommended reading.

Update 12:28 pm: A commenter on the Ustream site indicated that there will be a "Solidarity Rally" at 1:00 pm for Keith Sadler and the arrested supporters at the Wood County Jail, which is located at 1690 E. Gypsy Lane in Bowling Green, OH.

Update 12:39 pm: Commenters on the UStream site indicated that the potluck dinner is still on for tonight, but that it has been relocated to the United Christian Fellowship in Bowling Green, OH, which is located at 313 Thurston St.

Update: 2:03 pm: Commenters on the UStream site who have been in phone contact with the arrested protesters think that the court will decide by 2:30 pm whether or not to free the jailed activists. The speculation is that the sheriff will press to keep them jailed at least for the weekend to reduce the likelihood that they will engage in another act of civil disobedience. Of course, others might view this as a ploy to stifle free speech, as there are plans for a gathering tonight in Bowling Green.

Update 2:19 pm: The court will release the arrested protesters today, according to Lance Crandall, media spokesperson for the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League. Good news for freedom of speech, though I think that the group members ought to tread carefully in Wood County the next few days. Just sayin'...

Update 2:33 pm: Reminder - the planned potluck dinner has been relocated to the United Christian Fellowship Community Center in Bowling Green, OH, which is located at 313 Thurston St. Do NOT go to the foreclosed home on Fremont Pike, as you will likely face arrest for trespassing. Be forewarned, folks.

Update 3:03 pm: All defendants were released their own recognizance instead of being forced to post bail, which indicates that the sheriff and prosecutors likely do not want jailed martyrs on their hands. Pretrial hearings for the arrested activists have not yet been scheduled.

Update 5:25 pm: Passing along an email from a friend of Keith who is disturbed by the misconceptions about Keith and his protest:

Keith Sadler is a friend of mine, a committed activist and a good union brother in the UAW. He and his fellow squatters knew how this house occupation would end, but I don't think he realized how many lies would be told about him in the news media.

Lie #1: Keith is a freeloader. Not true, he did not ask to get the house for free but negotiated with the bank to change the terms of his mortgage loan to reflect his diminished financial circumstances. After four months in arrears, the bank foreclosed on his mortgage. Keith has paid about $40 thousand dollars on this house, which sold at auction for $33 thousand. To all you numb skulls who say that Keith is a freeloader, consider this: Keith is getting free room and board in jail. So, if you can't stand that idea, call the Wood County Jail at 419-354-7744 and ask that Freeloader Keith be put on the streets again. Keith is not a freeloader, he took the best job he could find with his disability, which was working for the US Census.

Lie #2: Keith hasn't made a house payment in two years (I hear this on every news cast for all the TV news stations). If a bank forecloses on your house, are you going to keep sending them money? No rational person would do so. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of homes in the Toledo area where homeowners have simply stopped paying their mortgages because the bank will not work with them and have begun foreclosure proceedings. The fact is you can subtract 5 months from this so-called two years of non-payment because the Keith was supposed to be evicted in January. Even so, after five months the bank can only find a Xerox copy of Keith's mortgage. How would you like to be evicted by a Xerox copy? I guess a Xerox copy is all you need to evict somebody or you can also BUY a tax lien from the State for pennies and then evict somebody from their home even though you are not a State....this is incredible stuff happening. Pay attention people.

Lie #3: Keith broke a sacred contract (didn't keep his word) by frivolously not paying his house note (probably took a vacation to see the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, right, rightwingers?) Well in the Auto Industry, the bosses always reopen UAW our labor contract whenever their "competitive situation" deteriorates. Likewise the city of Toledo is in financial straights and wants to take concessions from the city workers, firefighters and cops. Are these not examples of breaking a sacred contract? Oh, but those banksters at Bank of American, JP MorganChase and other wall street monsters have to get their bonuses, don't they? Because that's a sacred contract.

Why can't banks accept that people are in worse situations when they injured, sick, or laid off from a depressed economy that was spun into the gutter by super-sized banks that gambled with money their depositors trusted them with?

Keith did this occupation in the hope of publicizing the need for a moratorium on home foreclosures. This is not a radical idea that Keith cooked up in his head. The governor of Michigan has also called for this generalized emergency moratorium.

George Windau, friend of Keith and member UAW Local 12

More updates as news becomes available.

May 6, 2010

Potluck Cookout to Support Keith Sadler and Toledo Foreclosure Defense League

Addendum, May 7: the arrest of Keith Sadler and his supporters has brought about a change in the planned potluck dinner. It has been relocated to the United Christian Fellowship Community Center in Bowling Green, OH, which is located at 313 Thurston St. Do NOT go to the foreclosed home, as you will likely face arrest for trespassing.

Passing along information from a flyer forwarded to me by supporters of Keith Sadler and the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League. There will be a cookout this Friday, May 7 at the house in which Keith and six activists are barricaded.

The sponsors of the cookout encourage people facing foreclosure (or those who have been evicted from their homes) to bring their stories and perhaps a dish to share. The potluck dinner will be from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm at the house, which is located at 5947 Fremont Pike in Stony Ridge, OH. If you are traveling via Interstate 75, exit at US-20/23 and drive east about six miles. The house is located at the corner of Fremont Pike and East Broadway.

And for all you angry folks who have posted on this blog or emailed me your ravenous desires to see Keith and his supporters dragged off to jail and/or mercilessly hammered by the Wood County Sheriff's S.W.A.T. team, maybe you will get lucky that day.

Or perhaps you might spend a few minutes and talk peacefully with everyday people who are concerned about the American foreclosure crisis.

It's up to you; just remember I am only passing along information on this blog, and that my own political views do not necessarily coincide with those of the Toledo Defense Foreclosure League. I have mostly been writing about this topic because it interests me on a human level, and if you have issues about something one of the activists said, you might take it up with them.

Of course, it is much easier to fire off a bunch of anonymous violence-laden rantings as a member of the American Keyboard Commando Brigade than to actually take a drive and meet these folks face-to-face, or - God forbid - you start your own blog and publish your words like a person with some cajones.

May 5, 2010

On American Goldfinches and an Early Spring

I have been trying for over a week to get a decent picture of one of the American goldfinches that recently returned to my neighborhood. On Monday I heard one of these goldfinches singing a melodic call, and I located the bird at my thistle seed bird feeder. Unfortunately, by the time I fetched my digital camera and returned outside, my neighbor had fired up his weed whacker, frightening away the goldfinch.

Today was more fortuitous, and there were at least four goldfinches flitting around as I cut the grass and planted more seeds. I lucked out after sending the dogs inside, and I wound up with a dozen or more eye-catching images.

Northwest Ohio is in an area where the American goldfinch is supposed to be a permanent resident, but I never see them in the winter. I suspect they migrate either to open fields or wooded areas in search of food supplies, and some may migrate to southern Ohio in their pursuit of sustenance.

I typically see goldfinches en masse when my sunflowers bloom, and they piggishly feast on the sunflower heads in August. I am not sure if the early arrival of the goldfinches is due to our unusually warm spring, or if they have become habituated to the thistle seed I provide. They certainly have little use for a weight loss diet, given their active lifestyles and the heavy competition for bird feeders.

Either way, their cheerful melodies are a welcome addition to the collection of tunes that the other songbirds provide around here.

May 4, 2010

On Keith Sadler, the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League, and the Foreclosure Crisis

Left: the property that was once the home of the barricaded Keith Sadler

When I first heard yesterday about the decision by Keith Sadler to barricade himself inside his foreclosed house, I thought I would pass on writing about the situation. After all, I reasoned, most of the local media had already weighed in on the matter, and I have a ton of exams to grade, and I have some daylilies to plant.

Excuses ad nauseum.

However, after reading some of the news pieces and scratching my head at the misleading and superficial coverage, I decided to take a drive out to Stony Ridge and talk with Keith and his supporters in the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League.

I should add that I have met Keith Sadler at least a half-dozen times in my work as a journalist, and I have known him to be a tireless activist for many causes. Though I am sure I disagree with him on many issues, I sympathize with his plight, and he has been taking a shellacking from misinformed people in the media and the blogosphere the past few days. However, at least the story is gaining some significant traction, and at last count Google News lists 142 media outlets carrying the story in some form. Gauging from the jump in site traffic on my own site from the initial posting of this article, it is clear that Keith Sadler's actions have attracted a great deal of attention.

Keith has been joined in his protest by over a dozen supporters, five of whom are sealed in the house he once called his home.

Left: tents housing supporters of Keith Sadler

In talking with a young man named Tyler, I speculated as to what might be the strategy of Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn, the man charged with carrying out the eviction order.

"If he's trying to wait us out, he'll be waiting a long time," Tyler said.

Indeed, in the two hours I talked with people and took pictures at the Fremont Pike home, several people arrived with food and other supplies. A well-heeled local business contractor brought several cases of bottled water for the group, a reminder that that the issue of the American foreclosure crisis crosses many ideological boundaries.

The barricaded house sits at the junction of East Broadway and US-20 in this sleepy rural hamlet, and honking horns of supportive motorists interrupted the morning songs of cardinals and robins. Activist Wesley Flowers noted that a number of other homeowners in foreclosure have stopped by in the past two days to offer support, and that Keith's house will join several other vacant homes in Stony Ridge.

"This lovely little slice of Americana is going to end up looking like the worst neighborhoods in Toledo's North End if the foreclosure crisis continues," he observed.

One of the chief misconceptions that people have about Keith Sadler is that he is "trying to get something for nothing," said Flowers.

"Keith is not trying to to get a free house from the bank. He tried to negotiate a mutually beneficial plan with the bank and failed," he said. "Foreclosure is going to happen to him, he knows this, and all he is trying to do is make a statement about the plight of millions of Americans like him."

The real estate marketer RealtyTrac noted that almost 10 percent of American mortgages are in some stage of delinquency, and across the country foreclosure filings on 2.8 million properties occurred in 2009. This figure is up 21 percent from 2008 and a whopping 120 percent from 2007.

Left: protest signs in front of Keith Sadler's foreclosed home

The record number of foreclosures, noted Flowers, is also having deleterious ripple effects in other areas of the local economy.

"Groups like food banks and homeless shelters face demands far beyond their capacities, and local and state governments have been disinclined to provide extra help to marginalized groups like the homeless," Flowers said. "In 2008 in Lucas County approximately 1,937 people competed for the 400 beds available in homeless shelters, and from my conversations with local shelters, the number of homeless is exponentially worse."

In my own middle class neighborhood in West Toledo, there are almost 1,700 homes in some stage of foreclosure. On my street there are quite a few vacant houses, which was a rare sight before 2008, and I have a vacant house right next door to my own. While staunch defenders of private property rights might cringe at Keith Sadler's radical tactics, his actions are certainly sparking additional debate about the largely unsolved problem about the many millions of vacant residential properties in the United States.

The Toledo Foreclosure Defense League has a UStream account set up for video updates. People who want to help Keith Sadler and his supporters are encouraged to stop by the house at 5947 Fremont Pike with food and beverages, and anyone who wants to carry a picket is welcome to do so.

May 3, 2010

Springtime Arrival of the Crane Fly

Generally I see the freaky-looking crane fly make its first appearance in my area around the end of May, but the weather here in Northwest Ohio has been quite warm for many weeks. I think spring arrived at least two weeks early this year, and I took advantage of the warm weather to start sowing seeds in mid-April.

Often mistaken for giant mosquitoes, crane flies do not bite humans and are harmless. Still, I did a nervous double-take when this impressive-sized member of the family Tipulidae landed on the ball cap I just took off my head. The body of this arthropod measured well over an inch, and the wingspan of the insect was over two inches in length.

Of course, the creature was no match for the one-pound World War II text I used to send it to Tipuloidea Valhalla, and if it had plans to send out wedding invitations to its insect friends, these plans fell apart in an instant.

May 1, 2010

A Panic Attack Story

Left: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems

At some point in my adult life I began to experience panic attacks, those inexplicable sympathetic nervous system events where the fight-or-flight response goes berserk. Over the past decade the number of panic attacks I experienced has gradually increased, and I probably average one every 2-3 months or so.

Sometimes these attacks are fairly mild, limiting themselves to a racing heartbeat, sweating, nausea, and/or a sense of dread. I usually work through these milder episodes without being much more than inconvenienced, and sometimes I can talk myself through the irrational thoughts that accompany a milder panic attack.

Then there are the panic attacks where I become almost paralyzed with fear, like the one I experienced this afternoon. I am writing about this intensely frightening episode for two reasons: one as an exercise in personal catharsis of my irrational-but-very-real demons, and a second to reach out to other panic attack sufferers in a spirit of solidarity and information exchange. Perhaps by passing along tips and strategies that work we might assist each other in getting a better handle on future panic attacks.

I went out to lunch with my wife, and as we drove home I felt some heart palpitations. She dropped me off and then went to do some shopping, and I remember telling her that everything was fine, and indeed it seemed that the momentary racing of my heart was just a passing physiological quirk.

I walked into the kitchen and started doing the dishes, and then I became convinced that a someone (or someones) meaning me harm were in the house with me. Of course, no matter how many times I looked behind me, there was no one there, but rational thinking is superseded by the rapidly growing fear.

I sat down in a chair and stared at the closet door, which was open a crack. Thanks to my adrenaline-filled nervous system I imagined that someone was watching me from behind this door. This is when the panic attack kicked into overdrive, and for about 15 minutes I was in that near-paralytic state where every shadow movement (real or imagined in the normal afternoon lighting) was the first step in the last minutes of my life.

It is difficult to describe the confluence of dread, fright, and anger that result from the overdose of adrenaline in such a severe attack. My fears were somewhat vague beyond "someone is going to do me harm," and my invented tormentors did not have names. For a few minutes they were faceless police officers after me for some petty traffic infraction I imagined they wanted me for, and then I began to believe that the unseen interlopers meant to kill me because of something I said or wrote.

Again, logic falls by the wayside in this clenched-fists, gritted-teeth state.

After the episode peaked, I managed to call my wife to hear a human voice and to try to hasten my return to reality. All told the worst of the attack lasted about 30 minutes, though the nausea stuck with me for another two hours.

Later I can almost laugh at the temporary insanity, and I can list dozens of pieces of data that my mind chose to ignore in its chemically-driven derealization:

* My dogs were not barking.
* There was no one in the closet.
* There was no one in any room of the house.

And so on. Yet during the adrenaline-fueled psychosis rational thought seems like a tiny voice in a cacophony of irrationality.

For me panic attacks are most likely to occur when the following factors come into play:

1. I am sleep-deprived and exhausted (my system is already stressed).
2. I compensate for sleep deprivation with extra coffee (chemical volatility and nervous system stimulant).
3. I am alone in the house (no one there to help me stay anchored).

On two occasions panic attacks occurred while driving. One time the attack was so severe that I could not drive across a mile-long section of elevated highway and I parked on the shoulder until it passed, while the other time I managed to grit my teeth and drive the remaining two miles back to my house.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to post suggestions, tips, panic attack experiences, or any other thoughts related to the topic. I look forward to reading the thoughts of other people plagued by panic attacks, as well as any information folks might like to share about the topic.