Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Big Brother is alive and well

A fun Doonesbury from last Sunday. And it rings especially true after this weekend.

It appears Big Brother is watching us all, and he's using 9/11 as an excuse.

Perhaps you've heard: the president has been illegally spying on Americans since 2002. It came out before the weekend in the New York Times, and people are talking.

The Bush folks are claiming the Congress's approval of the use of force against terrorists cancels all applicable laws that made this spying illegal. They also say we should trust them with the powers we have given them.

I don't know about you, but I've read my history books. And this just seems like a big mistake.

My biggest contention is that this spying, along with the we'll-find-out-what-books-you're-reading provisions of the "Patriot" Act, smakes of a bully government. Sure, they could be looking for terrorists. But they could also use these powers to spy on groups and individuals it doesn't like.

Think Nixon (one of the reasons why spy-prevention measures were put into law in the first place).

And hey, if people in government would just do their jobs, most terrorist could be thwarted. You don't need extra powers to fight these maniacs. Look at the Millenium Bombing in L.A. Someone at a border check noticed something suspicious, and the whole terrorist plot was capsized. Too often someone falls asleep at the switch, and *boom* we have a disaster.

We have more to fear from the disease of ineptitude than any bird flu pandemic.

Most of the spying Bush wanted to do could've been made legal by a quick warrant and a handshake anyway. But, as is often the case with this administration, laws are sidestepped when they're deemed a nuisance. King George does what he wants. And this is a guy who supposedly supports the rule of law.

How it's supposed to happen: you don't like a law? Change it.

How it really happens: you don't like a law? Ignore it, and hope that no one finds out.

Thank goodness for the New York Times. They've shown the value of an independent and free press, one who is really a watchdog against governmental extremes and abuses. In all of this, the Times coverage is the only example of how the system is supposed to work. No wonder Jefferson said he'd rather have a free press than government.

And there's no need for a slippery-slope argument here (one contending that, if Bush could ignore a law against spying, he could possibly ignore laws against torture, murder, or even reading his neighbor's mail). The argument against this type of activity can be abbreviated to one name:


I don't trust this administration - or any administration - to use extra wartime powers responsibly. Power does funny things to people's sense of fairness and justice, and especially right and wrong.

And we're watching it happen every day.

Monday, December 12, 2005

*Click here to empty recycling bin*

This weekend, I strengthened my resolve to never let anything go to waste.

I was working at the Recycling Jackson drop-off site, a little cubby-hole of land where Jacksonites can drop off cans, bottles, newsprint, etc. to be recycled.

As a board member of Recycling Jackson, we're asked to volunteer a weekend or two a month to help out. No problem there - a little hard work never hurt anyone (but I learned that 16 and 17-year-olds hate volunteering their time, however - at least the ones I met).

Our organization is also starting an e-waste program, where folks can drop off old TVs, microwaves, and computers to be recycled or disposed of. Electronics tend to be stuffed with harmful gases and materials that can do some real damage to the environment, so the idea is we'll take care of it harm-free.

One lady pulls up in her van and drops off some computer equipment. I look in the back of her van and there glows, turquois-green, one of the original iMacs that Mr. Steve Jobs and company released unto the world in the late '90s.

"Does that thing still work?" I asked the lady.

"Yeah, our daughter used it, and we decided to upgrade," she said. "There's nothing wrong with it. It works fine."


I'm glad that there's a program to dispose of e-waste properly. I'm also glad that this lady didn't just chuck her Mac into the dumpster, smashing the screen and releasing who-knows-what into the atmosphere.

And I'm glad I got a free iMac. You betcha.

But then I thought, "Good Lord, is that what we've come to? A $1,000 piece of equipment is tossed in place of an updated version just a couple of years later?"

In other words, I have an issue with waste. Always have. I remember using the same waterbottle (an Aquafina 20 oz. model, I believe) through two years of my college career. When it got empty, I refilled it in the drinking fountain. It worked just fine.

I hate Styrafoam. I hate paper plates. And I really hate those new Swiffer dry mop thingies, where you use them and then toss the little static pad. What a waste.

Renner used to make fun of me for it. "We have a new czar of recycling," he used to tell me. "Don't you know some people say recycling uses more energy than it saves?"

This coming from the man who would make 200 copies of a three-page article for a 20-student class, and never went double-sided.

The idea that we can use something, throw it away after one use, and never look back disgusts me. But there is an opposite extreme. Take my gramma. She will use a hammer, lose it, and buy another one. Then she finds the old one. Now she's got a dozen hammers in her garage. She'll never run out as long as she's alive (unless she loses all of them - which is very possible).

So the system most of the world has in place - planned obsolescence, I believe it's called - just drives me crazy. I know that the iBook I just bought will be obsolete in a couple of years. And what can I do about it? Well, I can spend a butt-load to upgrade it, knowing that at some point all hardware reaches a ceiling. There's no durability. Not any more. All because companies want you to re-buy what they sell.

Take a lightbulb. There are lightbulbs out there that will last years and save you money over their lifetime. But most folks don't want to pay what they see as a higher price initially. It's madness! And some of the practices are downright sinister. Even Apple does it (here too)

Luckily there's a group of people out there who have found inventive ways to re-use electronics. Like making your iMac an aquarium.

So should my new seafoam beauty crash without the hope of recovery, I know I can make it into a great piece of urban art, like a Bauhausian kitty litter box. But it will not go to waste.

My car isn't the most stylish, or the fastest. But it sure gets me where I need to go. My clothes aren't that fashionable, and I often shop at Goodwill - and when I lose interest in an item, or it doesn't fit, I donate it back to Goodwill. It's a cycle.

There comes a time when a product's effectiveness and viability become absolutely terminal, and at that point I may replace it. But it better have lasted me a long time.

Give me something with a lifespan, damn it.

Or give me an iMac - and I'll put it to good use. I promise.

Monday, December 5, 2005

'Twas the fight before Christmas

Christmas, my friends, is under attack.

That's according to some in the media, like Bill O'Reilly, who've been taking the counter-fight to the ACLU and city councils all over America. According to these folks, there's a vast conspiracy (see: the left-wing media or homosexual agendas) to neuter Christmas.

Even in my local paper, one Jackson resident, Chris Markiewicz, said, "I think there is a movement afoot by a very small minority of people to totally secularize every aspect of the United States." He goes on to say there is a "real attack on Christian values in this country."

The thing is, this "fight" isn't a new one. Wackos have been battling the secular heathens for generations now. And do you know what? Christmas is still around.

To me, the killer is how people are trying to "preserve the sanctity" of Christmas (much like those who are trying to preserve marriage, right?), as if the rules governing our holidays were written in stone.

See if you agree: holidays are a means to escape from the everyday, the normal, the usual, and are a way to celebrate the things in life that really matter. Family, food, and iPods, right?

So why, in Santa's name, do we have to bring our partisan differences into the discussion about the holidays. Good will and peace toward men and women? Not this December.

Speaking of Santa. Do you know where the legend of Santa Claus came from? Most scholarship shows our treatment comes from Greek, Turkish, Dutch, and German (with some Russian thrown in) influences. There used to be no Santa Claus, Virginia, not until we made one up.

Clement C. Moore's "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" gave us the bearded jolly elf we all know and love today. The point is, Santa has changed. Quite a bit.

The same can be said for Christmas. Do some of your own research, just briefly, on the topic and you'll learn quite a bit. Holidays evolve, change, improve, whatever. Halloween wasn't always Halloween, for instance. So why are some so gung-ho to keep Christmas from evolving?

(Maybe my use of language gives some indication...)

Today, people have become aware that not everyone celebrates Christmas in the traditional Christian way. Jews, Muslims, and African Americans have their own take on the winter months. How do you get around the difficulty of wishing someone a good season without offending their religious leanings? Try this:

Happy Holidays! Seasons Greetings!

Man, that was tough. To some, you'd think I punched baby Jesus in the face by uttering those words.

But I didn't. I simply wished you a good December, however you celebrate it. And hey, I didn't say "Go fuck yourself." A "Happy Holidays" is much better than that, right?

Not to some.

Some businesses and towns take the whole thing a bit too far, I'll admit. Recently a man was chastised by his neighborhood association for putting up a nativity scene in his yard. That's silly. It's his property, he can display a bleeding pig heart on the cross for all I care.

One local businesswoman, working for Sears, was scared to show a reporter a memo from the corporate office saying employees couldn't say "Merry Christmas."

There are two ways to look at this:

1.) This is America. The employee can say whatever they damn well please.

2.) If you work for a company, you're bound by their regulations as an employee. If a company says you can't unionize, you can't unionize. If a company says you can't say "Merry Christmas," you can't say "Merry Christmas."

What's funny is the same folks who fight for corporate rights and the "free market" system are the same ones lambasting these companies for policies regarding holiday greetings. There's some inconsistency in the arguments.

My view? This is America. Say what you want. Just don't get pissed when I say "Happy Holidays" because (a) I'm not a Christian and (b) you feel I'm trying to "undermine Christian values."

Celebrate what you want. Just don't impose your own celebrations on others.

It's downright un-American. And it's not very Santa-like.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Monday, November 28, 2005

When Black Friday comes

Did you celebrate Buy Nothing Day?

I kind of did. And I feel all the better for it, especially after hearing the horror stories my boss shared this morning.

Black Friday - the Friday after Thanksgiving, and the "kick-off" to the shopping season- had its winners and losers. But some of us didn't even play the game.

Hurray for us.

People stealing items out of each others' carts? A little old lady getting trampled on her way into the fray? This is how we celebrate the holidays?

A lot has already been said about the crass-ness of the commercial holiday season, and how its all superficial and empty nowadays.

But I wonder: what if people put that same energy and passion into something that really mattered? Instead of getting all worked up over a stolen parking spot (as my boss saw that morning in the mall parking lot), why not devote your energy into something worthwhile?

I did the Black Friday thing once, in high school. Never again. Ignorance is bliss, I guess; I'd rather not know what happens on that day. It makes me feel better about being an American.

So since then, I've celebrated Adbusters' "Buy Nothing Day" campaign. When everyone else is out spending money, I sit my ass home (or, in the case of this year, in a movie theatre with gramma). The money you save just isn't worth the hassle, to me.

Besides, a trip to Meijer when I grocery shop is a battle enough. They ought to outfit those shopping carts with spikes and shields.

Have any horror stories?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What are you thankful for?

"Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." -- Matthew 5:3

- - - - -

What are you thankful for?

I'm thankful that a recent canned/non-perishable food drive we sponsored here at work was such a success.

Some background: One day, when I was a kid, my grandpa filled up a grocery bag full of food and stopped by Jackson's Interfaith Shelter for the homeless. He grabbed the bag from the back seat, told me to sit tight, and headed to the backdoor of the shelter where he handed a man the grocery bag.

I don't quite remember what he said when he got back to the car, but the point was made: do what you can, when you can, and all that you can, for those who can't do for themselves. It's an image that has lasted with me to this day, and speaks more to the giving spirit than any Bible quote.

I recently learned in my Rotary meetings that the shelter was having a tough time collecting food because everyone was giving to the hurricane relief effort. When big, national disasters happen, local charities tend to suffer.

So when my boss and I brainstormed small events we could do at our new Vandercook Branch, I thought we could sponsor a canned food drive to help fill Interfaith's winter stock. We made up flyers and attached them to a local grocer's paper bags, telling our members to fill the bags with non-perishables and return them to the branch, so we could fill our American 1 van up with food.

The van wasn't entirely filled, like I had hoped, but we did collect quite a bit from members and employees.

Our CEO also gave us $200 to go shopping with. I pitched in enough to get two giant coffee cans (hey - no one should go without) and a palette full of baby food. Above is what the van looked like after we filled it.

When we dropped all the goods off last Friday, the folks at the shelter were helpful, friendly, and appreciative. They even helped us unload the food. One old guy even had a "bad ticker," but he climped the two flights of stairs to the pantry just like the rest of us.

I don't mind getting mushy. When we pulled out of the shelter's driveway, I couldn't help feeling proud and thankful that we had the means and the wherewithal to help the homeless in Jackson. It's just a small token - lord knows all of us could afford to help more - but it's something.

Lisa, Kristi, and I outside the Interfaith Shelter.

Mother Theresa said "Never turn your back to the poor. For in turning your back to the poor you are turning it to Jesus Christ." So I think instead of being so concerned with giving gifts to everyone this Christmas, I'm going to concentrate on giving to those who don't have anything ("Where your treasure is, so is your heart," Jesus said).

I've got enough crap. I don't want for anything. So please - any thoughts of exchanging presents this year, just make a donation to your local homeless shelter. Instead of giving your family members a gift certificate in their stockings, give a donation to a deserving cause and let your family member know you made it in their name.

And don't keep your generosity limited to December - keep it going all year.

Even a bag of groceries, maybe every month of so, would help out so much. It's what I learned so many years ago, and it's what I'm thankful for this holiday weekend.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Mac daddy.

I made love to my new iBook on Tuesday night.

That was our first night together - a magical time, filled with lust and exploration.

...okay, so no love-making. But I'm thoroughly impressed.

I went ahead, last Thursday, and bought the iBook G4. I didn't get the PowerBook, like I had originally planned, because it was a bit too expensive and I didn't really need all that computing power.

Right now I'm surfing speedily along on the internet via a wireless connection at the Thunderbird Coffee House. It was so easy, and the connection is so fast. You can't get this kind of service at home. Plus the coffee is good.

What I ordered: iBook G4, wireless mouse, Microsoft Office.

The funny thing is all this stuff came seperately. I got the mouse first, then the Mac (it was like Christmas when I saw the box sitting on my coffee table), then the Office. But whatever, it came.

It's been a bit of an adjustment, with this OS X "Tiger" stuff. For instance - I miss the litte bar at the bottom of Windows that you can just click to bring the window up. On a Mac, they're all stacked on top of each other, or on the dock (the little menu at the bottom). And so many things I take for granted on a PC - alt+ctrl+delete say - I'm having to re-learn here.

But it's a beauty. My iBook has this cool thing called Dashboard. You click it, and up pops a bunch of mini programs. The time, a sticky-note pad, a system resources monitor - all right up front. Plus I downloaded such nifty "Widgets" as an English/German translator, a cocktail recipe program (just type in "Cosmopolitan" and it gives you in the ingredients), a window that notifies my when I receive my Gmail, and a little version of Pac-Man.

There's also the standards: iTunes, iDVD, the web browser Safari, and Garage Band, a program that lets you write and play your own music. I haven't experimented with that just yet.

The machine itself is gorgeous. Slick whites and greys with the little glowing apple on the back - plus the trackpad has scrolling capabilities when you use two fingers. And finally - finally! - I can burn my own damn CDs.

Yes, life is good. I've been playing with my iBook all week (including a super-late night on Tuesday; I was up until 1:30 a.m.) and am learning new things every day. Eventually I'll pick up some sort of "how-to" instructions, but for now I just want to play.

And the Mac lets me.

Know some tricks? Be sure and let me know, because there's so much I don't know.

Oh, and thanks to everyone who provided feedback. It really was a tough choice. But now I've got everything (the Office software, especially) to be productive and do what I want, and at about the same price as the PCs I was looking at.

Now if I can just find Illustrator or PhotoShop dirty cheap somewhere...

Monday, November 14, 2005

Bake it and they will come

When less than half of the American people actively participate (read: vote) in the politics of their country, it is often imperitive to provide an incentive for involvement.

My solution? Cookies.

I've found that a tasty incentive for citizens to take interest in all things civic are merely a hot oven away.

During my tenure as Adrian College's Student Government Association, oh so many years ago, I was faced with dwindling student interest in the organization that represents student interests. Say what you will about the effectiveness or even relevance of the organization - SGA was still the only student-run organization that had the budget and the responsibility to Get Things Done. Faced with disinterest and apathy on campus, I thought, "What would draw me to a meeting?"

My answer was treats. If you can't involve students in their own governance on ideals alone, you can entice them into participation by the governing will of their collective sweet tooth.

Bake it and they will come.

And come they did. Our student attendence in SGA meetings from 2001 to 2002 rose steadily, and I think it was because of the cookies (and punch and, often, cider) we provided. An A-frame sign on the mall, announcing when and where meeting were held, was also effective, but it lacked the romance and allure of chocolate chips and sprinkles. I was lucky to have an executive board with the foresight (and creativity) to make it all happen. And frankly, they liked cookies, too.

I can hear the arguments already. "But Dave," you may be asking, "shouldn't participation in governing bodies be an incentive enough? Didn't Plato warn that one's apathy toward government runs the risk of being governed by one's inferiors? Should cookies be a last resort?"

My answer is yes. But my counter-question would be: what do you know that works better than cookies?

Also: what could contribute more to the enjoyment and warm glow of budget items and bylaw debates than snacks? I would also ask, if a governing body can afford and provide a simple alternative to coersion, why not?

(The cookies I brought to last night's ATO meeting were a hit. They even won an award - the first inanimate objects, I believe, to win - and earned a parking spot in the house's driveway. Too bad there were none left by meeting's end.)

I read one writer propose that our Election Day should be a national holiday. Give everyone the day off of work (like Thanksgiving or Labor Day) and they will more likely get out and vote.

I would add cookies to that equation. When I went to vote this past Tuesday, the volunteers were friendly and the voting center was sheltered from the wind and cold, sure, but where were the treats? Where was the steaming coffee and the cinnamon-and-sugared donuts? I would more gladly perform my patriotic duty with a full belly and a caffeine buzz. What would it cost? A few dollars, maybe?

The rewards would be far greater than gustational happiness, I think.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The world start shakin' me down (Collective Soul live)

Yeah, they were pretty cool.

Went to Mt. Clemens and the Emerald Theater to see Collective Soul last night.

I've been wanting to see CS for years now. I had a chance the summer of '01, with Driver and Neff, but I think I was having girlfriend issues. I missed my chance either way.

Then, with their new album Youth, I saw they were going on tour. But the closest venues were in Toronto and Chicago.

So finally, via my handy weekly e-mail from Ticketmaster, I saw they were coming somewhere closer. Thank goodness.

Ed Roland and the gang put on a great show - I heard everything I wanted to hear, including an extended, "everyone sing!" version of "Better Now," the best song on the new album, I think.

The new album is a bit glossy, much like Blender before it. But CS seems to have found a formula - great sing-along rock/pop tunes - and it has seemed to work. Everyone knows a Collective Soul song, whether they realize it or not.

Collective Soul is a fun band - both to listen to and to watch. I'm glad I finally got a chance to do the latter.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

If it's a lie, terrorists made me say it

Senator John McCain is sponsoring a bill to abolish torture, in any respect, by American service personnel.

It seems McCain, better than anyone in the Bush administration (who threatens to veto any anti-torture legislation), would know something about the subject. He was a POW, and was tortured.

I read a column where Leonard Pitts asked "Why should American turn to the moral standards of the supposed terrorists?" In other words: some argue we should torture terrorists because they torture victims. Does that make us equal with terrorists?

And frankly, does torture even work?

I find it appalling that America would stoop to the same techniques that Saddam Hussein and the current North Korean regime used/use to abuse their citizens. Terrorists, American citizen, or even some bum off the street - everyone deserves fair and humane treatment by the supposed "Defender of Freedom and Liberty."

Secret prisons, off-shore detention facilities - it all seems so sneaky and underhanded. If these terrorists and criminals have broken the law, American or international, they you should give them the same fair trial and humane treatment that any red-blooded American receives.

If they're guilty, then punish them accordingly. But only after the conviction.

Write your congress person and senator and tell them to support McCain's bill.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

To Mac, or not to Mac

Think Different?

I'm thinking about it.

Ever since I graduated I've wanted to invest in some sort of computer. A laptop, I figured, would give me greater flexibility - especially with all the traveling I do. Plus, with all the local coffee shops having wi-fi, I don't need a pokey phone line to do what I need online.

But which way to go? A customized Dell/Gateway? A store-bought hunk of junk I can get for pretty cheap? eBay?

Then I read an article on the Mac Mini, a micro-Mac that only costs $500 (but comes with nothing else - just the CPU). After that, much like Newton, I had Apple on the brain.

I've heard over and over how Macs are the way to go for graphic designers. And artsy-fartsy folks. And hippies. I'm a graphic designer of sorts (I've been longing to do some freelance work, but don't really have the system or the resources to do it), so the Mac could help me. Right?

And darn it, Macs just look so cool. That glowing apple on the reverse side of the laptop screen. It's like it talks to me. "Dave," it whispers. "I glow. You glow. Let's glow together."

Wouldn't I like to be one of those hipsters, sipping on my double-shot coffee and not-right-clicking my way through the Web? Isn't this how capitalism and consumerism works: the need (emotional, spiritual, physical) to have that beautiful piece of plastic in my quaking hands?

Apple is doing well these days. Look at the iPod. Everyone's got one strapped to their arm as they jog around whatever hip city they live in. Who owns just a plain MP3 player? No one! This is the age of iPod.

It's tribal, man. There are the "in crowd," and then there are PC users. Some, however, have "switcher's remorse." That, I think, is what I'm apprehensive about. I know, in my heart and soul, PCs. I grew up tinkering with my dad's Packard Bell (remember those?), often wrecking the damn thing while I navigated through its folders, Windows 3.1, and alien-infested hallways (I was a big "Doom" player). Here at work, I'm kind of the tech-guy for my building. We have an IT department here at the credit union, but they're all the way across the street.

"Dave, how do you do this-and-this in Word/Excel/Outlook/etc.?"

I breathe PCs.

So why make the switch?

The value is in the journey (or something like that), as they say, and this little trek has put my brain to good use.

And I've already been approved by Apple's financing department. After a mere mouse click, I can own an iBook, PowerBook, Mac Mini, whatever. Just one little finger muscle twitch, and I'd be One of Them.

Think different? Join the revolution?

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Education is work

"There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature.  Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."

- George Washington, 1790

* * * * *

The Jackson Citizen Patriot included a spelling bee supplement called "Paideia" (pronounced pie-DAY-uh), full of words like "peregrination" and "rhinencephalon" that kids intend on participating in the bee could study, learn, and practice.

Grandma and I thought it would be fun to - once a week - take a category of words in the supplement and test each other. One week, I would test her - count the words she had spelled correctly, and score her appropriately - and the next week she would test me. But these words were tough. We could hardly pronounce many of them, let alone spell them.

"Paideia" is a Greek term meaning the "general learning that should be the possession of all human beings." It has similar origins to "pedagogy" (teaching) and "pediatrics" (children's medicine). The idea is to foster a love of learning and to broaden a "enlightened mature outlook" in children.

No matter how tough the words were, my grandma and I pressed on, quizzing each other on words like "perestroika" and "sesquicentennial" to see how far we could get.

We believe, whole-heartedly, in the idea of "paideia." Sadly, we feel like we're becoming the minority.

* * * * *

Newly-elected President Washington's address to Congress can be framed with the outlooks of the other founding fathers. Products of the Enlightenment, Washington, Franklin, and especially Jefferson believed that the young country's population would do best to educate itself if it wanted to participate in this refurbished idea of democracy. Say what you will about the religious attitudes of the group, but the founding fathers held education as one of the most important products of a self-governing society.

"A nation wishing to be ignorant and free," Jefferson famously wrote, "expects what never was and never will be."

Being stupid, in other words, it unpatriotic.

So why is it that so many Americans act like their allergic to knowledge and education? Ask any 10th grader today if they would rather be doing homework or...well...anything else, and they will probably pick the "anything else." Why?

Or even if some students are focused on their homework, it's more than likely a competitive issue. Many college's, after all, don't admit dunces. You have to have the grades to "prove" your college-ready.

My grandma thinks that most students are merely "putting in their time." Sure, they pass high school in the top percentile of their class. But do they learn anything?

* * * * *

I had a heated debate with a gentleman from Jackson's high school Career Center, a vocational training center designed to teach students skills they can use in the job market if they don't plan to attend college.

His contention: that high schools need to focus more on vocational training in the classroom. After all, he said, how can our students compete in the global marketplace if they don't have the job skills needed to perform well as employees?

He gave an example. What is a geology teacher, he asked, doing teaching kids about rocks and soil when they could possibly never use the information in their lifetime?

I stuck my hand up, and asked "What about learning for learning's sake?"

He said that Jackson County's drop-out rate was increasing every year, and one way to counter that was to teach subjects that "students don't find boring." I told him I definitely found geometry and algebra boring as a high school student, but that didn't mean I should have never learned it.

I work for a credit union now. I never dreamed I would be using the math skills I learned in high school. One never really knows where one will end up, right?

Shakespeare, I said, is a subject many students find tedious. When and where will a student use "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in the working world? But to know Shakespeare, I argued, made me a well-rounded person.

Nope, the Career Center guy said, none of that will help students in the working world.

But I thought - Jesus, is that all school is about? Training robots, ready and willing to enter the job market pre-trained and well-oiled working machines? I thought the purpose of high school was to give students a ground-level, basic understanding of the world around them, so that everyone starts out on a level playing field (unless ou attend a private school) and, basically, learns how to learn.

When you take a new job, after all, you'll be retrained.

Andrea says that "we're academics." Maybe there's a biological predisposition to loving learning. Or we view our education romantically. I don't know.

But to treat any knowledge - the study of rocks and plate tectonics, as the Career Center guy pointed out - as useless is beyond my comprehension.

Isn't it cool to know stuff just to know stuff?

* * * * *

Part of the "uncooling" of education, I think, stems from the belief that you really don't need all the stuff in your head to be successful. Look at Bill Gates, right? College drop-out. Multi-billionaire. Chick magnet.

Carl Sagan had many thoughts about education before he passed away. He felt that, in America, there's an "impression that science or mathematics won't buy you a sports car." If you can't use knowledge to get rich, what good is it?

He also felt that there was a lack of educational role models available. Kids today look up to basketball stars and musicians because "there are few rewards or role models for intelligent discussions of science and technology - or even for learning for its own sake."

Why learn a bit extra when all you have to do is memorize a few facts, pass a test, get your diploma, and make tons of money? Or better yet, write a good song about how your privileged suburban life was utter hell. It's so easy!

And in high school, if you're seen as a lover of education, you're quickly labelled and picked on. It's a rare event when the smartest kid in school is also the most popular.

* * * * *

While in Maumee last week, I read in USA Today about how women are becoming the majority in college's and universities across the country. Men, more and more, aren't going to college.

One guy wrote in a said, pretty much, "So what?" Let the women go to college, he said, because the men have "work to do."

That's right, fella. Give up all the benefits of a good education (Frederick Douglass said that education and literacy was the surest way out of slavery - although I think that's true for a different form of slavery today) to the other sex. Let every guy become a ditch-digger. Now that's "work!"

Please. Giving up education and knowledge to a privileged few (or even "the other half" of the population) would spell doom for those left behind. Women are super, I love them, but I'll be damned if they should be the ones to learn everything while just the men toil and "work."

* * * * *

Random thoughts on a sunny day in November, but they've been stewing for a while.

There are tons of unresolved issues here: What do we teach kids in school that will make them sit up and want to learn? Who gets to govern what, exactly, they learn? What about those students that really have no desire to continue their education beyond the prison walls of high school?

Valuing stupidity and apathy, I think, is a sure recipe for disaster.

So what do we do about it?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Spare me the drive-thru

My grandma and I have watched for the Jackson Citizen Patriot's Brad Flory, a local all-about-town columnist, to release his "Top Five" best hamburgers in town.

Finally, on Tuesday, he picked his favorites - based on taste, tradition, community history, etc.

Out of the five, Schlenker's Sandwich Shop was one of the best burger winners, and one of the few places in town I haven't been.

So we went last night.

And, I'm here to report, it is one of the best burgers in town.

My grandma had been going there since she was a kid - it's been open since 1927 in the same cram-packed location on Ganson St. - and she finally showed me what it was all about.

But what I noticed was the layout - a U-shaped counter, able to sit about 14 people at one time, and very, very cramped. Everyone's proximity to everyone else, however, was actually part of the place's charm.

For instance: most of the folks in there last night were about my grandma's age, 50-70. The old timers. And my grandma, the social butterfly she is, starting talking with everyone while they ate.

And it was awesome. They shared stories of all the burger joints that used to be in town, and how downtown used to be a happening place. The good old days? I was feeling them.

"Everyone is so isolated these days," my grandma said to me. "You can't get this kind of conversation in a drive-thru."

By god, she was right. I had so much fun listening and chatting with all the customers that the burger was an after-thought. Sure, the food was great (and cheap!), but the conversation and the atmosphere was what made Schlenker's so popular with Jacksonians.

This is one principal guiding my decision to never eat at a chain store when I'm out and traveling. Sure, McDonald's can be great if you're in rush. But when I'm traveling, I want the local flavor (literally), and that's why I'll only eat at locally-owned, non-chain restaurants and diners.

Not only is the food generally better, but you can learn something about the community you're in by pulling up a chair, sipping on your straw, and gabbing with your neighbor. There's not enough of that these days, as my grandma sees it, and it's a shame.

Everyone has their local hangout - the place they go where they know the food, know the servers, and know conversation and community are going to be as much a part of the menu as a sandwich and fries.

Here's to Schlenker's. And here's to the classic burger joint.

They're a dying breed.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Rotarians, unite!

Just sharing some pics from my Rotary MadiZONE conference in Madison, Wisconsin:

The capital building in Madison. All the streets are set up so, no matter where in the city you're at, you can see it. Just gorgeous.

My gracious guides and travel buddies, Jim Goodwin (past disctrict governor and member of my Rotary club) and his lovely wife, Polly.

Jim and I at the first breakfast of the week. I was jealous of his nifty Rotary shirts. I got one that said "Rotarian at Work" on the back. I felt better.

Madison is on an isthmus, a land bridge between two lakes, and it offers some great walking trails along the University of Wisconsin. Beautiful weather, luckily, but I can't imagine it in January.

We were fed well at the conference, and I had the chance to meet tons of lovely, friendly Rotarians. But I wish we could've had a few meals to go explore the town's restaurants. As you can see, I was the youngest person in attendance...

Except for the lovely Emily, from Chagrin Falls, Ohio (a great Tragically Hip song, I told her). Emily was 22, and had spent a year in Senegal courtesy of Rotary. She came to the conference to speak of her experiences, and to raise money for a school lunch program she and another student, Aimee, helped develop. They raised $11,000 in three days at the conference. Just outstanding. Anyway, we hung out quite a bit because...well...we were young.

I also met Ralph and Pat from Port Clinton, Ohio - very nice people. I ran into them along the lakeshore on our free afternoon, so we sat and enjoyed the Wisconsin sunshine and fresh air.

They snagged a picture of me.

While I only saw a small portion of campus (lots of hills!), the University of Wisconsin was pretty spectacular. There were lots of gathering places, like near this fountain, for students to soak up the sun.

But when I rounded the corner, into a quad of some kind, I saw this: a group of students gathered around a ranting preacher.

He's in orange/pink, next to the sign. I couldn't tell whether it was some sort of public performance, or a genuine "You're all going to hell" sermon, but it was fun to watch. And the students got into it.

But amid the evangelism was this little girl, coloring in her book, sitting next to this awful sign. I thought it was a neat juxtaposition: she doesn't know the hate being spewed around her. She's just enjoying the weather and some arts and crafts.

This Lincoln statue sits atop this huge hill on campus. People around Madison say it's pretty famous, and it's the place students like to go before exams (kind of like the seals at Adrian). A few of the local Rotarians also claim it's a spot to take your date and...um...do it.

Madison has this one main drag called State Street. No traffic is allowed, it's just for shopping, eating, and museums (like here). It reminded me of Ann Arbor's campus, but on one street. I bought a Buddha statue and a flask with Jesus that says "What Wouldn't Jesus Do" on this road. Cool place.

Just like Chicago. I saw a guy walking his dogs on his Segway. Crazy liberals!

I had to get a picture with this guy, Steve. He looked just like John Kerry. And he knew it.

Saturday morning I skipped part of the conference to head to the Farmer's Market on the capital square. One square mile of baked goods, produce, and - here - red hot chili peppers.

Here's the bee guy, complete with hive on his head. I had rubarb pie and OJ (that's my cup) for breakfast, and bought some honey from this guy and some rubarb preserves for the trip home. Yummy!

When we left on Sunday, we took US 12 all the way home, instead of I-94. We stopped at a burger joint in northern Illinois when a red helicopter pulled into the parking lot. Near the tail prop, it said "Danger." No shit.

All in all, a great trip. I learned a lot about Rotary, and Wisconsin.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

ATO / Adrian Homecoming 2005

What a weekend it was.

The architects: Keith, my BOT vice president, and me. Over the past two years we've worked together really well to get our alumni inolved with the chapter, culminating in this year's homecoming. We were busy, and it took a lot of work, but it's always worth it. Thanks Keifer!

Our first big event of the weekend was the ATO All-Star Alumni Softball game. Here's Brent taking some practice swings before we play. We grilled out and enjoyed the sunshine.

MVP of the game? Probably Cowboy. This dude slid into home, slicing up his knee and ripping his jeans. What a player.

After the play Cowboy and Steve met on home-plate to share a chest-bump. Now Steve's dirty, too. That's my team!

Speaking of Steve-o, here he is with the catcher's chestplate we found. We had access to the entire softball field, the scoreboard, the dugouts, everything. Keith did a really nice job of helping everything come together.

Brent and Caleb meet at the dugout. After a while it got so dark we couldn't see the ball when it was hit. The game got a bit dangerous. So we quit after the "alumni" team won 11-10 (or something close to that).

After the game we all met back at the house for a bonfire, and a chance for us to meet up with the guys who were showing up later (Gugin, Nemo). Here's Cowboy displaying his Miller High Life can proudly to wife Sarah and Chi-Omega alumna (and Keith's girlfriend) Margo.

I have this picture pose (see my profile pic) that I get picked on about a lot. So Nemo and I decide to do "The Dave" together, while Gugin (fresh on arrival) and Brent do their own thing. I'm always so happy when Gugin shows up, usually out of the blue.

Nemo with someone's hat on. He served as BOT president last year, but I hadn't really talked to him since. It was nice hanging out/drinking with him.

Here's Andrea, me, Shanita, Steve-o, and Annie (notice Annie and I switched hats) before heading out the bar. The crew, re-united.

Andrea (looking adorable) and Holly (or "Shablamo") at the Barley House in downtown Adrian. You'll never find Andrea without a deck of cards, drinking games sure to follow.

Annie and Leslie, fresh from Ohio University. This was Annie's first Homecoming since graduating. Annie was one of my best buds in Student Government and elsewhere - we made a good team, and she's a lot of fun. So is Leslie - her first time in Adrian. I went to visit them, with Andrea, earlier in the summer. They made great hosts.

After we returned from the bar, we all settled in for more drinking games. Andrea and Shanita started wrestling around, so I got a pic before things got rough. Shanita looks a little toasty, no?

Saturday was game day, of course. We have a tent at the game, near the endzone, where we can meet and greet. Here's the returned Shawn and president Andrew with the flag. We had that tent packed with alumni. It was great.

Cowboy manning the grill. That was my job last year, but if you wanted something this year, you grilled it yourself.

Dr. Elardo, our chapter advisor, makes some profound point. The guy in the lower left-hand corner, James, is a pledge from Massachussets and a neat guy. A bunch of us went out to breakfast before the game, and he told us the differences between the midwest and New England.

Jordan(!) showed up, as promised. We met over the summer for lunch, but it was good to see him at Homecoming. He only stayed for Saturday, though. Jordan and I were good buds while at school, and debated quite a bit. Fun guy.

...but when I heard my big brother John Neff was going to be there (with his lovely wife Laura, who is having their first kid in November), nothing could make the weekend better. I hadn't seen him since last year. He's done so much to influence me in all matters ATO, and life, that if I don't get to see him at Homecoming, it's a sub-par year.

Gugin, of course, is the other must-see at Homecoming. Here he is with his World Champion metal from a martial arts tournament. Bad ass.

Andrea and I hanging out in the alumni tent during the game. We've had such a fun, exciting summer together - with Shanita and other friends - that I almost spent as much time with her as with anyone else the whole weekend.

After the game was our yearly all-alumni meeting. Here's everyone settling in the meeting room, Steve hanging out on the floor.

My little bro Andrew, getting ready to start the meeting. He made a wonderful PowerPoint presentation on the status of the chapter. I've never been more proud of him than I was this weekend. He's really helped to turn the chapter around.

Three generations, right here. One of the more humbling and misty-eyed moments of the weekend came when my big bro Neff and my little bro Andrew chatted about the new website we're developing and the state of leadership in the fraternity. It was so cool to see them interact.

The Krukowskis - a dynamic duo. It's fun to watch these two together, too. Andrea's the "big" sister, but when standing next to Andrew it's hard to tell.

We had so much fun Saturday night bar-hopping that Sunday was spent being very, very lazy. A bunch of us went out to dinner with former-Student Affairs VP Pam Boersig, then layed around and half-napped the rest of the afternoon. Here Andrea and Shanita both fit into a jacket they found.

Shanita and Steve-o give it a try, too.

- - - - -

Homecoming weekend was always one of my favorites as an undergrad, but it's getting better and better when you don't see people you love for a while - then you're thrown together over one weekend.

Homecoming also gets me fired up as an ATO. The chapter is running so smoothly now. They have a desire to do good things, and as BOT president I can only watch and admire how they conquer this year.

Thanks to everyone who showed up. I hope you all had as much fun as I did. It was great seeing everyone, catching up, and creating more memories to add to our already growing stock.

Love and respect.