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 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.

Friday, October 21, 2005

KMFDM's 'Hau Ruck'

When you’ve reached the industrial peaks that veterans KMFDM have climbed, finding relative success in the mid-1990s with back-to-back Angst and Nihil, the best you can hope for after a breakup and a few so-so albums is to maintain some sort of plateau.

Or at least coast along, in stride, and use a formula that has worked so well.

That is what KMFDM (MySpace profile and song samples here) have accomplished with their latest album, Hau Ruck (“Heave Ho!” in German). Sloganeering, shredding guitars, and danceable backbeats – with a live drum sound that has added an organic dynamic to the sound – have delivered on the promise of Xtort and Na├»ve for two decades now, and they manage to sound fresh on the new offering.

For one thing, this is the tightest, most focused-sounding album KMFDM has produced in years. The core group of Sascha Konietzko (vocals, samples), Lucia Cifarelli (vocals), Jules Hodgson and Steve White (guitars), and Andy Selway (drums/percurssion) have made three albums and have toured extensively together. They know their stuff, they know each other, and they have settled into a noticeable groove. No more of the revolving-door, guest-appearances-galore policy KMFDM adhered to throughout the ‘90s. The only downfall is the lack of Pig leader Raymond Watts, who added a sleazy, hyper-sexual sound to the group.

Konietzko returns to his German vocals on the machine-gun stomper “Hau Ruck,” rambunctious “Mini Mini Mini,” and closing with “Auf Wiederseh’n,” while Konietzko and Cifarelli tag-team on the slick and seductive “Ready to Blow” and “Professional Killer.”

While there were claims that Hau Ruck (a departure from the typically five-lettered album titles) was going to be more tongue-in-cheek, KMFDM haven’t let up on the liberal politics found in “Free Your Hate” and “New American Century.” The group still manages to have fun, however, never letting its passion outstrip its characteristic playfulness. While other industrial outfits suffer from a morbid self-righteousness, KMFDM never take themselves too seriously – as on “Feed Our Fame.”

Hau Ruck is no heave-ho to the typical KMFDM sound, but it does offer a polished, unified assault. That may be a disappointment to some – gone are the experimental days of the Symbols album or Adios – but this is the do-it-yourself album, and band, fans grew to love before they broke up in 1999.

KMFDM - better than the best.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Origin of the feces

"So you want to change the definition of science to include the supernatural?"

"Yes," Thompson says, "we need a total paradigm shift in science."

- - - - -

The above was from an exchange between reporter Gordy Slack and Richard Thompson, who is representing the Dover School Board (in Pennsylvania) in the "Scopes 2" Intelligent Design trial - currently underway.

Now, there are two ways you can read and react to the quotes above. Either you can say, "Amen, brother!" Or you can say, "What is this world coming to?"

I would scream the latter.

The arguments have been there for years. You see a watch, you assume there was a watchmaker. Design begets designer. There are biological process too complex to explain with mere chance. And these are all fine arguments - they raise serious questions about the world in which we exist.

ID supporters also claim that even the Big Bang theory was once laughed at (even Einstein didn't believe his universe exploded billions of years ago - he was a "static universe" advocate), as ID theorgy is now, so why not support it?

Sorry, but Bozo the Clown was laughed at. That doesn't mean I'm going to listen to any of his cosmological arguments any time soon.

If you support teaching ID theory in public schools, you are basically arguing for teaching a form of religion in the classroom. And you can't do that in this country - so says the Supreme Court.

Say what you will about the faults of evolution, the "controversy" over whether it's the accepted form of biological study in the scientific world, or even whether evolution is a disprovable science at all. That debate should be had. After all, the nature of science is to question, to dive deeper, to foster understanding and truth.

But saying that a scientific alternative is out there - ID - is flat out silly.

For one, science begins with questions and tries to find the answers. Why is the sky blue? How long does it take for Neptune to orbit the sun? When do chimpanzees use primitive tools? Seek, study, think, understand.

ID, however, starts with the answer. God exists (or, sorry, a "designer" exists). Now how can we show it?

That's not science. Fundamentally, absolutely not. It stops science dead in its tracks, in fact. Why do some bacteria have a little tail that wiggles and allows locomotion? Gosh, I don't know. Must be God's will.

That, to me, is the wimp's way out.

Even to this day, there are some who believe that the Giza pyramids of ancient Egypt couldn't possibly have been designed, built, or maintained by mere humans. The job was too big, too complex, to allow for us puny mortals. Aliens must've helped.

I really think these kinds of arguments shortchange us people. I think we're smart enough, we're capable enough - we can do anything we set our minds to. Our ancestors built Stonehenge, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Giza pyramids, and the Eiffel Tower - and what evidence can you give me that they didn't that's beyond basic human capability and will?

The same thing, I think, is true for our understanding of our basic biological roots. Just because we can't understand how something works, or why something is the way it is, doesn't mean we never will.

Do we stop and just say, "God did it - good enough for me."

Or will we do the truly human thing: keep asking, keep looking, and eventually, maybe, find the answer.

If you're content with "God did it," then we don't speak the same language. "God did it" doesn't help me understand the world around me any better than "Aliens did it."

And that's why ID isn't science.

I'm willing to accept ID, Aliens, whatever as truth only if its scrutinized, tested, researched, debated, and put through the scientific method rigors any other theory is screened through.

But because no one can prove or disprove whether a designer built us as we are, it can't be called science. Call it religion, teach it in church, and let the rest of us actually learn something.

Maybe we can never really know anything, but I do know this: ID shouldn't be taught in any science class in this country.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Art in our time

In her Atlantic Monthly article "Moral Fiction," Mary Gordon, wonders whether fictional characters or real-worlders (both historical and familial) gave her the moral compass that guides her actions. "Does true art really establish models of human action?" she asks.

Then, she wonders, why we put so much stock into characters that are really nothing more than "black marks on a white page that perform the trick of making us believe that people who have never existed are as real as our best friends?" Sure, we should learn that the manic obsession with a hint of revenge we see in Ahab can be tragic - but Ahab never existed. Not really. So what does it matter?

It matters, Gordon argues, because fiction and art can provide us with examples of people from which to learn our lessons. For instance - I don't know what my co-workers think or do from day-to-day, but with a novel I'm involved in the mundane details, fantastic adventures, and deepest thoughts of the protagonist.

And often art serves as nothing more than around-the-campfire storytelling, with lessons and morals and didactic narratives that help us discern right from wrong, just from unjust, and norm from abnormal. Art can go deeper of course - and it often does, as Gordon says, exposing the ever-present grey areas of life.

But then she reasons that, in her own life, she more often looks to real-life friends and family members - and often historical and political figures - to gather the dos-and-do-nots of life.

"My models of right action - the ones who have really helped me in the struggle to be good - are not fictional characters," Gordon says. "But my moral exemplars have tended to be people I know, such as my uncle Joe, who probably never heard of Melville, though the name Moby-Dick might have rung a bell."

Instead, art and literature shows us that moral certainties are rare indeed. They break between moral certainty and moral complexity. One could argue that, at his heart, Gatsby was a cool guy to party with. But someone else could argue he was a manipulative bastard. Who can say?

"The novel has never been very good at shaping people up in predictable and orderly ways," Gordon says. "It says to us that the truth of human beings is often more complicated than we think."

Especially, I would say, if you think human standard operating procedure was not handed down to us mortals by a lightning bolt. For those who believe it was, the right choices can be prescribed and referenced to that striking point where the wavering sand turned to strict and rigid glass.

For the rest of us, we can look to art to help us - not with fire and brimstone, but with beauty and delicacy - to find our way in the world.

"You come to nature with all her theories, and she knocks them all flat," Renoir said. So it goes with us humans, I suppose. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you read about someone else.