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?