Tuesday, January 29, 2008

News from the front - Jan. 29

Ben Franklin is my kind of American. He's long been a hero of mine, every since I read parts of his "Autobiography," but now I'm reading a bunch of books on the Founding Fathers to prepare for the big New England trip this spring.

And I don't dig Ben just because I use "Franklin" as my name during restaurant reservations. He was a genuinely fun, prototypical American - full of industry and humor and inventiveness, a true man-about-town. Ben was a carpe diem fellow, constantly using every available moment in his life to be productive or useful. I admire that.

I'll always remember the image of him carting rolls of paper around Philadelphia, just so he appeared to be a hard worker (really, he was - but it was all about appearances). Plus he's a printer and journalist, and those two professions always have a place in my heart.

So does Ben. He was America's original American, and it's great getting reacquainted with him.

As a teenager, I wasted many hours playing "Warcraft II," a war simulation game with a fantasy twist, and I'm here to report that the sickness is back.

Owning an original iMac allows me to run all the old Macintosh software. With this in mind, I'm revisiting some of the older games that kept me occupied as a high schooler (I'm still looking for "Sim City 2000" and "Star Wars: Tie Fighter" - the greatest space shooter game ever invented).

The "Warcraft" I got includes a mode to play online against other people, and I've come to learn one thing: people that play games online aren't very nice.

I'll admit, I'm a "newbie" (or "n00b") when it comes to online play. But Sweet Cannonball Jesus, these guys are ruthless. They have little patience for people trying to learn the ropes, and often comes the game when everyone gangs up on me and blasts me into next week.

I don't take it personally, because really these guys have nothing better to do than sit at home and play games all day. Shit, I've heard stories of guys dropping out of high school to dedicate their sad little lives to "Warcraft" ("World of Warcraft" is even worse, I hear). And I just can't compete with that.

Nor should I. My mistake is trying to play for fun.

I'm pitting my chili recipe against nine other coworkers tomorrow.

Faith comes easy, but after placing second in the last American 1 International Invitational Chili-Con Cookoff, I have renewed passions for my chili and its deliciousness.

The secret is the experimental ingredient I always include. Last time it was pineapple, the time before it was beer (which is now a staple), and the time before that it was venison. What to do this time? Any suggestions?

Speaking of New England trips...the plans are coming right along.

I've already got my map staked out, complete with spots to visit and sites to see, plus the where-do-I-start question has been answered (Philadelphia).

But it got me thinking about all the fun adventures I want to do before I die. So I've done the cliche "100 things to do before I croak" list, and here it is. I'm a bit over half-way done:


1. Drive Route 66
2. Drive across New England
3. Write a book
4. Learn to fly a plane
5. Live in another state
6. Own an apple orchard
7. Travel by train across Europe
8. Visit India
9. See the Acropolis
9. Hike the Appalachian Trail
10. See a Michigan/Ohio State football game
11. Own a boat
12. Learn to use Linux
13. Build a website from scratch
14. Be debt-free
15. Shake hands with the President of the United States
16. Eat a meal in Italy
17. Retire early
18. Change my own oil
19. Hike up a mountain
20. Start my own non-profit
21. Be my own boss
22. Drive 100 mph
23. Swim in a Canadian lake
24. Drive to Alaska
25. Save someone's life
26. Sell everything I own
27. Camp in absolute wilderness
28. See a San Francisco 49ers game
29. Work for Apple
30. Win a national award
31. Eat a lobster on the Maine coast
32. See the Grand Canyon
33. Make a major contribution to an environmental cause
34. Meet the Dalai Lama
35. Drive Route 66 again, or the reverse way (Santa Monica to Chicago)
36. Run for political office and win
37. Own a copy of "Amazing Fantasy 15" (first appearance of Spider-Man)
38. Become a Notary Public
39. Swim in a Swedish mountain lake
40. See "A Prairie Home Companion" live
41. Get my master's degree in communication or english literature
42. Go to a Buddhist temple for a week-long retreat
43. See the Himalayas
44. Cook Thanksgiving dinner
45. Visit all 50 states
46. Swim in Walden Pond
47. Eat a Coney on Coney Island
48. See a Michigan/Ohio State game live
49. Live to 70
50. Eat at Zingerman's Deli
51. Beat Final Fanstasy VII
52. Go on a horseride through Montana
53. Float in the Dead Sea
54. Participate in a bowling league
55. Appear on an NPR program
56. Craft my own wine
57. Win money on a gameshow
58. Play guitar or bass in a band

More items to come...

Oh yeah. I'm on Twitter.

Check it out, send me some tweets.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The world has gone Tom Cruise.

Like some batshit crazy scene out of one of Tim LaHaye's far-out novels, along comes Tom Cruise.


I've come to realize that there are a lot of ape shit crazy people in this world. For instance, I read today that some yahoo in Iowa, right before the causes, preached on about how churches should control the states, not vice versa. "Read your history," he said.

Or how some other yahoo running for office would just as well write his own Constitution, given the chance, because - you know - elect holy men are the ones that should be running our country.

Thank goodness most states in the nation would have to agree in order to write looney laws like the "protection of marriage" into our country's most sacred document_ But lately, I'm starting to wonder.

You see, what I've been missing is this whole side of the country that's whacked out of their minds. I tend to surround myself with reasonably sane people (exceptions exist, as with anything), and I'm afraid if I conversed with one of these fine folks, my nose would start gushing blood.

Come to think of it, I have encountered these folks. One was outside the library trying to "protect" marriage by banning gays from civil unions. He had a clipboard, which lent him undue authority.

Or, recently, Jackson's own group of yahoos pulled the plug on a teen pregnency program because - gasp! - Planned Parenthood was helping to fund the thing. According to Jackson Right to Life, Planned Parenthood would hand out abortions like they were candy. Nevermind that abstinence-only programs, besides being laughed at by 16 year olds everywhere, don't work.

You see, what Tommy preaches on about up there is merely a symptom. Tom says, "I wish the world was a different place," and what's dangerous is that Tom and people only half as nutty as he is are trying to wish that into reality.

The end of the video claims that Tommy's message has reached "more than 1 billion humans." What they video doesn't say is that those billion suckers committed suicide immediately after walking out of the Holiday Inn the Scientology group rented for the come-together. The human brain is capable of only so much Punch and Judi before it explodes in an orgy of get-me-the-hell-out-of-here.

It's true. And what's worse is that there are people out there who might nod their heads in approval at platitudes if it was, say, Joel Osteen or Alex Jones. This country has a fine tradition of shit-talking bullshitters, and American eat them up. What makes Tom sound crazy to you and I is the same trite B.S. that makes Huckabee's constitutional suggestion sound like a nutjob.

Here's a tip: if someone ever tells you that theirs is the one-true way, grab a bamboo stick and hospitalize them. Don't even let them get up.

Tom's message is no more crazy than a lot of mainstream religious folks' message. It's just that his religion was invented last century. This happens all the time, and usually when a new one pops up everyone else thinks their crazy (lions + den = maybe they'll shut the hell up). But really they're no more crazy than the folks that are guarding the Coliseum.

You'd think that the Englighnment never happened. And here some are so freaked out about Muslims being the "greatest threat ever" (maybe they've never heard of a the Civil War?), yet they think abandoning the Founding Father's idea of the "consent of the governed" in favor of Bible-based laws. If that's the case, then they can trade Pokemon cards with the Taliban, and blow up some more Buddhas.

But this is America, and we need to let the crazies roam like buffalo on the high prairie. The hope is that, over time, people get smarter and society gets better. Some events have challenged this notion, and again we find ourselves threatened by the barbarians, who are knocking at the gates.

Hope springs eternal.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

An open letter to Alpha Tau Omega National Fraternity.

January 14, 2008

To: Wynn R. Smiley, Chief Executive Officer
One North Pennsylvania Street, 12th Floor
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Dear Mr. Smiley,

I received a credit card offer in the mail today at my workplace. It came to my attention, at my workplace address, and was marked, simply, "ADRIAN" (see photo). This kind of behavior from my own fraternity is unacceptable.

I have received previous credit card offers from Alpha Tau Omega (ATO), in partnership with Bank of America (BoA), at my home address - and those were easy enough to ignore. But for you to think it's okay to send solicitations to my place of employment is beyond forgiveness.

It is bad enough that my own beloved fraternity - who I served through many leadership roles that included Membership Educator, Rush Chair, Vice President, and Board of Trustees President - would value a dollar over my privacy at home. But now ATO is soliciting brothers at their place of employment? Are you, Mr. Smiley, so desperate for extra marginal income that you shatter the trust we place in our own national fraternity to keep our personal and financial information private?

I've read in the news how the University of Iowa alumni association sold its own database to big credit card companies without the knowledge of the university or of the former students. I've also witnessed another institution, Rotary International, offer credit cards to members like me. But at least they offer to give 1% back to the Rotary Foundation, an international aid organization that seeks to do good works like the elimination of polio worldwide. What does BoA offer ATO, besides a percentage of the profits? What do you stand to gain from this relationship, Mr. Smiley, while brothers throughout the country continue to be harrassed? The soliciation letter didn't explain.

I've given a large part of myself to ATO, only to see the national organization give nothing back but a begging cup and more and more offers for "exclusive membership" (Life Loyal Tau?) and "Platinum Plus credit lines" (the ATO Platinum Plus MasterCard). My fellow Alpha Mu brothers and I have watched as ATO devolves more and more into a slick business proposition, instead of an institution that seeks "bind men together" in the fellowship of brotherhood.

I know that dwindling membership numbers lead to a loss of income for the national organization, but I hoped it hadn't come with a loss of respectful business (should I even have to use that word?) practices. Profit should not be your main motivator. Long have others derided fraternities for "buying friends." It doesn't take a credit card or some inane membership offer to buy my loyalty to ATO. It just takes decency and respect.

Please remove my name from future marketing lists. It's the only decent thing left to do. If you don't currently have a privacy policy, you should. Because enough is enough.

Love and respect,

Dave Lawrence
Adrian College and ATO alumn, 2003
2575 W. Alpine Lake Dr. Apt. G
Jackson, MI 49203

CC: The Alpha Mu board of trustees, current Alpha Mu brothers, Consumerist.com