David Landrum on the launch of Two James…. the first distillery in Detroit since Prohibition

    As you may have heard, a new distillery will soon be opening in the Corktown section of Detroit, not too far from where our friend Lisa Waud will be opening the new flower shop I told you about a few days ago. From what I’m told, it will be the first legal distillery to operate within the city limits since Prohibition, and, this evening, I had the occasion to interview one of the two entrepreneurs responsible for making it happen… Please join me in welcoming David Landrum, of the Two James distillery.

    MARK: Let’s start with the name. Why “Two James”? As neither you, or your partner in this endeavor (Peter Bailey), is named James, I’m guessing that it might perhaps be a reference to Detroit’s distilling history… Am I on the right track?

    DAVID: I like that theory Mark, but actually the name is derived from both mine and Peter’s fathers’ names. The story is, as we were sitting in the living room of Pete’s house in Chattanooga (that’s where he was working at the time), writing our business plan, we came to the “okay, so what are we going to call ourselves?” juncture. We ran the gamut of ideas – resurrected distillery names, nautical themes, two syllable words, literary heroes and heroines, figures from Greek and Roman mythology, etc. You name it, we thunk it. And we came up with some really good names. The problem, though, was that they didn’t really mean anything to us besides being really cool-sounding names. Well, the one thing we both had in common was the fact that both our fathers had just recently passed away. This had crossed my mind early on, but I didn’t know how we would incorporate that into our branding. Then I asked Pete what his dad’s name was, and he said “James.” To which I responded, “No shit.” (Obviously this was my dad’s name too.) At that point, we decided on “James and James,” and then it evolved into “Two James.” We liked the ring of it. It was two syllables, and easy to remember and pronounce. But, most importantly, it was near and dear to both our hearts. Oh Damn… Now it’s PERSONAL!

    MARK: I’m curious as to what your fathers would have made of this undertaking of yours… Did they appreciate spirits? Were they at all entrepreneurial?

    DAVID: Well, I’m glad you asked, Mark, because I believe their backgrounds fit into the branding better than their names. Both of our fathers were entrepreneurs. Peter’s father hails from England, where he grew up above a pub called “The Dog and Gun” if I’m not mistaken. And, as you can imagine, he was raised with a fondness for spirits, and spent countless hours fraternizing with the locals. He got his degree in mechanical engineering, and, before he passed, he started countless businesses – most of which involved machine parts. He also dabbled in inventing, and had a couple of patents to his name. My father was born in Kentucky, and lived New York before eventually moving with his family to Detroit. He graduated from Salesian high school in Detroit, and went on to get his english degree from Michigan State University. He wanted to be a writer, but unfortunately, with a growing family, he had to put his aspirations on hold and enter the workforce. After working for a few ad agencies, my father ended up starting a marketing company called Phoenix Group, based in Farmington. He did extremely well, but I don’t think he ever let go of his writing bug. That’s what he really wanted to do with his life. However, before he stopped writing, he had some successes to hang his hat on. He wrote jokes for Phyllis Diller and Rodney Dangerfield. (I’m not sure Rodney ever actually used his jokes. I would have to research it a bit further. But Phyllis definitely did.) And he wrote the bulk, if not all, of a comic strip called Thornsby. (Fred McLaren did the illustration.) I still have a bunch of the original art work. As far as drinking goes, he was a conservative drinker who really enjoyed the finer stuff. Scotch was his jam.

    MARK: What can you tell me about the history of distilling in the city of Detroit? I believe I’ve heard that Two James will be the first to operate in the city… at least legally… since Prohibition. Have you had an opportunity to go through the city archives to verify this, and see just how prevalent distilling was prior to Prohibition?

    DAVID: Yes, as far as we know, this is true. We dug as deep as we could, and couldn’t find a single distillery in the city that operated after Prohibition…. “legally” that is. The roots of distilling in Detroit were extremely deep before Prohibition. And, during Prohibition, Detroit was a smuggler’s paradise, given that the Detroit River is less than a mile across in some places, and 28 miles long, with innumerable hidden coves along the shoreline, and among the islands. Taken collectively, it’s estimated that the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River, carried 75% of the liquor supplied to the United States during Prohibition.

    So it’s not an exaggeration to say that distilling in Detroit was huge. There were a plethora of distilleries in and around the burgeoning city. American Liquor Company, Frederick Myll Co., Robinson and Aronheim, etc.. However, none of them were as big as Hiram Walker. Hiram opened his distillery in Detroit in 1858. He started as a grocer in 1830, distilling cider vinegar, and eventually moved on to whiskey. He barreled his first batch in 1854. But, with the temperance movement starting to gain a following, and parts of Michigan becoming dry, Hiram wisely moved his operations a mile across the Detroit River onto Canadian soil, right before the choke hold of the Volstead Act. The rest, as they say, is history. The Canadian Club giant was born. But Hiram was really a Detroiter!

    MARK: I’m curious to know how much this rich, often illegal, history is contributing to what you’re doing… or perhaps distracting from it. Are people coming out of the woodwork to bend your ear with stories of the Purple Gang? Are they giving you recipe suggestions based on things that may have been handed down through the generations?

    DAVID: Not much, Mark. Honestly no one really knows much about it. We’ve met a few older people from the city who tell tales of their grandparents smuggling whiskey by driving across the frozen river, and stuff like that, but that’s about it. There’s a great dive bar called the Stone House where the Purple Gang used to hang out, and, if you go in there, occasionally you get the local “expert” telling you stories, but we haven’t really run into many people like this. For the most part, people are just really, really excited for a distillery to opening up in the city. As for historic inspiration, I’ve done some extensive research, and have a few ideas of resurrecting some old labels, but I don’t want to give away my secrets just yet.

    MARK: To oversimplify a bit, based upon my admittedly rudimentary research into you and your partner, it looks like one of you is a scientist, and the other is a cocktail snob. That sounds to me like an ideal combination for an undertaking like this… but I’m curious as to how you go from the thought – “We’d like to make our own spirits” – to actually doing it. How did you educate yourselves? And, in answering that, if you could share your pre-distillery backgrounds, I’d appreciate it.

    DAVID: Peter got his masters in Sustainable Systems and Design from University of Michigan, and worked for Steelcase, and numerous city governments, before settling on a large carpet manufacturer just outside of Chattanooga, in Georgia. I went to Michigan State for Art History and Studio Art, and wanted to be a professional “fine” artist. So, naturally, I ended up working at my brother’s restaurant, Cafe Felix, in Ann Arbor…. because, obviously, this is what the pursuit of art gets you. (Insert smiley face here.) I was always a wine geek and ended up getting my wine specialist license, but, after a visit to the Milk & Honey bar in NYC, in early 2000, I fell in love with the cocktail. Unfortunately, when I’d first started tending bar in the mid to late 90′s, the newly defined “martinis” were trending. “Appletini’s,” “Chocolate Martini’s,” and the like, were all the rage – syrupy, vapid concoctions that weren’t even close to the actual definition of a martini. And, then, one day, I made a chance visit to Milk & Honey – a little, hidden bar down a dark, dank alley, in the middle of the Lower East Side. Sasha Petraske was making drinks that literally destroyed anything and everything I thought I knew about making drinks. I could go on about this for hours, so I’d better stop here, but let’s just say that I got into it heavy – sculpted ice, homemade tonic, smoker, carbonated cocktail heavy. Because all of these drinks were rooted in the past, the way drinks used to be made, with homemade ingredients, etc., I just naturally progressed to wanting to make my own spirits, because I was making everything else in-house at that point. I remembered the growth in micro-brewing in the 80′s, and I started to see a few small distilleries opening up, and I just thought it would be such an amazing job. I called Peter in Chattanooga one day, and said, “Hey, what do you think about opening a sustainable craft distillery?” and he said “Sounds fun, what do we have to do?” And the rest is history. We took a class in Chicago to see if this was a viable option, or if we were getting in over our heads, and realized that we had a huge upper hand on almost everyone in the class. And that was it. I flew to Chattanooga the next week, and we started work on a business plan.

    MARK: Can you tell me more about the class in Chicago? Is there a school for would-be distillers?

    DAVID: Well, I guess, sort of. You will find this a common theme for start up distilleries. It’s a way for them to raise some cash for almost no cost. The distillery will offer a class, usually with the help of a still manufacturer, providing the attendants with sales sheets from the still company and other limited information. Actually, I shouldn’t say that… the information was extensive, but it was more like a chemistry class. They would break down the molecular structure of yeasts, sugars, etc. It was a science lecture, and a boring one at that. The only thing keeping us from falling asleep on our desks was the speaker’s hilariously thick German accent. The technical data was there, but that’s a very, VERY, small part of actually opening a distillery. There were some great things about it, like the emphasis on sensory evaluation, but there was no hands-on component at all, and that’s what we really wanted. We wanted to be slinging grain, carrying boxes, adding yeast, making cuts. The main thing we got out of it was the fact that we walked away with the utmost confidence in our ideas, and our ability to create a better brand and distill better spirits than most of the people in the class. We just saw some horrible grain applications and branding nightmares, and that really got us excited. (Laughing.)

    MARK: I know very little about the distillery business, but, if I’m not mistaken, the laws in Michigan, at least a half dozen years ago or so, weren’t terribly conducive to running a successful distillery. Or, at least that’s what I’d heard from Todd Leopold, who, in 2008, moved his distillery, Leopold Brothers, from Ann Arbor to Colorado. His decision was in part due to his landlord jacking up his rent, but, according to Todd, it also had to do with the laws at at the time. “The laws governing spirits sales makes it so we couldn’t sell half of our product line at a new bar (our rum and whiskeys),” he said. “To top it off, self-distribution is legal in Colorado, and that makes all the difference.” So, I’m curious as to what the environment is now. Have things changed for the better in Michigan?

    DAVID: I can’t speak to the exact laws in Michigan back then, but I do know that they were pretty prohibitive. First off ,the cost of having a DSP (Distilled Spirits Producer) license in Michigan at that time was much more expensive than it is now. On top of that (and this hasn’t changed), Michigan is a controlled state, which means that the state sells ALL of the alcohol in Michigan. They even set and regulate pricing. This is pretty tough on small distillers because the profit margins are so small. I won’t get into the nitty gritty, but, basically, if we sell a bottle of spirit at 30 bucks on the shelf in a liquor store, after the state and feds are done with us, we’re lucky to make 6-7 bucks. The one benefit that we DO have in Michigan, though, is that we’re able to make and sell our spirits on site, in the form of cocktails, or bottles to go. This is huge, as our profit margins are significantly higher when we don’t go through a middleman. The Leopold’s could have also done that, though, so I’m not sure what Todd was referring too. Maybe there was a law against barrel-aged spirits at that time, but I’m just speculating. There are other laws up for debate that could positively affect the small distiller in Michigan, such as being able to sell at farmers markets, etc. If this happens, we would be ecstatic. Oh, and I think Todd just really wanted to go home back to Colorado. I know those guys both grew up there, and I think that was always in their sites. I could make a distiller’s joke here about that old adage of “home is where the heart is” but only distilling geeks would get it, and it’s actually not really funny.

    MARK: Go ahead and give it a shot.

    DAVID: Alright, alright, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Here’s the background. The result of any distillation, whether it’s corn or wheat or potato or apple, whatever it is, is divided into 3 separate parts. Heads, Hearts and Tails. Ethanol alcohol (what you strive for) evaporates at 78.3 degrees C at sea level, and water at 100 degrees C, but, when you mix those two together, it will evaporate in between 78.3 and 100 depending on the ratio. The more volatile components with lower boiling points will evaporate first (Acetaldehyde, Acetone, Methanol). These are called the “Heads,” and you DO NOT want these in your end product. Acetaldehyde is believed to be a major contributor to the severity of hangovers, Acetone is basically nail polish remover, and 10ml of Methanol will make you go blind and shut down your liver (30ml will kill you). The next part of the distillate is the “Hearts” (the Ethanol), and this is the good stuff. And the “Tails” are at the end of the run, and have the lowest boiling points. The main compounds here are Propanol, Butanol, and Fusel Alcohols. These basically have a range of (usually) negative flavors – bitter almond, petrol, vinegar, etc. Sharp, and sour flavors. These can also later be re-distilled into Hearts… but that’s a different story. So, back to my bad joke: “Home is where the HEART is”… get it? …Zanganuts, that was awful.

    MARK: Maybe it’s a better joke after you’ve been sitting around a still for a few days, inhaling nail polish remover. I’m glad that I asked, though. I had no idea that’s how the precess worked… Let’s talk about capitalization. In order to pull this off, you needed a serious influx of cash, and, toward that end, you launched something called the Corktown 500. Essentially, you were looking for 500 people to give you $2,000 a piece, in order to raise $1 million. That $2,000, as I understand it, would get someone a five-year membership in the Corktown 500, valued at $1,750, with the remaining $250 going toward a “refundable barrel-reservation deposit.” And, as members of the Corktown 500, these individuals would get to spend a weekend with you, at what you’re calling “Camp James,” as well as an opportunity to make their own whiskey, discounts on products, events, etc. And, after five years, these folks would either get back $250 and their own barrel, or they’d get $500 in merchandise. Is that pretty much it? Or is there more?

    DAVID: That’s pretty much it. The only thing I would clarify is that “Camp James” will be run by us as well as David Pickerell, our consultant and ex-master distiller of Maker’s Mark (he’s the real draw, I mean we’re great and all, but…). Also this isn’t to raise $ 1million, as our costs of hosting this will be at least half of that $2,000.00, and, on top of that, we either give back $500 in merchandise, or $250 in the form of a check. So now we’re basically looking at $500 to $750 in investment capital from each Corktown 500 member, which doesn’t include our labor, future discounts, etc. So, basically, Camp James isn’t seed money at all. It’s something fun that we can do to provide people with a very unique, educational experience, and make them think they’re part of something very special. To compare it, you could take a course at, say, Dry Fly distilling in Washington State, and pay close to $4000 for a couple days with basically no perks, or feeling of being part of the organization.

    MARK: So, have people been receptive to the idea of the Corktown 500?

    DAVID: People have been very receptive, however we expect it to take off even more once we actually open our doors and people can see how beautiful our space is, how great our product is, and really get a feel for what Two James is all about.

    MARK: Do you have other funding outside of the Corktown 500? For instance, have you sought bank financing or the backing of accredited investors? Do you have a fallback plan, should you not be able to raise enough through the Corktown 500 campaign? Have you considered pre-selling product?

    DAVID: As I said previously, the Corktown 500 offers nothing to us as far as financing goes. We already have our seed money, which includes some personal investments on both mine and Peter’s part, as well as a line of credit from a financial institution. There is a small investment opportunity left, however, but we expect that to close any day now, as we’ve had amazing support and interest from outside investors.

    MARK: Let’s talk about your spirits. What do you intend to offer in your portfolio? And what, in your opinion, makes each distinctive?

    DAVID: We will be making a vodka, gin and (what we are really hitting hard) an aged spirit line including a rye whiskey, a bourbon, and a single malt Scotch style whiskey. We also may end up playing with some spirits in-house that don’t make it onto shelves in stores, but you may find them in our distillery, such as Calvados and Absinthe. I have French heritage so I’m a sucker for all those delicious French liquors and liqueurs. As far as what makes them distinctive, you’re just gonna have to come down and taste them for yourself, and tell me what you think!

    MARK: How long have you been working on your recipes, and are you confident that you’ve got them where you want them? Or, is there still tweaking to be done before you ramp up production?

    DAVID: We are pretty much there with our recipes, but there is always room for tweaking. I think we’ll be tweaking until the day we stop making spirits…. hmm that sounded weird.

    MARK: Is the plan still to open in spring of 2013?

    DAVID: The St. Patricks Day Parade was our goal about six months ago, but time is drying up, and unfortunately we won’t be able to make that deadline. Sigh…. That would have been such a great time to showcase our spirits to the revelry in the streets, but we’ll just have to wait. We’re still projecting a Spring opening, though. Hopefully it’ll happen by the end of April, but, realistically, if it happened in the beginning of June, I wouldn’t be too surprised. We want it to open of course, but we really want it to be right, and, if that means more time, so be it… BUT DEFINITELY BY JUNE!

    MARK: Why Corktown?

    DAVID: Corktown was just perfect for us. There are like-minded individuals in the neighborhood that really want to revitalize the community and help beautify the area. It’s on the upswing and close to downtown, but still has the flexibility of being financially feasible as well as providing us with adequate space. (Distilleries need specific dimensions. They need tall ceilings, no adjacent domiciles, etc.) Besides it being the oldest neighborhood in Detroit, it’s on a major thoroughfare (Michigan Avenue), with fewer zoning restrictions, plenty of parking, etc. Plus, it’s called Corktown. It just sounds badass… Who wouldn’t want whiskey from a place called “Corktown”?!

    MARK: You mentioned that you’re working with whiskey-maker David Pickerell, who used to be the Distillery Manager and VP of Operations at Maker’s Mark. How did that relationship come about?

    DAVID: It was funny how it happened actually. Pete was talking to one of his friends from Chattanooga who was on an interview in Portland, Oregon, and she happened to be talking to him from this bar. As they were talking, she said, “Hey, there’s this guy next to me that says he’s a distillery consultant, and that you should call him.” Having heard a lot about people offering their consulting services who weren’t really worth a damn, so we just kind of dismissed it and said, “Okay, sure, take his card.” Later, though, we looked him up and started doing research on him, his expertise, and accomplishments, and realized that we needed to talk to him. We soon realized how great an asset he was, hung out a few times, and developed a great friendship. He’s definitely mentoring us and assisting us in our whiskey-making. He invited us to Mount Vernon to work at George Washington’s distillery, and it was priceless. Using the old techniques, with no motorized equipment, wood fired stills, etc. It was hot, humid, smelly, dirty, smokey and perfect… Dave’s worth his weight in gold, and, if you’ve ever seen him, that’s saying something.

    MARK: You’ve mentioned in your materials that you’re attempting to source as much as possible locally. Are you having much luck with it? Are all the grains you need available in Michigan? And is the supplier network easy to access as new entrepreneurs?

    DAVID: The short answer is no. Because grain is traded as a commodity it’s really hard to source it from a specific farm. We’ve been searching everywhere, and just haven’t come up with a small provider that has the means of harvesting, cleaning, and storing grains for us, especially because we have no track record when it comes to production demands. We can make sure that some of our products are local (like botanicals for gin), but, as far as the grain goes, the closest we can narrow it down to is making sure that it comes from Michigan (but it will probably come from all over the state). As we progress as a business, though, I’m sure it will be easier to narrow our search down, but right now it’s almost impossible. We actually have a potential farm to use in the future so we could actually be “Farm to Bottle” at some point, but the main problem is cleaning and storing. It costs a lot of money, and most small farms don’t have the capability. If you have any leads, though, feel free to let me know!

    MARK: What the entrepreneurial atmosphere like in Detroit these days? As new people on the scene, are you finding that there’s infrastructure to support you?

    DAVID: The business environment in Detroit is amazing. We’ve had such unbelievable support and enthusiasm about our project from everyone… from city officials right down to the bartender around the corner at the Mercury Bar, who bought us shots when we signed our lease. Honestly, we couldn’t ask for a better situation. Our landlord has been more like a partner than a lessor, the city boards worked with us for countless hours making sure that we knew the exact process of application and permitting, and it goes on and on. We owe a lot to the people that have helped us along the way, and can’t wait to give back to the community, employ people, and add to the revitalization. I couldn’t be more excited about the potential of Detroit.

    Posted in Detroit, Food, Local Business, Locally Owned Business | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

    Will Michigan Republicans make a move to rig the 2016 election by changing the way our electoral votes are cast?

    According to Michigan Radio, state Republicans, despite the serious push-back they’ve been getting from voters, and the fact that a similar measure has apparently fizzled in Virginia, have every intention of moving forward with plans to radically change the way our electoral votes are cast for President in hopes of making it more likely for a Republican to win the presidency. Here’s a clip:

    State House Republican leaders say they have no plans to scrap discussions about splitting Michigan’s Electoral College votes between congressional districts.

    Both Governor Rick Snyder and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville have said they’re not on board with the idea. Snyder says it would be better to consider changes closer to the next census, when congressional lines are re-drawn.

    But House Speaker Jase Bolger said there’s no reason to wait that long.

    “This should not be a conversation about party. This certainly should not be a conversation – and is not, at this point – a conversation about who might win, because we don’t know who the candidates are. So this is the time to have that conversation, when a presidential election is not ongoing,” he said…

    For what it’s worth, Representative Peter Lund, the author of the bill which would, if passed, end Michigan’s winner-take-all system, and replace it with a scheme in which electoral votes are split up and awarded from each individual congressional district independently, said yesterday that, despite what Bolger has suggested, he’s in no hurry to introduce the legislation. The following clip comes from Gary Heinlein’s piece in yesterday’s Detroit News.

    …A bill he sponsored last year failed to gain support and died at the end of the legislative session. Lund said that’s partly because GOP lawmakers thought Romney had a chance to win the state’s popular vote and get all 16 electoral votes.

    Lund, whose bill was in the hopper for most of the last two-year session, said Tuesday he’s not personally motivated by such concerns.

    He said now is the perfect time to debate the change because the next election is far off and so are no such calculations to be made.

    “We’ve got 45 weeks until it matters,” he said. “I’m still going to do it but I’m not in a hurry; it’s not a priority right now.”..

    Given how the right-to-work legislation came about after our Governor assured us that it “wasn’t on (his) agenda,” I’m not inclined to say that we’re out of danger on this issue, but I really don’t see how it’s likely at this point that the Republicans will make a move, despite the statements made by Bolger. Of course, I could be wrong, but I suspect, if they were going to do it, they probably would have done it by now. As far as I can tell, though, there’s really no impetus for them to push it through during this legislative session, when the next Presidential election is four years off, and they don’t yet know who their candidate will be, or whether their party might have a shot of winning Michigan – taking all 16 electoral votes for their side. Of course, the odds are against them. The people of Michigan haven’t voted for a Republican since 1988, when George Bush the Elder faced off against Mike Dukakis. But I’m sure they’re convinced that this time might be different, and they might be able, thought various voter suppression efforts, and misleading campaign ads, to win the majority of votes. And I suppose this is a good thing for us that they have this evil, little glimmer of hope, as it buys us time. So, what do we do now? How do we make good use of this time, and work to ensure that this change isn’t made a year or two from now, when they decide to go for it, in hopes of securing 9 of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes for their candidate?

    [note: Those who are interested in the specifics might want to check out our discussion from a few days ago, which goes into quite a bit more detail on this issue.]

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Michigan, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

      Who would you like to see dragged back to Ypsi/Arbor against their will?

      For those of you who didn’t notice, I’ve added a link at the bottom of the right hand column. When clicked, it will take you to a page where I’ve started collecting all of our Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interviews. I may have missed a few, but I’ve tried, as best that I could, to aggregate them all in this one spot. (If I’ve forgotten anyone, let me know and I’ll add them in.) Well, it’s probably not right of me to ask this, as I don’t want to make this a competitive thing, but I’m curious as to who, of all of these people that we’ve spoken with over the past few years, you’d most want to have back on our team… So, here’s the question of the day: If you could abduct one person and drag them back against their will, who would it be?

      <a href="http://www.sodahead.com/fun/of-all-the-people-who-have-abandoned-us-over-the-past-several-years-who-would-you-most-like-to-have/question-3490305/" onclick="javascript:_gaq.push(['_trackEvent','outbound-article','http://www.sodahead.com']);" title="Of all the people who have abandoned us over the past several years, who would you most like to have back?">Of all the people who have abandoned us over the past several years, who would you most like to have back?</a>

      Also, if you have suggestions as to other people that I should interview in this series, let me know.

      And, yes, I’m apparently obsessed by polls these days. I’m sure the novelty will wear off soon, though, so just be patient.

      [note: To access all of the Exit Interviews for the above-mentioned people, just click here.]

      Posted in Ann Arbor, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

      Celebrating the life… and evil lies… of Charles Darwin

      Had a vengeful God not struck him down for heresy, the famed naturalist Charles Darwin would be turning 204 years old on February 12, and literate folks around the world are marking the occasion by planning celebrations in his honor. I had forgotten that “Darwin Day” was upon us until earlier this evening, when a hilariously stupid internet fable concerning a Christian soldier who, thanks to God’s divine intervention, was able to drive a truck without an engine, was brought to my attention. (note: The original story has since been removed from the web, but a screen capture can be found here.) Well, one thing led to another, and I found myself on Reddit, catching up on the anti-science internet memes spread by those among us who believe that evolution, as articulated by Darwin, and perpetuated by liberal, God-hating academics, is pure evil. Here, for those of you who don’t have a crazy, tea-partying aunt to send you such things through Facebook, is one of my favorites.

      A United States Marine was taking some college courses between assignments. He had completed 20 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the courses had a professor who was an avowed atheist, and a member of the ACLU.

      One day the professor shocked the class when he came in. He looked to the ceiling and flatly stated, “GOD, if you are real, then I want you to knock me off this platform… I’ll give you exactly 15 min.”

      The lecture room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop. Ten minutes went by and the professor proclaimed, “Here I am GOD, I’m still waiting.”

      It got down to the last couple of minutes when the Marine got out of his chair, went up to the professor, and hit him; knocking him off the platform. The professor was out cold.

      The Marine went back to his seat and sat there, silently.

      The other students were shocked and stunned, and sat there looking on in silence. The professor eventually came to, noticeably shaken, looked at the Marine and asked, “What in the world is the matter with you? Why did you do that?”

      The Marine calmly replied, “GOD was too busy today protecting soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid stuff and act like an idiot. So He sent me.”

      The classroom erupted in cheers!

      And, now, here’s a slightly improved version authored by someone on Reddit calling himself Grimster.

      Reminds me of another true story:

      A liberal muslim homosexual ACLU lawyer professor and abortion doctor was teaching a class on Karl Marx.

      “Before the class begins, you must get on your knees and worship Marx and accept that he was the most highly-evolved being that the world has ever known, even greater than Jesus Christ.”

      At this moment, a brave, patriotic, pro-life Navy SEAL champion who had served 1500 tours of duty and understood the necessity of war and fully supported all military decision made by the United States stood up and held up a rock.

      “How old is this rock?”

      The arrogant professor smirked quite Jewishly and smugly replied “4.6 billion years, you stupid Christian.”

      “Wrong. It’s been 5,000 years since God created it. If it was 4.6 billion years old and evolution, as you say, is real…. then it should be an animal now.”

      The Professor was visibly shaken and dropped his copy of Origin of the Species. He stormed out of the room crying those liberal crocodile tears.

      The students applauded and all registered Republican that day and accepted Jesus as their lord and savior. An eagle named “Small Government” flew into the room and perched atop the American Flag and shed a tear on the chalk board. The pledge of allegiance was read several times, and God himself showed up and enacted a flat tax rate across the country.

      I’m sorry if that last piece is a bit of a distraction, but I couldn’t help myself… At any rate, I hope it doesn’t distract from the very serious fact that there are people in the world who, despite the fact that 150 years have passed since the publication of Origin of Species, are still fighting to keep scientific fact out of the classroom, as they fear that it may lead young Americans to question whether or not we’re really all the inbred descendants of two people who were plopped down by God into the Garden of Eden… among the friendly dinosaurs. Here, for those you who don’t believe that the threat is very much real, is a clip from Mother Jones.

      In Texas public schools, children learn that the Bible provides scientific proof that Earth is 6,000 years old, that the origins of racial diversity trace back to a curse placed on Noah’s son, and that astronauts have discovered “a day missing in space” that corroborates biblical stories of the sun standing still.

      These are some of the findings detailed in Reading, Writing & Religion II, a new report by the Texas Freedom Network that investigates how public schools in the Lone Star State promote religious fundamentalism under the guise of offering academic courses about the Bible. The report, written by Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, found that more than half of the state’s public-school Bible courses taught students to read the book from a specifically Christian theological perspective—a clear violation of rules governing the seperation of church and state.

      Many school districts pushed specific strains of fundamentalism in the classes:

      • “The Bible is the written word of God,” proclaims a slide shown to students in suburban Houston’s Klein Independent School District (ISD). Another slide adds: “The Bible is united in content because there is no contradictions [sic] in the writing. The reason for this is because that Bible is written under God’s direction and inspiration.”

      • A PowerPoint slide in Brenham ISD in Central Texas claims that “Christ’s resurrection was an event that occurred in time and space—that is was, in reality, historical and not mythological.” (emphasis in original)

      • In North Texas, Prosper ISD promotes the Rapture, claiming in course materials that “the first time the Lord gathered his people back was after the Babylonian captivity. The second time the Lord will gather his people back will be at the end of the age.”

      Some Bible classes in Texas public school appear to double as “science” classes, circumventing limits placed on teaching creationism. Eastland ISD, a school district outside Fort Worth, shows videos produced by the Creation Evidence Museum, which claims to posess a fossil of a dinosaur footprint atop “a pristine human footprint.”

      While I suspect that this isn’t the case in most Texas schools, it’s certainly something to be cognizant of, and fight against. And, if for no other reason than that, I think Darwin Day is a holiday worthy of our support. (Personally, I’d be happy to make it a “real” holiday. I know we can’t have too many federal holidays, but what if we agreed to give up Columbus Day in trade? I could totally get behind something like that.)

      As for local celebrations this year, despite the thoughtful warnings of scholarly men, like master-thespian Kirk Cameron, I’m told that the Michigan Skeptics Association will be meeting to celebrate on February 9, at an undisclosed location somewhere around Plymouth. (I intend to just drive around, looking for men in cloaks, carrying sacrificial goats.) And, here, if you’re not inclined to drink among skeptics, is a link to a list of things that you can do with friends and family to keep the spirit of Darwin alive. I particularly like the idea of hosting a Phylum Feast, but, as that would probably require work, I think I’ll probably just warm up some dino nuggets, and gather the family around the laptop to watch Carl Sagan explain evolution…. like this:

      Posted in Other, Religious Extremism, Science, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

      The car dilemma… What do you think that I should do?

      In September of 2002, I purchased my first, and only, brand new car. I’d always told myself that I’d never buy a new car… as new cars, as we all know, are for suckers… but my old Jeep, which was built from salvaged parts by the kids in a rural Kentucky auto shop class, was on its last legs, and I wanted to demonstrate to the powers that be that there was a market here in U.S. for hybrids. If you can remember back to 2002, there weren’t very many hybrids on the roads, and the analysts were all wondering if they’d actually sell here, as the American people, despite global warming and peak oil, only seemed to want SUVs, which were becoming more obnoxious and ridiculous by the season. (I believe that it was around this time that Cadillac began incorporating “power-retractable assist steps” in their models, as the monstrosities they were creating had grown too large for people to actually enter without robotic assistance.) I called all of the domestic automakers, asking if they would be bringing hybrids to market anytime soon, and I ws told that none of them were. Honda and Toyota, however, had new models on the market, and I chose the Honda Civic Hybrid, which I’m still driving today, 11 years later. The only difference is, instead of getting 42 miles the gallon on average, as it did for the first 10 years of its life, it’s now getting about 26, and every single warning light on the dash is now lit up… And that’s why I’m posting this today.

      It would seem that everything is failing at the same time, and, consequently, I’m in a position where I have to made a big, adult decision.

      I’ve taken really good care of it over the years, but it would seem that, regardless of how you treat these cars, battery packs don’t last forever. Eventually they need to be recycled and replaced. And it’s an expensive process. A new battery pack, I’ve been told, costs about $3,000. I’ve known for a few months that I need one, but I’ve been in denial… hoping, I guess, that, if I don’t think about it, it’ll get better. But it’s not getting better. Every day another warning light starts glowing amber, and I lose another mile per gallon. (I don’t just need the new battery pack. I also need a new oxygen sensor, which will cost about $500.) Well, yesterday, I finally broke down and called a dealership, asking what I might get for a 2003 Honda Civic hybrid with 115,000 miles, a malfunctioning oxygen sensor, and a bad battery pack. The answer was a measly $500 to $750.

      So, now, I’m turning to you, my invisible internet friends. I need your help thinking this through. I could break out the credit card, invest $3,500 into the car, and hope that I can get another few years out of it, or I could trade it in for something else. As I don’t want a car loan, I’m inclined to say that I should invest the $3,500, but, of course, there’s no guarantee that something else won’t break in the coming year. It is, after all, an 11 year old car. Still, though, Hondas generally hold up pretty well, and 115,000 miles isn’t all that much for a car that’s never missed an oil change.

      There are, of course, two other options. One is that I try to exist without a car. The other is that I just drive this car until it expires alongside the road, like a exhausted, frozen Tauntaun. The first, I don’t think is practical, given the demands of my job, the tight time constraints I’m often under, and the various activities I’m involved with that don’t take place along bus lines. And the second, I think, isn’t terribly responsible, as I often have the kids with me, and I don’t think they’d much appreciate it if we got stranded somewhere late at night when it’s 20-degrees below zero outside.

      So, with all that said, I’d like to roll out the first official MarkMaynard.com poll… I’m not promising that I’ll do what you tell me to, but I’m curious to know your thoughts, as all things car-related make me feel like an insecure, panic-stricken ten year old.

      <a href="http://www.sodahead.com/fun/what-should-mark-do-about-his-car-situation/question-3485723/" onclick="javascript:_gaq.push(['_trackEvent','outbound-article','http://www.sodahead.com']);" title="What should Mark do about his car situation?">What should Mark do about his car situation?</a>

      And, if there’s any doubt as to how much I hate buying and selling cars, here’s how I explained the process of buying my car back in 2002:

      …This is the first time I’ve bought, or tried to buy, a car through a dealership, and I’m starting to understand and really appreciate the gut-wringing stress that I’ve heard alluded to throughout my life. It sucks. The whole car-buying process sucks huge, gnarled, boil-covered cocks…

      [Mark Maynard Trivia: The day I bought my car in 2002 is the same day I conducted my worst in-person interview ever, with David Cross.]

      Posted in Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 53 Comments

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