Viewpoint in the Michigan Daily

31 03 2011

Former New Mexico Governor (and future Presidential candidate) Gary Johnson is coming to our campus tonight, so in preparation, I wrote a viewpoint that appeared in the Michigan Daily.

You can read it here.

It’s something I did on behalf of both the College Libertarians and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, which I am not a member of. So I had to try to encompass the reasons both groups had for bringing Gary Johnson to campus while also appealing to a liberal student base (so we’d actually have attendees at our event…more on that to follow).

If I’d written with my own intentions in mind, I would have focused less on college campus favorites (opposition to war, drug legalization) and more on the other issues I see dramatically impacting myself and the other unfortunate members of my generation, namely, regulatory overreach and crushing debt. But I suppose it’s all closely related–it’s just a matter of choosing the right message for a college audience.

Anyhow, I’m off to the event!

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The NY Times on campus: subsidizing irrelevance

29 03 2011

Don’t let the University of Michigan’s new computer labs or cutting-edge research facilities fool you. Appearances aside, many of my instructors and fellow students seem to be stuck firmly in the past.

No, this isn’t about Ann Arbor’s upcoming Hash Bash, which is soon to celebrate its 40th year on campus. Instead, I’m referring to the recent proposal, based on the mistaken assumption that newspapers are still relevant to today’s hyperconnected college students, to distribute thousands of copies of the New York Times to campus newsstands everyday.

Since the NY Times is in no position to give anything away these days (including online content, given their soon to be implemented paywall), the “free” daily paper would in fact be subsidized by a $4/semester fee added to the tuition of all students–regardless of whether they care to read the paper or not. While an advisory vote in recent campus elections favored the proposal, no definitive action has yet been taken by the student government to further the initiative.

With an unfortunate number of individuals on and around campus viewing NY Times readership as an instant badge of erudition, it’s likely that we’ll be able to afford one less latte after receiving next semester’s tuition bill. But the $4 fee that is not the issue at stake; worrying about an amount that small in the era of skyrocketing tuition would be outrageous. Instead, I’m astounded by the pervasive and outdated mentality that students need to be provided with a traditional newspaper, let alone a newspaper with the biases of the NY Times, to remain informed in this modern age–particularly on a campus so proud of its rampant technophilia.

On its surface, the proposal to subsidize and distribute the NY Times may seem noble, or at least pragmatic; after all, there’s no better way to impress prospective students (and their parents) during campus tours than to have as many students as possible walking around with the Paper of Record tucked under their arms. Imagine the instant academic credibility U-M would gain if tuition fees were enacted to subsidize horn-rimmed glasses and all-season scarves as well!

Yet most of the students who pick up the NY Times will probably browse through the first few pages while parked in a lecture hall, make a halfhearted attempt at the crossword puzzle, and then pitch the whole thing. I suppose the more environmentally conscious students might recycle the paper if there’s an appropriate bin around, but even so, the entire enterprise is as much a waste of student resources as it is trees. To be brutally honest: the vast majority of students who read newspapers, whether national dailies or campus publications, do so for cheap or free entertainment, not information.


If only students were able to access the news on one of these computers...

It’s laughable for me to picture myself, or any of my peers, rushing to a newsstand to catch up on the late breaking stories from around the world; I could do so on my smartphone in less time than it would take me to find the international section of any newspaper. With the Internet’s innumerable competing sources of virtually free news and commentary, it is ridiculous to assert that free copies of the NY Times are all that set otherwise ignorant U-M students apart from globally informed enlightenment.

Of course, that U-M would contemplate using student tuition fees to support a publication with certain biases (I won’t go so far as to call the NY Times a “left-wing rag”) should give me pause, but after years in Ann Arbor, it hardly surprises me. A less jaded observer might ask whether U-M ought to provide some editorial balance by at least offering the option of, say, the Wall Street Journal; experience suggests, however, that those most fond of the idea of providing papers to the student body have no desire to offer opposition to the opinions of Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, or Paul Krugman.

If this paper-pushing scheme is implemented, I’ll hear all about the tremendous value it will offer (to NY Times-reading students, at least), and how the mere presence of the paper on campus will, in some small and intangible way, contribute to the world-class statute of U-M (as every pointless investment inevitably does). But behind the hearty praise, I’ll see the reality: a small, self-indulgent group of students using their peers’ tuition fees to subsidize their love for an increasingly irrelevant icon of the American intelligentsia.





Finally, The Michigan Review’s web presence gets an update

23 03 2011

In case you didn’t already know, I write for/publish (which mostly means sending in checks) The Michigan Review, a biweekly campus newspaper that has been staffed and produced by University of Michigan students since its founding in 1982.

The Review’s old website, though not quite as old as the paper itself, was in sore need of an update–one it finally received tonight, when our newly designed site went live.

Check it out here; you can also follow the Review on Twitter if that’s your thing, or look us up on Facebook. Better yet, do all three.

The new site is simple, straightforward, and very clean. Best of all, all of the links actually click through to the correct content! It doesn’t appear that all of the most recent articles have made it online yet, including my analysis of U-M’s financial statement and budget.

I’m supposed to email the link to the article to an individual I interviewed for the story, so let this serve as a public reminder to take care of that once it becomes available.





Raw milk and liberty: why the revolution will not be pasteurized

23 03 2011

It’s difficult to know whether citizens of Sedgwick, Maine realized that they would be voting on a matter of national import when they gathered for a town meeting earlier this month.

No, they weren’t voting to secede from the union or to impeach a sitting President (as several small Vermont towns did during the Bush Administration). Rather, in a scene that probably resembled a saccharine Norman Rockwell painting, Sedgwick residents voted to affirm a right that many Americans don’t realize they have lost: the right to buy groceries without the intervention of the state.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, try buying raw, unpasteurized milk at your local grocery store. If you manage to secure an illegal milk hook-up or find a store that stocks said milk, you run the risk of being involved in a guns-drawn raid by regulators determined to keep contraband dairy off grocery store shelves. Yes, that nonsense actually happens if you are in one of the states that prohibits or restricts the sale of raw milk.

When I first saw an article on the subject of Sedgwick’s pioneering “Food Sovereignty” ordinance (via Reason), I was hit by how easily we take for granted the extent of the government’s intrusion into our daily lives–and how triumphant even seemingly mundane, localized acts of defiance against overbearing legislation can be.

Compared to the challenges presented by a staggering national debt, destructive economic policies wrought by bureaucrats and enabled by a reckless central bank, and an endless flood of regulations, laws, and taxes that threaten to permanently delay any return to prosperity, it’s easy to dismiss Sedgwick’s fight for access to unregulated meat and raw milk as frivolous.

Given the tendency to focus on the federal government as the root of all our woes, this sentiment is quite understandable and far from baseless. It’s easy to ask whether it’s worth fighting for greater personal liberty at a local level when the feds can undo it all with overbearing laws, regulations, or new mandates.

But decentralized, bottom-up progress is not only important–it’s an absolutely crucial component of the effort to increase the sphere of individual liberty while at the same time helping to reshape the national debate over the proper role of government in a free society.

After all (to take just one example), has largely been state, not federal policy that has turned the Midwest into the Rust Belt and fostered an economic boom in the South. Both regions suffer under the same intrusive federal government, but state laws favoring the stagnant status quo have meant that much of the Midwest has remained unattractive to new manufacturing enterprises (or non-subsidized enterprises of any kind) for decades.

Clearly, working to roll back government interference at a state or local level can pay immediate dividends for residents, all without having to stage a march on Washington.

Yet there is an added dimension to smaller-scale activism as well. A focus on local government, whether statewide or municipal, can also help raise bulwarks–albeit slightly shaky and potentially less-than-legally-sound bulwarks–against other unacceptable government overreach. That’s why Sedgwick’s fight for the right to buy unregulated dairy and meat products is so important in the broader fight to overcome the inertia that pushes the leviathan ever further into our everyday lives.

Many view the rules and regulations implemented by state or federal Departments of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration as essentially benevolent–they are here to protect us from Upton Sinclair’s tainted meat, not limit our choices as individuals. But that is just what these paternalistic laws do. Instead of encouraging individuals to make informed decisions about what substances to consume, such regulations infantilize and breed dependence.

Perhaps once Sedgwick residents boldly and bravely engage in free commerce by buying, selling, and consuming contraband milk and meat products from known sources and then not dying from foodborne illnesses, members of the public will begin questioning the need for such strict food-related regulation.

And if food, clearly vital for sustaining human life, can be safely and effectively provided without regulation, then why not do away with some (…or all) of the myriad other product safety regulations designed to protect us from ourselves? It is not difficult to imagine the consequences of even a simple, local effort to increase liberty spreading out like ripples, eventually causing change on a national level.

Small, decentralized efforts to roll back the influence of the state may not have the dramatic appeal of a protest on the National Mall, but they’re more likely to change minds in the long run.  In the mean time, they may allow you to experience the benefits of freedom directly–even if the benefits are as simple as fresh meat and unprocessed, unpasteurized milk.





Who Killed Homer?

22 03 2011

As I consider my place in the academic world, this review of Who Killed Homer? by Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath seems especially relevant.  I wrote it for The Michigan Review earlier this year but never posted it here.

 

A recent headline-making study has found that, after two years of college education, 45 percent of all undergraduate students lack basic critical thinking skills, and a shocking 36 percent remain so unequipped upon graduation.

The results of this study have been published in Academically Adrift:Limited Learning on College Campuses, a new book by New York University sociology professor Richard Arum, and they are certain to take college students, recent grads, and their proud parents alike by surprise. Just try telling a hard-working student that there is an almost a fifty-fifty chance that they will have “demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and written communications” after four backbreaking semesters of dreaded “weeder” classes. If nothing else, it certainly feels like students should be learning for all the toiling they do.

Still, there are a few perceptive and honest intellectuals who have been warning of this coming educational calamity for some time. Among them are classical scholars Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath. Their 1998 book, Who Killed Homer?, examines the decline of Classical education in the halls of the West’s most respected institutions of higher learning. Hanson and Heath, former and current Classics professors (respectively), penned the book after years of experience with crumbling Classics programs and long, often personal struggles to keep the likes of Homer and Aristotle alive in the minds of the next generation.

Certainly, then, they are guides well qualified to walk us through the “death” of Homer in modern academia, the importance of Greek thought and its current applicability, the causes of the Classics’ decline, the difficulty of making ancient works relevant to modern students, and a plan for the dramatically reinvented university education of the future. Throughout all of this, however, is continuing commentary on the state of modern higher education as a whole, for the Liberal Arts are being killed by the same maladies that have already greatly diminished the Classics.

At first blush, the relationship between stagnating Classics programs at the nation’s major educational institutions and the deterioration of the public’s most basic reasoning abilities may seem tenuous at best. We live, after all, in a world where English, not Latin, is the world’s lingua franca; besides, memorizing a seemingly endless procession of ancient wars, philosophers, and rulers may not serve an immediately identifiable function in an era where information is available instantly.

Fortunately, Hanson and Heath are not arguing for rote memorization of historical trivialities. Instead, they put forth that the Western World owes a great debt to the Classical societies of Greece and Rome. To undertake a serious study of our modern culture’s history, values, and impact on the world (for better or worse), one must begin by becoming comfortable with the timeless works of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Who Killed Homer? is not merely a mindless elevation of long-dead philosophers or poets. Hanson and Heath are quick to condemn the reprehensible institutions of the Classical world: slavery, sexism, militarism, and others.

At the same time, they reject and criticize academia’s desire to tear the Greeks down to make a quick splash in the stagnant pools of modern philology. Instead of writing another trendy yet narrow-minded paper on “Sexism in Homer from the Marxist-feminist perspective,” for example, a true scholar would recognize that the very ability to critically examine one’s society (sexist or exploitative as it may be) without fear of reprisal is a gift with its ultimate origins in the Classical world.

As the Classics die, Hanson and Heath argue, what is lost is much more than the ability to read a dead language or identify pottery shards. More fatal is our loss of perspective. With millennia of cultural development laid out before anyone willing to dive into a bit of ancient history can see that, no matter what the situation, someone very wise has been there before-and had the decency to write about it for the benefit of posterity.

Virtually all of the modern academic disciplines can trace their roots back to the ancient Greeks, and at a time where all of higher education seems to be losing direction and capability; Arum’s study of undergraduate critical thinking ability is only one of the more recent demonstrations of this reality. Hanson and Heath make it clear that the Classical virtue of critical self-examination coupled with a rediscovery of Greek wisdom form the crucial elements of an academic renaissance.

Who Killed Homer? is a rewarding book, no matter your level of familiarity with the Classics. Those with only a few years of Latin education will certainly not catch the vast majority of casual references to ancient wars or playwrights that fill Who Killed Homer? And perhaps plunging readers into unfamiliar territory was one of the authors’ intentions. After discovering how much we have yet to learn, this book begs readers to take it upon themselves to broaden their knowledge of the Classics and begin to fill our wide gaps in understanding.





Sleep cycles

19 03 2011

Over the past few weeks, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, my sleep schedule got flung so far out of whack that I started to feel like a real overworked college student.

Even when I tried to force myself to sleep, my mind raced until four or five AM; once I finally passed out, I’d only get three or four hours of sleep before class. Then, I’d take an equally long nap later in the day before repeating the vicious cycle.

Why should anyone care about my poor sleeping habits? No idea. But I did happen to stumble on the interesting concept of polyphasic sleep while aimlessly browsing Wikipedia during my mercifully brief tenure as an insomniac.

I’m not sure whether there’s anything to the concept; I managed to adopt a “biphasic” sleep schedule for a little over a week, and honestly, it wasn’t all bad–at first.

Like most Buckminster Fuller inventions, the Dymaxion Sleep Schedule looked cool but was completely impractical

I found that the world started to get a little gray and blurry towards the middle of last week, and last night I completely crashed (for 16 hours or so, I think).  Still, polyphasic sleep enthusiasts (who participate in the dynamic and burgeoning online polyphasic sleep community) actually believe that dividing your sleep up into many short naps may allow you to actually reduce the amount of time sleeping in the long run.

This may work in high-stress, emergency situations. However, it sounds like a recipe for a narcoleptic disaster if sustained for more than a few days. Though I was still getting roughly 6-8 hours of sleep every 24-hour period (the concept of “days” kind of ceases to exist after a while), I could barely stay awake after arising from a 4-hour nap by the end of this past week.

So my completely non-scientific advice to all of contemplating a polyphasic sleep schedule (and I’m sure pretty much everyone out there was ready to give it a try): don’t bother. There’s no real scientific evidence that it works in the long run, and from personal experience, it sets one up for an epic mini-hibernation after a week or two.





Gov. Snyder selected to be commencement speaker; students throw hissy fit

16 03 2011

I wrote this bit about the controversy surrounding U-M’s selection of Gov. Snyder as the class of 2011’s commencement speaker for the Student Free Press Association.  It looks like it got picked up by Fox Nation as well. Exciting!

University of Michigan students have picked an odd time to campaign against Governor Rick Snyder, since he assumed office two months ago. Across campus, petitions are being signed, protests are being organized, and student opinion is coalescing: Snyder is the wrong man for Michigan—or at least the Big House. The cause of this most recent awakening is, of course, Monday’s announcement that Snyder is to be the U-M graduating class of 2011’s commencement speaker, pending approval by the Board of Regents.

The outrage seems to stem largely from a recent segment on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show that painted Snyder as a dastardly economic hit man.  Far from trying to improve Michigan’s economy by fostering a more business-friendly environment, Snyder is hell-bent on using his emergency economic powers to crush unions and the middle class while rewarding his big-business buddies. Who knew?

A video clip of that segment went viral on campus just days before the commencement announcement was issued. As the clip was spread across Facebook, few if any bothered to acknowledge the harsh realities facing the State of Michigan, still suffering from double-digit unemployment and gaping budget deficits; fewer still proposed any solutions to our crises other than Michael Moore-esque cries of “eat the rich!” Far easier to simply hop on the bandwagon and rally against Michigan’s own wannabe Scott Walker.

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