U-M Goes Cold Turkey

28 06 2011

I just received an email from the University of Michigan’s great and fearless leader Mary Sue Coleman. This official dispatch regards the looming July 1 implementation of the Smoke-Free University Initiative, which, as Coleman is excited to announce, will “promote a healthier U-M” by banning all smoking everywhere on all U-M property. You can still smoke in your car, as long as your windows are rolled up (no, seriously).

There are innumerable practical problems with the ban that go beyond the “four-wheeled gas chamber” loophole. Smoking has been banned in University buildings since 1987, and a rarely enforced no-smoking perimeter already exists around building entrances and exits. Instead of enforcing this existing rule, U-M Administration is going cold turkey and removing all outdoor ashtrays from campus. Since U-M operates facilities on thousands of acres across the state, it is hard to imagine a student or professor trudging off university property for a quick smoke between classes; couple that with the fact that compliance is, for now at least, voluntary, and it seems that Coleman is going to be sweeping up a lot of cigarette butts that would have otherwise been tossed responsibly. Of course, convenience and practicality are merely speed bumps on Coleman’s mad dash to cultivate an ill-defined campus “culture of health.”

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Just Awesome: Bart Hickey, Mechanic

23 06 2011

I stumbled across this as I was doing my morning auto blog read-through.

I’m not one for cheesy motivational crap, but the article is pretty inspiring, as is the attached video. It’s about Bart Hickey, who owns his own garage in Alsip Illinois: Bart’s Automotive and Towing. Though he does the auto repairs, he presumably doesn’t get behind the wheel of the tow truck himself–because he’s also blind.

Bart does everything by touch and sound (I wonder how many cars he can identify by engine note?) and remarks, like every other old car guy, that the new cars just aren’t as easy to work on as the classics. But that doesn’t hold him back from doing more blind than most people do sighted.

And with that in mind, I’m back out to the garage, where I’ve been working away to build a hospitable place to rebuild the Packard.

Finally, Blade Runner tech!

22 06 2011

It’s becoming more and more evident just how prescient Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner was. Though set in 2019, many elements of the gritty neo-noir have already come true today: LA is a dystopian wasteland, RCA, Atari, and Pan Am are thriving American megacorporations, and replicants from the offworlds are wreaking havoc on the populace with only Harrison Ford standing in their way.

Also, all fashion is late-80's Versace and everyone listens to Vangelis

As cool as Blade Runner is, I’m glad the future is headed in a different direction (though the film got the part about LA right, and Harrison Ford might a replicant). Still, though, it’s cool when a piece of tech from an old sci-fi book or movie comes to life. If you saw Blade Runner, you might remember the “Esper” device:

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Surpise, Surprise: Tution Skyrockets Again

21 06 2011

Last year, the University of Michigan trumpeted what they called “the lowest resident undergraduate tuition increase since 1984.” The announcement came as something of a breath of fresh air as families struggled to regain their financial footing in the wake of the Great Recession; more importantly, it was a great public relations move.

For decades, American college students have struggled financially as the rate of tuition increases has far outstripped inflation, income growth, and even the price of housing before the real estate bubble burst. That the bean counters at U-M had managed to keep last year’s tuition increases to only 1.5% was a remarkable–indeed, almost heroic feat of accounting.

It must have been a fluke.

This past Friday, U-M announced that rates for the upcoming school year would skyrocket by 6.7%. Other public universities have quietly done the same, increasing rates by around 7%. Contrast U-M’s grim, Snyder made us do it air surrounding this year’s rate increase with the PR frenzy that accompanied last year’s prideful announcement. Read the rest of this entry »

Light posting

18 06 2011

In preparation for my sister’s grad party (Congratulations Paige!), I’ve been helping with housework for the past few days. Nobody blurs the line between pre-party cleanup and major renovations like my family–so I probably won’t be able to write much until after the event tomorrow.

In the mean time, wisdom from Bruce McCall:

Indeed it does

Taillight Diplomacy: Revved or Stalled?

14 06 2011

I’m prone to strong and readily formed opinions; it’s a rare matter that leaves me feeling a bit ambivalent. Taillight Diplomacy is a case in point.

Autowriter Mark Phelan profiled Taillight Diplomacy, a group that has supposedly “built links between Cuban and American car culture for 13 years,” in a Detroit Free Press article last Friday. The group aims to connect lovers of classic autos in Cuba with those in the States through an exchange of knowledge, expertise, and eventually, actual cars and car owners through a proposed event at the Woodward Dream Cruise.

Basically every photo of Havana has to include a few vintage cars; the Cuban Ministry of Tourism probably has something to do with this

At first blush, Taillight Diplomacy seems to be an organization tailored specifically to my tastes: I’m fascinated by Cuban culture and crazy for classic cars. Still, the whole concept seems a bit screwy. What good will shipping American car enthusiasts and their prized possessions to Havana do? If Taillight Diplomacy paves the way for Cubans and their battered postwar Chevys to visit the United States, why on earth would they ever want to make the trek back to Castro’s paradise?

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It’s always darkest before it goes completely black

10 06 2011

They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. In Detroit’s case, that figurative dawn has been a long time coming–but the darkness has been made quite literal thanks in large part to the city’s stagnant, suffocating big-government culture. Though the power outage that crippled parts of Downtown yesterday is finally showing signs of abating, the civic dysfunction that made the outage possible is a long way from cured.

Why does a decaying city need the baggage of its own Public Lighting Department? Because it is in the nature of government to never, ever, downsize until the entire machine collapses under its own weight. Bureaucrats at all levels had best take note; the problems caused by Detroit’s oversize government are plaguing Michigan and, more broadly, the nation as a whole.

As unpleasant as a power outage is, it does crystallize and make tangible the very real issues that our leaders would rather sweep under the rug. There have always been voices of reason calling for downsizing, privatization, and economic liberalization in Detroit. In fact, the intrepid Mackinac Center addressed the lunacy of Detroit’s Public Lighting Departmentback in 2002. Now is not the time to say I told you so, but rather, to reintroduce these ideas before an audience that should be far more receptive (if only by necessity).

That the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center and other government buildings were the primary victims of the outage is symbolic, and even poetic. When a city cannot even maintain its bureaucratic functions due to its own incompetence, the time for change is nigh.

The crumbling of Detroit ought to serve as a stark warning to the bureaucrats and politicians who are driving us closer and closer to the brink. If Detroit is able to cast off the dead hand of government that has crushed prosperity, however, it will serve as a positive model for our struggling region instead of a national embarassment.