29 04 2012

This pretty much says it all

Come to think of it: Sanjay Gupta was a great commencement speaker and all, but Alice Cooper would have given him a run for the money. Have you ever heard Nights with Alice Cooper? Cooper has a surprisingly charming personality and knows how to spin a yarn. To think, we could have had the first commencement speech accompanied by pyrotechnics.



27 04 2012

One of the great things about this past semester is that I had to take a “senior colloquium” to complete my history concentration. I chose “Michigan in the Era of Industrialization,” which focused on – that’s right – Michigan in the Era of Industrialization (basically 1880-1920).

The purpose of the class was to devise a topic for a term paper and then spend time doing research on that topic. I chose the development of the Detroit Museum of Art, which later became the Detroit Institute of Arts (a timely topic, given the DIA’s current funding situation).

Anyway, everyone taking the class was forced to do research at the Bentley Historical Library. And by forced, I mean required to use an awesome on-campus resource that most students probably don’t even know exists.

I looked into the William C. Weber and D.M. Ferry Papers for primary source material. “Looking” really means “browsing,” as one has to search through reams of interesting if largely irrelevant material to find suitable content.

Often that browsing turns up bits of ephemera that is pretty interesting in its own right.

Like this:

I snapped a photo of this letter, dated March 31, 1914, just because I liked the “Hotel Pasaje” letterhead. It was in the D.M. Ferry Papers along with a bunch of other material on the Detroit Museum of Art from the mid-1910s.

Reading the first few lines after the fact, however, I wish I had copied the entire letter. It says:

My Dear Mr Ferry-

A large collection of old masters is for sale here in Havana.

Whoa. Cuba was a very different place pre-Fidel, but I hardly took it to be a repository of priceless art. What happened to those old masters? Were they sold? Are some of them in the DIA? In Fidel’s place? Again, little bits and pieces of correspondence or old memos raise questions that are fascinating, but one must set them aside to focus on the topic at hand.

Still, some day, it would be interesting to follow up on Havana’s old masters. It might make a great story.

Student loansharking

25 04 2012

That’s a nice 3.4 percent student loan interest rate you’ve got there. It would be a shame if anything happened to it…

That’s the ominous subtext to Obama’s recent focus on student loans. Whether delivered before increasingly disillusioned college students or performed slow-jam style on Jimmy Fallon, his message was as clear as it was cynical: support me, or terrible, terrible things will happen to your monthly student loan payments.

This was the best "loan shark" image I could find, I swear. It might actually be a lawyer, I don't even know

Of course, terrible things have already started happening to Americans’ monthly student loan payments. Recall the staggering fact that payments on about a quarter of our collective $1 trillion in student loan debt are already overdue.

But that’s not the fault of the interest rates on federally-subsidized Stafford loans. At 3.4 percent, those rates are relatively low in historical terms – although they are set to double to 6.8 percent on July 1 if Congress does not take further action. “Further action” means, in this case, further taxpayer resources devoted to keeping those rates low. Read the rest of this entry »


23 04 2012

That’s it. I’m done.

Turned in my last paper as a University of Michigan undergraduate at 4:00PM and took a righteous nap.

Hopefully I’m at least in the running for the class-wide long title contest (“Post-colonial Migrants, Guest Workers, and Muslim Immigrants: The Challenges of Integration and Acceptance”) but I probably should have added another half dozen words or so to be sure.

Towards the end, my undergrad career became more of an endurance race than a journey of personal enlightenment. But what the hell. After five years, it’s over.* That I learned a few things along the way is a nice bonus.

Can barely wait to start working. In the mean time, I think I’m going to relax and start packing.

*Strictly speaking, I won’t get my diploma until after the summer semester, but I’m not going to dwell on that at the moment.

In the parking lot

16 04 2012

It’s getting to be finals week, and I’ve got a major paper coming due. Hard to believe that I’ll be all done at the University of Michigan, at least as far as academics are concerned, in exactly seven days.

Anyway, campus is a great place to see a staggering variety of motorcycles. Parking is free for mopeds and motorcycles, and students and staff definitely take advantage of this. Below is a typical example of what I see every day before class:

It’s a rather motley assortment. There’s a new Triumph, an old Kawasaki, a Harley…a lot of beaters like mine, etc. Sometimes there’s a new Ducati and some other sportbikes.

Kind of odd that I see the same bikes day after day but never meet the other riders. We could have formed one of the most unlikely, least intimidating biker gangs on the planet.

So my time here wasn’t a waste after all

10 04 2012

From the most recent issue of the Michigan Review, a few thoughts on the end of my career at U-M:

For just under five years, I’ve used the Michigan Review as an outlet for my views on everything from campus culture to national events. As personal (and, I hope, unique) as my commentary has been, the focus has always been external. I’ve seldom talked about myself; I do not generally like to bore others by sharing my feelings. But since this is my last piece for the Review, I hope you bear with me as I indulge in a bit of introspection.

Around the time I started registering for this semester’s classes, I recalled – seemingly out of nowhere – a phrase I head when I arrived on campus: Enjoy college. It’s the best time of your life! Often said by some gung-ho freshman enjoying his first taste of freedom away from home, the sentiment behind it didn’t usually last beyond Welcome Week. Classes can be a real buzzkill.

Still, it’s a funny thing to say. Was it supposed to be a bit of friendly advice? A warning? A command? What if the past five years here at U-M really were supposed to be the best years of my life?

If so, I thought, I’m in pretty bad shape. I never fully embraced the college lifestyle; in fact, I can’t wait to graduate. I probably spent more weekends at conferences than I did out at the bars. I penned cranky opinion pieces when I could have partied. My school spirit is basically nonexistent; I groan when I hear the first notes of “Hail to the Victors,” and I’m convinced a large component of the “Michigan Difference” is unearned snobbishness.

To make it all worse, I can’t even fall back on sanctimony. I don’t really believe my choices have been inherently better or wiser than those of my peers. I could have undoubtedly balanced my academic and social obligations more skillfully. Perhaps I should have cut back on the extra-curriculars and learned how to relax. Many of my more sociable friends are walking off campus and into excellent jobs; this has only further fueled my self-doubt. Read the rest of this entry »

Student loan debt chickens come home to roost

26 03 2012

As college costs continue their upward spiral and students rack up ever more loan debt in pursuit of the almighty degree, a handful of perspicacious pundits have warned that we are in the midst of a higher education bubble that will inevitably follow the same destructive course as the housing bubble. Well, the next financial tsunami may finally be on the horizon: over a quarter of all student loan debt payments are now 30 days delinquent. With outstanding student loan debt recently reaching the watershed $1 trillion mark, that means that about $270 billion in student loan payments are overdue.

In any sane era,$270 billion in late payments would set off some serious alarm bells. But we’re not in a sane era. With a national debt nearing $16 trillion, it’s probably going to take a few more zeros tacked on to that figure to get anyone to sit up and take notice.

There is one other mitigating factor that is helping keep the markets calm: many of those loans are federally guaranteed. In other words, they’re guaranteed by the US taxpayer. If borrowers default, or are forgiven by government fiat, we’re all on the hook. Don’t you wish you had stuck around campus for an extra year or two?

As if on cue, calls for student loan debt forgiveness have already begun. Michigan Congressman Hansen Clarke recently introduced the “Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012,” which would provide “full loan forgiveness for current borrowers who have paid the equivalent of 10% of their discretionary income for 10 years or who are able to do so over the coming years.” Read the rest of this entry »