Monday, November 19, 2007

What's the Matter with Michigan

In answer to a question about the state of our state from my friend in England I wrote:

The University of Michigan can hide its head in the sand and think that defeat by Ohio State is the worst that can happen (and Ohio did defeat us Saturday). Professors with tenure are in good shape, and Ann Arbor is still a nice place. We are still happy. But since you asked, a few bits of evidence about things in general outside the Academy:
  • The local food pantry's Christmas fund raising letter says last summer they ran out of food for the first time in their history. Demand for social services is way up in other agencies.
  • Many middle class people lost jobs in the past year not only because of the auto industry, but because Pfizer, a major pharmaceutical corp., closed its Ann Arbor research labs leaving hundreds unemployed. There's no quick fix to this.
  • Local schools have less money because the state is broke. Things may get worse.
  • House prices are dropping. A realtor told us that for the first time the real estate companies in Ann Arbor had to teach agents about foreclosure, which has essentially never happened here before. Now owners who find themselves unable to make payments can't so easily sell and get out of their debts, as once was the case.
  • Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the US, or did last time I checked.
  • And I just had a conversation with a young man (driver for the car dealer where my car is being serviced today) who said he was born in Poland and is now going to leave the US and go live in Europe. Having immigrants go back is a very big symbol for our country. He was in the military, and had lots of complaints about how a great number of things are being mishandled by the Government. I couldn't contradict him.

PS -- Ann Arbor is luckier than Detroit. Besides inner city poverty, they've just been named "most dangerous" city. And their leaders seem to be spending more energy disputing the label than fighting crime.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Washington, D.C.

As we took off from National Airport this afternoon, we could see the Washington Monument and the Mall. We didn't visit downtown D.C. this weekend, though -- we went to the Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport. From the catwalk, we could see the Enola Gay, as well as all the other aircraft in the museum. I enjoyed the exhibit of toys as well, such as Astronaut Barbie.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Autumn Colors

First, our garden after we raked the leaves and trimmed the bushiest of the ornamental grass. And second, a few photos from a walk in the park:

Friday, November 02, 2007

Michael Chabon: "Gentlemen of the Road"

Chabon's new book disappointed me. I hoped for another Yiddish Policemen's Union. I didn't find what I expected.

"I am a gentleman of the road," says his main character Zelikman, "an apostate from the faith of my fathers, a renegade, a brigand, a hired blade, a thief... ." Zelikman's actions show him to be a fighter, a healer, a wanderer, an adventurer, sometimes even a con man. But somehow, the adventures he shares with Amram, a giant from Africa, never seemed to me as exciting or captivating as the author seems to promise.

True, the two soldiers of fortune wander with various intentions through the obscurest parts of Asia, in the 10th century Jewish kingdom of the Khazars, but I think this is the problem: this setting is just too obscure.

The popular series of "Magic Treehouse" books for children tell of two modern children transported to obscure and far-away places where they become familiar with a few customs and exotic ways of life -- ancient Egypt, the American pilgrims, pre-contact Hawaii, etc. It's very philistine of me, but I think Chabon could have learned something from the way that the "Treehouse" authors fill in the gaps in readers' knowledge. Chabon just left us too many gaps. Reading Gentlemen of the Road is too much like reading a real tale of knights from the Middle Ages: you just feel lost and eventually (excuse the expression) bored. I want a Reader's Guide!