This past weekend was the reunion of the Knight-Wallace Fellows, all classes; the Running of the Fellows, if you will. Excuse me, but whenever I spend time with those folks, I feel called upon to be droll. Ann Arbor, and Wallace House in general, is a very droll place. Someone’s always chuckling dryly. The executive director is a big fan of editorial cartooning, and every term the New Yorker’s cartoon editor comes in for a visit, as well as Pat Oliphant. Oliphant is soft-spoken and a little shy, and prefers to draw his way through his seminar. One or two are always suitable for framing, and are hung in our little clubhouse:
I didn’t do every event this year, but I missed this guy at the last reunion, and was told I might as well have missed Bruce Springsteen at MemAud, c. 1975, again:
That’s Ralph Williams. He’s a rock star at Michigan, or was until he retired a couple years ago. I took one of his classes back in the day, on the Old Testament. (His lecture on Job had to be relocated to a larger hall, so all the parents could attend.) His “last lecture” packed the house back then, and there’s a reason for that. He is to lectures what ducks are to water. Big, booming voice, expressive hands, amusing asides — give him a topic and he’ll go extemp for an hour without breaking a sweat. I forget his formal topic, but the gist was the complaint of all people who remember what was, confronting what is, worried about what will be — the explosion of information, the dearth of meaning. He read some Thucydides, some Shakespeare, some Gore Vidal, mixed well, baked for 45 minutes and sent us on our way with a head full of intellectual muffins, or something. I try not to worry about things I have no control over, but he did make some thoughtful points, the main being that our democracy is based on concepts that are in eclipse at the moment, including respect for other views and the time it takes to pay attention and learn about the nation’s business. Whereas, just now, I checked three Twitter feeds and my Facebook while I tried to think how to finish this sentence. Clearly I am not cut out for Congress. Then again, at least half of the people who have represented me over the years weren’t, either.
I never know what to do when people inform me the world is in grave danger. Wring my hands. Nod sympathetically. But mostly I go make a cup of coffee.
I stopped at Ikea on the way home, and didn’t go to the dinner that night. The required energy level ultimately gets wearing, so I just went shopping. Ikea was full to the rafters with people who were not speaking English, so many that I suspected one of those overnight shopping excursions from a European capital, like they used to have to Gurnee Mills. But I think they were new Americans of various sorts — university people, immigrants, others with an eye toward making fortunes here after they’ve found a cheap couch. Which reminded me of another chat I had in Ann Arbor, with a business professor. She is one of those people with a brain like a computer; ask her a question, she blinks twice, the hard drive spins behind her eyes and she gives you a concise, informed answer.
She also has no obvious emotional triggers. I recall, seven years ago, asking her about Burma. Fort Wayne was at the time, and still is, absorbing large numbers of Burmese refugees, and the U.S. was going its usual route — economic sanctions and lots of talk about tyranny. She blinked twice, the hard drive spun, and she said China, while no fan of the military junta that rules the place, was going ahead and forming trade partnerships, in the interest of having a friendly neighbor between it and the Bay of Bengal. Guess which one would likely prevail. (The Obama administration took a turn away from this policy last year. GOP, help me out — was this part of the Apology Tour?)
Anyway, she marveled at how many of her students — masters candidates, mind you, at a top-10 business school — are amazingly ill-informed, read little news, either in newspapers or offline. She said she recently discussed exchange trading in class, how a person who is buying and selling commodity contracts has to be well-informed in general, has to know how a storm brewing here might affect the harvest there, what the stress of a natural disaster might do to a shaky ruler (speaking of Myanmar), etc. The class response? Crickets. Bottom line: Expect further rug-pulling by Asia, and learn Chinese.
Which seems a good time to skip to the bloggage, highlighted by one of our own college students:
Eighteen-year-old Indiana University freshman dies after aspirating vomit. Why yes, he’d been drinking. (At Ball State, if that sort of thing matters to you.)
Jon Stewart, national treasure, and why he is funnier than you. (He has writers. A lot of writers. And good ones.)
Speaking of someone who probably wasn’t snoozing through b-school, Gretchen Morgensen talks sense about the continuing housing mess, and the arguments against “let it crash.”
Speaking of which, I’d better go attend to my so-called career before it does the same. The week awaits.
Almost forgot: Why I do not follow sports. It just breaks your damn heart, every time. If that isn’t a completed catch in the end zone, I’m Sarah Palin.