August 21, 2008
I was reading about my favorite elected official Kwame (his mother is up for re-election) and found out she was president of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). This sounded interesting so I was off to wikipedia to read more. Turns out it is exactly what is sounds like, a caucus of the black members of congress whose goals are to “positively influencing the course of events pertinent to African-Americans and others of similar experience and situation,” and “achieving greater equity for persons of African descent in the design and content of domestic and international programs and services.”
All very laudable, they also include “others of similar experience and situation” so at least they say they are trying to help anyone who might be in need regardless of race. Further down though it is somewhat less positive. Rep. Clay issued an official statement from his office regarding whether they would allow white members:
“Quite simply, Rep. Cohen will have to accept what the rest of the country will have to accept – there has been an unofficial Congressional White Caucus for over 200 years, and now it’s our turn to say who can join ‘the club.’ He does not, and cannot, meet the membership criteria, unless he can change his skin color. Primarily, we are concerned with the needs and concerns of the black population, and we will not allow white America to infringe on those objectives.”
I am guessing the logic goes something like this: there has been an unofficial Congressional White Caucus for 200 years (which is unjust), so in retaliation we now have a black caucus so we can do to them what they did to us. I understand this position, it is simply the desire for revenge, you hit me I want to hit you back. I am guessing, however, that a more productive and mature approach would be: we want to help people who are disadvantaged and in need, and we will accept help towards this goal from anyone who wants to give it.
Rep. Clay is the worst form of hypocrite, they want to decry the injustices perpetrated by another group (in this case white congress) and at the very same time publicly stating that they want to do the exact same thing!
Obviously it is a problem that more black leaders have not been elected (Barack Obama is currently the only Black senator) but the solution is not to form a black caucus and exclude the whites, especially considering that any white congressmen who want to join the CBC would presumably be their closest allies.
July 14, 2008
The PhD qualifying exam for biomedical engineering at Wayne State is a five week long crucible of pain. You are asked to write a grant proposal on a topic you are not familiar in four weeks without getting feedback from your peers or faculty, you are however allowed to interview experts in the field. In short they are asking for the impossible: it is nearly impossible to write a grant in four weeks, practically impossible to write a grant on a topic you aren’t intimately familiar with, and completely impossible to write a good grant without having it reviewed by colleagues. Putting all three together is a recipe for mediocrity. It is extremely frustrating to know that something isn’t right but not having the time or expertise to do it right. It is by far the hardest thing I have had to do so far and I would rather write another Master’s thesis than have to retake the qualifier.
Because of this it was with great relief that I recently found out I passed the qualifier. I didn’t pass initially, I was asked to do a 10 page follow up report which took another week extending my time invested in this monster to six weeks. This was followed by three weeks of nervous waiting as the slowest grading process in the history of the world took place. The good news finally came through late Thursday night.
My emotions have run the gamut during this, from disappointment and anger when I found out I didn’t pass initially to elation on Thursday night. Most of my friends have had to listen patiently on the phone while I railed about how the test was written, designed, and graded. The reason I didn’t pass initially was simply that I thought I had clearly stated an idea in the proposal that was actually entirely absent. Unfortunately the solution to this type of problem is to have colleagues read and comment on your grants which I was not allowed to do.
Most of what I have said over the last few weeks about the exam has been venting over my frustration and anger due to my inflated sense of entitlement and the possible wasted effort. Now that I have calmed down my largest criticism of the test this year is also what I thought was good about it, the question was open ended. This was great as it allowed us to choose a topic that is in our field of interest so the 200+ hours we spent on the exam won’t be completely wasted. This was also terrible for two reasons, it allowed some of us to misinterpret the question (causing myself and others to almost or actually fail) and it setup a situation where members of the committee didn’t know much about a student’s chosen topic. If the student misses a key technical concept in a paper they are relying on no one will catch it as they are not experts in that field.
It is over and I passed, what a relief.
June 3, 2008
It’s official, I don’t like Detroit anymore. My window was broken. Again. I take back everything I said in my last post about not getting angry, I am angry, very angry, one might even say quite peeved. I am looking for someone to blame and unfortunately the people who broke my window are not around to throw rocks at (this one was caught on tape but the quality is so low there is no way to ID him). Instead I will throw rocks at our beloved mayor. He seems like a fair enough target, he is in charge, he has wasted millions of dollars of the city’s money which could have been used to pay some of the 1000 cops he laid off, and he is almost undeniably corrupt. Well it is undeniable if you are on this side of the rabbit hole. In fantasy land, where Kwame apparently lives, a “lynch mob” is out to get him. I’m not sure who is supposed to be in this mob, perhaps the single white member of a city council that has repeatedly called for his resignation, or maybe just maybe he is pulling the race card yet again to get a knee jerk reaction of solidarity. There are plenty of reasons to dislike him as mayor, and none of them are racial.
The Detroit Free Press has a number of really good articles detailing his many indiscretions, they have a whole “Mayor in Crisis” section. Or just head to Wikipedia for a good summary (about 10 pages worth of controversy).
May 31, 2008
I just knew I could pull it off one more time. One final hurrah before I leave the city, yes my car was broken into for the fifth time. I hadn’t even managed to get all the damage fixed from the last time. Surprisingly I don’t really care that much. Yes, it is money wasted and ya it is a pain but I guess I just expect it now. It is like paying taxes, not a favorite activity but you know there is no way to escape it. I guess I should be happy they haven’t tried to steal the car or steal parts of the car.
The latest craze in Detroit is stealing catalytic converters. Amazingly they do this in the middle of the day on fairly busy streets. This has lead to a number of pairs being arrested but there are always more waiting to take their place. In case there are any enterprising criminals out there this is how it is done. One person walks the street looking for cars with a mirror on the end of golf club, if he spots a catalytic converter they can steal a van pulls up and double parks, someone hops out with an electric saw and cuts off the converter. In the neighborhood where I work two of my co-workers had their converters stolen in the middle of the day, and one of those they tried to steal it, failed, then came back two weeks later and stole it. Also about two blocks away I know two more people whose converters were stolen. Apparently they are being sold for scrap metal, sky rocketing metal prices have made it very lucrative.
Over all car crime has spiked around the university. Between January and April this year 101 cars have been stolen on or immediately around campus, this compares to only 17 over the same period last year.
It isn’t a big mystery why all the businesses, upper, and middle classes have fled the city, if they want to turn Detroit around they need to do something about the crime. And the mayor.
April 7, 2008
I just found out about a great program here in Detroit called green currents. Detroit Edison (DTE) has negotiated contracts with existing renewable energy producers, they buy green energy credits and then pass them on to customers who sign up for the program. The electricity provided to the customer is then effectively provided by the renewable power plant (wind, solar, hydro, biomass, geothermal). Better yet is that DTE has been able to sign contracts with new renewable projects enabling them to be built. This has allowed the construction of a large new wind farm in Michigan, a farm biomass digester, and a landfill generating station. The best part is this will only increase my power bill by about $2 a month, or roughly 10%. To my knowledge Michigan isn’t exactly a wellspring of renewable power, it doesn’t have tons of hydro or wind (yet), so if they can provide customers with renewable options for only 10% more what is the big hold up in other places.
I don’t understand the reluctance to sign Kyoto or some similar agreement. A 10% price bump (and it would almost definitely be less) isn’t going to grind the economy to a halt, and the extra money that is spent will just be reinvested in the country (infrastructures, jobs, etc). It seems to me a better economic stimulus would be to take whatever amount of tax money they are giving back to people and invest it in research and/or building of either renewable power (wind, solar, etc) or renewable transportation. I think a few billion would go a long way in making some progress there.
March 29, 2008
I was browsing through Barnes and Noble and I found a book on Detroit history, it had this:
It is an advertisement for an electric car with a range of 80-100 miles, it is from 1916. It is nice to know that after 92 years, landing a man on the moon, inventing the computer, cellphones, and building super-sonic jets modern electric cars have a range of: 50-160 miles. You could replace the picture and price and run this exact same ad in a magazine today.
March 27, 2008
Well it has started snowing again.
Snow is pretty in January, by the end of March it is wet, annoying, and just depressing. I am so looking forward to spring, but I am beginning to wonder if it will ever come. If this keeps up I might have to put my fancy pillows to good use again keeping the apartment warm.
That was actually during winter proper, when it was zero degrees outside and I hadn’t figured out yet that you have to open the cover on the radiator to let the heat out (who knew?!).
I also have a new reason to worry about my car. Recently one of the girls I work with, Jing, had the catalytic converter cut off and stolen from her Honda Element. Price to replace $2000. It was stolen in the middle of the day, in broad day light, while her car was parked in front of where we work on a somewhat busy street. About two weeks later they tried to steal Alex’s. Apparently they got scared off because the exhaust pipe was only cut through on one side. I am already paranoid about my windows, now I get to be paranoid about my exhaust too. Yippee.
I ♥ Detroit.