Fishing by drone in the Huron River

I’m tempted to write about Trump’s big white power friendly rally of insanity in Florida tonight, but, instead, I think I’ll just share this footage I shot yesterday evening of someone fishing by drone in the Huron River. Watch, and be amazed.

According to my friend Jason, who I was at the park with yesterday, the fish that was pulled out of the water by the drone was a 12″ bass. [Jason, by the way, was also intimately involved in the twenty pound carp controversy of 2012, but we’ll save that story for another day.] And, no, the guy with the gun didn’t proceed to then shoot at the fish as it dangled several feet above the water, twitching around, suspended by the drone, wondering what in the fuck was going on. [How would that be for an extreme sport, though? Kind of like a modern reimagining of the biathlon.]

For what it’s worth, I now know that this activity that I witnessed is illegal, and I suspect there’s a good reason for that… and I’m not suggesting that others try it… but, with that said, it really was impressive to see this guy maneuver his drone, deftly dropping his line in different places, and just slowly pulling the lure along the surface of the water, and I can’t imagine a better test of skill. And, no, I’m not looking to take on another project, but I do think it might be cool to have a drone fishing season, just like we have bow hunting season. And, yes, I know it’s a slippery slope. I know, as soon as we allow drones for fishing, even if it was just for a few days a year, someone would then start hunting by drone. And, before we knew it, people would want a season where they could send bipedal, Terminator-like robots into the woods to pull the heads off of deer. I get that, but I still think it would be cool to have one day a year when people could compete in drone fishing competitions and the like.

Oh, and if you’re coming to Riverside Park to fish, you probably don’t need a gun… I get that there’s a lot more activity at the park since the opening of the playground, but, for the most part, our local toddlers are pretty harmless. And, in all my years of hanging out at Riverside Park, I’ve never seen anyone accosted while fishing, beaten up for their lures, etc. I get that Ypsi has a reputation, but, really, if you’re at the park on summer evening, I don’t think you need to be worried about having to go to war with either the kids on the monkey bars or the older women doing yoga… In all seriousness, I get that open carry is the law. And I understand why someone might feel as though they need protection. All I ask is that maybe, before you decide to arm yourself, you just give some thought to the fact that others around you might also feel unsafe on occasion… like when they see an armed man walking toward their neighborhood playground.

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Can we at least agree on this much?

I know we don’t agree on much, but I’d like to think that most of us can at least agree on the following two points.

1. Leaving aside to what extent it helped Donald Trump, or whether or not members of the Trump campaign encouraged its happening, I’d like to think that we can all now agree that the Russians interfered in our 2016 election. As Special Counsel Robert Mueller said in his May 29 statement, “Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military, launched a concerted attack on our political system… (T)hey used sophisticated cybertechniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate.” Not only that, but, according to Mueller, there was also an aggressive Russian social media operation, in which Russian citizens posing as Americans sought to influence an election and sow discord. We knew this before Mueller submitted his report, of course. In January 2017, the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint report concluding that Russia had interfered in the election. Some, as you may recall, doubted the findings at the time, in large part, no doubt, because Donald Trump, even after being briefed on the evidence, continued to publicly refer to this coordinated campaign of Putin’s as a “hoax” and talk about how he believed Putin when he said that Russia had nothing to do with it. But, if there was any lingering doubt as to whether or not the Russians actually engaged in election interference back in 2016, it should have been completely eliminated by the Mueller report, which laid the whole thing bare in exquisite detail… Here, if you’ve yet to read Volume 1 of the report, which is all about the Russian campaign, is a taste.

[If you haven’t either read the Mueller report or listened to the audio yet, you really should.]

So, I’d like to think that… regardless of whether you support Donald Trump, or think that he should be impeached… we might all be able to agree that the Russians did, in fact, seek to interfere in our election. Is that now safe to say?

2. Given the above, I’d like to think we can all further agree that, in order to maintain election integrity in the United States, we need to do whatever we can in order to ensure that, from this point forward, foreign nations, like Russia, are not able to interfere in our elections. My hope, regardless of where each of us sits along the political continuum, is that we can agree not only that Russia did, in fact, interfere in this last election of ours, but that the founding fathers where absolutely correct when they put into place laws to protect us from the corrosive effects of foreign interference. I mean, I suspect that we all, regardless of political persuasion, know that it’s illegal for candidates to accept the assistance of foreign agents, but my hope is that most don’t just know that it’s against the law, but actually understand why its something to be guarded against. With that said, I wanted to share a brief clip from a thread by former FBI agent Asha Rangappa, which gets right to the heart of it.

Again, for the purposes of this post, my intention isn’t to make the case that Trump should be impeached. [I’ve got other posts for that.] Yes, his comments a few days ago about how he would accept the assistance of a hostile foreign government without alerting authorities were terrifying, but, for the time being, I just want to see if we can find some common ground around these two simple facts… Fist, that Russia interfered in our 2016 election. And, second, that we should do whatever we can in order to ensure that Russia and other countries are stopped from doing this in the future. This, it seems to me, should not be a partisan issue. Every American, one would think, would want to keep the intelligence organizations of other countries from hacking the emails of our politicians, initiating disinformation campaigns, and attempting to breach our electronic voting systems.

OK, so if we agree that Russia interfered in the last presidential election, and that interference is bad, can we also agree that we need to pass laws to disincentivized this kind of behavior, and safeguard our future elections? Again, this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Patriotic, democracy-loving Americans, regardless of party affiliation, shouldn’t want Russia helping a Republican candidate, and they shouldn’t want China helping a Democratic one. And, fortunately, a lot of folks in Congress seem to agree, seeing as how there are numerous pieces of election security legislation that have been drafted by members of both parties in the wake of 2016. Unfortunately, thanks to a few individuals, like Senators Mitch McConnell and Marsha Blackburn, however, those bills aren’t being given an opportunity to be debated. As Senator Mark Warner said a few days ago, they’re just “collecting dust.” And, unfortunately, that appears to be what Donald Trump wants.

I get some that some of you absolutely adore Donald Trump, and will automatically be against anything that they see as having to potential to negatively impact his chances to win reelection in 2020, but I find it hard to believe that any American would object to something like Mark Warner’s FIRE (Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections) Act – the proposed legislation that Trump was reacting to in the above tweet – which requires that presidential campaigns report election interference to the FBI.

For the purposes of this post, I’m not suggesting that we get behind any particular piece of legislation, like the FIRE Act, or the Deter Act, or the Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act, which would make it a federal crime to hack any voting systems used in a federal election. I don’t know which bill is best. I just want all of them debated in public, and for us to take some action toward addressing what I hope we can all agree is a very serious problem.

So, if we can agree on all of those things… If we can agree that Russia interfered, that such interference is bad for our country, and that we need to debate legislative solutions to address election integrity, how do we move forward when Mitch McConnell has made it clear that he has no intention to bring legislation to the floor of the Senate? How do we, in these highly polarized times, build a bipartisan movement around something as unsexy, but as hugely critical as election integrity? I’d love to hear your ideas.

OK, here’s one last thing… a video compilation of instances in which McConnell and others have taken steps to kill discussion surrounding bipartisan election integrity bills. Hopefully it’ll inspire one or two of you to share this post, contact your elected officials, or perhaps convince a friend in Kentucky to run against McConnell. [I can’t wait until someone announces a run against Mitch in McConnell. As someone who was born in Kentucky, and still has family there, I’m anxious to get involved in the race.]

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“It’s not an interference. They have information. I think I’d take it.”

I was going to take the night off and watch Double Indemnity with a glass of scotch, but then the President of the United States went and said on the record that he would accept the assistance of a hostile foreign power in order to stay in power, and now my night is pretty much ruined. [As I know from experience, one can not drink scotch while wringing one’s hands, or enjoy the acting abilities of Barbara Stanwyck while screaming out the window.]

After this exchange, George Stephanopoulos mentioned to Trump that his own FBI Director, Christopher Wray, when recently asked during congressional testimony if candidates for elected office should report instances of foreign governments reaching out to offer election-related assistance, said that of course they should. Upon hearing this, Trump responded by saying, “The FBI Director is wrong.” [He wasn’t wrong.]

As former CIA Director John Brennan just said on Twitter, “This is just the latest example of what Vice President Biden meant when he said that Mr. Trump is an existential threat to our country. ‘Unfit to be President’ is a gross understatement. Donald Trump is undeserving of any public office, and all Americans should be outraged.”

Oh, and do you think that this might possibly be why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is preventing a vote on bipartisan legislation to secure our elections from foreign interference?

OK, I want to go on, but I’m determined to find a way to drink that scotch.

Before I go, though, there’s one more thing that I wanted to share with you… Donald Trump also said today, if you can believe it, that the Mueller report found that he and members of his campaign “rebuffed” overtures from Russia. [It did the opposite.]

update: The Chair of the Federal Elections Commission has now weighed in to say that, yes, doing what Donald Trump has suggested would be a crime.

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OK, so they were toads…

When people ask me why I keep posting here after all of these years, I generally respond by saying that I keep at it because, every once in a while, when I least expect it, something really cool and wonderful happens as a result of something that I’ve shared… like the time someone wrote to me Larry Flynt’s office, offering to box up all the porn they’d deemed “too terrible to sell”, and ship it to Ypsilanti. And today was one of those days. I just opened up my computer to find the following message from Eastern Michigan University amphibian biologist Katy Greenwald, infoming me that the frogs that Arlo and I just recently raised weren’t really frogs at all, but toads. It may seem like a small thing – to get an unsolicited message from a herpetologist – but I think it’s incredibly wonderful that I can just put things out there into the universe, and, on occasion, get responses back from people who actually know about frogs, have access to porn, etc. It’s like magic… And, yes, I will be following up with Dr. Greenwald, and asking if she might want to talk about amphibians with us. So keep your fingers crossed, and let me know if you have any questions for what I hope becomes a regular “Frog Talk” feature on the blog.

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Washtenaw Community College’s plan to outsource IT services

Over the past week or so, I’ve had several discussions with people at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) about declining enrollment and what it might mean for the future of the institution. As for why fewer people are enrolling, there are numerous contributing factors; the population of college-aged people is dropping, the cost of tuition has risen, and larger in-state institutions have started increasing the sizes of their incoming classes. Perhaps most importantly, though, EMU has traditionally been a school for teachers, and, as we know, the state of Michigan, over the past several decades, has become increasingly hostile to public education, meaning that there are fewer good jobs for teachers. And, of course, it doesn’t help that fewer international students are choosing to enroll in American universities thanks to the racist, xenophobic rhetoric and actions of our President. So, when you add all of that up, it translates to fewer students, and significantly decreasing revenues. And the Regents of the university, most of whom are political appointees of Republican governors, have responded like you might expect them to — not by standing up for public education, or fighting for more creative policies, but by looking for concessions from labor, and wholeheartedly embracing a strategy of privatization. And EMU, I should add, is not alone in this regard… Which brings me to the subject of tonight’s post.

[above: Washtenaw Community College mascot, Alpha, the outsourcing wolf.]

As you might have heard, Washtenaw Community College (WCC) is presently considering a contract to outsource all of their IT work to Ellucian, the for-profit, Reston, Virginia-based firm that already owns a significant portion of the higher-ed advising and registration software market. [Their software product, Banner, is already being used by EMU, as I understand it.] The move, according WCC President Rose Bellanca, would “save the college around $600,000 per year.” That, however, at least according to Bellanca, isn’t why the college is pursuing it. According to reporting by MLive, college administrators are doing this because, two years ago, their IT infrastructure when down for three days, and they can’t afford to have that happen again.

Here’s the way the MLive press release-like story begins. “Two years after a three-day outage impacted Washtenaw Community College,” the author writes, “the college is proposing to outsource its technology management services.” And that, I’m sure, is how WCC would like to have things framed. The truth, however, is that it probably has a lot more to due with the money, and ongoing relationships between Ellucian and members of the WCC administration… I’ve yet to thoroughly fact-check it, but, according to a recent article posted to Reddit, “President Bellanca has worked with many colleges that have outsourced IT to Ellucian, including Northwood University in West Palm Beach, St Clair Community College, and Macomb County Community College“… And, for what it’s worth, I’ve also heard through the grapevine that the college’s IT infrastructure didn’t really go down for a solid three days, as they’re claiming. It just went down intermittently over a course of three days, until it was determined that the issues were being caused by a television monitor that had been installed at the college’s Recreation Center. And, I should add, there’s been talk about Bellanca wanting to outsource IT at the college since she first arrived at WCC. In fact, according to reporting in April 29th, 2013 issue of the school paper, The Washtenaw Voice, Bellanca had to come out and tell staff that “she would not outsource IT” at WCC, as she had “in past experiences”.

So it would appear as though there’s at least a possibility that this service outage, such as it was, is just being used to justify the outsourcing of these positions… a move, by the way, that could cost 31 to 40 WCC employees their jobs. [WCC says that 31 employees will be terminated under the plan, but then given an opportunity to apply for employment at Ellucian. I’ve heard, however, that the number could be closer to 40.]

I should add that I don’t know that this is necessarily a bad move for WCC. I have no experience with Ellucian, and I have no idea how happy students and staff are with the IT and web services currently being provided by their in-house team. I do know, however, that something really doesn’t smell right here. [Oh, WCC’s VP of Finance, from what I’m told, also outsourced his past employer’s IT department to Ellucian.] And I say that not just because I don’t buy the “three day outage” excuse, but because this whole thing is going down so quickly, while a lot of WCC faculty are out for the summer. Here, for those of you who might be curious, is the timeline as it has been conveyed to me.

June 4th – Board Meeting during which Ellucian made their pitch.
June 25th – Board meeting and vote.
June 26th – Ellucian starts interviews ITS staff for jobs.
July 10th – Ellucian offers jobs.
July 12th – Deadline for staff to except jobs with Ellucian.
July 15th – Transition to new staff begins.
July 29th – Ellucian staff on campus.
July 31st – Last day of employment for current WCC ITS staff.

Like I said, this could be the best move for WCC, but it seems to me like the kind of thing that, at the very least, probably deserves a little more time, with input from the staff who will be most impacted by the change. [One wonders what the experience has been like for those at other campuses that Ellucian has taken over.] I mean, we’re talking about a five-year contract for approximately $5.2 million annually… Again, this isn’t my field, but I have to think that the above schedule is a little aggressive for something like that, especially given that we, the Washtenaw County voters, just passed yet another millage to fund the activities of WCC.

Here, from MLive, are the details on the buy-outs that will be offered to WCC employees, should the the Trustees decide to move forward.

…WCC indicated all full-time IT staff would be offered the opportunity to join Ellucian’s staff. Those taking the buyout would get 12 months’ salary, based on the employee’s current salary, along with medical coverage for themselves and dependents for those who have more than 10 years of service.

Those with five to 10 years of service would get six months’ salary and medical benefits, while employees with less than five years of experience would receive three months’ salary and medical benefits.

Based on benefits offered in the severance package, WCC estimates the cost of the buyouts could be between $1 million and $2 million, depending on how many employees take positions with Ellucian.

WCC noted demand for technological services continues to grow, with a projected IT budget of $8.2 million for 2020 – a 25-percent increase from four years ago. The college projects to spend about $7.6 million on its IT budget for the 2019 fiscal year.

Ellucian would provide all current and future technology needs for WCC under the proposal. At WCC, that includes 3,500 computing devices, support for more than 450 software applications and maintenance of more than 250 virtual services.

…WCC noted Ellucian already provides the college’s enterprise resource planning system, Banner, which provides technology for key student, financial and human resource transactions. The $5.2-million price tag on IT services is all-inclusive and fixed, the college noted…

Speaking of the MLive coverage, this is one time that I’d encourage you to go over and read through the comments, many of which raise damn good points. Here, for those of you who won’t follow the link, is an example.

Posted in Education, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

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