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March 12, 2014 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-03-12

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4A - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

4A - Wednesday, March 12, 2014 The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom

Edited and managed by students at
the University of Michigan since 1890.
420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Unsigned editorials reflect the official position of the Daily's editorial board.
All other signed articles and illustrations represent solely the views of their authors.
Opening closed doors
University decisions should be made in the public sphere
n Feb. 18, the Michigan House of Representatives Oversight
Committee held a legislative hearing on the University's Board
of Regents' compliance with the Michigan Open Meetings Act of
1976. Herschel Fink, general counsel to The Detroit Free Press and several
other Gannett Media organizations, called the regents "serial abusers of the
Open Meetings Act," and cited the University's largely private selection of
University President-elect Mark Schlissel as a primary example. He also
called for a constitutional amendment that would expand the purview of
governmenttransparencylaws. Goingforward, theUniversityshould support
any amendment that expands the public's role in University decision-making.

Welcoming our digital fate

s an engineer, I spend a lot
of time thinking about the
digital future. I get excited
and sometimes a
little emotional
about robots.
I frequently
scan a variety
of Twitter feeds
and websites
for updates like
"NASA wants
your code to hunt JULIA
asteroids" and ZARINA
"scientists take
steps toward
fusion energy, but you can't use it
to power your DeLorean just yet."
When I go home to D.C., I make
a ritual trip to the Air and Space
Museum to ask the staff all the
questions about space systems and
satellites I've accumulated over the
past semester to which Google has
not returned satisfactory answers.
As a person, I spend a lot of
time thinking about my love-hate
relationship with the digital present.
I periodically delete my Facebook in
what is usually a misguided effort
to see the people I care about more
in "real life" and less through a
screen. I don't text very much.
Twitter is a weakness I hate to
love and love to hate, but I overuse
it shamelessly as a testing ground
for bad jokes and as a quick news
resource. I Snapchat. I Instagram.
I occasionally use Tumblr and
Tinder - but view my presence on
those sites as the clearest indicator
that an Internet intervention is
warranted. I curate my digital life
fairly carefully - not only because
being a college student comes with
endless reminders that your future
employers are apparently hunched
over a computer in a darkened room
as we speak, scouring every detail
of your personal life online - but
because as much as I hate to admit it,
I care about the wayI present myself
through what I post.
I don't think anyone would
find that statement particularly
surprising. Our generation has been
partially living, or at least existing,
online almost since we were born.
For better or worse, we are defining
a digital existence to be almost as
important and meaningful as an
existence in the physical world.
There is very little in our lives that
is not affected by technology: from
our education, to our entertainment,
to our personal relationships. We
date online and identify with movies

where a man falls in love with an
operating system. Our friends live in
other cities in person but live in our
phones in spirit. A vast and growing
expanse of information is collected
about us daily: what we buy at the
grocery store, what we tweet about,
where we travel, even who we call
and what we talk about, depending
on how interesting the NSA finds us.
The future of our digital existence
will be defined by what we do with
this data: how we process it into
information, how we interpret it and
use it to shape our lives both online
and offline. Big data is a ubiquitous
buzzword in business, research
and government. It describes
the massive volume, velocity and
variety of data that is collected daily
to track trends, target customers
and identify processes. In 2012, the
amount of this data stored exceeded
2.8 Zettabytes and is expected to
be nearly 50 times that by 2020.
The cumulative size of the centers
needed to store all of this data would
fill a two-lane highway stretching
from Tokyo to San Francisco.
The challenge now is not
gatheringthe data,butmakingsense
from the noise. Only 0.5 percent
of the data currently collected is
processed, tagged and catalogued
into what we can consider useful
information. Here at the University
of Michigan, researchers in the
EECS Department explore areas
like machine learning - the
technology behind what makes
your e-mail recognize spam as
spam and messages from your
boss as important, for example
- and robotics to design systems
that make information processing
and decision-making easier.
In the corporate world, IBM is
spearheading an initiative to put
Watson, their Jeopardy-winning
"cognitive system," to work in
practical applications. Humans are
inherently limited in the amount
of parallel processing we can do
and the amount of information we
can memorize. Both scientists and
CEOs are trying to answer questions
about the limitations of people and
machines alike. Will the doctors,
teachers and bankers of the future
be computers, or are there certain,
invaluable human characteristics
that can never be programmed or
executed by code?
In "A Super Sad True Love Story,"
a novel by Gary Shteyngart, the not
so distant future is portrayed as a
blurring of the lines between data

and life. People walk the streets
with their real life stats displayed
for strangers to interpret and
corporations to target. Billboards
change as they pass to show the
exact brand and product they are
most likely to buy. Strangers in a
bar decide who to talk to based
on the digital broadcasting of
their interests and others' ratings.
Privacy is not only obsolete, but
irrelevant. It's a distinctly invasive
existence, albeit a very efficient one.
Objectively, I think I'd like to know
my own stats: how many pizzas
I've consumed in my lifetime, how
many people think I'm insufferably
obnoxious, whether that man at
the coffee shop lists Ayn Rand as
one of his favorite authors, thereby
indicating that I should resolutely
not bother gathering up the courage
to ask him to dinner. Having all this
data compiled and processed would
take so much of the uncertainty and
guesswork out of life. I wonder if I
would be happier or just plain bored.
Recently in an interview
with The Guardian titled "Are
the robots about to rise?" Ray
Kurzweil, Google's new director
of engineering, expressed his
beliefs that the data processing
capabilities of artificial intelligence
will overtake human intelligence
in every capacity in the near future
and that computers will gain what
he describes as something a lot like
our concept of consciousness. Many
people dismiss these predictions
as improbable - computers still
struggle with many of the things
that define us as distinctly human
such as semantics, humor and
emotions - but reality is not far
off. Human behavior is still easily
distinguishable from that of
computers, but life and technology
are converging in medicine,
business, relationships and nearly
every other aspect of our society.
We have not thus far drawn a line
in the sand that we are unwilling to
cross. Will we ever, or do we value
the imperfections and inefficiencies
of the human experience too much?
Is there anything that humans can
do that computers will never be
able to do better? Is there anything
that makes us distinctly different?
Does it even matter? The future is
here and the possibilities are ready
to be shaped into reality. I, for one,
welcome the robots with open arms.
- Julia Zarina can be reached
at jumilton@umich.edu.

While public universities are allowed
a greater degree of autonomy than most
other governmental bodies under the state
Constitution, they are still bound by the Open
Meetings Act. The application of the act to
universities is somewhat unclear and has
been largely decided in Michigan's courts. In
selecting a public uiyiversity president, the
act requires that the students, faculty and
members of the public serve on a selection
committee, and that the final five candidates be
announced. However, inFederatedPublications,
Inc. v. Michigan State University Board of
Trustees, the State Supreme Court ruled that
university presidential searches do not need
to be public unless they're done at a public
meeting. The regents are able to skirt general
transparency' requirements by designating
meetings as a status other than public. A state
constitutional amendment is necessary to
eliminate this loophole and promote a culture
of accountability. As elected public servants,
the regents are accountable to the people they
serve.At these official public meetings,the only
practical option for members of the public to be
heardisduringapublic commentsegmentatthe
end of the meetings, in which speakers sign up
ahead of time and have five minutes to discuss
their topic of choice. Closed-door discussion

among the regents prior to the public meetings
renders them "perfunctory," according to Fink.
The Board of Regents has a history of abusing
the guidelines set upby the Open Meetings Act.
In 2010, the regents were sued by University
alum Robert Davis for not holding a public
meeting to discuss an NCAA investigation
into the University's football program. The
University settled the matter out of court, but
reportedly paid $5,380 in legal fees to Davis.
However, the settlement was not an admission
of guilt by the University. It is alarming that
the University is flaunting the spirit of the
act so soon after the lawsuit. By not including
students and the public in important decisions
and on the presidential search committee, the
University has again failed to respect our right
to governmental oversight.
Furthermore, the public - especially
students and faculty - should be given more
say in University decisions. While discourse
is allowed at the public meetings, there is
very little debate, discussion or disagreement,
as most proposals are already discussed and
settled behind closed doors. The Board of
Regents and all University governing bodies
need to be held accountable and incorporate
more public oversight into their decision-
making process.

Barry Belmont, Nivedita Karki, Jacob Karafa, Jordyn Kay,
Kellie Halushka, Aarica Marsh, Megan McDonald, Victoria
Noble, Michael Schramm, Matthew Seligman, Paul
Sherman, Allison Raeck, Linh Vu, Daniel Wang, Derek Wolfe
Prioritizing clean energy at the U'

After a string of stunning home-court
performances, the Wolverines sit atop the
Big Ten basketball standings. On the heels
of these last few spectacular seasons with
Michigan Coach John Beilein, the University
has truly reestablished itself as an elite pro-
gram in college basketball. After all, we are
the "Leaders and Best," and we should feel
proud for this accomplishment. But, are we
always the leaders and best? When it comes
to the administration's renewable energy pol-
icy, we are actually far from the top.
The University of Michigan's energy
portfolio, which mostly derives from DTE's
coal-powered grid, is frankly abysmal. We're
left to wonder: where has our competitive
spirit gone? Ranked against the other Big Ten
schools, Michigan falls far behind the pack.
one of our closest competitors, Michigan
State, is currently at 8 percent renewable
energy with a goal to reach 15 percent by
2015, increasing to 40 percent by 2030. Ohio
State's electricity portfolio is 23 percent
wind energy. Northwestern recently climbed
to 37 percent. Michigan, on the other hand,
receives less than 4 percent of its energy from
renewables and has completely unsatisfactory
renewable energy goals.
Granted, the University does have a goal
to reduce 25 percent of its carbon emissions
by 2025. This step, however, is a far cry
from a comprehensive renewable energy
policy and seems paltry when compared to
the other efforts underway throughout all
of the Big Ten, let alone the nation's leading
universities. Students for Clean Energy, a
group dedicated to persuading Michigan to
make the switch to renewable energy, thinks
we can match - if not exceed - Michigan
State's goal, at the very least.
Since the launch of Planet Blue, a student
sustainability initiative on campus, the
administration's commitment to renewable

energy has stagnated. Students are left to
wonder why the administration has not
committed to increased renewable energy
investment when seemingly every other
Big Ten school has. SfCE met with several
times in the Fall 2012 term to talk about the
importance of a clean energy portfolio for
meeting their emissions goal, which cannot
be met by efficiency standards alone. It
was told the University had no interest in
setting such a goal. So, SfCE tried to get the
University's attention by helping the Divest
and Invest Campaign successfully raise
student awareness concerning renewables.
Still, nothing.
The fact of the matter is the University will
continue to be a hypocrite concerning sustain-
ability and renewable energy until it makes
an actually significant step. We can start by
buying Renewable Energy Credits from DTE,
like Northwestern does, or sign a long-term
renewable energy contract like Ohio State,
a power purchasing agreement, saving the
school one million dollars per year. These are
easy transitions to make and could lead to the
University saving a lot of money. Neverthe-
less, as of yet the University is still refusing to
take such a step. The University is failing to
see that its students are vehemently passion-
ate about committing to clean energy. That's
why Students for Clean Energy is launching
a new campaign to make Michigan's energy
portfolio more renewable than its Big Ten
peers, especially OSU and MSU. If we want
our University to live up to its own standard of
excellence, we need to strive for that in every-
thing - especially renewable energy. Until the
administration makes that change, we won't
really be the "Leaders and Best."
Jesse Selvin is an LSA junior,
C.J. Biggs is an LSA sophomore
and Juliana Roth is an junior.

Not long ago, the weekend of
March 1, I got arrested. it was one
of the proudest moments of my life. I
went peacefully, telling the arresting
officer my name and waiting while
he secured my hands behind my
back with plastic, zip-tie handcuffs.
He led me to a line where I was told
to remember my number, "three
thirty-two." I was the 332nd person
arrested in front of the White House
last Sunday in an act of peaceful
civil disobedience to object to the
Keystone XL pipeline, which would
carry tar sands oil from Alberta
down to the Gulf Coast.
My day of protest began
more than eight hours earlier in
Georgetown University's Red
Square. I joined over 1,000 students
from across the country and began
a march to the White House in
an event we called XL Dissent.
We wanted to make it as clear as
possible to President Barack Obama
and Secretary of State John Kerry,
upon whose shoulders the Keystone
XL permit rests, that we do not
want this pipeline. This pipeline
is not in our national interest.
Moreover, this pipeline is not in the
interest of the people of color and
the impoverished people it would
disproportionately affect. We are
willing to lay our future on the line
to stop this pipeline.
We thronged through the streets
of Georgetown, leaving a black,
shining tarp on the steps of John
Kerry's house with the message,
"Don't tar your legacy, stop KXL."
From there we marched the rest of
the two miles through downtown
D.C. to Lafayette Square, directly
across the street from the White
House. Here we were addressed
by a series of speakers attesting
to the destructive potential of the
Keystone XL pipeline. One of the
speakers was Chris Wahmhoff,
a Michigan resident from
Kalamazoo, who held his fist high
in the air, displaying a chunk of
solidified tar sands oil he had pulled
out of the Kalamazoo River. It was
left over from a pipeline similar to
KXL that ruptured and polluted the

river four years ago. The damage
from the spill can still be seen
today, even after a multi-million-
dollar clean up. He was followed by
Jasmine Thomas, who spoke of the
impact tar sands would have on the
water resources of her Saik'uz First
Nation's land in British Columbia.
Next, a university student stood
up and reminded everyone of
Obama's promises to protect the
environment and our future. I
poured hours into volunteering
for the Obama campaign and
enthusiastically casted my vote for
him in the last election. If he allows
this pipeline he will no longer be a
symbol of hope and positive change
to me, but instead one of betrayal,
broken trust and a bleak future.
Finally, a call to action was given,
and our protest escalated.
Hundreds of students, some
brandishing zip ties, others clad in
oil-covered hazmat suits and one in
a Captain Planet costume, rushed
across the street to set up camp in
Obama's front yard. A 40-foot by
60-foot black tarp was rolled out
across the sidewalk and street to
symbolize an oil spill, and protes-
tors flung their bodies down on it to
represent the deaths Keystone XL
would bring through its impacts on
public health, including increased
incidence of asthma and cancer.
others, myself included, found a
spot along the iron fence surround-
ing the White House and fastened
our wrists to the metal.
While the police secured the area
and read us procedural warnings,
we chanted for climate justice and
called for Obama to reject the pipe-
line. Two hours later, they declared
that we were all under arrest and
began to handcuff people. At this
point, the cheering and singing only
got louder. As I watched the police
load my peers into paddy wagons,
I was sure we were doing the right
thing. Even as students preparing
to enter the workforce, the Key-
stone pipeline poses a far greater
threat to our future than an arrest
on our permanent record.
At the end of the day, 398 of

ng up for my future

us were arrested. Our reasons
were manifold. Some had at the
front of their mind the impact a
Keystone spill could have on the
massive aquifer that provides
water for cropland in the Midwest.
Many were standing up for the
communities like Port Arthur,
Texas, where people of color would
be disproportionately put at risk
for cancer as a consequence of the
emissions fromthe refineries. Some
people thought of the land they
were bullied into giving up across
the Midwest. Others did it to stop
the effect such an operation would
have on the climate. I did it with
the symbolic potential of Keystone
XL in mind. If Obama rejects the
permit it will send the message
that America can still be a leader
on environmental issues. That we
can, and will, take the necessary
steps to combat climate change, to
fight pollution and to build a clean
energy future, regardless of what
the fossil fuel industry has to say.
I realize that my action was one
taken from a place of privilege; I
had the resources to risk getting
arrested. I made the decision I felt
was most appropriate in my cir-
cumstance, though I acknowledge
it had its flaws. Our protest lacked
the voices of the underprivileged,
lacked the voices of the frontline
communities and relied on the
highly educated, who would likely
feel the tar sands pipeline's impact
the least. Even so, I wanted to help
in whatever capacity I could, so I
joined XL Dissent.
With this in mind, I was proud
when after six hours inthe cold rain,
I was cut down from the fence and
put into custody. I was proud that
I took action for a cause I believe
in. I was proud that our protest
would be covered by The New York
Times, The Washington Post and
the Chicago Tribune. And I was
proud as I was taken away from the
front steps of the White House in
handcuffs, knowing Obama might
finally hear my concern.
Jacob Kornfeld is an LSA sophomore.

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