Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Carrie Fisher and our dystopian future

Carrie Fisher - Photo by Riccardo Ghilardi
Earlier today, legendary actress and writer Carrie Fisher passed away at the age of 60. She joins Richard Adams, author of Watership Down who also died today at the age of 96, George Michael, and so many other high-profile deaths in 2016 that I have lost count.

Carrie Fisher doesn't have any particular connection to Detroit or the Warrendale neighborhood. Indeed, none of these deaths have any particular connect to Detroit nor the Warrendale neighborhood. However, I still need to rant about something and, well, this blog is my opportunity to do so.

It seems to me that the bankers and politicians who have screwed our world up will continue to live. Meanwhile, the artists like Carrie Fisher and others who have collectively made living in this world worthwhile are dying off rapidly.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how the dystopian future begins.

Detroiters vs wolves: what matters more in Lansing

Gray wolf - Photo by Isster17/Wikicommons
It was this past Friday that Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation that would authorize wolf hunting in Michigan. This, by the way, was the fourth time in four years that there has been one legislative attempt or another to allow wolf hunting in this state.

I repeat, wolf hunting has resulted in four different pieces of legislation reaching the governor's desk in the past four years.

Meanwhile, legislation authorizing the D-Insurance program has been languishing in the Michigan Legislature for almost two years.

Hunting wolves has resulted in four different bills moving through the Michigan Legislature. However, when it comes to helping inner-city residents cope with out-of-control auto insurance costs, the Michigan Legislature can't be bothered to do anything.

This is frustrating, to say the least.

Based on all of this, I believe that it well past time for the City of Detroit to reexamine an issue that has been discussed for years now - that is, the City of Detroit to start its own insurance company.

Lansing isn't going to help Detroiters get affordable auto insurance. They are too busy worrying about whether or not people can hunt wolves in northern Michigan.

The insurance companies aren't going to help Detroiters get affordable auto insurance. Quite frankly, I don't think they even want to insurance anyone who lives in the inner city.

This is an issue where Detroiters need to help ourselves. And that means starting our own insurance company.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Reflections on life in a post-truth world

Photo courtesy of  DTTSP
There has been a lot of discussion as of late about fake news; how it has evolved from harmless site on sites like The Onion to something that has an increasing impact on our life. It has reached the point where social media sites like Facebook have launched an effort to combat the spread of fake news on its pages.

This proliferation of fake news, misinformation, and misinterpreted data has caused some to refer to our modern age as the "post-truth era." The extent to which this has become embedded in modern life was perhaps best exemplified when the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary named "post-truth" as their word of the year for 2016.

All of this makes me wonder more and more about how we got to where we are.

How did this become the so-called post-truth era?

How did we get here? How can we function in this type of an environment? How can we get back to a world where the truth actually matters?

I won't pretend to have all of the answers to this one. I will, however, mention that this phenomenon is not a new.

C.H. Spurgeon
Back in 1859, the British author and pastor C.H. Spurgeon published a compilation of his sermons in a book entitled Gems from Spurgeon. In this opus, he observed, "A lie will go round the world while the truth is pulling its boots on."

A lie will go round the world while the truth is still pulling its boots on. There's a lot of truth in that simple sentence, I believe.

In my opinion, what we now refer to as the post-truth era is merely the logical evolution of what Spurgeon opined about 157 years ago.

In Spurgeon's time, the telegraph was still a relatively new invention. Information could move vast distances in a short period of time. However, it was nothing like what we see today with the internet.

In the modern era, any liar with an internet connection can blast his or her misinformation around the world with a speed that Spurgeon could never have dreamed of. Plus, those lies can be shared with much less effort that it would take one to write a letter or send a telegram. Meanwhile, it still takes the truth the same amount of time to put its proverbial boots on.

I won't pretend to have a solution for the challenges of living in a post-truth world. I simply do not have such an answer to these questions.

I do, however, take a certain amount of comfort in knowing that other great individuals have muddled through similar challenges. Until I have an epiphany as to how to best live in a post-truth world, I invite anyone with a better idea to leave a comment below.

Editor's note: This post is a part of this blog's semi-regular Friday Focus series, which endeavors to highlight news and opinions that, in my opinion, don't get as much attention as they deserve.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Detroit finishes installing 65,000 new street lights

The relighting of Detroit – a city that just three years ago was in chronic darkness – has been completed on time and under budget. The Public Lighting Authority installed the last of 65,000 new LED streetlights earlier today. This marks the completion a massive relighting program that began in February 2014 after Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Council appointed a new board to lead the project.

A lit street in Detroit - Photo by Steve Koss
“For the first time in a generation, Detroiters can step outside at night anywhere in their city and have an expectation of a street lit to the national standard,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a prepared statement. “They also can have the expectation that if a light goes out, it will be replaced within five days. This major accomplishment for our residents would not have been possible without the hard work of the professional staff and board we have at the PLA.”

Prior to the start of the LED project, about 40% of the city’s streetlights did not work, including entire neighborhoods in some cases. To bring relief to residents as quickly as possible, the Mayor worked with the PLA to reverse the original plan that called for lighting major thoroughfares first in order to light neighborhoods first and complete them a year earlier. The new plan also called for installing brighter and more energy-efficient LED lights, as opposed to the dimmer sodium lights.
The replacement of lights began in the city’s darkest ZIP codes on the far east and far west sides, and moved methodically across the city, eventually reaching the final destination: downtown Detroit.

At a ceremony held at dusk just east of downtown at Atwater and Riopelle, Mayor Duggan; President Obama’s budget director, Shaun Donovan; and other dignitaries joined with residents to turn on the last stretch of lights to be replaced in the city.

Dr. Lorna Thomas, chairwoman of the Public Lighting Authority, added that today’s celebration “is the culmination of three years of intense work that has brought order out of chaos with the city’s street lights and has created an effective solution to an issue that has plagued the city for decades. When we began installing new LED streetlights in Detroit’s neighborhoods in February 2014, many people thought what we were trying to do was impossible, because it had never been done. But we have done it. This an example of how government should work.”

“I’m proud of our staff and want to thank them for their dedication and long hours in relighting our city,” stated Nicolette Carlone, chief executive officer of the authority. “Their hard work is recognized in completing this monumental project on schedule and under budget.”

Prior to the formation of the Public Lighting Authority, Detroit’s street lighting system had been in increasingly serious disrepair, with minimal infrastructure investment having been made for at least the last 20 years. Approximately 40 percent of the lights in the system were not working for reasons that included copper theft, bulb outages, vandalism, obsolete technology, lack of repair staff and a lack of funds to pay for repairs.

“The completion of this project is an amazing step in Detroit’s comeback. It’s events like these that prove that this city is on the path to recovery and will continue to become an even better place to live, raise a family, and do business,” Governor Rick Snyder added.

DTE Energy has served as the owner’s representative overseeing the project from its beginning to completion.

“At DTE Energy, we are extremely proud to have assisted with the project to relight the City of Detroit,” said Trevor F. Lauer, president and chief operating officer, DTE Electric. “For our residents, businesses, employees, and the surrounding communities, Detroit’s new energy efficient streetlights symbolize progress, safety, and a tremendous sense of pride in our invigorated and revitalized city.”

The Public Lighting Authority was authorized at the state level by legislation that passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder. The Detroit City Council approved the PLA’s articles of incorporation in February 2013. The authority was created to develop and implement a plan to get the street lighting system operating effectively and to provide a vehicle to secure the funds to make the badly needed improvements to Detroit’s public lighting system.
Twice as bright, more reliable

The LED lights the authority has installed on city streets are twice as bright as and more energy efficient than the high-pressure sodium lights that were replaced. In addition, the lights have a considerable longer life than high pressure sodium lights.

The PLA has eliminated the problem the old system experienced of copper theft by switching from copper to aluminum wiring. Aluminum has only a small fraction of the value of copper on the scrap market, making it unattractive to potential thieves. The new LED lights also do not require a copper coil at the base, as the old lights did, removing another target of thieves.

In another measure to improve reliability, the PLA has done away with the city’s old series-circuit lighting system, commonly known as “Christmas tree light” wiring, in which multiple lights were on one circuit – so if one light burned out, all the lights on that circuit would stop working. In the new lighting system, if one light goes out, the others stay on.

In addition, the authority has instituted a maintenance program that fixes lights that have ceased working within three to five days of the outage being reported. Under the old system, residents could wait months, if not years, for a street light to be repaired if it went out.

The authority financed the construction with a $60 million interim financing that was sold in December, 2013 and then a long-term fixed rate financing of $185 million that was completed in June of 2014. The bonds are being paid off through an annual allocation of $12.5 million from the city’s utility user tax. Citi served as the senior manager on the transaction. The bonds are being paid off through an annual allocation of $12.5 million from the city’s utility user tax.

“When the State of Michigan and the Public Lighting Authority came to us three years ago to help get the street lights turned back on in Detroit, we were happy to step up,” said Michael Corbat, chief executive officer of Citi. “Today, not only are the city’s streets safer, but the lights will stay on longer and use less energy. We’re honored to have played such a role in creating a brighter future for Detroit.”‎

The PLA is run by a five member board, all of whom are Detroit residents. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit City Council each appoint two board members, and the fifth member is picked by Council from a list of candidates provided by the Mayor.

Man gets 40-82 years for murdering a firefighter in Warrendale

David Madrigal - Photo from the Detroit Firefighters Association
David Madrigal was a resident of the Warrendale neighborhood who lived on Vaughn Street and served as a Detroit firefighter for 26 years. He was murdered in his sleep last December. I wrote about this crime previously here.

One of three persons charged in Madrigal's murder, Timmy Lynn Soto of Detroit, was sentenced yesterday to 40 - 82 years in prison for this crime. A second individual, Christian Rasnick of Trenton, is scheduled to be sentenced later today. The third and final individual allegedly involved in this murder, Nicole O'Neill of Detroit, is scheduled for trial in March.

The Detroit Free Press has more on this story here.

I pray that these convictions and long prison sentences help to bring peace to the family that David Madrigal was forced to leave behind.

Update @ 7:43 p.m.

The second of three individuals to be charged in David Madrigal's murder was sentenced today. Christian Rasnick of Trenton was sentenced to 10 - 30 years in prison for his connection with this killing.

A video from his sentencing is available below.