Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Something About Integrity at Harvard

Dean of Harvard College Evelynn M. Hammonds took a golden parachute to 'lead a new program on race and gender in science and medicine, as a Harvard faculty when she step down as the Dean of Harvard College.

Dean Hammonds made a number of contradictory statements surrounding an email search scandal exploded last year. She ordered multiple searches of over a dozen junior faculty's email to find out the source of a Harvard Crimson report on academic fraud at Harvard. Part of the search was co-authorized by Michael D. Smith, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. When the scandal was revealed in March, Dean Hammonds swore that was the only search she ordered. However, with the investigation furthering a few weeks later, she admitted to other secret email search that she ordered on herself. Even if it's already a norm to find an administrator lying in public, it should have been sufficient to kick her out of the academia.

Harvard faculty expressed loss of trust, and The Crimson called on Dean Hammonds to resign.

Now, when she did step down, Dean Hammonds told the press, 'I was never asked to step down'.

Could that be considered another lie in public? Or is she blind and deaf? When faculty and students called on her to resign, does that mean something to a Harvard administrator?

Perhaps the message Dean Hammonds attempted to convey was that only the President's opinion matters, and that those of alum, faculty and students do not. Dean Hammonds incidentally revealed a deeper problem at Harvard.

When Dean Hammonds collect information for her new program, she could use her own example as how to ruin a most respected institution in five years. Thanks to Dean Hammonds, we see the fall of a once great academic shrine.

Friday, May 24, 2013

I5 Bridge Might Have Faulted on Same Structural Defect as I35W

This photo was taken one week before the I35W bridge in Minneapolis, MN collapsed on August 1, 2007.  The gusset plate which was blamed to be the direct cause of failure was highlighted.
Although the Department of Transportation of State of Washington considered the bridge not 'structurally deficient', based on the pictures, it was build with the same technology as the I35W bridge which collapsed in Minneapolis, MN on August 1, 2007. The I35W bridge had been cleared of any risks from all past inspections, including a through study conducted by an associate professor at University of Minnesota one year before its collapse. After the I35W bridge accident, a large number of bridges built around the time were considered structurally deficient.

I5 bridge over Skagit River, AP Photo
Comparing to the picture of the collapsed I5 bridge, it would be hard for one not to recognize the place it failed, and the same gusset plates that are in use to connect the bridge.

While the I35W bridge collapsed, the bridge was going through a maintenance upgrade with construction material and vehicles on the bridge. Combined with bumper to bumper traffic in afternoon rush hours, it was considered a very heavy load. Officials blamed the I5 bridge's collapse to a heavy load truck which scratched a few girders.

According to Wikipedia, the I5 Skagit River Bridge opened in 1955. The I35W Mississippi River Bridge opened in 1967. At the time, engineers did not fully understand the properties of steel used to make the gusset plates that connect the bridge. Bridges built later used thicker gusset plates therefore carries no risks, or so as we were told.

It is too soon to tell what exactly caused the collapse of the I5 Bridge over Skagit River, while we are still within hours of the accident. Pointing fingers at the truck driver does not release the duty and responsibility of government officials by any means.

Monday, May 13, 2013

On the Front Lines of Academic Freedom

"Let us be clear that we believe in academic freedom," a group of Harvard scholars began their calling with a cliché, then offered an expected "however": "..even if such claims have merit, the Kennedy School cannot ethically stand by this dissertation.."

The letter was addressed to the Harvard Kennedy School community, but the real targeted audiences are American People and the American President, a President who had been known to have a knee jerk to intervene law and justice when he saw fit. When a renowned Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., a close friend of him, had a dispute with a local small town police officer, President Obama did not hesitate to point fingers on the officer in front of the nation. It turned out his friend was bullying the officer, but who cares. President Obama scolded Sgt. James Crowley "acted stupidly" at a White House news conference, before the nation had a chance to know what had actually happened. When every thread of findings and facts turned against the prominent African American professor, we did not hear he said the same to his friend.

The dissertation in question authored by Dr. Jason Richwine found new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ offsprings. When the group of Harvard scholars found it difficult to attack Dr. Richwine's findings and his methods of research, they had the courage to stand up and claim 'merit' did not count.

Apparently encouraged by the administration, some Harvard faculty have discovered a shortcut to fame and power, trampling through reasons and facts.

Perhaps the entire academia are learning the rope living under modern government. Earlier this year, neighborly MIT voluntarily souped up persecution on gifted programmer Aaron Swartz, which resulted his death.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Seven Do Not Say

Colleges professors across China received directives that following seven phrases should not be mentioned in classroom. Notice that the wording 'mention', these phrases must be avoided altogether, not to say discussed.

  1. Universal values;
  2. Free press;
  3. Civil society;
  4. Civil rights;
  5. Past mistakes committed by the Party;
  6. Crony capitalism;
  7. Judicial independence;

The move is seen as an extension to the infamous 'Five Do Not Do' announced by former Speaker of the People's Congress Mr. Wu BangGuo two years earlier. In the annual session of the National People's Congress in 2011, Wu stated that China would not

  1. allow multiple parties competing for ruling;
  2. allow variation to party's voice;
  3. allow trias politica principle and congress with real power;
  4. explore federalism;
  5. privatize;

While the new core advocate for a 'Great Chinese Dream', Chill ran up spines for intellectuals in China.

Under Xi's leadership, China enters an era of Mao 2.0. In one hand, it places national interests above personal benefits; on the other hand, it excludes common people from entering the upper layer of the ruling class.

Something About College Football

Blame it on Alabama. University of Alabama became the second team, after LSU tigers, to claim the national title three times under the BCS system, replying on an NFL coach Nick Saban with a $5.5 million salary. His bonus for 2012 over $1 million.

Scott Hirko of Central Michigan University found coaching salaries had been raising 10 times faster than academic instructional salaries since 2006. Seventy-seven schools offer their football coach salaries above $1 million in 2013. With shrinking federal and state contribution and looming economy, critics doubts the wisdom of school's investment in football programs.

A recent study conducted by Doug J. Chung, an assistant professor at Harvard University vindicated administrator's favoring of college football programs. Chung found a 17.7 percent boost in applications after a successful football season. To achieve a comparable bump, the university would have to either decrease tuition by 3.8 percent or attracting higher caliber faculty with 5.1 percent higher salaries.

Well, Chung did not mention anything about increasing existing faculty's salary, perhaps that's why administration did not do that.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Why We Might Never Find Out the True in the Zhu Ling Poisoning Case

Since the past few days, the name of a 40 years old Chinese woman are found at every corner of the Internet. It even appeared in tightly censored national media and airwaves, western media, and even generated a Whitehouse We-the-People Petition where it collected over 100,000 signatures within a couple of days and made it "warranted an official response from the White House".

Ms. Zhu Ling was a sophomore student at Qinghua University in 1995, when she was found to be poisoned with Thallium.

As it often happened in Beijing, the case became sensitive when many involved are privileged families and institutions. No one was ever arrested or formally charged. Until today, the case remains unsolved. Thanks to efforts made by a few dedicated friends of Zhu, the case was brought back to public's attention every a few years. However, the ever increasing tension between those with and without, as long as growing Internet accessibility, coupled with growing frustration over censorship rode the case into a perfect storm.

The focus of the recent Internet movement was a roommate of Zhu, named Sun Wei. The net mobs charged Sun poisoned Zhu out of jealousy of her beauty and popularity. Because other roommates stood firmly with Sun, the net mobs also charged it was an act of the entire dorm, and methodically covered by the entire class, who also stood with Sun. The mobs also charged Qinghua University covered the case to save faces, and even former Chinese President Jiang Zemin himself got involved.

Coming from the same finding of facts, that the other roommates not only insisted on Sun's innocence, but also fought for her name and faith against the mobs together, the Seagull felt for Sun. The Seagull does not believe three college girls would hate a roommate for any reason that much so that they would kill her together. If it were not a group job, we would have heard some words on this in twenty years, but we didn't. They still stood with Sun.

One key piece of information is that Sun Wei, Zhu's roommate use Thallium in her research. However, as demonstrated later and confirmed by all, Thallium in the lab was not locked, instead it was placed in a location that was accessible to anyone, including general public. On the other hand, at the time, Thallium was a most common ingredient used in rat poison at the time in China.

People is angry when they see injustice done by the privileged few onto a lovely girl. Sun's grandfather was a famous geologist. Sun's cousin was deputy mayor of Beijing. None of them are communists party members. Although they were placed on high rank positions, their roles were more as political decorations than of any real power. On the other hand, Zhu is also from no ordinary families. Zhu's grandparents were senior professors in Qinghua University. Zhu's mother went to school with many of today's most powerful officials, including her same year classmate Liu Qi, the CCP Party boss of Beijing, and Li Tieying who personally ordered medical assistance for Zhu Ling. Even Zhu's friends are from influential families. By any rate, it is not a typical case of ordinary neighborhood girl fell victim to communist party officials as portrayed by Zhu's friends and perceived by the mobs.

The tactics and strategies of the net mobs are alerting. They published not only Zhu's many classmates at Qinghua University's family addresses, but also harassed their in-laws with hateful phone calls and emails. They published photos and schools of children of these students to 'force them to speak out'. They paralysed their employer's business hotlines and hacked their email accounts. Many communication between Sun and her classmates regarding this case were posted on the web, alas no smoking gun was discovered except that they all believed in Sun's innocence and were willing to fight with her against net mobs.

The best thing that may and should come out of this is a settlement with the Peking Union Medical College Hospital where Zhu Ling was treated in 1995. Despite many obvious symptoms, and despite a high profile international rescue campaign in which dozens of dozens of foreign doctors pointed out the source of poisoning, and despite test done secretly by Zhu's family at another hospital proved Zhu had been poisoned by Thallium, the Hospital refused to treat her as Thallium poisoning for several weeks. It was not they were unfamiliar with the material. Dr Li Shunwei who was in charge of Zhu Ling authored a book on Thallium poisoning years ago, but he specifically ordered no testing of Thallium should be performed. That's why the family had to obtain Zhu's biological sample secretly with help of a sympathetic nurse. Depends which country the court were located, Dr Li would have been convicted from manslaughter to first degree murder if the case would ever went to trial. The reason for the Concord's stubborn refusal to treat Zhu as Thallium poisoning may never be known, but the damage was done. Once a most popular girl in China's top university with stunning beauty and glowing academic scores is now a deformed blind woman who could barely utter her own name. In a civil court, the Beijing Concord Hospital would be found liable to Zhu's tragedy.

The case was not solved in 1995. It would probably remain as such since evidences could be lost and memories had faded. There are many myths we might never know, for example:

  • The police interrogated Sun Wei for eight hours at one time. What did they find?
  • Any rationale that could help explain the seemingly intentional delay of proper treatment by Dr. Li and the Peking Union Medical College Hospital.
  • Potential links between Zhu Ling's case and her sister Zhu Jin's mysterious death in 1989. Zhu Jin, a student of Beijing University, was found dead in a park where she was hiking with her classmates. There were strong evidence which suggested it was a homicide case, but it was never investigated as such.

The most concern of Zhu's family was that both parents were in their seventies. When they were gone, Zhu would not be able to live on her own. Because the Peking Union Medical College Hospital treated her so late, Zhu suffered permanent neural damage to her brain. She has been blind with a intelligence of a toddler. Her health has been deteriorating recently.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

How Cold War Mentality Hurt National Security

Shocking revelations from the investigation following the Boston Marathon bombing is as alarming as it is troubling. The main suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev went on a Muslim training tour in Russia for half year while the FBI/CIA had no clue. The Russian intelligence agency tipped the suspicious behavior to FBI, but that fell to deaf ears, somehow. One of the two foreigners arrested afterwards for assisting the suspects entered the US with invalid visa.

On the other hand, FBI spent numerous money on hunting of Chinese spies. NASA contractor Dr. Jiang Bo was arrested at Dulles Airport with tons of serious charges. In the end, he was let go on an admission of downloading copyrighted movies, the only crime he had committed.

It set up a dangerous legal precedence because as many as 30,000 million Americans had admitted that they downloaded copyrighted materials without a license. With that, prosecutors will be able to charge many citizens, or to pressure them to do things against their free will. That was actually the exact reason the federal prosecutor in the Lori Drew case gave up a winning case so that the spirit of law can be upheld.

Jiang's case reflected a desperate situation in advanced research in the US. NASA can not use Chinese talents, including those who had obtained advanced degrees in the US. Jiang and a few others were working as contractors at NASA through National Institution of Aerospace (NIA).

When the NASA Director testified in the Congress, before he was interrupted, he stated in this time of modern world, it's counterintuitive not to collaborate with the Chinese in space technology. It is hurting the US science and technology development.

Still, politicians politicized it as a political pitch, and named Jiang as an example at a congressional hearing. Reading his own name on the local newspaper, Jiang changed his tickets to flee out of the country, which further excited the nerve of the FBI. He was stopped at the gate and interrogated several hours at the airport, until federal agents got a good excuse to arrest him. Jiang was not upfront about his laptop (some say it is a portable hard drive). FBI believed it must be sensitive secrets from NASA. After weeks of forensic analysis, there are nothing but porn movies Dr. Jiang downloaded from the Internet. And that explains why he was not upfront at the first place.

The bigger issue is that resources are misallocated.

The Animal Farm had already evolved into the 'All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others' stage. It is no longer a threat to neighbors. It will be foolish for one farm to insist on treating the Animal Farm the ideological way, and potentially risk being isolated by the rest of the world.

A few days after the Boston bombing, more than a dozen Chinese officials were ambushed by Muslim terrorists in a routine community event. Except one police chief, all unarmed. Among the dead, several young female minority social workers. The US government was quick to jump out and blame the Chinese government on oppressing minorities. It seems politicians in the US are not aware where the Boston bombing suspect came from.