Plotz steps in some Aggie Poo

I was listening to the Slate Magazine Political Gabfest: The Never Alone edition as I do every week.  Their third topic (30:00) was the affirmative action case brought by Abigail Fisher against The University of Texas and race-based admissions policies being accepted by the Supreme Court.

At some point in to it (38:00) David Plotz supports the policy of automatic admission to the university by the top 10% of graduating high school students (in the state) as a nice alternative mechanism to obtaining diversity.  The truth of the matter is the 10% isn’t as automatic as it was in the 80s, and the 10% policy has been around for a long time – though I’m not sure if it predates affirmative action laws.

“The 10% idea, taking the top 10% of a class, is a really appealing one. … I presume that at Texas A&M, which is sort of second tier, maybe it’s the top 20% or something. …”

A a child of two UT alumni, and the 4th generation graduate of the UT, I laughed heartily at that one.  It’s been a few decades since I’ve had to deal with college admissions, but I recall their policies being relatively the same (I was accepted by both).  I can’t  wait to hear if John’s inbox filled up with letters from Aggies.

Then Plotz turns around and calls the top 10% of the class “ten percenters” which is generally a term for people who don’t put in more than 10% effort.  And it of course make Frank Black‘s voice stream through my brain singing about a slacker soda jerk: Continue reading Plotz steps in some Aggie Poo

Is This Disaster Natural Enough For You?

Last Friday I read an innocent enough tweet from @Slate:

Tornado outbreak now the worst US natural disaster since Katrina: 29 2011

My first reaction was “wow, those tornados were nasty.”  Which is, i’m sure, how it was intended. Then I thought “worst? what are they using to determine badness?”  Of course, this was somewhat of a second-level headline.  The main headline said it was the “deadliest US natural disaster”.  So the manager of the twitter account had taken the step from death = worst (i tweeted a response), which the author (Josh Voorhees) of the article likely didn’t mean to imply.

I’m sure the economic impact of Hurricane Ike was much greater than that of the recent tornados.  Tornados are pinpoint, one block can be toothpicks the next unharmed.  Hurricanes paint with big brushes, but thankfully we get advanced warning which mitigates deaths.  I’m would guess that Ike left more homeless as well.  (Death tolls: Katrina ~1800, Ike ~200, recent tornadoes ~300+)

Not wanting to figure a calculus for death vs. destruction, I soon focused in on “natural disaster”.  Hurricane Katrina, like Hurricane Ike, was itself a weather event, and caused a natural disaster.  But the Flooding of New Orleans was not a natural disaster.  It was caused by the breaching of a human-made levee, a combination of engineering and bureaucratic failure.  I would certainly not attribute all those deaths to “natural disaster”.

Was the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis a natural disaster?  Certainly the elements caused it to deteriorate, but I think all of us would answer “no”.

The recent earthquake-tsunami combination in Japan was certainly a natural disaster.  Was the subsequent Chernobyl-sized welt-down and the economic and possible death toll?  I would certainly say “no”.

So, I ask again, was the Flooding of New Orleans a natural disaster?  The only answer can be no!