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November 03, 2010 - Image 4

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4A - Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Edited and managed by students at
the University of Michigan since 1890.
420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbot, MI 48109
tothedaily@umich.edu

TO make this work there is only one label
that matters. That label is Michigander."
- Michigan's governor-elect Rick Snyder (R-Ann Arbor), commenting last night on his desire
for bipartisanship in Michigan after his win against Democrat and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

0

JACOB SMILOVITZ
EDITOR IN CHIEF

RACHEL VAN GILDER
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR

MATT AARONSON
MANAGING EDITOR

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.
Earni n the grade
University must improve sustainability programs
t looks like the University might need a tutor in environ-
mental sustainability. Recently, it received a lower grade
than usual in a sustainability report card published by a
respected survey of North American colleges. Officials have stat-
ed that the University deserved a higher ranking than it received.
For an institution that says it has a strong commitment to being
environmentally conscious, this year's grade shows that the Uni-
versity's actions don't support its words. Despite protestations
that the survey was flawed, there is more that the University can
- and should - do to improve campus sustainability.

The only thing to fear...

he entire country was alarmed
last Christmas when Umar
Farouk Abdulmutallab
attempted to bomb
a plane travelling
from Amsterdam
to Detroit. But
there were a few
things about the
situation that likely
scared University
students a bit more
than the general
population. For JEREMY
one, Abdulmutal-
lab was kept in the LEVY
University hospi-
tal briefly follow-
ing his arrest. And many students
have likely taken or plan to take the
Northwest international flight from
Amsterdam to Detroit as part of a
study abroad program. I almost took
that flight from Amsterdam during
the summer of 2009, prior to the
attempted bombing.
In the same manner, members of
the Chicago Jewish community - me
included - had specific reason to be
alarmed in regards to the attempted
terrorist attack last weekend. On
Thursday, officials in London and
Dubai intercepted two packages with
explosives that were mailed from
Yemen to the United States. These
packages were both addressed to Chi-
cago area synagogues, as President
Barack Obama announced last Thurs-
day, according to The New York Times.
While official addresses haven't
been released, the Chicago Tribune
reported that one of the packages was
intended for a synagogue in a suburb
called Rogers Park. This suburb has
particular meaning to me because it's
where I worked for a Jewish charity
organization over the summer. It's
frightening to think that a synagogue
in the same community was the tar-
get of an attempted bombing.
It's not unusual to fear terror-
ist attacks. But the reason . bring up

these cases is to show that when an
individual can personalize an attack
or attempted attack in some way, that
individual's fear will likely be ampli-
fied. Whether such fears are justified or
not (some are, some aren't), they must
beputinperspective.As Freakonomics
co-author Steven D. Levitt often points
out, the average American's individual
chances of dying in a terrorist attack
are smaller than his chances of dying
from a car accident. In this light, one of
the biggest mistakes we can make as a
country isto act irrationally due to fear
and uncertainty.
Public perceptions of terrorism
play a large role in shaping national
policy. Every attempted act of ter-
rorism ratchets up public fears and
results in massive pressure for the
government to strengthen its coun-
ter-terrorism measures. This was
certainly the case with the Christmas
Day bomber, and I'd be willing to bet
that many Chicago Jews will recall
the Yemeni packages in future discus-
sions of terrorism policy. Public offi-
cials who are vulnerable to the votes
of their constituents have little incen-
tive to go against public fears, and
this often shows in policy decisions.
The problem is that such policies
aren't always rational and often don't
take long-term consequences into
account. For instance, in the after-
math of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress voted
by an overwhelming majority to give
the executive branch broad powers
to combat terrorism. This legislation
was in line with public opinion about
how to handle the situation.
But in the wake of the legislation,
the Bush administration captured
roughly 800 alleged "enemy com-
batants," most of whom were taken
without just cause and have since
been released. The administration
also created the Guantanamo Bay
detention facility, which has subject-
ed the U.S. to accusations of human
rights abuses. Looking back, it's hard
to say that granting the executive as

few limitations as Congress did was
the best decision.
Another example of fear driv-
ing potentially unsound policy is the
pending decision of how to try Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed and other Sept.
11 conspirators - either in a federal
court in New York City or a military
tribunal. While there are legitimate
arguments to be made on both sides,
public objection to holding terrorists
in a major city may wield dispropor-
tional influence. The Sept. 11 conspir-
ators are dangerous in the sense that
they planned anunprecedented attack
on U.S. soil, but the allegation that
they are still dangerous in military or
FBI custody is driven by blind fear.
Knee-jerk fear
can lead to poor
policy decisions.
I'm not saying that fear is an unrea-
sonable response to terrorist attacks,
especially when such attacks effect
individuals personally. Nor am I deny-
ing that Congress's decision to grant
the executive broad war powers was
almost unanimously considered the
right thing to do at the time. What I
am saying is that we have to be able to
learn from our mistakes and develop
the ability to analyze our fears in a
broader context. When we give our
fears undue weight in decision-mak-
ing, it leads to policy mistakes. In the
near future, there are going to be more
threats of terrorist attacks and there
will be individuals who are personally
affected by each one. All of us have to
be prepared to handle such situations
in a rational manner.
- Jeremy Levy can be reached
at jeremlev@umich.edu.

0

According to an Oct. 28 article in The
Michigan Daily, the University's grade
from the Campus Sustainability Report
Card dropped from a B+ in 2010 to a B on
the 2011 report card, which was released
last week. The Report Card grades 332
North American colleges in nine differ-
ent areas of campus-wide sustainability.
The executive director of the University's
Office of Campus Sustainability, Terry
Alexander, told the Daily that he believes
the University deserved an A. He also
believes the Campus Sustainability Report
Card's process of rating is faulty.
Part of the problem, according to Alexan-
der, is that the Michigan Student Assembly
Environmental Issues Commission never
filled out the student portion of the survey,
which was sent out in July. The commis-
sion has filled out the survey in the past, but
somehow it slipped through the cracks this
summer. Students and the Office of Campus
Sustainability must work together to create
a greener campus, and students need to keep
up their end of that responsibility.
But the Office of Campus Sustainability
must lead the charge for a more sustain-
able campus. It's easy to blame the grading
system, but the reality is that the Univer-
sity doesn't deserve an A. There are many
easily identifiable areas in which campus
could be more sustainable. For example,
the University's fleet of vehicles - which

increased by about 60 in the last year -
doesn't run completely on alternative fuels
like ethanol or biodiesel. And the Univer-
sity has no intention to switch to hybrid
buses in the near future, even though the
Ann Arbor Transportation Authority start-
ed purchasing hybrids 2007. The Univer-
sity could also implement trayless dining
across campus, a program that encourages
students to not use trays in dining halls.
The program has already been success-
fully implemented in East Quad.
The University's construction and reno-
vation projects also haven't prioritized
green initiatives. North Quad wasn't con-
structed to earn LEED certification. And
the University currently has only two
LEED-certified buildings, which is aston-
ishingly bad considering the University's
size, construction budget and supposed
commitment to going green. Grand Valley
State University, a much smaller institution
than the University of Michigan, has seven
LEED-certified buildings on its Allendale
campus alone, and is waiting on approval
for two more as of September 2010.
The University's current sustainability
programs seem to only pay lip service to its
environmentally friendly reputation. But
half-hearted environmentalism isn't accept-
able. The University must remember that
environmental consciousness isn't just a
mindset. It also requires progressive action.

0
0

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
Readers are encouraged to submit letters to the editor. Letters should be
fewer than 300 words and must include the writer's full name and University affiliation.
All submissions become property of the Daily. We do not print anonymous letters.
Send letters to tothedaily@umich.edu.
Interpretation ofpreCiitation

EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBERS:
Aida Ali, Jordan Birnholtz, Adrianna Bojrab, Will Butler,
Eaghan Davis, Michelle DeWitt, Ashley Griesshammer, Will Grundler,
Jeremy Levy, Erika Mayer, Harsha Nahata, Emily Orley, Harsha Panduranga,
Tommaso Pavone, Leah Potkin, Asa Smith, Laura Veith
PAKISTANI STUDENTS' ASSOCIATION
Get involved with flood relief

From July through September, the lives of
millions in Pakistan were changed for the worse.
Seasonal monsoon rains inundated nearly one-
fifth of the country, causing what has been called
one of the worst natural disasters in recent his-
tory. To put this devastation in perspective, the
number of victims is higher than those of the
2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2005 Kash-
mir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake
combined. More than 20 million people with
limited means have been rendered either home-
less, jobless or both. That's nearly the population
of Michigan and Ohio combined displaced from
their homes and livelihoods, with nothing left.
For most of us, it's difficult to grasp the extent of
this devastation that has uprooted thousands of
families in Pakistan and crippled the country's
already weak economy.
The greatest irony of this disaster (there are
many) lies in the fact that Pakistan faced a near-
drought situation earlier this year. The water
in the country's dams and reservoirs had fallen
below the dead levels at the beginning of sum-
mer, which means that the water level had fallen
so low that spillways no longer functioned and
water could only be pumped out. Alarming pho-
tos and reports of dried-up dams and parched
rivers appeared in local media outlets, which
criticized the government for its apparent inac-
tion to avert disaster. All hopes were pinned on
the monsoon rains, which bring annual respite
from hot dry weather to the south Asian sub-con-
tinent. The prediction of a looming disaster came
true, however, in an unexpected form.
Soon after the mqch-anticipated monsoon
rains started toward the end of July, reports
of flooding in the northern areas of Pakistan
marked the beginning of a calamity that would
engulf much of the country in weeks to come.
The rains washed away entire villages, cities
and even districts across the country, making
the costs of rebuilding these areas an impos-
sible target - one much beyond the country's
limited resources.
This description of the 2010 Pakistan floods
might be news (or, at best, old news) to many in
this part of the world. It's baffling how little air-

time the Pakistani floods have received in world
media. No benefit concerts or telethons have
been held to help the people whose lives have
been turned upside down. Some have considered
the contrast between this disaster and the great
American response to Haiti's earthquake - 2010's
other major natural disaster. The world commu-
nity has shown reluctance to help the affected
people of Pakistan; the United Nation's largest
ever appeal - to raise $2 billion - has received a
disappointing response.
Ironically, the Kashmir earthquake of 2005
in Pakistan received immense support from the
local and international community alike. Billions
of dollars were given in the form of aid money
or support for various developmental projects.
However, the same generosity is missing this
time around. Why? Could this absence of world
support be a case of one too many natural disas-
ters? Is it simply a lack of publicity about the
floods? Or is there some other explanation for
this unresponsiveness?
These questions are difficult to answer.
Speculating about the reasons behind apathy
toward human suffering usually gets nowhere.
It is more important to raise awareness about
the crisis in Pakistan.
Getting involved in the Pakistan flood relief
efforts is easy. Manylocal and internationalorga-
nizations are participating in the ongoing relief
and rehabilitation efforts. Here in Ann Arbor,
the Pakistani Students' Association at the Uni-
versity, along with its affiliate associations, have
been actively involved in organizing fund raising
events on campus such as bake sales, dinners,
sporting events and musical shows. By donating
through one of the reputable relief organizations,
volunteering at PSA events or even attending
them, we can decide whether or not we want to
break away from an indifference towards the
flood victims. Let's help alleviate human suffer-
ing, which is irrespective of age, gender, religion,
location or any other classification.
This viewpoint was written by Faiza
Matasim and Fahad Muhammad Sajid on
behalf of the Pakistani Students' Association.

N little over three years ago, I
was attending the new student
rientation at the College of
Engineering. And,
if reality hadn't
struck when the
time came to sign
up for classes - I
just couldn't han-
dle the prospect
of taking multiple
calculus courses
- I might still be
pursuing a degree TOMASSO
in atmospheric PAVONE
sciences. Never-
theless, even after
my decision to
study public policy and political sci-
ence instead, I still consider myself a
weather nerd.,
Two weeks ago, my meteorologi-
cal geekiness was revived when a
friend shared an article titled "'A 30
percent Chance of Rain Tomorrow':
How Does the Public Understand
Probabilistic Weather Forecasts?"
The answer? It doesn't understand
them at all.
The article follows researchers
who decided to survey random pedes-
trians in five cities: Amsterdam, Ath-
ens, Berlin, Milan and New York. The
researchers asked the pedestrians to
interpret what a 30-percent chance of
rain means. In all cities except New
York, most pedestrians provided an
incorrect definition.
So, do you know what it means
when there's a 30-percent chance of
rain tomorrow?
The correct interpretation is that,
out of ten days like tomorrow, three
of them will include measurable
rainfall. Yet most respondents in
the study interpreted "a 30-percent
chance of rain" as meaning that it
will rain 30 percent of the time or in
30 percent of the region for which the

forecast applies. Oops.
The fact that weather forecasts are
frequently misinterpreted raises an
important question: Does the public
lack an understanding of basic prob-
abilities or does the fault lie with
meteorologists' lackluster abilities to
clearly communicate their forecasts?
To some extent, both camps are
at fault. Interpreting a 30-percent
chance of rain as rain falling 30 per-
cent of the time does misinterpret a
basic probability: if it rains 30-percent
ofthetime, itmeans there isa 100-per-
cent chance of rain falling. The other
misinterpretation, namely that it will
rain in 30 percent of the region, seems
to me a less serious offense. But I
argue that meteorologists aren't doing
themselves any favors when they issue
public forecasts.
Considerthe following forecast pro-
vided by the National Weather Service
(NWS) on Dec. 5, 2007: "Tonight...
mostly cloudy. Snow likely this eve-
ning...total accumulation around an
inch. Chance of snow 70 percent."
Joe Bastardi, a senior forecaster
at AccuWeather, responded to this
forecast with a trenchant critique on
the AccuWeather professional site (of
which I am a loyal member): "Does
anyone in the (NWS) understand they
put out forecasts that make no sense?
(T)he darn forecast says they will get
an inch...but then has SNOW LIKELY
THIS EVENING. How the heck can
it only be likely? It has to snow to
accumulate an inch, doesn't it? How
can it accumulate an inch, if there is a
chance it doesn't fall (30%)?"
Bastardi definitely has a point:
how is the public, who already has
difficulty understanding basic prob-
abilities, supposed to correctly inter-
pret forecasts that are ambiguous,
contradictory and confusing?
After years of reading Bastardi's
blog, I know that Bastardi's own fore-
WANT THE DAILY ON THE GO?

casting methodology leaves much to
be desired. Perhaps in an effort not to
make the same mistake as the NWS,
Bastardi seldom refers to probabili-
ties in his forecasts. If he believes a
hurricane will strike Miami, Florida,
he'll make that call as if it's a certain-
ty and stubbornly stick to-his guns
through thick and thin - at least
until the storm strikes Charleston,
South Carolina instead.
Understandably,
weather forecasts
can be confusing.
This problem is, frankly, a lose-
lose situation. The public is left to
choose between confusing forecasts
that it often misinterprets or fore-
casts A la Bastardi that include no
margin of error and are often wrong.
On the other hand, meteorologists
are faced with a public that doubts
their predicting abilities and often
mocks their profession. I can't recall
how many times I've heard the joke
that meteorologists are the only peo-
ple who can be wrong half of the time
and still keep their jobs.
This problem might be dismissed
as a minor inconvenience if weather
forecasting weren't such a vital com-
ponent of our daily lives. In the end,
meteorologists have an obligation to
improve the clarity of their forecasts.
As for us, perhaps we should make a
little extra effort to interpret a fore-
cast correctly before we crack anoth-
er joke about it being wrong.
- Tonmaso Pavone can be
reached at tpavone@umich.edu.

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