Five ideas

What people should be talking about
Sunday, May 13, 2007 | 1:14 a.m. CDT; updated 9:44 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

[1] Flood of memories

Flooding along the Missouri River this past week has been a stark reminder of the devastation wrought by the floods of 1993 and 1995, which saw the Big Muddy rise to levels unseen in recorded history. In the years since, levee reconstruction and repairs, along with government buyouts of homes and agricultural land, has taken some property out of harm’s way. And while the river this time hasn’t approached the levels of 12 and 14 years ago, it’s clear that the coordinated response in advance of the highest water reflects the lessons we’ve learned. Sandbag and concrete barriers were in place at Rocheport, Huntsdale and Hartsburg days before the predicted crests, thanks to volunteers, government agencies and fire protection districts. Those whose homes were threatened saw the trouble far ahead of time and did everything they could to protect their property. Officials kept media informed about progress and threats along the river. There’s been no panic. Rather, a sense of calm has taken over as river towns await the crests.

Your responses to our questions

On April 29, we asked: What impact would a ban on certain admissions practices have on the diversity of university campuses in Missouri? From Tanner Tucker, Columbia: Affirmative action doesn’t work. What we are doing with affirmative action is easily described with a quote from one of my favorite books, “Blink!” by Michael LeGault: “... The requirement that top-flight universities allot a certain percentage of their admissions to minorities is often the beginning of the end of the career aspirations for many people.” Basically, by letting in someone who is an under-qualified minority into a big name school, you are getting their hopes up. Then, more often than not, they drop out, dreams crushed. If they are going to leave anyway, why accept them in the first place. We should not have to hire or admit minorities because “it’s the law.” We should hire and admit people who are qualified, without even thinking about gender or race. I hate seeing people who are unqualified beating out someone who is very qualified for a position, because “We only had room for one more person, and by law we had to hire a minority. ...”

How will the Missouri River flood affect you?

[2] Farmer Kate

Katie Smith’s parents raised corn, soybeans, tobacco and cattle in Platte City. They also produced Gov. Matt Blunt’s nominee to head the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Smith, a 29-year-old MU grad, cleared an important hurdle to the job last week when a Senate committee approved her appointment.

Democrats, however, are taking issue with Smith’s credentials. State law requires that the agricultural director be a “practical farmer.” Smith may have been raised on a farm, but her real expertise is as a bureaucrat. Most recently, she was deputy assistant secretary in the U.S Department of Energy’s Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Smith would replace Fred Ferrell, who lost his job over sexual harassment allegations. A leading Democrat suggested Smith’s nomination is aimed at diverting attention from the Ferrell matter. When asked about perhaps the most pressing issue facing Missouri farmers — concentrated animal feeding operations — Smith said she favored a compromise.

Would a practicing farmer be better qualified to lead the agriculture department? Why or why not?

[3] Bio-Defense offense

Columbia is one of three Missouri locations in the hunt for a new federal facility to research and develop ways to protect livestock from potential acts of bioterrorism. The National Bio- And Agro-Defense Facility would be located on New Haven Road near Discovery Ridge, MU’s research park.

Nearby residents hate the idea. The facility’s unique mission will include zoonotic research, which focuses on lethal diseases such as hoof-and-mouth and African swine fever that can be transferred from animals to humans. Neighbors also fear it would become the target of terrorists.

But the $451 million lab is expected to generate 300 to 400 high-paying jobs. It has, therefore, the enthusiastic endorsement of local and state economic development officials, Gov. Matt Blunt and the MU research community.

Missouri is one of a dozen states vying for the facility, which will replace an aging lab in Plum Island, N.Y. The Homeland Security Department will narrow the list to three to five sites by June.

Does the economic gain of this project outweigh the potential for the accidental release of deadly pathogens?

[4] Rogue data

In the early hours of May 3, a hacker in China broke into a UM System database, the first of three separate attacks that resulted in the theft of the names and Social Security numbers of 22,000 current and former UM employees.

The information was contained in a report compiled in 2004. Last year, UM purged all reports from its system that included employee Social Security numbers. But spokesperson Scott Charton said this particular report was missed.

About 9,000 current UM employees are affected by the breach. They were notified Tuesday morning via e-mail. The system also mailed out 13,000 letters and set up a hotline to field calls from people concerned that the information could be used to compromise their financial security.

Charton has assured everyone that UM has no reason to believe the breach led to any cases of identity theft. Still, experts advise anyone whose Social Security number falls into the wrong hands to follow their credit reports closely for at least three years.

What more could UM do to protect its current and former employees from fraud?

[5] D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Americans are ending their marriages at a lower rate than at any time in the last 35 years. The divorce rate, which peaked at 5.3 per 1,000 in 1981, has declined steadily. Today, the rate is 3.6.

Yet, according to the researchers, fewer divorces do not mean Americans are getting better at the relationship game.

Some experts say divorces are down because more couples – 10 times more since 1960 — live together without ever marrying. Also, the number of marriages has decreased by almost 30 percent since about 1981. Others say educated, relatively well-off people are staying married longer, but less-affluent couples are calling it quits as often as ever.

A family-services professional from New Hampshire told The Associated Press that people are approaching their marriage problems differently than in the past. Now, he said, people are “really interested in learning how to stay married; a lot of them are realizing they need more skill.”

How hard do you have to work to maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse, mate or partner?

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