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Wednesday saw an interesting unintentional experiment on the Internet. In an overt attempt to “Break the Internet,” PAPER magazine ran an article on Kim Kardashian featuring some more-than-scandalous photos. In the same 24 hours, the Rosetta mission landed Philae, an unmanned space probe, on a comet just 2.5 miles in diameter, a feat which CNET says is about as difficult as “trying to cling to that rolling Indiana Jones boulder with your fingernails.” Many feared that this historic achievement would go unnoticed by the social media generation, often accused of foregoing an interest in science for a fascination with flash and fame.
But as the Wall Street Journal noted Thursday, this same social media generation brought a pleasant surprise: The digi-verse was more animated by and had more positive sentiments about the comet landing. Kardashian only saw about 60 percent of the total tweets about the comet, of which the general sentiment was negative, ranging from feminist concerns to distress about the state of society today where provocative photos are newsworthy.
One reason that no doubt contributed to this social media response was Philae’s social media presence itself. Through Twitter, Philae updated the public on its progress with endearing tweets such as “I’m quite photogenic! That was one steep fall! Thanks for watching out for me during my #CometLanding.” The cosmic triumph even sparked the self-reflective hashtag #WeCanLandOnACometButWeCant, where twitter users finished the statement with seemingly elementary things that our society has failed in through misplaced priorities, calling attention to real priorities like affordable education, global warming, the gender wage gap, etc.
New technology is always met with a degree of hesitancy. Unsurprisingly, social media has traditionally been rejected as frivolous, disingenuous and unimportant. But this comet versus Kardashian showdown paints a new picture for the generation coming into power: We really do know what’s important; we just express it in a new way.
Haight is an associate editor.
Yesterday, the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to rehear the case of Abigail Fisher, who has unsuccessfully been challenging the University's limited use of race-based affirmative action for years now.
Fisher, as you may recall, saw her case on the constitutionality of the process reach the United States Supreme Court about two years ago. The high court allowed affirmative action to remain in place, but held that the Fifth Circuit erred in not strictly scrutinizing the process at the University. Using the mandated "strict scrutiny," the Fifth Circuit once again affirmed the constitutionality of UT’s holistic review process, which includes race-based affirmative action. With the full court declining to rehear the case, Fisher's last respite is another round at the Supreme Court, which Edward Blum, whose Project on Fair Representation has provided funding for Fisher’s case, has implied will be her course of action.
The Supreme Court will likely not hear Fisher's appeal, and this embarrassing saga for the University will finally come to an end. And, whatever one's personal opinions on affirmative action or other preference-type programs, the end of this case should be viewed as a very good thing.
Far from being an ideal plaintiff for such a case, Fisher does not do justice to the important constitutional fight this complex issue warrants. She initially filed suit against the program after being denied admission to the University as a high school senior. This, despite the fact that her grades, test scores and other factors placed her well below the typical range of admitted applicants, black or white.
Personally, I support affirmative action and think its limited use at the University has countless positive impacts. But even for those who do not support the program, it should be recognized that Fisher is a rather lousy advocate against it. It's time for her to give up this case, once and for all.
Horwitz is an associate editor.
Last week, California voters approved Proposition 47, which reduces former felonies such as forgery, fraud, shoplifting, petty theft and possession of small amounts of drugs to misdemeanors instead of felonies. The proposition went into effect immediately, leading to the release of hundreds of people who were imprisoned for these crimes, though rightly, it doesn't allow sentencing reductions for prisoners with histories of violence or sex offenses.
California will send 25 percent of the approximately $1 billion it projects to save on justice system costs to education funding, and 65 percent to mental health and drug treatment. (The remaining 10 percent will go to victim services.) All three of these areas are definitely worthy of the money, but I think the percentage for education should be higher because of the vast research proving that people with more education tend to commit less crime. Although mental health and drug treatment funding is obviously important as well, education often occurs prior to the crime, whereas rehabilitation tends to occur after the crime has been committed.
David Dow, a Houston attorney and founder of Texas Innocence Network, said in a TED Talk that for every $15,000 the nation spends on "intervening in the lives of economically and otherwise disadvantaged kids... we save $80,000 in crime-related costs down the road." Additionally, according to a report from Alliance for Excellent Education in 2013, the U.S. could save up to $18.5 billion in annual crime costs if the high school male graduation rate increased by 5 percent. In 2012, this rate was 77 percent, and females' was 84 percent. Focusing on prevention is more practical than waiting until people at risk of becoming criminals commit their first crimes. Although we cannot foresee every possible crime, nor can we successfully improve — or quantify — every aspect of a disadvantaged child's life, if we improve education, after-school services and other prevention methods, that would definitely help. I'd like to see states start focusing on these early parts of people's lives while deliberating over criminal justice reform.
Texas has taken some surprising steps in the past decade to reform the justice system, which I definitely appreciate, but they have been fairly minor compared to what we should be doing. Texas is, for the most part, still focused more on the punishment side rather than the prevention side of crime, and this is understandable — especially from a political point of view — because the effects of changes to prison sentences and probation can be seen much sooner than the effects of changes to the education system and other factors that would help prevent crime. But, failing to focus on prevention methods hurts a state in the long run, and Prop. 47 shows that California has realized this.
The California proposition definitely has its flaws — one problem is that suspects arrested for misdemeanors don't have to submit DNA samples, and another is that theft of guns worth less than $950 is now a misdemeanor — but the prevention-oriented mindset that the authors of this proposition likely have is something from which our state could benefit. I hope the next legislative session brings Texas closer to focusing less on dealing with criminals and more on preventing people from becoming criminals in the first place.