Not a Metaphor: Minneapolis School Explodes

Again with Minneapolis and a dramatic and deadly failure of infrastructure. In this case, a high school suffered an explosion that entirely removed an adjoining section between two wings architecturally engineered to be structurally independent. Those wings are still fully standing in pictures from after the event. Though not much is known, at the moment it appears the explosion was caused by a “gas leak” – one presumes they mean “natural gas” aka methane.

Look to the Star Tribune for ongoing coverage: you can start with this article. Most reports say there is one confirmed death, though other reports say that there is one strongly presumed death that has not yet been confirmed. The ST article is quite clear that emergency services reported one death as “confirmed” but then downgraded that to “unconfirmed” about 15 minutes later, thus the confusion. There are consistent reports that more than one person is still missing or trapped, in some (at least one?) cases an individual has managed to communicate to emergency services despite being currently unrescuable. The number missing, however, is small. As the ST article is continually updated, the latest news I have is that the number is down to two. Crews are working to clear debris to reach these persons and find any missing ones. However, and let me say this strongly: All coverage I’ve read (4 independent sources so far) says that the students are all safe, all located, all evacuated. Injuries are limited to adults.

A number of years ago, there was a school shooting at a high school significant to my own youth. At the time, a friend was working for the school district and had worked at the high school during part of her employment with the district. Though we are important to each other, I hadn’t kept up with her very well and it had been 10 months since we had spoken, so I wasn’t sure where she might be. It didn’t take long to figure out that she wasn’t hurt (or even present) at the shooting, but there were those agonizing hours when even though I knew it was unlikely she was present or injured, I just didn’t know. For any in the community in a similar position, I offer you my sympathy.

However, the occurrence of this tragedy can’t be seen only through a personal lens. When Minneapolis suffered a freeway collapse, there were many individual tragedies for people killed, injured and traumatized as well as for those who lost someone they loved. Nonetheless, we had a very significant (and still unfinished) discussion about aging infrastructure in the USA. This explosion is likely to provoke similar conversations, perhaps even overlapping ones if part of the explosion’s cause is attributed to an aging and/or poorly maintained facility. If you wish to comment on the causes found and any implications you might derive from those identified causes, please feel free to do so, but also write with some awareness that you never know whether or not someone else reading the comments here might be personally affected.

Gordon College and the Institution of Rape

A day or two ago PZ Myers put up a post about sexual harassment of graduate students, and I followed on with some speculations about how numbers might be relatively low in some programs, yet still dauntingly high in others. These writings were sparked by a forthcoming journal article in the Utah Law Review that reports, among other findings, a 10% rate of women graduate students self-reporting as victims of sexual harassment. The cases they were able to study weren’t mild, either, and did not support the fears and hyperbole of those screaming about squashed academic freedom and an environment in which one careless, ambiguous, but innocent statement can result in serious consequences for the careers of even tenured faculty. On the contrary, they found:

First, contrary to popular assumptions, faculty sexual harassers are not engaged primarily in verbal behavior. Rather, most of the cases reviewed for this study involved faculty alleged to have engaged in unwelcome physical contact ranging from groping to sexual assault to domestic abuse-like behaviors. Second, more than half (53%) of cases involved professors allegedly engaged in serial sexual harassment.

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