April 30, 2007

This is only a test...

Minnesota Daily, MINNEAPOLIS - On Wednesay, the U of M sent out 60,000 test emergency e-mails in just 12 minutes. According to University Spokesman Dan Wolter, this is a 90% improvement over the e-mails sent out after the bomb threat on April 18th. [full story here]

By dividing the load across 10 different servers, instead of using the normal University e-mail channels, the e-mails were able to increase the speed of the dissemination.

But the University isn't simply relying on e-mail. Audio alarms such as fire alarms or telephone calls are also used, and the U also plans to explore the text messaging avenue, but again - volume is a concern for providers. The U is also considering a text only homepage during emergencies in response to the long load times experienced after the bomb threat.

The U plans on sending out test e-mails once every three months.

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The"Fast Food Nation" is giving giving trans fat the boot.

Star Tribune, NATIONAL - KFC announced Sunday that all of its restaurants, more than 55,000 across the United States, have stopped frying chicken in oil (partially hydrogenated vegetable oil) that contains trans fats. Instead, they now use a soybean oil that is less likely to clog arteries and/or cause heart disease. Sister brand Taco Bell has also switched entirely to either canola oil or soybean oil, eliminating trans fats. [full story here]

Both chains are owned by Yum Brands Inc., based out of Louisville, KY. The switch was made to appeal to consumers via health sensibilities. Doctors say trans fats raise unhealthy colesterol and lower healthy colesterol. Taco Bell currently has 23 items on its menu that contain absolutely no trans-fat (including the chicken and beef crunchy taco, grilled steak soft taco, chicken and steak Gordita Supreme and the chicken and steak Chalupa Supreme) and the company also said they plan to remove trans-fat from all their ingredients.

Many fast food chains, includingMcDonalds and Starbucks, are also eliminating trans-fats from their products.

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April 29, 2007

Texas tea's getting more pricey

Star Tribune, WASHINGTON - Gas prices are on the rise again. Though supply is available, out-dated U.S. refineries can't kick out enough gasoline to meet demand. Prices are rising before the summer driving season, and some say it could get as high as $4 per gallon. [full story here]

But not everyone agrees. On Wednesday, the Pioneer Press reported that gas prices remained stable on Wednesday as the market prices climbed 36 cents. The national average now rests around $2.85 per gallon, and some say that's about where it'll stay. This reporter, however, saw the prices spike last week when her local gas station bumped its price up 20 cents overnight.

There are reasons. U.S. gas inventories are lower than they've been in 20 years. U.S. are working at roughly 88% capacity, and they simply aren't producing enough. Furthermore, they're dated. No refineries have been built since 1976, and the U.S. currently relies on Europe for the majority of its oil refinement. With an expected union strike at Belgian refineries (which collectively produce about 1 million barrells of refined oil each day), gas prices could easily jump again.

American motorists are also to blame for the rise in the prices. According to the most recent report released by the U.S. Energy Information Adminstration (EIA), gasoline consumption grew 2.3 percent over the last month alone, and and 2.2 percent over the past year.

But there is some faintly glimmering hope. If the strike doesn't happen and if the U.S. refineries can keep up without any glitches, major natural disasters or shut-downs, prices may not be so high.

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April 25, 2007

Don't Drink the Water, cont'd.

Star Tribune, METRO AREA - Documents released by 3M show that more than two decades ago the company was concerned about the chemicals that have been seeping into local water supplies. [full story here]

3M released the documents1 in the civil suit that began in March. The document, from 1983, suggests that 3M employees were divided about PFCs.

Some were concerned that since the chemicals are particularly resistant to degrading, they could have lasting and dangerous effects in the environment. Others felt that the compounds were stable, and though they don't break down, they also are not harmful. Nevertheless, the report suggests that tests should be run.

3M kept manufacturing the chemicals until 2000, when it began phasing them out due to rising concern over the chemicals spreading into the nearby environment, as well as into the human bloodstream. Especially since one of the chemicals, PFOA, may be a carcinogen.

PFCs have been found in local water supplies, as well as in the Mississippi and Lake Calhoun. Earlier this month, state health officials cautioned against eating a lot of fish from these areas.

1 3M did not want all of the information disclosed. The residents' attorneys "inadvertantly included confidential portions" in both "written notes" to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and in the documents provided to the Star Tribune. Later, the attorneys asked for both agencies to return the documents. MPCA swapped out their copies for a redacted version, but the Star Tribune kept the unredacted files. The attorney's then moved to block the newspaper from publishing the information, but the motion was denied.

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April 18, 2007

Bomb threat at University of Minnesota

University of Minnesota, MINNEAPOLS - Eight buildings on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota have been evacuated as a result of a bomb threat found in a bathroom.

Taken from the University Website

Building Evacuations on East Bank

All employees working in any of the buildings listed below are required to leave the building and will be dismissed from work for the remainder of the day with pay.

Employees scheduled to work evenings or night shifts in these buildings should report to their normal reporting sites in Mechanical Engineering and Scott Hall.

Unless notified otherwise all employees should report to work as usual on Thursday.

Kohltoff Hall, Smith Hall, Fraiser Hall, Science Classroom Building, Walter Library, Johnston Hall, Morrill Hall, Appleby Hall.

I have class on the opposite side of the mall right now and I am not going. It is better to be safe than sorry. If you have a class in Tate, Ford, Murphy, Lind, or even on to the CSci building, or the Biology building - I say do not go. Call your friends, make sure they're somewhere safe, and stay safe yourself.

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April 17, 2007

Letter from a Concerned Citizen

I'm sure you've all read or heard about the Virginia Tech shootings. First and foremost, if any of you lost a friend, or is missing a loved one, my sincerest sympathies go out to you and yours, and I will keep you in my prayers.

Journalistically, I shouldn't say such things. But for the moment, this is my damn blog and I refuse to separate my humanity from my media.

For the record, I think the print media did a stunning job in handling this tragedy, but I hope they are being sensitive to the victims in the local area. As far as broadcast is concerned, I am extremely discontented with the number of "advisors" hastily condemning the University and police responses (See: CNN, MSNBC, and FOX). I am disturbed that the shooter's "possible" race was disclosed before it was confirmed, and before any other identifying information was made available. I am also concerned about the amount of video of the event being pumped onto the internet for the morbidly curious consumer. I worry that such a thing is even desired by the public.

Yesterday we didn't have many answers. We knew the gunman is dead, but we did not know his name nor do we know his motives. We have seen pictures of a cuffed student being detained, but we do not know if there is/was an accomplice. We know 32 people were killed, we know that this is the largest school killing yet. We know that parents and students are discontent with the University's response time and system of notification. Yesterday, that was the nut of what we concretely knew.

But what are we doing with it? If the AOL message boards are any indicator, members of the American population are - by and large - taking pot-shots guessing the race of the killer. This is both absurd and highly disturbing. Not only does this kind of reaction illustrate that care for our fellow man so diluted within this culture, but it also is indicative of the pervasive racism that still lurks within our melting-pot culture. As if determining the race of the killer would be an indicator of anything at all.

There is also a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment floating around that is very disturbing. Several people have asked if the killer was a Muslim, which shows that America's growing ignorance and bigotry towards Muslims as a result of the terrorist actions of few. Most Muslims, and I know a great many, are pacifists who will readily tell you that Islam - contrary to sensational belief - does not support acts of violence. It's all blown out of proportion.

Others are pointing fingers at Bush, claiming the incident was a terrorist act he should have stopped. While yes, the act itself was terrifying and committed with the intent to terrorize, by no means do we have any evidence to support that it was sponsored by a terrorist organization, or that this was planned by a network of evil-doers. The word terrorism has become so skewed in our vernacular. Furthermore, Bush is only one person. He is not wired to a cross-continental supercomputer that can shut down any facility at a moment's notice. If this tragedy is linked to terrorism, and was planned by an organization, perhaps it could have been noticed. But if it is simply the act of one individual like the Oklahoma City Bombing, or even two - as in the case of Columbine, or any other massacre committed by an individual entity, it is ludicrous to expect anyone, let alone the President of the United States of America, to have known beforehand.

Others still are blaming the police for inadequate response to the situation. Perhaps this is spawned out of both the incompletion of the initial reports and the lack of public knowledge about the workings of the police force, but again - blame-game tactics are not helping the situation. Security was not the problem, and increasing the security available will not concretely prevent rampages such as these. There is no quick fix of adding extra officers because the tax-payers may not be able to support it. The police responded to the initial shooting and handled it as a domestic dispute and began planning to search for the killer. Neither they nor the University had no reason to assume he would travel 2,600 acres to kill an extra 31 people. Could things have been handled differently? Yes, and perhaps it would have saved lives, but shouldn't we try to eliminate the problem instead of bickering and then scrambling to learn how to be really good at responding to these catastrophes? Should we lock-down entire communities every time someone is murdered? It simply isn't feasible. How do you communicate with 24,000 people instantaneously, especially when 11,000 or more may be in transit?

America, I am disgusted. I seldom report or write on politics or violent happenings, but that does not mean I don't keep up. Have we really become this reactionary? When did logic and reason die? What has become of proportion and context?

I realize that AOL Message boards may not be an entirely credible source for adequate representation of the population, but the fact of the matter remains that the forum is updated with several new threads each second. An impressive number of people are there and they are communicating over this amazing medium called the Internet... and this is what the public is saying.

This is not the media. This is what America is doing with the media it receives. Fact-based reporting is dissolved into bigotry, ignorance, blame-games based on poorly-informed political rants, and hate.

Occasionally you will find a person or two on the boards, typically Christians, saying that we should all be deeply saddened by this tragedy and keep the families and friends of the victims in our prayers. This gives me hope, at least a shred. But it is not enough.

If this becomes a digestible media event, where reporters swarm and produce an account of a tragedy which the public consumes and then spews back a garbled message like the ones seen on the boards, we are lost. What use are documentaries like Bowling for Columbine or films like Elephant and Bang Bang, You're Dead that seek to explain or at least investigate this horrible phenomenon when Americans are so unwilling to understand the situation intelligently? If we hastily point fingers, ignore contrasting ideas, reaffirm old prejudices, and then move on to the forum about Britney Spears's fashion choices nothing will ever change. We live in a world of distractions, but at some point we need to stop and actually look at ourselves if we ever want to understand what about our particular culture spawns these violent catastrophes.

Stories like these bring me down. I do not enjoy them. I do not want to read them, and I do not want to think about them, but I do. If I haven't lost you yet in this vichyssoise of verbiage, then as one concerned citizen talking to another, I urge you to do the same. Do not flip over to American Idol. Read these stories, think on them in silence for at least 15 minutes, and talk to people about it.

I believe truth and goodness can prevail. I believe people can be taught, opinions can be changed, and problems can be solved but understanding is crucial. In this case, understanding our society and its responses, it needs to begin at the base with the individual.

This particular individual happens to be a journalist, and she is worried. But she is heading back to the boards nonetheless.

Continue reading "Letter from a Concerned Citizen" »

April 15, 2007

Shoooool's out forevah.

Minnesota Public Radio, MINNEAPOLIS - Despite public urging against the motion, the Minneapolis School Board voted 6-1 on Thursday to close six schools, five of which are in North Minneapolis. [full story here]

Tuttle, W. Harry Davis Academy, Jordan Park, Lincoln, North Star and Shingle Creek will be closing their doors, and this summer the Board will discuss other closings.

The reasoning for closings seem quite logical. Over the past years, enrollment's have declined almost 50%, losing students to charter, private, and suburban schools. District leaders also cite the achievement gap, because "the academic gap between white students and students of color on the north side is wider than in the rest of the city." The school board plans to pool resources, but some parents and students are not thrilled.

The last time the schoolboard opted to close down schools, debates were held over the course of a year. In this case, the plan to close the schools was announced three weeks prior to the decision, with one meeting for the public.

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PiPress v. Strib, 2007

Pioneer Press, MINNEAPOLIS - The Pioneer Press is taking on the competition... in court.; suing for 13 counts ranging from conspiracy, theft, and fraud, the PiPress claims Ridder took secret business information from the Pioneer Press to their arch-nemisis, the Strib. [full story here]

The PiPress alleges former publisher Ridder planned togo to the Star Trubune six months before his actual departure. They also claim he took computer files holding advertiser information, budget plans, and future business plans, delivering them straight to the hands of the competition.

This marks an interesting point in the Twin Citie's competetive press scene. I think it'll be interesting to see how ethical and legal bounds are defined in a court of law. It will also be interesting to watch the trial coverage from both sides of the argument. This is a true exercise in objective reporting.

So far, the PiPress is asking for a court order to permit a computer expert to inspect the Star Tribune's computer systems, especially those used by Par Ridder and the two executives. The lawsuit also asks for unspecified monetary damages, attorneys fees, and a one-year ban on Ridder working at the Star Tribune.

Stay tuned, more updates as they arrive.

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April 14, 2007

A flattering photograph for the end of a career...

Minnesota Public Radio, (AP) NATION - Radio Giant Don Imus was dismissed from CBS for innappropriate language, referring to the players of the Rutger women's basketball team as "nappy-headed ho's." [full story here]

As illustrated by Will Ferrell's Anchorman, the problem with live broadcast is the inability to edit what you blurt out. Like the legend that is the fictional Ron Burgundy, it seems radio icon Don Imus has crossed the line.

'Which line?', some are asking, especially in contrast to the other slurs and derrogatory statements made against black women in hip-hop. The line here seems to be drawn between art and news, but some are wondering if the reaction to Imus's firing will have effects on the music genre and, more importantly, on free speech.

The media reacted very quickly, condemning his terminology as sexist, racist, and innapropriate. In an attempt to apologize, Imus held a radio program with Reverand Al Sharpton, which effectively backfired.

Lo, we now herald the end of an era. Ne'er again shall we hear an Imus Radiothon.

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"Freakishly rare" and decidedly tragic

Star Tribune, OAKDALE - A 17-year-old mother hid her pregnancy, gave birth on a laundry room floor, and stabbed her newborn daughter 135 times. Her bail has been set at $1 million, and she faces life in prison if convicted. [full story here]

Nicole Beecroft was an overweight girl, and her mother didn't suspect that she was carrying a child. Neighbor's are shocked. Nevertheless, the fact that a knife was involved makes this a first-degree, premeditated murder case. Nicole told the police that she panicked when it moved a finger, and that is why she killed her daughter.

The body of the infant was found in a trash bag at Beecrofts house with bloody towels and the knife. Nicole will undergo psychiatric evaluations while detained at the juvenile detention center. Her next court date was set for April 27th.

Many citizens are baffled that the teen did not make use of the Safe Haven Law, which allows mothers to leave newborns up to 3 days old at a hospital without any consequences. The problem is that many teens simply don't know that option exists. While sex education is available in school, abstinence is the main focus of the curriculum, with little attention given to safe-sex methods or options for teen mothers. Perhaps this case may spur some changes.

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Bad press for them is bad press for U

Minnesota Daily, MINNEAPOLIS - The rape charges brought against the 3 University of Minnesota football players may do more than injure reputations and/or put people behind bars. Allegations such as these can cause less enrollment for the school. [full story here]

The accusations have grabbed the attention of national news sources like USA today and ESPN, generated considerable media buzz within the Twin Cities, and has sparked dialogue about the responsibilities of both student athletes and the press.

Releasing the names of the players by many of the local media outlets was a step in a bad direction, some journalists say. Although the players are arguably in the public eye and they are news-worthy items, the possibility of innocence remains. But that might not be enough, for the gentleman or the U.

Though these three will almost definitely suffer from their names being disclosed, they are not the only ones affected. The University also has a reputation to maintain, and when its reputation suffers, so do enrollments and donations, which could mean higher tuition spikes and increased student services fees.

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April 3, 2007

Is there an inspector in the house?

Star Tribune [AP], WASHINGTON - President Bush has apologized for the substandard conditions at Walter Reed Army hospital, and although he blames bureaucrats for the deplorable outpatient program, he has promised changes will soon be made. [full story here]

In an impressive 5-page special report compiled by Dana Priest and Anne Hull, these two women uncovered the unsanitary, disrespectful, and inefficient conditions wounded soldiers from Iraq return to at Walter Reed, which is scheduled to be closed in 2011.

Building 18, described in the article's opening paragraph, was particularly appalling.

Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.

This is the world of Building 18.

It's hard to imagine such neglect is possible, especially for a facility not 5 miles away from the White House. But Building 18 was home to several outpatients while they waited on stacks of paperwork, many of whom had psychological disorders resulting from the war. Building 18 has since been closed because of the article, and several other changes will soon follow.

An overwhelming sense of alarm and outrage has come from the public, the congress, and the president himself.

"I was disturbed by their accounts of what went wrong," Bush said. "It is not right to have someone volunteer to wear our uniform and not get the best possible care. I apologize for what they went through, and we're going to fix the problem."

Bush plans to do this by using the three commissions he has created.

  1. An independent review group from the Defense Department must report back with suggestions on how to improve Walter Reed by mid-May.
  2. An interagency task force lead by Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson will search for inadequacies and negligence in the federal services provided to wounded troops.
  3. Former Senator Bob Dole and Donna Shalala (President Clinton's secretary of health and human services) will create a report that is due in the summer.

The original report spawned many follow-up stories, letters from concerned citizens, and has shed some light on a very important issue. I have lost track of how many "Homeless Veteran" signs I've seen in my lifetime in various places across this country. Though this controversy surrounds one facility, it is, I think, indicative of a long and shameful history of neglecting those who have put themselves in harm's way to secure freedom, and fight for national and international causes. I will be linking too many of the follow-up articles, and I encourage you to read them.

I have a long, personal history with war veterans, as both of my grandfathers served. I spent every Memorial Day of my high-school career riding to various country cemetaries in a Dodge Caravan with World War II vets, playing taps and collecting spent shells. During those day trips, I heard them tell a few stories from their tours, some uplifting and some horrifying. It is a remarkable thing to see a strong, old man who has survived the unimaginable waver and tear after so many decades. I have enormous respect for anyone who has worn a uniform. For this reason, and if you were at all moved by what you read, I would like to encourage you to get involved. Even if it's something as simple as stopping by your local VFW and saying 'thank you.' There are several great organizations helping with Walter Reed and veterans/wounded soldiers in general, and if you are interested in donating money or time, please visit any of the following sites:

Yellow Ribbon Fund: a private, non-profit organization providing volunteer services to injured service members and to their families. Yellow Ribbon Fund also provides services to financially strapped visiting families, from free use of one of their three apartments, to free tickets to sporting events, free lunches, and other free outings for them and their wounded soldier.

Wounded Warrior Project: a non-profit organization that focuses on providing support to families of those who have been wounded, injured, or killed -- primarily through family-vacations at resorts in both Texas and Florida.

Operation First Response: An all-volunteer nonprofit organization that seeks to help families of wounded soldiers in their time of need. **Accepts frequent flyer mile donations**

Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW): a federally chartered non-profit organization that helps provide services from health-care to friendship and fellowship.

American Legion: a patriotic, mutual-help, war-time veterans organization centered around community service.

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Centennial Hall loses two students in one weekend...

Minnesota Daily, CAMPUS - Just three days after freshman Elomo Lenya accidentally drowned, an accidental fall off of a parking ramp claimed the life of another University freshman. [full story here]

Kyle Sharbonno, 19, was seen on parking lot surveillance cameras at 1:36 a.m. He was alone, and he appared intoxicated - his most recent status update on facebook was made the night of the fall, and it references a beer pong tourney. An officer was trying to find Sharbonno when the 911 calls started coming in, saying he had fallen.

One witness, Michelle Hisdahl, said she saw him fall.

She said she watched him climb over to sit on the ledge. She dialed 911, but waited to press the call button.

He sat there for about 10 seconds and then fell, she said.

"It didn't look purposeful, but I can't say for sure," she said.

It had been raining that night, and she couldn't see fully because of a tree, but when she saw him fall she called 911 and ran with a friend to the scene. Several witnesses were already there.

Police don't assume any foul-play, but they're still trying to determine what led to the accident. Sharbonnoo died Sunday afternoon as a result of his injuries.

Sharbonno's Facebook Wall has been buried by friends and loved one's paying final tributes. Dates for services have not yet been released, but University counselors are available for those affected by the deaths of both Lenya and Sharbonno.

Again, my condolences to the friends and family of this young man.

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April 2, 2007

U student drowns

Minnesota Daily, CAMPUS - 20-year-old Elomo Lenya accidentally drowned while visiting a friend on Thursday night. [ full story here]

The Daily cranked out a very human article explaining the circumstances of Elomo's death. She had visited her mother only three hours prior, and was going to visit and swim with a 15-year-old friend whom she had once mentored in Cameroon. Her friend saw her struggling, and called for help, but it was too late.

Elomo had a lot of ambitions, and was very close to her family. She was studying medicine, and hoped to return to Africa with her father, Emmanual Lenya, to help with the relief effort.

So far, service dates have not been set, but if you wish to make a donation to help her family with the funeral costs, (both abroad and here in the United States) here is the necessary information.

Check Checks should be made payable to the "Elomo Kuna Lenya Fund." Donations should be sent to:
Mr. Wilson Ekinde
8593 Savanna Oaks Lane
Woodbury, MN 55125

Phone: (651) 501-3661
Cell: (651) 329-7272

Credit Card
TCF Bank can be reached at 1-800-823-2265. Ask for the "Elomo Kuna Lenya Fund."

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March 31, 2007

University student dies in New Brighton drowning accident

Minnesota Daily, NEW BRIGHTON - University of Minnesota freshman Elomo Lenya died last night in what police believe is was an accidental drowning at an indoor pool in New Brighton. [full story here.]

The article doesn't give much information, other than she was seen having difficulty swimming. A manager from a nearby building attempted to revive her, but it the emergency services found her unconscious next to the pool. She died at the scene.

According to Onestop, she was enrolled in Bio Sciences, although her Facebook profile says she was focusing in Medicine. Lenya came from from Duouala, Cameroon to study at the University. Her facebook profile says she liked it here, and enjoyed reading and dancing.

Neither the Star Tribune nor the PiPress have anything yet, but the Daily promises more information on Monday. More information as it comes out. My condolences to Elomo's family and friends.

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