November 2010 Archives

Where'd it go?

Did another writeup on this article in City Pages - I don't know where it went. My internet has been inconsistent, it must have been eaten by the system. I haven't the time to rewrite it all by weekend's conclusion, so I'll just do next week's with more time to spare, I suppose.

Palin's Reality Show?

Former governor of Alaska and candidate for vice president Sarah Palin announced in the spring that she would be making a reality show called "Sarah Palin's Alaska" which has recently begun airing episodes. The New Yorker reports on the pilot.

This piece was particularly interesting to me because of its structure. The 'scene' that the reporter covers is the show as it progresses, though she could logically have done the reporting from her living room. After opening with a diatribe about the quality of programming on TLC and the American people's awkward tastes, she goes on to catalog the events unfolding on screen sequentially.

Though the show does give a look into Palin's family life, the New Yorker said, every moment of their interactions feels calculated and premeditated, exposing the 'show' aspect of it. Beyond that, the education the show attempts to give viewers on the wonders of Alaska never makes it past grade school, the New Yorker reported.

Mixed in with the events that take place with her family are moments when Palin steps back to reveal more of her personal political philosophy or outlook on an issue. For instance, when the family returns home after a night out, Palin ties the privacy fence erected to keep nosy journalists out of their business to her thoughts on immigration and how to secure the borders of the country.

Going on a show like this is a risky political move. On the campaign trail with John McCain in '08 Palin made several gaffes that cost them public favor and, potentially, votes. Thrusting Palin even further into the public eye, albeit in an editable and controllable medium, could be disastrous for her popularity as a potential politician or presidential contender. Only time will tell how voters feel about Palin, but as the New Yorker closed, "She says that she'd 'rather be doing this than in some stuffy old political office' and 'a poor day of fishin' beats even a great day of work.' In that spirit, I wish Palin many, many days--years--of fishin', starting now."

Mobbed at McDonald's

The Minnesota Daily recently did an investigation into the happenings at one of the hottest spots on campus any given weekend: the Dinkytown McDonalds. Reporter Kyle Porter was on-scene for 4 and a half hours on a Friday night to observe the insanity that is large groups of drunk college students.

The evening begins calmly, the Daily reports. At 10:30 p.m. there are a mere 20 customers inside the store. The employees are relaxed for the time being, taking advantage of the small break in rushes between dinner and drunk. Only a half hour later, though, the crowd has swelled in size until around 50 people are waiting just to place an order.

With all this business and the obscene crush of people, some form of authority is necessary to keep the peace and maintain a smooth flow of customers. The staff, the Daily reports, refers to their security as "hospitality" personnel. "They're our hospitality people," owner Dave Choate told the Daily. "They're just there to help and make sure nothing gets out of hand."

What the Daily discovered as the night progressed is that though people go to McDonald's for the food, that is hardly the only reason they stay once arriving. Between a band at the top of the steps, sauce fights on the patio and a freestyle rap battle just outside the door at various points throughout the night, there are ample attractions to convince patrons to lengthen their stay.

As the night drew to a close, the Daily cataloged the damage to the building. Fries littering tables, wrappers scattered willy-nilly and bathrooms absolutely decimated, the price of being a drunken staple is made painfully clear. After 3:00 a.m. on the dot, the restaurant locks its doors and the employees begin the task of cleaning up to do the whole thing again tomorrow.

Facebook Creator Opens Up to New Yorker

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's creator, avidly uses the service he has turned into a multi-million dollar venture. But for someone who shares so much on a superficial level, he has never been very receptive towards journalists. The New Yorker recently secured a series of interviews with him to create a much fuller picture of who Zuckerberg is and what exactly motivates him.

His timing on the interviews is hardly coincidental. 'The Social Network', a highly-acclaimed movie on Facebook's origins and its enigmatic creator, was just recently released. This story, released shortly before the release of the movie, seems to be Zuckerberg's attempt to fight the negative perception that the movie could create about him. "A lot people will look at that stuff, you know, when I was nineteen, and say, 'Oh, well, he was like that. . . . He must still be like that, right?'" Zuckerberg said.

He has legitimate reason for alarm at the exposure of his past. The story, laid black and white, points towards serious ethical misconduct on Zuckerberg's part. IM conversations unearthed from around the era of Facebook's creations only seem to strengthen the case against him. I won't belabor the story of its inception any further when it can be accessed in many different forms of media with ease, but suffice to say that, had Zuckerberg known the kind of prestige he would reach he might have chosen his words a little more carefully.

Most importantly to him, it seems, Zuckerberg says he is determined to keep the company under his control. Terry Semel, former C.E.O. of Yahoo!, told the New Yorker that when he offered Zuckerberg one billion dollars for Facebook in 2006, Zuckerberg said, "It's not about the price. This is my baby, and I want to keep running it, I want to keep growing it."

The past aside, Facebook's future is almost impossible to divine at this point. The privacy policy in place on the website has drawn fire as being deceptive and deviating from the site's original goals, the ACLU and Electronic Privacy Information Center told the New Yorker.

Even still, Zuckerberg imagines a world with even deeper integration, taking Facebook from the platform it is at current to an almost constant presence in daily life. "Zuckerberg imagines Facebook as, eventually, a layer underneath almost every electronic device," the New Yorker said.

What remains to be seen at this point is how Zuckerberg comes out from this latest assault on his character and business. If he is successful in his dream, Facebook will be inescapable as a daily presence. From buying groceries to watching television to media consumption, the privacy we enjoy now will be a thing of the past.

Tuberculosis Still a Problem for Developing India

Though the medical revolution and affluence of the west have all but eliminated one of the world's deadliest diseases from the public eye, tuberculosis still poses a massive problem and a deadly threat in developing nations like India.

The New Yorker reports that each year nearly two million new cases are reported, with about 1000 people dying each day from the disease. These numbers are higher in India than anywhere else in the world. Beyond the sheer volume of the death toll, tuberculosis is the leading killer of the main workhorse of the labor force - those between the ages of 15 and 45.

Despite the severity of the disease the real problem with tuberculosis is not, in fact, medicating it, the New Yorker said. Though far from quick or painless, several effective channels of treatment in the form of antibiotic batteries have been developed. What poses a much larger problem than curing TB is correctly diagnosing it.

According to the New Yorker, the tests that are currently used to determine TB infection look for antibodies designed to fight the disease present in a patient's body. The great majority of cases, however, are entirely dormant and never manifest into a full-blown infection, the New Yorker said. This leads to countless cases of people with the antibodies for fighting TB but not an active instance of the disease unnecessarily following the lengthy drug regimen to cure it. All this does is strengthen the resistant strains so that medicating it in the future becomes more and more difficult.

Beyond the problems inherent to the disease itself, many of India's problems with it stem from how TB is being addressed (and taken advantage of) by its people. Hospitals, the New Yorker reported, are constantly swamped with patients. So many flock to them for care that there is no hope of treating all who request it. Luckily, they don't have to because the crooked doctors refer as many people as possible to their own private practices.

Instead of using the hospital's $50,000 machine to successfully and accurately diagnose TB with relative ease, these doctors push people with no other option into a health care black market. Here, the doctors are entitled to a massive cut of all the costs that the patient accrues for treatment and they don't have to worry about government regulations on the safety or sterility of their procedures, the New Yorker said.

Those in charge of India's health care and fighting TB still maintain hope even in light of the country's terrible health crisis. New technology developed in the US originally for detecting biological pathogens sent through mail has been augmented to produce reliable test results in a mere two hours.

"Which of you are sick? We need to know," Camilla Rodrigues, who runs the microbiology department at Mumbai's Hinduja Hospital, said. "And finally, after more than a century we can know. At this point, it is just a matter of will"

Victory Over al-Qaeda Not Possible, UK Force Chief Says

Gen. David Richards, the new chief of Britain's armed forces, told The BBC Sunday that victory in the strictest sense of the word was unnecessary, and beyond that, not possible.

The BBC reported Richards said that a clear-cut victory over the militants is not an achievable goal. This line of reasoning would have been billed as extremely pessimistic just a few years ago, but the events that have transpired in the embattled middle east since then have led to a moderation of thought.

This hardly means that he proposes that the group be left to their own devices unchecked. He rather realizes that the extremism that leads an individual to violence is an offshoot of a milder form of thought. "I don't think you can probably defeat an idea," Richards told the BBC. "It's something we need to battle back against as necessary, but in its milder forms why shouldn't they be allowed to have that sort of philosophy underpinning their lives?"

CNN reported, however, that Richards says that he truly thinks Britain's sacrifice thus far in the conflict to be worthwhile, and that they are meeting with some success. He stated that the Afghan people do not wish for the return of the Taliban, and that as a part of the removal of the regime Britain has a responsibility to ensure that the country has a government to replace it.

Man Forced To Eat His Own Beard

A Kentucky man may finally find closure after sentencing next Tuesday over an incident last May when his beard was cut from his face and shoved in his mouth during an argument over the sale of a lawnmower.

The Lexington branch of NBC reported that Harvey Westmoreland went to his brother's place of business to meet with two acquaintances. When they began to negotiate the price for purchase of a riding lawn mower from Westmoreland, the men apparently felt cheated and pulled out knives and guns.

It was during this conflict that one of the men cut a chunk of Westmoreland's beard from his face and forced him to eat it. After being humiliated, the brothers were allowed to leave with their lives and a threat to not call the police.

This story is odd, certainly, but it seems to me that the relevancy and importance of it has been greatly inflated by the news outlets reporting it. The Star Tribune even ran a news release on it in the 'Out There' section. While the news certainly fits the bill, it doesn't deserve the amount of discussion it has received.

What this appears to be is a case not unlike the 'Epic Mountain Man v. Sasquatch' story that ran on CNN over the summer - a reporter gets hooked on a story and the people involved turn out to be so odd that the story is talked about way more than it should be. Aside from providing a few key sound bites for future reference and a smile, this story has very little actual news value.

TSA's Full-Body Scanners Cause Continuing Controversy

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The widespread implementation of new scanning equipment in airports across the country has both passengers and pilots in uproar this holiday season.

The new backscatter scanner device uses several different types of waves including x-rays to create an image portraying the subject essentially nude, with any concealed weapon revealed, reported. Passengers or pilots concerned about privacy or health who choose to opt out of the service are subjected to an "enhanced pat-down" including the use of fingers and open hands to feel objector's chests and groins, Wired News reports.

David Brenner, a professor of radiation biophysics, has told CNN that the risk of backscatter scans hurting subjects is very low, but that's not enough to satiate those who fly most frequently - pilots. Two separate pilot unions have sent out letters to all of their members advising them to decline the full-body scans, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Concerned passengers plan to stand up against such invasive practices with a 'National Opt Out day' to take place on the busiest day of air travel in the United States, November 24th. Brian Sodegren, creator of the event, told Wired "You should never have to explain to your children, 'Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it's a government employee, then it's OK.'"

Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano met with industry officials on Friday to reinforce the commitment to allowing passengers their privacy while maintaining strict security in airports, CNN reported. The officials said that the meeting was informative, but the department's activities have left a lot up in the air.

U of M's Search For President Nears Completion

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents announced Friday that the twelve month search for a new president had moved out from behind closed doors to a public phase when they announced Eric Kaler as the sole finalist.

Kaler, currently a provost of Stony Brook University in New York, has beaten out 148 other candidates in contention for the position, the Star Tribune said. Though there were originally four semi-finalists, the Tribune reports that two of them pulled out of competition before being submitted to a public pool.

The Minnesota Daily emphasized that though he was the only one selected as a finalist, this does not mean that Kaler is a shoe-in for the position. "This is not a done deal yet," Regent Dean Johnson told the Daily. Kaler has a whole gamut of people to meet and hands to shake while he is evaluated on a more personal level on his fitness for the position on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

If he is chosen, Kaler would be the second of only two presidents of the University to have walked its halls as a student, the Tribune said. The first was Malcolm Moos, president from '64 to '75.

Regents told the Daily that Kaler was a solid candidate with a solid resume, calling him a "proven change agent". At this time of decreasing state funding and steadily increasing tuition, said the Tribune, an agent of change could be just what the University needs.

Gopher Basketball Takes Another Hit

Continuing the chain of unfortunate happenings on the Gopher basketball team, Tubby Smith announced Thursday that junior guard Devoe Joseph was suspended indefinitely because of off-court issues

Joseph averaged 9.4 points last season, stepping up to try and compensate for the loss of Al Nolen's after his suspension last year, the Minnesota Daily reports. Now that Joseph has himself been suspended, the Gophers must work to fill another hole on an already embattled team.

Joseph's suspension came after undefined off-court events, Smith told the Star Tribune. Joseph sat out of Monday's exhibition game against Winona State University and though Smith attributed it to a leg injury, he told the Tribune that he was "having some off court issues," too. Even with a formalized suspension, the coach remains vague on the underlying cause.

"He's got some off-court issues," Smith said. "Hopefully he gets what he has to get done so he can get back on the board at some point in time during season. And at this stage, I'm not sure when that will be."

Even so, the Daily reports that though the future is unknown, the outlook need not be overly grim. According to the Daily, Smith said later that evening that Joseph was aware he let the team down and that it doesn't take long to recover from them.

If Joseph's suspension lasted only one week, said the Tribune, he would still miss five games - a serious blow to the Gophers. After the legal trouble of various players and even the coach himself over the last year, cited the Tribune, the team will band together and do their best to bounce back again.

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