April 30, 2007

Poisoned Pet Food

"Filler in Animal Feed Is Open Secret in China" has some distressing news for pet owners. The product that has been killing American pets, illegal as a food additive in the U.S., is widely used as filler in animal food that is sold to the U.S. from China.

“Many companies buy melamine scrap to make animal feed, such as fish feed,? said Ji Denghui, general manager of the Fujian Sanming Dinghui Chemical Company, which sells melamine. “I don’t know if there’s a regulation on it. Probably not. No law or regulation says ‘don’t do it,’ so everyone’s doing it. The laws in China are like that, aren’t they? If there’s no accident, there won’t be any regulation.?

Also distressing (but not surprising to me) is this statement, considering the huge volume of products coming from China:

“They have fewer people inspecting product at the ports than ever before,? says Caroline Smith DeWaal, the director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington. “Until China gets programs in place to verify the safety of their products, they need to be inspected by U.S. inspectors. This open-door policy on food ingredients is an open invitation for an attack on the food supply, either intentional or unintentional.?

It was probably a challenge for these two reporters to get all the sources they did. Is one of them stationed in China?

Last Friday here in Zhangqiu, a fast-growing industrial city southeast of Beijing, two animal feed producers explained in great detail how they purchase low-grade wheat, corn, soybean or other proteins and then mix in small portions of nitrogen-rich melamine scrap, whose chemical properties help the feed register an inflated protein level.

They have done some good research on a timely subject and gotten it out to the public quickly.

Another article found at from the Puget Sound Business Journal localizes the issue to that area of the country(western Washington State). "Pet deaths scare owners to premium, local food" tells the story of how sales of locally produced food have jumped recently after the pet food scare.

Sales at the seven All the Best Pet Care stores in Seattle and on the Eastside have gone up by 5 percent in the past month, said owner Susan Moss.

"A lot of our staff are saying they're seeing people coming in they've never seen before," Moss said.

And price isn't a sticking point: "Darwin's said it typically attracts about 20 new customers a month. It recently drew 80 new clients willing to pay a premium for Darwin's product."

A good job of localizing a national (even international) issue that probably effects most Americans. Also a good humanizing quote to end an otherwise numbers-oriented article:

While pet-food stores and suppliers are encouraged that more consumers are seeking out healthy food, they also aren't celebrating the recall.

"I don't take much pleasure in business growing because people are losing their family members," Lybrand said.

April 26, 2007

Castro Countdown

Everybody and their brother seems to be anticipating the end of Castro's reign. A New York Times article today lead with "Major League Baseball officials are quietly preparing to re-establish a relationship with Cuba if the United States lifts its trade embargo."

Baseball is contemplating a strategy for teams to sign Cuban players in an effort to create an orderly system for acquiring talent from the island, according to three baseball officials and a scholar who was briefed on the plans . . . Baseball is also considering moving a minor league team to Cuba and building training academies similar to those that nearly all teams have in the Dominican Republic, according to a report earlier this month by Fortune magazine.

This is one sports article that doesn't cause one's eyes to glaze over with stats and war analogies. The reporter included context and history to make the story appealing to both baseball fans and Cuba-watchers.

Fidel Castro took power in 1959, and the United States imposed sanctions on Cuba in 1961. Some of the Cuban players who have since reached the majors have been defectors, like pitchers José Contreras of the Chicago White Sox, Orlando Hernández of the Mets and his half-brother Liván Hernández of the Diamondbacks.

Over all, Cuba has produced 152 major league players, according to, including Minnie Minoso, Camilo Pascual, Luis Tiant, Tony Oliva and Tony Pérez.

Outside the United States and Canada, only Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have produced more players.

But baseball, in accordance with United States law, prohibits clubs from scouting in Cuba or any country affected by sanctions. Because major league scouts are permitted to watch Cuban players only when they compete in international tournaments off the island, much remains unknown about Cuban baseball. It is unclear how deep the talent pool is, how developed the youth leagues are and what shape the fields and equipment are in.

That last bit about "much remains unknown" seems unlikely since journalists - even sports writers - can get visas to visit Cuba, and thousands of people visit unofficially each year, despite the "Trading with the Enemy" prohibitions (risking heavy fines), and some of them are undoubtedly baseball aficionados.


Another article about Cuba today from the McClatchy newswire concerned itself with Castro's continued absence from his role as the country's leader and a prediction by a U.S. intelligence official that Castro will never regain his position because "An 80-year-old man who's gone (from public appearances) nine months and still wears a track suit when he meets with foreign dignitaries suggests this is an extremely serious illness still." It's a colorful quote and I probably would have used it, too.

The reporter of the McClatchy article relied soley on the views and quotes of the official who no doubt is also a keen Cuba-watcher, so this is a one-sided piece.

Everybody wants a piece of Cuba. Even The Nation got in on the conversation this week.

April 20, 2007

Wolfowitz's Chief Nemesis

The San Francisco chronicle article "Wolfowitz's troubles disrupt World Bank" tells the story of the "rift between employees and embattled bank President Paul Wolfowitz" after it was discovered that he arranged for a promotion and pay raise for his paramour. The reporter explains that the Pentagon "concluded there was no wrongdoing," yet employees at the bank, one in particular, are calling for his resignation.

The reporter should have included a sentence or two about how the World Bank operates and what the Pentagon has to do with it.

The Washington Post article "Leader of World Bank Staff Group Becomes Wolfowitz's Chief Nemesis" is a little better at describing the conflict, but still doesn't explain the Pentagon report or its involvement with the World Bank.

March 30, 2007

Olmert Rejects Right of Return

"Olmert Rejects Palestinian Right of Return" in the New York Times Friday shows Olmert as intractible as Bush! The reporter is repetitive, repeating the declaration of Olmert not to allow any Palestians to return to what were once their homes. I don't think the reporter does a very good job of explaining the issue, but he does give some background finally in paragraph seven, which would give a reader who doesn't know the history some information to conduct their own background search:

The 2002 initiative essentially offers Israel peace and acceptance in the region in return for a settlement with the Palestinians on 1967 lines and an agreed solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants.

But even though the stance is clear, he gives it to us again in paragraph 10:

Mr. Olmert insisted that the refugee problem was caused by the Arab attack on Israel in 1948 and called it “a moral issue of the highest standard.? He said “I will not agree to accept any kind of Israeli responsibility for the refugees. Full stop.? Then he added: “I don’t think we should accept any kind of responsibility for the creation of this problem. Full stop.? He said the return of even one Palestinian refugee to Israel is “out of the question.?

In a UPI article, "Palestinians protest for right of return," which is a much shorter article, the reporter explains better what the issue is, although he/she doesn't tell us how they became refugees:

There are an estimated 4.4 million Palestinian refugees registered with the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees scattered in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza.

March 7, 2007

1,000 Journalists Killed in 10 Years of Reporting

The story " Murder most effective in silencing journalists" is chilling in its scope and significance. The two articles I compare are short - fewer than 200 words - yet pack a whollop.

The reporter in the Agence France-Presse article leads by telling us that "only a quarter of the muders occurred during armed conflict," and that the rest were killed while reporting in their own countries, which is probably counter-intuitive to most of us, what with the daily death-toll tally from Iraq and other war zones.

"In many countries, murder has become the easiest, cheapest and most effective way of silencing troublesome reporting," the director of the international institute that conducted the study said.

There's a little redundancy in the story-telling, but maybe the journalist writing the story is overwhelmed by the specifics of the survey's findings and can't help repeating the scary details.

The Times reporter's article is equally short, and leads with the gruesome finding that "homicide has emerged as an increasingly popular tool for silencing" journalists.

The Times reporter never names the institute, as the AFP does, and we don't even get the idea that it's an international study. But she does offer the detail that most killed were men, and included whom the instituted counted as a journalist in it's survey, such as "interpreters, drivers, and office personnel," as well as the types of stories they covered (you can probably guess without reading the article).


February 28, 2007

Castro Speaks

The incidence this week when Fidel Castro called in to Hugo Chavez’ radio show to touch base was covered by several outlets, including the New York Times and the Guardian Unlimited online. I learned the most from the Times article, namely the first bit of the following paragraph:

Venezuela is financing the installation of fiber optic cable to improve Cuba’s Internet and telecommunications systems and is planning to send 100,000 Venezuelans to Cuba on “revolutionary? tourism jaunts, in addition to maintaining shipments to Cuba of about 100,000 barrels a day of subsidized oil.

The Times didn’t hold back the predictable gibe against the Venezuelan president, however:

Critics of Mr. Chavez see echoes of Mr. Castro in his effort to consolidate his power, ruling by decree and creating a single socialist party.

The article in the Guardian concentrated mainly on describing the conversation between Chavez and Castro, mainly about Castro’s recovering health.

The Guardian reporter waited until the ninth paragraph to include some commentary on the two governments’ irritation of the U.S:

The pair also went on to discuss this week’s plunge in US and Chinese stocks, which they agreed should concern the US government, the sworn enemy of both men.

I particularly got a kick out the way the reporter ends the article:

Mr. Chavez told him that he would win “the battle for life.? The two men ended the conversation with their familiar cry of “fatherland or death!?

I noticed that the Times doesn’t adhere to AP style guides, nor does the Guardian.,,2023491,00.html

February 19, 2007

U.S. Post Near Baghdad Attacked

An AP article relating the news about the coordinated attack on the U.S. base on Monday leads with the facts: insurgents attacked the combat post, killing two soldiers and wounding many more, and the attack is briefly described. In the third paragraph the reporter begins listing other attacks by militants that happened on the same day and over recent days.

The article uses several quotes that seem to be designed to reassure the reader of the rightness of the mission (the so-called surge to secure Baghdad), such as this one from the prime minister.: "These crimes confirm the defeat of these perpetrators and their failure in contronting our armed forces, which are determined to cleanse the dens of terrorism" and this one from a parliment member from al-Maliki's party: "The Baghdad security plan is very important to push Iraq ahead."

Interestingly though, when I went to find these quotes again on the page listed below, the article had changed beyond recognition. The article I printed yesterday was updated in the morning, but the one on the site now indicates it was updated last night. The article id numbers are identical. The morning edition of the article had no mention of al Qaeda, but the last update includes this accusation:

Mohammed al-Askari, spokesman for Iraq’s Defense Ministry, blamed the attack on a cell of al-Qaida in Iraq, which has claimed responsibility for many high-profile strikes.

“It’s their work,? he said.

A New York Times article about the attack didn't rely on quotes from government officials but paraphrased witness accounts, attributing with "witnesses said" several times. In the AP article quotes, the reader can make assumptions about the bias of the people who are quoted. The AP article reporter also fits the Iran-Iraq connection toward the end of the article: "Meanwhile, borders with Iran and Syria - shut for three days as the plan got under way - reopened Sunday . . . The United States and allies claim Iraqi militants receive aid and supplies from Iran, including parts for lethal roadside bombs targeting U.S. forces. Iran denies any role in trafficking weapons."

However, the Times article is much more descriptive, and doesn't appear to be presenting any clear bias. It includes a chronology of the event, as well as a list of other attacks around the country during the same time frame.

February 14, 2007

US & UK Bad for Kids

A Times Online article entitled "Outcry after Unicef identifies UK's 'failed generation of children'" is mainly about children's advocacy groups admonishment of the British government in response to a Unicef report that lists the U.K. "in the bottom third of 21 industrialised countries in five out of six categories — material well-being; health and safety; educational well-being; relationships; behaviour and risks; and subjective well-being — ending up overall last, after the United States." The reporter relies mostly on quotes from the accusations that the "Chancellor has failed this generation of children and will fail the next if he's given a chance" and rebuttals from the government: " “Nobody can dispute that improving children’s well-being is a real priority for this Government," said a spokeswoman.""

I had to read down to the 10th paragraph to get an idea of what age group are "children," where we learn that a high proportion of 15-year-olds don't aspire to much more than skilled labor, and further on, where the quotes use the vague descriptor "children and young people."

An article does a much better job of describing the findings of the report, and although nothing in the writing indicates it, I can almost see the smirk of the writer in the lead: "Britain and the United States are the worst places in the industrialised world for children to live, according to a report by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef). " What can you expect from godless infidels?

In truth, this reporter handles the topic with an even hand. After the initial jab, they describe what factors were studied for the report and where other countries ranked, they give this in-all-fairness quote from a Unicef director: "All countries have weaknesses that need to be addressed and no country features in the top third of the rankings for all six dimensions."

In this article we learn more specifically which children were studied and that " youngsters aged 11, 13, and 15 reported being drunk on two or more occasions." We also learn that this study was the first of its kind, and that "the report said no direct link had been found between gross domestic product and children's well-being."

February 8, 2007

It's a Sick World After All

It's a good news-bad news scenario: good news because diligent investigation has exposed a world-wide child pornagraphy ring, and bad news because the production and trade of the videos is so extensive that it is chilling to comprehend how many sick fuckers there are in the world.

I saw this headline on Google News top stories Wednesday from The Scotsman International, "Child porn ring is smashed," but on closer inspection found that the "ring" is not "smashed," authorities have just discovered the reach of the business. Here's the lead:

AUSTRIA has broken up a global internet child pornography ring involving 2,361 suspects in 77 countries, with the material uploaded from Britain.

The country's interior minister, Günther Platter, yesterday said the FBI was investigating about 600 of the suspects in the United States. German authorities were following leads on another 400 people, France was looking into more than 100 others, and 23 suspects were Austrians, he said.

The suspects are people who pay to download the films - the number "69" is given, but no monetary symbol is attached - but so far the producers and distributors haven't yet been identified. The lead reporter is paraphrased: "He said investigators believed the videos were made in eastern Europe and uploaded to the site from somewhere in Britain. However, he noted that one girl also looked Asian." I'm not sure why the last bit about the Asian girl is included in the quote, since Asian and Asian-looking people live everywhere.

An AP article headline is less congradulatory: "Experts say child porn rings difficult to track.
Anonymous nature of Internet shields offenders from detection." The AP reporter writes that the fee to visit the "members only" website was $89. This article is longer and the reporter has more space to give details about how, because of the nature of how information travels over the Internet, such a large amount of traffic could go undetected:

Search engines and other analytical programs regularly "crawl" the Web to capture what lurks out there, but generally they are in search of text. One cloaking mechanism — often seen in spam — is for a site to put salacious keywords inside images, out of the reach of text-based scans.

It appears from my amateur perspective that both stories are written in hourglass style, with the startling information first, then a chronological telling of the story, with the last couple paragraphs in the AP article telling what Congress is doing to limit that kind of Internet traffic.

I thought NPR's The World program last night gave the most thorough explanation of the event, listen to it online here and scroll down to "Internet child pornography ring report."

(Side note: I just thought of more bad news. The Teleco mafia will no doubt use this case to try to keep Net Neutrality legislation from going through)

January 30, 2007

Climate Report

In a Jan. 30 Reuters article printed in the Sydney Morning Herald, the lead starts off seeming as if the reporter is telling us "World governments should take heed of the most wide-ranging scientific assessment so far of a human link to global warming and reach agreement on prompt action to slow the trend," until we see that the reporter is paraphrasing a comment from the chairman of a panel on UN report on global climate change.

The article is brief, and plucks the salient points from the report, mostly paraphrasing from either the report or the chairman. However, not all the paragraphs are attributed. For example, paragraph six reads, "Thirty-five industrial nations have signed up to the UN's Kyoto Protocol, capping emissions of carbon dioxide." Is that because it's a fact one can easily look up? The number I found by googling was 160, but that must include all countries, not just industrialized ones. The article ends on a dramatic note, also with information attributed to the UN report:

The UN report, the fourth of its kind, is expected to foresee temperatures rising by 2 to 4.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, with a "best estimate" of a rise of 3 degrees celsius.

In another artice from the International Herald Tribune entitled, "Climate-change report expected to project rising temperatures and sea levels," we get a more details about the panel itself and the idea that there may be some disagreement over how to characterize the information:

But scientists involved in the effort warned that squabbling between teams and representatives from governments of more than 100 countries over how to portray the most probable rise in sea levels during the 21st century could distract from the basic finding that a warming world will be one in which retreating coasts are the new norm for centuries to come.

Both articles tend to emphasize the negative aspects of global warming, and I suspect that trend will continue in mainstream media as the public comes to accept that global warming is largely affected by human activities. As the chairman of the panel is quoted, "It would perhaps be no exaggeration to suggest that at no time in the past has there been a greater global appetite for knowledge on any subject as there is today on the scientific facts underlying the reality of global climate change."

For a glimpse at what our administration is up to on this front, read an excerpt from the hearing before before the Committee on House Oversight and Government Reform Tuesday, when a scientist answered questions about an alleged cover up of public information on the effects of climate change.


January 22, 2007

Go to Hell (AP article) (Reuters)

Hugo Chavez gives good copy, that's for sure. In an AP article about recent comments on a Venezuelan broadcast the reporter chooses some juicy quotes with accompanying imagery, such as of bikin-clad Brazilian dancers. He uses the word "tirade" to describe Chavez' broadcast, although the words Chavez himself uses, such as "go to hell, gringos" and "you've forgotten me, missy" referring to Secretary Rice, already paint Chavez as hot-headed. In both this AP article and a Reuters article, he is referred to as an ally of Cuba, which might cause readers to view Chavez as misguided, at best, extreme, at worst. Is the linking of the two an attempt at demonization? And there is a discrepancy between the reports. The AP reporter writes that Chavez calls Rice "missy" and the Reuters reporter writes that he called her "my little girl." I wonder if that's a discrenpancy in the translation from Spanish to English. The original Spanish word might have been "mija," which means "my little one."
Both articles are in response to a decree by the Venezuelan legislature that may give Chavez the power to enact legislation on his own, which the US has criticized.