November 2009 Archives

Postal service says no more North Pole correspondence

      The U.S. Postal Service will stop sending Santa letters to the volunteers in North Pole, Alaska who have answered them for 55 years.

      Children will still be able to send mail to the Postal Service's own massive Operation Santa, but the 150,000 letters each year addressed to Santa's home in the North Pole will go unanswered, USA Today said.

      The change was sparked by security and privacy concerns after an Operation Santa volunteer in Maryland was recognized by a postal worker as a registered sex offender, the Associated Press reported.

      The 2,200 residents of North Pole, Alaska, where Christmas decorations last year-round, think the new policy is a "real shame," according to the Fairbanks Daily News-miner.

      Republican Sen. Lisa J. Murkowski wrote a letter to the postmaster general pleading that the tradition continue in order "to bring joy to these children and their families," the News-miner said.

To see video of some of the activities that North Pole, Alaska hosts, click here.  

Analysis: Diversity

The case study: Sounds and Culture Come Alive During 'Africa Unwrapped'
Read the story in the University of Tampa's online publication: The Minaret Online

      This article reports on an event held by the University of Tampa last Thursday to educate students about Africa. Participants enjoyed Ethiopian food, drumming, dancing and informative lectures.
      The writer talked to students who attended and the president of Diversity Fellowship, one of the group that sponsored the event. Everyone had positive experiences and expanded their knowledge of African culture. This story features the campus event rather than the culture for which it was trying to promote awareness.

     University of Minnesota student Ellen Putzier, 23, works at Anew Dimension Child Enrichment Center, a childcare facility in the Cedar Riverside area of Minneapolis. Most of the children she takes care of there are from East Africa.

     After reading the above article, Putzier commented that the event sounded informative and broad, without stereotypes. She said it is common for the population she works with to be labeled automatically as poor and involved with crime.

    "People from Africa are very cheerful, joyful...they greet you when they see you, they don't leave without saying goodbye," Putzier said. She said, too, that parents from other backgrounds might not engage in conversations or show the same interest in her.

     Putzier explained she has had more positive encounters with African immigrants because of working at the daycare. She said that going to 'Africa Unwrapped' would have been helpful for her to learn more about a people she serves daily.

     "I would have loved to be there," Putzier said of the University of Tampa event.

Britain offers $316 million in aid to Ethiopia

      Britain announced Tuesday that it will be responding to Ethiopia's October call for aid for over 6 million starving people with a package amounting to 4 billion birr, the Ethiopian unit of currency, the Sudan Tribune said.

      The UK Minister of State for International Development, Gareth Thomas MP, said that the massive aid package will provide health and education services plus sustainable water and road construction over the next three years, the Global Times said.

      Among other services, the Global Times said, the aid will help fund an effort to enroll 2.8 million children in school, hire 150,000 more trained teachers and provide safe water to 6 million households.

      With assistance coming from Britain, the United States, and the World Bank, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zanawi told the British minister that the international media have made the nation's food shortages seem larger than they actually are, the Sudan Tribune said.

To see images of the drought in Ethiopia, click here.


Twin Cities police search for YouTube attackers

      Eight young men identified themselves by full name and nickname on a YouTube video they posted publicly, showing themselves attacking passersby of all ages in the Twin Cities.

      The video, which has since been removed, shows twelve instances of the boys pushing children down a hill, knocking over bicyclers, throwing something at a store cashier and other similar pranks. During parts of the clip, the boys hold up gang signs, wear masks and laugh at one another's antics.

      Police in both Minneapolis and St. Paul were alerted to the videos on Tuesday and began investigating.  St. Paul police have arrested a 17-year-old high school senior on suspicion of gross misdemeanor assault, riot and simple robbery, the Pioneer Press said.

      A 19-year-old, Mohamed Abdi, has also been arrested on suspicion of aiding and abetting simple robbery.  In the video, Abdi tackles an elderly man walking in a suburban neighborhood and knocks a cyclist over around Grand Avenue, the Pioneer Press said.

      Police are still searching for other suspects. St. Paul police Sgt. Paul Schnell said they want to find and talk to the boys so that no one else gets hurt. "Whether criminal charges are brought will be dependent upon our ability to match the incident with actual reports from the victims," Schnell told a reporter from The Star Tribune.


Gophers on trial

      The day before Thanksgiving, Gopher basketball freshman Royce White will go to court on charges of shoplifting and fifth-degree assault, the Pioneer Press said.

      The incident occurred on Oct. 13 in a Mall of America parking lot, where White was arrested by Bloomington police, The Star Tribune said.

      White joins teammate Trevor Mbakwe on the sidelines. Mbakwe may redshirt for the rest of the season due to repeatedly delayed trial dates for a felony assault charge, The Star Tribune said.

      To complicate matters, White has been identified as a potential suspect in a computer theft at Territorial Hall, although he has not been charged nor arrested, the Pioneer Press said.  Both his lawyer and the police are investigating tapes showing his entry and exit from the residence hall.

      White's attorney, F. Clayton Tyler, says he wants to resolve his client's legal issues quickly. Tyler told the Pioneer Press, "Being away from the sport that he loves is difficult."

Mixed reception to raised mammogram age

       New recommendations say that yearly mammograms for women between ages 40 and 50 are more likely to cause anxiety than prevent breast cancer.

       The guidelines were released Monday by a task force of independent experts, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, appointed by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

       The problem with low-risk women being screened is that false-positives can lead to unnecessary tests, The New York Times said. Mammograms can find imperceptible, slow-growing cancers that a woman would never notice otherwise.

       The recommendations caused investors to question the need for breast-cancer screening products like Selenia, evidenced in low shares Tuesday for the company that produces the detection tool, the Wall Street Journal said.

       Many middle-aged women registered their comments on the New York Times website in response to the guidelines.  Their reactions ranged from relief to skepticism, the latter particularly in those who had personally encountered breast cancer through friends or loved ones.


Analysis: Number use in the news

Case study: Associated Press story- "Women on pace to be majority of union workers"

      This story reports data released on Tuesday by the Center for Economic and Policy Research that shows the number of women in the union work force increasing steadily.

      The reporter uses numbers to show the percentage of women union members and the percent increase over time. These figures are then compared to male representation in unions.

      The story also gives numbers to show an ethnic shift in union membership.

      The reporter then zooms out toe put the numbers in a still wider context, positing that the percentage of union constituents in the overall electorate amounts to significant "political clout."

      The numbers in this story were many, but not overwhelmingly hard to understand. The subject matter itself is dry and dependent on the statistics. Rather than using numbers to enhance a story, this piece was crafted around the numbers.

      It appears the reporter did manipulate the heady math in order to use more accessible percentages, though. Since the numbers all came from one report from CEPR, the article did not need to source the figures throughout. 
       In an unexpected career move, Gregory B. Craig, White House Counsel, resigned Thursday to be replaced by leading Democrat and Obama campaign lawyer Robert Bauer.

       The Counsel's office is entrusted with screening administrative and judicial nominees and reviewing sensitive foreign policy issues, ethics matters, and lawsuits on the executive branch. For a long time, however, the Counsel has assumed the unofficial role of private adviser to the president, exerting key influence in a variety of executive decision-making processes, The New York Times said.

       Craig received both praise and criticism during his tenure; he played a prominent role in getting the first Latina justice elected to the U.S. Supreme Court but failed to reach the objective of closing down the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on schedule, The Washington Post said. 

       Bauer, who is scheduled to begin his appointment in January, is "well-positioned to lead the Counsel's office as it addresses a wide variety of responsibilities," according to a statement issued by President Barack Obama, The Washington Post said.

       In the last 30 years, Bauer has advised many senior officials of the Democratic party and served as chief counsel of the Democratic Congressional committees. Bauer brings extensive knowledge of election law, campaign finance, and political ethics to the position, although he has little expertise in international law, The New York Times said.

       Republicans raised red flags about the administration's lack of balance in giving a high-ranking post to an intimate adviser who has considerable influence, The Washington Post said. 
After Dutch authorities have held a man in custody for several days, sources in the Twin Cities Somali community say that the man is Muhamud Said Omar, a wanted criminal in the U.S., The Star Tribune said.

The FBI recently confirmed that the arrest is related to an investigation involving 20 men who went missing in 2007. Omar is under suspicion for assisting these men to become fighters in Somalia, Minnesota Public Radio said.

Dutch officials told the Star Tribune Omar petitioned the Netherlands for asylum on Christmas day 2008, and was arrested per the request of the U.S. on Sunday. The U.S. is currently seeking his extradition.

Somali sources said that Omar went by the nickname "Sharrif" and may have lived in the Cedar-Riverside apartment complex where thousands of Somali refugees live, The Star Tribune said.

Women approaching majority status in union workforce

The makeup of the U.S. union workforce has been significantly shifting towards women.

A report issued by the Center for Economic Policy and Research on Tuesday found that 45 percent of unionized workers are now women, up from 35 percent in 1983.

The study described the stereotype of a white male factory worker as being unrepresentative of today's actual labor force, according to Business Week.

The ultimate effect of the demographic shift is that a desire for both work and family life necessitates different benefits and priorities.

"Because of women, we don't just talk about raising wages, but about creating family friendly workplaces with sick leave, child care, and family and medical leave," said Anne Burger, head of the union federation Change to Win, the Associated Press reported.

The report noted that the union labor force has become more diverse, with a jump in Latino workers, as well as shifted away from the manufacturing sector.
Pfc. Kham Xiong, 23, husband, father, and oldest of 10 siblings, was standing in line for a flu shot  and vision test when he was killed, the Pioneer Press said.

Kham was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in January and had recently moved his wife, Shoua Her, and their three children from St. Paul to Fort Hood, Texas, the Pioneer Press reported.

Both Kham and his wife, Her, graduated in 2004 from Community of Peace Academy, a charter school in St. Paul.  As Kham was the sole provider for his family, a memorial fund is being created to help support them, The Star Tribune said.

"Kham was just a person of sound character, and his greatest attribute was his ability to make everybody smile," said Kham's eighth-grade teacher, Tim McGowan, in a phone interview with The Washington Post.

To see an AP photo of Kham Xiong, click here.

Perpetrator of D.C. sniper attacks in 2002 executed

       Seven years after the three-week long series of sniper attacks in the D.C. area that left 10 dead, the mastermind, John Allen Muhammad, was executed on Tuesday.
       Muhammad's final appeal was denied by the United States Supreme Court, and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine denied the killer clemency Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.
       Although this could have meant closure for the grieving families, as they watched Muhammed calmly face his sentence, the sniper never revealed his motives, the Associated Press said.
       "There are no winners here. We are not celebrating. It was a sad day for everyone," said Bob Meyers, whose brother Dean H. Meyers was one of the victims, shot at a gas station, The Washington Post said.
       The Post reported that Muhammed deviated from several typical practices of death row inmates: he declined to meet with a spiritual adviser, he asked that the details of his final meal remain private, and he had no final words.
       In the words of J. Wyndal Gordon, one of his attorneys, "He will die with dignity-- dignity to the point of defiance," the Associated Press said.
       Muhammad's accomplice, then 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo, is serving a life sentence without parole.

Covering news: obituaries

The case study: Qian Xuesen
Obit written by: The New York Times
To read the article, click here.

This obituary covers the death of a Chinese rocket scientist, Qian Xuesen, 98, who was educated in the United States before his deportation in 1955. He held prominent governmental and scholarly positions in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s but is also highly respected as the "Father of China's space program."

The lead of this obituary follows the standard New York Times formula with his name followed by identifying information followed by an announcement of his death and place of death. The next sentence is the typical, short descriptor of his age. Since Qian accomplished such powerful things, the lead about him grabbed me, despite the formula.

Sources actually cited in the obituary are few; they include a 2002 "published reminiscence" by one of Qian's colleagues and China's state media. Many of the facts may have been public knowledge since Qian's activities in the U.S. took place over half a century ago.

The obituary differs from a catalogue of accomplishments because it gives a snapshot of both positive and negative press that Qian received. It talks about what he was known for and contributed to society but also explains controversy that surrounded him.

Delayed anti-gang funding frustrates top police officials

As the U.S. Justice department continues to investigate the discovery of malpractice in Minnesota's Metro Gang Strike Force, the state has delayed anti-gang funding for its two largest counties, the Pioneer Press said.

Despite Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion's statement last week that "our goal is not to have any interruption in funding," the state-funding task forces in Ramsey and Hennepin counties remain at a standstill, the Pioneer Press said.

At a meeting of the Gang and Drug Oversight Council in St. Paul, the city's Police Chief John Harrington walked out in apparent protest of the exclusion of his county from such funding requests, The Star Tribune said.

One Ramsey County undersheriff criticized Campion for not appearing at the meeting to explain the Legislature's decision to withhold funding at this time, The Star Tribune said.  

The undersherrif pointed out that gangs and drugs would not go away, The Star Tribune said.

Just plain Mickey not epic enough for Disney

Disney and Nintendo plan to release a new Wii console game next year featuring Epic Mickey, a re-vamped action hero version of the beloved cartoon, The Guardian said.

Disney has decided to re-imagine Mickey for the future in hopes of increasing merchandise sales, even at the risk of alienating more traditional fans, The New York Times said.

The game's designer, Warren Spector, has included retired and perhaps less popular Disney characters such as Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who become jealous of Mickey's fame in the new storyline.

"We've pulled Mickey out of the world of cartoons which is where he belongs and feels comfortable and safe and we pull him into a world we call the Cartoon Wasteland," said Spector, The Guardian said.

The New York Times calls Epic Mickey a "return to Mickey at his creation," in the sense that his whimsical character would often play pranks and roughhouse with his friends.

Qian Xuesen, father of Chinese rocketry, dies at 98

Qian Xuesen, 98, an aeronautical engineer educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Caltech and a groundbreaking director of rocket research in China, died on Saturday in Beijing, The New York Times said.

Qian was deported from the United States in 1955 on suspicion of being a communist. A later congressional report labeled him a spy although his colleagues defend his innocence even now, The Los Angeles Times said.

Deporting Qian "was the stupidest thing this country ever did," former Navy secretary Dan Kimball said, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Through Qian's contributions, China has been able to launch ballistic missiles, Silkworm anti-ship missiles and reconnaissance satellites as well as put a human in space, The Los Angeles Times said.

Qian made many prominent contributions to the United States during the 1930s and 1940s including serving on the government's Science Advisory Board and helping found the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is now one of NASA's important space-exploration facilities, The New York Times said.. 

Coleman re-elected in St. Paul

Chis Coleman won a clear victory in the polls on Tuesday, gaining a second term as St. Paul mayor, The Star Tribune said.

He collected 67 percent of the vote to Republican opponent Eva Ng's (pronounced "ing") 37 percent.

Coleman plans to connect the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis with a $1 billion Central Corridor light-rail line.

He considers his election victory an affirmation of his fiscal policies in the last four years, which included property tax increases, The Star Tribune said.

Ng highlighted such property tax hikes in her campaign, promising to put a freeze on taxes and fees, the Pioneer Press said.

The city saw record lows in voter turnout, which was at 17 percent, according to an elections manager for Ramsey County, The Star Tribune said.  

Asperger's may be re-labeled on new DSM-V

If some medical experts have their way, Asperger's syndrome will disappear from the official medical manual almost as quickly as it became part of it, The New York Times said.

"It is now a widely recognized diagnosis both in popular culture and among health care and educational providers," said the Disability Scoop, an national online publication that serves the developmental disability community. 

In the revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) to be released in 2012, the diagnosis would be included under the more inclusive category of autism spectrum disorder, The New York Times said.

Individuals with Asperger's are pictured as having extraordinary vocabularies, and typically a limited concept of social pragmatics and low spacial awareness.

In a 2001 New York Times article, a young girl with Asperger's described a pencil with a bouncy elephant head as "prehensile,"meaning adapted for seizing or grasping, for example.

One benefit of this new labeling system would be to help people qualify for state services since people who have traditional autism qualify for certain benefits that people with Asperger's do not, The New York Times said.


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