July 17, 2008

Seattle to sell... toilets on eBay?

The City of Seattle is removing five automated toilets after spening $5 million to install them because they came overrun with drug users and transients.

Sounds logical, but there' more: They're selling them on eBay. Seriously.

The units were put up for sale Wednesday afternoon on eBay, with a starting bid set by the city at $89,000 apiece.

The question of why in the world anyone would want to be a toilet that had to be closed because it was overrun with prostitutes, drug users and homeless people is beyond me and never really addressed in the story.

But, according to the story, some drug users won't even go into them:

“I’m not going to lie: I used to smoke crack in there,? said one homeless woman, Veronyka Cordner, nodding toward the toilet behind Pike Place Market. “But I won’t even go inside that thing now. It’s disgusting.?

It's interesting that they caused such a problem... the toilets were supposed to clean themselves, with automatic powerwashers and the like.

While this sounds funny, check out this news release from the City of Seattle. They're not joking:

The toilets will be removed from service — locked and fenced in — on Aug. 1. The units are expected to be physically removed by their new owner sometime later in August.

In May, the Seattle City Council ordered Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) to cancel its contract for the automatic toilets, as soon as possible. The Council’s action followed an SPU report recommending removal of the toilets. Although the automatic units have been well used, the report said, they are also unattended — allowing them to be used for drug use and dealing, alcohol use and prostitution.

In 2001, overriding a mayoral veto, the Seattle City Council directed SPU to contract for the lease, installation, and maintenance of five automatic toilets, to meet the need for increased access to public toilets in Seattle’s downtown and urban centers. The high-tech self-cleaning units were intended as an attractive, “step up? from the handful of traditional portable public toilets they would replace.

I especially like the inclusion of "overriding a mayoral veto" in the release. You have to make sure the people know who dreamt up this whole idea in the first place, you know?

July 16, 2008

Diversity analysis

This story from the Star Tribune tells the tale of Iraqi immigrants coming to Minnesota.

This story reads like any story about a family coming from America, and without the knowledge that they are from Iraq, I feel it wouldn't be obvious to the reader.

This graf reads like it could be about anyone, and doesn't include information that could develop stereotypes or canned images about them.

Last week, Johny and Joumana Isho landed at the Twin Cities airport with a baby in their arms and hope in their hearts. They followed in the footsteps of at least five other Iraqis who have resettled here in recent months.

However, I feel this graf could create some stereotypes:

Likewise Iraqis who cooperated with the U.S. military or U.S. businesses have been targeted by anti-American extremists, she said.

I feel this graf can me misconstrued to make the reader believe those who are against people in Iraq who help the U.S. are anti-American extremists, we know that is simply not the case for all of the "terrorists" in Iraq.

Still, grafs like this redeem the story:

That included the Ishos, who shared their stories this week as they relaxed on the carpeted floor of their unfurnished apartment in Fridley.

Most of the information comes from observations, not so much from quotes, but it serves the purpose nonetheless.

Celebrity arrests

Who doesn't like a good celebrity mugshot or arrest?

The latest victim: Andy Dick

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I thought this would be as good of time as any to run down some of the best celebrity mugshots EVER.

Bill Gates:
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Vice Vaughn:
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Marilyn Manson:
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A complilation, of sorts:
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July 15, 2008

CAR Analysis

This story from the PiPress using CAR reporting and database analysis.

It uses a database of the salaries of all employees of the state of Minnesota to compare wage rates and discuss the reason why few people make more than $150,000 -- mostly because there is a state law that says no one can make more than the governor.

This is the main point of the story and analysis:

The salary cap and budget issues have meant:

The state is in increasingly tough competition with local governments (and the private sector) for top employees. Until a few years ago, local governments also were subject to the same cap, but an increase took effect in 2006. Now, 60 employees in Ramsey, Anoka, Dakota and Washington counties and the city of St. Paul make more than Pawlenty.

More than 15,000 state employees, about half of the executive branch's employees, are making as much as they can in their current jobs. Some of their salaries are hemmed in by contract rules, not the salary cap law. But others, particularly those at the top of the wage scale, are limited because of the laws.

On average, state employee salaries have stayed flat or decreased in the past five years, when inflation is
factored in. That's in part because during bad budget times, state employee contracts included no pay increases two years in a row.

Aside from the fact that an accompanying website ran with the story online, skills to analyze a database would be necessary to complete this story.
Also, to create the search engine online that ran with the story, it needs to be done properly so it doesn't malfunction when people attempt to use it.

Database wars!

In the span of a week, both the Strib and Pipress put databases up on their websites, of varying degrees of inclusion.

First, the Strib. They launched "infoCenter" which is basically a clearinghouse of all the information the Strib has.

Here's what they got:

Business: See Minnesota's top-earning companies and CEOs

Community:Twin Cities demographic information.

Education: Did your school make the grade? See 2008 test scores.

Entertainment: Find music, theater, art, festivals and other diversions.

Government: Learn how much public employees get paid.
Politics: See campaign contributions and election filings.

Public safety: Homicide map, crime statistics and more.

Recreation + lifestyle: Find local garden centers, farmers markets and more.

Real estate: Research home prices in the Twin Cities.

Transportation: A bridge watch list and traffic information.

In the same week, the Pipress ran a story about state workers' pay, and published their entire database online.

While database reporting is lauded by many media members, that doesn't mean the public see it as a service to them all of the time.
The editor at the PiPress ran this rationale for the story, defending the right to publish them.

A few days later, there were 146 comments from readers.

Some were angry:

Bottom line is...

1.) We are at higher risk with regards to safety concerns. Client's are not necessarily always happy with us and some are not necessarily that particularly stable individuals.(*some-not all)

You can publish my salary. However, publishing my last name goes too far where my and my children's safety is concerned. I live within the community which I serve. The next time I receive a threat here at work (yes it does happen more often then you think) by someone who is not happy with their "government" assistance, I can rest assurred that the enlightened individuals such as the Pioneer Press will make it a point to do what?? Ignore it I am sure because that is not going to get you ratings is it?

2.) Our client's income is funded through state and federal tax dollars. So, taking your argument above, we should publish their full names and annual assistance? My response to that is absolutely not. We make data privacy a primary concern with regards to our clients as we should. Do we not then deserve the same respect? I think that your argument is not as "water tight" as you would like to believe it is.

I would really appreciate that the media think before it speaks at times.

Thank You.

My salary listed on line is $30,000 more than it really is. I expect the Pioneer Press to make up the difference. All public employees should boycott the PP.
Here is what to do!

1) Cancel your subscription to the PP (its 80% wire service articles anyhow)
2) Pay to purchase 1 paper at your local PP paper stand, and then rather than taking one copy of the paper, simply remove all the papers and either:
a.Set on top of the machine
b.Toss in nearest trash receptacle

Some defending the decision:

Its public information, and the public has every right to know. I could not careless that they posted my name, rank and pay. That is part of the deal with public service. Any of my fellow public servants who are concerned should have realized that they forgo the right to earn income annonymously from the tax payers. I am no right wing hack, no GW or Pawlenty supporter or advocate of government spying on people.

BUT, this is part of the deal when you apply for a job. It's in the paperwork you sign when you first started.

Complaining about this is like buying homeowner's insurance, and not reading the whole agreement. Then, complaining you don't have flood insurance when the nearby river floods.


All in all, database reporting is here to stay, and as far as I'm concerned, it IS a public service.

July 14, 2008

The magazine cover heard around the world...

Ladies and gentlemen, here it is, the most controversial magazine cover ever:

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Or is it?

The cover has brought heat on The New Yorker from both campaigns.

Obama Camp: Obama's spokesman Bill Burton: “The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."

McCain Camp: McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds e-mailed, “We completely agree with the Obama campaign, it’s tasteless and offensive.?
"I think it’s totally inappropriate and frankly I understand if Senator Obama and his supporters would find it offensive," McCain said.

Needless to say, this is huge news... at least it seems that way.

In one of the more interesting pieces to touch on the issue, though, Michael Scherer of Time's blog recalls the Supreme Courts decision in the case of Hustler Magazine and Larry C. Flynt v. Jerry Falwell. He emplores readers to "breathe deep and reread William Rehnquist's majority opinion from the case..."

Webster's defines a caricature as "the deliberately distorted picturing or imitating of a person, literary style, etc. by exaggerating features or mannerisms for satirical effect." The appeal of the political cartoon or caricature is often based on exploration of unfortunate physical traits or politically embarrassing events -- an exploration often calculated to injure the feelings of the subject of the portrayal. The art of the cartoonist is often not reasoned or evenhanded, but slashing and one-sided. One cartoonist expressed the nature of the art in these words: "The political cartoon is a weapon of attack, of scorn and ridicule and satire; it is least effective when it tries to pat some politician on the back. It is usually as welcome as a bee sting and is always controversial in some quarters." Despite their sometimes caustic nature, from the early cartoon portraying George Washington as an ass down to the present day, graphic depictions and satirical cartoons have played a prominent role in public and political debate. Nast's castigation of the Tweed Ring, Walt McDougall's characterization of presidential candidate James G. Blaine's banquet with the millionaires at Delmonico's as "The Royal Feast of Belshazzar," and numerous other efforts have undoubtedly had an effect on the course and outcome of contemporaneous debate. Lincoln's tall, gangling posture, Teddy Roosevelt's glasses and teeth, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's jutting jaw and cigarette holder have been memorialized by political cartoons with an effect that could not have been obtained by the photographer or the portrait artist. From the viewpoint of history it is clear that our political discourse would have been considerably poorer without them.

July 13, 2008

DISCLAIMER: Analysis entries

The two following analysis entries were done the same day because I was following the class schedule, which include one more analysis entry than weeks this blog will be operating, and because I was taking weeks off analysis entries where it said to.
I realized today that, given truncated timetable, I shouldn't have skipped any weeks. The next two will be done this week along with the normal four news entries.

Analysis: Obits

This obituary from the Times deals with the death of Thomas Disch, novelist.

The lede: "Thomas M. Disch, an author, poet and critic who twisted the inherently twisted genre of science fiction in new, disturbing directions, including writing his last book in the voice of God, died on Friday in his Manhattan apartment. He was 68."

The lede is fairly standard. You get the name, who he was, his most recent work and the time and place of his death. I feel as though this works, you get the idea of why they are writing about him, and frankly, the bit about a book in the voice of God made me curious about who he was.

The sources in the story are also fairly standard, but good ones nonetheless.
First quoted is another novelist and friend of Disch who gave some insight into his death, which was an apparent suicide.

The story then mentions his most famous work "The Brave Little Toaster" and cites a NY Times book review about it, giving the impression that he garnered favorable critiques of his work.

Then there is the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts who speaks to why he was important in the grand scheme of things, which is a nice way to learn more about him from one of his peers.

Finally, there is a critic who chose three of Disch's books for a 100 best of list, then the typically background and history, all wrapping up with another friend who said he frequently talked of suicide.

Analysis: Numbers

This box office recap from Entertainment Weekly obviously uses numbers throughout the story.

The story is about how much money various movies brought in over the weekend, so the reportes uses them to show that. They are simply dollar amounts, so it's not too difficult to understand, but at times I feel the story lumps too many numbers together.

For example: "Will Smith's Hancock was a solid second-place finisher, earning $33 mil on a decent 47 percent decline from its big July 4th opening weekend. In just 10 days, the movie has $165 mil in the domestic bank."

While it's not difficult, I think it could read better if it was written "earning almost half what it did last weekend, pulling in $33 mil." Using half versus the percentage I think is a clearer way to illustrate the point of that sentence and resonates more with the reader.

Also, that sentence is an example of using math, figuring out the percent decrease. Another point is in a fact that I feel is kind of buried at the end of the story, that overall, intake was down 15 percent from a year ago.

As far as sources, and I have to admit this is something I've never considered, but I have no idea where these numbers come from. I would like to know who keeps track of these numbers and where they come from since we hear so much about them.

Did that just happen?

Here it is, another round up of some of the strangest, quirkiest and most novel news stories of the week.

Item #1: Glad they cleared that up. Wisconsin court rules it is illegal to have sex with a dead body.

Item #2: If this guy wasn't already doing this... I'd say he needs a hobby. At any rate, he might need a new one.. Man breaks "most seats sat in 48 hours" record by sitting in 39,250 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

Item #3: Something I've always wondering... does an octopus have a favorite tentacle? Well thank goodness some marine scientists have sought out to answer this, the most important question of our time. They, of course, gave them a rubik's cube to find out.

Item #4: Famous last words... 'Don't worry. I've got it,' a Texas truck driver said moments before a four-ton pipe fell on him.

Item #5: Only in Europe.. woman seeks man to carry her 253 meters to win a "wife-carrying contest" and win her body weight (120 kg) in beer.

Item #6: You don't see this everyday, German "chess-boxing" championship takes place in Berlin. Competitors alternate four minutes of chess and three minutes of boxing.

Item #7: No creative entry needed for this one... teenager finds bat nesting, where else? In her bra.

Item #8: If trying to sell your vote on eBay is a felony as one U student found out a week or so ago, what's the penalty for trying to sell a baby? One couple in Germany is about to find out.

Item #9: I know gas is expensive, but come on! Orlando man trades naming rights for his son in to radio station, getting $100 gas card in return. The poor kid will be named "Dixon and Willoughby Partin" just like that.

Item #10: Who knew they could be that dangerous? Woman kills husband with a folding couch in St. Petersburg, Russia.

July 10, 2008

Ever find yourself annoyed at the office?

After working at the Daily offices for more than a year, I find myself annoyed by office-type behavior that probably should be no concern of a college student for at least another five years or so.

But alas, someone printing multiple pages of something (that sometimes isn't even work related) and not refilling the paper, burning popcorn so the whole office smells and stealing coffee/coffee filters are just some of the things I've noticed...

Ever had similar feelings, then this story from the Times is for you. It's a call for more workplace manners and cites behavior such as leaving food in the communal fridge so long it becomes some kind of "science experiment." (Also something I've noticed at the Daily, there's actually a fridge with a disclaimer, something to the effect of "Open me with caution, I smell."

A humorous anecdote from the Times:
Lynne R. Viccaro. Every day her work at her former marketing job on Long Island was made all but impossible by a woman at a nearby desk who had an enmeshed relationship with her cellphone. It was also her home phone, and therefore rang all the time. Its ring tone (“Get the Party Started,? by Pink) was set at rock-concert decibels, and despite direct requests from surrounding colleagues, the woman never changed the setting to vibrate.

One day the offender went to a meeting and the phone “started thumping and pumping? on her desk, Ms. Viccaro said. In a moment of inspiration, Ms. Viccaro took the shrieking device and wrapped it in bubble wrap and duct tape until it resembled a noisy basketball, then crammed it into the bottom drawer of its owner’s desk.

“The real fun started,? Ms. Viccaro explained in an e-mail message, “when she got back and heard the now-muffled sound of her cell,? trying to announce a missed call. She rescued the phone from its plastic tomb and shrieked “Who did this to my phone??

Ms. Viccaro proudly confessed.

“Why?? the woman yelled.

Ms. Viccaro’s reply? “Because there wasn’t an open window nearby.?

Well done, we say. Well done.

This is also something I've noticed, personally, not to mention co-workers discussing trials and tribulations of their personal relationships just steps away from where you're trying to work.

However, while the story is funny, the comments take the cake here (presently, there are 385 of them):

"When the boss farts while talking to you."

"I work in an open environment office. One of my "neighbors" clips her fingernails at her desk. Clip. Clip. Clip. Argh!"

"I share an office with a very nice guy..only problem he stinks!!! I know that he does wash himself and his clothes look clean but he sweats a lot and his body odour is horrible. It looks like he has never heard of anti-perspirant and I don't know how to broach the subject with him..."

"I am easily annoyed by grown adults leaving messes in the staff room."

"You mean like the lady who snaps and pops her gum incessantly every day for eight hours straight, or the guy who loudly slurps his coffee for two hours then loudly slurps water the rest of the day, or the ridiculously large wig wearing lady who wears so much perfume she leaves a plume of stench 10 feet in her wake, you mean them?"

Finally, "Army Reserve folks serving in Baghdad. Always in full uniform, helmets and guns included, when they are sitting at their internets in bullet proof safe offices reading mom's email - bragging and talking tough language with other similar characters. Then at night, when there is real potential danger they go first jogging, then swimming, then get drunk and all in civilian cloths and obviously no weapons."

Isn't work hilarious?

July 9, 2008

Kennedy casts vote

Senator Ed Kennedy, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in May, made his return to Capital Hill today to vote for congressional Medicare bill.

Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, specifically a malignant glioma. When the news broke, the prognosis wasn't very cheerful...

As previously reported on this blog:
The Society for Neurology says that brain cancer is "aggressive" and "lethal" and that it has always been "one of the most devastating diseases because they are so difficult to treat, much less cure." And that’s just general brain tumors...
The type that Kennedy has? The outlook appears even grimmer.
"A glioma tumor is particularly damaging because it tends to quickly sprout and spread within the brain. Each year, approximately 20,000 Americans find out that they have a glioma. More than half die within 18 months," according to SFN.
A report from the National Cancer Institute says malignant glioma accounts for more than half of all brain cancer cases diagnosed each year and the tumors are currently the second-most common cause of cancer death for those 15- to 44-years-old.

Overall, he looked pretty good. Check out this AP photo.

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July 8, 2008

Strib columnist lampooned

Popular (one way or another) columnist for the Strib Katherine Kersten is currently being parodied on social networking website twitter.com.

Kersten, who has made a name for herself in the Twin Cities for her right-leaning (some would call this an understatement) political columns, recently drew ire over two particular instances.

1: She wrote a column about a student group at the U that the Daily already had written about, borrowing many quotes, some, the sources say, were taken out of context. Read for yourself here.
It drew a staunch rebuttal from City Pages that ran this story after both the Daily story and Kersten's column had ran.
"Katherine Kersten is an evil, evil bitch," one member of the group was quoted as saying in City Pages.
A letter to the editor even accused her of plagiarism, but I couldn't find a link to that, but I promise it exists.

2: Drawing attention to potentially overly religious policies at a muslim charter school at Inver Grove Heights. The school experienced an increase in threats following the column. The outrage eventually led to a petition calling for her ouster.

Anyway, back to the point. The website boasts such faux-columns titles as:

"No office for me today. Independence Day Eve should be a sacred federal holiday. Not that I want more government involvement, mind you."
Followed by: "Only 364 more shopping days until Ameica's next birthday. Remember, spending is patriotic."

"I believe we should return to a time where men wore suit jackets and ties to the office. Although if we did, I probably wouldn't be here."

Finally: "I am looking forward to President McCain's Supreme Court. With one more justice we may be able to bring back stoning as legal punishment."

July 6, 2008

Did that just happen?

Here is the third installation of a compilation of all the crazy things that happen in the world/news:

Item #1: Not necessarily news, but definitely weird. A woman who decided to become a hampster... seriously.

Item #2: Whoops. Surgery goes really, really.... REALLY wrong.

Item #3: Grandma got run over by... her car? 91-year-old woman stuck under car for two whole days.

Item #4: It only seems right... Man rips Adolph Hitler's head off... his wax head that is..

Item #5: Glad we got that taken care of... UK Court rules Pringles don't have enough potato content to be subject to tax... Maybe that's what the American Revolution was all about? "Give me Pringles or give me death!"

Item #6: There's no such thing as a free lunch, even if you have a heart attack. Man accused of faking heart attacks to receive free restaurant tabs and cab fares.

Item #7: One that's sure to have everyone asking, "have you seen that one Arrested Development?" Man (actually) flies in lawn chair tied to balloons.

Item #8: Why not? 'Highway to hell' one of most requested songs for funerals in Australia.

Item #9: Seems like a good idea. Two-year-old boy takes dog for walk, at 3 a.m.

Item #10: Last, but not least... Formerly homeless man who was working at the hostel that took him in wins lottery.

July 3, 2008

'Gonzo' the movie coming to Minneapolis

A documentary about my personal, absolute favorite journalist ever will be playing at the Lagoon theater in Uptown this weekend.

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The film about Hunter S. Thompson looks at the late-journalist's life, through his time with the Hell's Angels to his failed run for Aspen sheriff in 1970.

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His time with the Hell's Angels inspired his book by the same name... and ended with him in the hospital due to a beating he received from the memebers he spent months with previously.

Go see it. That's all.

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