April 2011 Archives

Easter eggs like raindrops...

Thousands of multi-colored plastic Easter eggs will be falling from the sky this Saturday at Lake Elmo's Oak-Land Junior High school.

Children will be treated to music and a visit from the Easter Bunny, according to the Pioneer Press. Then at 11:15 a.m. the eggs will be released from a helicopter ("call it the Hopper Chopper") over the school's athletic field. Any eggs that fail to fit into the helicopter will be scattered by earthbound volunteers.

Then begins the real fun. The Valley Creek Church, who is sponsoring the event, is hoping to minimize chaos and unfair competition by dividing the children (12 and under) into four age groups, the Star Tribune reported. Each group will head to its own section of the field to gather eggs.

Inside the eggs will be candy, for the most part, but some children will instead discover coupons that they can redeem for prizes including an iPad 2, a Nintendo Wii, an American Girl doll, and a bicycle and a helmet, according to the Star Tribune's report.

The Valley Creek Church, which has an attendance of approximately 250 people, currently rents space at Oak-Land Junior High, according to the Pioneer Press. The egg drop is just a dramatic example of the community outreach they try to engage in year-round, explained children's pastor Charity Silvis in the Oakdale Lake Elmo Review.

Absent from advance reports of the event are any mention of religious activities or overtones. It would seem this day is to be purely for the worship of the Easter Bunny, although perhaps the winners of the big prizes will feel that there was some sort of divine presence involved.

Attn: fans of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

A man with dark, unkempt hair and a beard that can only be called scruffy stepped through the pj.jpgrounded doorway. The sand colored walls and wooden trim were dimly lit, although the rounded hallway, or tunnel, from which he had come stretched back to reveal a patch of sunlight. His button down plaid shirt and baggy gray sweater lent him a casual, professorial appearance.

"Hello. Welcome to the first of our blogs on the making of The Hobbit," said Peter Jackson, the director of the long awaited prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The approximately 10 minute video, released to fans via Jackson's Facebook page, had Jackson giving a tour of some of the most iconic sets from the Lord of the Rings, according to Terri Schwartz for the MTV Movie Blog. Bag End and Elrond's Chambers were recreated exactly for The Hobbit, so nothing new there to fans of the Lord of the Rings, but Jackson has also promised new bits of Rivendell in the film.

One new set is partially revealed--the goblin tunnels under the Misty Mountains, where main character Bilbo Baggins has an "infamous encounter", according to New Zealand's TV3 News.

The vlog also gave viewers a glimpse of other behind-the-scenes tidbits--props, costumes, fight-training, and a look at Andy Serkis all decked out in his Gollum motion capture suit, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

If that's not enough, fans were also treated to an excerpt from the Maori welcoming ceremony, or Powhiri, that was conducted at the main sound stage on the first day of filming. Although there have been some disagreements between the filmmakers and the indigenous New Zealanders who, according to Blastr, refused to allow Jackson to shoot scenes at Mount Ngauruhoe (which depicted Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings) for The Hobbit, the relationship is apparently still sound.

The Hobbit will be the first film to be shot at a rate of 48 frames per second--double the rate of every movie that has been made since the 1920's, according to The Hollywood Reporter. This will give it enhanced clarity and smoothness, Jackson said.

Only 10,000 screens worldwide have the capability of projecting at 48 frames per second, however, although Jackson hopes that will have changed by December 2012 when the first Hobbit film is due to be released. (The second one should hit theaters by December 2013.)

Gray and gold: filth and hope in La Rinconada

La Rinconada is a gray city, perched precariously on the side of a mountain peak more than 17,000 feet above sea level in southeast Peru, reported Michael Robinson Chavez for the Los Angeles Times. The pathways through the town are a mix of mud, sewage, trash, and mercury, running between the corrugated tin dwellings. This is a gold-mining town.

Not only is the city bereft of warmth and color, but also government and law. Recently, however, citizens have begun to tackle the lawlessness themselves, stepping in to settle disputes that would previously have been settled with a knife, a gun, or a fist, Chavez reported. This has made the streets somewhat safer in during the day, although stabbings are still common after dark.

Citizen-led law enforcement took on a grim reality just over a week ago when residents of La Rinconada burned three men alive for gold theft.

A group of residents caught four men carrying gold which they had apparently just stolen from a local storage facility, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune. The residents held an informal "trial", during which one man was acquitted because he claimed he had been forced to take part in the heist, and the other three were subsequently burned alive.

Violence is not the only dangerous aspect of life in La Rinconada. For the miners, there are the threats of cave-ins, faulty dynamite fuses, or poisonous pockets of gas within the mines, according to Chavez.

For everybody, there is the danger that accompanies living on a cold mountainside dwarfed by a huge gray glacier and heavily polluted with, among other toxins, the mercury commonly used to amalgamate the gold.

The population of La Rinconada has doubled in the last five years to approximately 50,000, Chavez reported, as people rush to take advantage of high gold prices. Now there are enough children there that they have even built a school.

Many children still spend hours a day scaling the steep mountainside, searching for gold among the shale.

Trump v. Collins

Donald Trump seemed to have been walking a fine line between charisma and insanity this last week.

Trump got involved in a tit-for-tat with New York Times columnist Gail Collins, responding to her "Donald Trump Gets Weirder" column with a letter to the editor also published in the NYT.

Starting with a scathing review of Collins' skills, the impact of which was only slightly lessened by the grammatically incorrect wording ("Her storytelling ability and word usage...is not at a very high level..."), Trump went on to defend his belief that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.

In return, Collins wrote another article deriding Trump and debunking his arguments. In the end, this exchange served as "some unexpected light relief", wrote Christina Lamb for The Australian.

The Jesus at the edge

110410061412_Jesus statue close up.jpgThe seven-foot high subject of a St. Paul city council zoning dispute, a marble statue of Jesus, was damaged by a fire early this morning.

The statue stood on a pedestal in Tuan Pham's back yard, a part of his catholic-based prayer garden, according to Kare11. Pham, 75, had custom ordered the replica of the 105-foot Christ of Vung Tau statue from his native Vietnam.

At 10 feet away from the Mississippi River bluff line, the marble Christ was 30-feet too near. The St. Paul City Council voted 5-2 on Wednesday to uphold a zoning board decision which would not allow Pham a variance for the statue.

Early this morning Pham and his wife awoke to find a pile of lighted boards gathered at the base of the statue, the Star Tribune reported. The fire was put out with minimal damage to the statue.

Joe Soucheray for the Pioneer Press pointed out that Pham's Jesus is not the only stature violating the 40-foot bluff line rule; a statue on the corner of Prospect Boulevard and Stryker Avenue, about 8 blocks from Pham's (and seemingly on the public boulevard) stands as close as or closer to the bluffs.

Also, if the 40-foot setback rule truly applied to "any material change in the use of the land", as council member Kathy Landry commented, then it would also have to apply to such things as benches.

Pham believes that the fire was an act of arson, related somehow to the current legal actions, the Pioneer Press reported. (It would not be the first time the statue was targeted. Not long after Pham had it put up last fall, someone shot it with a paintball.)

Pham fled Vietnam, where he said he had been prosecuted for his Catholic beliefs, according to Kare11.

"This is certainly not the part of the American dream he was looking for," said his son-in-law, quoted in the Star Tribune.

South Africa's president Jacob Zuma, who was head of an African Union delegation to Libya, announced that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had accepted an African Union-proposed "road map" to peace today, according to Voice of America.

Zuma's proposal included an immediate cease-fire, humanitarian aid, protection for foreign nationals, and political reforms, reported Peter S. Green for Bloomberg.

This may be a useless diplomacy attempt. The next step is to bring the plan to the leaders of the uprising, which the African delegation plans to do Monday.

The rebel leaders have previously rejected the notion of a cease-fire that would have left Gadhafi or one of his sons in power, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Moreover, the African Union may fail to qualify as an impartial negotiator, according to an Associated Press report. Col. Gadhafi invested substantial wealth from Libya in the AU as chair of that organization two years ago, and has received substantial support from member countries.

"30 Hmongs in a House" not funny to everybody

KDWB's Dave Ryan in the Morning show has faced sharp criticism over a song parodying the Hmong community, broadcast last week.

The song, performed on air by cast member "Steve-O" (Steve LaTart), contained lyrics about how Hmong live packed in a house like "sardines" and Hmong women have seven children by the time they are 23, according to the Pioneer Press.

In a commentary on MPR, Hmong comedian and entertainer Tou Ger Xiong criticized the song for being not just offensive, but dangerous for its potential influence on public opinion. The song perpetuated stereotypes that many find degrading and dehumanizing, Xiong wrote; he went on to cite instances of violence perpetrated on Hmong individuals as examples of the danger of dehumanizing a group.

AT&T and Health Partners pulled their advertising off of KDWB, Fox 9 reported. AT&T Minnesota president Bob Bass said that AT&T would not financially support a station which allowed discrimination to be included in its broadcasts.

Some found the backlash to be unwarranted. "I had to wonder when we ceded to the most sensitive and thin-skinned among us the right to set the limits on public discourse," wrote Chisago City resident John Kirby in a letter to the Star Tribune.

KDWB issued an apology via the Dave Ryan in the Morning Show's Facebook page, stating that they were sorry if they had inadvertently offended anyone and stressing that the shows audience would have known that the song was a parody, the Pioneer Press reported.

Still, several Hmong notables were unimpressed by the apology. Bee Vang, the Hmong American actor who played Thao Vang Lor in the film "Gran Torino", wrote in an opinion piece for the Pioneer Press that the apology was half-hearted, and called the song "racist and harmful". "Yes, we all have freedom of speech, but some have more than others. If we Hmong avail ourselves of it, we might just be laying the groundwork for more backlash," Vang wrote.

In Ivory Coast, slaughter over presidential conflict

Mass slaughter was reported in the Ivory Coast this last week, although the numbers are still unclear.

A report by the UK's Press Association put the death toll in the city of Duekuoe, where forces supporting the internationally recognized president-elect Allassane Ouatarra moved against those loyal to the current president, Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down, at 430.

The UK's Daily Mirror described the same incident, but reported the deaths to number 330, while Business Week claimed that at least 800 had been killed in Duekuoe. Aid groups could not confirm which forces were responsible for the killings.

Now, in what the Press Association has called "the final battle," thousands of pro-Outtarra forces have gathered some 20 miles from the presidential palace, where supporters of Gbagbo have answered a call to act as a human-shield and are waiting for their opponents with AK-47's at the ready.

The election on November 28 was the first in the Ivory Coast since a decade, according to Business Week.

A United Nations observation mission was on hand to oversee the elections, and had confirmed Outtarra's win with 54% of the vote, the Press Association reported.

Fundraising begins for presidential election of 2012

Spring is here, the second financial quarter of 2011 is now underway, and politicians with an interest in the 2012 elections are beginning to poke their heads out of the thawing ground and stretch out new tendrils in search of money.

This includes the sitting president. President Obama is expected to officially start his re-election campaign this week, and campaign manager Jim Messina has asked a group of elite donors to raise $350,000 each this year, according to the Washington Post.

If each of the 450 top donors meets that challenge, that would mean an unprecedented $157 million by the end of 2011--and that's not counting contributions from smaller donors, which are also expected to be significant, The New York Times reported.

The top contenders for the Republican nomination, by comparison, plan to raise $55 million (Haley Barbour), $50 million (Mitt Romney), $30 million (Newt Gingrich), and $25 million (Tim Pawlenty) for the primaries, according to a report by the Associated Press.

"In 2012, the Republican candidates are going to be in the same position as they were in 2008: chasing Obama," political fundraising expert Anthony Corrado told USA Today. "He has the biggest base of donors [4 million] at the beginning of a re-election campaign of any president in history."

Obama has already brought in $1.5 million dollars at a fundraiser in New York City just last week, reported ABC News. Some speculate that he will be the first $1 billion presidential candidate. For his 2008 campaign Obama raised three-quarters of that amount, a grand total of $750 million.

Minnesota's new budget will likely include major cuts in spending, although the bills working their way through the Republican-controlled house and senate will probably have to be substantially amended before Democratic governor Mark Dayton agrees to sign them into law.

The goal is to make up for a $5 billion deficit, and provide a balanced budget for the next two years, reported the Post Bulletin.

Republicans want to solve the deficit purely through cuts in spending, according to Doug Grow at Minn Post. Cuts which made their way through the legislature this past week included $1.6 billion from proposed Department of Human Services spending and $400 million dollars from higher education. Nearly two thirds of the Department of Human Rights' budget would also be cut, as well as substantial DNR funding.

The cuts to health and human services would translate into repealing the expansion of Medical Assistance which Governor Dayton had planned in accordance with the new federal healthcare law, as well as forcing more than 100,000 low-income Minnesotans off of Medical Assistance and cutting coverage for eyeglasses, dentures, and prosthetics for adults, the Austin Post Bulletin reported.

The Minnesota Daily and Fox 21 reported that the cuts to higher education would be closer to $300 million, and Fox 21 framed the issue by pointing out that this was a vote to lower the budget of state run colleges from $2.8 billion to $2.5 billion. These would nevertheless be the largest reductions to higher education in state history, the Minnesota Daily reported.

Governor Dayton has proposed to balance the budget through a combination of spending cuts and tax raises, Grow reported for Minn Post in an earlier article. Dayton would like to see taxes raised for the top five percent of wage earners, which he argues would merely bring their tax rate up to match the middle class tax rate. The top five percent now pays taxes at a 9.3 percent rate; the lower 90 percent pays at a rate of 12.3 percent.

The disagreements ought to be worked out by May 23, the end of the legislative session, although some experts see no signs of compromise and doubt the deadline will be met, according to the Minnesota Daily.

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