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April 26, 2007

Scientists discover Earth-like planet that may contain water

A rocky planet, similar to Earth's size, has been discovered located in the Milky Way not to far from Earth, according to the San Francisco Chronicle (http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/25/MNGRQPEQFR1.DTL).
Scientists say the planet lies within its star's habitable zone, where life and oceans could possibly exist. So far, this planet is the smallest "exoplanet" (planet outside our solar system) of nearly 200 discovered by scientists in the last few decades.
The discovery has sparked excitement among scientists internationally.
The planet's sun is a red dwarf, a common variety of star that is much smaller and less hot than our sun. The sun is in the constellation Libra, and lies on 20.5 light years away, a very short distance in astronomical terms.
Because the sun is so cool, the planet is much closer to it than Earth, and orbits its sun every 13 days. The average temperature on the planet ranges from 34 to 104 degrees. The planet is an estimated 5 times the size of Earth.
Some scientists were skeptical. The planet could be gaseous, icy, or rock-like. It will take around two decades of tests to determine if there is water on it.
According to an AP report, most of the speculation about water and life on this planet is not confirmed and based on no hard evidence (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18316810/).
The planet was discovered by a group of European scientists, led by a Swiss man. The discovery was made from an observatory in Chile.

I really liked the Chronicle story because it focused specifically on the discovery and provided a lot of solid, interesting factual information about the planet. This was one instance where I was reading and I didn't want to know to much context about how it was found or by whom. I thought the Chronicle took the right focus. The AP story focused too much on the scientists, which detracted from what was really newsworthy in the story. Both stories did a good job dumbing down the scientific language in concise, understandable terms. The comparisons to Earth also helped illuminate the importance of the discovery. If there was one key problem, it's that dissenting opinions from scientists who don't think this planet could support life were put aside or marginalized.

April 22, 2007

Opposition wants Nigerian vote annulled

The top opposition leader in Nigeria's presidential election wants Saturday's vote to be annulled, after he claimed that the ruling party corrupted and skewed the election, according to an Associated Press article (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/world/4737682.html).
Vice President Atiku Abubaka, who recently had a falling out with President Obasanjo, said it was the worst election Nigeria had ever seen. He called for the results to be rejected and for a new vote to be held.
The national Electoral Comission Chairman Maurice Iwu said the was free and fair and defended it's legitmacy.
However, The Transition Monitoring Group, an independent election monitoring group and the largest in Nigeria, called for the election to be annulled, saying voting hadn't even taken place in many of the Nigeria's 36 states.
Local reporters witnessed that many polls ran out of ballots, didn't ever recieve ballots. There were also reports of intimidation at polling places by thugs with guns. Many of the places that experienced these problems were in oppostion strongholds.
The other opposition leader, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, said that no election had taken place.
Election officials said the hoped to announce the results Monday.
According to a BBC story, Obasanjo is stepping down from the presidency and his ruling party, the People's Democratic Party, had chosen Umaru Yar'Adua to replace him (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6581993.stm).
There was also an attempt to blow up the election headquarters. Policemen were killed in one state while escorting election officials. Some armed men stole election ballot boxes in another state.
The new government willl take power on May 29th, and if elections aren't regulated, some believe that upset opposition parties could incite violence and create a power struggle.

I found it interesting that each of these articles focused on different aspects of the election fraud. The AP story downplayed the violence, instead focusing on the ballots showing up late at polling places or certain names not being on the ballot. The BBC story played up the violence, giving several examples of officials and civilians being killed in armed struggles. I think the BBC story did a slightly better job getting a complete view of the election problems. The descriptions of violence give the reader a more visceral idea of how corrupt the elections were. One problem I had with both stories is that they neglected to develop some political and historical context. For example, why is Obasanjo stepping down? What are his policies? Why did Abubakar fall out with the ruling party? Is violence common in Nigerian elections? The narrow focus of each story, which want just to look at the specific problems of this election, doesn't help the reader see the systemic influence of corruption on the society and on the fabric of democracy.

April 16, 2007

Al-Sadr's ministers to leave Iraqi government

Shiite cleric and militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr will announce Monday the removal of six of his ministers from their positions in the Iraqi government to pressure the government to make the U.S. leave from Iraq, according to a CNN report (http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/04/15/sadr.maliki/).
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has opposed setting a timetable. The boycott of the government will remove the ministers in the ministries of Health, Agriculture, Province Affairs, Transportation, Tourism and Civil Society Organizations. Sadr's members in the Iraqi parliament will not be affected by the boycott.
Al-Sadr is very popular in the Shiite portions of Iraq. He opposed the U.S.-led occupation and his militia, the Mehdi army, has fought coalition troops.
Sadr's forces attempted a boycott last November, which was ended after a deal was struck this January after talks with both Maliki and the White House.
Al-Sadr's faction was also instrumental in getting Maliki elected last year. His groups holds much sway in the government.
According to a Reuters article, the movement is unlikely to overthrow the government, but it will create tensions in a government that is struggling to heal secretarian divisions (http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/story.html?id=17bee177-6545-433e-88e6-1b2b09fb7e63&k=59263&p=1).
The Mehdi army has been low-profile in the last few months under the orders of al-Sadr.
Tens of thousands of people protested the U.S. occupation last week in Najaf under al-Sadr's wishes. Al-Sadr claims to be in Iraq but Pentagon officials have claimed that he is currently in Iran.

The CNN article seems to focus mostly on the present, while the Reuters article focuses a lot on the context and the recent past events. For example, the Reuters article mentions al-Sadr's recent activities, his whereabouts and goes further into demonstrating his political clout. The CNN article feels by-the-numbers, a typical Iraq story that focuses too narrowly and doesn't really let the reader see the bigger picture. The Reuters article also gives a better idea of what the political consequences of this will be, with quotes from policymakers spread throughout. CNN buries all the quotes at the end of the story, which don't really serve to reinforce any of the statements earlier in the article. One thing that did bother me about the Reuters article was that it refered to al-Sadr as "fiery" in the lead. I think this could be construed as editorializing. Plus, fiery seems to me to almost have a connotation of "satanic" or "overly agressive." I think more obejctive adjectives would have been better.

April 3, 2007

Corrections

I have gone through the corrections sections of both the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Post structures its corrections by giving links to the revised article, which has a note on top explaining the change they made from the original story. For example, a story about the delay of an armed robbery court case had identified a police officer as a captain when he was actually a corporal. I'm assuming that this information about this corporal came from a second-hand source and the writer did not think to double check the facts. An obituary story, which I've noticed through my searching often has a lot of errors, omitted a family member of the deceased who was included in the revised version. This was probably due to deadline implications. A story about the Coast Guard and retiring officers shareholdings in private firms involved with the Coast Guard said Tom Ridge was declined to comment. In actually Ridge said that when he joined the board of a company later bought by Lockheed Martin, the firm had no plans to sell and expected to grow as a stand-alone company. I'm not sure if this means that Ridge said his comments were off the record after he said this or if this was taken from another interview in another story. Either way it does have a significant impact on how Ridge looks in the story. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/linkset/2005/04/25/LI2005042500027.html?nid=roll_corrections).

April 2, 2007

Taliban ally's father says plea deal proof of corruption

The Australian Taliban ally, David Hicks, will return to Australia from Guantanamo Bay as part of the plea bargain, which Hicks's father says points to corruption in the government, according to an AP report (http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2007-04-01-australia-gitmo_N.htm).
David Hicks, a 31-year-old Muslim convert, had been a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay for five years. He was recently sentenced to a 9-month prison sentence in Adelaide, Austrailia after admitting he aided al-Qaeda. His plea bargain also states that he must be not talk to the media for 12 months and that he can't pursue legal action against the United States on allegations of abuse.
Hicks's father, Terry, said the plea bargain shows the weakness of the case against his son, as well as the corruption involved.
Opposition lawmakers have said the bargain was to remove political embarassment for Prime Minister John Howard, who is running for reelection at the end of this year.
The U.S. had originally said that David Hicks deserved a 20-year sentence, which has lead many to believe the Australian government was involved in the plea. Howard had been under increasing pressure from the Australian public who were angry at Hicks's long detention without trial.
The Australian government has denied any involvement in the plea agreement.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Hicks' gag order will expire soon after the elections are over (http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2007/04/01/1175366080767.html).
David Hicks said he plans to finish his schooling after he is released. It has not been decided how he will be supervised upon his release. Under the deal, Hicks has agreed that for seven years he will testify against accused terrorists in Australia and the US, raising speculation that his safety could be at risk.

I really enjoyed both of these stories and I thought each took an interesting angle. The AP story focused on the father's words and criticism of the government. The first half of the story describes the plea bargain in detail and provides quotes from dissenters. The perspective of the government is saved for the end of the story. The Herald article focuses on the goverment's denial of the corruption and conspiracy claims. It quotes several people within the Austrailian government. I thought this article also brought up the aftermath of Hicks's sentence well.

March 22, 2007

Senate Panel authorizes subpoenas of White House aides in prosecutor firings inquiry

Following a similar ruling in the House Judiciary Committee, a Senate panel agreed Thursday to authorize subpoenas for top White House aides, including Karl Rove, involved in the firing of several federal prosecutors, according to an AP report (http://news.bostonherald.com/politics/view.bg?articleid=190150&format=&page=1).
The decision by the Senate Judiciary Committee was a reaction to the President Bush's offer to grant a few officials to testify, as long as they were not under oath and the interviews weren't public. So far no subpoenas have been issued, but this will now be a bargaining chip for Congress.
Several Republican think the subpoenas are premature in the investigation, but some do support them.
Attorney General Roberto Gonzales said he'd cooperate with Congress, but reiterated he has no plans to step down despite calls from many Democrats to do so.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said that if the testimony becomes public, the proceedings will become too political and subject to TV drama-type pandering.
Republican Senator Arlen Specter is attempting to work a compromise, where officials would testify publicly, but not under oath.
According to the New York Times, Tony Snow also indicated that the White House will challenge any subpoena submitted (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/22/washington/22cnd-attorney.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&hp).
Gonzales has reiterated that none of the federal prosecutors were fired due to ongoing investigations. Seven of the 8 federal prosecutors were fired last December. Democrats raised questions after e-mails linked to top White House officials called for the removal of prosecutors were not "loyal Bushies." Several of the prosecutors were highly successful with strong performance ratings. Some have speculated that many were fired due to political motivated reasons and also due to corruption investigations they were prosecuting.

One interesting similarity between these articles was that both articles put Karl Rove in the lead, although he wasn't mentioned very much in each article. It is probably due to the fact that Rove's name ellicits a strong reaction from many readers. The AP story tries to dissect the spectrum of opinions on the issue, balancing quotes from Democrats, White House officials, and Republican in Congress, which support the subpoenas in varying degrees. I liked the fact the article didn't look at this as just a two-sided issue, but a complex grouping of disparate opinions.
The one thing I didn't like was that both articles didn't provide a good enough background into the context of the story. I wanted to know more about the acutal firings and why they were so controversial. Also, I wish they gave a better idea of what the President's power is in hiring and firing attorneys. Why can the President fire federal prosecutors? How did he get this power? Has it always been this way? The Times article functioned in a very similar way, using quotes from several lawmakers to balance the issue and present the spectrum of ideas.

March 19, 2007

Three students killed in attack on Thai school

Three students were killed in an attack on an Islamic school in southern Thailand Saturday night, according to an AP report (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/03/18/world/main2581686.shtml).
Seven students were also injured after attackers threw explosives and opened fire on the school dormitory in Thailand's Songkhla province.
Thai police have blamed the attack on Islamic insurgents, explaining the attack as an attempt to get the villagers to support their cause against the military. The villagers believe the attack was led by the police and the military.
More than 500 protesters gathered Sunday morning protesting the violence. The deceased, a 12-year-old and two 14 year olds, were carried through the crowd.
Thailand's southern provinces have thousands of Islamic schools. Police believe some of these school harbor insurgents.
According to a BBC report, there are several paramilitary organizations operating in southern Thailand (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6463565.stm).
There has been an upsurge in violence in the south following the military-led coup in Thailand last September. Thailand, although a predominantly Buddhist country, is heavily Islamic in its southern provinces, which are more closely associated to the Malays and Indonesians.

The AP story begins with a strong "what" lead, describing the attack. The events of the attack lead into Sunday's protests, and then the story breaks down into the perspectives of who is responsible for the deaths. I didn't like the fact that only quotes by police and military officials were used, while the villagers remained an anonymous mob in the story. I thought the story could have also brought in relatives or friends of the deceased. I also thought the added context of previous attacks at the end was unclear and confusing. The BBC lead wasn't as effective, using very simple, static language to describe the attack. There is less focus on the protests here. The story similiarly brings up the conflict between the villagers and the police. However, it does give a better idea of the villager perspective, but it does it through paraphrasing a BBC reporter, which I did not like. One thing the BBC article did very well was put the attacks in a more concise, crisp historical context.

March 5, 2007

third night of riots in Copenhagen

Dozens of protesters were arrested Sunday in Copenhagen, Denmark in the third straight night of public upheaval, according to an AP report (http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=2922021&page=1).
The protests have been triggered by the eviction of squattors from a notable youth center in Copenhagen. The violence Sunday did not reach the levels of the previous two nights. Over 600 arrests total have been made in the unrest.
An anti-terror squad evicted the squatters three days ago. The "Youth Center" had been a safe-haven for leftists for many years. Vladimir Lenin had stayed there, and world famous musicians Bjork and Nick Cave performed there.
The eviciton was planned last year. Six years ago the Copenhagen City Council purchased the building, and last year had sold it to a Christian organization.
The protests mark the largest upheaval in Denmark since the 1993 protests of a European Union referendum.
According to The Independent, 140 foreigners were among the arrested, including several Swedes and some Americans (http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article2328814.ece).

The AP article begins with a brief description of Sunday's violence before going into the background of the story. It gives some interesting history of the youth center and also provides solid context for the last three days of rioting. The one thing I did not like was the lack of quotes in the article, particularly from the side of the protesters. The descriptions were detailed, but it lacked a human perspective. The Independent's article was very similar. It focused even less on Sunday's violence, bringing up the total figures on the riots in the second paragraph. This article also gave really good background information, but also lacked the personal viewpoint. Also, both article's left me with many questions. Do the protests look like they are dying down? What is the damage to community infrastructure? Who are these people protesting? Leftist-sympathizer is too narrow of a label.

February 24, 2007

Wimbeldon awards equal prize money to both male and female players

The All England Club decided on Thursday to award equal pay and prize money to both male and female players at this year's Wimbeldon tennis tournament, according to an AP report (http://www.newsday.com/sports/tennis/sns-ap-ten-atp-wimbledon,0,6152761.story?coll=ny-tennis-print).
Wimbeldon is one of four major tournaments in professional tennis. The Australian and U.S. Open already offered equal pay and prize money. The French Open offers equal prize money to the champions, but not in terms of pay throughout the tournament.
The decision was controversial and not all male players agree. German player Tommy Haus said he didn't think the decision was fair, although he did acknowledge the increasing significance of women's tennis.
According to a Reuters report, The All England Club, which governs men's tennis, had reduced the pay gap throughout the last several decades, but had held out in making the prices equal (http://today.reuters.co.uk/news/articlenews.aspx?type=reutersEdge&storyID=2007-02-23T113004Z_01_NOA341365_RTRUKOC_0_TENNIS-WIMBLEDON-WOMEN.xml&pageNumber=1&imageid=&cap=&sz=13&WTModLoc=NewsArt-C1-ArticlePage1).
The club said that men gave better value as they play best-of-five set matches, while women play best of three. However, in recent years, critics responded by saying that the women's championship matches were much closer and more drawn out than the men's matches. Also women's tennis has been drawing an increasing number of sponsors.

The AP article focuses on the ATP's reaction to the decision of the announcement made by the All England Club. It contrasts the ATP's jubilance with the Haus quote that disagrees with the decision. There is only limited information on the actual decision. The article is almost entirely in quotes, which, in my opinion, works against the article. The author doesn't make any points, but simply provides a bunch of people's opinions on the decision. The Reuters article was better, but I felt at times it was biased. It used strongly, accusatory language, such as refering to the All England Club as stubborn. However, the article did a nice job of support it's points with information from recent matches and figures on the pay gaps between male and female players. There was also a nice variety of quotes to support some points, although a few at the end are just opinions, and in my opinion, could've been left out.

February 18, 2007

Oil Company to pay $200 million for dumping toxic waste in Ivory Coast

A Dutch-based oil company agreed to pay the government of Ivory Coast $200 million to settle a lawsuit claming the company illegally dumped toxic waste in Abdijan last year, according to the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/15/world/africa/15ivory.html?_r=1&oref=slogin).
The company, Trafigura, which operates out of London, said the settlement wasn't an admission of guilt. The money will be used to build a new waste disposal plant and hospital.
At least ten people died and thousands were injured last August when the waste was dumped at several, densely populated sites. The spill also swamped the country's health care system, and caused the overthrow of several cabinet members in the government.
Last July, Trafigura sent their waste on the Probo Koala, a ship, to Amsterdam. However, the waste was too concentrated and potent that the waste disposal company in Amsterdam raised the price of waste disposal. Instead, the waste was redeployed to the Ivory Coast and put in the hands of the company Tommy. However, this company didn't have the supplies or knowledge to properly dispose of the waste, leading to the illegal dumping.
According to the Associated Press, in addition to the cash settlement, the Ivory Coast government released three Trafigura executives that were arrested in conjunction with the spill (http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-6420435,00.html).

The Times article begins by discussing the settlement, but then quickly shifts to the context of the spill and its effects on the people of Ivory Coast. The middle portion is a chronological story of how the waste got to be spilled and that part is very effective. It waits until the end to bring in some more of the debate involved. It also waits until the end to use the majority of its quotes. The AP article works quite similarly. It puts the conflict a little earlier in the story and uses more quotes. It goes into more specifics about the spill, but it waits until the very end to do so. I liked both articles and I especially like that they placed the story within a wide enough context so the reader could understand the whole issue. I found it surprising both writers focused more on the spill than on the settlement, but I liked that facet.

February 12, 2007

Turmenistan votes to replace dictator

Voters in Turkmenistan went to the polls Sunday to elect a new president for only the second time since the fall of the Soviet Union, according to The Guardian (http://http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2010923,00.html).
The election was set to replace former Turkmen dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, who passed away two months ago. The results will be announced on Wednesday. Officials are predicting that the winner is almost certain to be the acting president, Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov.
About 98% of the eligible population voted in the election. However, voters were only given six candidates all of which were from the same party. Opposition party leaders were banned from participating in the election.
Berdymukhamedov said he will follow the path of Niyazov but also has stated that he plans to make some social changes including improving access to the internet, providing better healthcare, and allowing more women into schools.
Niyazov had been a brutal and cultish dictator. He named the month of April after his mother, built revovling, golden statues of himself and deemed himself Turmenbashi the Great.
Westerns are hoping for the election to lead to better relations between the countries, as well as better access to the country by NGO's.
However, Westerners are weary of a possible power struggle that may ensue later this year.
According to an AP article in the Internation Herald Tribune, Berdymukhamedov kept a low profile during the election, even allotting them his TV campaign slots. (http://http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/02/12/asia/AS-POL-Turkmenistan-Election.php)
However, the article also states that Berdymukhamedov, despite offering social reform, shows few signs of instituting political reform. Turkmenistan is one of the world's leading producers in natural gas.
The Guardian article took a hard news approach to the story at first, but then went on to analyze the possible consequences of the election, instead of looking at the election itself. It quoted a Turkmen scholar, which I liked, but it didn't quote any government officials. I understand this is hard due to the government's repression of press freedom. I also thought the article took too much of a Western slant, analyzing how it could affect Westerners, while not mentioning the citizens of Turkmenistan. The AP article didn't focus on the Western perspective as much, and it also focused more on the recent political history of Turkmenistan which offered helpful context.

February 5, 2007

UK takes action in Ivory Coast waste spill case

A British court will hear a class-action lawsuit brought by 5,000 people in Ivory Coast who claimed to be injured by a toxic-waste spill from a UK-based company, according to the BBC. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6324051.stm)
Martyn Day of the Leigh Day and Co. law firm will be representing the citizens of Ivory Coast against Trafigura, a Dutch-owned company that runs most operations in London.
As a result of the chemical spills last August, ten people died and thousands fell ill near Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Day and other lawyers are travelling to Ivory Coast to assess the long-term affects from the toxic-waste spills.
Trafigura says that they never dumped any toxic=waste into Abidjan. They said that the waste tanks were handed over to and operated by a local contractor. Trafigura said it also wants to talk to Ivory Coast officials to determine what happened to the waste.
According to a CNN report, two French Trafigura directors were detained in Abidjan, facing charges under toxic waste laws. (http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/africa/02/02/IvoryCoast.Britain.reut/index.html)
The BBC story focuses mainly on Day and the lawsuit. It uses a lot of quotes from Day early on in the story. It counters in the middle section with a long written statement from a director from Trafigura. The article is very careful to remain even-handed, especially because it involves a lawsuit. It uses more quotes than most articles I've come across. The CNN article brings the Trafigura denial earlier on in the story. It also puts more emphasis on the environmental and health damage caused by the spill. Day's perspective is pushed further back into article. I personally liked reading both articles because they were even-handed, but dealt with the material in different ways.

January 29, 2007

Saudis seek Palestinian dialogue

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invited Palestinian leaders from both Fatah and Hamas to Mecca for discussions aimed at stopping the recent fighting between the rival parties, the BBC reports (http://http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6308071.stm).
Hamas and Fatah both accepted the invitation, but no date has been set as of yet.
At least 24 people have died in the last three days in the fighting between the groups.
The violence began in the Gaza strip and spread to the West Bank. A senior Hamas member was abducted by Fatah gunmen during the violence.
In a letter, King Abdullah said, " What is happening on the pure land of Palestine is a disgrace, which has tarnished the history of the honourable national struggle of the people of Palestine."
According to the New York Times, Saudi Arabia does not have a tradition of involvement in Palestinian affairs. (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/29/world/middleeast/29mideast.html?_r=1&ref=world&oref=slogin)
Egypt and Syria have both failed in attempts to reach an agreement between the parties.
Hamas unseated Fatah in recent parliamentary elections, but the Prime Minister Mammoud Abbas, a member of Fatah, still has considerable power and sway in the goverment.
The BBC lead is a "who" lead placing Saudi King Abdullah at the beginning. The story shifts between describing the violence between the recent parties and talking about the peace talks with Saudi Arabia. In my opinion, the story should've delved further into why King Abdullah was so concerned with peace talks and what implications leaders think they might have. The New York Times also uses a "who" lead, although its lead feels wordy. Saying the "holy city of Mecca" and "worst ever Palestinian internal fighting" feels excessive. On the other hand, I thought the New York Times did a more thourough job explaining the history of the situation and discussing the implications of a dialogue. I do agree with the choice of a "who" lead in this case because the Saudi King has high name recognition, at least to those who follow world politics.