May 4, 2008

Computer-assisted reporting: "Contaminated water?"

The author of this investigative report about contaminated water in elementary school drinking fountains had to search for and compile data about the lead content in fountains from several elementary schools. They searched for records from the school and for government information to be able to determine whether the lead content in each fountain exceeded the government regulation and to find out the potential effects of different levels of lead.

The reporters used many investigative techniques not dependent on the computer, including methodically observing students, teachers and custodians in the schools themselves and comparing their observations to the records. They also had an expert test the lead content of drinking fountains in several schools rather than assuming the official reports to be correct, allowing them to discover that some school officials had falsified the records.

Source:
KNBC-Los Angeles

Trains collide in Pennsylvania

A freight train hit another train that had been derailed, causing a pileup of 22 railcars. The cars contained no hazardous materials and there were no injuries, authorities said.

A westbound train headed for Chicago jumped the track around 10 a.m. Sunday, derailing about 11 cars. The second train was eastbound for Cumberland, Md., when it crashed into one or more of the derailed cars. About 11 of its cars also left the tracks. Both trains are owned by the CSX Corporation.

Officials are still trying to determine the cause of the original derailment.

Sources:
Associated Press
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Anticipating convention, Bloomington considers demonstration permits

The city of Bloomington may begin requiring demonstration permits in anticipation of the Republican National Convention in September. The suburb has never before had to enact such a requirement, but its many hotels will host delegates and media in the Twin Cities for the convention. The Mall of America may also be a target for protesters.

Bloomington’s city council will vote on the proposed ordinance Monday night. If it passes, the city will require a permit for assemblies on public land involving at least 25 people gathered for a common purpose; for any planned movement of people, animals or vehicles on public streets or walkways that could interfere with traffic or pedestrians; and for certain outdoor gatherings on private property. Public assembly permits would have an $80 base fee.

Sources:
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Bemidji Pioneer

Cyclone devastates Myanmar

A cyclone has killed more than 350 people and destroyed thousands of homes in Myanmar. Cyclone Nargis cut electricity to Yangon, the country’s largest city.

The cyclone hit just days before a referendum scheduled for May 10 on a new constitution supported by Myanmar’s military junta. The current government’s response to the disaster, the Associated Press said, could affect the outcome of the vote.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. The current leaders have been in power for two decades. As part of a plan to move toward democracy, the May 10 referendum is to be followed in 2010 by a general election.

Sources:
Associated Press
Al-Jazeera

Man who imprisoned daughter claims insanity

Josef Fritzl, a 73-year-old Austrian man accused of imprisoning and abusing his daughter in a cellar, should be treated for mental illness rather than facing a trial, his lawyer said.

Fritzl’s daughter Elisabeth lived for 24 years in the cellar, where she bore her father seven children. Three of the children stayed with her and never before saw the light of day, police said. The crimes were revealed when Elisabeth’s 19-year-old daughter became ill.

Fritzl’s wife, Rosemarie, said she was completely unaware of the situation. Fritzl told her that their daughter had run away from home at the age of 17 and joined a cult. He explained Elisabeth’s children by him as being sent away from the cult. Police say they have no reason to suspect that Rosemarie was complicit in the imprisonment.

Sources:
BBC News
Associated Press

April 20, 2008

Boy, 9, killed in hunting accident

A 9-year-old Belle Plaine boy was killed in a hunting accident Saturday when his father mistook him for a wild turkey and shot him in the chest.

Anthony Klaseus and his son, Hunter, were following turkeys in a field in Faxon Township in Sibley County. Hunter was about 20 to 30 yards away when his father shot him with his 12-gauge shotgun. Klaseus called 911 shortly after 6 p.m. and carried his son about a quarter mile to where emergency personnel could get to him.

Sheriff Bruce Ponath called the incident an accident, but it is still under investigation.

Sources:
Star-Tribune
Pioneer Press

Several dead in Somalia violence

Violence broke out Sunday in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, between Islamists and Ethopian troops. The BBC reported that at least 33 people, including some civilians, have been killed in the fighting. A human-rights group in Somalia, however, put the number dead at 81.

Somalia has been plagued by violence since 2006, when an Ethiopian interim government took over from an Islamist militia then in power. Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when the dictator was overthrown by infighting warlords.

Sources:
BBC News
International Herald-Tribune

Bay Area businesses may pay for emissions

A proposal may be approved that would allow Bay Area businesses to be fined for greenhouse gas emissions. If the proposal is approved, the Bay Area Quality Management District would be able to charge 4.4 cents for every metric ton of carbon dioxide released.

The fees would not deter greenhouse gas production, experts say, but would cover the cost of monitoring greenhouse gases.

If it passes, the proposal would be a model for the rest of the country in dealing with emissions, but it faces opposition from many businesses in the area, especially oil refineries and power plants. Critics say the local authority is overstepping its bounds, bypassing ongoing state and federal efforts.

Sources:
San Francisco Chronicle
New York Times

Danica Patrick wins major race

Driver Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a major auto race Saturday, winning an IndyCar event in Japan.

In 2005, Patrick was the first woman to lead the Indy 500. She led the race for 19 laps and eventually finished fourth. In 2007, she moved to a team co-owned by Michael Andretti.

Besides being a historic moment in sports and an achievement for Patrick, the win may also bring some prestige to IndyCar Racing, one of the less popular forms of auto racing.

Sources:
New York Times
Sports Illustrated

Pope visits United States

Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States this week, appearing at various locations in Washington, D.C., and New York City. His visit included saying Mass at the new Nationals Stadium in Washington and at Yankee Stadium in New York as well as addressing the United Nations General Assembly and visiting Ground Zero, site of the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

One of the themes of the pope’s visit was the sex abuse scandals that have plagued the Catholic Church in recent years. Benedict met with a small group of abuse victims in Washington and mentioned his sorrow at the abuse of children and the need for healing within the church.

Benedict also spoke of his childhood under the Nazi regime. He connected the horrors of that era with the issues facing today’s world, including poverty, racism, and environmental problems. At Ground Zero, he prayed for “peace in our violent world.?

Sources:
CNN
Washington Post

April 13, 2008

Diversity: “Islamic Principles Help Steer Muslim-American Investors Through Economic Shoals?

This piece from Voice of America radio tries to connect Muslim-American investors’ success with their religion and culture, but it’s a fairly flimsy correlation. Despite the headline, the article itself doesn’t say much about why Islamic principles would help Muslims find success in American business. Instead, it provides anecdotes about successful Muslims as “evidence? of the success of Muslim-Americans in general. Regarding these “Islamic principles,? the piece says only that “Islamic funds may not invest in businesses that deal in pornography, gambling, alcoholic beverages, or interest-based finance.? It does not, however, relate that to Muslim-American success.

Overall, the article seems to try to use the fact that some investors are not “typical Americans? as a shaky hook for an otherwise basic business article, assuming that vague references to that other culture’s “principles? will be enough on which to rest a story.

Source:
Voice of America

World Bank leader calls for action regarding food shortages

World Bank President Robert Zoellick called for action Sunday to deal with the worldwide rising food costs that have led to hunger and violence in many countries. Zoellick said the international community must act now to help hungry people, calling on governments to provide the United Nations World Food Program with emergency aid.

The fall of Haiti’s government over the weekend led the World Bank to grant $10 million to the country for food programs. Zoellick said the bank needs more donations to help countries around the world provide food in workplaces and plant seeds. He proposed a plan for long-term increased agricultural production, not just short-term stopgap measures.

The International Monetary Fund, sister institution to the World Bank, also called for action against world hunger.

Sources:
Associated Press
BBC News

American Airlines planes back in service after week of cancellations

American Airlines announced Sunday that its fleet of MD-80 jetliners was back in service Sunday after a week that saw about 3,300 flights canceled and hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded.

The flights were canceled after Federal Aviation Administration inspections found incorrect wiring in some Boeing MD-80s. The company grounded all 300 planes in the fleet and has been gradually returning them to service.

American has apologized for the groundings and is still trying to help some passengers find alternative flights to those that were canceled. The company’s chief executive, Gerard J. Arpey, said that the cancellations would cost the company tens of millions of dollars for customer refunds and hotel expenses.

Sources:
New York Times
BBC News

Haitian riots lead to firing of prime minister

Haitian lawmakers fired Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis Saturday, a decision seen as a censure of Alexis’ close ally, President Rene Preval. The poverty-wracked Caribbean nation has been the scene of riots in the past several days stemming from food shortages.

Saturday also saw the shooting death of a Nigerian United Nations officer, the first such death since a U.N. peacekeeping mission came to Haiti in 2004, a spokesman said.

Preval became president in 2006, taking over from a U.S-backed interim government put in place after the fall of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide fled the country amid an armed rebellion, leaving the country in the chaos of gang warfare, and has been living in exile in South Africa. His supporters continue to agitate for his return, including rallying outside Parliament after the decision to fire Prime Minister Alexis.

In an effort to combat the agitation, Preval announced subsidies on Saturday designed to cut the cost of rice by 15 percent. Rising fuel costs around the world for crop planting, tending, harvesting and transportation have caused food costs to go up by 40 percent in the last year. In Haiti, strict government regulations have led to food donations spoiling while waiting to be inspected.

Sources:
Los Angeles Times
International Herald Tribune
New York Times

Florida teens arrested for videotaped beating

Eight Florida teenagers were arrested after accused of beating another girl on tape. Police said that one girl was beaten by six other girls at a friend’s house on March 30 while two boys waited outside as lookouts. The girl’s attackers videotaped the incident and threatened to post the video online, wanting to make it a popular YouTube video, the victim’s father said. The girl was taken to a hospital with a concussion, damage to her left eye and ear, and multiple bruises.

A spokesperson for the Dr. Phil show confirmed rumors Saturday that the show was responsible for bailing one of the teens out. Staff members of the talk show hosted by “Dr. Phil? McGraw helped Mercades Nichols post bond. The producers were booking guests for a program about the beating case, the spokesperson said.

The eight teenagers accused in the case face felony charges of kidnapping and battery. They will be tried as adults and could be sentenced to life in prison, the state’s attorney’s office said.

Sources:
Eyewitness News Memphis
Associated Press
CNN