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March 25, 2007

Remember When He Was Young? Sir Elton Turns 60

Sir Elton John has crocodile-rocked his way to the big 6-0. The gay singer-songwriter celebrated in style by holding a sold-out concert at historic Madison Square Garden, according to Australian news. Suprise attendee Bill Clinton introduce Elton to the crowd of over 20,000.

The concert was recorded and is scheduled to be broadcast on April 5, according to the AP. The performance marked Elton's 60th performance in the Garden, which is a record; 8 more then The Grateful Dead.

Elton promised to the crowd that he would resurrect many of his old hits. He also acknowledged how special this occasion was.

"I knew I had done 59 shows at Madison Square Garden and I said the only place I want to be is New York City on my 60th birthday."

Sir Elton is known for hits like "Rocketman" and "Your Song", as well for his zany onstage antics.

Police Finish Search of St.Paul Murder Site

The St.Paul police finished their search of 292 Burgess Avenue on Sunday, the site of a triple homicide just two days earlier. Maria McClay,32, Othal Saunders, 31, and Brittany Kekedakis,15, were all killed when masked gunmen broke into the home early Friday morning, according to local reports.

Police have collected a "great deal" of forensice evidence, according to the Star Tribune, and have allowed family members to return to the home. The crime lab is currently processing the evidence, which should provide insight. Police are still looking for the suspects and their vehicle, a dark-colored SUV.

Police have said that the killings were probrably not random, according to a Pioneer Press report. Apparently, the suspects demanded cash and drugs once they broke in. Police said that the chance that the family was in the "wrong place at the wrong time" is low at that this likely was a planned attack.

Kekedakis had been attending Como Park Senior High School in St.Paul. This is the second time in the last four years that a Como student has been murdered during a school year. Ben Doran, 15, was killed in March of 2003.

Ben Doran Foundation President Rome Hanson intends on beginning a reward fund on Monday. This will offer incentives to anyone who can supply information on the murders. The Ben Doran Foundation supports arts and sciences in the city schools and helped push for Benny's Law, which enforces stricter punishments on gang-related killings. No connections to gangs have been made in this case.

March 24, 2007

Suicide Bombings in Iraq Kill Dozens

A wave of suicide bombers set off detonations in Iraq Saturday that killed a large number of people, many of whom were police officers.

Various estimates of the death count have been released. Reuters said that at least 60 were dead, while the New York Times issued a more conservative estimate of at least 47 deaths. The worst attack occured outside a Baghdad police station. According to Reuters, 14 policemen were killed when a truck filled with explosives detonated. Six others were killed in this attack.

The New York Times reported that, despite U.S.efforts, car bomb attacks have not decreased this year. In fact, a record 44 car bombings occured in February. Suicide bombings in general have become a staple of the Sunni Arab insurgency.

Death counts are very sensitive statistics. Being accurate is essential, especially when it comes to informing families of the deceased. Newspapers have an obligation to only report confirmable deaths and to do it in an appropriate manner. Reporting deaths that didn't actually occur or failing to report deaths that did can be harmful to a community and to a newspaper's integrity.

Winona State's Historic Streak Ends

The Winona State Warriors, winners of 57 games in a row, saw their winning streak end Saturday in the NCAA Division II national championship game. Barton College (N.C) defeated the Warriors 77-75 after overcoming a defecit in the final minute.

Winona led 74-67 with 45 seconds remaining and appeared to have the game won, according to the Pioneer Press. However, Barton stormed back on the shoulders of Anthony Atkinson, who scored 10 points in the final 45 seconds.

After cutting the lead to four, 75-71, Atkinson took over. He scored with 19 seconds left to cut the lead in half. He then stole the next inbounds pass and scored agiain to even the score at 75-75. After forcing another turnover with 11 seconds on the clock, Atkinson raced down the court and scored the winning basket with .01 seconds remaining, according to the Star Tribune.

Obviously, this story is meanigless without numbers. Winona State's historic winning streak gives a sense of the magnitude of this game. And the details of the final seconds give an exciting account of what occured. To simply report "Winona State loses" would be a disservice to the excitement of the event.

YouTube Ad Brings Controvery to Democratic Race

Barack Obama has denied affiliation with an advertisement that portrayed Hilary Clinton as a "1984" type villian and that was attributed to BarackObama.com.

The ad, which was posted on YouTube.com and has received over a million hits, is a parody of George Orwell's "1984". In the ad, mindless drones sit and watch a Clinton speech, until a female athlete runs in and shatters the screen. This is followed by a line that announces the upcoming democratic primary and is similar to the famous Apple/Macintosh parody of the same scene.

``We had no idea who did it, and that's what we said originally,'' Barack Obama told AP writers. ``It's not an ad that we would have produced in our campaign.''

Hilary Clinton told the Chicago Sun-Times that the internet and sites like YouTube put campaigns in "new territory for everybody.''

Obama told the Sun-Times that his campaign would not be damaged by this ad, even though it's creator has connections to the Obama campaign. The ad was created by Philip de Vellis, who used to work for Blue State Digital, which is the company hired to produce Obama's web material. De Vellis has been called a "renegade" employee.

Winslett and DiCaprio Reunite

Apparently, there hearts can go on. Kate Winslett and Leanardo DiCaprio, who played romantic leads in the 1997 hit movie "Titantic", will be reuniting for an upcoming film.

"Revolutionary Road" will be directed by Oscar winner Sam Mendes, who also happens to be Winslett's husband. The movie is based on a critically acclaimed novel by Richard Yates, according to E!Online. The novel is about a family living in post-war suburbia that is not as happy with suburban life as they show. The Daily Record UK said that the movie will be about "thwated passion and the search for fufilment."

DiCaprio and Winslet are most famous for thier roles as star-crossed lovers in "Titantic". DiCaprio played Jack, a poor city man who snuck onto the boat. Winslett played Rose, a young womenfrom a very wealthy family. Despite her mother's protests, Rose began to fall for Jack. Jack dies in the water at the end after Rose promises she will always love him.

Work on "Revolutionary Road" is due to start this summer.

March 19, 2007

Eat Fruits and Veggies? You May Be Alone

Too few Americans are eating their fruits and veggies, CDC health officials said Thursday. A normal diet should consist of three servings of vegetables as well as two servings of fruits daily. However, many Americans are falling woefully short of this mark.

According to an AP report, younger adults, between the ages of 18 and 24, are the main purpretrators. Nearly 80 percent of people in this age group did not eat adequate amounts of these two essential food groups. Senior citizens, on the other hand, were most likely to follow the food pyramid's advice. About a third of this group meets satisfactory requirements.

A Science Daily report tied this alarming trend into the well publicisized trend of obesity. With nearly two-thirds of the U.S. adult population obese, a trend away from fruits and veggies is quite serious. For the obesity trend to reverse, more people need to embrace fruits and veggies daily.

While I enjoy veggies with my dinner and an occasional fruit in the morning, I admit that I may fit into the majority from my age group. I can understand why this trend is so prevelant. People are raised with a such a heavy emphasis on processed and packaged foods, and getting away from this can be hard. A good first step would be to begin drinking more juice and finding meals stocked with veggies. Slowly adopting healthier practices is much easier than doing it overnight.

Former VP under Hussein Executed

Taha Yassin Ramadan, Saddam Hussein's former vice president, was executed in Baghdad on Tuesday for his roll in killing 148 Shiite Muslims in the 1980s. He was hung early Tuesday morning, according to the Independent Online.

Ramadan is the fourth person, including Hussein, to have been executed in connection to the killings of the Shiite Muslims. Saddam was executed in December, while the two others were executed in January, according to Reuters.

Ramadan's son expressed understandable disagreement about the hanging.

"It was not an execution. It was a political assassination," Ahmad Ramadan said.

Taha Yassin Ramadan was originally given a life sentence in November, but a February appeal changed his sentence to a death penalty. The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said that Iraq should have refrained from the dealth penalty in this case, as there was insufficient evidence against Ramadan.

"Ramadan was convicted in an unfair trial, and increasing his punishment from life imprisonment to death reeks of vengeance," said Richard Decker, a member of the organization's International Justice Program.

It will be interesting to see if this actually turns out to be true. If a man was unfairly hung, how will this affect Iraq's fragile new democracy and volitaile current situation? Could this lead to some sort of protest? Only time will tell how Ramadan's execution will affect other realms in Iraq and elsewhere in the world.

March 8, 2007

Ridder Crosses the River

Par Ridder, former Pioneer Press publisher and descendent of the St.Paul-synonomous Ridder family, took over as Star Tribune publisher and CEO Monday. The Ridder family has had ties to the Pioneer Press paper for 80 years; Par's grandfather was once the publisher and even Par's great-grandfather had ties to St.Paul and the paper. The job opened up only after J. Keith Moyer resigned as Star Tribune publisher after six years on the job. The Star Tribune also changed ownership; Avista purchased the paper from the McClatchy Co.

The Star Tribune ran a very simple article that reported what types of changes had occured within the organization. Ridder and Avista both expressed optimism for the future of the paper and a commitment to producing more locally relevant stories.

The Pioneer Press had a much differant take on this story. Columnist Joe Soucheray called the Star Tribune the "Enemy Paper" and basically called Ridder's switch treason. He said publishers were interchangeable and that they weren't really news guys. He wished Ridder luck in his new job, but only within reason. Obviously, the loss of Ridder is quite the blow to the Pioneer Press. More importantly then losing a publisher, the Pioneer Press lost a name. Ridder, The Pioneer Press, and St.Paul had become closely linked through the years. Losing Ridder from this equation is a blow to the Pioneer Press' reputation more then anything else.

March 7, 2007

Mankato Parents Charged with Abuse of Formerly Conjoined Twin

A Mankato couple was charged Wednesday for abusing their 4-month-old son, who was born as a conjoined twin. Valerie James, 19, and Robert Heck, 26, were charged with one count each of felony first-degree assault on the infant. Authorities do not know which of the two boys, Jordan or Jacob, was harmed.

The alleged abuse occured in January, when one of the two boys was brought to the Mayo children's hospital due to swelling. The AP reported that doctors there noticed fractures of the boy's legs and ribs. Doctors concluded that excessive force would have been needed to cause such injuries.

The father, Heck, has been charged for child abuse before. A previous girlfriend said that he abused three of her children, including reports of beating a 3-year-old and burning a 3-month old. Heck denied current allegations and declinded to speak further until after he met with his lawyer.

The Star Tribune spoke with Heck's grandfather, Duane Kopp. He said that he didn't believe that either Heck or James was capable of these crimes. He said that there was "no better father" then his grandson. Heck and James also have a 1-year-old daughter together.

Rochester Police Chief Roger Peterson called the case "pretty ugly." He said that conjoined twins go through so much in just getting seperated that it's hard to see them go through something like this in addition. A court date for the case has been set for April 12.

March 4, 2007

Blood-Red Moon a Treat for Stargazers

The first total lunar eclipse in almost 3 years happened Saturday night, which caused the moon to turn coppery red. Many observers were able to watch the spectacle, as the eclipse was visible in the U.S., eastern Canada, Europe, Africa and much of Asia.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon crosses into the shadow of the Earth. The moon appears copper red, brown or orange due to the remaining sunlight which strikes it. The National Post in Canada obtained reactions form those who watched it. Despite clouds in the early part of the event, many were awed by the moon's appearence.

“It’s very surreal,? said Frank Burke, 52, of Halifax. “You never see the moon looking like that.?

The entire event lasted 3 1/2 hours. Totality--when the moon is fully covered-- lasted an hour and 16 minutes.

Sky News in England called the eclipse "The most spectacular lunar eclipse in more than a decade." Astronomer concurred, regarding this as one of the most memorable in over 15 years. The eclipse was visible throughout England, as well as in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Clear skies prevented the eclipse from being obscured.

Civillians Killed During U.S.-Afgani Skirmish.

Sixteen civillians died Sunday after America troops fired upon a road in Barikaw, Afganistan. A car bomb detonated near the troops, which was followed by an ambush by Afgani forces. U.S. troops said that they opened fire in order to defend themselves.

The New York Times reported that a millitary spokesman expressed regret for the innocent bystanders who died.

“We regret the death of innocent Afghan citizens as a result of the Taliban extremists’ cowardly act,? Lt. Col. David Accetta said.

However, Accetta firmly placed the blame onto the Afghanis. He called their attack "cowardly' and said that such a manuever showed 'blatant disregard for human life'. The deaths triggered protests along the road where the shots were fired.

The AP reported that the American's story may be inaccurate. Nine witnesses, including wounded Afganis, said that the U.S. troops fired indiscriminately along the road.

"They were firing everywhere, and they even opened fire on 14 to 15 vehicles passing on the highway," said Tur Gul, 38, who was shot twice while standing outside a gas station. "They opened fire on everybody, the ones inside the vehicles and the ones on foot."

If U.S. troops did attack innocent bystanders unprovoked, a huge backlash could follow. This situation will likely further lower the public's opinion on current U.S. millitary engagements. This should also affect perceptions on the current Iraqi war. President Bush could find himself with even more of a struggle to set forth his millitary agenda, regardless of the outcome of this story. The allegation itself is damaging enough to the U.S. millitary's reputation.

Pitcher Ponson Gets Visa

Righthanded pitcher Sidney Ponson, a native of Aruba, received a work visa Thursday which will allow him to join the Twins in Spring Training. Ponson frustrated team officials by not getting the visa earlier, but he was able to rush to the Bahamas and obtain a P-1 visa. Ponson will be in competition for a spot in the Twins' rotation, although he could be relegated to the minors or released.

The Star Tribune spoke with Ponson's agent, Barry Praver. He was grateful to a U.S. consulate in the Bahamas, which was able to process the visa much quicker than the Dominican Republic, where Ponson was originally schedule to get his visa. His troubles started when he applied for the wrong type of visa, which was wrongfully recommended for Ponson by an immigration agent.

The Pioneer Press spoke with Terry Ryan, the general manger of the Twins. Ryan had been frustrated by the Ponson holdup, so he was glad to have it resolved.

"They took care of an awkward situation," Ryan said.

Ponson is down to what could be his last chance in pro baseball. The pitcher has had legal problems and weight problems, as well as poor performances on the field. Ponson is grateful the Twins gave him a chance and he wants to prove that they made a good decision.

"(The Twins) give me a feeling they really want me here. So it makes me want to go out there and push a little bit harder than normal," Ponson said.

Is Local Water Safe?

A chemical produced by the 3M company has been found in local water supplies recently and has caused residents to question their water's safety. Perfluorobutanoic acid, or PFBA, was found in small doseages in various metro water supplies. The chemical is considered safe in small doseages, although further research will be done.

The Star Tribune explored the difficult situation that this presents to public officials. If they endorse the water as safe, they may be doing so without sufficient evidence. If the water is declared unsafe, a public health crisis would ensue. Somehow, those in charge need to assure people they are safe while doing research quickly to prove it. Related chemicals have been found in the blood of humans and animals worldwide. However, PFBA itself has undergone relatively little testing and its affects are not well known.

The Pioneer Press focused on the process of studying a new contaminent. They compared PFBA to arsenic, which is lethal in high doseages yet harmless in small doseages. PFBA may fall into this category; a small dose of it could be safe. However, determining what a safe amount is can be difficult. In the wake of this uncertainty, some citizens have switched to bottled water.

When more data comes in, these papers will have to sort through confusing scientific language and report the urgent news. The citizens of this state will have to know if their water is safe or not. The full extent of the research is secondary to this concern. It will be interesting to watch this story as it unfolds.

March 2, 2007

Bush Reaffirms No Child Left Behind

President Bush lobbied Congress Friday to reauthorize his No Child Left Behind legislation. Bush is hoping to leave behind a solid legacy in public education when his term is over.

"My claim is it's working," Bush said.

According to an AP report, Bush is standing strong by his legislation, which establishes national standards all 3-12 students must meet. Bush warned Congress to not alter the core of the legislation. He said that if No Child Left Behind became too flexible and watered down it would be a disservice to students.

Indianapolis based WISH-TV focused on Bush's visit to New Albany, Indiana, where he made his comments about the legislation. Instead of focusing on what Bush said, this report got comments from local educators. One superintendent complained that the No Child Left Behind law did not come with the necessary funds to make the program effective. The legislation is being reviewed and may be revised before it is reauthorized.