November 2010 Archives

University President Finalist Faces Public For The First Time

In his first meeting on the University of Minnesota campus since being announced as the sole finalist in the selection of the next university president, Eric Kaler fielded questions Thursday before an audience of mostly faculty, staff and administrators, according to a story by The Minnesota Daily.

In a discussion ranging from research to athletics to the liberal arts, Kaler, wearing a maroon and gold tie, started the forum with a touch of humor.

"Let me start by telling you something I am not ... I flat out cannot coach football. I'm here for the other job," he said.

Because of his decorated chemical engineering degree from the U, many questions centered on how Kaler would support the liberal arts.

"[Liberal arts] are an essential element of a university and it's required for the public good for us to have that as a central part of our mission," he said before the audience of 200, with another 400 watching online.

Improvements to student advising and more student-friendly class scheduling were among Kaler's recommendations to enrich the undergraduate experience.

He also said the University needs to improve its graduation rates and make education more affordable through financial aid and scholarships.

Students at the forum appeared receptive to Kaler's responses.

"I think he would be a good step forward for the University," Aara Johnson, a second-year graduate student, said.

Paul Strain, a student representative to the Board of Regents, said Kaler did a good job answering questions.

"I think it is really easy to speak jargon when addressing an audience like this," Strain said. "He was very straightforward and he actually answered the tough questions, which is something the University has struggled with in the past."

At Walker Art Center, 'Naked' Is More Work Than It Seems

Walking into the darkened space, one can see two pale, naked figures spread over a nest of feathers and straw, their movements hardly perceptible.

Since Nov. 2, for six hours a day, six days a week Eiko and her husband Koma have been putting on their "Naked" exhibit at the Walker Art Center. However, simply being naked isn't as easy as one might think, as MPR reports.

"We are part of a picture where people can project something ancient, something weak, something fragile," Eiko said. "And that takes a physical strength in a very strange way because we are not moving in a normal way."

Spectators sit just a few feet from the performing couple, and can come and go as they please; a good thing, since the performance may not be for everyone, including one man quite taken aback by what he saw.

"'What's this? This is crazy,'" says Eiko, mimicking his reaction

"'Insane!'" adds Koma.

"'This is INSANE!,'" she echoes. "And then they left," she laughs. "And I kind of agreed."

Even when no one is watching, the show still goes on.

"I feel like a dog, waiting for someone to come and pet me," Eiko laughs. "Very lonely."

"Sometimes I feel like an animal in the zoo, before they open the gate," Koma said.

After the show at The Walker ends Nov. 30, Eiko and Koma will remount their performance in Chicago and New York.

Cleaning Out Filthy Canals: At Least It's Work

Duquesne Fils-Aime, 41, spent months looking for work in his ravaged country of Haiti before taking one of the few steady jobs around: cleaning by hand the putrid canals that are spreading cholera to thousands of Haitians, killing more than 1,100 people already.

"We do the bad," Fils-Aime said, summarizing his work, "and maybe people don't get sick."

In an unbelievable description by The Star Tribune, he descends, stripped to the waist, into the slough of plastic bags and bottles, shredded underwear, shoes, and black globs of an unknown substance. Gasps rise from an astonished crowd as he dunks his head under the fetid slurry.

Fortunate that no animal carcasses were among the filth on that day, Fils-Aime hands garbage to a crew member on land, and little by little they make progress in the canal

On land the debris is made into piles for collection by a truck that may or may not come.

Regardless, the men working here are thankful for the $112 a month, even with the overwhelming risk of getting cholera themselves. "I don't care about cholera," Odvel Etienne, 24, said, emerging from the black water, "we are all going to die someday."

Surfers Honor A Departed Comrade

The shores of Huntington Beach Pier in southern California swelled with more than 500 surfers, gathered for a ceremony in remembrance of famed surfer Andy Irons, who died Nov. 2, at age 32, in his hotel room of as yet unexplained causes, according to The New York Times.

Irons, one of only a few surfers to win three world titles, died just three days after withdrawing from a contest in Puerto Rico. With word of Irons' death, the contest was suspended so contestants could hold a "paddle-out," in which surfers form a floating circle, cast flowers, and reminisce about the deceased.

Before the actual paddle-out, a short service was overseen by pastor Sumo Sato just after noon. "All over the world there are surfers in the water right now remembering Andy and the joy we share in the waves," he said.

By the time surfers took to the sea, the waves had escalated to five to six-foot faces. Working past the breakers, surfers clenched their orchids in their teeth before emerging beyond the surf. There they formed a circle, joined hands, then raised them to the sky to let out shouts and whistles.

After the flowers had been thrown into the circle, Sato made his way to the center and led a chant of "Andy! Andy! Andy!" that echoed back to the shore.

Finally, the surfers pointed their boards upwards, turning them into drums. Leaving the orchids in their wake, they then made their way back to shore.

The Choice Word of The Minnesota Daily

This last week revealed the grisly details of a multi-state prostitution ring, and the indictment of 29 people people involved, 17 of whom were arrested in Minnesota.

It is practically slavery what these Somali girls, some as young as 12 years-old, suffered at the hands of several gangs.

In the coverage that followed, MPR offered insight from a reformed gang member, as well as a mental health counselor, revealing that more outreach is needed for girls who find themselves falling into human-trafficking.

The Star Tribune showed the ways in which these Somali gangs differ from "traditional" gangs. They are highly mobile, operating in multiple cities in multiple states, and they bare no signs or tattoos signifying them as gang members.

Though MPR's article dances around several terms for the Twin Cities' Somali-Americans, (The Somali community, the Somali-American Community, Somali-American members) both news sources clearly distinguish those accused of committing the crimes from those who are saddened and horrified by these crimes.

However, the lede for The Minnesota Daily's article on reaction to the exposure of the sex-trafficking throws that distinction out the window.

To quote, "After the shocking arrest of 17 of their peers Monday, the Somali community of Minnesota is struggling to grasp the bust of a human trafficking sex ring that spanned three states."

Their peers? Community is acceptable, although too often it becomes a blanket term to describe what is really a diverse collection of people. But peers goes too far. It almost implies that this community as a whole is implicated with these 17 accused.

To call someone a peer means you have common ground in three areas: age, status, and ability. To think that Somali students walking to class on Northrop Mall or studying in Wilson Library would think these 17 young people their peers on the grounds of the latter two is absurd.

By calling these accused their peers, the article groups a wide range of Somali-Americans under one banner of delinquent "peers."

First Snowstorm: Fun for Some, Vexing for Many

As Minnesotans, winter weather should be nothing new, but the first major snow system of the season is always reason for celebrating by some, and grumbling by many.

As The Pioneer Press reports, the weekend was good for Kent Eernisse. As manager of Frattallone's Ace Hardware on Grand Avenue near Dale Street in St. Paul, he saw a steady stream of customers coming in to buy everything from scapers and ice melt, to shovels and snow blowers. "We've been working hard for the past 2 1/2 weeks to get ready for the season, and it finally came," he said.

While the heavy snow was a boon for kids fashioning snowmen and building snow forts, it was also ideal for downing power lines.

Overall, an estimated 200,000 Twin Cities residents lost power at some point during the weekend, with 21,000 metro residents still without power at the time of publication, according to The Star Tribune.

Another Star Tribune article highlights the more dire outcomes of the snowy salvo. Throughout Minnesota the State Patrol responded to around 400 crashes, with 45 of those involving minor injuries. No one in the state was killed, but bad road conditions in northern Wisconsin are blamed for the death of 2 people.

Greg Spoden at the State Climatology Office guesses that this is the biggest pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm for the Twin Cities since 1991, the year of the Halloween monster.


Freed Suu Kyi Looks Cautiously to Myanmar's Future

Speaking before a crowd of nearly 5,000 supporters at the dilapidated headquarters of the National League for Democracy in Rangoon, Aung Suu Kyi, free for the first time in 7 years, explained what she thought must now be done in Myanmar, The Associated Press reported.

Her speech comes just one day after the term of her house arrest expired, and just a week after dubious election results, which kept the country's military regime in power.

"I am for national reconciliation. I am for dialogue," she told the cheering crowd. "Whatever authority I have, I will use it to that end. I hope people will support me."

Suu Kyi announced that she would help investigations of voting fraud in the recent election, the first held in 20 years, and derided by many nations as a sham--with President Obama calling the process "neither free nor fair."

As the BBC reported, Suu Kyi was first put under house arrest in 1989 after rising to prominence in Myanmar's democratic movement as the head of the National League for Demoracy. The group won the 1990 election, but was suppressed by the junta, and never allowed to take power.

The NLD boycotted the Nov. 7 elections, due in part to new election laws barring those with criminal records--which includes many of the group's members--from running for office. Their refusal means that the group, and therefore Suu Kyi, no longer has official political status.

This also means that Suu Kyi's future political activity is uncertain. Recognizing that she walks a very slippery slope with the country's military regime, she expressed no grudge against those who detained her, and that she had been well-treated.

Chief U.S. diplomat to Myanmar, Charge d'Affaires Larry Dinger, also noticed a lack of fire-breathing rhetoric in his meeting with the 65 year-old Suu Kyi. "She's made clear to us that she's a pragmatic politician who wants to find pragmatic solutions to this country's problems," he said.

Suu Kyi told reporters that she wishes to talk directly to junta leader Gen. Than Shwe.

Though her future in politics is uncertain, according to Reuters, Suu Kyi, affectionately known across Myanmar as "The Lady," has the admiration of its people.

"All we are worried about now is whether she will be able to get a chance to work for the peace and prosperity of the country," Ba Ohn, 43, a food stall owner, said. "Things could not be worse for us."

Ko Aye Cho, 33, an electrician expressed relief. "I consider her as my own mother. I hope she will bring our country toward a brighter future peacefully."

F.D.A. Takes Cigarette Warnings to Graphic New Levels

It appears the Surgeon General no longer carries enough clout to get people to kick their smoking habit, and gruesome images of toe-tagged corpses and stoma smokers are among those that may replace the traditional warning in the near future.

The F.D.A. unveiled 36 proposed warning labels Wednesday, featuring photos and drawings such as a mother blowing smoke at her baby, and a person using a cigarette as a syringe, with the warning "cigarettes are addictive." As The New York Times reported, a law passed last year gives the FDA, for the first time, the power to regulate, but not ban, tobacco outright.

Using a company to survey 18,000 smokers, federal regulators plan to narrow these 36 images down to nine by June, to then be placed on half the surface area of cigarette packs and cartons, and a fifth of all tobacco advertisements by Oct. 22, 2012

Health officials hope the new labels will energize anti-smoking efforts, which have been waning in recent years. Currently, about one fifth of Americans smoke, and while that number is down from 42 percent of Americans in 1965, the decline in smoking has stalled since 2004, according to The LA Times.

The U.S. was the first country to require written warning labels on cigarettes nearly 25 years ago, but other countries have since gone further, requiring such graphic depictions as cancerous lesions and gangrenous limbs displayed on all packs.

Supporters of the new labels point to the success of such measures in Canada, where smoking among those ages 15 and older dropped 3 percent between 2000 and 2002, as The Wall Street Journal points out. Though other measures, such as tax increases and limitations on public smoking were also carried out during this time, a 2001 survey by the Canadian Cancer Society found that 44 percent of those who quit did so because of the labels

Some tobacco companies have been quick to voice outrage at the new labels, saying they infringe on free-speech rights. "The use of graphic warnings makes no contribution to the awareness of these risks and serves only to stigmatize smokers and denormalize smoking," Anthony Hemsley said, a vice president at Commonwealth Brands, the maker of USA Gold cigarettes.

Strangely enough, Altria Group Inc., parent comany of the largest U.S. cigarette maker, Philip J. Morris, was the only big tobacco company to support the F.D.A. tobacco law, but did not comment on the proposed warning labels.

Vote-Reporting Error Ruffles GOP Feathers

According to State GOP Chairman Tony Sutton, "something doesn't smell right" about a vote reporting error by a Hennepin County election employee on Tuesday night, the Star Tribune reported.

On Election Night, around 11 p.m., Hennepin County elections manager Rachel Smith got a call from Tony Trimble, a Republican Party lawyer involved in the 2008 U.S. Senate seat recount

In a reportedly cordial discussion, Smith told Trimble what had happened: a staffer had mistakenly clicked "Add" instead of "Replace" when transmitting a large file of returns, thus adding updated returns to those already entered. The error was discovered 45 minutes later, and the results then corrected by the secretary of state.

The next morning Trimble appeared next to Sutton at a news conference declaring, "we are going to be very, very aggressive through this recount process that we anticipate."

According to the party chair, the error resulted in a 60,000 vote swing in the governor's race.

However, according to Smith this was an error in reporting results, not in counting results.

Now that a recount will be underway all of the county's ballots are being guarded 24-7 by a sheriff's deputy, according to MPR.

Unlike the 2008 Senate recount, the 470,000 ballots will be kept in one room until the gubernatorial election is resolved.

Smith said that her office will look into new measures to ensure that something like Tuesday night's mistake never happens again.


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