May 4, 2008

Analysis: Computer-Assisted Reporting

Here's a link to a investigative report that News Channel 5 in Nashville, Tenn. did about flammable wiring on airplanes.

Phil Williams, the chief investigator for the channel, did a nine-month investigation that followed the recent grounding or airplanes so that their wiring could be inspected. The reporter ultimately discovered that a lot of the wiring had a history of almost-explosive sparks. The story details the different types of wire that are explosive, what the FAA did about it, and how it affects fliers.

News Channel 5 used computer-assisted reporting, or CAR, to help with the story.

Consider the following passage:

"But our investigation discovered reports filed by the airlines that, safety advocates say, are warning signs.

"Those reports, called 'service difficulty reports,' contain dozens of references to Kapton's 'burned wires.'

"In one report, a 'wire bundle that runs under [the captain's] feet has numerous wires burned thru and others [are] fire damaged.'

"And in another, 'wiring burned holes in [the] fuselage.'"

It is unlikely that the investigators sat down and looked at the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of reports about airplanes filed with the FAA over the last few decades. They most likely used a database to sift through these records, entering keywords in order to find the information that they needed.

The website for the article also contains links where the readers can read the actual reports themselves and look at the list of aircraft that have the faulty wiring.

Using computer-assisted reporting lends credibility to the story by giving specific facts and numbers to back up the reporter's statements. The reporter does not have to rely on anecdotal reporting and can tell the story more effectively.

Cyclone kills 350 in Burma

At least 350 people died in Burma during a powerful cyclone that destroyed thousands of homes, USA Today reported Sunday.

International aid is desperately needed, but many worry that the country's leaders, who tend to be secretive and xenophobic, will be reluctant to ask for help.

An election is scheduled for May 10. How the junta, the ruling party in Burma, reacts to the storm could spell the end of their grasp on power. Voters already blame the regime for "ruining democracy and squashing democracy," USA Today said.

The military-run television station reported that Tropical Cyclone Nargis, which packed winds of up to 120 m.p.h, killed at least 351 people and that at least 75 percent of the buildings in the country's Irawaddy region had collapsed.

The United Nations tried to send in teams on Sunday, but were unable to enter the country because of roads clogged with debris.

"The Burmese are saying they have never seen anything like this, ever," Shari Villarosa, an American diplomat in Burma, told The Associated Press. "Trees are down. Electricity lines are down. Our Burmese staff have lost their roofs. There is major devastation throughout the city."

The storm has already had an effect on the nation's economy. The price of a gallon of gasoline has jumped from $2.50 to $10 on the black market and many other goods have tripled in price.

New 35W bridge to open in September

Construction on the new 35W bridge is on pace to be completed in September instead of December as originally planned, the Star Tribune reported Sunday.

Flatiron Construction announced Saturday that the bridge is already 65 percent complete and that the horizontal concrete pieces of the bridge could start to be put together as early as May 14. If the bridge opens in September, they will receive $20 million in federal funds as a reward for being ahead of schedule.

The bridge is estimated to cost $234 million. The entire project, including removal of the old bridge, will cost about $400 million.

The completion date will be within just a few days of the Republican Nation Convention to be held in St. Paul Sept. 1-4, but Kevin Gutknecht, an official with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said that the project would not be rushed to be done by the beginning of the convention.

"The priority on this project is safety and quality," Gutknecht said.

The old Interstate 35W bridge collapsed last August, killing 13 people.

May 1, 2008

U.S. missiles strike Somali targets

The U.S. military confirmed Thursday that it carried out missle attacks in Somalia aimed at killing the leader of an Islamic militant group, the BBC reported.

A spokesman said the attacks were carrie out in the Somail town of Dusamareb where an al-Qaeda leader was known to be staying.

The strike hit the home of Aden Hashi Ayro, who controls al-Shabab, another militant group in Somalia that may have ties to al-Qaeda.

The attack may have killed as many as 30 people.

"It was an attack against a known al-Qaeda target and militia leader in Somalia," military spokesman Bob Prucha told the Associate Press.

The U.S. considers al-Shabab to be a terrorist group, but it is unclear whether it is connected to al-Qaeda or is a purely Somali group.

The missles were launched from a vessel in the Indian Ocean and his Ayro's home at 3 a.m. Somail time.

"We heard a huge explosion and when we ran out of our house we saw balls of smoke and flames coming out of house," a local resident told the BBC.

A spokesman for al-Shabab warned there would be revenge for the attacks. "I am letting the citizens of the US and the allies know they are not going to be safe in this area," he said.

Strib: Up to 10 years for millionaire tax dodger

A federal jury in Minneapolis took only two hours Wednesday to find Robert Beale, the former millionaire CEO of Maple Grove-based Comtrol Corp., guilty on seven counts of tax evasion, conspiracy and fleeing authorities, the Star Tribune reported.

The eight-day trial in U.S. District Court featured more than 100 exhibits.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy Rank and Michael Cheever argued that Beale tried to hide more than $5 million in income for which he should have paid $1.6 million in taxes.

Beale was originally charged in 2006 but fled court. He was captured 14 months later in Florida.

Beale acted as his own lawyer, repeatedly arguing the meaning of the U.S. Constitution and the enforcement of the tax code.

Beale's fiance, Mun Suk Kim, cried when the verdict was read and declined to comment.

April 30, 2008

U.S. population may hit 1 billion by 2100

Experts predict that the population of the United States could hit the 1 billion mark by 2100, USA Today reported Tuesday.

The U.S. currently has about 304 million residents, compared to 1.3 billion in China, which hit the 1 billion mark in the 1980s.

The prediction, made by Arthur Nelson, co-director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, at an urban planning meeting in Las Vegas, assumes that fertility rates will remain the same but that immigration rates will increase.

How will the U.S. absorb so many people? Nelson advoates turning parking lots into commercial and residential buildings, reducing the reliance on cars through improvements in mass transportation.

Not everyone agrees with the projection. Robert Lang, one of Nelson's colleagues, believes birthrates will decline, largely because birthrates across the world are declining. "I would rather focus on the near certainty that we will gain 100 million people by 2043. … No one plans for 100 years from now except to preserve a national park,' he said.

Population projections in most countries rarely extend beyond 2050.

April 20, 2008

Two high-ranking officers let go

Two high-ranking Minneapolis police officers were relieved of duty pending the results of a federal investigation, the Star Tribune reported.

Neither Lt. Lee Edwards, who is currently suing the police department because of alleged racial discrimination, nor officer Mike Roberts could be reached for comment.

Roberts allegedly received $200 for giving out information, sources close to the investigation said. It is unclear how Edwards is involved.

The Star Tribune reported that the FBI investigation, which began last summer, is "very serious."

Edwards was removed from his unit last summer after he allegedly drove a squad car when he had been drinking and made inappropriate comments to colleagues. Sources say that the FBI investigation may have played a role in the removal.

The investigation involves an incident last August when Roberts was given at total of $200 on two seperate occasions for assissting a robbery victim. Police guidlines dictate that officers should not accept money offered to them for their help.

Two U professors accused of "double-dipping"

Georgia Tech has accused two University of Minnesota professors of "double-dipping" on salaries and expense payments, the Star Tribune reported.

The U recruited Profs. Francois Sainfort and Julie Jacko away from Georgia Tech last fall. They are national leaders in the "health informatics" field, the discipline of analyzing computer-generated health data.

Georgia Tech contends that it renewed Sainfort's contract in October and Jacko's in January.

The professors are eager to have the situation reviewed by the Georgia attorney general and the U hopes that the situation is just an employment dispute.

"The faculty members are suspected of dual employment and double billing their time to [Georgia Tech], falsifying travel reimbursement documents and other potentially illegal actions,'' Georgia Tech said in an official statement made Wednesday. "To date, the investigation has revealed approximately $100,000 in questionable activity.''

The couple have a reputation for winning large research grants. The pair, husband and wife, will have a combined salary of more than $500,000 at the U.

Jacko was named director of the Institute for Health Informatics at the U of M in December 2007 and is a professor in the School of Nursing and School of Public Health.

April 16, 2008

France outlaws media promoting eating disorders

French legislators adopted a bill on Tuesday that would levy a $700,000 fine against any website promoting eating disorders and offering starvation tips, the New York Times reported.

The bill has passed in the Parliament and now faces a Senate vote.

The measure comes in the wake of the 2006 anorexia death of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston.

“We have noticed,? Valérie Boyer, the bill's sponsor, told The Associated Press, “that the sociocultural and media environment seems to favor the emergence of troubled nutritional behavior, and that is why I think it necessary to act.?

The French Federation of Couture has criticized the bill, saying that is unreasonble to legislate a person's body weight.

The French Socialist Party, which has also criticized the legislation, claims the bill was rushed too quickly through Parliament and that the wording is vague.

Eating disorder officials worried that news of the bill would publicize the eating disorder Web sites, worsening the problem.

The law does not specify whether the site creator or the Internet service provider would be responsible for any fine that would be levied on its provisions.

Supreme Court: Lethal injections constitutional

The Supreme Court voted 7-2 on Wednesday to reject a claim that lethal executions do not offend the constitution, USA Today reported.

The decision ended a moratorium on injections that began last fall.

The two condemned Kentucky prisoners who brought the case before the court said that the common three-drug mix method of lethal injection is a cruel and unusual punishment, and thus violating the Eighth Amendment.

They claimed that the second drug used, pancuronium bromide, masks signs of distress and creates a risk that inmates may be suffering excruciating pain.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said that the prisoners failed to show that the improper injections of the drugs could cause sufficient pain.

The Court outlined a new test for determining whether a method of execution is constitutional. In that test, a petitioner would have to show that the method presented an "objectively intolerable" risk of pain.

In a concurring opinion, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia argued that a method of execution would be unconstitutional only if it were specifically designed to cause pain. An alternative would have to significantly reduce the risk of pain.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented, saying that Kentucky's lethal injection procedure lacked "basic safeguards" that would make sure the inmate were unconscious and unable to feel pain.

Minnesota is not one of the 36 states that has the death penalty.

April 15, 2008

Pope visits U.S.

Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the United States on Tuesday, the beginning of a six-day trip that includes visits to Washington, D.C., the United Nations, Ground Zero and two baseball stadiums.

The Pope, who is clebrating his 81st birthday on Wednesday, was greeted by a group of schoolchildren singing "Happy Birthday."

Neither the Pope nor President Bush, who met the Pope as he disembarked his plane at Andrew Air Force Base, made any remarks.

USA Today reported that on the flight to America, Benedict said that he was "deeply ashamed" of the clergy sex-abuse crisis.

Benedict is only the third pope to come to the United States. Paul VI stopped in New York for one day in 1965, and John Paul II made seven trips during his reign.

Benedict will visit the White House and address Catholic bishops on Wednesday, will celebrate Mass at the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium on Thursday, and will move on to New York on Friday morning.

April 13, 2008

Analysis: Diversity

Take a look at the article Questions remain after fatal police chase in Minneapolis from Tuesday's Star Tribune.

The article is about a police chase that ended in the death of Hanna Abukar, a member of Minneapolis' Somali community. A 15-year-old boy was fleeing the police when he crashed his car into Abukar's, killing her and injuring her son and another boy.

The report does not use stereotypes about Somalis or immigrants. Terry Collins, the reproter, actually goes and talks to several Somalis, including Abukar's husband, in order to get all the information correct. He also uses police information to get the facts straight.

I learned several things from this article. Before reading this story I did not know very much about Somali or Islamic traditions. Collins' article taught me that Muslims do not speak for three days after the death of a loved one out of respect, something I didn't know before.

This article just goes to show that even crime reports can give valuable information about the customs and traditions of culturally or racially diverse groups.

Power-sharing deal ends Kenyan vote crisis

Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki named rival Raila Odinga as prime minister on Sunday, ending months of power struggles that began with the national presidential elections in December, CNN reported.

More than 1,000 people died and 300,000 more were displaced during violence caused by the disputed results of December's election.

The two men are expected to create a power-sharing government as soon as parliament passes laws to legalize their actions.

Kibaki also nominated 40 people to the nation's Cabinet. The posts are divided equally between Kibaki's Pary of National Unity and allies, Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement.

The Kenyan public is growing impatient. Scuffles broke out several days this week in Kenyan's slums between police and citizens protesting the delays.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the two leaders Monday, pressuring them to reach an agreement this week.

April 12, 2008

Jones acquitted of rape

Former University of Minnesota football player Dominic Jones was acquitted Friday on charges of rape but was convicted of unwanted sexual contact, the Star Tribune reported.

Jones, 21, declined to comment on the verdict, saying he needed to focus on his studies. Jones has missed school since March 31, but is still on track to graduate this fall with a sociology degree.

Jones had been charged with third-degree sexual assault with a woman who was reportedly too drunk to give consent. If he had been convicted of that charge, Jones could have faced at least four years in prison.

Jones will be sentenced on May 29. He will likely get 24 months of a "stayed" sentence, meaning he would not have to serve time unless he breaks his probation.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Martha Holton Dimick waswas "extremely pleased" with the verdict.

The key evidence for the prosecution was a 30-second cell phone video that showed Jones masturbating over an unresponive victim. The incident happend last April.

Jones testifed he did not have sex with the woman but did masturbate over her, an act he said was consensual.

April 10, 2008

Bush halts troop withdrawals

President Bush announced on Thursday that the senior commander in Iraq may have "all the time he needs" before reducing the number of troops serving there, the New York Times reported.

Bush said that reducing troops further would be "catastrophic" to national interests and that the number of troops in Iraq would remain the same at least through the end of his presidency.

Congress Democrats, however, sharply disagreed with Bush's plans. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) said the president "refuses to face reality."

Calling last year's "surge" a success, Bush highlighted the importance of staying in Iraq in order to continue the broader struggle against Muslim extremism.

Bush also noted that the Iraqi government is increasingly taking matters into its own hands, paying for reconstruction and security more and more with its own revenues.

In accordance with recommendations from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the length of a tour for American soldiers will be shortened from 15 months to 12 months.

Putting the war in a historical context, Bush said the war spending is 4 percent of the gross national product, as opposed to 13 percent under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower.

“And while this war is difficult,? he said, “it is not endless.?