« January 2008 | Main | March 2008 »

February 28, 2008

Road rage turns violent

A road rage incident near Shakopee on Wednesday turned violent when an enraged driver pulled a woman from her car and threw her onto the street during rush hour traffic, the Star Tribune reported.

Jennifer Boulden, mother of five from Prior Lake, missed her exit on Hwy. 169 south of Shakopee and made a U-turn, angering another driver. The driver honked this horn at her and motioned for her to pull over.

She pulled onto the shoulder, and the man came over to her window and started screaming. He then turned away to walk back to his truck, and Boulden followed him, apologizing. The man started swearing, and she became frightened. She tried to call 911, but the man grabbed her phone and threw it to the ground. The phone shattered.

The man then picked Boulden up and threw her onto the road.

"I remember rolling over and hearing skidding brakes. A lady got out and stopped traffic. A man ran and scooped me up and carried me to side of road," Boulden told the Star Tribune.

State Patrol Lt. Mark Peterson said that incidents of road rage are becoming more frequent, especially during rush hour.

The man sped off in his truck before anyone could get his license plate number. Witness descriptions on the man and the truck were varied.

Boulden was released from the hospital on Thursday.

February 27, 2008

Light rail gets green light

The Metropolitan Council OK'd a transit plan on Wednesday that includes building a new light rail line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Star Tribune reported.

The approved plan calls for an 11-mile, 15-stop light rail line called the Central Corridor. The Pioneer Press, however, reported that the line would have 20 stops.

The line will cost $909 million to build and will open in 2014.

The Met Council has until September to request federal funding. If approved, the federal government would pay half the bill, and local governments would pay the rest.

Kathleen O'Brien, a vice president at the University of Minnesota, endorsed the plan "with reservations." The approved plan calls for turning Washington Ave. into a pedestrian mall.

The U hoped the plan could include a tunnel under the university, believing an at-grade line would cause traffic problems and would reduce patients' access to health care.

A tunnel would be too expensive, however, and would raise the project's price tage to a level too high to qualify for federal funding.

University officials were also concerned that vibrations from the line may cause problems in nearby laboratories.

O'Brien said the university prefers a northern route that would run through the Dinkytown area in lieu of the Washington Ave. route.

The U is in the process of conducting a study of the northern alignment. The results of the study will not be published until September.

If the Met Council goes ahead with the pedestrian mall plan for Washington Ave., the University would prefer to keep the 1,500 busses that use the street each day off it.

The pedestrian mall would also displace 25,000 vehicles per day that would have to be rerouted to surrounding streets.

February 26, 2008

Philharmonic in North Korea

The New York Philharmonic played an unprecedented concert in North Korea on Tuesday, the New York Times reported.

It was the first time that a major American cultural organization appeared in Pyongyang, the communist nation's capital.

The concert is seen as an opening for warmer relations between the United States and North Korea. The two have been at political odds in recent years over North Korea's nuclear program.

Lorin Maazel, the Philharmonic's music director, said as many as 200 million people may have watched the broadcast.

Though Kim Jong-il, North Korea's leader, was not at the performance, many political figures, including the vice-president and the cultural minister, were in attendance.

The orchestra played works by Wagner, Dvorak, Bernstein and Gershwin, as well as a traditional Korean piece and the two nations' national anthems.

February 24, 2008

Analysis: Updates

CNN reported the story about the attacks at the U.S. Embassy on Thursday, with an update on Sunday.

The Thursday article lays out the facts as they were known at that point: what happened, who was involved, specific numbers as they were available, a few statements from U.S. and Serbian officials, response elsewhere in the country, and a little background information about Kosovo's independence.

The second story advances the news by telling the reader what happened to the protesters--the Serbian government arrested 200 people involved in the riots. The story also talks about more violence in the region, summarizes what the Thursday article reported, and reports the state of the embassies and consulates in the region after the violence.

The update is helpful because it fills in the gaps that the Thursday article wasn't able to provide and satisfies the reader's curiosity about the aftermath of the incidents.

Minnesota's moose rapidly disappearing

The Minnesota moose population in northern Minnesota is nearly extinct, the Star Tribune reported Sunday.

The moose are dying of what scientists call "tip-over disease." Moose afflicted with this mysterious disease simply weaken and crumple to the ground at times they should be very healthy, such as in the prime of their life and in the fall.

Though the cause of the disease is still unknown, scientists think it may have to do with deer parasites, heat, stress, or a combination.

Researchers have been tracking the moose since 2002. Of the 114 moose in the study, more than 40 died of unknown causes.

The program has struggled with finances in the past few years, but recently received a $200,000 grant from the federal government.

The researchers often tranquilize the moose and take blood, hair, and stool samples in a search for clues about the perplexing illness.

One of the scientists involved in the moose-tracking project has attributed the die-off to global warming. The average winter temperature in Minnesota has climbed 11 degrees since 1961.

Nader enters presidential race

Ralph Nader announced Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press that he is running for president in 2008, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Nader, 73, also ran in the 2000 and 2004 elections as an independent candidate.

Nader cites America's disenchantment with the Democratic and Republican Parties as one of the main reasons he is entering the race. He also wants to address some topics he believes the other candidates ignore: corporate crime, labor rights, and wasteful military spending.

“You take that framework of people feeling locked out, shut out, marginalized and disrespected," Nader told Meet the Press. “In that context, I have decided to run for president.’’

Nader earned 2.7% of the national popular vote in 2000. Many believe that he took votes away from Democratic candidate Al Gore, tipping the scales in favor of Republican candidate George W. Bush.

February 21, 2008

Bars find new way to evade smoking ban with 'Theater Night'

Local bars have found a creative way to get around the state's smoking ban: "Theater Nights."

The statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, passed last year, allows actors to smoke onstage during a theatrical production. Dozens of bars are now dubbing their patrons to be "actors," thus bypassing the law.

An area lawyer told the Star Tribune that he estimates as many as 100 bars could be employing this technique this weekend.

The State Health Department is waiting for the state attorney general's opinion on the legality of the theater nights. State legislators expected the loophole to be plugged soon.

Several local bar owners have reported that the theater nights have significantly increased their business.

U.S. Embassy in Serbia attacked

Serbian rioters, upset over U.S. support for Kosovo's independence, attacked the U.S. Embassy in the Serbain capital of Belgrade on Thursday, CNN reported.

The rioters attacked the building by throwing rocks, breaking windows and setting fire to the U.S. flag flying outside. Police responded by throwing tear gas at the demonstrators.

Kosovo delcared independence Sunday, and the United States was one of the first nations to recognize Kosovo's sovereignty.

Police found one charred body inside the Embassy, presumably one of the rioters. The only people inside the building at the time of the attack were U.S. Marines, all of whom are accounted for.

A Serbian magazine reported that 32 people were injured, including 14 police officers. Other sources, however, put the number of injured people as high as 107.

Other groups tried to attack the Turkish and British embassies, but those efforts were not successful.

Serbian officials called the attacks "regrettable."

February 20, 2008

Four die in Minn. bus crash

Four children died and 14 others were injured after a school bus crashed Tuesday in Cottonwood, Minn., the Associated Press reported.

Motorists who happened upon the accident became rescuers, helping the bus driver pull screaming children from the bus and taking them in their cars to the hospital.

Classes were cancelled Wednesday at the Lakeview School in Cottonwood, which has 580 children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Police said a van struck the bus, which was transporting 28 children at the time, causing it to tip over and land on its side on a pickup truck.

The victims were taken to three different hospitals in Minnesota and South Dakota. Names and ages of the victims have not yet been released.

The police are currently investigating the accident.

February 17, 2008

Analysis: Structure

Take a closer look at Friday's story about the child's meat grinder accident.

The author decided to not to structure his story in the typical inverted pyramid format, putting the most important information first and the next most important information second, then the third, etc. Instead, he chose to write his story in a prose format.

He begins with the sentence, "Sue Krumrey had funneled the first of three tubs of beef trimmings into a whirring, motorized grinder. She reached behind her to grab the second tub." This does not answer the typical who/what/where/when questions that are usually addressed in the lead. He then goes on to tell the story of the accident as it progresses, from the time the mother was using the grinder up to the time of the surgery.

This is an effective way to write the story. Even though the information is not presented in order from most important to least important, the reader still gets all the information he or she needs to know. The prose-style narrative effectively gets the reader to continue reading. It's suspensful, just like a novel or short story might be.

Twin Cities' storm water tunnels showing their age

The storm water tunnels deep under the Twin Cities are starting to split apart and are in danger of collapsing, the Star Tribune reported.

Minneapolis has more than 15 miles of tunnels, many of which are more than 100 years old. They collect storm water from city streets and rooftops and send it to the Mississippi River.

The tunnels will cost $75 million to repair.

Many of the tunnel walls are cracked. If a wall were to collapse completely, it would back up the tunnel and flood the surrounding area.

The pressure is so high in a certain St. Paul tunnel that a manhole erupts like a geyser every time it rains. In other places, manhole covers are blown to the sky during storms.

Repairing the tunnels is very dangerous. Two workers repairing cracks in a St. Paul tunnel drowned last July when they were unable to leave during a storm.

February 16, 2008

Eight die in street-racing accident

Eight people died in Maryland Saturday when a car plowed into a group of street-racing fans obscured by tire smoke, USA Today reports.

About 50 people were gathered to watch the street races on a remote highway 20 miles outside Washington. Two cars taking off at the start of the race left a huge cloud of smoke. Another car, unable to see the spectators in the smoke, plowed into the crowd.

"There were just bodies everywhere; it was horrible," Crystal Gaines, 27, told USA Today reporters.

Police have not yet charged the driver of the vehicle that hit the crowd.

The victims were in their 20s-60s. Seven people died at the scene and an eighth died in the hospital. At least six others were injured.

The remote highway has very little traffic in the early morning, making it a frequent spot for street-racing, police said.

February 15, 2008

Child's hand mangled in meat grinder

A 5-year-old boy's hand got caught in a meat grinder on Tuesday, prompting an emergency surgery, the Star Tribune reported.

Wyatt Krumrey of Buffalo Lake, Minn., 80 miles west of the Twin Cities, accidentally put his hand in the machine when his mother turned away for a split-second.

When Wyatt screamed, his mother unplugged the grinder and called 911, while his father began unscrewing parts of the grinder to free Wyatt's hand. They wrapped the hand in towels, his index finger dangling.

They met the ambulance on a rural rood and sped toward the Twin Cities.

Surgeons at the Hennepin County Medical Center spent 10 hours repairing the boy's nerves, blood vessels, and bones.

Wyatt's finger did not need to be amputated.

The Krumreys have a long tradition of butchering meat at their family farm.

It is unknown whether the little boy, who loves playing with monster trucks and feeding the pigs, sheep, chickens and cows, will regain use of his right hand.

February 13, 2008

Writers' strike ends

Hollywood writers, who had been on strike since November, returned to work on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

The 10,500 members of the Writers Guild of America accepted the studios' offer on a new contract which gave them a bigger portion of fees charged for media distributed on the internet.

Writers will now get a flat fee of $1,200 for the first two years their content is streamed online, plus 2% of the distributor's gross in the third year.

The strike is estimated to have cost the film and television industry $3 billion in lost revenue.

Walt Disney Co., which own ABC, and General Electric Co., which owns NBC, have already announced that they would scale back fall TV pilots or cancel them altogether.

Fewer new shows means less nead for writers. "What we're all finding is there's a certain amount of, `OK, what are we going to do now?'" Shane Brennan, writer and executive producer for the CBS drama "NCIS" told the Associated Press.

This months Academy Awards ceremony, which was in danger of being boycotted by actors supporing the writers' cause, can now proceed as planned.

February 12, 2008

Swiss art theft

Armed robbers stole four paintings worth $163 million on Sunday from a collection in Zurich, the BBC reported.

The theft of the four works, by Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, and Cezanne, is considered to be one of the largest art thefts in the last 20 years.

One man entered the gallery Sunday and threatened the guard with a pistol while the other two nabbed the paintings. The paintings were behind glass and an alarm went off as soon as they were touched. Nevertheless, the thieves got away.

The works are so well-known that they would be impossible to sell in the open market, the museum director said.

The FBI estimates that $6 billion in stolen art is sold each year, reports USA Today.

Zurich has a legacy of art thefts: two Picasso paintings were taken from a gallery last week, seven Picassos worh $44 million were stolen in 1994, and 21 paintings worth hundreds of millions of dollars were taken from another Zurich gallery in the late 1980s.

February 10, 2008

Analysis: Attribution

The Kansas death penalty story I blogged about on Friday contains several sources, including death penalty experts, a court opinion written by justices, a murdered child's mother, Republican Gov. Dane Heineman, and the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Some of the sources, were named, such as Gov. Dane Heineman and Executive Director Richard Dieter. The rest of the sources were more vague. "Death penalty officials" could be anyone. Are these university professors that research capital punishment? Are they members of an advocacy group like the Death Penalty Information Center? The reader doesn't know for certain. Similarly, the author chooses not to reveal the judges and justices by name, but the attribution is still credible because court opinions are public record and can be accessed by anyone.

The sources are clustered together. The reader would be confused if the author chose to quote a source at the beginning of the article and then again several paragraphs down. Clustering puts similar information together and helps organize the story.

The author chooses to use several direct quotes from reputable sources, which adds credibility to the information. His attributions are clear and effective.

Most of the information in this story is not attributed to a source specifically, but is either historical information or public record that doesn't need to be attributed in order to give it veracity.

February 9, 2008

U of M tuition may surpass $10,000

Tuition for the University of Minnesota will probably surpass $10,000 next fall, the Star Tribune reported.

Students currently pay between $9,661 and $9,882, depending on family income.

"I don't see any possibility that we can roll it back," University President Robert Bruininks said.

The 7.5 increase is due in part to lower-than-expected funding from the state.

Minnesota has higher tuition than Wisconsin, Ohio State, UCLA, California-Berkeley, Florida, Texas and Washington, seven of the 10 schools that the university considers to be its peers. The other three, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois, have higher tuition than the U.

Wisconsin students attending Minnesota schools under the reciprocity will pay approximately $2,400 less than will Minnesota natives.

February 8, 2008

Nebraska bans the electric chair

CNN reported Friday that the Nebraska Supreme Court has ruled the electric chair to be unconstitutional.

Of the 36 states that employ capital punishment, Nebraska was the only one to still use the electric chair. The other 35 use lethal injection as the preferred means of execution.

In its opinion, the court recognized the "intense pain and agonizing suffering" to be a violation of the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment to the Federal Constitution.

The judges also wrote that death by electrocution "has proven itself a dinosaur more befitting the laboratory of Baron Frankenstein than the death chamber."

Since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, 154 people have been executed by means of electrocution.

A measure to abolish the death penalty altogether in Nebraska was narrowly defeated last year.

February 7, 2008

Bridge victims will get more relief

The amount of financial relief victims of the I-35W bridge collapse will be allowed to claim has been doubled from $10,000 to $20,000, the Star Tribune reports.

That money will come from a $1 million fund set aside last year for victims who have lost income because of the disaster.

The government decided to double the amount because more than $900,000 is still left in the fund.

Legislators will meet next week to start making a more permanent financial plan for the victims. 13 died and 145 were injured in last August's bridge collapse.

February 6, 2008

Super Tuesday results: McCain, Clinton emerge on top

The Super Tuesday results are in: Republican John McCain and Democrat Hillary Clinton are their respective parties' front-runners for the presidential nomination, USA Today reports.

The current delegate count: for the Democrats, 1000 for Clinton and 902 for Ill. Sen. Barack Obama; for the Republicans, 703 for McCain, 269 for Mitt Romney, and 190 for Mike Huckabee. It takes 2,025 delegates to win the Democratic nomination and 1,191 delegates to win the Republican nomination.

"We intended to be competitive and we were," Clinton said. "And I think the result last night proved the wisdom of my investment."

Although McCain and Clinton appear to be leading, the campaign is far from over. McCain announced he would return to the campaign trail Thursday with specific proposals for the economy.

Obama is far from bowing out. He will hold a major rally in New Orleans in order to gain support for the Lousiana caucus Saturday.

February 4, 2008

Rebel violence in Chad

The New York Times reported that violence between the government and rebels erupted in Chad's capital Monday, causing thousands to flee the city.

The United Nations Security Council decried the violent action of the rebels, demanding an end to their hostile actions.

Chad is currently home to thousands of refugees fleeing ongoing genocide in neighboring Sudan. The violence in Sudan has also spilled into Chad, displacing 200,000 Chadians. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on foreign aid because of the violence in the two countries.

The rebel army entered Ndjamena, the capital of Chad, on Saturday with the intent of deposing the president. The government successfully fought back the rebels to the outskirts of the city, but they returned on Monday.

The government deployed tanks and helicopter gunships, while the rebels fought with automatic weapons and truck-mounted machine guns. Tens of thousands of people left Chad for Cameroon to escape the gunfire.

Chad has a history of unstable government. Chad's current president, Idriss Deby, is believed to have ordered the torture and murder of thousands of people in the past eight years of his presidency.

February 3, 2008

Analysis: Leads

Here are two news leads for the Australian Aborigines story I blogged about last week, the first from the New York Times and the second from the Associated Press, as printed in the Minnesota Daily:

"The new government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says it will apologize for past mistreatment of Australia’s Aboriginal minority when Parliament convenes next month, addressing an issue that has blighted race relations in the country for years."

"As a girl, Mari Melito Russell felt out of place. She was darker than the other kids at school, she felt more comfortable in the forest than her suburban home and she had vivid dreams of an Aboriginal woman beckoning her."

Suppose we had no idea what these two stories, dealing with the same issue, were going to be about. The first lead from the New York Times answers the four questions: 1) who (Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister); 2) when (next month); 3) where (Australia); and 4) what (an apology to Aborigines).

The AP lead takes a different approach. This lead is an anecdote about an Aboriginal girl and her life in suburban city in Australia. It reads like prose; it doesn't answer the four questions right away but instead chooses to open like a story and then relay the hard facts further down the page.

So why would these two writers choose to start their stories in such different ways? It's a matter of style. One author thought it best to write a traditional story whereas the other decided to take a more colorful approach. Obviously not every lead has the same format. If every lead were the same, the publication would become difficult to read. Imagine if every lead were like the AP example--the reader would have to sift through vignette after vignette to get to the meat of the story. Conversely, if every lead were straight facts like the New York Times example, the reader might find the newspaper to be dull and drab.

These aren't the only two ways to write a lead. There are countless more. But whatever way the author chooses to write the lead, the goal is always the same: to engage the author in the material right from the start and to get him or her to read the second paragraph.

Obama in Minneapolis

Barack Obama, U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful, stopped in Minnesota for a rally Saturday afternoon, the Pioneer Press reported.

Speaking before a crowd of 20,000 supporters at the Target Center, Obama focused on his favorite themes: change and hope. "We want change we can believe in and that has to be earned," he said. "Hope is not blind optimism... I know how hard change is."

Several candidates have chosen to campaign in the Twin Cities recently because of Minnesota's caucus on Tuesday.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney was also in town Saturday, Democratic U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton will attend a rally at Augsburg College in Minneapolis today, and Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul will speak at the University of Minnesota on Monday.

Clinton and Paul's decision to appear at colleges is not abitrary; Minnesota had the highest turnout in the nation among young voters in the 2004 presidential election, the Star Tribune reports.

February 1, 2008

Microsoft bids on Yahoo

Micrsoft Corp made a $42 billion bid to acquire Yahoo Inc. Friday, Yahoo News reports. Microsoft hopes the move will help topple internet rival Google Inc.

Microsoft, known for its software programs, forsees trouble unless it diversify by giving people access to computer programs online. As more and more people get their news and entertainment from the internet, online advertising will become an $80 billion market by 2010.

Yahoo has not yet agreed to the acquisition, but analysts predict the company, whose stock sunk to a four-year low this week, will most likely acquiesce. Wall Street, however, is unsure about the proposal: Yahoo's stock is up 48% since the announcement, while Microsoft's is down nearly 7%.

If the companies do combine, their U.S. audience will be 142 million, about 18 million more than Google's.

Yahoo was once the internet's dominant search provider, but the dot-com burst left a gap in the internet that Google was more than willing to provide. Google now controls more than 60% of the U.S. search market, USA Today reports.

It is still unclear whether the acquisition would violate U.S. and EU antirust laws.