December 7, 2007

Loons dying across Great Lakes

Minnesota’s state bird, the loon, is dying by the thousands across a growing portion of the Great Lakes because of a bacterial disease that starts from the lake floor.
The Star Tribune is following developments in the story, noting that officials are concerned about the potential for deaths around the Duluth-Superior harbor.
While the issue was first noticed in the eastern portion of the Great Lakes chain eight years ago, loon deaths are now spreading west; Lake Superior hasn’t been affected yet, however.
This year the area of dead loons has spread to hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.
It can’t be determined how many of the birds have died during the past several years because no one knows how large their populations are in northern Canada, according to Helen Domske, an extension specialist for the New York Sea Grant.
Domske guesses that thousands have either died and sank or washed up in remote areas and never counted. Based on those that are collected and bagged, Michigan, Ontario, New York and Pennsylvania have had “substantial? die-offs this year.
Scientists think that the loons are killed by Type E botulism that makes its way up the food chain from the bottom of the lake.
Toxic bacterial cells work their way to loons through quagga mussels and round gobies, a type of fish. Because these mussels and gobies are not native to the Great Lakes, the issue has been called another unseen threat from invasive species.
Research is also being done to determine whether higher lake temperatures and lower water levels in recent years have stimulated plant growth and therefore increased plant growth.

November 26, 2007

Bullet hits girl’s pillow

Authorities in Stearns County were searching Monday for whoever fired the shot that pierced a 16-year-old girl’s bedroom wall and hit her pillow.
The Associated Press reported on the incident, which hit “close to home? for me (it happened about 5 miles away from where my family lives), using information from The St. Cloud Times.
The shot happened between 11 a.m. and noon Sunday at the home between Clearwater and St Augusta in central Minnesota. No one had permission to hunt in the area near the home.
According to the girl’s father, Tony Studer, Johanna Armstrong returned to her room after taking a shower to find her pillow damaged and feathers scattered around her room.
He said they thought it was the family cat, but then they found the black-powder bullet in the bed covers and found the bullet hole in the house.
The St. Cloud Times reported that the girl had been sleeping in the bed less than an hour before the bullet was fired.
Stearns County Sgt. Ken Friday said the shot came from a .50-caliber muzzleloader, which he said is powerful enough to kill both deer and people.
The muzzleloader deer hunting season started over the weekend in Minnesota.

The St. Cloud Times:

The Associated Press:

November 18, 2007

"Idols" victorious at American Music Awards

The 35th year of the American Music Awards resembled an episode of “American Idol,? with show veterans Chris Daughtry and Carrie Underwood winning on Sunday.
The wins of the “Idol? stars over superstars like Justin Timberlake and Beyonce may possibly have come with some help from new voting rules, according to Reuters. The ceremony, the kickoff to Hollywood’s award season, featured public online voting for the first time.
Daughtry’s rock band won awards for favorite breakthrough artist, favorite pop-rock album for “Daughtry,? and favorite adult contemporary artist – winning all three of their nominations and beating out artists like Timberlake and Linkin Park.
Underwood won all three of the categories she was nominated for as well – favorite female country artist, favorite country album for “Some Hearts,? and the T-Mobile text-in award.
Daughtry was a finalist on the fifth season in 2006, while Underwood took the top honor during the fourth season of “Idol.?
Underwood followed her win with the best new artist award at the Grammy Awards this year.
Timberlake was a double winner, receiving male pop-rock artist honors and the soul/R&B album award for his “FutureSex/LoveSounds.?
The Associated Press has a short article about Beyonce’s surprise performance with country band Sugarland, in which they played her hit “Irreplaceable.? Later on in the show, Beyonce accepted the international artist award, which has been given to only a handful of artists, including Michael Jackson, Rod Steward, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith.
The lengthy list of performers included Rihanna, Chris Brown, Alicia Keys, Maroon 5, Lenny Kravitz, Duran Duran, Celine Dion, Queen Latifah, Avril Lavigne, Rascal Flatts and the Jonas Brothers.
Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie opened the show with songs from her solo debut album.
The awards show, which honors many of the genres in American music today, was hosted for the fourth time by Jimmy Kimmel. In the three-hour ceremony, broadcast live on ABC, joked about the lack of jokes about current events due to the writer’s strike in Hollywood.
“It may not look like it, but I’m striking right now in my heart,? he said.
Not affected by the strike: the show’s basic strike, which The Associated Press said was written before the strike began last week.
The producers of the awards show changed the voting procedures this year.
Winners were decided by a poll of 20,000 music buyers in the past, while about 1.2 million people voted online this year at a Web site made by ABC, a spokesperson told Reuters.
Nominees were still selected in the traditional way, based on national sales and radio play.
The ceremony also changed venues. Traditionally held at the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles, this year’s winners were announced at the brand new Nokia Theatre nearby.
While the night’s show may have resembled an episode of “Idol,? it doesn’t have nearly as many viewers as the ratings powerhouse: last year’s ceremony hit a record low of 10.8 million viewer, according to Nielsen Media Research.
That was half the number who tuned in for the “more prestigious? Grammy Awards this past February.

The Associated Press:


November 11, 2007

Planetary system discovered

The lead of the New York Times’ article on the discovery of a planetary system reads, “They say there is no place like home, but it is beginning to look as if there is a place sort of like home 41 light-years from here in the constellation Cancer.?
Astronomers said Tuesday that there were at least five planets circling a star there, where only four had been known before. This makes it the most extensive planetary system previously found outside our own, and it also makes it the one that most resembles our solar system, with a giant planet orbiting far out from the star and four smaller ones circling closer.
While the planet is located in the so-called habitable zone where it is warm enough for liquid water, with 45 times the mass of Earth, the planet would more closely resemble Neptune or Saturn rather than Earth. These planets are known to have uninhabitable environments.
The team of astronomers, which reported its results in a telephone news conference from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said the discovery created hope that with time and more data, astronomers could find places out there that look like home. They also said it marked the start of a transition between studying planets and studying planetary systems.

New York Times:

November 4, 2007

Controversy over Hamline students blackface costumes

Six Hamline University students were suspended from their football team after the put on blackface and body paint to dress up as African tribesman for an off-campus Halloween party.
The players were suspended last week in an incident that has created a discussion about racial sensitivity at the St. Paul liberal arts college. A campus forum held Friday to discuss the issue had 100 people in attendance, according to the Star Tribune.
The university is investigating the incident to figure out whether the students violated policy, Hamline spokesman JacQui Getty said Sunday. Along with the players, two cheerleaders who assisted them with their costumes and supposedly posted photos of them on Facebook with a caption about “spooks? are also under investigation.
Getty said the situation was brought to the university’s attention by students upset by the posted photos. Some students had also posted them around campus.
The six players will not be allowed to participate in the rest of the football season but have not been suspended from school.
If the university’s investigation finds that a university policy was violated, Getty said, the students would go in front of a judicial board, where they could get a warning or even a suspension from school. She expects the investigation to be completed within the next couple weeks.
The Star Tribune notes that this recent incident comes at a time of heightened racial sensitivity in the Twin Cities. Last week, racist notes were placed under the doors of black students at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, prompting an investigation.
Star Tribune:

October 27, 2007

Colbert's "Facebook flock"

More than one million people have joined the Facebook group of Stephen Colbert, the comedian and host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,? more than any other presidential candidate.
A student from Loveless Academic Magnet Program High School in Montgomery, Ala., started the group “1,000,000 Strong For Stephen T. Colbert? on Oct. 16 after Colbert announced on his satirical news show that he wanted to be on the South Carolina primary ballot as both a Democrat and a Republican.
The group reached its goal Friday and continues to gain members, with 78 more reportedly joining every minute, according to The Associated Press. It’s by far the most popular political group on the networking site. The group “Stop Hillary Clinton: (One Million Strong AGAINST Hillary)? more than eight months to make half a million.
According to The New York Times blog “The Caucus,? the high volume of group members joining placed such a strain on Facebook’s server capacity that the group had to be forced offline temporarily.
Because Colbert continues to host his show while soliciting votes, he could face problems with Federal Election Committee laws. The FEC prohibits corporations from making contributions in connection with a federal election, including airtime. And while news programs can be exempt, they are only as long as a political party, political committee or candidate doesn’t control the show’s content.
The Associated Press said a report from the Rasmussen polling organization found that Colbert would get 13 percent of votes as an independent candidate against Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani. He would get 12 percent with Fred Thomspon as the GOP candidate.

The Star Tribune:

The New York Times:

October 20, 2007

FCC Plan Would Ease Regulations on Media Owners

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has circulated a plan to relax media ownership rules, including repealing a rule that forbids a company to own both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city.
Kevin Martin, chairman of the commission, wants to repeal the rule in the next two months. The proposal would allow for public comment on the proposed regulations in mid-November and a commission vote on Dec. 18.
If successful, the plan would be a big victory for some executives of media conglomerates.
Among them are Samuel Zell, the Chicago investor who is looking to complete a buyout of the Tribune Company, and Rupert Murdoch, who has lobbied against the rules for years in order to continue controlling both The New York Post and a Fox television station in New York.
Agency officials said the proposal seems to have the support of a majority of the five commission members, although it is not certain that Martin would proceed with a deregulatory approach on a vote of 3-to-2, which his predecessor tried without success.
According to officials, the commission would consider loosening the restrictions on the number of radio and television stations a company could own in the same city.
Right now, a company can own two television stations in the larger markets only if at least one is not among the four largest stations and if there are at least eight local stations. The rules also limit the number of radio stations that a company can own to no more than eight in each of the largest markets.
According to The Associated Press, Martin confirmed the details of his proposal in an interview with them Wednesday. The plan he is considering is “far more open and involves far more public input than the process followed by then-Chairman Michael Powell in 2003, Martin said.?
But media consolidation opponents said Wednesday that the chairman may be acting too fast.
A previous attempt to loosen ownership rules in 2003, in which Martin was in the majority, ended in a 3-to-2 vote, but the decision was invalidated by a federal appeals court. The New York Times says the court decided that the commission had failed to adequately justify the new regulations.
There was intense criticism from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill and a public outcry after the 2003 decision.
According to The New York Times, the deregulatory proposal is likely to put the agency once again at the center of a debate between the media companies, which view the rules as “anachronistic,? and civil rights, labor, religious and other groups that maintain the government that argue the government has let media conglomerates grow too large.
The New York Times also reports that industry executives had not expected the agency to move forth with proposals again so soon.
The proposed schedule calls for a public hearing in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 31; another hearing on Nov. 2 in Seattle; publication of the proposed rule on Nov. 13; and a commission vote on Dec. 18.

The New York Times:

The Associated Press:

October 13, 2007

Man's ear bit off by burglary suspect

An attacker broke into a Long Island man’s home, beat him with a karaoke machine and bit off his ear, police said. The man’s injuries were not considered life threatening, but doctors were unable to reattach the ear of the victim, said Nassau County police Officer Mary Verna.
The 64-year-old Uniondale, New York resident attempted to protect himself with a vacuum cleaner hose.
The 27-year-old attacker, punched and kicked him in the head and face before using the karaoke machine as a weapon, police said.
New York-based Newsday reports: “This guy just randomly picked this house,? said Sgt. Anthony Repalone, a police spokesman. “Obviously, his behavior was such that there may have been some drug involvement.?
Also according to Newsday, the victim was listed in satisfactory condition Friday, hospital spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg said.
The attacker, Luis Hidalgo, also of Uniondale, pleaded not guilty to charges of burglary and assault. He was being held at the Nassau County jail on bail of $250,000 cash or $500,000 bond, prosecutors said.
Newsday said responding officers found Hidalgo crouched in a hallway, noting that nothing was stolen from the house.
Police are investigating whether Hidalgo was high on drugs during the incident or mentally ill.

The Associated Press:


October 1, 2007

Boy charged in arson deaths of family released

A 10-year-old Greenville, Ohio boy charged with arson and murder in the deaths of five people, including his mother, was released to the custody of his grandmother Monday.
The child denies all the charges, the boy’s attorney, David Rohrer, told Darke County Juvenile Court Judge Michael McClurg on Monday morning. Rohrer also said that the boy’s age prevented him from fully understanding the situation.
According to CNN, Darke County Prosecutor Richard Howell told the Dayton Daily News last week that he was certain the boy was behind the fire. The boy, however, didn’t give investigators a clear motive.
The Associated Press reported September 22 that the boy had confessed to setting the fire, according to authorities. But CNN currently reports that his supporters say he gave in under three days of questioning.
The boy is now under house arrest and staying with grandmother Tammy Reed.
A forensic and psychological examination was planned for Friday.
The judge upheld the charges against the boy Monday: one juvenile court of arson and five counts of murder. The arson count carries a minimum of one to three years in detention. The murder counts could keep the boy in custody until age 21.
The boy could also be labeled a serious youth offender under Ohio law, which could lead to imprisonment for life.
Byer’s mother, Chanan Palmer, 31, and his sister, Kaysha Minnich, 8, died in the fire that roared through the two-story wood-frame duplex Sunday morning.
Also killed were Kayla Winans, 6, JeShawn Davis, 5, and Jasmine Davis, 3. They were the children of Christy Winans, 31, who escaped the fire.
Escaping the fire were Palmer’s son and Winans’ boyfriend.


The Associated Press:

September 29, 2007

Sixth person dies from brain-destroying amoeba in lake waters

A 14-year-old Phoneix boy died September 17 after picking up a killer amoeba while swimming in the warm shallows of a lake, the sixth death this year, reports The Associated Press.
The microscopic amoeba, Naegleria fowleri (nuh-GLEER-ee-uh FOWL’-erh-eye), enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain to feed, destroying brain tissue.
Attacks such as these are extremely rare but usually fatal. The Associated Press says six boys and young men have died this year in three states, with three cases in Florida, two in Texas and the most recent in Arizona.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Naegleria has killed 23 people in the United States from 1995 to 2004. The CDC knows of only several hundred cases globally since its discovery in Australia in the 1960s.
Naegleria grazes off algae and bacteria in the sediment of lakes, hot springs, even dirty swimming pools, living almost everywhere.
People become infected when they wade through shallow water and stir up the bottom, according to Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational waterborne illnesses for the CDC. If the stirred-up water shoots up the nose – by, for instance, doing a cannonball off a cliff – the amoeba can latch onto the olfactory nerve.
Infected people tend to complain of a stiff neck, headaches and fevers, showing signs of brain damage such as behavioral changes in the later stages, said Beach.
There is no good treatment, and people who have been attacked rarely survive, said Beach.
“Usually, from initial exposure it’s fatal within two weeks,? Beach said.
Some health officials have put their communities on high alert, telling people to stay away from warm, standing water.

The Associated Press:

September 22, 2007

Bush plans to veto children's health bill

President Bush said on Thursday he would veto a bill that would expand a children’s health program, calling it a step toward government-run health care.
At stake is the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a state-federal program that expires Sept. 30. It subsidizes health coverage for low-income people, mostly children, in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private coverage.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced a proposal Friday that would add 4 million people to the 6.6 million already participating by adding $35 billion over five years to the program. The addition would be financed by raising the federal cigarette tax by 61 cents to $1 per pack.
The Associated Press reports Bush as saying the measure is too costly, unacceptably raises taxes, and extends government-funded insurance to children in families who could afford private coverage. Instead, he has asked for an increase in funding for the program by $5 billion over the current $25 billion funding level for five years.
Bush’s threat of a veto drew criticism from Democrats and angered some Republicans who said his request was not sufficient, according to Reuters. The Associated Press reports that the bill’s backers reject Bush’s claim it would direct public money to families that can afford health insurance, with their goal to cover more of the millions of uninsured children. Financial incentives for states to cover their lowest-income children first would be part of the bill, they said.
While the bill has strong bipartisan support, Reuters reports that it is uncertain whether there are sufficient votes in both chambers to override a presidential veto.


The Associated Press:

September 15, 2007

Al-Qaeda sets bounty for cartoonist's murder

The purported head of al-Qaeda in Iraq has offered a reward for the murder of a cartoonist over his drawing of the Prophet Muhammad, according to an audio available on Islamist websites Saturday.
In August, a Swedish newspaper published drawing of the Prophet Muhammad’s head on the body of a dog sculpture.
Groups with ties to al-Qaida have denounced the drawings and placed a $100,000 bounty on the head of the cartoonist and a $50,000 reward to anyone who kills the newspaper’s editor.
Muslims think any visual representation of the Prophet is blasphemous, and many Muslims regard the dog as an impure animal.
According to an AP report available on USA Today’s website, the reaction to this cartoon has been “muted, in contrast to last year’s fiery demonstrations that erupted in several Muslim countries after a Danish newspaper published 12 cartoons of Muhammad that were widely seen in the Islamic world as insulting.?
The AP reports that al-Qaeda is not known to have any kind of presence in Europe.

USA Today: