Old habits die hard, but they do die. When Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture Dave Frederickson visited Cuba, he admitted, “your dukes are up a bit.” But as he told Shelby Lindrud of the Forum News Service, “You get there and you’re welcomed with open arms by the people.” Frederickson told the Willmar Rotary Club that Minnesota business and ag leaders have made several trips to the island in the past few years and that Minnesota “was one of the first states to engage with Cuba. We continue to do that.” Poultry, soybeans, corn and dairy are large exports into Cuba so the state “would stand to benefit with enhanced trade with Cuba,” he said.
Even though the new layout for the Lake Superior Zoo hasn’t been finalized, zoo officials knew Max the cougar’s days were numbered. Peter Passi of the Duluth News-Tribune writes that while the elderly cougar’s enclosure is of satisfactory size, its holding pen – where he is kept while zoo officials tend to his pen – was tagged five years ago by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums as too small. After the flood of 2012, the zoo and city officials began discussion on a new footprint for the zoo, and none of the talks included the part with the cougar enclosure. Since Max is near the end of his lifespan — he’s 16 — zoo officials decided to move him to the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, where he will live the rest of his days.
Finland (on the North Shore) is prepping for the annual St. Urho’s Day celebrations this weekend, honoring the saint who drove the grasshoppers out of Finland (the Northern European country) and saved the grape crop – or so the story goes. Jamey Malcomb of the Duluth News Tribune quotes organizer Honor Schauland, who says the celebrations get bigger and bigger: “We really put a lot of effort into getting the word out, (having) activities for everyone and just (being) a really fun thing to do at the end of winter when we’re all kind of bored and cabin-feverish.” Events include a beauty contest of men dressed as women, a pancake breakfast, a parade, a sloppy joe lunch and Finnish folk music, and entertainment into the evening at local bars and restaurants.
If you’re into birds, nature threw a curve last week with the appearance of the mountain bluebird near St. Cloud. Sue Halena of the Daily Times writes that Milt Blomberg of St. Augusta spotted the mountain bluebird at 11:15 a.m. Saturday between Sherburne County Road 8 and the Mississippi River south of St. Cloud. Blomberg didn’t have his camera so he called Dan Orr of Sauk Rapids to take a photo. Orr has seen the mountain bluebird in its usual habitat but never before in Minnesota, he said. Blomberg lost sight of the bird at 2:15 p.m. Saturday, but other birders found it Sunday morning and kept track of it until 1:15 p.m., he said. The bird is likely a “vagrant” — a bird that gets off its migration route.
So, now there’s this: Minnesota State University Moorhead wants to get its name out so it’s offering a sizable scholarship for students who use the hashtag #BeADragon in the most clever way. Grace Lyden of the Fargo Forum quotes Doug Peters, interim vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, as saying it’s an unusual move to raise visibility. “We know that in today’s world, people live in a couple different communities,” Peters said. “They live in the community of the people they’re with every day, but they also live in the social media community, and we thought it was an opportunity for us to engage prospective students in their virtual community.” The hashtag has been tweeted more than 1,000 times, he said Thursday. Camilla Herbel, an 18-year-old senior at Moorhead High School, made a video in which she interviewed her teachers about why they teach and won a $2,500 scholarship in late February. “I don’t have to sit down for multiple hours to put together a five-page essay or anything like that. I can just send out a tweet,” she said.
Speaking of 21st-century tech, Albert Lea schools are assessing four years of computer use by its students. Sam Wilmes of the Albert Lea Tribune writes that second-graders at Sibley and Lakeview elementary schools have gotten new iPads and students at Halverson and Hawthorne Elementary will get them in the next couple of weeks. The iPads help second-graders with writing, reading, math and research. The district has replaced iPod touches with iPad minis for kindergarteners and first-graders and are using a program that allows students to capture their work then share it with teachers.
Speaking of computers used for big projects, Mayo Clinic researchers are bullish on the predicted results of a $5.7 million compact 3T MRI scanner soon to go online at its Rochester campus. Brett Boese of the Rochester Post Bulletin writes that neuroradiologist John Huston III and medical physicist Matt Bernstein are optimistic that using the MRI scanner will clarify their work on the brain and improve patient diagnoses and outcomes, particularly involving strokes, Alzheimer’s, tumors and high-impact injuries such as concussions. The new machine may also provide clearer imaging for the clinic’s proton beam centers in Rochester and Phoenix. The one-of-a-kind MRI was installed Feb. 20 at the Charlton North Building and is in the final stages of being calibrated. It was fully funded by a National Institutes of Health grant. Huston said the compact model will allow for especially important work involving traumatic brain injuries, where subtle changes can be more easily tracked.
This one’s kind of convoluted, so see if you can follow along. Jana Hollingsworth of the Bemidji Pioneer reports that several years ago, students began complaining about sexual abuse and sex-based behavior by a senior administrator in the Hibbing school district. In September 2013, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights started an investigation that lasted more than a year and involved more than 60 interviews. They found the behavior of the male administrator constituted “a hostile environment.” The investigation found that the administrator, who is not a trained counselor, would question female students about sexual abuse. One female student was summoned from class twice a week for a semester to discuss her abuse while another was asked to describe the physical sensations she experienced during her sexual abuse. Previous media reports identified the administrator as an assistant principal who was fired in August 2014, but who requested a hearing in front of a state arbitrator, who ruled last February that the district lacked sufficient grounds to terminate him and ordered that he be reinstated. In the most recent ruling, the department found the district failed to comply with its own harassment investigation policies and was instructed to find an expert to review its policies and procedures to ensure compliance with state and federal laws, and to get training for not only the administrator, but also the school board, superintendent, other administrators and faculty and staff on discrimination, boundaries and reporting responsibilities under Minnesota law.
Mower and Freeborn county officials are warning of credit card scams that have become more frequent in the area. Jordan Gerard of the Austin Daily Herald writes that there has been an increase in credit card skimming – a scam in which a device is placed over the top of a credit card reader and when a card is swiped through, it collects the data from the card’s magnetic strip. A pinhole camera can also read your PIN. Fraud does not only occur at gas stations or ATMs — it can happen at restaurants when you give the wait staff your card. Deputies said you can ask them to bring the credit card machine to the table or ask to pay up front where you can see what they’re doing with your card.
The Hormel Historic Home is bringing the wonders of Spam to area children at its free Spam Kids Fest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on March 12. The Austin Daily Herald reports that the event is common in Hawaii, but the birthplace of the miracle meat in a can hasn’t had such an event in many years. Activities will include crafts, Spam taste testing, a science presentation, Spam stories from World War II and child-approved tours of the Historic Home. Spammy and Sir Can-A-Lot will be available for photo opportunities. The event will conclude with a 1:30 p.m. musical performance by the Spare Parts band playing the canstruments — instruments made from Spam cans.