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Archive for Thursday, March 14, 2002

Nation Briefs

March 14, 2002

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Atlanta: Former black radical receives life sentence

Rejecting the prosecution's call for a death sentence, a jury sentenced the former '60s radical known as H. Rap Brown to life in prison Wednesday for killing a sheriff's deputy in a shootout two years ago.

The jury deliberated for about five hours before deciding to spare the life of the Muslim cleric now called Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. He will not have a chance at parole.

"He's alive  and that creates another day for us to fight," said Al-Amin's brother, Ed Brown.

Al-Amin, 58, was convicted Saturday of killing Deputy Ricky Kinchen as the officer tried to serve him with an arrest warrant. Another deputy was wounded, but survived and identified Al-Amin as the gunman.

Rhode Island: Brain implant moves cursor by thought

A monkey with a fingernail-size brain implant moved a cursor on a computer screen just by thinking  the latest in a series of experiments that have raised hopes that paralyzed people might one day be able to control complex devices with their minds.

While humans have already been implanted with a similar device that allows control of a cursor, the set of thin wires used by the Brown University researchers is less bulky and utilized fewer neurons.

Three rhesus monkeys were given the implants, which were first used to record signals from their motor cortex  an area of the brain that controls movement  as they manipulated a joystick with their hands. Then those signals were used to develop a program that enabled one of the monkeys to continue moving the cursor with its brain.

During dozens of trials over several months, the monkey moved the cursor just by thinking and used it to touch dots that appeared on the screen, said John Donoghue, chairman of neuroscience at Brown.

Washington, D.C.: Study tracks military's credit card abuse

More than 700 military officers have walked away from debts on their government-issued credit cards, and one Navy employee who charged thousands in personal expenses has been promoted to the office that oversees Army finances.

Testifying Wednesday before a House panel, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said those disclosures and the findings of a continuing General Accounting Office investigation show that credit card abuse isn't being taken seriously at the Pentagon.

More than 46,000 Defense Department employees had defaulted on $62 million in official travel expenses charged to the government cards as of last November. The bad debts, which banks that issue the cards have been forced to write off, are growing at the rate of $1 million a month, according to Grassley.

Defense procurement director Deidre A. Lee said the Pentagon has taken significant steps in the past year to tighten controls over credit cards and to better train the employees who use them.

Chicago: Families file lawsuits in scaffold collapse

Chicago officials on Wednesday acknowledged a gap in the municipal building code that omits regulation of scaffolds as they pledged to take legal action against those responsible for last weekend's scaffold collapse at the John Hancock Center.

Meanwhile, the families of all three women killed in the accident filed lawsuits in Cook County Circuit Court against the manufacturer, assembler and operator of the scaffolding, as well as the owners of the Hancock. A judge immediately issued a protective order requiring the preservation of scaffold wreckage, inspection records and other potential evidence in the cases.

Killed in the collapse were Melissa Cook, 29, and Nanatta Cameron, 39, both of Chicago, and Jill Semplinski-Nelson, 27, of Olathe, Kan.

Virginia: Gender restriction put on airport frisking

Screeners at airport checkpoints will not frisk passengers of the opposite sex, the head of the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday.

John Magaw, who heads the security agency, said male security agents would pat down males and females would do the same for females.

"You will not have a male frisking a female," Magaw said.

In addition, the security agency is setting standards for when to frisk at airport checkpoints, Magaw said.

Said Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta: "We want every passenger to be treated with respect."

The Association of Flight Attendants said hundreds of its members reported being touched inappropriately by screeners of the opposite sex.

Union spokeswoman Dawn Deeks said the complaints ended when the Transportation Security Administration took over the responsibility for airline security on Feb. 17.

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