Archive for Thursday, January 20, 2005

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January 20, 2005

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Boston

FBI issues alert on terror suspects

The FBI notified law enforcement officials Wednesday to be on the lookout for four Chinese nationals described as possible terror suspects who may be headed to the Boston area.

Federal law enforcement officials said they had received a tip about an unspecified threat against Boston, and released photographs of the two men and two women they were seeking. Authorities said none of the names had been on previous watch lists of terror suspects.

The investigation stirred a frenzy of media reports and prompted Gov. Mitt Romney, who had gone to Washington to attend today's presidential inauguration, to decide to return to Massachusetts later Wednesday.

Romney cautioned that the threats were unsubstantiated and uncorroborated. He said the state's threat level would not be raised, but more people would be on duty in the state's emergency management bunker outside Boston.

Washington, D.C.

With airline water, bottled might be best

Asking for bottled water or a canned drink aboard an airliner might be the safest way to fly.

Coliform bacteria are showing up in more airliners than last summer when the government first took steps toward requiring sanitation improvements.

The Environmental Protection Agency will now have domestic airlines test themselves and submit results to the agency to see if the trend continues. Some self-sampling has begun, and airlines are adapting their routine disinfections to meet EPA guidance.

Airlines now must disinfect water systems every three months and water carts and hoses leading to aircraft monthly.

Coliform bacteria, usually harmless, indicate that harmful organisms could be present. EPA said Wednesday it found coliform bacteria in 17 percent of the airliners it randomly tested in November and December, an increase from the 13 percent reported in the first round of tests in August and September.

New York City

Firms deliver analysis of exit poll problems

Two firms that conducted Election Day exit polls for major news organizations reported Wednesday that they found a number of problems with the way the polls were carried out last year, resulting in estimates that overstated John Kerry's share of the vote.

Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International found that the Democratic challenger's supporters were more likely than President Bush's supporters to participate in exit polls interviews. They also found that more errors occurred in exit polls conducted by younger interviewers, and about half of the interviewers were 34 or under.

Exit poll material is used to help make projections of winners and to supplement the vote count with an analysis of why people voted as they did. The data is not meant to be made public, but several Web sites posted leaked exit poll material on Election Day 2004 suggesting a Kerry lead.

Chicago

FAA trims spacing between airplanes

A mere 1,000 feet of air will separate airplanes from other planes that are above and below starting Thursday at high altitudes in the United States, a change that takes advantage of the pinpoint accuracy of modern avionics to almost double the number of corridors in the sky, the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday.

The move will allow pilots to fly more direct routes, save the airlines billions of dollars in fuel costs and improve safety, according to the FAA, pilots and air traffic controllers.

The vertical spacing between planes is being cut in half, from the longtime standard minimum of 2,000 feet at altitudes between 29,000 feet and 41,000 feet. While planes will be stacked closer together vertically, the horizontal spacing will remain at least 5.75 miles, as will the vertical spacing of 1,000 feet for aircraft flying at altitudes of 29,000 feet and below.

The FAA and other safety experts say passengers have no grounds to fear planes will stray off their assigned altitudes and collide with other aircraft. Advanced altimeters, which measure altitude, are required to be accurate to within less than 200 feet, and autopilots can hold the assigned altitude with little deviation, said FAA spokesman William Shumann.

Michigan

Rolling Stone refuses to run ad for Bible

Rolling Stone magazine declined to run an advertisement for a new translation of the Bible aimed at young people, the nation's largest Bible publisher said Wednesday.

Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, bought space in the magazine months ago as part of an ad campaign for Today's New International Version, said Doug Lockhart, Zondervan's executive vice president of marketing.

"Last week, we were surprised and certainly disappointed that Rolling Stone had changed their mind and rejected our ad," he said.

Lockhart said Zondervan, based in Grand Rapids, paid Wenner Media, publisher of Rolling Stone, last July to run the ad in February, when the Bible is due on bookshelves.

On Tuesday, USA Today quoted Kent Brownridge, general manager of Wenner Media, as saying his staff first saw the ad copy last week, and "we are not in the business of publishing advertising for religious messages."

Media outlets that agreed to carry the ad include Modern Bride, The Onion, MTV.com and AOL, Lockhart said.

Washington, D.C.

Medicare approves cardiac implants

The government has decided to expand coverage for surgically implanted heart-shocking devices for people with weakened hearts in what could be the most expensive single decision in Medicare's history, federal officials said Wednesday.

More than half a million Americans with the progressive, heart-weakening condition known as congestive heart failure could be eligible for the battery-powered implants and accompanying surgery under the plan, which Medicare officials said they will roll out in the next week or so.

The devices, known as implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, or ICDs, sense heart rhythm abnormalities and deliver shocks to the heart when potentially fatal flutters occur.

West Virginia

Military takes steps to prevent cheating

The Pentagon is developing a fingerprinting system to prevent recruits from sending "ringers" to take the military aptitude test and the physical exam for them.

"The person who talks to the recruiter has to be the same person who takes the test, has to be the same person who takes the medical exam, has to be the same person who reports to basic training," said John D. Woodward Jr., director of the Defense Department's Biometrics Management Office in Washington.

Woodward said the U.S. military cannot say how many people try to cheat on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, "but there certainly is anecdotal evidence of individuals sending in a ringer."

The Pentagon has enlisted the Biometrics Fusion Center in Clarksburg to help develop the fingerprinting procedure. The details have yet to be worked out, but an electronic fingerprint reader would be used to identify those who show up for testing.

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