News briefs

Published March 20, 2003

Senate rejects drilling in Alaska park

WASHINGTON

The Senate yesterday narrowly rejected oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge, rebuffing the Bush administration on a top energy goal it had hoped to win with a wartime security appeal.

Despite intense lobbying by pro-drilling senators and the White House in the hours leading up to the vote, Democrats mustered the support needed to remove a drilling provision from a budget resolution expected to be approved later this week.

An amendment offered by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to strip away the provision passed 52-48.

Development of the millions of barrels of oil beneath the 100-mile coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska has been a key part of President Bush's energy plan. Environmentalists contended drilling there would jeopardize a pristine area valued for its wildlife.

All but five Democrats voted against refuge drilling. There were eight Republicans who joined the Democrats in favor of barring oil companies from the refuge.

With one or two senators holding the balance, both sides stepped up their lobbying to try to sway anyone thinking of shifting.

Recorder could hold clues about Columbia

HOUSTON

In what could be one of the most significant debris discoveries yet from the shattered Columbia, searchers found a data recorder that may hold valuable clues as to what destroyed the space shuttle, the accident investigation board said yesterday night.

A spokeswoman for the board, Laura Brown, said the ship's recorder was intact but sustained some heat damage. Officials are hoping that temperature and aerodynamic pressure data can be retrieved from its magnetic tape, she said.

Brown compared the recorder to an airplane's black box.

"We have no way of knowing whether the data can be recovered," she said. But she added that if it can, "it will give us, hopefully, a lot of information about what was going on with the orbiter."

The recorder was discovered near Hemphill, Texas, and was being sent to Johnson Space Center for analysis. Officials said they believe it was found yesterday.

The discovery was all the more thrilling for NASA and the investigation board because it had been days since any major pieces of the shuttle had been found.

Standoff with angry farmer ends in peace

WASHINGTON

The farmer who drove his tractor into a pond near the National Mall and threatened to set off explosives surrendered yesterday after a 48-hour standoff that snarled rush-hour commutes and kept some monuments off limits to tourists.

Dwight Watson, who was protesting farm policies he said were forcing him out of his family's tobacco-farming business, was taken into custody at about midday. No explosives or weapons were found in a preliminary search of both the tractor and the Jeep he had abandoned in the large pond in Constitution Gardens, a federal park east of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

U.S. Park Police planned to consult with federal prosecutors on potential charges against the 50-year-old Watson of Whitakers, N.C. thorities may decide to seek a psychiatric exam.

11 cases of mystery illness found in U.S.

ATLANTA

Health officials said yesterday that 11 suspected cases of a mysterious flu-like illness have emerged in the United States, while on the other side of the world, medical investigators continue to puzzle over how the illness spread in a Hong Kong hotel.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief Julie Gerberding said the suspected U.S. cases are people who recently traveled to Asia and later developed fever and respiratory problems, matching definitions for the mystery illness, called "severe acute respiratory syndrome" or SARS.

The illness, for which there is no treatment, has caused 14 deaths, including five who died months earlier in China.

The worldwide number of cases, including the 11 suspect U.S. cases, now totals 264, according to the World Health Organization.

Study: Binge eating influenced by gene

BOSTON

Binge-eaters who say they can't help it may be right.

A study suggests a weak gene, not feeble willpower, may be the cause for some people. The research may point the way to a future pill to tame their appetites.

The joint Swiss-German-American study makes the strongest case yet that genetic mistakes can cause an eating disorder, researchers say. Traditionally, eating behavior has been viewed as complex and cultural in its causes.

"Willpower is not always important to reduce weight. Some people can by willpower. Some cannot, and I think these patients have a hard time," said Fritz Horber, the leader of the binge-eating study at the Hirslanden Clinic in Zurich, Switzerland.