FBI monitors radiation levels at Muslim sites
WASHINGTON -- A classified radiation monitoring program, conducted without warrants, has targeted private U.S. property in an effort to prevent an al-Qaida attack, federal law enforcement officials confirmed Friday. While declining to provide details including the number of cities and sites monitored, the officials said the air monitoring took place since the Sept. 11 attacks and from publicly accessible areas -- which they said made warrants and court orders unnecessary. U.S. News and World Report first reported the program on Friday. The magazine said the monitoring was conducted at more than 100 Muslim sites in the Washington, D.C. area -- including Maryland and Virginia suburbs -- and at least five other cities when threat levels had risen: Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York and Seattle. Targets included mosques, homes and businesses, the magazine said.
Federal judge puts Calif. video game law on hold
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A federal judge has temporarily blocked a new state law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, saying a lawsuit challenging the measure was likely to prevail on grounds of free speech. In a ruling late Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte granted a preliminary injunction sought by the Encino-based Video Software Dealers Association and the Washington, D.C.-based Entertainment Software Association. The industry groups "were likely to succeed" in their lawsuit, the judge wrote. At the least, he said, "serious questions are raised concerning the state's ability to restrict minors' First Amendment rights in connection with exposure to violent video games, including the question of whether there is a causal connection between access to such games and psychological or other harm to children."
Report: Cancer death rates are declining
WASHINGTON -- The threat of dying from cancer is on the decline, even though the overall rate of being diagnosed with the disease holds steady, the government says. In its biannual update on progress in the battle against cancer, the National Cancer Institute said Thursday that Americans are increasing their use of screening tests to catch some cancers early, when they are more treatable. They are also smoking less, being more careful in the sun and consuming less alcohol and fats, though obesity remains a problem. "The overall message of the report remains positive," NCI director Andrew C. von Eschenbach said. "The evidence that I have seen convinces me that we are poised to make dramatic gains against cancer in the near future."
Man jailed for more than a year with no hearing
DALLAS -- A man was jailed for more than a year without ever seeing a lawyer as he waited for a repeatedly postponed court hearing, gaining release only after a cellmate told an attorney about the case. Walter Mann Sr., 69, was released Dec. 16 after a year and three months -- more than twice the time he would have served if he had been convicted in his contempt-of-court case. Mann's legal troubles began in 2002, when his 13-year-old son assaulted him and was sent to a juvenile detention center. Mann, who was unemployed and on disability benefits, was ordered to pay $50 a month for the boy's housing but never did, according to court records. Prosecutors sought to have Mann held in contempt of juvenile court, which led to an order that he be brought before a judge. The judge incarcerated him in September 2004 for three warrants alleging that Mann wrote bad checks. Then he waited more than a year as his contempt case was postponed again and again. "He wasn't lost in the system," said Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Don Peritz. "We knew he was here. ... We hold them until the judge says to hold him no longer." Had he been convicted in the contempt case, he would have served a maximum of six months in jail and faced a $500 fine.
Bonfires will guide Papa Noel to La. bayous
LUTCHER, La. -- Despite Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath, the Mississippi River in bayou country tonight will look much as it has on more than a century of Christmas Eves -- with miles of bonfires on the levee tops showing Papa Noel, the south Louisiana Santa Claus, the way to children's homes. Though the bonfire tradition's origin isn't certain, some say it's carried on from French and German customs and sugarcane harvest celebrations. Others say the bonfires originally served as a lighted path for midnight Mass travelers in the fog-prone area. The bonfires can take anywhere from one day to several weeks to build, and typically are framed with four to six willow tree trunks. They once rose as high as 35 to 40 feet, Roper said, but now can't exceed 20 feet.
-- From wire reports