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News Briefs II

Agency Weighs Civil Action Against Mattel Over Toy

Los Angeles Times

The Consumer Product Safety Commission Thursday said it is considering civil action against Mattel Inc., which is recalling 10 million Fisher-Price Power Wheels ride-on car and truck toys sold since 1984 because they pose a serious fire risk.

The CPSC said it is reviewing documents submitted by Fisher-Price to determine if the unit of El Segundo, Calif.-based Mattel reported problems involving the toy in a timely manner.

There have been 700 reports of electrical component failures involving the toys. The CPSC said 150 fires occurred that injured nine children and did $300,000 in damage to 22 houses and garages.

During a Thursday news conference in Washington, D.C., CPSC Chairwoman Ann Brown said that "the company knew of the incidents and the company did not report the incidents to us."

The CPSC said it received its first report about the problem in 1996, but the first fires date back to the early 1990s, according to the CPSC.

The recall of the toys, which retail for $70 to $300, is the largest ever involving toys sold through retailers, the CPSC said.

Study of Dinosaur Fossil's Brain Yields Surprise

Provo, Utah

Very fine silt that filled a dead dinosaur's skull millions of years ago is shedding new light on the animal's behavior, suggesting it acted more like a crocodile than like a bird, scientists announced Thursday.

By using modern CT scan equipment to see inside the fossil material, molecular neurologist Scott Rogers determined the brain's size and shape. He can also see where blood vessels entered and exited the brain, the complete inner ear and a few other parts of the brain's structure.

"This is the first imaging of what we think is the internal structure of a fossil brain" in such an old, fossilized creature, said Rogers, of the University of Utah.

"This suggests that Allosaurus, which was always thought to be a bird ancestor, doesn't have a brain that was avian in nature," Rogers explained. Instead, Allosaurus' brain is far closer to the neural systems seen today in alligators and crocodiles.

The oval-shaped brain, about 7 inches long and 5 inches high, is roughly the size of a small loaf of bread. What's surprising is that the brain fills only half of the skull, which offers an important clue.

"This neurological configuration looks very close to that of modern-day alligators and crocodiles, and nothing like an avian brain," he explained. In birds - and also in humans - the brain fills the skull almost completely, "so this is a very distinguishing feature" suggesting it's an ancestor of the crocodilians. Rogers' report is in the current issue of Neuron.

Senator Apologizes for One Comment, Not Other

New York

Trying to quell a political firestorm, New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato Thursday said it was wrong for him to have mocked the girth of Rep. Jerrold Nadler, but he refused to apologize for using a Yiddish slang term to refer to his Democratic opponent, Rep. Chuck Schumer.

He also refused to explain why he initially denied making the remarks at a private meeting of Jewish leaders Tuesday.

"It was a poor attempt at humor, and I was wrong, and I apologized to him," D'Amato said at a campaign appearance at a Long Island school when he was asked whether ridiculing Nadler was an example of the behavior a U.S. senator should be setting for children.

Shortly before D'Amato's remarks Thursday, Schumer had held a news conference to play TV news footage of D'Amato denying knowledge of the comments and saying it was "ridiculous" to suggest he would say such things.

Appearing with Schumer, former Gov. Mario Cuomo said, "The lying about it is very bad. He is obviously lying about it. He got caught."

At a Tuesday meeting, D'Amato called Schumer a "putzhead." "Putz" is Yiddish slang for male genitalia, and it is commonly used to describe a fool or idiot. Schumer branded the remark a "cheap slur."

D'Amato also referred to Nadler as "Waddler" and then briefly walked like a duck, according to former New York Mayor Ed Koch and others who were present.

Teen-age Witch Asks for Transfer

The Baltimore Sun

The ninth-grader who was sent home for allegedly casting a spell on a classmate asked to be transferred Wednesday so she might escape a controversy that has enveloped her high school.

No spells were cast, and no one was threatened, according to school officials who suspended Jamie Schoonover Wednesday when another student became hysterical after she believed that Schoonover had cast a spell on her.

School spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt said Schoonover, 15, a practicing witch, will be transferred to another school, the name of which was not disclosed.

The other ninth-grader, Jennifer Rassen, left school Wednesday after a meeting with school administrators, Jamie Schoonover and the girls' parents. "I am still scared," Rassen said.

Schoonover said that she never would cast a spell because the principles of Wicca, a form of neo-paganism that she and a parent practice, dictate that whatever you do, good or evil, returns to you threefold.