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News Briefs

Defense Companies Bustling With Prewar Activity

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Southern California’s defense industry -- the key source of advanced weapons and surveillance technology for the U.S. military -- is quietly gearing up for a potential attack against Iraq.

At Pentagon contractors throughout the region, engineers have been ordered to put vacations on hold. And companies that make sophisticated intelligence-gathering equipment have been directed by the government to rush development and field new technologies ahead of schedule.

TRW engineers in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson, for instance, were told last week to immediately begin supplying a new battlefield computer system to troops in the Persian Gulf region, although the equipment is still in the testing phase. The computers, similar to civilian laptop devices, are designed to give Army units down to squad level instant access to battlefield information, including the positions of enemy targets and the locations of other U.S. troops.

Citing the need for discretion, industry executives are declining public comment on the surge of activity. But based on interviews with engineers who requested anonymity, the busiest companies appear to be those that specialize in technologies for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance work, as well as those working to improve the accuracy of missiles and bombs.

Single Use of Ecstasy May Increase Risk for Parkinson’s Disease

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Even one typical night’s use of the club drug Ecstasy may damage nerve cells in the brain responsible for movement, increasing the risk of Parkinson’s disease and similar disorders, researchers reported Thursday.

The findings were based on animal studies in which monkeys and baboons were given the kinds of doses that users might consume at all-night dance parties. The animals suffered profound neurological damage, according to results published in the journal Science, and lost 60 percent to 80 percent of the brain cells that transmit dopamine, a brain chemical that regulates movement.

“We’ve never seen an effect of this magnitude before, and we were surprised that one session caused this much damage,” said Dr. George A. Ricaurte, a study co-author and a neurologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Ecstasy gained popularity in the ’90s as part of the rave club scene, and young party-goers sometimes take three or four doses over several hours.

Previous animal studies had shown that the drug damages as much as 30 percent to 40 percent of serotonin neurons, which produce a brain chemical that regulates mood and behavior. This depletion may account for the emotional letdown habitual users often experience after weekend Ecstasy binges, experts say.