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News Briefs

Scientists Report Finding Fossil Of 1,500 Pound Rodent


Rodents, as well as scientists, stand on the shoulders of giants.

For the rodents, however, it is size and weight that make a giant, not farseeing intellect. One particular giant outweighs them all.

Until recently the creature was known by teeth alone, which made size estimates a bit shaky. But paleontologists are reporting the discovery of a nearly complete skeleton of Phoberomys pattersoni, a distant relative of the guinea pig, that they can now confirm weighed about 1,500 pounds.

The 8-million-year-old skeleton was excavated in Venezuela three years ago.

The name can be translated as “Patterson’s fearful mouse,” but Phoberomys cannot have been afraid of much. Nor did it look like a mouse. A drawing based on fossil evidence, being published on Friday in the journal Science, looks for all the world like a cross between a beaver and a hippopotamus.

Upper and lower pairs of ever-growing incisors are what make Phoberomys a rodent, but it is, fortunately, nothing like the enormous rats sometimes reported in subways and other urban settings. Its nearest living relative is the pacarana, a 30-pound nocturnal herbivore that feeds on the slopes of the Andes.

Bush Admits Mideast Talks Are Stalled, Blames Arafat


President Bush acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that the Middle East peace talks that he had thrown so much of his political capital behind had stalled, and he laid the blame solely on the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

Arafat, the president said, had undercut the efforts of the Palestinian prime minister embraced by the White House, Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned this month. While Abbas’ resignation on Sept. 6 effectively signaled the breakdown of talks over the U.S. peace plan, known as the road map, the president had not publicly conceded the setback until Thursday.

“Prime Minister Abbas was undermined at all turns by the old order,” Bush said during a joint news conference on Thursday morning at Camp David with King Abdullah of Jordan. “That meant Mr. Arafat.”

Bush added, “That’s why we’re now stalled.”

Bush held his news conference a day earlier than scheduled to avoid having to fly to Camp David in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland on Thursday afternoon, because of the threat of Hurricane Isabel. The news conference, in a helicopter hanger on the grounds of the presidential retreat, was brought abruptly to a close by Bush after 16 minutes.

UAW Concludes Contract Talks With the Big 3 Automakers


The United Automobile Workers union concluded its contract negotiations with the Big Three and two major suppliers on Thursday after granting its most significant concessions in two decades.

The deals, which will result in thousands of job cuts as roughly a dozen plants are closed or sold, reflect the broad competitive struggles of domestic manufacturers and the union’s effort to balance the desires of its members with the shrinking market share and profits of the automakers.

On Thursday morning, the UAW announced it had reached deals with General Motors and Delphi, the world’s largest auto parts company, which GM spun off in 1999. The agreements came three days after the UAW reached tentative agreements with the Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group, as well as with Visteon, the parts subsidiary spun off by Ford in 2000.

“Since the start of these negotiations, one of our goals has been to bring this industry together,” said Ron Gettelfinger, the UAW president, at a news conference Thursday morning.

Rick Wagoner, the chairman and chief executive of General Motors, said the agreement “will enable us to work together effectively to address what is pretty clearly a challenging set of competitors.”

Among the factories to be closed are Chrysler parts plants in Detroit and Indianapolis and Ford assembly plants in Edison, N.J., Dearborn, Mich., and two in the Cleveland area. Reuters also reported on Thursday that GM would close a plant in Baltimore that makes midsize vans.

Government Has Not Demanded Library Records, Ashcroft Says


After months of increasingly noisy protests, fears of Big Brother run amok and government warnings about needless “hysteria,” the Justice Department gave its first public accounting on Thursday of how many times it has used its newfound counterterrorism powers to demand records from libraries and elsewhere.

The answer is zero.

Department officials and their supporters pointed to the goose egg as evidence that the raging public debate over the government’s expanded powers has been much ado about nothing. In this case, they argued, public fear and mistrust of government appear to have outpaced the reality of what federal agents are actually doing.

But the disclosure by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who said he grudgingly agreed to declassify the data on demands for library records to counter “misinformation,” is unlikely to end the debate soon.

Ashcroft’s opponents said they remained deeply concerned over the government’s far-reaching powers under the legislation formally known as the USA Patriot Act, and they said the Justice Department added to public fears by maintaining such tight secrecy over its activities.