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Bomber in Police Uniform Kills 2 Americans in Afghanistan

A suicide attacker in a police uniform blew himself up inside a police station in the northern Afghan province of Baghlan on Monday, killing two American soldiers and an 8-year-old boy, Afghan officials said.

The blast wounded several other people, including one American soldier, officials said.

Baghlan is a relatively peaceful province, and there is said to be no active insurgency there. But it was the scene of one of the bloodiest suicide attacks last year, in which as many as 72 people were reported killed, including five lawmakers and more than 50 schoolchildren.

The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack on Monday. A spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahed, identified the suicide bomber as a man named Abdul Ahad and said the attack had caused many more casualties than those reported by Afghan and American officials.

An American military spokesman, Maj. John Redfield, said that two coalition soldiers had been killed and three wounded. He did not give the nationality of the other two wounded coalition soldiers, nor did he say what they were doing at the police station.

U.S. personnel are involved in police training and mentoring and work closely with Afghan security officials in many provinces in Afghanistan.

Dim Days for Luxury Hotels

Even as midprice hotels began losing business this past summer, luxury hotels continued to fill their rooms. Companies treated the hotels as perks for top executives and quality locations for high-level business meetings. And many leisure travelers considered a stay at a top hotel — even for a couple of days — to be worth the cost.

Times have changed.

Since mid-September, almost in parallel with the stock market turmoil, demand for fancy hotel rooms has plummeted. Patrick Ford, the president of Lodging Econometrics, said that luxury hotel room revenue rates “slowed in mid-September and really ratcheted downward during October.”

Revenue per available room, the standard measure of performance, dropped 14 percent at upscale and luxury hotels in the week ending Oct. 18 over the comparable week last year, according to Smith Travel Research. For hotels in general, the decline was about 8 percent.

Even in the best of economic times, most luxury hotels were not sustained by business from rich leisure travelers. Instead, those hotels depended on corporate travel, including meetings and conferences.

21-Year Study of Children and Health Set to Begin

After nearly a decade of planning, researchers will begin recruiting pregnant women in January for an ambitious nationwide study that will follow more than 100,000 children from before birth until age 21.

The goal of the federally financed project, the National Children’s Study, is to gain a better understanding of the effects of a wide array of factors on children’s health.

“What we are doing is bold and needs to be bold in order to answer some pressing questions,” said the study’s director, Dr. Peter C. Scheidt, a pediatrician on the staff of the child-health division of the National Institutes of Health.

Investigators hope to find explanations for the rising rates of premature births, childhood obesity, cancer, autism, endocrine disorders and behavioral problems. To that end, they will examine factors like genetics and child rearing, geography, exposure to chemicals, nutrition and pollution.

While few quarrel with the goal, some experts worry that the expansive project will take resources away from smaller and more focused perinatal and pediatric research, particularly when budgets are certain to be strained by the financial crisis. The cost is estimated to be $110 million to $130 million a year, for a total of about $2.7 billion.

A Rise in Kidney Stones Is Seen in U.S. Children

To the great surprise of parents, kidney stones, once considered a disorder of middle age, are now showing up in children as young as 5 or 6.

While there are no reliable data on the number of cases, pediatric urologists and nephrologists across the country say they are seeing a steep rise in young patients. Some hospitals have opened pediatric kidney stone clinics.

“The older doctors would say in the ‘70s and ‘80s, they’d see a kid with a stone once every few months,” said Dr. Caleb P. Nelson, a urology instructor at Harvard Medical School who is co-director of the new kidney stone center at Children’s Hospital Boston. “Now we see kids once a week or less.”

Dr. John C. Pope IV, an associate professor of urologic surgery and pediatrics at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, said, “When we tell parents, most say they’ve never heard of a kid with a kidney stone and think something is terribly wrong with their child.”

In China recently, many children who drank milk tainted with melamine — a toxic chemical illegally added to watered-down milk to inflate the protein count — developed kidney stones.

The increase in the United States is attributed to a host of factors, including a food additive that is both legal and ubiquitous: salt.

Though most of the research on kidney stones comes from adult studies, experts believe it can be applied to children. Those studies have found that dietary factors are the leading cause of kidney stones, which are crystallizations of several substances in the urine. Stones form when these substances become too concentrated.