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Fed lets rate stand again

October 26, 2006|Andrew Malcolm and Brian Hanrahan | Times Staff Writers

Without ruling out future hikes in the benchmark short-term interest rate, the Federal Reserve leaves the 5.25% rate alone for the third consecutive meeting.

"Going forward," the Fed says in a statement, "the economy seems likely to expand at a moderate pace." It also predicts inflationary pressures will moderate because of declining energy prices and previous rate hikes.

Low unemployment, robust hiring, a rebounding stock market and a moderate, not severe, housing construction slowdown also seem to be contributing to strong consumer confidence.

"People seem to be pretty optimistic about the economy in general," says one clothing store owner who intends to hire more workers as customers flock back. Page C1


From Big Bird's biggest ancestor...

About 15 million years ago, a large bird died near some rock outcroppings in rural Argentina.

Then, one day recently a high school student named Guillermo Aguirre-Zabiala noticed a bone sticking from the ground.

It turns out to be the bird's fossil skull -- more than 28 inches long. Paleontologists determine the head and nearby bones belong to the largest bird ever found, a 10-foot-tall, 400-pound flightless monster that chased and devoured local rodents the size of small sheep.

"It is an unbelievable creature," says one expert, who documented the find in the journal Nature. Page A10


...To the busy little bee that dances

Speaking of unbelievable, take the little Western honey bee.

That industrious tiny creature, which does fly, has now had its DNA unraveled by scientists exploring the genetic underpinnings of social behavior.

An international team of researchers reports it has identified 10,157 genes, fewer than the mosquito but sufficient to produce the only non-primate species capable of communications through a symbolic language.

They use different forms of dancing to describe food sources to peers.

"We hope to extrapolate the biology to humans," one researcher says. Page A16


Nicaragua moving to ban abortion

Nicaragua seems likely to become the third Latin American country to approve a tough new law outlawing all forms of abortion, including those aimed at saving the life of the mother.

The measure is supported by both major political parties in the Nov. 5 presidential election.

The new law, which the Roman Catholic Church helped draft, establishes prison sentences ranging from six to 30 years for women involved and their doctors. "The current law allows a small door in which abortions can be performed," says one doctor who supports the measure, "and we are trying to close that door." Page A6


A qualified ruling

New Jersey's Supreme Court rules that gay couples have "the same rights and benefits" as heterosexual couples under the state's marriage statutes. The 4-3 ruling gives lawmakers six months to enact legislation for same-sex couples providing rights equal to those of married couples. Page A1



Visiting his old haunts

You think you know scary? Try riding around the L.A. area with director Tim Burton as he journeys to his favorite cemeteries, a wax museum and a prop shop that sells monster masks. Those are his warm and fuzzy places. To really give him the creeps, you'll need to take him to his hometown: Burbank. Page E28


Tracking the whirl of Brazilian Girls

The members of Brazilian Girls aren't Brazilian, three of the four members are men, their new album explores more flavors than the spice aisle at Trader Joe's, and their lead singer not only changes languages during songs, she always hides her eyes during performances. Sometimes with electrical tape.

Yeah, we're talkin' alternative here.

But one element is constant in their music: It just makes you want to dance. Their new album, "Talk to La Bomb," takes chances, but the group's reputation for energetic live shows has opened the door to a possible crossover to mainstream.

"We don't care -- categories don't matter to us," says Sabina Sciubba, who was born in Italy, raised in Germany, and speaks several languages. Her penchant for bouncing from dialect to dialect bothers some listeners, but again, that's not high on her list of concerns.

"Some people just think, 'What is this? I don't understand a word,' " she says. "But others appreciate it. I think from the outside it might seem a little pretentious, but that's really how my life is." Page E10


Prepping for role was a test of character

Derek Luke's performance as a real-life South African rebel fighter in "Catch a Fire," which opens Friday, is already generating award-season buzz. Regardless of any honors he wins for his acting, though, he ought to be satisfied with the amount of preparation he did.

Luke traveled to South Africa six weeks before filming started. He learned to speak Zulu and South African English. He visited the prison where Patrick Chamusso was tortured and incarcerated for 10 years, and he limited his diet so he could attain a weedy look.

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