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Around U.S., partygoers gather to welcome 1999

Hundreds of thousands of revelers converged on Times Square to celebrate the arrival of 1999.

Bundled in layers of clothing, blankets and thermal wraps, the boisterous crowd gathered in 20-degree weather that felt more like sub-zero with the wind chill.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Chinese gymnast Sang Lan, who was paralyzed in a fall at the Goodwill Games, were charged with pressing the button that started the drop of the 500-pound aluminum ball that has ushered in every New Year since the 1960s. The ball will be replaced by a Waterford Crystal-made successor next December.

As celebrations began in cities across the country, tragedy struck near New Orleans. Fireworks and other missiles exploded in the staging area for a midnight celebration, killing two workmen and injuring a deputy sheriff.

The cause of the explosion wasn't immediately known.

In Las Vegas, police predicted as many as 400,000 people would line the Strip to ring in the New Year, while in Boston's Copley Square, thousands of revelers watched as ice sculptors put the final touches on a frozen display.

Meanwhile, the folks in Lebanon, Pa., were planning the second annual New Year's Eve Bologna Drop.

The Lebanon Valley Sertoma Club was to lower a 100-pound, 7-foot cylinder of smoked bologna from the roof of the Lebanon Unfinished Furniture building. Last year, about 1,200 people turned out for the ceremony.

Congress overburdening

courts, Rehnquist says

WASHINGTON _ A week before he is to start presiding over the Senate impeachment case against the president, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist blamed Congress for neglecting serious problems in the federal courts.

He faulted Congress for contributing to a dramatic increase in federal criminal cases and for providing only substandard pay for court-appointed criminal lawyers. And he specifically criticized both the Senate and President Clinton for the lack of any members on the federal Sentencing Commission.

Filings of new criminal cases rose 15 percent in 1998, nearly tripling the increase in 1997, Rehnquist declared in his annual report on the federal court system.

"Congress has contributed significantly to the rising caseload by continuing to federalize crimes already covered by state law," the chief justice said.

Signs of Alzheimer's

may be detectable early

A new brain scanning technique developed by doctors in New York can apparently detect signs of Alzheimer's disease years and perhaps decades before it begins destroying memory and mental function, potentially offering hope to millions of Americans who will be afflicted with the disease.

In a study in the current Lancet, an English medical journal, researchers describe how magnetic resonance imaging tests can reveal shrinkage in part of the brain, a telltale sign of the onset of Alzheimer's well before people notice they are losing memory.

While no cure has been developed for Alzheimer's, which severely afflicts more than 4-million Americans and affects millions more in milder forms, a number of treatments have been shown to help slow its ravages.

If the new brain scan proves economical and workable on a large scale, it could one day allow millions of people to begin treatment to preserve mental function before their Alzheimer's becomes severe, or at least give them the warning they need to be vigilant for any symptoms.

In politics . . .

OHIO HAS WOMAN GOVERNOR: Nancy Hollister became Ohio's first female governor Thursday, but she will serve less than two weeks and promises to take no major actions.

Hollister, who was lieutenant governor, will complete the term of Gov. George Voinovich, who will be sworn in next week as a U.S. senator. She will lead the state until Jan. 11 when fellow Republican Bob Taft, elected to a four-year term Nov. 3, is sworn in.

GINGRICH ELECTION DATE TO BE SET: Georgia Gov. Zell Miller will set a date Monday for a special election to fill the seat being vacated by the resignation of Newt Gingrich as a member of the House of Representatives, a state official's spokesman said Thursday.

Elsewhere . . .

BOMB FACTORY FOUND: A bomb factory was discovered Thursday inside a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. warehouse in San Francisco, complete with manuals, "ready-to-go explosives" and raw materials like those used in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Police investigators questioned a PG&E worker who then reportedly led them to a second facility in search of other bombmaking materials, officials said. A bomb squad was at the second site.

The employee, whose name was not released, was in custody Thursday afternoon, officials said.

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