National Endowmentfor Arts head dies at 69
WASHINGTON -- Michael Hammond, a lifelong student of how music and medicine are intertwined, died a week after becoming chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. He was 69.
Hammond was found Tuesday at a home in Washington where he had been staying, NEA spokesman Mark Weinberg said. He had complained of feeling ill in recent days, and he appeared to have died of natural causes, Weinberg said.
"Michael Hammond was an accomplished conductor, composer and advocate of the arts," President Bush said. "His commitment to excellence and his extraordinary talents will be greatly missed."
Hammond was dean of the School of Music at Rice University in Houston when Bush nominated him to chair the federal agency that distributes grants for the arts. Confirmed by the Senate on Dec. 20, Hammond took over Jan. 22.
Senior deputy chairwoman Eileen Mason will serve as acting chairwoman until Bush nominates a successor to Hammond.
Attorney general hasskin lesions removed
WASHINGTON -- Attorney General John Ashcroft recently had benign skin lesions removed from an ear and a shoulder.
Reporters noticed a small bandage on Ashcroft's ear Monday during a speech and Justice officials on Tuesday acknowledged that the medical procedure took place last week.
Ashcroft, 59, a former Missouri governor and U.S. senator, spends time outdoors and owns a family farm in Missouri.
Doctors say it is common for people who spend long hours in the sun, such as Ashcroft on his farm, to develop skin lesions in their 50s, particularly around the face and neck. Nearly all are treated successfully by freezing, burning or cutting them off.
"As we age, we develop more benign skin lesions related to sunlight," said Dr. Robert M. Adrian, a prominent Washington dermatologist. "This in no way reflects a greater risk to health."
Hunger strike ends
SYDNEY, Australia -- A two-week hunger strike by asylum seekers at a remote Outback detention center was declared over today after government negotiators convinced detainees their refugee claims would be processed.
Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said a team of government negotiators had assured detainees their applications for asylum in Australia would be processed, and those involved in the hunger strike would not be disadvantaged when their claims were considered.
"I want to just affirm as a matter of goodwill that those who have been involved in these events should not expect other than lawful and fair and humane processing of their claims in accordance with our law," Ruddock said.
One of the hunger strikers, Hassan Varasi, confirmed to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the strike was over.
"From right now, we are breaking our hunger strike," he said.
Varasi said they had chosen to end their protest out of respect for the Australian community and the government negotiating team.