Deadly SUVs!
H5N1 Pandemic, Synesthesia,
Abu Ghraib, NanoClothing!
Vioxx, Female Condoms & More!
Deadly SUVs Need Health Warnings!
LONDON November 25, 2004 (AFP) - Gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, the increasingly popular all-terrain cars, should be forced to sport labels just like cigarette packs announcing their terrible health and environmental impact, a British think tank said.

Just like smokers in the European Union buy tobacco marked with "Smoking Kills" and other dire warnings, New Economics Foundation (NEF) offered its own slogans for super-stickers which they said should be slapped onto the hoods and sides of cars.

WARNING: SUVs Cause Death, Dismemberment,
Paralysis, Maim and May Complicate Pregnancy.

"Global warming kills," "Climate change can seriously damage your health" or even "Driving seriously harms you and others around you" were among the list of warnings proposed by the London-based think tank.

Not a toy

The NEF said SUVs, also called four-by-fours or four-wheel-drives, were "disproportionately responsible for emissions of climate-change fuelling CO2 (carbon dioxide), other air pollutants, and traffic fatalities".

But, it warned in a statement, their sales were increasing and now represented one out of every four new cars sold in the United States and one in seven in Britain.

"SUVs are dangerous, fabulously polluting and part of a wider transport problem that is, according to the World Health Organization, set to be the world's third most common cause of death and disability by 2020,"
NEF policy director Andrew Simms said.

"We need labeling to encourage people not to drive these four-wheel behemoths in the same way we encourage people not to smoke. If we can't we may need to find a very large ashtray for our planet's future."

The group said that as with smoking, regulations to cut down greenhouse gas emissions did not work and that as with smokers, drivers could be shamed into behavior change through "emotive content".

Its campaign, due to be covered in the New Statesman magazine on Friday, comes ahead of an upcoming international conference on climate change in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

SUVs have exploded on the US and international markets, from traditional US makers' Ford Explorer and Jeep Cherokee to Britain's Land Rover, and on to luxury versions put out by European automakers like Volvo, Porsche, BMW and Mercedes.

General Motors' Hummer, a mammoth model based on the military vehicle Humvee used in combat, is one of the largest and least fuel-efficient, which retails in the United States starting above 50,000 dollars (38,000 euros) and gets about 10 miles to the gallon (4.25 kilometers per liter).

eXoNews Pix of the Week Dept.
World AIDS Day - 12-01-04

A Chinese woman walks past a World AIDS Day poster during an HIV /AIDS awareness campaign in Beijing November 28, 2004. China has approved human testing of a locally developed potential AIDS vaccine, the official Xinhua news agency said, just days before World AIDS Day. Officials have pledged to speed up the approval process for anti-AIDS drugs in China, where the United Nations has warned that the number of people with AIDS could rise to 10 million by 2010 unless serious steps are taken to fight the epidemic. (REUTERS/ Claro Cortes IV) World AIDS day is December 1, 2004 -

H5N1 Pandemic Threatens Humans and Animals!
By Vissuta Pothong

Ducks are displayed for sale at a poultry market in
Hanoi. Every country in the world must come up
urgently with a plan to deal with an inevitable
influenza pandemic likely to be triggered by the
bird flu virus that hit Asia this year, a top global
health expert said. (Kham/ Reuters)

BANGKOK November 25, 2004 (Reuters) - Every country in the world must come up urgently with a plan to deal with an inevitable influenza pandemic likely to be triggered by the bird flu virus that hit Asia this year, a top global health expert said on Friday.

"I believe we are closer now to a pandemic than at any time in recent years," said Shigeru Omi, regional director for the Western Region of the World Health Organization (WHO).

"No country will be spared once it becomes a pandemic," he told a news conference.

"History has taught us that influenza pandemics occur on a regular cycle, with one appearing every 20 to 30 years. On this basis, the next one is overdue," he said at a conference of 13 Asian health ministers trying to figure out how to avoid one.

"We believe a pandemic is highly likely unless intensified international efforts are made to take control of the situation," he said of the H5N1 avian flu virus, which has defied efforts to eradicate it in several Asian countries, including Thailand.

The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919 killed upwards of 20 million people and WHO experts say the next could infect up to 30 percent of the world's more than 6 billion people and kill up to 7 million of them.

Omi said that to stave that off, the world would have to cooperate closely by sharing information promptly and openly on the virus -- such as how it spreads, why it hits children more easily than adults and how quickly it is mutating.

Secrecy in China last year helped the deadly SARS virus spread to many other countries before it could be brought under control and Beijing has also been accused of hiding the extent of its AIDS epidemic.

"Vaccine will protect you from the disease and reduce the impact individually. But vaccination alone will not prevent this outbreak," Omi said.

"Each country has to come up with a plan because, as I said, a pandemic, it will happen."


Two U.S. firms are working on a vaccine, but neither is likely to have one ready until March, well after the cooler Asian season in which bird flu thrives best.

The H5N1 virus, which has already killed 20 Vietnamese and 12 Thais, arrived in Asia about a year ago, probably spread by migrating birds, especially wild fowl heading to warmer climes at the onset of the northern winter.

Governments have slaughtered tens of millions of poultry in a bid to eradicate it but WHO experts say it is now probably a permanent fixture.

Electron micrograph of avian influenza
virus. (Erskine Palmer/ CDC)

The wild birds, which can carry the virus without falling ill, are flying south through Asia to escape the northern winter and, in an alarming development, domesticated ducks are showing they too can have the virus without showing it, Omi said.

Experts say a pandemic will emerge from an animal, most probably a pig, which can harbor both flu viruses that affect humans and the avian flu variety. The two would mate and produce a virus to which people have no immunity, they say.

That has not happened yet, but Omi said the geographical spread and the impact of the H5N1 virus was unprecedented and had struck animals such as tigers and domesticated cats not previously known to be susceptible to avian flu viruses.

"We have found that the virus is resilient, very, very versatile," Omi said.

The Asian health ministers -- from Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- promised they would make plans for a pandemic and cooperate to stave it off.

In a joint statement at the end of the two-day meeting, they pledged to work together to develop vaccines, diagnostic tests for humans and research urgently needed to provide more information on the virus.


Something in the way... (AP)

NEW YORK November 26, 2004 (AFP) - A US judge has delivered a unique ruling that parodies a George Harrison song, in the case of a New York doctor who had treated the late Beatle for cancer.

The doctor, Gil Lederman, is the subject of a wrongful death suit by the family of a female colon cancer patient who say Lederman gave her too much radiation.

Staten Island Supreme Court Justice Robert Gigante ruled this week on Lederman's request for a change of trial venue.

The defendant's lawyers had argued that the jury pool in Staten Island had been tainted by the negative publicity surrounding a separate case in which Lederman was accused of forcing Harrison to autograph a guitar on his deathbed.

Gigante ruled in Lederman's favour, but chose to do so in a lyrical parody of Harrison's classic song "Something."

"Something in the folks he treats," Gigante wrote. "Attracts press like no other doctor."

"He's in our jurisdiction now/ He gets Beatle autographs somehow," Gigante continued before concluding with a reference to another Harrison song, "If this case I were to keep/ Defendant would gently weep."

Steven North, a lawyer for the family of the colon cancer victim, said his clients were incensed by the style of the ruling.

"I think it's an insulting decision. It's very offensive," North said in a statement.

Synesthesia - Sounds Have Colors and Taste?
McMaster University News Release

Hamilton Canada November 23, 2004 - Imagine being able to see or taste sounds, as well as hearing them. Sound like science fiction? For some people, it’s reality.

The taste of music (eXoNews)

This blending of the senses occurs in a rare condition called "synesthesia."

In this condition, a stimulus, such as sound, creates a reaction in another sense, as well as the expected sense.

Now, professor Daphne Maurer of McMaster University’s department of psychology has found that at one time we all lived in a world in which sights had sounds and feelings had taste.

Although synesthesia is thought to occur in just 1 per cent of all adults, in her keynote address at the annual meeting of the American Synesthesia Association November 6, Maurer discussed evidence that all infants are synesthetic.

“Toddlers perceive higher pitched sounds to come from white balls and lower pitched sounds to come from black balls, just like adults with synesthesia,” explains Maurer.

“With development, the connections underlying synesthesia are inhibited in most individuals.”

People with synesthesia grow up thinking everyone perceives the world the same way they do. They discover their perception is different when they make a comment such as "she's the one with the orange name.”

Daphne M. Maurer -

McMaster University -

American Synesthesia Association -

Disney Bans Sky Diving Santa
ANAHEIM November 26, 2004 (AP) - Santa Claus can build toys, shimmy down a chimney and harness flying reindeer. But one thing he can't do any more is skydive near Disneyland.

An annual "Jingle Bell Jump," with Santa parachuting to the Anaheim Town Square shopping center with gifts and greetings, was canceled for a second year because of a federal law restricting use of area airspace.

Instead, Santa will float in a hot air balloon tethered to the ground Friday.

Disney officials say the flight restrictions are needed to thwart terrorists who could target the park. Managers of the 50-store shopping center don't buy it.

"The terrorists are not involved in any way whatsoever," said Ryan Williams, promotions director for center owner NewMark Merrill. "This is Santa landing with his elves."

Under the restriction, aircraft are banned from flying below 3,000 feet within 3 miles of Disneyland or the Disney World resort in Orlando, Fla. No other U.S. theme parks have such protection.

The law has also drawn complaints from local pilots who have had to change flight paths and operators of banner-towing planes who can no longer fly above the park.

Last year, Santa arrived in a fire truck.

Williams said he still hopes next year to resurrect the skydive, which began in 1999 and drew a few thousand people a year. He said he will circulate a petition asking Congress to reconsider the law and distribute signs that read, "Let Santa land in 2005."

Could Abu Ghraib Happen Again?
Princeton University News Release

November 25, 2004 - When news broke about the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, many people questioned: Who could do such a thing? According to Princeton psychologists who reviewed decades worth of studies, the answer is: Anyone.

Writing in the Nov. 26 issue of Science, professor Susan Fiske and graduate students Lasana Harris and Amy Cuddy contend that many forms of behavior, including acts of great evil, are influenced as much by authority figures, peer pressure and other social interactions as by the psychology of the individual.

"Could any average 18-year-old have tortured these prisoners?" said Fiske. "I would have to answer, 'Yes, just about anyone could have -- unfortunately.'"

Fiske and colleagues drew their conclusions from 25,000 studies involving 8 million participants, which explain how factors, ranging from the stress of war to the expectations of superiors, can combine to cause ordinary people to commit seemingly inexplicable acts.

"Ordinary people can engage in incredibly destructive behavior if so ordered by legitimate authority," the researchers wrote, referring particularly to landmark studies conducted by Stanley Milgram in the early 1970s. Milgram showed that normal volunteers would deliver what they understood to be lethal electric shocks to other people when they were told that it was a necessary part of carrying out an experiment. "Subordinates not only do what they are ordered to do, but what they think their superiors would order them to do, given their understanding of the authority's overall goals," the researchers wrote.

When discussing the Milgram experiment in classes, Fiske said, students swear they would never behave the way the study subjects did. "But when they are put in similar experiments, they do," said Fiske.

Fisk noted that there are cases of isolated individuals who torture other people. However, it is more likely that the abusers at Abu Ghraib were conforming to the culture and expectations of their environment than violating them, she said. The incidents occurred within a very hierarchical organization; the abusers had no particular background to suggest they would behave outrageously; and the abusers asserted they were following orders and documented what they did.

"Society holds individuals responsible for their actions, as the military court martial recognizes, but social psychology suggests we should also hold responsible peers and superiors who control the social context," the researchers wrote.

The reasons for abuse go beyond simple adherence to authority. "The situation of the 800th Military Police Brigade guarding Abu Ghraib prisoners fits all the social conditions known to cause aggression," the researchers wrote. "The soldiers were certainly provoked and stressed, at war, in constant danger, taunted and harassed by some of the very citizens they were sent to save, and their comrades were dying daily and unpredictably. Their morale suffered, they were untrained for the job, their command climate was lax, their return home was a year overdue, their identity as disciplined soldiers was gone and their own amenities were scant. Heat and discomfort also doubtless contributed."

At the same time, the Iraqi prisoners were part of a different societal group that was seen by Americans as threatening cherished values. The more that people see others as "interchangeable members" of a different group, rather than as unique individuals, the more their behavior is influenced by parts of the brain associated with alarm and disgust, the researchers wrote. Fiske and colleagues recently conducted their own surveys showing that similar feelings arise in less extreme situations: U.S. citizens surveyed, on average, "viewed Muslims and Arabs as not sharing their interests and stereotyped them as not especially sincere, honest, friendly or warm."

The point of looking at the complex social and psychological forces behind the Abu Ghraib abuse is not to excuse people from responsibility for their actions, but to develop a scientific understanding of what causes evil actions so they can be better prevented, the researchers said. "People's hunches are to look at the individual for the reasons, but as a society we can't afford to do that," said Fiske. "People who are in charge of other people on a large scale, whether CEOs or military officers, need to know the conditions that produce evil behavior. The conditions are not that complicated. And if they can be understood, then they can be prevented in large part."

One of the most effective ways to prevent abuse is for members of different groups to have positive contact with each other, which is one reason why it is important for Iraqi soldiers to train and fight with Americans, Fiske said.

Another step, Fiske said, would be for the military to ensure that soldiers have alternate means of communication, such as military chaplains or other semi-independent figures, so they can voice deep concerns without violating the chain of command. The goal is not to eliminate obedience and conformity, which can spur acts of heroism as well as evil. The researchers wrote that firefighters who rushed into the World Trade Center were obeying orders and conforming to the culture of their organization in addition to displaying individual bravery and self sacrifice. The conduct of war itself requires obedience and conformity, Fiske noted.

Indeed, authority and social pressure can be tools for combating abuse. Fiske said that her experience in consulting with industry on racial and gender discrimination suggests that leadership is critical for good behavior throughout an organization. "I do think the CEOs are responsible for the atmosphere in the company," she said. "If the CEOs say, 'It's really important that we do things a certain way,' they can have a real impact." However, focusing blame on a "few bad apples" will hinder the social and cultural changes necessary to prevent further abuses, Fiske said.

Princeton University -

Whiter whites with Nanosuits!

American Chemical Society News Release

November 22, 2004 - Sending your favorite suit to the dry cleaners could one day become an infrequent practice. Researchers at Clemson University are developing a highly water-repellant coating made of silver nanoparticles that they say can be used to produce suits and other clothing items that offer superior resistance to dirt as well as water and require much less cleaning than conventional fabrics.

The patented coating — a polymer film (polyglycidyl methacrylate) mixed with silver nanoparticles — can be permanently integrated into any common fabric, including silk, polyester and cotton, the researchers say. In the long run, it can save time and money by reducing expensive dry cleaning bills. It is also environmentally friendly, they add.

The researchers described their work on the so-called “self-cleaning” coating last week during the 56th Southeast Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society, held in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

“The coating doesn’t actually clean itself, but it does resist dirt much better than other fabric treatments,” explains research team member Phil Brown, Ph.D., a textile chemist with Clemson University in Clemson, S.C. “The concept is based on the lotus plant, whose leaves are well-known for their ability to ‘self-clean’ by repelling water and dirt. Likewise, when water is exposed to the treated fabric, the dirt will be carried away more easily. You will still need some water to rinse away dirt and stains, but cleaning will be quicker and less frequent.”

Unlike conventional water-repellant coatings, the new coating, which doesn’t yet have an official name, is permanently bonded onto the fibers of the fabric and will not wash off, Brown says. In addition, no fluorine-based chemical finishes are used so there are potential environmental advantages, according to the researcher. The research team is also trying to engineer antimicrobial particles into the coating, which could help repel strong odors such as body odor and even cigarette smoke, they say.

Dirt adheres to the fibers of most fabrics. To clean the fabrics, people typically put them in the washer or send them to the dry cleaners. But the water-repellency of fabrics made with the new coating is superior and makes it easier to keep dirt from accumulating, Brown says, because water that is applied to the garment rolls off and takes the dirt with it. Suits made with the new coating could simply be sprayed clean or wiped with a damp cloth to remove the dirt, the researcher says. If desired, the fabric can still be cleaned by conventional means, including washing as well as dry cleaning, without harming the coating, he notes.

In addition to suits, the new coating could be applied to hospital garments, sportswear, military uniforms and rain coats. Other possible applications include awning material for outdoor campers, fabrics for lawn furniture and convertible tops for cars. The coating could appear in consumer products within five years, the researcher estimates.

Prices of clothing and other products treated with the new coating will initially be a bit more expensive than other water-repellant garments, Brown predicts. But he and his associates are currently working on ways to make the coating cheaper.

Self-cleaning fabrics can be made in any color, according to Brown, since the treatment is applied after the fabric has been dyed. If you’re concerned that clothes coated with the silver nanoparticles will activate an alarm at an airport security stop, don’t worry. The material is unlikely to be detected by conventional metal detectors, he says.

Other researchers involved in the project include team leader Igor Luzinov, Ph.D., a polymer scientist, and George Chumanov, Ph.D., a physical chemist, of Clemson; and Sergiy Minko, Ph.D., a polymer scientist with Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y.

The National Textile Center, a research consortium of eight universities, provided funding for this study from a grant administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

American Chemical Society -

Permanent Moon Base by 2024

UDAIPUR India November 26, 2004 (AFP) - Scientists from leading space nations closed a conference on moon exploration with a call for global cooperation to achieve a permanent human lunar base by 2024.

The Udaipur Declaration said the moon must be used for the benefit of mankind and recommended short-term steps, such as communication infrastructure for navigation and a Lunar Internet, to be taken up with space agencies.

"It laid the roadmap for future explorations with a step-wise approach starting with joint scientific analysis of the data from current and previous lunar missions," said Bernard Foing, executive director of the International Lunar Working Group, a public forum sponsored by the world's space agencies.

Future lunar missions are currently planned by the United States, Europe, China, Japan and India.

"The next step is to put (robotic) landers on the moon from 2010. All the nations can cooperate also on building an international robotic village which can test new technologies, advanced robotics and to prepare for man-tended missions," Foing told AFP.

Most of the countries plan to use the moon as a technology testbed for deep space exploration, especially the journey to Mars.

More than 200 delegates from 16 nations including the top five who are planning lunar missions attended the conference in the northern Indian city of Udaipur.

"The declaration also focused on the utilization of resources on the moon and how to live on its surface. In the future we are looking to have more exchange of scientists among different nations," Foing said.

"The technology working group has said we should set common standards all over the world for lunar systems such as communications and transportation. There will be lots of discussions in the future on this," he said.

The declaration also touched on the need to implement a global framework for moon exploration with technology benefits shared to achieve lower costs.

"The robotic village could well be operational in 2014 and by then man-tended missions will be ready to start. It called for cooperation and a global framework for lunar base to make it effective and affordable," Foing said.

The declaration also noted a number of questions about the moon which remain unanswered and urged the scientific community to address them.

"We need to understand better the origins of the moon and whether there is water or ice on the moon. Where are the places which can the used for robotic activities and human habitats? These questions are still being asked," he said.

The next conference will be held in Canada during September 2005 followed by a 2006 meeting in China.

FDA Tried to Discredit Vioxx Whistleblower

Merck Chief Executive Raymond Gilmartin listens
to the testimony of Food and Drug Administration's
Dr. David Graham in front of the Senate Finance
Committee on Capitol Hill, November 18, 2004.
Graham said FDA's handling of Merck & Co Inc.'s
painkiller Vioxx, is a 'profound regulatory failure'
by an agency 'incapable of protecting America' from
another dangerous drug. (REUTERS/ Kevin Lamarque)

BMJ-British Medical Journal News Release

November 24, 2004 - The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tried to discredit one of its own experts after he told a US Senate hearing that the FDA had failed to protect the public over rofecoxib (Vioxx), according to two articles published online by the BMJ today.

Dr David Graham, Associate Director in the FDA's Office of Drug Safety, said that the FDA was "incapable of protecting America against another Vioxx." He also indicated that five other drugs currently on the market may be endangering patients.

Dr Graham led a study that looked at the cardiovascular risks in patients taking rofecoxib (Vioxx). This was to have been published in the Lancet but was pulled at the last minute after Dr Graham had a warning from his supervisor about publication

The FDA issued a statement after the hearing last week, claiming that Dr Graham had failed to adhere to agency protocol when he submitted his data to the Lancet.

Fearing for his job, Dr Graham sought the help of the Government Accountability Project, a public interest group that protects whistleblowers in order to promote governmental and corporate accountability.

But the group received another request from an anonymous whistleblower at the FDA who was being "bullied" by Dr Graham. The caller also said that Dr Graham's study could reflect scientific misconduct. After some investigation, the "anonymous" call was found to come from FDA management, attempting to discredit Dr Graham.

Mr Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project said the FDA's attacks on Dr Graham's credibility were implausible.

Something is rotten at the heart of the FDA, adds Dr Kamran Abbasi, acting BMJ Editor. As one of the world's leading drug regulators, the FDA needs to show that its primary role is to protect the public and not to protect industry.

Four of the five companies whose drugs Dr Graham said might be endangering patients, have defended their drugs' safety when used as indicated. One company, Roche, had no comment to make on the allegations.

BMJ-British Medical Journal -

EU Wants Nuke Site in France
By Lisa Jucca

BRUSSELS November 26, 2004 (REuters) - EU ministers agreed on Friday to continue seeking Japan's backing to build the world's first thermonuclear reactor in France but could go ahead without Tokyo if there was no deal by the end of the year, EU officials said.

The ministers set no official deadline for the talks, to be handled by the EU's executive Commission, although the Dutch Presidency said it would push for a deal with Tokyo by the end of December.

The EU would prefer to build the nuclear reactor, touted as a long-term solution to world energy problems, with the backing of all parties in the project -- Japan, China, Russia, the United States, and South Korea, officials said.

"This is not an ultimatum, but we wish to reach a political agreement before the end of the year," French Research Minister Francois D'Aubert told a news briefing.

If no deal was reached, the EU would press ahead and build the 10-billion-euro ($13 billion) reactor in Cadarache, France, with as many partners as possible, officials said. "If the negotiations do not come to a rapid conclusion, the Commission has the possibility to choose a different path," D'Auberst said.

"This is a solution of last resort," said an EU official present at the research ministers' talks.

The EU might offer Tokyo a privileged partner role in the mammoth nuclear fusion research plan to compensate for not building it in Japan, officials said. Energy production by nuclear fusion would be low on pollution, using sea water as fuel. But 50 years of research have so far failed to produce a commercially viable fusion reactor.

Last week, the Commission suggested offering Japan a package of incentives so Tokyo would abandon its bid to host the fusion reactor, allowing the site in Cadarache, France, to win instead. But Japan reacted angrily to this, accusing the EU of being high-handed in the negotiations. EU officials said the United States had also expressed concern at the EU's approach.

Diplomats say the EU offer might include creating a fusion institute in Japan worth one billion euros for pre-research activity linked to the project on condition that Japan raised its financial contribution to the reactor.

Construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is currently forecast to cost some 4.6 billion euros over a 10-year period. The EU intends to cover 40 percent of that from its budget while France has proposed doubling its contribution to 20 percent of the costs. Including a development phase, the ITER project is forecast to last 30 years at an overall cost of 10 billion euros.

The United States and South Korea have previously supported the site at Rokkasho, a Japanese fishing village, but EU sources believe they would back Cadarache if Tokyo stepped aside.

Female Condoms - A Reasonable Option

A woman holds a female condom (top) and
a male condom (bottom). (CP / John Lehmann)

University of Alberta News Release

November 23, 2004 - While scientists work to find the 'perfect' solution to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, a reasonable option - the female condom - is not being promoted, especially in African and southeast Asian countries where the deadly virus is most prevalent, according to a new study.

"While we're waiting for perfection, people are dying," said Dr. Amy Kaler, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta.

In a paper published in the November/December issue of Culture, Health & Sexuality, Kaler presents findings that show female condoms are being dismissed as a viable method of protection for a number of reasons, including cost and availability in developing nations, and, in North America, for esthetic reasons.

These attitudes have serious implications for developing the next generation of barrier methods, such as revamped diaphragms and cervical caps to reduce transmission of AIDS.

"Female condoms, and female barrier methods in general, are a very important avenue of exploration for HIV protection that has been prematurely closed off," Kaler said.

In her paper, which examines the past eight years of female condom promotion in Africa, Kaler interviewed 34 health care workers from the United States and South Africa.

She discovered that "female condoms, like other reproductive technologies, are judged against the 'gold standard' of the birth control pill: a discreet, convenient 100 per cent effective method for achieving a reproductive health goal. Other technologies that fall short of this ideal are dismissed as unworkable or inadequate," she said.

Condoms are traditionally seen by reproductive health care workers as second-rate methods of barrier control against pregnancy, and so are not as strongly promoted as they should be for protection against HIV/AIDS, Kaler said.

The female condom is currently approved for one-time use only and at an average price of 56 cents each, they are proving too expensive for women in developing nations to purchase--especially for women who have intercourse frequently, Kaler said. In addition, supplies of the condoms are not steady, making them inaccessible as well as unaffordable, she added.

For their female counterparts in North America, the female condom is almost an object of ridicule, and an uncomfortable reminder that disease lurks, Kaler said.

The focus for researchers is on developing microbicides--gels--that could be applied to deter the spread of the virus, rather than advocating for female-controlled preventive methods like the condom and diaphragm, which already exist, she added.

Diaphragms and cervical caps (Cambridge

The condom, which attaches to the cervix, also takes some initial training in learning to use, further hampering widespread acceptance, Kaler said.

In North America, the device needs to be marketed in such a way that women will see it as an empowering, even fashionable way to approach the issue of their own reproductive health. "Products need to be re-positioned by association with glamour and sexiness, rather than safety and protection," Kaler said.

In developing countries, advocates for the female condom need to have a stronger voice, and large-scale trials of the device need to proceed as quickly as possible, moving beyond pilot and acceptability studies. As well, it is important to take a longer view of the female condom's benefit to society, Kaler said, noting that it took decades for positive changes to show up with such devices as tampons and male condoms.

"We should look at the number of potential infections averted."

University of Alberta -

Female Condoms are available at

Free condoms [we haven't tried this, but here it is - be sure to read the fine print, I guess. Ed] -

Genre News: X-Files 2, Pink Floyd, Serenity, SpongeBob, McCartney, Battle Angel & More!
CC Talks X-Files 2

Hollywood November 23, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - The X-Files creator Chris Carter told SFX magazine that he's still trying to get a second movie based on his classic TV series off the ground.

"We are in negotiations right now," Carter told the magazine. "And because it's a sequel, there are peculiar and specific kinds of negotiations that are holding us up. I think that there's an appetite for it, but I think that it's got to be good. People won't just go and see anything. Whatever happens, I'm going to do something good that people will want to go and see regardless."

As for the sequel film's storyline, Carter said, "Not a mythology one, for sure!"

Mods In The Key of X -

Pink Floyd?

LONDON November 27, 2004 (AP) - Members of the children's chorus who sang on Pink Floyd's anti-authoritarian 1979 hit, "Another Brick in the Wall," are owed thousands of dollars in payment, a royalties agent said.

Pink back in the day (AFP)

Peter Rowan said he was representing one of the group, Peter Thorpe, in a bid for unpaid royalties. Rowan said he hoped other members of the group would join the claim for royalties from a fund set up in 1997 to compensate session musicians.

Two dozen students from Islington Green School in north London sang on the chart-topping track from the album "The Wall," which was recorded at a nearby studio in 1979.

The song attracted controversy for the chorus sung by the children:

"We don't need no education/ We don't need no thought control/ No dark sarcasm in the classroom/ Teachers, leave them kids alone."

"It was seen as being quite improper," said the school's present head teacher, Trevor Averre-Beeson.

"The Wall" has sold more than 23 million copies and is the third best-selling album of all time, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

The school received a platinum disc and a payment in return for the children's efforts, but the pupils weren't paid.

"It's a legal right and the money is building up," Rowan said Friday.

Serenity writer-director
Joss Whedon

Joss Sez Serenity Delayed

Hollywood November 24, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Joss Whedon, writer and director of the upcoming SF movie Serenity, told the Whedonesque Web site that the film version of his canceled Fox TV show Firefly has been pushed back to Sept. 30, 2005, from its original April 22 opening date.

"See, sometimes studios shuffle around release dates," Whedon told fans on the site. Whedon added, "So what happened? Well, nothing terribly original. April got crowded with a lot of titles aimed at a similar demographic, and the studio [Universal Pictures] decided September was a clearer corridor for the film to make the kind of impact it should.

"This isn't about a lack of confidence in the film. In fact, they told me this before they even saw it. And now they have seen it, and unless they're way better liars than I'm used to, they dug it. Actually, they dug it pretty large, which is a good sign, since there's not a single finished effect in the film. There's no reworking the end, no re-shoots, no 'does it have to be in space?' It's just a marketing issue. Now you'll get to watch lots of trailers in the summer. And hopefully, by the time it comes out, other people, people who ain't us, will get a whiff of what we're up to and come along, too."

Serenity picks up the story of the ragtag crew of a transport ship 500 years in the future as they try to get by in the wake of a galactic civil war.

"I love this movie," Whedon said. "I HATE waiting to show it [to] you. I felt pretty much the way I imagine you're feeling right now when they told me. But these guys know what they're doing, and they're trying to protect their investment, not bury it. So I gotta be a grownup. The release date is Sept. 30. Hopefully it won't change again."

Buy Firefly The Complete Series directly from Fox!

[And here's a little more about Serenity from Variety, November 23, 2004. Ed.]

"Serenity - based on the now-canceled Fox skein Firefly created by Joss Whedon - has been moved from April 22 to Sept. 30. However, that displaces Jarhead, the Sam Mendes-helmed pic based on Anthony Swofford's memoir about a Marine sniper in the first Gulf War. Jarhead will now be released on November 11th, 2005.

"Release dates and the distribution calendar are fluid documents," said Paul Pflug, a U spokesman. "As a distributor, we're always looking for the best dates available."

SpongeBob Kidnapped!

SpongeBob does the Macy's Parade (AP)

Minnesota November 25, 2004 (AP) - Have you seen this sponge? Police are looking for a blow-up figure of SpongeBob SquarePants swiped from a Minnesota Burger King.

They've found a ransom note which starts off: "We have SpongeBob." It then demands, "Give us ten Crabby Patties, fries and milkshakes."

The ransom note is signed by SpongeBob's nemesis, Plankton.

A postscript reads: "Patrick is next," referring to the Bermuda shorts-wearing starfish that serves as SpongeBob's sidekick.

At a southeastern Utah Burger King, vandals made off with a 10-foot-tall SpongeBob balloon.

Employees are handing out "Missing" fliers with a full description of the popular cartoon figure — featured in a new movie.

McCartney Will Headline Super Bowl Halftime

Paul is pleased to show his stuff.

WASHINGTON November 23, 2004 (AFP) - American football officials are hoping former Beatles star Paul McCartney will add a touch of extra class to the Super Bowl halftime show next year, as the National Football League tries to recover from Janet Jackson 's breast-baring debacle of 2004.

"We are extremely pleased to work again with Paul McCartney, one of the greatest musicians of our time, to create a memorable show," said Steve Bornstein, the NFL's executive vice president of media.

Jackson drew headlines and ire after her performance with Justin Timberlake this year, when a "wardrobe malfunction" caused her to flash her breast to more than 144 million television viewers.

CBS television, which aired the live show, had to apologize for the spectacle, as did the event's organizers and the artists, and the network also had to pay a 500,000-dollar fine.

McCartney, who gave a pregame performance at the 2002 Super Bowl, gushed: "There's nothing bigger than being asked to perform at the Super Bowl."

The American football championship game is scheduled for February 6, 2005 in Jacksonville, Florida.

[Is McCartney saying that the Super Bowl is bigger than Jesus??? Will he bare his breast? Tune in and see! Ed.]

Battle Angel Helmed by Cameron

Battle Angel

NEW YORK November 25, 2004 (AP) - Since becoming the king of the world seven years ago with Titanic, James Cameron has spent much of his time in the underwater world, making 3-D documentaries about his deep-sea explorations.

But the director is finally coming up for air and returning to science fiction with Battle Angel, a three-dimensional movie set in the 26th century.

Cameron, who also directed Aliens and the first two Terminator movies, told The Associated Press he's in pre-production now and expects to start shooting in May or June.

The film will take two years to make and will include about 1,500 visual effects shots.

"It's based on a series of graphic novels done by a Japanese artist called Kishiro," said the 50-year-old, whose Titanic won 11 Academy Awards including best picture and best director, and is the highest-grossing film of all time. He wouldn't discuss casting for the movie, but said, "It's going to be a combination of live action and (computer graphics) but done photo-realistically. There will be CG characters and live-action characters."

He plans to use updated versions of the three-dimensional cameras he used to shoot last year's Ghosts of the Abyss, his IMAX movie about diving to the real Titanic wreckage, and the upcoming Aliens of the Deep, another IMAX documentary about underwater exploration for which he worked with NASA scientists.

Imax Robots

TORONTO November 24, 2004 (Reuters) - "Robots," an animated feature from the creators of the 2002 hit "Ice Age," will be the next Hollywood film released in the Imax format, the giant screen movie system maker said on Wednesday. Imax Corp. said the Twentieth Century Fox film will be released to both conventional and Imax theaters on March 11.

Imax has tried to boost attendance at its theaters, and ultimately its sales, by making deals with Hollywood studios in recent years to convert blockbuster films to the Imax format. The Mississauga, Ontario-based firm, which is run largely from New York, makes most of its revenue from leasing and servicing its theater systems, which have screens up to eight stories high.

Tom Hanks' holiday movie "The Polar Express" set an opening weekend record for a Hollywood film released in Imax earlier this month, even though its broader box office performance was considered disappointing. Other Hollywood films released simultaneously in Imax and regular theaters include the "Harry Potter" and "Matrix" sequels.

Imax shares were up 17 cents at $8.22 on Nasdaq on Wednesday on a volume of more than 500,000. In Toronto, the stock rose 14 Canadian cents to C$9.70 on volume of 41,000.

TiVo Sells Out
AP Technology Writer

SAN JOSE CA November 25, 2004 (AP) - Digital video recording pioneer TiVo Inc. has long promised "TV Your Way." But the company's plans for pop-up ads and restrictions on copying have sparked worries that the service may be eroding consumer control in favor of Hollywood and advertiser interests.

Is it becoming TiVo — their way?

"Consumers are very distrustful of technologies that seize yet another opportunity to offer up advertising," said Mike Godwin, legal director of Public Knowledge, a public interest group. Whether the fears are founded or not, he said, "it feels like TiVo is taking away some of the prerogatives and flexibility that TiVo TV watchers have become accustomed to."

TiVo officials say that starting in March users will begin to see static images, such as a company logo, appear on their television screens as they fast-forward through commercials. The billboard-like ads — which will last about four seconds for a fast-forwarded 30-second spot — may offer giveaways or links to other ads.

For some ads, viewers could choose to provide advertisers with their contact data so they can get more direct marketing.

A pop-up recording "tag" is also planned: a "thumbs-up" icon would appear during TV show promotions and allow users to instantly place those programs in their recording queue.

TiVo officials contend that the new features will not be any more intrusive than the "thumbs-up" icons that already appear during some commercials and shows. But to some customers, the impending advertising changes smack of betrayal from the innovators whose hard drive-based gizmo lets TV viewers record programs, fast-forward through ads and pause at will.

"It's crossing the line," said Darren McClung. The 24-year-old Kansas City, Mo. systems administrator says he didn't mind as much when TiVo introduced ads in its main menu area, giving users the option of watching them.

But with ads set to appear over the very commercials he's trying to skip, "they've moved from unintrusive to intrusive advertising, and that's troublesome," he said.

Some skeptics also worry that TiVo's planned use of Macrovision Corp.'s new copy-protection scheme signals more boundaries on what shows they can or cannot record — even as TiVo prepares to unveil a new service later this year, called TiVoToGo, that will let users record shows onto DVDs or transfer them to computers.

Macrovision has developed a feature that will allow content providers — the people who produce television shows — to place restrictions on how long a digital video recorder such as TiVo can save certain kinds of programming. For instance, movies could disappear after seven days.

TiVo officials say the new restrictions will apply only to pay-per-view and video-on-demand programs. If Macrovision expands the feature to any other content, the deal is off, said Brodie Keast, executive vice president of service business at TiVo.

"We believe the consumer should be in control of entertainment — either free over-the-air or paid broadcasts — and this doesn't change that in any way," Keast said. "But reaching this kind of compromise allows us to innovate freely."

Industry watchers say TiVo has no choice but to make peace with networks, cable and advertisers.

"TiVo has to become more advertising-friendly because, at the end of the day, TV runs on advertising dollars and companies that are part of that food chain have to acknowledge that," said Tim Maleeny, director of strategy at Publicis & Hal Riney, a San Francisco-based advertising firm.

Josh Bernoff, analyst at Forrester Research, said, "Any product that's part of a cable and satellite world has to obey some of the restrictions that go with it."

The restrictions are tightening.

For instance, HBO says it plans to introduce in June a copy-protection technology that will restrict viewers to only one digital copy of its regular shows — and no copies of its on-demand programs.

As it is, TiVo is fighting an onslaught of competitors, including cable operators, who now offer digital video recorder-equipped set-top boxes of their own. The Alviso-based company has yet to post a profit.

It reported Monday a net loss of $26.4 million, or 33 cents per share, on revenue of $38.3 million for the third quarter ended Oct. 31. Its subscriber base has more than doubled from a year ago to about 2.3 million, but roughly 61 percent of subscribers come through satellite operator DirecTV, which is expected to offer a competing DVR soon.

That is expected to help boost the number of U.S. households with DVRs well beyond the 6.5 million that currently have them.

For its part, TiVo tries to balance between customers' desires and Hollywood's demands.

Hollywood studios sued TiVo's rival, DVR pioneer ReplayTV, over its automatic commercial-skipping recording feature — a function TiVo and other DVR makers could have adopted but didn't. ReplayTV's rebel stance bankrupted its former owner. New owners have removed the ad-skipping feature.

TiVo has worked for years with advertisers, trying to find new ways to market to an increasingly fleeting television audience. As part of its delicate dealings with Hollywood, TiVo sells data on the viewing patterns of its users, such as when they choose to watch instant replays or when they fast-forward.

TiVo executives acknowledge that they're walking a fine line with their new advertising strategy.

"Those who feel that they've been 'sold out,' I can understand that," Bob Poniatowsky, a TiVo product marketing manager, wrote recently in an online posting on the TiVo Community Forum. But "that's simply not the case here."

Advertisers — and TiVo_ will have to tread cautiously nonetheless, said Maleeny, the advertising strategist. Consumers already encounter hundreds of ads a day all around them — from billboards to newspapers to the Internet.

"It's easy in this environment," Maleeny said, "to suddenly cross a line from being inviting and intriguing to being intrusive and obnoxious."

Brits Vote Baywatch Top Honor - Worst US TV Show

The Worst TV Show - but we knew that
all along, didn't we?

LONDON November 25, 2004 (AP) - "Baywatch," the sun-bleached saga of Californian life guards, was voted the worst-ever U.S. television import in a British survey released Thursday.

"Baywatch," which starred Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff, ran from 1989 to 2001 and was once ranked the world's most popular program, with viewers in 140 countries.

Broadcast magazine's poll of about 20 program buyers from British terrestrial, cable and satellite channels acknowledged the appeal of a "series about a muscular lifeguard and his crew of pneumatic young helpers with raging hormones," but condemned "Baywatch" for scripts "of mind-numbing predictability: beachgoer is saved from drowning."

Second place in the poll went to "The Anna Nicole Show," the reality program featuring Playboy Playmate turned model Anna Nicole Smith.

Southern-fried 1970s hit "The Dukes of Hazzard" ranked third, followed by futuristic James Belushi vehicle "Wild Palms" and anthropomorphic action series "Manimal."

The same survey ranked the 25 best U.S. imports, with "The Simpsons," "Dallas," "MASH," "24" and "The Larry Sanders Show" leading the pack.

"Broadcast'"s 10 Worst U.S. Imports:

1. "Baywatch"
2. "The Anna Nicole Show"
3. "The Dukes of Hazzard"
4. "Wild Palms"
5. "Manimal"
6. "The Jerry Springer Show
7. "Knots Landing"
8. "Falcon Crest"
9. "The Bold and the Beautiful"
10. "Extreme Makeover"

[DreamWorks recently announced Baywatch the Movie was an upcoming feature project and, BTW, no use blaming Wild Palms on James Belushi. Oliver Stone, who has just given us the big screen bomb Alexander, was the guy responsible for that wild turkey too. Ed.]

Click here for last week's Genre News!

Paperback books by Rich La Bonté - Free e-previews!