The Ginz Asteroid
Polar Bears, Global Warming!
Deadly Tea? Venus Flytraps!
Space Moss, Oscars ® & More!
The Ginz Asteroid

A picture of the Moon Landscape
by Peter Ginz. (AFP/ Yad Vashem
Memorial-HO)

PRAGUE January 26, 2005 (AFP) - An asteroid has been named after a Czech Jewish boy who became famous almost 60 years after his death in Auschwitz when a picture he drew while incarcerated was taken on the ill-fated space shuttle mission, astronomers said.

On February 1, 2003, the day that would have been his birthday, Peter Ginz's black and white sketch of earth viewed from the moon, was taken on the fatal 2003 Columbia space shuttle flight by Ilan Ramon, the first-ever Israeli astronaut.

Ginz, a keen writer, was deported to the transit camp at Terezin from his native Prague in 1942, aged 14. Two years later he was sent to Auschwitz and gassed at the age of 16.

According to Czech astronomer Milos Tichy, the International Astronomy Union (IAU) has approved Ginz's name for asteroid number 50413. The asteroid is part of the main band of asteroids between the planets Mars and Jupiter and revolves around the sun once every 4.49 years.

The Czech post office meanwhile has also just issued a stamp featuring Ginz's drawing.

Next month Ginz's diaries, short stories and an unfinished novel will be published.

Ginz's diary, written between 1941 and 1942 during the Nazi occupation and before his deportation, was discovered in a Prague attic only in 2003 and then passed to his sister Chava Pressburger, who survived the Holocaust and now lives in Israel.

The diary opens with the words: "The time is hazy. The wearing of Jewish stars has become compulsory. On my way to school I counted 69 sheriffs."

Pressburger told the daily Lidove Noviny, "I believe it is a historically interesting document that people should read. It is a warning. Peter's diary is absolutely truthful, demonstrating how a child behaves and lives in those conditions."

During his short life Ginz wrote a wealth of poems and essays and even two science-fiction novels, reflecting his fascination with science and space. He also illustrated many of his works.

While incarcerated at the Terezin camp, he edited, wrote and illustrated 800 pages of a science magazine that was distributed to other prisoners.

eXoNews Pix of the Week Dept.
Never Forget
  

Rails in the former Birkenau death camp are set afire during a ceremony to commemorate the camp's liberation. Many Americans commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. (AFP/ Janek Skarzynski)

Polar Bears!
Polar Bears Will Die!
By BRADLEY S. KLAPPER
Associated Press Writer

Polar bears will be consigned to history. (AFP)

GENEVA January 29, 2005 (AP) - Some arctic animals including polar bears and species of seal face the possibility of extinction in just decades because of global warming, the World Wide Fund for Nature said Sunday.

Life for indigenous people in the Arctic also would change radically unless the world "takes drastic action to reduce climate change," the Fund said.

"If we don't act immediately the Arctic will soon become unrecognizable" said Tonje Folkestad, a WWF climate change expert. "Polar bears will be consigned to history, something that our grandchildren can only read about in books."

By 2026, the earth could be an average 3.6 degrees warmer than it was in 1750, according to research commissioned for WWF to be presented at a Feb. 1-3 conference on climate change in Exeter, England.

The area covered by summer sea ice in the Arctic is decreasing by 9.2 percent per decade and "will disappear entirely by the end of the century" unless the situation changes, WWF said.

This would threaten the existence of polar bears and seals that live on the ice, in turn removing a major source of food for indigenous communities who hunt them, such as the Eskimos in North America and Saami in Scandinavia.

WWF said it was calling on participants at the Exeter conference to send a clear message to governments of the world's leading industrialized nations, meeting in Britain later this year.

"If we are to ensure that unique ecosystems like the Arctic are not lost, the G8 meeting must take drastic action to reduce climate change," said Catarina Cardoso, a WWF expert on sustainable energy, adding that should include a commitment to keeping global average temperatures down.

The United States is the only country in the Arctic region that has not signed the Kyoto Protocol, which takes effect next Feb. 16 and sets mandatory targets for industrial nations to reduce emissions by 2012. Russia ratified the U.N.-sponsored accord in November 2004.

World Wide Fund for Nature - www.panda.org/arctic

Greenland Allows Tourists to Hunt Polar Bears


A polar bear relaxes while at Central Park
zoo in New York. (AFP /Spencer Platt)

COPENHAGEN January 24, 2005 (AFP) - Greenland will allow tourists to hunt polar bears and keep their pelts as souvenirs despite appeals from animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot to forswear the lucrative practice, Fishing and Hunting Minister Rasmus Frederiksen said.

A government decree is being drafted for presentation to Greenland's local parliament, Frederiksen told AFP, adding:
"We expect to announce new rules this summer when we'll set an annual cull quota."

Greenland's some 2,700 professional hunters have in recent years sought financial aid from the government to make up for shrinking numbers of animals as a result of global warming. Warmer temperatures have already melted much of the ice that constitutes polar bears' main hunting grounds, making it more difficult for them to access seals, walruses and narwhals (small Arctic whales), the staple of their diet.

Bardot wrote an open letter to Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, of which Greenland is a dependent territory, protesting plans to allow rich tourists to shoot the bears and keep their pelts as souvenirs in what she called a planned "massacre of this mythical symbol of the frozen north."

But Deputy Prime Minister Josef Motzfeld said that the measure would help the hard-hit hunters to supplement their incomes. "This could be a good way for bear hunters to make more money on their pelts," he said.

Greenlandic polar bear hunters currently make between 6,000 and 9,000 kroner (1,055-1,580 dollars, 806-1,210 euros) per pelt on the local market. By contrast, hunters in Canada, the only country in the world that currently allows tourists to hunt polar bears, can bring in as much as 150,000 kroner for a souvenir pelt.

Environment Minister Jens Napaattoq said he would like the world's largest island, which already allows Greenlandic professional hunters to kill a certain number of polar bears each year, to set the annual souvenir quota at 30 animals.

"We already have a souvenir quota for musk oxen (350 animals in 2005), so why not have one for bears?" agreed the president of Greenland's association of fishermen and hunters, Leif Fontaine, noting that professional hunters killed 278 polar bears in 2003.

Fontaine said Bardot's appeal to Queen Margrethe can "not be taken seriously" and shows "a total ignorance of reality" about the great north.

"The species is certainly not being threatened with extinction from the rifles of Greenlandic hunters, who live in harmony with nature, but rather from those responsible for pollution and global warming," he told AFP.


French former film star and now ardent animal
rights activist Brigitte Bardot has condemned
Greenland's plans to organize polar bear hunts
for wealthy tourists. (AFP/ Pierre Andrieu)

Bardot said in the letter: "I have been fighting for years to stop the ice shelf being stained with the blood of thousands of seals shamelessly exterminated in Canada and Norway. ... Your country also seems to want to leave its stamp on the ice shelf by causing the blood of these innocent bears to flow, bears whose survival is already threatened by global warming."

The former screen idol is already widely despised on Greenland since her campaign in the 1980s to stop Canadian hunts for baby seals had repercussions on the island's seal hunters.

The Arctic ice cap has shrunk by 17 percent over the last 20 years, according to international experts gathered in Greenlandic capital Nuuk last September.

They said they expected the temperature in the Arctic region to rise by three to nine degrees in the coming 100 years and predicted that the inland ice would melt altogether in 200 to 400 years.

Man-made chemicals also pose a serious threat to the estimated 22,000 to 27,000 polar bears spread across the Arctic region, harming their immune and reproductive systems, the conservation agency WWF warned last year.

Wealthy tourists, eager to bring a pelt back with them as proof of their exotic conquest, should be able to pull the trigger for the first time on September 1 when Greenland's polar bear hunting season begins.

Bush Logging Sequoias

(Reuters)

By Lisa Leff
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO January 28, 2005 (AP) — Environmentalists sued the federal government Thursday over plans to log in central California's Giant Sequoia National Monument, home to two-thirds of the world's largest trees.

The Sierra Club and four other environmental groups called the U.S. Forest Service's decision to include widespread logging in its plan for managing the 327,769-acre monument a scientifically suspect strategy meant to satisfy timber interests under the guise of wildfire prevention.

"This plan opens up huge areas to logging and specifically targets trees big enough to sell, undermining the whole purpose of the monument," said Carla Cloer of the Tule River Conservancy, one of the organizations challenging the federal plan.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in San Francisco federal court seeks to block the plan and have it vacated.

Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes said the agency's plan to allow "thinning" of some trees in Sequoia was motivated by fire prevention goals and does not permit commercial logging.

Only trees with diameters of up to 30 inches can be cut under the rules.

The giant sequoia commonly grows to 30 feet in diameter, Mathes noted. Timber companies will pay the government for the right to remove some of the larger trees that fall within the 30-inch limit, which will provide money for removing brush and smaller trees that could pose a fire danger, he said.

President Clinton created the monument in April 2003.

Logging interests, recreational groups and Tulare County unsuccessfully sued to eliminate the designation, contending Clinton exceeded his authority when he acted to protect 38 ancient groves of the giant trees within the 1.1 million-acre Sequoia National Forest.

The groves account for about 20,000 acres, or roughly 6 percent, of the monument's total acreage.

Global Warming!
Web Study Confirms Global Warming

The study used a program that ran on PCs
around the world (BBC)

Oxford January 26, 2005 (BBC) - Temperatures around the world could rise by as much as 11°C, according to one of the largest climate prediction projects ever run. This figure is twice the level that previous studies have suggested. The scientists behind the project, called climateprediction.net, say it shows there is no such thing as a safe level of carbon dioxide.

[11°C equals 51.8°F. Ed.]

The results of the study, which used PCs around the world to produce data, are published in the journal Nature.

Climateprediction.net is run from Oxford University, and is a distributed computing project; rather than using a supercomputer to run climate models, people can download software to their own PCs, which run the programs during downtime. More than 95,000 people have registered, from more than 150 countries; their PCs have between them run more than 60,000 simulations of future climate.

Each PC runs a slightly different computer simulation examining what happens to the global climate if levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere double from pre-industrial levels - which may happen by the middle of the century.

What vary most between the simulations are the precise nature of physical processes like the extent of convection within tropical clouds - a process which drives the transport of heat around the world. So no two simulations will produce exactly the same results; overall, the project produces a picture of the possible range of outcomes given the present state of scientific knowledge.

The lowest rise which climateprediction.net finds possible is 2C, ranging up to 11C. The timescale would depend on how quickly the doubling of CO2 was reached, but large rises would be on a scale of a century at least from now.

"I think these results suggest that our need to do something about climate change is perhaps even more urgent," the climateprediction.net chief scientist David Stainforth told BBC News. "However, with our current state of knowledge, we can't yet define a safe level in the atmosphere."

On Monday, the International Climate Change Taskforce, co-chaired by the British MP Stephen Byers, claimed it had shown that a carbon dioxide concentration of over 400 ppm (parts per million) would be 'dangerous'.

The current concentration is around 378 ppm, rising at roughly 2ppm per year.

Next week the UK Meteorological Office hosts an international conference, Stabilization 2005, announced by Tony Blair late last year. Its aim is to discuss what the term "dangerous" global warming really means, and to look at ways to stabilize greenhouse gas levels. Myles Allen, the principal investigator of climateprediction.net, said the focus on stabilization might not be appropriate.

"Stabilization as an exclusive target may not be adequate," he told BBC News. "Stephen Byers claims to know that 400 ppm is the maximum 'safe' level; what we show is that it may be impossible to pin down a safe level, and therefore we should not focus exclusively on stabilization."

Distributed computing has been used before, notably by the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence or SETI, where several million people have downloaded software enabling them to analyze data from observations of distant galaxies for signs of alien life.

The scientists behind climateprediction.net believe their project, because it is distributed to individual PCs, can help inform people about climate change - and that, in turn could bring political change.

"It's very difficult to get politicians to collaborate, not only across the globe but also over sustained lengths of time," Bob Spicer from the Earth Sciences Department at the Open University, told BBC News. "The people who can hold politicians to account are the public; and with this project we are bringing cutting-edge science to the stakeholders, the public."

The published results can be found in PDF format here - http://www.climateprediction.net/science/pubs/nature_first_results.pdf

Ice Age Greenhouse Mystery Solved
Ohio State University News Release


What the earth looked like during the
Middle Ordovician Period, at about 450
mya. (Harold L. Levin)

COLUMBUS Ohio January 27, 2005 – Critics who dismiss the importance of greenhouse gases as a cause of climate change lost one piece of ammunition this week. In a new study, scientists found further evidence of the role that greenhouse gases have played in Earth’s climate.

In Thursday’s issue of the journal Geology, Ohio State University scientists report that a long-ago ice age occurred 10 million years earlier than once thought. The new date clears up an inconsistency that has dogged climate change research for years.

Of three ice ages that occurred in the last half-billion years, the earliest ice age posed problems for scientists, explained Matthew Saltzman, assistant professor of geological sciences at Ohio State.

Previous studies suggested that this particular ice age happened during a time that should have been very warm, when volcanoes all over the earth’s surface were spewing carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

With CO2 levels as much as 20 times higher than today, the late Ordovician period (460-440 million years ago) wasn’t a good time for growing ice. Critics have pointed to the inconsistency as a flaw in scientists’ theories of climate change. Scientists have argued that today’s global climate change has been caused in part by buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere resulting from fossil fuel emissions. But, critics have countered, if CO2 truly raises global temperatures, how could an ice age have occurred when a greenhouse effect much greater than today’s was in full swing?

The answer: This particular ice age didn’t begin when CO2 was at its peak -- it began 10 million years earlier, when CO2 levels were at a low.

“Our results are consistent with the notion that CO2 concentrations drive climate.”

Saltzman and doctoral student Seth Young found that large deposits of quartz sand in Nevada and two sites in Europe -- Norway and Estonia -- formed around the same time, 440 million years ago. The scientists suspect that the sand formed when water levels fell low enough to expose quartz rock, so that wind and rain could weather the rock into sand.

The fact that the deposits were found in three different sites suggests that sea levels may have been low all over the world at that time, likely because much of the planet’s water was bound in ice at the poles, Saltzman said. Next, the scientists examined limestone sediments from the sites and determined that there was a relatively large amount of organic carbon buried in the oceans -- and, by extension, relatively little CO2 in the atmosphere -- at the same time. Taken together, the evidence suggests that the ice began to build up some 10 million years earlier than when volcanoes began pumping the atmosphere full of the CO2 that ended the Ordovician ice age.

For Saltzman, the find solves a long-standing mystery. Though scientists know with a great degree of certainty that atmospheric CO2 levels drive climate change, there are certain mismatches in the geologic record, such as the Ordovician ice age -- originally thought to have begun 443 million years ago -- that seem to counter that view.

“How can you have ice when CO2 levels are through the roof? That was the dilemma that we were faced with. I think that now we have good evidence that resolves this mismatch,” Saltzman said.

Scientists at the three sites previously attributed these quartz deposits to local tectonic shifts. But the new study shows that the conditions that allowed the quartz sand to form were not local.

“If sea level is dropping globally at the same time, it can’t be a local tectonic feature,” Saltzman said. “It’s got to be the result of a global ice buildup.”

Saltzman wants to bolster these new results by examining sites in Russia -- where he hopes to find more evidence of sea level drop -- and in parts of South America and North Africa, which would have been covered in ice at the time.

Ohio State University - http://researchnews.osu.edu

Bush Air Pollution Plan Stalled By Carbon Dioxide

US power plant at night. (PA
Sierra Club)

By John Heilprin
Associated Press

WASHINGTON January 27, 2005 (AP) — Supporters of President Bush's air-pollution plan on Wednesday renewed their push to win its enactment but appear to lack the votes to advance it in the Senate.

Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, along with Sen. Jim Jeffords, a Vermont independent, and moderate Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, can keep the bill bottled up in the 18-member committee, according to committee staff.

They favor adding regulation of carbon dioxide, the chief "greenhouse" gas blamed for global warming, to the three pollutants the Bush administration proposes for its emissions-trading plan: mercury, a toxic metal; sulfur dioxide, which forms acid rain; and nitrogen oxides, a contributor to smog.

Republican senators favoring the Bush proposal hope that opponents will at least allow for a debate of the plan on the Senate floor. The Bush administration has been trying for three years to get Congress to endorse it.

The plan would allow states and utilities to have a pollution trading system in which plants unable to meet the required reductions could buy emission allowances from other plants that have exceeded the required cuts. The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio.

Jeffords and Tom Carper, D-Del., have each offered competing plans that would also deal with industrial emissions of carbon dioxide.

"The president's plan does not go far enough, fast enough, and it completely misses the mark on carbon dioxide and global warming," Carper said.

"The key here is: Do we regulate carbon dioxide?" said Chafee, who noted that even Bush had favored regulating carbon dioxide in his 2000 campaign but then broke that promise.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., another committee member, said any "carbon mandate" would kill the bill.

In the meantime, the administration plans an alternative approach to changing the Clean Air Act: changing an Environmental Protection Agency rule in mid-March that would similarly require hundreds of coal-fired power plants to cut sharply their emissions.

However, Inhofe said that in contrast to rewriting the law, issuing new federal rules does "nothing but invite lawsuits and uncertainty."

At a subcommittee hearing Wednesday chaired by Voinovich, the nation's mayors stopped short of endorsing Bush's plan, but they agreed utilities must install pollution control equipment in a timely, cost-efficient way.

"We support many of the goals of your legislation," said Bob Young, mayor of Augusta, Ga., and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' energy committee.

The nation's air quality agencies oppose they bill, saying it would undermine the existing Clean Air Act, which they say would do more to cut pollution.

"This would set us back 25 or 30 years on controls that we know are necessary," said John Paul, supervisor of a six-county air pollution control agency in Dayton, Ohio. Paul represented two trade groups for the nation's state and local air pollution control officials.

Fact Sheet on Bush Plan - http://pennsylvania.sierraclub.org/PAChapter/Committees/CSIFactSheet.htm

Deadly Tea?

Until now, instant tea had not been recognized as a
significant source of fluoride.

Washington University School of Medicine News Release

St. Louis January 25, 2005 - Instant tea, one of the most popular drinks in the United States, may be a source of harmful levels of fluoride, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis report.

The researchers found that some regular strength preparations contain as much as 6.5 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride, well over the 4 ppm maximum allowed in drinking water by the Environmental Protection Agency and 2.4 ppm permitted in bottled water and beverages by the Food and Drug Administration.

The discovery stemmed from the diagnostic investigation of a middle-aged woman suffering from spine pain attributed to hyper-dense bones.

Testing for the cause of her symptoms revealed the patient had high levels of fluoride in her urine. She then disclosed a high consumption of iced tea--claiming to drink one to two gallons of double-strength instant tea throughout the day--which led the researchers to test for fluoride content in several brands of instant tea available on grocery store shelves.

Each of the teas was tested as a regular-strength preparation in fluoride-free water, and each contained fluoride, with amounts ranging from 1.0 to 6.5 parts per million. The study is reported in the January issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

"The tea plant is known to accumulate fluoride from the soil and water. Our study points to the need for further investigation of the fluoride content of teas," says Michael Whyte, M.D., professor of medicine, pediatrics and genetics. "We don't know how much variation there is from brand to brand and year to year."

In many communities in the United States, fluoride is added to drinking water to help prevent tooth decay. However, the Public Health Service indicates that the fluoride concentration should not exceed 1.2 ppm.

Physicians have been aware that ingestion of high levels of fluoride cause bone-forming cells to lay down extra skeletal tissue, increasing bone density but also bone brittleness. The resulting disease, called skeletal fluorosis, can manifest in bone pain, calcification of ligaments, bone spurs, fused vertebrae and difficulty in moving joints.

"When fluoride gets into your bones, it stays there for years, and there is no established treatment for skeletal fluorosis," Whyte says. "No one knows if you can fully recover from it."

Americans are exposed to fluoride not only through fluoridated water but increasingly through fluoridated toothpastes and other dental preparations. Pesticides, Teflon®-coated cookware, chewing tobacco, some wines and certain sparkling mineral waters are more unusual sources of excess exposure.

Until now, instant tea had not been recognized as a significant source of fluoride.

According to Whyte, the findings could aid in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have achiness in their bones. In the future, doctors should ask such patients about their tea consumption.

Washington University School of Medicine - http://medinfo.wustl.edu

Monkeys Pay Per View

Male monkeys "paid" in juice to
view female hindquarters

Cell Press Release

January 27, 2005 - In a finding that deepens our understanding of animal social cognition, researchers at Duke University Medical Center have demonstrated for the first time that monkeys, like humans, value information according to its social content. People readily pay to see powerful or sexually attractive individuals, and, according to this new study, monkeys will also "pay" to view these kinds of images.

Both economics and evolutionary theory predict that animals should selectively acquire information about others that is most useful for guiding behavior. In most monkey social groups, behavior is structured by kinship, dominance, and reproductive status, suggesting that social information should be valued according to these attributes.

While previous studies had shown that monkeys would work to see other monkeys, no one knew whether the value they placed on seeing other individuals was related to the social relevance of those individuals.

In the new work, researchers Robert Deaner, Amit Khera and Michael Platt, all of Duke University Medical Center, tested this hypothesis by measuring how much fruit juice monkeys would accept or forgo to see photographs of familiar monkeys, permitting the researchers to compare monkeys' valuation of different types of social information.

Male monkeys "paid" in juice to view female hindquarters or high-ranking monkeys' faces, but required "overpayment" to view low-ranking monkeys' faces.

Despite living in a captive colony, the value monkeys placed on information about potential sexual partners and powerful individuals matched the relative importance of these individuals for behavioral success in the wild.

This study demonstrates that monkeys assess visual information by its social value and provides the first experimental evidence that they spontaneously discriminate between images of others based on the social rank or classification of individuals.

Published in Current Biology online as an Immediate Early Publication on January 27, 2005 - http://www.current-biology.com/content/article/abstract?uid=PIIS0960982205001041

Cell Press - http://www.cell.com

How the Venus Flytrap Snaps

Superposition of the open and closed leaves of the Venus
flytrap. The glass needle in the foreground was used to
trigger the closure. Note that the leaves flip by almost
turning inside out - similar to the flipping of a contact
lens, plastic lid or the reversal of a torn tennis ball.
(Forterre and Mahadevan)

Harvard University News Release

CAMBRIDGE MASS January 26, 2005 – A team of applied mathematicians, physicists, and biologists has discovered how the Venus flytrap snaps up its prey in a mere tenth of a second by actively shifting the curved shape of its mouth-like leaves. Their study, published in the Jan. 27 issue of the journal Nature, investigates the series of events that occur from the time the plant's leaves are stimulated to the time the trap is clamped shut.

"Our work complements prior research," says Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan, Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Mathematics and Mechanics in Harvard University's Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences and affiliate in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "In addition to looking at biochemical events, we looked at what happened after the plant was stimulated and found that the rapid closing is due to a 'snap-buckling instability' that the plant itself controls."

To trap its prey, the carnivorous plant relies on both an active biochemical and a passive elastic process, say Mahadevan and former students and postdocs Yoël Forterre, Jan M. Skotheim, and Jacques Dumais. When an insect brushes up against a hair trigger, the plant responds by moving water to actively change the curvature of its leaves. While exactly how the water is moved is not completely understood, the scientists observed that the deformation of the leaves, once stimulated, provided the means by which elastic energy was stored and released, creating a simple yet effective jaw-like movement.

"In essence, a leaf stretches until reaching a point of instability where it can no longer maintain the strain," Mahadevan says. "Like releasing a reversed plastic lid or part of a cut tennis ball, each leaf folds back in on itself, and in the process of returning to its original shape, ensnares the victim in the middle. The hydrated nature of the leaf quickly dampens the vibrations caused by the movement, so the unlucky bug doesn't spill out. It then takes the plant up to eight hours to ready its leaves for the next unsuspecting bug."

To reveal how the Venus flytrap snaps, the researchers painted ultraviolet fluorescent dots on the external face of the leaves and filmed them under ultraviolet light using high-speed video. By using mirrors to record stereo images of the process, they were able to reconstruct the geometry of the leaf. Finally, a simple mathematical model provided them with a way to understand the quantitative and qualitative aspects of snapping such as when the plant snaps, how long it takes before it goes into action once stimulated, and how fast the entire process happens.

"Our explanation relied on interplay between theory and experiment, and on the interdisciplinary interests and nature of our group, with expertise ranging from applied math and physics to biology," Mahadevan says.

In addition to shedding light on an age-old riddle involving a plant Charles Darwin called "one of the most wonderful in the world," the discovery has implications for biomimetic systems. One day, engineers might be able to emulate the plant's ingenious alternative to muscle-powered movements in tiny artificial devices, such as those that control the flow of minute amounts of liquids or gases. Common applications that already use related technology include valves and switches in microfluidic devices, hydraulic sensors and actuators and timed-release drug delivery mechanisms.

Prior explanations of Venus flytrap operation have cited a loosening of cell walls combined with a quick loss of cellular pressure, but it had not been clear how these cellular mechanisms alone could produce the lightning-fast closure of the entire leaf.

Harvard University - http://www.harvard.edu

Gay Genetics?
University of Illinois at Chicago News Release

January 27, 2005 - In the first-ever study combing the entire human genome for genetic determinants of male sexual orientation, a University of Illinois at Chicago researcher has identified several areas that appear to influence whether a man is heterosexual or gay.

The study, which is currently available online, will be published in the March issue of the biomedical journal Human Genetics.

UIC's Brian Mustanski, working with colleagues at the National Institutes of Health, found stretches of DNA that appeared to be linked to sexual orientation on three different chromosomes in the nucleus of cells of the human male.

"There is no one 'gay' gene," said Mustanski, a psychologist in the UIC department of psychiatry and lead author of the study. "Sexual orientation is a complex trait, so it's not surprising that we found several DNA regions involved in its expression."

"Our best guess is that multiple genes, potentially interacting with environmental influences, explain differences in sexual orientation."

The genomes of 456 men from 146 families with two or more gay brothers were analyzed.

While earlier studies had focused solely on the X chromosome, one of the two sex chromosomes, the present study examined all 22 pairs of non-sex chromosomes in addition to the X chromosome. The other sex chromosome, called Y, was not explored because it is not believed to contain many genes.

Identical stretches of DNA on three chromosomes -- chromosomes 7, 8 and 10 -- were found to be shared in about 60 percent of the gay brothers in the study, compared to about 50 percent expected by chance. The region on chromosome 10 correlated with sexual orientation only if it was inherited from the mother.

"Our study helps to establish that genes play an important role in determining whether a man is gay or heterosexual," said Mustanski. "The next steps will be to see if these findings can be confirmed and to identify the particular genes within these newly discovered chromosomal sequences that are linked to sexual orientation."

University of Illinois at Chicago - http://www.uic.edu
Space Moss!

The spiral formation of a moss culture gown during
the 2003 Space Shuttle missions. Researchers suspect
that those spirals resulted from a residual spacing
mechanism intended to control colony growth and
the distribution of branches, a mechanism that is
normally suppressed by the stronger influence of
gravity on earth. (Volker Kern)

Ohio State University News Release

COLUMBUS Ohio January 26, 2005 - Experiments on moss grown aboard two space shuttle Columbia missions showed that the plants didn't behave as scientists expected them to in the near-absence of gravity.

The common roof moss (Ceratodon purpureus) grew in striking, clockwise spirals, according to Fred Sack, the study's lead investigator and a professor of plant cellular and molecular biology at Ohio State University.

He and his colleagues noted this even in moss cultures grown aboard the second of the two space shuttle missions, STS-107, which had disintegrated upon its reentry in early 2003. Most of the hardware that contained the moss was later recovered on the ground, with some of the moss cultures still intact.

The researchers expected random, unorganized growth, as seen with every other type of plant flown in space.

"We don't know why moss grew non-randomly in space, but we found distinct spiral patterns," Sack said.

He and his colleagues report their findings in the current online edition of the journal Planta.

Common roof moss is a relatively primitive plant in which certain cells, called tip cells, are guided by gravity in their growth. This gravity response is only seen when moss is kept in the dark, as light overrides gravity's effect.

Moss originates from chains of cells with growth only taking place in the tip-most cell of a chain. When grown in the dark, the tip cells grow away from gravity's pull this gets the cells out of the soil and into the light.

The way these tip cells respond to gravity is exceptional, Sack said. In most plants, gravity guides the growth of roots or stems, which are made up of many cells. But in moss it is just a single cell that both senses and responds to gravity.

Common roof moss was grown in Petri dishes in lockers aboard two Columbia shuttle missions the first in 1997 and the other in early 2003. Although most of the experimental moss hardware from this mission was later recovered on the ground, only 11 of the 87 recovered cultures grown on this flight were usable.

Astronauts followed similar experimental procedures on both flights. The astronauts chemically fixed the moss cultures before each mission reentered Earth's atmosphere. This process stopped all growth in the moss.

Control studies conducted at Kennedy Space Center in Florida used hardware and procedures similar to those used aboard each flight. However, these moss cultures were either kept stationary or turned at a slow spin on a clinostat a machine that resembles a record turntable placed on its edge, and is used to negate the effects of gravity.

On earth gravity controls the direction of moss growth so thoroughly that it grows straight away from the center of the earth, just like shoots in a field of corn. In space, scientists expected the cells to grow erratically in all directions since there was no gravity cue.

Instead, the moss grew non-randomly in two successive types of patterns: The first pattern resembled that of spokes in a wheel, where the cells grew outward from where they were originally sown. Later, the tips of the filaments grew in arcs so that the entire culture showed clockwise spirals. The same patterns were found when the moss was grown on a clinostat on the ground.

Even with the limited data from STS-107, 10 of the 11 salvageable moss cultures showed this kind of strong radial growth and spiraling.


Spiral Galaxy NGC6118 (ESO)

Ground controls grown in normal conditions of gravity grew as moss normally would on earth.

The results are unusual, Sack said, as this is the first time researchers report seeing this kind of plant growth response in space.

"Unlike the ordered response of moss cells in space, other types of plants grow randomly," he said. "So in moss, gravity must normally mask a default growth pattern. This pattern is only revealed when the gravity signal is lost or disrupted.

"The fascinating question is why would moss have a backup growth response to conditions it has never experienced on earth? Perhaps spirals are a vestigial growth pattern, a pattern that later became masked when moss evolved the ability to respond to gravity.

Sack conducted the study with Volker Kern, who is now at Kennedy Space Center and was at Ohio State at the time of the study; David Reed, with Bionetics Corp. based at Kennedy Space Center; with former Ohio State colleagues Jeanette Nadeau, Jochen Schwuchow and Alexander Skripnikov; and with Jessica Lucas, a graduate student in Sack's lab.

Support for this research came from the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Ohio State University - http://researchnews.osu.edu

Ohio University Bryophyte Home Page - http://vis-pc.plantbio.ohiou.edu/moss/bryophyte.htm

Marine Paint May Deafen Whales

Yale University News Release

New Haven January 27, 2005 - A toxic chemical painted on the bottom of large vessels to protect against barnacles may cause hearing difficulties in whales and other mammals, according to a study by Yale researchers published in the Biophysical Journal.

The chemical tributyltin oxide (TBT) affects the mechanical activity of the outer hair cells, which modulate and boost incoming sound energy to the inner hair cells, according to senior author Joseph Santos-Sacchi, professor of surgery and neurobiology at Yale School of Medicine.

TBT is known to damage the immune system and the hormonal system of marine mammals, "but this is the first time it has been demonstrated that TBT could be working directly on the auditory system," said Santos-Sacchi. Mammals are the only group of animals that have outer hair cells.

Sensitive hearing in mammals relies on cochlear amplification resulting from the motor activity of outer hair cells. The protein prestin along with its interaction with intracellular chloride ions are key to this motor activity.

Santos-Sacchi and his colleagues used guinea pigs in their study and found rapid and profound effects of TBT on the outer hair cells as they studied the effects of TBT on chloride ion exchange across the outer hair cell membrane.

He said TBT bypasses the normal chloride ion pathway, thereby altering the ion's modulating effects of prestin; this may have a negative affect on cochlear amplification.

"This observation identifies a new environmental threat for marine mammals by TBT, which is known to accumulate in the food chain," Santos-Sacchi said. "It also is now important to assess the impact of TBT exposure on marine mammal communication."

Yale University - http://www.yale.edu

Genre News: Oscar and Michael Moore, SpongeBob, Charmed, Unholy, Pooh, Ray Peterson & More!

President George Bush reacts to attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Michael
Moore's film Fahrenheit 911
Oscar ® Nominations and Michael Moore
By FLAtRich

Hollywood January 29, 2005 (eXoNews) - Nominations for the 77th Annual Academy Awards were announced last Tuesday.

There were a few surprises, but the most glaring omission this year (and there are always glaring omissions in Oscar ® noms) was a total shut-out for the most controversial US film of the year, Michael Moore's box office hit documentary Fahrenheit 911.

Moore said that he would try to get a Best Picture nomination for Fahrenheit early on, rather than going for Best Documentary. His previous Oscars ® were won in the latter category.

Maybe that's where Mr. Moore made his big mistake. Not that he should give a damn about getting an Academy Award ® for this one.


No red carpet for Mike and George (eXoNews)

Fahrenheit 911 assailed President Bush, his family, and Saudi royals and other players for inept and devious behavior following the destruction of the World Trade Center by terrorists in 2001.

Moore won nominations and awards around the world for his film.

In 2004 and 2005, Fahrenheit 911 won Best Documentary Feature from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Golden Palm and FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Best Documentary from the Chicago Film Critics Association, Best Documentary from the Dallas-Forth Worth Film Critics Association, the Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Documentary, Kansas City Film Critics Circle Best Documentary Award, the Sierra Award for Best Documentary from the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Non-Fiction Film, Best Documentary from the Online Film Critics Society, the People's Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture, the Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Documentary, San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award for Best Documentary, the Audience Award from the Sarajevo Film Festival and Best Documentary from the Southeastern Film Critics Association.

It was also nominated for the Eddie (American Cinema Editors), British Independent Film Award, César, DGA Award, Screen International Award, Golden Satellite Award, Gotham Award, IFTA Award, Image Award, IDA Award, and Robert Award.


Britney Spears

Various "actors" in the film were nominated for Razzie Awards. George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and Britney Spears for the Worst Supporting Actress Razzie.

I don't remember Britney Spears being in Fahrenheit 911. Maybe Razzie people just hate Britney Spears?

The members of the Academy ® who vote to bestow Academy Awards ® obviously don't like Michael Moore, and that saddens me in a year where I probably saw more nominated films than ever before. I am disappointed to suggest that the Academy Awards ® should probably be boycotted on February 27th by TV viewers of political conscience.

Not that TV viewers ever boycott anything. Hell, they watch fat people in their underwear eat worms and men in Speedos rassling snakes and bikini babes with spiders crawling over their fake breasts endlessly nowadays.


Teri Hatcher

Not that I'm going to boycott ABC's Oscar ® show this year, either. They'll probably have Teri Hatcher in a flimsy thing somewhere on the show.

I am a big Teri Hatcher fan, but it probably would be politically correct to show Mr. Moore that we feel his pain at not getting a vote of confidence from all the old Hollywood stuffed shirts and millionaires.

On the other hand, I agree with Academy ® members about The Aviator and Finding Neverland and The Incredibles. The Incredibles was the best of the three. I thought The Aviator and Finding Neverland each went a little over the top in their final ten minutes. The Incredibles was always over the top and that worked for me.

Some would say Fahrenheit 911 was over the top. Republicans without a sense of humor would say that. George W. Bush's mom might say that (although she is known to have a sense of humor.) Fascists who don't believe in free speech when a speaker doesn't agree with them. Gun people who still hate Michael Moore from a previous, Oscar ® - winning film.

The same people probably haven't seen Finding Neverland.


Johnny Depp in "Finding Neverland"

Ready for this? I've never done it before, but based on the nominated films I saw, here is:

How I Would Vote for The Oscar ® Nominees This Year If They Let Me!

Johnny Depp in "Finding Neverland" - Performance by an actor in a leading role because he was incredible, as usual. Ever see him in 21 Jump Street? Even then we knew.

I'll pass on Performance by an actor in a supporting role because I didn't see any of these films except The Aviator and Alan Alda was good but not incredible.

I'll also pass on Performance by an actress in a leading role because despite all the incredible films I did see this year, none of these was among them.


Cate as Kate - incredible!

Cate Blanchett in "The Aviator" - Performance by an actress in a supporting role. Cate as Katharine Hepburn. Incredible!

The Incredibles - Best animated feature film of the year. They were truly incredible!

Finding Neverland - Achievement in art direction. I'm sure J. M. Barrie would have agreed that it was incredible!

The Passion of the Christ - Achievement in cinematography. Incredible as far as cinematography is concerned. The betrayal scene in particular. Tough call here.

The Aviator - Achievement in costume design. Didn't see all the nominees but Cate Blanchett's outfits were incredible!

I'll pass on Achievement in directing. I haven't seen enough of these to know. I heard that Clint's film was incredible!


Fahrenheit 911 was very credible

Fahrenheit 911 - Best documentary feature. I'm not a member of the Academy ® but screw the Academy ®! Fahrenheit 911 was very credible as far as I'm concerned.

I'll pass on Best documentary short subject because, incredible as it might seem to the producers of the Oscar ® TV show, we regular people rarely get to see any documentary short subjects. They don't show them on TV, that's for sure.

The Aviator - Achievement in film editing because I used to be a film editor and I only saw one of the other nominees in this category and the editing in The Aviator was incredible (and probably very difficult!) The editing in Mr. Moore's film was also very inspiring, but why beat a dead, rich, biased, unrepresentative group of fat-cat Hollywood union film editors?


Best wounds

I'll pass on Best foreign language film of the year for the same incredible reason I passed on short subjects.

The Passion of the Christ - Achievement in makeup for best bloody wounds. They were incredibly hard to look at.

I'll pass on Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score) because I am a musician of sorts and I don't remember any of the music from any of the films I saw this year except Michael Moore's choices for Fahrenheit 911 and they were incredibly funny, but not composed for the film.


Filmmaker Michael Moore

I'll also pass on Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song) because I think this category is incredibly archaic. Songs are rarely written for motion pictures these days because most big motion picture distributors also own record companies. Songs are written and chosen to be included in films so they can be released on hit soundtrack albums, which is a conflict of interest that nobody seems to care about. Michael Moore's next film could lose another Oscar ® if he investigated the record companies.

Fahrenheit 911 - Best motion picture of the year. As I said, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ®, screw you!

I'll pass on Best animated short film. Didn't see any of these, although many that I have seen over the years in this category are truly incredible! TCM ought to show more of these (they do show classic, often award-winning toons monthly now.)

I'll have to pass on Best live action short film too. Isn't it incredible that we never really see any of the Oscar ® - winners in these categories? How about special issue DVDs for regular people, Mr. Academy ® Marketing Director?


Spidey 2

Spider-man 2 - Achievement in sound editing because I actually remember being impressed by the incredible sound in this picture.

Spidey 2 again - Achievement in sound mixing because I don't see an incredible amount of difference between this and the previous category.

I, Robot - Achievement in visual effects because this picture was a valiant attempt at Isaac Asimov's classic and the robots were incredible!

Finding Neverland - Adapted screenplay, although I never read the original. I did think the film was, you know, incredible.


The Aviator - case closed!

The Aviator - Original screenplay because I didn't see any of the others in this category either. The Aviator screenplay wasn't really incredible, but it did tell me all I'll ever want to know about Howard Hughes. Case closed.

So that's it for the Oscar ® categories. I sure hope most Academy ® members don't make their choices the same way I just did!

The Academy Awards ® for outstanding film achievements of 2004 will be presented on Sunday, February 27, at the Kodak ® Theatre at Hollywood & Highland ® and televised live by the ABC Television Network ® beginning at 5 p.m. PST / 8 p.m. EST with a half-hour arrival segment.

[That's right, kids. No Desperate Housewives ® or Boston Legal ® on ABC ® that Sunday. Ed. ®]

Official Oscar ® - http://www.oscar.org

SpongeBob's Sexual Preference
By Jan Dahinten


SpongeBob SquarePants and his pal, who
admittedly does look a bit like a pink condom...

SINGAPORE January 28, 2005 (Reuters) - SpongeBob SquarePants, the wacky cartoon character who sparked a gay alert warning by U.S. Christian conservative groups, is neither gay nor straight.

He is asexual, says his creator.

At least two Christian activist groups said the innocent and hugely popular cartoon character SpongeBob and his best mate Patrick Starfish are being exploited to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.

SpongeBob's creator, Stephen Hillenburg, 43, said the allegations are far-fetched and his agenda does not go beyond fun and entertainment.

"It doesn't have anything to do with what we're trying to do," Hillenburg told Reuters in an interview on Friday, two days before the Asian premiere of the SpongeBob SquarePants Movie in Singapore.

"We never intended them to be gay. I consider them to be almost asexual. We're just trying to be funny and this has got nothing to do with the show."

Naive SpongeBob, who lives in a pineapple under the Pacific Ocean, was "outed" by the U.S. media in 2002 after reports that the Nickelodeon TV show and its merchandise were popular with gays.

Influential U.S. radio evangelist James Dobson, among whose top political issues are opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights, said last week SpongeBob had been included in a "pro-homosexual video."

"Their inclusion of the reference to 'sexual identity' within their 'tolerance pledge' is not only unnecessary but it crosses a moral line," said Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family.

SpongeBob is one of the stars of a music video due to be sent to 61,000 U.S. schools in March. The makers -- the nonprofit We Are Family Foundation -- say the video is designed to encourage tolerance and diversity.

Hillenburg, a marine-science-teacher-turned-animator who lives in Hollywood and is married with a 6-year-old son, says he thinks there are "more important issues to worry about."

"I really don't pay much attention to this."

Such allegations were common in the history of cartoon and children's entertainment, he said.

"Just think of 'Laurel and Hardy' or 'Ernie and Bert'," he said, referring to two popular American comic icons -- the former from the 1930s and latter from the U.S. television series "Sesame Street."


Gay SpongeBob SquarePants fans can
purchase SpongeBob SquarePants boxer
underwear, however...

In 1999, Britain's Teletubbies were cast into sexual controversy by a U.S. religious leader who warned parents to be alert to subtle messages from Tinky Winky, one of the four androgynous characters, singled out for his purple color and a triangular antenna on his head, both symbolising gay pride.

Nickelodeon, part of global media firm Viacom Inc., has made 60 episodes since SpongeBob's birth in 1996 and is working on another 20.

It says the series is a big hit in Indonesia and has been translated into Hindi, Korean and Japanese.

Hillenburg, who produced and directed his first SpongeBob movie, has employed stars such as Alec Baldwin and Scarlett Johansson to voice some of the characters while Baywatch personality David Hasselhoff has made a non-cartoon appearance.

[Come to think of it, maybe the Cowardly Lion was gay! He had sort of a lisp, didn't he? Ed.]

Leo Sez More Charmed and Watch for Billy Zane


Brian Krause with Charmed co-star
Holly Marie Combs (WB)

Hollywood January 27, 2005 (Sci Fi Wire) - Brian Krause, who stars as Leo in the WB series Charmed, told SCI FI Wire that he hopes the current seventh season is not the last for the series.

"I really don't want it to end, for the WB and for Charmed and for the fans alike, " Krause said in an interview during the Television Critics Association press tour. "We have a hundred more shows in us, for sure. It would be a shame. It's hard to even think in the realm or in the terms of how I would like to see it end."


Billy Zane guests on Charmed
later this season

Executive producer Brad Kern has said that he would write a season finale if he doesn't hear from the network about the show's renewal by the end of February. Should that be the case, Krause said he would like to see a happy ending for the show's main characters, the three sister witches played by Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan.

"If we were to end the show, [I'd like] to see the charmed ones get what they've always been after," he said. "It's that normal life and being able to contain it all and have the lovelife, where everybody finds what they want. Kind of a happily-ever-after kind of scenario."

Krause said he believed the show just might draw a few more viewers later this season, when guest-star Billy Zane joins the cast for a few episodes.

"He's all over the place," Krause said. "Just creative and wacky and fun. I mean, he's pretty awesome."

Charmed airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Charmed Official - http://www.thewb.com/Shows/Show/0,7353,||156,00.html

Fox Wants Female Heroes
By Nellie Andreeva

LOS ANGELES January 27, 2005 (Hollywood Reporter) - In the latest round of pilot pickups, Fox has ordered two female-driven dramas, NBC has given a cast-contingent order to a comedy, while UPN has given a thumbs-up to a drama.

Of the Fox pair, the tentatively titled "Brennan" revolves around a female forensic anthropologist brought in to solve crimes when all other investigative avenues have been exhausted.

The project is based on the character of forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan that is featured in a series of novels by Kathy Reichs, a best-selling author and a forensic anthropologist.

And "Briar & Graves" involves a hard-living priest who partners with a female doctor to investigate unexplained religious phenomena.

NBC's "Filmore Middle" centers on young teachers at a public school. UPN's "Crazy" revolves around a young female psychiatrist who sees the problems of her patients reflected in her own life.

Unholy

Nicholas Brendon and Adrienne Barbeau get Unholy

NEW YORK January 26, 2005 (EWORLDWIRE) - "Unholy," a new feature length thriller starring Adrienne Barbeau (Escape from New York, The Fog, Carnivale) and Nicholas Brendon (Psycho Beach Party, Buffy The Vampire Slayer) has begun shooting in Queens, N.Y., this past weekend.

Under the directorial eye of Daryl Goldberg, and penmanship of Samuel Stephen Freeman, "Unholy" is the first in-house feature for Sky Whisper Productions. Sky Whisper Productions served as an associate producer on "Zombie Honeymoon" which is currently on the festival circuit. Joshua Blumenfeld and Freeman are Sky Whisper's executive producers.

The film deals with a grieving mother, Martha (Barbeau), trying to uncover the terrifying secret that is jeopardizing her family. Along with her son (Brendon), Martha becomes entwined in a conspiracy involving a fabled witch, Nazi occultists and the U.S. government. The film is inspired by an actual military document found discussing elements of Nazi witchcraft that were smuggled into small town Pennsylvania following World War II by the U.S. administration.

"We are thrilled to have actors of the caliber of Adrienne and Nicholas on Sky Whisper Productions' first feature film," said Blumenfeld, Sky Whisper CEO and "Unholy" executive producer. "Both stars have extraordinary followings and for good reason. I believe that this production will contain one of the best performances audiences have ever seen from both of these actors. There is already extraordinary buzz surrounding this film on dozens of Web sites, and we are confident that it will likely be one of the most successful horror films of the year."

"I believe that this terrifying and unusual tale, along with cult genre icons such as Barbeau and Brendon, is sure to guarantee a creation like none other," said Freeman, scriptwriter and co-executive producer on "Unholy." "There has never been a genre film like this before. Audiences will leave the theater scathed."

Skywhisper - http://www.skywhisperproductions.com

Zombie Honeymoon Official - http://www.zombiehoneymoon.com

Gay Parents Banned By PBS

BURLINGTON VERMONT January 27, 2005 (AP) - Two Vermont same-sex couples whose families are featured in a PBS children's program are upset the network has decided not to distribute the show.

The PBS decision was announced after Margaret Spellings, the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, criticized the episode as inappropriate for children.

Vermont Public Television will air the "Sugartime" episode of the show "Postcards from Buster" that features a broad variety of American families.

"Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode," Spellings wrote Tuesday to Pat Mitchell, the president and chief executive officer of PBS.

"I feel sick about it," Karen Pike of Hinesburg, said of the PBS decision. She and her partner, Gillian Pieper, and their three children are featured in the episode.

"I can't believe PBS would back down to this," she said. "I understand they get public funding, but they should be the one station we feel confident in, in knowing that what we see there represents our whole country."

In the series, Buster, an animated rabbit, visits children around the country with his airline-pilot father and sends video postcards back to his friends.

"We reflect the diversity and the rich culture of American kids," said Jeanne Hopkins, a spokeswoman for WGBH, which produced the show.

The Vermont episode shows maple sugaring and the Shelburne Museum, and features the children of the two same-sex-parent families.

Hopkins said WGBH will distribute the episode to any PBS station that asks for it.

PBS spokeswoman Lea Sloan said PBS reached its decision independent of Spellings' letter after concluding on its own that the episode was "sensitive in today's political climate.

"I feel betrayed as a parent," said Tracy Harris of Charlotte. She and Gina D'Ambrosio and their three children, ages 7 to 13, are the other family on the program.

"I thought long and hard whether to do this program, because it involved my kids, not just me," she said. "And, you know, when it comes to my kids, I usually err on the side of caution. In this case, I decided to take a calculated risk, because it was PBS."

Vermont Public Television decided Wednesday morning that it will show the episode March 23, VPT spokeswoman Ann Curran said Wednesday.

"This is something we think is an important Vermont story," she said. "Civil unions are an important part of life in Vermont, part of the culture of Vermont."

Disney Wins Pooh - Until The Next Appeal


The battle for Pooh wages on

LOS ANGELES January 26, 2005 (Reuters) - A Los Angeles judge on Wednesday denied a new trial to owners of the U.S. marketing rights for Winnie the Pooh after dismissing the firm's lawsuit against The Walt Disney Co. last year.

Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy threw out the suit last March, ruling that Stephen Slesinger Inc., which holds the rights to the honey-loving bear, had stolen evidence and tainted the case.

Slesinger's lawyers had argued that other remedies besides throwing out the case were possible, but McCoy ruled on Wednesday that the knowledge improperly obtained by the Slesinger family could not be purged and there was no alternative to dismissal.

A Slesinger lawyer said he would appeal the case, which Disney had said could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The family-owned firm which acquired the rights to Pooh in 1930 from British author A.A. Milne had accused Disney of short-changing it in product royalties, a charge Disney strenuously denied.

Alyson Hannigan Quits Jennifer Love Hewitt
By Daniel Fienberg


Alyson Hannigan

LOS ANGELES January 24, 2005 (Zap2it.com) "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" co-star Alyson Hannigan's latest stab at becoming a network television sitcom star has lasted less than two weeks. ABC confirms that the actress has departed the comedy "In the Game" over creative differences.

Earlier this month, Hannigan signed on for the Jennifer Love Hewitt series playing the best friend of Hewitt's character, a sports television producer who becomes an on-air star. Originally developed for last fall, "In the Game" has been undergoing a number of changes and as the second pilot was being conceived, Hannigan's character went in a direction that didn't interest the 30-year-old actress.

"Alyson Hannigan came on into a role as the process was going through the week," ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson says. "The role kind of diminished just based on the storytelling that was going on. She was unhappy and wanted off the show, so we allowed her to leave."

Sara Gilbert has reportedly been added to the "Game" cast, but the part has been downgraded from a co-starring role to a recurring character.

Gilbert's tenure with the show may also be brief, given that the former "Roseanne" co-star is doing a comedy project with The WB.

Meanwhile, after the network pulled a planned "In the Game" panel for the Television Critics Association, McPherson was left to explain that show's ongoing status.

"I always found it odd when networks put up shows that they hadn't really seen yet or that they were reworking entirely and said, 'Hey guys, it's going to be fantastic,'" McPherson explains.

"We don't know that yet because we haven't seen it. We shot a pilot. We thought there was tremendous potential, specifically in Ed O'Neill and Jennifer. So we reshot last week. I'll see a rough cut of it probably Thursday or Friday."

Hannigan, best know for her years as Willow Rosenberg on The WB and UPN's "Buffy," will still be returning to the small screen in the near future. As was reported last week, Hannigan will make a guest appearance on UPN's "Veronica Mars," playing the daughter of Harry Hamlin's Aaron Echolls. While conceived as a one-shot cameo, it could become a recurring part for Hannigan. Her episode will air on Feb. 22 and she has at least one important fan in the cast.

"When I met her, I was just floored at home wonderful she was," "Veronica Mars" star Kristen Bell told reporters last week. "She has a very sweet presence about her, very grateful, respectful. She's a wonderful woman to work with, I think, and was very sweet. And you know, I was just asking her questions about her experiences and she gave me some guidance and she was lovely."

Dustin Hoffman Sez Movies in the Craphouse


Dustin Hoffman (AFP)

LONDON January 25, 2005 (AFP) - Multiple Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman lamented the state of modern filmmaking, using a promotional session for his latest feature to pan a money-hungry marketing-focused industry.

"The whole culture is in the craphouse", Hoffman told journalists gathered in London to hear him promote his latest comedy vehicle "Meet the Fockers".

"You go to the cinema and you realize you're watching the third act. There is no first or second act," he said.

"There is this massive filmmaking where you spend this incredible amount of money and play right to the demographic.

"You can tell how much money the film is going to make by how it does on the first weekend."

Hoffman, a seven-time Oscar nominee who won twice as best actor for "Rain Man" and "Kramer vs Kramer", said the quality crisis extended from film to the stage.

"The whole culture is in the craphouse. It's not just true in the movies, it's also true in the theater," he said. "Broadway, and now London is the same, special effects are in great demand. It's not a good time culturally."

The 67-year-old actor, who has chalked up a full roster of recent supporting parts, said he had stopped working a few years back because he had "lost the spark I always had".

"Studios weren't interested in the kind of films that people of my generation wanted to see.

"I thought I would stop and just try writing and directing. I wasn't aware of the depression that set in."

But the past year has seen him pop up in features including "I Heart Huckabees", "Finding Neverland" and now "Meet the Fockers", also starring Robert De Niro, Barbra Streisand and Ben Stiller.

Ray Peterson

NASHVILLE January 27, 2005 (AP) - Ray Peterson, whose 1960 hit Tell Laura I Love Her exemplified the teen tragedy song popular in early rock 'n' roll, died Tuesday.

He was 65. Billed as The Golden Voice of Rock 'n' Roll, he died at his home in Smyrna, Tenn., a Nashville suburb, said officials at Woodfin Memorial Chapel. He had cancer.

Peterson's version of The Wonder of You reached the top 30 in 1959, and Elvis Presley later hit the pop charts with a cover version.

But Peterson's signature hit was Tell Laura I Love Her, which reached No. 7 on the Billboard chart.

[Tell Laura was played to death in 1960 in NY and certainly reached number one locally around the US. In those days, radio stations had their own Top 10 and Top 40 lists, but it is amazing to me that this classic rock anthem never reached Billboard's number one! Ed.]

The recording was a best-selling example of the "teenage tragedy" subgenre that included Teen Angel and Leader of the Pack.

Corrina, Corrina was Peterson's last major commercial success but he toured for years after. He opened for the Beach Boys in several countries and was a supporting act on their Summer Safari tour of 1964.

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