Gorillas Vs. Ebola!
Terrorist Vs. Tourist, Hippies,
George Washington, Genesis,
The Dead Zone & More!
Ebola Threatens 20,000 Gorillas!
Conservation International News Release

August 27, 2004 (Torino, Italy) – Scientists fear that emerging evidence may suggest a new outbreak of the Ebola virus, which, in addition to threatening human lives, would threaten tens of thousands of great apes – in this case gorillas and chimpanzees – in the Republic of Congo.

The announcement was made by the International Primatological Society (IPS) and Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP) at the IPS's 20th Congress, being held this week in Turin, Italy. 

Congo's Odzala National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, contains an estimated 30,000 western lowland gorillas, the largest such population of the endangered species in the world. Until late last year, hundreds could regularly be spotted in Lokoue Bai, a natural clearing in the park where separate groups of the gorillas predictably congregated.

But whereas 45 groups of gorillas (each with an average of eight individuals) were once normally observed there, the number since May has plummeted to only nine groups. 

"We have not confirmed this as an outbreak of Ebola yet, but there are clear indications that we need to take that possibility seriously," said Dr. Dieudonnè Ankara, GRASP Focal Point for Congo-Brazzaville, who confirmed these recent developments. "This situation demands serious attention, since another Ebola outbreak would have devastating effects not only for wildlife, but for my neighbors who call the area home."

Fewer than 100,000 western lowland gorillas remain on Earth. A study published in the journal Nature last year suggested that when an ebola outbreak affects a given area, more than 80 percent of all great apes living in that area die of the disease. 

Ebola outbreaks have already occurred in this general area. In the past two years, two reported cases were confirmed in Lossi Forest, approximately 50 kilometers south of Odzala. In both cases, more than 80 percent of all lowland gorillas and roughly 70 percent of all chimpanzees living there died. 

Odzala National Park is also home to other threatened species, including the endangered chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), the endangered African forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis), and the vulnerable lion (Panthera leo). The massive 13,600 square kilometer park sits in northeastern Congo, near the Gabonese border to the west and Cameroon to the north. 

Scientists say multiple courses of action should be taken immediately: 

Field researchers already in the region, from groups including Ecofac, Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Rennes, need greater human and financial resources to enhance monitoring in the park, in order to determine which species, if any, have been affected by Ebola, and in which part of the park they reside. 
After affected regions have been identified, create geographical barriers, such as making rivers impassable, to decrease the likelihood of any further spread. 
Increase funding for Ebola vaccines for the great apes, which have already proven successful in monkeys and are showing greater promise in humans. 
If Ebola outbreak is confirmed, immediately warn all people living in the area to avoid handling dead animals.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a severe, often-fatal disease that affects humans and non-human primates, such as monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees. Researchers believe the disease, which first emerged in 1976, is zoonotic, or animal-borne. Many scientists believe it is spread through the butchering and handling of primate bushmeat. The disease has been confirmed only in six African nations: the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, Sudan, Côte d'Ivoire, and Uganda. 

"This is clearly bad news, but it is not too late to act," said Christophe Boesch, Professor at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. "Although it would be disastrous to the great apes if another outbreak of Ebola is confirmed, we still have it in our grasp to save a large number of these primates, man's closest living relatives. The international community and non-governmental institutions must continue to commit resources to the Congo Basin, one of the last remaining tracts of wilderness in the world." 

Western lowland gorillas can grow to six feet tall when standing, and can weigh up to 450 pounds. They have a broad chest, a muscular neck, and strong hands and feet.

Short, thin, grey-black to brown-black hair covers their entire body, except the face. Many bear a distinctive ginger-colored crown. In comparison to mountain gorillas, western lowland gorillas have wider and larger skulls. They are characterized as quiet, and peaceful animals that almost never attack unless provoked. 

The relatively intact forests of Western Equatorial Africa are regarded as the last strongholds of African apes. Gabon and the Congo hold 80 percent of the world's gorillas and most of the Central African chimpanzees. The population of apes in the Congo declined by more than half between 1983 and 2000. 

Conservation International - http://www.conservation.org

GRASP - http://www.unep.org/grasp

International Primatological Society - http://www.ips2004.unito.it

Terrorist Vs. Tourist
University of Warwick Press Release

August 26, 2004 - New research from the University of Warwick is set to reveal some striking similarities between the actions of groups of people who travel on flagship airlines, seemingly at random, between the major cities of the world.

An ongoing research project into airlines and international tourism shows in many cases it is only motivation that distinguishes the terrorist from the tourist, and may be the cause of big headaches for the world’s national carriers. 

What’s more failure to appreciate the fact that international terrorism and international tourism share as many similarities as they do differences would be a significant oversight.

Both tourism and terrorism involve citizens of different countries who visit internationally famous buildings, sites, hotels and shopping centers.

Both tourists and terrorists frequently carry bags and back-packs, travel alone or in small groups, and the anonymity of both groups enables them to blend into their surroundings.

Further comparisons could also be made with other national carriers that operate across boarders. Cruise liners have been targeted in the past, and both Eurostar and the Channel Tunnel have potential added risks in their operational activities.

Research by Dr Bridgette Sullivan-Taylor of Warwick Business School in the UK, funded by The Leverhulme Trust, into the strategic management implications of global terrorism builds on previous research carried out into international tourism conducted within the industry. She is set to investigate whether global terrorism has an impact on organizational learning in international service organizations. 

The study will also examine how international service organizations cope with managing under the conditions of ongoing uncertainty and ambiguity posed by terrorist activities, and the affect of terrorism and security policy on international tourism patterns and flows, in particular comparing US and UK practices.

Previous studies have noted the reluctance of business travelers to change their plans to travel to high-risk destinations even in the light of adverse risk data emerging in the media. Non-business travelers behave in different ways, modifying their plans and destinations (Egypt suffered a 42% drop in tourism following terrorist attacks in 1992).

For an airline that provides both business and leisure travel, these circumstances lead to complex planning and decision making. 

This study will prove useful to government agencies and business organizations that are planning strategies in recognition of the changed international environment following 9/11.

[Just as long as they can tell the difference when I'm on vacation. Ed.]

University of Warwick - http://www.warwick.ac.uk

Banana Power!
Australia August 27, 2004 (BBC) - Australian engineers have created an electricity generator fuelled by decomposing bananas, and hope to build a full size fruit-fired power station. At present, much of Australia's annual banana crop goes to waste, because the fruit are too bruised or small. 

But rather than just letting them rot, the researchers would like to put the rejects to good commercial use. 

If all goes according to plan, a banana-fuelled power plant capable of powering 500 homes could be built. Engineering lecturer Bill Clarke, from the University of Queensland, said he hit upon the unusual idea when the Australian Banana Growers' Council approached him, looking for ways to use a mountain of waste fruit. 

"In North Queensland, bananas are abundantly available and could be a great source of renewable energy," Dr Clarke said. 

About one third of tropical Queensland's banana crop - which is more than 20,000 tons a year - never makes it into the shops. Normally they are just left to rot on the ground, but Dr Clarke says this damages the soil - and wastes a potentially useful resource. He has successfully used bananas to generate electricity in the laboratory, and is assessing whether a power plant could be commercially viable.

Dr Clarke lets the bananas decompose in sealed vats and uses the methane from the rotting fruit to power an electricity turbine. So far so good, but the real test is whether this idea can be a commercial winner. 

"We don't know yet whether bananas are a cost-effective energy source," said Dr Clarke. "So my research parameters are designed to discover how long it will take to convert the bananas to methane, and how much methane is produced." 

His work involves mashing, pulping and shredding waste bananas to find the most efficient way to make them decompose - as well as adding enzymes to speed things up. Dr Clarke says he will know by February of next year whether bananas are a viable energy source. 

If they are, the banana industry will consider building a banana-fuelled power plant that could bring power to 500 homes. Electricity generated at the plant would be sold to the national grid, providing banana growers with an additional source of income. 

However Dr Clarke admits this technology has a flaw: it takes an awful lot of bananas to generate a small amount of power. 

He said: "60kg of bananas are needed to power a household appliance such as a fan heater for 30 hours."

Dig it! The Hippie Dictionary!
By Greg Frost 

BOSTON August 24, 2004 (Reuters) - Are you feeling screwed, blued and tattooed because the man slipped it to you? Like, stay loose, hit the pad and share a thumb with your pash. Huh?

If that made no sense to you, check out "The Hippie Dictionary" by John McCleary. Using the new book to translate, readers come up with the more conventional: Are you feeling mistreated by the authorities? Relax, go home to bed and share a very large marijuana cigarette with your significant other." 

Those expecting the dictionary, published by Ten Speed Press, to be a stodgy reference work are in for a jolt. 

McCleary's book is chock-full of pointed editorializing, slang and swear words culled from the vernacular of the 1960s and 1970s hippie youth, who questioned authority and created their own counterculture.

[Note: Neo-hippies, don't be confused. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were the first hippies. For the true language of hipdom, read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. Ed.]

McCleary said he wouldn't have it any other way. 

"In order to be truthful to the era, I had to put every term that I could remember in the dictionary," McCleary, who spent eight years writing and compiling the 700-page tome, said in an interview. 

Hence, among the book's entries are such gems as "absof**kinglutely" (without a doubt), "hey man" (the most prevalent greeting of the era) and "swacked" (high on drugs or alcohol). 

One of the more amusing entries is found under "like," which McCleary calls an unnecessary word that along with "you know" and "I mean" has come to dominate U.S. speech. 

"What is strange about these exclamations is that, even though they have no real bearing on the conversation, they indicate a desire ... to communicate with clarity and understanding." 

'INTELLECTUAL RENAISSANCE' 

The vocabulary of the hippie era came in large part from the beat generation, jazz and blues music, African-American culture, Eastern religion and the British musical invasion of the early 1960s, McCleary said. 

As part of their countercultural thinking, he noted, hippies tended to imbue words and phrases with new meanings. 

Many of these new meanings related to drugs and sexuality -- topics "The Hippie Dictionary" does not shirk. Despite his focus on such terms, McCleary feels strongly that the hippie era marked the "intellectual renaissance" of the 20th century.

"If the hippies had been listened to (then) 9/11 would not have happened," he added. "Had the hippie ideals been followed, we would be in a different world altogether right now." 

In fact, the book's entry for the term "hippie" says, "The true hippie believes in and works for truth, generosity, peace, love and tolerance. The messengers of sanity in a world filled with greed, intolerance and war." 

If McCleary sounds enamored with the era, it's because he is. A self-described aging hippie, he experienced an epiphany at the age of 24 -- during 1967's "summer of love." 

"I saw Janis Joplin sing 'Ball and Chain' at the Monterey Pop Festival' and it changed my life," he said. 

After that, he took to sporting striped bell-bottoms, experimenting with drugs and sex and hitting hippie haunts around the world. 

McCleary, now 61 and working as a part-time carpenter from his home in Monterey, California, said he has no regrets.

"Everything I did, including the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, I'm proud of because it was an experimentation, a statement of joy," he said. 

'NO APOLOGIES' 

Just as he voiced no regrets over his behavior, McCleary has no apologies for expressing highly subjective views in what is ostensibly a reference book. 

In his entry on President John F. Kennedy's assassination, he wrote, "It is interesting to note that liberals are the ones who are killed in their prime, and conservatives die old in their soft beds. This world would be a better place in which to live if John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., had lived to die in their soft beds." 

McCleary said his editorializing is necessary because the hippie era was a very opinionated period and some of the themes he touches on help illustrate the hippie philosophy. 

By the same token, McCleary said omitting crude language or references to hard drugs would be academically incorrect. 

"I will not defend the vulgarity or naiveté of the era, except to say that we were experimenting and learning what might work in the future for human beings," he wrote.

Bush Flip-Flops on Global Warming
By Tom Doggett
Reuters

WASHINGTON August 27, 2004 (Reuters) — Warmer temperatures in North America since 1950 were likely caused in part by human activities, the Bush administration said in a report that seems to contradict the White House position there was no clear scientific proof on the causes of global warming. 

In a report sent to Congress this week, the administration noted a recent government-sponsored study supported the view of many scientists that human action from driving automobiles to running power plants helped cause global warming.

"North American temperature changes from 1950 to 1999 were unlikely to be due only to natural climate variations," the report said. Warmer temperatures that occurred from 1900 to 1949 were "likely due" to natural causes, the report added.

The brief passage in the report was surprising because President Bush and other senior administration officials have long insisted there was no clear scientific proof to link human activities to global warming.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said this one study does not change the administration's position and more research on the causes of global warming is still needed. "The president's policy is the same.... we need to fill in the knowledge and the scientific gaps," he said.

Bush withdrew the United States from participating in the Kyoto treaty that sought to reduce global warming emissions produced mostly by industrialized nations. He said the accord's tough requirements would be too costly to the U.S. economy.

The White House has promoted a voluntary program for U.S. power plant and oil refinery owners and other industries to cut their so-called greenhouse gas emissions.

The specific study on temperature changes from 1950 to 1999 was included in a list of research projects on climate change sponsored by various government agencies that were recently completed or are under way.

In its report to Congress on the research, the administration said the studies did not "make any findings of fact that could serve as predicates for regulatory action."

However, one environmental group said the report put pressure on Bush to address the global warming issue when the president lays out his plans for a second term at the Republican convention next week in New York.

"It will be interesting to see whether he plans to do something about global warming or just continue ignoring it for political reasons," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.

Other recent government-sponsored studies listed in the administration's report found:

+ 5.6 million hectares (13.8 million acres) of U.S. farmland set aside from production across a 13-state region soak up 5.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.

+ Emissions from the oil and natural gas industries in the Southwestern United States raised quantities of ethane, propane, and butane in the near-surface atmosphere of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas in autumn and spring that were comparable to urban smog.

+ The portion of the Arctic Ocean covered by perennial sea ice has declined by about 9 percent per decade since 1978.
The Real George Washington
By Jill Oestreicher Gross

Mount Vernon VA August 24, 2004 (Reuters) - Americans know George Washington as the dour founding father with white hair and ponytail depicted on their currency, but most people have little idea what the nation's first president really looked like beyond this stock image.

Researchers are hoping to change that by embarking on a massive detective hunt to flesh out his appearance in every detail. Specialists at Washington's home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, 25km outside Washington, DC, are gathering dozens of artifacts including snippets of hair and clothing that will be analyzed over the next year.

Based on that information, they will make life-size models of the former president at three different points in his life that will go on display in 2006 as part of a new $85-million education centre and museum at Mount Vernon.

Sculptures, moulds, busts, dentures, imprints and masks of Washington's face and body will be scanned with lasers. Hair samples, spectacles, personal clothes and all available written descriptions of Washington's physique, including those written by the president himself, will also be scrutinized.

"We want to show visitors the real George Washington and showing visitors how he looked is critical to that goal," said James Rees, Mount Vernon's executive director.

The scans will be merged and used to create detailed computer images that can be fine-tuned, said computer scientist and project participant Anshuman Razdan, director of Partnership for Research in Spatial Modeling (PRISM) at Arizona State University.

"We will depict Washington at three distinct phases of his life - a surveyor and young frontiersman at 19, commander in chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War at age 45, and first president of the United States at age 57," Rees said.

Washington, who had red hair as a young man, began losing his teeth in his 20s, said Jeffrey Schwartz, an anthropologist and forensic scientist at University of Pittsburgh.

He had several pairs of dentures, and historians believe he was portrayed with a closed month and tight lips because of the pain and embarrassment he suffered from losing his teeth and wearing them. The version that might hint at what Washington would have looked like smiling is the 19-year-old, Schwartz said.

Because of the bone loss that results from losing teeth, the shape of Washington's face probably changed dramatically over the years, he said, explaining that pinpointing those changes in the different versions of Washington will be hard.

"It's a challenge, but it's not insurmountable, and of course it's always going to be within the realm of the most reasonable combination of the information that I have at hand," Schwartz said.

Schwartz and Razdan will explore various computer-generated images of Washington with and without his dentures, and as a result will able to see how his face might have changed.

Various objects will be studied to make the most accurate depiction of Washington at 53, the age when the two well-known pieces of him were made by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon - a bust from 1785 and a marble statue between 1785 and 1791.

Using the 53-year-old model as a starting point, years will be added and subtracted with Schwartz's trained eye and the help of Razdan's PRISM computer program.

Schwartz will use "the consistency of representation of any of his features across an array of portraits and three-dimensional representations" to make his decisions on how to portray Washington.

The most accurate replicas would have been based on studying his bones. Although he is buried at Mount Vernon, museum directors decided against exhuming his body.

Museum model designer Ivan Schwartz and his team will then create three, six-foot-plus (1,8m) models from foam forms using Razdan's data.

"It's like Madame Tussaud's, but better," said Schwartz, director of Brooklyn, New York-based StudioEIS, referring to the wax models made of celebrities. "This is the marriage of the science and the craft."

"The head is the most labor-intensive part of the process," he said. The head will first be made of clay from a cast of the foam, and then made into wax. Washington's body will stay as foam but may have layers of plaster and other material added to it to detail muscles and other contours.

Hair will be implanted into the wax head, and glass eyes inserted. A painter will try to capture Washington's skin tones in the three models. Finally, period clothing will complete the life-like replicas.

Washington, born in Virginia in 1732, was a successful surveyor before joining Virginia's military.

He had a major role in the French and Indian War in the 1750s and later as commander of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War, which ended in victory for Washington in 1781.

In 1789, Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States. He served two terms and was the only US president to be elected unanimously by the electoral college. He died in 1799.

Bush Toots His Own Intelligence Horn
By JENNIFER LOVEN
Associated Press Writer 

WASHINGTON August 29, 2004 (AP) - President Bush said Saturday his newly enacted changes in the nation's intelligence community will "improve America's ability to find, track and stop dangerous terrorists," while Democratic critics said the election-season moves fall short of what is needed.

The president said the four executive orders he signed Friday, which give the CIA director additional power over the intelligence community until a new post of national intelligence director is created, establish a national counterterrorism center and promote intelligence-sharing across the government, "reflect specific recommendations" of an independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. 

"All of them are essential to America's security as we wage the war on terror," Bush, speaking in his weekly radio address, said of the orders. 

But critics immediately questioned whether Bush was going as far as the commission advised. 

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said the executive orders are the latest example of Bush acting only "dragging and kicking" on important national security matters. 

"Now they say they're willing to embrace a director of national intelligence, but they're not really willing to embrace it because they won't give him budget authority," he said. 

After the release earlier in the summer of the 9/11 commission's report, political pressure grew for Congress and the president to get behind the recommendations the panel made to reform the government in response to the attacks. Key recommendations included the creation of a national intelligence director, separate from the director of the CIA, with real authority over budgets and personnel across the intelligence community and a central national counterterrorism center to handle intelligence operations and analysis. 

Debate has been most fierce over the powers of the new post. 

The White House says that the intelligence director should have oversight over spending and hiring and firing, but has yet to endorse full budget authority for the proposed position. 

It is up to Congress whether to change the law to create the new position, and lawmakers are working to draft legislation that would do that as part of a broader overhaul of U.S. intelligence. 

"America faces a great threat, and our government is doing everything in its power to confront and defeat that threat," Bush said. "In all that lies ahead, America will stay focused and determined, and we will prevail."
Genesis - A Piece of the Sun
August 19, 2004 (NASA) - In a dramatic ending that marks a beginning in scientific research, NASA's Genesis spacecraft is set to swing by Earth and jettison a sample return capsule filled with particles of the Sun that may ultimately tell us more about the genesis of our solar system.

"The Genesis mission -- to capture a piece of the Sun and return it to Earth -- is truly in the NASA spirit: a bold, inspiring mission that makes a fundamental contribution to scientific knowledge," said Steven Brody, NASA's program executive for the Genesis mission, NASA Headquarters, Washington.

On September 8, 2004, the drama will unfold over the skies of central Utah when the spacecraft's sample return capsule will be snagged in midair by helicopter. The rendezvous will occur at the Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range, southwest of Salt Lake City. 

"What a prize Genesis will be," said Genesis Principal Investigator Dr. Don Burnett of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. "Our spacecraft has logged almost 27 months far beyond the moon's orbit, collecting atoms from the Sun. With it, we should be able to say what the Sun is composed of, at a level of precision for planetary science purposes that has never been seen before." 

The prizes Burnett and company are waiting for are hexagonal wafers of pure silicon, gold, sapphire, diamond and other materials that have served as a celestial prison for their samples of solar wind particles. These wafers have weathered 26-plus months in deep space and are now safely stowed in the return capsule. If the capsule were to descend all the way to the ground, some might fracture or break away from their mountings; hence, the midair retrieval by helicopter, with crew members including some who have performed helicopter stunt work for Hollywood. 

"These guys fly in some of Hollywood's biggest movies," said Don Sweetnam, Genesis project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "But this time, the Genesis capsule will be the star."

The Genesis capsule -- carrying the agency's first sample return since the final Apollo lunar mission in 1972, and the first material collected beyond the Moon -- will enter Earth's atmosphere at 9:55 am Mountain Time. Two minutes and seven seconds after atmospheric entry, while still flying supersonically, the capsule will deploy a drogue parachute at 33 kilometers (108,000 feet) altitude. Six minutes after that, the main parachute, a parafoil, will deploy 6.1 kilometers (20,000 feet) up. Waiting below will be two helicopters and their flight crews looking for their chance to grab a piece of the Sun. 

"Each helicopter will carry a crew of three," said Roy Haggard, chief executive officer of Vertigo Inc. and director of flight operations for the lead helicopter. "The lead helicopter will deploy an eighteen-and-a-half foot long pole with what you could best describe as an oversized, Space-Age fishing hook on its end. When we make the approach we want the helicopter skids to be about eight feet above the top of the parafoil. If for some reason the capture is not successful, the second helicopter is 1,000 feet behind us and setting up for its approach. We estimate we will have five opportunities to achieve capture." 

The helicopter that does achieve capture will carry the sample canister to a clean room at the Michael Army Air Field at the U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground, where scientists await their cosmic prize. The samples will then be moved to a special laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, where they will be preserved and studied by scientists for many years to come. 

"I understand much of the interest is in how we retrieve Genesis," added Burnett. "But to me the excitement really begins when scientists from around the world get hold of those samples for their research. That will be something." 

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the Genesis mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operates the spacecraft.

Los Alamos National Laboratory and NASA's Johnson Space Center contributed to Genesis payload development, and the Johnson Space Center will curate the sample and support analysis and sample allocation. 

News and information are available at http://www.nasa.gov/genesis

More detailed background on the mission is available at http://genesismission.jpl.nasa.gov

PETA in Underwear Not Indecent
CAMBRIDGE MASS August 27, 2004 (Reuters) - Wearing underwear and nothing else in public does not constitute indecency, a Massachusetts court declared on Thursday as it tossed out charges against six animal rights protesters. 

Members of the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were arrested and charged with indecency and disturbing the peace after a chilly rally in March near Harvard University where they stripped to their skivvies and staged a nearly naked pillow fight to protest against fur. 

Six months and three court dates later, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, judge threw out the indecency charges against all six PETA members. 

All but one of the protesters -- PETA Vice President Dan Mathews -- were also cleared of disturbing the peace. Mathews was ordered to pay a $300 fine. 

Mathews told Reuters he was relieved that the indecent exposure charges were dismissed, noting that a conviction on such a charge would have forced him and the other demonstrators to register as sex offenders in Massachusetts.
Genre News: Dead Zone, Dakota Fanning, Reality Harmful, Sky Captain, Summer Ratings, Kevin Sorbo & More!
The Dead Zone - Season Three Finale
Review by FLAtRich

August 29, 2004 (eXoNews) - Executive producer Lloyd Segan tells us that "prospects for a fourth season of The Dead Zone look promising" and I hope that will be a certainty by the time you read this. Tipping Point, the wrap-up episode for Season Three of USA's superb genre show does leave us hanging there on the cliff in the grand tradition, so it seems that the producers are confident of a return.

I also hope a future season will clip the current threads and let Dead Zone float back into the netherworlds that Michael and Shawn Piller established back in Season One when Michael Piller declared that he expected his writers to think outside the box.

Like much of series TV, Dead Zone Season Three has begun to eat its own - giving us too many episodes with Johnny Smith (Anthony Michael Hall) using his gift to save his family and buddies, staying close to home rather than searching out less personal mysteries.

The best of the early Dead Zone episodes - Enigma, Unreasonable Doubt, Enemy Mind and Shaman - found Johnny in the presence of strangers who needed his help.

His powers were less directed and more spontaneous, as if some higher power might be pointing him toward answers that no one else could ever see.

Season Three finds Johnny crossing worlds between an apocalyptic future and his own rather soapy present. There is a future guy (Frank Whaley) who shows up in Johnny's visions, cryptically warning of disasters ahead.

Johnny has become involved with Rebecca Caldwell (Sarah Wynter), the sister of a woman murdered while filming a documentary about Johnny's nemesis Greg Stillson (Sean Patrick Flanery). Stillson is a crooked politician who Johnny fears may someday destroy the world.

Stillson also has shady ties to Reverend Gene Purdy (David Ogden Stiers), who manages Johnny's trust fund and the Faith Heritage Church.

And there is the old relationship between Johnny and Sarah Bannerman (Nicole deBoer), wife of Johnny's sometime ally Sheriff Walt Bannerman (Chris Bruno). Sarah and Walt have a son, J.J. (Spencer Achtymichuk) who has only just learned that Johnny is his real father.

This all may sound complicated to the uninitiated, but think Stephen King and you'll find that the characters in the television version of The Dead Zone give the show the thickness of a novel despite the confines of your TV receiver.

Or, at least they do when the writers keep them far enough out of the box.

This depends somewhat on the too infrequent presence of Johnny's physical trainer and friend Bruce (John L. Adams) who usually signals a more off-the-wall episode like this season's Shadows, which USA chose to air just before the finale. (You won't find any trace of John L. Adams in the King original, BTW, which may be why this character is so important to the show.)

Bruce doesn't appear in Tipping Point, but Johnny is still crossing worlds.

Future guy comes back to tell him that the not so good Reverend Purdy lied about the suicide of his Faith Heritage crony Mike Kennedy, who supposedly murdered Rebecca Caldwell's sister Rachel.

Rebecca is back for this episode too, which means that the Greg Stillson thread is important to the finale. (As King fans know, Stillson is a character from the original book.)

John has been getting headaches for several episodes and now he decides to seek treatment. At Rebecca's urging, he allows a brain specialist to scan him while having a vision.

We get this in a wonderful holodeck sort of trance gone bad where Johnny is relaxing on a sunny beach with Rebecca, suddenly swallowed by the sand as his vision takes hold. 

Johnny gets more warnings from future guy and a grown version of J.J. in his vision. Meanwhile, Stillson is being pressured by bigger bads to stifle the reopening of the Rachel Caldwell murder.

Johnny is telling Sarah Bannerman to pull the plug if one of his painful visions puts him back in a coma.

The Reverend Purdy is having a nervous breakdown, putting his bible through a paper shredder.

I won't give anything away for those who still haven't seen it, but doesn't all of the above seem to beg the question, What is this? Days of Our Lives?

The big hanging climax of Tipping Point was no surprise to me. It was such a set-up that there was nowhere else for the plot to turn. (And where was Bruce when we needed him, man?)

Although Tipping Point is a tight, well-played drama of consequences, it does smack of much typical network TV fare where writers are strain to give all the producers' contracted actors something to do for their paychecks. (I pray the recent acquisition of USA by NBC doesn't have anything to do with this.)

This was not the feeling I got from Dead Zone in the first and second seasons, even with major arcs running through the episodes.

The Dead Zone was originally more an anthology of Johnny Smith stories, a series construction much like Chris Carter's early X-Files seasons and MillenniuM's first and third seasons and less the grand opera of Michael Piller's earlier Trek masterpiece, Deep Space Nine.

I'd like to see a fourth season of Dead Zone head back in the direction of individual, less related stories. I prefer the pure joy of watching literate, virtually stand-alone episodes like Season Two's Cabin Pressure, The Hunt and The Man Who Never Was, where the writers and producers give us Dead Zone tales that are unexpected as well as unexplained.

The Dead Zone Official - http://www.usanetwork.com/series/thedeadzone

Dakota In Wonderland
By Chris Gardner

LOS ANGELES August 26, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - Dakota Fanning could soon be slipping on Alice's shoes and heading off to Lewis Carroll's magical Wonderland. The young actress is close to a deal to star in her own potential franchise in adaptations of Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" for DreamWorks. 

Scribe Les Bohem came up with the idea to adapt Carroll's classic novels and immediately pitched it to DreamWorks principal Steven Spielberg with Fanning in mind to play Alice.

The trio worked together on Spielberg's miniseries "Taken" for Sci Fi Channel. Spielberg created the series, which Bohem wrote and in which Fanning starred. 

But Bohem's history with Carroll's work goes deeper than just a quickie notion for a live-action remake. Bohem said his mother had "the premiere collection of Alice books in the United States.

I grew up loving it and buried in it. My mother would collect any edition -- she even had one in Swahili. It was all there my whole life and so right in my face, but it never really occurred to me to think, 'How about a movie with Alice?"' 

Bohem said he and his wife recently read both books -- "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" -- to their 8-year-old son and that got him thinking about it again. 

"There have been cool versions of it before but never with the capabilities (we have today) to do the effects, and now, finally, there are ways to create a vision that does justice to Carroll's boundless imagination." 

Carroll's characters in "Alice" -- the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts, the Caterpillar and the famous White Rabbit -- have made it to the screen many times, most notably in the Walt Disney Co.'s animated 1951 film as well as a live-action version in 1933 from Paramount Pictures. More recently, Hallmark Entertainment and NBC teamed for a 1999 television special that featured Tina Majorino as Alice. 

For DreamWorks' version, Bohem will adapt both books for the big screen as separate features and plans to stick extremely closely to Carroll's original work. 

"These are two great books with two fabulous stories," he said. "But most of the time, they get cobbled together, and we plan to stay faithful to the books and each story." 

The deal marks Fanning's second straight project for DreamWorks. She recently left for the South, where she is in training for her role opposite Kurt Russell in the studio's horse drama "The Dreamer." She was most recently in theaters with the Denzel Washington thriller "Man on Fire." 

As for his late mother's collection of Carroll books, Bohem said she donated it two years ago to Fresno State University, where it's soon to be on display.

Tarantino Meets the Muppets?

LOS ANGELES August 26, 2004 (AP) - Blood-and-guts director Quentin Tarantino may be going soft. 

The "Kill Bill" and "Pulp Fiction" director will make a cameo appearance in a new ABC-TV movie featuring the Muppets and based on the classic tale "The Wizard of Oz," ABC announced Thursday. 

The film, with the working title "The Muppets' Wonderful Wizard of Oz," is set to begin production in Vancouver, British Columbia, next month and air in the coming TV season on "The Wonderful World of Disney." 

Tarantino's role as himself is likely to be overshadowed by pop star Ashanti, starring as Dorothy, and Miss Piggy. The Muppet will play three wicked witches and Glinda, Good Witch of the South. 

Among other Muppets, Kermit the Frog is the Scarecrow, the Great Gonzo is the Tin Man and Fozzie Bear is the Lion. Besides Ashanti, the film features actress-singer Queen Latifah playing Auntie Em. 

Described by the network as a "madcap adventure," the project is based on L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." Judy Garland played Dorothy in the famed 1939 film version, while Diana Ross starred in 1978's "The Wiz."

Reality Shows Fundamentally Dishonest and Harmful
By Steve Clarke

EDINBURGH August 29, 2004 (Variety) - One of the BBC's most highly regarded anchors has launched a devastating attack on the "mind-numbing, witless vulgarity" of reality TV and its "coarsening" impact on British society. 

As the keynote MacTaggart lecturer at the Edinburgh Intl. Television Festival, that bowed Friday, broadcaster John Humphrys accused reality TV of infecting the "mainstream of the medium." 

"Like Henry Ford offering to supply any color car as long as it's black, we have commissioning bosses accepting any idea so long as it has a reality format," fumed Humphrys. 

He is one of Blighty's best known and most controversial news presenters, famed for his merciless questioning of politicians and other powerful figures. 

As the chief interviewer on the BBC Today radio program Humphrys was at the center of the row over the "sexed up" Iraqi war dossier that led to the resignations of the Beeb's chairman and director-general in January, following the findings of Lord Hutton's inquiry into the pubcaster's journalism. 

There had been speculation that this irascible interrogator would use the MacTaggart lecture to attack the Blair government for the way it had attempted to cow the BBC over its reporting of the Iraq war, but instead Humphrys turned on television's governing classes. 

To prepare for the lecture Humphrys, who confessed to not having watched any TV for the past five years, asked 16 webheads to send him 10 of what they considered to be their best shows. 

With a few exceptions, he was appalled at the fare they gave him. 

"So much of it seemed not just vulgar and obsessed with sex, but altogether more confrontational than I'd remembered," he said. "I've worked in newsrooms all my life and I've been known to use the odd curse myself, but the violence of the language surprised me. It seemed almost impossible to switch on without encountering some sort of aggression -- even in the soaps." 

Shows like "Big Brother" were not only fundamentally dishonest, but actually harmful as members of the public were ritually humiliated for the sake of ratings. 

"This is not just bad television in the sense that it's mediocre," Humphrys added. "Or pointless, puerile even. It's bad because it is damaging." 

While Humphrys said the BBC, his employer, had avoided the worst excesses of reality TV, he argued that it too produced its share of rubbish. 

In a reference to Hutton and fears that the BBC was now adopting a more cautious approach to its reporting, he urged the Beeb to do more, not less investigative journalism.

[You say fundamentally dishonest, I say fundamentally dishonest. Tell it to the evil network executives. Ed.]

Sky Captain Is Near

Hollywood August 26, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Jude Law, star of the upcoming SF epic film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, told SCI FI Wire he signed up to star in and produce the film on the spot after viewing writer-director Kerry Conran's six-minute demonstration reel. "I saw an incredible filmmaker in those six minutes," Law said in an interview. "I saw an incredible understanding of filmmaking in the script that he had written."

Sky Captain stars Law (A.I. Artificial Intelligence) as the title character, a heroic and womanizing 1930s flyboy who must race to the rescue when an evil scientist unleashes giant flying robots in his plot to destroy Earth. By the hero's side are his friend and gadget guru Dex (Giovanni Ribisi), ex-galpal and ambitious journalist Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) and former paramour and amphibious forces ace Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie). Conran shot the entire movie against blue screens, meaning that neither sets nor locations were a factor in realizing the ambitious SF fantasy-adventure.

"It seemed clear that he had amazing vision and also an understanding that a vision isn't enough to carry a film through, because in the script there was this hilarious though strong central relationship," Law said, referring to the sparring between Sky Captain and Polly. "So the film as a film was harking back, not just in its visuals, but also in its heart, to these films I’d always loved. It had the banter of His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby, but also the visual [power] of Metropolis or Citizen Kane. And because I knew that world and loved that world, and because I understood all those references, whether it was those films or the comic strips or serials like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, I felt like I had an opinion."

Law recalled that he was, in fact, told that lending his name to Sky Captain would ensure, first, that it got made as Conran saw fit and, second, that it would receive a wide release. "That's a huge compliment, and, to me, if it's something that you really recognize yourself in or really think, 'OK, I can do this. I can offer an opinion here and help heighten something,' then do it," he added. "I took that as something I hold very dear to me, actually, still, and am very proud of. As far as the role goes I loved that he was true all the way to the end to the tone of the film, that it's non-cynical, that it doesn't exist in [a time] where there's a coke-dealing, drug-smuggling lunatic. I think family adventure films have slightly lost their way recently and even the summer blockbusters seem to be a little closer to the real world and a little more away from the world of make-believe and fantasy than they used to be. The old swashbucklers, you can still sit down and watch them and be romanced by the romantic side and excited by the fighting, but never necessarily pushed to have to explain to your kid what a semi-automatic AK-47 is." Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow lands in theaters on Sept. 17.

USA Dominates Summer Cable Ratings

LOS ANGELES August 26, 2004 (Zap2it.com) USA's late-summer stranglehold on the cable ratings chart continued for the week ending Sunday, Aug. 22. The cable network may slump a bit with "Monk" ready to join "The 4400" and "The Dead Zone" in reruns, but since July, USA has dominated the lists.

Overall, USA Network averaged 2.41 million viewers per night in primetime, comfortably ahead of second place Disney Channel's audience of 2.06 million and TNT's 2.04 million. The Cartoon Network's 1.86 million was good enough for fourth on the week, followed by the 1.76 million for Nick at Night.

USA captured the top spot thanks to "Monk," which drew nearly 5.88 million viewers for its season finale. USA's only other Top 15 entry on the basic cable list was an episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" at No. 10 with 3.24 million viewers.

TNT had the week's most watched program in the Nextel Cup race from Michigan, which rounded up 6.17 million viewers. An episode of "Law & Order" came in at No. 8 for TNT with 3.29 million viewers.

Cartoon Network had some strong Adult Swim entries with episodes of "Futurama" at No. 9 with 3.28 million viewers and at No. 12 with 3.22 million. An episode of "Family Guy" cracked up 3.13 million viewers for the No. 14 position. 

Nickelodeon was the only other network to contribute multiple listworthy programs. A trio of episodes of "Fairly Odd Parents" peaked at No. 5 with 3.55 million viewers and also captured the attentions of 3.38 million for No. 7 and 3.33 million for No. 13. A single episode of "SpongeBob SquarePants" was No. 11 with 3.24 million. 

Also making the Top 15 were ESPN's coverage of the Seahawks-Packers NFL preseason game, which was No. 3 with 4.12 million viewers, as well as Spike TV's WWE Entertainment double-bill (3.82 million, 4th) and FX's "Nip/Tuck" (3.45 million, 6th).

The HBO-dominated premium cable list was paced by "Six Feet Under," which appealed to 3.36 million viewers. "Entourage" held onto 1.63 million of those fans. Screenings of "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" were third with 1.45 million viewers and fifth with 0.93 million. "Real Sex 29" was fourth with 1.05 million viewers.

Kevin Sorbo Sitcom?

LOS ANGELES August 26, 2004 (Zap2it.com) Kevin Sorbo, the former TV Hercules and current spaceship commander on "Andromeda," is looking for a more earthbound role in his next gig.

Sorbo has signed a holding deal with ABC that calls for the network to develop a comedy vehicle for him. Although it's not what he's known for, Sorbo has done a fair amount of sitcom work in the past, logging guest appearances on "Hope & Faith" and "Just Shoot Me," among others, and a recurring part on "Dharma & Greg."

"Hercules," the role that made Sorbo famous, was never the most serious of shows either, mixing humor into its tales of the mythic hero's adventures.

"I love the sitcom format," Sorbo tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I like the experience of doing a miniature play each week."

The ABC deal comes as "Andromeda," which airs on the Sci Fi Channel, is about to enter its fifth and final season. Sorbo is just beginning the process of meeting with writers to hash out a concept for the comedy.

The Martian Child 

Hollywood August 25, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Menno Meyjes, who wrote and directed the John Cusack film Max, will reteam with Cusack on The Martian Child for New Line Cinema, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook) was slated to direct, but fell out because of creative differences, the trade paper reported.

Meyjes will rewrite and direct Martian, about an SF writer (Cusack) who, wanting to be a dad, adopts a 7-year-old boy who may be an alien, the trade paper reported. The film is based on a short story by David Gerrold. Jonathan Tolins and Seth Bass wrote the original script. Martian is tentatively slated for a late fall shoot, the trade paper reported.

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