Hot Planet Mercury!
Castro On Bush! Rogue Waves!
Bush On Guard! Iraq War Illegal?
Hawking Revises Black Holes!
Messenger Mission Tackles Hot Planet Mercury
AP Aerospace Writer 

CAPE CANAVERAL July 26, 2004 (AP) - NASA is about to embark on its hottest mission ever, to Mercury. The Messenger spacecraft, to be launched next week, will be blasted by up to 700-degree heat as it orbits the tiny planet closest to the sun — so close that it would be as though 11 suns were beating down on Earth. 

Remarkably, the only thing between the probe's room-temperature science instruments and the blistering sun and pizza-oven heat will be a handmade ceramic-cloth quilt just one-quarter of an inch thick. 

"If it doesn't stay toward the sun, it will fry everything," said Neal Bachtell, mechanical technician and master quilter. 

Bachtell used X-Acto blades to cut the 3M Nextel fabric and then — relying on sewing tips from his mother — used an industrial sewing machine to stitch the off-white pieces together into an 8-by-9-foot quilt, using Teflon-coated fiberglass thread. It was a nasty job; the itchy, ceramic-fiber cloth sheds and is bad to inhale. 

"Neal, you're making history today, buddy," Jack Ercol, the project's lead thermal engineer, said during a mid-July spacecraft showing in an ultraclean room. 

"It's cool, it's cool," Bachtell replied.

Messenger will be the first spacecraft ever to orbit Mercury and the first in more than 30 years to come close. Even at that, members of the Johns Hopkins University spacecraft team assembled in Cape Canaveral realize this mission can't compete with Mars and its rovers, or Saturn and its newly arrived sentry, Cassini. 

But there are plenty of cool facts about this red-hot mission, besides the off-the-charts-SPF sunscreen that was baked for days in ground testing. 

You can see yourself in Messenger's twin solar wings, made up of a couple thousand little mirrors to reflect the intense sunlight in Mercury's neighborhood. The wings are two-thirds mirrors and just one-third electricity-producing solar cells. 

Diode heat pipes burrowed into the extraordinarily insulated spacecraft will radiate internal heat from all the electronics. When Messenger passes between the sun and Mercury and it gets really sweltering — not too often and not for long because of Messenger's cleverly conceived flight plan — these pipes will shut down and the boxy craft will be like a house with all the windows closed on a steamy afternoon. 

"It's basically a Thermos bottle," Ercol explained. 

"We're actually taking on a very brutal mission from the standpoint of the sun and then from the orbiting standpoint because the planet itself is very hot." 

Even though Mercury is 50 million miles from Earth at closest approach, Messenger will travel 5 billion miles to get there. It's technologically infeasible to fly straight to Mercury, a trip of a few months, and so the spacecraft must swing once past Earth, twice past Venus and thrice past Mercury before slowing down enough to slip into orbit around Mercury. 

Estimated arrival time: March 2011. 

Mariner 10 was NASA's last Mercury lookout. Equipped with an umbrella for shade, it flew by Mercury three times in 1974 and 1975, providing the first up-close pictures of the planet. The pictures are poor by today's standards; Messenger's photos will be superior by far. 

The $427 million Messenger mission is part of NASA's bargain-focused Discovery program. That includes the launch aboard an unmanned rocket in the wee hours of Aug. 2, and all the scientific analysis seven years from now. 

So why Mercury? Why now? 

The technology for designing a spacecraft capable of withstanding such harsh heat for prolonged periods was unavailable until recently. Then with computer modeling, engineers had to come up with a spacecraft choreography to keep the heat down as much as possible during the one year that Messenger circles Mercury, its seven scientific instruments collecting data.

That's an Earth year of study. A Mercury year lasts 88 days — Earth days, that is. 

Mercury is an average 36 million miles from the sun, making for a fast elliptical loop and thus a fast year. Earth, by comparison, is 93 million miles from the sun and takes four times as long to circle it. 

In this land of extremes, the surface temperature changes a radical 1,100 degrees from day to night, from 800 degrees to minus-300 degrees. 

No wonder metal-heavy Mercury — a little bigger than Earth's moon, yet about as dense as Earth — is so bewitching. 

Scientists want to know how the planet turned out the way it did, and whether the perpetually dark carters at the poles hold ice. Anything scientists can learn about how Mercury formed will shed light on the origins of the other inner rocky planets of the solar system: Venus, Earth and Mars, each one so very different. 

Once its mission is accomplished in 2012, Messenger will keep orbiting Mercury until it eventually crashes onto the surface.

It will go down with a pair of U.S. flags, decals solemnly placed on one of Messenger's most heat-resistant surfaces. 

The spacecraft team wanted to leave a flag on Mercury to show, for all time, that Americans were there. The schedule of television transmissions for MESSENGER will be available from NASA Headquarters and the NASA TV Web site at

Official Messenger site -

MESSENGER launch information and news is also available at

Castro Slams Bush Past Alcoholism
By Vanessa Arrington 
The Associated Press 

SANTA CLARA Cuba July 27, 2004 (AP) - Fidel Castro's ongoing battle with President Bush turned personal Monday night as the Cuban president brought up his nemesis' past drinking habits.

Summarizing arguments made in Justin A. Frank's book, Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President, Castro said Bush apparently had replaced his drinking with religious fundamentalism.

"He depends on religion as a defense mechanism, substituting thought," said Castro, paraphrasing from the book by the Washington, D.C.-based psychoanalyst and professor of psychiatry during Cuba's Revolution Day celebration in the central city of Santa Clara.

"In some ways, he doesn't even have to think."

In an autobiography written when he was Texas governor, Bush wrote about swearing off alcohol in 1986, when he was 40. Bush said a spiritual awakening prompted his decision to quit.

Castro began Monday's 11/2-hour speech by disputing Bush's recent charges about sex tourism in Cuba. 

Castro said the claims were false, and show that what the White House considers to be the truth about Cuba is "that which the president makes up in his head, whether it corresponds to reality or not."

"There are many in the world who know very little about the Cuban Revolution, and could fall prey to the lies diffused by the United States," Castro said.

But he said those who know Cuba have witnessed the benefits for children, such as universal education and health care.

During a speech in Tampa this month, Bush accused Castro of encouraging a sex-tourism industry designed to attract U.S. dollars to the impoverished nation.

"The regime in Havana, already one of the worst violators of human rights in the world, is adding to its crimes. Castro welcomes sex tourism," Bush said at the July 16 conference on "human trafficking," forced labor, sex and military service.

Bush said Castro had turned Cuba into a major destination for sex tourism, which is "a vital source of hard currency to keep his corrupt government afloat."

Although prostitution does exist, it has been far less visible since Castro launched a massive crackdown on street crime in early 1999.

Earlier Monday, Communist Party faithful gathered for the speech in this provincial capital, where red, white and blue Cuban flags hung from the sides of buildings in observance of the island's Revolution Day. The celebration marks the 51st anniversary of the failed July 26, 1953, attack on a military barracks that launched the Cuban Revolution.

"With the heroism of always," said a banner hanging over a street in this city about 125 miles east of Havana.

The top leaders of Cuba's ruling Communist Party were among about 1,000 people attending the annual event in Santa Clara, home to a major monument housing the remains of revolutionary icon Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Castro's annual Revolution Day speech is considered among his most important. 

Communist leaders, who consider July 26 Cuba's true Independence Day, do not recognize the May 20 holiday celebrated by anti-Castro Cuban exiles to mark Cuba's break from Spain in 1898.
Monkey Apes Humans
Associated Press Writer 

JERUSALEM July 21, 2004 - A young monkey at an Israeli zoo has started walking on its hind legs only — aping humans — after a near death experience, the zoo's veterinarian said Wednesday.

Natasha, a 5-year-old black macaque at the Safari Park near Tel Aviv, began walking exclusively on her hind legs after a stomach ailment nearly killed her, zookeepers said. 

Monkeys usually alternate between upright movement and walking on all fours. A picture in the Maariv daily on Wednesday showed Natasha standing ramrod straight like a human. The picture was labeled humorously, "The Missing Link?" 

Two weeks ago, Natasha and three other monkeys were diagnosed with severe stomach flu. At the zoo clinic, she slipped into critical condition, said Igal Horowitz, the veterinarian. 

"I was sure that she was going to die," he said. "She could hardly breathe and her heart was not functioning properly." 

After intensive treatment, Natasha's condition stabilized. When she was released from the clinic, Natasha began walking upright. 

"I've never seen or heard of this before," said Horowitz. One possible explanation is brain damage from the illness, he said. 

Otherwise, Horowitz said, Natasha's behavior has returned to normal.
Rogue Waves Sink Ships!
European Space Agency News Release

July 21, 2004 - Once dismissed as a nautical myth, freakish ocean waves that rise as tall as ten-storey apartment blocks have been accepted as a leading cause of large ship sinkings. Results from ESA's ERS satellites helped establish the widespread existence of these 'rogue' waves and are now being used to study their origins.

Severe weather has sunk more than 200 supertankers and container ships exceeding 200 metres in length during the last two decades. Rogue waves are believed to be the major cause in many such cases.

Mariners who survived similar encounters have had remarkable stories to tell. In February 1995 the cruiser liner Queen Elizabeth II met a 29-metre high rogue wave during a hurricane in the North Atlantic that Captain Ronald Warwick described as "a great wall of water… it looked as if we were going into the White Cliffs of Dover." 

And within the week between February and March 2001 two hardened tourist cruisers – the Bremen and the Caledonian Star – had their bridge windows smashed by 30-metre rogue waves in the South Atlantic, the former ship left drifting without navigation or propulsion for a period of two hours. 

"The incidents occurred less than a thousand kilometres apart from each other," said Wolfgang Rosenthal - Senior Scientist with the GKSS Forschungszentrum GmbH research centre, located in Geesthacht in Germany - who has studied rogue waves for years. "All the electronics were switched off on the Bremen as they drifted parallel to the waves, and until they were turned on again the crew were thinking it could have been their last day alive. 

"The same phenomenon could have sunk many less lucky vessels: two large ships sink every week on average, but the cause is never studied to the same detail as an air crash. It simply gets put down to 'bad weather'." 

Offshore platforms have also been struck: on 1 January 1995 the Draupner oil rig in the North Sea was hit by a wave whose height was measured by an onboard laser device at 26 metres, with the highest waves around it reaching 12 metres. 

Objective radar evidence from this and other platforms – radar data from the North Sea's Goma oilfield recorded 466 rogue wave encounters in 12 years - helped convert previously sceptical scientists, whose statistics showed such large deviations from the surrounding sea state should occur only once every 10000 years. 

The fact that rogue waves actually take place relatively frequently had major safety and economic implications, since current ships and offshore platforms are built to withstand maximum wave heights of only 15 metres.

In December 2000 the European Union initiated a scientific project called MaxWave to confirm the widespread occurrence of rogue waves, model how they occur and consider their implications for ship and offshore structure design criteria. And as part of MaxWave, data from ESA's ERS radar satellites were first used to carry out a global rogue wave census. 

"Without aerial coverage from radar sensors we had no chance of finding anything," added Rosenthal, who headed the three-year MaxWave project. "All we had to go on was radar data collected from oil platforms. So we were interested in using ERS from the start." 

ESA's twin spacecraft ERS-1 and 2 – launched in July 1991 and April 1995 respectively – both have a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) as their main instrument. 

The SAR works in several different modes; while over the ocean it works in wave mode, acquiring 10 by 5 km 'imagettes' of the sea surface every 200 km. 

These small imagettes are then mathematically transformed into averaged-out breakdowns of wave energy and direction, called ocean-wave spectra. ESA makes these spectra publicly available; they are useful for weather centres to improve the accuracy of their sea forecast models. 

"The raw imagettes are not made available, but with their resolution of ten metres we believed they contained a wealth of useful information by themselves," said Rosenthal. "Ocean wave spectra provide mean sea state data but imagettes depict the individual wave heights including the extremes we were interested in. 

"ESA provided us with three weeks' worth of data – around 30,000 separate imagettes – selected around the time that the Bremen and Caledonian Star were struck. The images were processed and automatically searched for extreme waves at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR)." 

Despite the relatively brief length of time the data covered, the MaxWave team identified more than ten individual giant waves around the globe above 25 metres in height. 

"Having proved they existed, in higher numbers than anyone expected, the next step is to analyse if they can be forecasted," Rosenthal added. "MaxWave formally concluded at the end of last year although two lines of work are carrying on from it – one is to improve ship design by learning how ships are sunk, and the other is to examine more satellite data with a view to analysing if forecasting is possible." 

A new research project called WaveAtlas will use two years worth of ERS imagettes to create a worldwide atlas of rogue wave events and carry out statistical analyses. The Principal Investigator is Susanne Lehner, Associate Professor in the Division of Applied Marine Physics at the University of Miami, who also worked on MaxWave while at DLR, with Rosental a co-investigator on the project.

"Looking through the imagettes ends up feeling like flying, because you can follow the sea state along the track of the satellite," Lehner said. "Other features like ice floes, oil slicks and ships are also visible on them, and so there's interest in using them for additional fields of study. 

"Only radar satellites can provide the truly global data sampling needed for statistical analysis of the oceans, because they can see through clouds and darkness, unlike their optical counterparts. In stormy weather, radar images are thus the only relevant information available." 

So far some patterns have already been found. Rogue waves are often associated with sites where ordinary waves encounter ocean currents and eddies. The strength of the current concentrates the wave energy, forming larger waves – Lehner compares it to an optical lens, concentrating energy in a small area. 

This is especially true in the case of the notoriously dangerous Agulhas current off the east coast of South Africa, but rogue wave associations are also found with other currents such as the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic, interacting with waves coming down from the Labrador Sea. 

However the data show rogue waves also occur well away from currents, often occurring in the vicinity of weather fronts and lows. Sustained winds from long-lived storms exceeding 12 hours may enlarge waves moving at an optimum speed in sync with the wind – too quickly and they'd move ahead of the storm and dissipate, too slowly and they would fall behind. 

"We know some of the reasons for the rogue waves, but we do not know them all," Rosenthal concluded. The WaveAtlas project is scheduled to continue until the first quarter of 2005.

European Space Agency -

More Sonar Whale Deaths Suspected
FUERTEVENTURA COAST, Spain July 23, 2004 (Reuters) - Two dead whales have landed in Spain's Canary Islands, raising fears they may have been hurt by NATO military exercises off Morocco and that more could have died, officials said on Friday.

The two whales arrived in the area within 24 hours and were dead for several days before their bodies drifted ashore, said Tony Gallardo, environmental expert with the local government of the island of Fuerteventura, one of the Canaries, which lies only about 60 miles off the southern Moroccan coast. 

"There is a strong suspicion that their deaths were related to the NATO exercises that finished a few days ago," Gallardo told Reuters. 

Naval and air force units from 10 countries involving 20,000 troops and more than 20 warships took part in U.S.-led NATO military exercises off Morocco from July 11 to 16. 

NATO officials had no comment. 

The Canary Islands regional government dispatched a helicopter to search remote stretches of coastline after fishermen reported seeing something that looked like a third dead whale floating a few miles from the shore. 

Fourteen whales beached in the Canaries in 2002 during multinational military exercises there. It was one of several mass strandings of whales that scientists have linked to the use of naval sonar systems. 

A year later, researchers published a study in the science journal Nature that found sonar may cause a type of decompression sickness in whales and dolphins. 

Scientists suspect sonar signals disorientate the mammals, forcing them to come up to the surface too quickly, which could cause the formation of damaging nitrogen bubbles in their tissue. 

Military sonar systems blast areas of ocean with sound waves to detect submarines.
Bush On Guard!
Bush Military Payroll Records "Found" by Pentagon

WASHINGTON July 23, 2004 (Reuters) - Payroll records related to President George W. Bush's service in the Air National Guard three decades ago that the Pentagon said earlier this month were accidentally destroyed now have been located, defense officials say.

Bush's whereabouts during his service as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard in the United States during the Vietnam War have become an election-year issue, with some Democrats accusing him of shirking his duty. 

Defense Finance and Accounting Service spokesman Bryan Hubbard said the microfilm payroll records were found in Denver.

He blamed a clerical error for the Pentagon's previous failure to find the records. 

"We're talking about a manual process for records that are over 30 years old," Hubbard said on Friday. 

The Pentagon previously said microfilm payroll records of large numbers of service members, including Bush, were ruined in 1996 and 1997 in a project to save large, brittle rolls of microfilm. 

Bush moved to Alabama in May 1972 to work on a political campaign and, he has said, to perform his Guard service there for a year. But other Guard officers have said they had no recollection of seeing him there. 

Last February, the White House released hundreds of pages of Bush's military records. Those records did not provide new evidence to place Bush in Alabama during the latter part of 1972, when some Democrats had said he was basically absent without leave.

Bush Guard Record Remains Mysterious
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON July 24, 2004 (AP) - Newly discovered payroll records from President Bush's 1972 service in the Alabama National Guard shed no new light on the future president's activities during that summer. A Pentagon official said Friday the earlier contention that the records were destroyed was an "inadvertent oversight."

Like records disclosed earlier by the White House, the newly released computerized payroll records show no indication Bush drilled with the Alabama unit during July, August and September of 1972. Pay records covering all of 1972, released previously, also indicated no guard service for Bush during those three months. 

The records do not give any new information about Bush's National Guard training during 1972, when he transferred to the Alabama National Guard unit so he could work on the U.S. Senate campaign of a family friend. The payroll records do not say definitively whether Bush attended training that summer because they are maintained separately from attendance records. 

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush kept his service commitments, pointing to the fact that Bush was honorably discharged in 1973. The White House says Bush attended enough training during other months in 1972 to fulfill his service commitment for that year. 

The release came days before Democrats began their national convention in Boston to officially nominate Sen. John Kerry as their presidential candidate. Military veterans are being tapped at the convention to help tell Kerry's story as he prepares to accept the party's nomination next week. 

A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, Jano Cabrera, called the discovery Friday of Bush's records "highly questionable." 

"If the Bush administration continues to search, maybe they'll find answers to the long list of unanswered questions that remain about George W. Bush's time in the Air National Guard," Cabrera said. "Bush's military records seem to show up as randomly as he did for duty."

Democrats have sought to contrast Bush's National Guard service with Kerry's Vietnam War record. Kerry enlisted in the Navy, volunteered for combat in Vietnam and earned several medals including a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. After returning from Vietnam, Kerry became a prominent anti-war activist. 

The Associated Press had asked a federal judge on July 16 to order the Pentagon to quickly turn over a copy of the pay records. The AP had sued under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the records from a state library records center in Texas. 

Records of Bush's National Guard service released previously did not explain the apparent gaps in his Guard service in 1972 and 1973. 

Bush had transferred to an Alabama National Guard unit while he worked on the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Winton Blount. 

The Pentagon had said that the payroll records for that time period had been inadvertently destroyed. 

"Previous attempts to locate the missing records at the Federal Records Center had been unsuccessful due to the incorrect records accession numbers provided," the Pentagon's Office of Freedom of Information chief C.Y. Talbott said in a letter Friday to The Associated Press. 

"The correct numbers were obtained ... and the records were found." 

Talbott wrote that the Defense Department "regrets this inadvertent oversight during the initial search and the delay it caused in your receipt of these materials."

No Mailman-Shaped Dog Treats
TORONTO July 23, 2004 (Reuters) - Dogs chomping on mail carrier-shaped treats is no laughing matter for Canada Post. 

The not amused Canadian postal service -- whose carriers endure more than their share of real dog bites -- convinced Pet Valu Inc. stores to stop carrying Bark Bars, dog biscuits that come shaped like cats and letter carriers. 

"This is not in any way, shape, or form funny for us, and to make light of that ... I don't see that as funny at all, not even in the least," said John Caines, Canada Post's national media relations manager. 

The pet store chain, which has 292 outlets in Canada, agreed to withdraw the treats after it received a letter from Canada Post saying that employees were concerned about the risks mail carriers face from dogs and unhappy with having dog biscuits shaped in their likeness. 

Earlier this summer, a letter carrier from Chatham in southwestern Ontario broke both her wrists and had part of her ear ripped off when she was attacked by two pit bull-like dogs. 

Caines said that in the first six months of 2004 there were 160 dog attacks on mail carriers across Canada.
World Court: Iraq War Illegal?
LONDON July 23, 2004 (Reuters) - Forty British parliamentarians have asked U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan to seek the opinion of the U.N.'s International Court of Justice on the legality of the Iraq war, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported on Monday. 

It said that the cross-party group, which had written a letter to Annan dated July 20, believes Prime Minister Tony Blair's government breached the U.N.'s charter when it joined the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The letter asked for an "advisory opinion" from the court in the Hague. 

"Lots of people have concerns about the legitimacy of the war and it seems we do need to have clarification on this," said Alan Simpson, an MP from Blair's own ruling Labour party, who is leading the group. 

The British public has long been suspicious of the motives behind the invasion of Iraq and a report earlier this month by former civil servant Lord Butler has given Blair's critics fresh ammunition to question his credibility. 

Butler cleared Blair of distorting spies' assessments on Iraq but exposed faulty intelligence. He criticized Blair's informal style of government and its closeness to secret agents. 

The parliamentarians' letter to Annan said: "It is clear that, in Britain and the United States, war was justified on the basis of intelligence reports of current and serious threats from weapons of mass destruction, purportedly held by Iraq, all of which turned out to be without foundation." 

"We look to the court for an advisory opinion on this war, not only to address the casualties and damage done to the people and country of Iraq, but also to offer clear guidelines for the future about the legality of pre-emptive wars."
Gay Rights: House Passes Anti-Gay Marriage Bill
Associated Press Writer 

WASHINGTON July 23, 2004 (AP) - Gay marriage opponents wanted more, but House Republicans gave them at least a symbolic election-year victory. Republicans passed legislation in the House on Thursday, 233-194, to prevent federal courts from ordering states to recognize same-sex unions that took place in other states. Democrats objected to the bill as an unconstitutional attack on gays and the federal judiciary to satisfy the GOP's political base.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said the legislation is a welcome interim step. "It provides us the opportunity to isolate some of these judicial rewrites of marriage. Until we can get an amendment to the Constitution, this will keep it from spreading," Perkins said. 

Supporters said the House legislation would protect the institution of marriage by reining in federal judges who might otherwise impose gay marriage on states that have banned it.

"Marriage is under attack," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., referring to the Massachusetts state court decision allowing same-sex marriages. 

One after another, Republicans criticized what they called "activist" judges, with one lawmaker comparing the Supreme Court to the Soviet Politburo. Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., responded that Republicans did not complain of judicial activism after the high court's 5-4 ruling that ended ballot recounts in Florida and effectively called the 2000 president election for George W. Bush. 

The Bush administration backs the bill, which is not likely to advance in the Senate, but said more is needed. "To fully protect marriage from activist judges, including activist state court judges, the administration also urges Congress to pass ... a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman," the administration said in a statement. 

However, Senate Republicans last week were forced to shelve the marriage amendment for lack of support. 

The fallback House bill would strip the Supreme Court and other federal courts of their jurisdiction to rule on challenges to state bans on gay marriages under a provision of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act. That law defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and says states are not compelled to recognize gay marriages that take place in other states. 

Democrats said the bill is an unprecedented attempt to choke off federal judicial review, a claim backed by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. 

The effect of the bill would be to single out gays and lesbians, barring them from going into federal court to seek to have their marriages recognized, several Democrats said. Civil rights groups said the bill is unconstitutional for that reason. 

"We face no less than a sign on the courthouse door: 'You may not defend your constitutional rights in this court. You may not seek equal protection here,'" said Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the House's lone declared lesbian. "Today, the 'you' is gay and lesbian citizens. But who would be next?" 

Some Republican opponents of the legislation also said they wanted to avoid setting a precedent that could used by a Congress controlled by Democrats to satisfy their allies or by lawmakers who wanted to shield future unconstitutional legislation from federal court review. 

The bill is H.R. 3313. Congressional Record Search -

Florida Invalidates Transsexual Marriage
Associated Press Writer

TAMPA July 23, 2004 (AP) - A female-to-male transsexual is still legally female, making his marriage to a woman invalid in Florida, a state appeals court ruled Friday. The decision affects an untold number of marriages, since people are not required to prove gender when seeking a marriage license in Florida. Florida law bans same-sex marriage. 

The ruling came in the case of Michael Kantaras, a female-to-male transsexual who divorced his wife in 2002 and is engaged in a bitter custody battle with her. 

Lawyers for Kantaras' former wife, Linda, had argued that Kantaras was not legally a man when they married in 1989, so the marriage was invalid. The 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland agreed, overturning 2003 ruling that Michael Kantaras is, in fact, male. 

"The controlling issue in this case is whether ... the Florida statutes governing marriage authorize a postoperative transsexual to marry in the reassigned sex," the court wrote. "We conclude they do not." 

The court sent the custody aspect of the case back to a lower court for further proceedings. 

Michael Kantaras, 45, was granted custody of the couple's children in 2003. The children are his former wife's son, whom he adopted, and a daughter Linda Kantaras conceived during their marriage with donated sperm. Michael Kantaras' attorney called the court's decision ridiculous and said the case should move to the Florida Supreme Court. 

"Michael Kantaras has been a man since 1987 when he completed treatment," Karen Doering said. "This court has just turned common sense on its head." 

Attorneys for Linda Kantaras applauded the ruling. 

"The law cannot permit a person to change their sex like one changes clothes," said attorney Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, a conservative law group.

Professor Hawking Revises His Black Hole Theory
By Peter Griffiths 

DUBLIN July 21, 2004 (Reuters) - Cosmologist Stephen Hawking lost one of the most famous bets in scientific history Wednesday after he rejected the 1975 black hole theory that helped make his name.

The best-selling author of "A Brief History of Time" conceded that American physicist John Preskill was right to doubt his theory and gave him a baseball book as a prize. 

"I am now ready to concede the bet," said Hawking, 62. "I offered him an encyclopedia of cricket, but John wouldn't be persuaded of (its) superiority." 

Hawking, who has a crippling muscle disease and is confined to a wheelchair, accepted the bet in 1997 when Preskill refused to accept black holes permanently destroy everything they suck up. 

For over 200 years, scientists have puzzled over black holes, which form when stars burn all their fuel and collapse, creating a huge gravitational pull.

Hawking now believes some material oozes out of them over billions of years through tiny irregularities in their surface.

He gave brief details of his U-turn last week and expanded on them at a conference in Dublin after making a last-minute request to speak.

"I always hoped that when Stephen conceded, there would be a witness -- this really exceeds my expectations," said Preskill, pointing at the banks of TV cameras in the packed auditorium. 

He said he would miss the years of debate provided by the so-called "black hole information paradox," over whether material can escape. Others said they would wait for Hawking's new theory to be published before making up their minds. 

"This looks to me, on the face of it, to be a lovely argument," said Kip Thorne, a colleague of Preskill at the California Institute of Technology. "But I haven't seen all the details." 

Hawking said his reworked theory ruled out his earlier belief that people could some day use black holes to travel to other universes. 

"I am sorry to disappoint science fiction fans," he said through his distinctive computerized voicebox. "But if you jump into a black hole, your mass energy will be returned to our universe but in a mangled form." 

Hawking, a father of three and Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, was diagnosed with motor neuron disease at 21 and told he had only a few years to live. 

He defied doctors and went on to sell 10 million copies of his study of the universe, "A Brief History of Time."

He cemented his popular image with guest appearances on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "The Simpsons."

Genre News: Toons! Henriksen, Ving as Kojak, Gish, Forbes, Medium, Cumming, Chastity, Cho & More!
Toons Take Over! 
By John Dempsey

Atlanta July 25, 2004 (Variety) - Journeying to Atlanta three weeks ago for an investors seminar hosted by Turner Broadcasting, a platoon of media analysts got bombarded with PowerPoint tributes to the high-octane performances of movies, the NBA and "Law & Order" on TNT and movies, "Sex & the City" and "Seinfeld" on TBS. 

The TNT/TBS part of the presentation mostly reinforced what the analysts already knew. But Turner caught many of them up short when it started laying out the numbers for Cartoon Network, the 11-year-old sibling of TNT and TBS.

The bottom line: Cartoon Network, almost without warning, has shot up to the exalted position of fastest-growing network within the Turner Broadcasting portfolio.

Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, the Powerpuff Girls and their cohorts helped Cartoon rack up $650 million in revenues last year and $241 million in cash flow.

Those dollar figures made Cartoon more profitable than CNN and the rest of the Turner news operation for the first time ever.

A gaudy 17% of the earnings of Turner Broadcasting now gets chalked up by Cartoon, compared to only 14% for news. 

Cartoon's strength showed up most recently in the just-concluded upfront sales, where it scored high-double-digit gains in ad dollars over last year's intake. 

Advertisers showed particular interest in the 12- to 24-year-old males who are congregating to Cartoon in greater numbers than ever. Mark Lazarus, president of the Turner Entertainment Group, says the magnet for these young men is Cartoon's Adult Swim latenight block of mostly original animation, which continues to pull in a bigger percentage of these viewers, on average, than the broadcast- net talkshows hosted by Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel.

Historically, credit for laying much of the groundwork for Cartoon's ascendancy goes to Ted Turner, whose shrewd deals helped Turner Broadcasting amass a bigger cartoon library than either the Walt Disney Co. or Viacom, which owns Nickelodeon. Cartoon Network now draws on more than 14,000 series and shorts from Warner Bros., MGM, Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon's own ramped-up production operation. 

One of the secrets of Cartoon's financial success, says Jim Samples, exec VP/general manager of Cartoon, is "keeping the cost of our programming relatively low. We accomplish that with a mix of inhouse programming, acquired shows and partnered series." 

Although Cartoon regularly finishes among the top 10 highest-rated basic-cable networks in both primetime and total-day, it spends less money on programming each year than 25 other cable networks, including Oxygen, the Weather Channel and Home & Garden TV, according to Kagan World Media. 

Russell Binder, a partner in Quattro Media, which represents many leading animators, says one of the engines of Cartoon's growth is its success in "promoting and licensing the characters from hit shows. Warner Bros.' consumer products division helps the network gets into bed with chains like Wal-Mart and Target and creates a tremendous retail presence."

Its inventory bulging with more than 2,000 animated characters, Cartoon not only conjures up new figures through series like "Codename: Kids Next Door" and "Aquateen Hunger Force," says Lazarus, but "reinvents" some of the old ones with updated remakes, turning the venerable Daffy Duck into a bumbling superhero known as "Duck Dodgers." 

Even when Cartoon commissions a series from an outside supplier, Lazarus says the network carves out an equity stake in the show's ancillary revenues, including licensing and merchandising of the characters. That stake averages between 2% and 4%, which can bring in substantial dollars to Cartoon on a hit series with exploitable characters. 

Cartoon has started to harvest significant revenues from homevideo, some of them well beyond the network's forecasts. Most recently, Cartoon estimated the DVD of "Aquateen Hunger Force" would sell about 40,000 units. The audience proved much hungrier, scarfing up 150,000 units.

Pre-sell orders for the second "Hunger Force" DVD are even more robust than the first. 

Cable operators are big boosters of Cartoon because of what Scott Abbott, VP of programming for the National Cable TV Coop, a consortium of midsized and small operators, calls "a very favorable price/value relationship." 

Abbott is referring to the relatively low price Cartoon levies on the operators, which averages out to a monthly fee of only 14¢ a subscriber. (By contrast, TNT charges about 70¢.)

While only 38% of Cartoon's revenues come from cable operators, a strapping 54% comes from advertisers, a ratio Abbott says is the sure sign of a healthy network. 

Four years ago, Cartoon gave birth to the spinoff network Boomerang, making it the repository of classic cartoons, mostly from Hanna-Barbera. Boomerang, which is not advertiser-supported, has grown slowly on digital platforms provided by cable operators and satellite distributors, reaching about 20 million subscribers. 

But soon, Cartoon plans to start pitching Boomerang to Madison Avenue, allowing the network to bathe in the dual revenue stream of advertiser dollars and cable-operator license fees.

Lazarus says Cartoon is trying to stay ahead of other revenue streams that are still in the early stages, working with cable operators, for example, to give them programming for their video-on-demand platforms. 

"I've got a deal with Majesco," he says, "that will put Cartoon's shows on a chip the size of a thumbnail. Kids simply plug the chip into their Nintendo Game Boys." 

According to Samples, "Kids can watch an episode of their favorite Cartoon Network series by holding a Game Boy on their lap in the back of the bus on their way to school. 

"If somebody invents a new form of delivery for TV shows," Samples concludes, "I want Cartoon Network to be a part of it."

Cartoon Network -

MillenniuM's Lance Henriksen Out For Blood

Hollywood July 22, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Genre favorite Lance Henriksen told SCI FI Wire that he plays a supporting role in the upcoming SCI FI Pictures original vampire movie Out for Blood.

"That's a really interesting movie," Henriksen (Aliens) said in an interview. "Richard Brandes did that. He's an independent filmmaker who produced it, directed it and wrote it."

Henriksen is familiar to SF and horror fans for such films as the original Terminator, Near Dark and the upcoming Alien Vs. Predator, as well as the television show Millennium.

[The first season of Chris Carter's MillenniuM series, starring Lance and featuring some the late 90's greatest TV genre episodes, writers and directors, was finally released on DVD by Fox last week. Ed.]

Lance co-stars in Out for Blood with Kevin Dillon (The Blob), Jodi Lyn O'Keefe (The Crow: Salvation) and Vanessa Angel (SCI FI's Sabretooth).

"I'm not the monster," Henriksen joked. "I play a police chief. It's a horror movie, but it's all about the relationships. With the budgets for independents, you have to use your imagination and your humor. So I had a great time. It's about a cop [Dillon] who gets thrown into a vampire cult and doesn't know what's happening. I'm his friend and mentor, and so I kind of try and help pull him out of it."

Out for Blood premieres on Sci Fi Channel July 31 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

[Lance Henriksen's Official site features his own line of stoneware pottery. Lance is a master potter and does every piece himself (and they are amazing!) Check it out MillenniuM fans! Ed.]

Fox MillenniuM DVD site -

By Lance Henriksen (Lance's Official site) -

fLAtDiSk's MillenniuM Fan site -

Ving as Kojak

LOS ANGELES July 23, 2004 ( The USA Network has started production on an update of the 1970s series "Kojak," with Ving Rhames in the title role.

Work on the movie, which USA hopes will be the first in a string of films, began Wednesday (July 21) in Toronto. The network hopes to have the movie on the air in early 2005.

Rhames steps into the shoes of Telly Savalas, who played the bald, lollipop-sucking New York Police Lt. Theo Kojak in one of the highest-rated series of the mid-1970s. The movie will follow the blueprint of the old CBS series, with Kojak bending a few regulations to get the job done.

Oscar nominee Chazz Palmintieri ("Bullets Over Broadway," "The Usual Suspects") will play Kojak's former partner and current boss. Roselyn Sanchez ("Dragnet," "Rush Hour 2") has also joined the cast, playing an assistant district attorney.

Rhames won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Emmy in 1998 for the HBO movie "Don King: Only in America." His other credits include "Pulp Fiction," the "Mission: Impossible" films, "Out of Sight" and this year's remake of "Dawn of the Dead."

Enterprise to Return to Roots

Hollywood July 22, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Manny Coto, co-executive producer of UPN's Star Trek: Enterprise, told SCI FI Wire that as one of the show's new head writers, he wants the show to link up more with the original Star Trek series and its subsequent series.

"I'm a fan of the ... original [Star] Trek," Coto said in an interview at UPN's fall press tour in Los Angeles. "And season four for me is going to be everything I, as an old Star Trek fan, would want to see on Enterprise, Which is basically a lot of touchstones connecting Enterprise with the old series and with the Next Generation series."

For Coto, that in part means incorporating more of the original series' aliens, such as the green-skinned Orions from "Shadowplay," as well as the more familiar Andorians and Vulcans.

"A lot of people have noticed that the Vulcans on Enterprise don't behave like the Vulcans from the Kirk era and/or the Next Generation era," Coto said. "The Vulcans on Enterprise are more impulsive. They actually are somewhat more emotional. They lie. They don't have the same kind of values that the Vulcans that we know of."

To bridge the gap, Coto envisions a story arc in which a revolutionary Vulcan—Coto calls him a "Lawrence of Arabia" of Vulcan—proclaims that Vulcans have strayed from the teachings of Surak, the legendary Vulcan who ushered in the Time of Awakening and founded the movement based on logic and peace.

"And this character will lead a revolution on Vulcan, which will bring Vulcan and Vulcan ideals to where we know them in the later series," Coto said.

"And Enterprise will get involved in this." As a result of this resurgence, the political situation with the Andorians changes, and mysterious dissidents on the planet Vulcan attempt to stir up a civil war (and will later be revealed to have been Romulans in disguise), he added. "That's an example of the kinds of stories that we're going to tell this season," Coto said.

Star Trek: Enterprise returns to UPN on Oct. 8 in its new 8 p.m. ET/PT Friday timeslot.

Star Trek Enterprise Official site -

Annabeth Gish to Showtime, Michelle Forbes as Zero
By Nellie Andreeva

LOS ANGELES July 25, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - Annabeth Gish, who co-starred on the last two seasons of "The X-Files," has joined Showtime's untitled drama pilot about two ambitious brothers -- one a politician, the other a gangster. 

Jason Clarke will play the politician, and Gish his wife. She had a recurring role on NBC's "The West Wing" last season, playing President Bartlet's (Martin Sheen) older daughter. The pilot will be directed by Phillip Noyce, who previously worked with Clarke on the feature "Rabbit-Proof Fence." 

Meanwhile, Australian actress-playwright Jenni Baird has landed a role in the WB Network midseason drama pilot "Global Frequency."

Based on the DC Comics series, "Global Frequency" revolves around a worldwide independent defense intelligence organization led by Miranda Zero (Michelle Forbes) that uses ordinary people as agents to fight black-ops projects, unexplained phenomena and other problems that government agencies struggle with. 

Baird will play Dr. Katrina Finch, a member of Zero's team and described as a shy scientific genius. Josh Hopkins and Aimee Garcia were previously cast as the other members of the team.

4400's Echevarria Sells Medium

Hollywood July 22, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Rene Echevarria, executive producer of USA Network's hit limited series The 4400, told SCI FI Wire that he's deep into the development of his next genre project, Medium, starring Patricia Arquette (Stigmata).

"That's a new show for NBC," Echevarria said in an interview. "I'm working on it with Glenn Gordon Caron, and we worked together a few years back on Now and Again, so I jumped at the chance to do another series with him."

Echevarria added, "It has a sensibility very similar to Now and Again in that while it has genre and fantastical elements, it's also a quirky and funny romantic comedy. 

"Patricia plays Allison Dubois, a real-life psychic who lives in Phoenix and helps the police with investigations. Jake Weber plays Patricia's husband. He was in the Dawn of the Dead remake and in Wendigo, a really cool genre film with Patricia Clarkson. Also, Miguel Sandoval [Jurassic Park, Alias] plays the D.A.

"It's a definite go. The pilot is shot and we're doing eight episodes. We're going to be a mid-season replacement, but there's no date set yet."

Atlantis Spurts for Sci Fi

LOS ANGELES July 19, 2004 ( The premiere of "Stargate Atlantis," the spin-off of the Sci Fi Channel's popular "Stargate SG-1" series, delivered some of the best ratings in the network's history.

The two-hour series premiere on Friday (July 16) drew nearly 4.2 million viewers, the biggest-ever audience for a weekly series on the cable network. (Some miniseries, such as "Taken" and "Battlestar Galactica," have averaged more viewers.) 

It also marked the first time a Sci Fi series has ever delivered more than 4 million viewers and better than a 3.0 household rating (3.2). Its ratings among adults 18-49, the key demographic for advertisers, were also a network best.

"Atlantis" stars Joe Flanigan, Rainbow Sun Francks and Tori Higginson as members of a Stargate team that explores a new galaxy after finding a gate in Antarctica. The gate leads to Atlantis, which is not on Earth but has jumped to another galaxy.

The show is a spin-off of "Stargate SG-1," which recently began its third season on Sci Fi and eighth overall. "SG-1" also set record ratings with its July 9 season premiere, which averaged 3.2 million viewers.

Logo Channel Cumming Out with Chastity & Cho
By Denise Martin

July 25, 2004 (Variety) - Anchored by projects from Cher and Chastity Bono, Alan Cumming and Margaret Cho, MTV Networks' digital gay-themed cable network Logo unveiled its premiere development slate on the final day of the TV critics summer press tour. 

MTV/VH1 entertainment president Brian Graden was joined by Logo exec consultant Matt Farber, whom Graden confirmed would be overseeing the channel's day-to-day operations. 

"Matt's definitely running the channel operationally. I've just been privileged to be involved because it's something very close to my heart," Graden said. 

No programming execs have yet been named. Eileen Opatut, former senior VP of programming and production for the Food Network, also is on board as a consultant. 

Logo, designed as a digital service, is set for a February launch in 10 million-15 million homes in markets including Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and San Francisco. Active discussions are under way for carriage on satellite providers DirecTV and Dish Network.

Execs said Logo would not be an adult-oriented network featuring the kind of racier content seen on FX and HBO.

Instead, its programming mix -- a lineup of light reality, docs and acquired movies -- was selected to make it suitable for both young and older demos. 

"I think the assumption is you would have to push the standards to tell our stories, and we don't believe that," Graden said. "We don't necessarily believe we would have to go as far as any of these networks to tell our stories. That's not integral to sharing authentically a representation of the gay community."

Farber said Logo will offer a video-on-demand service that will have choices more in line with the content of premium cablers. 

Channel already has collected more than 150 movie and doc titles in partnership with several major studios. 

"The programming we're developing will speak in an authentic voice to this audience," Farber said. "We're building this brand to reflect their diversity and tastes through an array of genres, all informed by a gay point of view." 

Among the 20 projects in development:

Logo also is in development discussions with producing duo Craig Zadan and Neil Meron and actress-comedian Sandra Bernhard. 

MTV News will produce firstrun docs for the cabler. Several gay-themed specs that have run on MTV will have secondary airings on Logo. 

Upcoming Logo originals include "Going for the Gold," about the athletes training for the 2006 Gay Games; "Rodeo Circuit," about the gay rodeo phenomenon; "Gay Cops," about the lives of several New York police officers; and "A Boy Named Sue," which chronicles the pre- and post-operative process of a transgender man.

Logo also has partnered on projects with its Viacom siblings. CBS News and MTV News will help launch a newsmag with contributions from the Advocate; TV Land will co-produce a spec about gay influence and presence in TV; VH1 will co-produce "The Big Gay 100" countdown; and Out Traveler magazine is teaming with the cabler on a travel show. 

In addition, Logo will telecast the GLAAD Media Awards in the kudofest's first TV airing. 

Acquisition deals for TV titles will be announced in the coming weeks, Graden said.

Rescue Me Tops Ratings

LOS ANGELES July 23, 2004 ( "Rescue Me" has joined its predecessors on FX as some of the most-watched series premieres in the history of basic cable.

The drama about New York firefighters debuted commercial-free Wednesday (July 21) to almost 4.1 million viewers, the best for any new show on ad-supported cable in 2004.

It ranks No. 8 all-time among series premieres on basic cable. "It is really gratifying to get off to such a great start," says John Landgraf, president of entertainment at FX.

"[Creators] Denis Leary, Peter Tolan and everyone involved in the show have delivered us a fantastic series, and we believe it continues to get better with each upcoming episode."

Along with its strong total-audience numbers, "Rescue Me" attracted about 2.5 million viewers in the key adults 18-49 demographic, the best on basic cable for the day and third-best ever for a series premiere.

"Rescue Me," which stars Leary as a firefighter whose marriage is breaking up and whose mind is breaking down, also beat last month's season premiere of "Nip/Tuck" in total viewers. That show brought 3.8 million people to FX on June 22.

The first-season premiere of "Nip/Tuck" (3.7 million viewers) last year and the series debut of "The Shield" (4.8 million) in 2002 also rank among the 10 most-watched series premieres on basic cable.

Joss Will Add Firefly Comix 

San Diego July 25, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Joss Whedon—who is directing the upcoming SF movie Serenity, based on his canceled Fox TV series Firefly—told fans at Comic-Con International that he also intends to write a new series of comic books based on the universe and characters. Speaking to thousands of fans in the San Diego Convention Center on July 25, Whedon said, "We have every intention of putting out a comic book of Serenity as well."

Whedon is no stranger to comics, having written the Dark Horse title Fray, a futuristic take on the universe introduced in his UPN TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as the current Marvel title The Astonishing X-Men. "We're talking with Dark Horse right now about doing a Serenity comic book, because of Fray," Whedon added.

Serenity picks up the story of the short-lived Firefly, set 500 years in the future, about the ragtag crew of a transport ship traveling the galaxy in the wake of a galactic civil war. The movie, from Universal Pictures, is currently in production, with an eye to a spring 2005 release.

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