Intelligent Design?
Sun Vs. Whales? Canaries!
Toxic Waste! SS OK? Phishing!
The Roddenberry Era Ends!
Intelligent Design?

The school board has defended the intelligent-design mandate, saying it
merely wants students to know about weaknesses in Charles Darwin's theory.

Associated Press Writer

DOVER PA May 13, 2005 (AP) - On opposite sides of town, two billboards for competing slates of school board candidates illustrate the deep divide here over the teaching of evolution and the origin of life.

One sign shouts, "It's time for a new school board in Dover!" The other describes the seven sitting board members as "the INTELLIGENT choice" — a reference to the board's decision last fall to require the mention of "intelligent design" in class.

In what is believed to be a first in the United States, the school board voted 6-3 in October to require that ninth-grade students be told about intelligent design when they learn about evolution in biology class. Intelligent design holds that the universe is so complex, it must have been created by some kind of guiding force.

Tuesday's primary election promises to be a battle royal among 18 candidates evenly divided over the intelligent-design mandate in this 3,400-student school system about 20 miles from Harrisburg.

"We would have no interest this year if not for the intelligent-design issue. It is the overriding concern," said school board president Sheila Harkins, who is up for re-election.

The intelligent-policy is being challenged in a federal lawsuit scheduled to go to trial in September. The plaintiffs are eight families who claim that intelligent design is merely biblical creationism disguised in secular language, and has no place in a science classroom.

The school board has defended the intelligent-design mandate, saying it merely wants students to know about weaknesses in Charles Darwin's theory.

Who is this God person anyway?
Illustration from Chinese Bible.

The controversy in Dover is among several recent battles over the teaching of evolution. Kansas' state education board is considering adding intelligent design to is science standards six years after it drew international ridicule for deleting most references to evolution. The references were restored in 2001.

Retired English teacher Sheila Webb, who opposes the intelligent-design policy, said she rescheduled a trip to Canada so that she could take part in the election.

"I'm staying home just to be able to make my vote count for the ones who should be seated," the 68-year-old Webb said.

Seven of the board's nine seats are open. The field of candidates includes two board members who resigned during the furor that followed the vote.

Another candidate, Bryan Rehm, is a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"If you believe evolution is wrong, then so be it," Rehm said. But he said intelligent design should be discussed "somewhere else — in a psychology, philosophy or world-cultures class."

But Melinda Jones, whose 12-year-old son is enrolled in the district, plans to vote for the current board. Jones, a private tutor, said intelligent design is not really being "taught" in class. "They're reading a statement about it," she said.

Dover Area School District:

Dover CARES:

Solar Flares Build Planets?
AP Science Writer

The Orion Nebula (NAOJ)

LOS ANGELES May 11, 2005 (AP) - Solar flares are infamous for wreaking havoc on electrical power lines and communication signals. But a team of astronomers says such bursts emitted by the sun in its youth may have helped planets form.

Looking through NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the astronomers focused on a cluster of young stars in the Orion Nebula, 1,500 light-years from Earth. Studying 30 sunlike stars over two weeks, they found the young stars erupted in flares more powerful than those produced by the sun.

The observation could explain how Earth survived during its formative years, astronomers said.

Half the stars in Orion showed evidence of disks, places where rocky planets might be formed. Recent studies have shown that when X-ray flares strike planet-forming disks, they interact with the disk and affect the position of a planet from a star. The astronomers theorized that energetic flares prevent developing planets from falling into the newborn star.

"Big X-ray flares could lead to planetary systems like ours where Earth is a safe distance from the sun," astronomer Eric Feigelson of Penn State University said Tuesday. "Stars with smaller flares, on the other hand, might end up with Earth-like planets plummeting into the star."

Details will appear in a future issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Christopher McKee, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, said the data collected by the Chandra telescope is a "treasure trove" that will help scientists understand planetary formation.

"It shows that the early evolution of the sun might have had significant effect on how the solar system formed," said McKee, who was not involved in the project.

Chandra X-ray Observatory:

eXoNews Pix of the Week Dept.
Yes, We Have No Papaya!

Greenpeace activists unfurl a banner in Bangkok to protest against food contaminated with genetically modified organisms. Last year Greenpeace announced it had uncovered the illegal spread of the papaya seeds to Thai farms, some of them hundreds of kilometers from Khon Kaen where a government-run research centre was cultivating genetically modified versions of the fruit. (AFP)

Solar Flares Affect Whales?

A huge, handle-shaped prominence on the sun.
Prominences are huge clouds of relatively cool
dense plasma suspended in the Sun's hot, thin
corona. At times, they can erupt, escaping the
Sun's atmosphere. (NASA)

PARIS May 13, 2005 (AFP) - Surges of solar activity may cause whales to run aground, possibly by disrupting the creatures' internal compass, German scientists suggest.

University of Kiel researchers Klaus Vaneslow and Klaus Ricklefs looked at sightings of sperm whales found beached in the North Sea between 1712 and 2003.

They then compared this record with another set of historical data -- astronomers' observations of sunspots, which is an indicator of solar radiation.

More whale strandings occurred when the sun's activity is high, they found.

The sun experiences cycles of activity which range from eight to 17 years, with 11 years being the average.

Short cycles are linked with periods of high energy output, while long cycles are believed to be low energy.

Changes in levels of solar radiation have a big effect on Earth's magnetic field.

The most notable events are gouts of highly-charged particles, called solar flares, that cause shimmering lights, called aurorae, in the magnetic fields in polar regions.

Big solar flares can also disrupt telecommunications and power lines and knock out delicate electronic circuitry on satellites.

The researchers found that of the 97 stranding events reported around the coastal countries of the North Sea over the 291 years, 90 percent occurred when the sun cycles was below average in duration.

The Vanselow team speculate that whales may have a magnetic sense of orientation like pigeons, which are believed to navigate thanks to small magnetic crystals on their beaks.

Rescue workers attempt to return a stranded
humpback whale to the sea after it beached
about 40 kms south of Port Elizabeth. Surges
of solar activity may cause whales to run
aground, possibly by disrupting their internal
compass. (AFP)

What could happen is that male sperm whales, following a migratory path from the Norwegian Sea, could become disorientated by minor changes in the geomagnetic field as they enter the North Sea, the pair suggest.

"In this shallow-shelf sea with a contourless seabed, often with soft bottom sediments, their deep-water sonar and other adaptations to their normal habitat may not function properly," they say.

Previous studies have suggested that powerful marine sonar could be to blame for whale strandings by messing up the whales' sense of direction and depth.

An October 2003 study by British and Spanish marine pathologists, based on autopsies carried out on 10 beaked whales that beached in the Canary Islands a few hours after a Spanish-led naval task force passed by, found that the cetaceans had suffered a mortal attack of the "bends."

Tissue dissection showed that the whales' livers and other internal organs were filled with gas bubbles, and smaller blood vessels had been literally blown apart from inside.

The injuries were consistent with decompression sickness, in which nitrogen gas, absorbed into the blood stream, expands quickly as a submerged mammal rises to the surface, forming bubbles that can clot or breach blood vessels.

The latest study is published in the Journal of Sea Research, published by the Netherlands-based Elsevier group.

Talking Penis Ruled Obscene
DETROIT May 12, 2005 (Reuters) - A Michigan court apparently has ended the television career of a talking penis.

A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals declared that the talking penis, nicknamed Dick Smart, telling "purportedly humorous" jokes on a Grand Rapids, Michigan, public access cable television channel constituted indecent exposure.

The court let stand a one-day jail sentence already served by the show's creator, Timothy Huffman.

Wednesday's ruling contained a transcript of the three-minute segment that aired twice in 2000, including the voice-over lines delivered in the style of the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield: "Hi, I'm Dick Smart. I am a comedian, yeah, stand up, ha."

Huffman could not immediately be reached for comment but he told the Detroit Free Press newspaper he planned to appeal in defence of his right to freedom of speech.

[Dickheads! Ed.]

Wild adult canary

Rockefeller University News Release

May 12, 2005 - For some kinds of birds, learning to sing is as much a part of growing up as learning to talk is for human children. They listen to their parents and other adults, memorize, imitate, practice, and in time are able to chirp a tune characteristic of their species that will help attract a mate.

Now Rockefeller University scientists have found that young canaries can learn to accurately imitate a computer-generated song that sounds nothing like a canary. But as the birds mature, they edit their song, dropping some elements, rearranging others, and adding repetitions and phrasing typical of an adult canary melody. The results appear in the May 13 issue of Science.

"This kind of reprogramming is reminiscent of the flexibility of phoneme rearrangement in human speech and is an aspect of vocal prowess in birds that had not been described before," says Fernando Nottebohm, Ph.D., Rockefeller's Dorothea L. Leonhardt Professor and head of the Laboratory of Animal Behavior.

Young canaries normally learn their songs by closely copying a nearby adult, a process that takes six to eight months. However, even birds raised without a singing tutor develop a song with canary-like syllables and phrasing. Under those conditions the juveniles are thought to be guided by an innate program that leads to the development of normal adult song.

But Timothy Gardner, Ph.D., at the time a postdoctoral fellow in the Nottebohm lab, had heard anecdotal evidence of canaries singing outside the range of normal imitations, of canaries that imitated zebra finches, for example.

With the exception of well-known mimics, such as the mockingbird, songbirds in nature rarely imitate the song of other species; they only imitate older birds of their own kind. The researchers wondered whether this preference results from innate knowledge about what the adult song should sound like, and if so, how that innate knowledge steers the learning process. They also wanted to study how the integration of innate and learned knowledge comes about.

"Canaries seemed good material for probing these questions," says Nottebohm. "The method we chose was to tutor canaries with synthetic computer-generated song that violated a specific 'rule' of adult canary song. Sometimes by trying to see how far you can push an organism to do things it would not normally do you can learn more about the underlying mechanisms."

"The song of canaries is characterized by a successive repetition of sounds, each sound repeated many times forming a phrase," Nottebohm explains, "for example, AAAAA BBBBB CCCCC and so on, where each letter stands for a sound repeated many times. In this notation a string of As is called a 'phrase,' and one phrase follows another." The researchers wondered whether young canaries would imitate songs that lacked this repetition, songs made up of a string of single nonrepeated sounds such as ABCDE. So they composed two kinds of songs that never occur in the repertoire of an adult canary.

As the birds' testosterone levels rose,
their style of singing started to change.

"We synthesized a song, using a computer, in which each sound is slightly-and randomly-different from the one preceding it, and we call that a random walk," says Nottebohm. In another synthesized song each successive note was identical to the previous one except for a slight drop in pitch, a downward swooping glissando that canaries never make.

The scientists studied 16 male canaries that were never exposed to normal canary song. The birds were reared by their mothers, who at that time did not sing. Then, when they were 25 days old, they were housed individually out of earshot of other canaries. A recording of the random walk song was played to 10 of the canaries every two hours during daylight; the remaining six birds heard the glissando instead. The birds heard the recordings every day for a year. At the same time, sounds made by the birds were recorded continuously and analyzed by a computer program that edited out brief calls and cage noises.

Six of the 10 birds exposed to the random walk song learned to imitate the first 10 seconds of the song-a remarkable achievement, considering that all the unique sounds of a canary raised in an aviary add up to only about 2.7 seconds of song.

In the normal course of learning their song, canaries begin to organize syllables into phrases by the time they are two months old. But the birds growing up listening to the random walk and glissando songs instead did their best to imitate the atypical, synthetic songs of their tutors for several months, producing long sequences of dissimilar sounds.

Then puberty hit. As the birds' testosterone levels rose, their style of singing started to change.

"At sexual maturity, when the song would be important for courting females, rules interfered," says Nottebohm. "The freedom of youth was superceded by adult rules, and phrased song took over."

The change took place at different rates, and with varying degrees of completeness in different individuals. All the birds that at first sang a detailed imitation of their tutor, however, reprogrammed their songs as they approached sexual maturity. They dropped many of the learned syllables and those that persisted were now repeated in the phrased manner that characterizes adult canary song. In addition, the researchers pushed two of the birds raised with the random-walk song into hormonal adulthood with a treatment of testosterone. These canaries reprogrammed their songs more abruptly.

"The individual differences among birds are probably as widespread and dramatic as the individual differences in human speech learning," says Gardner, who wrote the software that allowed the researchers to objectively compare the songs. Throughout the study, approximately 15,000 songs were recorded and analyzed for each bird. This analysis required the continuous running for one week of 16 computers in Rockefeller's Center for Studies in Physics and Biology. Felix Naef, Ph.D., a third author on the Science paper, also contributed to the programming and analysis.

Adds Gardner, "One reason these kinds of observations have not made it into the scientific literature before is that they are very difficult to quantify. But this computationally intensive process made for more robust results."

From time to time some of the birds sang, as adults, fragments of the songs they learned as juveniles.

Apparently these birds retained two programs for singing that shared common material: the juvenile slavish imitation of an atypical, phraseless song, and the adult song that reworked a subset of sounds into a different syntax.

"Clearly, learning song and the rules for adult song can be uncoupled," says Nottebohm. "The song acquired during the freedom of youth and the song with adult rules imposed can be quite different. Yet in the adult bird the two can coexist side by side."

"We have no idea how the brain manages to do this, but the outcome is reminiscent of people speaking two languages, like German and English, with different grammars -- not a small feat for birds."

Rockefeller University -

Toxic Waste Sites!
Closed Bases Worst Toxic Waste Sites
By John Heilprin
Associated Press

WASHINGTON May 12, 2005 (P) — Thirty-four military bases shut down since 1988 are on the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund list of worst toxic waste sites -- most of them for at least 15 years -- and not one is completely cleaned up.

As the latest base-closing commission begins its work, an examination by The Associated Press shows EPA concerned with incomplete pollution cleanups at more than 100 Defense Department facilities. Other military-related cleanups are being led solely by states.

Of the $23.3 billion in costs from four previous rounds of base closures and realignments, the Pentagon has spent $8.3 billion so far on pollution cleanups and other compliance with environmental laws, congressional investigators say. EPA officials say it will be at least a decade before many are completed -- at a cost the government estimates will reach an additional $3.6 billion.

They anticipate more military facilities will be added to the Superfund list after the newest round of base closings is completed. The Pentagon plans to give a list of recommendations to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission on Friday, the first major step in the process.

"A large majority of these (Superfund) sites will have all the remedies in place by 2015," said Jim Woolford, head of EPA's Federal Facilities Restoration & Reuse Office. "It may take longer to remove them from the list because of groundwater contamination or unexploded ordnance."

However, it is the cleanups still under way that pose the most frequent obstacles to the Pentagon's ability to cut costs by converting an installation to other uses.

Hard-to-remove contaminants include trichloroethylene, a cleaning solvent linked to cancer, as well as asbestos-tainted soil, radioactive materials and leaded paint.

"The environmental issues, including what type of cleanup needs to be done, have been the main holdup on all of these places," Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said. "We'll get it done, but it's going to take time in some cases as we work with the communities."

For the Air Force, 98 percent of the delays in transferring 24,000 acres from military hands are due to environmental issues. For the Army, it's 82 percent of 101,000 acres. For the Navy, it's 65 percent of almost 13,000 acres, says the General Accountability Office.

The GAO, Congress' investigative arm, found the Defense Department has saved $29 billion, and can expect to save $7 billion more, from the closures.

About 72 percent of the property has been unloaded, but 28 percent remains in federal hands "due primarily to the need for environmental cleanup," the GAO said in a report this month.

The Pentagon insists progress is being made but that it takes time to involve communities. "You don't know what you have until you do a thorough examination, and it can result in some delays," Flood said. "It's never going to be fast enough for some communities."

Flood said the base closures actually speed decontamination. "We have to clean them up whether they close them or not. With BRAC, they just move to the head of the line," he said.

Since the Superfund program began in 1980 to clean up the nation's most hazardous waste sites, base closure commissions in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 made recommendations that led Congress to shut down 97 bases.

Twenty-eight of the 34 closed bases put onto the Superfund list were added at least 15 years ago, including 11 that went on a year before the first round of base closings.

Woolford attributed the delays in finishing those cleanups to the sites' complexity.

"Unlike the typical Superfund private-party sites, these sites are much larger and will generally have more contamination, and consequently take longer to clean up," he said.

EPA lists 10 sites with problems such as groundwater contamination not yet fully under control. Five are in California; the others are in Arizona, Florida, Tennessee and Oregon.

Woolford said some of those problems are nearly fixed, but the toughest and costliest remain at California's McClellan Air Force Base, in Sacramento, and Fort Ord, in Marina.

Interim Storage for Nuke Waste
By Erica Werner
Associated Press

WASHINGTON May 13, 2005 (AP) — A House spending panel is directing the Energy Department to start sending nuclear waste to an interim storage site next year, a shift from the Bush administration's focus on the troubled Yucca Mountain dump in Nevada.

Rep. David Hobson, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water, included $10 million for the effort in a spending bill the subcommittee passed on Thursday.

The legislation, approved by voice vote, directs the department to select one or more aboveground sites that will be ready in 2006 to accept some of the thousands of tons of commercial reactor fuel and defense waste now accumulating in 39 states.

Hobson said he remains committed to Yucca Mountain, the planned underground dump for the nation's nuclear waste, but that delays to the project have made interim storage necessary. The bill does not specify a storage site.

Yucca Mountain has endured a string of problems. The most recent concerned allegations that government workers on the project falsified data. Also, the department recently abandoned a 2010 completion date and did not set a new one.

The government is facing billions of dollars in potential liability from nuclear utilities because it promised to start accepting their waste in 1998, but failed to make good.

"I'm trying to bridge that gap between the time that Yucca Mountain opens," Hobson, R-Ohio, told reporters after the subcommittee vote.

"We're incurring a lot of litigation when we don't get the spent fuel rods out from these power plants like we said we were going to do," he said. "This way we could eliminate that, cut down on the security problems they have, and put them into some aboveground sites."

Hobson's bill still grants President Bush's 2006 spending request for Yucca Mountain. Bush proposed $651 million in his budget plan released in February; Hobson's subcommittee would fund the project at $661 million, with the additional money going for the interim storage plan.

An Energy Department spokeswoman said the department remains focused on Yucca Mountain, which was approved by Congress in 2002 to store 77,000 tons of nuclear waste beneath the desert 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

"We are reviewing the legislation, but obviously we are continuing to work toward a permanent geologic repository at Yucca Mountain," Anne Womack Kolton said.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., favors legislation to permanently leave nuclear waste at the reactor sites where it now sits..

Dog Wins Hero Award

Shannon with her owner, Ted
Mandry. (AP Photo/ Los Angeles
Daily News, Tina Burch)

WOODLAND HILLS CA May 14, 2005 (AP) - A border collie - golden retriever mix from Missouri has won the National Hero Dog award for alerting her owner that her husband was pinned underneath a tractor.

Eight-year-old Shannon, who lives on an 80-acre farm in Washington, Mo., accepted the 23rd annual National Hero Dog award Friday with her owners Ted and Peggy Mandry.

The award does not honor trained rescue dogs but "a companion animal that's well-treated and has bonded with the family, so they somehow know what to do and step up to the plate when there's trouble," said Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles.

Shannon caught media attention last June when firefighters credited her for saving Ted Mandry's life. Mandry was unloading debris about a quarter-mile from his house when a parked tractor popped out of gear, rolled down a ravine and toppled into a 10-foot deep gully. The tractor's front end loader trapped Mandry's right leg.

"I was calling for help and whistling for two hours, but no one knew where I was," he said. Peggy Mandry, who thought her husband was out mowing hay, stepped out for a while and Shannon was locked inside the house.

When she returned, Shannon was howling and scratching at the door.

"The dog became more persistent, as if she was having an attack of diarrhea," Peggy Mandry, 65, recalled. When she was let out, Shannon bolted from the door, dragging Peggy Mandry through the pasture and into the wood.

"I was bleeding, I began to get weaker. I reached a point where there was either going to be a minor miracle or this was it for me," said Ted Mandry, 65. "At that point, my wife and my dog came to the edge of the gully."

Peggy Mandry rushed to call 911, and a rescue team arrived and spent another hour to free her husband's leg. When he was taken to a hospital, Mandry said he "ended up having an above-the-knee amputation," adding that he now wears a prosthetic leg and is still able to drive a tractor but no longer performs heavy-duty work.

For her heroic act, Shannon was treated to an airplane flight to Los Angeles (she got to sit in the cabin instead of being stowed in cargo) and a stay at a beachside hotel. She also received a plaque from the SPCA, a year's supply of dog food and a "goodie bag" filled with treats.

"She's loving the attention," Mandry said. "How do you get a dog back in a farm after getting the star treatment in Los Angeles?"

The winners were selected from dozens of essays from pet owners nationwide describing their pets' heroic acts. SPCA Los Angeles also constantly searches for news reports of heroic pet acts, Bernstein said.

Social Security Is OK for 50 Years?
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign News Release

CHAMPAIGN IL May 13, 2005 - Social Security is not "in crisis," "unsustainable," or even "bankrupt" – words that President George W. Bush has used to rally support behind his campaign to alter the retirement and insurance program -- according to an article by a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

President Bush's proposal to permit employees to
divert 4 percent of their wages into individualized
Social Security accounts would make Social Security's
long-term situation "worse, not better," Kaplan wrote.

Factoring in the huge annual surpluses currently collected by Social Security, general taxpayer revenues would not be needed to fund Social Security benefits until 2052, or 47 years from now.

Given that decades-long time frame, "a flip answer to the description of a Social Security 'crisis' would be, 'Who cares?'" Richard L. Kaplan, an expert on federal taxes and retirement benefits, wrote in the April issue of ElderLaw Report, the leading monthly publication for practicing elder law lawyers.

"The more serious answer," Kaplan said, "is that Social Security receipts would continue to come in after 2052, and even with no surplus balance in the trust fund, the program could pay at least 81 percent of currently provided benefits as far as the eye can see."

Even if a funds shortfall did take place a half century in the future, Social Security benefits would not necessarily be cut by 19 percent or the program's payroll tax increased by the same percentage, according to Kaplan.

"It simply means that the revenue stream that is associated with Social Security would be 19 percent less than the program's projected benefits, requiring an allocation of funds from other uses of existing government resources."

President Bush's proposal to permit employees to divert 4 percent of their wages into individualized Social Security accounts would make Social Security's long-term situation "worse, not better," Kaplan wrote.

"Individual Social Security accounts do not address Social Security's projected shortfall. Indeed, that is why the administration anticipates 'transition costs' of anywhere from $750 billion to $2 trillion to implement these accounts."

A number of options exist to plug any projected Social Security shortfall in the future. One option would be to lift the annual cap on Social Security payroll tax (this year's cap is $90,000), which would raise taxes on only a small percentage of taxpayers.

Another approach would be to raise the age of full retirement. When Social Security was adopted in 1935, the average life expectancy of Americans was 61.5 years. Today it is closer to 77 years. Raising the full retirement age beyond the present 67, Kaplan noted, could eliminate almost all of the program's projected shortfall.

Currently, Social Security collects significantly more money from the workforce than it spends on benefits and program administration for retirees. Last year's surplus, for example, was almost $152 billion.

According to forecasts by the Congressional Budget Office, Social Security's annual revenues will dip below its annual expenditures beginning in year 2020.

"Such long-range forecasts are notoriously inaccurate due to a wide range of variables involved, including future earnings of workers, wars, natural disasters, number of deaths and births, and even the level of immigration, legal or otherwise," Kaplan wrote.

But even if this forecast pans out, it does not account for the surpluses accumulated by Social Security from previous years. As a result, the forecasted shortfall of $16 billion in Social Security tax receipts in year 2020 would be dwarfed by the same year's Social Security interest income of $206 billion, "to say nothing about the anticipated balance in the trust fund at that point of $3.6 trillion," Kaplan noted.

In addition to raising many practical issues involving administration and investment options, the individual investment accounts proposed by President Bush would "only exacerbate" Social Security's potential financing difficulties.

What's more, "those who are attracted to the personal control and 'ownership' aspects of President Bush's proposed individual accounts have a more appealing alternative already available: the traditional Individual Retirement Account, or IRA," Kaplan wrote.

His article is titled "The Security of Social Security Benefits and the President's Proposal."

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign -

Trampolines Can Be Dangerous for Kids [Duh!]

Lifespan News Release

Providence RI May 15, 2005 – Annual injuries from backyard trampolines have nearly doubled in the past decade, according to a study by researchers at Rhode Island Hospital and its pediatric unit, Hasbro Children's Hospital.

The study reviewed trampoline injuries to children from a sample of emergency departments across the United States.

According to the study, nearly 75,000 children on average were seen in emergency departments for trampoline injuries each year during 2001 and 2002.

This represents a marked jump from the early to mid-1990s, when a similar study showed an average of almost half the number of injuries each year. Most of the injuries, 91 percent, occurred at home.

"Parents so far have not gotten the message that trampolines should not be used in the home environment. They should be used in very structured, well-monitored environments, with proper supervision. Frankly, that supervision probably doesn't and can't happen at home," says James G. Linakis, MD, PhD, a pediatric emergency physician at Hasbro Children's Hospital and an associate professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at Brown Medical School.

An abstract of the study will be presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington, D.C. on May 15. Linakis, along with colleagues from Hasbro Children's Hospital and the Rhode Island Hospital Injury Prevention Center, reviewed a sample of U.S. hospitals from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System for 2001 and 2002. They compared the data to a previous study that examined trampoline injuries from 1990 to 1995. At that time, there were an average 41,600 emergency department visits for trampoline injuries per year, compared to 74,696 emergency visits each year during 2001 and 2002.

Also, researchers found that injuries serious enough to require hospitalization increased dramatically – jumping from 1,400 annually in the first study to 2,128 annually in the current study. In both studies, fractures or dislocations remained the predominant reason for hospitalization. However, by 2002, emergency rooms were seeing an increase in lacerations, or cuts, in children who needed to be hospitalized.

"Trampolines, particularly trampolines at home, are an increasingly major source of injuries to children," Linakis says. "It's still a significant problem, and the problem is growing compared to the early '90s."

Lifespan -

Associated Press Writer

DENVER May 12, 2005 (AP) - Rebecca Tennille considered herself a savvy consumer, but when she got an e-mail that looked like it was from her bank, she followed its instructions to go to a Web site to verify some personal information.

A real phishing email. (The links are printed here as URLs.) Note that clicking
"no thanks" on such an email tells the phisher that your email address is active
and will usually land you on a spam list. (eXoNews)

"It struck me for about two seconds that I should do a little research, but I've got a toddler and I had so much to do," said Tennille, of Birmingham, Ala. "I figured, 'I'll just do this and cross it off my list.'"

It was a $6,000 mistake.

The e-mail, complete with logos of her bank, was an attempt at identity theft known as "phishing." Scammers typically pose as banks, credit card companies or other institutions to lure victims into giving up sensitive details like passwords or account numbers.

Tennille's e-mail said her bank had noticed unusual activity in her account and asked her to enter personal data on a Web site doctored to look like one from Regions Bank. In reality, the site was set up by crooks who used Tennille's data to run up dozens of charges in Spain totaling about $6,000.

"After it happens, you just think, `I'm so much smarter than that,'" Tennille said.

Next week Denver-based First Data Corp., one of the country's largest electronic financial transaction companies, plans to release survey results showing 43 percent of adults have received a phishing contact. Five percent of those adults gave up personal information.

The telephone survey of 2,000 people was conducted by Synovate and had a sampling error margin of 2.2 percentage points.

Tennille realized she'd been scammed after her debit card was declined while buying medicine for her daughter. By then Regions Bank had already canceled her card after noticing unusual charges. Regions helped Tennille recover her losses.

William Askew, Regions Financial Corp.'s executive vice president of consumer and business banking, wouldn't disclose how much phishing costs his company. But a report last year by Gartner Inc., an information technology market research firm, estimated victims cost U.S. banks and credit card issuers about $1.2 billion in 2003.

Meanwhile cybercriminals are getting more sophisticated, with new threats popping up like "pharming," in which users trying to access legitimate Web sites get redirected to fakes set up with addresses that appear similar.

"We used to have cash. One protected very carefully their cash. If you lose your cash, you lose your cash," said Raf Sorrentino, head of enterprise risk and fraud solutions at First Data. "Your personal information, if you leave that open, it's very similar."

The Federal Trade Commission advises that e-mailing financial and personal details is never a good idea, and legitimate companies don't ask for those details in an e-mail. Rather than clicking on links in e-mails, retype them into your browser. If you suspect an e-mail is a phony, call the institution that supposedly sent it to check.

Regions and First Data are working to make consumers aware of phishing.

"If as an industry we don't communicate well and customers don't know, enough people are going to affected that they're going to lose confidence in the industry itself," Askew said.

Tennille has since received another phishing e-mail, which she reported to Regions Financial Corp. investigators.

"I was so high strung from the whole experience," Tennille said. "You live and you learn."

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Genre News: Star Trek & Andromeda Finales!

Gene Roddenberry on the set of TOS

The Great Bird Has Flown
By FLAtRich

Friday the 13th, May 2005 (eXoNews) - The Roddenberry Era ended tonight. No new television episodes of a show created by Gene Roddenberry wait in the wings.

In a brief flash of electrons, Star Trek and Andromeda are gone.

Despite the absolutely horrid game show make a buck for doing nothing attitude of TV shows like Fear Factor and stinky suspiciously fixed feeling of American Idol and its popular talent and no-talent show clones, television is in a sort of golden era of production in the 21st Century.

TV producers have the entire spectrum of computer driven special effects at their fingertips. Shows like Jimmy Neutron prove that even an entirely CGI series can stretch and bounce reality into something new.

CSI and House dive deep into dead and living tissue to solve mysteries.

A traditional TV premise like the successful newcomer Numb3rs draws on illustrative computer animation to explain concepts far beyond the understanding of most 14 year olds.

Live action science fiction is where TV should really shine in this new frontier, but there is soap to sell and Network TV Executives are fixed on the present moment, not the future.
The present is game shows and pseudo-documentaries about fixing up wardrobes and faces and houses and social lives. The present is what some screechy singer and her boyfriend eat for lunch. The closest this mentality comes to art is a series like 24.

TV continues to advance just the same. Thanks to an earlier generation of prophets less concerned with profits, science fiction still flourishes in the wasteland. Producers of vision continue to try new things on the small tube, influencing every aspect of our lives and most certainly the entertainment offered in movie theaters, on the stage and the racks of our local DVD stores.

For every ten weekly shortsighted moronic game show sitcom episodes there is at least one dramatic or serio-comic TV series episode that makes the viewer sit back and think after the final fade. Or sit back and chuckle with satisfaction. Or wonder what will happen next.

Gene Roddenberry

Star Trek: The Next Generation, the most celebrated of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek spin-offs, always left me wondering: how did they do that? How did they come up with such a great 40-minute script? How did they think up such a great last minute twist in the plot?

When I watch STTNG reruns, I rarely remember how they end until that last ten-minute climax begins. The stinger in STTNG. The final resolution that made us sit back and feel satisfied.

Gene Roddenberry (AKA The Great Bird) didn't invent the dénouement for television. He inherited it from the greats of an earlier tube era, who got it from screenwriters and playwrights and authors and storytellers as far back as the first tale around the cave fire. According to legend, Gene Roddenberry did keep a close eye on Trek storylines, however, and Star Trek writers were always among the best TV had to offer.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine maintained that tradition. DS9 was far more a character-driven space opera than STTNG, but the writers and producers and actors on DS9 also gave us memorable resolutions within their requisite weekly cliffhangers.

Star Trek: Voyager existed without The Great Bird, but flew on nonetheless. The Franchise was staffed with many alumnae of the Roddenberry Academy who understood the importance of their mission. But Voyager did lose its way in the end. After seven years, Janeway and her crew came home like veterans of a modern war. No parades or movies. The seven-year Voyager mission was soon forgotten in a hailstorm of newer, non-Trek sci-fi shows and franchises.

Enterprise arrived without Star Trek in the title and that smarmy, awful theme song. Most of the Roddenberry cadets jumped ship, leaving production in the hands of newbie, less capable writers and line producers. The executive branch remained, but a captain is only as good as his crew.

Despite a good cast, good directors and technicians, Enterprise somehow forgot about resolution. The last ten minutes of most Enterprise plots contained no unexpected surprises, twists or reversals.

Even after they changed the name, Star Trek: Enterprise scripts, as co-star Jolene Blalock noted, were boring. Predictable to fans, at least. Tied to an unimaginative backpedaling concept, Captain Archer and his crew were relegated to reliving an uncertain past before the time of Kirk and Spock.

Why anyone would propose to fly around in that cramped little ship at a slower warp without Majel's voice on the computer was beyond most fans' understanding. Fans took to the escape pods by the millions.

There were some high points to be sure. I still put Carbon Creek up there with the great pre-Star Trek: Enterprise episodes of TOS, STTNG, DS9 and Voyager. But Enterprise was doomed to be best forgotten.

Like the series, the final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise was held together with spit and bailing wire. Even the title "These Are the Voyages..." suggests an unfinished rehash of the glory days of Star Trek. The high points of this episode were the guest appearance of Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, Troi talking to Data on the bridge of Picard's Enterprise and the final voice-over by previous Captains Picard and Kirk. The rest was worse than "appalling." It was insulting nonsense.

No real spoilers here, but Berman and Braga, who wrote the frighteningly bad script and should be summarily dismissed from any further disservice to Starfleet, did throw the dog one piece of cheese: we finally got to see Dr. Phlox smile again. The good doctor was probably glad it was over. I know I was.

In contrast to the oppressively negative end of Enterprise, the good ship Andromeda gave us a final salute earlier the same night. Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda ran its full five-year mission and ended on a high note.

Andromeda, which was rescued from some of The Great Bird's sketches by Majel Barrett Roddenberry and turned into a series with co-producer and star Kevin Sorbo, survived a shaky start to become one of the highest-rated syndicated sci-fi series of its day.

Andromeda returned to the simpler Roddenberry good-guy versus bad-guy in space concept of TOS. Captain Dylan Hunt and his sometimes-disloyal crew took space warfare shoot-outs to a new level and never passed up a chance to have fun.

The first season featured a pink alien with a tail, for Zeus sake!

There were some character and cast changes as Andromeda evolved. Trance Gemini (Laura Bertram) lost that pink tail and became a mysterious golden sun avatar. Rev Bem (Brent Stait) was allergic to his prosthetic makeup and quit the show after one season. Tyr Anasazi (Keith Hamilton Cobb) left in 2003 to go back to soap operas. Telemachus Rhade (Steve Bacic) signed on to replace Tyr. Rommie (Lexa Doig), Andromeda's resident android avatar, was blown up at the end of Season 4 and Andromeda's resident mad scientist Seamus Zelazny Harper (Gordon Michael Woolvett) built Doyle (Brandy Ledford) to replace her, only to have Rommie return in the last few episodes (Doig now married to Michael Shanks, AKA Dr. Daniel Jackson on Stargate SG-1).

Throughout it all, Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder) and Captain Hunt wisecracked their way across three galaxies and in and out of alternate universes with a plethora of guest stars from Buffy's James Marsters to Trek's Q (John de Lancie).

The Great Bird

The final season of Andromeda seemed to be grounded a bit. The crew was stranded in an alternate universe and hung around a lot in a space bar run by Harper. Getting back to the real universe was a priority, but didn't materialize until the last episodes.

Again, no spoilers, but the final scenes of Andromeda were the kind of respectful close one would expect of a venerated series. In the end, each of the crewmembers said goodbye and left Captain Hunt alone on the bridge of his starship.

"Andromeda?" Hunt asks the ship.

"Yes, Captain," the ship replies.

"Just checking," Captain Hunt says in a verbal pinch to make sure the end isn't all an illusion.

As Dylan Hunt leaves, the bridge lights go out. Fade to black.

The Great Bird has flown.

Instant TV Poll ~ Which would you rather see: a movie based on Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda or another Star Trek film? Vote here!

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A Note About the eXoNews Weekly Genre News Digest
By FLAtRich

I read a board comment on one of my reviews for Star Trek: New Voyages recently asking if eXoNews was a blog (or what?) I guess the reader wasn't a regular here. eXoNews is a news digest, basically, gathering news you might not see elsewhere from press releases and wire services. Star Trek: New Voyages, as most of you know, is a fan-produced, web-based continuation of Star Trek: The Original Series.

The eXoNews Genre page is also a digest, concerned mostly with sci-fi and fantasy TV and movies and the like, but it sometimes includes my personal rants and / or raves about the state of genre entertainment. You can call that a blog if you want.

I think of it as an erratic column. I forget what started the ranting and raving thing, (I don't even remember when the Genre page began - 2001, maybe), but I suspect it was the imminent end or cancellation of a TV series. Cancellations certainly fed the fire.

Especially when Joss Whedon's shows got axed.

You can catch up for free in series of eBooks called Peeping Tubes in the 21st Century. You can also look for favorites in our Genre News Archive with links to all of the Genre News stories over the last few years.

I write about this stuff because I get passionate about TV. The tube has been winking at me all my life. We grew up together. I'm one of those irradiated fans who thinks TV is a good thing, a positive force for change.

This particular rant-rave column-blog (above) was about the end of an era and the beginning of something new. That's a positive thing too, even when the era ending was begun by Gene Roddenberry.

[Nothing else seemed very important this week. Ed.]

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