Maya Mysteries!
Deadly Plastic! Titan's Surface!
Endangered Hawaii Species!
Saturn Winners & More!
Maya Mysteries Uncovered!
Kaloomte Queen of the Waka’ Maya
Southern Methodist University News Release

DALLAS May 6, 2004 — An international archaeological project, sponsored by Southern Methodist University, headed by Dr. David Freidel of SMU, and Guatemalan archaeologist Héctor Escobedo of Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, is attempting to combine scientific research of the ancient Maya past of Guatemala with conservation and development in an effort to save a vital section of tropical rainforest in the Department of Petén.

The Waka’ Archaeological Project, which began research at the site (located approximately 60 km west of the famous Maya site of Tikal) in 2002, is part of an alliance of government and non-government agencies trying to halt a cycle of destruction in Guatemala’s largest national park, Laguna del Tigre. 

The ancient Maya center, known from ancient Maya inscriptions as Waka’, and known today as El Perú, was once an important economic and political center of the Maya world and formed one corner of a triangle of major sites that also included Calakmul (Mexico) to the north, and Tikal to the west. The site, composed of 672 monumental structures and untold numbers of small house structures, sits atop an escarpment six kilometers north of the San Pedro Mártir River. Oil prospectors discovered the site in the 1960’s. Harvard researcher Ian Graham recorded the site’s monuments in the early 1970’s but did not carry out any excavations. The SMU Project is the first research project to undertake scientific excavations at Waka’.

The Laguna del Tigre National Park is Central America’s largest nature preserve. Several endangered species have taken refuge in the park, including the Scarlet Macaw, for which the park is one of the last remaining habitat zones. Cattle ranching and other forms of invasion are encroaching on the park, however, and these illegal activities that frequently involve slash and burn agriculture and clearing for pastureland, threaten the park’s future.

Last year, 100,000 acres of the park burned, threatening both the wildlife and cultural history of the park area.

The Waka’ project, together with the Government of Guatemala through the General Direction of the Cultural and Natural Patrimony and the National Council for Protected Areas, the Wildlife Conservation Society (NGO), and ProPetén (NGO), is trying to save 230,000 acres of the park from deforestation.

The K’ante’el Alliance

These organizations have formed the K’ante’el Alliance initiative in an effort to protect the natural and cultural resources of this area. K’ante’el (Cahn-tay-elle) means "precious forest" in Maya and refers to the mystical place where the Maya Maize God was reborn and where the Maya believe their civilization began. The goal of the alliance is the preservation of the park and the development of alternative sources of income for local communities that emphasize conservation of the park’s rich natural and cultural resources. 

"This is an initiative that can position archaeology, not only as scientific research, but as a useful activity for the community and the country in which we work," Escobedo says. "Researching the site and learning its secrets are the first steps toward making a meaningful contribution to Petén, and to Guatemala as a whole."

That first step is the archaeological research of the site that is being conducted by a team of 20 Guatemalan, American and Canadian archaeologists under the direction of Freidel and Escobedo.

The site was inhabited as early as 500 BC, but reached its peak between AD 400 and AD 800. At its height, the city may have been an economically and strategically important center, and home to tens of thousands of people. Over a period of 700 years, 22 kings ruled at Waka’.

"We know a great deal about the ancient inhabitants of this site from their monuments." Freidel says, "The more than 40 carved monuments, or stelae, at the site chronicle the activities of the site’s rulers, including their rise to power, their conquests in war and their deaths." 

The inscriptions are only one piece of the puzzle, however, and excavation-based research serves to both test and supplement the historical record.

The project’s excavations have focused on a number of important areas of the site, looking into the past activities at locations of both ritual and residential activity. The large ceremonial complex in the southeast portion of the site center is one such focus, where evidence of extensive termination ritual may provide clues to the events at the end of the site’s life. At this location, SMU graduate student Olivia Farr found that dozens of complete ceramic vessels, vessel fragments, and human remains lay scattered on the surface in front of the building.

"This kind of termination is an act of desecration and speaks to a violent event in the site’s history," Freidel says.

Excavations have also delved into the activity at residential compounds, and at the main palace complex of the site, where at one time the rulers of Waka’ presided over the sprawling ancient city. The palace served as a place of residence, politics, trade and governance, but evidence from this season also indicates that the palace served another function, that of a burial site.

Queen of the Waka’

In one structure of the palace complex, while conducting excavations to collect stratigraphic ceramic samples, Canadian archaeologist and SMU graduate student David Lee discovered a royal burial chamber. The burial contained remains identified by project bioarchaeologist Jennifer Piehl, as that of a female ruler or queen and over 2,400 artifacts.

"It is an important discovery," Lee says, "An important piece of the much larger puzzle of the lives and deaths of the people we regard as the rulers of this site."

The individual was interred in a vaulted burial chamber that was built inside the shell of an existing building atop the palace acropolis. A preliminary analysis of the 23 complete vessels found in the chamber suggests a Late Classic burial date, estimated between AD 650 and AD 750. The interment, which contained artifacts of greenstone, shell and obsidian, provides significant information about the importance of this person during her life. The individual’s royal status was identified by the presence of greenstone plaques that form a war helmet and by the presence of a carved royal jewel, or "huunal," that may have once been a part of this headdress.

"This helmet is consistent with a kind we associate with the title ‘Kaloomte’, or ‘supreme warlord’," Freidel says. "A title generally associated with male rulers and important warriors."

Recent studies have shown that this is not always the case, however, and on one of the site’s monuments, a queen is mentioned in hieroglyphic inscriptions as bearing the title of "Kaloomte". The woman buried in the chamber also had stingray spines placed on her body in the pelvic region. Stingray spines are bloodletting implements that are depicted being used to let blood from the genitalia of Maya kings.

"That this female ruler had these implements supports the idea that in ancient Maya culture, gender roles were sometimes blended," Lee says.

Once more detailed analysis is complete, researchers hope it will help shed light on the lives of the kings and queens of Waka’. While the individual in the burial chamber is not named in hieroglyphs, chemical and radiocarbon analysis of remains inside the burial will help place this individual with the site’s history.

The project’s 10 different research operations are focusing not only on the substantive hieroglyphic record at the site, or on new archaeological discoveries. The project also has undertaken an important conservation effort at the site. Looting over the years since the site was discovered has resulted in significant damage to both ancient structures and monuments. Starting in 2003, the Waka’ Project has begun stabilizing, restoring and reassembling the buildings and monuments of Waka’ disturbed in the centuries since the site’s abandonment in the 9th century.

"One of our most ambitious projects has been the stabilization of an 18-meter temple pyramid that was structurally undermined by looting," Freidel says.

Under the consecutive direction of Guatemalan archaeologists Juan Carlos Pérez (2003) and Horacio Martínez (2004), a team of masons has worked to consolidate this ancient structure so that scientific excavations can proceed. Additionally, Guatemalan specialists Hugo Martínez and Efrain Peralta have systematically reassembled the fragments of broken stelae, and then copied them using latex molds to create fiberglass replicas. These efforts are part of a commitment not only to retrieve information from the remains of this once great city, but also to restore and rescue its ancient treasures.

"We see it as our obligation," Escobedo says. "Not only to retrieve the archaeological information that this site has to offer, but to preserve it for future generations."

The research of the Waka’ Archaeological Project is attempting to reconstruct the history, and the story, of this ancient city. Once an important center of political, social and economic activity, the site of Waka’ is once again at a strategically important crossroads, central to the efforts of the K’ante’el Alliance to save this important site, and the national park it resides in, from destruction. 

"The future of this area," Freidel says, "will depend on our ability to do what the Maya did here: establish a stable system for managing this area, protect it from threats as they may come and establish an economy that will see it survive into the future."

The future in this case, however, is that of the natural environment, the wildlife and the communities of hardworking people that currently reside in this area. Research, development, conservation and tourism are only some of the areas in which the K’ante’el Alliance is looking to ensure the future of the site of Waka’. The work undertaken by the project to date is an important first step in achieving that goal and of preserving Waka’ and Laguna del Tigre for the future.

Southern Methodist University -

Kaloomte' wooden box in Tabasco -

Maya Archeology -

Art of Mesoamerica -

The Maya of Cival

Guatemala May 6, 2004 (AFP) — An Italian archeologist said Tuesday he had uncovered ancient objects that show an unexplored site in Guatemala's Peten region to be one of the most significant preclassic Mayan cities ever found. 

"I think Cival was one of the largest cities of the Preclassic Maya, maybe housing 10,000 people at its peak," the archeologist from Nashville's Vanderbilt University said at a news conference.

Francisco Estrada-Belli and his team discovered intact two large masks and jade objects used for rituals in the central square of the city, named Cival, which date to around 150 B.C.

Before being abandoned, the city may have outshone the neighboring site, Holmul, which was at the height of its civilization a thousand years later during the Classic Maya period, he said.

"Cival probably was abandoned after a violent attack, probably by a larger power such as Tikal."

The positioning of buildings in Cival toward the sunrise at the equinox suggests that they were used to measure time. The city had an "important astronomical function," according to Estrada-Belli.

Two stucco masks, each measuring five meters by three (15 feet by nine), are among the most stunning discoveries. 

"The masks' preservation is astounding. It's almost as if someone made this yesterday," said the archaeologist, who discovered the first object by chance, in a crack inside a tunnel dug by looters. 

Later searches uncovered the second mask, apparently identical to the first.

Estrada-Belli says the layout of the site suggests that two other masks might also be present.

He believes that four masks flanked the staircase of the pyramid that led to the chamber, serving as a backdrop for a ritual in which the Maya king played out the part of the gods of creation.

Cival's apparent level of sophistication suggests that the preclassic Mayas, who lived from 2,000 B.C. to 250 A.D., had a culture similar to that of the so-called classic Maya period that lasted until 900 A.D., when it went into decline. 

According to the archaeological team, Cival was one of the largest cities of the period.

The team was able to identify potential archaeological sites around Cival by satellite.

The city's ceremonial center extended 800 meters (yards) — twice as large as had been believed until now. 

Five pyramids were found there, including the largest, at 100 feet (30 meters) high.

Taj Chan Ahk Ah Kalomte
By Sergio de Leon

Guatemala City April 23, 2004 (AP) - A team of American and Guatemalan archeologists says it has discovered important Mayan monuments covered with texts from the ceremonial ball court at the Cancuen palace in northern Guatemala.

The researchers said the discovery is providing new information about the final years before the collapse of the ancient Mayan civilization.

The excavations were announced on Friday by Guatemalan authorities, as well as by the National Geographic Society and Vanderbilt University in the United States.

Cancuen, one of the largest Mayan palaces found so far, was built between 765 and 790AD by King Taj Chan Ahk. It is located along the banks of the Passion River, about 200km north of the Guatemalan capital.

Its position along the river gave it control over trade between the southern highlands of central America and the Mayan city-states further north, which thrived between 500BC and 850AD.

Culture Minister Manuel Salazar and United States Ambassador John Hamilton symbolically helped excavate a 225kgram altar stone at the site last Friday.

It was the third found at the ball court. A first, removed in 1905, is in Guatemala's National Museum of Archaeology. A second was stolen from the site in 2001 but was recovered in October by Guatemalan law enforcement agents aided by the head of the archaeological team, Arthur A Demarest of Vanderbilt.

The three monuments depict King Taj playing against visiting rulers.

Salazar also announced the discovery of a 45kg stone panel from the same ball court, which is covered with hieroglyphs and images of Mayan royal ceremonies.

The project expert on hieroglyphs, Federico Fahsen, called it "one of the greater masterpieces of Mayan art ever discovered in Guatemala," according to the news release.

It showed Taj Chan Ahk installing a subsidiary ruler during a ceremony in his other capital, the city of Machaquila, about 40km to the north.

Demarest said the panel was dated to the end of the eighth century.

"At a time when most of the other great city-states of the Maya world were in decline or collapsing, Tan Chan Ahk expanded his kingdom through alliances, royal marriages and clever politics," Demarest said.

"His palace at Cancuen is one of the largest and most splendid in the May world and he used it and his ball court to awe and entertain visiting kings and nobles."

He compared the games to ceremonial "photo opportunities" more than as modern sports events.

Tomas Barrientos and Michael Callaghan are leading the Vanderbilt-National Geographic project to excavate the Cancuen palace, which had more than 200 masonry rooms and 11 plazas.

Deadly Plastic!
By Tim Hirsch 
BBC Environment Correspondent

Earth May 6, 2004 (BBC) Tiny pieces of plastic and man-made fibers are causing contamination of the world's oceans and beaches, the journal Science has reported. Even remote and apparently pristine layers of sand and mud are now composed partly of this microscopic rubbish, broken down from discarded waste. 

This is the first assessment of plastic fragments accumulating in sediments and in the water column itself. It is not yet known what the long term effects of this pollution may be. 

A team led by scientists at the universities of Plymouth and Southampton took samples from 17 beaches and estuaries around the UK, and analyzed particles which did not appear to be natural. 

The researchers found that most samples included evidence of a range of plastics or polymers including nylon, polyester and acrylic. They also found that when creatures such as lugworms and barnacles fed on the sediments, the plastics turned up inside their bodies within a few days. 

To test whether this contamination was getting worse, the scientists analyzed plankton samples taken from survey ships between Scotland and Iceland since the 1960s - and found that the plastic content had increased significantly over time. 

Because the team only sampled particles which looked different from natural sediments, it is believed that the true level of plastic contamination could be much higher. 

The lead author of the study, Dr Richard Thompson, said: "Given the durability of plastics and the disposable nature of many plastic items, this type of contamination is likely to increase. 

"Our team is now working to identify the possible environmental consequences of this new form of contamination." 

One concern is that toxic chemicals could attach themselves to the particles which would then help to spread them up the food chain. That research is for the future, but this study suggests that practically everything really is made of plastic these days - even the oceans. 

"We've found this microscopic plastic material at all of the sites we've examined," Dr Thompson said. 

"Interestingly, the abundance is reasonably consistent. So, it suggests to us that the problem is really quite ubiquitous."
Air Pollution Kills Thousands
PARIS May 7, 2004 (Reuters) — Air pollution, much of it caused by cars, kills 5,000 to 6,000 people a year in France, a state agency said Thursday.

"Tobacco still kills more people than pollution, but that is no reason to abandon the efforts to decrease pollution," said Michele Froment-Vedrine, director of the Agency for Environmental Health Safety.

A report by the organization estimated the death toll also proposed corrective action, such as a tax on cars based how much they pollute, and better regulation of emission limits for cars, buses, and trucks.

"But it is not just on the government," Froment-Vedrine said. "Nobody living in a city center needs a four-wheel drive vehicle to go shopping. People should question their habits."

Air pollution was cited as one major factors behind the deaths of thousands of French people in a heat wave last summer, as searing temperatures and a lack of wind left a cloud of smog hanging over Paris and ozone levels rose.

While ozone in the upper atmosphere is vital to filter out harmful ultraviolet light, ground-level ozone — caused by sunlight reacting with car exhaust emissions and other pollutants — can cause respiratory problems.
Titan's Surface
NASA Press Release

Saturn May 06, 2004 - The veils of Saturn's most mysterious moon have begun to lift in Cassini's eagerly awaited first glimpse of the surface of Titan, a world where scientists believe organic matter rains from hazy skies and seas of liquid hydrocarbons dot a frigid surface. 

Surface features previously observed only from Earth-based telescopes are now visible in images of Titan taken in mid-April by Cassini through one of the narrow angle camera's spectral filters specifically designed to penetrate the thick atmosphere. The image scale is 230 kilometers (143 miles) per pixel, and it rivals the best Earth-based images. 

New images show Titan from a vantage point 17 degrees below its equator, yielding a view from 50 degrees north latitude all the way to its south pole. The observed brightness variations suggest a diverse surface, with variations in average reflectivity on scales of a couple hundred kilometers.

The images were taken through a narrow filter centered at 938 nanometers, a spectral region in which the only obstacle to light is the carbon-based, organic haze.

Despite the rather long 38-second exposure times, there is no noticeable smear due to spacecraft motion. The images have been magnified 10 times and enhanced in contrast to bring out details.

No further processing to remove the effects of the overlying atmosphere has been performed.

The superimposed grid over the images illustrates the orientation of Titan -- north is up and rotated 25 degrees to the left -- as well as the geographical regions of the satellite that are illuminated and visible.

The yellow curve marks the position of the boundary between day and night on Titan.

The enhanced image contrast makes the region within 20 degrees of this day and night division darker than usual. The Sun illuminates Titan from the right at a phase angle of 66 degrees. Because the Sun is in the southern hemisphere as seen from Titan, the north pole is canted relative to the boundary between day and night by 25 degrees. 

It is noteworthy that the surface is visible to Cassini from its present approach viewing geometry, which is not the most favorable for surface viewing. These early Cassini observations are promising for upcoming imaging sequences of Titan in which the resolution improves by a factor of five over the next two months.

These results are encouraging for future, in-orbit observations of Titan that will be acquired from lower, more favorable phase angles. 

The first opportunity to view small-scale features (2 kilometers or 1.2 miles) on the surface comes during a 350,000 kilometer (217,500 mile) flyby over Titan's south pole on July 2, 2004, only 30 hours after Cassini's insertion into orbit around the ringed planet. 

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras, were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

For more related images - 

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit, and the Cassini imaging team home page,

Commerce Department Sides with Pipeline Company
By Diane Scarponi
Associated Press

NEW HAVEN May 07, 2004 (AP) — Federal regulators approved construction of a natural gas pipeline under Long Island Sound Thursday, overruling Connecticut officials who complained the project could ruin shellfish beds.

The U.S. Commerce Department ruled that the pipeline's "contribution to the national interest outweighs its adverse coastal effects."

The agency also found that there was no reasonable alternative to the proposed project, which would carry gas from North Haven to Branford, then 22 miles under the sound before coming ashore on Long Island.

The gas would be used to heat homes and fuel a new power plant for Long Island, which experiences serious power shortages in the summer.

Connecticut leaders feared construction of the pipeline would threaten shellfish beds by disturbing sediment with blasting and an underwater plow.

Arthur J. Rocque Jr., commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the decision was "based on either erroneous assumptions or false promises or a combination of both." An appeal is planned.

The pipeline would be built by the Islander East Pipeline Co., which said the ruling balanced environmental needs "with the public's need for a more reliable and secure natural gas infrastructure."

The Commerce Department said the pipeline would use a small portion of the seabed, while providing energy to 600,000 homes.

Shellfish may die near where the pipeline is laid, but their populations would eventually recover, the agency said, adding that some areas would be reseeded with shellfish, which could result in beds that did not exist before.
Grave Failure to Protect Endangered Hawaii Species
Associated Press Writer 

HONOLULU April 23. 2004 (AP) - Nearly half of the 114 species that have become extinct in the first 20 years of the federal Endangered Species Act were in Hawaii, according to a new report by an advocacy group. 

The report by the Center for Biological Diversity says the federal government's failure to protect species "has been spectacular" and accuses the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of knowingly delaying listings "to avoid political controversy even when it knew the likely result would be the extinction of the species." 

A statement from the Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency "denies the inflammatory claim" and challenged the accuracy of the report. It said recovery of species is a very long process and noted that at the time the act was passed in 1973 that some species were in such bad shape the agency couldn't recover them. 

The agency said funding has been limited because of litigation over critical habitat and noted that fish and wildlife habitat has been declining for decades because of urbanization. 

The report released Wednesday said "the number (of extinct species) is shocking and indicates a grave failure in federal management of the nation's most powerful environmental law." A co-author of the report said that with so many unique species, Hawaii faces the worst problem in the country. 

Species lost from the islands include the large Kauai thrush, which once was the most common bird on the island; the Molokai thrush, which was endemic to Molokai, and 11 species of Oahu tree snails. 

Only 19 percent of the extinctions involved species on the endangered list, showing that the 1973 law is working — at least for species that make the list, said Kieran Suckling, the center's executive director and a co-author of the report. 

"But species known to be endangered were stuck in bureaucratic delay and went extinct before they had a chance to be listed," Suckling said. "That should never have happened." 

Nearly all the species could have been saved if the Endangered Species Act had been properly managed, fully funded and "shielded from political pressure," he said. "Instead they were sacrificed to bureaucratic inertia, political meddling, and lack of leadership." 

The report lays much of the blame on the Fish and Wildlife Service. 

"Listing delays and extinctions have plagued the Fish and Wildlife Service for 30 years, but the Bush administration has pushed the crisis to an unprecedented level," said Brian Nowicki, another co-author of the report.

The Bush administration has placed an average of only nine species on the list per year, while the Clinton administration averaged 65 listing per year, Nowicki said. 

The statement from the Fish and Wildlife Service said part of the problem the agency faces in its listing backlog "stem from 1995 — when a complete moratorium on listing took in effect. 

"The funding for the Endangered Species listing program — in which species are listed as threatened or endangered — has shrunk to only a little more than $3 million per year. 

"This is because litigation over critical habitat designations has forced almost all the service's funding to be directed toward critical habitat at the expense of listing." 

Hawaii is unique not only because it has 52 species on the list, but because state law requires that every species placed on the list is automatically added to a state list, said Michael Buck, administrator of the Forestry and Wildlife division of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which works in partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

He acknowledged, however, that "just getting something on the list does not save endangered species." The No. 1 issue for Hawaii, Buck said, is "coming up with resources and public support." 

California was the next highest state in the report with 11 extinctions. Guam had eight, while Alabama and Texas each had seven. 

Fifteen of Hawaii's extinct species were terrestrial snails, 13 each were flowering plants and insects, eight were birds and three were moths. Birds accounted for all but two of the extinctions on the U.S. territory of Guam, where the bird population already had been devastated by the brown tree snake and other predators. 

The four-angled pelea, a flowering plant endemic to Kauai, is an example of a species being lost by inaction, Suckling said. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service became aware it was endangered in 1975 when the Smithsonian petitioned to have it listed, he said. The following year, the agency said it would propose adding it to the list, but when nothing happened, the Smithsonian re-petitioned in 1978, he said. 

In 1980, the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed the plant was endangered but put it on the candidate list, Suckling said. In 1994, the agency listed it as endangered, but it had become extinct in 1991, he said. 

"The extinction crisis in Hawaii is worse than anywhere else," Suckling said. "We believe the Fish and Wildlife Service should have no higher job than preventing species from going extinct." 

Buck said extinctions have been occurring since Western sailors first discovered the islands in 1778. 

The extinction rate probably has increased in the past 10 years, Suckling said. "There is no reason to believe it went down," he said. 

Center for Biological Diversity -

State Division of Forestry and Wildlife -

Fishing The Dead Zone
Texas A&M University News Release

GALVESTON May 6, 2004 - A "dead zone," like the Stephen King novel of the same name, is a place where life can end. The horror meister probably wasn't thinking about fish. 
Dead zones are areas of the ocean where marine life - especially large quantities of fish - mysteriously die and where future marine life may never have a chance. 

One well-known dead zone is near the Mississippi River delta area, where the nearby Sabine and Atchafalaya Rivers flow into southern Louisiana. Texas A&M University at Galveston researcher Antonietta Quigg is on a quest trying to learn why this dead zone is occurring and what is causing it - and the lurking suspicion, she says, is a combination of biological, chemical and physical interactions that may or may not be triggered by fertilizer runoffs from the Mississippi is the culprit. 

Her work is part of two three-year studies funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

"Levels of nitrogen in Gulf waters are especially high in the spring and summer, when fertilizers are most frequently used," Quigg explains. "We still have a lot of work to do, but it looks like fertilizer runoffs remain the culprit in helping to create this large dead zone." 

Many dead zones are caused by farm fertilizers and other chemicals, and their runoff into rivers creates a large amount of plankton, which in turn depletes oxygen as it sinks down into the water. Without sufficient oxygen, marine life on and close to sediment dies. 

The Mississippi is the largest river in the U.S., draining 40 percent of the land area of the country. It also accounts for almost 90 percent of the freshwater runoff into the Gulf of Mexico. 

Where the Mississippi empties into the Gulf Coast is the start of the dead zone Quigg is studying - and areas where high concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorous and other substances commonly used in fertilizers are being found. 

Quigg will closely examine bacteria found in the area to see if the suspected agents found in fertilizers are currently there. Spring is peak fertilizing time for many farmers and ranchers all along the Mississippi River, meaning the suspected runoff of these chemicals into the Gulf Coast area will be reaching a climax in the weeks ahead. 

"We will look at the nutrients in the water in the dead zone area, look at the water color and examine the bacterial communities," she says.

"We want to determine what specific biological activities are going on there - and their interactions with the chemical and physical environment. Whatever is happening is causing a large amount of marine life to die." 

Studies by the United Nations Environment Program show that the number of dead zones in the world's oceans has increased steadily in the past 25 years, and there are now about 150 dead zones worldwide. 

Because it has created a quick-acting dead zone, the Mississippi River delta area has become one of the most famous dead zones in the world, but other recent ones have occurred in South American, Japan, China and Australia, the United Nations report says. 

Dead zones range in size from just a few square miles to more than 45,000 square miles, and the loss of fish and other marine life can be immense. 

"Dead zones seem to have one thing in common, and it's that they're getting bigger," says Quigg. "In our study, we hope to find some definitive answers on what is causing the dead zone in the Mississippi River delta area."

Texas A&M University -

Genre News: Saturn Award Winners, Pink Panther, Winnie the Pooh, Jack & Bobby, Hubert Selby Jr.

Saturn Looms Large for Angel
By FLAtRich

Los Angeles May 5, 2004 (eXoNews) - Well, yippee for us! Genre hungry voters for The 30th Annual Saturn Awards actually watched TV this year and, with a couple of ranting quibbles, the TV Saturn Awards flew true as Serenity.

The 30th Annual Saturn winners and nominees in Television categories.
Best Network Television Series
Winner: Angel and CSI (tied)
Alias (ABC)
Angel (WB Network)
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (UPN)
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS)
Smallville (WB Network)
Star Trek: Enterprise (UPN)
Best Syndicated/Cable Television Series
Winner: Stargate SG-1

Andromeda (Tribune)
Carnivale (HBO)
Dead Like Me (Showtime)
The Dead Zone (USA Networks)
Farscape (Sci Fi Channel)
Stargate SG-1 (Sci Fi Channel)
Best Television Presentation
Winner: Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi Channel)
Children Of Dune (Sci Fi Channel)
The Diary Of Ellen Rimbauer (ABC)
Dreamkeeper (ABC)
Riverworld (Sci Fi Channel/Alliance Atlantis)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Cartoon Network/Lucasfilm Ltd.)
Best Actor In A Television Series
Winner: David Boreanaz

Richard Dean Anderson (Stargate SG-1 - Sci Fi Channel)
Scott Bakula (Star Trek: Enterprise - UPN)
David Boreanaz (Angel - WB Network)
Michael Shanks (Stargate SG-1 - Sci Fi Channel)
Michael Vartan (Alias - ABC)
Tom Welling (Smallville - WB Network)
Best Actress In A Television Series
Winner: Amber Tamblyn

Eliza Dushku (Tru Calling - Fox)
Jennifer Garner (Alias - ABC)
Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy The Vampire Slayer - UPN)
Kristin Kreuk (Smallville - WB Network)
Ellen Muth (Dead Like Me - Showtime)
Amber Tamblyn (Joan Of Arcadia - CBS)
Best Supporting Actor In A Television Series
Winner: James Marsters

Alexis Denisof (Angel - WB Network)
Victor Garber (Alias - ABC)
John Glover (Smallville - WB Network)
James Marsters (Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel - UPN/WB Network)
Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville - WB Network)
Nick Stahl (Carnivale - HBO)
Best Supporting Actress In A Television Series
Winner: Amy Acker

Amy Acker (Angel - WB Network)
Jolene Blalock (Star Trek: Enterprise - UPN)
Charisma Carpenter (Angel - WB Network)
Victoria Pratt (Mutant X - Tribune)
Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica - Sci Fi Channel)
Amanda Tapping (Stargate SG-1 - Sci Fi Channel)
Best DVD Television Release
Winner: Firefly - The Complete Series (Fox)

First the good news. Angel led the TV awards with four Saturns - a tie for Best Series Saturn, a Best Actor Saturn for Mr. Boreanaz, a much deserved in our opinion Best Supporting Actress Saturn for Amy Acker and a not too surprising to anybody Best Supporting Actor Saturn to James Marsters. I should add that I would have been hard pressed to choose that last winner considering the other superb Best Supporting Actor nominees (see above), but James is clearly everybody's Favorite Blonde in TVLand and not just for his pearly whites.

A solid Angel win means diddley to The WB as far as the cancellation is concerned, but it is great to see Angel go out in a blaze of I told you so!

Amy Acker, accepting her Saturn, put it this way: "It's the last day of celebration for what we've done."

The quibbles!

How does CSI, a sometimes hopelessly boring forensics cop show, get included in Horror and Science Fiction awards at all? Maybe because CSI writer-producer Naren Shanker is part of the greater science fiction family, having begun his career as a story editor for STTNG and continued as a writer for the Federation on Voyager. He also wrote and produced for Farscape, so maybe the CSI vote is more about Naren Shanker than yawny cops and plastic entrails.

How could anyone who saw the Battlestar Galactica mini-series on Sci Fi Channel ever like it more than Children of Dune mini-series also on Sci Fi Channel?

I ask that with apologies to Ronald Moore who, as another former Trek writer and producer, is great with many notches in his gun and may give us a great BG series eventually - I just never liked the original Battlestar, a poor, small-screen Star Wars cousin, and the mini made me sleepy. Children of Dune, however, far surpassed Sci Fi's ho-hum remake of the wonderful David Lynch feature version of Frank Herbert's classic novel and Children was the best original entry on Sci Fi since the last five episodes of Taken. (I didn't like all of Taken either.)

Final rant: I still think Amanda Tapping should have been in the Best Actress and not Best Supporting Actress category. As much as I like Amber Tamblyn, who won the Best Actress Saturn, Amanda Tapping is clearly the female lead of Stargate SG-1 and Sam has worked hard for seven seasons to Joan's only one. Memo to God: Amanda got ripped off.

Final good news, Joss Whedon, now officially TV's least appreciated by the networks producer, scored biggest of all in this year's TV Saturns, also deservedly so, as Angel's co-creator and executive producer and because Firefly - The Complete Series won the Saturn for Best DVD Television Release. [Fox will start bragging about that now, I suppose. Ed]

This DVD win may bode well for other incomplete or one season series - like the recently canceled Wonderfalls and maybe last year's Peacemakers from USA - which deserve a quick DVD release.

For the Saturn Award winners in movie categories and other stuff, visit our friends at Cinescape Magazine -

Or (if they ever get around to posting it) The Academy of Science Fiction Fantasy & Horror Films site at

Also Cinescape's coverage of the awards ceremony at

Joss Sez No Definite Angel Plans 

Hollywood May 7, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Joss Whedon, co-creator of The WB's vampire series Angel, discounted the network's reported plans to spin off a series of TV movies next year based on the show, which ends its five-year run on May 19.

"The rumored movies are so far just rumors," Whedon said in an interview at the Saturn Awards in Los Angeles. "There are no definite plans to do anything with Angel besides finish out the season as well and as hard as we can."

Whedon is currently prepping to direct Serenity, a feature film based on his canceled Fox TV series Firefly.

"I started Buffy [the Vampire Slayer] partially because nobody would hire me as a director," he said, tongue in cheek. "I thought, 'I'll create a show, and I'll hire me.' So after eight years of what I consider to be publicly broadcast film school, I'm finally making a film."

For her part, Angel co-star Amy Acker (Fred) said she'd be willing to return for any movie projects.

"I heard that they wanted to do it, and then I heard it may not happen," she said. "But ask Joss and then tell me, and tell him to do ones that are all about me," she said with a laugh. 

Acker added that last month's final day of shooting on the show "was very sad. It was actually an all-night shoot in the rain, so it was very sad. It leaves it pretty open. I mean, some things really come to an end, but ... I think you'll be happy with the ending."

The final two episodes air Wednesdays at 9/8c on The WB.

Angel took four Saturn Awards last week (see above.)

Zap2it is throwing a Farewell to Angel Sweepstakes (ends 5/28/04) by giving away the first three seasons on DVD, with winners to be selected on or around July 16, 2004 -,1146,movies-21418,00.html

eXoNews Angel Fan Poll -

Iraq War Blues?

LOS ANGELES May 5, 2004 (Reuters) - Television producer Steven Bochco, co-creator of landmark cop shows "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue," has signed a deal to develop a war drama set in Iraq for the FX cable network, his production company said on Wednesday.

The as-yet untitled hour-long show would mark Bochco's first series for a basic cable network, a spokeswoman for Steven Bochco Productions said.

The Emmy-winning producer is teaming up with feature screenwriter Chris Gerolmo ("Mississippi Burning") to develop the script, she said. 

Details of the projected series were sketchy.

But entertainment trade paper Daily Variety reported the network is looking for a weekly character-driven contemporary drama that explores the lives of men and women in uniform both on and off the battlefield. 

The project will be produced by Bochco's company in conjunction with Paramount Network Television, where he has a development deal.

Paramount also produced last year's original TV movie "The Pentagon Papers" for FX, home to the police series "The Shield" and the plastic surgery drama "Nip/Tuck." 

Given the edgy nature of those two shows and Bochco's gritty portrayals of police work on "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue," his latest project promises to deliver an unflinching depiction of modern combat. 

For now, FX has ordered a script but has not yet given approval for production of the series, the Bochco spokeswoman said. Bochco's other credits include "L.A. Law," "Doogie Howser, M.D." and "City of Angels." 

FX is part of the Fox Entertainment Group Inc., which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Ltd.

Steve Martin Inherits the Panther
By Kenneth Barry 

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Comic actor Steve Martin will star as a new Inspector Clouseau in a fresh "Pink Panther" movie due out next summer, the film's makers said on Friday.

Martin, who will be starring alongside Beyonce and Oscar-winner Kevin Kline, said he was intimidated at first by the thought of following in actor Peter Sellers' stumbling footsteps as the hapless Clouseau, but he got over it. 

"They have different James Bonds," he quipped at a news conference on Friday. 

Others in the cast of the MGM Pictures film that should reach movie houses by next summer include French actor Jean Reno and Tony Award-winning actress Kristin Chenoweth. 

The movie will steer clear of prickly U.S.-French politics, the film's makers said.

Shooting could start next week in Manhattan, then will move to Paris, according to producer Robert Simonds. 

The original 1964 "The Pink Panther" was directed by Blake Edwards and featured Sellers, who immortalized the clumsy Clouseau character with slapstick and sight gags. It spawned several sequels and also introduced the mischievous but lovable cartoon pink panther. 

Martin is co-writing the script for the upcoming "The Pink Panther" as well as playing Clouseau. 

Beyonce will play a pop singer and Clouseau's love interest.
While Martin grew up with memories of the "Pink Panther" movies, Beyonce said her familiarity was mostly with the cartoon version pink panther. 

Director Shawn Levy, who steered Martin through the commercially successful comedy, "Cheaper by the Dozen," promised the "Pink Panther" would be updated for contemporary viewers. 

"Clouseau is still this bumbling, absurd character, but he now is at the mercy of today's technology, things that weren't around 30 or 40 years ago. There are a lot of new play things for Clouseau to screw up," Levy said. 

The popular "Pink Panther" theme music composed by the late Henry Mancini will be preserved and also get a new interpretation, he said. 

Kline will be playing Clouseau's boss, while Reno will play Clouseau's police assistant, taking on aspects of the sidekick role of Cato, Sellers' Asian valet in the original, who made surprise attacks on the inspector to keep his faculties sharp.

Christopher Reeve to Direct 'Ellison' for A&E
By Andrew Wallenstein

Hollywood May 3, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - Christopher Reeve has been tapped to direct an A&E original film about a quadriplegic who becomes a Harvard University honors student.

Reeve was already attached as co-producer on "Brooke Ellison," which is based on a true story of a young girl who becomes a quadriplegic at age 11 but goes on to great achievements with help from her family.

"There is an obvious personal involvement and interest in his telling the story," said Bob DeBitetto, senior vp programming at A&E.

Pooh Family Wants Disney Judge Ousted
By Peter Henderson

LOS ANGELES May 6, 2004 (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Judge who dismissed a widely watched royalty lawsuit over Winnie the Pooh in March had undisclosed ties to Walt Disney Co. and should disqualify himself and reopen the case, the family that had sued Disney argued in court documents filed on Thursday. 

Lawyers for Stephen Slesinger Inc., the family firm with U.S. merchandising rights to the honey-loving bear created by British author A.A. Milne, said in a motion filed on Thursday that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy had praised Disney as a "joyous" and "profitable" company in a book he wrote on innovation. 

The Slesingers, who claim that Disney has short-changed them on millions of dollars in royalties over decades, also said that a former Disney lawyer had joined the judge's former law firm and worked on the Pooh case. 

As a result of his ties and apparent bias in favor of Disney, McCoy should not have heard the case and should disqualify himself, vacating his judgment, the motion argued. 

Disney lawyer Daniel Petrocelli flatly denied that.

"The motion is utterly groundless and was trumped up after the Slesingers lost the case," Petrocelli told Reuters. 

The Slesinger family said it was treated unfairly by McCoy. "His decision will add to Disney's profits, but is it just and unbiased? We say no," they said in a statement. 

McCoy took over the 13-year-old suit last year and at the end of March dismissed it in a strongly-worded decision, saying the Slesingers had lied and stolen evidence. 

A previous judge had ruled that Disney destroyed documents in the acrimonious case. 

McCoy's decision was a major victory for Disney, which had said a loss could cost it hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Slesinger in the Thursday motion argued that McCoy, who heads the complex litigation section of the Los Angeles Superior Court, should be disqualified because the former Disney counsel Louis Meisinger had begun to work at McCoy's former law firm, Sheppard Mullin, in February 2003. 

Meisinger then consulted on the Winnie the Pooh case on Disney's behalf, Slesinger's lawyers said. 

But Meisinger said in a declaration that he had not been working for the judge's former law firm when he was hired by Disney on the Pooh case. 

Daniel Petrocelli, the chief lawyer arguing the case for Disney, also said in a letter to the judge that McCoy's former firm, Sheppard Mullin, had "played no role whatsoever in this litigation." 

The judge himself had left the law firm in 1992 but had recused himself from cases involving the law firm in 1997 and 1998, the Slesinger brief said. 

Petrocelli said in his written response that McCoy had left Sheppard Mullin so long ago that it was not a conflict of interest. 

The Slesinger motion also said McCoy praised Disney in a book he wrote. In "Why Didn't I Think of That? Think the Unthinkable and Achieve Creative Greatness," published in 2002, McCoy called Disney "one of the most joyous and profitable places on earth," according to a phrase quoted in the motion. 

"A person aware of these facts 'might reasonably entertain a doubt that the judge would be impartial,"' Slesinger lawyer Ron Wasserman wrote in the motion filed on Thursday, asking that McCoy recuse himself or be disqualified, that his motion be vacated and that the case be reassigned.

Wasserman told Reuters the judge had 10 days to respond to the filing.

Jack & Bobby

LOS ANGELES May 6, 2004 ( - The WB is getting a jump on its upfront presentation to advertisers later this month by picking up 13 episodes of the drama "Jack & Bobby."

The series, which comes from "Everwood" creator Greg Berlanti and one of that show's writers, Vanessa Taylor, will chronicle the lives of two teenage brothers, Jack and Bobby McCallister. One of them -- the network isn't saying which one -- is destined to become president by mid-century.

Newcomer Matt Long plays Jack, while Logan Lerman ("The Butterfly Effect") plays Bobby. Christine Lahti ("Chicago Hope") plays Grace, their offbeat single mother; her husband, Emmy winner Thomas Schlamme ("The West Wing"), is an executive producer with Berlanti, Taylor and Mickey Liddell.

Jordan Levin, co-CEO of The WB, calls the show "the ultimate aspirational vehicle."

"['Jack & Bobby'] combines the talents of Greg Berlanti and Thomas Schlamme and a great cast starring Christine Lahti, Matt Long and Logan Lerman," Levin says. "Greg's incredible ability to create poignant dramatic storytelling within a youthful dynamic and Thomas' incomparable expertise in translating the political arena to television have made this a very special project."

The show is the first of The WB's drama pilots to get a series order for the 2004-05 season. The network has picked up a sketch-comedy show from Jeff Foxworthy that's likely to premiere during the summer.

"Jack & Bobby" will be primarily set in the present day, with Grace's forceful personality exerting a powerful influence on the brothers. It will also include flash-forward segments that feature interviews with President McCallister's White House staff and his first lady.

John Slattery ("Ed"), Jessica Pare ("Lost and Delirious") and Edwin Hodge ("The Alamo") also star in the series. David Nutter ("The X-Files," "Smallville") directed the pilot.

[There seems to be some confusion about this series - CNN reported this week that the show was about Jack and Bobby Kennedy as teenagers. And note to CEO Jordan Levin, there is no English word "aspirational". Still, we hope this show will be everything it is aspiring to be and not just another Tarzan.  :o)> Ed.]

TV Series Finale Tradition Slow to Evolve
By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES May 6, 2004 (Reuters) - NBC's highly promoted "Friends" farewell on Thursday follows a prime-time tradition and marketing strategy dating back just 20 years, when programmers abandoned a long-held theory that big-event finales were bad for business.

While it may be hard to imagine in today's world of 24-hour entertainment hype, sitcoms and drama series - from "I Love Lucy" to "Gunsmoke" - tended to end their network runs on a rather nondescript note during television's first few decades. 

"During the 1950s and '60s, the spectacular was always the one-time only show. It was something like a 'Peter Pan' or some major variety special that could attract big audiences," said Ron Simon, TV curator at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York.

"When you said the word 'spectacular,' or 'special event,' you never thought in terms of the series finale." 

The modern era of blockbuster finales is widely regarded as having started with the record-shattering "M*A*S*H" farewell in 1983, though experts point to the sensational August 1967 conclusion to "The Fugitive" as the prototype for all TV swan songs that followed. 

In what became the highest-rated single episode of any series to that date, 72 percent of the viewing audience tuned in to see Dr. Richard Kimble (played by David Janssen) exonerated of murdering his wife as he finally confronted the elusive one-armed killer he had pursued for four seasons. 

Surprisingly, the phenomenon of "The Fugitive" finale on ABC was shrugged off by many TV executives as a rare exception predicated by that show's then-uniquely serialized premise. 

At that time, TV producers generally thought it best for sitcoms and drama series to end their runs without a climactic or conclusive ending. Neatly tying up loose ends was seen as diminishing a show's rerun value in syndication. 


Even the goofball comedy "Gilligan's Island" came to an end with its seven co-stars left marooned on a desert island. It took a two-part reunion special 11 years later to finally return the castaways to civilization. 

"The old network wisdom was that television series were supposed to be about a big giant center, with no real beginning and certainly no end," said Robert Thompson, head of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television. "Well that turned out to be absolutely false."

The celebrated finale to the long-running hit CBS comedy "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" 10 years later - in which new management took over the fictional WJM-TV station and fired the entire news staff, except for inept anchor Ted Baxter - was widely hailed as a brilliant series conclusion. 

But the episode, best remembered for the scene in which the cast all shuffle over to Mary's desk to retrieve a box of tissues in the midst of a group hug, stayed true to the show's usual half-hour format. 

It would be another five-plus years before the mother of all TV farewells - the "M*A*S*H" conclusion on CBS on Feb. 28, 1983 - ushered in the current golden age of TV finales with a 2 1/2-hour send-off that was seen by nearly 106 million viewers and still stands as the most watched U.S. telecast ever. 

Bringing down the curtain after 11 seasons on the air, Alan Alda and rest of the 4077th mobile hospital unit finally welcome the end of the Korean War, but not before Alda's Hawkeye Pierce suffers a nervous breakdown. Ironically, the cross-dressing Klinger, always the most eager to get out of the Army, stays behind to marry a Korean woman. 

A decade later, Ted Danson's Sam Malone quietly turned off the lights as the "Cheers" bar closed for the last time to end that show's 11-year run.

Apparently drunken cast members appeared later that night on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," marking the first time a series finale crossed the boundaries of the show itself to spill over into other programs.

Finale fever reached a new crescendo in 1998 when "Seinfeld" signed off the NBC schedule with the show's four self-centered central characters sentenced to a year in jail for "doing nothing" to stop a crime. 

One of the more unusual network finales of all time was the 1990 last episode of "Newhart." The show's star, Bob Newhart, wakes up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette, the TV wife from his previous sitcom, "The Bob Newhart Show," and tells her the strange dream he just had about running a Vermont country inn - the whole premise of "Newhart." 

In a similar vein, but one that angered some fans of the hospital show "St. Elsewhere," that show ended with a surreal scene in which the entire six seasons appeared to have been a figment of an autistic child's imagination.

Last Exit for Hubert Selby

Los Angeles May 2, 2004 (Variety) - Hubert Selby Jr., author of "Last Exit to Brooklyn" and "Requiem for a Dream," died Monday, April 26 of a lung disease. He was 75. 

Born in New York City, Selby's experience among Brooklyn's gritty longshoremen, homeless and the down-and-out formed the basis for his lauded but controversial 1964 novel "Last Exit to Brooklyn," which was made into a film in 1989. 

He was known for his masterful use of street language and authentic portrayals of downtrodden characters. 

His lung disease was a complication of the tuberculosis he first contracted while serving at sea in WWII. He became addicted to morphine after his hospitalization and took up writing after the war. 

While he had firsthand experience with the addictions that figured in his novels, his wife said he always wrote while sober and had not had any alcohol or any drugs since 1969. However, he suffered from depression and would fly into rages at times. 

Selby shared screenwriting credit on the 2000 film version of his 1978 novel "Requiem for a Dream," a harrowing look inside a family's many addictions. His other novels include "The Room" (1971), "The Demon" (1976), "The Willow Tree" (1998) and a 1986 collection of short stories "Song of the Silent Snow." 

Selby continued to work on screenplays and teach at USC until he was hospitalized last month. 

He is survived by his wife Suzanne, four children and 11 grandchildren.

[As a fan of his novels, I had the good fortune to attend a reading by Mr. Selby in a small LA bar/pool hall many years ago and he was an inspiration. Unlike his longshoreman protagonist from Last Exit to Brooklyn, Selby was a small, shy man. His words glowed with intelligence and insight and he will be missed. Ed.]

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