Nonproliferation!
White Dwarf, Red Headband
First Exoplanet! Geobioreactors
Pollution, TV Pop-ups & More!
Nuclear Nonproliferation

Mayors Itcho Ito from Nagasaki, center, and
Tadatoshi Akiba from Hiroshima, second right,
along with survivors march in New York City
on Sunday, May 1, 2005, to commemorate the
dropping of atomic bombs on Japan 60 years
ago and to show support for the anti-nuclear
proliferation act, soon to be reviewed by the
U.N. (AP Photo/ John Smock)

UN Reviews Nuke Treaty
By CHARLES J. HANLEY
AP Special Correspondent

UNITED NATIONS May 2, 2005 (AP) - For the seventh time since it took force in 1970, the world's nations gather Monday to reassess how well the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is keeping the lid on man's most terrible weapons.

The delegations from almost 190 governments begin their month long NPT review at a moment of growing nuclear fear and mistrust in the world.

North Korea, which declared its withdrawal from the treaty in 2003 and claims to have built nuclear bombs, said this weekend it was giving up negotiating over its weapons program with a Bush-led United States. It was another blow to the suspended six-party talks aimed at bringing Pyongyang back into the NPT.

Iran, meanwhile, said it will probably restart operations this week related to its disputed uranium enrichment program, which Washington contends is a cover for nuclear weapons plans.

Many other governments, on the other hand, complain the United States and other big powers are moving too slowly toward scrapping their nuclear arms under the NPT.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the conference's leadoff speaker, has warned of a "crisis of confidence" in the nuclear pact.


Big Bad! US and Russian atomic testing inspired
the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

In March, he proposed that states forbidden the weapons agree to toughened international inspection standards to verify they're not trying to make atom bombs. But he also said the nuclear powers, those whose weapons are provisionally accepted by the NPT, "must do more" to reduce their arsenals in an open, irreversible way.

Mohamad ElBaradei, head of the U.N. nuclear agency, who was also addressing the conference opening, has proposed nonproliferation measures in another area: putting nuclear fuel production under multilateral control, by regional or international bodies.

The "nuclear fuel cycle" is key to suspicions about Iran's intentions. The NPT's Article IV guarantees nonweapons states the right to peaceful nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment equipment to produce fuel for nuclear power plants. But that same technology, with further enrichment, can produce material for nuclear bombs.

The Tehran government, which denies it plans to convert uranium for weapons, is in off-and-on talks with European negotiators about shutting down its enrichment operations. But the "Article IV loophole" is still expected to be a major issue before the NPT conference.

The 35-year-old nonproliferation treaty obliges 183 states to forswear nuclear arms in exchange for a pledge by five nuclear powers the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China to move toward nuclear disarmament. Three other nuclear-armed states Israel, India and Pakistan remain outside the treaty.


Despite US attempts to block new
weapons programs in Iran and
North Korea, most of the world
remembers who started the A-
bomb race in the first place. A
mock Statue of Liberty looking
out from inside a bomb is part
of a Greenpeace nuke protest
in Berlin on Monday, May 2nd.
(AP Photo/ Jockel Finck)

Treaty reviews take place every five years, and at the 2000 conference the consensus final document committed the five NPT nuclear states to take 13 "practical steps" toward disarmament. Many non-nuclear states now want the 2005 conference to address what they say is the Bush administration's failure by rejecting the nuclear test-ban treaty, for example to meet that commitment.

For its part, the Bush administration says the conference should focus on what to do about Iran and North Korea, which was able to withdraw from the treaty, and purportedly build atomic weapons, without penalty.

This clash of priorities stalled efforts to set a full agenda for the 2005 meeting. The conference president, Brazilian diplomat Sergio de Queiroz Duarte, said Sunday the agenda may not be completed until several days into the sessions, but "everyone is working constructively in that direction."

To anti-nuclear protester Akemi Hatano, 66, marching with hundreds of others past the United Nations on Sunday, such disputes are trivial.

"I'm angry at any country that possesses nuclear weapons. They must all be abolished," said the tiny woman, who as a 7-year-old survived when 160,000 of her neighbors were killed or wounded in the U.S. nuclear bombing of her Japanese hometown, Hiroshima.

Earth-Penetrating Nukes Bad!
National Academies News Release

WASHINGTON April 27, 2005 - A nuclear weapon that is exploded underground can destroy a deeply buried bunker efficiently and requires significantly less power to do so than a nuclear weapon detonated on the surface would, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council.


Also Big Bad! The Pentagon has a growing
collection of high precision conventional
weapons capable of defeating hardened
targets. In this sled-driven test, the GBU-28
laser guided bomb with its improved
BLU-113 warhead penetrates several
meters of reinforced concrete. (FAS)

However, such "earth-penetrating" nuclear weapons cannot go deep enough to avoid massive casualties at ground level, and they could still kill up to a million people or more if used in heavily populated areas, said the committee that wrote the report.

"Using an earth-penetrating weapon to destroy a target 250 meters deep - the typical depth for most underground facilities - potentially could kill a devastatingly large number of people," said John F. Ahearne, committee chair and director of the ethics program at the Sigma Xi Center of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Many countries use underground facilities to conceal and protect military personnel, weapons, and equipment. Most of these facilities are beyond the reach of conventional explosive weapons and can be destroyed only by nuclear weapons. Earth-penetrating weapons have been considered as an alternative to conventional nuclear weapons because they could destroy such targets with up to 25 times less energy than weapons detonated at the surface.

The weapons' lower power would produce two to 10 times fewer surface casualties, but they still would lead to a large number of deaths and injuries, the report says. Fatalities could be further reduced if military commanders warned of an attack in time for people to evacuate. Commanders could also take advantage of wind conditions to minimize civilians' exposure to fallout. But a nuclear weapon burst in a densely populated urban area will always result in a large number of casualties, the committee emphasized.


A B2 bomber releases an unarmed B61-11
earth-penetrating bomb during tests in
Alaska. Despite falling from an altitude of
40,000 feet, this bomb burrowed only
approximately 20 feet into the soil. Any
nuclear blast at this shallow depth would
not be contained, and would produce
intense local fallout. (FAS)

Most of the weapons' destructive effect on a target is achieved at a depth of three meters. Beyond that depth, the weapon may fail, the committee said. Significant explosive power is needed to destroy targets located as deep as 400 meters, the report notes. For example, a 300-kiloton earth-penetrating nuclear weapon has a high probability of destroying a target 200 meters below, but a 1-megaton weapon is needed to destroy a 300-meter-deep facility.

The committee also examined the possible effects of using conventional or nuclear weapons to destroy chemical and biological weapons depots. Except for the BLU-118B thermobaric bomb - a conventional bomb that can target a shallowly buried facility and destroy it with high pressure and heat - conventional weapons are not likely to be effective in destroying chemical or biological agents, the report says.

In a nuclear attack on a chemical weapons facility, far more civilian deaths will likely be caused by the nuclear blast itself than by the resulting dispersal of chemical agents. In contrast, the release of as little as 0.1 kilogram of anthrax spores, for example, would result in a number of fatalities similar to those caused by a 3-kiloton earth-penetrating nuclear weapon.

2001 Federation of American Scientists' Report - http://www.fas.org/faspir/2001/v54n1/weapons.htm

The National Academies - http://national-academies.org

eXoNews Pix of the Week Dept.
Paris In The Spring?
  

A Warner Bros. studio employee wears a promotional T-shirt for the studio's new horror film 'House of Wax,' making reference to a scene in which actress Paris Hilton dies, at the premiere of the new film April 26, 2005, in Los Angeles. The remake of the classic 1953 horror film opens in the United States on May 6. (Fred Prouser/ Reuters) [eXoNews would like to see Paris Hilton disappear forever, but we in no way endorse her death, anti-French sentiments of any kind, or what looks like another bad remake of a renown classic film. Ed.]

White Dwarf

The Chandra image shows Mira A (right), a highly evolved
red giant star, and Mira B (left), a white dwarf. (NASA)

Chandra X-ray Center News Release

April 28, 2005 - For the first time an X-ray image of a pair of interacting stars has been made by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

The ability to distinguish between the interacting stars one a highly evolved giant star and the other likely a white dwarf allowed a team of scientists to observe an X-ray outburst from the giant star and find evidence that a bridge of hot matter is streaming between the two stars.

"Before this observation it was assumed that all the X-rays came from a hot disk surrounding a white dwarf, so the detection of an X-ray outburst from the giant star came as a surprise," said Margarita Karovska of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., and lead author article in the latest Astrophysical Journal Letters describing this work. An ultraviolet image made by the Hubble Space Telescope was a key to identifying the location of the X-ray outburst with the giant star.

X-ray studies of this system, called Mira AB, may also provide better understanding of interactions between other binary systems consisting of a "normal" star and a collapsed star such as a white dwarf, black hole or a neutron star, where the individual stellar objects and gas flow cannot be distinguished in an image.

The separation of the X-rays from the giant star and the white dwarf was made possible by the superb angular resolution of Chandra, and the relative proximity of the star system at about 420 light years from Earth. The stars in Mira AB are about 6.5 billion miles apart, or almost twice the distance of Pluto from the Sun.


Artist's conception of the Mira AB star system (NASA)

Mira A (Mira) was named "The Wonderful" star in the 17th century because its brightness was observed to wax and wane over a period of about 330 days. Because it is in the advanced, red giant phase of a star's life, it has swollen to about 600 times that of the Sun and it is pulsating. Mira A is now approaching the stage where its nuclear fuel supply will be exhausted, and it will collapse to become a white dwarf.

The internal turmoil in Mira A could create magnetic disturbances in the upper atmosphere of the star and lead to the observed X-ray outbursts, as well as the rapid loss of material from the star in a blustery, strong, stellar wind. Some of the gas and dust escaping from Mira A is captured by its companion Mira B.

In stark contrast to Mira A, Mira B is thought to be a white dwarf star about the size of the Earth. Some of the material in the wind from Mira A is captured in an accretion disk around Mira B, where collisions between rapidly moving particles produce X-rays.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the observations of Mira AB at both X-ray and ultraviolet wavelengths is the evidence for a faint bridge of material joining the two stars. The existence of a bridge would indicate that, in addition to capturing material from the stellar wind, Mira B is also pulling material directly off Mira A into the accretion disk.

Chandra observed Mira with its Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer on December 6, 2003 for about 19 hours. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Northrop Grumman of Redondo Beach, Calif., was the prime development contractor for the observatory. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls science and flight operations from the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.

Chandra X-ray Center - http://cfa-www.harvard.edu

Red Headband of Comoros

The evil spirit of Karthala, sometimes
appearing as tall as a house, or even,
deceptively, as a dwarf. (eXoNews)

By Matthew Green

IDGIKOUNDZI Comoros April 29, 2005 (Reuters) - Nobody has ever seen him and lived.

Quite how the ancestors ever verified the existence of "Red Headband" -- the Indian Ocean's answer to Big Foot, the Yeti and the Loch Ness monster -- is thus a mystery.

What is clear is that when a volcano erupted on the largest island in the Comoros archipelago on April 17, an old story gained a new twist.

Since time began, an evil spirit which appears as a giant human wearing his eponymous red headband has stalked the crater at the summit of Mount Karthala, sometimes appearing as tall as a house, or even, deceptively, as a dwarf.

That's only when he's viewed from very far away.

"When people leave the village and they don't come back, we suspect they have seen Red Headband," said Ibrahim Ali, 60, a farmer from the mountain village of Idgikoundzi, where night fell early and rain turned black during the eruption.

"Some people say they have seen him, and he looks like a giant," he said, sitting with other elders in the cotton robes common in the Comoros, introduced to Islam by Arab traders seeking ylang ylang and vanilla in centuries past.

Few in the village of corrugated iron huts, bleating goats and pecking chickens -- including those telling the story -- give much credence to the legend nowadays, but they do remember the tale of the spirit's most famous victims.

"A very long time ago, seven hunters went looking for deer near the summit," said Ali. "Only their skeletons were found. Local people covered them over with rocks."

Poison gas seeping from the bowels of Karthala killed 17 people a century ago, and many fear a repeat performance today by a volcano that dominates the Grande Comore island off east Africa and has erupted periodically in past decades.

The ancestors, however, would not accept such a pedestrian explanation for the deaths of their brothers on a summit that overshadows the capital Moroni and whose ash nourishes the tropical spices flowering on its flanks.

"If they died up in that place, they must have been killed by Red Headband," said Ali, perched on a ledge of rock with a view up to the cloud-ringed summit, and over crusted rivers of ancient lava tumbling into the sea below.

Such lore is as common as the volcanoes spat out in the geological convulsions that tore the north-south crack in Africa known as the Great Rift Valley more than 30 million years ago, but perhaps only Comoros can boast of adding a footnote to its story that is still in living memory.

SPIRITS IN CONGO, GOD IN TANZANIA

While every eruption takes just a nanosecond in geological time, the slow-motion groans and shivers of tectonic plates rarely give humans a chance to embellish tribal culture that takes generations to refine.

Elders in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo blamed an eruption in January 2002 that razed much of the city of Goma with lava on malignant ancestral spirits living in the Nyiragongo volcano, saying they sometimes floated over the peak in the form of white figures.

That explanation was just a rehash of old fireside tales and traditional African ancestor worship, even if they attributed the latest bout of ghostly wrath to years of civil war then raging in the former Zaire.


Red-cloaked Masai

The red-cloaked Masai of Kenya and Tanzania, who tend cattle wandering between volcanoes steaming on the Rift Valley floor, also have little new to add to their myths.

Masai legend has it that the Ngong hills outside the capital Nairobi were created when a giant wandering across the plains tripped, gouging the knuckle-shaped range out of the ground with his fist as he broke his fall. That was many generations ago indeed, and the mountains are unchanged.

The still active Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano in the north of neighboring Tanzania is venerated by Masai as the home of God, and always has been. There's nothing new there.

Unlike other countries with geographies shaped by the white hot crush of rock and magma, Comoros has been granted the rare chance for a volcano myth update.

The graves of the seven hunters may be no more.

Karthala's first eruption for a decade not only forced 10,000 people to flee, but may also have destroyed the warriors' resting place as chunks of the crater walls collapsed into a caldron of lava, providing a cataclysmic epilogue for their deaths so many centuries ago.

"We're wondering whether they may have been entombed by the last eruption," Ali said. Unsmiling, the other elders just nodded.

Exploding Toads

Toads explode? (AFP)

By MATT SURMAN
Associated Press Writer

BERLIN April 29, 2005 (AP) - Why are toads puffing up and spontaneously exploding in northern Europe? It began in a posh German neighborhood and has spread across the border into Denmark. It's left onlookers baffled, but one German scientist studying the splattered amphibian remains now has a theory: Hungry crows may be pecking out their livers.

"The crows are clever," said Frank Mutschmann, a Berlin veterinarian who collected and tested specimens at the Hamburg pond. "They learn quickly from watching other crows how to get the livers."

So far, more than 1,000 toad corpses have been found at a pond in Hamburg and in Denmark. But the pond water in Hamburg has been tested, and its quality is no better or worse than elsewhere in the city. The remains have been checked for a virus or bacteria, but none has been found.

Based on the wounds, Mutschmann said, it appears that a bird pecks into the toad with its beak between the amphibian's chest and abdominal cavity, and the toad puffs itself up as a natural defense mechanism. But, because the liver is missing and there's a hole in the toad's body, the blood vessels and lungs burst and the other organs ooze out, he said.

As gruesome as it sounds, it isn't actually that unusual, he said.

"It's not unique it's in a city area, and that makes it spectacular," Mutschmann said. "Of course, it's something very dramatic."

There have also been reports of exploded toads in a pond near Laasby in central Jutland in Denmark. Local environmental workers in Hamburg have described it as a scene out of a horror or science fiction movie, with the bloated frogs agonizing and twitching for several minutes, inflating like a balloon before suddenly bursting.

"It's horrible," biologist Heidi Mayerhoefer was quoted as telling the Hamburger Morgenpost daily. "The toads burst, the entrails slide out. But the animal isn't immediately dead they keep struggling for several minutes."

Hamburg's Institute for Hygiene and the Environment regularly tests water quality in the city, and found no evidence that the toads were diseased. The institute even ruled out that the toads were suffering because of a fungus brought in from South America. Other theories have been that horses on a nearby track infected them with a virus, or even that the toads are taking the selfless way out sacrificing themselves by suicide to save others from overpopulation.

Could hungry crows be a reasonable answer?

"We haven't seen that. It might be, it might not be," said institute spokeswoman Janne Kloepper. "It's speculation," until it's observed, she said.

Local officials in Hamburg were advising residents to stay away from the pond dubbed by German tabloids, "the death pool."

First Exoplanet Confirmed

The first planet outside of our solar system to be imaged
orbits a brown dwarf (center-right) at a distance that is
nearly twice as far as Neptune is from the sun. (ESO)

European Southern Observatory News Release

April 30, 2005 - An international team of astronomers reports today confirmation of the discovery of a giant planet, approximately five times the mass of Jupiter, that is gravitationally bound to a young brown dwarf. This puts an end to a year long discussion on the nature of this object, which started with the detection of a red object close to the brown dwarf.

In February and March of this year, the astronomers took new images of the young brown dwarf and its giant planet companion with the state-of-the-art NACO instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. The planet is near the southern constellation of Hydra and approximately 200 light years from Earth.

"Our new images show convincingly that this really is a planet, the first planet that has ever been imaged outside of our solar system," tells Gael Chauvin, astronomer at ESO and leader of the team of astronomers who conducted the study.

"The two objects - the giant planet and the young brown dwarf - are moving together; we have observed them for a year, and the new images essentially confirm our 2004 finding," says Benjamin Zuckerman, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, member of NASA's Astrobiology Institute, and a member of the team. "I'm more than 99 percent confident." The separation between the planet and the brown dwarf is 55 times the separation of the Earth and Sun.

Anne-Marie Lagrange, another member of the team from the Grenoble Observatory in France, looks towards the future: "Our discovery represents a first step towards one of the most important goals of modern astrophysics: to characterize the physical structure and chemical composition of giant and, eventually, terrestrial-like planets."

Last September, the same team of astronomers reported a faint reddish speck of light in the close vicinity of a young brown dwarf (see ESO PR 23/04). The feeble object, now called 2M1207b, is more than 100 times fainter than the brown dwarf, 2M1207A. The spectrum of 2M1207b presents a strong signature of water molecules, thereby confirming that it must be cold. Based on the infrared colors and the spectral data, evolutionary model calculations led to the conclusion that 2M1207b is a 5 Jupiter-mass planet. Its mass can be estimated also by use of a different method of analysis, which focuses on the strength of its gravitational field; this technique suggests that the mass might be even less than 5 Jupiters.


An artist's rendering of the first planet outside of our solar
system to be imaged orbiting a brown dwarf (right). The
giant planet is approximately five times the mass of Jupiter.
Both objects are believed to be very young, less than 10
million years old. The brown dwarf is still surrounded by
a circumstellar disc. (ESO)

At the time of its discovery in April 2004, it was impossible to prove that the faint source is not a background object (such as an unusual galaxy or a peculiar cool star with abnormal infrared colors), even though this appeared very unlikely. Observations with the Hubble Space Telescope, obtained in August 2004, corroborated the VLT/NACO observations, but were taken too soon after the NACO ones to conclusively demonstrate that the faint source is a planet.

The new observations show with high confidence that the two objects are moving together and hence are gravitationally bound.

"Given the rather unusual properties of the 2M1207 system, the giant planet most probably did not form like the planets in our solar system," says Gael Chauvin. "Instead it must have formed the same way our Sun formed, by a one-step gravitational collapse of a cloud of gas and dust."

The paper describing this research has been accepted for publication in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The same European/American team has had another paper just accepted for publication in Astronomy & Astrophysics; this paper reports the imaging discovery with the same VLT/NACO instrumentation of a lightweight companion to AB Pictoris, a young star located about 150 light years from Earth. The estimated mass of the companion is between 13 and 14 times the mass of Jupiter, which places the companion right on the border line between massive planets and the lowest mass brown dwarfs.

European Southern Observatory - http://www.eso.org

Kaktovik Eskimos Flip on ANWR-drilling
By Yereth Rosen
Reuters

Kaktovik children (www.anwr.org)

ANCHORAGE April 29, 2005 (Reuters) An Eskimo village on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain has long supported oil drilling there, but some residents are now opposing the controversial drilling plan embraced by President Bush and most Alaska politicians.

Many residents of the Inupiat Eskimo village of Kaktovik, the only settlement in the refuge's coastal area, are rethinking their support because of potential threats to migrating whales and other sea life from offshore drilling activity in the Beaufort Sea, said Stephen Haycox, a professor of history at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The emerging Kaktovik dissent is "a major crack in what has been so far a pretty solid front" in favor of drilling, Haycox said, "I think it's highly significant and I think it's going to weaken the ANWR-drill advocates in Congress."

Robert Thompson, a local tour operator who organized a petition drive opposing refuge development, said that offshore drilling in the remote, ice-bound Beaufort is feasible only if it is linked to some onshore oil-field infrastructure.

Thompson's petition gained 57 signatures, a large number for a village of 284. "The last election, 98 people voted, so presumably if there were an election, 57 people could conceivably be a majority," he said.


White owl on Alaskan pipeline (www.anwr.org)

Oddly enough, the villagers' support is wavering in part because of Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski's ardent advocacy of offshore drilling.

The Republican governor ended some no-leasing restrictions placed on certain Beaufort Sea sites considered important to Inupiat whalers. He celebrated a March 30 federal lease sale, in which oil companies bid $46.7 million for rights to explore the Beaufort Sea, including in areas directly offshore of Kaktovik and the Arctic refuge.

If Kaktovik residents oppose ANWR development, they do so despite their own financial interests.

Villagers are shareholders in corporations that own surface and mineral rights to about 92,000 acres on the coastal plain.

Inupiat Eskimos from across the North Slope have cited the potential economic boon from oil production as justification for ANWR drilling support.

Political leaders in Kaktovik have said they would only support drilling as long as it did not threaten their livelihood.

"We can support development of the (coastal plain), provided it is done with certain conditions met, conditions that assure we are empowered by law to protect our interests, including our access to those lands and waters on which we depend," the mayor and city council said in an April 19 letter to Alaska's Congressional delegation.

Geobioreactors

Kureczka/Martin Associates News Release

DENVER April 28, 2005 - Luca Technologies LLC today announced that its researchers have confirmed the presence of a resident, methane-generating community of microorganisms ("microbial consortium") in substrate samples taken from the 110,000 acre Monument Butte oilfield located in North Eastern Utah.

This site represents the latest in a series of active "Geobioreactors TM" that Luca Technologies has identified since its first demonstration of this phenomenon in the Powder River Basin coalfields of Wyoming.

Geobioreactors are sites where microbial conversion of underground hydrocarbon deposits (oil, oil shales, and coal) to methane is ongoing. Such Geobioreactors may offer the potential of turning currently finite energy reserves into methane "farms" capable of long-term, sustainable energy generation.

"The hydrocarbon resources available in the Monument Butte oilfield are very large, making the possibility of shifting from oil production to the ongoing farming of clean, natural gas an attractive consideration," said Robert Pfeiffer, president and chief executive officer of Luca Technologies. He noted that the Monument Butte site was one of six oil fields across the United States that Luca has been studying.

The company has demonstrated two of those sites to be robust, methane-generating Geobioreactors, and two to be less actively generating methane. Three additional sites are not currently active but may have the potential to be turned into active Geobioreactors through cross-inoculation with microbial consortia from active sites.

Luca scientists have also begun to isolate and identify particular members of the Monument Butte microbial consortium. Through partial DNA sequence analysis, the company has identified Clostridia and Thermatoga as two of the key members of this consortium. Clostridia form a broad genus of bacteria known for their diverse metabolic pathways. Clostridia frequently thrive in anaerobic environments and many species are known for their heat tolerance. Thermatoga microorganisms are known to play a role in the anaerobic oxidation of hydrocarbons to alcohols, organic acids and carbon dioxide. Thermatoga also thrive in high temperature environments, such as those found in sub-surface oil wells.

"Oil within the Monument Butte field has a waxy composition that may facilitate the strong real-time methane generation we see at this site," commented Mr. Pfeiffer. "If so, then areas with large accumulations of waxy oil for example, the Daqing Field in Northeast China -- could prove to be important sites for the bioconversion of residual oil to methane and the restoration of these 'spent' sites to economic energy production."

Potential for Methane "Farming"

It has long been known that certain microorganisms are "methanogens" microbes that generate methane by metabolizing organic materials including various hydrocarbons. While it has also been generally accepted that many of the known methane deposits were produced by such organisms, most of this production was thought to have occurred millions of years ago, when the hydrocarbon deposits were less mature and closer to the surface of the earth.

Luca scientists, employing the tools of modern biotechnology and genomics, have now shown that living methane generating, microbial consortia are present and actively forming methane within some of these hydrocarbon substrates. In addition to demonstrating that methane formation by these microbes can be stimulated by the introduction of nutrients or suppressed by heat sterilization or the introduction of oxygen, Luca has shown that radio-labeled CO2 (carbon dioxide) introduced to these substrate samples is converted to radio-labeled methane. This demonstrates that the methane formation is the result of a biological process occurring today.

Luca is actively working to characterize Geobioreactors and the microbial consortia that populate them, as well as to understand the metabolic processes by which those consortia generate methane. The company expects to evaluate specific Geobioreactors and their potential for conversion to methane "farms," both through partnerships with active Operators in the oil and gas industry and potentially on its own. If successfully developed, Luca believes this approach has the potential to turn current finite energy resources into even more valuable resources for the long-term production of clean, sustainable energy.

Luca Technologies - http://www.lucatechnologies.com

Popemobile For Sale
ROME April 29, 2005 (Reuters) - A second hand car once said to be registered in the name of Joseph Kardinal Ratzinger -- the new Pope Benedict - is up for sale on eBay and the sky seems to be the limit when it comes to bidding.

The vehicle, a metallic gray 1999 Volkswagen Golf, went up for auction on the German site (www.ebay.de) at a minimum price of 9,900 euros ($12,790) Wednesday and, just over 24 hours and more than 300 bids later, the price had temporarily hit one million euros ($1.3 million).

German Web Site n-tv.de identified the seller as Benjamin Halbe, 21, from the town of Olpe in Germany's Sauerland region, who said he bought the car from a local dealer in January.

"It drives like heaven," the site quoted Halbe as saying.

The Web Site of the German newspaper Bild quoted an eBay spokeswoman in Germany as saying the online auctioneer had checked with the vehicle licensing office which had confirmed the name of the original owner was genuine.

Ratzinger, who is from Bavaria in southern Germany, has been at the Vatican for more than two decades and is not known to drive. The Vatican was not available for comment on the auction, which closes on May 5 at 7.30 p.m. (1730 GMT).

The auction site describes the vehicle as a two liter petrol-powered manual, with 75,000 km (47,000 miles) on the clock since it was first registered in March 1999.

"Does black smoke or white smoke come out of the exhaust pipe?" one posting on the site asked - a reference to the signal used at the Vatican to show whether a new pope has been elected by the secret conclave of cardinals.

"Very funny," was the reply.
Pollution in the USA!

US Air Pollution
By Ryan Pearson
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES April 28, 2005 (AP) Fewer Americans have had to breathe unhealthy levels of smog or microscopic soot in recent years, but air pollution remained a threat in counties where more than half the nation lives, the American Lung Association said in an annual report Thursday.

Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the group found that the number of counties in which unhealthy air was recorded fell significantly for the first time in six years, to 390 from 441 in last year's report.

The new report covered 2001 to 2003, while the previous one analyzed pollution levels from 2000 to 2002.

The association attributed the dip to cool and wet weather in the years studied, government controls on Eastern coal-fired power plants and improved vehicle emissions standards. Areas of the Southeast accounted for much of the drop in pollution.

But Janice Nolen, the group's director of national policy, emphasized that the counties where problems persist are home to 152 million people, or 52 percent of the U.S. population.

"People's lives are shortened by months to years because of the air they're breathing," she said. "The trend has gotten a little bit better in the last few years ... but we're not out of the woods."

Counties were considered to have unhealthy air if their pollution levels exceeded federal standards for an average of about three days a year.

Most of the violations were for ground-level ozone, a precursor to smog that causes respiratory illnesses that can be especially harmful to the elderly, children and people with asthma. Ozone pollution occurs when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides -- released when fossil fuels burn or chemicals evaporate -- combine with heat and sunlight.

California remains the nation's ozone capital, with nine of the top 10 most smog-choked counties. Five counties in Ohio and three in Pennsylvania also were among the 25 worst.

One in five Americans, meanwhile, face year-round unhealthy exposure to particulates, tiny soot from diesel-burning trucks, fireplaces, agriculture and other sources, the report found. It can lodge deep in the lungs and contribute to heart problems.

The EPA credited tougher standards for the drop in air pollution, including its 1998 rule requiring Eastern states to reduce power plant nitrogen oxide emissions. Impending emissions standards for trucks, cars and sport-utility vehicles will help cut pollution further, the agency said.

Conservatives and energy-industry groups have criticized the Lung Association's methodology, saying it's misleading to give counties "failing" grades for air pollution that might have been recorded at just one monitoring station.

"I wish they would do more informing and less scaring," said Ben Lieberman, a senior environment and energy policy analyst at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group.

US River Pollution
Duke University News Release

DURHAM NC April 28, 2005 - If the nation's increasingly polluted rivers are to be rehabilitated, the restoration projects must be better organized and coordinated, according to a national group of experts in the field.

To aid this coordination, the researchers have performed the first-ever analysis of currently available information, which they compiled in a database, called the National River Restoration Science Synthesis (NRRSS).

The 25 researchers reported their findings in an article in the Friday April 29, 2005, issue of the journal Science. First author of the policy paper was Duke University biologist Emily Bernhardt.

Assessing 37,099 NRRSS projects included as of July, 2004, the researchers concluded that restoration efforts have "increased exponentially throughout the last decade, paralleling the increase in media and scientific reports."

With more than one-third of the nation's rivers now listed as impaired or polluted, "river restoration has become a booming, highly profitable business and will play an increasingly prominent role in environmental management and policy decisions," their report said.

However, the report's authors wrote that a comprehensive assessment of the success of this rehabilitation is impossible since available information remains "piecemeal."

Specifically, the authors' analysis of NRRSS data found that "only 10 percent of all project records indicated any form of assessment or monitoring occurred." Furthermore, only 58 percent of those records had information on project costs. Meanwhile, "a large proportion of the total dollars spent on restoration are spent on a few, more expensive projects," their report added.

"Because most project records were inadequate to extract even the most rudimentary information on project actions and outcomes, it is apparent that many opportunities to learn from successes and failures, and thus improve future practice, are being lost," the report concluded.

Said Bernhardt, "I think that there is a lot of potential for us to restore rivers that we have destroyed. But we're not using the funds that have been allocated for restoration as effectively as we could be." Bernhardt is an assistant professor of biogeochemistry in Duke's biology department and is also affiliated with Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.

Bernhardt, Margaret Palmer at the University of Maryland in College Park and J. David Allan at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor are all authors of the Science report who have led in the developing the NRRSS database.

"We started the NRRSS project with the goal of coming up with standards for success, what's working and what's not working," Bernhardt said. "However, we've found that we can't even ask those questions because the data don't exist to make that kind of judgment."

Bernhardt and her fellow Science authors are now working to "come up with examples of what it actually means to do restoration," she said.

She cited as one example of a restoration project near Duke's campus an urban nature reserve and public trail being constructed by the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, which has received two grants from surrounding Durham County. The association is also seeking help from North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Wetland Restoration Program to restore sections of that stream within the city of Durham, N.C., according to its website.

Bernhardt also noted that the demolition of the Lowell Mill Dam on the Little River in Johnston County, N.C. is scheduled to begin on April 28, 2005, in an effort to provide an unobstructed migration corridor for shad. The environmental effects of that dam removal project, which is funded by Restoration Systems, LLC, will be monitored by Adam Riggsbee, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she said.

A North Carolina "success story" cited by the NRRSS's own website is the Tulula Wetlands site in mountainous Graham County, which the N.C. Department of Transportation purchased for protection in "mitigation" of surface transportation projects elsewhere in that region.

Bernhardt's own expertise is in natural processes that can remove excess nitrogen from upstream rivers before nitrogen-bearing compounds can foment algae blooms and occasional fish kills in coastal areas downstream.

"Streamside forests and wetlands are very effective in filtering pollutants of all kinds," she said. "But one thing we do when we degrade rivers is to channelize them. That channelization converts these rivers from functioning ecosystems to efficient gutters, and reduces their ability to protect downstream systems from contaminants."

National River Restoration Science Synthesis (NRRSS) - http://nrrss.umd.edu

Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association - http://www.ellerbecreek.org

Tulula Wetlands - http://www.unca.edu/tulula/tulula.html

Duke University - http://www.duke.edu

TV Pop-Ups Don't Work

TV pop-ups and scrolls - busy isn't better

Kansas State University News Release

MANHATTAN KANSAS April 27, 2005 - No matter which channel you turn to on television, you are likely to find some kind of visual element that seems to overpower the screen - making it difficult to focus on one thing.

In the past few years, television stations have begun to reformat their screen presentations to include scrolling screens, sports scores, stock prices and current weather news. These visual elements are all designed to give viewers what they want when they want it.

However, Kansas State University professors Lori Bergen and Tom Grimes say that it's not working.

"Our conclusion has been that if you want people to understand the news better, then get that stuff off the screen," Grimes said. "Clean it up and get it off because it is simply making it more difficult for people to understand what the anchor is saying."

Grimes and Bergen are both associate professors of journalism and mass communications. They have collaborated with Deborah Potter, head of the Washington, D.C., research firm Newslab, in a study on distracting visual information. The study focused on viewers' ability to digest content in the presence of distracting information on the screen.

"We discovered that when you have all of this stuff on the screen, people tend to remember about 10 percent fewer facts than when you don't have it on the screen," Grimes said. "Everything you see on the screen -- the crawls, the anchor person, sports scores, weather forecast -- are conflicting bits of information that don't hang together semantically. They make it more difficult to attend to what is the central message."

For their research, Bergen, Grimes and Potter conducted a series of four experiments that examined people's attention spans regarding complex and simple cognitive processes.

"The outcome of all of the experiments was that people were splitting their attention into too many parts to understand any of the content," Grimes said.

In 1990, Music Cable Television Network, or MTV, made its debut on cable television. Colorful graphics, young video jockeys and hip music seemed to be the key elements that captured viewer's attention.

Robert Pittman, who created MTV, attributed the station's success to the ability of viewers in their late teens and early 20s to process multiple facets of information simultaneously. In television, success brings imitation. When MTV's ratings soared, other stations began to adopt the presentation format. CNN's Headline News was one of the first to transform its screens to showcase more than just the anchor.

"When Mary Lynn Ryan, who was CNN's producer at the time, did this the news ratings skyrocketed," Grimes said. "So it appeared as though Robert Pittman was correct: if you are from 12-22 years old, your brain has learned how to process all these competing messages simultaneously, but people in their 30s and older have not learned how to do that."

Bergen, however, hypothesized that Pittman's theory was not correct. The way people process information is not something that can be learned -- rather it is a matter of perceptual grouping.

"The human brain is today as it was in the 1880s, the 1580s and in the time of the Greeks and Romans. It has not changed," Grimes said. "We are no better able to parallel process conflicting information now than we were 300 years ago. So this notion that Pittman had that people have learned how to do that is nonsense."

Grimes said the youth of the anchors, the language that is used and the music are all elements that contribute to a show's success -- not distracting visuals.


Keep it simple, stupid. (Fox)

Bergen, who began the study in 2002, suggested that people can parallel process information as long as it is semantically related -- in order for people to understand, multiple inputs of information must "hang together" in some way.

Bergen, Grimes and Potter, who is a former CBS News Washington correspondent, documented their research on media visuals in "How Attention Partitions Itself During Simultaneous Message Presentations." The article will be published in July in Human Communication Research. Bergen is on sabbatical from K-State this semester.

[Not only annoying as hell, but also ineffective. Sounds like a natural for TV - don't expect pop-ups and scrolls to go away anytime soon. Grrrr. Ed.]

Kansas State University - http://www.mediarelations.ksu.edu

Genre News: Serenity, Enterprise, Desperate Housewives, Captain America, Threshold, Timothy Leary & More!

Serenity - The Preview!
By FLAtRich

Hollywood April 28, 2005 (eXoNews) - Joss Whedon sent the Browncoats a second email this week announcing official Universal sneak previews of Serenity at 10 theaters in 10 major US cities on May 5th. Within an hour of the email, the Browncoat message boards reported that most of the shows were sold out. By now, they all are so you Firefly fans who aren't in the know might want to calm down a bit. There were some rumblings on the official message board about threats to theater managers. That seems kind of silly, don't it?

Here's what Joss said this time:

Well.

It gets better.

As thus: The movie is very nearly finished. You've seen many pretty images in the trailer. But I've still got work to do and you've still got months before you can see it.

Unless.

Serenity's Browncoat Captain Mal
(Nathan Fillion)

And, no, I'm not talking Australia (but Hi, Australia! anyway), I'm talking here in the more-or-less-United States, a one time multi-city Browncoat sneak event. Thursday, May 5th at 10:00 pm, the movie (Serenity! Pay attention! Jeez.) will be playing at exactly 10 theaters in 10 cities across the country. You (or possibly someone much like you) (or possibly a robot EXACTLY like you, but with better manners and sonic arm-lasers, sent to take your place) will be able to buy a ticket to see Serenity months in advance. Not just the bitty trailer with not enough Kaylee and Book, but the whole film, in its extremely almost completed state.

You probably have some questions. How is this possible? What cities exactly will it be in? What are these changes my body is going through? All valid.

It's possible because some clown put a bunch of Universal execs in a theater full of Browncoats and dude, they came out SWEATING, they never seen energy like that. They loved it, and even though they were already wicked supportive of the movie (see: earlier posts re: we're making the movie) they simply weren't ready for you guys.

When I whinged on about pushing the date and everyone here was posting about "what do we do till September", they agreed to let me sneak it out.

Maybe they thought it was a fluke. Maybe they wanna see if people really do care about the flick. Or maybe they're just treating us with respect and kindness, though that last option confuses and terrifies me as much as these changes my body is going through (I'm "perspiring" and becoming "interested in girls", which believe me is very unsettling when you're 40.) Does it matter? The plan works for me, and it can work for a select bunch of y'all. Here's what I know:

The cities to be hit are:

Seattle
Austin
Sacramento
Boston
Altanta
Chicago
San Francisco
Las Vegas
Denver
The Portland of Oregon

If you're in or near one of those, you might wanna stop by. There's supposed to be a "Can't Stop the Signal" page on this website (I don't know where it is -- hey, I remembered my damn password, doesn't that buy me any cred?) There should be more info there soon about how to get in, bringing peeps into the fold, I think there's even competetions and stuff. (All I know is I have exactly 20 Brownie points. I answered ONE triv Q and got it wrong. Forget cred. I have no cred.) Now a couple of us might just creep into one of those major metropolitan multiplexes to see if anyone does show up, so remember: swearing in Chinese ONLY.

All right. This will please the fans and satisfy the employers of Joss Whedon, so I must stop as my arm-lasers are getting tired. I politely thank you for your attention.

Should be fun.

-j.


The Firefly Complete Series Boxed Set is
still available if you have no idea what
we're talkin' about here. (Fox)

First reports from reviewers who actually saw the film in earlier previews are that Universal made the right decision when they gave Joss Whedon the green light for the first feature film based on his ex-Fox TV show Firefly. One reviewer said it was the Star Wars that everyone really wanted (as opposed to recent George Lucas' CGI retreads of the original SW films).

Remains to be seen, but the trailer (see below) is exciting as all get out, pardners! I downloaded the action-packed 20 MB version and wanted more immediately. Hear tell there's a 100 MB full-screen version for Mac users too.

Didn't get tickets to the preview, as they weren't showing it in New Jersey, but I'll be saddlin' up for the release in September, sure as shootin'. Darn tootin'!

The most excellent Serenity web trailer can be found at http://www.apple.com/quicktime  and is definitely worth the download!

Serenity - The Trailer

Hollywood April 23, 2005 (eXoNews) - In an email from the official Serenity fan site, writer-director Joss Whedon announced the release of the first trailer for his upcoming Universal film Serenity, which picks up from where his 13-episode Fox TV series Firefly left off when Evil Network Executives at Fox canceled it.

Whedon, for those who have been living in an alternate demon dimension for the last ten years, is the creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and co-created Buffy's successful spin-off Angel. He also writes comic books and contributed to several major motion pictures before Buffy found her stake.

Mr. Whedon warns Browncoats (Serenity fans are called Browncoats after the rebel faction who lost the big war 500 years from now in the Firefly-Serenity 'verse) that the trailer will not be spoiler-free. Here's exactly what Joss said:

Hey guys.

I'm here on the official site, so that can only mean one thing: somebody finally told me my password! (Again.) It probably also means that I have some big-ass announcement or other. Well tops on the announcement list is this: after months of intensive yoga, i can finally touch my toes! (They feel round and bunion-y.)

But there's more! I'm talkin' movie news, peeps, so no more drumroll: Trailer. Serenity. Tuesday.

Yeah, kids, the haps is hap'nin', and it runs thus: EXCLUSIVELY on Apple movie trailers (and linked through this site as well of course) will be a small, medium, large or FULLSCREEN trailer for Serenity the major motion movie. Yeah, THE trailer. And the following Friday said trailer hits theaters. Which theaters? Until I get confirmation you'll have to guess, but I'm betting you can.

Now, here's a word of warning: this trailer ain't shy. If you're looking to live totally spoiler-free, know that there's plenty of key dialogue and images running through this bad boy. It's pretty tasty, though, and it doesn't give everything away. But close scrutiny will definitely learn you much of what's to come. (Anakin TOTALLY goes evil.) It's a nice piece to while away the time till September, and hopefully should intrigue th' peeps that don't have coats of brown.

The only thing more exciting than y'all finally seeing this was showing it to Nathan. Like a schoolboy giggled he.

Bye-ee!

Joss "You can't take my toes from me" Whedon.

[I'm a Browncoat myself and if you aren't, well, don't be askin' me for no data, spacetrash. Join up today - it's free - to get yer own emails from Joss. Ed :o)>]

Official Browncoat Serenity Fan Site - http://browncoats.serenitymovie.com

The Final Enterprise


Archer and company side off the tube
mid-May (UPN)

Hollywood April 27, 2005 (Sci Fi Wire) - Star Trek: Enterprise producers Brannon Braga and Rick Berman told SCI FI Wire that they understood the recent disparaging comments made by cast members about the final episode, but stood by their execution of the series finale.

"You have to remember, under normal circumstances, most people probably would have thought this was a very cool episode, because it has a great concept driving it," Braga said in a conference call with reporters. "But when it's the final episode of a series, emotions are running very high."

The most vocal objection came from cast member Jolene Blalock, who plays T'Pol on the show. "I don't know where to begin with that one," she recently said of the finale. "The final episode is ... appalling."

The episode, titled "These Are the Voyages," features Star Trek: The Next Generation stars Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, who reprise their roles as Commander Riker and Deanna Troi. The pair will view the episode's historic events through a holodeck recreation. Berman said he thought that the opinions expressed by Blalock had to do with the episode's references to the previous Trek series.


Trek Exec Rick Berman

"The feeling was that if this was going to be the finale of Enterprise, then why bring characters in from another series?" he said.

"But I think when people see the episode and realize that to be able to truly pay the respect to our characters that we have, we've couched it in a unique fashion of being able to look back on them, and I think it's going to be a very positive response towards the Enterprise crew."

Braga said that he was aware that the Enterprise cast had some minor issues with the storyline, but there were no serious objections during the production.

"There were a couple of people who were slightly uncomfortable with the fact that we have Next Generation characters in the show, and it is a different kind of episode," he said.

"But there were no serious complaints. And none of the actors have seen the episode, so they can't be dissatisfied with how it turned out."

Star Trek: Enterprise ends its four-season run May 13 on UPN at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

[Sci Fi Wire also printed comments from Rick Berman this week on how "oversaturation of the franchise" led to Enterprise's fall in ratings. Is this guy in denial or what? It was Rick Berman's baby and he's the one who clogged the photon torpedo tubes with lame scripts and cloned ideas. Michael Piller (STTNG, DS9, Voyager) and many other STTNG-generation writers and producers left Trek production before Enterprise began. The franchise really lost its inner light when Berman tried to do it all himself. Ed.]

Enterprise Official - http://www.startrek.com/startrek/view/series/ENT/index.html

Desperate Housewives Are Best Friends


The ladies deny catfight rumors. (Mike
Blake/ Reuters)

NEW YORK April 25, 2005 (Reuters) - The ladies on Wisteria Lane are friends on and off the set, Felicity Huffman, one of the lead actresses on the hit television show, "Desperate Housewives," said on Sunday.

"We're all friends. We all get along. I love going to work," said Huffman, who plays Lynette Scavo, on the show.

There had been talk of tension among the cast, which reportedly boiled over at a group cover shoot for "Vanity Fair" when Marcia Cross stormed off the set. The incident was chronicled by the magazine's writer Ned Zeman.

"I have to tip my hat off to that writer (Zeman) because it's a tempest in a teapot," Huffman told Reuters.

Huffman, who wrapped up her part in the final episode of "Desperate Housewives" last week in Los Angeles, flew to New York to promote her film, "Transamerica."

Her husband, actor William H. Macy, was the executive producer of the movie, which has its North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday. Huffman has been baffled by the slew of stories on discord among the female cast members who include Teri Hatcher, Eva Longoria and Nicollette Sheridan.

"People have been waiting and have been wanting us to fight from the beginning," Huffman said. "Why do they think there's going to be a catfight? I don't get it." She said she, Longoria and Cross have tea regularly and Longoria and Cross go on "serious shopping forays."

"Desperate Housewives" along with "Lost" have helped to reverse the sagging fortunes of ABC, the TV division of Disney.

["Catfight! No catfight? Rats!" - Unidentified male DH fan.]

ABC News on PlayStation?
By Chris Marlowe


Men spend more money on video games
than they do on all forms of music according
to research group Nielsen Entertainment.
(Fred Greaves/ Reuters)

New York April 30, 2005 (Hollywood Reporter) - ABC News has reinforced its reputation for pioneering new media by offering its content to PlayStation Portable users, making it the platform's first news and information content provider. Consumers who own Sony's PSP entertainment device can download selected programs to view on the hand-held unit.

"Today, 99% of people with PSPs are using it to play the fantastic games," said Bernie Gershon, ABC News digital media group senior vp and general manager. "But our view is that wherever there is a screen, there is a potential viewer of ABC News."

The initative is starting with the technology program "Ahead of the Curve," music reviews and other shortform content drawn from the network's all-digital ABC News Now multimedia news initiative. Gershon said he was impressed at the high quality of the PSP-viewing experience and exploring what steps to take next.

"We're currently experimenting to see what kind of content people want to look at this way, and it's free while we explore the opportunity," he said.

[I assume this will include TV commercials. What will they think of next? Maybe drug company ads telecast on car windshields? (Hey! Remember, you read that here first!) Ed.]

Captain America Tops New Marvel Film Slate


Captain America flexes his muscles
for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld
at the Pentagon. Nice to see Rumsfeld
isn't too busy to read comic books!
(REUTERS/ Jason Reed)

LOS ANGELES April 28, 2005 (AP) - Marvel Enterprises Inc. will begin producing movies based on its comic book characters and team up with Paramount Pictures to distribute the films, the companies announced Thursday, in a deal Marvel said will boost its revenues.

"We are excited to be building our own film slate," said Avi Arad, Marvel's chairman and CEO of Marvel's studio division.

The company also announced a seven-year, $525 million financing agreement with Merrill Lynch Commercial Finance Corp. that will let Marvel produce the films and cash in on merchandising.

Paramount, owned by Viacom Inc., will receive a distribution fee for each film and retain worldwide distribution rights to sequels covered under the agreement.

New York-based Marvel was able to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1998 in part because it licensed some of its most famous comic book characters to Hollywood studios. The "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" franchises have produced lucrative revenue but analysts believe Marvel has received only a small share of those box office returns.

Marvel has about 5,000 characters in its library, including The Incredible Hulk, Elektra, Iron Man and Blade.

The distribution agreement with Paramount specifies that Marvel can deliver up to 10 films over eight years, with the first titles including "Captain America" and "Nick Fury."

The first picture is expected to be released by 2008, with production budgets ranging from $45 million to $180 million. Paramount will not contribute to production costs, although it will fund film promotion and advertising.

Marvel also announced Thursday that first-quarter earnings decreased 11.5 percent from last year and said it posted a $10 million charge during the period for the resolution of all past and future payments claimed by illustrator Stan Lee. Lee sued Marvel in November 2002 to share profits generated by the company's television and movie productions particularly the box-office smash "Spider-Man," which grossed more than $800 million worldwide, and its super successful sequel.

Threshold


Ex- Trek producer / writer
Brannon Braga

Hollywood April 27, 2005 (Sci Fi Wire) - Brannon Braga confirmed to SCI FI Wire that his first post-Star Trek: Enterprise project will be Threshold, a genre pilot for CBS that centers on a possible alien invasion.

Braga co-wrote the script and is co-executive producing with David Goyer (Blade: Trinity), who is also directing.

"It's all from the point of view of a woman who works at a think tank as a contingency analyst," Braga said in an interview while promoting the May 13 series finale of Enterprise. "Basically, it theorizes about what-ifs, and alien invasion is something that think tanks really do contemplate as thought experiments, but no one ever really thinks they might happen."

Braga added, "So it is told from her perspective and that of the team that she puts together to handle situation. And that team includes Charles S. Dutton [Gothika] and Brent Spiner [Star Trek: The Next Generation] and Peter Dinklage [Elf]. It also includes a guy named Rob Benedict [Birds of Prey] and a guy named Brian Van Holt [House of Wax]. It's a really excellent cast. And the woman is played by Carla Gugino [Spy Kids, Sin City].

"That's the basic premise, but I don't want to reveal too much because I don't want to jinx it. It was a good concept, and I really liked David Goyer and David Heyman [Harry Potter], our other executive producer, and the other people involved. It's a one-hour pilot. It's been a great experience and I think it's turning out great. We'll find out in May if we've made the cut."

Brando Auction
By JAKE COYLE
Associated Press Writer


Brando's stuff (AP)

NEW YORK April 28, 2005 (AP) - Marlon Brando fans, it's time to make an offer that can't be refused. More than 250 items, including Brando's annotated script from 1972's "The Godfather" and a letter from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. urging his participation in a civil rights march, will be auctioned June 30.

The items are being put up for bid by Brando's estate

Helen Bailey, the head of popular arts at Christie's New York, expects the auction to reap over $1 million. But given the intensity of many Brando fans, it could be significantly more, she said, especially for items that give insight into Brando's method acting and approach to characters.

"Some of the earlier scripts are really interesting," Bailey told The Associated Press Thursday. "Later on, he didn't make that many notes and said he didn't learn his lines, but in the `50s and `60s, there's a lot of notations on the scripts and pages and pages of notes."

The collection features items removed from Brando's Los Angeles home, where the famously private actor had lived since 1960. He died of lung failure in July 2004 at age 80.

Another highlight is a letter from Mario Puzo, who shortly after publishing "The Godfather," wrote Brando: "I think you're the actor who can play the Godfather." Bailey says that many of the items relate to Brando's interest in American Indians, including a gift of artifacts from Val Kilmer, his co-star in 1996's "The Island of Dr. Moreau."

Also available will be Brando's Oscar nomination certificate for "On the Waterfront" and the black velvet tunic he wore in "Superman" in 1978. Other items are more personal, including numerous musical instruments, boxing gloves and his foosball table.

The collection will be open to public viewing June 24-29 at Christie's in New York and June 7-10 at the auction house's Los Angeles gallery.

Christie's - http://www.christies.com

Seinfeld's Bee Movie


Jerry Seinfeld (AP/ Louis
Lanzano)

LOS ANGELES April 28, 2005 (AP) - Jerry Seinfeld is going the Bee-movie route. Seinfeld has written the cartoon comedy "Bee Movie," for which he will provide the key voice, and also will produce the tale for DreamWorks Animation.

The all-star voice cast also includes Renee Zellweger, Robert Duvall, Uma Thurman, Kathy Bates, Eric Idle, Oprah Winfrey, William H. Macy, Alan Arkin and Larry King.

"Bee Movie" follows a bee just out of college who sues humanity for mass theft of his winged species' honey. Steve Hickner ("The Prince of Egypt") and Simon J. Smith ("Shrek 4-D") will co-direct.

DreamWorks said Thursday it has slotted "Bee Movie" for release Nov. 2, 2007, following the May 18, 2007, debut of the studio's third "Shrek" film.

TV's Anti-Indecency Crusade to the Rescue!
By FRAZIER MOORE
AP Television Writer


Freedom from nudity!

NEW YORK April 29, 2005 (AP) - In the minds of many viewers, the current anti-indecency crusade isn't just out to make the airwaves safe for families and children.

Another likely goal is to punish TV for its brazen smut-peddling.

With a four-letter word here and a "wardrobe malfunction" there, surely someone in power the executives, the stars, the creators? deserves a good thrashing. Viewers may not agree on what indecency is or how to fix it. But they want someone to answer for TV's sins.

No wonder politicians are climbing over one another to yank the chain of the media elite.

Cracking down on TV content is the latest rage in the culture wars.

And who wants to be seen as a war resister?

Apparently not Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., who recently advocated criminal prosecution for indecent material aired by broadcasters.

A less draconian proposal would expand the purview of the Federal Communications Commission beyond over-the-air broadcasting to add cable and satellite programming which would place shows from such networks as MTV, FX and even HBO (with its F-word-riddled drama "Deadwood") under the thumb of the feds.

And don't forget a bill passed by the House that would hike existing indecency fines from $32,500 to as much as $500,000 per infraction.

"There's a herd mentality when the issue of indecent programming comes up," says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "You can say, `Well, the networks deserve it.' But underneath it all is the First Amendment, and there are very few champions in Congress to warn us about the dangerous consequences of encouraging censorship."


Immoral antiques on PBS Antiques
Roadshow (PBS)

At least one legislator, Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has voiced such warnings. And striking back against indecency zealots, he has introduced a bill that would clarify the FCC's authority for policing content as being limited to broadcast television and radio not cable, satellite or Internet fare. He calls it the Stamp Out Censorship Act.

"We don't need to have United States government commissars telling the American people what they can watch," says Sanders, who is concerned that already, even without new restrictive laws in force, spooked broadcasters are erring on the side of caution. In other words, censoring themselves.

He points to the 66 ABC affiliates that opted not to air the patriotic war film "Saving Private Ryan" last November because of fears that the FCC might rule certain swear words in the film to be indecent (it didn't). And last spring, some PBS stations removed the image of a nude lithograph from "Antiques Roadshow."

Not too much further down this slippery slope, Sanders warns, "you might find some people here in Congress and some right-wing fundamentalists arguing that, in the midst of the war on terrorism, attacks against the president of the United States border on indecency."

A poll released last week reported broad public support for curbing media indecency. But the Pew Research Center survey found something else: By 48 to 41 percent, respondents saw greater danger in the government imposing undue restrictions on the entertainment industry than from harmful material the industry might dispense.

Media scholar and activist Robert W. McChesney understands the public's concern over vulgar programming. But he has his own theory for the underlying cause of it: fewer and bigger media owners.

"Companies that produce the most vulgar fare," he says, "are News Corp. (owner of the Fox network), Viacom (owner of MTV and more than 185 Infinity Radio stations, as well as CBS, which aired Janet Jackson's Super Bowl flashdance) and Clear Channel (with more than 1,200 radio stations). What these companies have found is, once you gobble up a lot of media outlets, the least expensive way to generate an audience is through vulgarity.


Vulgarity sells

"It's a commercially driven phenomenon," says McChesney, creator of a media reform Web site. "A solution to the problem would be more local ownership and more competition. Let the system work through the problem, without having any censorship."

Much to everyone's surprise, the public rose up against the FCC's efforts to oblige Big Media with eased limits on how many outlets a conglomerate could own.

Thanks to citizens' outcry, portions of the rules passed by the FCC two years ago were overturned by Congress. Then a U.S. Court of Appeals tossed out most of the rest.

Says Sanders, "I think you're gonna see the same thing here: `Please, don't tell me what I can watch, especially when I'm paying for the privilege of watching it.'"

He looks for continued public pressure to buck the government-assisted trend toward bigger media conglomerates. And he expects more people to recognize that, however badly they may want to punish the media, censorship will backfire by punishing them worse.


Sonic sells too

Turner Classic Video Games?
By MATT SLAGLE
AP Technology Writer

Atlanta April 27, 2005 (AP) - The company that helped revive old films is hoping to bring classic video games out of the vault.

Turner Broadcasting System Inc., operator of Turner Classic Movies and other cable channels, will let game aficionados get their fix on hundreds of mostly older games, including classics like "Pac-Man" and "Sonic the Hedgehog."

The GameTap service will also have such newer titles as "Tony Hawk" and "Splinter Cell," but not games from the current lineup of titles for GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles.

The on-demand service will require high-speed Internet connections and Windows PCs with at least 256 megabytes of memory and a 3D video card. The system will not work on consoles or Macintosh computers.

Players can use a keyboard, mouse or a USB joystick.

Gamers will likely pay monthly subscriptions of $10 to $20 to download an unlimited number of games, said Blake Lewin, vice president of product invention at TBS. The games will stop working once the subscription expires.

TBS says it already has licensing agreements with 17 publishers, covering about 1,000 games. The plan is to have 300 games available when GameTap launches in the fall, with five to 10 games added weekly.

TBS, a unit of Time Warner Inc., said it was creating GameTap to get in on the increasing popularity of video games.

Timothy Leary's Dead
By Kimberly Speight

Hollywood April 28, 2005 (Hollywood Reporter) - Production labels Panacea Entertainment and Blueprint Entertainment have teamed up to bring the story of the late psychologist, writer and drug researcher-enthusiast Timothy Leary to the small screen.


Ahead of his time, the late Dr. Leary

The companies are producing an as-yet-untitled biopic to be directed by Andy Fickman (Showtime's "Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical") that will be based on information of public record as well as the personal recollections of Panacea chairman and CEO Eric Gardner, who was Leary's manager for 11 years.

"Timothy was a force of nature in one of most turbulent periods in American history and was a touchstone for the counterculture and for an entire generation, irrespective of whether one indulged in hallucinogenics or not," Gardner said.

Gardner said the movie might focus on Leary's years as a faculty member at Harvard University, which he joined in 1959.
During that time, he began conducting research on the effects of psilocybin and, later, LSD with students, resulting in his dismissal in 1963.

It was during the 1960s that Leary coined his catchphrase "turn on, tune in, drop out" in reference to LSD.

Gardner said he previously had a Leary biopic feature set up at PolyGram Filmed Entertainment's Interscope Pictures in the early '90s, but that project reverted back to him when Universal later acquired PolyGram. At that time, Gardner controlled the rights to Leary's autobiography, but those rights reverted back to Leary's estate upon his death in 1996.

Gardner added that they likely will to try to find a foreign co-production partner and then shop the movie around, starting with the premium cable networks.

Fickman directed both the stage hit and Showtime's recent movie version of "Reefer Madness" as well as the indie film "Who's Your Daddy?"

Panacea is a talent management and film and TV production company whose clients include Paul Shaffer, Richard Belzer and Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson, while Blueprint's credits include the VH1 movie "Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story" and the BBC/CBC kids series "Shoebox Zoo."

Poll Says News Reporting Is Biased

NEW YORK April 27, 2005 (Editor & Publisher) - A national survey conducted by the Missouri School of Journalism's Center for Advanced Social Research has found that 85% detect bias in news reporting. Of those, 48% believe it is liberal bias, 30% conservative - and 12% both.

Almost two out of three said journalists too often invade people's privacy. About three in four feel the news is too negative. The same number said reporters tend to favor one side over the other when covering political and social issues.

At the same time, however, nearly two in three call journalism credible. More than half rate newspapers and television news as trustworthy. And a robust 83% say it is vital for journalists to keep pushing for access to information when officials resist.

By 62% percent to 18%, respondents said they agree with the statement, "Journalism in the U.S. is mainly a force for good." By the same 3-1 margin, respondents agreed, "I personally benefit from what journalists provide." And by 75% to 12%, they agreed, "Journalism helps me understand what is going on in America."

The study surveyed 495 adults last summer, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4%.

"The consumers of American journalism respect, value and need it, but they're also skeptical about whether journalists really live up to the standards of accuracy, fairness and respect for others that we profess," George Kennedy, co-author of the study and a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, said in a statement.

Other poll findings:

58% claim journalists have too much influence over what happens in the world.

77% believe stories are sometimes killed or buried if they may damage or embarrass financial interests.

About half says the media tend to exaggerate problems or are too sensational.

Kennedy said that what distinguishes this study from the dozens of recent surveys is that it includes questions other surveys haven't. "We wanted to find out whether journalism actually serves any useful purposes in people's lives, and what those purposes might be," he said in a statement. "We also, of course, wanted to assess whether people believe what they read or hear."

The survey and the follow-up interviews show that, by significant margins, Americans do think journalism is important and that they do trust what journalists tell them, though with some reservations.

In the survey, respondents agreed, by 93% to 4%, that "the freedom of the press is important to our system of government." Asked whether journalists have too much or too little of that freedom, 14% said "too little" 23% said "too much" and 60% said "about the right amount."

[I'm biased against polls myself. Too many people believe them. Too many of them are slanted to the right or left. BTW, take our eXoNews Internet polls, please. Everybody knows that Internet polls aren't scientific, but how scientific is a poll on news reporting conducted by a School of Journalism? Bit of a conflict of interest there, don't you think? If you care, that is. Ed.]

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