Nuke Nightmares!
B-15A Adrift! Virgins At Risk!
Replicators! Nanomachines!
Global Warming Inevitable!
Nuke Nightmares!

Iranian nuclear plant under construction

UN Urges Nuclear Talks with Iran
Associated Press Writer

PARIS March 21, 2005 (AP) - The U.N. nuclear chief, opening an international conference Monday on nuclear power, said the best way to ensure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons is dialogue with European nations.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also trumpeted the benefits of nuclear power as consumers demand more energy and new environmental protection rules threaten to raise the costs of fossil fuels. However, he conceded that terrorism was a real concern for the nuclear sector, along with proliferation.

Asked later if terrorists could get their hands on a nuclear bomb, ElBaradei replied, "After 9/11, we cannot exclude the risk."

ElBaradei expressed hope that talks would continue between Iran and France, Germany and Britain, talks aimed at ensuring Tehran does not develop nuclear weapons.

"I think this is the best approach — dialogue based on verification," he said.

The United States has expressed concern that Iran is using its planned nuclear power program to mask its desire to develop nuclear weaponry. However, it recently agreed to back the Europeans' diplomatic effort to resolve the disagreement.

The partners in dialogue are to meet again on Wednesday, and Iran's agreement last year to suspend all uranium enrichment-related activities — a confidence-building measure — is likely to be on the agenda.

The suspension is a way for Tehran to avoid possible U.S. sanctions. Tehran has said that maintaining the voluntary freeze depends on progress in the talks with the Europeans.

"I very much hope that, of course, during that dialogue, they will continue that suspension accepted voluntarily by Iran."

The United States, the world's top nuclear energy producer, is among 60 nations represented at the conference, sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the IAEA.

About half of the participating countries already use nuclear energy; others are considering developing that capacity. Host France generates nearly 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, more than any other country.

The Nuke Museum
By Ken Ritter
Associated Press


LAS VEGAS March 14, 2005 (AP) - It's chilling to walk by a dented army helmet with big tinted goggles on the brim, a frayed "atomic cocktail" recipe book and then come face to face with a family of mannequins, frozen in time in a fallout shelter.

Baby boomers will recognize the Civil Defense character Bert the Turtle and know by heart the instructions droning in black-white on the family's boxy Packard Bell TV:

When sirens sound, find shelter.

Don't look at the light. Duck and cover.

A digital countdown across the way tells when the steel doors of a cement-walled Ground Zero Theater will open. Curators of the new Atomic Testing Museum hope the setting stirs the imagination for those with no memory of mushroom clouds and the role the Nevada Test site played in the development of nuclear deterrence.

"Nuclear weapons aren't gone," museum director William Johnson says as he leads the way through the $3.5-million facility that opened last month just east of the Las Vegas Strip. "The world is just a different place now."

This view of downtown Las Vegas shows a mushroom cloud
in the background. Scenes such as this were typical during
the 1950's. From 1951 to 1962 the government conducted
100 atmospheric tests at the Nevada Test Site. (DOE)

The museum traces a half-century of nuclear weapons testing in a nation that grew to love or hate the bomb. It describes developments that let scientists peer into the first millionth of a second of a nuclear blast before instruments vaporized, and it charts research that continued after earthshaking explosions ended in 1992 at the test site.

It also has drawn criticism as revisionist history among advocates who call it a forum for nuclear apologists, and it has reopened wounds for "downwinders" sickened by fallout from atmospheric atomic blasts.

"Once you've been a victim of nuclear weapons you're less enthusiastic about it," said Michelle Thomas, 52, a lifelong resident of St. George, Utah. "I don't hate or fear anyone bad enough to want to see happen to them what happened to us."

Johnson doesn't deny that testing caused problems. He points to exhibits describing the plight of downwinders and of test site workers sickened by silicosis, and to a reading room and nuclear testing archive containing more than 310,000 documents.

"I want people to come here and learn," he says. "But if there's only one message taken away, it's that the Cold War was a war. It was a struggle with the Soviet Union."

News photographers and recorders of history averted their
eyes while shutters remained open to capture the tremendous
power of a 1950s nuclear explosion at Yucca Flat. (REECo)

The story is told with a timeline, artifacts, interactive and touch-screen displays and several films, including the 10-minute presentation in the Ground Zero Theater.

Visitors sit on varnished wooden seats modeled after the warped, weathered benches still on News Nob, a rocky outcrop overlooking Yucca Flat where journalists observed atmospheric nuclear tests beginning with "Charlie" in April 1952.

Light bursts as the big screen shows a nuclear test. The room rumbles with embedded speakers. Air blasts tousle the hair, imitating a shock wave.

"It's almost like you're sitting there. That's real stuff to me," says Mike Margalski, 49, a maintenance engineer who wants to experience what his father did as an army soldier exposed to more than one nuclear test in the early 1950s. Eugene (Geno) Margalski died of prostate cancer in 1996, at age 65.

"My dad never ever talked about it until just a few days before he passed away," Margalski says. "He talked about going out and walking in it while they came around with Geiger counters."

Mannequins in a shelter to assess
the possible impacts of nuclear
detonations on civilians. (LANL)

But this is no theme park. It is as somber as the 230,000 deaths and injuries in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945; as sober as the concept of "mutually assured destruction" that shadowed the world for half a century afterward.

The entry to the 8,000-square-foot museum resembles a guard gate. Up a gentle ramp is a copy of Albert Einstein's August 1939 letter to then president Franklin Roosevelt suggesting that uranium might yield "a new and important source of energy."

An inert model of the most common B61 nuclear bomb - 12-feet-long, grey, unimposing - rests on its side next to displays of the "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" devices dropped on Japan.

Through a 10-foot diameter steel "decoupler" portal and down a tunnel lined with faux rock is the underground testing gallery. Visitors whisper when they stop to reflect or remember.

Some exhibits have a "gee-whiz" element - chronicling how scientists tested nuclear rocket engines, shrank the size of nuclear devices and measured the effects of radionuclides on plants, animals and food.

This being Las Vegas, the museum also chronicles how tourists sipped cocktails on casino rooftops, gazing at blast clouds on the horizon at the test site, about 100 kilometers to the northwest.

This photo documents total destruction of the house. The camera
shot 24 frames per second, and was completely enclosed in a two-
inch lead sheath to protect it from radiation. The only source of
light was from the detonation. (EG&G)

The museum, a partnership between the Nevada Test site Historical Foundation and the Desert Research Institute, is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.

Administrators foresee schoolchildren marveling at the column of instruments used to measure underground nuclear explosions, working a manipulator arm like the one scientists used to handle radioactive materials and hearing the clicks of a Geiger counter measuring low-level radioactivity.

"I would hope they come away with an understanding of what is radiation and why we did testing," says Loretta Helling, a former Energy Department public affairs specialist who spent eight years curating the collection. "We try to have a balanced view in there."

Preston Truman foresees the museum ignoring unpleasantries while teaching "that everything was good and beneficial and that America won the Cold War."

"In 50 years, when all the people who had a negative opinion are dead, it will be just that - one-sided history," says Truman, who founded and directs an advocacy group called Downwinders.

The 53-year-old Truman's first memory as a child is sitting on his father's knee in Enterprise, Utah, watching a mushroom cloud at the Nevada Test Site. He figures that was 1955, a year in which the government conducted 18 atmospheric tests.

Looking like a meteorite strike, this 1963 photo shows
the crater made by the "Sedan" 104-kiloton detonation
as part of AEC's Plowshare Program. (REECo)

"We're children of the bomb. We saw the flash. We heard the bangs. A couple of times, the shock waves broke out windows that they paid for," he says. "We got radiated and we got lied to."

Thomas remembers a fine ash falling like snow across St. George. When fallout warnings sounded, her mother would don an old straw hat, pull on rubber dish gloves and tie a dish towel around her own mouth to pluck laundry from the outdoor drying line.

"She would wash the sheets twice in hot water so her kids wouldn't have to sleep with radioactive fallout," Thomas says.

But Thomas began to develop maladies as a junior in high school: ovarian cysts, breast cancer, a benign salivary gland tumor. She was diagnosed in 1974 with polymyositis, an autoimmune system disease similar to lupus.

She and two siblings each received a one-time "downwinder" payment of $50,000 under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990.

"I think we've learned that the government is fallible and may not be entirely upfront," Thomas says. "But it was considered unpatriotic in those days to question the government."

Johnson, 47, recalled hearing the wail of Friday morning Civil Defense sirens as a child in Miami.

He says the museum tried to put the United States' 1,054 above-and below-ground nuclear tests in context. Of the 928 detonated at the test site, 100 were atmospheric tests. Seven tests were exploded elsewhere in Nevada, three each in New Mexico and Alaska, two each in Colorado and Mississippi and 106 on Pacific islands. Three tests were conducted on South Atlantic islands.

The number of nuclear tests peaked at 96 in 1962 - the year the United States and the Soviet Union stared each other down with their fingers on the button during the Cuban missile crisis.

"The paradigm of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was that the Northern Hemisphere was going to be blown to bits," Johnson recalls. The scientists, technicians and administrators at the test site, he says, "were thinking they were saving the world."

Atomic Testing Museum -

Yucca Mountain Nuke Documents Falsified?
By H. Josef Hebert
Associated Press

WASHINGTON March 17, 2005 (AP) — Government employees may have falsified documents related to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project in Nevada, the Energy Department said Wednesday. The disclosure could jeopardize the project's ability to get a federal permit to operate the dump.

During preparation for a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the department said it found a number of e-mails from 1998 through 2000 in which an employee of the U.S. Geological Survey "indicated that he had fabricated documentation of his work."

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the department is investigating what kind of information was falsified and whether it would affect the scientific underpinnings of the project.

"If in the course of that review any work is found to be deficient, it will be replaced or supplemented with analysis and documents that meet appropriate quality assurance standards," said Bodman. He said he was "greatly disturbed" by the development.

Map showing Yucca Mountain site, 90 miles from Las Vegas

The department said the questionable data involved computer modeling for water infiltration and climate at the Yucca site, which is 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

At a House hearing Wednesday, the official who recently took over the Yucca program in the Energy Department indicated that the revelations could further delay the project.

"I assure you we will not proceed until we have rectified these problems," Theodore Garrish told Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls the dollars for Yucca Mountain.

Garrish was not asked to elaborate. After the hearing, he declined to answer reporters' questions.

Hobson said the problem did not appear too serious and that he did not think it would throw Yucca Mountain off track.

"As I understand it this is not a major impediment and can be corrected very easily," Hobson told reporters. "Some people just don't want to do their job right, so they'll slip it through rather than doing their job. We don't have any evidence that somebody directed anybody to do this."

Chip Groat, director of the Geological Survey, said the e-mails "have raised serious questions about the review process of scientific studies done six years ago."

The disclosure follows other setbacks for the proposed waste dump. The department has delayed filing its license application to nuclear regulators and now acknowledges that the planned completion of the facility by 2010 no longer is possible. Garrish told the committee Wednesday that he couldn't provide a new completion date.

Congress last year refused to provide all the money sought by the Bush administration for the project. A federal appeals court rejected the radiation protection standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency; the agency is developing new standards.

Last month, the official in charge of the Yucca project resigned, citing personal reasons.

The discovery of the e-mails "really casts the project in a real bad light. In lieu of the other problems, it might be the one that pushes it over the edge to cancellation," said Bob Loux, Nevada state Nuclear Projects director and Gov. Kenny Guinn's chief anti-Yucca administrator.

Loux said potential water transport -- the issue that some of the questionable work apparently involved -- is critical for the proposed waste repository. Water is "the key mechanism at Yucca Mountain both in terms of infiltrating into the site and in terms of letting radioactivity release into the biosphere," Loux said.

Word that documents may have been falsified "certainly calls into question DOE's ability to submit any kind of a license application in the near term," Loux said.

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the development "proves once again that DOE must cheat and lie in order to make Yucca Mountain look safe."

Bodman said the questionable documents were part of the papers required by the NRC to verify the accuracy of earlier work in the project.

"The fact remains that this country needs a permanent geological nuclear waste repository, and the administration will continue to aggressively pursue that goal," Bodman said. He said that "all related decisions have been, and will continue to be, based on sound science."

(AFP Photo)

Nuke Plants Back in Vogue
By Louis Charbonneau

PARIS March 21, 2005 (Reuters) - Expectations of a sharp rise in energy demand and the risk of climate change are pushing many countries to return to the idea of nuclear power, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said Monday.

Even the most conservative estimates predict at least a doubling of energy usage by mid-century, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told a conference on nuclear energy in the 21st century.

He said any discussion of the energy sector "must begin by acknowledging the expected substantial growth in energy demand in the coming decades."

It was unclear what role nuclear power would play, though it appeared to be an increasingly important one, he said.

"All indicators show that an increased level of emphasis on subjects such as fast growing energy demands, security of energy supply, and the risk of climate change are driving a reconsideration, in some quarters, of the need for greater investment in nuclear power," ElBaradei said.

"The IAEA's low projection, based on the most conservative assumptions, predicts 427 gigawatts of global nuclear energy capacity in 2020, the equivalent of 127 more 1,000 megawatt nuclear plants than previous projections," he said.

ElBaradei pointed to nuclear energy policy plans in China, Finland, the United States and possibly Poland as proof that nuclear power may be returning to vogue.

But he warned despite an improved atomic energy industry: "Nuclear power was dealt a heavy blow by the tragedy of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, a blow from which the reputation of the nuclear industry has never fully recovered."

The explosion at the Chernobyl plant in then-Soviet Ukraine, the world's worst civil nuclear accident, spewed a cloud of radioactivity across Europe and has been blamed for thousands of deaths from radiation-linked illness. More than 100,000 people had to be resettled.

On the topic of climate change and the threat posed by greenhouse gases, ElBaradei said nuclear energy in combination with renewable sources of energy represented a safe alternative to fossil fuels.

"Nuclear power emits virtually no greenhouse gases. The complete nuclear power chain, from uranium mining to waste disposal, and including reactor and facility construction, emits only 2-6 grams of carbon per kilowatt hour," he said.

"This is about the same as wind and solar power and one to two orders below coal, oil and even natural gas."

eXoNews Pix of the Week Dept.
Who Is It Good For?

An elderly Pakistani supporter of Yekjehti Committee, an alliance of leftist political organizations, displays anti-war placards during a demonstration in Rawalpindi. (AFP/ Jewel Samad)

Taiwan Installs Nuke Plant Core

A core reactor at Taiwan's controversial fourth
nuclear power plant was installed despite safety
warnings from conservationists. (AFP/ Patrick Lin)

KUNGLIAO, Taiwan March 20, 2005 (AFP) - A core reactor at Taiwan's controversial fourth nuclear power plant was installed despite safety warnings from conservationists. After two days' delay, the reactor was installed at the power plant of the state-run Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) in northern coastal town of Kungliao, a Taipower spokesman said Sunday.

Taipower Chairman Lin Ching-chi says this would be a "milestone development" in the project, which is almost 60 percent completed but behind schedule.

The Japanese-built 1,000-tonne reactor has been on site since June 2002, the first of two planned. However, Wu Wen-tung, head of a Kungliao group opposing the nuclear power plant, issued a stern warning against the project, which he said "could become Taiwan's largest nightmare in the future".

"We've repeatedly called attention to the flaws of the power plant -- the civil engineering construction and the rust of the reactor. But the government has turned a blind eye to our warnings," he said.

The project has been mired in controversy for years and became a campaign point in the 2000 presidential elections which brought Chen Shui-bian of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to power.

In October 2000, the DPP scrapped the partly built 5.6 billion US dollar plant without consulting parliament, as required by Taiwan's constitution, plunging the island into months of political crisis. The DPP government opposed nuclear power on grounds of safety and difficulty in disposing of the waste, but reinstated the project in February 2001. Because of the delay, Taipower is estimated to need another 1.3 billion US for the project, with the extra spending awaiting parliament's approval.

The first nuclear reactor had been scheduled to begin operation in July 2006 and the second in July 2007, with a total capacity of 2,770 megawatts. Since Taiwan's first nuclear plant became operational in 1987, nuclear power has generated at least 180,000 drums of low-radiation waste.

Taipower had planned to ship the waste to North Korea but was forced to halt the scheme under pressure from South Korea and international conservationists.

B-15A Iceberg Adrift!

This ASAR Wide Swath Mode (WSM) image shows
the B-15A iceberg edging past the end of the
Drygalski ice tongue in McMurdo Sound. (ESA)

European Space Agency News Release

March 18, 2005 - Envisat radar imagery confirms that the B-15A iceberg – the world's largest floating object – is adrift once more after two months aground on a shallow seamount. This latest development poses a renewed threat to the nearby pier of land-attached ice known as the Drygalski ice tongue.

The sheer scale of B-15A is best appreciated from space. The bottle-shaped Antarctic iceberg is around 120 kilometers long, with an area exceeding 2500 square kilometers, making it about as large as the entire country of Luxembourg.
Back in January the iceberg appeared to be drifting towards the 70-kilometre-long Drygalski ice tongue in McMurdo Sound on the Ross Sea, and an unprecedented ice collision looked imminent.

Back in January the iceberg appeared to be drifting towards the 70-kilometre-long Drygalski ice tongue in McMurdo Sound on the Ross Sea, and an unprecedented ice collision looked imminent.

However B-15A eventually slowed down and stopped. Local bathymetry charts suggested the iceberg had become anchored at a point near the middle of its coastward (or western) side to a shallow section of seabed.

In early March local tides and currents lifted B-15A free from its temporary resting place, an event coinciding with numerous fragments of ice seen breaking off from the centre of its coastward side as the iceberg was worked loose.

Now prevailing currents are transporting it into deeper and out of McMurdo Sound, right past the far end of the Drygalski ice tongue. The latest Envisat satellite image shows the two ice masses only a few kilometers apart.

B-15A before it broke free (NASA)

Mark Drinkwater of ESA's Ice/Oceans Unit is among researchers keeping close watch on the situation: "The widest part of the iceberg would now appear to have successfully negotiated the narrow channel between the shallow seamount to its west – where it was formerly grounded – and Franklin Island to the east.

"It was now achieved a critical overlap with the end of the Drygalski ice pier, so far without touching.

It would now appear that any contact – if at all – between the drifting iceberg and the land-fast floating ice tongue is likely to be a consequence of being 'brushed' or 'bumped' by the broader trailing end of the iceberg, much like the wide turns made by a long trailer behind a truck or the stern of a ship."

Drinkwater adds that the tidal current oscillations in the cross-shelf – or approximately east-west – direction may not be large enough to force a significant impact.

Currently the northward end or narrower 'nose' of B-15A has been steered on a course consistent with currents following the bottom topography of a deepwater channel joining the Nordenskjøld and Drygalski Basins.

"As long as the rear end of the iceberg remains pinned to its west by the shallow bottom topography, a collision may remain less likely," Drinkwater states. "A lot now depends on the ability of the tides and local currents to free the southernmost end of the iceberg, and to close the gap between the iceberg and the ice tongue."

Ice in motion

B-15A is the largest remaining section of the even larger B-15 iceberg that calved from the Ross Ice Shelf in March 2000. Equivalent in size to Jamaica, B-15 had an initial area of 11 655 square kilometers but subsequently broke up into smaller pieces.

The ASAR instrument aboard Envisat (ESA)

Since then, B-15A has found its way to McMurdo Sound, where its presence has blocked ocean currents and led to a build-up of sea ice. With the Antarctic summer now at an end and in-situ observations therefore limited, the ASAR instrument aboard Envisat becomes even more useful for monitoring changes in polar ice and tracking icebergs.

Its radar signals pass freely through the thickest polar storm clouds or local darkness. And because ASAR measures surface texture, the sensor is extremely sensitive to different types of ice – for example clearly delineating the older rougher surface of the Drygalski ice tongue from the surrounding sea ice.

The Drygalski ice tongue is located at the opposite end of McMurdo Sound from the US and New Zealand bases.

Large and (considered) permanent enough to be depicted on standard atlas maps of the Antarctic continent, the long narrow tongue stretches out to sea as an extension of the land-based David Glacier, which flows through coastal mountains of Victoria Land.

Twin-mode ASAR Antarctic observations

Envisat's ASAR instrument monitors Antarctica in two different modes: Global Monitoring Mode (GMM) provides 400-kilometre swath one-kilometer resolution images, enabling rapid mosaicking of the whole of Antarctica to monitor changes in sea ice extent, ice shelves and iceberg movement.

Wide Swath Mode (WSM) possesses the same swath but with 150-metre resolution for a detailed view of areas of particular interest.

ASAR GMM images are routinely provided to a variety of users including the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Ice Centre, responsible for tracking icebergs worldwide.

CryoSat - a dedicated ice watching mission due
for launch this year. (ESA)

ASAR imagery is also being used operationally to track icebergs in the Arctic by the Northern View and ICEMON consortia, which provide ice monitoring services as part of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative, jointly backed by ESA and the European Union.

The Northern View recently extended this service to the Southern Ocean for the first time, to ensure that participants in the Oryx Quest 2005 yacht race stayed safely away from icebergs and ice fields.

This year also sees the launch of CryoSat, a dedicated ice-watching mission designed to precisely map changes in the thickness of polar ice sheets and floating sea ice.

CryoSat, in connection with regular Envisat ASAR GMM mosaics and SAR interferometry – a technique used to combine radar images to measure tiny millimeter-scale shifts between acquisitions - should answer the question of whether the kind of ice-shelf calving that gave rise to B-15 and its descendants are a consequence of ice sheet dynamics or other factors.

Together they will provide insight into whether such iceberg calving occurrences are becoming more common, as well as improving our understanding of the relationship between the Earth's ice cover and the global climate.


Nip Tuck Up in 2004
American Society of Plastic Surgeons News Release

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS ILL March 16, 2005 – Reality TV shows are creating a greater public awareness of cosmetic surgery and may attribute to the growth in procedures, however, these shows have not caused a rampant increase.

The number of cosmetic plastic surgery procedures increased 5 percent in 2004, with more than 9.2 million procedures performed – a growth rate steady with that of the U.S. economy, according to statistics released today by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

New five-year trending data shows cosmetic procedures are up 24 percent from 2000, reports the ASPS.

“These statistics show a strong, continued, and healthy increase in cosmetic surgery that mirrors the 4.4 percent economic growth of the United States,” said ASPS President Scott Spear, MD. “However, there is no evidence in the statistics to support that TV programs have led to a dramatic surge in the amount of cosmetic surgery procedures.”

Surgical cosmetic procedures remained relatively stable in 2004, with more than 1.7 million procedures performed - down 2 percent from 2003. The top five surgical cosmetic procedures were liposuction (325,000), nose reshaping (305,000), breast augmentation (264,000), eyelid surgery (233,000), and facelift (114,000).

Plastic surgery poster boy (AFP)

Minimally-invasive procedures increased 7 percent to nearly 7.5 million procedures performed in 2004. The top five minimally-invasive cosmetic procedures were Botox® (3 million), chemical peel (1.1 million), microdermabrasion (859,000), laser hair removal (574,000), and sclerotherapy (545,000).

The growth in minimally-invasive procedures can be attributed, in part, to new injectable wrinkle fighters entering the market. More consumers are considering injectables to prolong or avoid facelifts, forehead lifts and eyelid surgeries. In fact, the demand for hyaluronic acid injectable fillers like Restylane® and Hylaform® jumped 927 percent in 2004. Botox® injections increased 4 percent in 2004 and 280 percent since 2000.

To ensure plastic surgery procedures are not overstated, the ASPS has refined the methodology for its collection of statistics to offer more accurate, reliable, and realistic data on plastic surgery.

Since 2003, statistics have been collected through the first online national database for plastic surgery procedures, Tracking Operations and Outcomes for Plastic Surgeons (TOPS).

This data, combined with the annual survey sent to more than 17,000 board-certified physicians in specialties most likely to perform plastic surgery, results in the most comprehensive census on plastic surgery procedures.

American Society of Plastic Surgeons -

Virgins At Risk!

Vestal virgins have same STD rates as sluts?

Yale University News Release

March 17, 2005 - Young adults who take virginity pledges as adolescents are as likely to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases as those who do not take virginity pledges, Yale and Columbia University researchers report in the March 18 issue of Journal of Adolescent Health.

The virginity pledges may even encourage higher risk sexual behavior among young adults, say study authors Hannah Brückner, assistant professor of sociology at Yale University and Peter Bearman, professor of sociology at Columbia University.

"We were surprised by the findings," said Brückner.

"Pledgers have fewer sex partners than non-pledgers, they start having sex later, and they marry earlier, so they should have lower STD rates, but they don't."

One reason is that sexually active pledgers were less likely to use condoms at first sex than non-pledgers.

Because most pledgers are sexually active (88 percent of the pledgers), lower rates of condom use increases STD risk. Brüeckner and Bearman also note that pledgers were less likely to seek and obtain STD-related health care, possibly because of increased stigmatization or misperception of infection risk among pledgers. Because pledgers are less likely to be diagnosed and treated for STD infections, they may be more likely to have those infections for longer periods than non-pledgers.

"If pledgers have infections for longer periods of time than non-pledgers, this is a reason for concern," said Brückner. The authors said even though pledgers used condoms at the same rate as non-pledgers at the time of their last interview, the fact that they were less likely to use condoms earlier could be why their STD rates remain high since they are less likely to be diagnosed. "Putting a condom on after getting an infection does not make the infection go away," said Brückner.

Pledging may lead some young adults to engage in alternative sexual behaviors in order to preserve their virginity. Among virgins--those who have not had vaginal intercourse--male pledgers are four times more likely to have anal sex; male and female pledgers are six times more likely to have oral sex than non-pledgers. Condom use for anal sex is very low; for oral almost non-existent. Therefore, Brückner said, virgin pledger engagement in riskier behavior may be a factor in higher than expected STD rates.

The authors added, "Pledgers who are married have the same STD rates as non-pledgers who are married. Marriage does not cause STDs; unprotected sex does. Knowing how to protect oneself from STDs is important. Since most adolescents and young adults will have sex, it is important that public health policies are designed to help young people gain the information they need to protect themselves, and others."

Citation: Journal of Adolescent Health, 36 (March 18, 2005), pp. 271–278.

Yale University -

Navy Sonar Terrorized Killer Whales

SEATTLE March 18, 2005 (AP) — Sonar pulsing from a Navy guided-missile destroyer during training exercises near the San Juan Islands two years ago was likely loud enough to send killer whales fleeing, according to a government agency report.

The National Marine Fisheries Service report backed up local experts who said sonar from the USS Shoup caused a group of orcas to behave abnormally, apparently trying to avoid the sound.

It contradicts the Navy's previous findings that orcas in Puget Sound's J Pod seemed unaffected by the sonar coming from the Shoup on May 5, 2003.

NFMS' 10-page report, dated Jan. 21 but not released publicly until March 10, said the Shoup's sonar was not loud enough to cause the whales any temporary or permanent hearing damage.

Cmdr. Karen Sellers, the Navy's spokeswoman for the Northwest, acknowledged the Shoup's sonar signals were the "dominant noise event" experienced by the orcas that day. She said the Navy maintains the "biological significance" was minimal, The (Bremerton) Sun newspaper reported Wednesday.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor said whether the whales suffered hearing loss is beside the point.

"They are trying to get away, and they are stranding and dying. It is irrelevant whether they had hearing loss if they are dead," Balcomb said.

Marine mammal researchers have also expressed concern about 15 harbor porpoises found dead in northern Puget Sound in the spring of 2003. Sellers said the Navy stands by its conclusions those deaths were not related to sonar.

The NMFS report said scientists found no signs the porpoises' ears suffered any acoustical trauma, although decomposition hindered researchers' analysis.

Puget Sound's orca population has been proposed for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Inventing The Replicator!

Captain Janeway waits for coffee from the ship
replicator on Star Trek Voyager (Paramount)

University of Bath News Release

March 17, 2005 - A revolutionary machine which can make everything from a cup to a clarinet quickly and cheaply could be in all our homes in the next few years.

Research by engineers at the University of Bath could transform the manufacture of almost all everyday household objects by allowing people to produce them in their own homes at the cost of a few pounds.

The new system is based upon rapid prototype machines, which are now used to produce plastic components for industry such as vehicle parts.

The method they use, in which plastic is laid down in designs produced in 3D on computers, could be adapted to make many household items.

Dr. Adrian Bowyer and his machine. (UB)

However, conventional rapid prototype machines cost around £25,000 to buy. But the latest idea, by , of the University’s Centre for Biomimetics, is that these machines should begin making copies of themselves. These can be used to make further copies of themselves until there are so many machines that they become cheap enough for people to buy and use in their homes.

Dr Bowyer is working on creating the 3D models needed for a rapid prototype machine to make a copy of itself. When this is complete, he will put these on a website so that all owners of an existing conventional machine can download them for free and begin making copies of his machine. The new copies can then be sold to other people, who can in turn copy the machine and sell on.

As the number of the self-replicating machines – there are now thousands of conventional rapid prototype machines – grows rapidly, so the price will fall from £25,000 to a few hundred pounds.

“People have been talking for years about the cost of these machines dropping to be about the same as a computer printer,” said Dr Bowyer. “But it hasn’t happened. Maybe my idea will allow this to occur.”

A machine could, for instance, make a complete set of plates, dishes and bowls out of plastic, colored and decorated to a design. It could also make metal objects out of a special alloy that melts at low temperatures, making it suitable for use in printed circuit boards for electronics.

The machines would not be able to produce glass items or complex parts such as microchips, or objects that would work under intense heat, such as toasters. But a digital camera could be made for a few pounds, and a lens and computer chip bought separately and added later. The rapid prototype machines would be useful for producing items that are now expensive, such as small musical instruments.

The items produced could be from a few millimeters (0.25 inches) to 300 millimeters (12 inches) in length, width and height. Larger items could be made simply by clipping together parts of this size.

Dr Bowyer said all that would be needed for a machine owner would be to buy the plastic and low-temperature alloy for a few pounds, and items could then be created in a few minutes or a few hours depending on their size. Designs for items could be bought – or downloaded free – from the web. Alternatively, people could create them for themselves on their own PCs.

He said that he would publish the 3D designs and computer code for the machine to replicate itself on the web over the next four years as they are developed, until the entire machine could be copied.

A small autonomous robot built in an FDM rapid
prototyping machine. It is about 200mm in
diameter. The robot was made to demonstrate a
new RP process for the direct incorporation of
electrical conductors into rapid prototypes. (UB)

He said that he has not taken out a patent and will not charge for creating the design for the machine. “The most interesting part of this is that we’re going to give it away,” he said.

“At the moment an industrial company consists of hundreds of people building and making things. If these machines take off, it will give individual people the chance to do this themselves, and we are talking about making a lot of our consumer goods – the effect this has on industry and society could be dramatic.”

The machines would be about the size of a refrigerator, and would self-reproduce by making a copy of themselves, part by part. These parts would then have to be assembled manually by their owners.

Dr Bowyer said the machines were a form of Universal Constructor, first proposed theoretically by the mathematician John von Neumann in the 1950s.

He also said their progress would be similar to that of a species in nature – as the machines replicated, so their users would vary them to suit their needs, some making larger objects, some more accurate devices and some making devices more quickly.

Dr Bowyer, and his colleague Ed Sells, have already created a demonstration robot with an electrical circuit built in using this technology and funding from the Nuffield Foundation. They hope to get new funding soon to begin work on the other stages of development.

The RepRap Project -

University of Bath -

Life on Mars (Continued)


LONDON March 16, 2005 (Reuters) - Flowing water, lava and ice shaped the surface of Mars just a few million years ago, scientists said on Wednesday, fueling speculation about the possibility of life on the planet.

In three reports published in the science journal Nature, an international team of researchers said images from the European Space Agency's Mars Express Mission and new data show glacial movement, climate change and volcanic activity.

"We're now seeing geological characteristics on Mars that could be related to life," said James Head of Brown University in Rhode Island and an author of one of the papers. "But we're a long way from knowing that life does indeed exist."

The new evidence, based on images of the planet's surface from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), shows Mars is dynamic and had a watery past. Liquid water is seen as a prerequisite for earthly life.

Ernst Hauber, of the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, and his colleagues said eruptions that occurred 350 million years ago made depressions on the Hecates Tholus volcano. Five million years ago glacial deposits formed inside the depressions.

Head and his team said glaciers on the planet moved from the poles toward mid-latitude regions 350,000 to four million years ago.

In the final research paper, John Murray of the Open University in Britain reported evidence of a frozen body of water, about the size and depth of the North Sea.

The HRSC evidence suggests the water is still there as ice on the ground or deep below the surface.

Head said the glacial deposits that his team studied could be sampled in future space missions and may provide more data about life on the planet.

"If we had ice to study, we would know a lot more about climate change on Mars and whether life is a possibility there," he added.

Building Nanomachines!
University of Wisconsin-Madison News Release

SAN DIEGO March 17, 2005 - Taking a new approach to the painstaking assembly of nanometer-sized machines, a team of scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has successfully used single bacterial cells to make tiny bio-electronic circuits.

Live bacteria are directed down a narrow channel to a
pair of electrodes where they are trapped by mild electric
currents. The bacteria, in effect, become "bio-junctions"
and can be captured, interrogated and released at will.
(Hamers Group / UW-Madison)

The work is important because it has the potential to make building the atomic-scale machines of the nanotechnologist far easier. It also may be the basis for a new class of biological sensors capable of near-instantaneous detection of dangerous biological agents such as anthrax.

The approach, reported here today (March 17, 2005) at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, suggests that microbes can serve as forms for complicated nanoscale structures, perhaps obviating, in part, the need for the tedious and time-consuming construction of devices at the smallest scale.

The work is also scheduled to appear in the April issue of the journal Nano Letters.

"One of the great challenges of nanotechnology remains the assembly of nanoscale objects into more complex systems," says Robert Hamers, a UW-Madison professor of chemistry and the senior author of the new reports. "We think that bacteria and other small biological systems can be used as templates for fabricating even more complex systems."

Toward that end, Hamers and his UW-Madison colleagues Joseph Beck, Lu Shang and Matthew Marcus, have developed a system in which living microbes, notably bacteria, are guided, one at a time, down a channel to a pair of electrodes barely a germ's length apart. Slipping between the electrodes, the microbes, in effect, become electrical "junctions," giving researchers the ability to capture, interrogate and release bacterial cells one by one. Built into a sensor, such a capability would enable real-time detection of dangerous biological agents, including anthrax and other microbial pathogens.

"The results here are significant because while there has been much attention paid to the ability to manipulate nanoscale objects such as nanotubes and nanowires across electrical contacts, for many applications the use of bacterial cells affords a number of potential advantages," Hamers says.

For example, capitalizing on the complex topography of the bacterial cell surface and microbial interactions with antibodies, scientists could potentially construct much more complex nanoscale structures through the natural ability of cells to dock with different kinds of molecules. Such a potential, Hamers argues, would be superior to the painstaking manipulation of individual nanosized components, such as the microscopic wires and tubes that comprise the raw materials of nanotechnology.

"We spend a lot of time making tiny little nanowires and things of that sort, and then we try to direct them in place, but it is very hard," says Hamers. "However, bacteria and other biological systems can be thought of as nature's nanowires that can be easily grown and manipulated."

In the series of experiments underpinning the new Wisconsin work, the group showed that it is possible to capture cells along an electrode and then direct them down a narrow channel that acts as a conveyor. Small gaps in the electrical contacts along the conveyor serve as traps that can hold single bacterial cells while their electrical properties are measured. Once the microbial interrogation is completed, the live cell can be released.

"You can measure and release them at your leisure," explains Beck, the lead author of the Nano Letters paper and a UW-Madison postdoctoral fellow.

The use of living microbes in such a technology could form
the basis for new ways of assembling nanodevices of all kinds.
One potential application is as a real-time bio-sensor used in
public places to instantly detect and characterize the microbes
that might be used in a bio-terror attack. (Hamers Group /

He says the chemicals naturally expressed on the surface of the bacterium could be wired in a way that would be the basis for a real-time biological sensor, a device that could be seeded in airports, stadiums, railway stations, skyscrapers, mailrooms and other public areas to sniff for dangerous biological agents that might be used in a bioterror event.

The device could be constructed, according to Beck, utilizing the natural features bacteria and other microbes use to sense their environments.
The wired bacterial cells, coupled with modern microelectronics, would have the ability not only to detect dangerous agents (anthrax spores, for example) but they then could sound the alarm and call for help.

"You could even engineer bacteria to have different surface molecules that you could capitalize on," says Beck.

For instance, it may be possible, the Wisconsin scientists say, to attach microscopic gold particles to the shell of the bacterium, making it more like a nanoscale gold wire.

Hamers believes the new work could be the basis for bringing nanotechnology and biology together in unprecedented ways.

Moreover, the ability to routinely and easily capture and analyze individual microbes will have implications for conventional biotechnology as well.

For example, chemical modifications to the electrode traps might make it easier for scientists to retrieve specified cells from a complex mixture.

The work by Hamers' group was funded by the National Science Foundation. The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, a private, nonprofit organization that manages UW-Madison intellectual property, has applied for patents for the technology.

University of Wisconsin-Madison -

MPEG movies of the research are available at

Ravens Thriving in Alaska Oil Fields

(Photo: Douglas)

ANCHORAGE March 17, 2005 (Reuters) — At least one animal appears to be benefiting from oil development in Alaska's North Slope -- the common raven -- according to one new study.

The large, cawing black birds appear to be thriving in the Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk oil fields in northern Alaska, according to a University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher who has been studying the birds for more than a year.

At a scientific conference this week hosted by the U.S. Minerals Management Service, University of Alaska doctoral student Stacia Backensto said nesting ravens are enjoying a near 90 percent success rate in producing fledglings. That is far higher than the normal fledgling success rate for ravens in similar settings.

The oil-field ravens use industrial scraps to build nests on the undersides of pipelines and on other oil-field facilities, she said. And they are feeding from the Prudhoe Bay landfill to survive during the otherwise food-scarce winters.

But what is good for the ravens may be bad for other wildlife, Backensto said. Ravens are voracious predators known to clean out the nests of other birds and also to scoop up small mammals.

"As predators, they have the potential to impact other birds that are nesting around this facility," Backensto said.

During the decades-long battle to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, opponents and supporters of the plan have scrutinized the environmental impact of existing and future development on the region's wildlife.

The Senate Wednesday voted to open the refuge, which lies east of Prudhoe Bay, to oil drilling.

Stan Senner, who works in Alaska for the environmental lobbying group the National Audubon Society, agreed the ravens population at Prudhoe Bay was on the rise. He said annual bird counts conducted at Prudhoe Bay showed a steady increase in ravens, from practically none in the early 1980s to about 100 birds at last count.

But Senner said "ravens don't belong on the coastal plain of the North Slope."

He also cited a 2003 report by the National Research Council on the environmental effects of oil exploration on the North Slope, which said "increased predation (by various animals) on nests is the most apparent effect of oil development on birds that nest in the oil fields."

Senner there are similar concerns about other opportunistic predators -- foxes, gulls and bears -- that appear to be clustering around the North Slope oil fields.

Global Warming Inevitable!
National Center for Atmospheric Research News Release

(Sierra Club)

BOULDER March 17, 2005 - Even if all greenhouse gases had been stabilized in the year 2000, we would still be committed to a warmer Earth and greater sea level rise in the present century, according to a new study by a team of climate modelers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The findings are published in this week's issue of the journal Science.

The modeling study quantifies the relative rates of sea level rise and global temperature increase that we are already committed to in the 21st century. Even if no more greenhouse gases were added to the atmosphere, globally averaged surface air temperatures would rise about a half degree Celsius (one degree Fahrenheit) and global sea levels would rise another 11 centimeters (4 inches) from thermal expansion alone by 2100.

"Many people don't realize we are committed right now to a significant amount of global warming and sea level rise because of the greenhouse gases we have already put into the atmosphere," says lead author Gerald Meehl. "Even if we stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations, the climate will continue to warm, and there will be proportionately even more sea level rise. The longer we wait, the more climate change we are committed to in the future."

The half-degree temperature rise is similar to that observed at the end of the 20th century, but the projected sea level rise is more than twice the 3-inch (5-centimeter) rise that occurred during the latter half of the previous century. These numbers do not take into account fresh water from melting ice sheets and glaciers, which could at least double the sea level rise caused by thermal expansion alone.

The North Atlantic thermohaline circulation, which currently warms Europe by transporting heat from the tropics, weakens in the models. Even so, Europe heats up with the rest of the planet because of the overwhelming effect of greenhouse gases.

Though temperature rise shows signs of leveling off 100 years after stabilization in the study, ocean waters continue to warm and expand, causing global sea level to rise unabated.

The paper concludes with a cogent statement by Meehl: "With the ongoing increase in concentrations of GHGs [greenhouse gases], every day we commit to more climate change in the future. When and how we stabilize concentrations will dictate, on the time scale of a century or so, how much more warming we will experience. But we are already committed to ongoing large sea level rise, even if concentrations of GHGs could be stabilized."

The inevitability of the climate changes described in the study is the result of thermal inertia, mainly from the oceans, and the long lifetime of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Thermal inertia refers to the process by which water heats and cools more slowly than air because it is denser than air.

The new study is the first to quantify future committed climate change using "coupled" global three-dimensional climate models. Coupled models link major components of Earth's climate in ways that allow them to interact with each other. Meehl and his NCAR colleagues ran the same scenario a number of times and averaged the results to create ensemble simulations from each of two global climate models. Then they compared the results from each model.

Members of a Japanese environmental
group hold a demonstration in downtown
Kyoto to celebrate the Kyoto Protocol.
(Kazuhiro Nogi /AFP)

The scientists also compared possible climate scenarios in the two models during the 21st century in which greenhouse gases continue to build in the atmosphere at low, moderate, or high rates. The worst-case scenario projects an average temperature rise of 3.5°C (6.3°F) and sea level rise from thermal expansion of 30 centimeters (12 inches) by 2100. All scenarios analyzed in the study will be assessed by international teams of scientists for the next report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due out in 2007.

The NCAR team used the Parallel Climate Model (PCM), developed by NCAR and the Department of Energy, and the new Community Climate System Model (Version 3). The CCSM3 was developed at NCAR with input from university and federal climate scientists around the country and principal funding from the National Science Foundation (NCAR's primary sponsor) and the Department of Energy. The CCSM3 shows slightly higher temperature rise and sea level rise from thermal expansion and greater weakening of the thermohaline circulation in the North Atlantic. Otherwise, the results from the two models are similar. The models were run on supercomputers at NCAR and several DOE labs and on the Earth Simulator in Japan.

Opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Another paper in this week's issue of Science, "The Climate Change Commitment," by NCAR scientist Tom Wigley, calculates a continued rise in temperatures and sea level out to the year 2400, using a different computer model.

National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) -

Genre News: Revelations, Woody Allen, West Wing, Spamalot, Point Pleasant, Nick Brendon, Fantastic Four & More!

Bill Pullman

Hollywood March 18, 2005 (Sci Fi Wire) - Bill Pullman (The Grudge) told SCI FI Wire that he had no interest in signing on for a weekly television series, but ultimately couldn't resist the lead role in NBC's upcoming supernatural limited series Revelations.

Pullman stars as astrophysicist Dr. Richard Massey, who reluctantly partners with a nun, Sister Josepha Montifiore (Natascha McElhone), in a last-ditch effort to forestall the End of Days.

"When this came up I had already turned down a couple of other [TV] opportunities," Pullman said in an interview.

"I'd really not been inviting television, and then I was in Japan doing The Grudge when they sent me the Revelations script."

Pullman added, "They tried to tell me it was 'high-quality television'—they have a term—but everyone likes to think of their show as elevated in some way. I said, 'I've heard that [stuff] before.' But then I read the script. What really got me was the relationship between Massey and Sister Jo. It felt so different not to have to be coy, that our contentiousness came out of respect for each other and not out of the 'I want to bed you' instincts. But I think that's what really works."

Natascha McElhone with Clooney in Solaris (Fox)

Pullman also praised his co-star, McElhone, the English-born actress best known to genre audiences for her performance in Steven Soderbergh's remake of Solaris.

"I really, really enjoy Natascha very much inside this role," Pullman said. "There's something interesting about her being English and the way she comes at things. She's very intelligent. So I think our conversations on the show have a different level of relationship than you see in other male-female stories, even in film. So there was more text there, more interesting scenes, and there's been more time to develop it."

Revelations debuts April 13 on NBC.

Blake Juror's Judgment Day For Sale

LOS ANGELES March 17, 2005 (AP) - A juror who helped acquit actor Robert Blake of killing his wife is promoting a six-song recording he produced during Blake's trial.

Blake hears of his acquittal (AFP)

Roberto Emerick, 30, publicized his album, "Judgment Day," during an appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live" soon after the acquittal. Emerick said he has received hate mail from critics who accuse him of making money off Bonny Lee Bakley's death.

"This was a stress management thing for me. This is how I was able to cope with the pressures of being a juror and not having anyone to tell about it," he said Friday.

Emerick said he and his rock band, Mission in the Hills, recorded songs before he was summoned for jury duty.

As the trial wore on, he realized he needed an outlet to express his feelings. Emerick said he rewrote and recorded new songs that focused on the trial.

The album's title track looks at what Blake might have been thinking as he waited for jurors to reach their verdict.

Under state law, Emerick cannot receive more than $50 from the venture until at least 90 days after the trial. He plans to put the album on sale June 14 and is meanwhile offering free downloads from his band's Web site.

"Show me all this money that I'm supposedly making," he said.

Woody's New One: Melinda and Melinda

Director/ writer Woody Allen and
actress Chloe Sevigny arrive for
the premiere of their new comedy
film 'Melinda and Melinda'.
(REUTERS /Dave Allocca)

NEW YORK March 18, 2005 (AP) - Woody Allen understands women in his movies. It's in real life when he gets into trouble.

"I always think I know them, but it's fallacious," Allen told reporters. "I don't. As long as I'm controlling the characters I give myself the illusion that I know what I'm doing."

In Allen's latest film, "Melinda and Melinda," the plot entails two stories — one comic and one tragic — interwoven with some common details and themes. Each focuses on a woman named Melinda who's a little mysterious and wayward. Each features cheating spouses. Both are set against that classic Allen backdrop: the streets and social circles of sophisticated, artistic, angst-ridden New York. Radha Mitchell and Will Ferrell co-star.

Allen hasn't always been able to write parts for women. That is until Diane Keaton came along.

"There was a time in my life I could never write for women," he said. "It was only with my relationship with Diane Keaton, that I was so in awe of her, that I started to write for her."

Allen said he can write romantic movies because he's a romantic at heart.

"I always thought that I was the height of romantic when I was younger, a lot of good its done me," he said with a laugh. "I always thought that I could convey romance in a movie."

The hardest part of writing a movie for Allen is creating good characters.

"Most of the time is spent thinking it," he explained. "That's the hard part. That's where you go crazy. Of the eight weeks, six of them are spent in a room alone, staring at my shoe tops trying to figure out what to do."

"Melinda and Melinda" opens in New York on Friday. The film is slated for wider release on March 23.

Melinda and Melinda Official -

Jordan, Las Vegas, West Wing Renewed at NBC

Martin Sheen returns for another season as
President Bartlett along with other NBC
favorites Crossing Jordan and Las Vegas.

LOS ANGELES March 17, 2005 ( - NBC's final schedule for the 2005-06 season won't be announced until May, but the network got a head-start on Thursday (March 17), renewing "Crossing Jordan," "Las Vegas" and the freshman comedy "Joey" for another year.

In addition, NBC confirmed the rumored renewal of "West Wing" and the two-year extension for "ER," which will keep the medical drama on the air through at least the 2007-08 season.

"The continuing quality and popularity of these series make them the mainstays of our year-to-year schedules," says NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly. "Coupled with our innovative current development plans, we feel we have the right mix of returning and fresh, new breakout hits for a promising 2005-06 schedule."

Facing the tough challenge of following in the footsteps of "Friends," "Joey" has struggled at times this season, averaging 11.1 million viewers. Still, NBC can boast that it's the season's top new comedy among adults 18-49 and in total viewers. Of the NBC renewals, "Joey" was probably the one whose future was in the most doubt.

Even after weathering a tough fall opposite "Monday Night Football," "Las Vegas" has averaged 11.7 million viewers per week in its second season. Those numbers are almost identical to the figures the show delivered last year.

Although NBC's Sunday performance has been spotty this season due to weaknesses between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., "Crossing Jordan" has provided a strong anchor, averaging 12.1 million viewers despite strong competition from ABC's "Boston Legal."

Two of the most decorated dramas in the history of the medium, "The West Wing" and "ER" are averaging 11.4 and 16.5 million viewers respectively.

Thursday's announcement brings a good deal of clarity to NBC's schedule with two months to go before its official upfront presentation.

In addition to today's renewals, a number of shows -- including "Scrubs," "Will & Grace," freshman drama "Medium" and the first three "Law & Order" offerings -- had already been picked up for next season.

"American Dreams" and "Committed" appear to be dead in the water and the fate of Friday dramas "Third Watch" and "Medical Investigation" is decidedly cloudy and probably won't be determined until after NBC executives have had the opportunity to look over the network's pilot haul.

Norm Leads Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade

Actor George Wendt and beer (AP Photo)

HOT SPRINGS AR March 18, 2005 (AP) - More than 7,000 people turned out Thursday to see ale-toting actor George Wendt serve as grand marshal for what is billed as the world's shortest St. Patrick's Day parade, a 97-foot, 11-inch procession in downtown Hot Springs.

Wendt, seen most often atop a barstool portraying Norm in the TV comedy "Cheers," arrived atop a Mustang convertible, holding a plastic container of beer. He said he later was "going to try" to participate in a pub tour after the parade.

The parade runs along Bridge Street, recognized by Ripley's Believe It or Not in the 1940s as the world's shortest street. Ripley's had recognized Maryville, Mo., as having the shortest St. Patrick's Day parade until last year, when Hot Springs' trimmed two feet off Maryville's 99.9-foot mark with its first March 17 parade.

Wendt watched as a parade of belly dancers, a 64-foot snake and Irish Elvises paraded by.

David Hyde Pierce on Spamalot

On stage from left to right: Hank Azaria, David
Hyde Pierce and Tim Curry who plays the part
of King Arthur, join the company and audience
in a rendition of the song Always Look on the Bright
Side of Life, during the curtain call for the Broadway
premiere of Spamalot, written by Monty Python's
Eric Idle and is directed by Mike Nichols. (AP Photo/
Stuart Ramson)

New York March 17, 2005 (AP) - If you liked Eric Idle in the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," David Hyde Pierce hopes you like him in the musical version, "Monty Python's Spamalot."

Pierce, who played the neurotic Dr. Niles Crane on "Frasier," plays all the parts Idle played in the movie — and gets to say and sing some of the most famous lines — like "Bring out your dead!"

"The writing is so good, it allows for different actors to take different approaches," Pierce told AP Radio.

Pierce also gets to give the speech about the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

Pierce admits he doesn't exactly have a big Broadway voice.

"I have probably a three-quarter-sized Broadway voice," he said. "I worked a lot. I took a lot of a, actually for years, voice lessons to prepare for doing a musical and dance as well. So I don't embarrass myself."

It was nerve-racking for Pierce rehearsing Idle's famous lines from the movie in front of Idle, who co-wrote the musical.

"It's been simultaneously a dream come true and a nightmare because I grew up watching the Pythons," Pierce said.

"I love them. They had a huge influence on my development as an actor and a comedian. And at the same time, no better does it better than Eric."

Pierce isn't on stage when the Black Knight's limbs are cut off, but he knows it's a hit anyway.

"I'm offstage, but I always watch it."

But what does that look like from an audience perspective? Pierce has been sworn to secrecy.

"We actually signed an agreement that we can't reveal the secrets of how that's done," he said. "But I can tell you the audience loves it every single night."

"Spamalot," adapted by Idle and composer John Du Prez, opens Thursday on Broadway and the surviving members of "Monty Python" are expected to be in attendance. Pierce, for one, is expecting added pressure.

"It's going to be crazy," he said. "I believe that all of the Pythons are coming. And John Cleese came to an early rehearsal and he said afterwards it reminded him of when it was fun."

The Time Traveler's Wife
By Liza Foreman

Oscar-nominated director Gus Van Sant (right)
directs Oscar-winner Sean Connery in Columbia
Pictures' Finding Forrester (2000).

LOS ANGELES March 17, 2005 (Hollywood Reporter) - Gus Van Sant is in negotiations to direct "The Time Traveler's Wife" for New Line Cinema.

Written by Audrey Niffenegger, a writer and professor of book arts in Chicago, the book is a loose retelling of "The Odyssey." The story centers on a man with a time-traveling gene that allows him to appear to his true love at different points in her life.

Jeremy Leven, whose screen credits include "Alex & Emma," "Don Juan DeMarco" and last year's "The Notebook," adapted the book.

Van Sant's credits include "Drugstore Cowboy," "To Die For," "Good Will Hunting" and "Elephant," which won the Palme d'Or and best director nods at 2003's Festival de Cannes. His upcoming "Last Days" tells a Seattle-set story of rock 'n' roll inspired by the life of Kurt Cobain.

Marti Says Series Closure for Point Pleasant

Point Pleasant creator Marti Noxon

Hollywood March 15, 2005 (Sci Fi Wire) - Marti Noxon, executive producer of Fox's struggling supernatural series Point Pleasant, told SCI FI Wire that she and the writing staff are crafting a season finale that will provide a sense of closure in part because she doubts the show will get picked up for a second season.

The finale will leave some threads dangling, but will also wrap things up for fans who tuned in to all 13 episodes.

"I'm pretty much counting on not coming back," Noxon said in an interview.

"Our numbers make [Fox's quickly canceled series] North Shore look like a hit. That sucks, but I've gotten past the pain."

Point Pleasant stars Elisabeth Harnois as Christina Nickson, the teenage daughter of the devil and a mortal woman, whose presence in the town of Point Pleasant, N.J., kicks off the ultimate battle between the forces of good and evil.

"The only thing that kills me is that I feel like the show got a lot better as we found what worked and what didn't work," Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) said.

"You go through this process and see results, and you're already dead, which is hard. And we are plotting the finale so that it will be satisfying if we get canceled. But it's also a big fat cliffhanger so we can continue the second season in my backyard sock puppet theater."

Point Pleasant airs on Fox Thursdays at 9 PM ET/PT.

[It did get better, Marti, but you should really research New Jersey the next time you decide to base a series there. Ed.]

Nick Brendon Pilot

Nick will play the pastry chef

LOS ANGELES March 17, 2005 ( - Nicholas Brendon, who had his fair share of comedic moments in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," will give full-time comedy a shot in a FOX pilot.

Brendon has joined the cast of "Kitchen Confidential," the Darren Star-produced pilot based on chef Anthony Bourdain's memoir of hard living and haute cuisine. He'll play a pastry chef at the lead character's restaurant, the showbiz trade papers report.

The show's cast already includes "Freaks and Geeks" alumnus John Francis Daley and Owain Yeoman ("Troy"), who would have starred in The WB's "Commando Nanny" this season had the show ever made it onto the air. The Bourdain part hasn't been filled yet.

David Hem ("Cracking Up," "Just Shoot Me") is writing the pilot, with Star ("Sex and the City," "Beverly Hills, 90210") executive producing and directing.

In addition to "Buffy," Brendon has appeared in "Psycho Beach Party" and last year's ABC Family movie "Celeste in the City." He also starred in another FOX pilot, "The Pool at Maddy Breaker's," in 2003.

Joss Will Direct Wonder Woman

Joss with two Saturn awards

NEW YORK March 18, 2005 (AP) - Joss Whedon, creator of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV series, has been signed by Silver Pictures to write and direct the "Wonder Woman" movie, based on the DC Comics character.

"We are excited about working with Joss," Jeff Robinov, president of production, Warner Bros. Pictures, said in a statement Thursday. "His work on `Buffy' makes him uniquely qualified to handle the Wonder Woman character."

Whedon described Wonder Woman as "the most iconic female heroine of our time."

"But in a way, no one has met her yet," he said. "What I love most about icons is finding out what's behind them, exploring the price of their power."

Whedon also created the "Buffy" spin-off series, "Angel." He is completing post-production on "Serenity," which he wrote and directed based on his TV series "Firefly."

The Carpenter version: stay tuned for another entirely
unnecessary remake

The Fog
By Borys Kit

LOS ANGELES March 18, 2005 (Hollywood Reporter) - Selma Blair has signed on for the remake of John Carpenter's classic horror-thriller "The Fog" for Revolution Studios. Also joining the cast are DeRay Davis and Rade Serbedzija.

Rupert Wainwright is directing the film. Cooper Layne is writing the script, based on the 1980 film's screenplay by Carpenter and the late Debra Hill.

"Fog" is set in a Northern California town near where a ship sank about 100 years earlier under mysterious circumstances in a thick, eerie fog. The ghosts of the deceased mariners return from their watery graves to seek revenge. Tom Welling and Maggie Grace also star.

Adrienne Barbeau in The Fog

Blair is stepping into the role of a DJ and owner of a lighthouse, originally portrayed by Adrienne Barbeau, who was married to Carpenter at the time. Davis plays Welling's best friend, and Serbedzija is a priest.

Blair's upcoming films include "Pretty Persuasion" and "The Alibi." She will shoot "Hellboy II" after she completes "Fog."

Davis, who appeared in "Barbershop" and "Barbershop 2," will soon begin a recurring role on HBO's "Entourage."

Serbedzija's credits include "Mission: Impossible 2," "Snatch," "Eyes Wide Shut" and "Before the Rain."

[The Fog was a very nearly perfect horror movie, as I remember. Remaking it is entirely unnecessary. Ed.]

Fantastic Four
AP Movie Writer

Marvel's Fantastic Four take the big screen plunge

LAS VEGAS March 18, 2005 (AP) - Ioan Gruffudd and his "Fantastic Four" arch-nemesis Julian McMahon dream about the power to fly. Their director, Tim Story, wishes for healing superpowers. Producer Avi Arad craves telepathic abilities.

While the cast and crew of this summer's "Fantastic Four" adaptation were in Las Vegas this week plugging the movie at the ShoWest theater owners convention, some shared their thoughts with The Associated Press on what superpowers they might like to possess.

"Flying. I think everybody has dreamt about that," said Gruffudd, who stars as Reed Richards, also known as Mr. Fantastic, in the film based on the hugely popular comic book. "And I was thinking about, I know this sounds boring, but I think it would be amazing to read every book ever written and have that sort of power, that sort of capacity."

"Fantastic Four" follows the adventures of four astronauts played by Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans, who are exposed to radiation and develop superpowers such as invisibility, hulking strength and the ability to control fire. They square off against Dr. Doom (McMahon), a virtually indestructible super-villain.

Julian McMahon: from Charmed to Nip/Tuck
to Dr. Doomed

McMahon agreed with Gruffudd that flying would be the greatest power, "just simply because I don't like the whole Customs thing at the airport," McMahon said. "Can you imagine just taking off from your deck at home? Hey, I'm going to Vegas. You pack your bag and off you go."

Arad, head of Marvel Studios and a producer on "Fantastic Four" and such comic-book adaptations as the "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" series, said he would like the ability to pry into people's thoughts.

"It's a big responsibility to have it, but reading one's mind interests me," Arad said. "It probably would turn out to be a curse, but I'd be curious about it."

Director Story looked to another Marvel franchise, "X-Men," saying he would like the self-healing powers the mutant hero Wolverine possesses.

"Wolverine's powers of being able to heal, you can't beat that," said Story, who is moving into action films with "Fantastic Four" after directing the comedy hit "Barbershop."

"I don't need much. I don't need to be able to fly. That's not a big deal to me. I just think it's pretty interesting to have a body that heals itself."

Fantastic Four Official -

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