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Cloning Wars!
Interstellar Voyager! Hippos,
Red Moon Mysteries, Octopus,
Thunder & Lightning & More!
Clone Wars!

UN Panel Targets US Drive for Broad Cloning Ban
By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS November 6, 2003 (Reuters) - A U.N. committee was poised on Thursday to derail for two years a US-led drive for a broad global ban on all forms of human cloning, including medical research on stem cells, diplomats said.

A motion to defer drafting of the treaty until 2005, to be put forward by Iran on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, appeared to be gathering steam in the U.N. General Assembly's legal committee, diplomats on both sides of the battle said.

A defeat would be a setback for Washington, U.S. anti-abortion groups and many heavily Catholic nations, and a victory for countries active in the medical and pharmaceutical fields and scientists who see promise in stem cell research.

"There's a good chance this motion will be adopted, although it is not a sure thing," said one envoy, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The matter has been pending in the 191-nation assembly since 2001, when France and Germany asked the United Nations to quickly draft a treaty banning human cloning.

The United States promptly jumped in to rule out a treaty that failed to ban "therapeutic" or "experimental" cloning, in which human cells are cloned for medical research aims, as well as the cloning of a human being.

Two years later, the U.N. body remains deeply divided on the issue, and not a word has been put on paper.

A group of more than 50 countries, led by Costa Rica and the United States, has continued to insist on the broad ban, while a smaller group -- led by Belgium and including Japan, Brazil and South Africa and several other European governments -- is still pushing for the narrower ban exempting therapeutic cloning.

The latter group -- which also includes Britain, the United States' closest ally on most other international issues -- argues the top U.N. priority should be to quickly ban cloning humans, leaving it to individual governments to decide whether -- and if so, how -- to regulate therapeutic cloning.

As part of a fierce lobbying campaign on both sides, anti-abortion activists have distributed photos of fetuses and pamphlets on genetic engineering to back their appeals for a total ban, while scientific groups have flooded U.N. missions with e-mails and petitions in favor of a narrower treaty.

Philippines Ambassador Lauro Baja, who chairs the assembly's legal committee, has tried repeatedly to bring the two sides together in a compromise that would allow the legal committee to begin the drafting process without explicit instructions on the outcome of their work.

But the two sides have refused to bend, clearing the way for the motion to defer to prevail, diplomats said.

FDA Backs Down on Cloning Animals
By Randy Fabi

WASHINGTON November 5, 2003 (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will revisit its preliminary determination that food from cloned animals is safe for consumers after several independent science advisers raised questions about the finding, a senior agency official told Reuters on Wednesday.

Biotech companies have pressed the agency to declare safe all meat and milk from cloned animals while consumer groups have expressed concerns that the FDA is moving too quickly.

Last week, the FDA issued a preliminary summary of a risk analysis that concluded food from cloned animals or their offspring were as safe as conventional food. The full report will not be released for several weeks.

But on Tuesday, several members of an FDA advisory panel of independent scientists said there was not enough data in the agency's report, especially on cloned pigs, to reach the conclusion that all milk and meat products were safe.

Stephen Sundlof, director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said the agency still believes food from cloned animals is safe, but will review the panel's comments.

"The FDA has one opinion, but that opinion will be revisited in light of the comments of the committee," he said in an interview.

He said a final risk assessment, which will include the panel's comments, was expected to be published early next year.

It was unfortunate that the FDA was unable to publish the entire risk analysis before the advisory panel met, Sundlof said.

"It would have been ideal, I think, if the entire document had been in a condition that it could be published. Unfortunately, it wasn't," Sundlof said. "I think time will tell whether that was the right decision or not."

Another issue before the FDA, which also regulates veterinary drugs, is whether cloning poses too many health risks for the animals.

The FDA report is the first step in a months-long process in deciding whether to allow the commercialization of food from cloned animals. A final policy decision is expected next year.

Consumer groups have criticized the FDA for basing its food safety conclusions on very limited scientific data.

"This decision is premature," said Gregory Jaffe, biotech director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "They don't have the data yet to support the conclusions that they floated to the public last week."

The nascent industry, which includes leading firms such as Cyagra Inc. and ViaGen Inc., has voluntarily agreed not to sell any food products from cloned animals until the FDA makes its decision.

Biotech companies clone animals by taking the nuclei of cells from adults and fusing them into other egg cells from which the nuclei have been extracted. Livestock have already been cloned for sale to producers.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Press Release

November 3, 2003 - A mouse population that once totaled more than 200,000 is down to zero at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but it's all part of the plan. Beginning in the next few weeks and continuing for several years, the mouse colony will be rederived from stocks of embryos frozen in special freezers chilled by liquid nitrogen.

The stock consists of more than 900 strains, some dating back to the 1940s. Strains for which there is funding – about 300 -- will be brought back to life.

The new mice will be housed in ORNL's brand new 30,000-square-foot pathogen-free Russell Laboratory for Comparative and Functional Genomics.

Because the facility is sterile, ORNL will now be able to exchange its specially mutated mice with other research institutions and will be eligible for research dollars previously unavailable to ORNL.

Canadian Growers Warn UK Farmers of GMO Crop Risks

LONDON November 3, 2003 (Reuters) - Canadian farmers with first hand experience growing genetically modified (GMO) crops say the technology will damage Britain's booming organic food sector and leave fields strewn with "super weeds" grown from stray, leftover seeds.

"I took the decision to stop growing GM canola (the Canadian variant of rapeseed) because it was impossible to stop it spreading to other fields -- the seeds cling to the machinery and are easily transferred, even with intensive cleaning," David Bailey, a Saskatchewan-based farmer told Reuters on Monday.

"My neighbors all had the same problem," he added.

But suppliers of GM seeds say the majority of Canadian growers are not complaining.

"Conservative estimates indicate that 65 percent of the Canadian canola crop in 2002 was genetically modified. It can only capture this portion of the market if it offers significant advantages to Canadian farmers," a spokesman for the London-based Agriculture Biotechnology Commission (ABC), which represents major biotech firms like Monsanto, said.

Bailey, who grew herbicide-tolerant rapeseed on around 350 hectares (865 acres) in the late 1990s, said he also found few economic benefits in growing the gene-spliced variety.

"The only party to profit was the chemical company that charged me a license fee," said Bailey, who was invited to Britain to tell local growers of his experiences by the pro-organic UK Soil Association.

Jim Robbins, a Canadian grower who is converting from conventional to organic farming and who is also talking with UK farmers this week, said GMO crops would ruin the livelihoods of organic farmers.

"You can't grow organic canola in Canada anymore, simply because the GM variety exists," Robbins said.

"The potential problems with GM crops have been well documented in the UK -- our experiences bear out these concerns."

A group representing 1,000 organic farmers in the Saskatchewan province has already taken out a class-action suit against two major manufacturers of GMO crops for making it impossible for them to grow rapeseed on their land, since they can no longer guarantee that it is GM-free.


But David Bailey said Canada's farming sector is now facing an even bigger GM threat, this time from wheat, which U.S. biotech giant Monsanto is keen to introduce.

"With GM canola, we lost a C$300-400 million (a year) market share because Europe stopped importing it. If Canada grows GM wheat, we stand to lose much, much more than that. It will shut off even bigger and more important markets for us," Bailey said.

Monsanto has been conducting field trials in western Canada to develop GM "Roundup Ready" wheat for around three years. The plants are genetically altered to be unaffected when the herbicide "Roundup" is used on the fields to control weeds.

The U.S. agricultural sciences firm has said it will not move to commercially release GM wheat until concerns about segregation and market acceptance are fully addressed, although it still argues that GM wheat will cut costs and increase yields by simplifying weed control.

The UK government has said it will decide whether GM crops should be commercially grown in Britain once it has weighed up all the scientific and economic evidence it has at its disposal, as well as the results of a recent public consultation.

However, research papers published last month by scientists who carried out the government's three-year-long GMO crop trials failed to show GMO crops in a positive light, concluding that two crops were harmful to the environment, while another was not.

And in two separate studies, UK researchers have found that bees carrying GM rapeseed pollen had contaminated conventional plants more than 26 kilometers (16 miles) away and that if farmers grew GM rapeseed for one season, impurities could stay in the soil for up to 16 years if not "rigorously controlled."

Britain's public are also highly skeptical of GM crops. There are no GM crops in the ground in the UK at present and no imminent plantings. Led by the U.S., GM crops are now grown in more than 16 countries outside Europe.

In 2002, farmers around the world planted 60 million hectares of land with GM crops.

Interstellar Voyager!

NASA JPL Press Release

November 5, 2003 - NASA's venerable Voyager 1 spacecraft, built and operated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is about to make history again. It is the first spacecraft to enter the solar system's final frontier, a vast expanse where wind from the Sun blows hot against thin gas between the stars: interstellar space.

However, before it reaches this region, Voyager 1 must pass through the termination shock, a violent zone that is the source of beams of high-energy particles. Voyager's journey through this turbulent zone will give scientists the first direct measurements of our solar system's unexplored final frontier, the heliosheath. Scientists are debating whether this passage has already begun. Two papers about this research are being published in Nature today.

The first paper, by Dr. Stamatios Krimigis of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., and his team, supports the claim Voyager 1 passed beyond the termination shock. The second paper, by Dr. Frank McDonald of the University of Maryland, College Park, and his team, disputes the claim.

A third paper, published October 30 in Geophysical Research Letters by Dr. Leonard Burlaga of Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., and collaborators, states Voyager 1 did not pass beyond the termination shock.

"Voyager 1 has seen striking signs of the region deep in space where a giant shock wave forms, as the wind from the Sun abruptly slows and presses outward against the interstellar wind. The observations surprised and puzzled us, so there is much to be discovered as it begins exploring this new region at the outer edge of the solar system," said Dr. Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Launched on September 5, 1977, Voyager 1 explored the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn before being tossed out toward deep space by Saturn's gravity. It is approaching, and may have temporarily entered, the region beyond termination shock. At more than 13 billion kilometers (approximately eight billion miles) from the Sun, Voyager 1 is the most distant object from Earth built by humanity.

The termination shock is where the solar wind, a thin stream of electrically charged gas blown constantly from the Sun, is slowed by pressure from gas between the stars. At the termination shock, the solar wind slows abruptly from its average speed of about 700,000 to 1,500,000 miles per hour.

Estimating the location of the termination shock is hard, because we don't know the precise conditions in interstellar space. We do know speed and pressure of the solar wind changes, which cause the termination shock to expand, contract and ripple.

From about August 1, 2002 to February 5, 2003, scientists noticed unusual readings from the two energetic particle instruments on Voyager 1, indicating it had entered a region of the solar system unlike any previously encountered. This led some to claim Voyager 1 may have entered a transitory feature of the termination shock.

The controversy would be resolved if Voyager could measure the speed of the solar wind, because the solar wind slows abruptly at the termination shock. However, the instrument that measured solar wind speed no longer functions on the spacecraft. Scientists must use data from instruments that are still working to infer if Voyager pierced the termination shock.

"We have used an indirect technique to show the solar wind slowed down from about 700,000 miles per hour to much less than 100,000 mph. We used this same technique when the instrument measuring the solar wind speed was still working. The agreement between the two measurements was better than 20 percent in most cases," Krimigis said.

"The analysis of the Voyager 1 magnetic field observations in late 2002 indicate that it did not enter a new region of the distant heliosphere by having crossed the termination shock. Rather, the magnetic field data had the characteristics to be expected based upon many years of previous observations, although the intensity of energetic particles observed is unusually high," Burlaga said.

Voyagers 1 and 2 were built by JPL, which continues to operate both spacecraft 26 years after their launch. The spacecraft are controlled and their data returned through NASA's Deep Space Network, a global spacecraft tracking system also operated by JPL.

The Voyager Project Manager is Ed Massey of JPL. For their original missions to Jupiter and Saturn, the Voyagers were destined to explore regions of space where solar panels would not be feasible, so each was equipped with three radioisotope thermoelectric generators to produce electrical power for the spacecraft systems and instruments. Still operating in remote, cold and dark conditions 26 years later, the Voyagers owe their longevity to these Department of Energy-provided generators, which produce electricity from the heat generated by the natural decay of plutonium dioxide.

More information about the Voyagers is available at:

For images and animation on the Internet, visit

Congress Gives Bush Money for New Nukes

By Andrew Clark

WASHINGTON November 6, 2003 (Reuters) — House and Senate negotiators agreed Wednesday to give President Bush most of the money he had sought to study new types of nuclear weapons, as critics warned the move could spark a new nuclear arms race.

The funds were approved as part of a $27.3 billion bill funding energy and water programs next year, which also includes spending for a controversial nuclear waste dump in the Nevada desert that opponents have vowed to block.

Both chambers are expected to clear the spending bill soon and send it to Bush to be signed into law.

The bill would give Bush half of the $15 million he had sought to develop an Earth-penetrating nuclear warhead for use against deeply buried bunkers and all of the $6 million he wanted to research small, low-yield nuclear weapons.

Critics argue small nuclear weapons are dangerous because policy-makers may see them as a usable adjunct to conventional arms, heightening risks of nuclear escalation. And they say U.S. moves to develop them may force others to follow suit.

"This is just a horrible message to send to the rest of the world," said North Dakota Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan.

The House initially cut almost all of the funds for the programs. But most were restored at the Senate's insistence.

"We have compromised rather substantially," said New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici.

Congress is scrambling to finish its overdue budget work before it adjourns for the year, and the House later Wednesday approved the latest in series of stopgap measures to keep the federal government open until Nov. 21.

The spending bill would also provide $580 million for the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal project in 2004 — around $11 million less than Bush had requested but far above a $425 million limit earlier endorsed by the Senate.

The plan aims to site the first permanent U.S. nuclear waste repository in the desert northwest of Las Vegas and is bitterly opposed by the state of Nevada, whose senators have generally succeeded in capping its funding in past years.

While Congress has given final approval for the repository, scheduled to open in 2010 and hold up to 77,000 tons of radioactive waste, the state has launched multiple lawsuits seeking to block it on safety grounds.

The spending bill would commit $11 million next year — around $12 million less than the White House had requested — to a proposed new factory to make the plutonium "pits" at the heart of U.S. nuclear weapons. The last U.S. facility manufacturing the nuclear triggers closed in 1989.

It also contains nearly $25 million to fund an effort to cut the time it would take to again begin testing U.S. nuclear weapons from three years to two years. The Bush administration has argued that period needs to be cut further, to 18 months.

The United States has observed a nuclear test moratorium since 1992, but officials have said it may need to resume testing at some point to ensure its arsenal is not degrading.

60 Hippos Face Death

WINDHOEK November 5, 2003 (AFP) - A group of 60 hippos face certain death in Namibia's Caprivi region as a natural water channel close to the Chobe River on the border to Botswana is fast drying up, it was reported.

The Namibia Broadcasting Corporation showed footage of 60 mostly adult trapped hippos huddled closely together, trying desperately to move around in thick mud in the channel near Kapani, some 80 kilometers south-east of the Caprivi regional capital of Katima Mulilo.

After the eastern Caprivi was hit by severe floods of the Zambezi River in May this year, the southern parts where the Chobe River forms the natural border to Botswana had very little rain, threatening buffalos, crocodiles and elephants.

The NBC quoted a local resident, Ignatius Kamuna, as saying the community was worried about losing the wild animals, as they were important for tourism and that hippos were keeping the natural water channels free from vegetation overgrowth.

"Last month already we informed the regional nature conservation offices about the plight of these hippos", Kamuna said.

According to the television report, deputy permanent secretary in the ministry of environment and tourism, Ndeudapo Amagulu, said the ministry would send a special team of senior officials to the Kapani area for an aerial survey in order to assess how the animals could be rescued.

Bush Halts Missouri River Eco Report
By Libby Quaid
Associated Press

WASHINGTON November 6, 2003 (AP) - The long-running dispute over management of the nation's longest river took another twist when the Bush administration yanked government scientists off a project to study the waterway's ecosystem.

The team had been on the job for years and was within weeks of producing what could have been its final report. Conservation groups criticized last week's unreported decision to remove the scientists, which they said was to protect business interests at the expense of the Endangered Species Act.

The move may block changes to the Missouri River's flow because the scientists had ordered the switch. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has resisted changing river operations but is under a December deadline to come up with a new plan that meets requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

A different team of scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will say whether the corps can avoid major changes — such as a previously ordered switch to a more natural spring rise and low summer flow — and remain in compliance with the act.

It's the latest development in a bitter battle over managing the nation's longest river, which stretches 2,341 miles (3,767 kilometers) from Montana to St. Louis, where it empties into the Mississippi.

Conservation groups accused the administration of trying to avoid changing to a more seasonal ebb and flow to benefit birds and fish.

"In a month's time, a group of people that knows nothing about the Missouri are supposed to write a credible biological opinion? Give me a break," Chad Smith, spokesman for the group American Rivers said Wednesday.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said critics were jumping to conclusions.

"The bottom line is this will go where the science leads. There is no predetermination," said Hugh Vickery, spokesman for the Interior Department, which includes the service.

He said one of the new team leaders, Robyn Thorson, is regional director of the Service's Minnesota-based Great Lakes–Big Rivers region, which includes a portion of the Missouri. The other leader is Dale Hall, regional director of the agency's Southwest Region in Albuquerque, N.M.
Red Moon Mysteries!

PARIS November 3, 2003 (AFP) - The Moon will turn a shade of red this Saturday when it will be fully eclipsed by the Earth, whose shadow will blot out all but a tiny fraction of solar light, astronomers said.

Total lunar eclipses occur when the Sun, the Earth and the Moon are all in alignment and the Moon travels into the broad cone of shadow cast by the Earth.

The Moon does not become invisible, though, because there is still residual sunlight that is deflected towards it by the Earth's atmosphere, most of which is light in the red part of the spectrum.

That causes the Moon to appear as a dark color, usually a coppery red, orange or even brown.

The Earth's shadow will begin to creep over the Moon at about 2330 GMT on Saturday, Britain's Royal Astronomical Society said in a press statement received here.

The period of total eclipse will be relatively short, lasting from 0106 to 0131 GMT, and the last remnant of the shadow will leave the lunar face at 0305 GMT.

"We are not expecting the Moon to become very dark during this eclipse," the society's spokeswoman, Jacqueline Mitton, said. "It is likely to have a bright rim at its southern edge, which will only just be inside the shadow."

The entire event will be visible from Europe, northern and western Africa and some eastern parts of North and South America.

Australia, New Zealand, Japan and other parts of East Asia will be unable to see it, but regions in between will experience part of the eclipse around moonrise or moonset.

Total lunar eclipses occur roughly every couple of years.

Total solar eclipses happen when the Moon crosses between the Earth and the Sun. The next one of these will take place on November 23, but will be visible only from Antarctica.

More Moon Mysteries at Callanish

Isle of Lewis SCOTLAND November 5, 2003 (Scotsman) - For 6,000 years the eerie standing stones at Callanish on Lewis have intrigued archaeologists and historians. The monuments, which were erected by Neolithic farming people, are believed to have a special association with the cycle of the moon.

A television program, to be shown this weekend to coincide with a full moon and also a total eclipse of the moon, will explore the stones’ lunar importance.

Starting at 11:30pm on Saturday, the face of the moon will darken, as the shadow of the Earth passes across its entire lit surface. By 1:18am on Sunday, the moon will reflect no light at all, as the total eclipse blacks it out, a spectacle which will be seen across Britain.

The lunar association with Callanish will be examined in Moon Power, a BBC Natural World program. The site includes a central circle with four limbs running out in line with the points of the compass. Some of the stones are said to be aligned with the sun and moon at various times of the year and could have been used to predict eclipses and the coming of the seasons.

The program will feature a simulation of a moonlit event which happens every 18 and a half years at Callanish and which culminates in the appearance of the "Earth Mother", a figure seemingly outlined in the shape of the hills to the south of Callanish. The next event is not due to happen until 2006.

Local people call the image "Sleeping Beauty" in English or "Cailleach na Mointeach" in Gaelic - which translates as "The Old Woman of the Moors".

After rising over the Earth Mother, the moon passes through the Callanish stones two to five hours later. As this happens, if a person stands on the hillock at the higher south end of the site, the moon is "reborn" with a person silhouetted within it.

Margaret Curtis, a local expert on the stones, said: "Callanish is basically a large lunar observatory where prehistoric man was able to record the extremes of the moon’s cycles.

Moon Power will be shown on Sunday 9 November at 5:25pm on BBC2.

Erectile Tissue Found in Octopus Tentacles

By Maggie Fox
Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON November 5, 2003 (Reuters) - Researchers said on Wednesday they had found erectile tissue in the tentacle of a male octopus, the first time such tissue has been seen in an invertebrate.

Erections are key to sexual reproduction in the males of many, but not all, vertebrate species but it was not known how broadly this particular adaptation was used.

Joseph Thompson, assistant professor of biology at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia and Janet Voight of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago published their discovery in the Journal of Zoology.

In most octopus males, the tip of one of their eight arms is used to pass spermatophores, little packages filled with sperm, to females during mating. Thompson and Voight found the extra modification in one species of shallow-water octopus.

Thompson, who called the finding weird, said biologists have looked for erectile tissue in other mollusks but not found them.

It is not surprising that no one has noticed this before, Thompson said.

Octopuses, known for their intelligence and complex behavior, are shy animals. Observing their mating is difficult and often the females attack and eat the males during courtship.

In fact, it was while watching a female turn on a male who was attempting to mate with her that Voight made the discovery. The male hurriedly withdrew his tentacle -- "because the female was probably eyeing him up as lunch," Thompson said.

"She noticed the tip of the arm was swollen. It was distended," he said in a telephone interview.

Thompson had noticed that, under a microscope, the tissue at the end of the copulatory tentacle looked like mammalian erectile tissue. They put two and two together.

"We haven't gotten a male octopus to perform for us, as it were, in the lab," Thompson admitted. "Maybe we should try Viagra."

Why would an octopus need to have an erection? Perhaps for some of the same reasons that other animals have them.

"Erectile tissue might be a way to have a large copulatory organ when it is in use," Thompson said. When not in use, it would be small and out of the way. "Running around with an erection potentially could be difficult."

Lap Dancing in LA
LOS ANGELES November 4, 2003 (AP) - Opponents of a city ordinance banning lap dancing at strip clubs, bikini bars and adult bookstores have a chance to take their gripe to the ballot box.

The city clerk certified on Monday that activists have collected enough signatures to force a referendum before the "no-touch" rule can go into effect.

The City Council must now decide whether to rescind it, place a referendum on the next citywide ballot in 2005 or add a question to the Democratic presidential primary in March. They have 20 days to decide what to do.

Council members voted unanimously in September to require dancers remain at least six feet from customers and put in place restrictions that also would outlaw "VIP rooms" where nude dancers perform privately.

Supporters of the law have argued that adult entertainment places contribute to prostitution and drug use.

Club owners say the rules infringed on First Amendment rights and would force many out of business. They spent $400,000 to gather more than the required 56,941 signatures to force a vote.
Thunderstorm Research Shocks Conventional Theories

Florida Institute of Technology Press Release

Melbourne FL November 5, 2003 – If Joseph Dwyer, Florida Tech associate professor of physics, is right, then a lot of what we thought we knew about thunderstorms and lightning is probably wrong.

In the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, the National Science Foundation CAREER Award winner caps two years of lightning research with a startling conclusion: The conditions inside thunderstorms that were long thought necessary to produce lightning actually do not exist in nature.

"For generations, we've believed that in order to produce a lightning discharge, the electric fields inside storms must be very big, similar to the fields that cause you to be shocked when you touch a metal doorknob," said Dwyer.

The problem is scientists have searched inside thunderstorms for many years, looking for these large electric fields, only to come up empty handed.

Some researchers have suggested that maybe we haven't been looking hard enough; maybe the big electric fields are really there, but they were somehow just missed.

Now, Dwyer's new theory shows that these searches were actually in vain; super-sized fields simply don't exist, period.

"What we've discovered is a new limit in nature. Just as a bucket can only hold so much water, the atmosphere can only hold a certain sized electric field. Beyond that, the electric field is stunted by the rapid creation of gamma-rays and a form of anti-matter called positrons," he said.

While Dwyer's research shows that lightning is not produced by large, unseen electric fields inside storms, the triggering mechanism remains a mystery.

"Although everyone is familiar with lightning, we still don't know much about how it really works," said Dwyer.

Genre News: Sweeps, Angel Auction, Mel Gibson, Spider-man, Catwoman, Superman, Ken Russell & More!

Joe the Lyon - No Room for Art on TV
By FLAtRich

Hollywood November 5, 2003 (eXoNews) - The famous sweeps are upon us, raising the musical question: ratings war - what is it good for?

Absolutely nothing.

This week NBC sidelined The Lyon's Den, Rob Lowe's decidedly off-center lawyer show because it failed to uproot The Practice over on ABC.

Was it a lack of viewers that slew the Lyon? Not from the numbers I've been seeing. Lowe's show was pulling 10 million in its Saturday night time slot according to Nielsen.

I can only assume that it's those mysterious 18-34 demographics we always hear about - the lionized all-important age and sex breakdowns that Nielsen and the networks use to decide what choices await us when we turn on the tube.

Those noble soap-selling TV executives, (and selling product is what the networks are all about), decided Mr. Lowe just wasn't reaching their target audience of consumers. On other networks, the same pronouncement befell the unlucky casts of The Mullets, Skin and The Brotherhood of Boring Brothers, (or whatever that one was called.)

Won't miss those turkeys, but it does amaze me that they got the axe while ho-hum retreads like Threat Matrix, Happy Family and Karen Sisco survive. While these three have actors I like, I found them utterly unwatchable. Plodding, predictable - in short, no-brainers.

So why do Law & Order and Everybody Loves Raymond pull out the right wallets and more unusual entries like Tru Calling flounder from the start?

For one thing, Nielsen numbers would have us believe that people watching television basically prefer the same old thing year after year. They don't want to deal with anything new. I suspect that this is because they don't really have to pay close attention if it's familiar. They don't have to work to follow a plot or figure out new characters.

Whether this inattentiveness is really a symptom of the active lives of 18-34 year old males or just a characteristic of all Nielsen viewers who know their sets are being monitored is the center of an age-old debate in TVLand, but it is probably both.

Take a look at the top 20 network shows so far this year. Cold Case was the only new drama on the list. Charlie Sheen's sitcom, Two and a Half Men was the newest comedy (It is new, right? It's so familiar that I can't remember.) Everything else was there last year.

1 CSI CBS 6.4/25.0
2 FRIENDS NBC 3.4/21.0
3 E.R. NBC 12.7/20.0
4 RAYMOND CBS 12.2/18.0
5 CSI: MIAMI CBS 11.8/19.0
5 SURVIVOR CBS 11.8/18.0
7 LAW&ORDER NBC 11.5/19.0
8 FOOTBALL ABC 11.4/19.0
9 WILL&GRACE NBC 10.4/16.0
10 TWO AND A HALF MEN CBS 10.3/15.0
10 WITHOUT A TRACE CBS 10.3/17.0
12 8 SIMPLE RULES ABC 9.7/16.0
13 WEST WING NBC 9.7/15.0
14 LAW&ORDER: CI NBC 9.7/14.0
15 SCRUBS NBC 9.5/15.0
16 NFL SHOWCASE ABC 9.2/14.0
17 60 MINUTES CBS 9.1/15.0
18 COLD CASE CBS 9.1/14.0
19 SIMPSONS FOX 8.9/13.0
20 FOX NFL POST FOX 8.6/16.0

What can we learn about new programming from this? People flock to new dramatic shows about solving old murder cases and sitcoms where the burning question is "Should Alan let Charlie discuss the birds and the bees with Jake?" (This from a viewer's poll on the Two and a Half site.)

Those two premises are almost vacant. Plenty of time to surf to other channels without missing anything, hold a phone conversation, feed the kids, walk the dog, or write a thesis on the rise of apathy in the dramatic arts.

There is even lower interest in new entries on cable channels. The most recent Nielsen figures for cable show these old favorites as the top five cable shows:

2 NFL PRIME TIME ESPN 3.0 3,304,000
3 WWE SPIKE 3.0 3,266,000
4 SPONGEBOB NICK 2.6 2,779,000

In the wonderful world of syndication, where viewers could be watching brand new flights of fantasy and special effects on Andromeda or new syndicated entries like Angel on TNT, our Nielsen families still prefer the old tired and true. The latest top five:

1 WHEEL OF FORTUNE 8.8 9,514,000
2 JEOPARDY 6.8 7,321,000
4 OPRAH WINFREY SHOW 6.5 7,082,000
5 SEINFELD 5.8 6,282,000

So you can see for yourself that there is a solid trend here. Unfortunately, it is sapping the tube of any inkling of creative intent. The networks won't even let most trailing new shows play out 13 episodes to find an audience. By today's criteria, classic TV series like X-Files and M*A*S*H would never have made it past their first seasons.

There have been some obvious winners outside the Nielsen Top 20, of course. Joan grabs all of our hearts and Navy: NCIS combines a winsome cast with a military twist on the current viewer obsession with close-ups of bullet wounds.

But be forewarned: if your new favorites don't win with Nielsen in the first few weeks, you might as well just stop watching them and switch back to banal Raymond.

The networks have soap to sell, car sponsors to satisfy, and beer guzzlers to attract.

There's no room for art in the vast wasteland.

Stats above were garnered from Zap2it at

Get some revenge! Vote for the Top 5 TV Shows of all time at

NBC Admits Programming Sucked
AP Television Writer

NEW YORK November 4, 2003 (AP) - The top networks are suffering through a lackluster fall season partly because "some of the programming just sucked," NBC's entertainment chief said on Tuesday.

NBC's Jeff Zucker, who has already canned two high-profile new series, said while networks question some of Nielsen Media Research's numbers this year, TV executives need also look in the mirror.

"Our programming is not that good and the Nielsen sample is bad. End of story," said Zucker, speaking to the International Radio & Television Society Foundation.

During the first week of the important November sweeps period, CBS was the only one of the six major broadcasters to draw a bigger audience than the same week last year, Nielsen said.

That's consistent with the season as a whole. Fox, which benefited from a thrilling baseball postseason, is the only network to see gains season-to-date.

Zucker cited NBC's "Coupling" — already canceled — as NBC's biggest mistake of the season. Another series the network had high hopes for, Rob Lowe's "The Lyon's Den," has also been taken off the air. [Too bad. We liked that one. Ed.]

All of the network entertainment chiefs speaking before the IRTS Tuesday directed some anger toward Nielsen. They don't quite believe Nielsen's numbers that say viewership is off 10 percent this season among men aged 18 to 34, a crucial group for advertisers.

Zucker said he doesn't believe it's a coincidence that Nielsen's measurement of young male viewership has increased over the past three weeks after network complaints became public.

Young men, who may have been distracted by DVDs and video games, began returning to TV with the World Series, Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said.

Loftus noted that Nielsen received few complaints last year when the company's sample showed an increase in viewership among young men.

"When the numbers are up, it's the programming," he said. "When the numbers are down, it's Nielsen."

Zucker also said the networks had put on several new shows this fall that appealed to females, like NBC's "Miss Match," CBS' "Joan of Arcadia" and ABC's "Karen Sisco" and "Hope & Faith."

"Where's `Chuck & Matt'?" Zucker asked. "If we just keep putting on shows that aren't necessarily going to appeal to young men, we're making a mistake. We're standing at the front of that line."

Susan Lyne, ABC's entertainment chief, said the lack of any new shows that viewers were anticipating this fall may have reduced viewership in general.

CBS' victory last week was fueled partly by a strong performance by "Survivor," which defeated "Friends" head-to-head for the first time in a year and a half. The CBS 75th anniversary special on Sunday was seen by 18.2 million viewers.

For the week, CBS averaged 13.7 million viewers (9.0 rating, 15 share). NBC was second with 11.3 million viewers (7.6, 12), but won handily among the 18-to-49-year-old viewers that advertisers crave.

ABC had 9.4 million viewers (6.1, 10), Fox 8 million (5.1, 8), the WB 3.9 million (2.7, 4), UPN 3.5 million (2.3, 4) and Pax TV 1 million (0.7, 1).

NBC's "Nightly News" won the evening news ratings race, averaging 10.8 million viewers (7.6 rating, 15 share). ABC's "World News Tonight" had 10.5 million (7.3, 14) and the "CBS Evening News" had 8.3 million (5.8, 11).

A ratings point represents 1,084,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 108.4 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of Oct. 27-Nov. 2, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," CBS, 27.3 million; "Survivor: Pearl Islands," CBS, 20.8 million; "ER," NBC, 19.9 million; "Friends," NBC, 19.4 million; "Everybody Loves Raymond," CBS, 18.3 million; "CBS at 75," CBS, 18.2 million; "CSI: Miami," 17 million; "The Simpsons," Fox, 16.2 million; "Law & Order," NBC, 16.2 million; "Will & Grace," NBC, 15.9 million.

Nielsen -

Angel for Sale!

Hollywood November 5, 2003 (eXoNews) - Got a few thousand bucks to spend on a wooden stake?

Too late! Maybe next time.

The bids were over $5000 on eBay today for a visit to the set of Angel and a genuine wooden stake signed by David Boreanaz.

The auction was a charity affair sponsored by Wired for the Starbright Foundation.

The winner gets to "observe the director and actors working closely together" on the set of the WB's favorite vampire show, but don't feel too bad because there was "no guarantee.. as to which of our series regulars will be working" or even that the visit would really happen.

A lot to spend for an iffy chance to see Angel Investigations at work? Maybe not, if you're a rabid fan - and it was for a good cause.

In more Angel news, E! reports that Charisma Carpenter will be back for at least one episode, probably the 100th, which shoots at the end of November.

Buffy Online reports that Carpenter has been signed to a recurring role on the Alicia Silverstone sitcom Miss Match.

Fans will also want to read David Martindale's Joss Whedon and Angel article on TNT's site,17420,5147,00.html

If you are into action figures, the Sideshow Toy company is offering a special deal on their April/May 2004 Spike action figure release - pre-order Spike for $40 directly through Sideshow and "receive an extra pair of hands, with fingernails painted black."

"After all," Sideshow  says, "it isn't Spike without his Goth nail polish."

Sideshow's Angel figure, also to be released in 2004, will include "his sword, and holy water bottles."

Sideshow for Spike -

Sideshow for Angel -

See Angel on TV for free Wednesdays at 9 PM / 8c on the WB.

Angel Official site -,7353,||139,00.html

Starbright Foundation -

eXoNews supplies Angel fans with a weekly ratings update at

Drop by our Angel Fan Poll site and help us compile an anonymous profile of the average Angel viewer at

Mel Gibson Goes TV Sitcom
By Nellie Andreeva

LOS ANGELES November 5, 2003 (Hollywood Reporter) - Oscar winner Mel Gibson has teamed with ABC to develop a family comedy inspired by his life as a father of six boys.

The still-untitled project, which has received a pilot commitment, centers on a blue-collar single father who is raising five teen boys on his own.

Gibson also is working with veteran producer Aaron Spelling on "The Clubhouse," a coming-of-age drama for CBS.

Emmy winners Julie Thacker and Mike Scully ("The Simpsons") created the ABC comedy and will write the script. The husband-and-wife duo will executive produce the Universal Network TV project with Gibson and his Icon Prods. partner, Bruce Davey.

Thacker and Scully, whose blended family has five kids, all girls, came up with the idea for the project. The two pitched it to Gibson, a friend, who liked the premise and came on board to develop the show through his company.

"Mike and I decided to do a comedy about five boys because we have five girls, and trust me, there's nothing funny about that," Thacker said.

Gibson and his wife of 23 years have seven children, six of them boys.

And while Scully and Thacker are both excited to work with Gibson, "Julie's a very lucky woman to be working with the sexiest man alive -- and Mel Gibson," Scully quipped.

Davey said he and Gibson had been looking for a project to do together with Scully and Thacker.

"This is a natural fit and will be a laugh-a-minute collaboration," he said.

As a father of six boys, Gibson will be "an endless source of material" for the show, Universal TV Prods. president David Kissinger said.

"Mel, Mike and Julie have come up with a hilarious show that portrays the rough-and-tumble and noisy truth about raising boys," he said. "It's a perfect fit with the smart, contemporary family sitcoms that are ABC's hallmark."

In addition to the ABC comedy and the CBS drama, Icon also is developing an NBC drama about a family man-turned-government assassin and another drama for UPN about a hotshot attorney who gives up his playboy lifestyle to raise his 6-month-old niece. The company also is shepherding an Evel Knievel original movie for TNT.

Spidey Stops Traffic in London

LONDON November 5, 2003 (AFP) - A man dressed as Spiderman spent his fifth night in a 100-foot (30-metre) crane above London's Tower Bridge to protest against being prevented access to his young daughter.

David Chick, 36, is being labeled a villain rather than a super hero, however, after his one-man protest brought chaos to commuters with traffic prevented from crossing the bridge until late Tuesday.

Police have said he will be arrested on charges of "aggravated trespass" and for causing a public nuisance when he eventually comes down.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone was livid at Chick's protest.

"The idea that an individual can hold London to ransom is completely unacceptable," he fumed Tuesday.

"We would not put up with it if it was Osama bin Laden. I do not see why anyone would expect we would put up with it for this man."

Chick, from Sussex, began his stunt last Friday to draw attention to fathers' rights.

He claims he has been refused access to his three-year-old daughter despite a court order allowing him to see her.

He has chosen to dress as Spiderman because he says it is his daughter's favorite comic book hero.

Police said they were forced to shut Tower Bridge and surrounding roads because the crane carrying Chick was swinging in high winds. However normal traffic was resumed late Tuesday.

The road closure caused traffic jams of up to 10 miles (16 kilometers) during the evening rush hour.

But Chick may not be coming down for a few more days yet. Friends say he has enough food and water to last a couple of weeks.

Berry Finds Her Inner Catwoman

LOS ANGELES November 4, 2003 (Zap2it) - Although Halle Berry never owned a cat before, her work on "Catwoman" has converted her to feline fandom.

In a recent press day for her upcoming "Gothika," Berry revealed that she is now a proud cat owner, having adopted him from the trainers on the set of "Catwoman," reports the IGN film site.

Berry also confessed to another catty influence for her role. "I had to resist mimicking Eartha Kitt," said Berry, referring to the 1960s Catwoman. "That's so in my inner psyche."

The 37-year-old is instead seeking her own distinctive version of the feline superhero. "She's fierce. She's nothing nice."

Even after having her arm broken on the set of "Gothika," Berry is not dissuaded from cultivating the tough persona required for the feline role. "No, you should see me in `Catwoman'!" she enthuses. "Balls to the wall, and they're like, `You just had a broken arm.' I said, `So what? Let's go!' "

Berry will continue the tradition of the sexy yet intimidating duality of the character. The costume, which seems inspired by dominatrix styles, leaves little to the imagination and is already creating buzz.

"Leather pants, they're all slashed up. It's sort of a very bare sort of top that has belts," explains Berry. "(My character) makes this from an outfit that she has at home. So, there're belts wrapped around. She's got a bandanna tied around her face with ears, with the cat ears."

"Catwoman" continues shooting in Vancouver and does not have a release date scheduled yet. "Gothika," which also stars Robert Downey, Jr., opens Friday, Nov. 21.

Daniel Baldwin - The Strange Detective
By Nellie Andreeva

LOS ANGELES November 3, 2003 (Hollywood Reporter) - Actor Daniel Baldwin has signed a development deal to star in a cop series targeted for cable distribution.

The project, tentatively titled "The Strange Detective," centers on a San Francisco detective who, during a car chase on the Golden Gate bridge, plunges into the ocean. He survives, but begins to experience "rips in time," having visions of events that have occurred in the places he visits, which are sometimes related to the cases he is working on.

It is set up at syndicator Tribune Entertainment, which has filmed a presentation and will shop it to cable networks shortly.

Baldwin most recently starred opposite Christine Lahti in the CBS original movie "Open House." His TV credits also include NBC's series "Homicide: Life on the Street."

Fraser Still Up For Superman

Hollywood November 3, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - Brendan Fraser told SCI FI Wire that he is still in the running for the coveted title role in Warner Brothers' upcoming Superman film, based on the DC Comics character.

"I'm interested," Fraser said in an interview while promoting his latest film, Looney Tunes: Back In Action. "I have been approached about it. It is a possibility. It really comes down to, I think, decisions made [at the] studio level way up on high."

Fraser is one of several young Hollywood actors whose names have been linked with the role in the much-anticipated but much-delayed project, the fifth movie to feature the Man of Steel.

Fraser said that he is also taking into consideration the drawbacks of playing the iconic superhero.

"Whoever it is who plays that role is historically forever more known as that character," he said. "I mean, that's a superhero who isn't masked, and he's also of a duplicitous nature. It's Clark Kent and Superman. So I've read the script for it. It's very good. We'll see. Stay tuned. No pun intended."

Looney Tunes: Back in Action opens Nov. 14.

Ken Russell
By Astrid Zweynert

LONDON Monday November 3, 2003 (Reuters) - The studios can keep their money, British director Ken Russell says. What counts is imagination.

That is fortunate for the oldest enfant terrible in the film world because imagination is the one thing nobody can accuse him of lacking.

Taste, perhaps; sense, at times, but imagination never -- as anyone who has seen "Women in Love" and "The Devils," the erotically charged films that count as his major successes, would have to agree.

Russell has lost his mainstream audience and is struggling to get a budget nowadays but he denies he has reached the end of his career.

"I use imagination instead of money and that has served me well for a long time," Russell, 76, told Reuters in an interview Monday. "I'm working on three feature films and I'm not going away."

He has just finished "Revenge of the Elephant Man," produced in his garden in the English countryside with the help of family and friends, an approach that suits the fiercely independent Russell.

"I'm not answerable to anyone but me. I don't have to get the script approved. I don't have the final cut taken away from me."

Noted for his rich imagery and bold themes, Russell, who has been a director for 50 years, established an early reputation as the wild man of British cinema.

Some of his films have become cinematic milestones.

Oliver Reed and Alan Bates wrestling naked by the fire in Russell's 1969 "Women in Love" brought homoerotic imagery to a mainstream blockbuster. It also won Russell an Oscar nomination for best director and Glenda Jackson an Oscar for best actress.

Russell also created some of the most powerful images in cinema with the implied rather than explicit torture sequences in "The Devils" in 1971, and he brought The Who's rock opera "Tommy" to the big screen.

But that level of public and critical praise was never to be repeated, partly because Russell defies expectations and his love for excess, bizarre sex images and phallic symbols is difficult to stomach for traditional critics.

"They've been saying for 50 years I'm past it," Russell said. "I'm not really interested. I thrive on new ideas."

One of his personal favorites out of the 80 or so films he made, is "Savage Messiah," a 1972 biopic of sculptor Henri Gaudier that was pulled from cinemas after five days because of what some critics called its "impenetrable content.

It received a rare showing last month at Raindance, Britain's largest independent film festival, where Russell is director in residence.

Surprisingly perhaps for some of his traditionalist critics, Russell says he is a religious man. All his films are religious and have morals, he says.

"Oliver Reed always called me Jesus. But I'm not a preacher."

His latest film, "Revenge of the Elephant Man" is inspired by "The Island of Dr. Moreau," which starred Marlon Brando.

The main character is a doctor who crosses an elephant with a woman as part of a genetic engineering experiment.

"The result is Elephant Man, with his trunk in a rather unusual place," said Russell. "I leave it to your imagination. A well-endowed neighbor played the part."

Still thriving on the bizarre, Russell, who has been married four times and is the father of eight children, says he has no plans to retire soon.

He has written the script for his own funeral though. The content is a secret, he says. "You'll just have to wait and see."

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