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Hungry Elephants Hijack Sugarcane Trucks!

BANGKOK December 7, 2003 (AFP) - Hungry elephants have gone on the rampage in eastern Thailand, ransacking villagers' plantations and forcing sugarcane trucks to stop so they can raid their goods.

Dry-season shortages have forced the 130 elephants from Ang Lue Nai wildlife sanctuary, which sprawls over five provinces, to seek food and water in nearby settlements, the sanctuary's chief Yoo Senatham told the Bangkok Post Sunday.

Yoo said the elephants had learned to pick up sugarcane dropped by drivers who took pity on them, but that the practice had taught them dangerous new habits.

He told the daily of incidents where the leader of the herd had stood in the road to block the vehicle while the others unloaded the produce with their trunks.

Faced with the shortage of natural fodder in the jungle, the animals were now "just waiting for food to be dropped, rather than looking for food. This is dangerous," he said.

Truck drivers are now banned from dropping food in the hope the elephants will stop their aggressive behavior.

Yoo said villagers would build an electric fence to protect their crops and set up a mechanism so they could mobilize quickly to disperse the animals when they came on a raid.

African Elephants Still at Risk
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Environment Correspondent

Africa December 4, 2003 (BBC) - A study of African elephants suggests they may be more numerous than they were four years ago, scientists say. They think there are from 400,000 to 660,000 elephants across the continent, with large numbers in southern Africa.

But the scientists, from IUCN-The World Conservation Union, are interpreting their findings with extreme caution.

They say one explanation may be that the elephants are fleeing to protected areas to try to escape human pressure, thus giving an unduly hopeful picture. Habitat loss and competition between people and elephants for resources remain among the principal challenges in elephant conservation.

The scientists are members of IUCN's African elephant specialist group, and their study, the African Elephant Status Report, updates one produced in 1999. It is the latest in a series derived from a database on African elephants which since 1986 has been compiling information from the 37 countries where the animals live.

The 1999 report concluded there were at least 300,000 elephants in Africa, and possibly as many as 487,000. The updated version says the higher figures may be partly explained by reported increases in savanna elephant populations in Botswana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

But one of the report's authors, Julian Blanc, said the increase revealed little about how populations were faring at the continental level. He suspected there could be a more worrying explanation for the apparent population growth - that the elephants were crowding together for safety.

He said: "Most elephant surveys are restricted to protected areas, and it is precisely to protected areas that elephants flock when their range is compressed by expanding human populations. A high concentration of elephants in protected areas can give a misleading impression of increasing numbers."

Huge unknowns

This crowding under pressure, known as "hyper-aggregation", occurs in some other species, and was identified among North Atlantic cod shortly before the collapse of Canada's Grand Banks fishery in the early 1990s.

The authors say there are other possible reasons for caution in interpreting the figures: one is that they are based on data from just over half the total area where elephants may live.

So much more work needs to be done in the unsurveyed areas to arrive at an accurate picture of changes in population.

Julian Blanc said: "We now have estimates covering a much larger area than we did five years ago - and that alone can go a long way in explaining differences in numbers - but there are still huge gaps in our knowledge."

The update's regional estimates show a wide variation, and considerable uncertainty:

* Southern Africa: from 246,000 "definite" to a "speculative" total of 300,000 animals

* Eastern Africa: at least 118,000 elephants, and possibly 163,000

* Central Africa, with huge expanses of unprotected elephant range: somewhere between 16,500 and 196,000 animals

* West Africa: perhaps only 5,500 elephants, and at most 13,200.

Julian Blanc told BBC News Online: "We know there are large, stable - in places perhaps increasing - elephant populations in southern and eastern Africa, where the amount of monitoring effort is greatest. But even in these two regions there are countries - notably Sudan and Angola - with large areas of possible elephant range but about which we have virtually no information.

"This uncertainty not only applies to numbers. Although we have reported an important contraction and increased fragmentation in elephant range in many parts of the continent, it is impossible to say whether this is a recent phenomenon or simply the result of the availability of better information.

"At this stage, even with better information, it remains very difficult to disentangle real changes from perceived changes in elephant populations."

African Elephant Conservation Trust -

Born Free Elefriends -

27 Million Year Old Arsinoithere Found!

By Jim Erickson
Rocky Mountain News

Ethiopia December 4, 2003 (Rocky Mountain News) - Elephants the size of a modern-day cow and a rhino-like beast with a pair of towering conical horns were among the fossil surprises recently uncovered by an international research team working in northwestern Ethiopia.

The prehistoric pachyderms and other ancient mammals unearthed in the country's Chilga region provide a first glimpse into a poorly understood time period and offer new evolutionary insights.

The discoveries, reported in today's edition of the British journal Nature, include five previously unknown species of ancestral elephant. The fossils are 27 million years old.

"Just the idea that there could be that many ancient relatives of something that I always thought of as being fairly homogeneous - elephants - filled me with a sense of wonder," said Colorado State University archaeologist Lawrence Todd, one of three Colorado scientists on the research team.

Descendents of the ancient African elephants later spread across the globe and branched into new species, including the mammoths that inhabited Colorado and much of North America until around 12,000 years ago.

"Today's African elephants are just the last little twig on what once was a much larger bush of elephant-like animals," Todd said. "The diversity (of the fossil remains at Chilga) is what impressed me."

The Chilga fossils come from a time when Africa was an island continent drifting steadily northward toward Eurasia. The Red Sea had not yet formed, and the Arabian Peninsula was part of Africa.

About 24 million years ago, Afro-Arabia crashed into Eurasia, and animals from both continents began moving back and forth across the new land bridge.

Some of the African beasts perished, possibly because they couldn't compete with the Eurasian invaders. Among the losers were the arsinoitheres - plant-eating mammals similar to, but larger than, a rhinoceros.

A new species of arsinoithere was discovered among the bones and teeth found at Chilga. It is the largest of the rhino-like beasts ever found, and its occurrence at Chilga marks the last time the creature was seen before its extinction.

The Chilga fossils provide the first look at the community of large Afro-Arabian mammals that lived just before the continents merged. The remains are especially valuable because they're so diverse, says French biologist Jean-Jacques Jaeger in an article that accompanies the Nature report.

For scientists who study mammalian evolution in Afro-Arabia, the 8 million years preceding the continental collision had long been known as "the missing years," due to a paucity of fossil remains from the period, said John Kappelman, of the University of Texas, leader of the Chilga project.

The new discoveries show that mammals there continued to evolve and produce new species during the missing years, Kappelman said. The Eurasian invaders moved southward into a continent already teeming with large mammals.

"It is now clear that the success of the invading northern immigrants was not a consequence of their movement into an ecological vacuum created by a much earlier extinction of the Afro-Arabian endemics," the authors said.

Kappelman is the report's lead author. Colorado State anthropologist Michelle Glantz and Boulder researcher Thomas Bown are co-authors, along with Todd and 18 others.

The ongoing work at Chilga is supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the Leakey Foundation and the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture.

Police Probe Death of Convicted Priest
LEXINGTON KY December 6, 2003 (AP) - A retired Roman Catholic priest who admitted molesting three altar boys in 1995 was found beaten to death at his home, police said Saturday.

Joseph Pilger, 78, was found dead in his home Friday night. An autopsy Saturday found the cause of death to be multiple blunt force injuries, according to the Fayette County coroner. The death is being investigated as a homicide.

Pilger lived alone until the past month, when a young man began staying with him, said his neighbor, Karen Owens. Owens said Pilger's car, which had been at his home earlier in the day, was missing Friday night.

Pilger pleaded guilty to sexual abuse in 1995 for abusing three altar boys in 1968 and 1969, when he was their pastor in Morganfield in western Kentucky. He was sentenced to five years' probation beginning in January 1995.

Earlier this year, Pilger was named in a sex-abuse lawsuit against the dioceses of Lexington and Covington. Pilger declined to comment on the allegation.
Oldest Penis Discovered

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Science Editor

Herefordshire December 5, 2003 (BBC) - Scientists have identified the oldest male fossil animal yet discovered. It is an ocean-dwelling creature from 425-million-year-old rocks in the UK.

Unusually, its soft parts are well preserved as well as its hard shell. It has limbs for swimming and feeding.

It also has what scientists say is the oldest penis seen in the fossil record.

Researchers are puzzled as to why the ancient creature appears so similar to its modern relatives. Their research is to be found in the journal Science.

The fossil record is packed with shells thought to be from a group of arthropods called ostracodes. They are so numerous and varied that geologists use them to date rock layers.

Their soft tissues are rarely seen but David Siveter, of the University of Leicester, and colleagues found an ancient ostracode that had been buried in volcanic ash during the Silurian Period.

The creature quickly mineralized and had its most delicate tissues preserved.

The find was made in the county of Herefordshire.

"It pushes back our knowledge about the palaeo-biology of an important group of animals by more than 200 million years," Professor Siveter told the BBC. His team cracked open the rock that entombed the creature and used a "shave and photograph" technique that yielded a virtual fossil with carefully preserved three-dimensional details.

"The whole animal is amazing," Professor Siveter added. "We have got something we could only dream about."

The ostracode's appendages suggest that it swam and scavenged for food along the ocean floor. It was also definitely male as it has the oldest known example of a penis. The scientists say that the five-millimeter-long fossil is remarkably similar to some modern ostracodes, suggesting an extremely low rate of evolutionary change over the last 425 million years.

"This is a demonstration of unbelievable stability," said Dr Tom Cronin, of the US Geological Survey.

As the discoverer of a new species, David Siveter and his co-researchers provided the name for the ostracode. They have called it Colymbosathon ecplecticos, which means "amazing swimmer with a large penis".

Around the World in a Solar Plane?

By Nathalie Ogi
Associated Press

LAUSANNE, Switzerland November 28, 2003 (AP) — Bertrand Piccard, pilot of the first balloon to fly nonstop around the world, announced Friday that he has a new goal: to complete the same exploit in a solar-powered plane.

"It's a colossal challenge," said Piccard, adding that the accomplishment would bring him close to the myth of perpetual flight, using no fuel and emitting no pollution.

The biggest problem for the project, named Solar Impulse, is to build a plane that can collect and store enough power during the day to stay in the air overnight. Piccard said the project's participants hope their prototype will be able to keep flying during an entire night by 2007 and then start increasing the duration.

"We hope to change the mentality of those who too often ignore the difficult questions of our future energy needs," Piccard said, adding that the project aims to increase public interest in sustainable development and renewable resources.

The 45-year-old psychiatrist will be working with Brian Jones, the British balloonist who accompanied him on his round-the-world flight, and a team of scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

The plane will be very light, with a wingspan of around 60 meters (197 feet) and will fly at about the height of a commercial airliner.

"This project represents a major scientific and technical research challenge," said Michel Declercq, dean of the faculty of science at the institute.

Piccard said he will now start the search for sponsors for the project.

In the spring of 1999 Piccard and Jones took their balloon, Breitling Orbiter III, on a 20-day circumnavigation of the globe, an achievement that had eluded many before them, including tycoons Steve Fossett and Richard Branson.

Piccard had already made a name for himself in aerial sport, as the European champion in hangglider aerobatics and the winner of the Chrysler Challenge, the first trans-Atlantic balloon race, in 1993.

Bertrand Piccard comes from a long line of adventurers. His grandfather, Auguste, was the first man to take a balloon into the stratosphere, in 1931. His father, Jacques, designed the bathyscaphe, a deep-sea submarine in which he plunged almost seven miles (11 kilometers) to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench in 1960.

Da Vinci's Glider Flies!

By Rossella Lorenzi
Discovery News

December 2, 2003 (Discovery News) — A flying machine sketched by Leonardo da Vinci 500 years ago, flew gracefully last week, proving that the Renaissance genius could have made flight history long before the Wright brothers.

Angelo D'Arrigo, a former world champion hang glider, made Leonardo's dreams on manned flight come true as he flew the "Piuma" (feather), a flying machine conceived by the Florentine visionary during his studies on ornithopters — planes with bird-like flapping wings.

Sketched in 1510 in a folio of the Madrid manuscripts that was unearthed by chance in 1996, the Piuma bears an extraordinary resemblance to a modern hang-glider.

"Indeed, Leonardo's machine relies on pure gliding. To pilot it, you need to shift centers of gravity and weight. That's exactly what modern hang glider pilots do," D'Arrigo told Discovery News.

The model, faithfully reproduced from Leonardo's drawings, was realized with the scholarly support of the Museo Ideale in Vinci, the Tuscan town where the genius was born in 1452.

For Leonardo's invention to take to the air, present day designers and technicians had to give some help. Instead of wood and canvas, they used light and modern materials such as aluminum tubes for the main structure and dacron, a synthetic fiber, for the covering.

"We ended up with a glider that looked like the skeleton of some giant pterodactyl, " D'Arrigo said.

Despite the total lack of a wing profile, the Piuma had no problems flying in the "wind tunnel" of the car company FIAT, where the aircraft's capacity for flight was tested and measured.

"At [almost 22 miles] per hour I took off and flew. The weight of my body was totally carried by the Piuma. The test flight lasted two hours, and it has been really exciting. We were able to show that the lack of a proper, light material was the only reason why Leonardo's machine did not fly. His Piuma would have weighed about [220 pounds], our model weighed only [50 pounds]," D'Arrigo said.

Scholars are amazed.

"Leonardo's world is made of art, science, technology and, most of all, dreams. I had no doubt the Piuma could fly, but the idea of his great dream finally coming true really touched me," Leonardo scholar Alessandro Vezzosi told Discovery News.

WHO Accused of Huge HIV Blunder
By James Randerson
New Scientist

December 6, 2003 (New Scientist) - The positive HIV test was a surprise. The boy - let's call him Sipho - never had a blood transfusion. He did not inject drugs or have unprotected sex. He died when he was just seven months old, yet another South African victim of AIDS.

The natural assumption was that he must have picked up the disease from his mother in the womb, but her HIV test came back negative. So where did Sipho catch the virus? No one can be sure, but it is most likely that he was infected in hospital, perhaps by a needle that had not been sterilised after being used on an infected patient.

The World Health Organization thinks that tragedies like Sipho's are very much the exception. It estimates that unsafe injections during healthcare account for just 2.5 per cent of HIV cases in Africa, and that the vast majority of infections are via sex. But some researchers believe the role of dirty needles has been greatly underestimated. If they are right, relatively simple measures could save millions of people worldwide.

This week, the group Physicians for Human Rights based in Washington DC sent an open letter to the WHO and UNAIDS. It calls for more resources to be spent on preventing infection by dirty needles. The letter says people should be educated about the dangers, and measures taken such as providing syringes that cannot be used more than once.

But the WHO and UNAIDS have long resisted the suggestion that injections are an important driver of the epidemic. "It has been a huge struggle to make the case that this is a significant part of the epidemic," says Ernest Drucker, an AIDS expert at Yeshiva University in New York. "We've run into a firestorm of protest." "The worry is that if too much attention is paid to unsafe injections it will take away from the message about sexual transmission," says James Whitworth at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who backs the WHO position.

Another fear is that vaccination programmes will be undermined if injections are seen as risky. While these concerns might be valid, critics argue the consequences of downplaying the role of dirty needles are far worse. The most vociferous of them is David Gisselquist, an independent researcher in Hershey, Pennsylvania, who has published a string of papers highlighting dirty needles as a major risk factor (New Scientist, 1 March, p 3).

Using the WHO's own estimate that 7.6 per cent of infections in 1988 were from dirty needles or blood transfusions, he says healthcare is to blame for 10 million infected people today. If needles cause closer to half of all infections, as Gisselquist believes, tackling the problem would have kept the epidemic confined to high-risk groups, he claims. "In Asia, if we don't get that message out, the epidemic could really blow up," he warns.

The WHO's own figures, based on observations in hospitals and clinics, suggest that up to 75 per cent of injections in parts of south-east Asia are carried out using unsterilised equipment, compared with just 20 per centin sub-Saharan Africa(New Scientist, 15 November, p 4).

Gisselquist's work prompted the WHO to hold a meeting on unsafe injections in March this year. He says data supporting his claims was presented, but it was not reflected in the meeting's conclusions. Instead, the press release proclaimed: "An expert group has reaffirmed that unsafe sexual practices are responsible for the vast majority of HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa." Six months before the meeting, UNAIDS drew up a report, which has been seen by New Scientist, that contradicts this position. Based on a review of 23 studies, it concludes that in sub-Saharan Africa, "contaminated injections may cause between 12 and 33 per cent of new HIV infections".

That is far higher than the accepted 2.5 per cent figure. That report has never been published, prompting Gisselquist to accuse the WHO of ignoring evidence that does not support its views. But according to Peter Ghys of UNAIDS in Geneva, the document was a preliminary draft that has since been incorporated into a much larger summary of the evidence. That study, due to be published early next year, will support the WHO estimate of about 2.5 per cent. George Schmid, a senior researcher on HIV at the WHO in Geneva and author of the revised study, says the apparent change of view arises because a statistical technique used in the 2002 draft is inappropriate for HIV.

The reviewed studies calculate a "population attributable fraction", the proportion of infections in the population due to a specific risk factor. Schmid says this method works for non-infectious diseases, but not when infected people can affect the future course of the disease by infecting other people.

Gisselquist's critics also ask why hepatitis C, which is mainly spread by needles, does not mirror the pattern of HIV infection, and why HIV has spread in some countries with relatively good healthcare. In response, Gisselquist claims hundreds of studies have reported significant numbers of children who, like Sipho, have contracted the disease despite having HIV-negative parents or parents with a different HIV strain.

A study of nearly 10,000 South Africans released last year, for instance, found that 5.6 per cent of children aged between 2 and 14 were infected. Most children infected by their mothers die before their second birthday, so the surprisingly high figure points to infection routes other than sex being important. But Schmid says the results of all these studies are questionable.

For instance, the instrument used to collect samples in the South African study was not approved by the FDA for use on children, he says. Schmid is now helping to design a follow-up study. Whatever its results, there is little likelihood of the argument being resolved.

Drucker claims that the longer WHO and UNAIDS deny a major role for injections, the harder it is becoming for them to climb down. The real tragedy, he says, is that injection safety is an easy win compared with trying to promote safe sex. "Clearing up the medical care system is not such a major task."

New Scientist website -

Coke and Ecstasy Cause DNA Mutation
ROME December 5, 2003 (Reuters) - Cocaine and ecstasy not only cause addiction and raise the risk of cancer but also provoke genetic mutations, Italian scientists said Friday.

"Cocaine and ecstasy have proved to be more dangerous than we had imagined," said Giorgio Bronzetti, chief scientist at the National Center for Research's (CNR) biotechnology department.

"These drugs, on top of their toxicological effects, attack DNA provoking mutations and altering the hereditary material. This is very worrying for the effects it could have on future generations," he said.

The use of ecstasy, a drug popular at all-night dance parties, increased by 70 percent between 1995 and 2000 according to a United Nations report published in September.

Ecstasy and amphetamines have overtaken cocaine and heroin as the fastest growing global narcotics menace, the study said.

The CNR report, which took more than three years to complete, said animal tests had shown a direct relationship between ecstasy and cocaine intake and the effects on DNA.

"In other words, the longer the time frame of drug consumption, the greater the damage to DNA," Bronzetti said.
Thousands of Dead Birds Puzzle Experts

LINCOLN CITY OR December 5, 2003 (AP) - Thousands of dead birds have washed up on West Coast beaches this fall in a die-off that has stumped experts. The birds are northern fulmars (a smaller cousin of the Albatross) and beachgoers in Lincoln County have counted more than 400 dead ones this fall.

In Clatsop County, where dozens of dead fulmars washed ashore, more than 200 of the weakened birds have been taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center.

The fulmars spend most of their time at sea, so it could mean massive numbers are dead in the ocean, said Scott Hatch, a research biologist in Anchorage, Alaska.

And experts don't know why. Some worry that man-made causes, such as plastic or toxins are to blame. Others dismiss the die-off as cyclical. But this year's death toll dwarfs any other on record in Oregon.

"I think it's going to be tough to find the smoking gun," said Roy Lowe, refuge director for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Bob Loeffel of Newport has tracked the number of dead birds on the Lincoln County beach for 26 years. He said this year's die-off shattered his previously recorded high of 172 in 1995.

The birds that Loeffel and others have found have been severely emaciated, likely caused by starvation. They are also young, most of them under a year old. The youngest birds typically have the toughest time migrating south from Alaska this time of year. But this die-off is severe enough to suggest that something else is going on.

Researchers in California have performed necropsies on 178 dead fulmars. Ninety-six percent were born last summer, Lowe said. That indicates it isn't caused by disease, which would affect birds of all ages.

Sharnelle Fee, director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of the North Coast near Astoria, blames plastic.

"I've had adult (fulmars) come in and their stomachs were jammed full of plastic. There's no room for fish." Lowe, however, said not enough is known about the birds in general to establish a reason for the die-off.

"The ocean is so vast that we're picking at the edges to figure out what's going on."

What is Ohio's Serpent Mound?

By Dan Kincaid
The Arizona Republic

Ohio December 2, 2003 (AR) - The Serpent Mound, or Great Serpent Mound, is an ancient Native American earthwork in Adams County in southeastern Ohio that is said to be the largest prehistoric effigy of a snake in the United States.

The mound averages 4 or 5 feet in height, 25 feet in width and is more than 1,300 feet long.

It appears to depict a great undulating snake with a coiled tail and its mouth agape, about to swallow an egg, although some think the "egg" is actually the snake's head or eye.

Like the great prehistoric figures incised into the deserts of Peru, the Serpent Mound is best viewed from above. (There is an observation tower at the site.)

Scholars became aware of Serpent Mound in the 1840s. It has been thought to have been raised by the people of the Adena culture, which flourished from perhaps 1000 B.C. to about A.D. 200. Adena burials have been found near the mound.

Recent radiocarbon dating, though, suggests that Serpent Mound was erected much later, between A.D. 900 and A.D. 1200, with one researcher dating it around 1070, about the time the Normans conquered England.

If the new dating is correct, then the "Fort Ancient" culture rather than the Adena culture probably built it. The Fort Ancient people were fond of using images of snakes in their artwork.

Some researchers believe Serpent Mound is aligned with the summer and winter solstices.

Others note that a supernova was visible in 1054 and speculate that this apparition led to the raising of the mound. The brightest recorded pass of Halley's Comet occurred in 1066, and this, too, may have inspired the construction of the mound.

Interestingly, the mound is believed by some geologists to lie within a greatly eroded prehistoric meteor crater.

The crater, if that is what it is, was formed as long ago as 320 million years, ages before humans appeared, and the Indians' erection of the mound in it must have been purely coincidental. Or was it?

More info on mound builders at Images from History -

Genre News: David Hemmings, Boreanaz Directs, Empire, Gina Torres, Elephant, Enterprise & More!

Actor-Producer David Hemmings Dies at 62
Associated Press Writer

LONDON December 4, 2003 (AP) - David Hemmings, the British actor who became one of the screen icons of the swinging '60s with roles in films such as "Blow Up," died of a heart attack on a Romanian movie set. He was 62.

Hemmings collapsed Wednesday shortly after shooting scenes for the movie "Samantha's Child," said agent Liz Nelson.

"He had just finished his final shots of the day and was going back to his dressing room," Nelson said Thursday.

Hemmings was enjoying a renaissance in his acting career after a couple of decades behind the camera directing and producing TV shows such as the "A-Team," and "Airwolf."

An appearance in Ridley Scott's Oscar-winning "Gladiator" in 2000 led to a flood of offers, including the critically acclaimed "Last Orders" with Michael Caine in 2001 and most recently "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" with Sean Connery in 2003.

But it was roles in films including Roger Vadim's science-fiction romp "Barbarella" in the 1960s that defined him for a generation.

"He was very charismatic, beautiful smile, beautiful eyes, rather small and he had just an enormous impact in the '60s," film director Michael Winner told British Broadcasting Corp. television Thursday. "He was wonderful company, David. Very witty, very charming, very light, bright."

Born Nov. 18, 1941 in Guildford, England, Hemmings was a notable boy soprano and was featured in English Opera Group performances of the works of Benjamin Britten.

He then studied painting at the Epsom School of Art where he staged his first exhibition at 15 before returning to singing in his early 20s with nightclub appearances before moving onto the stage and gradually into films.

His early British movie roles usually saw him cast as misunderstood or belligerent youths. His international breakthrough came when he auditioned for role of the fashion photographer in Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film "Blow Up."

The film, in which Hemmings' character reportedly believes he may have witnessed a murder, won the Cannes Film Festival's prestigious Golden Palm award in 1967. Scenes in which Hemmings photographed the model Veruschka have often been ranked among the sexiest moments captured on film.

Hemmings' boyish good looks were also put to use in the 1967 musical "Camelot," "Charge of the Light Brigade" in 1968, and "Alfred the Great," in 1969.

With 1972's "Running Scared," Hemmings began a new career as a director of several movie and TV productions in England, Australia and Canada.

With fellow producer John Daly, Hemmings formed the production company Hemdale in the early 1970s. Hemdale was responsible for many notable films, including John Schlesinger's "The Falcon and the Snowman," Gillian Armstrong's "High Tide" and Denzel Washington's film debut "Carbon Copy."

Hemmings then worked on some of the biggest TV hits of the 1980s including "Magnum PI," "The A Team," "Airwolf" and "Quantum Leap."

"People thought I was dead. But I wasn't. I was just directing The A-Team," he once remarked.

Hemmings returned to acting in the role of Cassius, in "Gladiator."

"People saw me in 'Gladiator' and said, 'He's still alive. Good Lord!' All of a sudden I've done eight pictures in the last 16 months," Hemmings said last year. "I probably won't do another until I'm 70. If I live that long."

He appeared in "Gangs of New York," "Spy Game" and "Last Orders," which also starred Hemmings' son Nolan. The father and son played the same character at different ages.

Hemmings is survived by his fourth wife, Lucy Williams, and their two children. Nolan is the only child from his second marriage, to American actress Gayle Hunnicutt. Hemmings also has a daughter from his first marriage, to Genista Ouvry, and two sons from his third marriage, to Prudence de Casembroot.

Funeral plans were not immediately announced.

Angel Turns 100

Hollywood December 7, 2003 (eXoNews) - At a gala party at Paramount Studios, Joss Whedon and cast celebrated the filming of the 100th episode of Angel. And yes, Charisma Carpenter was there, Cordy fans!

Carpenter left the regular line-up this season, but will guest star early in 2004, presumably to bring Cordelia out of her coma.

Angel star David Boreanaz brought his son Jaden and various WB executives were also on hand to witness the cake being staked.

Rumors of an early sixth Angel season WB pickup are flying, but nothing was confirmed at the event.

Sci Fi Wire reported that co-creator and executive producer Joss Whedon told the gathered crowd on Stage 5 at Paramount Pictures: "The idea of the show was redemption, and what it takes to win back a life when you've misused yours terribly. It's gone through a lot of different permutations. A lot of characters. A lot of different styles. But ultimately that has never left.

"Angel, to me, is so important, because it's about how an adult faces what they've done with their life, goes forward with it, overcomes it. These are things that have a great deal of meaning to me. Plus, awesome fights. And, you know, if I have any message for Americans, [it's that] you can solve problems through fisticuffs."

In other Angel news, Kristin over at E! confirms that Tom Lenk (Andrew from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) will drop by Wolfram & Hart in episode 11 and that Charisma Carpenter will return to guest as Cordy the following week.

For the rest of Kristin's news (includes spoilers) go to

Boreanaz Directs!
By Rick Porter

LOS ANGELES December 5, 2003 ( - "Angel" star David Boreanaz will pull double duty on a January episode of the series.

In addition to his usual leading role as the vampire-with-a-soul title character, Boreanaz also makes his directorial debut with the episode, titled "Soul Purpose."

"It was a really fantastic journey for me," Boreanaz tells about stepping behind the camera. "I had a great time."

Except for one thing: "I found myself immersed in the work so heavily that I really needed some sleep, but I couldn't because I had to shoot the next episode," he says. Nonetheless, Boreanaz found the experience rewarding and hopes he gets a chance to direct again somewhere down the line.

In the episode, Angel is disturbed by a series of dreams in which Spike (James Marsters) takes over Angel's role as champion, continuing a plot thread from earlier in the season. Boreanaz says Marsters and the rest of the cast responded well to him as a director.

"They really gave me everything they had and were very supportive," he says. "I wanted them to make it an enjoyable experience for them as well -- to really enjoy the rehearsal process and make them feel [the episode] was partly theirs, because it is. I feel that way when I rehearse when we're with another director, so I wanted them to be part of that as much as they possibly could."

"Soul Purpose" is scheduled to air Wednesday, January 21st on The WB.

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

Angel Fan Poll, Links, Ratings -

Hyde to the Silver Screen
By Borys Kit

Hollywood December 5, 2003 (Hollywood Reporter) - Dimension Films has acquired film rights to Steve Niles' "Hyde," a comic book proposal that re-imagines the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde horror story, in a deal worth mid-six figures. Mike Fleiss is producing.

"The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" was written in 1886 by Robert Louis Stevenson. The book, considered a Gothic horror classic, tells the tale of a wealthy doctor-scientist named Dr. Jekyll who unleashes the dark monster within himself by drinking a potion that he developed.

The brutish monster is Hyde.

[No kidding. Sounds familiar. Ed.]

Roman Empire Gets Serious on ABC and HBO
By Peter Henderson

LOS ANGELES December 5, 2003 (Reuters) - Et tu, ABC?

Two television networks are taking over from where William Shakespeare left off with projects about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire after Julius Caesar.

Walt Disney Co. broadcaster ABC said on Friday it planned to launch "Empire" in fall 2004, while cable network HBO had already slated its "Rome" to debut in 2005.

Caesar, who in Shakespeare's play named after him gasped "Et tu, Brute?" in surprise when he saw his friend Brutus among his assassins, was the first dictator of Rome and its most famous general.

ABC's "Empire" begins in 44 B.C., the year Caesar died, and tells the tale of the ascension of Octavius, Julius Caesar's nephew who becomes Augustus Caesar, battling Marc Antony.

Octavius gets a little Hollywood help in the form of a gladiator named Tyrannus -- not part of textbook history -- who guards and befriends Octavius in the eight-episode project.

ABC has not decided how to package "Empire," which could be shown as a mini-series or could become the first season of a longer series.

It is expensive in any case, with a price tag one industry put at about $30 million.

HBO's "Rome," produced with Britain's BBC, begins a bit earlier, in 51 B.C., as the victorious Caesar heads back to the empire's capital. HBO is a unit of Time Warner Inc.

"Rome," a continuing series, will tell the story of the fall of Julius and the rise of his nephew -- called Octavian, rather than Octavius, at HBO -- through the eyes of two soldiers who fought with Julius Caesar.

Neil Meron, one of the executive producers of ABC's "Empire," said ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun came up with the idea of a Roman story, the seed of the "epic entertainment" in the works. Meron said the projects at the networks might sound similar but would be probably be as distinct as different genre series.

"How many lawyer shows are there, how many doctor shows are there, how many cop shows are there?" he said in a telephone interview.

[Chip Johannessen (24, The X-Files, MillenniuM) will be on board as an executive producer of Empire so I'm betting on ABC. Ed.]

Gina Torres Moves to 24

LOS ANGELES December 7, 2003 ( - After spending last season bouncing around the Joss Whedon universe between "Firefly" and "Angel," actress Gina Torres will take a recurring role on the FOX drama "24."

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Torres will play the wife of a major donor to President Palmer's (Dennis Haysbert) political campaign. With Penny Johnson Jerald's Sherry Palmer also set to return, perhaps sparks will fly.

Developing a reputation for small, but colorful parts, Torres' other credits include a recurring role on syndicated "Hercules" (and appearances on "Xena: Warrior Princess"), the starring gig on "Cleopatra 2525," a stint as the nefarious Anna Espinosa on "Alias" and visits to the likes of "NYPD Blue" and "The Agency."

After the cancellation of "Firefly" last season, Whedon wrote Torres (who played Zoe on the sci-fi Western) the part of unstable, god-like Jasmine on "Angel."

On the big screen, Torres has been seen this year in the second and third films in the "Matrix" series.

In other FOX casting news, Sherilyn Fenn will return to "Boston Public" for at least four more episodes, playing the former stripper dating Anthony Heald's vice principal character.

Meanwhile, "The Mummy" co-star Patricia Velazquez will drop by freshman comedy "Arrested Development" as a Latin soap star involved with star Jason Bateman. Velazquez has also signed for 13 episodes on Gregory Nava's PBS drama "American Family."

Exploring Teen Shootings in Elephant
By Peter Henderson

LOS ANGELES December 5, 2003 (Reuters) - Teen-agers live in a different world, and director Gus Van Sant knows it.

Van Sant's newest film, "Elephant," reviews a day in the life at an Oregon high school that starts off numbingly normal, ends in death and never strays from teens' point of view.

During the day, girls at lunch discuss where to shop after school, a jock wanders the campus in a fog of silence, a young woman cuts gym class -- and two boys pack automatic weapons that they will unload and unleash in a hail of bullets, much like the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, that left 15 people dead including the two teen-age gunmen.

Van Sant's hallmark is exploration of troubled youth, most famously with "Good Will Hunting."

His early work "Drugstore Cowboy" followed a drug addict and in "My Own Private Idaho," he recast Shakespeare's Prince Hal, the lost soul of Henry IV, as a young male prostitute in Portland, Oregon. When asked in a recent interview to explain what he saw as the causes of school violence, the director gave a puzzling reply that suggested he saw no simple answer.

"Really the reason why things become negative is -- they become negative," he said. "It is an ebb and flow. It is not about reasons."

The title "Elephant" refers to the mythical beast examined by blind men asked to describe it. One felt the sinuous trunk, another the solid legs and a third the tail -- and each described the beast differently.

The film, starring amateur actors and shot in a quiet, simple style, won the best picture Palme d'Or and best director awards at the Cannes film festival and has a collection of reviews ranging from fulsome praise to dismissal. It is playing currently playing nationwide.


In many ways "Elephant" is the opposite of last year's exploration of school shootings, Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine." Both have been lauded in film festivals worldwide.

In the 1999 Columbine rampage, two students brought rifles into their high school and opened fire on their peers. The event shocked the nation and caused a soul-searching that has not ended.

The opinionated Moore starred in his own film, sweeping the country in search of the root of the violence and confronting gun-rights supporters including a pointed interview with National Rifle Association former President Charlton Heston.

"Elephant" by comparison is a fiction piece confined to a few hours at a nondescript school in Portland, Oregon. The movie draws its tension from the knowledge of the tragedy bound to unfold.

And rather than search for reasons for the shooting, Van Sant offers a number of easy explanations and then undermines each. For instance, the shooters play violent video games, which are often seen as a destructive force, but one also plays the piano beautifully, a sign of intelligence and subtlety.

Later, a postman delivers a gun to the shooters, a sign of the dangers of easy access to guns, but then another character who is very sympathetic talks about going hunting with his father, proof that access to guns is not enough to inspire violence.

Whether the reasons are complex or beyond comprehension, Van Sant leaves it up to the audience to decide. He wants his viewers to work hard and to use it to find explanations in themselves.

"It is like a self-help film," he said.

USA Orders 4400 Pilot

Hollywood December 4, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - USA Network has give the green light to The 4400, an SF pilot for a drama series, from executive producers Francis Ford Coppola, Rene Echevarria (Dark Angel) and Maira Suro (Platinum), Variety reported. The pilot marks the first foray into cable for Echevarria and Suro.

The 4400 centers on 4,400 missing people who are returned to Earth after being abducted by UFOs, with no memory of their experiences. Each has been gone anywhere from a few months to several decades, but hasn't aged a day, the trade paper reported.

USA has ordered the pilot plus five episodes of the hour-long show, which is created and written by Scott Peters (The Outer Limits), the trade paper reported. Viacom Productions and Renegade 83 are producing. Peters also will produce.

USA will likely premiere the series next summer. Production on the pilot starts in February, but no casting has yet been set, the trade paper reported.

USA is owned by Vivendi Universal, which also owns SCIFI.COM.

End of the Trail for Trek
Page Six - NY Post

Hollywood December 5, 2003 (NY Post) - Time is catching up with the ageless "Star Trek" franchise. Born during Lyndon Johnson's administration, it is showing its age - and signs are in the stars that this could be the end of one of TV's longest and most popular series.

The series' fifth spawn, UPN's "Enterprise" is in the ratings dumps.

And even the last "Trek" movie, 2002's "Nemesis," tanked at the box office, garnering only $18.5 million its opening weekend - the lowest opening ever for a "Trek" movie.

"I think 'Star Trek' still could be viable, but I don't think it needs to be a weekly [TV] series anymore," says industry maven Marc Berman.

"'Star Trek' has been around for 40 years, and we've gotten a lot out of it."

"Star Trek" merchandise, once a powerhouse, has warped into a shadow of its former self - and even the show's official publication, Star Trek: The Magazine, has folded.

UPN, in a bid to drum up more interest for "Enterprise," changed the show's title to "Star Trek: Enterprise" this year - but ratings were still off 10 percent last month versus Nov. '02.

TV Guide even ran a feature titled "How to Fix 'Star Trek.'"

So, the question needs to be: Is the franchise still viable?

"If ratings for 'Enterprise' continue to go down next season, it's going to hurt the franchise," Berman says. "They can still do a movie or a TV special if there's not a weekly series - it is and will always be a viable franchise if treated properly."

To be fair, "Enterprise" had the bad luck to open this season against the dramatic baseball playoffs - which notched the best ratings in years.

"Enterprise" has taken a further pounding from The WB's popular "Smallville," its timeslot competitor Wednesdays at 8 p.m.

Series creator Rick Berman (no relation to Marc), who is notoriously press-shy, wasn't available to comment - but he did tell that he thought UPN didn't effectively promote the show's early start date this season.

"UPN is never going to take 'Enterprise' off," Marc Berman says. "'Star Trek: Voyager' launched UPN and gave them the advantage over The WB, and that show lasted for seven years.

"But 'Voyager' was not as popular as 'The Next Generation' - and 'Enterprise' isn't as popular as 'Voyager,'" he says.

Officials at Paramount TV, which produces "Enterprise," declined to comment.

[Get a new theme song, Berman! Admit when you're wrong! Ed.]

Official Star Trek: Enterprise -

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