|Macrocarpaea Apparata! |
Ebola Kills Great Apes! Inca Knots!
GM Food Protests, Dark Matter,
Sci Fi Seeks UFO Probe & More!
|Harry Potter and the Macrocarpaea Apparata!|
|Rutgers University Press Release |
NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY NJ June 23, 2003 – Harry Potter's influence pervades even the science of plant taxonomy at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Lena Struwe, assistant professor of ecology, evolution and natural resources at Rutgers' Cook College – and a fan of the fictional young wizard – has shared in the discovery of a rare, new jungle plant that now bears a Potteresque name.
The species name, apparata, is drawn from the term "to apparate" – as in apparition – a verb used throughout the book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The author, J.K. Rowling, uses it to refer to a wizard's ability to disappear and reappear elsewhere instantaneously.
|Ebola Virus Threatens Great Apes!|
|Africa June 23, 2003 (Baltimore Sun) - An epidemic of Ebola virus is sweeping through central Africa's jungles, devastating the region's great apes. The virus has likely killed tens of thousands of chimpanzees and lowland gorillas, and could soon reach one of the world's largest populations of these animals. |
The virus represents a major new menace to two species already besieged by hunting and habitat loss. While scientists knew about limited outbreaks of Ebola among apes, only recently have researchers recognized the epidemic's scope.
"We had no idea that the disease could be sweeping through these populations," says Caroline Tutin, a British conservation biologist who has studied apes in Gabon for more than two decades. In one sanctuary alone, scientists suspect, the disease has killed 50,000 apes.
Ebola is a lethal fever that kills by destroying the lining of blood vessels, which leads to internal and external bleeding and then massive shock. There is no cure or proven vaccine.
Scientists don't know the mortality rate among apes, but in one African wildlife reserve, the disease killed more than 90 percent of its victims. In humans, 50 percent to 90 percent of patients die; since the disease was first identified 27 years ago in Sudan, Ebola has killed about 1,000 Africans.
Alarmed by the prospect of a catastrophic decline in great apes, researchers are studying the illness and debating how to halt its spread. "There is definitely an expansion of the disease. So it is urgent to do something," said Christophe Boesch, a German ecologist. Among the proposed strategies: vaccinating the animals; creating physical barriers to stop the virus from spreading; and relocating uninfected ape populations.
Because they know little about how Ebola behaves in ape populations, researchers are not sure what to do. No one knows how far the epidemic has spread or how lethal it is to gorillas and chimpanzees. And there aren't enough researchers to monitor the animals, which live in forests stretching across thousands of miles. "It'd be like having six people to keep track of every deer that dies in the Eastern U.S.," says Dr. William Karesh, a veterinarian for the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Two weeks ago, Karesh went to the Republic of the Congo to study gorillas in areas hit by Ebola. He plans to immobilize animals with sedative darts, and then take blood samples to check for exposure. Scientists don't even know whether apes can transmit the virus to one another, so Karesh hopes to figure out how infection occurs.
Another mystery is the identity of the "reservoir species" that harbors the virus without becoming ill and infects apes. Some researchers say rodents may be the culprits, but Boesch suspects that apes contract the disease by munching half-eaten fruit contaminated with the saliva of bats.
Finding the reservoir species is key, scientists say; otherwise, conservationists could waste time on futile strategies. Several researchers, for example, support clearing major rivers of fallen logs so that gorillas and chimpanzees, who can't swim, are effectively quarantined. But if bats are infecting apes, this strategy is less likely to work. Instead, Boesch says, disinfecting or killing some bat colonies might make sense.
The first inklings of crisis emerged last year, when researchers realized that ape populations were declining all over central Africa. Some areas had little or no human population, so the booming bushmeat trade - hunting the animals for food - couldn't explain the decline.
Then, late last year, 600 to 800 gorillas vanished from the Lossi Sanctuary, an isolated wildlife park in the Republic of the Congo, just across Gabon's eastern border. Scientists found and tested several carcasses and confirmed that Ebola was the killer. One researcher lost 143 of the 150 gorillas she had followed for 10 years.
Conservationists connected the Lossi deaths to the earlier disappearance of apes from Gabon's Minkebe National Park, about 120 miles west. Ten years ago, 30,000 gorillas and an equal number of chimpanzees lived in the reserve. But by 2000, researchers could find almost none. Boesch and others estimate that 90 percent had died. Ebola seemed the likely killer - bushmeat hunting was uncommon, and from 1994 to 1996, three nearby villages suffered Ebola outbreaks. The disease usually reaches humans when they eat or handle bodies of infected apes.
Some primatologists think the Lossi and Minkebe outbreaks are part of a single epidemic, spreading east. Boesch agrees: "We think that many regions between Minkebe and Lossi have suffered." Researchers are especially worried that the virus will reach Odzala National Park, which is just 12 miles east of Lossi. A pristine tropical forest about the size of Connecticut, the park is one of the world's great ape hot spots - about 60,000 gorillas and chimps live there.
|CIA Hiring Locksmiths|
|Washington DC June 24, 2003 (Reuters) - Know your way around a lock? The CIA wants you. |
"The Central Intelligence Agency is seeking locksmiths to work with the best minds in the country while performing a mission critical to our nation," the CIA said in a recent job posting on its web site.
Locksmiths, who in spy agency lingo are called technical operations officers, are needed for such tasks as to "familiarize non-technical people with technical capabilities; do hands-on work; and travel worldwide."
The skill to fabricate lock parts was an asset for prospective CIA locksmiths.
"Knowledge of electronic and manual safe lock servicing, electricity, and alarms is ideal. Knowing how to operate machinery to fabricate lock parts and tools will be beneficial," the CIA job posting said.
Applicants must be willing to travel domestically and overseas.
"There is a wide range of requirements that the agency would have for which individuals with locksmith capabilities could be utilized, but what they do and how they do it is not something we're going to be able to discuss publicly," CIA spokesperson Tom Crispell said.
CIA website - http://www.cia.gov
|Inca Knot Language Revealed|
|By Steve Connor |
Boston June 23, 2003 (Independent UK) - They ran the biggest empire of their age, with a vast network of roads, granaries, warehouses and a complex system of government. Yet the Inca, founded in about AD1200 by Manco Capac, were unique for such a significant civilization: they had no written language. This has been the conventional view of the Inca, whose dominions at their height covered almost all of the Andean region, from Colombia to Chile, until they were defeated in the Spanish conquest of 1532.
But a leading scholar of South American antiquity believes the Inca did have a form of non-verbal communication written in an encoded language similar to the binary code of today's computers. Gary Urton, professor of anthropology at Harvard University, has re-analyzed the complicated knotted strings of the Inca - decorative objects called khipu - and found they contain a seven-bit binary code capable of conveying more than 1,500 separate units of information.
In the search for definitive proof of his discovery, which will be detailed in a book, Professor Urton believes he is close to finding the "Rosetta stone" of South America, a khipu story that was translated into Spanish more than 400 years ago.
"We need something like a Rosetta khipu and I'm optimistic that we will find one," said Professor Urton, referring to the basalt slab found at Rosetta, near Alexandria in Egypt, which allowed scholars to decipher a text written in Egyptian hieroglyphics from its demotic and Greek translations.
It has long been acknowledged that the khipu of the Inca were more than just decorative. In the 1920s, historians demonstrated that the knots on the strings of some khipu were arranged in such a way that they were a store of calculations, a textile version of an abacus.
Khipu can be immensely elaborate, composed of a main or primary cord to which are attached several pendant strings. Each pendant can have secondary or subsidiary strings which may in turn carry further subsidiary or tertiary strings, arranged like the branches of a tree. Khipu can be made of cotton or wool, cross-weaved or spun into strings. Different knots tied at various points along the strings give the khipu their distinctive appearance.
Professor Urton's study found there are, theoretically, seven points in the making of a khipu where the maker could make a simple choice between two possibilities, a seven-bit binary code. For instance, he or she could choose between weaving a string made of cotton or of wool, or they could weave in a "spin" or "ply" direction, or hang the pendant from the front of the primary string or from the back. In a strict seven-bit code this would give 128 permutations (two to the power of seven) but Professor Urton said because there were 24 possible colors that could be used in khipu construction, the actual permutations are 1,536 (or two to the power of six, multiplied by 24).
This could mean the code used by the makers allowed them to convey some 1,536 separate units of information, comparable to the estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Sumerian cuneiform signs, and double the number of signs in the hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptians and the Maya of Central America.
Unfortunately, in this as in many other encounters, the Spanish burnt the khipu and punished the native for having it, a typical response that did not engender an understanding of how the Inca used their khipu.
|Dog Robs Gas Station!|
|Norway June 23, 2003 (Aftenposten) - A hungry bull terrier with a sweet tooth left his home to make a night raid on a gas station. The Statoil outlet's security cameras recorded the dog's stealthy hunt for his favorite type of chocolate, and a security guard busted the pooch without incident, newspaper Adressavisen reports. |
Terrier Conan, aged 7, ended up behind bars and according to his owner the dog is a repeat offender.
"He is incredibly fond of food in general and sweets in particular. He has run off a few times before, and he always heads for food stores," owner Liss-Hege Jeremiassen told Adresseavisen. Conan sneaked out the door Wednesday night and headed straight for only place open, a nearby Statoil station.
The cameras picked him up sniffing around the candy shelves, poking his nose into the containers of sweets sold by loose weight, and snubbing all of these treats in search of his personal favorite, chocolate covered rice crisp. Here he stopped and devoured the contents of the container.
|California Protesters March on Global Food Conference|
|SACRAMENTO June 24, 2003 (Reuters) — Hundreds of protesters, some wearing face masks and protective gear, rallied outside California's capitol building Monday and prepared to march against an international farm conference in opposition to genetically modified foods. |
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman opened the conference with the release of a report promoting the role of technology in increasing farm productivity and incomes in developing regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.
|Bush Censors EPA Global Warming Report|
|By H. Josef Hebert |
WASHINGTON June 20, 2003 (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency scrapped a detailed assessment of climate change from an upcoming report on the state of the environment after the White House directed major changes and deletions to emphasize the uncertainties surrounding global warming, according to internal EPA documents.
The changes prompted an EPA staff memorandum that said the revisions demanded by the White House were so extensive that they would embarrass the agency because the section "no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change."
The climate section was part of a comprehensive review by the agency on major environmental concerns and what is needed to address them. The assessment has been a top priority of EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, who wanted it completed before she departs the agency next week.
Contrary to early EPA drafts, the final document, according to EPA officials and papers, gives only a cursory mention of climate change, one of the most daunting and complex environmental challenges facing the world.
Copies of the draft documents and EPA memos, obtained Thursday by the Associated Press, were first reported by the New York Times.
EPA spokesman Joe Martyak said the section was scaled back because "we didn't want to hold up the rest of the report" because of disagreements about the climate section and the lack of "consensus on the science and conclusions" on global warming.
Whitman told the Times she was "perfectly comfortable" with the edited version.
According to the EPA papers, the White House ordered removal of several references that suggested rising global temperatures would have an impact on human health and the ecosystem, and softened other sentences to stress the uncertainties surrounding climate change.
An edited version said that climate change "may have potentially profound consequences," but "The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change, document its cause, and develop useful projections on how natural variability and human actions may affect the global environment in the future."
|Dark Matter Mystery Continues|
|By PAUL RECER |
AP Science Writer
WASHINGTON June 19, 2003 - The Earth, moon, sun and all visible stars in the sky make up less than one percent of the universe. Almost all the rest is dark matter and dark energy, unknown forces that puzzle astronomers.
Observations in recent years have changed the basic understanding of how the universe evolved and have emphasized for astronomers how little is known about the major forces and substances that shaped our world.
Astronomers now know that luminous matter — stars, planets and hot gas — account for only about 0.4 percent of the universe. Nonluminous components, such as black holes and intergalactic gas, make up 3.6 percent. The rest is either dark matter, about 23 percent, or dark energy, about 73 percent.
Dark matter, sometimes called "cold dark matter," has been known for some time. Only recently have researchers come to understand the pivotal role it played in the formation of stars, planets and even people.
"We owe our very existence to dark matter," said Paul Steinhardt, a physicist at Princeton University and a co-author of a review on dark matter appearing this week in the journal Science.
Steinhardt said it is believed that following the Big Bang, the theoretical beginning of the universe, dark matter caused particles to clump together. That set up the gravitation processes that led to the formation of stars and galaxies. Those stars, in turn, created the basic chemicals, such as carbon and iron, that were fundamental to the evolution of life.
"Dark matter dominated the formation of structure in the early universe," Steinhardt said. "For the first few billion years dark matter contained most of the mass of the universe. You can think of ordinary matter as a froth on an ocean of dark matter. The dark matter clumps and the ordinary matter falls into it. That led to the formation of the stars and galaxies."
Without dark matter, "there would be virtually no structures in the universe," he said.
The nature of dark matter is unknown. It cannot be seen or detected directly. Astronomers know it is there because of its effect on celestial objects than can be seen and measured.
But the most dominating force of all in the universe is called dark energy, a recently proven power that astronomers say is causing the galaxies in the universe to separate at a faster and faster speed. It is the force that is causing the universe to expand at an accelerating rate.
Robert P. Kirshner, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the presence of dark energy was proved only five years ago when astronomers studying very distant exploding stars discovered they were moving away at a constant acceleration. It was a stunning discovery that has since been proved by other observations.
|Genre News: Peter Pan, Firefly, Ghost of the Robot, Stripperella, George Axelrod, Sci Fi Wants UFO Probe & More!|
|Peter Pan Can Fly! |
Hollywood June 23, 2003 (eXoNews) - The official website for the new Peter Pan movie has opened and is offering fans a glimpse into the latest reworking of the J. M. Barrie play. A joint production by Universal, Columbia and Revolution Studios, the live-action Peter Pan is scheduled for release this Christmas.
After a multitude of theatrical and animated versions, this Peter Pan promises to be a special effects blockbuster and according to the website the film marks the first time Peter has ever been played by a real boy. (The star is 14.) The theatrical versions traditionally cast women in the role of Peter, most notably Mary Martin in the original Broadway version.
Peter Pan is directed by P.J. Hogan with Jeremy Sumpter as Peter, Rachel Hurd-Wood as Wendy and Jason Isaacs as Captain Hook.
Jeremy appeared previously in Danny Glover's Just a Dream (2002) and Bill Paxton's Frailty (2001).
Jason Isaacs appeared as Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). He was also featured in Black Hawk Down (2001) and genre favorites Soldier (1998), Armageddon (1998) and Dragonheart (1996).
Tinker Bell will be there too, played by French Actress Ludivine Sagnier, and British actor Richard Briers plays Hook's sidekick Smee. Ludivine Sagnier appeared in A&E's mini-series Napoleon (2002), but is primarily known for her screen work in France. Briers has appeared in over sixty film and TV roles. Film fans may recognize him as a regular in Kenneth Branagh films. Briers played Polonius in Branagh's Hamlet (1996), and was also in Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost (2000), 12th Night (1988), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Peter's Friends (1992), and Frankenstein (1994).
The special effects team is led by Scott Farrar (Cocoon and A.I.)
[I liked Hook, but Roger Ebert called it "a lugubrious retread of a once-magical idea." Ed.]
Bronson was reportedly chosen for the role of Peter by J.M. Barrie. The film made her a silent film star.
TV tried Peter in 1976, with Mia Farrow in the lead and Danny Kaye as Hook, and again in 2000 with Cathy Rigby as Peter.
Bobby Driscoll voiced Peter Pan for Disney at age 16. Kathryn Beaumont, who was a year younger than Driscoll, played Wendy. Miss Beaumont was also the voice of Alice in Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951).
There has been some debate over the correct running order of the series, caused by the fact that some episodes have not yet been shown anywhere in the world.
Fortunately creator Joss Whedon has contacted the channel with the correct order. Apparently, he has taken a keen interest in how the show is performing on Sci Fi. No doubt a successful run on Sci Fi would greatly improve his chances of getting a film off the ground.
Monday 23rd June at 9pm Ep 8 - Jaynestown (UK TV Premiere)
More Firefly news at http://www.fireflyfans.net
Ghost of the Robot
The band will be playing dates in the UK and Germany in June promoting their discs.
Ticket information is posted on the UK GOTR site - http://robotsites.co.uk/english/tour.shtml but hurry because there is only one concert date left on June 25th in Kings Cross.
Joss Whedon Biography Due
London June 23, 2003 (BBC) - A new biography of Buffy creator Joss Whedon is being published by Titan Books in August.
"This is possibly the finest book of the century!" he said. "It's exactly like A Tale of Two Cities, but with 30% more me."
Now there's a recommendation you're not likely to hear again in a hurry.
Stripperella's Pamela Anderson Says No Nudity
Canadian-born Anderson, 35, sprang to world fame as lifeguard CJ Parker on the TV series "Baywatch" and went on to produce and star in the syndicated TV series "V.I.P.," playing a beautiful celebrity bodyguard.
Lee's Injunction Against Spike TV Upheld
After reviewing briefs submitted June 13 by Viacom attorneys and Lee's lawyer, Johnnie Cochran Jr., a five-judge panel held up the injunction granted June 12 by N.Y. Supreme Court Justice Walter Tolub.
Viacom vowed to continue fighting the injunction in a statement released immediately after the ruling.
"We firmly believe we have an absolute right to use the common word 'spike' as the name of our network."
TNN (AKA "Spike"): http://www.thenewtnn.com
Seven Year Itch Screenwriter George Axelrod Dies at 81
A radio and television writer, Axelrod hit the jackpot in 1952 with "The Seven Year Itch." It was a laugh-filled play about a man whose wife and children had gone to the country, and who pursues the luscious young beauty who lives above his apartment.
Exorcist Writer and Director File Suit
William Peter Blatty, who wrote the novel and screenplay, and director William Friedkin, claim Warner Bros. breached its fiduciary duty by self-dealing the rights for a newer version of the film. They claim the studio would sell the rights to its sister cable television networks, TNT and TBS, for little to no profit.
Cast Set for NBC Earthquake
The World of Tomorrow
Sinbad Evokes Harryhausen
"Because I grew up on those movies, and I just loved them. And I love sort of the look of them, the feel. They were sort of gaudy and fun and exciting and swashbuckling."
DreamWorks head Jeffrey Katzenberg was well aware of Logan's admiration for the filmmaker's work when he approached him to write the script.
Sci Fi Channel Wants U.S. to Probe UFOs
Most TV networks are reluctant to spend money for anything other than self-interest. The few public interest efforts are hardly controversial: Lifetime promoting breast cancer research, for example, or MTV's Rock the Vote campaign to encourage young people to register.
But by fighting for UFO probes, Sci Fi is wading into an area that invites not only dissent, but also ridicule.
He's afraid they'll never help if their names come out and they're laughed at.
Undaunted, Fox essentially ambushed Carter with a camera one day at a book-signing. Carter confirmed the incident but his brevity and forced smile indicated he wasn't happy to be answering.
Given the "giggle factor" that surrounds UFOs, Sci Fi is taking a chance with its reputation, Fox said.
It is backing an effort to get U.S. Air Force records released on a 1965 incident in Kecksburg, Pa., where some witnesses believe a UFO crashed.
This may end up in court, Rothschild said.
Intrigued, he began looking into other UFO incidents.
He sold a 1998 documentary to the Discovery Channel and shopped "Out of the Blue" to the same network, but said he was told Discovery no longer buys pro-UFO films. (A Discovery spokeswoman denied this.)
And don't count him among people who believe aliens already live among us.
Fox's storytelling is sober, not sensational.
Summing up incidents at the end of the film, Fox gives the official government explanations of what happened, and they're often more ridiculous than the sightings themselves.
"We don't know where they come from, we don't know what they're doing. We can't stop them if they become hostile and they can fly rings around all of our aircraft. Thank you, and good night."