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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 new species, Macrocarpaea apparata, is described by Struwe and Jason Grant of the Université de Neuchâtel in Switzerland in the June 27 issue of Harvard Papers in Botany [8(1): 61-81, 2003].

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.

In an effort to conserve the world's deteriorating biodiversity, plant taxonomists investigate and describe what is known to exist and go out in the field to look for new species. Struwe and Grant have been exploring the shrinking rain forests of South America, most recently the tropical, mountainous Andes region in southern Ecuador.

"Much of the original forest is now gone because trees have gone to lumber and vegetation has been burned to clear pastureland," said Struwe. "In Ecuador alone, a recent estimate is that 83 percent of all plant species are threatened with extinction, a much higher percentage than we previously thought."

The newly discovered plant belongs to the gentian family, whose members are known for their deep blue flowers. They are found on all continents except Antarctica in a wide variety of habitats and have been valued as herbal remedies since the dawn of recorded history. One particular genus, Macrocarpaea, is found predominantly in the mountainous rain forests of America, and it was these that in 2001 the two scientists sought in Ecuador.

"We drove south through misty mountains and lush vegetation, stopping at many places to examine the flora," said Struwe. "Suddenly we saw strange plants growing by the roadside. They had none of the flowers characteristic of gentians, but they did look like a Macrocarpaea – a kind never before seen."

Struwe explained that in order to confirm that it was a gentian, they needed to find a plant with flowers. As darkness approached, the rain-soaked botanists pursued their quarry and, on the verge of giving up, they found it. "At the very last moment, a tall flowering plant suddenly, almost magically appeared in front on us," she said. "It was a small tree, 12-15 feet tall, full with yellowish-white, bell-shaped flowers adapted to nocturnal pollination by bats and moths," added Grant.

The flowers emerged only as darkness fell, almost as an apparition. Thus, Struwe and Grant settled quickly on the species name, apparata.

Struwe had previously identified a new gentian genus in Brazil – Aripuana – and a dozen new gentian species, while Grant has more than 20 new species of Macrocarpaea to his credit. The research described in the June 27 paper was funded by the New York Botanical Garden, Rutgers University and the Université de Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

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.

Princeton University ecologist Peter Walsh says that if the rate of decline continues, the two species could approach extinction by 2025. Nobody knows how many gorillas and chimps are left: an analysis by Conservation International estimates 94,000 gorillas in central Africa and perhaps 120,000 chimpanzees, though Walsh calls those figures "gross overestimates." Scientists agree, however, that central African apes are in trouble.

Walsh, calling the situation dire, proposes several strategies, including vaccination, barriers, and relocation, to see which works best. He's talked with the National Institutes of Health about using an experimental vaccine that is being developed for human use. Lab studies have shown that the vaccine works on macaques, a small monkey found mostly in Asia.

"We think the vaccine could be helpful," said Gary Nabel, an NIH scientist overseeing the studies. But it is still being tested, and likely wouldn't be ready for use in apes until 2005. Inoculating the apes would be tricky, too; wildlife workers would have to get close enough to fire a vaccine-filled dart into them.

Some worry that humans can do little to stop the ape epidemic. "The worst-case scenario is there's nothing we can do and we lose a huge number of gorillas and chimps," says Rebecca Kormos, an ecologist with Conservation International.

Ebola, some suspect, could simply be a brutal fact of ape life: The virus may well have been infecting gorillas and chimps for centuries or millennia.

But now, losing ground to hunting and logging, ape populations may not recover. "It's no problem when there are millions. But now we're down to tens of thousands," Karesh said. "It's just sad. These great apes are just dying."

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 -
Inca Knot Language Revealed
By Steve Connor
Science Editor

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.

If Professor Urton is right, it means the Inca not only invented a form of binary code more than 500 years before the invention of the computer, but they used it as part of the only three-dimensional written language. "They could have used it to represent a lot of information," he says. "Each element could have been a name, an identity or an activity as part of telling a story or a myth. It had considerable flexibility. I think a skilled khipu-keeper would have recognized the language. They would have looked and felt and used their store of knowledge in much the way we do when reading words."

There is also some anecdotal evidence that khipu were more than mere knots on a string used for storing calculations. The Spanish recorded capturing one Inca native trying to conceal a khipu which, he said, recorded everything done in his homeland "both the good and the evil".

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.

But Professor Urton said he had discovered a collection of 32 khipu in a burial site in northern Peru with Incan mummies dating from the time of the Spanish conquest. He hopes to find a khipu that can be matched in some way with a document written in Spanish, a khipu translation. He is working with documents from the same period, indicating that the Spanish worked closely with at least one khipu-keeper. "We have for the first time a set of khipu from a well-preserved and dated archaeological site, and documents that were being drawn up at the same time."

Without a "khipu Rosetta" it will be hard to convince the skeptics who insist that, at most, the knotted strings may be complicated mnemonic devices to help oral storytellers to remember their lines. If they are simple memory machines, khipu would not constitute a form of written language because they would have been understood only by their makers, or someone trained to recall the same story.

Professor Urton has little sympathy with this idea. "It is just not logical that they were making them for memory purposes," he said. "Tying a knot is simply a cue; it should have no information content in itself other than being a reminder." Khipu had layers of complexity that would be unnecessary if they were straightforward mnemonic devices, he said.

More details on khipos at Frank Salomon's Huarochiri website -

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.

"When he was finished he let out this enormous burp," said Elisabeth Roel, who had the night shift at the station.

She tried to chase Conan out but the dog growled at this attempt to interrupt his chocolate raid. Roel then called the police, who turned the job over to Falken security.

"He's really a nice dog, but he doesn't have looks on his side. He spent the night next to a pit bull, but that went well. He's calm and friendly," said security guard Otto Olsen, who apprehended the hound.

Roel said she wouldn't have been worried if she had recognized Conan, but since he had escaped without his collar, she wasn't sure and wasn't about to take chances.

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.

Protesters, who charge that such food technology programs threaten biodiversity and the livelihood of small farmers, welcomed arriving delegates on Sunday with a series of demonstrations that sparked 36 arrests.

"The future of agriculture is increasingly being determined by technology," Veneman said in a statement.

Police arrested 36 people on a variety of charges including vandalism, trespassing, and assault on Sunday after 400 to 500 demonstrators took to the streets, said Sacramento police Captain Sam Somers. Some demonstrators linked themselves together with pipes and had to be cut apart. One protester had to be taken down from a tree, and another was arrested for inciting a riot in a community garden complex.

Hundreds of state, county, and local police, as well as federal agents, stood ready Monday as about 800 demonstrators gathered for an afternoon march through the city.

Protesters carried placards saying "Yes to Biodiversity" and "Food Justice Now." Some were dressed in all black and wore face masks.

The planned protest route takes demonstrators within a block of the global food conference, but police were prepared for some demonstrators to split off and try to move closer to the heavily protected convention site.

"It's a matter of whether they stick to their word," Somers said of the protesters.

Agriculture ministers from the European Union are not attending the Sacramento meeting because of E.U. meetings on agricultural policy.

"The U.S. government is using this summit to market the corporate model of food and farming on behalf of big agribusiness, which profits at the expense of small farmers, farm workers, public health, and the environment," said Skip Spitzer of the Pesticide Action Network North America.

Bush Censors EPA Global Warming Report
By H. Josef Hebert
Associated Press

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.

"Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment," the earlier EPA draft said in a section of the report dealing with "global issues."

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."

The revised draft removed a reference to a 1999 study showing global temperatures had risen sharply in the past decade compared to the previous 1,000 years. But it did cite another study, partly paid for by the oil industry, challenging the uniqueness of recent temperature increases.

And it deleted a National Research Council (NRC) finding that various studies have suggested that recent warming was unusual and likely due to human activities. The 2001 NRC report had been commissioned by the White House and cited in the past by President Bush.

The revisions, some ordered by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and others by the Office of Management and Budget, prompted sharp protests among some in the EPA's office dealing with climate change. It also sparked an internal debate on how to deal with the issue.

If the changes are accepted, the EPA "will take severe criticism from the science and environmental communities for poorly representing the science," said an April 29 EPA staff memo. The memo said the final draft "undercuts" key scientific studies on climate change, including the pivotal findings by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The memo outlined two other options: Seek further compromise and possibly "antagonize the White House more" or remove most of the climate section from the document. "EPA will take criticism" by removing the section, said the memo, but that "may be the only way to meet both White House and EPA needs."

Dark Matter Mystery Continues
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.

Kirshner said it is clear now that dark matter and dark energy engaged in a gravitational tug of war that, eventually, dark energy won.

Following the Big Bang some 14 billion years ago, matter in the universe streaked outward. It formed galaxies, thinned out and then began to slow down.

"Dark matter was trying to slow things down and dark energy was trying to speed it up," said Kirshner, the author of a review article on dark energy in Science.

"We think dark matter was winning for the first seven billion years, but then universe went from slowing down to speeding up. ... Dark energy took over."

Kirshner said astronomers do not really understand dark energy. Albert Einstein first proposed a form of the idea, but discarded it later. Now, researchers know it exists, but its exact form and nature are mysterious, although it is thought to be related to gravity.

"What this is pointing to is a deep mystery at the heart of physics," said Kirshner. "We don't understand gravity in the same way we understand other forces."

He said there are virtually no experiments on Earth that would explore the nature of dark energy. It can only be studied across vast stellar distances by observing the motion of objects extremely far away, a skill that has been possible only in recent decades with the development of very powerful telescopes.

"Dark energy will cause the universe to expanded faster and faster and eventually, over time, we will see less and less of it," Kirshner said. Over millions of years, familiar stars and nearby galaxies will disappear from view and the sky, now choked with stars, will slowly darken.

"The piece of the universe that we can see will get lonelier and lonelier," he said.

Genre News: Peter Pan, Firefly, Ghost of the Robot, Stripperella, George Axelrod, Sci Fi Wants UFO Probe & More!
Peter Pan Can Fly!
By FLAtRich

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).

Director Hogan wrote the screenplay with Michael Goldenberg (Contact) and the production was filmed in Australia.

The special effects team is led by Scott Farrar (Cocoon and A.I.)

The new Peter isn't the first live-action attempt at the Barrie classic. Steven Spielberg tried a retelling of the tale in 1991's Hook, with Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter reliving his adventures in Wonderland.

[I liked Hook, but Roger Ebert called it "a lugubrious retread of a once-magical idea." Ed.]

There was a silent Hollywood version in 1924, starring the recently deceased Mary Brian as Wendy and Betty Bronson as Peter.

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.

There are many animated adventures of Peter, the best being the original Walt Disney Peter Pan (1953). Despite the brag by Universal-Columbia press spinners, Disney did cast a teenage male actor in the title role.

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).

The new Peter Pan website offers trailers and a couple of desktop backgrounds for downloaders.

Peter Pan Official site -

Joss Helps with UK Firefly Schedule

London June 18, 2003 (BBC) - Fans of Joss Whedon's Firefly will be interested to hear that the Sci Fi Channel (UK) has announced details of its schedule for the rest of the series.

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.

Here is the correct running order.

Monday 23rd June at 9pm Ep 8 - Jaynestown (UK TV Premiere)
Monday 30th June at 9pm Ep 9 - Out Of Gas (UK TV Premiere)
Monday 7th July at 9pm Ep 10 - Ariel (UK TV Premiere)
Monday 14th July at 9pm Ep 11 - War Stories (UK TV Premiere)
Monday 21st July at 9pm Ep 12 - Trash (World TV Premiere)
Monday 28th July at 9pm Ep 13 - The Message (World TV Premiere)
Monday 4th Aug at 9pm Ep 14 - Heart Of Gold (World TV Premiere)
Monday 11th Aug at 9pm Ep 15 - Objects Of Space (UK TV Premiere - Series Finale)

More Firefly news at

Ghost of the Robot

London June 23, 2003 (eXoNews) - BBCi has published videos of a recent interview with James Marsters' band 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 -  but hurry because there is only one concert date left on June 25th in Kings Cross.

Ghost of the Robot Official site -

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.

Joss Whedon: The Genius behind Buffy is written by top US entertainment columnist Candace Havens, and covers the whole of the prolific writer and director's life. Joss' work on shows from Roseanne to Buffy's final season is examined, as well as his school days here in Britain.

The book promises masses of interviews with Joss and the Buffy and Angel cast members, as well as behind-the-scenes secrets, plus plenty of Joss' snappy wit.

Commenting on the book, the man himself gave it his seal of approval.

"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.

The book will be out on 21st August.

Stripperella's Pamela Anderson Says No Nudity
By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES June 23, 2003 (Reuters) - Former "Baywatch" beauty Pamela Anderson is making her animation debut as a superhero who dances in a strip club, but she demanded and received a no-nudity clause for her cartoon alter ego.

As a result, the upcoming cable series "Stripperella" features lots of cartoon cleavage and sexual innuendo -- she is after all "Secret Agent 69" -- but Anderson insists the show could be rated PG.

"It's harmless. It's only a cartoon," the actress told Reuters in a recent interview to promote the series, created by Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee, the man who beefed up the Hulk and had Spider-Man climbing walls.

"We came up with a concept, and we just kind of made it really, really silly, and we both can't believe it's going to be on the air."

The series is due to premiere June 26 on TNN, the Viacom Inc.-owned cable channel planning -- despite a legal challenge -- to relaunch itself this month as Spike TV, with a new slate of programming tailored to men.

The show's concept is pretty simple. It centers on buxom exotic dancer Erotica Jones, an Anderson-esque character voiced by the actress who leads a double life as the masked superhero Stripperella. She's a stripper by night, a crime fighter by later at night and the cartoon character even has the same tatoos as the real-life Anderson.

Using her sex appeal to cloud the minds of male crooks, she comes equipped with special gadgets, such as her lipstick laser and wall-climbing stiletto heels. Her breasts are natural lie detectors and her legs are powerful weapons she wraps around the heads of her foes in a move she calls the "scissor-ella."

"I'm very proud of Stripperella," Anderson says. "She's my alter ego -- strong, smart and sexy and, let's face it, a bit of a slut."

In the premiere episode, Stripperella battles the evil plastic surgeon Dr. Cesarian, who is deliberately ruining the figures of supermodels and has "booby-trapped" his latest victim with an exploding breast implant.

Still, Anderson said the series is far from pornographic and at her insistence contains no nudity -- employing cartoon pixilation and other devices to keep the body parts blurred and the animation tasteful.

For example, "I do a dance in a martini glass, and the bubbles are strategically placed," she said.

A number of celebrities lend their voices to some of the recurring characters, including Mark Hamill of "Star Wars" fame and Anderson's boyfriend Kid Rock, who also wrote and performs the theme song.

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.

This week, she signed a partnership agreement with United Licensing Group to develop brand merchandise such as lingerie, jewelry, swimsuits and jeans that will carry a Pamela Anderson designer label, according to her manager, Hedda Moye.

Moye said the licensing deal and a new Web site are part of Anderson's plan to develop business ventures that allow her to cash in on her celebrity while spending more time at home with her two young sons, Brandon, 7, and Dylan, 5.

Anderson said her kids have seen early clips from her cartoon series but take it all in stride, with Brandon comparing her unfavorably to "Rugrats" character Angelica Pickles. "He said, 'Angelica is a very good actor, a very good character, and she's much more famous than you, Mom,"' Anderson recalled with a laugh.

TNN officials said on Thursday they will proceed with plans to roll out new programming this month despite a court injunction, sparked by a lawsuit from filmmaker Spike Lee, barring the network name change to Spike TV.

Official Baywatch site -

Lee's Injunction Against Spike TV Upheld
By Andrew Wallenstein

NEW YORK June 20, 2003 (Hollywood Reporter) - The New York state appellate court denied Viacom's request Thursday to lift the preliminary injunction granted to Spike Lee in his lawsuit concerning the Spike TV cable channel.

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.

"This case is far from over," the statement read. "We think today's ruling perpetuates a flawed and perplexing decision with far-reaching First Amendment implications that go well beyond the significant financial damage our network has incurred. We intend to appeal vigorously and still expect to be vindicated ultimately.

"We firmly believe we have an absolute right to use the common word 'spike' as the name of our network."

Lee sued Viacom earlier this month to block the rebranding of the company's cable network TNN, claiming that Spike TV was unlawfully derived from his own name. Viacom sought a stay on the injunction, citing millions of dollars in losses accrued from the postponement of the rebranding effort.

The stay on the injunction seemed unlikely to be lifted June 13 when Viacom's request was initially rebuffed by Tolub, who deferred the decision to the appellate court.

A TNN spokesman said Viacom plans to resume the fight against Lee's lawsuit Monday in court, where it will appeal the original preliminary injunction and seek a pretrial hearing to discuss the parameters for a potential trial.

TNN (AKA "Spike"):

Seven Year Itch Screenwriter George Axelrod Dies at 81
Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES June 21, 2003 (AP) - Playwright George Axelrod, who anticipated the sexual revolution with "The Seven Year Itch" and "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter" and later wrote screenplays for such films as "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "The Manchurian Candidate," died Saturday. He was 81

Axelrod died in his sleep of heart failure, said his daughter, Nina Axelrod.

"He ended his life very peacefully in his home overlooking Los Angeles," she said. "He was very happy."

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.

The play lasted almost three years on Broadway and was filmed by 20th Century Fox as a vehicle for Marilyn Monroe, with Tom Ewell repeating his role in the play. The movie was a box-office hit, aided by the classic photo of Monroe's skirt being blown into the air.

Axelrod, who collaborated with Billy Wilder on the script, declared in 1955 "we didn't make a very good picture." The industry censor forbade the sexual innuendo contained in the play and would not allow the two characters to sleep together.

His next play, "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" a satire on Hollywood, lasted more than a year on Broadway and was also filmed by Fox, with Tony Randall and Jayne Mansfield as stars.

Axelrod steadfastly refused to see it. "They didn't use my story, my play or my script," he said.

He wrote another script for Monroe, "Bus Stop," based on William Inge's play. His next assignment, "Breakfast at Tiffany's," was marked by acrimony with director Blake Edwards.

Axelrod, who still lived in the East then, was advised by Wilder: "You can't sit in New York, see the finished project, then raise hell about it. If you want to be involved in the making of the picture, you've got to be out here to do it."

Taking the advice, Axelrod moved to Hollywood and became the highest-paid writer in films.

He was born June 9, 1922, in New York City and started working early; becoming an omnivorous reader "to make up for my lack of formal education." He also haunted Broadway theaters.

After three wartime years in the Army Signal Corps, he returned to New York and wrote scripts for radio, then television. He calculated that he had written more than 400 broadcasts.

"The Manchurian Candidate," in 1962, based on Richard Condon's novel about wartime brainwashing and subversive politics, may have been Axelrod's best achievement. He declared in 1995 that the script "broke every rule. It's got dream sequences, flashbacks, narration out of nowhere ... Everything in the world you're told not to do."

He considered "The Manchurian Candidate" a comedy, but critics, audiences and pressure groups were offended by the tale of an American POW in Korea who returns home and kills a powerful politician. After President Kennedy's assassination, it was shelved. When the film was rereleased in 1987, critics proclaimed it a classic.

Another of Axelrod's plays, "Goodbye, Charlie," became a movie starring Debbie Reynolds and Tony Curtis. His other films as writer include "Phffft," "Paris When It Sizzles," "How to Murder Your Wife," "Lord Love a Duck" (also directed), "The Secret Life of an American Wife" (also directed). He also wrote three novels.

In 1987, Axelrod was saluted at the New York Film Festival. He told the admiring crowd: "I always wanted to get into the major leagues, and I knew my secret: luck and timing. I had a small and narrow but very, very sharp talent, and inside it, I'm as good as it gets."

Axelrod's second wife, Joan, died in 2001. He is survived by four children, seven grandchildren and a sister. A private service was planned.

Exorcist Writer and Director File Suit

LOS ANGELES June 20, 2003 (AP) - The author of "The Exorcist" and the director of the 1973 movie of the same name have filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros., alleging the studio didn't do enough to make them money.

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.

On Thursday, a Superior Court judge heard arguments but did not rule on a request by Warner Bros. to dismiss the lawsuit. The studio claims it has no financial responsibility to both men, who were hired to perform a service and were paid for that service.

"They received a specified percentage of the net profits," said Warner Bros. lawyer David L. Burg.

Blatty and Friedkin's lawyer, Lawrence Iser, argued that when Warner Bros. wanted a new version of "The Exorcist," the studio asked them to return to work. The studio made hundreds of millions of dollars and made promises of profits to both men it didn't keep, Iser said. Blatty and Friedkin are seeking unspecified damages.

Superior Court Judge Laurie Zelon did not indicate when she might make a final ruling. In a tentative ruling prior to Thursday's hearing, Zelon denied Blatty and Friedkin's claim of breach of fiduciary duty. However, a July 14 trial is set for the pair's claims of breach of contract and misrepresented accounting.

Cast Set for NBC Earthquake
By Nellie Andreeva

Hollywood June 23, 2003 (Hollywood Reporter) - John Schneider, David Cubitt, Fred Ward, Dule Hill, Kaley Cuoco, Rebecca Jenkins, Ivan Sergei and Beau Bridges have joined Kim Delaney in the NBC miniseries "10.5," about a deadly earthquake that hits the West Coast.

The project, from Jaffe/Braunstein Films and Pearl Pictures, centers on a seismologist (Delaney) at the University of Washington who discovers a correlation between the early tremors and warns that they will lead to a big one.

The World of Tomorrow

Hollywood June 20, 2003 (Cinescape) - The Friday edition of Varity reports that Paramount Pictures has picked up distribution rights to THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, a sci-fi fantasy currently in post-production. The film stars Jude Law (A.I.), Gwyneth Paltrow (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) and Angeline Jolie (TOMB RAIDER).

The $70 million dollar movie requires a year's worth of post due to its extensive digital imagery component. The actors filmed nearly all of their scenes against blue-screen backdrops which will be created using computer graphics. Even with WORLD's year-long post-production time, the picture should be ready for a summer 2004 release.

Part INDIANA JONES, part ROCKETEER, THE WORLD OF TOMORROW is set in a 1939 New York City filled with pulp adventure style gadgets and adventure. Law plays a "Sky Captain" who comes to the rescue of a reporter (Paltrow) who's just discovered a plot to kidnap the world's scientists. The movie was written and is being directed by Kerry Conran.

Sinbad Evokes Harryhausen

Hollywood June 19, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - John Logan, who wrote the upcoming animated feature Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, told SCI FI Wire that the film was greatly influenced by the work of legendary visual-effects wizard Ray Harryhausen.

"I would say, for me, the entire Sinbad experience can be summed up in two words, which [are]: Ray Harryhausen," Logan said in an interview.

"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."

Harryhausen is known for perfecting the technique of stop-motion animation in films such as Clash of the Titans and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

DreamWorks head Jeffrey Katzenberg was well aware of Logan's admiration for the filmmaker's work when he approached him to write the script.

"This is where Jeffrey is the master. The master," Logan said. "He pitched it to me as, like, ... 'It's the story of these friends, and it's like a classical thing, and it's Ray Harryhausen, and it's all that stuff you love. Let's just do it.' Little did I know four years later I'd still be doing it."

Logan—whose previous credits include Star Trek Nemesis and the Oscar-nominated Gladiator—had never worked on an animated feature before taking on Sinbad. He said he initially turned down the project, based on his lack of experience, but that Katzenberg persuaded him to reconsider.

"I know nothing about animated movies," Logan said. "I know nothing about the process. And he sort of pitched this idea of doing Sinbad a la Ray Harryhausen, paying homage to that spirit of swashbuckling fun. And of course, Jeffrey being Jeffrey, I eventually said yes, because it sounded like such an exciting idea."

Sinbad opens July 2.

Official Sinbad site -

Sci Fi Channel Wants U.S. to Probe UFOs
AP Television Writer

NEW YORK June 22, 2003 (AP) — In an unusual step for a television network, the Sci Fi Channel is campaigning to persuade the government to be more forthcoming and aggressive in investigating UFO sightings.

Sci Fi has hired a Washington lobbyist, received support from former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, sponsored a symposium on interstellar travel and is considering a court effort to declassify documents related to a 1965 incident in Pennsylvania.

The network will premiere a documentary, "Out of the Blue," Tuesday at 9 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific time zones) that methodically lays out an argument that there's something out there.

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.

"It's very, very tough for people to take this subject seriously," said Ed Rothschild, a lobbyist for the Washington firm PodestaMattoon. "We thought the only way it was going to be seriously addressed is to have serious people talk about it, scientists."

Rothschild won't even identify the members of Congress he's talked to about leaning on the government for more openness about UFOs.

He's afraid they'll never help if their names come out and they're laughed at.

Even believers are reluctant to talk about the issue.

After hearing that former President Carter once saw a UFO, "Out of the Blue" filmmaker James Fox repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, asked Carter's representatives for an interview.

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.

"I don't think there's a risk because the questions need to be asked," said Thomas Vitale, Sci Fi's senior vice president of programming. "Even somebody who is the biggest skeptic in the world ... still wants the questions answered. And who better to do it?"

The mission isn't entirely altruistic, of course. The Sci Fi Channel, which is seen in about three-quarters of the nation's TV households, polled viewers on the topic. Evidence of keen interest is also seen in the ratings.

Last November's documentary on the celebrated, suspected 1947 UFO crash in Roswell, N.M., was the highest-rated special in the network's 11-year history. It was seen by nearly 2.4 million people, or about 2 1/2 times Sci Fi's usual prime-time audience.

"Our main goal is not to find a UFO," Vitale said. "The goal is finding the truth. We're expanding and exploring the blurry line between what is science fiction and what is science fact."

Vitale wouldn't say how much Sci Fi is spending on this. The network sponsored an archaeological excavation at Roswell, will debut a public service announcement Tuesday and has two new UFO specials in the works.

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.

Fox, a San Francisco-based journalist, never thought much about UFOs until a visit nine years ago to Nevada, when he and his friends watched a saucer-shaped object hover silently in the sky then dart away.

"When I got home, I was met with laughter," he said. "No one believed me, even my family. I thought, if my own family doesn't believe me, who does?"

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.)

So he went to Sci Fi. Fox considers 95 percent of reported UFO incidents bunk, either hoaxes or easily explained conventional phenomena.

And don't count him among people who believe aliens already live among us.

But that still leaves a significant number of mysterious cases. "Out of the Blue" outlines several, concentrating on the most reputable of witnesses — former astronauts, military and government officials, topped off by an ex-president.

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.

"You get to a point where you can no longer dismiss each and every episode," he said.

Fox and Rothschild can think of several reasons why the government doesn't want to talk about UFOs:

The military doesn't want to spend time or money on something that isn't perceived as a threat.

Officials may also like the secrecy; it keeps other governments guessing about what kind of new weapon technologies might be in the works.

It could also be embarrassing, since it can expose what they don't know and the limitations of human technology.

And who wants to set off a "War of the Worlds"-type incident?

Fox envisions the public announcement that could come with such an event:

"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."

Sci Fi Channel -

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