Race Is Not Genetic!
Flesh-Eating Bacteria!
Fylingdales, Kuiper Belt Binaries,
Temples of Hatra, Nemesis & More!
Race Is Not Genetic!
WASHINGTON December 16, 2002 (Reuters) - The idea of race is not reflected in a person's genes, Brazilian researchers said on Monday, confirming what scientists have long said -- that race has no meaning genetically. 

The Brazilian researchers looked at one of the most racially mixed populations in the world for their study, which found there is no way to look at someone's genes and determine his or her race. Brazilians include people of European, African and Indian, or Amerindian, descent. 

"There is wide agreement among anthropologists and human geneticists that, from a biological standpoint, human races do not exist," Sergio Pena and colleagues at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerias in Brazil and the University of Porto in Portugal wrote in their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

"Yet races do exist as social constructs," they said. 

They found 10 gene variations that could reliably tell apart, genetically, 20 men from northern Portugal and 20 men from Sao Tome island on the west coast of Africa. 

But the genetic differences did not have anything to do with physical characteristics such as skin or hair color, the researchers found. 

They next tested two groups -- 173 Brazilians classified as white, black, or intermediate based on arm skin color, hair color, and nose and lip shape, and 200 men living in major metropolitan areas who classified themselves as white. 

They used the 10 genetic markers that differed between people from Portugal and Africa, but found little difference among anyone in their study. 

To their surprise, they found maternal DNA suggested that even the "white" people had, on average, 33 percent of genes that were of Amerindian ancestry and 28 percent African. 

This suggested European men often fathered children with black and Indian women. 

"It is interesting to note that the group of individuals classified as blacks had a very high proportion of non-African ancestry (48 percent)," they wrote. 

"In essence our data indicate that, in Brazil as a whole, color is a weak predictor of African ancestry," they concluded. 

"Our study makes clear the hazards of equating color or race with geographical ancestry and using interchangeably terms such as white, Caucasian and European on one hand, and black, Negro or African on the other, as is often done in scientific and medical literature."
US Defeated on Anti-Abortion Stand
Associated Press

BANGKOK, Thailand December 17, 2002 (AP) - The United States lost a vote at an international conference Tuesday as Asia-Pacific countries rejected the Bush administration's stand against abortion and condom use among adolescents. 

The vote was held at the end of the U.N.-sponsored Asian and Pacific Population Conference, which adopted a plan of action on population policies in a bid to reduce poverty in the region. 

U.S. delegates had said some of the wording, including "reproductive health services" and "reproductive rights," could be read as advocating abortion and underage sex. But U.S. demands for changes or deletions were overwhelmingly rejected in a vote that allowed the plan to be adopted as the conference ended Tuesday. 

"We wanted a development-oriented conference, but the issue we had a heated debate on was abortion and underage sex," said Kim Hak-Su, executive secretary of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. 

The fifth Asian and Pacific Population conference was attended by UNESCAP's member nations, including the United States, India, Pakistan and China, as well as several activist organizations. 

Delegates said the ministerial meetings were often heated, with the United States seeking to pressure other countries. 

Faced with a deadlock, the conference took a vote - highly unusual at United Nations conferences - on two key chapters of the plan. The United States lost the first vote 31-1 with two abstentions, and the second 32-1 with two abstentions. 

The United States ended up agreeing on the plan being adopted without change, said Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund. Its concerns were attached in a separate document that will not affect the plan. 

"By joining the consensus they were part of the whole group. It is not loss or gain. It is multilateralism," she said. 

The 22-page plan includes a series of recommended steps to implement an international family planning agreement reached in Cairo in 1994. It suggested fighting poverty by concentrating on 12 areas including family planning, gender equality and combating HIV/AIDS. 

The plan aims to halve the number of people in the Asia-Pacific region living on less than $1 per day by 2015. Nearly 67 percent of the world's estimated 1.2 billion people who live in extreme poverty are in this region. 

Population policies "must encompass the principle of voluntary and informed decision making and choices, the preservation and protection of human rights, including the matters related to reproductive rights and reproductive health services," the plan says. 

It also includes the phrase "consistent condom use" - a phrase the United States wanted struck out - as a way to reduce vulnerability to infection from the virus that causes AIDS. 

The U.S. delegation was not available for comment, but the Americans had said Monday that their government cannot support any program that seems to promote abortion. The United States also prefers that adolescents practice abstinence instead of using condoms to avoid pregnancy. 

U.S. support for population programs is important for the region. Earlier this month, the Bush administration blocked $34 million in funds appropriated by Congress for the U.N. Population Fund.

U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific - http://www.unescap.org 
Flesh-Eating Bacteria Hits Marine Base!
SAN DIEGO December 16, 2002 (Reuters) - A flesh-eating bacteria has killed at least one young recruit at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California and made 100 others ill, military officials said on Monday. 

The bacteria, known as Group A streptococcus, also may be responsible for the unexplained deaths of two other teenage recruits at the training base since late November, officials said. 

Strep A is a common bacteria people carry in their throats even when they're not sick. The bacteria commonly causes sore throats but can evolve into necrotizing fasciitis, the so-called flesh-eating bacteria, characterized by a flat red rash over large parts of the body. 

About 6,000 others on the base, which trains about half of the U.S. Marine Corps' recruits each year, were tested for exposure to the bacteria and received antibiotics over the weekend, Lt. Mike Friel said. 

Some 100 personnel who showed symptoms of Strep A infections or signs that they were carriers were hospitalized over the weekend, but many of them have returned to their units, Friel said. 

Base officials are considering calling off training at the depot until they can solve the health crisis. 

The latest death, that of 18-year-old Private Miguel Zavala of Greenfield, California, came on Sunday just three hours after Zavala sought medical treatment for a rash on his left ankle. 

"While at the acute care area, the rash spread to the rest of his body," Friel said. "He was then taken to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego for evaluation and emergency medical care." 

Four days earlier, Private Samuel Bruss of Kenosha, Wisconsin, died after completing a water survival training course. He had complained of chest pains after getting out of the base's swimming pool. 

On Nov. 24, Private Neal Edwards, 18, of St. Clair, Missouri, died after collapsing during an obstacle course. 

"Are they related? The answer to that is unknown," Friel said. 

Strep A is a well-known enemy of U.S. military troops, who live and work in close proximity. The San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot commonly inoculates the 20,000 recruits it trains annually twice during their 13-week basic training to tamp down the disease, Friel said. 

"This is something we have had a problem with since World War One," Friel said. The last outbreak of Strep A at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot was in 1991, he said.
Birds Could Spread Ebola Virus
Purdue University Press Release

WEST LAFAYETTE December 16, 2002 – Ebola shares a closer relationship with several bird viruses than was previously thought, bolstering the case for a common ancestor and hinting that birds might carry the deadly virus, a Purdue University research team reports.

David Sanders and his research group have discovered that the outer protein shell of Ebola has a biochemical structure similar to several retroviruses carried by birds. As scientists had known previously of genetic similarity among the viruses, this discovery makes a common evolutionary origin even more likely. It also suggests that Ebola could be spread to human populations by birds as well. 

"We knew these viruses were inwardly similar, and now we see their outer similarity as well," said Sanders, associate professor of biological sciences in Purdue's School of Science. "While bird transmission of Ebola is by no means certain, the resemblance among all these viruses should encourage health officials to be on guard for it."

The research appears in Sunday's (12/15) Journal of Virology. Two contributors to the group's research are Scott Jeffers, a graduate student in Sanders' laboratory, and Anthony Sanchez, an Ebola virus expert at the Centers for Disease Control. 

Since its discovery in 1976, Ebola has been responsible for hundreds of deaths in central Africa. Though the source of the virus in nature remains unknown, both humans and monkeys appear susceptible. Death rates of between 50 percent and 90 percent are common during outbreaks. 

"Ebola is one of the viruses with which the U.S. agencies in charge of biodefense are most concerned," Sanders said. "Identification of its natural hosts should be a priority."
Indian Leaders Denounce Time
By James May
Indian Country Today

SACRAMENTO December 13, 2002 (ICT) - An outcry from Indian country charges that a TIME Magazine cover story on Indian gaming failed even to make an attempt at balance.

"The TIME reporters turned their backs on the facts," said Morongo chairman Maurice Lyons.

TIME’s lengthy cover story, written by Pulitzer-winning editors at large Donald Barlett and James Steele, questions whether rank and file Indians are actually benefiting from the tribal casino boom. The story casts a wide net covering several different aspects of Indian gaming. 

However, Indian gaming consultant Michael Lombardi, who debated the article’s authors in a live broadcast on Los Angeles National Public Radio station KPCC, thinks they did not cast the net far enough.

"I was amazed at the lack of understanding that these gentlemen had for what Indian gaming is supposed to be," said Lombardi. The main problem, according to Lombardi, was the lack of understanding of the basic premise of tribal sovereignty.

The argument of the story is that only a relatively few Indians have gained financially from gaming, while scores of wealthy non-Indian investors have lined their pockets far more than the rank and file tribal members. The TIME article links this problem to vague language and loopholes in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), signed in 1988 by President Reagan.

Lombardi maintains that IGRA was not set up to promote monetary equity amongst tribes, but to promote tribal ability to conduct their own independent governance and to give tribes a chance to develop their own financial enterprises.

"What the TIME article does not understand is that the system is not supposed to be fair," said Susan Jensen, a spokeswoman for the California Nations Indian Gaming Association. "It’s not supposed to be a panacea for the widespread poverty on Indian reservations."

Lombardi draws a parallel between Indian gaming and state lotteries. Taking Indian gaming, state lotteries, Nevada and Atlantic City gaming operations altogether, Lombardi argues that the $12.7-billion earned through Indian gaming accounts for a little more than two percent of the total of $600 billion dollars spent on gaming in the United States. Lombardi said he is upset that TIME did not offer any viable alternatives to gaming or that it failed to write about the miserable conditions of tribes before gaming.

"Where were the articles on (the) Morongo (tribe) when they were starving? Where was their outrage then?" he asked.

Lombardi likened the article to the 19th century East Coast newspaper editorials that called for retribution in the wake of Col. George Armstrong Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn. He said that he was surprised that the article did not balance the story with an interview with an Indian legal expert, tribal leader or even anyone at the larger industry lobbying organizations like the National Indian Gaming Association.

The TIME article began with the one adult member of the Augustine Band of Mission Indians. Augustine has been the focus of many a newspaper editorial blasting Indian gaming. The one adult member, Maryanne Martin, did not even know she was Indian until age 22 and now has a multi million-dollar casino and is still eligible for federal aid. Lombardi defends Martin and other microscopic California tribes by stating that it was common practice in California in the 19th century to offer a bounty on the heads of California Indians. He likened their situation to surviving Jews in Germany and Armenians in Turkey.

"We should be thanking the creator, that in the case of Augustine, even one person has survived," said Lombardi (who is on the payroll of the Augustine tribe as a consultant.)

Though largely unbalanced, the TIME article does bring up some legitimate points, which even those who receive their money from Indian gaming are willing to acknowledge. Tribal disenrollments have been a particularly pesky plague on tribes that suddenly find themselves successful and an issue that tribes have been eager to sweep under the rug. Recently at a breakout session of the National Congress of American Indians entitled "Cultural Impacts of Tribal Enterprise," questions regarding disenrollments were met with blank stares from tribal officials leading the discussion.

However, several suddenly successful tribes have been inundated by requests from those seeking tribal membership solely for financial gain. Some tribes, like the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, who in October were facing problems from some tribal members pushing for disenrollment decided to walk a more cautious middle ground. Pechanga decided that instead of disenrolling members they would freeze membership at current levels.

As the TIME article maintained, pettiness and cronyism are problems also plaguing several, but certainly not all, tribal governments. As previously documented in Indian Country Today, scandals over the past few years of the Suquamish and Puyallup tribes of Washington state attest to the fact that these problems are alive and well in Indian gaming, and Indian country in general. 

The secrecy that shrouds financial backers and many of their deals also poses a problem. Though many tribes openly acknowledge their benefactors, access to financial records can easily turn into a brick wall. Morongo tribal chairman Lyons said that the role of investors was forged out of necessity. "Where in their article do they address the failure of the mainstream private sector to invest in Indian country?" he asked.

Lyons continued that the noted abuses by non-Indian financiers stemmed largely from the tribes’ desperate poverty and their "inability to obtain financing anywhere else."

In some cases, the TIME writers completely missed the boat in their investigation. There was no mention of the mini-empires carved out by lawyers who represent multiple gaming tribes in California, and the still murky roles of at least two of these lawyers in the scandal that led to the resignation of BIA deputy director Wayne Smith earlier this year.

Also missed by TIME was the quasi-socialist system set up by the tribes in California’s Proposition 1A in the so-called Revenue Sharing Distribution Fund. This fund forces richer tribes to pay into an account that is disbursed to tribes with small gaming operations as well as to those that have none at all in an attempt to redistribute some of the imbalance in wealth that the TIME article decries.

In a press release, the CNIGA stated that American Indian casinos have also been responsible for job creation that often benefits local communities. It cited numerous donations to local public safety organizations in the form of state-of-the-art equipment including fire trucks and emergency vehicles. Additionally the CNIGA press statement argued that many tribes do not look to gaming as a panacea and many have diversified their economies.

"Casinos are providing California tribes with the investment capital needed to develop resort hotels, banks, retail shopping malls, service stations, aircraft manufacturing companies, bottling plants and other businesses," said CNIGA.

Perhaps Washington DC-based American Indian attorney John Teshuda best summed up the issue.

"Indian gaming is not perfect," he said, "but it seems to be the only thing that works."
The Fylingdales!
By Richard Norton-Taylor
The Guardian 

London December 10, 2002 (Guardian UK) - The government yesterday gave the clearest indication yet that it will embrace controversial US plans for a "son of star wars" missile defense project, and that the Fylingdales early warning radar station on the North Yorkshire moors will play a key part. 

Geoff Hoon, the defense secretary, released what he called a "public discussion paper" designed to provoke "deeper debate" about whether missile defense would be good for Britain and Europe, as well as for the US. 

He again insisted that the US had yet to ask the government for use of British bases for its missile defense project.

He said the government would agree to such a request "only if it were satisfied that the overall security of the UK and the alliance would ultimately be enhanced". 

But the tone of the document suggests ministers have already made up their minds.

It says there is a growing threat of attacks on Britain and its European allies from ballistic missiles. 

Moreover, it adds, Britain's defense companies could profit from the projects which would create "highly skilled employment" opportunities. 

The threat does not come from terrorists, the government admits. "Using long-range ballistic missiles as a means of delivering terrorist weapons is unlikely," it says. 

The potential threat comes from "states of concern", the paper says, referring to Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea. These states would be "more likely" to be deterred from amassing missiles if they faced "effective missile defenses". 

It denies that missile defense would spark a new arms race. It says "for the foreseeable future" unsophisticated long-range missiles in the hands of such states of concern "are likely to remain essentially weapons of terror", aimed at population centers rather than specific military targets. The paper concludes: "Fylingdales is therefore not a plausible target." An expanded Fylingdales - which is situated in a national park, the report notes - would help to protect America's eastern seaboard. "The additional warning time provided by RAF Fylingdales for a Middle Eastern threat is very substantial." 

But the government says it is not just in America's interest to upgrade Fylingdales. The radar base could be a "key building block" for a future British or European missile defense system. 

"With interceptors placed somewhere in Europe, such a system could protect the UK and north-west Europe," it argues. Fylingdales would enable the system to "protect most of Europe". 

Such claims are unlikely to dampen widespread skepticism about missile defense among Labour backbenchers, which has been reflected privately by senior military figures. The military has been concerned about the technological difficulties, the strategic necessity, and the cost - estimated at £10bn for Britain alone - of missile defense systems. But Bernard Jenkin, the shadow defense secretary, had no doubts. He described the government's position on missile defense as "a farce". 

Everyone knew the US would make a formal request for the use of Fylingdales and that the UK would agree, he said. 

Mr Jenkin added: "This consultation is little more than a charade. The government is failing to secure British defense industrial interests in this potentially huge program." 

He said a Conservative government would "immediately offer the US the use of UK radar facilities and offer to site missile interceptors on British soil and on ships of the Royal Navy".

Pole Telescope Probes Early Universe
National Science Foundation Press Release

December 13, 2002 - Using a powerful new instrument at the South Pole, a team of cosmologists has produced the most detailed images of the early Universe ever recorded. The research team, which was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), has made public their measurements of subtle temperature differences in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation.

The CMB is the remnant radiation that escaped from the rapidly cooling Universe about 400,000 years after the Big Bang. Images of the CMB provide researchers with a snapshot of the Universe in its infancy, and can be used to place strong constraints on its constituents and structure. The new results provide additional evidence to support the currently favored model of the Universe in which 30 percent of all energy is a strange form of dark matter that doesn't interact with light and 65 percent is in an even stranger form of dark energy that appears to be causing the expansion of the Universe to accelerate. Only the remaining five percent of the energy in the Universe takes the form of familiar matter like that which makes up planets and stars. 

The researchers developed a sensitive new instrument, the Arcminute Cosmology Bolometer Array Receiver (ACBAR), to produce high-resolution images of the CMB. ACBAR's detailed images reveal the seeds that grew to form the largest structures seen in the Universe today. These results add to the description of the early Universe provided by several previous ground-, balloon- and space-based experiments. Previous to the ACBAR results, the most sensitive, fine angular scale CMB measurements were produced by the NSF-funded Cosmic Background Investigator (CBI) experiment observing from a mountaintop in Chile.

William Holzapfel, of the University of California at Berkeley and ACBAR co-principal investigator, said it is significant that the new ACBAR results agree with those published by the CBI team despite the very different instruments, observing strategies, analysis techniques, and sources of foreground emission for the two experiments. He added that the new data provide a more rigorous test of the consistency of the new ACBAR results with theoretical predictions. 

"It is amazing how precisely our theories can explain the behavior of the Universe when we know so little about the dark matter and dark energy that comprise 95 percent of it," said Holzapfel.

The dark energy inferred from the ACBAR observations may be responsible for the accelerating expansion of the Universe. "It is compelling that we find, in the ancient history of the Universe, evidence for the same dark energy that supernova observations find more recently," said Jeffrey Peterson of Carnegie Mellon University. 

The construction of the ACBAR instrument and observations at the South Pole were carried out by a team of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, Case Western Reserve University, Carnegie Mellon University, the California Institute of Technology, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. Principle investigators Holzapfel and John Ruhl at Case Western led the effort, which built and deployed the instrument in only two years. 

ACBAR is specifically designed to take advantage of the unique capabilities of the 2.1-meter Viper telescope, built primarily by Jeff Peterson and collaborators at Carnegie Mellon and installed by NSF and its South Pole Station in Antarctica. The receiver is an array of 16 detectors built by Cal Tech and the JPL that create images of the sky in 3-millimeter wavelength bands near the peak in the brightness of the CMB.

In order to reach the maximum possible sensitivity, the ACBAR detectors are cooled to two-tenths of a degree above absolute zero, or about –273 degrees Celsius (–459 Fahrenheit). ACBAR has just completed its second season of observations at the South Pole. Researcher Mathew Newcomb kept the telescope observing continuously during the six-month-long austral winter, despite temperatures plunging below –73 degrees Celsius (–100 Fahrenheit). 

The construction of ACBAR and Viper was funded as part of the NSF Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica. The U.S. Antarctic Program provides continuing support for telescope maintenance, observations, and data analysis.

NSF's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is ideally suited for astronomy, especially observations of the CMB. The station is located at an altitude of approximately 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), atop the Antarctic ice sheet.

Water vapor is the principal cause of atmospheric absorption in broad portions of the electromagnetic spectrum from near infrared to microwave wavelengths. The thin atmosphere above the station is extremely cold and contains almost no water vapor. "Our atmosphere may be essential to life on Earth," said Ruhl, "but we'd love to get rid of it. For our observations, the South Pole is as close as you can get to space while having your feet planted firmly on the ground." 

Papers describing the ACBAR CMB angular power spectrum and the constraints it places on cosmological parameters have been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal for publication.

Kuiper Belt Binaries 

Pasadena December 17, 2002 - In the last few years, researchers have discovered more than 500 objects in the Kuiper belt, a gigantic outer ring in the outskirts of the solar system, beyond the orbit of Neptune. Of these, seven so far have turned out to be binaries--two objects that orbit each other. The surprise is that these binaries all seem to be pairs of widely separated objects of similar size. This is surprising because more familiar pairings, such as the Earth/moon system, tend to be unequal in size and/or rather close together. 

To account for these oddities, scientists from the California Institute of Technology have devised a theory of Kuiper belt binary formation. Their work is published in the December 12 issue of the journal Nature. 

According to Re'em Sari, a senior research fellow at Caltech, the theory will be tested in the near future as additional observations of Kuiper belt objects are obtained and additional binaries are discovered. The other authors of the paper are Peter Goldreich, DuBridge Professor of Astrophysics and Planetary Physics at Caltech; and Yoram Lithwick, now a postdoc at UC Berkeley. 

"The binaries we are more familiar with, like the Earth/moon system, resulted from collisions that ejected material," says Sari. "That material coalesced to form the smaller body. Then the interaction between the spin of the larger body and the orbit of the smaller body caused them to move farther and farther apart." 

"This doesn't work for the Kuiper belt binaries," Sari says. "They are too far away from each other to have ever had enough spin for this effect to take place." The members of the seven binaries are about 100 kilometers in radius, but 10,000 to 100,000 kilometers from each other. Thus their separations are 100 to 1,000 times their radii. By contrast, Earth is about 400,000 kilometers from the moon, and about 6,000 kilometers in radius. Even at a distance of 60 times the radius of Earth, the tidal mechanism works only because the moon is so much less massive than Earth. 

Sari and his colleagues think the explanation is that the Kuiper belt bodies tend to get closer together as time goes on -- exactly the reverse of the situation with the planets and their satellites, where the separations tend to increase. "The Earth/moon system evolves 'inside-out', but the Kuiper belt binaries evolved 'outside-in,'" explains Sari.

Individual objects in the Kuiper belt are thought to have formed in the early solar system by accretion of smaller objects. The region where the gravitational influence of a body dominates over the tidal forces of the sun is known as its Hill sphere. For a 100-kilometer body located in the Kuiper belt, this extends to about a million kilometers.

Large bodies can accidentally pass through one another's Hill spheres. Such encounters last a couple of centuries and, if no additional process is involved, the "transient binary" dissolves, and the two objects continue on separate orbits around the sun. The transient binary must lose energy to become bound.

The researchers estimate that in about 1 in 300 encounters, a third large body would have absorbed some of the energy and left a bound binary. An additional mechanism for energy loss is gravitational interaction with the sea of small bodies from which the large bodies were accreting. This interaction slows down the large bodies.

Once in every 30 encounters, they slowed down sufficiently to become bound. 

Starting with a binary of large separation a million kilometers apart, continued interaction with the sea of small objects would have led to additional loss of energy, tightening the binary. The time required for the formation of individual objects is sufficient for a binary orbit to shrink all the way to contact.

Indeed, the research predicts that most binaries coalesced in this manner or at least became very tight. But if the binary system was formed relatively late, close to the time that accretion in the Kuiper belt ceased, a widely separated binary would survive.

These are the objects we observe today. By this mechanism it can be predicted that about 5 percent of objects remain with large enough separation to be observed as a binary. The prediction is in agreement with recent surveys conducted by Caltech associate professor of planetary astronomy Mike Brown. The majority of objects ended up as tighter binaries. Their images cannot be distinguished from those of isolated objects when observed from Earth using existing instruments. 

These ideas will be more thoroughly tested as additional objects are discovered and further data is collected. Further theoretical work could predict how the inclination of a binary orbit, relative to the plane of the solar system, evolves as the orbit shrinks.

If it increases, this would suggest that the Pluto/Charon system, although tight, was also formed by the 'outside-in' mechanism, since it is known to have large inclination.

Foxhunting Compromise Rocks Parliament
By Mike Peacock

LONDON December 17, 2002 (Reuters) — The long-running battle over fox hunting with hounds in England and Wales took another twist on Monday as a government compromise over banning the pursuit passed its first hurdle in Parliament. Fox hunting is already banned in Scotland. 
MPs voted by 368 to 155 in favor of the government's Hunting Bill which proposes a "middle way," outlawing stag hunting and hare coursing, while allowing fox hunting to continue in some areas under strict license. 

But legislators, most from Prime Minister Tony Blair's ruling Labor Party, said they would press for a blanket ban later in the bill's passage through Parliament. 

"We must support this bill ... tonight because we need a bill to amend," said former Labor minister Tony Banks, who is spearheading the push for a total ban. 

During five years in government and with a massive majority in parliament, Blair — unnerved by a vocal pro-hunting lobby — has failed to act on four parliamentary votes calling overwhelmingly for fox hunting to be banned. 

Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael strove for support for his plans. He won this time but faces tougher battles ahead. "Some have wrongly suggested that this bill is a compromise pulled out of thin air, others that it is a vindictive attack on a beleaguered minority. It is neither," he told Parliament. 

The hunting lobby was out in force on the streets of London on Monday. Thousands besieged Parliament, blowing whistles and hunting horns and letting off fireworks. 

Their banners read: "Born to hunt, ready to fight!" and "Hunting is life. No surrender." Some clashed with police who had ringed the House of Commons as feelings ran high. Eight were arrested. 

Opponents say fox hunting sport is cruel, barbaric, and anathema to a modern society. Supporters, including royal heir Prince Charles, say hunting is a service to farmers who regard the fox as vermin and maintains thousands of rural jobs. 

The battle, seemingly obscure, symbolizes key fault lines in British society, pitting rich versus poor, town versus country. 

Nearly 200 MPs have signed a motion declaring that only a total ban will be acceptable to Parliament and the public. "It is a moral issue about cruelty to animals," Banks said. "It is as wrong to take pleasure from the killing of animals as it is wrong to take pleasure from the killing of human beings." 

But the unelected House of Lords, Parliament's upper chamber, is almost certain to reject a complete ban and may also throw out the government's middle way. That could delay the bill's passage into law for at least another year. 

Fox hunting has been practiced in England for hundreds of years. Hunters on horseback in red jackets and shiny riding boots chase foxes across the countryside with a pack of hounds until the fox is caught and killed by the dogs.
China Jails Online Activist
Associated Press

BEIJING December 18, 2002 (AP) - The publisher of an online Chinese pro-democracy journal has been detained by police, adding to a growing number of people picked up in a crackdown on Internet dissent, a human rights group said Wednesday. 

Li Yibin was secretly detained about a month ago in Beijing, New York-based Human Rights in China said in a written statement. It said other details of his case weren't known. A spokesman for Beijing's police, Li Wei, said he couldn't confirm whether anyone by that name had been detained and didn't have any other information. 

Li Yibin, believed to be 28, published the online journal Democracy and Freedom, Human Rights in China said. It said he had a degree in computer science and worked in Beijing. 

Li was detained after Liu Di, a female Beijing college student who was picked up on Nov. 7 for Internet activism, Human Rights in China said. It said Liu's university confirmed to the group that she had been formally arrested. 

Another human rights group, Amnesty International, said last month that the communist government has detained at least 33 people in a crackdown on online dissent. China encourages Internet use for business and education, and has tens of millions of Web surfers, but goes to great lengths to stamp out online political activity. Censors monitor online chat rooms for unwanted comments, and filters block Web surfers from seeing sites run by foreign news organizations, human rights groups and Chinese activists abroad. 

Both Amnesty and Human Rights in China appealed to a U.S. delegation that was in Beijing this week for human rights talks to press for their release. 

"Liu Di, Li Yibin and others have done nothing more than post their views, but the government's current obsession with the Internet has subjected them to harsh persecution," Human Rights in China said. 

The head of the U.S. delegation, Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner, said Tuesday that it had raised cases of several prisoners but wouldn't say how Chinese officials responded. China hasn't released any details of the talks. 

Last year, a former policeman in western China was sentenced to 11 years in prison for downloading materials from pro-democracy Web sites based abroad. Others also have been imprisoned for posting or downloading online political materials.
Kiss Mistletoe Goodbye!
Texas A&M University Press Release

COLLEGE STATION TX December 13, 2002 - Take mistletoe. Please. Trees infested with the sap-sucking parasite would like to kiss the Christmas novelty goodbye. 

And that may become easier -- even without holiday harvests -- due to new research at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. 

"Mistletoe is unsightly and adversely affects the health of trees," said Dr. Todd Watson, Experiment Station urban forest researcher. 

Watson completed the first year of a two-year study aimed at eliminating the pest from urban landscapes and found promising results with at least one new treatment -- a plant hormone. 

The problem with mistletoe is that it stays with the tree until the tree dies. Spread by birds who eat mistletoe, the parasitic plant grows from seed deposited in bird feces on tree limbs. Watson said mistletoe left unchecked can cause die-back of tree limbs and occasionally the death of the tree, especially in drought conditions. 

"Mistletoe grows into the wood of the tree, drawing water and minerals out," he said. "Mistletoe is a plant, so it makes its own nutrients from photosynthesis, but it is the tree's water that it pulls from and that weakens the tree and causes stress." 

Yet that's oft overlooked. For hundreds of years, mistletoe has been associated with various cultures in countries around the world as a plant symbolic either of peace or of romance. Its yuletide custom of suggesting a kiss underneath suspended mistletoe apparently is linked to English tradition. 

But arborists have a decided lack of love for this parasite, stemming from the fact that mistletoe is especially hard to kill without harming the tree in the process, Watson explained. 

"One can repeatedly cut off mistletoe to prevent it from making seed and therefore spreading, but that is very labor intensive," he noted. "Or one can prune the infected branch, but that is only affective if there are a small number of branches with mistletoe. 

"Some have covered affected limbs with black plastic to kill mistletoe by cutting it off from the sun," Watson added, "but that is as unsightly as the mistletoe and very labor intensive. A chemical currently labeled for use against mistletoe has not been very effective in totally eliminating mistletoe in one application when used at the recommended label rates." 

To find a more reasonable, effective way to eliminate mistletoe, Watson tested eight different treatments in elm trees on the Texas A&M University campus. There was a controlled, untreated, group of trees; a group where mistletoe was pruned out; a group where entire branches were pruned; a group treated with the labeled chemical; a group in which the mistletoe infestations were covered with dark caulking; a group sprayed with glyphosate; a group treated with 2-4D; and a group treated with a specific plant hormone. 

Watson said the trials were looking for at least 90 percent control in the 25 mistletoe plants treated in each group to be considered successful. The plant hormone yielded better than 90 percent control, he said. 

The trial will be continued for another year and additional twists on the tests, such as developing formulations to improve the effectiveness of the plan hormones will be implemented, Watson said. If successful, the research said, the method likely will be patented for use on mistletoe throughout the United States.
The Temples of Hatra
By Haitham Haddadin

HATRA IRAQ December 17, 2002 (Reuters) - A white mist envelops the desert for mile after mile until the December sun finally reveals majestic temples jutting from the dusty plains. Few foreigners nowadays see the archaeological treasures of sanctions-shackled Iraq such as the ancient Kingdom of Hatra, also known as the City of the Sun, which houses the temples.

This Roman city of honey-coloured stone lies deep in Iraq's northwestern desert. Once a caravan stop on the east-west silk route, Hatra was ruled by the Christian Arab kings of old. Now its walls carry a reminder of Iraq's present ruler. Saddam Hussein's initials, along with the date 1990, are inscribed on thousands of new stones used in reconstruction. 

"Mako suwwah (There are no tourists)," Ra'een Tareq, the senior guard at Hatra, told Reuters. "Foreigners do come, but they are few. Some, I think they were from the Russian or Belarussian embassies, left a little while ago."

Hatra was a link in a chain of ancient Arab cities such as Syria's Palmyra, Jordan's Petra and Lebanon's Baalbek, according to a government tourist guidebook.

The fortress city, 350 km (220 miles) from Baghdad, is a mix of East and West, and its architecture shows Greek, Roman, Parthian and Persian influences. Wall inscriptions are in the ancient Aramaic language spoken by Jesus.

Iraq is packed with historical treasures from the era of Mesopotamia's Babylon and Ur to the Islamic age, whose glories include the golden-domed grand mosques of Najaf and Karbala, and ornate Abbasid dynasty palaces in Baghdad and Samarra.

But what was once a heavy flow of foreign tourists thinned to a trickle in the 1990s under the isolating impact of U.N. sanctions imposed for Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.


Hatra's beginnings are obscure. An Iraqi guidebook puts the city's founding in the middle of the second century BC before it grew and attained autonomy from Rome. The Persians ransacked it in the middle of the third century AD.

"Kings and princes of Hatra are the victorious kings of the Arabs," reads an Arabic inscription.

Among the best known were King Sanatruq I, called "King of the Arabs", and his son Abd Samia who ruled from 190 to 200 AD. The last of the kings was Sanatruq II (200-241 AD), whose reign ended with Hatra's destruction by Sassanian King Shapur.

The Great Temple complex, a huge structure measuring 437 by 322 metres (1,435 by 1,055 feet), houses the Shamash Temple (Temple of the Sun God), built by Sanatruq I, as well as the Temple of Shahiro (The Morning Star or Venus), one of the Hatran gods.

"These are wonderful historic ruins," said one local woman, Salimeh Khalaf, who brought visiting relatives to the site. "Arab visitors like it, as it is the Kingdom of the Arabs."

Some walls are decorated with jutting designs of eagles, camels and fish. On one wall, the head of a medicine man is complete with a beard of herbs, with an Aramaic inscription. The high arched gateways into the temples carry decorations of human heads. White marble floors are visible inside.

Hatra has survived down the centuries because it is one of ancient Iraq's few stone-built monuments. Its limestone came from the Sinjar mountains near the border with Syria.


The caravans of antiquity that criss-crossed Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, stopped at Hatra for business or pleasure, and the water from its wells. Bath-houses and shops line the southern side of the inner wall, where merchants once exchanged dates, spices, carpets and silk en route from China and India to Asia Minor and Europe.

At the Temple of al-Saqaya (Ablution), the ceremonial washing of the dead took place before they were bid farewell by family and tribal chieftains on their final journey.

Excavations started in Hatra, called al-Hadhar by Iraqis, in the early 1950s. But only 15 percent of the site has been unearthed, mainly 14 temples.

The temples complex, believed to be the city centre, is surrounded by a three-km (two-mile) long inner wall, flanked by a longer stone wall with 171 defensive towers. The city has four gates matching the points of the compass.

The last foreign archaeologist to work there was an Italian who left last year, the guards said. Restoration work by the Iraqis continues apace. Their skill is such that it is hard to distinguish the new from the old stones, though some scholars may question the wisdom of such wholesale reconstruction.

Stacked like domino blocks on the grounds are thousands of square, rectangular and round stone blocks, as well as pillars, and ornate pillar tops. The stones are numbered and will be used in reconstruction.

Some will make up the amphitheatre that once housed a parliament. A giant crane stands near Hatra's entrance.

Statues and gold, silver and bronze artefacts from Hatra can be seen at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad.

Few foreign tourists go there either.

Only Iraqi sightseers crowd other ancient sites on the road to Hatra such as the Malwiyeh (spiral) and great mosque of the legendary city of Samarra, capital of the Arab Abbasid dynasty.

The mosque -- once the largest place of worship in the Islamic world -- was built by Caliph al-Mutawakkil in 852 AD.

On one Friday afternoon the place was swarming with ordinary Iraqis. Some braved the stairway of the dizzying 52-metre (170 foot) high spiral which served as the mosque's minaret.

In the streets outside, vendors hawked falafel sandwiches, bananas, oranges and Arabic sweets. Mothers, some in black chadors, sat in the shade, watching their children play.

"We get a few foreigners here. They come from time to time," said one man climbing the brick minaret.

Universität Innsbruck - http://info.uibk.ac.at  

Genre News: Firefly, Buffy, Dinotopia, Taken, Max Headroom, Star Trek: Nemesis & More!
Joss Whedon on Firefly
By FLAtRich

Hollywood December 17, 2002 (eXoNews) - Sci Fi Wire says that Joss Whedon posted the following message about Firefly's cancellation to the Buffistas board:

"Don't think for a second that I have given up on this show. I think it has been mistreated shamefully, but the Fox network has indicated that they would not stand in the way (which they can) of my finding a new home for the show. That's no easy prospect. But I will do everything in my power, as always, to keep this bird in the air. Of course I'll post if there's any news."

[I went over to Buffistas and lurked around through a bunch of pages, but I didn't see it, so you'll have to take Sci Fi's word for it or go look yourselves, I guess. There were almost 10,000 posts when I was there! :o)>]

E! Online reported these comments from Firefly's production company Mutant Enemy on the cancellation earlier in the week:

'"Obviously we're very disappointed because we love the show and think it's one of the best TV shows on the air," says Chris Buchanan, president of Mutant Enemy, which produced the series. "We will be exploring every possible way to keep the show on the air, whether it's on Fox or another network."'

Regarding the efforts of Firefly: Immediate Assistance, the fan group who recently ran a full page ad in Variety supporting the show, E! also quotes Buchanan as saying: "We love our fans. The fans are so important to Joss, and he just wants them to know that we're fighting the good fight to keep the show on the air." 

For more news and to add your voice to the Firefly fans who are trying to convince UPN to pick up the show, go to http://www.fireflysupport.com 

If you want to join the never-ending discussion at Buffistas - http://www.buffistas.org 

For previous eXoNews stuff on Firefly and Firefly: Immediate Assistance, you can start here or use our handy Search from here.

For Firefly postcards, banners, buttons, icons, etc., go here  - http://fireflysupport.com/banners.html 

TimMinear.Net - http://www.timminear.net 

Firefly Fan site - http://www.fireflyfans.net

Buffy Toon Due Soon?

Hollywood December 17, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - Joss Whedon, creator of UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, told syndicated columnist Marilyn Beck that his moribund Buffy animated series could hit the airwaves as early as January 2003.

Earlier, Whedon had said the show—which revisits the Scooby Gang during their Sunnydale High School years—was on hold for a variety of reasons and wouldn't debut until at least May.

But Beck reported that Fox will premiere the show in January, with Buffy cast members Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Boreanaz, Seth Green, Nicholas Brendon and Michelle Trachtenberg voicing characters.

[Sarah Michelle has said in the past that she would not be doing the Buffy toon voice. Ed.]

Dinotopia Headed for Extinction

LOS ANGELES December 17, 2002 (Zap2it.com) - ABC is wiping out its effects-heavy series "Dinotopia," and you can think of "Friends" and "Survivor" as the giant meteors that caused the show to die.

The series will air its final episode Thursday, Dec. 26, just a month after it debuted on Thanksgiving. ABC has the Orange Bowl college football game the following week and will likely air movies from 8 to 10 p.m. Thursdays in January, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Beyond that, ABC is considering unscripted series to fill the two hours leading to newsmagazine "Primetime Thursday." 

"Dinotopia," a continuation of the network's successful miniseries that aired in May, is set in an unknown land where intelligent dinosaurs co-exist with humans. Ratings started slowly and haven't improved.

Airing opposite NBC's "Friends" and CBS' "Survivor: Thailand," it's averaging a little more than 5 million viewers a week, fewer than all but a handful of series on the big four networks.

The cancellation of "Dinotopia" means that none of ABC's four fall dramas will last the full season. "MDs" got the hook last week, while "Push, Nevada" and "That Was Then" were pulled earlier in the season.

[I loved Lisa Zane in this show. Otherwise it was mostly a yawn. Get that site together Lisa! - www.lisazane.com Ed.]

Sci Fi Channel Abducts Cable Ratings with 'Taken'
AP Television Writer

NEW YORK December 17, 2002 (AP) - "Taken" took the Sci Fi Channel to basic-cable leadership during its two-week run - and even beat broadcast networks UPN and the WB. 

The 10-part, 20-hour miniseries - whose full title was "Steven Spielberg Presents Taken" - dramatized more than a half-century of UFO mythology, and, with multiple airings, occupied nearly 90 percent of Sci Fi's prime-time schedule Dec. 2-13. 

Both in scope (under the guiding hand of Spielberg, it employed 10 directors and cost a reported $40 million), and in the concentrated scheduling strategy, the epic production represented a major gamble for the channel. 

"Conventional wisdom told us that offering too many opportunities to watch would dilute the prime-time numbers," said Sci Fi Channel President Bonnie Hammer. "Fortunately, the Nielsen gods were on our side." 

Nielsen Media Research figures released by Sci Fi indicated that "Taken" episodes premiering each weeknight at 9 p.m. quadrupled the network's usual audience. Even so, half the audience was new for a marathon repeat of the first five chapters over the Dec. 7-8 weekend. 

In Monday through Friday prime time, Dec. 2-13, Sci Fi averaged 3.99 million viewers, while the WB averaged 3.44 million and UPN averaged 2.86 million. 

"Taken" was seen at least in part by 31 million viewers. 

For the 10-year-old channel, "Taken" represented a splashy way to expand its audience beyond die-hard science fiction fans. 

"The days when viewers went first to the broadcast networks out of inertia are gone forever," said Michael Jackson, chairman of Sci Fi owner Universal Television Group. He also pointed to basic-cable series of the past year including FX's "The Shield," MTV's "The Osbournes," and USA's "Monk" and "Dead Zone." 

The success of "Taken" also breathes new life into the miniseries form, which in recent years most networks took for dead, said Barry Diller, chairman of Vivendi Universal Entertainment.

In the future, Sci Fi (available in 80 million homes) promises to offer similar events on roughly a quarterly basis. 

"I think the idea of telling a story for the amount of time it needs to be done, and making it a large subject, is a wonderful thing that only television can do," Diller said.

Sci Fi Channel lives at http://www.scifi.com

Film Buff Sues MGM Over Wide-Screen DVDs 

LOS ANGELES December 17, 2002 (AP) - A movie buff is suing Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and several retailers, saying many so-called "wide-screen" DVDs, advertised as showing the film as seen in theaters, actually show even less than already cropped "standard" versions. 

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed late Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court. 

A representative of MGM did not immediately return a call for comment. 

Studios increasingly offer two versions of films on DVDs — a standard format cropped to fit a typical TV screen and a wide-screen, or "letterbox" version, showing the full image as seen on a large movie screen.

The letterbox version is wider left to right and has black bars above and below the image. 

But Warren Eallonardo, 28, of Los Angeles, claims that several MGM movies he recently bought, including "Rain Man" and "Hoosiers," falsely advertise wide-screen versions of the films.

"In actuality, the DVDs provide a standard format with the top and bottom of the picture cut off," said Clifford Pearson, an attorney representing Eallonardo. "He felt like he is being ripped off."

Frewer Eyes More Headroom?

Hollywood December 16, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - Matt Frewer (Steven Spielberg Presents Taken) told a chat on SCIFI.COM that he's trying to resurrect his most famous character: Max Headroom.

"We're putting together a deal on a new Max Headroom project," Frewer told fans. "Then I'm doing a film with my brother. The Headroom project is still in the deal-making process, so I can't say anything about it."

Frewer played the "computer-generated" character and his human counterpart, Edison Carter, in a British TV series, TV movie and subsequent American series set "22 minutes in the future." Frewer said that he's pleasantly surprised by the character's continuing popularity.

"When we were making it, we knew it was way ahead of its time," he said. "I think if it was on the air [now] it would still look cutting-edge. I don't think the network was ready for it. It made a huge splash over a short time. It went as quickly as it came. That in a way was probably a plus. It never had time to go stale. Always leave 'em wanting more."

Max has a site at http://www.maxheadroom.com

Star Trek: Formulas To Success (No spoilers!)
By FLAtRich

Hollywood December 17, 2002 (eXoNews) - The press has been very quick to jump on Star Trek: Nemesis as "mainstream" and even Star Trek fan sites are complaining about the "low" box-office returns for the 10th film in the Star Trek feature franchise, but none of that matters.

Let's get the money over with first: the numbers aren't that bad for a ninth sequel. Yes, JLo edged Nemesis out. According to Hollywood Reporter, Maid in Manhattan, a film I have absolutely no interest in seeing (like so many others), made $18.7 million in one week. Star Trek: Nemesis made "only" $18.5 million.

Complainers compare that $18.5 million, which is certainly more than either you or I will ever see in a lifetime, to the $40+ million that Harry Potter and James Bond made when they opened five and four weeks ago respectively.

So Miss Lopez and Harry's first sequel and Pierce Brosnan's third sequel were hotter properties than Star Trek's ninth sequel.

Did anyone NOT know this before Star Trek: Nemesis opened? Raise your hands. Good, now go to the back of the class.

We are dealing with formulas to success, folks. Star Trek, as the makers of Galaxy Quest underlined in their delicious satire, is a formula piece. Critics are saying it's nothing new. That's true and false. It's new Star Trek and that's all that matters.

Beyond the phasers and catch phrases, the formula is simple: give the fans what they want. Harry Potter, obviously, is based on that same simplicity. So is the Bond franchise and, with all due respect to multi-talented Jennifer Lopez, so is JLo.

This is not a bad thing.

If the critics don't like the Trek formula and they want something new, maybe they should go over to http://www.fireflysupport.com  and help convince UPN to pick up Firefly before it gets away. (Hey! Fans are fanatic, after all!)

New Harrys and new Bonds and new JLos are nothing new. They are what the fans want.

The majority of Star Trek fans want Picard, Data, Riker and the rest of the Next Generation crew. Hell, of course they do! They watch them every night on TNN, even though the seven years of STTNG episodic TV adventures are now over a generation old.

If the STTNG actors got together and decided to hijack ENTERPRISE, the TV audience would probably cheer. Archer and the new guys are OK, but STTNG is the favorite. (Ask the pollsters at Trek Today.)

The bottom line is that Star Trek: Nemesis does deliver. It's a great adventure with a great cast and if that cast was anyone other than the familiar crew from TNN and it wasn't called Star Trek, the critics would be wetting themselves.

Star Trek: Nemesis is pure Trek. The whole crew is back and if your personal favorite member isn't pivotal to the storyline, so what?

The formula hierarchy is Picard, Data, Riker, Worf and then the others. That's the way it worked when Gene was still around and that's the way Berman continues to spin the movies. That's also exactly the way it is in Star Trek: Nemesis.

Please note that I'm a Klingon fan myself. I'd like to see a whole feature film built around Worf, but it hasn't happened yet and it isn't likely to happen, so when a Star Trek film arrives I plunk down my money and sit back and watch what the creative branch of the franchise has come up with to entertain me.

Star Trek: Nemesis entertained me. I saw it at The Chinese which is the biggest screen in Hollywood and has the best sound system on the planet. Nemesis wowed me a few times and it made me jump a few times and it chilled me a few times and made me happy to see a few old friends I didn't expect and I giggled at the in-jokes. The effects were monumental and awesome in places (no spoilers!) and the film moves very fast for two hours and concludes with just enough left over to allow another sequel or to end it all right here.

I don't know who I'd want to see in the next one if the STTNG crew bails out. I liked DS9 a whole lot better than Voyager overall, so I signed the DS9 movie petition, but I miss the Borg and the Voyager crew too. I watch Enterprise weekly, for that matter.

Personally, I'd love to see T'Pol and Archer get caught in a time rift and fight the Dominion with Worf and Scotty and Seven of Nine and Mark Twain, but if Picard wants the helm again, well, make it so!

I'll also buy the DVD of Star Trek: Nemesis when it arrives, just like I bought copies of all the other Star Trek features, and I'll enjoy it even more the next time I see it.

That's what Star Trek fans do and because of the fans, Star Trek will always live long, and prosper.

Official Nemesis site - http://nemesis.startrek.com

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