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Space Rescues!
SIRTF, Rome Vs. Galileo,
Donner Party, Synthetic Pot,
Ape Killers, Bad Science
& More!
Space Rescues!
By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON August 26, 2003 (Reuters) - Could the Columbia disaster have been avoided? After the fatal accident, NASA came up with a possible scenario to rescue the crew with another shuttle.

If shuttle controllers knew by the seventh day of the mission there was catastrophic damage to Columbia's left wing, they could have rushed shuttle Atlantis into orbit and evacuated Columbia's crew before the supply of breathable air ran out, investigators said in their report on Tuesday.

As part of the independent probe into the Feb. 1 disintegration of the shuttle over Texas that killed seven astronauts, investigators asked the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to explore ways to repair the ship in flight or evacuate the crew members.

The repair option was considered too high risk, but the rescue would have been possible, NASA told the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

The Columbia crew could have survived in orbit until Feb. 15, even though their scheduled landing day was Feb. 1. If controllers had early notice the shuttle's wing was severely damaged, Atlantis could have been made ready for a space rendezvous, the report said.

The Atlantis, which was set for a March launch, could have been ready for a rescue launch during the period from Feb. 10 to Feb. 15, and weather records show a launch was possible at that time.

Under the scenario, the Atlantis would carry a four-person crew: a commander, a pilot and two astronauts trained for spacewalks.

The rendezvous would take place on Atlantis' first day in orbit, with the two shuttles facing each other with their payload doors open. Suited Columbia astronauts would be transferred to Atlantis via spacewalks. Atlantis would return to Earth with four crew members on the flight deck and seven in the mid-deck area.

Columbia would either be brought down and ditched in the Pacific Ocean or might be maneuvered into higher orbit for a possible subsequent repair mission, the investigators reported.
Ex-Park Service Workers Say Bush Reneges on Promises

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer

Washington August 25, 2003 (Washington Post) - The Bush administration has failed to live up to its promises to protect America's national parks, says a group of former National Park Service employees from across the country.

In an Aug. 15 letter to President Bush and Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, the 123 former employees contend that the administration has sacrificed preservation for profit in its policies on park maintenance, air pollution enforcement, road development and snowmobile use on federal lands and encouraged the movement of park service jobs to the private sector.

"You are strangling the very core of park stewardship, sidestepping the important issues that are facing the parks and ignoring the operational budgets of the parks," wrote the former employees, including four past directors of the park service. "We are seeing evidence at every turn that when private for-profit interests vie with resources of the park, the private interests, and not principle, governs."

Bill Wade, a former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, said the group wanted to call attention to such issues now because today marks the 87th anniversary of the law that created the National Park Service within the Interior Department.

"In the minds of many of us, this is probably the most dismal birthday that the National Park Service has ever had," said Wade, who retired from the park service in 1997 after 34 years.

Mark Pfiefle, a spokesman at Interior, defended the administration's stewardship of the parks, saying the group's criticisms were off-base and politically motivated.

"The letter was organized by partisan special interest groups," Pfiefle said. "It represents a sliver of the tens of thousands of former park service employees. The Interior Department is working aggressively to fix our national parks, provide clear vistas, promote strong employee relations and an enjoyable experience for visitors."

The letter was coordinated by the Campaign to Protect America's Lands, a nonprofit that is part of the Environmental Integrity Project, a watchdog group headed by Eric Schaeffer. Schaeffer is a former enforcement chief at the Environmental Protection Agency who resigned in March 2002 in protest over the administration's air pollution policies.

A spokesman for the Campaign to Protect America's Lands said it is nonpartisan.

The former employees say the administration's Clear Skies Initiative has undercut the Clean Air Act and led to the development of new smog-producing power plants near parks such as Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Moreover, they say efforts to open up traditional park service functions to private contractors squander money and staff resources despite administration assurances that such moves promote efficiency. And they accuse Bush officials of being "misleading" in touting the administration's commitment of $2.9 billion toward a park maintenance backlog, because only $200 million to $300 million is new money.

Pfiefle said such charges are "misleading and inaccurate." He said the administration had accelerated an effort to catalogue maintenance needs at all national parks, a program begun under Clinton that would have taken more than a decade to complete. Officials expect to nearly finish the inventory by the end of this year, he said.

When it comes to preserving parks, Wade said he would give the Bush administration an F and the Clinton administration a B. But Wade said he and others would like to see the stewardship of national parks removed from political control and placed in the hands of an independent agency akin to the Smithsonian Institution.

"They're not just public lands, they are the exemplars of this nation's heritage," he said. "And maybe there ought to be a way to manage those areas that could be done in a way that isn't as subject to changes every two or four years when new elected officials come in."

SIRTF Lifts Off!

NASA News Release

August 25, 2003 - NASA's Space Infrared Telescope Facility successfully launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 1:35:39 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (10:35:39 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, August 24) aboard a Delta II launch vehicle.

Flying eastward over the Atlantic Ocean, the new observatory entered an Earth-trailing orbit -- the first of its kind -- at about 43 minutes after launch. Five minutes later, the spacecraft separated from the Delta's second and final stage.

At about 2:39 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (11:39 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, Aug. 24), about 64 minutes after take-off, the NASA Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia received the first data from the spacecraft.

"All systems are operating smoothly, and we couldn't be more delighted," said David Gallagher, project manager for the mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The last of NASA's suite of Great Observatories, the Space Infrared Telescope Facility will use infrared detectors to pierce the dusty darkness enshrouding many of the universe's most fascinating objects, including brown dwarfs, planet-forming debris discs around stars and distant galaxies billions of light years away.

Past Great Observatories include the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory and Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.

The two-and-one-half to five-year mission is an important bridge to NASA's Origins Program, which seeks to answer the questions: "Where did we come from? Are we alone?"

In-orbit checkout and calibration is scheduled to last 60 days, followed by a 30-day science verification period, after which the observatory is expected to begin its regular science mission.

For more information about the Space Infrared Telescope Facility, visit their Web site at

Moon Controls Antarctic Ice

Penn State Press Release

August 21, 2003 - The moon is often accused of causing lunacy, bringing on labor and transforming werewolves. Now it seems that in reality, the moon, through the tides, is responsible for the pattern of motion exhibited by ice streams in the Antarctic, according to a team of geologists.

"My observations from a few years ago were that Ice Stream D in the West Antarctic was slowing to about half average speed and then speeding up," says Dr. Sridhar Anandakrishnan, associate professor of geoscience, Penn State. "I thought that the speeding up and slowing down was tied to rising and falling of the ocean tides."

The ice streams in West Antarctica move large amounts of ice downward from the center of the glacier toward the ocean. Most of the glacier rests upon bedrock and/or rubble on land, but part of the glacier floats above the ocean. The grounding line, the line where the glacier stops being grounded and floats, is quite a distance back from the leading edge of the glacier.

Some ice streams are moving rapidly, some are slowing down and others have completely stopped moving. Researchers have looked at a number of ice streams and recently, they discovered that Whillan's Ice Stream exhibits the most bizarre behavior because it actually stops dead and then slips for a short time, moving large distances, before it stops again.

"We were astonished that a one meter tide variation can bring the ice stream to a halt in such a short period of time and that it can accelerate to full throttle in about one minute," says Robert Bindschadler, lead author of the study and a glaciologist and senior fellow at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. "It underscores the sensitivity of the system to extremely modest forcing."

The researchers report in today's (Aug. 22) issue of Science, that there is a clear association between this stick-slip phenomenon and the ocean tide.

Anandakrishnan and Bindschadler working with Richard B. Alley, Evan Pugh professor of geoscience, Penn State; Matt A. King, University of Newcastle, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, and Laurence Padman, Earth and Space Research, Seattle, combined data from various ice streams and produced a model of how the tides control the slip stick of ice stream motion. They note that "If there were no tides at all, slip events would be predicted to occur approximately every 12 hours."

However, the movement of the ice streams occurs every 18 and then 6 hours. That is, the stream remains still for 18 hours and then slips for 10 to 30 minutes and halts. Then 6 hours later, the stream slips again and halts. The first slip after 18 hours corresponds to just short of high tide and the second slip is when the tide is falling, but is not low.

"The up stream portion of the ice stream keeps moving all the time," says Anandakrishan. "The tide rises and puts pressure upward on the ice stream. Somewhere in the middle, the ice stream sticks."

Eventually the pressure being exerted on the ice stream bed from above is enough to overcome the sticking point and the stream slips and then halts. The tide continues to rise and then recede still putting pressure on the ice stream until once again the ice slips.

"The motion of the ice streams is not as regular during neap tide because the sea rise is not as high," says Anandakrishnan.

Each day the ocean by the West Antarctic has only one high tide and one low tide separated by 12 hours. The levels of the tides vary on a 28-day cycle creating spring tides of up to 5 feet and neap tides of 16- to 20-inches separated by 14 days.

Rome Versus Galileo!

By Peter Popham

Rome August 24, 2003 (Independent Foreign Service) - The belief that the Catholic Church persecuted Galileo Galilei for pointing out that the earth goes round the sun was quite wrong, the new secretary of the Vatican's Doctrinal Congregation, Archbishop Angelo Amato, has claimed.

Citing a letter recently discovered in the Vatican's archive, Archbishop Amato, who heads the body formerly known as the Holy Office or the Inquisition, said it proved that the church had treated him very well.

The letter, sent by the Commissioner of the Holy Office to Cardinal Francesco Barberini in 1633, expressed the pope's concern that the trial of the scientist accused of heresy be concluded quickly as his health was poor.

'All of them wanted to look at the sky through his famous telescope' Archbishop Amato told the Italian weekly La Famiglia Cristiana that the letter proved that the church's attitude to the great astronomer was benign. The idea, he said, that "Galileo was incarcerated and even tortured so that he would abjure" was no more than a legend, "transmitted by a false iconography", he insisted.

In fact, he said, he was accorded every civility while residing at the Inquisition's pleasure: "his room was the apartment of the attorney - one of the highest officials of the Inquisition - where he was assisted by his own servant... During the rest of his stay in Rome he was the guest of the Florentine ambassador at the Villa Medici".

At worst, the Archbishop said, Galileo's reception was mixed. "When, in 1610, Galileo published Sidereus Nuncius, in which he upheld the centrality of the sun in the universe, he received the applause both of Johannes Kepler, the great astronomer, and of the Jesuit Clavius, author of the Gregorian calendar," he said.

"He even had great success among the Roman cardinals," he said. "All of them wanted to look at the sky through his famous telescope." Archbishop Amato's remarks are the latest contribution to a long-running attempt by the Vatican to recast the Church, not as the persecutor but the relaxed friend and companion of modern science.

Attempts by Pope John Paul II to mend bridges with science go back almost to the start of his papacy, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in October. On November 10, 1979, at an audience to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Albert Einstein, the Pope requested theologians, scholars and historians to study the Galileo case more deeply.

The commission set up to do this reported its conclusions in 1992. Responding, the Pope admitted errors committed by the Inquisition which condemned the astronomer. "Allow us to deplore certain mental attitudes ... derived from the lack of perception of the legitimate autonomy of science," he said.

Endorsement of the truth of science has been as persistent a theme of John Paul II's papacy as his doctrinal conservatism, Vatican observers say. In a major speech to the Pontifical Academy of Science in 1996, he came close to endorsing the theory of evolution.

"New knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis," he said, adding that the idea of natural selection "has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge".

Today Jesuit astronomers man the sophisticated telescopes on the roof of the Pope's summer palace south of Rome, watching Mars as it comes closer than at any time in the past 60,000 years while the Pope sleeps downstairs.

New Spin on Planetary Tilt

Penn State Press Release

August 25, 2003 - In B science fiction movies, a terrible force often pushes the Earth off its axis and spells disaster for all life on Earth. In reality, life would still be possible on Earth and any Earth-like planets if the axis tilt were greater than it is now, according to Penn State researchers.

"We do not currently have observations of extrasolar planets, but I imagine that in the near future, we will uncover some of these small planets," says Dr. Darren M. Williams, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, Penn State Erie, the Behrend College. "The issue before us is what will they be like? Will they have moons? What will their climates be like? Will they be teaming with life or will life be rare?

"I suspect, based on simulations and our own solar system, that many Earth-like planets will have spin axes that are tipped more severely than Earth's axis."

Williams, working with David Pollard, research associate in geoscience at Penn State, used general circulation climate models to simulate a variety of tilts, carbon dioxide levels and planets. They reported on their findings in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

The researchers first looked at present-day Earth with tilts of 23, 54, 70 and 85 degrees. Earth's tilt today is about 23 degrees. The simulation that mimicked today's Earth and tilt closely matched today's climate, including regional precipitation patterns, snow and ice cover and drought.

"Tilts greater than the present produce global annual-mean temperatures higher than Earth's present mean temperature of about 57 degrees Fahrenheit," says Williams. "Above 54 degrees of tilt, the trend is for the global annual-mean temperature to decrease as tilt increases."

The Penn State scientist explains that this decrease occurs because more land exists north of the equator in present-day Earth. Annual-mean temperatures, however, are not the best way to determine if a planet might be habitable, as seasonal temperature variations could be extreme.

The researchers also looked at these tilted Earths with ten times the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas increases the temperatures on a planet. These models produced Earths with 11 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit higher annual-mean temperatures.

Because all planets will not have Earth's geography, the researchers took a page from Earth's history and modeled a 750-million-year-old Earth representing the Sturtian glaciation and a 540-million-year-old Earth, the closest approximation available for the Varanger glaciation.

"During the Sturtian, land masses were mainly equatorial and clumped mostly within 30 degrees of the equator," says the Penn State Erie researcher. "In the Varanger model, everything is close to the south pole."

While current day Earth is about 30 percent land to 70 percent water, these ancient geographies are about 22 percent land and 78 percent water.

"The highest temperatures and seasonal variations happen with the largest land areas at the mid to high latitudes," says Williams. The researchers also ran some of the model Earths with zero tilt.

"Present Earth is one of the most uninhabitable planets that we have simulated," says Williams. "Approximately 8.7 percent of the Earth's surface is colder than 14 degrees Fahrenheit on average, and this percentage peaks at 13.2 percent in February owing to the large landmasses at high latitude covered by snow."

The only planets colder than today's Earth are those planets simulated with no tilt.

The Varanger simulation, with most land in the southern hemisphere, is the most extreme with 15.6 percent of the surface below 14 degrees Fahrenheit in July and 9.3 percent of the surface above 122 degrees Fahrenheit in January. On average, nearly 28 percent of this planet's land mass is uninhabitable by Earth standards.

"This simulation suggests that planets with either large polar supercontinents or small inventories of water will be the most problematic for life at high obliquity," says Williams.

None of the planets with increased tilt had permanent ice sheets near the equator. This, however, does not guarantee that a world is suitable for life, the researchers note. The extremes of temperature on most of the simulated earths would make it difficult for all but the simplest Earth life forms to survive. Extremes caused because the tilt puts large portions of the planet in 24-hour darkness or 24-hour sunlight for long periods would also inhibit photosynthetic organisms.

The researchers suggest that even with high tilt, life can exist on the planets they modeled.

"Provided the life does not occupy continental surfaces plagued seasonally by the highest temperature, these planets could support more advanced life," the researchers say. "While such worlds exhibit climates that are very different from Earth's, many will still be suitable for both simple and advanced forms of water-dependent life."

So there is no reason to eliminate Earth-like planets with more tilt than Earth from future searches for life beyond the solar system. "We have one planet and we have a lot of species on this planet, but it is only one data point," says Williams. "Maybe one day we will figure out everything about life on our own planet, but no where near what is possible elsewhere."

Donner Party Camp Found?

By Frank X. Mullen Jr.

Reno NV August 18, 2003 (Reno Gazette-Journal) - Archaeologists using ground-penetrating radar might have pinpointed the site of the lower camp of the Donner Party about 30 miles west of Reno and might have found the evidence of cannibalism that has eluded researchers for 150 years.

Artifacts dug up two weeks ago still are being examined, scientists said, but archaeologists located what might be a campfire pit in the area of Alder Creek near Truckee. They also found a bone fragment of a large mammal that bears the butcher marks of an ax.

The bone could be from an ox or horse, or it could be human, scientists said, and further tests are planned. If it is a human bone, it would be the first physical evidence of cannibalism linked to the Donner Party saga.

Scientists probed the Alder Creek area as part of a Discovery Channel program called “Unsolved History,” scheduled to air in October.

They plan to use DNA tests to provide other answers to Donner mysteries — including linking the possible human remains to the descendants of the Donner family survivors.

“This is a very exciting find,” said Frankye Craig, a Donner Party researcher in Reno. “Even though some people don’t think that’s the Donner campsite, Donner descendants have been going there since the 1960s, and they always thought it was the place.

“To them, Alder Creek is sacred ground, and the new research seems to prove that. I hope it triggers more investigation.”

The Donner Party traveled across the continent by wagon train in 1846 and the families were trapped in the Sierra Nevada by snowstorms in October and November. Survivors of the ordeal reported that the trapped pioneers at Alder Creek were unable to hunt and survived by eating small animals, boiled leather, and, after several months, the flesh of their companions who died.

About half of the 81-member party perished.

In 1984, archaeologists found many artifacts at Donner Lake, where several families endured the winter in three cabins. The lower camp, where the George and Jacob Donner families stayed in hastily-built huts about six miles southeast of the lake, has yielded some 1840s artifacts but little proof of a long-term occupation — until now.

“We found the possible remains of a hearth, fire-cracked rock, pipe bowl fragments, fragments of bone, including charred bone, lead balls and ceramic fragments,” said Julie Schablitsky, an archaeologist with Portland State University in Oregon.

“Some of the large pieces of bone could be human, but we’ll have to test to be sure. Nothing is conclusive yet, but we’re looking at multiple lines of evidence that point to it being the Donner camp.”

She said pottery fragments, a link from a woman’s gold chain, bits of bottles and plates, and other 1840s-era artifacts have been found at the Alder Creek site, where the Donner families are said to have suffered for five months until winter ended. Although it has been marked as “Donner Camp” since the 1920s, some historians theorized that the area is too far from the pioneer trail and the true site probably lies beneath Prosser Reservoir.

It’s believed 10 men, six women and 12 children lived at the site in three to five separate campsites. Most of the adults died; most of the children eventually were rescued. The other members of the party were at separate camps.

Archaeological digs by University of Nevada, Reno teams at the lake camp in 1984 and the Alder Creek site in 1990-93 unearthed 1840s artifacts, but provided few answers to Donner mysteries. Schablitsky said the recent inquiry builds on the work of UNR archaeologist Donald L. Hardesty and takes advantage of new technology.

“Ten years ago, we didn’t have the technology we have today,” she said. “Ground-penetrating radar wasn’t common and DNA analysis wasn’t being used for archaeology. We can do so much more now.”

Hardesty said the recent finds bolster his theory that the Donner campsites are in the Alder Creek meadows, but not at the exact spots where tradition says the shelters once stood.

“This absolutely adds more credibility to the interpretation that this is where the Donner families camped,” he said. “The artifacts they found are similar to what we found in 1990 and 1993. If the fire pit is there, and if the bones with the suspected ax marks turn out to be human, this would be a pretty important find.”

Scientists said they’ll seek grants to fund further explorations at the site, which is located on public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Senior reporter Frank X. Mullen Jr. is the author of “The Donner Party Chronicles: A Day-by-Day Account of a Doomed Wagon Train, 1846-47.” He has been sharing research with the producers of the “Unsolved History” series for their Donner project.

Man-eating Sorcerers Arrested
Yaounde August 25, 2003 (Sapa-AFP) - Eleven people have been arrested for murder in Cameroon after being accused of cannibalism and using witchcraft to kill 17 people, a local newspaper reported on Monday.

The members of a secret society "ate up their victims in a mystical way at night after having become invisible", the Nouvelle Expression newspaper said, quoting police sources.

An investigation was launched in February in a village close to the town of Abong-Mbang, east of the capital Yaounde, where the lifeless body of a woman was found with several organs missing.

The victim's husband filed a complaint with the police against one Joseph Mekomo, accusing him of sorcery.

Mekomo admitted to the charge and said another 11 witch-doctors were involved. "We have already killed 17 people," he said. Mekomo died shortly after his arrest but the 11 others were rounded up and the victim's missing organs recovered.

Witchcraft is commonplace in Cameroon, mainly in the southern and eastern parts of the country where courts routinely handle such cases.
Synthetic Pot Helps Alzheimer's Patients

Meridian Health System Press Release

Chicago, Ill. and Neptune, N.J. (August 20, 2003) – Study results suggest dronabinol, a synthetic version of THC, the active ingredient in Cannabis sativa L (marijuana), may reduce agitation and lead to weight gain in patients with Alzheimer's disease, according to data presented today at the annual meeting of the International Psychogeriatric Association.

"Our research suggests dronabinol may reduce agitation and improve appetite in patients with Alzheimer's disease, when traditional therapies are not successful," said Joshua Shua-Haim, M.D., lead investigator in the study and medical director of the Meridian Institute for Aging, a continuum of senior health programs and services in Central New Jersey affiliated with Meridian Health System.
"In the study, dronabinol appeared to be safe and effective for these patients," Dr. Shua-Haim said.

"The results point to a promising direction for future research."

Dronabinol, marketed under the trade name Marinol, is synthetic delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9-THC). Delta-9-THC also is a naturally occurring component of Cannabis sativa L (marijuana).

Dronabinol is the only cannabinoid approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is indicated for the treatment of anorexia in patients with HIV/AIDS and for the treatment of nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy.

An estimated four million Americans have Alzheimer's disease and the number will grow to 14 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer's Association. In addition to memory loss, patients often experience agitation, loss of body weight, depression and restlessness.

Agitation is the most frequently encountered type of behavioral disturbance associated with Alzheimer's disease and affects an estimated 75 percent of people with the disease. Weight loss, a common problem in patients with Alzheimer's disease, is a predictive factor of mortality. Weight loss may derive from the deterioration of patients' cognitive abilities, resulting in an inability to recognize hunger and thirst.

"It's important to look at all the aspects of Alzheimer's disease that contribute to quality of life for patients, family members and caregivers," said Dr. Shua-Haim. "Agitation and weight loss are upsetting and stressful as the patient's needs become ever more demanding."

The study was a retrospective review and examined 48 patients (mean age = 77) residing in a dementia unit of an assisted living facility or a nursing home. All patients met the DSM-IV and NINCDS-ADRDA criteria for possible Alzheimer's disease and, according to their family or caregivers, had unsatisfactory control of their agitation. The mini mental status examination (MMSE), a test used to measure a person's basic cognitive skills, and an assessment of activities of daily living were used to evaluate patients prior to treatment with dronabinol and at one month. Patients initially received 5 mg/day of dronabinol in two doses. The treatment was titrated up to a maximum of 10 mg/day. In addition, all patients were treated with atypical neuroleptics and at least four medications to control behavior.

The evaluation by caregivers following one month of treatment found 31 patients (66 percent) experienced a significant improvement in agitation. Functional improvement was observed in 33 (69 percent) of the patients. Prior to the study, all patients experienced weight loss and had been diagnosed with anorexia. After treatment with dronabinol, all patients (100 percent) had gained weight. No adverse events, such as falls, syncope, seizures or exacerbation of agitation or depression, were reported as a result of treatment.

Ape Killers

By Jonathan Kent
BBC Correspondent in Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia August 24, 2003 (BBC) - A reward of more than US$15,000 has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killers of three young orangutans in east Malaysia.

The apes were speared to death earlier this week at a hotel resort in the state of Sabah, where they were undergoing a rehabilitation program. There has been considerable shock in Malaysia about the apparently motiveless killings.

The orangutans were among a group of five attacked at a nature reserve and resort near the city of Kota Kinabalu. It runs a program to help orphaned apes return to the wild.

The two who survived are being treated at one of the region's leading orangutans centers at Sepilok, also in Sabah. The resort has offered a reward for information leading to the capture of those responsible, as has a British circus which is currently performing there.

Police have set up a task force to carry out the investigation. Two former employees of the resort were arrested, but later released.

The World Wide Fund for Nature puts the number of orangutans left in the wild at fewer than 25,000, a tenth of what it was a century ago. The population is spread between the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the island of Borneo, of which Sabah is a part.

The populations are under pressure because the tropical rain forests in which they live are being felled, primarily to make way for palm oil plantations and subsistence farming.

Malaysia has sought to stop the destruction of their habitat in recent years, but many young orangutans are rescued from poachers who try to sell them as pets, often after killing the apes' parents.

Pigeons Trap Murder Suspect
Brussels August 25, 2003 (Reuters) - A Belgian man suspected of murdering his wife 14 years ago has finally been arrested because of his passion for pigeons, police said on Monday.

Marcel Pirson, who eluded the police after changing his name and moving house, was caught after his picture showed up in a magazine for pigeon fanciers.

Police questioned Pirson after his wife was found in December 1989 in the smashed up remains of a car.

Investigators at first believed the crash was an accident, but later suspected murder. Pirson was interviewed once but disappeared before he could be questioned again, the police said in a statement, adding that he had now been charged with the murder.
Bad Science Equals Bad Sci-fi

By Mark Ward
BBC News Technology Correspondent

Planet Earth August 25, 2003 (BBC) - One can forgive Luke Skywalker, Captain Kirk and Flash Gordon for monkeying with the laws of physics in the interests of a rip-roaring storyline, but does bad science make a poor sci-fi film far worse?

Every fan of science fiction film knows that for every genuinely good movie they see, they will have to endure an awful lot of rubbish.

For every innocent gem like Star Wars: A New Hope there is a Phantom Menace.

And for every life-affirming classic like The Incredible Shrinking Man there is a soul-destroying Battlefield Earth. And recently - particularly this summer - there has been an awful lot of rubbish around.

A strange idiocy seems to have over-taken the makers of blockbusters such as The Matrix Reloaded, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and others who are bolstering their creations with some decidedly dodgy science.

Take for instance Ang Lee's Hulk.

In updating the 1960s comic, the screenwriters of the Hulk realized that they could not rely on that old staple of radiation exposure to explain how the svelte Bruce Banner turns into the awesome, monstrous Hulk.

Now we know that the gamma radiation soaked up by the Hulk would not turn him into a superhero but would cause significant health problems thanks to the penetrative power of the rays. Instead, the writers turned to the real life work of marine biologist Greg Szulgit from Hiram College, Ohio, to explain how Banner bulks up into the Hulk.

Professor Szulgit has been researching sea cucumbers and the special mutable collagenous connective tissue they possess. This tissue can stretch massively without being destroyed and then retract back to its former size, thus providing a novel way to explain Banner's transmogrification into the huge Hulk.

It's not quite nonsense, but pretty close. Although he was consulted by the film makers, Professor Szulgit says the science in Hulk is "really awful". [Not only that! Is it just me, or does the new Hulk look a lot like Steve Martin? Ed.]

"As near as I could tell the sea cucumbers and comments about other echinoderms was meaningless techno-babble," says Tom Rogers, co-founder of the Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics website, which aims to explain exactly how stupid movie physics often is. "The metamorphosis of Bruce Banner into the Hulk is ridiculous from the standpoint of physics alone."

But Hulk is not alone in appealing to nonsense to make a plot point.

The Matrix Reloaded sought to explain exactly how the consensual hallucination that most people in the film's universe mistake for real life is actually generated. This confused some cinemagoers, and just plain bored others.

And for the Star Wars installment Phantom Menace, creator George Lucas thought up midi-chlorians [microscopic creatures which live inside all creatures and chatter amongst themselves] as a way to explain the formerly quasi-religious Force. He arguably managed to undermine the galaxy his characters inhabit for no real gain.

All too often writers turn to the latest science to explain how something nonsensical could come about, but often they go too far.

"Science fiction often has to resort to pure fabrication in order to have a plot. When it does, our feeling is that it's best to put it on the table with a minimum of explanation," says Mr Rogers.

Spiderman was just as nonsensical as Hulk, but it got away with it because there were so many other good things, such as character and plot, going on.

Knowing that you are working from a ridiculous premise can work if a writer manages to explore its consequences, rather than use it as a crutch to make up for other failings. Though its value as escapist fun should not be forgotten, sci-fi films can inspire young viewers to follow real careers in science and give older people vegged out on the sofa an insight into how the universe works they might not otherwise experience.

Hopelessly wonky scientific explanations could, arguably, do this audience a disservice.

Guy Haley, deputy editor of SFX magazine, says many writers do go to great lengths to work out the way of their world.

"Without that," he says, "they would have characters doing things without establishing their motivation or why they were doing it. [Good writers] say: 'In this universe this works this way so it's not really ridiculous.'"

He adds that many science-fiction film fans do not mind a bit of silly science if there is enough else going on to divert them. The 1957 classic The Incredible Shrinking Man used radiation and pesticides to start its star shrinking and got away with it thanks to the writing and uplifting ending.

"A single questionable plot device can be forgiven in the name of art," says Mr Rogers, "However, the rest of the plot should fit within the boundaries of known physical law."

Genre News: Duck Dodgers, Popeye Suicide, Dead Zone Renewed, Jolie, Home Room, Courtney Brando & More!

Duck Dodgers Debuts on Cartoon Network
By FLAtRich

Hollywood August 25, 2003 (eXoNews) - In what may well be the most ridiculous comeback in the history of animation, Daffy Duck returned to the small screen as Duck Dodgers last night in a new Cartoon Network series based on his classic Looney Tunes role.

What a relief! Cartoons aren't dead after all!

Mr. Duck, who turned 66 this year, hammed his way through a grand performance as the hero of what is now a rather Star Trek TOS-like Duck Dodgers universe. Daffy was as daffy as always and the show should please old fans and newcomers alike.

Speaking of ham, Porky Pig, who is now 68, is perhaps unfairly relegated to the rank of Eager Young Space Cadet as Dodgers' sidekick, playing half of Episode One in drag. Porky prevailed however and the veteran toon managed to get the girl in the second episode.

Marvin the Martian plays Mr. Duck's despicable nemesis.

The regular cast voicings are provided by Joe Alaskey and Bob Bergen, and they do Mel Blanc proud.

It's been a long trek for the Dodgers character, not seen in a new adventure since the demise of 90's Daffy Duck Show. Duck Dodgers introduced the ill-fated series in late 1996, but the show only ran for thirteen episodes on The WB before it was given the axe. The Dodgers character first appeared in theaters in 1953 in the Warners cartoon Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century.

Animator Tex Avery created both Mr. Duck and Mr. Pig for Warner Brothers in the 1930s. The original Duck Dodgers feature was written by Michael Maltese and directed by Chuck Jones. American composer Raymond Scott provided some of the memorable music in the feature version ("Powerhouse" & "Egyptian Barn Dance").

Like Shatner and company from the original Trek, sometimes old standards are best. Duck Dodgers doesn't need the CGI techniques of MTV's recent Spider-man cartoons. It doesn't have the likeness of Pamela Anderson or the fine-line style of Gary the Rat. It doesn't depend on scatological humor like Ren and Stimpy.

It's just plain funny, which is what a cartoon is meant to be.

Duck Dodgers Official site -

Raymond Scott website -

Popeye Suicide?

Television City CA August 25, 2003 (Kluge News Service) - The beloved Animated Film Star known as "Popeye" was found dead in his Assisted-Living studio apartment today.

Preliminary reports from the Los Angeles Medical Examiner's Office are calling it a suicide, but LA Homicide Detectives haven't ruled out foul play.

A .32 caliber handgun and empty bottle of Tequila provided mute testimony to the lonely end of a life once blessed with fame, fortune and all the leggy dames an ugly, illiterate sailor could ever dream of possessing.

"He hadn't worked in many years", said a neighbor (who requested anonymity.)

"Although he did say he was going to be recording some remembrances for a DVD compilation of his earlier work in the film industry, poor bastard hadn't been the same since his wife Olive Oil ran off with some character a while back."

Mr. Popeye leaves no survivors. Funeral services will be provided by the Greater California Sailors' Credit Union.

eXoNews Editor Notes: Leon "Swee'Pea" Jackson, former child toon star and Popeye's estranged "adoptid infink", called for an immediate investigation, claiming Popeye "was the target of a commie pinko plot." Mr. Jackson currently manages a Blockbuster Video store in Reseda.

King Features and Paramount could not be reached for comment, but some Hollywood sources are calling this story a hoax. Popeye has been known to use unorthodox publicity to gain attention in the past; including an infamous spinach-inspired punch-fest with an aide to President George Bush, Sr. after the salty toon "misunderstood" the former president's comments about broccoli in the 1980s.

Sometime Popeye sidekick J. Wellington Wimpy released a statement today from his Secaucus NJ home:

"I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today," Mr. Wimpy said.

Chris Kluge's Suspended Animation -

Unofficial Popeye site -

King Features Popeye site -

Official Popeye Fan Club -

Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits -

Dead Zone Renewed for Season Three!
By FLAtRich

Hollywood August 25, 2003 (eXoNews) - Dead Zone fans can rest easy despite a recent season two cliff-hanging Dead Zone finale predicting that Johnny Smith will cause the end of the world.

Executive Producer Lloyd Segan has officially confirmed that Dead Zone will return on the USA Network for a third season in 2004.

The Dead Zone is a TV adaptation of the Stephen King bestseller helmed by Segan and former Star Trek producer/creator Michael Piller. Piller was executive producer and head writer on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1989-1994), and was co-creator and executive producer of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1992-1999) and Star Trek: Voyager (1994-2001).

Piller and his son Shawn Piller serve as head writers on The Dead Zone series and they have successfully beamed Michael Taylor and other top writers up from the Trek franchise and into their DZ stable to produce some of the best-written TV shows in recent memory.

Despite a slight decline in second season ratings, reported that Jeff Wachtel, head of series programming for USA said that the network is "confident that [The Dead Zone] will continue its strong performance in its third season."

Premature rumors of the hit show's demise circulated recently, perhaps due to a report that Piller was pitching a new series about horseracing to another network. [You didn't see that negative stuff here, of course. Ed.]

The Dead Zone stars Anthony Michael Hall as Johnny Smith with John L. Adams, Nicole DeBoer, Chris Bruno, Kristen Dalton and David Ogden Stiers. Sean Patrick Flanery has a recurring role as one of the Big Bads on the show and Frank Whaley will turn up again as the man from Johnny's future in Season Three.

Exactly when Dead Zone will return as not been decided, but Segan said it will be in March or June of 2004. "If it's June, we will probably only get to do 13 episodes," Segan informed fans on the official DZ website. "If we premiere the new cycle in March, however, we could end up producing up to 22 new shows."

Segan thanked fans and colleagues for their support of the show, saying "without you guys, The Dead Zone surely would not be able to continue its journey. So there you have it: another example of democracy at work. Your votes and comments cemented our future, and we remain forever grateful."

USA also concluded the second summer season of Monk last week. Monk star Tony Shalub was nominated for a 2003 Best Actor Emmy for his work in the series. A third USA show, The Peacemakers starring Tom Berenger, succeeded with a partial summer run and will return in the fall with new episodes.

Dead Zone Official site -

Doors Tour, Three Sue

DENVER August 25, 2003 (AP) -- The Doors have hit the road again - without Jim Morrison, of course - and with many legal headaches.

Led by founding members Ray Manzarek on keyboards and guitarist Robby Krieger plus the Cult's Ian Astbury, the Doors 21st Century are playing both classic and new Doors music.

"Jim died in 1971, and the problem of trying to replace him was insurmountable at that time," Krieger told the Denver Post on Sunday. "But after 30 years or so goes by, it doesn't seem so insurmountable."

The new band has been involved in three lawsuits.

Original drummer John Densmore filed a lawsuit against Manzarek and Krieger in February, claiming they were infringing on the band's trademark by using the name. His request for a temporary restraining order was denied in May.

Another lawsuit was filed by Morrison's parents and in-laws in May, accusing Manzarek and Krieger of tarnishing the group's reputation by continuing to make new music and tour.

And former Police drummer Stewart Copeland, who played with the reconfigured Doors in 2002, filed his own suit against Manzarek and Krieger after he injured his arm in a bicycling accident last fall and was replaced. Copeland claimed they reneged on a promise to use him during the tour and on an upcoming studio album and asked for more than $1 million in damages. He amicably settled his lawsuit in June.

"It doesn't dampen my enthusiasm. It's just an annoyance," Krieger said. "It seems like the better you're doing, the more that happens. If nothing's going on, nobody cares."

The Doors Official site -

Ray Bradbury Turns 83

PASADENA August 24, 2003 (AP) - Science fiction author Ray Bradbury celebrated his 83rd birthday with this wish:

One night, 100 years from now, a youngster will stay up late reading "The Martian Chronicles" with a flashlight under his blanket — on the Red Planet.

"That's the dream I have and that's the reason I'm here," the author of the 1950 classic said during a birthday party organized Saturday by The Planetary Society.

The space exploration advocacy group presented Bradbury with a mammoth birthday card printed with messages from 4,000 well wishers. Actress Angie Dickinson gave him a kiss. Director Peter Hyams, whose movie version of Bradbury's short story "A Sound of Thunder" is due in April, called him a "national treasure." Sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson asked for an autograph.

Actress Nichelle Nichols pinned a "Star Trek" badge on his lapel.

"It makes you an honorary member of the Starship Enterprise, which you actually have been from day one," said Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura on the original "Star Trek" TV series.

Bradbury said he developed his love for Mars as a high school student, when he read the nearly dozen Mars-themed books by an author now better known for creating Tarzan.

"Edgar Rice Burroughs taught me to go out on the lawns of summer and hold my hands out and say 'Mars, take me home.' And I have never been back," Bradbury said.

Ray Bradbury Official site -

Angelina Jolie Makes Plea for Chechen Refugees
By Jeremy Page

MOSCOW August 24, 2003 (Reuters) - Oscar-winning actress and "Tomb Raider" star Angelina Jolie made a personal plea to the Russian government Sunday not to force thousands of Chechen refugees in Ingushetia to return to their war-torn homeland.

Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, also added her voice to appeals for the release of a Dutch aid worker kidnapped a year ago in Dagestan, just east of Chechnya.

She was speaking at the end of a four-day visit to Russia, including Ingushetia, which is home to about 80,000 Chechens who have fled fighting and abuse from soldiers but are now under pressure from Moscow to go home for a local leadership election.

"Voluntary repatriation is only if you've given people an option of housing and safety and you don't take away their food or shelter," Jolie told a news conference.

"You give them an option and you ask them if they want to return home. I am asking you today to make sure they have that option," said the actress best known for playing action hero Lara Croft in the "Tomb Raider" movies.

Moscow has vowed to dismantle all refugee camps in Ingushetia before an October 5 election in Chechnya, a key part of a Kremlin plan to bring peace to the region after a decade of fighting between federal forces and separatist guerrillas.

Officials say all those who return to Chechnya will get adequate housing while those opting to stay in Ingushetia will be barred from voting. They say no one will be forced to go.

But the UNHCR expressed grave concern this month over pressure on refugees, especially in the tented Balla camp in Ingushetia, to return to Chechnya or move elsewhere.

"If Balla camp is closed and they don't give an option of alternate housing, then I would consider it forced," said Jolie.

She also raised the case of Dutchman Arjan Erkel, abducted a year ago by armed men while heading operations for international charity Medecins Sans Frontieres in the North Caucasus region.

"I urge the people who are holding him to let him go immediately and return him unharmed to his family and friends," Jolie said.

Home Room a Hit at Columbine
By Chris Gardner

LOS ANGELES August 24, 2003 (Hollywood Reporter) - For actress Erika Christensen and director Paul Ryan, the biggest hurdle for their upcoming film "Home Room" has already been crossed.

This year, the duo traveled to Denver to screen the film -- a Columbine-inspired look at the aftermath of a high school shooting -- for the audience whose reaction they cared about most: the students, faculty and families touched by 1999's real-life incident in Littleton, Colo., which claimed the lives of 13 students and a teacher.

"I was scared as hell to take the movie there, to be honest," reveals first-time director Ryan. "I know I have a good movie, but it's different when you go to Columbine. I created a work of fiction and screened it for people who actually lived it and I can't conceive of there being a more important audience in all the world."

Taking the project to Colorado wasn't easy for Christensen either. "Going to Columbine was really scary," explains the "Traffic" actress, who stars in the under-$500,000 production together with Busy Phillips and Victor Garber.

"We just didn't know how they were going to react because even though it's been a couple of years since it happened, it's still relevant and fresh for them. When the movie ended, we were all bawling and hugging. They said that it's one of the most realistic movies about kids they've ever seen -- that's the best thing we could've possibly asked for."

Critics and audiences across the country are about to have their chance to offer an opinion as well, with the movie scheduled to reach theaters Sept. 5 courtesy of Blockbuster-arm DEJ Prods., marking the company's first foray into theatrical distribution.

"A girl came up to me after the screening who had a bullet in her leg put there by Dylan Klebold and she thanked me for making 'Home Room.' That had a huge emotional impact for me," Ryan recalls. "Obviously I want the movie to go out and be successful, but the hardest part is over."

Home Rome Official site -

Lucy Liu Does UPN

Hollywood Auguest 21, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - Lucy Liu (Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle) is joining the cast of Game Over, UPN's midseason computer-animated comedy series, the network announced. The Carsey-Werner-Mandabach show features Liu as the voice of Raquel, the secret-agent wife and mother of the Smashenburn family, who live in an alternate video-game universe.

David Sacks, David Goestch, Jason Venokur and Ross Venokur write and executive produce the upcoming series. Liu joins a cast that includes Patrick Warburton as Rip, the head of the family and a hotshot Grand Prix racecar driver; E.G. Daily as Billy, a 13-year-old wannabe hip-hopper who argues with his 14-year-old sister, Alice (Rachel Dratch).

Artie Lange voices the familiy pet, Turbo, a 300-pound talking creature. The next-door neighbors are the Changs, a family of kung-fu-fighting Shaolin monks, including the Dark Princess and her husband, Sam (played by Marie Matiko and June Sie).

Lancaster Trustees Sue MGM Over Profits

SANTA MONICA August 22, 2003 (AP) - Trustees of actor Burt Lancaster's estate have sued MGM, claiming the studio owes at least $2 million in profits for his films, including "Judgment at Nuremberg," "The Birdman of Alcatraz" and "Elmer Gantry."

The suit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that from 1996 to 2001, MGM failed to pay the estate its proper share of revenues from the distribution of Lancaster's films.

The suit also alleges the studio charged excessive distribution fees and deducted excessive amounts of interest on production costs.

The studio declined to comment on the pending litigation, MGM spokesman Joseph Fitzgerald said.

Lancaster died in October 1994 at the age of 80.

His lengthy career included more than 70 films. He won an Oscar for his role preaching hellfire and damnation in 1960's "Elmer Gantry."

He received several Oscar nominations, including one in 1962 for his role in "The Birdman of Alcatraz," and one for the 1954 film "From Here to Eternity."

Courtney Ain't No Brando!

CORVALLIS OR August 24, 2003 (AP) -- Attempting to quiet an international media buzz, Courtney Love's mother said the rock star widow is not Marlon Brando's granddaughter.

Linda Carroll, 59, became the focus of attention last week when a story surfaced in a London newspaper that Brando was Love's grandfather by virtue of a brief liaison with Carroll's mother, novelist Paula Fox.

The source of the information was said to be Carroll's memoir about her childhood, to be published in 2005 by Doubleday.

"First of all, it's crazy, it's not true," she told the (Corvallis) Gazette-Times. "Second of all, my book doesn't say that."

Carroll, a marriage and family therapist, said the memoir focuses strictly on her own life. Kristine Puopolo, Carroll's New York-based editor, confirmed the manuscript makes no claim of ties to Brando.

Love, the widow of grunge-icon Kurt Cobain, has been quoted as saying she was "incredibly shocked" by the news, but Carroll said she hasn't spoken to her daughter about it.

Brando, 79, who won Academy Awards for 1954's "On the Waterfront" and 1972's "The Godfather," has not commented.

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