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US Anti-War Protests!
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US Anti-War Movement Breaks Ranks with the '60s
By Greg Frost 

BOSTON March 31, 2003 (Reuters) - Peace vigils and rallies against war in Iraq have broken out in U.S. towns and cities, drawing hundreds of thousands of participants.

Student strikes are disrupting college campuses, where old protest anthems like "We Shall Overcome" mix with the tinny sound of speeches belted out over bullhorns. 

The scene may resemble the Vietnam-era U.S. student movement. But scratch the surface and it soon becomes clear that this peace push is strikingly different from that of the 1960s when it was a movement of the young, of university students and of those on the political left . 

Now participants in U.S. anti-war protests cut across the spectrum of ages, races and backgrounds and include many who would consider themselves mainstream Americans.

They are joining a more predictable crowds of college students, environmentalists, socialists, anarchists and other activists.

John Llewellyn, a 45-year-old computer industry worker from Knoxville, Tenn., is among the tens of thousands of people who turned up at a recent anti-war protest in Boston -- the city's biggest demonstration in at least 30 years. 

A former "longtime Republican," Llewellyn said he has never protested against anything in his life and admitted he does not fit the mold of an anti-war activist, but said President Bush's policies have gone too far. 

"It's gotten to the point that it's scary," said Llewellyn, who was visiting Boston with his family. 


Although turnout at anti-war rallies has been strong, polls show that most Americans support the war in Iraq. 

Still, many of Llewellyn's fellow protesters said the war has stirred something within them that has lain dormant for decades and, in some cases, their entire lives. 

"This is the first time I have ever done something like this," said 66-year-old Jung Ming Wu of Acton, Massachusetts, as he gathered with thousands of other protesters gathered in a park in Boston. "It's very emotional."

Victoria Carter a 46-year-old actuary, said her appearance at the Boston rally was her first since taking part in an anti-apartheid protest decades ago. 

"I usually trust the government, but this time it's different," said Carter, who lives in the Boston area. 

Eli Pariser, the international campaigns director of (, an online political network that claims more than 1.3 million U.S. members and another 700,000 around the world, said many of those involved are not "the usual suspects." 

"They're ordinary folks who often have never been politically involved before and consider themselves patriots," said Pariser, who is based in New York. "But they feel so alarmed by the direction the country is going and possible consequences of war that they feel like they have to get involved." 

The participation of many middle-of-the-road Americans is no accident. Some anti-war groups have consciously reached out to the mainstream by avoiding some of the more strident rhetoric and confrontational tactics of recent left-wing campaigns such as the anti-globalization protests at the Seattle World Trade Organization talks four years ago. 

Some anti-war strategists have strived to cast their cause as a patriotic one that loyal Americans can embrace as part of the nation's moral conscience. 


Technology also aids their cause. Armed with e-mails and the power of the Internet, anti-war activists organize protests in hours, not the days or weeks it took their predecessors. One of their tactics before the war began involved bombarding the White House and Congress with electronic mail and faxes in a bid to block telephone lines.

Joseph Gerson, a 56-year-old Boston-based pacifist, marvels at the speed at which rallies are put together, and he envies the breadth of information available to protesters online. 

"I spent a big part of the Vietnam War era organizing anti-war protests in Arizona. We were pretty isolated. There was a right-wing monopoly newspaper, and we were dependent on what outside speakers would bring in or what we got in the mail. That was slow," says Gerson, a former classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University in the 1960s.

Gerson said he is stunned by how quickly the anti-war movement has grown, noting that it took years to reach a critical mass of people opposed to the conflict in Vietnam. 

New York has already seen two demonstrations within five weeks numbering in the hundreds of thousands -- a broad coalition of 200 groups under the umbrella of United for Peace and Justice. 


Part of the movement's strength, Gerson said, comes from a newly energized student base -- a big shift from the economically booming '90s that generally kept a lid on campus activism. 

"The students who are coming out to demonstrations ... are rediscovering their political power," he said. "They are learning lessons about American society and about democracy that have been submerged for the last decade." 

Further distinguishing the present peace drive is the absence of a draft that sucked a generation of American men into military service and served as a major catalyst for the peace movement of the late '60s.

In place of the draft, Gerson said, is a sense of "straight altruism" shared by people who are simply concerned about their country's future. 

Stephen Nathanson, a philosophy professor at Northeastern University and a former Vietnam-era peace activist, said many current demonstrators also are more comfortable with their sense of patriotism. 

"In the '60s, people just accepted that if they were against the war, they were going to be anti-patriotic," Nathanson said. "Now, people seem to understand that you can oppose the war because you're patriotic.

"People who oppose the war actually think it's bad for the country, that it will make the country unsafe." 

Joshua Jackson, an anti-war organizer at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, said activism is not confined to "lefty" college towns like Madison, Wis., or Berkeley, Calif., -- and it goes beyond the free-love, drug-happy flower power of the late '60s. 

"Sure there are punk rockers and hippies taking part," he said. "But this is not a counter-cultural movement: You're seeing a lot of 'normal' people involved with this."

Space News!
Hubble Finds Mysterious Erupting Star

March 26, 2003 - In January 2002, a dull star in an obscure constellation suddenly became 600,000 times more luminous than our Sun, temporarily making it the brightest star in our Milky Way galaxy. 

The mysterious star has long since faded back to obscurity, but observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope of a phenomenon called a "light echo" have uncovered remarkable new features. These details promise to provide astronomers with a CAT-scan-like probe of the three-dimensional structure of shells of dust surrounding an aging star. The results appear tomorrow in the journal Nature. 

"Like some past celebrities, this star had its 15 minutes of fame," says Anne Kinney, director of NASA's Astronomy and Physics program, Headquarters, Washington. "But its legacy continues as it unveils an eerie light show in space. Thankfully, NASA's Hubble has a front row seat to this unique event in our galaxy." 

Light from a stellar explosion echoing off circumstellar dust in our Milky Way galaxy was last seen in 1936, long before Hubble was available to study the tidal wave of light and reveal the netherworld of dusty black interstellar space. 

"As light from the outburst continues to reflect off the dust surrounding the star, we view continuously changing cross-sections of the dust envelope. Hubble's view is so sharp that we can do an 'astronomical cat-scan' of the space around the star," says the lead observer, astronomer Howard Bond of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. 

Bond and his team used the Hubble images to determine that the petulant star, called V838 Monocerotis (V838 Mon) is about 20,000 light-years from Earth. The star put out enough energy in a brief flash to illuminate surrounding dust, like a spelunker taking a flash picture of the walls of an undiscovered cavern. The star presumably ejected the illuminated dust shells in previous outbursts. Light from the latest outburst travels to the dust and then is reflected to Earth. Because of this indirect path, the light arrives at Earth months after light coming directly toward Earth from the star itself. 

The outburst of V838 Mon was somewhat similar to that of a nova, a more common stellar outburst. A typical nova is a normal star that dumps hydrogen onto a compact white-dwarf companion star. The hydrogen piles up until it spontaneously explodes by nuclear fusion -- like a titanic hydrogen bomb. This exposes a searing stellar core, which has a temperature of hundreds of thousands of degrees Fahrenheit. 

By contrast, however, V838 Mon did not expel its outer layers. Instead, it grew enormously in size, with its surface temperature dropping to temperatures not much hotter than a light bulb. This behavior of ballooning to an immense size, but not losing its outer layers, is very unusual and completely unlike an ordinary nova explosion. 

"We are having a hard time understanding this outburst, which has shown a behavior that is not predicted by present theories of nova outbursts," says Bond. "It may represent a rare combination of stellar properties that we have not seen before." 

The star is so unique it may represent a transitory stage in a star's evolution that is rarely seen. The star has some similarities to highly unstable aging stars called eruptive variables, which suddenly and unpredictably increase in brightness. 

The circular light-echo feature has now expanded to twice the angular size of Jupiter on the sky. Astronomers expect it to continue expanding as reflected light from farther out in the dust envelope finally arrives at Earth. Bond predicts that the echo will be observable for the rest of this decade. 

The research team included investigators from the Space Telescope Institute in Baltimore; the Universities Space Research Association at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz.; the European Space Agency; Arizona State University; the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory at the University of Arizona at Tucson; the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes in Spain's Canary Islands; and the INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova in Asiago, Italy.

Adolescent Universe Snapped

March 28, 2003 - Scientists using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have taken a snapshot of the adolescent Universe from about five billion years ago when the familiar web-like structure of galaxy chains and voids first emerged. 

The observation reveals distant and massive galaxies dotting the sky, clustered together under the gravitational attraction of deep, unseen pockets of dark matter. This provides important clues of how the Universe matured from its chaotic beginnings to its elegant structure we see today. 

These results were presented in a press conference at the meeting of the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society at Mt. Tremblant, Quebec. 

"Piece by piece, we are assembling a photo album of the Universe through the ages," said Yuxuan Yang, a doctorate candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park, who conducted the analysis. "Last month we saw a picture of the infant Universe taken with the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. Now we can add a snapshot of its adolescence." 

The Chandra observation traced a patch of sky known as the Lockman Hole in the constellation Ursa Major (containing the Big Dipper). Chandra saw a rich density of active galaxies, seven times denser than what has been detected in previous optical and radio surveys at similar distances. This provides the clearest picture yet at the large-scale structure of the Universe at such distances (and age), according to Dr. Richard Mushotzky of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who led the observation. 

If one could capture the Universe in a box, scientists say that the large-scale structure -- that is, galaxies, galaxy clusters and voids of seemingly empty space -- takes the appearance of a web. Galaxies and intergalactic gas are strung like pearls on unseen filaments of dark matter, which comprises over 85 percent of all matter. Galaxies are attracted to dark matter's gravitational potential. 

Dark matter does not shine, like ordinary matter made of atoms, and may very well be intrinsically different. Chandra's observation of distant galaxies in the Lockman Hole, spread out over several billion light years from Earth, essentially maps the distribution of dark matter. This provides clues to how the Universe grew. 

"We are seeing the Universe during its formative years," said Mushotzky. "This is billions of years after galaxies were born, during a period when the Universe began to take on the trappings of an adult." 

The galaxies that the team saw with Chandra were either dim or altogether undetectable with optical and radio telescopes. This may be because they are enshrouded in dust and gas, which blocks radio waves and optical light. X-rays, a higher-energy form of light, can penetrate this shroud. 

"Chandra is the only X-ray telescope with a spatial resolution comparable to the optical telescopes," according to Dr. Amy Barger of University of Wisconsin at Madison, who led the optical follow-up with the 10-meter Keck telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. "This is critical to unambiguously identify the optical counterparts of the X-ray sources and measuring distances, or redshifts. This allows scientists to create a three-dimensional image of the large-scale structure." 

The additive effect of future deep and long Chandra surveys over the next few years will provide an even sharper picture of the young Universe. Other scientists who participated in this observation include Drs. Len Cowie and Dave Sanders of the University of Hawaii, and Ph.D. student Aaron Steffen of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. 

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program, and TRW, Inc., Redondo Beach, Calif., is the prime contractor for the spacecraft. The Smithsonian's Chandra X-ray Center controls science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass., for the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters, Washington.

By Rick Borchelt
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research 

CAMBRIDGE March 31, 2003 – The same characteristics that make misfolded proteins known as prions such a pernicious medical threat in neurodegenerative diseases may offer a construction toolkit for manufacturing nanoscale electrical circuits, researchers report this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists working at Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the University of Chicago write that they have used the durable, self-assembling fibers formed by prions as a template on which to deposit electricity-bearing gold and silver, creating electrical wire much thinner than it is possible to make by current mechanical processes. 

"Most of the people working on nanocircuits are trying to build them using 'top-down' fabrication techniques" used in conventional electrical engineering, explained Whitehead Institute Director Susan Lindquist, a co-author of the study.

"We thought we'd try a 'bottom-up' approach, and let molecular self-assembly do the hard work for us." 

Construction of nanoscale microcircuits and machines is one of the highly prized goals of nanotechnology. Manufacturing is very tricky at this scale – a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter; a nanometer is to a meter what a small grape would be to the entire Earth.

Moreover, these devices depend on nanowires to conduct electricity. So far, the mass production of these tiny wires has stymied researchers. Making very small computers and optical switches, or even biomedical devices that could be inserted into the body, could open up whole new fields of computation and medicine. 

Lindquist and her colleagues took a different approach. Rather than building the metal wire itself, they let prions build a very thin fibrous template and then coaxed gold and silver to bond to the protein fibers. By themselves, the fibers are insulators; they can't conduct electricity. But when coated with gold and silver particles, they became remarkably effective electrical wires. 

The choice of prions to build this template was a natural one for Lindquist and her colleagues at the University of Chicago, where she started work on this project before joining Whitehead Institute. Proteins are the cell's workhorses, and they need to fold into complex and precise shapes to do their jobs. Prions are misfolded proteins – rather like an origami swan that comes out looking and acting instead like an ostrich. 

Prions have another characteristic that makes them ideal for the mass-manufacturing jobs researchers have in mind: They recruit other, properly folded proteins into misforming along with them, a process Lindquist calls a "conformational cascade" that ends up producing more and more ostriches instead of swans.

In the test tube, conformational cascade generates strings and strings of tough, durable and heat-resistant protein fibers of a type known as "amyloid". In humans, amyloids are best known as the plaque that gunks up neurons in people with Alzheimer's, mad cow disease and other neurodegenerative illnesses. This may be one reason why these diseases are so resistant to treatment. However, yeast prions used as the source of protein in these experiments are completely harmless, making them safe to work with in manufacturing. 

Lindquist and colleagues used a special genetic variant of yeast they modified to produce fibers capable of bonding with gold particles. They then coated these fiber strings with enough metal to make a working electrical wire. 

In all important respects, these nanowires possess the characteristics of conventional solid metal wire, Lindquist explained, such as low resistance to electrical current. 

"With materials like these," she noted, "it should be possible to harness the extraordinary diversity and specificity of protein functions to nanoscale electrical circuitry."

Slowing Light to a Crawl
University of Rochester Press Release

March 31, 2003 - Though Einstein put his foot down and demanded that nothing can move faster than light, a new device developed at the University of Rochester may let you outpace a beam by putting your foot down on the gas pedal. At 127 miles per hour, the light in the new device travels more than 5 million times slower than normal as it passes through a ruby just a few centimeters long. 

Instead of the complex, room-filling mechanisms previously used to slow light, the new apparatus is small and, in the words of its creator, "ridiculously easy to implement." Such a simple design will likely pave the way for slow light, as it is called, to move from a physical curiosity to a useful telecommunications tool. The research is being published in this week's Physical Review Letters.

The new technique uses a laser to "punch a hole" in the absorption spectrum of a common ruby at room temperature, and a second laser shines through that hole at the greatly reduced speed. A recent successful attempt to slow light to these speeds used a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), a state of matter existing 459 degrees below zero Fahrenheit where all atoms act in unison like a single, giant atom. The laser shining through the BEC was slowed to 38 miles per hour, but the system had enormous drawbacks, not the least of which was that the equipment needed to create the BEC wouldn't fit in the average living room, and the created BEC itself was little bigger than the head of a pin.

"If that was the world's hardest way to slow down light, then what we've found is the world's easiest way to do it," says Robert Boyd, the M. Parker Givens Professor of Optics at the University. "We can slow light just as much in a space the size of a desktop computer."

Slowing light, at least a little, isn't as difficult as it may seem. Light passing through a window is 1.5 times slower while moving through the glass, and is slowed slightly less so when passing through water. But to achieve the 5.3-million fold slowdown, Boyd and his team, students Matthew Bigelow and Nick Lepeshkin, used a quantum quirk called "coherent population oscillations" to create a special gap in the frequencies of light that a ruby absorbs. Rubies are red because they absorb most of the blue and green light that strikes them. Shining an intense green laser at the ruby partially saturates the chromium ions that give ruby its red color. They then shine a second beam, called the probe laser, into the ruby.

The probe beam has a frequency slightly different than the first laser, and these offset frequencies interact with each other, causing variations the same way two ripples encountering each other on a pond might create waves higher and lower than either one had alone. The chromium ions respond to this new frequency of rhythmic highs and lows by oscillating in sympathy. One consequence of this oscillation is that it allows the probe laser to pass through the ruby, even though the laser is green, but it only allows it to pass 5.3 million times more slowly than light would otherwise travel.

Boyd anticipates that the slow light device will find a role in the telecommunications industry. When two signals from fiber optic lines merge, the two signals may reach the merging router at the exact same moment and need to be separated slightly in time so they can be laid down one after another. Like two cars merging on a highway where one may need to slow down to let another car into the lane, a light-slowing device could help ease congestion on fiber optic lines and simplify the process of merging signals on busy networks.

One drawback to the new technique is currently being scrutinized by Boyd and his coworkers-the duration of the pulses of light that it delays are very long. The BEC experiments were able to delay a short pulse, which meant that a plain pulse of light and a slowed pulse would differ by several times the pulses' lengths. The Boyd technique slows light by roughly the same amount as the BEC method, but since the pulses are much larger, the delay is only a fraction of the pulses' size.

It would be the difference between slowing an economy car a few feet to let another economy car merge, and a double-tractor trailer slowing only a few feet and expecting another double trailer to merge into the gap. Boyd suspects that different materials may yield slowed light that can transmit shorter pulses that would be more useful for telecommunications work.

Neanderthal Hands
By Helen Briggs 
BBC News Science Reporter 

Southampton March 27, 2003 (BBC) - The popular image of Neanderthals as clumsy, backward creatures has been dealt another blow. It was always thought they were a somewhat ham-fisted lot. 

However, computer reconstructions of fossilized bones show their hands had almost the same manual dexterity as ours. Far from being "butter fingered", they would have been adept at using implements such as axes and knives. 

The finding is important because it casts doubt on the idea that Neanderthals died out because of a physical inability to use stone tools.

Earlier evidence had suggested that our ancestors triumphed over their more primitive cousins because they were better at DIY. 

"It shows it's not just because they were ham-fisted that they became an evolutionary dead end," says Clive Gamble of the Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins at the University of Southampton, England. 

Neanderthals lived between 230,000 and 28,000 years ago in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. They were skilled hunters and well-adapted to living during the ice ages. But they started to die out after modern humans (Cro-Magnons) appeared on the scene in Europe about 40,000 years ago. Millions of tools from both tribes of ancient people have been found.

The Neanderthals made mainly flake-based tools but the Cro-Magnons created long, slender stone implements as well as carved bone and antler. 

The latest research looked at fossilized thumb and index-finger bones of Neanderthals found at La Ferrassie site in France. Scientists carried out a 3D computer reconstruction and found that the tips of their thumb and index finger could touch, giving a precision grip. 

Neanderthals' demise cannot be attributed to any physical inability to use or make tools, based on this and archaeological evidence, says a team led by Wesley Niewoehner of the department of archaeology at California State University, San Bernardino. 

"Rather, the explanation lies in the enigmatic reasons for the Neanderthals persistent use of a behavioral repertoire that emphasized physical strength and endurance over technological innovation," Dr Niewoehner told BBC News Online. 

The research is published in the journal Nature.

2000 Year-Old Roman Invader

Scotland March 29, 2003 (Scotsman UK) - Medical experts who reconstructed the face of a Roman soldier who died mysteriously almost 2,000 years ago believe he was a native of northern Europe, and came to Scotland with the armies of occupation. 

Replica features of Trimontium Man, a 45-year-old military veteran, have been crafted from computerized data gleaned during a CT scan of his skull at Borders General Hospital. 

The only complete skull of a Roman militiaman to be discovered in Scotland is thought to be of Germanic or Gallic origin, although further analysis of the teeth will be necessary before firm conclusions can be reached. 

As the reconstructed head went on public display at the Trimontium Trust Museum in Melrose, speculation over the cause of death intensified. The Romans cremated their dead, so the soldier, whose skeleton was recovered from a 14ft-deep pit or well in 1846, cannot have died from natural causes. 

An archaeological dig by a team from Bradford University in the Nineties showed that the place where Trimontium Man was found lay close to an area of the fort which included inns and brothels. 

Dr John Reid, a consultant radiologist at Borders General Hospital, said: "Some people think he may have been an executed prisoner, but if so why would they throw him down a well and risk poisoning the water supply? It seems more likely he was returning from a night at the tavern, and simply fell down the well." 

In Dr Reid’s view the main achievement of the re-construction had been in establishing what the soldier may have looked like, although the hair color and eye color were guesswork. 

The £7,000 reconstruction project also involved Dr Iain MacLeod, of the Edinburgh Dental Institute.
World's Largest Virus!
Bradford UK March 28, 2003 (BBC) - A giant virus that lurks inside amoebas and may cause pneumonia in humans has been spotted by scientists. 

"Mimivirus" is the biggest virus found so far, and was discovered in a sample taken from a water cooling tower in Bradford, UK, in 1992. It has at least 900 genes, an enormous number for a virus, and its size is more like that of a bacterium. It can be spotted through a good optical microscope - most viruses can only be visualized by electron microscopes. 

In terms of DNA, it is approximately a fifth bigger than the virus previously considered to be the largest in the world. 

Although it has been linked to pneumonia in humans, it is in no way related to the SARS virus currently sweeping the Far East. 

A report about the discovery was published on Thursday in the journal Science. 

Amoebas, large single-celled organisms, are commonly found in air-conditioning systems in large buildings, and often harbor various bacteria and viruses inside them, which can go on to infect people working in those buildings. 

The researchers who examined Mimivirus, from the National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris, France, said that blood samples from people with pneumonia had revealed antibodies for this virus, suggesting that their immune systems had come into contact with it at some point. 

They believe it is a virus because it lacks certain genes which are universal to bacteria - but contains others which are known to have key functions in viruses. 

The virus, while it has some genetic similarities to the family of viruses that includes smallpox virus, has now been classed as the first of a completely new virus family, the Mimiviridae.
Genre News: Tremors, Paul, Ringo, John & Yoko, Eric Dane Charmed, Madonna, King Kong & More!
Tremors: Worm History and Hand Puppets
By FLAtRich

Hollywood April 1, 2003 (eXoNews) - Tremors the Series is a played out premise with nothing left to offer.

Tyler Reed (Victor Browne) races his car down an empty desert road in the opening of the new Tremors series, Sci Fi Channel's choice of investment over canceled gems like Farscape and The Invisible Man.

Pictures that start with cars always send me a warning. They remind me of a comment on car chases by Roger Ebert. To paraphrase, Ebert said that when a movie ends with a car chase the writers have run out of plot.

I'd like to add that when a movie opens with a car racing down an empty road, the writers probably didn't have a plot to begin with.

Tremors (1990) was a very funny movie starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward. It was basically about a desert town running from giant worms. Even rabid science fiction fans tremor at the thought of still another mutant creature movie, but Bacon and Ward made it work. 

Tremors was a riot thirteen years ago and it won a deserved place of honor in the cross-genre intentional comedy slash sci fi category. Michael Gross had a featured comic roll as Burt Gummer, a paranoid militant gun freak, but Kevin Bacon was the key to Tremors' success.

Tremors 2 (1996) was a surprise. It was a sequel with more worms and without Kevin Bacon, but Fred Ward was still there.
Fred and his co-star Helen Shaver made Tremors 2 work and Michael Gross returned as Burt Gummer.

Fred Ward is one of those actors whose face most people can't remember. I never forgot him after he played Detective H. Philip Lovecraft in the HBO movie Cast A Deadly Spell (1991). Cast A Deadly Spell is easily one of the best genre movies of the 90s. HBO spawned a sequel in 1994 called Witch Hunt and replaced Fred with Dennis Hopper, but even Hopper couldn't top Fred Ward. Ward was also the key to Tremors 2.

Tremors 3 (2001) was not a surprise. It was a genuine sequel, without Bacon, Ward, or even Helen Shaver. Michael Gross was top-billed and the worms mutated into flying thingies that farted fire. I didn't see it in a theater, tuned out when it showed up on TV, and hoped that Tremors would just go away.

Nope. Sci Fi Channel was sold on Tremors the Series, and after weeks of genuinely amusing promotional spots with Michael Gross as Burt Gummer and clips showing actor Christopher Lloyd, I was sold too. I tuned in last Friday night for the "2-hour premiere", but it started with a car racing down an empty road.

The Tremors "2-hour premiere" was, in fact, two episodes back to back: another bad omen. Much ballyhooed Christopher Lloyd was a guest star, but only in the second episode and he didn't show up until the last half-hour.

The first worm sign we saw in Tremors the Series was a bunch of sock puppets poked through the windows of the aforementioned car on the desert road. After that, things just got worse.

The cast tried - I liked Gladys Jimenez as Rosalita Sanchez and it was nice to see Marcia Strassman again - but there is only one worm left, and he's mostly off-camera. The schlock level on Tremors the Series rivals Ed Wood Jr.

If you were a Farscape fan, I would advise against watching this series. You might just be tempted to swear off Sci Fi Channel forever.

A Tremors 4 feature is threatening to arrive after the first season of Tremors the Series wraps production. I can wait.

Incidentally, the worm sock puppets made me think of Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent and Ollie the Dragon. Not that there was any real resemblance.

Cecil was a cartoon favorite in the 60s, but he began as a puppet on Bob Clampett's Time for Beany (1949-1954). Clampett (1913-1984) was a Warner Brothers cartoon director in the 30s and 40s (when cartoons were good) and he was responsible for about ninety of them.

The Cecil puppet on Time for Beany was voiced by Stan Freberg.

Oliver J. Dragon was, of course, late of the trio Kukla, Fran and Ollie (1947-1957), the first great TV kid's show.

Ollie and Kukla were voiced by their creator, puppeteer Burr Tillstrom (1917-1985). Fran was Fran Allison, probably the first human star to interact with puppets on TV.

Fran and Tillstrom's puppets broke ground for later Muppets and even Rigel and Pilot on Farscape.

Ollie and Cecil helped raise hand puppetry to an art form on TV.

Tremors the Series could single-handedly set sci fi back a hundred years. It certainly doesn't do much for puppets.

Unofficial Kuklapolitan Web Page - 

Bob Clampett's Warner cartoons - 

Bob Clampett animation art - 

Tremors Series Official Site - 

Official Universal Tremors movie site - 

Sci Fi Channel's Tremors site - 

Paul Lets Sleeping Pope Lie

LONDON March 31, 2003 (Reuters) - Ex-Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, one year into a world tour stretching from the United States to Japan, has been told to keep the volume down when he gets to Rome in May for fear of disturbing the aging Pope. 

"We have been warned," McCartney's spokesman Geoff Baker told Reuters from Barcelona where McCartney has just held the third of the 30-concert European leg of his tour. 

Baker said that out of deference for the 82-year-old Pope, McCartney's tour organizers were considering both turning down the volume and removing some of the louder rock n' roll songs from the Beatle-loaded repertoire. 

"You can't play 'Back in the USSR' at half volume," he said. 

Baker said some of the more raucous songs might be replaced by ballads in the concert, due to take place next to the Colosseum on May 11. 

The warning, he said, had not come from the Vatican itself but from the tour's promoters in the Italian capital. However, a Reuters reporter in Rome said there had been a number of concerts near the Colosseum, none of which had prompted papal criticism. 

McCartney's Back In The World tour began in California on April 1, 2002 and has already traveled through Canada, Mexico and Japan. The European leg includes France, Spain, Italy, Britain, Belgium, Germany, Russia, Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands and Ireland.

Official Paul McCartney Site -

Ringo Relishes Playing Live 

LOS ANGELES March 30, 2003 (AP) — Ringo Starr has just released his latest album, "Ringo Rama," but the former Beatle says his first love will always be playing for audiences. 

"Sometimes it's the most spiritual plane that you ever get to," Starr said. "On certain nights there is nothing better. So I'm blessed as long as I can hold the sticks." 

The new album, which includes a tribute to former Beatle bandmate George Harrison, comes after a period of loss for the drummer.

Ringo's first wife, Maureen, died in 1995. Three years later, longtime friend Linda McCartney died, and close confidant Harrison died in 2001. 

But Starr, who battled substance abuse in the 1980s, says he has learned to appreciate the simpler joys in life. He continues to tour with his All-Starr Band, but he also dedicates time to writing, painting, gardening and shopping for flowers with his wife, actress Barbara Bach. 

"I just don't let things get on top of me as much," Starr said. "I try not to rule the world. I think just getting up in the morning is a great achievement."

Ringo Starr's Official site -

Yoko Reminds Lennon Fans

LONDON March 27, 2003 (AFP) - John Lennon, would have "told off" British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush for waging war on Iraq, the Beatles' widow Yoko Ono revealed. 

Ono, an ardent peace campaigner, was speaking in Liverpool, northwest England on Thursday, where Lennon's childhood home was officially being opened to the public. 

"I'm sure John would have been terribly upset" about the war, if he were still alive, Ono told BBC radio.

"And I'm sure that he would have expressed his anger and told them off", she said, referring to Bush and Blair, about "how stupid it is to go through this". 

"As Gandhi said, 'An eye for an eye will make us all blind'." 

In the 1960's John and Yoko took part in several "Bed In" protests against United States involvement in Vietnam and wrote the pro-peace ballad, "Give Peace A Chance".

Phoebe Gets a New Charmer

Hollywood March 28, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - Eric Dane, who joins the cast of The WB's witch series Charmed, told TV Guide Online that spark will fly between his character and Phoebe (Alyssa Milano).

"We have somewhat of a combative start," Dane told the site. "But there's chemistry, and it develops into a relationship. It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and then I leave. They're not killing me, though. ... The door is left open, just in case."

Dane begins his four-episode stint on Charmed on March 30, playing Jason Dean, the new owner of the Bay Mirror newspaper.

Phoebe's half-demon husband Cole (Julian McMahon) met his end in the show's 100th episode. But Dane said that he doesn't feel any pressure.

"That's probably because I had no idea about [McMahon]," he said. "Nobody told me I was replacing anyone."

[The WB announced last week that the Charmed Ones will return for another season in the fall. Ed.]

Charmed airs Sundays at 8PM/7C on the WB.

Official Charmed site -,7353,||156,00.html 

Groups Want Cable-cost Probe 
By Brooks Boliek

WASHINGTON March 27, 2003 (Hollywood Reporter) - Two of the nation's leading consumer organizations are urging the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the way cable companies set their prices when Internet and TV service is bundled together.

The Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union want antitrust officials to figure out whether cable companies are violating antitrust law by charging Internet customers higher prices unless they sign up for the companies' television services. The groups cited examples of how Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, is offering high-speed Internet services at a discounted price for new customers who also sign up for cable TV service.

However, at the same time, current Internet customers who do not buy cable service from the company are being charged higher rates. The groups believe that tying the two services together is an anticompetitive and possibly predatory pricing practice.

Madonna Pulls Anti-War Video

LONDON April 1, 2003 (AP) - Madonna has decided to withdraw the violent, anti-war video for her new single "American Life" out of respect for the troops fighting in Iraq. 

In a statement posted on her Web site Monday, the singer said the video was filmed before the war started and was not appropriate to air at this time. 

"Due to the volatile state of the world and out of sensitivity and respect to the armed forces, who I support and pray for, I do not want to risk offending anyone who might misinterpret the meaning of this video," Madonna said. 

The video for the title track of a new album shows Madonna wearing military garb next to dancers in camouflage on a fashion runway. At one point, a grenade is thrown in the direction of a look-alike of President Bush. Scenes are intercut with images of war. 

The video also shows Madonna trapped in a bathroom stall, where she uses a knife to carve "protect me" on the wall. 

Warner Bros. Records will be releasing Madonna's new album April 22.

The video was scheduled to premiere on VH-l on Friday. The single "American Life" has just been released to radio.

Official Madonna site -

Rings Maker Goes Kong
By Chris Gardner 

LOS ANGELES March 30, 2003 (The Hollywood Reporter) - After the third and final "Lord of the Rings" installment hits theaters at the end of this year, helmer Peter Jackson will turn his attention toward reinventing a classic cinematic beast: "King Kong," for Universal Pictures. 

Jackson will begin work immediately on the project -- pegged for a 2005 release from the studio -- after the Dec. 17 release of "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," from New Line Cinema. He wrote the script with partner Fran Walsh and "Rings" co-scribe Philippa Boyens.

Jackson and Walsh will produce through their WingNut Films banner with Universal president of production Mary Parent overseeing for the studio.

The script will be based on the original story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace, which served as the basis for the 1933 RKO Radio Pictures release.

That film, directed by Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, introduced audiences to the story of the gigantic gorilla captured in the wilds and brought to civilization, where he meets a tragic fate. 

It's long been known that Jackson has wanted to redo the classic "King Kong" tale for years.
He had even been in conversations with Universal before the "Rings" trilogy about making it there. However, a formal deal never materialized until now. 

"No film has captivated my imagination more than 'King Kong,' " Jackson said in a statement. "I'm making movies today because I saw this film when I was 9 years old. It has been my sustained dream to reinterpret this classic story for a new age. The story of Kong offers everything that any storyteller could hope for: an archetypal narrative, thrilling action, resonating emotion and memorable characters.

"It has endured for precisely these reasons, and I am honored to be a part of its continuing legacy." 

Said Universal chairman Stacey Snider: "Peter Jackson is a filmmaker uniquely capable of capturing the core appeal of enduring classics and in expanding the visual language of motion pictures, as inarguably evidenced in his landmark achievement with the 'Lord of the Rings' films.

"We are thrilled to be working with Peter and Fran, and we are confident that their execution of 'King Kong' will amaze moviegoers." 

Though his hugely successful "Rings" trilogy is nearing its final run, Jackson isn't straying too far from the formula that helped make it such a hit. Like the three films based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Jackson plans to shoot "King Kong" on location in his native New Zealand with the visual effects to be produced by his New Zealand-based company Weta Ltd., which has won two Oscars for the "Rings" visual effects. 

Jackson, Walsh and Boyens are repped by ICM and attorney Peter Nelson at Nelson Felker. In addition to the other "Rings" installments, Jackson directed "Heavenly Creatures" and "The Frighteners."

Official Lord of the Rings site - 

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