Atomic Rockets!
Charter Forests,
Space Hotels,
Rampant Erotica,
Saving The Great Wall & More!
NASA Proposes Atomic Rocket Program

AP Science Writer 

WASHINGTON February 4, 2002 (AP) - NASA has proposed spending almost a billion dollars over the next five years to develop atomic-powered rockets that could speed spacecraft across the heavens and nuclear-reactors to energize outposts on distant planets. 

In President Bush's 2003 federal budget, released Monday, the space agency proposes to spend about $46.5 million to begin developing nuclear electric rockets and $79 million more to build atomic-powered generators that can fly on spacecraft. 

Such atomic-driven energy systems, said Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for science, would eventually free NASA from a dependence on chemical rockets, which are relatively slow and clunky, in the agency's exploration of distant worlds, such as Jupiter's moons or the planet Pluto. 

Right now, NASA spacecraft are launched by a burst of chemical rockets that burn for a few minutes to break away from Earth's gravity. After that, said Weiler, the spacecraft must drift across deep space toward their target or whip around nearby planets to gain speed, voyages that can take years. The spacecraft, in most cases, are powered by solar cells that convert sunlight to electricity. For distant planets, the sunlight often is so dim that there is little electricity for instruments. 

"That's like exploring the West using covered wagons,'' said Weiler. 

He envisions rockets that use nuclear fission or fusion that could fire for months, driving the spacecraft to higher and higher speeds, and then slowing the spacecraft when it approaches its target. Such a technique could possibly halve the time of a 17-year voyage to Pluto, the only solar system planet not yet visited. 

Weiler said that NASA has used nuclear-powered generators to power 20 spacecraft in the past, but now has only one such generator left in its inventory. Using nuclear generators would free spacecraft from their dependance on the sun for electrical power. 

Nuclear generators, Weiler said, could energize long, detailed explorations of Mars, or power mobile laboratories traveling the surface of the Red Planet. 

NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe said that nuclear powered rockets and generators would help humans "conquer the problems of distance and time'' in space exploration. 

The proposal is sure to be opposed by some who fear that a launch accident could cause a nuclear-powered spacecraft to explode and possibly scatter radioactive material around the globe. Some earlier launches of atomic-powered craft attracted pickets, lawsuits and protesters. 

Weiler said he believes it is possible to build nuclear-powered rockets and generators that would not present a hazard to Earth when they were launched into space. 

"The number one issue would be safety,'' he said. "Anything that we build would have to safely survive the worst possible scenario, which would be a rocket blowing up on the pad. 

"If you can't show that a system could survive that, then don't talk to me,'' Weiler said he would tell engineers. 

NASA's science budget: 

Bush Wants Tax Credit for Alternate Schools

WASHINGTON February 4, 2002 (AP) - Congress rejected private-school vouchers last year, but the White House just won't take "No" for an answer.

In his 2003 budget, released Monday, Bush proposes giving tax dollars to families trying to get their children out of struggling public schools. But rather than give families money for private-school tuition, Bush now wants lawmakers to give a tax credit of up to $2,500.

The allowance could be collected even by families who don't owe $2,500 in taxes, as long as they spend at least $5,000 to send a child from a failing public school to a private school. Families could also recoup the costs of sending a child to a different public school, or of home schooling. Covered expenses would include transportation, textbooks and home computers.

The benefit would cost an estimated $3.7 billion over five years.

Undersecretary of Education Eugene Hickok said the benefit would be primarily for low-income families but that wealthier families living near struggling public schools and sending their children to private schools could probably also take advantage of the credit.

In his budget, Bush also asked Congress for $75 million to help school districts research and develop voucher and public-school transfer programs.

When Congress approved Bush's education plan last year, lawmakers modified his voucher proposal, allowing poor families access to tutoring or transportation if their children attend schools with persistently poor student scores on reading and math tests.

The Education Department estimates that 4.5 million children attend schools that need substantial improvement.

Astronomers Admire 'Lord of the Rings'

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Science Editor

A new image of Saturn - the "Lord of the Rings" - shows just how quickly ground-based telescopes are catching up with those in space. 

The stunning image was taken by a new detector that corrects for distortion introduced by the Earth's turbulent atmosphere. 

It is connected to one of the new large telescopes at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. 

When observed, Saturn was 1,209 million kilometers (751 million miles) away, with its ring system almost fully displayed. 

The image is among the sharpest ever obtained from the ground and compares well with some photos obtained from space. 

Much larger telescopes can be built on the ground for a fraction of the cost of building and launching a much smaller telescope into space. Astronomers believe removing the blurring introduced by the atmosphere is a good way forward. 

Scientists are excited by the detail seen in the image of Saturn, especially the intricate, banded structure of its atmosphere and rings. 

A dark spot is visible at the south pole at the bottom of the image. 

One of Saturn's moons, Tethys, is visible as a small point of light below the planet. It was used to guide the telescope and to perform the "refocusing" required to remove atmospheric distortion.

Technically, the observation was difficult because of the motion of Saturn during the exposure. 

To provide the best possible pictures, the telescope system was pointed towards the Saturnian moon Tethys, while the image of Saturn was kept at a fixed position on the detector. 

The dark spot close to the South Pole measures approximately 300 km (190 miles) across. It was only recently observed from the ground with a telescope at the Pic du Midi Observatory in the Pyrenees, France. 

The bright spot seen close to the equator is the remnant of a giant storm in Saturn's atmosphere that has lasted more than 5 years. 

Jupiter's moon Io was also observed. Io has a diameter of 3,660 km (2,270 miles) and orbits Jupiter every 42.5 hours. Strange volcanoes were detected on it by the Voyager spacecraft in 1979. It is, in fact, the most volcanic place known in the Solar System. 

The new Io images show the broad pattern of volcanism on the moon and will allow astronomers to monitor the surface activity of this remarkable world.

Ancient London's Water Mystery Solved

By Jennifer Viegas
Discovery News

London January 31, 2002 (Discovery) — The recent discovery of two giant Roman water-lifting machines near St. Paul's Cathedral in London explains how the more than 10,000 residents of ancient Londinium were able to gulp down plenty of fresh water and to splash around in two public bathhouses. 

The machines were the first of their kind to ever be discovered in Britain. According to a report in the current issue of British Archaeology, both devices were found in two oak-lined wells, the widest and deepest of any attributed to the Roman era in London. 

The first contraption dates to 63 A.D. and was built after a royal member of the native Britains, Queen Boudica, led an ultimately unsuccessful revolt that resulted in the burning of London. The Roman device, high-tech for its time, consisted of a series of 12 wooden containers, linked by iron struts, that formed a circle. A circular series of steps attached to this "bucket-chain" likely was powered by humans. 

"The treadmill was probably worked by one man either walking internally within the tread wheel or stepping onto the outside of the treads from a high platform, similar to continuously walking upstairs," said Jenny Hall, Roman Curator in the Department of Early London History & Collections at the Museum of London, whose team analyzed the find. 

The second water-lifting machine was built in 108/9 A.D. in a manner similar to the first device. While fire led to the construction of the first well, it destroyed the second one in the Hadrianic Fire of 120-130 A.D. 

Despite the burning, Hall said, "The ironwork is in amazing condition and it is rare to get wood surviving to this degree. Both types of material have survived due to being waterlogged at the bottom of the wells, thus preventing oxygen from starting the corrosion process." 

Hall and her colleagues believe pipes, made of lead, ceramic and mostly wood, transported water throughout Londinium. Water lifted from the wells was at first either placed in a large wooden tank for storage, or immediately taken away in wooden channels raised above the ground. The tanks and/or channels have since rotted away. 

The water would have been directed toward residential areas and to the large public baths at Upper Thames Street and Cheapside. 

John Oleson, professor of Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Victoria in Canada, said, "The discovery is very important because it represents only the second well-preserved Roman bucket chain known." 

Oleson excavated the first 30 years ago at Cosa in Italy. 

While residents of both Italy and London during the Roman era enjoyed plentiful water supplies, the quality of the water could not have been more different. 

"The water in Rome was brought in from mountain springs and streams, so was very good," explained Oleson. "The London water was seep water from the gravel deposits below London. It would have been susceptible to pollution once the population of London became significant."

Bush Proposes 'Charter Forests'

By Katherine Pfleger
Associated Press

WASHINGTON February 06, 2002 (AP) — The Bush administration wants Congress to approve a plan for "charter forests," a new category of federal forest land that would be managed locally.

Some Democrats and conservationists worry it's an attempt to circumvent environmental protections. They already are upset that the Bush administration is revising Clinton-era forest policies, including the "roadless rule" that protected more than 58 million acres from most logging and road construction. 

The new plan, included in the president's budget proposal, is similar to charter schools, which typically operate outside of regular education bureaucracies. Though the proposal is vague, the budget said certain national forests or portions of them could become separate entities that would be overseen by local trusts rather than the Forest Service. 

Mark Rey, the agriculture undersecretary who oversees the Forest Service, said he wants to use one or two national forests as case studies to see if the government can remove "procedural bottlenecks" that occur in day-to-day management and emphasize local involvement in decision making. 

Rey said the goal is not to increase any particular activity, such as logging or recreation, but to reduce management costs on tasks such as drafting the complex environmental documents required under federal regulations. "Our goal is to try to reorder that so that we are getting better on-the-ground accomplishments," he said. "In some cases, that will mean selling less timber. In other cases, that may mean selling more timber, but that is not the fundamental objective." 

Conservationists are eager to hear the particulars of the most recent proposal from Rey, who, they point out, is a former timber industry lobbyist and worked for two conservative Western Republicans: Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho and Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska. 

"Some interest is going to dominate that local management, and given Undersecretary Rey's rich history, I have a sneaking suspicion what interest that might be," said Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice. "The big question is: Will charter forests become a magnet for clear-cuts?" 

Chris Wood, watershed programs director for Trout Unlimited, said he's concerned the administration is trying to shift management problems rather than fix them. He wants to be sure that the balance between local needs and national interests is maintained. "At best, you could say this is a punt," Wood said. "At worst, you could say it is an underhanded attempt to devolve public lands to local controls." 

Congress will have to approve the charter forest concept. Senate Energy and Natural Resources forests subcommittee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the plan will get close scrutiny. "I am not going to support anything that is a glide past environmental laws and public involvement," he said.

Teen Charged With Posting Weapons Data Online
Associated Press 

NEW YORK February 5, 2002 (AP) - One of the demonstrators arrested during the World Economic Forum which ended Monday is accused of posting information about making weapons of mass destruction on the Internet. Sherman Austin was ordered detained Monday pending a Thursday bail hearing.

Austin, 18, of Sherman Oaks, Calif., was arrested during a demonstration Saturday on city charges of disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly.

On Monday, a criminal complaint filed against Austin in federal court in Los Angeles charged him with distributing information about weapons of mass destruction by posting information on his Web site relating to the making and using of explosives and other destructive devices. An affidavit by FBI Special Agent John I. Pi accused Austin of urging others to stop the World Economic Forum through violence with weapons including slingshots, boomerangs, Molotov cocktails, smoke bombs and pipe bombs.

"Homemade explosives work very well in riots," the affidavit accused Austin of saying on his Web site.

The complaint said a Jan. 24 search of Austin's bedroom found a molotov cocktail and a radio-controlled detonator. Austin's lawyer, Susan Tipograph, declined to comment, as did prosecutors. Austin was among 201 people arrested during the conference, which ended Monday.
Rogue GM Weeds!

London February 5, 2002 (BBC) - GM crops in Canada are in danger of creating nuisance weeds, says a UK conservation body. New research shows that herbicide-resistant oilseed rape crops are cross-breeding at the edge of fields. 

The plants are accumulating extra genes and are rapidly becoming resistant to agrochemical sprays, says English Nature. It could lead to rogue GM crop plants that are harder to control, warns the government agency, which champions wildlife conservation in Britain. 

Farmers in Canada are advised to leave a distance of 175 meters (575 feet) between different GM varieties but the guidelines are voluntary. English Nature says genes from different GM varieties are accumulating (gene stacking) in plants that grow from seeds spilled at harvest (volunteer plants). 

In the UK, a code of practice for farmers growing GM crops has been developed by the industry body Supply Chain Initiative for Modified Agricultural Crops (Scimac). But Dr Brian Johnson, English Nature's biotechnology advisor, says the guidelines may not be enough. 

"Our report shows that the Scimac code is probably inadequate to prevent gene stacking happening in Britain, if these crops were commercialized," he said. "The consequences for farmers could be that volunteer crops would be harder to control and they might have to use different, and more environmentally damaging, herbicides to control them." 

The environmental group Friends of the Earth says the research shows the UK Government faces a stark choice between siding with industry or the public. 

Adrian Bebb, GM campaigner, said: "Either we keep the current separation distances between GM and non-GM crops, in which case contamination and gene stacking looks certain, or we can have an effective separation distance - of at least three miles (5 kilometers) - in which case GM crops have no commercial future in the UK. There is no third way. The government must choose between continuing its support to the biotech industry or backing the British public who have clearly said they don't want GMOs." 

The European Commission recently proposed that a threshold of up to 0.7% GM seed should be allowed in batches of conventional crop seed. English Nature is concerned that if this proposal were to be adopted, gene stacking might occur. 

The report comes a day after the UK's leading body of scientists, the Royal Society, called for stricter safety controls for GM food.

Greenpeace Blocks US GE Soya Shipment

Batangas, Philippines February 3, 2002 (Greenpeace) - Greenpeace today blocked the unloading of a 1,7000 ton US shipment of genetically engineered (GE) soya (destined to the Philippine market) to prevent further genetic contamination of the Asian food supply. The vessel was delivering its load to the largest Soya processing plant in the Philippines, where recent tests show widespread GE contamination in a variety of food items, including baby food.

Greenpeace activists occupied the unloading equipment of General Milling Corporation and unfurled a banner that read "USA Stop Dumping GMOs on Asia" on the hull of the cargo ship Qui Gon Jinn.

The shipment is part of over two million tons of US soy annually destined for South East Asia where the US GE industry is consistently exploiting the fact that most countries lack regulation on GE food and have no system in place to monitor or test for its safety. 

The Philippines is the largest ASEAN importer of genetically engineered grain, importing over 1.1 million metric tons of Soya and 235,000 metric tons of corn from the US and Argentina where a large part of the harvest is also genetically engineered. Despite government promises to consumers it still has no regulation in place to control imports or require labeling of GE foods.

"Asia should not be a dumping ground for genetically contaminated products," said Beau Baconguis, Genetic Engineering Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia in the Philippines. "We should not be forced to feed our children with food the rest of the world is increasingly rejecting."

Increased rejection of GE crops in Europe has led to huge losses in US maize and Soya exports. Many European countries are now importing non-GE grain from Brazil, which has a ban on the planting of GE crops.

Even the US consumers' skepticism of GE foods is growing, according to recent polls. The first American mainstream grocery chain, Trader Joe's, announced in November it will give up selling any gene-altered food following the lead of companies such as Gerber baby food.

The Asian market too has recently become a headache to the US GE industry as the main regional economic powers such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand are preparing or enforcing GE regulations and labeling of GE food. China, the largest importer of US Soya in the world, has already published regulations that will impose tight control over GE grain imports and introduce mandatory labeling of GE food prompting warnings from the US trade representatives.

A neighboring ASEAN country Thailand has a draft labeling legislation in place and has banned the commercialization of GE crops in the country.

"The US GE industry is desperate. They are trying to exploit the remains of unsuspecting Asian markets, following closure of European and Australasian markets as well as growing skepticism back home," said Jim Thomas, Greenpeace Genetic Engineering Campaigner from the USA. "Truth is, however, that GE food has started to receive the same cold reception from Asian consumers and regulators. It seems that the battle against GE food is shifting from the North to South, as Asia is increasingly choosing the European way to regulate and label GE products rather than the irresponsible approach of the US."

Greenpeace urged the Philippine Government to ban the import of GE products into the country and fast track the enactment of a labeling legislation. It called on General Milling Corporation to stop using GE crops in their food and to source from the plentiful GE free supplies available.

Genre News: Roswell, Whoopi , Burton, Buffy and Bond!

Roswell Fans Unite!

By FLAtRich

Hollywood February 7, 2002 (eXoNews) - They're back at it again at! With impending network sweeps and renewal decisions on the way, the ultimate Roswell fansite has begun a Valentine's Day campaign to win the hearts of UPN President of Entertainment, Dawn Tarnofsky-Ostroff and CBS Television President and CEO Leslie Moonves.

In case you have been living in an alternate universe for the last couple of years, Roswell follows Buffy The Vampire Slayer on the Tuesday UPN slate. Based on Roswell High, a series of relatively successful novels, Roswell is a rather unique romantic twist on traditional TV science fiction fare with a fanbase whose loyalty rivals 60's Star Trek fans. So what makes Roswell fan loyalty different? Well, for one thing, the Roswellians have already saved their favorite show from cancellation twice!

The original Save Roswell campaign resulted in network executives literally receiving thousands of bottles of Tabasco sauce from fans. (The sauce is a favorite of the Roswell teens on the show - a kind of "tell" if you happen to be an alien hunter.) The show was saved once when it was on the WB network and again when it was picked up as part of the Buffy switch to UPN - now the Crashdown fanbase has issued orders to do it again, hoping to bring Roswell back to UPN next year.

It's been a rocky season ratings-wise for Roswell this year, and there has been some discussion whether all of the stars of the show really want the series to continue. Aliens Jason Behr (Max), Brendan Fehr (Michael), and Katherine Heigl (Isabel) all have potential big screen careers to think about. Shiri Appleby (Liz) and Nick Wechsler (Kyle) also have enough appeal and TV experience to move on successfully to more traditional roles. Majandra Delfino (Maria) has a bright new music career (this girl can really sing!) and veteran character actors William Sadler (Sheriff Valenti)  and John Doe (Liz's father on the show - AKA singer/bassist/songwriter of the infamous LA punk band X) never stop working.

Some Roswell supporting cast members, including Colin Hanks and Julie Benz (Darla on Angel), have moved on, but Roswell seems to be unstoppable. Contributions by Star Trek franchise heavyweights Jonathan Frakes (Executive producer and sometimes director) and Ronald D. Moore (Co-executive producer and writer) help keep the show alive, but it's the show's heart that wins the fans.

Series creator, executive producer and writer Jason Katims proved that he knows his viewers when he enlisted the talents of original the Roswell High authors Melinda Metz and Laura Burns to rework the show this season and bring it back its romance. The idea was to get away from the sort of X-Files in reverse storyline that emerged at the end of the first season (in Roswell, the alien teens are the good guys and FBI agents are the big bads - often cloned rival aliens trying to stomp our teen trio and their friends.)

So far, the Metz and Burns episodes have been warmly received by the fans, many of whom are female - clearly defying another science fiction TV tradition. This seems to be a good selling point, but UPN has not done much about it. After only half-hearted promotion efforts all year, UPN programmers recently declared that Roswell would soon go on hiatus in favor of still more ho-hum yuppie sitcom clones. (A recent music from Roswell CD was also released recently with almost no fanfare, and the network has done little to promote Majandra Delfino's obvious musical talents.)

Whether the Powers That Be at CBS will respond to another save the show campaign remains to be seen, but Roswell still has untapped potential to grow. Perhaps the folks at CBS will figure out the obvious secret to making that happen and give Roswell the kind of promotion it needs to reach out into the vast wasteland and seduce new viewers?

Tune in next week.

In the meantime, if you want to join the Crashdown campaign, you can get started at

Whoopi Goldberg's stolen Oscar recovered

LOS ANGELES February 6, 2002 (AP) — Oscar host Whoopi Goldberg's Academy Award was stolen after it was sent out for cleaning, but was recovered on Tuesday, the academy said.

Goldberg, who won the supporting-actress Oscar for Ghost in 1990, had returned it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which sent it to the manufacturer for cleaning and replating.

The Academy packed up the Oscar and shipped it Friday by United Parcel Service, but the box was empty when it arrived Tuesday at R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that makes the statues. The Academy said in a statement that it was stolen from a UPS shipping container.

Someone apparently opened the package, removed the Oscar, then resealed the box, said Brad Cafarelli, Goldberg's spokesman. Cafarelli said UPS officials told him a security guard at the Ontario, Calif., airport found the Oscar in a trash bin.

UPS spokeswoman Robin Roberts confirmed the recovery, but didn't know if the Oscar was found in the trash. She declined to provide further details, saying the case was under investigation.

Oscar statues are numbered, and this one was also inscribed with Goldberg's name, making it particularly difficult for a thief to sell, said academy spokesman John Pavlik.

"I don't know how in the world they would ever fence the darn thing," he said.

UPS returned the Oscar to the academy, which planned to send it back to Goldberg, who has discarded plans to have it cleaned.

"Oscar will never leave my house again," she said in a statement.

Two years ago, 55 new Oscar statues en route to the academy were stolen from a delivery facility in Bell, Calif. All but three were later found next to a trash bin in Los Angeles. Three men pleaded no contest and were sentenced to jail time or probation for the theft.

The academy, which routinely sends Oscar winners' statues by UPS for maintenance work, will review its shipping procedures, Pavlik said.

Burton To Direct Blizzard 

Hollywood February 4, 2002 (Sci-Fi) - Star Trek: The Next Generation star LeVar Burton makes his feature-film directorial debut with Blizzard, a fantasy movie starring onetime Trek actors Whoopi Goldberg and Christopher Plummer, as well as Kevin Pollak and Zoe Warner, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Brenda Blethyn is also in talks to join the live-action/computer-animated film, which will shoot in Toronto and Quebec City beginning Feb. 18, the trade paper reported. No domestic distributor has yet been secured, though the filmmakers are planning for a Christmas release date.

Murray McRae wrote the script, which tells a Christmas story about a young girl (Warner) and her relationship with Santa's most magical reindeer, Blizzard, voiced by Goldberg.

McCartney Back on the Long and Winding Road 

LONDON February 04, 2002 (Reuters) - Paul McCartney is hitting the long and winding road again for the first time in almost 10 years. 

The former Beatle announced in a statement Monday that he is to tour the United States from the beginning of April. The "Drivin' USA" tour -- from California to New York -- will take in 14 concerts plus one show in Canada. 

"I'm very excited to be getting back on the road, playing with a new band and including in the show some songs that I haven't played live before," he said. 

The statement said that McCartney, who will then tour Europe in May, has performed 1,400 concerts with the Beatles, 142 with his group Wings and 195 as a solo artist.

Buffy Writer Scores Four 

Hollywood February 5, 2002 (Sci-Fi) - Doug Petrie, a writer for UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has been hired to write a draft of the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, based on the Marvel Comics series of the same name, the BBCi Web site reported.

Petrie's proposed Fantastic Four script follows on previous rejected drafts by Sam Hamm (Monkeybone) and Michael France (Goldeneye).

Petrie landed the job after meeting director Peyton Reed (Bring It On) through a mutual friend--Christophe Beck, who composed Buffy music scores for several years, the site reported. Fantastic Four is aimed at a 2003 release.

The Women of Bond 

By John Consoli 

Hollywood February 4, 2002 (Mediaweek) - Five of the actresses who starred as the "women of James Bond" in assorted films of the movie series, along with actor Robert Wagner, will host the Saturday night, Feb. 9, primetime telecast (8 p.m.-10 p.m.) on ABC of the 1964 James Bond classic Goldfinger.

Among the telecasts hosts, who had their segments shot at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, are Jane Seymour, Honor Blackman, Maud Adams, Jill St. John and Luciana Paluzzi.

Seymour portrayed Solitaire in Live and Let Die in 1984, Blackman starred as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, Adams played Octopussy in the movie by the same name in 1983 and also portrayed Andrea Anders in The Man with the Golden Gun in 1974, St. John was Tiffany Case in Diamonds are Forever in 1971, and Paluzzi portrayed Fiona Volpe in Thunderball in 1965. Wagner, most recently, starred in the Austin Powers movies as Number Two.

The Bond classics are being shown each Saturday night on ABC as part of "The Bond Picture Show." Goldfinger will be the third in the series to air. The movie is the first of the series to air in the high-definition format.

Hate Those Nielsen Ratings? You're Not Alone!

By Katy Bachman 

Boston February 4, 2002 (Mediaweek) - Executives of several Boston television stations told Nielsen Media Research officials last week that they will cancel their subscriptions to Nielsen if the ratings service uses its people-meter technology in the May sweeps period.

The broadcasters say that the people meters, which have been in test in Boston since spring 2001, report innacurate data in their market and that they will not pay the 30 percent fee increase Nielsen is seeking along with its planned introduction of meters full-time in the market in May.

Six commercial TV stations in Boston are opposing the introduction of the meters. Meanwhile, several agencies and three Boston cable companies -- AT&T Broadband, New England Cable News and New England Sports Network -- have signed up. 

"We're agitated because we're in the middle of the worst ad recession in years," said Mike Carson, vp/general manager of Sunbeam Television's NBC affiliate, WHDH. Carson, who met with Nielsen last week, said the ratings service "continues to be unable to explain why ratings are 20 percent lower. If [meters] are more accurate, then the current system we've been using has inflated viewing 20 percent."

Nielsen executives say that people meters are a superior methodology for measuring TV audiences; the company has used people meters to measure national ratings for 15 years. 

"It's high time for the local markets to catch up -- it's a state-of-the-art system," said Karen Kratz, director of communications for Nielsen, a unit of VNU, publisher of Mediaweek. "We're confident we can convince them before we launch. We are going forward [with meters in Boston], whether or not TV stations sign."

"It's reckless to launch [people meters] with the May book," said Paul LaCamera, gm of Hearst-Argyle's ABC affiliate, WCVB. "Major-market TV is challenged enough without introducing a system that isn't ready."

Utah Lawmaker Sued for Defamation
SALT LAKE CITY February 5, 2002 (AP) - A state legislator who referred to an animal rights group as a terrorist organization is being sued for defamation.

Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK, filed the lawsuit against Republican state Rep. Paul Ray in 3rd District Court on Monday. In a letter to Olympics officials, Ray urged the Salt Lake Organizing Committee not to negotiate with animal-rights groups protesting an Olympics-related rodeo. The groups say rodeo animals are treated cruelly.

"The rodeo is a very important piece of our culture here in Utah," Ray wrote. "We cannot allow terrorist groups such as SHARK and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to frighten us with threats of violence."

Illinois-based SHARK, which says it is nonviolent, is suing for unspecified damages.

"If its credibility is harmed, that hurts its ability to get donations," said the organization's attorney, Brian Barnard. Ray said he stands by his statements.

"I called a duck a duck. SHARK is a terrorist organization," Ray said. 

Horse Gives Birth to Rare Donkey!

Australia February 6, 2002 (BBC) - A horse has given birth to a donkey in a scientific experiment that could point the way to saving rare breeds and endangered species.

It was implanted in the standard bred mare's womb as an embryo and delivered three weeks ago at Monash University, Australia. 

The Poitou donkey embryo, created by artificial insemination, was placed in the mare because the donkey's biological mother had leg problems and veterinarians were not sure she could sustain a pregnancy. 

"We had to trick the mare into thinking it was her own pregnancy," said Angus McKinnon, an honorary research fellow at Monash University's Institute of Reproduction and Development (MIRD) and guide for the horse's pregnancy. 

The foal, yet to be named, brings to three the number of Poitous in Australia. 

Although all animals in the genus Equus (horse, zebra, donkey, etc) will interbreed, they are reluctant to accept implanted embryos from each other. Data collected by Professor Twink Allen, of the Equine Fertility Unit, UK, shows that donkey embryos implanted into horses will spontaneously abort in 70% of cases, primarily because of immunological differences. 

"In any mammal - humans included - the embryo must send a signal to the mother to tell her she is pregnant - otherwise, she will cycle again," Professor Allen told BBC News Online. "When that signal is received, it switches the mother's immune system from rejecting the foreign embryo to accepting it. There are differences between individual mares as to whether they accept that message or not." 

Professor Allen, who pioneered the donkey implantation technique used at Monash, described Dr McKinnon's work as "excellent". 

"This is the first use of the technique to foster or multiply an endangered species and this is a very good use." 

The MIRD's animal conservation program and gene bank project has worked on a diverse range of species, including the bilby and greater bilby, northern and southern hairy-nosed and common wombat, five species of wallabies, the black rhinoceros, red panda and the orangutan. 

A number of scientific groups around the world are examining - with some success - whether closely related species can act as surrogates for the offspring of their endangered cousins. The Poitou donkey is the largest and hairiest donkey in the world. But there are probably fewer than 200 of the animals in existence. 

"It's amazing," said Dr McKinnon of his new charge. "The foal's ears are as long as its head."

Space Tourism News

Space Hotels to Slingshot Between Earth and Mars

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. February 05, 2002 (Reuters) - Futuristic space "hotels" that would employ planetary gravity to rocket between Earth and Mars are on the drawing board at Purdue University, researchers at the school said on Tuesday. 

Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon and a leading booster of space tourism, is heading a team of Purdue engineers designing spacious "cycler" spacecraft to make the six- to eight-month interplanetary trips continuously. 

The team envisions space "taxis" that would ferry passengers and supplies from the planetary surfaces to cycler craft speeding along at 13,000 mph as they traveled between the two planets. 

The cycler craft would get "gravity assists" from the sun, the planets and their moons to "slingshot" to their destination. 

"Once you put your vehicle into a cycler orbit, it continues on its own momentum, going back and forth between Earth and Mars. You may need to carry some propellant for an occasional boost, but it's pretty much a free trip after that," aeronautics professor James Longuski said in a statement. 

The cycler spacecraft would be assembled in space with parts ferried aboard space shuttles. An initial model will accommodate up to 50 passengers and provide all the "creature comforts," Longuski said. 

Among the potential hurdles are the varying orbits of the two planets that could make it tricky calculating the correct slingshot trajectory. 

Aldrin, a 72-year-old retired astronaut and former combat fighter with a doctorate in astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, targeted 2018 for an inaugural flight. 

"We have to look at the configuration of those taxis and how much energy will be needed to intercept the cyclers," he said.

Reliable and reusable cycler transportation would "create an entirely new economic and philosophic approach to space exploration," Purdue researchers wrote in a December report prepared for National Aeronautic and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA Outlines Space Tourist Criteria

Pasadena February 1, 2002 (BBC) - The US space agency, NASA, has released a list of requirements that any future visitors to the International Space Station (ISS) will have to meet.

A candidate's past and present conduct will be assessed before they are given permission to board the ISS, with criminals, drunks, liars and infamous people amongst those to be banned. 

The nine-page report was released as the world's second space tourist, South African internet millionaire Mark Shuttleworth, completed a week of training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. In the past, NASA has resisted the idea of space tourism. It strongly opposed the trip made by the world's first space tourist, Dennis Tito, in April 2001. But in December last year, the agency made a dramatic U-turn and gave its approval to Mr Shuttleworth's flight. 

When Mr Tito visited the Johnson Space Center two years ago, he was banned from joining his Russian crewmates in training. But now
NASA's top space station official, Michael Hawes, has acknowledged that Mr Tito's flight helped form the basis for the new criteria for deciding who could and could not go.

Under the new criteria, which took two years to prepare, having an enormous amount of money will not be enough to ensure entry to the ISS. Candidates can be disqualified for numerous offences, including delinquency and criminal, dishonest, disgraceful or infamous conduct. Habitual drug users or those who indulge in excessive drinking will also fail to make the grade.

As will those who have held membership or sponsorship in organizations which could damage the public's confidence in the space station or any of the space agencies involved.

According to Charles Precourt, NASA's chief astronaut, who helped create the list, said each candidate would be assessed on a case-by-case basis and a person's age at the time of the offence and the surrounding circumstances would be taken into account. The list will be followed by the space agencies of the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe. 

"We want to ensure when we nominate someone, that we don't embarrass our partners by having someone who would be so controversial that it would be an insult to the other partners to fly them," Mr Precourt said. 

According to Mr Precourt, the evaluation is similar to that used by the US Government in background investigations for positions requiring security clearance. Future space tourists must also be able to read and speak English, pass medical tests and will be required to undergo training both in Moscow and Houston and follow a code of conduct. 

NASA is keen to stress though that the publication of the list does not mean that it is about to start flying tourists into space itself. 

Mr Shuttleworth, who is reported to have paid as much as $20m for his flight, will have to travel to the ISS in a Russian Soyuz capsule. He had been scheduled to take off on 22 April, but now that launch has been pushed back to 27 April because of technical problems.

Kangaroo Not On The Menu

CANBERRA February 04, 2002 (Reuters) - Kangaroo won't be on the menu for leaders attending a Commonwealth summit in Australia next month for fear of offending the VIP diners. 

Caterers at the Hyatt Regency Coolum resort in Queensland, which is the venue of the March 2-5 meeting, were told to leave kangaroo steaks off the barbecue at an Australian beach party. 

Instead the 50 leaders of Commonwealth countries to attend the biennial summit can experience live kangaroos first-hand at a zoo featuring unique Australian animals to be set up in the grounds of the resort. 

"If they're having an Australia zoo, it may not be in the best interests to be having kangaroo on the menu," the resort's marketing manager Susan Hunt-Holmes told The Australian newspaper on Monday. 

Marinated medallions of kangaroo are usually a favorite dish on the resort's grill menu. The Commonwealth heads of government meeting had been scheduled for Brisbane last October but was postponed in the wake of the September 11 airliner attacks in the United States. 

Queen Elizabeth, titular head of the Commonwealth group of 54 countries, will officially open the summit on March 2. 

A low-fat red meat like very lean beef but with a gamey flavor, kangaroo is usually served marinated as otherwise it is very tough. While a national symbol for Australia, up to seven million 'roos are culled each year as pests which ruin crops and compete with livestock for grazing land and water. 

Upper range estimates put the number of kangaroos across Australia at close to 60 million.

Burnt Hill Standing Stones Mystery

Associated Press 

HEATH, Mass. February 3, 2002 (AP) — As cold and lonely as the winter sky, the standing stones atop Burnt Hill have snagged the imagination of fiction writers and generations of blueberry pickers. 

But who erected them, and why, remains a mystery. 

All told, 21 stones, some weighing 300 to 500 pounds, have been jammed into the bedrock on the 1,855-foot high knoll in the state's wild northwest corner. Another five have fallen. And interspersed among the monoliths are four glistening stacks of white quartz boulders. 

For the past five years about a half-dozen members of the New England Antiquities Research Association, working weekends and winters, have been mapping and puzzling over the stones. So far, the group has come up with more questions than answers, said Colgate Gilbert III, an amateur historian from Spofford, N.H., who heads the project. They are not the first to wonder. 

H.P. Lovecraft, who summered here in the 1920s, also fell under the spell of the stones. According to local lore, the master of New England tales of the supernatural used the Heath stones to set the opening scene for his story The Dunwitch Horror: “Oldest of all are the great rings on rough hewn stone columns on the hilltops ...” 

Gilbert scoffs at such primeval hyperbole. But even without Lovecraft's mythical “Old Ones,” there is plenty about the stones to puzzle over, he said. 

“We didn't anticipate the site would be anywhere near as complex as it is,” he said.

Initially, Gilbert thought they would quickly be able to establish that the stones were erected by a 19th century farmer to mark the boundaries of his land or some similar purpose. 

“We expected it to be very straightforward and very clear, with some tie to historical background,” he said. 

However, after five years of peering through surveyor's transits and poring over old deeds and military diaries dating back to the French and Indian Wars, he has come to believe the stones were in place at least by 1750. Instead of lining up with old boundary lines, they appear to point to the surrounding mountains, capturing such celestial events as the solstice sunrise and movements of the moon in the rugged teeth of New England's high peaks. 

If the hill was used as an observatory, the stones cannot be more than 1,000 years old, Gilbert said. Otherwise, because of the movement of the earth they would no longer be in sync with the celestial events, he said. The stones can draw comparisons to the ancient monument Stonehenge in England, portions of which are believed to be about 5,000 years old. It is no longer in perfect alignment. 

On a clear day the top of the little knoll is a vantage point offering a stunning panorama of New England's roof. To the northwest are the white flanks of Haystack, Mount Snow and the ski hills of Vermont. To the west is the granite bulk of Mount Greylock, the state's highest peak. 

Northeast in New Hampshire is the white crown of Mount Monadnock, the region's highest. East are the towers of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and beyond them the blue smudge of Mount Wachusett, more than 50 miles away. 

The old records hint that long before the settlers arrived, the hill was periodically burned by the Indian tribes that lived here to keep it clear for wild blueberries and to encourage deer to gather on the grasslands, Gilbert said. Still, it is very much an open question if the tribes erected the stones. 

The periodic burns have muddied the picture, but pollen dating, which is one of the next avenues Gilbert's group plans to explore, may help provide some clues as to how long ago the stones were set in place. Fur traders and other adventurers were wandering through the area for a century, before the first colonial farmers settled here in the 1750s, Gilbert said. And some archeologists were skeptical about any suggestion that the stones could be Indian work. 

Dena Dincauze, a retired anthropology professor at the University of Massachusetts whose specialty is the native peoples of New England, said the tribes here did not build structures around their calendars. And Dincauze, who has visited the site, noted that their calendars were based on the moon, not the sun. They also built with wood, not stone, said Elizabeth Chilton, another anthropology professor at the university. Most such sites in New England have turned out to be a bit of Colonial whimsey, she said. 

Still, the stones have an enduring fascination. For nearly 40 years they have been part of a privately owned blueberry farm and open to the public only during picking season. 

“I started out thinking this would be a quick job and got hooked,” Gilbert said. “We've learned some things, but we still have a long way to go.”

Aspirin Does It Alone

Scripps Howard News Service 

New Haven February 4, 2002 (Scripps Howard) - Aspirin alone is just as effective at preventing a second heart attack or stroke as a combination of aspirin and low doses of the anticoagulant warfarin, researchers report.

A study among heart-attack patients at 78 Veterans Administration medical centers found the blood-thinning benefits of a daily aspirin aren't enhanced by adding low doses of the more expensive blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin), given to reduce the risk of bleeding.

"We had hoped this might double the effectiveness of the drugs, but it didn't," said Dr. Louis Fiore, principal researcher on the project along with Dr. Michael Ezekowitz. "Lower anticoagulant levels of warfarin simply had no effect on preventing subsequent heart attacks or strokes. It was a bust."

Results of the study are presented in Tuesday's edition of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Both drugs slow blood clotting, but via different pathways. Aspirin affects blood platelets, while warfarin inhibits clotting proteins that circulate in the blood. Blood clots are a constant worry for people with a history of heart attack, since clots can block vessels that carry blood to the heart, causing a second heart attack, or a stroke if a clot blocks vessels leading to the brain.

Many doctors feel warfarin is a better blood thinner than aspirin for preventing clots, but the drug is more expensive and has a higher risk of causing uncontrolled bleeding. Aspirin therapy also carries a slight risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and strokes caused by broken blood vessels in the brain.

Fiore and colleagues at the VA's Cooperative Study Program in New Haven, Conn., took note of recent studies that found aspirin can reduce risk of heart disease by up to 28 percent in high-risk patients who've never had a heart attack or stroke. They set up their study to see if lower doses of warfarin might boost the effectiveness of a lower-than-normal dose of aspirin.

Treatment groups were formed from 5,059 heart-attack survivors, with an average age of 62. Patients were given 1.5 to 2.5 International Units of warfarin (standard dose is 2.5 to 3.5 units) and 81 milligrams of aspirin daily or 162 milligrams of aspirin alone.

Patients started taking the drugs within 14 days of their heart attack and were followed for an average of 2.7 years.

Among the group getting combined therapy, 17.6 percent died, compared with 17.3 percent of the aspirin-only group. A second heart attack occurred in 13.3 percent of those taking combination therapy, versus 13.1 percent of the aspirin-only group.

Major bleeding episodes occurred nearly twice as often in the combination-therapy patients, but 14 patients in each group suffered more serious bleeding in the brain. This was fatal to 10 patients getting combination therapy, compared with seven getting aspirin.

Older studies had also found high bleeding rates in heart-valve patients receiving combined therapy, Fiore said.

The researchers also point out that while the benefits of aspirin therapy outweigh the bleeding risk for people with an increased risk of heart disease - men over 40, women after menopause, younger people who smoke, have diabetes or high blood pressure - harmful effects may exceed the benefit for people at low or average risk for heart disease, and caution that no one should start an aspirin-treatment program without consulting a doctor.

New Drug Lightens Beer Bellies

By John Innes 

Australia February 6, 2002 (Scotsman) - Drinkers may soon be able to get rid of their beer bellies by simply popping a pill, researchers have claimed. 

A group of scientists say they have developed a new drug which enables users to shed weight without cutting calories or doing more exercise. Further trials will be carried out this year and if all goes to plan, a pill could be on the market in four years’ time. 

The drug has been developed by a team of researchers at Monash University in Australia, led by Professor Frank Ng, who was investigating the causes of diabetes when he made the breakthrough, leading to the production of the drug, called Advanced Obesity Drug 9604, which speeds up the body’s metabolism. 

Obese men who took part in a trial lost an average of half a kilogram (1.1 lb) in a month after being injected with a single dose of the drug. 

As well as the benefits for drinkers, the researchers hope their discovery will have benefits for the treatment of obesity which is associated with a wide range of health risks including heart disease, strokes, hypertension, angina and certain forms of cancer. 

Dr Ng said: "We are hoping to give the drug to really obese people and reduce, to a certain extent, their fat so that they can become sufficiently mobile to begin the path towards improved health. 

"Obesity used to be a condition associated with the trend toward old age but now we are seeing more and more children suffering obesity. 

"This group has become our greatest concern but hopefully, using drugs like this one, we will be able to prevent them from becoming obese adults." 

The latest figures show obesity costs the UK economy over £2.5 billion a year. With levels of obesity in England trebling since 1980, one in five adults is now dangerously overweight.

Erotica Runs Rampant!

By Gloria Goodale
Arts and Culture Correspondent
Christian Science Monitor 

LOS ANGELES February 01, 2002 (CSM) - This Sunday, a team of Playboy Playmates will compete in a special episode of NBC's reality TV show "Fear Factor," timed to pull viewers away from the Super Bowl half-time show on Fox. 

At Christmas, a 15-year-old California girl received a "fun gift" from another teen: a makeup bag, part of a new teen line from the hard-core pornography publisher Hustler, complete with an embroidered logo and a tag touting the magazine.

In November, ABC TV aired a "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" so explicit the network decided it should blur out areas of the models' bodies.

Pornographic images, erotic paraphernalia, and raunchy sexual talk are reaching a near-saturation point in the daily lives of Americans, through television, movies, magazines, and the Internet, say a growing chorus of expert voices. And the target market is an increasingly younger audience.

The prevalence and commercialization of extreme sexual behaviors and attitudes is hard for youngsters still figuring out male-female relationships, says media expert John Forde, who hosts a PBS television show that examines TV advertising. How can they put a violent sex toy in perspective when they are still worrying about their first kiss? he asks.

"Erotica has gone completely mainstream," says Jane Buckingham, president of Youth Intelligence, a New York-based think tank that tracks youth trends.

From the sex toys used by star Jim Carrey in his recent film "Me, Myself & Irene," to clothing catalogs so graphic that Abercrombie & Fitch stores must ask for adult IDs to sell them, the environment for youths has become sexualized in ways that used to be considered extreme, Ms. Buckingham says.

She points to what she calls "porn chic" as the easiest evidence: lewd sexual phrases and imagery on jewelry and clothing; print and TV ad campaigns that suggest rape or group sex; and explicit sexual references to pornography in teen films such as "Scary Movie" and "Not Just Another Teen Movie."

The influx of this imagery has increased dramatically over the past decade, she adds, and includes using younger models. "Now that pornography has become acceptable, anything goes."

Accompanying this is a trend toward more and more explicit sexual environments in film and TV. In a recently released biennial report, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 2 out of every 3 TV shows include sexual content, up from one-half of shows just two years ago. The many examples cited include characters on ABC's cancelled "Two Guys and a Girl" using the Kama Sutra, an ancient Eastern sex manual.

A study released Monday by the Parents Television Council found that the number of "raunchy" sexual references on cable TV shows has more than doubled in the past two years. These occur more than twice as often as on network TV shows.

Several factors have contributed to erotica working its way into mainstream American media, says legal expert Bruce Taylor, president and chief counsel for the National Law Center for Children and Families:

• The number of state or federal prosecutions for violations of obscenity laws over the past decade, stopped almost completely when the Community Decency Act of 1996 was struck down as unconstitutional.

• The rise of the Internet as an easy way to deliver explicitly sexual material to a wide, undifferentiated market.

• The expansion of the entertainment marketplace from a few networks to a vast world of satellite, cable, video, and pay-per-view options.

It all boils down to money, says Mr. Forde, host of the PBS show "Mental Engineering," which will run its own counter-programming on Super Bowl Sunday.

Immediately following the game, Forde's show will analyze the underlying messages of the Super Bowl ads. The goal of advertisers "is to win, and if they pass the [social] cost of [pornography] on to others, that's of no consequence to them, because they are concerned solely with profit," he says.

"The feminine is commercialized and commodified," he says. "This undermines the spiritual dimension of being a human being."

One network, NBC, has been frank and unapologetic about its need to compete with the more explicit world of cable TV. It recently decided to be the only big broadcast network to air ads for hard liquor. As for the choice to put Playmates in prime time, Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Entertainment, responds, "It's been a difficult year; we're just having fun."

Over the years, American courts have grappled less than definitively with the issue of pornography versus First Amendment freedoms. Former federal prosecutor Bruce Taylor says the absence of prosecutions has sped the spread of erotica.

"Over time, if you don't prosecute a store or a website, families and kids grow up not seeing any cases, and they think, 'This must be OK, because if it was illegal, the police would be busting them,' " Mr. Taylor says. "That attitude has affected prosecutors, who are afraid to go to jury trial, and the industry is growing less afraid of being busted."

The result, he says, is the increasing availability of hard-core material, including rape, bestiality, child porn, and sado-masochism themes. This acceptance of material that used to be considered extreme affects the entire culture, he says.

In a recent episode of TV's No. 1-rated show, NBC's "Friends," the entire cast becomes obsessed with watching a pornography channel.

"Hollywood has [even] the good guys [in its shows] looking at porn and using sex toys," he says. It's "the movies that are targeting the largest consumers of films, which is teens ... [and] it can't help but affect them.

"This is what I call the heroin effect of porn," says Taylor, who handled more pornography cases during his 20-year tenure than any other federal prosecutor.

"This rape and incest porn that's being consumed, kids being introduced to group sex, none of us know the effect for certain," he says. But he points to an FBI profile of serial murderers and sex offenders conducted over a period of 20 years. Nearly all of them, he says, were addicted to adult and child pornography. Pornography is awful for guys: It affects their attitudes toward sex. It makes them sexually insensitive and jerks toward women, at least. At most, when it becomes an addiction, it becomes an element of psychosis."

One voice saying it's possible to resist this slide toward a sexualized environment comes from Robert Halmi, one of television's most prolific producers of family-oriented entertainment ("The Odyssey," "Merlin," "Gulliver's Travels"). "This trend towards explicit sexuality exists because there's a creative void," says the entertainment magnate, whose shows - nearly 200 and counting - air on all the major networks as well as on the new Hallmark Channel on cable.

"It reflects the taste of the executives, Mr. Halmi says, "but it's also pressure from the corporate heads who want networks to perform like stock portfolios, with a 26 percent growth rate."

His movies, which tell classic tales from literature, are "about morals and values," he says. "They have something to say."

But perhaps the culture will reclaim its soul the same way, youth expert Buckingham says: through the marketplace. Once a trend has been around long enough, consumers, especially teens, need something new. She says the spring fashions already show some reaction to the extremes of recent years.

"The new [fashion] shows are full of modest, form-covering peasant blouses and full skirts. Maybe," she says, "people will become bored with erotica and move away on their own."

Japanese Scientists Plan Tea Ceremony in Space
TOKYO February 5, 2002 (Reuters) - Orbiting the earth in a cramped space station may leave astronauts little time for the finer things in life. But if a plan by Japan's space agency comes to fruition, they could spend their spare moments learning the elaborate rituals of the Japanese tea ceremony. 

The National Space Development Agency (NASDA) is one of the groups working on the $95 billion International Space Station, led by Russia and the United States. The agency is working with fine arts professors and students on a plan to use a space measuring four square meters (13 square ft) in its allocated area as a tea ceremony room. 

Usually performed by elegant, kimono-clad women, the Japanese tea ceremony is a highly formalized method of preparing green tea from powder that hardly seems to lend itself to a zero-gravity environment. But NASDA emphasizes the relaxing atmosphere of the tea ceremony room itself -- usually a small, simply decorated space with tatami rush mat flooring. 

"Space travel can be psychologically difficult, so the idea is to have a place to relax, a healing space," said NASDA spokesman Yoshihiro Nakamura.
Dumb Black Holes Created in Laboratory

United Press International 

ST. LOUIS February 2, 2002 (UPI) - Lab-generated "dumb holes" - the acoustic, or sound wave analogs of black holes - may provide important experimental evidence for quantum gravity, a theory that unifies atomic and gravitational forces.

Black holes have massive, ultra-dense collapsed stars at their centers. The gravitational force surrounding the star is so strong that nothing - not even light - can escape. The point of no return for light entering a black hole, the point at which it is too close to escape the gravitational pull, is called the "event horizon."

Dumb holes arise when fluids flowing faster than the speed of sound form regions that trap sound waves. They too have a surface of no return - the "acoustic horizon". While black holes remain interstellar objects, researchers can create dumb holes in a laboratory.

"By reproducing the most important qualities of black holes in a fluid system, some of the predictions of quantum gravity can be tested and some paradoxes of the theory understood," University of Maryland physicist Stefano Liberati told United Press International from College Park,Md. The chief paradox is so-called "Hawking radiation." 

In a discovery that stunned the scientific community, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking found that black holes slowly evaporate by emitting, or radiating, quantum particles. "Hawking radiation" presented a puzzle: how can certain kinds of sub-atomic particles somehow escape the inescapably strong gravitational fields that trap even light.

"In a black hole, Hawking radiation is a process where the gravity near the event horizon pulls apart particle-antiparticle pairs that exist in a deep-space vacuum," Liberati said. The black hole captures one of the partners while the other escapes to freedom, making it appear as though the black hole is radiating particles.

Researchers have long hoped Hawking radiation would yield clues about the quantum forces that hold atoms together and the gravitational forces that guide planets and collapse stars. 

"We are interested in black hole analogues because we would like to find the analog of the Hawking radiation process," Liberati said.

Dumb holes that trap sound waves may yield experimental evidence used to understand quantum gravity because these acoustic black holes exhibit all the characteristics -- paradoxes included -- of their light-wave brethren.

"It turns out that the equations for sound waves in a continuous fluid are exactly the same as the equations for certain kinds of radiation in a gravitational field," said physicist William Unruh, from the Canadian Institute for Physics and Astronom, in Vancouver, British Columbia. "The surface at which the fluid exceeds the velocity of sound acts in exactly the same way as the horizon of a black hole, including the Hawking effect."

Using a special kind of matter called a "Bose-Einstein condensate," Liberati's team hopes to recreate the most important features of black holes using sound. 

"The Bose-Einstein condensate is a peculiar state of matter which is realized at very low temperatures," Liberati said. "A collective vibration of atoms in a condensed matter system such as this Bose-Einstein condensate forms a wave composed of quantum particles called 'phonons,' just as light is a wave composed of particles called photons."

A phonon is "the equivalent of the photon for sound," said Unruh. "Phonons are the particle you get when you treat sound as a quantum field," just as photons are quantised, or particulate, light. 

Supersonic flow of a Bose-Einstein condensate will form a dumb hole that inescapably traps phonons the same way gravitational collapse forms a black hole that traps photons, Liberati told UPI. 

"Phonons travel at the speed of sound, so if we think of a flow where the fluid speed is increasing, then once it reaches and overtakes the speed of sound, it generates a region where phonons cannot escape," Liberati explained. "The phonons would have to climb up the flow-as salmons against a stream-but the flow is too fast for them, so the region of supersonic flow is a 'trap.' "

Hawking radiation can occur in both dumb holes and black holes. "We expect that at the acoustic horizon phonon pairs are generated and pulled apart," Liberati said. "The phonons falling in the supersonic region are lost while their partners are seen as a radiation of sound waves emitted from the dumb hole."

Using dumb holes to study black holes is an example of a common technique-substituting a well - understood system for its poorly - understood counterpart.

"We understand the physics of fluids completely, unlike our understanding of quantum gravity," Unruh said.

Saving China's Great Wall From Itself

By Sheila Melvin

Beijing February 5, 2002 (International Herald Tribune) - "If you haven't been to the Great Wall, you aren't a real man," Mao Zedong once said. Most of the chairman's pithy pronouncements are now taken seriously only by historians. But this particular assertion is known to almost every citizen of the People's Republic, millions of whom journey to the Great Wall each year.

Indeed, so many real men, and women, are visiting the wall that the most popular sites outside Beijing are besieged by hordes of tourists in baseball caps and overrun with souvenir sellers. At Badaling, the most-visited section, there are hundreds of noodle shops and kitsch vendors, a movie theater, two chairlifts, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, an imitation KFC and even an imitation Great Wall emblazoned with a replica of Mao's quote in his own calligraphy.

This excessive development is disillusioning to many who visit, but for William Lindesay, a Briton who has devoted much of his adult life to exploring and studying the Great Wall, it is tantamount to sacrilege. "For me, the Great Wall is the wonder of the world. Just the Ming Dynasty Wall dwarfs the Three Gorges" dam project, Lindesay says. "It has bricks that weigh 26 pounds, stones that took eight men to carry - the amount of labor invested in it makes it almost sacred."

The wall, Lindesay says, is a defense made of various materials - stone, rammed earth, brick - that was built on imperial order to protect the empire from invasion. The Chinese have a long history of building walls, dating from the Warring States period, and there have been perhaps 20 walls in the nation's history. But in Chinese terminology, the Great Wall is regarded as one continuous defense project.

The wall constructed by the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) is the longest of all the walls, 6,700 kilometers (4,150 miles). It also is the most sophisticated, built when China was the most technologically advanced nation on earth, and the only wall held together with mortar. Though it was a superb defense, it was intended to ward off nomadic enemies who were difficult to engage and essentially impossible to defeat, and its performance depended on the loyalty and competence of the people running it. Ultimately, the Ming Dynasty was overthrown by some of those very "barbarians" it had built the wall to defend against. Since these people - who founded the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) - were themselves nomads, they did not see a need to continue with wall building; instead, they devoted their resources to erecting coastal installations to defend against the Europeans who were arriving by sea.

Nonetheless, the Qings did institute a law stating that efforts should be made to preserve the wall and banning the removal of bricks from it. But the impact of time, war and the depredations of people in search of building materials has left the wall greatly damaged in its most accessible areas.

Lindesay's passion for the wall dates from 1986, when he made the first of several attempts to run its length, by himself, with no support team. Dysentery, dehydration and bone fractures thwarted him, but in 1987 he successfully ran 2,500 kilometers of the Great Wall, despite being caught in an area closed to foreigners and deported to Hong Kong in mid-trip. That adventure, recorded in his book "Alone on the Great Wall," made Lindesay intimately familiar with the wall and its geography. It also gave him a vocation - the preservation of wild areas around the wall and its surrounding "wallscape" in the Beijing vicinity.

"About three years ago I first made very simple efforts to draw attention to the fact that the Great Wall was being damaged," he says. "The Ming Dynasty Wall alone is the world's most extensive relic, but it's outside without one manager. There are a few sites, but the rest is wild wall, wilderness wall. This is O.K. if people use it responsibly - but they don't."

The desecration of the wall in the Beijing area - which includes the most stunning and best-preserved sections - is worsening quickly. Despite a regulation that prohibits the construction of anything on the wall or within 200 meters on either side, sections are now covered with cable cars and toboggan runs and lined with souvenir shanties and parking lots. Less developed areas are also being tarnished by the construction of radio aerials, electricity pylons, peasant villages built of white bathroom tiles and fancy weekend homes for the nouveau riche.

Lindesay's initial effort, a clean-up at one section of wild wall outside the capital, received considerable attention from a number of Beijing newspapers, including the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily. That reception reassured Lindesay that his efforts to help preserve the wall would be welcomed, rather than criticized as interference from foreigners. It also motivated him to use garbage collecting as a platform for addressing larger problems. "In the course of directing this small wall conservation program," he says, "I've realized that we are moving too slowly; the issues are too complex and we need more financing to handle them in a timely and efficient way."

So, to attract financing and other support, Lindesay worked with the Cultural Relics Bureau here to apply to have the Beijing area wall included in the World Monuments Fund 2002 list of the "World's 100 Most Endangered Sites." The application was accepted and Lindesay will now apply to the fund for a $50,000 grant, which he hopes to use to clean up Huanghuacheng, an area of the wall that was still wild only five or six years ago but has since fallen victim to tourism and illegal construction.

He also founded International Friends of the Great Wall, a group in Hong Kong that he hopes will become a force in the battle to protect the wild areas of the wall near Beijing from further damage.

International Friends will cooperate with Beijing's cultural relic authorities to influence the debate over preservation, one that often comes down to the competition with tourism.

"What does protect the Great Wall mean?" Lindesay says. "Most Chinese authorities see this as cement it up, make it stable and bring in the infrastructure required by modern tourism. Tourism is an important part of the economy and it will become more so. But, the Great Wall is a record of history, of the conflicts between nomads and sedentary peoples. It's a part of China's geography - it's marked on maps around the world. 'Great' is not an overstatement, it's an understatement."

Lindesay hopes that International Friends will be able to assist in the creation of a coherent, integrated plan for protecting the wall. "We need a cultural-heritage management plan for the wall and associated cultural relics. The wall is a military system - there are brick kilns, quarries, barracks, roads. These all need protection."

Equally in need of preservation is the wall's surrounding landscape. "A major purpose for International Friends," Lindesay continues, "is so 20 years from now it will still be possible to go north of Beijing and at least view a wallscape. Right now this doesn't seem likely. There is too much development and the view will be obstructed."

To be sure, Lindesay acknowledges the difficulties that central and local authorities face in their efforts to preserve the Great Wall. "We're here in a country with 5,000 years of recorded history and many more years of pre-history," he says. "Every year there are 400 major archaeological discoveries, many accidental. Not to mention cultural relics smuggling; the authorities have their hands full."

Indeed, even Lindesay has to balance competing interests when it comes to his efforts to study, explore and preserve the Wall. After writing an entire book about the wilderness wall in the Beijing area, he has decided not to publish it because he fears it would prove too useful to developers.

"It's a dilemma. You want to help like-minded people but you can't control who reads the book."

Visit eXoNews for more recent news!
Paperback books by Rich La Bonté - Free e-previews!