Batman Strikes!
Nanoskin, Asci White
Was Odin Real?
Carol Burnett & More!
Father of Dark Comics Returns to Batman

Scripps Howard News Service

Gotham City December 1, 2001 (Scripps Howard News Service) - For someone who's been called the father of the "grim and gritty" style of comics, writer/artist Frank Miller comes off as a very affable guy with an easy laugh and a dry wit.

His "Dark Knight Returns" in 1986 redefined Batman in a three-issue, out-of-continuity story. In it, a retired Bruce Wayne is a decrepit alcoholic, a man far removed from his original ideas of justice. He has a new Robin, a spunky girl, who believes in him.

Superman, a sell-out now working for the government, is no longer Batman's best friend. In fact, they hate each other. The Joker is an over-the-hill laughingstock.

Basically, Gotham City in the future is very bleak, devoid of hope and in need of a hero or two.

This revised version of Batman was a hit with readers 15 years ago. "Dark Knight Returns" was a commercial success and an artistic triumph for Miller as well. Seeing how readers embraced the darkness of the once-sunny characters, the comics industry pumped out darker and more violent stories about superheroes for years. When filmmaker Tim Burton directed the edgy "Batman" movie in 1989, he used Miller's interpretation as a blueprint.

Miller laughs when asked if he is indeed the guy who started the trend. Is he the real Father of Grim and Gritty Comics?

"There are a lot of people who start a trend," he says. "Let's just say I have visitation rights."

"The Dark Knight Strikes Again," the long-awaited sequel, is out on Wednesday, Dec. 5. It's the first issue of three 80-page, softcover comics, set three years after the first story. Miller has completed the first two issues and is working on the third now. It may or may not be finished for a February release.

Why do a sequel now? "Because I had a story to tell," he says simply. "... Almost every time I finish a story, I have a sequel in mind."

In this sequel, "Batman isn't the guy who makes the story happen," Miller says during a phone interview. "He is very much the master of the scenes behind the game. The other characters are given the stage an awful lot. It's just not a Batman comic."

In this story, Batman and his new Robin go on a trail to find what happened to members of the Justice League who haven't been seen in years. Wonder Woman, Flash and the Atom are primary characters.

Miller also has created characters and successors to well-known heroes. Yet, don't expect grim and gritty from Miller this time around.

"I wasn't going to do anything redundant," he says. "This one is much more an exploration of the character of the superhero. It's me fiddling around with DC (Comics') pantheon. They have these wonderfully rich characters, and one-by-one I am exploring them and showing what makes them fun. I use them as I have before to conduct my satire of the contemporary world. The world has become a kinder, gentler Fascist state. All the news is good, but we don't have a Bill of Rights anymore."

Already, advance sales orders are booming for "Strikes Back." The numbers are double those of most comics. Since his 1986 success, Miller has been keeping his hands in comics, writing mainly non-mainstream fare such as "Sin City," crime comics and "300," a historical series.

"I have very fresh eyes," he says, because he has been away from the monthly grind of writing superhero comic books. "... It's an advantage I have right now. I can be a bit like an 8-year-old and see everything new again."

Woman Pilot Sues Over US Military Islamic Dress Code

By Rita Farrell

WASHINGTON December 5, 2001 (Reuters) - The first woman to ever fly a U.S. combat mission sued Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to challenge a policy that mandates Islamic dress and customs for U.S. military women based in Saudi Arabia when they travel off-base.

According to the lawsuit filed by Lt. Col. Martha McSally on Monday, women can be court-martialed if they leave Prince Sultan Air Base without a male chaperone, are not covered from head-to-toe with a dark "abayah" robe, or sit in the front seat of a vehicle.

"In Saudi Arabia she can pilot a plane but not drive a car," said her lawyer, Thomas Neuberger.

In the lawsuit McSally said the Pentagon regulations, which are imposed only in Saudi Arabia, violate her First Amendment constitutional right to practice her Christian faith freely and to not have a religion imposed on her. The only requirement the Saudi government imposes is that non-Muslim women visitors dress conservatively.

Judge James Robertson, of the U.S. District Court in Washington where the suit was filed, has been asked to enjoin enforcement of the regulations, to block any disciplinary action against McSally, and to award her legal fees and costs.

After the Gulf War, McSally, 35, was stationed in Kuwait where, in 1995 and 1996, she flew 100 hours of combat missions in an A-10 Warthog jet to enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. The Texas native has opposed the policy of the 363rd Air Expeditionary Wing since it was adopted in 1995, but has failed to convince Defense Department or Air Force officials to drop it.


Last year McSally was transferred to Saudi Arabia, where the policy her lawsuit described as "irrational" and without "legitimate military ends" would affect her directly.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said the regulations were adopted by the U.S. base commander at the time who, like his counterparts at all military sites, made policy in accordance with local "cultural sensitivities."

"It is an issue of force protection," said Navy Commander Ernest Duplessis. "Just after Desert Storm, the local commander decided that (in Saudi Arabia) it was a big issue to provide adequate protection for our forces by having them blend in and not stick out."

Military officials have asserted that the policy, rather than discriminating against military women, is intended to protect them from harassment by Saudi religious police.

One of McSally's attorneys sees it differently.

"I think it must be the State Department trying to suck up to the Saudis," Neuberger told Reuters. "I believe this is a political decision that has been made ... (in a) misguided attempt to seek favor with the Saudi government."

Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, has cited the presence of U.S. troops in his native Saudi Arabia, home to holy Islamic shrines in Mecca and Medina, as one reason for waging a holy war against the U.S.

McSally is scheduled to return to the United States on Dec. 15 and is unable to comment publicly while on duty, according to Neuberger, a Delaware-based attorney for the Rutherford Institute, the religious and civil rights organization that is paying McSally's legal costs.

CIA Operative Sues Over Chinese Embassy Bombing

WASHINGTON December 4, 2001 (AP) - A CIA operative has filed a lawsuit claiming that the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 could have been avoided if his boss had checked sources with firsthand knowledge of Yugoslavia's capital.

The operative is a 46-year-old of Russian origin identified in the lawsuit only by the pseudonym "Mitford." A statement from his lawyers says he was among mid- and lower-ranking agency employees "falsely blamed" for the mistaken bombing, which left three Chinese journalists dead.

The United States called the May 7, 1999, attack a mistake caused by faulty intelligence and use of outdated maps. The CIA says it fired one official and disciplined six others, none of whom were identified. The United States repeatedly apologized for the attack, paid the Chinese government $28 million in compensation and promised $4.5 million to those injured and families of three journalists killed in the bombing in the Yugoslav capital.

The lawsuit was filed in 1999 in U.S. District Court in Washington. The operative's claims about the targeting error during NATO's air war against Yugoslavia were included in a newly amended version released this week.

Mitford's boss, who also is not identified, received a verbal reprimand before being promoted to a position with the National Security Council, the lawsuit says. It says "Mitford" received harsher treatment than those who had more direct responsibility for the incident.

The CIA officer's claim was in a newly released, unclassified version of a wide-ranging lawsuit by 15 current and former CIA employees. The employees, all unidentified, accuse the agency of misconduct in a variety of areas. Many allege that the agency used secrecy rules to prevent them from pursuing labor and discrimination grievances or working with attorneys.

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield refused to discuss the operative's specific claims but said the agency has been forthcoming about errors during the targeting process in Yugoslavia. George Tenet, the CIA director, testified about the matter in congressional hearings.

The lawsuit's claims of agency misuse of secrecy rules are "ridiculous," Mansfield said.

Norton and McCaleb To Stand Trial for Contempt

WASHINGTON December 04, 2001 (Indian Country Today) – A federal judge has ordered Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb to stand trial for contempt of court in the case of Cobell vs. Norton.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth cited a variety of reasons why Norton and McCaleb are being asked to stand trial, including failing to reform management of individual Indian trust accounts as ordered by the court, lying about reform progress, and misleading the court about their misconduct. The trial begins on December 3.

In the order filed by Lamberth, Norton and McCaleb were asked to answer why they violated a December 1999 court order to fix the trust problem and provide an historical accounting.

He also accused them of lying to the court about their progress on trust reform, citing a false report filed by Norton just a few months ago. Attempts to hide the true problems with TAAMS, a computer system used by the government to handle trust account data, was also mention by Lamberth as another reason for possible contempt charges.

“Here we go again. It is unbelievable that Norton and McCaleb wouldn’t have learned their lesson from Babbitt and Rubin. This is proof positive that the IIM trust must be taken away from Interior and placed in the hands of a receiver before true trust reform will ever have a chance,” lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell said.

In December 1999, Judge Lamberth ruled the Indian plaintiffs had a judicially enforceable right to an accounting of their money and that the secretaries of Interior and Treasury were in breach of their trust responsibilities to Indian account beneficiaries.

Lamberth also found former Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin, former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in contempt for failing to comply in a full and timely manner with an earlier discovery order in the case. Attorneys for Interior claimed they could not produce documents because they were covered in mouse droppings and in a state of disarray.

Lamberth stated in the order that his decision was based on a number of critical reports filed by court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III. Kieffer was appointed by Lamberth to monitor government progress in trust reform and file written reports of his findings. In Kieffer’s reports he said the federal government failed in its plan to resolve the trust funds problem and intentionally misled the court and Indian beneficiaries.

Dennis Gingold, plaintiffs’ attorney, praised Lamberth’s decision to hold a trial.

“It confirms everything we’ve said about the unfitness of the Secretary of Interior to continue to manage the Indian trust.’’

Norton and McCaleb are two of approximately 50 Interior and Justice officials and attorneys cited by the Cobell plaintiffs for potential contempt charges. However, Judge Lamberth said he was deferring action on all others until a later date.

Interior spokesman Eric Ruff said strides have been taken to improve management of the trust fund and comply with court orders since Norton took office, including the creation of a new office specifically dedicated to trust fund management.

“Such progress is evidence of the department’s commitment and determination to resolve the Indian trust issue,” Ruff said in a statement.

In recent filings, department lawyers conceded that Interior has struggled with efforts to reform, but they argued department officials have done nothing to directly violate a court order which would justify a finding of contempt.

Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet tribe, along with a group of other Indian plaintiffs, initiated the class-action lawsuit in 1996 to force the federal government to account for millions of dollars in unreconciled individual Indian accounts. The federal government currently holds $450 million in approximately 300,000 individual trust accounts. There reportedly are no records for more than $100 million of those dollars. Lamberth has said he would consider personal fines and confinement for government officials if they were found in contempt again.

France Criticizes US On Global Warming
PARIS December 5, 2001 (AP) - French President Jacques Chirac said Tuesday he regretted that the United States has decided not to join an international treaty to stop global warming, but he promised that France would ratify the pact next year.

At a two-week conference in Morocco last month, negotiators from 165 countries agreed on rules for implementing the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which calls on about 40 industrialized nations to limit carbon emissions or cut them to below 1990 levels. The United States has rejected the accord.

"I regret that the United States has refused to join in this collective discipline," Chirac told an environment conference outside Paris. "This accord foreshadows a new world governance that we must devise to master certain aspects of globalization."

The United States argues that the accord would harm the U.S. economy and says it is unfair because it excuses heavily polluting developing countries like India and China from any obligations.

Chirac said France and other European Union nations would ratify the treaty next year, adding that France would have to "expand its national plan to fight greenhouse gases" to meet the accord's standards.

The treaty needs ratification by 55 countries, including those that produced 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 1990. Without the United States, virtually every other industrial country would have to endorse the agreement to reach that goal.

Photo: With global warming, the effects of violent storms could become more severe, particularly in coastal areas inundated by rising seas. (NASA)

Food Program Begins Afghan Survey

Associated Press Writer

KABUL December 5, 2001 (AP) — Burqas slipped over their heads, women with a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other have been knocking on doors around the capital this week, trying to identify who is eligible for precious World Food Program cards.

Selecting the poorest in a city ravaged by relentless war is no small task. As the surveyors move from neighborhood to neighborhood, men and women tug on their clothing, trying to drag them home and prove their need.

But the mere existence of the survey is a major step. The Taliban had forbidden it since taking power in 1996.

It is also a sign of progress for the 2,400 women surveyors, as the Taliban banned women from working — except in select health and education jobs. Under the Taliban, who fled the city on Nov. 13, women were publicly beaten if they were not completely covered in keeping with the militia's rigid interpretation of Islam.

Female surveyors wore burqas Tuesday, but much of the time they were casually thrown back over their heads to reveal their faces. They were quick to smile and talked quietly and patiently with residents.

About 1,200 men are also conducting surveys. In teams of three — two women and one man — surveyors walked door-to-door along Kabul's dusty, rocket-rutted streets. When the survey ends, 1.2 million people will have been questioned, said WFP spokesman Khalid Mansour. Tens of thousands of families will be on the final list. Most of Kabul's residents are poor, said Mansour, and at least 750,000 — nearly one-third — are dependent on international assistance for their survival.

"There is a hierarchy of misery. There are poor and there are poorer,'' he said.

The WFP had pressed the Taliban to survey the poorest, but the militia refused. The existing system — based on surveys conducted before the Taliban came to power — was deeply corrupt, explained Mansour. Through the years, he said, Taliban officials would sell ration cards, taking them from some and giving to their loyalists. Residents leaving the city often sold their ration cards.

As of this year, Mansour estimated that 40 percent of the people receiving WFP food were not among the neediest in Kabul but had managed to obtain their ration cards fraudulently.

Under the Taliban, the WFP briefly shut down its bakeries, which fed hundreds of thousands, because of the Taliban's refusal to allow a fresh survey. The bakeries shut down again after the Sept. 11 attacks because of security concerns. Some of the bakeries were specially for widows, whose situation was acute because the Taliban would not let them work. The widows' bakeries will reopen soon, Mansour said, since their operations were relatively free of fraud.

In a Shahr-e-Now neighborhood of Kabul, a women in a tattered blue burqa, a large hole sloppily sewn with white thread, pleaded with the surveyors to come to her house. She said her father is jobless. She is the oldest of seven children. For breakfast, she said, her family survives on the usual fare of the poorest: sweet black tea and bread. Rarely is there lunch and dinner is a plate of rice.

"We have nothing,'' she said.

Smart Nanoskin

By Neal Singer

Washington December 3, 2001 (DOE) - Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories and the University of New Mexico have created intelligent nanostructures that report on their environment by changing color from blue to fluorescent red under mechanical, chemical, or thermal stress.

These self-assembling nanostructures—as durable as seashells—may lower costs by reducing the need for expensive manufactured devices like stress detectors, chemical analyzers, and thermometers.

"The material can distinguish between different solvents," says Sandia senior scientist and UNM professor Jeff Brinker. "There's a high correlation of color with the polarity of the solvent."

The material also can report changes in mechanical stress and temperature. When the environmental disturbance is removed, the structures change back to their original color in some cases, making them potentially reusable.

"The material is of interest to NASA—one of the sponsors of our research—for a thin film for an inflatable structure that would aid in the inhabitation of Mars," says Brinker. "The structure's skin would require a very thin yet strong membrane with low permeability that could sense mechanical damage from hazards such as meteorites or sandstorms."

The color change of the coating would also be sensitive to the composition of chemicals hitting the structure's "skin," or to dangerous increases in temperature. The elegantly simple method, which involves a technique that links monomers into polymers in an orderly fashion within a nanostructure, was published in an April issue of Nature.

Another possible use for the orderly arrangements is to form nanoscopic "wires" of organic polymers.

Teens Convicted of Treason for Cake Attack

STOCKHOLM December 4, 2001 (Reuters) - A Swedish court convicted four teenagers of high treason on Monday for throwing a cream cake at King Carl Gustaf.

The four boys aged between 16 and 17 were fined in what was the first Swedish treason case in living memory, Sweden's TT news agency said.

In a protest against the monarchy, the youngsters had assembled a strawberry cream cake before one of them threw it in the king's face shouting "For King and Fatherland!" during a royal visit to a Swedish park in September.

The court fined the boys between 100 days' and 80 days' income each, which legal sources said would equate to a maximum fine of about 4,000 crowns ($370).

They were also convicted of minor assault.

Asci White Does Nuclear Tests at Warp Speed

By David Jamieson
BBC Online

San Francisco December 2, 2001 (BBC) - The nuclear bomb is the most awesome manmade destructive force there is, but these most powerful of weapons are no longer atmospherically tested.

The testing of the US's nuclear weapons now takes place inside one of the world's fastest computers, IBM's Asci White.

"We have to have the capability to simulate the explosion of a nuclear warhead," said David Novak, deputy associate director of the Asci program, at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, just outside of San Francisco. "That's very challenging in its own right. It's very high temperature, very high density, very short periods of time, strong shocks traveling around - all the things that make a simulation difficult occur here."

Fast simulations

The Asci White is the size of two basketball courts. Over 8,000 processors linked together by a high-speed network give it a peak operating speed of over 12 trillion calculations per second.

It has six terabytes of memory, and 160 terabytes of disk space, enough to hold six times the entire book collection of the Library of Congress.

"On the hardware side, its goal is to build the fastest, most powerful simulation capability in the world," said Mr Novak. "On the software side, the idea is to develop large-scale codes that will run as efficiently on 10,000 processors as if they were running on one computer."

Simulations run on Asci White can be visualized on a massive display screen in a nearby conference room. As well as modeling explosions, the computer is used for studying the way nuclear weapons change composition as the stockpile of warheads ages.

"Not only are they exposed to harsh environments and atmospheres, but they're also radioactive, so the radioactive decay of the material causes the material composition to change," said Mr Novak. "It also causes interaction between the various elementary particles that are emitted in the decay to interact with other materials, and change the performance."

Security precautions

At all times throughout the site, there are reminders that this is a classified facility.

Even the windows to the vault can, at the flick of a switch, be made opaque when classified operations are under way. But Asci White is also used for peaceful purposes. Major US universities work on the machine to research the way stars explode, simulate the performance of jet engines and rocket motors, and test how materials react under intense shocks.

As powerful as Asci White is, some of the life science computing challenges on the near horizon will demand even faster machines.

White itself will no doubt be left in the dust, as the race for more computing speed continues.

Elton John To Retire

LONDON December 3, 2001 (Reuters) - British pop singer Elton John, whose string of hits has made him one of the richest stars in the music business, has said it's time to let the sun go down on his recording career.

He stunned his audience at a U.S. concert at the weekend by saying his latest album, "Songs From The West Coast," would be his last, his London-based spokesman said.

"I'm fed up with it. I like playing to you guys but I hate the record industry," said John, who has amassed an estimated $210 million fortune in a career spanning more than three decades.

"I've made 40 albums and it is about time for me to get out."

John's spokesman told Reuters he was unsure whether the final curtain had really come down on John's record career.

"He certainly said he would never make another record but whether it was just something he said on the spur of the moment, or whether he meant it, we don't know yet," he said.

John ended the concert by dedicating his poignant ballad "Your Song" to Beatle George Harrison, who died in Los Angeles on Friday after a long battle with cancer. He said Harrison had taken the time to send him a congratulatory note when he was just starting to make a name for himself.

"I've never forgotten that gesture. It was such a mind-blowing event."

"Songs from the West Coast" is John's first album of new material for four years, although its tone harks back to the vintage tunes of the 1970s that made him an international star. Born Reginald Dwight to a working class family, John has been one of the music industry's most prolific performers, delivering scores of hits -- among them "Candle in the Wind," "Crocodile Rock," "Bennie and the Jets" and "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me."

In recent years the singer's flamboyant dress sense and extravagant lifestyle have kept him in the headlines more than his music. Last year, John lost a multi-million pound court battle with his former accountant and ex-manager that was memorable for the details that emerged about the star's lavish spending. The court heard how John spent $57 million in a 20-month period, including $195,000 on flowers.

Adam and Eve Return to Eden

Cornwall December 3, 2001 (BBC) - Adam and Eve have returned to Eden as an addition to the botanical attraction in Cornwall, southwest England. A 20-foot-tall (six meters) steel statue of Adam, which weighs almost two tons, is now in place as part of the new "Rope and Fibre" exhibition at the Eden Project.  With Adam will be an Eve made out of earth and turf.

The statue, designed by Cornish artist and tall ships skipper George Fairhurst, clutches a huge rope and is being used to show the importance of plant fibres in human development.

George Fairhurst said: "What we have tried to do is to explain rope. Rope is all about tension and weight. He will have a huge rope going over his shoulder, as if he was the first man who ever decided to cut up a plant and tie his moccasins together, or the first man that tied an elk's legs together and carried it home."

The metal statue of Adam was constructed in the dry docks at Penzance. It took four months to put together using sheets of steel. "It's been a mammoth project," George Fairhurst said. Adam is not alone in the new display - he has an enormous earth, clay and turf sculpture of Eve staring up at him next to a row of apple trees.

The Eve part of the exhibit has been designed and made by brother and sister Sue and Peter Hill, who were behind the sleeping "Mud Maid" at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, also in Cornwall. Unlike Adam, who has been unveiled at the project, Eve was made under the glare of visitors to Eden.

Peter Hill said: "We've been working on it since February. But we've both got other jobs, so it hasn't been constant. It's taken about 10 weeks in total."

The Eden Project was built to recreate the Earth's different climates. Its huge domes, called biomes, are located in a former clay pit near St Austell. Each biome houses thousands of different plant species and some animals. The Humid Tropics biome contains a rain forest and 25-metre-tall (82 ft) waterfall.

The £86m project attracted 7,000 visitors to its official opening in March and has been consistently pulling in crowds ever since. Figures show Eden is the fourth most popular paid-for attraction in the country with up to 14,000 visitors a day.

Swedish Council Wants Cloning

Associated Press Writer

STOCKHOLM, Sweden December 4, 2001 (AP) — The Swedish Research Council said Tuesday that therapeutic cloning is ethically defensible and called on the government to change legislation to allow the procedure.

The statement in Sweden, which has about a third of the world's known stem cell lines, came a week after scientists in the United States announced the first cloning of a human embryo for medical purposes.

"The long-term benefits regarding medical treatment based on this technique could be great,'' the Swedish Research Council board said.

But the board noted that therapeutic cloning, in which the nucleus of an egg cell is replaced with DNA from another cell to create an embryo, must be governed and monitored by a national authority.

Therapeutic cloning is different from reproductive cloning, which is making duplicates of entire human beings. Researchers hope therapeutic cloning will help them create transplant tissue or even whole organs.

The council said use of embryos in research was permissible if there were no other ways of attaining "equivalent results.''

Any stem cell research project would require the consent of the man and woman whose egg cells and sperm would be used. The council also said embryos should not be created purely for research and there should be a law prohibiting implanting such embryos in a womb.

The council's announcement was made the same day a law was passed in Britain barring scientists there from using cloning techniques to produce babies. But scientists will be allowed to use cloning to create embryos for stem cell research.

President Bush has appealed to U.S. legislators to outlaw human cloning and restricted the allocation of federal funds to existing stem cell lines.

Supporters of stem cell research argue that embryos are not yet humans and can help find cures for hereditary diseases. Opponents say a cloned embryo is a human being and that manufacturing it is unethical.

Norse God Odin Was a Real King

By Alister Doyle

OSLO November 29, 2001 (Reuters) - The Viking god Odin may have been a real king who lived in what is now southern Russia 2,000 years ago, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl said in a controversial new book on Thursday.

In "The Hunt for Odin,'' Heyerdahl says his archaeological digs by the Sea of Azov in Russia backed evidence in 13th century sagas written by Snorre Sturlason that Odin was more than a myth.

Heyerdahl, who won worldwide acclaim with his 1947 voyage across the Pacific on the Kon-Tiki balsa raft, said Odin was a king who lived around Azov before being driven out by the Romans and taking his followers to Sweden.

Ancient metal belt holders, rings and armbands dating from 100-200 AD found in excavations around the mouth of the Don River were almost identical to Viking equivalents found in Gotland, Sweden, some 800 years later, he said.

"Snorre didn't sit down and dream this all up,'' Heyerdahl told a news conference to launch his latest book with co-author Per Lillestrom. "In ancient times, people treated Gods and Kings as one and the same thing.''

Snorre's stories about Odin, viewed as the king of the gods in Norse mythology, portrayed him as fighting battles. By contrast, Snorre treated Thor, the god of thunder, as a mythical hammer-wielding figure riding through the air. And he said that many of the place names in Snorre's sagas matched the ancient Greek names for places around the Sea of Azov, such as Tanais.

Heyerdahl's digs with a team of Scandinavian and Russian archaeologists uncovered skeletons and ancient metal objects.

"It's obvious that there was some link between the Nordic region and where we dug,'' he said.

Some Norwegian historians have criticized Heyerdahl's findings as based on insufficient evidence, saying that Odin's name originated from the Germanic name Wotan. One likened Heyerdahl's quest for Odin to digging for the Garden of Eden.

Heyerdahl, who exploits also included risking his life on the Ra reed vessels crossing the Atlantic to show that the ancient Egyptians could have done so, said he doubted that the book would silence skeptics.

"I don't think so,'' he said.

Insurance Scam Turns Into Chainsaw Horror
ROME November 30, 2001 (Reuters) - An Italian man is accused of killing his cousin with a chainsaw in a billion lire ($460,000) insurance scam that went horribly wrong.

Justice sources said on Friday the body of 23-year-old Andreas Plack was discovered on Wednesday in a pool of blood in his home town in the far north of Italy.

They said his 29-year old cousin, Christian Kleon, insisted the death was an accident.

The sources said Kleon said that Plack wanted to cash in on a generous insurance policy and had persuaded him to cut open his leg with a chainsaw. To make it look like a crime, Kleon then fled the scene and threw the chainsaw into a nearby river.

Plack, a part-time bouncer who wanted to become a private detective, was a first aid expert and the pair believed he would be able to stem the bleeding before calling for help.

But the cut was too deep and when he phoned for an ambulance his voice was so distorted by pain operators could not understand where he was.

Kleon is under arrest and faces a murder charge.
Mexican Tropical Forests in Danger

Associated Press Writer

MEXICO CITY December 5, 2001 (AP) — Mexico could lose its tropical jungles within decades if the government doesn't seriously hike the amount of money it allocates to deal with deforestation, according to the environment secretary.

A study released Monday showed that Mexico lost an average of 2.72 million acres of forests and jungles each year between 1993 and 2000 — nearly twice as much as what government officials had previously estimated.

"It has been quite a shock to encounter how grave the situation really is,'' said Victor Lichtinger, who blames the phenomenon primarily on the expansion of farmland and grazing areas, and to a lesser extent on illegal logging.

If the government doesn't spend some four to five times as much money trying to deal with the problem of deforestation, Mexico will have no tropical jungles left by the year 2059, he said Tuesday.

Among the jungles in critical danger, he said, are those on the Yucatan peninsula, in the southeastern Gulf coast states of Tabasco and Veracruz, and in southernmost Chiapas state.

Chiapas is home to the Lacandon rain forest, one of the most biologically diverse areas in the country — and one that could disappear in 10-30 years if things don't change, Lichtinger said.

"We've lost 1.3 million acres in tropical forests alone,'' Lichtinger said. All together, Mexico lost 19 million acres of pine and fir forests and tropical jungles during the seven-year period.

The loss of trees — evident in dramatic satellite photographs taken for the study — also has a grave effect on other areas of the environment, Lichtinger said.

It changes the formation and course of rivers, diminishes the soil's fertility and capacity to retain groundwater, reduces rainfall in deforested areas, and exacerbates natural disasters such as landslides, Lichtinger said.

He said the rapid loss of forests corresponds to a simultaneous increase in farming and grazing land cleared by the 10 million to 15 million poor farmers who have no other means of making a living, he said.

Mexico's confusing land-registry laws and decades of politically motivated land reforms have made it unclear who owns the lands in question, making it easy for squatters to occupy forests.

Lichtinger blames NAFTA-related government policies that subsidize the expansion of farmlands in an effort to compete with the United States' and Canada's farming subsidies.

A lesser culprit, he said, is illegal logging, an industry that state and local governments not only have failed to stop, but from which they have profited. Poor farmers participate in the industry by selling the most valuable wood from the forests before burning them to create farm and grazing land.

A Mouse Stops Bullet Trains in Their Tracks
TOKYO December 5, 2001 (Reuters) - All services were halted on one of Japan's super-fast bullet train lines on Wednesday because of a power failure believed to have been caused by a mouse.

"It appears that a mouse got into a switchboard at one of the stations and caused a short circuit," a spokesman for East Japan Railway said.

The power failure, which occurred at around 4:15 a.m. (1915 GMT), halted services on a line to northern Japan for nearly an hour.

"Given the amount of electricity involved, it's safe to say that the mouse is probably no longer alive," the spokesman said.
Muhammad Ali Lights Olympic Torch

Associated Press

ATLANTA December 4, 2001 (AP) - On a hot summer night more than five years ago, Muhammad Ali ended the Olympic torch relay by lighting the big red cauldron that burned above the Atlanta Games.

On Tuesday, as a mild late-autumn day caressed the South, Ali was back to the task, this time starting the symbolic flame on a cross-country journey that will end in cold and snow at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

The former heavyweight champion lighted a torch from a massive cauldron at Centennial Olympic Park and passed the flame to figure skating gold medalist Peggy Fleming.

The exchange was near the scene of a fatal bombing that rocked the Atlanta Games and returned Ali to the Olympic spotlight, where he made an emotional appearance to open 1996 Games, his hands shaking from Parkinson's disease as he sent the flame up a fuse to its perch.

In the Salt Lake City relay, the flame will involve 11,500 people, passing the fire among 3-pound torches and carrying it 13,500 miles before the Winter Games open Feb. 8.

"This precious, magical flame can illuminate us all with its hope of a brighter future," said Billy Payne, who led Atlanta's Olympic effort. "In its light, you can see the promise of a world united, not divided."

Ali and Fleming were joined by other Olympic medalists - cyclist Lance Armstrong, five-time speedskating champion Bonnie Blair, 1960 figure skating gold medalist Robert Paul and 1998 freestyle ski winner Nikki Stone.

The closely guarded flame arrived in Atlanta after an 11-hour flight aboard a Delta Air Lines jumbo jet painted with the words "The Soaring Spirit" and pictures of Blair, ski jumper Ryan Heckman and luger Duncan Kennedy.

Fleming and Paul, her former coach, carried the flame on the first leg of its journey through the park. From there, the flame visited Coca-Cola's headquarters, a General Motors assembly plant and Athens, Ga., before arriving in Greenville, S.C., for an evening ceremony.

Bill Spencer, a biathlete who competed in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, carried the torch off the plane along with Stone. They passed the torch to Blair.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Salt Lake officials have been promoting the Winter Games as a rallying point for the nation and an opportunity to demonstrate friendship among countries.

"Our nation is in prayer," said Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, noting the grieving over the 3,700 killed in the attacks and the concern for U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. The torch "binds each of us to the family of humankind," Romney said.

Among the torch bearers will be Lyz Glick, the wife of Jeremy Glick, one of the passengers aboard United Flight 93, which crashed Sept. 11 in Pennsylvania after passengers apparently struggled with hijackers. She is to carry the torch Dec. 23 in New York.

New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, baseball great Willie Mays, former NFL quarterback Steve Young and CNN anchor Paula Zahn are among 500 celebrities who will carry the torch. The rest were nominated by friends and family.

The torch also will take a spin around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Jan. 8 and visit 80 cities in all.

The torch was designed by Sam Shelton, a professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, who also designed the torch for 1996. This year's version was built to withstand weather ranging from minus-40 degrees to 80 degrees, along with strong wind and rain, Shelton said.

The relay legs, averaging more than 400 miles, will begin at 7 a.m. each day. They will halt Dec. 24-25 in New York City for the holidays.

The torch also will travel by air three more times to Utah: from Miami to Mobile, Ala., on Sunday; from Milwaukee to Lansing, Mich., on Jan. 6; and from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska, and then to Spokane, Wash., on Jan. 24.

Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii are not on the torch route for logistical reasons, relay spokesman Mark Walker said.

My Sweet George

Farewell to the Beatle Who Was Easy to Love

By Gaile Robinson

Forth Worth, Texas December 5, 2001 (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) - I am a George girl. Women who were girls in the '60s know what that means. A George girl was one whose heart - and bedroom wall space - was devoted to Beatle George Harrison. He also was given major play on notebook covers and poorly hand-decorated sweatshirts.

When George Harrison died last week, I tried on the expression, "I was a George girl.'' It was awful, as if I was denying my past, denying that I chose George. I AM a George girl, I will always be a George girl.

Choosing a Beatle was a personality-defining moment. John girls were truly in it for the music, as, once it was discovered he was married, the shallow John girls defected to the Paul camp. (I'll admit everything about choosing a Beatle was shallow, but in 1963 you had to do it, and once you did, changing Beatle streams was particularly bad form.) Paul girls were all about looks, his and theirs. George girls were shy and awkward, so we chose George - one of our own. And Ringo girls, who knows? I can't remember anything about Ringo girls.

Choosing to be a George girl was good insurance for later years. It was always cool to be a George girl. After the Beatles broke camp, he comported himself with great style and was never an embarrassment. Well, there was that brief stint during his Hawaiian years when he had hissy fits about the public traipsing across his land to get to the beach. But that was it. He never made inscrutable art films or embarrassing movies; instead he produced truly entertaining ones - "Monty Python's Life of Brian'' and "Time Bandits,'' one of my favorite movies.

Being a George girl gave me one of the best moments of my life, one I still trade on. Whenever cocktail conversations degenerate into the game-show mode of "How old were you when ...?'' or "When was your first ...?'' I listen for my cue.

"What was your first concert?''

And, I say, cryptically, "The Beatles, 1964.''

Inevitably the game ends. No one can ever top that. Ever. It just doesn't happen. Even my teen-age children realize this.

My ticket cost $13 and a trip to the Indianapolis State Fair Grounds on a school night. My parents did nothing to aid this, but Joanne Brandt's mother drove five of us across the state to see the Beatles, and I have always remembered her. Joanne Brandt's mother, mega-mom.

I screamed at that concert, even though I knew George probably didn't like girls who screamed. He was spiritual, he was kind. George organized the Concert for Bangladesh, among the first large-scale rock concerts for a charitable cause.

George was one of The Traveling Wilburys. He didn't put his name before the band's. He continued to work, he continued to write music, make records and tour. It's easy to be a George girl. It didn't take any sacrifice or strength of character to remain a George girl.

Thanks, George.

Largest Prime Number Ever!

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Science Editor

Canada December 5, 2001 (BBC) - The largest prime number yet discovered has just been revealed to the world.

The new number, expressed as 213,466,917-1, contains 4,053,946 digits and would take the best part of three weeks to write out longhand.

The prime number - a number that can only be divided by one and itself - was discovered by Michael Cameron, a 20-year-old Canadian participant in a mass computer project known as the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (Gimps). Mersenne primes are important for the theory of numbers and they may help in developing unbreakable codes and message encryptions.

The Gimps project spent 13,000 years of computer time to find the new prime number. Cameron used an 800 MHz AMD T-Bird PC, running part-time for 45 days to find the number.

"A friend informed me that if I was going to leave my computer on all the time I should make use of that wasted CPU time," he said. "I put Gimps on my PC because it does not interfere with my work on the computer. Finding the new prime was a wonderful surprise.

Gimps founder, George Woltman, said: "Finding this prime is by far our most impressive accomplishment to date, having taken two years of non-stop work. In addition to congratulating Michael Cameron, we wish to thank all 130,000 volunteer home users, students, schools, universities and businesses from around the world that contributed to Gimps."

Prime numbers have long fascinated mathematicians. A whole number greater than one is called a prime if its only divisors are one and itself. They are important for number theory. The Fundamental Theory of Arithmetic says that primes are the building blocks of numbers.

The first prime numbers are 2, 3, 5, 7, 11. A Mersenne prime is a prime number of the form 2P-1 (where the superscript "P" is the exponent, or number of times the original figure must be multiplied by itself). The first Mersenne primes are 3, 7, 31, 127. There are now only 39 known Mersenne primes.

The study of Mersenne primes has been central to number theory since they were first discussed by Euclid in 350 BC. The man whose name they now bear, the French monk Marin Mersenne (1588-1648), made a famous prediction about which values of "P" would yield a prime. It took 300 years and many important discoveries in mathematics to prove his conjecture.

The new Mersenne prime has been independently verified using three weeks of computer time on a 667 MHz Alpha workstation. It is the fifth, record prime found by the Gimps project, and the third discovered using a computing grid developed by Entropia.

Gimps was formed in January 1996 by George Woltman, to discover new world-record-sized Mersenne primes. All the necessary software can be downloaded for free. Most Gimps members join the search for the thrill of possibly discovering a record-setting, rare, and historic, new Mersenne prime. Previous Gimps Mersenne prime discoveries were made by members in various countries.

In June 1999, Nayan Hajratwala discovered the previous largest-known prime number in the US. In January 1998, Roland Clarkson discovered the 37th Mersenne prime, also in the US; Gordon Spence discovered the 36th in August, 1997, in the UK; Joel Armengaud discovered the 35th in November, 1996, in France.

The exercise in mass distributed computing that found the new prime would have been much more costly without the distributed computing power harnessed by Entropia's PrimeNet system.

"Entropia is delighted to have a role in this discovery," its founder, Scott Kurowski told BBC News Online. "It's great seeing such a repeatedly successful research effort having volunteers provide hundreds of thousand of PCs from virtually every time zone of the world. George runs an amazing and fun project."

In May 2000, a Gimps participant received a $50,000 co-operative computing award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for the discovery of the first million-digit prime number. A $100,000 award awaits discovery of a ten-million-digit prime number, a challenge Gimps participants are already working on.

"There are more primes out there," said George Woltman, "and anyone with an internet-connected computer can participate. Joining Gimps is a great way to learn about math through participation - plus you might find a new Mersenne prime, like Michael."

Jerry Hall Presents Bad Sex Prize

London December 5, 2001 (BBC) - Novelist Christopher Hart has won the 2001 Bad Sex in Fiction award for his novel Rescue Me.

Mr Hart, who is also the literary editor of the Erotic Review, was presented with the award by Jerry Hall at a ceremony on Tuesday evening. The presentation was held at the Naval and Military Club in St James's, London - a venue known to its members as the "In and Out Club". The annual award is organized by the Literary Review, and was founded by the literary critics Rhoda Koenig and the late Auberon Waugh in 1993.

Presenting the award, a semi-abstract statue representing sex in the 1950s, Jerry Hall said: "Bad sex writing is like bad sex - both are better than nothing. It gives me great pleasure to present someone with an award for bad sex. I usually present them with divorce papers."

The winning passage by Christopher Hart used an extended polar exploration metaphor to describe an amorous encounter:

"Her hand is moving away from my knee and heading north. Heading unnervingly and with a steely will towards the pole," he wrote. "And, like Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Pamela will not easily be discouraged. I try twitching, and then shaking my leg, but to no avail. Ever northward moves her hand, while she smiles languorously at my right ear. And when she reaches the north pole, I think in wonder and terror - she will surely want to pitch her tent."

Last year the prize was won by Sean Thomas for his novel Kissing England - and presented by Jerry Hall's ex-husband Mick Jagger. Previous winners have included AA Gill, Sebastian Faulks and Melvyn Bragg.

Auberon Waugh, who died in January at the age of 61 and was the son of the writer Evelyn Waugh, once said that the prize was intended to highlight "the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of sexual description in the modern novel - and to discourage it".

Hollywood News: Burnett, Bardot, Eden, Shatner, King, Jack and Julie

Carol Burnett Is Back on Top!

LOS ANGELES December 5, 2001 (AP) - Carol Burnett had the last laugh when she scored a ratings hit with the Nov. 26 CBS-TV special "The Carol Burnett Show: Show Stoppers."

Seems like TV audiences miss Carol - the show drew almost 30 million viewers, easily beating out ABC's usual sports hold on Monday and crushing NBC.

The retrospective featured vintage outtakes as well as newly taped reminiscences by Burnett, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence. The original comedy-variety series ran on CBS from 1967 to 1978.

These days Miss Burnett is spending time with her new husband, musician Brian Miller.

Burnett, 68, married Miller last month during a hush-hush ceremony. The couple appeared together last week at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington. Burnett publicist Deborah Kelman said Tuesday that the wedding date and details were being kept private.

It's the third marriage for Burnett, who has three daughters with ex-husband Joe Hamilton, including actress Carrie Hamilton.

Miller, whose age wasn't disclosed by Kelman, is a percussionist who plays with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Pantages Theatre Orchestra.

Brigitte Bardot Slams South Korea After Interview

SEOUL December 3, 2001 (AP) - Brigitte Bardot angrily hung up the phone during an interview with a South Korean radio station while discussing the country's dog-eating culture.

The French actress and animal rights activist was a guest invited to discuss South Korea's dog-eating culture in an interview with MBC, a major radio-television network in Seoul, on Friday. The prerecorded interview, done in French and translated into Korean, was broadcast on Monday.

In the interview, Bardot said she can never condone the South Korean habit of eating dogs, the best friend of humans.

"I accept differences of cultures in all countries. But unfortunately, cows are grown to be eaten, dogs are not. I accept that many people eat beef, but a cultured country does not allow its people to eat dogs," she said.

Bardot was exasperated and hung up the phone when the radio station's anchor, Sohn Suk-hee, asked whether she knew that some Westerners, including French, Americans and Germans, have talked fondly about their experience of eating dog meat during their visit to South Korea.

"French people, German people and Americans never eat dogs. If they did (in South Korea), it is most likely that South Koreans served them dog meat, saying it was either pork or beef," the 67-year-old said, raising her voice.

She hung up afterward, saying angrily: "I no longer want to continue this interview because I can't talk with liars."

The Bardot Foundation -

Jeannie Returns to TV on 'Sabrina'

LOS ANGELES December 3, 2001 ( - Barbara Eden, who faithfully did what her master asked of her in "I Dream of Jeannie," will get to give orders when she makes her first sitcom appearance in 20-plus years.

Eden will guest star in an episode of The WB's "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" scheduled for Friday, Jan. 11. She plays Sabrina's (Melissa Joan Hart) Great Aunt Irma, the eldest - and meanest - of Sabrina's aunts who wreaks havoc in the Other Realm.

When Irma learns that Sabrina's boyfriend Harvey (Nate Richert) knows of Sabrina's powers, she decides to test him to make sure he won't reveal Sabrina to the world.

Pop group Hanson will also appear in the episode and play a song from the band's forthcoming CD. Isaac Hanson plays the ex-boyfriend of Roxie (Soleil Moon Frye), surprising her with an impromptu song with his brothers at a soup kitchen where Roxie does volunteer work.

Eden played LeeAnn De La Vega on "Dallas" in 1990-91 and has made numerous TV movies over the years, but her last sitcom role was in the TV version of "Harper Valley P.T.A" in 1981-82.

Shatner Chats About Mind Meld and Trek Memories

Hollywood December 5, 2001 (eXoNews) - William Shatner, star of the most successful science fiction series in history, appeared in an MSN chat room last week to field questions from a vast assortment of web geeks and Trekkers.

Along the way, Shatner recalled his last moments with co-star DeForest Kelly, commented on future plans for the Mind Meld project, and admitted that he did get tired answering the same old Star Trek questions over and over.

It was fun, just the same, and Shatner was his usual charming self. Click below to read a transcript.

William Shatner Chat

Stephen King's Rose Red Comes to TV

LOS ANGELES December 3, 2001 ( - "Stephen King's Rose Red," a three-part, six-hour miniseries created directly for television by best-selling author and unparalleled master of horror Stephen King, will air in late January 2002 on the ABC Television Network.

"Stephen King's Rose Red" is the chilling tale of Dr. Joyce Reardon (Nancy Travis), an obsessed psychology professor who commissions a team of psychics and a gifted 15-year-old autistic girl, Annie Wheaton (Kimberly J. Brown), to literally wake up a supposedly dormant haunted mansion -- Rose Red, built in 1907 by Seattle oil magnate John P. Rimbauer. Their efforts unleash myriad spirits and uncover horrifying secrets of the generations who have lived and died there.

The ensemble cast includes Nancy Travis, Matt Keeslar, Kimberly J. Brown, David Dukes, Melanie Lynsky, Matt Ross, Julian Sands, Kevin Tighe, Julia Campbell, Emily Deschanel, Laura Kenny, Tsidii LeLoka and Yvonne Scio.

Mr. King and Emmy Award-winner Mark Carliner ("Stalin," "George Wallace" ) are executive producers. Thomas Brodek is producer and Craig Baxley is director. The teleplay was written by Stephen King.

"Stephen King's Rose Red" was produced for ABC by Greengrass Productions, Inc., in association with Victor Television Productions, Inc., and Mark Carliner Productions.

Jack Nicholson, Julie Andrews, Quincy Jones, Van Cliburn and Luciano Pavarotti Honored at Kennedy Center

HOLLYWOOD December 3, 2001 ( - On Sunday President George W. Bush played host to Hollywood royalty as actors Julie Andrews and Jack Nicholson, composer-producer Quincy Jones, pianist Van Cliburn and tenor  were honored for their contributions to the performing arts at the Kennedy Center Honors, the Associated Press reports.

Bush paid tribute to the honorees while poking fun at Nicholson.

"The recipients for 2001 make quite a collection," Bush said at a White House reception. "This year's honorees can carry a tune. And then there's Jack."

While Bush has not enjoyed the kind of chummy relationship with the entertainment biz that his predecessor Bill Clinton had, Hollywood notables such as Michael Douglas, Bo Derek, Carol Burnett, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Lynn Redgrave and Candice Bergen, as well as Oprah Winfrey and "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels were in attendance at the White House reception before the gala ceremony Sunday evening.

The President and First Lady Laura Bush hosted the reception for the honorees who were lauded for career achievement.

In paying tribute to Nicholson, Douglas said: "Jack, it all comes down to this: You are the screen actor of our generation."

In contrast to prior Kennedy Center Honors ceremonies, the Bush administration did not invite reporters or photographers to attend the reception. Loudspeakers were set up adjacent to the reception were journalists heard the president's speech.

"You're each here so that America can recognize your great gifts and the ways that you have used them," Bush told the honorees.

The program is scheduled to air later this month on CBS.

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