Dead Zone Approaches!
Partial Eclipse, Xbox Hack,
Lawrence of Arabia, Mussolini,
Mildred Wirt Benson & More!
Dead Zone Approaches!

By FLAtRich

Hollywood June 5, 2002 (eXoNews) - Michael Piller is sharing his inner thoughts on an online message board on The Dead Zone website.
If you've ever wanted to know what an executive producer thinks or does, here's your chance to find out.

Piller co-produced and wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation ("The Best of Both Worlds"), and co-created, wrote and co-produced Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. He also wrote the screenplay for Star Trek: Insurrection.

Piller rolls out his latest creation on the USA Network on June 16th.

Michael Piller knows his audience and what they want. In a recent message, he talks about an episode script by Phil De Guere and casually remarks that De Guere created Max Headroom.

Dead Zone's "Enigma" episode was written by Joe Menosky, who penned the classic STTNG episodes "Time's Arrow" (where the Enterprise crew meets Mark Twain) and "Darmok" (the line "with eyes open" should ring a bell), Voyager's "Unimatrix Zero", "Dark Frontier", and many others for STTNG, DS9 and Voyager.

Dead Zone also recently added Trek writer Michael Taylor (Voyager and DS9) to their writing staff as a co-producer.

The Dead Zone site offers the usual TV show newsletter sign-up, but they also give you legal materials to build a fan site, banners for webmasters (funny how few producers think of that simple courtesy, Rick Berman!), wallpaper, buddy icons and post cards.

Fans can submit questions to series star Anthony Michael Hall, and this week Piller actually asked site readers for episode order suggestions! All this before the first show is aired!

Sharing head writer responsibilities with his son Shawn, Michael Pillar is resurrecting characters created by Stephen King. The Dead Zone, was published as a number one King best-seller in 1979.

The movie version was released in 1983, starring Christopher Walken as Johnny. With the recent death of The X-Files, Piller may just have found the perfect property to bring to television at just the right time.

The story centers on former small-town teacher Johnny Smith, who has a near-fatal car crash and wakes up from a six-year coma with psychic powers.
Life has passed him by and now, for better or for worse, he has the ability to see into other people's lives.

Sounds simple, but remember: this is a Stephen King property, even if King isn't directly involved.

In his writer's guide, Piller says Dead Zone will never become "Touched by an Angel". He promises his audience mystery and wants to play the show close to the original author's intent and style. "We believe one of the most crucial elements of success, and one of King’s signatures, is a continuing sense of lurking danger. There should be a driving tension throughout each episode. We feel there is a power to the combination of idyllic New England life and the strange supernatural underpinnings of Johnny’s experience."

The lead cast is Anthony Michael Hall (as Johnny Smith); Nicole deBoer (as Sarah); Chris Bruno (as Sheriff Walt Bannerman); John L. Adams (as Bruce Lewis); David Ogden Stiers (as Reverend Gene Purdy).

By the way, the producers are not currently considering any submissions from screenwriters, but Piller's writer's guide is posted on the site. If you need practice, you might want to read it and work on something for future seasons. Michael Piller had an amazing track record with the Trek franchise, and The Dead Zone looks like a sure-fire hit show for the USA Network. (The site mentions that Piller logged 500 hours of television with the Trek franchise.)

Aware fans will note that The Dead Zone is distributed by Lions Gate in partnership with Paramount International Television, which means you folks outside the US will likely be getting it too.

The Dead Zone first season premiere is on Sunday, June 16, at 10PM/9C on the USA Network.

Web site: 

Fan mail address: Piller2 7025 Santa Monica Blvd Hollywood, CA 90038-1011.


Afghan Minister Says Mullah Mohammad Omar Still Alive

KABUL, Afghanistan June 03, 2002 (Reuters) - Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, one of the world's most wanted men, is alive and spending much of his time outside Afghanistan, the interior minister of the interim Afghan government said Monday. 

"... Mullah Omar still exists. He is out of Afghanistan most of the time," Yunis Qanuni told reporters. 

It was the first time an Afghan minister has confirmed the one-eyed Taliban chief and protector of Saudi-born al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was still alive. 

"He comes and goes to his hideouts in mountainous areas along the border," said Qanuni, referring to the southern areas of Afghanistan on the border with Pakistani. "Unfortunately, those areas are out of our access," Qanuni replied, when asked why the Afghan government and coalition forces led by the United States have failed to arrest him. 

The comments follow reports that Taliban sympathizers operating on both sides of the southern Afghan border are pasting up stickers warning the United States of a Taliban comeback. 

The 39-year-old Omar, a former mujahideen who lost an eye fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, rose from obscurity as a village mullah to lead the fundamentalist Taliban to power in the mid-1990s. He imposed a harsh brand of Islam in the country, staging public executions in football stadiums, banning girls from schools, confining women to their homes and requiring men to grow their beards. 

The United States launched a severe aerial bombardment against the Taliban in October, following the suicide airliner attacks on the United States blamed on al Qaeda. Omar fled southern Kandahar, the main stronghold of the Taliban, in December vowing to wage a guerrilla war in Afghanistan's forbidding, mountainous terrain. 

"The future of America in Afghanistan is fire, hell and a certain loss ...," pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat quoted Omar as saying in April. 

The newspaper quoted Omar as saying in an interview conducted in Afghanistan that bin Laden was also alive, despite the intense U.S. bombardment and subsequent hunt for him. Al-Hayat Sunday also published what it said was a statement from an al Qaeda spokesman warning the united States to get ready for another attack. 

"What is coming to the Americans will not, by the will of God, be less than what has come," the paper quoted al Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman bu Ghaith as saying in a statement. 

"So beware, America. Get ready. Get prepared. Put of the safety belt," he was quoted as saying.

Patriotic Diaper Flies Off the Shelves

LONDON May 30, 2002 (Reuters) - A washable diaper adorned in the Union Jack flag is flying off the shelves of the Scottish firm that is making them a fashion item as Britons prepare to celebrate the royal golden jubilee of Queen Elizabeth. 

"We only launched it Monday and have already sold 100," owner Sara Herrick told Reuters by phone from the northern Scottish town of Bower near Wick. "Normally we sell about 50 washable nappies a week, and this is in just two days." 

Herrick, who started her Ella's House business two years ago, attributed most of the boom in demand for the patriotic nappy to the celebrations this weekend of the Queen's half century on the throne. 

But she said there might also be some sympathy buying associated with the start of the 2002 World Cup soccer tournament this weekend in Korea and Japan. 

She said her hemp diapers were more comfortable and less bulky than terrycloth washable nappies and far more environmentally friendly than disposable baby bottom wrappers. 

Potential flag wavers can browse her wares on 

Anti-Monarchists Wheeled Out Guillotine for Queen

LONDON  (Reuters) - Anti-monarchists equipped with a guillotine planned to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee with an "Execute the Queen" street party. 

The gift from the Movement Against the Monarchy (MA'M) to the Queen is a mock-up of the head-chopper used to kill hundreds of French aristocrats after the French Revolution of 1789, including Queen Marie Antoinette. 

The idea makes a sharp contrast to the thousands of street parties being held to honor the Queen's 50 years on the throne. 

Organizers of Tuesday's anti-royal party in London said although most proponents of direct action against the monarchy tended to be anarchists, they did not expect there to be any trouble at the event. 

"It is obviously light-hearted," said MA'M spokesman Richard Brandon. "Obviously no harm is going to come to the Queen." 

Elsewhere in Britain, republicans looked forward to a anti-monarchist punk-rock gig in Hereford, western England, and in Scotland anarchic street parties are planned in Glasgow. 

Anti-royalists in Wales said their three-day extravaganza would be the biggest party around, republican or monarchist. 

"Stuff the Monarchy" in Wales said it would declare a people's republic in a social club in the town of Pontypridd, south Wales, for the duration of the party.

Andes Deforestation Threatens Colombia

BOGOTA June 04, 2002 (Reuters) — Deforestation and other human activity is gnawing away at Colombia's fragile high mountain ecosystems, which could reduce the nation's abundant supplies of fresh water by 40 percent over the next half century, a government scientist said recently. 

Damage by poor farmers to the vegetation of Andean mountain moorland — known as paramo — reduces the ability of the soil to act as a natural reservoir gradually feeding lowland rivers, said Carlos Castano, director of Colombia's Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies. 

"In 15 years, paramo area will fall by 75 percent. This will reduce the country's water supply and have a very serious effect on the human population in the Andes — which is where about 75 percent of the country's population lives," he said. 

"Colombia's water supply could fall by more than 40 percent in the next 50 years," Castano wrote in a brief report. 

Over the past three decades, some 27 percent of high Andean woodland and cloud forests — which grow higher than 10,000 feet above sea-level — have been cut down. Paramo area has fallen by 58 percent, he said. 

Colombia is one of the five nations with the greatest diversity of plant and animal species in the world and is home to a greater variety of birds and amphibians than any other country. 

But the country's 38-year-old guerrilla war and its huge cocaine industry also pose massive environmental problems. Marxist guerrillas regularly cause oil spills by bombing pipelines, and highly toxic byproducts of cocaine production are dumped in rivers or leach into waterways via the soil. 

Much of the oil spilled ends up in the Orinoco and Maracaibo rivers flowing through neighboring Venezuela.

Partial Eclipse Will Darken North America


Los Angeles June 3, 2002 (LA Times) - A partial eclipse of the sun will be visible from Los Angeles--and most of North America--late in the afternoon of June 10. This will be the last solar eclipse visible from Los Angeles until 2012.

Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between Earth and the sun.

During Monday's eclipse, the moon will eventually block 71% of the sun. The sky will darken noticeably but not dramatically. The eclipse will begin at 5:13 p.m., reach its maximum at 6:22 and end by 7:23--half an hour before sunset.

It is not safe to look at the sun during a partial eclipse.

"The sun will still be one-quarter uneclipsed, and that's too bright," said John Mosley, an astronomer at Griffith Observatory.

Multiple telescopes will be set up for public viewing on the lawn of the observatory, he said. The observatory building is closed for renovation, but the lawn will be open. This will be the last public astronomical viewing event at the observatory until it reopens in 2005.

The eclipse can also be viewed safely through solar filters that are sold at astronomical and optical supply houses and some specialty stores. As a backup, viewers can project the eclipse through binoculars onto a white card or piece of paper, Mosley said.

He warned against using expensive binoculars or letting them get too hot, as the lenses can become unglued.

People in a narrow path stretching across the Pacific Ocean from near Borneo to the western edge of Mexico will be able to see a rare annular, or ring, eclipse.

More information on the eclipse and an eclipse video are available at

Yasser Arafat Cheese Snack Is a Hit

CAIRO May 29, 2002 (Reuters) - Yasser Arafat cheese puffs are the new hit snack on the streets of Egypt's capital. 

A cartoon of the Palestinian leader salutes consumers from each 25-piastre ($0.05) bag of Abu Ammar chips, beckoning them to buy the snack and support a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation. 

"Abu Ammar, hero of the struggle," the cover reads in bright red letters, referring to Arafat by his nom de guerre. "The more you buy, the more you build," the bags say. "Heartbeat by heartbeat, hand by hand, we'll build a new era." 

The bags feature a cartoon of an open-mouthed Arafat in khaki military dress and his trademark black-and-white checkered headscarf against the backdrop of a Palestinian flag. The cheese-flavored corn puffs lie at Arafat's feet. 

One Cairo shopkeeper said demand was high for the snack, launched two weeks ago by Egyptian food group al-Jawhara. 

"They (Egyptians) buy it because they see Abu Ammar, and they are sympathetic with the Palestinian people," shopkeeper Mursi Mahmoud Mohammad told Reuters Monday. "They love this man. They love the people of Palestine," he said. 

A company official said three percent of profits from sales of the snack would go to help pay for medical care of Palestinians wounded in the uprising that broke out more than a year and a half ago. Thousands of Egyptians have demonstrated in support of the Palestinians, demanding Egypt cut ties and expel Israel's ambassador. 

They have also called for a boycott of U.S. goods and have urged consumers to buy Egyptian. Palestinian scarves have become a must-have accessory for many young Egyptians, and Palestinian flags have started appearing in shop windows in a country where public political protest is rare.

Supreme Court Considers Cross-Burning

By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer

Washington May 28, 2002 (Washington Post) - The Supreme Court announced today that it will decide whether a 50-year-old Virginia law banning cross-burning violates the constitutional guarantee of free speech.

The Virginia Supreme Court struck down the cross-burning ban in November, saying it criminalized a particular form of symbolic political expression.

By a vote of 4-3, the state court overturned the conviction of Klansman Barry E. Black, who had staged a cross-burning as part of a Klan rally in Carroll County, and the convictions of two Virginia Beach men who had burned a cross on the lawn of an African American neighbor.

Arguing that the ruling conflicted with decisions by state high courts in Florida, Washington and California, where cross-burning statutes were upheld, Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore appealed the case to the Supreme Court in January.

The case presents the court with an opportunity to refine its doctrine regarding an especially provocative symbol whose unique role in the history of violence against blacks and other minorities imbues it with elements of both political expression and physical menace.

Central to the case is the Supreme Court's 1992 decision invalidating a St. Paul, Minn., ordinance that criminalized cross-burning aimed at frightening or angering others "on the basis of race, color, creed or gender."

The ordinance was "unconstitutional in that it prohibits otherwise permitted speech solely on the basis of the subjects the speech addresses," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the opinion for the court.

Following that case, state supreme courts in Maryland, New Jersey and South Carolina struck down their cross-burning laws.

The Virginia Supreme Court held that the Virginia cross-burning statute was "analytically indistinguishable" from the St. Paul ordinance.

Virginia argues that its statute is consistent with that ruling because, unlike the St. Paul ordinance, it bars all cross-burning "with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons," and does not refer to race or religion.

The case is Virginia v. Black, No. 01-1107. Oral arguments are expected in the fall, and a decision by July 2003.

Hacking The Xbox

By Ben Berkowitz 

LOS ANGELES June 03, 2002 (Reuters) - A graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said he has found a way to circumvent the security system for Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox video game console, opening the way for hackers to use it to run competing software, according to documents released over the weekend. 

The MIT computer expert, who posted his report on his university Web site, also questioned the security behind Microsoft's soon-to-launch online service, Xbox Live, saying hackers could exploit a flaw in the system to identify individual players from their game machines. 

Andrew Huang, who recently completed a PhD thesis on supercomputer architecture, wrote a memo May 26 describing his efforts to build hardware that would read the Xbox's internal security system. A link to the 15-page report was posted this weekend at technology news and discussion Web site (  ). 

Computer enthusiasts have been excited about the possibility of using the $199 Xbox, which is technologically similar to a PC, as a stand-alone computer running operating systems like Linux. Some see it as the ultimate slight against Microsoft -- using the software giant's own hardware to run software that competes against its Windows operating system. 

In the memo, Huang said the Xbox's primary security is contained in what he calls a "secret boot block" that is encoded into a media processor chip built for the Xbox by Nvidia Corp. Representatives of Microsoft and Nvidia were not immediately available for comment. An MIT spokesman told Reuters the university has not been received any request to take the paper down from its sites. 


Huang said he had extracted the contents of the boot block by tapping the data path that travels between the media chip and the central processor. By attaching a custom-designed board to that high-speed data path, Huang was able to capture the data transmitted between the two chips and manually process it to uncover the secrets contained in the "boot block." He said it took a total of three weeks to build his custom board for a total cost of around $50. 

Given the particular encryption algorithm that was used and the decryption key, both of which Huang has identified, "one can run original code on the Xbox," he said, meaning it would be possible to run things like unauthorized games and other operating systems on the console. 

Huang also said a colleague of his, who goes by the pseudonym "visor," had had discovered a vulnerability in the console's programming, that would allow the boot-up sequence to be interrupted so that any code can be run on the system. 

In an e-mail to Reuters, Huang said he notified Microsoft in advance he would be publishing the paper, gave them a copy to read, and has been in regular contact with the company. He also said he is not working on any of the attempts to run Linux or other systems on the Xbox. 

"I know a lot of people are exploring the possibility now, but I personally am not spearheading any effort toward this end," he said. "I like doing hardware, so I'm making my little contribution to figuring out the hardware, so that those who like doing software can do what they like to do." 

Huang also said in the paper he has discovered keys to the identity of the console owner that may, in theory, be vulnerable through an online connection. He discovered separately that the console's serial number is stored in its memory, and that the data might be readable by the central operating system.

"What happens to this information when the Xbox is plugged into the Internet?" he asked.

Road Rage Blamed on Brain Disorder
By Roger Highfield
Science Editor

Philadelphia May 28, 2002 (Telegraph UK) - People who carry out road rage attacks and impulsive acts of violence may suffer from a brain disorder, a study reports today.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder is associated with outbursts of aggression but, until now, there has been no evidence of a brain abnormality. One clue has come from patients who have suffered damage to the orbital/medial pre-frontal cortex circuit, who are also impulsive, aggressive and show little control over their emotions.

Although there is no evidence that sufferers of IED have damage to this area, Dr Mary Best of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and colleagues at the University of Chicago subjected patients to tests that reveal if this brain circuit has been affected. They were tested for their ability to recognize emotional expressions, make appropriate decisions in risky situations, and identify odours.

While less impaired than patients with brain damage to the circuit, individuals with IED performed more poorly than a comparison group without IED or brain damage, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.

This could point to a genetic or developmental abnormality.
NASA Finds Pollution in Hiding

NASA-GSFC NEWS RELEASE June 2, 2002 - NASA and scientists from 10 tropical countries have used balloon-borne sensors to obtain the first picture of the structure of ozone (pollution) in the tropical troposphere, the atmospheric layer between the surface and 50,000 feet. Under the SHADOZ (Southern Hemisphere Additional Ozonesondes) Project, they have found that ozone "piles up" over the south Atlantic Ocean due to natural circulation patterns and that pollution (low-level ozone) from Africa and South America streams into the pile-up region, making the ozone even thicker. 

"To envision how the pollution is moving, think of the Atlantic Ocean as having a horizontal wheel on either side, pushing pollution into the middle, where atmospheric motions are already dumping ozone. Both pollution and the pileup are strongest between August and November," said lead researcher Anne Thompson of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Over the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the ozone shifts locations with the waxing and waning of El Nino cycles. El Ninos shift wind circulation patterns, decreasing the ozone over the eastern Pacific, and increasing it over the Indian Ocean. 

The new ozone data has come from a 5-year scientific effort in which NASA has partnered with NOAA, Japanese, Indonesian and Brazilian space scientists and with researchers in Kenya, South Africa, Java, South Africa, Suriname and four Pacific islands. Since 1998 more than 1,500 balloons bearing ozone sensors called ozonesondes have been launched over these tropical locations. The data are stored in a web-based location designated as the SHADOZ project and are publicly available. 

"Before SHADOZ, ozonesonde launches would stop and start and the data were not easy to get," said Jacquelyn Witte, co-researcher on the project. By providing additional sensors to the partners, all the data are collected, shared and distributed worldwide. 

With more ozone over the Atlantic than the Pacific, the additional ozone pileup is called a "wave-one pattern" that is seen by satellite.The ozonesondes help see what the satellites do not, and it looks as if the wave one pattern is predominantly if not exclusively in the troposphere. Thompson said, "This solves a decade-old mystery about where the Atlantic ozone was coming from." 

The SHADOZ project has also been very important to people interested in tropical climate and meteorology, and those scientists that work on improving satellite sensors. The ozone data also show that the tropical tropopause - the border between stratosphere and troposphere - is a 2-mile thick transition layer, not a sharp boundary as scientists previously thought. Prior to SHADOZ, satellites were the only way to get this information, and there was no way to verify it. SHADOZ data will be used to improve satellite instruments by comparing their readings to those taken from the ground up. 

Thompson presented her findings in Session A52B-03, "Variability in Ozone in the Tropical Tropopause Region from the 1998-2000 SHADOZ Data," at the American Geophysical Union 2002 Spring Meeting in Washington, D.C., on Friday, May 31.

Flawed White House Climate Report Challenged
Washington DC June 4, 2002 (CEI) — The Competitive Enterprise Institute today filed a petition with the Bush Administration to prevent the distribution of a fatally flawed report on global warming. The petition to prevent distribution is in response to the Bush Administration decisions to include discredited research and junk science in the report, Climate Action Report 2002, issued last week by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

“The conclusions of the Climate Action Report utterly fail to meet the minimum statutory requirements for scientific rigor, and should be immediately withdrawn by the EPA” said Christopher C. Horner, senior fellow at CEI. “The guidelines of the Federal Data Quality Act require that scientific information being disseminated by the government be presented in an accurate, complete and unbiased manner. The administration’s current report clearly violates these requirements.”

As a result of a lawsuit led by CEI and three members of Congress, the White House had previously agreed not to use the flawed National Assessment on Climate Change as representing a government policy or position on climate change. The Administration abandoned that agreement, struck to settle a federal lawsuit, with last week’s Climate Action Report 2002, which prominently cites and relies upon this discredited and withdrawn product. 

Today’s petition was filed by CEI with the EPA, the only agency currently disseminating the Climate Action Report 2002. The original lawsuit against the White House’s flawed climate science was brought jointly by CEI, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Representatives Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), and other non-profit advocacy groups.
New Twist to Tale of Lawrence of Arabia

By Mike Collett-White 

LONDON May 29, 2002 (Reuters) - Mystery surrounding the life of the enigmatic Englishman known as Lawrence of Arabia deepened on Tuesday with the release of secret files which point to a relationship with a woman never heard of before. 

Thomas Edward Lawrence was immortalized in a 1962 film starring Peter O'Toole which depicted his daredevil exploits as leader of the Arab Revolt against the Turks during World War One, a campaign that aided Britain's cause.

The papers released by the Public Record Office in London relate to the latter part of Lawrence's life after he had returned to England from his exploits overseas. They reinforce the impression of a "misfit" unable to find a role in his homeland, who could not shake off the past and who was hounded by the media like a modern-day celebrity. The files also throw up an intriguing new name in the life of one of the 20th century's most famous Englishmen which does not appear in dozens of existing accounts of his adventures. 

A "voluntary allotment of pay" dated 1926 shows Lawrence, known at the time by his pseudonym T.E. Shaw, canceling a daily debit from his wages of 24 pence to a Miss Ruby Bryant. There are few details about the mystery woman from Newark in northern England. The amount being paid to her represented two thirds of Lawrence's pay as a humble aircraftsman.  But she clearly knew his real identity, as her note to the Air Ministry showed: 

"Kindly note, the allotment made out to me on behalf of Colonel Lawrence (going under the name of L.A.C.-leading aircraftsman-Shaw), has not yet come to hand. This should have been due last Thursday." 

On the same day the payment was canceled, Lawrence ordered a new set of payments -- six pence daily -- to W.J. Ross in London. A third payment of three pence a day was made by Lawrence to a young Scot, John Bruce, from 1933 until Lawrence's discharge from the Royal Air Force in 1935. The two served together in the Tank Corps, and Bruce later recalled how he was paid to beat Lawrence in ritual "birchings" in the early 1920s. 

The relationship between Lawrence and Bruce has been the center of speculation for years. Some biographers claim it reinforces the argument that Lawrence was a homosexual, although this has never been categorically proven. He enlisted as an ordinary recruit in the Royal Air Force in 1922 under an assumed name in an attempt to escape his fame, but his cover was blown soon after by newspaper reporters. 

Following a short time in the Tank Corps he rejoined the RAF in 1925, having begged top military brass to let him back in. 

"I'm not the only misfit one meets (and is usually sorry for)," he wrote in a typically frank handwritten letter to Sir Hugh Trenchard, chief of air staff. "There is nothing portentous about my small self. If I had the greatness you alone see in me, would I write you begging letters year after year?" 

Lawrence died in 1935 after a motorcycle accident. Winston Churchill famously called him "one of the greatest beings of our time" at his funeral. 

Lawrence of Arabia Factfile - 

New £5 Note Fails The Rub


London May 28, 2002 (The Scotsman) - The launch of commemorative £5 bank notes to mark the Golden Jubilee was overshadowed yesterday when the distribution of new notes by the Bank of England was suspended after it was discovered serial numbers on the currency could be rubbed off. 

The bank said it had received about "half a dozen" calls from members of the public at the end of last week relating to serial numbers on the notes coming off. Tests showed that on some notes it was possible to remove both of the serial numbers if the paper was rubbed hard. 

A Bank of England spokesman said: "We have had a small number of reports from members of the public of serial numbers rubbing off and so we are investigating urgently. As a precautionary measure, we have this afternoon asked the banks and the Post Office to suspend further issuance of the new £5 note, while we carry out further tests and investigative work." 

The bank said about ten million of the new notes have been distributed but that a "substantial proportion" were still being held by banks or post offices and had not been issued to the general public. The notes, which feature a portrait of the social reformer, Elizabeth Fry, were previously described by the bank as "the most secure £5 note we have produced". 

Printed on stronger, varnished paper for longer life, the notes will now be analyzed to establish the cause of the disappearing numbers, although the bank insisted that extensive tests had already been carried out before last Tuesday’s launch. The bank said more than 200 million £5 notes of the previous design remained in circulation. 

It insisted that would be enough for public demand, until the new notes could be re-issued. 

Some commentators were unhappy that George Stephenson, the father of the Rocket locomotive and the pioneer of the greatest invention of the Victorian age, would see his visage wiped from the English £5 note. 

Fry, the Quaker philanthropist and prison reformer, is only the second woman - apart from the Queen - to grace our notes. 4She achieved a slow improvement in the horrific conditions of Newgate jail. Her first visit to the jail in the early 19th century was met with half-naked, drunk and brawling inmates. 

The Bank of England said the change was needed to safeguard against forgery and allow the introduction of a new hologram. Scotland’s clearing banks issue their own £5 notes, but smudging overshadowed the launch of commemorative notes to mark the Golden Jubilee. The notes, issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland, include the official gold crown motif of the Golden Jubilee and the date of issue, 6 February, 2002 - the anniversary of the day of accession to the throne. 

The initials of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee - TQGJ - are used as the prefix for the serial numbers. The reverse of the note has been redesigned, with two portraits of the Queen, one at the time of the coronation and the other a less formal recent likeness.

Romanian Witches Bring Magic Touch
BUCHAREST May 31, 2002 (Reuters) - Organizers of a consumer goods fair in the Romanian capital Bucharest called in 100 witches on Wednesday to bring some magic to the event and boost visitor numbers. 

"Magic is a fashionable topic in Romania and we wanted to show the visitors witches at work," General Fairs director Romexpo Tiberiu Pap told Reuters. 

The witches, from all over the country, came dressed in their traditional Roma brightly-colored skirts and gold jewelry and will read tarot cards and tell fortunes throughout the five-day event, promoting everything from T-shirts to swimming pools. 

The witches were happy to boast about their supernatural powers. "I received these golden sandals, the golden crown and the golden bag as a prize for my exceptional powers in India," said Maria Campina, 56, voted Queen of White Magic by her colleagues.
Mussolini's Escape Tunnel

By Bruce Johnstone

Rome May 31, 2002 (Telegraph UK) - A secret tunnel from the bowels of the palace in Rome where Benito Mussolini had his headquarters was almost certainly built as an escape route for the fascist dictator, it was disclosed yesterday.

A report in the Rome newspaper Il Messaggero said the tunnel, 15ft below ground and running near the area of the Roman Forum where the dictator had many archaeological finds brought to light, was built to be used by cars.

A maze of tunnels leading from his office in Palazzo Venezia opens into a large tunnel heading south towards the Colosseum.

Stretches of tunnel are interrupted by wider areas which are still furnished in places and wired for telephones and radio transmitter-receivers.

But the tunnel, which is thought to have been built in the late 1930s and early '40s when the Forum was being uncovered, is little more than a quarter of a mile long.

Massimo Bruno, an architect working for Rome's Fine Arts and Archaeological Department, found the tunnel by chance 20 years ago, but did not realize its significance at the time, the newspaper said.

Although no maps showing the underground passages have been found, the newspaper said it was clear that they were intended to give the dictator an escape route, "in case of difficulty" according to its finder.

"I was exploring the service corridors of the monument to King Victor Emmanuel II with an electric torch," said Mr Bruno. "It was a discovery that occurred completely by chance and left me stunned. It was easy to guess what had been the purpose of that secret tunnel.

"I knew that during the war the monument had been used as an anti-aircraft shelter and that part of the subterranean labyrinth had been kept aside for the use of the illustrious inhabitants of Palazzo Venezia. But I ignored the possibility that Mussolini could have actually planned a secret escape route.

"It would have enabled him to make off quickly, by leaving in a car through the tunnel, which probably would have emerged in an area around the Colosseum."

Genre News: Men In Black 2, X-Men 2, Haunted, Buffy, Witchblade and Star Trek: Nemesis

Men In Black II Promotions

Hollywood June 5, 2002 (eXoNews) - Don't say we never did you any favors. Here are two web sites where you can win big prizes as part of the advance promotion for Men In Black II, starring Wil Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The first sweeps, from Sony, features a huge TV and other electronic goodies. That one is here 

The second MIBII sweeps is even more impressive. A free Mercedes-Benz anybody? If you win one of these and found out here, drop us a line. We'll hunt you down like an alien! Mercedes sweeps at 

The official Men In Black movie site is at

For even more Sony giveaway contests, you can also try 

Hu Mutates Into 'X-Men 2' Villain 
By Zorianna Kit

Hollywood June 04, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - "The Scorpion King" co-star Kelly Hu has been added to the cast of 20th Century Fox's "X-Men 2" for director Bryan Singer.

Production is scheduled to begin this month, with Ralph Winter, Lauren Shuler Donner and Avi Arad producing. Hu will star as the villainous Anne, a mutant with human emotions who is the sidekick to Striker, the lead villain who has yet to be cast.

Last week, Aaron Stanford was cast as Pyro, a young mutant/student, while Alan Cumming will play Nightcrawler, a new superhero. Returning characters include Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Rogue (Anna Paquin), Cyclops (James Marsden), Dr. Grey (Famke Janssen) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos).

Hu is repped by Innovative Artists' Craig Shapiro, Mosaic Media Group's David Fleming and Julie Wixon-Darmody and Stone Meyer & Genow. She is shooting Warner Bros. Pictures' "Cradle 2 the Grave" opposite Jet Li and DMX. 

The official X-Men movie site is, as expected, at 

The Marvel Comics website is, marvelously enough, at 

Hornsby Gets Haunted

Hollywood May 31, 2002 (Sci Fi) - Russell Hornsby offered SCI FI Wire a preview of things to come on Haunted, a new genre show that will debut next fall on UPN.

The series stars Matthew Fox as Frank Taylor, a cop-turned-private eye who's guided by real ghosts and driven by a desire to find his kidnapped son; Hornsby plays Marcus Bradshaw, Taylor's ex-partner.

"I would say that the show is about cross-worlds—the supernatural, the paranormal," Hornsby said in an interview. "It's about a man dealing with his life here and his life on the other side and trying to figure out what is real."

Hornsby, best known for his work on the series Gideon's Crossing and making his genre debut with Haunted, added, "Haunted is actually a detective/police drama with scary elements to it. It's not a scary show with cops. I think we have something original, I really do. This is a high-end product, and it will stand on its own. It won't have to be compared to anything, because there's nothing to compare it to."

Queen of the Damned director Michael Rymer helmed the pilot for Haunted, which will air in UPN's Tuesday night post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer timeslot.

Buffy Trolls For Emmy

Hollywood May 31, 2002 (Sci Fi) - Producers of UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer slipped DVDs of this year's musical episode into subscription copies of Variety to promote the episode for an Emmy nomination, a spokesperson told SCI FI Wire.

The episode, "Once More With Feeling," aired last November and was being touted in the unusual promotion by UPN and the show's producer, 20th Century Fox Television, the spokesperson said.

Though critically acclaimed, Buffy was snubbed at Emmy time last year by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

"Of course, the goal is to get some nominations this year," the Fox spokesperson said in an interview.

"It's as big a campaign as last year. ... Every year we do big Emmy campaigns for some of our shows, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is definitely one of them. This year it seemed like a way to reach a bigger and broader audience."

Ballots for the prime-time Emmy Awards go out to academy members next week, and nominations will be announced July 18. 

The awards will be broadcast Sept. 22 on NBC.

Scoobies! You could actually win the latest Buffy DVD Set (Season 2) from at 

For more info about the DVD Set, look at 

The official Buffy website is, naturally, at 

And we're lacking any other hot Firefly news for Joss fans this week, but there is now an official site at

There's Action on 'Witchblade' Set 
By Nellie Andreeva

Hollywood June 04, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - There are hopeful signs that there will be no interruption in the second season of TNT's action-drama "Witchblade," scheduled to launch June 16 with a two-hour premiere.

Only six episodes of the 13 needed are in the can right now because the show's star, Yancy Butler, has been sidelined for about a month to undergo alcohol treatment. Sources said preproduction is under way for a tentative Monday start of filming, which would make for a seamless transition between the already produced and new episodes. While there has been speculation that Butler might be replaced, insiders said her treatment has been successful, and she is expected to show up for work Monday.

The official Witchblade site is, logically, at 

New Star Trek: Nemesis Pics at E3

Hollywood May 31, 2002 (Cinescsape) - There was a ripple of anticipation last week when Paramount Pictures announced the release of ‘exclusive’ STAR TREK: NEMESIS material at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) convention in Los Angeles.

The studio said the material would be available on CD to those who made their way past Paramount’s booth. 

Many pre-release reports hinted it would be a teaser or trailer, and while it turned out not to be so grand, the CD still held some interesting images of the latest and greatest in NEXT GENERATION adventures.

STAR TREK: NEMESIS hits theaters in December.

The official Star Trek site is, obviously, at 

Nancy Drew Author Mildred Wirt Benson Dies at 96

TOLEDO, Ohio May 29, 2002 (AP) - Mildred Wirt Benson, who brought a young sleuth named Nancy Drew to life as the original author of the popular children's mystery series, has died at the age of 96. 

Benson became ill at work Tuesday afternoon while working on her column about daily life and older folks for The Blade newspaper. She was taken to the Toledo Hospital, where she died, the hospital said. 

Benson was a journalist for 58 years and wrote more than 130 books, including the Penny Parker mystery series. She also penned countless short stories, but is best known for creating Nancy Drew, who inspired and captivated generations of girls. 

The series is still in print and has sold more than 200 million books in 17 languages. 

Nancy Drew buffs have said Benson's books allowed teenage girls and young women to imagine anything could be possible at a time when females struggled for any sense of equality. 

"I always knew the series would be successful," Benson said in a December interview with The Associated Press. "I just never expected it to be the blockbuster that it has been. I'm glad that I had that much influence on people." 

Never Collected Royalties

Benson, known as Millie to friends and fans, wrote 23 of the 30 original Nancy Drew stories using the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. She was paid $125 per book and never collected royalties from the books, movies and board games. 

Benson was bound by an agreement with the publisher not to publicly reveal her identity as the series author, but it became known in 1980 when she testified in a court case involving Nancy Drew's publisher. 

Benson began writing in Ladora, Iowa, where she was born July 10, 1905, to Lillian and Dr. J.L. Augustine. 

"I always wanted to be a writer from the time I could walk," she said. "I had no other thought except that I wanted to write." 

She wrote children's stories when she was in grade school and won her first writing award at 14. Benson was the first person to receive a master's degree in journalism at the University of Iowa in 1927, according to the school. She was introduced to journalism through her first husband, Asa Wirt, who worked with The Associated Press. In 1944, Benson began working at the former Toledo Times and later at The Blade. She covered city hall, federal and courthouse beats and wrote a weekly column in The Blade from 1990 until January, when she reluctantly retired. 

Despite failing eyesight and diminished hearing, she continued authoring a monthly column after retirement called "Millie Benson's Notebook." The day after she was diagnosed with lung cancer in June 1997, she was back at her desk working on her next column. 

Wirt died in 1947. In 1950, Benson married George Benson, editor of The Toledo Times, who died in 1959. She is survived by her daughter, Peggy Wirt, of Logansport, Indiana.

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