The Edge of Space!
Superman Lives! Robin Hood Escapes!
Tsunamis, Ocean Plankton Dying,
Kingdom of Hawaii,
Lost Ark & More!
Space News!

Russians on Phobos

Moscow August 20, 2002 (AFP) — A Russian company plans to send a robot probe to a Martian moon in 2007, where it will take a small sample of soil and bring it back to Earth for analysis, the news agency Itar-Tass said Tuesday. 

The firm, Lavochkin, has made a mock-up of the probe and carried out a number of tests on it at a site at Kaluga, south of Moscow, it said, quoting Sergei Potekhin, director of OKB Kaluga, a firm that is also working on the scheme. 

If all goes well, the probe would head for Phobos, one of Mars' two moons, in 2007 and scrape up around 3 ounces (100 grams) of soil, which it would then bring back to Earth, the report said. It gave no further details about the project. 

The European Space Agency (ESA) next year will launch Mars Express, a mission in which a small rover will deploy from an orbiter that will swing around the Red Planet. 

The rover, Beagle 2, will analyze soil samples, mainly to hunt for the presence of water. But the range of equipment it will carry will be severely restricted by weight requirements. A more complete knowledge of the planet's history can only be derived from testing the samples in a big laboratory on Earth. 

NASA and other international agencies have tentatively planned a mission to bring Martian soil samples back to Earth, but this is unlikely to take place before 2014, according to NASA. 

Russia has a brilliant history in space exploration and a roster of top space scientists, but its scope is limited by lack of cash. 

Last month, it hatched a plan for a joint mission to Mars with NASA and ESA for sending a manned team to the planet in around 2014-15, at the cost of some $20 billion.

The Edge of Space

By Deborah Zabarenko 

WASHINGTON August 20, 2002 (Reuters) - The little spaceships that could - NASA's twin Voyagers - celebrate their 25th year on Tuesday by speeding toward the very edge of our solar system, carrying messages from Mozart, Bach and Chuck Berry. 

The first Voyager was launched Aug. 20, 1977, and was expected to take a quick four-year tour of Jupiter and Saturn, send back some data, and retire.

The other launched Sept. 5, 1977, with a similar mission but a different route. 

Instead, the doughty robotic probes have kept going and going and going, snapping never-before-seen images of the outer planets, discovering volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io and a massive atmospheric storm on Neptune. 

Both Voyagers are far beyond the known planets now, but still sending back data as they head toward interstellar space, testing the limits of human-made spacecraft.
But even if the Voyagers can no longer send back data, they still carry elaborate postcards from Earth, fashioned in haste by a team led by the late cosmologist Carl Sagan, to convey to any extraterrestrial travelers what earthly life is like. 

Identical golden disks are fastened to each of the Voyagers, engraved with ambient sounds of our planet -- a kiss, a mother's lullaby, wind and water -- as well as images, written greetings from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, and spoken greetings in languages ranging from ancient Akkadian to modern Wu. 

The golden records also include 90 minutes of music, running the gamut from Bach's Second Brandenburg Concerto and Mozart's The Magic Flute to rock icon Berry's version of his own "Johnny B. Goode." 

There are also symbolic descriptions of the spaceships' origins and instructions on how the records are to be played.


"No, there have been no responses" to the records, Voyager project manager Ed Massey said with a chuckle. "They're still on the spacecraft -- we're in contact with the spacecraft every day, and we know they're still there." 

The Voyager probes are by far the most distant human-made objects, with the furthest of the two now 85 times as far from the Sun as Earth -- and the Earth-Sun distance is 93 million miles. The closer Voyager is 68 times that distance. 

Such distance can bring difficulties. Even moving at the speed of light -- 186,000 miles per second -- it takes Voyager's radio signals nearly 12 hours to reach Earth. That means any malfunction would take at least that long to detect, and by then it might be too late to fix, Massey said. 

The spacecraft could run out of electrical power before they reach their next goal, which is to explore the limits of the vast bubble the Sun is blowing around itself. The boundary of the bubble is called the heliopause, the place where the expanding solar bubble is counterbalanced by inward pressure from interstellar wind. 

No one really knows when the Voyagers could reach this point, but Massey sounded confident they would get there and still be able to send back data. 

"We don't run out of electrical power until about 2020," he said. "There's every expectation that Voyager 1 will ... at least enter the heliopause. There may be a question as to whether it will exit out the other side before we run out of power." 

At 59, with only about four years with Voyager, Massey said he would be retired long before the probes hit the heliopause. 

"I don't think anybody expected we would still be here 25 years later though we probably could go another 25 years," he said. 

More information on the Voyager program is available at

Pluto's Global Warming

By Richard Stenger

Flagstaff AZ August 19, 2002 (CNN) - Pluto could be experiencing a warming trend on the surface and a cooling trend in the atmosphere, according to planetary scientists. Astronomers made the deduction based on observations of a recent stellar eclipse when Pluto passed in front of the light of star P126A.

When the planet eclipsed another star in 1998, the starlight went out quickly. During the July event, the light dimmed slowly as Pluto passed in front. By studying the starlight, scientists estimated the density, pressure and temperature of Pluto's atmosphere.

"In the last 14 years, one or more changes have occurred," said Marc Buie of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. "Pluto's atmosphere is undergoing global cooling, while other data indicates that the surface seems to be getting slightly warmer. Change is inevitable as Pluto moves away from the sun, but what we're seeing is more complex than expected." Buie reported the findings last week with James Elliot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology .

Pluto has a highly eccentric orbit and is heading away from the sun to the most distant point in its travels. Astronomers theorize that during such times Pluto's atmosphere freezes over for more than a century. The scientists will be able to get more data when Pluto passes in front of another star Tuesday.

Such star eclipses or occultations are becoming more commonplace because Pluto is moving in line with the main band of the Milky Way, where stars are more commonplace.

Lowell Observatory site - 

Bush Turns His Back on World Summit

WASHINGTON, DC, August 20, 2002 (ENS) - Secretary of State Colin Powell will lead the American delegation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa from August 26 through September 4. President George W. Bush made the announcement late Monday, giving no explanation as to why he will not be attending the summit to join 106 other world leaders on the speaker's podium. 

Secretary Powell will be joined by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality James Connaughton, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios, and Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky, the President said. 

The World Summit on Sustainable Development is sponsored by the United Nations as a 10 year follow up to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which was attended by then President George H.W. Bush, father of the current President. 

Other heads of government and heads of state who are on the speakers list in Johannesburg include all the other leaders of G8 countries - UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Italian President Silvio Berlusconi and Russia's Vladimir Putin among them. 

President Bush has been under pressure from Republican Party and conservative lobbyists not to attend the summit. 

A letter to Bush made public Friday by Friends of the Earth UK shows the nature of that pressure. Dated August 2, the letter is signed by 31 political groups and individuals. It says "We applaud your decision not to attend the summit in person." 

"Even more than the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992," the letter says, "the Johannesburg Summit will provide a global media stage for many of the most irresponsible and destructive elements involved in critical international economic and environmental issues. Your presence would only help to publicize and make more credible various anti-freedom, anti-people, anti-globalization, and anti-Western agendas." 

Signatories to the letter include representatives of seven think tanks that receive funding from oil giant ExxonMobil, according to figures in an official Exxon document. 

The lobbyists' letter states that "the least important global environmental issue is potential global warming, and we hope that your negotiators at Johannesburg can keep it off the table and out of the spotlight." 

In his announcement Monday, President Bush said the U.S. team will offer plans that "advance the new approach to development that I embraced with other national leaders at the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development this past May." 

"This new approach is based on shared accountability among developed and developing nations," the President said. 

"The U.S. delegation will come to Johannesburg with concrete and practical proposals for strong and lasting partnerships to advance some of the world's key development priorities - clean water, modern energy, good health, and productive agriculture - that can lead us to a world without poverty," said President Bush. 

A U.S. federal government report prepared for the World Summit on Sustainable Development issued today says the U.S. team will be promoting "good governance" and anticorruption at the summit, in particular "an integrated, cross-sectoral approach to addressing governance and sustainable development." 

"The U.S. Government promotes good governance in every region of the world and believes that a good governance component makes environmentally oriented programs more effective. USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] is the lead agency in this work, providing $700 million annually to support an array of democracy and governance activities," the report says. 

The goals of U.S. assistance programs that support good governance are: democratic institutions that are effective, accountable, and transparent; an independent and fair judiciary; law enforcement that - with integrity - protects the people while strengthening their capacity to combat corruption; sound monetary; fiscal, and trade policies that promote economic growth, social development, and environmental protection; participation by all members of civil society in decisions that affect them.

Indian Monster Revealed

India August 21, 2002 (AFP) - Claims that a face-scratching "monster" has been attacking humans at night in a north Indian state have sparked riots and even deaths, though scientists said there is a more rational explanation. 

Residents of Uttar Pradesh state have reported being attacked by a strange and brightly-lit object that appears in the night and flies sideways, leaving its victims with scratch marks on their faces. 

The first reports of attacks by the muhnochwa (literally, something that scratches the face) came from rural areas in Mirzapur district, but the real panic began when nearby townspeople began claiming similar attacks. Last Thursday, one person died in the town of Sitapur when police fired shots to disperse a 10,000-strong crowd demanding that authorities capture the attackers. A second death occurred in the town of Barabanki in similar circumstances on Sunday. Two people were injured in the police fire. 

Reports claim that some people have been killed by the muhnochwa but there is no evidence to back this up. Other reports claimed that terrified villagers have killed people suspected of being a muhnochwa. 

Villagers, especially in the Mirzapur district, have stopped sleeping outdoors despite the sweltering heat. Descriptions of the attacker vary, with some saying it resembles a football and others claiming it is more like a tortoise.

However, everyone agrees it is brightly lit. 

Police, who initially were sceptical, changed their tune when some of their colleagues claimed to have also been attacked. 

On Tuesday scientists gave a more reasoned assessment, saying the phenomenon was being caused by balls of lightning which are being produced due to the extremely dry conditions existing in the drought-hit state. 

"The phenomena of lightning balls are older than life on earth," one researcher, Ravindra Arora, told AFP. "There is evidence of these balls over the ages," Dr Arora said. "Reports about these have been received from different parts of Europe and the United States. The highest frequency has been reported from New Zealand." 

In all cases, people see a ball-like object in the night emitting different colours and travelling sideways, Dr Arora said. 

The ball can produce about 100 watts of electricity and, when it hits a person's body, especially the face, it can cause rashes and a burning sensation. The ball also ceases to exist suddenly as it dissipates quickly after hitting an object. The phenomenon should stop once long-delayed rains arrive in the state. 

Once the earth regains its natural characteristics, it becomes a good conductor of electricity, Dr Arora said.

Genre News: Superman, Bugs and Daffy, Lathe of Heaven, 24, Conway and Korman & More!

Superman Lives? 

Hollywood August 19, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - The Coming Attractions Web site reported rumors that writer J.J. Abrams (Alias) has turned in a 200-page script for Superman 5 to Warner Brothers, and that the buzz on the script is great. The site reported that Abrams' script for a proposed fifth Superman movie is so good that it may bump the proposed Superman vs. Batman movie out of the way.

Citing an anonymous source, the site added that the only impediment to Superman 5 is the willingness of director Joseph McGinty Nichol, aka McG, to helm the project. Abrams reportedly wants only McG in the director's chair, so until that can be worked out, the movie may remain in limbo.

Warner is trying to persuade McG to hand the reins over to another director. The site added that Warner is eyeing several other directors, including David Fincher, Michael Mann, Rob Bowman and Steven Soderbergh.

Note: The recently announced Superman Vs. Batman project to be directed by Wolfgang Petersen has been shelved again. Petersen elected to direct a Trojan War epic called Troy instead. Brad Pitt's name has been floated for the Homeric hero, Achilles in Troy. Warner Brother's spokesman Lorenzo di Bonaventura said of the super duo in The Hollywood Reporter:

"We decided that Batman vs. Superman is like a good wine--it will find its time and only get better." - Ed.

Blue Crush Director Goes Hawaiian Eye 
By Nellie Andreeva

Hollywood August 20, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - John Stockwell, who's making waves at the box-office with his Hawaiian surfing picture "Blue Crush," is set to make a splash on the small screen with an action-drama set in Hawaii.

Fox has given a sizable pilot commitment to Imagine TV and 20th Century Fox TV's police drama "The Break." Stockwell will write and direct the pilot.
He will also executive produce with Imagine TV's Brian Grazer and David Nevins.

"Break" centers on a cop who returns to his hometown on Oahu's North Shore in an effort to reconnect with his teenage son.

He joins Honolulu's police department, and the police work will span the Hawaiian islands, with water playing a big part in the action.

Bugs and Daffy Feature Comeback

Hollywood August 20, 2002 (Cinescape) - Director Joe Dante is talking more about the upcoming LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION.

The film has been touted as a return of the Warner Bros. stable of cartoon icons (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, etc.) to their real rabble-rousing versions of yesteryear, and not the bland 1990s versions seen in SPACE JAM.

We’ll see. The plot Dante revealed sounds an awfully lot like the Bugs and Daffy seen in the 1970s, when they were more actors than the wild wise-asses of their 1940s and 1950s heyday.

Said Dante about the film, “Bugs and Daffy work at a movie studio. Daffy quits because he's tired of Bugs getting all the favorable treatment. He hooks up with a stuntman who is also fired the same day due to hanging around with Daffy too much, and gets involved in his adventure because his father was a secret spy on the trail of a mythical blue diamond. Daffy, of course, wants to go on the journey with him but the studio decides they want Daffy back, so Bugs and a young studio executive heroin have to go out and try to bring him back. It takes place over several continents and it's quite a big deal."

Brendan Fraser and Jenna Elfman are also set to star in the cartoon/live action film.

Lathe of Heaven Due on A&E 

Hollywood August 16, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - Philip Haas, director of the upcoming A&E made-for-cable film based on Ursula K. Le Guin's classic SF novel The Lathe of Heaven, told SCI FI Wire that he hoped to achieve a look and feel that was simultaneously retro and futuristic.

Lathe tells the story of George Orr (Lukas Haas, no relation to Philip), a man whose dreams can change reality. "Some of the buildings are old, but timeless," Philip Haas said in an interview.

"There's a woman's voice singing a wordless melody over these images of jellyfish that you see often in the movie, that represent Orr's state of mind, and that voice was actually computer-generated, sampled and reworked for the film.

"The jellyfish are computer-generated images. If you watch closely you'll see that as Orr's dreams change the world, the world has different color schemes. The movie starts off pretty monochrome, and then yellow is introduced, and then yellow and green, and finally fire.

"So you get this constant evolution. I think that evolution of color helps that quality of being taken in by the story, of not quite knowing what's happening, but knowing that something is changing. Of course, the jellyfish stay pink the entire time."

Haas said he has not seen the classic 1980 public television version of Lathe, which starred Bruce Davison, nor has he read Le Guin's book.

Alan Sharp (Damnation Alley) adapted the book for the screen. But, Haas said, "we've tried to match the creativity of the story on the visual level. When we were making the film, we had charts of how the colors would be introduced and in what sections. So although there are special effects in there—like the jellyfish and what you see out Dr. Haber's [James Caan] window—Lathe of Heaven is introspective. It's more about inner space than outer space."

Lathe of Heaven will air on Sept. 8 on A&E. Lisa Bonet stars with James Caan and Lucas Haas. [And let's hope it's better than Damnation Alley, a classic Roger Zelazny story Sharp turned into one god-awful movie! Ed.]

A&E's Lathe of Heaven site - 

CBS Plans Future Law 
By Nellie Andreeva

Hollywood August 20, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - CBS has given an on-air commitment to a futuristic legal drama from "Homicide: Life on the Street" co-creator Paul Attanasio. The untitled project, which revolves around a law firm in the year 2053, was pursued by at least two networks. As part of the deal with CBS, producer Universal Network Television has retained the rights to repurpose the series on sister cable outlet the Sci Fi Channel.

But while the drama takes place in the future, studio executives said it wouldn't include an outlandish sci-fi element. 

"I think people have been making the 'L.A. Law' comparison because the possibilities explored are comedic as well as dramatic, and that's rare in series ideas -- or films -- that are futuristic," said Universal Network Television programming president Sarah Timberman. The project will be written by Ed Zuckerman ("The Agency," "JAG," "Law & Order").

"Setting our law firm in the near future opens up a huge fresh story territory," Zuckerman said. "Even my wife, who never watches the shows I work for, thinks this is a neat idea."

Attanasio has received two Academy Award nominations, for writing "Donnie Brasco" and "Quiz Show." Besides "Homicide," he created and executive produced ABC's critically acclaimed but short-lived "Gideon's Crossing

NYPD Blue's Bochco Does Fox Future Cops 

Hollywood August 19, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - The Fox broadcasting network has picked up an as-yet-untitled drama from NYPD Blue creator Steven Bochco and Paramount Network Television that will follow New York cops in the year 2069, Variety reported. Nick Wootton and Matt Olmstead will write the script with Bochco, the trade paper reported.

Set for fall 2003, the show revolves around a present-day cop who suddenly fast-forwards to 2069, the trade paper said. Bochco said the show won't have a post-apocalyptic feel to it, unlike most features and series set in the future.

FX Does 24 in 24 

Hollywood August 16, 2002 (Cinescape) - The FX network, in a naked attempt at drumming up interest in the DVD boxed set of the real-time thriller 24’s first season as well as anticipation for the second season premiere, is doing hype right.

The channel has announced it will run the show, staring Kiefer Sutherland as an anti-terrorist agent, in one 24 hour block, from midnight on September 1 to midnight the following day. For those of you familiar with the show, you’ll note the marathon starts and ends at the exact hour the show’s “day” starts and ends. 

The DVD set hits stores September 17, with the second season premiere airing October 29. The first hour of the second season will be commercial free.

Tim Conway and Harvey Korman Make Hall of Fame

Hollywood August 20, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is set to induct six industry veterans into its Hall of Fame.

The honorees are Tim Conway and Harvey Korman of "The Carol Burnett Show," the late director John Frankenheimer, designer Bob Mackie, "All in the Family" co-star Jean Stapleton and producer-director Bud Yorkin.

The 15th annual induction ceremony will be held during a black-tie gala Nov. 6 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The event, produced by Don Wiener and Carla Patterson, is co-sponsored by TNT.

The academy's board of governors nominates candidates for the Hall of Fame honors, with final determinations made by a selection committee. Norman Lear heads the committee, which includes Carol Burnett, Marla Gibbs, Grant Tinker, Ethel Winant and David Wolper.

"While the Emmy honors individual achievement on a project basis, the Hall of Fame honors a lifetime of excellence," ATAS chairman Bryce Zabel said.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences - 

Robin Hood Escapes!

Nottingham August 16, 2002 (BBC) - The legend of Robin Hood may be something more than old wife's tales, according to archaeologists who have made an "amazing" discovery in Nottingham. They have found a tunnel beneath the city's Galleries of Justice which may feature in one of the famous outlaw's exploits. 

Documentation from nearby St Mary's church tells of Robin escaping from the church in tunnels which led to the prison. Tunnels criss-cross the city, staff at the Galleries of Justice say this discovery is of the right age and in the right place. 

The tunnel, which has remained undiscovered for centuries, was found by archaeologists surveying the existing cave system underneath the ancient site. 

Documentation held at St. Mary's Church, claims that Robin Hood, in one of his many encounters with the Sheriff of Nottingham, was trapped within the church, unable to find a way out. After frantically searching for an exit, he discovered a passageway leading under the current High Pavement straight into tunnels beneath the prison. 

The maze of man-made tunnels are thought to link up to many of the natural caves beneath the city and are dated back to before the medieval age. The entrance to the "escape" tunnel, which leads all the way to St. Mary's Church, was found as archaeologists accidentally broke through a rotten wooden floor. 

Archaeologist Gavin Kingsley said: "The discovery of this tunnel is an amazing find. It goes someway to substantiating the theory that Robin Hood was trapped within the sanctuary of St. Mary's Church and escaped into the prison that existed at that time." 

It is hoped that once funding is secured, the award-winning museum can fully excavate the whole of the cave system.

Robin's Official site (believe it or don't!) - 

Animal Liberation Front Free Minks

WAVERLY Iowa August 19, 2002 (AP) - Members of an animal-rights group cut fences and broke open pens at an Iowa mink farm over the weekend, releasing hundreds of the cat-sized animals prized for their fur. 

Becky Demuth, who owns the farm with her husband, Nick, said about 1,200 mink escaped and half had been recovered by Monday. She said others had been run over by vehicles or killed by dogs. 

"Those that are recovered are in high stress. They're not used to running free," Demuth said. "We're talking thousands of dollars in damage. Our family farm has truly been hit in its heart." 

The mink were scheduled to be killed in October, Demuth said. 

Animal Liberation Front spokesman David Barbarash said he received an anonymous e-mail in which members of the group claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack at the Misty Moonlight Mink Ranch. He said members target mink farms to give the animals "a chance of freedom." 

"A percentage will die, there's no doubt about that," said Barbarash, who lives in Courtenay, British Columbia. "But all of them would die at the hands of the mink farmer if they weren't released. Outside their cages, they do have a fighting chance of survival." 

According to the FBI, the Animal Liberation Front and its companion, the Earth Liberation Front, make up the largest and most active U.S.-based terrorist group, committing hundreds of attacks costing tens of millions of dollars since 1996. The farm is about 20 miles south of another farm where the group claimed responsibility for releasing more than 14,000 mink in 2000. 

The FBI and sheriff's officials are investigating.

Linguistic Eve

By Joseph Brean 
National Post 

Leipzig, Germany August 15, 2002 (National Post) - The roots of spoken language trace back to one common ancestor in Africa, according to new genetic research.

Linguistic Eve, as the lead scientist calls this first human to possess a key language gene, was not necessarily a woman, but was the first person whose lips, mouth and face were agile enough to form the precise structures of speech.

Eve, whose natural gift for gab grew out of a random mutation and has since spread throughout all humanity, lived in Africa between 200,000 and 35,000 years ago, before humans migrated to Asia and Europe, said Wolfgang Enard, a German geneticist. Eve's mutation marked a key leap in the evolution of language, Prof. Enard said, but it remains to be learned whether it was the great leap out of silence -- from gesturing to speech -- or whether it allowed grunts and groans to evolve into more finely enunciated grammatical sentences.

The survival advantage that the mutation of a gene, called FOXP2, gave Eve over others in pre-historic Africa is nonetheless clear and it ensured the mutation's survival. Eve, like all great orators, would have been a natural leader and thus likely to survive in times of strife, Prof. Enard said.

"The first people who had the mutation would have struck their neighbors as highly articulate, being able to convey things at a much more rapid rate than anyone else. They would have been quick on the uptake. It could have given them a leadership advantage and made them more attractive as mates," said Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist.

Svante Paabo, another of the study's authors, suggested the gene could have conferred a more romantic evolutionary advantage. Those with the mutation would likely tell better stories and sing more beautifully, making them, as natural charmers, more likely to reproduce, he said.

The FOXP2 gene was discovered last October, when it was shown that a deficiency in it led to severe linguistic troubles, both in the mechanics of the lips and tongue and in the comprehension of sentences. For example, people with the deficiency cannot follow changing tenses, nor distinguish between the two sentences: "The dog bit the cat" and "The dog was bitten by the cat."

This apparent linguistic role of FOXP2 discovery inspired the team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, to compare the human version of FOXP2, culled from dozens of humans around the world, to that of mice and various apes. Their conclusion, which is detailed today on the Web site of the peer-reviewed journal Nature, was that a relatively small change in the human version is what gives us the natural ability for vocal speech. Further, the key mutation almost certainly happened only once, in Linguistic Eve, Prof. Enard said.

Apes cannot negotiate the complicated aspirations and stops of spoken language, although they have shown some rudimentary use of vocal communication, and some abilities to learn sign language. The researchers are cautious to point out that simply inserting this gene into an ape would not give it the ability to speak, since several genes are involved in our learning and use of language.

Prof. Pinker, a renowned cognitive scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said this research brings our tally of known language genes to three, the other two being involved in such language-related disorders as stuttering and dyslexia. Prof. Pinker predicted 12 years ago, also in Nature, that language evolved by conventional, Darwinian natural selection, just like any other biological trait.

"This discovery is a bit of a vindication for that prediction," he said yesterday in an interview. "FOXP2 has been shown to be a target of natural selection, and not something that came in by chance. All of the alternatives to Darwinian mutations are what this team just ruled out."

Tsunami News!

Dino-Killer Asteroid Triggered Huge Tsunamis

By Larry O'Hanlon
Discovery News

August 20, 2002 (Discovery) — Evidence of huge ancient landslides along the Pacific Coast could mean that the cosmic collision that killed the dinosaurs also triggered avalanches far and wide that turned Earth into a world of tsunamis. 

Landslide deposits found in a coastal canyon near San Rosario, Baja California Norte, Mexico, are the first evidence that the magnitude 13 seismic shock of the Chicxulub impact 65 million years ago also set off huge tsunami-making landslides far beyond the Atlantic Ocean.

There are two ways tsunamis can be created during an asteroid impact: if the asteroid itself hits the ocean; and if submarine slopes give way, pushing huge amounts of water at the coast. For years geologists have known that massive offshore landslides occurred in the western Atlantic as far north as Newfoundland, because of evidence found in cores drilled out of the seafloor sediments. 

But the Chicxulub impact didn't happen in the Pacific Ocean, and the tsunamis there would have been caused by quake-induced landslides like that seen in San Rosario.

"Here (at San Rosario) we have an outcrop where you can walk and see the huge landslide sheets," said Grant Yip, a geology graduate student at the University of California at San Diego. 

Besides being on land and easy to see, the sediments of the Pacific landslides are unlike those discovered in the Atlantic because they are most likely the direct result of the gargantuan earthquake that the Chicxulub impact sent shivering through the planet. The Atlantic landslides, on the other hand, could have been caused by either the quake or the churning of an initial monster tsunami created by the gigantic asteroid impact itself. Or both. 

Yip and his advisor, geologist Cathy Busby, and two other researchers published their discovery in the August issue of the journal Geology. Busby and her team have been studying the San Rosario sediments for years, but it was the discovery of volcanic layers within them that connected them to the Chicxulub impact. Unlike the other sediments, volcanic rocks can be accurately dated to the time they cooled and solidified using naturally occurring isotopes of Argon. 

The isotopes in the San Rosario volcanic tested out to about 65 million years old, meaning the jumbled rocks around them are of similar ages and likely a result of the cosmic collision. There's also a third reason the San Rosario discovery is different, said geologist Richard Norris of the U.C. San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography. 

"This is a very shallow water deposit, which is rare," he said. 

The Atlantic deposits are all in deeper water and tell less about what happened right at the coast, where sea life tends to be most concentrated and where a lot of species were probably wiped out by horrendous landslides, as well as a spider's web of tsunamis that were crisscrossing the oceans. Getting to the bottom of what happened 65 million years ago is important, said Norris, because we'd like to know the details about how an asteroid impact can cause 70 percent of species to disappear. 

"The lurking issue that hides behind all this is what happens if one hits tomorrow," Norris said.

New Tsunami Threat to Japan

Japan August 15, 2002 (BBC) - Scientists in Japan have discovered a fault in the seabed off the country's coast with the potential to unleash a giant "tsunami" tidal wave. The newly-detected fault lies off the south-eastern coast of Japan and may have been responsible for the magnitude 8.1 earthquake which struck the country in 1944, they say. 

Jin-Oh Park and his colleagues at Jamstec, the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center, say that an earthquake along the fault would threaten cities along the Japanese coast.  The fault is close enough to the Japanese coast for there to be only minutes between a substantial earthquake along it and the tsunami reaching land. 

The fault, which lies close to where the Philippine Sea plate is sinking beneath the Eurasian plate, is only dozens of kilometers away from land. 

"Any tsunami would hit the mainland with only a few minutes' warning," explained Bill McGuire, director of the UK's Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre. "Most people in Japan live along the coast and evacuating them in only a few minutes would be impossible. It's an additional tsunami risk in a country that has many of them."

The newly-discovered fault was uncovered by seismic reflection imaging. Submarine faults are difficult to find and much of the ocean floor is still poorly understood. Faults may never protrude above the ocean floor or may be covered in sediment. 

Jin-Oh Park and his colleagues believe that the fault they have found may have been responsible not just for a magnitude 8.1 quake in 1944, but a nearby magnitude 8.3 quake two years later. Very large earthquakes tend to occur every 100 to 200 years along faults of the kind now discovered, they explain. 

Details of the fault's discovery appear in the journal Science.

Myths Studied for Tsunami Clues 

Associated Press Writer 

SEATTLE August 12, 2002 (AP) - When scientists figured out that sea water drowned groves of tall trees up and down the coast of Washington state the same year a tsunami hit Japan, they theorized that a massive earthquake in the Pacific most likely triggered both events.

Based on Japanese records, scientists were able to pinpoint a date — Jan. 26, 1700 — and estimate that the rupture of a long stretch of sea floor had caused a magnitude 9 quake, which would be the largest known temblor ever to strike what is now the contiguous United States. 

But Ruth Ludwin, a University of Washington geophysics professor, wanted more.

There appeared to be no accounts of cataclysmic earth-shaking in the stories and legends of the only North Americans who would have been here to witness the quake — Indians. 

"When you talk about a very large earthquake in 1700, for that to be really convincing to me, I really need to have evidence from people who were there," Ludwin said. "I was looking for a more comprehensive story." 

Ludwin began to search obscure volumes of tribal folklore, where she found that, for centuries, Indians from British Columbia's Vancouver Island to the coast of Northern California had been telling strikingly similar tales of mudslides, of plains that suddenly became oceans and other stories that strongly suggest tribes bore witness to tsunamis like the one in 1700. 

Many of the legends involve a mythic battle between a thunderbird and a whale. One tale told by generations of Hoh Indians from the Forks area of Washington's Olympic Peninsula contains what Ludwin considers the clearest description of a concurrent earthquake and tsunami yet discovered in tribal legend. 

As the story goes, Ludwin wrote in a research paper, "There was a great storm and hail and flashes of lightning in the darkened, blackened sky and a great and crashing 'thunder-noise' everywhere. ... There were also a great shaking, jumping and trembling of the earth beneath and a rolling up of the great waters." 

The Makah Indians, whose reservation at Neah Bay sits at the northwest tip of Washington state, also have a version — one that ends with a thunderbird delivering a whale inland to the mouth of a river, giving the giant beast to a tribe that had been starving one winter thousands of years ago. 

Although it's unclear exactly how long the story has been told, it formed the basis of the tribe's centuries-old whale hunt and could be linked to one of the seven "megathrust" quakes scientists believe have occurred over the past 3,500 years. 

"I think it's really interesting that our cultural knowledge can help unravel some of these scientific mysteries," said Janine Bowechop, director of the Makah Museum. "I feel good that we can share information and then really have a better understanding for both worlds." 

Many legends contain no time elements. Others that were never written down have been lost entirely, so Ludwin's work can seem like trying to solve a puzzle with most of the pieces missing. But she insists it's worth it. 

"The work that I've done is not extremely important from a scientific point of view, but it's important from the point of view of understanding and believing," Ludwin said. "It's another piece of the puzzle." 

The megathrust quake believed to have occurred in 1700 ruptured the Cascadia subduction zone, where two of the tectonic plates that form the Earth's crust — the Juan de Fuca and the North America plates — overlap. From its northern end, off the western coast of Vancouver Island, the subduction zone stretches about 600 miles south to Cape Mendocino in Northern California, then runs into the San Andreas fault. 

It was the Japanese who first theorized that an enormous earthquake in the Pacific caused what they called their "orphan tsunami," so named because there was no local temblor that accompanied the torrent of 6-foot-high waves that crashed along 500 miles of coastline. 

When they learned that groves of red cedars and Sitka spruces along Washington's coast had dropped several feet, drowning in saltwater sometime in the late 1600s or early 1700s, they theorized that one huge quake must have been responsible for both the Japanese tsunami and this state's "ghost forests." 

Radiocarbon dating of spruce stumps narrowed the timeline of the tree drownings to somewhere between 1680 and 1720, said Brian Atwater, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist in Seattle. 

That was too large a window, so scientists went back to one of the estuaries where roots of red cedars had survived and could be dated by the rings in the roots. 

At that grove, near the Copalis River in Grays Harbor County, tree-ring dating showed the red cedars died sometime between August 1699 and May 1700. 

"If we had found that those red cedars died in 1697 or 1703, we would say, 'Well, we're not sure your tsunami came from our earthquake,' " Atwater said. "We knew there was an earthquake or a series of earthquakes. The question was how big and exactly when." 

Although the geological evidence of the 1700 megathrust seemed solid, there were still some skeptics before Ludwin started finding Indian tales that supported the science. 

Tribal folklore, Atwater said, "is important, because people understandably want human evidence as well as physical evidence." 

UW geophysics professor Ruth Ludwin: 

U.S. Geological Survey, Seattle: 

Fishy Condom Pulled

Bangkok August 19 2002 (AP) - An advertisement depicting a woman carrying a goldfish in a water-filled condom has been pulled from television in communist Laos after authorities deemed it too explicit, a US-based voluntary group that sells the condoms said on Monday.

Population Services International (PSI) produced the humorous ad to promote its "Number One" brand condom, which it sells at a subsidized price in Laos, a traditionally conservative Buddhist society.

The ad shows a woman using a water-filled condom to carry a goldfish after a plastic bag she had been using burst. A slogan on the screen says: "Number One can save your life."

Sythong Ouansengsy, marketing manager for PSI Laos, said the ad had been aired on state television for the past year, sometimes two or three times a day.

But recently the culture ministry told PSI that the ad was too "sensitive because it showed a condom on TV", said Sythong. The ministry said "boys and girls watch TV, too, during the daytime and it's not good".

But Culture Minister Kheckeo Soisaya said the ad was pulled because it failed to show how condoms can prevent the spread of HIV/Aids.

Is Global Warming Killing Ocean Plankton?

By Richard Stenger

Greenbelt, Maryland August 16, 2002 (CNN) --Concentrations of microscopic plants that comprise the foundation of the ocean's food supply have fallen during the past 20 years as much as 30 percent in northern oceans, according to a satellite checkup of planetary health. The shrinking population of phytoplankton could be associated with regional or global climate changes, said scientists, who combed through data from numerous U.S. orbiting spacecraft.

The mini-water plants, which thrive on sunlight and nutrients, have dwindled particularly in places characterized by rising ocean surface temperatures and declining ocean winds.

The reason for the lower numbers could be that warming water layers on top prevent cooler and more nutrient-rich waters down below from reaching the surface-dwelling plankton, which are crucial to the survival of many ocean species, the scientists said.

"The whole marine food chain depends on the health and productivity of the phytoplankton," said researcher Watson Gregg of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

By measuring surface readings of chlorophyll concentrations, Gregg and colleague Margarita Conkright of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) determined that phytoplankton levels in the Northern Pacific Ocean dropped more than 30 percent since the 1980s.

The North Atlantic Ocean experienced a 14 percent decline in the same period.

"This is the first time that we are really talking about the ocean chlorophyll and showing that the ocean's biology is changing, possibly as a result of climate change," Conkright said.

Whether the changes are caused by long-term global or short-term regional cycles remains unknown, the scientists said.

In some locations, especially the equatorial regions, phytoplankon concentrations actually increased during the time period. But overall, across the entire planet, there was a net decline, they said.

Besides fueling the food chain, phytoplankton plays a crucial role in cycling a primary greenhouse gas through the environment.

Phytoplankton accounts for 50 percent of the transfer of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere back into the biosphere through photosynthesis, the process through which plants absorb carbon dioxide gas to grow.

UK Poppy Farmers Morphine Harvest

By Richard Eden

UK August 20, 2002 (Telegraph UK) - Harvesting of the first opium poppy crop to be grown for morphine production in Britain has begun.

Home Office approval was granted after three years of trials and the flowers were planted five months ago at 20 undisclosed sites covering 1,000 acres in Wiltshire and Hampshire.

The harvest is to be sent to a licensed drug company so the morphine can be extracted and used in painkillers to treat cancer and heart disease patients.

If successful, the scheme could help hard-pressed farmers. A spokesman for the National Farmers' Union said: "The poppy could be an important cash crop that could turn things around for some of the arable farmers on the right sort of land."

United Oilseeds, a farmers' co-operative based in Devizes, Wiltshire, is behind the project. John Manners, its spokesman, said the sites were not at risk from heroin addicts as the poppies contained only a small amount of morphine, which had to be extracted using a "specialized" method.

"Any addicts looking for a quick fix from a field of these poppies will be disappointed," he said.

The Kingdom of Hawaii

By Valerie Taliman
Southwest Bureau Chief
Indian Country Today

HAU’ULA, Hawaii August 19, 2002 (ICT) - Along the west coast of O’ahu, where sandy beaches and coconut groves stretch for miles, the Reinstated Hawaiian Government is taking back its land - if only on the weekends.

"Once a month, on all of our seven islands, we set up camps at public parks to put people on notice that our traditional government is being revived," said Donna Hanohano-Medeiros, who conducts public outreach in this part of the island. 

The notification is part of an initiative by native Hawaiians to regain control over their land and people in a non-violent, non-threatening way by educating government officials and the general public about their efforts to reinstate the aboriginal government that they say was in "exile" until 1999.

"The Kingdom of Hawaii was illegally overthrown by the United States at the turn of the century, but we never relinquished our inherent sovereignty," Hanohano-Medeiros said. "Our government was never formally dissolved by an official act of law, so we are reviving it. We put up the camps without any state permits to demonstrate our longstanding sovereignty."

The kanaka maoli, or Native Hawaiians, have been occupying public lands on O’ahu, Kaua’i, Ni’ihau, Maui, Lana’i, Moloka’i and the big island of Hawai’i for more than 15 months. 

According to Kekoa Lake, assistant director of communications for the Reinstated Hawaiian Government, it is part of a larger strategy to foster recognition that it is reviving the lawful Hawaiian government that was originally established in 1840 under King Kamehameha. 

Their efforts stemmed in part from a 1993 joint resolution of Congress introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, that apologizes to Native Hawaiians for the United States’ participation in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. 

Public Law 103-150, signed by President Clinton on Nov. 23, 1993, includes a clause that acknowledges "the indigenous Hawaiian people never directly relinquished their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people or over the national lands to the United States, either through their monarchy or through a plebiscite or referendum."

That clause constitutes "a signed confession," said Lake, and is the foundation for the kanaka maoli’s claim that the U.S. does not lawfully possess the Hawaiian Islands.

Lake said prior to the takeover, Hawaii was an independent nation that met accepted standards in international law for nationhood that include territory, population and government. It had formed diplomatic ties and conducted commercial trade with countries around the world and was recognized as a nation.

Lake argues that the lawful government of the territory never consented to U.S. occupation. And without consent, the cession of the Hawaiian Islands to the U.S. depended on the removal or obfuscation of the conditions of their nationhood.

"That’s why they suspended the government and removed the monarch and parliament," he said. "This separated the kanaka maoli from their leadership and impaired their ability to exercise their sovereignty. The absence of a chief executive or legislative body made it possible for the annexationists to convey control of the islands to the U.S."

But while the overthrow and annexation removed them from office, it didn’t destroy their government. Lake said that according to the law of nations, an invading country can not dissolve the government of the conquered nation; it can only put that government in exile. 

Hawaii’s status as a nation dates back to at least 1840, Lake said, when King Kamehameha the Third authorized the Hawaiian Kingdom Constitution that shared governmental power between the monarchy and a parliament. His successor, Queen Lili-uokalani, was in the process of revising the constitution in 1893 to allow all subjects the right to vote -- instead of just male landowners -- when a group of wealthy landowners, aided by the U.S. foreign minister to Hawaii and a Marine detachment, overthrew the traditional government.

In response, Queen Lili’uokalani sent a formal letter of protest to President Grover Cleveland demanding an "undoing of the wrongful actions of the United States against the Constitutional Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom." She also demanded the reinstatement of the traditional government. Meanwhile, the wealthy landowners were advocating annexation to the U.S.

The 1893 protest letter was an application of international law that preserved the right of Native Hawaiians to re-establish their overthrown government. And a Memorial Petition signed by 38,000 Hawaiian citizens in 1897 objecting to the overthrow proves they never consented to U.S. annexation, Lake said.

When William McKinley was elected president in 1896, the annexationists won the battle to install their government de facto, Lake said, and the islands were conveyed to the United States on August 12, 1898. It was then renamed the Republic of Hawaii and all its subjects -- Native Hawaiians as well as foreign immigrants -- were naturalized as U.S. nationals.

Today, the kanaka maoli are rebuilding their government. Following a series of conventions that were held by kanaka maoli from all islands, a government pro tem was established in accordance with Hawaiian Kingdom domestic law on March 13, 1999. It was made up of 24 members in the House of Representatives and 24 members in the House of Nobles, thereby reforming the bicameral parliament of the Hawaiian Kingdom. 

The purpose of that government, Lake said, was to reinstate the "lawful" government of Hawaii. A citizenship drive was conducted among Hawaiian residents to identify a distinct population of Native Hawaiians willing to abandon their current nationality and become citizens of the Kingdom of Hawaii. They now number in the thousands.

In March 2000, the new legislature amended the Hawaiian Kingdom Constitution that was "left in suspension" for 107 years and in April, the citizens ratified the amended constitution. Positions in the executive and judicial branches were filled and notices were sent to several counties in Hawaii notifying them of the reinstated government.

A bill to grant federal recognition to Native Hawaiians was introduced earlier this year by Sen. Daniel Akaka, (D-HI) and has the support of at least one Native Hawaiian group. (See related story.)

But Lake said the Reinstated Hawaiian Government is not interested in seeking federal recognition from the U.S. government.

"I understand that federal recognition benefits Native Americans, but it would confer a status to Native Hawaiians that is less than what our ancestors were," he said. "Our preference is to have international recognition of us as an independent sovereign nation."

Lake added that people need not fear that they will be forced to move off the land or be kicked out of their established businesses now that the RHG is in place.

"Historically, we have always supported business and international trade," he said. "People just need to start paying their taxes to our traditional government, not the foreign government that was put in place. We have the welfare of all our citizens in mind."

Lake said once people understand the basis of the kanaka maoli claim, they are generally very supportive of Native Hawaiians efforts to reclaim their homelands and govern their own people.

"I’m confident it will happen."

Hawaiian Historical Society - 

Free Hawaii - 

Bishop Museum - 

Dweezil Auctions Zappa-Hendrix Guitar

LONDON August 20, 2002 (AP) — A guitar burned onstage by Jimi Hendrix and later owned by Frank Zappa is being offered for sale in London, auctioneers Cooper Own said today. The Fender Stratocaster is being sold by Dweezil Zappa, son of the iconoclastic rock star. Cooper Owen have set a minimum price of $841,500 for the guitar, which will be sold in London on Sept. 24.

Hendrix set the instrument alight during his set at the Miami Pop Festival in 1968. He gave it to Frank Zappa, who restored it and played it on his 1976 album Zoot Allures. Frank Zappa died in 1993.

"This guitar is obviously very historic because it was played by two of the greatest guitarists who have ever lived," said Dweezil Zappa.

"Just by looking at the guitar you can sense the history behind the music. It's very inspiring."

The guitar was previously put up for auction in the United States in May, with Dweezil Zappa quoted as saying he hoped it would fetch $1.5 million.
The instrument failed to sell.

Official Zappa site - 

Lost Ark Found?

Associated Press

Axum Ethiopia August 17, 2002 (AP) - Thanks to Hollywood's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the Ark of the Covenant is one of the most famous objects in the Bible. It's also one of the most mysterious, since the Bible doesn't say what happened to it. 

Ethiopian Christians, however, believe the ark still exists in their country. 

The biblical ark signified God's presence among his people. It was a wooden box containing the two tablets of the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. In accord with God-given specifications (Exodus 25:10-22), the ark measured about 4 by 2.5 by 2.5 feet. There were two cherubs with outstretched wings on the lid, or "mercy seat." The ark was covered with gold and carried on poles inserted into rings as the Israelites migrated through the wilderness and Holy Land. 

Divine powers rested with the ark. It dried up the Jordan River so the Israelites could cross (Joshua 3:14-17) and brought plagues upon the Philistines when they seized it in battle (1 Samuel 4:11-5:12). King David installed the ark in a tent amid great rejoicing after he established Jerusalem as his capital (1 Samuel 6:1-19) and King Solomon ceremonially placed it in the Holy of Holies when the Temple was built (1 Kings 8:1-9). The ark still existed under King Josiah in the seventh century B.C. 

Then it vanished. 

The sacred box was somehow lost or destroyed when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 587 B.C., or before that since it wasn't listed with the spoils the conquerors took from the Temple (2 Kings 25:13-17). Israel never built a replacement ark, in accord with God's command in Jeremiah 3:16. So runs the standard Jewish and Christian story. But Ethiopian Orthodox Christians disagree.

Raymond Matthew Wray of the American Catholic magazine Crisis, who wrote about his own search for the lost ark, said there are five ark scenarios: The Hollywood version had the ark sitting in a U.S. government warehouse. Some think ancient Israelites hid it under the Temple when the Babylonians invaded. Others say the Babylonians stole or destroyed it. The amateur archaeologist Ron Wyatt, who has since died, claimed he rediscovered the ark under the hill where Christ was crucified. 

There's no evidence for any of this. 

Then there's No. 5, the Ethiopian scenario. The Bible reports that the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon. Most scholars say she came from present-day Yemen. But Ethiopian legend maintains she was from that country and gave birth to Solomon's son Menelik, who founded a monarchy that lasted until 1974. 

This tradition says when Menelik visited Solomon, his aides stole the ark and brought it home. It was kept for centuries in other locations but is now said to be held under strictest secrecy in the town of Axum (or Aksum). 

Wray trekked to Axum to see what he could find. 

The ark site is St. Mary of Zion Chapel, a modest stone Orthodox sanctuary, roughly 40 feet square, on the grounds of the town's main church. In the past the ark was brought forth from the chapel annually but was never seen and was covered with a cloth, supposedly to protect the people from the ark's power. Today, a replica known as a tabot is paraded instead, to protect the ark. Tabots are important in Ethiopian churches, filling a place similar to icons in Greek and Russian Orthodoxy. 

Wray met with Abba Welde Giorgis, described to him as the guardian of the ark. The guardian's lifetime appointment is a great honor but also a burden, since it prohibits him from leaving the chapel compound. 

Unfortunately, Wray's article tells us nothing about the Ethiopian ark itself, either because he did not probe or because Giorgis was reticent. Nor did an Associated Press reporter find out anything on a previous visit. The ancient mystery lingers. We do learn from Wray that Ethiopians believe the ark has helped protect their country, as it did ancient Israel. For instance, Ethiopia is almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims, who are in conflict in neighboring Sudan and elsewhere. 

But "everybody in Ethiopia is living peacefully," Giorgis said. "The ark is having an impact on everyone."

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