Endgame for The X-Files?
Ox Bel Ha, Time Travel,
Windtalkers, Jupiter's Moons,
Flying Pigs and Purple Carrots
!
Endgame for The X-Files?

By FLAtRich

Hollywood May 22, 2002 (eXoNews) - With all due respect to John Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), the ninth season of The X-Files finished up with the right guy holding the bag. In the end, Chris Carter handed the legacy of the entire nine years of The X-Files back to Fox Mulder (David Duchovny).

It was the best of all possible endings. 

Mulder has won a few and lost a few. He has still not defeated the ultimate evil power that he battles, but he has won Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). We are reminded of the fact that Scully was once Mulder's greatest skeptic - that she was hired to help her superiors defeat him.

Now she is with him not just as his partner, not just as his faithful Watson, but also as his intellectual equal and soul mate.

We lost a few too in those nine years. Some we loved, like Byers, Langly and Frohike. Others we just hated, like Follmer, Spender and Fowley. Others we loved to hate, like Cigarette-Smoking Man, Krycek, The Well-Manicured Man and The Alien Bounty Hunter.

Some survived to an uncertain future. Skinner, Kersh, Marita Covarrublias, Gibson Praise, and the wonderfully loyal Reyes and Doggett. We are pretty sure we'll meet them again, but it's funny how people disappear.

Nine seasons ago, Mulder was a kind of wimpy guy who often wore glasses and a pocket protector, watched porno movies in his spare time and hung out with the geeky likes of The Lone Gunmen. Scully was a baby-faced intellectual scientist with a medical degree who faithfully typed the details of every case she and Mulder investigated into her laptop, presumably to be delivered into the hands of Mulder's enemies, her bosses at the FBI.

Now Mulder is a rugged man, toughened by years of fighting the most evil opponents that the natural and supernatural world could throw at him. Frozen, infested, burned, tortured, shot, abducted, brainwashed, betrayed and often left for dead, Fox Mulder has survived to surpass the exploits of any other hero in modern memory. He has lost his faith and restored it.

He has beaten the odds to find his Truth, and we know that he will beat them again and again until they are defeated and The Truth is known.

Scully has lost her father and sister and given up her only child in the years she has pursued the Truth with Mulder. She has suffered at the hands of secret powers and the very inexplicable forces of nature that she at first denied. Scully also has nearly died and been reborn in the chase.

She tolerated and sometimes resented her role and partnership with Mulder, but somewhere along the way she found that more than anything else she loved this impossible, unbelievable man. She discovered that she was meant to be with him.

Now their bond is absolute and Mulder and Scully wait together as hunted fugitives for the next chapter of Mulder's saga to unfold.

We wait with them, not knowing where Chris Carter will take them, but trusting that he will get it right.

Don't miss the X-Files Endgame Sweepstakes through May 31st at the Official X-Files Site - http://thexfiles.com

And download some free music at http://flatdisk.net/keyofx 

Ban Secret DNA Testing!

London May 21, 2002 (BBC) - Covert DNA testing to establish paternity should be made illegal, the government's gene watchdog has said. If ministers agree, the situation facing US millionaire Steve Bing - being sued for paternity after so-called "DNA theft" - would be outlawed in the UK. 

Private investigators acting for the husband of a former lover stole used dental floss from the waste bin outside Mr Bing's home, and tested the DNA on it. Mr Bing is already locked in a separate paternity battle with the UK actress and model Elizabeth Hurley. 

It is not known whether similar incidents have happened in the UK - although an estimated 10,000 DNA paternity tests take place every year. The paternity testing industry is currently confined only by a voluntary code of practice, which asks for the consent of both mother and father prior to testing. 

The Human Genetics Commission, an independent advisory body, published its report, "Inside Information", on Tuesday morning. It calls on the government to consider making it a criminal offence to deceitfully obtain and analyze another person's genetic information for non-medical purposes. The Commission says this sort of activity would be a gross intrusion into someone else's privacy. It is also concerned about the possibility of unscrupulous journalists secretly taking something like a coffee mug belonging to a public figure and analyzing the DNA obtained from it. That could reveal whether they were at high risk for a disorder like Alzheimer's disease. 

The Commission also recommends that the government consider introducing legislation to prevent genetic discrimination in areas such as employment and insurance. Barrister Lady Helena Kennedy chaired the commission. She said that increasing numbers of people were applying to laboratories to have genetic samples tested to establish whether they had fathered a child. 

Lady Kennedy said: "A person may say what is wrong with a man knowing whether he really is the father of a child. But there are very real repercussions for a family when that is done, and the best way of doing it is through the proper legal channels because it can have an enormous impact on the child's life, and on sibling's lives."

The report reinforces the need to obtain consent before that data can be used for medical research. UK scientists recently launched the "Biobank" - a collection of many thousands of DNA profiles. 

The commission has already recommended a moratorium on the use of "adverse genetic test results" by the insurance industry. However, the report recommends that, despite public support for the use of DNA fingerprinting to solve crime, that police should not have access to research databases.

American Indians Object to Wild Rice Genome Mapping

By RENEE RUBLE
Associated Press 

MINNEAPOLIS May 22, 2002 (AP) - As University of Minnesota researchers map the wild rice genome, they are hoping the information could lead to more nutritious, disease-resistant crops that help feed the world. But decoding the genome has upset many American Indians, who say they have been shut out of the research and warn that manmade alteration of the plant is "cultural and spiritual genocide." 

"The sustainability of our rice is contingent on its diversity," said Winona LaDuke, an Ojibwe and a former Green Party vice presidential candidate. "It's central to our cultural well-being, spiritually as well as economically." Tribes in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin have passed resolutions declaring that genetic research and patenting of wild rice compromises traditional, cultural and spiritual tribal values. Several dozen Indians demonstrated Monday outside the annual conference of the National Agricultural Biotechnology Council. 

Scientists around the world are unraveling the genetic structure of scores of disease-causing germs, insects and other animals that transmit diseases to humans, as well as the genomes of nutritionally or medically important plants. Minnesota ranks second behind California in wild rice production, selling about 4 million to 6 million pounds a year. The University of Minnesota has been mapping the wild rice genome since 1993. The work also could pave the way for mapping more complex genomes in other crops, such as corn and wheat. 

Tribes want the university to release financial information and findings from the research and include tribes in the project. Paul Schultz of the White Earth Reservation said Indians ask for nothing more than involvement in the research and for scientists to keep an open mind to the role wild rice plays in tribal spirituality. 

"What we are being told is that the Western intellectual traditional process is the only one today that holds water," Schultz said. "We see a lack, a lack of wisdom in the whole process." 

Phillip Larsen, associate dean of the university's College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, said there are no plans to genetically engineer rice. But he said there is an aggressive push to develop new varieties - six of which have been created by the university. One variety releases seeds more often, increasing wild rice crops. 

University researchers met with Indians last year on the White Earth Reservation to explain the wild rice work, and Larsen said they are not going to do anything to damage the sanctity of the crop. Still, representatives from Minnesota's Indian bands say they're prepared to go to court to protect their rice. 

"From birth to death, wild rice is important to us," said Gerald White of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. "It's our responsibility to protect all life forms, including wild rice, for future generations."

Delphic Oracle Priestesses Were High!

By Helena Smith
The Guardian 

Athens May 20, 2002 (Guardian UK) - The advice of the Delphic Oracle was many things: cryptic, revelatory and, as the likes of Croesus discovered, at times even disastrous. Croesus, the monarch of Lydia, lost his mighty kingdom after succumbing to the Oracle's ambiguous advice that if he invaded Persia a great empire would fall. Little did he know it would be his own. 

But few would have guessed that the high priestesses of Apollo, who dispensed the Delphic Oracle's advice, were in the grips of a drug-induced delirium - high on gas and air. 

"They were high, there is no other word for it," the Dutch geologist Jelle Zeilinga de Boer told the Guardian. "All the evidence shows they were inhaling hydrocarbon fumes like ethylene, a substance that was used in anesthesia in the early 20th century until surgeons discovered it was dangerous." 

The thousands of supplicants who sought the advice of the Oracle may have ultimately suffered because those who interpreted it were too doped to be coherent - even if the famous maxim "nothing in excess" adorned the temple's facade. 

The priestesses' bad trips could become their clients' own worst nightmares, said Prof de Boer, who teaches earth sciences at the Wesleyan University in Connecticut and has spent five years studying the site at Delphi. 

For the 2,000-odd years the Oracle operated at the shrine, it was consulted on issues such as the timing of battles. 

The sanctuary is located in a seismic area. The discovery of oily deposits containing traces of ethylene and other gases in bedrock beneath the temple showed that a complex of active faults was to blame for the delirium of the priestesses. 

Fissures in the rock under the site funneled narcotic vapors that welled up with spring waters within the temple compound, said Prof de Boer. 

The geologist said ethylene was "similar to laughing gas". Taken in moderate doses it could produce euphoric feelings but that turned to "delirium, hysteria, unconsciousness and even death" if the dose was any higher

The Maya Relics of Ox Bel Ha

By ANGELA M. H. SCHUSTER

Cancún May 21, 2002 (NY Times) - Nearly 100 feet beneath the Yucatán Peninsula in southern Mexico, cave divers are mapping the world's longest underground river. More important, they are unraveling the mysteries of a fragile ecosystem that may be destroyed before it is fully understood.

That the peninsula is rich in human history is attested by the temples and pyramids built by the Maya during the first millennium. Underground runs a common thread that has woven the fabric of life and directed the distribution of human settlement for the past 10,000 years: a complex system of rivers and natural wells whose formation began more than 100 million years ago, when the peninsula lay beneath a shallow sea. 

Over a succession of ice ages, sea levels dropped some 300 feet, exposing the limestone platform that makes up the peninsula. Over time, rivulets of carbonic acid (a byproduct of rainwater bonding with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) carved out the caverns. When sea levels began to rise with the last ice age 18,000 years ago, the once dry caves began to fill with water, a process that continued until about 1,000 years ago. Collectively, these submerged river systems provide all of the peninsula's fresh water.

By far the largest of the submerged river systems is called Ox Bel Ha (pronounced OHSH bel hah; the name is Mayan for "three paths of water). Its labyrinthine passageways, an estimated 200 miles, wind their way underground within a triangle, embraced on the surface by the resort city of Cancún, the late classic Maya coastal trading center of Tulúm and the inland classic Maya site of Cobá.

Since 1998, an international team of divers — Sam Meacham of Austin, Tex.; Bil Phillips of Vancouver, British Columbia; and Stephen Bogaerts, a Londoner — has been documenting Ox Bel Ha armed with surveying equipment, lights, hard hats and gas tanks. Some dives last more than 12 hours, the time necessary to reach Ox Bel Ha's deepest recesses, map them and safely return to the surface.

To date, the team has charted more than 60 miles of submerged caverns and documented 57 cenotes, or natural wells, and three freshwater passageways just offshore that are connected to the Ox Bel Ha system. 

"In the 21st century, the world is focusing of dwindling freshwater reserves and the need to conserve them," said Mr. Meacham, 34, director of Cindaq, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the exploration and protection of freshwater resources in the Yucatán. "To find such a pristine supply of fresh water in this world is quite rare indeed." 

After transporting thousands of pounds of gear deep into the jungle on horseback, the team sets up camp near entrances to the cave system, many little more than sinkholes a few feet in diameter.

"Cave divers have always operated at the edges of the envelope, adapting existing technologies and inventing new ones to push further and deeper," said Mr. Bogaerts, 37.

Carrying reels of line knotted every 10 feet to serve as measuring tapes, divers map the chambers and collect samples of underwater life — small fish, blind shrimp, algae. Where passages splinter off, directional markers are attached to lines with arrows pointing to the nearest exit, in some cases more than two miles away. 

Besides collecting samples, Mr. Meacham said, the team plans to install data collectors in the caves to record tidal fluctuations and other characteristics of the water, including temperature, flow rates and salinity.

The fresh water flows through the cave passages and empties into the Caribbean, Mr. Bogaerts said, while denser, warmer saltwater from the sea enters the river system through deeper passages as well as through the limestone itself, which functions as a porous membrane.

Besides the river system, the peninsula is pocked with cenotes and sinkholes to the west that appear not to be connected to Ox Bel Ha. Exploration of several in the vicinity of Cobá has yielded evidence of early human occupation. 

"We have found hearths and human remains dating to a period when the caves were dry, an estimated 8,000 to 9,000 years ago," Mr. Meacham said. "We have also documented deposits of ceramics and human bones from the Maya period." 

Cenotes and caves played an important role in Maya religion: they were regarded as portals to the underworld, a potent realm of gods and ancestors. (The word cenote, pronounced suh-NOH-tee, comes from the Maya dzonot, which means sacred well.) The finds will be left in place, to be investigated by archaeologists from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History.

The divers say they have investigated about half the underground river system.

"We believe Ox Bel Ha is connected to two nearby hanging cave systems, each about 12 miles in length," Mr. Meacham said. "If we add these to what we have already explored, the passageways of Ox Bel Ha will stretch some 84 miles. To document the entire system is simply a matter of time and money."

But preserving it will be a more formidable task, given the development plans for the Riviera Maya, the 70-mile stretch of idyllic coastline between Cancún and Tulúm. Already the area has 22,000 hotel rooms for more than 4 million tourists a year. More than 80,000 rooms are to be added by 2015. Mr. Bogaerts notes that the hotels dispose of sewage through deep injection wells, which deposit human waste 70 to 100 feet underground.

Raw sewage treated with fresh water gradually bubbles up through the saltwater layer, polluting the freshwater aquifer miles inland from its origin.

"A minor cave system near the resort of Puerto Aventuras has already been pumped full of sewage," Mr. Bogaerts said. "What we are seeing is an inadvertent contamination of the aquifer."

Working with Mexico's Secretariat for the Environment and Natural Resources, the team has started an education program in hopes of curtailing future contamination. They will return this summer to resume unlocking the secrets of Ox Bel Ha.

Ancient Roman Transvestite Unearthed in Britain
LONDON May 21, 2002 (Reuters) - The remains of a young Roman man who dressed as a woman and probably castrated himself show a previously unknown side of Britain's ancient history, archaeologists said Tuesday. Excavations at Catterick, northern England, unearthed the skeleton of a fourth century man buried wearing a jet necklace and bracelet, a shale armlet and a bronze anklet. 

"He is the only man wearing this array of jewelry who has ever been found from a late Roman cemetery in Britain," Dr. Pete Wilson, senior archaeologist at English Heritage told Reuters. "In life he would have been regarded as a transvestite and was probably a gallus -- one of the followers of the goddess Cybele who castrated themselves in her honor." 

Although the skeleton was discovered in 1981, it took nearly 20 years for archeologists to work out the puzzle of a male body adorned with female jewelry. The mother-Earth goddess Cybele was worshipped in noisy public festivals and would-be priests castrated themselves using special ornamented clamps. 

Post-castration, Cybele's priests wore jewelry, highly colored female robes and turbans or tiaras complemented by female hair styles.
Bronze Age Archer Found in Richest Burial Site

By Stuart Coles

Wiltshire UK May 16, 2002 (Independent UK) - Archaeologists have discovered what they say is the richest early Bronze Age burial site in Britain, not far from Stonehenge. The 4,000-year-old grave contains the remains of an archer and about 100 objects, including a pair of rare gold earrings.

Wessex Archaeology, which uncovered the grave at Amesbury, Wiltshire, said it was astonished and very excited about the find. It said the site dates back to around 2,300BC, several hundred years earlier than many burial sites uncovered in the area.

Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, the Wessex Archaeology project manager, said: "As well as the archery equipment, the man had three copper knives and a pair of gold earrings.

"We think that the earrings were wrapped around the ear rather than hanging from the ear lobe. These are some of the earliest kinds of metal object found in Britain. They were very rare and the metals they were made from may have been imported. The fact that so many valuable objects have been found together is unique. This association is the most important thing about the find."

The man has been identified as an archer because of stone arrowheads and wristguards that protected the arm from the recoil of the bow buried with him. There were also stone tools for butchering carcasses, and for making arrowheads.

The grave was found in the course of building development on behalf of Bloor Homes and Persimmon Homes South Coast. Ron Hatchett, the strategic land director of Bloor Homes, said: "We have worked closely with the archaeologists and have altered our plans to protect known archaeological sites."

Andrew Lawson, the chief executive of Wessex Archaeology, said the find was important because the grave was several hundred years older than others found. "It raises the question of who this archer was and why his mourners buried so many valuable things with him."

The range of arrowheads, bracers, flints and spatula puts this among the largest groups of archery equipment ever found together, it said.

The Asteroid That Created Dinosaurs

By Maggie Fox
Health and Science Correspondent 

WASHINGTON May 16, 2002 (Reuters) - An asteroid may have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, but an earlier one probably allowed the rise of the giant creatures, who dominated the planet for 135 million years, scientists said on Thursday. 

Piecing together evidence from footprints, fossils and a dusting of a rare metal found in asteroids, the experts said they had concluded that a huge impact wiped out most of the plants and crocodilian creatures that ruled the world during the Triassic era. 

It opened the way for the age of the dinosaurs in the Jurassic, just as the later asteroid allowed mammals to evolve. 

"Our research adds to the speculation that there was a comet or asteroid impact about 200 million years ago, followed relatively quickly by the rising dominance of dinosaur populations of the Jurassic period," said Dennis Kent, a geology professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "Dinosaurs went on to dominate for the next 135 million years."

Lacking competition, the dinosaurs were free to evolve into the monsters that delight children in museums and films -- the Tyrannosaurus rex, velociraptor and others. 

"They replaced a whole suite of other kinds of carnivores that, for the most part, are remotely related to living crocodilians," said Paul Olsen of Columbia University in New York, who led the team of researchers whose findings were reported in Friday's issue of the journal Science. 

Looking at footprints and fossilized bones from nearly 80 different sites, Olsen's team concluded that it only took about 50,000 years for dinosaurs to start growing big -- really big. Before the Jurassic, the biggest dinosaur around was probably something like plateosaurus, a long-necked, two-legged plant-eater 20 feet long.  Afterward, giant carnivores such as tyrannosaurus reached lengths of 41 feet and more -- Argentina's giganotosaurus was more than 45 feet long. 

"You want to get as large as you can so you can eat what you want," Olsen said. Living examples include the Komodo monitor lizards of Indonesia and a similar creature that lived in Australia until humans arrived and somehow wiped them out. 

SURVIVAL OF THE BIGGEST 

In an evolutionary race for survival, plant-eaters grew even larger, developing into the thundering 160-foot long behemoth, as yet unnamed, dug up in Argentina in 2000, and the more familiar apatosaurus.

It was believed it took millions of years for this to happen but Olsen says the evidence points to a quick explosion of size and diversity among dinosaurs. 

Other fossil evidence shows plants also changed. Could it have been an asteroid, like the one that, it is now widely accepted, hit what is now Mexico's Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago? It would have sent up a plume of dust and smoke that obscured the sun for centuries, killing off plants and the animals that depended on them. 

Vital evidence of an earlier impact comes from iridium, a rare metal that is abundant in asteroids -- chunks of rock that orbit the Sun in a belt of debris between Mars and Jupiter and which occasionally fly loose. 

"Finding the element iridium, which is common in space objects, creates a time marker for comet or asteroid impacts." Kent said. 

The team used a high-resolution mass spectrometer at the lab of Christian Koeberl of the University of Vienna in Austria to find iridium traces from geologic layers dating back 200 million years, to the boundary between the Triassic (248 to 208 million years ago) and the Jurassic (208 to 146 million years ago). 

Still to be found is what would be a vast crater, said Olsen, although there are candidates in Canada and Australia. "We don't actually have an impact structure yet," he said -- but pointed out it took 15 years to find the 65 million-year-old crater in the Yucatan.

Time Travel on a Beam of Light

By Mary Kuhl
Christian Science Monitor 

Storrs Connecticut May 16, 2002 (CSM) - Ronald Mallett has wanted to travel in time ever since, as a boy, he first read "The Time Machine," by H. G. Wells. The science-fiction novel suggested to him the possibility of returning to the past to save his father, who died at 33, when young Ronald was only 10. 

Now Dr. Mallett, a physicist at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, believes he has found a way to make time travel possible – on a circulating beam of light.

"I was devastated," Mallett says of the loss of his father. But he did not wallow in his grief – instead he used it to shape his life. His childhood fantasies fueled a distinguished career in physics.

Mallett happened upon the studies of Einstein and realized that he would have to "learn a lot more physics and a lot more math" before he would be able to understand the possibilities of time travel. He studied physics on both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and eventually earned a doctorate in physics from Pennsylvania State University in 1973.

Mallett has acquired scholarly fame recently as his theories on time travel have been published. Time is relative to space and velocity. This concept is difficult to grasp, but it has been supported by experiment. Traveling close to the speed of light will slow a clock, even an atomic clock. Likewise, a clock outside our atmosphere, far away from any gravitational pull, will run faster than a clock on earth. Therefore, if an artificial gravitational force were created, time travel would, in theory, be possible.

Mallett believes he has found a way to make it happen. By trapping light inside a photonic crystal, he can cause it to circulate. The energy of the circulating light will cause the space inside the circle to twist, causing a gravitational force.

This concept can be thought of as a spoon stirring a pot. The light is the spoon rotating around the inner rim of the pot. The space is the liquid being swirled by the spoon. As the space twists, it will coil the normally linear passage of time with it, spiraling the past, present, and future together into one continuous loop. It is this twisting of space and time that Mallett believes will make time travel possible.

Mallett and his partner at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Chandra Raychoudhuri, are seeking National Science Foundation funding for experiments that they hope will support their theories. Their first experiment will be to trap light in a crystal and observe the reaction of a neutron inside the circle.

Mallett will insert polarized neutrons (neutrons that all spin in one direction) into the center of the circulating light. If he sees a change in their spin he will know that space is indeed being twisted inside of the crystal.

Should this experiment prove successful, the team will apply for funding to conduct studies to see if time bending is evident inside the circle of light.

Dr. Mark Silverman at Trinity College in nearby Hartford has suggested a possible way to see evidence of time bending: Two identical samples of a radioactive substance would be prepared with identical half-lives. One would be introduced into the time machine circulating in the same direction as the light, the other in the opposite direction.

If, at the end of the experiment, one sample had decayed further than the other, Mallett's theories of time travel would be supported.

Where the experiments will go from there is unclear. There is a vast difference between slowing the decay rate of a radioactive particle and sending a human back in time.

Science aside, sending people through time creates philosophical issues as well as physical ones.

Consider the "Grandparent Paradox" in which a time traveler goes back in time and kills her grandparents, thus negating her entire existence. If she were never born, then she couldn't go back in time in the first place. Mallett explains paradoxes such as these with a parallel-universe theory. He believes that with every decision we make, another version of us makes the opposite decision and splits off into a parallel universe. Thus the time traveler was born in the universe where she did not kill her grandparents.

This is where the line between philosophy and physics seems to blur. "All of these things have their root in philosophy," says Mallett. But he explains that the difference between physics and philosophy is experiment. "All of these things would be philosophy without experimentation," he says. True, the parallel-universe theory has not been directly supported by experiment, but Mallett uses the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to explain why the parallel universe theory is probable.

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle says that we cannot predict both the position of an electron and its spin at any given moment. Without this principle, "the universe should have collapsed immediately after it was formed," says Mallett.

A hydrogen atom, one of the building blocks of our universe, consists of a proton and an electron. Since the proton and electron have opposite charges they should be attracted to each other, collide, and destroy the atom. But if that happened, we would know both the position of the electron (the point of impact with the proton) and its spin (none); therefore it is impossible for them to collide.

Similar to the Uncertainty Principle, quantum mechanics works on the theory that one can't make a definite prediction about anything that will happen next. Therefore the parallel-universe theory works well. What will happen next can't be predicted because in fact, everything happens next.

Invisible Man Disappears From View
OLDHAM, England May 22, 2002 (Reuters) - A performance of "The Invisible Man" had to be canceled because a technical fault meant the audience could not see him. 

The Invisible Man wears bandages to make himself visible but when the lights failed in the theater at Oldham, northern England last Thursday, he disappeared completely, a theater spokeswoman said. 

Technicians working on the production of the H.G. Wells novel could not fix the problem straight away and the audience was offered a free drink instead. The show went without a hitch the next day.
Genre News: Firefly, Ursula K. LeGuin, Twilight Zone, Ashley Judd, and More!

Maher Previews Firefly 

Hollywood May 21, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - Firefly co-star Sean Maher provided a glimpse of things to come on this fall's new Fox series from Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "It's very hard to explain," the actor said in an interview.

Maher added, "There's no more Earth. We're all colonizing other planets. There are two major ruling planets and there are also little planets. My character, who is the doctor on [the small, highly mobile spaceship] Firefly, is from one of the bigger, more privileged planets, but his sister has been used for this government experiment. So he paid all of this money to get his sister out and now he's a fugitive running from the law. He gets on the Firefly and joins up with the crew of this ship." Maher's character is named Simon Tam.

Maher reported that he only found out at the last minute that the series, from Whedon's Mutant Enemy Productions and 20th Century Fox Television, would debut in the fall; Fox had been expected to renew Dark Angel and deploy Firefly as a mid-season replacement. The actor also acknowledged he's unsure if the two-hour Firefly pilot Whedon directed will air as is, be shortened to an hour or be entirely re-shot.

"I actually got back from Italy two days ago," Maher said. "I was on vacation and then I got home and heard there was all this hoopla about the show. Then I found out yesterday that we were going in the fall. I've heard a bunch of different things [about how the show will start off], but I don't know what's confirmed and what's not." Fox has tentatively slated Firefly to air Friday nights at 8 p.m. ET.

Fans may remember that Sean Maher played the title role in "Ryan Caulfield: Year One", a show Fox canceled after only two episodes aired in 1999.

More future Firefly fan info at http://www.fireflyfans.net

A&E Tries Ursula K. LeGuin 
By Jim McConville

NEW YORK May 21, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - A&E Network hopes dinosaurs, aliens and historical figures mix. The cable net, which has established a name as the home of historical miniseries and period dramas, will take a stab at different genre fare with miniseries and movies that delve into the worlds of sci fi, dinosaurs and film noir.

The net's program slate for 2002-2003 includes six new documentaries, three movies, two miniseries and two new weekly documentary series. The movie slate includes "Lathe of Heaven," a remake of the Ursula K. LeGuin science fiction novel that stars James Caan and Lukas Haas, and "Armadillo," an adaptation of William Boyd's darkly comedic thriller that stars Stephen Rea and Catherine McCormack.

It's hoped that the diversity translates into more viewers. Primetime viewership among its core 25-to-54 viewers dropped 15% last year and 19% in the first quarter. 

Frakes Enters The Twilight Zone

Hollywood May 21, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - Jonathan Frakes revealed what viewers can expect to see when UPN re-enters The Twilight Zone this fall. "It starts off with a one-hour pilot that I directed," Frakes said in an interview. "I'm so proud of it. It's an adult television show."

Frakes added, "Jeremy Piven is the star. The episode has that great Twilight Zone cautionary-tale tone. [His character] is hit by lightning and he dies twice, essentially. Piven really went for it. He's never had a part like this. Then we've got Forest Whitaker as the host. The objective there was to get someone who does not remind you at all of Rod Serling and yet brings what Forest does, which is this promise of mystery and intelligence.

"So I have really high hopes for the show. I'm really proud of the way it was shot and acted. And we've got the best timeslot on UPN. There is no better spot than behind Enterprise. I'm going to be directing other episodes of the show and right now I'm working on getting the [director-executive producer] hyphenate. I'd love to keep working with [producer] Pen Densham," whose producer credits include Space Rangers and the latter-day The Outer Limits. "He's a wonderful writer and a collaborative guy to work with."

The Twilight Zone will debut on UPN in September or October.

Ashley Judd Denies Trek

Hollywood May 22, 2002 (eXoNews) - Sci Fi Wire also reports that Ashley Judd will not appear in the upcoming Star Trek Nemesis. She said it was a false Internet rumor. "I am not in Star Trek," Judd said in an interview.

Judd appeared as Robin Lefler, a love interest for Ensign Wesley Crusher in a couple of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes. Apparently the return of Wil Wheaton in the next Star Trek film sparked the rumor.

Anyway, eXoNews was part of the rumor mill on this one and we apologise, Ashley. Hope that story about you playing Catwoman is true, though...

Fox Fall Dramatics 
By Scott Collins

NEW YORK May 17, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - Determined to rebuild after losing "The X-Files" and "Ally McBeal," Fox Broadcasting Co. on Thursday rolled out a heavily revamped primetime schedule with 10 new shows, half of them dramas.

At a splashy two-hour upfront presentation at New York's City Center, network executives copped to a rough year in the ratings but hinted that such may be the temporary price for remaining committed to "quality scripted programming," as opposed to some of the downmarket comedies and quick-hit reality shows that branded the network in the past.

Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group, reminded assembled media buyers and press that the World Series forced Fox to launch its new shows during the November sweep. Yet even with the ratings erosion of "Ally" and "X-Files," he said, Fox would still finish this season No. 2 in the 18-49 demo, behind NBC.

Entertainment president Gail Berman unfurled such high-profile one-hour shows as Joss Whedon's expensive sci-fi "Firefly" -- retooled after a two-hour pilot was coolly received by network brass -- and "Fastlane," a hip crime caper from director McG ("Charlie's Angels"). But Berman tossed a special bouquet to "Ally" creator David E. Kelley, whose new show "girls club," about a trio of young women working at a San Francisco law firm, will air on Mondays, "Ally's" old night, and is clearly aimed at the same demo. With "girls club" following Kelley's "Boston Public," Berman saluted Kelley as "Fox's MVP."

G-String Gang Targets Lingerie Designer

LONDON May 22, 2002 (Reuters) - Cheeky thieves, dubbed the "G-string Gang" by the British press, made off with thousands of pounds worth of racy underwear after a daylight raid on upmarket lingerie designer Agent Provocateur, a spokesman said on Tuesday. 

The central London headquarters of Agent Provocateur, a favorite among celebrities such as Kate Moss and Liz Hurley, was burgled over the weekend by thieves who carried off 27,000 pounds ($40,000) worth of lacy bras, knickers and corsets as well as shoes and jewelry. 

"We were all working upstairs when it appears the thieves broke down the front door and managed to steal the collections from the basement," said Agent Provocateur founder Joe Corre. 

But the thieves, who got away with the fashion house's new collection, had not made an intelligent choice in targeting such an exclusive boutique, he said. 

"The very nature of the designs, being so distinctive, renders them instantly recognizable, making it easier to track the thieves down, whatever they try to do with the collection." 

Agent Provocateur is known for its sexy, slinky and expensive designs which include one-off corsets, suspenders, stockings and G-strings. 

A spokesman for London's Metropolitan Police said the burglary was being investigated but there was no description of the suspects.

Windtalkers Boosts Modern Indians

By Jim Adams
Indian Country Today

SANTA MONICA May 20, 2002 (ICT) - Studio publicists are promoting the World War II action movie "Windtalkers" with a rare sense of mission.

As all Indian country will soon know, the film centers on the much-honored Navajo code talkers at a moment of extreme danger in the Battle of Saipan. But the publicists are learning they have much more than a battlefield summer block-buster on their hands. They see the movie as a breakthrough in portraying the American Indian in the modern world, unfiltered by the stereotypes of Hollywood, or the mainstream society.

"I think it is very important," said Jamie Geller, senior vice president of MGM Worldwide Publicity. She told Indian Country Today she took a personal interest in the movie’s break with traditional stereotyping because of her own Jewish background. Scenes in the movie portraying the prejudice of the time resonated with her, she said, "when you see the same thing psychologically that they went through."

Jackie Bissley, a contract publicist for the movie (and contributor on movies to ICT), said "Looking at ‘Windtalker,’ you see a milestone being created by the impact of the film both inside and outside the community."

Inside the Indian world, she said, "it has broken a lot of stereotypes by the way the characters are developed by Adam and Roger." (Adam Beach, Ojibwe, star of "Smoke Signals", and Roger Willie, Navajo, an acting newcomer, portray the main code talkers.)

The impact in the outside world, she said, is coming from a promotional campaign that is just getting into stride. Originally hired as liaison to the native press, Bissley said her role had rapidly expanded as interest from the mainstream media came to focus on the Indian actors and the Navajo background. "Eighty to 90 percent of the press requests are for Roger Willie, Adam Beach and the code talkers," she said.

The executives at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists have responded, said Bissley, with an unprecedented outreach to Indian country in the promotional campaign. Native journalists will be included in the traditional press junket to Hollywood, and two of the movie’s five premieres are scheduled for the Four Corners heart of Navajo Country.

The showings in Kayenta, Ariz., on June 12 and Gallup, N.M. on June 13 will honor the families of all the code talkers, both the handful of survivors and those who have passed on.

The premieres begin June 4 in Washington, D.C., June 6 with an industry screening in New York City and the formal opening in Los Angeles on June 11.

Geller declined to reveal the promotional budget or the total cost of the film but said "It’s a definite major movie." It will open on more than 2000 screens, her staff later informed ICT, a launch leagues ahead of the art-house release of "Smoke Signals" and the non-release, say, of "Doe Boy."

Planning for the ad campaign is so extensive that it was largely responsible for the decision last fall to postpone release of the movie in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Although the delay aroused some criticism among Indian movie buffs, Geller explained it as a product of the uncertainty in making a major buy of television air time. "We had to commit $8 million of advertising," she said. But so much television air time had been pre-empted by the national emergency, the studio didn’t know if it would be able to air its commercials for the planned release on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 9.

The formal opening on June 14, Flag Day, raises its own anxieties, since it falls in the middle of the crowded summer blockbuster season. The competition so far includes "Spiderman," the new Star Wars episode and "Men in Black 2." On June 14, "Windtalkers" will open against "The Bourne Identity," "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys," and "Scooby-Doo."

The movie can count on the drawing power of its non-Indian stars Nicholas Cage and Christian Slater and director John Woo, who has successfully imported the artistic violence of Hong Kong movies to his previous Hollywood projects.

But for the promotional staff, the relation with Indian country has given the project a special spirit. Bissley praises the teamwork among the 15 or more promotional staff. "It’s a rarity," said Bissley. "There just haven’t been any egos."

"We are very proud of this movie," said Geller. "We are very proud to have been able to work with the people whom it depicts." 

Windtalkers Official site - http://www.mgm.com/windtalkers 

Algonquin Elders Quiet Spirits in Ottawa

By Randy Boswell 
The Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa May 18, 2002 (Ottawa Citizen) - One of Canada's most widely respected native elders went to the recently rediscovered site of an ancient Indian burial ground yesterday in Gatineau, performing ceremonies to help soothe the spirits of ancient ancestors and to warn against any further disturbance of the sacred resting place.

"I wouldn't be surprised if my great-great-grandfather was buried here," said William Commanda, 88, former chief of the Algonquin Indian band in Maniwaki. Mr. Commanda was visiting a site that only this week was determined to have been the actual location of a burial ground excavated in the mid-19th century by an amateur archeologist and pioneer settler of Bytown.

For more than a century, the "ossuary" unearthed by Dr. Edward Van Cortlandt in 1843 was believed to have been somewhere around the National Archives or LeBreton Flats in downtown Ottawa. But an 1843 newspaper article discovered by the Citizen has determined that the burial ground was, in fact, close to the Ottawa River shore near the boundary line between the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Scott Paper plant in Gatineau.

Mr. Commanda went yesterday to examine the site and performed a number of rituals which he said were intended to "feed Mother Earth to take care of these spirits."

Almost certainly, nothing remains of any aboriginal burial ground in the area today. The waterfront district was heavily industrialized during much of the past century, and sand from the very place where the burial ground was found was used throughout the 19th century for construction projects around the capital -- including some buildings at Parliament Hill.

Mr. Commanda said the discovery of the site of a former Indian burial ground is "very good news" because it will allow him and other elders to focus spiritual attention on the area and help protect the spirits of those whose bodies were unearthed more than 150 years ago.

"The body is dead but the spirit is still around in the skies and all over," he said. He added that accurately knowing the location of the burial ground will help strengthen the claim of Algonquins in the Ottawa area that they have had a presence along the river dating back centuries.

Mr. Commanda said nearby Victoria Island and the Chaudière Falls hold special significance for native people because they were traditionally the focus for gatherings.

Studying the Cahokia Mounds

By F.N. D'alessio
Associated Press Writer

CHICAGO May 18, 2002 (AP) - While she was teaching, architectural historian Sally A. Kitt Chappell specialized in modern buildings and city planning, but in retirement she has turned her eyes to some of Illinois' oldest architecture -- the Cahokia Mounds.

The shift of focus happened accidentally.

Shortly after she retired from DePaul University in 1994, Chappell and her husband, Dr. Walter Kitt, were driving to St. Louis for a blues festival. Early in the afternoon, they passed a sign for the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

"Let's take a look,' I said, and Walter agreed,'' Chappell recalled in a recent interview. "We looked around, and I was hooked. I just knew something wonderful had happened at that site. We spent four hours there that afternoon and then returned the next day.''

On that first visit, Chappell learned facts and theories about the mound complex and the Mississipian Indians who built it around the year 1000. She learned that the central Monks Mound was the largest pre-Columbian structure north of Mexico and the largest all-earthen pyramid in the New World. She learned of the Woodhenge, the solar calendar of wooden posts unearthed by the site's archaeologists, and of the evidence of human sacrifice those researchers found in some of the smaller mounds.

The fascination lasted. After her first chance visit, Chappell found herself returning to the mounds repeatedly over a five-year period. She stood on Monks Mound to watch an eclipse of the moon and the streaming tail of the Hale-Bopp Comet. She stood at the reconstructed Woodhenge on equinoxes and solstices to watch the rising sun align with the wooden poles.

Chappell also began educating herself in archaeology, anthropology and geology, fields that had little to do with her academic specialty. At one point the professor emerita even re-enrolled in college to study archaeological map making.

The result of Chappell's near-obsession is "Cahokia: Mirror of the Cosmos,'' a lavishly illustrated book published this spring by the University of Chicago Press.

"I'd been looking for years for a piece of land to write a complete history of, and this was it,'' she said.

With the aid of site archaeologists William R. Iseminger and John E. Kelly, Chappell tells the story of how Cahokia came to be. She explains the geological and ecological forces that created the "American Bottom,'' the fertile alluvial plain where the ancestors of the Mississippians settled. She tells of how their hunter-gatherer lifestyle gradually evolved into an agricultural civilization based on corn. Such a civilization required an organized society and a division of labor.

Chappell recounts what researchers have learned of the Mississippian culture. She presents many photographs of the sculpture, tools and ceramics produced by its artisans, as well as archaeologists' hypotheses on its social structure and religious beliefs.

Above all, though, Chappell uses her own expertise in architecture and city planning to examine the mounds themselves -- their structure, purpose and affect the site. She estimates that the 100-foot-tall Monk's Mound, the tallest manmade structure in the United States until 1867, required more than 16.6 million 55-pound baskets of clay and packed earth.

That giant mound, surrounded by four great plazas, was the centerpiece of the six-square-mile Mississippian city.

"All human beings like great height,'' Chappell said. "It has been associated with awe from greatest antiquity. "It's estimated that about the year 1050, Cahokia may have been a bigger city than London was at that time,'' she said. "There were from 10,000 to 20,000 people living there full time, and the population could have reached 30,000 on festival days.''

But while London lasted, Cahokia did not. By 1400, the site was abandoned, and remained uninhabited until Illini Indians moved into the area around 1650.

While most archaeological books on Cahokia end with the abandonment, Chappell's account takes the site's history up to the present day. She considers the 18th century roles of French priests, traders and Trappist monks; the 19th century impact on the site of American pioneers, farmers and railroaders; and the 20th century struggle to preserve the mounds for posterity.

Cahokia was designated a World Heritage Site by a United Nations agency in 1982, one of only eight cultural sites in the United States so honored.

But before that honor, the mound complex was subjected to various indignities, including the building of tract homes, an X-rated drive-in movie theater, and even a poorly conceived airport built on marshland.

Looking back at the five years she spent on the book, Chappell, 72, called it: "a break with my past, and a surrender to my curiosity. But it's your curiosity, after all, that feeds your energy.''

The Cahokia Mounds Illinois State Historic Site near Collinsville is open daily, free of charge, although a donation of $2 for adults and $1 for children is suggested. Telephone:(618)-346-5160. On the Net: http://cahokiamounds.com 

More Moons for Jupiter

University of Hawaii May 16, 2002 (Press Release) - University of Hawaii astronomers announce the discovery of 11 new satellites of Jupiter. These new satellites, when added to the eleven discovered the previous year by the Hawaii team, bring the total of known Jupiter satellites to 39. This is more than any other planet. 

The new satellites were discovered during mid-December of 2001 by a team led by Scott S. Sheppard and David Jewitt from the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy and including Jan Kleyna of Cambridge University, England. They used the Canada-France-Hawaii (3.6 meter) telescope with one of the largest digital imaging cameras in the world, the "12K", to obtain sensitive images of a wide area around Jupiter.

The digital images were processed using high speed computers and then searched with an efficient computer algorithm. Candidate satellites were monitored in the succeeding months at the University of Hawaii 2.2-meter telescope to confirm their orbits and to reject closer asteroids masquerading as satellites. Orbits of the new satellites were fitted by both Robert Jacobson at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Brian Marsden at the Minor Planet Center. The satellites were formally announced by the International Astronomical Union on Circular No. YYYY (May 15, 2002). 

The 11 new objects all belong to the so-called "irregular satellite" class, meaning that they have large semi-major axes, eccentricities and inclinations. All are retrograde (they orbit in the direction opposite to the rotation of the planet), and possess similar semi-major axes (about 300 Jupiter radii or 20 million km) The estimated diameters are between about 2 and 4 kilometers, assuming a 4% albedo. As yet, nothing is known about their surface properties, compositions or densities, but they are presumed to be rocky objects like the asteroids. 

The new discoveries bring the known total of Jupiter satellites to 39, of which 31 are irregulars. (The 8 regular satellites include 4 large objects discovered by Galileo and 4 small objects on circular orbits interior to that of Io). Jupiter's nearest rival for having the largest number of known satellites is Saturn, with 30 (of which 13 are irregular). 

The large, elongated and inclined orbits of the irregular satellites strongly suggest an origin by capture. Since no efficient contemporary capture mechanisms are known, it is likely that the irregular satellites were acquired when Jupiter was young, possibly still in the process of condensing down to its equilibrium size.

The precise mechanism of capture remains unidentified but there are two leading theories for the capture process.

In the gas drag hypothesis, passing asteroids are slowed by friction with proto-Jupiter's bloated atmosphere. Those which do not burn up in the atmosphere like meteors are trapped in looping orbits like those of the new satellites.

In the mass growth hypothesis, the rapid growth of Jupiter leads to capture of nearby, co-moving planetesimals. Both processes would have operated in the first million years of the solar system. 

The irregular satellites are grouped into distinct dynamical families or clusters. This suggests that individual satellites are pieces of a few precursor bodies that have been shattered. The disruptions occurred either during the process of capture or possibly after capture due to collisions with Jupiter-crossing comets. Future measurements of the size distribution, surface properties and orbits of the satellites will help determine how they formed. 

The Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii conducts research into galaxies, cosmology, stars, planets, and the Sun. Its faculty and staff are also involved in astronomy education, deep space missions, and in the development and management of the observatories on Haleakala and Mauna Kea.

Barbie Fights For The American Way in Iran!

By BRIAN MURPHY
Associated Press 

TEHRAN, Iran May 21, 2002 (AP) - The suspect fits the following description: slim, curvaceous, perpetual smile, no head scarf. Goes by the name of Barbie. Iranian police are combing the shelves for the perky ambassador of American culture. The doll's uneasy sojourn in the Islamic Republic could be drawing to a close. 

Agents have been confiscating Barbie from toy stores since a vague proclamation earlier this month denouncing the un-Islamic sensibilities of the idol of girls worldwide, shopkeepers said Tuesday. 

"They took them all," said a toy seller whose shop window is plastered with the flower-shaped Barbie logo. "I have no idea if we'll ever see Barbie back again." 

The shop owner refused to give her name, fearing more trouble with authorities. Other toy dealers also asked for anonymity. The Barbie ban apparently has them spooked. Could the Little Mermaid and the rest of the Disney clan be next? 

"We're all a little nervous," said a toy shop clerk who admitted they stashed their Barbie stock after learning of the sweep. 

It's not the first time Barbie has run afoul with authorities.

In 1996, the head of a government-backed children's agency called Barbie a "Trojan horse" sneaking in Western influences such as makeup and revealing clothes. Barbie is sold wearing swimsuits and miniskirts in a society where women must wear head scarves in public and men and women are not allowed to go to the pool or beach together. 

In March, Iranian toy makers answered back with Sara. The moonfaced doll is clad in an Islamic chador or traditional Iranian folk costumes. Her twin brother Dara is also the picture of Iranian propriety - a far cry from Barbie's beefcake boyfriend Ken. 

Government officials have not elaborated on the reasons behind the Barbie crackdown. But it's widely perceived as another pinpoint strike by conservatives. The expanding personal and commercial liberties since the rise of reformist President Mohammad Khatami in 1997 have left his opponents feeling weak and isolated. 

On Monday, the hard-line newspaper Jam-e-Jam ran a front-page story accusing a popular Tehran fast-food restaurant of selling "American sandwiches." The restaurant uses third-country suppliers that distribute products of the U.S. chain Hardee's. 

Barbie and other U.S. products enter Iran through similar roundabout channels, skirting the ban on direct trade imposed by Washington for Iran's alleged support of international terrorism. Toy shops are filled with Disney items. Markets sell well-known American brands such as Gillette, Xerox and Coca-Cola. 

The Barbie purge hits some shopkeepers right in the cash register. 

Barbie, made by Mattel Inc., is a best seller despite the cost: about 320,000 rials ($40) in a nation where the average monthly salary is about 800,000 ($100). An Iranian-made Barbie knockoff is about 24,000 rials ($3). Sara and Dara go for about 125,000 rial ($15) each. 

"People would come to my shop just for Barbie," said one merchant. "There's a big empty space on my shelves."

Animal News:

Bald Chickens

Israel May 21, 2002 (BBC) - Scientists have bred a controversial featherless chicken which they say is faster growing - and could be more humane. The birds, created at the Hebrew University in Israel, will not need to be plucked, saving money in processing plants. 

While the researcher behind the breed concedes that they would not be suitable for cooler countries, he says that in hot climates, the birds would fare better. However, opponents of the move say that the changes do not benefit the hens, and are in fact likely to make their lives worse. 

Professor Avigdor Cahaner, who led the project, told the BBC: "This is not a genetically-modified chicken - it comes from a natural breed whose characteristics have been known for 50 years. 

"I am just transferring that to fast growing broiler chickens. It's a normal chicken except for the fact it has no feathers." 

He said that broiler chickens are fed intensively to achieve fast growth, which means they also tend to produce a lot of body heat. This meant, he said, that particularly in hotter countries, they "suffer tremendously". 

The featherless birds would tend to be leaner, and perhaps grow faster, he said, which would improve the quality of the meat and save producers money. Removing the plucking process would also reduce pollution, he said, as it produces large quantities of water contaminated with feathers and fat. 

However, animal welfare groups warned that feathers were important to help the birds protect themselves from parasites - and that they were likely to suffer sunburn. 

In addition, male chickens might be unable to mate.

And Bald Parrots

Paul Brown
Environment Correspondent
The Guardian 

Brazil May 20, 2002 (Guardian UK) - A new species of parrot has been discovered - and to the astonishment of ornithologists it is bald. 

The discovery of the Bald parrot, or Pagagio careco, as it is known, since its home is in the Portuguese speaking Mato Grosso region of Brazil, has sent a flurry of excitement around the bird world. 

So far only one has been seen, but it has been photographed for a Brazilian bird magazine, and filmed by the local television network. It is so distinctive because of the lack of feathers on its head that experts have no doubt it is a previously unknown parrot. 

Tony Juniper, joint author of Parrots, A Guide to the Parrots of the World, which chronicled the 350 known species four years ago, said it was a spectacular discovery. "After 200 years of systematically searching out and describing parrot species it is really a surprise to find a new one. It shows that if we can miss a big visible new species like a parrot, how many other smaller animals and plants must be out there waiting to be found, and still worse how many are going extinct without us ever knowing." 

Mr Juniper, who recently completed a book on the Spix's macaw, which has just become extinct in the wild and is down to 60 specimens in captivity, said there was one other bald parrot in the world, the Vulturine parrot. In the same way that a vulture which ate carrion had developed bald ness to keep its head from getting too messy, the Vulturine parrot (Pionopsitta vulturina), which ate rotting fruit, had also lost its head feathers. 

"It is too early to say, but the bald parrot may have evolved that way for the same reasons," he said. 

The hunt is now on for more members of the same species. Mr Juniper, who is director designate of Friends of the Earth, said it was important to give it a chance to survive. 

"The Mato Grosso, on the edge of the Amazon, is a forest which is rapidly being cut down for turning into ranches and for timber, so even as it is discovered we may be in danger of making the bald parrot extinct. We urgently need to find out more about this new species."

Republican Poodle Faces Slammer

LAFAYETTE CA May 17, 2002 (Reuters) - Barnabas the toy poodle has been a registered Republican for two years but never got a chance to vote. Now his owner Donald Miller faces a court date on charges of misdemeanor vote fraud, carrying a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, for his attempt to prove that California is too lax when it comes to registering new voters. 

"I got the attention of the authorities," Miller, 78, said Thursday. "I think this is just a beginning. This is a sign there are lots of things wrong with the whole system." 

Miller, a resident of the San Francisco-area town of Lafayette, registered Barnabas as a Republican two years ago, using simple mail-in forms. 

"Barney went to the polls with us every time we voted but I wouldn't let him vote. That would be a horrendous felony," Miller said. "But his name was definitely on the list. He got all the voting materials, all the ballots, everything." 

Miller said he realized Barnabas' jig was up when the poodle received a jury summons in March, prompting him to go to a local newspaper to describe what he said was the "alarming laxity" of California's voter registration process. 

That article caught the attention of the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office, which charged Miller with misdemeanor registration fraud. 

Miller declined to outline his court strategy, but said prosecutors had been "extremely nice" about the whole thing. 

"This is not political, this is moral," Miller said. "We've got to see what we can do to start tightening up some of these regulations."

Canines Top Dog in Ad World

By Matt Born

Great Britain May 13, 2002 (Telegraph UK) - Dogs are not only man's best friend, they are good to advertisers too, according to research.

And some of the most famous television commercials could have been far more effective if they had featured a different type of animal, the survey suggests.

Brooke Bond, for example, might have been better off training a group of pigs to guzzle cups of PG Tips rather than chimps. McVitie's could have prospered even more if its brand of chocolate biscuits had been called "Cat" instead of "Penguin".

The alternatives are suggested by research to identify which animals are most effective in advertising.

Top of the pecking order are dogs, with the Dulux dog and Andrex puppy having featured in two of the most enduringly popular campaigns. Pigs are ranked third after cats, and chimpanzees appeal to us less than horses when it comes to advertising.

The research was carried out by Joshua, the advertising agency behind the current "flying pigs" campaign for Zurich financial services. The agency spent a year conducting focus groups with more than 600 people to gauge how strongly animals were identified with particular brands.

Nick Spindler, the agency's managing director, said: "Britain is a nation of animal lovers and we seem to respond well to them in adverts because they have a powerful, classless appeal."

The research found that dogs - particularly "friendly" breeds such as Labradors and collies - are universally popular thanks to their familiarity as pets, and can be used to promote a wide range of goods. Cats, however, provoke a more "polarized" response because they are seen as "selfish and cruel". In advertising terms, they are best confined to selling pet care products, the study said.

Dolphins, by contrast, despite being "smiling intelligent creatures who have picked up sympathy for their netting by fishermen", were ranked only seventh.

"In advertising terms, [dolphins] are not intrinsically interesting as they have largely only one trick involving fish," the report said.

The Top 10 are: 1 Dogs; 2 Cats; 3 Pigs; 4 Horses; 5 Lions; 6 Chimpanzees; 7 Dolphins; 8 Cows; 9 Penguins; 10 Elephants.

Famous Flying Pigs Ham It Up, Win the Good Life 

LONDON May 17, 2002 (Reuters) - Nine flying pigs who became overnight stars in Britain after featuring in a television commercial have moved into luxury retirement quarters with a promise they will never end up as bacon. 

"It's everything a pig could want," Judy Hancox, new landlady to the pigs, told Reuters. 

Britons took the porkers to their hearts after seeing them charge down a runway and take off to the theme tune from the film "633 Squadron" in an ad for Zurich Financial Services. 

The number given out by Zurich for queries about its financial products was inundated by calls about the pigs' welfare, forcing the company to set up a separate "hogline." 

The pigs will spend the rest of their lives at Hancox's Butts Farm near Cirencester in central England, where they have their own house and a large paddock to run around in. 

A spokeswoman for Zurich said it was unlikely the pigs would come out of retirement for an encore of their flying feat. 

"I think they're carrying a bit too much ballast now," she admitted. But she added: "They're happy as pigs in mud."

Purple Carrots

LONDON May 16, 2002 (Reuters) - It may seem like fashion gone mad but this summer there may be a new food craze in Britain -- purple carrots. 

In fact, the violet vegetables are not unnatural -- it was their original hue before the Dutch decided to cultivate them in their national color orange in the 1720s, a supermarket supplier said on Thursday. 

Mark Spurdens, technical manager for food company Isleham Fresh Produce, predicts the purple carrots -- which are orange on the inside -- will be a hit with British consumers when they go on sale in July. 

"They're different. They've had a little bit of extra care and attention in the way they've been raised. They do taste quite sweet," he told BBC radio. 

Dutch scientists say purple carrots afford extra protection against some forms of cancer and heart disease -- a recent study concluded they contain pigments that act as anti-oxidants. 

Carrots also come in white and black varieties, and Isleham plans to develop a "rainbow bunch" over the next year.

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