|E.T. Hunt Continues! |
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|E.T. Hunt Continues! |
By Belinda Goldsmith
CANBERRA July 16, 2002 (Reuters) - Scientists searching the stars for aliens are convinced an E.T. is out there - it's just that they haven't had the know-how to detect such a being.
But now technological advances have opened the way for scientists to check millions of previously unknown star systems, dramatically increasing the chances of finding intelligent life in outer space in the next 25 years, the world's largest private extraterrestrial agency believes.
"We're looking for needles in the haystack that is our galaxy, but there could be thousands of needles out there," Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer at California's non-profit Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
"If that's the case, with the number of new star systems we now hope to check, we should find one of those in the next 25 years."
But Shostak, visiting Australia to attend a conference on extraterrestrial research, said detecting alien life, like the big-eyed alien in the film E.T., was only the start.
"Even if we detect life out there, we'll still know nothing about what form of life we have detected and I doubt they'll be able -- or want -- to communicate with us," Shostak said.
Since it was founded in 1984, the SETI Institute has monitored radio signals, hoping to pick up a transmission from outer space. Its Project Phoenix conducts two annual three-week sessions on a radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
Project Phoenix, widely seen as the inspiration for the 1997 film "Contact" starring Jodie Foster, which depicted a search for life beyond earth, is the privately funded successor to an original NASA program that was canceled in 1993 amid much skepticism by the U.S. Congress.
But the search has been slow. About 500 of 1,000 targeted stars have been examined -- and no extraterrestrial transmissions have been detected.
"We do get signals all the time but when checked out they have all been human made...and are not from E.T., more AT&T," said Shostak.
He said the privately-funded institute was developing a giant $26 million telescope to start operating in 2005 that can search the stars for signals at least 100 times faster.
The so-called Allen Telescope Array, named after sponsor and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is a network of more than 350, 20-foot satellite dishes with a collecting area exceeding that of a 338-foot telescope.
The Allen array, to be built at the Hat Creek Observatory about 290 miles northeast of San Francisco, will also expand the institute's stellar reconnaissance to 100,000 or even one million nearby stars, searching 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Shostak said he is convinced there is intelligent life out there -- but don't expect to find a loveable, boggle-eyed E.T..
He said if any aliens share the same carbon-based organic chemistry as humans, they would probably have a central processing system, eyes, a mouth or two, legs and some form of reproduction.
But Shostak thinks any intelligent extraterrestrial life will have gone light years beyond the intelligence of man.
"What we are more likely to hear will be so far beyond our own level that it might not be biological anymore but some artificial form of life," he said. "Don't expect a blobby, squishy alien to be on the end of the line."
|10,000-year-old Mammoth Tusk Found in Colorado |
PARKER, Colo. July 17, 2002 (AP) - A crew digging a road for a suburban housing development unearthed an 18-foot-long wooly mammoth tusk that is at least 10,000 years old. The tusk, broken into two pieces, was discovered Monday near a creek bed about 20 miles south of Denver.
"I had a moment of Indiana Jones going on there," construction foreman Dave Smith said. "It was amazing."
Officials from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science believe the tusk belonged to a fully grown male Columbian mammoth - 7-ton Pleistocene Era animals that roamed the Colorado Plateau and disappeared about 10,000 years ago. Their closest modern relative is the elephant.
"This is an important find. It's a data point, a key part of science that contributes to history," said Russ Graham, chief curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
The tusk was covered in preservatives, burlap and plaster and was to be taken to the museum for dating, which could take a year or more. Surrounding sediment will help date the fossil, which Graham said could be as much as 50,000 years old.
"It was found near a creek that was once on a hill. It took thousands of years for the creek to cut the earth down, and the fossil could be from that period," he said.
Graham hopes researchers can determine how long the mammoth lived in Colorado. Paleontologists will monitor the 90-acre housing construction site Tuesday as construction crews continue work.
Another wooly mammoth tusk was found in nearby Littleton about eight years ago, Graham said.
|Mad Science Experiment Postponed |
Oslo July 15, 2002 (Greenpeace) - A CO2 experiment that sounds more like bad science fiction than a global solution has been delayed because of international pressure. But the message is clear. Countries that are not yielding to pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are quietly maneuvering in the background to find hi-tech solutions rather than make the right move to green energy.
Any 5 year-old can tell you that if the kitchen sink is overflowing with water, you have to turn off the tap, not cut a hole in the floor and let it drain down to the basement.
But the scientists trying to solve the planet’s problems are getting desperate and hell bent on finding a modern technological solution rather than stopping the problem at the source.
The same countries that are resisting international efforts to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide and climate change inducing emissions have cooked up a plan to dump this pollution in the ocean. A group of researcher institutions from the US, Norway, Canada, Australia and Japan are funding this mad science experiment to dump 5.4 tons of liquid carbon dioxide into the sea of Norway. But because of growing international opposition the experiment has been delayed.
These corporations, who know their technology belongs in last century, would rather keep lining their pockets while the atmosphere chokes than do what everyone knows will have to be done sooner rather than later. Old blokes, old money, old technology, old ideas - soon to be dead unless the earth's atmosphere loses out.
It didn’t seem to occur to them that this technology is illegal in the first place.
Dumping industrial waste at sea, including CO2 from fossil fuel emissions is illegal under the international OSPAR and London Conventions.
CO2 is the world’s biggest industrial waste product and is causing more damage to our environment than any other single factor. Ice caps are melting, sea levels rising, coral reefs are being wiped out and our planet may never completely recover from the effects of climate change if we don't kick-start a revolution in clean green energy for all.
As governments scramble to find the least painful economic solutions to climate change, this consortium of countries was quietly working in the background without anyone knowing about it.
But over the last few weeks, the experiment has been the subject of concerns in Norway and around the world. The OSPAR commission also politely pointed out that they need to come up with a common position on this as soon as possible.
Dumping blocks of frozen CO2 at sea and pumping liquid CO2 through pipelines under 3000m which they expect would sink and form “lakes” on the sea bed – these are the rational solutions that have been suggested so that we can maintain an ignorant lifestyle of energy consumption.
The delay of the Norwegian experiment is the first step. The Rainbow Warrior will arrive in Oslo, Norway on Tuesday and we will meet with the Norwegian Environment Ministry officals and others opposed to this plan.
|Beans Sink Sailor |
|By Karen Bale |
Kinlochbervie, Scotland July 16, 2002 (The Scotsman) - A blundering sailor's trip from Scotland to Iceland was sunk - because his boat was overloaded with baked beans.
Mike Pollard's 12ft dinghy was in danger of sinking just 20 miles off shore because of the amount of tinned food on board. Rescuing the thoughtless English sailor cost £8000. But selfish Pollard was unrepentant last night.
The self-employed builder told the Record: "I don't care what the coastguards are saying about me. And I'm not saying anything unless you pay me £500."
It was his 24-year-old wife Sarah who revealed the real reason for the rescue. She said: "I think it was the baked beans that did for him. He really loves his Heinz beans, so perhaps he took too much tinned food with him."
Liverpudlian Pollard, 52, left the port of Kinlochbervie on Sunday, hoping to make the 500-mile journey to Iceland in his yellow inflatable dinghy. He ignored advice from coastguards not to set sail in the "banana boat". And he was forced to call for help after eight-foot waves swamped his boat.
Furious coastguards last night slammed Mike for his "crazy" antics. Stornoway coastguard watch manager Angus Murray said: "To attempt a journey like this in an inflatable was completely crazy. He contacted us and told us about his plans to take this dinghy to Iceland. We warned him strongly against it but he was determined to go ahead and there was nothing we could physically do to stop him. When he told us he was setting off, we said it was a pound to a penny we would have to rescue him and we were right. He was risking his life with little or no regard for the trouble he would cause when a rescue operation had to be organized."
Pollard was forced to call for help after his tiny vessel became flooded with water north-west of Cape Wrath. He spent almost four hours trying to bale out water from the dinghy after calling the coastguard.
|Iceland Fears Jokulhlaup |
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Environment Correspondent
Tungaarjokull Glacier July 11, 2002 (BBC) - UK scientists have detected signs of unusual geothermal activity beneath two ice caps in Iceland. They say this has caused the appearance of two deep depressions, known as cauldrons, in one of the caps.
Beneath the other they have recorded seismic movements which could be the precursor of a big eruption. The scientists say there is little threat at present, but cannot predict how the activity may develop.
The two ice cauldrons, about 12 km (eight miles) apart, are on the Tungaarjokull glacier, on the western edge of the Vatnajokull ice cap in southern Iceland. One cauldron is 1.5 km wide and 100 metres deep, and the other almost as large. The glacier itself is 200-300 m thick.
One of the scientists involved in the research is Dr Matthew Roberts, of the Icelandic Meteorological Office. He told BBC News Online: "The larger cauldron has grown deeper and wider in the last 24 hours. We think the geothermal activity triggered a rapid release of meltwater from under the glacier."
The team believes this water could eventually burst free of the glacier and this could pose a danger to surrounding areas.
A similar glacier outburst flood, known in Icelandic as a "jokulhlaup", in 1996 washed large quantities of ice and sediment into the Atlantic, causing huge damage to bridges, roads and power lines. Dr Roberts told BBC News Online he and his colleagues were also concerned about another ice cap, Myrdalsjokull, in south central Iceland.
"We've detected earthquakes there reaching nearly three on the Richter scale," he said. "The last time there was an eruption there, in 1918, the outflow reached 250,000 tons of water per second from the ice cap, and the fallout of the ash cloud spread to the mainland of northern Europe. We know that Myrdalsjokull will erupt again, though whether in the next few days or the next decade we can't say."
Dr Roberts is working with two colleagues from the UK - Dr Andrew Russell, of Keele University, and Dr Fiona Tweed, of Staffordshire University. They are part of a project supported by Earthwatch, a conservation charity which undertakes scientific field research.
David Hilliard of Earthwatch told BBC News Online: "It's important for the Icelanders to understand the dynamics of jokulhlaups, because of the potential threat to property and to life. Iceland has glaciers and is the world's most volcanic island - a recipe for dramatic events."
|Genre News: Buffy, Peter Pan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Monk, Birds of Prey, Quantum Leap & More! |
Bad Girls Return To Buffy
Hollywood July 15, 2002 (Sci-Fi Wire) - Joss Whedon, creator of UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, told SCI FI Wire to expect some familiar faces and a return to an old haunt as the show kicks off its seventh season.
In a series of possible spoilers for the upcoming season, Whedon said in an interview to expect the return of Glory, the god played by Claire Kramer who was apparently killed at the end of season five; Warren (Adam Busch), the evil geek killed by Willow in last season's finale; and possibly Faith (Eliza Dushku), the bad-girl Slayer last seen a few season back on Angel.
The season will also begin with Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) beginning classes in a newly rebuilt Sunnydale High School, Whedon said.
Glory "will make a guest appearance, maybe more than one," Whedon said during UPN's fall preview party on the Buffy set in Santa Monica, Calif. "We're going to see a lot of old faces. A lot of them. And it's going to be ... for a very particular reason that I will not explain to you. But it's going to be a lot of fun."
Whedon also revealed that he has been in talks with Dushku about returning as Faith to both Buffy and its spinoff series, Angel—if Dushku's schedule allows. "Well, hopefully she's going to be integral" to both shows, Whedon said. "But ... nothing has been set. ... We know we'd love to have her back, and we've been talking to her. We're sort holding off. ... [But] I really feel she has a place on both [shows], and it's different in each. She brings something to anywhere she graces the screen. She's an extraordinary actress. And we just want to work with her again. But until things are, you know, definite, we're keeping all that loose, in case, you know, she's suddenly making more movies, that inconsiderate girl."
Whedon confirmed that he and his staff will lighten Buffy up after the previous season, which many felt was very dark. Part of that will include a return to Sunnydale High, which was destroyed at the end of season three, and following Dawn as she treads in her older sister's footsteps.
"It's nice," Whedon said. "Dawn is now the age Buffy was when the show began. And what's nice about that is that it gives us the opportunity to tell more high-school stories, which were the centerpiece of the show, and which we only got to do for two-and-a-half years. I mean, they graduated at the end of year three, and the first season was a half season. And the only time I've ever truly felt sad and like I'd lost something was when they graduated, because I was like, 'Wait, wait, I went through more bad things! There's more pain I haven't talked about yet! I haven't complained enough!' And now I have that opportunity to complain to America again, and I'm looking forward to taking it."
Buffy returns Sept. 24 in its regular Tuesday 8 p.m. timeslot on UPN. Angel has moved to Sundays at 9 PM on the WB.
The Buffy Website is always at http://www.buffy.com
Peter Pan Lead Cast
By Zorianna Kit
Hollywood July 16, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - After a three-month search that spanned three continents, Revolution Studios, Red Wagon Productions and director P.J. Hogan have found their Peter Pan in the form of 13-year-old actor Jeremy Sumpter.
Sumpter, best known as young Adam Meiks in the Bill Paxton-directed "Frailty," has been tapped to star in the title role of the live-action project, which is a three-way co-production among Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Revolution.
The youngster recently worked with Columbia on the upcoming feature "Adaptation," in which he plays the young version of Chris Cooper's character. "Peter Pan," which also stars Jason Isaacs as Hook, will begin principal photography in the fall in Queensland, Australia, for a Christmas 2003 release.
Arnold for Governor?
HOLLYWOOD July 16, 2002 (Zap2it.com) - At a National Governors Association conference breakfast in Boise, Idaho Monday (July 15) actor Arnold Schwarzenegger renewed his interest in one day running for governor of California.
“It's something that I'm still interested in (for) the future. I think that the greatest thing you can do is serve the people," Schwarzenegger told 15 Republican state governors at the meeting. "It gives me the greatest satisfaction — much more than going down another red carpet to do a movie premiere — to go and create after-school programs, help special Olympians, inspire kids to stay away from drugs and gangs."
Austrian-born Schwarzenegger, 54, earlier this year considered running against California Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, but had to reconsider when scheduling conflicted with his movie contracts. The action star is currently working on two sequels: "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" and “True Lies 2.”
Several months ago, the actor managed to get an After School Program Initiatives, which will make state grants available to every public elementary and junior high school in California that wants to create an after-school program for its kids, on the November California ballot.
“What a great feeling to go to bed every night and say, `Look how many people I helped today.' That would be fantastic — very satisfying," Schwarzenegger told the Associated Press following the breakfast meeting.
Monk Scores High For USA
NYC July 15, 2002 (USA Press Release) - USA Network's 2-hour premiere of the critically acclaimed original series 'Monk' (Friday, July 12 from 9:00-11:00 pm ET/PT) drew an outstanding 3.5 household rating with 4.8 million viewers, making it the night's top-rated show on basic cable.
Demographically, 'Monk' earned a 2.4 for P25-54 and 2.0 for P18-49.
Ratings for the premiere more than doubled the timeslot average: households were up +138%, P25-54 up +173% and P18-49 up +133%.
'Monk' stars Tony Shalhoub ("The Man Who Wasn't There," "Galaxy Quest") as the illustrious Adrian Monk ... an obsessive-compulsive detective. Monk suffers from a psychological disorder that has already cost him his position as a legendary homicide detective on the San Francisco police force. Due to the tragic unsolved murder of his wife, Monk has developed an abnormal fear of germs, heights, crowds and virtually everything else, which provides an unusual challenge to solving crimes ... not to mention his day-to-day existence.
USA Network is cable television's leading provider of original series and feature movies, sports events, off-net television shows and blockbuster theatrical films. USA Network is available in 82% of all U.S. homes, and is seen in 86 million U.S. homes.
The USA Network Monk Web site is located at http://www.usanetwork.com/series/monk
WB Claims to be Major Network
By Nellie Andreeva
PASADENA July 15, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - After dominating network television for decades, the Big Three expanded to Big Four about a decade ago to make room for up-and-comer Fox. Now the WB Network is claiming it has graduated to the big leagues and has attained the status of a Big Five network.
The WB executives made the pitch for the new moniker during an executive Q&A session as part of the network's portion of the summer Television Critics Assn. press tour Saturday. "For us, it's a little like when you reach a certain age and maturity level and you earn the right to be called an adult," TBS executive vp communications Brad Turell said in his opening remarks.
The WB is prepping the launch of its ninth season in the fall. Though TBS chairman and CEO Jamie Kellner poked some fun at Turell's speech, referring to it as "Brad's bar mitzvah," he supported the appeal for a lexical upgrade of the WB to a Big Five network. "I think it's seeking your support, seeking your respect for the work that we've done ... and I think it's appropriate." The transformation happened almost overnight as a result of the successful May sweep and upfront, WB entertainment president Jordan Levin said in an interview after the session. "We went to New York still a smaller startup network, and I think we came back from New York a legitimate major broadcast network," he said. "We're at a different place and we've earned a different seat at the table."
Sherilyn Fenn Off 'Birds of Prey'
By Rick Porter
Zap2it.com, TV News
LOS ANGELES July 13, 2002 (Zap2it.com) - The role of arch-villain Harley Quinn on the new WB series "Birds of Prey" is being recast.
Sherilyn Fenn ("Twin Peaks") played the part in the pilot, but she wasn't available to make a commitment to the series, executive producer Brian Robbins said Saturday (July 13) at the TV Critics Association press tour in Pasadena.
"Birds of Prey," based on the DC Comics title, tells the story of Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer), the former Batgirl, now confined to a wheelchair thanks to the Joker and going by the nom de superhero of Oracle, and the Huntress, Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott), the daughter of Batman and Catwoman.
With the help of a psychic girl named Dinah (Rachel Skarsten), they fight crime in a "New Gotham" in which Batman is in self-imposed exile and onetime Joker sidekick Harley is designing her grand plan to bring the city to its knees.
Robbins says he and creator Laeta Kalogridis originally envisioned Harley Quinn being a recurring character, but as they developed the story, "we realized she would be an essential part of the series."
The producers haven't yet found someone to take Fenn's place. A handful of scenes in the pilot will have to be reshot with the new actress.
Bakula May Appear in Quantum TV Movie
By CHRISTOPHER ALLAN SMITH AND ERIC MORO
Hollywood July 15, 2002 (Cinescape) - While talking up the recently announced QUANTUM LEAP TV movie set to air on the Sci-Fi Channel next year, channel President Bonnie Hammer told our own Eric Moro onetime series star Scott Bakula may be making a cameo.
Here’s what she had to say:
“QUANTUM LEAP is absolutely a classic. It’s done well on our channel in repeats and we’ve always wanted to do a QUANTUM LEAP reunion movie. And then when we started thinking about it and then we merged back with Universal, we said, ‘Wow, let’s do a two-hour movie. Let’s see who we can attract from the original series and let’s start our own. So we’re thrilled about that because [QUANTUM LEAP] is so pure sci-fi, but so mainstream that I think we’re going to pull in a whole new audience.”
When asked if Bakula would return, she said with a smile, “You never know. You never know.”
Buffy-less Buffy Possible?
Hollywood July 15, 2002 (Sci-Fi Wire) - Joss Whedon, creator of UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, told SCI FI Wire that he's leaving open the possibility of carrying on the show after next year, even if star Sarah Michelle Gellar decides not to renew her contract, which expires at the end of year seven. Meanwhile, regular cast member Emma Caulfield, who plays Anya, told SCI FI Wire that she intends to leave the show after the end of the seventh season, which kicks off Sept. 24, but added that every other cast member has already signed up for year eight.
"I'm game for almost anything," Whedon said in an interview, when asked if he'd go on without Gellar. "It's an incredibly strong ensemble. It's a very strong mythos. It's a huge universe we've created and an incredible cast of actors. So there are definitely opportunities for different kinds of shows."
Earlier, Buffy executive producer Marti Noxon told SCI FI Wire that she thought the show could continue without Gellar in the lead. For his part, Anthony Stewart Head (Giles) said that he thought season seven would be the show's last. Gellar has made plain her desire to move on after the show's seventh season ends, whether the show goes on or not after that.
Similarly, Caulfield said she's gone after next year. "Uh-huh," she said in an interview. It's "my last year. It depends on whether or not the show goes beyond a seventh season. Sarah has not signed on. The rest of the cast has signed on for an eighth season. I have not. I'm leaving. I'm done. It's just time, you know? It's been five great years. But it's sort of like, I use the analogy of, like, high school. ... Four years. It's time to graduate, you know? It's time." Buffy airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
|The Feminist Egyptian Queen |
Paris July 3, 2002 (Agence France-Presse) - An Egyptian queen fought 4,000 years ago for equal political rights with men and was granted the supreme honour of receiving a pharaonic burial, a French archaeological team announced today.
The texts found engraved in the pyramid of Queen Ankhenespepi II were meant to allow her become immortal, a privilege until then restricted to the pharaohs, said the team in a resume of its latest research campaign in the ancient Saqqara cemetery complex, 20 kilometers south of Cairo.
"An exceptional funerary complex was built for this powerful woman, and pyramid texts were engraved in the tomb chamber to open the road of eternity before her," wrote the mission led by Audran Labrousse. "The dignity of the monument is until this day unique" for an Egyptian queen, "which induces the possibility that she received a near-kingly burial," it added.
Pyramid texts are prayers and magic formulas engraved in hieroglyphics on the walls of the compartment containing the sarcophagus, meant to help the pharaoh rise from the dead and become part of the eternal world of the gods. In the pyramid of Ankhenespepi II, the text addresses the queen, telling her to "stand up, remove the earth and shake the dust away, get ready for the voyage ... you will not die, your name will remain."
The discovery of the texts in the remains of the queen's pyramid was announced two years ago, but the indications published at the time said they were prayers for the immortality of the pharaohs, not her own.
Ankhenespepi II married two kings, Pepi I and his successor Merenre, and then ruled for many years as regent for her son, Pepi II, who was only six years old when he ascended the throne. Because she ruled like a king, she claimed the right to immortality, implementing a pharaonic version of equal rights and duties. Her pyramid was not more than 15 meters high, but she had an impressive funerary temple at the entrance.
The lintel of the gate's temple, unearthed in 1997, is a 17-tonne block of granite engraved with an inscription that starts with her title, "Mother of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt." The importance of Ankhenespepi II is also attested in a 40-centimetre statue representing her with Pepi II as a child on her lap, kept in New York's Brooklyn Museum of Art.
According to Manetho, an Egyptian historian of the third century BC, Pepi II ruled 94 years, the longest reign in history. But Pepi II was also the last pharaoh of the Old Kingdom, a glorious period spanning four centuries (circa 2600 to 2200 BC) that ended in the chaos of a rebellion during which royal tombs were desecrated and pillaged.
Historians agree that a series of bad harvests and waning central authority were the main reasons behind the collapse of the Old Kingdom. But Labrousse told reporters here that Ankhenespepi's quest for immortality broke a major pillar of pharaonic spiritual power and might have produced religious and social upheaval that also contributed to the revolt.
"What she did allowed all the Egyptians to claim in turn eternal life," the French archaeologist explained. He expected the upcoming round of excavations and research in Saqqara "to shed more light on this period of mutations."
Ancient Egypt had only a handful of female rulers, the best known of whom was the pharaoh Hatshepsut, who lived in the 15th century BC.
|Nigerian Women End ChevronTexaco Siege |
|By D'arcy Doran |
ESCRAVOS, Nigeria July 16, 2002 (AP) — Hundreds of unarmed women occupying a ChevronTexaco oil terminal agreed to end their eight-day siege after the company offered to hire at least 25 villagers, to build schools, and to provide electricity, water, and other amenities.
But the women's representatives said Monday that they would wait until the verbal agreement was put in writing and signed before they withdrew from the Escravos facility in southeastern Nigeria. "It is settled. We stay today, but once the paper is signed, we will leave," said Anunu Uwawah, a protest leader.
Dick Filgate, a Canadian executive with ChevronTexaco's Nigeria subsidiary, said he hoped the deal would be finalized as early as Tuesday. "We have to do a much better job of having communities involved in our business. We now have a different philosophy, and that is do more with communities," Filgate told the women.
About 100 women, some with babies tied to their backs, broke out into singing and dancing on the docks at Escravos after hearing the agreement had been reached.
The takeover has trapped hundreds of American, Canadian, British, Nigerian, and other oil workers inside the facility, which is surrounded by rivers and swamps. It has also shut down the terminal, which exports half a million barrels of oil daily and accounts for the bulk of the company's Nigeria production.
The peaceful, all-women protest was unprecedented in the oil-rich Niger Delta, where bands of young men frequently resort to kidnapping and sabotage to demand jobs, protection money, and compensation for alleged environmental damage.
Terms of Monday's deal included a promise by Chevron to build a town hall in Ugborodo — the largest of half a dozen villages with residents taking part in the all-woman protest — Filgate said. Schools and electrical and water systems would also be built, with construction beginning in three weeks time, he said. The company will also help the women establish poultry and fish farms so that they can supply the terminal's cafeteria with food.
Monday's three-hour talks dealt with jobs, the most emotive issue for the women. During the intense negotiations, village values and corporate realities often clashed. The women demanded a commitment that the company give jobs to their sons and daughters for as long as the company stays in Nigeria, but Filgate said he could only make shorter-term promises.
The deal represented a compromise. ChevronTexaco agreed to hire at least five people a year over the next five years, "but I hope its more," Filgate said. The jobs would include professional positions if qualified candidates could be found. Fifteen villagers already employed by the company on contract basis will be given fulltime staff status, he added.
The women accepted the deal only after Filgate agreed it could be reviewed and renewed after five years. The agreement followed three hours of often-heated talks at a community center in Ugborodo, during which the women's representatives at one point threatened to walk out.
The ChevronTexaco negotiators arrived at the plant in a plane on Monday morning. The women, who had previously blocked off the airstrip, helicopter pad, and dock, allowed the plane to land because they thought it was carrying Delta state Gov. James Ibori. But the governor was not among the passengers. Neither were any other government officials, the women said, despite initial reports to the contrary. The visit came after several days of talks between the company and the women broke down on Saturday.
The women, most of them middle-aged or elderly, allowed more than 200 oil workers to leave the facility in ferries on Sunday. But they threatened to strip themselves naked — considered a forceful shaming gesture by most Nigerian tribes — if the others tried to break out.
The struggle between international oil firms and local Nigerian communities drew international attention in the mid-1990s, when violent protests by the tiny Ogoni tribe forced Shell to abandon its wells on their land. The late dictator Gen. Sani Abacha responded in 1995 by hanging nine Ogoni leaders, including writer Ken Saro Wiwa, triggering international outrage and Nigeria's expulsion from the British Commonwealth.
Oil site takeovers are common in Nigeria, the world's sixth-largest exporter of oil and the fifth-largest supplier to the United States.
|Angel Coins Found in London |
By David Derbyshire
London July 15, 2002 (Telegraph UK) - A rare hoard of golden "angel" coins treasured by Tudors for their ability to ward off evil has been unearthed in the grounds of a medieval hospital and priory.
The seven coins, which were buried shortly before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, have triggered a 500-year-old mystery over why they were abandoned at the priory and hospital of St Mary Spital in London, in modern day Spitalfields.
Hazel Forsyth, a post-medieval expert at the Museum of London, where the coins will go on display today, said: "It could have been that they were used for clinical purposes in the hospital. Gold was used in the preparation of some treatments.
"It is also possible that the coins were someone's life savings and that they were temporarily stored in the floor for safety. The owner may have died before retrieving them."
Angels were first issued in the 1460s by Edward IV as a replacement for the noble. Originally they were worth around 33p and took their name from the design on the head, which featured the Archangel St Michael trampling on the devil in the form of a dragon.
The coins came to be regarded as powerful charms against bad luck and evil spirits.
Hazel Forsyth added: "These were extraordinarily rare. Only one gold angel has been found before by archaeologists in London, so to find seven is extraordinary."
By the time of the Reformation, a single angel would have paid for a week's board and lodgings at an upmarket inn.
|Bangkok to Curb Stray Dogs with Microchip Implant |
|BANGKOK July 12, 2002 (Reuters) - Bangkok authorities are to put microchip implants in pet dogs carrying data about their owners in a bid to curb the Thai capital's rising population of strays, officials said on Friday. |
"We think less people will abandon their dogs because we can trace their owners from the microchips," Deputy City Clerk Udomsak Songkum told Reuters.
The city last month started a four-month campaign to put microchips in 40,000 stray dogs to help keep track of them and the latest move extends the scheme to pets.
Bangkok, which is estimated to have more than 120,000 strays among 630,000 dogs, plans to neuter and vaccinate strays as well. The microchip will be implanted between the neck and the shoulder of the dogs when owners report to district offices, required every two years, to update their pet's data. Those who fail to turn up could face a penalty of 5,000 baht ($121).
Authorities in predominantly Buddhist Thailand often sterilize stray dogs to keep their numbers down rather than kill them.
|3,000-year-old Giant Found in Fiji |
SUVA JULY 14, 2002 (AFP) - Mysterious skeletal remains of what appears to be a 3,000-year-old giant have been unearthed on a South Pacific islands, but the bones' discovery has rattled local archaeologists who say poor treatment of the remains may have lost vital information.
Little is known about the highly unusual find, which includes a skull bearing strange holes drilled into its cheekbones, with authorities keen to keep the controversial discovery under wraps.
According to sources, the body, found at Lomaiviti, an island to the north of here, predates European exploration of the Pacific and it is believed the man was originally from the Solomon Islands.
The body was discovered last week by a Solomon Islander from the University of the South Pacific (USP), alongside examples of Lapita pottery — artifacts created by a group of Melanesians believed to have been the founders of modern Polynesia. Measuring 1.9 m, the body is unusually large considering its age and origin. Pictures of its skull show the holed cheekbones, a feature unseen in previous discoveries, according to Fiji Museum sources.
The head of pre-history archaeology at the museum, Sepeti Matararaba, said the discovery of the body and pottery was "significant".
"As for the skeleton remains, I will still have to see it ... it is a significant find for us. Studies done there now would enlighten us more on the early traveling habits in those times. We have found similar pottery on neighboring islands of the group. Once they are dated, we can know the exact patterns of living and the kind of activities during those early occupations. It is really very good news."
But the skeleton has already caused controversy with experts voicing concern over its treatment at the hands of "cowboy" archaeologists. One senior Fiji Museum source said a relocation of the remains may have destroyed vital information and museum experts should have been consulted earlier.
"These cowboy archaeologists, a bit like parachute journalists, are allowed such field trips but by law, if they were find something as significant as a skeleton, especially of the suspected period of existence, the Museum must be informed," the senior official said. "It is also only logical that our field staff who are trained for such excavations are informed of such developments considering their skills and tools, paramount of course is the creation and maintenance of our historical database."
Patrick Nunn, the supervisor of the archaeological team analyzing the remains at USP would not comment and said on Sunday "we have decided to keep our find under wraps".
|Imagine All The Songwriters |
New York July 17, 2002 (eXoNews) - Bag One Arts (aka Yoko, baby!) has run The John Lennon Songwriting Contest for amateur and professional songwriters since 1997. The submission deadline for the 2002 Contest is August 28, 2002, so the time is now, Ludwig Van!
It's relatively easy to submit (you can upload MP3s on the contest web site), but be forewarned that there is an entrance fee of $30 per song. The contest categories are: Rock, County, Jazz, Pop, World, Rhythm & Blues, Hip Hop, Gospel/Inspirational, Latin, Electronic, Folk and Children's. (No Punk category, but just submit as rock, yuh know? John was definitely a punk in his time!)
The rules state that "quality of performance and production will not be considered" in the judging. This means don't go out and pay for studio time or hire violinists - you can record your entry on your PC or in your garage! Also songs may not be "previously recorded and released through national distribution in any country." Means if the record is already out on a real label, don't try it.
The prizes are impressive. Over $200,000 in cash awards and prizes will be shared by 120 winners (10 winners in each of the 12 categories). Twelve Grand Prize Winners each get $2,000 in cash, $5,000 in Yamaha Project Studio Equipment, and $5,000 advance on an EMI Music Publishing Contract. Thirty-six Finalists get $1,000 in cash and seventy-two Runners-Up get $100 from Guitar Center stores.
One of the Grand Prize winning entries will be selected as the "Maxell Song of the Year" and get $20,000 courtesy of Maxell.
Not bad for a $30 gamble. Read the rules on the site, though.
Winners are "selected by songwriting members of the Songwriters Guild of America, with all final determinations being made by members of the JLSC Executive Committee of noted singer/songwriters." The Executive Committee, believe it or not, includes Ashford & Simpson, Barenaked Ladies, Mary J. Blige, James Brown, Foo Fighters, Elton John, Liza Minelli, Busta Rhymes, Carlos Santana, Sheila E, Luther Vandross and other names you know. To see the entire Executive Committee list - http://www.jlsc.com/execcomm.htm
Each contest entry requires the four following elements:
One song, five (5) minutes or less in length
A lyric sheet (No lyrics necessary for instrumental compositions.)
A payment of $30.00 per song
A completed application
To get your application, for more info, and to submit - http://www.jlsc.com
Questions? Ask here - firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember, the deadline for the 2002 Contest is August 28, 2002!
|Archaeologists Explore Cold War Nuclear Test Site |
By Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
Las Vegas July 15, 2002 (National Geographic) - Bright yellow radiation suits are not standard-issue attire for archaeologists. Nor is a Geiger counter. But these precautions are sometimes required for the researchers exploring the eerie A-bomb rubble and ghost towns left over from Cold War blasts at the Nevada Test Site, formerly the Nevada Proving Grounds, on 1,375 square miles of desert 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
From 1951 until a test moratorium in 1992, 928 nuclear devices were exploded at the Nevada site. Aboveground tests were allowed until 1963, and night explosions were visible all the way to Las Vegas.
Cold War Hot Zone Worth Preserving
"The Nevada Test Site was one of the battlefields of the Cold War," said Troy Wade, who spent 31 years with the program, starting as an explosives engineer and retiring as an assistant secretary of Energy for Defense Programs at the United States Department of Energy (DOE).
"Just as artifacts from a World War II battlefield are worth preserving, so are these. I'm one of the diminishing number of people who saw atmospheric tests," Wade added. "It's hard to describe the feeling of awe, when you see blinding light, feel the intense heat, and brace against the shock wave—it was very intense and very scary."
The unnatural Dr. Strangelove-era desert landscape is littered with mock towns, bridges, bomb shelters, bank vaults, underground parking structures, empty animal pens, and railroads, which were exposed to atomic blasts to determine what could survive a nuclear attack.
To Wade, the twisted relics at NTS represent "a snapshot of the destructive power of these weapons." Wade is chairman of the NTS Historical Foundation, which is planning a research center and museum in partnership with the DOE and the Desert Research Institute (DRI), a nonprofit environmental institute in Las Vegas that's affiliated with the Nevada state university system. The museum will house historic films and photos as well as artifacts from NTS.
The DOE and DRI have sponsored an archaeological mission to survey and discover structures that are worthy of preservation. To date seven sites have received this "historic place" status, with many more pending.
Though one might expect the government to have extensive documentation of this site, the only way to find what lies here is to look, said Colleen Beck, an archaeologist at DRI.
"There are many things that exist in the plans but were never built and vice versa," said Beck. For example, archaeological surveys reveal crumpled aluminum shelters and animal pens that were not included in original plans.
Aboveground testing was confined to three areas—Frenchmen Flat, Yucca Flat, and Pahute and Rainier Mesas, where the archaeologists do most of their work. When determining whether something is worthy of being deemed an historic site, the more destruction that occurred, the better, said Bill Johnson, an archaeological team leader from DRI. "The more damage, the greater its integrity—it actually looks as though it was subjected to a nuclear weapon."
At Yucca Flat, a 700-foot (213-meter) tower that once stood at Ground Zero holding a bomb is now a gnarled, twisted mass of huge I beams and steel cables covered in glass formed from molten sand.
The parched lakebed of Frenchman Flat was exposed to 14 explosions. Here, a few hundred structures have been found. One survivor 1,150 feet (350 meters) from the blast site is a battered but intact Mosler bank vault—all the documents inside at the time were unharmed.
"These structures convey fear—frightening times, terrifying power," said Johnson.
"There is a mystique to the Atomic Age, and Bill's work creates a link between the mythology and the physical remains," said historian Mandy Whorton, formerly of DOE, now with the environmental research firm Harding ESE, in Golden, Colorado, who has studied early radar sites in the Arctic Circle, Greenland, and Alaska.
Ghost Towns, X-Files, and Lunar Landscape
Johnson's colleague Beck ventured into a huge structure known as the Reactor Maintenance Assembly and Disassembly building, where scientists worked to develop nuclear rocket engines.
"The building was filled with water and there was no electricity—it was my most 'X-files'-like moment," Beck said. Wrapped in bright yellow suits and armed with flashlights and Geiger counters, "we walked through mini hot cells and tracks that had been used to move radioactive material around."
At Yucca Flat, Johnson has explored an Atomic Age ghost town—the disintegrating skeletal remains of a Japanese village. The village was never subjected to a nuclear explosion; instead a bare nuclear reactor spewed radiation into these houses to help determine the exposure levels of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors. Scientists used the dosage information for medical studies and treatment regimens.
When the testing moved underground in 1963, the program became more secretive, said Beck. But the results of the subterranean program could not be completely hidden. An aerial view of the Site reveals a cratered surface caused by underground explosions. The landscape is so moonlike that one crater, the Schooner Crater, was actually used to train Apollo astronauts for moon walks.
One of the more bizarre artifacts yet to be discovered is a family bomb shelter equipped as if for a "Leave It to Beaver" family, with fully dressed mannequins, TVs, furniture, and a kitchen full of canned goods.
"It would be like opening King Tut's tomb" to find that 1950s time-capsule shelter, Johnson said.
He's already tracking one set of mannequins. The strongest clue is that they were dressed in clothes from J.C. Penney. In 1955, J.C. Penney stores in Nevada displayed the mannequins before and after an A-blast, a store manager at the time has told Johnson.
"You just know those mannequins are sitting in a J.C. Penney basement somewhere," Johnson said.
|US Unveils The X-45 |
Washington July 13, 2002 (BBC) - The US Air Force has put on show a futuristic robot plane designed to survive the rigors of the battlefield. Previous pilotless drones have been plagued by problems, with at least eight crashing since the autumn.
The X-45 has been developed at a cost of $256m to carry weapons into combat and could be in service by 2010. Officials expect the plane will be able to carry more than 3,000 pounds (1,350 kilograms) of bombs to drop on enemy radar and missile batteries.
"These have to buy their way in by performing as well in those missions as a manned asset would," said X-45 program director, Colonel Michael Leahy.
Boeing has built two X-45 prototypes. Only one of them has flown so far, reaching an airspeed of 195 knots and an altitude of 7,500 feet (2,290 meters). The second prototype is due to start test flights in the autumn.
The X-45 is designed to be partially autonomous. Its pilot, who may fly several planes at once, would remain on the ground, out of harm's way. The two Y-shaped aircraft have been developed by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), the Air Force and Boeing. They both sport a gaping air intake instead of a canopy, with a slim, stealthy profile.
The target cost of each plane is between $10m and $15m or about one-third the cost of next-generation fighter planes. The DARPA, which develops future technologies for the Pentagon, has at least half-a-dozen other drones under development, some no larger than a cake tin.
Experts predict the global market for military drones could be worth $7.5bn over the next decade.
|Democrats call Bush Global Warming Plan Baloney |
|By Tom Doggett |
WASHINGTON July 12, 2002 (Reuters) — Senate Democrats dismissed the Bush administration's plan for voluntary cuts in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as "baloney" Thursday and said it will not help slow global warming.
The White House plan depends on U.S. companies to voluntarily curb industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and links reduction targets to American economic growth. Democrats prefer a mandatory approach that dictates specific cuts.
President Bush withdrew the United States last year from the international Kyoto treaty that aims to cut heat-trapping emissions, saying it was too costly to the economy.
James Connaughton, chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, told the Senate Commerce committee that the administration's voluntary plan would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions relative to the size of the American economy by 18 percent over the next decade.
But Democrats expressed skepticism. They said the Bush plan was based on cutting the amount of emissions emitted per dollar of economic output, which would not reduce total U.S. emissions. "This is a myth and we're going to expose it," said Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, referring to the White House plan. She added, "It's baloney."
Connaughton acknowledged the administration's proposal would slow the growth of U.S. emissions, not reduce them. "Greenhouse gas emissions will rise under our approach, there's no question about that," he told the Senate panel.
13 PERCENT JUMP
The National Wildlife Federation, for instance, said in a report released Thursday that the administration's plan would result in an 13 percent jump in U.S. emissions in the next decade.
The United States has only 4 percent of the world's people but produces 25 percent of global greenhouse emissions that are linked to climate change and health problems like asthma.
Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, who chaired the hearing, said the administration was not doing enough to reduce emissions and fight global warming. He criticized the administration for claiming the science on the cause of global warming was unclear and using that as an excuse for not tackling the problem. Kerry asked how the United States could ignore the position of the European Union, Japan, and more than 100 other countries that have endorsed the Kyoto treaty. "What do they know that we don't?" asked Kerry, who is seen as a Democratic candidate for the 2004 presidential election.
Connaughton said the Kyoto treaty would have cost the U.S. economy up to $400 billion and caused the loss of 4.9 million job to comply to with the accord's requirements. Democrats said the United States should have participated in the treaty so it could refine and change the troublesome provisions in it.
WHITE HOUSE REPORT
Connaughton and other administration officials appearing before the panel were also grilled on the recent White House climate change report sent to United Nations. The report said human activities — from driving automobiles to operating power plants and oil refineries — produced greenhouse gas emissions that were the primary cause of global warming.
Connaughton defended President Bush's dismissive-sounding comment that the report was nothing more than a product of the federal bureaucracy. "The fact of the matter is the report was produced by the bureaucracy," he said. The report was written with input from several agencies and cabinet departments, including the Environmental Protection Agency.
However, EPA Administration Christine Todd Whitman said last month that she never saw the report before its release and did not know it was posted on the agency's Web site until the media reported on it. The Senate panel wanted Whitman to testify and rescheduled the hearing twice to accommodate her, but the White House said she would not be able to appear.
The White House report laid out possible global warming side effects for the United States, including higher sea levels for coastal cities, more wildfires in the Southwest, and less snowcover in the Rocky Mountains and Alaska. John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, testified the computer models used to predict weather conditions years into the future were unreliable and gave much credence to the report's conclusions.
|Inuit Find Home on the Web |
By Alfred Hermida
Canada July 16, 2002 (BBC) - One of the oldest indigenous peoples, the Inuit, have turned to one of the most modern forms of communication to tell the world about their culture. They have launched a website detailing their 5,000-year-old history, cataloguing their origins, when they first came into contact with white explorers and their struggle for land rights.
Part of the reason for setting up the website was to tell the story of the Inuit in their own words, as until now, most of the research on Inuit culture and history has been done by others.
"It is a really modern way of reaching the world and teaching the world about the Inuks of Canada," explained Jose Kusugak, president of Canada's national Inuit organization, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK). "This is an incredible way of reaching out to the world. It is surprising how many people we reach through the site," he told the BBC program Go Digital.
The Inuit are a founding people of Canada. Inuit hunters and their families started crossing the 320-kilometres-wide (200 miles) Bering Land Bridge from Siberia perhaps 30,000 years ago, then wandered slowly across the Polar north, reaching Greenland 50 centuries ago.
As well as retelling their history, the website also serves as a way of reaching out to the different Inuit groups.
The Inuks are spread across a vast territory, stretching from the Chukchi peninsula of Russia, east across Alaska and Canada, to the south-eastern coast of Greenland. The Inuit were an entirely nomadic, hunting people until about 50 years ago, when the central government began an effort to bring them into mainstream Canadian life. They now live across the Arctic reaches of northern Canada, where they are struggling to decrease high rates of alcoholism, suicide, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
"We are a unique people with unique problems," admits Mr Kusugak. But they are also one of the most successful groups of indigenous people in getting their land claims recognized.
In April 1999, they became one of the first indigenous people to retrieve territory based on ancient claims, with the establishment of the Nunavut territory, an 800,000-square-mile expanse in Canada's far north.
The website is currently only in English, but there are plans to offer it in the Inuit native language, Inuktitut. One of the challenges facing the developers is the lack of a standard writing system for Inuktitut, as well as the different regional dialects.
"The whole idea is translate the site from English to Inuktitut," said Mr Kusugak. "But the Inuit traditionally did not have a writing system. We are trying to develop one for all the Inuks. This is all a new world for us, we are just learning about web development."
[The Inuit are also very modest. This is a very beautiful site. See Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami at http://www.itk.ca Ed.]
|Experts Scratch Heads Over Ancient Skull |
|By Claude Canellas |
Poitiers, France July 12 2002 (Reuters) - A seven-million-year-old skull gave its discoverer a headache on Friday as critics disputed his claim to have found the earliest member of the human family. Michel Brunet, head of an archaeological team that unearthed the skull in Chad, proudly showed off his trophy at the University of Poitiers in western France and recounted the discovery that made world headlines when reported this week.
But his moment of triumph was clouded by a chorus of critics, especially from a Paris scientist who contended Brunet had actually found the skull of an ancient female gorilla. Head of the university's human palaeontology laboratory, Brunet defended his claim at a news conference, waving the latest edition of Nature magazine and declaring: "Here you see the baptismal certificate of this hominid."
The London-based journal broke the news of the skull on Wednesday, saying its estimated age of six to seven million years significantly pushed back into pre-history the date of the dawn of human life.
"I've talked with all the world's palaeoanthropologists," he explained when asked about his critics. "Nature published this after making the comparisons I made, after hearing from five reviewers who were certainly chosen from among the greatest specialists and certainly agree with me. If one or two people somewhere don't agree with me, that's their problem," he said. "One cannot confuse it with a gorilla."
One critic, Brigitte Senut of the National History Museum in Paris, said aspects Brunet used to deduce a human link actually pointed to it being the skull of a female gorilla. Two other French experts have also cast doubt on Brunet's claim.
A self-confessed heretic amid the hoop-la, Senut said the skull's short face and small canine teeth merely pointed to a female and were not conclusive evidence that it was a hominid.
"I tend towards thinking this is the skull of a female gorilla," she said. "The characteristics taken to conclude this new skull is a hominid are sexual characteristics. Moreover, other characteristics such as the occipital crest (the back of the neck where the neck muscles attach)... remind me much more of the gorilla," she said, saying older gorillas also had these characteristics.
So little is known about the distant period of history represented by the skull that one scientist who has seen it told Nature magazine the discovery would have the impact of a "small nuclear bomb" among students of human evolution. The skull, discovered last year, has been dubbed "Toumai", the name usually given in the central African country to children who are born close to the dry season.
Ten million years ago the world was full of apes and it was not until five million years later that the first reliable records of hominids - or members of the human family, distinct from chimpanzees and other apes - appeared.
Brunet admitted that he could not prove that Toumai had walked upright, a crucial difference between apes and humans, because he had not found any leg or arm bones with the skull. Senut contested the theory that Toumai represented the missing link of human evolution and cited the case of a skull discovered in the 1960s and accepted for 20 years as that of a hominid before experts finally agreed it was a female gorilla.
French media have reported extensively on the skull and the foreign ministry, which helped finance the excavations in the sand dunes of northern Chad, warmly congratulated Brunet on Thursday for what it called a major discovery.
Yves Coppens of the College of France said the skull had an ambiguous shape, with the front looking pre-human but the back like that of a large monkey. "The exact status of this new primate is not yet certain," he told the daily Le Figaro. His colleague at the College, Pascal Picq, described the skull as "pre-human" and suggested chemical research to establish Toumai's diet or a reconstruction of the skull by computer imaging could determine whether it was man or monkey. But no one contests the significance of the discovery.
"Even if it is a big monkey, it's even more interesting," Coppens said. "Because until now, in the genealogy of monkeys, there is a big missing link stretching over millions of years."
|Harkengate: Bush Promised to Hold Harken Shares |
By PETE YOST
WASHINGTON July 15, 2002 (AP) - Two and a half months before George W. Bush sold his stock in a struggling Texas energy company where he was a director, he signed a letter promising to hold onto the shares for at least six months, internal company documents show. The "lockup" letter Bush signed on April 3, 1990, for his shares in Harken Energy Corp. is now being compared with the account his lawyers gave federal securities regulators who examined the stock sale as a possible insider trade. Bush's lawyers have maintained for more than a decade that he had a pre-existing plan to sell his stock in Harken and other companies to pay a tax bill and a loan debt he owed for his stake in the Texas Rangers professional baseball team.
They have said the sale wasn't motivated by Harken's deteriorating financial situation.
The letter Bush signed promising to hold onto the stock was released by the Securities and Exchange Commission under the Freedom of Information Act. At the time he signed it, Harken was considering a public stock offering to raise money to solve a cash flow problem.
"Dear George," said the April 2, 1990, letter from Harken secretary Larry Cummings. "As you are aware, Harken is contemplating a public common stock offering. In connection with such offering, the underwriters have requested that Harken obtain consents for all directors, officers and other affiliates to agree to not sell ... for a period of 180 days from the date our proposed public offering goes effective."
Bush signed and returned the letter the next day.
Bush's sale of his Harken stock for $848,560 has come in for renewed public scrutiny in recent weeks as he tries to restore investor confidence in the financial markets and calls for a crackdown on corporate wrongdoing. White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said Monday the lockout letter was "made irrelevant and obsolete" by the time Bush sold his stock in summer 1990 because the public stock offering it affected never went through.
But a securities expert said the document calls into question his lawyers' account to the SEC.
"Bush's signing of the April 2, 1990, lockup agreement undercuts his lawyers' explanation for the early sale of his Harken stock," said Houston attorney Thomas R. Ajamie, an expert in securities law whose firm is advising companies that did business with the failed energy giant Enron. "If his accountant told him that he needed to sell stock to pay a debt obligation for his interest in the Texas Rangers, it does not make sense that he would subsequently sign an agreement promising not to sell his shares of Harken stock for six months," Ajamie said.
Harken scrapped the public stock offering a few weeks after Bush signed the letter because the company was plunged into a financial crisis when one of its bank lenders withdrew its support. Bartlett said Bush and his accountant had discussions in late 1989 and early 1990 about the plan.
Bush's accountant, Robert McCleskey, said in an interview that Harken's deteriorating financial position was "not in my opinion" a factor in Bush's sale of the stock, adding that Bush "never said anything about it to me."
Bush had pledged 130,000 shares of Harken stock on the bank loan for the Texas Rangers, and when the bank note was renewed in early 1990, the shares were freed up, enabling Bush to sell them, McCleskey said.
"On the Rangers note, we were paying $45,000 to $50,000 a year in interest," said McCleskey.
Asked about the lockup document, McCleskey said a number of Bush's stock holdings from different companies were "on the table" and the sales would take place "when we get it done."
When the SEC examined the transaction more than a decade ago, Bush's lawyers offered a similar explanation as the one McCleskey gave Monday of why the future president unloaded stock at a time when Harken was experiencing financial difficulties.
"According to his attorneys, these sales, and the Harken sale, were made to meet an obligation of approximately $600,000 in connection with the Texas Rangers and to pay a couple-hundred-thousand-dollar tax bill," an SEC memo from the probe states.
"According to his attorneys, Bush made these sales at the urging of his financial adviser/accountant who was bugging him to get liquid," the memo states.
The SEC did not interview Bush, so the only account of his sale came from what his attorneys told regulators. One expert said even though Bush signed the lockup letter, it didn't represent a serious obstacle to selling.
It is fairly common for company insiders to sign such letters and then obtain permission to sell the stock anyway before the lockout period is up, said Carr Bettis, an associate research professor of finance at Arizona State University. Bush sold his stock for $4 a share on June 22, two weeks after being approached by a California broker who said an institutional client wanted to buy a large block of Harken stock. The buyer has never been identified.
The stock's value declined to $3 two months later and to a little over a dollar a share by year's end. The following year, the stock rose to over $8 a share as Harken explored for oil in a potentially lucrative Middle East venture that never found any oil.