Executive Privilege,
Prom Playmate,
Dinosaurs On The Run!

Miami Circle & More!
George Claimed Executive Privilege!

By Bob Egelko
San Francisco Chronicle

Washington January 30, 2002 (San Francisco Chronicle) - Clashes between the executive branch and Congress over secrecy didn't start with Enron, Whitewater or Watergate. In fact, the very first Congress asked George Washington for documents he didn't want to make public. 

But, like all subsequent presidents except Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and, possibly, George W. Bush, Washington kept the disputes out of court. There's plenty of precedent, however, to suggest that if the General Accounting Office proceeds with a suit against Vice President Dick Cheney -- the first such court case directly involving Congress -- the judiciary will not be friendly terrain for a claim of executive privilege. 

"Executive privilege is in an extremely anemic condition," said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who took part in a disclosure suit against the Clinton administration. 

The first and only case on executive privilege to reach the Supreme Court involved Nixon's attempt to withhold Watergate- related tapes from a special prosecutor. That resulted in a court-ordered disclosure in 1974 and led to the president's resignation two weeks later. 

Perhaps the closest parallel to the current case was a private lawsuit attempting to open up records and meetings of the health care task force headed by then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. That ended with wholesale disclosures from the panel. 

"The biggest concern for the Bush administration should be a return to court with the potential of future losses," Turley said.

The GAO, Congress' investigating agency, may sue as early as today to obtain information about meetings between Cheney, chairman of Bush's energy policy task force, and officials of Enron and other companies. The purpose is to determine whether the companies influenced the president's pro-development energy policy.  GAO chief David Walker says the agency wants only the dates and subjects of each meeting and the names of those present. But Cheney, who has acknowledged meeting with Enron executives six times last year, says even those disclosures would damage his and the president's ability to seek candid, confidential advice. 

That argument has been used by presidents from Washington onward to keep internal documents out of the hands of political opponents. The counterargument is that disclosure promotes democracy. 

"The legislative and executive branches have managed to work this thing out from the opening years of the republic," said Jesse Choper, a constitutional law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. But, Choper added, presidents Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman were condemned in congressional resolutions for refusing to disclose information. 

In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower repeatedly resisted demands by Sen. Joseph McCarthy and others for testimony and personnel records of federal officials. That confrontation, in which Eisenhower largely prevailed, fueled a congressional movement that led to passage of the Freedom of Information Act a decade later, said Reuel Schiller, a legal historian and associate professor at UC's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. 

Executive privilege first gained legal recognition with a 1974 Supreme Court ruling that endorsed a president's right to keep internal office communications private. But the court said confidentiality gives way to the need for evidence in criminal cases, like those pending against top Nixon aides. Two decades later, Clinton invoked executive privilege repeatedly -- and unsuccessfully -- in trying to fend off special prosecutor Kenneth Starr. 

Federal courts refused to extend executive privilege to Secret Service agents called to testify about Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, refused to shield two Clinton aides from discussing their conversations with the president and denied a claim of attorney-client privilege for the White House counsel. 

Clinton "used executive privilege extensively to deal with his personal controversies, and largely lost those fights, to the detriment of his office," said Turley, who backed Starr's position in the Secret Service case. 

Martin Shapiro, a political scientist who teaches law at UC Berkeley, said a claim of confidentiality is weaker when extended on behalf of a task force. "These aren't the president's friends giving him advice, but representatives of society taking positions on policy questions," he said. 

"The strongest case for executive privilege is when someone wants to pry into communications within the executive branch," said Vikram Amar, a constitutional law professor at Hastings. But this case, involving talks with private citizens, would push "executive privilege farther than it's been." 

Double Jeopardy OK - For Indians
By Brian Stockes
Indian Country Today

WASHINGTON January 29, 2002 (ICT) – Double jeopardy may have been a hit movie, but it didn't work as an appeal for an Indian man charged twice for the same crime under both tribal and federal law. 

A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to take the case finally puts to rest seven years of litigation. The denial of certiorari, the writ necessary to take a case to the highest court, upholds an earlier decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which said that American Indians who commit crimes on tribal land can be prosecuted both by a tribe and the federal government. 

The case stemmed from an incident in 1994 in which Michael Enas, a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona, stabbed Joseph Kessay on land under the jurisdiction of the White Mountain Apache, also of Arizona. Kessay is a member of the White Mountain tribe. Enas later pleaded guilty to charges by the White Mountain Apache of assault with a deadly weapon and assault with intent to cause serious bodily injury. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail and fined $1180. Two weeks later, while on work release, he escaped. 

During this time a federal grand jury issued charges based on the same stabbing. Enas then challenged the federal court's authority, citing the fact that he had already been prosecuted, convicted and sentenced by the White Mountain Apache. In 1998, a federal district court agreed with Enas and said that the tribe prosecuted him pursuant to power delegated by Congress and not through its inherent power. Therefore, the tribe acted as "the same sovereign as the United States." The Constitutional protection against dual prosecution termed the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibited Enas from being tried in federal court. 

However, in 2001, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court's decision, finding that the tribe acted through its inherent sovereign powers and not through powers delegated by Congress. The court said that Indian tribes could prosecute a non-member Indian because of their inherent power and not because they were acting as an arm of the federal government, thus making twin prosecutions constitutional. Under current law, dual prosecution is allowed when brought about by separate sovereigns. 

"Our answer lies in the distinction between the 'inherent' and 'delegated' power of Indian tribes," wrote the court. "If the tribe was acting pursuant to its inherent power when it prosecuted Enas, then the dual prosecutions were undertaken by separate sovereigns, and were therefore constitutionally permissible." 

In 1990, Congress amended the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, recognizing inherent tribal authority over tribal members and Indian non-members. The 9th Circuit cited this action, saying it was enough to show such power existed all along. The Supreme Court has recognized three categories of defendants in tribal courts: "members" (of the prosecuting tribe), "non-member Indians" and "non-Indians." Tribes exercise different powers over each class of defendant. 

By declining to review the Enas case, the Supreme Court allowed the 9th Circuit ruling to stand as law of the land.
Environmentalists Sue US To Save Sharks

TAMPA, Fla. January 30, 2002 (Reuters) - Environmentalists have filed suit against the U.S. government to halt overfishing of sharks as demand grows worldwide for such delicacies as shark filet and shark-fin soup, environmental groups said Tuesday. 

In a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Tampa, Florida, the National Audubon Society, Earthjustice and The Ocean Conservancy alleged that the National Marine Fisheries Service has failed to prevent overfishing and to rebuild U.S. coastal shark populations. 

Loathed by swimmers -- particularly after a highly publicized series of attacks last summer -- sharks have become more popular at the dinner table in recent years. 

The increasing use of shark meat, coupled with the value of the fins as the key ingredient of Asian soups, has made sharks the prized target of commercial fishers along the U.S. east coast and the Gulf of Mexico. 

As a result, scientists say populations are declining rapidly. As an example, the sandbar shark, one of the most commercially popular species, has declined by about 80 percent since the 1970s, said Sonja Fordham, a fish conservation manager with The Ocean Conservancy. 

"The lawsuit is intended to get the government to follow the law in terms of shark fisheries to rebuild the population,"' she said. "We need to manage them in a precautionary way for the public good." 

The environmental groups said NMFS managers "caved" to pressure from commercial fishers by suspending reduced shark quotas that it decided on in 1999 in order to settle a lawsuit filed by the industry. 

NMFS managers were not available for comment. 

Despite their reputation as "trash" or "pest" fish, sharks actually need more protection than some other marine species because they grow slowly, mature late and produce few young, leaving them vulnerable to overfishing, Fordham said. 

"This combination of lacking restrictions and their strained reproductive capacity leads to troubled populations not just here, but all over the world," she said. 

Environmentalists say sharks took a bad rap last summer during a series of attacks in which two swimmers were killed off North Carolina and Virginia and Jessie Arbogast, 8, had his arm torn off by a shark near Pensacola, Florida. 

But experts say shark attacks on humans are relatively rare and result from increasing numbers of people swimming in shark habitats. While only a few humans are killed by sharks each year, humans kill millions of sharks, they say.

NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder

Pasadena January 28, 2002 (NASA/JPL) - "Are we alone in the universe?" Short of receiving a convenient radio transmission from another civilization, how can we find out if a distant world harbors some form of life?

The discovery of more than 70 planets outside our solar system within less than a decade has brought a new sense of immediacy to the search for life. Scientists believe our best bet might be to build instruments capable of detecting life's chemical signatures, called biosignatures, or biomarkers 

Terrestrial Planet Finder, a mission managed by JPL for NASA's Origins program, will be among the first generation of instruments capable of searching for the atmospheric "life signs" of habitable, or even inhabited, planets. 

Terrestrial Planet Finder, scheduled for launch in 2014, will deploy revolutionary technologies to block the blinding glare of a star. By doing this, scientists will be able to detect planets as small as Earth, which are considered better prospects for life than the large planets detectable with current technology. 

The closest planetary systems are many light years away, but the faint light the planets emit, if separated into its component frequencies, can provide a wealth of information. By analyzing the colors of infrared radiation detected by Terrestrial Planet Finder, astronomers can search for atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapor and ozone.

The best candidates for closer study would be located in the habitable zone, the region around the system's star where we can expect to find liquid water, which is considered a prerequisite for life. If the planet is too hot, the water evaporates. If the planet is too cold, the water freezes. Earth is inside the habitable zone for our star, the Sun; the zone starts beyond Venus and ends before Mars. 

Among the most reliable biomarkers we might find is oxygen -- a byproduct of photosynthesis on Earth. Oxygen molecules don't linger in the atmosphere, but combine with other molecular types in a process known as oxidation. An even more valuable biomarker is ozone, a form of oxygen that's easier to detect by analyzing the wavelengths of light. So, a planet with an atmosphere rich in oxygen or ozone implies the presence of a source to keep it replenished -- in other words, life, right? 

Not so fast, says James F. Kasting of Pennsylvania State University, a member of the Terrestrial Planet Finder science working group. 

"We know of non-biological processes that can also result in an oxygen-rich atmosphere," Kasting said. "The runaway greenhouse effect on Venus is one example. A frozen, Mars-like planet big enough to hold its oxygen would be another." 

Still, the presence of ozone would at least suggest we're "getting warm" in the search for life. What additional clues could we look for? 

The most persuasive indicator of life, Kasting says, would be the simultaneous presence of oxygen or ozone, along with another chemical such as methane or nitrous oxide. 

These gases are more abundant than we might expect in Earth's atmosphere. They are present because they, too, are produced by organisms. Methane comes from a type of bacteria that lives in soils without oxygen, such as rice paddies, and in the intestines of cows and sheep. Nitrous oxide comes from a type of bacteria in the ocean and in soils without oxygen. 

James Lovelock, a British scientist who has written numerous books on the "Gaia Hypothesis" --the theory that life controls atmospheric composition and climate -- suggested more than 30 years ago that the simultaneous presence of oxygen and a reduced gas like nitrous oxide or methane would be strong evidence for life. This advice is still considered good today, Kasting says. 

In any case, the large-scale chemical clues won't tell us about the complexity of the discovered life; it could be either algae or a developed civilization. 

It's possible that planets without oxygen could sustain life as well. Photosynthesis might conceivably occur with another element, such as sulfur, playing the role of oxygen. In the search for life, scientists acknowledge, we must control our assumptions of just what it means to be living. 

Planet Quest: the Search for Another Earth - http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov 

Terrestrial Planet Finder - http://planetquest/TPF/tpf_index.html 

Student Takes Playboy Playmate To Prom

TUSTIN, Calif. January 27, 2002 (AP) - A California high school senior turned heads this weekend with his winter formal date: Playboy Playmate Petra Verkiak.

The 35-year-old pinup, who was Miss December 1989, offered to accompany Toby Hocking after she read his college entrance essay.

Hocking, a straight-A clarinet player, wrote about how he felt like an outcast before deciding it was up to him to seek out friends and make the most of his years at Foothill High School.

"I thought it was really deep," said Verkiak, who received the essay from a friend who got it from Hocking's mother. "And I related to it."

Verkiak offered to go with Hocking to the girl-asks-guy winter formal if no one asked him out. "At first I thought, 'Go to the dance with a 35-year-old?' Hocking said. "But then I realized, she's really hot."

The day before the dance, Principal Al Marzilli made sure Verkiak knew the dress code: Nothing sheer or strapless.

"I'm so excited," Verkiak said, clutching Hocking's arm and wearing a black Del Rosario gown as the couple emerged from a limousine to attend the formal. "This is like a fairy tale."

2 Million Ecstasy Tabs a Week

Scotland January 28, 2002 (Daily Record) - Youngsters are taking two million Ecstasy tablets a week, it was revealed last night. Shocking new figures show the problem is four times worse than previously estimated. 

The pounds 300 million worth of illicit deals include 200,000 "E" pills sold every week in Scotland alone. 

The top-secret Customs and Excise figures come a fortnight after the announcement of a record number of Ecstasy deaths in the UK last year. A total of 27 people died after taking the drug - 60 per cent more than in 2000. 

Last night, furious parents attacked some drug workers' softly-softly approach to Ecstasy which they say contributes to the scale of the problem. 

Phyllis Woodlock - whose 13-year-old son Andrew died after taking his first Ecstasy tablet in 1997 - said: "Young people are being given the wrong message about Ecstasy. They're being encouraged to take it. People are being told that they should try half a tablet the first time - but that can kill. It is time the Government stopped these harm-reduction groups giving out information which can lead to the deaths of young people." 

The new figures contradict Government statistics which put the total number of pills taken in the UK every week at 500,000. Customs and Excise say the true figure is far higher. The classified report also claims 430,000 Ecstasy users in the country spend a total of pounds 300million a year on the pills. The new figures caused outrage among anti-drug campaigners. 

Paul Betts, who has led a drugs education campaign with Phyllis after the high-profile Ecstasy death of his daughter Leah, said the rise in fatalities was due to coroners and families being more willing to blame Ecstasy nowadays. The latest figures did not surprise him, either. 

He said: "I have known it for years. People who use Ecstasy regularly will be using about 10 a night." 

Although he claimed the number of Ecstasy users is now falling, he fears that the drug is still a danger. He said: "We are now starting to see the long-term effects. The biggest problem is suicidal depression. 

"Recently, I have had quite a few parents contact me whose kids have killed themselves after a weekend. They were regular clubbers. But they are not classed as Ecstasy deaths. It's a massive cover-up by the Government who do not want to spend money on education." 

Last year, the parents of tragic teenager Lorna Spinks asked the Daily Record to publish a picture of their daughter on her death bed in hospital after she took Ecstasy, as a warning to other youngsters. Phyllis also claimed television programmes like Channel 4's Richard and Judy Show, which last week featured an item on a drug-testing kit, were encouraging the use of Ecstasy. 

She added: "Kids are being told if they test their Ecstasy and find it is pure then they are safe. But that is not true. All the information being handed out is giving young people a false sense of security. I am not surprised the figures for taking Ecstasy are much higher than the Government had thought." 

Meanwhile, plans for Scotland's first cannabis cafe were slammed yesterday. Dutchman Nol Van Schaik, who is wanted in France and Belgium for drug offences, is advising Edinburgh-based publisher Kevin Williamson in his bid for a drug cafe in the capital. 

Gaille McCann, founder of Mothers Against Drugs, said last night: "The people of Scotland took to the streets last year for the Daily Record's anti-drugs march. And we will do so again if these men try to open any drugs cafes in Scotland."

Genre News: Roswell, Stephen King, Time Tunnel, Dan Aykroyd, Patti Smith, Sarah Jessica Parker and Bruce Willis!

Roswell Not Cancelled - Again!

Note: There have been two reports from www.crashdown.com  in the last week. The first stated that UPN had decided to cancel Roswell at the end of this season. Crashdown printed the following retraction a couple of days later.

Hollywood January 29, 2002 (crashdown.com) - Crashdown was just contacted by the 20th Century Fox publicity office for Roswell. According to the Roswell publicist, the final fate of the show will not be known until May, but Roswell has not officially been cancelled by UPN, so they asked that we correct the previous news item.

The information in the previous news item came from multiple and separate sources connected to the show, who separately told the site the same information. The fact that Fox made the effort to ask for a correction is probably a sign that campaigning for the shows survival will not be a wasted effort. Please stay tuned to the crashdown news, and to the Ros 2 message board as campaign strategy develops.

King May Stop Writing Soon 

Hollywood January 28, 2002 (SciFi Wire) - Horrors! Stephen King told the Los Angeles Times that he may hang up his pen for good. King's Rose Red, the currently airing ABC miniseries about a haunted Seattle house, is one of his last projects, the horror author told the newspaper.

Up next: a book of short stories, due in March; a novel, From a Buick Eight, in the fall; the last three novels in the Dark Tower series, to be completed in the coming year; and a limited series about a haunted hospital for ABC.

"Then that's it. I'm done," he told the Times.

King added, "You get to a point where you get to the edges of a room, and you can go back and go where you've been and basically recycle stuff. I've seen it in my own work. People, when they read Buick Eight, are going to think Christine. It's about a car that's not normal, OK? You say, 'I've said the things that I have to say, that are new and fresh and interesting to people.' Then you have a choice. You can either continue to go on or say, 'I left when I was still on top of my game. I left when I was still holding the ball, instead of it holding me.' I don't want to finish up like Harold Robbins. That's my nightmare."

UPN Cuts 20 Percent of Staff

LOS ANGELES January 30, 2002 (Zap2it.com) - UPN is expected to cut about 20 percent of its staff as it continues to consolidate with CBS' network operations, according to trade sources.

Todd Litchy, UPN's senior vice president of scheduling and acquisitions, was recently given a pink slip, along with a number of employees in marketing, research and promotions. More layoffs and/or buyouts are expected in the coming weeks.

Contracted employees will be offered 100 percent of their remaining contract in exchange for leaving, while those without contracts will be given two weeks salary for each year they've worked at the network.

UPN and CBS are both owned by Viacom, which recently gave control of UPN to CBS' President, Leslie Moonves.

As part of the restructuring, UPN will close its Chicago advertising sales office. In addition, UPN's various department heads will now report to their counterparts at CBS. Five marketing employees have been let go so far, with at least six sales employees, three researchers and four media relations people expected to leave soon.

Last week, Moonves hired former Lifetime Executive Vice President Dawn Tarnofsky-Ostroff to serve as UPN's head of entertainment.

The Return of Time Tunnel

LOS ANGELES January 30, 2002 (Zap2it.com) - FOX is taking a trip in the "Time Tunnel," a new pilot from 20th Century TV and Regency TV, while NBC gave the green light to "A.U.S.A." from creator Rich Appel, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Based on Irwin Allen's 1960s TV series of the same name, "Time Tunnel" follows a group that who travel back and forth in time. The pilot was written by Rand Ravich and will be directed by Emmy-Winner Todd Holland, both of whom will executive produce with Kevin Burns and Jon Jashni. Irwin Allen's widow, Sheila, is listed as a producer on the project.

The tentatively-titled "A.U.S.A." is a single-camera comedy about the (mis)adventures of young prosecutors. The idea was inspired by Appel's experiences as a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York. Appel wrote the pilot and will serve as executive producer, with 20th Century TV and NBC Studios producing the project.

Sci Fi Puts the Brakes on New Aykroyd Talker

LOS ANGELES January 28, 2002 (Zap2it.com) - Sci Fi Channel is taking a pause before taking "Dan Aykroyd's Out There" on the air.

The cable network says that the late-night, half-hour talk show that features the former "Saturday Night Live" regular discussing the paranormal needs some re-tooling before it will be put on the schedule.

"It's not been canceled," a Sci Fi spokeswoman stresses to The Hollywood Reporter. "They're talking with Dan [Aykroyd] still hoping to work together to create something different and better. It may be repackaged or completely done over. There just hasn't been a decision made yet." 

"Out There," originally set to premiere in March or April, featured Aykroyd hosting informal round-table discussions about paranormal phenomena. The problems began soon after production on the project began three weeks ago, when executives didn't like what they were seeing.

The show has been put on hold until its executive producers, Aykroyd, his brother Peter Aykroyd and Robert K. Weiss, can come up with a better format for the series.

"We're just trying to find out what's the right format," says Bonnie Hammer, Sci Fi's president. "Should it be a strip? Should it be once a week? And how does this concept work best with his (Aykroyd's) talent?" 

The series was constructed to be a companion show for Sci Fi's "Crossing Over with John Edward," which features Edward received and delivering messages from the dead. 

Come Back, Patti!

New York January 29, 2002 - Radical rocker Patti Smith and author Susan Sontag are joining forces for the first retrospective look at Smith's long career as a rock'n'roll rebel, according to Arista Records.

A two-disc album with cuts from throughout her career as well as previously unreleased material will feature liner notes from Sontag, Arista spokesman Jason Liebman said.

Willis and Parker Get Hasty Pudding Nod 

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. January 28, 2002 (AP) — The actor who thwarted terrorists in the "Die Hard'' trilogy and the actress who chronicles her sex life on HBO's racy "Sex and the City'' series were named man and woman of the year by Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Theatricals. 

Bruce Willis and Sarah Jessica Parker will receive the traditional brass "Pudding Pots'' given by the nation's oldest undergraduate organization next month, university officials said Monday. 

The Hasty Pudding awards go to performers who have made "a lasting and impressive contribution to the world of entertainment.'' Parker will be honored on Feb. 7, while Willis will go to Harvard on Feb. 14.

According to tradition, Parker will lead a parade of a men dressed in drag through Harvard Square. That's followed by a roast of her career, followed by the "Pudding Pot'' presentation at the Hasty Pudding Theater. 

Willis visits before the Harvard troupe's opening night performance of "Snow Place Like Home.'' The 46-year-old will dress in drag when he's roasted and receives his award. 

Willis' film credits include "The Sixth Sense,'' which received six Academy Award nominations, as well as "Die Hard'' and "Pulp Fiction.'' 

Parker, 36, has received two Golden Globe Awards for "Sex and the City.'' She started her career with the title role in the Broadway musical "Annie'' and has appeared in movies including "Honeymoon in Vegas'' and "Ed Wood.'' 

Past Hasty Pudding recipients include Jodie Foster, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Robert De Niro, Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford.

Last year's winners were Drew Barrymore and Anthony Hopkins.

News In The Toilet
Airline Says In-Flight Toilet Ordeal Story False

OSLO January 30, 2002 (Reuters) - A spokeswoman for Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) said a report of a woman being stuck on an airplane toilet was false.

The original report said a woman had filed a complaint with SAS after her ordeal on a Boeing 767 flight last year. The woman supposedly got sucked in after pushing the flush button while seated, activating a system to clean the toilet by vacuum.

The SAS spokeswoman said internal checks had since shown that the company's original information was false.

"We regret that we presented the story as true," she said.

[We reported this story last week. Let's hope there's no cover up! Ed.]

China Claims Throne to 2004 Toilet Summit

BEIJING January 29, 2002 (Reuters) - Beijing, flush with civic pride after a successful bid to host the 2008 Olympics, is feeling like a winner again upon landing the 2004 World Toilet Summit.

China's capital, notorious for rank public lavatories with little privacy and no seats, won over World Toilet Society (WTS) officials at the November summit in Singapore with documentaries showing the city's improvements, the official Xinhua news agency said on Tuesday.

It did not detail the documentaries' contents.

Beijing spent 40 million yuan ($4.8 million) between 1987 and 2000 turning 200 toilets at scenic spots from cess pools to star-rated loos, tourism officials have said.

The city pledged to continue freshening up its restrooms in the next three years under an agreement with the WTS to stage the toilet industry's premier annual event, Xinhua said.

Beijing would build a total of 741 star-rated toilets in 148 scenic spots over the next three years, including 250 costing 50 million yuan ($6 million) in 2002, it quoted a city tourism official as saying.

The city has lifted the lid on plans to pump a total of 240 million yuan into toilet improvements through 2003 as part of efforts to plug its image and bolster facilities after entering the World Trade Organization and ahead of the 2008 Games.
Dinosaurs On The Run!

By Christine McGourty
BBC Science Correspondent 

Oxfordshire January 30, 2002 (BBC) - 163-million-year-old fossilized dinosaur tracks have revealed how large meat-eating theropod dinosaurs could break into a run when chasing their prey. 

The evidence comes from a quarry in Oxfordshire, UK, where Julia Day and colleagues at Cambridge University have been studying the feet impressions left by the bi-pedal hunters and long-necked plant-eaters, the sauropods. 

In a report in the journal Nature, the scientists describe how one set of theropod tracks clearly reveals the creature breaking from a walk into a run. When walking, the stride is about 2.7 meters in length, which increases to 5.5 meters at its fastest. 

The tracks also begin to look quite different. "During the walking phase, the dinosaurs have their feet splayed out widely, with the toes pointing inwards, pigeon-toed fashion," says Dr Day. 

"That's quite unusual for a theropod dinosaur. All the trackway evidence until now has shown that their feet are tucked underneath." 

By contrast, when the creatures picked up speed, the feet were then tucked underneath their bodies, like mammals today, she said.

Scientists had always thought that the theropods could run, but the Cambridge team believe they're the first with proof from tracks of medium-sized or large theropods running. They have calculated that one particular animal walked at about 7 km per hour (a human walks at about 6 km/h) and ran as fast as 30 km/h. 

It is thought the dinosaur was a Megalosaurus. From the tracks, the researchers estimate it has a hip height of about 2 m and measures about 7 m long. 

"We're not entirely sure," said Dr Day. "But we have one line of evidence that in nearby quarries of a similar age there are signs of a large theropod called Megalosaurus and we think that's a very good candidate for this dinosaur too." 

With sauropod tracks on the same spot, her guess is that the huge racing theropods were chasing their prey - a herd of sauropods. 

The site of the find - Ardley Quarry in Oxfordshire - contains one of the most extensive dinosaur-trackway sites in the world, with some extending for up to 180 m. Some of those that have been studied are gradually being covered over, as the area has been designated as a rubbish dump. 

However, the scientists hope more tracks will be revealed there as new layers are continually exposed.

Dinosaurs Born to Run 

LONDON January 30, 2002 (Reuters) - They were huge, lumbering and certainly not the most graceful of creatures, but when they had to dinosaurs sure could run, scientists said Wednesday. 

Using prints from a fossilized dinosaur track in a quarry from southern England, scientists have calculated that bipedal theropod dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus Rex could run at speeds of up to 19 mph.

Although the mighty creatures that lived 163 million years ago are long gone, Julia Day of the University of Cambridge said the finding sheds new light on the evolution of the locomotion of dinosaurs and could have implications for biomechanics. 

"Dinosaurs could run for short bursts," said Day, a paleontologist at the university. 

She and her colleagues were able to calculate the speed of the beasts from the prints at the track in the Ardley Quarry in Oxfordshire. Their research is reported in the science journal Nature. 

The tracks show the dinosaur from the Middle Jurassic period used different hind-limb movements for walking and running. 

Calculations indicate the lumbering beast walked pigeon-toed with wide steps at about 4 miles an hour but could break into a 19-mph run by splaying its toes and putting one foot directly in front of the other. 

"When it is running it is actually doing what dinosaurs are supposed to do. It has a true erect gait," said Day. 

But she and her colleagues aren't sure how long the dinosaur could have sustained the speed.

Jurassic Sprinter Swaggered Like John Wayne 


Oxfordshire January 31, 2002 (Times UK) - The tracks of a predatory dinosaur that walked like John Wayne but ran like Linford Christie have been discovered at a quarry in Oxfordshire, revealing important clues about how it chased its prey. 

The set of footprints were left as the cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex broke from a walk into a swift trot, probably in pursuit of a meal, and are thought to belong to a 26-foot carnivore named Megalosaurus bucklandii — the first dinosaur ever identified. 

They show that the two-legged beasts, which lived in the Middle Jurassic period, about 163 million years ago, were capable of bursts of speed of almost 20mph — much faster than previously thought — and betray that the creatures moved with a very odd gait. 

When walking, the dinosaurs strutted with their feet wide apart, in the swaggering fashion of John Wayne. When the animals ran, however, their feet landed almost directly one in front of the other, using an efficient style reminiscent of an Olympic sprinter. 

The remarkable tracks were unearthed at Ardley Quarry in Oxfordshire by scientists from Cambridge University and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The quarry is well known as a dinosaur “trackway”, but the latest discovery is the first of its kind anywhere in Britain. 

The research team led by Julia Day of Cambridge University, who publish their results today in the journal Nature, have been unable to confirm the dinosaur’s species from the footprints, which are 31 inches long by 26 inches wide. 

Paul Upchurch of Cambridge University, one of the study authors, said: “We can’t prove exactly what it is at the moment, but we can say it was a fairly big theropod dinosaur. The leading candidate is Megalosaurus. We know it was in Oxfordshire at the same time, and it was the right size to have left these prints.” 

The findings show that the dinosaur was faster than previously thought, and will change notions about the way it hunted and looked. 

“We knew that small theropods could run fast, but it wasn’t clear if the same was true for large theropods,” Dr Day said. “The evidence here shows that these animals weren’t lumbering beasts. They were much more agile than some people have imagined.” 

Dr Upchurch said: “It probably walked with its feet splayed for extra stability, rather as a human would on ice. It wouldn’t have to do this when running because the momentum adds to stability.” The beast probably did not run but walked very fast to minimize the impact on its joints.

New Clues To Earth’s "Great Dying"


Santa Barbara January 30, 2002 (The Scotsman) - Tiny capsules of cosmic gas trapped inside ancient rocks are being examined by geologists investigating an asteroid strike that ended most life on Earth 250 million years ago. The traces of helium and argon are seen as proof of a massive collision from space that is thought to have wiped out some 80 per cent of life on the planet. 

The catastrophe, which scientists have called the Great Dying, happened 185 million years before a similar fate befell the dinosaurs. 

A team funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States is examining the rocks, which they discovered exposed on the Earth’s surface in Hungary, Japan and China. 

Professor Luann Becker, of the University of California at Santa Barbara, who is leading the project, said the evidence contained in the rocks discounted theories that the destruction of life had been a gradual rather than sudden event. She said the gas traces found in the rocks contained unusual amounts of certain types of atoms, which are more common in space than on Earth. 

The discovery was similar to those also found by the team in rock layers associated with an asteroid impact during the Cretaceous Tertiary period 65 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs. An asteroid some seven miles across - the size of Mount Everest - is believed to have hit the Earth, 250 million years ago, killing 90 per cent of marine species and 70 per cent of those on land. 

Some scientists had pointed to fossil records that suggested the species die-out happened over millions of years. 

Professor Becker said: "I think paleontologists are now coming full circle and leading the way, saying that the extinction was extremely abrupt. Life vanished quickly on the scale of geologic time, and it takes something catastrophic to do that." 

However, Professor Becker said the asteroid strike could have been the final straw for life on Earth when it was already struggling against other threats. 

The planet is thought to have been ravaged by erupting volcanoes, with the area now covered by Siberia being swamped by more than a million times as much lava as was unleashed by Mount St Helens in Washington State in the US in 1980. The continents were also being pushed together, weather patterns were changing and ocean currents shifting, with many coastlines and their ecosystems disappearing and sea levels dropping. 

Professor Becker said: "If life suddenly has all these different things happen to it, and then you slam it with a rock the size of Mount Everest, boy! That is just really bad luck."

Beer News!
Beer Truck Driver Kidnapped

ORANGE, Calif. January 30, 2002 (AP) - A gunman commandeered a beer truck Tuesday, tied up its driver and, with help from others, stole cases of Budweiser and other beers before abandoning the vehicle and driver 35 miles away, police said. The driver for Straub Distributing was making deliveries about 9 a.m. when he pulled up behind a gold-colored sedan at a stop sign. A man who got out of the sedan aimed a large-caliber handgun at him.

"The victim had his hands restrained and was forced to lie on the floorboard while the suspect, joined by other suspects, drove throughout rural areas," said police Sgt. Dave Hill.

After making stops to unload the beer, Hill said the abductor abandoned the truck and driver in Perris, about 35 miles east of this Orange County suburb.

"The victim is physically OK and was able to give investigators a statement," Hill said, adding the driver's name was being withheld.

There were more than 300 cases of Budweiser and other beers in the truck but authorities couldn't immediately say how many were taken.

Monks Cry Fowl Over Risk to Beer Water

BRUSSELS January 29, 2002 (Reuters) - A monastery that has brewed one of Belgium's most famous beers for the past 400 years is worried that the spring water used in its ales is in danger of being polluted by droppings from a nearby poultry farm.

Monks at Saint-Remy monastery in Rochefort, southern Belgium, which produces the red, white and green capped Rochefort beers, have asked Liege University to study the permeability of the land around the monastery. The monks are concerned that plans to expand the poultry farm will lead to extra droppings that will pollute the precious spring water.

Records show that the monastery had a brewery as far back as 1595, when barley and hops were grown in the grounds. But, as every beer lover knows, the secret is in the purity of the water.

"We're afraid the quality of the water will change," said a spokesman for the 16 monks who continue to brew the famous Rochefort trappist beers.

Since plans for the bigger poultry farm were drawn up, the council has received about 100 complaints from local residents concerned about possible damage to the environment.o
Woman Set to Meet Sperm-donor Dad

Associated Press 

SAN JOSE, Calif. January 30, 2002 (AP) - In 1983, the Sperm Bank of California became the first in the nation to ask donors if they would be willing to be contacted by their offspring after the children reached adulthood. Now, the first of those meetings is about to happen.

A San Francisco Bay-area woman who turned 18 on Tuesday plans to contact her biological father sometime in the next few months to thank the stranger and to learn more about their shared genetic history. Claire, who asked that her last name and hometown be withheld for now, hopes to answer questions she has had her whole life. Among them: Why is she taller than most of her mother's family? Why is her sense of humor so different from her mother's?

"I really have a bond to him. I have always felt that," Claire said this week. "I cannot recall a time when I didn't think about it."

The meeting will take place after the sperm bank determines how the man - who still lives in California and has known this day might come - wants to be contacted. It will be a big moment for the field of artificial insemination, which is slowly becoming more open after being shrouded in secrets and lies for more than a century.

"It just all seems to be happening in a timely manner, parallel with the open adoption movement, people wanting to know their identity," said Maura Riordan, the Sperm Bank of California's executive director.

Estimates of the number of American children born each year through artificial insemination range from 30,000 to 75,000. Before the advent in the 1970s of sperm banks that maintain a collection of frozen donations, the sperm used for artificial insemination was often provided on the spot by medical students or doctors, and was given only to married couples in which the men were sterile. The couples generally were advised to keep it a secret, leading to some awkward and painful experiences.

"I suspected my father wasn't my father - we suspect early on," said Bill Cordray, a 56-year-old architect in Salt Lake City who learned when he was 37 that he was conceived through artificial insemination. "I worried my mom had had an affair."

Cordray has determined that the sperm donor is almost certainly one of 30 medical students who graduated from the University of Utah in 1945. He has been building up the courage for years to write letters to them.

The nonprofit Sperm Bank of California sought to demystify the process - and expand it to serve single women and lesbian couples - when it was founded in 1982 by the Oakland Feminist Women's Health Center. From the beginning, the sperm bank asked donors if their offspring could someday contact them. Men who say no can still donate. Those who say yes cannot reverse the decision later. Eighty percent of the bank's clients now request a donor willing to release his identity. In that first year, several men agreed; about 10 of their offspring are turning 18 this year.

"I always thought if I was looking at the world through the eyes of a woman, I would want to know where the genetic material came from," said technology consultant Mike Smith, 49, a married father of two who has been told that a child conceived with his donated sperm will contact him after turning 18 in May. "I was surprised that secrecy was the norm."

Since 1983, a few other sperm banks have also begun releasing donor identities. Some banks provide photographs of their donors; others offer to ask the men years after their donation whether an offspring can reach out to them. In some countries, such as Sweden, donors are now required to release their identities.

As more children reach out to their mothers' sperm donors, it raises legal questions such as whether they can seek inheritance and child support. But laws in most states would prohibit such moves, said David Towles, spokesman for Xytex Corp., a Georgia-based sperm bank with some open-identity donors.

Claire's mother, Irene, who was single and 40 when she sought out the Sperm Bank of California, has since married. She supports her daughter's plans. Claire's mother was honest with her about how she was conceived, and the young woman was similarly open about it with her friends. Claire calls the man "my dad" (sperm banks prefer "donor" or other clinical terms) but said she is not looking for a father figure. She does hope he becomes a friend, perhaps someone to exchange Christmas cards with.

Claire, an only child, knows the donor also provided offspring to other families, meaning she has half-siblings somewhere out there.

"It's kind of scary," she said with a laugh, "to think how small my family is now and how potentially large it could be."

The Mystery of Richard II

By Michael Binyon
and Helen Rumbelow

Scotland January 29, 2002 (Times UK) - The answer to one of the most intriguing mysteries in British history could lie under the site of a pedestrian shopping center in Stirling, Scotland. Archaeologists hunting for the grave of Richard II have uncovered the remains of Black Friar's Church, burial site of many revered figures of medieval Britain. It includes the grave of the man who claimed to be the deposed King of England in exile. 

History records that Richard died imprisoned in Pontefract Castle in 1400, probably murdered by starvation on the orders of his cousin and usurper, Henry IV. Henry went to great lengths to spread the news of Richard's death because he feared an insurrection built around the return of his rival. 

A parade of the body was organized from Pontefract to Westminster, stopping at every major town to display the face to crowds of onlookers. The body was buried at a remote spot at King's Langley, Hertfordshire, to prevent a cult developing around the deposed king. 

Despite Henry's efforts, rumors abounded that Richard did not die but was spirited north of the border by supporters who disguised him as a monk. According to contemporary Scottish reports, a man believed to be Richard was held at Stirling Castle by the Governor of Scotland, the Duke of Albany. In 1402 he sent a letter to Henry saying that was the case. 

Detractors denounced "Richard" as an opportunistic pretender called Thomas Ward, from Trumpington, Cambridge, who lived in grand style at the expense of Albany and gave hope to the groundswell of opposition to Henry. Albany's accounts for 1417 record that his guest was running up a lavish bill of pound stg. 733 a year -- about pound stg. 100,000 ($273,000) today. He died two years later and was buried with the pomp befitting a monarch. 

Contemporary Scottish writer Walter Bower noted: "Richard the Second, King of England, died in the castle of Stirling in the aforesaid year and was buried on the north side of the High Altar of the Preaching Friars (Black Friars)". 

Hundreds of bones have already been unearthed at the site, but archaeologists are more interested in the high altar and its north side. They hope to find the grave, adorned with a portrait of Richard and a suitable epitaph. 

If they are successful, DNA tests on the remains will determine whether they are those of Richard, the last undisputed king of the house of Plantagenet. The crucial aid will be the body of Richard's father, the Black Prince, which is buried at Canterbury Cathedral.

Big Cats Roam The UK

London January 28, 2002 (BBC) - Recorded claims of dangerous big cats being spotted in England are on the rise. According to the British Big Cats Society, certain areas of the country have seen a phenomenal rise in sightings. 

The main three spotted are the black panther, the puma and the lynx, with the society setting up a website to report incidents involving the animals. 

Danny Nineham, who has monitored sightings since the early 1990s, told BBC News Online: "I think it boils down to the amount of people we have in these locations who are now logging the sightings since the site was created." 

More than 430 big cats were reported in 2001. There were 63 reports from Leicestershire, 53 from Gloucestershire and 45 in Norfolk. 

In Wiltshire, six people reported spotting a puma "sunbathing" at the same time. Mr Nineham said: "Private circuses traveling the country have allowed animals to escape. In the 1960s and 1970s, people had big cats like leopards as pets and they used to walk them like dogs. But in 1976 when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act came into force, people released their cats because they did not want to pay for a license, put them down, or take them to a zoo. A big cat is a solitary animal and will not attack as a rule... it is quite happy to live by stealth and keep out of your way. But there is a potential danger and I know of 10 reports of children being attacked across the UK since the 1980s." 

Mr Nineham, who acts as a consultant for police forces when they investigate sightings, maintains that the risk presented by wild cats is not taken seriously by the government. 

"Really the official line is that they do not exist," he added. 

The British Big Cats Society website also shows Scotland to be a major source of sightings, which Mr Nineham attributed to the size and rural nature of the country.

Dumping The Fridge

Associated Press 

LONDON January 28, 2002 (AP) - Protecting the ozone layer has spawned a chilling new presence on the English countryside - abandoned refrigerators.

Residents say unsightly dumps of old appliances have sprouted across the land since people began secretly abandoning them in fields after European environmental regulations took effect Jan. 1 making it illegal to discard the ozone-depleting foam insulation from fridges and freezers.

Many people think illegal dumping is the only option, since the equipment needed to destroy the foam in compliance with European Union rules isn't available in England.

"It has completely escalated," said Bob Partridge, a farmer who found 50 discarded refrigerators on his land near Padstow in Cornwall, southwest England. "We suddenly noticed from November that there was more (garbage) arriving - and when we came to look at it, it was mostly fridges."

The EU rules make it illegal to discard the foam because it contains chlorofluorocarbons that damage the ozone layer. Crushing old refrigerators for scrap - the traditional disposal method - releases CFCs into the air.

"From Jan. 1, nobody can throw a fridge away. A fridge is a dangerous substance," said Phillip Evans, co-owner of Evans Logistics, a waste-disposal company.

Refrigerators now must be crushed in enclosed "fridge eaters" that extract the CFCs so they can be destroyed. But Britain doesn't have any machines to deal with the 2.5 million refrigerators Britons throw away each year. Critics say the government's lack of planning has spawned a "fridge mountain." Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, said the rules are "good environmental policy poorly implemented."

"There was no warning," said Evans, who says he learned of the rule change in the fall. "You can't just whisk these recycling plants out of the air."

Evans says his company expects to receive a $3.1 million German-made crusher next week, but needs government approval to use it. The environment department blames the EU for confusion about the change. Britain is not the only country confounded by the EU regulations. A spokeswoman for Germany's environment ministry said rules governing refrigerator disposal were still in the works. But Finland and Sweden say they are already using the new crushing units. The Netherlands also has introduced environmentally friendly recycling, funded by a $15 "disposal charge" on every new refrigerator.

The British government says several recycling companies will be running by midyear. In the meantime, it has allocated $8.5 million to help local governments with storage costs. That is little comfort to Partridge.

"I'll dig a pit on the land and bury them and then they'll take me to court," he said.

Accused Los Alamos Hacker Freed

SAN JOSE Calif. January 29, 2002 (AP) - A former Los Alamos National Laboratory computer specialist accused of hacking was set free on $50,000 bond Tuesday and ordered to stay away from computers and several other electronic devices.

Jerome Heckenkamp, 22, was charged last year in federal courts in San Jose and San Diego with breaking into the networks of eBay, Exodus Communications, Qualcomm, Juniper Networks, ETrade, Lycos and Cygnus Support Solutions, causing more than $1 million in damage.

The acts allegedly occurred when Heckenkamp was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, before he worked at Los Alamos.

He had been free on $50,000 bond - and allowed to use a computer, but not the Internet - until Jan. 18, when he asked to be put in jail so the friend who posted the money for him could get it back. Heckenkamp said he wanted to fire his lawyer and represent himself.

Heckenkamp later decided to keep his attorney and asked to be freed again. But prosecutor Ross Nadel said there was evidence Heckenkamp had violated his original bond agreement by getting on the Internet.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Trumbull said she was puzzled by Heckenkamp's strange behavior and worried she could not trust him to stay off the Internet. So she freed him on $50,000 bond posted by his father, placed Heckenkamp on electronic monitoring and barred him from using computers, fax machines, cell phones and video games.

A judge in San Diego also must approve the terms.

Heckenkamp's first trial, in San Jose, is set to begin March 19. Hacking charges carry up to five years in prison.

Mars Rocks!

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Science Editor 

London January 28, 2002 (BBC) - Scientists have found five new Martian meteorites. 

The new rocks, which were blasted off the Red Planet in the distant past only to land on Earth at a later date, were recovered by expeditions to Antarctica and the hot deserts of Oman and the Sahara. 

They bring the number of known stones from Mars to just 24. Scientists are fascinated by the rocks because they contain chemical clues about Martian history and the possibility that the planet once possessed oceans of water and life. 

The recent cache includes six specimens, but two are believed to be chunks from the same meteorite. One of the pair weighs 13.7 kilograms (30 pounds) and is the second largest Mars meteorite fragment ever recovered. 

Antarctica and the world's deserts have proved fruitful hunting grounds for meteorite collectors. The dark rocks from space are easier to pick out on snowy and sandy landscapes. 

One of the rocks was picked up by veteran Mars rock finders Bruno Fectay and Carine Bidaut of France. They found one now catalogued as NWA 1068, in the Western Sahara. 

It is estimated that 20,000 meteoroids strike the Earth every year, but only a few come from Mars. The most controversial Martian meteorite is undoubtedly ALH 84001 which was found in Antarctica. It is thought by some scientists to contain fossilized evidence of microbial life. 

The Mars rocks are thought to have been expelled from the Red Planet eons ago by a comet or asteroid collision. After floating through space, these rocks would have landed on Earth - one as recently as a few decades ago. 

Scientists are confident they come from Mars because of their relatively young age (less than 1.5 billion years old), their texture and the masses of their constituent atoms (like oxygen), which are found in ratios not seen in rocks on Earth or on the Moon. 

There are about 22,000 meteorites catalogued worldwide. These are mostly pieces from asteroids and their ages all cluster around 4.5 billion years old.

Where Lightning Strikes

HUNTSVILLE, AL January 28, 2002 (NASA) — Lightning. It avoids the ocean, but likes Florida. It's likely to strike in the Himalayas and even more so in central Africa. And lightning almost never strikes the North or South Poles. These are just a few of the things NASA scientists at the National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) in Huntsville, Ala., have learned using satellites to monitor worldwide lightning.

"For the first time, we've been able to map the global distribution of lightning, noting its variation as a function of latitude, longitude and time of year," said Hugh Christian, a scientist from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. and project leader for the lightning team at the NSSTC's Global Hydrology and Climate Center. 

This new perspective on lightning is possible thanks to two satellite-based detectors: the Optical Transient Detector (OTD) and the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS). 

"These are two optical sensors that we've flown in lower Earth orbit," said Christian, whose team developed the sensors. "The Optical Transient Detector was launched in 1995 and we got five good years out of it, compared to the two years expected, before it stopped transmitting data. The Lightning Imaging Sensor was launched on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite in 1997, and it's still going strong."

"Basically, these optical sensors use high-speed cameras to look for changes in the tops of clouds, changes your eyes can't see," he explained. By analyzing a narrow wavelength band around 777 nanometers -- which is in the near-infrared region of the spectrum -- they can spot brief lightning flashes even under daytime conditions.

Before the Optical Transient Detector and Lightning Imaging Sensor, only approximate global lightning patterns were known. Ground-based lightning detectors employing radio-frequency sensors provide high-quality local measurements. But because such sensors have a limited range, oceans and low-population areas had been poorly sampled. The development of space-based optical detectors was a major advance, giving researchers their first complete picture of planet-wide lightning activity. The new maps show that Florida, for example, is one place where the rate of strikes is unusually high.

Dennis Boccippio, an atmospheric scientist with the NSSTC lightning team, explained why: "Florida experiences two sea breezes: one from the East Coast and one from the West Coast." The "push" between these two breezes forces ground air upward and triggers thunderstorms.

Within thunderclouds, turbulence spawned by updrafts causes tiny ice crystals and water droplets, called "hydrometeors," to bump around and collide. For reasons not fully understood, positive electric charge accumulates on smaller particles -- that is, on hydrometeors smaller than about 100 micrometers -- while negative charges grow on the larger ones. Winds and gravity separate the charged hydrometeors and produce an enormous electrical potential within the storm.

"Lightning is one of the mechanisms to relax this build-up," said Boccippio.

Another lightning hot spot is in the Himalayas, where the extreme local topography forces the convergence of air masses from the Indian Ocean. And where does lightning strike most frequently? Central Africa. "There you get thunderstorms all year 'round," Christian said. "It's a result of weather patterns, air flow from the Atlantic Ocean, and enhancement by mountainous areas."

The satellite data also track patterns of lightning intensity over time. In the Northern Hemisphere, for example, most lightning happens during the summer months. But in equatorial regions, lightning appears more often during the fall and spring.

Meanwhile, areas such as the Arctic and Antarctic have very few thunderstorms and, therefore, almost no lightning at all.

"Oceanic areas also experience a dearth of lightning," Christian said. "People living on some of the islands in the Pacific don't describe much lightning in their language." The ocean surface doesn't warm up as much as land does during the day because of water's higher heat capacity. Heating of low-lying air is crucial for storm formation, so the oceans don't experience as many thunderstorms. 

According to Boccippio these global patterns probably aren't much influenced by human activity. Some people have suggested that buildings and metal communications towers increase the overall frequency of lightning strikes. But, "lightning that does make it to the ground is pretty much creating its own channels," Boccippio said.

"The likelihood that we are changing the amount of cloud-to-ground strikes with construction of towers is very slim." He cautions, however, that this has not been verified experimentally.

To answer such questions, a new lightning detector -- the Lightning Mapper Sensor or "LMS" -- is on the drawing board at the National Space Science and Technology Center. The proposed instrument would circle our planet in a geostationary orbit over the United States, detecting all forms of lightning with a high spatial resolution and detection efficiency.

The LMS, or something like it, could provide valuable -- even life-saving -- data to weather forecasters. "The same updrafts that drive severe weather often cause a spike in the lightning rate at the onset of a storm," explained Boccippio. So, measuring the rate of lightning flashes in real time might offer a way to identify potentially deadly storms before they become deadly.

Falconry Dates Back to Ice Age


UK January 26, 2002 (Times UK) - Mounted falconry was a favourite pursuit of kings, princes and aristocrats until the 17th century when firearms became popular. Richard the Lionheart went to the Crusades with 300 hawks and 100 falconers, and Henry VIII nearly drowned while hawking. 

The sport has also contributed “fed up” to the English language, referring to a hawk that has a full stomach after eating its prey and has lost interest in hunting. 

Some academics think that falconry dates back to the last Ice Age when food was scarce. Keith Dobney, of the University of York, believes that the consistent presence of bones from large raptors such as eagles on Middle Eastern archaeological sites up to 12,000 years old suggests “the taming, management and training of birds of prey was developed by pre-agricultural societies as a hunting strategy”. 

He refers to Ctesias the Cnidian, a Persian writing in the 5th century BC who describes Central Asian “pygmies” hunting fox and hare “not with hounds, but with crows, kites, rooks and eagles”. 

The corvid family includes crows, ravens, magpies, blue jays, jackdaws and rooks, and they are found everywhere except Antarctica. Interesting group names include a murder of crows, a parliament or building of rooks and an unkindness, constable or conspiracy of ravens.

Miami Circle Retains Meaning for Native Americans

By Akilah Johnson 
Sun-Sentinel Miami Bureau 

MIAMI January 27 2002 (Sun-Sentinel) - The spotlight on a piece of riverfront property once occupied by an ancient American Indian culture, now inhabited only by insects and rodents, has dimmed for all but a select group. 

Three years ago the Miami Circle had mayors arguing, people picketing and schoolchildren fretting. Throngs of people were committed to making sure a 2,500-year-old piece of history survived in South Florida’s concrete jungle. 

It worked. The 38-foot-wide circle, with holes pocked in its jagged limestone surface, was saved. But now it sits covered with a tarp, much as it did shortly after it was discovered. 

The state-commissioned Miami Circle Planning Group has made little progress in figuring out how to display the relic the public bought for $26.7 million, meeting only twice in almost a year. Yet every week a small cadre of American Indians and New Age spiritualists assembles at the circle, as they’ve done ever since it was unearthed. Led by the self-proclaimed Carib Queen Catherine Hummingbird Ramirez, about 10 mainstays gather in front of the circle on Tuesdays for prayer, inspiration and reflection. 

“There is positive energy here,” Ramirez said. “It’s very sacred, very spiritual.”

Unable to stand on the 2.2-acre site, they meet in front of the chain-link fence that encloses the area, where the Brickell Avenue bridge crosses the Miami River. The ceremony begins with everyone washing his or her hands with scented water from a dried gourd called a calabash.

“The calabash is sacred,” Ramirez said. “When the water is in it, it is blessed.”

Under the veil of a giant dream-catcher and before a small open fire, the devout are then bathed or “smudged” with the smoke of burning white Carolina sage. 

“It takes away the negative spirit that is around you,” said Ramirez, a spiritual leader and medicine woman from the Carib nation in Trinidad. “When you leave [the circle] you’re protected.”

Americans Indians are not the only people who consider the site a religious sanctuary. Bob Carr, executive director of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, likens the Miami Circle and the artifacts found at the site to religious icons inside a house of worship. 

“It is one element of their religious cosmology. What makes it sacred are very specific artifacts that suggest ritual behavior,” Carr said, referring to the placement of certain artifacts, among them a dolphin and a shark skull and turtle skeleton, thought to have been buried by the Tequesta Indians.

Gina Torres, 42, says the power of the circle calls her. A regular at the Tuesday ceremonies, she said she answered the call after she almost lost her life in a car accident several years ago. 

“They lost me three times on the way to the hospital,” said the member of the Tsalagi tribe of the Cherokee nation. Torres said she suffered massive internal injuries, a smashed pelvis, and a leg broken in several places. She spent weeks in intensive care and doctors told her she would never walk again, she said.

Through determination and prayer, she says, she defied those odds and began to walk. Now she prays the members of the Miami Circle planning board use sound judgment as they determine the future of the circle, which is still unclear. Currently, there are only short-term goals, such as building a temporary public display, though no structural plans have been created, said Janet Snyder Matthews, chairwoman of the Miami Circle Planning Group and director of the Florida Division of Historical Resources. 

“We are only looking at an interim structure that will protect the Miami Circle from the elements,” Matthews said. “A structure that allows the public to get out and learn about [the circle’s] history and heritage.”

Just who will be responsible for the long-term preservation of the circle remains unclear. The board has recommended including the circle in the Miami River Greenway, a riverwalk project, and the Miami River Commission has agreed. The board also has recommended that the circle become part of Biscayne National Park, which would require an act of Congress. 

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek are expected to announce their sponsorship of a bill that would explore the possibility of incorporating the circle into Biscayne National Park, said Ryan Wheeler, a state archaeologist. Such a move would ensure the spot would never be developed and would make the National Park Service responsible for the circle’s long-term maintenance.

The two introduced a similar bill in 1999. It failed. The revised bill would authorize an 18-month study to determine whether it’s feasible to include the circle in the park. Even if Graham and Meek succeed, it will still be awhile before the ultimate fate of the circle is decided.

“Right now it’s sitting dormant,” Carr said, “as it has been for thousands of years.”

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