Holiday eXoNews!
Climate Threatens Reindeer 
By Helen Briggs 
BBC News Science Reporter 

North Pole December 23, 2002 (BBC) - At traditionally the busiest time of the year for reindeer, scientists warn they face an uncertain future.

Rain falling on snow is creating ice that restricts their food supply, says a US team. 

Rainfall in the northern latitudes where the animals live has been increasing in recent years.

According to a climate change model put together by researchers at the University of Washington, things can only get worse. The problem is caused by rain falling on snow in the far northern latitudes during winter. he water seeps into the soil and freezes, producing a coating of ice. The ice layer stops hoofed animals such as reindeer, caribou and musk ox from getting to the lichens and mosses they eat. 

According to study author, Jaakko Putkonen, it is a growing problem in far north places such as the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, midway between Norway and the North Pole. 

"You have an ice layer at the surface several centimetres thick that even a person couldn't get through without tools," he says. "I have seen soil temperatures remain at the freezing point for as long as two months because of the slowly freezing water below the thick snow pack. Even when ice layers are not impenetrable, the warmer soil surface temperatures promote the growth of fungi and toxic moulds among the lichens, so the animals avoid those areas." 

Dr Putkonen's team constructed a model of snow and soil heat generation to study the effects of climate change in areas such as northern Alaska and Canada, Greenland, northern Scandinavia, and Russia. 

The model predicts that by 2089, the land mass affected by rain falling on snow will have risen by 40%. 

"The bottom line is that the rain will penetrate farther into the interiors of the continents, where most of the reindeer are," says Dr Putkonen. 

It is not clear what the effect will be on reindeer. In some areas, herders may have to supply hay in winter for them to feed on. 

Another concern is that they may damage their hooves pawing at the ice. Lynn Rosentrater, climate scientist in the WWF International Arctic Programme, says reindeer will end up starving or will have to migrate in search of other food sources. 

"This will be the future environment for reindeer - it's a very frightening prospect," she told BBC News Online. 

The WWF says it is very concerned about the reindeer's future with respect to climate change and other threats. But Dr Rosentrater says reindeer populations in the Arctic are stable at the moment. 

"I don't want to scare anyone - Santa's presents will arrive on time this year," she joked. 

The University of Washington team is calling for a more in-depth study of how hoofed animals in northern areas are affected by global climate change. Their research will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Medieval Town Recreated in Gingerbread 
Associated Press Writer 

ROSTOCK, Germany December 23, 2002 (AP) - The stepped gables of this east German city's medieval center have been restored to Old World splendor this holiday season, complete with a draping of fresh snow — except the flakes are sugar and the buildings are entirely made of gingerbread. 

Sven Grumbach, the creator of Rostock's sweet replica, hopes his creation of hundreds of cookie houses, covering more than 400 square yards, will set a record for the world's largest gingerbread city. The city was to be auctioned Sunday. 

Certainly the quantities of ingredients required to build the sugary community are impressive: more than 1,760 pounds of flour, 705 pounds of honey, 880 pounds of almonds and about 175 pounds of raisins, as well as 2,400 eggs, went into the project. 

Researchers at the London-based Guinness Book of Records said they had not yet seen Grumbach's application for a record, but the prospects look good. 

"We already have a record for the largest gingerbread house and are always interested in things that are on the one hand quantifiable and on the other, new and original," researcher Kate White said in a telephone interview. 

Yet beyond the goal of a record, Grumbach, who runs a local strawberry farm and sweet shop, said he hopes to bring a bit of cheer to residents of this gritty city in the economically depressed east of Germany. 

"Visitors get a thrill out of the sense of recognizing something familiar — perhaps a street where they live, or a building which they know," he said. 

Rostock, like so many other towns in Germany, was practically leveled by Allied bombs in World War II. Grumbach used pictures from a 16th century scroll that managed to survive the war as a guideline for his gingerbread city. It will be March before Grumbach and his team hear whether they achieved the aimed-for record. By that time, however, the gingerbread city would be a thing of the past. 

It was to fall victim not to the bombs of world war — but to an auctioneer's hammer, as individual buildings were sold off to raise money for a local children's charity.

Santa Arrested at US-Canadian Border 

TORONTO December 23, 2002 (AP) - A wind-surfing Santa was arrested after strong winds took him clear across the Niagara River and into the United States. 

John Fulton, of Fort Erie, Ontario, said he dons a Santa suit every Christmas season to sail across the river. 

But stiff winds and strong currents pushed him to the U.S. side of the river — and into the arms of U.S. Border Patrol guards. 

He was arrested in Buffalo and then shipped back to Canada without incident after signing a form stating that he had illegally entered the United States.

Santa Struggles in Chistmas Florida
By Broward Liston 

CHRISTMAS, Florida December 20, 2002 (Reuters) - Santa Claus is running behind on reading his mail this year, pushing things right up to the very last minute. 

His elves have all bolted and he has also discovered the Internet, which eats up much of his evenings. 

In this case, Santa Claus is Jack James, 78, who for 34 years has read the 6,000 or so letters to Santa that veer off course and instead of the North Pole end up in this subtropical Florida hamlet with the festival name. 

"It's not a bad job. I get most of the year off," James said. 

The job is not as satisfying as it once was, he admits. Last year, in the wake of anthrax attacks in the United States that reached their victims through the postal service, he opened his letters wearing gloves and a breathing mask. 

"I think the post office has that problem all worked out," he said. 

But there is the problem with the elves. In years past, individuals or clubs offered their help to the dozens of hard-luck cases who write to Santa each year, children asking for medicine or maybe a steady job for Daddy. 

For now, all Santa can send is a postcard with season's greetings. 

"All my volunteers have disappeared. Since 9-11, it seems like people have just drawn into a shell," he said. "I guess this is going to be a way of life for awhile until the terrorists calm down." 

Charitable donations are down for a second year across the United States, something not unexpected in a slow economy. But if James is right, Americans may also suffer from a lingering malaise after the trauma of the hijacked plane attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. 

"I'm not giving as much to my church, not going to any parties. I just can't get into it as much," said Larry Williams, a lifelong Christmas resident. 

"I think people are more focused on the home this year," said Sara Williams, his wife. "Maybe people need to reconnect with what's theirs for a time, especially if there's a war coming," she said, referring to the possibility of an attack by the United States and allies against Iraq. 

Christmas was originally known as Fort Christmas, a relic of an obscure war. In 1835 federal troops invaded Florida, then a U.S. territory, intent on driving out the Seminole Indians, who had harbored thousands of runaway slaves. The war dragged on until 1842, when the Seminoles departed, either for Oklahoma or the Everglades. Fort Christmas's original stockade, built in 1837 in what was then the heart of Indian country, is long gone.

With a population of 1,100, it is smaller than North Pole, Alaska, (pop. 1,500) but much bigger than Santa Claus, Georgia, (pop. 237). Many pioneer houses still stand and some residents say their families have been in Florida for five or six generations.

If the Christmas spirit has somehow fled its namesake for a time, residents say it will be back. 

"Everybody will get out of their funk eventually, and we'll all be happy to learn that Christmas still comes every year," said Sara Williams.

Man Tapes Dollars to Window for Needy 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. December 23, 2002 (AP) - A downtown businessman has decided to share some of his good fortune with others a dollar at a time. 

Mike Jeffcoat, 42, a corporate furnishings consultant, taped 300 $1 dollar bills to his office window Friday along with a note: "Please take only what you need. Remember others." 

Many in the crowd took nothing, while some took a few bucks for a cup of coffee, Christmas presents or a bus ticket.

It was all gone in 35 minutes. 

Jeffcoat said he believed wallpapering the window would allow people to grab what they needed without much hassle. 

As he hung money, Jeffcoat said one stranger gave him $20. The man didn't have singles and wanted to help. Others gave a few bucks. 

Sharmel Shirley, 23, and Sadaka Kimble, 24, split the final $41. Shirley needed to pay a power bill. Kimble's daughter needed diapers. Both women said they've been out of work for four months. 

"Money just flapping in the wind," Shirley said. "It was like, `Wow!'"

Anti-Santa Crusade Backfires
Associated Press Writer 

VIENNA, Austria December 23, 2002 (AP) - Former divinity student Phillip Tengg says he never set out to be a Grinch with his anti-Santa crusade. 

Tengg's spirited campaign "for a contemplative Christmas" favoring Austrian traditions over the American Santa Claus caused a stir earlier this month, when he and other activists distributed thousands of stickers depicting Santa with a red slash across his face. 

Now Tengg and his Pro-Christkind (Pro-Christ Child) Society, conceding they may have gone too far, have promised to lighten up on the jolly old elf next Christmas. 

In an apologetic "Open Letter to America" released over the weekend, Pro-Christkind said it never meant to offend Americans and others who hold Santa dear and swamped the group with letters and e-mails of complaint. 

"We very much regret that our stickers which showed a crossed-out Santa Claus have caused some misunderstanding and have hurt the feelings of Santa Claus' friends," the letter said. 

"In our zeal, we neglected two things: that there are people in the world we live in who believe in Santa Claus and for whom Santa Claus represents an important part of Christmas, and that we have actually expressed something completely contrary to what we wanted to express." 

Pro-Christkind members, who urge Austrians to hold to their centuries-old yuletide traditions and resist the incursion of the American Santa, insist they have nothing personal against Santa. They say they're simply trying to keep the traditional St. Nikolaus and the Christ Child as the reasons for the season in Austria. 

They see Santa and his reindeer as commercial distractions to what they contend should be a time of worship and reflection in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country where the carol "Silent Night" was composed in 1816. But the anti-Santa stickers they've been plastering on the stalls of Austria's famed outdoor Christmas markets blurred that message, said Tengg, 27, who founded the society in 1998 in the alpine city of Innsbruck. The ensuing media attention in Europe and the United States took Pro-Christkind by surprise. 

Its efforts to distance itself from more extreme opponents of Santa backfired when it posted on its Web site provocative examples of electronic greeting cards under the heading "Schwachsinniges," German for "nonsense." 

Those e-cards included depictions of a Santa skewered by an airplane, a Santa urinating on a rooftop and the corpse of a Santa riddled with bullets. They weren't the work of Pro-Christkind, which said it posted them "to demonstrate the opposite of what we are standing for," but that distinction was lost when television stations aired footage of the Web site. 

"The whole thing went in a direction we never wanted," Tengg told the newspaper Die Presse. Pro-Christkind since has pulled the e-cards from its site. 

The fuss has triggered a firestorm of protest in Pro-Christkind's chat group. Tucked among hundreds of mostly German expressions of support for the group's crusade to keep Christ in Christmas are terse messages in English such as "Santa Claus forever!" and "Get a life! Grow up!" 

Although the group still contends that Santa Claus "has become a symbol for the unbridled commercialism of the pre-Christmas season," Tengg has promised to ditch the anti-Santa stickers and come up with "a symbol that unites all the friends of a contemplative Christmas." 

"Don't worry about Santa Claus," Pro-Christkind's letter says. "Merry Christmas to everyone ... within every culture and its unique traditions." 

Pro-Christ Child organization -

Fonda Visits Palestinian Refugee Camp
RAMALLAH, West Bank December 21, 2002 (AP) - Actress Jane Fonda visited a refugee camp and a hospital in the West Bank on Saturday, capping a three-day visit aimed at promoting peace. 

Fonda, who was observing her 65th birthday, passed through a West Bank crossing point of Qalandiya, trudging through mud and clutching a bouquet of red roses given to her by a Palestinian women's group. 

She toured West Bank villages and nearby Jewish settlements and was led through a Palestinian refugee camp near Ramallah in a daylong tour by the Jerusalem Center for Women. 

It was the final visit of a trip organized by a global movement to stop violence against women. The movement, called V-Day, was inspired by the off-Broadway hit "The Vagina Monologues" and its playwright, Eve Ensler. Ensler accompanied Fonda and led discussions with Palestinian women. 

"This is the focal point of so many conflicts," Fonda said. "Both sides aren't hearing each other's narratives, and maybe that's our role as artists." 

In an emotional moment, Fonda and Ensler met with Fatima al-Kasba, 37. Kasba said her sons, Yasser, 12, and Samer, 15, were killed a little over a month apart by Israeli soldiers. Fonda embraced Kasba, with both women in tears. 

Fonda, a two-time Oscar winner and fitness guru, said she had been to Israel and the West Bank in 1980, but what she saw today was dramatically different. She said she was most surprised by the number and proximity of Jewish settlements to the Palestinian population.
Vampire Hysteria
BLANTYRE December 23, 2002 (Reuters) - A bizarre rumor that Malawi's government is colluding with vampires to collect human blood for international aid agencies in exchange for food has led to a rash of vigilante violence. 

President Bakili Muluzi accused unnamed opposition politicians on Sunday of spreading the vampire stories to try to undermine his government, already hit by political protests and widespread food shortages. 

Vampire paranoia has sparked several attacks on suspected bloodsuckers, despite official efforts to kill the rumor. 

Last week a man accused of helping vampires was stoned to death and three Roman Catholic priests were beaten up by villagers who suspected them of being bloodsuckers. 

Both attacks happened in the southern tea-growing district of Thyolo. 

Muluzi told a news conference on Sunday the vampire stories were malicious and irresponsible. "No government can go about sucking blood of its own people," he said. "That's thuggery." 

The rumors have increased political tensions in the country, one of the 10 poorest in the world, where protests have already broken out over Muluzi's efforts to stay in office for another five years. 

Muluzi said the rumors were also affecting economic activity in four southern districts as agricultural workers stayed indoors.
Clouds Over Titan
Keck Observatory Press Release

MAUNA KEA Hawaii December 18, 2002 - Teams of astronomers at the California Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley have discovered methane clouds near the south pole of Titan. 

Titan is Saturn's largest moon, larger than the planet Mercury, and is the only moon in our solar system with a thick atmosphere. Like Earth's atmosphere, the atmosphere on Titan is mostly nitrogen. Unlike Earth, Titan is inhospitable to life due to the lack of atmospheric oxygen and its extremely cold surface temperatures (-183 C; -297 F). Along with nitrogen, Titan's atmosphere contains a significant amount of methane. 

Earlier spectroscopic observations had hinted at the existence of clouds on Titan, but gave no clue as to their location. These early data were hotly debated, since Voyager spacecraft measurements of Titan appeared to show a calm and cloud-free atmosphere.

Furthermore, previous images of Titan had failed to reveal clouds, finding only unchanging surface markings and very gradual seasonal changes in the haziness of the atmosphere. 

The new observations were made using the W.M. Keck II 10-meter and Gemini North 8-meter telescopes in December 2001 and February 2002. The results are being published in the December 19 issue of Nature and the December 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. 

Improvements in the resolution and sensitivity achievable with ground-based telescopes led to the present discovery. The observations used adaptive optics, in which a flexible mirror rapidly compensates for the distortions caused by turbulence in Earth's atmosphere.

These distortions are what causes the well known twinkling of the stars. Using adaptive optics, details as small as 300 km (186 miles) across can be distinguished at the enormous distance of Titan (1.3 billion km / 807.8 million miles), equivalent to reading an automobile license plate from 100 km (62 miles) away. 

The images presented by the two teams clearly show bright clouds near Titan's south pole. "We see the intensity of the clouds varying over as little as a few hours," said Dr. Henry Roe, lead author for the Berkeley group. "The clouds are constantly changing, although some persist for as long as a few days." 

Titan experiences seasons much like the Earth, though its year is 30 times longer due to Saturn's distant orbit from the sun. Titan is currently in the midst of southern summer, and the south pole has been in continuous sunlight for over six Earth years. The researchers believe that this fact may explain the location of these large clouds. 

"These clouds appear to be similar to summer thunderstorms on Earth, but formed of methane rather than water. This is the first time we have found such a close analogy to the Earth's atmospheric water cycle in the solar system," said Antonin Bouchez, a Caltech researcher. 

In addition to the clouds above Titan's south pole, the Keck images, like previous data, reveal the bright continent-sized feature that may be a large icy highland on Titan's surface, surrounded by linked dark regions which are possibly ethane seas or tar-covered lowlands. 

"These are the most spectacular images of Titan's surface which we've seen to date," said Dr. Michael Brown, lead author of the Caltech paper. "They are so detailed that we can almost begin to speculate about Titan's geology, if only we knew for certain what the bright and dark regions represented." 

In 2004 Titan will be visited by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which will look for clouds on Titan during its multi-year mission around Saturn. 

"Changes in the spatial distribution of these clouds over the next Titan season will help pin down their detailed formation process," said Dr. Imke de Pater from UC Berkeley. The Cassini mission includes a probe named Huygens that will descend by parachute into Titan's atmosphere and land on the surface near the edge of the bright continent. 

The Berkeley group consists of Henry G. Roe and Imke de Pater (UC Berkeley), Bruce A. Macintosh (Lawrence Livermore National Labs), and Christopher P. McKay (NASA Ames Research Center). The Caltech team consists of Michael E. Brown and Antonin H. Bouchez (Caltech), and Caitlin A. Griffith (University of Arizona). 

The Gemini observatory is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation. The W.M. Keck Observatory is operated by the California Association for Research in Astronomy, a scientific partnership between the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This research has been funded in part by grants from NSF and NASA. 

Keck Observatory: 

NASA's Titan Fact Sheet - 

Fuzzy Strands Fill Skies Over Texas City
GALVESTON, Texas December 22, 2002 (AP) - Galveston residents are still trying to figure out what caused the skies over their coastal city to literally be filled on Friday with floating strands of wads that looked like spider webs. 

The webs were visible in the air for five hours, and poles were left wrapped with the sticky strands and fuzzy wads. 

"It blew my mind. I have never seen anything like it before," said Lorenzo DeLacerta, who saw the webs about noon when he delivered building material to a site a mile east of the San Louis Pass Bridge. 

DeLacerta said he called his sister, Gloria, who saw the same thing in the sky over nearby La Marque, The Galveston County Daily News reported Saturday. 

A spokesman at the National Weather Service (news - web sites) Office in League City said the service had received no reports of flying webs — and that flying webs weren't really their thing. 

The phenomenon has occurred in at least two other places. The Associated Press reported Oct. 8 that "long, floating spider webs" were "bobbing through the skies of Santa Cruz, Calif., ... confusing some community members concerned about biological weapons, UFOs and other phenomena." 

And the Wallowa Chieftain in Oregon reported on Dec. 22, 2000, the sightings of "web-like material ... falling from the sky" that some locals thought came "from three military jets that had been flying back and forth in an east-west flight pattern at high altitude." 

A University of Wyoming microbiology professor attributed the webs in Santa Cruz to young spiders that launch themselves on their homemade parachutes after hatching to be blown to a new home. 

In Wyoming, dozens of the webs can been seen floating across the prairie in the spring, the professor was quoted as saying in the AP story. 

However, on the Internet, some conspiracy connoisseurs remain convinced the webs are man-made and could be part of an elaborate government plot.
Kandyland Wins Against Nude Dancing Ban

Associated Press Writer 

PITTSBURGH December 21, 2002 (AP) - Cities can't ban nude dancing clubs simply because of their perceived negative effect on surrounding neighborhoods, the state Supreme Court ruled in a case that had been handed back to it by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The ruling comes eight years after officials in Erie tried to clamp down on the Kandyland strip club, not by banning nude dancing, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled an affront to free speech inherent in erotica, but by targeting an alleged "secondary effect" on the clubs' neighborhoods. 

The 1994 ordinance required dancers to wear pasties and G-strings, reasoning that a toned-down dance club would tone down illegal behavior in the neighborhood.

Kandyland sued, and the case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 2000 that the Erie ordinance did not violate First Amendment rights to freedom of expression, in this case exotic dancing. 

The high court handed the case back to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for further consideration. 

In a 34-page ruling Thursday, the state Supreme court said the Pennsylvania Constitution provides an even broader scope concerning free speech than the U.S. Constitution. It re-affirmed its ruling that the Erie ordinance was too narrow and targeted constitutionally protected behavior. 

"The stated purpose of combating negative secondary effects was 'inextricably bound up' with an 'unmentioned purpose that directly impacts on the freedom of expression; that purpose is to impact negatively on the erotic message of the dance,'" the court ruled. 

The Kandyland decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has influenced scores of other cases. 

At least 22 states and a multitude of municipalities have tightened or considered laws that make it harder for strip clubs to operate, according to the American Bar Association. 

Advocates for the adult industry and freedom of speech rights praised the ruling, while saying it is difficult to gauge the effect the decision will have on other states. 

"Many municipalities have outdated, unrealistic and unscientific reports that indicate these secondary effects in neighborhoods," said Jonathan L. Katz of Marks & Katz, LLC, in Silver Spring, Md. 

Katz is also president of the president of the Free Speech Coalition for Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The coalition is a trade association that represents the adult industry. 

"The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said states have more power to give protection to their citizens than the federal government and that they're basing their decision on the state constitution," he said. "The indication is that in Pennsylvania, you must tread lightly when it comes to freedom of expression." 

In Erie, the decision now matters little. Stung by the city ordinance, owner Nick Panos sold Kandyland, which was renamed Kandy's Dinner Theater by the new owner. 

In 1996, the state prohibited total nudity in clubs that serve liquor, which apparently led to a tradeoff in which many patrons migrated to clubs with drinks, pasties and G-strings. Kandy's Dinner Theater closed four years later, with the owner calling the closing "our Christmas present" to neighbors had have fought the establishment since it opened. 

Erie Solicitor Gerald Villella said he is aware of only one strip club now in the city, where dancers wear G-strings and pasties. 

"It's really all we wanted in the first place," Villella said.

Mysterious Lady Tashat
By Mary Abbe
Star Tribune

Minneapolis December 22, 2002 (Star Tribune) - The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has added a special mummy display that includes several mummy cases, X-rays of a mummified corpse, and related material.

The centerpiece will be the museum's own Lady Tashat, an aristocratic, teenaged harem-wife who lived about 3,000 years ago. Her linen-wrapped body is still encased in its brightly painted casket made of glue-soaked linen and plaster.

A CAT scan and X-rays suggest that she was not more than 17 years old when she died and show that her ribs are crushed and her spine and left arm broken.

Most mysteriously, there is a second skull -- of a man -- between her legs. No one knows why Lady Tashat was so battered, or how the second skull got there, but scholars have a theory.

"It's not unlikely that the family burial plot was ransacked by robbers in antiquity, as many were," said Robert Jacobsen, curator of Asian art at the museum. Lady Tashat's bones might have been broken as the robbers searched for the jewelry that customarily was wound into a mummy's bandages. When her body was re-wrapped later, the skull of a family member might have been tucked into her bindings. 

"Mummies aren't art, but they fascinate a lot of people, and they're part of the religious underpinning for the whole show because you had to be mummified to get to the afterlife," Jacobsen said.

Mummy's Tomb Curse Broken
LONDON December 19, 2002 (Reuters) - King Tutankhamen's infamous "curse of the mummy's tomb", supposed to have killed off many of those involved in the opening of the pharaoh's tomb 80 years ago was a myth, Australian researchers say. 

The British Medical Journal published a study on Friday by Mark Nelson of Monash University in Melbourne which found that, contrary to the legend that sprung up around Tutankhamen's mummy, most of those present at its opening of his tomb in 1922 lived to a ripe old age. 

"(The myth) was almost certainly generated by rival newspapers that were shut out of the find of the century when exclusive rights were given to The Times of London," Nelson told Reuters. 

According to archaeologist Howard Carter -- who led the team that discovered the burial chamber -- 25 Westerners were present when the tomb was opened. They found the pharaoh's mummy, complete with splendid gold burial mask and a treasure trove of golden artifacts. 

The find made headlines around the world and sparked a craze for all things Egyptian. But when Carter's sponsor Lord Carnarvon died just weeks after the opening of the chamber, the legend of the curse was born. 

Newspapers at the time reported that the tomb was engraved with a curse promising that "death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the king" although there is no record of such an inscription being found. 

The curse was blamed for a series of deaths -- many with only the most tenuous links to the tomb -- including that of Carter's pet canary which was reportedly swallowed by a cobra on the day of the opening. 

Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, said he believed an ancient curse was at work. 

Nelson established dates of death for all of those exposed and found the average age at death was a respectable 70 years. Carter himself lived well into his 60s before dying of natural causes. 

"I found there was no evidence that being present at the opening of the tomb, sarcophagus, coffin or the unwrapping of the mummy shortened a person's life," Nelson said.
Joe Strummer Dies at 50
By Jason Hopps 

LONDON December 23, 2002 (Reuters) - Joe Strummer, frontman with the Clash whose 1979 track "London Calling" exploded as one of punk's biggest anthems, has died at the age of 50, a spokesman said on Monday. 

The singer, guitarist and songwriter died on Sunday at his home in Somerset, western England of unknown causes. 

"We do not yet know the cause of death, but we believe it was not suspicious and that he passed away peacefully. An autopsy will be forthcoming," the spokesman said. 

Born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey, Strummer's talents propelled him from playing for change on the London Underground to fame with the Clash, who with the Sex Pistols defined the in-your-face sound and style of 1970s British punk. 

Until they split in the 1980s, the Clash produced a catalog of punk classics, including "Career Opportunities" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?," distilling the depression, anger and energy of 1970s Britain. 

But they transcended the three-chord aggression to deliver messages of anti-racism and social consciousness. Strummer, the son of a British diplomat, wrote many of their biggest hits. 

"He was one of the most important figures in modern British music, a powerful performer and wordsmith on a level with Bob Dylan (news)," said Pat Gilbert, editor of British music magazine Mojo 

"His music had compassion and vision, backed with an agenda to change the world for the better," he told Reuters. 

Sometimes described as rebels with a cause, the Clash fused a variety of musical styles -- reggae, funk and even rap -- with a political message that brought punk to the mainstream and also found big success in the U.S. market. 

Bono, lead singer from the Irish band U2, said: "The Clash was the greatest rock band. They wrote the rule book for U2."


In 1976, Strummer met a then 23-year-old guitarist Mick Jones and linked up with bassist Paul Simonon and drummer Terry Chimes. As the Clash, the quartet made an immediate and explosive impact in Britain. 

Rolling Stone magazine called their 1977 eponymous debut "The definitive punk album." 

Follow-ups "Give 'Em Enough Rope" (1978), and "London Calling" (1979) also became instant punk classics. After The Clash split, a tireless Strummer stayed center stage with a variety of projects, dabbling in acting and writing music for films. 

More recently, Strummer toured with a new band, the Mescaleros, and played a benefit concert with Mick Jones in November, reuniting with his partner in punk for the first time in nearly 20 years. 

At the time of his death, Strummer was collaborating with U2's Bono and Dave Stewart (news), formerly of the Eurythmics, on an AIDS awareness track. 

"The Clash are to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year and there was hope that there would be a reunion and a tour...this must be especially sad for their fans," Gilbert said. 

Strummer's death was a double blow for punk fans still mourning the fatal drug overdose in June of singer Dee Dee Ramone from legendary American band the Ramones. 

Strummer is survived by his wife, two daughters and one stepdaughter.

Genre News: Buffy, Farscape, Firefly, Angel, Disney vs. Henson, Arsenio and The Dead Zone Returns!
Is Buffy's Future A Spin-Off?

Hollywood December 27, 2002 (eXoNews) - UPN entertainment president Dawn Ostroff may be more interested in a future for Abby than Buffy. In an interview with Hollywood Reporter, Ostroff said was placing her bet on Sydney Tamiia Poitier's new Monday night sitcom.

"It's a very, very funny show," Ostroff said. "I think (Poitier) is a big TV star." Miss Poitier is the daughter of Sidney Poitier. 

Monday nights are UPN's most successful block this season. Ostroff says Mondays are "working great" for UPN. "We've created an environment where people come for appointment viewing."

Stacked sitcoms "The Parkers," "One and One" and "Girlfriends" have gained substantial new audience this year, compared to Buffy's 23% slide on Tuesdays in the 18-34 demographic and Enterprise warp failure at a 44% loss on Wednesdays.

UPN is hoping for some midseason resurgence with "Supermodel," a reality contest hosted by Tyra Banks, and "Platinum," a drama about budding hip-hop moguls featuring MTV-ready music videos.

"We are very conscious of being multiethnic and being keyed into what 18-to-34-year-olds are interested in," Ostroff told HR.

Buffy is up for renewal in May. The Slayer's future is still uncertain despite a recent rumor that had UPN offering Sarah Michelle Gellar a big raise to stay with the show, but Ostroff indicated that Buffy will live on.

"We've just started to really talk about it," Ostroff told HR. "Talk about all the different possibilities, whether it be a spinoff or 'Buffy' coming back."

Official Buffy Site -

Valentine Acquires Farscape's Parent Company

NEW YORK December 24, 2002 (Reuters) - German children's programming giant EM.TV (ETVG.DE) said on Tuesday it agreed to sell 49.9 percent of Jim Henson Co. to an investment group led by a former TV programming executive, helping it to pay down debt while retaining majority control of the renowned Muppet maker. 

Dean Valentine, the former chief executive of Viacom Inc.'s United Paramount Network, won the stake in the creators of Big Bird and Kermit the Frog.

His group received financial backing from Europlay Capital Advisors, a private equity shop that specializes in media and entertainment. 

Terms of the proposed transaction, which is expected to close in January, were not disclosed. 

Valentine, who ran Walt Disney Co.'s Touchstone TV and animation unit overseeing the creation of hit shows "Home Improvement" and "Ellen," expects to build the Henson brand, which has suffered under Munich-based EM.TV. 

"We feel there is enormous potential for growth, not merely from Kermit and the Muppets, but from the expansion of the Henson brand into all areas of family entertainment," Valentine said in a statement.

Valentine will run Henson with a management team that includes Mort Marcus, the former chairman of Miramax Television and Video, a Disney subsidiary, and Nick Van Dyk, former executive vice president of Artisan Entertainment. 

Valentine, who joined UPN in 1997, left in January, a month after Viacom yanked control of the fifth-largest network from Paramount Television Group and put it in CBS' hands instead. A month later, Valentine reached an undisclosed settlement with UPN over a lawsuit he had filed concerning his $22 million employment contract. 

EM.TV paid $680 million for Jim Henson Co. in March 2000, purchasing it from the Henson family. EM.TV began shopping it less than two years later after selling rights to the Sesame Street characters to Sesame Workshop for $180 million and its stake in Crown Media Holdings Inc. for about $100 million. 

Disney was recently planning a $135 million bid for all of Henson, people familiar with the situation said. It was unclear, however, whether that offer was submitted, or whether EM.TV simply opted to sell a minority stake instead. 

At least three other suitors had been interested in buying Jim Henson Co., sources said.

[The sci-fi series Farscape is produced by the Henson company, so Save Farscapers may want to use the news of this acquisition to promote their cause? Just a suggestion. Ed.]

Official Farscape site - 

The Sci Fi Farscape site - 

The whiny page Sci Fi posted listing excuses for canceling Season Five of Farscape - 

The Save Farscape Campaign site -

Firefly Campaign News!

"...knowing that I have an ARMY behind me, knowing how much you guys care and are willing to do... well it helps. A great deal." - Joss Whedon on Firefly

Hollywood December 24, 2002 (eXoNews) - Here's the latest from Kiba at Firefly: Immediate Assistance on how you can help get Joss Whedon's space western back in the air.

Firefly: Immediate Assistance is at 

FIA is running a demographics survey at  No biggie! Just click over there and take the quick survey to add your data. The results will be reported to Joss Whedon's production company, Mutant Enemy, and networks including UPN.

The Save Firefly postcard campaign is a must for Firefly fans! Check out the postcards at  or make your own!

Since FOX will not be ordering any new episodes of Firefly, now is the time to sell the show to another network. Mutant Enemy's first target is UPN. We need to show UPN the kind of fanbase that Firefly has.

Write to: 



Be sure to mention your age, location and income. Tell them what other UPN shows you watch. Let them know what Firefly advertisers interest you. 

If you've still got room, mention what about Firefly makes it so special. Is it the wit? The action? 

It's important that you be positive. Emphasize how excited the show makes you. We want to impress upon them our value as a fanbase. 

Be sure to contact your UPN affiliate and let them know you want to see Firefly. You can find your affiliate at 

If you don't get UPN, call your cable company today and ask them to pick up another area's UPN station.

Another science-fiction program that has recently been cancelled is Farscape. Firefly: Immediate Assistance and Save Farscape encourage you to watch both shows and to direct your efforts at saving them both. Go to  to read a statement from the two strategy teams about how we can work to support one another. 

To see pictures from the Firefly viewing parties held on December 20, go to

Firefly Takes The Sky
By FLAtRich

Hollywood December 21, 2002 (eXoNews) - I finally got to see the 2-hour pilot episode of Firefly last night and it answered some questions for me, but not all.

The big mystery has always been why did Fox spend (a reported) 8 million dollars on Joss Whedon's pilot and then decide not to show it?

The answer to that is probably just a suit, but I did notice some rough spots that might have made the Fox brass nervous.

Dialogue in the spectacular opening battle scenes was a bit hard to pick up on. Whedon sets up the Firefly period with dialectic slang, but he also uses a second language that only someone born 500 years from now would fully understand.

This is a common enough science fiction and fantasy device - from Elvish to the Nadsat language of "Clockwork Orange" to Farscape's "frell" expletive - but non-sci-fi folk just might not get it or need time adjusting to it - like UK dialects to the American ear or the "pigeon" English spoken in Hawaii.

There were also at least two edit points that stopped the film. Both of these were apparently intended to represent emotional responses from characters, but they also looked like errors or even those digital stalls that plague cable subscribers. I think Whedon used this trick in a later episode, but I can't remember which one because it worked for me that time.

None of the above explains why Fox wanted Joss Whedon to reshoot the entire pilot or why Fox thought it lacked action, which it certainly didn't. The two hours sped us around the refreshingly novel Firefly universe with enough feisty rough and tumble conflict to make Enterprise look tame and lumbering by comparison.

I knew the crew by now, but there were insights into Book (Ron Glass) and Inara (Morena Baccarin) and even Kaylee (Jewel Staite) that could have helped initialize audiences. Simon Tam (Sean Maher), Wash (Alan Tudyk) and River Tam (Summer Glau) were filled out in later episodes, but this original pilot introduced all the characters far better than the first episode Fox aired last fall.

There are no rubber masks or phasers in Firefly, but there is a lot of gunplay and bushwhacking and Inara is very sexy and Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion),  Zoe (Gina Torres) and Jayne (Adam Baldwin) even galloped across the range on horses in one scene.

Firefly does the space western genre proud. Let's just hope someone outside the Fox cartoon comedy reality network agrees and signs Serenity up for another tour.

Firefly: Immediate Assistance has joined forces with the Save Farscape campaign and reworked their web site. For more news and to add your voice to the Firefly fans who are trying to convince UPN to pick up the show, go to

Bell Mulls Angel Move 

Hollywood December 20, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - Jeff Bell, executive producer of The WB's Angel, told SCI FI Wire that he's not worried about the latest timeslot change.

"They've moved us each year. Every time they move us the same people show up. We were terrified of Sundays at 9, which I think is the hardest hour in TV," Bell said in an interview. "We were doing fine. So for whatever reason we're now going to be Wednesdays at 9."

After the January move, Angel will have aired on four different nights in its three and a half years on the air.

The move will put the series up against UPN's The Twilight Zone and NBC's The West Wing. But Bell believes the biggest competition will come from ABC.

"The one that will really kill us is The Bachelor. That will kill us. That will kill everything. That will kill West Wing. That will kill every living brain cell and zillions and zillions of people, mainly women, will watch it." 

For those who wish to keep their brain cells intact, Bell promises that Angel will pick up right where it left off, when the show's characters thought they were witnessing the end of the world.

"You're going to be shocked, but in episode eight the world didn't end," Bell said. The producer revealed that January episodes will focus on the new Big Bad, who proves to be "even more horrible than we imagined."

Angel will begin airing in its new Wednesday timeslot on Jan. 15 at 9PM / 8C in place of the canceled Birds of Prey.

Official Angel Site -,7353,||139,00.html

Arsenio Hall to Host 'Star Search'

LOS ANGELES December 20, 2002 ( - Among the crowd of would-be famous folks on CBS' "Star Search" will be at least one familiar face.

Arsenio Hall has signed on to host the talent search, which premieres at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, Jan. 8 and airs twice a week for four weeks. Each show -- the other is at 8 p.m. Thursdays -- will air live.

Contestants will show their talents in one of four areas: adult singer, junior singer, comic and model. Winners from the first three episodes will compete in a semifinal on Thursday, Jan. 16. The next three episodes will feature a new group of contestants, who will head to a second semifinal on Jan. 30.

The semifinal winners will compete in the finale on Thursday, Feb. 6. The grand prize is $100,000.

Hall, who most recently co-starred in the CBS series "Martial Law," will oversee the proceedings, and a panel of celebrity judges will critique the participants. The judges and viewers, voting via the Internet, will determine who moves on to the next round.

What Do You See My Blue-eyed Son?
By FLAtRich

Hollywood December 24, 2002 (eXoNews) - Johnny's almost back and we can't wait to watch what he sees this season. Talkin' about The Dead Zone, which returns to the USA Network in January. 

Michael Piller says on the DZ site that he's already worrying about the Season Two finale, while the fans who helped Dead Zone set cable records last season anxiously await the first new episode, "Valley of the Shadows", due Sunday, January 5th at 10PM / 9C.

Pillar narrates his role as Executive Producer and head writer of the series based on Stephen King's bestselling novel at 

The most current rap discusses how writers get out of the rooms they paint themselves into and reminds us that Piller also wrote the acclaimed "Best of Both Worlds" episode for Star Trek: The Next Generation. (That's the one where the Borg get Picard, as if you didn't know.)

I had time to read the Stephen King novel while Dead Zone was off recreating itself, and I gained a real appreciation for the series' translation to television. King's novel was first published in 1979 and references to Vietnam and other seventies phenomena are everywhere. The task of updating King was a major undertaking, not to mention rewriting and/or creating the characters. Even Johnny Smith (Anthony Michael Hall) got a major facelift!

The original plot is far more linear than the series, but Mr. King's rep as the master of macabre is well earned. The book is delightfully detailed and scary.

King's characters are deep and complex and many of the lesser characters you saw in Piller's adaptation last season are either mutants or don't exist at all in the novel.

Every King chapter is a cliffhanger and whole chapters are condensed to minute references for the series. Piller chose to deal with the serial killer in the first two episodes of season one, for example, but King stretched that character effortlessly throughout his 400-page novel.

Relationships between the main characters are different too, but I won't go into that because I like what Piller has done with them and how the former Star Trek creator sidestepped the way the King book ends. It worked for readers at the time - it was a best-seller and a feature film, after all - and The Dead Zone is still very much in print, but nobody will want Johnny's story to end in tragedy after watching the first 13 episodes of the Piller show.

With all due respect to Stephen King, you might want to wait until Piller gives us that next finale before you read The Dead Zone for the first time.

Former Deep Space Nine actress Nicole deBoer (Sarah Bannerman in The Dead Zone series) said in a Star Trek chat that she only read the first half of the King book researching her character, and now I see why.

King has yet to comment on the show, but he's probably counting his residuals with a glee reserved for prolific writers.

The Dead Zone Official site - 

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