Howdy Doody,
Mr. Spock,
Repulsive Energy,
and David Bowie!
Howdy Doody Custody Battle Ends
DETROIT April 5, 2001 (AP) — It's Howdy Doody time in the Motor City.

The freckle-faced marionette makes his Detroit debut Friday night in his new, permanent home, the Detroit Institute of Arts.

It marks the end of a two-year custody battle between the museum and the family of the late Rufus Rose, the puppeteer of Howdy Doody.

The 28-inch puppet will be on view until May 13.

"After that, we'll check him into our conservation lab for some R&R and then make some long-term plans about how to display him,'' said Larry Baranski, curator of the museum's puppet collection.

Howdy Doody joins a Kermit the Frog and a Civil War-era Punch and Judy in the museum's collection of some 850 puppets.

"He was there for the birth of network television and nothing much from that early era survives,'' Baranski said. "Howdy is really the first popular culture thing connected to TV.''

The museum had claimed that Rose, who took the puppet to his Waterford, Conn., studio after the show went off the air in 1960, promised to donate it. Rose's family argued that there was no promise and that the puppet may not even be the original Howdy.

In January, a federal judge ruled that the puppet is the same one used when the show went off the air and therefore belongs to the museum.


On the Net:

Detroit Institute of Arts:
Volcano Erupting On Ocean Floor Off Oregon Coast

BROOKINGS, Ore. April 6, 2001 (AP) - A volcano has been erupting on the ocean floor off the southern Oregon coast since Tuesday night, scientists say, but it poses no threat to ships or coastal communities.

The eruption 130 miles off the coast has generated more than 1,000 minor earthquakes that continued late Thursday. A few quakes have been powerful enough to be detected by land-based instruments, with the largest measuring 4.5 magnitude.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been using undersea instruments to track activity at the volcano, on an undersea ridge that runs off southern Oregon and northern California.

"We're mobilizing to get a research ship to check it out," said Robert W. Embley, a marine geologist with the administration's Vents Program.

Researchers would like the ship to arrive in time to find "megaplumes," gigantic bursts of hot, mineral-rich water that are spewed out of underwater eruptions.

Christopher Fox, a geophysicist with the Vents Program, said the seismic activity detected by the seafloor instruments is caused by the magma being injected into the ridge and cracking the rock.

Fox said the earthquake activity, which reached a peak of nearly 90 per hour Tuesday evening, had slowed to only a few per hour by Thursday afternoon.

Vents Homepage -

US Claims Missing Chinese Pilot Was A Cowboy
By Jonathan S. Landay

WASHINGTON April 6, 2001 (Knight Ridder) - The missing Chinese pilot who collided with a US surveillance plane had been flying extremely close to US reconnaissance aircraft for months, even once flashing a sign with his e-mail address on it, US officials said yesterday.

The pilot, identified in state-run Chinese media as Wang Wei, became so reckless that Washington twice complained to the Chinese government, most recently in a diplomatic protest in December, defense officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"This is the kind of pilot we would describe as a cowboy," said Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, a member of the Senate intelligence and armed services committees. Wang "flew in front, below, and on top of our aircraft," he said.

The picture of Wang's aggressive flying was intended to bolster the Bush administration's contention that Wang was to blame for Sunday's collision in international airspace over the South China Sea. Wang's F-8 jetfighter collided with a US Navy EP-3 Aries II, a top-secret eavesdropping aircraft.

"It appears to me on this occasion he simply exceeded his grasp," said Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, a senior member of the Intelligence and Armed Services committees.

US officials said they lack sufficient details to reconstruct the collision accurately. One possibility, they said, was that the faster and nimbler Chinese jet slid beneath the front of the lumbering propeller-driven US plane, where it could not be seen. Normally, aircraft fly to the side of the plane being shadowed.

A defense official also said Wang was to blame because international regulations make it the intercepting aircraft's responsibility to maintain a safe distance.

Chinese officials say the US pilot veered suddenly to the left, hitting Wang's jet, one of two F-8s shadowing the EP-3 as it cruised off China's southern coast.

Beijing is demanding the United States apologize and has refused to release the crew or the aircraft, which was damaged and made an emergency landing at the Chinese military base on Hainan Island.

Wang, 33, a native of Huzhou, in China's eastern province of Zhejiang, crashed about 70 nautical miles off Hainan. He ejected, but is believed to have died. The US officials said that while other Chinese fighter pilots aggressively shadowed US aircraft for about a year, Wang was more reckless than others.

On one occasion, a smiling Wang flew close enough for the crew of a US aircraft to read a sign he was holding up with his e-mail address on it, the officials said.

They declined to say how they identified Wang. US military air crews routinely photograph the planes and pilots who shadow them. They also record the radio transmissions of foreign military pilots and store them in intelligence databases, where they can later be used for identification purposes.

Shadowing foreign military aircraft in international airspace or naval vessels in international waters is a routine practice of US and foreign military forces. US pilots are trained to swing in close to a foreign aircraft, but at speeds and positions that allow them to get out of the way if the foreign plane suddenly changes direction.

"It's not just distance," one pilot said. "It's speed of intercept. It's doing it in a way that is visible to the other crew so that both parties can ensure safety," he said. "We might get close enough to show some level of visual communication between the airplanes. But safety is always first."
Mr. and Mrs. Spock Donate $1M to Observatory
LOS ANGELES April 5, 2001 (AP) - Leonard Nimoy is doing his part to ensure that Griffith Observatory lives long and prospers.

The actor best known as Mr. Spock on Star Trek and his wife, Susan, have donated $1 million (all figures U.S.) to refurbish the 66-year-old Los Angeles landmark.

''I think it's of cosmic consequence,'' said Griffith Observatory Director Edwin Krupp. ''There's something really appealing about Leonard Nimoy's professional career and being able to bring it into this space.''

The donation is the first contribution by an individual to the renovation effort, which has acquired about two-thirds of the $63 million it needs from corporations, foundations and public money. The facelift is scheduled to begin next year and be completed by late 2004.

''By observing the sky and pondering our place in the universe, people gain a new perspective on their daily lives,'' Nimoy said in a statement. ''Griffith Observatory gives its visitors that opportunity. It is a Los Angeles icon, one which we need to ensure will be here for generations to come.''

About two million people visit the observatory each year to view the universe through its 30 centimetre Zeiss refractor telescope and planetarium. Millions more have seen its bronze art deco dome in a multitude of films, including the switchblade scene in James Dean's Rebel Without a Cause in 1955.

Neutron Stars Hold Gold

LONDON April 5, 2001 (AP) — There's gold in them thar colliding neutron stars.

A team of scientists said Thursday that the origins of most of the gold, platinum and other heavy elements on Earth can be traced to the massive explosions of colliding neutron stars, hundreds of millions of years before the birth of the Solar System.

"This is an incredible result,'' exclaimed senior team member Stephan Rosswog after the scientists' data were released. "It's exciting to think that the gold in wedding rings was formed far away by colliding stars.''

It has long been accepted that common elements, such as oxygen and carbon, are created when dying stars explode into supernovae, but researchers have been puzzled by data that suggests these stellar explosions do not produce enough heavy elements to account for their abundance on Earth.

The scientists — from the University of Leicester, in England, and the University of Basel, in Switzerland — believe rare pairs of neutron stars hold the answer.

The report was presented Thursday to the National Astronomy Meeting at Cambridge, England.

Neutron stars are the super-dense cores of large stars that survive supernovae. They contain about as much matter as our sun, but are only about the size of a large city. Sometimes two are found orbiting each other — leftovers of a binary star system. Four such pairs are known to exist in our galaxy.

The team used a supercomputer at the U.K. Astrophysical Fluids Facility in Leicester, 100 miles north of London, to model what might happen if the intense gravity created by these pairs slowly forced them to spiral closer and collide.

One such calculation takes the supercomputer several weeks to get through, but represents just the final few milliseconds in the lives of the two stars. It shows that as the neutron stars get closer, immense forces tear them apart, releasing enough energy to outshine the entire universe for a few milliseconds, the team said.

Team member Melvin Davis of Leicester said the explosion most likely creates a black hole — a light-sucking tear in space — and ejects ash so hot that nuclear reactions take place as it races outward, mashing newly created protons into the nuclei of lighter elements to create heavy elements.

The ejected material eventually mixes with the gas and dust between stars that, in turn, collapses down to form new generations of stars, slowly spreading heavy metals throughout the galaxy.

The proportion of matter created in these infrequent cataclysms over the 10-billion-year life of the universe closely matches the spectrum of elements found in our 5-billion-year-old Solar System, the team said, providing strong evidence that the theory is solid.

"The thing that is really quite compelling is that our models really do reproduce the relevant amounts of elements in the universe very, very accurately,'' Davis said after the release of their report. "It answers part of the question, `Where did all this stuff come from?'''

Stan Woosley, professor of astrophysics at the University of California-Santa Cruz, called the data compelling, but said it lacked a conclusive description of the so-called R-process — one of two ways that heavy elements can be formed.

The other — the S-process — is better understood: Heavy elements are created as a star burns its hydrogen into helium, but the variety and amounts produced are limited.

Some astrophysicist believe the R-process also occurs in a supernova, but scientists' understanding of supernovae is limited and computer models that could prove the theory don't exist.

Supporters of the supernova theory argue that collapses of binary neutron stars happen too infrequently. If large amounts of heavy elements are created in the more common supernovae, it would explain this uniformity.

"It's a nice development and a nice calculation,'' said Woosley, who was in Cambridge for the meeting, "but not everyone is going to accept that this is how the R-process is made.''


On the Net:

Royal Astronomical Society, 

Video images,

Scientists Discover Secrets Behind Aging Process
By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON April 5, 2001 (Reuters) - A common hormone-based mechanism seems to regulate the aging process in a variety of organisms, scientists said on Thursday in a finding that raises the possibility that hormonal therapy could add decades to the human life span.

Three studies appearing in the journal Science show that the insulin-signaling pathway, already known to regulate aging in roundworms, serves the same function in fruit flies and the simple life form yeast.

Scientists studying fruit flies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and University College London found that manipulating genes relating to insulin-like hormones greatly extended the insects' life span. Some of the flies lived up to 85 percent longer than usual. But the longer-living flies all were dwarfs.

Similar work by University of Southern California experts produced up to a three-fold increase in yeast life span.

Insulin controls blood sugar levels in humans, and defects in the insulin system result in diabetes.

"What's exciting about these findings is that they suggest that there is a genetic system common to all animals that regulates aging," said David Gems of University College London. "If we just could tap into the mammalian version of that system, it might be possible to retard or even reverse human aging -- at least, in principle."

Marc Tatar, who led the Brown team, said insulin-like compounds control aging in flies, worms and probably humans either by retarding growth or by activating specific endocrine tissue to release other hormones.

"We can uncover the basic science of aging using flies and worms, and then it's not far fetched to think that's what's happening in us, too," Tatar added. He noted that the neuro-circuitry in human brains is similar to that of flies.

Tatar said no one knows which brain signals or external environmental signals turn on the human aging mechanism.


He said the findings hint at the possibility in the future of employing a type of hormonal treatment to extend the life span of people. "I can see it," Tatar said.

"I think it might be possible to modulate the key hormones -- growth hormone, thyroid hormone, insulin growth factor," Tatar added. "And if we can modulate those in a healthy range -- maintain our health but toward a level that can permit us to slow aging -- I think it's possible to do it."

He said experiments involving mice suggested that about 40 healthy years could be added to the human life span.

Tatar's team isolated in fruit flies a gene with function in the brain called an insulin-like receptor (InR). The gene is analogous to those in species throughout the animal kingdom.

InR in flies responds to a form of insulin. As a result, brain cells tell a thyroid- or pituitary-like system to release a second hormone, called juvenile hormone. This compound circulates in the body, unleashing a chain of other events that trigger reproduction and rapid aging, the scientists said.

The Brown researchers bred fruit flies with mutant InR in a bid to suppress the release of juvenile hormone and arrest the aging process. The experiment yielded dwarf females with life spans extended by up to 85 percent. Dwarf males also were produced, but they were frail and most died within 20 days.


Earlier research on roundworms found that defects in two genes, called daf-2 and age-1, doubled and even tripled worm life span. Humans possess genes very similar to daf-2 and age-1 that generate part of a hormone response system that is sensitive to insulin and its hormonal cousin insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I). IGF-I controls growth, and defects in the IGF system cause dwarfism.

University College London researchers bred mutant fruit flies with defects in the fly equivalents of daf-2 (InR) and age-1 genes, as well as a third insulin-related gene, called chico. It turned out that both chico and InR regulated aging, the said. In fact, the female chico mutant flies lived up to 48 percent longer than normal but were dwarfs.

The researchers said IGF-I levels may affect the rate of aging in mammals, including people, meaning less IGF-I causes longer life. Gems said that in theory, a drug that would manipulate IGF-specific signaling in the brain could extend the human life span. He said that after 10 to 20 years of experiments, scientists might have an idea of how to apply the results to people without involving dwarfism.
Group Condemns Kangaroo Meat
SYDNEY, Australia April 4, 2001 (AP) — Animal welfare campaigners condemned efforts by the Australian government to promote kangaroo meat in Europe as an alternative to beef and lamb.

Canberra gave the kangaroo processing industry $29,000 so that it could promote the meat amid fears of foot-and-mouth and mad cow diseases sweeping Europe.

World League for the Protection of Animals spokeswoman Halina Thompson accused the kangaroo industry on Friday of seeking to cash in on the diseases' spread.

She said if the kangaroo meat industry in Australia were to boom, it could eat itself out of existence.

"To produce the (equivalent of) 1,700,000 tons of cattle meat annually, the industry would have to kill the entire kangaroo population of Australia about 566 times a year,'' Thompson said.

She also said that in 1996, veterinarians in Victoria state deemed the killing of kangaroos for human consumption unhygienic.

Tony Kelly, development officer with the Australian Kangaroo Association, denied it, saying the meat was subject to the same strict checks as mutton and beef.

Kangaroos are not raised commercially in Australia. Processing companies kill about 3 million of the animals each year for their meat.

Thompson called on Tourism Minister Jackie Kelly to stop the promotion of kangaroo for consumption and instead highlight the distinctive marsupial as a tourist attraction.

"They need to be promoting kangaroos as a wildlife experience,'' she said.

On the web:

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Newly Created Material Defies Laws of Physics
WASHINGTON April 5, 2001 (Reuters) - Experiments on a newly created composite material have shown that it bends microwaves passing through it in a direction that seems to defy the laws of physics, scientists said on Thursday, in a discovery that could help in making more advanced lenses and antennas.

The composite, made of fiberglass and copper, caused microwaves shot through it to bend in an opposite direction than the laws of physics predict, making it the first material to have a "negative index of refraction," physicists said in a study appearing in the journal Science.

Electromagnetic radiation -- such as light and microwaves -- passing through ordinary materials is deflected in the same direction, giving those materials a "positive index of refraction," they said. An example is the way light bends when it passes from air to water.

The composite could be useful in developing better antennas and other technology for the cellular communications industry, said physicist Sheldon Schultz, who created the material along with colleagues David Smith and Richard Shelby at the University of California at San Diego.

Although the composite cannot focus visible light, Schultz said he hopes that obstacle can be overcome in the future.

Physicist John Pendry of London's Imperial College has said that a material with a "negative refraction" would make possible the construction of a lens capable of focusing light to limits not currently achievable.
Distant Supernova Hints at Dark Repulsive Energy
By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON April 2, 2001 (Reuters) - The Hubble Space Telescope has spied the most distant supernova ever, an 11-billion-year-old exploding star whose existence suggests that a repulsive "dark energy" is spurring the expansion of the universe.

Astronomers saw the supernova in 1997 but did not know until recently that it was the furthest and therefore the oldest of its kind ever observed, scientists said on Monday in a briefing at NASA headquarters.

The notion that the universe is expanding faster and faster, instead of slowing down, runs counter to what scientists have long believed, one analyst told reporters.

"This is absolutely extraordinary," Michael Turner, an astronomer from the University of Chicago, said. "For 70 years astronomers believed that the universe would be slowing down and tried to measure it. When they finally succeeded in doing it, the darn thing was speeding up."

The ancient supernova was detected by two separate teams of scientists, one at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and another at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California.

The old stellar explosion is one of those used by astronomers to track cosmic development.

When the light first left this supernova, known as 1997ff, it looked brighter than younger, closer supernovae would because the universe was expanding more slowly than it did later, the galaxies were a bit closer together and objects in them looked brighter, said telescope institute researcher Adam Riess.

Back in the early days of the universe, when 1997ff blew up, the mutual gravitational pull on cosmic objects slowed down expansion of the universe.

Sometime between 4 billion and 8 billion years ago, the universe started to speed up in its expansion and both Riess and Peter Nugent, of the Berkeley lab, believe this expansion may be due to the presence of a mysterious "dark energy" which pushes things away from each other, the opposite of what gravity does.

The exact definition of "dark energy" remains elusive, but it behaves more like energy than matter: it cannot be brought to rest. It is unseen, and therefore dark, and has repulsive gravity, Turner said. Beyond that, it is something of a mystery.

Whatever it is, there appears to be a lot of it, the scientists said: possibly 65 percent of the universe could be composed of dark energy.

With only one supernova to bolster their theory, both Riess and Nugent said more space-based telescope observations are needed to track more supernovae on the trail of the universe's movements.

By finding out about dark energy, Turner said, "I think we will be able to answer questions about the destiny of the universe and how all of nature's particles and forces fit together. That's how important and fundamental this dark energy is."

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Professor Hopes to Crack Boston Strangler Case
By Mary Gabriel

WASHINGTON April 5, 2001 (Reuters) - Far from the dark streets where the Boston Strangler roamed, selecting 13 women to brutalize and murder in the early 1960s, a law professor with an unusual hobby hopes to crack the case.

Working out of his sunny office on the campus of George Washington University in Washington, James Starrs is an expert in cold cases, really cold cases -- in one case 200 years cold.

He believes modern forensic science can be applied to solve historic whodunits, answering questions technology was not advanced enough to answer at the time a death occurred. In most cases all he needs is a body -- so he digs them up.

That is what he is working with in the Strangler case. With the approval of the family of Mary Sullivan, Starrs has exhumed the body of the 19-year-old woman believed to be the last victim of the killer who terrorized Boston from 1962 to 1964.

Now Starrs is trying to determine if Sullivan was killed by Albert DeSalvo, the man who confessed to being the Boston Strangler. Sullivan's family does not believe he did it.

Casey Sherman, Sullivan's nephew, said the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office told him last spring the case was "not a priority and they couldn't help." That night he saw a television program about Starrs' exhumation of Jesse James, the notorious outlaw who died in 1882.

"My wife said, 'Why don't you give him a call and see if he's interested?' I called the next day," Sherman said.


Starrs looks more elf than ghoul. In fact, he looks a little like Santa Claus. But amid the books and piles of paper one would expect in a law professor's office are reminders of his other life as a forensic specialist: skeletons, skulls, an eyeball, diagrams of skulls.

Starrs was not trained as a forensic scientist. Indeed, his exclusion from the "inner circle" of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences at a meeting in Colorado in the late 1980s spawned his second career as a gravedigger, he said.

"I was excluded and I left in a blue funk. I figured I was in Colorado so I thought I'd look into the deaths of five prospector companions of Alfred Packer, which had been a thorn in my academic side for years," he said.

Packer was the only member of a group of six to survive a winter storm in Colorado's San Juan mountains in 1874. The other five were eaten.

Starrs wanted to know if, as Packer claimed, they died one by one and were eaten by the survivors to stave off starvation or if Packer killed them and ate them all by himself. So he got permission to exhume the bodies, put together a team of experts to help him and looked for answers among the remains.

"It was quite clear from what we found that Alfred Packer was the guilty man in the death of all of them," Starrs said, adding, "it was very professionally satisfying." So satisfying that he started digging around for new cases.

Since then he has investigated the James case, the 1935 assassination of legendary Louisiana politician Huey Long and the case of Dr. Frank Olson, who unknowingly took LSD as part of a CIA experiment in 1953 and a week later plunged to his death from a New York hotel.

Starrs and his team exhumed Olson's body and determined a blow to the left side of his head occurred prior to his death. "With a massive hematoma of that kind, he couldn't go out the window on his own," he said.

In 1999, Starrs led a search of unmarked graves at a West Virginia estate for the body of the "uncle of our country," Samuel Washington -- the brother of "father of our country" George Washington. He said the Washington family thought that would be a way of marking the 200th anniversary of the death of the first U.S. president, but he could not find the remains.

Starrs also takes on less high-profile cases. One such came at the request of a Jackson, Ohio, woman whose daughter committed suicide, according to the official ruling. The woman believed her daughter was murdered.

"It was a case I took because the mother seemed to have a very strong argument, she seemed in need and there was no one else around to assist her," Starrs said.

Michigan State University professor Todd Fenton, who began working with Starrs on the Packer case, said he believes Starrs is motivated by scientific curiosity and a sense of justice.

"In the '60s he did a lot of civil rights work. He has this ferocious sense of what's right. He also has a voracious appetite for mysteries. You mix that in with the fact that he is a tireless worker -- what a combination," Fenton said.


When Starrs decides to take a case, he puts out a call to experts around the country: forensic pathologists, anthropologists, geophysicists, radiologists, toxicologists and criminalists. All work free of charge.

Dr. Michael Baden, chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police, is a regular on Starrs' team and is now working on the Boston Stranger investigation. "Nobody can do it all, there are no more Sherlock Holmes," Baden said.

"The kinds of teams Starrs assembles in these expeditions is what's happening throughout the country, but in a less dramatic form, because his investigations are much more high-profile," he added.

In considering a case, Starrs said he asks himself is it historically significant, will today's science be able to answer questions past experts were not able to, and is there anything to be gained scientifically? He also asks whether an exhumation, if it is required, is moral.

Mary Fran Ernst, president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, said Starrs is "probably one of the most ethical and dedicated" investigators working today.

But he has his critics, including documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and historian Stephen Ambrose, who have publicly criticized him for wanting to exhume the body of explorer Meriwether Lewis to determine if he committed suicide. Both say there is no question that is how Lewis died.

And Starrs has had trouble with local law enforcement, who might not appreciate his unearthing old cases that raise questions about the original investigation. That happened in Louisiana in the Long investigation, he said, and his team is not having an easy time with authorities in Boston, either.

Citing a gag order, the state attorney general's office refused to comment on the case, but Sherman said officials who previously were not interested in his aunt's death have launched their own investigation in the wake of Starrs' probe.

He said they were testing evidence they originally denied having but which has since "miraculously" surfaced.

Yet Starrs continues to plug away on his investigation using DNA from DeSalvo's brother Richard, Mary Sullivan's remains and public records to see if Albert DeSalvo, who never stood trial for the murders and who died in a prison attack while serving time on an unrelated crime, was her murderer. He was set to release preliminary findings in February before the gag order was imposed.

Already Starrs has "been able to poke holes in Albert DeSalvo's confession, the only thing that connects him to the crime," Sherman said.

"He claimed to strangle my aunt with his bare hands but there is no sign of manual strangulation. DeSalvo also said he knocked her out with a blow to the skull, but Starrs found there was no trauma to the skull. I believe we have enough evidence to prove he didn't do it."

David Bowie Launching Online Radio Service
LOS ANGELES April 4, 2001 (AP) - Rocker David Bowie has another online proposition, one that will include the former Space Oddity taking the role of disc jockey. Bowie says his Internet Community BowieNet is launching its online BowieRadio service on Thursday. It includes a comprehensive collection of Bowie recordings as well as "stations" streaming non-Bowie material.

BowieRadio will roll out additional stations in coming months, including one featuring Bowie as a DJ.

"The possibilities are endless," Bowie said Tuesday. "We have developed programming that not only satisfies the musical tastes and personal requests of our members, but also does not infringe on the rights of the writers and publishers."

BowieRadio will use a proprietary Internet radio solution from AxisPoint that automates reporting to performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.

Unlike file-sharing sources like Napster, BowieRadio will not allow users to copy and exchange music. Listeners can only hear preselected tracks via streaming audio, similar to conventional AM and FM radio.

The singer's subscription-based Internet site was launched in 1998 and has paved the way for other artists such as the Dave Matthews Band, Hanson and Prince, who recently adopted a similar model.

Official David Bowie Website -

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