The Real
Millennium:
Who Cares?
Is The Time Still Near?
By FLAtRich

Hollywood, CA December 30, 2000 (eXoNews) - Frank Black was my hero. He wasn't sure what was going to happen, but there were signs, so he pursued The Truth. Along with main cohorts Peter Watts and Lara Means,  regular viewers of Millennium, the now defunct Chris Carter television drama, discovered a bit more about the fabled Y2K than the Generally Uninformed Masses (GUM).

We learned about the Millennium Group, first presented as a secretive organization of "ex-Bureau" FBI and other law enforcement agents, and how they were racing against Time to prevent, or at least soften, the blow of a planet-wide catastrophe that would occur after the Midnight of The Century. As Frank Black delved further into The Group, we discovered that they were actually an ancient cult, traced back to the beginning of Christianity at least, and split into two opposing sub-groups: The Owls and The Roosters. The Group's  prediction of terminal chaos was likewise divided into two different theories. One of these said the world might end with a religious big bang on January 1, 2000. The other claimed that at the beginning of Time, a kind of cosmic bubble formed that created a tear in the very fabric of our Universe, and sixty years from January 1, 2000 the tear would somehow rip up our present reality and cast all of us into an alternate version.

Before the end of 1999,  Carter's series was shut down by unappreciative network executives - capped off later by an all too brief wrap-up episode on X-Files - and Millennium fans stopped Waiting and Worrying.

Maybe they shouldn't have tuned out so fast. There are a lot of purists who claim the "real" millennium is January 1, 2001 - not 2000. And even if you are reading this after still another non-catastrophic New Years Eve (in the cosmic sense), there is that cosmic bubble theory to think about!

As I write this, nearly on the Eve of The Midnight of The "Real" Millennium, it does seem like those pesky signs are appearing again and I wonder where Frank Black is now? We may need him soon.

Seriously, folks, The Seven Signs that we have observed in this final week of 2000 follow.

Have a Happy New Year! If there is one, that is :o)>

The First Sign: A Plague of Frogs
By JAMES SONG
Associated Press Writer

HONOLULU December 28, 2000 (AP) - Larry Stevens lives in a secluded rain forest on the east side of the Big Island, a quiet spot where he once enjoyed the peaceful, gentle sounds of nature.

But Stevens hasn't had a good night's sleep in months. Noisy tree frogs have invaded the Hawaiian Islands, and have spread so quickly that state and federal officials say there's little they can do.

"You'd never believe so much noise could come from a creature that small," said Stevens, a 51-year-old social worker.

The cute green frogs, the size of a dime to a quarter, arrived in shipments of agricultural goods, possibly in potted plants, researchers say.

Instead of croaking, they chirp - loud and often. Individual males have piercing chirps that reach as high as 90 to 100 decibels from a foot and a half away. That's comparable to a lawn mower, table saw or helicopter, according to the University of Hawaii's Speech Pathology and Audiology department.

The frogs were first noticed in the mid-1980s in rural Curtistown on the Big Island, but have since spread to parts of Oahu, Maui and Kauai.

From a dozen population sites early last year, the frogs have spread to 150 places on the Big Island, and the state has set up a hot line where residents can call to report their appearance.

Mindy Clark, an orchid farmer in Curtistown, said she has to close her windows since the frogs "infiltrated" her neighborhood.

"Soon as it gets 5:30 (p.m.) they'll start chirping," Clark said. "And they'll go real strong till midnight."

They don't create a major problem in their native Caribbean, where natural predators control their population. But with an exponential reproduction rate and no enemies other than angry humans, the frog population in Hawaii has exploded. In some areas, there are more than 8,000 frogs per acre.

"The sheer number here is the big difference," said Earl Campbell, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Wildlife Research Center. Besides being a nuisance, the frogs compete for food with native birds and wildlife, he said. The frogs can consume as many as 46,000 insects per acre every night. "There is a grave concern this could be a big problem," Campbell said.

Fred Kraus, the alien species coordinator for the state land department, said the frogs may threaten the isle economy by bothering tourists at hotels, lowering property values and inhibiting the export of tropical produce and flowers.

"People are annoyed as hell," Kraus said. "We got a lot of complaints from residents. Some threatened to leave the state."

One woman has reported that her health has failed because the frogs keep her up at night. Other residents said they can't move because they can't sell their home.

Campbell, who heads a field research station in Hilo, has been working with the state to experiment with a pure caffeine spray to control the frog population. It is presumed the pure caffeine causes the frogs to go into cardiac failure. It is not believed to be harmful to humans, native plants and wildlife, but the effects are still being studied. Researchers said the trials look promising, but must be approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, and that could take many months while the frog population and noise grows and spreads. Residents have tried neighborhood roundups, but "they're not making a major dent," Campbell said.

Stevens said he and neighbors went out three nights a week armed with a ladder, flashlights and plastic bags to catch frogs.

"We were elated, we got them all and had them eradicated in our neighborhood, but within four months we had an explosion," he said. "We mobilized more of the neighborhood, but by that time it was hopeless. There was just too many. The eggs hatched. Now they're out of control."

---

On the Net:

Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk (site contains link to hear the frogs): http://www.hear.org/frogs

The Second Sign: Baffling Explosions in the Sky
SYDNEY December 27, 2000 (Reuters) - Australian authorities were baffled by overnight reports of bright lights and booming noises in the sky which shook some houses and prompted fears of falling space junk or meteorites. Police said they received numerous reports of "explosions in the sky, sonic boom-type noises and flare-type lights" over a two hour period on Tuesday night from residents along a 124-mile stretch of the country's east coast.

"There was a huge bang which shook my house," one resident of Bateman's Bay, 175 miles south of Sydney, told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio. "I thought the house next door had blown up."

Police said they had contacted meteorology, air safety, emergency, and defense experts, but were unable to come up with any official reason. A number of small grass fires were also sparked around the nearby capital of Canberra.

Australia's Deep Space Communications Complex said a small meteorite was the most likely explanation for the sightings.
The Third Sign: Ice Babies
By DEAN VISSER
Associated Press Writer

SINGAPORE December 29, 2000 (AP) - Doctors in Singapore said Friday they have achieved the world's first successful birth of a human being conceived from eggs and sperm that were both frozen.

Actually, two births: The procedure produced a healthy set of twins, said Dr. Chia Choy May, who led the medical team conducting the procedure at Thomson Medical Center.

Chia said it was the first birth of a baby conceived from frozen eggs and frozen sperm. She said the procedure was extremely difficult and much more research is needed before it could be used on a large scale.

"But we know that it's possible," she said. "It's one more option for patients."

There have been about 30 births reported worldwide using frozen eggs and non-frozen sperm, and many more using frozen sperm and non-frozen eggs. The cells are joined using in vitro fertilization and then implanted into the uterus.

The parents of the Singapore twins "had a more complicated health history than usual," Chia said. The father's semen contained no sperm, and the mother could only ovulate with the help of drugs, she said.

Doctors had to surgically obtain sperm cells from the father's testicular tissue and search through it for live, mature sperm. It took the team four hours to find eight usable sperm cells, which had to be frozen in order to preserve them. An initial attempt to fertilize the mother's non-frozen eggs with frozen sperm was not successful, so the remaining eggs were frozen for subsequent attempts. Five months later, an attempt using both frozen eggs and sperm resulted in a pregnancy which ended in miscarriage. The next try led to a successful birth, Chia said. The babies were born in recent months, Chia said. She and others at the medical center would not reveal the date of the birth or the sexes of the twins, citing the need protect the parents' privacy.

The Fourth Sign: Technological Failures
MOSCOW December 28, 2000 (AP) - Russia lost six communications satellites Thursday when a booster rocket carrying them to space from a far-northern cosmodrome failed shortly after launch. Three civilian- and three military-communications satellites were launched Wednesday from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in the Russian Arctic atop a Ukrainian-made Cyclone-3 booster rocket.

The first and second stages of the rocket functioned normally but the third one failed, leading to the loss of the satellites, Strategic Missile Forces spokesman Ilshat Bakchurin said in a telephone interview. Radio contact with the satellites was lost early Thursday and they burned up in the atmosphere shortly afterward, scattering debris into the Arctic Ocean some 55 kilometres southeast of Wrangel Island off the Far Eastern Chukotka Peninsula. The debris caused no damage, officials said.

The bad news came a month after a U.S. communications satellite failed to make contact with ground controllers and was lost soon after blasting off from Plesetsk on Nov. 21 atop a Russian Cosmos-3 rocket. A preliminary investigation into the failure suggested ground controllers at Plesetsk were not to blame, Russian officials said. The satellite belonged to the Longmont, Colo.-based company Earth Watch.

Wednesday's failure also came two days after Mission Control in Moscow lost contact for 20 hours with the unoccupied Mir space station. The accident was blamed on Mir's batteries losing power. Controllers said they regained full control over Mir on Tuesday. Georgy Polishchuk, a deputy director of the Russian Aerospace Agency, blamed the loss of the satellites on the booster, manufactured by the Ukrainian company Yuzhmash. The space agency has suspended launches of Cyclone-3 rockets until the cause of the failed launch is determined, agency spokesman Vyacheslav Mikhailichenko said.

A similar failed launch two years ago nearly led to the loss of six Strela military satellites but space officials managed to save them. The failed launch could deal a painful blow to the cash-strapped Aerospace Agency, which is struggling to maintain Russia's aging satellite network. Its chief, Yuri Koptev, said Wednesday that Russia had 109 satellites in orbit as of Dec. 1, and 66 of them had already surpassed their designated lifetime - meaning they were no longer sending signals.

In recent months, the pace of satellite launches has increased but it isn't enough to keep the necessary number of satellites in operation, Koptev said.
The Fifth Sign: Environmental Ravages
By Tamora Vidaillet

HONG KONG December 28, 2000 (Reuters) - Rare pink dolphins still grace Hong Kong's murky waters, but toxic industrial waste from China, over-fishing and massive infrastructure development appear to be stacking the odds against their survival.  Experts say up to 1,000 pink colored dolphins, known as Chinese White Dolphins, may survive the environmental ravages brought on by thriving trade and an explosive economic boom in southern China.  The unusual dolphin was chosen as a mascot for Hong Kong to celebrate the return of the former British colony to China in 1997.

Now the days of the endangered Pearl River Delta dolphin population seem numbered, with environmentalists arguing too little is being done to ensure their survival.

"Nearly every single calf that is born in the Pearl river delta dies from pollution so we are in effect losing a whole generation," local dolphin expert Lindsay Porter told Reuters.

"Unless concrete action is taken, we'll probably see a dramatic crash in figures when surviving calves reach sexual maturity in around 10 years," said Porter, who works at the Swire Institute of Marine Science.  Porter believes as few as 180 pink dolphins survive in the Pearl River Delta area.

Chinese White Dolphins are from the sousa chinensis species of cetaceans, which can be found in South Africa, Australia and up the Chinese Coast to the Yangtze River. What makes Asia's dwindling population, which lives largely in the Pearl River Delta spanning Hong Kong and southern China, special is that calves are gray and turn white or pink when adult.

POTENT KILLERS

The clear, quiet waters Hong Kong's dolphins once enjoyed have become a dumping ground for some 190,000 cubic meters of screened but untreated raw sewage as well as industrial waste from southern China, according to Dolphinwatch, a commercial tour operator which collaborates with wildlife protection groups.  The biggest threat, experts say, is the debilitating impact of industrial effluents used to cool manufacturing equipment being flushed out of southern China's economic zones. Organochlorines, including the pesticide DDT which is still used in China, have been found in dolphin tissue samples at alarmingly high concentrations and are destroying the mammals' immune systems and killing off calves.

The dolphins also face other threats, including heavy boat traffic even within the confines of their 12 square kilometer marine park and the increasing depletion of nearby fish stocks because of over fishing. A number of dolphins bare the scars of run-ins with high-speed boat traffic and from the fishing nets of the territory's scarcely regulated fishing fleet.

Land reclamation work at a planned Walt Disney theme park site on Lantau island has also reduced food stocks, killing millions of fish, according to lawmaker Wong Yung-kan who represents the fishing trade.

HALF-BAKED

Environmental awareness has improved in Hong Kong but the public at large remains apathetic, allowing the government to get away with half-baked efforts to protect the Pearl River Delta dolphins, environmentalists complain. Though Hong Kong has enacted strong legislation to protect natural habitats from development and to conserve wildlife, enforcement remains a burning issue. Dolphinwatch guides are quick to point out that a Hong Kong marine park, originally called a "Dolphin Sanctuary," has lax restrictions on boating and fishing activities and serves as a platform for Hong Kong's Aircraft Fuel Receiving Facility for the recently built airport in Lantau island.

"Huge oil tankers dock within the marine park to offload aircraft fuel. This poses an environmental threat to the dolphins," said volunteer Dolphinwatch guide Vivian Kwok.

If Hong Kong's dolphins are to survive, pressure needs to be mounted on Chinese authorities to clean up the environment and control the release of effluent into the sea, said Porter.

"There is a lot of monitoring done by a cross-border liaison group but little is actually done. There's no reason why you cannot have a clean environment and a good economy."

Hong Kong should be able to influence what goes on in southern China because so many Hong Kong companies have invested in the mainland and use China as their manufacturing base.

"It is a total cop out to say this is China's problem and not Hong Kong's," she said.

The Sixth Sign: Death In The Air
TOKYO December 28, 2000 (Reuters) - Japan's first survey of "economy class syndrome" found Thursday that 25 passengers have died of the condition at Tokyo's Narita airport in the past eight years, a figure likely to put pressure on airlines to tackle the issue. According to the study by a clinic at Narita airport, 100 to 150 passengers arriving in Tokyo on long-distance flights are treated each year for the problem, believed to be caused by immobility and cramped seating on long flights.

Of the passengers treated for the condition each year, 50 to 60 cases were regarded as serious, said Dr Toshiro Makino, head of the New Tokyo International Airport Clinic. The long hours in cramped conditions are believed to cause deep-vein thrombosis, or formation of blood clots, and it can be fatal if the clots circulate into the heart or the lungs.

The syndrome hit the headlines in October after a 28-year-old British bride-to-be collapsed and died at the end of a 20-hour flight home from Australia, where she had watched the Sydney Olympic Games.

Her death prompted a British parliamentary committee to issue a report urging airlines to warn passengers of the risks of developing the potentially fatal blood clots.
The Seventh Sign: Pets Drive Us Crazy!
By Jerome Burne

LONDON December 7, 2000 (The Times) -  Two American scientists have suggested that schizophrenia is caused by a virus found in cats’ faeces.

"I like cats," says the American psychiatrist Fuller Torrey. But many Stateside cat lovers can’t say the same thing about him. Not since he cast a slur on their beloved pets by suggesting that cats could be the cause of schizophrenia.

Torrey, the Professor of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University Health Service in Bethesda, Maryland, has been pointing the finger at cats — or more accurately at the parasite toxoplasma found in their faeces — for some years. Initially the suggestion seemed so bizarre that few took it seriously. But he has recently acquired some heavyweight supporters, and several studies have come up with results in his favour. Now he is poised to try the anti-viral drug Acyclovir on a number of schizophrenics, and there are plans to treat others with antibiotics. If there are clear signs of improvement, then cat lovers will really have something to worry about.

Schizophrenia is a deeply distressing psychotic illness that causes hallucinations, delusions and a decline in an ability to think clearly. It usually emerges before the age of 30, and often in the late teens. But precisely why is still a mystery. The Freudian notion that the condition is the result of poor upbringing — with the mother largely responsible — is no longer taken seriously. Genes cannot be the whole story; the estimates of the chances of one identical twin developing it when the other has it vary between about 28 and 50 per cent. In comparison, the “concordance” between twins for polio is about 36 per cent. Something in the environment must be triggering schizophrenia.

In 1995 Torrey and Robert Yolken, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University, suggested that there could be a link between schizophrenia and a virus transmitted from cats. Initially, this seemed daft. The rather thin evidence was a finding that more schizophrenics (51 per cent) had been exposed to a house cat during childhood than the control group (38 per cent). However, this notion received much more solid support last year from an exhaustive study of 53,000 frozen blood samples taken from pregnant women during the 1950s as part of an anti-polio campaign.

Stephen Buka, from the Harvard School of Public Health, located about 100 children of those women who had subsequently developed schizophrenia. He found that their mothers had significantly higher levels of antibodies to the viruses for type 2 herpes and toxoplasmosis — the infectious disease caught from cat faeces (about 1 per cent of cats carry the parasite). The mothers of schizophrenics were 4.5 times more likely to have antibodies to toxoplasmosis and 7.5 times more likely to have antibodies against the sexually transmitted herpes simplex type 2.

Torrey and Yolken are now exploring the idea that the cat and the herpes virus are involved in a two-step process. The idea is that they somehow trigger another type of virus that normally lives harmlessly in our DNA but under certain conditions is transformed into something far more malign. Known as endogenous retroviruses, they are relics from infections that affected our ancestors. Torrey and Yolken’s proposal in a paper published in Brain Research: Brain Research Reviews last March was that some other virus, such as herpes or toxoplasmosis, activates them in the womb or in infancy and they begin to wreak havoc, particularly in an area of the brain known as the hippocampus. However, the damage does not show up until the brain stops growing in adolescence.

There is a growing amount of circumstantial evidence that some sort of virus may be involved. Other viruses that have been implicated include MSRV (multiple sclerosis-related virus) also recently found in MS sufferers, and the Borna virus, long known to cause behavioural problems in infected horses and other animals.

The key to tracking down evidence for Torrey’s theory has been the development of sophisticated DNA-based techniques that allow researchers to identify minute fragments of genes from the bacteria and viruses. PCR (polymerase chain reaction), for instance, allows scientists to replicate small fragments of microbes’ genetic material until they have created enough to work with in the laboratory.

Refinement of the electron microscope has also allowed researchers to spot the “footprints” of infection left in the cerebrospinal fluid. But so far Torrey and Yolken have failed to find evidence of toxoplasma in the brains of schizophrenics. “The brain is a big place,” says Yolken. “If these microbes were causing the disease in an obvious way, it would have been spotted long ago.”

But Torrey is not giving up. A crucial tool in his hunt for the schizophrenia virus is his brain bank, set up in 1994, which is fed by a network of supporters who collect the brains of mentally ill people under 40 who have died from car crashes, heart attacks and suicides. He now has 226 brains stored in 44 freezers from which he sends slices and sections out to researchers to check for the viral fragments and proteins that provide evidence of virus activity.

Despite the advances that Torrey’s viral theory has made it has not overturned the mainstream explanation for schizophrenia — that it is a neurodevelopmental disease. This simply says that some sort of damage was done during very early brain development, and viruses are merely one of many possible causes.

“Hippocampal damage in the womb is a likely cause,” says Dr Daniel Weinberger of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “But the possible candidates aren’t limited to viruses; other suspects include toxins, damage to the mother or poor nutrition.” Critics of the virus theory point out that infectious diseases such as rabies or polio typically cause very specific damage to cells or regions of the brain, while schizophrenia is marked by broad and scattered types of change.

“We’ve done work on the idea that there could be a viral link with schizophrenia,” says Professor Tim Crow of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford and an adviser to the mental health charity Sane. “Influenza was a candidate at one time but we couldn’t find a connection and we have also followed up suggestions of a virus in spinal fluid of schizophrenics but didn’t find anything. However, it is certainly a plausible idea. An infection would explain why schizophrenia persists in the population, but you would also have to explain why rates of schizophrenia don’t vary in different populations, which is what you would expect an infection to do.”

Professor Crow is looking at the role of retroviruses — viruses that have inserted their genes into human DNA — in brain development. “It is possible that another infection could trigger a response in these viruses that we all carry in our genetic code, but we need a much clearer theory about how it happens.”

Such a theory would remove the particular guilt that many feel parents still feel when their children start developing mental disorders, especially as it also holds out the hope of far more specific cures for schizophrenia. If it does prove possible to identify the viruses involved and discover what makes them become so destructive, then doctors may be able to treat schizophrenia with anti-viral drugs, immune boosters or, in the case of bacterial infections, with simple antibiotics.

On A Brighter Note: They Did Find Those Stolen Koalas!
By Michael Kahn

SAN FRANCISCO December 29, 2000 (Reuters) - Leaping lizards, the missing marsupials have been found.

Police recovered two rare female Koala bears on Thursday that were bear-napped from their home at the San Francisco Zoo and later they arrested two teenagers, aged 15 and 17, for allegedly stealing them. Police said they found the missing marsupials, Leanne, 7, and her mother, Pat, 15, early on Thursday morning in a San Francisco home after acting on an anonymous tip.

"It is a very strange case," Officer Jim Deignan, said in a telephone interview. "The San Francisco Police Department is very pleased this case has come to a happy ending."

Zoo workers retrieved the creatures soon after they were found and quickly returned the pair to their climate-controlled home they share with five other koalas, said Zoo spokeswoman Nancy Chan. Still, it will take a few days to see if the pair suffer any lingering effects from their adventure. But Chan said Zoo workers have already allowed the animals back into the yard where visitors can watch the koalas do what they do best -- eat and sleep 18 hours daily.

"They were so happy they were munching away," Chan said in a telephone interview.

Zoo workers discovered the animals missing from the zoo's "Koala Crossing" exhibit on Wednesday morning after it appeared someone had used a skylight to slip into the building where the animals lived. Police have no motive for the crime but speculate the alleged thieves may have wanted to sell the koalas, which are worth up to an estimated $10,000 each. Other possibilities were simply that somebody may have wanted the cute creatures for Christmas. Still, the theft raised concern for the safety of the animals which fare poorly without specialized care. Koalas subsist primarily on fresh eucalyptus leaves and would weaken quickly or even die within days if given the wrong diet. The animals also live in a highly regulated environment of about 65 degrees and minimal stress. The elder koala also has several medical problems including a potentially cancerous mass on its face and an infected eye.

"They are one of the few animals that can die from stress," Chan said. "They are kind of nervous animals and do not like to be handled and would be rather left alone."

Once hunted nearly to extinction for its thick fur, the koala now lives in eucalyptus forests in eastern Australia, where it is protected by strict law. Pat arrived in San Francisco in 1986 and later gave birth to Leanne and another female Janie. Leanne has had three male offspring.

It was also the second animal theft from the zoo this year. In September, a rare garter snake named Sarah was stolen from the children's zoo.

Chris Carter's Millennium continues to air regularly in the US late at night on the FX Network and elsewhere in other countries. To learn more about what some call the greatest dramatic television series of the 20th Century, check out these sites:

Millennium on FX - http://www.fxnetwork.com/shows/hits/millenium.html

MILLENNIAL MUSIC - http://www.geocities.com/TelevisionCity/Set/4049/sounds.html

Shiver's Millennium Page - http://infomatch.com/~carrolln/milhom.htm

The Tribute Page - http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Vault/3264/

 


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