Planetary Alignment!
The Blob, Singing Apes,
Uncle Miltie's Final Bow,
Japanese Robots & More!
Spectacular Planetary Alignment in April!

By Helen Briggs
BBC News 

Greenwich, UK April 3, 2002 (BBC) - The five planets visible to the naked eye will line up in the sky at the end of April. 

Astronomers say the rare grouping of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn may not be seen again for a century. 

A similar arrangement of planets happened two years ago but was not visible from Earth because of the position of the Sun. It was accompanied by scare stories that our planet could be pulled off its path or struck by extraordinary tides. 

The Earth, of course, survived and astronomers say this year's planetary show is no cause for concern. The five planets will begin to be visible without a telescope from 20 April. 

Robert Warren of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, UK, said the best time to view them would be about half an hour after sunset in an area away from lights where there is a clear horizon.

He told BBC News Online: "Looking west, note where the sun sets (just past due west) and take a line up and left. About 11 O'clock - if the sky were a clock - you will see the planets in order of distance from the Sun. Mercury, being very close to the Sun, will be just a few degrees off the horizon and quite faint and Jupiter will be about 60 degrees so you'll have to look up quite high. Over the few hours after sunset you'll be able to see all the planets follow the Sun below the horizon in an almost exact straight line." 

Over the next two or three weeks, the planets will move closer together and become more bunched. By 4 May, Saturn will be "overtaking" Mars to form a triangular pattern with Venus. The Moon will often be in the same part of the sky as the planets, appearing to jump about between them from night to night. 

Dr Warren added: "Since so many astronomical events come and go very quickly this one is interesting because it gives us something to view over quite a sustained period. This demonstrates perfectly how the planets - Greek for 'wandering stars' - baffled ancient astronomers who could not understand why they moved differently to everything else in the night sky and how they could overtake one another." 

The array of five planets will provide a planet watching opportunity that will not be repeated for 100 years. Similar groupings will occur in September 2040 and July 2060 but the planets will not be as close together or as visible to the naked eye. 

The cluster follows another rare astronomical treat. The brightest comet for nearly 8 years has been visible in the western sky after sunset for the last few weeks. The wandering comet, called Ikeya-Zhang after its Japanese and Chinese co-discoverers, re-appeared in the inner Solar System only a few weeks ago. 

It would have last been visible in the 1600s.

Sick Agent Orange Vets Owed Benefits

SAN FRANCISCO April 02, 2002 (Reuters) — A U.S. appeals court ruled Monday that Vietnam veterans who contracted prostate cancer and diabetes after exposure to Agent Orange should get retroactive disability payments, setting legal precedent that could cover a wide range of illnesses associated with the toxic defoliant. 

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that held the Veterans Administration incorrectly interpreted rules to deny retroactive payments to veterans who filed claims after early 1994. 

The court's three-judge panel held that the VA was bound under the terms of a 1991 consent decree to pay the benefits, in many cases back to the date the veteran first claimed them. The ruling marked a victory for activists who have been seeking compensation and care for tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans who have fallen sick after battlefield exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide that contains the known carcinogen dioxin. 

The National Veterans Legal Services Program, which filed the initial Agent Orange suit in 1986, said the court's decision would guarantee payments to an estimated 1,200 veterans with Agent Orange–related prostate cancer as well as thousands more who suffer from adult-onset diabetes. 

In both cases, the Veterans Administration had sought to deny retroactive payments on the grounds that the diseases' connection with Agent Orange was not scientifically established when payment regulations were promulgated in 1994. 

Barton Stichman, the group's executive director, said the appeals court's ruling could have a wide impact by forcing the Veterans Administration to pay retroactive benefits for illnesses that future scientific research may tie to Agent Orange. "As time goes on, as a result of additional scientific studies, it becomes clearer that other diseases are associated with Agent Orange," Stichman said. "The Veterans Administration is going to have to accept that the same legal theory will cover these cases." 

A Veterans Administration spokeswoman said VA lawyers were reviewing the ruling and would have no immediate comment. 

At least 9 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed on Vietnam between 1962 and 1970. The chemical got its nickname from the orange stripe on the barrels in which it came. 

It has been linked with 10 diseases, including lung cancer, prostate cancer, and diabetes. Scientists are also probing possible links between Agent Orange and childhood leukemia among children of veterans, while Vietnam's government has blamed Agent Orange for causing tens of thousands of birth defects in Vietnam and demanded compensation. 

After Agent Orange was found to cause cancer in laboratory rats, the U.S. military suspended its use in 1970 and halted all herbicide spraying in Vietnam the following year.

Japan Slaughters 440 Whales for Study

TOKYO April 3, 2002 (AP) - A Japanese whaling fleet was bound for home Wednesday with 440 minke whales killed during a six-month scientific expedition in Antarctic waters, fishing officials said.

The fleet's five vessels were scheduled to enter their home ports in southern Japan early Thursday, said Takaaki Sakamoto, a spokesman at Japan's Fisheries Agency.

Though the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986 to protect the endangered mammals, Japan has been organizing whaling expeditions for scientific purposes since 1987 under a program authorized by the IWC.

The Japanese government says that the expeditions are intended to gauge whales' migration patterns, population trends and diet. Opponents say that the program is commercial whaling in disguise, because after the research the whale meat is sold to wholesalers, and most of it ends up in restaurants.

Japan has been lobbying hard to get the ban on commercial whaling lifted, and is expected to make another push at a IWC meeting scheduled this year in the southwestern Japanese port of Shimonoseki.

The research whaling program costs Japan about $37 million a year, part of which is paid for by sales of the meat, the government says.

Probe Into Cuba's 'Sunken City'

By Andrew Cawthorne 

HAVANA March 29, 2002 (Reuters) - Scientific investigators said on Friday they hope to better determine later this year if an unusual rock formation deep off Cuba's coast could be a sunken city from a previously unknown ancient civilization. 

"These are extremely peculiar structures ... They have captured all our imagination," Cuban geologist Manuel Iturralde said at a conference after a week on a boat over the site. 

"If I had to explain this geologically, I would have a hard time," he told reporters later, saying examination of rock samples due to be collected in a few months should shed further light on the formation off the Guanahacabibes Peninsula on Cuba's western tip. 

Iturralde, research director of Cuba's Natural History Museum, has joined Canadian exploration company Advanced Digital Communications (ADC) in efforts to solve the mystery of the smooth, geometrically shaped, granite-like rocks. They are laid out in structures resembling pyramids, roads and other structures at more than 2,000 feet in a 7-3/4 mile-square area. 

ADC has suggested they might belong to a civilization that colonized the American continent thousands of years ago, possibly sitting on an island that was sunk to great depths by cataclysmic earth movement such as an earthquake. 

That theory, and its inevitable parallel with the myth of the lost city of Atlantis, has provoked skepticism from some scientists around the world who say the depth and age -- ADC has spoken of at least 6,000 years' old -- were not credible. 

Some European archaeologists said the stones, stumbled upon in July 2000 while ADC was hunting with sonar equipment for treasure and sunken Spanish galleons, could be formed by natural limestone. 

But Iturralde's conclusion that there is no immediately apparent natural explanation for the rocks has lent credence to ADC's theory.

"It appears like there is some kind of intelligent design in the structure's configuration and planning," ADC's Soviet-born Canadian ocean engineer, Paulina Zelitsky, said on the sidelines of the geophysical conference in Havana. 

"I have worked in this field over 30 years and I have never before seen natural structures shaped with such intelligent symmetry and plan. From the very first moment, I was suspecting that these structures were not natural." 

While Iturralde gave evidence in his paper on Friday for seismic movement at the site, and possible submerging of the land, he drew short of definitively concluding the rocks were not shaped by nature. If, however, that theory was proven, it would revolutionize understanding of the history of the Americas, he told reporters. 

"It would change a lot our knowledge of humans and the evolution of the Americas," Iturralde said. 

"Recently, a French archaeologist found some evidence of people being here in South America 40,000 years ago, something we never expect, so you need to be always open to things that you are not expecting, that are not in the framework of present-day knowledge ... We may have found something that nobody has thought about." 

ADC plans to take a specially designed robot to the site in a few months to take samples of the rocks and the sediment they are embedded in to try to date them and seek signs they may have once been on dry land. They will also be searching for any sign of human life such as drawings, sculptures or artifacts. 

"To drill samples from these structures is not easy because they look like granite. And to drill granite at a depth of 600 meters is very difficult," Zelitsky said. 

She said their discoveries could make history. "I think we are talking about the origins of the American continent. There are many hypotheses about how the continent was colonized ... There is quite a controversy, and I think our discovery will be the first physical evidence of the true origins of developed civilization in the Americas."

Mysterious 'Blob' Off Florida Coast Baffles Scientists

By Sue Anne Pressley
Washington Post Staff Writer

MIAMI April 1, 2002 (Washington Post) - Maybe the fish know what it is.

Since early January, a mysterious phenomenon has darkened the waters off the southern Gulf Coast of Florida, sending scientists scrambling to identify what is going on, raising some concerns among tourists, and keeping the fish away -- but not, it appears, killing them in any great numbers.

Called black water, black goo, the blob, the mass at its peak in February was as much as 100 miles long, extending from just south of Naples to the Florida Keys. It now appears to be dissipating as it slowly drifts south through the Keys, a shadow of its former self.

But what in the world was it?

"We don't know what it is," said Allison McDonald of the Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg. "It appears marine life is avoiding it, which is another mystery. How come they know to avoid it?"

From satellite imagery, the blob appears black, but divers have described it as a "creepy green." Although samples were recently taken, scientists say the black water already had become diluted and "elusive." They were unable to sample it when it was most intensely dark.

At a meeting Thursday, scientists from all over the state agreed on one thing: It probably was not caused by runoff from Florida rivers that flow into the Gulf. Beyond that, their best guess is that it was some kind of massive plankton bloom.

"One of the characteristics of a heavy algae bloom is that at night, plants don't produce oxygen but use it up, take the oxygen out of the water at night, so fish would avoid that area. Because they of course would die," said Richard H. Pierce, a marine chemist and toxicologist with Mote Marine Laboratory, a nonprofit research institute in Sarasota. "A bloom of microscopic algae absorbs sunlight and would make the water look black."

Scientists say the Florida "event," as they call it, differs from the "dead zone" identified a few years ago near the mouth of the Mississippi River in the northern Gulf. Florida's coastal waters have not been affected by that occurrence.

"That's a situation where large areas of the Gulf are robbed of oxygen and they have large mortalities of fish and crabs and all sorts of things," said Gil McRae with the Florida Marine Research Institute. "The event we have going on has been labeled a dead zone in the media, but there is no problem with oxygen and there is no evidence this is a direct threat to any fish at all."

McRae said researchers are still taking samples. "It's a moving target," he said. "It's floating around; it comes and goes."

The blackness came to light in January with anecdotal reports from fishermen and divers that there appeared to be no fish swimming in the affected areas. From the air, observers noticed the dark cast. Although there were some reports last month of dead algae and dead sponges in the affected area, scientists said the blob apparently posed no public health hazard. Last weekend, however, divers off Key West reported finding small dead fish at the ocean bottom.

Parts of the Florida coast have recently been plagued with the "red tide," an overgrowth of algae that has a red cast in sunlight and produces neurotoxins that cause massive fish kills and respiratory difficulties and stinging eyes in humans.

During the mid-1990s, Florida Bay experienced a rash of algae blooms, which devastated sponges but did not kill fish.

Whatever the latest outbreak was, scientists wish they had had more time, and money, to study it.

"This is tremendously fascinating," Pierce said. "We are very, very interested in understanding, first of all, what the cause is and what effect this is having on the ecology of Florida Bay as it passes through the Keys, the impact on the reefs."

It also has been frustrating, he said. "We were not able to get out there when it was so intensive. In the first place, there was no funding available for people to stop what they were doing and run out and take samples," he said. "It also was not that well-documented; there was some satellite imagery, some anecdotal information. Unfortunately, we really don't know that much about it yet."

Five Protesters Arrested At Vieques
By John Marino 

SAN JUAN April 02, 2002 (Reuters) — Security personnel arrested five protesters for trespassing on the U.S. Navy's disputed Vieques bombing range Monday as the military resumed war games on the Puerto Rican island. 

In the first such arrests since Sept. 11, five members of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, including PIP Vice President Maria de Lourdes Santiago, were detained inside the fence of the Camp Garcia military base, miles from the bombing range, about an hour after Navy jets began strafing. 

"There were five women who entered the range illegally, and they were detained by security forces," Navy spokesman Lt. Corey Barker said. 

Protesters have been trying to halt the Navy's bombing exercises on Vieques, a 33,000-acre island off eastern Puerto Rico, since a civilian security guard was killed in a training accident three years ago. 

The Navy has conducted bombing at its Vieques base for more than 50 years and contends the training site is critical to America's battle readiness. But locals say the bombing has polluted the island's air, water, and land. 

The last exercises held at Vieques took place in October, when protest groups called a moratorium on civil disobedience out of respect for the victims of the attacks on New York and Washington and out of fears that protesters might be in danger because of the heightened security at the base after Sept. 11. But protest groups vowed to continue their civil disobedience campaign when the Navy training resumed. A slated round of exercises in January was scuttled when a carrier group scheduled to train in Vieques was deployed early. 

Vieques Mayor Damaso Serrano, who served four months in federal prison for trespassing on the bombing range during war games last April, led a flotilla of local fishers and religious leaders this weekend to a small cay just offshore from the Navy's bombing range to protest the plans to resume bombing. 

Protest groups said Monday there were more trespassers still out on the Navy bombing range. "There are more people inside," said Nilda Medina of the anti-Navy group the Committee for Rescue and Development of Vieques, who declined to provide numbers. 

Despite reports that protest activities over the weekend drew fewer people than similar activities last year, Medina said the anti-Navy protest movement remains strong. "There is a lot of enthusiasm. The people in this movement are committed to the idea of peace for Vieques," she said. 

The Sept. 11 attacks muted several U.S. politicians who took an active role in pushing for an end to Navy training at Vieques. The Rev. Al Sharpton and attorney Robert Kennedy Jr. were among the celebrities arrested last year. 

Puerto Rican Gov. Sila Calderon, who was elected in November 2000 on a pledge to push for an immediate halt to the war games, has also become less energetic in her efforts since Sept. 11, saying she trusts President Bush to keep a pledge to remove the military force from Vieques by May 2003. 

Since protests erupted in the wake of the security guard's death in April 1999, the Navy, under presidential order, has restricted its Vieques training to dummy munitions.
Violent Galaxy Seen in 3D

By Dr David Whitehouse 
BBC Science Editor 

Hawaii March 22, 2002 (BBC) - Astronomers using the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii have obtained a three-dimensional picture of the flow of gas and stars at the violent center of an active galaxy.

The scientists used a new instrument - the Integral Field Unit (IFU), designed and built at Durham University, UK. 

The data reveal the internal dynamics of the galaxy and show huge pair of jets hurling material thousands of light-years away from what is probably a black hole at the core. 

"We are very excited by these results and the superb capabilities that the IFU has added to the Gemini telescope," said Dr Jeremy Allington-Smith, from Durham. 

"In effect we have added an extra dimension to the main instrument so that it can physically map the motion of gas and stars at any point in the image of the object under study," he added. "So far we, have used it to map the motion of gas within the nucleus of a powerful active galaxy, NGC 1068, and the orbits of stars within more normal galaxies, but it can also be used to study regions within our own galaxy where stars are being formed." 

The IFU uses hundreds of tiny optical fibers, each thinner than a human hair, with tiny micro-lenses that guide light from the telescope's image into a spectrograph where it is analyzed. 

The spectrograph produces one individual spectrum for each fiber - a total of 1,500 individual spectra for the entire image. The data can reveal details of the physical conditions and velocity of the gas, dust and stars. 

Dr Gerald Cecil, of the University of North Carolina, US, recently studied this particular galaxy using the Hubble Space Telescope and believes that the new Gemini image will clarify many patterns revealed by Hubble. 

"Large ground-based telescopes like Gemini are the perfect compliment to Hubble because they can collect so much more light. But it's critical to use all this light cunningly, and not throw most of it away as standard spectrographs do. 

Gemini astronomer Dr Bryan Miller added: "By using this technique we add an extra dimension to the data and can essentially make a movie with one click of the shutter." 

And Gemini North Associate Director Dr Jean-Rene Roy explained: "The Gemini data of NGC 1068 reveal one of the lesser known features of galaxy jets. For the first time, we are able to clearly see the jets' expanding lobe as its hypersonic bow shock slams directly into the underlying gas disc of the galaxy. It's like a huge wave smashing on to a cosmic shoreline."

Runaway Slave's Book to Hit Shelves
New York April 1, 2002 (BBC) - A manuscript by a runaway slave dating back 150 years is to be published this week. 

The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts tells the apparently autobiographical story of her life as a young house slave in North Carolina, ending in her flight to New Jersey. 

It was described by its publishers, Warner Books, as "the only known novel by a female African American slave, and quite possibly the first novel written by a black woman anywhere". 

The 300-page manuscript was discovered last year by Henry Louis Gates Jr, a professor of Afro-American studies at Harvard. 

"It's like reading over the shoulder of a fugitive slave," he told USA Today. "There's no meditation between her and the text, no abolitionist telling her how or what to write." 

The work, described as a celebration of freedom, was written using a sharpened goose quill on manuscript made from linen and cotton rag paper. Experts have dated the age of the paper and ink to prove that it was authentic and written before 1860. 

It will be published unedited, preserving the author's spelling mistakes and crossings-out. 

The novel offers insight into the relationship between women slaves and slave owners' wives, as well describing the prejudice shown by domestic slaves towards those who worked in the fields. It also mentions the sexual dynamics between the slave owners, their wives and the slaves. 

Literary critics believe it may have been influenced by Charles Dickens's Bleak House, which was published a few years earlier. 

Little is known about Crafts, who may have been using a pseudonym, and no one has been able to trace any descendants. Prof Gates is appealing for anyone with a clue to the author's identity to contact him.
Oldest-known Solar Eclipse Recorded in Stone

By Vanessa Thomas

Ireland March 28, 2002 ( - In the Irish countryside, large mounds called cairns mark the burial sites of the country's prehistoric neolithic people. Scientists have come to realize that these structures were constructed in relation to astronomical events and mark specific times of the year such as solstices and equinoxes — much like to the famous Stonehenge in England.

However, archaeologists remain puzzled over mysterious geometric shapes carved in stone at these megalithic sites. 

One Irish archaeoastronomer believes he knows what some of the strange carvings mean. Paul Griffin is convinced that numerous circular markings represent the neolithic people's "sky gods," the sun and the moon. Some of the petroglyphs may even be the earliest known records of solar eclipses — centuries older than ancient Chinese accounts. In fact, one set of markings appears to document a near-total solar eclipse on November 30, 3340 B.C.

Using The Digital Universe astronomy simulation software, Griffin found an astronomical match for some of the carvings at the Loughcrew cairn site approximately 50 miles northwest of Dublin. The software shows that during the late afternoon of that autumn day in 3340 B.C., the people of Loughcrew would've witnessed an annular eclipse which blotted out 98.2% of the sun. According to The Digital Universe simulation, at mid-eclipse the annular ring would've been broken at the sun's southern limb, creating an incomplete circle of light. The sun would have still been partially eclipsed when it slipped below the horizon. 

In one chamber of the Loughcrew L mound, circular carvings correspond to the relative positions of the sun and moon in the morning. A nearby horseshoe-shaped ring might symbolize the sun's broken ring at mid-eclipse, while two overlapping circles resemble the sun and moon at sunset. 

When Griffin saw the simulation "everything clicked" he says. The eclipse on November 30, 3340 B.C. was the only match out of 92 solar eclipses Griffin investigated. He adds that the date of the eclipse also matches archeologists' estimates for the age of the Loughcrew mounds. 

The charred bones of approximately 48 people were found in the same chamber as the carved eclipse symbols. Griffin postulates that the panicked community may have performed human sacrifices to appease their sky gods in the hopes the sun would rise whole again the following morning. 

When the complete sun did rise the next day, the people, grieving for their lost loved ones while also celebrating the sun's healthy return, may have erected a stone pillar outside the chamber to commemorate the event. The free-standing pillar is made of a unique limestone unlike any of the surrounding rocks. "It stands out because they wanted it to stand out," Griffin explains. He calculates that the pillar is placed where morning sunlight, breaking over another Loughcrew mound and entering Cairn L, would've struck the pillar at dawn the day after the eclipse.

In 1980, two researchers, Martin Brennan and Jack Roberts, witnessed one such event and described the sunlit pillar in their book "The Stones of Time." 

Working with time over five millennia is tricky, Griffin admits, for Earth's alignment with the cosmos changes with time. And like any scientist with a new theory, he has his share of skeptics. Some astronomers, using different software with different circumstances explaining how cosmic events would've played out at Loughcrew, doubt an eclipse occurred on the date Griffin proposes.

Some feel the Neolithic people lacked the sophistication to memorialize the eclipse in this way. Others have conflicting theories for what the stone carvings mean. But Griffin believes the petroglyphs, human remains, and alignments all seem to connect with the ancient eclipse modeled by The Digital Universe. The evidence, he says, "is there for anyone who wants to see it."

On the web - 

Canadian Cree Get First of $2.2 Billion Payment
By Mike Fox
BBC News

Quebec April 1, 2002 (BBC) - The Cree Indians of northern Quebec are to receive the first payment of part of a historic $2.2 billion deal to settle decades of legal battles with the Quebec Government. 

In return, the Cree are allowing environmental assessments to start on a huge new hydro project. 

For the first time, the Cree will receive at least $44 million a year for the first 50 years of this agreement, including royalties from the hydro projects on their ancestral lands that generate over half Quebec's electricity, and from forestry and logging. But many Cree are angry that hundreds of square kilometers of hunting land will be flooded. This new agreement between the Cree and the Quebec Government was negotiated in secrecy between the leaders on both sides. 

When it was announced, it was a shock to most of those in the 12,000-strong Cree nation. Many felt that it went against their belief that the land is sacred and must not be harmed. 

"The land is the base of our strength, and if we give up too much, there might not be enough to use to protect the land that might be left there," said Abraham Rupert, the Chief of Chisasibi. 

In the recent referendum on the agreement, Chisasibi was the only community to vote against it. The deal was approved - although with a low turnout only a minority of the Cree actually voted in favor. The Cree leadership successfully argued that the agreement protects much of their land while allowing the Quebec Government to divert a river and flood hundreds of square kilometers of hunting-grounds to boost production in the existing La Grande complex of dams near Chisasibi. 

The Cree have spent decades fighting against proposals to build more hydro schemes on their land, and many feel they have now been betrayed by their leaders. 

But the former chief of Chisasibi, Violet Pachanos, disagrees: "I don't see this as betrayal. The fact is, a lot of those young people don't live off the land, and trying to live off the land is not economically viable any more," she said. 

Until very recently, the Cree were a nomadic hunting people, but in the last few decades they have settled into communities with modern houses and services. Many are battling to cope with that transformation, and jobs are scarce. 

The new money will make a material difference, but many Cree fear that the connection to their ancestral lands may be weakening.
Endangered Apes Sing Out in Vietnam

By Clare Arthurs 
BBC Hanoi Correspondent 

Hanoi April 2, 2002 (BBC) - The songs of one of the world's smallest and most endangered apes have been recorded for the first time in Vietnam. Researchers say the recordings confirm that at least eight Eastern Black-crested Gibbons still survive in northern Vietnam.

The researchers, from the conservation group Fauna and Flora International (FFI), say there is an urgent need for more to be done to protect the apes. They are one of five primate species in northern Vietnam that are on the brink of extinction, say conservationists. 

The apes are also known as Hainan Gibbons because China's Hainan island is the only other place where they have already been found. Just 14 exist on the island. 

The FFI conservationists say their recordings were taken in Cao Bang province, on the border with China. They also interviewed village hunters and believe another six of the small apes are still alive in Bac Kan province. However, the pressure from hunters is blamed for the apes effectively losing their voices - researchers have been unable to identify the Bac Kan group as they have stopped their signature early morning songs. 

Males and females sing complex harmonies to mate and to mark territory. The new discovery suggests there are now about 30 Eastern Black-crested Gibbons in the world. 

But in a hopeful sign for the survival of primates in Vietnam, FFI says its researchers have also found a new group of the endangered Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey, which is found in just one part of northern Vietnam. 

FFI's Vietnam manager, Frank Momberg, says the country has a rich bio-diversity but its apes are at risk. 

"If a primate species is lost, it will be from Vietnam," he says. 

Mr Momberg says small apes have been overshadowed by previous campaigns to save the great apes, gorillas and orangutans. He blames a new shift to protecting landscapes and bio-diversity in general for the lack of attention paid by scientists and conservationists to the endangered smaller primates. 

In Vietnam they are threatened by hunting and the wildlife trade, and by loss of habitat. 

Some programs to educate local villagers about the need to protect their wildlife are successful, but FFI says it is time for the rest of the world to help Vietnam. 

Otherwise the song of the Eastern Black-crested Gibbon could be forever silent within five years.

Click here to listen to the Gibbon songs (Real Audio format)  mingled with birdsong.

Japanese Scientist Makes Frog Eyes 

Associated Press Writer 

TOKYO March 24, 2002 (AP) - Professor Makoto Asashima is surrounded in his tiny laboratory by shelves cluttered with bottles of chemicals. Test tubes whirl in centrifuges while technicians pore over data at their desks.

The scene is a typical one, but what goes on here isn't. Immersed in water at the bottom of a petri dish are about a dozen frog embryos the size of a pinhead that Asashima uses to create the animal's eyes, ears and other organs.

Technology that Asashima is developing could eventually help doctors use stem cells from humans to regenerate or replace damaged or destroyed human organs, like the way a lizard reproduces a severed tail. It would eliminate the need for donor transplants.

"If we keep going in this direction, it'll be possible for people who have lost their sight to see again," said Asashima, professor of developmental biology at Tokyo University.

About two decades after starting research on organ regeneration, Asashima in 1989 discovered that a protein called activin induces genes in a frog's embryonic stem cells — which produce the tissues and organs of the body — to form kidneys, livers and other organs.

In 1998, he became one of the first scientists to create a sensory organ — a frog eye — in vitro from a stem cell. Last year, he successfully transplanted an eye formed in a test tube, restoring the sight of a blinded tadpole. So far, Asashima and his team have given new eyes to some 60 tadpoles, about 70 percent of which are able to see.

"It's a good example of his type of pioneering work. He's really on the forefront," said Carl Pfeiffer, emeritus professor of biomedical sciences at Virginia Polytechnic and State University.

Asashima generates organs by slicing off the part of the embryo responsible for tissue development and immersing it in a solution containing activin. The activin-soaked embryo piece is sandwiched between two untreated embryo slices and set aside until the untreated parts are induced to yield an organ. The process takes about five days. Varying the concentration of activin and combining it with other agents such as retinoic acid brings forth different genetic instructions in the cells.

For example, a lower concentration produces blood cells and muscle tissue. Higher doses yield hearts, livers and pancreas. But Asashima concedes it's a big step from regenerating frog organs to doing the same for humans. For one thing, frogs produce many more embryos than humans, meaning the number of stem cells available for research on humans would be more limited.

Then there are also political concerns about research with human stem cells.

Anti-abortion activists and the Vatican (news - web sites) say that human stem cell research constitutes the taking of life because embryos are destroyed to extract the cells. And President Bush (news - web sites) decided last year to withhold federal money for research that involves the destruction of embryos not already in the research pipeline. In Europe, four countries — Austria, Germany, France and Ireland — ban all embryo research, while others allow it to varying degrees.

Japan falls somewhere in between, approving guidelines last year stipulating that embryonic cells used in experiments could be taken only from those earmarked for fertility treatment that would otherwise be discarded. Politics aside, some experts anticipate that Asashima's research will eventually help scientists to cure debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's, which is caused by the degeneration of brain cells.

"The principles he develops in lower animals will be applicable to humans," Pfeiffer said. Despite the obvious differences, Pfeiffer said humans and frogs have much in common, including similar heart and skeletal muscles.

Others, however, are somewhat less sanguine.

"They (human stem cells) will form various tissues, but not intact organs, and even if they could be formed, the organs would have to be grown for months to become big enough for transplantation," said professor Jonathan Slack, who is in charge of the department of biology and biochemistry at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. "This is interesting science but it would be a very long haul before it leads to a new source of transplantable organs."

Asashima's work is funded by Tokyo University and a government-linked science promotion group. His research has appeared in major international publications in his field, including The International Journal of Developmental Biology.

Asashima plans to expand his research to mice, whose characteristics are more similar to humans, as soon as he perfects his work with frogs.

Scientists Intrigued by 2-Headed Snake

Associated Press 

MADRID, Spain April 3, 2002 (AP) - Scientists studying a two-headed snake found in Spain have many questions: Does one head boss the other around, and will the creature ever find a mate?

The star attraction of the University of Valencia's zoology lab these days is a 10-inch reptile called a ladder snake (Elaphe scalaris), an ornery and fanged but non-poisonous species native to Spain, Portugal and France. A farmer in Spain's southeast Alicante province found the snake in February, and it was transferred to Valencia last week. It now lives in a terrarium, with a video camera filming every flicker of its two tongues and four eyes.

So far both heads seem to work fine, and move independently, said Vicente Roca, a University of Valencia zoologist taking part in the study.

The snake is about nine months old so it's too early to say if it's male or female. It is pale gray, with dark lines running from head to tail and transversal lines connecting them. Hence the name ladder, although the rungs disappear with age and the snakes turn light brown. They reach 5 feet in length.

Snakes with two heads are very rare but not unheard of, Roca said, adding he knows of isolated cases in Honduras and Argentina. "It is not as abnormal as you would think," he said from Valencia. Still, biologists are excited about this one. They hope to determine if the snake also has separate digestive tracts and whether one head dominates the other or the two rule in coalition. In a previous case, one of the two heads was just along for the ride, Roca said.

Then there's the issue of reproduction. Roca said once this snake gets settled and its sex is determined, scientists will present it with a normal species of the opposite sex, then watch for a spark.

"You could say this one may have trouble getting a date," he said.

Sprouting two heads results from flawed embryonic development, probably because of a genetic glitch. In the wild such snakes are less mobile and thus more vulnerable to predators, so they have shorter lives. But Roca said the one in Valencia should live a full life of four to six years as long as it adapts to captivity and eats properly. Its diet consists mainly of live crickets.

Genre News: Forrie, Roger Zelazny, Galactica, X-Files, Roswell, Jennifer Connelly, Dorothy McGuire, and more...

Forrest J. Ackerman Recovering from Surgery

Hollywood April 2, 2002 (eXoNews) - According to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America web site, science fiction and horror magazine publisher Forrest J. Ackerman is recovering from an operation for a massive blood clot on the brain. "Forrie", as he is known to fans, was rushed to the hospital 10 days ago. SFWA says he is doing very well and will be getting out of ICU soon.

Get well cards may be sent to 2495 Glendower, Hollywood CA 90027.

Forrie is considered an expert in the history of the genre with a legendary collection in his home, dubbed the Ackermansion, that reputedly includes Bela Lugosi's cape from the original Dracula. He opened his collection to the public in previous years. He is best known as the publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland, arguably the most famous genre film fan magazine of all time.

The more or less official Forrie site - 

The SFWA site - 

SCI FI Announces Amber and other 2003 Shows

Hollywood April 3, 2002 (eXoNews) - Well, OK. Despite comments later down the page, Sci Fi Network may not be entirely hopeless. Among new miniseries and movies in development for next year we spot something that is rather unique, namely a miniseries called The Chronicles of Amber, based on Roger Zelazny's novel Nine Princes of Amber and its nine sequels.

This will mark the first time anyone has attempted to translate the late author's work to live screen since Damnation Alley in 1977. That one was awfully horrible and better forgotten and may have been why Zelazny never tried it again (with the exception of a single Twilight Zone episode he wrote in the 80s.) An animated film, Chronomaster, was co-written by Zelazny and his last writing partner Jane Lindskold in 1995 (the year he died.) Jane also co-wrote the final Zelazny novel, Lord Demon (1999), which was really great, BTW.

Just to be on the safe side, you'd better read the 10 Amber books first. Trust us, Harry Potter has nothing on Roger.

Other upcoming projects for Sci Fi include: (oh, no) a four-hour miniseries remake of Battlestar Galactica written by Trek and Roswell vet writer Ronald D. Moore (no robot dogs, Ron, PLEASE!); a four-hour miniseries based on the (rather passé by now, isn't it) Myst computer game; a four-hour miniseries based on Joe Haldeman's Hugo and Nebula-award-winning novel The Forever War; and a couple of less impressive ideas that we'll let you decide about on your own.

How well these will turn out is anybody's guess, but if you get bored with the new stuff:

SCI FI Gets X-Files and Roswell Re-Runs

Hollywood April 2, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - The SCI FI Channel announced that it has acquired the rights to air reruns of all nine seasons of The X-Files and all three seasons of Roswell. In an eight-year deal, SCI FI will share The X-Files with TNT and will air all 202 episodes exclusively during weekdays from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET/PT, starting in the fall.

SCI FI also bought the rights to Roswell in an exclusive five-year deal. Roswell will debut on SCI FI this fall.

The X-Files, which currently airs original episodes on Fox, wraps its nine-year run in May. Roswell, which airs original episodes on UPN, is in its third season; its prospects for renewal for a fourth year are dim.

[Note:  has added still another unofficial report that Roswell has been canceled to their news board, BTW, but UPN has still not made it official. Roswell's finale has been set for May 14th, and the show returns to UPN with its last third season episodes on April 23rd. Ed.]

Connelly Joins House of Sand and Fog - Hulk Due
April 1, 2002

HOLLYWOOD ( - Jennifer Connelly, who recently picked up an Oscar for her performance in "A Beautiful Mind," is moving in "The House of Sand and Fog." The actress will star opposite Ben Kingsley in the adaptation of Andre Dubus III's novel. 

Writer-director Vadim Perelman will helm the project, which DreamWorks purchased in an auction Friday, according to Variety. The budget for the project has been set at $14 million.

The story tells of an immigrant's dream gone awry. Kingsley will play a former colonel in the Iranian military who wins an auction for a foreclosed home. Unfortunately, the self-destructive alcoholic (Connelly) who previously owned the house is determined to get it back at any cost. 

Dubus, who will have a cameo appearance in the film, is so pleased with the script that he has given Perelman, who adapted the book for the screen, the first crack at his next book. 

Connelly is currently starring in "The Hulk," opposite Eric Bana. The project is directed by Ang Lee ("The Ice Storm"). 

More Signings and Rumors

Hollywood April 2, 2002 (eXoNews) - That stalwart of information, The Hollywood Reporter, has plenty of new stuff this week.

HR tells us that Fox is considering a two-hour television movie remake of Remington Steele, presumably without former stars Stephanie Zimbalist and the current James Bond, Pierce Brosnan - although newer TV movies featuring Miss Zimbalist have been popping up on Lifetime lately, including one we saw directed by former Monkee Micky Dolenz. (It wasn't that memorable.)

Likewise, HR says James Gandolfini will voice a gangster shark in Sharkslayer for Dreamworks. The CGI-animated feature will also feature the voices of Will Smith, Angelina Jolie and Renee Zellweger. Susan Sarandon has signed to play Wensicia in Sci Fi's Dune sequel, Children of Dune, set to show up next year. Have to wonder if she saw Sci Fi's recent horrendous remake of Firestarter (the original was even worse.) Not to mention Sci Fi's first attempt at Dune which was pretty uninspiring next to David Lynch's original feature version, despite an attempt to be true to Frank Herbert's book. The book version of Children of Dune also wasn't that memorable.

[Interesting or not: both the original Firestarter and Dune were Dino De Laurentiis productions. What's next, Sci Fi? A remake of Orca? Maybe White Buffalo? Maybe you'd like to remake the remake of Time Machine? Hey! Here's a rare idea! How about NO MORE REMAKES, SEQUELS OR TV MOVIES FROM CLASSIC SCIENCE FICTION NOVELS! There are plenty of new writers with new ideas out there (Joss Whedon, anyone?) Leave us with what little dignity we have, guys - please! Ed.]

HR also says that Christina Ricci, Jason Biggs and Jimmy Fallon will work in Woody Allen's next movie along side Glenn Close and Danny DeVito. Dreamworks is distributing that one too.

If you wondered why Dorothy McGuire wasn't included in the Oscar tribute to those actors and actresses who passed on last year, HR say so did Miss McGuire's family, who are asking that the former Oscar nominee for "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947) get a special mention next year.

[Movie buffs will also remember Miss McGuire for her amazing performance in the excellent thriller "The Spiral Staircase" (1946), for which she wasn't nominated, but should have been. Ed.]

Last and but least, if anybody really cares, Cinescape reports that squeaky Michael Jackson will show up in a cameo in director Barry Sonnenfeld's Men In Black II. Sounds about right: the idea of Jackson trying to act is truly frightening. Hey, when they sign The Stranglers (they had a great LP called Men In Black in the 1980s) to do the music, let us know, OK?

Comedy's Royalty Pays Tribute to Berle


Culver City April 2, 2002 (LA Daily News) - Milton Berle, America's "Uncle Miltie,'' the one-liner comedy king of vaudeville to TV, was laid to rest Monday accompanied by his favorite sound - peals of laughter. 

Berle, who died Wednesday at 93, was lauded for his brash wit, zany shticks, machine-gun delivery, kindness to friends and, above all, his ability to make people laugh. 

Nearly 300 people -including his good friends "Red'' Buttons, Jan Murray, Don Rickles and Buddy Hackett - gathered to roast the entertainer, who earned the nickname of "Mr. Television,'' during a funeral at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Culver City next to Los Angeles. 

Forget John Wayne, said producer/writer Larry Gelbart. "To me, Milton Berle, with his Eastern cheekiness, his unflappability, represent Mom and apple pie as much as anybody. 

"His goal was to grab a crowd by its collective throat and to vacuum laughter right out of them.'' 

Berle's life was celebrated within a small chapel down the hill from the grave of singer-actor Al Jolson and not far from comedian Jack Benny and "Three Stooges'' comic Moe Howard. 

A photo of a young Berle grinned from the right of the stage, one of the older comedian, with his signature cigar, was on the left. 

The photos flanked Berle's coffin, topped with white roses and his crumpled fedora and trench coat. 

Those who loved the stand-up comic, radio and nightclub celebrity and first star of television - uninhibited by high heels, evening gowns, blacked-out teeth and other gags - knew he was at heaven's gate. 

"`Hey, Pete, close the gate, I'm getting a draft,''' said comedian Murray, picturing his friend of 66 years confronting the ultimate bouncer. 

Berle, always the director. Always the producer. Always the stage manager, even to bossing the light man, said comedian Norm Crosby. 

"I can see him now, at the gates of heaven, there's Milton in his coat and hat whispering, `Hey, Peter, don't stand there like a schmuck ... Go like (italics) this (end italics)!''' 

Berle, born Mendel Berlinger in Harlem on July 12, 1908, was among the first TV personalities to be inducted in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. 

Berle stopped America in its tracks in 1948 with his "Texaco Star Theater,'' a broadcast that temporarily shuttered movie theaters and was the only show to run the night Harry Truman upset Thomas Dewey for president.

Each Tuesday night, Uncle Miltie ruled. Before long, millions of couch potatoes - and performers - were attracted to the medium of television. 

"He handed me my career on a silver platter,'' said Buttons, whose breakaway suit broke away during one live Berle performance - along with his underwear. 

Among the funeral guests Monday was a pantheon of entertainers, including Sid Ceasar, Rose Marie, Martin Landau, Larry Miller, Robert Forrester and Berle's son-in-law, actor Richard Moll. Many wore yarmulkes. 

Hackett, who didn't speak on behalf of his Friars Club chum, wore a black pillbox laced in gold. 

"I'm very sad, of course, I've been crying,'' he said shortly after Berle's death. "Milton was the kind of guy you could get anything from ... except an even share on the stage.'' 

Gelbart, like others, was unperturbed by Berle's knack for ripping off others' material. 

"He had a propensity - how do I put it delicately - for giving other people's jokes a new home,'' he said. "Jokes, for him, were like oxygen.'' 

Don Rickles drew the most laughs with his acerbic, Berle-esque shots. 

"Milton, Lorna,'' he said, addressing the late Berle and his wife. "I want to be paid for this: I had two affairs this morning and rushed over here to borrow (the) raincoat.'' 

Following the funeral, sparkling limos still dripping from the carwash swung by to pick up the surviving entertainers, some of whom lit up cigars. 

One man, sitting alone among the overflow seats outside the chapel, had driven across town to pay respects to his childhood hero. His father had owned an appliance shop, and he was one of the first in town to own a television. 

"I grew up with Uncle Miltie, I adored him,'' said Bob Haas, 60, of Culver City. The service? "It was beautiful - hard to keep yourself together.''

Dog Bites Gator, Saves Woman, Wins Award
MIAMI April 04, 2002 (Reuters) - A Florida dog who fought an alligator to protect an elderly woman was honored for his loyalty with a "Dog Hero of the Year" award. 

Two-year-old Blue, an Australian blue heeler from LaBelle, saved Ruth Gay from the gator and survived numerous injuries, said the organizers of the annual Heinz Pet Products award, which was announced in Pittsburgh. 

Gay, 85, was taking the dog for an evening walk along a canal behind her house last July when she slipped on wet grass and fell, breaking her nose and dislocating a shoulder. Blue lay at her side while she called for help. 

Suddenly the dog growled and ran off into the darkness -- sensing an alligator that had climbed out of the canal about 50 feet away, apparently attracted by Gay's calls. 

Blue fended off the reptile despite suffering numerous puncture wounds to his stomach and when Gay's daughter and son-in-law arrived home about an hour later, led them to where she was lying. 

"I heard the alligator and Blue fighting, and I thought Blue was dead," said Gay. "It wasn't until my daughter came home and I heard Blue barking that I realized he was still alive and that he saved me from the alligator." 

In winning the award Wednesday, organizers said Blue beat out about 100 contestants whose acts of bravery during last year were submitted by their owners or admirers. 

Patti Jo Lambert, coordinator of the dog hero program, said Blue's story stood out. "In all 47 years of this program ... we've never had a winner who fought an alligator," she said.
Get Daily Pictures From Mars!

ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY NEWS RELEASE March 28, 2002 - Need to get away to someplace exotic? Mars is now open for daily sightseeing. 

Beginning March 27, 2002, recent images of Mars taken by the Thermal Emission Imaging System on NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft will be available to the public on the Internet. A new, "uncalibrated" image taken by the visible light camera will be posted at 10 a.m. EST daily, Monday through Friday. The pictures can be viewed and downloaded at

The images will show 22 kilometer-wide strips of the Martian surface at a resolution of 18 meters. Though the images will not yet be fully calibrated for scientific use, they give the public an unprecedented opportunity to get a close look at many of Mars' unusual geological features. The visible light camera's resolution is about eight to 16 times better than most of the images taken by NASA's Viking missions, which completed the first global map of the Martian surface. "We want to generate a steady flow of images so we can share some of the excitement of what we're seeing with the public," said Greg Mehall, THEMIS mission manager at Arizona State University. "We're seeing a lot of very interesting things, since much of Mars has never been viewed so closely before." 

Though the posted images have undergone only minimal image processing, the team wanted to share them with the public as soon as possible. "They're still pretty spectacular to look at," Mehall said. "And we want people to feel they are getting a first look at the images with us." 

THEMIS began mapping Mars from an orbit of 420 kilometers in mid-February, taking images in both infrared and visible light The instrument is expected to take as many as 15,000 visible light images through the course of the mission.

U.S. Has Jurisdiction in Sklyarov Internet Case

By Elinor Mills Abreu 

SAN FRANCISCO April 2, 2002 (Reuters) - A federal judge has denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against a Russian company accused of violating a controversial U.S. copyright law, saying that even though the activity transpired over the Internet the United States still has jurisdiction. 

Attorney Joseph Burton of law firm Duane Morris in San Francisco acknowledged on Tuesday the novelty of the argument he made on behalf of his client, Moscow-based ElcomSoft Co. Ltd., in one of the most closely watched cases challenging the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). 

ElcomSoft is accused of violating the DMCA by selling online a program that allowed people to circumvent copyright protections in electronic books. Burton had argued that because the conduct occurred over the Internet, the U.S. court didn't have jurisdiction. 

"I'm disappointed but not surprised," he told Reuters. "It's a motion that's a little bit ahead of its time. I think it will take a while for courts to understand the real nature of the Internet and how it works and how we interact with it before a motion like this has a better reception." 

Burton argued that regardless of where the company's Web site was located, the activity itself was transacted over multiple borders in the digital realm, and therefore not within the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. 

But in a ruling dated last Wednesday and received by defense and prosecuting attorneys this week, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte in San Jose, California, said there was sufficient conduct occurring within the United States for his court to rule. 


"The conduct which underlies the indictment includes ElcomSoft's offering its AEBPR program for sale over the Internet, from a computer server physically located in the United States," the judge wrote. "Purchasers obtained copies of the program in the United States... Payments were directed to, and received by, an entity in the United States." 

The judge previously denied a defense motion to dismiss conspiracy charges against ElcomSoft, but Burton said the judge said he could refile that motion after getting more information. 

A hearing is set for April 15 at which a trial date may be set, lawyers said. They said they did not know when the judge would rule on the two remaining motions to dismiss. 

On Monday, lawyers for both sides presented their arguments before the judge on two other, more significant motions to dismiss filed by the defense. Defense lawyers contend that the DMCA is overly vague and violates ElcomSoft's constitutional rights to free speech.

Prosecutors counter that the law clearly targets digital pirates and tools that allow people to make unauthorized copies of digital copyrighted material. 

ElcomSoft's program, sold briefly on the Internet last year, allowed people using Adobe Systems Inc.'s ADBE.O eBook Reader to copy and print digital books, as well as transfer them to other computers and have the computer read them aloud. 


The ElcomSoft case is widely viewed as a crucial test of the DMCA, which civil rights advocates and software programmers contend gives copyright owners broader protection than they have over non-digital material, at the expense of individuals' rights to legitimate use. 

Movie studios and record labels argue that the law is necessary to keep people from indiscriminate and unauthorized copying of films and music over the Internet, where digital material is so easily digested and transferred. 

ElcomSoft faces $2.25 million in fines. The employee who wrote the program at the heart of the case was released with the promise that charges would be dropped against him in exchange for his testimony. 

Dmitry Sklyarov, 27, returned home in December and said he will return to testify in support of his employer. He was arrested in July after presenting his program at the DefCon hacker conference in Las Vegas. 

Stripper Mayor Stripped of Office

Associated Press 

GEORGETOWN, Colo. April 3, 2002 (AP) - Mayor Koleen Brooks said she wasn't disappointed about being removed from office after a contentious year in which she was accused of flashing her breasts at a bar and ordering a hit on a police officer.

"It probably just saved me 10 years on my life," she said after a landslide recall vote Tuesday.

Brooks, a former stripper accused of mishandling her job, was ousted by a vote of 339 to 176 on Tuesday, or 66 percent to 34 percent. She said she accepted the results but will ask for a recount to ensure they were accurate. She also said she might run for mayor or another town office again next year.

Lynn Granger, elected to finish the year remaining in Brooks' two-year term, said she hopes her tenure will be a quiet one.

"I think boring after the last year maybe isn't a bad thing," she said.

Brooks, 37, was elected mayor of this old mining town 45 miles west of Denver last April. Zoning changes are the official reason for the recall, but people are also angry about Brooks' actions.

She has been investigated for ordering a hit on a police officer and faces criminal charges for fabricating a story about being attacked. No charges were filed in connection with the alleged officer plot.

Brooks also was accused of baring her breasts in a bar last October, a charge she denies. 

Four members of the town Board of Selectmen survived recall votes Tuesday after being criticized for approving new zoning regulations without a public referendum. Town Clerk Phyllis Mehrer said the campaign was intense. "Frankly, it's gotten ugly," she said.

Brooks has said her opponents are resisting change. As mayor, she has supported increasing the tax base by encouraging new business and building a skatepark for children and a footpath across a town creek.

"I've got my year in, and if they think they're going to go back to the old ways, they're wrong," she said. "There are more people like me who are going to speak up."

The zoning regulations, which voters upheld Tuesday by a 287-220 vote, have divided residents. Some believe the new regulations would tarnish the town's Victorian architectural feel by allowing contractors to build newer structures. Others hope the new regulations will draw people to the town. Mehrer said 61 percent of Georgetown's registered voters cast ballots.

9-11 Conspiracy Theory Book Lures French
By Rebecca Harrison 

PARIS April 01, 2002 (Reuters) - The French are lapping up a Sept. 11 conspiracy theory that argues the plane that smashed into the Pentagon never existed and that the world has been duped by a murky U.S. government plot. Thierry Meyssan's book "The Frightening Fraud" is flying off shelves according to booksellers and has topped bestseller lists. 

Meyssan, president of Reseau Voltaire, a respected left-wing think tank, reckons the American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon in Washington killing 189 on September 11 did not exist and that the whole thing was staged by the government. 

"I believe the American government is lying... No plane crashed into the Pentagon," he told France 2 television. 

Meyssan did not provide an alternative theory for what may have damaged the Pentagon. And although French media has scoffed at Meyssan's musings, comparing them to the Roswell alien cover-up theory dramatized in the hit TV show "The X-Files," the public are intrigued. 

"Copies have been flying off shelves," a saleswoman at FNAC bookshop in central Paris told Reuters. It shot to the top of Amazon France's bestseller list and made it to second place in the booksellers' weekly Livres Hebdo's sales list. 

Daily newspaper Liberation slammed the book as "a tissue of wild allegations," marveling at its quick rise to fame, from Internet chatrooms, via television chat shows, to bestseller. Conspiracy theories like the rumors that swirled around the 1963 shooting of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, or the idea that man never actually set foot on the moon, are not uncommon in the United States, but are fairly rare in France. 

"This phenomenon is not typical of the French," sociologist Pierre Lagrange told Liberation. "But the events of September 11 gave us a reality so similar to science fiction, that there has been more of a market for paranoid interpretations." Meyssan says key evidence shows witness accounts are contradictory, that there are few photographs of the crash and that those that do exist show no debris from the plane. 

He also asks why the facade of the Pentagon did not immediately collapse from the shock of the impact and questions the fate of the passengers on the flight. 

"What became of the passengers of American Airlines Flight 77? Are they dead?" he asks. 

Daily newspaper Le Monde and Liberation both probed Meyssan's theory, tracking down relatives of the victims, and quizzing officials over the crash. News weekly Le Nouvel Observateur denounced the book as revisionism. "This theory suits everyone -- there are no Islamic extremists...everyone is happy. It eliminates reality." But while Le Monde dismissed Meyssan's theory as flimsy, it admitted that information available did not quite add up. 

"There is no official account of the crash...the lack of information is feeding the rumor."
Sir Paul's Tribute to Lost Friends

Oakland April 2, 2002 (BBC) - Sir Paul McCartney paid an emotional tribute to his late wife Linda and his Beatles bandmates, John Lennon and George Harrison, as he kicked off his US tour. 

The star fought back tears as he performed Harrison's classic song Something on a ukulele. 

Sir Paul sang to 15,000 fans at the Oakland Coliseum, near San Francisco, on the first stop of his Driving USA tour - his first US tour in 10 years. He told the audience Harrison often used to entertain friends on a ukulele and was a great fan of George Formby. 

"George [Harrison] was a great ukulele player and whenever you went to his house, he'd play it at the end of the night. I showed him I could play the song on the ukulele and tonight I'd like to do it now as my tribute." 

The 59-year-old also played My Love, which he wrote for Linda, who passed away in 1998, when they performed in Wings together. 

The audience were moved to a standing ovation as Sir Paul completed his tribute to former Beatle John Lennon. For the first time Sir Paul sang Here Today, the song he wrote following the murder of Lennon in New York in 1980. 

San Francisco witnessed the final Beatles paying concert in 1966, a 30-minute show which saw just 12 songs played. But Sir Paul kept the crowd entertained for much longer as he played a total of 36 songs from his back catalogue. The multi-millionaire played a selection of Beatles and Wings numbers as well as his old and new solo material. 

"When I was picking what songs to play, I imagined myself sitting in the audience and thinking 'Right, what would I want to hear him play?'" said Sir Paul. 

The final selection included Back In The USSR, Can't Buy Me Love, All My Loving, Live And Let Die and Getting Better. His fiancee Heather Mills could be seen dancing in the aisle. McCartney finished his set with Yesterday, Sgt Pepper and The End. 

"Thanks, it's been great getting back here to rock you," he told the crowd. 

The Driving USA tour takes in 19 venues across America.

Paul McCartney Official Site - 

Robot Industry Has A Future in Japan

By Masayuki Kitano 

TOKYO April 02, 2002 (Reuters) - By the end of the decade, the people who disarm bombs and search for survivors after a disaster may no longer need to put their lives on the line -- a machine, possibly made in Japan, will do the dangerous stuff. 

That is one goal of the Japanese government's $37.7 million Humanoid Robotics Project (HRP), which aims to market within a few years robots that can operate power shovels, assist construction workers and care for the elderly. 

In the process, a new multi-billion-dollar Japanese industry could be born. 

"Just as automobiles were the biggest product of the 20th century, people might eventually look back and say that robots were the big product of the 21st century," said Hirohisa Hirukawa, a researcher for the government-affiliated National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. 

Hirukawa heads a group that helped to develop HRP-2, a silver and blue humanoid robot that stands 5 feet tall, weigh 128 pounds and looks a bit like a child wearing a spacesuit. The robot, co-developed with Kawada Industries Inc, Yaskawa Electric Corp and Shimizu Corp, is the latest in a series of humanoid robots unveiled by Japanese researchers in the last few years. 

The government hopes their efforts will eventually enable robots to walk out of the factory -- virtually their only domain at present -- and into homes, offices, hospitals and any other place where humans toil. It also wants to capitalize on the technological edge of Japan, the global leader in robot production and home to more than half of the world's industrial robots. 

"We want to create a new market exploiting the technology Japan has accumulated, and to help strengthen the economy over the medium to long term," said Kenichiro Yoshida, deputy director of the Trade Ministry's industrial machinery division. 

The Japan Robot Association, an industry body, estimates that the robot industry could grow to $22.61 billion by 2010. The figure has hovered around 500 billion yen for the past few years. 


It predicts the expansion will be led by robots that perform everyday tasks and believes that, while there are no such robots on the market now, they could be ringing up annual sales of 1.5 trillion yen by 2010. "We want robots to be able to function around humans and be useful in areas other than entertainment," Yoshida said. 

For the industry to take off, however, technology must become far more advanced and, perhaps more critically, researchers will need to find useful roles that humanoid robots can play in society. 

The HRP-2 appeared before the public for the first time in the city of Yokohoma at Robodex 2002, a four-day exhibition at the end of March that featured various robots developed by Japanese corporations and universities. 

Visitors can watch the blue-helmeted android help a human carry furniture about, while an older prototype drives a forklift. 

"There is demand for robots that can be used in dangerous places and disaster areas," Hirukawa said, noting that workers could, for example, operate construction machinery from a safe distance via a remote-controlled HRP-2. 

He hopes that perhaps 10 of the HRP-2 robots could be sold within five years of the state-run project ending in March 2003. 

"Once we can sell 1,000 robots, I think the state's role will end and we will enter a natural mass-production spiral," Hirukawa said. "But I can't see yet how that will happen." 

And Hirukawa says it will be a long time before humanoid robot technology is advanced enough to foster a major industry. 

"I think the earliest we will see robots doing household chores will be by 2025, or 2050 at the latest," he said. The Trade Ministry, however, wants to find a quicker way to build up a new robot industry and is beginning to examine options other than humanoid machines. 

The trade ministry's Yoshida said a new project aimed at developing household robots starting some time after April would not focus on humanoid robots and the ministry was considering whether to continue the humanoid robot project after March 2003. 

"Robots don't have to be humanoid to be useful in homes," he said. "We want to make robots as quickly as possible that can be used in homes or for disaster areas."

Visit eXoNews for more recent news!

Paperback books by Rich La Bonté - Free e-previews!