Bob Hope 98,
5 Salem Witches,
33 Daughters of Eve,
and the X-43!
Bob Hope Celebrates 98th Birthday

AP Entertainment Writer

LOS ANGELES May 29, 2001 (AP) — Bob Hope once joked, "You know you're getting old when the candles cost more than the cake.'' But even the high cost of illumination didn't stop him from celebrating his 98th birthday Tuesday.

Age has slowed the master of the one-liner but it hasn't dulled his wit.

His daughter, Linda Hope, informed him that the Los Angeles County supervisors had officially declared Tuesday "Bob Hope Day'' to honor his birth.

"When you get over 95, every day is your day,'' he was said to have quipped.

The family held a small, private gathering at their Los Angeles home for the comedian whose eight-decade career ranged from vaudeville to television, movies and scores of trips to entertain U.S. troops abroad.

Yes, there was cake at the gathering, but no word on whether it was cheaper than the candles.

"There are so many, we always laugh that you better keep the fire extinguisher standing by when you light them,'' said Ward Grant, Hope's publicist.

After the party, Hope planned to watch some of his old movies with wife, Dolores Hope, Grant said.

Born Leslie Townes Hope on May 29, 1903, in Eltham, England, his family immigrated to the United States in 1907 and settled in Cleveland.

He began a career in vaudeville, playing "third billing to Siamese twins and trained seals,'' but soared to international fame with dozens of TV specials and films, most notably his "road movies'' with Bing Crosby.

The comic made his last overseas visit to entertain U.S. troops at age 87, stopping in Saudi Arabia in 1990 during Operation Desert Storm.

Hope was hospitalized last summer with a bout of gastrointestinal bleeding but has since recovered and, although frail from age, remains in good spirits, Grant said.


On the Net:

Official Bob Hope Web site:

Descendants Want Justice for 5 Salem Witches

By Laura Peek

Washington, D.C. May 29, 2001 (London Times) - Descendants of five women who were hanged for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century are pressing politicians in Massachusetts officially to exonerate their ancestors.

“After 309 years, they deserve the ink,” Paula Keene, a Salem schoolteacher and amateur historian, said. “If it were me, I’d want my name written into the law.”

In four months in the summer of 1692, 19 people were hanged for witchcraft and one was crushed to death in the small town of Salem in colonial Massachusetts, north of Boston.

The trials, which began when four girls dabbled in voodoo and were pronounced “bewitched” by the town’s doctor, have fascinated the United States, spawning films and books, from the 1937 Maid of Salem, starring Claudette Colbert, to Arthur Miller’s 1952 play The Crucible.

They have also become the benchmark for intolerance and persecution in America: the McCarthy hearings were compared with them, and even President Clinton commented recently: “I have identified with those witches a time or two.”

One of them, Susannah Martin, during her trial for “sundry acts of witchcraft”, laughed at her accusers, one of whom fell into a fit.

“Well I may (laugh) at such folly,” she said, according to court records. “I have no hand in witchcraft.” She was hanged on Gallows Hill.

In 1957 the state legislature approved a resolution exonerating some of the accused, including “one Ann Pudeator and certain other persons”. Today’s campaigners want the names of Bridget Bishop, Alice Parker, Margaret Scott, Wilmot Redd and Martin to be added to the resolution.

Three centuries later Martin’s descendant, Craig Martin, 54, a civil engineer, is fighting to clear her name. “She was a woman who spoke her mind,” he said.

The Salem witch hysteria began when four girls started playing fortune-telling games with Tituba, a female slave, believed to have been an American Indian. When the girls displayed mysterious physical symptoms, they were diagnosed as “bewitched”.

They began naming people they suspected of inflicting their symptoms. By the end of March 1692, 200 people were jailed under charges of witchcraft. Bridget Bishop was the first to be tried and hanged after workmen repairing her home discovered “poppets” — dolls stuck with pins.

By September 19 more people, including George Burroughs, the town’s former minister, who was named by the girls as the leader of the Salem Coven, had been hanged. The trials ended after so-called “spectral evidence” — reports of hostile ghostly presences that formed the basis of the prosecutions — was called into doubt.

The British writer Frances Hill, author of A Delusion of Satan: The full Story of the Salem Witch Trials, says that the trials were driven by political feuds. “It’s absolutely obvious that those who were being hanged were the enemies of the grown-ups or the girls who were doing the naming. The only people who were innocent were the people who were hanged,” she said.

Scientists say that the girls’ symptoms may have been caused by “bad acid trips” from eating rye contaminated with ergot, the fungus from which LSD is derived.

NASA Scientists Find Asteroid Pairs

AP Science Writer

LOS ANGELES May 30, 2001 (AP) — Astronomers are discovering a bumper crop of binary asteroids — space rocks locked in an orbital dance with a partner.

The latest discovery was announced Wednesday, when radar images showed that asteroid 1999 KW4 is actually two objects separated by about a mile, something that had been suspected for the past year.

Radar images show a small moon just one-quarter of a mile across whipping clockwise around a companion three times as large.

"Some day, people will go to a binary asteroid and what an interesting sky they will see,'' said Steven Ostro of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The discovery boosts to roughly 10 the number of binary asteroids imaged by radar since the spacecraft Galileo spotted the first, 243 Ida and its tiny moon Dactyl. Another seven suspected pairs haven't been confirmed.

While the tally is still small, it is certain to grow as astronomers refine the techniques used to spy the miniature planetary systems.

Observations of paired craters on the Earth and other bodies led astronomers to suspect that binary asteroids existed.

On Earth, the craters — all of equal age — are too large and too far apart to have been formed by a single asteroid breaking up in the atmosphere. The odds of two asteroids hitting the Earth in the same location and at the same time are slim — unless they were paired before impact. But the first binary asteroid was not seen until 1993, when Galileo spotted Ida and Dactyl while en route to Jupiter.

Not all asteroid moons orbit asteroids. The two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, are probably asteroids captured in orbit by the planet's gravitational tug.

Czech astronomer Petr Pravec said the study of near-Earth asteroids is becoming more important — especially if scientists are going to entertain ways to defend the planet from potential asteroid impacts.

"If some of them are on a collision course with the Earth in the future, it will be more difficult to divert them than if they were a single asteroid,'' Pravec said.

The asteroid pairs found so far share little more than diversity.

Pairs like 90 Antiope are nearly twins, each 50 miles or so across. Some, like 2000 DP107, are also of about equal size, but just hundreds of feet in diameter. Others are far more lopsided, like the case of 87 Sylvia, which at 176 miles across dwarfs its moon, just 5 percent as large.

Collisions may have formed many of the binary asteroids, meaning each little moon is, literally, a chip off the old block. In other cases, passing close to Earth may have pulled off material, dumping it into a mini-orbit.

In the case of 1999 KW4, the objects may be the remnants of an extinct comet. Orbital observations will allow astronomers to determine the mass, density, composition and porosity of each member of the pair.

"That tells us an awful lot about these things without having to go there,'' said Bill Merline, a senior research scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., who has discovered three binary asteroids.


On the Net:

33 Daughters of Eve

By Paul Majendie

HAY-ON-WYE Wales May 29, 2001 (Reuters) - We are all descended from the 33 daughters of Eve. Just take a swab from your cheek and you can find which one is your original ancestor.

That is the view of Professor Bryan Sykes, one of the world's top geneticists who has spent the last decade mapping out where we come from.

"Your genes have been through a fantastic journey," he told Britain's leading literary festival Tuesday in the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye where he laid out a fascinating DNA pathway to the past.

Now, after opening such a fascinating Pandora's Box, he has found that thousands of people around the world, from the United States to South Africa, are consumed with curiosity and want to find out who their original "clan mother" is.

"This shows how closely connected we all are," he said

The Oxford University professor first started taking DNA from archaeological bones and then in 1994 was called in to examine the frozen remains of a 5,000-year-old man trapped in glacial ice in Northern Italy.

This led him to research how a gene passed undiluted from generation to generation through the maternal line and helped him to track down our own genetic ancestors.

"If you look at the mitochondrial gene, it is DNA which is just inherited from your mother. It is found in eggs not sperm," he explained in an interview with Reuters.

After taking several thousand DNA samples, the clan mothers in Europe were narrowed down to "The Seven Daughters of Eve," the title of his new book chronicling his DNA detective work.

"To bring these women alive I gave them names and worked out where they lived and when. They range from Ursula in Greece 45,000 years ago to Jasmine 10,000 years ago in Syria -- she came from the Middle East along with the farmers," he said.

"There are roughly 33 equivalent clusters if you take the whole world. Eventually it all comes down to Mitochondrial Eve in Africa 200,000 years ago," he added.

Sykes said "Thousand of people have asked to have a DNA test to find out who they are descended from."

So was set up on the Internet.

You send off 150 pounds, receive a swab kit and then send it back for analysis that will reveal your origins.

"The majority came from the United States. I think the reason for the interest is rediscovering the fact we have a history and the genes are not just something you are given like a National Insurance Number," Sykes said.

"Your genes are a very, very precious gift and you should be proud of them," he concluded.

On the web:

McCartney Calls Lennon's Killer 'Jerk of All Jerks'

By Paul Majendie

HAY-ON-WYE, Wales May 30, 2001 (Reuters) - Paul McCartney on Wednesday condemned John Lennon's killer as "the jerk of all jerks" as he burst into verse to honor the fellow Beatle he created so much magic with.

Laying his heart on his sleeve in his new role as a poet, McCartney was fulsome in praise of Lennon, gunned down outside his New York apartment by Mark Chapman in 1980.

Performing his poems at Britain's leading literary festival in the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye, McCartney fondly recalled his first meeting with Lennon: "He smelt of beer."

He then hauntingly adopted Chapman's voice for the poem: "I'm the guy with the pistol who kills your best friend. You can't really blame me because I'm round the bend."

McCartney's first volume of poetry --"Blackbird Singing" -- has sold more than 55,000 copies in Britain and the United States. Now it is being translated into Japanese, French, Italian, German and Spanish.

He won a standing ovation from 1,300 "Poetic Beatlemania" fans as he read his verses -- and even tried a cheeky dose of audience participation in a swelteringly hot marquee.

The audience loved him -- and he was delighted that Bill Clinton, one of his heroes, had quipped on his Hay-on-Wye appearance last Saturday that he was just acting as "the warmup act to Paul McCartney."

The former U.S. President was slow handclapped for being 45 minutes late in starting Saturday night's lecture on conflict resolution. McCartney stepped out on time and told the crowd "At least I wasn't late."

One girl in the audience was summoned up on stage after revealing in question time afterwards that she had hitch-hiked all the way from Russia to see McCartney. He gave her a hug and she left the stage with her hands clasped to her head in astonishment.

In an echo of the days when devoted Beatle fans would travel the globe to see their heroes, 20-year-old Eugenia Enenko from a small town in the Urals, said: "It took me 10 days to get here. I told my mother I was going to see a friend."

The poetry book also contains the lyrics from some of the most memorable Beatle songs and McCartney, ever sensitive to criticism, sought to disprove one critic who had challenged readers to "try and say the song lyrics without laughing."

So McCartney obliged by reading the words of "Eleanor Rigby" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" without bursting into song.

Then he coached the eager crowd into a burst of audience participation for his grand finale.

It is not often that you can sit in a tent in the Welsh mountains and watch a group of middle-aged middle-class book fans chanting at the top of their voices: "No one will be watching us. Why don't we do it in the road?"

Site Sheds Light on Human Arrival
ALLENDALE, S.C. May 26, 2001 (AP) — Some chipped tools and stone flakes found on a hill above a remote and wooded stretch of the Savannah River may show humans arrived in America about 3,000 years earlier than first thought.

Researchers have generally accepted that the first humans came to America as primitive hunters from Asia 12,000 years ago. But the South Carolina finds are the latest evidence that the continent was inhabited 15,000 years ago, well before the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago, archaeologists say.

"It is now reasonable to think of humans living on this landscape perhaps 15,000 to 20,000 years ago,'' said University of South Carolina archaeologist Albert Goodyear, who is helping to excavate the site. "It's the dawn of a new chapter in what was already a good book.''

Coupled with mounting evidence of early human activity from scattered locations including a gravel pit in Virginia, a cave in Pennsylvania and a bog in Chile, the stone tools excavated in South Carolina suggest that human populations were spread across both continents 15,000 years ago.

Last year, a University of Oklahoma archaeologist suggested some broken stone tools found in the northwestern part of the state could be at least 22,000 years old.

The sites are so far apart that the earliest visitors could only have arrived earlier than once thought, or reached the Americas by more than one route, some researches theorize.

Goodyear and his team of archaeologists first uncovered the tools three years ago along a section of the river in Allendale County owned by Clariant, a Swiss-based chemical company.

Microscopic analysis of the stone chips confirmed that they could only have been created by human activity. The area may have served as a sort of workshop, where prehistoric people made the implements they needed for working wood and scraping animal hides.
Arctic Shrubbery Points to Polar Warming
Associated Press Writer

May 30, 2001 (AP) - Scientists in the Alaskan Arctic have discovered that shrubs are growing larger and spreading across previously barren territory in the tundra. The findings add to the scientific consensus that the region is gradually getting warmer.

Federal researchers combed through archives of aerial photos, comparing new images to those of the same locations taken 50 years ago. Of the 66 aerial photos taken for the study, growth increases were reported in 36 of those images, with the growth of some plants estimated to be as much as 15 percent.

In the remaining 30 images, no changes to tundra shrub cover — either growth or reduction — were found.

"The Alaskan Arctic for three decades has gotten considerably warmer and experimental and model studies have shown that there should be more shrubs,'' said study co-author Matthew Sturm, a geophysicist at US Army Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

"We come along and find these photos, and that's exactly what we're seeing,'' Sturm said.

The Army lab team said the study is the first time that tundra growth has been analyzed in the high-latitude area through picture comparisons. The results appear in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

The findings echo other Alaskan Arctic studies performed with satellite imaging in the Alaskan Arctic, according to scientists who did not participate in the photo analysis.

"It certainly opens the door for more work to support the suggestion that temperature is increasing,'' said Jeff Hicke, a research associate at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who recently conducted a separate study on tundra vegetation growth using satellite imagery.

Aerial photos were taken in July of 1999 and 2000 from a low-flying aircraft over a swath of land measuring 248 miles from east-to-west and 93 miles north-south. The tundra parcel is located between the Brooks Range and the Arctic coast.

They identify the exact area, including the same shrub clusters, that the military originally photographed between 1948 and 1950.

Scientists said the new photographs clearly illustrate a shift in the treeline over the past 50 years. They also show moose footprints, indicating the animals have migrated northward to follow the shrubs.

"The treeline is definitely moving. You can see the increase,'' said co-author Ken Tape, a research technician at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Geophysical Institute. "There's more spruce in this picture than in that picture. The treeline is moving north.''

The deciduous shrubs below the treeline were identified as dwarf birch, willow and green alder. The photos represented changes in height, diameter and density. The largest increase in shrubbery was 15 percent, Tape said.

The research area is virtually uninhabited. Because the tundra is frozen for as long as nine months during the intense Arctic winter and is spongy in the summer, the region is not prone to fires.

"There's virtually no human impact, which makes it a particularly good laboratory for studying these kinds of vegetative change,'' Tape said.

According to a study published in February by the United Nations, climate change in polar regions is expected to be among the largest anywhere on Earth. Already, the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice have decreased, permafrost has thawed and the distribution and abundance of many species has been effected.

A second U.N. climate summary released in January estimated that global temperatures could rise as much as 10.5 degrees over the next century.

The Army lab study also suggests the additional shrub growth will extract more carbon dioxide from a warming atmosphere, helping to moderate the effects of global warming in future.


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Bush Adviser's Aide to Plead Guilty
DALLAS May 25, 2001 (AP) — A former aide to George W. Bush's media adviser has agreed to plead guilty to mail fraud and perjury, admitting she stole and mailed a Bush debate videotape to Al Gore's campaign and lied about it to a grand jury.

Under the deal she reached with federal prosecutors, Juanita Yvette Lozano, 31, faces a $200 fine and prison sentence of between six months and a year, The Dallas Morning News reported on its Web site Friday.

Lozano admitted guilt in a statement that she and her lawyer signed and dated Wednesday, according to court documents.

A current phone number for Lozano could not immediately be obtained. Her attorney, Christopher Gunter, told The Associated Press on Friday that he would not comment on the case.

In exchange for her plea, the government is dropping one count of the three-count indictment, the accusation that Lozano lied to the FBI during the investigation.

No date has been set for her to enter her plea. A judge has the option of allowing her to serve her time at home or in a halfway house.

Lozano worked for Maverick Media, formed by a top Bush media adviser, Mark McKinnon, to develop Bush's political ads.

In September, a Bush videotape, strategy book and other papers taken from Maverick Media were sent to former U.S. Rep. Tom Downey, D-N.Y., who was advising Gore before the first presidential debate with Bush.

Downey gave the materials to the FBI, and agents later identified Lozano as a suspect, based on surveillance videotape from an Austin post office.

Lozano, a Democratic county precinct chair, said she used her home computer to look up Downey's address on the Internet before sending him a package promising further help.

FBI agents found a record of that address search on her hard drive, and her subsequent denial of that to a grand jury was the basis of the perjury charge.

The Gore campaign has steadfastly denied any role in the mailing.

McKinnon, whose lawyer says he is not under suspicion, said he is at a loss to explain the betrayal.

"It put the campaign at risk, and it put me through hell,'' he said. "We're talking about a race that was won by fewer than 500 votes. If Tom Downey had been any less honorable of a person, we could have been talking about President Gore.''
Bush Twins Linked to Alcohol Incident

AUSTIN, TX May 30, 2001 (AP) — The Austin police and the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission are investigating a report that President Bush's twin 19-year-old daughters tried to buy alcohol illegally at a popular Mexican restaurant on Tuesday night.

One of the daughters, Jenna, was "alleged to have used a valid ID that belonged to someone else," an Austin police spokeswoman, Toni Chovanetz, said today.

Of the other daughter, Barbara, Ms. Chovanetz said, "Her role is unclear."

The incident came two weeks after Jenna Bush pleaded no contest to being a minor in possession of alcohol and was ordered to attend six hours of alcohol awareness classes, serve eight hours of community service and pay $51.25 in court costs.

In the incident on Tuesday, the police said they responded around 10:20 p.m. to a 911 call reporting that minors were trying to buy alcohol at a Chuy's restaurant.

"Patrol officers arrived and found that Jenna and Barbara Bush, 19, were alleged to have been involved in this incident," the Austin police said in a statement today.

Because no offense was witnessed by police officers, the statement said, "following routine procedures, further investigation is required to determine if any charges will be filed."

A White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, declined to discuss the incident. "If it involves the daughters in their private lives, it is a family matter," Mr. McClellan said.

Jenna Bush is a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, and Barbara attends Yale University.

Jenna Bush's no-contest plea resulted from a ticket the police issued while checking for minors in possession of alcohol at nightclubs along the popular East Sixth Street entertainment district in April.

Capt. David Ball of the beverage commission's Austin district office said that using an ID belonging to someone else was a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, attendance in an alcohol awareness course, 8 to 12 hours of community service and a 30-day suspension of the offender's driver license.

The investigation should be completed in a day or two, Captain Ball said.

The Future's Cool For Birds of Prey

May 29, 2001 (London Times) - The birth of an eagle through artificial insemination in Scotland has opened up the opportunity to safeguard endangered birds of prey across the world.

The eight-day-old chick, Thor, was conceived with the use of frozen sperm — a world first with eagles. It is also the first time that frozen sperm has been used successfully to breed birds of prey in Britain.

Thor, whose birth was announced yesterday, was hatched after his mother, Meg, a Steppe eagle, was inseminated with sperm taken from Tallin, a golden eagle.

Both birds were raised in captivity by Andrew Knowles-Brown, a falconer and bird-breeding expert who conducted the experiment on his sheep farm in Elvanfoot, South Lanarkshire.

Freezing the sperm slowly was the key to Mr Knowles-Brown’s success. In other attempts over the past four years it had been frozen quickly, which had damaged it.

The process was devised by Graham Wishart, a biologist from the University of Abertay in Dundee, who gave Mr Knowles-Brown chemicals and directions on how to proceed. Because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, however, Mr Knowles-Brown’s farm was closed, and he could communicate with Dr Wishart only by e-mail or by meeting at a nearby service station.

Mr Knowles-Brown said: “Graham and I were in contact every day prior to artificial insemination of the eagle.”

Mr Knowles-Brown collected the sperm from Tallin in a test tube and then gradually froze it according to Dr Wishart’s instructions. When Meg came into season in March, Mr Knowles-Brown thawed the sperm and inseminated her using a small syringe.

Mr Knowles-Brown said that it was quite common to cross-breed eagles in captivity and the offspring were generally fertile. “One could envisage a situation where a particular species of bird of prey was in danger of extinction, but the best chance of its survival came from artificially inseminating a bird in Australia with the sperm of a bird in the UK,” he said.

“With the technology demonstrated in our new system, this is now a possibility.”

Dr Wishart said that insemination of birds of prey using frozen, rather than fresh, sperm had been achieved only twice before, both times by American scientists. “These birds were an American kestrel and peregrine falcon,” he said. “This marks the first time that cryo-insemination of a raptor has been achieved successfully outside a scientific institution.

“We are particularly excited about Thor’s birth because it shows that this complex science can be taken out of the laboratory and used by falconers and other aviculturalists.”

Dr Wishart said that frozen sperm could now be used to build up endangered bird populations in captivity before releasing them into the wild.

“We can now show that frozen sperm can fertilise an eagle egg. This is an important extra tool that can be used to build up endangered bird populations,” he said.

“As eagles in the wild only increase their populations very slowly, any captive manipulation which can rapidly produce offspring can only be of benefit.”

Study of Deformed Frogs Hits Roadblock
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS May 29, 2001 - The investigation of deformed frogs in Minnesota has come to a halt, despite legislative funding of $600,000 during the past two years that was supposed to keep the work going through June 30.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officials in charge of the research said they expect to return about $60,000 to the state fund from which the money originated.

"Things have been at a standstill," said Control Agency supervisor Greg Gross. "We haven't done much research of any kind since last fall." Gross said he couldn't find a qualified leader for the program after its previous coordinator left last fall.

Gross said a new leader might be hired in June, but that this year's research will be "impaired" because no one has been in the field this spring to check breeding ponds for deformed frogs.

The frogs have been a mystery in Minnesota and elsewhere since schoolchildren noticed them in a farm pond near Henderson, Minn., in 1995. The Legislature has spent more than $1.3 million since then on research, about two-thirds of which has been used as grants to university and federal researchers, and often as a match for other funds.

Research into various deformities in frog species suggests several causes or a combination of causes, including pesticides, parasites, ultraviolet radiation and disease.

"I do think frog malformations are a problem," said Mike Lannoo, national coordinator of a scientific task force that studies declining amphibian populations. Although some deformities can be explained by natural causes, he said, others cannot. "It's scary," he said. "I think people should be concerned."

Perry Jones, a hydrologist with the Minnesota district of the U.S. Geological Survey, said that finding the cause of frog deformities has not been simple, and that field data are essential. "We need actual information from someone going out and collecting frogs, counting how many are malformed vs. how many are normal, and identifying the types of malformations," he said. "The MPCA has been a focal point for that effort in the past."

Jones is one of several researchers who have analyzed water and sediment from Minnesota ponds to check for various pesticides, metals and other contaminants. State and federal money paid for that research.

Gross said that he expects to hire a new project director within the next few weeks, so that some Minnesota field research can be conducted this summer. The agency is prepared to spend $90,000 for each of the next two years to keep the project going, he said.

Lannoo said that with or without state help, a coalition of other researchers hopes to study about 20 deformed frog hot spots in Minnesota this summer. He defined hot spots as ponds that have 5 percent or more deformed frogs, compared with 1 percent or less that are considered to be natural background levels.

On the web:

Supreme Court Declines Ten Commandments

Associated Press

WASHINGTON May 29, 2001 (AP) - A divided Supreme Court declined Tuesday to hear a case on whether public display of the Ten Commandments violates the principle of separation of church and state.

The court turned aside an appeal by city officials from Elkhart, Ind., who had lost the church-state fight in lower courts. The dispute was over the display of a granite marker that bore the biblical commandments on the lawn in the front of a city building.

The court does not release the vote by which it agrees or refuses to take a case. But at least three - Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas - opposed the decision not to hear the case. It takes the affirmative votes of at least four justices to get a case heard.

Instead, a majority of the court let stand a lower court ruling that the marker violated the constitutional boundaries between church and state. A federal judge will now govern what to do with the monument, which has been in place since 1958.

Two city residents, with backing from the American Civil Liberties Union, had sued to get rid of the marker.

In their dissent, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas said they would have taken the case and said they found nothing wrong with the monument's display.

The monument "simply reflects the Ten Commandments' role in the development of our legal system," Rehnquist wrote for the three.

Justice John Paul Stevens then added his own note taking issue with the dissenters.

Stevens said the words "I am the Lord thy God," in the first line of the monument's inscription "is rather hard to square with the proposition that the monument expresses no particular religious preference."

The signed statements accompanying Tuesday's decision not to hear the case did not reveal who joined Stevens in voting to deny the city's appeal.

But the show of dissent on a question of hearing a case was unusual.

City leaders in Elkhart had asked the high court to overturn a federal appeals court's ruling that the monument is an unconstitutional government promotion of religion.

The city claimed a high court ruling, which prohibited such displays on school grounds in 1980, did not preclude the display of the list elsewhere on government property. It claimed that the lawn display met various tests the Supreme Court had set out for public displays of other religious symbols.

The city is represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a religious-oriented, nonprofit legal group on the model of the ACLU but usually opposed to the secular civil rights group's positions.

Canada Moves Toward Decriminalizing Marijuana
Associated Press

TORONTO May 28, 2001 (AP) - The Friendly Stranger once was a narrow stairway in a back room, a crowded little shop that offered water pipes, T-shirts and other products of the cannabis - or marijuana - culture.

Now proprietor Robin Ellins has a prominent storefront on busy Queen Street and plenty of room to display everything from hempseed oil and chips to a full line of hemp clothing and elaborate smoking accessories.

The transformation from hidden emporium to thriving commercial venture is part of Canada's slow but clear shift toward decriminalizing marijuana.

Justice Minister Anne McLellan says the issue should be studied, and a new Parliament committee on drug matters will look at decriminalization. Conservative Party leader Joe Clark is urging the elimination of criminal penalties for possessing a small amount of pot.

"It's unjust to see someone, because of one decision one night in their youth, carry the stigma - to be barred from studying medicine, law, architecture or other fields where a criminal record could present an obstacle," Clark said last week.

The government has proposed expanding medicinal use of marijuana, and the Canadian Medical Association Journal recently supported full decriminalization. Canada's Supreme Court will consider a case this year that contends criminal charges for the personal use of marijuana violate constitutional rights.

Making possession and use of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense - akin to a traffic fine - instead of a criminal violation would move Canadian policy closer to attitudes in The Netherlands and away from the United States, its neighbor and biggest trade partner.

That worries U.S. anti-drug activists such as Robert Maginnis of the Family Research Council.

"It will have a residual effect in this country of depressing prices and making marijuana more available," he said.

He also knows a shift by Canada would boost the arguments of American advocates for easing U.S. drug laws. "We find our allies are piling up on us and making it more difficult" to fight drug use, Maginnis said.

Joseph A. Califano Jr., president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, is skeptical about that.

Califano, a former U.S. secretary of health and human services, said increasing medical evidence on the harm caused by marijuana makes it unlikely that a change in Canadian law will affect U.S. policy. "I don't think it means much," he said.

Canada already has a legal industry for hemp - cannabis cultivated with very low amounts of the chemical that produces the high sought by marijuana smokers - while the U.S. federal government prohibits hemp production.

In April, Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock proposed expanding the medicinal use of marijuana beyond cancer sufferers now allowed to take the drug to people with AIDS and other terminal illnesses, severe arthritis, multiple sclerosis, spinal injuries and epilepsy. By contrast, the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld a federal ban on medical marijuana.

Some U.S. states allow hemp production and medical use of marijuana, despite the federal bans, noted Bill Zimmerman, executive director of the Campaign for New Drug Policies in California.

Arrest statistics show the disparity in the two nation's approaches.

Richard Garlick of the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse said about 25,000 people were arrested in Canada for simple possession of marijuana in 1999.

The U.S. figure for that year under the "zero tolerance" policy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was 24 times higher, exceeding 600,000, says the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Washington. The U.S. population is about eight times that of Canada's.

"Thank God, I'm in Canada," said Ellins, a long-haired entrepreneur who gives his age as thirtysomething. "I just can't believe what's going on down there. ... That's a war against people."

Believing decriminalization was inevitable in socially liberal Canada, he moved his store to a larger, more public setting last year. It's named for the "friendly stranger" cited in 1930s anti-marijuana propaganda as the supplier of "reefer madness."

Police leave him alone, because the store avoids anything considered drug paraphernalia, he said.

"Before it was too compact and tucked away," Ellins said. "There's definitely been an increase in business. We're more accessible. We're more in demand."

Dutch Town May Soon Offer Marijuana Drive-Through

VENLO, Netherlands May 28, 2001 — Town officials here are adamant that their plan should not be referred to as "McDope." But that may be a losing battle.

Under a proposal expected to be approved by the end of May, this modest town along the slow-moving Maas River, where barges regularly chug by, wants to open two drive- through shops where "drug tourists" can buy small amounts of marijuana and hashish without even getting out of their cars.

Although coffee shops selling small amounts of such soft drugs exist all over the Netherlands, no one has yet done a drive-through.

The idea has caused a sensation and flooded this town of about 65,000 people on the southern part of the country's eastern border with curious journalists. Already Venlo has five licensed coffee shops where customers can pick their favorite brands of marijuana and hashish from among heaping plastic Tupperware-type containers set out for display.

Recently at one of the shops, called Roots, the young man behind the counter declined to discuss his views on what he called the "McDrives."

"I have talked to six journalists already today," he said, inhaling deeply from an oversize marijuana cigarette. "I can't do it anymore."

Actually Venlo is not trying to increase its drug business. It is trying to get rid of it.

The problem, town officials say, is that about five million people live within an hour's drive of Venlo, most of them across the border in Germany, where sale of marijuana and hashish remain illegal. As people have grown more and more comfortable with the European Union's open borders, and virtually every physical sign of the border posts have disappeared, more and more Germans are coming to Venlo to buy drugs.

As early as 8 a.m., the cars with German license plates begin rolling down Urbanus Street disgorging customers who dash out to make quick purchases.

Venlo could live with it, officials said, if all stopped there. But drug customers, its seems, beget drug dealers, and not everyone is satisfied with just five grams of marijuana, the maximum sold in the licensed coffee shops.

Venlo officials say there are now more than 65 illegal places to buy drugs in town. And bunches of young men lounge around parts of town, haranguing passers-by with offers of all kinds of drugs.

"They approach the people quite aggressively," said Elke Haanraadts, the town planner in charge of the anti-drug project. "This is the problem. There is not a feeling of security."

The idea, said Ms. Haanraadts, is to put the drive-throughs outside town — even closer to the German border, which is just half a mile away. "They would just be selling near the big road," she said, "and they might not even have a place to sit down." The hope, of course, is that the dealers will also get out of town.

Will it work? Even Ms. Haanraadts is not sure.

"It is a kind of experiment," she said. "We will see."

A good deal of Dutch drug activity operates in a gray legal area.

Drug selling, even of soft drugs, is not technically legal. It is "tolerated" to the point that the city licenses the coffee shops. But at the same time, everyone turns a blind eye to how the shops get their stock, an activity that since it involves transactions of large amounts, is not legal or tolerated. All that can make it hard for a city to know what to do, Ms. Haanraadts said.

The drive-throughs are only a third of Venlo's anti-drug plan. The city has also been buying up sites used by drug dealers and finding new tenants.

And police efforts are being stepped up as well.

It is hard to find a Venlo citizen opposed to the proposal. Most of them grumble that the Germans are hypocrites: unloading a problem on the Dutch because they refuse to legalize what is common practice among their own citizens.

Putting the problem closer to the border is fine with them.

"Because it is not allowed over there, we have the problem," said Harry Heesakker, the owner of a sporting goods store surrounded by the drug trade.

Mr. Heesakker says the value of his property has been cut in half in the last three years. On either side of his store are empty shops, where the police have shut down drug operations.

The rest of the stores nearby almost all sell drug paraphernalia — their display windows filled with huge hand-blown glass water pipes, lighters and rolling papers. Some have chalkboards in front advertising varieties of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Town officials and even merchants like Mr. Heesakker say the drug trade has not brought violence to the area. In fact, Mr. Heesakker says the dealers behave like fellow merchants — they are friendly toward him, gossipy and protective of the street. Still, they tend to keep regular customers away.

It is true that the whole area has a furtive feel to it. Even the customers going to the licensed coffee shops tend to hurry away with their heads down. No one wants to be identified.

In the late afternoon the pace of activity quickens for the drug dealers.

Most of the customers are young. But there are middle-aged couples too, a few with children. Some settled down inside the licensed shops to play pinball; others wandered to the river to light up. But most climb quickly back into their cars for their long rides home.

Many say that they could buy drugs in Germany, too, but that making the trip to Venlo is easier. "It's cheaper here, and the stuff is better quality," said one young man. "Yeah, you worry about getting stopped on the other side. But not that much, and this is no hassle here."
Old Bones May Show Why Neanderthals Went Extinct
By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON May 21, 2001 (Reuters) - Old bones may tell the tale of how short, stocky, hairy Neanderthals were supplanted in Europe some 30,000 years ago by thinner, taller, more adaptable modern humans, scientists reported on Monday.

By studying the chemicals that remained in the bones of the earliest modern humans, scientists discovered that their diet, which included fish and fowl as well as large mammals, may have given them the edge over the Neanderthals, who favored an all-big-mammal menu.

Both Neanderthals and humans needed to pack on weight, because Europe was a much colder place then, with glaciers covering the British Isles from time to time and Scandinavia periodically under ice, according to Michael Richards, a researcher at the University of Bradford in Britain.

A specialist in the prehistoric diet, Richards said by telephone that a study published in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at the bone chemistry of Neanderthals and the modern humans that coexisted and eventually supplanted them.

Previously, scientists had generally looked at old stone tools and animal bones found near human remains to get an idea of what early modern humans and their ancestors ate. But Richard said this method could give equivocal or incomplete results, while bone chemistry provided clearer clues.

"The bones are made up of the foods you eat, so they're a direct measure of diet," Richards said. And while the ancient bones might degrade in some cases, scientific analysis showed that the bones used in this study did not, he said.


The pickings were rather slim: scientists worked with data from the bones of five Neanderthals and nine skeletons of early modern humans, all from a period some 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.

This was near the end of the Neanderthals' time in Europe, and the beginning of the modern humans' time, with an overlap of about 10,000 years. Before this, Neanderthals had lived in this area starting about 120,000 years ago, Richards said.

The key to the modern humans' survival was a more diverse diet, which gave them more choices in lean periods.

Neanderthals spent most of their lives hunting and eating large mammals, such as red deer, reindeer and sometimes mammoth, Richards said. This diet kept their heavy muscles going and enabled them to survive.

But when early modern humans moved into Europe, probably from Africa, they brought an appetite for the same large herbivores that the Neanderthals wanted, putting pressure on supply.

However, while Neanderthals only wanted the land mammals, the modern humans also caught fish and wild birds to supplement their diet and this adaptability tided them over when times were lean, Richards said.

"My take on this is this is why Neanderthals were extinct while modern humans were much more successful," he said, but he noted that even some of the other authors of the study disagreed with this theory, with some saying that interbreeding or other factors may account for the Neanderthals' disappearance.

Vegetables and fruits played little role in the diets of Neanderthals and early modern humans, he said.

"They were eating some (vegetables and fruits) but it was not enough to show up in their bone chemistry," Richards said.

Dust Mite Allergens in 23 Percent of Homes

WASHINGTON May 22, 2001 (Reuters) - The allergy-causing proteins produced by dust mites -- tiny creatures that live on flakes of human skin -- have been found in high levels in the beds of 23 percent of U.S. homes, a national survey reported on Tuesday.

That means that dust mite allergens at levels associated with asthma and allergies are present in some 23.2 million homes in the United States, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences said in a statement.

Dust mite allergens are proteins which come from the digestive tract of mites and are found at high levels in mite feces. Mites generally escape notice because they are too small to be seen by unaided eyes, but they are present to some degree in nearly all places where people live, the statement said.

The same U.S. government survey found allergens from cockroaches was detectable in 6 percent of U.S. homes.

In the survey, researchers collected vacuumed dust samples, environmental and demographic data and health information from surveyed homes and their residents.

They took samples from 831 homes occupied by 2,456 people in 75 locations around the United States.

Silicon Valley Newborns to Get Immediate Email
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. May 25, 2001 (Reuters) - First you get spanked, then you get spammed.

Under a new program being sponsored by a Silicon Valley hospital, some northern California newborns will get an e-mail address within minutes of being born, officials said on Thursday.

Sequoia Hospital has teamed up with Inc. to offer "tech-savvy" parents the option of launching their infants online long before they take their first steps, giving them e-mail and a personalized domain name shortly after they take their first gulps of air.

The service will provide "access to free email and URL forwarding, as well as online tips and resources for child care and parenting," Nemezero said in a statement.

"As our society's communications structure becomes increasingly centered around the Internet, the domain name is becoming an important form of identity, much like a social security number," Namezero President Bruce Keiser said.

"By registering a child's name at birth, parents are ensuring that the child will have it throughout their lifetime."

Linda Kresge, chief nurse executive at Sequoia, said the service make the Silicon Valley hospital the first in the country to offer free Internet domains and e-mail addresses for babies. "It's a fun way to welcome new babies to the 21st century," Kresge said.
Revolutionary X-43 Promises to Transform Flight

WASHINGTON May 21, 2001 (NY Times) — After more than four decades of promise and speculation, a new type of jet engine is about to power a small experimental plane at speeds previously reserved for rockets.

Early next month, the unpiloted plane called X-43A is to be shot to the edge of space on the nose of a rocket before cutting loose for a short dash on its own off the Pacific Coast at almost 5,000 miles per hour, seven times the speed of sound.

If successful, the flight will be the first of an air-breathing, nonrocket plane at hypersonic speeds. This could lead to aircraft that can take people anywhere in the world within two hours or help boost cargoes into space at significantly lower costs, proponents say.

To reach such speeds, the X-43A uses an engine called a scramjet, which combines features of a conventional turbojet with those of a rocket. While the design and materials used to make regular jets limit the speed of aircraft to three or four times the speed of sound (2,000 to 3,000 m.p.h.), scramjets theoretically may push planes to speeds of 18,000 m.p.h.

If scramjets work as engineers predict, proponents say, it could bring an advance in aircraft propulsion equal to that of jet engines over motors driving propellers.

"This flight will make aviation history," said Joel Sitz, X-43 project manager at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California, which is in charge of the test flights.

Three X-43A's are to make hypersonic test flights over 18 months, starting on June 2, from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Hypersonic speeds are those above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. Mach 5 is about a mile per second, or 3,600 m.p.h. at sea level. The first two X- 43A's are to try for Mach 7 and the last, Mach 10, about 7,000 m.p.h.

The aircraft are part of a six-year, $185 million program of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration called Hyper-X, intended to refine hypersonic design and ground testing and validate the results with flights. The program is being conducted jointly by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., which is in charge of design and ground testing, and Dryden.

The first hypersonic aircraft was the manned X-15, a rocket-powered craft that broke speed and altitude records more than 30 years ago. The air-breathing X-43A hopes to break the aircraft speed record of Mach 6.7 set by the X-15 in October 1967. The fastest air-breathing plane is the SR- 71 "Blackbird" jet, slightly faster than Mach 3, or 2,100 m.p.h.

Conventional turbojets work by concentrating air with fan-like blades in a compressor, combining it with fuel and burning the mixture to produce thrust. Faster speeds can be attained using ramjets, which forgo the compressor and use a specially shaped inlet to slow and concentrate air. But ramjets, which have been used in military missiles, do not work unless the aircraft is already moving at high speed, usually with the initial assistance of a rocket. Ramjets are also limited to about Mach 6 because their combustion chambers overheat at higher speeds.

Scramjets, or supersonic-combustion ramjets, can attain higher speeds by reducing airflow compression at the entrance of the engine and letting it pass through at supersonic speeds. This reduces the temperature buildup in the combustion chamber, overcoming the limits of regular jets but requires a rapid and tricky mixing and burning of fuel and air.

Charles R. McClinton, technology manager for the Hyper-X program at Langley, said researchers have worked on scramjets for more than 40 years, building mountains of data from wind-tunnel and ground tests. Some early trials with limited prototypes led some people to believe that hypersonic engines would not produce enough thrust to overcome the atmospheric drag on the plane, Mr. McClinton said. "The X-43 flight is to prove scramjets, once and for all, will work and will move an airplane."

Scramjet-powered craft are also different from other airplanes because the engine and vehicle are integrated as one unit. The craft must be designed to capture large amounts of thin air in the upper atmosphere, Mr. McClinton said, and the shape of the vehicle must work like a giant air scoop.

The shock wave produced by the fast-moving aircraft helps guide the air into the engine, and high pressure, trapped by the shock, on the bottom of the vehicle provides lift, engineers said.

It has taken so long to develop scramjets because "the Apollo program came along, and there was a shift to rocket technology," said Griff Corpening, chief engineer for the X-43 at Dryden.

There was a resurgence of interest in scramjets when President Ronald Reagan announced the X-30 National Aero Space Plane, or NASP, project in 1986, intended to produce a scramjet-powered craft that would revolutionize air travel and go into space at 25 times the speed of sound.

NASP never flew because it tried to combine too many untried technologies into a test vehicle, Mr. Sitz and other experts said.

"We have taken NASP and chopped it up into more manageable chunks," Mr. Sitz said. "This gets us a reasonable, mature technology base and gives us more confidence to step up to a larger vehicle."

The X-43A is a 12-foot-long craft shaped like a flat blade with the engine sculpted into a smooth pod on its bottom. The 2,700-pound vehicle, made by MicroCraft of Tullahoma, Tenn., is 5 feet wide across its tail fins and made of aluminum and steel alloys, with a special heat-resistant carbon material on its leading edges to withstand temperatures expected to reach 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The research craft is attached to a modified, air-launched Pegasus rocket booster made by Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va. The flight plan calls for a modified B-52 bomber to drop the X-43A from 24,000 feet above the Navy's Pacific test range. The rocket is to accelerate the craft to 95,000 feet and Mach 7 before the vehicles separate. Seconds later, the scramjet is to fire for 7 to 10 seconds and propel the X-43A about 4,700 m.p.h.

Although engine burns of a few seconds may not seem significant, project engineers say the data will be vastly superior to any from wind tunnels and will show how the engine works under real conditions. More than 500 sensors will provide information about almost every aspect of the flight, and chase aircraft also will be collecting data, officials said.

Because of cost and complexity, there are no plans to recover any of the X-43's, which will be maneuvered to crash into the ocean.

Before the Big Bang There Was What?

May 22, 2001 (NY Times) - What was God doing before he created the world? The philosopher and writer (and later saint) Augustine posed the question in his "Confessions" in the fourth century, and then came up with a strikingly modern answer: before God created the world there was no time and thus no "before." To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there was no "then" then.

Until recently no one could attend a lecture on astronomy and ask the modern version of Augustine's question — what happened before the Big Bang? — without receiving the same frustrating answer, courtesy of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which describes how matter and energy bend space and time.

If we imagine the universe shrinking backward, like a film in reverse, the density of matter and energy rises toward infinity as we approach the moment of origin. Smoke pours from the computer, and space and time themselves dissolve into a quantum "foam." "Our rulers and our clocks break," explained Dr. Andrei Linde, a cosmologist at Stanford University. "To ask what is before this moment is a self-contradiction."

But lately, emboldened by progress in new theories that seek to unite Einstein's lordly realm with the unruly quantum rules that govern subatomic physics — so-called quantum gravity — Dr. Linde and his colleagues have begun to edge their speculations closer and closer to the ultimate moment and, in some cases, beyond it.

Some theorists suggest that the Big Bang was not so much a birth as a transition, a "quantum leap" from some formless era of imaginary time, or from nothing at all. Still others are exploring models in which cosmic history begins with a collision with a universe from another dimension.

All this theorizing has received a further boost of sorts from recent reports of ripples in a diffuse radio glow in the sky, thought to be the remains of the Big Bang fireball itself. These ripples are consistent with a popular theory, known as inflation, that the universe briefly speeded its expansion under the influence of a violent antigravitational force, when it was only a fraction of a fraction of a nanosecond old. Those ripples thus provide a useful check on theorists' imaginations. Any theory of cosmic origins that does not explain this phenomenon, cosmologists agree, stands little chance of being right.

Fortunately or unfortunately, that still leaves room for a lot of possibilities.

"If inflation is the dynamite behind the Big Bang, we're still looking for the match," said Dr. Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago. The only thing that all the experts agree on is that no idea works — yet. Dr. Turner likened cosmologists to jazz musicians collecting themes that sound good for a work in progress: "You hear something and you say, oh yeah, we want that in the final piece."

One answer to the question of what happened before the Big Bang is that it does not matter because it does not affect the state of our universe today. According to a theory known as eternal inflation, put forward by Dr. Linde in 1986, what we know as the Big Bang was only one out of many in a chain reaction of big bangs by which the universe endlessly reproduces and reinvents itself. "Any particular part of the universe may die, and probably will die," Dr. Linde said, "but the universe as a whole is immortal."

Dr. Linde's theory is a modification of the inflation theory that was proposed in 1980 by Dr. Alan Guth, a physicist. He considered what would happen if, as the universe was cooling during its first violently hot moments, an energy field known as the Higgs field, which interacts with particles to give them their masses, was somehow, briefly, unable to release its energy.

Space, he concluded, would be suffused with a sort of latent energy that would violently push the universe apart. In an eyeblink the universe would double some 60 times over, until the Higgs field released its energy and filled the outrushing universe with hot particles. Cosmic history would then ensue.

Cosmologists like inflation because such a huge outrush would have smoothed any gross irregularities from the primordial cosmos, leaving it homogeneous and geometrically flat. Moreover, it allows the whole cosmos to grow from next to nothing, which caused Dr. Guth to dub the universe "the ultimate free lunch."

Subsequent calculations ruled out the Higgs field as the inflating agent, but there are other inflation candidates that would have the same effect. More important, from the pre- Big-Bang perspective, Dr. Linde concluded, one inflationary bubble would sprout another, which in turn would sprout even more. In effect each bubble would be a new big bang, a new universe with different characteristics and perhaps even different dimensions. Our universe would merely be one of them.

"If it starts, this process can keep happening forever," Dr. Linde explained. "It can happen now, in some part of the universe."

The greater universe envisioned by eternal inflation is so unimaginably large, chaotic and diverse that the question of a beginning to the whole shebang becomes almost irrelevant. For cosmologists like Dr. Guth and Dr. Linde, that is in fact the theory's lure.

"Chaotic inflation allows us to explain our world without making such assumptions as the simultaneous creation of the whole universe from nothing," Dr. Linde said in an e-mail message.

Questions for Eternity: Trying to Imagine the Nothingness

Nevertheless, most cosmologists, including Dr. Guth and Dr. Linde, agree that the universe ultimately must come from somewhere, and that nothing is the leading candidate.

As a result, another tune that cosmologists like to hum is quantum theory. According to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, one of the pillars of this paradoxical world, empty space can never be considered really empty; subatomic particles can flit in and out of existence on energy borrowed from energy fields. Crazy as it sounds, the effects of these quantum fluctuations have been observed in atoms, and similar fluctuations during the inflation are thought to have produced the seeds around which today's galaxies were formed.

Could the whole universe likewise be the result of a quantum fluctuation in some sort of primordial or eternal nothingness? Perhaps, as Dr. Turner put it, "Nothing is unstable."

The philosophical problems that plague ordinary quantum mechanics are amplified in so-called quantum cosmology. For example, as Dr. Linde points out, there is a chicken- and-egg problem. Which came first: the universe, or the law governing it? Or, as he asks, "If there was no law, how did the universe appear?"

One of the earliest attempts to imagine the nothingness that is the source of everything came in 1965 when Dr. John Wheeler and Dr. Bryce DeWitt, now at the University of Texas, wrote down an equation that combined general relativity and quantum theory. Physicists have been arguing about it ever since.

The Wheeler-DeWitt equation seems to live in what physicists have dubbed "superspace," a sort of mathematical ensemble of all possible universes, ones that live only five minutes before collapsing into black holes and ones full of red stars that live forever, ones full of life and ones that are empty deserts, ones in which the constants of nature and perhaps even the number of dimensions are different from our own.

In ordinary quantum mechanics, an electron can be thought of as spread out over all of space until it is measured and observed to be at some specific location. Likewise, our own universe is similarly spread out over all of superspace until it is somehow observed to have a particular set of qualities and laws. That raises another of the big questions. Since nobody can step outside the universe, who is doing the observing?

Dr. Wheeler has suggested that one answer to that question may be simply us, acting through quantum- mechanical acts of observation, a process he calls "genesis by observership."

"The past is theory," he once wrote. "It has no existence except in the records of the present. We are participators, at the microscopic level, in making that past, as well as the present and the future." In effect, Dr. Wheeler's answer to Augustine is that we are collectively God and that we are always creating the universe.

Another option, favored by many cosmologists, is the so-called many worlds interpretation, which says that all of these possible universes actually do exist. We just happen to inhabit one whose attributes are friendly to our existence.

The End of Time: Just Another Card in the Big Deck

Yet another puzzle about the Wheeler-DeWitt equation is that it makes no mention of time. In superspace everything happens at once and forever, leading some physicists to question the role of time in the fundamental laws of nature. In his book "The End of Time," published to coincide with the millennium, Dr. Julian Barbour, an independent physicist and Einstein scholar in England, argues that the universe consists of a stack of moments, like the cards in a deck, that can be shuffled and reshuffled arbitrarily to give the illusion of time and history.

The Big Bang is just another card in this deck, along with every other moment, forever part of the universe. "Immortality is here," he writes in his book. "Our task is to recognize it."

Dr. Carlo Rovelli, a quantum gravity theorist at the University of Pittsburgh, pointed out that the Wheeler- DeWitt equation doesn't mention space either, suggesting that both space and time might turn out to be artifacts of something deeper. "If we take general relativity seriously," he said, "we have to learn to do physics without time, without space, in the fundamental theory."

While admitting that they cannot answer these philosophical questions, some theorists have committed pen to paper in attempts to imagine quantum creation mathematical rigor.

Dr. Alexander Vilenkin, a physicist at Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., has likened the universe to a bubble in a pot of boiling water. As in water, only bubbles of a certain size will survive and expand, smaller ones collapse. So, in being created, the universe must leap from no size at all — zero radius, "no space and no time" — to a radius large enough for inflation to take over without passing through the in-between sizes, a quantum-mechanical process called "tunneling."

Dr. Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge University cosmologist and best-selling author, would eliminate this quantum leap altogether. For the last 20 years he and a series of collaborators have been working on what he calls a "no boundary proposal." The boundary of the universe is that it has no boundary, Dr. Hawking likes to say.

One of the keys to Dr. Hawking's approach is to replace time in his equations with a mathematical conceit called imaginary time; this technique is commonly used in calculations regarding black holes and in certain fields of particle physics, but its application to cosmology is controversial.

The universe, up to and including its origin, is then represented by a single conical-shaped mathematical object, known as an instanton, that has four spatial dimensions (shaped roughly like a squashed sphere) at the Big Bang end and then shifts into real time and proceeds to inflate. "Actually it sort of bursts and makes an infinite universe," said Dr. Neil Turok, also from Cambridge University. "Everything for all future time is determined, everything is implicit in the instanton."

Unfortunately the physical meaning of imaginary time is not clear. Beyond that, the approach produces a universe that is far less dense than the real one.

The Faith of Strings: Theorists Bring on the 'Brane' Worlds

But any real progress in discerning the details of the leap from eternity into time, cosmologists say, must wait for the formulation of a unified theory of quantum gravity that succeeds in marrying Einstein's general relativity to quantum mechanics — two views of the world, one describing a continuous curved space-time, the other a discontinuous random one — that have been philosophically and mathematically at war for almost a century. Such a theory would be able to deal with the universe during the cauldron of the Big Bang itself, when even space and time, theorists say, have to pay their dues to the uncertainty principle and become fuzzy and discontinuous.

In the last few years, many physicists have pinned their hopes for quantum gravity on string theory, an ongoing mathematically labyrinthean effort to portray nature as comprising tiny wiggly strings or membranes vibrating in 10 or 11 dimensions.

In principle, string theory can explain all the known (and unknown) forces of nature. In practice, string theorists admit that even their equations are still only approximations, and physicists outside the fold complain that the effects of "stringy physics" happen at such high energies that there is no hope of testing them in today's particle accelerators. So theorists have been venturing into cosmology, partly in the hopes of discovering some effect that can be observed.

The Big Bang is an obvious target. A world made of little loops has a minimum size. It cannot shrink beyond the size of the string loops themselves, Dr. Robert Brandenberger, now at Brown, and Dr. Cumrun Vafa, now at Harvard, deduced in 1989. When they used their string equations to imagine space shrinking smaller than a certain size, Dr. Brandenberger said, the universe acted instead as if it were getting larger. "It looks like it is bouncing from a collapsing phase."

In this view, the Big Bang is more like a transformation, like the melting of ice to become water, than a birth, explained Dr. Linde, calling it "an interesting idea that should be pursued." Perhaps, he mused, there could be a different form of space and time before the Big Bang. "Maybe the universe is immortal," he said. "Maybe it just changes phase. Is it nothing? Is it a phase transition? These are very close to religious questions."

Work by Dr. Brandenberger and Dr. Vafa also explains how it is that we only see 3 of the 9 or 10 spatial dimensions the theory calls for. Early in time the strings, they showed, could wrap around space and strangle most of the spatial dimensions, keeping them from growing.

In the last few years, however, string theorists have been galvanized by the discovery that their theory allows for membranes of various dimensions ("branes" in string jargon) as well as strings. Moreover they have begun to explore the possibility that at least one of the extra dimensions could be as large as a millimeter, which is gigantic in string physics. In this new cosmology, our world is a three-dimensional island, or brane floating in a five- dimensional space, like a leaf in a fish tank. Other branes might be floating nearby. Particles like quarks and electrons and forces like electromagnetism are stuck to the brane, but gravity is not, and thus the brane worlds can exert gravitational pulls on each other.

"A fraction of a millimeter from you is another universe," said Dr. Linde. "It might be there. It might be the determining factor of the universe in which you live."

Worlds in Collision: A New Possibility Is Introduced

That other universe could bring about creation itself, according to several recent theories. One of them, called branefall, was developed in 1998 by Dr. Georgi Dvali of New York University and Dr. Henry Tye, from Cornell. In it the universe emerges from its state of quantum formlessness as a tangle of strings and cold empty membranes stuck together. If, however, there is a gap between the branes at some point, the physicists said, they will begin to fall together.

Each brane, Dr. Dvali said, will experience the looming gravitational field of the other as an energy field in its own three-dimensional space and will begin to inflate rapidly, doubling its size more than a thousand times in the period it takes for the branes to fall together. "If there is at least one region where the branes are parallel, those regions will start an enormous expansion while other regions will collapse and shrink," Dr. Dvali said.

When the branes finally collide, their energy is released and the universe heats up, filling with matter and heat, as in the standard Big Bang.

This spring four physicists proposed a different kind of brane clash that they say could do away with inflation, the polestar of Big Bang theorizing for 20 years, altogether. Dr. Paul Steinhardt, one of the fathers of inflation, and his student Justin Khoury, both of Princeton, Dr. Burt Ovrut of Penn State and Dr. Turok call it the ekpyrotic universe, after the Greek word "ekpyrosis," which denotes the fiery death and rebirth of the world in Stoic philosophy.

The ekpyrotic process begins far in the indefinite past with a pair of flat empty branes sitting parallel to each other in a warped five-dimensional space — a situation they say that represents the simplest solution of Einstein's equations in an advanced version of string theory. The authors count it as a point in their favor that they have not assumed any extra effects that do not already exist in that theory. "Hence we are proposing a potentially realistic model of cosmology," they wrote in their paper.

The two branes, which form the walls of the fifth dimension, could have popped out of nothingness as a quantum fluctuation in the even more distant past and then drifted apart.

At some point, perhaps when the branes had reached a critical distance apart, the story goes, a third brane could have peeled off the other brane and begun falling toward ours. During its long journey, quantum fluctuations would ripple the drifting brane's surface, and those would imprint the seeds of future galaxies all across our own brane at the moment of collision. Dr. Steinhardt offered the theory at an astronomical conference in Baltimore in April.

In the subsequent weeks the ekpyrotic universe has been much discussed. Some cosmologists, particularly Dr. Linde, have argued that in requiring perfectly flat and parallel branes the ekpyrotic universe required too much fine-tuning.

In a critique Dr. Linde and his co- authors suggested a modification they called the "pyrotechnic universe."

Dr. Steinhardt admitted that the ekpyrotic model started from a very specific condition, but that it was a logical one. The point, he said, was to see if the universe could begin in a long-lived quasi-stable state "starkly different from inflation." The answer was yes. His co-author, Dr. Turok, pointed out, moreover, that inflation also requires fine-tuning to produce the modern universe, and physicists still don't know what field actually produces it.

"Until we have solved quantum gravity and connected string theory to particle physics none of us can claim victory," Dr. Turok said.

In the meantime, Augustine sleeps peacefully.

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