Alien Oryx,
and Asteroids!
Repentant Reagan Daughter Details White House Haul
WASHINGTON February 18, 2001 (Reuters) - With the nation abuzz about gifts that former President Clinton took from the White House, Ronald Reagan's daughter said on Sunday that she had to confess to "straying within those hallowed walls" herself.

In an essay for The Washington Post, Patti Davis admitted to taking "around, oh, 84" matchbooks inscribed with the words "The President's House," at least half a dozen notebooks, a man's black sock left in the Lincoln Bedroom, one bowling ball and a pillow with a needlepoint picture of an elephant.

She said pilfering from the White House had been difficult since she was not there often and "didn't have the advantage of a moving van, which restricted the size and number of items I could run off with."

Davis, an actress and screenwriter, has written extensively about her unhappy childhood, posed nude for Playboy and changed her surname in protest against her father's politics.

She was an infrequent visitor at the White House during her father's eight years in office but said she still made off with a few interesting items.

Repentance was triggered by fear of congressional hearings, she confided.

"I am disclosing this now because, with all the attention on the Clintons and the furniture items in question, Congress might start looking at anyone who's ever spent the night there," Davis wrote in the Post's Outlook section.


"I suggest that others who found themselves straying within those hallowed walls follow my lead: Come clean, confess, appeal to America's forgiving heart. And pray for a presidential pardon."

Clinton and his wife, now a senator from New York, have returned more than $28,000 worth of furniture and items they removed from the White House after donors said they were not intended as personal gifts.

The ex-president has also come under fire for his last-minute pardons, especially of fugitive financier Marc Rich, whose former wife contributed heavily to Clinton's library foundation and other Democratic causes.

Davis said she did not know if metal detectors were installed in White House walls, so she never tried to take any White House silverware, adding, "It was a little too fancy for my taste anyway."

She said her matchbooks and notepads were used up but offered to return the black Ralph Lauren sock, now framed and labeled ("erroneously, you understand") "Abe Lincoln's sock," as well as the bowling ball, taken from the White House bowling alley and smuggled out in a suitcase.

The pillow was another matter.

"I'm sorry, but I can't give the pillow back. I tried to turn the elephant into a donkey, since I'm not a Republican, and I ruined the whole thing," Davis wrote.

Appealing to President George W. Bush for a pardon, Davis said she was sending him a check for $25 for his future presidential library.

Earl of Sandwich On For Lunch, Buys Bikini
Associated Press

LONDON February 21, 2001 - The family that invented the sandwich is back in the business. Orlando Montagu, descendant of the fourth Earl of Sandwich, opened his shop Tuesday, seeking a slice of London's booming luncheon trade.

The family name will be a big help: Montagu's father is the 11th Earl of Sandwich, who can trace his line directly to the man who first married beef to bread.

"There are 250 years of expectation on us,'' Montagu said, laboring in his kitchen in east London on Monday morning. "We have tremendous pressure on us to get this right.''

Earl of Sandwich, as the company is known, is starting small -- a lunchtime delivery service for London's business district.

But Montagu hopes one day to open kitchens across the United Kingdom, Europe and, eventually, the world. He is backed by Robert Earl, creator of Planet Hollywood, who is investing $2 million in the venture.

"I think it's fair to say that never in the history of brand launches has there been a brand with such awareness,'' said Earl, who also made news last week by buying the bikini Ursula Andress wore in "Dr. No.''

The 18th-century John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, is recognized as the inventor of the meal that bears his name. He is said to have wanted a quick, easy meal -- so he could continue with either an all-night gambling stint or with his paperwork at a government desk, depending on the version of the story -- and so put together a slice of salt beef in bread.

His 30-year-old descendant, Orlando, is trying to reclaim his family name with the launching of his company. There are Earl of Sandwich motels, restaurants, pubs and catering services scattered throughout the world but unconnected to the family.

Montagu recalled walking into a sandwich shop in Milan, Italy, in 1991 and seeing pictures of himself and his family tacked to the walls. There was even a ham and cheese sandwich named "Orlando'' after him.

With more than 2 billion commercial sandwiches consumed each year in Britain, Montagu wanted in on the business.

"The idea has evolved over the years,'' said the 11th Earl of Sandwich, also John Montagu, who is president of the company and a member of the House of Lords. "We always talked about sandwiches and said, `We ought to be part of this because this is part of our family business.' ''

The earl accepted his son's first sandwich delivery at the House of Lords on Tuesday morning.

Orlando Montagu has worked for the past year to get the business ready, but insists it has been a family affair. His parents, siblings and wife have been taste-testing the menu, which is seasonal and uses only local products.

"We are what you call ultra-fresh,'' Montagu said. "All of the sandwiches are made fresh daily and nothing left over is used.''

There are classic sandwiches with Dorset ham and bacon, Suffolk roast chicken, and smoked Scottish salmon. The menu also includes crab, chargrilled tiger prawns and Thai spiced chicken.

The dish closest to the original sandwich eaten by the fourth earl is one with Aberdeen Angus beef, horseradish cream and roasted root vegetables.

"I don't think there would have been many ingredients in his sandwich,'' said the present-day earl. "There might have been a little bit of salad, but I would think that none of us would be satisfied with it today.''

Although the ingredients have been changed from the fourth earl's time, one thing has stayed true.

"The test is to be able to hold it in one hand,'' the 11th earl said. "That is the authentic sandwich.''

Alien Oryx Take Over White Sands Missile Range!
Associated Press

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. February 17, 2001 (AP) - Game managers were just looking for a good trophy animal for hunters in this empty quarter of southern New Mexico. What they got was an exotic antelope from Africa so at home in the desert that it is multiplying like rabbits.

The original handful of oryx, a native of Africa's Kalahari desert introduced to the Chihuahuan desert in 1969, has grown to roughly 3,000 animals - even though hunters are allowed to kill more and more each year.

And although the missile test range sprawls across 2 million acres, the oryx are migrating beyond its boundaries, crossing highways and grazing on private land where they compete with cattle for forage. They have been spotted on the runways at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, where F-117 stealth fighters are based.

Early studies grossly underestimated the oryx's ability to thrive and assumed they would stay concentrated in an area considered "empty." But now, researchers say that if the animals were left undisturbed, they would spread throughout southern New Mexico.

"And in Texas and Mexico," added Steve Henry, wildlife administrator for the New Mexico Game and Fish Department.

"We know so very little about oryx," acknowledged Patrick Morrow, a missile range wildlife biologist.

To find the best formula for controlling the burgeoning population, missile range researchers have begun a $350,000, four-year study of the animals' haunts and habits.

The state Game and Fish Department first issued hunting permits for oryx in 1974. Hunters took more than 700 animals in the 1999-2000 season and about 1,000 will be culled this season.

But increasing the number of permits is costly for the department because wildlife managers must spend time with each hunting party. The weapons tested at White Sands make it a dangerous place, and at least one visitor has been killed by picking up unexploded ordnance. Public access is highly restricted, and hunters must follow safety rules and stay within strict boundaries.

The oryx have thrived because much of the Chihuahuan vegetation is similar to what grows in the Kalahari.

And while mule deer and desert bighorn sheep populations dwindled because of drought from 1992-96, oryx thrived.

Oryx use nearly every molecule of water stored in the plants they eat, meaning they don't require streams or springs. And they have a capillary system above their palate that acts like a radiator to keep their brains from baking in the heat.

They also have few natural predators in New Mexico. Although a mountain lion occasionally will kill an oryx, their ranges rarely overlap since the cats prowl the peaks and the oryx graze in the grasslands below.

And since they weigh an average of 400 pounds and have horns more than 3 1/2 feet long, oryx can ably defend themselves. Morrow said the oryx is reputed to be the only hoofed animal ever to kill an African lion.

On top of all that, females reach sexual maturity at 1 1/2 and then are nearly always pregnant. The White Sands environment is so suited to the oryx that twin births have been observed, which is unusual in their native Kalahari, said Doug Burkett, a wildlife range specialist with Mevatec, a missile range contractor.

The new study aims to find a strategy that will maintain the population at 800 to 1,200 and keep it within the boundaries of the missile range. It also will examine the animals' effect on other species - including those that are threatened or endangered.

Experts said hunting will continue to be the main tool to control the oryx population, and there is no shortage of hunters willing to help.

Morrow said the wildlife department receives up to 30 applicants for every oryx permit it issues, at a cost of $1,500 for a nonresident and $100 for a resident.

Technology Gives a Feel of Dinosaur Bite
By Patricia Reaney

LONDON February 21, 2001 (Reuters) - Cutting edge technology and sophisticated scanning techniques are giving scientists a feel for the bite of a 150 million-year-old dinosaur.

Allosaurus, a cousin of the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex, was a Jurassic dinosaur with 80 or more sabre-like teeth but scientists at the University of Cambridge said on Wednesday that despite its ferocity it did not have a very strong bite.

They used fossils from an Allosaurus and a technique called finite element analysis (FEA) to recreate a model of the creature's skull to see how it killed its prey.

"I found out by reconstructing the muscles at the back of the skull and calculating the bite force that Allosaurus has a relatively weak bite force," paleontologist Emily Rayfield said in a telephone interview.

"It is about four times weaker than Tyrannosaurus rex or an alligator."


FEA, which is used mainly by engineers and industrial designers, allowed Rayfield and her colleagues to construct a digital model of Allosaurus and to give it specific properties which mimic the real thing.

Their research is published in the latest edition of the science journal Nature.

"The technique is very important because it allows us to do things to fossil bones that we would never be able to do to the real fossils. It allows us to stress them and strain them to see how strong they are," Rayfield explained.

Allosaurus may have had a weak bite but it was compensated with a very strong skull designed to resist forces directed at its upper jaws.

Rayfield and her team believe the weak bite, strong skull paradox was an adaptation for a particular feeding strategy.

Unlike Tyrannosaurus rex which simply bit into its catch with its powerful jaw, Allosaurus used its neck muscles and skull to slam head-on into its prey like someone wielding a hatchet.

"Instead of relying on its weak bite to puncture the prey it was using the strength of its neck muscles to slam its head down to pierce the flesh that way," said Rayfield.

The researchers believe the FEA technique will allow scientists to learn more secrets about dinosaurs and how they lived.

"Dinosaurs have always fired the imagination of the general public. People are always interested in extinct animals of the past," Rayfield said. "There is a huge range of questions we can address using the technique."

Safer Hamburgers!
It's a bug-eat-bug world

Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune

SAN FRANCISCO February 17, 2001 - For the sake of safer hamburgers, the good bugs are fighting the bad bugs in the stomachs of experimental cattle - and the good bugs appear to be winning, scientists reported Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In studies funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, researchers in Georgia have isolated "probiotic" strains of E. coli that kill their nastier cousins, E. coli 0157:H7. The bad E. coli disappeared in more than 80 percent of the cattle that ate feed laced with the probiotic bacteria.

"Think of it as germ warfare inside of the animal," said Michael Doyle, who directs the University of Georgia Center for Food Safety in Griffin.

Scientists have placed a high priority on efforts to thwart 0157:H7 because it causes about 100,000 illnesses in the United States each year. The concern is even greater for developing countries where meat consumption and animal agriculture are on the rise. People who get sick in poorer countries often suffer more serious effects because they lack access to health care. And their risks of getting sick are higher because food-production systems aren't well equipped to handle meat safely.

Scientists have declared the growth of animal agriculture in developing countries a "Livestock Revolution" comparable to the Green Revolution that sent crop yields soaring during the 1970s, said Christopher Delgado, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. According to the the United Nations, consumers in the developing world are stepping up meat consumption by about 3 percent a year, and animal production is rising even faster.

The trend is controversial for several reasons, including objections to eating animal flesh, and arguments that crops are a more efficient food source. Another criticism is that hungriest people can't afford the nutritional boost that comes from stirring a little meat into the stew.

Concerns about food safety begin with manure, a rich resource for microbes. Of course, more animals mean more of the stinky stuff. And it is a major carrier for many of the pathogens that make people sick, including E.coli 0157:H7. Animals carry the organisms in their intestines and shed them in manure which often is spread on crop fields.

They also can shed 0157:H7 in water, Doyle said. For example, a cow chewing a cud and then pausing to drink from a pond can taint the water, which might run into irrigation systems, soil and the hides of other animals.

The upshot is that some farms are so highly infested with the bad bacteria that kids are getting sick on farms, Doyle said. A recent outbreak in Pennsylvania in which several children were infected was associated with a farm visit, he said.

The Georgia researchers looked for bacteria that could stop the problem at the source, inside the cattle. They found animals that don't carry E.coli 0157:H7, and isolated about 1,200 "good" E. coli bacteria from their stomachs. Then they sorted through that candidate pool to find the beneficial bacteria that actually fight the bad bugs. Those ultimately chosen have proven effective in calves and larger animals, he said.

The FDA is reviewing the studies and considering whether to approve cultures of the beneficial bacteria for use on farms. If the cultures do become available, they won't provide a magic bullet for hamburgers, Doyle said. A range of changes are needed to get that problem under control, he said, including better management on farms.

Meanwhile, consumers would be wise to cook their burgers thoroughly.

Earth’s Icy Frontier May Hold Exotic Life
MONTANA  February 19, 2001 (AP) — Buried under thousands of feet of ice in the Antarctic are a series of freshwater lakes unexposed to the open air for millions of years but possibly holding a thriving community of microbes, scientists say. Researchers probing beneath the permanent ice shield around the South Pole have located at least 76 lakes, including one that is about 5,400 square miles, comparable to Lake Ontario.

Lake Vostok, the largest of the polar lakes, lies beneath more than two miles of ice and is thought to have a liquid pool with a depth of about 3,000 feet, said John Priscu of Montana State University. In a report Saturday to the national meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Priscu said the thick blanket of ice has sealed the lake’s waters from the open air for perhaps 20 million years.

“This is one of the last unexplored frontiers of our planet,” he said.

During the meeting, Priscu and fellow researchers expanded upon findings that were published in the journal Science in December 1999.

The researchers say water remains liquid in Lake Vostok because the thick ice blanket on its surface insulates against the 60-degree below zero air temperature of the polar region and traps heat that flows up from the Earth. The heat is enough to keep the lake waters from freezing.

Priscu said the lake’s waters are thought to contain an exotic community of microbes that reached the lake through a 500,000-year process that slowly carries ice from the surface to the waters below.

Ice samples extracted from drill holes punched more than two miles through the frozen shield atop the lake contain microbes that are able to survive in a dormant, frozen state for thousands of years. The same type of one-celled animals are thought to live in the lake, Priscu said.

A project now in the planning stage will enable scientists to drill all the way to the Lake Vostok waters and take samples. Plans call for the use of a sterile drilling technique that will prevent contaminating the lake with bacteria introduced from the surface. This will keep pristine the water and microbial specimens that would be sucked up from the ancient lake, Priscu said.

Probing Lake Vostok may help in the future search for life in outer space. Priscu said the lake may resemble subsurface lakes thought to exist on Mars and on Europa, a moon of Jupiter.

NASA’s long-range plans call for sampling hidden pools of Martian water, if they exist, and to probe beneath the frozen surface of Europa. Both are thought to be the most likely solar system locations for microbial life beyond the Earth.

Techniques learned from drilling into the waters of Lake Vostok one day could be applied to those space missions, said Priscu.

Two Asteroids Now Claim Earth Devastation Title!
By Maggie Fox
Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON February 23, 2001 (Reuters) - Death has fallen from the sky more than once in the Earth's history, scientists say.

An asteroid or comet roughly the same size as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago did even worse damage 250 million years ago, researchers said in a report published in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

The evidence comes from space gases trapped in little carbon spheres called buckyballs found in ancient layers of sediment. They show the Permian extinction event, during which most species on the planet disappeared, started with a cosmic collision.

"The impact ... releases an amount of energy that is basically about 1 million times the largest earthquake recorded during the last century," Robert Poreda, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester in New York, who worked on the study, said Thursday in a statement.

The comet or asteroid would have to have been 4 to 8 miles across. The jolt roused volcanoes, which buried huge areas in lava and sent up ash to join the dust from the explosion to plunge the world into centuries of unnatural dark and cold.

Trilobites -- strange, cockroach-like creatures that once ruled the planet -- died out completely, all 15,000 species of them. Ninety percent of all species of marine creatures and 70 percent of land vertebrates went extinct.

It was, according to Luann Becker, of the University of Washington, who led the study, the "mother of all extinctions."

"To knock out 90 percent of organisms, you've got to attack them on more than one front," Becker said.

The asteroid that wiped out the trilobites was about the size of an asteroid that left a giant crater on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago and set off a series of climatic events that did in the dinosaurs.

Unlike with the Yucatan impact, the researchers, who included teams from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and New York University, do not yet know where the giant space object smacked down.


What they did find was a layer of little carbon molecules called buckminsterfullerenes, or buckyballs. Inside those soccerball-shaped spheres were helium and argon gases.

The spheres, gathered at sites in Japan, China and Hungary, lay at the sedimentary layer put down 250 million years ago, between the Permian and Triassic periods.

The gases are isotopes -- atomic variations of elements -- and their structure suggests they came from space. "These things form in carbon stars. That's what's exciting about finding fullerenes as a tracer," Becker said.

They fit in with other evidence found from layers dating back to the extinction. For instance, some of the most extensive volcanic activity ever, in what is now Siberia, laid down enough lava to cover the entire planet with 30 feet of rock over a 1-million-year period.

"The impact in fact triggered the volcanism and it was this one-two punch that generated the mass extinctions," Poreda told a news conference.

"With both the impact and with the volcanic activity, we do know that Earth was not a happy place. It may be that the combined effects of impact and volcanism are necessary to cause such a tremendous extinction."

But life did come back, giving rise to the rich collection of animals that thrived during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Dinosaurs evolved, as did mammals.

"These two extinctions are like bookends for the age of the dinosaurs," Poreda said. "The P/T (Permian/Triassic) boundary helped to usher in the age of the dinosaurs, and the K/T (Cretaceous/Tertiary) boundary snuffed it out."

In fact, it may have helped humans evolve, Chris Chyba of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute and Stanford University in California, who did not work on the study, told the news conference.

"This suggests that the evolution of life on Earth is strongly coupled to our cosmic environment," Chyba said. He noted that every 100 million years or so, life does get partially wiped out and must recover.

"We cannot think about the evolution of life on Earth without understanding the environment of the asteroids and comets that are impacting the Earth," he added. "And it even has implications for the origins of intelligence on Earth. We ourselves would probably not be here if it were not the case that there was an extinction that eliminated the dinosaurs."

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