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Kong Ape-Free!
Snow! Clouds! Galaxies Collide!
Maya Queen, Mars Rovers,
Deadly Food Containers?
Kong Ape-Free!

Peter Jackson's Kong

WASHINGTON December 5, 2005 (US Newswire) - With the December 14 release of King Kong, Peter Jackson's big-budget remake of the great ape classic, primatologist Jane Goodall and the Chimpanzee Collaboratory are leading a coalition to end the use of great apes in entertainment. Jackson's film, the first since his Lord of the Rings trilogy, used no actual apes and has created widespread buzz for its special effects.

To applaud the ape-free film and increase pressure on studios that still use apes, the coalition has launched the "No Reel Apes" campaign, which includes a report (with testimony from an undercover worker at an animal training compound), a mailing to the major studios (with a headshot of an actual chimpanzee actor and her history of abuse), an animated email (showing Hollywood as the menacing Kong and a baby chimpanzee as Fay Wray), and a letter from dozens of different individuals and groups calling for no more real great apes in film.

"Dan Glickman and the major studios of the Motion Picture Association of America cannot hide from this 800-pound gorilla any longer," said Holly Hazard, executive director of the Doris Day Animal Foundation. "Peter Jackson's vision and special effects mastery prove that you can sell tickets without selling out your morals. Studio executives can no longer claim that this antiquated and damaging use of our fellow primates is necessary for box office profits."

Celebrities that agree and have joined the campaign include Daryl Hannah, Pamela Anderson, Amy Smart, Wendie Malick and Ed Begley, Jr., among others.

Actually, Hollywood has a long history of
fake apes, like this guy from 2001 (MGM)

"I will never take part in any production that uses live apes," said actor Pamela Anderson, currently starring in the TV show Stacked.

"I choose to be in the movies and shows I star in, but these young primates have no choice. They are lugged around sets for six years and spend 40-50 more in cages, often alone. There is no way to rationalize the use of chimpanzees in Hollywood."

Anderson and others have signed onto a letter with Goodall, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association and The Humane Society of the United States calling on the Motion Picture Association of America -- and its president and CEO, Dan Glickman -- to end the use of great apes in Hollywood.

"Most movie-goers and Hollywood professionals have no idea what chimpanzees and other apes go through to perform the tasks we see on screen," said Sarah Baeckler, a primatologist with the Collaboratory who worked undercover at a well-known Hollywood training compound for animals.

"People believe abuse does not exist if they do not see it on the set. But, during my 14 months undercover, I witnessed terrible abuse. It happens long before the ape ever reaches the set. Most chimpanzee actors only perform tricks because they have endured psychological and physical pain beforehand and fear additional punishment."

Recent Disney remake of Mighty Joe
Young (Disney)

The Collaboratory's report, "Serving a Life Sentence: Where Are They Now," contains Baeckler's testimony about her experiences, including eye-witness accounts of trainers punching, kicking and pummeling chimpanzees.

Trainers must remove chimpanzees, a threatened species, as infants from their mothers in order to properly control them. Primatologists compare early chimpanzee development to that of humans, and the separated babies suffer loneliness, anxiety and psychological damage.

"In four decades of studying primates, I have never seen an ape perform the tasks we see them trained to execute in movies and on TV," said Goodall. "Ape behavior in entertainment is simply not natural, and methods to force them to perform are too often coercive or even abusive."

By age eight, chimpanzees become stronger and more independent. Because entertainment trainers struggle to handle these natural behaviors, the apes are "retired." Most spend the rest of their lives -- 50 or more years -- in roadside zoos and other substandard facilities.

Save our chimps and apes! (BBC)

The report features a "Where Are They Now?" section that lists the fates of many famous ape "actors." For example, Buddha, the orangutan star of Clint Eastwood's 1980 Any Which Way You Can, reportedly died of a brain hemorrhage after a beating by his trainer. Chubbs, the chimpanzee star of the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes, is languishing in a filthy roadside Texas zoo, where the owner was recently investigated and charged by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for violations of the Endangered Species Act.

"Few Americans realize the sad fate of these ape actors after their short careers, and few Hollywood executives could care less," said Baeckler. "The MPAA hides behind the monitors who occasionally show up on sets to make sure animals are taken care of, but these monitors do not oversee any conditions which apes endure before or after filming."

The American Humane Association (AHA), the nonprofit charged with monitoring apes and other animals in Hollywood, is the only major animal protection group that has not spoken out against the use of great apes in entertainment. Studio executives often cite this organization's participation as a reason they continue using chimpanzees and other apes, although AHA only monitors on-set animal use for some movies and does not monitor pre-production training or training facilities.

No Reel Apes -

Walk and Chew Gum At The Same Time!

Blackwell Publishing Ltd. News Release

December 2, 2005 - Visual information enables walkers to adjust their step while their foot is in mid-swing – such fine control helps particularly when walking over rough terrain.

Placing your foot accurately is a complicated process. If something moves where you plan to place your foot then you can adjust your step while your foot is swinging through. Experts thought previously that if nothing changed in the path, or in your plans, then the place where your foot will land is fixed before it even leaves the ground. In this case, you would make no use of immediate visual information during each step.

Researchers monitored the accuracy with which subjects could step onto a target. In 50% of the attempts they blocked subjects' vision just at the point when they were lifting their foot off the ground. On the occasions when vision was blocked, the subjects were less able to step accurately on the target.

"Because vision was blocked only after the foot had left the floor, this research shows that we use visual information to adjust our footfall while our foot is moving forwards – it is not simply predetermined at the beginning of the step," says Dr Raymond Reynolds, who along with Dr Brian Day conducted the work at the Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, London. The research is published this week in the Journal of Physiology.

This research models the sort of situation people encounter when rambling over rough terrain, where they need to accurately place their feet on well defined targets. Getting it right may avoid your slipping or twisting an ankle. "This visual guidance mechanism could also help gymnasts on the beam, or acrobat walkers on a tightrope, as in these situations accurate foot placement becomes crucial," says Reynolds.

Blackwell Publishing Ltd. -


Rasmussen & Libbrecht
collection (Cal Tech)

University of Wisconsin-Madison News Release

SAN FRANCISCO December 5, 2005 - What would the Earth be like if one fine day all the snow melted away?

Obviously, it would be a much warmer place. But what's interesting is how much warmer, says Stephen Vavrus, an associate scientist at the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Working with computer-generated simulations, Vavrus found that in the absence of snow cover, global temperatures would likely spike by about eight-tenths of a degree Celsius.

That increase represents as much as a third of the warming that climate change experts have predicted, should levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases double.

"This was not just a what-if question," says Vavrus, whose work comes amidst mounting reports on the steady melt of Arctic ice. "I wanted to quantify the influence of global snow cover on the present-day climate because that has relevance for the type of climate changes we are expecting in the future." Vavrus will discuss his findings today during the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (Dec. 5-9, 2005).

Vavrus, a climate modeling specialist, digitally simulated a snow-free world, and measured the impact of missing snow cover on a range of climatic variables including soil temperatures, cloud cover, atmospheric circulation patterns and soil moisture levels.

Rasmussen & Libbrecht
collection (Cal Tech)

Aside from his temperature-related projections, Vavrus also made the counterintuitive finding that in the absence of snow, total regions of permafrost-the permanently frozen soil of the cold north-are likely to expand in area. Without the insulating effect of snow, in other words, soils in colder regions of the world are in fact likely to get much colder. The surprising result has implications for the health of permafrost-associated ecosystems, and may influence decisions in the field of construction.

Already, permafrost changes have triggered structural problems in Alaskan buildings and roadways, says Vavrus, and "there's every reason to think we'll see even stronger effects in the future," he adds.

In forthcoming simulations, Vavrus plans to continue exploring the effects of both nearby and faraway snow cover on local climate conditions.

University of Wisconsin-Madison -

Amazing snow page!! -

Clouds - What Are They?

University of Wisconsin-Madison News Release

SAN FRANCISCO December 5, 2005 - All through the ages, humans have dreamily gazed at those shape-shifting cotton-balls floating gently across the sky-the clouds.

Atmospheric scientists-Earth's professional cloud-gazers--have learned a great deal about clouds over the decades, particularly with the advent of satellites during the 1960s and 70s. But despite years of research and the emergence of increasingly sophisticated tools, scientists are still at odds over one of the most basic issues of all: how to define a cloud.

"The problem is that what we define a cloud as depends on the type of instrument we're using to define it," says atmospheric scientist Steven Ackerman, the director of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It's an issue Ackerman will discuss today (Dec. 8, 2005) at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which runs Dec. 5-9.

It is critical to define and measure clouds accurately, notes Ackerman, because their patterns and formations play an important role in shaping both weather forecasts and longer-term climate predictions. Clouds are also a crucial part of Earth's hydrological and energy cycles, both regulating atmospheric precipitation and determining how much solar energy reaches the Earth.

A number of issues, however, make measurements of planetary cloud cover a very "fuzzy" matter, Ackerman says. Orbiting satellites, for instance, make different types of cloud observations from space. In one approach - known as "active sensing" - satellites discern the presence of clouds by directing energy of varying wavelengths at successive sections of the atmosphere.

The problem, says Ackerman, is that varying that energy threshold by just 3-4 percent can significantly alter cloud cover measurements. Different satellites also introduce variation, with readings differing by up to 5-10 percent between instruments. "It's like assigning grades," says Ackerman. "If you score 90 and above you get an A; but what if someone gets 89.8 and gets a B? Is that fair? Well that's the same problem with measuring clouds."

Cirrus clouds - wispy, long formations that almost look like smoke - are particularly problematic to define. As these clouds taper off into nothingness, scientists often struggle to define the point at which they cease to be clouds, says Ackerman. Furthermore, as satellites scan consecutive blocks of the atmosphere, making readings can get pretty tricky, he adds. "An [observation] area may contain different types of clouds or may be half-full of cloud or packed with thick cloud-so then we're asking: is that a cloud or not a cloud?"

Over the years, scientists have periodically gathered to refine the science of cloud measurements. It may be time again for that larger discussion, says Ackerman.

University of Wisconsin-Madison -

When Galaxies Collide

(Image: Yale University)

By Lauren Gold
Cornell University

November 30, 2005 - When galaxies collide (as our galaxy, the Milky Way, eventually will with the nearby Andromeda galaxy), what happens to matter that gets spun off in the collision's wake?

With help from the Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared spectrograph (IRS) and infrared array camera (IRAC), Cornell astronomers are beginning to piece together an answer to that question.

Specifically, they are gaining new insight into how some ubiquitous dwarf galaxies form, interact, and arrange themselves into new systems.

Dwarf galaxies, with stellar masses around 0.1 percent that of the Milky Way, are far more common than their more massive spiral or starburst counterparts.

Some may be primordial remnants of the Big Bang; but others -- called tidal dwarfs -- formed later as a result of gravitational interactions after galactic collisions.

To understand which dwarf galaxies are tidal in origin and how those galaxies differ from primordial dwarf galaxies, Cornell researcher Sarah Higdon and her colleagues studied a galactic merger called NGC 5291, which is 200 million light-years from Earth and roughly four times the size of the Milky Way. At the system's center are two colliding galaxies; behind them trail a string of much smaller dwarfs.

The researchers focused on the system because they knew from earlier analyses that the trailing dwarfs were formed tidally as a result of the central collision. Until recently, though, they hadn't been able to look closely enough at the tidal dwarfs to catalog their properties for comparison with those of similar galaxies.

This false-color infrared image from NASA's Spitzer
Space Telescope shows little "dwarf galaxies" forming
in the "tails" of two larger galaxies that are colliding
together. Image: NASA/ JPL-Caltech /S. J. U. Higdon
(Cornell University)

Spitzer's sharp eye has changed that. Using it to look for compounds that indicate star-forming activity, Higdon's team found that when it comes to fostering new star formation, the colliding galaxies at the system's center are fairly dull. The exciting place to be, they found, is in the tidal dwarfs at the system's edges.

Specifically, the team found that the tidal dwarfs show strong emission from organic compounds, found in crude petroleum, burnt toast, and (more relevantly) stellar nurseries, known as PAHs -- for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. And for the first time, the researchers detected warm molecular hydrogen -- another indicator of star formation, and one that has never before been directly measured in tidal dwarf galaxies.

"We know molecular hydrogen is out there. Now we have the sensitivity to measure it," Higdon said.

Higdon and Cornell colleagues James Higdon and Jason Marshall describe the features of the NGC 5291 system in a forthcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

"Nearly everything at some stage interacts," Higdon said. "This is a part of the puzzle. But we've only just started looking. We don't know how long lived [the tidal dwarf galaxies] will be, or how many formed like this."

Next, the team plans to search for new tidal dwarf galaxies using the Spitzer surveys and compare their properties to the newly cataloged galaxies in NGC 5291

Spitzer Space Telescope -

Queen of The Maya

A close-up of the carving.

University of Calgary News Release

December 5, 2005 - A University of Calgary archaeologist and her international team of researchers have discovered the earliest known portrait of a woman that the Maya carved into stone, demonstrating that women held positions of authority very early in Maya history – either as queens or patron deities.

The discovery was made earlier this year in Guatemala at the site of Naachtun, a Maya city located some 90 kilometres through dense jungle north of the more famous Maya city of Tikal.

The woman's face, carved on a stone monument called a stela [STEE-la] – and in an artistic style never before seen – suggests women played significant roles in early Maya politics.

"I've worked in the Maya area a long time and I've never seen anything like it," says Dr. Kathryn Reese-Taylor, the director of the U of C-led Naachtun project. "We have images of queens, who ruled both singly and with their husbands or sons, depicted on stelae later in Maya history beginning in the early 6th century AD. But this stela is completely unique in style and likely dates to the 4th century AD."

The woman could be a figure from Maya history, but researchers are tantalized by the possibility she might be a mythical figure. Hieroglyphic inscriptions of the Late Classic period (600-900 AD) mention female deities, but none have ever been discovered on a stela. "If this is a patron deity, then it is extremely rare," Reese-Taylor says. "When hieroglyphic texts do mention women, it is usually in the context of being either someone's mother or someone's wife."

The stela measures two metres in height, one metre in width, and 50 centimetres in depth. It was buried by the Maya inside an ancient building after their city was attacked and the inscriptions on the stela were hacked off by the invading forces. The burial was a reverential act meant to honour the individual whose image was carved on the monument. An infant's burial accompanied the stela.

Drawing of Stela 26.

"This represents an extraordinary event in the history of Naachtun and we were really lucky to find it," Reese-Taylor says.

Dr. Julia Guernsey, a professor of Precolumbian Art History at the University of Texas at Austin, says the gender of the figure portrayed on the stela is unquestionably significant.

"If this individual was, indeed, a historical woman, it means that her portrait pre-dates other known stela representations of powerful women in the Classic Maya Lowlands by over a hundred years. It also means that we may need to re-evaluate the role and status of women within Early Classic Maya political dynamics," Guernsey says.

"The other fascinating aspect of the image, in my opinion, is its formal representation, or style. The fact that the body of the figure is completely absent and attention is focused on the head and headdress alone is very interesting and unusual."

The co-directors of the project are Lic. Martin Rangel Guillermo, Universidad de San Carlos, Guatemala; Dr. Peter L. Mathews, La Trobe University, Australia; and Dr. Debra Selsor Walker, Florida International University.

The Maya Pyramid of the Moon

Students from a number of universities participated in the project in 2005: Alejandra Alonso, a Ph.D. student from the University of Calgary, assisted Lic. Martin Rangel with the excavation of the stela. Ms. Alonso is also a conservator, so her expertise was invaluable for the subsequent conservation of the monument. Shawn Morton, a U of C MA student, is surveying and mapping Naachtun's civic centre, which extends over two square kilometres.

Silvia Alvarado, a student at the University of San Carlos, directed excavations in one of the earliest public buildings at the site. Ernesto Arredondo, a PhD student from La Trobe University, is investigating the defensive fortifications at Naachtun as a part of his dissertation research. Chris Morehart, a PhD student from Northwestern University, is directing the study of the settlement surrounding Naachtun's civic centre.

Fernando Rochaix, PhD student from the University of Texas at Austin, directed the laboratory analysis and served as the project photographer during the 2005 season.

Reese-Taylor and her team first began fieldwork in Naachtun in 2002 and are undertaking the first scientific excavations of the site. Co-director Martin Rangel actually discovered the stela peeking out from a looter's trench at the end of the 2004 season and excavated it in the spring of 2005.

More information -

Print quality pictures and two 30-second Quicktime video clips (320 x 240) are available at:

Mars Rovers Continue to Explore and Amaze

NASA News Release

December 5, 2005 - NASA's durable twin Mars rovers have successfully explored the surface of the mysterious red planet for a full Martian year (687 Earth days). Opportunity starts its second Martian year Dec. 11; Spirit started its new year three weeks ago. The rovers' original mission was scheduled for only three months.

"The rovers went through all of the Martian seasons and are back to late summer," said Dr. John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. He is deputy rover project manager. "We're preparing for the challenge of surviving another Martian winter."

Both rovers keep finding new variations of bedrock in areas they are exploring on opposite sides of Mars. The geological information they collect increases evidence about ancient Martian environments including periods of wet, possibly habitable conditions.

Spirit is descending from the top of "Husband Hill" to examine a platform-like structure seen from the summit. It will then hurry south to another hill in time to position itself for maximum solar-cell output during the winter.

"Our speed of travel is driven as much by survival as by discovery, though the geology of Husband Hill continues to fascinate, surprise, puzzle and delight us," said Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for the rover's science instruments. "We've got this dramatic topography covered with sand and loose boulders, then, every so often, a little window into the bedrock underneath."

From the composition and texture of more than six different types of rock inspected, scientists deduced what this part of Mars was like long ago. "It was a hot, violent place with volcanic explosions and impacts," Squyres said. "Water was around, perhaps localized hot springs in some cases and trace amounts of water in other cases.

Aided by a good power supply from Spirit's solar cells, researchers have been using the rover at night for astronomical observations. One experiment watched the sky during a meteor shower as Mars passed through the debris trail left by a passage of Halley's comet. "We're taking advantage of a unique opportunity to do some bonus science we never anticipated we would be able to do," said Cornell's Dr. Jim Bell, lead scientist for the rovers' panoramic cameras.

The panoramic camera on NASA's Rover
Spirit took the hundreds of images combined
into this 360-degree view, the "Husband Hill
Summit" panorama. (NASA/ JPL-Caltech/

Opportunity is examining bedrock exposures along a route between Endurance and Victoria craters. It recently reached what appears to be a younger layer of bedrock than examined inside Endurance. In Endurance, the lowest layers of bedrock were deposited as windblown dunes. Some of the upper layers were deposited as underwater sediments, indicating a change from drier to wetter conditions over time.

The bedrock Opportunity began seeing about two-thirds of the way to Victoria appears to lie higher than the upper layers at Endurance, but its texture is more like the lowest layer, petrified sand dunes. This suggests the change from drier to wetter environmental conditions may have been cyclical.

Iron-rich granules are abundant in all the layers at Endurance but are much smaller in the younger bedrock. These granules were formed by effects of water soaking the rocks. One possibility for why they are smaller is these layers might have spent less time wet.

Another is the material in these layers might have had a different chemistry to begin with.

Rover researchers are presenting their latest data today during the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Images and information about the rovers and their discoveries are available on the Web at:

Deadly Food Containers?

Bisphenol A (BPA)

University of Cincinnati News Release

December 2, 2005 - The chemical bisphenol A (BPA), widely used in products such as food cans, milk container linings, water pipes and even dental sealants, has now been found to disrupt important effects of estrogen in the developing brain.

A University of Cincinnati (UC) research team, headed by Scott Belcher, PhD, reports in two articles in the December 2005 edition of the journal Endocrinology that BPA shows negative effects in brain tissue "at surprisingly low doses."

The research was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

"These new studies are also the first to show that estrogen's rapid signaling mechanisms are active in the developing and maturing brain in regions not thought to be involved with sexual differences or reproductive functions," Dr. Belcher said.

BPA has often been implicated in disease or developmental problems.

Long known to act as an artificial estrogen, the primary hormone involved in female sexual development, BPA has already been shown to increase breast cancer cell growth, and in the January 2005 edition of the journal Cancer Research, another UC research team reported that it increased the growth of some prostate cancer cells as well. Warnings about other possible long-term health risks associated with fetal exposures to BPA have also been discussed in recent scientific literature.

"BPA molecules are linked into polymers used to create polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins that are widely used in many products," said Dr. Belcher, an associate professor in the pharmacology and cell biophysics department at UC College of Medicine. "While plastics are typically thought of as being stable, scientists have known for many years that the chemical linkage between BPA molecules was unstable, and that BPA leaches into food or beverages in contact with the plastics."

Dr. Belcher and his colleagues worked with rats at a period in their development equivalent to the third trimester of human fetal development through to the first few years of childhood.

Although best known for its function as a female sex hormone, Dr. Belcher explained, estrogen also has very important roles in the developing brain of both males and females.

In the absence of estrogen, Dr. Belcher said, BPA alone was found to mimic the actions of estrogen in developing neurons, and very low doses of BPA completely inhibited the activity of estrogen. Because estrogen normally increases the growth and regulates viability of developing neurons, he said, these results support the idea that BPA may harm developing brain cells.

In fact, Dr. Belcher said, while high doses cause little effect, analysis of cellular and molecular markers of estrogen signaling revealed that near-maximal effects of BPA on rat brain neurons not only occurred "at surprisingly low" doses of 0.23 parts per trillion, they also happened in a matter of minutes.


"From other studies it's clear that these low concentrations are in line with human fetal exposures, and at levels one might even see in the water supply," said Dr. Belcher.

This "low-dose" effect of BPA is troubling, Dr. Belcher points out, since its maximal effects occur at the level typical of human exposure. This means that the harmful effects of BPA could easily be missed using standard approaches for determining the risks of chemical exposure.

"These are important considerations in view of the widespread presence of low concentrations of BPA in the environment," said Dr. Belcher

In earlier research, which showed estrogens could control the survival of maturing neurons in the brain region involved in movement and coordination, Dr. Belcher and his co-workers found the effects of estrogen were the same in both males and females.

"Estrogen's actions on these neurons appear to be a double-edged sword," he said. "During certain periods of development estrogen can kill specific subsets of neurons, but at a later developmental stage it actually appears to increase their viability." Disruption of either of these actions of estrogen could be considered potentially harmful, he added.

"We have now shown that environmental estrogens like BPA appear to alter, in a very complicated fashion, the normal way estrogen communicates with immature nerve cells," Dr. Belcher explained. "The developmental effects that we studied are known to be important for brain development and also for normal function of the adult brain," he said.

What remains unclear, he said, is how inappropriate hormone signaling, or blocking the normal signaling at a critical time during development, will influence later life.

In the face of more than 100 studies published in peer-reviewed journals showing the detrimental effects of BPA, Dr. Belcher said, the chemical industry and federal regulatory agencies have resisted banning BPA from plastics used as food and beverage containers, despite the fact that plastics free of BPA and other toxic chemicals are available.

University of Cincinnati -

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