NTS LogoSkeptical News for 7 April 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, April 07, 2003




April 7, 2003 -- NATASHA Lulova is showing off again. She picks up a book and starts reading aloud. Then she flips through a pile of colored paper and identifies each sheet.

None of this would be very impressive from an 11-year-old - except that this particular 11-year-old is wearing a blindfold.

A psychic miracle . . . in Midwood? That depends on whom you ask. To Mark Komissarov, her coach, Natasha Lulova is undertaking the greatest advance in human evolution since mankind started walking erect and communicating with words.

But to James Randi, a part-time magician and full-time psychic debunker, Lulova is a fraud.

And the best part, sports fans, is that these conflicting visions of Natasha Lulova are on a collision course this summer in what will be one of the greatest rematches since Ali-Frazier (or, at least, "Boom Boom" Mancini-Livingston Bramble).

Here's why: Last year, Lulova failed Randi's long-standing, $1 million "Psychic Challenge," in which the magician puts a would-be mentalist through his or her paces.

It started so well: With her own blindfold, Natasha identified colors and read passages. But when Randi switched her to tin-foil-covered, sponge-filled swim goggles - and then covered them with an additional layer of duct tape - she folded like a Uri Geller spoon.

Game, set and match, Randi.

"He is a bastard," Komissarov says of Randi. "He covered her up with too many barriers for her brain to see through."

Natasha's "failure" last year has not diminished Komissarov's belief in the power of the paranormal.

"We will use our brains to evolve into supermen," said the man who, professionally at least, has devolved from chemical engineer to cabdriver. "If we can develop our innate psychic skills, we can improve mankind."

Randi remains a skeptic. "It's the old 'Blindfold Act' that I first saw done in Montreal nightclubs back in the '40s," he said.

While awaiting her date with destiny, Lulova practices her skills in Komissarov's twice-weekly classes, along with other would-be paranormals ranging in age from 7 to 71. Natasha is clearly the diva, but 81/2-year-old Dasha Vasilenko impressed me the most.

With the blindfold on, she read from a book. I suspected memorization, so I handed her a copy of an infinitely more detailed, although slightly more obscure, book. She immediately read the front page: " 'Hair!' " she said, " 'Mankind's Historic Quest to End Baldness,' by Gersh Kuntzman."

To test Randi's theory that the blindfold is see-through, I put it on myself, but all I saw was the inside of my eyelids. Randi says that with practice, anyone can do it, but in this blindfold, I couldn't even hold a tin cup and sell pencils.

But paranormal ability is not a sure thing. With their trusty blindfolds off, both Natasha and Dasha had trouble finding a dollar bill that Komissarov had hidden under a plastic cup.

And later, when I put a potato on the table, Natasha thought it was a book, while Dasha guessed a remote-control unit.

But Komissarov is convinced that Natasha is on target: "She will get rid of the dirty spot on her reputation that Randi put there. He is the charlatan, not her."

So will the rematch be called "The Falsehood in Midwood" or the "The Dispel of Avenue L?" Stay tuned.


'Enough': The Dangers of Genetic Technologies

April 6, 2003

This spring is the 50th anniversary of the report by James Watson and Francis Crick on the double-helical structure of DNA, and I'm sorry, but for all the hushed reverence in both the popular and scientific press, I can't bring myself to genuflect. Maybe it's because the dreamy twitterings about the molecule of life haven't been able to compete with the mighty mongerings of war, or maybe it's because I don't think genes, in and of themselves, are particularly fascinating or profound. I don't think they hold the master key to who we are, either as individuals or as a species. Yes, of course they're important, but only when taken together with the context in which they are expressed; the give-and-take, shout-and-response that occurs among genes and cells and bodies and a wide welter of signals from the outside world, during fetal development, in infancy, in adolescence, in adulthood, yea, till death do us fall apart.


Tennessee District Rejects Textbooks Over Evolution

The Blount County Board of education rejected the adoption of three new biology textbooks because they present evolution but do not present creationism, The Daily Times, Maryville, Tennessee, reported on April 5.

The vote to reject the textbooks passed 2 to 1, with four board members declining to vote. Board members Mike Treadway and Jean Simerly voted to deny the texts and Don McNelly voted to approve them.

According to Technology supervisor Brian Bell, who is charged with assisting teachers in choosing the textbooks, the next course of action would be for the matter to be taken back to science instructors at the high schools and have them write a curriculum that includes creationism taught beside evolution. With that curriculum in place, the board would be content to adopt the three texts.

For the article in The Daily Times see:

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Science In the News

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Today's Headlines April 7, 2003

from The Washington Post

As victims of a frightening new chest infection gasped for breath in hospital beds around Asia, Cynthia Goldsmith was peering through an electron microscope in a government lab in Atlanta at cells being torn apart by a mysterious microbe.

The sample had been rushed to Atlanta from Bangkok, where Carlo Urbani of the World Health Organization, who sounded the first alert that a new life- threatening disease was spreading in Asia, lay dying from the illness himself.

As she studied the specimen, Goldsmith, a biologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, realized she was glimpsing germs that usually attract little attention -- viruses previously known to give people nothing worse than the common cold.

But in the midst of a global health emergency, the microbes on her slide, with the distinctive crown that gives them their name -- coronaviruses -- took on a more ominous quality.


from The Associated Press

HONOLULU, April 5 (AP) Six more moons have been found orbiting Jupiter, pushing the planet's total to 58.

The discovery was announced on Friday by David Jewitt and Scott Sheppard of the University of Hawaii and Jan Kleyna of Cambridge University.

The moons are tiny, perhaps a mile or so across, and orbit Jupiter at a distance of tens of millions of miles. They were found as part of a search using the world's two largest digital cameras, mounted on telescopes atop Mauna Kea.

As they orbit, the moons travel in the opposite direction of Jupiter's rotation. That suggests the moons were captured by Jupiter's gravitational tug, perhaps not long after the planet formed, Mr. Jewitt said.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Five patients who developed skin cancer after an organ transplant may have received cancer seed cells from the donor, researchers report.

The cancer, Kaposi's sarcoma, is caused by a virus that the body usually can eliminate. It has become associated with the AIDS epidemic because the virus affects people with weakened immune systems.

Kaposi's sarcoma appears in about one out of every 200 transplant recipients - 400 to 500 times the rate of the general population. It had been thought the virus was able to take hold in these patients because their immune systems were suppressed to prevent rejection of the new organ.

But a European research team has found evidence that, at least in some transplant patients, seed cells for the cancer tumors seem to have originated in the organ donor.


from The San Francisco Chronicle

As hollow-eyed troops laden with 75-pound packs slogged through a downpour before shipping out to Kuwait, nine MIT professors watching them in the rural Louisiana training field were asking questions like: How could those loads be made lighter?

And what about making the soldiers impervious to infection? Invulnerable to bullets? Able to leap small buildings in a single bound?

For these self-described "crazy MIT guys," those questions are not wild geek imaginings inspired by some superhero comic. It's their job.

The professors who visited the Fort Polk training center in January are at the vanguard of a military initiative to harness the potential of the emerging field of nanotechnology. Its object is to make U.S. forces vastly more mobile, more flexible, and more invincible.


Scientists get ready for a big search for ET signals


Associated Press
San Juan, (Puerto Rico), March 15
Scientists searching for life on distant planets are about to use the world's premier radio telescope to zoom in on promising radio signals isolated by volunteer home computer users around the world.

Astronomer Dan Werthimer will lead a group from the University of California Berkeley for three days' work at the Arecibo Observatory starting on Tuesday.

"We're following up on the most prominent candidate signals that we've found ... Combing through the data," Werthimer said.

Those are about 150 radio signals gleaned by home computer users worldwide who have installed a special screen-saver that analyses past data from the telescope.

More than 4 million volunteers have installed the screen-saver in a program called SETI@home and donated more than 1 million years of idle processing power to sift through data on billions of potential radio signals.

It's one of several efforts under SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Using the Internet, volunteers' computers send back analysed results to Berkeley for examination by experts.

With astrophysicist Eric Korpela and physics graduate student Paul Demorest, Werthimer plans to set the telescope to receive particular strong signals in the microwave range of the spectrum.

It's the first time since the program began in 1999 that scientists will use the data gathered by home computers to guide their searches.

The 1,000-foot-wide dish, set in a sinkhole amid karst hills near Puerto Rico's north coast town of Arecibo, is the largest single-dish radio telescope on Earth. It's owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by Cornell University.

Most of the time, scientists use the observatory for radio astronomy, studying pulsars, distant galaxies, the solar system and the atmosphere. SETI researchers tune in during those times, using their own receiver to "piggyback" while other scientists work .

The Hollywood movie "Contact," which features footage from Arecibo, offers a view that is "pretty close to what we do," Werthimer said, although "it's not Jodie Foster wearing headph ones, it's the computers listening."

The 48-year-old chief scientist at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory has been searching for extraterrestrial life since high school, when he tinkered with early computers alongside Apple Computer founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

Werthimer is still optimistic but believes it will take time. "There's a good chance it'll happen in our lifetime, but not next week," he said.

Many of the volunteers have interests in science fiction or astronomy. Kelly Holmes, a 25-year-old in Austin, Texas, started because she was inspired by "Contact".

"I put it on my computer, and then I put it on a bunch of lab computers around the office," said Holmes, who works at an engineering firm.

Seeing is believing that miracles do happen


STARK MATTERS Bob Russ Repository bureau chief

Do you believe in miracles?

A cardiologist at Ohio State University does now.

What other explanation is there for what happened to Carla Bailey? A month ago, doctors told her she'd be dead by the end of the year.

Her heart was failing. She was barely alive. Another condition, lupus, made prospects of a transplant unlikely.

On Dec. 10, the Gahanna, Ohio, resident's heart was functioning at 16 percent. It was just a matter of time, doctors told her. And not much time, either.

Four days later, a program was held in her honor at her church. That night, Bailey said, "I got this heavy feeling in my heart."

When doctors checked again, her heart's function had improved to 57 percent. Overnight.

Her heart apparently healed itself.

After seven months in the Ohio State University Medical Center, Bailey came home in time for Christmas.

Dr. Philip Binkley, an OSU cardiologist, said doctors shun the word "miracle," but said, "It does feel miraculous. We still don't understand how a heart decreased that severely improves."

Bailey understands. It was God, she said.

I'm sure there are plenty of skeptics, but I'm not one of them.

I've seen a few miracles myself.

My daughter, Mary, heads the list. I had been married a year when doctors said my wife would never be able to have children. Twelve years later, my wife told me she thought she might be pregnant. I laughed, but we made a doctor's appointment anyway, just in case.

The doctor called a few days early; there'd been a cancellation, did we want to come in now?

So in we went, with no clue as to how important that cancellation would be.

Our expectations were low. So we were stunned when the doctor said that yes, my wife was pregnant.

Before that could even sink in, however, the doctor had disturbing news. The baby was being born. Now.

Two hours after we learned of our child's existence, our child was coming into the world. We rushed to the hospital where a cervical cerclage was performed; the uterus was sewn shut to keep the infant from being born.

But two days later, my wife's water broke, and the cerclage had to be undone. A day later, on July 19, 1991, Mary Alice Russ was born almost 4 1/2 months early.

Doctors argued whether it was even worth the effort to try to save her. They didn't argue about one thing, though they all agreed it would take a miracle for her to survive.

Mary weighed a mere 1 pound, 5 ounces at birth. She was 11 inches long; smaller than a Barbie doll. Her eyes were fused shut. Her hands and feet were the size of my smallest fingernail.

And it wasn't long before her condition worsened. Her breathing became more labored. Her weight dropped to 1 pound 2 ounces. All of the dozens of machines and medicines that were barely keeping her alive were slowly losing the battle.

She had surgery to repair a leaky valve on her heart her only chance, even though doctors feared she wouldn't survive the operation.

Somehow she pulled through and, for a while, was improving. Then came another turn for the worse. At one point, a doctor told us there was nothing more they could do. He said my daughter had maybe a day to live.

Another doctor, though, told us there was once last hope an experimental steroid treatment that offered only a remote chance of success, and at great cost. There would be a trade-off, we were warned. She might be blind or deaf, or severely brain-damaged. Even in the unlikely event Mary survived, we were told, odds were she'd never live anything resembling a normal life.

Today, my daughter is 11, in the sixth grade and, except for the unfortunate fact that she looks a lot like her dad, is pretty much like any other kid.

I look at her, and I don't have to wonder. I know.

Miracles are real.

Finding Answers In Secret Plots



CONSPIRACY theories are seductive and, by nature, impossible to refute.

Whatever the evidence to the contrary, suspicious minds will always believe that the truth about the Kennedy assassination lies buried in government files. Indeed, in a 1999 poll, three out of four Americans insisted Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone, and 68 percent said an official cover-up has kept the public in the dark.

Given this immunity to disproof, the persistence in the Arab world of conspiracy theories surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks should not be surprising.

Anyone can be fooler of the world

From: snopes snopes@snopes.com

A CERTAIN HG Wells came up with the idea first: invent a fancy machine, step inside, press a few buttons and before you ask what the time is, youre drinking tea with the ancestors.

Science fiction? Fantasy? Unbelievable? Perhaps . . .

The story goes that the FBI arrested Andrew Carlssin, suspicious after he turned $800 into $350 million in a few months on the stock exchange.

He then confessed to being a time traveller. Initial inquiries showed that there were no records of him before December 2002, and officials were quoted on the depth of the mystery.


Sunday, April 06, 2003

Americans against Agnostics

from NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE (Vol. 9, #10; 7 March 2003)
by Bruce Craig rbcraig@historycoalition.org
National Coalition for History (NCH)
Website: http:www2.h-net.msu.edu/~nch

On 4 March 2003, in his maiden speech on the floor of the United States Senate, freshman Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced "The American History and Civics Education Act" (S. 504), legislation, according to Alexander's floor statement (http://alexander.senate.gov/news/f-20030304.cfm), designed "to put American history and civics back in its rightful place in our schools so our children can grow up learning what it means to be an American." A companion bill was also introduced in the House (H.R. 1078) by Rep. Roger Wicker (R- MS).

Modeled after a program Alexander initiated in Tennessee when he was governor in 1984, the measure authorizes up to twelve "Presidential Academies for Teachers of American History and Civics" and up to twelve "Congressional Academies for Students of American History and Civics." These would function as residential academies for two-week teacher and four-week student summer institutes that would seek to "inspire better teaching and more learning of the key events, persons, and ideas that shape the institutions and democratic heritage of the United States." With a $25-million authorization for what the Senator envisions as a four-year pilot program, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) would be the entity to administer and award two-year grants to eligible institutions after subjecting applications to a peer review process.

The legislation also authorizes the creation of what is termed as "a national alliance of American history and civics teachers." Federal funds would be authorized to connect these individuals via the internet. The alliance would "facilitate sharing and best practices," said Alexander, and is modeled after an alliance the Senator helped initiate in the 1980s to put geography back into the American school curriculum.

Part of Alexander's floor statement attributed a decline in emphasis on American values and principles to greater attention being placed in schools on what he termed "so-called reforms" during the 1960s and 1970s -- multiculturalism and diversity. Alexander stated, "During this time, many of our national leaders contributed to this drift toward agnostic Americanism....These leaders celebrated multiculturalism and bilingualism and diversity at a time when there should have been more emphasis on a common culture and learning English in unity." These comments immediately struck a raw nerve in the Civil Rights community.

Some leaders found the Senator's words unsettling at a time when minorities chafe over racially insensitive remarks by former Senator Majority leader Trent Lott (R-MS). "To criticize multiculturalism and bilingualism sounds very nationalistic and betrays the fact that Lamar Alexander did not grow up in a multicultural society....From his perspective, becoming more American means becoming more white," said Nashville attorney and activist Fred Ramos. Speaking to reporters in response to criticism, Alexander bristled at the association of his comment with Lott's remark and bluntly stated, "unity is more important than diversity."

Coming at a time when America is poised for war, the strong patriotic overtones in Alexander's speech won the praise of several colleagues. The Republican Majority leader and fellow Tennessean Bill Frist said of Alexander's speech, "This concept of unity, this concept of patriotism, this concept of the essence of what being American is all about has been a real focus for all of us throughout our lives." Another Republican colleague, Senator Michael B. Enzi (R-WY) commented that "it was an outstanding and inspiring speech....I feel tremendously more patriotic now than when I came in."

Irrespective of laudatory comments by colleagues, Tennessee newspapers are now weighing in through their editorial pages. In The Tennessean, for example, editors state, "The need for a common culture should never exclude diversity that made this country great. A history lesson for Congress would be in order before the legislation is passed." (http://tennessean.com/opinion/archives/03/03/29745813.shtml?Element_ID=29745813)

Alexander's bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for action.

The Killer Pneu


March 20, 2003 7:30 a.m.
Virus terror from China.

Wars have never reached the level of mass killing that diseases have achieved, and the new viral pneumonia spreading throughout the world from its incubator in China may yet do more damage than the terrorists and the war against terror. But even if it doesn't, we've learned some things about the Chinese government that should give our political and business leaders plenty of food for thought.

It is widely reported that the Chinese kept the story secret from the rest of the world. Why? Most seem to think it's because it's their nature to suppress bad news (remember that they still deny there was a massacre in Tiananmen Square). No matter that an epidemic in China could produce millions of deaths at home, and even more overseas. It was more important to keep the information from their own people.

I'm not so sure that the authorities were keeping the information from the people. It may well be that the people were keeping it from the authorities.

Armageddon? Some say war means end is near


The Times

Evalou Kelley knows her views will be scoffed at and even criticized.

But Kelley, 77, of Gainesville, also knows this: As sure as passages in Revelation, Daniel and Ezekiel are underlined in red in her Bible, the war in Iraq and other "signs" point to the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus Christ.

"Right there where they are fighting now, that is where Babylon was," she says. "That is where the Garden of Eden was, on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers."

Kelley, a friendly grandmother born in Murrayville and born again at age 23 in a brush arbor at Yellow Creek Baptist Church, says she's not sure exactly where this war fits in with biblical prophecy. Or that the end is "that close, yet."

But she believes books such as Daniel in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New Testament provide a gauge for measuring an ever-narrowing gap.

And considering America's moral slide, global greed and prophetic benchmarks already passed, "it won't be long really, I don't think," Kelley says.

Thousands might agree. As with the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the battle to disarm Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction is seen by some as dove-tailing with passages in the Bible that foretell the world's end.

There hasn't been the rush of interest that followed the terrorist attacks, but end-times Web sites are logging more hits. Conferences such as the annual Tulsa International Prophecy, scheduled this week in Tulsa, Okla., include sessions on Iraq.

The end-times fiction series "Left Behind" is a regular on the New York Times Bestseller List. And from evangelists and prophetic "interpreters" such as Tulsa's Grant R. Jeffrey to some Hall County-area ministers, the issue is being addressed on television programs and from the pulpit.

The discussion isn't new. People have been pondering the end of the age since Jesus talked about it, as relayed in the Gospel of Matthew. Nor is speculation confined to Christendom. The Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University has seen a rise in apocalyptic views in Islam since 2000, said Richard Landes, the center's director.

But the setting, situation and timing of the coalition-led conflict in Iraq have intensified the feelings.

Revelation, a highly symbolic book generally interpreted as the last showdown between God and Satan, tells in chapter 9 of the destruction of a third of mankind in an onslaught led by angels "bound at the great river Euphrates." The river flows through Iraq.

An angel of the Abyss mentioned earlier in the chapter is called Abaddon, or Destroyer. That, says Endtime Ministries founder the Rev. Irvin Baxter Jr., is one translation of the name Saddam.

The second Gulf War also is led by a largely Christian nation against a Muslim one, a potential and possibly explosive wedge between two major religions.

Global link predicted

In other world trends, governments are organizing globally, and the computer has made conceivable a one-world economic system predicted in Revelation, say believers who link current events to Bible passages.

Polly Posey, a retired psychiatric nurse living in Chestnut Mountain, says she and her friends are "deeply into prophecy."

"Most of the believers today that I know, from all denominations, most of them are looking for the rapture," says Posey, referring to the belief that Christ will call Christians out of the world before it is destroyed, and then made anew.

"Our phones," says Baxter, "are ringing off the hooks."

In 1991, before the start of the first Gulf War, Baxter started Endtime Ministries. The Richmond, Ind., organization publishes Endtime Magazine, a bimonthly publication with 40,000 paid subscribers that produces videos, including "The Iraq War in Bible Prophecy;" and offers an "Understanding the End-Times" study course.

Baxter, who also pastors a church and has written two prophecy books, doesn't believe the Iraq war is Armageddon, the final battle between good and evil. But he is "75 percent sure" the struggle is the start of destruction announced by the sixth angelic trumpeter in Revelation, chapter 9. In the chaos, a third of mankind is killed.

"I can see (Iraq) all spinning out of control," and other conflicts erupting such as between China and Taiwan, says Baxter, 57.

He says preceding trumpets, or heralds of judgment, were fulfilled in World War II and the 1986 Chernobyl radiation disaster in the former Soviet Union.

Baxter realizes that drawing such firm links between the Bible and current events puts him at risk of bring ridiculed, and simply wrong. But he doesn't agree with those who say the two don't connect.

He points to chapter 24 in Matthew, where Jesus answers a question about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and his return by saying there will be telltale signs, such as nations rising against nation, earthquakes and famines.

"If there's nothing we can see and nothing we can know, then why did Jesus say that?" Baxter says. "I absolutely reject there's nothing we can know for sure. ... We're on the brink of the second coming of Jesus Christ, and I have no doubt of that."

Last days may surprise

Others in Christianity would disagree with these prophetic bridges, and more. The level of disagreement differs from individual to denomination and sometimes delves into side debates such as whether the rapture will occur before worldwide tribulation or after.

The Rev. John Batusic, pastor at Chestnut Mountain Presbyterian PCA, acknowledges the interest and scattered opinions.

"My personal thinking is we're just ... all going to be a whole lot surprised," says Batusic, 46.

He points out that many of God's people were wrong about Christ's first arrival. The "last days" also began after the resurrection, "and there hasn't been a generation since that hasn't thought it was the last," he says.

"Our view," says Batusic, "is that the Bible says we cannot know when Jesus is going to come back."

The Rev. David Fitzpatrick of Gainesville Vineyard Christian Fellowship interrupted a sermon series last Sunday to talk about the war. Fitzpatrick, 52, says he's not sure this marks the beginning of the end of the world as we know it, but tends "not to go that way."

The focus on prophecy, which often is judged as having a double-edged impact for biblical times and for now isn't necessarily negative, he says. The geographic relationship -- "this area is where sin first entered the picture" -- also is understandable. The Garden of Eden is thought to have been between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in the area of Iraq.

"For there to be this great evil does not surprise me," says Fitzpatrick, speaking of Saddam.

The prophetic perspective, however, rings almost alien to the Rev. Fred Wendel at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Buford.

He mentions interpreting the imagery of Revelation, with riders on horses and nightmarish creatures, as relating to the early church, which was being persecuted by the Roman Empire. Revelation, widely viewed as written by the apostle John, means apocalypse in Greek.

The last hour, Wendel says, is known only to "the mind of God."

"We should be focusing on how we are living our lives every day," he says.

Walter Brueggemann, a veteran teacher of Old Testament studies at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, shrugs off such prophetic connections as "silliness" and self-serving.

Revelation is rich with poetic imagery that can't be taken "as if there were some kind of code to interpret it," says Brueggemann, 70.

"I think they completely misunderstand the kind of materials that are in Scripture ...," he said, "and I think it tends to always be a kind of simplistic affirmation that God is aligned with how we want things to come out."

To Landes, at the Center for Millennial Studies, which explores beliefs and related actions that "at some point the world is going to be transformed into a perfect place," the concern is when apocalyptic thinking becomes the focus in public discourse.

"One of the laws of millennial dynamics is ... that one person's messiah is another person's antichrist," Landes says. "What had Christians and messianic or apocalyptic Jews all excited (as the year 2000 approached), registered on Muslim screens as the work of what they call ... the antichrist."

Web sites of the Islamic segment he calls "jihadists," those focused on a holy war, now reflect a range of intensely apocalyptic views, he says.

"The issue is not what's in the text," Landes says. "The issue is how people read the texts."

Muslim view differs

The Koran covers the end of the world, says Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Herndon, Va. But humans don't have a hand in bringing it about, Magid says.

"We believe the final hour of the universe includes not a battle on a particular piece of land, it includes everything ... as we know it."

Mahmoud Mohamed, a Gainesville resident and poultry company executive, says he isn't knowledgeable about end-of-the-world beliefs.

"We don't put emphasis on something like that," says Mohamed, who is Muslim. "We try to put more emphasis on doing good and building up a good relationship. ... We should put more emphasis on that, not more emphasis on wars and this (talk of apocalyptic prophecy)."

Evalou Kelley occasionally writes letters to the editor. Often, they include a faith-based message. When that message involves prophecy, every time, Kelley says, she thinks about the potential criticism, particularly in light of other's predictions that didn't come true .

Yet she has believed and studied the Bible since she was saved. She still reads it daily, and she has faith that a key statement in Daniel, an Old Testament book also seen as a window to the last days, is coming true 2,500 years later.

"Go your way, Daniel," the archangel Michael says in chapter 12, "because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end."

Some things in Daniel were for then; some are for now, Kelley believes.

"God told Daniel to seal up this prophecy until a later time, which is now," she says. "And that it wouldn't be understood. Until just before the Lord gets ready to come."

What is the Holy Grail?


Dear Cecil:

I like to read the Straight Dope columns on religious artifacts. You have covered the Ark of the Covenant and a little bit about the Dead Sea scrolls, and I would like to know about the Holy Grail. I wasn't born into a Bible-reading family, so my knowledge of the subject is limited. I know it was used by Christ at the Last Supper and was used by Joseph of Arimathea to gather the blood of the fallen Christ. I want to know some more of the details surrounding it, and what some theories are regarding its location today. Also, are there still people searching for it? --Nelson Bartlett

Farmers blame vampire for chicken deaths


A group of Chilean farmers are hunting vampires after their chickens died mysteriously.

The farmers, from Donihue, claimed 200 were found with all the blood drained from their bodies.

A police spokesman said: "The farmers are very scared. They organised a group and went out to hunt what they believe is a vampire.

"But the vets are investigating and they will come up with a normal explanation for the deaths, I'm sure."

Cristina Saldia and Carmen Cortes, owners of two of the farms, told La Cuarta online: "It is spooky, there wasn't a drop of blood left inside the chickens. Some say it was a vampire and others that it was an alien."

Story filed: 15:59 Friday 4th April 2003

Police investigating gnome reports in Ecuador


Police in a town in Ecuador are investigating reports of a little, green man seen walking down the street.

A number of Quininde residents called police after seeing what they described as a "gnome" in the town centre.

They all described the creature as being very small, green and ugly.

Marco Preciado told Diario Extra online: "It was less than three feet tall and I saw it three times. I tried to follow him but he disappeared."

Cecilia Cedeno who owns a liquor shop, said: "He appeared in front of the shop to a group of people. He gave a loud laugh and run away."

A police spokesperson said: "People are scared and fascinated by the story. We are investigating and we believe it is someone trying to make fun of the whole town."

Story filed: 15:09 Friday 4th April 2003

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Detecting disinformation, without radar


By Gregory Sinaisky

How to tell genuine reporting from an article manufactured to produce the desired propaganda effect? The war in Iraq provides us plenty of interesting samples for a study of disinformation techniques.

Take the article "Basra Shiites Stage Revolt, Attack Government Troops", published on March 26 in The Wall Street Journal Europe. Using its example, we will try to arm readers with basic principles of disinformation analysis that hopefully will allow them in the future to detect deception.

Louisiana house resolution urges to reject "certain" textbooks

Dear NCSE friends & supporters,

On April 1, Louisiana Representative Ben Nevers introduced House Concurrent Resolution 50, which "[e]ncourages city, parish, and other local public school systems to refrain from purchasing certain textbooks."

The resolution states that "in the effort to encourage the development of students' critical thinking skills, city, parish, and other local public school systems should refrain from purchasing textbooks that do not present a balanced view of the various theories relative to the origin of life but rather refer to one theory as proven fact."

The resolution also quotes the Santorum Amendment to the No Child Left Behind education bill that was signed into law by President Bush in January 2002. The proposed amendment, which singled out evolution for special treatment, was stripped from the bill by the House-Senate Conference Committee and appears only in the conference report.

The resolution was referred to the Education Committee on April 2. For the full text see:

Skip Evans
Network Project Director
National Center for Science Education
420 40th St, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609
510-601-7203 Ext. 308
510-601-7204 (fax)

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Friday, April 04, 2003

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

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Today's Headlines April 4, 2003

from The Los Angeles Times

An extensive fault system discovered four years ago running deep beneath the heart of Los Angeles is capable of generating earthquakes up to magnitude 7.5 -- massive shakers larger than any in the modern history of the Los Angeles Basin.

The Puente Hills fault, which winds through the area's fractured underbelly for about 25 miles, from northern Orange County to Beverly Hills, has generated at least four earthquakes ranging from magnitude 7.2 to 7.5 in the last 11,000 years, according to a new study examining the fault's behavior published today in the journal Science.

Scientists said such large quakes so close to the densely populated city center would be a far greater threat than any posed by the dreaded San Andreas fault, which is dozens of miles from downtown.

"The problem with this fault is the quakes are 7.5 and right beneath downtown," said Tom Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center, which also supported the new study. "It's kind of a worst-case scenario for L.A."


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - When in the mood for romance, a female finch ignores fancy feathers and melodic songs. She goes for the guy with the vivid colored beak, a sure sign of health and vigor among the finches, according to a new study.

Researchers in England and France experimented with the diets of male birds and found that increasing the content of carotenoids, a type of antioxidant that plays a key role in disease resistance, caused the beaks of zebra finches and European blackbirds to take on a strong, reddish color.

And when females were given a choice of mates, they almost invariably preferred the males with the brightly colored beaks, the authors report in papers appearing Friday in the journal Science.

Carotenoids play a key role in a healthy immune system by stimulating antibodies and absorbing oxygen free radicals, a damaging product of metabolism and immune response.


from The Los Angeles Times

A panel of scientists Thursday recommended allowing federally protected sea otters to roam freely down the Southern California coastline, and urged the federal government to abandon its program of relocating the voracious shellfish eaters away from waters reserved for fishermen.

The recommendations are contained in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recovery plan for the southern sea otter, whose population has remained so small that federal officials list it as threatened with extinction.

One of the biggest concerns, according to the plan that has been 14 years in the making, is that a major oil spill from tankers or offshore oil drilling could devastate the remnant population of California otters, which were nearly wiped out by 19th century fur traders.


from The Associated Press

NOORDWIJK, Netherlands (AP) -- A satellite that relies on solar power to put it into orbit around the moon was unveiled Thursday by the European Space Agency, which plans to use the spacecraft in Europe's first attempt at a lunar exploration.

The craft, known as the Smart-1, will be launched in July for a two-year mission orbiting the moon to look for water, believed to be hidden deep in craters on the lunar surface.

The satellite will also gather evidence to test the theory that the moon was created when a giant asteroid struck the Earth during the early days of the solar system.


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When U.S. Foreign Policy Meets Biblical Prophecy

By Paul S. Boyer, AlterNet

Does the Bible foretell regime change in Iraq? Did God establish Israel's boundaries millennia ago? Is the United Nations a forerunner of a satanic world order?

For millions of Americans, the answer to all those questions is a resounding yes. For many believers in biblical prophecy, the Bush administration's go-it-alone foreign policy, hands-off attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and proposed war on Iraq are not simply actions in the national self-interest or an extension of the war on terrorism, but part of an unfolding divine plan.

Evangelical Christians have long complained that "people of faith" do not get sufficient respect, and that religious belief is trivialized in our public discourse. So argues Stephen L. Carter, a Yale University law professor and an evangelical Christian, in his 1993 "The Culture of Disbelief." Carter has a point, at least with reference to my own field of American history. With notable exceptions, cultural historians have long underplayed the importance of religion in the United States, particularly in the modern era. Church historians have produced good work, but somewhat in isolation, cut off from the larger currents of cultural and intellectual history.

That is changing, as evidenced by Mark A. Noll's magisterial "America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln" (2002). But, over all, the critics are on target.

However, I would vigorously challenge Carter's related complaint that religious belief plays little role in shaping public policy. In fact, religion has always had an enormous, if indirect and underrecognized, role in policy formation.

And that is especially true today, as is illustrated by the shadowy but vital way that belief in biblical prophecy is helping mold grassroots attitudes toward current U.S. foreign policy. As the nation debates a march toward war in the Middle East, all of us would do well to pay attention to the beliefs of the vast company of Americans who read the headlines and watch the news through a filter of prophetic belief.

Abundant evidence makes clear that millions of Americans upwards of 40 percent, according to some widely publicized national polls do, indeed, believe that Bible prophecies detail a specific sequence of end-times events. According to the most popular prophetic system, premillennial dispensationalism, formulated by the 19th-century British churchman John Darby, a series of last-day signs will signal the approaching end. Those will include wars, natural disasters, rampant immorality, the rise of a world political and economic order, and the return of the Jews to the land promised by God to Abraham.

In Darby's system, the present "dispensation" will end with the Rapture, when all true believers will join Christ in the air. Next comes the Tribulation, when a charismatic but satanic figure, the Antichrist, will arise in Europe, seize world power, and impose his universal tyranny under the dread sign "666," mentioned in Revelation. After seven years, Christ and the saints will return to vanquish the Antichrist and his armies at Har-Megiddo (the biblical Armageddon), an ancient battle site near Haifa. From a restored Temple in Jerusalem, Christ will then inaugurate a thousand-year reign of peace and justice the Millennium.

That scenario, which Darby ingeniously cobbled together from apocalyptic passages throughout the Bible, was popularized in America by expositors like Cyrus Scofield, whose 1909 "Scofield Reference Bible" became a best seller. More recently, dispensationalism has been promulgated by radio evangelists; paperback popularizers; fundamentalist and Pentecostal pastors; and TV luminaries like Jerry Falwell, Jack Van Impe, and John Hagee.

Hal Lindsey's "The Late Great Planet Earth" (1970), a slangy update of Darby's teachings, became the nonfiction best seller in the 1970s. Today's Left Behind series, a multivolume fictional treatment of dispensationalism by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, has sold 50 million copies since the first volume appeared, in 1995. Volume 10, The Remnant, topped the The New York Times's bestseller list for several weeks last summer.

During the cold war, Lindsey and other prophecy gurus focused on the Soviet Union, citing a passage in Ezekiel foretelling the destruction of a northern kingdom, Gog, which they interpreted as Russia. Today's popularizers, however, spotlight the Middle East and the rise of a New World Order led by their own "axis of evil": the United Nations and other international bodies; global media conglomerates; and multinational corporations, trading alliances, and financial institutions. This interlocking system, they preach, is laying the groundwork for the Antichrist's prophesied dictatorship.

As for the Middle East, the popularizers view Israel's founding in 1948, and its recapture of Jerusalem's Old City in 1967, as key end-times signs. They also see the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and a future rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple on a site sacred to Muslims, as steps in God's unfolding plan. The most hard-line and expansionist groups in Israel today, including Likud Party leaders, have gratefully welcomed this unwavering support. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the United States in 1998, he called first on Falwell, and only then met with President Clinton. (Dispensationalist dogma also foretells the mass slaughter of Jews by the Antichrist and the conversion of the surviving remnant to Christianity, but those themes are played down by most current popularizers.)

On the basis of such beliefs, dispensationalists denounce any proposals for shared governance of Jerusalem. As Hagee writes in "Final Dawn Over Jerusalem" (Thomas Nelson, 1998): "Christians and Jews, let us stand united and indivisible on this issue: There can be no compromise regarding the city of Jerusalem, not now, not ever. We are racing toward the end of time, and Israel lies in the eye of the storm. ... Israel is the only nation created by a sovereign act of God, and He has sworn by His holiness to defend Jerusalem, His Holy City. If God created and defends Israel, those nations that fight against it fight against God." Dispensationalists also oppose any scaling back of Jewish settlements in the West Bank or Gaza, since those areas lie well within God's grant to Abraham, recorded in Genesis 15:18, of all of the land from "the river of Egypt" to the Euphrates.

In this scenario, the Islamic world is allied against God and faces annihilation in the last days. That view is actually a very ancient one in Christian eschatology. Medieval prophecy expounders saw Islam as the demonic force whose doom is foretold in Scripture. As Richard the Lionhearted prepared for the Third Crusade in 1190, the famed prophecy interpreter Joachim of Fiore assured him that the Islamic ruler Saladin, who held Jerusalem, was the Antichrist, and that Richard would defeat him and recapture the Holy City. (Joachim's prophecy failed: Richard returned to Europe in 1192 with Saladin still in power.) Later interpreters cast the Ottoman Empire in the Antichrist role.

That theme faded after 1920, with the Ottoman collapse and the rise of the Soviet Union, but it surged back in the later 20th century, as prophecy popularizers began not only to support the most hard-line groups in Israel, but also to demonize Islam as irredeemably evil and destined for destruction. "The Arab world is an Antichrist-world," wrote Guy Dury in "Escape From the Coming Tribulation" (1975). "God says he will lay the land of the Arabs waste and it will be desolate," Arthur Bloomfield wrote in "Before the Last Battle Armageddon," published in 1971 and reprinted in 1999. "This may seem like a severe punishment, but ... the terms of the covenant must be carried out to the letter."

The anti-Islamic rhetoric is at fever pitch today. Last June, the prophecy magazine Midnight Call warmly endorsed a fierce attack on Islam by Franklin Graham (son of Billy) and summed up Graham's case in stark terms: "Islam is an evil religion." In Lindsey's 1996 prophecy novel, "Blood Moon," Israel, in retaliation for a planned nuclear attack by an Arab extremist, launches a massive thermonuclear assault on the entire Arab world. Genocide, in short, becomes the ultimate means of prophetic fulfillment.

Anticipating George W. Bush, prophecy writers in the late 20th century also quickly zeroed in on Saddam Hussein. If not the Antichrist himself, they suggested, Saddam could well be a forerunner of the Evil One. In full-page newspaper advertisements during the Persian Gulf war of 1991, the organization Jews for Jesus declared that Saddam "represents the spirit of Antichrist about which the Bible warns us."

Prophecy believers found particular significance in Saddam's grandiose plan, launched in the 1970s, to rebuild Babylon on its ancient ruins. The fabled city on the Euphrates, south of Baghdad, which included one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, owed its splendor to King Nebuchadnezzar, the same wicked ruler who warred against Israel and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C., for which impiety, according to the Book of Daniel, he went mad and ended his days eating grass in the fields.

In Revelation, Babylon embodies all that is corrupt, "a great whore ... with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication." It stands as the antithesis of Jerusalem, the city of righteousness, and Revelation prophesies its annihilation by fire. Since Babylon cannot be destroyed unless it exists, Saddam's ambitious public-works project is seen as an essential step toward prophetic fulfillment.

Charles Dyer's "The Rise of Babylon: Sign of the End Times" (1991) elaborates the theme. Along with the emergence of modern Israel and the European Union (forerunner of the Antichrist's world system), writes Dyer, Saddam's restoration of Babylon signals the approaching end and offers "thrilling proof that Bible prophecies are infallible." "When Babylon is ultimately destroyed," he continues, "Israel will finally be at peace and will dwell in safety."

That theme resonates powerfully with today's calls for Saddam's overthrow. Indeed, the cover illustration of Dyer's book juxtaposes Saddam and Nebuchadnezzar. Hal Lindsey's Web site recently featured a cartoon of a military aircraft emblazoned with a U.S. flag and a Star of David and carrying a missile with a label targeting "Saddam." The caption quoted the prophet Zechariah: "It shall be that day I will seek to destroy all nations that come against Israel."

All of these themes converge in the Left Behind novels. As the plot unfolds, the Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia, becomes secretary general of the United Nations. ("I've opposed the United Nations for 50 years," boasts one of the authors, Tim LaHaye, a veteran activist on the religious right.) Carpathia moves the U.N. from New York to a rebuilt Babylon, laying the groundwork for the simultaneous destruction of both the city that in the grammar of dispensationalism represents absolute evil and defiance of God's prophetic plan, and the organization that more than any other prefigures the Antichrist's satanic world order.

To be sure, some current Bush-administration policies trouble prophecy believers. For example, the expansion of Washington's surveillance powers after 9/11 (led, ironically, by Attorney General John Ashcroft, darling of the religious right) strikes some as another step toward the Antichrist's global dictatorship. Counterbalancing that, however, other key administration positions its hostility to multinational cooperation and international agreements, its downgrading of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its muted response to growing Jewish settlement in Palestinian territory, and its unrelenting focus on Saddam Hussein strike prophecy believers as perfectly in harmony with God's prophetic plan: a plan that will bring human history to its apocalyptic denouement and usher in the longed-for epoch of righteousness, justice, and peace.

Academics do need to pay more attention to the role of religious belief in American public life, not only in the past, but also today. Without close attention to the prophetic scenario embraced by millions of American citizens, the current political climate in the United States cannot be fully understood.

Leaders have always invoked God's blessing on their wars, and, in this respect, the Bush administration is simply carrying on a familiar tradition. But when our born-again president describes the nation's foreign-policy objective in theological terms as a global struggle against "evildoers," and when, in his recent State of the Union address, he casts Saddam Hussein as a demonic, quasi- supernatural figure who could unleash "a day of horror like none we have ever known," he is not only playing upon our still-raw memories of 9/11. He is also invoking a powerful and ancient apocalyptic vocabulary that for millions of prophecy believers conveys a specific and thrilling message of an approaching end not just of Saddam, but of human history as we know it.

Paul S. Boyer, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and currently a visiting professor of history at the College of William and Mary, is the author of "When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture" (Harvard University Press, 1992).

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Science in the News

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Today's Headlines April 3, 2003

from The Washington Post

A new Alzheimer's disease medicine called memantine has become the first to slow the progression of the disease among severely ill patients, and it may even reverse some mental losses, researchers announced.

The medicine, which is still being evaluated for safety and effectiveness by the Food and Drug Administration, works differently from the handful of medicines approved previously to treat Alzheimer's disease. It is not known whether memantine helps patients with milder forms of Alzheimer's.

In a large controlled clinical study, memantine extended the time that severely ill patients could function on their own, according to a report published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Simultaneously, a preliminary report by scientists to be presented at a neurology conference today suggests that memantine may be even more effective when used in combination with one of the medicines already on the market.


from The Associated Press

New fossil evidence suggests a distant cousin of the Tyrannosaurus rex that roamed the plains of Madagascar millions of years ago regularly dined on its own kind to survive during hard times.

The discovery is the strongest evidence yet that some carnivorous dinosaurs were cannibals. Dinosaur experts say it sheds light on the hardships predators faced in the late Cretaceous period when dinosaurs vanished, possibly as a result of asteroid impacts, widespread climate change and disease.

"This is the first strong, convincing evidence of cannibalism within theropod dinosaurs," said Thomas Holtz, a paleontologist at the University of Maryland who was not part of the study.

Scientists working in Madagascar uncovered evidence of cannibalism in fossilized bones of Majungatholus atopus, a toothy beast the size of a small school bus that was the top hunter 70 million years ago on the island off east Africa.

The research appears in the current issue of the journal Nature.


from The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Plants appear still and silent, but inside a clock is ticking.

Scientists in Israel and the U.S. Agriculture Department have discovered that plants, like animals, have a 24-hour biological clock.

Like the body clock that tells humans to wake up, plants have one that tells them to prepare for the sun.

The plant clock is set so it goes off around the same time every morning, usually just a few hours before noon. The late morning alarm tells plants to prepare for intense sunlight, triggering processes that help the plants make food, says Autar K. Mattoo, a plant physiologist in the department's Agricultural Research Services lab.


from The Christian Science Monitor

After a day of scouting a conservation area in the Santa Cruz Mountains, 23 wildlife trackers put their Palm Pilots back in their cradles, sat down to dinner, and then gathered around a large LCD projector to see the results of their work. They'd registered thousands of signs of deer, coyotes, birds, and other animals. But what really yowled in the data that night was a mountain lion.

He kept leaving scat piles near packs of coyotes and raccoons. And because the trackers were so numerous and had picked up many clues, the pattern leapt out. The team deduced the mountain lion was communicating in an unexpected way, signaling his big-cat competitors to keep their paws off his prey.

"If I were out by myself, I'd never see that," says Jon Young, a tracker and training consultant who led the expedition last month.

Such breakthrough moments are coming faster and faster as wildlife researchers drag increasingly sophisticated hardware and software into the field. Using handheld computers, digital cameras, and satellite positioning systems, scientists are able to simplify data collection, recruit more people to do the work, and take their most comprehensive look yet at plants and wildlife. If the high-tech push proves itself, it could do for biology something close to what carbon-dating has done for archaeology: give scientists a much more profound understanding of how nature interacts.



The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 631 April 2, 2003 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

THE FIRST-EVER LARGE CHINA-TAIWAN SCIENTIFIC COLLABORATION has carried out a reactor experiment which puts a new upper limit on the neutrino magnetic moment. Consider first the electron; it not only has electrical charge but also spin, which means that it will act like a tiny magnet. Even a neutral atom, because of its internal distribution of negative and positive charge, can have a nonzero magnetic moment.

Consequently neutral atoms can be controlled, to some extent, by magnetic fields. But what about a neutrino? Neutrinos may well possess a small amount of mass, But what about magnetism? Can they effectively have a tiny bit of charge or internal structure? A nonzero neutrino magnetic moment provides the neutrino with a way to interact electromagnetically with the world; generally the neutrino is thought to interact only via the weak nuclear force. Evidence for nonzero magnetic moment would show up in several ways: in anomalous electron-neutrino scattering, in radiative decays in which the neutrino casts off a gamma ray, and in various astronomical settings, such as supernovas. The TEXONO collaboration, using neutrinos from the 2.9-GW Kuo-Sheng Nuclear Power Station in Taiwan, looked for a characteristic anomalous electron energy spectrum arising from electron-neutrino scattering. They did not see any such evidence, and from this they derive the best direct-laboratory upper limit on neutrino magnetic moment, 1.3 x 10^-10 times the magnetic moment of the electron (a unit also known as the Bohr magneton). The team also derives an indirect bound on neutrino radiative decays. (Li et al., Physical Review Letters, April 4 2003; contact Henry Wong, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, 886-2-2789-6789, htwong@phys.sinica.edu.tw ) The TEXONO Collaboration is supported by several research institutions (see the website at hepmail.phys.sinica.edu.tw/~texono ) and their respective funding agencies from Taiwan and China. An efficient flow of students and scientists moves in both directions.

SPACESHIP TRAVEL TO ANOTHER UNIVERSE THROUGH A BLACK HOLE may be highly improbable, but it cannot be ruled out, according to a new analysis that explores the idea of "hybrid singularity." As science fiction fans know, anyone who wishes to fall into a black hole and re-emerge at some distant location or even an another universe would have to go through a forbidding region inside the black hole known as a "space-time singularity."

Traditionally this means negotiating a region of infinite density exerting destructive, tide-like distortions on any "extended object" such as a spaceship, molecule, or anything that is not truly point-like. Physicists now suspect this picture is incomplete and that a second and potentially milder type of singularity might exist. Known as a "Cauchy horizon singularity," it would impart only finite tidal distortions on extended objects.

The kinder, gentler singularity should only develop when a regular stream of matter or energy falls into the hole. Previous analyses have considered only streams that were brief bursts. But long-duration "non-compact" streams of radiation, like the cosmic microwave background, can also fall into the black hole. In a more comprehensive analysis that takes these "non-compact" sources into account, Lior Burko of the University of Utah (burko@physics.utah.edu) explores how a black hole's interior is affected by such infalling radiation. If the non-compact sources are weak, Burko shows, a hybrid singularity forms: a strong sector (inevitably destructive) and a weak sector (finite tidal distortions). Conceivably, a spaceship entering through the weak sector could travel unscathed to another part of space-time. If the perturbations due to non-compact sources are large, however, Burko shows that the singularity ends up being strong, and destructive, everywhere in the black hole. Whether black hole singularities in our universe are strong-only or hybrid in nature depends on incompletely known cosmological parameters (such as the expansion rate of the universe and the nature of dark energy). Several factors may ultimately rule out the possibility of hyperspace travel. They include: (1) the possibility that "weak" sectors may still be much too hazardous for travel; (2) overwhelming effects on the black hole from actual non-compact sources and (3) a working theory of quantum gravity, which may reveal other factors that rule out hyperspace travel. But for now, Burko says, the possibilities are open. (Burko, Physical Review Letters, 28 March 2003)

STRETCHABLE GOLD CONDUCTORS. New, stretchable gold conductors have been developed by Princeton University researchers. The conductors may be the answer to problems that arise when engineers build oddly shaped devices (such as retina-inspired photosensor arrays, for example), or when making connections to sensors attached to the skin or other flexible surfaces. The researchers (Stephanie Lacour, 609-258-3582, slacour@princeton.edu) built their new conductors by depositing layers of gold about 100 nanometers thick on a substrate of poly-dimethyl siloxane (PDMS), a type of plastic material commonly used in microelectronics-related research and manufacture. (An underlying 5-nanometer layer of chromium helped to ensure that the gold would adhere to the PDMS.) Once they had deposited the gold, the researchers found that compressive stresses in the metal caused the film to buckle, forming parallel wrinkles in strips of the material. The wrinkles smooth out, as expected, when the film is stretched by a few tenths of a percent, but surprisingly the material remained conducting as the film was stretched up to twenty-three percent beyond its relaxed length. Simple strips of gold film, on the other hand, break when stretched as little as one percent. As it was stretched, cracks developed in the gold layer, but current continued to flow along the strip. The researchers suspect that a thin conductive metal layer, perhaps only a single molecule thick, may bridge the cracks and account for the conductivity of the stretched film, although confirmation of this hypothesis is still forthcoming. (Lacour et al., Applied Physics Letters, 14 April 2003)

AT NEWS: North Carolina bill




Dear Folk,

Please consider emailing to North Carolina lawmakers, who are presently debating SB25, a bill by Sen. Allran to outlaw rebirthing. The bill diverts attention from the real child abuse being done daily by Attachment Therapists in the state, and is supported by North Carolina's AT industry! SB251 is currently up for a final vote in the Senate before it goes to the House, so emails to senators are needed immediately.


*** SB251 is a red herring that does nothing to stop the other forms of coercive restraint they offer in NC, such as "holding therapy" and "compression therapy" -- popular practices inflicted on North Carolina's most vulnerable of children, e.g. minority children, children in foster care, and adoptees.

*** Candace Newmaker, whom the bill purports to honor, was really killed by "Attachment Therapy," not rebirthing. It was the characteristic arrogance of Attachment Therapists that keeps them from listening to children and believing that they are entitled to use dangerous and unvalidated coercive restraint practices based on bizarre pseudoscience.

*** By not stopping other forms of coercive restraint practices, SB251 in effect condones their use. SB251 is a "feel-good" bill that diverts attention from the "holding therapy" going on in North Carolina. It says a lot that SB251 is a bill that abusive Attachment (Holding) Therapists support!

*** What NC really needs is to delete the last 14 words from this law (between the asterisks), i.e.:

SECTION 2. G.S. 122C-60(a) reads as rewritten: "(a) Physical restraint or seclusion of a client shall be employed only when there is imminent danger of abuse or injury to the client or others, when substantial property damage is occurring, *or when the restraint or seclusion is necessary as a measure of therapeutic treatment.*

Allran at one time considered a bill excising these words, but there was, predictably, opposition by the AT community to a bill that would outlaw their "popular" practices.

*** Outlawing any particular practice is micromanaging health care; regulating the use of restraint, on the other hand, is dealing with a broad principle that helps prevent numerous forms of child abuse, especially AT.

*** There is no evidence "rebirthing" was ever done or is being done to children in North Carolina.



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1.) Raleigh News & Observer
[Letters must be signed and include an address and daytime phone number. Those selected for publication may be edited. The length limit is 250 words.]

2.) Durham Herald-Sun
letters@herald-sun.com. [Letters must be signed and include an address and daytime phone number. The length limit is 250 words.]

3.) Charlotte Observer


"Bill would ban 'rebirthing': Senate's health committee unanimously votes to outlaw controversial therapy three years after Durham girl died"
By LYNN BONNER, Staff Writer, Raleigh News & Observer

A state Senate committee voted unanimously Wednesday to outlaw a practice called "rebirthing therapy" while the grandparents of a 10-year-old Durham girl who died during a session three years ago looked on. The bill would make it a crime to practice rebirthing, a technique practitioners use on troubled children. For Candace Newmaker, the therapy involved being wrapped in a blanket and squeezed under pillows by adults. The girl suffocated in 2000 during a rebirthing session in Colorado.

North Carolina lawmakers are seeking to follow Colorado, which has outlawed the procedure.

"This is what killed our granddaughter," Mary Davis said after the committee meeting. "What they did was wrong, horribly wrong. And it can happen again."

Davis and her husband, David, dabbed their eyes as they reached for pictures showing a smiling Candace at age 5 and age 10. The Davises went to Colorado to watch part of the 2001 trial of two therapists whom a jury convicted of reckless child abuse resulting in death, and they supported the Colorado law.

Candace was the adopted daughter of a pediatric nurse practitioner, Jeane Newmaker, who lived in Durham. Newmaker adopted Candace at age 6 after social workers removed her and a younger brother and sister from their home in Lincoln County. Newmaker turned to the experimental therapy to treat Candace, whom Newmaker described in court as hostile, distant and sometimes dangerous during most of their four years together.

Under the bill sponsored by Sen. Austin Allran, a Hickory Republican, the first offense for practicing rebirthing therapy would be a misdemeanor, and subsequent offenses would be felonies, whether or not someone is hurt during therapy.

While no one in the audience spoke during the hearing, members of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee took turns condemning the practice.

"A little North Carolina girl was subjected to this type of quack procedure," Allran said. "No one opposes it, of course," he said of the bill, "except people who make a living doing this."

Sen. Vernon Malone, a Democrat from Raleigh, wondered whether the bill was tough enough.

"Are these penalties strong enough for this kind of savagery?" Malone asked.

The bill now goes to a Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.

[Staff writer Lynn Bonner can be reached at 829-4821 or at lbonner@newsobserver.com.]

A second Senate committee has given its approval to ban a technique known as rebirthing, which was responsible for the death of a Durham girl three years ago. The bill, approved by the Senate Judiciary II Committee, now goes to the Senate floor. Sen. Austin Allran, R-Catawba, predicted the bill will see little opposition, either in the Senate or the House...

"Bill sponsor sees no opposition to rebirthing ban in N.C."
By SCOTT MOONEYHAM, , Associated Press Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A bill to ban the rebirthing technique responsible for the death of a Durham girl is one step closer to passage in the state Senate...





Short Title: Prohibit Rebirthing. (Public)

February 27, 2003

Whereas, United States Representative Sue Myrick, a member of the North Carolina congressional delegation, introduced House Concurrent Resolution 435 in Congress encouraging states to outlaw "rebirthing"; and Whereas, the United States Congress adopted House Concurrent Resolution 435, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 397-0; and

Whereas, in House Concurrent Resolution 435, the United States Congress expressed the sense that the technique known as "rebirthing", a form of "attachment therapy", is a dangerous and harmful practice and should be prohibited; and

Whereas, Candace Newmaker, a child from North Carolina, died from use of the "rebirthing technique", and four other children have died from other forms of "attachment therapy"; and

Whereas, the American Psychological Association does not recognize "rebirthing" as proper treatment; Now, therefore, The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:

SECTION 1. Article 52 of Chapter 14 of the General Statutes is amended by adding the following new section to read:
" 14-401.21. Practicing "rebirthing technique";

(a) It is unlawful for a person to practice the technique of "rebirthing". As used in this section, "rebirthing" means a technique to reenact the birthing process in a manner that includes restraint and creates a situation in which a patient may suffer physical injury or death.

(b) A violation of this section is punishable as follows:

(1) For a first offense under this section, the person is guilty of a Class A1 misdemeanor.

(2) For a second or subsequent offense under this section, the person is guilty of a Class I felony."

SECTION 2. G.S. 122C-60(a) reads as rewritten:

"(a)Physical restraint or seclusion of a client shall be employed only when there is imminent danger of abuse or injury to the client or others, when substantial property damage is occurring, or when the restraint or seclusion is necessary as a measure of therapeutic treatment. For purposes of this section, "rebirthing" as defined by G.S. 14-401.21 is not a measure of therapeutic treatment. All instances of restraint or seclusion and the detailed reasons for such action shall be documented in the client's record. Each client who is restrained or secluded shall be observed frequently, and a written notation of the observation shall be made in the client's record."

SECTION 3. Section 1 of this act becomes effective December 1, 2003, and applies to offenses committed on and after that date. The remainder of this act is effective when it becomes law.

[*AT NEWS* sends the latest news to activists and allied organizations about the many abusive, pseudoscientific, and violent practices inflicted on children by the fringe psychotherapy known as Attachment Therapy, aka "holding therapy" and "therapeutic parenting." Attachment Therapists claim to work with the most vulnerable of children, e.g. minority children, children in foster care, and adoptees. AT NEWS is the publication of newly formed *Advocates for Children in Therapy.* For more information on Attachment Therapy, go to the Utah activists' site:
http://www.kidscomefirst.info ]

Contact: Linda Rosa, RN
Corresponding Secretary
Loveland, CO

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

For accurate instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to the listserv, follow this link: http://www.mediaresource.org/instruct.htm

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.htm which mirrors the daily e-mail update.

In the News

Today's Headlines - April 2, 2003

from The Washington Post

An alarming new lung infection spread to at least two new nations yesterday as public health authorities around the globe struggled to stifle the dangerous disease, scientists raced to pinpoint the cause, and doctors worked to save the growing number of victims.

The worldwide tally jumped another 182 suspected cases and four deaths, pushing the toll to at least 1,804 victims and 62 deaths in 15 countries. And officials in Hong Kong took the drastic step of evacuating 240 residents of a downtown apartment complex to a countryside camp to be quarantined until experts could determine how the mysterious new microbe is spreading in their building.

In Hanoi, the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, seemed to have subsided, with no new cases reported in eight days, and officials clamped tough quarantines on schools, hospitals and other institutions in Singapore and Toronto, raising hope that the outbreaks would soon peter out in those hot spots for the infection as well.


from The Washington Post

TORONTO, April 1 -- A killer microbe slipped into the city last month, seemingly as benign as the common cold. The affliction arrived unexpectedly, as in a parable: A man goes to the hospital with a racing heart. He's placed in a hospital room with another man who has a hacking cough. They share the same, potentially lethal air.

The man with the racing heart gets better, goes home, only to return two days later, sicker. His lungs fill with fluid. He dies.

The family of the man, who has not been identified, grieves. At the funeral home, there was sympathy, but there also was fear. The funeral director told family members to drive themselves to the burial. No one wanted to be exposed to the mystery disease that killed their loved one. Public health officials advised them that the burial should be private. Even in death, they warned, do not get too close to the body. The mourners covered their faces at a lonely graveside service, dressed in black and weeping into white surgical masks.

They did not know it yet, but two of the mourners also were infected.


from The New York Times

HOUSTON, April 1 Investigators looking into the breakup of the space shuttle Columbia indicated today that they were focusing on a possible chain of events in which a panel near the leading edge of the left wing perhaps damaged by a falling piece of foam during liftoff fell off on the second day in orbit, leaving an entry point for superhot gasses as the spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere.

This possibility was described here today, two months after the Feb. 1 shuttle disaster, at a briefing by members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board headed by Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr.

The briefing focused on a bounty of new data produced by the many areas of the inquiry. Researchers, for example, have made clear progress in determining the identity of an object that radar imagery showed moving away from the shuttle on the second day of the flight. The researchers have compared those images, which were first analyzed four days after they were taken, with new radar signatures generated in tests on dozens of shuttle parts since the accident.


from The New York Times

As American-led forces push toward Baghdad, the shrink-wrapped $200 suits that troops are carrying to protect against chemical and biological weapons could soon have their first real-world test, and experts and officials are divided over how well they will work.

The suits, made of a carbon-laced fabric imported from Germany, have been successfully tested against a variety of toxic substances in military laboratories and at a half-dozen military proving grounds over the last six years, according to the Pentagon.

But whether they perform just as well in combat, and particularly in the rising heat expected later this week, is another matter, government officials and independent experts said yesterday. Daytime temperatures between Baghdad and Basra are likely to approach 100 degrees from Thursday into the weekend, forecasters say.


from The Christian Science Monitor

On today's digital battlefield, where AA batteries are almost as critical as bullets, researchers are looking for ways to forecast "weather" conditions hundreds of miles up where satellites orbit. Over the past decade, scientists have focused much of their effort on forecasting the effects of large outbursts from the sun, which can fry satellite circuits and trigger surges in earthbound utility transmission lines.

Now, military and civilian researchers are paying increased attention to turbulence in Earth's ionosphere, which can weaken navigation, intelligence, and other signals until they vanish under useless noise. While solar storms can aggravate these effects, they can appear almost daily with or without a major solar eruption.

In Iraq, "all of our operations are very finely tuned" to minimize civilian casualties, notes US Air Force Capt. Kelly Doser, currently working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo. Because today's weapons that rely on navigation satellites for guidance, "any little thing that creeps in could have a very heavy impact on how the mission is done."


from The Los Angeles Times

A drug that reduces symptoms in patients with sickle cell disease can also extend their lives, according to a study in today's Journal of the American Medical Assocation.

The study tracked 299 patients with moderate to severe forms of the blood disease for an average of nine years, and found that people taking hydroxyurea had 40% fewer deaths than those who did not use the drug.

The finding prompted sickle cell researchers to recommend using the drug on a wider range of patients who suffer from the debilitating hereditary disease, which afflicts about 72,000 Americans.

It is likely the drug could extend the life span of sickle cell patients, who now live on average into their 40s, said lead author Dr. Martin Steinberg, professor of medicine and pediatrics at Boston University.


from SciDevNet

NEW DELHI] Scientists from India and the United States have developed new software that speeds up the accurate computer interpretation of texts written in Devanagari a centuries-old script that is still used as the basis of a large number of contemporary Indian languages.

The software, which eliminates the need for manual checking of digital interpretations of Indian scripts that is required by existing conversion programmes could, according to its developers, be an important step towards bridging the digital divide between developed and developing nations.

Devanagari is the script used in the main Indian language Hindi and in Marathi, which is spoken in western India. It is also used in Nepali, which is spoken in neighbouring Nepal.

"The half billion people around the world whose main language is Hindi or based on Devanagari are totally missing out on the information revolution," says Venugopal Govindraju, professor of computer science and engineering at the University at Buffalo in the United States, whose team developed the software in collaboration with the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in Kolkata.


Ultra-simple Desktop Device Slows Light To A Crawl At Room Temperature


University Of Rochester
Date: 2003-04-01

Though Einstein put his foot down and demanded that nothing can move faster than light, a new device developed at the University of Rochester may let you outpace a beam by putting your foot down on the gas pedal. At 127 miles per hour, the light in the new device travels more than 5 million times slower than normal as it passes through a ruby just a few centimeters long.

Instead of the complex, room-filling mechanisms previously used to slow light, the new apparatus is small and, in the words of its creator, "ridiculously easy to implement." Such a simple design will likely pave the way for slow light, as it is called, to move from a physical curiosity to a useful telecommunications tool. The research is being published in this week's Physical Review Letters.

The new technique uses a laser to "punch a hole" in the absorption spectrum of a common ruby at room temperature, and a second laser shines through that hole at the greatly reduced speed. A recent successful attempt to slow light to these speeds used a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), a state of matter existing 459 degrees below zero Fahrenheit where all atoms act in unison like a single, giant atom. The laser shining through the BEC was slowed to 38 miles per hour, but the system had enormous drawbacks, not the least of which was that the equipment needed to create the BEC wouldn't fit in the average living room, and the created BEC itself was little bigger than the head of a pin.

"If that was the world's hardest way to slow down light, then what we've found is the world's easiest way to do it," says Robert Boyd, the M. Parker Givens Professor of Optics at the University. "We can slow light just as much in a space the size of a desktop computer."

Slowing light, at least a little, isn't as difficult as it may seem. Light passing through a window is 1.5 times slower while moving through the glass, and is slowed slightly less so when passing through water. But to achieve the 5.3-million fold slowdown, Boyd and his team, students Matthew Bigelow and Nick Lepeshkin, used a quantum quirk called "coherent population oscillations" to create a special gap in the frequencies of light that a ruby absorbs. Rubies are red because they absorb most of the blue and green light that strikes them. Shining an intense green laser at the ruby partially saturates the chromium ions that give ruby its red color. They then shine a second beam, called the probe laser, into the ruby. The probe beam has a frequency slightly different than the first laser, and these offset frequencies interact with each other, causing variations the same way two ripples encountering each other on a pond might create waves higher and lower than either one had alone. The chromium ions respond to this new frequency of rhythmic highs and lows by oscillating in sympathy. One consequence of this oscillation is that it allows the probe laser to pass through the ruby, even though the laser is green, but it only allows it to pass 5.3 million times more slowly than light would otherwise travel.

Boyd anticipates that the slow light device will find a role in the telecommunications industry. When two signals from fiber optic lines merge, the two signals may reach the merging router at the exact same moment and need to be separated slightly in time so they can be laid down one after another. Like two cars merging on a highway where one may need to slow down to let another car into the lane, a light-slowing device could help ease congestion on fiber optic lines and simplify the process of merging signals on busy networks.

One drawback to the new technique is currently being scrutinized by Boyd and his coworkers--the duration of the pulses of light that it delays are very long. The BEC experiments were able to delay a short pulse, which meant that a plain pulse of light and a slowed pulse would differ by several times the pulses' lengths. The Boyd technique slows light by roughly the same amount as the BEC method, but since the pulses are much larger, the delay is only a fraction of the pulses' size. It would be the difference between slowing an economy car a few feet to let another economy car merge, and a double-tractor trailer slowing only a few feet and expecting another double trailer to merge into the gap. Boyd suspects that different materials may yield slowed light that can transmit shorter pulses that would be more useful for telecommunications work.

Editor's Note: The original news release can be found here.

Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time


#1: The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest

In 1957 the respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in, and many called up wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. To this question, the BBC diplomatically replied that they should "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best." Check out the actual broadcast archived on the BBC's website (You need the RealVideo player installed to see it, and it usually loads very slowly). -More-

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