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NHNE News Brief 67
Friday, June 27, 1997

"A thought-provoking exploration
of the extraordinary times in which we live."

Millennium Countdown:
918 days until January 1, 2000

Total Paid Subscribers: 133
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CONTENTS:
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QUOTABLES:
Nowhere Else to Go

NEWS WATCH:
See the Antarctic Melt
20,000 New Genes
Wanted: Deformed Frogs
Chopra's Name Cleared
Activists Guilty in "McLibel Case"

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
UFO Flap in Arizona
How is Ram Dass?
"Just the Facts, Ma'am"

UFO WATCH:
Arizona UFO Update
Roswell 1997

TRUTH WATCH:
Creating "False Memories" in Children

SKY WATCH:
Fire in the Sky

TECH WATCH:
Computer Group Breaks Security Code
Nuclear Headache

HEALTH WATCH:
FDA May Review Medicinal Herbs
The Threat of E. coli

NHNE STAFF
ABOUT NHNE & HOW TO JOIN US

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QUOTABLES:
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NOWHERE ELSE TO GO

"How often we look upon God as our last and feeblest resource. We go to him because we have nowhere else to go. And then we learn that the storms of life have driven us, not upon the rocks, but into the desired haven."

---George MacDonald, GUIDEPOSTS, 12/96

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NEWS WATCH:
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SEE THE ANTARCTIC MELT
(Source: REUTERS, 6/25/97)

British explorer Robert Swan, the only person to have walked to both North and South Poles, has launched an $8.3 million, five-year crusade to show the world the impact of global warming. "I want to take politicians, young people, business people, celebrities, down to the Antarctic to see what I have seen," Swan told reporters. "We are, without a shadow of a doubt, melting the Antarctic." Swan has bought a 120-foot sailing yacht to do just that. He said he had personally felt the impact of global warming -- his eyesight has been damaged due to the effect of ultraviolet rays and the ozone holes; in 1989, he almost died when the Arctic Ocean melted beneath him in April, four months before it was due to occur; and he has sailed around islands in the Antarctic which used to be blocked with ice. (JG)

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20,000 NEW GENES
(Source: Tim Friend, USA TODAY, 6/25/97)

One day after THE INSTITUTE FOR GENOMIC RESEARCH (TIGR) split from its commercial partner, HUMAN GENOME SCIENCES, the nonprofit research foundation made the unprecedented move of making public previously confidential information about 20,000 new genes, including the world's three leading killers: malaria, cholera and tuberculosis. Until the split, which cost $38 million, HUMAN GENOME SCIENCES had commercial rights to the findings. "This is the best news we have had in years," says STANFORD UNIVERSITY biologist Lucy Shapiro. "It allows us to get at the genes used by bacteria to invoke virulence." David Lipman, Director of THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY INFORMATION (NCBI) adds, "Now scientists around the world will be studying the stuff on their computers and changing experiments right and left." NCBI has created a special Web site to disseminate the information: <www.tigr.org>. (JG)

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WANTED: DEFORMED FROGS
(Source: ASSOCIATED PRESS, 6/20/97)

Since 1995, reports of deformed frogs, toads and salamanders have increased sharply. Frogs with misshapen limbs, missing or shrunken eyes and smaller sex organs have been found in areas from Minnesota to Quebec. Theories range from pesticides to parasites to radiation because of ozone depletion. And until the cause is understood, scientists won't know whether humans face a risk. Denny Fenn, Chief of the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY, admits, "We need observations from the general public to understand the observed decline in North American amphibian populations and the increase in reports of deformed amphibians." So the NORTH AMERICAN REPORTING CENTER FOR AMPHIBIAN MALFORMATIONS has been established at the survey's NORTHERN PRAIRIE SCIENCE CENTER in Jamestown, North Dakota. They are asking the public to report sightings of deformed frogs, either by filling out a form on their Web site at <http://www.npsc.nbs.gov/narcam> or calling them toll free (after July 1) at (800) 238-9801. But please, don't send them any frogs. (JG)

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CHOPRA'S NAME CLEARED
(Source: NEWSWEEK, 6/30/97)

Media magnate Rupert Murdoch issued an uncharacteristic public apology recently for publishing a profile on Deepak Chopra last summer in his paper THE WEEKLY STANDARD alleging instances of plagiarism and encounters with a prostitute. In his announcement in THE STANDARD and THE NEW YORK POST, Murdoch admitted these allegations and other aspects of the article "were inappropriate and unjust." (JG)

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ACTIVISTS GUILTY IN "McLIBEL" CASE
(Sources: Patricia Reaney, REUTERS, 6/19/97; William Underhill, NEWSWEEK, 6/30/97)

In what has been called "the trial of the century," two penniless activists, Helen Steel and Dave Morris, were recently found guilty in London of libeling McDONALD's. The case was triggered by a 1984 pamphlet produced by LONDON GREENPEACE, a little known group with no relation to GREENPEACE INTERNATIONAL, which claimed that the burger giant promoted an unhealthy diet, ruined the environment, was hostile to trade unions and exploited children and workers. Over the course of 313 days, 180 witnesses were called to give testimony on topics ranging from food packaging and manufacturing to labor practices, the destruction of rain forests and health issues. This was followed by eight weeks of closing speeches and six months of deliberation. The trial was the longest in English history and is estimated to have cost 10 million pounds. The case was judged too complicated to be decided by jury. In his closing comments leading up to his decision, Judge Rodger Bell said that although a lot of the statements were found to be untrue, the pamphlet did expose some unsatisfactory conditions at the company such as cruelty toward animals, low pay, and misleading publicity material. The case has been the subject of a two-part television documentary, a 300-page book and countless newspaper and magazine articles. It has spawned support groups and its own Internet Web site, which features 20,000 pages of court testimony. The two activists, who were ordered to pay $98,000, have vowed to appeal the decision and intend to take their case to the EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS, claiming the libel laws in England are oppressive. (JG)

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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
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UFO FLAP IN ARIZONA

"I just read the June 18th issue of USA TODAY and was astonished by the full-page article on the UFO sighting that took place in Arizona in March 1997. Why hasn't there been any mention of this in any of the other news media? I cannot believe it took thee months for someone to publish something on this. Can you give me any additional information?"

---LadyRXR

[We agree that it is a remarkable story; in fact, some are calling it the best-documented mass UFO sighting in the last 10 years. We first reported on it on March 28 in News Brief 54. For those who missed the report in USA TODAY that you mention, we include an account in this issue. JG]

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HOW IS RAM DASS?

"As a stroke experiencer, I would like to know how Ram Dass is doing and what he is learning from his situation. I sent your articles about his stroke (News Briefs 59 & 63) to the Stroke Support Group. Many more prayers will go out to him."

---Mary Simpson, Pueblo, Colorado

[Ram Dass is slowly recovering from his massive stroke in February. He is learning the power of silence. For an update on his condition, visit: <www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/Heights/1143/ramindex.html>. JG]

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"JUST THE FACTS, MA'AM"

"Regarding all the brouhaha over the 'Best Available Evidence' UFO document (News Flashes 6/6/97 and 6/8/97), I find it funny that we think that beings who can travel light years, draw crop circles, abduct humans, mutilate cattle and all the other things 'they' are credited with doing, would want to communicate with lifeforms who enter into such 'whose ball is it, anyway' distractions. I hope that this kind of petty bullshit can be put behind the true task of liberating information to the public. Personally, I would rather have been sent a copy of the original research document than all the words dedicated to who did what to whom and how. I can look to my government for that kind of doubletalk psychobabble. For my choice, 'just give me the facts, ma'am,' to quote Sgt. Friday from 'Dragnet.' And unless Gordon-Michael Scallion has something FACTUAL to say and not just good guesses, could you never mention his name again? "

---Harry Breaux, San Francisco, California

[Normally, we would never have given this kind of story so much air time, but because it involved a first-ever congressional hearing, a famous research study funded by Rockefeller, and a host of prominent UFO researchers, we were obligated to report on it. While we admit that the big story should be the efforts to uncover whatever is known about UFOs, the behind-the-scenes postering is also important. Knowing how various leaders in the UFO community handle incidents like the one detailed by CNI provides us with a valuable insight into the kind of people who are involved, and, by extension, how much trust we should place in them and their claims. As for Scallion, we haven't run anything on him in several months now, and don't plan to anytime soon -- even though he continues to attract thousands of misinformed believers and crank out an embarrassing array of material that we would have a field day debunking. DS]

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UFO WATCH:
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ARIZONA UFO UPDATE
(Source: Richard Price, USA TODAY, 6/18/97)

It was first spotted at 8:16 p.m. by a retired police officer in Paulden, Arizona (60 miles north of Phoenix) -- a cluster of five red lights in the sky heading south. Less than two minutes later, in the sky over Prescott 15 miles to the south, five lights appeared -- one red and four white. One minute after that, reports started to flood in from a succession of cities -- Wickenburg, Glendale, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Tempe. The event lasted for 106 minutes. Some people saw orbs in the sky, others triangles. By far the most common description was of a V-shaped object with three lights on each wing and a seventh light trailing. Occasionally, some of the lights blinked out. Phone lines were jammed as people tried to get through to police departments, nearby Luke Air Force Base, and various media outlets, as well as the NATIONAL UFO REPORTING CENTER in Seattle, Wash. The event was the top news story in the local media for days.

Witnesses of the event on March 13, 1997 generally agree on three details:

--1) The object was enormous. The most conservative estimate was 1,000 feet wide; computer analysis of videotape footage taken that night place the figure closer to 6,000 feet -- more than one mile in size.

--2) The object made no sound.

--3) By the time the object arrived in Phoenix, it was moving slowly -- no more than 30 mph -- and sometimes it even stopped.

Air traffic controllers at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport could see the lights with the naked eye, but nothing showed up on their radar screens. "Weird, inexplicable," said Bill Grava, an air traffic controller on duty that night. "I still don't know what to think, and I have no idea what it was."

Dana Valentine of Phoenix and his father, an aeronautics engineer, saw the object fly directly overhead at an estimated altitude of 500 feet. "We could see the outline of a mass behind the lights, a gray distortion of the night sky." Tim Ley, a neighbor down the road added, "It was so big and so strange. You couldn't actually see the object. All you could see was the outline, as though something was blocking the stars."

Michael Tanner and Jim Dilettosa, owners of the VILLAGE LABS, a computer firm in Tempe that designs special effects for Hollywood, ran a analysis of videos shot by amateur observers. The lights in the sky were perfectly uniform, with no variation from one edge to the other and no glow. Tanner and Diletossa ruled out lasers, flares, holograms and aircraft lights as sources, but had no idea what they actually were. Tanner has been interviewing witnesses to determine a chronology of events. His present view: There were four objects, including the V formation. All came out of the north at the same time, and after being seen by thousands for almost two full hours, left the way they came.

When no official explanation was forthcoming, Phoenix Councilwoman Frances Barwood led the cry for an official probe. She raised the matter publicly at a City Council meeting on May 6, and the local media jumped on it. Despite the hundreds of calls she received from eye witnesses, her demand for an official probe went nowhere. A spokesman for Skip Romsza, the mayor of Phoenix, explained, "It's way beyond our resources to chase lights in the sky. We pick up trash. Call the governor." When a caller asked Governor Fife Symington about the event on his weekly radio call-in show, he claimed to know nothing about it, and then added that no state action was planned. The Air Force announced it would do nothing, which was no surprise considering that the U.S. government hasn't officially been involved with UFOs since 1969 when they shut down PROJECT BLUE BOOK, the UFO investigative service created after the Roswell incident. The Commander of the Luke Air Force Base, Lt. Col. Mike Hauser, admitted that there were F-16s in the air that night, but claimed they were on a routine training mission and had nothing to do with the lights in the sky. An eye witness said otherwise: Bill Grenier was driving his truck less than a mile from the base when he spotted two brilliantly-lit orbs like spinning tops. When one of the orbs moved over the base, he watched three F-16s take off and veer right for it. The orb responded by shooting straight up and disappearing "in the blink of an eye." Hauser refused to comment, other than saying, "This is a matter for local jurisdictions," thereby throwing the controversy back into the lap of the city.

Although all government agencies refused to look into the matter, one private organization, THE MUTUAL UFO NETWORK (MUFON), investigated the evidence and pronounced it an authentic UFO. That's unusual -- only about 5 percent of UFO sightings earn that distinction from this group. "I can't vouch for it being extraterrestrial," said State MUFON Director Tom Taylor. "It could be military related, although I find it difficult to believe the military would let it fly around like that."

USA TODAY calls the sighting "the most contentious and confounding UFO report since the 'UFO Age' was launched 50 years ago by the legendary crash of a 'spaceship' outside Roswell, N.M." (JG)

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ROSWELL 1997
By James Gregory

UFOs are big business these days, and nowhere is this truer than in Roswell, N.M. where 100,000 people are expected to gather for ROSWELL UFO ENCOUNTER '97, celebrating the 50th anniversary of "the UFO crash heard around the world." The "Incident," as it is known, is a tale that combines strains of spirituality and paranoia as well as a large scoop of native wackiness.

Everyone agrees that something crashed on the Foster Ranch outside Roswell. On July 8, the Roswell Army Air Field issued a press release saying it had recovered the wreckage of a "flying disk" -- the only time the U.S. military has gone on record saying that flying saucers exist -- sparking incredulous news stories around the world. A few hours later, a general at the regional Army Air Force command in Fort Worth, Texas, where the debris had been sent for further analysis, announced that what had really been recovered was a weather balloon. This is the indisputable core of the Roswell Incident and a cornerstone of belief for the UFO community.

According to BOOKS IN PRINT, there are 256 titles available about UFOs, and many more Roswell books will be hitting the shelves just in time to capitalize on the Incident's anniversary. The most notorious is POCKET BOOKS' "The Day After Roswell," the volume that features a foreword by Strom Thurmond that the Senator disavowed when he learned what the book was actually about UFOs (News Brief 66). Written by Philip J. Corso, a retired Army-intelligence officer and former member of Thurmond's staff, "The Day After Roswell" numbers among its many revelations the claim that ever since the Roswell crash, the U.S. government has been fighting "the 'real' cold war" against extraterrestrial biological entities (EBEs). Corso writes, "When we deployed our advanced particle-beam weapon [part of Ronald Reagan's 'Star Wars' Defense Initiative], the EBEs knew that we had our defense of the planet in place."

Benson Saler and Charles A. Ziegler, professors of anthropology at BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY, have just published a study of what they call the "Roswell Myth," which in their view has "religious-like" elements. Its primary function is as a means of social protest, in that the Roswell story is in great part an antigovernment narrative. But no one would work this hard to hash out such an enthrallingly-elaborate belief system if more profound needs weren't being met as well. At its core, the Myth is a secular way to give the universe meaning and humanity a renewed sense of importance: not only are our skies populated by superhuman beings but their visits are proof that we are of some consuming interest.

In 1994, as the Roswell controversy became more heated, Washington was under increasing pressure to resolve it. The Air Force began a six-month investigation lead by Colonel Richard Weaver and released a 1,000-page report that the debris was from a balloon carrying acoustical equipment designed to monitor Soviet nuclear tests -- a top-secret operation called Project Mogul. Records showed that one such balloon train was launched on June 4, 1947 and over a period of 10 days was tracked to within 20 miles of the Foster ranch before it disappeared from the radar scopes.

On June 24 -- one week before the 50th anniversary of the Roswell incident -- the Air Force released the results of its second study, launched after UFOlogists complained that the 1994 report did not address the issue of alien bodies. The 231-page report entitled "The Roswell Report: Case Closed" explained that from 1954 to 1959, the Air Force conducted experiments that involved dropping dummies from high-altitude balloons over New Mexico to study the results of the impact from parachute jumps. To back up their claim, the report included photographs of human-looking dummies and balloons being recovered. According to the report, "What quite likely happened is that people who saw these dummies mistook them for aliens." The report claimed that the time discrepancy was due to faulty memories on the part of eyewitnesses and blames UFOlogists for "linking" these unrelated sightings to the original Roswell incident.

But the millions of Americans who believe that U.S. officials are withholding the truth about Roswell specifically and UFOs in general are not about to be swayed by these statements. Frank Kaufmann, 81, who was a civilian assigned to an intelligence unit at the then-Roswell Air Field, said he knows what he saw, and they weren't dummies. He was part of team dispatched to investigate an object that had crashed into a nearby dry river bed, and got a close look at two of the bodies. "They were very good-looking people, ash-colored faces and skin, about five feet five tall, eyes a little more pronounced, small ears, small nose, fine features and hairless." He saw military personnel place five corpses into body bags and remove them in jeeps. Kaufmann said he was certain that his encounter occurred in July 1947. "The military can say whatever they want. There's not a doubt in my mind. I haven't gone senile yet." Dean Crosbie, Director of the INTERNATIONAL UFO MUSEUM AND RESEARCH CENTER in Roswell added, "[The report] undermines public belief in our government, because it is such a silly story. It's sad that officials think the masses of the public are unintelligent and can't think"

An informal survey suggests that Roswellians themselves are generally amused by all the hoopla. "There's kind of a love-hate relationship with this thing," says Stan Crosby, an oil-and-gas man who is the chief organizer of ROSWELL UFO ENCOUNTER '97. "It's not like we have the prettiest beach, or the Carlsbad Caverns. We've got to go with what we've got." He is already thinking three years hence, to ROSWELL UFO ENCOUNTERS: ON TO THE MILLENNIUM. (Sources: Bruce Handy & James Willwerth, TIME Cover Story, 6/23/97; CNN ONLINE, 6/24/97; AUFORA NEWS UPDATE, 6/23/97; REUTERS, 6/24/97, Richard Price, USA TODAY, 6/25/97)

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TRUTH WATCH:
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CREATING "FALSE MEMORIES" IN CHILDREN
(Source: JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF CHILD AND ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRY via REUTERS, 6/24/97)

New research is revealing that small children, improperly interviewed, very easily confuse the imaginary with the real. A team of researchers from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at CORNELL UNIVERSITY in Ithaca, New York conducted repeat interviews with children between 3 to 6 years of age, in which adults conducting the sessions asked questions about real or imaginary events with varying levels of suggestibility. The Cornell study found that, the younger the child, the more susceptible he or she was to suggestions that imagined events had actually occurred.

The Cornell experts say that when children were asked questions in a neutral fashion, they had little trouble accurately remembering past events. In one experiment, a classroom of preschoolers received a two-minute visit from a cartoon character named "Sam Stone." After the visit, interviewers simply asked the youngsters to "Tell me what happened." "These children did very well," the researchers said, "correctly recalling most of what actually transpired during Sam Stone's visit."

But even subtle suggestions can alter those recollections. The month before second group of children were visited by Sam Stone, the children were repeatedly told how "clumsy" he was. These children were then asked "highly suggestive" questions in interviews spread over a period of 10 weeks after Sam's visit -- for example, "When Sam Stone spilled ice cream on the teddy bear, was he being silly or angry?" A full 44 percent of the 3 and 4 years olds claimed they actually saw the (fictitious) incident. By this time, many of these "memories" had become firmly entrenched in young minds. "Even after being challenged (to recant)," researchers say, "20 percent of the younger preschool children maintained that they saw Sam do these things."

The Cornell researchers showed 1,000 psychiatrists and psychologists videotapes of the children interviewed about the visit of Sam Stone. They were asked to separate the "true" child recollections from the "false." "Overall, most of the professionals were inaccurate," they discovered. "As a rule, the least accurate children were considered to be the most accurate by experts."

In an effort to see if this phenomena worked when a child's own body was at the center of a recalled event (as in cases of sexual abuse), the researchers asked children to recall the events occurring in a routine pediatric examination. When given an anatomically-correct doll as a descriptive tool (such dolls are often used in child-abuse investigations), 75 percent of the girls who did not receive genital examination claimed that the pediatrician touched their buttocks or their genitals.

The Cornell experts say preconceptions, suggestions, and repetition over time all collude to manufacture false pediatric memories. They believe all of these practices occur in criminal child abuse investigations relying on child testimony. The average child in the courtroom has been interviewed formally 3.5 to 11 times before his or her court appearance. The study authors stress that brief, nonrepetitive, nonsuggestive child interviews are the key tool in determining the truth in cases of suspected abuse. (JG)

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SKY WATCH:
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FIRE IN THE SKY
(Source: Carl Zimmer, DISCOVER, 7/97)

[The following article is a followup to our "'Blue Jets' Found Above Thunderclouds" report in News Brief 60.]

Ever since Ben Franklin flew his kite in a thunderstorm, scientists have been trying to understand how lightning is created. A decade ago, they thought they had the basics worked out: powerful updrafts carry water and ice particles as much as ten miles into the air; as the droplets and particles collide they generate electricity, with the negative charge accumulating on the underside of the storm cloud; the negative charge of the cloud creates a corresponding positive charge on the ground below, setting up an intense electric field between the two; when the field strength becomes too great, a channel of current flows down from the cloud to join another coming up from the ground; when the channels connect, a huge electrical discharge takes place, draining some of the cloud's charge.

In 1989, while testing a new low-light video camera, physicists from the UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA happened to point the camera a distant thunderhead to see if they could record lightning flashes. Upon reviewing the footage, they were surprised to find a huge smear of light rising up from the cloud instead of down. Three months later, orbiting shuttle astronauts also captured a tentacle of light rising from a cloud. In 1993, in a followup to these sightings and other oddities reported by airplane pilots, researchers from the UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA managed to capture on video a few bursts of light resembling giant red jellyfish and orange carrots hovering 20 miles above storm clouds. In 1994, they were back flying above thunderstorms in Oklahoma and Arkansas, in specially-designed jets fitted with bulging glass domes. In addition to the jellyfish and carrots, their more sophisticated recording equipment picked up startling images of blue-white trumpets rising 20 miles from the tops of the clouds in a quarter of a second and blazing rings of red light 200 miles across.

Like zoologists who have stumbled into a region of undescribed species, meteorologists and physicists are trying to catalog the lights, which have been called "blue jets, red sprites and ring-shaped elves," as fast as they can. "It's exciting," says Eugene Wescott, part of the UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA team. "You're not just filling in the last decimal place in something well known. This is completely new." And even as explorers race after the elusive lights, theorists are trying to explain them. Researchers suspect the odd lights may be having an important global effect -- pumping energy from the ground to the whispiest regions of the atmosphere and creating belts of radiation that gird the planet.

Physicist Umran Inan and his colleagues at the SPACE, TELECOMMUNCATIONS AND RADIOSCIENCE LABORATORY (STAR LAB) in Stanford, Conn. have come with a number of theories to explain the phenomena. For example, they found that if a lightning bolt is powerful enough, the sudden flow of electricity releases a burst of electromagnetism in the form of radio waves which radiate upwards and outwards in a cone from the bolt, exciting free electrons in the upper atmosphere, which in turn trigger nitrogen molecules to give off red light resulting in a huge ring-shaped elf. It is thought that red sprites are created when a thunderhead's leading edge far exceeds its base. The positive charge on the top of the cloud is exposed to the ground below, where a corresponding negative charge is built up. If a lightning bolt is generated, instead of draining off the negative charge on the cloud's underside, it strips away the positive charge on top, immediately setting up a vast electric field from the cloud to the top of the atmosphere. The field excites nitrogen molecules and for a few hundredths of a second a fantastic creature of red light is created. Blue jets don't need lightning to get started. In particularly violent storm clouds, a few patches on the top may become so intensely positively-charged that a spark is created between the patches and the negatively charged air immediately above. This prompts excited nitrogen molecules to release light in the same way as elves and sprites, with one key difference: because the effect happens relatively low down in the atmosphere, the collisions take place much faster and there isn't enough time for photons of low-wavelength colors such as red to emerge; thus the jets are blue.

There are still many unknowns, Some scientists, for example, think that cosmic rays are also involved in the process of creating the heavenly light show. Plans are underway to launch high-altitude balloons in 1998 loaded with photometers, gamma-ray detectors, low-light cameras, and other sensors from the eastern edge of the Great Plains, in the hope that they will drift west over thunderstorm country. Chances are that they will find something new. Reports are already coming in of the existence of new lightforms over thunderstorms such as beads of light and a new class of sprites that look like fiery trees. Our sky apparently still has plenty of surprises in store. (JG)

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TECH WATCH:
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COMPUTER GROUP BREAKS SECURITY CODE
(Source: ASSOCIATED PRESS, 6/19/97)

Critical data in computers is protected by encryption programs that use very large numbers to scramble information. Only the correct "key" can unlock the encrypted information, and the longer the key, the harder it is to crack. The DATA ENCRYPTION STANDARD (DES) required in most federal agencies and also widely used in the private sector to protect electronic money transfers was considered unbreakable when introduced in 1977.

But recently, using the Internet to harness the combined power of thousands of computers, a group organized by programmer Rocke Verser broke the DES. Given the fact that it took four months to break through the national standard code, experts say the nation's financial institutes are hardly at risk, since most of them use what is known as dynamic key exchange, which changes the keys constantly during a transaction. Taking months to crack the code wouldn't do thieves much good.

The actual attack on the code was quite simple. Verser wrote a program that ran through every possible combination that might unlock the coded message -- 72 quadrillion in all. Then he put a copy of the program on his Web site and invited others to work on cracking it. Anyone could download the program, which would then run in the background as they went about their work. The project began with 20 computers and ended with 14,000 working on the problem. All told, they used 10 million hours of computer time. Had they started with 14,000 computers, the task would have only taken about 30 days.

Verser and his group were responding to a $10,000 challenge offered in January by RSA DATA SECURITY INC., a Redwood City, California company that sells encryption programs. The incident is likely to prompt more calls for relaxing U.S. laws that restrict the use of longer codes. (JG)

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NUCLEAR HEADACHE
(Source: Ross Kerber, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, 6/18/97)

In an unusual series of disclosures to the U.S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION (NRC), a number of public utilities have revealed hundreds of cases in which they have failed to meet the terms of their operating licenses. Some examples:

-- Pressure sensors at the Zion nuclear-power plant near Chicago would not survive a hot accident.

-- Until a recent fix at the Diablo Canyon plant in California, emergency-coolant monitors were significantly inaccurate.

-- The ventilation system at Vermont Yankee wouldn't supply enough air for control-room operators in a crisis.

-- Supposedly fail-safe emergency cooling pumps are flawed at the Salem nuclear facility in New Jersey.

Analysts and power-company executives expect some older plants may have to spend as much as $100 million each to get up to code. This additional spending may be enough to prompt the early shutdown of as many as two dozen nuclear plants over the next five years. (An early shutdown is one occurring before a plant's operating license expires.) Early closures will force the question of whether electric-company ratepayers or utility shareholders should pay for billions of dollars of cleanup expenses which were supposed to be collected over the plants' expected life spans. Few plants have yet collected even half of their total decommissioning costs, averaging $582 million apiece. UNICOM, for example, estimates it will cost $600 million to dispose of the Zion plant after it closes, of which only $250 million has been collected. The utility says it may seek rate increases to meet the costs.

The NRC began soliciting admissions of problems from the nation's 109 nuclear-power plants last October, partly in response to whistleblowers' complaints about its own lax oversight at several facilities. (JG)

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HEALTH WATCH:
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FDA MAY REVIEW MEDICINAL HERBS
(Source: Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY, 6/25/97)

A panel of experts appointed by President Clinton in 1994 to look into supplement labelling issues has just released a preliminary report recommending that some supplements that contain medicinal herbs and plants should be considered as over-the-counter drugs. The commission acknowledged that some botanicals used for years as folk remedies do have medical benefits, and suggested that the FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION be assigned to review them. This is seen as a positive move by those in the field of alternative medicine. Currently, most dietary supplements, which include herbs and botanicals, are limited to making only nutritional support claims; for example, that ginger "stimulates digestion." If approved as a over-the-counter drug, a ginger product might make a claim such as, "prevents and treats nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness." The commission also called for a study to examine whether there should be an entirely new category for these herbal remedies, with different standards for proof of their effectiveness. Special review systems for herbs and botanicals are in already in place in Germany, France and Canada. In the U.S., at least 60 percent of the population take some kind of dietary supplement. The public has until August 8 to make their opinions about the report known. A final report will be submitted to the President in September. (JG)

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THE THREAT OF E. COLI
(Sources: Erica Bulman, ASSOCIATED PRESS, 5/21/97 thanks to Joya Pope; ASSOCIATED PRESS via CNN ONLINE, 5/20,97; CNN ONLINE, 5/12,97)

The Escherichia coli pathogen (E. coli), already responsible for a multitude of deaths over the past few years, is likely to continue killing people, unless proper measures are taken, reported the WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (WHO), summarizing the conclusions of a recent meeting of some 42 health experts from 14 countries. Even though E. coli is often linked to contaminated meat -- a recent outbreak in Scotland was traced back to a popular butcher shop where contaminated beef products resulted in 496 cases of illness and 19 deaths -- a wider range of food may be responsible, such as vegetables and fruit exposed to animal manure. The U.S. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL reported five outbreaks of E. coli infections associated with contaminated lettuce in 1995 and 1996 as well as a nation-wide epidemic linked to unpasteurized apple juice in 1996. An E. coli epidemic in Japan in the summer of 1996, associated with contaminated white radish sprouts, affected over 9,000 people and killed 12 children.

In January, in response to the E. coli-contaminated apple juice scare, President Clinton asked the FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, the AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT and THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY to find ways to strengthen the safety of the food supply. They came back with a five-point plan:

-- A public education campaign.

-- Improved food inspections.

-- More money for research to detect contaminants.

-- Strengthened coordination among the many federal agencies that oversee food safety.

-- A national early-warning system to keep outbreaks from becoming epidemics.

Experts worried about the long-term health effects E. coli infections can have on children -- in severe cases the pathogen can lead to kidney failure and even death -- agreed that basic hygienic practices, such as the use of clean water in food preparation and improved hygiene in the slaughter process should serve as a foundation for preventative measures. Thorough cooking of food, pasteurizing milk and educating food handlers, slaughter-house workers and farm employees were also advised.

To encourage and monitor employee handwashing, NET/TECH, a company in Red Bank, New Jersey, has developed an infrared detection system called "Hygiene Guard" that alerts employers when workers leave the restroom without washing up. The device, on display recently at the NATIONAL RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION trade show in Chicago, works like this: Employees wear a badge that triggers an infrared sensor whenever they enter the restroom. A second sensor at the soap dispenser activates if they remain at the sink for at least 15 seconds. Those who neglect to wash their hands are outed when their badges start to blink. "We think that we've come up with something that's going to help save lives and prevent illness," said Dan Richard, a NET/TECH director. Several "household name" fast-food chains have expressed an interest, and trials are to begin soon at the TROPICANA HOTEL in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the WILLIAM BEAUMONT ARMY MEDICAL CENTER in El Paso, Texas.

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