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NHNE News Brief 72
Friday, August 1, 1997

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

Millennium Countdown:
883 days until January 1, 2000

Total Paid Subscribers: 126
Total Online Update Mailing List: 820

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CONTENTS:
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QUOTABLES:
Fools

NEWS WATCH:
Giant Collision Created Moon?
Minamata Bay Free of Mercury
Socially Responsible Banking

THE LIGHTER SIDE:
NASA Sued for Trespassing on Mars
World's First Christian Breath Mint
Big Business in Small Countries

FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK:
Calling All Sleuths

ANCIENT CIVILIZATION WATCH:
Remote Sensing an Ancient Barge

EARTH WATCH:
A Pure Tone in the Ocean
Earthquake Forecast
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Evolutionary Explosion Explained

ECO WATCH:
Farming with Lint
Ranchers & Conservationists Work Together
Monkeys Lay Waste to Florida Keys

TECH WATCH:
Laser Lightning Control

NET WATCH:
Control of the Internet

LIFESTYLES:
The Myth of a Perfect Family
The Circumcision Decision

WEB WATCH:
Green Map System
DeLorme CyberAtlas

NHNE STAFF
ABOUT NHNE & HOW TO JOIN US

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QUOTABLES:
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FOOLS

"No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions."

---Charles P. Steinmetz

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NEWS WATCH:
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GIANT COLLISION CREATED MOON?
(Sources: ASSOCIATED PRESS via CNN ONLINE, 7/28/97; Tim Friend, USA TODAY, 7/28/97)

Scientists at the UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO have found new evidence supporting a theory which says that the Moon was born of a collision between the Earth and a object three times larger than Mars. Robin Canup of the UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO in Boulder says that early in the Earth's formation, when the planet was still molten, a massive rogue object collided with the upper part of the Earth, vaporizing itself and part of our own planet. The impact threw the debris out of the Earth's atmosphere and the material formed a giant disk in orbit around the Earth, much like Saturn's ice rings. Over millions of years, it formed several small hot moonlets, which gradually coalesced into the Moon. Canup developed a computer simulation that showed only up to 50 percent of the debris was actually incorporated into the new Moon; the rest fell back to Earth. To get enough debris into space, the object had to be three times Mars' mass. The "giant impact" theory is not new -- an analysis of moon rocks returned to Earth during the U.S. Apollo space program missions in the '70s led scientists to accept to that the Moon was a chip off Earth's shoulder. What is new is the astounding size of the colliding body. (JG)

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MINAMATA BAY FREE OF MERCURY
(Source: ASSOCIATED PRESS, 7/29/97)

Once a worldwide symbol of the horrors of industrial pollution, Minamata Bay has been declared free of mercury, 40 years after contaminated fish from its waters were first blamed for deaths and birth defects. Joji Fukushima, Governor of Kumamoto in southwestern Japan, said the bay was clean and a huge net that has kept its fish from swimming to other waters since 1974 would be lifted. "There is no further possibility of damage to the safety of fish and shellfish," said the governor, after a recent survey of the bay showed for the third year in a row that amounts of mercury found in the bay's fish were lower than government safety standards. Since the early 1950s, hundreds of people have died after eating fish contaminated by mercury dumped by chemical companies. Others suffered spasms and blurred vision. Babies of poisoned mothers were born with gnarled limbs. The case was immortalized by W. Eugene Smith's 1971 photographs in LIFE MAGAZINE showing a mother cradling her cruelly deformed child. Some victims say the government knew in the '50s that the mercury was the cause of the sicknesses, but did not stop the dumping until 1968. One group has mounted a court challenge to force the government -- which denies the accusation -- to take responsibility. In December 1995, the government agreed to set aside at least 30 billion yen ($255 million) in state subsidies and bonds to compensate victims. Victims also have sought, and won, compensation from the offending companies. (JG)

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SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE BANKING
(Source: Paul Bush, AMERICAN NEWS SERVICE via NEW AGE JOURNAL, July-Aug/97)

Seven years ago, VERMONT NATIONAL BANK launched "Socially Responsible Banking" -- the first program that gives depositors a say in how their money is used. The fund uses deposits to provide loans to area residents involved in affordable housing, agriculture, education, the environment or small business. The key to every loan is that the borrower must be benefitting the community in some way. Since the fund was launched, more than 12,000 depositors have signed up, with accounts totalling more than 122 million -- nearly one tenth the bank's total assets. In turn, the bank has made $73 million in outstanding loans around the state. Dave Berge, the fund's director, says that depositors take a personal interest in the fund. Josie Leavitt can vouch for that. She found banks in New York City "incredibly impersonal," but says investing in the fund after moving to Vermont "allowed me to help the community in a way I can't as an individual. It felt good." (JG)

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THE LIGHTER SIDE:
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NASA SUED FOR TRESPASSING ON MARS
(Source: CNN ONLINE, 7/24/97)

NASA has been sued for trespassing on Mars by three men from Yemen who claim that they own the red planet and have documents to prove it. Adam Ismail, Mustafa Khalil and Abdullah al-Umari filed the lawsuit in San'a, Yemen, and presented documents to the country's prosecutor general which they say proves their claim that "we inherited the planet from our ancestors 3,000 years ago." They demand the immediate suspension of all operations on Mars until a court delivers a verdict. They also ask that NASA refrain from disclosing any information pertaining to Mars' atmosphere, surface or gravity before receiving approval from them. "Sojourner and Pathfinder, which are owned by the U.S. government, landed on Mars and began exploring it without informing us or seeking our approval," the men charge. "It's a ridiculous claim," said NASA News Chief Brian Welch. "Mars is the property of all humanity, not two or three guys in Yemen." Welch says a 1967 international treaty holds that everything in the solar system, except Earth itself, is the property of everyone in the world and no one country. Welch admitted he thought the issue could get more serious in the future "when people actually are going to these places and the resources found have some value." (JG)

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WORLD'S FIRST CHRISTIAN BREATH MINT
(Source: NEWSWEEK, 7/28/97)

"Testamints" are the world's first Christian breath freshener. The sugar-free mints, which come in three flavors, are imprinted with a cross. Each pack has a Bible verse on its wrapping and buyers are encouraged to "Share Your Testament." Company President Bill Tilley explains, "Our goal is to provide a new and creative way to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ." (JG)

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BIG BUSINESS IN SMALL COUNTRIES
(Source: EARTH ISLAND JOURNAL via NEXUS, June-July/97)

THE INSTITUTE OF ECONOMIC AFFAIRS, a London think tank, has come up with what they think is a novel idea to restore the economies of troubled countries -- privatize them. Robert Whelan, a member of the Institute, criticized foreign aid programs, arguing that cash grants only create wealthy dictators. Instead, Whelan proposed that the world's biggest companies bid for leases to operate Third World counties for up to 21 years, in exchange for an agreed-upon return of earnings generated. Kevin Watkins OXFAM AFRICA was quick to respond, "If they knew their history, they would know that this has been done before." It's called imperialism. (JG)

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FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK:
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CALLING ALL SLEUTHS!

We have had two remarkable stories come across our desk in the last couple of weeks. The first has to do with the alleged discovery of a megalithic site underwater off the coast of Bimini, Bahamas. The only source is a press release dated July 6, 1997 from Aaron Du Val, President of the EGYPTOLOGY SOCIETY in Miami, Florida and a follow-up phone interview on July 16. Du Val had scheduled a public meeting on July 25 to release information and pictures about the find, but at the last minute, the date was changed to August 8 in order to undertake additional precautionary measures for the safekeeping of the site. Du Val was concerned that showing videos and pictures might allow people to locate the site and cause possible damage.

We at NHNE also have cause for concern. Du Val is vague about who made the discovery and when. Some of his claims are almost too fantastic to believe: structures similar to the pyramids of Giza, metal-coated walls, quarry marks that look like those found in Egypt, and star charts on the walls of the structures. The fact that the publicized meeting did not come to pass is one more reason to be skeptical.

Comparisons with certain predictions of Edgar Cayce's about finding remnants of the lost world of Atlantis near Bimini are hard to avoid. If a meeting is held on August 8, a SwiftWing reporter will be there to record the event and make a full report.

The second story is equally fantastic. People have been calling and faxing Art Bell about strange goings-on at the Great Pyramid of Giza. Bell claims that they have sent him pictures of large electric cables leading in and wheelbarrows of rubble coming out. On July 18, 1997 Dannion Brinkley appeared as a guest on the Art Bell radio show. Previous to the show, Bell had asked Brinkley to check the story out with his close friend, Zahi Hawass, the Director of Antiquities for the Giza Plateau. Based on conversations with Hawass, Brinkley apparently reported that two or three NEW chambers have been discovered above the King's Chamber and archeologists are right now in the process of opening them up. The Egyptian government is not making the information public yet because there are inscriptions on the walls in the newly-discovered chambers and they want to decipher them before making an official announcement.

Hawass will be arriving in the U.S. in early August and may be waiting until then to make an official announcement. He will also be appearing as the keynote speaker at a conference at the ASSOCIATION OF RESEARCH & ENLIGHTENMENT in Virginia Beach later in the month.

The implications of both stories could be far reaching. If you have more information, please let us know as soon as possible so we can share it with others who are also interested. Meanwhile, in the absence of hard news, the rumor mill continues to churn...

James Gregory
Editor-in-Chief
"jpg@sedona.net"

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ANCIENT CIVILIZATION WATCH:
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REMOTE SENSING AN ANCIENT BARGE
(Source: Farouk El-Baz, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, 8/97)

In 1954, two sealed chambers were discovered at the base of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Excavation of one proceeded immediately to reveal a disassembled barge, 20 feet wide and 143 long. It took 18 years to assemble this royal bark, which was ultimately housed in a special "Boat Museum" constructed on the site. Opened to visitors in 1982, the boat became an instant hit. Unfortunately, it also started to shrink, losing 19 inches in length since it was first placed on display. Conservators believe this deterioration is caused by environmental conditions inside the building, which differ from those in the sealed chamber.

It was thought that the second chamber also contained a boat, but Egyptian authorities were worried that any probing would break the seal and expose the artifact to the harmful atmosphere. Their concern prompted them to invite Farouk El-Baz, Director of the Center for Remote Sensing at BOSTON UNIVERSITY to come to the site in 1987 to see what could learned without compromising the atmosphere of the chamber.

El-Baz brought with him Bob Moores of BLACK AND DECKER, who had designed the lunar surface drill used by the Apollo astronauts, to drill a hole without affecting the pristine environment of the second chamber. Moores came up with an airlock that allowed cutting through the rock without mixing the air inside with the air outside. The team used ground-penetrating radar to determine the shape of the chamber and to select the best drilling site. After two and half days of drilling, they penetrated the five-foot-thick rock cap. They then inserted a probe into the chamber and sampled the air from three levels. Since the first chamber was hermetically sealed, the thought was that sampling the untainted air would give an accurate picture of what the air was like 4,600 years ago.

Next, they lowered a camera into the enclosure. They discovered that the chamber did indeed contain a second disassembled bark and also hieroglyphics on the walls. Unfortunately, an analysis of the air samples plus moisture marks on the walls revealed that the seal of the second chamber had been broken for some time. It was not necessary to excavate and further endanger the bark, so the drill hole was sealed and the royal history was left in the same state as they had found it -- not necessarily the happiest of endings, but at least clearing up once and for all the mystery of what lay in the second chamber. (JG)

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EARTH WATCH:
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A PURE TONE IN THE OCEAN
(Source: David Schneider, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, 8/97)

A strange tone is blasting through the ocean. These monochromatic signals are composed of one frequency, typically in the range of 12 cycles per second, making them purer than from any musical instrument. Individual blasts last from a few seconds to several minutes. These ocean-going sound waves -- called T waves -- were particularly cacophonous in 1991 and 1992.

Up to recently, the cause of the tones was a mystery: earthquakes produce much more short-lived signals; whales emit higher frequency sounds; harmonic tremors from magma bodies generate overtones.

The source of the tones was finally narrowed down by two French seismologists, Jacques Talandier and Emile Okal, to a poorly-surveyed region of the South Pacific. Last year, an expedition to the area revealed a flat-topped undersea volcano rising to within 400 feet of the surface. No volcanism was recorded at that time, but samples of fresh lava were recovered.

Talandier and Okal now theorize that an undersea eruption of a seamount would generate a cloud of steam bubbles sandwiched between the top of the seamount and the surface of the ocean. Computer simulations show that such a cloud would behave like a resonant cavity, acting much the same way as an organ pipe does when it sounds note. Sound waves would shoot up and down through the cloud at some resonant frequency, which was a function of the distance between the top of the seamount and the surface of the ocean. Little energy would bounce sideways, due to the diffuse boundary of the cloud. As a consequence, the fundamental frequency would remain steady and any overtones would be damped out by the gas bubbles.

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EARTHQUAKE FORECAST
(Source: Richard Monastersky, SCIENCE NEWS, 7/5/97)

In 1985, researchers at the U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY (USGS) went out on a limb and issued an earthquake forecast for the town of Parkfield, California. Based upon historical data that seemed to indicate a major quake occurs in that part of the San Andreas Fault on average every 22 years, researchers predicted that an earthquake of magnitude 6.0 would strike the Parkfield area by 1993. Much to the dismay of the scientists and the relief Parkfield residents, the predicted quake never came to pass.

Current increased seismic activity in and around Parkfield has once again caught the attention of researchers with predictably divided interpretations. According to Evelyn Roeloffs, a geophysicist with the USGS in Vancouver, Wash., a major earthquake at this time would cause scientists to wonder if the new quake was part of the 22-year pattern or the beginning of new earthquake behavior in the area. David D. Jackson and Yan Y. Kagan of the UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, Los Angeles contend that the original Parkfield research was flawed and that there is no regularly scheduled 22-year cycle. If quakes at Parkfield are just a random occurrence, they say, then chances are slim that the expected quake will occur anytime soon.

One way or the other, history will produce the events and subsequent data to establish the relevancy of earthquake patterns. Meanwhile, the folks in the town of Parkfield go about their daily business accustomed, but not quite used to, the increased frequency of quakes in their area. (MD)

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JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
(Source: CNN ONLINE, 7/24/97)

Michael Wysession has taken a journey to the center of the Earth using a computer. After studying eight years of earthquake data, the earthquake and volcano analyst in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY in St. Louis, has created a map of the mysterious region of the inner Earth called the "core-mantle boundary." The boundary -- a narrow band between the Earth's hot, liquid core and the rocky mantle layer -- lies 2,000 miles beneath the planet's surface.

The map is based on estimates from computer projections because "the deepest we can drill down into the crust is eight miles," said Wysession. "The only journey that we can take is a synthetic one." The WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY study has led to a clearer understanding of the way the Earth's interior works, because it shows a rising and sinking motion as rock turns from liquid to solid form. Nevertheless, Wysession said, "the concept of an ancient sea floor sinking all the way to the core-mantle boundary, heating up and rising back the surface as giant mushroom-shaped plumes of rock is a pretty strange idea." While Wysession said his new map may lead to more accurate predictions of volcanos, he believes that reliable predictions of earthquakes will continue to remain out of reach. (JG)

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EVOLUTIONARY EXPLOSION EXPLAINED
(Sources: Michael Miller, REUTERS, 7/25/97; Tim Friend, USA TODAY, 7/25/97; Jennifer Auther, CNN ONLINE, 7/25/97; R. Monastersky, SCIENCE NEWS, 7/26/97)

500 million years ago, an unprecedented evolutionary explosion occurred that resulted in the sudden appearance of a multitude of new life forms around the world. What caused the spurt has long perplexed scientists. Now CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY geologists Joseph Kirschvink, David Evans and Robert Ripperdan have determined that the sudden diversification of life forms took place at the same time as Earth's supercontinents took a 90-degree turn, shifting the polar masses to the equator and putting equatorial points at the poles.

Both events occurred during the so-called Cambrian period when, according to Kirschvink, "Life diversified like crazy. About 15 million years later life's diversity had stabilized at much higher levels." Geophysical evidence collected from rocks deposited before, during and after the evolutionary speedup, "demonstrate that all of the major continents experienced a burst of motion during the same interval of time."

Kirschvink said the "evolutionary big bang" took place when life forms existing in cold temperatures were thrust into warmer regions, and vice versa. The ensuing environmental changes created the chaotic conditions needed for rapid evolution. Before the Cambrian period, almost all life was microscopic; at the start of the Cambrian, animals burst forth in a rash of evolutionary activity never since equalled -- some 20 times more intense than anything seen before or since. "Something like 40 different major groups of animals make their first appearance during this time," says Kirschvink. "It's an incredible bloom." It was during this "Cambrian explosion." that many multi-celled organisms emerged whose descendants, including human beings, populate the Earth today.

In order to change their positions so radically, the supercontinents that existed at the time would have traveled several feet per year over a 10 million to 15 million year period, compared to continental migration rates today of only a few inches a year. The phenomenon is known as "true polar wander," in which the entire solid part of the planet moves together. Gondwanaland, which consisted of modern-day Africa, Antarctica, Australia, India, and South America, for example, traveled clear across the Southern Hemisphere, and North America shifted its position from the North Pole to the equator. It is thought that the continents shifted as a means of redistributing weight. Such an event might occur when polar land masses become top and bottom heavy relative to the Earth's axis and spin. (JG)

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ECO WATCH:
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FARMING WITH LINT
(Source: Brenda DeKoker, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, 8/97)

In El Paso, Texas, the garment finishing capital of the world, six major plants wash blue jeans for LEVI-STRAUSS, THE GAP, POLO, DKNY, KMART and others. One finisher, INTERNATIONAL GARMENT PROCESSORS (IGP), estimates that it stonewashes, sandblasts and otherwise weathers some 300,000 pairs of jeans every week. That leads to lot of lint. IGP calculates it disposes of 70 cubic yards of lint -- about three garbage trucks full -- every week. (For a companion story on the problem of blue jean water, see News Brief 66.)

Al Romero, IGP's Director of Health and Safety, suspected that there was a simple solution to their lint problem: "I knew it was just cotton fiber, so there had to be something we could do besides put it in a landfill." David Dotson of LIVINGSTON ASSOCIATES, an environmental consulting group based in Alamogordo, N.M. came up with the idea of mixing the offending lint with farm land. Tests showed that dirt mixed with lint germinated seeds up to 60 percent faster than dirt alone. The lint boosted the water-holding capacity of the soil 300 percent -- not an insignificant finding for heat-blasted El Paso. Tests also showed that lint increased soil permeability, a quality that held promise for land reclamation efforts. Dotson tested his theories on a patch of soil that had been made largely sterile due to an especially harsh cyanide-leaching process used to mine the area 100 years ago. By using a mixture of fertilizer and lint, Dotson was able to increase grass yields on the damaged ground by 1,000 percent.

Such research has opened up the doors to a variety of other uses for lint. Dotson is now looking at using a lint sludge to make a superior kind of compost for gardeners. Naomi Assaidan of TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY Agricultural Outreach Center in El Paso has been working with AMERICAN GARMENT FINISHERS, which incorporate alum in their wash water, to turn their lint into bricks and cement. (JG)

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RANCHERS & CONSERVATIONISTS WORK TOGETHER
(Source: Susan Davis, THE AMERICAN NEWS SERVICE, 7/28/97)

Conservationists and ranchers have been fighting since 1849, when cattle barons first drove in their herds to feed California gold miners. It took only a few decades for those cattle to have a severe impact on the state's land, destroying native grasses, trampling stream beds and driving away native birds and mammals. Since then, conservationists have accused cattle ranchers of caring more for profit than the environment, while ranchers see environmentalists as being just idealistic city folk. But today, a number of environmental groups and ranchers are actually beginning to work together in what is called "conservation-oriented ranching."

Part of the debate has centered on government-subsidized grazing on the country's 260 million acres of public lands. Cattle like to settle down near streams, but once there, they cave in the banks, trample delicate plants and foul the water. This can destroy the deep, cold, clear-running streams that salmon, trout and sucker fish need for habitat. For over a century, ranching has also caused a drastic decline in native vegetation, experts say. Nineteenth century cattle from the East carried the seeds of European annuals in their hair and bellies and non-native seeds were also contained in hay imported from Spain. Once rooted, these annuals spread rapidly across the range and choked out a variety of native grasses, many of which had 10-foot-deep roots, according to John Anderson, a farmer in the Central Valley, CA. "The shallow roots of these exotic annuals [such as Medusa's head], couldn't protect the soil from erosion," Anderson said, "and the new plants didn't appeal to diverse native insects and other pollinators, so we lost those, too."

In the last few years, both environmentalists and ranchers have awoken to the fact that they can work together. A number of environmental groups, including the NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY, the WILDERNESS SOCIETY, and even EARTH FIRST! (whose motto only a few years ago was "Cattle Free in '93") have taken cautiously pro-ranching stances. Many ranchers are also looking to native grasses as a solution to ranching's environmental problems. Studies show that they produce as much grass over the course of the year as annuals. And because the native grasses stay green for a longer period of the year, they can extend the grazing season.

As ranchers turn to native grasses, conservationists are coming around to acknowledge that cattle grazing is actually good for the environment. Environmentalists say they have learned that appropriate levels of grazing can help keep down the non-native annual grasses, which allows natives to grow. Indeed, before cattle came to the West, native grasses thrived under the hooves and teeth of ungulates like elk and buffalo. In one NATURE CONSERVANCY study in the Lassen foothills of northeastern California, a plot with no grazing had twice as much Medusa's head as an adjacent, grazed plot. The Conservancy feels so confident of this marriage between ranching and conservation that it is now managing its Gray Davis Dye Creek Ranch, near Red Bluff, as both a nature preserve and a working ranch. Some 2,000 head graze portions of the 38,000-acre preserve to reduce non-native grass cover there. LIVESTOCK MARKET DIGEST, which goes to cattle ranchers all over the country, recently named Dye Creek among the top 25 best-managed ranches in the country -- despite the fact it's now being run by one of the largest environmental organizations in the world. (JG)

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MONKEYS LAY WASTE FLORIDA KEYS
(Source: CNN ONLINE, 7/27,97)

It's a scene straight out of "Jurassic Park" -- animals bred by a science lab overrun two uninhabited islands, destroying the ecology and threaten to spread to adjacent islands. However, in this case, the animals are thousands of rhesus monkeys raised by CHARLES RIVER LABORATORIES on two keys off the coast of Florida. The Massachusetts-based company breeds the monkeys on the islands and sells them to laboratories for medical research.

Environmentalists have waged a decade-long struggle to clean up the islands, which are littered with monkey waste and dying mangrove trees. The mangroves are a crucial habitat for kingfishers, herons and egrets, but the monkeys strip the bark from the trees. According to the terms of the company's agreement with the FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION (FDEP), the company was required to keep the monkeys cordoned off behind electric fences to facilitate a massive mangrove replanting effort. Both sides agree that the monkeys have destroyed nearly all of the red mangroves that once ringed the islands, but CHARLES RIVER officials say the task of replanting the trees and keeping the feisty monkeys away from them has proved more difficult than anyone could have envisioned. The monkeys have learned to wade out into the water at low tide to get around the electric fences meant to contain them.

The brownish-red rhesus monkeys weigh 35 to 40 pounds and are native to India and China. They have adapted well to the keys but are not self-sufficient. A boat arrives daily to deliver fresh water and PURINA Monkey Chow. The monkeys are skittish and come no closer than 100 feet of their human caretakers. About 50 monkeys roam free on Key Lois; Raccoon Key has nearly 1,000 free-roaming monkeys, although at its peak in the 1980s, the 190-acre island was home to more than 4,000. Both sides agree the monkey business on the islands will eventually cease and Charles River officials are scouting for a suitable alternative site. (JG)

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TECH WATCH:
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LASER LIGHTNING CONTROL
(Source: Jean-Claude Diels, Ralph Bernstein, Karl E. Stahlkopf & Xin Miao Zhao, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, 8/97)

Each year in the U.S., about 20 million lightning bolts strike the ground, killing several hundred people, and causing extensive property damage, including forest fires and power failures. Lightning has triggered at least one serious malfunction at a nuclear power plant. It is no wonder that for thousands of years, people have sought ways to prevent lightning from doing harm.

A natural lightning bolt begins with a barely visible precursor called the "leader phase," which propagates downward from the cloud, knocking electrons loose from molecules of atmospheric gas and creating a channel of ionized air that serves as an electrical conduit. Immediately after the leader phase strikes the ground, the energetic "return phase" erupts. This dazzling discharge travels at half the speed of light, and its huge electrical current reaching as much as 300,000 amperes and hundreds of millions of volts can easily destroy anything in its path.

It was Ben Franklin who invented lightning rods shortly after he experimented with flying a kite in a thunderstorm in 1752. Although he first thought that such devices worked because "the electrical fire would be drawn out of the cloud silently before it could come near enough to strike," he later came to realize that the grounded rods either channeled the discharge or worked to direct lightning away. The same principle of diverting rather than preventing a strike is the basis for controlling lightning with lasers.

In the near future, laser beams may serve as high-tech lightning rods, offering a way to divert lightning from especially critical sites where it might do great harm. Initial tests using lasers to trigger lightning by creating an electrically-conductive channel of ionized air failed because the powerful lasers ionized the air so thoroughly as to make it essentially opaque to the beam. Now scientists are having more success with low energy ultra-violet lasers. Such beams are not particularly effective in ionizing air molecules in their path, but they nevertheless produce uniform ionization along an extended straight path. That ionized line acts much like a conventional lightning rod, concentrating the electrical field so intensely at its tip that the air ahead breaks down and adds more length to the conductive path. Paired with a second visible-light laser to prevent free electrons from attaching to neutral oxygen molecules, the beams are directed upward by a single mirror, forming a straight path of ionization for the lightning to follow. Grounded rods would intercept the resulting lightning strike, protecting the mirror and laser apparatus.

The approach has been successful in triggering lightning discharges in the lab when voltage differences between electrodes was less than half of what was normally required for the resistivity of air to break down. Work is underway to build a full-sized array 100 times more powerful than any previously tested. Once built, the plan is to fire the beam 10 times a second during a thunderstorm. If successful, the device could pave the way to taking a more active role in directing where lightning bolts strike, instead of merely reacting after the damage is done. (JG)

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NET WATCH:
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CONTROL OF THE INTERNET
(Source: Christina Toh-Pantin, REUTERS, 7/18/97)

Nearly three decades after the Internet was first used as a communications network, governments are struggling to discern what control is needed over cyberspace. (For a preliminary report, see News Brief 48.) As of June 1997, 400 million users in 195 out of the 207 countries in the world were either connected to the Internet or are at least able to send and receive email. Experts estimate the entire world will be wired by the year 2000.

While most users in western countries have said they prefer non-interference by government on the Net, Ira Magaziner, special advisor to U.S. President Clinton, pointed out that there was an inherent difficulty in governments taking a hands-off policy toward new developments. "The natural tendency of governments is to feel they've got to get control of it."

Within the West, Internet regulation ranges from the implementation of a code of ethics in France to extension of existing media laws to cover restrictions on the Net in Germany. In the U.S., President Bill Clinton recently called for no new taxes or regulations on business conducted in cyberspace, and in June the Supreme Court struck down a law restricting indecent speech online as impinging upon free speech.

Concerns about government control of the Internet have been most apparent in Asia. China initially required Internet users to register with the police and blocked about 100 Web sites including those belonging to U.S. media organizations. Singapore censors the Net to ferret out pornography and other items it considers objectionable. In South Korea, the Minister of Communications can order an information provider to restrict or delete material offered on their services. Vietnam, which is hoping to license its first provider soon, requires Internet users to get a permit.

However, studies show that governments have been softening their stances toward cyberspace, and gradually loosening their restrictions. In Malaysia, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has pledged that the Internet will not be censored as part of the bill of rights offered to the proposed MULTIMEDIA SUPER CORRIDOR project. "I think Asia is learning very fast and is willing to change its stance in order to bring good," said Tengku Azzman Shariffadeen, CEO of MIMOS BHD, an Internet service provider in Malaysia. But, he added, "You cannot ask them to change overnight."

At the June annual convention of the Internet's main user group, THE INTERNET SOCIETY, a panel speaker said that discussions about censorship and control by government "are about the hottest topic we've seen on the Internet. Discussions to censor or not to censor the Net have been moving from the philosophical and social to the pragmatic and practical. Countries that persist in controlling the Internet could lose out economically, some Internet users warn. "If we try to control access at the government level, countries will not have full participation [in economic development]," said Larry Landweber, known as the "father of the "Purple Map", which traces the spread of the Internet by coloring each connected country purple. "For countries that are poor and stay away from it, it could widen the gap," Magaziner warned during a trip to Singapore in June. (JG)

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LIFESTYLES:
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THE MYTH OF THE PERFECT FAMILY
(Source: USA TODAY MAGAZINE via SPECTRUM, July-Aug/97)

Conventional wisdom tells us that the traditional two-parent family structure is necessary in raising well-adjusted children. While this setup is certainly desirable, the reality these days is that most children no longer live in traditional two-parent homes with both their biological parents. Recent research suggests that family structure is not the most important influence in determining a child's emotional well being. Scientists at OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY in Corvallis evaluated the psychological, social and academic well being of 850 adolescents raised in variety of family structures. The results indicated that it is the quality of relationships between family members that is most important, and that it is harmful to maintain the myth that family structures other than the two-parent family are somehow an inferior way to live. (JG)

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THE CIRCUMCISION DECISION
(Source: JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION via SPECTRUM, July-Aug/97)

The popularity of circumcision as a medical procedure in North America has long been based on the assumption that somehow it was "cleaner" and prevented sexually transmitted diseases. But a study just released by the UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO makes it very clear that circumcised men are MORE likely to develop sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and herpes. And the greater risk of disease is not the only downside of circumcision -- other studies have found that the sensitivity of the circumsized penis may be reduced impairing sexual satisfaction. This may explain why circumsized men were found to engage in a wider range of sexual practices and to masturbate more frequently.

In North America, circumcision ranges from a high of 87 percent for white men with college-educated mothers, 65 percent of black men, to 54 percent of Hispanic men. Up to now, the AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF PEDIATRICS (AAP) has had no official stance on circumcision, preferring to leave the decision up to parent and pediatricians, but in light of these recent findings, the AAP is reconsidering its position. (JG)

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WEB WATCH:
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GREEN MAP SYSTEM
<http://www.greenmap.com>

The Green Map System is a prime example of global thinking linked to local action. Maps of six cities such as New York and Copenhagen depict all the ecologically-significant locations such as bike paths, recycling centers, green markets, and even toxic waste dumps. Maps of dozens more cities are in development. (Source: Kevin Lowenthal, NEW AGE JOURNAL, July-Aug/97)

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DELORME'S CYBERATLAS
<http://www.delorme.com/companyinfo/>

DELORME, an atlas company and leader in computer mapping, provides one of the most extensive U.S. mapping systems on the Web. "CyberAtlas" is a page dedicated to locating cities and towns, can pinpoint even the smallest of towns. DELORME also has "CyberRouter" which lets users plug in a desired to-and-from location, and the site instantly responds with the distance and approximate time of the trip. (Source: Wayne Drash, CNN ONLINE, 7/25/97)

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Chris Czech (CC)
Mark Nijenhuis (MN)
Michael Dorfman (MD)
Suzanne DeSutter (SDS)

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Copyright 1997 by NewHeavenNewEarth

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