Always Pay the Witch Doctor

Witch-Doctor’s Spell Backfired, Says Transvestite

from The Herald UK

A transvestite who is being prosecuted after winning medals and titles in women's athletics events has blamed a witch-doctor's faulty spell.

A Bulawayo court heard that Samukaliso Sithole, a Zimbabwean who competed in domestic and regional competitions for women, was actually a man. Sithole faces charges of psychological offence, reported the state-run Herald newspaper.

Prosecutors allege Sithole offended the dignity and sexuality of a woman who befriended him, confided in him, and felt comfortable being naked around him, while believing him to be female.

Sithole was identified to her as a man by an acquaintance when he was among a group of women preparing to travel by train to an athletics meeting. Sithole tried to sprint away but was caught, and police supervised a medical exam.

Sithole told the court he was born congenitally deformed. A tribal healer, known in the west as a witchdoctor, gave him "female status" but Sithole said the spell did not work properly because his family did not pay the healer's full fee. The Zimbabwe Athletics Association say he could be stripped of titles and prize money.

The world athletics body no longer conducts gender determination tests, and the Olympic movement ceased these in 1999. The International Olympic Committee legally recognises transsexuals provided hormone therapy ceased at least two years ago.


Illustration of the Week

From The Dungeon Master's Guide in the Best of the D&D Art Galleries...


B-But...The Show Sucked!

Star Trek Fans Protest Cancellation of Series

from Reuters

LOS ANGELES - Star Trek fans from around the world gathered at the gates of Paramount Studios in Hollywood on Friday to protest the impending cancellation of the television series Star Trek: Enterprise.

Carrying signs reading "It's Not Just a Show, It's a Responsibility" and "18 Years of Loyalty and This Is the Thanks I Get?," more than 100 people massed at the gates of Paramount, where Enterprise is produced, to show support for a franchise that has perhaps the most loyal fan base in the world.

None wore costumes, however, in a departure from many gatherings of "Trekkies."

The UPN network said earlier this month it would end Enterprise in May after four seasons on air. But the fans are not letting it go quietly.

Although the original series created by Gene Roddenberry ran only from 1966 to 1969, at least one version of Star Trek has constantly been on air since 1987 - The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and now Enterprise.

Enterprise is tied for 150th place in ratings this season, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Fans are so dedicated that TrekUnited has raised more than $48,000 to give to Paramount to potentially produce a fifth season of the show.


Illustration of the Week

From The Serpent Kingdoms in the Best of the D&D Art Galleries...


Life on Mars?!

Exclusive: NASA Researchers Claim Evidence of Present Life on Mars

from Space.com

WASHINGTON - A pair of NASA scientists told a group of space officials at a private meeting here Sunday that they have found strong evidence that life may exist today on Mars, hidden away in caves and sustained by pockets of water.

The scientists, Carol Stoker and Larry Lemke of NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, told the group that they have submitted their findings to the journal Nature for publication in May, and their paper currently is being peer reviewed.

What Stoker and Lemke have found, according to several attendees of the private meeting, is not direct proof of life on Mars, but methane signatures and other signs of possible biological activity remarkably similar to those recently discovered in caves here on Earth.

Stoker and other researchers have long theorized that the Martian subsurface could harbor biological organisms that have developed unusual strategies for existing in extreme environments. That suspicion led Stoker and a team of U.S. and Spanish researchers in 2003 to southwestern Spain to search for subsurface life near the Rio Tinto river — so-called because of its reddish tint—the product of iron being dissolved in its highly acidic water.

Stoker told SPACE.com in 2003, weeks before leading the expedition to southwestern Spain, that by studying the very acidic Rio Tinto, she and other scientists hoped to characterize the potential for a chemical bioreactor in the subsurface - an underground microbial ecosystem of sorts that might well control the chemistry of the surface environment.

Making such a discovery at Rio Tinto, Stoker said in 2003, would mean uncovering a new, previously uncharacterized metabolic strategy for living in the subsurface. For that reason, the search for life in the Rio Tinto is a good analog for searching for life on Mars, she said.

Stoker told her private audience Sunday evening that by comparing discoveries made at Rio Tinto with data collected by ground-based telescopes and orbiting spacecraft, including the European Space Agency's Mars Express, she and Lemke have made a very a strong case that life exists below Mars' surface.

Stoker and Lemke's research could lead the search for Martian biology underground, where standing water would help account the curious methane signatures the two have been analyzing.

They are desperate to find out what could be producing the methane, one attendee told Space News. Their answer is drill, drill, drill.

NASA has no firm plans for sending a drill-equipped lander to Mars, but the agency is planning to launch a powerful new rover in 2009 that could help shed additional light on Stoker and Lemke's intriguing findings. Dubbed the Mars Science Laboratory, the nuclear-powered rover will range farther than any of its predecessors and will be carrying an advanced mass spectrometer to sniff out methane with greater sensitivity than any instrument flown to date.

Shadowfootwork: The Noble

[Nob] The noble is the elite of civilized society - the aristocratic, the priviledged, the wealthy. They range from irresponsible fops to responsible lords and tyrannical queens.


Illustration of the Week

From The Lost Empires of Faerun in the Best of the D&D Art Galleries...


'That's No Moon!'

Saturn's Moon is Death Star's Twin

from NewScientist.com

Saturn's diminutive moon, Mimas, poses as the Death Star - the planet-destroying space station from the movie Star Wars - in an image recently captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

A giant crater 138 kilometres across dominates the landscape of Mimas and represents almost one-third of the moon's diameter.

Scientists first noticed Mimas's resemblance to the Death Star when the twin Voyager spacecraft flew past Saturn in 1980 and 1981. The second film in the movie series - The Empire Strikes Back - had just hit movie theatres, recalls Cassini deputy project scientist Linda Spilker.

Like the Death Star, Mimas has found itself on the receiving end of some heavy fire. The crater was probably caused by an enormous asteroid impact. But the moon only just survived - if the asteroid had been any bigger or moving much faster, it probably would have split the moon in two.

Thanks to Groeg for the link & headline...


Gallery Update: CAdv & LEoF

As requested, I've divided the Best of the WotC Art Galleries. It is now broken into four separate galleries, all accessible through the existing link.

I've also added illustrations from Complete Adventurer and Lost Empires of Faerun...


(800) ZOM-BIES

Now, a Phone Line to the Dear Departed

from AFP

BERLIN - People who feel the need to talk to their near and dear even after they have passed away can now do so quite literally, thanks to a special mobile phone invented by a German who wanted to keep in touch with his late mother.

The system, patented by Juergen Broether and on sale since last December, consists of a one-way phone and loudspeaker device that can be buried close to the person's coffin, and will transmit a voice message into the tomb for a period of up to a year.

Broether's told AFP that his "telephonic angel" as he has dubbed it arose from a desire to be discreet while talking to his late mother, to whom he had "a lot to say" after she died in 1998.

He said that when in a cemetery, "people always feel that others are watching, they feel embarrassed, and obliged to whisper" when speaking to the departed.

"With my phone, the feeling is quite different, and one can even call in the middle of the night, when the cemetery gates are closed," he said, adding that the sound generated by the phone could not be heard above ground. "It's very discreet," he said.

However for users who might be hoping that their dear departed would decide to talk back, there was no provision, as the phones were not fitted with microphones.

As regards his own use of the device, Broether, who is 64, claimed that he still had a few words to say to his late mum from time to time, even six years after her death.

He called "to tell her things that might interest her," he added.

'Can you hear me now?'

Illustration of the Week

From Libris Mortis in the Best of the D&D Art Galleries...


Shadowfootwork: The Terminatrix

[Term] Executioner and murderer, the terminatrix specializes in the coup de grace, instilling fear and doom, and dealing massive damage with her melee strikes.


Can't Say I'm Surprised...

Star Trek: Enterprise was canceled today. My only surprise is that it took this long.

I'm not a Trekkie. Not quite. I loved The Next Generation, the high point of the entire Trek franchise; watched Voyager religiously, from Kes to Seven to Icheb; and I've been enjoying the original series since I was a baby for its pompous camp, bad acting, cheesey effects, and technicolor goodness. But I couldn't watch the badly overacted and perpetually underwhelming Deep Space Nine, and I stopped watching Enterprise about four episodes in. It was just dull. Dull dull dull.

The Big Beige Yawn
You couldn't find a less interesting and less charismatic cast than that in Enterprise. Only Trip and T'Pol - and that cool Andoran guy Shran - had anything approaching charm or character. The rest of the cast was like a mouthful of beige flour.

What disabled the show most, though, was the arrogance of its producers. Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, who took over the franchise after Gene Roddenberry's death - it's just time for them to go. They made bad decision after bad decision with this show, from the uninteresting pre-Kirk premise (which ended up convoluting the Trek history and timeline, as any idiot could have predicted, and did), to the bland and flat appearance of the show, to the underwhelming casting decisions, to the uninvolving villains that needed to be scrapped and reinvented season after season because no one cared, to a theme song that will go down in history as the worst of the Trek franchise. Long after Berman/Braga are good and dead, people will still wince when they hear that gutless song, one better suited for soccer moms and Michael Bolton CDs than science fiction shows.

It seems like they took every aspect of Star Trek that had made it interesting and just bled the color out of it. Stale, bland, clunky, and antiseptic.

There's Nothing Wrong with Jar-Jar! Syndrome
Berman/Braga adopted an arrogance usually reserved for delusional, smug, visionless blowhards like George Lucas - it got to the point where they seemed to believe they simply could do no wrong, that their decisions - such as that song they vigorously defended - were always good, and that any criticism was to be quickly ignored. As a result, the show (like the newest Star Wars movies) quickly lost favor even with its most fervent of fans, and disappointment replaced enthusiasm. Even as the ratings declined, they held fast. Or didn't care. They probably still blame the show's failure on factors outside themselves.

I hope they kick those two off the franchise for good, cut them out of the movies (which, with the exception of 50% of First Contact, have been nearly unwatchable), and bar them from ever even saying the words "star" and "trek" in the same sentence. It's time for you to move on, boys, and let someone with a fresh vision revive this dead horse.

Time for a Nap
Let the franchise rest for a few years. And then bring it back under new leadership. And, god, please, no Starfleet Academy-themed show. No one wants to see The OC or Dawson's Creek with phasers. No one.

In the tradition of every Trek series except Enterprise, the next series should be set in the future, post-Voyager. And bring on a colorful cast - maybe with a few returning characters - and give them personality and something interesting to say.

Before today's announcement, I was actually getting a little excited about Enterprise upon hearing they were returning to the evil parallel universe featured in the "Mirror Mirror" episode of the original series (one of only two episodes of Star Trek I own - the other is "Yesterday's Enterprise" from TNG) and apparently revisited in Deep Space Nine (I wouldn't know). That two-part episode airs in March or something, and I'll be there, with an enthusiasm for the show I haven't felt since Voyager made it home. Maybe being evil will make these characters actually interesting.

Star Trek: Paradox
Here's an idea: Why not have the next series set in that evil parallel universe? Embrace the other side of the mirror? This will let you bring back old favorites in totally new ways, both as regulars and fun cameos, and actors who may have grown tired of playing, say, sweet little gardener Kes may jump at the chance of coming back as Dark Kes, ruthless telepathic assassin. You could take previously dull characters - like Beverly Crusher - and give them fascinating new life as amoral scientists and Dr. Frankensteins. The Borg can be a cult-race of philosopher cyborgs lfying through space in gleaming silver spheres, preaching a philosophy of unity and selflessness and allowing only the willing to join the Collective; the Borg Queen, beautiful and platinum, is revered as a deity. Vulcans can be amoral, calculating, emotionless tyrants. The Klingons? A dying race of noble warriors and benevolent kings. Ocampans? Greedy psions who spend their short lives indulging in hedonism and malice.

My god! There could even be room for Wesley Crusher, non-annoying psycho genius!

Star Trek: Paradox could focus on a group of heroes on the ship Paradox fighting to survive in an otherwise corrupt and murderous universe. Our heroes could look something like this:

Seven of Nine: A transporter malfunction sends her to this parallel universe, and she joins the crew while trying to find a way back home. She views the Cult of Borg with suspicion, knowing that the Collective never viewed itself as evil, only correct, and that this parallel Collective would not view itself as good, only correct. And that great evil can and usually is caused by those who think they are right. [Science Officer]
Gul Dukat: The ruthless Cardassian leader becomes the kindly captain of the Paradox. [Captain]
Ro: In the regular Trek universe, Ro turned from terrorist to hero. In this universe, she'll turn from hero to villain, killing Betor with betrayal. [Number One]
Sela: Tasha Yar's vicious half-Romulan daughter (long story) becomes the crew's forceful leader on away missions; once Ro leaves, she becomes Number One. [Helmsman/Number One]
Andrelle: One of the surviving members of the bioengineered "supermen" eventually lead by the now-deceased, beloved Khan, Andrelle is beautiful, brilliant, and strong. [Chief Engineer]
Nhaga: A member of Species 8472 stranded in this universe after her homeworld was destroyed by the Vulcans; he is now cared for by the crew. [Ensign]
Quark: His greed and scheming replaced by generosity and law-abiding, his occasional benevolent side replaced by a vicious mean streak. [Ship's Morale Officer]
Lore: Data's tempermental, insane android brother becomes the poetic soul of the crew. [Chief Medical Officer]
Lursa and Betor: Those power-hungry, treacheous Klingon sisters can become the fierce, noble warriors of the crew. [Tactical Officer and Head of Security]
Mahz: Kes' son, who has rejected the selfish, indulgent ways of his race and spends his short life trying to do good. A bloody encounter with Mother (who needs his spinal fluid to extend her own life) is inevitable. [Communications Officer]
Chang: The Klingon villain of cinematic Trek becomes the leader of the minority Rebellion against the Federation. [Admiral]
Seska: Ryker's girlfriend from Voyager who ended up being a surgically altered Cardassian spy. Now she's a surgically altered Cardassian spy who has posed as a human to infiltrate the corrupt Federation, killing the butcher Ryker before her escape. Her half-human son, by Ryker, is aboard Paradox - and he seems a little evil. [Helmsman/Reconnaisance]
And a few assorted new characters.

Recurring villains could include:

John Picard: Lord of the Federation, a cunning, clever, and ruthless tyrant. Call him Jean-Luc and he'll disembowel you; it's "John Picard, dammit!"
Kate Janeway: Conniving and ambitious, she eventually kills Picard and assumes control of the Federation.
Kes: A legendary Ocampan assassin, infamous for killing her victims by melting their brains, Kes seeks the means to extend her life in spite of her race's seven-year lifespans, including killing her own son to do it.
Annika Hansen: This universe's Seven of Nine, who rips herself from the benevolent Collective to lead a wicked life. Joined by her young lover Icheb, also a Borg-gone-bad, they seek to take over the Collective and rule the galaxy. When she meets our Seven: Cat fight!
Kira: The cunning Bajoran is still fighting for power.
Spock: He's still alive, and still sporting the goatee. While working for the Federation, he occasionally aids the heroes, even secretly, as he finds them intriguing. When Picard learns of these betrayals, Spock is killed.
Guinan: Immortal and blackhearted, Guinan has justified her pursuit of personal power with philosophy and Darwinian wisdom. She is Picard's closest advisor, and then Janeway's, although she views them both as brief stepping stones on her long path to glory.
The Doctor: The holographic doctor with the acidic tongue becomes the cold, curious Dr. Frankenstein with the bloody scalpal, performing cruel experiments on Klingons and Romulans under the director of...
Beverly Crusher: A coldhearted bitch who kills her own son to advance her career. Sorry, Wesley may not make it into this series after all.
L'waxana Troi: Called the Black Queen, she is the ruthless leader of the Betazoid Empire, using her charms and telepathy to manipulate her foes into killing each other. But she seems so nice! That is her greatest weapon.
B'Ehlanna Torres: The half-Klingon has rejected her noble Klingon side for the brutality of her humanity, relishing in the violence and anger her Klingon race has spent centuries overcoming. She's a bit crazy.
Data: He is the Lore of this universe, but cold and indifferent, seeing humans as weak bags of bones; and, since killing Tasha Yar to advance his career, his companion is his own "daughter Lal," who never died in this universe. Even his cat is evil. Lots of hissing and clawing of furniture.

Or something like that.



Nightcrawler Bares His Fangs

X-Man Not Sorry Singer's Gone

from SciFi Wire

Alan Cumming, who played the blue-skinned Nightcrawler in the X-Men sequel, X2, revealed to SCI FI Wire that he's not disappointed Bryan Singer won't be directing the third installment in the comic-book franchise. "I'm not, and I can't deny it," Cumming said in an interview. "I think he's really talented, and I'm really proud of the film — I think it's a great film — but I didn't enjoy working with him on it." Cumming declined to elaborate.

Cumming, who next appears in the supernatural fantasy film Son of the Mask, added that he doesn't know who will follow in Singer's footsteps, but that he was scheduled to start filming in June, a date he doubts will hold firm. "It's a really hard act to follow," Cumming said of the proposed X-Men 3. "The last I heard is that they are starting on the 20th of June, but I don't think that's going to happen, because they don't have a script or a director yet. It might be pushed up, but they have to release it in May of 2006 for some reason, so it's got to be shot in the summer."

The Wicked Sorcerer of the East Predicts...

Kim Falls in Love and Asia Gets Its Bond: Predictions for Year Ahead

from AFP

HONG KONG - North Korean leader Kim Jong II will fall in love with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and lead the world to terror kingpin Osama bin Laden's lair.

Meanwhile, he will kidnap a famous movie director and cast Hong Kong actor Chow Yun Fat in Asia's own James Bond film.

These are among the more outrageous predictions of Hong Kong feng shui masters for the coming Year of the Rooster contained in a Chinese New Year horoscope published Tuesday by a leading bank.

Kim will also cheat death in a botched assassination plot, open up his reclusive Stalinist state's nuclear weapons plant to foreign tourists, and lead the world to terror kingpin Osama bin Laden's lair, CSLA Asia Pacific Markets' annual survey of geomancers predicts.

While the predictions are more than a little tongue in cheek, they are contained in an annual report, now in its 14th year, that claims to have at least accurately predicted past economic trends.

"Last year we were remarkably accurate," said Chris Zee, investment analyst and self-proclaimed Wicked Sorcerer of the East who put together this year's report after consulting several Hong Kong feng shui masters.