Saturday, December 20, 2008

Charmed forces

By Douglas Wight, 21/12/2008
ATTENTION lads! Even in desert camouflage you can spot how stunning Gemma Atkinson charmed her way into the hearts of Britain’s brave troops.
Fully armed with those weapons of mass distraction, former Hollyoaks babe Gemma features as covergirl on a special News of the World Forces Edition bringing Christmas cheer and family greetings to our boys and girls in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world.
See photos of Gemma Atkinson modelling lingerie
Last night trouper Gemma— currently serving as Peter Pan at the Manchester Opera House!—said: “It’s an honour to be doing this to support all our servicemen and women.
“They’re true heroes and making such sacrifices, away from their loved ones and friends, not knowing when they might next see them.
“It’s very humbling. We must all take time out to remember them this Christmas. They’re doing such a fantastic job.
”Gemma was joined in our big seasonal push for the troops by top chef Marco Pierre White, who travelled to Iraq to cook Christmas dinner.
And Chelsea soccer stars, including John Terrry and Frank Lampard, played a blinder inviting injured soldiers for a visit to their Surrey training ground to support the special issue.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

RMS students “dive in” to Deep-Sea Adventure in class

Brenda Jensen, News reporter

Seventh grade science students at Richmond Middle School spent part of November on a ‘virtual expedition,’ when they participated in “Extreme 2008: A Deep-Sea Adventure.” The marine science program was developed by the University of Delaware to learn more about one of the most extreme environments on the planet: hydrothermal vents.RMS science teacher William Dooley prepared his students to be a part of the expedition using the eMINTS/METS Grant computers in his classroom. “All of the seventh graders were present when we called the Research Vessel Atlantis and the Research Submersible Alvin,” said Dooley. “Alvin was at the bottom of the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) conducting research on viruses and bacteria near the Hydrothermal Vents in that area.”The 274-ft research vessel Atlantis was on a 21-day mission to explore the vent sites in the Pacific Ocean. Once at the dive site, hundreds of miles from shore, two of the scientists and a pilot climbed into the submersible Alvin to descend over a mile to the vents. It was Nov. 24, when the “Phone Call to the Deep” took place. Meeting in the library, students Catherine Pence and Jordan Beck were to make the calls, as all of the seventh graders gathered.“The phone call to the deep” was a voice only. Think of the call from here going to ATT for a conference with the other schools, and hooked into the satellite phone to get to the Atlantis ship,” Dooley explained. “From there they send a ‘voice’ sound down to the Alvin using a huge speaker and microphone on Alvin. Alvin has a speaker sending their voice back to Atlantis where the voice is picked up by a microphone and then into the satellite/radio phone system.“The Middle School science program also went along on this voyage in 2004, and many students will remember their experiences,” said Dooley. “I am excited that we are able to be a part of the program again, after several years waiting for the expedition to happen.”In order to help prepare his students for what they would be experiencing, Dooley showed a ‘silent video’ of an earlier Alvin journey. Subtitles were added so the students would know what was happening. They also spent time checking out the interactive Web site,, for information, photos, videos and interviews. Armed with this background, the students were able to participate, explore, and understand how scientists can study the extreme environments of the earth using their various instruments. Two students’ names were drawn to make the connection with the vessels. Catherine called Alvin. Jordan called Atlantis. “I was really nervous. I thought I’d mess up and they wouldn’t be able to hear me,” said Catherine. “The sea floor is really cool. I learned about new species of animals. There is a Colonial Dandelion – a big, puffball. It’s yellow, like a dandelion.”The connection was clear and the students were able to hear questions from each school participating in the call. Catherine said they also learned that it took the Alvin an hour to descend the mile to the sea floor and the three-man sub stays for around five hours as they study and perform various experiments. “This is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity for our students. I am very pleased to have been able to arrange for this experience,” said Dooley. “It was a wonderful way for our students to talk with real research scientists while they are actually working.” More than 20,000 students from over 350 schools in the United States, Aruba, Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Great Britain, and New Zealand participated. The students were able to write to the research team, propose experiments to be conducted at sea, and participate in a virtual science fair. Fifty schools were selected to participate in the conference call with scientists working in the submersible Alvin on the seafloor. RMS was selected as one of the schools to participate directly by calling and speaking with the scientists as they worked on Nov. 24.Extreme 2008 was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The program is the sixth in the University of Delaware’s popular “Extreme” series, which has won state and national awards for public outreach and education. The research team includes scientists and graduate students from six universities and the J Craig Venter Institute.Photo: RMS seventh-graders talk with scientist on the ocean floor to learn more about hydrothermal vents.Photo by William Dooley

More questions than answers

Thomas Beatie, as all the world now surely knows, is a transgender man from Oregon who had the breasts he was born with surgically removed, but elected to keep his female reproductive organs. When his wife, Nancy, found that she could not have another child - she has two daughters from a previous relationship - he decided to leave off taking the testosterone for a while and get pregnant himself, using donor sperm. In June, he gave birth to a daughter, Susan.
Needless to say, when the news of his pregnancy broke, the media went wild and a now infamous photograph of Thomas, his swollen belly covered in soft, dark hair, quickly travelled across the world (the picture was taken by Nancy, to accompany an article Thomas wrote for the Advocate, in which he explored the legal questions surrounding his new status). The Beaties, who run a business printing T-shirts, reacted to this voracious and often unkindly press interest by appearing on Oprah, and by signing an exclusive deal with People magazine and the makers of this documentary. People would publish the first pictures of Susan, and a television crew would film the goings-on in the labour room, as a bearded man struggled and strained to bring a new life into the world.
Advance publicity for The Pregnant Man (11 December, 9pm) suggested that it would be far superior to the physiological freak shows one finds on some other channels. The word went out that the Cutting Edge film would not judge, nor would it point and stare. Rather, it would use Thomas Beatie's story as a way of looking at gender, at our preconceptions about the roles of the sexes.
To which I say: what utter baloney. I watched The Pregnant Man with a feeling of nausea, not from the Beaties' unusual arrangement - they appear to be decent, straightforward people, and more capable of bringing up a child than some conventional couples I can think of - but because of the film's tone.
It wasn't only because Thomas was so often filmed half-clad, flexing his muscles, the better that we might stare at his bizarre form (however liberal you are, there is no getting away from the fact that a pregnant man looks pretty odd). Nor was it because the director was so fixated with playing the hateful anti-Beatie video messages posted by anonymous bigots on the net.
No, what I really despised was the feeling that this - the birth of a child - was a just a caper. Laugh at the clod-hopping German TV reporter as he tries and fails to get access to the Beaties' neighbours! Smile as Craig Kelly, our chirpy northern narrator, builds the excitement! Why were Thomas and Nancy repeatedly interviewed in bed? Why were no expert witnesses - doctors, psychologists, social historians - ever called upon to put their story in context? And why, oh why, was the film's background music so jaunty? It sounded like leftovers from How Clean Is Your House?.
This unsettling combination of prurience and reductive triviality is an increasingly common feature of Channel 4 documentaries, and it drives me nuts. Apart from anything, it is just so frustrating to see genuinely interesting material - a real scoop - in the hands of people who apparently lost their sense of inquiry at the same time as they mislaid their sense of decency.
The Pregnant Man threw up plenty of questions, big and small, but it answered virtually none. "I kind of have a penis," said Thomas, grinning at an interrogator we could not see. Really? Do they just grow, like cress? We never found out. When Nancy was shown breastfeeding Susan, a disembodied voice asked what she'd done to stimulate her milk. She mumbled something confusing about "birth control" and "herbs", and the voice, presumably satisfied with this answer, did not pursue it.
I hear, via Barbara Walters, that Thomas is expecting another baby. I wonder: is there any hope that he might be induced to have this one in private? Pluck in the face of prejudice is always admirable. But it is also the case that some stories are best told by means of a life well led, and a job well done, rather than instantly, via television cameras and supermarket magazines. The time for telling is when Susan and her little brother or sister are grown, and safely despatched to college.

Carol Vorderman exclusive: She reveals her tearful farewells on her last day of Countdown

By Sue Carroll 11/12/2008

Tomorrow, viewers will see a tearful Carol Vorderman, accompanied by her mother and children, finally leave the job she's done for the past 26 years.
The final Countdown was always going to be a sad moment.
And for millions of fans the tribute show will be an emotional farewell to the woman labelled Britain's Thinking Man's Crumpet.
"There were tears, of course," admits Carol in an exclusive interview with the Daily Mirror, "but there were loads of laughs. It was a real party atmosphere.
"But look, I think I'm one bloody lucky lady to still be around. I never forget that. I'm no spring chicken, I'm 48 now." Not, I hasten to add, that she looks it today.
Wearing a green skintight Roland Mouret dress, she possesses that potent mixture of mischief and Mensa.
She's smart enough to realise it's onwards and upwards now. She says: "Leaving Countdown has given me a chance to look carefully at what I want to do. I don't think I've got anything to prove.
"For years I've been chasing my own tail, working non-stop and I've never had time to enjoy things, especially my children.
"Katie is 16 now, in a couple of years I'll lose her to university so we've already made plans for some treats.
"Next summer we'll go to America and learn to fly - just the pair of us, it's our adventure and we'll have more.
"I've never spoken much about my children but I'm so proud of them. Katie is just the most lovely, caring person. And clever, too. One of the reasons we're flying is that she's already decided on her career - she's going to be an astronaut.
"I love being with my kids and when I told them I wouldn't be going back to Leeds to make Countdown they were thrilled." Carol's departure from the show is well-documented. She was pivotal in holding the show together after the death of long-term presenter Richard Whiteley in 2005.
But programme-makers ITV Productions offered her an ultimatum.
They demanded she take a 90 per cent pay cut or stand down. She was given 48 hours to take it or leave it.
To her credit, Carol shows no bitterness or rancour at the way she was treated.
She says: "I just want to remember all the good times, and they were brilliant. I never want to lose the fact that for years I had an extremely happy time." She does want to make it clear, however, that for 20 years of her time on Countdown she was far from rolling in money.
"That came later, when other broadcasters were trying to persuade me to quit and sign up with them," she says. "Despite all the offers, I stayed loyal to the show that made me - but it was more than that, I loved it.
"I was never, ever driven by the desire to be famous. Back in 1982 the idea that I would become the first woman on Channel 4 struck me as hilarious.
"I slipped under the wire and got into TV for the simple reason I could do sums." Her mum Jean says her daughter's success story is like "something out of the Arabian Nights". She's not far wrong. The two women were in a fairly precarious situation when Carol landed the job at Yorkshire TV, the company making Countdown for the launch of Channel 4 in 1982.
"Mum had left my stepfather and was living in student digs. She was 52, which was an awful situation. I had a boyfriend in Leeds so I knew houses were cheaper in Yorkshire.
"I persuaded Mum we could scrape together enough to buy a little place up there.
"The day we moved into our £20,500 house was the first time Mum had ever been that far north. We started from scratch with borrowed curtains and furniture - even the cutlery wasn't our own." Proud and extremely determined for her daughter, it was Jean who wrote Carol's application letter for Countdown, even forging her signature. The rest, of course, is history.
"It's hard to believe now," says Carol, "that there were only three TV channels back then and just a handful of women on the box - Esther Rantzen, Anna Ford and Angela Rippon." Then along came Carol, a Cambridge graduate and trainee with transport firm Christian Salveson - a most unlikely candidate with dolly bird looks but a formidable brain.
Carol says: "I was happy beyond words when I joined the show. It was so exciting.
"It was the equivalent of being propelled into a movie with George Clooney - from nowhere. It was all a bit of a fluke really.
"I think I was paid £20 a show - certainly not enough to give up my day job at Salveson.

"After a year I was offered a proper contract and I remember thinking, 'Well, I don't want to reach the great age of 30 and have regrets'. I told myself I could always become an accountant so I bit the bullet and took it.
"For the first two years it was a hand-to-mouth existence. I still drove an old rust-bucket and made trips to the launderette.
There's a misconception about how much I earn. Yes, the last few years have been great but the big money has only been recent.
That certainly wasn't how it was for the first 20 years.
"But I wouldn't change any of it - except that Richard died three years ago and that was beyond anyone's control. I spent a long time after that feeling just grief-struck.
"It was like losing a spouse, and I thought long and hard about a lot of things." Reorganising, or changing your life, isn't uncommon among the bereaved and for Carol it meant a split from boyfriend Des, though they are happily reconciled now.
She also left her London base, a penthouse flat she's only just sold at a reduced price in an erratic property market, to move lock, stock and barrel with her children to Bristol.
She says: "I was brought up in Wales and I wanted Katie, who was becoming a teenager, and Cameron to have a chance to grow in the space that a big city can't provide. Now they're fantastically happy in a city that is clean, safe and friendly. We all have time to what I call 'tease' which means just messing about, listening to other people's stories and chatting.
I'm real northerner at heart - other people's lives fascinate me and I'm a constant talker." Meanwhile, the job offers have come pouring in so there may not, in the end, be that much time for teasing in Carol's life.
"I've got a lot of good friends in telly so they're all coming up with ideas for me and my work ethic is strong.
"I've always enjoyed getting stuck into projects but after I announced I was leaving Countdown I thought, 'hang on, don't consider big proposals till you've got the last show out of the way.' "I've done Celebrity Apprentice - I can't give away much except Ruby Wax and I end up in some intimate situations - it was hilarious and I now have time to do things I'd have never considered before.
"I'll be popping up on Ant and Dec's Takeaway next year and there are other TV plans which I can't talk about.
"Except, obviously, the Mirror's Pride of Britain, which is one of those rare shows that works so brilliantly because so much passion and commitment is invested in it.
I'm also working on an educational project which is really close to my heart. In many ways this is all like going back to the beginning, the excitement is there." Something, Carol confesses, that was missing earlier this year when she had 60 shows to film before she could walk away.
She says: "Not long after it was announced I woke up realising I'd gone numb down one side. I couldn't feel anything touching my arm and my skin was cold. It turned out to be pure stress, a complete build-up of worry but, I admit, it scared me." On her wrist Carol wears a Tiffany bracelet, a farewell gift from the Countdown team - lifelong friends and still on the phone to her everyday. Beside it is a friendship bangle from Richard Whiteley's partner Kathryn Apanowicz.
"I have so many lovely memories and made lifelong friends - how could I not wish the very best for the show? I've sent the new hosts Jeff Stelling and Rachel Riley flowers and messages.
"I wish them all the happiness I had for so many years. All I can do is look back and think, I had a wonderful run, I'm a lucky bird really, aren't I?" ONE Last Consonant Please Carol is on tomorrow at 2.55pm, C4, followed by Carol's last Countdown show at 3.25pm.
Gordon Brown tells Countdown viewers in a video message on Friday: 'It's done more than any other programme to make counting and spelling fun and popular and is really good exercise for the mind.
"I wish Carol could have helped on some of my budgets when I was Chancellor - I might have got the sums right more often!"
George Clooney admits he's a fan, saying: "Carol is brutal. I like her."