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June 29, 2008|Kristina Lindgren; Carla Hall; Tom Petruno


Ice on Mars is no surprise to professor

At least not to award-winning sci-fi writer and astrophysicist Gregory Benford ("Timescape," "If the Stars Are Gods," "The Sunborn").

When the UC Irvine professor and his (uncredited) coauthor, biologist Elisabeth Malartre, were researching their bestselling 1999 novel, "The Martian Race," they were "fairly certain" that ice eventually would be found on Mars.

While we wait for more news from NASA's Phoenix lander, maybe cracking open some of those great books on Mars is in order. Benford's recommendations:

- "The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must," by Robert Zubrin and Richard Wagner. The 1996 book, Benford explains, "details how to go there soon, economically. The deep issue of Mars life -- its origin, survival to now, etc. -- simply can't be explored well in the foreseeable future by robots."

- "Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World" is Oliver Morton's 2002 look at everything that is known about the planet, "a look at the culture of Mars fandom, among scientists and writers alike."

- Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy ("Red Mars," "Green Mars," Blue Mars") offers a "sweeping analysis of terraforming Mars over centuries, politically correct all the way," Benford says.

- And of course, Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" -- "Still the founding text!" Benford exclaims.

The professor's own "The Martian Race" -- which resulted in marriage between Malartre and Benford -- is "still selling nicely nine years later," proof, he says, that "Mars has appeal."

-- Kristina Lindgren

Book news and information from the L.A. Times.

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Lassie lobbies Sacramento

Animal welfare advocates behind a state bill requiring Californians to neuter or spay their pets claimed some measure of victory Wednesday in Sacramento.

AB 1634 -- which passed the Assembly last year -- cleared the tough hurdle of winning approval in the state Senate's Local Government Committee. But not before the bill was changed dramatically.

Now, AB 1634 requires spaying or neutering only when a dog has three official violations of an animal ordinance against it. (Excessive barking is not enough.) For a cat, it's two violations.

The bill -- kind of a "three strikes" law for dogs -- is expected to go to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bitterly contested bill has fervent supporters and opponents. And one of its highprofile foes is Lassie, who trod his way through the halls of the state Capitol this year and last to oppose the bill.

Well, not the Lassie of the classic TV show who saved Timmy over and over again and made you tear up as that melancholy theme music played. It was actually Laddie, the son of the son of the son of -- oh, just suffice it to say he's the ninth-generation Lassie. Or Lassie IX, as he is officially called by his trainer, Bob Weatherwax -- the son of Rudd Weatherwax, the trainer of the first Lassie.

Alas, Lassie or Laddie failed in his lobbying efforts. He did get to attend the hearing Wednesday morning and watch the vote.

Although even Laddie isn't exempt from the measure. (No exemptions for any animal.) If he gets in serious trouble three times, he could be neutered.

The point of the bill in both its incarnations is to stem shelter euthanasia, supporters say. "In California, we have a million dogs and cats going into animal shelters and we euthanize 500,000 of them every single year," Levine said Tuesday. "This is a way to bring down the number of animals going into shelters."

-- Carla Hall

All things animal in Southern California and beyond.

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Back to the '50s for GM?

It isn't often that a CEO can lament that his company's stock price is lower than it was before he was born.

Could that soon be Rick Wagoner's fate at General Motors Corp.?

The auto giant's shares traded as low as $11.21 Thursday, which by Reuters' reckoning was the lowest since 1955.

Wagoner was born in 1953. So the math doesn't look good.

But it isn't clear to me that the Reuters calculation adjusts for GM stock splits that occurred in 1950 and 1955 (according to Standard & Poor's). As you might imagine, 50-yearold stock data aren't easy to come by.

In any case, investors bailed out of GM for the eighth time in nine sessions after Goldman Sachs & Co. downgraded the stock to "sell" from "hold." Goldman said it expected GM to burn through so much cash this year and next that the company probably would have to raise fresh capital, "which we believe could lead to significant shareholder dilution and/or a cut to the company's dividend."

The stock has plunged 54% year to date, and is one of the big reasons why the Dow Jones industrial average is having such a miserable June.

Among the major brokerages, Goldman is alone with its "sell" rating on GM, according to Bloomberg's tally of analyst recommendations.

Merrill Lynch & Co. has a "buy" on the stock, Lehman Bros. rates it "hold" and Citigroup also gives it a "hold," says Bloomberg.

They're riding this SUV right over the cliff.

--Tom Petruno

Tracking the market and economic trends that shape your finances.

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