A Hero's Welcome

Baltimore County is gearing up for the "Phelpstival," a party, parade and presentation celebrating Olympic swimmer and Maryland native Michael Phelps.

Baltimore County Executive James Smith announced plans for Thursday's tributes, which include an honorary renaming of Cedar Avenue after Phelps and a parade winding through downtown Towson that culminates in a ceremony on Courthouse Plaza.

Phelps, who took home six gold and two bronze medals from the Athens Summer Games, will also be presented with the key to Baltimore County.

If you can't make it to Baltimore, Phelps and fellow medalists Lenny Krayzelburg and Ian Crocker plan to strut their strokes at "Swim With the Stars" on Wednesday at the University of Maryland in College Park. For more information visit www.swimwiththestars.com.

Jackson Acknowledges

Earlier Settlements

With his trial in California on child molestation charges set to begin in January, pop star Michael Jackson acknowledged Friday that he had reached financial settlements with past accusers to avoid the embarrassment of a court trial.

"Years ago, I settled with certain individuals because I was concerned about my family and the media scrutiny that would have ensued if I fought the matter in court," Jackson, 46, said in a six-paragraph statement released Friday. "These people wanted to exploit my concern for children by threatening to destroy what I believe in and what I do. I have been a vulnerable target for those who want money."

The statement was released only hours before "Dateline NBC" aired a report alleging that Jackson paid $2 million to the son of an employee at his Neverland Ranch to avoid a child molestation accusation in 1990. In 1993, he reached an out-of-court settlement with another accuser in which he paid an estimated $15 million to $25 million to settle allegations of abuse.

Jackson didn't directly refer to the broadcast, but said he felt the need to "respond to untruths and sensationalism."

"I have spent my entire life helping millions of children across the world," Jackson said. "I would never harm a child. It is unfortunate that some individuals have seen fit to come forward and make a complaint that is completely false."

Extra 'Pulp'

With Bill officially killed, is director Quentin Tarantino dreaming up another installment of "Pulp Fiction"?

Actor John Travolta, who played hit man Vincent Vega in the film, says Tarantino has been toying with the idea of revisiting the 1994 cult favorite.

"Every six months he calls me to talk about a project on the story of the Vega brothers -- a type of prequel to 'Pulp Fiction,' " Travolta told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. "Then, it all remains in his mind."

"The problem is that we worked together in tight times," said Travolta, who like the director is in Italy for the Venice Film Festival. "Now he makes films for millions of dollars. I don't know if I'd still be okay for him."

End Notes . . .

R.E.M. and David Gray have contributed exclusive tracks to "Songs for Sudan," an album being launched to benefit Oxfam's Sudan appeal. The 14-track disc will raise money for Sudanese refugees who have been driven from their homes in the Darfur region . . . Jamaican dancehall sensation Elephant Man will be among 15 performers at the eighth annual World Creole Music Festival in Dominica, Oct. 29-31. The festival is one of the largest Creole music celebrations in the Caribbean.

-- Compiled by Chris Richards from staff and wire reports

The Reliable Source will return.

Baltimore County's Michael Phelps will be given a parade for bringing home six gold medals and two bronzes from the Olympics.Is there a "Pulp Fiction" prequel in John Travolta's future?