Monday, June 30, 2008

Massage, Not Work, on the Kibbutz in Israel

Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times

Water massage at Kibbutz Lotan.

“WHY don’t you try Kibbutz Haon?” a friend asked as we sat in her apartment in Herzliah, poring over a map of northern Israel.

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Israel Travel Guide

Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times

Camel tours are also available at Kibbutz Lotan.

Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times

Kibbutz Haon’s visitors stay in guest cottages, not communal sleeping quarters.

My partner, Ian, and I were looking for someplace more authentic to stay, someplace more Israel and less Hilton. We certainly didn’t want to spend a small fortune. It didn’t help that it was April, the week before Passover, and most hotels were booked up.

And so, at our friend’s suggestion, we found ourselves in a two-room cottage with a small porch, a tiny blue cotton couch, an old-school television set and a large functional bathroom at Kibbutz Haon, steps from the Sea of Galilee. We were the lone guests in a glorious pocket of calm. The kibbutz was scrubbed fresh; the guests due in had not yet arrived. We wandered around like children past the ostrich farm and groves of fruit trees. That night I went to the little kibbutz disco and danced with teens to a local D.J.

We were taking part in an oxymoron: the newfound capitalist success of the kibbutz hotel movement. Across the country, kibbutzim have increasingly encouraged visitors to be paying guests rather than volunteers — travelers like us who indulge in comparatively hedonistic pursuits like lolling by pools, alternative health remedies or using a kibbutz as a base to stroll the countryside. These visitors won’t be waking at dawn, getting a little hat and a blue work shirt, or rubbing their hands raw washing dishes. But renters of kibbutz lodging rooms make as great a contribution to the success of modern-day kibbutzim as volunteers do. In fact, some would argue, more so.

Kibbutzim, the socialist collective farms created by early Zionist pioneers primarily from Europe and Russia, are an enduring symbol of Israel. Hewing to socialist dogma, the kibbutzniks created agricultural marvels out of desert soil. To work on a kibbutz was to be a part of the dream; if you were to visit a kibbutz in the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s, you were there to work — ironing, washing, picking oranges, peeling potatoes in the kitchen or, if you had some Hebrew, helping out in the gan, the collective kindergarten. Children and parents slept in separate houses; raising children was one of many rotating jobs.

For residents, everything was taken care of, from birth, to aging, to education, to food. But they would not have owned a car, were not fully free to choose what to study, and received only the amount of money the kibbutz distributed.

So while it was a tremendous success at first, by the mid 1980s the kibbutz system was in trouble.

“There was a major crisis in the kibbutzim that started in 1985; we lost 50,000 people from 1985 to 2004,” said Aviv Leshem, a representative of the Kibbutz Movement, which represents kibbutzim all over Israel. “It was an economic crisis. The kibbutzim debt was very, very high, some 70 billion shekels to Israeli banks, and also a lot of young families and young kibbutz members didn’t want to continue to live in this way of life.”

With the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, and subsequent periods of violence, the numbers of visitors and volunteers to Israel dropped dramatically. But, with a couple of years of relative peace and a few capitalist changes, kibbutzim have become a draw again both for Israelis sick of city life, for volunteers from around the world and for tourists.

“Guests have more freedom here than they have, let’s say, in Tiberias, where they have to be careful,” said Nurit Katziri, the manager of “country lodging” at Kibbutz Shaar Hagolan.

Founded in 1937 at the foot of the Golan Heights, Shaar Hagolan stopped taking volunteers 20 years ago. With only 55 guest rooms, it is a working kibbutz with 700 residents. Its primary industry is plastics, though there are also banana and avocado groves. Guests become, for a short time, a non-working part of kibbutz life.

“It is very personal here,” Ms. Katziri said. “They can borrow our bikes, nothing is locked; guests feel very at home.”

Shaar Hagolan encourages tours of the agricultural lands, and everyone eats together in the dining room. Off site, tourists can raft on the Jordan and see the meeting point of three countries: Syria, Israel and Jordan.

Not all kibbutzim are so focused on activities and the kibbutz experience. In the Carmel Mountains, Kibbutz Dalia’s zimmerim (“rooms”) near Haifa are nine wood cabins — sleekly designed spaces for those who want more “country chic” and less “communal.” Bathrooms have whirlpools, and living spaces have flat-screen televisions. At Kfar Giladi, near Tel Chai in the northern Galilee, the feel is of a modern hotel with a big swimming pool, tennis courts and a health club.

SOME kibbutzim have integrated projects for visitors that can be as short as a few days, or extend for several months. Kibbutz Lotan, in the desert about 30 miles from the southern tourist city of Eilat, offers alternative medicine, meditation and “holistic workshops” — as well as cranial sacral massage, tai chi, shiatsu, watsu (water massage) and yoga.

But its biggest focus is ecology. Calling itself a “leader in alternative/natural construction,” the kibbutz invites tours of its mud buildings, recycled-tire playgrounds and organic farm. Workshops held throughout the year offer courses in mud-building. A 10-week “green apprenticeship,” according to its Web site, “offers a highly practically-based immersion into the processes and challenges involved with the design, building and running of sustainable communities, linking together ecological, social, economical and spiritual aspects into a unified whole.”

But it, like many other kibbutzim, also gives into pure touristic hedonism, with desert trips on camel or by jeep. Marx — let alone Ben-Gurion — wouldn’t know what hit him.


Many kibbutzim are listed at Rates, often given in dollars, usually include breakfast.

At Kibbutz Haon ( rates start at $144. A spa faces the Sea of Galilee.

Kibbutz Shaar Hagolan (972-4-667-7544; has double rooms from $94. There is an enormous pool and a museum of prehistoric artifacts.

Kibbutz Dalia (972-4-989-7777; for general information, and for guest information, using link on left of page) has doubles from 500 shekels, which is about $146 at 3.42 shekels to the dollar.

At Kibbutz Lotan (972-8-635-6935; rates begin at 340 shekels for two.

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Happy thoughts may dampen cravings

Want to quit smoking? Next time the urge to light up strikes, think of snow-capped peaks instead of the fleeting pleasure of a white cigarette. That's the conclusion of a new brain study which shows that thinking happy thoughts could help dampen cravings.

Mauricio Delgado, a cognitive neuroscientist at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, and his colleague Elizabeth Phelps of New York University measured the brain activity of 15 volunteers as they played a simple game.

The researchers told their subjects to associate blue cards with a real $4 payoff, and yellow cards with nothing. To control for potential biases, they swapped the colour assignments for half the volunteers.

Before either a yellow or blue card flashed onto a computer screen, the volunteers received an instruction to either concentrate on their prize or instead on some calming, natural object – a blue ocean, for instance.

Delgado's team measured how excited volunteers were by attaching an electrode to each volunteer's finger, as increased excitement changes the electrical behaviour of the skin, possibly because of changes in sweat levels. When there was not $4 up for grabs, volunteers stayed perfectly calm no matter what they were thinking.

Sweaty palms

But with the flash of a blue card and money on the line, volunteers who thought about the cash showed more excitement than those who pictured the sea, the sky or some other succour. The same trend held for the volunteers told to link yellow cards to cash.

Under an fMRI scanner, thoughts of clouds and oceans slightly lowered activity in the brain's reward centre – the striatum – compared to thoughts of money, but only when the card promised a payoff.

Phelps, for one, isn't surprised. Whether it's a child ignoring the smell of cookies baking or a former smoker fighting the itch to light up at a bar, we all fight our impulses. "Anybody who's functioning well in the world is doing it," she says.

Holding back

If drug addicts, gambling addicts or alcoholics are worse at ignoring their cravings than others, cognitive control might help them kick their habit, Delgado says. Yet promise of a high will be harder to temper than the chance to win a few bucks.

Brian Knutson, a neuroscientist at Stanford University in California, notes that in the study, as well as in real life, people can't totally subvert their brains' whims. "If it were so easy to do, then why do we eat the chocolate cake when we're on a diet, why do we smoke crack cocaine when we see a pipe?" he says.

But Delgado says that making addicts think about more precious things could make the technique even more powerful. "The cocaine addict might not care about fluffy clouds, but they'll really care about thinking about their family or loved ones," he says.

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Cancer 'Cure' In Mice To Be Tested In Humans

Scientists at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center are about to embark on a human trial to test whether a new cancer treatment will be as effective at eradicating cancer in humans as it has proven to be in mice.

The treatment will involve transfusing specific white blood cells, called granulocytes, from select donors, into patients with advanced forms of cancer. A similar treatment using white blood cells from cancer-resistant mice has previously been highly successful, curing 100 percent of lab mice afflicted with advanced malignancies.

Zheng Cui, Ph.D., lead researcher and associate professor of pathology, will be announcing the study June 28 at the Understanding Aging conference in Los Angeles.

The study, given the go-ahead by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, will involve treating human cancer patients with white blood cells from healthy young people whose immune systems produce cells with high levels of cancer-fighting activity.

The basis of the study is the scientists' discovery, published five years ago, of a cancer-resistant mouse and their subsequent finding that white blood cells from that mouse and its offspring cured advanced cancers in ordinary laboratory mice. They have since identified similar cancer-killing activity in the white blood cells of some healthy humans.

"In mice, we've been able to eradicate even highly aggressive forms of malignancy with extremely large tumors," Cui said. "Hopefully, we will see the same results in humans. Our laboratory studies indicate that this cancer-fighting ability is even stronger in healthy humans."

The team has tested human cancer-fighting cells from healthy donors against human cervical, prostate and breast cancer cells in the laboratory -- with surprisingly good results. The scientists say the anti-tumor response primarily involves granulocytes of the innate immune system, a system known for fighting off infections.

Granulocytes are the most abundant type of white blood cells and can account for as much as 60 percent of total circulating white blood cells in healthy humans. Donors can give granulocytes specifically without losing other components of blood through a process called apheresis that separates granulocytes and returns other blood components back to donors.

In a small study of human volunteers, the scientists found that cancer-killing activity in the granulocytes was highest in people under age 50. They also found that this activity can be lowered by factors such as winter or emotional stress. They said the key to the success for the new therapy is to transfuse sufficient granulocytes from healthy donors while their cancer-killing activities are at their peak level.

For the upcoming study, the researchers are currently recruiting 500 local potential donors who are 50 years old or younger and in good health to have their blood tested. Of those, 100 volunteers with high cancer-killing activity will be asked to donate white blood cells for the study. Cell recipients will include 22 cancer patients who have solid tumors that either didn't respond originally, or no longer respond, to conventional therapies. The study will cost $100,000 per patient receiving therapy, and for many patients (those living in 22 states, including North Carolina) the costs may be covered by their insurance company. There is no cost to donate blood.

For more information about qualifications for donors and participants, go to (Web site will be available the evening of 6/27.) Cancer-killing ability in these cells is highest during the summer, so researchers are hoping to find volunteers who can afford the therapy quickly.

"If the study is effective, it would be another arrow in the quiver of treatments aimed at cancer," said Mark Willingham, M.D., a co-researcher and professor of pathology. "It is based on 10 years of work since the cancer-resistant mouse was first discovered."

Volunteers who are selected as donors -- based on the observed potential cancer-fighting activity of their white cells -- will complete the apheresis, a two- to three-hour process similar to platelet donation, to collect their granulocytes. The cancer patients will then receive the granulocytes through a transfusion -- a safe process that has been used for more than 30 years. Normally, the treatment is used for patients who have antibiotic-resistant infectious diseases. The treatment will be given for three to four consecutive days on an outpatient basis. Up to three donors may be necessary to collect enough blood product for one study participant.

"The difference between our study and the traditional white cell therapy is that we're selecting the healthy donors based on the cancer-killing ability of their white blood cells," said Cui. The scientists are calling the therapy Leukocyte InFusion Therapy (LIFT).

The goal of the phase II study is to determine whether patients can tolerate a sufficient amount of transfused granulocytes for the treatment. Participants will be monitored on a regular basis, and after three months scientists will evaluate whether the treatment results in clear clinical benefits for the patients. If this phase of the study is successful, scientists will expand the study to determine if the treatment is best suited to certain types of cancer.

Yikong Keung, M.D., a medical oncologist, is the chief clinical investigator of the study. Gregory Pomper, M.D., assistant professor of pathology and the director of the Wake Forest Baptist blood bank, will oversee the blood banking portion of the study.

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The 21st century tomato

Using systems biology to model the metabolic networks in tomato fruit development

When tomatoes ripen in our gardens, we watch them turn gradually from hard, green globules to brightly colored, aromatic, and tasty fruits. This familiar and seemingly commonplace transformation masks a seething mass of components interacting in a well-regulated albeit highly complex manner. For generations, agriculturalists and scientists have bred tomatoes for size, shape, texture, flavor, shelf-life, and nutrient composition, more or less, one trait at a time. With the advent of molecular biology, mutagenesis and genetic transformation could produce tomatoes that were more easily harvested or transported or turned into tomato paste. Frequently, however, optimizing for one trait led to deterioration in another. For example, improving flavor could have a negative effect on yield.

The revolution in genomics, with a wealth of data emerging from sequencing and simultaneous expression analysis of thousands of genes, has made it possible to study the numerous pathways and regulatory networks—systems--that operate to produce a desirable fruit. This systems approach in the new fields of metabolic and functional genomics is producing the tools, information, and biological materials needed for screening and breeding efforts in tomato and other members of the Solanaceae.

Dr. Fernando Carrari and his colleagues, Laura Kamenetzky, Ramon Asis, Luisa Bermudez, Ariel Bazzini, Sebastian Asurmendi, Marie-Anne Van Sluys, Jim Giovannoni, Alisdair Fernie, and Magdalena Rossi use a systems approach that integrates genomic, genetic, and biochemical tools to model the metabolic networks that interact in the process of tomato fruit development. Dr. Carrari, of the Instituto de Biotecnologia, (INTA), Argentina, will be presenting this work at a symposium on the Biology of Solanaceous Species at the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists in Mйrida, Mexico (June 29, 9:10 AM).

Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which also includes potato, eggplant, tobacco, and chili peppers. The center of origin and diversity of tomato species is in the northern Andes, where endemic populations of wild tomato species still grow. These wild populations represent considerable genetic diversity, whereas cultivated tomatoes are genetically very narrow. The Tomato Genome Consortium is an international collaboration that is sequencing, mapping and analyzing the genomes of both wild and cultivated varieties. Carrari and his co-workers, as well as other scientists, have begun to make use of this wealth of sequence data in functional and metabolic analyses of tomato and other crops.

Plants produce an immense variety of chemical compounds for growth, metabolism, signaling, defense, and reproduction. These metabolites function in complex networks and pathways in which they regulate and are regulated by parallel networks of genes. It is not possible to realistically model these metabolic systems one compound or gene at a time. Moreover, many, if not most traits in tomato, are not the result of one gene, but of many genes located together in chromosomal regions called quantitative trait loci (QTLs), because they produce a range of values in fruit or plant size or color, rather than just two extremes. Thus metabolites, enzymes, and genes must be analyzed simultaneously and in parallel in order to capture their dynamic relationships. To accomplish this, Carrari and his colleagues made use of the high genetic diversity of an ancestral tomato species, Solanum pennellii.

Through crosses, chromosomal segments of S. pennellii were introgressed into the genome of the cultivar Solanum lycopersicum var. Roma. Different lines of the cultivar were then created that differed only in the chromosomal segment received from the wild species. In this way, over 1200 metabolic QTLs or quantitative metabolic loci (QMLs) were identified and analyzed. Almost 900 of these QMLs were found to be associated with fruit metabolism.

The scientists then sampled a number of metabolites such as carbohydrates, pigments, and hormones, among others, throughout flower and fruit development. They also used microarrays to determine which genes were expressed at those same times. Pairwise comparisons and network analyses were then made to determine which of those genes and metabolites are associated in possible functional networks. These associations do not establish causality or regulatory direction, because they are only correlational. Expression of certain genes may regulate metabolite activity, but metabolites may also have a regulatory effect on gene expression. To begin to define causal direction, Carrari and his colleagues perturbed these systems by treatment with external metabolites and followed the transmission of information from metabolite to gene. In continuing research, Carrari and co-workers are using these methods, as well as RNA interference and transgenesis to map QMLs and to identify and utilize candidate genes that function at network nodes.

These systems approaches make it possible to model the whole organism throughout its development. Moreover, an understanding of metabolic networks will make it possible to alter metabolic pathways to produce fruits with different secondary compounds that influence texture, taste, aroma, and nutrition, as well as to improve yield. Metabolite analysis also has possible applications in drug discovery, nutrient enhancement and biofuel production. One important goal is the use of ancestral genetic resources in place of simplistic genetic modification to avoid possible deleterious environmental effects as well as resistance by consumers to genetically modified food.

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10 Books That Were Better Off on Paper

It's happened to all of us. We read a novel that blows us away, and a few years later its title appears on posters underneath the face of Harrison Ford or Natalie Portman. But at some inevitable point in that darkened theater, the movie takes a turn we didn't expect. Our eyebrows go up, our lips turn down, and the disappointment begins. Maybe the wrong director or writer can curse an otherwise excellent project — or maybe some things were just never meant to be filmed. Here are 10 books that we think should never have been committed to celluloid.

DUNE by Frank Herbert

There's no doubt about it: Herbert's Dune is a bona fide classic. It won the first ever Nebula award and the 1966 Hugo award, and most consider it to be the best-selling sci-fi novel in history. Set in a future where a feudal empire controls the planets of the unvierse, the novel tells the story of young nobleman Paul Atreides and his family's rule of the desert planet Arrakis. Arrakis is the only source of "melange," an addictive spice that lengthens lives and makes interstellar travel possible. Herbert's book explores the power struggles that arise around the spice, and the complexity of human society that exists even in the far future.

Big shoes to fill for a film producer. Yet in 1984 David Lynch wrote and directed a movie version of Dune, rescuing it from development hell and plunging it into bad-adaptation hell. Reviews panned the movie — Roger Ebert deemed it "the worst movie of the year," and others expressed similar disgust. Despite the movie's 40-million-dollar budget, its effects were notably cheap, and the screenplay did not hold up to the challenge of translating a four-hundred-page book to screen. You'd think you couldn't go wrong with Patrick Stewart, Sting, and Jürgen Prochnow, but evidently you very much can.

FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury

Who could forget Fahrenheit 451, "the temperature at which book-paper catches fire, and burns …"? Bradbury's classic 1953 novel takes place in a dystopian future where television has entirely replaced the printed word, and firemen burn books instead of saving lives. The author himself has stated that the point of the story was to showcase how owning a TV set can destroy all interest in literature — so making a movie version seems pretty damn ballsy to say the least.

With that in mind, the 1966 film, helmed by French icon François Truffaut, seems doomed from the start. It certainly didn't help that there were many notable omissions, like the disappearance of the novel's nuclear war (which is, let's face it, a pretty big cut). Julie Christie plays the main character's wife and his illicit lover, which adds an extra level of pointless weirdness. The bottom line is, there are plenty of books for which you can tell your friends to "just watch the movie." But in the case of Fahrenheit 451, that probably makes you kind of fascist. Just sayin'.

V FOR VENDETTA by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

The book is probably one of the best graphic novels ever produced. Detailing the adventures of a masked anarchist and his sweet blond protégée, Moore's writing also delves far deeply beyond his two main characters into complex themes of fascism, anarchy, identity, and the meaning of life itself. Nobody is without a story to tell: Even his villains are creepily sympathetic. By the end of the comic, every reader will have at least one Lloyd image burned in their brain, and be wondering — with no small amount of fear — exactly how much control their government does have.

Enter the movie. For the Wachowski brothers, the boys who gave us the two-thirds-sucky Matrix trilogy, setting this story to film was easy. They just had to cut out all of the character depth, change Moore's nuanced portrayal of British fascism to the cookie-cutter Hollywood standby of Suited White Men, and (of course) turn the subtle, understated relationship of the main characters into romantic pining. But hey, at least they got the costume right.

A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L'Engle

Though it's often marketed as a young-adult fantasy novel, make no mistake: This book is without a doubt a sci-fi classic for all generations, an incredible tale that deftly blends science, speculation, and humanity. L'Engle's 1962 story invented the concept of a "tesseract" — the fifth dimension, a phenomenon that folds the fabric of space and time. It introduced a mother who cooks dinner on a Bunsen burner, a father whose research leaves him imprisoned on another planet, and a brother and sister whose loving relationship turns out to be the most important thing in the universe.

Mostly we make an effort to ignore it, but it's true: Many of the great sci-fi writers were (and are) better at dreaming up nifty science ideas than they were at weaving together a compelling story. L'Engle, however, belongs in no such group. Her work was never meant to be a crappy Disney movie, and yet in 2003, a crappy Disney made-for-TV adaptation appeared that one critic described as "lightweight, saccharine, rather slow going most of the way, and somewhat simplistic" as well as "sometimes clunky, and... often uninspiring". Let us speak no more about it.


Dick's 1956 short story introduced the chilling concept of "precrime," a police system whose officers arrest would-be murderers, rapists, and thieves before they get a chance to do their dirty deeds. His futuristic New York City is a world where three future-seeing mutants control who goes to prison and who doesn't, and free will is a gray area — a luxury that not everyone possesses. One veteran cop, after seeing a prediction that he will kill someone he doesn't even know, is having none of it.

So what did Steven Spielberg's 2002 movie add, besides a gross eye transplant? Well, for one, it brought in Tom Cruise — balding, out-of-shape 50-year-olds are never attractive narrators as far as Hollywood's concerned, no matter what they might be able to share with us in real life. The setting's different, too, and names have been changed, but at least it presents the idea with a lot more nifty special effects and a lot less storytelling, right? And that, my friends, is frighteningly endemic of the print-to-film adaptation.

I, ROBOT by Isaac Asimov

This is a revolutionary sci-fi classic, a collection of nine short stories exploring the limitations and dangers of human-created artificial intelligence. Asimov's 1950 publication of I, Robot established the Three Laws of Robotics, supposedly unbreakable rules which govern the actions of these metal beings, and his short stories read like the best sci-fi mind puzzles you will ever find.

2004's movie adaptation was undeniably well done, and it ended up being one of the best of the year — due in no small part to Jeff Vintar's tight script and the total awesomeness of Will Smith and Chi McBride. Asimov certainly meant to get us thinking, so one could imagine he'd be pleased that his work inspired a smart sci-fi thriller like this. As it happens, however, the main plot of the movie is actually lifted from a 1939 short story by Eando Binder that bears the same name; Asimov's publisher gave his collection the same title, against Asimov's wishes. The Three Laws of Robotics were only added to the script after the film's producers secured the rights to Asimov's anthology. This project, then, has been plagued from the beginning by intellectual property snafus: It's a confused collaboration of several minds, and it seems that not all the minds involved were properly credited. And since it's caused most of the problems, can we let go of that title already?

WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE by Philip Gordon Wylie and Edwin Balmer

It's a crusty old staple of hard sci-fi, a 1933 novel that first saw print as a magazine serial. Wylie and Balmer's story begins with a South African astronomer, Sven Bronson, who discovers that a pair of rogue planets are headed for Earth's orbit. Only a small group of scientists believe his claim; they work to build two ships that will carry the beginnings of a new human settlement to one of the rogue planets, which is projected to replace Earth in its orbit. This is the kind of pre-NASA speculation that works best in old-fashioned typewriter font on yellowed paper.

But of course, Hollywood felt the need to put it in Technicolor. The film adaptation did win an Oscar for special effects, but it was 1951, so you decide for yourself if that's impressive. The movie's story doesn't so much explore sci-fi ideas as showcase human hysteria when tidal waves sweep the Earth and survivors are chosen by lottery — and it naturally also allows for the most groan-worthy of romance subplots. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the way the film's hero pushes his handicapped financier off the boarding ramp as the ship leaves, despite the fact that he funded the entire project. "Politically incorrect" doesn't begin to cover it. Apparently there's a remake of the film scheduled for a 2010 release — isn't one mistake supposed to teach you a lesson?

STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein

War sucks, and Heinlein proved it with his 1960 Hugo-award-winning novel. Told from the point of view of Johnnie Rico, a young soldier, this futuristic tale explores a world where only veterans can vote or hold public office — and where humankind battles endlessly with giant bugs. Rico's flashbacks to his time at school, and his experiences in the military, serve to illustrate the total destruction that war causes.

In the book, the bugs barely ever appear; Rico views them only through a giant battle suit. For the 1997 film adaptation, though, that was not an option — after all, there ain't a moviegoer born of woman who doesn't want to see giant grasshoppers. Special effects left little screen time for Heinlein's philosophy discussions, but director Paul Verhoeven admitted he never got past the first few chapters of the novel anyway. If he hated the story that much, what do you think was keeping him from writing and directing his own friggin' screenplay?

THE POSTMAN by David Brin

Originally published as two novellas (both of which won Hugo awards), this post-apocalyptic story grapples with the concepts of survivalism, civilization, and hope. In a world destroyed not by disasters but by its own people, one man discovers a worn-out United States Postal Service uniform — and discovers that his fellow humans are so desperate they'll even take hope from that. The complete novel, published as the two novellas combined, was named the best science fiction novel of the year in 1986 in the John W. Campbell awards.

And then Kevin Costner decided to direct and star in a film adaptation. The 1997 story, while still broadcasting a message of hope, centered that message more around the Postman as a war hero — and don't forget his tagalong baby mama. The New York Times blasted the movie for its "bogus sentimentality" and "mawkish jingoism," but Roger Ebert warned that we "shouldn't blame them for trying." Well, I think perhaps we should.

THIS ISLAND EARTH by Raymond F. Jones

The year 1952, I'm sure, saw many new creations in sci-fi, but I'm willing to bet that almost none of them were as silly as the interociter — an alien transmission device, which despite its apparent sophistication is about as big as a truck. Jones gave us the interociter in his novel This Island Earth, which told of an alien race that recruited Earth's greatest thinkers for a group called the "Peace Engineers." Not surprisingly, the "Peace Engineers" were actually helping the aliens wage an intergalactic war. On a planet that had already seen the genius of 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still, this should not have seemed a good candidate for a film adaptation.

Since the movie version of This Island Earth now gets most of its viewings in the form of Mystery Science Theater 3000's lampoon, the folly of bringing it to film is assured. Plastic skulldomes, toilet thrones, and raspberry bushes are not the stuff of eternal movie classics. Before you adapt a book, my advice is to run it through a quick Mike-Joel-Crow-Tom Servo test. You might be surprised how much money you save on camera equipment and actors.

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What’s So Wrong About Porn?

I will state this right from the start: I am a fan of porn.

I like watching it. I don’t think it’s degrading to women or men or animals or inanimate objects. I believe adults have the right to watch it or not, and I don’t want anyone telling me that I can’t or shouldn’t or that I’m sick or perverted for liking it or watching it. I don’t mind if my lover watches it; I’ll watch it with him.

I know I’m not alone in this—!—but I am getting the feeling (well, I’m reading lots of comments on blogs) that porn is the root of all that’s wrong in relationships. And they are getting validation from people like Dr. Phil, whose Web site states:

It is not OK behavior. It is a perverse and ridiculous intrusion into your relationship. It is an insult, it is disloyal and it is cheating.

Clearly something is ridiculous and perverse, but it’s not porn.

A lot of women feel very conflicted about porn, and that conflict manifests itself in some interesting ways:

  • Some women think it’s cheating if their husband or boyfriend watches porn.
  • Some women are jealous because, thinking they could never have the “perfect” bodies of the porn stars, they feel they are constantly being compared with that perfection.
  • Some women believe that they can’t satisfy their partner like a porn star could, or that somehow they are expected to act like a porn star.
  • Some women are horrified to suddenly discover porn on their partner’s computer.
  • Some women think that it’s disrespectful to them if their partner likes to look at porn.
  • Some women think that there’s something wrong with them, and that’s why their partner watches porn.
  • Some women know their boyfriends watch porn before they get married, but they marry him anyway and then they wonder—why is he still watching porn?

To all of that I say, porn is not the problem. Just because someone likes looking at naked bodies exchanging bodily fluids does not make him a pervert, disrespectful, an infidel, disinterested in his lover or dissatisfied with his lover. It makes him human. It’s about fantasy, imagination, desire, lust. And what, please tell me, is wrong with that? Most men (women, too) can separate fantasy from reality. Do you think Jenna Jameson is going to fly off the screen and do to him what she’s doing onscreen? Not a chance, and he doesn’t think so, either. And if you believe he thinks so ... either you’re sorely underestimating his intelligence or you need to ask yourself, what in the world is a smart gal like you doing with a fool like him?

And, quite honestly, look at all the nudity in the movies and on cable TV—is Tell Me You Love Me any less pornographic because it has a plot line?

If you truly believe your lover is expecting you to look or act like a porn star, do you ask him if that’s so? And if you don’t think he’ll tell you the truth, or if he tells you the truth but you still don’t believe him, well, what’s that about?

Do you ask him, “Is there anything in that porn that you’d like us to try?”—and would you be willing to do it?

Do you ask him what is it about porn that he likes?

Or do you just tell him to stop?

If you accidentally find porn on his computer, well, were you snooping around in places you shouldn’t? If so, that’s just as dishonest as him hiding it.

When you watch porn (and you should, especially if you have some sort of judgment about it—there’s no other way to understand it), what exactly is it that you object to? Are you projecting your own insecurities or messages of shame from your childhood onto it?

If you truly believe that you can’t compete with a porn star, do you just stop at that or do you ask yourself, what can I do to make sex more exciting for me and my partner; how can I increase my pleasure and his?

If you’re the kind of woman who thinks your partner’s watching porn because there’s something wrong with you, do you also think there’s something wrong with your cooking if he likes to eat out or that there’s something wrong with your DVD/TV set-up if he likes to go to the movies or that there’s something wrong with your driving if he wants to drive? Is it always about you?

If you’re so in love with him that you want to marry him and spend the rest of your life together and you don’t like porn, have you had an honest conversation with him about that? If he says he likes it, would you marry him anyway knowing that this is something you find distasteful and disrespectful?

The problem, of course, isn’t porn itself. If something, anything, is done in secret, in excess, if it’s somehow compromising the relationship, well, then there’s a problem—just as if you were dealing with alcohol or drugs or gambling or even a golf addiction. If anything involves deception and you can’t talk about it openly and honestly and it’s reducing intimacy in the relationship instead of enhancing it (and porn can enhance it), it’s just like any other addiction. (And all addicts have enablers and co-dependents, and if your man is spending hours and hours in front of the computer or TV jacking off to Reign of Tera, you might want to look into whatever role—however small—you might be playing in that).

But you guys don’t get off the hook, because many of you (from what I read and hear) are spending way more time in some sort of fantasyland instead of the real world of flesh and lips and touch and smell. If you’re really giving all that up to watch instead of experience, why aren’t you working on making your real-life sex wonderful and exciting?

So, I will ask the men this, so beautifully put by columnist Mark Morford last year (he was talking about online porn viewing at work, but it’s the same for your porn habits in general):

“... If you have that much to hide, if you are living some sort of secret and embarrassing and family-endangering double life, if you are constantly burying images and hiding data or altering your persona to the point of endangering your work, if you cannot let someone, say, cruise through your personal sex-toy box without massive blushing and fainting and humiliation, perhaps you’re living the wrong kind of life. You think?”

Not that I have any opinion about it or anything ...

Photo Source: darkphoto on flickr (cc)

Original here

Sexes split over one night stands

A couple kissing
Men and women view one night stands differently

Many women are left unhappy in the aftermath of casual sexual encounters, a survey has revealed.

Just under half of women who answered the internet poll, published in the journal "Human Nature", said they felt it had been a bad idea.

Four out of five men, in contrast, said they were happy with a brief fling.

The academic leading the research said it showed that there was no evolutionary advantage for women in one night stands.

Basic emotions guide us down pathways that have been advantageous for our ancestors
Professor Anne Campbell
Durham University?

The survey was answered by 1,700 people who had all experienced this kind of relationship.

While men reported feeling more content, sexually satisfied and confident after meaningless sex, women were more likely to worry about feeling used and "letting themselves down".

Some of the their reasons for the encounters were because they felt there was the possibility of a longer term relationship.

Professor Anne Campbell, from Durham University, who carried out the research, said this was evolution at work.

"In evolutionary terms women bear the brunt of parental care and it has been generally thought that it was to their advantage to choose their mate carefully and remain faithful to make sure that their mate had no reason to believe he was raising another man's child.

"Recently, biologists have suggested that females could benefit from mating with many men - it would increase the genetic diversity of their children, and, if a high quality man would not stay with them forever, they might at least get his excellent genes for their child."

However, she said that if women were designed by evolution for short-term relationships, they would enjoy them more, and the survey suggested this was not the case.

"Basic emotions guide us down pathways that have been advantageous for our ancestors," said Professor Campbell.

Original here

The Books That Changed Your Lives

On Thursday we asked you what books have changed your life, and over 250 thoughtful comments later, it's clear you all have book shelves stuffed with meaningful tomes. Now it's time to share the love. Today we've compiled some of the titles that you mentioned the most, with summaries and links to Amazon so you can check 'em out further—and get a glimpse into the minds and lives of Lifehacker readers.


The Bible (25 votes)

Far and away our biggest vote-getter, we're not even going to try to describe what the Bible is and what it means. Thank goodness Wikipedia describes the Bible for us thusly:
The Bible is the collection of religious writings of Judaism and of Christianity. The exact composition of the Bible is dependent on the religious traditions of specific denominations. Modern Rabbinic Judaism generally recognizes a single set of canonical books that comprise the Tanakh, the Jewish version of the Bible. The Christian Bible includes the same books as the Tanakh (referred to in this context as the Old Testament), but usually in a different order, together with specifically Christian books collectively called the New Testament. Among some Christian traditions, the Bible includes additional Jewish books that were not accepted into the Tanakh.
There are multiple editions and versions of the Bible; the one pictured here is the King James Version: 1611 Edition.

The Works of Ayn Rand
(23 votes)

Several authors had multiple works mentioned by our readers, but none had such a strong showing as Ayn Rand. Most influential was The Fountainhead, followed by Atlas Shrugged and Anthem.
From Wikipedia's The Fountainhead page:
The Fountainhead is set in the world of Architecture and examines Howard Roark, a young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision. He refuses to pander to the prevailing 'architect by committee' taste in building design. Roark is a singular force that takes a stand against the establishment, and in his own unique way, prevails. The manuscript was rejected by twelve publishers before a young editor, Archibald Ogden, at the Bobbs-Merrill Company publishing house wired to the head office, "If this is not the book for you, then I am not the editor for you."
2008-06-27_233913.jpg From Wikipedia's Atlas Shrugged page:
The theme of Atlas Shrugged is the role of the mind in man's existence and, consequently, presentation of the morality of rational self-interest.

The main conflicts of the book surround the decision of the "individuals of the mind" to go on strike, refusing to contribute their inventions, art, business leadership, scientific research, or new ideas of any kind to the rest of the world. Society, they believe, hampers them by interfering with their work and underpays them by confiscating the profits and dignity they have rightfully earned. The peaceful cohesiveness of the world disintegrates, lacking those individuals whose productive work comes from mental effort. The strikers believe that they are crucial to a society that exploits them, denying them freedom or failing to acknowledge their right to self-interest, and the gradual collapse of civilization is triggered by their strike.

2008-06-27_235426.jpgFrom Wikipedia's Anthem page:
Anthem is a dystopian, science-fiction novella by philosopher Ayn Rand, first published in 1938. It takes place at some unspecified future date when mankind has entered another dark age as a result of the evils of irrationality and collectivism and the weaknesses of socialistic thinking and economics. Technological advancement is now carefully planned (when it is allowed to occur at all) and the concept of individuality has been eliminated (for example, the word "I" has disappeared from the language). As is common in her work, Rand draws a clear distinction between the "socialist/communal" values of equality and brotherhood and the "productive/capitalist" values of achievement and individuality.


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
(15 votes)

by Douglas Adams
Join Douglas Adams's hapless hero Arthur Dent as he travels the galaxy with his intrepid pal Ford Prefect, getting into horrible messes and generally wreaking hilarious havoc. Dent is grabbed from Earth moments before a cosmic construction team obliterates the planet to build a freeway. You'll never read funnier science fiction; Adams is a master of intelligent satire, barbed wit, and comedic dialogue.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
(9 votes)

by Robert M. Pirsig
... Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a powerful, moving, and penetrating examination of how we live . . . and a breathtaking meditation on how to live better. Here is the book that transformed a generation: an unforgettable narration of a summer motorcycle trip across America's Northwest, undertaken by a father and his young son. A story of love and fear — of growth, discovery, and acceptance — that becomes a profound personal and philosophical odyssey into life's fundamental questions, this uniquely exhilarating modern classic is both touching and transcendent, resonant with the myriad confusions of existence . . . and the small, essential triumphs that propel us forward.


The Stranger
(8 votes)

by Albert Camus
The Stranger is not merely one of the most widely read novels of the 20th century, but one of the books likely to outlive it. Written in 1946, Camus's compelling and troubling tale of a disaffected, apparently amoral young man has earned a durable popularity (and remains a staple of U.S. high school literature courses) in part because it reveals so vividly the anxieties of its time. Alienation, the fear of anonymity, spiritual doubt—all could have been given a purely modern inflection in the hands of a lesser talent than Camus, who won the Nobel Prize in 1957 and was noted for his existentialist aesthetic. The remarkable trick of The Stranger, however, is that it's not mired in period philosophy.


The Works of George Orwell
(8 votes)

Another early 20th century author who received reader acclaim for more than a single book, George Orwell appears on the list both for 1984 and Animal Farm.
[1984 was] published in 1949 as a warning about the menaces of totalitarianism. The novel is set in an imaginary future world that is dominated by three perpetually warring totalitarian police states. The book's hero, Winston Smith, is a minor party functionary in one of these states. His longing for truth and decency leads him to secretly rebel against the government. Smith has a love affair with a like-minded woman, but they are both arrested by the Thought Police. The ensuing imprisonment, torture, and reeducation of Smith are intended not merely to break him physically or make him submit but to root out his independent mental existence and his spiritual dignity. Orwell's warning of the dangers of totalitarianism made a deep impression on his contemporaries and upon subsequent readers, and the book's title and many of its coinages, such as NEWSPEAK, became bywords for modern political abuses.

Anti-utopian satire by George Orwell, published in 1945. One of Orwell's finest works, it is a political fable based on the events of Russia's Bolshevik revolution and the betrayal of the cause by Joseph Stalin. The book concerns a group of barnyard animals who overthrow and chase off their exploitative human masters and set up an egalitarian society of their own. Eventually the animals' intelligent and power-loving leaders, the pigs, subvert the revolution and form a dictatorship even more oppressive and heartless than that of their former human masters.


The Works of Richard Dawkins
(8 votes)

Dawkins is the most contemporary non-fiction author on the list to be voted in with multiple books. Readers were most influenced by The Selfish Gene, followed closely by The God Delusion.
Richard Dawkins' brilliant reformulation of the theory of natural selection has the rare distinction of having provoked as much excitement and interest outside the scientific community as within it. His theories have helped change the whole nature of the study of social biology, and have forced thousands of readers to rethink their beliefs about life. In his internationally bestselling, now classic volume, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins explains how the selfish gene can also be a subtle gene. The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit, and yet, Dawkins argues, acts of apparent altruism do exist in nature. Bees, for example, will commit suicide when they sting to protect the hive, and birds will risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk. ... [The Selfish Gene] is a celebration of a remarkable exposition of evolutionary thought, a work that has been widely hailed for its stylistic brilliance and deep scientific insights, and that continues to stimulate whole new areas of research today.

In his sensational international bestseller, the preeminent scientist and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins delivers a hard-hitting, impassioned, but humorous rebuttal of religious belief. With rigor and wit, Dawkins eviscerates the arguments for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of the existence of a supreme being. He makes a compelling case that faith is not just irrational, but potentially deadly ... This brilliantly argued, provocative book challenges all of us to test our beliefs, no matter what beliefs we hold.


The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings Trilogy
(7 votes)

by J.R.R. Tolkien
From Wikipedia:
The Hobbit or There and Back Again is an award-winning fantasy novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, written for children in the tradition of the fairy tale. Tolkien wrote the story in the late 1920s to amuse his three sons. It was published on September 21st 1937 to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction. More recently, The Hobbit has been recognized as the "Most Important 20th-Century Novel (for Older Readers)" by the children's book magazine Books for Keeps. The book has sold an estimated 100 million copies worldwide since first publication. The work has never been out of print since the paper shortages of the Second World War.


Ender's Game
(7 votes)

by Orson Scott Card
From Wikipedia:
Ender's Game (1985) is one of the most well-known novels by Orson Scott Card. It is set in Earth's future where mankind has barely survived two invasions by the "buggers", an insectoid alien race, and the International Fleet is preparing for war. In order to find and train the eventual commander for the anticipated third invasion, the world's most talented children, including the extraordinary Ender Wiggin, are taken into Battle School at a very young age. The book takes place around the year 2135, and its sequels Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind, A War of Gifts, and Ender in Exile: Ganges follow Ender to different worlds as he travels far into the future.

"Ender's Game" was the very first novel given away online before its publication. Card posted the novel on the DELPHI online service in 1984, inviting anyone to download and enjoy it.


(7 votes)

by Frank Herbert
This Hugo and Nebula Award winner tells the sweeping tale of a desert planet called Arrakis, the focus of an intricate power struggle in a byzantine interstellar empire. Arrakis is the sole source of Melange, the "spice of spices." Melange is necessary for interstellar travel and grants psychic powers and longevity, so whoever controls it wields great influence.

The troubles begin when stewardship of Arrakis is transferred by the Emperor from the Harkonnen Noble House to House Atreides. The Harkonnens don't want to give up their privilege, though, and through sabotage and treachery they cast young Duke Paul Atreides out into the planet's harsh environment to die. There he falls in with the Fremen, a tribe of desert dwellers who become the basis of the army with which he will reclaim what's rightfully his. Paul Atreides, though, is far more than just a usurped duke. He might be the end product of a very long-term genetic experiment designed to breed a super human; he might be a messiah. His struggle is at the center of a nexus of powerful people and events, and the repercussions will be felt throughout the Imperium.

Dune is one of the most famous science fiction novels ever written, and deservedly so. The setting is elaborate and ornate, the plot labyrinthine, the adventures exciting. Five sequels follow.

Here's a table of the titles that got three or more votes in the comments thread. (Note that this tally was taken on Friday, so new comments may have been added since then.)

Thanks to all the commenters for sharing their life-changing reads with us.

Original here

Sunday, June 29, 2008

How to Fly Comfortably

Smart steps for the best travel experience.

By Carol Kaufman

• Fly early in the day. At airports scheduled to capacity, any delay in the morning means there will be at least that much of a delay for every flight thereafter.

• Depart a day in advance for crucial trips, such as a business meeting or a wedding.

• Check the delay statistic for your flight -- how often that flight is more than 15 minutes late on a scale of 1 to 9 (the lower the number, the more often it's late) -- before you book your tickets. Airlines are required by law to give you the stat if you ask for it; many post it on their websites. If the number is 5 or below and time is of the essence, consider another flight.

More than 590,000 pilots made more than 61 million takeoffs and landings last year.


• Sign up for the registered traveler program to take some of the pain out of the preflight experience. Travelers who pass a voluntary background check can use special lanes to whisk through security at nearly 20 U.S. airports, including in Denver, Oakland, Orlando, and San Francisco.

• Make a call. If you get to the gate and the airline says you've lost your seat, contact the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights at 877-359-3776. Kate Hanni, the group's founder, says stranded passengers have told her that seats were suddenly found for them when they called CAPBOR from the airport and let airline personnel know they'd done so. If your flight is canceled, the group's volunteer staff will help you book hotels, research your flight status, offer alternative routes, help with car rental, and relay weather information.

• Understand your options. When you're stuck on the ground for hours after boarding, there's a reason. "If the airlines lock the doors, they don't have to provide refunds, credits, lodging, and food expenses," says Paul Hudson, executive director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project. You can circulate a petition demanding to be let off the plane and take it to the cockpit. An airline can't hold people against their will unless there's a safety reason, and the captain has the authority to let people off. If the situation worsens, call the police or a local TV or radio station from your cell phone. CAPBOR hotline volunteers can also put you in touch with the media.

• Don't let it drop. If you have a truly terrible experience, write a reasonable letter afterward to the airline CEO, explaining what happened and asking for compensation. Refer to the contract of carriage listed on the airline's website; it explains the compensation policies. It's up to the airline whether to remedy a passenger's bad experience. If you used plastic to buy your ticket, your credit card company can challenge the airline for violating its contract with a customer.

• Join the fight to enact an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights, federal legislation that would mandate, among other things, that passengers be allowed to deplane when they're held on the tarmac for more than three hours as well as require airlines to provide delayed passengers with food, water, sanitary facilities, and medical attention. The major U.S. carriers are dead set against the bill, arguing that cockpit crews should make these calls. Decide who's right after you learn more at

Welcome Arrivals

It's inevitable that you'll get stuck in an airport somewhere, sometime, so why not relax while you're waiting?

Get pampered At Detroit Metro Airport, you can get a facial, a massage, and a shower in McNamara terminal.

Listen to Chopin Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has a pianist to serenade irritable would-be passengers.

Tee off At Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport, you can play 36 holes of golf on airport property -- if you've got the time.

Up your culture quotient Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has spent millions on its world-class art collection.

Sample the Chardonnay At Baltimore/Washington International, a wine bar serves flights of wine during delays.

Original here

Six Surprising Consequences of a Restless Night

By: Vicki Santillano (Little_personView Profile)

It’s no secret that skipping valuable sleep time can have negative effects on our physical and emotional health. But could a rise in the lack of sleep be an unacknowledged contributor to the steady rise in divorces over the years? A recent Washington Post article says yes, linking a healthy marriage to better sleep quality. If our nights are consistently restless due to stress, what else is at risk (besides our relationship)? I decided to do a little research to learn more about the surprisingly harsh consequences of fitful sleeping.

Weight Gain
People who suffer from nocturnal sleeping-related eating disorders (NS-REDs) will sleepwalk to the kitchen and eat, well, anything. Frozen chicken, mayonnaise—even non-food items like cat litter and cigarettes—all are up for grabs as nighttime grub. According to Julianne Blythe, a physician assistant at the UCSF Sleep Disorders Center, NS-RED affects about 1 percent of the population. Possible factors behind sleep eating include sleep apnea, a condition that obstructs breathing while sleeping, and stress—two issues that also impede restful sleep.

Even if you’re not afflicted by a rare disorder like NS-RED, not getting enough sleep could lead you to eat more during your waking hours. A study conducted at the University of Chicago found that their patients who slept for less than five hours two days in a row experienced an increase in ghrelin, an appetite stimulant hormone, and a decrease in the hormone that triggers satiety. Even worse, those lacking sleep tend to crave the kinds of foods you should limit—the salty, sugary varieties that are sure to pack on the pounds.

Night Terror
One who suffers from sleep terror disorder wakes up repeatedly in a frightened and anxious state, often screaming. There is no memory of the dream that caused the panic in the first place. “[Sleep terror disorder] is a parasomnia,” Julianne explains. “This means that it occurs during the delta, or deep sleep phase.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders states that, in order to be diagnosed with sleep terror disorder, one cannot remember the dream or the panicked episode upon waking. “Because it doesn’t occur during REM sleep [the stage that hosts the dreams you actually remember], there are no vivid dreams to recall,” she says. So, people have no idea why they started screaming in the first place. Though this disorder is most common in children, adults can suffer from sleep terrors as well. Fever, sleep deprivation, and stress are potential triggers—they can cause disruptive sleep, which leads to disorders such as this one.

A Dramatic Change in Your Sex Life (Not in a Good Way)
A person who experiences sexsomnia (another parasomnia) engages in any kind of sexual activity (masturbating, intercourse, etc.) while in a deep sleep. It’s considered a variation of sleepwalking. As is the case with most parasomnias, those who have sexsomnia do not remember their nighttime escapades. This disorder occurs by being jostled out of sleep slightly (not enough to bring about full consciousness), which can happen because of issues like sleep apnea, stress, and anxiety. People have even complained about their partners attempting sex while heavily snoring. Sounds like a contender for the worst foreplay move ever.

Original here

Athletes use Viagra for competitive edge

ViagraThe Associated Press

LONDON -- Athletes looking for a performance boost are increasingly turning to a little blue pill more usually taken for its off-the-field benefits: Viagra.

Some sports authorities say the drug is now finding a following among athletes. It isn't clear how many might be taking it in hopes of improving athletic performance, but stashes of the drug have reportedly been found among some professional athletes.

The World Anti-Doping Agency is currently studying Viagra's effects in athletes, but hasn't yet banned it. Experts are divided over whether it actually offers athletes an edge.

"It's possible,'' said Anthony Butch, director of the Olympic Analytical laboratory at the University of California Los Angeles, a WADA-accredited facility.

Viagra, also known as sildenafil, is manufactured by Pfizer Inc. It was originally developed as a heart drug; its use as a treatment for erectile dysfunction was only accidentally discovered.

The drug works by increasing the effects of nitric oxide, which makes blood vessels expand. That should theoretically allow blood cells to travel to the lungs more efficiently and to also receive more oxygen. It may also improve heart function.

Viagra is also approved to treat pulmonary hypertension, a condition where the lungs' blood vessels tighten. Doctors have used the drug experimentally to treat pregnant women with high blood pressure and to ward off jet lag.

But whether Viagra makes athletes faster, higher or stronger is uncertain.

"Just because you have more nitric oxide doesn't mean that you are going to be a better athlete,'' Butch said. "If you have all the nitric oxide you need, and if you generate more from Viagra, it's not clear what effect that would have.''

Still, some preliminary studies have shown that cyclists taking Viagra improved their performances by up to 40 per cent.

"If you have more oxygen going to your muscles, that's more energy and that makes you a better athlete,'' said Dr. Andrew McCullough, a sexual health expert at New York University School of Medicine. "Even if it only gives you a 10 per cent increase, in peak athletes, that is enough to win,'' he said.

McCullough said Viagra is only likely to help athletes like runners, cyclists or skiers _ sports where endurance and speed are key. Viagra does not work directly on muscles, so will not make athletes physically stronger.

Athletes often mistakenly assume that a drug will work in their bodies the same way it does in sick people.

For instance, in people with lung problems who take Viagra, the drug widens their blood vessels so they can absorb more oxygen.

Athletes taking Viagra might hope that the drug will expand their already normal-sized vessels to give them extra lung capacity. But some experts say that's unlikely.

"Viagra corrects problems in people who are in a challenged or diseased state,'' said Ian McGrath, a professor of physiology at the University of Glasgow. In normal people, the body's own regulating system is not so easily superseded by drugs, and taking Viagra may be useless, McGrath said.

Still, if Viagra does give athletes an unfair advantage, they will be able to take it at the upcoming Beijing Olympics without worry, since it is not on the prohibited list of medicines.

McGrath said taking Viagra could theoretically help people breathe better in heavily polluted cities, like the Chinese capital. "If you have some sort of illness from pollution, then Viagra might help,'' he said.

Many scientists at laboratories that conduct drug testing say they haven't noticed a suspicious spike in samples containing Viagra.

"We see it as much as we see ibuprofen or aspirin or antibiotics that are not prohibited,'' said Christiane Ayotte, director of a WADA-accredited laboratory in Canada. "Athletes may be taking it, but they may be taking it for non-doping purposes,'' she said.

Ayotte thinks it would be unrealistic to ban Viagra. "Are athletes going to have to submit therapeutic-use exemptions for Viagra?'' she asked. "That would be quite humiliating.''

Other doctors hypothesized that Viagra's more well-known effects on men's sex lives might be the ultimate explanation for any enhanced athletic abilities.

"It could be that athletes are taking Viagra and then having vigorous sexual activity,'' said Dr. Gerard Varlotta, director of sports rehabilitation at New York University's Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. Varlotta doubted that Viagra itself could improve an athletes' performance.

"If athletes are euphoric after sex after taking Viagra, they may be euphoric about their athletic endeavours,'' Varlotta said. "That may make them a better athlete.''

Original here

Japan, Seeking Trim Waists, Measures Millions

AMAGASAKI, Japan — Japan, a country not known for its overweight people, has undertaken one of the most ambitious campaigns ever by a nation to slim down its citizenry.

Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

A poster at a public health clinic in Japan reads, "Goodbye, metabo," a word associated with being overweight. The Japanese government is mounting an ambitious weight-loss campaign. More Photos »

Summoned by the city of Amagasaki one recent morning, Minoru Nogiri, 45, a flower shop owner, found himself lining up to have his waistline measured. With no visible paunch, he seemed to run little risk of being classified as overweight, or metabo, the preferred word in Japan these days.

But because the new state-prescribed limit for male waistlines is a strict 33.5 inches, he had anxiously measured himself at home a couple of days earlier. “I’m on the border,” he said.

Under a national law that came into effect two months ago, companies and local governments must now measure the waistlines of Japanese people between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of their annual checkups. That represents more than 56 million waistlines, or about 44 percent of the entire population.

Those exceeding government limits — 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women, which are identical to thresholds established in 2005 for Japan by the International Diabetes Federation as an easy guideline for identifying health risks — and having a weight-related ailment will be given dieting guidance if after three months they do not lose weight. If necessary, those people will be steered toward further re-education after six more months.

To reach its goals of shrinking the overweight population by 10 percent over the next four years and 25 percent over the next seven years, the government will impose financial penalties on companies and local governments that fail to meet specific targets. The country’s Ministry of Health argues that the campaign will keep the spread of diseases like diabetes and strokes in check.

The ministry also says that curbing widening waistlines will rein in a rapidly aging society’s ballooning health care costs, one of the most serious and politically delicate problems facing Japan today. Most Japanese are covered under public health care or through their work. Anger over a plan that would make those 75 and older pay more for health care brought a parliamentary censure motion Wednesday against Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, the first against a prime minister in the country’s postwar history.

But critics say that the government guidelines — especially the one about male waistlines — are simply too strict and that more than half of all men will be considered overweight. The effect, they say, will be to encourage overmedication and ultimately raise health care costs.

Yoichi Ogushi, a professor at Tokai University’s School of Medicine near Tokyo and an expert on public health, said that there was “no need at all” for the Japanese to lose weight.

“I don’t think the campaign will have any positive effect. Now if you did this in the United States, there would be benefits, since there are many Americans who weigh more than 100 kilograms,” or about 220 pounds, Mr. Ogushi said. “But the Japanese are so slender that they can’t afford to lose weight.”

Mr. Ogushi was actually a little harder on Americans than they deserved. A survey by the National Center for Health Statistics found that the average waist size for Caucasian American men was 39 inches, a full inch lower than the 40-inch threshold established by the International Diabetes Federation. American women did not fare as well, with an average waist size of 36.5 inches, about two inches above their threshold of 34.6 inches. The differences in thresholds reflected variations in height and body type from Japanese men and women.

Comparable figures for the Japanese are sketchy since waistlines have not been measured officially in the past. But private research on thousands of Japanese indicates that the average male waistline falls just below the new government limit.

That fact, widely reported in the media, has heightened the anxiety in the nation’s health clinics.

In Amagasaki, a city in western Japan, officials have moved aggressively to measure waistlines in what the government calls special checkups. The city had to measure at least 65 percent of the 40- to 74-year-olds covered by public health insurance, an “extremely difficult” goal, acknowledged Midori Noguchi, a city official.

When his turn came, Mr. Nogiri, the flower shop owner, entered a booth where he bared his midriff, exposing a flat stomach with barely discernible love handles. A nurse wrapped a tape measure around his waist across his belly button: 33.6 inches, or 0.1 inch over the limit.

“Strikeout,” he said, defeat spreading across his face.

The campaign started a couple of years ago when the Health Ministry began beating the drums for a medical condition that few Japanese had ever heard of — metabolic syndrome — a collection of factors that heighten the risk of developing vascular disease and diabetes. Those include abdominal obesity, high blood pressure and high levels of blood glucose and cholesterol. In no time, the scary-sounding condition was popularly shortened to the funny-sounding metabo, and it has become the nation’s shorthand for overweight.

The mayor of one town in Mie, a prefecture near here, became so wrapped up in the anti-metabo campaign that he and six other town officials formed a weight-loss group called “The Seven Metabo Samurai.” That campaign ended abruptly after a 47-year-old member with a 39-inch waistline died of a heart attack while jogging.

Still, at a city gym in Amagasaki recently, dozens of residents — few of whom appeared overweight — danced to the city’s anti-metabo song, which warned against trouser buttons popping and flying away, “pyun-pyun-pyun!”

“Goodbye, metabolic. Let’s get our checkups together. Go! Go! Go!

Goodbye, metabolic. Don’t wait till you get sick. No! No! No!”

The word metabo has made it easier for health care providers to urge their patients to lose weight, said Dr. Yoshikuni Sakamoto, a physician in the employee health insurance union at Matsushita, which makes Panasonic products.

“Before we had to broach the issue with the word obesity, which definitely has a negative image,” Dr. Sakamoto said. “But metabo sounds much more inclusive.”

Even before Tokyo’s directives, Matsushita had focused on its employees’ weight during annual checkups. Last summer, Akio Inoue, 30, an engineer carrying 238 pounds on a 5-foot-7 frame, was told by a company doctor to lose weight or take medication for his high blood pressure. After dieting, he was down to 182 pounds, but his waistline was still more than one inch over the state-approved limit.

With the new law, Matsushita has to measure the waistlines of not only its employees but also of their families and retirees. As part of its intensifying efforts, the company has started giving its employees “metabo check” towels that double as tape measures.

“Nobody will want to be singled out as metabo,” Kimiko Shigeno, a company nurse, said of the campaign. “It’ll have the same effect as non-smoking campaigns where smokers are now looked at disapprovingly.”

Companies like Matsushita must measure the waistlines of at least 80 percent of their employees. Furthermore, they must get 10 percent of those deemed metabolic to lose weight by 2012, and 25 percent of them to lose weight by 2015.

NEC, Japan’s largest maker of personal computers, said that if it failed to meet its targets, it could incur as much as $19 million in penalties. The company has decided to nip metabo in the bud by starting to measure the waistlines of all its employees over 30 years old and by sponsoring metabo education days for the employees’ families.

Some experts say the government’s guidelines on everything from waistlines to blood pressure are so strict that meeting, or exceeding, those targets will be impossible. They say that the government’s real goal is to shift health care costs onto the private sector.

Dr. Minoru Yamakado, an official at the Japan Society of Ningen Dock, an association of doctors who administer physical exams, said he endorsed the government’s campaign and its focus on preventive medicine.

But he said that the government’s real priority should be to reduce smoking rates, which remain among the highest among advanced nations, in large part because of Japan’s powerful tobacco lobby.

“Smoking is even one of the causes of metabolic syndrome,” he said. “So if you’re worried about metabo, stopping people from smoking should be your top priority.”

Despite misgivings, though, Japan is pushing ahead.

Kizashi Ohama, an official in Matsuyama, a city that has also acted aggressively against metabo, said he would leave the debate over the campaign’s merits to experts and health officials in Tokyo.

At Matsuyama’s public health clinic, Kinichiro Ichikawa, 62, said the government-approved 33.5-inch male waistline was “severe.” He is 5-foot-4, weighs only 134 pounds and knows no one who is overweight.

“Japan shouldn’t be making such a fuss about this,” he said before going off to have his waistline measured.

But on a shopping strip here, Kenzo Nagata, 73, a toy store owner, said he had ignored a letter summoning him to a so-called special checkup. His waistline was no one’s business but his own, he said, though he volunteered that, at 32.7 inches, it fell safely below the limit. He planned to disregard the second notice that the city was scheduled to mail to the recalcitrant.

“I’m not going,” he said. “I don’t think that concerns me.”

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