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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mobile phones 'more dangerous than smoking'

Brain expert warns of huge rise in tumours and calls on industry to take immediate steps to reduce radiation


ALAMY

Young people are at particular risk from exposure to radiation

Mobile phones could kill far more people than smoking or asbestos, a study by an award-winning cancer expert has concluded. He says people should avoid using them wherever possible and that governments and the mobile phone industry must take "immediate steps" to reduce exposure to their radiation.

The study, by Dr Vini Khurana, is the most devastating indictment yet published of the health risks.

It draws on growing evidence – exclusively reported in the IoS in October – that using handsets for 10 years or more can double the risk of brain cancer. Cancers take at least a decade to develop, invalidating official safety assurances based on earlier studies which included few, if any, people who had used the phones for that long.

Earlier this year, the French government warned against the use of mobile phones, especially by children. Germany also advises its people to minimise handset use, and the European Environment Agency has called for exposures to be reduced.

Professor Khurana – a top neurosurgeon who has received 14 awards over the past 16 years, has published more than three dozen scientific papers – reviewed more than 100 studies on the effects of mobile phones. He has put the results on a brain surgery website, and a paper based on the research is currently being peer-reviewed for publication in a scientific journal.

He admits that mobiles can save lives in emergencies, but concludes that "there is a significant and increasing body of evidence for a link between mobile phone usage and certain brain tumours". He believes this will be "definitively proven" in the next decade.

Noting that malignant brain tumours represent "a life-ending diagnosis", he adds: "We are currently experiencing a reactively unchecked and dangerous situation." He fears that "unless the industry and governments take immediate and decisive steps", the incidence of malignant brain tumours and associated death rate will be observed to rise globally within a decade from now, by which time it may be far too late to intervene medically.

"It is anticipated that this danger has far broader public health ramifications than asbestos and smoking," says Professor Khurana, who told the IoS his assessment is partly based on the fact that three billion people now use the phones worldwide, three times as many as smoke. Smoking kills some five million worldwide each year, and exposure to asbestos is responsible for as many deaths in Britain as road accidents.

Late last week, the Mobile Operators Association dismissed Khurana's study as "a selective discussion of scientific literature by one individual". It believes he "does not present a balanced analysis" of the published science, and "reaches opposite conclusions to the WHO and more than 30 other independent expert scientific reviews".

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A History of the Hangover

Their prevalence during recessions; baseball and the hangover; the search for a cure; are all hangovers bad?

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

There is no such thing as the perfect hangover, although anyone who has known more than one of them seems to have the perfect hangover cure. The roast beef sandwich, I've heard it said repeatedly, can't be matched.

Hangovers are not serious enough to be considered a medical condition, and there is, actually, no remedy for them—apart from old wives' tales and roast beef. They're neither a bad cold nor the flu, though they're serious enough to keep some in bed. But are hangovers always bad?

Hangovers were for a long time associated with stock market crashes; the 1929 crash has been written about as if it were the hangover after the wild 1920s. Whether or not traders are more likely to hit the bottle after precipitous falls in the value of their shares is hard to say—not least because it isn't clear what's going on with markets. Are the fallen masters of the universe at Bear Stearns drinking away what remains of their portfolios? One hopes that an enterprising sociologist is doing fieldwork in the bars near the bank's headquarters.

It's easy to understand why, after a swift turn of fate, some men would resort to drink to numb the pain of the losses. But is it possible that it's not so much the drunkenness these men are after as its aftermath? A hangover provides something less intangible and more felt to consider than the horror of newfound poverty. One opinion has it that in circumstances such as those, a hangover isn't a disaster; during one, you decide to begin life all over again, swearing that, no, there will never, not ever, be another experience like this one. The born-again movement has always seemed to be an alcohol-related phenomenon.

Life-changing hangovers are part of popular myth. In the movie The Philadelphia Story, if it weren't for a hangover and how it was arrived at, there would be almost no twist to the plot. Tracy, played by Katherine Hepburn, realizes she's not in love with the man she's about to marry in the midst of such a bad hangover that she can't remember what happened the night before. In the movies—or some of them, at least—the hangover is often a form of punctuation or a paragraph shift, a moment of blistering agony but also of remarkable clarity. (In real life, the clearest of thoughts don't always emerge when you're trying suppress the throbbing going on inside you head.)

How many hangovers there are in the United States a year is an impossible question to answer: Different people react to drink in different ways. In Scotland, a country famous for its drinking, the hangover remedy bought in shops, Irn Bru—iron brew—is known by some as the true national drink, more than the scotch that has you drinking Irn Bru the next morning. It is said to be made from girders and, like spinach, gives you enormous strength—so much of it that you can will yourself out of any old hangover.

Edmund Wilson said he once inflicted a hangover on T.S. Eliot. "I gave him bootleg gin," Wilson told a friend about an evening he spent with the poet. "He is so shy that you have to drink with him to talk to him—and we both got into bad condition. The next morning he had an awful hangover and said his joints creaked, and I felt as if I had wantonly broken some rare and exquisite vase. I have felt guilty about it ever since." Remorse is one reaction to a hangover, even when it's not your own. And though the hangover itself always dissipates, the remorse sometimes does not, often because it's about neither the hangover nor the drink but something else—such as a broken vase or a lost friend.

But if remorse is one part of the hangover, so is resolve—the refusal to give into the worst of it. This resolve isn't always there; capitulation is just as common. But the refusal to give in, or give up, isn't uncommon, and it's not always fueled by Irn Bru. Years ago, the story goes, an English cricket team toured India, and a maharajah believed he could influence what would be a five-day game by getting two of the players drunk. So he did, and the two men woke up the next morning with bad hangovers. Worse, when the game began, they were the first two players to bat. Yet they survived the entire day—all six hours of it. The adversity of their hangovers appeared to introduce further circumspection to their playing. As in baseball, keeping your eye on the ball is essential for a batsman, and I've heard this tale told to numerous players feeling the worse for wear before the start of a game—to remind them that this may be, improbably, their best day.

Kingsely Amis, for some the hangover godhead, knew all about the resolution associated with hangovers. He said of them that they exerted "a great restraining influence" on life. He also laid down the principle that anyone who says they have a hangover has no hangover, an observation that others less experienced than he might disagree with. Then again, it's not as if experience or another person's wisdom is tremendously helpful in identifying a hangover, and being told about hangovers worse than your own is really no cure.

The Scots, the Irish, the Welsh, and the English seem to have special relationships with the hangover. Why do societies drink? The answer is obvious, in a way, but not entirely. Several years ago, Nature, the science journal, published a report suggesting that drink was, from a biological point of view, engrained among the British. There are historical reasons for that. Fermented drinks contained none of the bugs that could be found in water. In Dublin in the 1940s, it wasn't unusual for people to give the young children Guinness when the water wasn't potable. Contamination-free water is one of the greatest public-health achievements of the last 150 years, and although a glass of water is often the last thing anyone with a hangover wants, it's the absence of water that's partly responsible for the hangover.

Not that there was anything peculiarly Irish, Scottish, English, or Welsh about bad water or about drinking brewed or fermented drinks—or about the hangover. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a bit of an expert. "The hangover," he said in a description of New York in the 1920s, "became a part of the day as well allowed-for as the Spanish siesta." The test pilots Tom Wolfe wrote about in The Right Stuff operated on conditions of a near-permanent hangover. It was their fuel. Flying and drinking and drinking and driving was the military ethos—that's what you did. That's easier to understand among people for whom there really may not be much of a tomorrow. Not everyone is a test pilot living with the prospect of their next and potentially fatal crash.

Drinking and hangovers were for years part of the legislative process on Capitol Hill. In Sean Wilentz's The Triumph of American Democracy, 850 pages pass with barely a drink mentioned. That's a remarkable achievement; in reality, congressional committee chambers in the first half of the 19th century were stashed with liquor every night when there were to be deliberations over a bill, as Joanne Freeman, an immensely witty historian at Yale, pointed out in a recent talk about the violence among congressmen in antebellum Washington. Much of the violence on Capitol Hill during that period—and there were an immense number of fights within Congress before the Civil War—was fuelled by drink and hangovers. And much of the drinking, one suspects, was to fulfill that old Scottish piece of drinking wisdom known as the hair of the dog: The drink to get you out of this hangover and into the next one.

Christopher Hitchens has written memorably about smoking and drinking; in fact, there's almost no better place to begin a consideration of the hangover than with an essay he wrote in the early 1990s on drinking and smoking, which appears in his book For the Sake of Argument. As Hitchens points out, there has been a nicotine ingredient in the modern hangover, and quite a few people swear that it wasn't the drink that did them in the night before; it was the cigarettes. "Only a fool expects smoking and drinking to bring happiness," Hitchens wrote, "just as only a dolt expects money to do so. Like money, booze and fags are happiness, and people cannot expect to pursue happiness in moderation." In the absence of moderation, there will always be hangovers, and when one has finally receded there will sometimes be the elation at having seen it off—sometimes not.

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Life's little mysteries: Why do women wear high heels and why did the kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

Why do women wear high heels? Why are soft drinks in round containers while milk cartons are rectangular? And why did kamikaze pilots bother with helmets? Here, ROBERT H FRANK uses economics to explain the weird and wonderful situations we encounter in everyday life.

Why do women endure the discomfort of high heels?

High heels are uncomfortable and make walking more difficult. Prolonged use can injure the feet, knees and back. So why do women keep wearing them?

The short answer seems to be that women in heels are more likely to attract favourable notice.

In Sense And Sensibility, Jane Austen describes the character Elinor Dashwood as having a "delicate complexion, regular features, and... remarkably pretty figure".

But Austen describes Elinor's sister, Marianne, as "still handsomer. Her form, though not so correct as her sister's, in having the advantage of height, was more striking".

In addition to making women taller, high heels force the back to arch, pushing the bosom forward and the buttocks rearward, thus accentuating the female form.

"Men like an exaggerated female figure," writes fashion historian Caroline Cox. The problem is that if all women wear high heels, such advantages tend to cancel out.

Height, after all, is a relative phenomenon. It may be advantageous to be taller than others, or at least not to be several inches shorter. But when all wear shoes that make them several inches taller, the relative height distribution is unaffected, so no one appears taller than if all had worn flat heels.

If women could decide collectively what shoes to wear, all might agree to forgo high heels. But because any individual can gain advantage by wearing them, such an agreement might be hard to maintain.

Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

On the heels of significant military setbacks in 1944, the Japanese military launched a campaign of kamikaze attacks, in which pilots attempted to crash their planes into American warships. Their aeroplanes were heavily laden with explosives, so a crash meant almost certain death for the pilot. Why, then, did these pilots wear helmets?

One reason is that in at least some instances, kamikaze pilots survived their missions. Another is that planes commonly experienced severe turbulence before reaching their targets, and in these cases Japanese military commanders had clear reasons for wanting their pilots to be adequately protected.

Perhaps even more important, the aviator's helmet had become emblematic of what it meant to be a pilot. Kamikaze pilots were pilots, and all pilots wear helmets.

But the most compelling explanation for why kamikaze pilots wore helmets is that it was not the express intention that these pilots commit suicide. Their charge was to destroy their targets by any means necessary. But the hope was that the pilots would return safely, even though the expectation was that most would not.

Why do women's clothes button from the left, while men's button from the right?

It is hardly surprising that clothing manufacturers might adhere to uniform standards for the various features of garments bought by any given group.

What seems strange, however, is that the standard adopted for women is precisely the opposite of the one for men. If the standard were completely arbitrary, that would be one thing. But the men's standard would appear to make more sense for women as well.

Around 90 per cent of the world's population is right-handed, and it is easier for right-handers to button shirts from the right. So why do women's garments button from the left?

This is an example in which history seems to matter. When buttons first appeared in the 17th century, they were seen only on garments of the wealthy. At that time it was the custom for rich men to dress themselves and for women to be dressed by servants.

Having women's shirts button from the left thus made things easier for the mostly right-handed servants who dressed them. Having men's shirts button from the right made sense not only because most men dressed themselves, but also because a sword drawn from the left hip with the right hand would be less likely to become caught in the shirt. Today, virtually no women are dressed by servants, so why is buttoning from the left still the norm for women?

In economics, a norm, once established, resists change. At a time when all women's shirts buttoned from the left, it would have been risky for any single manufacturer to offer women's shirts that buttoned from the right.

After all, women had grown accustomed to shirts that buttoned from the left and would have to develop new habits and skills to switch.

Beyond that practical difficulty, some women might also have found it socially awkward to appear in public wearing shirts that buttoned from the right, since anyone who noticed would assume they were wearing men's shirts.

Why are petrol caps on the driver's side of some cars but the passenger's side of others?

One OF the most frustrating experiences of driving a hire car is to pull up at a fuel pump as you would when driving your own car, only to discover that the fuel tank is located on the other side. Car manufacturers could eliminate this difficulty simply by putting petrol caps always on the same side of the car. Why don't they?

In countries in which motorists drive on the right side of the road, such as the U.S., it is easier to turn right than to turn left across oncoming traffic. A majority of drivers will thus buy fuel at stations they can enter by turning right.

Suppose fuel tanks were always on the driver's side of the car. Drivers would then have to park on the right side of an open pump in order to fill their tanks.

During busy times, all spots on the right sides of pumps would be filled even while most spots on the left sides of pumps remained empty.

Putting petrol caps on different sides of different cars means that some cars can access pumps from the left. And this makes it less likely that drivers will have to queue for fuel.

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Why are DVDs sold in larger packages than CDs, even though the discs are the same size?

CDs come in cases that are 148mm wide and 125mm high. By contrast, DVDs are sold in cases that are 135mm wide and 191mm high. Why use such different packaging for discs of identical size?

A little digging reveals the historical origins of this difference.

Prior to the appearance of digital CDs, most music was sold on vinyl discs, packaged in close-fitting sleeves that measured 302mm square. The racks on which vinyl discs were displayed were just wide enough, in other words, to accommodate two rows of CD cases with a divider between them.

Making the CD cases a little less than half as wide as the record sleeves they were replacing thus enabled retailers to avoid the substantial costs of replacing their storage and display racks.

Similar considerations seem to have driven the decision regarding DVD packaging. Before DVDs became popular, most film rental stores carried videotapes in the VHS format, which were packaged in form-fitting boxes that measured 135mm wide and 191mm high.

These videos were typically displayed side by side with their spines out. Making DVD cases the same height enabled stores to display their new DVD stocks on existing shelves, while consumers were in the process of switching over to the new format.

Making the DVD package the same height as the VHS package also made switching to DVDs more attractive for consumers, since they could store their new DVDs on the shelves they used for VHS tapes.

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Why are whales in danger of extinction, but not chickens?

Seldom does a year pass without a demonstration decrying international hunting that threatens extinction for many large marine mammal species. Yet to my knowledge there has never been a demonstration exhorting us to save chickens. Why not?

The short answer is that chickens have never been an endangered species. But that just raises the question of why one species is endangered and another not.

Whale populations have been dwindling because no one owns whales. They swim in international waters, and several nations have refused to respect the international treaties that have attempted to protect them.

Japanese and Norwegian whalers understand that their current practices threaten the survival of whales and hence their own livelihood. But each whaler also knows that any whale he does not harvest will be taken by someone else.

By contrast, most chickens in the world are owned by someone.

If you kill one of your chickens today, that is one less chicken you will own tomorrow. If chicken farming were your livelihood, you would have strong incentives to balance the number of birds you send to market and the number of new chicks you acquire.

Chickens and whales are both economically valuable. The fact that people enjoy secure property rights in chickens but not in whales explains why the former are secure and the latter are endangered.

Why don't more people wear shoes with Velcro fasteners?

Learning to tie one's shoelaces was a childhood rite of passage long before Swiss inventor George de Mestral obtained a patent for Velcro in 1955. Since then, Velcro has been replacing zips, hooks, laces and other traditional fastening methods in a host of applications.

As a method of fastening shoes, Velcro offers clear advantages over laces. Laces can become untied, for example, causing people to trip and fall. And fastening shoes with Velcro is much quicker and easier than tying a pair of laces. But although it once seemed that Velcro might drive laces from the marketplace, the proportion of adults who wear shoes with Velcro fasteners remains small. Why have shoelaces survived?

From the beginning, the most popular applications of Velcro in the shoe industry have been in shoes for children as well as the elderly and infirm. Velcro's popularity for children's shoes is explained by the fact that many of the youngest children have not yet learnt how to tie shoelaces.

Among the elderly, Velcro is popular for medical reasons. Some older people have difficulty bending down to tie their shoes, for example, while others have difficulty because of arthritic fingers.

The upshot is that Velcro fasteners on footwear are associated in the public mind with incompetence and fragility. Even though shoes that fasten with Velcro are in many ways more serviceable than lace-ups, shoelaces are unlikely to disappear in the near future.

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Why texting harms your IQ

THE regular use of text messages and e-mails can lower the IQ more than twice as much as smoking marijuana.

That is the claim of psychologists who have found that tapping away on a mobile phone or computer keypad or checking them for electronic messages temporarily knocks up to 10 points off the user’s IQ.

This rate of decline in intelligence compares unfavourably with the four-point drop in IQ associated with smoking marijuana, according to British researchers, who have labelled the fleeting phenomenon of enhanced stupidity as “infomania”.

Research on sleep deprivation suggests that the IQ drop caused by electronic obsession is also equivalent to a wakeful night.

Infomania is mainly a problem for adult workers, especially men, the study commissioned by Hewlett Packard, the technology company, has concluded.

The noticeable drop in IQ is attributed to the constant distraction of “always on” technology when employees should be concentrating on what they are paid to do. Infomania means that they lose concentration as their minds remain fixed in an almost permanent state of readiness to react to technology instead of focusing on the task in hand.

Workers lose productivity by interrupting a business meeting and disrupt social gatherings because of their infirmity, the report said.

The brain also finds it hard to cope with juggling lots of tasks at once, reducing its overall effectiveness, it added. And while modern technology can have huge benefits, excessive use can be damaging not only to a person’s mind, but to their social life.

Eighty volunteers took part in clinical trials on IQ deterioration and 1,100 adults were interviewed.

More than six in ten (62 per cent) of people polled admit that they were addicted to checking their e-mail and text messages so assiduously that they scrutinised work-related ones even when at home or on holiday. Half said that they always responded immediately to an email and one in five (21 per cent) will interrupt a meeting to do so.

Furthermore, infomania is having a negative effect on work colleagues, increasing stress and dissenting feelings. Nine out of ten polled thought that colleagues who answered e-mails or messages during a face-to-face meeting were extremely rude. Yet one in three Britons believes that it is not only acceptable, but actually diligent and efficient to do so.

The effects on IQ were studied by Dr Glenn Wilson, a University of London psychologist, as part of the research project.

“This is a very real and widespread phenomenon,” he said. “We have found that infomania, if unchecked, will damage a worker’s performance by reducing their mental sharpness.

“Companies should encourage a more balanced and appropriate way of working.”

The report suggests that firms who give employees gadgets and devices to help them keep in touch from wherever they might be should also produce guidelines on use.

These “best practice tips” including using “dead time”, such as travelling time, to read messages and check e-mails and turning devices off in meetings. David Smith, commercial manager of Hewlett Packard, said: “The research suggests that we are in danger of being caught up in a 24-hour ‘always on’ society.

“This is more worrying when you consider the potential impairment on performance and concentration for workers, and the consequent impact on businesses.”

He said that although the company produced such technology, it was similar to a motor manufacturer making a 150mph sports car and telling drivers to stick within speed limits.

He added: “Similarly, ‘always on’ technology has proven productivity benefits but people need to use it responsibly. We know that technology makes us more effective, but we also know that misuse of technology can be counter-productive.”

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7 Pains You Shouldn't Ignore

Whoever coined the term "necessary evil" might have been thinking of pain. No one wants it, yet it's the body's way of getting your attention when something is wrong. You're probably sufficiently in tune with your body to know when the pain is just a bother, perhaps the result of moving furniture a day or two before or eating that third enchilada. It's when pain might signal something more serious that the internal dialogue begins:

"OK, this isn't something to fool around with."
"But I can't miss my meeting."
"And how many meetings will you miss if you land in the hospital?"
"I'll give it one more day."
Etc.

You need a guide. WebMD consulted doctors in cardiology, internal medicine, geriatrics, and psychiatry so you'll understand which pains you must not ignore -- and why. And, of course, if in doubt, get medical attention.

No. 1: Worst Headache of Your Life

Get medical attention immediately. "If you have a cold, it could be a sinus headache," says Sandra Fryhofer, MD, MACP, spokeswoman for the American College of Physicians. "But you could have a brain hemorrhage or brain tumor. With any pain, unless you're sure of what caused it, get it checked out."

Sharon Brangman, MD, FACP, spokeswoman for the American Geriatrics Society, tells WebMD that when someone says they have the worst headache of their life, "what we learned in medical training was that was a classic sign of a brain aneurysm. Go immediately to the ER."

No. 2: Pain or Discomfort in the Chest, Throat, Jaw, Shoulder, Arm, or Abdomen

Chest pain could be pneumoniaor a heart attack. But be aware that heart conditions typically appear as discomfort, not pain. "Don't wait for pain," says cardiologist Jerome Cohen, MD. "Heart patients talk about pressure. They'll clench their fist and put it over their chest or say it's like an elephant sitting on their chest."

The discomfort associated with heart disease could also be in the upper chest, throat, jaw, left shoulder or arm, or abdomen and might be accompanied by nausea. "I'm not too much worried about the 18-year-old, but if a person has unexplained, persistent discomfort and knows they're high risk, they shouldn't wait," says Cohen. "Too often people delay because they misinterpret it as [heartburn] or GI distress. Call 911 or get to an emergency room or physician's office. If it turns out to be something else, that's great."

He tells WebMD that intermittent discomfort should be taken seriously as well. "There might be a pattern, such as discomfort related to excitement, emotional upset, or exertion. For example, if you experience it when you're gardening, but it goes away when you sit down, that's angina. It's usually worse in cold or hot weather."

"A woman's discomfort signs can be more subtle," says Cohen, who is director of preventive cardiology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "Heart disease can masquerade as GI symptoms, such as bloating, GI distress, or discomfort in the abdomen. It's also associated with feeling tired. Risk for heart disease increases dramatically after menopause. It kills more women than men even though men are at higher risk at any age. Women and their physicians need to be on their toes."

No. 3: Pain in Lower Back or Between Shoulder Blades

"Most often it's arthritis," says Brangman, who is professor and chief of geriatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y. Other possibilities include a heart attack or abdominal problems. "One danger is aortic dissection, which can appear as either a nagging or sudden pain. People who are at risk have conditions that can change the integrity of the vessel wall. These would include high blood pressure, a history of circulation problems, smoking, and diabetes."

No. 4: Severe Abdominal Pain

Still have your appendix? Don't flirt with the possibility of a rupture. Gallbladder and pancreas problems, stomach ulcers, and intestinal blockages are some other possible causes of abdominal pain that need attention.

No 5: Calf Pain

One of the lesser known dangers is deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that can occur in the leg's deep veins. It affects 2 million Americans a year, and it can be life-threatening. "The danger is that a piece of the clot could break loose and cause pulmonary embolism [a clot in the lungs], which could be fatal," says Fryhofer. Cancer, obesity, immobility due to prolonged bed rest or long-distance travel, pregnancy, and advanced age are among the risk factors.

"Sometimes there's just swelling without pain," says Brangman. "If you have swelling and pain in your calf muscles, see a doctor immediately."

No. 6: Burning Feet or Legs

Nearly one-third of the 20 million Americans who have diabetes are undiagnosed, according to the American Diabetes Association. "In some people who don't know they have diabetes, peripheral neuropathy could be one of the first signs," says Brangman. "It's a burning or pins-and-needles sensation in the feet or legs that can indicate nerve damage."

No 7: Vague, Combined, or Medically Unexplained Pains

"Various painful, physical symptoms are common in depression," says psychiatrist Thomas Wise, MD. "Patients will have vague complaints of headaches, abdominal pain, or limb pain, sometimes in combination."

Because the pain might be chronic and not terribly debilitating, depressed people, their families, and health care professionals might dismiss the symptoms. "Furthermore, the more depressed you are, the more difficulty you have describing your feelings," says Wise, who is the psychiatry department chairman at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Va. "All of this can lead the clinician astray."

Other symptoms must be present before a diagnosis of depression can be made. "Get help when you've lost interest in activities, you're unable to work or think effectively, and you can't get along with people," he says. "And don't suffer silently when you're hurting."

He adds there's more to depression than deterioration of the quality of life. "It has to be treated aggressively before it causes structural changes in the brain."

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When the only connections in bed are wireless

In a recent survey, 37 percent of laptop owners said they “frequently” use the computer in the bedroom.
Patrick Sheandell O'carroll / Getty Images stock

We here at Sexploration have been struck by a small spate of recent news items and research reports that, if taken together, could indicate that we are spending big money to kill off our sex lives.

I am referring to our pricey technology, the kind of thing you are using right now to read these words. (If you are going to panic over this, kindly do so after finishing the column, please.)

This month, Solutions Research Group, an organization that provides data to high-tech companies and also conducts surveys of our technology habits, published a report called “Age of Disconnect Anxiety.”

It found that 25 million Americans now use a so-called smartphone like a BlackBerry or Treo, and that 63 percent of you smartphoniacs have used the thing while you are in the bathroom.

But as disturbing as the previous image may be, here’s the one that ought to make you worry: Thirty-seven percent of laptop owners say they “frequently” use the computer in the bedroom. In all, 68 percent of Americans say they feel a sense of anxiety when they are not jacked into the global mind grid of the Net. This anxiety was defined as “feelings of disorientation and nervousness experienced when a person is deprived of Internet or wireless access for a period of time.”

It’s tough to look forward to, or enjoy, sex if you are anxious, but here’s something to make cell phone addicts even more anxious. In the January issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility, a group of researchers from the Cleveland Clinic reported that “use of cell phones decrease the semen quality in men.” Men using a fertility clinic were divided into four groups, ranging from no cell phone use to using the things more than four hours per day. The longer the men used the cell phones, the less he-man their semen. Sperm count, motility (how well our boys swim), viability (how alive they are) and normal morphology (how handsome they are) were all compromised.

A year ago, a team at the Medical College of Wisconsin exposed rats to six hours of cell phone emissions for 18 weeks and found that the rats’ own emissions went haywire. Specifically, their sperm “exhibited a significantly higher incidence of sperm cell death than control group rats.” Alarmingly, “abnormal clumping of sperm cells was present in rats exposed to cellular phone emissions and was not present in control group rats.”

Abnormal clumping? The authors offered sage advice: “These results suggest that carrying cell phones near reproductive organs could negatively affect male fertility.” While it may be good advice to avoid carrying your cell phone in the pouch of your jock strap, it is also good advice not to use the thing for six hours a day, especially if you’re a rat.

The whole issue of electromagnetic fields and their effects on health is controversial, to say the least. Web sites can be found blaming them for everything from leukemia to autism, yet there is very little scientific evidence for most of the claims of harm. Still, abnormal clumping?

There are signs, though, that even if cell phone use were proven to cause some harm, we wouldn’t give them up. We like our technology too much. Some of us like our technology more than sex.

You've got mail — in bed
Also this month, a British study sponsored by the Sleep Council, the United Kingdom’s bed industry group, declared “Brits Swap Sex Drives for Hard Drives.” Eight of 10 people, it said, boot up a variety of high-tech gadgets before bedtime. Almost one-quarter of respondents said they left their cell phones or smartphones on — using them as alarm clocks. One in three sends or receives text messages or e-mails while in bed. Not surprisingly, the Sleep Council’s spokeswoman, Jessica Alexander (no relation that I know of) managed to connect tech addiction — and all that extra time in the sack e-mailing — to the need to buy expensive beds that are “regularly replaced.”

So why not replace it with the Starry Night bed? Starting in 2009, Leggett and Platt, a manufacturing company based in Carthage, Mo., will sell you the Starry Night equipped with 1.5 terabytes of hard drive storage (in case you really want to listen to 400,000 songs or watch 2,000 hours of video), a headboard with a 1080p projector, Internet connectivity and an RF remote linked to a Microsoft Media Center for the low, low price of $20,000 to $50,000. If the thought having sex in a Space Shuttle cockpit turns you on, you ought to be good to go.

On the other hand, if you think the Starry Night could be an example of misplaced priorities, you won’t get an argument from Marta Meana, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She studies sexual desire and also sees patients with low or no desire, including couples in “sexless” marriages.

“There are reasons to believe there is a link” to omnipresent technology, Meana says. “If we are feeling like we are multi-tasking a lot, and our attention is divided many ways, that is getting in the way of making quiet time to have sex and really focus on another human being … Unfortunately, we do not privilege sensuous activity and sexuality the way we should in our marriages.”

Plasma TVs more desirable than sex
Another survey was released recently by a UK electronics retailer that showed nearly half of British men would happily give up sex for six months in exchange for a free 50-inch plasma TV. Only about one-quarter of all respondents — men and women — said they would be willing to give up chocolate.

Let me repeat: About 25 percent said they would give up chocolate, meaning, presumably, that 75 percent would rather not miss out on a beloved Cadbury for six months than be given a 50-inch TV. But half of men said they’d willingly give up sex to get the TV.

It turns out, say some therapists, that TV watching itself dampens our sex lives. A couple of years ago, an Italian sexologist named Serenella Salomoni issued a report, based on the habits of 523 couples, stating that having a TV in the bedroom cut the rate of intercourse in half.

In another report, a year ago, Salomoni and other Italian experts studying 250 couples were alarmed to find that many Italians were watching nearly as much TV as Americans, the world’s TV-watching champions, and that all this viewing was driving a wedge between couples.

Last year, Japanese sleep scientists studied the influence of electronic media, including TV, computers and PDAs on more than 5,800 Japanese people. About half said they thought they were not getting enough sleep because they were up using the Internet or watching TV. As it turned out, the actual amount of sleep between users and non-users did not vary much, but users perceived a lack of sleep quality and sleep amount. This perception was aggravated on nights before work days.

If you think you’re tired and stressed, sex is not going to be a must-do item.

All this news may lead you to think that we are too busy, too tired, too distracted and too desirous of flat-screen TVs to have sex, and that even if we are having sex there’s an outside chance our gonads are so fried by our constant connectedness they’re making sperm look more like the Hunchback of Notre Dame than sleek cruise missiles.

Not so fast, says sexologist Bob Berkowitz, a co-author of the new book “He’s Just Not Up for It Anymore: Why Men Stop Having Sex, and What You Can Do About It.”

It is not so much that we are victims of the machines as it is that we often “allow ourselves to be distracted by technology. Whether it is computers or BlackBerries or TVs in the bedroom, sometimes I think we are choosing to be distracted. It’s almost like ‘Let’s watch TV so we do not have to talk.’”

Technology, Berkowitz points out, is neither good nor bad. As Sexploration has stated before, as in a recent column about connection in virtual worlds, there are ways technology can positively influence sex. “If you are connecting with a significant other via a cell pone or BlackBerry or laptop, that could be a good thing to do,” Berkowitz says.

True, we can be distracted by any number of things, like reading a book. There’s the old cliché of the man reading the sports page over breakfast and ignoring his wife. Plug “PDA” into that scenario and it doesn’t sound much different.

Yet we often feel beholden to our technology. This month’s Solutions Research Group survey found that 63 percent of Americans agree with the statement “I’m the kind of person who likes to be in touch all the time.”

One person quoted in the study’s summary told this story:

“A couple of years ago I was in Asia traveling around and my wife and I went to Cambodia and the area that we were in [had] NO ACCESS. So we went for four days and that was tough and when we got back to Hong Kong my wife knew I needed to sync up with my BlackBerry. So I am sitting on the train from the airport headed back to the city ... and I’ve got a flood, a flood of e-mails. And it’s just you are used to a certain type of access and efficiency so you can run your lifestyle the way you want to, then all of a sudden it’s been taken away — like someone taking away your driver's license.”

Wife. Exotic vacation. E-mail? This is why every gadget comes with an “off” button.

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Study finds teens don't really care about their hearing

Those darn kids -- they just don't listen! And soon, according to a report, they won't physically be able to listen. It seems that modern teens, with their cloaking jackets, space telephones, and telepathic headsets fail to obey the simplest tenet of leisure-time music enjoyment: keeping their iPod and Zune volumes at a semi-natural level. In focus-group discussions, researchers found that high school students in the Netherlands were aware of the potential hearing loss which can be caused by high volume listening, yet had no immediate plans to crank their jams at anything but 11. Typical of our misguided youth, the teens feel that they have a "low personal vulnerability" to hearing loss -- researchers also noted that they believed they were bulletproof, could fly, and would never, ever lose touch with people who signed their yearbook. The study's findings suggest that the answer to this problem may lie with manufacturers of hardware and solutions like volume caps or warning lights, rather than with the self-control of the end user.

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Adult Fun with Jell-O Shots


I’ve been making Jell-O shots for years. They are easy to make, deliver the right buzz, and don’t give you that bloated feeling. So after years of dixie cups and seeing all the new innovative “delivery systems”—heck one is even called suck and blow—I thought I’d look for a more adult solution and integrate them back into my party life. Granted this means I’m now old enough to entertain versus bang a few back and run for the club … although that’s fun too.

So the next time you want the fun of a Jell-O shot and want to serve them (instead of pop ’em), give this recipe a shot. Please add your variations. I first saw this done with an orange and branched out to melons and pineapples. A word to the wise—pineapples do not work. Apparently, pineapples contain a protein that breaks down the gelatin. I ended up with a nice infusion but no Jell-O.

Jell-O Preparation
One large packet (6 ounces) of Jell-O (pick flavor for color)
16 ounces boiling water
6 ounces cold water
10 ounces vodka

Simply pour Jell-O packet into large bowl and add boiling water. Once the mixture is completely dissolved, proceed with cold water and then vodka. Then I usually set it aside while I prep the fruit.

Fruit Preparation
Pick a fruit with a decent skin or rind. An orange has a supportive skin—an apple does not. Also think about the size of the fruit. A small melon is pushing it. So once you’ve chosen a suitable fruit, you will need to remove the meat or contents of the fruit. Be careful not to cut a hole straight through or you may have a leaky vessel. A little scotch tape will do if you are short on a replacement. Just make sure to remove before serving your final product.

Now that you have Jell-O mix and a gutted fruit, just fill them up. I highly recommend having them already placed in a walled dish so you don’t slosh them around. Once filled, place in the fridge for four hours. Alcohol can make the firming process of gelatin take longer. Keep this in mind if you start to up the proof of the alcohol. Here’s a table to help out if you’d like to go beyond basic vodka.

Caution—remember Jell-O hides the flavor of the alcohol. Do not assume they are light on alcohol. In fact, because the gelatin holds the alcohol versus just drinking liquid, the effect will be delayed. Even the most experienced drinkers have been caught off guard. So have fun and share your innovations.

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Hack the Moods Application


And I'm Supposed to Feel Sorry for You Because.....?

By Linda Keenan

Fourth in a Series: Victim 4

The current economic crisis has many victims, and one of them is the wall next to my couch, where I literally fling the paper or magazine in disgust as I read yet another sad-sack story of average people who have finally figured out they can't afford that vast manse on the hill, the tricked-out home theater, the his-n-her Hummers. My poor, abused wall, that Money Magazine really lands with a bracing thud.

So this is my own occasional series that I call "And I'm Supposed To Feel Sorry For You Because....?" in which I pluck a tale from the news, and fricassee the latest "victim"* of the great overspending horror show. If I sound like a lemon-sucking shrew, well, on this topic, I am. And this time, we go global.

Today's Victim: The British! Some U.K. debt-heads were featured recently in the New York Times**. My commentary is written all in Britishisms, and as an incorrigible yob from America, do be a luv, and correct my phraseology if you are, actually, British.

Debt-Gorged British Start to Worry That the Party Is Ending

At one point, Alexis Hall had more than 50 pairs of designer shoes and handbags. {"Wot, you think I'm going to fanny about looking like some slag like Amy Winehouse? Take a running jump!"} It never occurred to the 39-year-old media relations executive from Glasgow that her £31,500 in debt ($63,000) would be a problem.

"It was so easy to get the loans and the credit that you almost think the goods are a gift from the shop," {Brill, Lexi, just brill.} "You don't fully realize that it's real money you are spending until you actually sit down and consolidate your bills and then it's a shock." {Whingy cow. Chuffed as nuts to see she's gob-smacked by her bills. Finally.}

As the United States economy weakens, many Americans are being overwhelmed by personal debt, but Britons are even more profligate. {"Worse than those ghastly, tubby chavs in the States? You're daft."} For most of the last decade, consumers here went on a debt-financed spending spree that made them the most indebted rich nation in the world...{Queue up for the dole here, Brits.}

Since many younger Britons have never lived through a period of slow growth, few now see the need to hold back on borrowing, not to mention saving. {I'm knackered just reading this.} "The general mantra is spend now, think later," said Jason Butler, an adviser at Bloomsbury Financial Planning. {"Yep, everything's just tickety-boo. Nothing to throw a benny about."}

To her parent's generation, Ms. Hall said, owing money beyond a mortgage was "shameful," an admission of living beyond one's means. {"Mum was tight as a duck's arse. And for feck's sake, her outfits are sooo antwacky".} Debt was also more difficult to get. That changed in the late 1990s when American lenders pushed into the British market with new lending products, borrowers bombarded with offers for low- or no-interest loans and credit cards. {"We give you Americans Hugh Laurie, and what do we get back? Your shite lending practices?"} As the perception of wealth grew, the social stigma around debt disappeared. {"Debt? Stigma? Oh, bollocks, Man U's on, and I fancy some footy and pints."}

Andy Davie is a case in point. Even after he had racked up £70,000 in personal debt trying to keep his business afloat, credit card issuers kept increasing his credit limits. {"Pardon, where's the loo? I'm getting the screaming abdabs. Need to vom."} "You tend to use credit to pay for credit and as far as the banks are concerned you are fine," said Mr. Davie, 41. {His wife has a shirt that says "I'm With Wanker".} He was finally forced to declare bankruptcy. {"Had a good cry on Primrose Hill after that, and lost my knickers, my actual knickers, but that's another story".}

Though still painful, the process made the prospect of defaulting slightly less daunting. "Rather than showing up at court you just fill in an online form and speak to someone on the phone," said Mark Sands, director of personal insolvency at KPMG . {"No more bother than picking up crisps at Tesco!"}

According to a survey ... less than half the population saves regularly, and more than 39 percent said they would rather enjoy a good standard of living today than save for retirement. {"Saving is just tit-boring, it must be said."} Ms. Hall said she was among that 39 percent. {Abso-bloody-lutely.} She recently took out new loans, planning to repay her existing debt. But she ended up spending the money on more luxury goods instead. {This twonk is one sandwich short of a picnic.}

This year, she published a book about her experiences. She said she did not expect the book's proceeds to repay her debts, but it may help the growing number of people in similar positions cope with theirs. {Aces, Lexi. That just takes the biscuit.}

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Thieves Leave Cars, but Take Catalytic Converters

Jorge Duarte, a Car-X employee in Chicago, prepared Thursday to remove an old catalytic converter for replacement on a Pontiac.

CHICAGO — Jose Fernandez said he decided some time ago that on his salary as a restaurant worker, he was better off without his 1996 Toyota 4Runner. He hoped to make a nice bit of cash from its sale.

Skip to next paragraph
Joshua Lott for The New York Times

A thief can sell a stolen catalytic converter to a scrap yard for a couple of hundred dollars. The honeycomb filter inside contains platinum traces.

Before he could do that, though, someone beat him to extracting value: A thief sneaked under the sport utility vehicle with a battery-powered saw, slicing from the Toyota’s underbelly what may be one of the most expensive small parts of the auto world: the catalytic converter, an essential emissions-control device made with small amounts of metals more precious than gold. Who knew? Mr. Fernandez didn’t.

Inside the lobby of the New Windy City Mufflers and Brakes shop, Mr. Fernandez said he had heard a rumor that catalytic converters had suddenly become the rage on the black market here, but he did not believe it until his went missing on a well-lighted North Side street.

Theft of scrap metals like copper and aluminum has been common here and across the country for years, fueled by rising construction costs and the building boom in China. But now thieves have found an easy payday from the upper echelon of the periodic table. It seems there may not be an easier place to score some platinum than under the hood of a car.

“This morning I woke up and walked out, turned the key and there was a noise like this,” Mr. Fernandez said, grumbling the trainlike roar that cars make when they are missing their converters. “And now to fix it, I don’t want to spend the money because it’s really expensive.”

The price of gold recently hit record highs, crossing the $1,000-an-ounce mark before retreating a bit. Less well publicized has been the fate of the even-more-rarefied metals platinum, palladium and rhodium, with platinum hitting recent record highs of more than $2,300 an ounce. People who may have thought their lives had nothing to do with the booming commodities market are finding out the hard way where their connection is — in their car’s exhaust system.

The catalytic converter is made with trace amounts of platinum, palladium and rhodium, which speed chemical reactions and help clean emissions at very high temperatures. Selling stolen converters to scrap yards or recyclers, a thief can net a couple of hundred dollars apiece.

Exactly how much depends on the size of the car and its converter. But even a little bit is worth a lot. Converter thefts are the quickie crime du jour, not only in Chicago, where workers in auto body shops and other experts say it is increasingly a nuisance, but anywhere cars are, which is to say basically everywhere.

“These are definitely occurring more than they have in recent memory, and why that is is definitely tied to the price of precious metals within converters,” said Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Replacement converters usually start around $450. “When you start getting into the larger S.U.V.’s, it’s $1,000-plus,” said Don Tommasone, owner of Village Automotive, a car care center just outside the city. “The larger the catalytic, the more platinum. That’s the ones they’re stealing. It’s also easier to crawl underneath them. They don’t need to jack up the vehicle, they just saw it right off.”

This month in Memphis, 140 children were stuck at their day care center after thieves stole the catalytic converters from the center’s two vans. Recently in Columbus, Ohio, 25 cars in one parking lot were vandalized for their catalytic converters. And several states are working on legislation to make it harder to resell what up to now was a part little known outside the world of auto enthusiasts and mechanics.

Because stealing a converter does not involve actually breaking into a car, it often goes undetected. Alarms and other precautions, like parking in a well-lighted area, are scant defenses.

Last year in Minnesota, someone broke into the Ramsey Police Department’s impound lot and took 19 catalytic converters off the vehicles there, a spokeswoman said. The Star Tribune in Minneapolis ran this headline about the break-in: “Thieves Show How Low They’ll Go.”

Jim Lyon lives opposite a police station in the Chicago suburb of Westmont, and can see his Jeep Cherokee from his window. Still, someone got him. “They’ll probably get 150 bucks for two minutes’ work. Not bad!” Mr. Lyon said. “As soon as I realized there was precious metal inside, I knew what they were looking for.”

Legs sticking out from under a car were a tip-off this year for the Chicago police, who said they spotted a man in the Lakeview neighborhood just before he slithered from under the car and discarded a power saw along the curb. The man and three accomplices were charged with burglary and possession of burglary tools.

“When will this stop?” wondered Chris McGoey, an auto theft expert. “When they’re not worth anything any more.”

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Top 20 Most Dangerous Vehicles


Hoping to stay safe on the road? You might want to avoid certain cars.

For example, the Nissan (nasdaq: NSANY - news - people ) 350Z has a death rate that's about double that of the average sports car.

But it's not for the reasons you might think. In this case, says Russ Rader, communications director for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an organization that represents the interests of the insurance industry, the 350Z is part of a group of vehicles that tends to be driven by younger, less experienced or riskier drivers, and stands out for having high death rates, through no particular fault of the car.

In Pictures: Top 20 Most Dangerous Vehicles

"When they are in crashes," he adds, "they're particularly serious ones."

This illustrates a key point: Simply looking at the historical death rates for one particular model might not give much insight into the relative danger, or safety, of driving that vehicle. Furthermore, the most recent available federal data, interpreted by make and model by the IIHS, covers 2001 to 2004 model years in calendar years 2002 to 2005. Many models have had significant changes in safety equipment or complete redesigns since then.

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The consensus among several safety experts we asked is that the best way to predict how dangerous or safe a new vehicle will be comes from looking at the way it's configured, particularly with respect to several important factors--side-impact protection, stability control and rollover risk--that together span a wide range in real-world safety.

That's what we did. Topping the list of the least safe: the Buick Rendezvous, the Ford Ranger/Mazda B-Series, the Nissan Frontier, the Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner and the Toyota Yaris.

High-Priority Protection
Among the various crash tests the IIHS performs on new vehicles, according to Rader, they see the widest range of results in those with side-impact and rear whiplash protection.

"What makes a vehicle unsafe today is a lack of side-impact protection," he says. "Whiplash is not a life-threatening injury but head injuries [from a side impact] are commonly life-threatening."

Side-curtain airbags have been shown to greatly increase the chances of surviving a classic "T-bone" side-impact accident, such as when the other vehicle runs a stoplight, and depending on the design, they can also increase the chances of surviving a rollover. Side-curtain bags are mandated for all 2009 vehicles, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that these alone will reduce fatal side-impact head injuries by 45%, saving up to 1,000 lives per year.

"Side airbags designed to protect your head are crucial, because a head injury is the most common fatal injury in a crash," says Rader. "It's the difference between life and death."

Structurally Sound
Along with side airbags, a vehicle also needs a well-built side structure to withstand a strong blow from vehicles of varying heights, says Rader.

Which leads to another major point: "Size and weight are very important aspects of safety," he says. "The laws of physics always apply in a crash. That means that people in smaller and lighter vehicles are always at a disadvantage in crashes with other vehicles."

In single-vehicle crashes, the weight advantage isn't as pronounced, but the statistics still point in favor of larger, if not heavier vehicles, he says.

However, John Linkov, managing editor of Consumer Reports, says that smaller and lighter vehicles aren't necessarily more dangerous. In many cases, they may offer handling and maneuverability advantages to help avoid accidents.

Behind The Numbers
Find out how we compiled our list.

"A more nimble, better-handling vehicle," he says, "is likely going to be easier to control in an emergency and help the driver avoid the dangerous situation."

While generally heavier SUVs and pickups are at an advantage in multi-vehicle accidents, they've been shown to be at quite a disadvantage in single-vehicle accidents (such as when the driver falls asleep, or loses control swerving around a deer), which comprise 43% of fatal accidents.

In this type of accident, SUVs and pickups have more than double the chance of rolling over, according to NHTSA data. This risk relates closely to overall federal fatality data, showing that SUVs and pickups generally have a higher fatality rate than cars of a similar weight.

Corrective Measures
Electronic stability control systems, which smartly apply the brakes on one or more of the wheels as best to avoid loss of vehicle control in an extreme maneuver, have been offered for more than a decade in some luxury and high-performance vehicles, but the technology has been trickling down to most mainline brands over the past several model years.

NHTSA has called it the most significant development since the seatbelt, and the federal government has mandated electronic stability control, but not until the 2012 model year. NHTSA estimates that the stability-control mandate will prevent up to 9,600 fatalities and 238,000 injuries annually, at an average cost of $111 per vehicle in addition to the cost of anti-lock brakes, which most vehicles already offer as standard equipment or as an option.

"Electronic stability control is one of those rare safety features that's having a dramatic effect on saving lives," says Rader. "Stability control alone can reduce the risk of fatal single-vehicle crashes by 56%. And it can reduce fatal single-vehicle rollovers by 80% for SUVs, 77% for passenger cars."

How did automakers react to our findings?
Click here for a rundown.

Even though stability control was only offered in some of the more expensive sport-utility vehicles a few years ago, Rader says that its impact is already easily seen in the Institute's yearly list of vehicles with the lowest death rates. Rader said that in the past, only a few of them were SUVs, but now they make up nearly half of the list.

Terrifying Trucks
Pickups are another surprisingly unsafe group of vehicles. Based on fatality-rate data, they're by far the most dangerous, says Michael Dulberger, president of the safety advocacy group Informed for Life.

"Pickups as a class have the highest rate of fatality and serious injury," he says, "and they have a very high rollover risk."

Rader agrees. "Pickups have a rollover problem," he says. "They have a high center of gravity and a high propensity to roll over." And making matters worse, "They're the laggards in electronic-stability control," he says.

Last year, only one pickup model offered electronic stability control, according to Rader, while this year it's standard on 8% of models and optional on 20%. By comparison, 87% of sport-utility vehicles now have standard stability control, according to the Institute.

Linkov agrees that some pickups pose the most danger to inexperienced drivers. "What we're seeing is that young people in places where pickups are a de facto choice are at an especially strong risk, with their propensity to roll over," he says.

Any vehicle can be especially unsafe if it's used in a way it's not designed for, such as if a high-clearance pickup is used primarily empty on curvy, hilly roads, according to Linkov.

"Combine that with a poorly trained driver," he says, "and it's dangerous."

he Methodology
As we've outlined, generalized fatality statistics point toward today's most dangerous new vehicles as those that are light, don't provide proper side-impact protection (airbags), have a higher propensity to roll over, don't handle particularly well and lack electronic-stability control.

Informed for Life releases SCORE (Statistical Combination of Risk Elements) data each year, which combine all the available safety data from the federal government and the IIHS, along with the role of weight and the presence of stability control, into a single number for each particular model, making it easier to compare vehicles of varying sizes or body types.

The SCORE is calculated according to the role that each element plays in general fatal accidents. For instance, as about 26% of national accident fatalities occur in a side impact, 26% of the SCORE depends on the vehicle's rated side-impact protection.

The system, which has been implemented for about five years, more closely matches the fatality rate on a model-by-model basis than either IIHS or NHTSA ratings alone. And it's easy to decipher; it's on a scale that's proportional to risk, with the average passenger car ranked 100.

So, for instance, a SCORE of 150 means that the relative risk of driver fatality is 50% higher than for the average passenger car. In the group's 2007 list, the most dangerous vehicle, the Buick Rendezvous, at 161, has more than three times the relative risk of fatality than the Hyundai Entourage and Kia Sedona minivans, at 51.

To distill our list of the most dangerous vehicles, we looked at Informed for Life's bottom-of-the-heap results for 2007 model-year vehicles, including vehicles with a full range of crash-test results from NHTSA, the IIHS, or a combination of the two; and to also consider the role of accident avoidance (or lack thereof), we broke any ties with Consumer Reports' accident avoidance scores.

CR first measures the vehicle's maximum stable speed through emergency handling, essentially simulating a quick swerve around an obstacle and back into the right lane, then factors in driving position, visibility and seat comfort--all issues that the organization deems important in successfully avoiding an accident.

We're aware that this is a snapshot of the most dangerous cars among those that have been extensively tested, and that there may be more dangerous vehicles that either haven't yet been fully crash-tested or were only partially tested. Please consult www.safercar.gov or www.iihs.org if you're concerned about a particular model.

How Carmakers Reacted
Automakers were generally supportive of a methodology that looked for the safest--or in this case, the least safe--vehicles through a composite assessment of existing crash-test results, and considering side-impact protection and rollover likelihood, instead of looking at prior model-by-model fatality or injury data.

GM
Alan Adler, GM's safety spokesman, confirms that it's important to look at a wide range of information. "You've identified two technologies [side airbags and stability control] that are important, and we have rollout plans for both," says Adler.

More than 40% of GM's light trucks now have side-curtain airbags that allow head protection even in rollovers. Stability control is offered in 35% of GM vehicles for 2007, and the percentage rises to about 50% for 2008, according to Adler. Regarding SUVs and pickups, Adler says that "rollover is a big deal" to the company, which now does its own rollover safety testing.

To shoppers who might wonder why stability control isn't yet installed in more vehicles, GM's Adler says, "It isn't something you can slap on a vehicle," and explains that the automaker has been working to install it across the board ever since the agencies have revealed its importance. "It's a major engineering change to the vehicle."

Toyota
Toyota spokesman Bill Kwong questions the correlation between weight and safety; he says that Toyota has been incorporating more high-strength steel, which improves crash resistance yet saves weight, though again, at a higher cost to the automaker.

Kwong said that side-impact airbags are now available on all Toyota cars. They're optional on the Corolla, along with the Yaris and Matrix, two cars that ranked among the least-safe vehicles, according to our methodology, without the option.

"Those models are more price sensitive," especially the Yaris, which is why the side bags are optional, according to Kwong. He adds that dealerships are told to inform shoppers of the benefits of the Yaris's side airbag system.

Ford
Several Ford Motor (nyse: F - news - people ) vehicles were on our Most Dangerous list, but the company's safety spokesman, Daniel Jarvis, explains that these are all products near the end of their product lifecycle and not representative of the rest of Ford's model lineup.

Jarvis said the company places a strong emphasis on safety. Several of the vehicles that place highest in crash tests are from Ford, and the company has aggressive programs in place to install side airbags and stability control across its entire fleet.

"By the end of calendar year 2009, all retail vehicles will have stability control," says Jarvis; that would be nearly three years ahead of the federal mandate. Ford has also made an enhanced version, called Roll Stability Control, aimed to prevent the likelihood of rollover, standard on its larger Expedition and Explorer SUVs, and the company is adding the system to the smaller Escape sport-utility for the '08 model year.

Jarvis suggests there are a number of reasons why pickups have been among the last to get stability control, but one is that they come in such a wide range of powertrains and configurations, and each one of them needs to be engineered individually. "Complexity is one factor," he says.

Nissan
"Nissan has not had the opportunity to fully understand the methodology that went into this listing," says Jeannine Ginivan, a spokeswoman for Nissan. "That being said, Nissan takes its commitment to safety very seriously.

"All Nissan and Infiniti vehicles are engineered to meet or exceed government safety regulations as well as our own rigorous internal safety requirements--the Nissan Xterra and the Nissan Frontier are no exceptions. Nissan's electronic stability control feature, known as Vehicle Dynamic Control, is standard on the Xterra and currently an option on the Frontier. Rollover curtain airbags are also optional on both vehicles.

"As a company, we are committed to the safety of our vehicles and our drivers, and we urge everyone driving a Nissan or Infiniti vehicle to do so safely."

Suzuki
"At Suzuki, we place the utmost priority on manufacturing and selling safe vehicles, and both Forenza and Reno comply with all federal motor-vehicle safety standards," says David Boldt, communications manager. "Additionally, like all 2007 Suzuki passenger cars, the Forenza and Reno offer front-seat-mounted side airbags for both driver and passenger, as well as several layers of standard safety equipment.

"It's also important to note the active safety benefits provided by Forenza and Reno, with composed handling (four-wheel independent suspension), precise steering and four-wheel disc braking. Add excellent outward visibility for driver and passengers, and Suzuki's approach is to help the driver avoid an accident before it occurs."

Honda, Hyundai and Kia did not return calls for comment.

Original here

Sacha Baron Cohen's Bruno Nails Ben Affleck

So it appears as if Sacha Baron Cohen is still causing quite the mess here in the United States as his alter-ego Brüno; getting kicked out of airports, showing up to an Easter play at a church in Kansas wearing chains, and the list goes on. First off, for those not familiar with Brüno, he's a gay Austrian fashion reporter who's wildly flamboyant in every way. The film, which marks Cohen's follow-up to Borat, will be called (deep breath) ... Brüno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt. Needless to say, I cannot wait to hear my local news coughing up that title when it comes time for the weekend box office figures.

But back to Ben Affleck. Seems Mike Walker from the National Enquirer called into Howard Stern last week saying that Affleck called friend Sarah Silverman following an interview with Brüno. Affleck was told Brüno was a "very famous openly gay fashion journalist," but that didn't stop Ben from admitting it was "the weirdest sit-down he has ever had with a reporter." Eventually, Silverman coughed up his name and only then did Ben realize he'd been had. Part of me doesn't believe this at all, because I can only imagine the hoops one would need to jump through in order to get an actual sit-down interview with Ben Affleck. Then again, perhaps Cohen's crew have perfected their little joke by now. Either way, I'm sure Affleck will be making an appearance in the film.

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11 "Don't-Tell-the-Wife" Secrets All Men Keep

I was in the ninth grade when I learned a vital lesson about love. My girlfriend at the time, Amy, was stunningly cute, frighteningly smart and armed with a seemingly endless supply of form-fitting angora sweaters. And me? Let's just say I was an adolescent Chris Robinson to her budding Kate Hudson -- and well aware of my good fortune.

Then one day, as we stood in line for a movie at the mall, Simone Shaw, junior high prom queen, sauntered by. Suddenly Amy turned to me. "Were you looking at her?" she asked. "Do you think she's pretty?"

My mind reeled. Of course I was looking at her! Of course she was pretty! My God, she was Simone Shaw! I paused for a second, then decided to play it straight.

"Well, yeah," I chortled.

Five days later our breakup hit the tabloids (a.k.a. the lunchroom).

There comes a time in every man's life when he discovers the value of hiding the grosser parts of his nature. He starts reciting the sweet nothings you long to hear: "No, honey, I play golf for the exercise." "No, honey, I think you're a great driver." "No, honey, I wasn't looking at that coed washing the car in the rain."

We're not lying, exactly. We're just making things...easier. But Glenn Good, Ph.D., a relationship counselor, disagrees, and maybe he has a point. "These white lies are pretty innocent, but they can turn confusing," he says. "Many women think, If he's lying about himself, is he also lying about something else? Is he having an affair? To establish trust you have to tell the truth about the innocuous stuff."

And so, in the interest of uniting the sexes, we've scoured the country for guys willing to share the private truths they wouldn't normally confess. Some are a bit crass. Some you've always suspected. Some are surprisingly sweet. (Guys don't like to reveal the mushy stuff, either.) But read on, and you may discover that the truth about men isn't all that ugly.

Secret #1: Yes, we fall in lust 10 times a day -- but it doesn't mean we want to leave you

If the oldest question in history is "What's for dinner?" the second oldest is "Were you looking at her?" The answer: Yes -- yes, we were. If you're sure your man doesn't look, it only means he possesses acute peripheral vision.

"When a woman walks by, even if I'm with my girlfriend, my vision picks it up," says Doug LaFlamme, 28, of Laguna Hills, California. "I fight the urge to look, but I just have to. I'm really in trouble if the woman walking by has a low-cut top on."

Granted, we men are well aware that our sizing up the produce doesn't sit well with you, given that we've already gone through the checkout line together. But our passing glances pose no threat.

"It's not that I want to make a move on her," says LaFlamme. "Looking at other women is like a radar that just won't turn off."

Secret #2: We actually do play golf to get away from you

More than 21 million American men play at least one round of golf a year; of those, an astounding 75 percent regularly shoot worse than 90 strokes a round. In other words, they stink. The point is this: "Going golfing" is not really about golf. It's about you, the house, the kids -- and the absence thereof.

"I certainly don't play because I find it relaxing and enjoyable," admits Roland Buckingham, 32, of Lewes, Delaware, whose usual golf score of 105 is a far-from-soothing figure. "As a matter of fact, sometimes by the fourth hole I wish I were back at the house with the kids screaming. But any time I leave the house and don't invite my wife or kids -- whether it's for golf or bowling or picking up roadkill -- I'm just getting away."

Secret #3: We're unnerved by the notion of commitment, even after we've made one to you

This is a dicey one, so first things first: We love you to death. We think you're fantastic. Most of the time we're absolutely thrilled that we've made a lifelong vow of fidelity to you in front of our families, our friends and an expensive videographer.

But most of us didn't spend our formative years thinking, "Gosh, I just can't wait to settle down with a nice girl so we can grow old together." Instead we were obsessed with how many women who resembled Britney Spears we could have sex with before we turned 30. Generally it takes us a few years (or decades) to fully perish that thought.

Secret #4: Earning money makes us feel important

In more than 7.4 million U.S. marriages, the wife earns more than the husband -- almost double the number in 1981. This of course is a terrific development for women in the workplace and warmly embraced by all American men, right? Right?

Yeah, well, that's what we tell you. But we're shallow, competitive egomaniacs. You don't think it gets under our skin if our woman's bringing home more bacon than we are -- and frying it up in a pan?

"My wife and I are both reporters at the same newspaper," says Jeffrey Newton, 33, of Fayetteville, South Carolina. "Five years into our marriage I still check her pay stub to see how much more an hour I make than she does. And because she works harder, she keeps closing the gap."

Secret #5: Though we often protest, we actually enjoy fixing things around the house

I risk being shunned at the local bar if this magazine finds its way there, because few charades are as beloved by guys as this one. To hear us talk, the Bataan Death March beats grouting that bathroom shower. And, as 30-year-old Ed Powers of Chicago admits, it's a shameless lie. "In truth, it's rewarding to tinker with and fix something that, without us, would remain broken forever," he says. Plus we get to use tools.

"The reason we don't share this information," Powers adds, "is that most women don't differentiate between taking out the trash and fixing that broken hinge; to them, both are tasks we need to get done over the weekend, preferably during the Bears game. But we want the use-your-hands, think-about-the-steps-in-the-process, home-repair opportunity, not the repetitive, no-possibility-of-a-compliment, mind-dulling, purely physical task." There. Secret's out.

Secret #6: We like it when you mother us, but we're terrified that you'll become your mother

With apologies to Sigmund Freud, Gloria Steinem -- and my mother-in-law.

Secret #7: Every year we love you more

Sure, we look like adults. We own a few suits. We can probably order wine without giggling. But although we resemble our father when he was our age, we still feel like that 4-year-old clutching his pant leg.

With that much room left on our emotional-growth charts, we sense we've only begun to admire you in the ways we will when we're 40, 50 and -- God forbid -- 60. We can't explain this to you, because it would probably come out sounding like we don't love you now.

"It took at least a year before I really started to appreciate my wife for something other than just great sex; and I didn't discover her mind fully until the third year we were married," says Newton. "But the older and wiser I get, the more I love my wife." Adds J.P. Neal, 32, of Potomac, Maryland: "The for-richer-or-poorer, for-better-or-worse aspects of marriage don't hit you right away. It's only during those rare times when we take stock of our life that it starts to sink in."

Secret #8: We don't really understand what you're talking about

You know how, during the day, you sometimes think about certain deep, complex "issues" in your relationship? Then when you get home, you want to "discuss" these issues? And during these "discussions," your man sits there nodding and saying things like "Sure, I understand," "That makes perfect sense" and "I'll do better next time"?

Well, we don't understand. It doesn't make any sense to us at all. And although we'd like to do better next time, we could only do so if, in fact, we had an idea of what you're talking about.

We do care. Just be aware that the part of our brain that processes this stuff is where we store sports trivia.

Secret #9: We are terrified when you drive

Want to know how to reduce your big, tough guy to a quivering mass of fear? Ask him for the car keys.

"I am scared to death when she drives," says LaFlamme.

"Every time I ride with her, I fully accept that I may die at any moment," says Buckingham.

"My wife has about one 'car panic' story a week -- and it's never her fault. All these horrible things just keep happening -- it must be her bad luck," says Andy Beshuk, 31, of Jefferson City, Missouri.

Even if your man is too diplomatic to tell you, he is terrified that you will turn him into a crash-test dummy.

Secret #10: We'll always wish we were 25 again

Granted, when I was 25 I was working 16-hour days and eating shrimp-flavored Ramen noodles six times a week. But as much as we love being with you now, we will always look back fondly on the malnourished freedom of our misguided youth. "Springsteen concerts, the '91 Mets, the Clinton presidency -- most guys reminisce about the days when life was good, easy and free of responsibility," says Rob Aronson, 41, of Livingston, New Jersey, who's been married for 11 years. "At 25 you can get away with things you just can't get away with at 40."

While it doesn't mean we're leaving you to join a rock band, it does explain why we occasionally come home from Pep Boys with a leather steering-wheel cover and a Born to Run CD.

Secret #11: Give us an inch and we'll give you a lifetime

I was on a trip to Mexico, standing on a beach, waxing my surfboard and admiring the glistening 10-foot waves, when I decided to marry the woman who is now my wife. Sure, this was three years before I got around to popping the question. But that was when I knew.

Why? Because she'd let me go on vacation alone. Hell, she made me go. This is the most important thing a man never told you: If you let us be dumb guys, if you embrace our stupid poker night, if you encourage us to go surfing -- by ourselves -- our silly little hearts, with their manly warts and all, will embrace you forever for it.

And that's the truth.

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