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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Five ways to make blind dating fun
By Debbie Magids, Ph.D.

Dating can be hard. Some people even say it feels like a second job and that each date can feel like a job interview, or a chore, if you’re the one asking all of the questions. It can be tough to keep going out, time and time again, with people you are not attracted to or those who find attractive, but don’t call for a second date.

What to do? A Blind Dating Makeover. Make a strategic plan for having fun:
1. Readjust your thinking. Instead of viewing your outing as yet another date, make it into an adventure. The night has to be open to possibilities. You'll be amazed at how changing your thoughts helps to change how you feel about a situation. Give the guy/gal a chance, even if they’re boring. Sometimes, still waters run deep. You just never know. Like an old sweatshirt, at times, you just have to let things grow on you.

2. Do an external makeover. Go out feeling great about yourself, really attractive, smart and sexy. Buy a new outfit. Get your hair cut. Get you nails done. Trim your beard or shave your legs. Do whatever it takes to make yourself feel attractive from the outside in.

3. Do an internal makeover. Change how you feel from the inside, as well. Remember, if you're boring, the date will be boring. If you're fun, the date will be fun. It doesn't guarantee a connection, but it does mean it won't be another depressing night.

4. Have an exciting, "palatable" experience. Go to restaurants you've never tried before. Eat foods you never tried. Drink drinks you never tasted. Indulge in dessert. Those things will give you pleasure and something to talk about with your date.

5. Try an activity you've never tried before or haven't wanted to do alone. Go hiking, skating, or something that's fun, regardless of the company.
Remember, you only get one life. If part of yours is looking for a mate, try enjoying the process. It’s what life is all about. Then, no matter what, you win!

How gory is that game?
By David Becker
Staff Writer, CNET

A coalition of religious and family groups criticized video game makers Tuesday for creating products that allegedly glorify murder and hate crimes--and slammed retailers for selling such games to minors.

A group led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, an investor advocacy group, released its list of the 10 most violent games as a warning to parents about to set out on holiday shopping expeditions.

"Unwary parents and grandparents need to know there are certain violent games that should be off-limits to children," said Sister Pat Wolf, executive director of ICCR, singling out games such as "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" that reward players for killing and looting characters. "These are the kind of values a serial killer might embrace," she said.

Aside from "Grand Theft," the list includes recent best-sellers such as "Halo 2," "Doom 3" and "Half Life 2." The report also singled out "America's Army," a free game distributed by the U.S. Army as a recruiting tool. Wolf criticized it for being available to users regardless of age.

"JFK Reloaded," a controversial new game that re-enacts the assassination of John F. Kennedy, came out too late to make the list but attracted comments during a Tuesday ICCR press conference to promote the report. New York City Councilman Eric Gioia said the game is an extreme example of what's wrong with the game industry. "I couldn't believe someone would choose to make money on something as scarring to the American psyche as this," Gioia said.

The report goes on to criticize the ratings system devised by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to label potentially objectionable games, saying the system is too vague and enforced haphazardly at best by retailers.

Gioia said his own research showed retailers made no efforts to prevent preteens from buying games rated "M" (intended for players 17 and older) in the vast majority of cases. "An investigation I conducted last year showed a minor could walk into almost any store selling video games in New York City and purchase them without difficulty," he said.

Retail trade group the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association said in a statement that retailers are committed to enforcing ESRB ratings and are demanding identification from young buyers. "It is our belief that it is quite simply too early to assign a grade to the retailers' enforcement policies," the IEMA said in a statement, "but that if a grade need be assigned out of habitual ritual, nothing less than an 'A' is worthy of their collective efforts over the past 11 months."

Contributors to the report also criticized the ESRB ratings themselves, saying they're too vague and are mainly intended to shield game makers from criticism. "Adults need to understand game makers and retailers simply are not on their side," Wolf said.

The ESRB released a report Monday highlighting a self-commissioned survey that found more than 80 percent of parents considered the group's ratings appropriate and helpful. "As confirmed by the study just completed, the ESRB rating system is an extremely effective tool for the millions of consumers who rely on it as they shop for entertainment software for their families," Patricia E. Vance, president of the ESRB, said in a statement.

Other groups contributing to the violent-games list went further, calling on retailers to apply the same criteria to games they apply to other media. Dr. Martha Burk, president of the Center for Advancement of Public Policy, noted that leading retailer Wal-Mart bans sexually explicit magazines and CDs but continues to sell "Grand Theft Auto" games.

"The retailers have standards for other products," Burk said. "Would Wal-Mart sell a board game where a player has to have sex with a prostitute to move forward four spaces and then kill her to move forward another six spaces? I don't think so."

Are You Annoying at Work?
Kate Lorenz,

Every office has at least one jerk, pest or loudmouth who drives the rest of the workers crazy. Could it be you? Take this quiz to find out how annoying you might be:

How many of these statements describe you?

1) You make provocative statements to "foster dialogue" or needle others.

2) You often find yourself delivering a discourse consisting solely of buzzwords and catch phrases.

3) You make up nicknames for all of your coworkers and refer to them only by these names. (e.g. "Good job, Chachi!", "I'm going to have to disagree with you there, T-bone!")

4) Your office is completely decorated in your children's pictures and artwork.

5) You have plastered your cubicle with photos of yourself taken with famous people.

6) It is your trademark to recite rhyming or other cutesy messages as your voicemail greeting.

7) The questions you ask at meetings are preceded by long monologues of your views and accomplishments.

8) You routinely eat odiferous lunches at your desk.

9) You bring in dishes that you tried to cook, but didn't turn out quite right as "special treats" for your coworkers.

10) People seem tense -- even panic-stricken -- when they see you coming their way.

11) Others back away from you as you speak.

12) You send flurries of e-mails to the rest of the company telling them what you are doing. (e.g. "If anyone needs me, I'll be in the bathroom.")

13) You vigorously chew or pop your gum.

14) You wear strong perfume or cologne.

15) You assume your coworkers are fascinated by your personal problems and exploits.

16) You interrupt others while they are speaking or are deep in conversation.

17) You are moody and don't care who knows it.

18) You often give others assignments as they're walking out the door for lunch or to catch the train home.

19) You borrow staplers, scissors and tape from others' desks and forget to return them.

20) Your dialogue with others often end with the other person shouting "You are so annoying!"

If you only counted one or two, not to worry, you can quickly make changes before you're labeled a pest.

If your actions match three to five of these statements, take heed. You are on your way to becoming the source of many an eye roll.

If you do six or more of these on a regular basis, chances are you are already on the office watch list and have been anointed by your coworkers as annoying. It's time to do a reality check and make some changes.

Ask your boss and colleagues for feedback, and be ready to listen. If what you hear doesn't fit your self-image, ask them to help you understand what they are saying by giving examples. You might say: "Tell me more about what I do that leads you to believe that." Then listen, without arguing, defending or justifying your actions.

Remember, there are countless ways to aggravate coworkers -- you can even annoy them by trying too hard to please or being too nice! As long as you avoid the aforementioned behaviors, use your energy for the good of the organization and treat others as you would like to be treated, you should be all right.

And remember, it's perfectly okay to annoy others sparingly. It reminds them that you still exist!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Bush Pulls Top Bodyguard From Scuffle
2 hours, 35 minutes ago White House - AP

SANTIAGO, Chile - President Bush (news - web sites) stepped into the middle of a confrontation and pulled his lead Secret Service agent away from Chilean security officials who barred his bodyguards from entering an elegant dinner for 21 world leaders Saturday night.

Several Chilean and American agents got into a pushing and shoving match outside the cultural center where the dinner was held. The incident happened after Bush and his wife, Laura, had just posed for pictures on a red carpet with the host of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (news - web sites) summit, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and his wife, Luisa Duran.

As Bush stepped inside, Chilean agents closed ranks at the door, blocking the president's agents from following. Stopping for more pictures, Bush noticed the fracas and turned back. He reached through the dispute and pulled his agent from the scrum and into the building.

The president, looking irritated, straightened his shirt cuffs as he went into the dinner. The incident was shown on APEC (news - web sites) television.

"Chilean security tried to stop the president's Secret Service from accompanying him," said White House deputy press secretary Claire Buchan. "He told them they were with him and the issue was resolved."

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Britney Spears
The pop tart in winter.
By Adam Sternbergh

A few months ago, Lynne Spears wrote in an online column that her daughter Britney's new video—for the single "My Prerogative"—possessed "an element of old Hollywood glamour and mystery." Her statement may puzzle some viewers; namely, those with eyes. In the video, Britney drives her car into a swimming pool; emerges from the water, dripping and squirming; writhes on a bed in her undies; and poses in lingerie and garters, stroking herself while a man puffing a cigar ogles her. That final scene, in particular, is a uniquely Spearsian take on adult-child arousal: all smoke and leerers.

Sadly, the singer herself seems unaroused. "My Prerogative" arrives along with a disarmingly candid message on Spears' Web site. In this self-described "Letter of Truth," the pop star declares her need for a break. "My prerogative right now is to just chill & let all the other overexposed blondes on the cover of Us Weekly be your entertainment ... GOOD LUCK GIRLS!" She continues, "I understand now what they mean when they talk about child stars. ... It's amazing what advisors will push you to do, even if it means taking a naive, young, blonde girl & putting her on the cover of every magazine."

Spears has already taken a lot of flack for her vigorously punctuated cri de coeur. But the fact is, she's absolutely right. She is tragically overexposed. Perhaps it's time for the pop tart to go home and eat some Pop-Tarts (which she has publicly longed for), and ponder what happened to her—or her publicists'—masterful navigation of the fine line between self-exposure and self-destruction. Having made an art of inviting viewers to wonder just how knowingly she has participated in her own hyper-sexualization, Spears can't find anyone willing to cut her the break accorded to most young naifs in the world of showbiz.

From the start, Spears' career was built on her ability to be authentically inauthentic. When the 17-year-old Spears first showed up on MTV in 1999—a pig-tailed, kilt-wearing kitten who purred, "Hit me, baby, one more time"—it seemed unlikely she'd wind up as the most scrutinized pop star of her era. Critics never regarded her as much more than a singer of middling talent. And she's hardly a beauty for the ages—she's pretty in the way the best-looking girl at your high school was (ask her first husband, Jason Alexander).

But, unlike, say, Ashlee Simpson, whose Saturday Night Live meltdown was a mere gaffe, Spears has elevated inauthenticity to a Warholian level. She's never had to take responsibility for her sexy persona because she refuses to acknowledge she has a persona, sexy or otherwise. Consider the evidence: "[T]he record label wanted me to do certain kinds of songs, and I was like, 'Look, if you want me to be some kind of sex thing, that's not me.' " This is Spears, quoted in an Esquire, alongside photos of her naked, save for white panties and strings of pearls that magically conceal (with the apparent aid of an airbrush) her nipples and little else. "I'm not gonna come out on this record and show my crotch or anything. That's not me. I would never do anything like that." This from an issue of Rolling Stone, in which Spears appeared topless on the cover, humping a wall. "I don't want to be part of someone's Lolita thing. It kind of freaks me out." This in response to questions about her first Rolling Stone photo shoot, in 1999, in which the 17-year-old Britney stood in a bedroom in short-shorts and a push-up bra, surrounded by baby dolls.

Spears didn't invent sexual doublespeak—every teen star does the dance of posing in her underwear while talking up her chastity. But she speaks it more fluently than most. Her jujitsu-like ability to deflect all criticism by turning it back on the accuser—if you ask her about her Lolita-esque antics, you're the one who's a perv—has allowed her to exploit contradictions that have felled lesser stars.

Spears learned her lessons from her acknowledged master, Madonna. Madonna stirred controversy by attaching herself to (some might say exploiting) marginalized subcultures: voguing drag queens, S & M fetishists, etc. Madonna was interested—however glancingly—in contradictions: in, say, dressing as a man and grabbing her crotch. But there was never any doubt that she was calling the shots, working the levers of her own career. Spears, on the other hand, has managed to adopt a "What? Me? Duplicitous?" pose. Spears just is a series of contradictions. As such, she can only peel her own layers away.

Which makes her "letter of truth" and her video cry for freedom all the more interesting. The girl who always claimed she'd never been packaged now says she wants to break free of her packaging. Perhaps Spears senses that the perma-bubble of cognitive dissonance surrounding her has finally been punctured—that there are only so many times you can invite viewers to wonder just how knowing you are before they decide, in fact, that you should know better. (It's never a good sign when a look-alike of you is killed in a movie promo, to great cheers, as Britney is in the trailer for the upcoming Seed of Chucky.) The problem, now, is that just when she wants to point to her own innocence—her manipulation at the hands of her PR staff—the public is likely to conclude that even her declaration of desperation smacks of a stay-on-message memo. She's referred to her online missive as "The Letter of Truth: I Hope You Can Handle It," which echoes oddly the opening words of the "Prerogative" video: "They can never take away your truth. The question is: Can you handle mine?" It seems Britney can break free from everything except her own talking points. But then, that's always been her greatest trick: She strips and strips and strips, yet never reveals a thing.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Child's Play
by Samuel Greengard

For many adults, one of the most enduring memories of growing up is the humiliation of PE class. Being among the last picked for basketball or stalling out halfway up the rope climb shattered self-confidence and self-esteem. Not being able to complete push ups or coming in near last in the mile run invited taunts and teasing.

"A lot of people were turned off to exercise and fitness at a young age," says Ken Reed, director for the Center for the Advancement of Physical Education, part of PE4Life, a Kansas City, Missouri organization that promotes youth fitness. "Unfortunately, we are seeing the repercussions in obesity rates and an overall lack of fitness."

Add to this budget cutbacks for PE programs over the last decade—as schools have pushed academics—combined with kids spending more time at the computer and television, and it isn't difficult to understand why so many people are so out of shape. "Too many school districts have refocused on the head rather than the whole child," says George Graham, a professor of kinesiology at Penn State University and past president of The National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General's office, 13 percent of children ages 6 to 11 and 14 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 19 were overweight in 1999. Childhood obesity has nearly doubled for adolescents in the past 2 decades—leading to Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and an array of other ailments. Moreover, 70 percent of overweight adolescents become overweight or obese adults.

It's a weighty problem. But now some organizations and schools are leaping into action. They’re taking another look at physical education classes and reinventing them to emphasize fun and fitness. "People are realizing that the old model, which emphasized competition, wasn't successful. It is essential to get kids involved in some vigorous physical activity every day," Reed says.

Dancing, juggling, fencing, indoor rock climbing, unicycle riding, yoga, and cycling are just a few of the activities gaining in popularity at schools across the U.S. In many cases, the goal is to teach skills rather than sports; teamwork rather than competition. For example, at Kamehameha School in Maui, Hawaii, youngsters engage in intense rope jumping, croquet, Frisbee and orienteering. At Verde Elementary School in Boca Raton, Florida, urban hiking is part of curriculum.

In some instances, physical education instructors are turning to heart rate monitors instead of stop watches. For example, in Naperville, Illinois, Madison Junior High School now uses heart rate monitors to measure the intensity level of exercise. In 1988, physical education instructor Phil Lawler measured a young girl's performance in a mile run. She walked and ran the distance in 12 minutes, which most observers would consider a failure. However, her heart rate reached 187 beats per minute—which indicated that she was exerting maximum effort.

That caused Lawler and others to rethink the traditional concept of physical education and performance. Today, he has kids grab a heart rate monitor when they begin class and they track performance over days, weeks and months using PDAs and special software. Teachers grade students on their individual effort level and improvement and kids receive charts and printouts.

Programs such as Naperville's empower young people to lead healthier lives," Reed explains. He notes that a growing number of school districts are also introducing variations of team sports to reduce idle time and ensure that all participants remain active. Instead of putting a group of kids in a game of 11 on 11 football, they’re paring the numbers down to 3 or 4 players per team and altering the rules to make the games faster paced and more enjoyable.

One example of the changing mindset is "Navy" football. There's no scrimmage line or quarterback, and teams consist of only three to five players. Participants advance the ball by tossing it to another teammate. When a player drops a ball the other team gains possession and goes the other way. When a player is tagged by an opponent, he or she must pass the ball. The action is ongoing and the excitement level usually reaches a fevered pitch.

According to some recent studies, one of the advantages of vigorous exercise is that it helps students relax and learn better. In Naperville, for instance, students typically take their most difficult academic class right after PE. Equally important: when students recognize the importance of fitness and find ways to make it fun and rewarding, they are more likely to engage in exercise their entire life.

Says Graham: "There is a physical education revolution going on and it is having a positive impact on fitness. The more enjoyable and positive the experience, the greater the odds that a person will stay fit for life."

Age rage
By Randy B. Hecht

I'm sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when into my inbox sneaks a would-be suitor's email. He's nearly 60 and looking, he says, for someone with whom to savor his sunset years.

I'm 44. And I have nothing against sunsets, but it's still high noon where I live, thank you!

For women of a certain age — say, 21 or older — it's a familiar scenario. Few of us escaped being hit on while still college-aged by some guy to whom the phrase "she could easily be your daughter" apparently had no meaning. Men in their 40s and even 50s often prefer women aged 28 to 35, and the women their own age are supposed to gravitate toward men considerably older. Not long ago, I ran across an online bulletin board on which women in the 65-to-75 bracket were complaining that men their age want women in their 40s. (Dream on, gentlemen.)

Don't these guys ever grow up and appreciate their female contemporaries?

Yes, many women of my generation have indulged in the pleasure of being courted by a (sometimes much) younger man. But that doesn't make it any less galling that men our own age measure their youth and ours by different yardsticks — and conclude with great self-satisfaction that they deserve better than the likes of us.

Some of this is biology. A man who "wasn't ready for" fatherhood until he was nearly 50 suddenly warms to the idea and sets out in search of a fertile female. Never mind that they don't have the same musical tastes (he can fake that, and likely does) or that the fondest memories of his youth revolve around events she studied in history class. He wants kids, and he wants a woman who can deliver.

But let's not discount vanity. The same man who sees every laugh line on our faces can look at his own reflection without spying abs gone to paunch or hair making its strange migration from the top of the head to the inside of the ears and nose. Our look is aged; his is distinguished. Uh huh.

And then there's that most charming rationale of all: a man as financially successful as he is entitled to a beautiful house, car and woman — all as new as possible.

Well, guess what? You deserve better than a man who thinks that way. There may be precious little you can do to change his mind, but don't let him shake your confidence. Instead, put him in his place by strutting your stuff. After all, you've spent decades practicing moves that the sweet young thing of his dreams hasn't even learned yet.

Will believing in yourself that way cost you some dates? Probably. But that's nothing relative to the price of buying into the idea that at your age, you have to settle for whatever you can get. Live your life, and let it lead you to someone who loves the way you've been ripened by time.

Nice guys vs. bad boys
by Analise Pendergast

It's just not that easy being a guy in this post-post-feminist era. How’s a man supposed to know anymore whether it's cooler to be the strong, silent type, or the soft-spoken communicator? Do women prize the wild renegade, or crave the stable breadwinner? When it comes to the age-old bad boy vs. nice guy debate, what do women really want?

Guys, the secret is out: women want it all. From the rough-edged swagger of the sexy stud, to the soulful whispers of the softhearted sweetie, today’s women appreciate a man who can strike just the right balance of being:

Tough and tender. Whether you're wielding a socket wrench or a kitchen spatula, being a capable man with a can-do attitude is a definite turn-on. Show her you have what it takes to step up to the plate, whether it be building a tree house, fixing a flat, or tenderly listening to her tales of woe when she’s had a bad day.

Playful and all grown up. A childlike spirit is a lot of fun, but a childish spirit is a lot of work. Be her best friend and favorite playmate, but don't put her in the position of being your Mama by forgetting you're an all-grown-up man who cleans up after himself, shares responsibilities, and treats her like a respected equal.

Confident and curious. Confidence is sexy, but bullheadedness is boorish. Know your stuff and tell it like it is, but be sure and keep an open mind to new ideas and the opinions of others (especially hers!).

Complex and sane. A man with many interests and involvements is intriguing, but a man with excessive issues and bad-boy behaviors is irritating. If you're carrying baggage or bad habits that are getting in the way of a healthy relationship, don't expect your S.O. to take on the job of savior. Take your troubles to a therapist and do what needs to be done to put them in the past. Let your lady friend revel in being your lover, your partner, and your biggest fan.

Masculine and accessible. Masculine is hot, but macho is cold. Legends of the silver screen notwithstanding, the sex appeal of the strong, silent type is an outdated cultural myth. Women really appreciate a man who's a man through and through, with the cojones to open up his heart and share his emotions.

Stable and spontaneous. Whether you're a C.E.O. or an E.M.T., women like a man who takes pride in his work and does his job well. But a workaholic who loves his job more than life itself is no fun, so be sure and leave plenty of room in your schedule for quality downtime, whether it be taking her out for a night on the town or just relaxing in front of the tube, hand-in-hand.

Unflappable and funny. Integrity and strength of character are at the top of the list when it comes to qualities that women look for in a man. But don't take that serious side so far that you forget how to crack a joke and have a good laugh — because a good sense of humor is key to keeping that adorable smile on her face.

Guess who's coming to dinner?
by Elsa Simcik

Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays: family squabbles, Uncle Art's annoying laugh, your sister's ability to always find a way to bring up your unfortunate bed-wetting incident from 22 years ago…Yes, it's a magical time.

Now, imagine bringing your new love interest along for the dysfunction. Well, at least you'll have someone to complain to about your cousin Susie — the state karaoke champion.

Think you're ready for it? There are several variables that go into determining if your casual courtship can survive the family frenzy:

Where do you stand?
What phase in the relationship cycle are you in with this potential dinner guest? Is it someone you’ve been dating a long time, but have always kept hidden from your family? A Mr. Snuffleupagus of sorts? Or are you nearing the end of a May-December romance? It's hard to set a time-standard on this type of thing, but let's just say if you’ve got a toothbrush at his place, you're probably good to bring him home for some turkey and stuffing. Guys, if you still only call her after a night of partying with the boys, show up solo. She'd probably just hit on your brother anyway.

Where do you live?
If you're both from the same city, the whole situation just got easier. No plane tickets to buy, road trips to make — and, most importantly, no sleeping arrangements to adhere to. You could casually invite him over for a little pumpkin pie after the big family scuffle — uh, I mean meal. And make sure he reciprocates with at least an invite to his house to watch some football the next day. But let's say he's from a small village in South America – or just anywhere really far that he couldn’t possibly travel to on a commercial airline – then you practically have to invite him to your parents' pad. This way, it's almost like you’re doing him a favor by rationing out his turkey intake. You don't want him to starve, do you?

What will it mean?
When you bring a guest home for the holidays, your family immediately jumps to conclusions: you’re getting married, starting a family and producing lots of angelic grandchildren for them. Fellas, if you're bringing a gal home to meet your folks, better prepare them. You've obviously already assessed the status of the relationship (that we discussed above in "Where do you stand?"), so you should be equipped to fill your parents in on the situation. You could tell them, "I really like this girl, but we've only been dating a few months, so please don’t bring out your wedding album and talk about how she could wear your wedding dress, mom." And don't worry about communicating this to the rest of the family — your mother will take care of that like she always does.

And if you can’t decide whose house to hit for the holidays, try having a celebration for two. You could have a romantic candlelit turkey dinner without all the fuss and chaos of a family extravaganza. Of course, you may long for cousin Susie's rendition of the theme from Titanic, Uncle Art's chuckling, or your sister's teasing, but luckily, they’ll reprise it all again next year.

The truth about bachelor parties
by Randy B. Hecht

Should you stress about bachelor parties? How many guys cross the line…and will your guy be one of them? What's up with this need for "one last night of freedom" before the wedding, anyway? Are they saying they expect that, once they’re married, they’ll never have fun again?

According to Blaire Allison of New York's Metro Event Planners, the extent to which you'd be upset by what goes on at a bachelor party depends on what kind of night the groom's friends have planned.

Parties held in a public place, whether a bar, a restaurant, or even a strip club, don't run as wild as those for which a private room is rented. There are some things one just doesn’t do in public — if only because the establishment in question has rules against that sort of thing.

Parties held in private rooms are another matter entirely. They can be every bit as wild as women fear. But not all men take part equally in the debauchery, says Allison, who exited the bachelor party planning business and now concentrates exclusively on bachelorette parties. She reports that at a typical gathering of guys, there will be two or three in the group who lurk in the back and aren’t really involved or even comfortable being there. Another two or three get seriously out of control. The rest get their thrills vicariously by egging on the two or three out-of-control guys.

Not surprisingly, there's a clear link between the quantity of liquor consumed and the chances that someone will engage in a potentially relationship-ending act. The more alcohol the party involves, the lower the inhibitions drop… and the more likely that someone at the party will end up doing something for which his girlfriend/bride-to-be/wife would kill him (if she found out).

But "bachelor party" need not be defined exclusively as "drunken orgy." There really are guys for whom it means going out in a group to a ball game, golf course, concert or casino, Allison says.

What's within your limits? If you’re getting married, you should be able to communicate honestly with each other about what's over the top — and if you can't, or if your input doesn't seem to matter to him, maybe you're not ready to walk up that aisle just yet.

"Just don’t go over your fiancé's head and talk to his best man without talking first to your fiancé," advises Caroline Tiger, author of How to Behave: A Guide to Modern Manners for the Socially Challenged. "That'll communicate a lack of trust, and if there’s one thing you want to establish before your wedding day… it’s trust."

And remember: girls also want to have fun, and you’ve got your own bachelorette party to enjoy. Just respect each other’s boundaries and don’t get sucked into an escalation of activities that go farther than either of you intended just to get even with each other. With any luck, you’re going to be married for a long time — and the most pleasurable nights of your lives will be those you spend together.

Monday, November 15, 2004

It's Never Too Late to Stop Procrastinating
You can break the cycle of putting off important tasks you can be doing today.

By Star Lawrence

It's such a long word, you almost want to put off saying it. It's Procrastination -- also known as delaying, shillyshallying, and excuse-making. But if you chronically put things off, you will suffer for it -- fines, late payment fees, nosebleed tickets, and often, bad, hastily done work that can lead to unpleasant consequences. Plus -- don't forget that nagging feeling and a suspicion that you are "not worthy."

William Knaus, EdD, a professor at American International College in Springfield, Mass., wrote the book on not writing the book. Co-author of Overcoming Procrastination; Do It Now -- How to Break the Procrastination Habit; and The Procrastination Workbook: Your Personalized Program for Breaking Free of the Patterns That Hold You Back. Knaus tells WebMD that even people who are perpetually late qualify as procrastinators.

Procrastination, Knaus tells WebMD, is an automatic habit process that leads to needless postponement. "It's automatic," he says. "It happens seamlessly time and time again." Symptoms include:
When you face something unpleasant, boring, or have doubts about your abilities, you substitute a less-timely, relevant, or lower-priority task. Time to do taxes -- but wait, the windows haven't been washed in ages! They look terrible. I can hardly see out. Let's see, where is the bucket? Knaus calls these diversions "addictivities."
You decide later would be better because the task or idea needs time to "season."
You need to do more "research."
I want to do it, but there must be an easier way. Let me think of one.
In what Knaus calls the "catch-22" ploy, you put yourself in a position in which you cannot follow through. Say you want to find a mate, but you convince yourself you have a fatal flaw, so you foreclose on yourself before you even begin. Or you'd like to get an advanced degree, but convince yourself everyone will be younger or smarter.
Or you think backward. "I can't start this because I don't understand the past as well as I should." You look over your life. Then you look over your life some more. "Pretty soon," Knaus says, "you know more and more about less and less and still haven't started whatever it is yet."
Indecision is another procrastination trigger, according to Gail McMeekin, MSW, owner of the coaching firm called Creative Success in Newton, Mass., and author of The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women. "You feel the need to weigh the options," she says. "Then weigh them some more."
"These are all what we call 'mañana diversions,'" Knaus says.

Procrastination can also be born of disorganization or forgetfulness. Fear is also a motivator -- what if you don't do a good job or do you know how to do a good job? Anger can also bring out resistance -- you don't want to be controlled!

Other procrastinators are, strange as it sounds, perfectionists. They don't want to do something if they can't do it perfectly. Even though a desire to not leave things hanging is also a trait of being a perfectionist, these types of people often let tasks pile up because they cannot do them perfectly in the time allotted.

Procrastination Can Be Bad for Your Physical Health

All this thinking, delaying, excuse-making, and pangs of dread not only can make your brain an unpleasant tangle, but it can affect your physical health. Timothy A. Pychyl, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, has done a number of studies on procrastination in the academic setting. He started out studying how doctoral students structured their studies, but quickly became more interested in what they said they were going to do, but didn't do. "I started out looking at actions," Pychyl tells WebMD, "and ended up looking at inaction."

In one study, his procrastination research group looked at 374 undergraduates and found that students who put things off were more likely to eat poorly, sleep less, and drink more than students who do homework promptly.

Pychyl speculates that this behavior flows from the inability to control impulses. Many assignments are devised by others, too, he says, so students are less interested and invested in them than in their own research. Up to 70% of students in one study said they procrastinate.

"Stress compromises the immune system," he adds. "Procrastination is a stressor." Also among things students put off? Getting help and starting healthy behaviors, such as exercise.

"Making the decision to put something off," Knaus says, "provides only a temporary feeling of relief."

How to Kick the Habit

"There are different reasons people procrastinate," Pychyl says, "so there are different routes to stopping it. All behaviors are a combination of personality and situation."

Just knowing you do it is not enough to make you stop, Knaus emphasizes. "You may know a six-pack [of beer] a day is bad for you, but will this make you stop?" he asks. "In a sense, procrastinators are optimists; they think they can escape by putting things off. Change is a process not an event."

Some suggestions for breaking the habit:
Knaus recommends "mapping out" the process of change. Why are you uncomfortable about digging into a project or changing your behavior? Write down the reasons.
You know yourself. What diversions or mañana behaviors will you probably adopt?
Then question those. If you say "later is better," ask yourself why. "And why," Knaus says, "do you need to be better to do this? Save the better state for a better task. You need to recognize the hogwash!"
When you feel actual physical resistance, when every bone is your body is resisting the task, force yourself to put one foot in front of the other. "This is similar to overcoming irrational fears," Knaus notes.
Break up the task into segments. Do one a day. If it's your taxes, call the accountant one day. Then find all the income statements the next. Then divide the receipts into categories the next. And so on. "I always feel I can do anything for five minutes," McMeekin says. "So I set a timer. Once I start, I usually go over five minutes and may finish the job."
Involve others, invoke a buddy system. This increases your chances of doing the task, McMeekin says.
Set a reward for yourself once the job is done.
"The habit of resisting the feeling of recoiling will become inherent," promises Knaus. "I believe when brain scans are perfected, they will show that your brain will change -- structural changes will follow behavioral changes."

And the best approach of all? "Ask yourself if, in the end, this is something you need to do," McMeekin says. Maybe it could be delegated. Often we need to delegate."

One catch: You can't put off the decision to delegate.

Why Does Daydreaming Get Such a Bad Rap?
Daydreaming is seen as frivolous, a waste of time. But have you considered daydreaming's positive effects?

By Christina Frank

Call someone a daydreamer and you may as well just call them a flake, a space cadet, or a slacker.

Why are we so down on daydreaming?

"Daydreaming is looked upon negatively because it represents 'non-doing' in a society that emphasizes productivity," says John McGrail, a clinical hypnotherapist in Los Angeles. "We are under constant pressure to do, achieve, produce, succeed."

But daydreaming can be beneficial in many ways and, ironically, can actually boost productivity. Plus, it's something almost everyone does naturally. Psychologists estimate that we daydream for one-third to one-half of our waking hours, although a single daydream lasts only a few minutes.

At their best, daydreams allow you "a range of possibilities which, in the hard cold light of reality, aren't possible," psychiatrist Stuart Twemlow tells WebMD. Twemlow is director of the Hope Program at The Menninger Clinic in Houston.

Specifically, daydreaming helps you:

Relax. Like meditation, daydreaming allows your mind to take a break, a mini-vacation in which to release tension and anxiety and "return" refreshed. It's also very useful for controlling anxiety and phobias. Say, for example, that you're afraid of flying, which you have to do for an upcoming trip. By mentally rehearsing the various steps involved -- driving to the airport, getting on the plane, taking off, etc. -- you'll be better able to handle the actual events. It also helps to practice deep breathing anytime a certain thought makes you tense.

Manage conflict. The same kind of organized daydreaming -- or visualization -- used to curb anxiety is also useful for personal conflicts. Psychotherapist Tina Tessina calls it "rewinding the tape." As you review in your mind an argument you had with someone, you go back and imagine responding differently than you did. Try this a few times, responding differently each time, and you'll begin to figure out better ways of dealing with the person in the future. "This exercise really helps you avoid your standard knee-jerk reactions," Tessina tells WebMD.

Maintain relationships. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially among daydreamers. Happy couples tend to think about one another when they're apart, which has the effect of psychologically maintaining the relationship, says James Honeycutt, PhD, author of Imagined Interactions: Daydreaming about Communication. "We daydream about the people we love," Honeycutt tells WebMD. "We imagine sharing good news with them, along with our successes and failures. Unhappy couples daydream about arguments and ruminate about conflict while happy individuals think positively ahead."

Boost productivity. "Often I find that allowing myself a few minutes for daydreaming can help me to be more productive in the long run," says Cari Noga, a freelance writer in Traverse City, Mich. "For example, just the other day I had a lot to do around the house: laundry, dishes, cleaning, bathroom scrubbing. I tried throwing myself into the work, but I found myself getting distracted. So I sat on the couch and allowed myself 15 minutes of daydream time. I let my mind wander, and instead of thinking about things I had to do, I imagined things, places, people. When my 15 minutes were up, I was in a much better mood, my mind was clearer, and I really had the urge to get things done. And my house got cleaned!"

Cement your beliefs and values. When you daydream about scenarios in which you're trying to convince someone of something you believe in strongly, you are also in a sense getting to know yourself and what you stand for better.
Could ADHD be Affecting Your Life? Take this Assessment
Boost creativity and achieve goals. The beauty of daydreams is that nothing is impossible. "I used to daydream about seeing my book in print," says Jen Singer, author of 14 Hours 'Til Bedtime: A Stay-at-Home Mom's Life in 27 Funny Little Stories. "And now it is. I find that when I aim high while daydreaming, I end up working harder to make my dreams become realities. Lately I've been daydreaming about being on The Today Show or Ellen."

Olympic athletes and performers use this same kind of visualization, which has been shown to help their performance in the way that actual physical practice does.

Relieve boredom. People with monotonous jobs, like factory workers and security guards, often use daydreaming to keep their minds stimulated and to get them through the day.

All this is not to say that there aren't potential negatives to daydreaming. Obsessive thinking, for example, can interfere with day-to-day functioning in some cases. Likewise, lonely people can further isolate themselves if they spend a too much time ruminating about the past.

In general, though, we should nix the negative stereotypes and become, in the words of The Monkees, "daydream believers."

Beavers Make Dam Out of Stolen Money
1 hour, 32 minutes ago

GREENSBURG, La. - Beavers found a bag of bills stolen from a casino, tore it open and wove the money into the sticks and brush of their dam on a creek near Baton Rouge.

"They hadn't torn the bills up. They were still whole," said Maj. Michael Martin of the East Feliciana Parish Sheriff's Office.

The money was part of at least $70,000 taken last week from the Lucky Dollar Casino in Greensburg, about 30 miles northeast of Baton Rouge.

Sheriff's deputies in St. Helena Parish, where the truck stop video poker casino is located, have accused a security guard at the casino of disabling its security cameras. Jacqueline Wall, 25, was booked with felony theft, Martin said.

She told investigators a ski-masked gunman made her help him empty all the casino's safes, then kidnapped her, knocked her out and left her in an uninhabited area in East Feliciana Parish.

Deputies had searched for the money for days before an attorney called with a tip: the money had been thrown into the creek. The attorney's client hopes to make a deal with prosecutors, Greensburg Police Chief Ronald Harrell said.

They found one money bag right away. The second was downstream, against the beaver dam.

After trying unsuccessfully to find the third bag in the deep water near the dam, Martin said, deputies began to break it down to release some of the water so they could search in a shallower pool.

That was when they saw the dam's expensive decoration.

He said they eventually found the third sack, which still had some money left in it.

"The casino people were elated" to get the money back, even if some of it was wet, Harrell said.

Deputies found about $40,000, and expected to find the rest in a safety deposit box at a bank in Mississippi.

Cracking the 'Code'
The duo behind 'A Beautiful Mind' have picked a star for their 'Da Vinci' adaptation. A NEWSWEEK exclusive

By Devin Gordon

Newsweek Nov. 22 issue - One of the virtues of "The Da Vinci Code," author Dan Brown's gajillion-selling thriller about a Harvard symbologist in hot pursuit of the Holy Grail, is its breathlessness. The novel unfolds over the course of 12 hours, and that's about how long it takes to read. It's fitting, then, that the man spearheading the movie version, producer Brian Grazer, first got wind of the book from the creator of his company's acclaimed TV series "24"—itself an adrenaline rush of real-time pulp fiction. Early in 2003, Joel Surnow read the book, which was popular but not yet a worldwide phenomenon, and thought it would make a terrific story line for "24's" third season. So he asked his boss to look into acquiring the rights. "It quickly became clear that we had no chance," Grazer says. Brown had no intention of handing over his book to a mere TV show. Wise move. A few months later Sony paid $6 million for the movie rights—and hired Grazer to produce it. One of Hollywood's shrewdest operators, Grazer, 53, had started out trolling for TV material and ended up piloting the biggest film adaptation since "Harry Potter."

Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, Grazer and director Ron Howard, the Oscar-winning duo behind "A Beautiful Mind," have settled on an actor to play "The Da Vinci Code's" lead role of globe-trotting scholar Robert Langdon. Perhaps you've heard of him: Tom Hanks. Grazer and Howard helped make Hanks a star with their 1984 comedy "Splash"; they rehired him 11 years later for "Apollo 13," which earned the filmmakers their first best-picture nomination. But Howard insists that friendship alone doesn't explain Hanks's casting. Much of the action in "The Da Vinci Code" is cerebral—solving riddles, cracking codes. At one point, there's even a heart-stopping Boolean keyword search at a London library. "Tom is an exciting actor to watch thinking," Howard says. "We probably don't need his status from a box-office standpoint"—by now, "The Da Vinci Code" sells itself—"but he gives Langdon instant legitimacy."

At the moment, Grazer and Howard are finishing next summer's "The Cinderella Man," a Russell Crowe boxing drama, so they're taking their time casting "Da Vinci." But they've settled on a guiding principle that's sure to please fans: they plan to hire—get this—actual foreign actors to play the book's foreign characters. "If there's any book that's supposed to be an international thriller," says Grazer, "this is it." One recent Oscar winner, he says, inquired about the role of Parisian cryptologist Sophie Neveu, "and she could easily do it. But I think the audience would be let down a bit. They expect a French girl." Internet fans will be happy to hear that Jean Reno, their pick to play bullish cop Bezu Fache, is on Grazer's shortlist.

Grazer is a rare breed in Hollywood today: the independent megaproducer. And so far, 2004 has been tough on his peers, such as Scott Rudin, whose films ("The Manchurian Candidate," "Team America") have been terrific but commercial letdowns, and Jerry Bruckheimer, who flopped with "King Arthur." (To be fair, Bruckheimer may well rebound with "National Treasure," a family thriller that plays like a descendant of ... "The Da Vinci Code.") Meanwhile, Grazer and his team at Imagine Entertainment have been sipping champagne. Their sitcom "Arrested Development" won a surprise Emmy for best comedy series, and "Friday Night Lights," a football saga 14 years in the making, has already entered the sports-movie pantheon. "That movie is a real tribute to Brian's stamina," says Howard. "He could've made it at least twice before, and producers are trained to see a green light and go for it. But each time, he felt he wasn't going to get the movie that the book deserved."

The best thing about "Friday Night Lights" is the honesty of its ending, which, without giving too much away, ain't happy. As a film producer, Grazer has come to embrace the ugliness of authenticity. "When I did '8 Mile,' Dr. Dre gave me some advice. He said, 'Just don't clown out our world.' And of course, I said, 'What does that mean?'" Grazer laughs. "He said, 'Don't be corny.' For me, the worst failure is a movie that's too soft. You have to have edge." Imagine's future slate of movies includes an animated "Curious George" film with Will Ferrell and "Fun With Dick and Jane" starring Jim Carrey. Not too edgy. But the project Grazer is most keen on is a documentary about the notorious skinflick "Deep Throat." "It was the most profitable movie ever made, and also the most litigious," he says. Due out in February, the documentary may be the first NC-17 movie released by a major studio in years. "I can't wait to see how people react to it," Grazer says. If they hate it? Well, it's nice to have Tom Hanks and "The Da Vinci Code" to fall back on.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Luxury Kitsch
High-end vintage is coming to a hotel or restaurant near you.

By Jean Tang

Fifteen-year-old lotions and soaps are hardly what you'd expect to find in a Catskills cabin that rents for more than $200 a night. But at the Lazy Meadow (845-688-7200; in Mount Tremper, N.Y., they're an important part of the appeal.

You see, owner Kate Pierson, lead singer of the B-52s, squirreled the toiletries away on her legendary concert tours. Although the band's heyday was in the '80s and '90s, its aesthetic—and that of Lazy Meadow, the collection of Catskills cabins Pierson opened in April—has earlier roots. Three decades earlier. Just look at Pierson's red hair, which she still keeps swept in her trademark flip.

The singer has always been fond of the "modernist design element" found in '50s objects. The individual cabins are outfitted with vintage furniture and Pierson's personal tchotchkes, collected from flea markets all over the country. Aside from the toiletries, amenities include Eames furniture and full kitchens fitted with—you guessed it—vintage '50s cabinetry. Pierson points out "groovy ornamental pieces" such as a needlepoint owl.

"I think that kitsch has always been upscale," says Stephanie Kheder, the owner of Bocage (212-979-2909;, a New York City boutique that specializes in high-end vintage craft materials such as Bakelite belt buckles and fabrics and ribbons from the '50s. "Kitsch has a collectible aspect, and every time something's collectible it's valuable to someone," says Kheder, who at 25 is barely old enough to remember the '80s.

In part, the kitsch movement can be construed as a reaction to the homogeneity of a globalized, corporatized world—where objects with history take on instant meaning.

Bruce Abner agrees. "Kitsch has a story to it, which makes it really interesting," he says. "Kitsch is authentic. It's the real deal, just from an era gone by."

Abner manages the Movie Colony Hotel (760-320-3071; in Palm Springs, Calif., an Art Deco-era "desert modernism" institution with 70 years of celebrity history; for example, Jim Morrison once jumped from the balcony of one of the hotel's townhouses into its swimming pool. Abner describes the hotel as "toned-down kitsch." Its understatement is the result of too much of a good thing: A Jackson Pollack–themed room whose wild paint scheme frightened the clientele had a makeover a year ago.

But in most cases, kitsch represents a return to simplicity and comfort. Alex Freij, a New York restaurateur, recently opened Diner 24 (212-242-7773; The look (soft leather banquettes, smooth resin countertop, floor-to-ceiling windows) and the dishes (fried Cornish game hen, pan-seared striped bass, TV dinners in compartmentalized porcelain trays) are thoroughly updated, but the concept isn't: The 24-hour diner is premised on the childhood comfort foods of people who grew up in the '60s, '70s, and '80s.

"We're on the brink of a trend," says Freij. "Things keep getting bigger and flashier, so people are going to revert to the good old standards. Classics never die." Nope, they just sell out: Every night, hungry customers make history of his daily-special TV dinners, priced at $23 to $29, and other nostalgic creations. The irony? They're a far cry from processed food.

Of course, restaurants with decades-old legacies, such as the renowned, 48-year-old Bern's Steakhouse (813-251-2421; in Tampa, Fla., have always been popular with their original customer base: contemporaries of the founding generation. But these days, younger folks are breathing new life into old places and things. (Abner, for one, says he's always amused when his young customers make a kitsch "discovery," such as the time a twentysomething guest first laid eyes on a record player.)

During a recent trip to Bern's, the ornate-kitsch parlor rooms were filled with couples in their 20s, 30s, and 40s enjoying dry-aged steak and the world's largest wine cellar. The growing popularity of wine and the addition of food and wine pairings on the menu have attracted a younger guest base, says spokesperson Heather Sherer Berkoff.

Freij mentions a steak house from his childhood: Gibson's (312-266-8999; in Chicago. "You see the sharpest, hippest people in there all the time," he says. Translation: the kind of folks who might stroll into Diner 24.

Whole cities are even getting in on the action. Asbury Park, N.J., was immortalized in Bruce Springsteen songs. But the beachfront city—a bustling resort in the first half of the 20th century—was all but a ghost town by the '90s. Then someone discovered its charm—the leftover carousel, the ramshackle mansions—and began to invest. "People I've spoken with used to come here as children," says Donald Sammet, the director of a $1.25 billion Asbury Park redevelopment effort. "They have wonderful memories of Asbury, so they naturally think of relocating here." Now they're calling Asbury Park the next South Beach.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Homeowners Make Room for New Rooms
By Catherine Donaldson-Evans

The den, as we know it, is dead.

OK, maybe "dead" is an exaggeration. But that comfy ol' reading room in the corner of the house — and its close cousin, the family room — are going extinct as people choose rooms that are more modern, theme-oriented and multi-purpose.

"There's a whole range of rooms that people are developing to play into their lifestyle," said Melissa Sykes, vice president of program production at Home and Garden Television. "The trend is a home that reflects your interests and tastes. We're seeing a lot of individuality."

Christopher Lowell, host of Discovery Home Network's "The Christopher Lowell Show," said that instead of small, individual rooms, wide-open spaces in the house have become en vogue to accommodate today's hyper-hectic lifestyles.

"The den is going away," he said. "We're multi-tasking more than ever before. The media room, rec room, etc., are all going to be one space, encouraging people to multi-task all in one space."

The big hybrid rooms are often referred to as great rooms, which are expansive spaces, frequently with cathedral ceilings, that combine elements of the living room, dining room, den, media room and home office.

Sykes said it's all part of a trend toward houses with more open, connected floor plans and fewer dividing walls.

"People want to enjoy family and friends. They want to be able to keep an eye on the kids. They don’t want to be separate," she said. "It's a more casual lifestyle."

Other homeowners seek rooms with specific themes or functions. Washington, D.C., resident Minal Damani said she installed a Zen room (search) — a quiet getaway in her townhouse with calming décor — because she wanted a peaceful place to escape and be creative without going anywhere but home.

Hers is simply decorated with a white futon, green silk cushions, billowy curtains and Asian candles.

"I fell in love with the promise of calm that Zen offers," said Damani, 33, who works in business affairs. "I wanted one room that was serenity." Damani said she spends more time in her "Zen" than anywhere else in the house.

Also popular: media rooms, which are equipped with stereos, big-screen TVs, surround sound and Internet access, playrooms for children, fitness rooms and home offices, where telecommuters and those needing to squeeze in work at the house can tap away at the computer and do whatever else their busy jobs require.

"Builders know there's a trend across the country for people to have these special-purpose rooms versus just a small den," said New York homeowner Ryan, 33, who asked that his last name not be used due to his high-profile profession. His beach house has a great room.

"You don't need a den or a library — you need functional things: offices, exercise rooms, Zen rooms, media rooms," he said.

The fact that constructing houses from scratch and remodeling existing ones are still hot trends has paved the way for made-to-order rooms. Sales of new single-family homes were up 7 percent this fall over last, according to the National Association of Home Builders; new-home sales hit a record high in 2003 of more than 1 million units sold.

"Certainly there's a building boom," Sykes said. "And there's a great interest in influencing the design of your home and remodeling."

The success of home improvement TV shows like TLC's "Trading Spaces" has also bolstered the interest in decorating, as has the renewed emphasis on home and family that's taken root around the country in recent years.

"Television has played a significant role in getting people to rethink how they're living," said Denise Gee, senior home design editor at Better Homes and Gardens magazine. "A lot of the home improvement shows … are extremely popular and addictive, almost."

But not everyone is refitting a home for meditation, multimedia or a mish-mash of other activities. Sykes said a lot of houses still have that old familiar den or family room, thank you very much.

"You can live quite comfortably and never have a Zen meditation room or a media room — or even a home office," she said. “Many people are fine watching TV in the den."

Cash Goes Up in Smoke

OSLO, Norway (AP) — A Norwegian who felt a bit chilly after a night on the town and decided to stoke his fireplace didn't really have money to burn. It just turned out that way.

What he realized too late was that the paper he used to start the blaze was a stack of bills, worth about 15,000 kroner ($2,400), the regional newspaper Avisa Nordland reported Thursday.

"I came home late at night after a party, and wanted a beer before I went to bed," he told the newspaper. "It was cold in the living room, but there was a glow in the wood stove."

So the man, identified only as being his 50s, grabbed a handful of paper next to the stove and tossed it in.

"I discovered too late that the envelope of money had fallen onto the floor with the kindling paper," he said. He said the cash had been payment for an artwork he had sold earlier in the day.

Had there been anything left of the bills, he might have been able to exchange some of it for undamaged bills at the state Bank of Norway, but the wood stove was too efficient.

The man, who lives on the Arctic Lofoten Islands of northwestern Norway, told the newspaper his tale of woe on the condition that it did not publish his name.

Classic Comics Move Into the Future
By Catherine Donaldson-Evans

By now, you'd think Blondie would be ready for retirement — after all, the buxom suburban housewife and star of her own comic strip recently turned 74.

But instead, Dagwood's spouse is still visible in major newspapers nationwide, just as young, blonde and shopping-obsessed as ever. And she's even on the Web.

Somehow, the classic comics — some of them almost 100 years old — still strike a chord with readers today. And in what is perhaps the ultimate sign of the times, they're moving online.

"They talk about broad, general topics such as family, work and friends — things that are eternal, things that are just as true today as they were 50 years ago," said Jay Kennedy, editor-in-chief of comic-strip giant King Features Syndicate, which launches its Web site on Monday.

"More and more people will be getting their news in sources other than print, and we want to be in touch with that," Kennedy said of the new site.

DailyINK joins a gaggle of other Web sites run by the major comic-strip syndicates — including, and — that have already taken the art form into cyberspace.

"[It's for] people who read comics in newspapers, but want to see more," said Kennedy.

DailyINK, which has an annual subscription fee of $15, features the company's 75 new and old strips — including "Blondie," "Family Circus," "Dennis the Menace," "Zits" and "Mutts" — and highlights some vintage ones dating back to the 1920s and '30s.

First on the oldies list will be Popeye the Sailor Man, who debuted in the strip ""Thimble Theatre" in 1929.

Some people, however, scratch their heads at what keeps the generations-old favorites so alive, saying the humor is corny, the characters outdated and the situations passé.

"The reason newspapers continue to stick with aging, unfunny strips is because they're predictable," said Coury Turczyn, Webmaster of online pop culture magazine "Editors know there's an audience for these 'classics,' whereas they don't know whether people will like a new, edgy strip."

But the classic funnies are trying to evolve in the modern age. Characters today are drawn with everything from hip hairdos to modern technology such as DVDs, cell phones and the Internet.

Storylines have also been updated to reflect the times. A decade ago, Blondie Boopadoop — the yellow-haired bombshell flapper married to Dagwood Bumstead — ditched her full-time housewife duties and started working in the "Blondie" comic strip, which began running in 1930.

More recently, the eternally single Cathy, heroine of the not-quite-old but not-quite-cutting-edge "Cathy" strip, got engaged this past Valentine's Day to her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Irving.

"When interest in a strip is fading, you do often notice some new character or situation inserted to try to reignite that interest," said comic artist Dan Killeen. "Sometimes it's effective and sometimes it's not."

Though the changes often seem few and far between, Kennedy said they're there, but subtle.

"There used to be a lot of drinking jokes," he said, pointing to the alcoholic neighbor Thirsten in the "Hi and Lois" strip, who lost his red, bulbous nose and no longer stumbles around drunkenly.

"You don't see that anymore," Kennedy added. "It [alcoholism] is more defined as an illness — the public's attitudes about drinking have changed."

Newer artists say newspaper readers' loyalty to older comics is such that the younger ones sometimes don't get much of a shot in print.

"Familiarity is a mighty thing," said Killeen, who has struggled to find a home for his "Steve" strip. "People freak out when their favorite, tired strip gets pulled for some new, unfamiliar strip."

But he thinks putting the classics on the Internet, where the cutting-edge artists once reigned supreme, can only benefit the industry. "Exposure is increased for the little guys," Killeen said.

And Kennedy defended the veterans as ageless, saying they're not irrelevant or dated.

"They're the best of that field," he said. "They've withstood the test of time."

Thursday, November 11, 2004

A dad's guide to rekindling the romance
by Dan Tynan

Remember high school, when sex was dark, mysterious, and largely theoretical? Being a new parent is a lot like being a teenager again. You're ruled by hormones -- in this case, mostly your mate's. Thanks to a) sleep deprivation and fatigue, b) breastfeeding, c) postpartum depression, or d) all of the above, her libido (and probably even yours) has flown south for the winter, and you must lure it back. That means, yes, you and your wife will have to start dating again.

Only this time, it's going to be much harder. While you won't have to ask to borrow the car, you will have less time, energy, and privacy than you did the first time. And there are now at least three of you in the house -- never the best formula for romance.

For most guys, romance, if done well, leads inexorably to sex. And what most new fathers want to know is...

When can we start having sex again?

And the answer is (drum roll, please) ... ask your wife. One new father reports having his "needs met" a week after junior's grand debut. But real, two-way, howling-in-the-moonlight sex won't be on the immediate agenda. While the normal rule is a minimum of six weeks after the birth -- with your doctor's okay -- the real decision-maker here is your mate. As one father puts it, "My wife is like a tollbooth operator. She pulls up the gate, I go through. She doesn't, and I don't." You need to figure out what the toll is, and how to pay it.

It's been more than six weeks and she isn't exactly clawing my clothes off. What gives?

She gives -- and gives and gives. Mostly to the little homunculus at the center of her universe. And that means less attention for you.

Don't fight it, says Drew Pinsky, M.D., host of MTV's "Loveline" (and father of triplets). "Give up," he says. "You're in the back seat now. Get used to it."

Pinsky isn't kidding. Having children means dropping to number two on your wife's list of priorities -- or in Pinsky's case, number four. His advice: Be compassionate. "Your wife is having her soul sucked out of her by the new child -- physically, emotionally, in every way. Your job is to support her."

The best thing you can do is help out with the baby. Don't come home at night and plop down in the Barcalounger with the newspaper -- no matter how tired you are. "Nobody wants to date Ward Cleaver," says James Douglas Barron, author of She's Having a Baby -- and I'm Having a Meltdown (William Morrow, New York, 1999). "It's a big turn-on for women to see their husband involved with their child."

I've tried all my old moves and nothing seems to work. What should I do?

Develop some new ones. Your patented sneak attack at 2 a.m. is likely to be met with a stiff elbow to the sternum.

"You really need to romance your wife," says Barron. "You can't just rely on dinners and movies. You have to keep doing new things, explore the world around you."

This doesn't mean you can't be spontaneous. Two months after the birth of his son, one new dad parked the little guy with his in-laws and took his wife out for a nice dinner at her favorite restaurant, followed by a stroll around a swank hotel. There he lured her into a darkened ballroom and onto a grand piano, only to be interrupted in mid-concerto by a waiter. The spell was broken, but he got points for trying something new.

I'm tired and cranky. My wife says she feels even less sexy.

Hey, it's hard to feel sexy when you smell like baby vomit and get less sleep than a flesh-eating zombie. The first rule here is exercise. Carve out 20 minutes a day, even if it's just for a brisk stroll with your baby in tow. It's amazing how much sexier you'll feel after a nice endorphin rush.

When it comes time to do the deed, dim the lights, fire up lots of candles, and if you wear corrective lenses, remove them. (Remember what we said earlier about darkness and mystery?)

My wife's breasts spurt milk if I even look at her. It's put a damper on our love life.

Ah yes, Old Faithful. A mother's breasts do tend to erupt at the crucial moment. But there are some easy solutions to this problem.

She could leave the bra on. Of course, most breastfeeding brassieres look as if they were been designed by a team of NASA engineers -- not exactly erotic. Plop the kid in a stroller and go shopping together for sexy lingerie.

Schedule a session after she's fed the nipper. The keg will have been tapped, so to speak, and your baby is more likely to nod off after tanking up, giving you two time to get reacquainted. Of course, your wife may also want to nod off -- or tell you to buzz off -- so be ready to accept a rain check.

Or you might just embrace the idea. "For many guys, breast milk can be a real turn-on," says Linda Banner, a marriage, family, and sex therapist in San Jose, California. "They've always fantasized about the taste of mother's milk, and they don't remember the first time they had it." Take note, however: Tasting is fine, but no guzzling, please. Otherwise, bacteria could enter the breast and affect breastfeeding.

All we have to do is think about sex and the kid starts bawling. How do we deal with babius interruptus?

First, make the effort to find a good babysitter -- she (or he) will be worth her weight in Krugerrands. If you can't find one, get your mother, mother-in law, or a close friend to stand watch. Then get the hell out of Dodge.
"A lot of keeping romance alive is getting away from the baby," says Barron. "Try to do at least one sleepover a year, whether it's at a hotel, a campground, or wherever."

Linda Banner counseled one well-heeled couple who rented a separate apartment in town to use as a getaway. They left the kids with the nanny at home and sneaked off to their pied-a-terre for interludes. While this isn't an option for most of us (sigh), Banner says, "Having an affair with each other will keep the spark going."

Do's and Don'ts for New Dads


- Arrange romantic getaways

- Empathize with her plight

- Offer to babysit so she can take time for herself

- Buy her gifts, and not just on her birthday

- Tell her she looks beautiful -- because she does

- Talk about your feelings (go on, it won't kill you)


- Beg, whine, or plead

- Complain about not getting any

- Belittle how hard she works

- Compare her body to anything larger than a pearl earring

- Expect her to miraculously regain her old, pre-pregnancy shape

- Expect to score on every date

Go Ahead, Sleep With Your Dog
And, no, we don't mean it that way.

By Emily Yoffe

I sleep with my pets. For more than 20 years, cats have shared my bed. My late cat, Shlomo, used to spend the night perched on top of my head, and I found this purring beret deeply comforting. When I just had cats, it never occurred to me that having pets in the bed was anything more than a harmless personal preference. Then I got a beagle and discovered the issue of allowing your dog to sleep with you is deeply fraught. Supposedly, bed privileges destroy the owner's standing as pack leader. Allowing a dog in the bed, I learned, is a critical dog-rearing error, like giving brandy to quiet a cranky baby and ending up with an alcoholic teenager.

The dogma was everywhere. A recent Washington Post interview with a dog trainer stated that a dog in bed is "a sign the dog is completely in charge. Get the dog off your bed. It can make a bigger difference than anyone can imagine." How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend, the dog obedience manual by the Monks of New Skete, advises letting the dog sleep on the floor in your bedroom, but never in your bed. A dog trying to get too intimate should receive "slapped paws and a shove off"—not wholly surprising advice from celibate trainers.

Despite this, my beagle, Sasha, got the opportunity to settle in for the night when my husband declared he was evicting from the bed our two current cats, all 36 pounds of them. He explained, "In the middle of the night they run up and down my body, then they sit on my chest and crush it."

Since I am a light sleeper, I told my husband it was hard to believe his description of our cats' ramblings. Ever the considerate wife, I suggested he might be having nocturnal psychotic episodes.

"Do I have to install a video camera?" he said. "They march up and down my body like they're on a picket line, then they sit on me. They're driving me crazy."

A few nights later, cats still in the bed, I got up at 4 a.m. to go to the bathroom. When I returned, there was Biscuit, sitting in the middle of my sleeping husband's chest, peering into his open mouth as if about to perform periodontal surgery. Goldie was climbing up my husband's legs. I was shaken. It was painful, but I agreed the next morning to banish the cats to the basement at night.

That left an opening for Sasha. She liked to curl up like an armadillo between our pillows during the day, but we had always moved her to her crate for the night. Despite the warnings of provoking deep status anxiety (my own), I decided to let her stay in the bed. I figured it was impossible that Sasha could wreak more havoc than she already was; she obviously wanted to be with us; and I missed the cats. Except for the occasional bout of rabbit-chasing during REM sleep, she has been a quiet and companionable bedmate. While her daytime behavior seems no worse, I have been troubled that I might be making a mistake that could come back to bite me.

There is historical evidence that sleeping with pets is not necessarily aberrant behavior. According to The International Encyclopedia of Dogs, the xoloitzquintli, or Mexican hairless, was used in pre-Aztec Mexico as both pet and bed warmer (and dinner—let's not talk about that here). An account from a 19th-century explorer in Australia, as quoted in The Domestic Dog, describes how Aborigines were so devoted to their dingoes that the dogs were treated as members of the family and allowed to sleep in the hut. (The rock group Three Dog Night takes its name from the supposed Aboriginal practice of judging the coldness of an evening by the number of dogs required to keep warm.)

And here in the land of the electric blanket and the 600-fill goose-down comforter, millions of pet owners are, like me, sacking out with their animals. A survey from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association found that about 62 percent of American dog and cat owners keep their animals in the house at night, and of those, about half the cats and one-third of the dogs spend the night on the bed. Dr. John Shepard Jr., a physician at the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, discovered so many of his haggard patients slept with their animals that he did a survey to see how much the pets disturbed their sleep: About half the pet sleepers said their animal woke them nightly.

But here's the good news. My unscientific survey of veterinary behaviorists concluded that as long as your pets are good at sleeping with you, it's just fine to sleep with them. Pets are not going to get any uppity ideas just because you're all snoring together, they say. Dr. Marsha Reich, who has a private animal-behavior practice in Maryland, says she disagrees with the notion that your dog will try to dominate you if allowed in bed. "It has nothing to do with social status," she says. The dog, like the owner, just likes being cozy and having a soft place to sleep. "Unless a dog growls when you roll over, I don't have a problem with a dog in the bed."

Dr. Nicholas Dodman, author of If Only They Could Speak and director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, celebrates the "warm and fuzzy feeling" of all species curling up in bed together. This is not to say that some animals don't abuse the privilege. He tells of one couple who came to him after their Yorkshire terrier, who liked to settle in with the wife when she went to bed early to read, took to lunging at the husband when he arrived. There was an obvious solution, and the couple chose it: The husband moved to the guest room. When this proved maritally unsatisfying, they turned to Dr. Dodman. He says such animals have to be re-educated by being placed in a crate at night, or even attached to a dog bed with a long line.

The most common problem with sleeping with cats, says Dr. Lynne Seibert, a behaviorist at the Veterinary Specialty Center in Lynnwood, Wash., is—as my husband can attest—they don't sleep. "Most of the issues I see are about exuberant play," she says. "They've got a captive audience and end up pouncing and scratching." The usual cause is that the cats have been home sleeping all day, leaving them ready to party all night. Seibert recommends getting the cats more daytime stimulation and engaging in a play session with them before bed.

Dog trainer Kathy Diamond Davis, in an article at, writes that there's no reason a well-behaved dog shouldn't sleep on the bed. However, she recommends having the dog trained to reliably obey a "get off the bed" command, to be used in particular for those moments when "people want to be intimate." (For couples who don't use that command, she does not deal with the psychological damage the humans suffer when they find even their most fervent lovemaking doesn't wake the dog.)

I was relieved to learn that Sasha can stay, but I realized, even if the experts had told me I shouldn't let her, it wouldn't have made any difference. Maybe some of us are just born with a desire to sleep with animals. (This could be a debate subject in the next presidential election.) Take my friend Nancy, who has slept with dogs since girlhood. So deep is this need that she and her husband spent years with their epileptic Dalmatian on the end of the bed. The dog regularly woke them in the middle of the night, in midseizure, flailing around and losing control of bodily functions. They became like paramedics, spending the night ever-alert so at the first twitch they could get the dog on the floor and covered in towels. Now Nancy has a Jack Russell terrier puppy. The puppy spends the night burrowed deep under their covers, attached to Nancy like a tick. Nancy is in heaven.

What You Eat Can Sabotage Your Sleep
Experts tell why your daytime activities may be causing insomnia at night.

By Cherie Berkley, MS

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. You stare in the dark at the numbers glaring back at you on your alarm clock. It is 3 a.m., and the makings of another night of interrupted sleep and frustration are apparent. As you contemplate what is wrong with you, think about this: It may be what you do during the day that's giving you insomnia at night.

Sleep is one of the most important needs in life. All creatures need it to function. Without it, we break down mentally and physically. Lack of sleep can cause moodiness, lack of concentration, and sluggishness. But why is it so essential? Researchers still don't know.

Regardless, Americans with their jam-packed schedules often try to delay sleep as much as possible and may unknowingly do other things that could hinder sleep when they actually do want it. In fact, diet and other lifestyle habits could be secretly sabotaging efforts to get a few much-needed ZZZs.

"We know that certain foods that we consume can interfere with sleep, says Carl E. Hunt, MD, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. "The most obvious one in terms of stimulating wakefulness would be caffeine, and then there's nicotine."

Nearly half of Americans report having insomnia at least on occasion, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Adults need an average of eight hours of sleep to function well. Older people tend to need a little less -- about 7.5 hours. It's estimated that nearly half of people over age 65 have sleeping difficulties. This can stem from changes in lifestyle, such as napping more during the day, discomfort from physical conditions, such as arthritis, and emotional difficulties and depression.

But lifestyle habits can play a leading role in quality of sleep, too, or lack thereof. So the first thing you should do is analyze your patterns and environment. The Cleveland Clinic recommends these tips for good sleep "hygiene":

Not going to bed until you are tired
Setting a regular schedule to get up in the morning, even on weekends
Not napping during the day
Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine at night
Not watching TV, eating, or reading in bed
Following the same bedtime rituals each night
Avoiding rigorous exercise three hours before bedtime
Getting out of bed when you can't fall asleep

Midnight Marauders

The list includes some major sleep bandits: caffeine and nicotine.

Caffeine late in the day is a no-no -- that includes items such as chocolate, teas, and sodas. But it's not always obvious where caffeine lurks, says Hunt, so make sure to check food labels.

"Everyone is aware that coffee can keep them awake; what they're not necessarily appreciating is there's caffeine or related items in many other things that they consume," he tells WebMD.

The National Sleep Foundation reports the effects of caffeine can cause problems falling asleep as much as 10-12 hours later in some people.

Nicotine's Effect on Sleep

Nicotine often falls below the radar screen when it comes to sleep interruption, but it, like caffeine, is actually a stimulant. Research shows that nicotine is linked to problems with insomnia. Hunt says smoking within a few hours of bedtime should be avoided; better yet, don't smoke at all.

Spicy and acidic foods can also kill sleep efforts because they cause heartburn. Heartburn is especially problematic for people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux. Why is eating these foods close to bedtime such a concern? Lying down makes heartburn worse, and the discomfort from heartburn hinders sleep.

But what about the old standbys -- such as drinking warm milk or having a nightcap -- to lull us to sleep? Do they truly work?

Milk contains a substance called tryptophan. The body uses this substance to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain. Serotonin helps control sleep patterns, appetite, pain, and other functions but unfortunately doesn't contain enough tryptophan to change our sleep patterns. However, Hunt says some people say it works and doesn't knock trying it.

Alcohol is a tricky substance: It's an undercover sleep marauder. It's also the most common self-medicated sedative, Hunt tells WebMD. Contrary to popular belief, that seemingly harmless nightcap before bed may be relaxing at first but has a rebound effect and can cause you to wake up in the wee hours of the night. So if you want some quality shut-eye, it's best to just say no.

If worse comes to worst, a sleeping pill could help. Sleeping pills are safe and effective in moderation. But doctors caution they are not a long-term solution for insomnia but merely a Band-Aid for the symptoms. A doctor may prescribe sleeping pills on a short-term basis for patients who are having a stressful period in their life, such as coping with the death of a loved one. Hunt also says natural remedies such as melatonin or valerian (sold in health-food stores) may provide some relief. But check with your doctor first -- some supplements can interfere with your regular prescription medication.

Don't Forget Exercise -- in the Daytime

While exercising close to bedtime can undermine your best efforts to sleep, doctors say regular exercise during the day can do wonders. Exercise can keep weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol in check, staving off other health conditions that can hinder sleep. It also boosts energy levels during the day and can help give you more restful sleep. Exercise can also relieve stress, another major cause of insomnia.

Hunt says you shouldn't exercise less than three hours before bedtime because exercise has an alerting effect. It also raises your body temperature. This rise leads to a drop in temperature five to six hours later, which makes it easier to sleep at that time. This may be why exercising in the late afternoon may be ideal -- and evening not.

This is more reason to go out and make the most of your day so a good night's sleep will be more than just a dream.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

10 Weight-Loss Myths: Don't Be Fooled!
By Susan Woodward

When does a lie become an accepted truth? When the lie is repeated often enough.

It's the oldest trick in the book, a favorite ploy of politicians and others who stand to gain, but still we fall for it.

Especially when it comes to losing weight.

The diet industry is riddled with self-perpetuating myths, misconceptions, and downright mistruths, sighs psychologist Jeffrey Wilbert, Ph.D., author of Fattitudes.

"The strategy is to market fringe products and miracle cures that are very seductive in what they promise," Wilbert explains, noting the billions of dollars the diet industry spends on consumer advertising. "Very few people are successful [at losing weight], but the promise gets into our subconscious and stays there."

The antidote, says Wilbert, is for consumers to educate themselves from reputable sources with reliable data. We start the process by smashing 10 of the most common weight-loss lies right here.

1. "Lose 30 pounds in 30 days." Or any other gimmick that pledges massive weight loss at breakneck speed. "It's not healthy, and it's not true," Wilbert says. Permanent weight loss requires lifestyle change, not a quick fix, he adds.

2. Fat is bad for you. "Dieticians forwarded that one to people for years,” says registered dietician and nutrition teacher Rick Hall. Now they know better. The truth is that some fats are unhealthy, and some are good – indeed, necessary – for your health. (Hence the term, "essential fatty acids"!)

3. Carbohydrates are bad for you. First it was fat, now carbohydrates are the bad guy. Wilbert explains that this trendy idea is just too broad. When trying to lose weight, make a distinction between unhealthy carbohydrates, such as white sugar, and complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and whole grains, which provide vital vitamins, and fiber to aid digestion.

4. Lose weight by not eating. Uh…no. Starving deprives the body of the nutrients it needs for life and can lead to serious illness. Plus you lose muscle mass, not fat. Even if you do lose pounds, you gain them back almost immediately when you raid the fridge again.

5. Don't eat after 6 p.m. "It's not what time you eat, it's what you eat!" insists Dare to Lose author, Shari Lieberman, Ph.D. "In Europe they eat at 10 o'clock at night and they're half the size of Americans."

6. Salad bars are healthy. Bacon, cheeses, fried chicken, oily dressings…The apparent allure of salad bars means they probably require as much of your considered attention as ordering at a fast food restaurant. "You have to choose the foods at a salad bar wisely," Lieberman reminds people.

7. Diet sodas aid weight loss. This is one of Lieberman's favorite pieces of diet-industry hype. "There isn't a single study that shows diet sodas help you lose weight. There's absolutely no data on that at all," she claims.

8. You shouldn't step on a scale. "It's another misconception that dieticians have passed on," says Hall. "I completely disagree with it." He says checking your weight on a regular basis, say once or twice a week, is an obvious way to gauge your progress and alter your diet accordingly. However, Lieberman notes that scales in and of themselves, well, suck. She encourages people to keep track of hip, thigh and tummy inches, too.

9. You can lose weight with a pill. "You can't replace healthy eating and exercise with a pill," Hall warns. "Pills aren’t a new thing, they've been tried for decades…[with] horrible side effects."

10. You have to join the gym. Actually, the most recent research indicates 30 to 60 minutes per day of moderate physical activity is all it takes to balance healthy food intake. It doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise, "just move your body!" exclaims Hall.