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Friday, March 31, 2006

Top 10 April Fools' Pranks to Play at Work
By Kate Lorenz, Editor

Time to dust off the whoopee cushions and hand buzzers. April Fools' Day is here and there's no better place for wisecracks and shenanigans than at work.

In its annual April Fools' Day survey, found 33 percent of workers have played a practical joke on a co-worker and 17 percent are planning office tricks for this year's holiday.

Although it might be thrilling to finally one-up the office funnyman, pranks also help beat something that's no laughing matter: workplace stress.

More than half of workers reported working under stress in another survey. Stress and worry on the job can be harmful, causing problems that damage your health and performance. Having fun with co-workers can provide stress relief, build rapport, make work more enjoyable and possibly improve productivity.

If you want to commit an act of April Foolery at work and need some inspiration, here are the top 10 work gags from's survey:

1. Changed the caller ID on a co-worker's phone to read "Mr. Kitten" every time he called someone.

2. Placed random objects from people's desks in the vending machine.

3. Placed a live goldfish in an IV bag in a clinic.

4. Snuck onto someone else's computer and sent out an "I love you" e-mail to the entire office.

5. Wall papered someone's entire cube with headshots of his co-workers.

6. Pulled the shelves out of the break room refrigerator, hid inside and jumped out at co-workers as they opened the door.

7. Sat on the copier and placed the copies back in the paper bin. Anytime co-workers made copies, they had the image of the prankster's backside in the background.

8. Turned all the clocks in the office one hour back to make the work day seem longer.

9. Locked all the doors, shut off the lights and put a "Closed" sign in the window when the boss went out for lunch.

10. Placed fake rubber chocolates in the break room and watched as co-workers tried to chew them.

Good Taste: Top 5 Foods to Prevent Bad Breath
by Marin Gazzaniga
for MSN Health & Fitness

Bad breath results from two key issues: oral hygiene and gastrointestinal health. Basically this means that breath odors originate not just inside the mouth but also from your digestive tract. The culprit in both cases is largely bacteria. Doctors will tell you that if you have bad breath, you should first make sure you are eating right (getting a balanced diet of protein, carbs, lots of fruits and veggies and plenty of fluids to keep the GI tract healthy) and brushing and flossing after every meal. But that still doesn’t mean you might not be offending your friends and co-workers after lunch at the new Italian place. Here are some things you can ingest (or chew) that can help.

1. Chew on this. Move over parsley, there are some new halitosis-fighting herbs in town. “Coriander, spearmint, tarragon, eucalyptus, rosemary and cardamom are all good for fighting bad breath,” says Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, who has lectured on oral health. You can chew on fresh herbs or make tonics by steeping them in hot water (as a tea). These herbs make an excellent digestive as well—doubling the benefits of ending a meal this way.

2. Get some active culture. No, not Cirque de Soleil, but yogurt. A recent study found that a serving of yogurt each day reduces the level of odor-causing hydrogen sulfide in the mouth. Apparently it also cuts back on bacteria in the mouth—plaque and gum disease were reduced in the study’s yogurt eaters as well. Plus, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends getting enough vitamin D from yogurt, cheese and milk if you’re worried about halitosis because this vitamin creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria growth. Be sure to get the kind of yogurt with active cultures—not overly processed or sugar-added varieties.

3. Crunchy types. Apples, carrots, celery—basically any fiber-rich fruit or vegetable is your friend when it comes to fighting halitosis. “Inside your mouth, plaque build-up causes odors,” explains Cynthia Sass, ADA spokeswoman and registered dietician. “Eating foods that increase saliva production keep the mouth moist—and rinsed out. Also, many carbs and proteins can get stuck in your teeth—even healthy foods like whole grain cereal or chicken breast.” So follow a meal with a Granny Smith (feel the saliva kick in at the mention of it?) to cleanse the mouth.

4. Masking techniques. Sugarless gum shouldn’t replace brushing your teeth after a meal, but in a pinch it can freshen breath (masking odors) and is another way to increase saliva production to rinse away plaque and bacteria. Mints can mask as well, but only briefly—and go for sugarless. Sugar creates plaque, and no one wants a mint that makes breath worse.

5. High C’s. Eating berries, citrus fruits, melons and other vitamin C-rich foods create an inhospitable environment for bacteria growth. A diet rich in vitamin C is also is important for preventing gum disease and gingivitis—both major causes of halitosis. Get your C in foods, not supplements, which can cause gastrointestinal upset in some, according to Sass, and exacerbate bad breath.

Thrive on just one income
The key to supporting one spouse as a stay-at-home parent is planning, planning, planning. Here’s how one young couple manages it.

By Mary Beth Franklin
Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine

For Raffi and Elaine Boloyan, both 32, stretching their income became doubly challenging when they chose to cut their income by nearly half. Two years ago, Elaine left her $67,000-a-year job in human resources to stay home with daughter Ava. To make this kind of transition, the Boloyans have three words of advice for other families: "Plan, plan, plan."

Their own preparation began in 2002, when they bought a house in a less-expensive area, moving from Marin County to American Canyon, Calif. That meant a longer commute for Raffi, a city planner in San Rafael. But if they had stayed in Marin County, "both of us would have had to work full-time to pay the mortgage," says Raffi.Start investing with $100.
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To avoid private mortgage insurance (Read “Save hundreds on your mortgage)”, they put 10% down and took out a loan for the rest of the down payment. That saved them several thousand dollars on PMI, which is generally required when you make a down payment of less than 20%. A year later, when interest rates fell and home values increased enough to give the Boloyans more than 20% equity in their home, they refinanced their mortgage and locked in a 5.5% fixed rate.

Stash for retirement
Elaine’s mother passed away soon after Elaine left her job, and the couple used the inheritance to pay off all their debts other than the mortgage. Eliminating their car loan and the balance on their home-equity line of credit "increased our monthly cash flow significantly," says Elaine.

They also used some of their inheritance to fully fund their Roth IRAs. Even though Elaine is a stay-at-home mom with no income, she can have her own spousal IRA because Raffi is employed. In 2006, they can each contribute $4,000 to their accounts. Their Roth contributions aren’t tax-deductible, but their withdrawals will be tax-free in retirement.

The Boloyans are wise to take advantage of a Roth for another reason. When the two of them were working, their combined income was nudging the $150,000 ceiling at which Roth eligibility begins to phase out.

Elaine and Raffi opened their IRAs in a low-cost brokerage account (see Kiplinger’s tool for choosing an online broker ) and they plan to gradually shift more money from individual stocks to mutual funds so they don’t have to monitor their investments as closely. Kiplinger’s long-term portfolio would be perfect for their retirement savings. Or they could shift 90% of their money to the T. Rowe Price Retirement 2035 fund, TRRJX (TRRJX)and 10% to Masters' Select Smaller Companies (MSSFX) for a bigger stake in small-company stocks.

Trim insurance payments
Elaine and Raffi had been paying about $250 per month for a universal life-insurance policy. But they lowered their premiums to a mere $68 when they switched to 20-year term insurance -- a $350,000 policy on Raffi and $250,000 on Elaine. They cut the cost of homeowners’ coverage by electing a $2,000 deductible, and they could save 10% or more on their auto insurance by raising the deductibles on their two cars from $500 to at least $1,000.

By contributing $4,500 to a flexible spending account through Raffi’s employer, the Boloyans gave themselves a pot of tax-free money to pay for deductibles, co-payments, prescription drugs and other medical expenses that aren’t covered by insurance. Deposits to a flexible spending account are not taxed. So the Boloyans, who fall into the 25% tax bracket, paid only $3,375 out of pocket for the $4,500 contribution.

Elaine and Raffi opened a college-savings account for Ava in California’s state-sponsored 529 plan, to which they add money whenever they have spare cash from work bonuses or holiday gifts. Ava already has $3,500, and Mom and Dad should open a separate account for Ava’s little brother, five-month-old Roman. The Boloyans also belong to the Upromise program, which kicks in additional cash to college savings whenever they make certain purchases through participating retailers.

In the end, Elaine and Raffi say, the secret to boosting cash flow is to figure out which expenses you can cut. "Sometimes,” they say, “it’s really hard to separate necessities from extras."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Hearing God’s call in search for happiness
Catholic leaders focus on positive to combat drop in priests and nuns

The Washington Post

Katherine Frey / The Washington Post
Chelsea Sledgeski religiously attends youth mass followed by a youth meeting every Sunday at Our Lady of the Fields Church in Millersville, Md.

WASHINGTON - Picking at her black fingernail polish and fiddling with her shirt and shoulder-length blond hair, 16-year-old Chelsea Sledgeski seems every bit the typical teen.

Like her friends on the basketball team or her classmates hanging around Anne Arundel County's new malls and subdivisions, she has pressures: divorced parents, an injury that landed her on the team bench and an argument she just had with her father about her report card.

In the past few months, though, she has found a salve. It sets her apart from her family, her neighbors, even her friends at Our Lady of the Fields Catholic Church, where she stood beaming at a packed youth Mass one recent Sunday night.

Sledgeski is considering becoming a nun.

When she talks about what would attract a suburban girl with a sparkly shirt and a safari-themed room to a life of chastity and poverty, her first words aren't about devoting herself to the needy or saving souls from eternal damnation. Her inspiration sounds pretty pragmatic: Nuns and priests seem really happy compared with adults traveling other life routes.

"God brings happiness. And if you are a priest or a nun, you know that you will always bring happiness. And you always have somewhere to turn to find an escape," she said of her exploration.

U.S. Catholic Church officials are eager to hear comments such as hers as they conduct an intensified campaign to reverse the plunge in Catholics pursuing religious vocations. In the United States last year, 454 priests were ordained, down from 994 in 1965. In that period, the U.S. Catholic population swelled from 45 million to nearly 65 million, leaving 3,251 parishes without priests. The number of nuns dropped from 179,954 to 68,634.

For now, priests and nuns are being imported from countries, such as Vietnam and Nigeria, that have rising seminary populations and more conservative religious cultures. But the longer-term strategy requires deciphering the themes that will pull in young American Catholics. And churches' recruitment drives increasingly are focused on what Sledgeski talked about: how to be happy.

"Fishers of Men," a 20-minute video released this month by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, presents priests as handsome and heroic, appearing in scenes of war and civil rights marches that are contrasted with the image of bored-looking people riding an escalator to meaningless jobs. The video will be shown at Catholic schools, churches and religious retreats around the country.

Recent local campaigns have played off the same idea, using posters, pamphlets and newspaper ads to show that priests are anything but lonely and isolated. One of them features the slogan "Life's Great in Black and White" and a photo of a group of young priests smiling and laughing. Other churches have picked up the catchphrase "Men in Black," using it on posters riffing off the Hollywood movie or as the name of a team of priests who travel to parishes to shoot hoops and talk about their work.

"A lot of young people think our lives are dreadful and boring. . . . We need to get a different image out to young people and parents," said the Rev. Jason Jalbert, associate director of vocations at the Catholic diocese in Manchester, N.H., and creator of the "Life's Great" campaign.

Attracting people to a religious vocation means knowing what the average American faces and offering an alternative, said the Rev. Brian G. Bashista, 41, a former architect who runs the Arlington Diocese's Vocations Office.

"We are the most medicated generation. Everyone is searching for peace and happiness and love in all the wrong places. And most seminarians have experienced that world," he said.

'Hearing the call'
Far from being daunted by the acute shortage of priests and nuns, young people who sense they may be "hearing the call" of religious life see it as further inspiration, saying it reflects the culture of self-centeredness and materialism they hope to change.

Bryan Kuzma, 18, is listening for the call these days -- whether he is in business class at Anne Arundel Community College or busing tables at an upscale seafood restaurant at night. The skinny graduate of Anne Arundel's South River High School says he always felt "a sensation of peace" at church, "like nothing can happen to me, like I'm in God's graces."

He was that way through high school, where he felt alone amid what he called the superficial "drama" of teenage life and kept to himself as his grades suffered. He never spoke about his faith.

The first time he heard a religious vocations talk a couple years ago, he thought, "No way." But the idea began to take root last year at the Catholic Underground, a popular retreat in New York that was hosted by a community of gray-robed friars and included poetry readings and musicians playing Christian funk and reggae. "They were so happy," he said of the friars.

Although his family is "hard-core into faith" and his friends are understanding, Kuzma said, he sometimes worries about what they would think if he became a priest. He also wonders whether he has the spiritual fortitude. He has dated and isn't sure whether celibacy is for him, even though he supports the rule because it allows someone to "commit fully" to the church .

Church vocations officials use the word "discernment" to describe the process people go through in trying to tell whether God is calling them to veer away from the mainstream, saying it is as inexplicable as falling in love. But they also compare it to a dimmer switch cranking up a light or logs being stacked on a growing fire, saying it can take years, or even decades, before a candidate is ready to make the decision.

Peter Stamm has been interested in joining the clergy since third grade, when he became an altar boy at Our Lady of Victory, a church near his subdivision of Spring Valley in Northwest Washington.

"I don't know why I wanted to do it. I just remember being deeply attracted to the role the priest had," said Stamm, 18, who is studying philosophy at Boston College.

By ninth grade, the call was too loud to ignore, drowning out the intensifying sex abuse scandals that prompted his classmates at the parochial St. Anselm's School to be unkind.

"People made their voices very well known that I was a pedophile, a homosexual, like in the halls and stuff," he said with no inflection. "Luckily, I was at a good place in my prayer life. I accepted all the persecution I got and prayed for people doing it."

Home during his spring break this month, Stamm talked excitedly in his family's elegantly appointed living room about his upcoming weekend with a group of friars in Emmitsburg, in Frederick County, who own nothing and beg for food.

"I think when people see this radical lifestyle they are drawn to it. It's very liberating to not be attached to the unnecessary," he said.

Stamm considered going right into the seminary after high school. But he decided he should live for a while in a more secular, diverse environment -- to see whether he was sure he wanted to become a priest and to have a broader experience so he could "serve people better" if he did take that step later. He says it is likely he will enter the seminary after college.

His decision to delay attending seminary is not uncommon. Dozens of high school seminaries have closed as church officials have begun to believe that people can commit more seriously when they are older. According to academics, the average American priest is ordained in his late thirties, and the age of women entering religious orders is rising as well, to the early thirties.

Lack of parental support
Opposition from parents is the biggest challenge the church faces in the vocations field, officials say.

Bob Sledgeski is Catholic and was the one who pushed his daughter to start attending the more charismatic services at Our Lady of the Fields. Now, they have teenager-parent arguments about whether her grades are suffering because she is spending so many nights at church. He appreciates the role priests and nuns play and is ready to accept God's will but wonders whether his daughter could satisfy her urge to serve God in some other way, such as with the Peace Corps.

Chelsea Sledgeski is trying to sort it out. Until about a year ago, she thought even the idea of God was "weird -- how someone could dedicate their whole life to something they couldn't even prove."

But then she started going to church, to the pizza nights, the musical services and the skits about Lent that play off the show "The O.C." One night in the church's lower hall, priests and nuns came to talk to the teens.

"And I remember them talking about how they made these sacrifices, and they couldn't get married and took vows of poverty," she said. "I remember them just being very happy about it, and I thought that was kind of strange. How could you be very happy about not owning anything? But now I'm starting to get it."

Psycho kitty terrorizes Connecticut neighbors
Town orders house arrest on 'Lewis' after he ambushed the Avon lady


• Under house arrest
March 29: Six-toed 'Lewis' has been terrorizing its Connecticut neighborhood.

FAIRFIELD, Conn. - Residents of the neighborhood of Sunset Circle say they have been terrorized by a crazy cat named Lewis. Lewis for his part has been uniquely cited, personally issued a restraining order by the town's animal control officer.

"He looks like Felix the Cat and has six toes on each foot, each with a long claw," Janet Kettman, a neighbor said Monday. "They are formidable weapons."

The neighbors said those weapons, along with catlike stealth, have allowed Lewis to attack at least a half dozen people and ambush the Avon lady as she was getting out of her car.

Some of those who were bitten and scratched ended up seeking treatment at area hospitals.

Animal Control Officer Rachel Solveira placed a restraining order on him. It was the first time such an action was taken against a cat in Fairfield.

In effect, Lewis is under house arrest, forbidden to leave his home.

Solveira also arrested the cat's owner, Ruth Cisero, charging her with failing to comply with the restraining order and reckless endangerment.

Pug lovers unite online to save injured dog
Hundreds on Internet offer donations for canine in need of surgery

Tom Sweeney / AP - Minneapolis Star Tribune
Colleen Bighley, holds her 2-year-old pug named Buck in Forest Lake, Minn., on March 27.

FOREST LAKE, Minn. - A little pug named Buck has been saved, thanks to a group of dog lovers who bonded through the Internet.

After the 2-year-old pug was hit by a car last week and broke three legs, owners Colleen and Jim Bighley were faced with a $3,000 surgery bill they couldn’t afford.

Colleen Bighley shared her grief on a pug-lovers’ Web site and she wrote about her plans to give the dog one night at home before putting it to sleep.

But 14 minutes after Bighley’s post, a pug owner in Australia offered to donate money for the surgery. Others followed, and more than 200 donations totaling about $2,000 came in from as far away as France and Alaska.

Buck is home recuperating now.

Brains of very smart kids mature later
Study: Delayed development of cortex may promote higher intelligence

NEW YORK - Very smart children may seem advanced in many ways, but a new study shows they actually lag behind other kids in development of the “thinking” part of the brain.

The brain’s outer mantle, or cortex, gets thicker and then thins during childhood and the teen years. The study found that in kids with superior intelligence, the cortex reaches its thickest stage a few years later than in other kids.

Nobody knows what causes that or how it relates to superior intelligence. But researchers said the finding does not rule out a role for environment — such as intellectual stimulation — in affecting a child’s level of intelligence.

In fact, the delay may promote higher intelligence because it means a child is older, and processing more complex experiences, while the cortex is building up, said study co-author Dr. Judith Rapoport.

Rapoport, with researcher Philip Shaw and others at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., followed development of the cortex in 307 children. They used repeated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans from childhood to the latter teens.

Results appear in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

The findings are especially strong for cortex development in the front part of the brain and in a strip over the top of the head, areas where complex mental tasks are done, Shaw said.

One analysis found the cortex in kids with the highest IQs — 121 to 149 — didn’t reach maximum thickness until age 11. Children who were just slightly less bright reached that point at age 9, and those with average intelligence at around 6. In all cases, the cortex later thinned as the children matured.

Nobody knows what’s happening within the cortex to make it get thicker or thinner, Shaw said, so it’s impossible to say why those changes would be related to intelligence. Brain development is influenced by intellectual stimulation, so that probably plays a role, he said.

The study findings are “certainly not a recipe for how to change intelligence,” he said. Nor do they suggest that MRI scans can reveal how intelligent an individual child is, he said.

Elizabeth Sowell of the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied cortex thickness in children, said she found the results convincing.

While the findings show that the pattern of cortex development is related to high intelligence, they can’t show which is causing the other, she said.

She also said that by tracing out patterns of normal development, such studies help scientists understand what goes wrong in children with brain disorders.

Watch your mouth!
Americans see profanity getting worse, poll finds

This is a story about words we can’t print in this story.

You probably hear these words often, and more than ever before. But even though we can’t print them — we do have our standards — we can certainly ask: Are we living in an Age of Profanity?

Nearly three-quarters of Americans questioned last week — 74 percent — said they encounter profanity in public frequently or occasionally, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. Two-thirds said they think people swear more than they did 20 years ago. And as for, well, the gold standard of foul words, a healthy 64 percent said they use the F-word — ranging from several times a day (8 percent) to a few times a year (15 percent).

Just ask Joe Cormack. Like any bartender, Cormack, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, hears a lot of talk. He’s not really offended by bad language — heck, he uses it himself every day. But sometimes, a customer will unleash the F-word so many times, Cormack just has to jump in.

“Do you have any idea how many times you’ve just said that?” he reports saying from time to time. “I mean, if I take that out of your vocabulary, you’ve got nothin!”’

And it’s not just at the bar. Or on TV. (Or on the Senate floor, for that matter, where Vice President Dick Cheney used the F-word in a heated argument two years ago.)

‘What we hear, it’s gross’
At the community college where Cormack studies journalism, students will occasionally inject foul language into classroom discussions. Irene Kramer, a grandmother in Scranton, Pa., gets her ears singed when passing by the high school near her home.

“What we hear, it’s gross,” says Kramer, 67. “I tell them, ‘I have a dictionary and a Roget’s Thesaurus, and I don’t see any of those words in there!’ I don’t understand why these parents allow it.”

For Kramer, a major culprit is television. “Do I have to be insulted right there in my own home?” she asks. “I’m not going to pay $54 a month for cable and listen to that garbage.” And yet she feels it’s not a lost cause. “If people say ‘Look, I don’t want you talking that way,’ if they demand it, it’s going to have to change.”

In that battle, Kramer has a willing comrade: Judith Martin, who writes the syndicated Miss Manners column.

“Is it inevitable?” Martin asked in a recent interview. “Well, if it were inevitable I wouldn’t be doing my job.” The problem, she says, is that people who are offended aren’t speaking up about it.

“Everybody is pretending they aren’t shocked,” Martin says, “and gradually people WON’T be shocked. And then those who want to be offensive will find another way.”

People divided by age, gender
Perhaps not surprisingly, profanity seems to divide people by age and by gender.

Younger people admit to using bad language more often than older people; they also encounter it more and are less bothered by it. The AP-Ipsos poll showed that 62 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds acknowledged swearing in conversation at least a few times a week, compared to 39 percent of those 35 and older.

More women than men said they encounter people swearing more now than 20 years ago — 75 percent, compared to 60 percent. Also, more women said they were bothered by profanity — 74 percent at least some of the time — than men (60 percent.) And more men admitted to swearing: 54 percent at least a few times a week, compared to 39 percent of women.

Wondering specifically about the F-word? (For the record, we needed special dispensation from our bosses just to say ‘F-word.’) Thirty-two percent of men said they used it at least a few times a week, compared to 23 percent of women.

“That word doesn’t even mean what it means anymore,” says Larry Riley of Warren, Mich. “It has just become part of the culture.” Riley admits to using the F-word a few times a week. And his wife? “She never swears.”

Have a good reason to swear
A striking common note among those interviewed, swearers or not: They don’t like it when people swear for no good reason.

Darla Ramirez, for example, says she hates hearing the F-word “when people are just having a plain old conversation.” The 40-year-old housewife from Arlington, Texas, will hear “people talking about their F-ing car, or their F-ing job. I’ll hear it walking down the street, or at the shopping mall, or at Wal-Mart.

“What they do it their own home is their business, but when I’m out I don’t need to hear people talking trashy,” Ramirez says. She admits to swearing about once a month — but not the F-word.

And Donnell Neal of Madison Lake, Minn., notes how she’ll hear the F-word used as a mere form of emphasis, as in: “That person scared the f--- out of me!” Neal, 26, who works with disabled adults, says she swears only in moments of extreme frustration, “like if someone cuts me off when I’m driving, or if I’m carrying something and someone shuts the door in my face.” Even then, she says, she’ll likely use “milder cuss words” — and never at work.

The AP poll questioned 1,001 adults on March 20-22, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

For those who might find the results depressing, there’s possibly a silver lining: Many of those who swear think it’s wrong nonetheless.

Like Steven Price, a security guard in Tonawanda, N.Y., who admits to using swear words — including the F-word, several times a day — with colleagues or buddies, “like any old word.”

Price, 31, still gets mad at himself for doing it, worries about the impact of profanity (especially from TV) on his children, and regrets the way things have evolved since he was a kid.

“As I get older, the more things change,” says Price. “And I kind of wish they had stayed the same.”

Demographics and Details of Profanity Poll
By The Associated Press

Some demographics and details about the AP-Ipsos poll on attitudes about profanity. The results are taken from a poll of 1,001 adults that was conducted March 20-22. The poll, conducted by the international polling firm Ipsos, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

HOW MUCH PROFANITY: About three-fourths of people, 74 percent, said they frequently or occasionally encounter people using profanity or swear words in public. Just over four in 10 of those polled, 42 percent, said they frequently run into such people.

Almost nine in 10 people from age 18-29, 86 percent, said they encounter people who use profanity at least occasionally, compared with 56 percent of those 65 and older. The amount of profanity people encounter tends to drop steadily as age increases. People who make more than $50,000 a year were more likely than those in lower income groups to say they encounter profanity at least occasionally, 81 percent, than those who make less than $25,000 a year, 66 percent.

IS PROFANITY GETTING WORSE: Two-thirds said they think people use profanity more now than they did 20 years ago. Only 11 percent said less often.

Three-fourths of women said people use profanity more than they did 20 years ago, while six in 10 men felt that way. Midwesterners, 74 percent, were more likely than people in other regions to say that people use swear words more than they used to.

HOW OFFENSIVE: Two-thirds said it bothers them when people use profanity. More than a third of those polled, 36 percent, said it bothers them a lot.

More than three-fourths of people 65 and over said they are bothered by the use of profanity, compared with 56 percent of 18-29 years old. Again, people were more likely to be bothered by profanity as their age increases.

WHO ADMITS TO USING IT: Almost half of those polled, 46 percent, said they use swear words in conversation a few times a week or more.

Men, 54 percent, were more likely than women, 39 percent, to admit they use swear words a few times a week. Almost two-thirds of people from age 18-29 said they use swear words in conversation at least a few times a week. That compares to 58 percent of 30- to 39-year-olds, 49 percent of 40-to 49-year-olds, 37 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds and 21 percent of those 65 and older.

Man returns purse full of $1 million in jewelry
Louis Vuitton bag found on park bench in Sausalito, near San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO - John Suhrhoff found a Louis Vuitton bag on a Sausalito park bench.

Inside, police say, were a 12-carat diamond ring, pearl and emerald jewelry, a Cartier watch and roughly $500 in cash. The contents were worth $1 million.

But the respiratory therapist didn't think of heading to a pawn shop — he took the bag to police Monday afternoon.

The bag is now en route to a Toronto family who had been in northern California for a wedding.

"Every person I know or associate with would have done the same thing," Suhrhoff, 56, said Tuesday. "I'm glad to be able to help."

The Canadian family told the Marin Independent Journal they were sightseeing Sunday in Sausalito, a tourist hub known for its waterfront views of San Francisco.

Very thankful
Shahla Ghannadian briefly left her husband in charge of the purse, which contained jewelry she wore at the wedding.

Ghannadian realized the bag was gone when she returned to her San Francisco hotel. The family went to police and didn't have any luck — and were told chances were slim the bag would be returned.

"You have to be a real man to return that bag," Ghannadian's son Ali told the paper. "Even the bag is expensive. We're really, really thankful to that guy."

Sausalito police said Suhrhoff had thought the bag contained costume jewelry.

It was unclear whether the family offered him a reward.

College student lives at Wal-Mart for 41 hours
Drake University sophomore planned on using stunt as premise for story

DES MOINES, Iowa - For spring break, some college students set out for sun-drenched beaches or cheap European cities. Skyler Bartels headed for the local Wal-Mart.

Bartels, 20, an aspiring writer and Drake University sophomore, thought he’d spend a week in a Wal-Mart as a test of endurance, using it as the premise for a magazine article. His college adviser liked the idea.

“I just intuitively thought, ‘This is brilliant!”’ said Carol Spaulding-Kruse, an associate professor of English. “I wasn’t quite sure why, but it just sounded like a really good idea.”

For 41 hours, Bartels wandered the aisles of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Windsor Heights that’s open 24 hours a day. He checked out shoppers, read magazines, watched movies on the DVD display and played video games.

He bought meals at the in-store Subway sandwich shop, but was able to catch only brief naps in a restroom stall or on lawn chairs in the garden department.

Other shoppers and employees didn’t pay much attention until the end of his stay, he said, when it appeared some store greeters began to take notice — pointing at him and whispering.

A shift manager approached him and asked him if he was finding everything he needed.

“He said, ‘Didn’t I see you over by the magazines, like, five hours ago?’ I told him, ‘Maybe,”’ Bartels said.

A failure?
Tiring to the point of hallucinating, Bartels said he decided to go home before he was thrown out.

He considered the project a failure.

Then, The Des Moines Register, which had been contacted by Spaulding-Kruse, called to ask him about the experience. Once the story ran, TV networks began calling.

He also talked with a book agent, has been contacted by New Line Cinema about a movie concept and did a radio interview with National Public Radio.

Bartels told The Associated Press he has decided the stunt wasn’t such a failure after all.

“I’m incredibly happy with the press coverage,” he said. “It would be kind of silly not to accept it with open arms.”

Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Thornton said Bartels neither violated store policy nor broke the law.

“We were unaware of his presence and if we were aware of it we certainly wouldn’t have condoned it,” Thornton said. “We’re a retailer, not a hotel.”

Sago Mine survivor set to go home
W.Va. miner McCloy expected to be released from rehab facility Thursday

Randal McCloy Jr., in a December 2005 handout photo provided by this family.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The sole survivor of the Sago Mine disaster is expected to be released from a rehabilitation hospital and return home Thursday after more than two months of therapy, a family spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Randal McCloy Jr.'s doctors have scheduled a news conference for Thursday morning to discuss his case, Aly Goodwin Gregg said.

"He's been looking forward to going home and he's very, very close to that point now," Gregg said.

"Being in his own space again is what he's looking forward to and what the family is looking forward to."

The 26-year-old coal miner has been at a rehab facility in Morgantown since Jan. 26, recovering from brain damage and other injuries. Earlier, he was treated at hospitals in Morgantown and Pittsburgh.

McCloy was taken to his home in Simpson, a 45-minute drive from Morgantown, for a visit March 14, the first time he had been there since the Jan. 2 explosion that injured him and killed 12 co-workers.

Gregg said McCloy will continue to receive therapy for some time at home. She said his wife Anna, who has been staying at a hotel in Morgantown since the disaster, will be his primary caretaker.

McCloy and his co-workers entered the Sago Mine to resume production after a holiday shutdown when the explosion trapped them. It took more than 40 hours for rescue teams to reach the men, and by then, most had died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

McCloy was carried out with brain, kidney, lung, liver and heart damage on Jan. 4 and remained in a coma for weeks.

He has since regained most of his movement, and is eating and breathing on his own.

While he also has been speaking, doctors have said it may be three to six months before he's able to carry on a normal conversation.

Gregg said she did not know how much McCloy remembers about the explosion.

Blind leads the blind — to safety
Sightless man pulls his neighbor from burning home in Texas


When Jim Sherman heard his neighbor call out for help, he rushed to her rescue, pulling the 84-year-old woman from her burning home in Texas Monday night. Sherman has been blind since birth. The woman he saved is also legally blind.

Sherman and the neighbor, Annie Smith, shared a baby monitor for communication, The Houston Chronicle reported. When he heard Smith’s cry, he used a chain link fence to navigate to the burning house, about 30 miles northeast of Houston.

“I got to the door and heard crackling, smelled smoke and felt the intense heat,” Sherman, 54, told the Chronicle. He said he took a few steps inside the house and pulled her outside.

Fire crews reached the scene at around 10:30 p.m. Investigator Kevin Bates told the Chronicle that Smith “probably wouldn’t have made it out of the house without his help.”

Earlier rescue
Sherman agreed to check in on Smith while Smith’s daughter, Deborah, worked a night shift as a nurse, he told the paper. Deborah Smith came up with the idea to use a baby monitor several months ago because she worried about her mother falling, Sherman said.

Smith’s other daughter, Delores Perry, told the Chronicle that Sherman also came to Smith’s rescue when she had a stroke last month. She said he heard Smith on the baby monitor fall to the floor. “He got her on the couch and called 911, and then called my sister at work,” she told the paper.

Stopped from going back in
Annie Smith said she wanted to go back inside the burning house to get her three newborn kittens, but Sherman refused to let her go. Deborah Smith arrived in time to rescue the animals. Their dog and another cat also survived, but the kittens’ mother died.

Fire officials said the blaze was caused by an electrical overload in the bedroom, the Chronicle reported.

Perry said Sherman’s actions were not a surprise. “It’s just the man he is,” she told the paper.

Sherman told the Chronicle, “I’m just glad I saved someone’s life.”

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Theater: 'Ring' a Ding Ding
Tolkien's trilogy gets a new life—as a musical. But is the world ready for harmonizing hobbits?

By Jeff Giles

Manuel Harlan
Stilted: Merry and Pippin exhort the lethargic Ents to come to their aid in the war on evil

March 27, 2006 issue - Before the show, a fiftysomething woman in a pink sweater set and a brown tweed skirt browses in the gift shop, looking lost. "Did you ever watch the tapes?" she asks her twentysomething daughter hovering nearby. The young woman shakes her head. Mom sighs: "Do you have any idea what this is about?"

It took J.R.R. Tolkien more than a thousand densely—densely—packed pages to answer that question in his trilogy of novels. Now, an epic, $23 million, three-and-a-half hour musical adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" is poised to hit the stage in Toronto. An engagement on London's West End is already set for spring 2007. A Broadway run will likely follow, assuming the show can draw theater lovers who don't know from hobbits, as well as Tolkien lovers who don't know from musicals. "Lord of the Rings" fans are wary of anyone who enters their kingdom. Even if the show generates good will, can enough hard-core fans be lured to the theater? The director, Matthew Warchus, laughs when asked the question. "We're about to find out."

The "LOTR" show, which has already generated $13 million in advance ticket sales, is not associated with Peter Jackson's Oscar-gobbling movies. Producer Kevin Wallace was in discussions about the project shortly before "Fellowship of the Ring" premièred in the winter of 2001, and Warchus hasn't seen the films recently. "They were the last word in cinematic battle sequences," he says, "but we're not going to do a thousand ladders going up at Helm's Deep."

"Lord of the Rings" (for the lady in the pink sweater) is the story of a wee hobbit named Frodo who volunteers to trek into darkest Mordor and destroy an evil ring in the fires of Mount Doom—which is not a place you'd go unless you really had to. The stage show is not a musical in the cheesy sense of the word. It's full of music—with sprightly jigs giving way to stormy modernism—but rarely does a character step forward and sing a solo. This writer's worst fear was that Frodo would clench his fist and sing, "The ring! The ring!/ It's such a heavy thing!" Nothing remotely like that happens. The height differential required from characters has been solved without fuss by casting tallish and shortish actors, using shoe lifts and finding excuses to have the hobbits kneel or lie down a lot.

This new "LOTR" is a smoke-and-lights spectacle that approaches Tolkien's work with respect. The show was still being tinkered with last week, but it was rousing and resonant—although, because of time constraints, it sometimes felt as if the plot were on fast forward. Shaun McKenna, who wrote the script and lyrics with an assist from Warchus, has made tough choices about which subplots to cut. The decisions have been almost entirely sound, if painful. The demented old King Lear-y ruler Denethor has been axed, along with his son Faramir. On the upside, the stage show lingers longer in the sparkling Elven world of Lothlorien than the movies did—no doubt because the rest of the sets are necessarily dark and forbidding—and it restores the destruction and rebuilding of the Shire to the finale, an episode that Jackson lopped off.

In all likelihood, the previous paragraph made no sense to you whatsoever. No matter. "Lord of the Rings" should play fairly well even to newcomers. The show is full of striking images, from the ghostly Black Riders to the giant spider Shelob. Even the talking Ents (left), always one of the story's goofier elements, charm here, despite looking, unaccountably, like ZZ Top. All these creatures are essentially giant puppets. At its best, "LOTR" calls "The Lion King" musical to mind—reveling in, rather than hiding, the fact that a show is being put on and a big bag of tricks made use of. Whether or not the show eclipses the movies in anyone's imagination, Toronto's hobbits will likely kick up their hairy feet and stay awhile.

China's Panda Politics
Sure, they're darn cute and cuddly. But they might be Trojan gifts.

By Melinda Liu and George Wehrfritz

Li Wei / Imaginechina-ZUMA

April 3, 2006 issue - They spend most of their lives asleep. They bite. They're absurdly inept at sex. But in the realm of diplomacy, giant pandas have few rivals. For more than a thousand years, China's rulers have used the coveted beasts to win allies abroad. The 20th century's most celebrated pair, Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling, arrived in Washington after Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972. Now Beijing is hoping two other furry ambassadors can help resolve one of the world's most intractable conflicts, the 56-year armed standoff between mainland China and Taiwan. When Chinese officials unveiled a pair of cubs early this year, calling them "a gift" to the island, the people of Taiwan went wild. Polls say more than 65 percent of Taiwan's population are in favor of accepting the mainland's offer.

But Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, is urging his government to say no. He fears that the pair would be what the press is calling "Trojan pandas." Skeptics see the animals as a perfect symbol for Beijing: no matter how friendly they look, watch out for their claws. They say it's no coincidence that a mainland-run contest gave them the names Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, echoing the Mandarin word for "reunion": tuanyuan.

Since 1949, Beijing has considered Taiwan a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland—by force, if necessary. In past years, China's armed forces have staged massive military exercises directly across the straits from the island, and recently Chen has been testing Beijing's nerves with his campaign for Taiwan to be treated as a sovereign state. In an e-mailed newsletter last week, Chen urged the Beijing leadership to let Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan stay home in the mountains of Sichuan, not locked up in a zoo. "Pandas brought up in cages or given as gifts will not be happy," he said. The analogy to Taiwan's freedom was hard to miss.

The pandas' role in the dispute is not merely symbolic. On the contrary, accepting the pandas as a gift could be tantamount to accepting Beijing's claim that Taiwan belongs to mainland China. According to the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Beijing can make an outright gift of pandas to any zoo it likes within China. Foreign zoos are different: they can get the animals only on loan, in the form of a scientific exchange. For U.S. zoos, the price of those "scientific" deals can be well over $1 million a year. Nevertheless, Beijing insists that the pandas would be "a good-will gift" to Taiwan, "free and unconditional." "It's a very clever gesture," says Lo Chih-Cheng, head of a Taipei think tank. "If we accept them, it will trigger a domino effect."

And yet most people can't resist pandas. Pat Buchanan, a member of Nixon's 1972 China entourage, recalls how the White House, preoccupied with geostrategic issues, was utterly unprepared for the wild uproar that met Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling at the National Zoo. "The Chinese really scored heavily," he says. "We didn't realize what a smash they would be." Taiwan's Council of Agriculture is expected to give an official recommendation on whether to accept the pandas in early April, but local zoos are already investing heavily, hoping they will become the pandas' new home. The Taipei Zoo is building a $6 million climate-controlled "five star" panda enclosure. The private Zoological Society of Taipei has spent more than $100,000 to train zoo staff on the care and feeding of pandas. People can't wait. "At parties, friends come up to me and say, 'Hey, just give us the pandas!' " says Eric Tsao, curator of the Taipei Zoo.

Chinese authorities are urging Chen to respect the people's wishes. Never mind the obvious irony. Whatever Chen does, the panda lovers have a good chance of getting their wish sooner or later. Chen's term expires in two years. His approval ratings have sunk to dismal levels, and his pro-independence party lost badly in recent local elections. Meanwhile, Beijing has been waging a charm offensive, cutting duties on goods from Taiwan and inviting Chen's leading political adversaries to visit the mainland. Mainland officials say that Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan are nothing more than a continuation of that policy. "It's absolutely inappropriate to call them 'Trojan pandas'," says Zhang Hemin, director of the Wolong Giant Panda Research and Conservation Center in Sichuan province, where the cubs were born and raised. His deputy, Li Desheng, agrees: "Pandas symbolize peace and friendship. This has nothing to do with politics."

Pandas need all the love they can get. There are only 1,590 of them living in the wild, and fewer than 200 in captivity. They're notoriously difficult to breed. But researchers at Wolong are slowly unraveling the mysteries of panda sex. The females are in heat only four days a year, and to compound the challenge, males have their own reproductive cycle. The center's keepers have designed special breeding pens to let the animals see and smell each other more easily, helping them to bond. Something seems to be working. The 2005 breeding season produced a historic bumper crop of rambunctious baby pandas. This February the center opened a new "panda nursery" with no fewer than 16 cubs under a year old, not far from the enclosure where Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan are living. The babies romped in new-fallen snow, tumbled down a playground slide, dangled precariously from wooden platforms and grabbed keepers' legs in furry, black-and-white perpetual motion. With luck, they'll keep their species going at least a few more years.

Why Privacy Won't Matter
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft desperately want to know every last thing about what you do, say and buy. Here's how they'll do it—and why we'll let them.

By David H. Freedman
Newsweek International

Illustration by Alex Nabaum for Newsweek

April 3, 2006 issue - A friend takes your picture with her cell phone, and puts the phone back in her purse. But the gadget isn't dormant. It gets to work figuring out who you are, and sends that information, along with your precise location, to an organization that adds the data to a file it keeps on where you go and who you hang out with, as well as other things. The organization then charges money to help others who want to reach you, and even notifies certain people nearby of your presence.

Who is this shadowy organization? It's Google—as well as Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL, among others. None of these companies are tracking you using cell-phone photos today, of course; that capability is still at least a few years off. But they are following you in other ways, and profiting from doing so. And they're gearing up to keep a much closer eye on all of us, so that within five years these and other firms will routinely track our movements, friends, interests, purchases and correspondence—then make money by helping marketers take advantage of the information.

These companies' brash plans are pushing us toward a thorny choice that will determine the future of computing. Google and other Web-oriented, information-service giants are determined to build a breathtaking array of services based on your personal information, and they're betting you'll be willing to share it with them in order for you to reap the benefits. But if we cooperate and let them in on the details of our lives, we'll lose much of our privacy, and possibly a lot more.

When the files on us are so detailed that it becomes easy to document our political beliefs, love lives, embarrassing habits and petty crimes, we risk becoming routinely persecuted for them—or, even worse, afraid to engage in any behavior that others might find controversial. "What's going to be taking place over the next 10 years in the privacy space will have profound implications for how we relate to each other socially, economically and politically," says Jerry Kang, a UCLA law professor who studies the impact of technology on privacy. "We shouldn't be too quick to turn personal data over to market forces."

A privacy backlash, however, would stifle these potentially revolutionary services before they get off the ground—and leave the computer industry's biggest plan for growth in tatters. That may be just what some people want. The U.S. Congress is considering four bills that would make it illegal for companies to collect and share information online or through cell phones about people without clearer warning and permission. These sorts of restrictions are already in effect throughout much of Europe, thanks in part to European Union directives on privacy and electronic communications passed in 2002 and 2003.

These efforts seem doomed to fail eventually: a new generation of consumers, now teenagers, are growing up without any qualms about giving away every shred of information about themselves online. The good news is that there's no reason to choose between technology and privacy. New technologies are emerging that can doctor our data so that companies know just enough about us to ply us with customized services, while preventing them from getting a clear picture of our private lives. The question is again one of trust: in this case, whether people will come to trust the companies that are trying to build these new technologies.

What Google and its competitors plan to dangle before us is in essence the ultimate search engine: one that finds information based not just on what you type in, but on what you really want, and that feeds it to you wherever and whenever it's most useful. Keyword searching is a blunt instrument when you want to find the cheapest way to send flowers to a friend in Cleveland, to know which of the movies opening near you next week will be your kind of flick, to find people in your town who share your interests in boating and beekeeping. Yahoo's research head Prabhakar Raghavan says the solution is what he calls the "sentient network." "The network magically figures out what you're looking for and provides it at the right time, anywhere," he says—on the PC at your desk, the home entertainment system in your living room, a cell phone in a store. Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, waxes on about simply speaking out loud in plain English to your car to have it connect you to the nearest two-star French restaurant, or to your TV to have it download any episodes of "Survivor" you missed. Sometimes you won't even have to ask. "Whatever computer I have with me will just listen to what I'm saying, and take interesting actions on my behalf online," she says.

This proposed new world of ultrapersonalized information on the go is being driven by a new array of computing and tracking technologies that have already hit the streets, or will in the next few years. Cell phones are getting powerful computer chips, and most are already capable of pinpointing your location. When you take a picture of someone with your phone, notes David Stork, chief scientist at electronics manufacturer Ricoh's California Research Center, the phone may soon be able to figure out who it is based on what it knows about your location and your contact list. Phones already are serving as wireless credit cards in Asia and parts of Europe. That would allow tracking your purchases, so that the network might learn to notify you when a nearby restaurant is serving a favorite special, or when a store next door is running a sale on jeans.

Want to give being tracked a rest? You could turn your cell phone off, but that won't stop smart video cameras from recognizing you. Some 25 million surveillance cameras are already in place in stores and public spaces in the United States alone, and new ones are coming online at the rate of 2 million a year. In cities like London, it's difficult to walk down the street without being photographed from several different angles. Right now recognizing someone requires a human monitor, but that won't be true in five-or-so years. "The network will know you about as well as a good friend does," says Michael Gold, a senior researcher at SRI Consulting Business Intelligence in Menlo Park, Calif.

Ubiquitous wireless networks, along with cheap radio chips and plastic video displays, will turn products on shelves and in your home into "smart objects." Princeton electrical-engineering professor Wayne Wolf, who is developing a smart video camera that can help stores track customers, predicts a supermarket cereal aisle that will recognize you and prompt a box of your favorite cereal to light up with a reminder that it's been two weeks since you last bought one—time to re-up. "If you have the information on where someone is, and the cereal box is linked to the network, it's easy to customize the message displayed on the box," explains Wolf. Within five years most of us will routinely get highly customized information as we make our way down the street—an alert on a cell phone that your boss or a college friend is in town, or an invitation via the car stereo from a store that you're passing to drop in and pick up a favorite product at a sharp discount. Early versions of some of these services are already running.

The network may know you like a friend, but it will do something that your friend wouldn't: feed you advertisements throughout the day, wherever you are, based on your personal information. It'll have to, because that's the only way Google, Yahoo and others will be able to make money, given that we've all become spoiled by free Web services. "Charging a fee for an online service is a good way to lose 90 percent of your customers," says Steve Jurvetson, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a high-tech venture-capital firm in Menlo Park. "But human attention is always monetizable."

That is, Google and its rivals can sell the opportunity to put an ad in front of you that is tightly keyed to your detailed profile, and to what you're doing at that moment. Did you watch a show about solar power on the Discovery Channel? Making a lot of trips to the auto-repair shop? Sounds like you're a candidate for an ad for a hybrid car, to be routed to your cell phone or car when you're within three blocks of a dealer. Google's big innovation wasn't making a better search engine—it was recognizing that tying information needs to ads on the fly was the missing link in the computer revolution.

Tailored, on-the-go information services are likely to prove irresistible to consumers—which is why all the big Web players are frantically retooling their business plans to provide them. Google has an early lead, but Yahoo, Microsoft and Time Warner's AOL are rushing to put their own spins on the trend. In fact, almost every corner of the computer and communications industries—indeed, much of the business world—is giving serious thought to how to get in on the action. No wonder: Search-engine-driven advertising is already a $10 billion worldwide market, expected to hit $30 billion in four years—and that's without a new range of customized services. The potential take is no less than the $400 billion spent worldwide on advertising each year.

To pull off these sponsored services, Google, Yahoo and others need to know who you are; where you are; what you buy, watch and read; who you spend time with, and even what you say to your friends. No business wants to be caught spying on its customers, of course; these companies plan to nudge and seduce us, literally bit by bit, into agreeing to let them gather the information advertisers need for tailored pitches. Forty-one percent of online users already visit Google at least once a week to run a search, but keywords are a limited source of ad customization, notes analyst Charlene Li at Forrester Research. "Google is desperate to sign people up to do more personal things," she says.

Spearheading that drive is the company's Gmail service, which requires users to agree to let Google key ads to the contents of their e-mail notes, and Google Desktop, which gathers information on all the files on a user's computer. Want to sign up for Gmail? No problem—all you have to do is give Google your cell-phone number, even though the service has little to do with cell phones yet. "Right now we can watch a lot more activity on someone's PC," says Google's Mayer. "But it's easily possible over the next few years that a lot of that will move to the cell phone." She adds that the company plans to put as much of its computing resources into serving targeted ads as it does into searching.

Yahoo has the same idea, but with more emphasis on targeting users according to their relationships with other users. "Our research has to get more deeply embroiled with social networks," says Yahoo's Raghavan. "Finding out your likes and dislikes is just the beginning of the proposition." One possibility is hitting up people with ads based on how their friends and colleagues reacted to the same ad, he notes. And where Google vows to continue to clearly separate and label its sponsored content, Yahoo is looking into ways to blend them. One experimental search engine on Yahoo's site allows you to adjust the results to make them more or less oriented toward shopping, and sponsored results could become a part of that mix, says Raghavan. "Wouldn't it be nice if the network knew you liked to visit warm places, and put together a $3,000 package to Cancún?" he says.

Microsoft has no intention of being left out. The firm is slowly shifting its emphasis away from PC-based software like Windows and Office to its new, Web-based Live services that work partly on your computer and partly on the network. "We're offering a deeper value exchange now," says Adam Sohn, director of global consumer marketing for Microsoft's MSN division. "You give us access to more personal information about you and your activities, and we can show you ads that make sense to you." AOL could be a big player, too, thanks largely to its instant-messaging service, which already includes advertising "robots," or software that can provide sponsored information as messages. Cell-phone firms may offer sponsored tracking services, car companies are rolling out networks like GM's OnStar, and any store or building could put up a wireless network that provides targeted advertisements in exchange for access.

Should we put up with it? Maybe, says Joseph Moran, a privacy lawyer at Duane Morris. "There may be an acceptable balance between decreasing privacy standards and the benefits that the services give us, as long as there's an informed user base," he says. If trusted companies like Google or Yahoo can get us to dip our toes into these services, as many of us already have, we may well find them useful enough to lower our resistance to turning over more and more of our data. And even if most people's concerns about sharing too much don't quickly dissipate, time is on the side of these services, thanks to privacy-challenged teenagers. "Young people think of the Internet as a fact of life," says Yahoo's Raghavan. "They're more open to targeting."

The result would be an erosion of privacy very different from the ones privacy advocates have long warned about—coming not at the hand of a big-brother government, nor of stalkers, hackers, telemarketers, spammers or abusive employers, but rather of companies bribing us with services. Once the story of your day-to-day life is on file at Google and other companies, you'll simply have to take it on faith that they won't let it get into the hands of law-enforcement agencies, the IRS, your spouse, your boss, extortionists, predators and any-one else who might be working against your interests.

And no matter how trustworthy these companies turn out to be, they might not be able to stop subpoenas and hackers from lifting the data anyway—a lesson driven home last month when a U.S. federal judge ruled that Google must partially comply with a Department of Justice demand for some of the company's search data. Even if your information isn't blatantly misused, you could find yourself thinking twice before doing anything that someone else might find objectionable, or even standing up for your beliefs. "Each generation might become more comfortable with a lack of privacy, so that we end up in a society where anyone can find out anything about you," warns UCLA's Kang. "When that happens, you have to wonder what happens to dissent, even in a free society."

For those who object to the notion of being tracked, there may be some protection short of "going off the grid"—that is, giving up all computer services. Companies could promise to track information about you without associating it with your name or identity, much as Web-site "cookies" do today. Or they could offer to periodically destroy all the data they've kept on you. And thanks to some promising new technologies now in labs, we may be able to have our cake and eat it, too. For example, researchers are working on techniques that "distort" personal data just enough to prevent reliable identification, by randomly altering the data. "You'll lose some degree of personalized service, but you'll have more control over your privacy," says Ramnath Chellappa, an information-technology researcher at Emory University's business school who is working on the technology. And Carnegie Mellon professor Latanya Sweeney has developed a way to modify video systems to prevent people's being recognized by morphing their facial features. "It de-identifies people, guaranteed," she says. Yet another approach: the network could maintain an "information shield" that watches for and blocks the transmission of any of your personal data that you've declared off-limits.

Perhaps in the end governments need to step in, if for no other reason than to require that Google and other information services take greater pains to make sure users know exactly what they're getting into. Right now, users rotely click "yes" to numbingly verbose and universally ignored agreements on Web pages. But more of us might think twice if, for example, the government required companies to have us click on a single, bold-faced line in the middle of an otherwise blank page that read, "I agree to let Google collect, store and analyze information about everything I do on the network and use it to help other companies target me for advertisements."

Some of these points will be worked out in the courts, when angry users sue companies for being too loose with their personal data. It might be someone whose cigar-buying habits are shared with the insurance company that issued him a nonsmoker's policy; or the churchgoer who's sitting next to a deacon when her cell phone chirps out a $3-off offer on a bottle of Scotch; or the Boy Scout leader who gets kicked out when he ends up on a gay-rights mailing list after a camera noticed he was standing near the gay-literature section in a bookstore. "One way to see where technology is heading is to see where the lawsuits are heading," says Stork. Perhaps lawyers will end up paying Google to flash their ads in front of anyone whose privacy has been violated. Now that's justice, 21st-century style.

Britney Sculpture of Birth Causes Stir
The Associated Press


NEW YORK -- Britney Spears will soon be giving birth again — in Brooklyn, as a sexy sculpture that has drawn thousands of hate e-mails.

"This is a new take on pro-life. Pro-lifers normally promote bloody images of abortion. This is the image of birth," Daniel Edwards said of his work, to be unveiled at a Brooklyn gallery in April, months after Edwards' sculpture of Ted Williams severed head stirred up an artistic storm.

The life-size pop princess is naked and pregnant, crouching face-down on a bare-toothed bear rug as the baby's head appears on the opposite end.

On Tuesday at his studio in Moosup, Conn., Edwards was pouring a mold to cast the sculpture in resin. It'll be transported to the Capla Kesting Fine Art gallery in Brooklyn's artsy Williamsburg neighborhood, where Britney the artwork is to appear next to a display case filled with pro-life materials.

When some bloggers heard about the exhibit — "Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston" — the gallery was inundated with about 3,000 e-mails from around the world in just a week, split between pro-choice and pro-life opinions.

"We also got calls from Tokyo, England, France. Some people are upset that Britney is being used for this subject matter," said gallery co-owner David Kesting. "Others who are pro-life thought this was degrading to their movement. And some pro-choice people were upset that this is a pro-life monument."

The gallery is hiring extra security guards for the free exhibit opening April 7 and running two weeks.

The sculptor's three children — ages 3, 6, and 8 — helped build the first clay model of the sculpted Britney, mainly the bear rug.

"At first, the kids thought it was kind of gross. Yukky. But then, they got curious," their 40-year-old dad said in a telephone interview from his home, which is near his studio.

Compared to the hubbub around his art, Edwards' life is peaceful. He takes care of his two boys and a girl during the day, while his wife, a microbiologist whom he married right after high school, goes to work.

Then they switch childcare duties while he works on his art.

His sculpture of the pop diva comes six months after she gave birth to her first child, Sean Preston — and about a half year after Edwards displayed what he called his "shrine" to baseball great Williams, whose body was decapitated and frozen in hopes that medical science could one day revive him.

When asked why he creates art that generates publicity for him by piggybacking on subjects hyped in the media, Edwards said: "You're bombarded with these stories. And there's a thread that winds back to the art. That's not a bad thing. People are interested in these topics, and it works for art as well."

Spears' publicist, Leslie Sloan, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press on Tuesday. Edwards said he never spoke to or met the star, and that he fashioned her face and figure from photographs.

"I admire her. This is an idealized figure," he said. "Everyone is coming at me with anger and venom, but I depicted her as she has depicted herself — seductively. Suddenly, she's a mom."

His aim, said the son of a mother who gave birth to him when she was 17, was to stir up debate about a difficult topic that "is greater than the issues presented by either pro-life and pro-choice advocates."

When asked whether he's pro-life, he said, "You nailed me. I'm not saying that I am. I wouldn't march with either pro-life or pro-choice advocates. This is not meant to be political."

A Democrat, "I don't judge anybody for the decision they make."

Sleep-Deprived Teens Pose Safety Hazard
Half have driven while drowsy, survey finds

By Amanda Gardner,
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, March 28 (HealthDay News) -- An alarming number of adolescents are nodding off in class, driving while drowsy and falling asleep over their homework, all because they aren't getting enough zzzs, a new survey shows.

"Only 20 percent of children are getting optimal sleep, and nearly half are getting insufficient sleep," said Christopher Drake, a clinical psychologist with the Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Center in Detroit and a member of the board of directors of the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). "This is affecting all areas of their life."

"Clearly, there can be an impact on all areas of functioning," Drake continued. "Kids who are getting insufficient sleep are more likely to feel depressed, more likely to get poorer grades and be impaired while driving. This is a major, major serious area of concern."

The revelations come courtesy of the annual Sleep in America poll released Tuesday by the National Sleep Foundation. The poll is part of the NSF's ninth annual National Sleep Awareness Week campaign, held March 27 through April 2, 2006. The campaign coincides with the return to Daylight Saving Time on the first Sunday in April.

"It's a trend that we're beginning to recognize as real, though we have suspected it for a while," said Dr. Francisco Perez-Guerra, a professor of internal medicine at Texas A&M University's Health Science Center College of Medicine and director of their Scott & White Sleep Disorders Center in College Station.

"This is the first poll to look at it, so I think we are beginning to learn what is happening out there and what we can do," said Perez-Guerra, who is also a member of the NSF's board of directors.

The survey, which includes data on more than 1,600 caregivers and, separately, their adolescent children, also found:

At least once a week, 28 percent of high-schoolers fall asleep in school, 22 percent fall sleep while doing homework and 14 percent get to school late or miss school because they overslept.

During the past year, 51 percent of adolescents have driven while drowsy. Some 15 percent of drivers in grades 10 to 12 drive drowsy at least once a week.

More than one quarter (28 percent) of adolescents say they're too fatigued to exercise.

Most parents (90 percent) thought their kids were getting enough sleep time.

Adolescents who get insufficient sleep are more likely to get lower grades. Eighty percent of adolescents who reported getting an optimal amount of sleep also said they got As and Bs in school.

Among adolescents who reported being unhappy, tense and nervous, 73 percent felt they didn't get enough sleep, while 59 percent reported being excessively sleepy during the day.

As adolescents get older, they get less sleep. Sixth graders reported sleeping an average of 8.4 hours on school nights, while kids in grade 12 reported just 6.9 hours, two hours less than recommended.

Only 41 percent of respondents said they got a good night's sleep every, or most, nights. Ten percent reported rarely or never getting a good night's sleep.

Boys and girls had similar sleep patterns. African-American adolescents reported getting 7.2 hours of sleep on school nights, compared with 7.6 hours reported by Hispanic adolescents, 7.4 hours by other minorities and 7.7 hours by White adolescents.

Three-quarters of respondents said they had at least one caffeinated beverage each day, while 31 percent said they had two or more such drinks. Caffeine can affect sleep.

Rather than engaging in relaxing activities during the hour before bedtime, 76 percent of adolescents reported watching television, 44 percent said they played on the Internet and 40 percent talked on the phone. "Electronics are invading the bedroom," Perez-Guerra said. And this can also interfere with sleep.

Almost all adolescents (97 percent) have at least one electronic item in their bedroom, the number increasing with age. Adolescents with four or more such items in their bedrooms are less likely to get sufficient sleep and almost twice as likely to fall asleep in school or while doing homework.
Much of the problem lies not with teens but with society. Adolescents naturally feel more alert later at night and wake up later in the morning. More than half (54 percent) of high-school seniors go to bed at 11 p.m. or later. Yet those same adolescents have to wake up at around 6:30 in order to get to school.

"It is the natural tendency of adolescent to go to bed later because of their body clock," confirmed Perez-Guerra. "There is some bias."

But apart from asking schools to start later (which some states have done), what can be done?

"We need to tell parents to be alert and, just like they ask about drugs, they can ask about sleep," Perez-Guerra said. "They need to learn that an adolescent should be able to get out of bed without much prodding."

"There are a lot of things that parents can do to help teens get better sleep," Drake added. "One is to get rid of the computer, get rid of the Internet, get rid of the television. It's important to get those things out of the bedroom, as well as telling kids not to drink caffeine after 12 noon. It's also important to keep a regular schedule on weekdays and weekends, allowing for at least 9 hours in bed at night."

TV Spin-offs
The good, the bad and the what were they thinking?
By Kati Johnston
Special to MSN Entertainment

It's human nature to want to let the good times roll as long as they possibly can -- and in the networks' case, to milk a concept within an inch of its life. Thus was born the TV spin-off, which takes a character or a concept from a successful show and lets it fly like a baby bird all on its own. Some have been great -- sometimes better than the shows from which they spun. Some have been clunkers. And some have been so wildly off-the-mark that you have to wonder what the network execs were thinking (and possibly smoking). Here's our list of favorite high- and lowlight TV spin-offs:

The Good

"Rhoda" (1974)/"Lou Grant" (1977): The wildly popular "Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1970) spun off both of these successful and appealing series, each with its own very different tone. "Rhoda" kept "MTM's" single-gal-struggling sitcom concept going, with great writing and a strong cast. "Lou Grant" became a serious drama -- not without a fair amount of humor -- about the Los Angeles newspaper biz and the issues it tackled, both inside and outside the newsroom. (Even "MTM" had her clunker spin-off, though; remember "Phyllis"? Cloris Leachman is a great character actress, but her whiny Phyllis was best as a punch line, not a lead character.)

"Frasier" (1993): This spin-off from the '80s phenomenon "Cheers" (1982) relocated stuffy shrink Frasier Crane to Seattle and proceeded to outdo its original show, with top-notch writing, snappy dialogue and great cast chemistry. The occasional guest visit from "Cheers" stars Ted Danson, Shelley Long and most memorably Bebe Neuwirth as Lilith kept the connection, but it always was Frasier's show.

"Star Trek: The Next Generation" (1987): Among the gajillions of spin-offs from the original '60s "Star Trek," "The Next Generation" was distinguished by a great cast led by Patrick Stewart. The dialogue was still inane ("Make it so," already), but Stewart's presence cast a gravitas most welcome amid the crew's adventures."Melrose Place" (1992): This randy spawn of "Beverly Hills, 90210" (1990) got America re-addicted to nighttime soaps.

(Remember Rolling Stone's classic graphic showing who'd slept with whom on the show, with the characters connected by little dotted lines made out of ... sperm cells?) Where "90210" was earnest, "Melrose" was nasty and unpredictable -- just the little pick-me-up that viewers needed. And Amanda? One of TV's best villains ever. (We don't lament the loss of "Models, Inc.," however; those producers seemed to think a lot of pretty faces would make up for poor plot and dialogue.)

"Laverne & Shirley" (1976)/"Mork & Mindy" (1978): "Happy Days" (1974), one of the most successful American sitcoms ever, procreated like there was no tomorrow. Two great shows, "Laverne & Shirley" and "Mork & Mindy," were born and showcased the comedic talents of Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams in the former, while the latter launched the bottle rocket known as Robin Williams. Sadly, some of "Happy Days'" kids were not so "Happy"; see below.

"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999): Before Dick Wolf abandoned the use of all birth control, his hit "Law & Order" (1990) seemed prime to become a franchise, and he chose well when he launched "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." The cast, featuring Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni, gelled in a way that only a few seasons of the original "L&O" did. It remains crisp, compelling and cutting edge. If only its siblings had fared so well; more below.

"Angel" (1999): We still miss "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1997) and Sarah Michelle Gellar and her gang of evil-fighters at Sunnydale High. But the spin-off "Angel" was surprisingly strong -- with a much darker feel and fresh plotlines. (The phone calls to Buffy weren't the same as having a guest appearance by Gellar, though some of "Buffy's" best cast members, such as James Marsters as Spike and Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia, joined the "Angel" cast.)

"Maude" (1972)/"The Jeffersons" (1975): Norman Lear's groundbreaking "All in the Family" (1971) pushed television into edgy new frontiers, tackling racism, class issues, women's equality and a host of other topical notions, through the lens of the unapologetic Archie Bunker. As the original waned, spin-offs were inevitable, and two great ones -- "Maude," which showcased the indomitable Bea Arthur, and "The Jeffersons," starring comic geniuses Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford -- were as addictive as the original. Because these were so stellar, we'll forgive the misfires of "Archie Bunker's Place" (1979) and (gulp) "Gloria" (1982) -- aaah, that voice!"The Muppet Show" (1976): Kids' shows have had spin-offs, too.

"Sesame Street" (1969), still going strong after decades, introduced America to Jim Henson's marvelous Muppets, who then went on to star in their own "The Muppet Show" and have guest gigs on "Saturday Night Live" and fabulous movie careers. Their secret: never writing or talking down to kids while slipping in a few jokes that grown-ups loved. Remember Cookie Monster as Alistair Cookie, host of "Monsterpiece Theatre"?

"The Simpsons" (1989): A lot of folks forget "The Simpsons" started as an occasional short feature on "The Tracey Ullman Show" (1987), but whoever decided to give Springfield's finest their own half-hour show was brilliant. The show is still a bright light in Fox's lineup, and a recent study showed that more American kids were familiar with "The Simpsons" than the U.S. Constitution. We the People have spoken ... d'oh!

The Bad

"Joanie Loves Chachi" (1982): Even the "Happy Days" creators had their misfires: The well-intentioned but pretty stinky "Joanie Loves Chachi" was probably doomed from the get-go (though trivia buffs will enjoy knowing that the pilot episode was a big hit in Korea, where "chachi" means penis). Stars Erin Moran and Scott Baio were appealing enough but couldn't sustain the flimsy premise. And don't even get us started on the animated series "Fonz and the Happy Days Gang" (1980). Heyyy!

"Star Trek: Everything Else": Can we just stop boldly going, already? "TNG" was strong; everything else -- "Deep Space Nine" (1993), "Voyager" (1995), ad nauseum -- has been obtuse, diluted or just plain dull. Let Gene Roddenberry and his vision rest in peace -- so that the rest of us can.

"Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (2001): How far can Wolf take his police procedurals? "L&O: Criminal Intent" has its moments, but now the cast has doubled and is just plain confusing; "Trial by Jury" (2005) died while incarcerated (who cares about the sleazy perps and the people who defend them?); and brace yourself for the most recent spin-off, "Conviction," which revolves around -- wait for it -- hot young assistant district attorneys. Enough already! And honestly, we secretly believe Wolf is somehow responsible for all the "CSI"s and "NCIS"s too.

"Tabitha" (1977): "Bewitched" (1964), the sweet and frothy '60s sitcom about a suburban witch and her clueless husband, clicked because of the guileless performance of Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha. But once it ran its course, creators tried to build a show around the charisma-free daughter character, "Tabitha." She was cute in her crib moving her nose back and forth with her pudgy baby finger -- but that's a 10-second gag, not a 30-minute one.

"Knots Landing" (1979): What police procedurals are today, nighttime soaps were to the early '80s, so you probably couldn't blame the creators of the great guilty pleasure "Dallas" (1978) for trying to spin off another show. But "Knots Landing" never delivered like "Dallas," lacking a great villain like J.R. Ewing, and its setting in a generic California cul-de-sac coated the drama in blandness from which it never escaped. (Though we liked that one gal whose name we always thought was Valvoline.)

"Dr. Phil" (2002): Everything Oprah Winfrey touches turns to gold, but that doesn't mean it's all golden. Dr. Phil is great in small doses (or at least palatable) but just can't sustain his own show, "Dr. Phil," much less his own cult of personality, try as he might. Y'all, sometimes that dog just won't hunt.

What Were They Thinking?

"Joey" (2004): We've said it before: NBC squandered its best opportunity of the 2004 season, taking the most likable and interesting character from the juggernaut "Friends," Matt LeBlanc's Joey Tribbiani, by transplanting him, in "Joey," to California (did he move to Knots Landing?), and surrounding him with annoying sidekicks and generic gags.

"The Ropers" (1979)/"Three's a Crowd" (1984): Sometimes bad spin-offs are easy to predict. When you start with a show such as "Three's Company" (1977), based completely on sexy double entendres about two women rooming with a guy and a lot of jiggling and elbow-nudging, you might not have enough to work with. The original show was appealing because of the stars' chemistry, especially that of Suzanne Somers and John Ritter. But take away Somers and you've got ... "Three's a Crowd" (shudder) and even more icky, "The Ropers." Honestly, Somers' subsequent infomercials for the ThighMaster made for better TV.

"Diagnosis Murder" (1993): Was there any reason for "Jake and the Fatman" (1987) in the first place? So what are we to make of its spin-off, "Diagnosis Murder," which was essentially "Murder, She Wrote" in a hospital? Precious years of prime time, all wasted.

"Baywatch Nights" (1995): Let's get this straight: The appeal of "Baywatch" (1990), as we all know, was to watch gorgeous lifeguards jogging in their bathing suits along the sands in the warm California sun. So the point of "Baywatch Nights" was to ... what? Show what the kids did when the sun went down? It had something to do with an agency and solving stuff, but other than launching the career of Angie Harmon, this spin-off deserved its untimely death.

"Petticoat Junction" (1963)/"Green Acres" (1965): How low (brow) can you go? Some folks loved "The Beverly Hillbillies" (1962) and its fish-out-of-Dogpatch premise; others couldn't make it through one episode. But the appetite for hick comedies was high in the '60s, and the show actually spun off two -- successful! -- shows, "Petticoat Junction" (the point of which seemed to be imagining the girls of Hooterville -- get it? -- bathing in that water reservoir; hey, people drink that stuff!) and "Green Acres," the best actor of which was, hooves down, Arnold the pig.

Surgeons remove two fetuses from infant
Two-month-old Pakistani girl in critical condition after operation

A doctor pumps oxygen to two-month-old Pakistani girl Nazia after she underwent surgery to remove two fetuses that had grown inside her while she was still in her mother's womb.
Anjum Naveed / AP

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Surgeons operated on a 2-month-old Pakistani girl Tuesday to remove two fetuses that had grown inside her while she was still in her mother's womb, a doctor said.

The infant, who was identified only as Nazia, was in critical condition following the two-hour operation at The Children's Hospital at Pakistan Institute of Medical Science in the capital, Islamabad, said Zaheer Abbasi, head of pediatric surgery at the hospital.

Abbasi, the chief doctor who led the operation, said the case was the first he was aware of in Pakistan of fetus-in-fetu, where a fetus has grown inside another in the womb.

"It is extremely rare to have two fetuses being discovered inside another," Abbasi told The Associated Press, adding that he did not know what caused the medical abnormality. "Basically, it's a case of triplets, but two of the siblings grew in the other."

The baby comes from Abbotabad, about 30 miles north of Islamabad. She is the fifth child of a woman in her 30s, who was at the hospital to be with her daughter. Her father works in the Arabian Gulf.

Abbasi said surgeons removed the two partially grown fetuses, totaling about two pounds, that had died at about 4 months.

Other fetus-in-fetu cases have been reported elsewhere in the world. A report in a June 2000 issue of the U.S. journal Pediatrics called such occurrences rare and estimated their rate at about 1 per 500,000 births.