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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Top 10 signs you're a fantasy football addict
Roger Rotter /

Getting married recently has remedied many of my bad habits, such as eating with my mouth open, letting laundry pile on the floor and failing to put items back in the refrigerator after I've made myself a sandwich and have retired to the couch for an afternoon of TV.

Thankfully, my wife knew that "in sickness and in health" also means that my addiction to fantasy football may never be cured.

Still, there's much to be said for being responsible, though not just with your fantasy football team. Based upon my experience and hearsay, here are 10 signs that will let you know if you are a fantasy football addict. That can be good or bad, depending on your point of view!

Top 10 signs you're a fantasy football addict

10. You check your fantasy team's box score while the rest of the family opens holiday gifts.

There's nothing wrong with checking your fantasy team's performance in the fantasy title game. Just make sure it doesn't coincide with opening holiday gifts together with family. But is it mere coincidence that the fantasy championships arrive at the same time as the winter holidays? Or is this a test by league executives and TV programming gurus to see where your faith truly lies?

Yet there's much to celebrate if you win titles and put championship rings on your fingers. It's a wonderful feeling when you check the box score at midnight on Christmas Eve and your team has defeated your most despised rival. Good cheer to all! Who cares about gifts, right?

9. You'd rather watch a Thanksgiving Day blowout instead of feasting at the dinner table.

Though you live out of town hundreds of miles away from your parents, you cannot pull yourself away from the TV and avoid watching Detroit get thumped 49-0 by Denver late in the fourth quarter. Who needs to give thanks at the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day when you can thank the Lord for creating fantasy football after your player scores three touchdowns in a game? Hey, touchdowns still count for fantasy in lopsided games.

8. You miss work for one straight week waiting for the DirectTV installer to stop by when he never does.

It's imperative that you have to watch 1,536 hours of football to stay atop of your fantasy league and expertly switch channels at every break in the action without missing a play.

7. You arrive an hour late at a date with a hottie because you were picking up players on the waiver wire.

She's gone and so are your chances of scoring with a future lingerie model. But you secured the player who will land you a championship. Thank you, Kurt Warner and Larry Johnson.

6. You're the best man at your friend's wedding and you remember to take your cell phone to consummate a trade, but not the ring, on the morning of the wedding.

You never know when the frantic owner who wants to unload a star after one bad week for three mediocre players will change his mind.

5. While your wife is busy preparing for a romantic night out on your Paris honeymoon, you sneak away to check your fantasy team in the hotel lobby. (This really did happen. ... What can I say? I'm an addict, too!).

Remember, due diligence is what keeps a fantasy marriage going!

4. You list your fantasy football winnings as a tax deduction for work-related expenses.

Yes, those 50 man hours you spend per week on the work computer come in handy!

3. The $100 US Savings Bond that was supposed to go to a nephew was spent on a fantasy football entrance fee.

You know you'll win the league and then split the earnings later ... or maybe 10 years later.

2. You spend more time studying for your fantasy football game than your college final history exams.

Twenty years later, will I remember which Congress bill passed in 1904 or that I won at fantasy football in 2005?

And finally, here's the No. 1 sign that you're a fantasy football addict:

1. Your biggest fantasy involves a trophy, and it's not found in the Playboy Mansion.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Turn ordinary items into extraordinary things
Anne Marie O'Neill of Real Simple magazine shares some ideas for finding new uses for everyday household items, to make life a little bit easier

Today show

On any given day, you may be juggling upwards of half-a-dozen roles: short-order cook, chauffeur, sleepover chaperone, and, oh yeah, wife, friend, and full-fledged member of the workforce. Sometimes it seems as if multitasking is your middle name. Well, guess what: You're not alone. In every room of your house, from the bedroom to the home office, not-so-ordinary household items are going above and beyond the call of duty to make the things you do every day just a little bit easier. Anne Marie O'Neill of Real Simple magazine was invited to appear on "Today" to share some handy ideas for those everyday items, as featured in the magazine:

In less time than it takes to heat up last night's leftovers, ordinary kitchen items can step up to the plate in plenty of unexpected ways.

Wine bottle or cork:

Keep your boots up. Slide bottles into boots when storing them so they keep their shape and stand up straight.
• Replace a rolling pin. Roll pie crust or pizza dough flat with a wine bottle.
Stop scratches. Slice corks into disks and glue them to the bottoms of furniture or heavy pottery to protect delicate floors.

Uncooked spaghetti:

Keep cakes intact. Push a piece of spaghetti into the top of a cake to keep plastic wrap or a soft box lid from smudging the frosting.
Light candles. When you don't have long matches but you do have plenty of candles, use a piece of spaghetti to fire them all up in one go. Also handy for lighting a candle in a deep holder.

Did you know...?
Dried pasta can stay in a cabinet or on a pantry shelf for a full year, even if the package has been opened.

Ice-cube tray:

Inspire creativity. Mix paints for the kids' art projects in a tray's compartments.
Freeze extra pesto, leftover cooking wine, broth, and sauces for cooking. Then store the cubes in plastic freezer bags until you're ready to use them.

A soak in the tub can wash away your cares. But there's more magic to be found in the medicine cabinet.

Antacid tablets:

Remove a stain from a vase's bottom. Drop a tablet in a little water and let it sit for several minutes. Wipe and rinse.
Clean a toilet. Toss in two dissolving antacid tablets, such as Alka-Seltzer, wait 20 minutes, then brush.
Soothe a sting. Dissolve two tablets in a glass of water, then dab on bug bites.

Baby oil:

Untangle a necklace chain. Massage a dab of oil onto the tangled area, then use a straight pin to carefully pull apart the knot.
Peel off bandages. Avoid involuntary hair removal — and extra agony — by rubbing baby oil over and around the sticky parts of an adhesive bandage before pulling it off.

A few surprising spins on utility-room essentials can give you a whole new appreciation for laundry day.


Track your towels. When you have houseguests, write their names (and yours) on separate clothespins, then attach each clothespin to the appropriate towel to avoid mix-ups when all the towels are hanging in one bathroom.
Use as place-card holders or to keep napkins and plastic utensils together at a backyard barbecue. Spray-paint them bright colors for a fun, summery look.

Laundry basket:

Serve drinks al fresco. Line the basket with a trash bag and fill with ice to make a cooler for impromptu parties.
Tame the sprinkler. Store a coiled garden hose in a basket; stash sprinklers, nozzles, and other attachments in the middle of the coil.

For more of Real Simple’s 101 Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things, check out:

How to turn your favorite outfit into a room
Have a classic style like Jackie O? Or a bohemian one like Kate Hudson? Domino magazine has tips on translating your style into home décor ideas

Today show

Domino magazine shares tips…

Step 1: Take a style inventory and identify your type
The answers to your home decorating questions lie before you — in your closet, bureau, jewelry box, makeup bag and shoe racks. Take a good look at everything you love to wear and search for the patterns, colors and textures that define you.

Classic Tailored (think Jackie O)
Always crisp and glamorous, Jackie O had a way of making a trench, jeans and oversized sunglasses into the height of sophistication. The trick was in the perfect tailoring, the sharp details and the consistent palette. If you like the polished simplicity of a little black dress, the rich feel of a perfectly fitted cashmere turtleneck sweater and the understated sexiness of crocodile pumps, consider yourself a Classic Tailored type.

Boho Fabulous (think Kate Hudson)
Own more than one caftan? Have a collection of ethnic beads that seems to just keep growing? Like Kate Hudson, you’re in the free-spirited Boho Fabulous camp, where bright, tribal colors, vintage jewelry and patterned, baby-doll tops worn over jeans rule.

Modern Organic (think Julianne Moore)
Sumptuous natural materials and sleek shapes define the subtle allure of a Modern Organic woman like Julianne Moore. Most comfortable in a neutral color range of grays, creams and beiges, you’ll mix this up with spots of color occasionally, but dressing is more about architectural simplicity and the feel of linen and mohair on your skin.

Effortless Prep (think Babe Paley)
Your monogrammed canvas tote, tortoise shell sunglasses and perfectly worn-in khakis mean everything to you. Sound familiar? Then you’re an Effortless Prep in the vein of Babe Paley, ready to throw in a little floral pattern on a scarf or a skirt, but above all concerned with comfort and ease.

Step 2: Bringing it all back home: Translating your wardrobe into your surroundings

If you’re a Jackie O

Formal furniture, like Chippendale chairs and silk velvet sofas, will supply the classic polish that you crave. Your extensive book collection — which should include a few about Billy Baldwin, the classic tailored decorator extraordinaire — will be housed in bookshelves throughout the house. A gorgeous, crocodile-covered Parsons table mirrors your favorite pumps, while your gold and silver bracelets turn up as a dirty brass coffee table and a collection of sterling silver boxes. You prefer a palette of mostly neutrals, with a well-placed Chinese red lacquer tray, or even a red room, just like the elegant lipstick that you favor.

If you’re a Kate Hudson
If you’re always layering fabrics in your outfits, there’s no reason you can’t also do that in your home — layer flat-weave kilim rugs and you’ll get an instant Moroccan buzz going. What better way to express your fondness for chandelier earrings than with a jewel-like chandelier? Think about the billowy dresses you love becoming a luxurious daybed covered in batik fabric. And look out for a solid color that always seems to pop up in your accessories — if you’re a fan of torquoise, for example, get a turquoise bolster for that same daybed. Otherwise, rich jewel tones like burgundy and emerald green will bring to mind the deep colors in which you like to swathe yourself.

If you’re a Julianne Moore
You’re all about texture, so try a favorite fabric like linen as loose slipcovers on deep sofas. A bold, modern shape, like a Saarinen tulip table, will appeal to your architectural side, while wide wooden floorboards under foot will satisfy your affinity for nature. Like your ever-present wooden bangles, wood can pop up a lot in your home, from a heavy wooden cutting board to an African stool used as a side table. Reflective aviator shades can add another mod element in the form of aluminum chairs and polished chrome cabinet pulls. Colorwise, the focus is on quiet, not bright, hues (think dusty rose and pearl gray) that support your refined aesthetic.

If you’re a Babe Paley
A Casual Prep loves stripes, and there’s no reason you can’t cover sofas, chairs, even the cushions on your kitchen stools in them. Lily Pulitzer florals are another no-brainer in your closet that could transfer easily into, say, a floral-wallpapered bathroom. Reinterpret your favorite fisherman’s cable knit sweater as a chunky knit throw, your straw summer purse as a rattan nightstand and your rope soled espadrilles as a sisal rug. You are by no means afraid of color, and taking your cues from your well-worn grosgrain ribbon belts, you can make a palette out of navy blue, turquoise and yellow. White painted floors, like a pair of white jeans, refresh the eye. Anything beachy is right up your alley, including silver-dipped shells and coral.

For more tips and ideas on how to translate your personal style into your home decor, check out Domino magazine's Web site,

How to help your dog with back-to-school blues
After spending the summer with your kids, he may suffer separation anxiety when they aren’t home. Animal behaviorist Tamar Geller has advice

Today show

On “Today’s Pets,” we look at what happens to your family dog in the fall. During the summer, your pooch gets plenty of fresh air, sunshine and attention. But what does he do when your kids go back to school. Animal behaviorist Tamar Geller was invited on “Today” to share her tips for keeping your dog entertained when you leave him home alone.

The kids and the family dog had a great time together this summer. But once your children are back at school, your pooch may show signs of separation anxiety. This is part of a panic response your dog suffers as a result of being left alone — either for the first time, following a long interval of constant companionship, or after a change in the family routine or structure. Typically, dogs will have the most dramatic response within the first hour after being alone.

Some typical signs of separation anxiety are:

Digging, chewing, scratching at doors or windows to escape and reunite with his owner. We’re not talking about random digging, chewing and scratching — we’re talking about massive destruction, as a sign of separation anxiety.
Howling, barking or crying to get his owner to return.
Leaving his “mark” all over your house, as a result of stress, not revenge. So please don’t punish him, when you come home. Again, we’re not talking about random accidents, but destructive behavior.
Following you from room to room when you’re home.
Displaying frantic greeting behavior when you return.
Getting depressed or anxious when you prepare to leave your home. Be aware that sometimes the owner that has these feelings and transfers them to their dog.

Some things you can do to help your dog adjust to being home alone:

Keep your arrivals and departures low-key. Ignore your dog for a few minutes when you return home, so you don’t feed his franticness.
Make fake departures. Pretend as though you are going to leave, get your bag, keys, etc., giving your dog small treats (making it pleasurable) throughout the process. Then go out the door and a few minutes later, come back in, ignoring your dog’s excitement (keeping your arrival low-key).
Leave an article of the kids’ clothing behind, to comfort the dog. An old, unlaundered T-shirt works great.
Consider trying doggie daycare or hiring dog walker. This way your dog has something to look forward to in his day and it also gives him an outlet for his energy that he would otherwise use to “redecorate” your house or yard.
Send your dog on a treasure hunt after you leave, teaching him to associate your departure with great pleasure. Right now, your dog is bummed out when you leave, but playing a game will have your dog begging for you to “go away already!”

To play “treasure hunt,” simply stuff several Kong or similar toys with a variety of treats and hide them around the house, sending your dog on a fun and challenging treasure hunt! To stuff the toys, use various treats in various sizes. Small pieces fall out easily and larger ones make it more difficult for your dog to get, keeping him focused on the task. Remember to rotate and vary the kind and number of the toys, as well as the treats. And make it a fun activity for the kids. As you’re making their school lunch in the morning, they can prepare the dog’s treasure!

You may think that if this is your dog’s first time staying home when your kids go back to school, he should stay home. I disagree. I believe it’s good to take the dog out of the house as much as possible — whether you’re taking him along in the car with the kids or he’s accompanying you as you walk them to school. Brief separations during the days just before the new school year starts will also help those kids and dogs that are especially close.

You’ll probably find that the kids don’t have the time or interest in taking care of and paying attention to the dog now that they’re back to school, with homework and other activities. So create a schedule of responsibility for the dog and make it a part of your kids’ daily routine, such as feeding the dog twice a day, walking the dog and making sure he has fresh water. Encourage the kids to find time to exercise and play games with the dog on the weekends — they can even include their friends! Make a chart and give stars to the kids for all their interactions with the dog. If they get rewarded for their consistency, they will look forward to interacting with the dog, instead of looking at it as a chore.

For additional information, go to

‘Kuwentong’ Coching
By Bayani San Diego Jr.

LUMING in her garden at home, still Koko’s feisty and fiery advocate at 82. INQUIRER/ROGER MARGALLO

IF you ask her, her late husband Francisco V. Coching, the dean of komiks novelists-illustrators, was as heroic as the characters in his action-packed novels—most of which were turned into big-screen spectacles.

Still feisty at 82, Filomena “Luming” Coching recalls that when they met as teenagers in pre-war Pasay, her husband Koko was a “cowboy.”

He was footloose and fancy-free, a playboy, she recounts. But he also started working at a very tender age.

“He was an all-around assistant in Liwayway, where his father, Gregorio Coching, also a novelist, was employed,” she relates.

His father was an award-winning writer, whose most famous work “Sanggumay” was turned into a movie starring Yolanda Marquez (now known as Mary Prieto).

“Instead of accepting a raise, my father-in-law asked his bosses if they could hire his son,” she recounts.

Soon enough, Koko’s talent as artist and writer was discovered through his first cartoon series “Bing Bigotilyo” for Silahis in 1934. He was only 15.

“At 22, he created his first serial, ‘Marabini’ or ‘marahas na binibini’ (violent maiden), which was interrupted by the war,” she remembers.

When the World War II broke out in 1941, Koko joined the guerrilla movement against the Japanese. This period in Koko’s life was a page straight from one of his komiks classics.

“He was part of the Kamagong Unit, Las Piñas command of ROTC Hunters,” she says.


The Hunters’ missions involved stealing tires, arms and other supplies from Japanese barracks.

“Once, they pretended to be part of a funeral march, complete with wailing women, in Parañaque, but hidden in the coffin were firearms,” she recalls.

Koko’s war-time exploits served as inspiration for his action novels.

After the war, he moved to Ace Publications, which serialized his novels in Pilipino and Espesyal Komiks. “But he also made sure to write at least one novel for Liwayway, out of loyalty,” she says.

His works’ film versions top-billed the biggest male stars: “Bertong Balutan” (1949) and “Hagibis” (1950) for Fernando Poe Sr.; “Satur” (1951), Manuel Conde; “Palasig” (1952) and “Dumagit” (1954), Cesar Ramirez; “Agilang Itim” (1953), Eddie del Mar; and “Pedro Penduko” (1954) and “Salabusab” (1954), Efren Reyes.

In 1952, he transformed matinee idol Pancho Magalona into a salakot-wearing rebel in “Sabas ang Barbaro,” directed by National Artist for Film Eddie Romero and co-starred Tita Duran.

Apart from “Marabini,” he created other heroines legendary for their beauty and chutzpah: “Maldita” (1953) and “Talipandas” (1958), both played by Rita Gomez on the big screen.

In 1971, he created “Bella Bandida,” portrayed by Rosanna Ortiz.

“His edge was that he was both a writer and illustrator,” Luming says. “There were times he’d be working on three novels at the same time.”

Aside from Romero, the other National Artists who worked with Coching were directors Lamberto Avellana (for “Satur” and “Lapu-Lapu” in 1955), Gerardo de Leon (“Pedro Penduko”) and Ishmael Bernal (“El Vibora” in 1972) and actor Fernando Poe Jr. (“Duwag ang Sumuko” in 1964).


His four-decade career as the “dean of the komiks industry” ended in the martial-law era.

“He hated it when other people interfered with his ideas. So when the censors rejected his title ‘Aagos ang Dugo’ and changed it to ‘Sa Ngalan ng Batas,’ he decided to retire.”

His last published novel “El Negro” (in Liwayway) also made it to the big screen in 1974, with Eddie Gutierrez and Robert Jaworski as lead stars.

But even in retirement, he refused to be idle. “I called him Kikong Kalikot because he was so active.”

But in his studio, he was extremely focused and abhorred being disturbed by the kids.

The Cochings had six children—Lourdes, Precy, Francisco Jr., Maridel, Orlando and Arnel.

“As kids, our Abakada (alphabet) book was my father’s komiks,” Maridel says.

“Even in old age, his eyesight was very sharp. He loved reading the newspaper every day,” quips Luming.

He passed away in 1998, after a protracted battle with emphysema and an injury sustained in a motorcycle accident. He was 79.

For 40 years in the komiks trade, she was his “official letterer,” turning his doodle marks into legible print in his novels’ dialogue balloons.

She now spends her sunset years in relative anonymity, save for occasional appearances in TV commercials.

“My youngest son owns a casting agency kasi.” Acting is also in the blood, she explains. “My mother is Sampaguita character actress Aring Bautista (Aurea Otalla in real life).”

But her husband’s work remains to be her most enduring passion.

Eight years after his death, she still fights his battles—pursuing his posthumous bid for National Artist and making sure his name will not be forgotten.

She recently raised a ruckus when ABS-CBN failed to credit her husband in the new TV incarnation of “Pedro Penduko.”

“His name is his legacy, which I could bequeath to my four children, 20 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren,” she concludes.

‘They’re urban raccoons, and they’re not afraid’
Masked bandits kill 10 cats, terrorize dogs, humans in Olympia, Wash.

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A fierce group of raccoons in a west end neighborhood has killed 10 cats, attacked a small dog and bitten at least one pet owner who had to get rabies shots, area residents say.

Some have taken to carrying pepper spray to ward off the masked marauders, and the woman who was bitten now carries an iron pipe when she goes outside at night.

"It's a new breed," said Tamara Keeton, who with Kari Hall started a raccoon watch after an emotional neighborhood meeting drew 40 people. "They're urban raccoons, and they're not afraid."

Tony Benjamins, whose family lost two cats, said he got a big dog — a German shepherd-Rottweiler mix — to keep the raccoons away.

One goal of the patrol is to get residents to stop feeding raccoons and to keep pets and pet food indoors. Keeton and Pam Corwin also have installed cat coops so their pets can spend some time outdoors.

One raccoon is especially large, "the biggest raccoon I've ever seen," Benjamins said. "He was a monster."

Lisann Rolle says began carrying an iron pipe when she goes outside at night after being bitten by raccoons when she tried to pull three of them off her cat Lucy. She obtained rabies shots afterward as a precaution.

"I was watching her like a hawk, but she snuck out," Rolle said. "Then I heard this hideous sound — a coyote-type high pitch.... It was vicious. They were focused on ripping her apart."

The attacks have been especially shocking because raccoons came within five feet of cats without any problem in previous years, Benjamins said.

‘This year, things changed. They went nuts’
"We used to love the raccoons. They'd have their babies this time of year, and they were so cute. Even though we lived in the city, it was neat to have wildlife around," he said, "but this year, things changed. They went nuts."

In one case five raccoons tried to carry off a small dog, which managed to survive. Some residents also have managed to get to their cats in time to save them.

The attacks, all within a three-block area near the Garfield Nature Trail, are highly unusual, said Sean O. Carrell, a problem wildlife coordinator with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, adding that trappers may be summoned from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove problem animals.

"I've never heard a report of 10 cats being killed. It's something were going to have to monitor," Carrell said.

Meanwhile, residents have hired Tom Brown, a nuisance wildlife control operator from Rochester, to set traps, but in six weeks he has caught only one raccoon. He and Carrell said raccoons teach their young — and each other — to avoid traps.

Brown said he had seen packs of raccoons this big but none so into killing.

"They are in command up there," he said.

Cops quickly find stolen doughnut truck
Annoyed man takes vehicle after failing to hitch ride; 30 mph chase ensues

The Associated Press

RICHLAND, Wash. - A stolen truck full of doughnuts?

Better believe Tri-Cities police were on that in a hurry. Moments after the theft of the Viera's Bakery van was reported early Friday in Kennewick, police issued an all-points bulletin.

A Benton County sheriff's deputy quickly spotted the truck. After a chase at 30 to 35 mph, Richland police got it to stop and arrested the driver, Steve Swoboda, 19, for investigation of auto theft and felony escape.

Still intact was the entire load of glazed, sugar and cream doughnuts, as well as apple fritters and bear claws.

"In 24 years in law enforcement I've never had a call like that," Richland police Capt. Randy Barnes said. "To steal a bakery truck, how clever is that?"

"It kind of sticks out, a doughnut truck," Kennewick police Sgt. Ken Lattin said.

The truck was taken while the delivery driver, Gilberto Gonzales, left the engine running during a stop at the Break Place Conoco. Gonzales asked the clerk if he recalled seeing a man who had been standing in front of the store.

"The clerk said, 'Yeah, that guy's been wanting a ride to Richland for a while,'" said Mario Viera, one of the operators of the bakery.

Viera said he was happy that none of the load was lost "but I'm going to make sure Gilberto doesn't leave the keys in the truck any more."

He didn’t show a badge, so I bit him
Police dog mistakenly chomps on chief in plain clothes during chase

The Associated Press

VENTURA, Calif. - On the bright side, the police chief knows this dog can really take a bite out of crime. Unfortunately, the chief's leg is going to hurt for a while.

Seems Beemer the police dog chomped down on the leg of Ventura Police Chief Pat Miller.

It all started when Miller was on his way to a meeting and wound up helping his officers by taking part in a chase, which crossed over to Oxnard. The suspect eventually got out of his car, and Beemer's handler on the Oxnard force let the dog loose.

But the Ventura chief was wearing plain clothes, and Beemer made a boo-boo. The chief says the dog literally picked him up off the ground and bloodied his leg.

Beemer later redeemed himself by helping capture the suspect.

G’day, cow! Farmers say animals have accents
Group of British herdsmen say they hear moos with different drawls


LONDON - Cows have regional accents, a group of British farmers claims, and phonetics experts say the idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds.

Lloyd Green, from southwest England, was one of a group of farmers who first noticed the phenomenon.

“I spend a lot of time with my Friesians, and they definitely moo with a Somerset drawl,” he said, referring to the breed of dairy cow he owns.

“I’ve spoken to the other farmers in the West Country group and they have noticed a similar development in their own herds.

“I think it works the same as with dogs — the closer a farmer’s bond is with his animals, the easier it is for them to pick up his accent.”

Birds, too?
Dom Lane, spokesman for a group called the West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers to which Green belongs, said it contacted John Wells, Professor of Phonetics at University College London, who said that a similar phenomenon had been found in birds.

“You find distinct chirping accents in the same species around the country. This could also be true of cows,” Wells said on the group’s Web site (

According to Lane, accents among cows probably develop in a similar way as among humans, and resulted from spending time with farmers with differing accents.

“Apparently the biggest influence on accents is peer groups — on children in the playground, for example,” he said. “Herds are quite tight-knit communities and don’t tend to leave the area.”

He added that more scientific research was needed to prove what was just an anecdotal theory at this stage.

Daughter’s ashes returned after burglary
Urn left at church shows someone has ‘glimmer of conscience,’ father says

The Associated Press

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - Two months after a burglar stole their daughter's ashes, someone placed the urn in its red velvet bag on the steps of a church several miles from Leo and Fredi Brown's home.

"Someone must have had a glimmer of conscience," said Leo Brown.

The urn was placed on the front porch of Community Baptist Church in North Pole on Saturday. Pastor Morrie Fisher found them after arriving to check on a pig roasting for a church barbecue.

The Browns discovered the ashes were missing after returning home from a weekend at their cabin at Quartz Lake in late June. They found that someone had broken in the front door of their home. Gone were Leo's guns, Fredi's jewelry and their daughter Carole's remains.

Carole was the middle daughter of three. She died a month shy of her 41st birthday after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.

The couple figures the weight of the urn and the fact that it was kept in a red velvet bag led the thief to think the ashes were an object with street value.

The Browns were keeping her urn in an upstairs closet until they felt ready to scatter the ashes.

The Browns had almost given up hope when the call came that the ashes had been found.

"I was beginning to wonder," said Fredi Brown, a retired school secretary. "I was hoping we'd get them back, of course, but I was afraid that when the burglars saw what it was, they tossed them."

The ashes were left at the church between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., according to Fisher.

The pastor, along with a couple of church members, arrived at the church during the early morning hours to start roasting the pig. Fisher said he didn't see anything unusual.

The men left for the next few hours. When Fisher returned to check on the pig, he noticed the red velvet bag on the church's front porch.

"I asked (church member Ted Davies) if that was his to take into the church. He said no. He hadn't even seen it. So I grabbed it. I took it downstairs. I put the salad my wife gave me into the refrigerator, and then I opened up this maroon bag and it was nothing to go into the refrigerator."

It was a metallic box with a sticker identifying the contents as the ashes of Carole Rene Brown.

Church member Steve Smith said he remembered hearing about a couple whose daughter's ashes were stolen in a burglary.

"Then it clicked," Fisher said.

Guilty of DWC — driving while canine
Who could have expected it? Car crashes when woman lets dog take wheel

The Associated Press

BEIJING - You can't teach an old dog new tricks.

A woman in Hohhot, the capital of north China's Inner Mongolia region, crashed her car while giving her dog a driving lesson, the official Xinhua News Agency said Monday.

No injuries were reported, although the vehicles involved were slightly damaged, it said.

The woman, identified only be her surname, Li, said her dog "was fond of crouching on the steering wheel and often watched her drive," according to Xinhua.

"She thought she would let the dog 'have a try' while she operated the accelerator and brake," the report said. "They did not make it far before crashing into an oncoming car."

Xinhua did not say what kind of dog or vehicles were involved, but Li paid for repairs.

World’s oldest person dies in Ecuador at 116
Woman was born in the same year as Charlie Chaplin, Adolf Hitler

The Associated Press

Aug. 28: Ecuador's Maria Esther de Capovilla died after coming down with pneumonia. She was 116.

QUITO, Ecuador - Maria Esther de Capovilla, a 116-year-old woman believed to have been the world’s oldest person, has died in her native Ecuador, her granddaughter said Monday. Her successor is likely a woman from Tennessee.

Capovilla died early Sunday in a hospital in the coastal city of Guayaquil, said Catherine Capovilla, a property manager and real estate agent in Miami. A funeral was planned for Monday.

Capovilla died two days after coming down with pneumonia.

Born on Sept. 14, 1889 — the same year as Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler — Capovilla was married in 1917 and widowed in 1949.

Robert Young, a senior consultant on gerontology for Guinness World Records, said Elizabeth Bolden of Memphis, Tenn., now appears to be the oldest person alive. She is also 116, but was born 11 months after Capovilla.

“Guinness World Records will have to make an official announcement from London,” he said. “For all practical purposes, the next oldest person is going to be presumed to be Elizabeth Bolden.

Healthy lifestyle
Capovilla was confirmed as the oldest living person on Dec. 9, 2005, after her family sent details of her birth and marriage certificates to the British-based publisher. Emiliano Mercado Del Toro of Puerto Rico retains the title as oldest man. He turned 115 last Monday.

Three of Capovilla’s five children — Irma, Hilda, and son Anibal — are still alive, along with 12 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren, the last of whom was born in February 2003, Catherine Capovilla told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

In her youth, Capovilla liked to embroider, paint, play piano and dance the waltz at parties, the family said. She also visited nearby plantation, where she would drink fresh milk from donkeys as well as cows.

She always ate three meals a day and never smoked or drank hard liquor — “Only a small cup of wine with lunch and nothing more,” Irma told AP last December.

For the past 20 years, Capovilla had lived with elder daughter, Hilda, and son-in-law, Martin.

“She was in good shape until she had a bout of pneumonia and she died unexpectedly. Her family was expecting to have a 117th birthday party,” said Young, speaking from Atlanta. “They had recently said that she was in good shape.”

Monday, August 28, 2006

Study: Teacher’s gender affects learning
Research sure to stir controversy

The Associated Press

Researcher Thomas Dee

WASHINGTON - For all the differences between the sexes, here’s one that might stir up debate in the teacher’s lounge: Boys learn more from men and girls learn more from women.

That’s the upshot of a provocative study by Thomas Dee, an associate professor of economics at Swarthmore College and visiting scholar at Stanford University. His study was to appear Monday in Education Next, a quarterly journal published by the Hoover Institution.

Vetted and approved by peer reviewers, Dee’s research faces a fight for acceptance. Some leading education advocates dispute his conclusions and the way in which he reached them.

But Dee says his research supports his point, that gender matters when it comes to learning. Specifically, as he describes it, having a teacher of the opposite sex hurts a student’s academic progress.

“We should be thinking more carefully about why,” he said.

Dee warns against drawing fast conclusions based on his work. He is not endorsing single-sex education, or any other policy.

Gender gaps in middle school
Rather, he hopes his work will spur more research into gender’s effect and what to do about it.

His study comes as the proportion of male teachers is at its lowest level in 40 years. Roughly 80 percent of teachers in U.S. public schools are women.

Dee’s study is based on a nationally representative survey of nearly 25,000 eighth-graders that was conducted by the Education Department in 1988. Though dated, the survey is the most comprehensive look at students in middle school, when gender gaps emerge, Dee said.

He examined test scores as well as self-reported perceptions by teachers and students.

Dee found that having a female teacher instead of a male teacher raised the achievement of girls and lowered that of boys in science, social studies and English.

Looked at the other way, when a man led the class, boys did better and girls did worse.

The study found switching up teachers actually could narrow achievement gaps between boys and girls, but one gender would gain at the expense of the other.

Dee also contends that gender influences attitudes.

For example, with a female teacher, boys were more likely to be seen as disruptive. Girls were less likely to be considered inattentive or disorderly.

In a class taught by a man, girls were more likely to say the subject was not useful for their future. They were less likely to look forward to the class or to ask questions.

Dee said he isolated a teacher’s gender as an influence by accounting for several other factors that could affect student performance. But his study is sure to be scrutinized.

“The data, as he presents them, are far from convincing,” said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, which works to advance the progress of women.

Greenberger said she found Dee’s conclusions to be questionable and inconsistent. More broadly, she said, boys and girls benefit by having male and female teachers as role models.

“I don’t think there are many parents or students, looking back over their educational careers, who haven’t been inspired by a teacher of the opposite sex,” she said.

“And many have had very unhappy experiences with teachers of the same gender that they are. We have to be careful of too many generalizations,” Greenberger said.

Student success cannot be narrowed to the gender of the teacher, said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union.

Experienced teachers, good textbooks, smaller class sizes and modern equipment all influence how boys and girls do in class, Weaver said.

‘Just one variable’
“Students benefit by having exposure to teachers who look like them, who can identify with their culture ... but this is just one variable among many,” Weaver said.

Dee said his research raises valid questions.

Should teachers get more training about the learning styles of boys and girls? Should they be taught to combat biases in what they expect of boys and girls?

In the nature-nurture debate, he said, teacher gender belongs.

“Some people will react strongly to this,” he said. “But I’ve taken pains to explain that we need to be cautious about drawing policy conclusions. As provocative as this all might seem, I really haven’t gotten that much negative feedback.”

Learning to love again
By Margot Carmichael Lester

You never thought you’d have to date again, but here you are living life after divorce or the death of your partner. While you don’t want to be alone forever, you’re having a hard time believing you’ll be able to get past your loss so you can love again. And who can blame you? Yet despite the complex emotions that surround starting over, you can learn to love again. It just takes time and a little effort on your part.

Our team of experts identified common problems newly single people face and offered solutions to help you get back on the road to romance.

Problem: Living in the past. “Don’t sabotage your present and future by fixating on the past,” says Paul Davis, author of the upcoming book, Breakthrough for a Broken Heart. “Stop looking for closure concerning unresolved matters and instead simply let them be. Make a decision for your present and live victoriously.”

Solution: Replace anxiety with creativity. “Get back in the sandbox of life and start playing around with new ideas and concepts,” Davis says. “Challenge yourself.” Break out of your rut by doing new things, learning new sports, participating in new activities, taking up new hobbies and making new friends through bereavement and post-divorce support groups or your existing social network. “Let newness flood your life and awaken your love for self and surprises,” advises Davis. “As you do, you will attract new life and love to you.”

Problem: Rushing into dating. Some newly-single people don’t like being alone, so they rush into relationships before they’re ready. Or before they’re clear on what they want and need. “Although some people can date their way through this, the vast majority of us need to take time for ourselves,” says relationship expert Hu Fleming.

Solution: Look within yourself. “Focus on ‘me’ for a bit before considering ‘we’ again. When we’re comfortable with ourselves and who and what we are, we’re then again ready for the big bad dating world,” Fleming says. “In practical terms, spend time alone, spend time with friends. Do not date until you’re comfortable with yourself.” Don’t force yourself to date just because friends and family nag you to get back out there.

Problem: Pressuring yourself and your dates. “Culturally, a successful relationship is one that ends with marriage or a commitment of some sort,” says Kiki Weingarten, co-founder of Daily Life Consulting. But that can create a lot of pressure to succeed, which can cause you to fail. Dating is a numbers game, and not every date can lead to a long-term relationship.

Solution: Cut yourself — and your dates — some slack. “Enjoy the other person and enjoy who you are with the other person,” Weingarten notes. “If you don’t end up with that person, what new things did your time together bring to your life? What facet of yourself was discovered? What new future did you anticipate that you never had before?” You can use unsuccessful dates to help refine your viewpoint of what you definitely want to find in future dates, too.

Problem: Looking for what you had. “Often, as humans, we want what is familiar,” says Douglas Weiss, executive director of Heart to Heart Counseling Center and host of the TBN show Winning@Marriage. “To love again means you will be loved differently—and you will actually love differently. To compare two loves is like comparing two cities or countries. Although there may be some similarities, there will always be something amazingly different.”

Solution: Write a closing chapter about the past relationship, suggests Weiss. Write down what happened, how you felt, and what you learned. “Then write a hopeful chapter of what a new love could bring to your life. Again, talk to friends so that they can tell you if you’re doing comparison-shopping” versus taking a fresh and open look at the possibilities for future love.

Moving on is hard. But following these steps will help you honor the good memories and lessons from your previous relationship—and move past what was difficult. Then you can start putting your past in perspective and begin thinking about the next exciting chapter in your romantic life.

Not everyone wants to take a Cruise
Five reasons why Paramount might have walked away from Tom

By Jon Bonné

Tom Cruise's impressively bitter split with Paramount has most everyone asking just one question: Which was it, the money or the crazy?

In a juicy smackdown between two massive egos, Cruise — arguably the world's biggest movie star, certainly the most well-paid — was summarily sent packing by his longtime studio. No less a figure than Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone, who in sheer influence can be considered the media-mogul equivalent of Cruise, aired this beef in the most public of ways.

“It's nothing to do with his acting ability, he's a terrific actor,” Redstone told the Wall Street Journal. “But we don't think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot.”

Even a recluse who makes wallpaper from “Top Gun” posters could easily parse Redstone. It wasn't just that Cruise can't get a moment in the spotlight without a Scientology joke being floated. It wasn't that his romance to Katie (make that Kate) Holmes was so shamelessly public, so seemingly contrived at times, that nearly everyone smelled a rat amid the five-carat diamonds.

Even on the spectrum of eccentricity, there is such a thing as going too far. As Redstone told it, Paramount felt that Oprah couch-jumping, picking fights with “glib” Matt Lauer about Ritalin and having the former Mr. Mapother generally appearing in public like an adrenalin-infused neurotic couldn't possibly be helping them sell movie tickets. Even if Cruise managed to personally egg the door of every single American, he'd still be big in Japan, and yet while “Mission: Impossible III” didn't completely tank, it was lukewarm even at the global box office. True, $393 million is nothing to sneer at — but when your marquee star has a lucrative development deal, a 20 percent cut of box office and a hefty portion of DVD revenue, it does start to look like chump change.

So what's really up? Let's consider five theories:

1) It really was about the money. Certainly, numbers don't lie, and if the second “M:I” film grossed $545 million around the world, Redstone's calculation that Cruise cost the studio $100-150 million is a matter of simple arithmetic. You have to believe that a third-time franchise would score as big as a previous sequel, but we'll get to that in a moment. It's not just a matter of losing the money, because if Paramount really thought this was a minor downturn that could be righted, Redstone would have found a way to make a deal.

Cruise and moviemaking partner Paula Wagner have scored the studio $2.5 billion since they walked onto the lot in 1992, and if Paramount had any reason to think Cruise could rebound, the deal would have been cut. (If you consider that Paramount was reportedly offering them some $2 million a year, down from $10 million, it's not hard to read the implicit message. A $8 million cut is a pretty hard smackdown.)

2) “M:I:III”? Yeah, right. It's easy to pin this on Cruise overall, but when he had the right project, there was money to be made. “War of the Worlds”? Add Steven Spielberg, a decent script (we're ignoring the tripods-catch-a-fatal-cold thing) and some killer effects, and nearly $590 million global box office materializes. No matter how big the blockbuster, a third-time sequel doesn't exactly scream “must see” unless it involves Mr. T and a theme song by Survivor. OK, not even then. Of course, “War” was released nearly a year before “M:I:III,” and the timing there is crucial. The couch-jumping and Brooke Shields catfight all emerged as “War” was being released, but it was still sort of funny and at least halfway interesting at that point. The really unsettling part of Cruise's behavior didn't come until we'd all had several months to watch Katie's pregnancy, hear tales of familial infighting, and finally watch (or not watch) as the mysterious Suri was birthed, possibly in silent fashion. All of which takes us to ...

3) It was about Cruise Control on the fritz. Maybe it was about the money, but that doesn't mean Redstone shouldn't be taken at face value: that Cruise had grown too erratic to keep around. Even Paramount's officially sanctioned promos for “M:I:III,” with the speedboats and the motorcycles and the skydives, were all about The Intensity, which is Cruise's defining attribute. But The Intensity doesn't look so good when you pair it with the other half of Cruise's high-octane personality, which bared itself not only during the Oprah and Lauer episodes, but even at what should have been innocuous meet-and-greets. Reports about The Intensity have become so universal that it has become a full-on gossip pastime to poke holes in the official Cruise hagiography. Studios like stability, and despite Cruise's moneymaking potential, The Intensity does not lend itself to stability. The Intensity instead lends itself to red-carpet tonsil hockey and one of the more bizarre childbirths in Hollywood, which ... again, studio not so happy. Then add in the Scientology issues. Then add Tom dumping uberpublicist Pat Kingsley for his sister Lee Anne De Vette, and later dumping sis for pro Paul Bloch. Could it be that someone did the math and realized that without a good handler, Cruise's behavior could be as unpredictable as Mel Gibson on a moonlit night in Malibu? Would you want to be Sumner Redstone, taking this pile of fun to your shareholders? Yeah, didn't think so.

4) Stick a fork in. Cruise is done. And wouldn't Cruise-haters love to think so. On balance, this has been about as bizarre a year for him as any movie star could dream up. Do you think that he's still feeling, as he did a year ago amid his post-engagement buzz, that this is “a great time” in his life? The assumption was always that Cruise's off-screen antics were irrelevant so long as he put butts in seats. By Redstone's calculation, he's no longer doing that — at least not to the point that he can justify his absolutely-top-of-the-heap salary demands. It might take a full two hands to count the number of uncynical Cruise supporters still out there, but even the most casual observer has to conclude that something truly unusual is going on in Cruiseville. Shake your underwear and turn up the Bob Seger as loud as you like: At some point, a 44-year-old man has to act his age, and The Intensity needs to evolve. It hasn't, and it shows no signs of stopping, even with fatherhood revisted upon Cruise. Once you're a punchline, it's hard to go back short of a display of humility that would do Robert Downey Jr. proud.

5) Other deals are in the offing. If you believe Cruise's side of the story, as told to the Journal, he's got a hedge-fund posse ready to pay for his grand cinematic adventures. We'll have to see whether Cruise/Wagner will end up funding their own blockbusters and selling distribution to the highest bidder, or will aim for more modest projects. Certainly, studios have little appetite for the actor-take-all sort of deal they signed with Cruise long ago and wouldn't re-up. But that doesn't mean there aren't deals to be cut. Can Cruise live with making a mere mortal's salary, something comparable to, say, George Clooney? Can he be convinced to try a role without falling back on The Intensity? Can he, in fact, handle the truth?

A Valentine's ode to TomKat
True love? You've shown us how it's done, couch-jumping and all

By J.-Y. Zhao
MSNBC contributor

Hold on, Sheryl Crow and Lance Armstrong. You too, Heather Locklear and Richie Sambora. It's Valentine's Day, and we're not going to let your recent breakups bring us down.

Instead, let's extend a rose to our other favorite celebrity couple, TomKat. Yes, we know there have been signs of trouble in TomKat paradise earlier this year. We know that the staunchly Catholic Holmes père et mère were at odds with the Cruise-meister regarding his impregnation of their “virginal” offspring (and, can we guess, his religious beliefs?). Then early this year, TomKat made a prodigal return to the Holmes family house in Ohio, reportedly hoping to smooth over the rocky relationship. But the trip ended prematurely, with claims of Katie in tears, and at least one report that the marriage was off. Ouch!

But we know that love conquers all. Just like Xenu.

How do you think the happy couple will be spending this holiday together?

We imagine they'll certainly spend sometime using their private sonogram machine to observe the gestating TomKitten in Katie's womb. (Unless that baby bump isn't all it's been claimed to be, as suggested by at least one Web observer.)

Perhaps they'll put on a disc of relaxing and romantic music by fellow Scientologist Chick Corea. If Katie's not into piano jazz, they might select the latest by Beck.

And of course, what could be more romantic than dual tag-team promotion of their new projects: Tom in “M:i:III,” as the trailer's kludgy titles put it, and Katie in "Thank You For Smoking"? Indeed, it's a special day.

So what really says "love," Katie?

It's love when real-life clichés come to life, because we all know that you said that as a little girl you thought you would "marry Tom Cruise." Then last year, you actually got to fly to Los Angeles to meet with Tom Cruise about appearing in "M:i:III." Dreams come true!

It's love when neither of you can articulate in public how you first met, but swap endless spit on the red carpet in tandem with the release of your 2005 summer movies (“War of the Worlds,” for Tom, “Batman Begins” for Katie.)

It's love when your sweetie passes over a long list of Hollywood prospects, including Jessica Alba, Kate Bosworth and even 18-year-old Lindsay Lohan, for you! It's certainly love when Scarlett Johansson, once set to star opposite Cruise in "M:i:III," doesn't know a good thing when she sees one! By one report, Scarlett's dinner date with the Tomster at the Scientology Celebrity Center in Hollywood turned into a lengthy proselytizing session, complete with a bunch of high-level church officials. When Johansson caught a whiff of what was up, she hightailed it. Girl doesn't know what she's missing!

It's love when your Valentine goes on Oprah — Oprah, the unassailable bastion of car giveaways and fake memoirist slapdowns! — to announce your relationship. Not only that, but Tom can't even talk because he's so in love with you! So much love! Oh, look, he's springing on the couch, grappling with the hostess, pumping fists, giggling like a sometime seminarian from Syracuse. It's not one of his stylized widescreen freakouts; it's real! And it's even more love when he runs offscreen and grabs you out of the green room and makes you appear with him — on Oprah! — despite your repeated protests!

It's love when you have a whirlwind romance of less than two months, and then your twice-divorced, 42-year-old sweetheart, 16 years your senior, asks you to marry him on top of the Eiffel Tower, Paris' obvious symbol of phallic domination, during a promotional tour for "War of the Worlds.”

It's very, very much love when your very straight-laced lover man impregnates you early in your relationship, even though you've gone on record as wishing to keep your virginity until marriage. Even though your parents, Martin and Kathleen Holmes, raised you in a strict Catholic environment, and you attended the all-girls Notre Dame Academy in Toledo, Ohio, what the heck? It's love, baby!

It's even more love when your honeybun buys you a sonogram machine to perform home ultrasound exams. Even when those scowling doctors from the American College of Radiology say that using it at home with Tom at the helm could bring “unnecessary physical risk to the fetus” if not “medically necessary.” If ol' Top Gun has spent time with expert e-Meter operators, why shouldn't he be conversant with all manner of devices? He could even do it hanging upside down from a ceiling, “Mission: Impossible”-style.

And then, Katie, what do you do to show you know it's love?

It's love when you trade up your longtime boyfriend, Chris Klein, for The Tom. It's okay — Chris won't mind. He knows your breakup had nothing to do with Cruise. (But he did say he won't be sending you a baby gift, or even a card. Oof!)

It's love-times-a-million when you adopt the beliefs of your Senior Scientologist boyfriend, then drop your longtime manager and agent. Then you get a new best friend, Jessica Rodriguez, a high-level Scientology practitioner and member of the church's influential Feshbach family. Her omniscient presence keeps those pesky journalists from asking pesky journalist-type questions.

That's love, all right. So, TomKat, here's to you on Valentine's Day, the most genuine celebrity love match we've ever seen!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Celebrity fish dies at Chicago Aquarium
24 year-old Bubba the Grouper was an inspiration to cancer patients

The Associated Press

CHICAGO - A huge Shedd Aquarium grouper that became an instant celebrity — and inspiration to cancer patients — after becoming the first fish in history to receive chemotherapy and bounce back from cancer has died.

Shedd officials estimate Bubba the Grouper was 24 when he died Tuesday.

The 154-pound "super grouper" was abandoned at the Chicago aquarium in 1987, left at the reception desk in a bucket. Shedd officials nursed the fish — then a she — to health and put her in a tank. Bubba changed gender in the mid-1990s, which is not uncommon for certain kinds of fish.

Bubba was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, and two years later, Shedd officials took the unprecedented step of administering chemotherapy.

Cancer survivors, particularly children, were inspired by Bubba's story of resilience, and he was a Shedd favorite, officials said.

"Bubba overcame some incredible odds over the years, and that's what made him so special to us," said George Parsons, director of the Shedd's Fish department.

"Every once in a while for the last three years we have been getting phone calls from kids with cancer or from their parents, wondering how he is doing," Parsons said. "It's going to be tough now, if I have to tell them he's no longer with us."

A preliminary animal autopsy shows Bubba had some age-related health issues and several abnormal growths.

Ancient minty painkiller worked, study suggests
Ancient Chinese used mint oil, which has anti-inflammatory properties

By Heather Whipps

The doctors of ancient Greece and China had it right when they applied cool and minty salves to soothe aches and pains, a new study suggests.

A synthetic treatment with the same properties as mint oil is an effective painkiller when applied directly to the skin. The new cooling compounds could be especially beneficial to millions suffering with the chronic pain of arthritis and diseases affecting nerve endings, scientists say.

“They work particularly well in ongoing pain states where the nervous system becomes hypersensitive so even the lightest touch becomes painful,” said study leader Susan Fleetwood-Walker, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh.

Healers in ancient Chinese societies treated injuries with mint oil, which contains anti-inflammatory properties and produces a cooling effect on the skin.

Cold compresses were also recommended in the fifth century BC by Hippocrates, who is considered the father of modern medicine. Swelling and joint pain could be eased by the numbing effect of copious amounts of cold water, the ancient Greek scholar said.

The new compounds use the same soothing chemicals found in mint oil, but incorporate a few other important elements that work specifically with a pain receptor nerve in the skin called TRTM8, newly discovered by Fleetwood-Walker and her team.

“Chemicals in mint oil and cooling the skin can activate these painkilling nerves but neither traditional method is very specific,” she told LiveScience. “We have shown that the TRTM8 receptor is the critical molecular target for this pain killing effect.”

Special analgesic ingredients in the compounds — telling the receptor to turn off pain messages going to the brain — make them even more effective, the results showed.

Fewer side-effects
The minty formula offers significant advantages versus some other pain medications, which do not always work on sufferers of long-term pain, say the researchers.

“Some types of chronic pain, especially following nerve injury, are resistant to morphine,” Fleetwood-Walker said. “These compounds act powerfully as pain killers on many types of chronic pain including nerve injury pain.”

Because the compounds are applied externally, they should also come with a shorter list of potential adverse reactions, she said. “They seem to be just as powerful as morphine, but work through an entirely separate mechanism, with what we think will be less side effects.

The findings appear in an August issue of the journal Current Biology.

Ancient waterworks found in Israel
Persians turned network into a thing of beauty around 500 B.C.

By Corinne Heller

Students and volunteers dig at an archaeological site at the Ramat Rachel communal farm near Jerusalem on Wednesday.

RAMAT RACHEL, Israel - Archaeologists in Israel have unearthed an ancient water system that was modified by the conquering Persians to turn the desert into a paradise.

The network of reservoirs, drain pipes and underground tunnels served one of the grandest palaces in the biblical kingdom of Judea.

Archaeologists first discovered the palace in 1954, a structure built on a six-acre (2.4-hectare) site where the communal Ramat Rachel farm now stands. Recent excavations unearthed nearly 750 square feet (70 square meters) of a unique water system.

“They had found a huge palace ... even nicer than the palaces in Jerusalem, (dating) from the late Iron Age to the end of the biblical period in the 7th century,” said Oded Lipschits, a Tel Aviv University archaeologist.

The infrastructure of the palace was remodeled throughout the centuries to fit the needs of the Babylonians, Persians, Romans and Hasmoneans who ruled the Holy Land, said Lipschits, who heads the dig with an academic from Germany’s University of Heidelberg.

But it was the Persians, who took control of the region around 539 B.C. from the Babylonians, who renovated the water system and turned it into a thing of beauty.

Lipschits said they added small waterfalls to try to turn a desert into a paradise.

“Imagine on this land plants and water rushing and streaming here,” Lipschits said. “This was important to someone who finds aesthetics important, for someone who wanted to feel as though they are not just in some remote corner in the desert.”

Yuval Gadot, a biblical archaeology expert from Tel Aviv University who is taking part in the excavation, said it was unclear exactly how the water system worked.

“Probably rainwater came down on the roof of the houses (in the palace complex),” he said. “From there, it was collected by drains into pools or to the underground reservoir and taken to nearby fields for crops or nice gardens.”

For centuries, water supplies have been one of the most sensitive issues in the Middle East, where most of the region is desert.

Polar bear genitals shrinking due to pollution
Shrinkage could endanger animals with already low reproduction rate

By Charles Q. Choi

Polar bears in east Greenland are among the most polluted animals in the Arctic. Scientists say industrial pollutants are to blame for reduced genital size in the animals.

The icecap may not be the only thing shrinking in the Arctic. The genitals of polar bears in east Greenland are apparently dwindling in size due to industrial pollutants.

Scientists report this shrinkage could, in the worst case scenario, endanger polar bears there and elsewhere by spoiling their love lives and causing their numbers to diminish.

In fact, all marine mammals could get affected by these pollutants, "especially the Arctic fox, killer whale and pilot whales," wildlife veterinarian and toxicologist Christian Sonne at the National Environmental Research Institute of Denmark in Roskilde told LiveScience. These animals bodies also carry extremely high levels of these contaminants.

Polar bears from northernmost Norway, western Russia and east Greenland are among the most polluted animals in the Arctic, as they feast on ringed seals and bearded seals. The blubber of these seals accumulates high levels of organic pollutants loaded with halogens such as chlorine. These organohalogens can act like hormones.

Sonne and his colleagues looked at formaldehyde-preserved genitals from 55 male and 44 female east Greenland polar bears, collected from 1999 to 2002 by about 30 polar bear subsistence hunters regulated by the Greenland government.

The adult polar bear testicles the researchers examined were on average roughly three inches across and 1.8 ounces in weight, although they could dramatically enlarge during the height of sexual activity from January to July. Their bacula, or penis bones, were on average nearly seven inches long.

The scientists found the higher the level of organohalogens in polar bear, the smaller testicle and baculum size and weight likely were. Ovary size and weight decreased as organohalogen levels rose as well.

Slow to mate
Polar bears have among the lowest reproductive rates for terrestrial mammals. The scientists say reducing polar bear penis size would make sex less successful, upsetting naturally slow-to-grow polar bear numbers. Testicle and ovary shrinkage would upset polar bear reproduction too.

Future research should examine the effects of low levels of organohalogen contamination, Sonne said. "How long do we have to go down in exposure levels to obtain no-effect levels? Is it possible at all?" he explained.

Sonne and his colleagues reported their findings online Aug. 16 via the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Grisly Aztec saga reconstructed
Archaeologists find remains that back up tale of ritual massacre

By Catherine Bremer

A skull, apparently from an Spanish male, is displayed in a workshop from the Tecuaque archaeological site in Calpulalpan, near Mexico City.

CALPULALPAN, Mexico - Skeletons found at an unearthed site in Mexico show that Aztecs captured, ritually sacrificed and partially ate several hundred people traveling with invading Spanish forces in 1520.

Skulls and bones from the Tecuaque archaeological site near Mexico City show that about 550 victims had their hearts ripped out by Aztec priests in ritual offerings, and were dismembered or had their bones boiled or scraped clean, experts say.

The findings support accounts of Aztecs capturing and killing a caravan of Spanish conquistadors and local men, women and children traveling with them in revenge for the murder of Cacamatzin, king of the Aztec empire’s No. 2 city of Texcoco.

Experts say the discovery proves that some Aztecs did resist the conquistadors, led by explorer Hernan Cortes, before the Spaniards attacked the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City.

History books say many indigenous Mexicans welcomed the white-skinned horsemen in the belief they were returning gods, but turned against the Spaniards once they tried to take over the Aztec seat of power in a conflict that ended in 1521.

“This is the first place that has so much evidence there was resistance to the conquest,” said archaeologist Enrique Martinez, director of the dig at Calpulalpan in Tlaxcala state, near Texcoco. “It shows it wasn’t all submission. There was a fight.”

Kept in cages
The caravan was apparently captured because it was made up mostly of the mulatto, mestizo, Maya Indian and Caribbean men and women given to the Spanish as carriers and cooks when they landed in Mexico in 1519, and so was moving slowly.

A view of the Tecuaque archaeological site in Calpulalpan.

The prisoners were kept in cages for months while Aztec priests selected a few each day at dawn, held them down on a sacrificial slab, cut out their hearts and offered them up to various Aztec gods.

Some may have been given hallucinogenic mushrooms or pulque — an alcoholic milky drink made from fermented cactus juice — to numb them to what was about to happen.

“It was a continuous sacrifice over six months. While the prisoners were listening to their companions being sacrificed, the next ones were being selected,” Martinez said, standing in his lab amid boxes of bones, some of young children.

“You can only imagine what it was like for the last ones, who were left six months before being chosen, their anguish.”

Meat stripped off
The priests and town elders, who performed the rituals on the steps of temples cut off by a perimeter wall, sometimes ate their victims’ raw and bloody hearts or cooked flesh from their arms and legs once it dropped off the boiling bones. Knife cuts and even teeth marks on the bones show which ones had meat stripped off to be eaten, Martinez said.

Aztec warriors whitened the bones with lime and carried them as amulets. Some were used as ornaments in homes.

In Aztec times, the site was called Zultepec, a town of white-stucco temples and homes where 5,000 people grew maize and beans and produced pulque to sell to traders. Priests had to be brought in for the ritual killings because human sacrifices had never taken place there, Martinez said.

Unwittingly preserved
On hearing of the massacre, Cortes renamed the town Tecuaque — meaning “where people were eaten” in the indigenous Nahuatl language — and sent an army to wipe out its people.

When they heard the Spanish were coming, the Zultepec Aztecs threw their victims’ possessions down wells, unwittingly preserving buttons and jewelry for the archaeologists.

The team began work in 1990 and is only now finishing its investigation. It found remains of domestic animals brought from Spain, like goats and pigs.

“They hid all the evidence,” said Martinez. “Thanks to that act, we have been allowed to discover a chapter we were unaware of in the conquest of Mexico.”

Discoverer’s widow ‘shook up’ over Pluto’s demotion
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO— The widow of the astronomer who discovered Pluto 76 years ago says she is frustrated by the decision to strip it of its planetary status, but she adds that Clyde Tombaugh would have understood.

“I’m not heartbroken. I’m just shook up,” Patricia Tombaugh, 93, said in a telephone interview Thursday from her home in Las Cruces.

Clyde Tombaugh was 24 when he discovered Pluto while working at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1930. He spent months meticulously examining images of the sky, looking for a planet observatory founder Percival Lowell theorized was affecting the orbit of Uranus. Lowell was wrong—Pluto is too small to affect giant Neptune’s orbit—but Tombaugh found it anyway.

Tombaugh, who died in 1997, was the only person in the Western Hemisphere to have discovered a planet in our solar system until Thursday, when the International Astronomical Union separated it from the eight “classical planets” and lumped it in with two similarly sized “dwarf planets.”

Tombaugh had fought off other attempts to relegate Pluto, but his widow said this time he probably would have endorsed the change, now that other planetary objects have been discovered in the Kuiper Belt, the belt of comets on the edge of the solar system where Pluto resides.

“He was a scientist. He would understand they had a real problem when they start finding several of these things flying around the place,” Patricia Tombaugh said.

She added that her husband had been resigned to the change.

“He knew it was on the way,” she said. “Before he died, they were going around and around. Of course, he was disappointed. After 75 years of seeing it one way, who wouldn’t be?”

Planetary astronomers at Lowell Observatory expressed disappointment. Director Bob Millis said he preferred a rejected proposal that would have added three planets to the solar system instead of dropping Pluto.

Closing the door to additional planetary discoveries is “not exactly motivational to young planetary scientists and astronomers,” Millis said.

At New Mexico State University, where Clyde Tombaugh worked from 1955-73 and founded the research astronomy department, the news about Pluto was received somewhat glumly.

“To come up with a new classification shows science is not static. It’s good to show that to the world,” said Jim Murphy, an associate professor and department head. “I suppose our reaction is more emotional. I don’t want anyone to think anything less of the discovery by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930.”

Tombaugh’s legacy is visible across Las Cruces, where an observatory, a campus street and an elementary school bear his name.

Murphy said Tombaugh’s discovery was ahead of its time because it took 60 years for stronger telescopes to locate another object with an unusual orbit like Pluto’s, and 73 years before scientists discovered a bigger object in the area.

He said the declaration won’t change Pluto’s importance to science.

“Pluto didn’t cease to exist,” Murphy said. “It didn’t lose or gain any atoms. Its physical characteristics haven’t changed a bit because of this. It already was perceived to be a member of a larger group of objects.”

Taller people are smarter, too, study says
Princeton economists say findings justify better pay for more height


NEW YORK - While researchers have long shown that tall people earn more than their shorter counterparts, it’s not only social discrimination that accounts for this inequality — tall people are just smarter than their height-challenged peers, a new study finds.

“As early as age 3 — before schooling has had a chance to play a role —and throughout childhood, taller children perform significantly better on cognitive tests,” wrote Anne Case and Christina Paxson of Princeton University in a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The findings were based primarily on two British studies that followed children born in 1958 and 1970, respectively, through adulthood and a U.S. study on height and occupational choice.

Other studies have pointed to low self-esteem, better health that accompanies greater height, and social discrimination as culprits for lower pay for shorter people.

But researchers Case and Paxson believe the height advantage in the job world is more than just a question of image.

“As adults, taller individuals are more likely to select into higher paying occupations that require more advanced verbal and numerical skills and greater intelligence, for which they earn handsome returns,” they wrote.

For both men and women in the United States and the United Kingdom, a height advantage of four inches equated with a 10 percent increase in wages on average.

But the researchers said the differences in performance crop up long before the tall people enter the job force. Prenatal care and the time between birth and age 3 are critical periods for determining future cognitive ability and height.

“The speed of growth is more rapid during this period than at any other during the life course, and nutritional needs are greatest at this point,” the researchers wrote.

The research confirms previous studies that show that early nutrition is an important predictor of intelligence and height.

“Prenatal care and prenatal nutrition are just incredibly important, even more so than we already knew,” Case said in an interview.

Since the study’s data only included populations in the United Kingdom and the United States, the findings could not be applied to other regions, Case said.

And how tall are the researchers?

They are both about 5 feet 8 inches tall, well above the average height of 5 feet 4 inches for American women.

A copy of the paper can be found by clicking here.

Mason Sues Jews for Jesus Over Pamphlet
The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Saying he's "as Jewish as a matzo ball or kosher salami," Jackie Mason filed a lawsuit against Jews for Jesus for using his name and likeness in a pamphlet.

The $2 million lawsuit seeks the immediate destruction of the pamphlet, which members of the missionary group have been handing out at various points around New York City.

"While I have the utmost respect for people who practice the Christian faith, the fact is, as everyone knows, I am as Jewish as a matzo ball or kosher salami," the 75-year-old comedian said in documents filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.

Founded in the 1970s, Jews for Jesus practices Judaism but regards Jesus as the Messiah.

The pamphlets feature an image of Mason next to the words "Jackie Mason ... A Jew for Jesus!?" with information inside that outlines the similarities between Jews and Christians.

"The pamphlet uses my name, my likeness, my `shtick' (if you will), and my very act, which is derived from my personality, to attract attention and converts," Mason said in an affidavit.

Susan Perlman, a spokeswoman for Jews for Jesus, said the pamphlet was "good-natured."

"Shame on him for getting so upset about this," she said Friday.

Mason has starred on Broadway and in films including "Caddyshack II."

Texan foils U.K. burglary via Beatles Webcam
Man watching over Internet spots crime in progress, alerts local police


LONDON - An American helped foil a burglary in northern England while watching a Beatles-related Webcam, police said Friday.

The man from Dallas was using a live camera link to look at Mathew Street, an area of Liverpool synonymous with the Beatles and home to the Cavern Club, where the band regularly played.

He saw intruders apparently breaking into a sports store and alerted local police.

"We did get a call from someone in Dallas who was watching on a Webcam that looks into the tourist areas, of which Mathew Street is one because of all the Beatles stuff," a Merseyside Police spokeswoman said.

"He called directly through to police here." Officers were sent to the scene, and three suspects were arrested.

Behavior therapy for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
By Healthwise

Children and teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do not misbehave to spite their parents or other adults. Problems develop because ADHD often causes them to react impulsively and makes it difficult for them to learn and to comply with rules.

Many children with ADHD need behavior therapy to help them interact appropriately with others. Parent training in these techniques usually takes 8 to 10 counseling sessions of 1 to 2 hours per week.

Behavior therapy for children under age 18 with ADHD generally involves two basic principles:

Encouraging good behavior through praise or rewards. Praise for good behavior should immediately follow the behavior.
Allowing natural and logical consequences for negative behavior
Preschool-age children (5 and younger)
Be aware of your child's need for routine and structure. Warn him or her beforehand if something out of the ordinary is expected, such as taking a different route home from the grocery store. Even small changes in a normal routine can upset your child.
Tell your child exactly what you expect from him or her before activities or events throughout the day. For example, when you plan to go grocery shopping, make sure your child knows that he or she is going to sit in the cart or hold your hand. Also, let your child know before you go in the store specifically what items, if any, he or she will be able to pick out.
Use a system to reward your child for positive behavior, such as token jars or sticker charts. After accumulating a certain number of tokens or stickers, plan a special activity for your child, such as going to the park.
Use a timer to help your child anticipate a change in activities and to keep him or her on task. Set a certain amount of time for activities, such as coloring. Tell your child that when the timer goes off, that activity will be over and specify what will happen next (for example, "When the timer goes off, we will be finished coloring and then take a bath"). In addition, you can use the timer for chores, such as picking up toys. If your child finishes the task in the allotted time, you can incorporate the token or sticker reward system.
Participate with your child in activities that build attention skills, such as puzzles, reading, or coloring.
School-age children (6 to 12 years)
Give instructions clearly so that the child is more likely to follow through with the task. Break tasks into simple steps. This makes it easier for the child to maintain attention.
Increase the amount of attention, praise, and privileges or rewards given to the child for obeying household rules. A token, sticker, or point system may be helpful for keeping a record of the child's good behavior.
Anticipate where the child may misbehave (such as in stores or restaurants or in the home when visitors come by). Make a plan with the child about how to manage the situation before problem behavior occurs.
Explain what will happen if the child misbehaves. When misbehavior occurs, follow through with the consequences as soon as possible. Your child will usually respond better with consistent reactions while in different settings, so discuss your strategies with school personnel. Consider requesting daily report cards from your child's teacher to get a sense of how he or she behaves outside of the home.
Model good behavior. Demonstrate patience, calmness, and understanding. Avoid angry outbursts and interrupting others; pay attention while someone else is talking.
Allow your child to participate in planning rules and consequences. Be willing to negotiate these rules periodically.
Anticipate when major changes will occur, such as starting a new school. In addition, recognize other high-stress situations, such as a heavy class load or final exams. These are all times when symptoms may be more difficult to manage. Talk about what the child can expect and ways to meet the challenges successfully.
Be consistent. Predictability reinforces expectations and will help your child develop positive behavior patterns.
When parents start a new system of limits and consequences, children tend to test those limits. It takes patience, imagination, creativity, and energy to carry out behavior management. It is important for parents to apply the techniques consistently. The program is often successful in helping a child behave appropriately and function well. However, if parents stop using the techniques, problem behavior usually returns.

Parenting programs and books may be helpful for some parents. Ask your health professional for specific recommendations.

Trap-jaw ant has world's fastest bite
Powerful jaws could inspire propulsion systems of miniature robots

By Charles Q. Choi

Scientists have discovered the fastest bite in the world, one so explosive it can be used to send the Latin American ant that performs it flying through the air to escape predators.

These powerful jaws could serve as inspirations for the propulsion systems of miniature robots used for rescue operations, says researcher Andrew Suarez, an ecologist and entomologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told LiveScience.

Suarez and his colleagues focused on the trap-jaw ant, Odontomachus bauri. Since the 1800s, researchers had seen these ants zing through the air based on the power of their incredibly strong jaws. Until now, no one was able to prove the ants intentionally used their jaws for jumping.

The researchers collected trap-jaw ants from Costa Rica.

Suarez distinctly remembered the first time he and fellow researcher Brian Fisher at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco dug up a trap-jaw ant colony "and had them shooting all over the place like popcorn—many of which landed on us and started stinging."

Suarez and Fisher, along with University of California at Berkeley researchers Sheila Patek and Joseph Baio, found the ant's jaws accelerate at 100,000 times the force of gravity. This means they can snap shut 2,300 times faster than a blink of the eye to reach speeds up to 145 mph, exerting forces 300 to 500 times the ant's body weight.

"Until recently, cameras were simply not fast enough to capture the movement of the mandibles," Suarez said. He and his colleagues had to use high-speed video cameras capable of taking up to 250,000 frames per second to film the ant jaws, roughly 10,000 faster than speeds movies are usually shot at.

Olympic feats
Falcons can dive as fast as 300 mph, but they rely on gravity and start from great heights. Aside from getting a gravity assist or other help, these snapping ant jaws are by far the fastest-moving body parts in the animal kingdom. The scientists reported their findings online Aug. 21 via the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Experiments revealed the ants could use their jaws to snap at prey, strike at intruders or flee from predators.

In attacks against intruders, dubbed "bouncer defenses," the ants slam their mandibles against their targets—in experiments, thin strips of plastic or metal—presumably to injure them or bounce them away. Coincidentally, this can also catapult the ants up to 15 inches away. This distance, translated for a 5-foot-6-inch tall person, roughly equates to a record-shattering Olympic long jump of 132 feet.

When the researchers introduced predators such as spiders, the trap-jaw ants at times used so-called "escape jumps," directing their jaws toward the ground, launching themselves up to 3 inches in the air. For our 5-foot-6-inch Olympian, that's 44 feet. The world record in the high jump is just slightly over 8 feet.

Suarez is now working with colleagues to see if this jaw-powered propulsion the ants use could find use in engineering.

"It's just another example of looking towards nature and evolution to think of innovative solutions," he said.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Radical Reduction
The benefits of stomach stapling for teenagers.

By Amanda Schaffer

Last month, the already grim prognosis for heavy kids took a turn for the even worse. A study of more than 100,000 women, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that those who were overweight at age 18 were more likely to die prematurely in middle age. And research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people who develop type 2 diabetes—a condition associated with obesity—before the age of 20, as opposed to later, are at greater risk of end-stage kidney disease and death before the age of 55. Obesity at any age is associated with health woes like sleep apnea, fatty liver disease, atherosclerosis, loss of vision, and some types of cancer, in addition to diabetes. But when these conditions appear in the young obese, the long-term ramifications are just scary.

How about a radical solution—stomach stapling for teenagers? It may sound crazy and desperate, but several major children's hospitals, including Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Texas Children's Hospital, and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford, have started offering obesity surgery in recent years. Nightline recently followed a 16-year-old Texas girl who underwent stomach stapling and lost 129 pounds in six months, down from a starting weight of 368.

The worry is that such stories distract from workaday efforts to improve school lunches, promote exercise, and establish good eating habits for kids. Critics also point out that stomach stapling is expensive and can cause serious complications, like intestinal leakage, bowel obstruction, and nutritional deficiencies. But for extremely obese teens—especially those who already have a related health problem—less radical treatment options may not work, or at least not work fast enough. Surgery, by contrast, can not only lead to dramatic weight loss but also improve or reverse conditions like sleep apnea and diabetes. Only a small group of kids should be eligible for the surgery, but for these few, it can be a very good thing.

In a stomach-stapling operation (the medical term is gastric bypass), a small pouch is created in the upper portion of the stomach, and the small intestine is rerouted to connect with it. The benefit is that a downsized stomach will hold less food and may release fewer hunger-inducing hormones, causing patients to feel full more quickly and stop eating.

To be sure, obesity surgery is a risky proposition. One small study, published earlier this year in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, found that roughly 40 percent of kids who underwent gastric bypass experienced some kind of complication, such as intestinal leakage, dumping syndrome, bowel obstruction, wound infection, or a nutritional deficiency. (A similar complication rate has been found in adults.) Nutritional deficiencies, especially of calcium, iron, vitamin B-1 and vitamin B-12, may occur partly because patients are eating less and partly because the operation bypasses a portion of the digestive tract that efficiently absorbs many vitamins and minerals.

The potential for deficiencies means that patients must adhere to strict guidelines. All patients must eat more lean, high-quality protein; exercise; and take vitamins and minerals for the rest of their lives. Teenage girls must take additional calcium and iron.

Critics argue that teens are less likely than adults to follow these rules and are too young to make a decision to undergo major elective surgery. They also argue that the surgery takes on a different social meaning when performed on young people: It seems like giving up and is hard to reconcile with the cherished notion that kids can always grow and change.

There's no sense in soft-pedaling these issues. But Thomas Inge, co-founder of the obesity surgery program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, points out that when teens are more than 100 pounds overweight, the chances are vanishingly small that they will shed the necessary pounds on their own and keep them off. Programs that focus on changing diet and behavior may work for younger children whose eating habits and behavioral patterns are less ingrained; for teenagers, though, the results are often disappointing.

Inge has developed guidelines to identify the small group of teens he and other doctors think should be eligible for stomach stapling. (Here's a brief summary.) Preliminary data show that surgery can really help these adolescents. In one study, teens who underwent gastric bypass lost an average of 37 percent of their body mass index by the end of the first year. Other research suggests that the procedure can reverse or improve sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes.

Similar health gains have been noted in adults. But that's not necessarily a reason to delay the surgery. Inge points out that the longer a patient has had diabetes, the harder it may be to reverse the condition. The same may turn out to be true for cardiovascular disease, though the data on this are not well-established. Stomach stapling also seems to get riskier the more obese a patient is. So, an extremely heavy teen who is likely to grow into an even heavier adult might be better off opting for surgery sooner rather than later.

A procedure that's less risky than stapling, known as adjustable gastric banding, may also soon make surgery a better option. During this procedure, a flexible silicone band is placed, inside the body, around the upper part of the stomach. At follow-up office visits, the band is progressively tightened (here's how). This appears to suppress appetite (perhaps by stimulating stomach fibers associated with feeling full). Gastric banding seems to cause adults to lose weight more gradually on average than gastric bypass. But it has a lower rate of complications. And it's reversible.

In 2001, the Food and Drug Administration approved adjustable gastric banding for people over 18. Now a small number of researchers have received permission from the FDA to study it in teens. At NYU Medical Center, about 100 teens have undergone the procedure. About 5 percent have required a second operation because the band slipped out of position. But according to NYU lead surgeon Christine Ren, that's the most frequent complication. To date, there have been no deaths and no hospital readmissions for acute complications. Patients, who weighed 300 pounds on average before surgery, report a decrease in appetite. And they appear to be losing a lot of weight—an average of 95 pounds in the first year. Ren says that adolescents who undergo gastric banding seem to lose weight faster than adults do, perhaps because of differences in metabolism or because they're more, not less, diligent about following the post-surgery rules.

There's a lot we still don't know about stomach surgery and its long-term effects when performed on young people. But for kids whose obesity is likely to be life-shortening, not to mention a source of diminished self-confidence and opportunity, the benefits may well outweigh the risks. It's heartening to have a possible life raft to offer them, however bizarre it seems.