Hmmm... that's interesting.

Articles and other literary ticklers.

My Photo
Location: Mandaluyong, Philippines

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Call in the Dogs
Don't get bitten when buying a pooch.

By Allen St. John

Cute, fuzzy puppies grow up to become dogs—sometimes hyperactive, shoe-chewing, shedding, willful, and even sickly dogs. So put as much effort into making your selection as you do when buying a car. "Your dog's going to be around 12, 14 years, maybe longer," warns David Frei, spokesman for the American Kennel Club. And the cost of a dog—from $200 to $3,000—is insignificant compared with the outlay of cash for food, veterinarian bills, and pet-sitting over the next decade. So going to a breeder makes sense. "If you're buying a dog from me, you're buying me, too," says Frei.

Seek advice: Responsible breeders explain the good and the bad aspects of each breed and will be there to lend advice 2 years later when your dog develops a pathological fear of garbage cans. Dogs bought from a breeder may also be healthier, because, unlike pet stores, breeders are diligent about removing dogs with health problems from the breeding pool.

Identify your needs: When choosing a dog, look not only at size, but also at energy level and disposition, and how the breed matches your lifestyle. "If you're a jogger, you don't want a basset hound," says Frei.

Look at the lineage: You can tell a lot about what your puppy will become—in both size and temperament—by meeting mom and dad.

Picking from the Litter: "You want a dog that comes up to you with its tail wagging," Frei says. Looking into the puppy's eyes can tell you a lot about its overall health: They should be bright, clear, and free of discharge. Be aware that a puppy's mood and energy level can change dramatically on either side of feeding time.

Consider an older dog: They're paper-trained and they've gone through their destructive chewing phase. One source is, of course, your local animal shelter. And Seeing Eye dog-training programs—like the one at the Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey (—have dropouts that make remarkably well-behaved pets for the sighted.—A.S.J.

CHOICE CANINES: Big, playful ones that'll fit your active lifestyle

BOXER: The coat is smooth and close to the body. Colors range from light tan to brindle with heavy to light black striping. Originally bred for fighting. Makes an excellent guard dog.

Size: Large
Weight: 55-75 pounds
Life Span: 8-10 years
Temperament: Fun-loving, energetic, gentle, and good with children.

BELGIAN SHEEPDOG: There are four breed varieties, each with distinct coat colors and textures. Shown is the Tervuren, which has a long, dense coat that needs to be brushed often. Good with children when raised with them.

Size: Large
Weight: 55-65 pounds
Life Span: 10-14 years
Temperament: Affectionate and friendly, wanting constant attention from their owners. Avoid shy puppies when picking from a litter.

BOUVIER DES FLANDRES: Originated in Belgium as a working dog used to protect cattle. Its thick black coat needs to be combed and brushed or the hair will become matted. Distinguishing characteristics are its thick mustache and beard.

Size: Large
Weight: 65-100 pounds
Life Span: 11-12 years
Temperament: Territorial. If the dog will be around children, get one that's a puppy. Needs obedience training.

RHODESIAN RIDGEBACK: This beautiful breed, named for the ridge of hair that grows forward along the center of its back, becomes cranky without a daily dose of vigorous exercise. It's also prone to certain health problems and may be a good choice for a more experienced dog owner.

Size: Large
Weight: 65-85 pounds
Life Span: 10-14 years
Temperament: Cautious with strangers, making it an excellent watchdog. Best personality develops with early obedience training and socialization with kids.

Let's hear it: Share your getting a new dog experiences

Bone fragment likely not Joan of Arc
By Christian Panvert,
Associated Press Writer

CHINON, France - A rib bone and a piece of cloth supposedly recovered after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake are probably not hers, according to experts trying to unravel one of the mysteries surrounding the 15th century French heroine.

Eighteen experts began a series of tests six months ago on the fragments reportedly recovered from the pyre where the 19-year-old was burned for heresy.

Although the tests have not been completed, findings so far indicate there is "relatively little chance" that the remnants are hers, Philippe Charlier, the head of the team, told The Associated Press on Saturday.

The fragment of linen from the 15th century "wasn't burned. It was dyed," Charlier said. And a blackened substance around the 6-inch rib bone was not "carbonized remains" but vegetable and mineral debris, "something that rather resembles embalming substance," he said.

Joan of Arc was burned to death on May 30, 1431 in the Normandy town of Rouen following a trial. Legend has it that her ashes were scattered in the Seine River.

The rib bone and piece of cloth were supposedly recovered from the pyre by an unidentified person and conserved by an apothecary until 1867, before being turned over to the archdiocese of Tours. They are now stored at a museum in Chinon, about 150 miles southwest of Paris.

In 1909, scientists declared it "highly probable" that the remains were those of Joan of Arc. Given developments in genetic technology in recent years, researchers decided to test the remains again to try to determine if they were definitely hers.

But the probability that the remains are those of Joan of Arc are "enormously lessening," Charlier said. "We're instead moving toward the hypotheses of a fake relic or of a relic that was transformed."

"It could be that these are human remains of the 15th century subjected to a sort of embalming or protection as happened when relics were manipulated," he said. "But we know, in any event, that Joan of Arc was not embalmed."

A cat femur found among the remains just confuses the matter.

For some, it lends weight to the notion of a hoax or a fake relic. However, other historians say cats or other animals representing the devil could have been thrown into pyres in medieval times, Charlier said. In any case, the blackened substance around the cat femur, like the rib bone, was also found to be vegetable and mineral debris, he said.

Charlier stressed that results from other tests were still pending, including carbon-14 dating and genetic tests to determine the sex of the individual.

Joan of Arc was tried for heresy and witchcraft and burned at the stake after leading the French to several victories over the English during the Hundred Years War, notably in Orleans, south of Paris.

The illiterate farm girl from Lorraine, in eastern France, disguised herself as a man in her war campaigns and said she heard voices from a trio of saints telling her to deliver France from the English. Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and made a saint in 1920.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Man Who Inspired Hit Film Skips Opening
The Associated Press

Maybe it was home-state spirit. The man whose rags-to-riches story is told in the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" spent its opening night speaking at a company party in Wisconsin.

Michael Riggs, the CEO of JHT Holdings Inc., in Kenosha, said he arranged through a talent agency for Chris Gardner to be the inspirational speaker at the company's Christmas party on Dec. 15.

But with all the recent attention on Gardner and the new film starring Will Smith, Riggs doubted Gardner would make it, especially because the movie was premiering the same night.

He was wrong.

"He said, 'I could have been in Rome or with the world's biggest star, Will Smith. But I heard there was a company in Kenosha that had been doing great things, and I'd rather be here with fellow Wisconsinites'," Riggs said.

Gardner, a Milwaukee native, was a homeless, single father in California before becoming a millionaire business executive — the story told in the film based on his autobiography.

He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel his recent fame hasn't changed him much, and that he still keeps his "day job" heading a Chicago-based brokerage firm.

"I got up this morning and put my pants on the same way and it felt comfortable," Gardner said.

"This all isn't about me, the movie or the book. This is for us, for everyone who had an opportunity to become negative and decided to go the other way.

"For every father who had to be a mother and every mother who had to be a father, and everyone who had a dream who was told it couldn't happen."

Passengers get $50 bills from bus Santa
Stranger’s generosity brings some in Wash. city to tears

The Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. - A woman hopped aboard buses, greeted passengers with “Merry Christmas” and handed each an envelope containing a card and a $50 bill before stepping off and repeating the process on another bus.

She did it so quickly that descriptions of the woman varied among surprised Spokane Transit Authority passengers on several routes Thursday, The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported Friday.

“She kind of kept her head down. I don’t remember ever seeing this lady before,” said bus driver Max Clemons.

“I had a young man in the back of the bus. He looked like he was going to start crying. He said in broken English, ‘She don’t know how much this will mean to me at Christmas,”’ Clemons said.

Transit authority spokesman Dan Kolbet said efforts to identify the gift-giver were unsuccessful. Her generosity didn’t appear to be part of a marketing gimmick, he said.

The woman gave envelopes to about 20 passengers, he said. Each was sealed with a sticker that said: “To a friend from a friend.”

The woman, accompanied by one or two young boys, pulled the envelopes out of a cloth satchel. The buses were pulling away from stops before riders even knew what happened.

“There was a lot of excitement. People were making calls on their cell phones,” said driver Terry Dobson, who had two of his trips visited by the mystery woman. “The people on those buses really needed the money.”

Hours after the impromptu gift-giving, Dobson was still giddy.

“It was just a neat thing,” he said. “It makes you tingle all over.”

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Triplets born to woman with 2 wombs
First case of its kind, British hospital official says

The Associated Press

LONDON - A woman with two wombs has given birth to triplets, in what is believed to the first case of its kind, a hospital official said Friday.

Hannah Kersey, 23, gave birth to three girls in September, said Richard Dottle, a spokesman for Southmead Hospital in Bristol where the babies were born. The children spent nine weeks in the hospital.

The girls — identical twins delivered from one womb and a single baby from the other — were delivered by Caesarean section seven weeks early, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Kersey and her partner Mick Faulkner said they were “over the moon” at how healthy and happy the girls were.

“They are three lovely and incredible children, all with very different personalities,” the BBC quoted Kersey as saying.

“There haven’t been any similar account where three healthy babies are born of two wombs,” said Yakoub Khalaf, a consulting gynecologist at Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Hospital. He said that multiple pregnancies tended to be risky, and that delivering triplets under such abnormal circumstances was even riskier.

'Extremely lucky'
Separate or partially joined wombs, are uncommon, although not rare. About one woman in 1,000 has them, according to Khalaf.

Pregnancies in such cases are possible, although they tend to result in premature birth more than half the time. One pregnancy in each womb is almost unheard of — Khalaf said he had identified only 70 cases over the past 50 years worldwide — and triplets delivered from two wombs has never before been recorded.

“This lady was extremely lucky,” said Khalaf.

Kersey was not immediately available for comment on Friday but the Southwest News Agency based in Filton, England, said it had bought the rights to her story. It would not disclose the amount.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Fake news of Belgium's split causes outrage
Station's 'misplaced joke' shows flag-waving crowds, says king fled country


BRUSSELS - A fake news bulletin that Belgium was to split sparked outrage in both halves of the country on Thursday, although the television station responsible provoked a debate about the nation’s future.

“Irresponsible,” “questionable” and “regrettable” were among the reactions from Belgium’s political mainstream in both French-speaking Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders after a fictional report that Flanders had declared independence.

Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt’s office described the program as a “misplaced joke.”

The Francophone community’s culture minister summoned the head of public broadcaster RTBF to account for the broadcast.

A commission of the Francophone parliament was set on Thursday to view RTBF’s footage which included interviews with real politicians, scenes of flag-waving Flemish crowds and reports that the king had fled the country.

RTBF shocked viewers in a country keenly aware of its linguistic and political differences. Only much later during the mock documentary did a subtitle reveal that the reports were fictional.

Belgian media reported foreign correspondents had called the prime minister’s office to confirm the news while some embassies warned their governments of developments.

Vice Prime Minister Didier Reynders said he had been called by foreign counterparts, adding the broadcast had undermined Belgium’s credibility a day before its hosting of an European Union summit.

'Some were crying'
The Francophone culture ministry said its switchboard had been inundated with complaints.

“A lot of people were shocked and very moved, some were crying,” a ministry spokesman said, adding the minister could not understand why viewers had not been informed from the very start that the reports were untrue.

RTBF’s head of news Yves Thiran told Reuters on Wednesday evening he had hoped to stir debate within six months of a general election about the future of Belgium.

“Up until now, the debate has been confined to academic and political circles. We want a more public debate,” he said, likening the broadcast to Orson Welles’ radio theatre of October 1938, when he fooled many Americans with mock news announcements that Martians had invaded Earth.

Brussels regional minister Guy Vanhengel, who participated in the show, told the Belga news agency that Flemish politicians repeatedly talked about gaining independence, without considering the consequences.

Elections in the Flemish north frequently reveal strong support for separation from the Francophone half of the country that used to dominate Belgium, politically and economically.

Those seeking independence for Flanders, now Belgium’s economic powerhouse, argue Francophone Wallonia is a drain on public resources.

The far-right, nationalist Vlaams Blok, now called Vlaams Belang, became the largest single party in the Flemish regional parliament with a quarter of the vote in 2004.

Its leading figure, Filip Dewinter, called the broadcast a triumph.

“Thanks to this reporting, we can speak about the independence of Flanders and Wallonia,” he said in a statement.

Teacher suspended over art of his posterior
Students say they don’t mind cheeky creations of ‘butt-printing artist’

The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Virginia - To hear the students tell it, Stephen Murmer is a fun, popular art teacher who is always quick to crack a joke.

But there is another side to Murmer. A side that has agitated school officials and resulted in his suspension. A side that focuses, almost entirely, on his backside.

Outside of class and under an alter ego, the self-proclaimed "butt-printing artist" creates floral and abstract art by plastering his posterior and genitals with paint and pressing them against canvas. His cheeky creations sell for hundreds of dollars.

This has not gone over well with Chesterfield County school officials, who placed Murmer on administrative leave from his job at Monacan High School.

Murmer contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia after he was suspended on Friday, ACLU legal director Rebecca Glenberg said. He told Glenberg that administrators had suspended him with pay for five days because of his work as a butt-print painter and that he also could face unpaid suspension pending an investigation.

Murmer has been instructed by the school administration not to speak with the media, Glenberg said. He did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Chesterfield County schools spokeswoman Debra Marlow confirmed that a Monacan art teacher had been placed on administrative leave but declined to provide additional details because it is a personnel issue.

"In the school system, personnel regulations state that teachers are expected to set an example for students through their personal conduct," Marlow said. "Additionally, the Supreme Court has stated that schools must teach by example and that teachers, like parents, are role models."

Separate work, art lives
Murmer went to great lengths to keep his work life separate from his activities as an artist, said ACLU executive director Kent Willis. As a butt-printing artist, he goes by the name "Stan Murmur," and appears in disguise in photographs and videos promoting his art.

"As a public employee, he has constitutional rights, and he certainly has the right to engage in private legal activities protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution," Willis said, referring to the right to freedom of speech.

A nearly naked Murmer expressed concern about remaining incognito during a 2003 appearance on the now-canceled cable television talk show, "Unscrewed With Martin Sargent." In a clip from the show, available on, Murmer dons a fake nose and glasses, a towel on his head, a black thong — and nothing else.

"I'm certainly proud of the ass painting," Murmer said in response to questions about his disguise. "I do have a real job where I do have real clients and I don't think they'd be too understanding if I was also the guy who painted with my ass."

Students not impressed with suspension
That video has made the rounds at Monacan High, where the mere mention of Murmer's name was enough to elicit grins from students Tuesday. Most appeared to be firmly behind their teacher, describing his suspension as "stupid," "ignorant" and "kinda retarded."

"Everyone has been talking about it," senior Heather Thompson said with a laugh as she and other students streamed out of school.

Thompson, who worked with Murmer in the school's art club, said many students have known about his paintings for a few years, but the YouTube clip recently got everyone buzzing. She and other students described Murmer as a funny, likable and popular teacher. There is little support among the student body for his suspension, she said.

"It was simply him expressing himself and his art, and it had nothing to do with school — he wasn't advertising," she said.

This is not the first time Murmer has faced potential problems because of his extracurricular activities. Three years ago, he contacted the ACLU after he was told school administrators were unhappy about his paintings, Willis said. The issue eventually blew over with no suspension issued, Willis said. It was unclear why administrators decided to take action now.

Owning a piece of Murmer's art doesn't come cheap. On his Web site, his creations run upward of $900. His most popular piece, "Tulip Butts," goes for $600.

So how does one become a butt-printing artist? On his Web site, Murmur said his journey began a few years ago when he was told to find an organic item to use as a stamp for a class painting assignment. He decided to use his posterior. His final product was a hit with the class and a butt painter was born.

He was, however, the only student not asked to hold up his organic stamp.

Passengers fly into a panic over stowaway mice
Newspaper report: Screams louder than roar of engines of Saudi plane


DUBAI - The screams were louder than the roar of the engines when more than 100 passengers on board a Saudi plane fought off an invasion by 80 stowaways: mice.

Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Friday that the mice escaped from the bag of a traveler on the internal Saudi Arabian Airlines flight and started falling on the heads and scurrying between the feet of panic-stricken passengers.

"An hour after it took off from Riyadh, the aircraft was at an altitude of 28,000 feet when passengers were surprised by the mice..." the paper quoted Omar al-Jarrah, an airline official as saying.

The authorities detained the owner of the bag after the aircraft landed in Tabuk, in the north west of the country, on Wednesday to investigate how he had managed to board the aircraft carrying live mice, it said.

Wrong-number Santa cheerfully answers calls
California man asks young callers if they have been naughty or nice

The Associated Press

GOLETA, Calif. - This Santa didn’t volunteer — he was drafted. But he’s accepting his lot with good cheer.

John Dickinson is getting up to 100 calls every day from kids who think they’re calling Santa Claus.

It’s a wrong number, but Dickinson says he doesn’t mind. He just plays along.

Dickinson operates an Internet communications business out of his home in California. He manages Santa Barbara’s online visitor guide and answers its toll-free hotline.

Apparently, a lot of kids have been misdialing one digit — getting Santa Barbara instead of Santa Claus.

Dickinson says playing Santa has been fun. He says he always asks who’s been naughty and nice.

He says he’ll continue to take toy requests between business calls until Christmas.

Woman treated for maggot-infested wounds
The Associated Press

EVANSVILLE, Ind. - A resident of a long-term care facility had maggot-infested wounds so advanced that skin peeled off her legs when a hospital emergency room nurse removed her clothing, state inspectors found.

Riverwalk Communities, which has a history of violating nursing home standards, could face state action for the woman's care, said Jennifer Dunlap, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Health.

According to the state's investigation, the woman, whose age was not released, had refused treatment for her wounds and to be bathed for five days at the licensed 113-bed health-care facility before she was taken Nov. 3 to Deaconess Hospital.

The hospital's emergency staff found festering sores on both of the woman's legs and maggots emerging from wounds infected with treatment-resistant bacteria, according to the state's report.

An emergency department nurse told the state surveyor the woman's right slipper and pants legs were stuck to her skin, the report said.

"He indicated he soaked her right foot in warm water for 45 minutes and bugs/cockroaches were crawling out of the house slipper. Upon removing the house slipper, he indicated the skin came off of the right foot and toes," the report said.

When the nurse removed the woman's pants, the material pulled the skin off the woman's legs, from the knees to the ankles, according to the report.

Christine Goad, Riverwalk Communities' administrator, defended the center's performance in caring for the woman, whom she said Wednesday had returned to Riverwalk after her hospitalization.

Goad said that in late October, an aide noticed sores on the woman's legs when she was bathing her and immediately contacted a physician, who prescribed an antibiotic, an ointment for the sores and specified regular dressing changes for them.

The woman agreed to the medication and treatment for four days, but then began refusing all medications and the treatment and refused to be showered, Goad said.

She said the woman was hospitalized Nov. 3 after she became combative.

Goad said the state report reference to cockroaches being found in the woman's slipper is not true. She said the center does not have a roach problem.

"I contacted a wound specialist and an ordinary house fly could have laid an egg on those dressings and it would develop into a maggot in 24 hours. He said he's seen it many times," Goad said.

The state's survey report found, among other things, that Riverwalk officials had failed to notify the woman's physician when she refused his prescribed treatment.

While residents can refuse treatment, "that does not absolve the facility from protecting the resident," said Michelle Motta, Vanderburgh County's long-term care ombudsman.

Goad said that under a compliance plan approved by the state Dec. 5, Riverwalk staff must now contact a doctor immediately if any resident refuses medication or treatment specified by their physician.

Dunlap said she could not release any details about the woman due to federal privacy laws governing medical records.

Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Stan Levco said he did not plan criminal charges in the case.

Last year, the center was at risk of losing both its Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements. After Riverwalk officials agreed to stop operating as a comprehensive-care nursing home, the center received a state license to operate residential or intermediate care.

It later converted from a nursing home to a long-term care facility.

Md. to buy Washington resignation letter
The Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Maryland will spend $600,000 to help buy George Washington's handwritten resignation from the Continental Army that he read to the Continental Congress, then meeting in Annapolis.

State archivists said in February that they acquired the two-page letter to put in the city's State House, where the Revolutionary War hero resigned his commission Dec. 23, 1783. On Wednesday, the state Board of Public Works approved that purchase, along with $150,000 for an accompanying letter written by one of Washington's aides describing the event.

The letter is considered a turning point in America's formation because it established that the military should be subservient to civil authority. Washington said: "Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action."

"This is a momentous occasion for the state," state archivist Edward Papenfuse said.

The $750,000 granted by the Board of Public Works covers only half the cost; private donors will pay the rest. The current owner is a private citizen who has requested to remain anonymous, officials said.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Perfect Office Holiday Party
Your play-by-play survival guide for navigating the spiked punch, soused execs and cubicle hotties at the annual bacchanal.

Edited by: Matt Bean, Men's Health

Drink Smart

Eat something beforehand to soak up that alcohol . "Spirits and sweet drinks go down easy and sneak up on you later," says William Kerr, Ph.D., a scientist at the National Alcohol Research Center in Emeryville, California. "Alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water and pace yourself at a drink an hour."

Dance with Dignity

Your enthusiasm evokes a flailing Elaine Benes. Gentlemen, meet the side tap. "Step to one side and tap the other foot to it—it's foolproof," says Karen McDonald, an instructor at Dance New York. "Some men are shy dancers, and some are overly confident. If you're not an expert, keep it simple." Step, tap. Repeat.

Mingle Like a Pro

"Before the party, skim a magazine or the newspaper for conversation starters," says David Matalon, author of The Concise Guide to Sounding Smart at Parties. "Then probe until you hit the right topic." If all else flops, food is the ultimate icebreaker, Matalon says. "Everyone wants to know where to find the best pizza."

Don't Be a Decoration

Dress subtly . The reindeer sweater? Not subtle. "One good guideline is to ask, 'If James Bond, Samuel L. Jackson, or Frank Sinatra were to walk into the party and see you wearing that, would he want to hang out with you? Or would he want to punch you?' " says bad-sweater expert Kevin F. Sherry, founder of

Curb Mindless Bingeing

Nerves and boredom can make the hors d'oeuvres your fallback—and downfall. "Eating is a way of soothing yourself," says Raymond Crowel, Psy.D., vice president of research practice and policy at the National Mental Health Association. "It's a stress response to avoid interacting with people who make you anxious." You had a snack beforehand, remember? Keep moving and keep talking—and listening.

Resist Office Cliques

See all the higher-ups circulating? So why are you still chatting with your lame-o lunch crew? Make a point of meeting three new people—it's low-key networking that could pay off. "Remember, it's a conversation, not a monologue," Matalon says. "Practice by striking up a conversation with the bartender or the guy next to you, then raise the stakes and approach a higher-up."

Chat Up the Right-Hand Man

Let your colleagues fawn over your boss . Show some office savvy by working the behind-the-scenes players, including administrative assistants. "You'll enhance your reputation by taking an indirect approach and being diplomatic," says Marilyn Puder-York, Ph.D., the author of The Office Survival Guide. Besides, the big guy won't remember your conversation. Impressing his deputies will eventually impress him.

Talk, But Don't Touch

Canoodling at the party creates an office rep you'll never live down. "Even if you've been wanting to chat up the woman who works across from you, remember that you're being observed," cautions Puder-York. So, sure, introduce yourself to the new hottie in accounting. But don't prowl—approach when she's with a mutual friend who can introduce you. "If you must flirt," says Puder-York, "be charming and diplomatic, and drink carefully."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Are you dating a liar?
By Bob Strauss

So it’s your third date, and you’re starting to suspect that the guy you’ve been making googly eyes at all night may not be telling the entire truth. To start with, he was an hour late, which he blamed on traffic coming into town. Next, whenever you ask him about his last relationship, he glances nervously at his watch and changes the subject. Finally, he’s wearing a striped prison uniform, and you just know he has to have at least one other outfit in his closet.

OK, just kidding about that last point, but this is a serious (and surprisingly common) situation that merits some hard-headed advice. We asked Martha Stout, author of the best-selling The Sociopath Next Door, about what to do when you suspect your date is lying. Here’s what she had to say:

Forget what you’ve seen on TV. The plots of countless crime shows notwithstanding, Stout says, “even trained psychologists are very bad at discerning the moment when someone is telling a lie.” Rather than studying your date’s face for an unconscious twitch or a furtive sideways glance, “you’re better off trying to figure out this person’s character,” which is revealed more by his conversation than by his body language or facial expressions. Which brings us to…

Ask the right questions. Stout recommends asking (not grilling) your date about his past romantic entanglements, then listening very carefully to what he has to say. “If he attributes everything that went wrong to the other person, then he’s not taking responsibility for his own life, and such people often turn out to be liars.” This doesn’t only apply to past girlfriends: If, for instance, he says he left his last job because his boss was “a jerk,” that’s a red flag, too.

Stand your ground. If you decide to challenge your beau about one of his half-truths (or outright whoppers), be prepared for a barrage of excuses. “Often times, such people will try to appeal to your honesty and empathy,” Stout says. Here are some lines you’re likely to hear: “I was turned on by you so much, I just couldn’t bear to tell you,” “Please don’t be angry, you’re the only one who understands me,” and “I’ll never do it again, can you please forgive me?”

Don’t fall for the “rebel” routine. “A sociopath feels himself to be outside the law, social or actual,” Stout says, “and not only does he like to bend the rules, he also wants you to help him.” So if your date casually says things like, “Let’s have sex in the elevator,” or “Let’s just sneak into the movie, no one will notice,” don’t be surprised if he’s dropped a few lies as well during the course of the evening.

Know when to cut your losses. Surprisingly, Stout takes a more lenient stance than the classic expression, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” “I have a list of rules for dealing with sociopaths, and one of them is The Rule of 3’s. If this person has misled you once, it could be a mistake or misunderstanding. If he’s done it twice, it can still be a mistake (though that’s less likely). But when it happens three times, that’s when you know you’re with someone who deals in falsehoods.”

Don’t blame yourself. Per the first point on this list, Stout says, many women tend to beat themselves up after becoming involved with a pathological liar, because they cling to the “superstition” that they should have been able to figure things out right away. “Lying is difficult to detect,” she says, “so you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself.” Get away from the liar in question, and get on with your life without berating yourself.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What’s Selling
In the black publishing world, sleazy tell-all books are squeezing out serious writers like Bebe Moore Campbell, who died this week.

Web-Exclusive Commentary
By Allison Samuels

Bebe Moore Campbell, who died on Tuesday, wrote entertaining books that engaged serious issues

Dec. 1, 2006 - Latisha James had no idea who Bebe Moore Campbell was when she stopped by the Waldenbooks in Los Angeles’s Fox Hills Mall on Tuesday. She and some friends had come to pick up the most recent celeb tell-all book by Carmen Bryan. (“It’s No Secret’’ recounts the most intimate details of Bryan’s sexual relationships with the likes of Nas, Jay-Z and Allen Iverson.) James, a 14-year-old high-school sophomore, says she’d love to become a writer when she graduates from college, but admits her bookshelves don’t contain the work of such celebrated African-Americans as Terry McMillan or the sci-fi novelist Octavia Butler, both of whom flourished in the 1990s. Or Campbell, who died last week of brain cancer, at 56. Waldenbooks was putting a memorial display in the window as James walked in. She “felt bad” that she hadn’t read Campbell before.

That’s the reality of today’s black publishing world: Bryan and her literary predecessor, Karrine Steffans (who wrote last year’s best-selling “Confessions of a Video Vixen”), have more impact on young readers than serious-minded writers such as Campbell. (The same trend, of course, is also the plight of the mainstream publishing world.) Campbell’s eight novels, including “Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine’’ and “Brothers and Sisters,’’ used a down-home narrative voice to take on both familiar and inevitable issues—racism, poverty—and themes less frequently explored in African-American literature, such as mental illness. Her children’s book, “Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry,’’ won the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill’s Outstanding Literature award in 2003.

Campbell’s death, along with the death of Butler last February, leaves a hole in African-American literature. “Both of those women were phenomenal writers with amazing talent and that is never in huge supply,’’ says Gilda Squire, director of publicity at Amistad/HarperCollins. “Their loss makes it even more imperative that we reach out to the younger writers and encourage them to write about the world as they see it. They shouldn’t get caught up in writing the same stuff as everyone else, or begin to believe that one type of book sells.”

Squire takes this issue personally. Two years ago, she signed Steffans to a book deal after reading a story of hers in Vibe magazine. Steffans, an ex-video performer, had spent years suffering from abuse and low self-esteem. Her tell-all “Video Vixen’’ rocked the hip-hop world and the entertainment industry with tales of sexual escapades, drug use and suggestions of homosexuality. It sold nearly 400,000—huge by mainstream standards, and titanic for a first-time African-American author. “We intended the book to be a cautionary tale to young girls about that lifestyle,’’ says Squire. ‘In the end—I’m not sure that’s what everyone took away from it, and I’m sorry about that.’’ Steffans’s next book, due next fall, is rumored to have even bigger names and naughtier details. It won’t be published by HarperCollins.

Of course this shift in sensibility is oddly reminiscent of the days when Toni Morrison and Alice Walker worried that the “round-the-way girl” (think “hip inner-city chick”) style of Terry McMillan’s “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” would damage the cause of more serious black literature. They might have been right: just walk into any inner-city bookstore and see the rows of McMillan knockoffs. But no one expected round-the-way-girl lit to turn into “groupie lit”—as many in the publishing world call today’s hot books. “Everyone’s story is important,’’ says Squire. “But the fear is that one story will be seen as the only story to be told about young black women today. We don’t want that.’’ But publishers do want the money that keeps them in business. If groupie lit gets knocked off the best-seller lists, it’s not apt to be replaced by something more high-minded.

Our story has a sort-of-happy ending. Latisha James came out of Waldenbooks last Tuesday with “It’s No Secret” and Campbell’s “Brothers and Sisters,” a novel set right there in Los Angeles, during the aftermath of the Rodney King beating in 1991. (“I didn’t know she wrote about people in L.A., too,” James says.) But if it takes an author’s untimely death to get readers interested in books like Campbell’s—serious, relevant and approachable—publishing is in worse shape than even the pessimists thought.

This Is Your Brain on Violence
The first study to look at the direct effect of videogames on teen brains documents functional differences between violent and nonviolent play.

WEB EXCLUSIVE By Karen Springen Newsweek

Nov. 28, 2006 - For nearly 35 years, Americans have lived with videogames—and the controversy surrounding them. Proponents say the games are fun and even help teach kids how to use logic to solve problems. Critics say the more violent games—including some that reward players for killing innocent bystanders and police—increase aggressive thoughts and antisocial behavior.

Unfortunately, the debate has suffered from a dearth of empirical evidence about the effect of videogames. Now, a new brain-imaging study from Indiana University—the first of its kind—suggests that playing violent videogames may indeed change the way a person feels and acts. In the study, released Tuesday at the at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, researchers found that teenagers who played a violent videogame exhibited increased activity in a part of the brain that governs emotional arousal. The same teens showed decreased activity in the parts of the brain involved in focus, inhibition and concentration. The study randomly assigned 44 physically and psychologically normal 13- to 17-year-old boys and girls (with boys outnumbering girls more than two to one) to two groups. One group played a violent wartime videogame for a half hour while the other played a nonviolent, car-chase video game. Researchers then used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the kids’ brains. NEWSWEEK's Karen Springen spoke with lead researcher Dr. Vincent P. Mathews, professor of radiology at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Do you think playing violent videogames makes teens more likely to commit violent acts?
Vincent P. Mathews:
That would be the speculation. Our study is looking at brain function. There have been several other psychology studies, dating back to the ‘70s, that have evaluated behavior after exposure to violent media. Adolescents and young adults show increased aggressive behavior.

Does age matter? Are teen brains more, or less, malleable than younger kids’ brains or adult brains?
Certainly they’re more malleable than adults. There’s reasonably good evidence that, at least for males, there’s continued development of the brain into the 20s. Young adults and late teens are fairly similar. We didn’t look at the younger kids because they have to hold still in the MRI machine for an hour or so.

You looked at kids’ brains after 30 minutes of videogame playing. Do you think you would have gotten the same effects if they’d played for just, say, 10 minutes?
There have been some psychological studies that looked at behavior after only 10 or 20 minutes of videogame playing, and they did see some changes in behavior. I think we erred on the side of a longer exposure to get a stronger effect and it’s more likely that someone is going to sit down and play the game for 30 minutes. Often times it takes several minutes before they get into the depths of the game. They get somewhat more difficult tasks as they go along.

Do you think it could be a permanent change that would last longer than 30 minutes?
We didn’t look at that in this study. We’d like to look at the duration of the effect and potential reversibility. We’d like to do more of a longitudinal study, where we had people play for longer periods of time and look to see what the brain activation patterns were before they started playing and at various times after, and look to see how permanent or nonpermanent [the changes] are. And have some people stop playing the game; have some people do some other interventions. There are computer games called cognitive attentional training, used in children with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) as sort of either a compliment to medical treatment or in lieu of medical treatment to help development attention. We could see if playing games like that could reverse some of these brain changes. In some of our previous research, where we looked at the amount of violent media exposure in the past year and correlated it to brain activity, we did see similar changes in those individuals, suggesting longer-term effects.

You deliberately used a video game without a maximum amount of violence in it?
Correct. We were concerned that our institutional review board wouldn’t permit us to use a mature-rated game in 13- to 17-year-olds. We reviewed many of the teen-rated games that were popular that we knew had violent content. “Medal of Honor: Frontline” is a first-person-shooter game. The player is the shooter. He’s basically an Allied fighter fighting Nazi Germany.

Do you think it matters how violent the games are? This one was just army weapons. Would machine-gun shootings in the games seem to hurt teens’ brains more than more minor violence?
I’m not sure you can delineate things that finely. They enter into the fight-or-flight reaction. These individuals have activation in parts of their brain indicating arousal.

An image from the videogame “Bully,” which has been criticized by some activists for excessive violence

Some people even blame school shootings on violent videogames. What do you think?
I’ve seen those same reports, too. Those are just anecdotal situations. There have been shootings, and at least in a couple instances, the people were involved in doing these violent games. One of the people had no practice shooting weapons but had practice in these videogames and had incredible accuracy. I’m not really an expert on how that sort of behavior transfers to the real world. That certainly is one of the concerns that some people have.

What got you and your colleagues interested in this topic? Are you the parents of kids who play—or don’t play—videogames?
We’ve been doing this for about six years now. We initially started because there were some people in the community in Indianapolis who were concerned about the effects of violent media exposure on adolescents and their behavior. I’m a father. I have 15- and 19-year-old sons. They don’t play the extremely violent games. We do limit the time. The 19-year-old is a college student, but while they were both living at home, the expectation was that they wouldn’t play for more than an hour a day. They didn’t play any mature-rated games.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit their kids’ “screen time”—TV, videos, computers—to no more than two hours a day. After your studies, do you agree?
Our study is showing there is an effect on brain functioning after as little as 30 minutes of violent video play. It depends on what type of media they’re exposed to.

Back in 2000, a Federal Trade Commission report said that 83 of 118 electronic games with a “Mature” rating for violence targeted kids under 17. As far as I know, there hasn’t been a more recent report. Do you think the situation has improved?
I don’t think it’s improved. This is a big industry, and I think it’s continued to expand.

Last year manufacturers sold nearly $10 billion worth of videogames in the United States. How many of these would you characterize as “violent”?
A lot of the mature-rated games have significant violence in them, but even the teen-rated games do. The game we used in this study was a teen-rated game, called “Medal of Honor: Frontline.” Not a mature-rated game. They’re rated E for everyone, T for teen, MA for mature. Even a lot of the teen-rated games, which are available to people under 18, have a fair amount of violence in them.

What got you and your colleagues interested in this topic? Are you the parents of kids who play—or don’t play—videogames?
We’ve been doing this for about six years now. We initially started because there were some people in the community in Indianapolis who were concerned about the effects of violent media exposure on adolescents and their behavior. I’m a father. I have 15- and 19-year-old sons. They don’t play the extremely violent games. We do limit the time. The 19-year-old is a college student, but while they were both living at home, the expectation was that they wouldn’t play for more than an hour a day. They didn’t play any mature-rated games.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit their kids’ “screen time”—TV, videos, computers—to no more than two hours a day. After your studies, do you agree?
Our study is showing there is an effect on brain functioning after as little as 30 minutes of violent video play. It depends on what type of media they’re exposed to.

Back in 2000, a Federal Trade Commission report said that 83 of 118 electronic games with a “Mature” rating for violence targeted kids under 17. As far as I know, there hasn’t been a more recent report. Do you think the situation has improved?
I don’t think it’s improved. This is a big industry, and I think it’s continued to expand.

Last year manufacturers sold nearly $10 billion worth of videogames in the United States. How many of these would you characterize as “violent”?
A lot of the mature-rated games have significant violence in them, but even the teen-rated games do. The game we used in this study was a teen-rated game, called “Medal of Honor: Frontline.” Not a mature-rated game. They’re rated E for everyone, T for teen, MA for mature. Even a lot of the teen-rated games, which are available to people under 18, have a fair amount of violence in them.