Saturday, December 16, 2006

bookworms vs. nerds - article/blog

what do you think, kids, does this explain me? a recent study by the british psychological society found that the "more fiction a person reads, the more empathy they have and the better they perform on tests of social understanding and awareness. By contrast, reading more non-fiction, fact-based books shows the opposite association."

Monday, December 11, 2006

"this american life" tries a new medium - article

so i'm a television fanatic, but there is something timeless about stories told and heard over the radio as well.

"this american life" is my favorite program on npr - it feeds into my addiction to good storytelling, and probably was the reason i first began to appreciate non-fiction. (some choice selections for the uninitiated all from the staff favorites page, or you can just go to the site and search for anything and everything david sedaris has ever done.)

and now, it looks as though the npr staple is crossing over.


'This American Life' Is Ready for Its TV Close-Up
by Lynn Neary
All Things Considered, December 5, 2006

OK. Rats. They could film rats running in circles. It would be creepy. It would be cool.

No, scratch that. Humans in rat suits!

That's just one of the many odd discussions that took place in the process of transforming a radio program into a television series. The show is This American Life. The host is Ira Glass. The TV series will debut in March on the Showtime cable channel.

There's a certain simplicity to the art of radio. At its heart, it's all about storytelling. And This American Life is a radio show that revels in storytelling -- quirky stories, sad stories, scary stories.

This American Life seems so wedded to the medium of radio that when the Showtime cable network first approached Glass about turning it into a TV show, he couldn't imagine it.

"We basically said 'no' for a year and half," Glass recalls. "And we kept saying we have no idea how to... be filmmakers. You have to hook us up with people who could design something that got across the feeling of the radio show."

They found those experts in cinematographer Adam Beckman and director Chris Wilcha. Sometimes Beckman and Wilcha have to tell people steeped in radio that their ideas just won't work on television. Other times, they take the ideas and turn them into compelling visual images.

Like the rats. This story, dealing with erasing memory in rats, caught the staff's attention when they heard that real people had called the researchers because they wanted their own bad memories erased. But Wilcha was struggling with the visuals. While Beckman and his crew worked, Wilcha pulled Glass aside to pitch his ideas, which included humans in rat suits.

It's not the first time Glass has been a bit taken aback by one of Wilcha's ideas. Take the desk, for example. They'd been trying to figure out Glass's role as host. Would he just be an off-camera voice? And if not, would he do stand-ups on location or would he appear on a set?

In the end, they decided to give him a desk. But not just any desk.

"What if your desk appeared out on the landscape?" Wilcha wondered. "On an abandoned freeway, on the Salt Flats, in the woods. But you never make mention of it or point to it."

So Glass, staring at the audience through his big, black-framed glasses, introduces the show and the stories from behind a sleek, art deco desk made of shiny, red wood. In one shot, the desk and Ira sit in the middle of Utah's Salt Flats, looking like an inconsequential speck in a vast moonscape.

Perhaps the most painful adjustment for Glass was having to perform for the camera. Not only did he have to say his lines over and over again -- on camera, in a very public setting, surrounded by a huge crew -- he also had to watch himself over and over again.

"I don't see any positive aspect of being on camera," Glass says. "I am 47 years old, I don't like looking at myself. After a certain point, no one likes looking at themselves on television. There's just no up side."

But for all the complications of television, producer Nancy Updike says there have been moments of unexpected pleasure. A longtime radio producer, Updike wasn't sure This American Life would translate to a visual medium. Then she saw the pilot.

In a story about efforts to bring a bull named Chance back from the dead, Updike was surprised that they had managed to transfer the feel of the radio show to television. And the images of the bull provided a pleasure that radio could not.

"They're almost glamour shots of the bull, different parts of him, and he's in shadow and it's breathtaking," Updike says. "It's a moment you can't have in a radio show, a moment of pure visual reverie."

And that's no bull.

found here, and you can listen to it here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"TELL ME THIS AIN'T TRUE." - article

MattR26 (8:46:44 AM): so they're moving veronica mars away from the long arcs format to self-contained episodes
xcr253 (9:30:26 AM): so its gonna fucking be like CSI?! F that shit!
MattR26 (9:30:58 AM): yeah, it kinda sucks
MattR26 (9:31:49 AM): they said its getting hard to make up storylines that the characters are emotionally bonded to without having to bring in a whole new group of characters every time
xcr253 (9:32:28 AM): :( i dont care! you're a writer, its your job!
MattR26 (9:33:02 AM): wow, this is really bothering you
xcr253 (9:33:19 AM): lol you know what? it IS. i saw your msg before i hopped in the shower
xcr253 (9:33:26 AM): so it was ALL i thought about for 20mins
MattR26 (9:33:38 AM): haha
MattR26 (9:34:17 AM): this is from tv guide
xcr253 (9:34:24 AM): F TV GUIDE.
MattR26 (9:34:30 AM): Question: I've just read the news about how Rob Thomas wants to make Veronica Mars into a boring, lousy, "safe" stand-alone show. No arc episodes anymore, only emotional drama will connect the episodes. Tell me this ain't true.
xcr253 (9:34:31 AM): :'(
MattR26 (9:35:02 AM): Ausiello: It's true — the stand-alone part, not the "boring, lousy, safe" part — and here's Rob Thomas' reasoning: "Our fear is that the big mysteries are keeping casual TV viewers away, and it's very difficult to engage Veronica in a multi-episode mystery without making it extremely personal. Season 1 was built around the mystery. Veronica's best friend was dead. Every series regular was intertwined with the mystery.
MattR26 (9:35:08 AM): Without replacing the cast with each mystery and/or killing Wallace, I'm not sure we can devise enough personal connection to a case to keep the momentum we had in Season 1." I'm of the opinion that a self-contained Veronica is better than no Veronica.
xcr253 (9:35:44 AM): no, man.
xcr253 (9:35:57 AM): i disagree.
MattR26 (9:36:22 AM): yeah
xcr253 (9:36:56 AM): i would rather have three box sets of a brilliant tv show that was brazenly ripped off the air by The Man than have a crap veronica.
MattR26 (9:37:13 AM): hahhaa
xcr253 (9:37:36 AM): lol, it's true! it's as if Arrested Development tried to "cater more to the masses" or something
xcr253 (9:37:49 AM): that's bullshit
MattR26 (9:38:08 AM): yeah, thats true
xcr253 (9:38:27 AM): all right. well, and thus begins the internet campaign, i suppose
xcr253 (9:38:32 AM): *goes off to blog about this*
MattR26 (9:38:44 AM): hahahahaah
MattR26 (9:38:47 AM): :)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

the new love of my life - article

okay, this is so weird.

first, a confession: i have spent the last three days - literally, the last 72 hours - watching every kristin chenoweth video on youtube. yes, it is finals time. so no, i dont have class.

it started when i was doing a bit of wicked research (going to see it at the pantages in march - w00t!). actually, it started cause i wanted to find more indina menzel clips...but then i found kristin's 1999 tony awards performance (a performance which she won for, btw!) and that shit was all over. the woman is AMAZING. i proceeded to watch everything else youtube had on her.

i've also been interested in her lately b/c i've been watching "studio 60 on the sunset strip," and aaron sorkin has been pretty obvious about modeling lead female character harriet after cheno, who is his ex. (you may also know her as annabeth from west wing.) both cheno and harriet (the character on studio 60) are multi-talented comedy and hollywood stars, very cute and endearing, who happen to be tolerant and open-minded christians, alternately shunned by the gay/liberal community and the religious one, for straddling the line between the two.

[as an aside, i *am* irritated by how dumb harriet's character is. there is a lot of good potential in this character, and i feel like the show treats her poorly to illustrate some pretty obvious psychological/societal points. a lot more depth could be found with her if the show made her less of an idiot; then we could have some real discourse on these issues. c'mon aaron.]

anyway, i gotta tell you, kristin chenoweth is all personality. she's adorable, sexy, and talented through the roof - she has, i think, near perfect pitch and perfect relative pitch (her roots are in opera, and she switches easily between that and any other form of music). as a physical comedienne she's a complete scene-stealer. (her *other* roots are in ballet.) more than that, she is humble and gracious, incredibly hardworking, and handles herself with such elegance. all of hollywood should be striving to handle publicity and fame the way she does. i adore her.

i am not presumptuous enough to say that seeing kristin on stage makes me miss theater, but watching a ton of stage stuff, and planning to go see a lot of stage stuff next semester does remind me of that whole world. i fully intend to get back in to it. some of you know i [kind of] stage managed a show this summer, but LA, unfortunately, is NOT really the place for small, indie on-the-side stuff. the big name tv stars can anchor a show in a professional space, but theater doesn't hum the way it does in new york city. still, once i can afford it =/ i'll be doing it again.

anyway, i was saying it's weird b/c after my weekend of obsession with her, the ny times ran this article! about cheno! so timely!

okay, this is my favorite clip that i want to share with you - i watched this like a million times. i am not kidding you. she's so ridiculously watchable.

talent like that is totally amazing.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

raze the palm

well, twin-looking blogs have got to share content at some point, eh? many thanks to my lovely ny-based scatteredpaper, who noticed this article on LA's decision to start weeding out palm trees.

i'm of slightly mixed mind about this, mainly b/c i am one who believes strongly in iconic images and i do love how those trees look on our skylines. still, i have to agree - if the concern is an environmental one (the palms aren't pulling their weight to clean our air - at least not as much as other trees could), then it's more important to put in more efficient trees. gotta look out for our kids, kids.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

veronica's gotta grow - article/blog post

my favorite tv show:


Going Away To College: Or, Why We Should All Cut Riley Finn Some Slack
by Dan Carlson

In case it's escaped the notice of even the dullest reader out there, I've got a pretty special place in the black rock I call my heart for "Veronica Mars." Now cruising gamely along in its third season, despite low ratings and a network dumb enough to pair it with "Gilmore Girls" (a show about absolutely, positively nothing at all), "Veronica Mars" is still one of the best shows on TV. But after two full years of exploring high school life, Veronica up and graduated, and is now attending Hearst College. Her matriculation mirrors not just the show's transfer from the defunct UPN to the new CW, but also the fact that the show itself is at a crossroads, namely, the elimination of its premise — high-school private eye — and a gradual change in its mission statement.

This is bound to be a polarizing time for the show's hardcore fans, and it's reminiscent of the similar struggle faced by what some have called the show's ancestor, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Granted, I think that comparing any two shows beyond a certain point is unwise, and most people are just linking "Buffy" and "Veronica Mars" out of a well-meaning laziness: Both shows were centered around a strong, flawed, complex female character in high school; both shows placed a premium on witty dialogue and interpersonal relationships; both shows are on low-rated pseudo-networks; etc. But the shows do have their similarites [sic], primarily their ability to explore the hell of growing up through the archetypal lens of high school, the one experience that unites us all in common misery. After its third season, "Buffy" went through the same growing pains now working their way through "Veronica Mars," as Buffy went off to college and the show struggled to find its larger purpose even as its core dynamic was forever altered. More than just having key characters removed and assigned to a spin-off, the "Buffy" universe had to deal with its very own existential crisis: What happens when the teenage superhero starts to grow up?

The show dealt with the inevitable problems the only way it knew how: By pushing through them. The first episode of the fourth season features another pack of vampires led by one of the lamest ringleaders the show ever came up with, but the villain of the week did one thing right: She broke Buffy's umbrella, a symbol of the good work she'd done in high school. It was a crushing, visceral way for the show to proclaim that the times were changing in a big way.

The fourth season, though certainly not a favorite of some fans, nevertheless turned out some great episodes — the experimental "Hush," the crossover "Pangs," the enjoyable one-off "Superstar," the excellent "Fear, Itself" — and, much more importantly, broadened its worldview. College is a world of gray tones next to the starkly defined areas of high school, and Buffy interacted with a greater variety of people with more darkly human (as opposed to demonic) traits, including Parker, who slept with Buffy and never called her again. He wasn't supernaturally evil, just a tool. It was in important step for the show, and one that paved the way for more complex relationships in the characters' collective futures. The fourth season was radically different from the first three because it had to be.

That's the problem, and possible solution, facing "Veronica Mars." The show's first two seasons delved into the dark sides of class warfare between the haves and have-nots of the small town of Neptune, smartly recognizing that cash is the biggest dividing line between the lunch tables in the cafeteria. But university life is rarely that stratified, and the only people who cling to such dated notions of how to define themselves are the jerks who seem to think college is basically Grade 13. "Veronica Mars" is going to have to figure out how to let go of the rich-poor struggle that so often defines the stories.

Veronica used to be a high-school snoop, and but she's going to have to transform into a bigger, more nuanced character to get the show over the tough bumps coming out of two solid years of stories. The show should set about trying to define Veronica in grander terms, like what kind of person does she want to be, in order to work. The central group of characters has been altered — Duncan's gone, Beaver's dead — and the remaining ones aren't what they used to be, none more than Weevil, who's gone from ruthless gang leader to the equivalent of wacky sitcom neighbor in only a few months (seriously, making Weevil the janitor at Hearst was a low blow, especially after offering up the tantaloizing [sic] possibility that he might work with Keith). But "Veronica Mars" can and will succeed if it pushes the characters to grow, and if it becomes comfortable with somewhat redefining itself. You don't go back; you go on to the next place, whatever that is.


find the article here, at slowly going bald.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

invisibility cloaks - article

science is so awesome. and the japanese are so awesome, too. check out this article on the science behind invisibility cloaks and some potential real-world applications of this technology. i've heard of this before but it's neat to read up on exactly how far we've gotten with it, and where we could be using it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

television and learning - article

yet another great article that discusses the nexus of psychology and pop culture. i love stuff like this b/c it's rather intuitive - not necessarily obvious - but awesome to have research back it up.


Prime time to learn
In law dramas, medical shows and comedies, science is invading TV story lines. Good thing they try to get it right.
By Susan Brink
Times Staff Writer

November 13, 2006

AMERICANS more than just believe the health information they get from fictional television shows. Spurred by what they see on shows like "ER" or "The Bold and the Beautiful," surveys suggest, they take action. They go to the doctor. They tell a friend to have that cough checked. They ask a lover to use a condom.

Fans develop trusting relationships with the characters who come into their homes each week, and industry insiders can't betray that trust. "I'm aware of the number of people who are paying attention to the facts around the fiction," says Jan Nash, executive producer of "Without a Trace." Thanks in part to the Internet, where health sites consistently rank at the top of those most visited, more and more viewers know when something doesn't ring true.

They're getting a lot of chances to make such calls. Science is invading scripts. Disease is increasingly a backdrop to plots. The woes of the nation's healthcare system are punch lines. Heroic characters have mental diseases or incurable neurological disorders.

And behind the scenes, a body of communications research and an eager network of health and policy advocates are working with writers and producers to get the facts right. The shows milking medicine for back stories or main plot lines aren't limited to the medical genre such as "ER," "Grey's Anatomy" or "Scrubs." Sick, damaged or dying characters are showing up in shows about crime, politics, the legal profession, or wacky families and friends.

But seeing how profoundly true prime-time television can be was a shock, nonetheless, for Robert T. Brennan, a statistician at the Harvard School of Medicine and his daughter, Emma Brennan-Wydra, 13. On Jan. 3, 2006, they thought the night was winding down like hundreds of others, just another evening of TV viewing in their Somerville, Mass., home. It was 10 p.m., and Emma, a devotee of "Law & Order," was curled up watching the episode "Infected" with her father. "No popcorn. Nothing special, just uneventful viewing," says Brennan.

Little did they know, within their pajama-clad coziness on the other side of the country, that they were about to get an insider's glimpse into one of the latest trends in Hollywood.

Brennan and his daughter sat, mesmerized as the crime drama got closer and closer to home. It was about a grammar school-aged boy who, after seeing his mother shot to death, killed her murderer and went on trial as an adult.

"Annie Potts is addressing the jury," Brennan says, still amazed that his study, published in the May 27, 2005, journal Science, was quoted, statistic by statistic, by actress Potts, who played the boy's defense attorney, Sophie Devere. "She talked about kids being two to three times more likely to commit gun violence after they've been exposed to gun violence." As the character gave closing arguments, she referred to Science, gave the number of study participants and said the research took place in Chicago. There was no doubt. She was talking about Brennan's study.

"Emma and I looked at each other in total disbelief. Literally, I was flushed and my hair was standing up on my neck. The exact details of the study were on television," says Brennan. "And the accuracy of it was really amazing. I hate to say this, but it was more accurate than anything I've ever had covered in a newspaper."

His research ended up on the airwaves after Dr. Neal Baer, pediatrician and executive producer of "Law & Order: SVU," read the study on childhood violence by Brennan and coauthors Jeffrey Bingenheimer and Felton Earls. With all due respect, the paper was "wonky policy stuff, research that almost nobody reads," says Baer. But for a doctor who is also a television writer, it triggered an idea for a plot. "Just as you're exposed to flu when someone sneezes on you, this boy was exposed to violence. He was infected, and he committed a violent act," Baer says of his TV character.

What Baer did with a dry study illustrates the challenge to television writers: Take timely, important topics and make them entertaining. Accuracy and responsibility matter, industry insiders say, but their job is to attract and hold television viewers, not lecture or teach.

"Ultimately, our responsibility is to the drama of the show," says Nash. If writers start getting preachy, she says, viewers will hit the button on the remote.

At a time when reliance on traditional news media is slipping, entertainment communication becomes an important health issue. Prime-time television is where Americans gather, and it's where they learn. It makes sense to put the information where people are likely to get it.

The emphasis on the human and emotional drama behind the science, it turns out, is exactly what helps messages stick with viewers, according to communications research. Movies have a powerful effect too, but television fans come to know the characters they watch each week. Done well, the messages play out in the lives of familiar characters, and viewers learn something.

Premiering a theory

One of the first proofs that popular shows can educate large numbers of people came in 1977, in Mexico. Broadcast pioneer Miguel Sabido decided to make use of a classic learning theory, called social cognitive learning, in a soap opera. The theory, developed by Stanford social scientist Albert Bandura in 1961, holds that one way people learn is from watching others, particularly if they identify with the people and observe long enough to see a successful outcome. Sabido's telenovela was called "Acompañame," or "Accompany Me." The characters, including a poor but strong young woman who had two children and didn't want any more, grappled with family planning.

In its first year, it was apparent that the people who listened also learned — and acted. The Mexican government's National Population Council reported that monthly phone calls requesting family planning information increased from next to none to 500. Contraceptive sales increased 23% the first year the show aired, compared with an increase of 7% the previous year.

Following Mexico's success, the entertainment-education movement spread to India, China and Africa, where people in even the most remote villages tune their portable radios to soap operas. Characters routinely deal with the reality of AIDS. "You put up a billboard saying 'AIDS Kills, Use a Condom,' and it doesn't tell a woman how to approach her husband to talk about condoms," says Sonny Fox, whose Studio City consulting company works internationally to advise media and public health advocates. "In a radio drama, you put that right into the story. The listener has to be able to say, 'If she can do it, I can do it.' "

At a recent workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa, a survey presented Nov. 6 by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined the effect of one such program. It found that reported condom use during the last sexual encounter increased from 34% among people who did not tune into a soap opera called "Tsha Tsha" to 60% among those who watched 10 or more of the programs.

Third World successes got the attention of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If people in poor countries learn from radio and television entertainment shows, maybe Americans would too.

The CDC analyzed U.S. health survey data in 1999. Researchers concluded that of the 38 million Americans who regularly watch daytime soap operas, almost half said they learned something about diseases and how to prevent them. Even better, about a third of viewers said they took some action based on what they saw on a soap opera, including 7% who visited a doctor and 6% who did something to prevent a health problem.

A year later, the CDC looked at prime-time television. It found that of Americans who tuned in twice a week or more, 52% said they trusted the health information they see to be accurate, and 26% said that prime-time TV was among their top three sources for health information.

Inspiring ideas, facts

Inspired by such research, health advocates are figuring out how to work with entertainment television, without raising the hackles of creative types. The Kaiser Family Foundation and CBS and Viacom, for example, hold annual briefings in which writers and producers hear the real-life stories of people living with HIV.

Writers listen, awaiting the muse. And advocates cross their fingers, hoping that truth morphs into broadcast fiction.

Just such a briefing sparked the imagination of Nash and Greg Walker, executive producers of "Without a Trace." "We heard these testimonials, and we were moved by the accounts," says Walker. Adds Nash, "We would drive home and think, 'We have to figure out a way to do this.' " In the 2005 HIV-AIDS briefing, they heard the true story of Jennifer Jako, a pregnant HIV-positive woman who felt the judgment of people who thought she shouldn't have risked passing the virus to her child.

Her story inspired an April 13, 2006, episode called "Expectations," about a pregnant HIV-positive woman who resents the judgmental comments of a nurse, who tells her she should never have gotten pregnant. The character disappears shortly before her baby is due. The suspense builds as the missing woman calls from her cellphone to say she is in labor. She needs a cesarean section, and she needs it now.

To get the AIDS facts straight, Nash and Walker worked with Tina Hoff, director of the Media Entertainment Program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. "We're not the creative visionaries," Hoff says. "But once a story line is developed, we can help ensure that it's accurate."

In reality, the baby of an HIV-infected mother has a less than 2% chance of being born with the disease provided the mother has taken appropriate medications during pregnancy and the delivery is cesarean. If the audience didn't know that before they saw the show, they did after.

In the show, the woman was found in time to deliver a healthy baby by cesarean section. In real life, Jako gave birth — C-section of course — to a healthy daughter in July.

The influence of a popular television show can make physicians' everyday advice pale, says Dr. Mark Morocco, an emergency room physician who was a technical advisor to "ER." "I might see 20 to 30 people a day," he says on his morning shift at the real emergency department of Brotman Medical Center in Culver City. "A show like 'ER' at one time was reaching 30 million people a week. You just can't beat that for power."

The magnitude of the impact of that one show was measured in classic studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the CDC. They surveyed "ER" viewers before and after specific episodes. One episode included a vignette on date rape. The victim was advised that she could take a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy. Before it aired, the study found that only 10% of viewers were aware that high-dose birth control pills were an option to prevent pregnancy. In the week after the episode aired, 33% of viewers were aware of the morning-after option. Another episode dealt with HPV as a cause of cervical cancer, and before the show ran, 24% of "ER" viewers knew about HPV. A week after the show aired, 47% said they had heard of HPV.

"That research reinforced that you just can't ignore the role of entertainment media in people's lives," says Hoff.

Such studies have encouraged shows to use the expertise of real doctors to go deeper than helping actors correctly pronounce medical words, or showing them how to attach electrocardiographic leads. Morocco helped the show's writers figure out how to write Anthony Edwards, who played Dr. Mark Greene on "ER," out of the script after Edwards announced he'd be leaving the show. "What could we give him that would be accurate, that could kill him in 15 months?" says Morocco. The answer: glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor whose sufferers have a life expectancy of about 18 months.

Viewers watched, week after week, the dramatic arc of Dr. Greene's diagnosis, treatment success, relapse and decline. "We were able to show what people with a bad brain tumor really go through," Morocco says. "How it affects your family, the real roller coaster ride you're on when you get this kind of diagnosis." Until, finally, the fictional Dr. Greene died, in the May 9, 2002, episode.

Premiering this week may be one of the most intense efforts to get the science right. A new series, "3 Lbs.," named for the weight of the average human brain, is about two neurosurgeons. The pilot shows symptoms, brain scans and neurosurgery wrapped around the lives of two patients shocked that their brains have gone haywire. "It's all research-based," says executive producer Peter Ocko. "There's not a neurological condition we deal with that's not documented in research. We consult with two neurosurgeons. We gather case histories. There's a doctor and a nurse on the set for every medical moment. And we do just as much research on the patient's perspective." From there, poetic license comes in.

Even nonmedical shows are hiring researchers whose job it is to ferret out what's new and true in multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder, cancer, diabetes or even policy issues such as the growing number of uninsured Americans or the vast disparity between donated organs and the need for organ transplants. All those topics have made their way into recent prime-time shows.

Hollywood insiders

The effort to educate while entertaining goes beyond doctors and staff researchers working within television.

The granddaddy of the industry-science collaboration is probably the Entertainment Industries Council, started in 1983, just about the time John Belushi died of a drug overdose and Richard Pryor set himself ablaze freebasing cocaine. Created to promote health and social issues via entertainment, the council first tackled drug abuse. It quickly expanded. "We're the folks who got actors to put their seat belts on for driving scenes," says Larry Deutchman, executive vice president of marketing and industry relations for the council.

Now there is a growing industry in Hollywood made up of advocates who are neither entertainers nor insiders, but who want their disease or issue to get dramatic play before a mass audience. Similar to product placement, it's a kind of ideas placement. A group called the Entertainment Professionals Resource Assn. pulls dozens of these groups together, including the American Cancer Society, Down Syndrome in Arts and Media, the American Heart Assn. and the Mental Health Media Partnership.

"We're trying to shift the norm," says Deborah Glik, director of the UCLA Health and Media Research Group, who is affiliated with the entertainment group. "When you're going to portray a health issue anyway, and you're working with a platform that reaches millions of people, you should do it accurately."

Members make themselves available with scientific facts and a bank of real citizens willing to tell their stories. They carefully push their causes, knowing they walk a delicate line between sparking creativity and triggering annoyance.

David Sampson, director of media relations at the American Cancer Society, has learned that it's better if his organization stays away from pitching specific plots. Policy wonks, it turns out, aren't so good at recognizing the germ of a compelling story line. "Writers come to us," he says, "and almost invariably, they'll pick up on some bit of information that we had no intention of relaying."

But the society doesn't hesitate to advise, when asked. When Alexis on the soap opera "General Hospital" was diagnosed with lung cancer despite being a nonsmoker, Sampson heard that writers wanted to attribute her disease to asbestos exposure. "About 4,000 non-smokers a year come down with lung cancer," he says. "But short of working in a mine, you only get lung cancer from asbestos exposure if you're also a smoker." Exposure to second-hand smoke, the society suggested, was a far better explanation.

The idea is to present entertainment insiders with powerful real stories, inundate them with facts, and then sit back and hope the creative juices take over. "I believe the writer is king or queen," says Lisa Allen, director of the Media Project, which provides entertainment industry professionals with information on reproductive issues. "We don't preach, we don't proselytize."

But sometimes, when the people who understand the power of the medium watch TV, they do a slow burn. Glik recalls one of those moments. She was watching a prime-time drama in which a character had hepatitis. "I got so upset," she says. "They should have talked about immunizations. It was a missed opportunity."

Missed opportunities and programs that are just plain wrong persist. Soap opera characters can still come out of comas as though they simply took a long nap. Prime-time shows can still depict death as though it's as quick and painless as fainting.

And while television may have become more daring in portraying how disease affects real people, network television pulls its punches on some controversial topics. Abortion, for example, has become more taboo over the years. In 1972, Maude, played by Bea Arthur, had an abortion, a decision that unfolded over two episodes on the sitcom "Maude," watched by 65 million viewers. Thirty years later, Claire Fisher, played by actress Lauren Ambrose on the HBO drama "Six Feet Under," whose viewership peaked at 5 million, had an abortion. In between the two shows, almost all unplanned television pregnancies ended either in miscarriage, adoption or a decision to keep the baby.

No issue unaired

But because truth can be stranger, and more entertaining, than fiction, increasingly even the most tedious of topics — the economics of the healthcare delivery system, for example — are finding their way onto the airwaves. What "Friends" fan will ever forget the time that Joey, an aspiring actor, faced losing his health coverage, an all too real dilemma for 46 million Americans? In the Oct. 14, 1999, episode, Joey's coverage through the Screen Actors Guild was going to lapse unless he chalked up more work hours. Then he got a hernia, the pain of which required treatment but also interfered with his ability to work the hours he needed to remain insured.

Joey does solve his problem, recalls Kate Langrall Folb of Nightingale Entertainment, who works to get stories on health policy, including the uninsured, onto television shows. "He gets a gig portraying a dying guy in pain," she says. He earned his hours, kept his insurance and got his hernia treated.

It was, after all, television. Everything must be tidied up within 30 to 60 minutes.
from the la times.

Friday, November 03, 2006

if google were a person . . .

check this site out - - it's a search engine that has actual people to assist you via live chat if you like.

i typed in: black and white angelina jolie yelling

Status: Looking for a guide ...
Status: Connected to guide: MelissaJ
MelissaJ: Hi there. I will be helping with your search.
You: hi melissa
MelissaJ: Hi, how are you?
You: i'm looking for a specific angie photo
You: i'm good, thanks, and you!
MelissaJ: Okay, I was wondering what the search meant!
MelissaJ: Can you describe it to me?
You: lol yes, it's a b&w photo
You: from just her shoulders up
You: her hands are raised and she's grabbing her hair
You: so that it fans out above her head
You: and she looks like she's yelling
MelissaJ: Okay, do you know approximately how old it is? Recent or a few years ago
You: a few yrs ago
You: i believe from a magazine publication
MelissaJ: Okay, let me try to find it for you
You: thank you.
MelissaJ: I found one that may be it
MelissaJ: Click on the link to the right, is that it?
You: oooh almost!
MelissaJ: Ok, it's close though? Maybe from the same photo shoot?
You: i think it's from the same shoot

MelissaJ: Okay, let me keep searching for you
You: the one i recall was with her mouth open i think
MelissaJ: Okay
You: this is great, though - do you have this as anything bigger than a thumbnail?
MelissaJ: Not yet, let me check
You: oh, nm, i just erased "thumb" and got it
MelissaJ: Still searching...
You: k!
You: if it helps, i recall it being slightly closer cropped to her head
MelissaJ: Okay, thanks!
You: you know, the more i look at it, perhaps this is it after all
MelissaJ: You think?
MelissaJ: Ill keep looking anyway, give me a few more minutes
You: yeah, i keep closing it and coming back to it, it seems more familiar
You: okay!
You: thank you
MelissaJ: I'm having trouble finding anything else.
You: okay
You: this is great, thank you
MelissaJ: I looked through all of the thumbnails of photos of her on google, yahoo and dogpile
You: this is probably it
MelissaJ: just so you know what's already been looked for...
You: lol at least it was probably pretty fun doing that
MelissaJ: and i couldn't find any other from that shoot either
You: okay, this must be it then
You: thank you
MelissaJ: well, i'm a female so she really doesn't do anything for me,
MelissaJ: haha
You: lol i'm a girl, too, but she is so purdy
MelissaJ: haha okay
You: i have a question about chacha
MelissaJ: sure
You: are you guys for searching images only?
You: or websites/content as well?
MelissaJ: no not at all
MelissaJ: anything
MelissaJ: anything you can think of
You: ic
You: very good, thank you
MelissaJ: yep, have a good night!
MelissaJ: Please RATE ME. Thanks for using ChaCha.
Status: Session ended.


this is another post brought kindly to you by kirk, who had a slightly more hilarious, slightly less angie-obsessed experience with his searchers (read it here).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

jesus fucking christ... - article

i...i can't even imagine.

November 2, 2006
Tending a Fallen Marine, With Skill, Prayer and Fury

KARMA, Iraq, Oct. 30 — Petty Officer Third Class Dustin E. Kirby clutched the injured marine’s empty helmet. His hands were coated in blood. Sweat ran down his face, which he was trying to keep straight but kept twisting into a snarl.

He held up the helmet and flipped it, exposing the inside. It was lined with blood and splinters of bone.

“The round hit him,” he said, pausing to point at a tiny hole that aligned roughly with a man’s temple. “Right here.”

Petty Officer Kirby, 22, is a Navy corpsman, the trauma medic assigned to Second Mobile Assault Platoon of Weapons Company, Second Battalion, Eighth Marines. Everyone calls him Doc. He had just finished treating a marine who had been shot by an Iraqi sniper.

“It was 7.62 millimeter,” he continued. “Armor piercing.”

He reached into his pocket and retrieved the bullet, which he had found. “The impact with the Kevlar stopped most of it,” he said. “But it tore through, hit his head, went through and came out.”

He put the bullet in his breast pocket, to give to an intelligence team later. Sweat kept rolling off his face, mixed with tears. His voice was almost cracking, but he managed to control it and keep it deep. “When I got there, there wasn’t much I could do,” he said.

Then he nodded. He seemed to be talking to himself. “I kept him breathing,” he said.

He looked at Lance Cpl. Matias Tafoya, his driver, and raised his voice. It was almost a shout. “When I told you that I do not let people die on me, I meant it,” he said. “I meant it.”

He scanned the Iraqi houses, perhaps 150 yards away, on the other side of a fetid green canal. Marines were all around, pressed to the ground, peering from behind machine-gun turrets or bracing against their armored vehicles, aiming rifles at where they thought the sniper was.

The sniper had made a single shot just as the marines were leaving a rural settlement on the western edge of Karma, a city near Falluja in Anbar Province.

The marines had been searching several houses on this side of the canal, where they found five Kalashnikov assault rifles and bomb components, and were getting back into their vehicles when everyone heard the shot. It was a single loud crack.

No one was precisely sure where it had come from. Everyone knew precisely where it hit. It struck a marine who was peering out of the first vehicle’s gun turret. He collapsed.

Petty Officer Kirby rushed to him and found him breathing. He bandaged the marine’s head as the vehicle lurched away. Soon he helped load the wounded marine into a helicopter, which touched down beside the convoy within 12 minutes of the shot.

Once the helicopter lifted away, he ran back to his vehicle, ready to treat anyone else. He was thinking about the marine he had already treated.

“If I had gone with him,” he said, and glanced to where the helicopter had flown away, over the line of date palms at the end of a field. His voice softened. “But I’m not with him,” he said.

He turned, faced a reporter and spoke loudly again. “In situations and times like this, I am bound to start yelling and shouting furiously,” he said. “Don’t think I am losing my mind.”

He held his bloody hands before his face, to examine them. They were shaking. He made fists so tight his veins bulged. His forearms started to bounce.

“His name was Lance Cpl. Colin Smith,” he said. “He said a prayer today right before we came out, too.”

“Every time before we go out, we say a prayer,” he said. “It is a prayer for serenity. It says a lot about things that do pertain to us in this kind of environment.”

The only sounds were Doc’s voice and the vehicle’s engine thrumming.

He recited the prayer. There was a few moments of silence. “It’s a platoon kind of thing, if you know what I mean,” he said.

He listened to his radio headset and looked at Lance Corporal Tafoya, relaying word of the marines’ movements. “Right now the grunts are performing a hard hit on a house,” he said. He turned back to the subject of Lance Corporal Smith, 19.

“The best news I can throw at anybody right now, and that I am throwing to myself as often as I can, is that his eyes were O.K.,” he said. “They were both responsive. And he was breathing. And he had a pulse.”

He listened to his radio. “Two houses they’ve hit so far have both been swept and cleared.”

He looked at the reporter beside him. “Do you pray?” he asked. “Do that. I’d appreciate it.”

After a few minutes he started talking again. “You see, having a good platoon, one that you know real well, it’s both a gift and a curse. And Smith? Smith has been with me since I was...”

He stopped. “He was my roommate before we left,” he said.

He refilled his lungs and raised his voice. “His dad was his best friend,” he said. “He’s got the cutest little blond girlfriend, and she freaks out every time we call because she’s so happy to hear from him.”

He sat quietly again. A few minutes passed. “The first casualty we had here — his name was James Hirlston — he was his good friend.”

“Hirlston got shot in the head, too,” he said.

He said something about Iraqi snipers that could not be printed here.

Then he was back to the subject of Lance Corporal Smith.

“I really thank God that he was breathing when I got to him, because it means that I can do something with him,” he said. “It helps. People ask you, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ It helps, because if he’s breathing, you’re doing something.”

There had been many Iraqi civilians outside a few minutes before the sniper made his shot. Most of them had disappeared. Now an Iraqi woman walked calmly between the sniper and the marines, as if nothing had happened.

She passed down the street.

Petty Officer Kirby began to list the schools he had attended to be ready for this moment. Some he had paid for himself, he said, to be extra-prepared.

In one course, an advanced trauma treatment program he had taken before deploying, he said, the instructors gave each corpsman an anesthetized pig.

“The idea is to work with live tissue,” he said. “You get a pig and you keep it alive. And every time I did something to help him, they would wound him again. So you see what shock does, and what happens when more wounds are received by a wounded creature.”

“My pig?” he said. “They shot him twice in the face with a 9-millimeter pistol, and then six times with an AK-47 and then twice with a 12-gauge shotgun. And then he was set on fire.”

“I kept him alive for 15 hours,” he said. “That was my pig.”

“That was my pig,” he said.

He paused. “Smith is my friend.”

He looked at his bloody hands. “You got some water?” he said. “I want some water. I just want to wash my wedding band.”

He listened to the tactical radio. The platoon was sweeping houses but could not find the sniper.

The company started to move. It stopped at another house. The marines were questioning five Iraqi men. Doc watched from the road, waiting for the next call.

“I would like to say that I am a good man,” he said. “But seeing this now, what happened to Smith, I want to hurt people. You know what I mean?”

The marines had not fired a shot.

They took one of the men into custody, mounted their vehicles and drove back to Outpost Omar, their company base, passing knots of Iraqi civilians on the way. The civilians looked at them coldly.

Inside the wire, First Lt. Scott R. Burlison, the company commander, gathered the group and told them that Lance Corporal Smith was alive and in surgery. He was critical, but stable. They hoped to fly him to Germany.

Doc had scrubbed himself clean. A big marine stepped forward with a small Bible, and the platoon huddled. He began with Psalm 91, verses 5 and 11.

“Thou shall not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day,” said the big marine, Lance Cpl. Daniel B. Nicholson. “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”

Then he asked for the Lord to look after Lance Corporal Smith and whatever was ahead, and to take care of everyone who was still in the platoon.

“Help us Lord,” he said. “We need your help. It’s the only way we’re going to get through this.”

Doc stood in the corner, his arm looped over a marine. “Amen,” he said. There were some hugs, and then the marines and their Doc went back to their bunks and their guns.

original article here, and here is a slideshow and oral report by the author of the article.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

freakin' finally! - article

aah. a nice follow-up to some recent thoughts.


New male contraceptive Pill with no side effects
Last updated at 22:00pm on 30th October 2006

Men could soon be able to use a 'male Pill' that has no side effects, scientists have revealed.

The chemical implant acts as a contraceptive but does not change the balance of a man's sex hormones.

Scientists have discovered a substance that can temporarily block the development of sperm without altering testosterone levels and without causing unwanted side effects.

They hope human trials of a new contraceptive for men based on their discovery could begin within a few years.

Other versions of the 'male Pill' are already in development but work by altering hormone levels in the man's body.

In trials so far these have produced no worrying side effects - however scientists think men may still worry about whether introducing female hormones could harm their virility in some way.

The new approach would therefore avoid this problem. The common perception is that few women would actually believe a man who said he was on the Pill.

However a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2000 found that only two per cent of women said they would not trust their partner to take a male Pill.

Several teams of scientists have therefore been working on trying to develop an equivalent of the female Pill for men.

Until now this has involved using hormones to try to prevent sperm production.

But the new approach reported in the latest edition of the journal Nature Medicine involves a substance called adherin.

It works by interfering with the way cells in the testes help nurture the development of mature sperm.

It blocks the normal bond which develops between immature sperm and tissue called Sertoli cells. This then stops the cells developing into mature sperm which are capable of fertilising an egg.

A study found that when given to rats, sperm production dropped to such low levels as to render them infertile.

However once the drug was stopped, the animals' sperm production soon returned to normal.

Lead researcher Chuen Yan Cheng of the Population Council in New York said this would be vital for any kind of pill to become acceptable to men.

"If you give the consumer the peace of mind that their fertility will be restored and that their hormones are not going to be affected, they may feel that it is safer to use this contraceptive," he said.

Adherin on its own is known to have toxic effects on the body, but the team overcame this problem by ensuring it would only attach to one cell in the body - the Sertoli cells.

The team tested it on vital organs such as the kidneys, liver, heart and brain, and found it had no harmful side effects.

Dr Cheng and his team hope their finding will lead to a male contraceptive - although say it is likely to be an implant rather than a pill as the tablet would be broken down in the digestive tract.

Dr Cheng said the approach taken by other researchers of using hormone-based contraceptives was not wrong. However he said it was important to give people a choice.

Earlier this year researchers working on a hormonal-based male contraceptive said an implant or injection could be available within five years.

Another study, published in the Lancet found that men given a hormonal-based contraceptive drug saw their sperm count return to normal just over three months after they stopped using it.

thanks kirk for the heads up on this one...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

tpfd? why, yes

so it occurs to me i've been very article-heavy lately in my blog.

jon always gives me a hard time that my longer posts slow down his compulsion to fully cyberstalk everyone he knows within a certain time frame -- he always has to save mine for later, like some heavy dessert waiting around for the right holiday or something.

but if he'd found the time to ping me lately, he'd be right. i've done a LOT of articles. sorry, all you bored figment of my imagination readers - or skimmers. so i decided to go with a smattering of my favorite toothpaste for dinner comics.

like cleansing your pallete before i hit you with a nyt article about how the NJ high court granted equivalent legal rights to gay couples. kidding! (but you can see it here. yay!)

"no underwater level"
love this one. took me a minute to get it.

great gamer joke.
ah. this one holds a special place in my heart.

"what's for lunch"
you know how you can point back to a specific moment in time when you fell in love?

i'm pointing at this comic.

no, i don't own them. go to the site. drew's a genius. drew, don't sue me. copyright drew, okay? look, linkys everywhere!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

the theatrics of government - article

this slate author dares to say that if, given the choice, democrats wouldn't take back the page scandal to spare the boys. brave stance.


Folier Than Thou
The po-faced contest between Republicans and Democrats.
By Michael Kinsley
Posted Friday, Oct. 20, 2006, at 6:49 AM ET

Here in Washington, we're all competing to see who can be more po-faced about Mark Foley and the congressional pages. Who can deplore Foley's behavior the most? Democrats, sensing a deeply wounded Republican Party, are going in for the kill. It's the final evidence that the GOP is terminally corrupt: A congressman was cyber-molesting teenage boys, and his party leaders evidently didn't even care. Republicans answer: Hey, we invented child molesting! As an issue, that is. We own family values, and we're not about to let the party of Monica Lewinsky and Heather Has Two Mommies outflank us on the sexual morality front. And then there are gay voices, eager to remind people that being gay and molesting children are two different things, which, of course, they are. But just to make the point clear, gays want everyone to know that they defer to no one in their distaste for Foley's behavior.

So, everyone claims to be terribly distressed. We glare at each other, looking as grim as possible, and the first one to break into a grin or a smirk or a snort loses. Stop it! It's not funny! But then, who are all the people watching Letterman and Leno, Stewart and Colbert, and laughing—laughing!—at Mark Foley's shenanigans? Who are the people cracking jokes on the Internet? They are so distressed that they can't stop giggling, and they find the whole subject so distasteful that they can't get enough of it. This is not a traditional case of politicians' hypocrisy. This is politicians accommodating the hypocrisy of voters.

Perhaps it would be a better world if everybody were as disgusted by the Foley episode as almost everybody claims to be. But the truth is that most people are enjoying this story and can't get enough of it. If you gave them the secret power to wish the whole thing away, they'd say, "Are you nuts? This is terrific!" Poor Dennis Hastert is suspected, probably falsely, of being willing to sacrifice a child for the good of his party, and now the other party reaps the benefit. Do you think that if the devil told Nancy Pelosi she could undo the scandal, save these 17-year-olds from the trauma of e-mail from a sicko congressman, and give up her hopes of being speaker, that she would find such an offer tempting? I don't. And I don't think Nancy Pelosi is callous or cruel. If she thought it through, she might conclude that the good that can come from a Democratic Congress exceeds the evil that a few randy e-mails may have done to a few teenage pages. Meanwhile, most Americans, I strongly suspect, would happily sacrifice a few more pages just to keep the story going for entertainment purposes.

Then there is Gerry Studds (who, by a weird coincidence, died suddenly last week). Studds was a Democratic congressman who, in 1983, was censured for having an actual, physical affair with a congressional page 10 years before that. After his censure, he continued to run in his district (in Massachusetts, natch), to win, and to serve in Congress until 1997. Compare and contrast Mark Foley: It develops that he may have had physical something-or-other with a page after all. But even before this came out, he had resigned under pressure on the basis of those e-mails alone. Doesn't that prove that Republicans are more serious about Protecting Our Children than Democrats are? Don't they win the po-faced contest?

The Studds case is troubling. Do the Republicans have a point? Maybe, but there are a few points in mitigation, as well. One is the huge random element in what becomes a Washington scandal. You don't need ideological conspiracies or grand cultural tectonic shifts. Whether something becomes a scandal depends on how close we are to an election, on what else is in the news, on what Michael Isikoff had for lunch, and so on.

The Studds case came paired with that of Republican congressman Dan Crane, who had an affair with a female page. In a mutual disarmament agreement, both miscreants were "censured," which was actually a ratchet up from "reprimanded," or "scolded," or "tickled," or some other term recommended by an outside committee. Speaker Dennis Hastert says that if Mark Foley hadn't resigned immediately, he would have been bounced. Maybe. But Crane, like Studds, was renominated by his party in the 1984 election. That would be the Republican Party. (Unlike Studds, Crane lost.)

Back in 1983, Studds took the position that the page had been over the age of consent in the District of Columbia, which is 16, and consent for the affair had, in fact, been mutual. This, of course, left out the question of whether, as a member of Congress, he had some special duty to protect even 17-year-old congressional pages from middle-aged men like himself. He probably did have such a duty, though he never paraded around as a protector of children, as Foley did.

A final difference between Studds and Foley is that the Foley case exposed the tawdry mechanics of a congressman trolling for action among teenage pages. No doubt the Studds affair involved the pre-e-mail equivalent of these mechanics, but they never became public. Obviously, that doesn't excuse Studds. But it also does not establish anything superior about Republican moral values.

Michael Kinsley is American editor of Guardian Unlimited (London) and the founding editor of Slate.

Article URL:

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

no more blaming pms for being bitchy - article

i've briefly covered this topic before, but medicine, like technololgy, is always changing:


Girl Talk
A new pill that stops your period.
By Sarah E. Richards
Posted Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006, at 5:04 PM ET

If a new brand of birth control gets approved early next year, that time of the month could become the time of, like, the decade. Lybrel, a birth-control pill made by Wyeth, would be the first oral contraceptive to deliver an uninterrupted supply of hormones. Seventy percent of women who took it for six months were period-free, according to a preliminary study by the company.

Wyeth isn't the first pharmaceutical company to reimagine the menstrual cycle. In 1992, the FDA approved Depo-Provera, an injection that is repeated every three months. In 2003, Seasonale rescheduled the monthly period to four times a year. And in July, the government gave the go-ahead for Implanon, an implant that delivers a steady hormone stream for up to three years. But the pill is the favorite means of birth control of the nearly quarter of American women of childbearing age who take hormonal contraceptives. That means Lybrel—and the other brands that will surely follow—could change the menstrual cycle as we know it. The appeal is obvious: No more bloating, cramping, food cravings, and PMS jokes, not to mention the savings in unpurchased tampons and such. But in the end, for reasons both medical and cultural, it's not clear that putting the kibosh on the curse is a good idea.

Traditional pill packs contain a week of placebos for each monthly cycle, and, as a result, women who take them appear to menstruate. But it turns out that the bleeding serves no reproductive purpose. Since there's no egg to flush out, the bleeding is a symptom of withdrawal from progestin and estrogen, the hormones in the pill—in essence, it's a fake period. The inventors of the pill, which debuted in 1960, supposedly decided to mimic the menstrual cycle because they thought that would make women more psychologically comfortable with the product.

Western women today are estimated to average about 400 menstrual cycles over the course of their lifetimes. Pregnancy and nursing halt periods for a time, of course. And for years physicians have informally advised women with painful periods to practice "menstrual suppression" by taking hormonal contraceptives continuously. Birth-control medications tend to lessen menstrual and premenstrual symptoms to begin with, and some studies show that fewer periods may mean even more relief.

Now Lybrel is explicitly selling all of this, by prescription, at a drug store near you. Women can shut off their systems for law school, a trip around the world—even their entire 20s. Random spotting is common while using Lybrel, especially at the start. But in a study of another brand called Alesse, 90 percent of participants did not bleed at all after a year of use, according to Leslie Miller, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington. "We can manipulate menstruation," she says.

Life without getting your period, though, would be life without one of the touchstones of the female experience: a sisterhood of shared empathy, tampons and chocolate, and laundry lessons passed from grandmother to granddaughter. Liberation from premenstrual emotional peaks and valleys sounds great, but we would also lose the surge of creativity and libido that comes with the urge to strangle your houseplants. Would movies be as poignant, or garlic mashed potatoes ever taste as good?

In two different surveys of college women, Ingrid Johnston-Robledo, associate professor of psychology and women's studies at the State University of New York, College at Fredonia, found that women who were asked to name positive aspects of menstruation reported that it was a sign of health and fertility and that it helped connect them to other women and the rhythms of nature.* This may sound like an ode to the inner moon goddess, but it has relevance. Johnston-Robledo found that women who didn't like their periods were also more ashamed of their bodies.

At the same time, there may be some medical arguments for suppressing one's period, at least for a limited period of time. Hormonal contraceptives are known to decrease the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers, so some doctors think a continual dose of the pill would further reduce those risks. No blood loss also means less anemia. And then there is the provocative argument of Brazilian gynecologist Elsimar Coutinho. In his 1999 book Is Menstruation Obsolete? (co-authored with Sheldon J. Segal), he writes that modern women experience "incessant ovulation," in contrast to our ancestors, who started menarche later and had many fewer periods because they gave birth and breastfed far more frequently. Women's bodies may not have evolved to handle so many periods and would appreciate a break, Coutinho thinks.

But if modern menstruation isn't completely natural, by prehistoric standards, suppressing one's period by taking hormones is even less so. No one knows the health effects for menstruating women of long-term continuous exposure, especially the risks of blood clots and breast cancer and the effect on later fertility. The uncertainties are especially troubling for adolescents whose reproductive systems continue to develop after they start menstruating, explains Jerilynn Prior, director of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research in British Columbia. Nearly one in five teens uses a form of hormonal birth control. Given the unknowns, perhaps doctors should consider setting a minimum age requirement for Lybrel, or limiting how long women can stay on it.

Nor is the pharmaceutical industry's track record on birth control exactly reassuring in weighing the risks and benefits. In 2002, the implant Norplant was pulled from the market after questions about its effectiveness and lawsuits by women claiming they were not adequately warned of side effects. In 2004, the FDA required that Depo-Provera include a label warning of risk to bone density. And last year, the FDA warned that the high levels of estrogen found in the Ortho-Evra patch increased the risk of blood clots after about a dozen young women died from clotting believed to be related to it. Maybe Lybrel will prove to be a dream drug with none of these problems; at the moment, we don't have the data to know. Periods, on the other hand, are time-tested. They tell you that you're not pregnant, and they're a sign that your body is working as it should. That's worth some fuss.

Sarah E. Richards is a freelance writer based in New York City. She can be reached at

Article URL:

Saturday, October 21, 2006

i truly, truly believe in this - article

Friends for Life: An Emerging Biology of Emotional Healing
Published: October 10, 2006

A dear friend has been battling cancer for a decade or more. Through a grinding mix of chemotherapy, radiation and all the other necessary indignities of oncology, he has lived on, despite dire prognoses to the contrary.

My friend was the sort of college professor students remember fondly: not just inspiring in class but taking a genuine interest in them — in their studies, their progress through life, their fears and hopes. A wide circle of former students count themselves among his lifelong friends; he and his wife have always welcomed a steady stream of visitors to their home.

Though no one could ever prove it, I suspect that one of many ingredients in his longevity has been this flow of people who love him.

Research on the link between relationships and physical health has established that people with rich personal networks — who are married, have close family and friends, are active in social and religious groups — recover more quickly from disease and live longer. But now the emerging field of social neuroscience, the study of how people’s brains entrain as they interact, adds a missing piece to that data.

The most significant finding was the discovery of “mirror neurons,” a widely dispersed class of brain cells that operate like neural WiFi. Mirror neurons track the emotional flow, movement and even intentions of the person we are with, and replicate this sensed state in our own brain by stirring in our brain the same areas active in the other person.

Mirror neurons offer a neural mechanism that explains emotional contagion, the tendency of one person to catch the feelings of another, particularly if strongly expressed. This brain-to-brain link may also account for feelings of rapport, which research finds depend in part on extremely rapid synchronization of people’s posture, vocal pacing and movements as they interact. In short, these brain cells seem to allow the interpersonal orchestration of shifts in physiology.

Such coordination of emotions, cardiovascular reactions or brain states between two people has been studied in mothers with their infants, marital partners arguing and even among people in meetings. Reviewing decades of such data, Lisa M. Diamond and Lisa G. Aspinwall, psychologists at the University of Utah, offer the infelicitous term “a mutually regulating psychobiological unit” to describe the merging of two discrete physiologies into a connected circuit. To the degree that this occurs, Dr. Diamond and Dr. Aspinwall argue, emotional closeness allows the biology of one person to influence that of the other.

John T. Cacioppo, director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, makes a parallel proposal: the emotional status of our main relationships has a significant impact on our overall pattern of cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activity. This radically expands the scope of biology and neuroscience from focusing on a single body or brain to looking at the interplay between two at a time. In short, my hostility bumps up your blood pressure, your nurturing love lowers mine. Potentially, we are each other’s biological enemies or allies.

Even remotely suggesting health benefits from these interconnections will, no doubt, raise hackles in medical circles. No one can claim solid data showing a medically significant effect from the intermingling of physiologies.

At the same time, there is now no doubt that this same connectivity can offer a biologically grounded emotional solace. Physical suffering aside, a healing presence can relieve emotional suffering. A case in point is a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of women awaiting an electric shock. When the women endured their apprehension alone, activity in neural regions that incite stress hormones and anxiety was heightened. As James A. Coan reported last year in an article in Psychophysiology, when a stranger held the subject’s hand as she waited, she found little relief. When her husband held her hand, she not only felt calm, but her brain circuitry quieted, revealing the biology of emotional rescue.

But as all too many people with severe chronic diseases know, loved ones can disappear, leaving them to bear their difficulties in lonely isolation. Social rejection activates the very zones of the brain that generate, among other things, the sting of physical pain. Matthew D. Lieberman and Naomi Eisenberg of U.C.L.A. (writing in a chapter in “Social Neuroscience: People Thinking About People,” M.I.T. Press, 2005) have proposed that the brain’s pain centers may have taken on a hypersensitivity to social banishment because exclusion was a death sentence in human prehistory. They note that in many languages the words that describe a “broken heart” from rejection borrow the lexicon of physical hurt.

So when the people who care about a patient fail to show up, it may be a double blow: the pain of rejection and the deprivation of the benefits of loving contact. Sheldon Cohen, a psychologist at Carnegie-Mellon University who studies the effects of personal connections on health, emphasizes that a hospital patient’s family and friends help just by visiting, whether or not they quite know what to say.

My friend has reached that point where doctors see nothing else to try. On my last visit, he and his wife told me that he was starting hospice care.

One challenge, he told me, will be channeling the river of people who want to visit into the narrow range of hours in a week when he still has the energy to engage them.

As he said this, I felt myself tearing up, and responded: “You know, at least it’s better to have this problem. So many people go through this all alone.”

He was silent for a moment, thoughtful. Then he answered softly, “You’re right.”

Daniel Goleman is the author of “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

it's almost like you're asking for it

thought of this today - married celebrities who have reality tv shows about their marriage are dropping like flies.

nick & jessica

whitney & bobby

shanna & travis...

is the only one left, like, britney & kevin??

the family shows (osbournes, hogans) seem to be doing a bit better, but still...when will you people learn?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

what will you capture?

You'll learn that even the one person who wasn't supposed to ever let you down, probably will.

You'll have your heart broken and you'll break others' hearts.

You'll blame a new love for things an old love did.

You'll fight with your best friend, you'll cry because time is flying by, and you'll eventually lose someone you love.

So take too many pictures, laugh too much, forgive freely, and love like you've never been hurt, because every second you spend angry or upset is a second of happiness you can never get back.

~ a words submission to the faith category of an electronic anthropology collection... ^_~ an e-time capsule.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

the end of an era? hopefully - article

this is a long article from time magazine, but it's really worth the read. hopefully the forecast is dead-on.

note - it's not just the content that makes this worth it; i think this is quite elegantly worded as well. enjoy.


Sunday, Oct. 8, 2006

End of the Revolution
Sex, lies and power games are just the latest symptoms of a Republican party adrift from its ideals

Every revolution begins with the power of an idea and ends when clinging to power is the only idea left. The epitaph for the movement that started when Newt Gingrich and his forces rose from the back bench of the House chamber in 1994 may well have been written last week in the same medium that incubated it: talk radio. On conservative commentator Laura Ingraham's show, the longest-serving Republican House Speaker in history explained why he would not resign despite a sex scandal that has produced a hail of questions about his leadership and the failure to stop one of his members from cyberstalking teenage congressional pages. "If I fold up my tent and leave," Dennis Hastert told her, "then where does that leave us? If the Democrats sweep, then we'd have no ability to fight back and get our message out."

That quiet admission may have been the most damning one yet in the unfolding scandal surrounding Florida Congressman Mark Foley: holding on to power has become not just the means but also the end for the onetime reformers who in 1994 unseated a calcified and corrupted Democratic majority. Washington scandals, it seems, have been following a Moore's law of their own, coming at a faster clip every time there is a shift in control. It took 40 years for the House Democrats to exhaust their goodwill. It may take only 12 years for the Republicans to get there.

If you think politicians clinging to power isn't big news, then you may have forgotten the pure zeal of Gingrich's original revolutionaries. They swept into Washington on the single promise that they would change Capitol Hill. And for a time, they did. Vowing to finish what Ronald Reagan had started, they stood firm on the three principles that defined conservatism: fiscal responsibility, national security and moral values. Reagan, who had a few scandals in his day, didn't always follow his own rules. But his doctrine turned out to be a good set of talking points for winning elections in a closely divided country, and the takeover was completed with the inauguration of George W. Bush as President.

But after controlling both houses of Congress and the White House for most of Bush's six years in office, the party has a governing record that has come unmoored from those Grand Old Party ideals. The exquisite political machinery that aces the elections has begun to betray the platform. To win votes back home, lawmakers have been spending taxpayer money like sailors on leave, producing the biggest budget deficits in U.S. history. And the party's approach to national security has taken the country into a war that most Americans now believe was a mistake and that the government's own intelligence experts say has shaped "a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives."

One of the problems is that after the Republicans got into power, the system began to change them, not just the other way around. Among the first promises the G.O.P. majority broke was the setting of term limits. Their longtime frustrations in the minority didn't necessarily make them any better at reaching across the aisle either. Compromise, that most central of congressional checks and balances, has been largely replaced by a kind of calculated cussedness that has left the G.O.P. isolated and exposed in times of crisis.

The current crisis arrived with a sex scandal that has muddied one of the G.O.P.'s few remaining patches of moral high ground: its defense of family values and personal accountability. Although Hastert and other Republican leaders say they heard last fall about the "overfriendly" approaches of a not-so-secretly-gay Congressman to a 16-year-old former page

Both majority leader John Boehner and campaign chairman Tom Reynolds say they brought it up with Hastert as long ago as last spring—they insist they never imagined anything like the more graphic instant messages that subsequently came to light. But shouldn't they have got chills at learning that a 52-year-old man had sent a teenager a creepy e-mail asking for a "pic of you"? Certainly the page understood what the e-mail meant, which is why he forwarded it in August 2005 to the office of Louisiana Congressman Rodney Alexander, who had sponsored him for the page program. "This freaked me out," the teenager wrote. "Sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick sick."

The House response was political from the start. Last November, Jeff Trandahl, then clerk of the House, told John Shimkus, the Republican head of the board that oversees the page program, about the less incriminating e-mails. But nobody bothered to inform the board's lone Democrat. Shimkus and Trandahl appear to have done nothing more than give Foley a private warning. When Alexander expanded the circle of those aware of the e-mails the following spring, one of the two people he chose to loop in was Reynolds, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, whose job is managing the election. Foley wasn't even stripped of his co-chairmanship of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children.

Even after a batch of truly sleazy instant messages was discovered by abc News, Reynolds' chief of staff Kirk Fordham, who was also a former aide to Foley, tried to solve the political problem by attempting to talk the network out of publishing the worst of the messages. Fordham resigned last week, but he didn't go quietly, the way House leaders had hoped. On his way out, he threw fuel on the political fire by announcing that he had warned Hastert's staff of Foley's "inappropriate behavior" at least three years ago—a charge that Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, denied.

All this suggests that the Republican leaders were motivated much more by fear of electoral fallout than concern for the young pages in their care. And if they were worried that the revelation would hurt their chances of holding on to the House, they turned out to be right. Before the scandal broke, they were beginning to believe that the clouds were finally clearing for them. Their fabled get-out-the-vote and fund-raising operations were nearing full stride just as gas prices were dropping and the national debate was refocusing on their home-court issue of terrorism.

It seems likely that the party will instead need to reckon with sex and scandal throughout the final weeks of the election. As conservative George F. Will, writing in the Washington Post last week, put it, the Foley affair is "a maraschino cherry atop the Democrats' delectable sundae of Republican miseries." In the latest Time poll, conducted the week after the news broke, nearly 80% of respondents said they were aware of the scandal, and two-thirds of them were convinced that Republican leaders had tried to cover it up. Among the registered voters who were polled, 54% said they would be more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate for Congress, compared with 39% who favored the Republican—nearly a perfect reversal of the 51%-40% advantage the G.O.P. enjoyed as recently as August. There was even worse news in a poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center that showed a precipitous drop in Republican support among frequent churchgoers, one of the most important and loyal elements of the G.O.P. base. There's no indication that they are clamoring to be Democrats, but the risk is that they will simply stay home on Election Day.

One of the victims may turn out to be campaign chairman Reynolds, who suddenly found himself running as many as 8 points behind in his upstate New York House-seat re-election bid, which had appeared fairly safe a week earlier. Hastert's job seems secure for the moment, barring any big new revelations, in part because the House Speaker is not merely a party leader; the role was established under the Constitution. It would be difficult to replace Hastert without summoning Congress back into town from the campaign trail. Nor would an ugly fight over who would succeed him be good for the party's prospects in November. Still, Republicans are not particularly eager to be seen with him. His campaign schedule is starting to look a lot lighter, as House candidates across the country are turning down his offers to do fund raisers for them. Even the leadership's much vaunted discipline seems to be in tatters. Majority leader Boehner defended himself last week by attacking Hastert: "My position is, it's in his corner, it's his responsibility." And the third in command, whip Roy Blunt, suggested that things would have been different if he had been informed. Not incidentally, both men are expected to consider making a bid for the top job if Hastert ultimately steps down—and maybe if he doesn't. But by then the job description may be House minority leader.

G.O.P. leaders are so desperate to find someone else to blame that they have been reduced—with no indication that they see the irony—to blaming a vast left-wing conspiracy. "The people who want to see this thing blow up," Hastert told the Chicago Tribune, "are abc News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros," the liberal financier who has become a bogeyman of the right. Hastert went on to say, without producing any proof, that the revelation was the work of Bill Clinton's operatives. But that line of argument, of course, suggests that Republicans would have preferred to keep Foley's secrets locked away, presumably at the pages' peril. And the Democrats for once are showing the good sense to stay out of the way when the other side is self-destructing. Sighed one of the younger House Republican aides who sits in on key meetings: "Foul play on the Democrats' side? If that is the only card left to play, then we are in serious trouble."

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Problem

As Hastert and his forces have been trumpeting their charges against the Democrats, a whisper campaign has been launched in Washington to blame an internal culprit: a "velvet mafia" at the upper levels of G.O.P. leadership on Capitol Hill. Foley, that line of argument went, had been protected by gay staff members like Fordham, Trandahl and others whose names were being widely circulated. Says a top aide: "It looks like they may have tried to handle this among themselves because they were similarly situated."

In many ways, that story line is the product of the strains within the party over homosexuality. It's a tension nearly as deep and tortured as those the Democrats grappled with over race a half-century ago, when they tried—unsuccessfully—to keep an uneasy coalition of Southern segregationists and Northern civil rights advocates from tearing their party apart. Even though many of the G.O.P.'s policies have been hostile to gay rights, its leaders have long followed a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy with what pretty much everyone in Washington knows is a sizable number of closeted Republicans among members of Congress, upper-level staff and top party operatives. Says Patrick Sammon, executive vice president of the gay group Log Cabin Republicans: "There are a lot of gay Republicans who are working behind the scenes to advance the priorities of this party."

Until now, Republicans were able to manage the conflict. And they managed it by ignoring it. That even became part of an electoral strategy dating back to the 2000 election that suggested there was nothing to be gained by moderation. In a memo he wrote to Karl Rove, Bush pollster Matthew Dowd estimated that truly independent voters had fallen to a mere sliver of the electorate. There were, Dowd concluded, not enough percentage points in being "a uniter, not a divider." The key to winning in a polarized country was mobilizing the conservative base. That year, Bush refused to meet with the Log Cabin Republicans, choosing instead to see a handpicked group of gay Republicans, but only after the party's nomination was secured. In 2004, even as Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter Mary was a potential symbol of the party's openheartedness, Republicans put anti-gay-marriage measures on 11 state ballots to drive voter turnout.

But the Foley scandal is making it difficult for the party to look the other way. Last week some conservatives went so far as to insinuate that Foley proves that every gay person is a pedophile waiting to happen. "You don't need 'gaydar' to understand he has certain dispositions," Utah Congressman Chris Cannon told the Deseret News. Televangelist Pat Robertson recommended that G.O.P. leaders simply explain the situation this way: "Well, this man's gay. He does what gay people do."

The resignations of Foley and Fordham sparked fears that other gay Republicans would also soon be forced out of both their closets and their jobs. "Kirk is the fall guy," says gay-rights activist Hilary Rosen. "It's going to be open season on gay Republicans. It's the right wing's perfect storm. They never wanted gays in their party anyway."

Ruling with an Iron Fist

Oddly enough, it was a sex scandal in 1998 that brought Hastert from obscurity to the Speaker's chair in the first place. Gingrich had been ousted because his brand of fiery leadership had become such a drag on the party that it lost seats rather than gained them amid the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But his anointed successor, Robert Livingston of Louisiana, suddenly backed out amid revelations of an extramarital affair. That's when the party turned to Hastert, a former high school wrestling coach whose affability and low-key demeanor seemed to guarantee calmer times ahead. He was, after all, the man who said he was too humble to brag about being humble. And yet the way the House has operated under Hastert has been anything but humble. He quickly came to be viewed as little more than a genial front for then majority leader Tom DeLay, whose nickname—the Hammer—pretty much summed up his leadership touch.

"There has been no institutional rule, means, norm or tradition that cannot be set aside to advance a partisan political goal," says Brookings Institution political scientist Thomas Mann, co-author of the recently published book whose title describes Congress as The Broken Branch. In 2003, instead of fashioning a compromise that might woo a few Democrats, Hastert and DeLay held what was supposed to be a 15-min. vote open for three full hours as they squeezed the last Republican votes they needed to pass a bill to provide an expensive prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program. Far more than in the past, they brought bills to the floor with no chance of amendment and allowed the normal appropriations process to be circumvented so that pet projects could be funded without scrutiny. When DeLay faced indictment by a Texas grand jury, Hastert changed the Republican rules so that DeLay could stay on as leader—though in the ensuing outcry, he had to reverse himself. Hastert was successful, however, in purging the ethics committee of its chairman and two Republican members who had reprimanded DeLay for misconduct. Stretching the limits of arcane House rules and shuffling committees around may not seem like earthshaking offenses, but they are the same type of procedural strangleholds and power plays that the G.O.P. had hoped to excise from the body politic 12 years ago.

"The Republican Party of 2006 is a tired, cranky shell of the aggressive, reformist movement that was swept into office in 1994 on a wave of positive change," Frank Luntz, one of the strategists of the G.O.P. takeover, wrote this week in a column for "I worked for them. They were friends of mine. These Republicans are not those Republicans."

On policy matters, Hastert's leadership approach has been to act as though the Democrats—and sometimes the Senate—simply do not exist. He squeezes hard-edged partisan bills through the House to please the G.O.P. base, even though they have no chance of ever getting through the Senate and reaching the President's desk. "There have been numerous occasions when bipartisan approaches, which would have benefited our conference more than Democrats, have been rebuffed by the Speaker," complains a senior Republican aide, who says he likes and respects the Speaker. "His strategy seems to be, 'Well, don't worry about it. We'll blame [Democratic Leader Nancy] Pelosi.' That might work in isolated circumstances, but when your party's numbers start to tank, and people want to see that you can govern, that approach is not a solid one."

Party leaders concede the point that their revolution hasn't lived up to everything they promised. But they say voters still see the difference between where the parties stand. Former Republican chairman Ed Gillespie—one of the authors of the Contract with America, on which House Republicans ran in 1994—says, "Our party is still better when it comes to spending than the Democrats, stronger on national security than the Democrats and more likely to share concerns about the coarsening of our culture that a majority of Americans share than the Democrats are." Strategists are putting an optimistic face even on the effects of the Foley scandal, saying their internal polling shows little movement against the G.O.P. Will the Democrats behave any differently if they retake Congress in November? Some would undoubtedly try to use their majority power to exact revenge for Republican overreach. And history has shown them to be just as capable of the type of ideological drift that is tearing at the G.O.P.

For now, though, the question on everyone's mind is, How do the Republicans find their way from here? A number of conservatives have begun to wonder aloud if it wouldn't be better for the party to lose the House or Senate in November. If the revolutionaries have become the redcoats, then perhaps it's time for another uprising. Send the Republicans back into the wilderness so they can forage for the kind of fresh ideas and guerrilla tactics that made them such a force during their previous march on Washington. They could very well be ready in time for the presidential election in 2008. And while they're out there on the campaign trail, they just might rally around their old general, who will be looking to cap his own hardscrabble journey from political pariah to rehabbed revolutionary. That general, of course, is none other than former Speaker Gingrich, who has been spotted in Iowa, New Hampshire and other battleground states for more than a year now, taking potshots at the Establishment he helped create and rearming himself to storm the next barricade.