Friday, February 26, 2010

26 February 2010 snow storm - a set on Flickr

The juniper tree outside our window bent over under the weight of heavy snow.

Posted via web from davidfcooper's posterous

NY Times Magazine: Depression's Upside

The Victorians had many names for depression, and Charles Darwin used them all. There were his “fits” brought on by “excitements,” “flurries” leading to an “uncomfortable palpitation of the heart” and “air fatigues” that triggered his “head symptoms.” In one particularly pitiful letter, written to a specialist in “psychological medicine,” he confessed to “extreme spasmodic daily and nightly flatulence” and “hysterical crying” whenever Emma, his devoted wife, left him alone.

While there has been endless speculation about Darwin’s mysterious ailment — his symptoms have been attributed to everything from lactose intolerance to Chagas disease — Darwin himself was most troubled by his recurring mental problems. His depression left him “not able to do anything one day out of three,” choking on his “bitter mortification.” He despaired of the weakness of mind that ran in his family. “The ‘race is for the strong,’ ” Darwin wrote. “I shall probably do little more but be content to admire the strides others made in Science.”

Darwin, of course, was wrong; his recurring fits didn’t prevent him from succeeding in science. Instead, the pain may actually have accelerated the pace of his research, allowing him to withdraw from the world and concentrate entirely on his work. His letters are filled with references to the salvation of study, which allowed him to temporarily escape his gloomy moods. “Work is the only thing which makes life endurable to me,” Darwin wrote and later remarked that it was his “sole enjoyment in life.”

For Darwin, depression was a clarifying force, focusing the mind on its most essential problems. In his autobiography, he speculated on the purpose of such misery; his evolutionary theory was shadowed by his own life story. “Pain or suffering of any kind,” he wrote, “if long continued, causes depression and lessens the power of action, yet it is well adapted to make a creature guard itself against any great or sudden evil.” And so sorrow was explained away, because pleasure was not enough. Sometimes, Darwin wrote, it is the sadness that informs as it “leads an animal to pursue that course of action which is most beneficial.” The darkness was a kind of light.

The mystery of depression is not that it exists — the mind, like the flesh, is prone to malfunction. Instead, the paradox of depression has long been its prevalence. While most mental illnesses are extremely rare — schizophrenia, for example, is seen in less than 1 percent of the population — depression is everywhere, as inescapable as the common cold. Every year, approximately 7 percent of us will be afflicted to some degree by the awful mental state that William Styron described as a “gray drizzle of horror . . . a storm of murk.” Obsessed with our pain, we will retreat from everything. We will stop eating, unless we start eating too much. Sex will lose its appeal; sleep will become a frustrating pursuit. We will always be tired, even though we will do less and less. We will think a lot about death.

The persistence of this affliction — and the fact that it seemed to be heritable — posed a serious challenge to Darwin’s new evolutionary theory. If depression was a disorder, then evolution had made a tragic mistake, allowing an illness that impedes reproduction — it leads people to stop having sex and consider suicide — to spread throughout the population. For some unknown reason, the modern human mind is tilted toward sadness and, as we’ve now come to think, needs drugs to rescue itself.

The alternative, of course, is that depression has a secret purpose and our medical interventions are making a bad situation even worse. Like a fever that helps the immune system fight off infection — increased body temperature sends white blood cells into overdrive — depression might be an unpleasant yet adaptive response to affliction. Maybe Darwin was right. We suffer — we suffer terribly — but we don’t suffer in vain.

ANDY THOMSON IS a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia. He has a scruffy gray beard and steep cheekbones. When Thomson talks, he tends to close his eyes, as if he needs to concentrate on what he’s saying. But mostly what he does is listen: For the last 32 years, Thomson has been tending to his private practice in Charlottesville. “I tend to get the real hard cases,” Thomson told me recently. “A lot of the people I see have already tried multiple treatments. They arrive without much hope.” On one of the days I spent with Thomson earlier this winter, he checked his phone constantly for e-mail updates. A patient of his on “welfare watch” who was required to check in with him regularly had not done so, and Thomson was worried. “I’ve never gotten used to treating patients in mental pain,” he said. “Maybe it’s because every story is unique. You see one case of iron-deficiency anemia, you’ve seen them all. But the people who walk into my office are all hurting for a different reason.”

Jonah Lehrer is the author of �How We Decide� and of the blog The Frontal Cortex. This is his first article for the magazine.

More Articles in Magazine » A version of this article appeared in print on February 28, 2010, on page 38 of the Sunday Magazine.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ancient tribal language becomes extinct as last speaker dies | World news | The Guardian

Boa Sr, the last speaker of the Bo language of the Andaman Islands, has died.

Boa Sr, the last speaker of the Bo language of the Andaman Islands, has died. Photograph: Alok Das/Survival/Survival

The last speaker of an ancient tribal language has died in the Andaman Islands, breaking a 65,000-year link to one of the world's oldest cultures.

Boa Sr, who lived through the 2004 tsunami, the Japanese occupation and diseases brought by British settlers, was the last native of the island chain who was fluent in Bo.

Taking its name from a now-extinct tribe, Bo is one of the 10 Great Andamanese languages, which are thought to date back to pre-Neolithic human settlement of south-east Asia.

Though the language has been closely studied by researchers of linguistic history, Boa Sr spent the last few years of her life unable to converse with anyone in her mother tongue.

Even members of inter-related tribes were unable to comprehend the repertoire of Bo songs and stories uttered by the woman in her 80s, who also spoke Hindi and another local language.

"Her loss is not just the loss of the Great Andamanese community, it is a loss of several disciplines of studies put together, including anthropology, linguistics, history, psychology, and biology," Narayan Choudhary, a linguist of Jawaharlal Nehru University who was part of an Andaman research team, wrote on his webpage. "To me, Boa Sr epitomised a totality of humanity in all its hues and with a richness that is not to be found anywhere else."

The Andaman Islands, in the Bay of Bengal, are governed by India. The indigenous population has steadily collapsed since the island chain was colonised by British settlers in 1858 and used for most of the following 100 years as a colonial penal colony.

Tribes on some islands retained their distinct culture by dwelling deep in the forests and rebuffing would-be colonisers, missionaries and documentary makers with volleys of arrows. But the last vestiges of remoteness ended with the construction of trunk roads from the 1970s.

According to the NGO Survival International, the number of Great Andamanese has declined in the past 150 years from about 5,000 to 52. Alcoholism is rife among the survivors.

"The Great Andamanese were first massacred, then all but wiped out by paternalistic policies which left them ravaged by epidemics of disease, and robbed of their land and independence," said Survival International's director, Stephen Corry. "With the death of Boa Sr and the extinction of the Bo language, a unique part of human society is now just a memory. Boa's loss is a bleak reminder that we must not allow this to happen to the other tribes of the Andaman Islands."

Boa Sr appears to have been in good health until recently. During the Indian Ocean tsunami, she reportedly climbed a tree to escape the waves.

She told linguists afterwards that she had been forewarned. "We were all there when the earthquake came. The eldest told us the Earth would part, don't run away or move."

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Houston makes bid to be electric car capital of the U.S. - SmartPlanet

Houston, the Energy Capital of the World, is making moves to become the electric car capital of the nation.

How’s that for turning over a new leaf?

Known for the countless oil and gas companies that call the city home, Houston wants to compete with San Francisco for the title, and is entering into partnerships with automakers and power utility companies to materialize its vision.

If you’ve ever visited Houston, the fourth-biggest city in the U.S, you’ll know that the city’s residents love their cars — and the city’s spread-out planning has accommodated for this affinity.

But at a recent event to promote Nissan’s all-electric Leaf, newly-elected mayor Annise Parker said Houston needs an electric car that feels like a gas guzzler to win the city’s residents.

“To have an electric vehicle that appeals to a car culture will make the real difference for market penetration,” Parker said, as reported by Reuters’ Chris Baltimore.

But convincing drivers that electric cars won’t leave them in the middle of nowhere without a charge is a different story. (The Leaf claims 100 miles per charge.)

To do so, Nissan has signed a deal (.pdf) with the city and power provider Reliant (a division of NRG Energy) to build a handful of public charging stations in the area.

Nissan has signed similar agreements with San Diego, Seattle, Orlando, Tennessee and Oregon.

The significance of convincing Houstoners to go electric is almost as big as Texas itself: 5.4 million people call the metropolitan area home.

The move also makes smart business sense for local utilities. Electric demand in the U.S. has slumped 5 percent in the last two years, and interest in more efficient electricity usage is growing.

Electric cars are a way for utilities to use spare electricity generated by power plants in off-peak hours, smoothing out the cyclical usage spikes for energy demand during a 24-hour period.

Since utilities purchase capacity to accommodate for maximum demand, it’s in their interest to put all that capacity to work throughout the year.

The only other snag? Cost. A 2009 study by the University of California Berkeley estimated the total cost of building charging stations at $320 billion — leaving plenty of room for state governments to use tax breaks to encourage revamping America’s automobile infrastructure.

Canadian Jewish Tourism Ad Uses Oral Sex to Promote Israeli Tourism | Tikun Olam-תקון עולם: Make the World a Better Place

Judaism 101: 13 views of the Book of Esther

Utah is poised to criminalize miscarriage (thanks, novapsyche)

Utah House and Senate pass bill that would criminalize miscarriage -- "A bill passed by the House and Senate in Utah this week could make it a crime to have a miscarriage, with penalties up to life in prison."

HB0012 -- text of the bill

In Utah, Miscarriage = Criminal Homicide -- article at Amplify

When Miscarriages Are a Crime... -- article at Slog, Seattle's Only Newspaper

If you live in Utah, please contact your governor, who is the only person standing between this bill and reality.

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The British POW who broke into Auschwitz and survived - Times Online

The British POW who broke into Auschwitz and survived

Denis Avey, even at the age of 91, cuts a formidable figure. More than 6ft tall, with a severe short back and sides and a piercing glare, he combines the pan-ache of Errol Flynn with the dignity of age. This is the former Desert Rat, who, in 1944, broke into — yes, into — Auschwitz, and he looks exactly as I expected. He removes his monocle for the camera, and one of his pupils slips sideways before realigning. It is a glass eye. I ask him about it. He tells me that in 1944, he cursed an SS officer who was beating a Jew in the camp. He received a blow with a pistol butt and his eye was knocked in.

If Avey’s story is difficult to believe, it is worth bearing in mind that it is not without precedent. In 1944, the British PoW Charlie Coward, a sergeant-major from the Royal Artillery who had attempted escape 14 times, infiltrated the camp dressed as a Jewish prisoner to gather intelligence from a British Jewish naval doctor interned there. After the war, Coward testified at the IG Farben trial in Nuremberg. His life story was made into a film The Password is Courage in 1962, starring Dirk Bogarde.

Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust authority, is in the final stages of researching aspects of Avey’s story with the intention of granting him the title of Righteous Among the Nations. “For obvious reasons this honour cannot be based on Avey’s word alone,” says Susan Weisberg, spokeswoman for Yad Vashem. “Each case must be substantiated by eyewitness testimonies and archival documents of the period.”

Avey, born in 1919 on an Essex farm, lived a rough-and-tumble lifestyle and grew into a daredevil. “I once jumped from a branch 45ft high, just for the thrill of it,” he says. “I had a shock of red hair and a temperament to match.”

He also had an affinity for the underdog. As head boy of his school, he used his physical strength to protect the weaker boys. “If there is one thing I’ve always abhorred it is bullying,” he says. “I could dish it out back then. Legislation wouldn’t let me now.”

These traits would serve him well at war. In 1939 he volunteered for the Army — because he was too impatient to wait a week for the RAF. “I ended up in the 7th Armoured Division, the original Desert Rats,” he says. “We operated behind enemy lines in Egypt. In 1942 we were ambushed. I was wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans.”

Avey was a troublesome prisoner. In the summer of 1943 he was deported to Auschwitz, in Poland, and interned in a small PoW camp on the periphery of the IG Farben factory. The main Jewish camps were several miles to the west. “I’d lost my liberty, but none of my spirit,” he says. “I was still determined to give as good as I got.”

But he knew immediately that this was a different order of prison. “The Stripeys — that’s what we called the Jewish prisoners — were in a terrible state. Within months they were reduced to waifs and then they disappeared. The stench from the crematoria was appalling, civilians from as far away as Katowice were complaining. Everybody knew what was going on. Everybody knew.”

Remarkably, Avey was able to think beyond the war. “I knew in my gut that these swine would eventually be held to account,” he says. “Evidence would be vital. Of course, sneaking into the Jewish camp was a ludicrous idea. It was like breaking into Hell. But that’s the sort of chap I was. Reckless.”

According to the historian Sir Martin Gilbert, Avey’s hunch was right. “Auschwitz would not become known as a place of extermination until the spring of 1944,” he says. “When the world found out, there was outrage. After the war, British war crimes investigators were desperate to find PoWs with information about the camps.”

Avey’s audacious plan was made possible by Ernst Lobethall, a German Jew from Breslau, who worked alongside Avey at the Farben factory. Although fraternising was forbidden on pain of death, the two men became friends. “We spoke out of the corner of our mouths,” Avey says, “a difficult thing to do in German.”

He discovered that Lobethall had a sister, Susana, living in England. “I wrote to my mother, who told Susana that Ernst was alive. She posted 200 cigarettes to me via the Red Cross. Miraculously, four months later, they arrived. The cigarettes were worth a king’s ransom. Ernst suddenly became rich.”

With the cigarettes, Lobethall was able to buy boots and scraps of food that would later save his life. He also used them as bribes to help Avey to gain entrance to the Jewish camp.

“Despite the danger, I knew I had to bear witness,” Avey says. “As Albert Einstein said: the world can be an evil place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing. I’ve never been one to do nothing.”

The operation was planned meticulously. Avey found a Dutch Jew with a similar physique and persuaded him to exchange places for a day. Avey knew that they marched past each other at the same time every week. “The Nazis were rigid, you see,” he says. “To them orders were orders, to be carried out exactly. That was what allowed me to find a way round them.”

Avey shaved his head and blackened his face. At the allocated time, he and the Dutch Jew sneaked into a disused shed. There they swapped uniforms and exchanged places. Avey affected a slouch and a cough, so that his English accent would be disguised should he be required to speak.

“I joined the Stripeys and marched into Monowitz, a predominantly Jewish camp. As we passed beneath the Arbeit Macht Frei [work makes you free] sign, everyone stood up straight and tried to look as healthy as they could. There was an SS officer there, weeding out the weaklings for the gas. Overhead was a gallows, which had a corpse hanging from it, as a deterrent. An orchestra was playing Wagner to accompany our march. It was chilling.”

They were herded through the camp, carrying the bodies of those who had died that day. “I saw the Frauenhaus — the Germans’ brothel of Jewish girls — and the infirmary, which sent its patients to the gas after two weeks. I committed everything to memory. We were lined up in the Appellplatz for a roll call, which lasted almost two hours. Then we were given some rotten cabbage soup and went to sleep in lice-infested bunks, three to a bed.”

The night was even worse than the daytime. “As it grew dark, the place was filled with howls and shrieks. Many people had lost their minds. It was a living hell. Everyone was clutching their wooden bowls under their heads, to stop them getting stolen.” Lobethall had bribed Avey’s bedfellows with cigarettes. “They gave me all the details,” he says, “the names of the SS, the gas chambers, the crematoria, everything. After that, they fell asleep. But I lay awake all night.”

In the morning, Avey joined other prisoners for a roll call, followed by “breakfast” — a husk of black bread with a scrape of fetid margarine. “It wasn’t enough to sustain life. Everything was designed to make you waste away.” They were formed into groups and marched out of the camp, again to the accompaniment of an orchestra.

“When we passed the shed again, I slipped in to meet the Dutch Jew,” he says. “That was hair raising. Although I trusted him, I couldn’t be sure that he’d turn up. And if an SS officer had looked in the wrong direction at the wrong time, that would have been it.”

The changeover went smoothly, and Avey returned to the PoW camp. “The Dutch Jew perished, but I’m certain that this short reprieve prolonged his life by several weeks,” he says. “Whether that was a good thing, I don’t know.”

In 1945, as the Soviet Army closed in, the Nazis abandoned the camp and herded 60,000 prisoners in the direction of Germany, in what would become known as one of Death Marches. Avey, who by then was suffering from tuberculosis, was among them. Around 15,000 prisoners died on the way. “The road was littered with corpses,” he says. “I saw a chance to escape and seized it.”

He found his way to Allied lines and was transported back home. Two days before VE Day, he arrived at his parents’ Essex farm half-dead with exhaustion and sickness. They had not expected to see him again.

If Avey’s story still sounds implausible, there is no doubt about the help he gave to Lobethall. Last year the BBC screened a moving documentary, during which Avey learnt for the first time that his old friend had survived the war and died in New York in 2001. Before his death, Lobethall recorded a video testimony for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, during which he emotionally recounts how his life was saved by Avey’s initiative and Susana’s cigarettes. This is the only moment that I see Avey’s steely façade falter.

“I was hospitalised for two years after the war,” Avey continues. “In 1947, I went to the military authorities to submit my information about Auschwitz. Their eyes glazed over. I wasn’t taken seriously. I was shocked, especially after the risks I’d taken. I felt completely disillusioned, and traumatised as well. So from then on I bottled it up, and tried to piece my life back together.”

Sir Martin Gilbert says: “By 1947, the trials of Nazi war criminals had been and gone. The war was over and people just wanted to get on with their lives. There was a whole mind-set of not really wanting to know what had happened any more. Many people had stories that nobody was interested in. It must have been very painful.”

Readjusting to normal life was hard. Avey became addicted to adrenalin, racing fast cars, travelling to Spain for the running of the bulls. He was plagued by nightmares and flashbacks. Even today he shows signs of trauma. He always carries an expensive gold watch, so that “if ever I find myself in a fix again, I’ve got something to fall back on”.

Sixty-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, when eyewitnesses are dying out and Holocaust denial is burgeoning, Denis Avey’s extraordinary tale has finally found its moment. “I’m talking to you so it will do some good,” he says fiercely, pounding his fingers on the table for emphasis. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Saturday night 2/20: pre-Purim party!

Choose your own PURIM!


Party - Night of Mayhem

a pre-Purim extravaganza with music, art, cabaret, drink and lots of surprises.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tonight: Salonika1943, bodypainting; Tomorrow: Chocolate Shabbat!; Sunday: Israeli ballet & jazz

Weekend events begin early with a Holocaust play this evening, body painting late tonight, a chocolate Shabbat dinner tomorrow, and performances by The Israel Ballet and the jazz duo Burton Greene and Perry Robinson on Sunday. To read the article click here

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Magnes Zionist: Why Bomb Iran When You Can Become Iran?

That seems to be the thinking behind the Israeli government's endorsement of legislation that will require human rights NGOs in Israel (e.g., B'Tselem, Machsomwatch, Breaking the Silence, Adalah, etc.) to publicize contributions from foreign governments, not only in an annual report (they all do that anyway), but every single time they host an event, have a meeting, publish a report, issue a news release, whether they have received outside funding for that particular occasion or not.

And what's particularly odious about the proposed legislation is that if these groups receive such funding, they groups will lose their tax status as public institutions, but will be defined as "political entities" that have to register and report to the Registrar of Political Parties.

Lest you think that I am exaggerating, I publish sections of the government-approved legislation below. And the Iran analogy is apt: the Iran regime requires all NGOs, including the civil society ones that Americans of all stripe support, to inform a government agency of every contribution they receive from foreign sources, except the United Nations. Read about it here Or read about how Egypt controls and harassess its civil society NGOs here (h/t to Dr. Marsha Cohen and Dan Sisken for these links, respectively.)

Of course, in Iran, the groups also have to ask the agency's permission to receive those grants; I expect that this will be the next step in the Israeli's governmental campaign against the human rights NGOs.

But hang on a second: What's wrong with requiring Israeli human rights organizations to report receiving money from foreign governments? In fact, why should they be allowed to receive such money at all? Isn't that gross interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state? And what's the big deal of simply announcing the truth. Transparency and full disclosure should accompany such organizations, no?

OK, so here are three answers to the stated purpose of the law, which is to balance freedom of speech with the right of the public to know who is behind these organizations.

1. The proposed law is unnecessary.

As I said above, all the voluntary organizations in Israel (amutot) are required by law to report regularly to the government. It so happens that the human rights NGOs often go beyond the requirement and publicize the sources of their funding. This is expected; you don't get money without thanking the organization or individual or government that gave you the money. The human rights organizations are, not surprisingly, proud of their work and grateful for support. Some of them are required by the donors to publicize the funding. When NGO Monitor "broke" the story this summer that the Breaking the Silence booklet of soldiers' testimonies was paid for, in part, by grants from foreign governments, they found that information printed on the first few pages of the booklet! And unlike NGO Monitor, Breaking the Silence publishes its annual financial reports on its website.

2. The proposed law is discriminatory.

The law has been crafted by right-wingers to target the human rights organizations. If your organization receives money from a Jewish gambling mogul, or from an evangelical Christian organization that looks forward to the destruction of the State of Israel when Jesus returns, you are exempt. Governments like Spain, Holland, and Great Britain, don't fund illegal settlements; they fund peace initiatives civil society initiatives, in Israel as in Iran.

3. The proposed law's real purpose is to harass, delegitimize, and dry up funding for progressive NGOs.

If the law only required disclosure on a website, that would be bad enough. But the law requires each organization to go through bureaucratic hoops repeatedly, and to proclaim something like the Surgeon General's warning every time it does anything publicly. Thus, if B'Tselem rolls out a report on settler violence, and hosts a public event to publicize the report – remember, this is the organization that works together with the Israel Defense Forces to locate Palestinian witnesses in IDF investigations -- it must begin the event by announcing that it has sometime, somewhere received money from Holland, say. And if it does not do so? According to the proposed legislation, all members of B'Tselem who were in a position to know where the money came from, and who did not do anything about it are liable to fines and up to a year in prison, "or four times the value of the consideration that was received, whichever is higher."

The analogy with the Surgeon General's warning is significant. The purpose of requiring such disclosure is not merely to satisfy the public's right to know (Who doesn't know by now that cigarette smoking causes cancer?) but to stigmatize and delegitimize cigarette smoking.

Not every government will be willing to have this publicity. Already the foreign ministry and the prime minister have tried to dissuade foreign governments from donating to such groups. And, from the government's perspective, it is understandable why. They are an embarrassment to Israel's image, and they publicize the crimes of the Occupation. These are things that the current rightwing government in Israel doesn't like. Nor does the current rightwing government in Iran.

If there is a need to inform the Israeli public about foreign funding of NGOs, or of transparency in their operations, then have a law that requires transparency of all such organizations, left, right or none of the above. As I said earlier, the human rights NGOs are among the most transparent in the country. Try tracing the funding for some of the settlers' organizations; it isn't easy.

If such a law passes, it will be not only be a black day for what is left of Israeli democracy but there will be other consequences as well. First, foreign governments that sponsor human rights and peace projects will figure out a way how to get the money to the organizations, bypassing the law. So that could make things worse for transparency. Second, I would advise the NGOs to discuss with their legal advisor whether the bill applies to them. After all, they do not view themselves as political entities, and at least some of the NGOs are not there primarily to influence domestic or foreign policy. Breaking the Silence sees its task as informational – letting the Israeli public know what happens to IDF soldiers when they are placed in Occupation situations. The group does not call to end the Occupation or to annex the West Bank and Gaza – it simply wants the Israeli public to know what price Israel is paying for the Occupation. The rightwing considers that political, fine. But will the law and the courts? Third, Israel will be placed by the EU on a list of countries that are unfriendly to human rights organizations. This, too, will have consequences

Here are some passages from the proposed legislation, with my "Perush Rashi" (commentary; my thanks to Didi Remez for providing me with a translation of the bill.) Let's start with the wide expansion of the phrase "political activity"

"political activity" – an activity intended to influence public opinion in Israel or in whatsoever entity in one of the government authorities in Israel concerning any component of internal or external policy of the State of Israel.

Perush Rashi: The expansion is deliberate in order to counter the argument that these groups are not political organization, or lobbying groups. In fact, they are not, and I think that even with the expansion, at least some of the groups could claim that they are not covered by the law.

A person or body shall not receive the financial support of a Foreign Political Entity for the purpose of financing political activity in Israel until after it has registered with the Registrar of Political Parties; for this purpose, any support that is received by anyone who finances or engages in political activity is presumed support for the purpose of financing political activity.

Perush Rashi: Now that we have expanded the meaning of political activity, we expand the meaning of what support for political activity means. So any Euro received by an group will automatically be considered political in purpose.

    The Registrar of Political Parties shall also serve as Registrar of Foreign Political Entity Support (hereinafter – the Registrar).

Perush Rashi: This is my favorite line in the bill. Since there is no government agency that supervises such bodies, the authors decided to "create" one by interpreting the Registrar of Political Parties to include the human rights NGOS. It reminds me of Firesign Theater's famous, "Department of Redundancy Department." Except that here there is no redundancy – there is an expansion to brand the human rights NGOS as political parties.

The supported entity shall file an annual balance sheet and financial statement of its income and expenditures as a supported entity in each fiscal year.  The statement shall include full particulars according to the list appearing in Section 36 of the Amutot Law, and in the Second Addendum thereto.  The supported entity shall file an annual verbatim report which will include details of the matters enumerated in the Third Addendum to the Amutot Law.

Perush Rashi: Here is where we really get to the Department of Redundancy Department. The NGOS already file an annual balance sheet, etc. with the agency governing Amutot. So what is the purpose of this filing? Harassment.

The supported entity or one acting on its behalf will clearly note this status in every document, including electronic one, which relates to political activity. The supported entity or one acting on its behalf, when presenting orally in the framework of a discussion or meeting in which there is political activity, shall note its status at the outset if the subject of the discussion or meeting has an affinity to the aims for which the support was received.

Perush Rashi: Maybe next year the government will require all members of human rights NGOs to walk around with scarlet letters or yellow stars on their t-shirts.

              A supported corporation shall not be considered a Public Institution as defined in Section 9(2) of the Income Tax Ordinance.

Perush Rashi: I.e., it will lose its former tax status, another form of harassment.

The recipient of financial support of a Foreign Political Entity in contravention of the provisions of Section 3, shall be sentenced to one year imprisonment or a fine, as stated in Section 61(a)(3) of the Penal Law, 5737-1977 or four times the value of the consideration that was received, whichever is higher. Delivery of an essentially false detail in a declaration according to Section 6 shall be punishable by three years imprisonment.

Perush Rashi: And while you're out, don't forget the pound of flesh.

Who says that Israel's government doesn't try to fit in with the other Middle East governments?

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NH House rejects 2 anti-gay marriage measures

Gay marriage opponents needed 60 percent of the House to send the proposed amendment to the Senate, which would have had to pass it by the same margin. They knew their chances of success were slim of passing either measure. Several said they will look to the November election in hopes voters will elect people who will repeal the law next session and put an anti-gay marriage amendment on a future ballot.

CONCORD, N.H.—Six weeks after New Hampshire legalized gay marriage, the House overwhelmingly defeated two measures Wednesday that would have taken away their right to marry. The House voted 210-109 to kill a bill to repeal the law. An hour earlier, the House voted 201-135 to kill a proposed constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

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Gabriel Preil entry on Wikipedia

I noticed today that Wikipedia had an inaccurate one line entry for the American Hebrew language poet Gabriel Preil, so I corrected and expanded it. I showed it to David Shapiro in a message exchange on Facebook, and he suggested I add a Preil poem to the entry; I added my translation of "like feathers" which Preil approved after several drafts a few years before he died.

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ducks on frozen lake Feb 16, 2010

Ducks on frozen Prospect Park Lake, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Zubin Mehta visits bilingual Jewish-Arab school (thanks, Sam)

Soundbox / A baton that unites bankers and music lovers - Haaretz - Israel News at

The school is affiliated with Hand in Hand, an organization run by my cousin Sam Shube.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

marie claire: How I Planned a MÉNAGE À TROIS

When Pamela Druckerman's husband asked for a threesome for his 40th birthday, she reluctantly agreed, on one condition - that she pick the other woman.


Threesomes suddenly seem to be everywhere, although the message about them is paradoxical: Everyone (at least everyone male) wants to have one, but no one's had a good one.

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NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS: Best Sex Writing 2009: An Intellectually Stimulating Survey of Contemporary American Sexuality by Rachel Kramer Bussel

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New York Journal of Books has reprinted my Amazon review of Best Sex Writing 2009!

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Prospect Park in Snow Feb 10, 2010

Findings - People Share News Online That Inspires Awe, Researchers Find

Sociologists have developed elaborate theories of who spreads gossip and news — who tells whom, who matters most in social networks — but they’ve had less success measuring what kind of information travels fastest. Do people prefer to spread good news or bad news? Would we rather scandalize or enlighten? Which stories do social creatures want to share, and why?

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Viktor Koen


Do you like to share awe-inspiring articles with your friends? Or do you have other motives? Join the discussion.

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Now some answers are emerging thanks to a rich new source of data: you, Dear Reader.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have intensively studied the New York Times list of most-e-mailed articles, checking it every 15 minutes for more than six months, analyzing the content of thousands of articles and controlling for factors like the placement in the paper or on the Web home page.

The results are surprising — well, to me, anyway. I would have hypothesized that there are two basic strategies for making the most-e-mailed list. One, which I’ve happily employed, is to write anything about sex. The other, which I’m still working on, is to write an article headlined: “How Your Pet’s Diet Threatens Your Marriage, and Why It’s Bush’s Fault.”

But it turns out that readers have more exalted tastes, according to the Penn researchers, Jonah Berger and Katherine A. Milkman. People preferred e-mailing articles with positive rather than negative themes, and they liked to send long articles on intellectually challenging topics.

Perhaps most of all, readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe, an emotion that the researchers investigated after noticing how many science articles made the list. In general, they found, 20 percent of articles that appeared on the Times home page made the list, but the rate rose to 30 percent for science articles, including ones with headlines like “The Promise and Power of RNA.” (I swear, the science staff did nothing to instigate this study, but we definitely don’t mind publicizing the results.)

“Science kept doing better than we expected,” said Dr. Berger, a social psychologist and a professor of marketing at Penn’s Wharton School. “We anticipated that people would share articles with practical information about health or gadgets, and they did, but they also sent articles about paleontology and cosmology. You’d see articles shooting up the list that were about the optics of deer vision.”

To make sense of these trends in “virality,” the Penn researchers tracked more than 7,500 articles published from August 2008 to February 2009. They assessed each article’s popularity after controlling for factors like the time of day it was published online, the section in which it appeared and how much promotion it received on the Web home page.

A random sample of 3,000 of these articles was rated by independent readers for qualities like providing practical value or being surprising. The researchers also used computer algorithms to track the ratio of emotional words in an article and to assess the relative positivity or negativity.

The computer textual analysis could identify “affect-laden” articles like “Redefining Depression as Mere Sadness” or “When All Else Fails, Blaming the Patient Often Comes Next.” It distinguished positive articles like “Wide-Eyed New Arrivals Falling in Love With the City” from downers like “Germany: Baby Polar Bear’s Feeder Dies.”

More emotional stories were more likely to be e-mailed, the researchers found, and positive articles were shared more than negative ones. Longer articles generally did better than shorter articles, although Dr. Berger said that might just be because the longer articles were about more engaging topics. (The best way to test that, he said, would be for The Times to run shorter and longer versions of the same article that would be seen by different readers.)

Surprising articles, like one about free-range chickens on the streets of New York, were also more likely to be e-mailed — which was a hardly a surprising discovery, of course. But the researchers also kept finding popular articles with a quality that went beyond surprise.

“If I went into my classroom dressed up like a pirate, that would be surprising, but it wouldn’t be awe-inspiring,” Dr. Berger said. “An article about square watermelons is surprising, but it doesn’t inspire that awed feeling that the world is a broad place and I’m so small.”

Building on prior research, the Penn researchers defined the quality as an “emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self.”

They used two criteria for an awe-inspiring story: Its scale is large, and it requires “mental accommodation” by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way.

“It involves the opening and broadening of the mind,” write Dr. Berger and Dr. Milkman, who is a behavioral economist at Wharton.

“Seeing the Grand Canyon, standing in front of a beautiful piece of art, hearing a grand theory or listening to a beautiful symphony may all inspire awe. So may the revelation of something profound and important in something you may have once seen as ordinary or routine, or seeing a causal connection between important things and seemingly remote causes.”

The motivation for mailing these awe-inspiring articles is not as immediately obvious as with other kinds of articles, Dr. Berger said. Sharing recipes or financial tips or medical advice makes sense according to classic economic utility theory: I give you something of practical value in the hope that you’ll someday return the favor. There can also be self-interested reasons for sharing surprising articles: I get to show off how well informed I am by sending news that will shock you.

But why send someone an exposition on quantum mechanics? In some cases, it, too, could be a way of showing off, particularly if you accompanied the article with a note like, “Perhaps this will amuse, although of course it’s a superficial treatment. Why can’t they use Schrödinger’s full equation?”

But in general, people who share this kind of article seem to have loftier motives than trying to impress their friends. They’re seeking emotional communion, Dr. Berger said.

“Emotion in general leads to transmission, and awe is quite a strong emotion,” he said. “If I’ve just read this story that changes the way I understand the world and myself, I want to talk to others about what it means. I want to proselytize and share the feeling of awe. If you read the article and feel the same emotion, it will bring us closer together.” (Go to to discuss your motives for e-mailing articles.)

The Penn researchers found evidence of readers’ sharing other emotions, too, like anxiety — which, based on the old “fear sells” theory of journalism, might be expected to be the most influential emotion on readers. But of all the variables studied, Dr. Berger said, awe had the strongest relationship with an article making the most-e-mailed list, and that finding strikes me as a high compliment to the Times audience.

In fact, Dear Reader, you could consider this new study to be firm scientific evidence of your own awesomeness. And if you want to share that feeling with anyone, you know what to do next.

Next Article in Science (6 of 30) » A version of this article appeared in print on February 9, 2010, on page D2 of the New York edition.

Building on prior research, the Penn researchers defined the quality as an “emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self.”

They used two criteria for an awe-inspiring story: Its scale is large, and it requires “mental accommodation” by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way.

“It involves the opening and broadening of the mind,” write Dr. Berger and Dr. Milkman, who is a behavioral economist at Wharton.

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Think Progress » Insurer Denies Life-Prolonging Treatment To Five-Year-Old Boy With Cancer

Insurer Denies Life-Prolonging Treatment To Five-Year-Old Boy With Cancer

Kyle Van Nocker One of the worst abuses of private insurance companies is the practice of using spurious reasons to deny claims for medical treatments, which are often necessary for saving patients’ lives.

Kyler Van Nocker’s story shows that even 5-year-old kids are not exempt from this insurance company abuse. Van Nocker has neuroblastoma, which is a very rare form of childhood cancer that targets the nervous system and creates tumors throughout the body.

Due to successful treatment in 2007, Van Nocker’s cancer went into remission, giving him 12 months of pain-free life. Unfortunately, in Sept. 2008, the cancer returned, and Van Nocker was once again in need of treatment. Unfortunately, his health insurer, HealthAmerica, refused to pay for one form of treatment doctors believe could save his life (MIBG treatment) because they consider it “investigational/experimental” since it has yet to be approved by the FDA.

Yet in April 2008, the insurer approved cheaper treatment for Van Nocker that was also “experimental,” prompting Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky to ask, “So why, pray tell, is HealthAmerica playing the ‘experimental therapy’ card in the case of the MIBG treatment Kyler now needs? Gee, money couldn’t have anything to do with the decision, could it?”

Van Nocker’s parents are suing HealthAmerica, citing the fact that the company has apparently been dishonest about its criteria for the types of treatment it will cover and is denying payment for treatment in this case because of the high cost of the procedure — $110,000 pays for only two rounds of MIBG treatment. “These companies have to be brought to the courthouse to get them to do the right thing,” says the VanNockers’s family attorney. “This child needs this treatment, or else.”

The sad truth is that Van Nocker is certainly not alone in having his claim denied by a major health insurer. The California Nurses Association (CNA), a nurses’ union and health care advocacy group, recently released a comprehensive study of claims denials across California. The study found that the six largest insurers in California rejected 47.7 million claims in the first half of 2009, nearly 22 percent of all claims submitted.

The United States is the only industrialized nation without cradle-to-the-grave, universal health care. In no other developed country would a child with cancer have to go without care because an insurance company decided it was not profitable enough to cover him.

Another reason why we need Congress to do something about health care.

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Ancient DNA Points To Additional New World Migration - Science News


Long-lost relative?A nearly complete genome sequence extracted from hair of a 4,000-year-old Greenland man contained mutations that offered clues to what he looked like. These genetic hints informed this artist's reconstruction of the man's face.Nuka Godfredsen

A 4,000-year-old Greenland man just entered the scientific debate over the origins of prehistoric populations in the Americas.

A nearly complete sequence of nuclear DNA extracted from strands of the long-dead man’s hair — the first such sequence obtained from an ancient person — highlights a previously unknown and relatively recent migration of northeastern Asians into the New World about 5,500 years ago, scientists say.

An analysis of differences, or mutations, at single base pairs on the ancient Greenlander’s nuclear genome indicates that his father’s ancestors came from northeastern Siberia, report geneticist Morten Rasmussen of the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen and his colleagues in the Feb. 11 Nature. Three modern hunter-gatherer groups in that region — the Nganasans, Koryaks and Chukchis — display a closer genetic link to the Greenland individual than do Native American groups living in cold northern areas of North America, Rasmussen says.

A largely complete mitochondrial DNA sequence from the ancient man’s hair, extracted by the same researchers in 2008, places his maternal ancestry in northeastern Asia as well.

Danish-led excavations more than 20 years ago unearthed four fragmentary bones and several hair tufts belonging to this ancient man, dubbed Inuk. His remains were found at a site from the Saqqaq culture, the earliest known people to have inhabited Greenland. Saqqaq people lived in Greenland from around 4,750 to 2,500 years ago. One popular hypothesis traces Saqqaq ancestry to Native American groups that had settled Arctic parts of Alaska and Canada by 11,000 years ago.

Inuk’s strong genetic ties to Siberian populations raise a different scenario. “We’ve shown that this ancient individual was not related to Native Americans but derived from an expansion of northeastern Asians into the New World and across to Greenland,” says geneticist and study coauthor Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen.

The team’s new comparative analysis of Inuk’s previously sequenced mitochondrial DNA indicates that the Saqqaqs diverged from their closest present-day relatives, Siberian Chukchis, an estimated 5,400 years ago. That calculation implies that ancestral Saqqaqs separated from their Asian relatives shortly before departing for the New World and rapidly traversing that continent to reach Greenland. No land bridge connected Asia to North America at that time, so migrants probably crossed the Bering Strait from what’s now Russia to Alaska by boat, Willerslev speculates.

His group also identified base pair patterns on Inuk’s nuclear DNA that are associated in modern populations with type A-positive blood and brown eyes, as well as thick, dark hair and large, flat front teeth typical of Asians and Native Americans. Inuk also possessed DNA signatures for an increased susceptibility to baldness, dry earwax characteristic of Asian populations, and a relatively slow metabolism and broad, short body commonly found in residents of cold climates.

DNA analyses of ancient humans and their ancestors usually face enormous technical challenges. Fossil bones get contaminated with the DNA of those who unearth these finds as well as with fungal and bacterial DNA. Measures to enrich ancient DNA include generating multiple samples of the same genetic sequences and isolating genetic fragments that show no signs of contamination.

Because DNA from hair contains little contamination from fungi or bacteria, Rasmussen’s team focused on Inuk’s locks. Frozen conditions following death also helped to preserve Inuk’s DNA and prevent significant contamination. The team generated 20 copies of his genome to confirm that significant contamination had not occurred.

About 84 percent of the DNA extracted from Inuk’s hair was his. Rasmussen’s team then sequenced 79 percent of Inuk’s nuclear DNA and identified more than 353,000 base pair mutations.

“It is amazing how well-preserved this ancient genetic sample is, presumably due to its rather young age and the permafrost in which it was found,” remarks geneticist Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

In contrast, 40,000- to 70,000-year-old Neandertal bones studied by Pääbo’s team have yielded genetic sequences that, because of substantial contamination, generally include no more than 4 percent Neandertal DNA. Pääbo and his colleagues recently extracted and sequenced 63 percent of the total Neandertal genome from a bone (SN: 3/14/09, p. 5).  “I am envious,” Pääbo says, referring to the completeness and quality of Inuk’s recovered DNA.

Rasmussen and Pääbo agree that a major challenge will be to sequence ancient human genomes from places where remains have not been permanently frozen and most preserved genetic material consists of microbial, rather than human, DNA.

Another challenge is to gain a firmer grasp of genetic variation in modern Arctic populations, so that scientists can more precisely trace Inuk’s geographic roots. “It will become easier to make sense of the genetic data from Greenland as more and more present-day humans become sequenced over the next few years,” Pääbo says.

Found in: Anthropology and Humans

DNA shows Greenland population has Siberian ancestry.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Israeli Conservative synagogue burned

February 10, 2010

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- A Conservative synagogue in southern Israel was burned.

The fire set Monday night to the Shira Hadasha synagogue in Arad in the Negev scorched the outside of the building, but was extinguished before it damaged the inside, the Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday.

The fire was started when a flammable liquid was poured into a hole drilled in a wall, the Post reported. 

The attack comes a year after another attempt to burn down the synagogue and days after an attempted break-in there, according to the Post.

Shira Hadasha is the only non-Orthodox synagogue in Arad, the Post reported. Israel has 60 Conservative synagogues.

Police have no suspects in the attack, according to the newspaper.

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February NYC Jewish music gigs

To read the article click here

This is turning out to be a fine month for Jewish music here in New York City.

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biopsy results


Not yet a thumbs up but at least so far not a thumbs down. There are no apparent malignancies but there is a suspicious area of inflammation on account of which I will have to undergo a second biopsy in April. 

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

White Racial Resentment Bubbles Under the Surface of the Tea Party Movement | | AlterNet

Check out this website I found at

Race is the subtext of now-potent populist appeals to whites, who feel battered from a tsunami of economic and cultural change. The Tea Party counterculture is waging a proxy war over race during America's rapidly shifting economy and demographic makeup.

The Tea Party is sounding a siren call of aspiration and a primal scream of resentment -- a whoop to Flour Power

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

TV shortens your life span, study finds › News in Science (ABC Science)

(14 comments) |Share |Print

News in Science

TV shortens your life span, study finds

Tuesday, 12 January 2010 Meredith Griffiths for AM

A man watches TV while sitting in a lounge chair

Researchers say the major risk factor was sitting instead of being active (Source: Giulio Saggin, file photo/ABC News)

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Television viewing has often been accused of rotting the human brain, but it seems the real risk may be that it is doing some damage to the rest of your body.

Australian scientists have published research showing a link which suggests that the more TV a person watches, the sooner they die.

The report, which appears in the journal Circulation,says every extra hour spent watching television increases people's risk of premature death.

Professor David Dunstan of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, followed more than 8000 Australian adults for six years.

The team discovered that the people who watched the most TV died younger.

"What this study provides is the first compelling evidence linking television viewing to an increased risk of early death," says Dunstan.

"People who watch four or more hours of television a day have a 46% higher risk of death from all causes and 80% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease."

Dunstan says the increased risk of premature death was independent of other risk factors like smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, diet or exercise.

He says that shows too much sitting is bad for our health.

"[Watching TV involves] prolonged sitting, because that's the default position, and from that there's an absence of muscle movement," he says.

"We know from extensive evidence that muscle contractions are so important for many of the body's regulatory processes, such as breaking down and using glucose, so that loss of muscle movement for prolonged periods may result in a disruption to the body's regulatory processes."

Sitting down

The report stresses that sitting too much is different from not exercising enough.

"The risk associated with prolonged sitting are also not necessarily offset by doing more exercise," says Dunstan.

"Because in this study even people who were exercising, if they also watched high amounts of television, they had an increased risk of premature death."

Dunstan says the team also has preliminary evidence indicating that nearly three-quarters of the working hours of office-based employees are spent sitting down.

Trevor Shilton from the Heart Foundation says the research highlights a vitally important new field of study.

"In just a couple of generations we've gone from being a very active people to people who sit around for most of the day," he says

"I can foresee a time where we will have, in addition to our guidelines, a defined 30 minutes of physical activity, also guidelines about moving more and standing more throughout the day.

"And about sitting less, standing up every 20 minutes, going for a walk at work, having rules around television and computer times for our kids."

Tags: television, health, medical-research, lifestyle-and-leisure, science-and-technology, research

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Comments (14)

Comments for this story are closed, but you can still have your say.

  • ABC (Moderator):

    12 Jan 2010 12:14:54pm

    How much TV do you watch?

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

    • DaveM:

      12 Jan 2010 12:31:00pm

      Practically no TV, but at work and at home I spend a ridiculous amount of time sitting at a computer. Presumably, that incurs the same physiological risk factors as those highlighted in this study. But who can maintain concentration and focus on a task if they're getting up to stretch or move every 20 minutes?

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    • John:

      12 Jan 2010 12:33:06pm

      From the article: "He says that shows too much sitting is bad for our health."

      So where does that leave the thousands of people who sit in front of screens all day, as required by their employers? Will sitting in front of a screen all day turn out to be deadlier than asbestos? (I'm betting it will in terms of hours of life lost across the community.)

      The next question is whether employers will be facing compo claims that make asbestos claims seem like lose change? I bet that few employers would be willing to change work practices to improve employees cardiovascular health, if it means less "productive" hours in front of the screen. These employers are effectively converting their employees life expectancy into profit.

      Agree (1) Alert moderator

  • Office Worker Phil:

    12 Jan 2010 12:33:18pm

    I would like to find a program to load on my computor that interrupts my work every 20 minutes and prompts me to do exercise.

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

    • DaveM:

      12 Jan 2010 12:44:15pm

      I had one and ignored it. I'd think 'just five more minutes to finish this [x]' and then before you knew it there'd be another reminder, and another...

      It's not on my computer any more. Kept interrupting me too much. :)

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    • Rose:

      12 Jan 2010 12:51:26pm

      There are a couple of programs available out there that remind you to have breaks. The last 2 places I have worked for has had them implemented.

      If you look up Strech Break reminder software in google you will find some results.

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  • stealthpooch:

    12 Jan 2010 12:45:31pm

    so is it actually TV that's doing to damage or is the 'TV bad for you health' headline just a ploy to get people interested in the study? I mean, if I sit and embroider or read for 3 hours a night, wouldn't I be at just as much risk as someone who sits in front of the television? At least, that's what I think this study is indicating.

    Agree (3) Alert moderator

    • Mike:

      12 Jan 2010 1:11:17pm

      The solution is simple, you want to watch TV, power it using a bicycle! Fours of TV equals no sitting + four hours of exercise!

      Agree (1) Alert moderator

  • Rachael:

    12 Jan 2010 12:49:46pm

    Sedentary lifestyles are unhealthy? Well thank you, captain obvious.

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

    • captain not so:

      12 Jan 2010 1:23:23pm

      actually, this wasn't obvious at all. i, like a lot of us commenters, spend a lot of time sitting at my computer. i've always thought the exercise i do most afternoons makes up for this, and my bmi and high overall health would support such a notion. but from this research it appears that i may be exposing myself to risk factors i hadn't even considered, such as a "disruption to the body's regulatory processes."

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  • Rhys McKenzie:

    12 Jan 2010 1:30:38pm

    What about reading books in a nice comfy chair?

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Richard hill:

    12 Jan 2010 1:51:38pm

    This is a real worry, so all of those health and lifestyle programes that I watch are actually sending me to an early grave?

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • The Unforlorn:

    12 Jan 2010 1:54:26pm

    I had no idea that watching tv in, lotus position, on my rug, was actually killing me...

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Comments for this story are closed, but you can still have your say.

Use this form to email 'TV shortens your life span, study finds' to someone you know:

I almost never give the TV my full attention. I only watch it while exercising, brushing/flossing my teeth, or dressing.

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