This is my daily effort to discover good things people do around the planet. I’m planning to engage in these searches six days a week. I will gladly post your contributions regarding good human behavior, no matter how trivial they may seem to you (or, frankly, to me). Please join me on this trip and tell your friends.


It Has to Be a Scam!

The list of people who are disqualified from testifying in a Jewish court includes dice players and pigeon racers, the two paradigms of today’s gambling industry (San. 24:b). One of the reasons given is that since bettors do not enter the deal in order to pay, but in order to win, taking their money in the end is theft. The other reason given is that gamblers are not engaged in "settling the world," they’re not engaged in productive behavior. This last reason is therefore nullified if the gambler also holds a job.

But what if the gambler dedicates his winnings to the needy? Would he then be considered someone who is, in fact, engaged in settling the world and, therefore, a member in good standing of society? This puzzling thought occurred to me when my wife sent me a link to a Fox News story which was lifted by Huffington Post and titled 'Robin Hood' Gambler Wins Money In Vegas, Gives It All To Those In Need.

A self-made blackjack player who calls himself RobinHood702 (the 702 comes from Las Vegas' area code), finds those in need and wins hundreds of thousands of dollars at casinos, just for them. At, people can upload a video of themselves explaining why they need money. Robin Hood 702, who wishes to remain anonymous, chooses those he deems worthy, flies them out to Vegas, then goes to work.

Here’s the invitation on Robin’s website:
Are you buried in bills? About to lose your home? On the brink of financial ruin? If so, this could be your big break. "Robin Hood 702," a self-made man and expert Blackjack player, wants to use his skills to help you. He will select one deserving family based on their video submission and fly them to Las Vegas, Nevada. Robin Hood 702 will provide an all-expense paid weekend at the Palazzo Resort-Hotel Casino, which includes a true high-roller suite. Show tickets to the hottest shows in town, spa appointments and meals in the city's finest restaurants. You will live like the high roller Robin Hood 702 does, then watch him win the money you need to become debt-free. A Fox News crew will be on hand to document the event.

"Robin Hood 702" guarantees if you're selected, at least half of your bills will get paid, no matter what happens at the Blackjack table.

The anonymous gambler is receiving thousands of requests for help from people with major financial problems. He recently chose a couple from Detroit with a young daughter whose brain cancer put them $35,000 in the red. He flew Kurt, Megan and Madison Kegler to Las Vegas first class, put them up in a luxurious suite, took them to shows, treated them to expensive meals and spa treatments, and in the end was true to his word, handing 35 grand to the couple who went home with newfound hope for the future. ('Robin Hood' Gambler Planning Next Score in Las Vegas, by Rick Leventhal, Fox News)

As a news guy, the first thing that occurred to me was the absence of negative notes on this year-long story. I mean, I could come up with one point just going over the basic reports, which were repeated ad-nauseum: Isn’t it a known thing that a blackjack player who cleans up too often is asked, politely but firmly, to leave the casino’s premises and never show his face again? It’s one of the fundamental scenes in any Las Vegas movie, the scene where our hapless player is spotted on the monitors "counting cards" and is approached by the burly suits. How can this guy keep going, at the same casino, an entire year?

The one critical note about the story came from blogger Neal Boortz, who reacted to the Ronin Hood Gambler story saying that the poor in this country are right where they are because they put themselves there. It wasn't a matter of luck. These people didn't somehow miss the graces of "good fortune." When you ignore your educational opportunities, drink and do drugs, fail to develop a work ethic and constantly blame others for your situation and end up in poverty ... well, you've earned it. Nothing to do with luck.

As to the actual story, other than hating poor people, all Boortz had to say was: Robin Hood did NOT take from the rich and give to the poor. Robin Hood took from the GOVERNMENT and gave to the poor. His whole shtick was taking money from government which had stolen from the people and returning that money to those who earned it. Sorry to bust your bubble here, but Robin Hood had nothing to do with rich and poor. It was about trying to hold government in check.

I’m not so sure that the original Robin Hood medieval ballads were quite that consistent with today’s Tea Party agenda. An introduction to the Robin Hood Project at Rochester University acknowledges: It seems as though every schoolchild knows who Robin Hood is: a noble outlaw in Sherwood Forest who fights the oppressive evil of Prince (or King) John by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. The earliest appearances of Robin are at odds with this romantic notion, as Robin is a violent yeoman who steals from the dishonest and helps those whom he pleases. (Robin Hood: Development of a Popular Hero)

But wait a minute, even the jaded Neal Boortz accepts Robin Hood as a positive figure, he just prefers that he not dwell too much on the plight of the poor, who have only themselves to blame. But is Robin Hood a good guy? I mean Robin the paradigm, a man who steals from the haves to give to the have-nots, is he at all acceptable to us, much less praiseworthy?

Rabbinic law frowns on any kind of theft, even theft of tax money. Maimonides proclaims that a person who avoids paying (much less steals) a tax fixed by the king, of a third or a quarter of the value of his goods, or any fixed sum, is a transgressor because he is stealing the king’s portion. (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Theft 5:11)

Speaking of kings and portions, I never felt very good about Robin Hood’s loyalty to King Richard the Lionhearted, a crusader who bilked London’s Jews to finance his violent adventures in the Holy Land (killing many Jews in the process). I much prefer Richard’s younger brother, the vilified King John Lackland, enemy of Robin Hood and facilitator of the small and handy document Magna Carta, which changed forever the course of modern government (for the better!).

Back to our Vegas Robin Hood, I’m still amazed the complete absence of any notion of doubt or skepticism regarding this chap. Everything about the story is screaming underhanded ploys, yet nowhere can I find anything but happy repeats of the original Fox story, with few variants. Googling "Vegas Robin Hood scam" yields nothing. I’m like those old inspector types who know the hero is dirty, they just can’t pin anything on him. All I have are my original suspicions that casinos don’t encourage blackjack winners to hang around for long, and that generating a huge interest in Vegas gambling must be good for the industry. But how would you get scammed if you applied for a rescue by this RH702 (his online nickname) and he flies you first class, puts you in a hotel, gets you stuff and finally covers your bills? No idea.

So this is my nugget of goodness this morning, the challenge of accepting the decency and goodwill of a gambler in a story that should reek of lies and grifting and just doesn’t. Can you accept it? Can you see how tough it is to do?

Yori Yanover


Police Procedural Skewers Traditional Values

A lady named Mary Beth Hutchins, who works for CRC Public Relations, sent me the following note, under the headline: Assessment of Law & Order: SVU Finds Anti-Christian Storylines.


The Culture and Media Institute, a group that monitors media bias from a conservative point of view, has released a piece about the real victims of Law & Order: SVU --- conservatives and Christians.

Three different episodes have aired since February 10 and all promoted a liberal agenda. In the past month, audiences saw Christians portrayed as kinky sex addicts and murderers, heard propaganda that supports the idea of special punishment for hate crimes based on sexual orientation, and heard the detectives on the show refer to the abortion debate as "pro-choice or no choice."


Mary Beth Hutchins

CRC Public Relations

Here’s the link, Conservatives, Christians the Real ‘Victims’ of NBC’s Liberal ‘Law & Order: SVU’, Police procedural skewers traditional values in portrayals of current social issues, by Colleen Raezler, Culture and Media Institute. I lifted these paragraphs to give you an idea of the tone of the story:

NBC’s "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" has consistency working in its favor: the biggest "victims" are its depictions of conservatives and Christians. Part of "SVU’s" appeal is its ripped-from-the-headlines storylines, but the program’s writers frequently use these storylines to promote liberal agendas and to bash Christians.

Three different episodes have aired since February 10 and all promoted a liberal agenda. In the past month, audiences saw Christians portrayed as kinky sex addicts and murderers, heard propaganda that supports the idea of special punishment for hate crimes based on sexual orientation, and heard the detectives on the show refer to the abortion debate as "pro-choice or no choice."

And Raezler’s sub-headlines tell the rest of the story:

  1. Christians in Hollywood: Closet Perverts with Murderous Tendencies
  2. "P.C.:" Politically Correct Crimes
  3. Abortion Debate According to Hollywood: "Pro-Choice or No Choice"
  4. Liberal Propaganda

If you think you already know what’s in the article, you’re probably not wrong. But since Mary Beth Hutchins’ spam program went out of its way to address me by my first name, I felt obliged to share with Mary Beth some of my own observations. I hope you’ll identify with at least some of them. And let that me my daily act of public service in search of the nugget of goodness.

Mary Beth --

An avid fan of all the L&O series, I was taken aback by how bad the last few SVUs have been. Gone is any semblance of detective work, gone is the examination of the tensions between cops and prosecutors. Instead, the 2010 shows are shallow exploitations reminiscent of the 1970s and 80s in US television. In general, the Dick Wolf empire seems to be dipping in the murkier end of the pool, pushing brawn in place of brain.

Having said all of the above, I doubt very much that the L&O writers are out on a mission to get anyone, Christian or otherwise. Granted, as an observant Jew I, too, cringe whenever their plot comes around to my neck of the spiritual woods. Likewise, I've seen them malign Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Twelve Steppers, take your pick. I fear that the current generation of Dick Wolf writers don't know any better. It's not hatred of Conservative or Christian values -- they don't know enough to actually hate anything. I believe it's laziness and a poor liberal arts education.

Still, it was truly strange to receive this complaint about the biased liberal media from you.

You and I don't belong to the same political camps. As a registered Democrat living in Manhattan, your company, CRC Public Relations, is forever associated in my mind with Swiftboating and similar dishonest and vile shenanigans. Seeing you crying the blues about being misrepresented on TV is like watching a guy who murdered both his parents begging for clemency on account he's an orphan.

But there's more. Your PR company represents most of the major players in Hollywood and everywhere else:

The Walt Disney Company

Warner Brothers Television Network

Microsoft Corporation

Republican National Committee

Simon & Schuster

TIME Warner Inc.

Universal Studios, Inc. (Producers of L&O SVU)

Viacom Inc.

Walden Media

It would seem to me that all you'd have to do in order to put a stop to this anti-Christian bias is walk a few doors down from your office and shout out: Stop biasing Christians! It should have at least some effect...

In other words, as you're positioning your message around the defense of helpless Christians, in a country which is, say, 85% Christian, you should know that doing that may score you points with your clients, but does very little to bridge the gap between right and left, liberal and conservative. My goodness, if Christianity can be so easily victimized by a few pimple faced recent English majors working for scale at the Dick Wolf sweatshop, it doesn't bode so well for its resilience, does it? My own tradition, for example, has taken so much worse on the chin and is still fiddling on many a roof, coat tails flying and all.

I honestly wish there were a way to invest the staggering resources at your disposal in an attempt to communicate with the other side, rather than constantly either scare them or be scared by them. We're sharing a huge country, we speak similar languages, we're really smart -- do we really want to just keep punching each other?

Yori Yanover


Deconstructing the NY Times

The readers of this column are divided evenly along right- and left-wing lines, so when I attempt to discover goodness in a New York Times article about a dispute over homes in East Jerusalem, I’m painfully aware that no matter how tempting it would be to wink knowingly at either of the sides in this dispute, the inevitable result would surely be rejection by the other. I thank my friend AB for emailing me the 3/9/10 article An Eviction Stirs Old Ghosts in a Contested City, by Isabel Kershner. Read the first two paragraphs and you’ll know immediately what to expect next:

JERUSALEM — Having been removed in favor of Israeli nationalist Jews, members of the Palestinian Ghawi family have been sheltering this winter in a tent on the sidewalk opposite their home of more than five decades in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

For those who want to see a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the eviction of the Ghawis has touched on two sensitive nerves: the fate of East Jerusalem, where Israel and the Palestinians vie for control, and the abiding grievances of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war.

A quick Google search reveals that Manchester-born Isabel Kershner is despised equally by both Jewish and Arab commentators. Take a look at Isabel Kershner Takes On Israel's Radical Right, on Jewish right-wing site Arutz Sheva; and Isabel Kershner and her Israeli propaganda, on The Angry Arab News Service. Her book, Barrier: The Seam of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, is selling well on Amazon, although it has only generated three customer reviews. The Washington Post Book World citation successfully pinpoints the book politically: "Kershner carefully and humanely shows how the wall built by Ariel Sharon's government has not only exposed divisions but also created them--physically, politically and psychologically."

My own overall impression, after a short web search is of a left-leaning, gifted reporter, who may not think like me but is principled and honest enough to be relied on for information. I’ve been reading the Times for 35 years now, so I’m capable of getting the story through the conventional biases – or so I thought.

My friend AB, a proud small-C conservative and frequent Republican voter, added this comment to his email: "I wonder why the writer did not investigate why all the Jews left East Jerusalem in 48, leaving their property behind, why did at least not some of them stay, like the thousands of Arabs that stayed in Israel after 48."

Before I proceed, you need to know the context of AB’s comment, born by decades of bitterness over an uneven coverage of the Palestinian refugee story. From November, 1947, until May, 1948, the Jewish Quarter of East Jerusalem and Jewish West Jerusalem were under siege. Following six months of heavy fighting, on May 28, two elderly rabbis surrendered the Jewish Quarter and the survivors of a civilian population of some 1700, to the Jordanian Legion. Those were, possibly, the first Jewish refugees of the 1948-49 war, followed by roughly a million Jews who were driven out of their homes and lands in Iraq and Syria, and later North Africa. There were, in fact, more Jewish than Arab refugees who lost their land and possessions, yet the world knows little about the Jewish part of this tragic equation. My friend AB will tell you that this is because Israel made a heroic effort to rehabilitate its refugees, while Arab governments sought to cultivate the festering refugee problem, to be used as a political weapon.

Obviously, historic reality is not quite this smooth. Israel has been accused of fomenting at least two of those mass-exiles, in Iraq and Egypt. It has also been accused of working faster and better to improve the lot of European Jewish refugees, over their brethren from the Near East. Questions have also been raised regarding the mass escape of Palestinians from their lands, specifically over just how spontaneous and self-inflicted it was. In the end, despite all the dirt one can expose in the way Israeli governments have handled issues of land and resettlement from 1948 to 1967, it is still undeniable that Jewish refugees were able to establish a new life as equal citizens of a democratic state, while Arab refugees continue to this day to languish as a poor underclass in several tyrannical states, including their homeland, and you can’t in good conscience pin the responsibility for all that on Israel.

The two long paragraphs I spent explaining the context of AB’s complaint were also necessary in order to better understand what I find unacceptable in the Isabel Kershner article in the Times. She makes a cogent point regarding the success story I mentioned, of resettling Jewish refugees:

In 1950, to protect the new Jewish state from the claims of the Palestinian refugees, Israel enacted the Absentees’ Property Law. It essentially strips Palestinians of any rights to property left behind in what is now Israel if they were in enemy territory, including East Jerusalem, between November 1947 and May 1948.

I go there first, because the essence of the Jewish claim over the now disputed two-story house in East Jerusalem is based on papers of ownership presented to an Israeli court in the 1970s and ruled viable, and the essence of the objection to the evacuation of Arab families from the house has to do with the troubling notion of a law which favors Jewish antiquated claims on real estate while blocking similar claims from Arabs.

That’s the entire argument as presented by Kershner. Read her quotes from Israelis who uniformly oppose the evictions, summed up nicely by Yossi Klein Halevi, whom Kershner presents as speaking for "mainstream Israelis" (he’s a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, and my right-wing friends probably ID him as lefty). Halevi told Kershner that he opposed a Jewish "right of return" to properties lost in the 1948 war. Except "he noted that more and more Arabs were buying apartments in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood where he lives." In conclusion, he commented:

"It cannot go one way in Jerusalem… I am deeply torn."

But in order to use this opportunity for more than just pitting right- against left-wing arguments, or Jewish versus Arab arguments, I want instead to benefit all of us with a more deconstructive examination of Kershner’s piece.

Here is a list of all the voices and characters presented by Kershner, in order of their appearance:

David Grossman, a prominent Israeli author and peace advocate – protesting the eviction
Moshe Halbertal, a professor of Jewish law and philosophy – protesting the eviction.
Orly Noy, a spokeswoman for Ir Amim – protesting the eviction.
Maysoun Ghawi – evicted tenant
Yossi Sarid, a former Meretz leader
And, for balance, Yossi Klein Halevi.

The other side in the debate has no voice here, none at all. We’re only told that they’re "Israeli nationalist Jews," and "fervent Israeli nationalists." They don’t have names or faces, their views are implied as being the opposite of whatever the actual voices in the story are saying. The facts regarding the actual claims of the two sides in the dispute are buried under scrubbed language.

Here’s the Arabs’ claim on the property: In the 1950s, Jordan and the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees gave 28 refugee families homes there. The families say that Jordan promised them full ownership, but the houses were never formally registered in their names.

And this is the Jews' claim: A small Jewish community lived in the compound… from the late 19th century; the last remnants left during the hostilities leading up to the establishment of Israel in 1948, after which the area fell under Jordanian control.

Any real estate attorney worth his salt would conclude immediately that this is a tale of long-term ownership which was interrupted by agencies that did not own the right to the land. But Kershner does away with this inconvenience by talking about "remnant" Jews who "left" in 1948, and then the Jordanians somehow obtained "control."

This fast and furious play with the history of siege and starvation of a Jewish civilian population by a British-led Jordanian Legion could be forgiven, had the reporter taken care to represent the other side of that reality through additional voices. I have to say that my immediate reaction to the story was one of feeling assaulted by a propaganda monger with little more than support for one of the sides in mind. This is such an autistically one-sided article, it is equally offensive to both right- and left-wingers.

Which has to be my nugget of goodness for the day. Today I discovered that reporters with a mission who abandon their elementary obligation to their readers, namely to provide as full an offering of the facts as possible, contribute to the demise of the very people they wish to support. In a reality in which their side doesn’t stand a chance of ever being fairly represented, "fervent nationalist" Jews are more likely to rely on the law, giving up on values like empathy and neighborly sentiments. Fairness and honesty are not a luxury in a time of great disputes, they are the most essential, indispensable qualities.

Yori Yanover


Did Polygamy Jump the Shark?

The phrase jump the shark refers to the climactic scene in an episode from the TV series Happy Days, when Fonzie (Henry Winkler), responding to a challenge, jumped over a confined shark on water skis. The expression was coined by Jon Hein, who said it's a defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak, and from now on it's all downhill, and the program will simply never be the same.


J.S. Holland of Louisville Mojo laments the final episode of The highly-acclaimed HBO series Big Love, wondering if it has jumped the shark. Big Love follows a Mormon polygamist family spending three seasons "carefully and meticulously building a story about human nature and the pros and cons of multiple partners in a marriage," against a backdrop of life in Utah and the intrigue between old-school practitioners of polygamy and the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The polygamist family at the heart of the series lives not in some dusty compound, but in suburban Salt Lake City, in a luxurious home with TVs, iPods, SUVs and a pool. But as we dig into their lives (over the first three seasons) we see the cracks, the tears, the questions, the fears and, now and again, the madness of their lives and the lives of their relatives who practice "the principle" in the kind of compound the FBI loves to raid.

"The events of this season, however, have been so unrealistic and so bizarre," writes Holland, "that I almost wish the producers would pull a Dallas and tell us that the entire thing was just a dream."

A 4-year fan of Big Love, I wholly endorse this shark jumping accusation. The fourth season has been like switching from a nuanced, restrained Thomas Birch to a wild and sexy Reginald Marsh. I suspect ratings had a lot to do with the turn forced on the series. It’s probably easier to capture viewer attention with kidnapping and political corruption than with the torture of alienation from the mother church. Besides artistic quality, the biggest victim of this plot shift, the issue of polygamy in a modern world also took a hit.


Many things make me wonder about the sanity of my adopted country, the United States. You can smoke here until your lungs become perforated and all society would do is support your pained breathing until your untimely death. You can drink yourself to the point of insanity and then drive a two-ton missile into crowds of defenseless pedestrians, and in many states, should you survive the ordeal, you might serve a couple years in jail or just be sent to clean the side of a highway. But if we catch you selling the flowers, leaves and stalks of the cannabis plant, or the ground up leaves of the coca tree, we put you in jail for decades.

Likewise, if you cheat on your wife in some seedy motel room, the worst that can happen is that she’ll leave you and take away much of what you own. But if you’re honest about it and legally marry a second woman, with your wife’s consent, you’ll rot in jail and we’ll take away your children.

Except it’s difficult to find a whole lot of evidence supporting polygamy as a decent way of life. Especially in Muslim countries where it is legal. Venera Djumataeva just filed a report with Radio Free Europe titled In Kyrgyzstan, Polygamy's Rise Takes Its Toll, that while Kyrgyzstan's secular laws officially prohibit polygamy, as Islam has moved to fill the void left behind following the Soviet collapse, some Kyrgyz men are using their newfound religious beliefs as an opportunity to take multiple wives. And the trend is having a damaging effect on family life. The subject of the report, Ainagul, is a 58-year-old native of the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, who has been married for 34 years and has four children and several grandchildren. Her husband became a devout Muslim and married a second wife. The news came as a profound shock to Ainagul, who even now keeps the news hidden from her children, friends, and relatives. The past two years have taken their toll on Ainagul, who suffers from insomnia and nervous anxiety.

Although her husband still spends half of every month at the home he has always shared with Ainagul, he has stopped giving her money. Ainagul, who spent much of her married life raising her children and caring for the family home, has been forced to start earning money at age 58.

Poverty is, in fact, the biggest threat to women who consider leaving an unhappy polygamous marriage. Shoba Aiyar writes for the popular Malaysian website Malaysiakini that many married Muslim women live in fear of their husbands entering polygamous marriages. This fear can be so crippling that it stops them from being able to live normal and happy lives. Some of the women experience fear of being abandoned and loss of love, on top of the fear of deep hurt and, in many instances, of being beaten by their husbands. "Living in fear is a form of domestic violence," she states. "It constitutes emotional and psychological abuse. This will affect the children, and ultimately it affects the institution of the family itself."


Terry Hekker wrote Ever Since Adam and Eve in 1980, it was a passionate defense of her decision to eschew a career and spend her life as a wife and a mother, writes the Observer’s Paul Harris. Coming at the end of the Seventies, when feminism was in full bloom and career women ruled, Hekker became a poster child for old-fashioned values.

A few years later, Hekker's husband presented her with divorce papers on their 40th wedding anniversary and left her for a younger woman. The divorce left her facing an uncertain financial future, bereft of income and, after spending her adult life bringing up five children, lacking skills to make her attractive in the job market. Despite that, the judge in her divorce case suggested that, at age 67, she go for job training.

This explains Terry Hekker’s more recent book, Disregard First Book, in which she says her "anachronistic book was written while I was in a successful marriage that I expected would go on forever. Sadly, it now has little relevance for modern women, except perhaps as a cautionary tale."


The Guardian’s Amelia Hill wrote in 2006 about an 18-year, 30,000-subject study conducted by Richard Lucas from Michigan State University and the German Institute of Economic Research, which concluded that People who divorce are permanently scarred by the experience and never regain their former levels of happiness. Divorced people report a permanently lower enjoyment in life than married people.

Studies have consistently shown that marital status is associated with life satisfaction but the long term effects of divorce have never before been thoroughly investigated. Lucas's study found that happiness decreases for people in the years leading up to their divorce. Even among those who reported a rise in happiness after the divorce, their overall enjoyment in life never returned to previous levels.


You’ll note that the key component in both stories about miserable polygamous marriages and disgusting divorces, is the inability of the women involved to defend themselves, much less have their opinion be considered. The reason we are able to empathize with the polygamous family in HBO’s Big Love, is that we’re given to believe that the wives are willing, even loving participants in a marriage in which they are loyal not only to their husband but to each other, as well.

Much as rape, as a repugnant form of sex, should not impugn all sexual relations, the ravages of forced polygamy should not cloud our vision of a polygamous marriage which all the participants enter willingly. And while I, too, might question how willing is that first wife who must weigh the poverty and loneliness of a divorce against accepting a younger, new wife, I’d like to cite a story by Ewen Callaway in The New Scientist, titled Polygamy is the key to a long life.

After accounting for socioeconomic differences, men aged over 60 from 140 countries that practice polygamy to varying degrees lived on average 12% longer than men from 49 mostly monogamous nations, according to Virpi Lummaa, an ecologist at the University of Sheffield, UK.

If female survival is the main explanation for male longevity, then monogamous and polygamous men would live for about the same length of time. Instead, it seems that fathering more kids with more wives leads to increased male longevity. Men, then, live long because they're fertile well into their gray years.

Considering the fact that medicine in today’s more polygamous societies is inferior to medicine in monogamous ones, that 12% advantage in longevity could grow considerably. But, you know, we could probably draw different conclusions from the same data. It may be that it’s not necessarily having multiple wives which keeps men alive, although the idea is tempting. It could just as well be that living in an extended family, where you can be alone but not lonely, and where you feel useful because there’s always something to do, is what keeps you alive longer.

Yori Yanover


The Tao of Bad News

This morning I decided to look for news that not everybody may consider good, but it gladdens my heart nonetheless. Let’s put it this way: if the outcome is in line with what I consider morally upright and spiritually uplifting, then I say it is good. I think you’ll get it right away with the following story, from yesterday’s Syracuse Online.

The recession has interrupted more than $900 million in construction work on a Seneca Indian casino in Buffalo and a gambling-themed resort in the Catskills. In addition, New York officials have yet to persuade federal officials to reverse a Bush administration ruling that has blocked the long-planned debut of Indian casinos in the Catskills (Yeah, Bush Administration!). And a contract to introduce video lottery terminals to the Aqueduct Racetrack, in Queens, appears shaky amid an investigation into how it was awarded.

Since I consider gambling to be one of the most corrupting habits in our culture, alongside alcoholism, drug abuse, and compulsive eating, if this scourge is even slowed down a little, it’s good news.

And since I consider it particularly revolting that my state of New York would close its budget gaps on the backs of gambling addicts and their ruined families, you’ll understand why I’m ticked off by the reporter’s statement: "All of these projects would bring revenue into a state starving for money, whether from the $300 million Aqueduct franchise fee or a cut of the proceeds from new and bigger gambling operations." I’d be much happier if New York State opted to take its cut from brothels, where the customer gets an honest return on his buck. (New York endures gambling slump)


Recently, meganewser Arianna Huffington and anti-religion crusader Bill Maher have been speaking out in favor of everybody taking their money out of the big banks and depositing it in local banks. They argue that local banks are more likely to support the local economy in your neighborhood, which makes sense, although I’ve already heard claims that local banks can be just as nasty as the big boys.

I have to admit that I do most of my personal banking with a local bank, which practices giving small loans to starting businesses on the Lower East Side. Still, I was impressed by the following story in Ireland’s Independent: 

Convicted brothel keeper and money launderer Thomas Carroll cleaned up his cash by receiving €854,000 in a single deposit to his credit union account, it can now be revealed. The single deposit was only part of millions of euro the Carlow-born criminal amassed from his prostitution empire which stretched all over the republic, Northern Ireland and the UK. (Pimp laundered cash through credit union, by Jerome Reilly)

How can you not love a pimp with such a strong sense of civic duty? And he’s a champion of equal rights for women, too. Even the judge in the case described the pimp’s daughter and accomplice, Toma Carroll, as an "intelligent and capable young woman who should have been content to follow a career in the law."

I’m getting a headache just thinking how many punch lines are packed into that single statement…


The world is divided into two groups: people who like beets and everybody else. My dad loved my mom’s borscht, which she made Polish style, meaning very sweet and lemony. It took getting used to, and I spent my childhood trying. Mom served our borscht refrigerated, in a glass, more beverage than soup. I now understand that Russians do it very differently. I’m very happy for them.

All of which should explain why I was delighted by this item from WTNJ News Radio in Milwaukee: The Town of Cedarburg is reaping the benefits of beet juice. At a time when road salt is costing crews $55 per ton, local municipalities are turning to the red root vegetable to keep their roads clear. The more technical name for the juice is "geo-melt." Crews simply spray it all over the road salt. It works better and faster than regular road salt treated with corrosive chemicals. Plus, it's natural, bio-degradable and non-toxic. (Town Uses Beet Juice to Clear Roads, by Aaron Diamant and Rachael Glaszcz)

I knew Mom’s borscht was good for something!

But, alas, there’s a dark side even to borscht (beyond the taste). A 2004 article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported dead fish and other signs of pollution linked to sugar beets that apparently spoiled and leaked an unknown amount of foul-smelling juice into Buffalo Creek, in south-central Minnesota. The runoff spilled into a ditch that drains into the creek, where it is thought to have killed more than 1,000 fish. The dead fish have included channel catfish, carp, walleye, big mouth buffalo, and smaller numbers of northern pike and small mouth bass.

Like I said, borscht takes getting used to…


Do you remember the alarming proviso that accompanies Viagra commercials, about seeing a doctor if your pill-induced erection lasts more than three hours? Did you ever wonder what would happen if you didn’t? Did you ever wonder, for example, what’s the worst that could happen if you didn’t? Well, now we know.

A 55-year old businessman was forced to undergo an emergency operation after his viagra-problem firmly persisted for 21 days. Doctors at a hospital in Kolkata, India, eventually performed the surgery to put the middle-aged man out of his misery. The hour-long operation was successful, but it rendered the man impotent. (Man's Erection Lasts 21 Days, Surgery Required, Fox News)

Dr. Avishek Mukherjee said, "The treatment has to be sought within six hours; otherwise it could even lead to death, besides the degeneration of the penis." The man was suffering from a condition called priapism, triggered by a nervous system disorder, which prevents blood from draining out of the penis. The name comes from the Greek god Priapus, who was noted for his disproportionately large and permanent erection.
Talk about being god-like…

Stories like this will probably encourage men who use the blue wonderpill to seek out medical help sooner than after three weeks. But it might also, hopefully, encourage men to do without the pill and concentrate instead on seeking intimacy with their mates in the bedroom. Am I the only one who still believes that good sex is not about a long-lasting erection, nor even about orgasm?


I’ve recently read a wonderful article by Marnia Robinson, about the health benefits of sex without orgasm, which happens to be an ancient Taoist principle. In Pulling Away (After Sex), Robinson argues that the yearning for higher levels of dopamine is at the core of our sexual drives and survival needs, motivating us to engage in fertilization behavior to make more babies, and urging us to move on to new partners to create greater genetic variety among our offspring.

Your primitive brain accomplishes these goals of more progeny and promiscuity by manipulating your brain chemistry, and thus your desires and thoughts. High levels of dopamine increase sexual desire, encouraging you to behave recklessly. The thrill of a new affair and the rush from using pornography are examples of high dopamine. Unfortunately, consistently high levels of dopamine lead to erratic behavior and compulsions that are not conducive to survival.

Robinson explains that humans have the potential for on-going, dopamine-driven sexual desire, but an "off switch" kicks in after too much sexual excitement.

Two events happen simultaneously. Dopamine plummets and prolactin soars. Dopamine is "go get it!" and prolactin is "whoa!" This mechanism shifts your attention elsewhere: to hunting and gathering, taking care of babies, building shelters, and so forth. Without this natural, protective shutdown, you would pursue sex to the exclusion of all other activities. When rats were wired so that they could push a lever in their cages to stimulate the nerve cells on which dopamine acts, they just kept hitting the lever until they dropped. Dopamine is highly addictive; the rise in prolactin puts the brakes on.

We are such ignorant lab monkeys when it comes to our sexual appetites. A balanced level of dopamine is necessary for our mental health. When dopamine drops, says Robinson, we feel like something is dreadfully wrong. Too much dopamine also leads to reckless behavior and restless anxiety. We project those uncomfortable feelings onto our partner. Suddenly, he or she doesn't look so appealing.

This is why the ancient Taoists and other sages throughout history have recommended making love without conventional orgasm. By avoiding the extreme highs that over-stimulate the nerve cells in the primitive brain, you also avoid the temporary lows that accompany recovery. You keep your dopamine levels within ideal ranges. This produces a sense of wellbeing, which promotes harmony in your relationship.

What a trip we had today: from gambling to prostitution to food as snow clearing substance to three-week erections to Taoism in the bedroom. I for one am exhausted. Of course, it’s just my prolactin kicking in…

Yori Yanover


How The Recession Is Improving Our Lives

There’s an old saying that every disaster ends up benefiting somebody. So my quest for goodness in unexpected places is taking me today into the big, bad, Great Recession.

I recall an experience my wife and I had last November, when we had to get uptown in a hurry in our little Chevy Malibu, during rush hour, normally an impossible feat. We hit the FDR Drive which circles Manhattan, and that highway was practically empty, at noon! Then we cut into surface streets and continued up Madison Avenue. By rights we should have been stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for hours. Instead, we reached our destination in less than half an hour. My wife pointed to all the gated stores which used to be the city’s pride and flourish. So many glitzy businesses were gone from Manhattan’s ritziest avenue, it was a little scary. On the other hand, we made it on time and found parking!

I started thinking about this angle on the news last night, when I saw this item by Jack Leonard and Ruben Vives in Saturday’s LA Times:

One sector that benefits from a bad economy: jail inmates
When times are flush, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has the money to keep jails open and staffed, and the vast majority of sentenced inmates serve most of their time behind bars. But when times get tough and tax revenues shrink, the department has repeatedly looked to its jail operations to make cuts, freeing thousands of inmates who've served only a fraction of their sentences.

The length of jail stays has ebbed and flowed in tune with LA County's budget for more than two decades, leaving the county during financial crunches with some of the weakest jail sentences in the nation. Now the county is shifting back into those lean times. Faced with fresh budget woes, Sheriff Lee Baca announced this week that he has stepped up the early release of inmates, a move that could continue for weeks or months.

Except it turns out the LA Sheriff is heavily biased in favor of women prisoners. Until this week, according to the LAT, all male inmates served at least 80% of their jail time, while most women serve only 20%.

It occurred to me that this apparent absence of hard and fast rules regarding incarceration could bring about even better things than just letting a whole lot of inmates go home before their time. Perhaps this would be a good time to try alternative sentencing, especially to non-violent inmates, or older, less threatening inmates. If the county is running out of jail space it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the ability to negotiate with its inmates. What if they charged inmates a fee, based on the time they shave off their sentence? If you can afford it, why not shell out, say, $10 a day ($20, maybe? Do I hear fifty?). They could use the money to compensate the inmate’s victim, and keep some for general upkeep.

As to destitute inmates, I’m sure there are many ways in which these folks could prove useful to the citizens of Los Angeles. I realize it could mean an additional headache to the Sheriff’s Department, but if it works, it could be a step in the direction of not having to jail any criminal at all.

You know what else has happened as a result of the Great Recession? People aren’t so quick to seek medical help any longer. Not because they’ve all become magically cured from whatever had ailed them, but because they’ve become aware of the costs of their medical care. If you ask me, that’s a step in the right direction.

Hospitals are reporting a downturn in elective procedures that tend to be paid for in full by the patient or his or her insurer, which means that some ORs are standing empty, waiting for the economy to rebound. This is particularly serious, as these most-profitable procedures are tailing off while hospitals are simultaneously serving a higher number of uninsured patients, with procedures that tend to lack the favorable margins hospitals need. At the same time, hospitals are realizing losses in their investment portfolios.

Even patients who have health insurance are dealing with higher deductibles, which means that they’re assessing their healthcare spending based on price as well as need. Without a doubt, this is a change for an industry in which the insured consumer didn’t always have to contemplate a high contribution for their own care. And, with the future of governmental involvement in healthcare uncertain, it appears that this industry, which was once a safe harbor in an economic storm, has been hit with the same tumult as other sectors.
(At What Cost? The recession’s impact on OR nurses, by Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti, MD Publishing)

If you ask me, we could save billions of dollars in a manner that satisfied both Republicans and Democrats, at least the sane ones in both parties, if we divided medical care in this country into two groups: catastrophic care, which the government covers, no questions asked, it’s on us, no American loses his home or savings because of a catastrophe; and elective medicine, which is all a la cart. If you can afford it, buy it for yourself, otherwise, that boil stays on your nose, here’s a Band-Aid.

So if thanks to the Great Recession the public at large is starting to behave rationally, like adults, about medical care, that’s a good thing!


Jeff Bonicky, the director of Sea Oaks Golf Club in Little Egg Harbor Township, NJ, says the sagging economy has affected the local golf industry. While there are still a good number of golfers playing the course, "they are more prone to whack a Pinnacle golf ball at $15 a dozen than a Titleist Pro V1 for $50 a dozen."

Bonicky told David Weinberg of Press of Atlantic City, that golfers who are struggling with their finances "can't justify buying a sleeve of Pro V1," lamenting that "There are larger things in life that have to be taken care of first. People that used to have that disposable dollar are now buying a gallon of milk instead of playing nine holes or buying a new putter."

According to the National Golf Foundation, golf’s depression is not unique to southern New Jersey. The NGF’s 2009 participation study revealed that there were 28.6 million golfers ages 6 and above in 2008 compared to 30 million in 2005. There were 489.1 million rounds of golf played in the U.S. in 2008 compared to 518.4 million in 2000 and 499.6 million in 2005.
(Recession's effect on southern New Jersey links: More bargain hunting, fewer golfers on the course)

How can that not be good news? A consumer society that decides to morph in less materialistic directions has to be improving, morally and spiritually. I wonder if this trend shows itself in less esoteric places than the South Jersey gold courses…


OK, I’m sure you’ve heard of this one before, but it’s gratifying to see it in a bone fide scientific research. The National Marriage Project (NMP) is a nonpartisan, nonsectarian, and interdisciplinary initiative located at the University of Virginia. Their most recent report on the "State of Our Unions," published last December, found that divorce fell during the first full year of the Great Recession, "evidence that the challenges of job losses, foreclosures and depleted retirement accounts may be driving some couples to stick together." The divorce rate fell from 17.0 divorces per 1,000 married women in 2007 to 16.9 in 2008 (and from a rate of 17.3 in 2005).

If trends observed during and after the Great Depression of the 1930s are once again at work, some of the decline is due to economic factors that lead couples merely to temporarily delay divorce, but  there is also another dynamic at work: Tough times foster real family solidarity and encourage many couples to stick together, said U.Va. sociology professor W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project. Many couples are rediscovering the longstanding sociological truth that marriage is one of society's best social insurance plans, he said.

What can I say, except welcome signs of adulthood and maturity wherever I can find them? Of course, one could argue that being stuck in a loveless marriage because of lousy economics is not such a hot deal, but in my opinion it usually beats being stuck in lousy economics all alone is even worse. Marriage is not a Hollywood movie, it’s a contract between two grownups wishing to conduct their lives together. Walking out on too many contracts is just bad behavior, which I’m glad is too rich for most of us these days.

As the State of New Jersey has elected a Republican governor last fall, it sat well with the announcement that property taxes went up by an average of 3.3. percent last year, the smallest increase in a decade of rapid growth. Common sense hailed it as evidence that a 3-year-old law capping annual increases at 4 percent had finally taken hold.

But according to a Star-Ledger review, Nearly a third of the state’s 566 municipalities raised property taxes above the cap with the state’s permission last year, many because they were able to show they were facing virtual civic dysfunction. Through hundreds of pages of applications asking to exceed the cap, school and town officials spared no adjectives when describing what would happen without relief: The police force would be cut. Special education aides would be fired. Fire hydrants would not be installed.

Of 76 towns that asked to exceed the cap last year, 62 were approved, according to state records. Of 33 school districts, 25 were approved — though many at a far smaller dollar amount than they asked for. The state granted $12.3 million of the requested $35.4 million in waivers for schools — down from $33.2 million of a requested $58.6 million in 2008. Towns that were approved asked for more than $47 million in exceptions.
(N.J. municipalities raise taxes despite state cap, by David Giambusso, The Star-Ledger)

The 4 percent limit was imposed in 2007 by then-Gov. Jon Corzine and the Legislature, which allowed temporary exemptions for scheduled pension payments and pay raises in existing contracts. What will come next is a confrontation between local municipalities and the new governor, Chris Christie, who promised to push some of the deepest budget cuts the state has ever seen.

The same Star-Ledger review found towns and schools said high employee costs were squeezing their budgets, as Gov. Christie attacks the price tag for public employee salaries, pensions and benefits. Austerity in government is normally something Democrats do, usually as their final act of office. It should be interesting to watch a Republican attempting to balance the state budget while keeping the lid on local budget increases.

I have no doubt that every single item I celebrated here has its torturous, dark side. After all, this is supposed to be a brave ride into the night in search of goodness where mostly evil seems to reign. Violent prisoners are unleashed on society, people die because they didn’t choose surgery when it could save their lives, domestic violence goes through the roof as couples are stuck in marriages that should have ended with divorce. Still, the fact that apparently millions of Americans, and many other citizens of the planet, are using the Great Recession as an opportunity to grow up, live within their means, and act more responsibly, is heart warming.

Yori Yanover


Is Rage Good for You?

My wife mentioned the other night that I’ve been responding with rage recently to the challenges of domestic life. I accused her of conspiring to misplace my favorite can opener, for example. I threw a fit when I thought she finished my home-roasted peanuts (she didn’t, I merely misplaced them). There’s no point in denying it, I’ve been angrier than usual these past few weeks.

The country seems to be on the angry side, as a whole. The right finds an expression for their rage in the notorious Tea Party gatherings. The left takes revenge by naming them Tea Baggers. If you did not spend your formative college years in a fraternity, you may want to consult the Urban Dictionary for the off color meaning of the term (it’s the second definition). I used to be offended by right-wingers’ use of "Democrat Party," emphasis on Rat. I believe the teabagging imagery more than sways the scales in the opposite direction. Regardless of all that tit-for-tat, we’re obviously in a rage, as a nation and as individuals.

But is rage necessarily a bad thing? Since this is my daily quest for goodness in the world, I decided this morning to check out the possibilities for goodness within rage. Are there occasions when being angry is not only appropriate, but actually good for you? I know I’m giving away my conclusion here, but, remember, it’s not getting there, it’s the journey!

The headline with the most promising comic possibilities in recent days was, in my opinion: Was road rage suspect just trying to get a tan?

Benjamin Bell reports in the Boston Herald about a Dorchester, Mass woman who was driving down Popes Hill Street in a red Nissan Sentra when she turned into the closed entrance of a Stop & Shop that had been coned off for pedestrian safety during school crossing period. Ignoring the barrier, the suspect drove through the cones and only stopped after the victim - surrounded by kids - yelled for her to stop.

The suspect got out of her car and began screaming and spitting at the victim before fleeing. Cops said the suspect was found at a nearby tanning salon.

How desperate for a tan must you be to plow through a crowd of school children if the unfortunate little ones are standing between you and your UV lamps?

You’ll be surprised. As you may know, one of the fringe benefits of sunlight is vitamin D, and low blood levels of the vitamin have been associated with increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in older adults, severe asthma in children, cancer, and serious digestive problems. Read all about Vitamin D Deficiency here, but in the context of our topic this morning, the benefits of rage, perhaps the enraged driver felt particularly deficient, practically fighting for her life.

OK, it's a stretch. Still, a good attorney could get her off using this argument, given time and money for expert witnesses. Maybe. Would road rage be a good thing if your life was really on the line, though? Probably yes. I'm sure ambulance drivers get soaked with adrenaline as they push their way through traffic. It has to be at least borderline rage!

A woman named Cailo ("A transient idealist with no patience for SUVs") runs the blog Rage Is Good, where she states: "I'm suspicious of people who aren't angry about something." Attempting to survive life in Alabama, she and her friend Sarah decided to do something with all that rage. "So we cause some trouble and encourage our friends to do the same. So far, we've even managed to avoid getting arrested."

In a piece called Awe, Cailo writes: "I believe each of us is a survivor of something. Something traumatic, on some large or small scale. There comes a time for many of us when we realize we have begun to think of that trauma not only in terms of its impact on our lives, but also as a tool, something we can use to help others. Reaching that point is a powerful moment. When we realize, ‘I am more than the very bad thing that happened to me.’"

But then, on an entry dated 3/8/08 and titled Resolutions for the next week, she writes:
1. sleep
2. refrain from drinking excessive amounts of wine
3. go to bed before 2 a.m.
4. avoid fried things and cheese and any sauce for which a main ingredient is ranch dressing
She concludes that one: "After this weekend my standards are pretty low." It’s a bit strange to wander like that into people’s private blogs, click through their thoughts and impressions over several years. An overall impression starts to accumulate, influenced, no doubt, in this case, by Cailo’s choice of template – an imposing, black background, with small, white text. Those design values obviously reflected her mood when she got started, back in 2005. But is she still feeling this way today, or is she trapped with a five-year-old paint job she can’t change? Is her rage, then, in small measure, a self-fulfilling property?  

In seeking out the useful side of rage, as part of seeking out goodness in unexpected places, I ran into this ancient story, which appeared originally in the Ottawa Citizen, but exists online only as a lifted excerpt on the environmentalist webzine Grist: Ottawa, 26 Jan 2001 -- Betty Krawczyk, a 73-year-old great-grandmother, romance writer, and hero to many Canadian environmentalists, was released from jail yesterday, after a judge ruled that she had served enough of her year-long sentence for protesting old-growth logging in the Elaho Valley in British Columbia. Krawczyk began serving her jail term four months ago just as five loggers were given only suspended sentences for assaulting a protest camp in the valley. Krawczyk, who is a member of the group Raging Grannies, said yesterday that when she blockaded logging roads to protect trees, "it affirmed human values over the profit motive and that's considered far more dangerous by corporations and governments." (Rage Against the Machine, Grist Magazine)

Last december, Jonathan Hiskes reported in Grist Magazine about the activist troupe The Yes Men, who presented themselves at the Copenhagen conference as disgruntled Coca Cola PR employees from Atlanta, urging people to take a pledge of abstinence from Coke products (Employees* rage against the Coke machine in Copenhagen).

At least 20 people took the pledge, reciting, "I, [name], with respect for crimes against people and the planet, from this day forward, for the rest of my living days will never, ever, drink Coca-Cola again until the Coca-Cola company ceases and entirely stops stealing the water from communities in India and stops union-busting in Colombia and ceases and desists entirely from relentless and absurd greenwashing like a ‘bottle of hope.’"

The Yes Men said Coca-Cola’s greenwashing is dishonest and its environmental impacts and labor practices unjust. Admitting this on Coca-Cola’s behalf was "identity correction." So, is rage against the Coke machine good for you? I’m going with a hesitant Yes (for Yes Men?). I also must admit that political street theater scares me, even when I agree with the message. Because there’s always an implied, underlying message in these events, which favors theatrics over a lucid discussion of the fact. If I’m frightened by Tea Party vignettes in which grandma is executed by Obama health judges, I should also loath similar shenanigans from the left. In either case, the end result is likely to be folks with torches and pitchforks kicking down my door.

Last month, Palm Beach philanthropists Michelle and Howard Kessler hosted a question and answer session at their home involving 8 psychiatrists from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, regarding the rage in that affluent community over its "cancer cluster."

Harvard professor and psychiatrist, Gregory Fricchione, MD. was asked about anger at the county for the pace of the investigation of the phenomenon, and at the media for the tone and shallowness of its reporting. "Parents go through levels of bereavement and grief when they get a diagnosis of cancer their sense of invulnerability is become vulnerable," said Dr. Fricchione. "I tell patients we live life with confidence then instant vulnerability. It flip flops. Suddenly we're way down here. It's uncomfortable. The natural response is anger."

He explained that venting and rage, are in fact healthy to a point. "The stress that anger causes may be useful but there is a law of diminishing returns. If it gets too high your ability to help your child goes down," said Dr. Fricchione. (Tim Malloy, Psychiatrist weighs in on 'cancer cluster',    

In other words, you can be angry, but don’t let it get out of hand. I have no idea how an angry person may be expected to act reasonably about his feelings. After all, when you let your anger out, it’s more like opening the flood gates than turning a faucet. Which reminded me of a statement from Maimonides (Hil. Deot, 2:3), Anyone who becomes angry is like an idol worshipper.

The great hasidic teacher Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk refers to this statement when he questions Moses’ breaking of the tablets. Remember, Moses has just spent 40 days and forty nights on the mountaintop without food or drink. His was a purely spiritual existence. At the same time, his nation below was having a huge orgy around the gold calf. In his pure state, Moses was of no use to them, argues Rabbi Elimelech, and so he chose to become angry, so he would be like an idol worshipper, like a sinner, and in that reduced state he could be available to his flock.

I suppose it means that there is goodness in anger (and anger in goodness). Go ahead, do something wrathy…


When Does Life Begin? Around 11

Years ago, my wife told me about the sleep cycles of teenagers, which is different from that of the rest of us. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep to do their best and naturally go to sleep around 11 p.m.. The teen my wife and I are harboring in our house easily beats that record and often stays up well into the wee hours. I remember behaving very similarly when I was in my teens, more likely to watch the sun rise than set before I shut my eyes.
 One way to let teenagers get more sleep is:


Teens' natural sleep cycle puts them in conflict with school start times. They are like zombies getting ready for school and find it hard to be alert and pay attention in class. They are sleepy all day and cannot do their best.

Schools that have set later bell times find that students do not go to bed later, but get one hour more of sleep per school night, which means five hours more per week. Attendance improves and students are more likely to be on time when school starts. Teens are more alert in the morning and in better moods; they are less likely to feel depressed or need to visit the nurse or school counselor. (Teens and Sleep)
A notoriously rebellious teenager and a high school dropout, I always knew intuitively that schools set their schedules to serve the needs of everyone, except students. And, incidentally, when the NSF is talking about schools' "later bell times," they mean 8:30 instead of 7:30 a.m. Why not start school at 11 in the morning and go through, say, 7 p.m.? Most likely because this would cut into the evening plans of school administrators and teachers. Yes, I was also a teacher at one point in my life, and I know schools serve the needs of board members, then principals, then teachers and custodians, then parents and, at the bottom of the pyramid of needs, students.


I was delighted, therefore, to discover that a systematic review of 10 studies by The Cochrane Collaboration found that employees who have more control over their schedules see improvements in both physical and mental health, which lead to fewer medical claims.

Overall, the research found that workers with flexible work schedules have fewer incidences of high blood pressure, sleep better, have better mental health, and are more alert than those working more rigid schedules. (Christian Schappel, Study reveals surprising way to improve employee health, HR Morning)

Conversely, Clare Bambra, PhD, of Durham University in the U.K. and her colleagues at the Cochrane Review found that mandatory overtime and fixed-term contracts had absolutely no positive effects on health outcomes.

The researchers conducted a systematic review of 10 studies that assessed the health effects of different working arrangements -- those that favor the worker, and those dictated by employers. Arrangements included self-scheduling, flextime, overtime, gradual retirement, involuntary part-time, and fixed-term contracts. The 10 studies included 16,603 participants.

One study showed improvements in mental health, sleep quality on the day shift, sleep duration on the night shift, and alertness during the night shift when employees had more control over their schedules. Another found significant decreases in systolic blood pressure and heart rate for workers with flexible scheduling.
Bambra called for further investigation of subgroups involved. "We need to know more about how the health effects of flexible working are experienced by different types of workers," she said. "For example, women compared to men, old compared to young, skilled compared to unskilled." (Kristina Fiore, Employees Healthier when Boss Is Flexible, MedPage Today)


My favorite right wing columnist, George Will, cites this morning from NutureShock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, designed "to torment modern parents who are determined to bring to bear on their offspring the accumulated science of child-rearing." Will suggests that "the theory that praise, self-esteem and accomplishment increase in tandem is false. Children incessantly praised for their intelligence (often by parents who are really praising themselves) often underrate the importance of effort. Children who open their lunchboxes and find mothers' handwritten notes telling them how amazingly bright they are tend to falter when they encounter academic difficulties. Also, Bronson and Merryman say that overpraised children are prone to cheating because they have not developed strategies for coping with failure."
Our children also cause a great deal more death by car crash than the rest of us, double, in fact. Will cites a Johns Hopkins University study which found that some school districts that abolished driver's education courses experienced a 27 percent decrease in auto accidents among 16- and 17-year-olds. That’s because teenagers are in fatal crashes at twice the rate of other drivers because of poor decisions. The wiring in the frontal lobe of the teenage brain is not fully formed. Driver's ed courses make getting a license easy, thereby increasing the supply of young drivers who actually have holes in their heads. 

Here’s a Georgewillian paragraph you can Xerox and frame: Only 5 percent of high school seniors get eight hours of sleep a night. Children get an hour less than they did 30 years ago, which subtracts IQ points and adds body weight.

But Will is even more merciless (less merciful?) with school administrators, teachers and parents, the pyramid of hierarchies I mentioned earlier: "The school day starts too early because that is convenient for parents and teachers. Awakened at dawn, teenage brains are still releasing melatonin, which makes them sleepy. This is one reason young adults are responsible for half of the 100,000 annual ‘fall asleep’ automobile crashes. When Edina, Minn., changed its high school start from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., math/verbal SAT scores rose substantially. Furthermore, sleep loss increases the hormone that stimulates hunger and decreases the one that suppresses appetite. Hence the correlation between less sleep and more obesity." (G.F. Will, How to ruin a child: Too much esteem, too little sleep, the Washington Post)


The debate over when should teenagers be expected to come to school is raging as we speak in Lake Oswego, Oregon. According to Nicole Dungca, in The Oregonian (Lake Oswego high schoolers to school board: we want more sleep), Several Lakeridge High School students pleaded with school board members Wednesday night to avoid choosing a new schedule with a start time of 7:20 a.m., 15 minutes earlier than the current schedule.

At the Wednesday night public hearing at Lakeridge High School, superintendent Bill Korach of the Lake Oswego School District presented three different schedules as a way to save money in the cash-strapped district. Schedule A included the early start for the two Lake Oswego high schools, while Schedule E had high schoolers starting one hour and ten minutes later and Schedule H kept the current high school schedule.

God help me, I got that familiar shiver down my spine just reading about those different lettered schedules. I remember those 7 a.m. classes, the world outside was dark and in the chemistry lab the Bunsen flames were dancing before my shut eyelids… Is it any wonder that I turned to a life of drugs and whoring?
But seriously, the entire town of Lake Oswego is raging over the schedule change. A vote for the new schedules is slated for March 8, but the final decision could be postponed one more week. Nicole Dungca suggests the meeting for the final vote will likely be packed with students like Nate Belcik, 14, who protested Schedule A Wednesday night.

"I believe that going to school 15 minutes earlier would be very detrimental to students because I know a lot of students who fall asleep early in class," he said, following comments from another student who proclaimed that "almost every student" at Lakeridge opposed the idea.


One Lakeridge student did go against the pack, according to Nicole Dungca. Ebiye Udo-Udoma (aka Cerebral Prince), 16, of Lakeridge High School, said losing 15 minutes of sleep was hardly an issue. "Figure it out, and find the time to sleep," he said.

A parent of two Lake Oswego High School students, Mitu Bhargava, echoed Udo-Udoma’s sentiments, saying she was "distressed" by some of the students’ words to the board. She noted that many students around the world wake up much earlier, signifying a work ethic that may lead some countries to surpass the United States in preparing their students for the global stage. "We’ve got to work harder," Bhargava said. "It’s not a big deal to wake up in the morning."

If you visited the links I provided for the two lone supporters of schedules A through H, you’ll recognize they both come from third world countries, which could explain why they’re so offended by the apparent softness and spoilage of privileged Oregon State children. How refreshing, then, to find George F. Will on the side of the bellyachers…

In a study conducted at the University of California at Berkeley, 37 volunteers were randomly assigned to either a normal night of sleep or total sleep deprivation. The next day, they were shown a series of faces with varying amounts of emotion - including happy, sad, and angry. They found that the sleep deprived participants rated the pictures of happy and angry faces as less angry and happy than those who slept that night.

The same was not true for the pictures of sad faces - sleep or not, they rated them similarly. Interestingly, the effect was stronger in women than in men. Women gave even lower scores for happy and angry faces. (Kelly Baron, PhD, Sleep deprivation changes affects the accuracy of rating others emotions, Chicago Now)

Baron points out that "People who have certain disorders, such as autism, have difficulty with emotional cues." That’s not to say that being sleep deprived makes you autistic, but it might make you more susceptible to the lack of empathy we associate with that affliction. Sleep deprived people are less in touch with the world, they simply care less, which may be why they’re more likely to give away secrets in interrogations.
Isn’t it amazing that in order to be better connected to the reality of the world around us we need to spend more hours shut away from it, in dreamland?

Wake up, Mr. Johnson, it’s time for your sleeping pill…

Yori Yanover