Why the Future of Television is Lost

There are no simple answers when it comes to Lost. When we left the addictively weird serial about the survivors of a plane crash on a desert island, we had just made a startling discovery: the island is linked to the world outside. That revelation, while it seems small, was momentous for fans. It destroyed a whole bunch of theories--for instance, that the characters were dead and in purgatory. So as Season 3 opens, the question on most viewers' minds is, Will there be more present-day glimpses of the outside world?

Yes, says executive producer Carlton Cuse. But executive producer Damon Lindelof interjects that he might not use the term present.

Adds Cuse: "The context of time is something you can't take for granted."

Uh-huh. TV has seen plenty of shows with Lost's geek appeal, but their stories usually end with "... and it was soon canceled, to the dismay of its hard-core fans." The Prisoner, the first Star Trek series--even Twin Peaks went from phenom to flame-out faster than you can say, Who killed Laura Palmer? Lost is different. An unapologetically knotty, mass-market commercial hit, it demands commitment--and gets it. How did Lost escape the cult-show graveyard? Partly because it's just TV genius. But also because TV has changed--and because Lost changed TV. Many of the changes that threatened old-fashioned TV--the rise of the Internet, new technologies, a fragmented audience with new entertainment options--have made Lost successful. It won over Internet-centric viewers who are supposed to be bored with TV, and it benefited from technologies like iTunes, DVRs and DVDs that some were worried would be the end of TV. It took the attributes that would once have made it a cult failure--eccentricity and complexity--and used them to harness the power of obsessive, evangelical fans. Like the story told in Lost, the story of the series' success is one of careful design, science and a little faith.

First, the faith. In 2004, ABC was fourth in the ratings. One series in its pipeline was based on an idea by then chairman Lloyd Braun: a fictionalized Survivor. ABC turned over the project to producer J.J. Abrams and his partner Lindelof, who elaborated the concept into a wild, character-driven mystery. The wisdom in TV then was that viewers were too busy to follow continuing story lines. Simple procedurals like CSI reigned. "We would have loved to have had a CSI," says Stephen McPherson, then head of Touchstone Television and now ABC Entertainment president. "But given our choices, it made a lot of sense to try to break out of the clutter." Abrams had a track record, as producer of Alias, of making a thriller with emotional impact--although, Abrams says, "it was an ongoing battle" getting the network to support that show's complex serial story line.

With Lost, he and Lindelof wrote a geeky mythology show with enough heart, humor and richness of character to appeal far beyond the Doctor Who convention set. There is Jack (Matthew Fox), a heartthrob doctor with unresolved father issues, and Locke (Terry O'Quinn), a paraplegic miraculously healed on the island. There is Hurley (Jorge Garcia), a likable sad sack who won the lottery playing a set of numbers--4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42--that we learn have mystic significance. There is a fugitive (Evangeline Lilly), a wisecracking con man (Josh Holloway), a heroin-addicted has-been rock star (Dominic Monaghan), a former Iraqi torturer (Naveen Andrews).

I left out the psychic kid, the Korean gangster and many others, but you get the point. The island may not be purgatory, but metaphorically it is: almost all the castaways have a past to atone for, and their backstories, told in flashbacks, give the mystery and monsters emotional grounding. The result is a moving, literate popcorn thriller that weaves dozens of characters' lives into a story of interconnection, redemption and grace.

Lost was a hit out of the gate, but serials typically bleed viewers as casual fans tune out. This is where the science comes in. What Lost geeks have that earlier TV cultists didn't is a mature, broadband Internet. The fans set up blogs, reference sites and podcasts. They watched, then debated and posted tidbits and theories (the smoke monster is a nanorobot cloud controlled by a psychic!). "Part of watching this show is talking about it," says Nicholas Gatto, 14, who runs abclost.blogspot.com "It doesn't just end at the credits."

The mystery of Lost--and the opportunities for cyberanalysis--turned it into TV for the post-TV generation. Besides stoking interest, technology has affected the kind of storytelling Lost can do. On a practical level, DVRs, DVDs and iTunes downloads mean it's less likely fans will miss episodes, fall behind and give up, which allows the writers to keep the show complex and challenging. "A show that is as serialized as Lost would have had a much harder time pre-iPod, pre-DVD, pre-streaming video," says Abrams.

And those technologies allow the producers to add levels of detail. In a Season 2 episode, Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a former Nigerian drug lord, has a religious epiphany when he encounters the smoke monster in the jungle. Viewers who TiVoed the scene and played it in slow motion saw a series of images in the cloud: Eko's dead brother, a man Eko killed, a crucifix. The images flash by in fractions of a second. A casual viewer would not have noticed them at all. Either way, it works. You can sit back and enjoy the story, or you can play it, as if it were an adventure-puzzle game like Dungeons & Dragons or Myst.

The classic image of the TV superfan is the minutiae-obsessed, Vulcan-eared Star Trek fan, played by Jon Lovitz opposite William Shatner in a classic Saturday Night Live skit. Today the Lovitzization of entertainment is widespread. When Lost used stock footage from Norway to depict the founder of the Hanso Foundation--the apparent prime mover behind its conspiracy--Norwegian fans went nuts speculating over their homeland's connection to the mystery.

And the producers are listening. Last season they killed a second character in a pivotal episode because the one they intended to kill was so unpopular that they realized she would not be missed. Other times, they rebut the fans. To knock down a popular theory--that the entire series is a dream--they made an episode in which a hallucination tells Hurley that everything that happened on the island was in his head, and then they disproved it. "There's a kind of reciprocal exchange," says David Lavery, chair in film and television at London's Brunel University and a co-author of Unlocking the Meaning of Lost. "The fans know more about the show--except what's going to happen next week--than the people creating the show. Fandoms feel power that they never felt before."

Of course, the Lovitzes are a minority of Lost viewers. But they're a vocal one. Pop-culture critic Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good for You, says the show's makers "are relying on the amplifying power of the serious hard-core fans, who are 1% of the audience, to broadcast some of these cool little discoveries to perhaps 10% of their audience. Those are the great evangelists for the show, the 10% who are out there saying, Oh, God, I am so addicted to this show." And they help reel in the other 90%, which is where gratifying the superfans pays off. "Let's say I go to a Bruce Springsteen show, and he plays for four hours instead of two hours," says Lindelof. "Why? What is he getting out of it? Your ticket price is exactly the same. But what happens is, you go to work the next morning, and you say, I just saw the greatest f______ show in my life."

It was for the 1% that the producers and ABC this summer created The Lost Experience, an online game that delved into the Dharma Initiative, the secretive international project alluded to on the show. For more than four months, players hunted for clues in phony corporate websites, voice-mail messages and video clips online. The trick was to give away information that would tantalize hard-core fans but casual viewers wouldn't need. (Among the tidbits: Dharma stands for department of heuristics and research on material applications. See what you can do with that.)

For most of TV history, going to those lengths to get people who already like a show to like it more would have been a waste. Network TV is paid for by ads, and to advertisers, an eyeball is an eyeball, however passionate. But now you can turn passion into money. Fans buy episodes they missed, from iTunes at $1.99 a pop. They're the market for the upcoming video-game and cell-phone mini-episodes. They buy DVDs to catch new details of episodes they have already seen. This month Lost's Season 2 debuted at No. 1 on the DVD charts--listing at about $60 a set. Season 1 sold 1.2 million copies. The networks take notice when it comes time to schedule new series. "I'm not in the room when the corporate decisions are made," says Abrams. "But the possibility of making $50 [million], $100 million more on DVD sales--it's not a drop in the bucket."

Perhaps the greatest test of how Lost has changed TV will be its end. The producers say they want the story to finish at its natural conclusion, even if it's still on top. Surprisingly, they would have some fans on their side. "I'd be happy if it went four years, five years, then quit," says Craig Hundley, a moderator of two Lost fan sites. Then again, the call is ABC's. Will it be the makers and fans or the network execs who decide when the show's time has come? TV is still a business. And as Cuse said, with Lost, the context of time is something you can't take for granted.

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Happy Orgasm Day! Let's Talk about Sex

Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Did you know that "Orgasm Day" is an official holiday? It may not be marked on your calendar, but the mayor of a small town in Brazil recently signed a city council bill proclaiming May 9 Orgasm Day with the goal of improving relationships between married couples. They spent the day talking about orgasms from many points of view, even having a panel discussion on premature ejaculation (PE), a topic that's typically kept hush-hush. Clearly, sex is not the taboo subject in Brazil that it is in many other parts of the world. In fact, the mayor of the largest city, Sao Paolo, is a well-known sex therapist.

Even though I talk about sex all day long in my private practice, when I first heard about Orgasm Day, even my own natural reaction was to laugh. There's nothing wrong with finding this news humorous as long as we also recognize its serious side. After all, though we are all born sexual creatures, most of us remain embarrassed by the subject of sex. That's why, despite the constant bombardment of sexual content in the media, we still don't talk about it enough with our sexual partners. That communication is critical to our sexual satisfaction and to our relationships. This Brazilian town held a panel on premature ejaculation, but how many couples experiencing it actually talk about it? Quite a small percentage, I would guess.

The reason for this could also be due to the fact that the term has such a loose definition. In a recent study, hundreds of wives used stopwatches (yes, stopwatches) to time their husbands in bed in order to determine the difference between "normal" and "premature" ejaculation times. Because men have no individual frame of reference, some of the men who participated and lasted under three minutes felt ashamed for being unable to restrain themselves for longer, while others who lasted under three minutes were unaffected, figuring that was a "normal" duration.

In my opinion, PE is more mental than physical ‑- sustaining the erection can be learned ‑- and so I don't consider it a significant problem. Some men with PE have never felt the need to last any longer. And while some of them may be selfish, only caring about their personal satisfaction, others simply make sure their partners are satisfied in other ways. Since most women require sufficient clitoral stimulation to orgasm and can't have an orgasm from intercourse alone, whether a man lasts one minute or 30 won't really make a difference for his partner. But if a couple considers it to be a problem, and they both stick their heads in the sand like ostriches and pretend it doesn't exist, then they'll never escape the PE rut.

Thankfully, this subject may come to the forefront soon, much in the same way that erectile dysfunction became easier to talk about when drugs like Viagra went on the market: There is currently a drug being tested that would help men with PE. So women who may have been hesitant to bring up the subject before ‑- most likely in order to protect their man's ego ‑- might now be willing to say something since they'll have this pharmaceutical solution to offer.

But it's important to remember that Viagra created problems in some relationships because women felt pressure to engage in sex on the command of a pill, instead of when they were ready. If a drug for PE makes it to market, it's possible that too will create problems. For example, many men will face pressure to prolong the time they take during intercourse. But whether we're talking about erections or PE, the same advice applies: Sex is an act that takes two partners, and any communication about these topics ‑- even if you're uncomfortable mentioning them ‑- will lead to improvements in your sex life.

Assuming this PE drug is proven safe and does go on the market, how would you bring it up so that your man (who may only go to the doctor if he's broken several bones) makes an appointment, gets a prescription and then gets it filled at the pharmacy?

In order to gather the courage to have this conversation, just imagine how much better your love life will be once he's gained control of his ejaculations ‑- then just sell him that very same vision. I don't need to tell you that the bedroom ‑- both before and after you have sex ‑- is off-limits for this discussion; you need to find a quiet and appropriate time. So here's a creative idea: Find a movie that has a long lovemaking scene, bring home the DVD and, after watching it together, say something like, "That could be us if you'd consider getting these pills." There's no need to even mention anything negative about his current sex skills; odds are good that he already knows he suffers from PE. Just offer him a glimpse into a future that holds the potential for him to be a better lover. Then slip him a note with the number of a urologist. You might even casually mention that once he has the prescription, you'd be happy to pick it up for him, so that he can avoid facing the pharmacist.

Regardless of whether this drug is approved, my point here remains the same, and it's very simple: If couples discuss their needs and work at them together, they should be able to make improvements. Communication is the first step toward resolving any sexual issues between you and your partner ‑- or even making a great sex life outstanding. So mark your own Orgasm Day on your calendar (in fact, why not be bold and make it every Tuesday?), and celebrate the potential power to please each other that you and your partner each hold ‑- if only you're willing to talk about it.

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A Death in the Class of 9/11

A star graduate from West Point, killed in Iraq, is laid to rest. But what does her death tell us about the price America is paying for freedom in Iraq?

The question everyone seems to be asking is: why Emily?

U.S. Army 2nd Lieut. Emily Perez, 23, was buried Tuesday at West Point, on a high bluff overlooking the Hudson River, alongside two centuries of fallen graduates from the United States Military Academy. She was the first combat death from the 2005 graduating class — called "the class of 9/11" because they arrived at the prestigious school just two weeks before the terror attacks. She was also the first female West Point graduate to be killed in Iraq.

She died an ordinary death in Iraq, at least by today's standards: a roadside bomb exploded as she led her platoon in a convoy south of Baghdad on Sept. 12. But what makes this death so difficult in a sea of violence is just how extraordinary this particular soldier was.

I spent a month at West Point reporting for our May 2005 cover story on her fellow cadets in the class of 9/11. I never met Perez in my time there, but I recognize many of her qualities in the friends I made at the academy. They are kids who could have chosen any path in life, but instead turned down elite civilian universities to volunteer for the privations of a military college and an ensuing five-year commitment to the Army.

Even at a school of overachievers, Perez's friends and teachers say that she stood out. She held the second-highest rank in her senior class, and, as Brigade Command Sergeant Major, was the highest-ranking minority woman in the history of West Point. She set school records as a sprinter on the track team, led the school's gospel choir, tutored a number of other students and even helped start a dance squad to cheer on the football and basketball teams. Professors wanted her to be in their classes, soldiers wanted her to lead their cadets, underclassmen wanted to catch a little bit of the unstoppable drive that pushed her to meet and exceed the many challenges the academy throws at its students.

"People often say only good things about someone after they've died, but none of this is hyperbole," says Morten Ender, her faculty advisor in the Sociology Program at West Point. "Emily was amazing."

"She was a star among stars," is how classmate Meagan Belk puts it. "You just never would have imagined this would happen to her."

Yolanda Ramirez-Raphael, her roommate at West Point, says that Perez's accomplishments in life all stemmed from an unshakeable self-confidence. "She didn't worry about whether someone liked her or not," says Ramirez-Raphael. At male-dominated West Point, she says, "women will sometimes try to change their leadership style, but not Emily. She always got right to the point." Perez wasn't bashful about her faith either. Every Sunday morning, she'd wake up by playing gospel CDs as she read the Bible. Her roommate Ramirez-Raphael, always trying to catch up on sleep, says Sunday mornings weren't safe until Perez — and the tambourine she always took to play in the Gospel Choir — were at church.

That faith drove Perez to envision a life of service beyond war. As a teenager in Fort Washington, Md., she set up an AIDS ministry in her church. And although her faculty advisor Ender says she could have been literally anything she wanted to, she was most passionate about global-health issues. "She could have been the next Paul Farmer," says Ender. "That's the commitment, and the talent, that she had."

Roadside bombs are generally believed to be the top killer of U.S. troops in Iraq (according to www.icasualty.org, almost a thousand U.S troops have been killed by the devices so far). The threat has persisted despite a multibillion-dollar U.S. campaign to neutralize it, and more than any element in Iraq has spread the dangers of war evenly from frontline soldiers to support personnel.

Perez understood those risks. She had chosen to go into the highly selective Medical Service Corps and, even though it's not a combat branch, she understood that she'd be in as much danger as anyone. Because of the shortened officer basic training of the medical corps, Ramirez-Raphael says that Perez "knew she would probably be deployed before the huah! infantry set were. She told me, 'I'll be there and back before those guys even get their boots in the sand.'" Ramirez-Raphael says that Perez had already survived several previous convoy attacks in Iraq. After one of those incidents, a mutual friend from West Point happened to be in the Quick Reaction Force that came in to secure the scene. "He told me that Emily held her own [afterwards]," says Ramirez-Raphael.

But there is no holding one's own against a fatal IED attack. It comes in a blast of dust and fire and, in an instant on Sept. 12, all of that exquisite training, and all of that irrepressible vitality, was stilled.

Classmate Paul Lushenko, now an army intelligence officer at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., says that the news of Emily's death hit everyone in the Class of 9/11 hard. "I think that we were under some sort of inability to understand that probably some of our classmates were going to die," he says. "I don't know. You just don't think it's going to happen to you." He brought in a picture of himself with Emily to show his platoon, which is composed of army linguists' — support staff who, like Perez, are not combat personnel. "I wanted to make clear the dangers," he says. "We're all on the front lines in this war."

"We lost one of the greatest accomplishments of the academy," adds Lushenko, who himself is itching to get into the fight in Iraq. "But that motivates me even more to get over there and serve my country."

Leigh Harrell, a fellow classmate of Perez's, emailed me from Baghdad to say that she ran into Perez in Iraq not long ago. "We talked for probably an hour telling each other about the wild experiences we'd already had as platoon leaders in combat," Harrell wrote. "We had some laughs and both talked of how much we were looking forward to going home and seeing our families again."

"There's so much I still wanted to experience with her," says Ramirez-Raphael. "I wanted to have families together, maybe even send our poor little kids to West Point some day."

But it is the question of why — why a roadside bomb that costs a pittance to make killed a young officer with so much left to offer her country – that undoes Ramirez-Raphael. Having buried her friend on Tuesday, the question is still too much on Thursday. "I don't know," she says, "I don't know. I've asked myself that every day since she died, and I cannot tell you."

While I was at West Point, the most impressive thing about cadets like Ramirez-Raphael was the way they were able to safeguard their sense of duty from whatever doubts or insecurities crept in about the mission. In the classroom, I watched Perez's classmates debate the successes and failures of the current U.S. occupation strategy. They learned about the dangers of this particular war, from watching videos of an IED explosion to discussing the fate of West Point graduate Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was forced into retirement for contradicting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's estimates about how many troops would be needed in Iraq. But outside of the classroom, the cadets still mustered on the plain and marched in unison, a physical reminder of their willingness to accept and execute whatever mission they are given. On one of my last days at West Point, I watched from the stands as the class of 9/11 took the art of parading to its farcical zenith. A high wind had blown a tall plumed hat off of one of the lead cadets, forcing the hundreds that followed in box formation to try to step over it without glancing down or altering their parade stride. As you can imagine, this did not work out so well. Cadet after cadet ended up stumbling over a hat that could have easily been picked up and tossed out of the way.

Even the West Point parents in attendance couldn't help but snicker at these proud ranks being decimated by a hat. But watching this, I finally was able to articulate something that I had only vaguely sensed before: This thing that West Pointers do — parading in unyielding formation, shining already gleaming boots, enlisting to sacrifice their lives on some unknown and unloved territory far from home — is not done out of ignorance, but out of faith. They have faith that the American values and resourcefulness do not lend themselves to meaningless death. They have faith that not only is freedom worth fighting for, but that we do not fight for any lesser end.

What do we owe them in return? An honest debate and some tough questions that soldiers by definition cannot outwardly ask or answer. Many of her classmates, like Lushenko, see Perez's death as a reason for more resolve in the fight. And one imagines that Perez, who was not given to second-guessing herself or her mission, would agree. This election season has featured Democrats obsessed with blaming their opponents for getting into the war and Republicans mistaking discussion for sedition. Instead, we should be asking straight questions: Do we have enough troops? Is the war winnable? Should we redeploy to safer bases or should we be a more muscular presence on the streets of Iraq? "Emily was just a problem solver," says one of her fellow cadets. Iraq may have defied solution so far, but we owe her a continued, honest effort.

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Why Do African Men Go Home to Marry?

Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

Marrying unknowns...

Within the last eighteen months I have attended nine welcoming parties. These are parties by friends and acquaintances who went to Africa, marry and successfully petitioned for their wives to come to the United States. These types of parties, whether big or small, are taking place all over the US. The immigration process can be lengthy and frustrating -- depending on the petitioner’s immigration status. In the US at least, one could petition for his future wife by way of the FiancĂ© Visa provision or through outright marriage which could take upward of twenty months. And lots of money, ingenuity and perseverance!

But why do African men go though this tortuous and circuitous immigration process? Why do African men go home to marry instead of marrying the women they’ve wined and dined and romanced right here in the US. Most of these women are well-educated, well-read and well-traveled; they are well mannered and have proven their reliability. They have demonstrated their abilities and capabilities in all matters marital. They are women of two worlds: they know Africa and also understand the West.

Why do African men go home to marry the “unknowns” instead of marrying the proven and the reliable here in the US? Well, it is because (1) they can; (2) most men are under the illusion that the women they knew back home are innocent, un-spoilt and virginal; (3) it is an ego boosting exercise in that it allows them to demonstrate to their people back in Africa that they too can bring one of their own to the US; (4) it allows some men to mask their "failures and shortcomings" since the women who are already in the US can tell where they are on the social and economic ladder. Additionally, some men want their women to look up to them since it makes them appear more than what and who they really are (at least in the initial stages).

And then there those who will tell you African girls in the US have all “gone bad…rotten…too exposed…too independent.” Ha, whatever that means!

The African male is perplexing. He can be enigmatic. He can be everything and sometimes, nothing. He can be sweet and loving and caring and benevolent and at the same time oppressive. His life is full of contradictions. In so many ways, he is a wounded animal as a result of his historical past. Once, he was the primary breadwinner. Once, he was the head of the household. Once, he was the man who moved mountains and parted the heavens so it rained. That was a time long gone. The modern times have not been exactly good to him because of the multiplying effects of globalization and modernity.

Even though the outside world is depriving him of his manhood, he has found a way to make part of his world his playground. His home has become his playground. And in this playground, he is the captain. He is the sole captain. No co-captains. His words and wishes are the law. Globalization and modernity may be creeping in on and chipping away at his manhood, he has found a way to protect his playground. Or so he thought! To make his thoughts a reality, he marries a greenhorn.

But you see life has a way of getting back at us. Sooner or later, Karma will come to play.

Life is dynamic. Ever changing. Never static. Therefore, yesterday’s greenhorns will become the “ever-present and ever-knowing” of tomorrow. The innocents will lose the mist in their eyes and become like all the women that came before them. Though the preceding assertion is not empirically grounded, one can not but notice that “greenhorn marriages” dissolve quicker -- mostly within five years with or without offspring.

More often than not most of these marriages are not based on love or affection. Most are not even like the marriages of yester-years: a contract and a union between two families. On the part of the greenhorns, it is mostly about the need to escape the prevailing abject poverty and hopelessness that has engulfed most African countries. Most of these women wanted a way out of the sorrow and the lack of opportunities in Kenya, Guinea, Botswana, Liberia, and Eritrea and elsewhere. In Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali, Madagascar and Mauritania, it is about running away from the fetid and stifling conditions that stunts dreams and kill optimism. For most women, that is. Therefore, when presented with the opportunity to hop, they pack and run!

As for the men who go in search of these women, well, their mindset has been discussed. What needs to be added is the fact that most are never happy because they got what they never bargained for: stunned, disappointed and underachieving wives who never knew about 40-60-hour work week; women who never knew there are no dollar minting factories down the street, that America is not what they saw in the movies and magazines, that America is not a world of instant riches and glamour. You toil and toil and toil!

The unfamiliar can be mind-sapping, you know. These women see ghosts and dream of “bad-bad-bad-things.” Depression and identity crisis then sets in. Those who can’t cope then leave their husbands and marriage and try to go it alone believing their lots would be better without the “extra baggage.” Big mistake, for most!

As for the men, well, some will plead with, cajole or trick their wives into going into the nursing or CNA profession assuming the women were not already one back home. The nursing profession, they believe, is a sure avenue for making money and living the good life. Be it in Houston, Seattle, Dallas, Miami, New York and every where in between, African nurses abound. They are everywhere working mostly the night and graveyard shifts, toiling day and night and away from their husbands and children just to make ends meet. With no time to smell the roses or to wonder at the beauties that surround them, they become strangers in the world they live in.

Why do we wine and dine and romance our women if we have no intention of marrying them? Why do we whine and complain when we see them lay their eggs in the nest of other races? Why do we sneer at them when they turn the “ideal age for marriage” and are unmarried? And why do we slap the culture book at them when they have children out of wedlock? It is a shame the way some African men in this country have treated and continues to treat some of our women. It is truly a shame!

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Nigerian Men and their Foreign Wives

Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

Taken aback...

Increasingly, and in greater numbers, Nigerian men are marrying non-Nigerian women. In droves, they are marrying Caribbean nationals, White-Americans and African-Americans. They are marrying, not for the primarily purpose of acquiring “greencard,” but for other noble reasons. They marry, not for the curiosity, but because they are bonded and are determined to make a success of the marriage institution; they are bonded by love and faith and a commitment to one another to live their lives as one in a happy matrimony.

The more I notice this phenomenon, the more I wonder about some Nigerian men. I wonder. Culturally, Nigerian men are overbearing, controlling, and paternalistic. They relate to their fathers and mothers differently. They believe it is “a man’s world” and so they have the tendency to relegate women to subservient roles. True, things are changing. True globalization and modernity and westernization are impacting the Nigerian culture. In cities across Nigeria, these changes are noticeable; but over all, the effects of these changes are minimal. A Nigerian may be well read, well educated and well traveled, in the end though, he will succumb to the weight and influence of the Nigerian culture.

We have a society where anthropological and sociological behaviors are still paramount. For instance, a great many Nigerians still practice levirate and sororate marriage, and they also engage in polygyny, bridewealth, and matrilocal and patrilocal living arrangements. And in spite of westernization, Nigerians are still not comfortable with public display of affection, i.e. kissing and verbal declaration of love; and neither are they comfortable with open and public discussions of abortion, sex and exotic sex acts. That Nigerians are not comfortable with such public declarations and have not completely embraced westernization is due, to a large extent, on the hold the traditional African culture has on the vast majority of the populace. At the core of every Nigerian, and indeed every African, is the thumbprint, the umbilical cord of their ancestors.

This non-public declaration and display of love and affection is not unique to Nigerians living in Nigeria. No! The vast majority of Nigerians living in the United States are loath to engage in such practices, too. Furthermore, most Nigerians do not engage in endearing practices like candlelight dinners, flower giving, romantic walk by the lake or park, or even running the bath for their wives or lovers. It would surprise most westerners to know that a typical Nigerian father or mother would rarely, if ever, utter affectionate or confidence-building words like “I love you…” to their children; yet, the children have no doubt that their parents love them. Children are the crowing glory of any respectable Nigerian family.

Haven digressed a bit, I return to the issue of Nigerian men and their foreign wives. I am stunned, perplexed, taken aback by the transformation Nigerian men, married to non-Nigerian women, have gone through in the United States (and perhaps all over the Western world). My goodness, here are a group of macho men, fiercely independent, with a burgeoning sense of entitlement who thinks the world belongs to them; and that women are made to be at their beck-and-call. Here they are; they have suddenly or gradually gone soft and sensitive and romantic and wide-eyed. How did these groups of men become “oh baby, oh baby” kind of guys? How did they become “yes honey, yes sweetheart, yes darling” kind of fellas? What has happened to them? What got to their hearts and soul?

How were they able to adjust to living under a different set of rules and matrimonial conventions? How is it that a breed of men married to their fellow countrywomen would behave in a given and predictable manner; but then adjust to a different matrimonial lifestyle when married to foreigners? When they are with the Nigerian women, these men are all about control and power and they expect their wives to cook and clean and raise babies and provide sex on demand; but with the foreign wives, their balls shrink! Such men live by schedule. They have daily and weekly schedule of when to do the laundry and the dishes; of whose turn it is to empty the thrash; and of whose turn it is to sweep and mop the floor; and of when to eat out and cook at home.

These men -- especially if married to White women -- feel lucky and grateful and mightily blessed. These men meet and exceed all matrimonial expectations; but would rubbish and dominate their Nigerian women. What is it about a White woman that makes the Nigerian male lose his senses? Could it be because of their skin color and their supposed sensuality and submissive attitude in bed? Could it be because they engage in all kinds of mind-altering sexual acts that, understandably, the Nigerian woman would NOT engage in? Or perhaps it has to do with the warped mentality of some Nigerian men who thinks everything white is good and desirable and so must be had!

Why are Nigerian men afraid to turn control over to their Nigerian wives? Why are they averse to showing their sensitive side? Why the need to control and dominate? Why are Nigerian men reluctant to take their wives on a romantic walk to the parks and beaches, buy roses and cards? Why the need to bottle up their romantic side? Why have they refused to do for their Nigerian wives what they would heartily do for non-Nigerian women? After all, Nigerian women, unlike their foreign counterparts usually do not demand to be co-captains of the house. They usually do not demand for more than is earthly possible. And way more than their foreign counterparts they understand what it means to be a wife and a partner; they understand what it means to be part of the extended family.

When it comes to matters of life, love and death, Nigerian women have stood by their husbands. They are there during the passing of their in-laws; they give succor in times of crisis. These women understand what the African family is all about. But not much can be said about non-Nigerian wives who may not even find it necessary to visit or attend marriage or burial ceremonies in their husbands’ ancestral homes. For non-Nigerian wives, life begins and ends in American. For these women, marriage is not about marrying into another family; it is about “us and us alone.” And in fact, they would rather you not bother them with stories about your extended families and the need for the monthly or quarterly remittances.

Yes, some of us can’t help with whom we fall in love; but to the extent that one can, I would rather a Nigerian. A Nigerian woman is not likely to throw you out of your home; she is not likely to call the cops on you based on flimsy reasons; she is not likely to drag you through the judicial system; she is not likely to throw the divorce papers at you at the slightest provocation; she is not likely to turn her backs at you in times of financial difficulties and other crises. In order words: Nigerian women are likely to stay and be loving and generous and supportive for the long haul! Again and again and again, they have proven that of all God’s creations, they are the very best. And indeed, they are!

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Chinese Manners Daily Life and Business Manners

Hao Zhuo.

Daily Life
China is known as a state of etiquette and ceremonies. Many proverbs have been passed down from generation to generation such as 'civility costs nothing' or 'courtesy demands reciprocity' and so on. For instance, there is an interesting short story. Once upon a time, a man went on a long tour to visit his friend with a swan as a gift. But it escaped from the cage on the way and in his effort to catch it, he got hold of nothing but a feather. Instead of returning home, he continued his journey with the swan feather. When his friend received this unexpected gift, he was deeply moved by the story as well as the sincerity. And the saying 'the gift is nothing much, but it's the thought that counts.' was spread far and wide.

Chinese used to cup one hand in the other before the chest as a salute. This tradition has a history of more than 2000 years and nowadays it is seldom used except in the Spring Festival. And shaking hands is more popular and appropriate on some formal occasions. Bowing, as to convey respect to the higher level, is often used by the lower like subordinates, students, and attendants. But at present Chinese youngsters tend to simply nod as a greeting. To some extent this evolution reflects the ever-increasing paces of modern life.

It is common social practice to introduce the junior to the senior, or the familiar to the unfamiliar. When you start a talk with a stranger, the topics such as weather, food, or hobbies may be good choices to break the ice. To a man, a chat about current affairs, sports, stock market or his job can usually go on smoothly. Similar to Western customs, you should be cautious to ask a woman private questions. However, relaxing talks about her job or family life will never put you into danger. She is usually glad to offer you some advice on how to cook Chinese food or get accustomed to local life. Things will be quite different when you've made acquaintance with them. Implicit as Chinese are said to be, they are actually humorous enough to appreciate the exaggerated jokes of Americans.

As is said above, Chinese consider gifts as an important part to show courtesy. It is appropriate to give gifts on occasions such as festival, birthday, wedding, or visiting a patient. If you are invited to a family party, small gifts like wine, tea, cigarettes, or candies are welcomed. Also fruit, pastries, and flowers are a safe choice. As to other things, you should pay a little attention to the cultural differences. Contrary to Westerners, odd numbers are thought to be unfortunate. So wedding gifts and birthday gifts for the aged are always sent in pairs for the old saying goes that blessings come in pairs. Though four is an even number, it reads like death in Chinese thus is avoided. So is pear for being a homophone of separation. And a gift of clock sounds like attending other's funeral so it is a taboo, too. As connected with death and sorrow, black and white are also the last in the choice. Gift giving is unsuitable in public except for some souvenirs. Your good intentions or gratitude should be given priority to but not the value of the gifts. Otherwise the receiver may mistake it for a bribe.

Business Manners

As more and more foreign corporations and individuals go to tap the Chinese market, it is better to know some Chinese practices in business contacts and negotiation beforehand.

When the establishment of initial business contacts is referred, introduction letters may be the first ready answer for those who are familiar with the old system of planned economy. The purchasing agent had to take an introduction letter made out by the factory director when getting into touch with other factories. After the policy of opening to the outside world was adopted, more convenient ways emerged. You can establish contacts by phone, fax, email and more and more Chinese corporations have set up their own websites. After the first phase, an investigation to the company in person may show your sincerity to cooperate.

When negotiation is entered, the right of decision-making often depends on who are present at the meeting. In most cases, verbal communications are enough. Too many gestures may leave others an impression of arrogance. As to eye contact, when you speak, looking into others' eyes will do, for cultural differences puts a limit on it. And you'd better not take the Chinese nod for agreement; it's only a sign that they are listening attentively. Chinese prefer formal meetings, but after that is usually a dinner together to show their hospitality. However some Westerners think it a waste at public expense. One piece of advice may be 'Do as the Chinese do.' When you become acquaintance with the Chinese partner, a private lunch meeting or dinner at home is a good opportunity to know each other.

In China you should not be surprised to see many business women taking up positions like director, general manager, president and etc. They play such an important role in the society as to 'prop up half of the sky.' Generally speaking, career women demand no more respect than men. But they will particularly appreciate the gentlemanly manners.

Chinese think punctuality is a virtue and try to practice it especially in the business world. Chinese usually tend to come a bit earlier to show their earnestness. And it would not be regarded as being late if you come within 10 minutes.

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The Forbidden City

Brief History

The Forbidden City, also called the Palace Museum, the Purple Forbidden City or Gugong Museum in Chinese, is located in the center of Beijing, China. The Forbidden City was built between 1406 and 1420 during the Ming Dynasty. It had been the imperial home of 24 emperors of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. From their throne in the Forbidden City, they governed the country by holding court sessions with their ministers, issuing imperial edicts and initiating military expeditions.

After the republican revolution in 1911, the youngest and last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, then still a child, abdicated the next year. But he, his family and their entire entourage were allowed to stay in the palaces. They were finally expelled by republican troops in 1924. It has been the Palace Museum to the public since 1950. The Forbidden City is one of the largest and best-preserved palace complexes in the world. There are over a million rare and valuable objects in the Museum.

Overall View

I have gathered a lot of beautiful pictures of the Forbidden City on the Internet, though they are only a glimpse of the Forbidden City. I'll guide you through those pictures part by part in this tour on the Net.

Here is a map of the Forbidden city. The square-shaped Forbidden City is surrounded by a man-made moat, called the protective river of the city, and a high red wall (about 35 feet or 11 meters in height). The Forbidden City, like most other Chinese buildings, faces south. It has two Courts, the Inner Court and the Outer Court, separated around the middle line between the south and north ends. The Outer Court mainly consists of the Hall of Protective Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony, and the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The Inner Court mainly consists of the Hall of Heavenly Purity, the Hall of Union and Peace, and the Hall of Earthly Peace, which are flanked by the Six East Palaces and the Six West Palaces. Here are maps in English, Chinese GB, and Chinese Big5, which show the detailed layout of the Forbidden City, from China Vista.

Outer Court

The Meridian Gate is viewed from inside the Forbidden City, which is the main gate at the Southern end (the front) of the Forbidden City.

Here is one of the four watch towers on each corner of the wall surrounding the Forbidden City.

The Gate of Supreme Harmony is viewed from the front. Here is a little closer look of the Gate of Supreme Harmony. If you are interested in detail, here is a gold leaf of dragon on the door of the Gate of Supreme Harmony. The ceiling of the Gate of Supreme Harmony is the largest free-standing gate in the Forbidden City. There is a square between the Meridian Gate and the Gate of Supreme Harmony, used for lining up of guards before important ceremonies. The five bridges represent the five Confucian virtues of humanity, sense of duty, wisdom, reliability and ceremonial propriety.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony, also referred to as the throne, was the place for important ceremonies like the enthronement of the crown prince, the emperor's birthday celebrations, and the initiation of military expeditions. This bronze turtle is onf of the symbols of longevity. Yellow tile roofs were adorned with dragons.

The Hall of Central Harmony is the resting place of the emperors before major ceremonies or receiving officials. Here is a different angle of the Hall of Central Harmony.

The Hall of Protective Harmony is the place for the emperors giving banquets and interviewing those passed the imperial examinations. This is the emperor's throne.

Inner Court

Here is the front chamber of the Hall of Heavenly Purity.

The Hall of Union and Peace had been used for the safekeeping of 25 jade seals of the imperial court since Emperor Qianlong's reign. Here is the throne in the Hall of Union and Peace.

The Hall of Earthly Peace was the residence of the empress. As a custom, the red screen with golden "double-happiness" characters in the Eastern gallery was used in front of the entrance of the chamber.

The Imperial Garden was built in 1417. Here are a few pictures of the Imperial Garden from China Vista:

Eastern Palaces and More

The Hall of Preserved Elegance is one of the six Eastern Palaces. The Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies is a three-story building and the largest of its kind in the Forbidden City.

The Garden of the Palace of Peaceful Longevity is located in the Western rear corner of the Palace of Peaceful Longevity.

The six Western palaces are symmetrical to the six Eastern palaces.

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Jade Culture (Yu in Chinese pinyin)

Jade (Yu in Chinese pinyin) was defined as beautiful stones by Xu Zhen (about 58-147) in Shuo Wen Jie Zi, the first Chinese dictionary. Jade is generally classified into soft jade (nephrite) and hard jade (jadeite). Since China only had the soft jade until jadeite was imported from Burma during the Qing dynasty (1271-1368), jade traditionally refers to the soft jade so it is also called traditional jade. Jadeite is called Feicui in Chinese. Feicui is now more popular and valuable than the soft jade in China.

The history of jade is as long as the Chinese civilization. Archaeologists have found jade objects from the early Neolithic period (about 5000 BC), represented by the Hemudu culture in Zhejian Province, and from the middle and late Neolithic period, represented by the Hongshan culture along the Lao River, the Longshan culture along the Yellow River, and the Liangzhu culture in the Tai Lake region.

Jade has been ever more popular till today.

The Chinese love jade because of not only its beauty, but also more importantly its culture, meaning and humanity, as Confucius (551 BC - 479 BC) said there are 11 De (virtue) in jade. The following is the translation (don't know the translator):

'The wise have likened jade to virtue. For them, its polish and brilliancy represent the whole of purity; its perfect compactness and extreme hardness represent the sureness of intelligence; its angles, which do not cut, although they seem sharp, represent justice; the pure and prolonged sound, which it gives forth when one strikes it, represents music. Its color represents loyalty; its interior flaws, always showing themselves through the transparency, call to mind sincerity; its iridescent brightness represents heaven; its admirable substance, born of mountain and of water, represents the earth. Used alone without ornamentation it represents chastity. The price that the entire world attaches to it represents the truth. To support these comparisons, the Book of Verse says: "When I think of a wise man, his merits appear to be like jade."'

Thus jade is really special in Chinese culture, also as the Chinese saying goes "Gold has a value; jade is invaluable."

Because jade stands for beauty, grace and purity, it has been used in many Chinese idioms or phrases to denote beautiful things or people, such as Yu Jie Bing Qing (pure and noble), Ting Ting Yu Li (fair, slim and graceful) and Yu Nv (beautiful girl). The Chinese character Yu is often used in Chinese names.

Jade Stories
There are Chinese stories about jade. The two most famous stories are He Shi Zhi Bi (Mr. He and His Jade) and Wan Bi Gui Zhao (Jade Returned Intact to Zhao). Bi also means jade. He Shi Zhi Bi is a story about the suffering of Mr. He when he presented his raw jade to the kings again and again. The raw jade was eventually recognized as an invaluable jade and was named after Mr. He by Wenwang, the king of the Chu State (about 689 BC). Wan Bi Gui Zhao is a follow-up story of the famous jade. The king of the Qin State, the most powerful state during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), tempted to exchange the jade from the Zhao State using his 15 cities, but he failed. The jade was returned to the Zhao State safely. Thus jade is not only invaluable, but also the symbol of power in the ancient time.
And it is interesting to note that the Supreme Deity of Taoism has the name, Yuhuang Dadi (the Jade Emperor).

Jade was made into sacrificial vessel, tools, ornaments, utensils and many other items. There were ancient music instruments made out of jade, such as jade flute, yuxiao (a vertical jade flute) and jade chime. Jade was also mysterious to the Chinese in the ancient time so jade wares were popular as sacrificial vessels and were often buried with the dead. To preserve the body of the dead, Liu Sheng, the ruler of the Zhongshan State (113 BC) was buried in the jade burial suit composed of 2,498 pieces of jade, sewn together with gold thread.

Jade culture is very rich in China. We have only touched the surface of it. In conclusion, jade symbolizes beauty, nobility, perfection, constancy, power, and immortality in Chinese culture.

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Live in Style - The Fashionable Life of Beijing Youth

Hao Zhuo.

The Chinese youth, especially the white collars in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, now form a fashion of seeking stylish life. To them, grace is something that needs guidance, since it connects with not individuals but social atmosphere. With times' development, the distinction between grace and fashion has been blurred out. Long hair can be graceful, skinniness can be graceful, and acting cool can also be graceful. Grace has actually been nothing but a wish.

The fashionable youth would have their breakfast in McDonald's. Sitting near a window, they can feel the warm sunshine in winter. Young ladies think it worthy to buy those famous brands on sale, and a silk scarf or long socks will add to their femininity. Theaters are an often-visited place since modern operas and ballet are graceful. In the afternoon if they have spare time, Starbark is a good place to enjoy coffee and loneliness. When dining with strangers, they would tell the waiter to bring a glass of water, or of course, it is also a proper choice when they cannot read a French menu. The magazine Fashion is in style, just as their life. But do not read it in subways, or join any activities the magazine holds, for they are out of style. Most of all, do not let others know they buy things under its guidance, which is the least graceful. They would always go shopping in the Xiushui market, even window-shopping sometimes. With the most fashionable wearing and ornaments there, they can be sensitive to the prevailing trends.

As to entertainment, most of them seem to be able to play tennis very well for it is a noble sport. And their favorite TV program is Channel V; it is out of style to stick to long TV series. They prefer their talk mingled with some English words rather than speak English. And the reasons can be explained like this, Eh, this is because...I don't know the word in Chinese...very truebred.

The above is only a picture of the fashionable life of Beijing youth, and some feature stores and bars are introduced here to provide a better understanding for you.

Beijingers refer to Sanlitun Road as the 'Golden Street,' which may have as much to do with the price of real estate as the fact that business is booming there. Sanlitun Road must account for about 75% of the bar-cafes in town. Jazz Ya is an enormous place and one of the busiest nightspots in Beijing. The official address is 18 Sanlitun Rd, although it's actually hidden in a small alley just to the east of the main road. It's open 10:30am to 2am and may be the first bar related with jazz in Beijing. Nearby, Dai Sy's Pub at 48 Sanlitun Rd is a very popular place and has outdoor tables. It opens early and is a good spot for lunch and dinner. Maggie's Bar on Xinyuan Rd is the place to go if you want to stay out all night--operating hours are typically from 6pm to 5am. Among these bars, Loft has an original name. A smart guy didn't translate it as Warehouse in Chinese, but A Coolness-hidden place, which coincides the same Chinese pronunciation with Warehouse. It is designed with a postmodern style; people sit in the open while trees are grown in glass houses. This interesting place can be found at 14 Jianwai Street. Near Beijing University, there is a coffee shop called Carving Time, which is beloved by many college students.

An old bookshelf takes up a whole wall, with the shopkeeper's favorite books, movies, pictures on it. At 17 Dongdaqiao Street in Chaoyang District, there sits a small shop of classic beauty. Several red lanterns are hung from the eaves, and on the old-fashioned door a red silk curtain is put on which embroidered Green Pheonis & Red Dragon, the name of the shop. It is a tailor's shop makes clothes to order. There is a shop called Grass-eater's, which sells products of genuine cattle hide made by hand.

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Korea: Anti-prostitution law gets makeover for second birthday

September 23 was the second birthday of the Special Law on Prostitution, whose positive effects are still hotly contested, though the law has had one clear effect: sending massive numbers of Korean sex-workers abroad.

The government will attempt to tackle the problem by restricting or revoking the passports of people deemed to hurt the nation with their overseas antics, and there are to be reforms in the law to allow punishment for soliciting and thus reduce the number of cases that have to be dropped.

The amendments, unveiled Wednesday, include tougher punishment for those found participating in the sex trade and greater curbs on pimps.

They provide for the revocation of passports, closing down so-called sports massage and leisure rooms if found offering sexual services, punishment for owners of buildings were such services are offered, requiring massage parlors to use open rooms, increasing rewards for whistleblowers, and punishment for attempted prostitution.

The definition of sex will be changed to accommodate stimulation of the genital organs with hands and feet.

The reforms were decided at a meeting on Tuesday between the ministries of justice, gender equality and family, and foreign affairs.

The Ministry of Gender Equality released the results of a survey on the nation's sexual culture and awareness to coincide with the law's second anniversary.

It found that 49 percent of men said they had a sexual encounter with a prostitute, and of those, 85 percent said they had desisted after the enactment of the Special Law. But three out of 10 Koreans (27.2 percent) said they think the sex industry in Korea will continue to grow despite the law. Asked what specific threats the sex industry poses, 59.1 percent cited the peril to the nation's youth, 48.8 percent said an increase in sex crimes and 30.6 percent collapse of families.

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Jewish sex sites answer pornography

Baruch Gordon

As the internet pornography industry earns billions of dollars, attracting men and women for millions of hours, 3 new sex sites call on Jews to change their habits ahead of the Rosh Hashana holiday.

"Torah, Kabbalah, and Sex" appear atop the homepage of JewishSexuality.com. The site, run by former Hollywood screenwriter and author Tzvi Fishman, features an abridged version of his latest book on spirituality and sex.

His book, which is scheduled to be published in October, tackles lofty Torah secrets dealing with Jewish sexuality in its purist form and spells them out in a down-to-earth readable style.

The site features a section entitled For Married Men Only and unabashedly puts on the table subjects such as masturbation, sexual fantasies, how to rectify previous wrongdoings, sexual health and "Keys to a Holy Union." Fishman quotes sources pointing to the paramount importance of engaging in marital intimacy on Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath.

The "Jewish Holidays" section was added this week, and will include articles about each of the upcoming festivals.

The second website, www.tikunhabrit.com, brings sources on sexual purity from all over the Jewish and secular world about the nature of the problem,

as well as practical advice on how to control it, with a particular focus on the dangers of Internet pornography. After testing several Pornography Filters, the site owners chose a free filter as their top choice.

Dedicated to preserving the holiness of the Jewish nation, the third website, www.briskodesh.org, presents a long lineup of kabbalah-related articles on the prohibition of masturbation. The site offers many of the original kabbalistic texts on this "incredibly important facet of observance" for download in PDF format.

For many people, talk of sexual purity smacks of Catholic repression and prohibitive asceticism, and conjures up images of an angry God who wants to torture his subjects with temptation. But a closer look at the sources quoted in the three new sites reveals that Judaism blazes the trail in highlighting sexuality as a powerful tool through which one can reach the highest levels of holiness and connection with God.

When channeled in the wrong ways and performed against spelled-out guidelines, the same awesome power leads to depression and spiritual destruction.

While sexual spiritual health is probably amongst the least mentioned topics in Rabbi's sermons, the three sites unanimously declare that it is the gateway to a sound marriage and improving one's relationship with G-d.

The three sites promote a new awareness of this essential tenet of Judaism. The sites' authors note that the prohibition against masturbation is virtually ignored in most Jewish day schools and yeshivot.

In today's world, where erotic images are always around the corner or a few mouse clicks away, the challenge to restrain oneself is the greatest it has ever been. Studies show that pornographic images are so compelling and difficult to resist that their addictive effects have been compared to crack-cocaine.

According to a study quoted on tikunhabrit.com, the largest viewers of pornographic material in the general public are 12-17 year-old boys. As many as 10% of men admit they are addicted to internet pornography. Religious men, according to surveys, are just as likely to stumble into this realm as are their non-religious counterparts.

Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, Dean of the prestigious Ramat Gan Yeshiva, agrees. He estimates that amongst religious men with home internet access, 80-97% will occasionally seek out pornographic sites.

"Being open-minded and on the cutting edge of technology has a certain value," admits Rabbi Shapira. "But let's be honest: would anyone bring a prostitute into his home to tutor his children even if she were a talented math teacher?"

Rabbi Shapira recommends avoiding the internet except 1) for work and 2) with a content filter installed. "And like the laws of yichud, never use the internet while alone in the room," he adds.

As the Jewish New Year approaches, Jews will print tens of thousands of pages of Torah articles for perusal over the two-day holiday. The three Jewish sexual spirituality sites promise to engage Jews in new Torah understandings on the most sensitive of topics.

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Pakistan: Marginalised male sex workers vulnerable to HIV/AIDS

Lahore - Under the illuminated Minar-e-Pakistan, the towering monument that marks the birth of the country, Pervaiz Din lays out the accessories of his trade. The tiny bottles of massage oil and aromatic colognes tinkle cheerfully as he pulls them out of a cloth bag and sets them out on a tray. Through much of the balmy September night, Pervaiz will await customers who seek a soothing roadside massage, a head rub - or something more."Some nights I get lucky. I get two or even three 'good customers' and I return home happy," Pervaiz tells IRIN.

The 'good' customers he refers to are men who seek sex and will pay less than US $8 or so for a few hours with Pervaiz. They also pay for the room usually rented out in a cheap, 'bazaar' hotel, although some take him to the rooms or apartments in which they live.

"I have some 'regulars' who drop by several times a month. They really enjoy my services," Pervaiz said.

Pervaiz is one of the hundreds of male sex workers (MSWs) in Lahore, the teeming capital of the Punjab province, and with a population of 8 million Pakistan's second largest city after Karachi. Beneath its lush trees, and the domes and minarets of the Mughal buildings scattered across its older parts, scores of MSWs operate.

Although the precise number of men who have sex with men (MSM) in Lahore is unknown, according to the Pakistan National AIDS Programme, on the basis of findings by international agencies in 2002, they number around 38,000.

This number includes male transsexuals or 'hijras', who live in large family groups and have devised their own, unique system of leadership, inter-marriage and complex rituals, and a significant number of masseurs, like Pervaiz, who can be found in many parts of Lahore and other major cities, congregating at selected spots as dusk falls each evening.

The vast grounds surrounding the Minar-e-Pakistan and the banks of the city's canal are two of their favourite places.

While such behaviour is strictly illegal, homosexuality is fairly widespread in Pakistan. Under the country's Islamic laws, sodomy carries a penalty of whipping, imprisonment or even death - but the fact on the ground is that it is also for the large part silently accepted.

This uncomfortable compromise means there are strongly entrenched taboos about talking publicly about sex between men, and the result is that levels of awareness about the risk of HIV infection among male sex workers is extremely low.

The social marginalisation of communities such as the hijras and the fact that few male sex workers have access to healthcare or contact with awareness-raising programmes, makes them all the more vulnerable.

"There are groups working with women prostitutes and helping them, but no one offers to help us. We are social outcasts," maintained Hanif, a friend of Pervaiz and also a MSW. He refused to give his full name.

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), at the end of 2005 Pakistan had a total of between only 70,000 to 80,000 HIV-infected persons, from a population of 150 million. As such the prevalence rate is low (0.1 percent).

However, the World Bank, UNAIDS and other international agencies have consistently pointed out that because of the existence of various high-risk behaviours, coupled with a lack of awareness, and the fact that 50 percent of the population remains illiterate, the possibilities of a full-blown epidemic remain very real. Among the behaviours considered to be high-risk is sex between men.

UNAIDS reports that according to a study conducted in 2005, HIV prevalence was 4 percent among MSWs and 2 percent among hijras. Other sexually transmitted diseases occurred far more frequently, again suggesting a high risk of HIV infection.

The AIDS Prevention Association of Pakistan (APAP) has been working over the past several years to raise awareness about AIDS. To do so, it has set up camps at the shrines of 'Sufi' (traditional religious preachers) saints, where hijras, eunuchs and MSWs traditionally gather, especially during festivities held to mark birth anniversaries.

"Currently, we are focusing on young people at seminary schools, where male-to-male sex is known to occur," explained Dr Hamid Bhatti at APAP. The organisation is also attempting to take AIDS awareness outside major cities and is working in smaller towns, such as Okara.

The challenge will inevitably be a long one though. Despite a heightened commitment by the government of Pakistan to combating AIDS, levels of awareness remain low - while social taboos mean that marginalised communities, such as MSWs, remain most at risk of falling victim to an infection that is feared could assume the proportions of an epidemic in the years to come.

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'America's Sexiest Newscaster,' a Filipina

Perry Hagopian

Florida-based WSVN-Channel 7's Elita Loresca won the title ''America's Sexiest Newscaster'' in an online vote by readers of FHM magazine. Loresca is pictured in the October issue - in rather revealing attire.

''Elita has done more than Ace Ventura to protect South Florida,'' the magazine quips. ``And she has also done it with a better figure than Al Roker.''

Loresca, 29, born in the Philippines, is a former obit writer for The Orange County Register, FHM says.
Among Loresca's quotes: "People in Miami embrace curves. . . . Here, I can wear a cute sweater and still be professional.''

She also talks about getting hired at Channel 7. 'When I auditioned, they wanted to know if I could deal with anything thrown my way -- then we had hurricanes every week for my first six weeks. I repeated stuff I heard the night before on The Weather Channel; I'd mention `northeast quadrant' because it sounded smart. I even went to the bookstore and got a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weather.''From the Q & A:

Is life in the newsroom like Anchorman?''It is so like Anchorman. To people watching, everything you see looks professional. They don't know what happens on set. This morning we were singing Nelly Furtado's Promiscuous before we cut to a breaking story about President Bush talking about North Korea.''Courtesy FHM

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The Impact of Your Name - Your Name Could Be Your Biggest Hurdle


Giving your kid a unique name is the hot new thing in Hollywood. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin named their firstborn Apple. Jason Lee gave his son the name Pilot Inspektor--that's not a misspelling, it's spelled with a "k." Earlier this month, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes posed for Vanity Fair with their uniquely named daughter, Suri.

Unusual names -- like Shabita and Shakira -- are also big in the black community.

Watch "20/20," Friday Night at 10

"Thirty percent of black baby girls in a given year in California have a name that no one else has," said Roland Fryer, an economist and assistant professor at Harvard University, who has taken a special interest in uniquely black names.

"White names tend to be things like Molly," Fryer said. "We had 16 million names in California. We only had six black Mollys and not one white Lakisha. Some of the blacker names tend to be things like Aida. Reginald is a very black name."

This matters because studies of resumes have found that people with black-sounding names are less likely to get callbacks.

Putting Names to the Test

In 2004, "20/20" brought together a group of young black professionals who doubted that the black-sounding names on their resumes made a difference. We put 22 pairs of names to the test, posting identical resumes, with the only difference being the name.

Since the content of the resumes was identical, it would make sense that they'd get the same attention. However, the resumes with the white-sounding names were actually downloaded 17 percent more often by job recruiters than the resumes with black-sounding names.

"You really never know why you don't get called back for that interview. I thought it's because of my job skills. But I never thought it was because of my name," said Tremelle, a participant in the study.

Jack Daniel, a professor of communication at the University of Pittburgh, has done research that shows both white and black children prefer white-sounding names.

Daniel asked a group of 4- and 5-year-old children a series of questions. The children were asked to answer the questions based solely on names. For example, "Who is the smartest, Sarah or Shaniqua?"

"Sarah," one boy answered.

Daniel asked, "Who would you like to play with, Tanisha or Megan?"

"Megan," another child said.

Daniel asked, "Who took the bite out of your sandwich? Do you think it was Adam or Jamal?"

Another boy said, "Jamal."

Inferring From a Name

Why do we discriminate based on names? It may not be about race but instead what some names signal about a person's background.

"A distinctively black name tells us that a person typically comes from a neighborhood that has higher poverty, lower income, more likely to have teen mothers, et cetera," Fryer said.

There's new research that shows names may even tell us about more than just social background; a name may affect future decisions about marriage and career.

Psychologist Brett Pelham, who has studied hundreds of thousands of names, said they can significantly affect your life, even what profession you enter. He says it's probably not just chance that a man named Nathan "Leeper" became a high jumper.

"It's probably not a coincidence that of all the opportunities he [Leeper] had as a great athlete, that's the one that he stuck with," Pelham said.

His research shows that an unusual number of people named Dennis become dentists, and if you're named George you're more likely to become a geologist.

So do names even influence whom people pick to marry?

Pelham said, according to his research, yes. "My work has shown very clearly that people are disproportionately likely to marry other people, to want to befriend other people if their names resemble the name of the person making the decision."

He said it's no coincidence that Tom Cruise dated Penelope Cruz, or that Paris Hilton was once engaged to Paris Latsis.

On one level, it might seem wrong to make decisions based on names. "At another level, people like their names. And the biggest symbol of who you are, in fact, is your name, and if you feel good about yourself and your name, you will feel good about anything that even vaguely resembles your name," Pelham added.

It's why he said people named Georgia are disproportionately more likely than other women to move to the state of Georgia

"It seems dumb. It seems like a crazy reason. But at another level, why not choose Georgia over Virginia? Because she is constantly surrounded by reminders of something that she loves, namely herself," Pelham said.

Avoiding Bad Names

Pelham says names can have a negative impact, as well.

"My cousin Dinky -- not going to become the CEO of a major corporation," he said.

So should parents steer away from being clever when naming their children?

"Advice to parents: It might seem cool to give your kid a unique name. But there are many, many more disadvantages to doing that than advantages," Pelham said.

That's why Pelham named his son Lincoln, which has positive associations with Abraham Lincoln.

Pelham said, "[People] associate that name with compassion and care, which is exactly what I wanted."

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