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                              Gaining back motion   After a stroke     Back to  News and Gossip Pages;     
Researchers: Special program helps survivors’ stricken limb     
        Junly 1 —  Doctors have had little to offer stroke survivors who lost the use of an arm. Now Alabama scientists report that patients can regain some movement with special intense rehabilitation — forcing them to use the bad arm by tying down the good one — that may help the stroke-damaged brain actually rewire itself. Surprisingly, even patients who had strokes years ago improved.     
‘We are, we believe, rewiring the brain.’
University of Alabama          “THIS OFFERS HOPE that people can get better ... months and years after the damage has occurred,” said Harvard Medical School neurologist Dr. Seth Finklestein.
      But the study, published Thursday in the journal Stroke, has broader ramifications: It’s another illustration of how the brain adapts after injury better than scientists once thought, part of doctors’ ultimate quest to one day spur that repair process.
      “We are on the brink of a revolution in rehabilitation,” predicts study author Dr. Edward Taub of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, whose brain tests measured an almost doubling of active brain circuitry governing patients’ stroke-weakened arms. “We are, we believe, rewiring the brain.”
      Other experts cautioned that while the rehab did help patients, more proof is needed of just what’s happening in the brain. The National Institutes of Health has a similar study under way to answer that question.       
Are you at risk for a stroke?
      Doctors once believed the brain was basically hard-wired by early childhood, with certain areas programmed to do certain functions, functions forever lost if cells were destroyed.
      But a series of recent discoveries uncovered that the adult brain is remarkably more flexible. Now scientists know the brain continually adapts and reorganizes itself, a condition called “plasticity.” For example, brain scans of blind Braille readers show the brain region normally responsible for vision essentially gets taken over by the sense of touch as their fingers race across Braille text.
      The question becomes how well adaptation occurs after injury and whether doctors might help spur it along.
      Many stroke victims do improve with time — younger patients with smaller strokes have the best chance. Yet for today’s more than 4 million stroke survivors, if immediate treatment didn’t help their movement, “the common knowledge is to think there’s nothing that can be done,” said Dr. Leonardo Cohen, whose NIH laboratory is conducting a similar rehab study.       
      Taub’s study suggests intense rehab of the weakened arm helped the brain reorganize itself to compensate for stroke damage.
      Patients had to have some residual arm movement to try the therapy. Taub tied down each patient’s good arm. Then for six hours a day for 12 days, patients repeated arm exercises, like picking up objects or spooning food.
      At first, forcing the arm to move is terribly hard. “I had to really bear down to get it to do anything,” said 65-year-old James Faust of Calera, Ala., who tested Taub’s therapy two years after a stroke left his arm “hanging like a rope.”
      Then, “one day it just looked like somebody had flipped a switch. My right arm was doing things I was not able to do prior.” Today Faust eats, handles lawn equipment and does other everyday activities with his once disabled arm.   
        Taub’s previous studies in more than 150 patients, including Faust, suggested improved arm motion, but many stroke experts remained skeptical. So his new study mapped the brain function of 13 additional patients.
      Before rehab, the area of the cerebral cortex that controls hand movement was much smaller on the brain’s stroke-damaged side. After treatment, active circuitry on the stroke-damaged side almost doubled, an effect that lasted at least six months, Taub reported Thursday.
      Did the area’s surviving neurons form new circuits, or did forcing arm movement merely reawaken stroke-numbed circuits?
      “We don’t really know,” cautioned stroke expert Dr. Gregory del Zoppo of the Scripps Research Institute. “But what it implies overall is there’s a potential for recovery that’s already present and isn’t being tapped.”
                       Older adults and sex        Back to  News and Gossip Pages;
No matter who you are, your age affects your sexual response. As men and women get older, incremental physical and emotional changes can make maintaining intimacy and sexual satisfaction more challenging. If you and your partner can understand and adjust to the age-related changes that occur at mid-life and beyond, you'll strengthen your relationship and ensure that your sexual self remains vital and active for as long as you live.
Changes in Male Sexual Response
Prostate changes. The prostate gland contracts during sexual climax, contributing to the sensation of the male orgasm. By the time a man reaches age 50, his prostate loses elasticity and produces less semen and expels it with less force during ejaculation. At age 60, many men ejaculate only one out of every two or three times they have intercourse. The good news is that such prostate changes can allow a man to prolong sexual stimulation prior to orgasm and to more easily control his climax to correspond to that of his partner, something younger men find more difficult.
Erection changes. Just thinking about sex can cause a young man to become aroused. However, by age 40, erections usually require some direct physical stimulation. Also, men in their later years may need a day or two before they are able to maintain an erection again. In addition, men with conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, that compromise blood flow to the extremities sometimes find that the circumference of the penis during erection is slightly diminished as a result. These conditions also can cause true impotence and lack of erection. Medications commonly prescribed to older men can have these same effects, as well.
Testosterone changes. While testosterone levels in some men can decrease over time, it is not an inevitable aspect of aging. Men who feel a diminished sexual drive almost always have another factor at work—stress, a medical condition, or a medication that reduces their interest in sex. A small percentage of men will benefit from taking testosterone medication to increase their sex drive, but such therapy will not enhance erections or heighten the ability to achieve or intensify orgasm.
Changes in Female Sexual Response
Hormonal changes. Women go through menopause when their ovaries signal the end of the childbearing years by decreasing their output of the hormone estrogen. For some, the experience is hardly noticeable—they just stop menstruating. For others, accompanying symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings and painful intercourse (due to changes in the vagina) make menopause more difficult. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can alleviate many of these symptoms. The good news is that a woman's sexual drive actually may rise as estrogen levels decrease, allowing androgens (a male-like hormone) to play a larger role in sexual response. And, without the worry of pregnancy after menopause, many women discover a sexual freedom they've never had before.
Vaginal changes. All women experience a gradual thinning of their vaginal tissue beginning in menopause. Tissue in the vaginal wall thins and vaginal lubrication diminishes or even disappears altogether. Both conditions can be significantly slowed down by HRT as menopause begins.
Physical Changes and Self-Image
In a society that idealizes the thin and flabless bodies of youth, accepting age-related physical changes in ourselves or in our partners can be difficult. However, couples that learn to accept these changes and focus instead on other aspects of their relationship can still enjoy physical closeness well into their 80s or 90s.
Other physical changes may be harder to reconcile in the bedroom. Arthritis can make lovemaking more difficult. People with advanced respiratory or cardiac disease may lack the physical stamina to engage in intercourse. People with such physical impairment can, however, look for ways to adjust their lovemaking technique to overcome any barriers their disabilities pose.
Ideas that Work:
Know what to expect. If your partner's sexual responsiveness to you slows a bit, or if either one of you notice that sexual climax takes longer now, accept it as a natural part of aging. Taking such changes personally or becoming embarrassed will only lead to inhibition and awkwardness—not ingredients for intimacy.
Talk it out. You may be uncomfortable having a clinical conversation about things you've never had to discuss before, but ignoring problems or pretending they will go away can only lead to resentment, misunderstanding, and, possibly, the quiet cessation of intimacy altogether.
Ask your doctor. Any physical changes—vaginal dryness, bouts of impotence, loss of sex drive—often can be corrected medically or through psychological counseling. For example, if you cannot achieve an erection due to some medical condition, you can have penile implants that will correct the problem. Or, if vaginal dryness makes intercourse painful or impossible, you can try over-the-counter products (such as Progestin, herbs). You may also want to talk to your doctor about beginning HRT to prevent dryness and other symptoms of menopause.
Seek out simple solutions. Men who have difficulty achieving an erection can suggest more manual stimulation or longer periods of foreplay to his partner. Women whose vaginal lubrication is insufficient can use a lubricant. The best choice is one that mimics natural vaginal secretions (e.g., K-Y Jelly). Petroleum-based products tend to lose their lubricating ability quickly during intercourse and will cause a condom to disintegrate if you are using one to protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
Be creative. If you associate intercourse and simultaneous orgasm with sexual success, you're setting yourself up to be disappointed and disillusioned. Explore new ways to give each other pleasure.
Keep fit. A strong heart, a responsive body, and a clear mind are the best sexual "insurance policies" you can have. Obesity, too much alcohol, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle are all prescriptions for a diminished or absent sexual response. Finding ways to remain fit together can increase your interest in each other and will bring you closer together.
Start dating again. Retirement is the perfect time to rediscover your partner. Take vacations to exotic places, take a picnic to the park, take up a new sport together—things you probably did when you were younger but stopped doing as your careers and children took priority in your lives.
You don't have to be alone. Later-life remarriages or romantic involvements are perfect opportunities to stimulate renewed interest in sensual pleasure. Certainly, grief over losing a partner should be given time to work itself out, but you can find self-rejuvenation and sexual adventure with someone new at any age.
Practicing "Safer Sex"
Many older adults reenter the dating scene following a divorce or the death of a spouse but may not realize what a significant threat that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) now pose. Also, some postmenopausal women may let down their guard when they no longer need to use their birth control method, which also might have offered protection against STDs.
It's important to know that older adults suffer from STDs, as well, and to know the extent of this danger. For example, about 20 percent of reported AIDS cases in 1995 were in people age 45 or older, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similarly, about 20 percent of Hepatitis B cases were in this same age population. Older adults with STDs are at risk for blindness, certain cancers, heart disease, or even death, without proper medical attention.
Don't become part of this STD epidemic. Outside of abstinence, here's what you can do:
Keep sex only within a monogamous relationship with someone who is STD-free.
Practice "safer sex." Use a male latex condom with a spermicide. But don't use oil-based lubricants, such as Vaseline; they can damage latex.
Limit your number of sexual partners. The more partners you have, the more you are at risk. If you have sex with several different partners, ask your doctor to check you for STDs every six months.
            Problems of Sexual   Desire and Activity        Back to News and Gossip Pages;         
By Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld
The scope of sex therapy as put forth by Masters and Johnson in 1970 included only what were considered functional problems. For men, this meant erection and ejaculation complaints. But sex therapists soon started hearing about a different kind of difficulty, this one having to do with "my partner wants too much (or too little) sex." Michael, for instance, is upset with his lover because ", she rarely wants sex. I go around angry at her and horny all the time." Barney, on the other hand, is upset with his lover because "she's always hounding me for sex. It's gotten so I'm almost afraid to come home." Edward and Janet are both upset because they rarely have sex even though they both miss and want it. "It's just that we're too busy and too tired; when one of us is in the mood, the other either isn't or is already asleep."
These kinds of problems, having to do with sexual appetite and activity, have become the most common issues brought to sex therapists in recent years. When you first hear about them, they sound easy to resolve. Surely Michael could just make do with less sex than he's used to and Barney could interest himself a little more often in order to make his wife happier. And certainly Edward and Janet could set aside a time each week when they'd both be awake and interested in making love.
Of course, some people do come up with these solutions on their own and make them work. Unfortunately, desire problems are often more complex than they seem on the surface and many people cannot work them out on their own. Their egos are involved, their feelings are hurt, and they find it difficult to even discuss the issues constructively with their partners, let alone make any changes. Yet with goodwill and some understanding of the kinds of things that might make one person want more or less sex, most of these complaints can be worked out.
              Age matter when you in love?         Back to News and Gossip Pages;     
Sexploration tackles your relationship issues
By Jennifer Kornreich
     July 6 —  If you’re burning for some answers to an emotional or sexual crisis, Sexploration is all ears. This week, columnist Jennifer Kornreich offers advice to couples who are grappling with generation gaps. Send your questions to    
No matter how mature (or immature) either partner is, vast differences in stage-of-life and cultural references still remain.
        SEXPLORATION is our forum for your most intimate questions about sex and relationships. You send in your sob stories, and Jennifer Kornreich, MSNBC’s sex-and-relationship columnist, attempts to dry the tears. Keep in mind, though: Jennifer is not a doctor. When she feels it’s necessary, she’ll point you in the proper professional direction.  
      Q1: I’m 26. When I met Bethany three months ago, I figured she was in her early 30s, which is an acceptable age difference. But after beginning our relationship, I learned that Bethany is actually 38. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have pursued her. We have a great time, but she’s itching to marry and have children. I’m too unstable to settle down right now. I’m also unsure about Bethany’s motives in seeing me: Am I her “boy-toy” or is she looking for someone to help her with her biological clock or is she really interested in me as a person? I want to do the right thing by Bethany, so I’ve told her I think I’m too young for her, since I’m not ready to get married (and by the time I am, it may be too late for her to have kids). But that makes her sad. What should I do?
      Q2: I’m seeing a 35-year-old man whom I adore. He’s responsible, funny, intelligent and mature. He seems to love me, too. But he wants children, which is out of the question for me since I’m 48 and have had a hysterectomy. I’m willing to enjoy this man for the time being, and I’ve prepared myself for eventual heartache. But are there 35-year-old guys out there who’ve wed women past childbearing age and who are actually happy with that decision?
      Q3: Yikes! I’m 31 and in love with a 73-year-old man. Is it possible for someone to be too old for you? I love Leonard, and I don’t want to move on. But all of my relatives and friends (and even Leonard himself) worry that I’m making a mistake.  
      A: I should begin this discussion by disclosing my own personal policy against pursuing ongoing relationships in which the age discrepancy exceeds a decade. That’s because no matter how mature (or immature) either partner is, vast differences in stage-of-life and cultural references still remain. And frankly, I don’t see how such differences wouldn’t interfere with allowing the couple to be peers in the truest sense of the word — and being peers seems a necessary prerequisite for an emotionally equitable relationship.
      In fact, many (not all) May-December or even May-September relationships seem based on each partner siphoning off power from the other: These are gross overgeneralizations, but it seems that typically the older partner gets someone with more youth, beauty, sexual stamina and energy, and benefits from the younger’s oh-gee-you’re-wise worship. The younger one more often than not gets someone with more financial resources, more sexual savvy and more been-there-done-that wisdom. Some people obviously defy these stereotypes, so look — it’s a free country, do what you want (provided it won’t make you guilty of statutory rape). But if you’re asking me if I personally think it makes for an ideal relationship? Nope, I don’t.    
E-mail Sexploration   
  If you’re burning for some astute answers to an emotional or sexual crisis, Sexploration columnist Jennifer Kornreich is all ears. Send her your questions at We’ll post selected answers in this column.
      But I realize that I have a narrow-minded view on this subject, so I’ve also grilled Victoria Houston, a researcher of age-different relationships and the author of the currently out-of-print “Loving a Younger Man: How Women Are Finding and Enjoying a Better Relationship.” Houston is 55, and has had experience with both older and younger men. Her second husband was a man nine years her junior, and they were married for 15 years (the demise of their marriage, she insists, had to do with factors other than age issues).
      In age-different relationships, Houston acknowledges, “power dynamics are often big issues. These issues are often tied intimately to how much life, sexual and work experience each partner has, as well as how much money each partner brings in.”   
Each partner’s stage of life and time-sensitive goals appear to be the lynchpin of the outcome of age-different relationships.
        Obviously, these differences are considerations with all couples, but they may be especially pronounced in couples with an age gap. The smaller the age discrepancy, the less likely that it will be a source of contention. Also, age gaps are dicier when the younger partner is in his or her 20s, which is essentially protracted adolescence, because very often enormous changes in identity happen during this decade. The difference between a 21-year-old, fresh out of college, and a 27-year-old professional is more formidable, I think, than that between a 30-year-old and a 42-year-old.
      Each partner’s stage of life and time-sensitive goals appear to be the lynchpin of the outcome of age-different relationships. A 36-year-old man who wants children within a few years and a 20-year-old woman who wants to backpack across Europe with her pals are probably not going to work out, no matter how much love they share.
      Read more Sexploration columns
      Now, for the specifics: Q1, surely you aren’t Bethany’s mere boy-toy — otherwise, rather than seeming sad when you tell her you can’t marry her yet, she would laugh at the absurdity of such a notion and command you to hop back in bed for the third time today. If she’s “itching” to settle down, then she obviously is looking for someone to ease the ticking of her biological clock. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t specifically love you, or that she’d settle for just anyone. Besides, I have news for you: even if she were several years younger, she might have been champing at the bit to wed and have some kids.
      Having expiration dates on your ovaries can try a gal’s patience. Then again, says Houston, after three months nobody should be pressuring anybody: “There’s no way he can know yet if he wants to be with her long-term, so if she’s pressuring him, that’s a red flag.” (I’d like to point out that there’s a difference between putting pressure on someone and seeing the writing on the wall).   
        So what should you do? Continue being upfront and honest, not only with Bethany but with yourself. Are you beginning to fall in love with her? If you can see some potential, ask her if she’s willing to take her chances and stick around. But if you happen to think she’s just a good egg, let her get hers fertilized by someone else while she still has a chance.
      Q2, we see your quandary. There are 35-year-old men who don’t mind marrying women past childbearing age, but they’re probably not hanging around street corners looking to pick up menopausal women. “The issue of having children can be a huge obstacle for age-different couples,” Houston says. But certainly, if kids are not a focus for the guy in question — for instance, if he’s already had children, or if he’s not kid-friendly — it’s less likely to be a big deal. But even your guy may decide a life with you is more important than your inability to bear him children.   
‘The issue of having children can be a huge obstacle for age-different couples.’
author, "Loving a Younger Man"          And listen, even if you were 25, there’s no guarantee that you (or he) would be fertile. Would you be averse to adopting a child if he could live with such a compromise?
      It seems to me that even if being a 60-year-old mom to a preteen isn’t what you envisioned for yourself, keeping an open mind about this avenue is preferable to “preparing” yourself for saying goodbye to someone you adore, especially if he would make a great husband and father.
      Finally, Q3: It may be politically incorrect to say, but yes, not only can someone be too old for you, but I think you and Leonard have cleared that margin many times over. You already know the inherent problems, but Houston will reiterate for you: “The overwhelming likelihood is that he’ll have serious health problems before she does, and as an active, healthy woman there will be certain things she can’t do with her husband.”
      Viagra will not permit Leonard to go skiing with you, nor will it prevent you from losing him at a relatively young phase of your relationship. And are you thinking about having children with him? If you are, you must be prepared to raise them as a single mother at some point. Then again, you must be prepared to tend to his sickbed at a much younger age than most of your friends will with their significant others.
      But you know this, and perhaps the downsides are worth it to you. So listen, what do you want, my blessing? Fine, mazel tov, go for it. But you might want to lower your expectations for your family’s and friends’ reactions. If you get them to be quietly tolerant and mind their own business, don’t stew that they’re not throwing you a ticker-tape parade.
      Ignore them, and just be glad that Leonard’s ticker is going strong, and that it beats for you.
      Jennifer Kornreich is a features writer in New York City.
       NOTE: Reader questions are edited for length and clarity.
                  Quit taking it personally        Back to News and Gossip Pages;     

A guide to dealing with life’s disappointments.
By Jeanne Lahaie
Name-calling and other types of negative feedback can be downright destructive--if you let them get the better of you. We all know they are just words, but how do you keep from taking them personally?
Your response to negative feedback in the workplace--or anywhere else--can determine its impact. So says Dr. Stan Dale, an inspirational speaker and director of the Human Awareness Institute in San Carlos, CA. “No one can ever reject you,” says Dale, “they can only say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to your requests. If you feel hurt or rejected, it may have something to do with how you feel about yourself. People who feel okay about themselves and are centered don’t put others down. They give a critical evaluation, and they want a win-win rather than a win-lose result.”
Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.
Why Me?
What happens when you’re faced with a problem that’s more serious that a simple put-down, such as a romantic break-up, getting fired, or even poor health? Many people make the mistake of thinking, “Why is this happening to me?” This sense of feeling victimized comes from taking things too personally, says Dale, whether you’re dealing with cancer or someone’s careless remark. You can avoid this feeling by cultivating compassion for yourself (and the perpetrator) and by looking for the positives in any situation.
“As long as you don’t feel like a victim, you can take every situation as a positive,” advises Dale. He should know. Dale was fired from his job as a radio announcer--an experience he calls “the biggest ‘A-Ha!’ I ever had.” Instead of plotting revenge, he talked with his [now former] boss to understand why he was fired. “I chose to listen. Everything is a choice. I didn’t allow myself to be victimized by it. I had to realize how I was contributing to the situation, and take responsibility for myself.”
Dr. Christiane Northrup, in her book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing (Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1998), echoes Dale’s sentiment. “If we fail to notice,” she says, “the ways in which we daily cooperate with the system that’s destroying us, we’re in danger of operating out of the perpetual-victim mode, always blaming someone ‘out there’ for our problems. For healing to occur, we must come to see that we are not so much responsible for our illnesses [or problems] as responsible to them.
“The healthiest people I know don’t take their diseases or even their lives too personally,” she continues. “They spend very little time beating themselves up about their illnesses, their life circumstances, or anything else. [They say] ‘I take full responsibility not for getting cancer in the first place, not for ultimately surviving it, but rather for the quality of the way I am responding to this bit of chaos thrown into my life.’”
All Cherries Have Pits
Chaos--or suffering--is a natural part of life, according to the Dalai Lama. As the Tibetan spiritual leader, who was ousted by the Chinese in 1949, writes in The Art of Happiness: a Handbook for Living (Riverhead Books, 1998): “When you experience some physical pain or other problem … there’s a feeling of rejection associated with the suffering, a kind of feeling of ‘Oh, I shouldn’t be experiencing this.’ But if you can look at the situation from another angle and realize that this very body … is the basis of suffering, then this reduces that feeling of rejection--the feeling that somehow you don’t deserve to suffer, that you are a victim. So, once you understand and accept this reality, then you experience suffering as something that is quite natural.”
And his co-author, Dr. Howard Cutler, goes further: “If we think of suffering as something unnatural, something that we shouldn’t be experiencing, then it’s not much of a leap to begin to look for someone to blame for our suffering. If I’m unhappy, then I must be the ‘victim’ of someone or something--an idea that’s all too common in the West. The victimizer may be the government, the educational system, abusive parents, a ‘dysfunctional family,’ the other gender, or our uncaring mate. Or we may turn blame inward: there’s something wrong with me. But the risk of continuing to focus on assigning blame and maintaining a victim stance is the perpetuation of our suffering--with persistent feelings of anger, frustration, and resentment.”
Learning to Shift Perspective
“If you look from a different angle,” says the Dalai Lama, “then surely the person who caused this anger in you will have a lot of other positive aspects, positive qualities. If you look carefully, you will also find that the act which has made you angry has also given you certain opportunities, something which otherwise would not have been possible from your point of view.”
In Stan Dale’s case, his opportunity became a new career helping people feel good about themselves. What will your opportunity be?
Some QTIPs for Work
Understand that there’s something positive in every negative experience. Rather than feeling victimized over the fact that you didn’t get that promotion, focus on what you can learn from the situation. You may find that you need to brush up on your skills or polish up your resume in preparation for a new job search. In that way, your disappointment becomes a stepping stone, not a roadblock.
Learn to have compassion for both yourself and your fellow workers. In a new position, for example, you may need a ramp-up period and you are bound to make mistakes. If those mistakes spark negative reactions from co-workers, understand that they are probably overworked, overwhelmed, and under-appreciated themselves. Use their comments as opportunities for establishing dialogue.
Stop seeing your problems at work as unnatural or isolated. Realize that it’s a natural part of the workplace to experience some negativity. It may sound strange, but you should use negativity to your advantage.
Jeanne Lahaie is a freelance contributor to
                         Airline luggage:        Back to News and Gossip Pages;     
Some advice on protecting your bags when you fly    
     By Peter Greenberg
     July 5 —  In airline jargon, they’re called “PAWOBS,” otherwise known as “passengers without bags.” You’ve seen them wandering aimlessly near baggage carousels at airports, waiting without hope for the luggage that never seems to arrive. And lately, with many airlines severely restricting the size and the number of carry-on bags, there seem to be a whole lot more lost bags out there.    
NBC “Today” show travel editor Peter Greenberg gives tips on safeguarding your luggage.
        NATURALLY, THE AIRLINES continue to argue about their improving track record. And on the surface, they might have a point. You may have read these figures in my last column, but they bear repeating, if only to provide perspective.
      According to the airlines, 97 percent of all lost or delayed bags are reunited with their owners within 24 hours. Of the remaining 3 percent, half of those are returned to their owners within 72 hours.    
      What about the missing 1.5 percent that never come back? That percentage, in very real numbers is: 435,000 totally lost bags. Suddenly those statistics don’t sound so upbeat.
      And while some airlines can claim that — as a percentage — they continue to lower the number of bags lost or delayed, those figures can be misleading. This is because passengers are now being forced to check more bags, due in no small part to some airlines installing bag sizers at security checkpoints. These devices are designed to limit the size of carry-on bags.
      (Ironically, the two airlines that started putting baggage sizers at security checkpoints to limit carry-on bags have seen their complaint percentages zoom. Delta’s nearly doubled, and complaints against United more than doubled, in the most recent report issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation.)     
      All this is happening when passenger service is bordering on oxymoronic status. Indeed, it’s not been a great year for the airlines.   
In my book, there are only two kinds of airline bags — carry-on and lost.
        For starters, passenger complaints against the major carriers have nearly doubled over last year. Not surprisingly, baggage is still on that complaint list.
     So beyond the war of statistics, what are your rights, and what — if anything — can you do to make sure your bags land at the same airport, and at the same time, as you do? Also, how can you protect the contents of your bags, as well as the bags themselves, from theft?
      Let’s start with the bags themselves. First, there’s a great deal of difference between portable and transportable. In my book, there are only two kinds of airline bags: carry-on and lost. Still, if you do any kind of serious traveling, you will have to check bags, so here are my tips.       
      For starters, realize that baggage conveyor belts are not your friends. They will eat, mangle and otherwise destroy anything left dangling on the outside of a bag.    
       Translation: Straps, hooks, even identification tags stand an excellent chance of being yanked from your bag.
      Advice: Clean up your bag before you get to the airport. Take anything — and everything — off the bag that can be pulled, caught or hooked.
      But what about luggage I.D. tags? The ones the airlines give you are purely ornamental and are almost begging to be stripped from the luggage.
      Instead, buy some heavy duty I.D. tags, and put two on each bag, attached to different parts of the bag, and not necessarily on the handle. (If the handle breaks, the tag slips off).       
      Now determine the real as well as emotional value of the contents of your bags.
      The good news is that recently the liability limits for damaging or losing your bag were raised to $2,500, but that figure needs to be put in perspective. Most travelers don’t realize that the $2,500 figure is based on “per incident,” not per bag, and it’s also based on depreciated value. And there are numerous exclusions for what the airline will not cover, including jewelry, furs and negotiable financial instruments.   
        For example, United airlines claims it “won’t be responsible for loss or damage to: fragile items, spoilage of perishables, loss/damage/delay of money, jewelry, cameras, electronic/video/photographic equipment, computer equipment, heirlooms, antiques, artwork, silverware, precious metals, negotiable papers/securities, commercial effects, valuable papers or other irreplaceable items.”
      Translation: You’ll never see anywhere near $2,500 if the airline loses your bags.
      On international flights, it’s even worse.
      Liability for loss, delay or damage to baggage is limited to approximately $9.07 per pound ($20 per kilogram) for checked baggage and $400 per passenger for unchecked baggage. Translation (using an internationally recognized word): You get bubkus. Still, if you file a claim you’ll need to provide receipts and dates of purchase for anything lost.       
      However, there’s a little known tactic you can also use when checking in your bags. The airlines don’t like to publicize this (in fact, they don’t publicize it) and would rather you didn’t know about something called “excess valuation.”   
The airlines would rather you didn’t know about “excess valuation.”
        Here’s how excess valuation works: For a charge that averages $1-2 per $100 of coverage (up to $5,000 of coverage over and above the standard $2,500 limit), the airline essentially insures the bag. You must request this extra insurance at the ticket counters — skycaps can’t accommodate you. Not all companies offer excess valuation, and yes, there are some exclusions here, too. But if you have the option and harbor any doubts about your bag’s arrival, then buy the coverage. It’s an excellent incentive for the airline to get your bag to your destination.
      So is your bag worth at least $50 to make sure it arrives on time and in good shape? In many cases, it’s worth a multiple of that.   
      Also, a growing number of passengers have simply given up depending on the airlines for their checked bags. So what do they do? They either courier their bags ahead of them or use one of the new services, like Virtual Bellhop, to do essentially the same thing. It can be expensive — typically $150-200 to FedEx two bags overnight, but if you value your time, it can actually be quite cost effective.     
      OK, so maybe you don’t want to spend the extra money for excess valuation or sending your bags ahead of you. Any other tips?   
A bag tag with your home address on it is an open invitation to burglars while you’re out of town.
        One essential piece of advice: Assume that if the airline loses your bag, your luggage tags will also be missing. So, in addition to putting the two I.D. tags on the outside of your bag, put another two, in visible areas, on the inside of your bags. And never put anything other than your name and your phone number on the tags.
      Why? Clever airport crooks look for bag tags with a person’s home address plainly listed. No, these criminals aren’t looking to steal the bags. They’re looking to unload your entire house! After all, you’re traveling, and you just advertised that fact simply by being at the airport. A bag tag with your home address on it is an open invitation to burglars while you’re out of town.
      Another helpful tip: When traveling internationally, a number of airports have services that shrink wrap your bags in thick plastic for a nominal charge. This is a great idea, and for one obvious reason: At your destination, if your bag has been opened during the trip, you’ll know it immediately.    
        What happens if you’ve done all your homework and the airline still manages to lose your luggage? What are your rights? And what can you expect the airline to do until they find the bag, or worse, if they don’t?
      The answers to these questions vary wildly among airlines and also depend on an unspoken caste system — how much you paid for your ticket, what class of service you’re flying, where the loss occurred and your status in that airline’s frequent flyer program.
      Some airlines, like Swissair, offer an immediate debit card, like a Visa card, that the airline preloads with a specific dollar amount and allows you to buy essentials — clothing, toiletries and so forth.
      And Northwest has just announced a compensation program to help ease the pain if they delay your bags. (It’s not really a compensation program, but it gives you vouchers allowing you discounts on a sliding scale starting at $25.)       
The majority of airline baggage thieves steal the contents of luggage, not the bags themselves.
        In the United States, most airlines like United insist that lost, damaged or delayed property must be reported within 24 hours and a claim be made in writing within 45 days giving full description and value of the missing property. If you need to make interim purchases, United also insists that it “may consider up to a 50 percent reimbursement of the necessities purchased, taking into account your ability to use the new items in the future.”   
      Over at TWA, if your bag is still missing after 24 hours, the airline says it will offer you “$35 per day, for a maximum of 3 days — a total of $105. This is for passengers not arriving at their permanent residence, and original purchase receipts must be presented to the arrival station where the loss occurred.”
      What if the airline doesn’t lose your baggage, and your luggage actually arrives at the same time, and at the same airport as you do? Are you home free? Not necessarily. There’s one final tip.
      Most people don’t realize this, but a majority of airline baggage thieves do not steal the bags themselves. Rather, they take individual contents from those bags. And when you’re at that baggage carousel waiting for your luggage, you’re so happy to see it appear that you don’t check to see if everything is still there. Shrink wrapping eliminates that worry. Remember, once you get home and discover a loss, it’s only your word against the airline’s — a disadvantage when reclaiming the value of your lost goods.
Peter S. Greenberg is the NBC “Today” show Travel editor.
                      What is High Maintenance    Back to News and Gossip Pages
It's a phrase that gets tossed out without any explanation as if we all have a concrete idea of what high maintenance  is. As it turns out, nobody agreed on any one specific  description.
Socially speaking the phrase "high maintenance" is generally reserved for women. Make no mistake, it's far from flattering. It's usually synonymous with a woman who judges a man by material attributes rather than moral fiber. She has a  penchant for scheduling her needs before her partner's,  suffers from a terminal preoccupation with her looks, and  endures the slings and arrows of the fashion industry no matter how unflattering the trend. She never lets her guard down and  choreographs her social activities around the trendiest places in town. This usually comes with a hefty price tag and her ideal date is more than willing to pay the tab; simply to bask in the glow of her hipness.
Here's a great question.    What man in his right mind would pursue this femme fatale?
The answer is any man who is desperate to impress his friends  or reassure his waning ego, right? Perhaps, but if I had an  easy answer for this I would write a best seller and promote my brilliance on national television (provided they supplied the right bottled water...)
Okay equal time for the men now. When I asked my very articu-late, very British male friend what a high maintenance man was, he had to make one distinction. He felt that there was a definitive difference between being a high maintenance man, and being a control freak. I agree but that still left a big blank. Why was it so easy to define the female version, but not the man? The answer is to ask the opposite sex.
Only a group of women could do this stereotype justice, because it was the men who had the easy answers about women. In the name of equal time, I uncovered a few things about the high maintenance male.
It seems that there is such an animal and he has a penchant for routines. It doesn't matter what the routine is, it just can't be broken. Mow the lawn every Wednesday, eat pizza every Friday, check the stock market at 5:00 PM, and wear the gray flannel pinstripe every Monday. It doesn't always revolve around aesthetics (like his female alter ego) rather an excruciating attention to HIS routine. He'll change it only in an emergency and under extreme duress. Why this preoccupation for order? Simply put, his established routine guarantees that he won't surrender too much of himself in the relationship identity. He has difficulty shifting from "me" status to "us" status, so his safety net surrounds doing things he way he always has, and expecting her to adjust to his cycle.
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