By Jonathan Weisman, April 11, 2008, The Washington Post – Freshman Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R) is a stickler for rules, a plus of sorts when you are one of six lawmakers serving on that quaintest of House entities, the 18th-century-vintage Franking Commission, which decides whether lawmakers’ constituent communications pass ethical muster.

He is also a Californian, a believer in the latest communications technology, especially video links to his own House performances. So when he discovered that embedding YouTube videos on his official Web site violated his commission’s prohibition on links to commercial sites, he brought the issue to the commission’s chairman, Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.).

Capuano’s response may have been a tad cavalier — “just go ahead and do it; everyone else does” — but it did set the antiquated Franking Commission on a technological journey. The result is that within a month, that most modern of institutions, YouTube, plans to create a government ghetto, free of advertising, where lawmakers can post the videos of their choice.

Nobody has ever accused Congress of being particularly hip. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) became something of a Luddite legend when he called the Internet “a series of tubes.”

“I make no bones about it. I don’t know anything about this stuff,” Capuano said with a shrug.

But they’re cottoning on. More than 100 House members have multimedia pages and YouTube links on their Web sites — all in violation of House rules that date to when lawmakers communicated with voters through snail mail and newsletters.

The reason is simple enough: The Franking Commission frowns on official links to campaign-related Web sites, political parties, advocacy groups and “any site the primary purpose of which is the conduct of commerce.”

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) has marveled aloud at the democratic possibilities presented by YouTube. But type his name in the YouTube search, click on his visit to Haditha, Iraq, and up pop related videos on Pence’s floor speeches, a Rush Limbaugh interview — and “Avril Lavigne-Hot.”

House and Senate members can use in-house video technology, but it’s slow and cumbersome, and the more lawmakers use the Capitol’s computer servers, the worse it gets. Just try using McCarthy’s squeaky-clean video gallery page. (Members of the Senate don’t seem to have a problem with creaky video service, however, because there are fewer of them.)

At a Franking Commission meeting earlier this year, McCarthy suggested directly embedding YouTube videos on lawmakers’ Web sites. Constituents would not be thrown to a commercial site, and would not wait endlessly watching their hourglass cursors. But even that pesky YouTube label on the lower right-hand corner was an advertisement of sorts.

So at a meeting this week, the commission hit on a compromise that could push House Web sites into the modern age of mass communications. Aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) put out a request for an easy-to-use video Web site that could establish a commercial-free zone devoid of Avril Lavigne footage or “Planet Unicorn” ring tones, another inexplicable byproduct of a search for Pence-related video.

Within a month, the one and only responder, YouTube, should have its commercial-free zone up and running, Capuano said. Republicans on the commission still fret that with only one such site, the House could be seen as picking winners and losers on the Web. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), another commission member, said the panel’s Republicans want to keep the new rules fluid enough to use any future Web site that comes forward with a better plan.

“Technology moves fast. Congress moves slow,” he said.

But, hey, any video’s got to be better than the still-life photo gallery on Capuano’s admittedly old-school Web page.

“To me, the Web is a necessary evil,” he admitted, “like cellphones.”

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By Gina Kolata – The New York Times – THE runner’s high: Every athlete has heard of it, most seem to believe in it and many say they have experienced it. But for years scientists have reserved judgment because no rigorous test confirmed its existence.

Yes, some people reported that they felt so good when they exercised that it was as if they had taken mood-altering drugs. But was that feeling real or just a delusion? And even if it was real, what was the feeling supposed to be, and what caused it?

Some who said they had experienced a runner’s high said it was uncommon. They might feel relaxed or at peace after exercising, but only occasionally did they feel euphoric. Was the calmness itself a runner’s high?

Often, those who said they experienced an intense euphoria reported that it came after an endurance event.

My friend Marian Westley said her runner’s high came at the end of a marathon, and it was paired with such volatile emotions that the sight of a puppy had the power to make her weep.

Others said they experienced a high when pushing themselves almost to the point of collapse in a short, intense effort, such as running a five-kilometer race.

But then there are those like my friend Annie Hiniker, who says that when she finishes a 5-k race, the last thing she feels is euphoric. “I feel like I want to throw up,” she said.

The runner’s-high hypothesis proposed that there were real biochemical effects of exercise on the brain. Chemicals were released that could change an athlete’s mood, and those chemicals were endorphins, the brain’s naturally occurring opiates. Running was not the only way to get the feeling; it could also occur with most intense or endurance exercise.

The problem with the hypothesis was that it was not feasible to do a spinal tap before and after someone exercised to look for a flood of endorphins in the brain. Researchers could detect endorphins in people’s blood after a run, but those endorphins were part of the body’s stress response and could not travel from the blood to the brain. They were not responsible for elevating one’s mood. So for more than 30 years, the runner’s high remained an unproved hypothesis.

But now medical technology has caught up with exercise lore. Researchers in Germany, using advances in neuroscience, report in the current issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex that the folk belief is true: Running does elicit a flood of endorphins in the brain. The endorphins are associated with mood changes, and the more endorphins a runner’s body pumps out, the greater the effect.

Leading endorphin researchers not associated with the study said they accepted its findings.

“Impressive,” said Dr. Solomon Snyder, a neuroscience professor at Johns Hopkins and a discoverer of endorphins in the 1970’s.

“I like it,” said Huda Akil, a professor of neurosciences at the University of Michigan. “This is the first time someone took this head on. It wasn’t that the idea was not the right idea. It was that the evidence was not there.”

For athletes, the study offers a sort of vindication that runner’s high is not just a New Agey excuse for their claims of feeling good after a hard workout.

For athletes and nonathletes alike, the results are opening a new chapter in exercise science. They show that it is possible to define and measure the runner’s high and that it should be possible to figure out what brings it on. They even offer hope for those who do not enjoy exercise but do it anyway. These exercisers might learn techniques to elicit a feeling that makes working out positively addictive.

The lead researcher for the new study, Dr. Henning Boecker of the University of Bonn, said he got the idea of testing the endorphin hypothesis when he realized that methods he and others were using to study pain were directly applicable.

The idea was to use PET scans combined with recently available chemicals that reveal endorphins in the brain, to compare runners’ brains before and after a long run. If the scans showed that endorphins were being produced and were attaching themselves to areas of the brain involved with mood, that would be direct evidence for the endorphin hypothesis. And if the runners, who were not told what the study was looking for, also reported mood changes whose intensity correlated with the amount of endorphins produced, that would be another clincher for the argument.

Dr. Boecker and colleagues recruited 10 distance runners and told them they were studying opioid receptors in the brain. But the runners did not realize that the investigators were studying the release of endorphins and the runner’s high. The athletes had a PET scan before and after a two-hour run. They also took a standard psychological test that indicated their mood before and after running.

The data showed that, indeed, endorphins were produced during running and were attaching themselves to areas of the brain associated with emotions, in particular the limbic and prefrontal areas.

The limbic and prefrontal areas, Dr. Boecker said, are activated when people are involved in romantic love affairs or, he said, “when you hear music that gives you a chill of euphoria, like Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.” The greater the euphoria the runners reported, the more endorphins in their brain.

“Some people have these really extreme experiences with very long or intensive training,” said Dr. Boecker, a casual runner and cyclist, who said he feels completely relaxed and his head is clearer after a run.

That was also what happened to the study subjects, he said: “You could really see the difference after two hours of running. You could see it in their faces.”

In a follow-up study, Dr. Boecker is investigating if running affects pain perception. “There are studies that showed enhanced pain tolerance in runners,” he said. “You have to give higher pain stimuli before they say, ‘O.K., this hurts.’ ”

And, he said, there are stories of runners who had stress fractures, even heart attacks, and kept on running.

Dr. Boecker and his colleagues have recruited 20 marathon runners and a similar number of nonathletes and are studying the perception of pain after a run, and whether there are related changes in brain scans. He is also having the subjects walk to see whether the effects, if any, are because of the intensity of the exercise.

The nonathletes can help investigators assess whether untrained people experience the same effects. Maybe one reason some people love intense exercise and others do not is that some respond with a runner’s high or changed pain perception.

Annie might question that. She loves to run, but wonders why. But her husband tells her that the look on her face when she is running is just blissful. So maybe even she gets a runner’s high.