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January 24, 2005

BehindTheMedspeak: World's Oldest Mother Gives Birth at Age 66


It happened a week ago today in Romania.

Adriana Iliescu (above and below), an unmarried professor of literature from Bucharest, gave birth, via Cesarean section, to a 3 pound, 3 ounce girl.

She had become pregnant through in-vitro fertilization after nine years of fertility treatments.

The sperm and egg came from anonymous donors.

Bishop Ciprian Campineanul of the Romanian Orthodox Church said that the church disagreed in principle with any pregnancy resulting from in-vitro fertilization, whatever the age of the mother.

He added, "This case has shocked us all. This was a selfish act."

I was most interested to read in the ABC News report that "there is no law in Romania stipulating a maximum age for artificial insemination. A draft law awaiting approval in parliament bans fertility treatment for women who are above the normal reproductive age."



And who decides what "normal" is?

A group of old white men, some in suits, others in religious garb?

Back in the day, there was a bumper sticker


that enunciated quite eloquently, I think, the appropriate role of the law in areas such as this.

January 24, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Beyond DecentDome: SpongeBob SquarePants v Focus on the Family


Yes, the gloves have come off, and may the best sponge - or group - win.

Last Thursday, David Kirkpatrick reported in the New York Times that Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, has declared all-out war on SpongeBob.

It seems, said Dr. Dobson, that SpongeBob's creators have enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video."

Yes, you read correctly.

Dobson says the video, in which SpongeBob appears alongside children's TV colleagues like Barney and Jimmy Neutron, is being sent to thousands of elementary schools to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity."

The video has appeared on Nickolodeon and other networks without any objection; nothing in it or its accompanying materials refers to sexual identity.

The "tolerance pledge" is not mentioned on the video either; it's only present on the We Are Family Foundation's website.

The We Are Family Foundation was formed after 9/11 by Nile Rodgers to teach children about multiculturalism.

Rodgers, who wrote the great disco hit "We Are Family," which the Pointer Sisters took to the top of the charts, also created the video in dispute.

However, Focus on the Family believes the video is a Trojan Horse of sorts, a way to get unhealthy values into the minds and hearts of the young and defenseless.

Paul Batura, Dr. Dobson's assistant at Focus on the Family, said, "We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids. It is a classic bait and switch."


The New York Times editorial page this past Saturday weighed in on the subject, in a beautifully written editorial entitled "Nautical Nonsense."

It follows.

    Nautical Nonsense

    "Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?"
    "Absorbent and yellow and porous is he ..."

    ... not to mention dopey and charming and more hugely overexposed than ever, thanks to an anti-homosexual attack from the Christian right.

    Because of a media fuss ignited by the American Family Association and Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, this cartoon character is well on his way to culture-war immortality, up there with those moral saboteurs Murphy Brown and Tinky Winky.

    It's not that Dr. Dobson has a problem with Mr. SquarePants per se.

    He is angry, rather, about a video made for grade schools by the We Are Family Foundation that features SpongeBob and other TV characters.

    It doesn't mention sex.

    But the foundation's Web site says this: "I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own."

    How could anyone be against that?

    Dr. Dobson is.

    He has denounced the video as a bait-and-switch, one that uses cartoons to legitimize a group that will corrupt children with a homosexual agenda.

    We find it strange, actually, that the intolerant Dr. Dobson has not taken aim at SpongeBob himself, who is naughty and rude enough to give many parents pause.

    After "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" came out, a Christian family Web site made a long list of worrisome bits, including "cartoon rear male nudity, repeatedly," "pinching of banner staff between nude buttocks" and "suggestion of sadomasochism in transvestitism."

    As any weary parent knows, America's children spend billions of hours watching movies and shows like that, absorbing underwear jokes, flatulence gags and mushy messages of tolerance until their brains run out their ears.

    There may be a threat in all that, but Dr. Dobson and his allies seem to have missed it entirely.

January 24, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Girls Rule Online Gaming


Put away the geeky guy with Coke-bottle glasses and a pocket protector stereotype: turns out that more women than men are playing online games.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project reports that as of last November, 44% of female internet users said they played at least one game online, up from 40% a year earlier.

Only 34% of men reported playing a game online, down 1% from a year earlier.

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew project, said, "Women are increasingly enjoying role-playing games, but they are also doing simpler board games and card games."

For example, at pogo.com, an online gaming site, 55% of the 3.6 million visitors each day are women.

Wow - that's almost as many visitors as I get here.

They must be doing something right over there at pogo: I'll wander over as soon as this is done.

Now where was I?

Oh, yeah, online gaming.

Rainie added that men and women tended to play online games for different reasons.

He said, "For men it's competitive. For women it's social, if you want to be reductionist about it."

Here's a link to Mark Glassman's article about the rise of Distaff Nation in online gaming; it appeared in last Thursday's New York Times Circuits section.

And yes, you can call your website or blog Distaff Nation: everything I invent here is for the taking.

Including my existence.

January 24, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack



I have no idea how I happened on this wonderful website.

It's a 7 x 5 grid of icons: you click, then go to a surprising, strange, unexpectedly interesting site.


There a second page here, with a 6 x 6 grid that works the same way.


You could spend a lot of time on these sites.

Good thing you're not the type to goof off in class or at work... right?



I see you.


But I'll never tell.

Trust me: I'm a doctor.



January 24, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

SanDisk v iPod - 'Two chips enter, one chip leaves'


"Flash Card With U.S.B. Connector For Downloading Data Directly"

That's the headline for Michel Marriott's breathless article in last Thursday's New York Times Circuits section, about SanDisk's forthcoming flash memory chip incorporating a U.S.B. connector.

SanDisk unveiled it with much hoopla at last month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

It's going to be released in April, with memory capacity and price yet to be announced.

Hey, Michel and SanDisk, guess what?

You don't have to wait till April to get one: Apple's already selling 'em for $99.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: Apple will also throw in a music player, earphones, a lanyard, a rechargeable battery, and the coolest design on the planet.

Better rethink that price structure, eh, SanDisk?

'Cause Stevie Jobs just ate your lunch.


Sure, I'd like a piece of gum.

January 24, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Cow Lamp


Every now and then I wander over to my Singapore posse's blogs and websites just to see what's cooking in one of the flashest hotpots [sic - yes, I know it's a stretch to take a culinary term of art and bring it out of the kitchen but hey, cut me a little slack, huh?] on the planet.

And lo and behold, look what stared back at me just now from one of them.

You can only find these at Ig's Heaven in Singapore: others who live elsewhere, sigh with love and frustration.

As if you didn't already know, I've got my eye on the green one.

It'd be perfect for that one corner in my living room that needs just a bit more illumination.

[via newfangled]

January 24, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Low Pay at High Altitude: The Life of a 'Chain Monkey'


That was the headline for a story Charlie LeDuff wrote for the January 11 New York Times about "chain monkeys" - men licensed by the state of California to install snow chains on tires along a stretch of California highway near the ski resort of Mammoth Lakes.

Doing tough work at altitude in the cold and snow is no picnic, I'm sure.

My first real job, when I was 16, was at a full-service filling station in Milwaukee, where I grew up.

I started the week before Christmas.

I worked the midnight-7 a.m. shift, all by my lonesome.

Even though it was then one of the few gas stations in Milwaukee open 24 hours, there wasn't an awful lot of business during my shift.

So the station's owner had a number of assignments for me that took up the bulk of my time.

First and foremost, my job was to get down on my hands and knees with a bucket of hot, soapy water and scrub the islands, which were painted white.

There were, as best I can recall, five islands, each with three pumps.

That's a lot of scrubbing, especially when it's below zero and the wind is blowing and you're exhausted and you're working for minimum wage.

But hey, it was a job.

So I scrubbed those babies till they shone.

I also had other chores which I don't recall - the islands were my nemeses, my white whales, as it were, so they're all I really recall.


LeDuff's article has disappeared into the Times archives (they keep them available for a week following publication, rather an annoyance but hey, what can you do?), but it was also published by the International Herald Tribune on January 15.

Here's the Herald Tribune story.

    Low Pay at High Altitude: The Life of a 'Chain Monkey'

    Somewhere in Los Angeles, an accountant is sitting snug by his fire, glass of vermouth in hand, enjoying the sound of the rains that are swallowing California.

    At least that is how Steve Miesel imagines the scene as he slithers around on his stomach in the snow and salt and diesel near Bishop, California, installing chains on people's cars in the High Sierra, a mountainous region 250 miles, or 400 kilometers, north of Hollywood.

    "If I'd channeled my energies into accounting or even stuck to a trade, I wouldn't be here," said Miesel, 44, a rugged man with holes in his gloves.

    "I should have studied harder."

    Miesel is a "chain monkey," one of 25 men licensed by the State Department of Transportation to install snow chains on tires along the stretch of Highway 395 and Route 14 that runs from the town of Mojave to Mammoth Lakes in the Sierra.

    The job prerequisites are simple, he said: "You just have to know how to put chains on a tire."


    California law requires that all vehicles carry chains during the winter, and that a three-tier level of chain use be followed, depending on the amount of snow and the type of vehicle.

    When snow buries the mountain passes, the use of chains is enforced by the California Highway Patrol.

    Lowlanders, having little experience with snow, see the chains as an inscrutable nuisance, something akin to itemizing deductions on an income tax form.

    "People feel they're a victim of the law," Miesel said.

    "They take it out on us. It's not good."

    The job is a dying one, Miesel laments, because sport utility vehicles, equipped with automatic four-wheel drives and snow tires, must still carry chains but often are not required to use them, and are thus eliminating the need for this labor.

    But with the ski resorts of Mammoth Mountain expecting 9 feet, or 2.7 meters, of snow this past week, these days are as much a boon for the chain monkeys of the Sierra as for roofers and tow-truck drivers across the state.

    "People in Southern California don't have experience driving in the snow," said Wendy Hahn, a spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol.

    "That makes it exceedingly dangerous."

    That lack of experience creates the demand for chain monkeys, another of the odd jobs Americans do to make ends meet.

    During the storms, the chain monkeys live along the highway in trailers with coffeepots, dry socks, wrenches and generators for artificial light.

    On a drive up the Sierra range they can be seen lying on the shoulder of a slippery pass underneath a vehicle, perilously close to the road.

    It is said to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States.

    For example, one chain monkey, Sean Plunkett, was in his trailer when it was hit by a truck last year, Miesel said.

    Plunkett survived; his trailer did not.

    Then there is the frostbite, the smashed fingers, the slicing winds.

    All this for $30 a car, a rate set by the market.

    Miesel said that with four good storms a year, a chain monkey could earn $5,000.

    He expected this year to be exceptional.

    He earned $500 in one evening alone last week.

    Tips are appreciated.

    His biggest was $70, from an accountant type.

    Miesel, in his yellow rain slicker and thick glasses, works as a contractor when work can be found in the depressed mountain communities where he lives.

    He said there were philosophical points to his second career.

    "Women love you, they just love you," he said.

    "You're like their hero, and that gives you a good feeling."

    He finds modern men, on the other hand, a disappointing lot.

    They have become so sedate, so inept and so removed from the ability to fend for themselves, Miesel said, that they must pay another man to put chains on their tires.

    It is unlikely any ballad will ever be written about the job, he figures.

    "As far as chain monkeys go, there aren't no hero chain monkeys," he said.

    "It's a hard buck, but it's an honest buck."

January 24, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Own Charlie Parker's Saxophone


Or Benny Goodman's clarinet, John Coltrane's soprano and tenor saxophones, or Gerry Mulligan's baritone.

Or perhaps you'd prefer a 27-page letter from Louis Armstrong to his manager, or one of Ornette Coleman's notebooks (above), filled with his practice exercises.

How about relaxing in Thelonius Monk's tailored jacket (below)?


Or reading Monk's high school book reports while you sit quietly in your most comfortable chair?


Still not tempted?

How about the original sheet-music sketches for Coltrane's 1964 suite "A Love Supreme," among the most important works in jazz - complete with explicit notes and markings in Coltrane's hand?

They've never been seen before, even by scholars.

All this - and more - can be yours.

Just give the Guernsey's auctioneer more than anyone else is willing to pay on Sunday, February 20 at the Allen Room in Jazz, at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall in New York, and it's all yours.

You can look at these and all the other lots at previews on February 18 and 19.

The greatest jazz treasures ever assembled will go on the block the next day.


Make sure you bring plenty of money, though; one of Parker's saxophones sold at auction in 1995 for $140,000.

The Smithsonian, which numbers amongst its thousands of jazz artifacts Lionel Hampton's vibraphone and Ella Fitzgerald's entire archive, can't begin to afford to bid.

They're hoping for public-spirited types to buy the items, then give or loan them to the museum.

Ben Ratliff wrote at length about the auction in last Thursday's New York Times.

January 24, 2005 at 04:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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