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February 6, 2005

Breaking news: Triaminic is first over-the-counter cough syrup to be certified kosher in the U.S.

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This just in from the Orthodox Union: last week Triaminic - all eight varieties of the children's cough syrup, from orange to grape to berry to bubble gum - was certified kosher.

The Orthodox Union is the country's largest and most powerful certifier of kosher products for consumers who adhere to Orthodox Judaism's dietary laws.

The approved Triaminic products now bear the Union's trademark label – an initial U inside an O (below) -

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making Triaminic the first over-the-counter medicine ever to certified kosher.

No more guilt when the kids start hacking and sniffling: give 'em the bottle.

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran of the Orthodox Union said, in Leslie Berger's February 1 New York Times story, that "kosher is hot."

An estimated 15 to 20 million Americans buy kosher products; they're popular among non-Jews as well, including vegetarians, people who are lactose-intolerant, and Muslims whose own dietary restrictions, known as halal, are similar to those of Jews.

Bringing kosher Triaminic to market took two years, mainly to investigate each of its 50 [!] or so raw materials for any trace of forbidden derivatives or possible contact with taboo items through machinery or packaging.

Kosher Maalox is in development.

Here's the Times story.

    Cough Syrup Receives Kosher Seal of Approval

    The children's cough syrup Triaminic, a staple of family medicine cabinets for decades, has received a coveted seal of approval from the Orthodox Union, the country's largest and most powerful certifier of kosher products for consumers who adhere to Orthodox Judaism's dietary laws.

    All eight varieties of the liquid decongestant for children now bear the Orthodox Union's trademark label - the initial U inside an O - making Triaminic the first over-the-counter medicine to be certified as kosher.

    For observant Jews who eschew foods and beverages with the slightest trace of animal derivatives, the seal means they can ease their children's scratchy throats and stuffy noses without any sense of religious conflict, said Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, the Orthodox Union's senior rabbinical coordinator.

    But the kosher certification is also expected to appeal to non-Jews, including vegetarians, people who are lactose intolerant and Muslims whose own dietary restrictions, known as halal, are similar to those of Jews.

    With consumers scrutinizing ingredients more carefully than ever, Rabbi Safran said, many seek out a kosher label as an additional assurance of quality control.

    "They know another vigilant pair of eyes are inspecting and verifying," he said.

    An estimated 15 million to 20 million Americans buy kosher products, Rabbi Safran said.

    "Kosher is hot," he said. "The kosher market has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last decade. There's been more and more demand from kosher consumers, and big companies have been responsive."

    Kosher Maalox, the liquid antacid, is in development with Novartis Consumer Health, the same company that makes Triaminic.

    And other pharmaceutical companies have expressed interest in working with the Orthodox Union to have their own over-the-counter products certified as kosher, Rabbi Safran said, though he declined to name them.

    Prescription drugs are not a problem under Jewish dietary laws because they are viewed as lifesaving necessities.

    The Talmud - the collection of Jewish writings that include biblical laws and subsequent interpretations of them by centuries of rabbinical scholars - places a premium on the sanctity of life.

    Even the Sabbath may be broken if a sick person has to call a doctor or drive to a hospital.

    Similarly, Jews who are ill are exempt from fasting on Yom Kippur, the religion's annual Day of Atonement.

    But over-the-counter medicines and supplements like vitamins are treated more like nourishment.

    Intended to ease discomfort or enhance health - not cure an illness - they are not entitled to the same exemptions as prescription drugs.

    The flavorings used to make liquid medicine more pleasant tasting also complicate matters because, in the eyes of Orthodox rabbis, they make medicinal products more like food.

    So kosher law applies, and any ingredient bearing animal derivatives renders a product unacceptable.

    The most common culprits are the emulsifier glycerin, traditionally made from beef tallow, and gelatin, often used in capsules and derived from the collagen in a variety of animals' skin and bones.

    Similarly, the supplement glucosamine, traditionally derived from the shells of shrimp, prawns and other shellfish, has become a popular treatment for stiff joints but formerly was off limits to kosher consumers since shellfish is taboo.

    Grape sugar and grape flavoring also send up a red flag to the kosher consumer because Talmudic law prescribes exactly how grapes can be processed for wine, and rabbis apply the same standards to modern-day grape products.

    Today, all these ingredients can be synthesized in a laboratory or derived from vegetables, and an array of kosher-certified supplements has been on the market for several years through Freeda Vitamins, a kosher purveyor based in New York, and the national VitaminShoppe chain, which has a large vegetarian clientele.

    But an over-the-counter medicine that is kosher certified is entirely new, Rabbi Safran and others said.

    Marketing experts said getting a kosher certification had become a shrewd way for a company to gain market share for a minimal investment.

    "No one does it because of social responsibility. They do it because it makes economic sense," said Menachem Lubinsky, president and chief executive officer of Lubicom Marketing Consulting, a Brooklyn-based consulting firm that analyzes and promotes the kosher food industry.

    Mr. Lubinsky said sales of kosher products would be close to $8.5 billion this year.

    Bringing kosher Triaminic to market took about two years and mainly involved vetting each of its 50 or so raw materials for any trace of forbidden derivatives - or possible contact with taboo items through machinery or packaging.

    First, Rabbi Safran's staff checked the Orthodox Union's vast database in its Lower Manhattan office to see which ingredients were already deemed kosher, either by the organization itself or another kosher certifier.

    Then letters were sent out to suppliers of noncertified ingredients and packaging, to see if they were willing to comply with kosher standards, go through a review and submit documentation of certification.

    A field rabbi for the Orthodox Union was dispatched to Novartis's plant in Lincoln, Neb., to supervise the production of all eight flavors of liquid Triaminic, from orange to grape to berry and bubble gum.

    New equipment was not necessary because the plant's machinery was already being cleaned on a regular basis at temperatures high enough to meet kosher standards of sterilization.

    One mother who keeps kosher said she would favor Triaminic the next time she bought cough syrup, though she usually tries homeopathy first for her three children, ages 8 and 4 and 9 months.

    "If it's a choice between two medicines, one that has the O.U. and one that doesn't, I'd choose the one that's kosher - why not?" said Chana Citron, a resident of the Upper West Side of Manhattan and the wife of a rabbi.

February 6, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Joe Btfsplk

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He was one of the great characters in Al Capp's "Li'l Abner" comic strip.

The world's most loving friend and worst jinx, he always traveled with a perpetually dark rain cloud over his head.

Once he appeared on any scene, dreadfully bad luck befell anyone in his vicinity.

Though well-meaning and gentle, his reputation preceded him such that he was very lonely and feared.

His creator, Al Capp, pronounced Btfsplk with a "raspberries" sound, aka a "Bronx cheer."

Seems I was busy doing something close to nothing the other day, walking around in my raspberry beret just like I do most of the time I'm not in the OR, and I got to thinking how, but for one lousy vowel, I could have a cool last name just like Joe B.

Joe Strt.

How great is that?

I mean, no one ever spells it right the first time anyway, so why not make it impossible?

It would be pronounced just the way it is with the "i" - Strt like "dirt."

One day I may just journey on down to the courthouse and do the necessary paperwork.

Einstein memorably said, "Everything should be as simple as possible - but no simpler."

Q.E.D.

Q.D.?

February 6, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

'Life's a gift? Quick. Exchange it.'

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That's the headline for Charles Isherwood's rapturous New York Times review of Will Eno's new play, "Thom Pain (based on nothing)," starring James Urbaniak (above), which just opened last Tuesday in New York.

From the play:

    When did your childhood end?

    How badly did you get hurt, when you did, when you were this little, when you were this wee little hurtable thing, nothing but big eyes, a heart, a few hundred words?

    Isn't it wonderful how we never recover?

    ***********************

    It's sad, isn't it?

    The dead horse of a life we beat, all the wilder, all the harder the deader it gets.

    On the other hand, there are some nice shops in the area.

    ***********************

    I know this isn't much, but let it be enough.

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"Thom Pain" runs through April 3 at the DR2 Theater, 103 East 15th Street.

February 6, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hang on, Snoopy: The Rise of Web-Cam Nation

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Kevin J. Delaney wrote an interesting story for last Wednesday's Wall Street Journal about how web surfers are increasingly finding ways to view images from security cameras and other live video sources not intended for public viewing.

Why doesn't this bother me?

For the same reason that, if I were a scuba diver, I wouldn't care one whit that the F.B.I. now has my certification records.

Because there's one overriding factor that trumps all the data access and collection in the world: the human factor (by the way, also the title of a 1978 novel by Graham Greene, a superb espionage thriller).

Someone's got to sit down in a chair and spend time looking at something for it to affect you: there aren't enough people working in all the intelligence and security agencies on this planet to begin to do so in a way that should make you take pause.

So take a chill pill, relax, and the next time you see a camera staring at you, wave or smile or flash the bird: doesn't matter, 'cause no one will ever see it.

Here, I'll even help you become a looker: EarthCam.com is a website that offers entry to all manner of webcams girdling the globe.

They even have a feature that lets you watch on your cellphone - what could be better during those dreadful meetings you have to sit through every day?

Here's the Journal article.

    Intended for Security, Web Cams Become Popular Snooping Tool

    As popular Internet search engines have become more powerful and sophisticated, it has become possible to find everything from the author of an arcane research paper to the whereabouts of a high-school classmate in seconds.

    But, in an unintended twist, the technology also has made it much easier to snoop on private scenes in homes and companies.

    Web surfers increasingly are finding ways to view images from security cameras and other live video sources, some of which weren't meant for public viewing.

    The footage ranges from random kids playing in their house to shots outside a power plant.

    In some cases, Web surfers can even take control of the camera, which allows them to zoom in and out on specific things.

    The video cameras affected are what are known as network cameras, which means they can connect directly to an Internet connection without having to be plugged into the back of a computer.

    As a security tool, they have become a popular replacement for traditional closed-circuit cameras because they are cheaper to set up. Internet-connected cameras produce images that can be viewed through a Web browser.

    These images become accessible to the general public when their owners neglect to - or choose not to - take simple security measures.

    Cameras connected to the Internet generate strings of text.

    Unless protected by passwords or other mechanisms, that text can be picked up by search engines in the normal process of cataloging the Web.

    The same text then can be retrieved by a person doing a Web search.

    Though it typically requires entering seemingly nonsensical phrases such as "ViewerFrame?Mode" into a query, some sites save users that trouble, by finding open Web cams and showing a selection of images that users simply may click on and view.

    There doesn't appear to be any simple way to search for something specific - such as the home of someone in a certain neighborhood, or footage from a particular industrial site.

    Still, Web searches turn up thousands of images from both business and consumer Web cams.

    A significant portion are seemingly innocuous industrial scenes, with cameras trained on marine ports, Laundromats, aquarium scenes and pets.

    Others are owned by people explicitly looking for visitors, such as the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky.

    But other video images likely weren't meant for public consumption.

    One recent search turned up a camera displaying two young girls, apparently of grade-school age, in front of a home computer.

    Another page, potentially sensitive in a post-9/11 age, was titled "Power Plant Construction Web Camera" and allowed users to zoom the camera in and out to view an apparently completed plant, other facilities and parking lots.

    The video snooping underscores how vulnerable Internet-connected devices can be if proper security procedures aren't followed.

    It also highlights how search sites such as Google Inc. and its rivals can be used to ferret out personal information, including credit-card and Social Security numbers that Web site owners didn't properly secure.

    The snooping is easy to prevent.

    Camera owners can set up the devices to require passwords, use common firewall security software, or even limit access to computers at specific IP addresses.

    Axis Communications AB, which makes some of the devices whose footage ultimately turns up in Web searches, says its cameras require a password by default.

    But the Swedish company, whose network-connected cameras start at $200, acknowledges that the default password is the same for all of its devices and, it says, some camera owners might turn that function off without realizing the consequences.

    The company counts consumers, government offices, prisons and airports among its customers.

    Fredrik Nilsson, general manager for Axis's U.S. division, estimated that only about 500 of the some 500,000 Axis cameras in usage are accessible through Web search engines.

    "If you have 0.1% that didn't read the instructions, that's not so bad," he says.

    A spokesman for one maker of Web cams, Toshiba Corp., said it hadn't received any complaints about the issue.

    "In most cases, at least for Toshiba cameras, the Web cams are not being hacked," the spokesman said in an e-mail.

    "The users simply want and actively encourage public viewing to their video, so they don't create a password. Or, they could be novices that don't understand the importance of a password."

    Google often is used for the video searches.

    The site's breadth and popularity have spawned other sites devoted to detailing "Google hacks," or tricks for finding sensitive information.

    These range from finding individual users' online passwords to finding network-connected printers that can be targeted for gag messages.

    But similar searches can be performed on other search engines.

    "Google is a reflection of the Web. Although we aggregate and organize information published on the Web, we don't control the information itself nor do we control access to it," a Google spokesman said.

    Legal issues surrounding the use of this footage is murky.

    If a computer hacker defeated security measures to spy on people, that probably is illegal, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public-interest research group in Washington D.C.

    But if the images can be found through as public a forum as Google, it may be hard to argue that some form of electronic trespass occurred, he said.

February 6, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Wild: Fashion Untamed'

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Currently up at New York's Metropolitan Museum (through March 13) in the ground floor Costume Institute, this show focuses on "man's ongoing obsession with animalism as expressed through clothing."

Gee - back in Paleolithic times they were still finishing up the Gucci and Prada flagship stores, so I guess our ancestors really didn't have a whole lot of choices, did they? But I digress.

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The exhibition looks at the fur and feather fetish as well as the rise of the anti-fur movement, exemplified by PETA's wildly (!) successful campaigns against pelts and plumes.

You can see Alexander McQueen's "Amazon" dresses, Azzedine Alaïa's "Tigress" bodysuits, and Thierry Mugler's "Black Widow" architectonic constructions, among many other iconic creations.

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Also on display are the fantastical feathered costumes worn by Las Vegas showgirls and "Birds of Paradise" creations by master milliners Philip Treacy and Stephen Jones.

As Calvin Klein once said, "You don't have to buy anything - just feel the fabric."

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In this venue, though, best let your eyes do the caressing.

February 6, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Heart Vase' by Karim Rashid

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Perhaps yesterday's Panton chair was a bit more than you were looking to spend for your sweetie for St. Valentine's Day.

OK - how 'bout this lovely 9.5" metal vase, designed by Karim Rashid?

$89 here.

February 6, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

John Cerney, Modest Master of the Roadside

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This quiet 51-year-old Californian (above, on a ladder) for the past 22 years has been creating giant plywood people who pop up in fields and on storefronts all over Monterey County, California.

He doesn't care for galleries and art on walls, and winces when his pieces are called "works of art."

Carol Pogash wrote a lyrical piece about this unique man for last Wednesday's New York Times: it follows.

    Bumper Crops for the Eye

    Out of the fertile fields of the Salinas Valley, the giant figures loom: 18-foot-high plywood workers harvest iceberg lettuce.

    An irrigator, his boot on a shovel, surveys the land.

    A farmer crouches nearby, his hand cupping the loamy soil. Women in headscarves thin just-budding crops.

    The creases in their shirts, their bodily expressions, even with their backs turned, these figures are so lifelike that their appearance startles passers-by, which is what their creator, the artist John Cerney, intends.

    The giant sculptures at the Farm, an agricultural education center and demonstration farm owned by the Crown Packing Company, are but one of dozens of installations in this valley, where the land looks much as it did when John Steinbeck wrote about it.

    For 22 years, Mr. Cerney has been creating giant people who pop up in fields and on storefronts all over Monterey County, which includes the Salinas Valley and is about 100 miles south of San Francisco.

    The expanse of blue-on-blue sky and miles of row crops serve as his canvas.

    "I've never cared about galleries and square things framed on a wall," Mr. Cerney (below) said in an interview.

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    What mattered "was that people would see my work," he said, adding "that meant working outside."

    Mr. Cerney, 51, lives a pared down life in a corner of his workshop in a corrugated metal warehouse here, where he works 12 hours a day pursuing his art.

    Parts of giant plywood people lie strewn about. Leaning against one wall, a marathon runner raises her triumphant fist in the air.

    A friendly gas station attendant grasps a hose, about to fill 'er up.

    Even in repose there is something both ordinary and heroic about his people.

    Mr. Cerney's art, said Amanda Holder, spokeswoman for the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, "does what public art should do, it enriches the landscape visually and emotionally."

    The Steinbeck center commissioned him to make a plywood Marilyn Monroe for its agricultural wing. (Monroe was crowned Miss California Artichoke Queen in nearby Castroville in 1948.)

    He hesitated initially because he prefers his work to be displayed outdoors.

    His field art, flowering in the salad bowl of America, "draws attention to the value of farmworkers," said Dr. Amalia Mesa-Bains, chairwoman of the visual and public arts department at California State University, Monterey Bay.

    But, she said, because the farmer who commissioned the work "is positive and fair with his workers," Mr. Cerney's people fail to say anything about "poor working conditions, illnesses from pesticides and bad housing."

    She added, "That is a whole other story that's never told."

    Mr. Cerney "brings back the tradition of regional art, roadside art," and Works Progress Administration murals from the 1930's that survive in schools and post offices around the country, said his friend, the artist D. J. Hall.

    When Beverley Meamber, president and chief executive of the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce, called his pieces "works of art," Mr. Cerney, a marathon runner who looks younger than his years, winced, preferring to think of himself as a draftsman and illustrator.

    He likes digging four-foot holes and pouring the concrete for the Douglas fir posts that, along with a metal bar, hold the plywood people in place.

    His work combines two parts of his life: agriculture and art.

    After high school, he spent seven years working for a produce company, operating a forklift, until he quit to enter college.

    After graduating from California State University, Long Beach, with a degree in art, he returned home to Salinas, where he knocked on a stranger's door and persuaded him to hand over the front of his building.

    Mr. Cerney converted an ordinary facade into a stunningly realistic mural of "Tony's Friendly Auto Service."

    His only payment was $50, for putting friends' licenses on the painted cars.

    Since then, "Tony's" has given way to "Sam's Friendly Produce Stand," a mural on the same site with cut-out plywood characters and a truck loaded with produce boxes that is so realistic that the Chamber of Commerce has had to disabuse tourists who, having seen the picture in agricultural magazines, come to shop at Sam's.

    Mr. Cerney started making his plywood people pretty much by accident.

    While painting the produce stand, he "miscalculated" the space available and had to add a plywood arm to one of his painted people.

    He noticed how the arm "popped out," liked the effect, and added a plywood Corvette and a free-standing girl.

    A dozen plywood people followed.

    "I don't need walls anymore," he remembers thinking.

    "I need a field."

    Chris Bunn, who owns Crown Packing, wanted to pay tribute to his workers.

    He and Mr. Cerney agreed that life-size characters would be too puny for motorists to appreciate.

    The giant people were born.

    Other works highlight Mr. Cerney's humor.

    In 1993 he approached Ed Gularte, the owner of Abbott Street Auto Body at a major intersection here, and told him he wanted to create an accident scene.

    Agreeing to the idea, Mr. Gularte said, was the best marketing move he ever made.

    For the body shop Mr. Cerney created a 10-foot-tall plywood tie-dyed hippie in a neck brace standing in front of his smashed Volkswagen bug, whose luggage rack holds a guitar case with a Grateful Dead sticker.

    An eager attorney thrusts a paper at him that reads: "Frivolous lawsuit. Sign here."

    Across the way, a woman in a leopard-skin coat has leaped from her dented Mercedes and points accusingly at the hippie.

    A Salinas cop scans the scene with an expression that says, "Lady, I've heard it all before."

    In the center stands Mr. Gularte with a self-satisfied look.

    His foot rests on a box with a Mercedes logo and the words "Costly Auto Parts."

    Not everyone has always looked favorably on Mr. Cerney's work.

    After his accident-scene art was installed, the City of Salinas told Mr. Gularte he didn't have a permit and had 10 days to pull it down.

    He said that he told them they would have to take him to court.

    The Chamber of Commerce intervened, and the city never followed through with its permit requirement.

    For each of his pieces, Mr. Cerney poses real people, photographs them and then paints their images on plywood.

    A partner, Dong Sun Kim, assists him.

    Over the years Mr. Cerney has been clever about his financial survival.

    In 1992 he created a baseball scene on the side of a barn facing Highway 101.

    To help defray costs, he charged friends $100 each to have their faces incorporated into the mural.

    For the "Sam's Friendly Produce Stand" mural, produce companies initially paid $25 to have their logo painted on a box of produce.

    Since then, prices have risen to $1,000 a piece, with companies vying to have their box on top.

    As an artist whose work is largely shown outdoors, Mr. Cerney faces environmental challenges.

    Termites recently nibbled his baseball scene.

    While restoring it, he had to dodge charging calves.

    In another field, where he had constructed a plywood scene of a farmer painting black spots on a white cow, real cows rubbed off the painted cow's spots.

    His work has been installed in other Western states and the Midwest.

    One of his most eye-popping installations is in a field in Arizona: a gigantic baby scrunches over a tiny tractor while the mother looks on in amazement.

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    Now, inspired by a recent visit to Mount Rushmore, Mr. Cerney is negotiating with Monterey County landowners for use of a hillside where he can make something even larger than the presidential heads.

    He wants to construct the image of an old woman, a Mother Earth figure, peering down at all the little people passing by.

    "She will lead me to the next step," Mr. Cerney said. "I don't know what it will be."

February 6, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

JPG Magazine

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Brand-new.

The first issue has just appeared: its theme is "Origin."

"52 pages of visual goodness, including 31 photographers' interpretations of the word 'origin.'"

There's also a letter from the editors introducing themselves to the world and an interview with Emilie Valentine, "who may be the first photoblogger" (they could be correct: she started in 1995).

No ads, so the $19.99 cover price is gonna have to cover their print-on-demand expenses.

There's no set schedule yet, but they're hoping to be a quarterly.

Here's to their success.

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As Goethe wrote, "In boldness lies genius."

February 6, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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