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June 20, 2005

'Your black horizon'


The installation above, by the Danish–Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, is part of his work as it appears on an island in the Lagoon outside Venice, where it is part of the 51st Biennial.

The complete piece consists of a pavilion, with views onto the water and ramps leading into a blackened room with a thin beam of light acting as a horizon line, a full 360° circumferentially, its intensity and color slowly shifting.

The light is that of a Venetian spring day condensed into 14 minutes.

[via Michael Kimmelman and the New York Times.

June 20, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Melting Bulb Lamp


Costs ¥10,000 ($92) here (a working knowledge of Japanese will significantly expedite things).

[via het-style.com and Rakuten.

June 20, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Art of Socket–Seeking


Yesterday's Washington Post front page story by Yuki Noguchi described the parlous state of the would–be wireless traveler, forever distressed by the steadily diminishing number of battery bars displayed on whatever device she happens to be needing to use continuously in a place without power outlets.

Long story short: we're wireless but we need to plug in regularly because of battery life limitations.

So I'm here not to join the amen chorus but, rather, to offer a solution to a problem noted by Noguchi in her article, namely that in airports travelers are often frustrated by occupied sockets with their otherwise formally dressed users sitting on the floor, plugged in.

Simply carry an extension cord in your carry–on as part of your basic kit.

Here's where to buy a sturdy 6–foot–long one (pictured above) for $5.50 that will enable one or two other people to enjoy the wonders of electricity with you.

Want more length, another color, etc?

No problema: go here.

You plug it in and others can plug in as well to the business end yet keep their distance and preserve a modicum of privacy.

Who knows — you might even have enough length to actually sit on a chair or bench instead of the floor.

An alternative taking up less precious space would be one of those thingies you plug into an outlet that creates multiple outlets out of one.

That would enable two, three, or even six people to use the juice.

Might be a nice way to make friends and meet people, if nothing else.

June 20, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Iron Cord Holder


Who hasn't been annoyed by that darn cord getting in the way when you're trying to iron something?

Now comes this most clever fix for the problem.

Here's how it works:

1) Clamp the device onto your ironing board

2) Plug the device's extension cord into an electrical outlet

3) Run your iron's cord through the loop atop the device

4) Plug the iron's cord into the device's integrated socket

5) Iron away in cord-free bliss.

Just excellent thinking, to use gravity as a tool like this.

$8.29 here.

June 20, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'The Genius Factory' — by David Plotz


The subtitle of this bizarre, fascinating book is, "The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank."


I think that's a marked understatement.

You couldn't make this stuff up.

    From the book:

    You know how I always told you that you didn't have to be like your dad? I don't want you to look at your father and say, "This is what I have to look forward to." You need to know that you have better potential than your dad, because you don't have your dad's genes.

    One million American children have been born from donor sperm, and 30,000 more are arriving every year.

    There was an emotional void in [the mothers'] lives. They dreamed of finding donors and half siblings for their kids. Until I came along, they'd had nowhere to look. The bank had closed; there were no public records. Thanks to my project, I was learning the identities of donors, children and parents, information that was supposed to stay private forever. They realized before I did that I might be able to introduce people who hadn't been connected except when sperm met egg five or ten or twenty years ago.

    I became — through unique access to information, through moral obligation, and through my own curiosity — the Semen Detective.

    It didn't surprise me that Samantha was a divorcee. Almost all the parents I heard from were mothers who had divorced or were planning to divorce. This made sense: Married couples would be much less likely to share the secret that their children were the result of sperm donation, because the husband usually pretended to be biological fathers.

    None of the first three women who'd been inseminated with Nobel sperm had gotten pregnant. In fact no one inseminated with the Nobel sperm ever got pregnant. The Nobel Prize sperm bank would never produce a single Nobel baby.

    I told the Legares one of the odd things I had noticed in my reporting on the genius sperm bank: in most of the two dozen families I had dealt with, the father was notably absent from family life. I had heard from only a couple of intact families with attentive dads. "Social fathers" — the industry term for the nonbiological dads — have it tough. They are drained by having to pretend that children are theirs when they aren't; it takes a good actor and an extraordinary man to overlook the fact that his wife has picked another man to father his child. It's no wonder that the paternal bond can be hard to maintain.

    I told the Legares about a mom I knew who said the sperm bank had broken up her marriage. Her husband had felt as though he couldn't compete with the donor and had walked out.

    In every case, the kids bore a remarkable resemblance to their moms. The maternal resemblance was striking. The more I thought about it, the less surprising the maternal resemblance seemed. Most of these children had been raised only by their mothers. Their "social fathers" tended to be emotinally distant, and their biological donor fathers were out of the picture. So of course they were tied tightly to their moms. Was it any wonder their children grew up to be like them?

    Several countries, including Great Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and New Zealand have recently ended donor anonymity and established donor registries for sperm and egg donors.

    In the Netherlands, the supply of donors has dried up since donor anonymity was abolished.

    When donor insemination (DI) kids turn eighteen, they will be allowed to check the registries and learn their biological dad's or mother's name. (The British registry starts this year [2005], which means that the first kids who can search for their donors won't come of age until 2023).

    The United States is a long way from having a national donor registry, but DI families are beginning to organize and lobby for one.

    Some children, mothers and donors are also circumventing the sperm banks' anonymity policies. The idea of using the Internet to connect sperm bank families has taken off in the past few years. Yahoo's Donor Sibling Registry (DSR) has become a central warehouse where mothers, kids and donors can advertise for one another. The registry, which is searchable by [sperm bank name], mushroomed from a few dozen entries in 2001 to more than three thousand in 2004.

    There have been more than six hundred matches on the DSR so far. Most of these involve very young half siblings who are being connected by their parents. There are very few cases of children and their donors finding each other, in part because so few donors have posted on the site.

    The question I am most often asked is: Did the Nobel sperm bank work? I don't have a direct answer. Of the 215 children of the Nobel sperm bank, I know of 30, aged six to twenty–two. Still, let me try to sum the children up.

    A few of them have brilliant minds. A few others have wonderful physical talents. Of the rest, most are very good if not great students. Almost all are in excellent health, but one boy in the group is autistic and one girl suffers from a debilitating muscle disease. In short, they are certainly above average as a group, but the range is very wide.

    The question of what the sperm bank gave its children is unanswerable.

    The more time I spent around DI parents and kids, the more I got the sense of how deep and how widespread the yearning of people was... both for the truth and for family.


Want more?

OK, then: yesterday's Washington Post magazine (below)


cover story by Michael Leahy is about a single mother in Massachusetts who took her two young children to the West Coast to meet "Daddy," their sperm donor.

Here's a link to the article.

And while we're at it, here's a link to the Yahoo Donor Sibling Registry.

Still haven't had enough?

OK, then: here's a link to the website for the "The Genius Factory" and its author, David Plotz.

You know, the more I work with you the more you remind me of Eve Babitz, a legendary figure of the Los Angeles 60s and 70s; she once said, "I'm easy to please — but hard to satisfy."

Only a decade or so after I originally read it did I learn that C.S. Lewis is the original source of the quotation.

June 20, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Mona Lisa Clock


Created by Boym Partners, it was a finalist in this year's National Design Awards competition conducted by the Smithsonian's Cooper–Hewitt National Design Museum.

June 20, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Hamilton Naki — The surgeon who never was


On December 3, 1967, the body of a brain–dead young woman was brought to Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa.

Her still–beating heart was removed by Hamilton Naki (above).

50 feet away, on the other side of a glass panel within the same operating suite, Dr. Christiaan Barnard removed the damaged heart of Louis Washkansky.

Barnard placed the heart of the young woman within Washkansky's chest cavity and it began to pump Washkansky's blood through his arteries.

Overnight, Barnard became the most celebrated doctor in the world.

Naki, as usual, caught the bus home to his one–room shack, without electricity or running water, in the black township of Langa.

In some of the post–operation photographs Naki inadvertently appeared at Barnard's side; he was a cleaner, or a gardener, the hospital explained.

Naki's obituary, describing the astounding life of an extraordinary man whom Barnard admitted was probably a better surgeon that he was, appeared in the June 9 Economist; it follows.

    Hamilton Naki, An Unrecognised Surgical Pioneer, Died on May 29th, Aged 78

    On December 3rd, 1967, the body of a young woman was brought to Hamilton Naki for dissection.

    She had been knocked down by a car as she went to buy a cake on a street in Cape Town, in South Africa.

    Her head injuries were so severe that she had been pronounced brain-dead at the hospital, but her heart, uninjured, had gone on furiously pumping.

    Mr Naki was not meant to touch this body.

    The young woman, Denise Darvall, was white, and he was black.

    The rules of the hospital, and indeed the apartheid laws of the land, forbade him to enter a white operating theatre, cut white flesh, or have dealings with white blood.

    For Mr Naki, however, the Groote Schuur hospital had made a secret exception.

    This black man, with his steady, dexterous hands and razor-sharp mind, was simply too good at the delicate, bloody work of organ transplantation.

    The chief transplant surgeon, the young, handsome, famously temperamental Christiaan Barnard, had asked to have him on his team.

    So the hospital had agreed, saying, as Mr Naki remembered, "Look, we are allowing you to do this, but you must know that you are black and that's the blood of the white. Nobody must know what you are doing."

    Nobody, indeed, knew.

    On that December day, in one part of the operating suite, Barnard in a blaze of publicity prepared Louis Washkansky, the world's first recipient of a transplanted human heart.

    Fifteen metres away, behind a glass panel, Mr Naki's skilled black hands plucked the white heart from the white corpse and, for hours, hosed every trace of blood from it, replacing it with Washkansky's.

    The heart, set pumping again with electrodes, was passed to the other side of the screen, and Mr Barnard became, overnight, the most celebrated doctor in the world.

    In some of the post-operation photographs Mr Naki inadvertently appeared, smiling broadly in his white coat, at Barnard's side.

    He was a cleaner, the hospital explained, or a gardener.

    Hospital records listed him that way, though his pay, a few hundred dollars a month, was actually that of a senior lab technician.

    It was the most they could give, officials later explained, to someone who had no diploma.

    There had never been any question of diplomas.

    Mr Naki, born in the village of Ngcangane in the windswept Eastern Cape, had been pulled out of school at 14, when his family could no longer afford it.

    His life seemed likely to be cattle-herding, barefoot and in sheepskins, like many of his contemporaries.

    Instead, he hitch-hiked to Cape Town to find work, and managed to land a job tending lawns and rolling tennis courts at the University of Cape Town Medical School.

    A black—even one as clever as he was, and as immaculately dressed, in a clean shirt, tie and Homburg hat even to work in the gardens—could not expect to get much further.

    But a lucky break came when, in 1954, the head of the animal research lab at the Medical School asked him for help.

    Robert Goetz needed a strong young man to hold down a giraffe while he dissected its neck to see why giraffes did not faint when they drank.

    Mr Naki coped admirably, and was taken on: at first to clean cages, then to hold and anaesthetise the animals, then to operate on them.

    The lab was busy, with constant transplant operations on pigs and dogs to train doctors, eventually, for work on humans. Mr Naki never learned the techniques formally; as he put it, "I stole with my eyes".

    But he became an expert at liver transplants, far trickier than heart transplants, and was soon teaching others.

    Over 40 years he instructed several thousand trainee surgeons, several of whom moved on to become heads of departments.

    Barnard admitted—though not until 2001, just before he died—that Mr Naki was probably technically better than he was, and certainly defter at stitching up afterwards.

    Unsung, though not unappreciated, Mr Naki continued to work at the Medical School until 1991.

    When he retired, he drew a gardener's pension: 760 rand, or about $275, a month.

    He exploited his medical contacts to raise funds for a rural school and a mobile clinic in the Eastern Cape, but never thought of money for himself.

    As a result, he could pay for only one of his five children to stay to the end of high school.

    Recognition, with the National Order of Mapungubwe and an honorary degree in medicine from the University of Cape Town, came only a few years before his death, and long after South Africa's return to black rule.

    He took it well.

    Bitterness was not in his nature, and he had had years of training to accept his life as apartheid had made it.

    On that December day in 1967, for example, as Barnard played host to the world's adoring press, Mr Naki, as usual, caught the bus home.

    Strikes, riots and road blocks often delayed it in those days.

    When it came, it carried him—in his carefully pressed suit, with his well-shined shoes—to his one-room shack in the township of Langa.

    Because he was sending most of his pay to his wife and family, left behind in Transkei, he could not afford electricity or running water.

    But he would always buy a daily newspaper; and there, the next day, he could read in banner headlines of what he had done, secretly, with his black hands, with a white heart.

June 20, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BabyPlane — World's first plane–spoon


"Who has never played airplanes with a spoon when feeding a young child?"

Young? But I digress.

"Well, here is BABYPLANE, the first plane–spoon, the latest aeronautical creation for kids!"

"This gift will no doubt thrill all young parents who have their feet firmly set on the ground!"

Go here, find BABYPLANE and click on the drawing next to it.

[via AW]

June 20, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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