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October 3, 2005

What's wrong with this picture?*


The photo above appeared in yesterday's Washington Post over a story by Nelson Hernandez about the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, where scientists work with the world's most dangerous viruses, such as Ebola and Marburg.

The facility is a Biosafety Level 4 laboratory and employs the most stringent possible safety and containment precautions.

Among them are the protective suits and helmets worn by those who work there.

I hate working in suits like that.

I did so back when I was at UCLA and laminar flow was the new new thing in the orthopedic operating suite for joint replacement surgery.

The surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and even the orderlies and attendants entering the room had to wear spacesuits with breathing hoses attached to the back.

Unbelievably uncomfortable and completely the opposite of what to me is one of the best things about being an anesthesiologist: you get to stay in your pj's all day.

Scrubs are the softest, most lightweight material imaginable to start with and I always take a few extra moments in the a.m. to pick out the very oldest, silkiest ones from the shelves.

And you can be sure that when I select those that will accompany me home in my backpack — oh, my bad! — to serve as my sleepwear only the very best make the cut.

*Look at the red sign in the photo above: it's there because of bioterrorism precautions.

So how did photographer Ricky Carioti of the Washington Post manage to get away with taking a picture?

Too late to retract it, would be my guess....

October 3, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mercora.com: Three times as many songs as iTunes — and it's free


How can this be?

And exactly what is Mercora?

Good questions.

I read Marc Fisher's story in yesterday's Washington Post about this new internet music site but I still am not quite sure how to describe it.

Wrote Fisher, "Listening to Mercora is like tapping into a million iPods all at once."

Read the article for yourself.

    Internet Eavesdropping: It's Music to Mercora Users' Ears

    The really important cultural innovations are the ones that blur the definitions of old categories.

    The VCR clouded the distinction between TV and movies.

    The World Wide Web punched open the wall between print and video.

    Now, a site called Mercora is busy rubbing out the lines separating radio from music downloading.

    As with radio, Mercora plays music chosen by someone else, according to the DJ's tastes and rules.

    But as with downloading onto your iPod or adding a CD to your collection, Mercora lets the user decide what music to listen to.

    How can both be true?

    At Mercora.com, you plug an artist or genre into a search engine that combs through about 3 million tunes residing on the computers of the hundreds of thousands of people who have registered with the site.

    The site produces a list of songs that are playing right that second.

    You either listen to the music now or record it onto your computer to play later.

    That's the downloading part of the technology, but hush -- don't use that word, because it would put Mercora in a wholly different legal category.

    Mercora likes the powers that be in the entertainment industry to think of this free site as an aggregator of Internet radio stations, not a downloading service.

    So here's the radio part of the technology: When the song ends, you automatically move to the next tune in the Webcast of the user, or "citizen DJ," whose collection you've tapped into.

    Listening to Mercora is like tapping into a million iPods all at once.

    You can control what you listen to, returning to the search engine after each tune to select your next cut, or you can open yourself to the choices and discoveries of whatever random music lover happens to have been playing the tune you first sought.

    That serendipity gives Mercora a huge advantage over highly predictable broadcast radio and over Internet radio stations, which are equally hierarchical (they play, you listen).

    And since Mercora is both free and vastly more varied in its offerings than even pay satellite radio, the site also threatens XM and Sirius, which charge $12.95 a month for their 100-plus channels of music, talk and news.

    But while Mercora appeals to the on-demand mentality of the pay-per-song generation, the service's offerings are not comprehensive.

    You can be certain at any hour that there'll be plenty of Beatles, Britney or Bob Marley playing, but as often as not, you can type in Charlie Parker, Steely Dan, Funkadelic or anything classical and come up empty.

    Still, Mercora Vice President Atri Chatterjee says his service offers three times as many pieces of music as iTunes, without charge.

    Mercora has managed so far to steer clear of the recording industry's jihad against its customers.

    The company has avoided legal landmines by paying music publishers the same kind of license fees that Web radio stations pay.

    "We are effectively a large radio network except that we don't have our own content, but we take other people's content and aggregate it," Chatterjee says.

    In the world after traditional radio, there are three ways to get music: Buy it piecemeal from iTunes or a similar downloading service, subscribe to a service such as Real Networks that makes its library available for listening for a monthly fee, or listen to Web radio and save the music for later listening through a company like Mercora.

    Why is Mercora legal when file-sharing services such as Grokster have been found to violate copyright law?

    Mercora's lawyers say the analogy is to TiVo, which lets users time-shift TV shows; the model is still that of a broadcast, not a download in which you own a copy of the song.

    If you save a song via Mercora, it expires in your computer in 30 days.

    Still, although Mercora executives take pains to demonstrate that their service does not promote music piracy, communications lawyers say it's too early to declare any music-sharing models to be in the clear legally.

    Still, with Internet Walkmen -- devices that make Web-based radio as portable as a transistor radio -- coming soon, Mercora hopes to become a category buster.

October 3, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Best ad of the year?


It appeared in yesterday's New York Times magazine, placed by Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

If it's not the best it's in the top three for sure.

So beautifully simple, elegant and powerful.

The Google of ads.

October 3, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Clip–On Pet Water Dish


What's this?

Now your best friend* doesn't have to go without on those long dry walks.

Anytime's the right time with your handy–dandy belt–clip water dish.


Simply unhook it from your belt, snap it open and voila: 17 oz. (over 1/2 quart) of fresh, clear agua.

The leak–proof bottle is 10"–high and comes with a 5–foot long cord.


$7.98 here.

*Harry Truman famously remarked, "If you want a friend in Washington, D.C. — get a dog."

October 3, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'In 30% of paternity tests the presumed father is not the biological father' — Caroline Caskey, CEO of DNA testing company Identigene


By far the most astonishing statistic I've read in some time.

The quote above appeared in yesterday's New York Times story by Mireya Navarro about the increasing vogue for paternity testing.

Costs have come down from $1,000 ten years ago to $500 today.

Tests today require only a swab from inside the cheek — no needle, no blood.

The number of tests has increased from 149,000 in 1995 to 354,000 in 2003, according to the American Association of Blood Banks.

I know it's hard to believe but repeated studies around the world have shown that 5-10% of people — regardless of economic status or geography — call a man "Dad" who, unbeknownst to them, is not their biological father.

But to think that a paternity test will produce results in three out of ten cases that prove a man did not father his child?

You're playing with fire here.

And so Navarro tells us in her superb story, which follows.

    Painless Paternity Tests, but the Truth May Hurt

    Joseph Dixon said he was not exactly thrilled when his girlfriend of one and a half years told him she was pregnant.

    But, Mr. Dixon said, he did not want her to have an abortion and was determined to do the right thing.

    "I told her I'd definitely be there" for her, said Mr. Dixon, 29, a hotel doorman in Chicago.

    And he was.

    The two didn't marry but settled into the common rhythm of separate but shared parenthood, he said, allowing him to see his daughter whenever he wanted.

    But when Mr. Dixon arranged to purchase a life insurance policy to give his 4-year-old daughter financial security last January, the results of a required DNA test delivered stunning news.

    "The probability of paternity is 0%," the results read.

    He was not his daughter's biological father.

    Like an increasing number of men, Mr. Dixon found his life spun around as the result of a paternity test.

    There was shock, then deep hurt and finally a realization.

    "I never had any idea she'd been cheating," Mr. Dixon said of his ex-girlfriend.

    "We knew each other, at least I thought."

    With costs of paternity testing down - to $500 or less per test from nearly $1,000 just 10 years ago - and with the testing so simple it can be done at home (a swab from inside the cheeks does the job), DNA testing has become more common to settle legal disputes and questions about identity.

    A survey by the American Association of Blood Banks showed that more than 354,000 tests to establish parentage were performed in 2003, compared with about 149,100 in 1995.

    Caroline Caskey, chief executive officer of Identigene, a DNA testing company in Houston that has advertised its services nationally in magazines and billboards, said that in about 30 percent of the paternity tests the presumed father turns out to be not the biological father, and that is consistent throughout the industry.

    Although the tests ostensibly offer clarity, those who are left to wrestle with the results find themselves in unchartered emotional terrain from the moment the question of a test is raised, lawyers who specialize in family law say.

    After all, merely suggesting a paternity test could poison a relationship forever.

    If the results are negative, the emotional consequences could be life-shattering for everyone concerned.

    Men like Mr. Dixon said they had no reason to doubt the women.

    But other men are reluctant to take a DNA test even when they are in the middle of legal battles over children and their lawyer suggests they confirm paternity as a first step.

    Some even flat out refuse.

    "It's a cultural taboo in this country," said Jeffery M. Leving, a lawyer and fathers' rights advocate in Chicago.

    "It's very unmanly to request a DNA test to determine that your child is your biological child. It's emasculating and many men would not do it."

    Paternity tests have been a staple of tabloids and popular entertainment for years.

    The designer and supermodel Elizabeth Hurley had a nasty public spat with her ex-boyfriend, the Hollywood producer Stephen Bing, before a DNA test proved he was the father of her child.

    A DNA test is what apparently led the actor Robert Blake to marry Bonny Lee Bakely, who bore his child and later was murdered in a car outside restaurant in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles. .

    And now there is Amber Frey, the "other woman" in the Laci Peterson murder case.

    She recently acknowledged that a DNA test proved the man who was paying child support for the older of her two children was not the child's father.

    Even the two-timing Gabrielle in "Desperate Housewives" has just added a new wrinkle to the show's already tangled plot line with a case of paternity deception: she gave fake test results to her husband, who asked for the DNA evidence because he suspects the baby his wife is carrying may be the gardener's.

    In any case where paternity is in dispute - no one knows exactly how many - the issues can be so jarring some of the men interviewed for this article had trouble speaking or broke into tears when recounting their experience.

    Dr. Enrique Terrazas, 39, a clinical pathologist from California, said his ex-wife eventually told him that one of his two children was not his child.

    His second wife had urged him to do the test because of a lack of resemblance between father and the child.

    In his view, what kind of person would have asked his own wife for a DNA test?

    "It's like prenuptials," he said.

    "If you ask, it can be interpreted as saying 'I don't trust you,' or 'I want to protect my interest.' Unless you suspect infidelity and unless you have seen proof, to say I want a DNA test you're basically saying, 'You're cheating on me.' "

    Dr. Terrazas cried on the telephone as he recounted the fallout.

    Because of the resulting dispute over child support payments, he said, he no longer sees his child regularly.

    His ex-wife's current husband is in the process of adopting the child.

    He said that his relationship with the child "has been destroyed."

    Dr. Terrazas's former wife answered a request for an interview with an e-mail message that said, "I do not want anything to do with any media coverage that focuses adversely" on her children.

    It is the fallout faced by the children, most child advocates and lawyers say, that is most traumatic.

    And the men who seek to halt child support payments - an act many of them say is an attempt to right a wrong, rather than to abandon the children they still care about - are surprised to learn that they are still required by many courts to continue to pay because it is deemed in the best interest of the child, especially if the man is the only father that child has ever known.

    Some men have organized groups like the United States Citizens Against Paternity Fraud (www.paternityfraud.com) to call for mandatory DNA testing at the time of birth and laws that exempt men from child support if they are proven not to be the biological father.

    "It's really a lose-lose situation," Debbie Kline, executive director of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support, a child support advocacy organization, said of the situations when parentage isn't determined until long after birth.

    "And for the children, if this man is removed from the child's life, it's going to be devastating."

    To prevent grief down the line, Mr. Leving said he recommends that his clients get a DNA test if they have a child out of wedlock.

    Other lawyers say men should think about the test even within a marriage if there's suspicion of an affair or any circumstance that does not pass "the smell test."

    "I think the real bottom line is that for a few hundred dollars you can buy peace of mind that the child is yours," said Randall M. Kessler, a family law lawyer in Atlanta.

    Still, most men resort to DNA testing only when they are pushed.

    Lawyers like Mr. Leving say clients often request the test when they are being denied visitation rights and become suspicious of the reasons.

    In other instances friends or relatives - and often a current girlfriend or wife - might raise suspicion that a child is not theirs, or the mother herself might blurt it out.

    "It happens in the heat of an argument, and the woman goes, 'You're not even the father of the child!' " said Taron James, who formed the group Veterans Fighting Paternity Fraud in California in 2002 after he fought for years to stop child support payments for a child that was not his.

    In the most recent case to make headlines, Ms. Frey went to court to set aside the paternity judgment against the man who was paying child support for her 4-year-old daughter and attached the results of a DNA test that showed the girl's father was actually someone else.

    Gloria Allred, the lawyer for Ms. Frey, said her client had believed "in good faith" that the man paying child support was the girl's father and argued that while women obviously have the responsibility to establish who the father is, so do men.

    "Any man who's alleged to be the father of a child born outside of marriage is entitled to take that DNA test" to establish paternity, she said.

    "If he did not take the test, then he needs to take responsibility for his failure to do so. He shouldn't blame the mother."

    But Glenn Wilson, who represents Anthony Flores, the child's presumed father, countered that unlike his client, "she knew who she had sex with."

    "They were in what he thought was a monogamous relationship," he said.

    Despite such serious implications, like children not knowing their actual medical history, some of the men, and even their lawyers, do not entirely fault the mothers, who say the wrong man is the father of their child for a variety of reasons.

    Some of the women, they said, are in denial that there could be more than one possible father.

    Others do not want to be seen as adulterers.

    And still others believe the truth will destroy relationships both with their partner and their child.

    A spokesman for one mother who did not want to be interviewed explained why she had not been honest with her husband.

    "The boy would have found out," he said. "She wanted to protect the boy."

    But some women are more deliberate in what Mr. Leving called "father shopping," picking the best provider possible even when he is not the true father.

    Lawyers like Mr. Leving advise to take the test without the mother's knowledge, "that way if he's the father, he doesn't have to start conflict with the mother."

    Mr. Dixon said that he was floored when he got the DNA test results, but that he was not angry at his girlfriend.

    "I was just really hurt," he said. "That was four years you're getting attached, a long time to put your heart into somebody."

    He said he insisted on both of them telling the girl right away.

    "I told her that I still loved her, but that I didn't want her to grow up with a lie," he said. "She was shocked. Her first question was who's my dad and where's he? I kind of left it up to her mom to tell her."

    The mother refused a request for an interview through Mr. Dixon.

    As it turned out, Mr. Dixon said, the biological father is not in the picture, and "I was lucky enough that the relationship between me and the mother remained civilized."

    Mr. Dixon, who also has a son from an earlier relationship, and the girl have gone back to their old routine.

    He regularly picks her up after school and delivers her back to her mother before heading to work at the hotel, he said.

    Little has changed, except that he now calls her "goddaughter" and she calls him "goddaddy."

    Most of the time, anyway.

    "Sometimes," he said, "she still calls me dad."

October 3, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Dual–Beam Fluorescent Lantern LED Flashlight


Sure, a flashlight shows you what's ahead — but what's that you're stepping in?

Now you'll know.

This nifty device combines a flashlight — on top with four LEDs to light your advance — with a fluorescent lantern below that shines a bright, wide beam of light straight down.

It has a flat base that lets you stand it on its end to serve as a lamp if you'd rather not carry.

Measures 6.25" x 3.25" x 1.5"; weighs 9 oz.

Requires 4 AA batteries (not included).

$29.85 here.

October 3, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Worst Bag of the Year — Episode 2: The Triumph of Dior


Above, a contender from the House of Dior for the throne currently held by Chanel.

Dior's abomination appeared in an ad in yesterday's Sunday Styles section of the New York Times.

Votes are currently being tabulated here as they pour in, with the winner to be announced later this week — if I remember.

October 3, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Got Curry? The British Curry Awards Top 10 Curry Restaurants


Last week marked the inaugural British Curry Awards Dinner, held at London's Grosvenor House Hotel.

Enam Ali — owner of Le Raj restaurant in Epsom and the editor of Spice (a curry house trade magazine) — was the the driving force behind the establishment of the awards ceremony.

Curry is no small beer in the U.K.: British curry restaurants serve 2.5 million customers a week and generate sales of £3.2 billion ($5.6 billion) a year.

Without further ado, then, the envelope please.

And the winners are:

■ Aziz, Oxford, +44 (0)1865-794945

■ Malik’s, Cookham, +44 (0)1628-520085

■ Bombay Brasserie, London SW7, +44 (0)20-7370 4040

■ Tamarind, London W1, +44 (0)20-7629 3561

■ Curry Mahal, Harrow, +44 (0)20-8422 7976

■ Rajnagar International, Olton, Solihull, +44 (0)121-742 8140

■ Aagrah, Shipley +44 (0)1274-530880

■ Vujon, Newcastle, +44 (0)191-221 0601

■ Britannia Spice, Edinburgh, +44 (0)131-555-2255

■ Juboraj Rhiwbina, Cardiff, +44 (0)2920-628894

Here's Nicholas Lander's October 1 Financial Times story on the festivities.

    Glitz in Search of Dynasties

    Towards the end of his speech at the inaugural British Curry Awards Dinner last week, Enam Ali - owner of Le Raj restaurant in Epsom, editor of Spice, a curry house trade magazine, and the man behind these awards - stopped and allowed himself a nervous smile.

    "You know, many say that the future is orange, but we all know that the future is curry."

    The quip was greeted rapturously by the 1,200 restaurateurs, staff and families in London's Grosvenor House Hotel.

    But, as this and other speeches were to reveal, however popular British curry restaurants are at the moment - and it is estimated that they serve 2.5m customers a week, generating sales of £3.2 billion a year - they face an uncertain future.

    Ali and his colleagues are hoping that an infusion of glamour from these awards will go some way towards helping.

    As we gathered over trays of vegetable samosas, seekh kebabs and Kingfisher beer, the mood was confident.

    Television cameras were taking the event to 126 countries round Europe and the Indian sub-continent.

    There was a message of support from the politically astute Tony Blair, no less.

    Dotted round the room, paling in comparison with some wonderfully colourful sarees, were the gold chains of Lord Mayors, present to support their local restaurants.

    And there was culinary glamour in the shape of three-star Michelin chef Heston Blumenthal from The Fat Duck in Bray, invited, along with Harold McGee the American food writer and Blumenthal's long-term collaborator, by his local curry restaurateur Malik Ahmed of Malik's in Cookham.

    By the time the award ceremony took place, Ali and Sir Gulam Noon, whose Noon Products is the market leader in ready-made Indian meals producing almost 300,000 a day, had set out their stalls.

    First, they insisted on the words curry and spice rather than Indian when referring to restaurants.

    This is important because, although there were restaurateurs from as far afield as Nepal, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the event, the vast majority of restaurants the British so carelessly categorise as 'Indian' are, in fact, run by the Bangladeshi families who have settled in the UK since the late 1940s.

    Then Noon made a stirring call to arms: "The British invaded India in the 19th century with gunpowder. A century later [we] landed in the UK and transformed whole swathes of British society with curry powder. Without the success of the curry restaurant I could not have built my business. I have ridden on the back of your achievements."

    Even if there is some incompatibility between the ready-meal market and the curry restaurant, this was just what Ali had hoped to hear.

    He began his speech by explaining how several great curry restaurants had closed because the sons of the founders had not wanted to carry on the family businesses.

    In a touching sequence the faces of some of the UK's first curry chefs were flashed on the large screens behind him.

    "Many of the pioneers of our glorious past passed away without the recognition they deserved," Ali said. "We don't want this to happen in the future."

    Here was the nub of the evening.

    Britain's curry houses are successful not just because the food caught the imagination of an increasingly adventurous eating public, but also because they combine the charms of home cooking with the intimacy of being looked after by numerous members of the same family.

    When Mohammed Aslam, managing director of the nine-strong group of Aagrah restaurants in Yorkshire, stepped up to collect his award for the best restaurant in the North of England, he modestly attributed his company's success to nothing more than "the commercial development of our home cooking".

    But many curry restaurateurs are finding it increasingly difficult to entice their sons to take over.

    Long, anti-social hours, the low status of the profession and the higher education many curry restaurateurs are putting their children through are contributing to worries about the industry's future.

    Ali hopes the glamour and recognition associated with an awards ceremony might induce them to stay in the fold.

    Yet, by the time the ceremony drew to an end, there was only one thought on everyone's minds.

    Where was the food?

    Atypically for a gathering of so many restaurateurs, nothing had appeared since we sat down at 19:30pm.

    Each table boasted a large karai stand, designed to hold eight traditional karais, or bowls, in which we were expecting food provided by Madhu's of Southall, old hands in the Grosvenor House kitchens thanks to their reputation for cooking for large Indian social gatherings.

    Finally put to work, our waitress brought a series of dishes many in the room have helped establish as British favourites: chicken tikka; rogan josh; masala fried tilapia flown in from Lake Victoria in Kenya; chicken tikka masala; delicious aloo ravia, small aubergines stewed with new potatoes; vegetable biriani and tandoori naan bread.

    But, as I listened to the winners thanking their staff and families, I was struck that not one woman had received an award.

    British kitchens in general have been slow to accept female chefs and restaurateurs but it is now inconceivable to think of a prosperous British restaurant industry without the likes of Sally Clarke, Rose Grey, Angela Hartnett, Rebecca Mascheranas or Ruth Rogers.

    If the sons of the UK's curry restaurateurs aren't too keen to take over their parents' thriving curry restaurants shouldn't the owners be doing more to encourage their daughters?

October 3, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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