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July 24, 2006

'How Faith Saved the Atheist' — by Pamela R. Winnick

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This wonderful essay appeared in last Friday's Wall Street Journal.

You don't need to have a position on whether or not God exists to enjoy it: all are welcome.

Here's the piece.

    How Faith Saved the Atheist

    A medical resident -- we called her "Dr. Death" -- at the Intensive Care Unit at Long Island's North Shore Hospital chased us down the hallway.

    "Your husband wants to die," she told my mother, again. Just minutes before I had asked her to leave us alone.

    "He can't even talk," I reminded her.

    "He motioned with his hands when we tried to put in the feeding tube," she said.

    Not exactly informed consent, I pointed out as we turned our backs on her and walked down the hallway, trying to avert our eyes from the other patients in the ICU that night, each of them at various points in the so-called "twilight zone" between life and death.

    Afflicted with asbestos-related lung cancer, my father, Louis Winnick, was rushed into the ICU in late May after a blood clot nearly killed him. The next day, my husband and I raced to New York from Pittsburgh. I packed enough work and knitting for what might be an extended stay, but I also put in a suit for what I was certain would be my father's imminent funeral. Still, he wasn't dead yet. And we had no intention of precipitating the inevitable.

    "Dr. Death" was just one of several. A new resident appeared the next day, this one a bit more diplomatic but again urging us to allow my father to "die with dignity." And the next day came yet another, who opened with the words, "We're getting mixed messages from your family," before I shut him up. I've written extensively about practice of bioethics -- which, for the most part, I do not find especially ethical -- but never did I dream that our moral compass had gone this far askew. My father, 85, was heading ineluctably toward death. Though unconscious, his brain, as far as anyone could tell, had not been touched by either the cancer or the blood clot. He was not in a "persistent vegetative state" (itself a phrase subject to broad interpretation), that magic point at which family members are required to pull the plug -- or risk the accusation that they are right-wing Christians.

    I complained about all the death-with-dignity pressure to my father's doctor, an Orthodox Jew, who said that his religion forbids the termination of care but that he would be perfectly willing to "look the other way" if we wanted my father to die. We didn't. Then a light bulb went off in my head. We could devise a strategy to fend off the death-happy residents: We would tell them we were Orthodox Jews.

    My little ruse worked. During the few days after I announced this faux fact, it was as though an invisible fence had been drawn around my mother, my sister and me. No one dared mutter that hateful phrase "death with dignity."

    Though my father was born to an Orthodox Jewish family, he is an avowed atheist who long ago had rejected his parents' ways. As I sat in the ICU, blips on the various screens the only proof that my father was alive, the irony struck me: My father, who had long ago rejected Orthodox Judaism, was now under its protection.

    As though to confirm this, there came a series of miracles. Just a week after he was rushed to ICU, my father was pronounced well enough to be moved out of the unit into North Shore's long-term respiratory care unit. A day later he was off the respirator, able to breathe on his own. He still mostly slept, but then he began to awaken for minutes at a time, at first groggy, but soon he was as alert (and funny) as ever. A day later, we walked in to find him sitting upright in a chair, reading the New York Times.

    I've never been one of those Jews who makes facial contortions at the mere mention of the Christian Right; I actually agree with them on some matters. And this experience with my father has given me a new appreciation for the fight many evangelicals have waged against euthanasia.

    But I'm offended that so many conservative Christians believe that theirs is the only path to salvation. I'm sick of being proselytized. We Jews enjoy a more basic type of faith, a direct relationship to God that requires no salvation, no penitence, no supplication. We do not proselytize. And we don't worry about the next life; we conduct mitzvahs -- good deeds -- that enhance life for ourselves and others in the here and now. Religion is said to have no grandparents -- meaning, we each find our own path to (or away from) faith. Yet it's my grandparents' faith -- and not my father's Jewish atheism -- to which I find myself being drawn.

    A few years ago -- perhaps just to fend off the Christians -- I joined a local synagogue in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. But the annual dues shot up from $750 to $1,000. And the fund-raisers called nonstop seeking donations to the temple's capital fund. "Jesus saves, Moses invests," my father always joked. Hey, that's our tradition.

    On Father's Day, we packed my father's hospital room: his wife, daughters, grandchildren, each of us regaling him with our successes large and small. "Life's not so bad, after all," the atheist said. I wanted to go back to ICU, find Dr. Death, drag her to my father's room and say: "This is the life you wanted to end." But if I'm really to be a person of faith, I'll have to tackle forgiveness.

July 24, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Catch-A-Call — 'Stay online with a dial-up modem and one phone line'

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Not everyone has — or wants — high-speed internet.

But the problem's always been that if you've only got one phone line, people calling while you're online get a busy signal.

Not if you've got this nifty device.

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From the website:

    Catch-A-Call

    Always get the call — even when you're on the web!

    The easiest way for your phone, PC and fax to share one line!

    Using call waiting from your phone company, Catch-A-Call monitors your phone line for incoming calls.

    Does your PC share a line with a fax machine?

    No problem!

    Catch-A-Call lets you stay on line and receive the fax or phone call at the same time!

    Intuitive, easy-to-use design features Plug-'n-Play operation and works with any computer, operating system and phone line.

    No software required.

    4" x 3" x 1".

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$24.99.

July 24, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

How to watch YouTube on your Video iPod

Say what?

Tell us more.

Firefox (Windows only)

1. Add the Greasemonkey extension to your Firefox browser.

2. Go to www.userscripts.org and install the Download YouTube Video script.

3. The next time you watch YouTube, you'll see a Download Video option beneath the screen. Click to save the file to your desktop as "QaQw9V4Upj4.flv" or whatever.

4. Install and launch the free Super video convertor (www.erightsoft.com).

5. Select Apple-iPod from the Output Container option, and then the output video codec H.264/AVC. Set size to 320 x 240. If you get an error message when connecting, unclick the Use DirectShow button. Otherwise, drag the converted title into iTunes and it's ready for viewing.

Phew, sure glad I'm not a Windows user 'cause those instructions — just reading them, not imagining trying to follow them — has given me a headache.

Let's see how Apple people fare, shall we?

Safari (Mac only)

1. Go to a YouTube video page, wait for it to load, and then open Safari's Activity window.

2. Double-click the URL of the video file — it's the largest one — to download it.

3. Rename the file something better than QaQw9V4Upj4 — say, Skateboarding Bulldog.

4. Drag and drop it into the free iSquint converter (www.isquint.org) and — presto! — an iPod-optimized video file for your iTunes library.

Better — but still not even close to TechnoDolt™ applicability.

I mean, I just spent a few wasted minutes trying — and failing — to find "Safari's Activity window."

When will the techies get a clue and speak to us in plain English?

Oh, well.

[via the free 44-page "How-To" pullout in the new (August) issue of Wired magazine. The pullout itself is worth the magazine's $5.95 cover price. Speaking of which, a one-year subscription at Amazon is $12 — that's a buck an issue, in case you're not up to pulling out your calculator.]

July 24, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Bottlecap Tripod

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Say what?

Anne McDonough wrote about it in yesterday's Washington Post Travel section "It Came In The Mail" feature, as follows.

    It Came In The Mail: Bottlecap Tripod

    An occasional look at products the travel industry insists we need

    What: Bottlecap tripod by Yodobashi

    Aimed at: On-the-road shutterbugs who like a light load.

    How much: $19.99

    But does it work? Unless you have the steadiest of hands, tripods are the key to avoiding camera shake when shooting at night and in no-flash-allowed museums. But what traveler wants to add that weight and bulk to their luggage? This gadget, available in six colors, is a rubber bottle cap topped by a ball-and-socket platform that screws into the bottom of your camera.

    Take a plastic bottle filled with water (or sand or pebbles), cover its top with this cap and attach it to your camera. Ingenious! Well... the doohickey comes with Japanese-only instructions; the Web site says it's for "bottles 28.5 to 30.5mm diameter [1.1" to 1.2" bottle top]." Huh? We're not in the habit of measuring our bottles, so we tried those at hand. Our mini half-liter water bottle didn't seem to work, but it fit snugly on top of a 20-ounce Pepsi bottle.

    While it's billed as a device for digital cameras, it worked with our ages-old Minolta film point-and-shoot, and offers a nice 30-degree tilt in every direction for different angles. Heavy SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras don't fare well, however; the body of our Canon 20D stayed on just fine, but once we added the lens, the camera toppled over. Still, we'd happily stick this tiny tripod-on-the-go in our camera bag and break it out for those point-and-shoot MacGyver moments.

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Comes in six color combinations: Clear/Blue, Clear/Green, Clear/Pink, Clear/Yellow, Clear/Orange, Blue/Black.

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Clear/Green is shown in action up top.

$19.99 (Evian water and camera not included).

July 24, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

sathnam.com

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Just up, the website of the man who appears to be — by a large margin, painful as the news might be to his journalist peers — the youngest regular columnist of the august Financial Times.

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He's pictured above in his corner office, suitable digs — for the time being, at least — for a man who has ascended the ladder in record time.

How did that happen?

As best I can tell, his performance as a fill-in for a regular a while back prompted enough reader responses to then-editor Andrew Gowers that Gowers bestowed upon Sanghera the coveted Friday "Inside Business" slot, which features a look at some business or practice or suchlike as a platform for the columnist to wax eloquent and — hopefully — side-splittingly funny so as to make Friday pass that much more quickly and painlessly.

Anyway.

I was one of those who emailed Gowers back in the day saying hey, hire this guy, he's good.

And lo and behold now Sanghera's a regular.

Just 29 years old, too.

Precocious lad, what?

But wait — there's more.

Turns out that among the 15 sites on his links page (below) appears one blog: mine.

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Be still, my heart.

I'm lovin' it.

Sanghera's website design is excellent: fast, simple, easy to navigate and read.

You could do far worse than hire the company he used — The Web Kitchen — to do yours.

July 24, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MorphWorld Kitchen Hack: Office Shredder into Pasta Machine

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MorphWorld isn't just for people any more.

Now comes Food Network chef Alton Brown, in the wonderfully informative free 44-page pullout that comes with the new (August) issue of Wired magazine, with simple directions for turning an ordinary paper shredder into a fresh pasta dispenser.

For best results, he recommends one made by Fellowes that can mince credit cards and CDs.

Just follow these six steps, exactly as related in Wired:

1) Clean your shredder — even if it's new, you have no idea how long it sat gathering dust (or worse) at Office Depot.

2) Ditch the paper-catching bin below it — you'll want room to work with your pasta.

3) Now disable the receptacle sensor so the machine still functions — you can do this with anything but your finger. (Brown suggests duct tape).

4) Turn the machine on — as the mechanism churns, coat it with nonstick cooking spray.

5) Run pasta through — your sheet of dough should be no wider than the paper feed. The length is up to you.

6) Catch the noodles — do this as they come out, so they don't pile up and stick to themselves.

Do not try this at the office unless you intend to stop working there in the very near future.

After several hours of drilling down online, my crack research team reports that the Fellowes model OD-1200 High-Performance Personal Strip-Cut Shredder (above and below),

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$84.99 at the Office Depot website, appears to be the right tool for the job.

Now where's that clam sauce....

July 24, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'Data Mining' at Wallspace Gallery

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Curated by Joe Scanlan, it's up through Saturday, August 5.

Above and below, six of the works on display.

I found the gallery's description (below) of why the show exists most interesting — so might you.

On the other hand, you might not.

We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?

    Data Mining

    Before the advent of computers, web crawlers, and double miles for grocery and gasoline purchases, data mining was either an in-house file-card system or a sordid early morning affair, limited to one company keeping track of its customers or tabloid detectives combing through garbage cans. In the digital era, with its vast and integrated information networks, data mining has flourished as marketing tool, as social science, and as surveillance, tracking everything from our eating habits and entertainment preferences to our phone logs and medical histories. As such, data mining is one of the most pervasive, efficient and profitable ways for powerful entities to track and maintain their hold on things.

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    As an information gathering system, data mining’s organizing principle is similarity rather than difference. It works by gathering massive amounts of information from witting and unwitting participants and then groups like patterns with like patterns. In other words, data mining finds and measures conformity and repetition. Anomalies are discarded because they represent behaviors that are too irregular to make efficient sense of. Consequently, not only does data mining deem aberrant behavior unprofitable (and therefore useless), it also sets that small percentage of people off against the majority, whose behavior data mining deems both useful and profitable. And the greater the majority, the more influential they are in determining what gets made, seen, distributed, consumed.

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    The big difference lately is that the influence is beginning to flow both ways. When one person (Michael Paranzino) with 900 dollars and a website can stop a billion-dollar television network from broadcasting a program he is personally unhappy with, and when another person (Markos Moulitsas) can have nearly every 2008 democratic presidential candidate flattering him because his blog is a liberal bellwether, then it’s a great day for small-scale initiative. Whither artists in this brave new world of mountain-moving, tin horn subjectivity?

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    Unfortunately many artists are down on exerting influence these days, which is both odd and sad. Sad in that power has become so suspect among artists that few dare say they want it, let alone admit they have any. Odd because there has never been a time when the words and images of individuals—however puny or underfunded—can be as powerful as they are today. If artists at the moment seem to have lost their voice and their bearings in relation to the culture at large, maybe it’s because so many of us think our work is trivial and incapacitated—not because it is, but because that makes it easier to live with.

    Luckily some artists believe their actions still matter, and think that a little research and a lot of leeway (and vice versa) can get noticed, maybe even be effective. Data Mining presents work by eight artists who take matters into their own hands by reframing aesthetics and retelling stories—in general, asserting their power as aberrant individuals inhabiting a conformist technology. Because their works draw stark contrasts between political content and modest creative means, all of the artists in Data Mining might be characterized as “folk politicians” or, if you will, “craft activists.” Whether armed with video cameras or embroidery needles, glue guns or pocket knives, the artists in Data Mining aestheticize politics and politicize aesthetics.

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    But this is not 1971. This is not an index of typewritten instructions pinned to spare white walls. Nor is this 1999. This is not a gaggle of international artists “critiquing” art institutions, only to leave the institutions (and themselves) intact. Rather, this is 2006. This is a subversive, affectionate, grass roots show—one especially aware that not a little craftsmanship is necessary to being persuasive.

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The show features the work of eight artists:

Conrad Bakker
Jay Chung
Dora Garcia
Chris Moukarbel
Karen Reimer
Gerhard Richter
[The voice of] Robert Smithson
Donelle Woolford

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The gallery is at 619 West 27th Street (Ground Floor) in New York City; tel: 212-594-9478; Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; www.wallspacegallery.com.

July 24, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

SoapRocks — 'Fine soap in the form and color of rocks and gems'

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Though they look just like stone they're actually glycerine soaps.

They were invented by conceptual artist Todd Pink, who one day happened to look at a bunch of soap scraps in his bathtub and decided to see what would happen if he squashed them all together into one big glob of soap that resembled a rock.

Seven years later, combining a lot of time and energy together with his background in art, geology and chemistry, SoapRocks were born.

A 6 oz. bar of any of 22 varieties, from amber citrine to watermelon tourmaline, costs $14.95 on Todd Pink's website.

Interestingly enough, the very same soaps are available here for half that price.

That's different: usually resellers charge more than the artisan or creator of a product.

Iuliujio

Strange world.

July 24, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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