Friday, May 31, 2002

Sleepless in Seattle, Portland, L.A., Denver, Chicago, Boston . . .
If you think you’ve got spare time on your hands, meet John Winter Smith. He’s trying to visit every Starbucks in the world. (Thanks to Gil Gordon for this link. And apologies to all for not posting yesterday. The explanation: a computer meltdown.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

An explanation for crazy ideas.
Researchers at Stanford who studied people suffering from manic-depressive disorder have found "that creative people tend to share more personality traits with the mentally ill than they do with the middle-of-the-road masses." Reuters has the intriguing story.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

I zorb, therefore I am.
In the southern hemisphere, things have always been a little screwy. Summer is winter, the toilets swirl backwards, and now folks have started -- gasp -- zorbing. What, pray tell, is zorbing? It's the latest craze in New Zealand. In brief, you climb into a very large plastic ball -- and then someone rolls you down a hill. Don't believe me? Here's a photo of some dude zorbing. Perilous as the sport looks, the zorbmeisters claim there's no chance of injury because the sphere (i.e. the zorb, several models of which are pictured here) has an air cushion that keeps the Zorbonaut safe "as he hurtles down the side of a hill at speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour. The idea is that as the ball rolls around, the person inside . . . becomes pinned to the inside, just like water inside a bucket being spun around your head." Who says the U.S. is the only country with innovators?

Monday, May 27, 2002

Yes, Virginia, there are atheists in foxholes.
Today’s Washington Post runs an info-graphic on the religious symbols deceased U.S. military veterans have had chiseled on their headstones. (The Veterans Affairs Department provides free headstones or markers for veterans’ graves – complete with an “emblem of belief,” and the name, branch of service, year of birth, year of death of the fallen vet.) Not surprisingly, the overwhelmingly most requested symbol in the last year was the Christian cross – with 263,612 requests. Next came the Lutheran cross – with 3,220 requests. Rounding out the top five were symbols for the United Methodist Church (2,747), Judaism (2,443), and the Southern cross of honor (1,767). But look toward the bottom of the list, right between “Sufism Reoriented” and “United Moravian Church.” In the last year, eighteen veterans have had their gravestones emblazoned with the symbol for “Atheist.” (Note: This Post item, strangely, isn’t online. If you’ve got the printed paper, the story’s on page A21.)

Friday, May 24, 2002

Bored to death.
New research from the University of Texas Health Science Center suggests that people who work in jobs that afford little freedom to decide what to do and how to do it tend to die earlier than people with autonomy in their work. (The story is on Reuters. The study is in the in journal Psychosomatic Medicine.) Demanding, stressful jobs didn't affect mortality. What proved deadly was passive work that offered little challenge or control. “If people aren’t working at meaningful jobs,” says the study’s author, “that affects their health.”

Thursday, May 23, 2002

Ownership has its privileges.
Add talented sportswriter King Kaufman to the growing list of scribes who realize that folks who are "pro-business" are often not "pro-market." In a Salon column, Kaufman says that major league baseball's labor dispute is a world seemingly turned upside down: "You have the workers saying that the free market is where it's at, and the owners, the capitalists, saying they need protection from the free market, that the free market creates unfair competition in the form of teams with lower revenue having no chance of winning. That is to say, the free market creates winners and losers, and we can't have that. Ownership's solution to the problem is a sort of modified socialism: a salary cap and massive revenue sharing." What's more, he could have added, these owners also get taxpayer-financed stadiums and an exemption from antitrust laws. Baseball owners of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your skyboxes!

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Low-test fatherhood.
Harvard scientists have discovered something any parent could have told you for free: "married men who spend time with their family have lower testosterone levels than bachelors." And those of us who are married with children have the lowest testosterone levels of all. Happy early Father's Day to my fellow sufferers.

Monday, May 20, 2002

I hear America medicating
RxList is out with its ranking of the 200 most prescribed drugs in the U.S., and the annual list that offers a peculiar window into America. Dominating the top are meds at least tangentially related to aging – drugs for heart disease, high cholesterol, and osteoporosis. Following close behind are drugs mostly for kids – antibiotics and asthma medicines. And what about the folks in between – that is, the 30 and 40-somethings who are caring for all these aging parents and coughing kids? The next top sellers, natch, are anti-anxiety meds and various kinds of anti-depressants.

Friday, May 17, 2002

Truths revealed in airplane reading.
"There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write."
-- from Steven Pressfield's The War of Art (which I discovered in a bookstore at the San Francisco airport)

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Flash for cash.
Some quick thoughts on the bubbling brouhaha over the September 11 photo that the Republican party is awarding to donors. Offensive though it is, getting dough for saying "cheese" is a timeworn White House tradition. Many contributors don't give a hoot about access; they merely want a signed grip-and-grin they can use to impress friends and woo clients. Just as Bill Clinton demonstrated that every White House is a Motel 6, W. reminds us that every White House is also a Photomat. What I can't understand, though, is why they choose this particular photo. This is the best photo they have? A shot of W. talking on the phone to Dick "The Defribillator" Cheney is the image that best exemplifies a tender young President's steely resolve in the face of unimaginable horror? Maybe the donors deserve their money back.
Keep your tray table locked.
Yesterday was another travel day, so this post counts as Wednesday's entry. If you spend any time on airplanes (or even if you don't), check out this positively weird web site, which collects and display photos of airline food.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Flying economic indicators.
It's travel week here at J1Thing. Today I woke up in Seattle, flew to San Francisco, and I'm now in Park City, Utah. After three cities and three airports, I draw one conclusion: this recession ain't over. The seat next to me was empty on every flight. The lines at the security checkpoint were non-existent. And--most stunning of all--my wait at the Jamba Juice stand at the S.F. Airport was only four minutes.

Monday, May 13, 2002

Fly trap.
When I look out the window of my hotel, here's what I see: the Puget Sound, some mountains, and a tiny slice of Pike Place Market. But instead of enjoying the scenery here in Seattle this morning, I've been checking my United Mileage Plus account to make sure it was credited for the 2306 miles I traveled to get here. Like many of you, I'm obsessed with frequent flier miles. But during a break yesterday from flogging my book, I discovered some unsettling news: the frequent flier currency is about to suffer an Argentine-style valuation crisis.

The Economist has the story. Since credit cards, hotels, even dentists now offer miles, the worldwide stock of this alternative currency has soared. Sloshing around accounts right now are 8 trillion unredeemed miles. The trouble is that under current rules, it would take airlines 23 years to redeem those miles. In other words, says the magazine, "airlines have been printing too much of their currency. They are issuing more miles than they could ever supply in free seats." It's textbook hyperinflation. And what happens under such conditions? Those who move first do fine. Those who wait end up buying a loaf of bread with a wheelbarrow full of devalued pesos.

So what should you do? Spend you miles now. As for me, I'm already checking free flights to Argentina.

Thursday, May 09, 2002

The design story of the year.
Today's LA Times has a front page gem: the story of an artist who "designed, built and installed an addition to an overhead freeway sign--to exact state specifications--to help guide motorists" at a confusing freeway juncture in Los Angeles--and who did it unbeknownst to state or local transporation officials. One part guerilla artist, another part concerned citizen, 46-year-old Richard Ankrom is J1Thing's first (and perhaps last) person of the week.

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

I'm on the road--with no time to blog. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Indispensable destiny.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has launched her campaign to become Maryland’s Governor with a unique rhetorical flourish: she is vowing to introduce the state to its “indispensable destiny.” As the Washington Post writes, “quite a few people are still scratching their heads” over that turn of phrase. The term apparently comes from French philosopher Simone Weil—and it’s irked several politicos because they don’t know quite what it means. Too bad. I actually like the phrase—precisely because it depends on right-brain resonance rather than left-brain logic. Voters know what she means.

Monday, May 06, 2002

Why you should visit Dogtown.
Yesterday I saw the best movie I’ve seen a long while: Dogtown and Z-Boys, a spirited documentary about a group of renegade California kids who, in the 1970s, invented modern skateboarding. It’s a great story. It’s a blast to watch. And it’s packed with lessons for anyone interested in innovation. "Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential,” says the journalist who chronicled the Zephyr Team. “But it was the minds of 11 year olds that could see that potential."

Friday, May 03, 2002

He don't know jack.
To research a story on piracy and Hollywood, Business 2.0’s Matthew Maier apparently had the grim task of reading old Jack Valenti speeches. But his heroic efforts have paid off--and they shed some historical light on Hollywood's recent panic-stricken pleas about the perils of new technologies. Maier notes that in 1984, Valenti (then as now chairman of the Motion Picture Assocation of America) said: “The VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler is to a woman home alone.” Maier then informs us that today, “Home video on VHS and DVD now accounts for about a third of Hollywood’s revenues.”

Thursday, May 02, 2002

More plaudits for Hatch.
In what may be a first, the New York Times editorial board heaps (well-deserved) praise on Senator Orrin Hatch, the pro-life stalwart who recently came out in favor of therapeutic cloning. In this morning's lead editorial, the Times says, "The Utah Republican offered a way of thinking about this divisive issue that could prove far more persuasive with wavering senators than the cramped policy championed by President Bush."

In brief, it's very easy to reconcile opposition to abortion with support for therapeutic cloning. "Senator Hatch, whose pro-life credentials are every bit as strong as the president's, concluded that the tiny clusters of cells that scientists use in laboratory experiments cannot be equated with human life," the Times writes. "Indeed, the senator said that once he had mastered the subject, his decision to back therapeutic cloning, which could benefit millions of Americans suffering from intractable diseases, 'was not — and I repeat not — a close call.'"

Your assignment today: Sign the Franklin Society petition.

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Escape Hatch
Lots of news today on the therapeutic cloning front. The biggest is that conservative pro-life Senator Orrin Hatch yesterday backed legislation that would outlaw cloning babies but permit cloning microscopic blastocysts to develop cures for diseases. (The Washington Post, the New York Times, and USA Today all run A-section stories on the announcement.) This is a huge blow for Senator Sam Brownback’s legislation that calls for banning all forms of cloning—including somatic cell nuclear transfer—and imprisoning scientists who conduct the research.

Here’s the soundbite from Hatch's thoughtful, well-reasoned statement: “I come to this issue with a strong pro-life, pro-family record. But I also strongly believe that a critical part of being pro-life is to support measures that help the living.” Bravo, Senator.

Under the bill that Hatch supports, which is gathering steam in the Senate, therapeutic cloning would be legal—provided that hospital and university ethical boards approved the procedures. But implanting cloned embryos in either a real or an artificial womb would be a criminal offense. Hatch joins 40 Nobel Prize winners and former President Gerald Ford (who, strangely, never won a Nobel Prize), who have also recently voiced support for such a compromise.

What’s the end game here? Here's a prediction: The Brownback bill won’t pass. (Remember: the practical reality in the Senate is that it usually takes 60 votes to pass anything controversial – and there are already at least 41 Senators who oppose the bill.) So the bill either won't come to a vote---or if it comes to a vote, it will fail. Once it's voted down, the Senate will immediately take up the compromise legislation. Since that bill provides everyone some political cover, it will pass by a huge margin. However, the House, which has passed a full ban, hasn’t passed this version of the legislation—and probably won’t get around to it in an election year. So the most likely outcome is that . . . nothing will happen. No new law of any kind. The status quo—which permits cloning funded with private dollars—will prevail. Welcome to Washington.

Don't take any chances, though. Sign the Franklin Society petition. And contact your own Senator.