Monday, September 30, 2002

Just say Nancy.
Yesterday's New York Times fronts a great story about Nancy Reagan's courageous behind-the-scenes efforts to reverse the Bush Administration's wrongheaded policy on stem cell research. (For more on the stem cell debate, visit the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research website). Mrs. Reagan's stance -- forged during her husband's descent into Alzheimer's, disease for which stem cell research might one day find a cure -- puts her at odds with her party's anti-abortion wing. But as the Times relates in the story's final graf, that won't stop her:

"A Republican legislator recently told Michael Deaver, a Reagan adviser and confidant, that some conservatives contend that Ronald Reagan would never have approved of embryonic stem cell research. Mr. Deaver said he retorted, 'Ronald Reagan didn't have to take care of Ronald Reagan for the last 10 years.'"

After reading this piece -- and seeing Mrs. Reagan's poignant interview with Mike Wallace last week -- I told my wife that I take back all the snarky things I said about her in the 1980s. Seriously.

Friday, September 27, 2002

Killer politics.
Nature reports on two new studies whose controversial conclusions have received surprisingly little attention. Researchers in both Australia and the U.K. have found that a "nation's suicide rate increases under right-wing governments." In the Australian study, even controlling for "annual change in gross domestic product, sedative availability, drought, and both world wars," over the past century suicide rates were 17 percent higher for men and 40 percent higher for women when Conservatives led both state and federal governments.

I'm not sure what to make of this. The studies imply that conservative governments, with their emphasis on competition and market forces, increase stress levels and provoke hopelessness among the disadvantaged -- and therefore raise suicide rates. Could be. But I'm not buying that -- at least not yet. Perhaps social conditions not accounted for in the studies -- say, fear of some external threat such as crime or immigration -- produce both conservative governments and higher suicide rates. What's more, the Australian study seems to bury a more startling, and potentially more significant, conclusion: While men were 43 percent more likely to take their lives when GDP dramatically declined, GDP declines didn't much affect women's suicide rates. However, women were 23 percent more likely to commit suicide during dramatic increases in GDP. (See this chart for the numbers.)

Very curious. If you've got thoughts on these findings, drop me a line.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Rush to judgment.
Right-wingers typically voice two complaints about liberals: 1) They're intolerant of other opinions; 2) They "hate" America. Good thing those on the right behave better. Earlier this week, Al Gore delivered a speech that offered a different opinion about the war in Iraq (this, my friends, is called robust public debate --- something quintessentially American and utterly absent in Iraq). The far right --- unlike those loonies on the left --- then responded with tolerant, level-headed criticism that respected the American tradition of democratic dialogue.

Said Rush Limbaugh of the Vice President's remarks, ". . . idiot . . . liar . . . IQ of a pencil eraser . . . simpleton . . . doofus. . . "

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Strom before the calm.
"The United States Senate is a special place. . . . May God bless each of you, the United States Senate, and our nation. I love all of you and your wives even more."
--- From retiring Senator Strom Thurmond's farewell address,
delivered yesterday, two months before his 100th birthday.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

ChiFi.
I'm posting this from my iBook, which is connected to a WiFi network at Screenz in Evanston, Illinois. It took awhile to get things up and running. (The problem: a bug in Internet Explorer that's forced me to use my Netscape browser.) But otherwise, it's working great. The connection, from Airpath, costs $3.95/hour. That's it. Today, the medium is the message.

Monday, September 23, 2002

Shower crock.
On September 6, I began showering with a caffeinated soap called Shower Shock, which claims to deliver 250 milligrams of caffeine through the skin in every washing. Two weeks later, here's my report: I think I've been had. This hasn't worked at all. Maybe I should have tried eating the bar instead of lathering with it. For now, I'll stick to a much more efficacious hygienic stimulant: Penguin caffeinated mints.

Friday, September 20, 2002

Sounds awesome, we can't wait!!
Defective Yeti has produced a spectacular piece of online political satire: The War on Iraq Evite. Check it out. It's brilliant.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Another modest proposal.
Well, the mailbag has filled up. At the risk of trampling on a few thousand nuanced words, the big takeaways are: 1) The "family first" military proposal appealed to most folks -- but a goodly portion of the readers found the idea simple-minded; 2) Most people are far less exercised than I about the hyprocrisy of rabidly anti-government conservatives taking government jobs enforcing laws and running agencies they once claimed shouldn't exist in the first place. Thanks to everyone who offered their two cents.

Now on to the next modest proposal, a radical CEO pay scheme that I propose in this column, which appears in the October Fast Company. Read it if you'd like. Then fire away.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Chickenhawks, liars, hyprocrites, and perjurers.
This week's posts have generated an interesting response. (See entries for Sept. 16 and 17 if somehow you've missed this scintillating discussion.)

Yesterday's proposal that any political leader who favors attacking Iraq must also offer a son, daughter, or other close relative to serve on the front lines of the war met mostly with approval --- especially from veterans. "I cannot agree more," wrote one former Marine. "I think that when someone, anyone, doesn't have an emotional, visceral connection to the consequences of their actions, it becomes too easy for them to throw others into harms way and look at it from behind the podium as a collection of statistics in a PowerPoint presentation." Another noted that presidential daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush are both draft age and we don't see them suiting up to serve in the armed forces.

By contrast, many liberal correspondents questioned the analysis behind Monday's Spencer Abraham Prize. They said that zealously anti-government conversatives who seek government jobs are neither betraying their principles nor showing that they didn't believe their principles in the first place. Instead, they are simply Trojan Horse-ing their way into government -- intent on unraveling the laws they've pledge to uphold. In other words, they're not hypocrites. (They're going to act in accordance with their principles.) And they're not liars (When they said that these laws were a mortal threat, they meant it.) Instead, they're perjurers! They told Congress they'd do one thing --- when they knew perfectly well they'd do the exact opposite.

Now the questions:

1) Do you agree that any political leader who favors attacking Iraq must also offer a son, daughter, or other close relative to serve on the front lines of the war?

2) What's the deal with these staunchly anti-government conservatives who take government jobs? Are they hypocrites? Liars? Or perjurers?

Let me know what you think. You can email me here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Beware the chickenhawks.
In a smart USA Today op-ed, James Bamford dares utter an obvious but essential truth about the possible (inevitable?) war with Iraq: The men most gung-ho about starting a war --- Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, etc. -- never served in the military. Meanwhile, those cautioning restraint -- Scowcroft, Shwartzkopf, Powell, Zinni, etc. -- just happen to be men who, in Chuck Hagel's words, have "sat in jungles or foxholes and watched their friends get their heads blown off." A modest proposal: Any political leader who favors attacking Iraq must also offer a son, daughter, or other close relative to serve on the front lines of the war. How about it, chickenhawks?

Monday, September 16, 2002

Spencer Abraham Prize.
Here in Washington, DC, there are few sights more pathetic than a rabidly anti-government conservative prostrating him or herself to land a government job. The process usually follows three steps: 1) Person publishes reams of articles and reports suggesting that certain government agencies be abolished or certain laws be repealed. 2) Republican President gets elected. 3) Person renounces previous positions in order to take a government job overseeing the very things he or she supposedly despises.

Today's Washington Post offers the latest instance of this distasteful capital narrative. Gerald Reynolds has spent much of the past decade criticizing the civil rights establishment. He's said mainstream civil rights groups have lost their way. He's called affirmative action "corrupt." And he's questioned the legitimacy of Title IX. Agree or disagree with them, they are principled positions. But now Reynolds has landed a juicy government job -- Assistant Secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education -- that requires him to enforce these hated laws. And Reynolds -- from his "spacious Department of Education office" -- says no problem. He'll do it.

Which leaves us with a question: Is he a hypocrite or a liar? That is, did he abandon his principles in order to get a job? Or did he not believe those principles in the first place?

You decide.

But in the meantime, Reynolds is the first recipient of J1Thing's coveted Spencer Abraham Prize. The back story: When he was a Senator, Spencer Abraham co-sponsored legislation to abolish the Department of Energy. But then when he lost his Senate seat and needed a new job, he fought hard (and ultimately successfully) to be named Secretary of Energy so that he could be in charge of an agency he believed (sic) shouldn't exist.

Congratulations, Mr. Reynolds! Enjoy your office!

Friday, September 13, 2002

Iraq? I ran. (Part two).
Well, I read the Runner's World package on President Bush last night -- a editor's account of running with W in a 3-mile race (Headline: "Leader of the Pack") followed excerpts from a post-run interview. Interesting reading. Here are three highlights.

1. You go, George. Bush completed the race in 20:29 -- a less than 7-minute mile clip and a truly impressive time for a 56-year-old man. One reason, no doubt, is innate speed. But another explanation is that Bush runs 6 times a week -- which makes him a terrific role model for a chunky and sedentary nation. He also takes on the claim that people don't have enough time to exercise: "If the President of the United States can make time, anyone can." No joke: I thought about that line when I contemplated not lumbering my four miles this morning.

2. Metaphor alert. Bush's approach to the race eerily echoes his approach to governing. He ran way too hard at the start, overreaching in pursuit of his 20-minutes-flat goal. But as Runners World's Bob Wischnia reports, "During the second mile . . . the pace and the heat begin to take their toll. . . . His shirt is plastered to his chest with sweat, he's gasping for air, and he's spitting and belching the way anyone might in an all-out race." Bush completes the second mile more slowly than the first -- and with one mile to go, he's not looking good. "It's clear the President is laboring. I'm wondering if he's going to fall apart in the last mile--a hazard of going out too fast."

3. BMI, USA. A sidebar list the Body Mass Index of a bunch of Presidents. (BMI is a measure of the proportionality of one's weight to one's height. Calculate your own BMI here.) Bush's BMI is 25.8, which is actually considered slightly overweight. Strange. President Clinton has a BMI of 28.3. Jimmy Carter weighed in at a slim 22.4. The Presidential outliers are William Howard Taft (a gargantuan 42.3) and James Madison (a gaunt 17.0). Fun fact: Harry Truman "did a daily 2-mile walk at the military pace of 120 steps per minute. The routine began at 5:30am and ended with cooldown exercises, a massage, and a glass of bourbon."

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Iraq? I ran.
The award for this month's best magazine cover line goes to the October Runner's World, which plopped into the J1Thing mailbox this afternoon. Promoting an exclusive post-race interview with President Bush, the mag tantalizes: "SECRETS OF OUR FASTEST PRESIDENT: How running helped him stop drinking, lose 10 pounds, and gain control of his time." The cover also sports a photo of a tres sportif POTUS and the caption: "The First Runner: He runs 7-minute miles, but his form isn't perfect. See p. 58." More on what's inside the issue tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

E-Day.
Okay, I just voted in the Democratic primary here in the District of Columbia. In the mayoral race I wrote in our current chief exec, Anthony Williams. And I remembered not only to scrawl his name, but also to take my pencil and connect the little thingamagig beside it. Whew.

Monday, September 09, 2002

Older vs. Bigger
Two megatrends are headed for a trainwreck, says Andrew Prentice, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. For the past century, human longevity has been been climbing. But for the past two decades, obesity has been, uh, expanding. Now the two trends are about to collide, Prentice says. Which will prevail? That's right -- the big fat kahuna. According to this Reuters dispatch, "Obesity threatens to reverse gains in longevity made during the last 100 years and in some cases could result in parents outliving their children."

Friday, September 06, 2002

Shower power.
These days I need every edge I can get. So when I showered this morning, I used caffeinated soap. (No, I'm not kidding.) The product, called Shower Shock, supposedly delivers 250 milligrams of caffeine transdermally in every washing. How will it change my life? I'll let you know next Friday after I've latted myself for a week.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Anybody out there?
The column I wrote for the cool, redesigned September issue of Fast Company hasn't generated the volume of email that I expected. Is the article boring? The argument banal? The topic irrelevant? Or is the piece so profound that it's left readers breathless, unable to summon the energy to respond? You decide.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Return to Chadville?
If you thought Florida 2000 was a mess, get ready for D.C. 2002. Our (pretty good) mayor, Anthony Williams, is up for re-election. And nobody of note bothered to run against him in the Democratic primary -- which is tantamount to a general election here in this one-party state (which isn't a state . . . but that's another irritating topic.) Alas, Hizzoner made one small goof: he didn't get on the ballot. He hired a bunch of shysters to collect signatures -- and the lion's share of those signatures turned out to be fraudulent. Now he's apologized to voters and is waging a write-in campaign, littering the city with yard signs that read "Do the Write Thing." But that ain't gonna be easy for at least four reasons.

1) A popular preacher has also launched a quite viable write-in campaign. His name is Willie Wilson. Dollars to donuts, a few thousand voters will confuse "Williams" with "Wilson." What happens to ballots cast for Willie Williams?

2) As Ken Ringle points out in today's Washington Post, D.C.'s election laws "fail to spell out precisely what constitutes a legitimate write-in vote and how to tell for whom it's cast." That means one of the four other D.C. registered voters named "Tony Williams" could legitimately claim the votes are for him. In fact, Tony 2 could declare his candidacy three days after the votes are cast.

3) The ballot itself is such a design mess, it makes the Palm Beach ballot designer look like Phillipe Starck. Not only must voters scrawl the proper name in the proper space, but they must also fill in an empty space between an arrow and a horizontal line that sit next to the write-in line. (See a picture here.) Mark my words: huge numbers of voters won't do that -- not because they're dumb, but because doing so doesn't make much sense. Williams -- or is it Wilson? -- is now forced to teach voters the D.C. two-step: Write-in and Connect.

4) The count, according to the Post, could take days -- which increases the likelihood of shenanigans.

Get ready, folks. This could get interesting.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Summer reading.
Well, summer’s over. And – no surprise this – I didn’t accomplish much. But somehow, in between nibbling bon-bons and sunning my backside, I did manage to read three of the year’s most-talked-about novels. Here are my two cents on 1,336 pages of summer reading. :

--- Atonement: A Novel (by Ian McEwan) – This novel is the most literary of the trio – usually not a plus for a simpleton like me. But this book is stunningly good, the kind that lingers long after you’ve turned the final page. It begins in a Gossford Park-like English manor house in 1935 – and ends at a family reunion in 1999. Along the way, one of the characters commits a dastardly crime, another retreats at Dunkirk during World War II, and all contemplate big themes such as crime and punishment and what’s truth and what’s fiction. Warning: The first 80 or so pages move slowly, but the rest of the book is riveting. Grade: A

--- The Emperor of Ocean Park (by Stephen L. Carter) – This novel is the most unabashed potboiler of the three – full of bad guys, red herrings, and cliffhanger chapter endings. It tells the story of Talcott Garland, a law professor whose notorious father, a disgraced judge, dies and leaves behind a trail of secrets. Talcott, of course, must discover the secrets before the bad guys do. But Emperor goes beyond thrills with its canny take on the African-American upper-middle class, the mores of academic life, and the physics of a crumbling marriage. Despite a few hokey plot points, it’s a smart, compelling read. Grade: A-

--- The Lovely Bones: A Novel (by Alice Sebold) – This novel is the most popular of the three, with sales north of one million copies. It’s easy to see why. Alice Sebold serves up the ideal Oprah Book Club meal: a family in distress with a side order of spirituality. The book explores the aftermath of the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl in 1973 – as narrated from heaven by the girl herself. In lesser hands, that gambit would have been flopped. But Sebold sustains the trick with incredible skill and aplomb. Indeed, parts of this book are haunting, beautiful, and unputdownable. And it does make you think about what role the dead still play in our lives. That said, one major plot twist at the end Sebold forces readers to suspend a little too much disbelief. Grade: B+

Monday, September 02, 2002

J1Thing's Official Labor Day Message.
“I found it hard working really long hours when I was my own boss. The boss kept giving me the afternoon off. Sometimes he gave me the morning off as well. Sometimes he’d say, ‘Look, you’ve worked pretty hard today, why don’t you take a well-earned rest tomorrow.’ If I overslept, he never rang me to ask where I was; if I was late to my desk he always happened to turn up at exactly the same time; whatever excuse I came up with, he always believed it. Being my own boss was great. Being my own employee was a disaster, but I never thought about that side of the equation.”
-- from The Best a Man Can Get, a very funny novel by John O’Farrell