Thursday, October 31, 2002

At last, an honest author.
"[M]y whole proposition is you should spend less time with your family and more time reading Dilbert books. I mean, how can I feel good about that?"
-- Cartoonist Scott Adams, confessing his own weaselness while promoting his new (and very funny) book, Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Just add postage and mix.
Josh Benton, a 26-year-old Dallas newspaper reporter, has an interesting side venture. He calls it The CD Mix of the Month Club. Each month Benton makes a mix CD. He'll send you a copy if you send him a copy of your own mix CD. Send him two copies and he'll send you his own mix along with a mix CD from someone else on the planet participating in the exchange. The cost: nada. Benton doesn't earn a dime (although he's willing to accept a few greenbacks slipped into jewel case.) Cool idea. Now, how long before the recording industry visits his apartment with a big bag of kibosh? (Thanks to Don the IDEA Guy for this link.)

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Saul J. Onething, Jr.
Several readers responded to my October 18 post about D.C's bizarre and intrusive law governing the surnames parents can choose for their children. All of these fine people ridiculed the law. But a few readers also found time to ridicule my powers of statutory interpretation. While they agreed with my analysis of three of the law's four provisions, they said my analysis of the following provision was boneheaded:

According to the law, "If the mother was not married at the time of either conception or birth, or between conception and birth, the surname of the child shall be the legal surname of the mother at the time of the birth." Time of conception? This means that if Mom and Dad weren't hitched at the time they made the baby -- but got married, say, a month later – they'd have to give the baby the Mom's last name.

Here's how I read this part of the law. A child must have his mother's surname if the mother was unmarried at any of the following times:
1. At the time of conception;
2. At the time of birth;
3. Between conception and birth.
In other words, one strike -- and you're out. Yes, this seems ridiculous. But, I gotta tell you, this is what the law says. And the other parts of the law are equally ludicrous.

Alas, several readers disagreed with my interpretation. Their reading of the provision goes something like this. A child can have his father's surname if the mother was married at any of the following times:
1. At the time of conception;
2. At the time of birth;
3. Between conception and birth.
In other words, they believe the law is just an inartfully expressed version of "If the mother was not married NEITHER at the time of conception or birth, NOR between conception and birth, the surname of the child shall be the legal surname of the mother at the time of the birth."

So what's the answer? To break the tie, I consulted my favorite lawyer, a former Justice Department litigator now known to America as Mrs. J1Thing. Her conclusion: the readers are right. "An idiot drafted this law," she said. "But your reading is too rigid and leads to absurd results. What the drafters obviously meant is that if the mom has never had any marital connection to the dad, the kid gets the mom's last name."

Okay, I responded. I see that, but that's not what it says.

"Statutory interpretation is about what the legislators meant," she explained. "You can't be too literary."

"You mean too literal?" I hissed to the mother of my children.

"Exactly," she said. Then she went back to nursing Saul.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Resist the temptation.
"I love to vote," gushed pundit Margaret Carlson in Slate earlier this year. What impressive self-restraint then that Carlson didn't vote in eight of the last twelve elections here in the District of Columbia, according to the November Washingtonian. Maybe the family values crowd should recruit her to teach abstinence to teenagers.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Flash in the pan.
Is Flash becoming the next big medium for political expression? Check out these two Flash ads – one slamming Republicans, another slamming Democrats – and see for yourself.

Neither ad is great. But both are far more creative and persuasive than the drivel that's filling the pre-Election Day television airwaves. Flash ads also have at least three advantages over broadcast spots: 1) they're much cheaper to make; 2) they're infinitely cheaper to distribute; 3) they're asynchronous – that is, unlike TV ads, which interrupt people, these spots let the user decide when (and how often) to watch them.

Anybody seen other good political Flash ads? Let me know. I'd like to keep an eye on this.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

The power of Point.
Here's Hamlet reduced to a single PowerPoint slide -- courtesy of the PowerPoint Anthology of Literature ("Great books distilled to their essence and presented in the most efficient form of communication ever devised.") Also, if you haven't seen it yet, check out this brilliant (and now classic) rendering of the Gettysburg Address in six PowerPoint slides.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Pay to stay.
The great state of North Dakota is considering a ballot initiative that would "pay as much as $10,000 to anybody who agrees to live in North Dakota for five years after finishing college." For more on this initiative as well as ballot measures ranging from pig cages to pot smoking, read this fascinating Washington Post story.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Page one.
Uh-oh. I think I'm addicted to the Newseum's Today's Front Pages.

Monday, October 21, 2002

See you (and me) in the funny pages.
Today's Doonesbury strip is pretty funny -- and if nothing else, another sign of Big Media's awareness (and resentment) of the blogosphere.

Friday, October 18, 2002

Saul J. Onething.
Choosing a baby's name is always fun. Mrs. J1Thing and I tossed around about dozen possibilities over several months before settling on Saul. (For more on baby names, check out the Social Security's baby name popularity page as well as Virginia Postrel's excellent NY Times column on shifting fashions in baby names.)

While first names make for fun parlor games, what gets far less attention are babies' last names. That's a shame – because here in the District of Columbia, something bizarre is occurring on the surname front.

The day after Saul was born, a nurse handed us a "birth certificate worksheet," the form we needed to complete to receive a parchment certifying Saul Lerner Pink is indeed Saul Lerner Pink. With the form came a pamphlet explaining which last names parents were permitted to choose under D.C law for their newborns. This is gonna get lengthy, so bear with me while I explain these weird and troubling laws.

-- District of Columbia law requires that mothers who are single give their baby their own last name. A single mom can give her baby the father's last name only "if both parents sign an Acknowledgment of Parentage" form. OK. I can actually see a thin public policy rationale girding this provision. A woman probably shouldn't be able to name her baby after someone who really isn't the father. Alas, things get worse. (How did I not notice this when our first two kids were born?)

-- According to the law, "If the mother was not married at the time of either conception or birth, or between conception and birth, the surname of the child shall be the legal surname of the mother at the time of the birth." Time of conception? This means that if Mom and Dad weren't hitched at the time they made the baby -- but got married, say, a month later – they'd have to give the baby the Mom's last name. What could possibly be the state's interest in that? Parents can skirt this provision by signing an Acknowledgment of Parentage. But married couples who happen to have different last names would have to sign one of these official forms if junior arrived less than nine months after their wedding day. The idea that the state needs to know and record when a baby was conceived should frighten even the most authoritarian souls.

-- The next part of the laws say: "If the mother was married at the time of birth, the surname of the child shall be the legal surname of the father at the time of birth." Huh? Combine this with the above provisions, and the state is essentially telling the mother what to name her child. If she's single, the kid gets her last name. If she's married, the kid gets dad's last name. And if a married woman wants to give her kid her own last name instead of that of her beloved husband, she's breaking the law. Again, what's the state interest in the last name of child born to a happily married couple? My wife's last name is Lerner. Does the D.C. government have any legitimate interest in whether our son is Saul Pink or Saul Lerner -- or for that matter, Saul J. Onething?

-- Here's another doozer: "If the mother was married at the time of birth or if the unmarried mother and father duly complete an Acknowledgment of Parentage Form, hyphenated surnames can be entered for the child beginning with the legal surname of the father, followed by a hyphen and the legal surname of the mother. (e.g. father's surname-mother's surname)." If I'm reading this right, it says that the only legally permissible hyphenated surname is Dad's Name-Mom's Name. (Ex: In our case, Pink-Lerner.) A last name of Mom's Name-Dad's Name apparently is verboten. So if we'd named our son Saul Lerner-Pink instead of Saul Lerner Pink, we'd have been breaking the law. (Dad to the name police: "We're clean officer. Look! No hyphen!") Equally troubling, nothing in the D.C. law seems to leave room for invented last names – say, Lernink or Lernerpink or Pinkner or even my family's original name, Pinkovich.

This is insane. How about a law that says this: Single moms can give their baby any last name they choose. However, they can give the child the last name of the father only if he signs an Acknowledgment of Parentage form or his parentage is proved by a blood test. Married parents can give their children any last name they choose, punctuated any way they desire.

I might be a registered Democrat and a sometime liberal. But, jeez, when it comes to naming kids, the government should just butt out and leave the hyphens to us.

Monday, October 14, 2002

That's Saul, folks!
Today, Saul Lerner Pink discovered America.

At 1:35 this afternoon, our Columbus Day baby landed on the shores of Sibley Memorial Hospital in northwest Washington, DC. Although he arrived more than three weeks early, Saul managed to post some impressive numbers: he stretches 21.5 inches long and weighs a remarkable 8 pounds, 15 ounces. He’s a healthy, rangy little guy with a sprinkling of downy brown hair.

Saul, his mom, and his two big sisters are all doing great. Dad, for reasons nobody can understand, is blogging. Many thanks for the good wishes that have already poured in.

Friday, October 11, 2002

A noble Nobel.
Three cheers for Jimmy Carter, our finest ex-President.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Ex-post Post.
Tap. . . tap. . . tap. That sound you hear is me patting myself on the back. This morning's Washington Post gives front page play to a story J1Thing reported on July 17. (Note: You'll have to scroll down. I keep screwing up the permanent link. Sorry. )

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Oregon's trail.
Oregon voters next month will vote on an incredible ballot iniative. Under Measure 23, "Every man, woman and child in Oregon would receive full medical insurance -- no co-payments, no deductibles," reports the Associated Press. Financing would come from raising state payroll taxes and nearly doubling the state income tax. This is huge. Why hasn't Measure 23 gotten more press here in the BOS-NY-WASH corridor?

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Now meet our next contestant . . . Bob Torricelli.
What happens when you mix reality t.v. and 50 percent unemployment? You get Recursos Humanos, an Argentine television show "in which jobless contestants compete for jobs, cash, prizes, and employee benefits." Variety reports that Sony Pictures Television has acquired international rights to show's format (two contestants go head-to-head for one job, with the studio audience and home viewers deciding who's better qualified) -- and hopes to bring the program to other countries. The Real Beverly Hillbillies. American Candidate. And now this. Welcome to television's new Golden Age. (Update: Wired News also has the story.)

Monday, October 07, 2002

Milk, eggs, toilet paper . . .
Bill Keaggy collects grocery store shopping lists other people have inadvertently left behind. That's strange. Stranger still is that he then scans the lists and posts them on this web site. But the strangest thing of all is how weirdly compelling the site turns out to be.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

I'm punting. (Thank God.)
I'm on deadline today and out of town tomorrow. See you next week. Meantime, if you've got time to spare -- which you obviously do because you're reading this -- check out this excellent Salon piece on religious behavior in professional sports. I agree with its diagnosis as vehemently as I disagree with its prescription.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

The borrowers.
First there was Netflix for DVDs. Now there's BooksFree for paperback novels. Are online borrowing clubs an Internet business model that actually works? Could be. So what's next? Tools perhaps. Hmmm. They might be too expensive to mail. Hey, how about clothing? Call it OurCloset.com. Now call Kleiner Perkins.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Is Yentl mental?
Not that you needed it, but here's further cause to dislike Barbra Streisand. As many people know, Babs sent a strategy to political memo to Dick Gephardt last week – a copy of which Matt Drudge managed to snag. (Click here for more details.) The memo was riddled with misspellings. And for that, people made fun of poor Barbra.

Well, Babs is fighting back with something she calls "Truth Alert," which she posts on her web site. The explanation for the memo's sloppiness is simple: "It had been DICTATED BY HER ON THE PHONE as she was rehearsing her performance at the recent gala to raise funds for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Unfortunately, it was taken down and interpolated by a new employee who sent out a first draft before it had been reviewed or checked for spelling." (Capital letters and five syllable words in the original.)

Okay. Fair enough. Who cares? But Babs manages to squander any goodwill she might have earned with another paragraph that appears shortly after she explains the mistake and blasts the news media for picking on her.

"Hidden in this example of diverted news priorities is the fact that Barbra Streisand is a former spelling bee champion, meticulous in her written communications! " (Punctuation in the original.)

A woman with 10 gazillion dollars and a closet full of Grammys wants us to know she won a spelling bee 50 years ago. That depth of inadequacy makes Bob Torricelli look like a profile in courage.