Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Don't blame me if you don't like this.
Yesterday's NY Times had a fascinating story about the science and psychology of blame. Somehow I missed it. But trust me: It wasn't my fault.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

You think you have a leftover problem?
Amount of money venture capital firms raised (1970-1998): $132 billion

Amount of money venture capital firms raised (1999 -2001): $204 billion

(Source: Fortune, 11.25.02, p. 135.)

Monday, November 25, 2002

Big Brother is listening.
You might ignore billboards. But from now on, they won't ignore you. Yesterday's Sacramento Bee reported on a startling change for motorists in California's capital: "Starting next month, two freeway billboards will be able to tell which radio stations passing cars are tuned to and then change the image on the sign to fit listeners' profiles."

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Honey? It's the Governor of North Dakota on the downstairs phone.
Not too long ago, Fargo, North Dakota, too few jobs and too few people. Now, after successfully spreading the word about its skilled workforce, Fargo (unemployment rate: 1.7%) has the opposite problem: Too many jobs and not enough people. And that, prompted some aggressive recruiting efforts, says today's Wall Street Journal (in a story that's not online for free: "Governor John Hoeven even telephones certain people considering jobs in the state and urges them to accept."

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

I don't care what you think of this entry. It can't fail.
Psychologists have begun studying whether successful entrepreneurs share a certain personality type or even a few personality characteristics. The answer, according to this ABCNews.com piece: We're not sure. The studies so far reveal that successful entrepreneurs aren't much different from the rest of the population – except in two regards. They "are worse at coming up with reasons they might fail." And they "don't care what other people think about them."

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

This isn't kosher.
David Broder reveals how the House Republican leadership stuffed the homeland security bill full of pork for corporate donors. Essential reading for anyone who thinks that the GOP's leaders actually believe in free markets, open discussion, and fair play.

Monday, November 18, 2002

Give to live.
New research from the University of Michigan "finds that older people who are helpful to others reduce their risk of dying by nearly 60 percent compared to peers who provide neither practical help nor emotional support to relatives, neighbors or friends." The notion that that givers gain is also consistent with research Martin Seligman cites in his book, Authentic Happiness. If this idea is right, if it gets some traction, it could have large implications for both medicine and public policy.

Friday, November 15, 2002

Military intelligence. Not.
Just as Osama bin Laden is threatening a monumental assault on the United States, we learned today that the U.S. Army recently dismissed six (of the very few) soldiers trained to speak Arabic. Why? The soldiers are gay. Dick Cheney, where are you? You and your family know better.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

The two stories everybody saw.
Two articles have been flying across email inboxes today here inside the Beltway. The first is William Safire's NY Times column about the Bush Administration's Big Brother approach to privacy. The other is Eric Black's vivid behind-the-scenes look at the final 13 days of the Wellstone-Coleman-Mondale Senate race, which appeared a few days ago in the Twin Cities' Star Tribune. Both stories, it turns out, are well worth reading.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

The smallest story you missed.
It's 5:30pm and I'm running behind. Sorry. You'll have to settle for the monthly "Idea File" column that I write for the Wall Street Journal's StartupJournal. The November entry posted today.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

The biggest story you missed . . . if you’re into publishing, Costco, or waffle wedges.

From Steven Zeitchick’s excellent piece in yesterday’s Publishers Weekly’s NewsLine:

"Over the last decade Costco's influence on the book trade has grown extraordinarily, with the company leading a segment that is now responsible for nearly 10% of sales.

"But starting soon, the retailer will try on a new hat -- as a publisher.

"In November, the company will print 100,000 copies of Entertaining The Costco Way, a 'cookbook and practical guide to the art of entertaining,' and release them through its own stores. It is a project Costco has taken on entirely on its own, acting as publisher, distributor, packager, and, of course, retailer. The company currently has no plans to make the book available to wholesalers or other stores.

"As you might expect from a chain that sells everything from digital cameras to stomach laxatives, the book will be stuffed with brand names. And that is (one more place) where the rub lies: Many of the 300 recipes come from sponsors, who paid for their names to appear next to concoctions like Kellogg's Cheese and Mushroom Waffle Wedges and Snapple Marinated Chicken Wings. Companies like Sunbeam also bought space in the title. 'My hope is that rather than being a detrimental factor, the brands will actually be an enhancement,' says Dave Fuller, the editor of the company's member magazine, The Costco Connection, whose staff oversaw the cookbook project.

"There's a more obvious advantage to these placements for Costco, however, than just name recognition. The payments cover the entire cost of producing the book, ensuring that the retailer can charge a low price ($9.99) and still earn delectably fat margins. And with the brand names, Costco has created something remarkable -- a kind of marketing closed loop, wherein shoppers buy Costco products, then buy the Costco book that helps them make use of the Costco products, then buy more Costco products that the Costco book encourages them to use.

"On the publishing front, the book mixes an unusual number of models, including inserts, trade publishing and magalogs. It's a shrewd and likely controversial idea, not only because it involves payola, but because it's so self-reliant. One of the biggest worries that crosses our transom is that someone or something with reach might publish, distribute and sell his own book -- see Stephen King's The Plant -- and cut out the usual players who share in a successful book's profits."

Monday, November 11, 2002

The biggest story you missed.
Several of you know that I'm slightly obsessed with wind power. (Insert elementary school flatulence joke here.) Little wonder then my keen interest in ID Magazine's November issue, which reports on a new wind turbine that's 40 percent lighter than the typical turbine and therefore cheaper to build and more efficient to operate.

The numbers tell the story. Most wind-generated electricity costs about 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, considerably more expensive than electricity from traditional sources. This new turbine creates the juice for 3 cents per kilowatt-hour -- about the same as electricity from nonrenewables. That's huge news, folks. Holding the patent on this new design is The Wind Turbine Company of Bellevue, Washington. If this company ever goes public, you ought to invest -- and throw your money into the wind.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Whuh happened?
Okay. You asked for my take on this week's election. (Actually, you didn’t. But here it is anyway. )

On Tuesday, George W. Bush was elected President. Whatever your political persuasion, you can't say with a straight face that he was really elected in 2000. He lost the popular vote. He won the Electoral College thanks only to a poorly-designed ballot that confused a few thousand senior citizens in Palm Beach County. And if Ralph Nader hadn't played spoiler, George and Laura today would be living in Austin, Texas – not at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Alas, this week, everything changed. Bush put his prestige on the line, turned the midterms into national referendum on his Presidency, and scored a big victory. Hats off to you, Mr. President.

And to my fellow Democrats, stop whining that the guy is a pretender. He's not. He won. Finally, he won.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

The (tele)vision thing.
The big winner in the elephants' historic drubbing of the donkeys? C-SPAN. The public affairs network can look forward to a year's worth of programming as Dems and Dem-lovers hold endless conferences and gab fests to search for . . . here it comes . . . "big ideas." Alas, big ideas spring from imagination and conviction -- two things that have long been missing from the party of Tom, Dick, and Terry and that a DLC conference can't manufacture. Sigh. Where's Gary Hart when you need him? Ooops. Sorry I asked.

Another observation: The end of soft money will cement the Republican advantage. Hard money goes to two kinds of people: Republicans and incumbents.

One more thing: Georgia wins the Birch Bayh Best Political First Names Prize. The Peach State now has a Governor named Sonny -- and Senators named Saxby and Zell. Love it.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Tuesday weld.
Why are elections always on Tuesdays -- and general elections always the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November? Marketplace Morning Report has the answer. Elections have been held in November so they wouldn't interfere with the harvest. (My harvest, to be sure, has certainly ended. But that's another story.) They're on Tuesdays because 19th century Americans usually had to travel from rural areas to towns to cast their ballots, and travel on Sundays was verboten under the dominant religions. And the first-Tuesday-after-the-first-Monday rule is in place so that Election Day didn't fall on November 1, which was both All Saints Day and the day that most storekeepers closed shop to do their October books. Click here for the Marketplace audio -- and fast forward to 1:32 for the story.

Monday, November 04, 2002

iSync, therefore I am.
Just started using Apple's new iCal and iSync on the two iMacs and one iBook that form the throbbing digital nerve center of Pink, Inc. The verdict: outstanding. It took awhile to get everything set up, but this iCal/iSync duo is fast becoming one of those things that you wonder how you ever lived without.

Friday, November 01, 2002

Embryos aren't us.
Michael Kinsley shreds the Bush administration for its ridiculous (and duplicitous) position, articulated by the federal Human Research Protections Advisory Committee, that embryos are human beings.

"If embryos are to be regarded as human beings, the Advisory Committee's job is easy: use of embryos violates almost any random paragraph in the government's human-research guidelines (the stuff about informed consent, for example, or discrimination against vulnerable groups). In fact if embryos are people, such research is morally impossible, along with all in vitro fertilization and many other familiar human activities. If an embryo is a human being, it is protected not just by the civil rights laws but by ordinary criminal laws as well. Should married couples be allowed to engage in a popular practice that routinely leads to the production and destruction of untold numbers of embryos? Well, there goes sex."