Monday, December 23, 2002

Blog humbug.
I won't be posting for the next few days. If you're bored, read this month's Idea File column in the Wall Street Journal's StartupJournal.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Lott leaves, Dems grieve.
Well, he's gone. This morning, well-coiffed neo-segregationist Trent Lott announced he was "stepping down" as Senate majority leader -- "stepping down" being Washington-speak for "pushed violently from behind." Lott's replacement looks to be Tennessee Senator Bill Frist, who just might be the Democrats' worst nightmare.

In fact, Frist's rise forces me to issue the month's first Metaphor Alert (tm). The good Senator, of course, is a heart surgeon. And who better to repair the poisoned heart of the Republican party than a man who's understands that organ's inner workings and who has literally (and heroically) saved dozens upon dozens of lives? In many ways, Frist embodies George Bush's "compassionate conservatism," which the President has honored more in the breach than in the observance. Coupled with Tom Kean's appointment, Frist's ascension could signal a rebirth of the fabled double-C. (After all, like Frist, Kean is a decent fellow who replaced a scary dude with a shady history.) Lots of Dems deride "compassionate conservativism," but it's the winning approach both to elections and to governance. It's the where the national psyche is. And it may be the only way to get anything done on a federal level. Of course, President Bush has all but abandoned double-C in an orgy of tax cuts and military spending. But Frist might force him back to the center -- and therefore save his presidency. The Bushies have muscle. All they need now is . . . you guessed it . . . heart. So don't be surprised if Frist ends up replacing Dick Cheney -- he of the malfunctioning heart -- on the national ticket in 2004. Muscle and heart is just the physiological way of saying "compassionate conservatism."

Two more things about Frist. 1. His position on therapeutic cloning is reprehensible -- especially for a physician. (See "Frist, do no harm," J1Thing, 15 April 2002). 2. He's in great physical condition. In the 1999 Marine Corps Marathon, I passed him at about mile 5 -- but he passed me for good about mile 12. In the 2001 Marine Corps Marathon, he passed me at about mile 13 -- shortly before I was overtaken by a guy in the Kermit the Frog costume, the heartless bastard.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Just another Just One Thing.
The J1Thing tsunami is rippling across the blogosphere. On Monday, the estimable John Ellis -- well-known blogger and all-around media titan -- announced that he's converting his blog to a Just One Thing format. "The self-evident idea," John says, "is to post one item every day, usually a link with some commentary attached." Dang. I knew I should have patented the business model. Oh well. Read John's blog. Then launch your own one thing. All the kids are doing it!

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Gore goes, Lott lurches.
So I take a four-day J1Thing weekend to meet some real deadlines -- and two southern politicians create a smorgasbord for the blogosphere. Not much left to chew on, alas, but let me nibble at what remains.

Most of the Gore coverage fails to mention that 2004 is the second challenging race the former Veep has sat out. In 1992, he took a pass on running against Bush 41, saying he had to tend to his family, which was then contending with his son's serious injury. (Disclosure 1: I used to work for Gore -- and on most days, he's someone I like and admire. Disclosure 2: I haven't read much of the coverage, so some other genius may have already made this point.) The charitable view of this pattern is that Gore is a guy who isn't obsessed with being President when gaining the office means punishing his family or himself. The less charitable view is that Gore is a guy who ducks tough races. The marginally charitable view is that there's nothing wrong with the less charitable view.


Also, here's a prediction: Within three days, we'll see a "Gore as Nixon" news analysis: The awkward VP of a golf-playing Prez who presided over fat and happy times loses to a son of privilege in a race of dubious fairness. The pretender to the throne takes office--but a cataclysm (JFK's assassination, Sept. 11) catapults the sitting President (LBJ, GWB) to invincible status, making the next presidential election a blowout. But said popular president over-reaches (Vietnam, TBD), prodding the awkward former Vice President out of hiding and into the Presidency eight years after his initial loss.

As for Lott, well, he's a liar. Or a hypocrite. Or both. Yesterday, he said he's all for affirmative action. Huh? In 1991, Lott supported an amendment by North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms that called for prohibiting private employers from using affirmative action procedures for recruiting black workers. In 1998 Lott voted to eliminate a set-aside program for minority-owned businesses on federal construction projects. And that's just two examples I found in 30 seconds of Google-ing. Lott's always been against affirmative action. Nothing wrong with that. Many principled people have made a principled case against racial preference in various realms. But for a guy who's on record supposedly in support of these principles to abandon those principles as soon as his job is in jeopardy is despicable. Unlike Al Gore, Trent Lott will do or say anything to keep power.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Do u luv poetry 2?
The (London) Guardian recently held a contest to find the best text message poem. Here's the winner, penned -- er, make that thumbed -- by Londoner Emma Passmore on her mobile phone:

I left my pictur on th ground wher u walk

so that somday if th sun was jst right

& th rain didnt wash me awa

u might c me out of th corner of yr i & pic me up

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Hey, hey, even monkeys.
Just in time for the gift-giving season comes an intriguing study by about girl toys and boy toys. Everybody knows that boys play with cars and balls and that girls play with dolls and pots. And many people believe that the reason is not nature, but nurture – society's expectation, cultural custom, and so on.

Researchers at Texas A&M and the University of London recently tested this belief by having vervet monkeys play with both "boy" and "girl" toys. What happened? Boy monkeys played with boy toys. Girl monkeys played with girl toys. You say you want a revolution, but you can't stop evolution. Or something like that. Indeed, one of the researchers believes that these "findings suggest that there are certain aspects of objects that appeal to the specific sexes and that these aspects may relate to traditional male and female functions dating back to the dawn of the species," according to a Texas A&M press release.

Agree? Disagree? Read the release here. Then try this experiment on your own monkeys.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Mobile mania.
Some interesting factoids on mobile phone use from the Nov. 23 issue of The Economist (not available free online): "In Europe, more people now send and receive short-text messages on their phones than use the Internet. . . . This year, users of mobile phones around the world passed the 1 billion mark. The number of mobile phones is now greater than the number of fixed-line ones."

Friday, December 06, 2002

WiFi Friday.
Big news on the WiFi front. AT&T, IBM, and Intel are forming a new company to build a nationwide wireless. network. The goal, according to John Markoff's New York Times story, is "to deploy more than 20,000 wireless access points by the end of 2004, placing an cable-less high-speed Internet connection within either a five-minute walk in urban areas or a five-minute drive in suburban communities."

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Bang for the bucks.
Yale economist William Nordhaus has analyzed the potential costs of a war with Iraq. His 10-year estimates range widely -- from as low as $100 billion to as high as $1.9 trillion. But something else he says is worth considering as we thump our tubs: "A review of several past wars indicates that nations historically have consistently underestimated the cost of military conflicts."

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Dr. Strangelove's free pass.
I'm still stunned at the lack of outrage over Henry Kissinger's appointment to head the Sept. 11 inquiry. Today's LA Times has a good piece explaining why. While editorial pages have (ever so gently) criticized Kissinger, the Times says what's missing "are the analytic profiles and investigative news reports concerning a factual record that is almost perversely dissonant with the responsibilities now laid upon him." The reason: "Kissinger's carefully cultivated social and professional relationships with taste-making journalists like Ted Koppel, Jim Lehrer and Tina Brown." That -- and Dr. K's mesmerizing German accent -- has lulled the mainstream press into ignoring the basic facts about "a man whose entire record of public service is studded with attempts to suppress information about the conduct of government and to deceive the American people and their elected representatives." What a disgrace. Maybe bloggers can pick up the mantle. A good starting point is Christopher Hitchens's searing outline of Kissinger's history.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

A really bad case of Stockholm Syndrome.
Bored? Looking for a little excitement in your life? Then why not pay $1200 to have yourself kidnapped? It's America's newest extreme sport -- extreme kidnapping. Here's a company that offers full kidnapping services. The scary part: I don't think they're kidding.