Wednesday, June 25, 2003

War without pain.
Great factoid in Sunday's Washington Post. Turns out that the overwhelming majority of American college students support the imminent war on Iraq. But 44 percent of the student population wouldn't serve if they were drafted. Meantime, we learn that this war is going to cost upwards of $200 billion. But somehow we haven't heard boo about where the money's going to come from -- that is, whose taxes will go up or whose spending will go down. What a deal! A war without sacrifice!

Monday, January 13, 2003

We interrupt this blog . . .
Well, folks, I've decided to extend my holiday hiatus. How long? Ahem. Indefinitely.

Yes, whip out those handkerchiefs, ladies and gentleman. I'm not going to be J1Thing-ing this year. Instead, I need to focus my efforts on finishing my next book – and perhaps on producing other writing that earns money, which I can then spend on baby bottles, nursery school tuition, and Rogaine smoothies.

J1Thing -- which began as an experiment on January 1, 2002 – has been lots of fun. But even with its exclusive patented abbreviated format, it took time. And time's not something I've got lots of right now.

Now, before you cancel your broadband service because your Internet connection just became less valuable, you should know that I'll be developing another online project later in the year. If you'd like to stay posted on that venture – as well as on my next book – the best bet is to subscribe to my Free Agent Nation eNewsletter, which you can do here. And, of course, I still welcome your email.

Meantime, many thanks for all your great comments, corrections, ideas, and inspiration.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Happy New Year.
It's 2003 -- and I'm still away from J1Thing world headquarters. I'll be back in action next week.

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.

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 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."

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 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.

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

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

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

Thursday, August 29, 2002

(Pre-term) Labor Day.
Yipes. What a week. Mrs. J1Thing -- who's nearly 7 months pregnant with our third child -- went into early labor last Thursday and spent much of the week at Georgetown University Hospital. That's the bad news. The good news is that thanks to an arsenal of powerful drugs and her own steely resolve, she managed not to deliver a two-months premature baby. Now she's back home, assigned to bed rest and hooked up to a cellphone-sized pump that delivers keep-the-baby-inside medicine through an IV-like needle inserted in her leg. She also has a nifty monitor that we strap to her belly and that delivers information about her contractions over the phone line to a team of nurses. (Both these devices are from a company called Matria -- I'd never heard of it either -- that is providing the sort of gold standard customer service all companies would be wise to emulate.) Fortunately, the baby -- J1Thing, Jr. -- is in good shape. Mrs. J1Thing is holding strong. Our network of friends and family has come through beyond our wildest expectations. And everything should be fine -- whether the little guy, who's not due until early November, stays in awhile longer or comes out far ahead of his time. I'll likely return to regular postings over the next few days. Meantime, for those of you interested in this stuff, check out the cover story of Sunday's New York Times Magazine, which is an account of a woman who faced a similar, though much more dire, situation.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Coming next: the WiFi Frappuccino.
Starbucks announced today that it has begun offering wireless internet access in 1,200 locations around the U.S. The first 24 hours are free. After that, it’ll cost you. (See the full explanation here.) Alas, since none of the 1,200 locations are in the nation’s capital, I won’t be able to test the service until I’m in one of the chosen cities. So if any of you test this new offering, let me know how it goes. This could be big.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

I want to be like Tiger.
Not that you (or I) need it, but this site is one terrific time-waster.

Monday, August 19, 2002

The affluent society.
“For many people, owning a home defines the American Dream, and 68 percent of families now do -- the highest percentage on record. Three-quarters of Americans drive their own cars. The vast majority of households possess color televisions (98 percent), videocassette recorders (94 percent), microwave ovens (90 percent), frost-free refrigerators (87 percent), washing machines (83 percent), and clothes dryers (75 percent). In the past decade or so, computers and cell phones have become commonplace. . . . 135 million Americans now own mobile telephones.”
-- from "Off the Books" in the August 2002 issue of Reason

Friday, August 16, 2002

Elvis: Is he dead or is he just toast?
Twenty-five years ago today, the great Elvis Presley left the earthly buidling. Now a New Zealand artist has commemorated the King with a giant portrait – fashioned from 4,000 slices of toast.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Feiss squad.
The web's new It Girl is Ellen Feiss, who stars in one of Apple's now legendary "switch" TV ads. Her Valley Girlish, somewhat stoned description of a PC devouring her term paper has already spawned a few fan sites, including this one.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

First, clone all the lawyers.
Kudos to the American Bar Association for its decision yesterday to keep therapeutic cloning legal. Citing the importance of open inquiry in a free society, the ABA joins the scientific community and patient advocates in opposing the Bush Administration, which wants to criminalize somatic cell nuclear transfer -- that is, using cloned blastocysts (clusters of cells the size of the dot on this "i") to discover cures for diseases such as Parkinson's and juvenile diabetes. This issue has fallen out of the headlines recently, but it's extremely important. To learn more, check out these helpful FAQ's from the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Cheaters never (ok, rarely) prosper.
New research indicates that evolution might have hardwired human beings to detect cheaters. A team of researchers that investigated social exchanges among both Shiwiar (a non-literate tribe of subsistence farmers in a remote region of Ecuador) and Harvard undergrads (a literate tribe of subsistence meritocrats in a remote region of Massachusetts) found evidence that “humans are born with the capacity to identify people who cheat during social exchanges,” Reuters reports. Indeed, skill in detecting cheaters among “Shiwiar hunter-horticulturalists was indistinguishable from that of Harvard undergraduates,” says the study, just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Forgive the self-referentiality, but this is a point I tried to make in Chapter 8 of my book, Free Agent Nation, wherein I attempted to knit the biological principle of “reciprocal altruism,” the religious ideal of the Golden Rule, and the Tocquevillian notion of “self-interest rightly understood” into a sweater of a big idea. In short, I argued, free agents behave better than mangers because if they don’t they’re more likely to suffer the consequences. Their social exchanges aren’t mediated by a bureaucracy so it’s easier for others to figure out if they’re trying to pull a fast one. By contrast, the social exchanges of corporate types are much easier to buffer or conceal, which can lead to shady Enron-esque behavior. That’s why scholars like Case Western Reserve’s Bob Hisrich have found that small entrepreneurs generally think and behave more ethically than their corporate counterparts.

So ... maybe instead of sending him to the pokey, we should ship Jeff Skilling to the Amazon for some life (and business) lessons.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Supersize US.
US News hops on the fatwagon this week with a cover story on the obesity epidemic. It's informative reading -- especially for those of you who've somehow missed my superize collection of posts on this subject. It also rings especially true tonight -- after having spent a longish weekend driving up and down the New Jersey Turnpike. As my wife -- the lovely and talented Mrs. J1Thing -- put it as we pulled out of the Clara Barton rest stop, "We're turning the heartland into the heart disease land."

Friday, August 09, 2002

Land of the newly freed.
This week’s Economist has a smart cover story and a surprisingly tender-hearted leader (not available free online) about the huge number of Americans behind bars. Among the many startling factoids:

-- “Some 13m Americans – 7% of the adult population and nearly 12% of men – have been found guilty of a serious crime.”

-- “Roughly one in five black men has been incarcerated at some point in his life; one in three has been convicted of a felony.”

-- "America now has 700 people in every 100,000 under lock and key – five times the proportion in Britain, the toughest sentencer in western Europe.”

-- “The world’s most aggressive jailer must confront the iron law of imprisonment: that those who go in almost always come out. . . . Some 600,000 inmates will leave prison this year – more than the population of Washington, DC."

-- "About two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years of release."

-- “A 1997 Rand study concluded that spending money to reduce drug consumption through treatment rather than incarceration would reduce serious crimes 15 times more effectively.”

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Your Zeppelin joke here.
Yesterday when my wife came home from an errand, she was toting a copy of Dolly Parton's new album, Halos and Horns. Now, Mrs. J1Thing isn't exactly a country gal. She's a lot more Dali than Dolly. So I was puzzled. "Listen to this," she said, explaining her purchase by playing the album's final track. It was Dolly Parton singing "Stairway to Heaven." And it was beautiful. Listen to a slice of it yourself.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

The compassionate conservative workout.
George W. Bush is one healthy fellow. His doctors—using the high-tone medical parlance of White House physcians—pronounced his physical condition “unbelievable.” (My favorite factoid: Bush's resting heart rate is a stunning 44.) So who better to lead a national wellness movement than our nonsmoking, treadmill-running, Nautilus-pumping Prez? This could be a sleeper issue for the Republicans. Wellness would reduce health care costs and boost productivity. And if Bush based the effort on exhortation and role modeling, rather than federal spending, it wouldn’t cost the Treasury a cent. Alas, I suspect one White House figure won't love this idea. Ain't that right, Mr. Vice President?

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Skin trade.
Want to earn money by becoming an epidermal billboard? Visit Tadoos -- and get paid for tatooing a corporate logo on your skin. The site's a joke. (At least, I think it's a joke.) But it wouldn't surprised me if somebody actually gave this idea a whirl.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Out of rehab, into the sun.
I’m back in action now – a couple of new iMacs, an updated Internet connection, and fresh new lease on life. While I was offline, I read Mark Costello’s fine new novel, Big If, which is a Jonathan Franzen-esque family tale that orbits around the Secret Service and a New Hampshire Presidential primary. I found one passage particularly arresting – since, as those of you familiar with the Pink oeuvre know (thanks, by the way, to both of you), I’m keenly interested in the connection between meaning and work.

Here’s the set up: One of the novel’s characters is a man named Jens, who’s a programmer at a computer company (Big If of the title) that makes a massive multi-player Web-based war game. Jens’s late father, Walter, had criticized Jens for wasting his ample technical talents on this violent nonsense. Jens suspects his father was right, but he also knows his father will never understand the intrinsic beauty of slinging computer code.

Here’s the passage:

“Jens remembered the night they wrote the sun. It was Naubek’s project, and a challenge. Every game had a sun . . . . Most of them were horseshit suns, a crayon-yellow circle on the screen. It wasn’t hard to write a sun, but it was very hard to write the sun. Naubek went to work, modeling a pulsing, flaring, molten organ. He made it round; he made it move; he linked it to the cloud routines, sometimes behind them, sometimes burning through. Jens and Charlie Mayer were in the room, too, working on their projects, and as Naubek coded, they came over and looked at his screen, and Jens had an idea for a haze-inversion module, a cool flattening effect, or maybe Mayer did, but it was Jens who wrote the mod, and Naubek who perfected it, and Mayer who debugged it, as Jens and Naubek hacked out the refraction math, a way to get the white of the sun turning yellow-orange-bloody-red as it descends. Jens knew that he would never feel that way again. None of them would ever feel that way again.

Jens had tried to tell his father that it didn’t matter that the code was for a war game. Walter didn’t understand, of course. How could he? He wasn’t there the night they wrote the sun.”

Monday, July 29, 2002

In rehab.
Last week I was away for a few days. This week my office is being rehabbed. If I see something that can't wait, I'll post. If not, I'll return to a regular schedule next week.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

The real American airlines?
Ten years ago, candidate Bill Clinton pledged he'd put together a cabinet that "looks like America." It was a (mostly) noble aspiration -- especially in a country that is decreasingly white and slightly less dominated by men. Alas, the one place that I'd always felt never looked like America was an airplane cockpit. On just about every flight I've taken the captain and co-pilot have been white males. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. The planes always arrived just fine. But it's why I was taken aback during a trip this weekend to Phoenix. I flew four legs on this round-trip United Airlines journey. On the first leg, both pilots were white men. On the second leg, the captain was Asian-American and the co-pilot African-American. On the third leg, the captain was a woman. Ditto for the fourth leg, where a different woman captained the plane and talked to the passengers. You can accuse me of being a bean counter for even noticing this stuff. But I noticed. And I'm glad. Amazingly enough, United looks like America.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Happy Birthday, A.C.
When I arrived in Phoenix around 9:00 on Saturday night, the temperature outside was 102. “That’s incredible,” I said to my cab driver as he took me to my hotel. "It’s not all that bad," he replied. “This afternoon, it was 112.”

One-hundred-and-freaking-twelve. That’s just too hot for mammals like us. Alas, we’re able mostly to tolerate these extreme temps because of one of the 20th century’s most unheralded inventions: air conditioning, which celebrates its 100th birthday this month. Read more about A.C.’s B-Day in this interesting US News story. Then when you’re done, repeat after me, “Hip, hip, High Cool . . . Hip, hip, High Cool!”

Saturday, July 20, 2002

SATURDAY SPECIAL: Picture of the Week!
President Bush (Secret Service code name: Spot) and Vice President Cheney (Secret Service code name: Barney) in their stealthy new disguises.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Amazon Light.
Check out Amazon Light, a new web services app that makes searching Amazon even easier.