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Preview: Just One Thing

Just One Thing

Each day. Just one thing.

Updated: 2012-04-15T21:28:05.477-04:00



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!


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.


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


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.


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.


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!


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.


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


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.


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."


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."


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."


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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."


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."


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."


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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."