1. Brooking No Quarter

Every time we fish change from our pocket, we at the research lab are confronted with one of the Dumbest things in the U.S. monetary system:

The 50 State Quarters Program.

OK, OK, OK. It isn't consistently Dumb -- just frequently Dumb, and horrifically so.

Some background: Over a 10-year period starting in 1999, the U.S. Mint is issuing a series of 50 variations on the quarter-dollar coin, one for each state in the union. The reverse of each coin -- you know, where the eagle usually is -- contains some artwork commemorating that particular state.

We like the idea of a quarter program. It serves as a counterbalance to the sameness of a unified national currency. It celebrates the differences among Americans, as opposed to the usual monetary practice of erasing traces of uniqueness. It's a subtle yet constant reminder that Americans don't just live in one country; they live in 50 different states.

That's the theory, at least. In practice, the 50 State Quarters Program has become a showcase for some of the ugliest art on a coin since

Nero lurked on a sestertius.

Well, we're fond of some of the early designs:

Continental Congressman Caesar Rodney on a horse for Delaware.

The legendary Charter Oak for Connecticut. They tell you something about the state, and they're simple, uncluttered designs. Even if you don't immediately get the historical references, the artwork is striking enough to make you want to learn more about the picture's significance.

But a lot of the other coins look like they were designed the way a second-grader makes a cover page for a geography report. Have a map of the state? Glue it on there. Got a picture of the state bird? Paste it right in. State flower? State motto? Famous building? Find space for them somewhere. More is always better.

And the results? Some are merely dull, like

Georgia's coin and

South Carolina's. Start with a map, throw in some state symbols and a motto or nickname, and you're done.

On other coins, such as

Arkansas' and

Louisiana's, the separate images are cobbled together with alarmingly little attention paid to how they work together. Hey, it's a pelican! It's a trumpet! It's a map of the Louisiana Purchase! It's like cooking soup by throwing a pickle, a strawberry and a scallop into the broth.

The worst of the bunch is the

Illinois coin, which looks like it was designed by a Cuisinart with short-term memory problems. On one circle less than an inch in diameter you've got -- in addition to the standard elements of state name and year of admission to the union:


  • A farm scene.
  • The Chicago skyline.
  • An outline of Illinois.
  • A picture of Abraham Lincoln.
  • The words "Land of Lincoln," in case you didn't get the point of the image of Abraham Lincoln inside the Illinois map.
  • 21 stars, signifying that Illinois was the 21st state admitted to the union.
  • The words "21st State/Century," saving you the hassle of counting those stars and making a specious connection between state order and the Gregorian calendar.

Yes, the only thing that scares us more than the Illinois coin is seeing the five finalists for Michigan's coin, due to be released next year.

One of the coins is a simple execution of the theme that Michigan is the Great Lakes State. The other four start with that image, then slap various combinations of other Michigan-related objects on or around it. Guess which image we're afraid won't win?

2. The Ties That Blind

We recently learned of yet another reason for you to hate your job. Dressing up for the office -- specifically, wearing a suit with a snazzy tie -- can make you go blind.

In a paper published in the August issue of the

British Journal of Ophthalmology,

a team of doctors reports that wearing tight ties can cause an increase in intraocular pressure -- the most important known risk factor, according to the paper, for the development and progression of glaucoma-related eye damage.

Thank goodness we have a relaxed dress code here at the research lab. As long as you're wearing your white lab coat, the boss doesn't care what else you have on. Or don't.

But enough about us. "A tight necktie," write the good doctors, "can be considered a risk factor in men who prefer to wear tight neckties, men with thick necks, and white collar professionals."

You may have already read about this study, since it got picked up by a lot of news media. But you probably missed the letters that various members of the medical community wrote to the

BJO

after the paper was published.

"The article was striking in its failure to discuss the contribution of sartorial factors in this matter," wrote one John R. Paisey, a Research Fellow at Southampton University Hospitals. "It should be obvious to even casual attention that a full-Windsor differs markedly from a four-in-the-hand knot in its propensity to impinge jugular drainage, and that is without even considering the effect of the Pratt, which is so obviously relevant in this regard. It is not only knots that should be discussed, but also the garment itself, surely the authors are not suggesting that a kipper is equivalent to a pencil tie and the opportunity to scrutinise the excess of the puce, proptotic visage so prominent amongst our own ranks is surely not unrelated to our own passion for the dickey bow."

See? We're not the only researchers with too much time on our hands.

TST Recommends

3. Beemer Me Up, Scotty!

You'll remember, perhaps, that

last week we complained about a BMW advertisement -- an ad that not only overused the already overused expression "deja vu," but also committed the grammatical misdemeanor of publishing a headline in which a verb and a pronoun couldn't agree on their plurality: "BMW.WilliamsF1 Team wins their fourth Grand Prix."

We confess that, contrary to what they taught us in journalism school, we didn't call up BMW before publishing that item to see if someone there had anything to say on the company's behalf.

No matter. One reader, Rachel Neumann, did come to BMW's defense. Sort of.

"As a Formula One fan," writes Neumann, "I too have noticed many cases of improper subject-verb agreement in the sports magazines and in on-camera interviews by drivers and commentators. However, the majority of F1 teams are located in Britain, where the English there -? or so I have noticed from following F1 -- incorporates an apparently different use of collective nouns.

"In F1 speak, the word 'team' is always followed by a plural verb, whereas in the U.S., we would typically use a singular verb for what's usually a collective noun. We would say 'the team is winning every race,' but they say 'the team ARE winning every race' or 'the team DO not tend to succeed at Silverstone.'

"Other examples (taken from news headlines) that do not follow collective noun rules in the F1 world: 'Renault plan final engine evolution'; 'Toyota confirm Panis and Da Matta for 2004.' Obviously, in the US, we would say 'Renault PLANS...'

"My only instances of noticing this variation are in watching F1. I would hate to ascribe the 'error' you pointed out in the BMW ad to German carelessness, as it is hardly an isolated incident!"

Which still doesn't explain why BMW would use a singular verb next to a plural pronoun. But thanks for trying.

4. Uno, Dos, Uno, Dos, Tres, Quattro, Wooly Bully!

Gillette

(G) - Get Report

is suing Schick parent

Energizer Holdings

(ENR) - Get Report

. But for all the wrong reasons.

In its lawsuit, announced Aug. 12, Gillette alleges that Schick's Quattro razor, due to be introduced in September, violates a Gillette patent. Gillette's

patent No. 6,212,777, issued in 2001, covers a key feature of three-bladed safety razors -- notably Gillette's Mach3.

That key feature -- which Gillette now calls its "proprietary progressive blade geometry technology" -- is that the three blades in the razor are set at different distances from the surface which they are shaving. The leading blade is the farthest from the surface being shaved, the second blade is a little closer, and the third is the closest.

We're not talking huge differences here -- just two-tenths of a millimeter between adjacent blades. But it's enough of a difference for Gillette to raise a huge stink about.

Granted, we're not patent lawyers here, nor do we play them on TV. Nor have we measured a Quattro with a micrometer to see if its blades are, as Gillette accuses, geometrically progressive. But we do feel compelled to point out that Gillette's patent appears to specify a three-bladed razor. And the forthcoming Schick Quattro has four blades.

Which gets us at the real problem: razor blade one-upmanship. The razor blade arms race.

As we have noted previously, we fear that one day our grandchildren will be shaving with five-pound, 50-bladed razors -- the kind of toiletry that would get you kicked off an airplane if you put it in your carry-on.

5. Nothing Takes Your Mind Off a Broken Arm Better Than a Gunshot Wound to the Chest

Kudos to

Corporate Babble for pointing out some recent

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

Dumbness.

As the watchdog of corporatespeak noted recently, a Microsoft representative had a novel way of downplaying the recent havoc wreaked by the "Blaster" Internet worm, which capitalizes on a security flaw in Microsoft operating system software.

See,

the Microsoftie told Reuters, "It's certainly not a good thing. ...

But it has not spread at the speed with which more notorious worms, such as Slammer and I Love You and Code Red, did."

In other words, as Corporate Babble puts it, "Yes, we are thrilled our current product flaw is far less destructive than our other recent product flaws."

Click here to read a letter about this story.