The nightmare here is that we'll oversleep, or get caught in traffic, or suddenly become disabled by intimations of failure, and then we'll blow the deadline for the midday column, forcing us to publish a big piece of blank cyberspace, which is much more embarrassing than the paper equivalent because cyberspace is infinite. Let's not even think about it.
Scanning the morning news, we see that at 10 a.m. the Leading Economic Indicators suddenly marched across the wires. They're up again, 0.3 percent, to 108.0. Because we feel insufficiently informed about these indicators, and don't even know what units they are in (108 of what? dollars? centimeters? angstroms?), we made a quick call to Ken Goldstein, an economist for the Conference Board, which produces the numbers.
`Manufacturing and the labor market are looking good. Financial markets, for the obvious reasons, are not,` he reported.
We asked him to refresh our memory about those obvious reasons. He said there have been two interest rate hikes in recent months, and he mentioned the bond market, and somewhere along the way we ceased processing the data.
In any case, the indicators are combined to form an index. There are no units; it's purely symbolic, benchmarked at 100, the 1992 standard. The number 108 is the all-time record. There's no recession in sight, Goldstein said. The economy, he said, "is like a 300-pound defensive lineman running full charge down the field. You just don't stop it on a dime.`
By the way, the underpublicized "coincident index` increased only 0.2 percent, and the tragically ignored "lagging index` increased 0.6 percent. Next time we'll find out what that's all about.
Weather report: Forecasters are now taking bets on what vanishes first, the tropical storm turned hurricane turned tropical storm named Dennis, or the Dan Quayle presidential candidacy. It really could go either way at this point. The increasingly tiresome Dennis is, as of this morning, malingering off the coast of North Carolina and Virginia - didn't we write this two days ago? - and may head in to land, or may not. Quayle is preparing for a trip to New Hampshire beginning Sunday.
`We consider only one option, which is victory,` Quayle spokesman Jonathan Baron told us this morning. When we noted that the pundits expected Quayle to drop out after his poor showing in the Iowa straw poll, Baron said, "The Washington establishment finds the whole exercise of the primaries somewhat inconvenient. And our answer to that is, 'too bad.' The Washington elites are so busy taking summer vacations, they'd rather not be distracted by insignificant things like the election of the next leader of the Free World. We're sorry to break up their down time on the beaches of Maryland and Virginia. This election is too important to call off.`
(Ancillary question to ponder: Are we still supposed to call it the "Free World`?)
Onward: You may have heard this morning that the Army is prepared to abandon its "Be All You Can Be` advertising slogan, after 18 years. I was saddened that the story didn't mention, even in passing, the name of the person who authored the slogan, a certain Earl Carter, a fine man and one of the classic Madison Avenue ad writers. The line came to him in an Archimedes moment, and years later you still have to marvel that it is only 13 letters long (not counting the "That` added in the version put to music), perfectly balanced, with a lovely echo of the Hamlet soliloquy. In any case, the Army says it wants a new slogan that will better connect with today's young people. (It should be something like: "The Famous Ground Forces Whose Use Has Been Ruled Out.` Only much catchier.)
The other big news today is that September is here, a fact we confirmed this morning in a call to Geoff Chester, spokesman for the U.S. Naval Observatory. Chester noted that "astronomical autumn` won't begin until Sept. 23, at 7:31 EDT, the moment that the center of the sun's disk is directly over the equator. You may notice with a trace of alarm that the 23rd of September seems oddly late, but that's what happens, Chester said, as we move through the leap year cycle. We're due to have that extra day next February, which will reset everything and allow autumn to start once again on the 22nd. So everyone stay calm.
In yet more astronomical news, we've had an interesting chat with astronomer George Djorgovski about the Mystery Object he found in the sky a few months ago, and given much notoriety on the front page of a certain New York city newspaper that we're not in the mood to name. The article said scientists were baffled by this particular source of light, that it didn't fit any known model of astronomical object. Djorgovski immediately received a flood of E-mails, many, he says, from the UFO community. (And if that doesn't satisfy you, go to astro.caltech.edu/~george/dposs/pr.)
But it turns out the Mystery Object isn't a Klingon vessel. It's just a type of quasar. Quasars (from "quasi-stellar`) are believed to be associated with extremely energetic events in galaxies very far away in space and time. The radiation may come from matter falling into a black hole. Djorgovski tells us, "This is a very rare subtype of a quasar, an 'iron' or 'low ionisation' Broad Absorption Line Quasar.`
Still, even if this was a dud - and we say that with all due respect to the astronomical marvel that it may be - these sorts of "mystery objects` will likely become increasingly common in the next few years. There are a passel of new telescopes going into operation. They're scouring the heavens in every wavelength, the data surging onto the Internet for analysis by professionals and amateurs alike.
But it's not terribly likely that anytime soon we'll see signs of the Romulan Empire. Remember, their spaceships have cloaking devices.
If you want to comment, kvetch, pester, or float Army slogan suggestions, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.