Attention cerebral swingers: Don't cede the field to those suburban Internet millionaires. You've got Washington's version of cachet. A big brain may be as much of a babe magnet as big bucks or washboard abs.

It's true, says senior associate Howard Wiarda at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has just published "Universities, Think Thanks and War Colleges." Wiarda, who spent six eventful years at the American Enterprise Institute, offers an insider's view of tank life and those who live it--including current and former AEI fixtures Jeane Kirkpatrick, Irving Kristol, the senior and junior Bill Baroodys and the notoriously friendly lady dubbed "Miss Texas Natural Gas" by AEI wags.

Wiarda, a specialist on Latin America, moved from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to AEI in the early 1980s, part of a historic shift in policy research (and researchers) from universities to Washington-based think tanks.

He recounts policy battles he fought as a moderately conservative scholar in the Reagan years, trying hard to pull administration hard-liners closer to the center while sparring with left-leaning scholars on his flanks.

This is no tedious, treacly tome. Wiarda dishes hard, both on his friends and on enemies. Kirkpatrick, AEI's uber-thinker on foreign policy, mostly draws raves. He's not so kind to current AEI President Chris DeMuth--who abruptly fired him in a cost-cutting move--and senior scholar Kristol. Both men were part of what Wiarda says was a neocon takeover of AEI in the mid-1980s.

Wiarda also writes that "think tanks and Washington politics in general, just like rock groups and sports celebrities, have groupies. . . . We [at AEI] had several, often wealthy widows or divorcees (including the legendary 'Miss Texas Natural Gas,' a blond floozy who married a Texas millionaire three times her age who died within weeks of the marriage), who 'hung around' AEI, attended every meeting, and attempted to ingratiate themselves into our programs."

BOOK WORLD II: Speaking of books, the Heritage Foundation is preparing to publish its seventh election-year briefing book, a compendium of policy position papers that it will send to a massive list of candidates (who may not be quite up to speed on the, ahem, right way to think about such issues as missile defense and school vouchers). "Issues 2000," edited by Heritage VPs Stuart Butler and Kim Holmes, is a self-help kit for those too busy schmoozing on the stump to crunch their own numbers. It includes predigested facts, answers to tough questions and contact info for conservative experts. Some chapters are already available on the tank's Web site.

BUSINESS RESEARCH GEARING UP: In this month of merger mania, it seems appropriate to welcome the newly formed National Commission on Entrepreneurship to town. NCOE hopes to spur research, education and policy recommendations that will promote successful entrepreneurship.

Part of the challenge will be overcoming Washington's tendency toward economic illiteracy and explaining exactly what an entrepreneurial business is, according to Patrick Von Bargen, NCOE's executive director and a former chief of staff to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

Entrepreneurs "are a weird subset. . . . They start out as small businesses and wind up being very large businesses," said Von Bargen. Technology companies such as local colossus America Online jump to mind, but other entrepreneurial success stories include Starbucks and The Gap. "If you scan the mainstream economic literature, you can't find much about entrepreneurship."

NCOE is a grantee and brainchild of Kansas City's Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which gave the group $3 million and three years to complete its task. The foundation, with $1.6 billion in assets, was founded by Ewing M. Kauffman, who made his money as the founder of Marion Laboratories.

Among the group's first projects: a national round of 15 focus groups with entrepreneurs, seeking to identify the factors that lead to a start-up's success.

TANK PEOPLE: Ex-Clinton chief of staff and former California congressman Leon E. Panetta is the new chairman of the board of directors at the Center for National Policy, replacing former Maryland congressman Michael Barnes, who has filled the post since 1993. Currently, Panetta and his wife run the Panetta Institute for Public Policy at California State University at Monterey Bay.

The Cato Institute recently named Darcy Olsen its director of education and child policy. Olsen has been working as an entitlement policy analyst at Cato. Before joining the tank, she worked for the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless.

Kenneth Weinstein is rejoining the Hudson Institute as director of its Washington office. Weinstein, a former Herman Kahn research fellow at Hudson, is leaving a post at the Shalem Center in the District. He is also an adjunct professor of government at Georgetown University.

Have news about think tanks, policy-oriented foundations or nonprofits? E-mail it to ideas@washpost.com