Daniel McGinn

Stories by Daniel McGinn

  • Gadgets: Don't Breathe Easy

    Would you decide to drink and drive based on the results of a $1.49 test? If you would, the makers of the Guardian Angel Personal Alcohol Test are ready to help. Available in drug and grocery stores nationally, the product lets you test your blood alcohol content by licking a chemically treated paper strip (guardianangel.com). Police in several states even gave the strips to motorists over Labor Day weekend.To assess the Guardian Angel, as well as a $50 purse-size breathalyzer (the PSI BT5500) from Sharper Image, NEWSWEEK enlisted the help of a government official. He brought along the Alcotest 7410 Plus, a $2,000 machine used by police. Three NEWSWEEK volunteers drank for two hours, comparing readings on all three test systems. Hardly scientific, but here's our general advice:It's an Estimate: You probably shouldn't base a decision to drive solely on the results. (The manufacturers say it's never smart to drink and drive; Tip Sheet agrees.) However, after moderate consumption, the...
  • Jack Is Paying For This

    Graef Crystal has spent years digging through chief executives' pay packages, drawing attention to excess and vulgarity. The former compensation consult-ant turned pay critic thought he'd seen it all--until former General Electric chairman Jack Welch's soon-to-be ex-wife filed court documents in their pending divorce case last week. The papers reveal that much of the Welches' lifestyle is being paid for by GE shareholders. Among the company-provided perks: a $15 million Manhattan apartment, cell phones, satellite televisions, computers and security service at each of their six homes, a Mercedes and limousine service. "What does he do, tow the Mercedes behind the limo?" Crystal asks. "I'm surprised they didn't expense his toilet paper." In fact, they did: GE, the filing says, covers "toiletries" at the New York pad.Welch and GE's board moved quickly to quell damage from the revelations. Both issued statements saying Welch's retirement contract has been publicly available since 1996;...
  • Betting Against A Housing Bust

    Robert Toll and four colleagues are sitting around his office, trading jokes and gentle barbs. The atmosphere resembles a poker game--only instead of cards, the men huddle over a map of southern California. One of Toll's aides points toward a 52-acre parcel of land he's just visited, and now it's up to Toll, America's largest developer of high-end homes, to decide whether he should try to buy it for $7 million and cover it with $600,000 mini-mansions. "It's a piece of desert," Toll scoffs."It's a piece of gold," counters the deputy."You've got to be kidding me--you're expecting to sell homes there for this kind of money?" says Toll, 61, who started out selling new houses for $17,990 in 1967. He cross-examines his team: What are competitors selling nearby? Is the mountain view really worth a premium? Finally he decides to pursue the deal. "Next..." he says.Over the next three hours Toll nixes a land purchase in Arizona, greenlights one in Michigan and mulls a half-dozen others. "I'm...
  • Technology: Space--The Next Front

    Anyone who brings work home at night knows the feeling: dinner is over, the kids are in bed, but you just can't face the messy pit you call your home office. Trevor Hughes knew that phenomenon all too well. His work space was a cluttered, poorly lit corner of a guest room at his home in Maine. "The room was basically dysfunctional," says Hughes, an attorney and privacy expert. So he entered--and won--a contest by Logitech, a computer-peripherals maker. The prize: a $7,000 home-office makeover, including a host of new computer gizmos and some nice design flourishes.A spiffed-up home office is a luxury that's fast becoming a necessity. The rise of the "free agent" lifestyle in the '90s created a home-office boom, and now cool gadgets are getting cheaper. Consultant Terri Lonier of Working Solo says too many home offices are thrown together without a plan. "You set up a table, put the computer on it and find a chair, but you never step back and say, 'Is this the best way it could be...
  • Technology: Home Work: Fix Your Office

    Anyone who brings work home at night knows the feeling: dinner is over, the kids are in bed, but you just can't face the messy pit you call your home office. Trevor Hughes knew that phenomenon all too well. His work space was a cluttered, poorly lit corner of a guest room at his home in York, Maine. "The room was basically dysfunctional," says Hughes, an attorney and privacy expert. So he entered--and won--a contest by Logitech, a computer-peripherals maker. The prize: a $7,000 home-office makeover, including a host of new computer gizmos and some nice design flourishes.A spiffed-up home office is a luxury that's fast becoming a necessity. The rise of the "free agent" lifestyle in the '90s created a home-office boom, and now cool gadgets are getting cheaper. Consultant Terri Lonier of Working Solo says too many home offices are thrown together without a plan. "You set up a table, put the computer on it and find a chair, but you never step back and say, 'Is this the best way it could...
  • 'Those Guys Saved His Life'

    At lunchtime on Thursday, Jason Priestley took his first bites of solid food since crashing his race car at Kentucky Speedway last weekend. After eight hours of surgery on Wednesday at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, the actor-driver's condition is improving. His father, Lorne Priestley, talked to NEWSWEEK's Daniel McGinn about his son's injuries, the long recovery ahead--and whether Jason should return to the racetrack.NEWSWEEK: How's Jason doing?Lorne Priestley: It's all good news--things seem to be moving in the right direction. If you'd heard me yesterday, you'd recognize that there's a huge change in my voice.He's out of surgery, but what lies ahead?He's still in trauma, intensive care, but the way things are looking right now, within 36 hours we'll get him out of intensive care. He'll stay in acute care--which is like a traditional hospital room--for 36 to 48 hours after that. Then he'll go to the rehab hospital. He'll be here at Methodist Hospital and the rehab hospital...
  • Newsmakers

    For fans of "Trading Spaces," the home-decorating show that's become a runaway cable hit, it's the Great Debate: Alex or Paige? The show launched two years ago with Alex McLeod, a thirtyish Texan, as its host. But she mysteriously disappeared in season 2, replaced by Paige Davis. As with the public's reaction to New Coke, lots of fans prefer the original. Some even speculate McLeod was fired. But in her first interview since leaving the show, McLeod told NEWSWEEK she laid down her own paintbrush. "I don't want to sound like the poster girl for disgruntled cable divas, but the grueling travel schedule was driving me into the ground and the network wouldn't give me a proper vacation," she says, adding she spent three weeks a month in Holiday Inns during taping. "Things got out of control. Not only was I shooting footage, writing voice-overs and intros, but at one point they wanted to send me to sewing school so I could help sew on the show."So what's she think of her replacement? "I...
  • Credit: The Real Score

    To measure intellect, Americans use IQ and SAT scores. For health, we use cholesterol tests and the body-mass index. And when it comes to finances, we're judged by our credit scores. For years consumers have been able to request copies of their credit reports, which list their accounts, balances and payment histories. But the actual scores--a single number crunched by the firm Fair, Isaac & Co.--were available only to lenders. Now consumers can access scores themselves at myfico.com. For $12.95, the site provides your score, some simple analysis--and, for many people, a sudden sense of disappointment.Believe me, I know. If there were a Mensa club for folks with high credit scores, I figured I'd have a shot at joining. I pay my bills on time. I pull my credit report each year to check for errors (check yours at equifax.com, experian.com and www.transunion.com). My wife and I have a mortgage and student loans, but otherwise we avoid debt, usually paying our credit card in full...
  • Was Blind But Now I See

    Dr. Robert Hillman places a small electrical device to his neck, holds his breath and starts silently mouthing words: "One, two, three, four, five." His words, amplified by the gizmo that purrs near his throat, are pitchless and robotic, like the voices computers had in 1960s sci-fi movies. This is how 4,000 people each year are left to communicate after the surgical removal of a cancerous larynx. The technology they use to substitute for their missing vocal cords hasn't changed much since World War II. But in a small laboratory at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Hillman is trying to change that. One of his colleagues, outfitted with a small sensor on his neck, is wearing what could soon become the next-generation system for voice replacement. The goal, says Hillman: "To make it sound more like a human voice."For centuries doctors have created prosthetic limbs for people who've lost body parts to disease, accidents or in battle. Now an elite group of researchers at Mass Eye...
  • Father Fixit

    After weeks of revelations about priest abuse and church cover-ups, Father James Flavin didn't expect good news when he opened The Boston Globe one February morning. But he was unprepared for a story that brought the scandal disturbingly close to his own rectory. Four men were alleging years of abuse by Father Joseph Welsh, the priest at St. Nicholas, just down the road from Flavin's own parish in Brockton, Mass. Within hours the Boston archdiocese removed Welsh, and the local bishop called on Flavin to take command of St. Nicholas and help the devastated parish heal. The following Sunday Flavin stood at the altar beside the bishop, and they engaged in a ritual not found in any missal: imploring parents to ask their children whether their old priest might have abused them, too. "There is no rulebook for this," Flavin says. "We're going on our instincts."Last week authorities arrested Paul Shanley, an alleged sex predator who may soon rival priest turned felon John Geoghan in infamy,...
  • I'll Help Myself

    It's fun to gee-whiz over new technology, to "Wow!" at the latest gizmos and to dream of devices that never were and ask, "Why not?" Our affection for futurist gear fuels our love of science fiction (think we'll ever have a transporter room like Kirk and Spock?) and can shower wealth on inventors and investors. But in a world where that $400 Palm you bought last fall is so five minutes ago, let's take a breath and celebrate something that feels terribly unsexy: older technology. It's not as cool as Wi-Fi or Java, but spend time in stores and on factory floors, and it's clear that many of the machines that are transforming the way companies do business owe much to technology that debuted during the Reagan era, not the Internet Age.Just step into the Big Kmart in Braintree, Mass. During peak times, cashiers used to work all the store's 18 checkout aisles. But since September, customers have been able to check themselves out in four lanes that use scan-it-yourself machines. Manager...
  • Keeping Different Kinds Of Vows

    Father John Gremmels, a Roman Catholic priest, was new to his parish when he went grocery shopping near his church in Ft. Worth, Texas, a few years ago. As he pushed his cart, he held hands with an attractive woman, setting local gossips atwitter. But as priestly scandals go, this one was blessedly short-lived. People quickly learned that Gremmels, 49, is one of a rare breed: a married Catholic priest whose exemption from the vow of celibacy came directly from Pope John Paul II. Gremmels's marriage to Tracy, 41, is totally in accordance with church law. But for Catholics unaccustomed to a priest with a wife and three kids, some experiences take getting used to, like the time his young daughter jumped into his lap during mass. The Gremmelses have adapted, too. "We try not to do too much snuggling in public," he says.It's too bad every scandal in the Catholic Church can't be solved that easily. Since January the church has been rocked by revelations that officials covered up decades...
  • Are You A Tax Chump Or A Tax Cheat?

    Freelance writer Lucy McCauley relies on her creativity to make a living. And as April 15 approaches, she's applying it to her taxes, too, figuring that every life experience that might become essay fodder can count as a tax deduction. She's writing off her husband's birthday trip from their Dallas home to San Francisco (she had breakfast with a publisher, and she may write about wine country), and she's deducting the groceries and liquor for a party she threw for other writers after a book reading. "I think it works--who knows?" she says. Cynthia Smith Freed, an interior designer, has started obsessing over receipts, mileage and every $1.50 phone call--"all the small things that I previously thought weren't worth the hassle," she says. Freed's war on taxes is fueled by stories about how companies like Enron have dodged taxes. "We're paying taxes and they're not?" she says. "It makes me feel like I'm getting screwed."As tax season enters the homestretch, more Americans appear to be...
  • The Son Also Races

    Inside Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s $880,000 custom motor home is a shelf whose contents hint at his complicated role as the race-car-driving son of a martyred NASCAR legend. The cabinet used to be filled with Junior's playthings, and some remain: CDs of obscure rock bands, computer games and copies of Playboy. "That blonde there is hotter-'an-dammit," says the 27-year-old bachelor, ogling a centerfold. "Don't get much better lookin' than that." But since Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s fatal crash at last year's Daytona 500, the Playmates have been joined by keepsakes pushed on Junior by his father's following. He flips through homemade photo collages showing his dad surrounded by fans' cheesy poetry. "A little flea-marketish, you know what I'm saying?" he says. Then he fingers a particularly blurry snapshot. "People do this all the time," he says. "They'll be like 'You gotta have this' "--like it's a long-lost family heirloom, he jokes--"and it's a picture of my dad's backside." Before the crash,...
  • A COSTLY DIVESTITURE

    Jack Welch has always admitted that his guilty pleasure is reading the gossip pages. Now the former General Electric chairman's exploits are giving New York's tabloids unusually juicy fodder. Jackpot: GE tycoon's scorned wife seeks half his fortune, trumpeted a headline last week. The troubles began last fall when Welch, 66, was interviewed by the editor of the Harvard Business Review, Suzy Wetlaufer, 42. Soon afterward they commenced what management theorists might call an unusually friendly "horizontal integration." Jane Welch, 49 and Jack's second wife, learned of the relationship in December. The rest of the world found out this month, when The Wall Street Journal tucked news of the affair into a broader story about the turmoil it caused at Harvard. Last week brought a new excuse for high-minded publications (like NEWSWEEK) to air this laundry: the Welches say they're divorcing. So if you choose to read on, it's because you're interested in the legal angle, not the tawdry stuff....
  • Go East, Young Man

    Bo Feng, 32, is an unlikely mogul of the Internet age. He was born in China and didn't use a telephone until he was 14. A decade ago he worked in Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area while studying to be an art-film director. Then, through a friend, he met Silicon Valley power broker Sandy Robertson, cofounder of the investment bank Robertson Stephens. Feng convinced Robertson that despite his lack of business experience, his knowledge of China's culture would make him useful to American moneymen looking for a toehold in the world's most populous market. In the blink of an Internet minute, Feng was transformed from dumpling dispenser to venture capitalist.He quickly became part of a cohort of young Chinese-born, American-educated friends who've spent the last few years flying between San Francisco and Shanghai, trying to launch the Chinese equivalents of Yahoo, eBay and Microsoft. In the process, they hope to transplant the Valley's entrepreneurial magic to their homeland. And for...
  • The Ripple Effect

    ;Forgive Michael Useem if he sounds a bit gleeful when he talks about Enron. Where other observers see a tragic tale of executive avarice, Useem, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, sees the case study of a lifetime. Indeed, Enron is fast becoming as useful to Useem and his colleagues as "Hamlet" is to the English department. "From a teaching standpoint this has everything," Useem enthuses, describing how he's using the scandal to lead classroom discussions about leadership, auditing, executive compensation and culture. At law schools, too, Enron seems destined to land on syllabuses for years to come. "I think it's as fascinating as the Watergate hearings," says Duke University law professor James Cox, who's using Enron to teach about conflicts of interest and the obligations of directors. "Every day there's a new revelation." ...
  • Betting Big On Lousy Stocks

    When Jim Chanos and his friends go on spring break, there's no time for golf. Or the beach. Or fun of any kind-- unless your idea of a good time is sitting in a conference room talking about lousy investments. Each February, Chanos, a veteran Wall Street investor, picks up the tab to bring 20 of his professional-investor buddies to a luxury Miami hotel. Most of the group specialize in "short selling," in which they bet on stocks to fall, so most of their picks are companies they see heading for hard times. At last February's gathering, Chanos pitched the group on a stock you may have heard of: a high-flying energy firm called Enron. Where most investors saw a sensational investment, Chanos saw Enron as a company with a murky business model, deteriorating profit margins and some cryptic accounting footnotes. "There was no question he was on to something," says Bob Holmes, an investor who attended the conference. ...
  • What's Life Worth?

    Lawrence Singer always figured life insurance was a bad bet. "Statistically it doesn't pay off," says the 33-year-old dentist. "You're better off socking the money away in the stock market." But since September 11, Singer has had a change of heart. He works near the White House and Pentagon--daily reminders, he says, that life feels more risky now. So he recently purchased a $3 million policy. He's glad his fiancee and 3-year-old son are protected, but he laments the price. Because of his medical history, his monthly premium is a hefty $559. "It's a big expense," he says. ...
  • Betting On A Recovery

    Alan Greenspan isn't the type to give high-fives or dance in the end zone. But if his Federal Reserve colleagues were an NFL team, they might be sending the waterboy to the locker room to ice the champagne. One year after chairman Greenspan began the most aggressive recession-fighting offensive of his tenure, the economy is showing early signs of an upturn. Despite huge layoffs, two years of stock-market declines and the momentary paralysis that hit the economy after September 11, experts and the public are growing optimistic. Economic data is always confusing and often contradictory, but many of the latest stats are encouraging. Consumer confidence is rising. Job losses are slowing. From Silicon Valley to Wall Street, there's a growing consensus that a rebound is in sight. A few economists already talk about this recession in the past tense. Even more cautious ones, like Allen Sinai of Primark Decision Economics, expect growth to return by summer vacation. "The worst of the slide...
  • Meet The Bin Ladens

    Boston real-estate agent Ellen Signaigo Brockman was paging through the newspaper one day in the early 1990s when a story about a little-known terrorist named Osama bin Laden caught her eye. A few days later, she showed the article to a business acquaintance. "Isn't this name similar to yours?" she asked Mohammed Binladin. Yes, he told her. The man in the newspaper was his brother. Osama, he explained sadly, was the black sheep of their wealthy Saudi family. Many of the clan's 54 children, heirs to a vast construction fortune, traveled the world, studied abroad and developed a taste for American food, music and clothing. But Osama had chosen a much different path. He became a radical Islamic fundamentalist, hid in mountain caves, obsessed endlessly about destroying Western infidels. Many of the other brothers and sisters used their inheritances to buy businesses to fund lavish lives. Osama used his to buy businesses to fund suicide bombers. Osama "had gotten a little out of control,...
  • 'We'll Pull Through'

    Sitting in her darkened Bronx apartment, watching a video of her missing father salsa dancing, Michelle Nieves is grieving--and thinking about money. Her father, Juan Nieves, a 56-year-old Puerto Rican immigrant, worked as a salad maker at Windows on the World and was the sole provider for her mother and younger sister. When he died in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, "we went from having something to having nothing," says Michelle, 23. Juan had just $15,000 in union life insurance; the family's medical benefits could expire as early as next month. He leaves an ill wife who's never held a job, $7,600 in savings and a beloved 1968 Mustang that the family may have to sell. Two adult Nieves children, Michelle and John, 25, who had their own apartments, may be forced to move back into their mother's two-bedroom, $521-a-month rental with their two younger siblings. Christine, 15, is already looking for a part-time job to help out. And the older siblings will dip into their...
  • Screeching To A Halt

    Shhh. it's supposed to be a surprise. On Oct. 4, Terri and Ed Trombley planned to wake their two daughters--Kathleen, 5, and Laura, 10--and announce: "Come on, we're going to Disney World!" They'd board a plane and be hangin' with Mickey by nightfall. But their plans changed on Sept. 11. "I don't want to be near a plane," says Terri. "I don't want to be away from home. And part of me would feel guilty about having a lot of fun." The family hopes to take the trip next June. "Losing a family vacation is minute compared to what some people have lost," says Terri.It's a sentiment that can't be overstated: amid unimaginable bloodshed, it's hard to feel too upset about red ink. But as the nation got back to work last week, it became clear just how dramatically the economic landscape has changed. Nervous investors dealt the stock market its biggest one-day point drop in history, with the Dow down 14 percent for the week. America's economy has been in slo-mo, teetering near recession for...
  • Maxed Out

    A Nation Of Shoppers, We Financed The Boom Of The '90S With A Heavy Reliance On Credit. Now, With The Economy Slowing, The Bill For Our Record Borrowing May Finally Be Coming Due
  • Ceos Sound The Warning

    Every newspaper reader has a first stop, whether it's the sports page, the funnies or a gossip column. For business types, it's the front-page "What's News" summary of The Wall Street Journal--and as 2001 turns into an annus horribilis for corporate America, that section of newsprint is becoming more depressing than the obituary page. Last week, after tallying their second-quarter numbers, a host of blue chips--Compaq, Corning, Xerox--spilled their red ink down Wall Street. Even worse than the numbers were the forecasts, as industry leaders such as Microsoft warned that the third-quarter revenues won't be any prettier.Economy watchers looking for the full half of the glass may soon be squinting to find it. We're not in an official recession, and unemployment remains historically low. Consumer spending, although slowing, hasn't tanked just yet. But the view from corner offices has rarely been this bleak. Corporate profits in the second quarter were down 18 percent from last year--the...
  • Married To Nascar

    John and Nancy Andretti sit with their three children in the fifth row, listening to hymns, Proverbs and the sermon. It would be an ordinary Sunday scene if the chapel weren't a converted garage, if race-car engines weren't rumbling outside and if the word "safety" didn't dominate the prayers. Just two hours after the service the men in these makeshift pews--NASCAR drivers Andretti, Jeff Gordon and a few dozen others--will circle Michigan International Speedway at 170 miles per hour. And Nancy Andretti and the rest of the NASCAR wives will cheer, worry and pray.There's much to celebrate this racing season. NASCAR is getting more network TV exposure than ever and seems poised to win new fans. But since Dale Earnhardt's death in February, the Winston Cup circuit has become a traveling shrine. Earnhardt was the fourth driver to die in just nine months, fueling new concerns over racing safety that cloud even jubilant moments like Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s triumph at Daytona this month. The...
  • A Grim Job Snapshot

    It's every carpenter's favorite aphorism: measure twice, cut once. In the corporate world, that advice applies to workers, not wood. Better to execute layoffs quickly and decisively, experts say, and let the workers who remain get back to business. The alternative--the drip-drip-drip of repeated downsizings--is a Chinese water torture that kills morale and productivity. But as America's slowing economy continues to downshift, many employers are deciding they have no choice.Dozens of big companies have already laid off workers this year, and now a growing number--Polaroid, Dell, 3Com and Nortel among them--are swinging the ax again. And they're aiming not just at factories, but at their white-collar workers. Executives blame false optimism and the murky nature of this slowdown, which has been characterized by a wild mix of up-and-down economic stats. "When they looked in their crystal balls several months ago, they were hoping for a V-shaped turnaround--a quick downturn and a quick...
  • A 20-Year Toll

    We'd been seeing patients with fevers and weight loss, and by the spring they'd developed an unusual pneumonia. All were homosexual. A colleague and I wrote an article. Then other doctors started calling. They had cases, too.When it appeared in children and transfusion recipients, that was a turning point in public perception. Up until then it was entirely a gay epidemic. Now everyone could relate. Suddenly TV crews wanted interviews. I thought: "Where had these people been for the last year?"It seemed obvious this was a transmissable disease that spread through exchanges of bodily fluid. But condoms weren't popular--these were very liberated sexual times.One night a guy showed up at our house who said he had the cure for AIDS in an old Johnson's shampoo bottle. Ryan said: "I ain't taking that"... Was I tempted? I was more tempted by the things I was hearing in the media about new drugs... Ryan said, "Mom, they're working so hard, by the time I get really sick there will be a cure....
  • More Than Just Hot Air

    Except during hurricane season, folks in Greenville, S.C., don't worry much about power outages. But the current energy crisis has still had an impact on many of the city's 98,000 residents. That's because Greenville is home to a bustling General Electric factory that produces gas turbines. They're a key component in powering the 1,300 new power plants the Bush administration says need to be built over the next 20 years. Just a few years ago the GE plant--the only one of its kind in the nation--was a sleepy place; even the local paper rarely gave it a mention. Now, as GE scrambles to ramp up production, its work has taken on national importance--and every extra turbine it produces will help the cause. Says Mark Little, a GE vice president: "We're going to put more units online this spring than we did all last year." ...
  • Trying To Outfox Uncle Sam

    Jamie and Christina Lancaster were perfectly happy with their accountant. Then the couple, both Virginia Beach real-estate agents, attended a seminar by Sanford Botkin, president of the Tax Reduction Institute. For seven hours Botkin, a former IRS attorney, paced the ballroom inside a Norfolk, Va., hotel, rattling off ways self-employed people can dramatically cut their tax bills. Botkin's techniques--totally legitimate, he insists--help people find new write-offs for cars, restaurant meals, haircuts and even vacations. The Lancasters loved what they heard. They're already planning to deduct up to $7,000 for their two Ford Expeditions, thanks to an arcane rule about depreciation schedules for extra-heavy vehicles. And they've rearranged a trip to London to make it tax-deductible. They also fired their accountant for failing to show them these loopholes. Says Jamie: "Now we're going to go to Disneyland and find a way to write that off, too." ...