We won't be a party to this

Among the sidebar reports surfacing after Saturday's Columbia disaster was this: It took as little as a half-hour for the first posting on eBay offering shuttle debris for sale. But the online auction site pulled it, along with all other such listings and said the "sellers" may be reported to federal authorities even if they were pranksters. Scavenging parts of any aircraft involved in an accident is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Perfectly OK, however, are offerings of existing Columbia memorabilia.

Think of it as "Smith"

Other than their high offices, what else do the leaders of South Korea and communist North Korea have in common? Answer: among other things, the surname Kim. But Kim Dae Jung, who is retiring, and the North's Kim Jong Il are hardly alone. In fact, the National Statistical Office in Seoul reports that the name is the peninsula's most popular and that in South Korea, particularly, more than 1 in 5 of its 47 million people has it.

Quote of the day

'He's passing the buck to our children. It's stunning how much debt he's going to add.'

- Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the Budget Committee's top Democrat, on President Bush's $2.23 trillion federal spending proposal for 2004.

US rates best at keeping its mitts off the labor market

The freer a labor market, the easier it is for companies to grow and create jobs: So says Forbes magazine in its first comparison of the 17 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries. Each was rated on four criteria: government-mandated vacation days, ease of hiring and firing workers, union coverage, and long-term unemployment. A "1" score in each category indicates "freest"; a "10" indicates most restrictive. The 10 countries where the government's touch is lightest, and their composite scores on the Forbes indicator:

1. US 4.55
2. Canada 11.49
3. South Korea 13.00
4. Japan 15.15
5. Britain 15.18
6. Switzerland 16.42
7. Australia 22.68
8. Denmark 23.01
9. Netherlands 24.35
10. Norway 25.14

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