Paul Murray's weblog, with news you may have missed and my $0.02 worth on a number of topics.

"You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."
- Art Buchwald

I bet you don't have a friend who's an acupuncturist

E-mail me: pmurray [at]

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Tuesday, July 31, 2001
Spending on pop culture shrinks. According to the NYT, we're spending consderably less for movies, books, recorded music, concerts, sports -- you name it. Gosh, could it be that 1) so much of it is utter crap and 2) they've been jacking up prices like crazy. Do ya think? It's about time. Quality will never improve as long as owners realize we'll keep spending on mediocrity. Ask fans of the Detroit Lions.

Sunday, July 29, 2001
Chief spook. The Washington Post Magazine has a good article on Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden and the challenges he faces in modernizing the National Security Agency (NSA).

Meanwhile, while the NSA is watching enemies abroad, the FBI is watching criminals here at their computers. Now the question is, can they do so without a court order for a wiretap? (Courtesy of Neil Murray)

Nip, tuck, repeat. I have heard that some South American countries are gaga over plastic surgery, so I can't say these stories surprise me, but it's interesting that they appear so close together. One, Miss Venezuela cheerfully admits to having plastic surgery; an organization there spends about $72,000 prepping the country's Miss Universe and Miss World contestants. The other is that the Brazilian edition of Penthouse is going to feature a 94-year-old actress (who has lost track of all her plastic surgeries). I don't make these things up.

Friday, July 27, 2001
Another stereotype verified and explained. "Researchers in Singapore have found that nearsightedness, or myopia, is more common among the highly educated and those on the academic fast track." No punchline, just interesting.

More potentially relevant health news. People with chronic heartburn due to acid reflux may also be at greater risk of nasal congestion and other respiratory problems, researchers report.

What really happens during teleconferences. You always suspected it, even among important people; now there's proof.

Who's on whose boards of directors? Find out at they rule.

The AOL-Microsoft wars. Battle for the desktop. Round one: Compaq. And just who should we root for in this one?

Orbit this. Is there anything more pathetic than powerful organizations complaining that everyone else is ganging up on them?

Thursday, July 26, 2001
O. Henry, please call your office. A British man vacationing in Australia flew back home as a surprise to propose to his girlfriend, only to find that...

Wednesday, July 25, 2001
Restoring Boswell. James Boswell, that is, creator of the modern biography. His home in Scotland and his reputation are both being restored.

Is this the Bard? The Art Gallery of Ontario (in Toronto) is showing a painting that may be a portrait of William Shakespeare (Washington Post | Toronto Globe and Mail). This would be notable because we know of no images created during his lifetime. Compare it for yourself.

Tuesday, July 24, 2001
The Dragon Lady Returns. Katherine Harris is running for Congress. I imagine these people are as thrilled about it as I am.

America First. The small town of La Verkin, Utah has approved a city ordinance declaring itself to be a United Nations-free zone. I thought we were done with all this "Get US out of the UN" crap a long time ago, but apparently not. I suppose the irony is lost on these folks that they have passed an unconstitutional ordinance in an attempt to defend America (the Utah Attorney General warned them of this). (Of course, it was lost on Oliver North and his supporters, too, but it doesn't seem to have hurt his career lately. Instead of being court-martialed for what he did, he runs for the U.S. Senate. But I digress.)

Monday, July 23, 2001
All Things Must Pass. I hesitate to mention this, since I haven't heard any confirmation yet, but if a reporter has accurately quoted producer George Martin, then George Harrison is accepting that his demise is near. Which brings to mind several things. One, I suspect this will be another cultural milestone for the baby boom generation. Two, I marvel at the seemingly limitless amount of affection and good will that so many people have for The Beatles -- gratitude for the many joys they brought us. Three, this makes me more upset about losing John Lennon 20 years ago; these four guys shared an experience and creativity unlike any other band, and I can't help but believe that time would have mellowed their old divisions, and that they would have occaisionally made more music together. We thank you and wish you well, George.
Update: This is why I was holding off: Harrison and Martin are denying the report. Well, my thoughts are still valid.

Friday, July 20, 2001
Damn dirty apes. Slate has an interesting article about the political subtexts of the original "Planet of the Apes" films. The author speculates (as I have) that Tim Burton, the director of this summer's remake, will leave out all of this stuff and create a mindless popcorn movie. Let's face it, plotting and subtlety are not Burton's hallmarks; impressive visuals are. By the way... you do know that the remake does not use the same classic ending (written by Rod Serling), right?

Right-wing nuts. Well, there had to be someone somewhere with the political agenda and bad taste to say something snotty about Katherine Graham. Leave it to a newspaper published by billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife (CNN Profile | Salon article | Washington Post articles), the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which pretty much prints whatever Scaife wants it to print. (Original PTR article from Jim Romenesko's MediaNews.)

Thursday, July 19, 2001
USA, Brought to You by IBM. Sound preposterous? Give it time. I've been ranting about corporate branding of public facilities for some time now, but this is getting ridiculous: the Smithsonian Institution will probably name a new hall of transportation for General Motors, in exchange for $10 million. This is what happens when you put a corporate guy in charge; fundraising becomes a primary measure of success.

Wednesday, July 18, 2001
Yet another Darwin award aspirant. The guy in Muskegon who was smoking pot and huffing propane. Guess what happened.

Sleazy record companies strike again. I understand that they're only trying to protect their material from being traded and sold, etc. But now they've already added copy protection to audio CD's. It doesn't prevent you from copying the material; it simply distorts the sound. Here's the truly disturbing part; note the careful wording (italics are mine):
Rather than blocking copying altogether, the technology introduces some digital distortion into a file. Macrovision says this is all but inaudible when a CD is played through an ordinary CD player, but when a song is copied into digital format on a PC's hard drive, the distortion shows up as annoying "clicks and pops" in the music.

So we get inferior audio quality and we're screwed out of our "fair use" rights. Swell.

Tuesday, July 17, 2001
Katherine Graham, R.I.P. I have the utmost respect for this woman, who rose to the challenging situation she found herself in, and elevated The Washington Post to one of the world's finest newspapers. Would we ever have heard of Watergate without her? (Many links with information at the WP article I've linked to.) WP obit. NYT obit. And a most unlikely picture!

Jagged little pill. Shortly after becoming president, Abraham Lincoln was prescribed "blue mass" pills to cure his melancholia. He stopped taking them because they made him "cross." Turns out that was a smart move.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. The California State Capitol building in Sacramento is being repaired... with granite from a hospital for the criminally insane. Write your own punchline. (Courtesy of Neil Murray.)

Monday, July 16, 2001
Patents run amok. Somebody claims to have patented software downloads in 1985. Like the monster at the end of a bad movie, they keep popping up just when you think they're dead. An attorney fighting it says that if upheld, the owner could be richer than Microsoft.

Great strategery. Ballistic missile defense won't work (regardless of how it appeared this weekend). It will suck up $60 billion of our tax dollars. It won't stop countries or terrorists from simply smuggling in bombs (not that they'd use bombs; they'd resort to much cheaper, easier and partable biological warefare). And it's driving Russia and China together. Boy, I love this plan.

Balls. And strikes. Umpires claim that Major League Baseball is forcing them to call more strikes in an effort to speed up games. A laudable goal, but a lousy method, if true.

Uh-oh. NYT reports that the Bush Administration wants to rewrite the tax code. Gee, I wonder who will benefit the most?

Sunday, July 15, 2001
Yet another copyright debate. The woman who was the inspiration for the song "The Girl From Ipanema" is being sued by the heirs of the songwriters for opening a jewelry and clothing shop with that name.

Saturday, July 14, 2001
The dangers of materialism: Australian researchers have linked materialism to depression and anger. Think about that before your next bit of shopping therapy.

Cartoon break: A hilarious Tom Toles one about Bush and his father. (Much as I'd love to show it here on this page, I respect copyright.) Ted Rall weighs in on the Bushes, too. (While you're at it, check out Rall on "faith-based.")

Friday, July 13, 2001
Bad day at work? At least your mistakes weren't as public as this graphic artist for a newspaper. Aaron Barnhart verifies the accuracy of this popular Internet e-mail at his TVBarn site.

Wednesday, July 11, 2001
New page added. My web site doubles in size!

Social science: "Gossip gives us information on how to better interact with other people," says a psych professor. I've heard that...

There's one for you, nineteen for me: I thought this was some kind of weird hypothetical possibility, almost a joke when I saw the headline on the Drudge Report; I didn't bother to read it. Then I saw it on Yahoo News, and it wasn't in the "Oddly Enough" category. Los Angeles wants to impose a property tax on satellites in orbit. And they wonder why some people become Libertarians.

Now do you get it?!? For anyone who still can't grasp the danger in Microsoft having so much power, read this Wall Street Journal article about Kodak's dealings with them. MS followed its classic pattern: announce a partnership with someone in a desired area, suck all the knowledge they need out of the organization, then dump them. MS wants to be a toolbooth; if you pay to do something on a computer, they want a cut.

Tuesday, July 10, 2001
You could look it up. Having trouble understanding the latest PR salvo out of Redmond, WA? Consult The Microsoft-English Dictionary 1.0.

Bad moods explained? Well, some of them, anyway. The alleged culprit: failure to meet our subconscious expectations. Great, another set of expectations I'm not living up to.

Superbly bad writing: that's what it takes to win the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. This year's winner is Sara Kirk. (I actually prefer the second-place entry, due to its ending.) Full list of winners.

Sunday, July 08, 2001
Origins: Most inventions don't just happen; they tend to evolve, and we (sometimes arbritrarily) single out a point in that evolution and say, "this is where it started." For example, there were assembly lines before Henry Ford; he simply perfected it.

A commission set up by A.G. Spaulding (the sporting goods manufacturer) declared that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in 1839. (And it bore no resemblence to cricket, but was wholly American.) Balderdash. The latest nail in the coffin of this theory is that a New York librarian has just unearthed two newspaper reports about it being played in April 1823.

Plus, you have to love this truly charming quotation that appears near the end of the article:

Mr. Thompson said he had looked through thousands of early 19th century newspapers on microfilm without finding any other reference to baseball. (As for why he spends hours each week poring over such papers, he said, "It's a cheap hobby, and it keeps me from falling into the company of frolicsome women.")

Watched the movie Cast Away last night. It was better than I had expected, possibly because so many people grumbled about it.

It's hard to discuss the movie without spoiling it, but I'll say this: the final 1/3 of the movie could have been a lot different, and I suspect that this is where some viewers wanted the movie to go in another direction. Which would have been a valid way to go, if the writer, director and star had wanted to, but they didn't. One of Gene Siskel's habits that was both spot-on and frustrating was describing what he thought a movie should have been like; I was torn between acknowledging that he was right and thinking he should stick to reviewing the movie that was actually made. I think people who were unhappy with Cast Away wanted the last 1/3 to be different. And I'll leave it at that.

Oh, and I heartily recommend O Brother, Where Art Thou? Great dialogue ("You two are just dumber than a bag of hammers.") and music (I'm planning to pick up the soundtrack).

My nomination for this year's Darwin Award: The person who hid fireworks in the oven, and didn't take them out before someone decided to heat some lasagne. Ka-boom. (Okay, no one was killed, so technically it doesn't meet the Darwin Award standards.) (7/6/01)

A holiday e-mail legend: If you received an e-mail called "The Price They Paid" describing all the awful things that befell the signers of the Declaration of Independence, be skeptical. Here's Timothy Noah's summary at Slate, and James Elbrecht's ongoing quest to correct it. Happy Independence Day, everyone! (7/4/01)

It's not paranoia when they're really watching you: You probably ignored the deluge of confusing privacy notices you've received in the mail from financial institutions (such as credit card companies). You shouldn't. Here's a Wired News story about it. And here's Ralph Nader's privacy rights web site, which includes a generic letter that you can fill out and send to all your financial institutions. (Personally, I still don't forgive Nader for electing W, but what the heck, this is useful.) (6/29/01)

There goes the neighborhood: one of the worst spammers in the world lives only a few miles away from me, in West Bloomfield, MI, according to this Brian Livingston article. It's a very upscale area. I wonder how many of his neighbors know about what he does. I wonder how we could tell them. (6/29/01)

Spooky: "A British scientist studying heart attack patients says he is finding evidence that suggests that consciousness may continue after the brain has stopped functioning and a patient is clinically dead." Not the National Enquirer or Fox, but research presented at Caltech. Read the Reuters article. (6/29/01)

"A great tribute": that's how Bob Crane's son describes a book he's publishing with photos of his father having sex. How can satire possibly succeed when things like this are reality? (6/29/01)