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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Saturday, September 29, 2001
News item: Excite@Home files for bankruptcy.

This is the way my investment ends
This is the way my investment ends
This is the way my investment ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

-- with apologies to T.S. Eliot

Friday, September 28, 2001
Stranger than Fox. Scientists are using CT scans to study the body of a 19th century fat woman who died and had her body turn into soap. (I am not making this up.) They don't know much about the "Soap Lady," but have been surprised at what they've found. It's part of "The Mummy Road Show" series coming to the National Geographic Channel on October 5th.

Two-hour warning. Two employees of Odigo, an instant messaging company based on Israel, received messages from someone unknown warning them of the World Trade Center attacks two hours before they happened. As you would imagine, officials are investigating. (via Robot Wisdom) Update: Odigo now says the warning did not specifically mention the World Trade Center, but declined to publicly elaborate.

Gone. Aside from the human impact, it's still difficult to grasp how much the loss of the World Trade Center has changed the New York skyline. Here's a pair of comparison photos. I read a comment from someone who lives in Manhattan who explained that anytime he got lost, he just looked for the WTC. Not anymore.

Get a load of this. So in the ongoing battle by record companies to prevent people from copying CDs, there's a new strategy... and a new potential winner. In a nutshell, the plan is this: all CDs would have two sets of data, one for playing the audio traditionally (that could not be copied), and one set designed for use in portable players, etc., that would have some electronic controls. This rules out the public favorite's MP3, so the format would probably be Windows Media Audio, from the you-know-who monopolist. Just think... soon you might be enriching Microsoft every time you buy an audio CD!

Thursday, September 27, 2001
Kalamazoo, you're on the air. I have never understood the appeal of Larry King. I don't dislike him, really, but I've never understood why one person should possibly consume so much bandwidth in radio, TV, and newspapers. (I don't understand why celebrities consume so much bandwidth as subjects, either, but that's another rant.) Anyway, King's last column for USA Today was printed on Monday... and this inspired columnist Howard Mortman to compile his favorite parodies of King's, uh, distinctive style. (from the TVBarn discussion group)

Mommy Liberty. Lots of impromptu propaganda has been spontaneously popping up since the September 11 attacks, much of it crude or at best uninspired. However, Wired News presented one of the best ones yesterday, what they referred to as "Mommy Liberty." Follow the link at the bottom of that page to read the story behind it.

Yes, humor is possible. You simply must check out the current (September 26) issue of The Onion. (For those who have never seen it, it's a satirical newspaper. They use four-letter words and are what some might consider sacrilegious at times, so consider yourself warned.) The current issue is simply brilliant. Update: Wired News reports that this is proving to be the most popular issue ever of The Onion. I'm glad to see it's being taken the right way.

Wednesday, September 26, 2001
How they do that. Interesting article from WSJ about the search and rescue dogs working at the World Trade Center.

You can't be trusted. Vivendi Universal's Universal Music Group will start issuing CDs with copy protection technology in October, and plans to have it on all their CDs by Spring 2002. As discussed here before, I have two concerns. One, this effectively limits the legal "fair use" of the material (e.g., for me to make a copy solely for myself). Two, even the creators of the technology admit (by their hedging on the subject) that it will reduce the sound quality of the CDs. Are you going to stand for this?

Monday, September 24, 2001
Scorecard. Those helpful Canadian folks at the Urban Legends Reference Pages have created a "Rumors of War" page devoted to helping you distinguish fact ("A bound pair of hands was found atop one of the buildings near the former World Trade Center towers.") from fiction ("A photograph captured an unlucky tourist posing on the observation deck of a World Trade Center tower seconds before a hijacked airliner smashed into the building.") I've used the ULRP site for some time now to check any stray e-mails that people send me, and I highly recommend that you do the same before spreading any misinformation.

Saturday, September 22, 2001
Dialing for brain cancer? Evidence continues to mount that cell phones may cause brain cancer. The latest study suggests they speed up the brain's response times. And you thought the tobacco industry lawsuits were big... just wait...

Well, duh. Before I had a chance to rant here about "Operation Infinite Justice" (Are we now assuming godlike powers?), a co-worker told me that it will be changed, because someone figured out that it would offend Muslims. (Of course, we've done that already when Bush called this "a crusade," another term loaded with connotations.) The PR aspects are significant:
A good code name for this operation can be as important for the Pentagon as ``branding'' a consumer good, said Naseem Javed, president of New York-based ABC Namebank, a naming consultancy.

"If they come up with a name that resonates in the region, it will help to achieve their mission,'' he said.

With that in mind, here's a six-year-old article written for the military providing the history of code names and advice regarding how to invent them.

Friday, September 21, 2001
What will you do for a buck? What's a worse legitimate job than doing public relations for the tobacco industry? How about doing PR for the Taliban? And even worse, it's a woman (a niece by marriage of former CIA director Richard Helms, in fact) who's doing it. Isn't this like a Jewish person being a PR agent for the Ku Klux Klan? (via

Tributes. For a nice photo collection of responses around the world to the September 11 attacks, see America's Tragedy as seen by the World. And for a completely different perspective, if you didn't see the rare display of emotion from David Letterman that opened last Monday night's "Late Show," go here and click on "The Greatest City in the World." (requires Real Player; via TVBarn)

Wednesday, September 19, 2001
Rematch? According to Jane's Security, the Israelis suspect that Iraq sponsored the September 11 attacks. While they agree that Al-Qaeda (Osama bin Laden's organization) carried them out, they reportedly think it was masterminded bin Laden's possible successor, Dr. Ayman Al Zawahiri, and by "a psychopath" named Imad Mughniyeh. Someone is quoted as saying that that "Bin Laden is a schoolboy in comparison with Mughniyeh." Hmmm. (via Drudge)

Monday, September 17, 2001
Getting nervous. The more I think about the current situation, the more concerned I am. I'm really starting to fear that we will make a gung-ho attack that will make us feel good but only create more terrorists.

In 60 Minutes II segment I just saw, a fundamentalist Muslim said that our cruise missile strike a few years ago on what was supposedly a bin Laden training camp. He said we killed six children, among others, and that that incident made more people sympathize with bin Laden. And he also pointed out that if had happened to us, we would retaliate.

My point is, if we are not very careful, the cycle of retaliation will escalate. We'd better keep a very, very narrow focus on the people actually responsible.

To those who don't know me personally, please understand that I am not a bleeding-heart liberal; I'm just want a response that will actually work to stop terrorism. I'm afraid we're not going to get it.

Return of the cowboy. Over the past few days, President Bush has been, well, restrained. Inarticulate at times, but restrained. I thought maybe there's hope for this guy. But all of a sudden he's turning to the macho talk. What's with this wanting bin Laden "dead or alive" crap? The world image of him as a cowboy came roaring back. And did he really have to say that we were on a crusade? Could he possibly have selected a worse word for dealing with Muslims?

"A nice story." That's how my brother described this story he sent me about something New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani made time for on Sunday. And he's right.

Comparatively civilized. Well, so far Americans have killed two innocent residents of the U.S. because they they looked Arabic (one was Pakistani and one Indian). Some of my fellow citizens are still operating this way in the 21st century. Unbelievable.

Of course, even allegedly intelligent commentators are screaming for blood. Ann Coulter, one of those attractive blonde conservative women who suddenly appeared from nowhere in the 1990s, concluded a column with this:
...We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now.

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war.

Okay, she was probably upset about losing her friend Barbara Olsen, another one of those attractive blonde conservative women, who died on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. She has my sympathy for that. But 1) she should take a deep breath before writing this kind of mind-boggling vitriol, and 2) the editor should have changed it or not run it. But he did and has only offered this half-hearted apology. How depressing.

Miller's Crossing. John Miller was one reason ABC's coverage of the past week was so good. In May 1998, Miller interviewed Osama bin Laden for ABC; if you watched their coverage, you saw parts of it and a later interview with an ABCNews producer (1:40 clip using Real Player | complete transcript). Miller wrote this article about his interview for the February 1999 issue of Esquire magazine. I haven't finished reading it yet myself, actually, but it looks pretty interesting.

Source material. From BeliefNet (via ABCNews), what the Islamic scriptures really say about jihad and violence, with analysis.

Sunday, September 16, 2001
Those who cannot remember the past... From an English newspaper, a brief overview of various military invasions of Afghanistan over the past 162 years. It ain't pretty. I hope the President and his staff understand this. In a separate article, the same author expresses his concern that "Retaliation is a trap." I'm not saying I agree with it, but it's an argument worth listening to.

In other news... I've ranted here before about how the head of the Smithsonian Institution is whoring it to corporations. Here's a laundry list of articles and information from someone who feels the same way.

Humor. I've seen two attempts at humor related to the past week's events. One was crude and unfunny. Then there's someone's idea of how to rebuild the World Trade Center, which did get a half-hearted chuckle out of me.

Food for thought. I originally received this from a friend via e-mail, and have now discovered that it appears to have originated at Salon: An Afghan-American speaks. Read it before you advocate carpet-bombing Afghanistan.

Worse than loaded airplanes. Experts discuss bioterrorism.

Wednesday, September 12, 2001
The law of unintended consequences. Why Osama bin Laden hates the US. Pay particular attention to the fourth paragraph.

First person account, with digital photos, by a man who worked near the World Trade Center.

Please help the Red Cross help the victims of the attacks in New York and Washington. Give blood, or give money online.

Sunday, September 09, 2001
A great movie. If you like a gentle, classy comedy, I highly recommend The Dish. (Synopsis: Based on a true story, an Australian radio telescope provides a link to transmit live TV pictures of the Apollo 11 moonwalk.) It's PG-13 due to a few four-letter words, but otherwise could not offend anyone. Here's the official promo site (requires Flash).

Yet more reasons to avoid Gator. The Gator software (which keeps your usernames and passwords, but secretly pastes subscriber ads over those of their competitors) is reportedly sending data to Gator and 3rd parties even when users are not using their browser. The company refused to answer when confronted with these charges. My advice: avoid this software like the plague.

Saturday, September 08, 2001
Who did you want to buy today? Displaying a stunning lack of negotiating sense, the U.S. Justice Department has thrown away its big stick by announcing that it will not seek to break up Microsoft. Meanwhile, in a completely unrelated story, Microsoft "nearly tripled its campaign contributions and more than doubled its lobbying expenditures during its fight against the antitrust case."

The record industry copyright army launches another attack. Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings is planning to introduce a bill that will force the use of copyright protection technology, with penalties up to five years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

The high-stakes wagers of casinos. Interesting WSJ article about the lengths Las Vegas casinos will go to to attract big baccarat gamblers ("whales"), and what they put at risk. Caesars Palace once saw its quarterly profit cut in half when an Australian gambler had a big night -- although they more than made it up from him a few hours later, which counted toward the next quarter. So some casinos have stopped pursuing this lucrative but risky market.

Tuesday, September 04, 2001
Cookies and where they come from. The NYT has a good article (free registration required) describing the origin of browser cookies, their role, etc.

I like to be in A-mer-i-ca... NYT reports that the only existing copy of the first map (from 1507) to use the word "America" (as well as the first to depict a separate Western Hemisphere and a separate Pacific Ocean) is being purchased by the Library of Congress... if they can raise $10 million. Interesting stuff. Here's a large color photo of the map. (Hmm. The press release is dated 7/23, but the story didn't appear in the NYT until 9/4. Does that indicate how thorough the NYT is? Or how the LoC needs to work on its PR?)