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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Thursday, January 31, 2002
Hallelujah! The Federal Trade Commission is going after spammers.

Wednesday, January 30, 2002
Dead Man Walking. NYT's Thomas Friedman succinctly explains the bad choice that Yasir Arafat made, and that Israel is making as well.

Think about how you think about money. You are predictably irrational. (via MetaFilter)

Tuesday, January 29, 2002
Humor with a side of patriotism. Politicians tell jokes at the annual Alfalfa Club dinner; Dubya has some great lines.

Next year: copies of house keys. The City of Detroit mailed out income tax forms to residents (including yours truly) with Social Security Numbers as part of the mailing address. Whoever is responsible, thanks for exposing an estimated 400,000 people to identity theft. Follow-up: After some speculation that a vendor was responsible, the new mayor has acknowledged that the city is at fault.

Sunday, January 27, 2002
Yaay! Our cable connection is back. Had to change some settings in the router.

Hypocrisy. Republicans screamed bloody murder when Hillary Clinton held secret meetings to plan a new health care system. (Which was a bad strategy, but that's beside the point.) Less than a decade later, Vice-President Cheney refuses to release a list of participants in the secret discussions leading to the administration's energy policy, which involved executives from Enron. How is this any different? What distinction can be made here? And why shouldn't the General Accounting Office sue to get them?

Another newspaper columnist falls for an Internet hoax. This time it was Detroit's own Mitch Albom, writing in his Sunday column about Coincidence Design, which purports to arrange a meeting with an eligible woman a male client has the hots for. Too bad it isn't real. Well, one mark of good satire is that it seems plausible.

Saturday, January 26, 2002
Your tax dollars at work. Okay, even though I'm on dial-up, you just have to see this. Attorney General John Ashcroft has spent $8000 on draperies to cover up statues in the Justice Department's Great Hall. (via MetaFilter)

Not the fault of your receiver. My cable net connection is down for the weekend as Comcast transfers us from @Home to their own network. So don't expect updates this weekend. Sigh.

In the meantime, enjoy this hilarious page that has been linked in many, many other places before this: Bernard Shifman is a Moron Spammer.

Friday, January 25, 2002
Good news about spam?!? The executive director of SpamCon claims that significant progress has been made against spammers. So why are we getting more than ever? Although spammers can't send as many messages at one time, more people are doing it.

Gotcha! The true (and entertaining) story of how a guy was able to recover his sister's stolen computer.

Thursday, January 24, 2002
It slices, it dices, it even makes Julienne fries. I haven't heard that argument made for broadband... yet. Proponents are trying to convince leaders at all levels of government (Federal and the State of Michigan, for two examples), that broadband will spur economic growth, improve education, and regrow hair (ok, I made the last one up). The spin is already apprearing that "more broadband is an economic priority for the Bush administration." (Notice how, contrary to their rhetoric, many Republicans don't mind big government projects as long as business benefits.)

Well, if these grand ambitions come to fruition, it will certainly spur the economic growth of these companies. Take a look of who's doing the lobbying, shall we? Two groups are the Computer Systems Policy Project and TechNet.

These technology companies are looking for a handout. They want taxpayers to subsidize their business models. (So much for the predominance of Libertarians in high-tech.) I say, no thank you.

Techies collectively scratch their heads at sales and survey results. How can the public be so stupid as to not want broadband, they wonder. Mike Wendland points out two good reasons: cost and the lack of compelling content.

My brother and I have cable access. We split the roughly $50 a month cost between us, and it's quite reasonable. (We're each paying for cable access what millions of people are paying for an AOL dialup account!) But take either one of us out of the equation, making the price $50, and it's a much tougher sell. I wouldn't pay it. I mean, I love my cable access, but not that much.

One of the most interesting business deals ever. ESPN explains how two brothers collect millions from the NBA... for perpetuity. (via MetaFilter)

Wednesday, January 23, 2002
Uh-oh. Does anyone else find it scary that Wal-Mart is about to pass ExxonMobil and become the world's largest corporation (by revenue)?

Victim fund backlash? Some victims and survivors of the September 11 attacks have been complaining that the proposed settlements don't provide enough money. WSJ reports that their complaints are ticking people off.

How do Islamic fundamentalists appeal to intelligent, educated young men? This has puzzled me for some time; today the WSJ had an article that provides somewhat of an explanation.

A movement called "Bucailleism" attempts to prove that Muhammad must have had revelations from God, because his writings in the Koran accurately described things about which he could not have had scientific knowledge. For example, "Heaven is opened and becomes as gates" predicts black holes centuries before Stephen Hawking did. As Dr. Maurice Bucaille himself expressed it:
In view of the level of knowledge in Muhammad's day, it is inconceivable that many of the statements In the Qur'an which are connected with science could have been the work of a man. It is, moreover, perfectly legitimate, not only to regard the Qur'an as the expression of a Revelation, but also to award it a very special place, on account of the guarantee of authenticity it provides and the presence in it of scientific statements which, when studied today, appear as a challenge to explanation in human terms.

More excerpts.

There are organizations that attempt to "prove" this by interviewing secular Western experts and maneuvering them into saying things that appear to endorse their explanation. So instead of denying scientific explanations, as some Christian fundamentalists do ("Evolution is only a theory!"), these Islamics are arguing that science proves the correctness of Islam. Hence the surprising appeal to some intelligent young men.

I have not studied this, and am I no expert. But the examples I have seen today remind me more of the rhetorical tactics employed by believers in Nostradamus than any divine revelation.

Saturday, January 19, 2002
Are viewers too touchy these days? The marketers at the Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler might think so. In November they had to change an ad for the Chrysler Concorde to remove (or at least water down) its sexual innuendo. Now they've had to pull a Jeep ad after hunters complained it "glorifies anti-hunters and vilifies hunters." (story here; scroll down to 2nd item). I think the hunters need to develop a sense of humor; watch the ad at (ugh!) PETA's web site and decide for yourself.

Friday, January 18, 2002
Don't let this happen to you. The February issue of Scientific American looks at television addiction. It's not an anti-TV polemic, but a reasonable article with interesting discussion (also applicable to video games and surfing the net) that comes to this conclusion: "In its easy provision of relaxation and escape, television can be beneficial in limited doses. Yet when the habit interferes with the ability to grow, to learn new things, to lead an active life, then it does constitute a kind of dependence and should be taken seriously."

Patents running amok. The U.S. Patent Office is overwhelmed and has been granting patents on many things which do not deserve them. Scientific American describes four of the worst patents ever granted. Given my profession, I found this one particularly ridiculous:
Training manuals. Using training manuals in education is routine. But the technique in this 1998 patent merely describes how an experienced person can teach a novice by using an illustrated publication, such as a training manual. "The technique is so common as to be something that probably isn't written about because it's too trivial," Aharonian observes. The practice of patenting such basic business methods has increasingly come under fire. (U.S.: 5,851,117: "Building Block Training Systems and Training Methods"; Keith A. Alsheimer and others.)

Trust me, he's correct about this. A patent on a training manual is preposterous!

It's political commentary. Honest. This fake 50 Euro note turned up in Germany. All I can say is, their counterfeiters are more creative than ours.

The groundswell reaches the web. It was only a matter of time. Oprah, won't you please call Dave?

TV then. William Safire recalls helping his older brother Len, an associate producer on the "Today" show in 1952, set up an Army medal ceremony to be covered live by that program. He also notes that an anecdote told in the movie "Network" actually happened to his brother.

When is a compact disc not a compact disc? When it's copy-protected, according to CD co-creator Philips, because it doesn't meet the standard. Philips is making labels drop the familiar compact disc trademark when copy protection is used. Not only that, Philips expects to make CD-ROM burners that will read copy-protected CDs -- a stand that could run afoul of the horrid Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

How is Viacom like the Politburo? Well, have you ever noticed the disappearing of a certain actor from materials related to a certain TV series? (While you're at it, notice who the studio wanted for the role!) (via MetaFilter)

Wednesday, January 16, 2002
A truly awful typo. Due to an error, "A plaque intended to honor black actor James Earl Jones at a Florida celebration of the life of Martin Luther King... Over a background featuring stamps of famous black Americans, including King, the erroneous plaque read, 'Thank you James Earl Ray for keeping the dream alive.'"

Monday, January 14, 2002
Beware what you share. Some people don't realize what information they are revealing when they use file-swapping services.

Investing lesson. "What the world is now awakening to is that the Enron Corporation was not much of a company, but its executives made sure that it was one hell of a stock."

Saturday, January 12, 2002
Good-bye and good riddance. NYT's Bill Keller on why you should gag on the plaudits that will predictably be given to Senators Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond and Phil Gramm, for "each has made his own special contribution to the cynicism of our public life."

Friday, January 11, 2002
A judge who gets it. The proposed Microsoft settlement of private antitrust lawsuits has been thrown out by a judge. Microsoft would have given schools hundreds of millions of dollars worth (at retail) of software, plus refurbished PCs. The judge accurately accepted the arguments that this would effectively lock schools into Microsoft products and be a disincentive to try anything else (Mac, Linux). MS refuses to cough up the dollar "value" of the software as an alternative, because it wouldn't accomplish their goals and would actually cost them a hell of a lot more than simply pressing a few more CD-ROMs.

Was Madeleine Stowe correct? Following up on my long "Magnificent Ambersons" post of December 12th (archived here), the critical reaction to the A&E remake airing this Sunday is mixed at best. (Rosenberg | Gilbert | Oxman | Collins | Duffy) Meanwhile, Robert Wise, who edited the Orson Welles version, recalls its tortured history.

It occurs to me that my posts lately have been links that run the gamut from crude humor to intellectual legal arguments. I guess maybe that says something about me.

And no, it wasn't Judge Ito. "A judge has ruled for the first time that fingerprint evidence, a virtually unassailable prosecutorial tool for 90 years, does not meet the standards set for scientific testimony and that experts in the field cannot testify that a suspect's prints definitely match those found at a crime scene." One expert describes this as a "blockbuster opinion." (More coverage at

Copyrights running amok, continued. The Justice Dept. says Congress can do whatever it wants with copyright -- including extending it and restoring it to items that have already fallen into the public domain. The laws in question are the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) and Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA); they are being challenged by several musicians and filmmakers, with Lawrence Lessig among their lawyers. The Justice Dept. is trying to have the case thrown out. This may sound like dry stuff, but it's important. (via Politech)

Thursday, January 10, 2002
Exposing how things work. David Callaway, the executive editor of, predicts that Enron is not Bush's Whitewater -- it's worse. "Unlike the financial sideshow over a 20-year-old failed land deal that dogged the Clinton administration, the collapse of the nation's largest energy trader into the nation's largest bankruptcy last month is set to go straight to the heart of exposing what is wrong with the way the Bush administration is conducting itself these days." (via Drudge)

Wednesday, January 09, 2002
Breaking News Dept. British researchers have found that money can buy happiness. (via Next Draft)

Graphic design 101. Lesson one: choose your font carefully. (via MetaFilter)

This page cannot be... This is funny. Not language to use in front of the kids, but funny in a bitter and twisted way.

Tuesday, January 08, 2002
Uh-oh. The first virus capable of infecting Shockwave Flash files (used for fancy Web effects) has been found. This one doesn't seem too serious, but it's a bad sign. Have you updated your anti-virus program lately? (via MetaFilter)

DOJ allows MS to obey laws when convenient. Scathing commentary about the Bush Administration's Justice Department and their "unambiguously disgraceful" handling of the Microsoft antitrust case.

Advertising malpractice follow-up. It turns out that Just for Feet's lawsuit against Saatchi & Saatchi (mentioned January 5th) is still alive... but the company itself is in the process of liquidation, according to an April 2000 article. (A big thanks to reader Don Hosek for doing the follow-up; for his prize, he gets a free plug for his band's website ( ;)

Copyright running amok. I hope it's a good sign that people are waking up when I see articles like this one (about CD anticopying measures), warning people about what copyright holders are up to. (via Tomalak's Realm)

Monday, January 07, 2002
More secrecy from the Bush Administration. "In a memo that slipped beneath the political radar, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft vigorously urged federal agencies to resist most Freedom of Information Act requests made by American citizens." The Justice Department would not respond to questions about the October 12 memo. This just reeks of 1984 and Catch-22. (via MediaNews)

Facing up to their citizens. Thomas Friedman's latest column isn't going to make him any more friends among Arab governments, but I think he's right.

Don't just do something; stand there! Someone else saying what I've been thinking for some time now: the last thing we need from Congress is a financial stimulus package, be it Republican or Democratic in nature.

Sunday, January 06, 2002
Look closely. This should be the scariest link you've clicked on in a long time...

Auto show info. I don't feel like writing, so here are some links to help yourself:

New feature. Each item now has a permanent link, so anyone who wants to link to a specific posting of mine can do so. (Although why anyone would want to is a good question.)

Tunes. Now that I have cable net access at home, listening to online music is quite practical. It's also a necessity of sorts here in Detroit; we may be a Top 10 market, but we have no classical music radio stations. But don't get me started on that rant. (Our NPR outlet is jazz format, and a weak one at that.) In fact, radio formats of all types here have plummeted in quality in recent years.

I am enjoying MostlyClassical quite a bit. I believe they use the "Shoutcast" streaming MP3 format, which may require special software. I use WinAmp to listen to it; I believe the technology is built into AOL software as well, which would make sense given that AOL owns WinAmp. There are four different bandwidth streams. As the name implies, the programmer occaisionally throws in other things, too. Oh, and no commercials!

America the polarized. NYT's Paul Krugman says that Congress is polarized because Republicans have moved to the right, while Democrats have remained fairly constant. He (and a political scientist) attribute the change to economic polarization, the sharply widening inequality of income and wealth.

Saturday, January 05, 2002
U.S. representative questions the legality of copy-protecting CDs. A decade ago, record companies pushed through a law (the Audio Home Recording Act - summary or full text) that gave them a royalty on the sale of certain blank recording media; in return, they acknowledged the right for listeners to make some digital copies for personal use. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) is raising questions.

Can an ad agency be sued for malpractice? This story is several years old, yet I just heard about it. It concerns a TV commercial run during the 1999 Super Bowl that was supposed to be creative and edgy (made by Saatchi & Saatchi, big surprise); instead it was so appallingly bad that the client, Just for Feet, sued the agency. Does anyone know how this turned out? (via TV Barn)

Friday, January 04, 2002
Helping Chrysler be Chrysler. Years ago, I remember a friend of mine being highly amused by a clip about the making of "We Are the World," where some other famous musician had to help Bob Dylan sing like Bob Dylan, as my friend described it. This occurred to me while reading this WSJ article about the Germans helping Chrysler act like Chrysler, at least when it comes to product development. Chrysler has been at their best as a scrappy competitor willing to take chances, but I think the success of the mid-to-late 1990s damaged that ability. The article suggests that they are regaining that ability.

Speaking of which... they are showing a 2003 Dodge SRT-4, which is a Neon with a 2.4-liter turbo engine producing 205 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. It will be the second quickest car they sell (after the Viper) and allegedly the quickest production car sold in the US for under $20,000, with a claimed 0-60 mph of 5.9 seconds. Racing seats, 17-inch wheels, performance gauges and (naturally) a spoiler. Too bad production won't start for another year. I guess the spirit of the Omni GLH lives on... (Press Releases 1 | 2 | 3)

BTW, I used to attend the big Detroit show regularly during press week for work. I no longer get to do that, but I try to follow what's going on, and the Internet makes that a lot easier. I'll publish links and commentary here as time allows.

Thursday, January 03, 2002
Too many secrets. William Safire goes after the Bush prediliction for secrecy; this time the administration is invoking executive privilege to avoid turning over to Congress documents that are related to sleazy FBI behavior involving mob informants in Boston.

Hmm. I'm not sure if "irony" is the word for this bit of trivia from a story about the Pentagon reconstruction:
It also has regained an old title. The destruction of the World Trade Center's twin towers again gives the Pentagon the unconditional, but unwanted, honor of being the world's biggest office building.

"We used to say the largest under one roof,'' Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said, "but we are the largest now.''

(via Mr. Barrett)

Hotmail password scam. Hotmail users, beware of this. (via MetaFilter)

Wednesday, January 02, 2002
All together now: "It's not what you know..." WSJ reports that online job sites account for only 6% of management-level hiring, vs. 61% for networking.

How is Enron like al-Qaida? The denials by Enron executives that they knew what was going on become a lot less plausible when you read their internal documents.

Amen. Thomas Friedman has advice for President Bush: stop trying to leverage your newfound popularity to ram through a conservative domestic agenda. Instead, get serious about energy independence (and not just by drilling in ANWR).

Speaking of ANWR, Time Magazine reports that members of Congress who support drilling there have made some pretty shady representations to try and win votes: they said it would be limited to just 2000 of the 1.5 million acres, but as with elections, the catch is in the counting.

In case you missed it due to the holidays: The Wall Street Journal bought some computers in Afghanistan that were used by al-Qaida. This article talks about what they found on them.

Near the end. Also, The New York Times has (for now) finished publishing more than 1,800 short biographies of the victims of September 11. (They will add new ones when remaining families are willing to participate.) In some ways, the Portraits of Grief series is to this event what the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is to its event, except they are not just names, they are faces and stories about people. Reading their stories is a tremendously moving experience.

Tuesday, January 01, 2002
Be gone! Lake Superior State College issues its annual list of banished words.

Oh, and Happy New Year.