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]

Powered by Blogger A community weblog covering all aspects of politics Get Firefox! Electronic Frontier Foundation Eliminate DRM!

Blogs of Note
Rafe Coburn
JD Lasica
Paul Boutin
Mark Evanier
Ken Levine
Rogers Cadenhead

Political Blogs
Talking Points Memo
Wash Monthly
Political Wire

Net Radio
Mostly Classical


Thursday, August 29, 2002
Evil taking advantage? In an interesting coincidence, two makers/sellers of consumer products have had to yank products with Nazi associations.

Here in the US, Target has pulled a line of shorts and caps featuring the number "88" and "eight eight." This is not the raving of someone who sees conspiracies; it was noticed by someone who had recently seen a documentary on neo-Nazi groups. Apparently this is neo-Nazi code, the eighth letter of the alphabet being H, so 88 = Heil Hitler. Lest you think this was a bizarre coincidence, some of the imagery is also disturbingly similar. Compare these two pictures from different sources:

Target can be forgiven for not keeping up with hate group codes... but when a British sportswear manufacturer, Umbro, introduced leather running shoes under the name "Zyklon," that's just unbelievable. (During World War II, Germans used Zyklon B crystals to produce the gas used to exterminate Jews and other prisoners.) (via MetaFilter)

Spam is taking over. "Once a mild annoyance, unsolicited bulk e-mail--also known as spam--could make up the majority of message traffic on the Internet by the end of 2002, according to data from three e-mail service providers."

  • "In July, according to Brightmail's latest interception figures, unsolicited bulk e-mail made up a whopping 36 percent of all e-mail traveling over the Internet, up from 8 percent about a year ago."

  • "Brightmail competitor Postini, a relative newcomer to the business, found that spam made up 33 percent of customers' e-mail last month, up from 21 percent in January."

  • "MessageLabs, a U.K. company that offers services to stop viruses and spam, reports that its customers classify 35 percent to more than 50 percent of their e-mail traffic as spam."

Yet another new music format. Record companies are about to begin pushing a new format called DataPlay. It's an optical disc (like a CD) that's much smaller, about the size of a CD's inner ring.
Here's the proposition: The record industry wants you to buy your music on a new kind of disc. Unlike a CD, the format will greatly restrict your ability to make digital copies. It will cost more than a prerecorded CD. And it will require you to invest a few hundred dollars in a new player.

If the appeal isn't immediately apparent, you have some idea of the salesmanship task ahead.

The sugar that record companies will use to try and get us to swallow DataPlay is bonus features (extra tracks, videos, etc.). But when it's all said and done, they hope we're all dumb enough to pay more money for a format that provides us with less freedom.

Big media's global power grab. The effort to take away your rights to use copyrighted material has gone international. The European Community has proposed copyright treaty language that would require nations to allow broadcasters to protect their material in any way they choose -- and signatory countries must enforce it. What does this mean to you? For one thing, the decision in the 1984 Betamax lawsuit that upheld your right to record TV shows -- gone. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is scheduled to consider this proposal in September. We must stop this. (via boing boing)

Wednesday, August 28, 2002
The answer that wasn't. Slate's William Saletan looks at Vice-President Cheney's response to criticism from Brent Scowcroft and others over the "we've got to attack Iraq" drumbeat. He argues that Cheney didn't really answer anything: "Like an Iraqi official facing a weapons inspector, Cheney doesn't directly answer the questions put to him. He evades, obfuscates, changes the subject, and moves things around."

Tuesday, August 27, 2002
And yet New Coke lives. Sony will stop production of Betamax equipment.

Bush demands even more secrecy. The Bush Administration wants to take its penchant for secrecy to new levels. Now they are claiming executive privilege for people the president never spoke to and documents he never reviewed. They actually want it so badly that they are making these claims in a lawsuit seeking information about President Clinton's fishy last-minute pardons.

In a world where... If you appreciate movie marketing clichés, you'll love the trailer for the upcoming documentary Comedian. (QuickTime required, fast connection recommended) (via

Friday, August 23, 2002
Hypocrisy, succinctly explained. I think the following caption for a Reuters photo needs no additional comment:
One day after calling for corporate crooks to serve 'hard time' in jail, President Bush will campaign in California on August 23, 2002 for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon Jr., whose company was fined almost $80 million in July for fraudulent business dealings. Bush, shown at a fund-raiser for Simon April 29, plans three appearances that are expected to raise about $3 million for the embattled campaign of Simon Jr., son of former President Nixon's Treasury Secretary William Simon.

Thursday, August 22, 2002
More reasons why MP3s are not what's hurting the music industry. Mark Jenkins in Slate has some good insights, including this one:
[A]nyone who rewinds to the last major music-biz slump will find some interesting parallels. In 1978, record sales began to fall, and the major labels blamed a larcenous new technology: cassette tapes. The international industry even had an outraged official slogan: "Home taping is killing music." The idea was that music fans—ingrates that they are—would rather pirate songs than pay for them, and that sharing favorite songs was a crime against hard-working musicians (rather than great word-of-mouth advertising). Cassettes were so anathema to the biz that Sex Pistols Svengali Malcolm McLaren could think of no more provocative way to launch his new band, Bow Wow Wow, than with a ode to home taping, "C30, C60, C90, Go!''

By the time Bow Wow Wow bowed in 1980, however, the crisis was almost over. It turned out that home taping had not killed music. Instead, the central problem was the collapsing popularity of dance-pop—lively, sexy, but personality-free music whose appeal was broad but thin. They called it disco back then, and the name has never recovered from the era's backlash. Although usually termed teen-pop, the music of 'N Sync and Britney Spears is not unlike disco: Both are intellectually underachieving, cookie-cutter styles that have made stars of performers not known primarily for their skills as singers, songwriters, or musicians.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002
You make the call. The Washington Post's David Segal has an article today about the music industry adopting new tactics to fight back against all the Internet piracy that's going to bankrupt them and send us all to hell. (Okay, I made that last part up.) But an unidentified poster at Slashdot (who claims to have previously worked at the Post) points out a number of logical faults and unbalanced arguments in Segal's article -- primarily the discredited argument that piracy is why CD sales are declining. Read the original article, then the criticism.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002
Free culture. Lawrence Lessig is Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and founder of the school's Center for Internet and Society. For the past several years, he has been warning anyone who would listen about how powerful corporations are twisting copyright and patent law to their benefit and the dangers this creates for all of us. Lessig is cutting back his speaking to concentrate on other things, but now you can experience a superb presentation he gave on July 24, 2002 to a convention for open-source software developers.

If you have the bandwidth to download 8 Mb in a reasonable amount of time, I encourage you to experience this Flash presentation that presents his slides in time with his voice. It's about 30 minutes long.

If you have a slow connection, or simply prefer reading, here is a transcript of the talk.

Pitching in. Well, I've done my part for the economy. Mr. Bush can send me a thank-you letter any time now.

Sunday, August 18, 2002
What if?
It is the year 1969...

After a decade and a half of successful space initiatives, the United States National Council of Astronautics (made successor to the NACA in 1958) has commissioned a film to document the overwhelming success of America's domination of space exploration.

In this film, footage of Man's first historic landing on the Moon in 1963, accompanied by the awesome spectacle of the first mission to Mars in 1968 is presented in a startling 27-minute celebration of achievement.

What if the future of space travel foreseen in 1952 had come true? That's the interesting premise behind Man Conquers Space, a faux documentary film being made in Australia. The web site explains that the film was inspired by a series of articles in Collier's magazine; compare the magazine scans with the stills and teaser preview. (I found it works better to download and play it; that way you can make it full screen. It's 3.4 Mb.) They use all the tricks to simulate a documentary -- scratchy film clips, soaring music. It looks really cool. I hope these guys pull it off. Their August 8 update message suggests that they are setting their sights even higher than originally planned. (via Boing Boing)

Friday, August 16, 2002
Hawk logic. Today's NYT says that some top Republicans are disagreeing with the Bush Administration's steady drumbeat for a war with Iraq, which I'm relieved to see. But what ticked me off was Richard Perle's response to a WSJ editorial by Brent Scowcroft (Bush 41's national security advisor):
Richard N. Perle, a former Reagan administration official and one of the leading hawks who has been orchestrating an urgent approach to attacking Iraq, said today that Mr. Scowcroft's arguments were misguided and naïve.

"I think Brent just got it wrong," he said by telephone from France. "The failure to take on Saddam after what the president said would produce such a collapse of confidence in the president that it would set back the war on terrorism."

Translation: "Too late! We succeeded in talking Bush into taking this public stand, and he'd now look weak backing away. So now he has to attack Iraq."

Wasn't this the same argument for continued escalation of the Vietnam War?

Thursday, August 15, 2002
Plug away. I just learned that a college friend of mine has an article published (if that's the word) about WorldCom at Ben Silverman's DotcomScoop site. Reading it is a lot like listening to one of his monologues, which is to say that it is both entertaining and interesting. Here's how Silverman, a New York Post business columnist, introduces it:
"Playing the Failure Game - Part I (Or, is it really possible to profit from the misery and loss of others?)", is a commentary penned for my website by Scott Anderson, a Mathematics professor at The University of Detroit Mercy. "The current "value" of bankruptcy stock is based on a sort of charming faith among some investors that if everyone gathers their hamburgers and says a few magic words we can bring the cow back to life," Anderson writes. That line is simply brilliant. Wait until you read Part II, it's probably one of the funniest things I've ever read in the arena of business commentary.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002
Internet e-mail turns 20. The technical standards for e-mail were adopted by the Internet Engineering Task Force on August 13, 1982. (via Boing Boing)

And if you think like I do, here's the answer to your next question: The first known Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (UCE or spam) was sent via ARPAnet on May 1, 1978. Yes, spam e-mail existed before the Internet, as bizarre as that sounds.

You probably know that the term "spam" originates from a Monty Python sketch. The new meaning caught on shortly after the first Usenet spam on April 13, 1994.

Brad Templeton has a long page with more detailed explanations of spam.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002
Fighting fire with fire. Microsoft's new licensing terms require that computer makers must ship all their computers with an operating system. (Their logic is that shipping systems without an OS encourages piracy.) This rightly drives Linux and other open source software users nuts, since they end up paying for copies of Windows that they will never use and having to wipe hard drives before they load their own OS. So Dell has come up with its own creative interpretation of Microsoft's terms: they're selling systems to business customers with a copy of FreeDOS included, but not preloaded on the machine. They're not going to promote this very heavily, and Microsoft will probably demand suggest that they reconsider, but for now I can admire the tactic.

Message: I care. Does anyone really believe that this "Presidential Economic Forum" in Waco today was anything other than a bullshit PR event to make Americans think Bush is doing things for the economy?

In case you missed it, here's what happened: a bunch of heads of companies (with a few common working folks) told the Republican President that he was doing a good job, but he needs to keep cutting taxes and regulations -- now there's a freaking shock! Stop the presses! Break in with a news bulletin!

That was during the whole 20 minutes that he spent during the each of the four sessions; if it was so vital for him to hear this stuff, why couldn't he make more time? Of course, it was because he didn't need to; it was all staged for the news media to try and convince us that see, everyone thinks he's doing the right thing! He was probably busy plotting to attack Iraq and piss off anyone in the world who doesn't already hate us, while spending enough money to put astronauts on Mars. As William Saletan observes, it wasn't presidential and it wasn't a forum.

Like my boss says, it's one thing for a politician to do something I don't like, but don't insult my intelligence. Which is exactly what the Bush Administration did to me today. Mr. President, just how stupid do you think we are?

Consume! Well, it looks like I may soon be doing my part for the U.S. economy. You can thank me later when I provide details.

Writing for Jack Webb. I've noticed that the TV show Dragnet (the second, color version) is a good source of interesting stories, usually related to the fact that Webb produced the show and was interested in minimizing costs as much as possible. For example, Jack Webb and Harry Morgan always wore the same clothes so that they could shoot a bunch of exterior shots and use them as necessary. Another is that Webb had actors read their lines off a TelePrompTer, and with each take he had the operator move the lines a little quicker. They would shoot progressively faster takes until an actor simply couldn't read fast enough to keep up with the prompter, then they would use the next-slowest take. This produced the rapid-fire line readings (and also drained the emotion). I wish I could recall where I learned these stories so I could provide credit and more details, but I can't. However, here's a new contribution via TVBarn: Burt Prelutsky, a veteran writer who crafted a number of scripts for M*A*S*H, among others, recalls how he started and stopped writing for Dragnet.

Confidence Man. While the disclaimer must be noted that Joshua Micah Marshall is -- well, the Wall Street Journal says he's a liberal, for what that's worth -- he makes some interesting arguments about "Why the myth of Republican competence persists, despite all the evidence to the contrary."

Sunday, August 11, 2002
Ringer. You know those dealership contests where the person who can keep his/her hand on a vehicle the longest time wins it? Turns out there's at least one professional ringer.

Welcome to the brave new world of Digital Rights Management. Say that you rip CDs to your hard drive using Windows Media Player 7.0 or higher. Later, you decide to (or have to) reformat your hard drive. You do that, then copy the files you ripped back onto your computer from a backup copy.

They won't play.

Why? Because WMP encoded them during the ripping process so that they couldn't be played on another computer -- and wiping your hard drive and reinstalling the OS created a "different" computer. (There are some workarounds.)

This is what "Digital Rights Management" is all about -- forcing you to make repeated purchases of the same material, and stamping out that pesky "fair use" doctrine that protects your rights. This is the kind of stuff I try to make people aware of -- that their rights as consumers are in danger.

Incidentally, you avoid the problem above by using third-party software to rip into the MP3 format. There's plenty of freeware and shareware out there to do it.

Saturday, August 10, 2002
Coincidence vs. destiny and conspiracy. You have probably heard about the "mysterious" deaths of microbiologists, the numerology involved in the 9/11 attack, etc. All are coincidence, yet so many of us refuse to accept that. Why? The New York Times Sunday Magazine takes an interesting look at coincidence and why we seem to encounter it more often.

Friday, August 09, 2002
Regrets. Scriptwriter Joe Eszterhas has changed his mind about smoking. (thanks Neil)

The perils of hitching your wagon to a celebrity. Rosie O'Donnell and the publisher of the magazine that bears her name (formerly McCall's magazine) are seriously feuding.

The "best" films. The British Film Institute's Sight and Sound magazine has conducted their latest once-a-decade poll of the greatest films ever made. I'm pleased to see that Citizen Kane has once again topped the critics' poll, a distinction it has held since 1962.

The critics list, with my comments:

1. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941) - I agree wholeheartedly. I find it difficult to pass up an opportunity to watch this movie, even though I own it on DVD. Talk about a film to give you an inferiority complex; what were you doing at age 26?
2. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958) - Not sure if this is the Hitchcock film I would have picked (I lean more to North by Northwest), but certainly an excellent film. I haven't seen it in some time; maybe I need to refresh my memory. It's been argued that Hitchcock's many films to choose from may have spread out the votes, but I think they would have tried to keep him to one, anyway.
3. La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game, Renoir, 1939) - Haven't seen it; I suppose I should.
4. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (Coppola, 1972, 1974) - Cheating a bit with two films, aren't we? :) I was impressed when I was finally persuaded to watch them. Note that Part III is correctly not listed.
5. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953) - I have never even heard of this film.
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) - I guess understanding the film wasn't a requirement to vote for it. :) I do think highly of it, regardless of my kidding. Certainly the most realistic science-fiction portrayal of space flight ever made.
7. Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein & Aleksandrov, 1925) - I think I've seen most of this film, but I know I've never seen it all straight through. Widely regarded as a masterpiece of editing; best known for its famous (and much parodied) "Odessa steps" sequence.
8. Sunrise (Murnau, 1927) - Yes, I've actually seen this silent film, and it is quite good.
9. 8 1/2 (Fellini, 1963) - Never seen it. I suspect I would not be a Fellini fan.
10. Singin' in the Rain (Kelly & Donen, 1952) - The one film on this list I'm ashamed to admit that I have never seen. Not because I don't want to, but because it just never seems to work out. (Same with The Magnificent Seven.)

The poll of directors produced a slightly different list:

1. Citizen Kane
2. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II
3. 8 1/2
4. Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1962) - While I liked this movie, I'm not entirely sure why it is so highly regarded.
5. Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick, 1964) - Arguably a better Kubrick movie than 2001. The blackest of black comedies. The first time I watched it -- I was young -- I didn't really get it, especially the idea that it was a comedy. Now it's one of my favorites.
6. Bicycle Thieves/The Bicycle Thief (De Sica, 1948) - Never seen it. Suppose I should.
6. Raging Bull (Scorsese, 1980) - This is one of those movies that I feel like I should see. Although when I criticized Bugsy for having no sympathetic characters, someone I know said, "Then you will hate Raging Bull."
6. Vertigo
9. Rashomon (Kurosawa, 1950) - Well worth seeing. I finally saw it last year; it did not have a promising start, but I stuck with it and it picked up maybe 15 minutes into it. By the end I was hooked. It's the first movie (to my knowledge) employing the unique device of telling one story through the eyes of different participants.
9. La Règle du jeu
9. Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954) - Never seen it or the Americanized Western remake The Magnificent Seven (see above). I'd like to.

If you find all this interesting, don't stop here just because I've provided the list; the Sight and Sound web site has more information, including the complete list of all films named by participants and who voted for which films -- from the famous to the surprising and the absurd (Jacques Lourcelles voted for Cattle Queen of Montana?!? Trevor Steele Taylor voted for Deep Throat?!?).

Thursday, August 08, 2002
Protect our business by law. Glenn Harlan Reynolds has come to the conclusion that the recording and movie industry legislative initiatives are not really about stopping piracu and copying, but are actually designed to shut down competition and preserve their business models. Which is not what government is for. To use what may be a tired cliche, it would be like buggywhip makers blocking the introduction of automobiles.

Ins vs. Outs. The Associated Press analyzed government spending and found some interesting (though not surprising) conclusions. Here's a Slate commentary on one of the AP findings, that Republicans have shifted government spending from programs for the poor to those for the better-off.

There's no such thing as an unimportant election. Slate's William Saletan looks not at the competition, but at how Michigan Republicans forced U.S. House Democrats John Dingell and Lynn Rivers to run against each other (emphasis added):
Two years ago, Michigan held elections for the 110 seats in its House of Representatives. The parties split 104 of those seats, 52-52. Two of the remaining races (Districts 37 and 99) were won by fewer than 1,000 votes; two others (Districts 56 and 81) were won by no more than 1,500 votes. If Democrats had won those seats, they would have controlled the House and blocked the GOP's redistricting plan. If they had won three of them, they would have held a tie. But they won none of them. By a grand total of 5,000 votes, the GOP won all four seats, controlled the House, and wrote the redistricting plan that forced the bewildered constituents of Dingell and Rivers to choose between them.

My point here is neither to congratulate nor castigate Michigan Republicans; Democrats do similar things when they have the opportunity. My point is that your vote matters (in case you had forgotten about the last presidential election).

Wednesday, August 07, 2002
More. The new standard for CEO greed may have been set by Tyco's L. Dennis Kozlowski, as explained in this Wall Street Journal article.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002
The last CD. Randy Newman's score to the 1981 film Ragtime has finally been released on compact disc. Newman wrote this two-paragraph introduction which appears in the accompanying booklet:
Here it is—the only record yet to be released in this exciting new format, the compact disc. The record company bided its time and waited for the perfect moment to maximize commercial prospect for this, the last disc. The compact disc is indeed compact. It is much smaller than your vinyl "records." The sound is clearer, and there is no surface noise.

We think that the disc is a remarkable technical advance. The high end sucks, but we're going to fix it and call it something else and rerelease everything. Good for you, good for us. Hope you enjoy this exciting new product.

Keeping spending under control. Years ago, even if you didn't approve of Republican agendas, you could appreciate their commitment to fiscal discipline. That went out the window with Ronald Reagan, who slashed taxes and racked up debt in an effort to keep government from getting any bigger. Whatever his natural impulses, Bill Clinton was forced to keep a tight rein on spending by the Republican Congress and the already-high debt. (There's a memorable description in Bob Woodward's book The Agenda where Robert Rubin explains to Clinton that he has to control the deficit, or the bond market will react negatively and take the economy with it. Clinton wasn't very happy.)

Now the Cato Institute is asking, "How Conservative is President Bush?" Basically their answer is, not as conservative as Bill Clinton. (via fark)

Monday, August 05, 2002
Making the BLU-118/B. Here's the story behind the development of the U.S. military's thermobaric bombs used against caves in Afghanistan. Not just a techie story, some human interest aspects too. (via InstaPundit)

The magnitude of spam. Spam has reached truly insane levels. Read this paragraph from an AP article and realize what it is saying:
On a typical day, Hotmail subscribers collectively receive more than 1 billion pieces of junk e-mail. Such spam accounts for 80 percent of messages received -- not including mail blocked by Hotmail's first line of filters.

How much spam must be sent before people -- or mail servers -- reach the breaking point?

Sunday, August 04, 2002
Two hours of my life gone. I was stunned to discover that the movie The Royal Tenenbaums is in the IMDb's Top 250 films (#197 as of this writing). What a waste of time. Forget the superb cast -- the script is pointless and relies entirely on the "quirky" family. Unfunny and involving.

Friday, August 02, 2002
Safety question. What "natural disaster" kills more Americans than all others combined? Answer. Follow-up: For additional reading, here's the New Yorker review of the new book by this author.

Democrat vs. Democrat. The Washington Post's David Broder looks at the primary fight for the U.S. House seat from Michigan's 15th District. During redistricting, state Republicans drew the maps to combine the seats of Democrats John Dingell (Congressional site | Campaign site) and Lynn Rivers (Congress | Campaign) -- two very different politicians. Everyone expected Rivers to surrender the seat to Dingell, who is currently the most senior member of the U.S. House. But she didn't, and polls seem to indicate a very tight race in next Tuesday's primary.

Broder's analysis is pretty good, as usual. For more insight into their support, compare where they raise campaign funds from top contributors and top industries for this race.

I don't vote in that district, but I guess I'm hoping for Dingell to win by one vote, simply because I find it pathetic that Rivers feels her life story (working mother, put herself through college and law school, blah, blah, blah) qualifies her for Congress. I like seeing Dingell squirm, but I don't want to squander his seniority for a weak representative of Ann Arbor liberals.

Thursday, August 01, 2002
Copyright running amok. Yet another attempt to make people understand what's wrong with recent copyright changes (the DMCA and CTEA). From the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Copyright as Cudgel."