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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Wednesday, October 30, 2002
Something to remember. We sent to see Hal Halbrook in his one-man show "Mark Twain Tonight!" Saturday night. I hadn't realized that he was still doing it, since I remember first hearing about it in the 1970s (and it wasn't new then), but indeed he is. He's actually been doing this show for longer than Twain was giving public performances. And it was great. If you ever get the chance, go see it.

The first half was completely humorous; the second half got a bit more serious, with an excerpt from Huckleberry Finn and some observations about people fighting over religion. According to this article, Holbrook supposedly has about 15 hours worth of material memorized, and chooses his material for each performance on the fly, based upon the audience. For the record, here's a list from the program of what I think he did at our show (source in parentheses, otherwise miscellaneous):

  • Compliments Collection

  • Chaucer, Sailor, Tennessee Girl

  • My Cigar Habit?

  • A Moral Pauper (Following the Equator)

  • Hunting the Water Closet (Mark Twain's Notebook)

  • The Anarchist Story (Speeches)

  • His Grandfather's Old Ram (Mark Twain's Notebook)

  • Congress: The Grand Old Asylum

  • Down There in Washington

  • Huck and Jim (Huckleberry Finn)

  • A Helluva Heaven (Letters from the Earth)

  • Slavery: A Holy Thing (Autobiography)

  • The Get Rich Quick Disease

  • How to Be Seventy (Speeches)

As you might guess from reading those subjects, it's eerie how some of Twain's material is perfectly applicable today.

We actually got to meet Hal Halbrook after the show. We dallied a little in leaving -- why rush to the car and sit in traffic, after all -- and someone came out and announced to the people hanging around up front that Mr. Holbrook would come out for a few minutes. He couldn't stay long, as it takes 90 minutes to remove all the makeup, etc., so no autographs or posing for pictures, although candid shots would be fine. Naturally I had left my camera at home, because you obviously can't take pictures during the show. So a great Kodak moment is lost, alas. We shook his hand, and he was very nice. I said something not very memorable to him; I wish it was something better, but I didn't really expect to speak to him, and I didn't want to keep him too long. With the advantage of hindsight, I would have told him how much we enjoyed it and that I hoped to have the chance to see it again someday.

I remember overhearing him say two things to other people there; how he had thrown in something new, and that someone had sent him a picture of him doing the show in the 1960s, and that he looked like a little boy with a wig in it. (He portrays Twain in his 70s, and is now 77. Although I couldn't help but be reminded of Kurt Vonnegut.)

Paul Wellstone, R.I.P. So sad about Sen. Paul Wellstone dying in a plane crash last Friday. While I didn't agree with him on everything, I greatly respected him. He did what he thought was right, even if it put his job at risk (he told aides that his recent vote against authorizing force against Iraq might cost him the upcoming election). What more can we ask from a politician? And can you name another one who would do the same? Here's an Eleanor Clift article that expands on these ideas.

Sunday, October 27, 2002
Be afraid of the dreaded unholy alliance. David Weinberger explains that when Microsoft starts pushing "trusted computing," they're not doing it for you and me. "Palladium" will enforce the Digital Rights Management efforts being pushed by copyright owners.
If Hollywood sees 100 million machines running Palladium that can't copy the files they sell (excuse me, license), they will be sorely tempted to release digital content in formats only Palladium can unlock. Palladium becomes the preferred player for digital content. The dreaded unholy alliance between Microsoft and Hollywood becomes real.

Friday, October 25, 2002
Happy Birthday, Ask the Professor. The nation's longest-running syndicated radio program (which I got to produce while a student at the University of Detroit) turns 50 years old and celebrates with an hour-long broadcast on WJR (760 AM) this Sunday at 5:00 pm. The show includes a tribute to long-time panelist Prof. George Pickering.

This Detroit Free Press article describes it well. For bonus points, find the writer's mathematical error!

The Party's Over. If you don't know who the late Adolph Green was, you might wonder why The New York Times published such a long obituary today. Read it and find out. You know his work -- or you should, anyway.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002
A Mac snob who just can't shut up. Listen to the phone message he left for a website designer. (via Boing Boing)

Tuesday, October 22, 2002
Bush lies exaggerates is imprecise with facts. In a story that I'm sure will further his reign as the Bush Administration's least favorite reporter, The Washington Post's Dana Milbank tallies up a list of things that Bush has been claiming that simply aren't true. As the headline puts it, "For Bush, Facts Are Malleable":
As Bush leads the nation toward a confrontation with Iraq and his party into battle in midterm elections, his rhetoric has taken some flights of fancy in recent weeks. Statements on subjects ranging from the economy to Iraq suggest that a president who won election underscoring Al Gore's knack for distortions and exaggerations has been guilty of a few himself.

Presidential embroidery is, of course, a hoary tradition. Ronald Reagan was known for his apocryphal story about liberating a concentration camp. Bill Clinton fibbed famously and under oath about his personal indiscretions to keep a step ahead of Whitewater prosecutors. Richard M. Nixon had his Watergate denials, and Lyndon B. Johnson was often accused of stretching the truth to put the best face on the Vietnam War. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, too, played with the truth during the Gary Powers and Bay of Pigs episodes.

"Everybody makes mistakes when they open their mouths and we forgive them," Brookings Institution scholar Stephen Hess said. Some of Bush's overstatements appear to be off-the-cuff mistakes. But, Hess said, "what worries me about some of these is they appear to be with foresight. This is about public policy in its grandest sense, about potential wars and who is our enemy, and a president has a special obligation to getting it right."

Monday, October 21, 2002
Your tax dollars at work. We might never have known that the White House was using HHS money to pay for campaign trips had someone not slipped the documents to The Washington Post:

The White House has billed the federal Office of Family Assistance $210,000 to help pay for five trips in which President Bush promoted welfare reform at official events and made separate fundraising appearances for GOP candidates.

The White House and Department of Health and Human Services said the spending and the trips were appropriate promotions of administration initiatives. The Clinton administration employed similar billing practices, they said.

So Republicans now cite things Clinton did as appropriate behavior, eh?

Sunday, October 20, 2002
Lookout, Outlook? Mitch Kapor (the founder of Lotus and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation) is leading a development team to create an open-source Personal Information Manager program (think MS Outlook) that will initially run on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. The code name is "Chandler" (after the mystery novelist). Kapor has started a weblog about the project. As Dan Gillmor observes, this may be crazy enough to work. (via Boing Boing)

Brace yourself. I don't want one party to control the White House, House of Representatives and Senate. When one party controls everything, it's too easy for them to get everything they want. That's why I'd like to see the Democrats pick up one or two seats in both houses in the upcoming election.

However, Republicans seem to think that they will regain control of the Senate, and they are already planning what to do when that happens: more tax cuts and giving business what they want (since they were deterred from doing so by corporate scandals).

Saturday, October 19, 2002
These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard. Neat things can emerge from simple ideas. I submit this as evidence: Flash animation set to Tom Lehrer's song The Elements. Pay attention to the visuals, because there are some subtle jokes. (For those of you who plan to memorize the song, here are the lyrics, transcribed from a live performance.)

And as long as we're on the subject, I just ran across this two-year-old Onion A.V. Club interview with the reclusive Mr. Lehrer. One of the gems from it: "You can't be satirical and not be offensive to somebody."

Friday, October 18, 2002
Meet Boeing's new Bird of Prey. It's a prototype stealth aircraft (named for the Star Trek Klingon craft it resembles) that has been flying since the mid-1990s, most likely at Groom Lake Air Force Base (that's Area 51 to you). They've decided that the public can see it now. See it and read about it in this Popular Science article and at (via Slashdot)

Fact-checking. Government Executive magazine provides a "West Wing Watch" that critiques and comments upon the accuracy of each episode. (via Metafilter)

The movie that will get me back into a theatre. I haven't been to a movie theatre since Memento, mostly because there are fewer and fewer movies that interest me. We rent the DVD and watch at home.

Now comes Naqoyqatsi (watch the trailer | read the Wired article), the third installment in the "qatsi" documentary trilogy by Godfrey Reggio. While I have not yet watched the second installment (Powaqatsi), part one (Koyaanisqatsi) is one of the most memorable movies I have ever seen -- a documentary without words, set to the music of Philip Glass. (As Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal pointed out a few weeks ago, Reggio didn't even pretend to present a balanced argument, but it was a very compelling film.)

Koyaanisqatsi influenced a lot of filmmakers, who have adopted some if its techniques. As a result, watching it today has a little less impact than in 1983; it's not as shockingly different. But it is still amazing. (It should also be experienced in a theatre, if at all possible.) I will be curious to see if the same thing happens with Naqoyqatsi.

Naqoyqatsi opens today. Not here, of course... I'll have to wait and watch the listing of the art houses.

Just what we needed. Oh great. The prototype new Kmart in White Lake Township was created -- puke green color and all -- by the same marketing genius who hooked up Dodge and Aerosmith (a tie-in understood by no one that I know).

When you're ready for efficiency. Read about some interesting new technologies for improving fuel efficiency in "Why Not a 40-MPG SUV?"

Thursday, October 17, 2002
I knew it, I knew it. "A new study shows that stress at work more than doubles your risk of death from heart disease, can raise your cholesterol levels and help make you overweight."

Tuesday, October 15, 2002
Ooh, ooh. I was about 40 feet from George W. Bush yesterday. (You can imagine my excitement.) It only lasted for a second; his motorcade was traveling up the Southfield Freeway while I was driving down it on the way home. In addition to the police cars and big SUVs that I expected, there were a lot of white vans.

Monday, October 14, 2002
Holy crap. There's a special Fall 2002 issue of Money magazine out. It has an article about Social Security, accompanied by a sidebar with a history of the program. I was stunned to read the second entry (I've added the italics):
1862 Congress provides benefits to disabled Civil War vets and to the widows and orphans of deceased soldiers. After the program is extended in 1906 to all surviving vets and their widows, young women marry aged vets, whose pensions they stand to inherit. Two widows are still drawing Civil War pensions.

Saturday, October 12, 2002
Shooting 101. I know nothing about guns. But Washington Post film critic and novelist Stephen Hunter does, and he offers his thoughts about the D.C. sniper. Most notable is that the shooter is smart but does not possess exceptional ability:
He has rudimentary marksmanship abilities.... Still, none of these skills compute to the heavily trained operative or a terrorist. They are Shooting 101 techniques, easily learnable in an afternoon by anyone, man, woman or teenager, with routine coordination. They are accessible on the Internet or in any issue of a gun magazine. So far, in my judgment at least, he has not shown any extraordinary shooting skill.

News read real slow. (Apologies to Dave Ross for stealing that headline.) The beginning of a news story from CNET:
Microsoft warned Outlook Express users late Thursday that a software flaw could allow an online vandal to control their computers.

A critical vulnerability in the e-mail reader could allow an attacker to send a specially formatted message that would crash the software and potentially take control of the recipient's computer.

The flaw occurs in how the software handles messages that include components using secure MIME (multipurpose Internet mail extensions), a standard that allows e-mail messages to contain encrypted data and digital signatures.

"Outlook Express ships with every Windows system, or rather as part of IE, so it's on every system. But unless it is configured to receive mail, you are not at risk," said Scott Culp, manager for Microsoft security response.

Let's read that helpful suggestion again, shall we?

"...unless [the e-mail program Outlook Express] is configured to receive mail, you are not at risk."

Why don't more companies adopt this attitude toward their defective products? "If you don't use our product for its intended purpose, there's no problem."

Wednesday, October 09, 2002
DOS isn't done 'til Lotus won't run. That was the purported saying around Microsoft in the early 1980's, when Lotus 1-2-3 dominated the spreadsheet market and Microsoft wanted to throw roadblocks in Lotus' path with its new DOS 2.0. That mentality has apparently persisted at the company. Steve Perlman founded WebTV and sold it to Microsoft in 1997. He worked at Microsoft for awhile after the purchase, and told this story to The Wall Street Journal (October 8, 2002):
Mr. Perlman says he wrote a note to Steve Ballmer, then Microsoft's No. 2 man and now its chief executive officer, complaining about technical glitches in Office's Outlook e-mail product. Mr. Perlman had been testing the product because Microsoft wanted WebTV employees to switch to Outlook after Microsoft acquired WebTV, Mr. Perlman recalls.

A manager in the Office group who responded to the note on Mr. Ballmer's behalf was "outraged" at the complaint about Outlook, Mr. Perlman says. The manager wrote back, "My job is not making Outlook reliable. My job is killing Lotus Notes," a competing product sold by IBM, Mr. Perlman says.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002
Fun with an optical illusion. Check this out. Here's the explanation, and here's proof that you can see with your own eyes. (via

Now that's a grudge. Dan Morales wanted to run as the Democratic candidate for governor of Texas, but lost to Tony Sanchez. Today, Morales is endorsing the incumbent Republican, Rick Perry. Any bets on how long it will take Morales to switch parties? Because I think he just ended his career path with the Democrats. Not that there's much difference in Texas.

If only one of our battleships would blow up in Iraq... In "Does the U.S. Start Wars?", historian David Greenberg reviews the list and reminds us of those ugly ones we'd just as soon forget (The U.S-Mexican War of 1846-48 and The Spanish-American War of 1898).
Yet alongside these inglorious examples, America also has a tradition of waging war for honorable reasons that it could offer to the world as legitimate grounds for making war. For these wars, we not only congratulate ourselves but also gain the affection of others. The current debate about war should address not only whether we go to war but also why: If and when we invade, we should do so not because we deem it justifiable but because we can show that it is just.

Thursday, October 03, 2002
Yaay, I picked the worst. This Wall Street Journal article declares Sprint PCS the worst wireless phone company ("the cellphone company people love to hate. It got more per complaints per subscriber than any of the top five carriers over the past year.").

I have Sprint PCS. The dropped calls are annoying. Even worse is when it alerts me that I have voicemail, and when I check it, I learn the call arrived two minutes earlier. So why didn't my phone ring two minutes earlier so I could take the call?

A co-worker who has Verizon says the same thing happens to him. So I suspect that things would not improve by switching providers.

Incidentally, the same article declares MCI Worldcom the worst long-distance company. I have Capsule Communications, which gets a rating of "less bad." Woo-hoo.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002
Help me out here. Umm... this is satire, right?

And while we're at it, this is satire too?