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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Friday, December 27, 2002
As Mr. Burns would say, "Excellent." It appears that the Jim Wyatt family's plan for world media domination is proceeding nicely. First, his brother and store manager Charlie Wyatt appeared in Kmart commercials. Now wife Mary Wyatt has made the front page of the Detroit Free Press. Congraduations, Mary!

Friday, December 20, 2002
So they're finally catching on to Wal-Mart. I have read a number of accounts of Wal-Mart employees being forced to work unpaid overtime. A Federal jury has now agreed with that charge. In theory, Wal-Mart could be forced to pay double the unpaid overtime -- and if we want federal employment laws to mean anything in this country, that's exactly what should happen. Companies have no incentive to follow the law if all they get is a slap on the wrist for breaking it; then it becomes just a cost of doing business.

By the way... why aren't any unions urging their members to boycott Wal-Mart? The store is aggressively non-union, and the union could argue that such a boycott was designed to support Wal-Mart workers. I suppose they figure that Wal-Mart would spin that against them, and they'd never unionize the company, which is probably true. Of course, that may not be very likely anyway.

Neat pic. Cool picture of the sun's arc as we near the first day of winter.

Monday, December 16, 2002
Stake your claim. Speaking of the recording industry and theft... are you a US citizen who purchased any "prerecorded Music Products, consisting of compact discs, cassettes and vinyl albums, from one or more retailers during the period January 1, 1995, through December 22, 2000"? If so, you can claim your share of the class-action antitrust settlement by the major record labels. You could collect $20 (woo-hoo!). If your share drops below $5, all the cash goes to charitable and other relevant organizations. You have nothing to lose but 60 seconds to fill out an electronic form, provided you qualify. Go here and file a claim by March 3, 2003. (via Boing Boing)

Lies, damn lies and statistics. While the recording industry screams bloody murder about everyone stealing their music, this guy analyzed their numbers and found a very different story: music sales are declining because companies are cutting production. The Register summarizes it all here.

Maybe they'll say he was wrong to trust Recording Industry Association of America numbers. After all, the RIAA announced a piracy bust that found "the equivalent of 421 [CD-ROM] burners." (When CD-ROM burners are outlawed... but I digress.) Umm, the equivalent of? Well, there were actually only 156... but some of them were real fast, you see,so the RIAA felt perfectly justified in juicing the number. That sure does wonders for their credibility.

So that's what's wrong with our tax system. Our current administration believes that the rich are paying too many taxes, because the poor aren't paying enough. Read this article for some of their convoluted logic:
As the Bush administration draws up plans to simplify the tax system, it is also refining arguments for why it may be necessary to shift more of the tax load onto lower-income workers.

Economists at the Treasury Department are drafting new ways to calculate the distribution of tax burdens among different income classes, which are expected to highlight what administration officials see as a rising tax burden on the rich and a declining burden on the poor. The White House Council of Economic Advisers is also preparing a report detailing the concentration of the tax burden on the affluent and highlighting problems with the way tax burdens are calculated for the poor.

Sunday, December 15, 2002
Irony. The biographies of Admiral (and convicted felon) John Poindexter and other members of the Information Awareness Office (which is working on massive government database designed to track us) have been removed from that organization's web site. Fortunately, Richard M. Smith found them in the Google cache and posted them at his site.

Thursday, December 12, 2002
Finally, a movie I want to see. Adaptation by Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jones. Watch the trailer (QuickTime). Critic reviews.

Monday, December 09, 2002
It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you. Do you think I'm a bit paranoid in worrying about the zeal of Hollywood and the record industry to control every possible use of their products?

Well, have you heard that a Norwegian teenager is currently on trial thanks to the Motion Picture Association of America? His crime? Three years ago, at age 15, he hacked his computer to make it play a DVD that he owned. What kind of ugly precedent is this?

I don't make these stories up. I don't have to.

Comcast: Control customers to maximize profits. An auto executive once acknowledged that one reason his company liked leasing was because "It's all about controlling the customer." Hollywood and the RIAA clearly think the same way... and apparently so does cable TV:
In a move that could have broad implications for all cable operators, Comcast will push video-on-demand--not personal video recorders--throughout its system next year. CEO Brian Roberts last week said the move is necessary in order to keep content in the control of cable operators rather than consumers--and to secure a constant revenue stream.

Content's control inside the home amounts to "the Napster of the future," Roberts said, adding, "I think we should let that model go."

As a customer, I'm tired of businesses trying to control me. Why can't I be the one to decide when and where I want to watch or hear something? The customer is always right, unless copyrighted content is involved.

Personally, I think that would make a great marketing campaign for TiVo and ReplayTV: "Get the box Hollywood and your cable company don't want you to have!" It won't happen, of course. It's not in their interest to be perceived as an enemy. Which I don't think they automatically are... but the big boys seem to feel differently.

Mixed feelings. The Detroit Science Center -- which was previously an embarrassment, but has undergone an apparently impressive transformation in the past year -- will be bringing "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit" here in a few months. It's provoking some mixed feelings in me:

  • Pro: I have been a Titanic buff for maybe 30 years, ever since I first found Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember" in the library and read it with fascination. So the odds are good that I would like this exhibit.

  • Con: According to an article in Smithsonian magazine (August 1986?), the company that has recovered these artifacts, RMS Titanic, Inc., made and broke all kinds of promises about how sensitive they were going to be, etc. So I am somewhat reluctant to visit their exhibit.

  • Pro: All things being equal, I would certainly like to support a hometown institution, the Detroit Science Center.

  • Con: The exhibit is coordinated, designed and marketed (for a share of the proceeds) by Clear Channel Exhibitions, part of the Clear Channel conglomerate that is destroying radio more than any other company today. I loathe the idea of supporting them in any way.

So what do I do?

Read me in the Washington Post - I think. I think I've been quoted in the Washington Post. That probably sounds odd, but nevertheless. Here's the story.

One November 28th, the Post ran a story about the apparent lack of requirements to be a UN arms inspector. It offered up one Harvey John McGeorge as an example. Here's the opening paragraph:
The United Nations launched perhaps its most important weapons inspections ever yesterday with a team that includes a 53-year-old Virginia man with no specialized scientific degree and a leadership role in sadomasochistic sex clubs.

I read the entire article and concluded that while the underlying argument (questioning what it takes to become an arms inspector) was sound, the tawdry sex angle was gratuitous. (It turned out I was not alone.)

Later, as part of my daily Web surfing, I discovered a discussion on the topic at Metafilter, where other people had the same reaction. Somewhere between there I had the idea to write to the Post's ombudsman and express my feelings, so I suggested that others who felt similarly do the same. I then composed a short note to him, explaining that while I personally didn't agree with Mr. McGeorge's preferences, they were irrelevant to the story, and sent it off. I never heard anything.

Alas, since I didn't know where my email might end up, I used my Hotmail account, and did not save a copy. So you have to take my cautious word that I think I am the "one reader, who reflected a common view" in today's article by the ombudsman about it:
A few dozen readers complained that McGeorge's sexual activities and associations are irrelevant to his job performance and saw the story as an effort to discredit him because of those activities. "If Mr. McGeorge is unqualified, due to lack of experience or qualifications, then that is another matter. But to try to use his private life as an excuse for the article is reprehensible," wrote one reader, reflecting a fairly common view. Eric Umansky, a media writer for the online magazine Slate, called it "gratuitous and sleazy. The Post should apologize . . . and get 40 lashes."

Maybe you don't think it's worth the long explanation. But hey, they're my words in the Washington Post! I think.

Monday, December 02, 2002
Scuttle the Bismarck? Some undersea explorers who have studied the wreck claim that the German battleship Bismarck was not sunk by the Royal Navy, but scuttled by its crew to prevent its capture. British explorers aren't buying it.

Stop the arrogance. I'm pleased to see this WP report that more and more people are speaking out and organizing against Bush's war on Iraq. This stupid war is wrong for so many reasons, including the reaction it's going to provoke abroad. (Isn't it amazing how the world supported us after 9/11, and now we're going out of our way to tick everyone off?)

I'm not automatically opposed to striking first, but I need to be convinced of its necessity -- which our government has not even come close to doing. I find the idea that Iraq would attack the U.S. to be simply preposterous. And the administration has presented zero proof of any links to terrorism.

(You remember terrorism, don't you -- the war that we should really be concerned with, and which the U.S. botched during the battle of Tora Bora? Almost makes you think that the Bushies want to distract our attention (a la "Wag the Dog"). Not that they would ever make decisions based on politics.)

Let's face it, much of the reason for this war is America flexing its muscles. We're doing it because we can do it, and no other country can stop us. Only we can stop us by changing public opinion and turning this war into a political risk for George Bush.

Part of me hopes the War on Iraq blows up in George Bush's face (I'm speaking figuratively here, please don't alert John Ashcroft) in time for the 2004 election. Unfortunately, that would require many deaths and additional risk for Americans around the world... precisely what we should be trying to avoid. Which makes it all the more imperative that this Bush jihad be derailed as soon as possible.

Sunday, December 01, 2002
Paging Winston Smith. More proof of Benjamin's Franklin's admonition: "Those willing to give up a little liberty for a little security deserve neither security nor liberty."
The Bush administration is developing a parallel legal system in which terrorism suspects -- U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike -- may be investigated, jailed, interrogated, tried and punished without legal protections guaranteed by the ordinary system, lawyers inside and outside the government say.

The elements of this new system are already familiar from President Bush's orders and his aides' policy statements and legal briefs: indefinite military detention for those designated "enemy combatants," liberal use of "material witness" warrants, counterintelligence-style wiretaps and searches led by law enforcement officials and, for noncitizens, trial by military commissions or deportation after strictly closed hearings.