paulmurray.net
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] despammed.com

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Sunday, January 26, 2003
It's a small world, after all. A few days ago I had one of those "the Internet is a small world" moments.

Back on January 3rd, I posted an item about automotive design where I expressed skepticism about a quote from Dr. Clotaire Rapaille, a psychiatrist and marketing consultant. The general point of the NYT article was that vehicles fill our psychological needs as well as practical ones, which certainly makes sense. I took issue with a example from Dr. Rapaille that a divorced woman might buy a PT Cruiser because it sent the message "I'm tough."

Last Thursday I checked my e-mail and -- you guessed it -- there's a message. Not from Dr. Rapaille, but apparently from one of his associates, Dr. Franck Sarrazit. I'm not going to reproduce it here because I believe it's poor etiquette to do so without permission. But he basically said that of course I wouldn't consciously think of a PT Cruiser as "tough," because it's an unconscious response. He also suggested that I might want to check out the story on their web site.

So I have done that, and I have done some thinking on my own, and here are a few brief conclusions:

  • While I wasn't trying to suggest otherwise, for the record, it does seem plausible to me that their methods were helpful in designing the PT Cruiser.

  • I'm still skeptical about the PT Cruiser being unconsciously perceived as "tough" overall, but...

  • I think it is plausible that a number of elements of the vehicle's design were made "tougher" as a result of their research.

  • I may be a very unrepresentative sample of the public, since I live in Detroit and work indirectly for automakers. I look at a PT Cruiser and know that it's derived from the Neon platform, etc. Most people probably don't. (I know someone who claims he saw two guys almost get into a fight in a bar over which vehicle was better: one guy's Dodge Caravan or the other's Plymouth Voyager. They were identical except for the grilles, nameplates and maybe the seat fabric.) Perhaps my conscious knowledge gets in the way of my unconscious, in this case.

  • Had I considered it even remotely possible that some he knew would see it, I would have slightly toned down what I wrote. I don't think I was nasty or mean -- I don't think it's in my nature -- but I was, shall we say, blunt. So I will keep this possibility in the back of mind from now on. And for the record, President Bush is welcome to try and explain why my criticisms of his administration are off-base.


So why do I like the PT Cruiser?

  • It's unique -- the most immediately recognizable vehicle on the road, along with the VW New Beetle.

  • It's stylish. I'm not what you'd call a stylish dresser by any means, but I suppose it's a way to look good.
  • It's old-fashioned looking. I hate that some people refer to it as a "gangster car." I know that association comes from old movies, but most cars looked that way. Yes, gangsters used them, but so did everybody.

  • It's practical. While I naturally prefer to drive a vehicle I find attractive, I'm not going to sacrifice practicality in order to do so. WIth the PT, I don't have to.


I didn't intend for this to turn into a "why I love my car" post, but it seemed relevant. However, I've droned on long enough.



You fail. One of my standard jokes for years has been that the Internet is the world's biggest typing test; get one character wrong and you fail. This is particularly true when you're talking about computer code. The format of this page has been messed up for a few days, and I just spent maybe an hour staring at Blogger code trying (and finally succeeding, I think) to fix it. Some people enjoy this stuff; I'm not one of them. I just want it to work.



Unearthed at last. If I knew anything about Lord of the Rings, I'm sure I would find this "long lost" version even funnier than I already do. The movie itself is an 18.5 MB download, so have a fast connection or plenty of patience. And like they say, don't read the credits page until after you've watched the movie. (via memepool)



Monday, January 20, 2003
Not the way to get my vote.
Within hours of announcing his plans to seek the Democratic nomination for the job last week, [Senator Joseph] Lieberman started spamming around a message titled: "Beginning an Amazing Journey." It said: 'I have the strength, vision, and values to lead our nation to higher ground."...

Ironically, Lieberman has tried to position himself as an antispam politician. "Spam is a tremendous nuisance," Lieberman proclaimed when announcing his support for the "CAN-SPAM" legislation in May 2000. "It is not requested by the receiver. It almost never contains any information of substance or value...It is costly, destructive, and an invasion of our privacy."



Saturday, January 18, 2003
If you're reading this, you're a thief. Or at least you should be treated like one. Apparently that's what the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) thinks. Their latest proposed solution is to charge Internet service providers a fee, since they allow customers to trade music. The ISPs would of course pass the fee onto its customers. Isn't it nice to be appreciated like this?



The Vice Emperor's new clothes. Joshua Micah Marshall says Vice President Cheney is a screw-up, but the media hasn't seemed to notice yet. He has a decent list to support this contention.
Though far less egregious, Cheney's bad judgment is akin to Trent Lott's ugly history on race: Everyone sort of knew it was there, only no one ever really took notice until it was pointed out in a way that was difficult to ignore. Cheney is lucky; as vice president, he can't be fired. But his terrible judgment will, at some point, become impossible even for the Beltway crowd not to see.



Watch my hands. If M.C. Escher had used Flash, would it have looked like this? (via Metafilter)



Astroturf. Someone pointed out to Paul Boutin that an awful lot of people who write letters to newspapers think George Bush is "demonstrating genuine leadership"... including one Joseph S. Gradowski of Warren in the Detroit News. (via Metafilter)



Wednesday, January 15, 2003
The copyright forces won. Again. The Supreme Court has upheld the law that extended the term of copyright protection by a vote of 7-2. (This is what that mysterious "free the mouse" button on the left side refers to.) I'm sure that Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, who argued the case, will have something to say soon.

Dan Gillmor blog entry says what I think, and says it better.

And my representative issued a press release praising the decision. Swell. I need to write him and politely explain why he's wrong.



Tuesday, January 14, 2003
In one place for your convenience. Why didn't I hear about this earlier? Behold "The Wisdom of Ann Coulter."



The "dignity" of the Supreme Court. Slate has a scathing article about the $1.5 million book deal (from Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins) for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and how he plans to promote the book:
The defenders of Thomas' humongo advance contend that he can avoid any appearance of impropriety or conflict by simply recusing himself from any case in which Murdoch, Fox, the First Amendment, copyright law, libel, or any communications or media issues pertaining to them are ever implicated. Meaning that the chances of future 4-4 decisions by the court (the legal equivalent of a rainout) are greatly increased. All so Thomas can write his book.

But the most maddening part of Clarence Thomas' sweetheart deal is that it allows him to continue to do precisely what he's been doing as a justice for a decade: hide from any meaningful public debate or assessment. Supreme Court justices already lead secret, unscrutinized lives. They control 100 percent of their media access. They alone determine what's written about them and where. They make sure that everything they do as individuals and a court is shrouded in complete secrecy. And Thomas has always been the staunchest adherent to that credo, giving speeches only to groups comprised of fans or boosters.

So "the best man for the job" (as George H.W. Bush insisted upon nominating him) will have all his conservative friends in the media flog his book for him.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: make Thomas retire and just let Antonin Scalia have two votes. We'll save on one salary and the outcomes won't change one bit.



Sunday, January 12, 2003
Cure as cause. Interesting article in today's NYT about how taking over-the-counter remedies for frequent headaches may end up causing more headaches:
''Over-the-counter medication overuse is one of the leading causes of chronic daily headache,'' he said. Chronic daily headaches are believed to affect 4 to 5 percent of Americans, including perhaps 10 percent of women over 30. (About four times as many women as men are afflicted.) Roughly half of chronic daily headache patients, Silberstein estimates, developed the problem from medication overuse. In fact, the majority of people who seek clinical treatment for daily headaches are found to be taking five or more doses of headache medication a day -- often on a preventive basis....

Scientists are now largely convinced that the overuse of medication can interfere with the brain's own pain-control system, paving the way for chronic headache syndromes. It's ''like a mouse chasing its own tail,'' Silberstein said -- headaches lead to drugs, drugs lead to headaches, and only when the cycle is broken can the brain's pain-damping mechanism re-establish itself. I asked Silberstein if this meant that the brain's natural painkillers were better than ones bought over the counter. ''What I'm arguing is that you have to combine the body's natural pain-inhibition system with appropriate use of drugs,'' he said. ''You shouldn't tough a headache out, but the process has to be treated early and appropriately. If you treat it late, with more and more drugs, all you're going to do is interfere with the recovery process.''

In the age of the quick fix, drug-induced headaches are a reminder that quick fixes don't always work. Though medicine helps, medicine also disrupts. Popping a pill can make things better in the short term, but in the long term, drugs, even supposedly ''benign'' drugs at recommended doses, can have strange, paradoxical effects. Laxative overuse, for example, often worsens constipation. Sleeping pills can cause insomnia.



Wednesday, January 08, 2003
"There are lots of things on which you could spend $49,990. This is one of them." I used to wonder if I was too sarcastic. Then I read this Car and Driver review of the Cadillac Escalade EXT. (via yet another interminable SUV argument on Metafilter)



Tuesday, January 07, 2003
More music business stupidity. Slate has an interesting article by Paul Boutin explaining why "CD-quality" sound is a joke (technology has had 20 years to improve it). So why don't we have a consumer format that takes advantage of these advances? Well, there are two current attempts to do so (DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD), but Boutin argues that no consumers want them because they are deliberately crippled to prevent digital copying. (Manufacturers will not produce a drive for computers or a stand-alone player with digital outputs.)
In bringing the CD up to date with the PC, the music industry is also trying to split the two technologies asunder again.

It's no wonder that gearheads who buy the latest, greatest everything have ignored DVD-A and SACD in favor of MP3 players and CD burners. Computer-friendly music formats let you archive hundreds of albums on a laptop, create custom playlists that draw from your entire collection, and download them to portable players smaller than a single CD jewel box. Today's fans want their music in a form that fits the pocket-sized, personalized, interconnected world of their computers, cameras, phones, and PDAs. Asking digital consumers to give that power back in exchange for a better-sounding disc is like offering them a phonograph needle.



Monday, January 06, 2003
Why you should care about DRM. Not to sound like a broken record... but NYT has a good article summarizing how big media's attempt to impose Digital Rights Management is going to affect you.
Hollywood's new strategy is likely to affect everyone from computer-adept users of online music services to the average couch potato. The digital future, hailed as more convenient and of higher quality than the scratchy, fuzzy analog past, is coming with multiple strings attached.

Already, people are finding unfamiliar constraints on how they can consume familiar media: listen to music on your PC, but do not try to copy it to your MP3 player; watch a movie in your home as often as you want for 24 hours because after that it will evaporate into the ether; marvel at your plasma-screen TV, but be prepared for your picture quality to be diminished if you do not have the latest model with anti-piracy equipment.

Here's a charming excerpt from one of the usual suspects:
"We need to put in speed bumps to keep people honest," said Jack Valenti, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, which is lobbying federal regulators to require many devices to incorporate technology that prevents consumers from sending digital media files over the Internet. "If we don't, our future is bleak."

Thanks, Jack, glad to see that you don't trust your customers. By the way, what can we use to keep the MPAA honest?



Friday, January 03, 2003
Government by secrecy. NYT's Adam Clymer -- you remember him, the reporter our distinguished president once described as a "major league asshole" -- has a big story in today's paper about the Bush Administration's mania for secrecy. Not a lot new here, but it's worth seeing on how many fronts the governoment is pursuing it. Also a bit scary is that they seem to have learned how to back off just enough to quiet critics in their own party. Plus Ari Fleischer's bald-faced lies are pretty impressive:
The Bush administration contends that it is not trying to make government less open. Ari Fleischer, the president's press secretary, said, "The bottom line remains the president is dedicated to an open government, a responsive government, while he fully exercises the authority of the executive branch."

Notice how that last phrase can effectively contradict everything preceding it.
Mr. Fleischer contends that there is no secrecy problem. "I make the case that we are more accessible and open than many previous administrations given how many times [Secretary of State Colin L.] Powell, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft have briefed," he said.

Translation: Never mind the documents we're hiding; we're open because we'll give you our side of the story any time you want.
Asked if there was anyone in the administration who was a consistent advocate of openness, who argued that secrecy hurt as well as helped, Mr. Fleischer said President Bush was that person.

Now we're taking this to Orwellian dimensions -- the guy who wants to keep everything secret is actually the most open!



With advice like this... So I'm reading this NYT article about the psychology of buying cars, sort of a "what you drive is the image you want to project." (Which is somewhat obvious, but work with me here.) They're quoting "experts," talking about how "Whether they are aware of it or not, plenty of people mark milestones in their psychological journeys with a trip to the car lot." The examples are making sense... until I reach this howler (in the second paragraph below):
Dr. Clotaire Rapaille, a psychiatrist and marketing consultant in Miami Beach, observes that a red convertible is more often the car of choice for people shifting gears. Dr. Rapaille, who consults with Chrysler and General Motors, says red is a signal. "It's love and blood," he said. "Why a convertible? You want to show off. You want easy access. People want to communicate to the rest of the world the new person they are."

He posed a different example: "The PT Cruiser is a gangster car. If I am a woman and I just got rid of my husband and the kids are gone, what is the message I want to send? Maybe, `Don't mess with me. I'm tough.' "

Including myself, I know five people (four male, one female) who drive PT Cruisers. While I've never asked, I don't think any of us selected it because we want to say "we're tough." I mean, please. I love my PT Cruiser, and its looks played a major role in my purchase decision, but I'm under no illusion that it's particularly tough.

This guy is providing advice to GM and the Chrysler Group? What does he charge for valuable insight such as this?




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