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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Sunday, June 29, 2003
My new quest.
I have just read at an Indiana Jones fansite about 10 movies that influenced Raiders of the Lost Ark. Several are classics that I have already seen, but now I want to see two obscure but apparently significant ones:
When George Lucas and Steven Spielberg wanted to give their production crew an idea as to what Raiders of the Lost Ark was supposed to feel like, look like, sound like, and act like, they held two screenings during pre-production. During one screening they showed Secret of the Incas and during the other, they screened a film starring Alan Ladd simply titled China.

China is available on video, but Secret of the Incas has never come out in any video format. (The site reports that the AMC channel once played it for several months.)

Those are facts. Now here is some pure speculation on my part: Is Paramount, who originally released both Secrets of the Incas and the three Raiders films to date, keeping the ancestor under wraps at Spielberg's request? Those who have seen it certainly see the parallels. Consider this description from a user at IMDb:
A nice, low-budget adventure film, with wittier dialog than you'd expect. And if you want to know where they got Indiana Jones from, you've come to the right place: Charlton Heston's got him down cold, a quarter century before Lucas and Spielberg resurrected him.

It could be something far more mundane, of course, such as rights: John Wayne's McClintock! was out of circulation for years because one group owned the rights to the visuals and the another, the words. Or Paramount could have sold off the movie long ago to someone else. And there are still a lot of movies, even famous ones, that have not come out on video yet. So don't take my speculation as anything more than that.

Oh, and incidentally, Spielberg is talking about the next and last installment coming out on the July 4th weekend in 2005. It is reportedly set in the 1950s (no more Nazis, one would guess), which may be a good sign. I hope that instead of ignoring the fact that Harrison Ford, et al, are visibly older, they have some fun with it. The parallel I'll draw is to Star Trek. The first installment ignored the age difference, while the second (and best) one addressed it head-on and had fun with it. Remember Captain Kirk secretly fumbling with his glasses?

Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Is it possible to build a nuclear bomb by working from publicly available information?
That's what the U.S. military wanted to learn in the 1960's. So they set two men with Ph.D.'s in physics (but no nuclear experience) on a mission to see if it could be done. In 30 months, they produced a working design that was easily buildable (assuming one had the material) by a competent machine shop.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Another cool QuickTime VR.
You know it as where "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" ended; it's actually the city of Petra, located in the mountains of Jordan. View it and read about it.

Be afraid.
Remember all the spam you got selling the Iraqi Most Wanted deck of playing cards? It worked. People made money, and lots of it:
Hundreds of millions of e-mail messages about the cards have been sent since, and some 1.5 million decks have been sold by, a Web site owned by JDR, based in Los Angeles, and its partner, Lionstone International, which is based here. Other companies have sold a total of more than one million decks, making the Iraqi cards one of the fastest-selling fad products in history.

Just as the Iraqi war showed off the power and speed of America's high-tech weapons, the marketing of the Iraqi cards showed the ability of the Internet and e-mail to promote a product with overwhelming force.

If people are actually going to buy the crap that spammers are advertising, spammers will never stop; they'll increase their efforts, and e-mail will become worthless.

It's 4 a.m., and comedian Dennis Miller can't sleep.
Dennis Miller receives a last-night visit from himself, 15 years earlier, in The Miller's Crossing by Rick Chandler. Funny and accurate, but language not appropriate for small eyes. (via Doc Searls)

Sunday, June 08, 2003
Why the Bush tax cuts are stupid and unfair.
Exhibit #1: Middle Class Tax Share Set to Rise; Studies Say Burden Of Rich to Decline (Washington Post, 6/4/2003)
Three successive tax cuts pushed by President Bush will leave middle-income taxpayers paying a greater share of all federal taxes by the end of the decade, according to new analyses of the Bush administration's tax policies.

As critics of the tax cuts in 2001, 2002 and 2003 have noted, the very wealthiest Americans -- those earning $337,000 or more per year -- will be the greatest beneficiaries of the changes in the nation's tax laws. And, as administration officials have argued, low-income taxpayers will also enjoy a disproportionately lighter tax burden.

The result is that a broad swath of lower-middle, middle- and upper-middle-income people, as well as some rich Americans, will carry a greater share of the federal tax burden after the laws passed in the past three years are fully implemented. While taxes are scheduled to decline for all income groups, those earning more than $28,000 but less than $337,000 will end up paying a greater share of the taxes than they did before the changes.

Exhibit #2: Marginal Benefits: Twenty years ago, cutting marginal income tax rates was a good idea. Today, it makes no sense at all. (Slate, 6/3/2003)
But when Kennedy came into office, income tax rates rose to 59 percent at $50,000 and to 75 percent at $75,000. The top rate—affecting incomes over $500,000—was 91 percent! JFK reduced the top rate to 70 percent and sliced rates at $50,000 and $75,000 to 50 percent and 62 percent, respectively. Reagan, for his part, in 1981 and 1986, effectively reduced the top marginal tax rate from 70 percent in 1980 to 28 percent and collapsed 15 brackets into four.

We can all agree that a 91 percent top tax rate, or a 70 percent tax rate, might inhibit investment and working overtime for those extra bucks. But does reducing the top rate from 39 percent to 35 percent have any significant effects? What if our tax system—in which rates (until last week) stepped from 10 percent at the bottom to 38.6 percent at the top—is already so flat that it renders changes in the marginal rates irrelevant? "Once you're below the 40 percent range, people aren't that sensitive," says Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard who worked in the Clinton administration. "And once you're well above 50 percent people are sensitive."

Exhibit #3: Deficits and Dysfunction by Peter Petersen (New York Times Magazine, 6/8/2003)
The same Republican senators who overwhelmingly approved (without a single nay vote) the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to crack down on shady corporate accounting of investments worth millions of dollars see little wrong with turning around and making utterly fraudulent pronouncements about tax cuts that will cost billions or, indeed, even trillions of dollars.

For some Republicans, all this tax-cutting talk is a mere tactic. I know several brilliant and partisan Republicans who admit to me, in private, that much of what they say about taxes is of course not really true. But, they say, it's the only way to reduce government spending: chop revenue and trust that the Democrats, like Solomon, will agree to cut spending rather than punish our children by smothering them with debt.

Where's the kaboom?
Go here to see some of the best space mission patches ever. (via boing boing)