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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Thursday, August 28, 2003
I know you are but what am I?
From yesterday's Howard Kurtz article about Al Franken and his new book (emphasis added):
"Comedians who aren't funny have to try to become political spokesmen -- thus Al Franken's new career," [National Review Editor Rich] Lowry said yesterday. "But if I said I was unhappy that such an ill-informed and unpleasant man is emerging as a Democratic Party spokesman, I'd be lying."

That would explain Dennis Miller's recent gig, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
About that compact disc rebate...
Earlier this year, several US record labels were offering a rebate in order to settle a price-fixing lawsuit. All you had to do was file a claim online, and you might receive between $5-20. I filed one, and never heard anything more about it.

Last weekend I found myself wondering whatever became of it. Evidently someone in Seattle was wondering the same thing. The short answer is that it's tied up in court.

Monday, August 25, 2003
Appreciating a book from my childhood.
Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley is taking a second look at "notable and or neglected books from the past," and yesterday it was "Cheaper by the Dozen."
My memories of "Cheaper by the Dozen" remained happy over the years, but it was with a measure of apprehension that I opened the book recently. The books of one's childhood rarely age well into one's late adulthood, no matter how affectionate (and dim) one's memories may be. Yes, I love C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels as much now as I did when I was a boy, but those are the rare exceptions; mostly the literary pleasures of childhood and adolescence are best left undisturbed in later years.

So it is a joy to report that "Cheaper by the Dozen" still reads remarkably well. It is not a work of literature and no claims will be made for it as such. It is about American family life at a time (the 1910s and 1920s) now so impossibly distant that today's teenage reader may be unable to connect with it. Yet families are families, then as now, and I like to think that young readers would respond to the Gilbreth family's joys and sorrows just as I and millions of other, older readers have.

It's always neat to find someone else who appreciates a semi-obscure book or movie as much as yourself, and this is now the second time in only a few months for this book; Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing fondly recalled it back in May when he learned of the upcoming movie "remake" (which stars Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt and has virtually nothing to do with the original, other than being about a family with 12 kids).

(Wow, 20 days since my last post. It's a long story, but between work and some other issues, I haven't had time/motivation to write. Maybe sometime I'll need to write about the big blackout of 2003 that happened earlier this month.)

Tuesday, August 05, 2003
I gotta respect a good line.
I can't believe I'm citing Elvis Mitchell -- it was maddening to read his movie reviews when I was in college* -- but he has a great line in this NYT article about the decline of serious films dealing with sex. I'll give you the entire paragraph:
Is there a fear of dealing with grown-up sexuality in movies? Absolutely. Movies are intentionally sexy without being sexual, because puerile teasing is a kind of salesmanship. The sad corollary is the preponderance of violence in American films. A foreigner judging the United States by its films would think Americans spend more time running from exploding fireballs than having sex.

*Mitchell was the movie reviewer at the Detroit Free Press in the early to mid-1980's. Typically I would read one of his reviews and it would seem fairly positive. And then I'd reach the end and he'd give it, say, three stars out of 10. Total disconnect between the words he wrote and the grade he assigned. (Mitchell later expressed discomfort with having to rate films with a number.) He was the reason that the Free Press changed its scale from 0-10 to 0-5. Now he's at the New York Times, which for some reason needs three movie reviewers (Mitchell, Stephen Holden and A.O. Scott). His reviews don't seem annoying now, perhaps because the NYT does not require those ratings that used to bother him.

New use for a copyright notice.
You know the copyright notice at the bottom of Google's homepage? (No? Go look and come back.)

Do you know why it's there? It's not why you think.
In its early days, the company asked some focus group participants to search for information using its site. But many people, when they went to Google, did nothing for a minute or two.

When asked why, these apparent procrastinators said they were waiting for the rest of the site to load.

So, the company thought that by putting a copyright notice on its page--something usually found only at the bottom of a fully loaded page--perhaps people would get the hint that the spartan page was fully loaded.

"We put it in to say, 'Here's the end, and start searching,'" said Google executive Marissa Mayer at a recent conference on user interfaces. "Our lawyers tell us we don't need it there."

What a refreshing but all too rare problem -- a web site that loads faster than users expect!

Monday, August 04, 2003
Side benefit.
According to, the cheapest car to insure is the Chrysler PT Cruiser (based upon Chicago rates, which apparently are a good proxy for the nation). This is fortuitous, given that I live in the city of Detroit, where car insurance rates are obscene.

It's a little surprising to me that the VW Jetta made it into the top 10, given that it's an import and would typically have higher parts costs. Another surprise was the two Jeep vehicles, since I always understood that off-road vehicles had higher rates.

Saturday, August 02, 2003
Sadaam's bluff?
This afternoon, for no apparent reason, the thought occurred to me that maybe we can't find any evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is because there are none to find -- that Sadaam Hussein actually did destroy them after the first Gulf War. So why didn't his government make that clear? Perhaps because to do so would make him appear weak, while being suspected by the west would show how "dangerous" and powerful he was. And don't forget that while the sanctions were wreaking economic havoc upon his country, he and his family were getting rich. So why rush to appease the rest of the world?

I say this because a few minutes ago I visited Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo and found this:
This article from the Associated Press fleshes out the theory that Saddam had actually shuttered his WMD programs but intentionally kept the world guessing to produce the deterrent effect of having people believe he still had them.

He may even have put out disinformation to get people to believe the programs were still underway. Actually, it's more than a theory. The story is based on the testimony of a close aide who says this is what happened.


Who knows if this true? But I will say that it jibes with a lot of chatter I've heard back from Iraq in the last couple months. And it explains some key questions -- in particular, some supposed evidence of WMD from just before the war which it's been clear for some time was disinformation from the Iraqis. Frankly, it accounts for more potential questions than almost any other theory I've heard.

Frankly, it shows that, if nothing else, Ken Pollack was right about one thing: Saddam could be a pretty big idiot. Remember, one of Pollack's main arguments was that Saddam had a propensity to miscalculate. So I think you can say that Pollack had that one pretty much right -- only perhaps with slightly different consequences than expected.

Apparently Saddam was the only person in the universe last Spring who didn't know the fix was in on regime change.

Interesting. I wonder if we'll ever get a definitive answer about this. And if we do and this theory is right, what will be the reaction? Not much, I would guess. After all, I remember seeing a survey where something like 27% of those who responded believed that Iraq had something to do with 9/11 -- testimony to the success of the Bush Administration's propaganda efforts.