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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Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Too funny.
I can't resist pointing you to the story that Winston Churchill's parrot Charlie is alive and well and still repeating her owner's obscenities about Adolf Hitler.

Update: Alas, this story may be too good to be true. Churchill historians are not sure if he owned a parrot.

Friday, January 16, 2004
More skepticism about Bush's space plan.'s John Pike finds one hidden motivation:
Pike said he was skeptical of the administration's motives in articulating the moon-Mars plan. He noted that a new moon landing would not take place until at least 11 years after the end of a possible second Bush term.

He went so far as to indicate that the plan is a Trojan Horse for killing the shuttle and station -- and that the moon-Mars initiative will never materialize beyond "paying contractors for artwork."

The president's mandate of going to the Mars and moon is certain to put pressure on other NASA projects, such as robotic missions to the planets, asteroid belt and comets -- as well as aeronautics research and securing a replacement for the aging Hubble space telescope, Pike and other observers said.

"They've looked at the manned space program and come to the conclusion that they don't understand why we have a manned space program," Pike said. "So they're going to wind it down, and Bush gets credit for launching a bold new adventure."

And who will benefit if Bush's plan is actually funded? The usual suspects.

You'd never know it from my recent posts, but I really am all for exploring space. It's just that I think that Bush's proposals are poorly thought out and disingenous at a time when he's busy running up the national debt to frightening levels.

Thursday, January 15, 2004
Naivete, low-balling or outright lies.

Don't believe the Bush Adminstration's cost estimates for the Moon/Mars boondoggle. Oh, that's right, that haven't released any! But they have estimated the cost of the vehicle (i.e., not the Moon base), and they are preposterously low (and fast -- four years?!?)

Because a picture can be far more effective, I put together this chart to illustrate the numbers cited by Gregg Easterbrook. I encourage you to read his explanation.

So far all money numbers announced for the Bush plan seem complete nonsense, if not outright dishonesty. We shouldn't expect George W. Bush himself to know that $12 billion is not enough to develop a spaceship. We should expect the people around Bush, and at the top of NASA, to know this. And apparently they are either astonishingly ill-informed and naïve, or are handing out phony numbers for political purposes, to get the foot in the door for far larger sums later.

Saturday, January 10, 2004
Why bother with the Moon? And why rush to Mars?
While I'm all for space exploration, the grandiose ideas reportedly being bandied about by the Bush Administration are absurd. Gregg Easterbrook explains why:
I'm sitting here trying to figure out what possible reason--other than science illiteracy at the White House--there could be for George W. Bush to announce a plan to build a Moon base. Manned exploration of Mars is even crazier.


What would astronauts at a Moon base do? I haven't the foggiest notion. Note that NASA has not so much as sent a robot probe to the Moon in 30 years, because as far as space-exploration advocates can tell, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, of value to do on the Moon. Geologists are interested in the Moon's formation. If there is ever a fusion reactor to meet the world's energy needs, the "helium three" on the Moon might prove useful, but fusion reactors are decades away from practicality, assuming they ever work. Spending $200 billion on a Moon base that does nothing would be pure, undiluted government waste.

And a Moon base would not only not be useful to support a Mars mission--it would be an obstacle to a Mars mission. Any weight bound for Mars can far more efficiently depart directly from low-Earth orbit than a first stop at the Moon; a stop at the Moon would require huge expenditures of fuel to land and take off again. The landing, in turn, would accomplish absolutely nothing--any mission components on the Moon would have been sent there from Earth, which means they could have departed directly for Mars from low-Earth orbit at a far lower cost.

In the days to come, any administration official who says that a Moon base could support a Mars mission is revealing himself or herself to be a total science illiterate. When you hear, "A Moon base could support a Mars mission," substitute the words, "I have absolutely no idea what I am talking about."


What NASA needs right now is not an absurd, bank-breaking grand mission: It needs to spend a decade researching a safer lower-cost alternative to the space shuttle.

And why might George W. Bush endorse a Moon base or Mars mission? Either he's a science illiterate surrounded by advisors who are science illiterates, or it's a blank check for aerospace contractors.

Friday, January 09, 2004
Great moments in journalism, continued.
About three years ago, I repeated a story to friends that I heard on WWJ News Radio (a CBS News affiliate here in Detroit). It claimed that men receive the benefits of aerobic exercise when they ogle women. It seemed preposterous, of course, but here was a real journalistic concern reporting it, complete with the name of the doctor making the claim. It was a big hit at the bar after class that night, but I felt like nobody really believed me, so I decided to track the story down.

After a little digging, the only source I could find for this turned out to be the Weekly World News. You can imagine how thrilled I was to explain this to said friends. I always tell people that I don't make things up because I don't have to, so this was flat-out embarrassing.

As I drove in to work this morning, the same station breathlessly reported that they had learned Homeland Security was concerned about someone -- possibly terrorists -- buying $32,000 worth of UPS uniforms on eBay within the past 30 days.

So now they're getting their news from forwarded e-mails, apparently. Because I don't know about you, but I first heard this via forwarded e-mail last spring. Need I add that it isn't true?

I called them and pointed this out. To my credit, I wasn't sarcastic about it.

Monday, January 05, 2004
Medical slang.
Many professions have their own slang, and there's no reason the medical profession should be any different. Here, then, is purportedly a collection of medical slang and acronyms from the US and UK. It's probably NSFW (not safe for work), but it is amusing. (via Metafilter)

Sunday, January 04, 2004
Be careful where you exercise your freedom of speech.
Going to an event where George Bush will be, or along the motorcade route? You're perfectly welcome to come -- as long as your sign supports the President. If it doesn't, you have to go stand in the designated protest zone where you will never be seen. And this isn't some "liberal rag" reporting this; it's from the American Conservative magazine (founded by Pat Buchanan), and was adapted and reprinted by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Here's an excerpt (emphasis added):
When Bush travels around the United States, the Secret Service visits the location ahead of time and orders local police to set up “free speech zones” or “protest zones” where people opposed to Bush policies (and sometimes sign-carrying supporters) are quarantined. These zones routinely succeed in keeping protesters out of presidential sight and outside the view of media covering the event.

When Bush came to the Pittsburgh area on Labor Day 2002, 65-year-old retired steel worker Bill Neel was there to greet him with a sign proclaiming, “The Bush family must surely love the poor, they made so many of us.” The local police, at the Secret Service’s behest, set up a “designated free-speech zone” on a baseball field surrounded by a chain-link fence a third of a mile from the location of Bush’s speech. The police cleared the path of the motorcade of all critical signs, though folks with pro-Bush signs were permitted to line the president’s path. Neel refused to go to the designated area and was arrested for disorderly conduct; the police also confiscated his sign. Neel later commented, “As far as I’m concerned, the whole country is a free speech zone. If the Bush administration has its way, anyone who criticizes them will be out of sight and out of mind.”

At Neel’s trial, police detective John Ianachione testified that the Secret Service told local police to confine “people that were there making a statement pretty much against the president and his views” in a so-called free speech area. Paul Wolf, one of the top officials in the Allegheny County Police Department, told Salon that the Secret Service “come in and do a site survey, and say, ‘Here’s a place where the people can be, and we’d like to have any protesters put in a place that is able to be secured.’” Pennsylvania district judge Shirley Rowe Trkula threw out the disorderly conduct charge against Neel, declaring, “I believe this is America. Whatever happened to ‘I don’t agree with you, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it’?”

It goes to explain the ways the Administration is trying to get around the pesky free speech thing so they can do what they want. Read it all. (via Drudge)