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

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Wednesday, July 28, 2004
A vast journalistic conspiracy unmasked.
It's The Order of the Occult Hand, and the Chicago Tribune has unmasked it (and will probably help kill it, as a result). Their mission, successfully completed dozens of times since 1965: sneak the phrase "It was as if an occult hand had..." into their copy and past their editors.
In the fall of 1965, several Charlotte News reporters had been drinking and marveling at a story written by [Joseph] Flanders, [R.C.] Smith wrote in his letter.

Written on stationery from the North Carolina Manpower Development Corp. and dated January 1976, Smith's letter alleges that he was in the room as the "occult hand" was born in a story Flanders had written.

"Those present read with rising wonderment this sentence, tucked away in a complicated story of evil-doing:

"`It was as if an occult hand had reached down from above and moved the players like pawns upon some giant chessboard.'

"`Now that,' said one of the imbibers, `is what I call prose.'

"The others nodded in silent, awed agreement."

Flanders, the News police reporter, was missing from the scene, Smith wrote, perhaps buying more beer.

But in an accompanying letter signed by Flanders on Drug Enforcement Administration letterhead that was dated February 1976, he admits writing the first-ever "occult hand" story.

"I vouch for R.C.'s letter, for I am the culprit who penned that ill-fated phrase and I was in the employ of the News at the time," Flanders wrote. Attempts to reach Smith and Flanders were unsuccessful.

Smith's letter continued describing the origins of the "occult hand."

"It was determined that Flanders' `score' would not go unrewarded," Smith wrote of the police reporter's "occult hand" story. "One roisterer, who was departing on a hard-won vacation (he had worked three consecutive eight-hour days) was instructed to send a telegram from some distant point to Flanders inviting him to join `The Order of the Occult Hand--OOH,' which was thus created on the spot.

Later, at a celebration that could be described as a surprise party for Flanders, all present vowed to get the words `it was as if an occult hand . . . ' into news stories as soon as possible.

"I regret to report," Smith's letter concluded, in a seminal admission in American journalism, "that virtually all succeeded."
(via Romanesko)

Bush relies on term paper to pander to Cuban-American voters.
Showing the same dedication to "facts" that led us to war in Iraq, George Bush recently accused Cuba of sex tourism, undoubtedly aimed at proving his anti-Castro credentials with Cuban-American voters in Florida. How good are the administration sources? Try a Dartmouth undergrad's term paper found on the Internet and taken out of context. From MSNBC:

Speaking to Florida law enforcement officials on July 16, Bush claimed the Cuban leader shamelessly promotes sex tourism.

“The dictator welcomes sex tourism. Here’s how he bragged about the industry,” said Bush. “This is his quote — ‘Cuba has the cleanest and most educated prostitutes in the world’ and ‘sex tourism is a vital source of hard currency.’”

The president made his accusations amid the release of the State Department yearly report on global human trafficking, which lists Cuba among the top ten violators.

Three days after Bush’s remarks, the Los Angeles Times reported that the White House found the comments in a Dartmouth undergraduate paper posted on the Internet and lifted them out of context. “It shows they didn’t read much of the article,” commented Charlie Trumbull, the author.

Speaking in 1992 to the Cuban parliament, Castro actually said, “There are prostitutes, but prostitution is not allowed in our country. There are no women forced to sell themselves to a man, to a foreigner, to a tourist.”

More details at The Register.
(via BoingBoing)

Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Vote with your dollars.
Guess which company gives more money to the Republican party than any other?

"This Land": the inevitable next chapter.
You've quite likely seen or heard about the parody of Woody Guthrie's song "This Land is Your Land" featuring animated George Bush and John Kerry figures. (If you haven't, check it out -- it's amusing enough that I've passed it along myself, which is pretty rare.)

Now comes the inevitable next chapter in the story: the company that holds the copyright to Guthre's song is threatening to sue for infringement:
"This puts a completely different spin on the song," said Kathryn Ostien, director of copyright licensing for the publisher. "The damage to the song is huge."
Yes, the 64-year-old song is still under copyright. Copyright is virtually perpetual here in the US, lasting for 95 years after the creator's death. Thank you, Congress.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation observes, "If this isn't fair use, it's hard to imagine what is."


Friday, July 23, 2004
Fire the head of the U.S. Copyright Office. Now.
There's a horrendous piece of legislation called the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act (IICA, or INDUCE Act, S.2560) under consideration in the Senate (thank you, Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy). Marybeth Peters, the Register of Copyrights at the U.S. Copyright Office, is even more in favor of it than the predictable Hollywood interests. In fact, she recommends that Congress may need to override the Supreme Court's Betamax decision that legalized VCRs:
While you have carefully crafted this bill to preserve the 20-year-old decision in the Sony case, it may become necessary to consider whether that decision is overly protective of manufacturers and marketers of infringement tools, especially in today’s digital environment. If the Sony precedent continues to be an impediment to obtaining effective relief against those who profit by providing the means to engage in mass infringement, it should be replaced by a more flexible rule that is more meaningful in the technological age, but that still vindicates the Court’s goal to balance effective “and not merely symbolic” protection of copyright with the rights of others to engage in substantially unrelated areas of commerce.
Read Ernest Miller's analysis of her statement, which also contains many useful explanatory links. Also, here's a Wired News article about the bill and others who testified, and an earlier article about how the bill may kill innovation.

When someone in government stops serving the public at large in favor of special interests, it's time to remove him/her. That time has come for Marybeth Peters.