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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Monday, January 31, 2005
Getting revenge on "that man."
Slate's Daniel Gross wonders if the GOP's crusade to change Social Security is more about settling the score with the man who occupied the White House 70 years ago:
Dead going on 60 years, FDR still makes self-styled champions of American-style capitalism fulminate, much the same way their counterparts in the 1930s raged against "That Man." Why? The New Deal era reminds national greatness Republicans like Wehner of their party's futility in a time of true national greatness. I also suspect that many Republicans are simply unable to forgive Roosevelt for what may have been his greatest and longest-lasting achievement: saving American capitalism through regulation. And since they can't tear down the Triborough Bridge or the Hoover Dam, these guys act out by going after Social Security.

And of course, you can keep up with how the GOP wants to do this by reading my new blog, The War on Social Security.

Friday, January 28, 2005
Metacritic's Top Tens.
For your movie theatre (or rental store) needs, Metacritic is tracking Metacritic: 2004 Film Critic Top Ten Lists. It's just too bad that you can't sort the summary histogram in decending order. (via

101 Dumbest Moments in Business.
After discovering it in 2003, somehow I missed last year's version of Business 2.0's "101 Dumbest Moments in Business." At any rate, here's the latest (2005) version, looking back at 2004. (via BoingBoing)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Unintended Consequences
Security Focus columnist Scott Granneman writes about the law of unintended consequences and how innocent onnovations can be turned against us.

Sunday, January 23, 2005
Farewell, Johnny, and thanks.
Johnny Carson -- still the best nighttime talk show host ever -- has died at age 79.

Update: There are some interesting stories to be found in the TVBarn2 discussion thread and at Mark Evanier's site. Also, Roger Ebert has a nice essay. And Esquire has reposted Bill Zehme's 2002 profile, which is well worth reading. Plus Andy Inhatko chimes in, and the New Yorker posts a 1978 profile.

Bye-bye, Hubble?
Once again, NASA appears to be ready to let the Hubble Space Telescope die. The big question is: after all these years, why does NASA suddenly insist that a manned mission to the Hubbleis too dangerous?

Saturday, January 22, 2005
The replacement for MP3?
Slate's Paul Boutin on the audio compression scheme that makes streaming audio cheaper than ever -- and what that will mean:
If you've tried to listen to online stations, you know they sound grainy if they're streamed at any less than 128 kilobits per second—maybe 96 kbps if you're not fussy. That makes a broadband connection a must. But aacPlus sounds nearly as good as a CD, even when it's compressed enough to play through a dialup line.

It turns out that one of my two favorite net radio stations, Mostly Classical, is already using aacPlus. After reading this article, I decided to try their 24kbps stream, and I must admit that I'm impressed.

As Boutin says, you can try aacPlus yourself by getting the current version of Winamp (Windows only; read the article for other options) and trying the (mostly techno) stations at Tuner2.

Friday, January 21, 2005
Acknowledging the truth.
I've previously noted how Sony, the previously innovative company that created the Walkman, has been a non-player in the MP3 market because of paranoia from its movie and music divisions. Now the man who will probably end up running the company has publicly acknowledged it:
Sony missed out on potential sales from MP3 players and other gadgets because it was overly proprietary about music and entertainment content, the head of Sony Corp.'s video-game unit acknowledged Thursday.

Ken Kutaragi, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., said he and other Sony employees have been frustrated for years with management's reluctance to introduce products like Apple Computer Inc. iPod, mainly because the Tokyo company had music and movie units that were worried about content rights.

Thursday, January 20, 2005
I can see clearly now...
I previously noted the Federal government's approval of the new Clearview typeface for highway road signs. Now the NYT has the story.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Time to go to the mattresses.
I've decided to start a new blog dedicated to one of the most important political issues facing us this year. I call it The War on Social Security, for that's what it is: a deceptive attack by conservative idealogues to effectively destroy one of the best social programs ever created. They hate the idea of government being involved, and want individuals to assume responsibility. The buzz phrase is "the ownership society." What this phrase really means is "you're on your own."

It's one thing for them to have this opinion; while I don't agree, I don't question its validity. What inflames me is that they are cloaking their plans in the guise of "saving" Social Security. They've tried for 70 years now to convince Americans that Social Security is bad. Unsurprisingly, the public has never agreed. So now they're perpetuating a sneak attack that begins by peddling the myth that the program faces an imminent crisis.

I say it's time to go to the mattresses on this one. We need to tell all our Senators and Representatives, both Republicans and Democrats (for there are a few who appear willing to cave in on the issue) to reject the Bush Administration's plans for Social Security. Bush means business, and he wants action this year. We need to stop him, and pressuring Congress is the only way it can happen.

I can foresee that the issue of Social Security will be dominating my attention in the months ahead -- along with some personal issues, anyway -- and rather than have it swamp this page, I decided to give it a separate one. So please read The War on Social Security, not because I have any unique insights, but because I'll be trying to link to those who do ... and to the accurate facts, which are going to be in short supply from this administration.

Friday, January 14, 2005
"The fabricated crisis is the hallmark of the Bush presidency."
More on the previously noted tendency of George Bush to label things as a "crisis" in order to get his way:
Some presidents make the history books by managing crises. Lincoln had Fort Sumter, Roosevelt had the Depression and Pearl Harbor, and Kennedy had the missiles in Cuba. George W. Bush, of course, had Sept. 11, and for a while thereafter -- through the overthrow of the Taliban -- he earned his page in history, too.

But when historians look back at the Bush presidency, they're more likely to note that what sets Bush apart is not the crises he managed but the crises he fabricated. The fabricated crisis is the hallmark of the Bush presidency. To attain goals that he had set for himself before he took office -- the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the privatization of Social Security -- he concocted crises where there were none.

And from a different article in today's Washington Post is the clearest possible explanation of what's to come:
President Bush plans to reactivate his reelection campaign's network of donors and activists to build pressure on lawmakers to allow workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in the stock market, according to Republican strategists.

White House allies are launching a market-research project to figure out how to sell the plan in the most comprehensible and appealing way, and Republican marketing and public-relations gurus are building teams of consultants to promote it, the strategists said.

The campaign will use Bush's campaign-honed techniques of mass repetition, never deviating from the script and using the politics of fear to build support -- contending that a Social Security financial crisis is imminent when even Republican figures show it is decades away.

Thursday, January 13, 2005
The good news and bad news about spam.
First, the good: Symantec reports that the amount of spam didn't increase last month.

Now, the bad: Spammers are using tactics that are destabilizing the domain name servers (DNS), which is crucial to the Internet's operation.

Times change.
The Liverpool orphanage that inspired the song "Strawberry Fields Forever" is closing. As a child, John Lennon visited it often to play with the residents.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005
I have to admit that I find Apple's new Mac mini intriguing -- a Mac that's cheap enough ($499) and compact enough (6.5" x 6.5" x 2.0") to be worth trying. If other elements of my life were a little different, anyway.

I think the worst thing about the Mini is that you can't upgrade the RAM yourself. Not without voiding the warranty, at least. The standard 256 Mb is not enough, and the 1 Gb option is too pricey. 512 Mb seems like the sweet spot.

It also appears that loading the Mini up with options seriously diminishes its value appeal. It's possible to drop $1000 on one if you load up on everything from Apple, and that's nuts. But bravo to Apple for recognizing that we can provide our own keyboard, mouse and monitor.

Doesn't this make you feel safe?
From SecurityFocus:
A sophisticated computer hacker had access to servers at wireless giant T-Mobile for at least a year, which he used to monitor U.S. Secret Service e-mail, obtain customers' passwords and Social Security numbers, and download candid photos taken by Sidekick users, including Hollywood celebrities, SecurityFocus has learned.

Twenty-one year-old Nicolas Jacobsen was quietly charged with the intrusions last October, after a Secret Service informant helped investigators link him to sensitive agency documents that were circulating in underground IRC chat rooms. The informant also produced evidence that Jacobsen was behind an offer to provide T-Mobile customers' personal information to identity thieves through an Internet bulletin board, according to court records.

Not that I have T-Mobile, but it's the big picture that I'm getting at. (via Gizmodo)

Monday, January 10, 2005
The fiscal realities George Bush doesn't want you to know.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that, over the next 75 years, Bush's tax cuts (assuming they're made permanent) and Medicare drug benefit will cost five times more than the Social Security shortfall that he's trying to scare us with:
The President has suggested or implied that Social Security presents a greater budgetary problem than Medicare or his tax cuts, and that the Medicare prescription drug bill will help to reduce the overall cost of Medicare by averting unnecessary hospitalizations. Analysis conducted by the Social Security and Medicare Trustees and actuaries, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Government Accountability Office, among others, show that such views are mistaken.

The reality is that the Social Security shortfall, while sizeable, is not gargantuan, and it is not necessary to alter Social Security’s basic structure to close the shortfall. Both rising health care costs, which drive much of the projected growth in Medicare costs, and the long-term cost of the President’s tax cuts pose much larger budgetary problems.

(via Talking Points Memo)

Sunday, January 09, 2005
A surfeit of crises.
Yesterday's Washington Post points out how Bush calls an issue a "crisis" to try and get what he wants:
Warning of the need for urgent action on his Social Security plan, Bush says the "crisis is now" for a system even the most pessimistic observers say will take in more in taxes than it pays out in benefits well into the next decade.

He calls the proliferation of medical liability lawsuits a "crisis in America" that can be fixed only by limiting a patient's right to sue for large damages. And Bush has repeatedly accused Senate Democrats of creating a "vacancy crisis" on the federal bench by refusing to confirm a small percentage of his judicial nominees.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005
How they'll gut Social Security.
Today we get some insight into the Bush Administration's plan to destroy Social Security, courtesy of the Washington Post:
The Bush administration has signaled that it will propose changing the formula that sets initial Social Security benefit levels, cutting promised benefits by nearly a third in the coming decades, according to several Republicans close to the White House.

Under the proposal, the first-year benefits for retirees would be calculated using inflation rates rather than the rise in wages over a worker's lifetime. Because wages tend to rise considerably faster than inflation, the new formula would stunt the growth of benefits, slowly at first but more quickly by the middle of the century. The White House hopes that some, if not all, of those benefit cuts would be made up by gains in newly created personal investment accounts that would harness returns on stocks and bonds.

Josh Marshall has the real story:
After 1980 we started borrowing money big-time to finance our deficits -- in large part because of tax cuts on high-income earners. However you want to slice it, we started spending substantially more than we were taking in in tax revenue.

So where'd we borrow the money?

This is from memory, so I may have the numbers a bit off. But I believe about $4 trillion of that debt was borrowed on the open market -- individual Americans have them in their investment portfolios, or pension funds hold them, or the Chinese, Japanese and the Saudis and others have them in bonds.

But about $3 trillion of those dollars we needed to fund the 1980s and 1990s deficits we managed to borrow closer to home. We borrowed it from the Social Security (and a few other government) trust fund(s).

Almost the entirety of President Bush's Social Security phase-out plan comes down to a simple proposition: finding out how not to pay it back.

Now, admittedly, this is an approach that the president is rather familiar with from his own business career at various failed energy companies. But it is, in so many words, a straight up con -- one of vast scale, and one which virtually no one in the media ever frames in just these terms.

The question on everyone's mind.
WP has an interesting article on the origins and various meanings of "who's your daddy?"

Monday, January 03, 2005
While I generally loathe celebrity "news," it's nice to hear that Sandra Bullock made a very generous donation to help those suffering from the recent tsunami. This is the second time she's done this. And it's one more reason to like her.