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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Thursday, March 31, 2005
Rorschach test.
The Terri Schiavo case helps provide us with a political Rorschach test for you. How do you react to this statement by a well-known journalist:
"If we really believed in an unmitigated, uncurbed in any way culture of life, we would be having universal health care."

If that statement makes sense to you, as it does me, you must be liberal.

If you see it as a journalist pushing a personal agenda, you must be a conservative.

It was Nina Totenberg who said it, on a Washington, D.C., public affairs program, as noted by the right-wing Media Research Center.

And Mickey Kaus, where I first saw this, argues that:
it seems to me that Totenberg has pointed in exactly the direction the Democrats should have been heading on the Schiavo issue. Has their political and moral sense been so twisted by the hard dogma of "abortion rights" (and disdain for fundamentalist Christians) that they don't see this?

Good question.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Look out, Tom.
Monday the Wall Street Journal editorial page -- "champion of conservatives and scourge of liberals," as Howard Kurtz neatly expressed it -- went after Tom DeLay. Interesting that his fellow conservatives are finally tiring of his tactics:
By now you have surely read about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's ethics troubles. Probably, too, you aren't entirely clear as to what those troubles are--something to do with questionable junkets, Indian casino money, funny business on the House Ethics Committee, stuff down in Texas. In Beltway-speak, what this means is that Mr. DeLay has an "odor": nothing too incriminating, nothing actually criminal, just an unsavory whiff that could have GOP loyalists reaching for the political Glade if it gets any worse.

The Beltway wisdom is right. Mr. DeLay does have odor issues. Increasingly, he smells just like the Beltway itself...

Taken separately, and on present evidence, none of the latest charges directly touch Mr. DeLay; at worst, they paint a picture of a man who makes enemies by playing political hardball and loses admirers by resorting to politics-as-usual.

The problem, rather, is that Mr. DeLay, who rode to power in 1994 on a wave of revulsion at the everyday ways of big government, has become the living exemplar of some of its worst habits...

Rather than buck this system as he promised to do while in the minority, Mr. DeLay has become its undisputed and unapologetic master as Majority Leader.

Whether Mr. DeLay violated the small print of House Ethics or campaign-finance rules is thus largely beside the point. His real fault lies in betraying the broader set of principles that brought him into office, and which, if he continues as before, sooner or later will sweep him out.

DeLay is using the time-honored tactic of blaming a conspiracy that's out to stop him and the politics he represents, as noted by a Christian Science Monitor columnist:
After facing several rebukes from the House ethics committee for a variety of offenses - everything from having an interest group pay for his travel to having federal aviation authorities help track down Democratic lawmakers in Texas - Mr. DeLay recently told a Christian conservative group that he had met the enemy and it was "a huge nationwide concerted effort to destroy everything we believe in." This "syndicate," DeLay said, was attacking the conservative movement by launching vicious personal attacks against its leaders.

Ah, we know we're through the looking glass when DeLay turns to the words of Hillary Clinton for inspiration. It was Mrs. Clinton, remember, who was greeted with chortles when she decried the "vast right-wing conspiracy" out to destroy her and then-President Bill Clinton.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Hypocrisy in action.
The GOP is pushing "tort reform" -- more descriptively, "limiting businesses' liability" -- claiming that lawsuits drive up costs and hurt the economy, prevent job growth, blah blah blah. So, given that argument, they'd never sue anyone, would they?

I'll pause while you stop laughing.

Here's a short list of some prominent Republicans (or their spouses) who have sued someone using tactics they now cite as a serious problem:
  • George W. Bush

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger

  • Mrs. Rick Santorum

  • Tom DeLay

More details here. And if that's not enough, there's a long article here with many more candidates.

This is not to say that our legal system doesn't need any reform; it does. But I think it's appropriate to ask these people why they want to limit your right to sue. (via Talking Points Memo and Washington Monthly)

"It's absolutely classic America."
Not much comment required about this:
The parents of Terri Schiavo have authorized a conservative direct-mailing firm to sell a list of their financial supporters, making it likely that thousands of strangers moved by her plight will receive a steady stream of solicitations from anti-abortion and conservative groups.

"These compassionate pro-lifers donated toward Bob Schindler's legal battle to keep Terri's estranged husband from removing the feeding tube from Terri," says a description of the list on the Web site of the firm, Response Unlimited, which is asking $150 a month for 6,000 names and $500 a month for 4,000 e-mail addresses of people who responded last month to an e-mail plea from Ms. Schiavo's father. "These individuals are passionate about the way they value human life, adamantly oppose euthanasia and are pro-life in every sense of the word!"

Privacy experts said the sale of the list was legal and even predictable, if ghoulish.

"I think it's amusing," said Robert Gellman, a privacy and information policy consultant. "I think it's absolutely classic America. Everything is for sale in America, every type of personal information."

Friday, March 25, 2005
Dealing with the prima donna.
That's how this WSJ article describes what the Louvre has to do with the Mona Lisa:
The painting's cult-like popularity presents singular problems for other Louvre staff. Museum guides moan of tourists' monomania for the painting. Guards complain of the constant noise, flashbulbs and pickpockets in her room. The seasoned expert who X-rayed her in November was so nervous he started fretting irrationally that a light bulb might fall from the ceiling and damage the work. The image requires special security after a theft and two attacks.

Now she is having her room renovated, to handle an average of more than 1,500 visitors an hour. She'll be off display on April 4 while curators install her in the upgraded digs. In the meantime, she has taken over another hall full of paintings.

In short, Mona Lisa has become like so many pop icons: a prima donna who puts outrageous demands on her handlers.

"It's a nuisance," says Ms. Scailliérez, the curator. "She sets her own laws" for how to organize the museum.

(via Kottke)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Whatever happened to...
"My Sharona"? She's selling real estate in Los Angeles. Seriously. (via Metafilter)

Sunday, March 20, 2005
The House of the Rising Sun: Found?
It's too early to say, hence the question mark, but it's possible that the inspiration behind one of history's most famous songs may have been found, as the Los Angeles Times reports:
This winter, a nonprofit organization called the Historic New Orleans Collection decided to expand. The organization, which runs a museum and research center, owned seven buildings in the heart of the French Quarter but needed another to serve as a vault. The group bought a one-level, ramshackle parking garage on Conti Street — pronounced KAHNT-eye — and announced plans to tear it down.

The purchase was serendipitous. If just about anyone else had bought the lot, no study would have been conducted. But the organization — dedicated, after all, to Louisiana history — wanted to know the story behind its property. It asked a scholar at the University of Chicago and a New Orleans archeology firm called Earth Search to perform an excavation and document search.

"It was total luck," said Ryan Gray, an Earth Search archeologist involved in the excavation. "Normally somebody would just dig right through the ramparts of the first layout of New Orleans. There are no provisions to guard against that."

The archeologists, who plan to launch a more exhaustive study on Tuesday, found that a hotel called the Rising Sun appeared to have operated on the site from the early 1800s until 1822, when it burned to the ground.

In an 1821 advertisement from the newspaper La Gazette, a company called L.S. Hotchkiss explained that it had taken over the hotel but offered reassurance to customers: "No pain or expence [sic] will be spared by the new proprietors to give general satisfaction, and maintain the character of giving the best entertainment."

The next sentence: "Gentlemen may here rely upon finding attentive Servants." Similar language, Gray said, was used in old bordello advertisements to make it clear — without explicitly saying so — that extracurricular services were available.

Related links:

Saturday, March 19, 2005
The sad saga of Terri Schiavo.
One of the most illuminative things I have read about the case of Terri Schiavo -- the brain-damaged woman whose life or death has been hotly debated for years -- is this page at the blog of Florida lawyer Matt Conigliaro:
As a Florida law blogger, I have created this page to help people understand the legal circumstances surrounding the Terri Schiavo saga. In my view, there continues to be a need for an objective look at the matter. There is an unbelievable amount of misinformation being circulated.

To be clear at the outset, I have no interest in taking any "side" in this dispute. Remarkably, I've been accused of being biased in favor of each side at one point or another. I'm not. I have never met, spoken with, or even seen anyone in the Schiavo or Schindler families...

Finally, and without unnecessary elaboration, I’ll point out that I sympathize with everyone involved. The circumstances here are tragic.

If you don't care to read the chronology that occupies the middle of the page, don't stop reading it. Just scroll down to the Q&A section, which is quite good. (via Metafilter)

I would typically point to the relevant article at Wikipedia, the Web-based free encyclopedia that is written and edited by users. Wikipedia strives for a neutral point of view on topics, but that can be difficult on controversial topics such as this one. I think the current article is biased towards the view held by the woman's family and against her husband. But Wikipedia allows you to see the debate about the contents on the Talk page for the subject, so judge for yourself.

Thursday, March 17, 2005
Phrase origins.
I'm not much for sports, but this Slate article explaining the origins and litigious history of "March Madness" and other timely phrases is interesting.

("March Madness" was the answer to a Final Jeopardy question about sports phrases that aired recently. No one got it.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005
When "balance" is ludicrous.
Journalists and news organizations usually attempt to provide "balance" by presenting two sides of arguments. Some people argue that this practice can be taken too far when well-established facts are "balanced" by off-the-wall or self-serving opponents. For these people, columnist Richard Cohen provides Exhibit A:
You will not be seeing Deborah Lipstadt on C-SPAN. The Holocaust scholar at Emory University has a new book out ('History on Trial'), and an upcoming lecture of hers at Harvard was scheduled to be televised on the public affairs cable outlet. The book is about a libel case brought against her in Britain by David Irving, a Holocaust denier, trivializer and prevaricator who is, by solemn ruling of the very court that heard his lawsuit, 'anti-Semitic and racist.' No matter. C-SPAN wanted Irving to 'balance' Lipstadt.

For more background, check out the PBS program Nova's "Holocaust on Trial" episode. (via Romanesko)

Monday, March 14, 2005
So much for enlightenment.
I would never have imagined that in the 21st century -- 80 years after the Scopes trial -- we'd still be arguing about evolution. But the political tactic of reframing the issue (e.g., killing Social Security by "saving" it) is alive and well:
Propelled by a polished strategy crafted by activists on America's political right, a battle is intensifying across the nation over how students are taught about the origins of life. Policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that question the science of evolution.

The proposals typically stop short of overturning evolution or introducing biblical accounts. Instead, they are calculated pleas to teach what advocates consider gaps in long-accepted Darwinian theory, with many relying on the idea of intelligent design, which posits the central role of a creator.

... anti-evolutionary scientists and Christian activists ... are acting now because they feel emboldened by the country's conservative currents and by President Bush, who angered many scientists and teachers by declaring that the jury is still out on evolution. Sharing strong convictions, deep pockets and impressive political credentials -- if not always the same goals -- the activists are building a sizable network.

Saturday, March 12, 2005
One more time.
I mentioned last month that I didn't want the identity of Deep Throat to consume my site. And yet, guess what -- here's one more.

I received an e-mail from a reader inviting me to read an article he had written on the subject. The article makes a plausible case that it's Ben Stein (yes, that Ben Stein). It was an interesting read, so I thought I'd share it.

Friday, March 11, 2005
ChoicePoint has more problems than you know -- and it can affect you.
You've probably heard about the database company ChoicePoint, which gathers and keeps records on millions of people. They recently had records of 145,000 (or more) people accessed by criminals.

As unpleasant as that is -- and the grief of having your identity stolen is awful, and requires a lot of work -- there's another problem that could be more widespread: ChoicePoint's files are riddled with errors. Privacy advocate Deborah Pierce received a copy of her full, secret file from someone unknown:
What first caught Pierce's eye, she said, was a heading titled "possible Texas criminal history." A short paragraph suggested additional, "manual" research, because three Texas court records had been found that might be connected to her. "A manual search on PIERCE D.S." is recommended, it said.

Pierce says she's only visited Texas twice briefly, and never had any trouble with the law there.

"But if I was applying for a job, and there were other candidates, and this was on my record, the company would obviously go for another person," she said. "It raises a question in your mind.

And even if you do get to check your report and find incorrect information, there's no mechanism to correct it, as nurse Elizabeth Rosen found out:
"I asked the guy at ChoicePoint how I can get these errors fixed," she said. "And he said they can't."

Rosen was told she had to talk with each furnisher of the information individually -- to the private firm where she rented the P.O. box, for example -- and convince each one to update their information and then send it back to ChoicePoint. Rosen figures there might be 100 different sources of information in her report, so fixing the errors would be just about impossible.

"I told them, 'I don't want to be spending 40 hours a week correcting your errors,’" she said.

We need stronger privacy laws -- and maybe the recent epidemic of problems will help bring them about.

A good prank.
Most pranks are pretty childish, but this one noted by the NY Post is one to be admired:
The prank worked better than its evil mastermind could have hoped for Sunday night at the Hard Rock Café in Phoenix. Express Scripts — one of the participants in a National Council of Prescription Drug programs confab at the nearby Hyatt Regency — was throwing a dance party. Express Scripts is being sued for $100 million in damages by [NY State Attorney General] Eliot Spitzer, who claims the firm inflated the cost of generic drugs, pocketed rebates intended for customers and sold patient information. Between songs, someone handed the lead singer of the Starlight Band a note. "I have an announcement. It's someone's birthday today, Eliot Spitzer," the clueless frontman said. "Where is Eliot?" The place went silent. Express Scripts executives started rushing to the stage and someone yelled, "He's in goddamn New York." But too late — the band had launched into a version of "Happy birthday, dear Eliot." One witness said, "It was the funniest thing I ever saw."

Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Finally, the answer.
Buried at the end of this short AP story about several celebrities attending a memorial service for Hunter S. Thompson is this gem:
At the memorial, neighbor and actor Don Johnson remembered once asking Thompson: What is the sound of one hand clapping? Thompson responded by slapping Johnson across the face.

Monday, March 07, 2005
A senator who makes me (and a lot of other people) nervous.
That would be Connecticut's Joesph Lieberman, as this NYT story explains. But he's not the only one.

Rhymes with 'witch.'
The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz says today that Susan Estrich wants more opinion columns by women in the Los Angeles Times. Such as her column. So she has been badgering -- I would say harrassing -- editor Michael Kinsley to make that happen:
the battle between the two longtime acquaintances has escalated to bitter warfare, with Estrich bombarding Kinsley with e-mails assailing him for "arrogance," "audacity," being a "jerk" and warning him before a charity event: "You want me to work that dinner about what an [expletive] you are?" Kinsley, in turn, accused Estrich of "blackmail."

Estrich claims she never wanted the correspondence to become public. Which is interesting, since she CC'd Matt Drudge on at least one letter.

The punchline to all this is that Kinsley actually agrees with her general point:
Kinsley says in an interview that "she is the one firing rockets" and he has sent few e-mails. "There should be more women" on op-ed pages, he says, and he is adding more, including Time's Margaret Carlson. But, he says, "this counting is a little silly. We've already gotten into Talmudic discussions about whether a co-byline counts as one or two. . . . If you're looking for women, blacks, Latinos, people from Southern California, it's a familiar argument that this discriminates against white males. The unfamiliar argument is that every time you add a category, it hurts the other categories, even the ones you're trying to help."

(via Romanesko)

Sunday, March 06, 2005
Defense spending is "out of control."
Slate's Fred Kaplan writes:"Two tidbits this week reveal, more eye-poppingly than ever, that the Pentagon's budget is spiraling out of control." He goes on to explain why that's so and questions whether we're spending money on the right things.