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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Saturday, April 30, 2005
Keep DeLay around?
As much I loathe Tom DeLay, Jonathan Alter has presented the most compelling argument yet for why he shouldn't be ousted:
all three branches of the federal government belong to Republicans, and the autocratic House majority leader is the purest representation of the breed. On every issue—ethics, the environment, guns, tax cuts, judges—he is a clarifying figure for anyone who might be confused about the true nature of today's GOP...

Some Democrats aren't buying. Sure, it would be nice to have "the Hammer" around as a bogeyman for direct-mail solicitations, they say, but he should step down. They claim that his death by a thousand cuts is, as Democratic Rep. Harold Ford puts it, "a big distraction from all that we are trying to do."

Actually, that's an argument for keeping DeLay around. We should want the 109th Congress "distracted" and kept from returning to normal business for as long as possible. Anything the Democrats are "trying to do" won't get done anyway. And what the Radical Republicans are trying to do is usually bad—from cutting taxes further amid monster deficits to immunizing polluters in the energy bill (which won't do a thing, as even proponents admit, to cut gas prices), to subjecting Social Security to the whims of the stock market. It was once conservatives who thought Congress should legislate less. Now this should be the Democratic mantra: Don't do anything. Just stand there!

Thursday, April 28, 2005
An informal survey.
Is it just because I'm a writer that I find this Onion story so amusing? (via Kottke)

Thursday, April 21, 2005
Santorum whores himself for AccuWeather.
The conservative's darling senator from Pennsylvania has introduced legislation (S.786) designed to prohibit federal weather forecasters from competing with private services.

Bye-bye, -- how dare you give away something that private industry wants to charge us for? Instead, you should give your data -- which we've paid for with our tax dollars -- to these private companies.

And why would Sen. Santorum do this? Could it have anything to do with AccuWeather being located in Pennsylvania? I'm sure that's a total concidence ... like the fact that AccuWeather's founder and other family members have donated more than $10,000 to Santorum or the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Go, Robert Casey, go!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005
The power of Wikipedia.
The announcement of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI is only a few hours old, but the Wikipedia entry is already up to date. (The formatting seems a bit garbled, though; some sections are shown repeatedly.)

Saturday, April 16, 2005
Classical radio finally returns to Detroit ... part-time.
According to today's Detroit Free Press, the Detroit Public Schools will have Detroit Public TV program its radio station, WRCJ-FM (90.9) starting July 1st. It will play classical music from 5 am to 7 pm weekdays, "mainstream jazz" from 7 pm to 5 am weekdays, with local programs of gospel and other things on weekends.

It's not perfect, but it's a big improvement over nothing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Foiling spies at the Vatican
This wire story about the security efforts underway for the papal conclave is amazing.

Friday, April 08, 2005
Google tourism.
You've probably heard that Google's Maps feature now includes the ability to display satellite photos. The first place you'll probably look up is your house. Then you'll start thinking of famous landmarks to look at. I can save you the trouble of finding the addresses; some people are already compiling links to view popular locations:

Einstein, uncertainty and modern life.
Professor and author Brian Greene on the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein's "miracle year" of 1905, when he wrote three scientific papers after which "our view of space, time and matter was permanently changed." The results are both tangible and a metaphor for life.
Quantum mechanics does not merely challenge the previous laws of physics. Quantum mechanics challenges this centuries-old framework of physics itself. According to quantum mechanics, physics cannot make definite predictions. Instead, even if you give me the most precise description possible of how things are now, we learn from quantum mechanics that the most physics can do is predict the probability that things will turn out one way, or another, or another way still...

Decades of painstaking experimentation have confirmed quantum theory's predictions beyond the slightest doubt. Moreover, in a shocking scientific twist, some of the more recent of these experiments have shown that Einstein's "spooky" processes do in fact take place (particles many miles apart have been shown capable of correlating their behavior). It's a stunning finding, and one that reaffirms Einstein's uncanny ability to unearth features of nature so mind-boggling that even he couldn't accept what he'd found. Finally, there has been tremendous progress over the last 20 years toward a unified theory with the discovery and development of superstring theory. So far, though, superstring theory embraces quantum theory without change, and has thus not revealed the definitive reality Einstein so passionately sought...

Although we have yet to fully lay bare quantum mechanics' grand lesson for the underlying nature of the universe, I like to think even Einstein would be impressed that in the 50 years since his death our facility with quantum mechanics has matured from a mathematical understanding of the subatomic realm to precision control. Today's technological wizardry (computers, M.R.I.'s, smart bombs) exists only because research in applied quantum physics has resulted in techniques for manipulating the motion of electrons -- probabilities and all -- through mazes of ultramicroscopic circuitry. Advances hovering on the horizon, like nanoscience and quantum computers, offer the promise of even more spectacular transformations.

So the next time you use your cellphone or laptop, pause for a moment. Recognize that even these commonplace devices rely on our greatest, yet most puzzling, scientific achievement and - as things now stand - tap into humankind's most supreme assault on the idea that reality is what we think it is.

Networks don't know when to stop talking.
I saw part of Pope John Paul''s funeral live, believe it or not (it started at 4 am here in the East). I saw it on ABC, and my overwhelming reaction was, why can't the anchors/reporters shut up? Why do they feel compelled to talk over everything? Just give us an English translation and chime in when there's something that requires explanation? And why do they feel compelled to cut away to other spots around the world to show us other people watching what we're watching? Or trying to watch, anyway/

It turns out the AP's David Bauder felt the same way:
"This Mass is about to begin," CBS anchor Harry Smith said at the outset. "We're going to try to stay as much out of it as possible."

Yet it often proved impossible, and that seemed most evident on CBS and ABC, both network news divisions in the midst of their own transitions. Dan Rather was absent, having stepped down as CBS's chief anchor last month, and so was ABC's Peter Jennings, stricken with lung cancer.

What was missed most was their experience in knowing when to interject information and observations and when to step aside, a seemingly effortless skill that's anything but.

The networks all employed translators to cover a Mass celebrated mostly in Italian, but were inconsistent in how often they were used. And some appeared completely flummoxed at times when other languages were used.

"We have translators for Latin and Italian," ABC's Charles Gibson said. "Other languages you have to fend for yourselves."

On CBS, Smith and his sidekick, the Rev. Paul Robichaud, were often left hurriedly reading translations themselves and commenting upon what viewers had just seen.

[Charles] Gibson and commentator Cokie Roberts, while both experienced broadcasters, were new to their roles and the network was most aggressive in interrupting the Mass to talk about other issues. Robert was left to explain one part of the Mass missed when ABC was showing scenes from Poland. ABC also talked over the litany of the saints, a moment of haunting beauty.

Networks had so much expertise on hand they sometimes couldn't resist using it, even when their observations added little. "I sense both the presence and absence of Pope John Paul II," Notre Dame professor Scott Appleby said on ABC.

4/18 Update: My brother says they were the same way when they covered the beginning of the papal conclave; they talked all over it.

Thursday, April 07, 2005
When you can pay with cash, the terrorists win.
And now, testimony to the stupidity of retailers in general, Best Buy in particular, and some law enforcement. Here's how it starts:
Put yourself in Mike Bolesta's place. On the morning of Feb. 20, he buys a new radio-CD player for his 17-year-old son Christopher's car. He pays the $114 installation charge with 57 crisp new $2 bills, which, when last observed, were still considered legitimate currency in the United States proper. The $2 bills are Bolesta's idea of payment, and his little comic protest, too.

For this, Bolesta, Baltimore County resident, innocent citizen, owner of Capital City Student Tours, finds himself under arrest.

Finds himself, in front of a store full of customers at the Best Buy on York Road in Lutherville, locked into handcuffs and leg irons.

Finds himself transported to the Baltimore County lockup in Cockeysville, where he's handcuffed to a pole for three hours while the U.S. Secret Service is called into the case.

Have a nice day, Mike.

Unbelievable. Best Buy had better give this guy at least a plasma TV or something for his trouble.
For Baltimore County police, said spokesman Bill Toohey, "It's a sign that we're all a little nervous in the post-9/11 world."

No, it's a sign of stupidity in the 21st Century world, Mr. Toohey. The leg irons were a nice touch, by the way.

The column with the full story is from the Baltimore Sun. Because they're annoying and require registration, here's a link that doesn't require that. (via Metafilter)

What's up with Blogger?
Based on this article, at least I'm not the only one fuming about Google's Blogger service lately. It's been incredibly sluggish, or it can't seem to upload posts, etc., which has been extremely frustrating.

Yes, it's a free service -- but I'm willing to pay a reasonable price for it. In fact, I already did, for "Blogger Pro," about a year before Google bought it.

I know of other people who have switched to other software due to the performance issues. I don't want to, because it would be a tremendous pain* and because I really like Blogger's simplicity. But this has been frustrating.

*Yes, I'm aware of Movable Type's TypePad service, but I don't need or want hosting, and I want my own domain. TypePad can't do that. Plus $50 a year is too pricey for what I want. If I thought I could install Movable Type or Word Press, I might try doing that.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Experienced Web designer needed; must be willing to relocate.
The Vatican seriously needs a good Web designer. My general complaint is that there's more emphasis on "looking cool" (circa a few years ago) than being functional.

I don't mean to overstate the argument; usually the design doesn't get in the way. But then there's this page where you can select a year of John Paul II's papacy to learn more about it. There's nothing wrong with the basic design, but just try actually doing that for any year prior to 2004, and see what happens.

Check out his sneakers, too. :) They make perfect sense -- I wouldn't expect him to go walking in the mountains in dress shoes or anything -- but it's an amusing contrast to the rest of the outfit.

Sunday, April 03, 2005
Proving the slogan.
One of Bill Clinton's favorite lines is, "If you want to live like a Republican, vote Democrat." I'm reminded of that reading this Michael Kinsley column in the Washington Post:
it hasn't really sunk in how completely Republicans have abandoned allegedly Republican values -- if in fact they ever really had such values.

Our text today is the statistical tables of the 2005 Economic Report of the President. I did this exercise a while back with the 2004 tables and couldn't quite believe the results. But the 2005 data confirm it: The party with the best record of serving Republican economic values is the Democrats. It isn't even close...

Statistics back to 1959 make this clear. A consistent pattern over 45 years cannot be explained by shorter-term factors, such as war or who controls Congress.

Kinsley proceeds to list all of the basic economic measurements in which the American economy does better under Democratic presidents than Republican ones:
  • Less Federal spending

  • Deficit reduction, instead of growth

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

  • Real per-capita income

  • Lower inflation

  • Reductions in unemployment, instead of increases

The only measurement in which Republicans do better is Federal revenue (taxes). Which promptly leads to their higher deficits.