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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Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Star Trek and pedophilia?
About a month ago, an LA Times article quoted a member of the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Sex Crimes unit as saying that "all but one" of the hundred or so people they had arrested in their three-and-a-half years of existence was a "hard-core Trekkie." I held off posting that because at least one person, Ernest Miller, found that claim statistically improbable and immediately challenged it.

To make a long story short, "all but one" was an exaggeration ... but there appears to be a very strong correlation (not causation). Here's a summary with links to other relevant sources.

The explanation may be as simple as commenter on the linked page suggests: the common element is computers. Most pedophiles use computers. Many computer-literate people are Star Trek fans. Therefore, etc. Sounds logical and less creepy than the way the LA Times put it.

Strawberry Field no more.
This probably won't get much notice today, but the 69-year-old children's home that inspired the 1967 Beatles song "Strawberry Fields Forever" closed today:
The Salvation Army said all the children had left the Strawberry Field home and childcare provision at the Beaconsfield Road site ended today.

No decision has been made on the fate of the home or its iconic wrought iron gates that became well-known to thousands of Beatles fans after the song was released in 1967.

"A few administrative staff will stay on for the short term to wrap everything up over the next couple of months," a spokeswoman for the Christian charity told Reuters.

Lennon used to visit the home as a boy to play with childhood friends in its grounds. He modified the name to make it flow better for the song.

Deep Throat revealed?
Having addressed the topic here a number of times, it appears that we finally know the identity of "Deep Throat," the source Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein used in their Watergate reporting: W. Mark Felt, who was the number two man at the FBI. This comes from the magazine Vanity Fair, which is publishing an article (PDF) in its July issue that makes an incredibly strong case, complete with explanations from Felt himself. It's an excellent and even touching article, well worth reading even if you don't know anything about it or why you should care.

I'm totally convinced; the only thing missing is a confirmation from Woodward, Bernstein or Ben Bradlee. (Bernstein refused to confirm or deny the report; the other two won't even comment.)

Author John D. O'Connor concludes his article this way:
I believe that Mark Felt is one of America's greatest secret heroes. Deep in his psyche, it is clear to me, he still has qualms about his actions, but he also knows that historic events compelled him to behave as he did: standing up to an executive branch intent on obstructing his agency's pursuit of the truth. Felt, having long harbored the ambivalent emotions of pride and self-reproach, has lived for more than 30 years in a prison of his own making, a prison built upon his strong moral principles and his unwavering loyalty to country and cause. But now, buoyed by his family's revelations and support, he need feel imprisoned no more.

Update: Confirmed:
The Washington Post today confirmed that W. Mark Felt, a former number-two official at the FBI, was "Deep Throat," the secretive source who provided information that helped unravel the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s and contributed to the resignation of president Richard M. Nixon.

The confirmation came from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story, and their former top editor, Benjamin C. Bradlee. The three spoke after Felt's family and Vanity Fair magazine identified the 91-year-old Felt, now a retiree in California, as the long-anonymous source who provided crucial guidance for some of the newspaper's groundbreaking Watergate stories.

Friday, May 27, 2005
Eddie Albert, R.I.P.
It was just announced that actor Eddie Albert died yesterday at age 99. The first thing most people will think of is his TV show Green Acres ... but as the AP article notes, he was also nominated for two Academy Awards.

I also recalled that he won a notable medal during World War II, but I couldn't remember which won, so I looked up his biography on the Internet Movie Database. I was right (it was the Bronze Star, earned during the battle of Tarawa), but there's even more. It turns out he was there at the very beginning of television ... followed Robert Preston in the original Broadway version of The Music Man ... and International Earth Day is April 22nd partly in honor of his birthday.

Update: Aaron Barnhart notes, "Indeed, Albert is credited with writing television's first professional script, for which he was paid $5." Wow.

Ebert's second thoughts.
Roger Ebert's print review of the remake of The Longest Yard is out today, and it's interesting reading:
Three weeks ago I saw "The Longest Yard," and before I left for the Cannes Film Festival, I did an advance taping of an episode of "Ebert & Roeper" on which I gave a muted thumbs-up ...

Now three weeks have passed and I have seen 25 films at Cannes, most of them attempts at greatness, and I sit here staring at the computer screen and realizing with dread that the time has come for me to write a review justifying that vertical thumb, which is already on video and will go out to millions of TV viewers seeking guidance in their moviegoing.

Go read the whole thing.

Got sugar?
From Science Daily:
Tufts researchers recently reported that while the leading source of calories in the average American diet used to be from white bread, that may have changed. Now, according to preliminary research conducted by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Americans are drinking these calories instead. The research was presented in abstract form at the Experimental Biology Conference in April of this year and a more comprehensive paper is being developed.

Odilia Bermudez, PhD, MPH, studied the reported diets of a large nationwide sample of American adults. Among respondents to the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), more than two thirds reported drinking enough soda and/or sweet drinks to provide them with a greater proportion of daily calories than any other food. In addition, obesity rates were higher among these sweet drink consumers. Consumers of 100% orange juice and low fat milk, on the other hand, tended to be less overweight, on average.

(via Boing Boing)

Fixing a hole.
Dateline California. From today's San Francisco Chronicle:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger traveled to a quiet San Jose neighborhood Thursday, and -- dogged by protesters -- filled a pothole dug by city crews just a few hours before, as part of an attempt to dramatize his efforts to increase money for transportation projects.

Yes, you read that correctly. He had a pothole created so that he could be photographed fixing it.

There's some sort of metaphor to be made here about politicians, but I'm noting going to take the time. Do it yourself. (via Boing Boing)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Meanwhile, three decades from now...
If you're not depressed enough about the state of government in this country, read this frightening column by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank about what liberal and conservative think tanks agree is the looming problem no one will address: the Federal budget crisis.
With startling unanimity, they agreed that without some combination of big tax increases and major cuts in Medicare, Social Security and most other spending, the country will fall victim to the huge debt and soaring interest rates that collapsed Argentina's economy and caused riots in its streets a few years ago.

"The only thing the United States is able to do a little after 2040 is pay interest on massive and growing federal debt," Walker said. "The model blows up in the mid-2040s. What does that mean? Argentina."


The unity of the bespectacled presenters was impressive -- and it made their conclusion all the more depressing. As Ron Haskins, a former Bush White House official and current Brookings scholar, said when introducing the thinkers: "If Heritage and Brookings agree on something, there must be something to it."

Art you know (or should know).
I am not particularly knowledgable about art. I know what I like, as they say. But while looking for an example of one of my favorite paintings, I found a site called The Artchive, which has a Favorites Tour of 25 famous works. (I knew about two-thirds of them.) If you have a few minutes, you might like to check it out. The site has a viewer that lets you zoom in and out, pan around, etc. The quality, even the presence, of explanatory copy varies considerably ... but the price is right.

The greatest movies ever.
It's a preposterous title to claim, of course, but Wikipedia takes a stab at it with this article discussing movies that have met some type of objective standard -- the highest earnings, most awards, poll winners, etc.

While I certainly haven't seen them all, I don't see anything very shocking here. Citizen Kane leads the list acclaimed by critics and filmmakers (and rightfully so, I'd argue). I still don't understand what makes The Searchers (an entry for greatest western) so great, but we'll let that go for now. Yes, Dirty Dancing turns up, but when you read the circumstances you can see why.

Incidentally, Gone With The Wind is still the US box office champ when you adjust for inflation, at $1.3 billion.

While it's far less objective, Wikipedia also takes a stab at the worst movies ever, which makes entertaining reading. (via kottke)

Sunday, May 15, 2005
Bishop Borgess High School farewell picnic
It was recently announced that Bishop Borgess High School in Redford, MI will close after this current academic year is finished, along with many others in the archdiocese.

I have many fond memories of Borgess, and I'm posting this announcement in the hopes that other alumni might stumble upon it (I'm not organizing it -- I'm just hoping that Google will quickly find this and help spread the word in case anyone searches for it):
The Bishop Borgess Alumni Association is hosting a "Farewell to Borgess Picnic" on Sunday, June 12, 2005 at Bishop Borgess. They will have the usual activities for kids, games, snacks and beverages. There will also be a farewell ceremony that pays tribute to the teachers, coaches, administrators and support staff.

They are creating a memory book that will be distributed to all who attend. They are soliciting ads for the booklet as well.

You can RSVP by calling 313-624-8447 or go to the web site

Thanks to my brother for spotting this and alerting me to it.

History with new perspective.

Last weekend I stumbled across a site dedicated to newspaper design. It was interesting enough (to me, anyway) that I paged through it and found something discovered by the Tampa Tribune.

In addition to the iconic, Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of US Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima -- it was actually the second time that day, but that's another story -- there was also a motion picture taken of the same event, by a cameraman standing next to the still photographer. That was also known. In fact, it had been often noted how similar they were.

But until this year nobody seemed to recognize what could be done with these two similar perspectives of the same event. By selecting the frame from the motion picture that matched the still photo, they could be combined to produce a true stereo three-dimensional image of the event.

Here it is. To view it, stare between the two pictures and cross your eyes. You'll see the image three times. Ignore the ones on the left and right and focus on the center one. You should eventually see the details pop into 3D view. It really does work.

Or, if you have red and blue 3D glasses available, you can go to the Tampa Tribune site to view a version that will work with them. (via

Saturday, May 14, 2005
"Attention: Deficit Disorder"
The eminently sensible Robert Rubin had an excellent op-ed column in Friday's NYT on the importance of reducing our federal budget deficit:
Virtually all mainstream economists agree that, over time, sustained deficits crowd out private investment, increase interest rates, and reduce productivity and economic growth. But, far more dangerously, if markets here and abroad begin to fear long-term fiscal disarray and our related trade imbalances, those markets could then demand sharply higher interest rates for providing long-term debt capital and could put abrupt and sharp downward pressure on the dollar. These market effects, plus the adverse impact of continuing fiscal imbalances on business and consumer confidence, could seriously undermine our economy.

We have managed to avoid these market effects so far because private demand for capital has been relatively limited, and because the central banks of Japan, China and other countries have provided large inflows of foreign capital. A change in either of those circumstances, or simply a change of market psychology for whatever reason, could, however, turn these interest rate and currency risks into a reality.

The tough decisions needed on both spending and revenues will probably require some process whereby the president and leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives and both parties assume joint responsibility for painful political choices. Tax revenues are approximately 16.5 percent of gross domestic product, the lowest level since 1960, and spending is roughly 20 percent. We must have serious spending discipline and entitlement reform - though any entitlement reforms likely to be proposed would have little immediate effect.

But, as BusinessWeek, not an advocate of activist government, said in a recent editorial, "the deficit morass is due as much to a revenue shortfall as to excessive spending." (The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, for example, are estimated to have a 75-year cost of $11 trillion, almost three times the entire Social Security deficit.) And that shortfall is especially pressing given the rapid increases in entitlement costs and the need to finance national security, investments in education and infrastructure and other critical programs. At the same time, revenue-increasing measures must reverse the recent trend of disproportionately favoring upper-income taxpayers.

Thursday, May 12, 2005
The Internet reels in another journalist.
Think back to the summer of 1993, and you may recall hearing that Princeton Prof. Andrew Wiles had proven Fermat's Last Theorem, which had tantalized mathematicians for 365 years. (Pierre de Fermat had scribbled a note in a margin: "I have discovered a truly remarkable proof of this theorem that the margin of this page is too small to contain.")

Now The Manila Times (yes, from the Philippines) reports that a professor there has shown that Wiles' proof is incorrect, and that Wiles has conceded.

All of this is interesting enough, but what caught my eye was this claim in the Manila Times article:
When Wiles made the announcement it was celebrated around the world. In Chicago, for instance, mathematicians marched on the streets in euphoric celebration.

Not only did that last sentence sound absurd, it also sounded strangely familiar. A minute spent Googling proved me correct: it was from a satirical article ("Math Riots Prove Fun Incalculable") by Eric Zorn in the June 29, 1993 Chicago Tribune. I remembered reading it and finding it hilarious. Mathematicians did too, and there are copies on the Internet. I strongly suspect that the reporter found one and did not realize it was intended as a joke!

I've updated the Wikipedia entry; this might be an interesting test case to watch and see what happens.

5/15 Update:
Wikipedia is concluding that the report I linked to is a hoax. Which is certainly a possibility. Kind of ironic, I guess.

5/16 Update: A math teacher acquaintance who also found the episode amusing points out that Eric Zorn himself found my account and linked to it, as evidence of the danger of writing satire. Welcome, readers.