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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Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Shelby Foote, RIP.
Like most of America, I discovered historian and novelist Shelby Foote when documentary filmmaker Ken Burns used him in his epic The Civil War. He added considerably to that wonderful series.

Now comes word that Foote died Monday at 88.

I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I bought Foote's three volume history of Civil War more than a decade ago, but I still haven't read it yet. It's harder and harder for me to find time to read these days, but I really need to make time for it ... especially after reading in this obit that "In 1999, the Modern Library ranked Foote's "The Civil War: A Narrative" as No. 15 on its list of the century's 100 best English-language works of nonfiction."

Monday, June 27, 2005
Karl Rove's heir apparent.
According to Slate, that would be Dick Wadhams, who managed John Thune's successful campaign to unseat Tom Daschle.
In those races, Wadhams didn't hesitate to run attack ads and regularly belittle his opponents. His approach mirrors not only Rove's but also that of the late Lee Atwater, creator of the Willie Horton ads that helped sink Michael Dukakis. While most campaign managers are defensive about going negative, however—Atwater, for example, claimed he got the idea for the Horton ads from Al Gore's primary campaign—Wadhams is entirely unapologetic. "There's nothing wrong with going negative," he once argued. "Staying positive is a disservice to the voters because differences between the candidates are never revealed." When Wadhams worked for Allard in 1996 and 2002, his two-time opponent Democrat Tom Strickland was widely regarded as the smarter candidate. But Wadhams successfully cast Strickland as an untrustworthy "lawyer-lobbyist" and Allard as a likable, low-key country vet. When it turned out Strickland had made a tidy profit from the IPO of Global Crossing—a company that figured prominently in the corporate scandals of 2002—Wadhams was well-positioned to pounce. Strickland was "up to his mustache in corporate scandal," he proclaimed, and "probably the dirtiest candidate in America."

Firing off rhetorical bombs is, of course, a campaign mainstay. What's unusual about Wadhams is that he hurls the accusations himself. Campaigns often use surrogates to levy their nastier charges. But Wadhams is quoted so often that he could be taken for the candidate. Playing the heavy allows him to maintain control while keeping clients like Thune and Allard above the fray. In the South Dakota race, it was Wadhams who relentlessly portrayed Daschle as a former prairie boy who had morphed into an East Coast yuppie. He "is deathly afraid someone will expose his record of saying one thing from his $3 million mansion in Washington, D.C. and saying another thing when he visits South Dakota," Wadhams told the New York Times Magazine. Asked if he'd feel comfortable levying that line, Thune acknowledged he wouldn't. "But that's why I hired Dick," he said.

Friday, June 24, 2005
Hocus pocus.
What with Scientology (a quite unofficial link) being in the news lately -- for more creepy reasons, naturally -- the gadget site Gizmodo must have thought it would be an opportune time to look at the e-meter.

Long story short, it's simply a Wheatstone Bridge that measures electrical resistance -- useful in diagnosing short circuits, but worthless as a medical device ... which is why they're sold with disclaimers that they are a "religious artifact." (I couldn't make this up.) The original prices are outrageous enough (as much as $4500), but they also must be recertified each year (another $1500).

Some racket.

Thursday, June 23, 2005
Godwin's Law and politics.
When will politicians from all sides learn to avoid invoking Nazis, Hitler, the Holocaust, the Gestapo, etc.? That's what the Washington Post's Mark Leibovich wants to know. It seems that Godwin's Law applies in real life as well as the Internet.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005
So big!
Tonight I'll try and remember to go look at the moon while it's rising. Last night, tonight and tomorrow night apparently are the best nights in 18 years for the optical illusion where the rising moon appears huge to the human eye. (Don't bother photographing it -- it doesn't work with cameras.) NASA describes it and provides some theories.

Thursday, June 16, 2005
A big step toward Big Brother.
According to CNET News:
The U.S. Department of Justice is quietly shopping around the explosive idea of requiring Internet service providers to retain records of their customers' online activities.


Justice Department officials endorsed the concept at a private meeting with Internet service providers and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to interviews with multiple people who were present. The meeting took place on April 27 at the Holiday Inn Select in Alexandria, Va.

"It was raised not once but several times in the meeting, very emphatically," said Dave McClure, president of the U.S. Internet Industry Association, which represents small to midsize companies. "We were told, 'You're going to have to start thinking about data retention if you don't want people to think you're soft on child porn.'"

McClure said that while the Justice Department representatives argued that Internet service providers should cooperate voluntarily, they also raised the "possibility that we should create by law a standard period of data retention." McClure added that "my sense was that this is something that they've been working on for a long time."

This represents an abrupt shift in the Justice Department's long-held position that data retention is unnecessary and imposes an unacceptable burden on Internet providers. In 2001, the Bush administration expressed "serious reservations about broad mandatory data retention regimes."

The current proposal appears to originate with the Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, which enforces federal child pornography laws. But once mandated by law, the logs likely would be mined during terrorism, copyright infringement and even routine criminal investigations.

Isn't this always how it starts? By insinuating that, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear? How creepy is this? Imagine if phone companies were forced to record all of your phone conversations just in case the government wants them someday?

Friday, June 10, 2005
Timing is everything.
Yesterday, the topic was how the Federal government isn't doing enough to protect us from mad cow diease.

Today, the USDA announced that an animal has tested positive for mad cow. They insist that it's not yet confirmed and nothing has entered the food supply.

What would you expect them to say?

Thursday, June 09, 2005
You don't want to read this, but you should.
I've been convinced for a few years now that one of the biggest health issues that will explode in this country is an outbreak of mad cow disease. (It also could be the mother of all class-action lawsuits -- rivalled only if it turns out that cell phones cause brain tumors -- but I don't want to get into that now.)

The government and meat industry keep assuring us that our food system is safe ... yet they furiously resist any attempts to improve it. The federal government once took a cattle rancher to court to stop him from selling beef that had been tested. Why? It made all the other beef look bad. Nobody in the business wants to incur the additional costs ... and a Republican administration certainly isn't going to be one to force the issue.

Well, I'm not the only one worrying about this. Here's MSNBC's David Shuster on Brain degeneration at the Dept. of Agriculture:
Since this is the time of year when so many of us head to barbecues, I want to alert you to a story you need to know. Our federal government is putting all of us at risk of mad cow disease. And the incompetence and erratic approach of the Department of Agriculture has become so bizarre that one begins to wonder if some officials at that agency are deliberately trying to get fired.


At the moment, there appears to be an outbreak of mad cow disease in Japan... and American researchers are incredibly nervous that we may be on the verge of a deadly mad cow outbreak here in the United States. That’s what makes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s approach so troubling.

As it stands, the U.S. Department of Agriculture refuses to even consider the main recommendations put forward by the World Health Organization that have stopped mad cow disease across Europe.


The irony is that if the Department of Agriculture really cared about the U.S. meat industry, the department would add a little pain now to prevent the industry from being decimated down the road when an outbreak occurs and nobody wants to buy U.S. meat. But once again, it’s all about short-term profits and paying back your political contributors. And consumers are left holding the bag... or in this case, mourning the deaths of loved ones who could die suddenly from the human form of BSE.

Did I mention that American scientists are tracking a mysterious spike in the U.S. of the human form of BSE, known as Creutzfeldt Jakob disease?

Why is it okay to spend whatever it takes fighting terrorism, but not to guard our food system against a horrifying fatal disease?
(via Talking Points Memo)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005
New Bach.
It's amazing when previously unknown musical works turn up centuries later. Today example: a 1713 aria by J.S. Bach.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005
More copyright running amok.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports on photofinishers refusing to print photographs that look as if they were taken by professionals, in order to avoid copyright hassles. Two examples, both involving Wal-Mart: a woman who snapped and made professional headshots for her actor son, and a man who couldn't get photos of his mother -- one of them 50 years old -- copied to display at her funeral.

This is madness. What good are digital cameras and sophisticated photo editing software for the home if you can't get prints made? (via Boing Boing)

Friday, June 03, 2005
MS to Win2000 users: Drop dead!
I'm exaggerating a bit with that headline, but the fact remains that Microsoft is welching on its commitment to support what I think is the best OS they've ever made. Here's what I mean:

1. MS claims that IE is an integral part of the OS. Most people think that's BS, but that was their defense against the government's antitrust suit, that they couldn't simply remove the browser.

2. MS commits to supporting Windows 2000 until the year 2010.

3. Due to competitive pressure, MS announces that it will release a new IE 7 (with "innovations" like tabs) ... for Windows XP SP2 only.

So explain to me how this is not welching on their commitment?

Thursday, June 02, 2005
The compleat New Yorker.
They didn't use the archaic spelling, but that's what's coming out on DVD this fall: 80 years' worth of the New Yorker, cartoons, articles, ads and all. (The cartoons are already available on CD-ROMs bundled with a book.)

Hmm, just in time for Christmas. *Clears throat* (via Kottke)