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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Sunday, January 21, 2007
Not a silver lining, but ...
Some economists think that New Orleans will never regain more than half of its population as it was before hurricane Katrina. Not because of the hurricane, but because of the underlying economic issues that have been in place for decades.
In this view, the storm was merely a grim exclamation point to conditions decades in the making. Before the storm, some economists say, New Orleans may have had more people than its economy could support, and the stalled repopulation is merely reflecting that.

Hurricane Katrina may have brutally recalibrated the city’s demographics, setting New Orleans firmly on the path its underlying characteristics had already been leading it down: a city losing people at the rate of perhaps 1.5 percent a year before Hurricane Katrina, with a stagnant economy, more than a quarter of the population living in poverty, and a staggeringly high rate of unemployment, in which as many as one in five were jobless or not seeking work.

Political leaders, worried about the loss of clout and a Congressional seat, press for people to return, but a smaller New Orleans may not be bad, some economists say. Most of those who have not returned — 175,000, by Mr. Stonecipher’s count — are very poor, and can be more easily absorbed in places with vibrant job markets, they say.

Large-scale concentrations of deep poverty — as was the case in New Orleans before the storm — are inherently harmful to cities. The smaller New Orleans is almost certain to wind up with a far higher percentage of its population working than before Hurricane Katrina.
“Where there are high concentrations of poverty, people can’t see a way out,” said William Oakland, a retired economist from Tulane University who has studied the city’s economy for decades. “Maybe the diaspora is a blessing.”

Stop bothering me.
Today's NYT has a good article summarizing how you can opt-out of a number of marketing techniques.

Look before you leap, the chicken and the egg, and other appropriate sayings.
Before you run out and drop big bucks on a high-definition tv, you might consider the experience of Howard Bryant at the Washington Post:
So now I was in love with this TV and its gorgeous picture. I watched a man tool around New Zealand in a hot-air balloon for hours because the picture was so ridiculously sharp. The Discovery HD Theater program "Equator" makes my television look like an aquarium. During a snowy Monday Night Football matchup between Green Bay and Seattle, not only could I watch snow turn to water as it hit Brett Favre's helmet, but I also could see the powdery wisps of pancake makeup on Tony Kornheiser in the broadcast booth.

But man cannot live on nature shows and sports forever. And neither cable nor satellite offers more than 12 channels of HD programming.

That's right. I paid $1,399 for my HD television, $99 for an upgraded receiver, $110 for the proper cables and an extra $10 a month to a satellite provider that offers me more than 200 channels -- and only 12 of those are in HD.

That's 6 percent. Six!

The other 94 percent of programming is in the regular 4:3 format, the same as the square of your grandfather's regular old TV. That leaves six inches shaded in on the left and right of my screen because most channels are not HD-ready.

His co-worker Rob Pegoraro has some thoughts about the upcoming switch to digital tv.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Playing the odds.
The Wall Street Journal article The Man Who Shook Up Vegas explains how a 41-year-old statistician is causing casinos a lot of grief.

Gamblers wagering against a point spread must win more than half their bets (about 53%) to make a profit and must be closer to 55% to make a comfortable living. This is no small feat. Experts say there may be fewer than 100 people who can sustain these rates over time. Most of them belong to professional betting syndicates that hire teams of statisticians, wager millions every week and keep their operations secret.

Nearly everybody else is losing money ....

But in the last three months, Mr. Stoll has emerged to become one of the world's most influential sports handicappers. And when it comes to predicting the outcomes of college football games, he is peerless. By his records, which have been tracked by dozens of bettors and bookmakers, the recommendations he's made on college football in the last three seasons have turned out to be winners against the point spread 63% of the time. In 2005 he finished with 51 wins and 21 losses for a success rate of 71%.

While runs like this are rare, they are not unprecedented ....

But what separates Mr. Stoll from these professionals and makes him so frightening to bookmakers is that he's not hoarding his information -- he's distributing it to the public.