blog.paulmurray.net
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: pmurray63 [at] hotmail.com (Be patient, I don't check it often.)

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Wednesday, November 09, 2016
Mencken was right.
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
          -- H.L. Mencken



Friday, September 25, 2015
The Big Short: The Movie
Michael Lewis' book The Big Short (Wikipedia summary) was a fascinating look at a few people who saw the 2007 financial crisis coming and profited from it. Lewis has a talent for explaining complex financials and making them understandable, and he had some interesting characters to write about in that book.

Now the movie is coming this December, co-written and directed by Adam McKay, best known for his collaborations with Will Farrell (who is not in this movie, as far as I can tell). Hmmm. The cast looks pretty impressive.

I really hope this movie is worthy of the book. Fingers crossed. The December release is a good sign of confidence by the studio.


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Tuesday, September 08, 2015
When boards go bad.
No matter how badly people in your college -- or almost any organization, frankly -- they almost certainly didn't act as fiscally irresponsible as the recent presidents and board of trustees of the New York City's legendary Cooper Union school. (via Metafilter)

PS: 26 months between posts ... yikes.

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Thursday, July 04, 2013
In defense of Huey.
Earlier this year, I was listening to the NPR show Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me while I washed the dishes, and Huey Lewis turned up for their regular "Not My Job" segment. And I thought, Huey Lewis, really? That's cool, but why? For the answer, which stopped me in my tracks, let's go to the transcript:
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now, we reward people for a lifetime of accomplishment with a few minutes of awkwardness. Huey Lewis and the News was unique among the big time bands of the 1980s in that they did not suck.
(LAUGHTER)
SAGAL: The band is re-releasing their iconic album Sports, in honor of its 30th anniversary. We are delighted to have Huey Lewis join us now. Huey, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
The 30th anniversary of Sports? That's not possible!

Oh, but it is.

I thought of writing something then, but never got around to it.

Last month, the band came to suburban Detroit, as part of their tour where they're playing the entire album. I discovered this when I ran across -- well, who knows if it was an actual article or blog post or whatever at the Detroit News website. I can't find it now, but the author referred to their music as "cheese."

I was ticked. It was pop, sure, but pop doesn't necessarily mean bad. "Let's see how people describe whatever you listen to in 30 years, kid," I thought. Didn't write about it then, either.

Then yesterday I ran across "Huey Lewis's Old, Weird America" at Grantland, which turned out to be a really interesting read, and I decided, okay, I really should do this. So here we are.

Do you remember how big Sports was? And what 1983 was like musically?
While Sports isn't usually mentioned among the most popular musical blockbusters of the '80s, it belongs in that company. Of the album's nine tracks, five charted in the Top 20: "I Want a New Drug," "The Heart of Rock & Roll," "Heart and Soul," "If This Is It," and "Walking on a Thin Line." (One of those songs might be playing on the "cool FM" oldies radio station in your town at this very second.) Sports was one of only five no. 1 albums during all of 1984, the fewest number in history. The others were Michael Jackson's Thriller, the Footloose soundtrack, Prince's Purple Rain, and Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. Huey Lewis held the summit for only one week, but Sports sold 6 million records in '84 alone (on the way to topping 10 million), good for second on the year-end sales list behind Thriller.
My personal testimony: Sports was one of the two first compact discs I ever purchased. (The other was a recording of Vivaldi's L'Estro Armonico by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, if you're curious.) This was at the Harvard Co-Op when a group of us were visiting friends in Boston in 1985. I didn't even own a CD player yet; that purchase would come a few months later, but my friends had them, and I'd record a cassette of the CD so that I could actually listen to it.

While I don't attend a lot of concerts, the band is also one of only three musical acts that I've seen more than once. (The others are Randy Newman, who I would happily see again, and the Moody Blues -- when was the last time you thought about them?) What can I say, I found them really entertaining.

So now it's 2013, I'm staring a big birthday in the face, and we're years into the next audio format, MP3. And I still listen to Huey Lewis and the News in the car.

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Friday, December 28, 2012
“Who sent Obama here to destroy America?”
The National Review magazine sponsored a 2012 Post Election Cruise for the week after last November's election. Their readers no doubt anticipated celebrating the results of that election with the magazine's columnists. But things didn't work out as planned, so what was it like? New York magazine's Joe Hagan has the story in "Blues Cruise." Come for the schadenfreude over the grief and finger-pointing, stay for a glimpse into the self-delusional thinking of some dyed-in-the-wool conservatives.

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Guns.
After all the discussion about guns lately, "The Simple Truth About Gun Control" is one of the best (and well-documented) articles I've seen.  


See also: Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States

(both via The Big Picture)

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2012 in charts and graphs.
As someone who appreciates good charts and graphs and finds politics and economics interesting, I enjoyed this Washington Post Wonkblog post:
As 2012 draws to a close, Wonkblog asked our favorite professional wonks — economists, political scientist, politicians and more — to see what graphs and charts they felt did the best job explaining the past year. Here are their nominees.
Mind you, they're not all equally impressive, but most of them make excellent points.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012
Today's trivia.
John Tyler (1790-1862), the tenth President of the United States (1841-1845), has two grandsons alive today.

As 83-year-old Harrison Ruffin Tyler explained to New York magazine:
Both my grandfather — the president — and my father, were married twice. And they had children by their first wives. And their first wives died, and they married again and had more children. And my father was 75 when I was born, his father was 63 when he was born. John Tyler had fifteen children — eight by his first wife, seven by his second wife — so it does get very confusing. I really do not know — it’s amazing how families drift apart. When I was a child, I did know most of the descendents, but as you get more generations down the line, it’s hard to keep track of everybody.
As I'm sure you recall from history class, Tyler was William Henry Harrison's running mate ("Tippecanoe and Tyler too!"), who succeeded him upon his death from pneumonia only a month after being sworn in. Tyler is not highly regarded by historians; as Wikipedia notes, "A survey of 65 historians, conducted by C-SPAN in 2009, ranked Tyler as 35th of 42 men to hold the office." (Tyler was preceded by Herbert Hoover and followed by George W. Bush in that ranking, as you can see from the list here.)

But I digress. It's the sheer length of time that's amazing. The next president with one or more surviving grandchildren is James Garfield, who served 40 years later (again, according to Wikipedia).

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Monday, December 17, 2012
The man who never returned.
One of my small joys in life occurs when I make an obscure reference and someone gets it.

Today at work I got an elevator that had descended, in order to go up from the 4th floor, where my cubicle is, to the 10th floor, where I needed to return something. There was one guy already on when I got in, and we started going up.

"Wait a minute," he said, "I was going down to 3."

I looked at the buttons and they appeared to confirm what he said -- 3 was lit, yet we had gone back up from 4.

By this point we were reaching 10. I said something like, "Well, good luck, I hope you don't end up riding this elevator forever."

"It's okay," he said. "I have a nickel."

How many people (not in Boston) would catch the reference to a 53-year-old hit song by the Kingston Trio? (Lyrics and origin)

"Hey, very good!" I said, or something to that effect.

I was in a better mood for the rest of the day.

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Sunday, October 07, 2012
Baumol's disease and how it affects us.
I'd never heard of "Baumol's disease" until I read this Steven Pearlstein column about it. It turns out that we're all affected by it.

It's not a physical ailment. Instead, it explains why the costs of some labor-intensive professions such as education and health care will always increase faster than the rest of the economy. (In short, because they can't keep up with the productivity increases of the rest of the economy, despite demand for them increasing (along with their pay rates.)
Not only should we not be surprised, argues Baumol, but we shouldn’t be that concerned. Given the large productivity gains in the goods producing sector, he says, we cannot only afford the higher prices for things such as health care and education, but still have plenty of money left over to pay for more food, more cars, bigger houses, more clothes and more home appliances. The idea that we can’t afford medical care or higher education, he argues, is just an “illusion” reflecting some fixed notion of what percent of our income should be devoted to such activities.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we can and should do to bring down the price of medical care or of a college education.
Pearlstein predicts, as others have, that economic growth will slow as proportionally more workers shift to these labor-intensive sectors of the economy.

And there's this:
From a political perspective, Baumol’s most important insight is that government spending must grow as a percentage of the economy. Most of the services that are provided by, or financed by government — health care, education, criminal justice, national security, diplomacy, industry regulation, scientific research — are those that suffer most acutely from Baumol’s disease. That’s not because of incompetence or self-interest on the part of public servants or even the socialist instincts of Democratic politicians — it’s in the nature of those activities.

To demand, as Republicans do, that government be held to some historical average as a percentage of the economy stubbornly ignores this reality. It would condemn the country, as John Kenneth Galbraith once put it, to a future of “private affluence and public squalor.”
(Pearlstein's on a roll; his previous "manifesto for the entitled" was a trenchant summary of the nonsense spewed by and about "job creators.")

(Via rc3.org)



Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Fundamentally overused.
I read about this a few weeks ago but didn't have time to post it. As a writer, I know it's easy to fall in love with a few words and overuse them. Someone should point this out to Newt Gingrich (who is, at least in theory, also a writer).
By now, we've all become familiar with Newt Gingrich's habit of using a few choice adverbs to make the things he says sound just a bit more intelligent to his listeners. Profoundly. Deeply. Frankly. But none of them are as vital to the Gingrich lexicon as fundamentally (along with its cousin, the adjective fundamental). While this appears to be Gingrich's favorite word in the English language, you could also argue that he uses the word so often, and so reflexively, that it's become virtually meaningless to him. In a single 2008 address to the American Enterprise Institute, he used the words fundamentally or fundamental a total of eighteen times.
Using Nexis and news accounts, New York magazine's Dan Amira found more than 400 occasions from 2007 to the present where Gingrich used a form of that word.

If Gingrich's campaign actually goes anywhere (which I doubt), perhaps this should become the basis for a new drinking game.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011
One good reason I don't have cable or satellite TV.
The New York Times has a story on one of my pet peeves:
Although “sports” never shows up as a line item on a cable or satellite bill, American television subscribers pay, on average, about $100 a year for sports programming — no matter how many games they watch. A sizable portion goes to the National Football League, which dominates sports on television and which struck an extraordinary deal this week with the major networks — $27 billion over nine years — that most likely means the average cable bill will rise again soon.
These companies always demand to be included in basic or enhanced basic packages. If these channels are as well-liked as their executives insist, what would be the harm in making them optional?

Failing that (and the networks will fight it tooth and nail), here's another idea: itemized cable and satellite bills. How does the expense break down each month? It doesn't seem unreasonable to ask for this information. But again, they'll kick and scream.

This won't be fixed because FCC has no jurisdiction over cable and satellite. Maybe the FTC could do something?

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Thursday, November 17, 2011
Today's essay question.
Which are you more tired of: vampires or zombies? Explain.

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Monday, September 05, 2011
Libby.
On Tom Lehrer's album That Was The Year That Was, this is the beginning of how he introduces his song Alma:
Last December 13th, there appeared in the newspapers the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary that has ever been my pleasure to read. It was that of a lady named Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel who had, in her lifetime, managed to acquire as lovers practically all of the top creative men in central Europe. And among these lovers -- who were listed in the obituary, by the way, which was what made it so interesting -- there were three whom she went so far as to marry. 
I was reminded of this yesterday when I stumbled across a short biography of Libby Holman at the Internet Movie database. I had never heard of her before; once I read about her, I struck by the thought that her life could be the subject of a juicy biographical movie -- one that couldn't have been portrayed accurately during her lifetime. (The author felt the same way; his biography begins, "Libby Holman's life was one of early poverty, extraordinary talent, scandal, fabulous wealth and tragedy. She's the stuff books and movies are ripe for.")

In case you're wondering how this all happened: We watched Sunset Boulevard again Saturday night on TCM, and host Robert Osborne mentioned that Montgomery Clift was supposed to play the male lead, ultimately played by William Holden. Osborne observed, and I would agree, that Clift wouldn't have been as good in the part as Holden was. As I frequently do, I looked the movie up at the IMDb to see if they had any more details, and they did. It seems Clift bailed out on the role a mere two weeks before production started, at the urging of his middle-aged actress lover ... Libby Holman. I followed the link to her entry, and it turned out she only made one movie. So I clicked on the link to her bio and -- well, here we are.

You may also be interested in her Wikipedia entry.

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