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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Monday, March 19, 2007
Behold the formula.
There's no more effective way to ridicule formulaic writing, acting and direction than by showing example after example. Today's offering: David Caruso's one liners that open CSI: Miami. (via TVBarn2)

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Oprah's nonsense.
How's that for a politically incorrect headline? Submitted for your approval, the following two examples:

1. "The Secret," an unfortunately best-selling book, has received two hours worth of plugging. Newsweek started a story last week this way:
If you're a woman trying to lose weight, you had your choice of two pieces of advice last week. One, from the American Heart Association, was to eat more vegetables and exercise an hour a day. The other was from a woman named Rhonda Byrne, a former television producer who has written what could be the fastest-selling book of its kind in the history of publishing with 1.75 million copies projected to be in print by March 2, just over three months since it came out, plus 1.5 million DVDs sold. Byrne's recommendation was to avoid looking at fat people. Based on what she calls the "law of attraction"—that thoughts, good or bad, "attract" more of whatever they're about—she writes: "If you see people who are overweight, do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it." So if you're having trouble giving up ice cream, maybe you could just cut back on "The Sopranos" instead.

You'd think the last thing Americans need is more excuses for self-absorption and acquisitiveness. But our inexhaustible appetite for "affirmation" and "inspiration" and "motivation" has finally outstripped the combined efforts of Wayne Dyer, Anthony Robbins, Dr. Phil and Mitch Albom. We have actually begun importing self-help—and from Australia, of all places, that citadel of tough-minded individualism, where just a couple of years ago Byrne was a divorced mother in her 50s who had hit a rocky patch in her business and personal lives. It was in that moment of despair, when she "wept and wept and wept" (as she recounted to Oprah on the first of two broadcasts devoted to her work), that she discovered a long-neglected book dating from 1910 called "The Science of Getting Rich." In it she found how to let your thoughts and feelings get you everything you want, and determined to share it with the world. She called it "The Secret."

And it was that stroke of marketing genius that turned what might have been a blip on the Times's "Advice, How-To, Miscellaneous" best-seller list into a publishing phenomenon that Sara Nelson, editor of Publishers Weekly, says "could become this decade's 'Tuesdays With Morrie'." "Nobody," she adds, "ever went broke overestimating the desperate unhappiness of the American public."

2. People who claim the ability to speak with the dead are also well-received, while skeptics are deliberately minimized. Magician and noted skeptic James Randi experienced this firsthand more than a decade ago, and relates another example that recently happened to someone else::
This will be a rather long item, but it deals with an important subject – how Oprah Winfrey manages to promote woo-woo ideas on her program by careful management of the content. Before we begin, you must understand how TV programs are recorded and put together for later broadcast. First and most important is the image of the host; this must be supported, and audience expectations must be met in that regard. Second, the sponsors must be satisfied that nothing unpopular or politically incorrect is used; that won’t sell the product. Third, secondary guests are expendable, and are there only to be used, in any way that serves the intent of the producers.

Back in April of 1995, I’d been contacted by the Oprah show and made an offer to do a second appearance with them. I simply told them, “No thanks”; I’d already been sandbagged by that show. In that appearance, I’d been told, just before I left my hotel for the studio, that the previously-scheduled “psychics” – for whom I was well prepared – would not be showing up. I went all the way out to the location and then found out, moments before the show went on the air – live – that those major "psychics" actually were appearing on the show. Though I’d prepared video and newspaper material to contradict the pompous and false claims of those two scheduled “psychics,” I’d left the data behind at the hotel when told I'd be without opposition, and I had nothing in hand. It was a blatant, calculated lie designed to trap me, and I fell for it. But I’d not do it again. I'm sure Oprah doesn't need me, and I have no need of such unethical behavior. There are rules, even though Oprah doesn't seem to know them.

Recently, Oprah Winfrey aired a lopsided interview with “psychic/mediums” John Edward and Allison DuBois. Things immediately took on a circus air when Oprah began by describing human life as “vibrating energies.” The perfunctory skeptics were present, but of course the producers took great pains to be sure that they were ineffective. One woman from Evansville, Indiana, who had repsonded to a call for skeptics, was handled as we might have expected.

Hence my headline. Oprah does a lot of nice things, but she also makes sure that we all hear about them (so much for the urging of Matthew). If believing this stuff brings her comfort, fine, but I wish she'd stop promoting it to the world.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007
The secret Best Buy website.
Connecticut is investigating the existance of a secret intranet site that Best Buy allegedly used to mislead customers. (The site's existence has been confirmed; its purpose is still being investigated.)

It's been claimed that if customers came in looking to get a price they found on the retailer's website, employees could call up this secret site (which looked just like the regular one) and point out a higher price. Details here.
Company spokesman Justin Barber, who in early February denied the existence of the internal website that could be accessed only by employees, says his company is "cooperating fully" with the state attorney general's investigation.

Barber insists that the company never intended to mislead customers.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal ordered the investigation into Best Buy's practices on Feb. 9 after my column disclosed the website and showed how employees at two Connecticut stores used it to deny customers a $150 discount on a computer advertised on

(via Boing Boing)

Thursday, March 01, 2007
Playing by the rules.
You have to admire the way AP journalist Terence Hunt simultaneously obeys and (rightly) ridicules a press restriction in this story:
Mystery official briefs press on Cheney
By TERENCE HUNT, AP White House Correspondent
Tue Feb 27, 11:33 PM ET

The rules were simple. The official who briefed reporters on Vice President Dick Cheney's plane could be identified only as a senior administration official. But there were plenty of clues who was talking as Cheney wrapped up a trip with surprise stops in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"The reason the president wanted me to come, obviously, is because of the continuing threat that exists in this part of the world on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border," the high-ranking person who spoke on condition of anonymity said Tuesday.

The White House distributed a text of the senior administration official's comments on Air Force Two as Cheney flew from Afghanistan to Oman before beginning his flight back to Washington. The transcript did not spell out why the official on Cheney's plane would not be quoted by name.

There had been reports in some newspapers that Cheney was going to tell Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, that he needed to be more aggressive against al-Qaida operatives and Taliban fighters in the lawless border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Let me just make one editorial comment here," the official said. "I've seen some press reporting says, `Cheney went in to beat up on them, threaten them.' That's not the way I work. I don't know who writes that, or maybe somebody gets it from some source who doesn't know what I'm doing, or isn't involved in it. But the idea that I'd go in and threaten someone is an invalid misreading of the way I do business.

The story goes on in that vein for awhile longer, with Hunt dutifully quoting the "senior administration official." The press ought to do this more often, instead of letting politicians hide behind anonymity. (via The Politico)

Update: Howard Kurtz gets into the act:
The first-person pronoun gave away the game. But it also raised the question: Why did Cheney feel the need to speak on a not-for-attribution basis, and why did the seven journalists on the trip go along?

Lee Anne McBride, Cheney's press secretary, could not, under the ground rules, confirm the obvious. But, she said, "it was important to provide the press and public with briefings on these meetings, and it was determined that a more comprehensive readout could be provided on a background basis."

Administration officials concluded that, for diplomatic reasons, Cheney could not publicly discuss private conversations with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Mark Silva, a Chicago Tribune reporter who made the trip, was among those pressing Cheney's staff for an on-the-record briefing, saying the vice president has been elected twice.

"At the start of our meeting with a senior administration official, in which he advised us that he insisted this talk be on background, we asked him, too, to go on the record," Silva said. Cheney agreed to be identified only while discussing the suicide bombing at Bagram air base in Afghanistan that occurred while he was there.

Silva credited the White House with releasing an accurate transcript despite numerous "I" references. "But it's also a measure of how absurd the entire business of speaking as an SAO is."

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