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, April 30, 2007
Fluorescent light bulbs and the "wife test."
I've noted here previously (1, 2) the benefits of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs): they dramatically lower energy consumption, helping to reduce greenhouses gases and eventually more than paying for their higher initial cost. So why aren't they catching on more?

The current market share of CFL bulbs in the United States is about 6 percent, up from less than 1 percent before 2001. But that compares dismally with CFL adoption rates in other wealthy countries such as Japan (80 percent), Germany (50 percent) and the United Kingdom (20 percent). Australia has announced a phaseout of incandescent bulbs by 2009, and the Canadian province of Ontario decided last week to ban them by 2012.

The relatively glacial adoption rate of CFLs in most of the United States suggests continued stiff resistance on the home front, despite dramatically lower prices for the bulbs and impressive improvements in their quality.

"There is still a big hurdle in convincing Americans that lighting-purchase decisions make a big difference in individual electricity bills and collectively for the environment," said Wendy Reed, director of the federal government's Energy Star campaign, which labels products that save energy and has been working with retailers to market CFL bulbs.

"I have heard time and again that a husband goes out and puts the bulb into the house, thinking he is doing a good thing," Reed said. "Then, the CFL bulb is changed back out by the women. It seems that women are much more concerned with how things look. We are the nesters." ...

"My gut feeling is that the last remaining factor that we have not cracked in selling these bulbs is the 'wife test,' " said My Ton, a senior manager at Ecos Consulting, a company in Portland, Ore., that does market research on energy efficiency.

After a decade as a researcher in residential lighting, Ton said he has concluded that a major part of the CFL problem in penetrating the American home "is a lack of communication between the sexes."

"The guy typically brings a CFL home and just screws it into a lamp in the bedroom, without discussing it with his wife," Ton said. "She walks in, turns on the light and boom -- there is trouble. That is where the negative impressions begin, especially when the guy puts it into the bedroom or the bathroom, the two most sacred areas of the home."

Ton advises husbands and wives "to talk about it before the light bulb is screwed in."

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Friday, April 27, 2007
You never give me your money.
Good heavens. Paul McCartney is only the third richest musician in the world? Even weirder: I've never even heard of #1.

LONDON (AP) - Paul McCartney is ranked third in an annual list of Britain's richest musical figures, with a fortune estimated at $1.4 billion.

The Sunday Times' annual Rich List, released Friday, said the former Beatle's fortune was down $200 million from last year, due to the estimated cost of his upcoming divorce from Heather Mills.

Clive Calder, the former Zomba records label boss whose acts included Britney Spears and 'N Sync, was at the top of the music list, with a fortune estimated at $2.6 billion.

Andrew Lloyd Webber was in second place at $1.5 billion. The composer has had a good year thanks to his role as producer of a West End revival of "The Sound of Music," whose star was chosen by a reality TV program.

The list also includes: theater producer Cameron Mackintosh; "American Idol" impresario Simon Fuller; pop queen Madonna and her husband, Guy Ritchie; Elton John; Mick Jagger; entertainment entrepreneur Robert Stigwood; crooner Tom Jones; and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.

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They want to sell you fake chocolate as the real thing.
Chocolate ... comprises a number of raw and processed foods that originate from the seed of the tropical cacao tree. (Wikipedia)
Except when it doesn't. Which could very well happen if the Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association (GMA/FPA), on behalf of a number of organizations including the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (CMA), convince the FDA of that fact.

Rarely do documents making their way through federal agencies cause chocolate lovers to totally melt down. Then came Appendix C.

Accompanying a 35-page petition signed by a diverse set of culinary groups -- juice producers, meat canners and the chocolate lobby -- the appendix charts proposed changes to food standard definitions set by the Food and Drug Administration, including this one: "use a vegetable fat in place of another vegetable fat named in the standard (e.g., cacao fat)."

Chocolate lovers read that as a direct assault on their palates. That's because the current FDA standard for chocolate says it must contain cacao fat -- a.k.a. cocoa butter -- and this proposal would make it possible to call something chocolate even if it had vegetable oil instead of that defining ingredient. Whoppers malted milk balls, for instance, do not have cocoa butter.

Chocolate purists, of which there are apparently many, have undertaken a grassroots letter-writing campaign to the FDA to inform the agency that such a change to the standards is just not okay with them. More than 225 comments to the petition have been processed so far by the agency, and chocolate bloggers are pressing for more. In the annals of bureaucratic Washington battles, this is a sweet one.

"If this puts a smile on people's faces even though it's a serious matter, that's what chocolate is meant to do," said California chocolate maker and traditionalist Gary Guittard, whose Web site,, has led the counterassault.

As far as I'm concerned, this is Exhibit A for why business needs so much regulation. Conservatives moan that regulation is killing business. Well, maybe if business didn't try to sell us fake chocolate labeled as real, we wouldn't need to regulate them! Hell, they may get away with it even with regulation, if this proposal passes.

I'm going to go give the FDA a piece of my mind. Hershey, too, since they're part of this attempt.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007
Light bulbs for dummies.
Another follow-up to a previous post, this one on the subject of light bulbs. The Washington Post has a nice infographic comparing the relative merits of incandescent, halogen and fluorescent light bulbs, and even explaining color temperature.

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More on "The Secret" nonsense.
As previously noted, the latest publishing phenomenon is "The Secret," which explains that you can wish your way to good health and fortune. The book received a good healthy shove from Oprah Winfrey, who seems to buy into a lot of different nonsense. Now people are speaking out about how dangerous this philosophy is to many people. Freelance writer Tim Watkin, who spent several months working at Barnes & Noble, has this column in the Washington Post:

Winfrey first featured it on Feb. 8. According to Nielsen BookScan, the book had sold 18,000 copies the week before. During the week of the show, sales rocketed to 101,000. The show did a follow-up on Feb. 16, and sales that week reached 190,000.

Yet none of the how-the-Secret-changed-my-life stories on "Oprah" mentioned the dark side of the book's pie-in-the-sky pitch. In February, Los Angeles Times editorial writer Karin Klein reported that local therapists were seeing "clients who are headed for real trouble, immersing themselves in a dream world in which good things just come." Klein told me in an e-mail that she had heard from readers who were worried about friends who "suddenly start buying things, certain that the money to pay for them will just show up." ...

What at first glance looks like the world according to Disney -- wish on a star, and it will all come true -- turns out to be a pretty ugly little secret indeed.

Winfrey, perhaps recalling how badly burned she was last year by James Frey's pseudo-memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," may have started to cotton on to that reality. A couple of weeks ago, she "clarified" her views on the "law of attraction." Although she didn't apologize for endorsing "The Secret," she said the law of attraction "is not the answer to everything. It is not the answer to atrocities or every tragedy. It is just one law. Not the only law. And certainly, certainly, certainly not a get-rich-quick scheme."

As I squeezed an endless stream of new self-help books onto shelf after shelf at the bookstore and watched the sales they generated, I realized just how many publishers and self-appointed gurus are making their fortunes serving up nothing more than snake oil to a ravenous public. Yet this latest little flimflam of a book seems to represent a new low for the industry. It takes the promise that "you can be anything you want if you just read this book" to its illogical conclusion: Simply believe and it will happen.

But the truth -- as M. Scott Peck, one of the earliest and best self-help authors, once wrote -- is that life is difficult. There are no easy answers.

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