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, July 30, 2007
From the "well, duh" file.
I noted last week that Adobe removed the "Save As" button from the toolbar in the latest version of Adobe Reader, in favor of a "Print to FedEx Kinko's" button.

Turns out some people are even more irked than me, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required):
Adobe Systems Inc., the maker of Acrobat and Flash software, faces a wave of criticism from printing companies protesting a deal that gives FedEx Kinko's stores a prominent link on Adobe software.

The brouhaha could hurt Adobe's standing with important customers and partners and also throw a wrench into FedEx Corp.'s plans to revitalize Kinko's, the copy-and-print chain it bought in 2004.
Adobe's corporate rationalization for how wonderful this arrangement would be can be found in this June 6 press release.

Update: CNET has more details of the brouhaha.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Worst commercial (current).
No contest: it's the "Viva Viagra" spot.

Elvis is spinning in his grave, and I'm not feeling too good about it either.

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Don't take my jokes, please.
Hmm, two stories about comedians stealing jokes (Radar 2/17/07, LA Times 7/24/07). One more and it will be a trend.


Monday, July 23, 2007
Selling the toolbar.
The newest version of Adobe Reader -- what we used to call Acrobat, but Adobe now reserves that term for its software to create PDFs, not merely open them -- replaces the toolbar's Save button with one to send the file to FedEx Kinko's for printing.

I understand that Adobe wants to make money, and I'm confident that's why this happened, but come on, folks: you eliminated the Save button for this? Honestly, which function will users need more often?

Fortunately, you can change things back yourself in a few seconds. Directions are here.

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Keith Hernandez on his Seinfeld experience.
Hernandez wasn't familiar with the show when his agent called with the opportunity, but the pay was good, so the recently retired ballplayer took it. "How lucky was I?" he says today:
In 1997, TV Guide ranked [the Seinfeld episode] "The Boyfriend" No. 4 on its list of the 100 greatest TV episodes of all time, and Seinfeld often cited it as a personal favorite.

Hernandez, forced to retire from baseball in 1990 because of a back injury, says his appearance on the show extended his celebrity "shelf life," noting that it's rare when more than a few days pass without someone asking him about it.

Ex-ballplayers, even those such as Hernandez who twice played on World Series-winning teams, "fade into the twilight," says the 11-time Gold Glove winner, who spent most of his career with the Mets and St. Louis Cardinals.

But "I have people walk up to me in the airport and say, 'Can I help you move?' Grown adults, kids," he said. " 'What was it like kissing Elaine?' Those are the basic questions. It's just amazing, and it's throughout the country.

"I travel a lot and just last night in Denver this woman with airport security looks at my ID and goes, 'I know who you are.' I said, 'Well, baseball,' and she goes, 'Yeah, but "Seinfeld." ' That happens all the time." ...

"It certainly was one of the two greatest experiences of my life," he says. "Playing major league baseball for 17 years, playing in two World Series, that has to rank No. 1. But being on that sitcom has to rank No. 2. It was one of the great life experiences for me. I was just so fortunate."

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Thursday, July 19, 2007
Thinking critically about hybrids.
Auto writer Lawrence Ulrich comes through with two great articles about hybrid automobiles.

In the July issue of SmartMoney, he finally writes the story I've been waiting to see: Why pay extra money (that you may never earn back) for a hybrid when you can simply get a modern four-cylinder car?
Who says that you have to buy a pricey and sluggish hybrid to show your environmental street cred? Thanks to new advances in engine design, four-cylinder engines are delivering more power — and better gas mileage — than ever before. Unlike the anemic four-bangers of old, which ran loud and rough and struggled to make it up long hills, today's small engines are strong, clean and reliable. Indeed, a 2007 Accord LX, like the one Benbow bought, has nearly twice the power of an Accord from the late '80s. The result: The once humble four-cylinder category now makes up one of the fastest-growing segments of the auto market.

While auto sales slumped last year, sales of small four-cylinder cars were up 14% — with subcompact sales rising a whopping 154%. And because today's technically superior small engines deliver nearly twice the horsepower of the four-cylinder engines of the 1980s, midsize sedans like the Honda Accord and the Nissan Altima deliver great gas mileage without a lot of sacrifices. In the case of the Accord, the standard four-cylinder engine actually gets better mileage in the real world than the hybrid version of the same car — for $10,000 less.

To be sure, larger engines tend to deliver faster acceleration and cruise more quietly at highway speeds. And for some drivers, just knowing that they've got power in reserve is worth the price. But the reality is that the difference between a four-cylinder and a six is not as great as it might seem ....

The tradeoff is even less onerous when you consider the cost savings.

I've been driving four-cylinder cars for more than 20 years. Sure, it would be fun to have a V6 or V8, but I don't need it, and it makes little sense economically or environmentally.

(Earlier this month, Micheline Maynard cited research into why a lot of people buy the Toyota Prius: "more than half [57%] of the Prius buyers surveyed this spring by CNW Marketing Research of Bandon, Ore., said the main reason they purchased their car was that 'it makes a statement about me.'")

And in the NYT, Ulrich deservedly shreds the truly idiotic 2008 Lexus LS600H L. It costs $30,000 more than the non-hybrid V8 version, has slower acceleration, yet only delivers comparable fuel economy. Oh, and it doesn't handle as well or drive as smoothly, either. But I'm sure Lexus will find 2000 wealthy brainwashed suckers who want to think they're doing something for the environment.
Before the enviro-brigade readies the guillotine, I hasten to add that this isn’t about hating hybrids. Electric propulsion is looking more and more like a winning technology. Companies from Toyota to General Motors are working to develop affordable lithium-ion batteries, which could deliver clean, efficient, renewable power in plug-in hybrids or purely electric vehicles.

I can’t believe that adding a cupful of electric juice to a fat barrel of V-8 muscle is what environmentalists have in mind.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007
So ... did all the people rushing to invest in hedge funds ever consider this possibility?
Investors in two troubled Bear Stearns Cos. hedge funds that made big bets on subprime mortgages have been practically wiped out, the Wall Street firm said yesterday, in more evidence of the turmoil in this corner of the bond market.

Bear said one of its funds was worth nothing and another worth less than a 10th of its value from a few months ago after its subprime trades went bad, according to a letter Bear circulated and to people briefed by the firm. The Wall Street investment bank -- known for its bond-trading savvy -- has had to put up $1.6 billion in rescue financing.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Paddy Chayefsky was right.
Further proof that television is steadily getting worse (as if we needed more) was provided yesterday by NBC's programming chief Ben Silverman:
In other deals, Mr. Silverman ... announced that NBC had bought the rights to what he called “the next great reality format”: a series from Israel in the “American Idol” mold that searches for what Mr. Silverman called “the next great mentalist.” One host of the show is Uri Geller, the magician and mentalist who has been the target of skeptics.


Why would anybody want to encourage this litigious jerk?

Uri Geller runs afoul of YouTube users
By PAUL ELIAS, Associated Press Writer
Mon Jul 9, 10:19 AM ET

SAN FRANCISCO - Uri Geller became a 1970s superstar and made millions with an act that included bending spoons, seemingly through the power of his own mind.

Now, the online video generation is so bent out of shape over the self-proclaimed psychic's behavior that he's fast reaching the same Internet pariah status as the recording and movie industries.

Geller's tireless attempts to silence his detractors have extended to the popular video-sharing site YouTube, landing him squarely in the center of a raging digital-age debate over controlling copyrights amid the massive volume of video and music clips flowing freely online.

Geller's critics say he and others are abusing a federal law meant to protect against online copyright infringement, and that YouTube and other Web sites are not doing enough to combat frivolous claims.

As long as we're on the subject, here's the clip of Geller failing miserably when Johnny Carson had him on The Tonight Show.


Thursday, July 12, 2007
Puncturing a universal health care myth.
Business Week finally points out the absurdity of the "universal health care forces people to wait for medical care" argument: we're already waiting longer than in most other countries.
The health-care reform debate is in full roar with the arrival of Michael Moore's documentary Sicko, which compares the U.S. system unfavorably with single-payer systems around the world. Critics of the film are quick to trot out a common defense of the American way: For all its problems, they say, U.S. patients at least don't have to endure the endless waits for medical care endemic to government-run systems. The lobbying group America's Health Insurance Plans spells it out in a rebuttal to Sicko: "The American people do not support a government takeover of the entire health-care system because they know that means long waits for rationed care."

In reality, both data and anecdotes show that the American people are already waiting as long or longer than patients living with universal health-care systems....

If you find a suspicious-looking mole and want to see a dermatologist, you can expect an average wait of 38 days in the U.S., and up to 73 days if you live in Boston, according to researchers at the University of California at San Francisco who studied the matter. Got a knee injury? A 2004 survey by medical recruitment firm Merritt, Hawkins & Associates found the average time needed to see an orthopedic surgeon ranges from 8 days in Atlanta to 43 days in Los Angeles. Nationwide, the average is 17 days. "Waiting is definitely a problem in the U.S., especially for basic care," says Karen Davis, president of the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund, which studies health-care policy.

All this time spent "queuing," as other nations call it, stems from too much demand and too little supply. Only one-third of U.S. doctors are general practitioners, compared with half in most European countries. On top of that, only 40% of U.S. doctors have arrangements for after-hours care, vs. 75% in the rest of the industrialized world. Consequently, some 26% of U.S. adults in one survey went to an emergency room in the past two years because they couldn't get in to see their regular doctor, a significantly higher rate than in other countries.

For the record, I'm not necessarily advocating that we adopt universal health care, but we badly need to do something, and bad information and/or intellectual dishonesty doesn't help the debate. (via Washington Monthly)