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] (Be patient, I don't check it often.)

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Sunday, December 30, 2007
End the loudness war!
You know how everybody thinks that commercials on TV are louder than the programs? (I'm not talking about what can happen with cable TV, which is unregulated; I'm talking about broadcast over the air TV.) That's because the producers compress the dynamic range. It's not that the loudest parts are any louder -- what would have been the quiet parts are compressed and made louder.

Since the early 1990s, music producers have been using this tactic as well. It's gotten to the point that a lot of experienced producers hate listening to new recordings -- or even remastered versions of old ones. From Rolling Stone:
Over the past decade and a half, a revolution in recording technology has changed the way albums are produced, mixed and mastered — almost always for the worse. "They make it loud to get [listeners'] attention," [producer David] Bendeth says. Engineers do that by applying dynamic range compression, which reduces the difference between the loudest and softest sounds in a song. Like many of his peers, Bendeth believes that relying too much on this effect can obscure sonic detail, rob music of its emotional power and leave listeners with what engineers call ear fatigue. "I think most everything is mastered a little too loud," Bendeth says. "The industry decided that it's a volume contest."

Producers and engineers call this "the loudness war," and it has changed the way almost every new pop and rock album sounds. But volume isn't the only issue. Computer programs like Pro Tools, which let audio engineers manipulate sound the way a word processor edits text, make musicians sound unnaturally perfect. And today's listeners consume an increasing amount of music on MP3, which eliminates much of the data from the original CD file and can leave music sounding tinny or hollow. "With all the technical innovation, music sounds worse," says Steely Dan's Donald Fagen, who has made what are considered some of the best-sounding records of all time. "God is in the details. But there are no details anymore." ...

... even most CD listeners have lost interest in high-end stereos as surround-sound home theater systems have become more popular, and superior-quality disc formats like DVD-Audio and SACD flopped. Bendeth and other producers worry that young listeners have grown so used to dynamically compressed music and the thin sound of MP3s that the battle has already been lost. "CDs sound better, but no one's buying them," he says. "The age of the audiophile is over."

The Austin Statesman had a similar article in October 2006.

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Friday, December 28, 2007
Spare us from the FairTax zealots.
Some people are relentlessly pushing the "FairTax," a national sales tax, as a miracle solution that will solve all our problems -- including allowing the elimination of the Internal Revenue Service.

When you have a blowhard talk radio host pushing the idea, it refuses to go away. And now GOP candidate Mike Huckabee is on the bandwagon. So the Washington Post takes a look:
A national sales tax won't work, at least not according to tax experts and economists of all political stripes. Even President Bush's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform dedicated a chapter [PDF] of its 2005 final report to dismissing such proposals.

"After careful evaluation, the Panel decided to reject a complete replacement of the federal income tax system with a retail sales tax," the panel said. It concluded that such a move would shift the tax burden from the rich to the poor or create the largest entitlement program in history to mitigate that new burden....

To offset the burden on the poor, the FairTax system would send monthly checks to everyone in the nation, compensating for taxes paid up to the poverty level and ensuring that some minimum standard of living would go untaxed. The president's tax overhaul panel, in its final report, estimated that such a program would cost $600 billion to $780 billion a year, making "most American families dependent on monthly checks from the government for a substantial portion of their income."

But the biggest criticism is that the tax cannot be administered. Many economists say a black market would develop overnight, especially in the service sector.

"Under the FairTax, every time you purchase a service, you would probably get two prices -- one you can pay with a check or credit card that includes the FairTax, and one you can pay in cash and save 23 percent," conservative economist Bruce R. Bartlett wrote this week in the publication Tax Notes. "Because there would no longer be any audits of income, since the IRS would have been abolished ... massive evasion is inevitable."

At the same time, federal spending would shoot up because the government would have to pay sales taxes on purchases. To compensate, the sales tax rate would have to rise to more than 40 percent for the government to take in as much as it does now, said William G. Gale, a tax economist at the Brookings Institution. State and local governments, facing a new burden on purchases, would have to increase taxes to maintain current levels, as well. also has a good explanation of it: "while there are several good economic arguments for the FairTax, unless you earn more than $200,000 per year, fairness is not one of them."

Still not convinced? The idea originated with a group of Texas businessmen.

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Monday, December 24, 2007
The story behind the song.

The Washington Post tells the story behind a modern Christmas classic recording: Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy."
Bowie, who was 30 at the time, and Crosby, then 73, recorded the duet Sept. 11, 1977, for Crosby's "Merrie Olde Christmas" TV special. A month later, Crosby was dead of a heart attack. The special was broadcast on CBS about a month after his death....

The original plan had been for Bowie and Crosby to sing just "Little Drummer Boy." But "David came in and said: 'I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?'" Fraser said. "We didn't know quite what to do."

Fraser, Kohan and Grossman left the set and found a piano in the studios' basement. In about 75 minutes, they wrote "Peace on Earth," an original tune, and worked out an arrangement that weaved together the two songs. Bowie and Crosby nailed the performance with less than an hour of rehearsal.

And that was almost that. "We never expected to hear about it again," Kohan said.

But after the recording circulated as a bootleg for several years, RCA decided to issue it as a single in 1982. It has since been packaged and repackaged in Christmas compilation albums and released as a DVD.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007
Thank goodness we have the MPAA to protect us.
Here's a quiz for you. Which one of these movie posters is "not suitable for all audiences"?

According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), it's the last one, for the documentary Taxi to the Dark Side (website). They specifically objected to the hood, and pointed out that posters for horror movies that used hoods had been rejected as well.

Well, hooray for consistency.

I'm so glad that imagery of a masked woman strapped into some type of torture machine, fingers with ripped nails, and a woman suspended upside down with her hands apparently bound can be used for "torture porn" movies for "entertainment." But to promote an award-winning documentary with an image of a hooded man being led away by American soldiers -- an image based upon an actual news photo, mind you -- is unacceptable. As it was in 2006 for another award-winning documentary, The Road to Guantanamo.

This is as idiotic as the "zero tolerance" stories you hear about kids being suspended from school because they had aspirin or a butter knife. Heaven forbid that people in positions of authority use their judgment.

The producers say thay plan to appeal ... if they can. They can ignore the MPAA's ruling and use the poster anyway, but they risk losing their "R" rating if they do -- and very few theatre chains will show an unrated movie.

More info here.

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The real Charlie.
With the movie Charlie Wilson's War (trailer) opening this weekend, you might to know about the real Charlie Wilson, coutresy of the Washington Post.
The movie is pretty accurate, as movies go. The problem is that director Mike Nichols had to leave out so much good stuff. If truth be told, the life of "Good Time Charlie" Wilson is way too wild and crazy to be captured in any movie shorter than the "Godfather" trilogy.

A USA Today story quotes him as saying, "I think they made me a little better than I am."


Friday, December 21, 2007
A Christmas story.
On his blog, Mark Evanier points to a 1999 post about Mel Tormé that gets more hits than any other on his site. Go read it and you'll see why. It's a great story.

I have witnessed a number of thrilling "show business" moments — those incidents, far and few between, where all the little hairs on your epidermis snap to attention and tingle with joy. Usually, these occur on a screen or stage. I hadn't expected to experience one next to a falafel stand — but I did.

If you're curious to read more about him, here's his Wikipedia biography.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007
101 Dumbest Moments in Business.
There are few if any traditions here, but this one: linking to Fortune magazine's Annual "101 Dumbest Moments in Business" list.

In their quest for ad revenue, each one is now on its own page, beginning here. That's right, you're going to be clicking 100 times to see the whole list ... or glance at this overview.

I haven't bothered to read the whole list, but judging from the comments, there are a few poor choices in there. I guess that happens when you have to pad out a list that long.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Red are magazene.
hot rod magazine cover
So I'm in a drug store yesterday and I decide to take a minute or two to glance at the magazines, and this is what I see.

Maybe it was intended as a Greek or Latin name for some vehicle, I thought, so I took the time to open the magazine and look at the table of contents. Nope -- that's supposed to be the plural form of "hero."

I don't expect Hot Rod to be written or edited as elegantly as, say, The New Yorker, but ...

Too bad there isn't a popular TV show or something that might have jogged their memory. Oh, wait a minute ...

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