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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Thursday, January 31, 2008
Why Las Vegas is worried about this year's Super Bowl.
Las Vegas casinos are nervous as The Big Game approaches, according to the Wall Street Journal:
But too much of that [heightened] interest, at least as far as Vegas is concerned, is in the underdog Giants. Sports books prefer an even amount of betting on both teams to mitigate risk, because they make an additional amount (called vigorish) on losing bets. Even a 60/40 split would be reasonable, said Jay Kornegay, executive director of the Race and Sports SuperBook at the Las Vegas Hilton. Too much money on one side, though, exposes them to significant losses if the public's team wins.

As of yesterday, 75% of the wagered money at the Hilton was on the Giants. "There's definitely concern," Mr. Kornegay said. "If you find any Patriots fans, make sure to send them our way."

The reason for the lack of belief in the 18-0 Patriots is the point spread, or the minimum margin New England must win by in order for its backers to collect. Initially, the Patriots were favored by 14 points last week -- and should have been favored by even more, some experts say. Sean Van Patten, an oddsmaker at Las Vegas Sports Consultants, says he would've made the line 15. "I still think in the back of my mind that the bad Eli Manning might show up," he says of the Giants' up-and-down quarterback.

But bettors found the 14-point spread overly generous, considering the Giants' current 10-game winning streak on the road and the Patriots' recent close calls, which include a three-point victory over the Giants Dec. 29. As money has flowed in on the Giants, the sports books have lowered the spread to 12 or 12½ to encourage betting on New England and to even up the action. They are hoping that the line eventually will rise back to 13 or beyond, because history has shown that casual bettors -- who typically bet in the final few days before the game -- overwhelmingly favor the favorite.

Despite its current predicament, Vegas doesn't expect a repeat of Super Bowl XIII in 1979, a disastrous event that casinos still refer to as Black Sunday. In the lead-up to that game, the Pittsburgh Steelers were initially favored over the Dallas Cowboys by as few as two points. Bettors flocked to the Steelers, causing the spread to rise as high as five. Then sentiment switched to Dallas, driving the spread back down. Pittsburgh wound up winning, 35-31, in a worst-case scenario for the sports books, because bettors on both sides, those who had the Steelers minus fewer than four or Dallas plus more than four, got paid.

"I'm glad I wasn't working here then," the Hilton's Mr. Kornegay said.

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I know a few people who chew ice, but I didn't appreciate how popular it is down south until I read this Wall Street Journal story.
Ice isn't just for chilling drinks anymore, or for packing fish and treating sprains. It's a hot snack. Some Sonic Drive-In franchises sell it in cups and in bags to go. Ice-machine makers are competing to make the best chewable ice, with names like Chewblet, Nugget Ice and Pearl Ice. One manufacturer calls the ice-loving South the "Chew Belt."

Generally, more ice is sold during the summer, but people who compulsively chew ice do so whether it's hot or cold outside. One Sonic in Texas sold 13 10-pound bags, at $1.49 apiece, in one week this month.

Sales of machines that make easier-to-chew ice jumped about 23%, to 16,673 units in 2006 from 2003, according to data from the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute. Some ice chewers, including country-music star Vince Gill, have had the machines installed in their homes.

But what really piqued my interest was a single paragraph mentioned halfway into the story:
Today, obsessive ice chewing has been linked to iron deficiency, which afflicts about 2% of U.S. adult males and as many as 16% of young females between the ages of 16 and 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treating the deficiency -- whose link to ice eating is unclear -- tends to end the compulsive chewing for such people.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008
A belated R.I.P.
Apparently Kelloggs, which owns Nabisco, which in turn owns Sunshine, killed off Hydrox cookies in 2003 -- without bothering to announce it. Some people still can;t over it.
But Ms. Burton, who maintains the Hydrox Web site, is unconvinced. She says she grew up in a "Hydrox family." Her grandparents ran a grocery store when her father was a child. "He had access to all sorts of cookies," she says.

In college, when friends ridiculed her for preferring the cheaper knock-off Hydrox to the real thing, she did some research. Among her findings: Hydrox was created in 1908 by what would later become Sunshine Biscuits Inc. That was four years before the National Biscuit Co. (later called Nabisco) came up with the similar Oreo. Oreo was the knock-off.

The Hydrox name came from combining the words hydrogen and oxygen, which Sunshine executives thought evoked purity. Others thought it sounded more like a laundry detergent. Still, the biscuit gained a loyal following. In an informal taste test held in Manhattan in 1988 by Advertising Age, 29 tasters voted for Hydrox, 16 for Oreo.

More damaging to Hydrox over the years was Nabisco's far larger marketing budget, Hydrox fans believe. Sunshine also stumbled in 1991, when it tried to revamp its mascot, a glob of vanilla crème that morphed into a smiley figure named Drox. Pillsbury sued Sunshine, arguing successfully in court that Drox resembled the Pillsbury doughboy. Sunshine was forced to shelve the little fellow.

When Keebler acquired Sunshine in 1996, Sunshine was a distant third behind Keebler and Nabisco. Keebler then replaced the original Hydrox with a reformulated, sweeter cookie aimed more at children, called Droxies. When they failed to make a dent in the Oreo, Kellogg, which had acquired Keebler in 2001, quietly stopped making Hydrox two years later.

I grew up eating Hydrox cookies. My mother always bought them instead of Oreos. When I finally tried Oreos, I didn't like them as much. So I guess I sympathize with these people.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008
The gray lady lets her hair down.
The New York Times displayed a flash of informality Sunday. Their obituary for Suzanne Pleshette ended by talking (naturally) about the legendary ending of Newhart ... and referenced the headline of this short 1999 story from The Onion.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008
A tale of two papers.
The two major newspapers in Detroit, the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, both redesigned their websites in 2007. To me, there was no question that the News site was much more attractive, definitely easier to read and arguably easier to use.

Nielsen Online has just released its newspaper website traffic measurements for December, and they are (unique audience and year-over-year change)...

27. The Detroit News -- 1,256,000 -- 21.4%
29. Detroit Free Press -- 1,168,000 -- (-22.9%)

Maybe I'm not the only one who feels that way about the websites.

For comparison, here's the circulation of their physical printed papers, as of 3/31/07, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation (via BurrellesLuce):

20. Detroit Free Press: 329,989 Daily / 640,356 Sunday
47. The Detroit News: 202,029 Daily / 0 Sunday

Both newspapers are a mere shadow of their former selves, in more ways than one. While newspaper readership is declining in general, both Detroit papers hemorrhaged readers during a long strike that began in 1995. Gannett took over the News after a 1985 merger, and the quality went downhill. Having ruined the News, Gannett unloaded it to MediaNews Group in 2005 when they bought the Free Press from Knight-Ridder. So we have the distinction of having Gannett spoil both of our once-great newspapers.

Wikipedia: Detroit News, Detroit Free Press

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