Wednesday, April 22, 2009

2008: Laptops outsell desktops

In the late 1990s, the average desktop PC cost about $1,000, while the average laptop cost about twice as much

Because of new technology and economies of scale, the price difference has largely disappeared and consumer preference has tilted toward portable PCs, including new miniature netbooks.

In the third quarter of 2008, laptops outsold desktops for the first time, according to research firm iSuppli. According to NPD, the average desktop in February of this year sold for $658, just $13 less than the average notebook. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

2009: First national same-sex kiss day

Not only is today Same Sex Kiss Day, and Tax Day, it's also my birthday. I got so gay that I even broke the trans-species barrier, and got kissed by a male Golden Retriever. Then we both kissed my wife. Love is in the air.

Show up at a Starbucks on Tax Day at 7:15 AM, 12:15 PM, 5:15 PM, or 8:15 PM , buy a cuppa joe, then share a kiss with your sweetie, or a friend, or even a long-time crush! RAWR!

LGBT couples have yet to be granted the same rights to file our taxes jointly on a Federal level, and we can still be fired for being openly gay in the workplace. That's why you're encouraged to be seen on Tax Day, April 15, 2009, spreading your love with a KISS!


But I'm not out! I'm scared of being shamed and outcast by my community!
Now's the time, Gays. And we've made it as safe and silly for you as possible by choosing the most gay-friendly corporate spot in the world. Starbucks! Starbucks has been committed to LGBT rights since the beginning of time offering domestic partnership insurance, quoting gay artists on their coffee cups and funding our pride parades.

I'm not gay, but I like kissing.
Perfect. Straight allies, never fear! Come support your commitment to equality and public displays of affection, and smile at your neighbor to let them know its 2009 and that you're happy we're able to live our lives. It means a lot to us when you tell us, especially when you're our friends and family.

I'm just not comfortable kissing in public.
Fine. Consider April 15th "Homo Hug-in."

C'mon. Is kissing REALLY going to solve our problems?

You're insane.
People who vote against gays do so because they don't know us and they're not used to us. But that's changing as we live our lives openly like they do. Once they see that we're just like them, and unafraid, they come around. Didn't you see the Oscars? C'mon! One small kiss for us, one giant leap for equality!

Ok, I'm in. Tongue or no tongue?
Welcome to America. Be creative.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

2009: Two states support gay marriage in two weeks

Why do I care about this?

I'm not gay. I've been a married heterosexual for over 37 years, and I view marriage as a fundamental civil right, just like voting, education, safe construction, adequate food, clean air and water, free speech and health care. And even living together without being married.

I see no reason why anyone should be denied the privileges, joy and misery of marriage because of the contents of a partner's pants.

If people of the same sex, or different races, or even different species get married, it doesn't nullify my marriage. If my dog wants to marry a horse or a pencil sharpener, it's fine with me. I hope they'll be happy.

I have a six-year-old grand niece who has been to more weddings with two brides than with a bride and a groom. I think that's progress, not an aberration or an abomination.

I frequently get email from outraged conservative "pro-family" organizations that want my support to fight gay marriages.

I always respond with the same question. I ask how a gay marriage could hurt my marriage. I've never gotten an answer. Not even once.

That's because there is no answer.

On April 3 the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that denying people the right to marry people of the same sex violated the Iowa state constitution.

On April 7 the Vermont legislature overrode the governor's veto of a law giving same-sex couples the right to marry. This was about 10 years after Vermont was the first American state to allow "civil unions," with marriage-like rights to same-sex couples.

Vermont and Iowa have now joined Massachusetts and Connecticut in providing full marriage equality to same-sex couples.

The movement is growing, on the coasts and in the heartland of America, despite the recent reversal of the short-lived same-sex marriage permission in California.

The Washington DC City Council has voted to recognize valid same-sex marriages from other areas even though same-sex couples cannot get married in the nation's capital.

It's strange that following Proposition 8 in California, one of the most liberal states, we'd see such a dramatic change in presumably conservative middle America.

The Iowa court found that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the principle of equality in the state constitution. As did the Supreme Courts of California and Connecticut in the process of reaching their conclusion, the Iowa court held that laws that make use of sexual-orientation classifications warrant heightened judicial scrutiny. This means other laws in Iowa that make use of sexual-orientation classifications will be treated like laws that make use of sex classifications. When courts demand a very strong justification for laws that involve sexual-orientation classifications, they almost always find inadequate the proposed justification for laws that treat people differently in virtues of their sexual orientations.

Further, with great clarity, the Iowa court rejected the two leading arguments made by opponents of same-sex marriage: (1) gay people are less good parents than heterosexuals and (2) prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying strengthens the incentives for different-sex couples to marry, thereby creating greater stability for the children of different-sex couples. These two arguments have been embraced by courts in New York, Maryland, Washington, Indiana, and Arizona, but the Iowa court, like California and Connecticut courts, firmly rejected such arguments against same-sex marriage.

In Vermont, the path to marriage for same-sex couples was quite different than in Iowa. Vermont was a path-breaker with respect to the relationship recognition for same-sex couples. In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court held that the state's constitution required that same-sex couples be able to obtain all the benefits that different-sex couples could obtain by marrying.

After struggling with the options, the Vermont legislature created a new type of relationship for same-sex couples called civil union that is identical to marriage in terms of its effects under state law. Although Vermont preserved marriage for different-sex couples, with the passage of its civil union law, Vermont became the first state in the country to provide equal recognition to same-sex relationships.

With the latest move, Vermont is the first state where same-sex couples can marry as the result of a legislative process rather than as the result of a court order. Other states have enacted civil union or domestic partnership laws without being required to do so by courts (for example, Connecticut and New Hampshire passed civil unions laws without a court saying that the state's constitution demanded it). And California's state legislature twice passed a law that would have legalized same-sex marriage, but the state's governor twice vetoed it. So once again, Vermont is a trailblazer for civil rights. (some info from

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Time out

I'm taking a few days off.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

2009: President of Cuba met with US Congressmen

On Monday, Cuban president Raul Castro met with seven visiting members of the Congressional Black Caucus, his first face-to-face discussions with US leaders since he became Cuba's president last year.

State television showed images of Castro, who holds the rank of four-star army general, wearing a business suit instead of his trademark olive-green fatigues and sitting down with Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, and other members of the American delegation behind closed doors.

An official communique read on the air noted that the US representatives had held meetings in recent days with the head of the Cuban parliament and the country's foreign minister, but provided no details of the meeting with Castro.

The lawmakers are in Havana to talk about improving US-Cuba relations amid speculation that Washington is ready to loosen some facets of its 47-year-old trade embargo.

The meeting came as Fidel Castro said Cuba is not afraid to talk directly to the US and that the communist government does not thrive on confrontation as its detractors have long claimed.

In a column published in state-controlled newspapers earlier Monday, the 82-year-old former president also praised US Sen. Richard Lugar, saying the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee "is walking on solid ground" with a proposal to appoint a special envoy to reshape US.Cuba relations.

Fidel Castro wrote that "those capable of serenely analyzing the events, as is the case of the senator from Indiana, use an irrefutable argument: The measures of the United States against Cuba, over almost half a century, are a total failure."

Though they share a strong and mutual distrust of Washington, both Castro brothers have said for decades that they would be willing to talk personally with US leaders. Fidel repeated Cuba's desire for dialogue in the column, saying direct negotiation "is the only way to secure friendship and peace among peoples." Currently, the countries do not have formal diplomatic relations.

Lawmakers in both houses of the US Congress have proposed a measure that would prohibit the president from barring Americans from traveling to Cuba except in extreme cases, effectively lifting a travel ban that is a key component of the embargo.

Rep. Lee has said that many of the representatives, who arrived in Cuba on Friday and are scheduled to leave today, support the travel legislation.

Democratic Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina said Monday, "wouldn't it be so wonderful if we struck a dialogue and found the things that were mutually advantageous and mutually of interest to our two countries and stopped the historical divisions that have separated us (though we are) so close geographically?" (info from The Wall Strreet Journal)

Monday, April 6, 2009

2009: End of Bush ban on media coverage of returning war dead

Most US military personnel who die on duty return to the United States via Dover Air Force base in Delaware.

In 1991, at the time of the Persian Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush banned media coverage of the returns.

The Bush administration, and following administrations, portrayed the restriction as a way to shield grieving families.

But critics argued the government was trying to hide the human cost of war. President Barack Obama had asked for a review of the ban, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that the blanket restriction made him uncomfortable.

The Pentagon's 18-year ban on media coverage ended with the return to the US of the remains of Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers of Hopewell, Virginia.

After receiving permission from family members, the military opened Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to the media Sunday night for the return of the body of Air Force

The 30-year-old airman was killed April 4 in Afghanistan, when he was hit with an improvised explosive device.

Myers' family was the first to be asked under a new Pentagon policy whether it wished to have media coverage of the arrival of a loved one at the Dover base. The family agreed, but declined to be interviewed or photographed.

An eight-member team wearing white gloves and battle fatigues carried Myers' body off of a military contract Boeing 747 that touched down after a flight from Germany.

Myers' widow and other family members, along with about two dozen members of the media, attended the solemn ceremony, which took about 20 minutes. There was a brief prayer ceremony on the plane before an automatic loader slowly lowered the flag-draped transfer case bearing Myers' body to the ground, where the eight-member team slowly carried it to a truck.

Preceded by a security vehicle with flashing blue and red lights, the truck then slowly made its way to the base mortuary, where Myers' body was to be processed for return to his family.

Myers was a member of the 48th Civil Engineer Squadron with the Royal Air Force in Lakenheath, England, one of the bases the US Air Force uses in the UK. He was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery last year in recognition of his efforts in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Myers' widow flew from England to attend the arrival of his body to the US. Under the new policy, families of fallen servicemen will decide whether to allow media coverage of their return. If several bodies arrive on the same flight, news coverage will be allowed only for those whose families have given permission.

There have been some exceptions since 1991, most notably in 1996 when President Bill Clinton attended the arrival of the remains of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and 32 others killed in a plane crash in Croatia. In 2000, the Pentagon distributed photographs of the arrival of remains of those killed in the bombing of the USS Cole and in 2001, the Air Force distributed a photograph of the remains of a victim of the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon.

One objection to lifting the ban had been that if the media were present, some families might feel obligated to come to Dover for the brief, solemn ritual in which honor guards carry the caskets off a plane.

Few families now choose to attend, in part because doing so means leaving home and the support system of friends at a difficult time. The sudden trip can also be expensive and logistically difficult, though the military provides transportation for up to three members to greet their service members at Dover. (info from the Associated Press, photo from

Thursday, April 2, 2009

2009: soap opera Guiding Light is turned off after 72 years

CBS announced yesterday that the longest-running scripted program in broadcasting history, the soap opera “Guiding Light,” will be canceled in September. The show has been on the air for 72 years, beginning on NBC radio in 1937 and moving to CBS television in 1952.

The move came after many years of steeply declining ratings for the hourlong soap, which is owned by Procter & Gamble and thus was a link to the earliest days of daytime serial dramas on radio. The shows were commonly called soap operas because soap companies sponsored them.

A spokeswoman for P&G, Jeannie Tharrington, said the company would seek to place “Guiding Light” elsewhere. “We’re looking at all our options,” she said. “This show started as a 15-minute radio show, and then it was a half-hour television show, so it has adapted over the years.”

Tharrington said P&G would look to any possible outlet to continue the series. A canceled NBC soap, “Passions,” moved for a time to the satellite service DirecTV, but it failed there.

CBS president, Nancy Tellem, said, “It was not an easy decision to make, but we talked it over with our partners at Procter & Gamble, and we agreed it was time.”

The biggest star in the show’s current cast is Kim Zimmer, a four-time Emmy winner for best actress in a daytime serial. Another star, Justin Deas, has won six Emmys for his acting. The show also provided breakthroughs for many well-known actors, including Kevin Bacon, James Earl Jones, Calista Flockhart, Allison Janney and Cicely Tyson. “Guiding Light” claims the distinction of being the first network soap to introduce regular African-American characters, in 1966.

CBS and the producers of “Guiding Light” — which is shot on the East Coast, in the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan and on location in NJ — had taken several steps in recent years to keep the series alive, especially in switching the production to a digital format.

That move, last year, included the introduction of hand-held digital cameras and permanent, four-wall sets as opposed to the traditional, constantly reconstructed three-wall sets built to accommodate bulky pedestal cameras. Rather than expensive lighting and sound equipment, the show also began using hand-held lights and microphones.

The changes resulted in a look vastly different from the traditional soap, with more camera movement, more muted lighting and much more use of outside locations. The moves saved considerable money,but not enough to save the series.

This year the audience had declined to an average of just 2.1 million viewers an episode. Its pattern over recent years had been steadily downward. Last year it averaged about 2.4 million viewers an episode. Five years ago the average was about 3 million.

“Guiding Light” also had the smallest audience of any of the remaining network daytime soaps and a smaller audience than many of the game and talk shows that also fill network daytime hours. The most-watched soap, “The Young and the Restless” on CBS, is averaging about 5.26 million viewers an episode. The network’s game show “The Price Is Right” has an average of about 4.95 million viewers. ABC’s talk show “The View” averages about 4.25 million viewers.

ABC’s top soap, “General Hospital,” averages about 2.97 million viewers, and NBC’s only soap, “Days of Our Lives,” has about 2.76 million, though those shows have much younger audiences, making them more desirable to many advertisers.

When “Guiding Light” ends, another CBS soap, “As the World Turns” — also shot in New York — will become the longest-running daytime serial drama. It started in 1956. (info from The New York Times)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

2009: Panasonic lawyers lose April Fools fight

April Fooler Michael N. Marcus Rejects Panasonic Gag Order, Urges People to Attend Free Speech Rally at Patrick Henry Memorial in Virginia

Michael N. Marcus is an author, businessman and April Fooler. Born in April, Marcus says April Fools' Day and Halloween are his favorite holidays. For nearly ten years, he's "pranked" electronics manufacturer Panasonic in early April, but this year his perennial victim has gotten tough, and has threatened court action to block the pranking. Marcus remains defiant despite the threat.

Marcus is president of AbleComm, Inc., a Connecticut-based supplier of telecommunications equipment. The company's main phone system brand is Panasonic. Marcus said, "I also own some Panasonic stock, and I review Panasonic electronic products on my GottaGet1 blog. I have a lot of respect for the company, but that doesn't mean I can't have some fun with it."

Marcus continued, "Since the mid 1990s, I've distributed an April Fools' news report about a mythical press conference that took place at a non-existent hotel, where fake people announced fake corporate policy changes and fake new products. For those who were in on it, It became an eagerly awaited annual tradition. Lots of people love my spoofs, but gullible victims, of course, don't. Some of my fake news has actually become real news in later years."

The annual custom reached a new height in April, 2008. Marcus realized that the public and the news media were becoming increasingly sophisticated and skeptical of "news" distributed with a 4/1 date. So, to enhance credibility, he skipped the first of the month and distributed a spoof two days later.

Early on April 3, 2008 he launched a 90%-false press release. The press release contained several revelations, but the most important was that Panasonic would be manufacturing cellphones with plasma video displays. A few months earlier Panasonic demonstrated the world's largest plasma TV, so Marcus decided they should also have the smallest.

Through very lucky timing, a few days before the "news" went out, AT&T had announced their Mobile TV service for watching shows and sports on cellphones, which added usefulness and legitimacy to the fictitious device.

Within a few hours, the story was picked up and published by websites around the world. Many news writers added original material to demonstrate their extensive knowledge of the phony subject; but only one of them called Marcus to check on the story, and Marcus told him that it was a spoof. was particularly fanciful in enhancing the fake news. They said "Panasonic took the stage at CTIA 2008 this week with partner AbleComm to announce that it has been working with AT&T to develop plasma displays for mobile phones, for use with the carrier's new Mobile TV service." There was absolutely nothing in the news release about an appearance at the CTIA event or Panasonic "working with AT&T.". had a headline that read, "AT&T wants Panasonic to develop plasma screens for cellphones." The news release never said that, and neither did AT&T.

Some people at Panasonic laughed as expected, but some, particularly new employees who were unaware of the tradition, were upset. One outraged exec sent an email saying that Marcus caused "people to lose thousands of productive working hours." Panasonic demanded that the news distribution service that Marcus had used issue a retraction -- and this added fuel to the fire.

The retraction generated more coverage of the fake news, and personal insults, Marcus explained. "Several websites that received the retraction accused me of forgetting what day it was. One critic with dubious credentials said it was a "late, poorly executed April Fools' joke," and another called me an April Idiot. Actually it was not late, and it was extremely well executed, and my mother didn't have any stupid kids."

"There's certainly no rule that limits hoaxing to one day per year," Marcus continued. "No one who was filmed for TV's Candid Camera on 3/20 or 10/15 objected because it wasn't 4/1. Similarly the celebrities who were victims on the MTV show Punk'd may have grumbled, but not because they were not punked on the first day of the fourth month. And the subjects of "Stuttering John" interviews on The Howard Stern Show didn't check the date before deciding to participate."

Many of the websites that ran the news of the retraction, but had not run the original fake news, ran it with the retraction, thus increasing the circulation and readership of the spoof.

Some victims were complimentary. said, "Yesterday AbleComm sent out a press release that was all very believable talking about how Panasonic was going to be using small plasma displays in a mobile phone designed to be used on the new AT&T Mobile TV service launching in May. The release was professional, interesting and all very plausible replete with quotes from Panasonic and all. It didn't take long before the story was all around the internet…"

Some websites were actually suspicious of the retraction. said it "Looks like someone let the plasma cat out of the proverbial bag too soon, and is now desperately backtracking to try to salvage a business relationship. It's unclear whether this was a deliberate or accidental occurrence, though the release was sizable and contained multiple quotes from all the parties involved which lends weight to the idea that it was an authentic document prematurely distributed."

In anticipation of another April Fools "attack" this year, Panasonic's law firm Katz, Honigman, Shapiro and Flynn sent a registered letter to Marcus last week warning him against further spoofing. The attorneys told Marcus that "unless you agree to restrain yourself, Panasonic will go to Court to obtain a restraining order against you."

Years earlier, Panasonic's in-house legal department had warned Marcus not to contact the then-new head of Panasonic's Business Telephone Systems division, and Marcus refused to obey.

Now in 2009, Marcus is once again making a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of fun.

He said, "It's ridiculous that the company that I have invested my money in, and that makes products that I sell and recommend, will spend money and time merely because they have no sense of humor. I will not be silenced. I will not obey a "gag order" even if they convince a court to issue one. We are living in dark times, and Panasonic and the rest of the world need to lighten up."

"Freedom of speech is a fundamental part of American culture," Marcus emphasized. "In 1791 it was guaranteed in the very first Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. Even earlier, in 1215, free speech was included in the British Magna Carta, and the caliph Umar incorporated free speech as part of Islamic law in the 7th century."

Marcus invites all supporters of free speech, both serious and spurious, to gather on April 1 at 2:00 p.m. at the Patrick Henry National Memorial in Virginia, about 35 miles south of Lynchburg.

Patrick Henry is known for his immortal words supporting the American Revolution in 1775: "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" The rally will take place at the Orator's Stage, near Henry's grave and law office. All attendees will be allowed five minutes each to address the audience on any topic. While there will be no censorship, Marcus urges that speakers "keep it clean" because there will probably be children in the audience. The address is 1250 Red Hill Road, Brookneal, VA 24528.

Marcus noted, "My former spoof victims and passive co-conspirators have been eagerly waiting to see what I would devise for this year. I won't let them down and will not be intimidated by lawyers. I'm reminded of what John Belushi said in his Bluto Blutarski role in Animal House: "Over? Did you say 'over'? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!"

The merry prankster proclaimed, "I proudly reiterate the defiant words of Bluto Blutarsky. I say to Panasonic and to its uptight attorneys, Hell no!"

"It's time they realize that pranks, spoofs and put-ons are part of normal American life, and should be responded to with a smile, not an injunction," Marcus concluded. "Besides, most people know not to believe anything they read on the first day of April."

Michael N. Marcus is author of the recently published I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life, Phone Systems & Phones for Small Business & Home, and The AbleComm Guide to Phone Systems, all available at and

(Patrick Henry painting by George Matthews from the U. S. Senate website. Michael N. Marcus photo by Cloe Poisson. © 2008 The Hartford Courant.)