Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I need a break.

I began blogging on 5/7/06. I started writing one blog, and gradually built up to seven blogs a day. I got out of bed at 3:30AM to start my daily writing.

I did it for fun, but lately it has seemed too much like work. I'm not sure that I am officially "burned-out," but I have definitely lost enthusiasm for the daily grind of blogging.

Since the blog obligation was only to myself, and I have no contract, it's an obligation I am free to suspend, cancel or modify at will. No one has a paid-up subscription for words they won't receive.

Therefore, after 2,715 posts, I have decided to take some time off. I need to finish writing a few books, and some essays, and maybe I'll even try poetry and songwriting. My to-do list includes many unread books and un-watched DVDs. I want to spend more time swimming, and walk my dog more often.

The break will last at least a few weeks, but might even be several months, or many months. J. D. Salinger did not publish an original work after 1965, but I won't be away that long. Even if I don't come back full-time until next year, I might pop back in occasionally if I think there's something worth saying.

I am continuing to write BookMakingBlog, my blog about writing, editing and publishing.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

2008: Print-On-Demand exceeds conventional publishing in the US

Yesterday Bowker, the major provider of book information, released statistics on US book publishing for 2008, compiled from its Books In Print® database. Based on preliminary figures from publishers, Bowker is projecting that US title output in 2008 decreased by 3.2%, with 275,232 new titles and editions, down from the 284,370 in 2007.

Despite this decline in traditional book publishing, there was another extraordinary year of growth in the reported number of “On Demand” and short-run books produced in 2008. Bowker projects that 285,394 On Demand books were produced last year, a staggering 132% increase over the 2007 total of 123,276 titles. This is the second consecutive year of triple-digit growth in the On Demand segment, which in 2008 was 462% above levels seen as recently as 2006.

“Our statistics for 2008 benchmark an historic development in the US book publishing industry as we crossed a point last year in which On Demand and short-run books exceeded the number of traditional books entering the marketplace,” said Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publisher services for Bowker. “It remains to be seen how this trend will unfold in the coming years before we know if we just experienced a watershed year in the book publishing industry, fueled by the changing dynamics of the marketplace and the proliferation of sophisticated publishing technologies, or an anomaly that caused the major industry trade publishers to retrench.”

“The statistics from last year are not just an indicator that the industry had a decline in new titles coming to the market, but they’re also a reflection of how publishers are getting smarter and more strategic about the specific kinds of books they’re choosing to publish,” explained Gallagher. “If you look beyond the numbers, you begin to see that 2008 was a pivotal year that benchmarks the changing face of publishing.”

Among the major publishing categories, the big winners last year were Education and Business, two categories that might suggest publishers were seeking to give consumers more resources for success amidst a very tough job environment. There were 9,510 new education titles introduced in the US in 2008, up 33% from the prior year, and 8,838 new business titles, an increase of 14% over 2007 levels.

By contrast, the big category losers in 2008 were Travel and Fiction, two categories in which publishers clearly saw less demand during a deep recession in the US. There were 4,817 new travel books introduced last year, down 15% from the year before, and 47,541 new fiction titles, a drop of 11% from 2007. Moreover, the Religion category dropped again last year, with 14% fewer titles introduced in the US, and that once reliable engine of growth for publishers is now well off its peak year of 2004.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

1903: First woman to win a Nobel prize

Marie Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1903. In 1911 she became the first person of either gender to win a second Nobel Prize.

Marie Skłodowska Curie (1867 – 1934) was a physicist and chemist of Polish upbringing and, subsequently, French citizenship. She was a pioneer in the field of radioactivity, the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes (physics in 1903 and chemistry in 1911), and the first female professor at the University of Paris.

She was born Maria Skłodowska in Warsaw (then Vistula Country, Russian Empire; now Poland) and lived there until she was 24. In 1891 she followed her elder sister Bronisława to study in Paris, where she obtained her higher degrees and conducted her subsequent scientific work. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw. Her husband Pierre Curie was a Nobel co-laureate of hers, and her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie and son-in-law Frédéric Joliot-Curie also received Nobel prizes.

Her achievements include the creation of a theory of radioactivity (a term coined by her), techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two new elements, polonium and radium. It was also under her personal direction that the world's first studies were conducted into the treatment of neoplasms ("cancers"), using radioactive isotopes.

While an actively loyal French citizen, she never lost her sense of Polish identity. She named the first new chemical element that she discovered (1898) "polonium" for her native country, and in 1932 she founded a Radium Institute (now the Maria Skłodowska–Curie Institute of Oncology) in her home town Warsaw, headed by her physician-sister Bronisława.

If the work of Maria Skłodowska–Curie helped overturn established ideas in physics and chemistry, it has had an equally profound effect in the societal sphere. In order to attain her scientific achievements, she had to overcome barriers that were placed in her way as a woman in both her country of origin and her adoptive country.

This aspect of her life and career is highlighted in Françoise Giroud's Marie Curie: A Life, which emphasizes Skłodowska's role as a feminist precursor. She was ahead of her time, emancipated, independent, and in addition uncorrupted. Albert Einstein is said to have remarked that she was probably the only person who was not corrupted by the fame that she had won

Madame Curie was decorated with the French Legion of Honor. In Poland, she had received honorary doctorates from the Lwów Polytechnic (1912), Poznań University (1922), Kraków's Jagiellonian University (1924) and the Warsaw Polytechnic (1926).

The Curies' elder daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935 for discovering that aluminium could be made radioactive and emit neutrons when bombarded with alpha rays. (info from Wikipedia)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

2008: first time US homes with cellphones only outnumber homes with landlines only

Last year, for the first time, the number of American households using only cellphones outnumber those that just have traditional landlines in a high-tech shift accelerated by the recession.

In the freshest evidence of the growing appeal of cellphones, 20% of households had only cellphones during the last half of 2008, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey. That was an increase of nearly three percentage points over the first half of the year, the largest six-month increase since the government started gathering such data in 2003.

The 20% of homes with only cellphones compared with 17% with landlines but no cellphones. That ratio has changed starkly in recent years: In the first six months of 2003, just 3% of households were wireless only, while 43% stuck to landlines.

Stephen Blumberg, senior scientist at the CDC and an author of the report, attributed the growing number of cell-only households in part to a recession that has forced many families to scour their budgets for savings. "We do expect that with the recession, we'd see an increase in the prevalence of wireless-only households, above what we might have expected had there been no recession," Blumberg said.

Further underscoring the public's shrinking reliance on landline phones, 15% of households have both landlines and cells but take few or no calls on their landlines, often because they are wired into computers. Combined with wireless-only homes, that means that 35% of households -- more than one in three -- are basically reachable only on cellphones.

The changes are important for pollsters, who for years relied on reaching people on their landline telephones. Growing numbers of surveys now include calls to people on their cells, which is more expensive partly because federal laws forbid pollsters from using computers to place calls to wireless phones.

About a third of people age 18 to 24 live in households with only cellphones, making them far likelier than older people to rely exclusively on cells. The same is true of four in 10 people age 25 to 29.

Those likeliest to live in wireless-only households also include the poor, renters, Hispanics, Southerners, Midwesterners and those living with unrelated adults, such as roommates or unmarried couples.

Six in 10 households have both landline and cellphones, while one in 50 have no phones at all. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, May 11, 2009

1999: first female Jewish president

It was in Switzerland.

An outspoken and strong feminist, Switzerland’s first Jewish member of the Federal Government and first woman president Ruth Dreifuss was born in 1940. The Dreifuss family was among the oldest in Switzerland.

The uncertainties of living so close to the border with Nazi Germany, combined with the loss of professional opportunities in World War II, led the family to move to Bern in 1942. After the war, the family established itself in Geneva where Dreifuss finished school in 1958. She began her working life as a hotel secretary.

After studying social work, she served as a deputy editor of Coopération, the weekly publication of the Swiss Union of Cooperatives, the biggest consumer cooperative in Switzerland. She studied economics and econometrics at the University of Geneva, earning her degree in 1970. From 1970 to 1972 she was on the faculty of the university’s Department of Economic Social Studies. She then worked for ten years on overseas development and cooperative projects in the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Involved in politics as a member of the Social Democrat Party since 1965, she was elected in 1981 as general-secretary of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions —- the first woman in this position -— dealing with social insurance, labor laws, promotion of women’s rights and relations with the International Labor Organization (ILO).

From 1989–1992 she served as a member of the Bern City Council. In 1993 she was elected by the Swiss Parliament to the seven-member Federal Council, the second woman and the first Jewish woman to serve on this body.

For ten years she held the post of Minister for Domestic Affairs, presiding over extensive reforms in health, social security and pension services. A strong advocate of women’s issues, Dreifuss fought for general paid maternity leave, which was finally introduced into federal legislation in 2004.

During her time in the Swiss cabinet, Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations. She also took an active role in the process of investigating Switzerland’s role during World War II and in the discussions between Switzerland, the World Jewish Congress and the American authorities regarding funds of Jewish Holocaust victims held in Swiss bank accounts.

In 1997 she served as Vice President of the Swiss Federal Council and in 1999 took over as President of the Swiss Confederation —- the first woman and the first Jew to hold this office. This was considered a significant personal achievement in Switzerland, where women received the right to vote only in 1971 and which was the last country in Western Europe to recognize Jewish rights.

The office of Swiss President rotates among the seven members of the Federal Council and is held for one year, in addition to the normal activity as a minister. Ruth Dreifuss resigned from the Federal Council at the end of 2002.

Since leaving the government Dreifuss has continued to live in Geneva, where she maintains her involvement in public affairs. In 2004, the World Health Organization asked her to chair the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health. She has been recognized widely for her political achievements; among other accolades she was awarded honorary doctorates by Haifa University in 1999 and by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 2000. (info from Jewish Women's Archive)

Monday, May 4, 2009


I'm taking a few days off to finish writing a book and start a new one. I should be back during the week of 5/11.

Friday, May 1, 2009

2009: First female poet laureate in the U.K.
is also first known gay poet laureate

Carol Ann Duffy has been appointed as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. She is the first woman, the first Scot and the first openly gay poet to take the post.

Duffy will succeed Andrew Motion. Ten years ago Duffy lost out to Motion, and it is believed that her sexuality was the reason. The latest offer is thought to have been made after approval from the Queen and Prime Minister.

Duffy said, "Poetry matters to people in this country, poetry is a place we can go to for comfort, celebration, when we're in love, when we're bereaved and sometimes for events that happen to us as a nation. Poetry comes from the imagination, from memories, from experience, from events both personal and public so I will be following the truth of that and I will write whatever needs to be written. The ministry of culture and the palace made it very clear, particularly the palace, that there is no expectation or requirement at all to write royal poems and the same with government people. I don't have to write anything about anything if I don't want to."

"Like all the poets, I would only ever write poems that are truthful, from an authentic source, whether that's private or public. It's not a job. I have been able to relinquish myself from any financial commitment by giving the money to the Poetry Society to establish a prize so I'll just continue reading my poems and writing my poems as I always have. People know who I am, they know my life and they know that I'm truthful and I can only be myself, be true to myself, and be seen to live my life as myself and as a vocational poet. "I think we've all grown up a lot over the past 10 years. Sexuality is something that is celebrated now we have civil partnerships and it's fantastic that I'm an openly gay writer, and anyone here or watching the interviews who feels shy or uncomfortable about their sexuality should celebrate and be confident and be happy. It's a lovely, ordinary, normal thing."

A Poet Laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government and is often expected to compose poems for government events.

In the United Kingdom the term has for centuries been the title of the official poet of the monarch, since the time of Charles II. Poets laureate are appointed by many countries. In Britain there is also a Children's Laureate and in the United States there is a Student Poet Laureate.

The title of Poet Laureate, as a royal office, was first conferred on John Dryden in 1670. The post then became a regular institution. Dryden's successor Shadwell originated annual birthday and New Year odes. The poet laureate became responsible for writing and presenting official verses to commemorate both personal occasions, such as the monarch's birthday or royal births and marriages, and public occasions, such as coronations and military victories.

His activity in this respect has varied according to circumstances, and the custom ceased to be obligatory after Pye's death. The office fell into some contempt before Southey, but took on a new luster from his personal distinction and that of Wordsworth and Tennyson. Wordsworth stipulated, before accepting the honor, that no formal effusions from him should be considered a necessity; but Tennyson was generally happy in his numerous poems of this class.

On Tennyson's death there was a considerable feeling that no possible successor was acceptable, William Morris and Swinburne being hardly suitable as court poets. Eventually, however, the undesirability of breaking with tradition for temporary reasons, and thus severing the one official link between literature and the state, prevailed over the protests against allowing anyone of inferior genius to follow Tennyson. It may be noted that abolition had been similarly advocated when Warton and Wordsworth died. Edward Gibbon had condemned the position's artificial approach to poetry.

The salary has varied, but traditionally includes some alcohol. Ben Jonson first received a pension of 100 marks, and later an annual "terse of Canary wine". Dryden had a pension of £300 and a butt of Canary wine. Pye received £27 instead of the wine. Tennyson drew £72 a year from the Lord Chamberlain's department, and £27 from the Lord Steward's "in lieu of the butt of sack". Duffy will receive and give away about 5,700 pounds ($8,500). (info from The Guardian & Wikipedia)

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.)

Monday, March 30, 2009

2009: First house on market for $150 million

Downsizing to a $47 million condominium on the top two floors of a building in Century City, Candy Spelling, widow of TV producer Aaron Spelling, is offering her Los Angeles mansion for $150 million. It's apparently the most expensive home for sale in the US.

Aaron Spelling, who produced a string of hits over five decades from "Charlie's Angels" to "Beverly Hills, 90210," died at the 123-room house in 2006 at age 83.

The 57,000-square-foot house, dubbed "the Manor" and featured on guided tours of Hollywood mansions, includes a bowling alley, a beauty salon, a gift-wrapping room and a screening room with a screen that rises out of the floor.

The Spellings bought the nearly five-acre property, at one time the home of Bing Crosby, in the early 1980s, tore down the house and rebuilt. When completed in 1991 it was considered by far the largest home in Los Angeles.

Since Mrs. Spelling announced her planned move to Century City, she's fielded roughly a dozen calls from qualified buyers. She didn't consider lowering the price. "The ones who could afford it three years ago, can still afford it today," her attorney said. $150 million "is not a lot." (info and photo from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, March 27, 2009

1884: First long distance call in the United States

March 27, 1884 was the date of the first long distance call in the US, from Boston to New York City.

Apparently the world's first LD call was made from Brantford, Ontario, Canada in 1876.

The first coast-to-coast call in the US happened in 1915.

The first direct-dialed long distance call in the US was in 1951.

Friday, March 20, 2009

1984: First college dunk shot by a woman

On Dec. 21, 1984, about 100 people in Elkins, West Virginai were in the town armory to watch a women's basketball game between West Virginia and the University of Charleston. They witnessed history.

With 11 minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the game, West Virginia's 6-foot-7 junior center, Georgeann Wells, took a long pass at half court, and with a clear path to the basket, rose up and slammed the ball. With the first official dunk in a college game, women's sports reached a milestone.

Unlike the first sub-four-minute mile, which was broken within months, and other athletic firsts that were seconded and thirded almost instantly, no other woman would dunk in college for another decade.

The game was also remarkable for another reason: No visual evidence of the play was ever released. Newspaper articles ran without photos and TV stations covered it without any visuals. Some people didn't believe it happened.

But there was a tape. Bud Francis, the coach of the opposing team, Charleston, had a man stationed near the stage on the east side of the armory, and his camera lens was pointed directly at Wells during the dunk. Despite repeated requests from media and West Virginia University, Francis never released the tape.

Wells's coach, Kittie Blakemore, says she assumed the recording had been destroyed. The coach died in 1999 and the secret of the lost tape seemingly went with him to the grave.

Earlier this year, Francis's son, Ford, looked in an old box of his father's. He found a nondescript videocassette labeled "W.V.U.-84 Elkins." It was the tape of the dunk. The picture has deteriorated slightly, but what can clearly be seen is Georgeann Wells, leaping through the air and slamming the ball with authority. As of now, only three women players in the WNBA and five college players have dunked.

Georgeann Wells grew up in Ohio as one of nine children. Most of her siblings were talented athletes too. With her tremendous height, she was a top prospect starting in middle school, even though she was awkward and uncoordinated at first.

Newspapers across the country ran stories about the dunk shot. But when television stations called West Virginia to request footage, they said the Charleston coach, Francis, had the only tape.

Says Blakemore, West Virginia's head coach at the time, "For years, I would see [Mr. Francis] at coaching functions, and I'd ask him about it. He'd say, 'You aren't getting that tape, Kittie.' "

Wells recreated the famous dunk a year later in 1985 at the Basketball Hall of Fame. The game ball used for the dunk is enshrined there. Because no one outside the losing Charleston team saw the recording, some people didn't believe she actually dunked, Wells remembers. But she quieted the naysayers when she did it again in a televised game that has been played on ESPN highlight reels.

Francis threw out most of his old game tapes when he left his coaching job in 1986. But when he died unexpectedly in 1999, his son, Ford Francis, ended up with a box of VHS tapes. He never paid any attention to the one marked "W.V.U.-84 Elkins." He had heard about the dunk but says he thought it happened much later.

After a call from The Wall Street Journal explaining that he might have the tape and that Wells dunked in 1984, Francis popped it into his VHS machine and watched it on his big-screen TV. "There it was," says Mr. Francis. "I couldn't believe it."

Wells, now a physical-education teacher, recently watched the tape on the screen of a laptop computer. "Wow!" she said, pointing out the dunk to her 7-year-old son, Kasey, and her 13-year-old daughter, Maddison.

Now, the debate in the Wells household is not about old dunks, but about who's going to dunk next. Maddison says she'll dunk by sophomore year in high school. (info from The Wall Street Journal; photo is (c) Copyright 1984 by David L. Zicherman and used with permission.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

1890: first woman lawyer in Illinois

Myra Colby Bradwell was born in 1831 in Vermont. In 1852, she married James B. Bradwell and they operated a private school in Tennessee. In 1855 her husband was admitted to the Chicago bar and became a successful lawyer, judge and in 1873 was elected to the state legislature.

In 1868, Myra Bradwell established the Chicago Legal News, and was the business and editorial manager. Bradwell published information about court opinions, laws, and ordinances, which were admissible in court. The paper also supported many reforms such as woman suffrage, efforts to gain employment for women attorneys, improvement of court systems, and railroad regulation.

She published “History of Woman Suffrage,” which was edited by women’s rights activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage. This volume discussed women’s patriotism, beginning with the American Revolution and continuing to the efforts for suffrage.

In an 1869 edition of the Chicago Legal News, Bradwell wrote about her philosophy of how suffrage would be achieved: “You ask us, how shall this great privilege be obtained for women? We will tell you. Not by the class who term man ‘a tyrant’— but by the sensible and devoted mothers, wives and daughters of the state unifying together, we mean those who have the respect and love of their fathers, husbands and brothers, and asking them that they give to women the right to vote.”

Bradwell often used humor to make her point and felt that it was effective in the courtroom. In an 1880 edition of the Legal News, she said, “A lawyer’s wit sometimes, does more than enliven a dull hour in court. It so opens the eyes for the Judge that he sees with clearness a point that otherwise he would have ignored.”

In addition to her activities as owner and editor of the Chicago Legal News, Bradwell assisted in securing the passage of the 1869 bill that gave married women the right to retain their own wages and protect the rights of widows. Bradwell and her husband participated in the organization of Chicago’s first woman suffrage convention and the founding of Cleveland’s American Woman Suffrage Association.

In 1869, Bradwell passed the Illinois Bar Exam with honors. She then applied to the Illinois Supreme court for admission to the bar. The court refused her application because she was a woman. The decision was upheld by the US Supreme Court in Bradwell v. Illinois.

The opinion of Justice Bradley in the case reflected the nineteenth century society belief about women not participating in the workforce, he said: “The civil law, as well as nature itself, has always recognized a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man and woman. Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. The constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood. The harmony, not to say the identity, of interests and views which belong, or should belong, to the family institution is repugnant to the idea for a woman adopting a distinct and independent career from that of her husband…for these reasons I think that the laws of Illinois now complained of are not obnoxious to the charge of any abridging any of the privileges and immunities of cities of the United States.”

Eventually, Illinois changed the rules for admitting women to the bar. In 1890, Bradwell was admitted to the Illinois bar and in 1892, she received a license to practice before the US Supreme Court.

Myra Bradwell died in 1894. Her daughter, Bessie Bradwell Helmer continued her mother’s work with a career in law and publication of the Chicago Legal News. The tribute to Bradwell in the February 24, 1894 edition of the Chicago Legal News stated, “The future historian will accord her the breaking of the chain that bound woman (sic) to a life of household drudgery. She opened the door of the professions to her sex, and compelled law makers and judges as well, to proclaim that it was not a crime to be born a woman.” (info from

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

2009: End of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as a printed newspaper

The Post-Intelligencer, Seattle's first newspaper, was founded in 1863 as the Seattle Gazette. The paper failed after a few years and was renamed the Weekly Intelligencer in 1867 by the new owner. In 1881, The Intelligencer merged with the Seattle Post. The names were combined to form the present-day name.

William Randolph Hearst took over the paper in 1921. The Hearst Corporation owns the P-I now.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had a special relationship with the P-I. In 1936, their son-in-law John Boettiger took over as publisher. He brought his wife Anna, the Roosevelts' daughter, to also work at the paper. Anna became editor of the women's page. Boettiger left Seattle to enter the Army in the spring of 1943, while Anna stayed at the paper to keep a liberal voice in running the paper. After Boettiger's absence, the paper increasingly turned conservative with Hearst's new acting publisher. Anna left Seattle in late 1943 to live in the White House with her youngest child. This effectively ended the Roosevelt-Boettiger ties with the P-I.

On December 15, 2006, no copies were printed as a result of a power outage caused by the December 2006 Pacific Northwest storms. It was the first time in 70 years that publication had been suspended.

On January 9, 2009, the Hearst Corporation announced that after losing money on it every year since 2000, Hearst was putting the P-I up for sale. The paper would be put on the market for 60 days, and if a buyer could not be found within that time, the paper would either be turned into a Internet-only publication with a drastically reduced staff, or closed outright.

Analysts said that, considering declining circulation in the US newspaper industry and the presence of multiple other newspapers that were on the market but going unsold, it was unlikely that a buyer would be found within 60 days. Five days before the 60 day deadline, the P-I reported that the Hearst Corporation had given several P-I reporters provisional job offers for an online edition of the P-I.

On March 16, 2009, the newspaper posted a headline on its front page, followed shortly after by a short news story, that explained that the following day's edition would be its final one in print. The newspaper's publisher, Roger Oglesby, was quoted saying that the P-I would continue as an online-only operation. The P-I is among the most heavily trafficked newspapers in the US., and in 2009 was regularly exceeding the page views and unique visitors of its competitor, the Seattle Times.

Since 1983, the P-I and the Times have been run under a "Joint Operating Agreement" (JOA) whereby advertising, production, marketing, and circulation are run for both papers by the Seattle Times Company. They maintain separate news and editorial departments. The papers publish a combined Sunday edition, although the Times handles the majority of the editorial content while the P-I only provides a small editorial/opinions section.

In 2003 Times tried to cancel the JOA, citing a clause in the JOA that three consecutive years of profit losses were cause for cancelling the agreement. Hearst disagreed and immediately filed suit to prevent the Times from cancelling the agreement. Hearst argued that a force majeure clause prevented the Times from claiming losses in 2000 and 2001 as reason to end the JOA, because they resulted from extraordinary events (in this case, a seven week newspaper strike).

Each side publicly accused the other of attempting to put its rival out of business. The trial judge granted a summary judgment in Hearst's favor on the force majeure issue. But after two appeals, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Times on June 30, 2005 on the force majeure clause, reversing the trial court judge. Both papers settled the issue on April 16, 2007.

The JOA ends today with the cessation of the P-I print edition. (Info from Wikipedia)

Monday, March 16, 2009

2002: First free PC program for US students

Maine started its first-in-the-nation program to expand computer use by distributing more than 30,000 computers to each seventh- and eighth-grader in all of the state's public schools in 2002 and 2003. Despite the economic turmoil, now the goal is to provide a laptop to every public school student in grades 7-12 by the fall.

About 30 high schools already have laptops obtained outside the scope of the original program. But now all 120 of Maine's high schools, along with 241 middle schools, will have new laptops under the same program, at a cost of about $242 per computer per year.

Education Department officials announced this week that they're negotiating a four-year lease with Apple for 100,000 Apple MacBook laptops. Gov. John Baldacci said in his State of the State address that revamping the laptop computer program would turn it "into a powerful tool for the entire family."

"Every night when students in seventh through 12th grade bring those computers home, they'll connect the whole family to new opportunities and new resources," Baldacci said.

The state hasn't yet completed its negotiations with Apple, but it's expected that the new lease will cost the state about $25 million per year. The state currently pays about $13 million per year to provide Apple laptops to 37,000 middle-schoolers and about 10,000 middle school and high school teachers and administrators. The expansion would add 53,000 high schoolers to the program.

At a time when state lawmakers are facing a two-year budget shortfall of more than $800 million, Baldacci pointed out that the program expansion is being done within existing resources and won't require additional taxes.

School administrators say the laptop program, aimed at eliminating the so-called "digital divide" between wealthy and poor students, has been a success. A study released in 2007 by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute at the University of Southern Maine indicated writing scores improved after laptops were introduced. (info from The Associated Press)

Friday, March 13, 2009

1905: First gas station in the US

Apparently, the first places that sold gasoline were drugstores. Henry Ford's mass-production of cars lowered prices and greatly increased car sales, and the need for filling stations.

The world's first gas station was built in St. Louis, Missouri in 1905 at 412 S. Theresa Avenue. The second gas station was constructed in 1907 by Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) in Seattle, Washington. (info from Wikipedia)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

2009: First committe formed to elect Moose Mama president in 2012

West Haven, Connecticut -- a town with 52,000 people and three fire chiefs and three different fire department websites -- has gained additional distinction.

Earlier this week, a Denny's restaurant in West Haven was the site of the first "Sarah meet-up" for supporters of the former Republican veep candidate.

Six people showed up.

The man in charge is John Streitz, who is co-director of Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control. He co-founded the first federally registered committee with the goal of raising money to draft Palin for president in 2012. So far, the committee has collected about $3,000.

The 2012 Draft Sarah Committee is based in Colorado, where the group’s other founder lives, and officially filed paperwork Nov. 20 with the Federal Election Commission. The goal of the "meet-ups" is to provide a chance for like-minded people who want Palin to run in 2012 to get together.

"Her values resonate with the American public," Streitz said.

Most of the people at the gathering are friends of Streitz who share his desire for tougher anti-immigration laws.

"I think she’s a beautiful-looking woman," said Ted Pechinski.

"And she has a good brain to go with it," added Veronica Kivela. "She is a fine American."

According to Jim Troyer, "The thing I like best about her is she has international experience. Her state borders Russia and Canada, and China isn’t too far away."

BUT DOESN'T IT MATTER THAT SARAH IS INARTICULATE, IGNORANT, UNPREPARED AND A HYPOCRITE? And many people thought she was a terrible candidate and a major reason the Republicans lost the election.
(info from The New Haven Register)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

2009: First time I write an editorial

Yesterday I got an email from the Republican National Committee asking me to send money to fight the Democratic Party's alleged plans to keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding American Citizens and repeal the Second Amendment.

That amendment was written by the fathers of our country in the 1790s at a time when a militaman might use a blunderbuss, capable of firing a weak, inaccurate projectile every minute or so -- not a high powered assault rifle that can fire ten bullets per second.

The GOP says, "It is clear that the Obama Democrats are looking for any excuse to once again threaten our freedoms. Their nanny-state, Big Brother mentality has no place in our Constitutional Republic."

I think the biggest threat to my freedom to survive until I die of natural causes is the Republican Party.

And to add to the Republican gun lust and paranoia, party chairman Michael Steele accused the "the mainstream media" of bias against "our right to buy and own firearms."

Also yesterday, a man in Alabama shot and killed ten people, and wounded others. Many of the victims were "collateral damage" and not even his actual targets.

And today a gunman shot and killed at least 15 people at a high school in Germany, and wounded others.

Other than toys in my childhood, I have never owned a gun.

I have never fired a real gun. I don't want to own a gun or fire one or learn how to use one. I don't want my neighbors to have guns. I don't want stores to sell guns. I don't want anyone other than police and military troops and perhaps security guards to have guns.

I think hunters should buy their meat in a supermarket and shoot cameras instead of rifles. If hunters want to bear arms, I'm in favor or arming bears to make it a fair fight. I think target-shooters should limit themselves to slingshots and paint guns.

It wouldn't bother me if every home, farm and business was searched and all guns and bullets were seized and melted down. It wouldn't bother me if toy guns and violent video games were banned.

I am not afraid of my local police or the Federal government and don't think I need to be armed against them.

I believe the Second Amendment to the US Constitution should not be interpreted as allowing non-military gun ownership.

Yesterday Michael McLendon, the Alabama mass murderer, did not use his arsenal to protect his home against a burglar. He did not shoot someone who tried to rob him on the street or steal his car. He was not defending his liberty against a misguided police force.

He was a nut who did not need to have a gun and should not have had a gun. All those who think he should have the right to have a gun, share his guilt for the murders.


Monday, March 9, 2009

2009: End of Circuit City in the US

What began 60 years ago as a small TV store in Richmond, Virginia ended yesterday as Circuit City closed its 567 remaining American stores.

For the last month and a half, liquidation companies have conducted going-out-of-business sales for what had been the nation's second-largest consumer electronics retailer, selling its remaining $1.7 billion worth of inventory weeks sooner than expected.

After the bust Circuit City will leave more than 18 million square feet of vacant space in a faltering real estate market, and more than 34,000 employees will be jobless. Shareholders will likely get nothing and creditors may receive far less than what they are owed.

Circuit City filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November with hopes of emerging as a stronger company able to compete in the ever-expanding marketplace; shedding its $2.32 billion in debt and getting out of older real estate. The company was unable to work out a sale or secure new financing.

Circuit City owes nearly $625 million to its 30 largest unsecured creditors -- mostly electronics manufacturers. They must wait to be paid until secured creditors such as banks are satisfied.

At its height, Circuit City had more than 700 stores. It faced increased competition, pressure from vendors and waning consumer spending. Ultimately, the hobbled credit market and consumer worries proved insurmountable.

Circuit City, which posted losses in seven of its final eight quarters, had its brand value diminished in the 1990s as it lost significant traffic to rivals like Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Costco that expanded their electronics departments.

Alan L. Wurtzel, son of company founder Samuel S. Wurtzel and himself a former chief executive of Circuit City, has previously said the company didn't take the threat from Best Buy seriously enough and at some points was too focused on short-term profit rather than long-term value.

Still, Circuit City took arduous steps in an attempt to turn around its struggling business. In 2008, it defused a proxy battle, opened its books to potential buyers like Blockbuster, changed management, closed stores in some locations and tested smaller concept stores in others. It laid off about 3,400 store workers in 2007 and replaced them with lower-paid employees, a move analysts warned could hurt morale and drive away customers.

Circuit City also had hoped to make up for its diminished product margins with its service and installation business called Firedog, which opened in 2006 - four years after Best Buy purchased the similar Geek Squad service.

Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at a market researching firm, said, "Every time there was a crossroad ... they almost always did the wrong thing."

Baker pointed to many missteps in management, including not declaring bankruptcy sooner, not getting into the music and movie business earlier, takeover bids in the mid-2000s, and exiting the appliance business in 2000. "When you make that many mistakes, eventually you end up at the edge of the cliff," he said.

The Circuit City name may still live on.

Bell Canada is buying a chain of 750 The Source by Circuit City electronics stores across Canada. Hilco Merchant Resources said it hopes to buy the brand name and Website. (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

1825: First president inaugurated wearing long pants
1831: First former president elected to the House of Representatives

Inaugural costume, while generally formal, has varied over the years.

A contemporary account reported that Washington wore "a complete suit of Homespun Cloaths; the cloth was of a fine fabric and as handsomely finished as any European superfine cloth."

The first five Presidents wore knickers to their ceremonies, with John Quincy Adams the first to move into trousers.

In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt, an apostle of the strenuous life, was the first to deliver his Inaugural Address bareheaded.

Pearl-gray top hats, matching cutaway coats and darker gray striped trousers -- traditional daytime formal wear -- were the approved inaugural costume for perhaps a century.

Jimmy Carter rejected this elegance for a business suit in 1977, but Ronald Reagan reinstated the cutaway in 1981. In 1985, frigid weather drove Reagan into the Capitol for a semiprivate oath-taking and, sartorially, into a business suit.

Pants-wearing John Quincy Adams served as the sixth President of the United States from March 4, 1825 to March 4, 1829. He was a member of the Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig parties.

Adams was the son of the second President John Adams and his wife Abigail Adams, the name "Quincy" having come from Abigail's maternal grandfather, Colonel John Quincy, after whom Quincy, Massachusetts is also named. He was a diplomat, involved in many international negotiations, and helped formulate the Monroe Doctrine as Secretary of State. As president he proposed a program of modernization and educational advancement, but was stymied by Congress. Adams lost his 1828 bid for re-election to Andrew Jackson.

Adams was elected a US Representative from Massachusetts after leaving office, the only president ever to do so, serving for the last 17 years of his life. In the House he became a leading opponent of the Slave Power and argued that if a civil war ever broke out the president could abolish slavery by using his war powers, which Abraham Lincoln partially did during the Civil War in the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. (info from The New York Times and Wikipedia)

Monday, March 2, 2009

199?: Last McPizza

Over the years, Mickey Dee's has experimented with lots of items in an effort to broaden their business beyond fries and burgers.

Egg McMuffin has been a huge success. The McLean DeLuxe, Onion Nuggets and Fried Roast Beef Sandwich were flops. The McRib sandwich was officially discontinued, but is periodically revived for a limited-time appearance. (I'm lovin it.)

Probably the most famous McDonald's failure was pizza.

Although it was popularly called McPizza (like McRib and McNuggets) McDonald's just called it pizza.

There were several versions test-marketed in various parts of the US and Canada starting in the late 1970s.

One variation was like an apple pie. There was also a personal-size pizza, and a family sized pizza that was brought out by an employee and placed on a raised rack on the table.

Although traditional pizza makers were scared by the Golden Arched threat, McDonald's never became a pizza power. It was just too difficult, too time-consuming, and too expensive to produce acceptable pizzas in a fast food facility. Most people who wanted pizza went to a pizza place, not to McDonald's.

Mickey's stores had invested big bucks in special ovens and even extra-wide drive-thru windows, but experimentation, variation, reconstruction and expensive marketing just could not make it work. My the late 1990s, McPizza was gone. (If anyone knows the actual year, please let me know.)

I tasted a Mickey Pizza once, on the Garden State Parkway. It was better than many "real" pizzas I'd had, not the worst, and certainly not the best. It was as good as what comes out of a Pizza Hut robotic oven.

I ordered it at the drive-thru window and then parked my car. About 10 minutes later, it was brought to my car. Strangely, Dunkin Donuts is able to produce their version of a Pizza Hut personal pizza in less than two minutes. Maybe Mickey Dee's gave up too soon.

Outside the US, McDonald's offers the vegetarian Pizza McPuff in India, Dubai and maybe other countries.

Friday, February 27, 2009

1958: beginning of the CB radio boom

Citizens' Band radio (CB) is a system of short-distance radio communications between individuals on a selection of 40 channels within the 27MHz (11-meter) band. CB radio service should not be confused with amateur ("ham") radio or Family Radio Service ("FRS").

It's available in several countries, with varying requirements for licensing and differing technical standards. In many countries, CB does not require a license and, unlike amateur radio, it may be used for business as well as personal communications.

The Citizens' Band radio service originated in the United States as one of several personal radio services regulated by the FCC. These services began in 1945 to permit citizens a short-distance radio band for personal communication.

Originally, CB was located in the 460 MHz–470 MHz UHF band. There were two classes of CB: A and B. Class B radios had simpler technical requirements but were limited to a smaller range of frequencies.

In 1958, the Class D CB service was established with 23 channels at 27 MHz.

Over time, several countries have created similar radio services. While they may be known by other names, such as General Radio Service in Canada, they often use similar frequencies (26 to 28 MHz), and have similar uses, and similar issues with antennas and propagation. Licenses may or may not be required, but eligibility is generally simple.

In the 1960s, the service was popular with small businesses (particularly tradesmen such as electricians, plumbers and carpenters), as well as truck drivers and electronics hobbyists.

With the advancement of solid-state electronics, the weight, size, and cost of the radios decreased, giving the general public access to a communications medium that had previously been only available to specialists. Many CB clubs were formed, and a special CB slang language evolved, used alongside 10-codes similar to those used in the emergency services.

Following the 1973 oil crisis, the US government imposed a nationwide 55 mph speed limit, and fuel shortages and rationing were widespread. CB radio was often used to locate service stations with a supply of gasoline, to notify other drivers of speed traps, and to organize blockades and convoys in a 1974 strike protesting the new speed limit and other trucking regulations.

The prominent use of CB radios in 1970s-era films such as Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Convoy (1978), and television shows like Movin' On (debuted 1974) and The Dukes of Hazzard (debuted 1979) bolstered the appeal of CB radio. Moreover, popular novelty songs such as C.W. McCall's Convoy (1976) helped establish CB radio as a nationwide craze in the USA in the mid- to late-1970s.

Originally, CB required a license and the use of a call sign, but when the CB craze was at its peak, many people ignored this requirement and used made-up nicknames or "handles". The many restrictions on the authorized use of CB radio led to widespread disregard of the regulations, most notably in antenna height, distance restriction for communications, licensing and the use of call signs, and allowable transmitter power. Eventually, the license requirement was dropped entirely.

Originally, there were only 23 CB channels in the US. The present 40-channel plan did not come along until 1977. Channel 9 was reserved for emergency use in 1969. Channel 10 was used for highway communications, though channel 19 later became the preferred highway channel in most areas.

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, a phenomenon was developing over the CB radio. Similar to the Internet chat rooms a quarter century later, the CB allowed people to get to know one another in a quasi-anonymous manner. Many movies and stories about CBers and their culture developed.

In more recent years, CB has lost much of its original appeal due to the advancement of technologies and changing values. Some of this rapid development includes: cellphones, the Internet, and Family Radio Service. The changing radio wave propagation for long-distance communications, due to the 11 year sunspot cycle, is always a factor for these frequencies. In addition, CB in some respects became a victim of its own intense popularity. Because of the millions of users jamming onto frequencies during the mid-to-late 1970s and early 1980s, channels often were intolerably noisy and communication became difficult. Many CBers started to use their radios less frequently or not at all after this period. (info from Wikipedia)
Your humble blogmaster was co-author of CB Bible, published by Doubleday in 1976.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

2009: First Israeli athlete plays in Dubai

Protected by two bodyguards as he walked on the court, Andy Ram on Wednesday became the first Israeli to play in Dubai. He and partner Kevin Ullyett lost a doubles match a week after Israel's Shahar Peer was denied a visa for the women's tournament.

Spectators had to leave their belongings outside, and metal detectors were set up outside the court. There were no protests or incidents, with about 100 spectators watching the match on an outside court.

Ram did not hold a news conference afterward, but organizers issued a transcript of comments made to a pool reporter.

"It was obviously something big, history here, what's been done, the first Israeli coming to play sport in Dubai," Ram said. "I fought for something really, really big and coming here was something big because it showed that we should not involve sports with politics."

Ram was granted special permission late last week to play in Dubai after Peer was barred from entering the country for her tournament.

At the time, organizers cited security concerns, prompting widespread protests and pressure to allow Ram to compete.

"It was different. It was an experience for me," Ram said. "They did everything possible to secure me. ... Coming to the court, obviously with a couple of bodyguards, was nice. I felt like, OK, as soon as we start the match, hitting the first shot to warm up, I was thinking tactics and concentrating to win the match, but it did not happen today."

Ram said he was well received in Dubai, encountering no hostility.

"Not at all, really," he said. "From the first moment I arrived to the airport, (they) took me to the hotel, (treated) me very good. (I) went out ... obviously with the body guards, the guys were watching me. Just really, they let me feel very comfortable."

United Arab Emirates has no diplomatic relationship with Israel, but Israelis with dual citizenship have entered the country for international sports and business events using second-country passports.

On some occasions, Israeli passport holders have been allowed entry for meetings held by the United Nations or other international agencies.

Dubai tournament organizers said Peer was denied an opportunity to play in the women's event because they feared fan anger over Israel's recent military offensive in Gaza. The WTA fined organizers a record $300,000 last week and the UAE granted a permit to Ram to play this week.

Ram's next brush with politics is not far away. The Davis Cup series between Sweden and Israel next week will be played in Malmo without spectators. Swedish organizers said they anticipated anti-Israeli demonstrations.

"When I heard about the decision playing without crowd, that freaked me out," Ram said. "This is really something bad I think, and there's nothing I can do about it."

Ram was chosen for the Israeli Davis Cup team on Tuesday, along with Dudi Sela, Harel Levy and Noam Okun. (info from The Associated Press)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

2011: End of GM Saturn cars

Saturn was established in early 1985 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Motors in response to the success of Japanese and German imports in the United States.

As a "different kind of car company", Saturn operated outside the GM structure for a time, with its own manufacturing plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, unique models, and a separate dealership network. However, sales did not meet expectations, and by the 21st century, Saturn was sharing manufacturing and product designs with other GM brands such as Opel and Chevrolet

As automotive sales evaporated i nthe recession, GM announced yesterday that Saturn, Pontiac, Saab and Hummer would be phased out, abandoning a decades-old product strategy that once helped ensure its dominance.

Left with just four key brands, GM will be a leaner, more focused car company. But it also risks a further slide in its already-shrunken market share as it loses customers who gravitated to the four orphaned lines. These buyers may have little interest in driving a Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac or GMC truck.

In 2008, Toyota supplanted GM as the world's largest auto seller. GM now faces the possibility of another blow -- Toyota could move ahead of GM as soon as this year to become the largest auto seller in the US.In January, GM had market share of 19.5%. Without Saturn, Pontiac, Saab and Hummer, its share would have been 16.9% -- a point less than Toyota's.

Some Saturn dealers now hope that instead of closing the brand, GM will spin it off as a separate company. A team of Saturn dealers is spending 60 days working with GM to evaluate the possibility. These dealers would sell vehicles under the Saturn brand made by other manufacturers, possibly from overseas.

GM's move to pare brands represents a major shift in thinking at the company. Adding brands to appeal to different types of consumers, from college students to senior citizens, was part of the formula that enabled GM to grow and remain the world's largest auto maker for nearly 80 years.

But faced with huge losses and relying on government handouts, GM will shrink to its most successful brands.

Saturn, Hummer, Saab and Pontiac have all struggled to attract customers. That prompted GM to sell large numbers of them to car-rental concerns, corporate fleet buyers and GM's own employees. Of the 504,000 vehicles sold under the four brands in 2008, 40% went to fleets and employees. Such sales generally are less profitable than those to consumer buyers.

In its recovery plan, GM said Saturn, Hummer and Saab generated an average annual pretax loss of $1.1 billion a year between 2003 and 2007.

Hummer, the maker of hulking sport-utility vehicles inspired by military models, will be sold or phased out. Saab, the Swedish niche brand, could file for bankruptcy protection within a month, GM said in its recovery plan. Pontiac will be reduced to just one or two models and essentially cease to exist as a full line.

For years, analysts have urged GM to pare its brands. But GM executives insisted it would be too expensive after spending an estimated $2 billion to wind down Oldsmobile earlier this decade. Yet cutting brands cuts operating costs because each brand requires a certain amount of spending on product development advertising, dealer support and other expenses.

In addition to trimming its main brands from eight to four by 2012, GM also plans to cut the number of individual US models to 36 from 48. Eliminating models should help GM sell more of each surviving nameplate. In 2007, Toyota sold an average of 90,000 vehicles per nameplate, such as the Camry LE, while each GM nameplate sold 54,000 on average.

Of the four brands being cut off, Saturn once held the most promise. GM created the line as a completely separate company offering small cars that aimed to compete head-on with Toyota and Honda.

Saturns featured dent-resistant plastic bodies, its dealers promised friendly, no-haggling sales and customers were invited to an annual "homecoming" cookout at the Saturn plant. For some customers, buying a Saturn was like joining a club.

But in the 1990s, GM starved Saturn for new products as it tried to revive Oldsmobile. After GM killed Olds, it turned to neglected Saturn. It spent billions to produce a range of new vehicles, many of them derivations of its Opel models from Europe. Some were hits; the Aura sedan was praised by many car reviewers.

Last year, 13.2 million vehicles were sold in the U.S., and this year, the level is expected to be between 11 million and 12 million.

Saturn sales in particular were slammed in January, falling 60% to 6,172 from a year earlier -- about 15 per dealership. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

1982: first portable pc, first IBM PC clone

Compaq is now the low-end brand name used by H-P, but Compaq Computer Corporation has in important place in PC history. Compaq was founded in 1982 by three men from Texas Instruments who invested $1,000 each to form their own company. Sketched on a paper place mat in a Houston pie shop, the first product was a "compact" portable personal computer.

The Compaq Portable was the first 100% compatible IBM computer clone. It could run the software written for IBM’s PCs, which was a major achievement at the time. Compaq couldn't just copy IBM's BIOS (Basic Input/Output System, the internal software that determines what a computer can do), to make their new machine guaranteed IBM compatible. It would be illegal, and easily proven by IBM. Compaq determined to reverse-engineer IBM's BIOS, and used two sets of programmers, one group who had access to IBM's source code and another that knew nothing about it.

The first group analyzed the original code, and made notes of exactly what it did. The second group analyzed the notes, and wrote their own BIOS that performed identically. It took one year and a million dollars to accomplish.

More than a mere IBM clone, the Compaq Portable was something different, it was transportable, designed so it can easily be taken aboard an airliner as carry-on luggage. The machine was very successful for Compaq and the company took in $111 million in its first year, a record in American business.

This precursor of today’s lightweight laptops and palmtops, weighed 28 pounds, had a 9-inch monochrome display, and cost $3590 with two 5-1/4” floppy drives and 640K of RAM. A basic version with just one drive and 128K of RAM, sold for $2995, considered a bargain compared to IBM prices at the time. (info from and Byte magazine)

Friday, February 13, 2009

2008: first reported decline in US food spending

In 2008's fourth quarter, consumer spending on food fell at an inflation-adjusted 3.7% from the third quarter, according to data from the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis. That is the steepest decline in the 62 years the government has compiled the figure.

The report is based on receipts from a sampling of food-oriented businesses across the country. Consumers have cut back sharply on food spending, shunning restaurants, opting for generic products over brand names, trading in lattes for home-brewed coffee and shopping for bargains. That is hurting sales and profits at many food processors, grocery chains and restaurants.

The big drop likely comes from two things, said Joseph Carson, an economist who worked at the Commerce Department in the 1970s. First, consumers have been trading down to lower-priced items. Second, he thinks many households dug into their pantries for staples rather than going to the store, a trend that can't continue indefinitely. "You can't contract at this rate for long," he said. "It's just shocking."

"In recent years, a lot of discretionary income has gone into buying fancier food, whether it's Starbucks coffee or prepared dinner or restaurant meals," said Barclays Capital economist Ethan Harris. Now, he said, that trend seems to be waning.

Last week, Kraft Foods Inc. lowered its earnings forecast for the year, saying customers are cutting back purchases of snack foods and trading down to private labels. Groupe Danone SA said this week that U.S. consumers sharply trimmed their purchases of yogurt and other dairy products at the end of last year.

Even makers of chocolates are worried about how well their products will sell for Valentine's Day on Saturday.

On Tuesday, Citi Investment Research warned of a "modern-day price war" based on Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s plan to freshen up its Great Value private-label foods and the analyst's expectation that it will trim national-brand prices. That could force grocery stores to cut prices to compete.

US sales of private-label food rose 10% in 2008 from 2007, to $82.9 billion, according to a spokesman for the Private Label Manufacturers Association, citing Nielsen grocery-sales numbers. At the same time, branded food products saw sales rise 2.8% to $416.6 billion, he said.

When times get tough, restaurants are one of the first places where people economize. In its quarterly surveys, research firm WSL Strategic Retail has found that more people are preparing food at home, eating at lower-priced restaurants when they do eat out and picking less pricey items from the menu. Declining sales at established locations have forced Starbucks, Ruby Tuesday and other chains to shut hundreds of outlets and put many independent restaurants out of business.

The shift has a silver lining for some companies. While supermarkets passed along last year's high ingredient costs to customers, McDonald's and other fast-food chains absorbed some of the expense and kept many items priced at $1. Now, some consumers consider a fast-food meal a bargain. On Monday, McDonald's said same-store sales rose 7.1% in January, including a 5.4% increase in the US. (info from The Wall Street Journal)