Ready, Fire, Aim! - Mihail's Public Blog

Monday, March 14, 2005

CA court declares gays have consitutional right to marry!

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer ruled today -- as was widely expected (as one of the lawyers working pro bono on this lawsuit told us over dinner at our house on Saturday night) -- that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry according to this San Francisco Chronicle story.

This follows in the steps of similar rulings in Massachusetts, Washington state and New York by the so-called "activist" judges. Yep, judges are activists when they don't support the Right Wing/Bush White House agenda. In the case of the California ruling, the judge was appointed by a Republican governor...so go figure. And where would interracial marriages be if the "people" had been allowed to decide on that issue? According to Gallup, it took until the 1980s for a majority of Americans to be OK with interracial marriage. Shocking but true.

In his 27-page decision, Kramer - an appointee of former Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican - said the state's ban on same-sex marriage violates "the basic human right to marry the person of one's choice," and has no rational justification.

Rejecting California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's argument that California is entitled to maintain the traditional definition of marriage, Kramer said the same explanation was offered for the state's ban on interracial marriage, which was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 1948.

The judge also rejected arguments by opponents of same-sex marriage that the current law promotes procreation and child-rearing by a husband and wife. "One does not have to be married in order to procreate, nor does one have to procreate in order to marry," Kramer said.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Rich but not by New York standards

Bizarre challenge for anyone trying to buy a co-op apartment in New York City (I wonder if they're beginning to see the same thing happen in San Francisco which also has a few co-ops in Pac Heights and Nob Hill etc.). According to this New York Times story (registration required), more and more co-op boards are using the lack of inventory to either refashion the building's reputation or continue to apply a formula that may not make as much sense any more:

"Take an average $1.5 million classic six apartment on Lexington Avenue," said Kathy Braddock, a partner at the real estate consulting firm Braddock & Purcell, which matchers buyers with agents. "To buy there, you have to put 25 percent down, and then they want to see $1 million in liquid assets, plus earning power. Most people have not saved $1 million in liquid assets if they are in their mid-30's or early 40's and don't have a job with huge bonus potential."

...The zeal to avoid a turndown can trigger perplexing results. Klara Madlin, president of Klara Madlin Real Estate on the Upper West Side, recently helped a banker and a doctor buy a $3 million Riverside Drive apartment. They wanted to pay cash, she said, but Ms. Madlin advised them that "the board would rather see liquidity and a mortgage." The couple wound up financing half of the price with a mortgage, with the option of paying it off after the closing. "It's kind of crazy," Ms. Madlin acknowledged.

Rosie O'Donnell, Blogger

According to this New York Times story (registration required):

Rosie O'Donnell is back. As a blogger!

What phone numbers do *you* know?

Do you know your significant other's phone number? If so, I'm impressed! I have no idea what his cell phone number is since it is programmed into our home phone and into my cellphone so I've never had the need to actually dial it.

In fact, like Paris Hilton, my cellphone is my complete contact list for anyone I've ever met (some 6,629 contacts, some of whom I'm sure are out of date, since I haven't been using something like Plaxo to update them!).

As I was browsing at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park tonight, a good friend Brian called and I answered with "Hello, Brian" much to his surprise that I'd recognized his number and/or his voice. I hadn't. My Treo had and flashed his name on my phone so I knew exactly who was calling. I like that. Because I can choose to ignore the phone call if it is someone I don't want to, or can't, speak to at that moment.

Interesting New York Times story (registration required) on the phenomenon of not knowing most of the numbers you need each day. With 176 million cell phone subscribers and 531 million total phone numbers (cell, business, fax, home, pager) between us all in the United States, can anyone blame us?

Edward Tenner, author of technology books like "Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences" and a senior research associate at the National Museum of American History, traced part of the problem to the rise of 10-digit dialing, which is almost a necessity now, even for local calls [while human memory is best suited to remember no more than nine-digit numbers].

...A recent study in Britain found that 29 percent of those surveyed worried that if they lost their phones they would also lose contact with friends, colleagues and business associates whose numbers were in their phones. Seventeen percent said their phone was the only place they kept such numbers.

Telling it like it is

I've recently become a big fan of Frank Rich. According to his latest New York Times column (registration required) titled "The Greatest Dirty Joke Ever Told" about the importance of a bad joke at the Hugh Hefner roast two-and-a-half weeks after 9/11:

The latest scheme for broadening that censorship arrived the week after the Oscar show was reduced to colorless piffle on network television. Ted Stevens, the powerful chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, pronounced himself sick of "four-letter words with participles" on cable and satellite television. "I think we have the same power to deal with cable as over the air," he said, promising to carry the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. Never mind that anyone can keep pay TV at bay by not purchasing it, and that any parent who does subscribe can click on foolproof blocking devices to censor any channel. Senator Stevens's point is to intimidate MTV, Comedy Central, the satellite radio purveyors of Howard Stern and countless others from this moment on, whether he ultimately succeeds in exerting seemingly unconstitutional power over them or not.

...I'm not a particular enthusiast for dirty jokes, but that freedom is exactly what I, and I suspect others, felt when a comic with a funny voice in a bad suit broke all the rules of propriety at that Friars Roast. But it was just three days earlier at the White House that Ari Fleischer, asked to respond to a politically incorrect remark about 9/11 by another comedian, Bill Maher, warned all Americans "to watch what they say." That last week in September 2001, I've come to realize, is as much a marker in our cultural history as two weeks earlier is a marker in the history of our relations with the world. Even as we're constantly told we're in a war for "freedom" abroad, freedom in our culture at home has been under attack ever since.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

eBay Classifieds coming to a country near you

Hot on the heels of its acquisition of Rent.com and the Netherlands's largest classifieds site, Marketplaats, and its minority stake in San Francisco-based Craigslist, now comes Kijiji -- the eBay new venture that launched last week in Japan, China, Germany, France, Italy and Canada. The Kijiji website explains:

Kijiji helps you connect with your community. It's easy to use. You can find everything you need from housing to furniture, from jobs to new friends and more.

And, according to this BusinessWeek blog, the site:

"went live Feb. 28, [and] is the first project to come out of a six-month-old New Ventures Group inside eBay. Spokesman Hani Durzy says Kijiji focused on the six countries--specifically 50 cities in Japan, Germany, Canada, Italy, China, and France--because eBay thought Craiglist has pretty much nailed the U.S. market. The special sauce that eBay hopes to bring, he says, is a sense of community that may be lacking in other local classifieds sites. (Kijiji means "village" in Swahili.)

And here's an official eBay press release on the launch that showed up on the Wall Street Journal site about an hour ago.

Updated 2:28 PM

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Would you like to get fired or beaten?

Are these people not watching the O.C.? Didn't they hear Ellen got 11 Emmy nominations or that Melissa stole the show at the Grammy's? Or how about the end of the Law & Order season? Or the Vice Presidential and Presidential Debates where Mary Cheney was discussed? According to this Advocate.com story:

A 22-year-old intern at a San Diego County office of education outdoor camp program was fired after she discussed lesbianism with sixth grade students at the camp, according to school officials. Jim Esterbrooks, a spokesman for the San Diego County office of education, said the intern at Camp Cuyamaca intervened when some of the students were calling one another lesbians. She explained that their behavior was inappropriate and then told them about her own first lesbian encounter. "This type of discussion is clearly inappropriate to be happening in a classroom or in a school setting. It is something that should be happening in the home with parents," Esterbrooks said Wednesday.

If the parents had been doing their job to make sure their kids knew not to use sexual orientation slurs against each other, the intern wouldn't have had to intervene.

But I suppose getting fired is better than beaten unconscious or having your bones broken, which happens when the Religious Right and the Bush White House make it open season on gays and lesbians because this significant minority doesn't fit into their narrow, rigid view of the world. According to this Advocate.com story:

Police in Chapel Hill, N.C., say an attack on a gay student who was beaten by a gang of six or seven men was a hate crime, but no witnesses have come forward to help investigators. The victim suffered broken bones but wasn't hospitalized, police said. His attackers, described as six or seven white males around the age of 20, have not been identified.

And according to another Advocate.com story via the AP a number of, what appear to be, gay bashers are pleading not guilty in Santa Fe. At least New Mexico's got a hate crimes law unlike anything similar on the federal level.

Three people have pleaded not guilty to charges in what police have described as an attack on a gay man at a motel in Santa Fe, N.M. James Maestas, 21, remained hospitalized Wednesday with injuries from being beaten unconscious Sunday. His family has requested that no information about his condition be made public. A second victim, Joshua Stockham, 24, of Albuquerque, was treated and released. Santa Fe County magistrate George Anaya Jr. entered the pleas Tuesday on behalf of Gabriel Maturin, 20 and Isaia Medina, 19, at their arraignment on charges of aggravated battery, battery, and conspiracy. Bond was set at $100,000 each.

...New Mexico's 2003 hate-crimes law allows an extra year to be added to a sentence when a jury decides a hate crime has occurred. "As a society, we feel stronger toward a crime that is based on the characteristics of a person," Dist. Atty. Henry Valdez said. "If the crime was committed based on the class of the victim"--defined by, for instance, gender, race, or sexual orientation--"then you can seek the enhancement." (AP)

Friday, March 4, 2005

Yale ends tuition for low-income students

Very proud to see that all three universities that my brother and I attended -- Harvard, Rice and UNC -- are making it easier for students from low-income families to attend college for free. About time! According to this New York Times story (registration required):

In an effort to outdo its rivals, Yale University said yesterday that it would no longer require parents earning less than $45,000 a year to pay anything toward their children's educations.

Harvard announced a similar program last year, freeing parents who earn $40,000 or less from paying anything, and the change helped raise its applications to record levels. Several of Yale's other competitors, including Princeton, have taken a slightly different approach by no longer requiring loans for low-income students, and they also believe the move helped increase applications.

Yale's change comes after its students demanded financial relief, and is arguably more generous than many of the financial aid overhauls at other schools, public and private universities alike. The University of North Carolina, for instance, no longer requires students from families of four earning about $37,000 or less to take out any loans to cover school expenses. Rice did the same but set the income bar at $30,000.

The US ready for a woman president?

I'm not so sure this country (or Harvard President Larry Summers, for that matter! :) is actually ready for a woman president even though a recent poll put Hillary Clinton first and Condi Rice second in terms of popularity if they were to run. Many European and Asian countries  have seen women heads of state but the US seems to lag behind.

But now at least there may be a woman president on TV -- Geena Davis, who first came to my notice along with Brad Pitt, in Thelma & Louise, is up for the new acting job according to this Boston Herald story [thanks to Mediapost.com]:

ABC, meanwhile, has tapped Geena Davis to star as the first female president in a new drama, ``Commander in Chief.'' If the show makes the fall schedule, Davis would join Mary McDonnell, who already leads the U.S. (and all humankind) on SciFi's revamped ``Battlestar Galactica.''

``I think it's great,'' said Marie C. Wilson, president of the nonprofit White House Project [http://www.thewhitehouseproject.org], which aims to have a woman lead the real West Wing. ``If you can see it on television, it makes an enormous difference,'' Wilson said yesterday.

Inside-the-beltway talk focuses on a few women who could run in 2008 - namely, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. A poll last month found 62 percent of Americans were ready for a female president.

150M+ broadband subscribers worldwide

According to this new story [thanks to PaidContent.org] over 100M of the 150M+ broadband subscribers worldwide are DSL users rathre than cable:

IMS Research has revealed that the number of broadband subscribers has just passed 150 million worldwide. According to the company's latest broadband database update, this represented an increase of 51 million since the beginning of 2004. This tremendous rate of growth shows no signs of slowing, and IMS Research is forecasting that the number of broadband subscribers will surpass 400 million during 2009.

About NYTimes $400M+ acquisition

PaidContent interviewed Martin Nisenholtz, SVP-Digital Operations, NYTCO a few days ago about the recent $400M+ About.com acquisition which caused many people to say Internet bubble.

One of the questions I've heard a lot is 'Why didn't they just start their own?' 'Why do they have to buy another company?' Wouldn't it be less expensive to start your own version of About.com?
Nisenholtz: You can say that about any business. I think that's a kind of a, if you'll forgive me, a kind of dot.com sentiment. About.com had in 2004 significant revenues and profits. It had great margins, so anybody can start any business at any time but getting it up to the point where it is right now is going to take a lot of time in my opinion. So I don't think that that necessarily holds any water. It's a highly complex and very profitable business and it would be time consuming and difficult to replicate it very quickly.
The risks of starting something like that from scratch are enormous. Imagine trying to attract 21 million users on the internet. But beyond that, how would you replicate the million-document database that they own? It's the web's largest document database.

Blogs under attack?

Two developments that may impact blogs in significant ways.

One, as written about yesterday in this CNET News.com story [thanks to a post on Geek.com], interviews one of the Federal Election Commissioners,  Bradley Smith, who is having to consider extending the 2002 campaign finance law to the Internet:

In just a few months, he warns, bloggers and news organizations could risk the wrath of the federal government if they improperly link to a campaign's Web site. Even forwarding a political candidate's press release to a mailing list, depending on the details, could be punished by fines.

...In 2002, the FEC exempted the Internet by a 4-2 vote, but U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last fall overturned that decision. "The commission's exclusion of Internet communications from the coordinated communications regulation severely undermines" the campaign finance law's purposes, Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

In in another news story, Apple has won a tentative victory in its lawsuit against three blogs/sites, according to this San Jose Mercury News story:

In a case with implications for the freedom to blog, a San Jose judge tentatively ruled Thursday that Apple Computer can force three online publishers to surrender the names of confidential sources who disclosed information about the company's upcoming products.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg refused to extend to the Web sites a protection that shields journalists from revealing the names of unidentified sources or turning over unpublished material.

...Apple sought subpoenas in December against two online news sites that focus exclusively on its products: PowerPage (www.power page.org) and Apple Insider (www.appleinsider.com). The company filed a separate suit against Think Secret (www.thinksecret.com) on Jan. 4.

Updated 1:10 PM. As Ross Mayfield writes in his blog on this topic, links are about relationships and these two developments put a price on those links or require that the writers reveal their sources.

Yahoo turns 10

We were at our neighbor's house for a great evening of SFJAZZ this past Wednesday -- what a great organization! -- and Srinija was wearing her Camp Yahoo! jacket since she had just returned from a whole day of festivities celebrating Yahoo!'s 10th anniversary that included free icecream at Baskins & Robbins.

eBay's 10th anniversary is coming up in September, I think. And Amazon.com should be sometime soon, too. Pretty amazing that the Web as we know it is only 10 years old. Our nephew is a whole six years old...almost as old as these Internet powerhouses!

Yahoo's music business launches into the stratosphere

From Rafat Ali's new digital music/Paid Content/Billboard blog, here are some staggering numbers from a speech given by my Harvard classmate, Dave Goldberg, who is the GM for Music at Yahoo.Yahoo bought his Santa Monica startup Launch a few years ago and is consolidating its content business there since Sunnyvale isn't quite the heart of content like LA or NY are.

His killer line: The playlist is the killer app in music...
Some interesting stats on Yahoo music:
-- It is serving about 350 million videos a month. It had about 3.5 billion streams last year, and that figure more than doubles every year.
-- Online radio has about 7.5 million users...each user uses about 7 hours of music a month. About one billion songs are served per month...

Boston Globe journalist reprimanded over blog posts

This journalist came under fire several years ago, if I'm not mistaken, for his biased stories on Apple Computer. According to this Boston Herald story on this not-so-independent journalist's latest claim to fame:

A Boston Globe reporter who covered aspects of the presidential campaign was rebuked by his editors after criticizing Sen. John F. Kerry [related, bio] and promoting President Bush [related, bio] on Internet Web logs.

Globe editor Martin Baron issued a statement yesterday saying technology reporter Hiawatha Bray had been told in November his postings were ``inappropriate and in violation of our standards.''

...Bray promoted many of the Swift Boat attacks on Kerry - some of which were proven false. He questioned his own paper's work, dismissing probes of Bush's National Guard service as ``innuendo.''

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Art for sale -- $300M and counting

The new Wall Street hedgefund barons are bidding up art prices around the world -- as they discover a new passion -- according to this New York Times story (registration required):

For more than a century, successive generations of Wall Street titans have lavished their riches on art, hoping that a Monet or a Cézanne might add a bit of polish to the rough edges of their deal making. Now, young, little-known billionaires who manage hedge funds are roiling the art market, using the vast pools of capital they have accumulated to snatch up some of the world's most recognizable images.

Leading the way has been Steven A. Cohen, a publicity-shy hedge fund magnate living in Greenwich, Conn., who took home $350 million in 2003 and even more last year, according to people close to him.

Over the last five years, Mr. Cohen, 48, has spent more than $300 million - amassing a collection that includes one of Jackson Pollock's iconic drip paintings, a Manet self-portrait, a Monet waterlilies painting and other trophy works including a Degas sculpture of a young dancer and well-known Pop works like Andy Warhol's "Superman" and Roy Lichtenstein's "Popeye."

Napster revenues see uptick

According to this PR Newswire press release from Napster:

Napster (Nasdaq: NAPS - News), the biggest brand in digital music, today raised guidance for its fourth fiscal quarter ending March 31, 2005. Napster now expects to report revenues of approximately $15 million for the fourth quarter, an increase from its prior projection of $14 million.

"We are raising our guidance based on robust growth in our subscription service," said Chris Gorog, Napster's Chairman and CEO. "Since the launch of Napster To Go, we have experienced exceptional demand for all aspects of our business. Our new marketing campaign is already delivering strong returns by generating unprecedented interest in both our regular and portable music subscription offerings. A positive reception to compatible MP3 players from iriver, Creative and Dell is also fueling demand. For example, within hours of launching a Napster To Go promotion with iriver, we sold out of the 'bundles' and added a significant number of new, year-long subscribers. We are confident that interest in our portable subscription service will further increase as consumers learn that for about the price of one CD per month, they have unlimited ability to fill and refill their MP3 players with their choice of more than one million songs."

One interesting article that I briefly saw yesterday talked about how some of the subscribers to some of these music services may be in for a surprise when they find that they can no longer access the music they thought they'd "bought" if they every cancel their subscription. Not sure if that includes Napster since I haven't really looked into its music offerings since we're an iTunes household!

Google links for you!

There is a fine line that Google is treading -- between adding features that provide greater convenience to users versus becoming the most powerful traffic policeman on the Web that directs traffic only where, when and how it wants. Google's new AutoLink, part of its Google Toolbar 3, is just that new feature treading a very, very fine line. And although Google claims it doesn't get any financial benefit from this feature at this time, it will, I'm sure once Google starts to try and monetize every aspect of its search services.

I've been using my older Google toolbard quite frequently since it allows me to very simply search things without having to go to the Google home page...but now with Amazon's A9.com and the better MSN Search, that my partner is using, I'm no longer as dependent on it and will have to decide soon whether I want to download the new toolbar for my new laptop. According to this Washington Post story:

You can see Google testing its limits, though, with a new feature called AutoLink that adds hyperlinks Google deems useful to the Web pages you visit. The idea is to automate the process of jumping from a street address to, say, a map, sparing users having to retype or copy the address.

...Google picked Amazon.com as the default book destination, she said, because it has the largest online database of ISBN numbers. But you can bet Barnes & Noble wasn't happy, even though the New York-based bookseller did not respond to my requests for comment. Initially, Google's toolbar transformed ISBN numbers on Barnes & Noble's Web site into hyperlinks leading to Amazon.com. In the past week, though, Barnes & Noble added its own internal ISBN links, so Google's AutoLink function no longer works on its site.

Hyperlinking their own content is the best way publishers can prevent Google from adding links to their pages, Mayer said, because Google's technology will not override existing links. She declined to comment on whether Barnes & Noble or other booksellers had complained.

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Sir Bill? Gates gets British honor from the Queen

According to this Washington Post story:

Sir Bill? Not quite. Proclaiming himself "humbled and delighted," Microsoft founder Bill Gates received an honorary knighthood Wednesday from Queen Elizabeth II - an accolade that allows the recipient to use "KBE" after his name, but not to put "Sir" in front of it.

One of the world's richest men, Gates, 49, was being honored for his charitable activities around the world and his contribution to enterprise in Britain.

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Flipping real estate -- the 2005 way!

According to this New York Times story (registration required) on real estate speculation:

Within six months last year, Carlos and Betti Lidsky bought and sold two condominiums. Then they bought and sold two houses. They say they will clear a half-million dollars in profit, and none of the homes have even been built.

...According to LoanPerformance Inc., a San Francisco mortgage data firm, about 8.5 percent of mortgages nationwide in the first 11 months of last year were taken out by people who did not plan to live in the houses themselves, up from 5.8 percent in 2000. In some markets, that proportion is much higher: in Phoenix, more than 12 percent of mortgages were taken out by investors; in Miami, the figure is 11 percent.

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