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August 29, 2003

OK, Now I'm really mad

Thanks Tall Dad. Now I really have a complex. And, this was taken at a party with BBQ pork ribs, and I didn't even get a lousy bone. Grrrrr.

UK's Guardian coming to US?

What a breath of fresh air this would be were it true! The respected PR Opinions blog has reported on media scuttlebutt that the Guardian's amazing Iraq war coverage may lead to a U.S. edition. Which would be great. David's birthday present from me this year was a subscription to the weekly international edition, which turned out to be an amazing window on UK and European sentiment about, well, everything. The gap between their reporting and US coverage was huge. The US could so use a daily with its politic slant undisguised-- there are times when it's just painful to watch the wild contortions of the US media as they try to appear "objective.

August 28, 2003

Kontua mesedez

So Slate has June Thomas writing dispatches from her trip to the Basqueland. First of all, what is it with Slate and copying my ideas? At least I scooped them on this one, posting my journey through the Euskara-speaking world on FANS back in May. But still, I get the feeling that Michael Kinsley is bugging my cell phone and using my ideas for stories. It's unnerving, and it needs to stop.

I do have more of a point to make, however, than to grouse about Slate's lack of ability to come up with their own damn story ideas (or lack of paying me for the ones they seem to steal from me). I want to take issue with a statement Ms. Thomas made in her first "dispatch" (yeah, they didn't even bother to use a different term than I did in mine). On Monday's post, she said, "The Basque Country smells like Spain—a mixture of wine, sweat, eau de cologne, olive oil, and "black" tobacco. And the locals' food fixation is quite French."

You see, she's right about the smell. Which was fine. Good human smell, really. Although I'd kind of add lavender to that as well. And salt air. But the idea that a food fixation is French, now that I have an issue with. All over Spain, food was extremely important, though nowhere near as much as I found it to be in the Basqueland, that's true. But I have to say that, although, yeah, the French are kind of food obsessed, they go about it very differently than the Basques.

For one thing, I could live on Basque food if I had to. It rivals Italian food for good, homey, lovely, innovative, and interesting morsels. I could never live on French food. I mean, sure, it's good. But would you really want to live on it? All that butter and cream and aspic? The thing about classical French cuisine, which distinguishes it from most of the other ethnic cuisines I love (Italian, Basque, Spanish, Middle Eastern, Oaxacan, and Japanese in that order) is that French cooking is not about appreciating local abundance and living well off what the nearby land and sea have to offer, but about making something rich and oppulent to impress nobility (and using those rich combinations of flavors and textures to hide the less-than-entirely-fresh meats and fish that were raised or caught far from the castles which house the dinner tables those ingredients were destined to grace.)

Now admittedly, there are Basque dishes that are based on using non-local ingredients, most notable salt-cod, but the salting process was never about fancifying anything for the sake of impressing anyone, but for preserving the fish for the long ride home as overfishing near the European contintent made it increasingly more difficult for medieval fisherman to find cod. Salt cod is peasant food. It keeps. It's not about gooping stuff all over something spoiled to pretend it's not, but, like salting and curing hams and bacon and olives, etc. to preserve them for use during less abundant times of year. In fact, the official dish of Viscaya is bacalao al pil-pil, a dish that was invented while the city of Bilboa was under siege during the first Carlist wars and they were running out of food, nearly everything, as a matter of fact, except olive oil and salted cod. The Carlists lost, in the end, and never overran the city, which they expected to take when the food ran low. The good people of Bilboa, for their part, invented one of the most artistic and simple dishes ever created.

The most famous dishes of classical French cuisine, on the other hand, were invented by chefs in the employ of kings and nobles who were tasked with always outdoing the grandiosity of previous dinners or others' dinner parties. Sure, this resulted in plenty of tasty and inventive dishes, many of which are still part of the lexicon of French cookery (and many of which were just too unnerving, too extravagant, or too unpleasant to have survived), but they lack soul, in my opinion. They were created to impress, not nourish. And that, as I see it, is still the essential difference between French and Basque food, and why I have an issue with equating the French conception of food as an object of art and the Basque conception of food as an object of worship.

Not quite Rosie from the Jetsons, but...

I want one! I want one!

What it is I want? A Robotic FloorVac!

While it sounds very sci-fi, these have been around for a few years (and known mostly as the most dangerous part of a visit to Brookstone, where I have almost tripped over one multiple times). But really, what task is better suited to a robot than vacuuming? There is little need for human intelligence in this tiresome task, and lots of reasons not to do it (clouds of allergens being at the top of the list for me).

The Roomba is by most accounts quite adept at wending its electronic way over the floor of a room; its small size and ingenious features actually make it better at cleaning under stuff and in corners than a big vac. The Pro Elite model can even clear multiple rooms at once.

As I think about all the hardwood floors at Casa Nonfamous, I can't help think how cool it would be to turn this thing on after the last guest leaves the dinner party, go to bed, and wake up to a clean floor.

Does wanting one make me a terrible geek? Or just a neat freak?

August 27, 2003

Look at the baaaaby!

Oh, sure. His best friends in England have a baby and he's all smiles. OK, fine. So I run like a mad dog when you drop the leash. And I'm occasionally anti-social and maybe need some medication. But there are no pictures of anyone holding me like this! And of course, Tall Dad loves this picture. Apparently he likes babies. So do I--just not raw ones. (Just kidding there-- I have no idea what babies taste like, but if they taste like BBQ ribs I'm in big trouble.)

Boxed wine consumption: A mark of sophistication?

Copied straight from my newsletter (a great marketing trend site):

Boxed Wine. One in five glasses of wine consumed by Americans comes from a box, reports Frank J. Prial in The New York Times. "We're third," he continues. "In Australia, boxes have half the wine market and in Norway...they claim a third." In Britain, "the market for boxed wine is growing twice as fast as that for bottled wine." Ryan Sproul, who markets a three-liter, Napa Valley 2001 Chardonnay called Black Box, says boxed wine is growing in popularity "because consumers have come to realize that the wine is more important than the packaging." The quality of the wine inside does count, of course -- Black Box actually "won a silver medal in a competition sponsored by The San Francisco Chronicle."

The truly surprising thing here, however, is that boxes make great wine vessels. That's because the "triple-layer clear-plastic...bag that holds the wine" inside the box is airtight. The bag contracts as the wine is dispensed, keeping remaining wine in "perfect condition, for a surprisingly long time." It's an innovation claimed by the Australians, which they say dates back 30 years. It is most associated in America with cheap, sweet wines, sold mostly in "supermarkets and working-class liquor stores." The typical American box of wine, marketed by vintners such as Almaden and Franzia, holds five-liters and sells for "$8 to $12 , or $1.35 to $1.75 a bottle."

Labels like Black Box, however, are selling for 25 bucks a box. Australia's BRL Hardy has a line of chardonnay, shiraz and merlot priced at $16. A "magnum-size, organic bag-in-the-box wine called Our Daily Red," actually depends on boxing -- because it contains no sulfites it "soon becomes unstable in an opened bottle." In London, "a recent tasting...featured 30 bag-in-the-box wines, all of them serious entries from France, Spain and Italy." Mr. Prial concludes: "We Americans are still pretty insecure when it comes to wine. We still place undue importance on the bottles, labels and corkscrews. But, as the figures show, we're changing."

Fun with cryptoepidemiology

Jon and Zoe might have more insight into this, but the Zombie Infection Simulation provides an interesting look at the epidemiology of mass zombification. For extra edification about zombie etiology and morphology, you can consult the Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency site. The write-up of "zombie sociology" is especially informative, and the marketer that I am loves to know all about zombie demographics. (Links courtesy of

August 26, 2003

Fashion Fascista

Are the kids trying to look like their favorite rap star? Maybe the little miss is turning herself out like Christina Aguilera? Well, Mumsy and Dads, now you can go to and pick out the latest in Kid Gear from the President's online store. You can make sure that you won't be embarrassed at the next fund raiser and that the profit will go to enriching the campaign for the re-election of W and Cheney. This Internet thing is just great.

It isn't bad enough that POTUS and his campaign staff have jumped on the blogging bandwagon (although the site is really more of a personal spin site for the W campaign) now they want to condemn millions of upper-middle-class teens to perpetual loserdom. I understand the campaign bumpersticker, hat and button. But a knit hat that should have the name or logo of a band or skateboard company is not the place for a W.

August 25, 2003

Pollitt defends The Doctor

The Nation's Katha Pollitt is not always my favorite colmnist (nor is The Nation always my favorite poltical rag), but she's for Dean-- and how. In her article Selling Dean Short she has one of the best and most rousing grafs in recent memory:

Every time the press pooh-poohs his chances, every time they gloat over some trivial misstatement, every time they make fun of Vermont and describe his supporters as "Birkenstocked" "Deanyboppers," I think about the free ride the media give Bush, who says more false and foolish things in an afternoon than Dean has said in a lifetime, who is unmaking everything good about this country from Head Start to habeas corpus, who is stacking the government with faith healers and fanatics, my fingers itch to write Dean another check.

She fairly well debones the current media idée fixe that liberals will defect from the Dean camp when the realize that he's actually a centrist. (Which creates, in the big picture, this weird contradictory argument when you think about it--the mainstream media deem Dean "too liberal" to win, but it is his "centrist thinking" that will eventually scare away his hard-core supporters. Hmmm.)

Anyway, Pollitt closes with this point, which can't be made too forcefully to anyone who doesn't get Dean's appeal:

Right now, Dean is the only viable candidate who speaks to the anger, fear and loathing a large number of ordinary citizens feel about the direction Bush has taken the country, while the mainstream media blandly kowtow and the Democratic Party twiddles its thumbs. He has gone out and actually asked for the help of these citizens, rather than taking them for granted. That is why 70,000 people have sent him money, and why 84,000 have shown up to work for him, and why tens of thousands of volunteers wrote personal letters to Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats and independents urging them to support Dean. His willingness to challenge Bush without looking over his shoulder at the last undecided voter in Ohio is the big story--not whether he signed Vermont's civil union legislation in a private ceremony to avoid publicity, or even whether he insisted on balancing Vermont's budget at the expense of worthy social programs.

In other words, Dean is so engaging--and so threatening to the status quo that has the media so blinkered--because he has based his campaign around truly democratic (that's small-"d" democratic) principles instead of poll-tested tinctures of party platform. Perhaps the best model for this is not an American politician at all, but Lula, the former labor-union leader now running Brazil. Both are reformers who are rescuing human-scale politics from the jaws of media spectacle, and both have policies that put the needs of real people ahead of the niceties of ideological categorization.

August 23, 2003

spam poetry

I've been noticing lately that an awful lot of the spam I get consists not of enticements to enlarge body parts that my combination of chromosomes excludes me from possessing, but random strings of words, as if someone just copied the results of the magnetic words combinations on their fridge after a particularly wild party. And I'v begun reading these strings of random words, because, apparently, I have nothing better to do with my time. Sometimes they are quite interesting combinations, too. So I've decided to copy them and make them my own, in poetry format, not unlike Marcel Duchamp and his urinal. The rules will be thus:

  • The title will always be the subject line in the spam mail

  • I can break lines whereever I please to create associated words strings

  • I cannot change, remove, or add words

  • I cannot add punctuation or capitalization that doesn't already exist

  • I will give partial author credit to the sender of the spam

  • I am eligible for poet laureate status as a result, because this is art

So without further ado, my first spam poem:

"Pomposity" by Paulette McKay and Lilia Adell


second adler testing
secede adherence
bovine excretions horrify postmaster polemics
screeching political exothermic
boeotian teeth courageously hurtle housewares countrywide

activator bogota hoydenish
hovering accusingly


meringue counterfeiter scoreboard
adaptability branched ibis hyacinth admirations

ak millimeter
posterity creeks creating etymology bramble

hospital branded hungering
postwar postoffice hose
metamorphic howdy bolting
idealized excelsior teet
crater bombings


alhambra adjudication
idiom scored criminal
additivity tenseness
boomtown thawing bowl

aaa excreting

hyphenate theorem

August 22, 2003

Power Point is bad?

Edward Tufte hates the MS Office app that's taken over nearly every meeting I've ever been to where lots of information is being conveyed. What are his points?

  • Dumbing down data is bad

  • Conveying ideas in bullet format is bad

  • PP is making our children dumber

  • Simplifying data presentation actually makes it messier to present

I might actually even agree with him. I'm sick of PowerPoint presentations. And I like that he used the word "smarmy."

August 21, 2003

Austrahoma Style

Of course we’re still waiting for our thoroughly freakish sellers to get over themselves on the minor things we want done with the house. My fingers are cramped from excessive crossing.

The good news is I’m feeling slightly less panicked about home décor. David picked up Country Living at Home Depot last weekend, and I was much reassured that the phrase “modern country” is not an oxymoron. The magazine also helped me arrive at a design concept. And as you know, once I have a concept, everything else falls into place quickly.

It’s simple, really. David and I both grew up on the edges of cities feel more like big country towns. David, in fact, grew up in a home not unlike the one we are buying. My farmhouse-of-record is, of course, Memommie and Skelley’s big old place outside Lawton.

Somewhere in the country between Adelaide and Oklahoma City, there is a place with cattle ranches, wheat fields, and pioneer settlements parked on the dry plain. There is red earth, and from at least one side of the river, beautiful vineyards. So all of that is going to be our inspiration, and when we’re home in both places over the holidays we’ll be doing some scouting for specifics. We’re going to need lots of help, so if anyone has any brilliant ideas, let me know!

Google gets more amazing

As many of you know, numbers and I don't always get on so well. Thankfully, Google knows this and has come up with a solution. It almost makes math fun.

Google is adding functionality faster than I keep keep up with, despite the fact that like 45% of my job involves using Google to dig out facts, trends, and support for my occasionally far-fetched strategic assertions. An interesting still-in-Beta service: Google Catalogs. That's right, if you lost that Ikea catalog, just go here and type in "Poang" and the page with your favorite chair will pop right up. It's almost spooky.

August 19, 2003

I love people who make me seem well-adjusted in comparison

And apparently this guy even managed to get a book deal out of his site Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About.

To be honest, I'm not sure if this is entertaining, or very, very unnerving. Like, I could almost see me writing a blog like this some day, though probably not about things my girlfriend and I have argued about. I'm guessing it will be more like things my mother and I have argued about. Or things my mother and grandmother have argued about. Or things my brother and mother have argued about. Or things my mom and my aunt have...

Hang on. I'm going to register a domain name. I think I smell a book deal.

August 18, 2003

The madness begins

Yes, we've started thinking about home decor. In particular, I'm starting to take a real interest in lighting, as there are a few fixtures that just have to go. (There shall be no exposed lightbulbs in the hallway!)

So imagine my joy when I looked up the Rejuvenation website. It's amazing, and surprisingly affordable.

But the façade of affordability crumbles when you start looking at the whole thing. A fixture here, some paint there, and--oh, a new sofabed!--and suddenly Jay has no lunch money for two weeks.

I am way too much of a control freak to do a Trading Spaces-type thing, but as it gets closer to closing we may have to invite a few folks over to give us your thoughts on paint colors and things like that. I have probably indulged the decorative urge a bit more than David, but I feel like I lack the Interior Design Gene that we gays are all assumed to have. I know what I like, but trying to explain how I think wall color and trim and fabrics should work together is exasperating.

The other weird thing is that although I love the farmhouse style of Casa Nonfamous, I've never really had much interest in anything country (with the exception of my "Okie kitsch" fascination of 1997-1998). So my personal style (if one whose entire furniture collection comes from Ikea can reasonably claim to have a personal style) is in abeyance when it comes to this house. I'm definitely a minimalist, and that will work, but my love of sleek, modern shapes doesn't necessarily fit the spirit of the place. Currently, the Venn diagram of "what I've thought I liked all these years" and "what will look good" really only intersects at "black and white photography."

My big concept is that David and I will find ourselves in some small-town antique shop in Oklahoma over Christmas and find a house full of amazing furniture for like $500. That's probably not going to happen, but if anyone there wants to do some snooping around, it sure would make me feel better.

Folk saying prevails

It would appear that Kansas is, as a matter of fact, flatter than a pancake. This proof, however, gives no indication whether Kansas goes better with jam or syrup.

August 15, 2003

Ceci n'est pas un homme

If there is one thing that pisses me off, it's being stood up. Well, ok, who are we kidding? There are probably a lot of things that piss me off. Because, as has recently been pointed out to me, I'm no longer irritable but in a "constant state of maximum irritation, and therefore incapable of becoming more irritated." It would appear, ladies and gentlemen (and pooch, should you be reading this, Dozer), that I have a disposition.

Fortunately, outside of work, I think I do an admirable job of hiding this well. I mingle. I giggle. I tell funny stories. (At least, I think they're funny.) And, you know, I can seem downright effusive at times. Like when Jay called to tell me about David's acceptance of the proposal, and I managed to scare at least half a dozen folks hanging out in front of the Coffee Messiah with my screamsqueal of delight. So, you know, I'm not all grousing and cursing. I have my perky moments too.

Except, when you push one of those buttons that just really irks me. Like standing me up. Because here's the thing. If you don't want to meet me, DON'T SUGGEST IT. Don't say, oh, hey, how's about we do X, and then just not do X. If you can't make it, change your mind, whatever, just call or email and say, "Hey, I don't think I'm going to be able to do X afterall." Because really, that's just low.

Right. And it might not take a huge stretch of logic to get that I had a bit of an experience with that sort of...ahem...behavior recently. And so, being the neurotic little freak that I am, thought I might turn to trusty old Google to find out what an appropriate next course of action might be, mostly because the no-show in question has a copy of a particularly favored book of mine, as well as a CD that I'd really like back.

Yeah, and it should probably come as no surprise that there is a fair amount of advice out there on just what to do in said situations, most of it fairly consistent, as in this tip sheet on which I chose as my link because, well, I am amused by the URL. So, apparently, I could call today to find out what's up, thus giving me an opportunity to suggest various methods of returning the above mentioned literature and music, and perhaps I shall. Although I admit that I am quite partial to Jay's much more pointed suggestion of sending a FedEx package with a prefilled-in shipping label to effect the desired recovery of these items.

Jay will note, however, that nowhere on this tip sheet does it mention as an appropriate step, "Have your best friend call the offending stander upper from your cell phone during the appointed event in order to threaten him with bodily harm." Nor does it give any indication that graduates from any particular institute of higher education are more likely to engage in such behaviors than are, say, Yalies (who, we know would never have so little consideration for a fellow human being), thus disproving Jay's theory that this sort of behavior is well-documented among, as he so charmingly dubbed them, "Harvard fucks."

At least I had a lovely evening with my dear Jay, who was, as always, enormously satisfying company in any context, and we did have the opportunity to feel quite old while chatting with some fellow Elis whose existence on this planet never overlapped with that of John Lennon. So I'm not actually in a state of maximum irritation at the moment. Just close to it. Which is to say, in warning to those I might encounter today, I'm feeling irritable.

August 14, 2003

Bubb Rubb: "the whistles go WHOOOO!"

Bubb Rubb is the newest Certified Internet Celebrity, and the kind of character you could not invent. And if you did, you would instantly be branded a racist. But truth is the perfect defense against libel, and this site is all about the truth at 24 fps. Really, you can't make this shit up... though in the interest of equal offense, someone has made a "Red Neck Woo Video." Not as funny, but a nice effort.

To make a long story short, Bubb Rubb came to fame after a San Francisco TV newscaster interviewed him (and his little sister, 'Lil Sis) as he was having a "whistle tip" put in the exhaust pipe of his car. For the uninitiated, a whistle tip is just a little punched-metal tab that turns any exhaust pipe into an organ of screeching agony for all those nearby. As this trend reached the Bay Area, the citizens of Oakland were, for the most part, not amused; the tips have since been banned. Which is sad, because they are "just fa' deccarayshun."

The great thing is-- if you watch the full video, not the edited version-- is that the white KRON newscaster speaks at least as strangely as Bubb Rubb. You would swear it's a fake, but no FANSters, it's the real thing.

If you really want to laugh, make sure you also listen to the Woo2 remix.

This Ole House

So Jay and I have taken the plunge and bought a house. We made the offer this morning. The seller was about to drop the price on the listing, but we managed to get in early and offer the new price before anyone else got a chance to. So, barring any problems with the inspection/neighbourhood review or financing, it's as good as ours!

The house is a 1904 farmhouse with a gorgeous, newly remodelled interior. On the lower floor is the sitting room with an attractive (but nonfunctional) fireplace and a large dining room, with a modern kitchen in the back. Upstairs is the master bedroom with lots of closet space and a view of the Cascades and Lake Washington, the guest bedroom, and a third bedroom which has no closets (and so we'll probably use that as an office). The bathroom -- featuring a clawfoot tub with low water pressure -- is upstairs also.

An extension has been built on the back of the house which provides a large family room and a small bathroom. Unfortunately, it wasn't built very well, and the inspection report about it was frightening: "the entire addition is in poor condition ... and would be recommended to be removed or completely reconstructed". But it's OK for a few years at least, and the house is still good value even if we knock it down, say for a patio in a larger backyard. (The backyard is tiny but the front yard is nice, and the entire house is fenced in so Dozer can run around.) In the meantime, we'll probably use it for the home theatre system, provided the electricals can cope. At least we have a room where we don't have to worry about damaging the walls or carpet in a party!

All going well, we should be moving in at the end of September. It's a big step, and kind of stressful, but I can't wait until we can settle in to our first family home together!

August 12, 2003

Mr. Blah

I know it's completely inappropriate to think that anything about the Liberian situation is funny, but has anyone else noticed that the Liberian former vice-president, now president, is called Mr. Blah? It makes it difficult for me to read the news articles without picturing him as a cartoon character who suffers from ennui and is drawn with indistinct borders, kind of like Pig Pen, only more existential.

Consider this statement: "If Blah takes over, we will fight back." This was spoken by a senior member of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, a group otherwise known as LURD. Really, LURD. I think Liberians need better branding. Jay, do you want to get on this? At least they are already snappy dressers.

August 08, 2003

Kung-Pao Chicken

So now I'm playing poker. It seems to be the "executive activity" of choice at work, which suits me fine since I'm crap at golf. I'm not too hot at poker either, mind you. A background in statistics helps me evaluate the relative merit of the possible hands in a probabilistic sense, but whenever the pot gets big I tend to stay in with a marginal hand "just to see what happens". Oh well. Fortunately, I don't see being $25 down at the end of a night a crushing loss. $25 is a good price for a night's entertainment if you ask me.

Anyway, I did manage to invent a new game at the last session. Since poker isn't widely played in the Commonwealth states, to get some variety at dealer's choice I have to make up my own game instead of relying on a vast repertoire of established games. So here for posterity are the rules of "ten-card chicken" (which on the night was universally referred to as "Kung-Pao Chicken").

Rules of 10-card chicken

  • Each player is dealt 10 cards, face down. (This limits the game to five players, but we used two decks for eight players.)

  • The ten cards will be divided into two standard five-card poker hands, betted on separately. There will be two winners: the winner of the first hand, and the winner of the second hand. At the end of the game, the eventual pot will be split equally between each winner. (It is possible the same player may win both hands and take the entire pot.)

  • After the deal, each player looks at his 10 cards and decides which five will be used for the first hand. A betting round follows. A player who folds in this betting round is out for the rest of the game, and cannot win any of the pot.
  • Once the first betting round concludes, all remaining players simultaneously turn over and display a five-card hand of their choice. The player with the highest hand showing (under standard poker rules) is the winner of the first round (but does not yet collect from the pot).
  • Another betting round begins (excluding players who folded in the first round). Players are now betting on the hand made of the remaining five cards in their hand. Usual betting and disclosure rules apply. The winner of the first hand may fold if he chooses and still collect half of the eventual pot.

  • After the betting round concludes, the winner of the second hand divides the pot with the winner of the first hand.

It's an interesting game. It's called "chicken" because each player has to make a choice -- do I play my best hand first or second? The winner of the first hand has a definite advantage, because he can keep bumping the pot in the second round safe in the knowledge he'll collect half of what everyone adds. But a good hand in the second round can catch players off-guard (although betting big on junk in the first round kinda gives the game away), especially since so many cards have already been shown. Winning the second hand is definitely worthwhile, as the pot can be huge.

As it happens, in the one game we played one player had full houses in both his hands, which drove the pot to astronomical levels. Sadly, that one player was not me -- the best I could make with 10 cards was a measly two pair.

August 07, 2003

The Up and Coming Species

There's a lot of concern these days about so-called "white collar" jobs going overseas. It's great to see a work force elevate itself by making a quality contribution at a great price... as long as it's not your job that's getting replaced.

We can point to countries that have been doing well for some time with getting overseas contracts, and we can perhaps see which countries might be on the rise. However, we need to let our thinking move beyond geo-political boundaries and see opportunities for other species to move into new roles. For example, primates are starting to do great work in software, according to Primate Programming, Inc., and their prices can't be beat! (Of course, as a former editor, I recognize the ridiculousness of the claim that their employees have great English skills—programmers typically use terrible English.)

Some people might feel threatened by apes taking computer jobs, but I say, let them. It's my turn to finger paint.

August 06, 2003

Bearing False Witness

So I don't expect a lot from the "faith-based" social-programs crowd that orbits W-- call me cynical, but if you're doing the Lord's work why come to the Feds for a handout? What I find intolerable from these holier-than-thou folks is out and out misrepresentation of data. In my verson of Christianity, we call that lying. Something about "Thou shalt bear no false witness to thy neighbor."

In case you don't know Charles Colson (which would exclude anyone in my family, most of whom idolize the man) he is one of the lucky few Watergate alums who actually went to jail. Where he was born-again, into a lucrative career as speaker, writer, think-tank proselytizer, and general darling of the far right. (While I respect the effort needed for Nixon's "evil genius" to get some religion, his convert's zeal could use a little more love.)

So in an effort to get federal funding for his InnerChange "prison fellowship" program, his group is flogging a press release that almost entirely misrepresents the first scientific study of the results. While the inmates in InnerChange actaully did WORSE than non-Bible-reading inmates--more recidivism and more reincarceration at a statistically significant level--InnerChange has the audacity to paint itself as a success. The headline of the press release: "Graduates of Faith-Based Prison Program Less Likely to Return to Prison: Univ. of Pennsylvania Study Shows Inmates Who Graduate From Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative are Less Likely to Return to Incarceration." The study tells the real truth. You don't have to get past page four to read "Considering all participants, including those inmates who did and did not complete all phases of the program, 36.2% of IFI participants were arrested compared to 35% of the matched group during the two-year tracking period. Among the total number of IFI participants, 24.3% were incarcerated compared to 20.3% of the comparison group during the two-year post-release period." The trick is "graduates," which excludes everyone who doesn't get a job, or doesn't stick with "the program" even after release. Talk about "creaming the data." It's as if they decided only to count the inmates Jesus really loves.

This excellent article in Slate sets the story straight. But with the WSJ editorial page and the White House Press Office picking up the spin and not the data, there's a real risk this will become another one of those pseudo-facts that the Christian Right endlessly flogs in its battle to take over the public sphere along with the private.

August 05, 2003

This is a smart woman

Never underestimate Britney Spears. And if you need to know about finite barrier quantum wells, she's your girl.

Britney's Guide to Semiconductor Physics

Posh 'n Becks Unplugged

Does Marie Claire have no sense of decency? Using lookalikes to make us thing the UK's real royal couple has opened their home for candid shots of the World's Most Famous Athlete on the can? Nope, no decency at all. Thank god.

August 04, 2003

Of bears and bellies

OK, everyone... new category. When I do or say something really gay, Pete is always there to observe, "Well look at you, Gayee McGayerson!" It's quite endearing, and from a straight guy way nicer than "Fag!"

Anyway, David is still down in the Gay Area, I mean Bay Area, at a trade show. I went down with him for the weekend and we had a lot of fun hitting the bars (except for the Eagle having been taken over by what I could only describe as polyamorous Linux geek club kids fresh from a thrifting binge) and shopping in the Castro. (What did we shop for, you might ask? I'll never tell, but it was fun walking into the Leather Emporium in my floral-embroidered Hawaiian shirt carrying a bag of skin care products from Nancy Boy.) Overall, nothing that made us want to relocate-- but fun.

The trip did reinforce my appreciation of one of the many joys of being in a secure and non-neurotic male couple: the lack of drama when something big and hunky crosses your field of vision. You both see it, you both look, and unless one of you stops listening and does an obvious double-take, no harm/no foul. You might even engage in a little rating or mutual spotting ("Ooh, look left, hottie at 3 o'clock"). But after all that, you both leave knowing that you're leaving with the sexiest, most wonderful man in the place.

The key phrase in that paragraph was "big and hunky," as neither David nor I have much interest in the under-fed and over-scupted gym bunny look. Neither of us fit that mold either. I've been working out regularly for months and for a lot of reasons probably more comfortable with my body that I've ever been, so I'm more than a little unhappy to hear David bemoan the really cute and sexy little belly he has. I mean after all, where some guys have six-packs, I've got a pony keg-- so he better think bellies are sexy.

Well guess what? It's official-- bellies are the new Hot Gay Fashion Accessory. Don't leave home without one! When the UK's Guardian (which David loves) posts a story asking Is the potbelly the new gay ideal?, you know something is up.

This week in Salon (which of course you can't really read anymore without paying or watching doofy interstitial ads), Andrew Sullivan has a great piece on bellies and bears, and their (our?) relation to the whole "post-gay" concept. While I gladly sign on as post-gay (I'm here, I'm queer, I'm used to it), I've been a little leery of taking on the "bear" label.

I took my tall, pretty, reedy, and nearly hairless friend Topher to a "bear party" a couple of years ago on the heels of a breakup with another tall, reedy guy. I was ready to claim my Bear Identity... until I got there. Wow. I will never have facial hair like that, I thought, or wear flannel shirts with the arms cut off. And did you smell that guy??? Topher was nonplussed, and kept suggesting we go eat. "But where do bears eat?" he mused, bemused. "What do bears eat? Honey?" By the look of things, bears ate a lot without much discrimination.

I did get flirted with a lot that night, but generally by the non-bear guys. I decided I was the "demi-bear," kind of the gateway drug for skinny boys who just weren't really ready to call someone "Daddy" (or, more to the point, "Smokey.")

But it would seem that Bear-as-fetish is devolving into Bear-by-default, and that is something I can get with. I am always going to be hairy (and more so as the years go on). Even when I'm in prime rugby shape, I'm never going to be svelte. Getting "cut" or "ripped" just doesn't happen, even when I bulk up precipitously. The Bear-by-default model is just a more natural and less artificial mode for most guys, and I'm happy to see myself as part of a trend that lets gay men enjoy good food, good beer, and the attentions of our peers who appreciate unfussy masculinity. And rugby proves that you can be a big boy and in great physical shape. The belly/bear trend may make the Quake the sexiest bunch of butch bitches in Seattle by year's end (if we aren't already).

That said, I still use two styling products in my hair. I still use deodorant. And until we hit the retro-Grunge era, no lumberjack flannel will grace my form. But I couldn't agree more with Andrew Sullivan's premise. Given the challenges of getting to anything good on Salon, I've copied his article below. Eager as I am to see "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," I'm glad this "Ursa Rising" aesthetic is there to counter the "cult of style." It's fun, but deeply stereotypical. And just not as hot as a guy with a hairy chest and a nice, comfortable belly.

Text of Sullivan's bear piece, from the "premium area" of

I am bear, hear me roar!
The feminized men of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and "Queer as Folk" do not represent the maturing gay male culture. The truth is much hairier

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Andrew Sullivan

Aug. 1, 2003  |  I was flattered at first. A burly, stubbled, broad-shouldered man, who could barely keep tufts of hair from sprouting from under his T-shirt corners, leered at me across the bar. He was drunk, alas. But it was five minutes to closing and this was Provincetown in July. "You know what I think is so fucking hot about you?" he ventured. I batted my eyelashes. "Your pot-belly, man," he went on. "It's so fucking hot." Then he reached over and rubbed.

It was Bear Week in Ptown. Bear Week? Well, where do I begin? Every time I try and write a semi-serious sociological assessment of the phenomenon, I find myself erasing large amounts of text. Part of being a bear is not taking being a bear too seriously. And almost every bear and bear-admirer I asked during the festivities came up with different analyses of what it is or might be to be a "bear." But no one can deny that bears are one of the fastest growing new subcultures in gay America -- and that their emergence from the forests into the sunlight is culturally fascinating. Quite what it means for the future of gay America is another thing entirely. But my, er, gut tells me it's, er, a big deal. So here's my own idiosyncratic, CIA-unapproved take on what this new and obviously growing phenomenon in the gay sub-subculture amounts to.

Bearism grew up in San Francisco at places like the revived Lone Star bar in the early 1990s and has metastasized since. From a bunch of heavy, hairy fellas getting together casually, it's now a full-scale phenom, with "American Bear" magazine, a "bear flag," bear conferences, a "Bear Book," "Bearotica," and on and on. Perhaps the most obvious place to start is physical appearance. "Bears" almost all have facial hair -- the more the better. Of all the various characteristics of Beardom, this seems to be one of the most essential. The Ur-bears have bushy beards that meander down their necks and merge with a large forest of chest and back-hair to provide a sort of all-hair body environment. Bears are also big guys. Yes, I know that might come off as a bit of a euphemism. A townie friend of mine suggested making T-shirts for the week, with the slogan "Fat Is The New Black." But obesity, while not unknown, is not that widespread. Bears at their most typical look like regular, beer-drinking, unkempt men in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They have guts. They have furry backs. They don't know what cologne is and they tend not to wear deodorant. One mode of interaction is the occasional sniff of each others' armpits. Nature's narcotic.

Bears are known secondly for their attitude. They're friendly -- more Yogi than "Bears Gone Wild." They're mellow. They're flirtatious in a non-imposing kind of way. If a bear sees another hot-looking bear, his most likely expression will be the one word: "Woof." (Yes, I know that sounds like a dog. But somehow it makes sense.) The sexual tension isn't that tense, because the sexual imperative is less present than in other gay subcultures. This came home to me this year in Provincetown, because in a gay resort town in the summer, you get to see the various sub-subcultures intermingle or follow one another. The contrasts can be quite severe.

To give one example: We have what the locals call "Circuit Week" over July 4 when all the party boys and drug addicts show up to take drugs, dance and drink bottled water for days on end. I have no problem with that. But the perfect torsos, testosteroned rivalry, crystal-nerves and endless egg-whites all make for a somewhat overwrought time. When the bears arrive, all that unease evaporates. They're cheerful; they don't give a shit what others think of them; they're more overtly social than sexual; they drink rather than do drugs; they seem, on the whole, older and far more grown-up than their party-boy cousins. They eat and drink and joke and cuddle and stroke and generally have a great time. And their mellowness is wonderfully infectious.

Whence the name? Well, it's obvious in a way. They kinda look like bears. Big and burly and friendly, they are legions of Yogis, followed by quite a few Boo-boos. The smaller, younger ones tend to be known as "cubs." The more muscular ones go by the name of "muscle-bears." Some leaner types who aren't that hairy but enjoy the atmosphere that follows the bears are known as "otters." There are other nuances. Bears like to enjoy the outdoors and organize joint camping trips and festivals in the forests. They tend not to have kids; and they avoid politics. To the outside world, they are largely invisible, because they don't fit the obvious stereotype of gay men, the kind that is featured prominently, and somewhat offensively, on "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy" and "Boy Meets Boy." These bears look more like the straight guys than the queer eyes.

But their masculinity is of a casual, unstrained type. One of the least reported but significant cultural shifts among gay men in recent years has been a greater ease with the notion of being men and a refusal to acquiesce in the notion that gayness is somehow in conflict with masculinity. In the past, gay manifestations of masculinity have taken a somewhat extreme or caricatured form -- from the leathermen to the huge bodybuilders. Bears, to my mind, represent a welcome calming down of this trend. They are unabashedly masculine but undemonstrative about it. They are attractive precisely because they don't try so hard. And they add to their outdoorsy gruffness an appealing interior softness. They have eschewed the rock-hard muscle torso for the round and soft and hairy belly.

As always, Camille Paglia gets it just about right, when she writes: "In their defiant hirsutism, gay bears are more virile than the generic bubble-butt junior stud, since body hair is stimulated by testosterone. But the bears' fatness resembles not the warlike Viking mass of a Hell's angel but the capacious bosom of the earth mother. They gay Bear is simultaneously animalistic and nurturing, a romp in the wild followed by nap time on a comfy cushion."

That captures something of their unforced maleness. But Paglia underestimates, I think, a rebellion among many gay men against both the feminizing impulses of the broader culture on the right and left and against prevailing norms in gay culture as a whole. In recent years, after all, men have come under withering attack -- not just from the p.c. pomo left, which tends to view all forms of unabashed maleness as oppressive, but also from the nannying right, which views men as socially irresponsible sexual miscreants.

Bears are simply saying that they're men first and unashamed of it. More, in fact. What they're saying is that central to the gay male experience is an actual love of men. And men are not "boys," they're not feminized, hairless, fatless icons on a dance floor. They're grumpy and kind and responsible, and also happy to be themselves. There is no contradiction between being a gay man and being a man as traditionally understood. And if that includes cracking open a six-pack and watching the game; or developing a beer-and-nachos belly; or working in a blue-collar job; or having the clothes sense of the average check-out guy; or preferring the company of men to women; then so be it.

But what bears also do, of course, is take this frumpy, ordinary image of undemonstrative masculinity and eroticize it. Instead of sexualizing the perfect abs or the biggest bicep, bears look at a mature man's belly and see in it the essence of maleness and the motherlode of their sexual attraction. What women (and, now, the gay men on "Queer Eye") often do to their men -- clean them up, domesticate them, clothe them properly, groom them, tame them -- is exactly what bears resist. Go to the Dug-Out at the edge of the West Side highway in New York on a Sunday afternoon, and you'll find a den of cheerful, frisky, thick and hairy guys, all enjoying a few beers and their own gender. Or check out the club "XL" in London and find hundreds of big, fat, hairy blokes dancing to their hearts' content until the early hours of the morning, without the slightest sense of self-awareness or embarrassment. In London, even the "pot-belly" is becoming formally eroticized .

Bears also resist the squeaky clean and feminized version of manhood that appears in most gay magazines and even pornography. Take a look at the Advocate and Out and you will barely find a man over 30 with a gut or a hairy chest anywhere. But that's what most men -- including gay men -- end up like! Bears in this sense represent the maturation of gay male culture. For the first time, we have a critical mass of older generations of gay men who have always been out but who don't identify with the boyishness and effeminacy of the old-school gay subculture. And they're not looking to replicate or mimic the male-female relationship in any way. Yes. There are "bears" and "cubs." But you are just as likely to find two mature, big guys who are simply into each other. As equals. As men.

Some of this aesthetic, of course, is rooted in class. Upper middle class and middle class bears tend to idealize the working class stiff; and working class bears, for the first time perhaps, find their natural state of physical being publicly celebrated rather than ignored. I made a point of asking multiple bears during Bear Week what they did for a living. Yes, there were architects and designers and writers. But there were also computer technicians, delivery truck drivers, construction workers, salesmen, and so on. Again, what we're seeing, I think, is another manifestation of the growth and breadth of gay culture in the new millennium. As the gay world recovers from AIDS, and as the closet continues to collapse, the numbers of gay men keep growing and the diversity of what was once called the gay experience is exploding.

At some point, in fact, it might be asked if bears are a subset of gay culture or simply a culture to themselves. From Ptown, it's pretty clear to me that the "circuit" set, for example, has next to nothing in common with bears and vice versa. Even the leather bars recognize bears as a discrete subculture. The impression of gayness that you get from, say, the New York Times' "Sunday Styles" section, or the excrescent tripe in "Queer As Folk," is light years away from what the bear subculture represents. In this sense, bears might be "post-gay" inasmuch as their fundamental identity is far more complex than any simple expression of their same-sex attraction.

And, as with most developments in gay culture, they could well influence straight culture as well. Bears, after all, are the straight guys in gay culture. Their very ordinariness makes them both more at ease with regular straight guys; but their very ordinariness in some ways is also extremely culturally subversive. Drag queens, after all, are hardly the cutting edge any more. Straight people love their gay people flaming, or easily cordoned off from the straight experience. Bears reveal how increasingly difficult this is. Their masculinity is indistinguishable in many ways from straight male masculinity -- which accounts, in some ways, for their broader invisibility in the culture. They are both more integrated; and yet, by their very equation of regular masculinity with gayness, one of the more radical and transformative gay phenomena out there right now.

But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. There's a lovely exchange in the invaluable book "Bears on Bears" that captures some of the weirdness of trying to explain such a natural and cheerful development too abstractly. Rex Wockner, furry gay journalist, is talking to Wayne Hoffman, another Bear follower:

"REX WOCKNER: A few intellectual eastern bears may think it's about subverting the dominant paradigm. Here on the West Coast, it's about sex.

WAYNE HOFFMAN: It's more about ignoring the dominant paradigm than rejecting it actively, in my humble opinion.

REX WOCKNER: It's more about not using words like 'dominant paradigm.'"

I take Rex's point. In some ways, bears represent gay men's long delayed embrace of their own masculinity in its simplest and sexiest form. In other ways, they represent gay men's desire for normalcy, for a world in which their natural state of being men is neither constrained nor tortured nor contrived. In a strange and undemonstrative way, it's therefore a sign of the extraordinary fluidity of a gay male culture that is changing out of all recognition before, perhaps, with accelerating integration, it disappears for good.

Reposted "Terror Futures" article from last week

So only the intro was showing up... I've reposted it, and it's all there now.

August 01, 2003

Just how bad is the Madonna Gap ad?

As bad as the Boston Globe seems to think?

"It's never pretty watching an iconic pop figure fade, especially when it involves (and it usually does) selling somebody else's product."

I was kind of sad too, but the girl can still dance. Pete pointed out that she was stealing back the dance moves Kylie Minogue stole from her.

Check out the ad here.