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November 23, 2003

We're goin' to Aus-tra-lia...

...Today!
David's country 'tis of thee!
Sweet land of meat pasties!
Of thee I sing, of thee I sing!

(Apologies to Niel Diamond there.)

Anyway. We are off to the airport in a few hours. The rest of you nonfamosi are hereby charged with keeping the site going in our absence, because barring a few days in Sydney we will be as far away from anything electronic as possible. All the travelogues will have to wait for our return. You'll be glad to know we bought a camcorder, so the site may soon have a video component. Yikes.

November 21, 2003

Thanks, no doubt, to The Judy

Williams-Sonoma's business is growing like crazy, up 27.5% in Q3 '03 over Q3 '02. But their ecommerce sales are up a whopping 71.4%.

Anyone who knows The Judy knows all this is her doing. It's about the customer service, people. Well, that, and having a really good website. But I find it deeply odd that the back-end technologies, navigation, and other aspects of the WS, Pottery Barn, and Chambers sites are so different. I find that it really discourages selling across the "concepts." I expect the experience to be similar, if not identical.

November 20, 2003

One year old!

That's right, today is the first Anniversary of Famous and Nonfamous Strangers. This calls for some Champagne! (Good thing we've got not one but two bottles of Veuve Clicquot in the fridge.)

It's been an amazing year... great posts from our incredible circle of friends, news of travel, great food writing, amazing pictures of holidays and vacations and parties galore, a crazy dog, an engagement, a new home, a NYT write-up, and so much more. We said it Sunday at our early Thanksgiving dinner, but we can't say it enough: We are SO thankful. God bless us, every one!

Anyway... the best way to fete a blog is to read it! At this point, 250-300 people a day are doing just that. Go back and look at your favorite posts, browsing by month or by category. We'll be adding some new features in the new year (a photoblog, perhaps?) and pestering more of you to write for us.

Thanks for a great year!

"Queer Eye on a Straight Institution"

Of all the ink that has been spilled about gay marriage, Richard Cohen's WaPo column headlined This May Be Good for Marriage belongs at the top of the heap. And lest anyone worry, I am a bit more bouyed by the Massachusetts decision than I was at first blush. In my fit of cynicism and self-interest, I was unable to cheer for the Massachusetts couples for whom the decision ratifies decades-long commitments.

Having almost had an aneurism yesterday listening to some paleo-con from the Hoover Institute on NPR yesterday flogging the tired "gays will hurt marriage and that will hurt children" line (which is at root just a slightly extended riff on the abominable "gays hurt children" boogeyman), I was thrilled for this gust of sanity. Huge thanks to my dear friend Rachel "Anne" Webber for sending the link! I've taken the unusual step of copying the whole thing in the "extended entry" but want to excerpt a few of the best bits.

Gays, bless 'em, may wind up saving marriage.

In ways that DeLay and his conservative cohorts seem not to recognize, marriage itself is on the rocks. Twenty percent of all first marriages don't make it past five years, and after a mere decade, one-third of all marriages are kaput. Married couples, once dominant in both life and sitcom TV, have gone from 80 percent of all households in the 1950s to 50 percent today. If you peek into the average home, the chances of finding a married couple with kids are just one in four. DeLay, don't delay, marriage needs help.

Now along come gay couples to rescue marriage from social and economic irrelevance, casting a queer eye on a straight institution. They seek it for pecuniary reasons -- issues such as estate taxes, etc. -- but also because they seem to be among the last romantics. (No shotgun marriages here.) The odd thing about the opposition to gay marriage is that if the opponents were not so blinded by bigotry and fear, they would see that gay men and lesbians provide the last, best argument for marriage: love and commitment.

...

There is an analogy here -- I think. Just as gays are renowned for moving into urban areas that others have fled, for refurbishing whole neighborhoods and making them attractive, so they might rehabilitate and renew marriage. Of all people, they need it the least. They have already shattered convention with their lifestyles, and demolished our comfy and parochial notions of sexual categories -- heterosexual male, heterosexual female and nothing else. But when it comes to marriage of all things, some of them want to veer toward the traditional. They want commitment and love -- a universal truth in a manner that Jane Austen never envisaged.

Of course by this point in the column I'm already cheering. To want something that so many have abandoned is to love it in a wholly new way, to love it against the grain--and that love inevitably shapes not only the lover but also the beloved. But the article just gets better.

The dour Republican Party, with DeLay and others promising a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (can Elizabeth Taylor be included, too?), is once again willing to stand athwart history, yelling stop. In the short term, it will work, since little in politics has the power bigotry does -- certainly not reason. The many GOP politicians who have gay children will have to stifle all that their kids have taught them and fall behind DeLay in his backward march toward a vanished world. Some, though, may succumb to knowledge and empathy and suggest -- softly, of course -- that love and commitment are universals and not confined to a single category of sexual orientation.

Gay marriage will not and cannot weaken the institution of marriage. A heterosexual is not somehow less married because a homosexual has tied the knot.

...

Love is as much a recipe for failure as it is for success, and yet we cling to it because it ennobles us. Love is our emotional opposable thumb, what differentiates us from lower animals, and why we vow -- sometimes over and over again -- a lifetime's commitment, marriage. If gays can do it and maybe do it better, then Tom DeLay could do us all a real public service by just stepping aside.

A whole lot of wonderful people want to come down the aisle.


And we're coming down that aisle whether you want us to or not. David and I can't get married here, or in Oklahoma, but we can in Canada and could (sort of) in Australia. Speaking of my home state, Oklahoma's motto is (after a fashion) "Amor Omnia Vincit." Love does conquer all, and it will.

We and our love will eventually prove the haters wrong--for ourselves, at least. Whether we gays can pull a Fab Five, give wedded bliss a haircut and a paint job and undo all the damage heterosexuals have done to marriage is another question altogether. They keep getting it wrong--and most of their weddings are really just ghastly from a stylistic perspective-- but we have to love them for trying. The least they could do is return the favor.

This May Be Good for Marriage

By Richard Cohen
Thursday, November 20, 2003; Page A41


If Tom DeLay had half a brain (if pigs had wings), he would have cheered the news that Massachusetts may legalize gay marriages. The institution for which the House majority leader has such concern, traditional marriage, is both wobbly and wheezing -- the butt of cynical jokes, a gold mine for divorce lawyers and, even for the non-initiated, the triumph of hope over experience. Gays, bless 'em, may wind up saving marriage.

In ways that DeLay and his conservative cohorts seem not to recognize, marriage itself is on the rocks. Twenty percent of all first marriages don't make it past five years, and after a mere decade, one-third of all marriages are kaput. Married couples, once dominant in both life and sitcom TV, have gone from 80 percent of all households in the 1950s to 50 percent today. If you peek into the average home, the chances of finding a married couple with kids are just one in four. DeLay, don't delay, marriage needs help.

Now along come gay couples to rescue marriage from social and economic irrelevance, casting a queer eye on a straight institution. They seek it for pecuniary reasons -- issues such as estate taxes, etc. -- but also because they seem to be among the last romantics. (No shotgun marriages here.) The odd thing about the opposition to gay marriage is that if the opponents were not so blinded by bigotry and fear, they would see that gay men and lesbians provide the last, best argument for marriage: love and commitment.

There is scant reason for marriage anymore, which is why it has become a dicey proposition -- and why 86 million adults are unmarried. Women don't need men to support them or defend them from saber-toothed tigers -- and they can, I have read, even have babies on their own.

Men, of course, still need women, if only to bear children and to remind them that they are uncommunicative. (Is a marriage between two men a zone of total silence?) But single guys can adopt kids, and sex is readily available almost anywhere, or so I am told by various city magazines.

There is an analogy here -- I think. Just as gays are renowned for moving into urban areas that others have fled, for refurbishing whole neighborhoods and making them attractive, so they might rehabilitate and renew marriage. Of all people, they need it the least. They have already shattered convention with their lifestyles, and demolished our comfy and parochial notions of sexual categories -- heterosexual male, heterosexual female and nothing else. But when it comes to marriage of all things, some of them want to veer toward the traditional. They want commitment and love -- a universal truth in a manner that Jane Austen never envisaged.

The dour Republican Party, with DeLay and others promising a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (can Elizabeth Taylor be included, too?), is once again willing to stand athwart history, yelling stop. In the short term, it will work, since little in politics has the power bigotry does -- certainly not reason. The many GOP politicians who have gay children will have to stifle all that their kids have taught them and fall behind DeLay in his backward march toward a vanished world. Some, though, may succumb to knowledge and empathy and suggest -- softly, of course -- that love and commitment are universals and not confined to a single category of sexual orientation.

Gay marriage will not and cannot weaken the institution of marriage. A heterosexual is not somehow less married because a homosexual has tied the knot. On the contrary, the institution will be strengthened, bolstered by the very people who for conservatives represent everything loathsome about modernity. Gays are not attacking marriage. They want to practice it.

"Love. Of course, love. Flames for a year, ashes for 30." So says the prince in Giuseppe di Lampedusa's classic novel, "The Leopard." This cynical observation, attributed to a 19th-century man by a 20th-century writer, is hardly out of date. Love is as much a recipe for failure as it is for success, and yet we cling to it because it ennobles us. Love is our emotional opposable thumb, what differentiates us from lower animals, and why we vow -- sometimes over and over again -- a lifetime's commitment, marriage. If gays can do it and maybe do it better, then Tom DeLay could do us all a real public service by just stepping aside.

A whole lot of wonderful people want to come down the aisle.

November 18, 2003

Sound and Fury in Massachusetts

I hate to be a pessimist first thing in the morning, but I can't bring myself to hope that this means much in practical terms. Some nice words from Chief Justice Marshall, though:


Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support. It brings stability to our society.

For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial and social benefits. In return, it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations.

The question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the Commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry.

We conclude that it may not.

Clearly, the equal-rights approach has its limits--in no small part because many elected officials don't really think of us as humans. It's not pretty to say, but let's be honest. So I think we need to approach this as a property-rights issue (property being one of the few transcendant ideal recognized by Repubs these days). Even having spent about $1,500 with a very nice lawyer this year, David and I still have not been able to construct as seamless a plan for the disposition of our assets as a straight couple gets for a $50 marriage license. And of course, we'll never be able to get Social Security benefits if one of us dies. Likewise automatic estate-tax avoidance the married couples enjoy. If I go on David's insurance, or he on mine, we have to pay Federal taxes on the full premium (both our part and the company's contribution). The list goes on and on.

We pay our taxes, and unless we adopt will draw far less services than the average parenting couple, but we get none of the financial benefits other, straighter, law-abiding citizens do. I get pissed off by this enough to consider leaving the country altogether, and taking my education, skills, and talent to a country that doesn't hate me quite so much. (I'd probably get a decent health care system in the bargain.) If I like Australia, you never know--I might start pestering David to move back and beg my bosses to let me open SS+K Sydney.

It's a sick joke, really. Republicans can't stand the thought of us screwing each other, but they sure seem to be lining up thinking of new ways to screw us. The GOP platform is a turning into a vertitable Kama Sutra!

We need a movement to channel the energy of angry married fags in a way that actually does something. Beware the rage of bourgeois homo homeowner couples!

November 12, 2003

Nonfamous in the IHT

This is not a huge surprise but a nice one all the same: the International Herald Tribune picked up the NYT story on Amazon's "search inside the book" that featured David. I'd love to get a copy of the actual paper because apparently they used other photos from the shoot.

Google escapes the browser

I use Google 100-200 times a day when I'm actively working on a strategy project. It's like oxygen. That's why I'm thrilled to see the Google Deskbar, a great little app that now sits in my Windows taskbar, ready for me to pop in a search term whatever app I'm in. Of course I won't be happy until I can jack into the great Googlecloud neurally. Then we'll all be know-it-alls.

November 11, 2003

You lose some documents, you find some documents

And sometimes the ones you find are so perfect you want to cry. Slate points us to Bush's request to get out of the Air National Guard unit--the one he never served in, the one that kept him out of Viet Nam--so he could go to Harvard Business School (where, judging by Harken Energy's track record he learned a whole lot of nothing and skipped his ethics class to boot). Of course the request is dated four months after his ANG superiors reported never having laid eyes on the young Shrub. Would that we, as a nation, were so lucky.

This brings me to another point, though. I'm not sure, as Jason's comment on David's point suggests, that the electronic age presents more threats to information. Or rather, though it presents threats, it also arms the average citizen with the tools to ferret out and rescue a great deal of that information. But, like anything having to do with freedom, it requires eternal vigilence (and access to Google).

Revisionism, revised

Before I can (and I will) wholeheartedly endorse the meat of David's post below, I have to take a bit of issue with the misuse of the term "revisionism" in David's post (and elsewhere). Revisionist historical studies are not about erasing history, but rather about "subverting the dominant paradigm" and (in the true sense of this word) deconstructing the ways that the authors/authorities of history-as-written have used various totalizing narrative strucutres to bend the facts to the convenience of the writers of that history. This is hard work. A great example is the painstaking debunking of the oh-so-comforting "historical fact" that America's double-bombing of Japan actually saved Japanese (as well as American) lives. It is also thankless work--thus, the endless carping of cultural conservatives about "revisionist history." Historiography is always revisionist in its thrust-- how else do we increase our understanding of the past but to question old assumptions?-- but capital-R Revisionism uses post-structuralist ideas about discourse, authority, and epistemology to cut through the legitimizing narratives that too often crowd out factuality in the numbing service of political expediency and orthodoxy.

Whew. All that said, there is a better term than "revisionism" for this, predictably coined by Orwell--"the memory hole." In 1984, protagonist Winston Smith is employed in the wholesale rewriting of history. Inconvenient items in the archives are dropped down "the memory hole" into a giant furnace, lost forever. The Time article and (to a lesser extent, and with less import) the McJobs entry, are victims of this same kind of reckless burning. With these stories, there is an invariable narrative that absolves any one person of the responsibility of the decision to obliterate history. People who revise leave marks, a paper trail. The memory hole, by contrast, is always seen to open of its own mysterious accord and then disappear--hopefully unnoticed.

Luckily for us, the memory hole is also the name of a great website that, though tending understandably to the paranoid, does a tremendous job of hiding in that furnace-bound pipe to snatch those inconvenient facts back into view. It's motto is apt: "rescuing knowledge, freeing information."

Today's best example: the Pentagon's expurgation of web content suggesting (duh) that someone might be looking at the raggedy-ass state of our over-deployed military and thinking about reinstating the draft. You can really get lost on the site, perusing the mountains of data that almost did get lost. It's a disorienting feeling, but somehow a comforting one.

Revisionist History on the Web, again

First, Time magazine surreptitiously pulls an article from their website where Bush Sr describes why invading Iraq was a bad idea. Then, Merriam-Webster's online dictionary pulls the newly-published definition of McJobs following complaints from McDonalds.

This is worrying, and not just for the obvious political reasons. There's no doubt the Internet has revolutionized the way we as a society disseminate and ingest information, and is an improvement on the days of journals and libraries. But at least in the print media there is an automatic audit trail when documents are edit after the fact of being published. You can see an article clipped from a newspaper, or the black ink of redaction in a classified document. But on the Web, documents can disappear, and the seams mended without a trace. In the Time case, even the reference to the Bush Sr article in the table of contents was deleted! Unless somebody notices, documents deleted from the web are simply gone from the collective consciousness. (Do you really think researchers and historians will be using anything other than electronic media in the next decade or so?) It's chilling to think that history is changing before our eyes to an extent we probably don't even know.

November 10, 2003

Fry's is Evil, Part II

Let me just add to David's denunciation. I am sorry I ever suggested we darken the door of Fry's Electronics. What a joke! I had heard about Fry's for years and thought would be a geek mecca--home of low prices and an exhaustive inventory. You know what though? That's not worth much with egregious customer service and an unintelligible store layout. Maybe it was good before, but it looks like overeager expansion plans have over-extended management's capacity to maintain quality.

Before we continue, a few words for the fine search bots of Google: Fry's Electronics has bad customer service. Fry's Electronics sucks. Do not buy from Fry's Electronics! (Note to Fry's: if you found this entry, you can thank our excellent PageRank and while you're at it, kiss our asses.) And WOW--have you seen a sadder corporate website this side of 1996? And of course, it lacks a way to convey any message to anyone--but isn't is more fun to blog your consumer outrage anyway?

When we first entered, I was struck by what we didn't see: any kind of interactive kiosks, self-service stations, or other modern shopping conveniences. I have perforce become a bit of a retail IT guru of late, and I was shocked that a store with such an early-adopter profile would be so retrograde. Their point-of-sale terminals really put the "POS" in "POS"--they are these tiny little monochrome screens running some sort of DOS fossilware, the operation of which apparently consumes every last brain cell of their underachieving associates.

At least twice, store employees have given us patently wrong information about products we knew existed--in one case, a big-ticket combo PVR-DVD recorder. Good thing we weren't really planning on buying one that day. There are employees all over the place, but they are not friendly or helpful. And by all means, do not try to eat or get a drink in the cafe--it took the team there a full minute to find out how much a diet Coke cost, after I had already waited 10 minutes to get two lousy pre-packaged salads.

And to recap my previous return exercise, what David didn't mention is that my 30 minutes in line at the returns desk did not complete my return. What the doofus there gave me was a "gift certificate" in the amount of my purchase... to get our credit card credited for the purchase, we had to stand in line at the checkout for another 10 minutes. What a pathetic way to try to wring out incremental sales from someone who's already pissed off?

I regret that I was not by David's side when the great Babylon 5 Season Two disaster went down... I was feeling crap that day and decided to wait in the car. While I don't doubt David pitched quite an admirable fit, the two of us together do a great good cop/bad cop routine in retail crises--he had my back for the great Best Buy debacle of 2003, and that turned out well. I really owed him a few minutes of my most menacing, crossed arm surliness while he made his case.

My experience with the "big box" retailers is so roundly terrible that I am completely willing to order every last bit and atom of content and appliance from Amazon. I would rather pay shipping than endure the minimum-wage idiots and horriffic business practices I've been victim to at Fry's and elsewhere.

A final word on Fry's. I'm all for small businesses, and I suppose it's cute that the Fry family still owns the business they founded back in '85... but guess what Fry family? Once you've pissed off all the people who should be your best customers, and have no recourse to the capital markets (who will surely dig up tidbits like this and confirm them with a little first-hand research), you'll find yourself forced to sell out to some faceless retail conglomerate that will take over your stores and eat your lousy brand for dessert. And much as I hate Wal-Mart, there can be no question that they could walk in and on day one show you how a real company runs a real store that delivers real service. And on the day that happens--not one second before--I'll be happy to shop at Fry's again.

November 09, 2003

Do not shop at Fry's Electronics

Fry's Electronics: Where the Customer is Always a Criminal

I am never shopping at Fry's Electronics again. Their customer service appears to be modelled on the antithesis of customer care: for them, the customer is always wrong and, if you're trying to return electronic media, you're probably a criminal as well.

Last weekend, Jay and I were at Fry's Electronics to return a Netdisk network storage device that didn't want to work with our wifi router. Despite a 30-minute customer service line that Jay had to endure, this transaction was fairly smooth. But while I was waiting and wandering around the store I picked up the DVD box set of Babylon 5 Season 2. I'd bought the first season set on Amazon a while back (after having seen and loved the entire series in the UK), and Jay had watched a few of the episodes with me and was getting into the story. So I decided to splurge on the next season.

When we watched the first disk on our Malata multiregion DVD player, the picture started to distort and skip after the first 10 minutes. Repeated attempts to clean the disk didn't help, and on closer inspection there seemed to be a manufacturing defect in the disk itself. I'll just take the disk back to Fry's and exchange it, I thought. No problem.

Would that it were! After making the 20-minute journey across the lake, I took the box set and receipt to the customer service desk expecting a quick exchange. But after I explained the problem, instead of just taking my work for it and making the exchange the customer service rep insisted on watching the DVD first to see the problem! After inspecting the contents of the box in detail, it took about 5 minutes for him to set up the system, and another 5 minutes for me to explain to him how to navigate to the section where the problem first occurred. (The DVD monitor was in full view of Fry's entryway -- I wonder what they do if a customer tries to return a porno title?) As luck would have it, the problem didn't manifest itself on their DVD player (no doubt a top-of-the-range model), but he said they'd make the exchange anyway. So what was the point of the viewing session, other than to waste my time?

Next -- get this -- he tells (not asks!) me to walk over to the DVD section of the store and find my own replacement. Apparently my time is worth nothing to these people. I couldn't find the title on the shelf (seasons 1 and 3 were there but not 2), so I walked back and told me so. At this point he checks his terminal and tells me they are out of stock! Why couldn't he have done this first?

Now we are at a bit of an impasse. Fry's does not accept DVDs for refund, and will only exchange within 30 days. But I can't make the exchange because they don't have the title in stock. He says that the only thing I can do is go back to the DVD section in the store and see if they can help.

I do so, and am presented with the most sanctimonious arsehole I have ever met. He clearly viewed me as some cheapskate geek who had bought the DVDs for the sole purpose of burning them and returning them. He too, wanted to see the problem for himself. He didn't seem to care when I showed him the manufacturing defect. He was not open to any suggestions as to how Fry's might help me. "Just come back on Wednesday -- we might have it in stock then -- and this time make sure you call first." Clearly this was fault it was not in stock. When it comes in stock, could you ship it to me instead of making the trip all the way out here again. His aggressive response: "Well, will you pay the shipping and handling?" Fat chance. By this time I was so angry I just stormed out. I refuse to be treated like a criminal.

From now on, I'll stick to Amazon (where this set would have been $10 cheaper anyway). I suggest you all do the same.

November 06, 2003

Unnaturally natural

My father raises, and eats, pigs, chickens, and sheep. I love to cook, and one of my favorite, and most popular, dishes, are meatballs (which necessarily include not only obscene amounts of ground beef and ground pork, but also good Italian pork sausage and pork ribs to cook in the all-day sauce) and roasted duck. I recently took a class on making sausage, and intend to make more. I'd like to learn to make prosciutto. I'm also dating a butcher.

I say all this by way of making the point that in my world, vegans are an alien and suspicious species. (I also remember a moment a few months back when a coworker came into my office to explain that he had finally figured out the problem with another coworker, who seemed all-too-often unencumbered by either reason or reality--"She's a vegan!" he proclaimed, and it all suddenly made so much sense.) Vegetarians I have enough of an issue with. Not eating bacon or lamb (or for that matter even a good juicy steak every so often) just seems like an anemic existence on so many levels. But vegans? Well, I'm sorry, but there is just something really, truly, seriously wrong with not eating cheese! I mean first of all, what fun are staple dishes like pizza and cheesesteaks without some good, goopy dairy? No ravioli? No alfredo sauce? And no eggs benedict? Yeah, it's just all very, very wrong. In fact I used think of vegans as some of the most wrong-headed and scary people out there. Fanatics, really. And not in a good way. Not like Yankee fans or Springsteen fans are fanatical. Just weird and scary.

But it turns out that there are people scarier even than vegans. Raw foodists. Who are like vegan extremists. People who are not only vegans, but won't even cook any of the boring food they eat. And who apparently also find onions, garlic, and spices to be too racy to include in normal meals. Yeah, so not only do raw foodists object to eating anything from an animal, and not only do they object to rendering things tasty and pleasing in texture, or warming and comforting, but for some reason they also have a prejudice against aromatic vegetables. Cuz that makes sense, right?

Slate has been running this week the diary of a recently converted raw foodist, a woman who's postings, I notice, sound not unlike what I would expect diary entries from Jim Jones' commune to have sounded like. And as she describes her meals (for example, something called energy soup which she describes as "a room-temperature concoction made of sunflower greens, which are the tiny first shoots of a sunflower plant, and rejuvelac, a fermented wheat drink that tastes a lot like bad lemonade." Hey, can I get some?), I just wonder whether they have vegan deprogrammers like they do for people who join these religious-based death cults?

Uhm...Ick. I mean, really? I'm not even sure where to begin, except that what I find most interesting is that for people who each spend at least four hours a day directly involved in the process of producing the food they will eat, who by all accounts eat throughout the day and obsess about food, they seem to have forgotten that cooking and eating are about more than meeting basic nutritional requirements. Nourishing and nutritional are not the same thing, but are equally important. There is no love involved in the preparation of the bland, tepid, and nutrient-rich meals these people put so much effort into. If anything, what one gets is a fairly strong sense of fear, as if this extreme diet is about desperately trying to gain control over the effects the world has on our bodies, about not accepting that life is a journey with a definite end and that taking the scenic route is as much about enjoying the process of getting there as it is about trying not to reach the destination too soon.

If I sound harsh, I am. I come from a long line of people who believe very strongly that food and love are very deeply entwined (and I've written about it ad nauseum on this site), and I'm saddened by people who run from that kind of pleasure out of some morbid fear that enjoyment will kill them too soon. Maybe, though my Italian ancestors seem somewhat to be proof that a species can survive while eating and drinking with gusto.

And besides, am I really supposed to take seriously anyone who makes statements such as "You have a very spiritual colon."

Uhm, I kind of think not. Anyway, Sunday dinner this week is tagliatelle bolognese, which will include ground beef, pork, and veal, all cooked for a very, very long time.

"Bush's Zbig Problem"

Slate's Fred Kaplan has a great article on a recent speech by Zbigniew Brzezinski that slams the Bush junta's foreign policy. "Z-who?" you might ask? Basically, ZB is Kissinger lite, without the war crimes and quotes like "power is the great aphrodesiac." He was Carter's national security advisor, and way to the right of anyone else in the administration. He is a connsumate diplomat and statesman and nobody's idea of a lefty.

As Kaplan writes, at an October 28 conference with foreign policy wonks in DC, ZB "bemoaned what he called Bush's 'paranoiac view of the world,' which has resulted in 'two very disturbing phenomena—the loss of U.S. international credibility [and] the growing U.S. international isolation.'"

To sum up, oh, 500 years or so of geopolitical wisdom, he said "If we want to lead, we have to have other countries trust us. When we speak, they have to think it is the truth. … We are going to live in an insecure world. It cannot be avoided. We have to learn to live in it with dignity, with idealism, with steadfastness."

Kaplan interprets this a bit more for us:

"The larger point here is that you don't have to be a liberal-- and, as the term is commonly understood, Brzezinski is not one--to criticize Bush's aggressive unilateralism. Diplomacy and alliances (even alliances with France) are not exclusively liberal notions. They serve deeply self-interested ends, too. The excitement that Brzezinski's speech inspired in a roomful of liberal Democrats--the American Prospect's Web site headlines it 'A Must-Read Speech”--suggests that the liberal critique of Bush's foreign policy is at one with the conservative critique. It suggests that, on a basic level, Bush's foreign policy is neither liberal nor conservative but, rather, callow, smug, and reckless."

Callow, smug, and reckless. How can thinking people see it otherwise? Dean needs to get this guy on board, to temper his righteous anger with the lucid comments of a thoughtful statesman.

"Discoverability" for home and home page

UI Web has a great article on "the myth of discoverability," a term that is used broadly in UI circles to refer to, as author Scott Berkun writes, "the ability for a user of a design to locate something that they need, in order to complete a certain task." I want to spend more time reading the article than this particularly crazy day affords me, but even a cursory read reveals a wealth of distilled wisdom. Every designer and marketer should read this, often. But it got me thinking about design in the broadest sense of the word...

Having worked in the high church of graphic design (glory be to the Walter and to the Klamath. amen), I've had a fair amount of exposure to these topics in terms of web design. And I always have an opinion on web and software UI (usually that it sucks). A poorly designed product makes me instantly, irrationally angry (yes, shades of my Dad). Conversely, few things bring me a greater sense of peace in daily life than interactions with objects and experiences that unfold like you expect them to--it's silly, but it there is a kind of everyday zen in this. I can't be alone--witness the explosion of better-designed mousetraps in everything from computers to kitchenware.

I like that the article brings in examples like the grocery store environment, which is basically a superset of product packaging. Information architecture on packaging is one of the toughest design jobs out there, because marketers want to say everything. The profusion of text and visual cues almost always gets in the way of discvoerability. Marketers, please listen to designers on this point.

But enough about marketing-- this is about me! Having just tried to outfit a house in a way that is as usable to guests (like Paulette, if she wants to come cook, say, meatballs any time soon) as it is to we who live there, I can attest that discoverability is something with immense practical value. If hospitality is about making guests feel at home, it enters the realm of "customer-first design." Thus discoverability is a key to hospitality, for the sake of the host and the guest. If a guest needs a tissue, a roasting pan, an extra towel or (heaven forfend) a plunger, how much happier is everyone if they can find it easily and quickly on their own.

The real question becomes, is their an unconscious architecture of home storage and presentation that is shared enough that friends can, as it were, decode on the fly? That's the question I'm going to start asking this weekend in the kitchen of casa nonfamous--where, truth be told, not even David and I can navigate easily.

When it comes to home, is there truly a place for everything, and everything in its place?

(UIweb citation courtesy of Tomalak's Realm.)

November 05, 2003

Who are the nonfamous nonstrangers?

People often find their way to the humorous story of how the site got its name. But the recent media attention (such as it is: we flatter ourselves!) has alterted us to a glaring deficiency on this site -- it's really hard to work out who writes it! So this little article is here to address that issue.

nonfamous nonstrangers

Jay Porter (jay) created nonfamous.com on November 20, 2002 (and is just the tiniest bit miffed the NYT couldn't mention that). Jay does marketing strategy stuff for an integrated communications firm. Jay is from Oklahoma City.

David Smith (david) is Jay's partner since early 2002, and lives with Jay at casa nonfamous in Seattle. David is a product manager for a software firm, and hails from Adelaide, South Australia.

Paulette is the beautiful resident nonfamous food and travel goddess and spends a lot of time making life better for everyone. If you enjoy her writing, we should gloatingly note that her cooking is even better (and that she shares it with us often). Paulette helped David and Jay start "Swallow Don't Spit," the wine club for people who really just want to talk and drink. She manages big geeky books for an even bigger software firm. Paulette is a Joisey Goil and proud of it. So watch yourself.

Roger is an old friend but a new contributor to nonfamous. Nobody can decide if he or his boyfriend is cuter, one reason they are such a good match. He is a Texan but we forgive him.

Terry is married to nonfamous pal and power-oenologist Bob. Terry moves units right now but we expect her to change her job and the world any minute now. In the mean time she's likely to make us spit out our wine laughing (the only way we'd ever spit wine out).

Pete was Jay's housemate back before the dawn of casa nonfamous and serves as our resident musicologist and favorite jew. It's OK for us to say that because he does. Go find him at Sonic Boom and ask him if they have that Stevie Wonder album with that one song. And bring him some bacon.

Gary is... how do we know Gary? Several ways-- through Paulette and Monica and Anika. Dry and witty and very tall, Gary writes in great sporadic bursts of observation. Gary works at the same saltmine Paulette does.

Speaking of Anika and Monica, both of these amazing writers have spurned us, posting--what--once or twice? Maybe as we become less nonfamous they will log on and enlighten us. Same goes for Daniel and Cathy and Topher and and Sabrina and and Perry and Kim and Ian and Rachel. Not to mention my sisters! Hello-- you guys can start writing whenever!

Last but not least on the nonfamous roster is the ever-loyal, ever-jumpy Dozer. Dozer Jesus (hay-soos) Portersmith is the nonfamous dog. Cattle dog that is. Red heeler. The only dog we know with his own column on a blog. We knew he was a natural the day we brought him home--neurosis and writing talent go hand in hand.

Well, that's us. We welcome everyone's comments. If they're really good, you can become a nonfamous nonstranger too! Maybe.

Nonfamous in the NYT

After writing this article about Amazon's new "Search Inside the Book" feature I was contacted by a New York Times reporter on Friday last week who interviewed me about my experiences using Amazon and how the new search feature affected me. Then, on Monday, the New York Times called back and said they wanted to do a photo of me for the article. How could I say no? Sure enough, a very nice photographer visited casa nonfamous that evening and proceeded to take some cheesy shots: me leaning back on a chair in the office with my feet on a stack of books while gazing casually into the camera (as you do); me in the sitting room with a cocktail in my hand and a laptop on my lap casually searching Amazon; that kind of thing. She took two rolls of film, and luckily the final result is only somewhat cheesy rather than exceedingly cheesy. I'd love to see the other shots she took. She's a wedding photographer too, she says, so we might take a look at her portfolio -- there might be some business for her in May.

And so, the article appeared in the New York Times today. Well, it's on the website today, and it appears in the Circuit section tomorrow (Thursday). Guess I'll pick up a copy or two, eh? :)

www.nonfamous.com got a brief mention in the article, so I if you're a first-time visitor as a result of the article, welcome! Leave us a brief comment if so, we'd love to know how many people had their curiosity piqued by our little site.

Attack of the Killer Porn!

First there was Marriage Protection Week. Then there was Protection From Pornography Week. What's next? Protection From Prostitutes Week?

Porn -- the raw yummy sexual kind -- is just another evildoer, according to the government.

The Prez sez: (from an honest-to-god proclamation)

I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 26 through November 1, 2003, as Protection From Pornography Week. I call upon public officials, law enforcement officers, parents, and all the people of the United States to observe this week with appropriate programs and activities.

...any ideas for appropriate activities? I know I have one cued up in the VCR...

Check out the hilarious skewering of Bush's proclamation by SFGate.com's Mark Morford. And be sure to check out the link at the end of the article. Happy clowns who love Jesus. I will buy dinner and drinks for anyone who purchases one of their t-shirts. Really.

November 01, 2003

Bush's next gig

You can only be President twice. But apparently after you steal an election, you can get your press office to pimp you out to the AP as the Second Coming. Offensive, and tacky to boot.

Bill Moyers to America: Wake Up

BuzzFlash has a great interview with Bill Moyers that touches on everything from Jon Stewart's genius to media-political oligarchy. He's one of the deans of American political journalism these days, but don't forget that he was LBJ's press secretary during Viet Nam. So when he talks about the sanitization of war coverage, he has some idea of what he's talking about. Read this, and think about it