We’re goin’ to Aus-tra-lia…

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.

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.

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.
Continue reading ““Queer Eye on a Straight Institution””

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!

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.

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.