Monday, October 31, 2005

The Tao of Daou

Okay, I had this really insightful post going, and my computer crashed and I lost it. Grrrr. Now I'm flippin tired. But here's the gist: Daou states its mission: The site was launched with three objectives: 1) to offer a diverse, unfiltered sample of online political discourse, 2) to probe the ideas, passions, and perspectives that give rise to our current political divide, 3) to examine the relationship between blogs, the political establishment and the mainstream media.

Does it accomplish its lofty mission? I dunno yet. It does provide a diverse link to left and right blogs. The Alito nomination provides the perfect Petri dish to examine whether (how, if) blogs shape or control the media debate. Right now the main message is "it's abortion rights, stupid." Okay, so Daou gives lots of links. How does it "probe" the perspectives? I haven't seen analysis yet, just links. I will say that I read the article on blogging, and I don't get it. I don't. What are netroots activists? What's the main point? I am turned off, I admit, and very suspicious that my first impression from the Lexis commercial -- that this is an elitist club with their own private jargon and secret handshake -- seems confirmed. Okay, I can watch the debate and listen to the debate, but clearly neophytes like me can't participate in the debate, at least not on Taou. Or am I just oversensitive?

Geez, that's annoying

Salon is clearly violating the basic blogging ethos by making me watch that Lexis commercial. I've adapted the basic notion that blogging is form, in spirit, in structure, and in fact. By inflicting advertising on me as a precursor to even viewing the site, Salon seems to be sending a "hands-off" message. I do not expect to have a great interactive chat on this site. I expect high-brow, self-important discourse. After all, it's a Lexis commercial.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Harriet Miers: Howard Fineman says "I told you so"

Whe the Today Show broke the story about Harriet Miers withdrawing her nomination this morning, they of course pulled in a resident "expert" news wonk, Howard Fineman of Newsweek. To be honest, I'm not familiar with Mr. Fineman or his work, and I'm sure he is a fine man. What caught my ear was that as he was discussing the withdrawal, he said, "As I said online yesterday, we strongly suspected this was coming...."

Wow! The blogdom is officially the info source of first resort. Mainstream journalists are now using blogs to demonstrate that they are first in line with the best info. It's not, "as I predicted yesterday," or "as I said yesterday," but "as I wrote online"! The blogdom ethos that we say how we really feel, what we really think, as we think or feel it, in our blogs, now seems to be part of the MSM. Even Newsweek -- a weekly rag -- is acknowledging that the first, best source of info is found in blogs. That just kinda blew my head off. Blogging is everywhere! It's legit! Amazing! I've got to stop using that damn exclamation point!!!

Spreading the blog gospel

I thought we all thought that "kids today" are swarming around the blogosphere, constantly creating edgy new sites and revamping the way we think and act on the internet. Hmmmm, maybe not so. I created a blog for my Humanities class that I teach at a local community college, then realized that most of them didn't know how to access it or leave comments. After walking them through the process, I then realized (duh) that many didn't know what a blog was. Today's class was thus on blogs and I had them read the "Decoding the Blogosphere" article from the Courant. I booked a computer classroom and we all blog-surfed. I took them to, Coffee Rhetoric, and Daily Kos as examples of some of the types of blogs that are out there. I then introduced them to the blog search feature on Google. Judging from the giggles and snickers as they crusied around on their own, I guess they found some fun and interesting stuff, to put it mildly.

I felt like I was Janey Appleseed, spreading little kernels of blog-fo among my students. Pretty cool feeling. This of course got me thinking...blogging isn't exactly America's favorite pastime AT THE MOMENT, if 15 out of 20 freshman college students weren't doing it until I taught them how. I think I'll try this again next semester, and perhaps the next, and see how fast the addictive blogging habit spreads. For now, though, I feel like part of a thrilling cutting-edge cool movement -- and a bit of a geek.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Second thoughts

I keep thinking about last Thursday's class and our visit from Ms. T. First of all, very cool that she came, and she was very smart and articulate. Thank God she fit the image of the "superblogger" -- literate, irreverent, well-spoken, and frankly, much hipper than me. I for one was grateful that she could wear a scarf with such panache. Wait, wait, wait, I am not making fun, I'm serious! Weren't we all happy that she is what we sort of pictured her to be? What if our friend with the great blog had turned out to be inarticulate, unpleasant, or rude? I sensed some kind of giddy relief that cool blog=cool blogger.

Okay, maybe I'm overthinking this. But I keep coming back to the bizarre and uniquely blog-based experience of reading someone's intimate thoughts on a regular basis without any context for who that person is. I asked Ms. T. why she blogged, but now I ask myself, why do I read? If we read sites like Dooce, Coffee Rhetoric, or even the one by Sally, it seems we are searching for human connection, savoring those details of others' lives that we often miss in our bedroom communities and our over-developed American sense of personal space and privacy. (I'm not against privacy; I just think it wouldn't hurt if we showed a little more interest in the details of the lives of the people around us). So when we feel a connection, we hope it's real. We don't want to get duped; that makes us wary and mistrustful. So when our impressions are validated, it feels good. Ms. T. seemed like someone we wanted to talk to -- and she was! Phew! How would we have felt about her blog if she had turned out to be an sixteen-year-old high school boy? Would we still read it? (No.) Would we feel betrayed? (Yes.) Why? Again, the elusive search for authenticity. The ethic of the blogdom is TRUTH...a blog is not supposed to be a novel or fictious (unless it's clearly billed as such, like Brett's book in progress). So say whatever you want on your blog -- but you better mean it. It better be real. Or we're really gonna be pissed off. Don't try to Wonk me.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The rhetoric of "don't kid yourself"

When I started this blog, I did it "uncover." Yes, I, the mysterious NILE, do hereby ascribe unto the blogdom my great and uncensored thoughts on...well, on the blogdom. Not too sexy, but hey.

I wanted to see how it felt to be totally detached from my true self (tall 40-year-old teaching, married, attorney, grad student, mother-of-two self). Hence the no-name blog. I quickly found, however, that my class knows who I am, and since that's about all (mostly) who read this thing, I censor my writing because, ya know, I don't want you guys to think I'm a freak or anything. So the rhetoric of my blog is "I'm trying to be smart, mildly amusing, and not too freaky."

I bet a gazillion dollars I'm not alone in the quickly-evolving sense that there's not really much hiding on blogs. Not matter what, people can generally talk back to you. It's a Harry Potteresque kind of thing. You start writing and suddenly the page starts complaining about your writing. Invariably you're going to respond. And the other thing is, even if you try to be a mere anonymous commenter, most blogs have a log-type thingie (the technical term) that allows the author to see the visitors and even know something about their computer screen. Very Orwellian. (see, smart, mildly amusing, not too freaky).

So "even as we celebrate the freedom of the blogdom, we destroy it" -- right, Colin?

Witness the shock and occasional ire when we discuss other blogs. It's like they're pissed that we have the audacity to comment on their personal thoughts. But get real-- why use the internet when you can write in a diary, if you truly want private expression. The real truth is that we ALL want our blogs to be read, for some kind of perfectly understandable human validation of our true selves (there's the humanities instructor in me rearing her ugly head).

Even sites like Dooce, which don't allow comments, are at least conscious that others may read them. Even if we take the most devil may care attitude about what we write in a blog, we are doing that with the very idea that someone may care, but f**k 'em (see, I'm a teacher, so no bad words in my blog...but if you need me to explain, I removed the "U" and the "C" and then put in....) In fact, the no-comment blogs may be the most paranoid because they DON'T know how the world is reacting to their posts. It's a one-way mirror -- we see you, but you don't see us. And how uncomfortable is that??

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Funny stuff

Sadly no is happily funny. Here's the rhetoric class question: why? Not as in why is it funny, but rather, what is the rhetoric of a funny website? Of what is the writer trying to convince the reader, if we accept the rhetorical proposition that all writing is persuasive in some way?

First, a funny site is trying to convince you that the writer is funny. After all, if you're trying to be funny by creating humorous blog postings, than you think you're funny. Why does he or she want us to think he/she is funny?

Maybe because we like funny people. Let's face it, if someone can make you laugh, you like them. Humor feels good. I married my husband because he makes me laugh. So, reason one for funny website: we will like the writer (if we like his humor).

Second, political humor or satirical humor (and there's tons of it on the website) obviously has a message. Usually, it's along the lines of "aren't they stupid," the "they" being the target of the satire. Along with the "aren't they stupid" message is usually an underlying layer of "and don't they take themselves too seriously." When we poke fun at people, especially people in some kind of "position," we are generally making ourselves feel smarter. So, the rhetoric of webhumor also often includes a persuasive political message, along with an emotional appeal of you, reader, are smarter than the people I'm writing about because you're laughing at them. And what does making the reader feel smart do? Oh yeah, makes us like the writer. So back to reason one.

Finally, there's the way a humorous website makes the writer feel. Back to that idea of self-expression. If I could write a blog that continuous posts very funny stuff (and I can't -- I'm not that funny; even my kids tell me my jokes are stupid), I would feel great about myself. For one, because I would be that funny, and I would have a place to vent my funny self, and two, because I'd feel good that I was sending little laugh bombs out into the world via my blog. So maybe the rhetoric of the humorous website is also that I am funny, and I will make you laugh. That will then make me feel good.

Or was my brain so saturated in Rhetorical Theory last semester that I just can't enjoy a good laugh anymore? Damn. Well, you asked for the rhetorical analysis.

On internet writing

I love the idea of looking at the writing and rhetoric of the blogger. I don't love READING the writing and rhetoric of most bloggers as much. I read Lance Mannion...his latest post had me laughing as it started out with the description of evesdropping at Starbucks. That's a totally random moment that I have lived through a million times, especially since I am embarrassing addicted to mocha-loca-latte-supremos, and the oatmeal cookies are unbelievable. But I digress...and so did Lance. I think the internet has fostered the development of a kind of "brain dump" writing style. A blog, even more than a diary, allows the writer to go on and on and never have to worry about running out of paper or turning the page or the pen drying up. About the only limit is carpal tunnel.

Lance has some good stuff in his site, but some of it, especially that last post, is excruciatingly detailed. If this were appearing in any other forum, it would be edited in some form or another.

Okay, so is the brain-dump aesthetic a bad thing? I guess not. I'm just brain dumping right now. It's not hurting anyone, it allows us bloggers to just say whatever we want to say without much or any editing or filtering,other than what we impose on ourselves. So it is a great form of self-expression, even if it is a bit tedious to wade through at times. But no one has to wade through if they don't want to, right? So maybe the value is in self-expression, even if a lot of the blogging writing in stream-of-consciousness.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

"Find good stuff"

Prof. Colin (when not being cranky about CT politics -- let me tell you about my stint as a Rowland employee) asked us to pass along some of the webwriters we've foung who we like. You should check out this site...the webster is Bill Diamond, who's also a contributor to Huffington Post. What I like about this site is that it's funny and about absolutely nothing at all seems to exist to poke fun at pomposity (am I pompous for using "pomposity"?) Anyway, this genre of writing -- short satrical bits on random happenings -- seems to be a uniquely web-based genre. Where else could it exist? Perhaps as a picture or two in a magazine as a sidenote, but not as a whole magazine. Anyway, it's worth a look.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Blogger of Our Own

I like this guy Aldon Hynes. I'm looking forward to meeting him. His site is an eclectic mix of interesting bits and pieces.

Arguing with myself as I beat a dead horse

Okay more on that master list of "Connecticut" blogs: I note that our class blog (Colin's blog, really) is on there. That's not really a CT blog, is it? We don't discuss Conn. issues, except to note that there ARE CT blogs.

On the other hand, our blog is about a class at Trinity, in Hartford, CT, and does entail people in CT ruminating about blogging. So is it, in some sense, a blog with some tangential Connecticut interest at heart?

More importantly, does any of this matter?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Conservative blog this is a conservative blog. Actually, it's pretty boring. Usually I can find something in every post of a conservative blog to get my blood pressure up. This blog certainly seems to tread lightly. I wonder if that's a reflection on Connecticut? Not a fire-and-brimstone state? More like wealthy restraint -- Apatheticut?

Who knew politics could be funny?

True confessions: I generally hate politics because of the senseless, irrational rhetoric that accomplishes nothing. Nonetheless, this blog manages to lay it all out in a logical fashion with a good mix of wry humor and insightful commentary. He uses my favorite descriptive word for much of the political discourse we're subjected to: vitriol.

Colin's right about the links, also: They are interesting and relevant, and seem to complement the articles, instead of just being a link to another site to get the info.

This is a true "Connecticut" blog to me -- it's not just another blog that happens to be run out of a computer in CT (or someone who says they're from CT). To continue the debate on the function and purpose of "Connecticut blogs," this one obviously demonstrates the purpose and function of blogs organized around CT issues.

To address a comment, I suppose there is a function to knowing blogs which originate in CT, regardless of content, as a sort of address list. In that case, though, we're just noting (highly unreliable) profile information, right?

Monday, October 10, 2005

What it means to be CT blogger

As I looked through the list of CT blogs, I was struck by the total randomness of the listings. In the CT super-site, it just shows snippets of what's been posted recently on CT blogs. I guess to be a CT blog, you just have to sign up as one?? Or maybe they did a search for people who listed Connecticut in their profiles?

The site says the following: "The goal of Connecticut Weblogs is to help draw attention to state blogs and bloggers." That makes some kind of sense if the blogs featured were focused on CT. From what I can see, however, that isn't a common link. The blogs are about anything, everything. So is categorizing Connecticut blogs creating a distinction without a difference? If these blogs have nothing more in common than that their masters are sitting at computers somewhere in CT (and I'm not sure that's even true), than what is the function of this listing of blogs?

The only answer that I can see, since the label of "Connecticut Blog" has nothing to do with the content or substance of the blog, is that people have an innate need to impose order on chaos. If the blogdom is chaotic (surely true), than all we're doing with a list of CT is trying to determine some commonality, some theme, some sense, of what other people in CT are talking about and looking at. To talk about "Connecticut blogs," is, to me, really just to sit in the cafeteria and evesdrop on the surrounding conversations, in order to see what's going on with those in my Connecticut community.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


My brain hurts from trying to come up with witty titles...

Westportnow is interesting because it seems to be completely different in purpose and function than the other types of blogs we've looked at. It's not political, it's not trying to be first with the latest memes (I don't think), and it's not personal. It also, according to the article, is read by "stay-at-home" moms and various other members of the Westport community. It seems more akin to the traditional hometown-newspaper-telephone-party-line than what we've seen before. It makes me wonder if we've pigeon-holed blogs too quickly as a tool of "bloggers," and all that implies. Really, they are just another form of website, right? They are available and useable by everyone, not just computer wonks, students, and unemployed journalists in their pajamas. Are we manufacturing a "blogger" image that doesn't really exist?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Metafilter, Slashdot, Huffington Post

Slashdot: Help! Total sensory assault! Who actually LIKES this stuff? Am I so old that I can't take a LOUD blog? Bleck.

MetaFilter: If the blogdom is a marketplace of ideas, this is the junkyard. It's not that it doesn't have good stuff in it, but it's buried in a lot of crap I'm not interested in.

Huffington Post: I like this the most of the megas we've looked at. It's calmer, more readable, and incidentially contains the weirdest story I've read in a while. Joke, right? Many of the commenters didn't get it.

"Smartest man I ever knew": On the trail of a meme

I first heard that Miers called Bush "the smartest man I've ever met" when I was watching news of her announcement on Monday. By that time, it was all over the blogdom when I went to check it out.

That night, PBS's Charlie Rose discussed the nomination with Nina Tottenberger, Larry Tribe from Harvard, and a rabid Democratic Senator whose name I don't remember (but you know it's bad if I thinks he's over the top). Nina made a comment that the conservative blogs were going nuts over the nomination. She also referred to the "smartest person" meme as well.

I checked the Courant on Tuesday and Wednesday, but no mention of the meme. Interesting because it's quite provocative, but totally gossip. Maybe like the "George is drinking AGAIN" meme, the print media won't touch it. Why not?

After some investigation, I think I know why. The source appears to be Marvin Olsky commenting on WorldViews blog (Daily News/Christian Views), which is based on the dreaded anonymous source.

I'm not familiar with Olasky, but Confirmation Whoppers, run by Gary Gross, describes Olasky as "an evangelical Christian & the author of a book titled 'The Tragedy of American Compassion', which Newt Gingrich used to adopt the cause of welfare reform." (Lousy punctuation is his, not mine). Wow, I guess we can trust THIS guy!

Since Olasky is the source of the meme, based solely on an "anonymous Christian lawyer," I can understand why the Courant, etc. won't touch it. Could be Swift Boat all over again, and isn't it funny that this meme is supposed to be an indication of her lack of credibility and her low-octane brainpower? Cause on both sides of the aisle, we all know the Pres. is no genius?!!!

Those of us who've been predicting the end of the newspaper as we know it should push back our timeline a few more years. I have renewed respect for the Courant, etc. for sticking more closely to verifiable fact, and not jumping on the "guess what I heard" bandwagon.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

More stuff...

Nora Ephron makes a good point about the NYT's charging to read its op-ed pieces. It takes the paper out of the realm of blog-searching. It will surely change its policies.

Whisky Bar is a little boring for me: too much of the "I" game. First-person writing poses a credibility problem. I start to wonder, "Who is this guy, and why do I care about what he thinks?" It's semantics, really, as the same info can easily be conveyed in the third-person -- it's just more work to write.

On Bush drinking: I love the day-after-pretzel picture. So he's drinking again. I guess they can't do anything else to him.

On The Next Hurrah: I like it. Funky, funny, irreverent. I like the way it tries to tackle the Judith Miller story. It's one of those horrendous stories that most of America doesn't get.

On Interesting approach -- an IM style. I get the feeling the chief-cook-bottle-washer is sending in stuff from her Blackberry on the subway. Intriguing but thin on details.

Tacky, stupid, and insulting

I'm totally disgusted with MeMo and Wonkette for the way each has handled the Harriet Miers nomination. All they are talking about is her make-up, her shoes, her dress size, etc. It's particularly disturbing because these are blogs run by women. Yeah, yeah, we all need to have a sense of humor, but I am so sick of how we reduce female political figures to dissections of their anatomy (and I don't mean their brains), and ridicule them for being ugly -- or attractive. Or rich and workaholic, traits we love in our men (sorry, Zoe, bad mom). Yuck. I won't be making regular calls to them.

Am I overreacting? Maybe. After all, there's other important female news on MeMo -- like that Target will start selling vibrators.

Alterman's okay

I like this guy. He does one subject at a time, in some depth. I was interested in the way he handled Harriet Miers. Lots of info on the nomination, her history, the reaction from all sides, etc., but the rhetoric was fairly calm. Although it's a liberal site, it's not rabidly anything.

No Blogspot = no blogdom

Blogger's been down for most of the night, and I've discovered that 90% of the stuff I wanted to look at was on a BlogSpot website. I guess Blogger's the lynchpin of bloogers everywhere. Let's hope it never gets hit by a hurricane.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Plastic fantastic?

Where DO I come up with these pity titles?

Just a note on Plastic, a blog that many people seemed to like in class. I just checked it (it's 9:43 pm), and the last post -- the "hot" news -- was from early this morning. No mention, for example, of the Harriet Miers story. What kind of top-notch blog is this that doesn't stay on top of stories?

A meme of my own?

I've finally found a meme I can sink my teeth into: Harriet Miers. What's going to be the predominant meme on her? So far, I've found an allegation that she said Bush was the most brilliant man she's ever met (don't get out much?), a theory that she's just a "yes" woman in the administration, and a "isn't it strange?" issue that she, like Rice, has never married. I wonder which one will rise to the top of the marketplace of information? If you want a fun read, try Ms. Mier's "blog." I especially like the link to Miers' actual White House website.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Reverse engineering the meme (a fascinating read)

After our robust discussion in class, I think I know what a meme is. The rumor from the Presidential election that John Kerry had an affair with an intern certainly seems to fit the bill. This is a great article by Alexandra Polier, the woman who was the subject of the rumor. She is a journalist, and she went back and traced the origin of the Kerry-affair meme. She does an excellent job in this article of tracking down the birth of the meme. It was, as you can guess, largely a blog-birth. The article illustrates the awesome, frightening power of the false meme, as she says it changed her life.

p.s. picture is taken from the article; see the piece for the photo credit

Ailes, Sullivan

The style of these guys is much more interact, with the comments, etc. Also, their posts are shorter than Wolcott's. Ailes also posts frequently throughout the day. I really can see this guy sitting at the computer in his pjs. His site feels more like a dialogue, with its frequent posts and comments. The posts generally don't go on and on, like a long-winded uncle. This is a site I might go back to, because of that, and because it's that liberal democrat thing that I like.

As for Andrew Sullivan, I again am having trouble separating the format from the content. I was enjoying the reading, until I read his post on being called a "prominent liberal." Then I re-read everything in a different light...

"Pre-existing" media

I've just taken a look at some of the bloggers who were news somebodies before they were blogging somebodies. It's hard to separate my reaction to their sites from my reaction to the content on their sites. For James Wolcott, his site was a turn-off for me because it is a seemingly endless diatribe on how crappy the world is. It's feels to me that he sits at his computer, ponders who or what he wants to attack, and then spits out yet-another "the world sucks according to me" post. Easy on the eyes to be sure -- no annoying link-to-link-to-link, flashing ads, or endless threads and sidebars -- but really, a bit depressing for me. **Addendum: I rechecked his site - which I was JUST reading -- and he just made a post that was much lighter than the prior ones I read. I guess he's feeling frisky from his vacation on Cape May. So now I'm flummoxed. Do I like this guy, or is he annoying? My reaction is also different than it would have been before this class and all the blog-surfing we've been doing. He writes provocatively about current issues but doesn't have any space for comments. I find this frustratingly PASSIVE as a blog reader. I would like the opportunity to react to his stuff. However, I didn't have this same reaction to Dooce or our friend "Sarah" -- why not? I guess because they each write about their own lives and aren't proselytizing on their point of view. Wolcott, however, takes a stance on everything. In blogworld, it's too heavy-handed for me to do that without giving the readership a chance to respond. I guess it's the difference between a commentator on the radio, and a commentator with a radio talkshow. After a while, I really get sick of listening to one person go on and on about his or her opinion of all that's wrong (and very occasionally, what's right) with the world (think Rush -- barf). It's much more interesting when there's the interaction with callers and other guests.