Bloggers



First, a word of explanation for those unfamiliar with the term.  "Bloggers" is short for Web loggers, that is, people who keep personal Web logs, often called "blogs".  Many of them use Blogger software from Pyra Labs, which is free if you allow them to put a small ad at the top of your site.  If you prefer to avoid ads, you can pay the company a small yearly fee.  Others use similar systems, like Moveable Type from a husband and wife team.   Still others create their sites with tools like Microsoft's Front Page.  A few hire professional Web designers to build their sites.  There are even a few Neanderthals, like myself, who, more out of habit than anything else, create their sites using ordinary programming editors.   (For the curious, I first used Netscape's Composer to experiment with layout, then did some editing with the venerable vi editor, found on every Unix or Unix descended system, and, for now, have switched to Kate, a programming editor that comes with KDE, the most common Linux desk top.)

Bloggers do not create their sites for money, though many have "tip jars" for contributions.   If they review books, they may become an Amazon associate to get a small kickback for any referrals.  (I may do that myself, when I get the "Books" section created.)  In general, though, bloggers are amateurs, with the the advantages and disadvantages that amateurs have.  They create their blogs because they like doing it, and, if they stop enjoying it, they quit.  In my experience, as a group, they are remarkably helpful, and much better at acknowledging and correcting errors than professional journalists.

They have already created one new term, "fisking", that may confuse the newcomer.  Robert Fisk is a British journalist, who has written some foolish and obnoxious pieces on the war on terror.   One described his beating by a mob in Pakistan, in which he excused his attackers.  A number of bloggers, then and since, have done sharp and detailed critiques of his columns, and, in a play on the attack, described it as "fisking".  Other columnists have drawn similar critiques; Maureen Dowd, Molly Ivins, and Paul Krugman regularly get "fisked" by bloggers.

They have also borrowed a term from the net, "troll".  To "troll" is to post something designed to attract attacks, or responses, or at least page visits.  In the past, according to Eric Raymond, in The New Hacker's Dictionary, it meant to attract attacks from "newbies", in order to embarrass them.  It may still mean that to the posters at Slashdot, but for most bloggers, it now seems to have the wider meaning.

Steven Den Beste is very seldom "clueless", though he uses that as the name of his site.  The site is stylish, with a beautiful astronomy picture in the banner.  He comments on a wide variety of subjects, but is most interesting when he applies his technological knowledge.  He had some wonderfully amusing, and informative entries on fights between dragons and modern war craft, after the Reign of Fire movie was released.  Strangely, when I last looked (7/25), he kept his links on a separate page.

Australian journalist Tim Blair offers commentary all across the English speaking world, though most often, naturally, about Australia.   His writing has the, uh , vigorous and direct mode of expression one expects from Australians.   There's much on Australian politics here.  Americans will find both the differences and the similarities to our own politics illuminating.  He has very few links to other bloggers, but often cites them in his entries.

Web designer and author Rebecca Blood is on my links list, partly to remind me that there are people out there who "actually believe that stuff", to quote from an old Doonesbury cartoon.  (Mike Doonesbury is sitting on a wall watching Mark the radical spout off. At the end of Mark's harangue, Mike expresses his surprise that Mark believes what he is saying.)   Ms. Blood apparently takes seriously some of the claims of environmental extremists; it is important for those of us who are better informed (as I would say), or deluded (as Ms. Blood might put it), to realize just how common these views are.  It is easy to acquire such views at fashionable and expensive colleges and universities, and they are almost required for politicians across Lake Washington, in Seattle.  Most holding them do not seem to realize that they are, in essence, religious views.

There are things I like about her site.  She has much cultural commentary, though for the most part I don't share her interests or tastes.   Her design is interesting and quirky, and probably appropriate for a personal site.   Most sites have a little too much contrast for my eyes and monitor; hers might look better with more.  Wonder if she uses a Mac?

Stuart Buck says that he created his blog so that he could "read, think, write, and opine", without having to bug his neighbor.  If his site is any indication, he can move next to me any day.  His posts are nearly all sharp, usually making a conservative comment, but sometimes making a point on culture or raising an interesting question.  Why, for instance, he asks, did pepper, rather than so many other possible spices, get to be universally paired with salt on our tables?   He has a short list of links, most to other conservative bloggers. He has comments on his site, but so far as I can tell, no email address.

Moira Breen covers Tony Blair, Gibbons quotes, the Kennewick Man, memes, the Moroccan invasion of Spain, nursing, and thongs, with a deft and lighthearted touch.  She also tends to some of the social niceties; her posts include get well notes, happy birthdays, and thank yous, something I have learned to respect as I've gotten older.  She covers Portland in the friendly contest to find the most foolish letters to the editor. Her neatly organized site includes a large number of links, though I must concede that I do not entirely understand her classification scheme.

Steven Chapman writes intelligent and civilized commentary from Britain.  He's particularly good at dissecting errors in some of the more fatuous arguments from leftists in Britain.  And, I admire some one who has both the honesty to admit he was wrong on a subject, and the realism to see that the public in Britain is unlikely to agree with him, any time in the near future.   His site uses a font that is notably easy to read; many others would do well to copy his choice. 

Susanna Cornett is a former journalist, now studying criminology.  Unlike ninety per cent of journalists, she is a social conservative.  She is especially good in her critiques of articles from the New York Times and other problematic sources.  I find her descriptions of her home in eastern Kentucky fascinating.  Her site is one of the few with colored text that I do not find difficult to read.  She has a number of links to sites on the media, along with a large set of links to other bloggers.

Solly Ezekiel is the Gedanken Pundit, which I translate as the thought pundit.  Is that right?  He, like me, is a Seattle area blogger; in fact, he's in the same 1st Congressional district, represented by Jay Inslee.   (Ezekiel voted for Inslee in the last election; I can't stand the man.)  There's much thoughtful comment on this site, especially on Israel and related subjects.  Did you know that, even with the deaths from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, that Israel is less violent than many European countries?  I didn't.  His site has a nice clean design, with links to useful sources, and to bloggers, sorted, I believe, by rank.  It's an excellent place to find information on Israel.

Live from the WTC by "Jane Galt" delivers amusing and insightful commentary on a variety of subjects, particularly economic issues.  Her pen name is chosen, I assume, as a play on Ayn Rand's hero, John Galt, but she has a sense of humor and lack of pretension that I have not always found among followers of Ayn Rand.  She has degrees in both English and business; that she writes well on economic subjects is one of the better arguments I have seen recently for the value of college degrees.  In her hands, economics is more the cheerful than the dismal science.  She has two full sets of links, one to other bloggers and one to traditional media.

The Horologium site has commentary from a member of the military, writing under a pen name.  He lives in the Seattle area and is engaged in a friendly contest with bloggers in Portland and San Francisco to find the most foolish letter to the editor in their home newspapers.  I can't recall whether he has written about military subjects.   He may feel it is inappropriate.   He has full set of links to other bloggers and a small set of links to the major media.   One oddity about the site: At least with the browser I use most often, Netscape 6.2 running under Linux, the links in his text are invisible until I mouse over them.

The king of bloggers, judged by hit counts, is Instapundit and law professor Glenn Reynolds.  He has two great strengths.  He is prolific, writing many comments each day, and he is generous, providing links to many other sites.  His productivity is impressive, but his generosity may be more important.  In providing links, he acts as a sort of executive editor, picking out articles that should be given the reader's attention.  Like many executive editors, he is a bit of a cheerleader for the best work put out by his team.   You often sense considerable satisfaction when he finds another blogger doing work Professor Reynolds admires.

Joanne Jacobs has the best coverage of education issues I have found on any blog.  As you can see from her site, she is also a professional journalist, who has published a number of articles on the subject, and has a book coming out on a charter high school.  Her comments on other subjects are always thoughtful, and sometimes quite funny.   Her site is neat and easy to use, reminding me of those clean desks belonging to the truly organized.  For a time, she had a separate section of education blogs, and I am hoping that she will bring that back, expanded, when she does her promised site redesign.  Update: She's done just that, after reading these comments, but probably not because of them

Charles Johnson has but a single football on his site, Little Green Footballs.  Other than that, there is very little to criticize.  There is much content here, especially on the Middle East.  Johnson himself frequently does original research and has dug up many interesting items.  He is especially good at finding outrageous statements from Palestinian spokesmen, of the kind that the commercial networks never show, and that rarely make major American newspapers. He has links to sites on web design, Macs, and bicycling, as well as the usual sets of links to news organizations and other bloggers.

The Brothers Judd are Orrin (mostly) and Stephen (from time to time).  Writing from New Hampshire, they provide a steady stream of commentary from a doubly conservative viewpoint, both economically and socially.  They often provide views on social issues that contrast sharply with the many libertarians on the net.   They also review many books and movies, again from a conservative point of view.   It may not be apparent how to access the reviews; just click on the BrosJudd link near the top of the left column.  They provide a few links to other bloggers.

If you want to be technical, Mickey Kaus may no longer be a blogger, since Slate now pays him for his column.  Still, his column started out as a personal Web site and it retains that flavor.  He's best on welfare reform and related issues, where his expertise is obvious.  One feature that did not (yet?) make it from his Web site to Slate is his assignment desk, in which he suggested articles that need to be written.  I liked it so much that I copied it for my own site.  (And may even give an assignment to Kaus, just for fun.)

Derek Lowe is a medicinal chemist, working hard to create the wonder drugs that may save your life in few years, though he would not be so immodest as to put it just that way.  I find his accounts of his research, and his discussions of the pharmaceutical industry, fascinating.  Some time ago he had an informative discussion of chemical weapons in a series of posts.  He puts up the usual disclaimer that his employer would never choose him as a spokesman, but they could do far worse.

Most of the bloggers are here because I generally agree with them.   Josh Marshall is here because I generally disagree with him, and use him to check my own thinking.  The name of his site identifies, for me, its greatest weakness.   "Talking points", as I understand it, are the ideas the politician wants to get across in an interview or speech.  They almost always include partisan spin.   Often, in reading one his posts, I begin to wonder whether he entirely believes what he is writing, or whether he is just presenting an argument he thinks will be effective for the Democrats.  Not all of his work gives me that impression.   He did an impressive article on Iraq for the neoliberal Washington Monthly.  He also did a bit of original detective work on Chandra Levy's disappearance.

He has few links to other sites.  His site has a strange, narrow design, wasting most of the screen, even at the lowest resolution.

The MedPundit is a practicing physician, writing under the pseudonym, "Sydney Smith".  Dr. Smith's site is a brisk, informative survey of recent medical news.  She often expands on the brief accounts in Associated Press stories and similar sources, adding a depth missing from the originals.  Dr. Smith has no sympathy for political correctness or alternative medicine.

The man for statistics is Iain Murray, who, in real life, works for the Statistical Assessment Service, which helps news organizations evaluate statistical claims.  Though now working in Virginia, Murray is a long time British Conservative activist, and so, not surprisingly, his site has much on politics in Britain and soccer.  Some of his comments on those two subjects puzzle me, but it is good intellectual exercise to try to make sense of them.

Lawyer Damian Penny writes from Corner Brook, Newfoundland.  I like the name of his town, though I can't quite visualize a "corner brook", and I have been impressed by his commentary for some time.  As you would expect, he has much to say on Canadian politics, with its comparisons and contrasts to the politics here in the United States.  Besides politics, he sometimes comments on auto racing and the considerable beauty of his province. His site has a design that reminds me of some abstract paintings from the 1950s, with big rectangular blocks of color.  There is a substantial list of links to both other bloggers and to more traditional sources.  The bloggers are divided into groups by location, except for the lawyers, who are, unintentionally I suppose, thus made trans-national.

Writer Bill Quick is more prolific than the "daily pundit" name would suggest, since, on most days, he puts up many posts.   In the friendly contest to find the most foolish letters to the editor, he covers San Francisco.   He has lively discussions on his site, with a number of other bloggers regularly dropping by.  He has a full set of links and considerable information on his own writing on the site.  For a while, the text on the site would, sometimes, be clipped at the right, when I was viewing it with Netscape 6.2, but I haven't seen that problem for some time.   Other than that, it is one of the most readable sites around.

Rand Simberg, like me, is a fan of space travel, and, unlike me, a fan of cryogenics, preserving frozen bodies for future revivals.   His site has links to both amateur space bloggers and professional sources on space policy.   He provides one very useful service to fellow bloggers, a traffic light that shows whether the Blogger host is operating.  Since it is out of service more than one would expect, this is often helpful when you can't access a favorite blogger.  One curious thing about his site is his choice of a wide web page, 1280 pixels, I would guess, rather than the 1024 or 800 most sites use.

Natalie Solent is cheerful, intelligent, and well-informed.   She writes interestingly about subjects as far apart as the Gallipoli campaign in World War I, and Barbie dolls.  Her light touch almost always makes me smile when I visit her site.

Andrew Sullivan almost makes a specialty of combining characteristics the politically correct think can't be combined.  He is a gay, Catholic conservative, with AIDS, who once edited the liberal magazine, The New Republic.  Oh, and he is a European intellectual (British by birth, Irish by descent) who is more hawkish than the Bush administration on the war on terrorism.  This remarkable combination means nearly every reader will find something to disagree with; all will find much of interest.

Sullivan has been running a book club, in which readers discuss the same book for a month.  They had a fine discussion of Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist, which Lomborg himself joined several times.  Recommended for anyone curious about what Lomborg calls "the real state of the world".

The Volokh Conspiracy is a triumph of substance over style.  It uses a simple format, but consistently has thoughtful and balanced entries.   The blog is the joint effort of law professor Eugene Volokh, his younger brother, law student Sasha Volokh, Michelle Boardman, and "Juan Non-Volokh".  Professor Volokh contributes most of the entries, and brings both knowledge and clarity.  For example, I am impressed by his neat explanation of the relationship between money and free speech.  (Briefly: No, campaign contributions are not speech.  Nonetheless, some monetary limits do infringe on First Amendment rights if they make impossible or impractical for people to exercise those rights.)   I am almost as impressed by his consistent fairness.  For example, though he is not a fan of Bill Clinton, he wrote an solid critique of a Paul Greenberg column, which attacked a law review article by the former president.  (Greenberg is the Arkansas editor who gave Clinton the "Slick Willy" nickname.  Like many others, he simply can't take Clinton any more.)

"Dr Weevil" is a classics teacher, writing under the "Weevil" pseudonym, which he illustrates with two large bugs at the top of the site.  (Is the second weevil "Mrs. Weevil", by any chance?)  He is the blogger expert on Latin and Greek, as well as ancient history, generally.  I find him both informative and entertaining, though I do not always agree with his conclusions about English.  I don't always mind if an English word or expression is bad Latin or Greek; he does.  For instance, I think that using octopi, with its wonderful sound, is fine in informal writing—unless the readers are classics experts, of course.  And, I think that Slate's headline writer was right to use "Krugman Errata Est", rather than the correct "Krugman Erravit".   The first is likely to be understood by the ordinary, educated reader, but the second would not be.  His site is one of the most elegant I have seen and has links to journals and classics sites, as well as a full set of links to other bloggers.

Meryl Yourish combines humor with solid posts, especially on anti-Semitism and the Middle East.  Her Hulk solution for the Middle East combined both in a single post, providing a fairer and more practical solution than anything the Guardian has come up with.  Her coverage of a disgraceful riot at San Francisco State University was better than anything I saw in the major media.  She writes well enough so that I even find her posts on cats interesting.  Her list of links is under "Portals".

Last revised: 3:54 PM, 8 November 2002