Sunday, June 25, 2006

Blogs, Generally

It's a beautiful Sunday morning here in Rockville. I'm listening to jazz guitar on WPFW, and it's raining like crazy outside -- my street is a river. There's a flash flood watch for the whole area, I'm hoping nothing bad happens. But it really is pouring, hard and steady. Now and then there's a clap of thunder, none close and I haven't seen any lightning flashes. Now and then the lights blink, but not enough to shut the computer down. Our roof has a little leak near the chimney, the guy keeps saying he'll come over and fix it, but today there's a towel on the floor next to the fireplace; it's not too bad, but this kind of rain will drip through. Luckily, the guy threw the newspaper under the car this morning; I almost didn't find it, but at least it's relatively dry. I have a pot of hot coffee, the dog is sleeping in the corner, nobody else is up yet. My favorite time of the week.

So I'll take this opportunity to go completely off the topic of sex-ed in Montgomery County, and just talk for a minute about blogs. I have several that I check frequently, some that I like more than others, and a couple that I actually would like this blog to emulate.

I read blogs in an RSS aggregator. I used to use a PC program called Sharpreader, but I've switched -- that program loaded all your sites into the computer's memory, and after a while the computer would just slow down to a crawl. Now I'm using Bloglines, which stores all your data on its server. You tell it the sites you want to follow, and Bloglines keeps track of not only what new content they have, but which of their posts you've already read. A nice thing is that you can access it from anywhere, work or home or the public library, and it keeps track of everything for you. It's also not a memory hog, since all that's open on your computer is the link you're reading at the moment. And this doesn't hurt: it's free.

The RSS aggregator lets you check a lot of sites quickly. In the left window of Bloglines is a list of the sites I read. If I click on one, the window on the right shows me the first few paragraphs of all the posts I haven't read yet. There's a title and a little bit of text, so I can decide whether to read more. If I want to, then I can click on the title and open the whole thing up in another tab in my web browser. I'm not interested in everything -- this lets me pick and choose what I want to read with minimal effort.

There are a few "comprehensive" news sites that I check every couple of hours, just keeping up with what's going on. One that's surprisingly good is The Huffington Post. It's a dynamic, constantly-updated news site with lots of opinion pieces, very professional and progressive. I also look at Memeorandum, because it keeps up with breaking news, but a lot of it lately has been this stupid Michelle Malkin kind of stuff, non-newsy wedge issues. The good thing about Memeorandum is that it links to a story, and then all the sites that have commented on that story, and sometimes all the sites that have commented on the comments.

Raw Story is another one that has a lot of provocative stories. It's just a good site to check for keeping up. Same for TruthOut, even though they just had a little controversy about the Rove indictment that left a bad taste in some people's mouth. They had announced that he was indicted, but then other news stories said he wasn't. They're sticking with their story, and point to an indictment that remains sealed. Well, the point is, they do some serious investigative work -- if they got played for a sucker, that's tough, it'll happen when you go out on a limb, doesn't make it a bad site. You've gotta take all of this with a grain of salt, anyway.

There are a couple of politically oriented blogs I like. One of my favorites is AmericaBlog. The main guy is John Aravosis, a gay progressive who calls it like he sees it. I've seen a number of times when he's been out of synch with the other lefties, and he's usually vindicated in the end. He has a knack for identifying the story behind the story. There are three or four other writers there, but John clearly sets the tone.

There is a little group of A-list blogs that you're going to end up reading anyway, once you get into this, so you might as well go right to them. Atrios, at Eschaton, is articulate, well connected, funny. You're going to end up watching videos at Crooks and Liars -- they don't say a whole lot, but have established the great precedent of posting important news clips and other sound and video files, the stuff that people are talking about today. Daily Kos is definitely an A-list site, but I admit I don't usually get too much out of it. I'm not that interested in the politics of politics, which is what that site is really about, getting progressive candidates elected. I know it's important, but it's not really my thing. Mahablog is written by a woman who has sharp instincts for detecting bull-oney in the news, and a sharp way of getting right to the point. I consider her writing to be literature, not sure how many readers she has, if it's an A-list blog or not, but it's one of my favorites.

Speaking of literature, Jeanne d'Arc at Body and Soul is unbelievable. Her writing is so fresh, so philosophical, I'll tell you, man, this is not throwaway Internet "content," she expresses the careful conscience of a country in a casual heartfelt style that is a pleasure to read.

I was going to mention a couple of blogs that are for grown-ups, but decided not to, since, you know, the Dark Side likes to take things here out of context. Whatever, some rude pundits go over the line and stay there, and everybody reads them, but it is rude, yes. I won't mention them, out of my profound commitment to being proper all the time.

There are a few that I just like for my own reasons. I enjoy Sadly, No -- they're just cynical enough for my taste, with a taste of satire, flashes of insight. Another favorite is Language Log. It's just about words. What a great topic, I can think about words all day. Like the other day they were talking about how English uses the word "do" to form questions and to make sentences negative. His examples: "Do you like fish?" "I do not like fish." Apparently this tendency comes from the influence of Celtic languages, like Welsh and Cornish -- no other Germanic language uses this. Anyway, I love this stuff. A strange one is Pandagon. They seem to ignore ordinary boundaries and norms, and just say what they're thinking, which is often surprising and thought-provoking. I realized I don't know what kind of blog Pandagon is, really, you know, so I googled them. The best I can find is some guy that calls them a "disgraceful, feminazi-lesbian supporting site." OK, that's cool with me. It's just the Internet, you know, it's not like I'm getting in bed with them.

Oh, and I have to mention Boing Boing blog, which calls itself "A directory of wonderful things." Hard to describe, mainly links to stuff that you never would have imagined existed. An excellent time-waster.

I mentioned that there were a couple I like to emulate. Sometimes I think I'd like this blog to be a kind of average between Alternate Brain and Red State Rabble.

Alternate Brain is mainly Gordon and Fixer, who are just regular guys trying to figure out this crazy world. They're proud veterans, and they express themselves clearly in the finest blue-collar language you'll see. No beating around the bush, this is just what working guys sound like, talking about the news and stuff that happens to them. They have no time for political correctness -- for instance, one of them is a mechanic, and he wrote recently about how much he hates it when people try to give mechanics advice about what's wrong with their cars, unless those people are attractive females. Then he's got all day to discuss it with them. He's not saying it to impress you, he's just saying what really happens. Anyway, I like their view of what's going on, and they link to good relevant stuff -- you often hear it said that real Americans are far more progressive than either political party, and these guys show you what that observation means. They're good people, and they'd know what I mean by that.

I think of Red State Rabble as a sister blog to this one. This guy, Pat Hayes, is in Kansas, and where we talk about sex-ed, he talks about the Intelligent Design vs. evolution debate that has embarrassed his state. Red State Rabble is less down-to-earth and more issue-oriented than Alternate Brain; he carries a lot of news about how the rightwing crazies are trying to take over America, almost always with a Kansas angle to it. RSR is a local blog like ours, fighting an important local battle in a war that has engaged the entire nation and has to be fought to the end on each local battlefield.


Blogger Fixer said...

Heh... Don't look at me as a role model. I'm the bad influence. ;)

June 26, 2006 7:49 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Hey Fixer, thanks for stopping by. Great blog you guys got there -- keep it up.


June 26, 2006 9:26 PM  
Blogger Fixer said...

And by the way, we're both mechanics. Gord's a motorcycle guy and I do cars.

June 27, 2006 6:07 AM  
Blogger Fixer said...

Also, you're welcome and thanks for the kind words.

June 27, 2006 6:09 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

One thing I admit I like on Alternate Brain is Gordon's stories about going over to the Central Coast, where I lived for about 8 years, through the eighties, before going off to Fresno. I played every honky-tonk from Santa Ynez to Paso Robles (Harry's, Camozzi's, Cayucos Tavern, Templeton, Santa Margarita, Muddy Springs ... just about all of them), and it's fun to hear the stories and think back on those days and wonder what the old crowd is doing.

I think you guys contribute something unique. There are the pundits, the intellectuals, the connect-the-dots guys, the slash-and-burn bloggers, but you guys strike a great note, you talk like people in the United States of America talk. And I appreciate that. People forget sometimes, when you go out into America, outside the beltway (where we mostly are), there's a lot of resentment and concern -- turns out, even guys who work on cars and motorcycles have a bad feeling about living in a country that practices torture and declares war on random countries.

We temper our language here, because we are a group with one topic -- beating the nuts who want to make our schools teach their bigotry. Of course we're one front in a larger war, but we keep our focus pretty tight.


June 27, 2006 8:42 AM  

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