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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

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Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th October 2007


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2006 Koufax nominations

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th June 2007

The 2006 Koufax “Most Deserving of Wider Recognition” nominations have been posted. Thanks to some kind, pitying soul, a complete breakdown in quality control, and a deeply troubling failure in border security procedures, they include this blog — thank you! In order to get everybody’s Google rating or whatever up a little higher, here’s the list in full:

abyss2hope: A rape survivor’s zigzag journey into the open, Aetiology, Ali Eteraz, Alterdestiny, And Doctor Biobrain’s Response Is…, Angry Brown Butch, Anonymous Liberal, Antagony & Ecstasy, The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum, appletree, Archy, art crit, at the end of the boom, Axis of Evel Knievel, BagNewsNotes, Bark Bark Woof Woof, Bats Left, Throws Right, Being Amber Rhea, Blah3.com, A Blog Around the Clock, Blog of the Moderate Left, Blue Gal*, The Blue Republic, BlueNC, Bouphonia, The Brad Blog*, Brains and Eggs, A Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Capitalism Bad, Tree Pretty , Confined Space (quit, unfortunately), Conservative Truths, Digital Doorway, Dos Centavos, Down With Tyranny!, d r i f t g l a s s, ebogjohnson.com, Echidne* (hey, she won last year, no fair), elle, phd, eminism.org, Engulfed Cathedral, European Tribune, Existential Ramble, eye of the storm, F-Words, Fact-esque, The Fat Lady Sings, Feline Formal Shorts, Fetch Me My Axe (best blog name), The Fifth Estate, First Draft, thefreeslave, The Galloping Beaver, Gender 3.0, Good Times and Bad Times in Lost America, The Gun Toting Liberal, HAH!, Having Read the Fine Print (a.k.a. Black Amazon), The Heretik*, How This Old Brit Sees It …, Huck and Jim, Ice Station Tango, If I Ran the Zoo (highlights here), Ilyka Damen, I’m Not a Feminist, But, INTL News, Jane Awake, Jay Sennett, Karena, konagod, Larvatus Prodeo, Lawyers, Gun$ and Money*, The Left End of the Dial, LEFT IN EAST DAKOTA (the old all caps trick, eh), LesbianDad, Life From The Trenches….Literally, Life, Law, Gender, Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted), Lydia Cornell, Marisacat, McBlogger, Media Needle, Mercury Rising, Mock, Paper, Scissors, Musical Perceptions, Musings, Nation-Building, Newsrack Blog (ta da!), No More Mr. Nice Guy!, No Right Turn, Norwegianity*, The Oil Drum, Orcinus*, Packaging Girlhood, pass the roti on the left hand side, Persephone’s Box , phronesisiacal, The Primary Contradiction, Power and Politics, Progressive Gold, Progressive Historians, Prometheus 6, Puisi-poesy, The Quaker Agitator, Race Changers – working towards an anti-racist future, one week at a time, Rachel’s Tavern, Racialicious, Rants From The Rookery, The Reaction, Real Climate, Reclusive Leftist, Replace The Lies With Truth- , Rhetorically Speaking, Richard Dawkins.net, Scientia Natura: Evolution and Rationality, Scrutiny Hooligans, Sharanya Manivannan, Shrub.com, The Sideshow*, The Silence of Our Friends, Simply Left Behind, Skeptical Brotha, Sly Civilian, SoapBoxBlog, Sour Duck, Streak’s Blog, Street Prophets, Stump Lane, Super Babymama, Taking Steps, TBogg*, Temple3, this blog will self-destruct in five seconds, a.k.a. The Pime (disqualified: one name per blog), Thoughts From Kansas, Thoughts of an Average Woman (moved to The Crone Speaks), Tiny Cat Pants, Turn This Bus Around!, Truly Outrageous, uggabugga, Unapologetic Mexican, Unscrewing the Inscrutable, Vortex(t), Welcome to Pottersville, Woman of Color Blog, World O Crap, Wrapped Up Like a Douche (so that’s what they were saying), You Forgot Poland! (other best blog name), Zuky

There seems to be some mistake: the category is for “writers who consistently deliver, yet don’t receive the recognition they deserve.” By contrast, I pride myself on delivering inconsistently, and probably receive precisely the recognition I deserve.

Still, in the spirit of “winning is everything,” I’m shooting to get more than three votes this year. So I’m going to throw some some elbows, and here’s how: I challenge big-time competitors like Avedon Carol (The Sideshow) to go pick on someone their own size over in the “consonant level” blog nominees. (They’re not quite A-list, but B-, C-, D-list… consonants, get it?). Accordingly, I’ve marked blogs that I think are already widely recognized enough, dammit, with an asterisk. More seriously, I’ve marked in color the ones I’m familiar with and can already recommend.

Actually, of course, have a look at any of them — especially “fact-esque” and “The Sideshow,” my own nominees for “most deserving” (fact-esque) and “consonant-level” and “best overall” (Sideshow). Heck, if you have a couple of years, have a look at all of them. As ever, may the best blog lose so that I can win.

PS: Nell Lancaster, a frequent commenter here, is among the nominees for “Best Commenter“; don’t forget to vote for her whenever that finally rolls around.

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EDIT, 6/11: added plugs for fact-esque and The Sideshow, and link to my nominations post.

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Your two cents, please

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th November 2006

After five years of writing, I’m finally running out of space on this site — I had to move a bunch of old images and photos to Photobucket — so I’m going to pull up stakes sometime over the next several months and move to a dedicated site, i.e., thomasn528.com or something like that.

I’m also considering sprucing up and improving the look and performance of the site. So I’m looking for recommendations both for hosting sites and blogging software, and/or for online discussions of same. I know that some readers (hi, Gary!) have been annoyed with slow loading times, but maybe that’s not all, so here’s your chance to get it all off your chest.

I’m thinking of going to smaller font and three columns, like most other blogs. I might use a third column for title feeds of other sites like leftyblogs Maryland or of the comments here, some kind of “currently reading” list, and/or a “quick hits” list like “Particles” and “Sidelights” at Making Light. I might like to tag my posts with keywords like “wal-mart,” “germany,” “village idiot,” and so forth. I’m guessing that all suggests a site supporting PHP or something like it; I assume the right software — Moveable Type? — makes that easier than it sounds, but at any rate I’d need some “help for newbies” to make it work. I’m also wondering whether I should set up individual pages for each post, and the “next” and “previous” post navigation aids many blogs have.

While I’m at it: do readers use the “digg,” “del.icio.us,” and other “social bookmarking” tools I’m seeing at places like firedoglake (the colorful row of icons at the bottom of individual posts)? If you blog yourself and include “digg this” etc. for each post, do you see new readership coming from these sources? (For that matter, can you see that? Should I care?) I don’t use them myself, at least not yet, so I’m curious what other people think. What about “spotlight“?

So have at it in comments: what changes would you like? What layouts of other blogs do you like? How absolutely-perfect, wouldn’t-change-a-thing is this one? Etcetera. Thanks!

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Five years

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th September 2006

I started blogging on this site five years ago yesterday. It took me several tries fiddling with the FTP target address, if I recall correctly; at any rate, I still remember the pleased “hey! it worked!” feeling I got when I saw my first post.

It’s a memory tempered these days by what I feel when I re-read that post and others like it early on. There’s nothing all that wrong with that first one, but still if I were to go back in time and take over the keyboard again, I wouldn’t write it or many of the ones that follow that way now, and I might not have written some of them at all.

Still, there they all are. My blog, to me, is half an argument with myself, half a message in a bottle to the rest of the world. In its daily guise, like any journal, it seems declaratory and fairly certain in its statements. Over time, it becomes something else, a journey — and one I sometimes read between my fingers.

It’s actually been a fair amount of work and trouble: late nights reading things, writing things, re-writing them, re-writing them again and yet again; sometimes feeling (and sometimes being told) I’m spending too much time on it.

Has it been worth it? Has it been worth anything?

With regrets
Given my opinions these days, that’s questionable, if influence is the measure of value. For one thing, I’m not all that widely read; for another, that’s not surprising, given my tacks back and forth on Iraq in particular. Starting out leaning against an Iraq war for many of the right reasons, I changed my mind after a long hiatus; one of my most widely read posts was the February 2003 “With regrets — for war on Saddam.” Seemingly independent reports about Iraqi WMD from Germany and arguments like those in “The Threatening Storm” had helped convince me there was a real threat, and that the war was the best way to solve it. Regardless of my sincerity, I was wrong. A lot of people linked to that post, and a lot of people read it and commented* on it, both here and elsewhere.

I’ve since distanced myself from it and rebutted it, at least in part. But that’s been to the tune of perhaps dozens of readers, not hundreds upon hundreds. And I was more than just wrong; in particular, I hadn’t stuck by my own demands for convincing proof of WMD, and my “come what may” line was particularly callow in view of what indeed has come for that country and our soldiers fighting there.

Looking back, I see how furious and on edge I was after 9/11. In part, my trust in the institutions of this country betrayed me — I believed, even of Bush and Cheney, that they would recommend war only when it was truly the least worst option. Wrong. But I’m also afraid that although I would have denied it then, events like 9/11, the anthrax attacks, and the sniper attacks around DC the following year made me more and more jumpy, and more and more open to poorly conceived “solutions” like Iraq. I don’t think I was alone in that. A lot of people who started blogging after 9/11 — the so-called “warblogger” cohort — never really got over it; a better description for many of them may be “post traumatic stress bloggers.”

Writing like this can be, then, a bit of a dangerous hobby. A problem I’ve mentioned before is that it’s easy to become committed not just to the position, but to your public arguments and stand for it. It’s harder for me, at least, to consider unwinding from something I’ve argued for in writing than from something I say in a conversation. I wonder how many bloggers find themselves trapped in their own arguments, unwilling to alienate particular readers or an imagined readership, and therefore unwilling to reverse course.

At the time, I also aspired to bridge a European-American perceptions and risk assessment gap I saw; I would frequently write about German reactions in particular, since I speak the language. While some of that was to the good — I think that on the whole, my German bloggers series posts have been worthwhile — I also spent time and effort arguing with German bloggers and their readers at their sites about U.S. Iraq policy in particular. Given that I was basically wrong about it, that’s fairly painful to recall — public diplomacy in the service of a poor cause.

A reminder
So I’m reminded that humility on my part is in order, certainly more than I like to display. I was against torture, but at first ignored what news there was as “bad apples” at worst — including news e-mailed to me about “American Taliban” John Walker’s treatment, which was a pretty clear sign of trouble ahead. I was less of a stickler than I am now, taking issue with this or that, but reckoning that little things like hoods, or a little sleep interruption, or the ad hoc Guantanamo system were not so bad — details got slightly wrong in hot pursuit perhaps, but not the tip of some iceberg of malfeasance and coolly chosen wrongdoing. Of course, I could not have been more wrong in that, either.

It took Abu Ghraib to viscerally remind me of what I can and can not stand for; I intuited and then confirmed to my (dis)satisfaction that there was much more and worse than what I’d seen. That’s when I pretty much pulled out my red card, once and for all, on an administration I admittedly never had all that much use for. Beware of people who call for changes in the rule books when the game is going badly. Beware of yourself and be aware of yourself if you decide to consider those rule changes.

For all the regrets, shouldas, wouldas, and couldas, I think this blog has been a decent effort. Realizing that I can’t be and don’t want to be a “full service” comment-on-everything blog, I’ve tended to settle on issues and themes that I care about, (e.g., Abu Ghraib etc., Wal-Mart, the “TexasGate” redistricting saga, verified voting, Srebrenica, Katrina, global warming) and come back to them repeatedly. I’ve tried not to let other stories I’ve followed drop either, via the clunkily-named “Department of followups” posts. I’ve also tried to not be too much of a scold — how could I be, given my own inconsistencies — and to lighten things up with a little humor now and then.

Thanks
In conclusion, thanks for reading, for bearing with my long-winded posts, and for commenting when the spirit moves you. Thanks in particular to Paul, eRobin, Gary, Nell, anonymousgf, Karen, and Brett, who are frequent visitors and valued commenters these days, and who I think of as friends whether I’ve met them or not; likewise for Jens, Sven, Scott, and Peter, who drop by occasionally from overseas; and likewise for those like Tom T. who dropped out over the years, possibly as I became too shrill for their taste.

Others drop by regularly as well, I think, but choose not to comment — although they’re welcome to regardless of whether they disagree with me. Other than my own mental grades for posts, comments are how I tell whether I’m writing anything worth the trouble of reading; although I’ve sometimes failed badly, I do welcome opposing views.

But mainly, thanks for dropping in and reading. While this blog has been mainly for my own benefit — I think the practice has improved my writing a little — I hope it’s also occasionally been worth it to you.

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* Although the comments are missing because of a glitch in the prior system, I still have them, and hope to get them reconnected with Haloscan’s help.

Selected Iraq posts:

 

Selected detainee treatment posts:

 

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Italy postings: halfway done

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th April 2006

I’m “back-posting” entries about our recent trip to Italy, and am now halfway through: Rome, Rome, continued, Florence. Have a look, leave a comment, correct mistakes, enjoy, etcetera.

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Technical note: comments deactivated temporarily

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th September 2005

I’m afraid I’ve made a bad mistake and deleted not just a nutty spam comment, but the entire “blogback” account comment file, meaning that unless the fellow who runs “blogback” has a backup, any comments after early June or so are gone. Argh. I value (almost) everyone’s comments, and I’m very sorry about this. Serves me right, I suppose.

In case there is a backup, I think any new messages might complicate the process of restoring them. Also, the “blogback” system I’ve been using was going offline soon anyway. I’m temporarily deactivating it altogether while it while I look for a replacement service that I like and that I can import my old comment XML file into. You can reach me by e-mail if there’s something you want to tell me.

UPDATE, 9/8: no backup at “blogback.” In the scheme of things, this is a small loss, but I feel it, and I apologize to all of you who’ve commented here over the last few months.

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Reduced service

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th December 2004

Blogging will remain infrequent for a while as I get over a pretty bad case of strep throat. I just about couldn’t move yesterday, it felt like I’d hiked twenty miles with a fifty pound pack.

As some of you may have noticed, the site design changed late Monday — by mistake; I thought I was fooling with a test blog but wasn’t. All is now restored to the way I like it. Plus I finally figured out how to make the place look a little better for all my Atom feed subscribers by placing posts at the top of archive pages, instead of centered within them.

Case in point: my Germany travelogue of our trip in October, now updated with a final waypoint — Schweinfurt, my first home town.

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On blogging

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st June 2004

The New York Times “Circuits” section published an item about blogging last week by Katie Hafner titled “For Some, the Blogging Never Stops“:

Blogging is a pastime for many, even a livelihood for a few. For some, it becomes an obsession. Such bloggers often feel compelled to write several times daily and feel anxious if they don’t keep up. As they spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends and jobs.

The article has naturally been widely noticed by bloggers; a consensus seems to be forming around “well, what does she know about it, anyway?”

But to be honest, the article sounds about right to me. While I’m not a “several times a day” blogger, between reading other blogs and drafting my own longish posts, this can easily get too time consuming. What never seems to stop is gradually failing to to keep the right balance, and getting behind with work or home stuff.

This isn’t building up to an “I’m quitting” announcement. It’s more an explanation of the frequent long dry spells. At this point, I think of this blog in two ways. Primarily, it’s writing as a hobby. If I write something I like, that’s a reward in itself. By the same token, if I don’t have much to say, I don’t want to obsessively beachcomb the Internet just for the sake of keeping the blog fresh.

Only connect?
Still, blogging is a little more to me than writing as a hobby. I look forward to feedback from other people, either as comments, via a link, or even as a full-fledged discussion of something I’ve written (it’s happened). I imagine my kind of blogging is similar to short-wave radio hobbyists in that respect: put a message out there, see who responds. I have no great aspirations to turning professional, or having great influence on the world. (Well, sometimes I do.) So I tell myself I just want to make some connections with people.

My statistics over the last week put that in perspective: an e-mail from SiteMeter last Friday informed me I’d had 312 visitors and 396 page views for the preceding week, i.e., about 45 a day. First off, thank you! Your taste is extraordinary, your reading eclectic; most big and even middle tier blogs do that much in a day at most. Considering that at least half of the visits are one-timers via Google, it’s easy to sometimes feel foolish about this “hobby.” On the other hand, between 10 and 20 percent of my visits are from European time zones — hi milchstrasse.de, wanadoo.fr, btcentralplus.com, co.uk, t-dialin.net et al! — which I think is cool.

There are no doubt better ways of doing of connecting than putting electronic messages in a bottle and casting them out into the Internet. Maybe “meetups” are the way to go. But probably not, for me. I prefer working out my opinions and views in quiet, and then seeing who agrees or disagrees. I’ve enjoyed meeting up with some people I’ve met this way — Tony, Brett, Jim, Eve. But a second New York Times item last week — an op-ed by Brent Staples — warns:

Studies show that gregarious, well-connected people actually lost friends, and experienced symptoms of loneliness and depression, after joining discussion groups and other activities. People who communicated with disembodied strangers online found the experience empty and emotionally frustrating but were nonetheless seduced by the novelty of the new medium. As Prof. Robert Kraut, a Carnegie Mellon researcher, told me recently, such people allowed low-quality relationships developed in virtual reality to replace higher-quality relationships in the real world.

Again, I’d say there some truth in that; I think some bloggers’ deformations over time — and “we” know who “they” are — are partly attributable to this process.

I am the captain of my blog
I think that what draws bloggers (like me) as much as any ‘community’ they manage to develop is that it’s that rare thing for many of us, a place where we’re completely in charge. The combination of being in control of what and how I write and getting occasional positive feedback is what keeps me coming back.

But with this vast authority comes dread responsibility; a drawback about blogging is that it puts you ‘out there’ in a way that most people don’t have to deal with, especially if you write about news and politics. By ‘nailing myself down’ to published positions, I’m at a bit of a tactical disadvantage with people I do talk with who know I’m blogging.

Without the blog, I’d be more free to quietly change my mind about things with no one the wiser; with it, there’s often a voice in my head — or one in the room with me — saying “But you said …” Like journals or diaries (I think) blogs can enforce more consistency than one is sometimes comfortable with; unlike them, they’re public.

I think that’s one way that blogging can exacerbate the effect Dr. Kraut observes: bloggers can be at a disadvantage when discussing their views in person. Especially if there’s disagreement. It becomes easiest to just avoid or rule out in-person discussions for the sake of getting along — and retreat back to a safer, more anonymous audience.

This post peters out here
Recently, one of those disembodied online friends offered me a free ad on his blog. As I thought about it, I realized I wasn’t sure what I’d say or why I’d want to advertise. “Newsrack: I could sort of explain the name, but that would even bore me.”? “Newsrack: Check it out. Or not. Whatever.”? “Newsrack: What the heck, you’ve got nothing better to do.”?

I’m still not sure. It bothers me a little that I both follow my visit stats, and have little idea what recommends this blog even to myself. For the time being, I guess I’ll adopt T.E. Lawrence’s attitude from once upon a time: “The trick is not to care.”

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Note to readers

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 31st May 2003

Work and a vacation starting middle of next week mean I will probably not be blogging again until the 2d week in June. Thanks for dropping by. Meanwhile, I recommend Marstonalia, Arts & Letters Daily (not a blog, but that’s OK!), Interfaith Nunnery (where Iris, Andrea, and Niki chat about medieval studies, science fiction, movies, politics, and whatnot), Gary Farber, Matthew Yglesias, and of course Josh Marshall for all the latest on Texasgate and life inside the Beltway.

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Technical news

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th April 2003

I’ve tinkered with the comments utility a bit; there’s now a link to an RAQ (“rarely asked questions”) page with some comment rules. Also, there’s a bit more room to compose your comments, and a link about how to add HTML things to your comments like links, italicizing, and so forth.

The comment rules are just intended to serve notice that comments that “cross the line” may be deleted at my discretion, and commenters may be blocked. This is not meant to respond to anyone’s recent comments about the Die Zeit item below. I added the rules because of a dispute about a different, older blog entry that got out of hand, in my opinion.

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