Monday, July 30, 2007

10 Criteria of Great Blogs

The original post in full, with all comments, is here.

As Iain Dale explained about his own system: I mark each blog out of ten on the following 10 areas: design; frequency of posting; writing ability; personality; comment; humour; range; interaction; popularity; independence of thought. This generates a mark out of 100.

James Higham uses 9 of these, sometimes combined, adds a few others and posits these as the criteria of a great blog:

1] fearless independence of thought and the ability to come out with new ideas and new perspectives on a more or less regular basis, in a spirit of genuine enquiry, unfettered by dogma, party line, prejudice or one issue obsession e.g. the 4th player, managerialism or flat rate tax; the ability to attack both sides equally and the opposite – to praise both sides equally;

2] enormous range of inclusion – either every possible aspect and ramification in a one issue blog or global scope in the issues covered in most fields, the only criteria being whether they are a] important b] interesting;

3] sheer writing ability – the ability to string words and phrases together with hardly an error [or typo], the blogger clearly educated at a reasonably high level in the language he or she was born into;

4] authority behind the writing – bona fides based on obvious [to the reader] ability in the field, life experience, a wide range of reading about the topic but not on formal qualifications or position;

5] personality & humour – this also includes ‘niceness’ or the ability to attack targets tongue in cheek, with dignity and wry humour. Quirkiness is not essential but it’s a sign the writer doesn’t take himself or his position too seriously;

6] innovative blog design as a reader service – not only pretty headers and nice colours but providing one touch information in the sidebars, accessible to readers - treating the blog as a service to the reader, rather than as a forum for one’s own opinions;

7] major works of substance from time to time – a blogger must display his bona fides by producing something substantial in fine detail, academically sound and capable of defence. This doesn’t necessarily mean a tome but does mean a long piece from time to time, on a worthy subject. This then needs to be followed through and the theme will appear in subsequent posts.

8] frequency of posting and consistency of identifiable style – maintaining the service with no huge experimental changes and giving the reader what he or she comes for over and over and over;

9] willingness to tweak - constantly working to improve everything from layout to comment, never resting on one’s laurels and saying ‘here’s my package – take it or leave it’ but rather listening, reading, learning and most importantly, growing as a blogger. A smug blog is a dead blog;

10] interaction with other bloggers and readers, comment of value on the issues of the day, mutual support e.g. this tagging business, e-mailing and well – interaction overall.

I’ve left ‘popularity’ off the list because I see it as a consequence rather than a criterion. If one takes care of the 10 criteria above, I feel popularity will come and I worry awfully about bloggers who are in it just for the stats. Mea culpa and the interesting thing is – once I stopped worrying [now I might view the stats once a day and sometimes not even that] and started concentrating on the product, the stats improved markedly anyway.

Update: Tiberius Gracchus, in his Ten-Meme-Never list, has done a similar sort of thing to this.

[iain dale] and the top 100 uk blogs

The Scenario

Iain Dale has been kind enough to include Blogpower in his notification that that time of year is here again.

To U.S. and other non-UK bloggers and readers, I think there's a place for you here too. At least read this through. Even though you have to be UK or blogging about UK matters to actually be on the list, that doesn't stop you submitting your vote.

To all UK bloggers and readers, you'll most likely already know this but here's a recap:

Last year, Iain brought out a 32 page guide to the Top 100 UK Political Blogs [you'll see banners displayed on the sidebars of all the top bloggers] and very quickly it spread like wildfire across the UK.

Make no mistake, indulge in no sour grapes as this blogger did. These lists are hugely influential with the wider public, as well as with the blogosphere itself, 18 Doughty Street only confirms their importance and it avails us to get into this and get in quickly.

The Rules

In September Harriman House will publish the 2007 Guide to Political Blogging in the UK. It will contain articles on blogging by some of Britain's leading bloggers, together with a directory of UK political blogs, and a series of Top 20s and Top 10s.

Instead of me picking my Top 100 UK political blogs (as I did last year) I'd like fellow bloggers and blog readers to send me their Top 20 UK Political Blogs by email. I'll then compile the Top 100 from those that you send in. Just order them from 1 to 20. Your top blog gets 20 points and your twentieth gets 1 point.

The deadline for submitting your Top 20 to me is August 15th. Please email me your list to iain AT iaindale DOT com and type Top 20 in the subject line. You don't have to send 20, but try to do 10 as a minimum.

Personal Note

Let's make no mistake here - to be included in this list with the heavyweights of the sphere like Devil's Kitchen, Mr Eugenides, The Englishman, Dizzy Thinks, Croydonian, Praguetory and so on would be a great honour. If you feel you're not really all that political, no matter - there is the non-aligned section, which I have my eye on.

Nominate twenty UK blogs which take your fancy and you've done your job! This is important to Blogpower!


This is NOT Iain's personal list, as it was last year but nominated from all over the UK:

2007 Guide to Political Blogging in the UK

How Do I Assess a Blog

Here are Iain's criteria [embedded in the second paragraph].

And here is my reply and my 10 modified criteria.

Last Year's Lists



Lib Dem



Sunday, July 29, 2007

[suicide bombers] incompetence or decency?

From the Asia Times:

Almost half of the suicide bombers in Afghanistan over the past two years have succeeded in killing only themselves - the worst "kill average" in any theater in the world. The underwhelming performance has been blamed on the bombers being "deranged, on drugs, duped, bribed or brainwashed". Or it could just be that Afghans don't have the heart for the bloody business.

Interesting article and it leads into tomorrow morning's post on Islam, which I usually don't touch as a topic. It's not a smiling matter but the Arab comment I read today about the way the U.S. can stop the terrorism is by stopping it - i.e. not doing it - is not exactly designed to bring Uncle Sam onside.

Still, Jonathan Swift's post today on Scott Thomas Beauchamp was an eye-opener.

[goddess of reason] whom to believe

Mademoiselle Maillard

I was preparing another post and came across the story of Notre Dame and how a prostitute supposedly was laid across the altar during the revolution.

First stop was Wiki, which said:

As personification for the goddess, Thérèse Momoro, wife of a printer, was chosen. The goddess was celebrated in Notre Dame de Paris (she was put on the high altar in the Cathedral by the Freemasons).

Now that's rather choice because I wasn't even thinking of having a go at the Freemasons this time. What did strike me though was that the story I knew, of a dancer/prostitute laid across the altar and "extolled as the goddess of reason", now seemed to be a chaste wife of a printer after all.

So I looked around and stumbled on this, from the Catholic Church, which you'd expect to say it:

This is clear from their subsequent action of enthroning on the altar in Mary’s place a nude woman, the Goddess of Reason.”

Also clear was that this required corroboration. I found this:

The municipality of Paris in 1793 decreed that on the 10th of November the worship of Reason should be inaugurated at Notre Dame. "On that day the venerable cathedral was profaned by a series of sacrilegious outrages unparalleled in the history of Christendom. A temple dedicated to 'Philosophy' was erected on a platform in the middle of the choir ... the Goddess of Reason, impersonated by Mademoiselle Maillard, a well known figurante of the opera, took her seat upon a grassy throne in front of the temple; ... and the multitude bowed the knee before her in profound admiration....

Mademoiselle Maillard? And this was confirmed here. But Wiki had said: "Thérèse Momoro." Curiouser and curiouser. Then came this:

…just as they’d done to Notre Dame in Paris, where a prostitute—the Goddess of Reason—was stripped naked and laid across the high altar...

Again, officially Catholic and so difficult to confirm or deny. However, it's possible to piece it together with that Reason they were extolling.

The mob was in a mood of mockery. Mademoiselle Maillard was a popular singer, maybe opera, maybe something more Moulin Rouge, [yes, I know it was built later]. There were accounts of mob drunkenness at the time:

Round the choir stood tables over-loaded with bottles, with sausages, pork- puddings, pastries and other meats. The guests flowed in and out through all doors: whosoever presented himself took part of the good things: children of eight, girls as well as boys, put hand to plate, in sign of Liberty; they drank also of the bottles, and their prompt intoxication created laughter.

... and in that atmosphere, she may well have been prevailed on to at least partially disrobe [half-naked], especially if she herself had imbibed a few.

There's nothing new in such outrages, as Caligula could testify:

Alexandrian Greeks had resented the Jews' exemptions, and demanded that Caligula's statue be emplaced in the Jews' Temple in Jerusalem. Riots broke out in support of this in Alexandria, and Caligula, who was engaged in propagating his own divinity in any event, took over the notion, and commanded that his likeness -- tantamount to an idol -- be put in the Temple.

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere midway but one thing quite clear is that the modern scribes attribute the act to a different woman to those of the older sources and play down the debauchery which is apparent in the last quote.

Of this modern scholarship I am deeply suspicious.

And one last thing - why do people descend into debauchery and mob violence when societal constraints are removed or whenever they're invited to? Why don't they march, en masse, to the national library and have a giant "readathon" about Reason?

What force actually moves them, drives them, possesses them to commit outrages?

Just wondering.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

[blogfocus saturday] you want exotic?

I was looking at Matt Sinclair's take on the blogosphere-musings of various luminaries and wondered what I myself look for in the sphere:

# "Something different" would be first, something exotic maybe. JMB and Steve G are two great sites catering for this and I've left out many friends from this list. A different take on an issue is vital.

# Then human issues such as someone in difficulties sharing it and getting international support is a key function of the sphere.

# The bringing together of North America and Britain is a key mission of mine and I'm absolutely delighted that this is going on - it's also vital.

# The cursed cabals and presidential politics comes next.

# Local politics, I'm afraid, comes a very long last in my book. I'm sorry - I know that the NHS or what Karl Rove said or what Hillary did has ramifications for us all but it's a bit of a yawn on a blog.

So to the blogfocus this evening:

1] Maryam of Marrakesh - just the name sends shivers down my spine - has posted from her corner of the world:

The Marlboro man look-alike, Chris, scanned the ocean for perfect waves. The surf’s voice beckoned to him. The bohemian shell collecting woman, Maryam, managed this: A portrait of an American family at the beach in Morocco.

2] Kizzie is a Sudanese blogger who has only just joined us and that, for a start, is interesting enough. The fact that she can blog also adds that touch of spice:

What happens when a Scottish professor man falls in love with a Sudanese widow. Interracial relationships are unusual. Inter-religious relationships are even more difficult. Let me ask this again. What happens when a Scottish man who believes in God but is not necessarily religious falls in love with a Sudanese woman who is a strong believer in god,religious and also veiled?

3] Lady Macleod is another in the exotic class and this is a small sample:

In the Rabat Medina on my walk home I saw two young boys standing about four or five meters outside an open hannut, and in their hands they each held four thick threads, balancing the two hands to keep the eight lines of thread separate. Now you see the boys and men in the Fez Medina as a matter of course weaving the thread to different thicknesses.

One chap will hook the threads onto an anchor some ten meters away or have someone hold the end, and then swirl the threads to one for the desired thickness. You cannot imagine the array of colors in the shops where you buy thread in the Tailor’s souks.

Alas, most of us are not living in exotic locations but in Scunthorpe, Smallville or Norwood and we have day to day problems which really are quite upsetting.

4] Alice in Blogland is in such a situation. She's just been vandalized by ASBOs and doesn't know what to do. I don't know why I should be so personally angry but I am. Look at the before and after photos of her teepee:

And I will never again be able to safely stick my fingers into my soil because it’s all completely covered with tiny shards of glass. There is also a layer of large and medium sized shards of glass which I spent two hours today picking up without seeming to make much difference.

My goodness that makes me angry.

5] Dayngrzone also has her troubles on the other side of the pond. A party girl and nifty organizer, there are times one simply can't:

As the reunion committee chairperson you'd think I would have been the first one in the door but the decision not to go was a personal one. I never thought for a minute that I wouldn't be partying up and boogying down with my former classmates when I started the reunion planning last year. Since then though much has changed in my life. Specifically losing my mother in April. I just don't feel like partying and all the things that go along with it.

6] We have to have a dose of politics so here is this evening's. Phil A brings this to our attention:

Couples who live together should have the same property rights as married couples if they separate according to advice drawn up by Exeter University academics for the UK Ministry of Justice.

Doesn’t that sound grand (in a deep resonant voice) “Ministry of Justice”… It conjures up images of steely eyed agents bringing UK crime to it’s collective knees doesn’t it?

Back on topic - It seems the Law Commission may be coming up with something similar. The only trouble is the recommendations don’t seem to consider how long a couple must cohabit before the rights apply…

7] Jams O'Donnell goes left field with this piece on the Morbid Moggy:

Oscar, who was adopted as a kitten by staff at the advanced dementia unit of Providence's Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre, has revealed an uncanny tendency to pick which patient is going to die next. According to David Dosa, a geriatrician at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Oscar makes regular rounds, looking in on patients and giving them a quick sniff, before either moving on or settling down for a cuddle.

8] Doctor Vee rounds out the Blogfocus with his thoughts on the Formula 1 industrial espionage scandal between Ferrari and McLaren:

You only need to take a glance at the Ferrari and the McLaren to appreciate that they are not similar cars. The joke normally goes that if you gave all of the F1 cars the same paint job you would be unable to tell them apart. But the chassis of the Ferrari and the McLaren are very noticeably different to each other. Seemingly, nothing on the inside of the cars has rung alarm bells either.

Yes, Ferrari are livid. But this is typical of Ferrari. It is tough to think of a year in the past decade or so where Ferrari have not resorted to the rulebooks and the courts in an attempt to win the championship.

I really, really wanted to put Sicily Scene into the exotic class with her photos of the Sicilian Birthday Party but I've got away with it, I hope by putting her in the nav bar above. Please click on her if you haven't already been over there.

Lettonica, Toasted Bread and Hawkhill Acres were down for inclusion this evening but have raised an issue - they can't really be included if they've gone on holiday or haven't posted for some time, not when others are blogging frantically and not being noticed. They'll be under the hammer some time soon.

So, until Wednesday, including Sally, Geoff and Ellee, au revoir.

[holidays] three months on a volcanic plain

Quite frankly, I loved Iceland when I was there and that's why I blog about it so much. It is so quaint and the construction of some of the Iceland Review articles is so sweet you could eat them. This one is by an American but about something I always wondered - those summer shacks out in the middle of lava fields with people sitting on the verandah.

Do they sit there for months? Now I know. Zoe explains:

I’m currently staying in the countryside at a summer house in Flúdir, south Iceland. The small wooden house is set on a hillside dotted with dozens of similar looking cottages. On a clear day Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjökull, can be seen in the distance but today fluffy white clouds punctuate the sky, dominating the view.

It took my friend and I about an hour and a half to make the drive here but the deafening silence (bar the sound of the golden plover or lóa) of the countryside gives the impression that we could be in the middle of nowhere.

The barbeque is being fired up and the potatoes are ready for roasting. The afternoon sun is blaring down and the humidity more characteristic of the tropics than the Arctic Circle. The temperature in the hotpot is approaching 39ºC.

The popularity of summer houses in Iceland is phenomenal. It seems that every man and his dog own one or are in the process of having one built. And those who don’t have one can easily rent one from their labor union.

The unions in Iceland own summer houses all around the country. Each year, members can apply to rent a summer house for a reduced price for a few days or a week. My friend and I are currently visiting some friends who have rented a place for the week. It cost 50,000 ISK (USD 840, EUR 600) for the week and sleeps 12 (13 if you include the couch) – a bargain in this notoriously expensive country.

Icelandic summer houses are made from wood and, unlike in other Nordic countries where they are painted a bright color such as red, blue or yellow, they are usually left unpainted. Those that are painted are done so in a more subtle color such as brown or dark green.

Union-owned summer houses are usually fully equipped with all the modern day comforts one desires, but probably doesn’t really need, while on holiday, such as a flat screen television and an outdoor hot pot. The summer house I’m staying at now is only a few months old, and as such, somewhat resembles an IKEA showroom full of brand new matching home accessories.

There’s not a lot to do here but sit back and relax. But at least you know you’ve found the right place to do that when the silence makes even Reykjavík feel like a big city.

That last remark is right. Can you imagine sitting on a verandah and all there are are similar houses two hundred metres away? What would you do? Wave to your neighbours? Then home to Reykyavik [below]?

Friday, July 27, 2007

[l'élection] en larmes, en lambeaux


Nicolas Sarkozy est le candidat pour qui les frais de campagne ont été les plus élevés. Ségolène Royal arrive en deuxième position. Nicolas Sarkozy a dépensé exactement 21.038.891euros, selon le chiffre publié aujourd’hui au Journal officiel. La candidate du parti socialiste a, elle, investi 20.712.043 euros.

[coffee] a good start with new clients

Tea - I know how to prepare it and haven't had any complaints from clients - yet.

Coffee - that's another matter.

Too many during the working day are happy enough to serve from the machine or horror of horrors, even instant. They'll say it's the best instant but it's still instant. There's nothing more designed to make a client feel special than a rich [not necessarily strong], slightly frothy coffee, personally prepared.

Even if it's your secretary who prepares it, it's still personally done and that's the key to the whole matter - time and trouble was taken over this small matter - it goes a long way in business. And what you serve the coffee in and with what is just as important.

Forget the piddly little cups unless it's Turkish and forget mugs because they're a little insulting unless their special mugs. You should have a good tray as well because the serving is part of the whole experience.

My friend has three things going for him, apart from his clear expertise in his field - he's a "looker" [and the ladies find that especially nice], a "charmer" [which everyone likes] plus one more thing:

His coffee is the best in the city and yesterday he gave me a Master Class. Here is his advice. It will sound simple and obvious to you but it wasn't to me and you can't skip any point:

1] Buy finely ground coffee to taste - you probably can't get it that fine yourself;

2] The essential is that it be fresh. This is the biggest issue and if you're only an occasional drinker of coffee - the crux of the matter. Perhaps you and your friend can split a 250g pack each time and then you consume at twice the rate;

3] Have a supply of good, fresh "slivki" [cream]. Forget milk now - it must be cream and it must be the best. Having said that, the long life cream is the next best thing and it will give you two months in the refrigerator;

4] Buy little packs of cinnamon;

5] In an empty coffee tin, put in around 200g of coffee from the pack and one or two heaped teaspoons of cinnamon [no more] and thoroughly mix - the cinnamon must run right through the mix;

6] Select two cups which you yourself find ultra-pleasant to drink coffee from, remembering that it's better in a deeper cup, as there is sediment at the bottom of the cup and put one to two teaspoons of the mix in;

7] Wait till the water [from the bought bottles - not mineral water] is off the boil again [30 seconds] and then pour up to a finger below the top;

8] Open the cream pack and top the cups up with half a finger of cream and lightly whisk the top 3cm of the water;

9] Let it sit for a minute to let everything settle down and then serve with the appropriate dark chocs;

10] Seal everything and store the coffee in a cupboard, never in the fridge.

Again, the key is "personally prepared" and making the client feel special, no matter who he/she is.

Here is an entirely different take on the matter.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

[super-duper photo quiz] numero duo

Click photo to zoom. Clues below:

All numbering left to right by row. Needed:

1] Real name and the film which made her famous;

2] Their screen names;

3] Name and the long Vietnam song;

4] Name and first mega-hit;

5] Name and this film;

6] Name and which religion;

7] Name and her Bond film;

8] Name and his Bond film;

9] Group and lead singer;

10] Name and country.

Answers at the end of the link.

[plagiarism] and attribution

Former U.S. senator and current president of the University of Colorado, Hank Brown's firing of University of Colorado Ethnic Studies Professor Ward Churchill followed a number of panels':

"two year's of investigations, to unanimously find a pattern of serious, deliberate and repeated research misconduct that fell below minimum standards of professional integrity. The panels found that Mr. Churchill rewrote history to fit his own theories. Ward Churchill claimed that he was singled out for his free speech."

In an excellent earlier article by Simon Caterson of the Melbourne Age, from November 20, 2004, the thorny question of plagiarism was scrutinized in some detail:

The offence committed by Australia's best-known plagiarist, the former Monash University vice-chancellor David Robinson, was not to borrow heavily from authorities in his work, but to fail to acknowledge every part of his work that was not original.

Robinson was forced to quit his post in 2002 after allegations of misappropriation dating back to the late 1970s and early 1980s were aired in a British newspaper.

I've just discussed this with one of the Russian girls who cleans my flat [another issue] a short time ago and she didn't know the word, even in Russian. When I explained and asked if students did this, knowing full well they did, she smiled and said, "Of course."

The accusation of plagiarism is in itself so rampant that one wonders what constitutes it and what doesn't. Simon Caterson cites:

Recent scandals in the United States involving disgraced journalists, such as former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, involved plagiarism as well as outright fabrication.

Joshua Green recounts [that] Senator Joe Biden was accused by … Governor Michael Dukakis, of plagiarising parts of a speech by the British Labour leader, Neil Kinnock. Further investigation disclosed that Biden had not only misappropriated the speech, but exaggerated his academic qualifications. As a prospective presidential candidate, Biden was finished.

The list goes on and on:

The Times Literary Supplement aired an allegation that Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita was not quite the singular masterpiece it had appeared to be. It was known that Lolita was based on a novella called The Enchanter, but no one would think less of Nabokov for plagiarising his own work.

Enter the scholar Michael Maar, who uncovered a 1916 short story entitled Lolita, by a forgotten German writer named Heinz von Lichberg.


Expatriate art critic Robert Hughes was accused of plagiarising the work of another art critic, Patricia Macdonald. Hughes promptly apologised: "To my embarrassment I seem to have cannibalised it, but it was entirely unconscious."

Welshcakes Limoncello gently raised the question with me about copyright on photos, which is a slightly different and yet in some ways a related issue. So let's get down to it.

I consider plagiarism must be deliberate or at least very, very careless.

Many students here lift whole passages from the internet and download them into their research papers, not mentioning one thing about their sources. You'd be drummed out for that in the west. Quoting anything at all unattributed, unless it is so well known there's no dispute, is another example.

Failing to include footnotes or including a "further reading" list at the end, hoping it will be assumed that all these books were read, is another example.

Where one problem comes in is with, say, Wiki. Everyone uses it. If a photo is posted with no attribution, that's where it came from. Many will say that's not good enough and even if you do link, is that enough?

Or the linking problem itself. Should every utterance by someone else be linked or can it just be mentioned as a hat tip? Or can the person just be mentioned in the passage?

And what about Robert Hughes' "unconscious cannabalism"? How many times have you written something quite witty you vaguely remember but it turns out to be someone else's quote? How many times have you written something all your own, an original thought from your own mind and horror of horrors, it appears someone else said it earlier [nothing new under the sun]?

Food for thought.

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