Saturday, November 11, 2006

Blogging on Blogging

I find the recent rash of debates among my blogger buddies fascinating. My partner tells me that someday oh-so-soon some grad student will write a dissertation on the subject, which will promptly become a book, possible a minor best-seller. I often wonder what previous communications gurus would publish on the subject. What would Neil Postman say on the subject? Or that goliath Marshall McLuhan? Or Chomsky?

On a personal level, I never expected to use this medium and now I am the author or co-author of three blogs, four come the new year (I've recently inked a deal to write a systems-thinking blog).

I started this blog in October 2004, on the suggestion of a friend, to post and receive feedback on creative writing. The main attraction for me was the comments feature. Originally I hoped to receive constructive critique and occasional encouragement from friends, but as the post to comment ratio climbed ever toward infinity I began to appreciate an unanticipated benefit to blogging: its public aspect coupled with its accessibility from my daily workstation provided ample motivation for creating daily entries, which served to keep my writing sharp and constantly express and form my thoughts.

The feedb ack I'd longed for started coming on the heals of controversy. Several months ago I posted a satirical comment at a racist/rightwing extremist blog/cult called E-NOUGH!. The backlash was almost instantaneous. Uninterested in the exchange of ideas or reason, the extremist hancks fired back with personal insults on my own blog, my favourite of which called me a "Canadian fuckwad." One anonymous fundamentalist with way too much time on his hands latched himself leachlike to my blog for several months. Just when I grew accustomed to his lurking presence he detached himself with a hail of paternlistic put-downs, and I was free.

The upside to such attacks is that other, more friendly, virtual lifeforms stumbled my way around that time, most regularly Kaufman and Ultra. Pretty soon I had joined the gang at the ill-fated 5-word-stories, and later, the Tony Clifton Experience.

My experience with the extreme playa hatas at E-nuff, and particularly the anonymous leach who oozed from their cess, really got me thinking about the art and ethics of the blog. One of my considerations is that anyone who gooles my long-term nickname will easily access every snide remark, poor attempt at irony, and bitter political rant I've made on my blog or anyone else's blog from here to eternity.

What humour and politics have in common is that they both change over time. The hilarity of painting a white man's face black and doing a quick softshoe has long since worn thin, yet long ago it was willingly submitted to tape, and now any analyst with a public library card can go check it out. With our lame 21st century ideas and jokes, we bloggers make it even easier for the alien anthropologists to archive our many shortcomings, which would seem to include racism, mysogeny, forgery, impersonatino, and forgoing innocence without proof of guilt. But, as Neil Postman pointed out back in the 20th, the crime that will be our undoing is the crime of mass entertainment, which reminds me that whatever my motives for blogging, it is ultimately a wal to kill time. Precious yet endless time.

That is why it fascinates me that just when the discussion gets serious, some of us want to stumble out gracelessly. Not that I blame them. On the contrary, when things got personal with the total strangers at e-nuff, I backed down. I love a good debated and the more different my adversary's point of view, the more interesting the discussion, IF it remains respectful. But as soon as it enters the realm of juvenile personal insults, what I have to gain becomes outmassed by what I have to lose from the discussion, even in a relatively anonymous format. As namby-pamby as it may sound, insults can hurt even if the verbal assassin is unseen. In a very real way, the anonymous attackers are the worst kind because they refuse to contextualize themselves, to make clear their own biases, sources of information, or their own experiences.

Having said that, what I like about blogging is one of its original drawing points for me: its honesty. If I write crap you can say so more freely than, say, my wife, who would have to suffer my most insufferable pouting for such a comment. Besides comments, blog posts are in some ways more honest than real life. When the read the terse venom of Mob, for example, I can't imagine he could be so brutally honest in person.

But as the circle eclipses itself, I come back to Postman: why with all our honest critiques are we so reticent to get serious, to move beyond personal philosophies and into the realm of politics, human rights, social justice, health, the sustainability of our big-brained short-sighted self-interested species? And why is it that when we do, it takes the shape of self-righteous rants or personal attacks, and not respectful dialogue?

Please discuss. Really discuss.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pictures of the Past

1. Loads more pictures from Russia up at

2. My mother sent me a great email, from which I quote:

Grandma brought a copy of a letter found at the Dublin House that was written by your GreatGrandmother Nellie's father (the sea captain) welcoming your greatgrandfather (grandpa's father) into the family and saying his daughter, Nellie, had made a good choice in the man she wanted to marry. It was neat to read - written in dec 1914, from Panama - his ship was the first sailing ship to pass thru the Panama Canal.

My father's side of the family goes back more than 400 years in Nova Scotia, which is a very long time by European-Canadian standards. In that amount of time there are bound to be some not so proud moments, like taking over Acadian lands after forcing them out. But, being descended from a sea captain who sailed the first ship through Panama, that's kinda cool. I also read a story last Christmas about a misadventure he had with his ship, a technological malfunction which led him and his crew and passengers to be stranded at sea for several days with nothing but one potato to split 8 ways. Perhaps that's where I get my love of travel, my bad luck with technology, and my tendency to come away with a great story.


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