Will the devil have a blogue?

Link: Bloggers Blog: Anna Wintour Hates the Word Blog.

Vogue is going to start blogs but, in common with many other people (me included), Anna Wintour does not like the term "blog". Most of the world (me included) can’t think of anything better, makes occasional attempts to use the nicer "weblog" but usually forgets, and moves on. Not Vogue — they are trying to think of an elegant variation. "Blogue" has been suggested. (See more at the link above.)

History of the month

There are some lovely choices this month at the History Bookshop. They are offering 30 per cent off  Nick Foulkes’  Dancing into Battle, which "focuses on the mad social whirl that was the British aristocracy in Brussels in the months before Waterloo, and whether you have an interest in military history, the social history of the time, or just want a very enjoyable historical read it’s highly recommended." Lots of books, articles, themes on the site, as well as a pretty decent offer on BBC History Magazine (recently subscribed to and recommended by the inhabitants of Petrona Towers) and the "pick a year" feature, where you enter the year of your choice (AD or the thankfully politically incorrect BC) to see what went on in the world — this was quite popular with some Petrona visitors when I posted about it last month.

Highlights of The Week

Good week for: Ian Smith,a council lighting engineer, who has received £91,000 pay in the past year despite spending almost all of it on sick leave. Mr Smith has been paid his £71,000 salary plus various bonuses, including £5,000 for "overtime". Birmingham City Council has admitted that some of its pay structures are " not fit for purpose". [I don’t know what a council lighting engineer does, but if it is climbing up lampposts to replace bulbs, then clearly I am in the wrong profession.]

It must be true, I read it in the tabloids 1: Romanian witches are taking English lessons in preparation for joining the EU. Ioana Sidonia, a "celebrity" white witch, says her fellow sorceresses are anticipating a stampede of British clients from January 2007. "Until now the only English I could speak were [sic] the names of different whiskies. I thought I should expand my vocabulary."

IMBTIRIITT2: Osama bin Laden’s former cave hideout is to be converted into a £5.3 million tourist resort. Hotels and restaurants are under construction in Tora Bora, the mountainous area of Afghanistan that was home to the world’s most wanted terrorist. "It’s 100 per cent safe", says local governor Gul Agha Sherazi. "It was known as a picnic spot long before anyone had heard of Osama bin Laden."

Wit&Wisdom: "What at first was plunder assumed the softer name of revenue." Tom Paine.

"I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. And for those who do like country music, denigrate means "put down"." Bob Newhart.

"Reality is just a crutch for people who can’t deal with drugs." Robin Williams.

"In England we never mean entirely what we say. Do I mean that? Not entirely." Alan Bennett.

"Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain." Lily Tomlin.

Television: Big Brother comes to Baghdad.  While most of Iraq is "wracked by unrelenting sectarian violence", a hit reality TV programme has shown that the country’s ethnically diverse citizens can still live side by side in peace and harmony. In Beit Beut (or Playing House), Sunnis, Shias, Kurds and Christians live and work together under one roof……reality TV shows such as Beit Beut are proving hugely popular as viewers choose not to venture outdoors. One of the most successful new programmes is Construction Contract, which features Iraqis rebuilding their homes after the devastation of the war.

Ice-cream bells in the sky

The 1 July issue of the UK Week doesn’t contain the superb choice items that feature in some issues. But some smiles, I hope. Here are a few of my favourites:

It must be true, I read it in the tabloids. Carly O’Brien always wanted a spectacular wedding dress and last weekend she got it: a frock so vast it took 20 people an hour and a half to push her through the church door and up the aisle. The £25,000 dress had 30 layers covered in 3,000 crystals, weighed 25 stone and was 8 feet wide, leaving no room for her father, a farmer, to accompany her up the aisle. Carly, 16, spent nine and a half hours getting into the dress, and was so exhausted by the end of the service that she had to be carried out by the groom, 17 year old Michael Coffey, together with 14 relatives. "She couldn’t walk in the dress", said a guest, "but it was well worth it".

[keywords: £25,000, farmer, 16].

After that, I need an antidote: Pick of the week’s gossip. Billie Piper… split up with Chris Evans, whose media interests are said to be worth £30 million, two years ago, but they have remained devoted friends, and are waiting for a no-fault divorce so neither has to blame the other. "We didn’t want to accuse each other of being arseholes" she told the Radio Times. "I’m not taking a penny from him. I think that’s disgusting."

[Ms Piper is a rich and successful actress and singer, but I appreciate her sentiment.]

Finally, It wasn’t all bad. Residents of Stratford-upon-Avon awoke to a mysterious dawn chorus last Sunday, as a flotilla of hot-air balloons serenaded them with music and literature. The Sky Orchestra, commissioned by the RSC, played dream-like music from speakers in seven balloons, while Patrick Stewart and Janet Suzman read from The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream."I must say that my first thought was an ice-cream van", said resident Mary Henderson. "But then I realised it was coming from the sky. It was a wonderful start to the day."

[I have never forgotten Janet Suzman’s Clytemnestra, with her enthusiasm for dispatching perceived enemies, in the RSC’s magnificent "The Greeks", years ago, which I saw in my former life. A long way from love poetry in the heavens. As Chrissie Hynde is currently singing on our CD (good ceiling-painting music for the MP) "some things change, some stay the same".]

Pick of the Week


I can’t post a polygon puzzle at the moment as the Times search engine/archive is down, though I’ll try later if Switzerland v Ukraine (?) goes on for long enough. In the meantime, with apologies to Debra Hamel, I thought I would introduce a new feature. Debra often posts about the Week magazine, seemingly a US edition. I’ve been a subscriber since the Week first launched in the UK in 1995 — this was pre-blogging and pre-me getting an Internet connection at home, and I loved (and still do) the mixture of the informed and the bizarre. So with virtual permission from Debra, I thought I’d share with you a couple of items each week (if I remember and get time to read it— those weeks seem to come round quicker all the time).

24 June. Good week for The Moon, which has become a property hotspot. Cornish estate agents Sue and Francis Williams have sold £4 million worth of land on the moon, exploiting a loophole in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (;-) ) which failed to prevent private individuals laying claim to celestial land. Since 2000, more than three million plots on the Moon have been sold, to buyers including George W. Bush, William Shatner and Carrie Fisher.

Bad week for Oxford police, as local prostitutes have started riding bicycles in order to blend in. Instead of loitering on street corners, they now pedal about trying to look like students.

"It must be true, I read it in the tabloids" column. A 70-year-old shoplifter who tried to evade capture by biting a policeman was arrested after leaving his dentures at home. Gustav Braunschweig sank his gums into the officer’s arm — but to no effect. "He had forgotten to put his false teeth in", said a police spokesman, "so no harm was done".

Magazines and blogs

Is a blog a magazine? When the web started, online magazines were facsimiles of their print versions. Then “online-only” magazines started up, which looked and read pretty much like print magazines. Then came more and more functionality and the two formats diverged.

I was reminded of this by an article called “Evolution of the online species – print periodicals versus online periodicals” which I read online (;-) ) in a publication called Brandweek, which in its turn exists on a giant aggregate site called Look Smart Find Articles. Where to look for what you need TM – a website that says it contains 10 million articles.

This site is pretty good, actually – it is a searchable collection of magazines on any topic, including various online tools such as bookmarking on the web and one-click “print and share” format. I recommend a look at it next time you have a spare 20 years.

To return to the subject in hand, is a blog a magazine? I think not. These days, the online magazine has evolved to use the networking capabilities of the web. The classic blog features analysis of (mainly) and links to what’s on the Internet, with various degrees of analysis or personal thoughts. An online magazine is struggling with the web’s “instantness” – surfers probably don’t want to read a 4000-word article online, most of them would print it out to read later (as I’ve done with the Economist’s recent New Media supplement, for example, not that I’ve got around to reading it yet).

As J. C. Hertz, the author of the Brandweek article linked to several yards above, says: “How do you design a media product for networked information space? What exactly are the genetic markers of a successful online magazine?” His (her?) answer is that the online magazine has to be about social shared experience – outward, not inward, looking. Gossip is the key, apparently, or humour, or information about commercial transactions. Consumer Reports, says Hertz, is a better online than print product because it is searchable and because its ratings are updated as new models come onto the market.

What of blogs, though? In an article in Opinion Journal (part of the WSJ) sent to me by Dave Lull, Daniel Henningner discusses the often-quoted statistics about the number of blogs out there—35.5 million a month tracked by Technorati, 75,000 new blogs a day, etc etc. (What should be measured is not total number of blogs, but number of “active” blogs – those that have been alive for more than x months and on which postings are made every y days – there are far, far fewer of these “sustained” blogs.)

Henninger goes on to highlight a "Blogs Trend Survey" of last year, in which America Online reported that only 8% blog to "expose political information" and 50% of bloggers consider what they are doing to be therapy. He has a go at blogs in the rest of the article, mainly because some of them are vulgar and tend to swarm hysterically over some current scandal, and he gives as an example of a “therapy” blog one written by someone who turned out to be a cannibal. I’m not going to go on about that as his article has been, inevitably, vilified and chewed over by the bloggers.

But to me it is interesting that so many people (according to America Online) regard blogs as primarily vehicles for personal expression. Very different from online magazines.

skint writer said…

Having only recently started a blog, I am still trying to figure it all out. It seems to me that blogging is still in its very early stages as a medium, that’s why there is so much discussion about blogs and blogging on blogs. By the way, I’m editing this in a recent version of Word and its spellchecker hasn’t got a clue what blogs or blogging are.

Blogs are not magazines but they don’t know what they are yet. I expect that eventually some sort of hierarchy will develop, with those that are deemed good (according to some set of rules that is still developing itself) appearing at the top, like the selection of magazines that make it to the newsagents’ shelves, and others at the bottom, like the spam leaflets that get shoved through your letterbox.

Blogs are much more than magazines but can appear in magazine-like forms as well as a myriad of other manifestations.

Bloody ‘ell, this discussion could go on forever . . . there’s a couple of dissertations could emanate from this post alone

8:30 AM

Maxine said…

Too right about Word spellchecker, skint, but at least it is marginally better than Blogger’s in that it learns for more than the posting you are currently working on!

The Word for Blogger does not seem to let you add in html links live to the blog posting either, but that could be just me.

I’ve just written a post summarising the recent Economist survey that contains a quite nice article about the "blog" — would be useful for the dissertation!

6:31 PM

Interlude on stereotypes

Reel fanatic reviews Thank You For Smoking, which has not yet made it to the UK so far as I know (and is not on Amazon UK’s DVD section). The movie sounds as if it is funny at the level I would like, i.e. not aimed at 15 year olds and not being heavy handed. Added to that, Maria Bello and Rob Lowe are in it. In fact, I might even add the book, by Christopher Buckley, into my shopping basket. Amazon keeps telling me I should, in any event — even though Reel Fanatic links to a blog entry by a couple of disillusioned former fans who didn’t like Mr Buckley’s talk/signing. And I hate smoking.

While on the topic of not being politically correct, Sara Gran — on her own blog this time rather than being interviewed on someone else’s — has joined the many other women-authored blogs in the USA indulging in the pastime of Caitlin Flannigan-bashing. As far as I can make out, CF is one of those women who comes along every few years and tells other women to spend their lives being subservient to men rather than being independent. When I was younger I used to be incensed by this kind of person. Then I learned to ignore them. These days I have a sneaky, shameful hankering not to have to earn my own crust if someone would do it for me (they aren’t lining up). But I guess I’d then have to learn about things like make-up, how to do my nails, and accessories, which does not seem worth the effort. (;- ) )

Sara Gran quickly nails the fundamental weakness of CF’s argument of "telling other women not to work and to raise their kids themselves… as she’s writing books and a nanny is watching her kids." She also makes the point made by others that CF is being hired by male magazine editors to write her material. She says that this misogynistic impulse reflects "the world I grew up in; one where women were expected be accessories to the artist, never the artist themselves". This is the world I grew up in, too.

But Sarah doesn’t end at this usual point. Instead, she says: " Fine, yeah, cry me a river: I had more or less every other advantage a person could possibly have otherwise, so let’s not feel to bad about that. But not everyone has it as easy as me. Some people need all the encouragement they can get in life, and they might look to these very mainstream publications to help with that."

This is just so right. I didn’t have "every other advantage" when I grew up, but I had the crucial ones of a system sufficiently enlightened to provide me with opportunity — a good education, leading to a good job for which I use my brain, and which enables me to support myself and my family. These days, it is not so easy. We haven’t yet got to the situation of the young post-revolutionary workers described by Pasternak in Dr Zhivago, but I concur with Sara when she ends her post with a comment about the way in which mainstream media perceives women by hiring a writer like Caitlin F: "Maybe the solution is to stop pretending that these are general-interest publications, and for women to make their own magazines–but isn’t that awfully third-grade? It just seems like we should all be past this now, and I don’t understand why we’re not. "

In the UK, "laddish" magazines sell strongly compared with "meterosexual" offers — the new man either doesn’t exist in enough quantities to keep a magazine afloat, or he doesn’t want to be seen buying it. Show me a mainstream magazine branded "for women" which is not full of diets, handbags and Kate Moss — in the UK there are none. I think that the answer is not to buy magazines aimed at men if you’re a man or women if you’re a woman, but stick to "topics" (current events, science, movies and so on). Otherwise, you just get gender stereotypes reinforced, and end up actually wanting a new handbag every week. Though where all this handbag obsession comes from, and where Caitlin Flannigan fits into all this, confuses me too.

Maybe a zine-blog combination could develop from a round-up concept, such as Natalie Bennett’s "Friday Femmes Fatales" , now up to no. 53.

Minx said…

"Accessories to the artist"
Hmm, I wonder….

3:52 PM

Maxine said…

Yes, I rather liked that phrase too 😉

But what do you think about the magazine idea?

6:25 PM

Minx said…

I think that many women are starving for something other than the latest, fashionable way to spend a few quid or avoiding the marmite and sprouts diet from Dr Ipso Notso Fatso. But are these types of women already seeking other outlets? I do!
But it has to be said that I will still pick up the odd plop to read on a journey.
If it ever got off the ground you could count me in as a contributor and my first title would be- WOMEN AND THEIR COMFY OLD HANDBAGS!

8:20 PM

Maxine said…

Ok, you’re on!
But I think you are probably right — in terms of magazines I read my own of course 😉 (Nature), Publisher’s weekly, Bookseller, The Week — all weekly — and one or two others (eg Waterstones does a good monthly one which I always enjoy). That’s more than enough, given the number of books there are to read, not to mention those Sudokus popping up everywhere.

7:04 PM

Zine archive at Barnard

One of the many fascinating links sent to me by Dave Lull is to a New York Times article about "zines". Dave is an intuitive person who has a knack of sending me links to articles that seem "just right for me", in this case, evoking memories I had forgotten I had.

"Zines" are self-published personal, political and artistic writings. But they aren’t electronic, they are what is charmingly called "analogue", i.e. objects written on paper. They most emphatically are not blogs, instant or otherwise interactive (though they can feature letters from readers).

The NYT article is about a librarian at Barnard College who has made a scholarly online catalogue of these zines — searchable, with instructions at the link. Because the zines are do-it-yourself, counter-cultural and anti-commercial, they tend not to be archived or otherwise collected and preserved. For similar reasons, they tend to be highly personal and individual (the NYT piece lists some titles). The Barnard librarian, Jenna Freedman, produces her own zine (Lower East Side Librarian) and is part of a group of radical, militant librarians called Radical Reference, and does great work in preserving this art-form (if that is the correct description). She looks very nice from the picture of her in the Times piece, and the photograph of part of the zine archive in a link within that article, shot through with pink bindings, definitely beckons.

Barnard’s zine archive is of titles "primarily in the area of women’s studies, featuring personal and political publications on activism, anarchism, body image, feminism, gender, parenting, queer community, riot grrrl, sexual assault, and other topics. They are created by women of color and NYC and other urban women. The term "woman" applies to anyone who self-identifies as such."

What’s the point of zines? One author writes: "I’m not even trying to be dramatic, but to the world at large, I am a freak. My voice is downplayed, ignored and/or made into a joke in the mass of verbal and physical disapproval that bombards me every day when I leave the safety of my house or make the stupid decision to read a newspaper, magazine or turn the television on. When I am out of my element, I am told that my very existence is wrong or problematic because I am a fat, queer, mentally ill, politically radical woman with very little money and little to no regard for beauty standards and so on and so forth. But you know what? I am so NOT fucking SORRY. As long as myself and others are disrespected, invalidated, unsafe and ignored by the masses, my experiences, ideas and opinions need to be heard and I will keep on talking this shit and it is not going to be pretty. Besides, how else are these stories going to be documented? " I don’t know if I know just how she feels, but sure I feel as if I do.

I had written quite a lot more about this, but when I tried to publish the posting, unbeknownst to me, Blogger had cut out and I lost it from the middle of the above quote. I’ll try to re-create the train of thought in the rest: I wrote that these articles remind me of my childhood when my sisters and I obsessively made "zines" in school holidays and weekends (though we didn’t call them that, of course). These objects were home-made, pure self-expression, unfettered by what anyone else thought outside our own imaginations. They were grand in concept but less so in reality as the sheer effort involved in filling eight pages made from a large folded-up piece of paper became painfully apparent once we had started. Yet we were never daunted — next opportunity, we were starting again. My childhood life must be littered with these half-completed creations.

What happens to that purity of expression? It fades out, as the child gets older, more homework, hormones hit, adults start focusing the child on "career" and so on — most people modulate their creative impulses into something more tempered, more suited to "life skills". Though not, perhaps, in the case of the Bronte sisters and brother, with their feverish creation of little home-made books covered in tiny writing.

Zines can exist only if they have very small circulations, manageable by the author concerned. If the print run gets large enough to require more people, then other interests come into play — commercial, advertisers — and this can affect content. The zine stops being a zine.

Here is an excerpt from the Barnard archive: Of & about Letters: Love-letters & Passed Notes & Everyday Declarations of Friendship. I just need now to get there to read some of them — to see for myself this highly personalised "outsider art".

Women and the publishing business

Two great posts from two excellent blogs.

Lynne Scanlon, self-proclaimed wicked witch of publishing, describes her experiences at a breakfast meeting of the Harvard Business School at the Harvard Club in New York. Wonderful stuff, I can imagine just how she felt. This is perfect blogging — apt and informed analysis of the publishing industry conveyed by a clever turn of phrase, and humorous yet undaunted personal reactions.

Jenny D, on Light Reading, draws attention to a New York magazine feature called Brainy Young Things, in a post entitled White Guys are Still in Charge . The NY magazine features four relatively new male editors of "serious magazines", one of whom, the editor of Harper’s, is quoted as saying: “We’re all sort of the anti-blogs,” …..“And I think we will eventually triumph over the blogs!” The article points out that all four magazines lose money. As pointed out in the comments to Jenny D’s posting, the accompanying "death mask" photo of the four editors, whether intentionally or accidentally looking that way, says it all.

Lynne W. Scanlon said…

Maxine, thank you so much for dropping by my blog. Your comments here–and there–made my day, and it is only 6:34 a.m. Good morning to you!

10:39 AM

Maxine said…

Good afternoon to you, Lynne, and thank you for brightening my day!

5:19 PM

Flickr on cover of Newsweek

Niall Kennedy has noted that Flickr is on the cover of this week’s (3 April) Newsweek. The full article is available online, covering the success of startups like Flickr and MySpace. I love Niall’s favourite quote from the piece:

"The Living Web means that there may be plenty of opportunities to become the next Flickr, and hundreds of start-ups are trying to do just that. At Tim O’Reilly’s recent Emerging Technology Conference, it seemed that 1,200 people had signed on to some collectively generated business plan: starting a company in a spare bedroom, outsourcing the programming to some Indian company they found on the Web, getting content from users and then having users organize the content by tagging, pocketing money from Google ads placed on the Web site and, finally, selling the company to Yahoo. (Bad news: Yahoo’s Horowitz admits, "We can’t buy everyone.")"

Thank you, Niall.