Though blogs (a contraction for "web-logs") have been around for a few years, it is only in the last year or two that they have begun to predominate as the favored medium of expression in the ever-burgeoning cybernetic universe. The blog is the bastard child of the conventional Web site and the chat room, blending the focus of the former with the masquerade party of the latter. Add a dash of group therapy and a jigger of trick or treat, and you've got it. I hate to drag Aristotle into this, but his established duopoly -- that art must both amuse and instruct -- definitely holds as a standard by which to measure blogs.
The art is interactive, of course. There's a session leader of sorts, the blogmeister, and a rotating stable of respondents -- some familiar, some dropping in out of nowhere on a given day, others part of an organized campaign to influence opinion (the Internet equivalent of the letter-writing campaign). Many of all types pretend to be somebody they're not -- a circumstance abetted by the custom of Internet-specific monikers.
One of the charms of the Internet, of course -- and a chief reason why the personal computer is achieving such an overriding importance in daily life these days -- is that the form absorbs and reconfigures all the flotsam and jissom of pre-existing aesthetics. Oh yes, the preceding pun was very much intended; not only is porn, both sought and unsolicited, a staple of the cybernetic universe, but there exists a site (www.thebestporn.com) which comprehensively sifts through it all, assigns numerical ratings to the thousands upon thousands of sites, classifies them according to various criteria, and provides thoughty reviews of each -- part Pauline Kael, part Consumer Reports -- from a crew of what appear to be preppy young adults of both, er, all genders. (These, of course, are probably ringers; see above under "masquerade party.")
In any case, all the genres you're used to -- TV, movies, newspapers, novels, stereo hi-fi, etc., etc. -- can be had, sometimes all at once, via Internet Web sites, and an astonishing amount of this amalgam is carried forth in the rapidly mushrooming world of the blogs, which now number -- according to a recent calculation cited by Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden -- around 17 million.
That being the case, I'll restrict myself to citing only two brief Best-Of blog lists -- one local, one national -- that best provide the right combination of entertainment, authority, and interactiveness that, IMHO, a good blog should have. (If you have to ask what "IMHO" means, you're not ready for this list, BTW.) Since the Flyer has an established hard-news focus and since my usual bailiwick is politics, and since (further) politics and public/social issues tend to predominate in blogs qua blogs, the lists will have that bias too. There are so many good ones that it tears me up to leave any out, but that will just have to be.
Best Local Blogs
1. The Flypaper Theory (thepeskyfly.blogspot.com). This one ranks high on my personal list, and not just because, in the proprietor's occasional absence, I'm one member (and, by all odds, the least prolific) of a group that fills in for him -- "him" being the Flyer's Chris Davis, a renaissance man if there ever was one -- wit, wag, weighty thinker, all at once. (And occasional bomb-thrower, even if that term doesn't alliterate.) TFP is subtitled "Where It's All Effing Politics/And It's All Effing Personal." Graphics are good, sometimes wonderful, there's a nice set of archives, easily accessed, and on a good day, there are multiple posts, all on point. Leftward tending? Yeah, buddy!
2. Half-Bakered (halfbakered.blogspot.com). This one, by an industriously quirky, self-described "libertarian" named Mike Hollihan, tends to the right side of the spectrum -- though "Mr. Mike" (as the proprietor also refers to himself) has been known to wage war on other self-professed "conservatives" (e.g., radio talker Mike Fleming, whom he abhors, for reasons never quite explained). Mainly, though, Mike is full-time on the trail of P.C. liberals (and no, I don't mean progressives who own laptops). His misreadings are as frequent as his right guesses -- something true of any wild swinger and an explanation of sorts for the name of this blog (don't ask). A bonus: He does long takes on the local media -- interesting even when they are misguided.
3. Fishkite (fishkite.com). Operated by one Mick Wright, this "blog between church and state" is another conservative-oriented blog, but it eschews propaganda in favor of exploring the seams and testing its hypotheses (come to think of it, this describes Hollihan too, and maybe that's why he's contemptuous of Fleming). Fishkite seems to make a real effort to round up fresh material, whether or not it corresponds with some pre-ordained point of view.
4. Smart City Memphis (smartcitymemphis.blogspot.com). Operated by all-purpose urbanism junkie Carol Coletta, this site scours the landscape for ideas and material relevant to the future of the local environs we all inhabit and takes sides with adroit little essays that educate while they are stimulating. Sample titles: "Let's Not Be Dense About Density," "The City's Budget Crisis Calls for Honest Answers," "Current Policies for Tax Freezes Defy Logic." If that looks too wonky, you just have to go there and see for yourself. Coletta (aided and abetted, it would appear, by former Shelby County executive Tom Jones) doesn't shy away from radical notions -- like sending The Pyramid into Kingdom Come.
5. Are we here already? Fifth on the list, with at least 20 more really good ones left to enumerate? It's kinda like that "I'd like to thank ..." time on the Academy Awards show. Okay, here are several good local ones (google the titles and find the URLs yourself), and I'm still leaving out a lot of winners! (I'll make it up to you guys in references down the line.) The (very partial) list: LeftWingCracker; Dark Bilious Vapors; The Polar Donkey; Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This. River City Mud Company and Darrell Philllips' blog are now defunct, unfortunately, and Thaddeus Mathews', though it occasionally is a useful tip sheet, is so close to the lip of legal action that you might get process-served just reading it.
Best National Blogs
Space allows me only the briefest run-through: Talking Points Memo (talkingpointsmemo.com). Josh Marshall is the dean of the progressive national blog, its New York Times and Washington Post rolled together. Comprehensive and factual. For both better and worse, he tends to stick with a theme until it has been fully dealt with.
Others in the same ballpark: The Daily Kos (dailykos.com); Eschaton (atrios.blogspot.com); Crooks and Liars (crooksandliars.com), a wonderful source for good video links; The Booman Tribune (boomantribune.com), relatively new and comprehensive.
Honorable Mention (including some sites that aren't, technically speaking, blogs): The Drudge Report (drudgereport.com), still crazy after all these years, and yes, this guy is a right-wing grunt and highly biased in what he posts, but his links are superb; Technorati (technorati.com) and Feedster (feedster.com), both blog-finding sites; The Raw Story (therawstory.com); and ... oh hell, I thank Mom, Pop, and all members of the academy. Slate's worth a read; so is Salon, though that's partially subscription, and subscription sites are another issue. Literally.