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October 27th, 2003:

On being a top blogger

Halley Suitt has brought up an issue that’s come up in the past: is there gender bias in the blog world? Says she:

This week as we looked into the Perseus Study, which David Weinberger linked to in his excellent post “When Blogs Get Really Popular” to find out that “56% of hosted blogs” are created by women.

Connect that with Dana Blankenhorn’s interesting post on Corante called Everybody Wants To Rule The World and his assessment that the most striking thing one might notice when reading Blogstreet’s 100 Most Influential Blogs is how many are about politics … call me crazy, but isn’t the MOST STRIKING THING rather that in a new technology dominated by women so few women are in the list? This would be like reading a list of the Most Influential Civil Rights Leaders and not having any African Americans in the top 100. Imagine a list that read “Lyndon Johnson, Bob Dylan, Robert Kennedy, Joan Baez,” and on and on. Martin Luther who?

Halley undercounted the number of female-written or -cowritten blogs (she guessed three; it’s more like 20) in the Top 100 list, a point that was noted later on. She goes on to ask a great question:

Which, of course, gets us to the definition of “influential” and Blogstreet’s algorithm for determining who is influential. They say it is based on who blogrolls whom. I will email them today to ask about this in greater detail. If you look at some of the most influential blogger’s blogrolls, they all have women listed. Many have the same women listed — so how is it that none of these women are on the Top 100 list? Women like Shelley Powers, Virginia Postrel, Mena Trott, GnomeGirl Cheyenne, Jeneane Sessum, Elaine Kalily, Asparagirl, Esther Dyson, Karlin Lillington, Elizabeth Spiers, Reverse Cowgirl, Denise Howell, Moxie, Betsy Devine, Xeni, Susan Mernit, Jennifer Balderama, Amy Wohl, Jenny (Shifted Library) Levine, Elizabeth Lane Lawley. I am throwing this list up in no particular order — actually referring to the top 5 male blogger’s blogrolls. [If I forgot you, remind me.]

It’s clear that the top male bloggers are not denying women their blogroll inks, for the most part. It’s clear that the top male bloggers take every chance to list women bloggers and engage the topics that they raise. These men are too smart not to take us seriously. We are their colleagues, friends, girlfriends, sisters, bosses, moms, daughters. They want the best for us. Guys, feel free to blogroll us anytime.

Still we are almost inviisble and I want to know why. What are we doing wrong? Are we not publishing our blogs in RSS? Are we not promoting ourselves enough? Are we not expressing ourselves clearly? Our footprint is illegible, although our actual influence is not inconsequential. If you take a look at the list of women above, there are a few pioneers listed who could actually be considered founding fathers … whoops, I mean, founding mothers, no, … well you get the idea.

As it happens, Ginger does a swell job addressing these queries in the comments here. I have a couple of additional thoughts.

First, as far as I can tell, being among the Top 100 Most Influential Blogs is like being one of the top prizewinners on the Professional Bowlers’ Tour, without the money and glamour. It’s a big deal to a very small audience, and meaningless to everyone else. For what it’s worth, I get something like one or two referrals a month from that Top 100 list, according to my Sitemeter stats, so even within this small audience, it has little practical effect beyond a button on my sidebar and some egoboo.

Second, despite Ginger’s skepticism about the “women blog personally and men blog politically” meme, all I can say is that counting expats and at least one blog that hasn’t updated since February, there are 14 blogs among the 91 Texas political blogs that I know of which are at least co-written by women. Given Ginger’s accurate observations about how Blogstreet compiles its list, if this ratio is representative (which of course it doesn’t have to be), it goes a long way towards explaining the discrepancy.

Compare this, by the way, to the list of all Houston bloggers, a group that’s overwhelmingly nonpolitical. Just click on a few at random – they’re mostly written by women. For sure, turnout at the various get-togethers we have are usually majority female. I don’t see a single blog in the Blogstreet list that’s in the personal-diary style that most of the H-Town Blogs are.

I don’t know what Blogstreet’s algorithm is, and I don’t know if being a “most influential” blog is something anyone should worry about. I do know that every time this issue comes up, a bunch of interesting and new-to-me blogs written by women get publicized here and there. That’s reason enough to be happy to see it again.

(Link to Halley’s post via Joanne McNeil.)

Help wanted

This is somewhat unusual, but I’m willing to try this out once and see what happens. I received the following email from a reader:

Do you know who (attorneys) are all involved beyond the ones you listed in your June 27 piece?

Major curiosity here that has implications with a legal hearing I am having in the near future. My attorney dumped my case to supposedly go to work on Dan’s…Won’t give his name as the above mentioned hearing is one of those “closed” ones that the legal system blinds us all to their machinisms.

It would be a GREAT help to know if in fact this individual did actually go to work on Dan’s team.

The post to which this reader refers has to do with the legal travails of our former Attorney General, Dan Morales. If anyone reading this has any knowledge about who is currently on Morales’ legal team and is willing/able to share it, please drop me a note at kuff-at-offthekuff-dot-com, and I will pass it along. Thanks!

It’s good to be rich

It’s been said that Bambi was the best piece of anti-hunting propaganda ever produced. From this description of two new reality-based TV shows, there are some new contenders for the title of best anti-wealth propaganda out there.

Television’s embarrassment of rich kids begins this week on cable’s two most trend-setting channels. HBO presents the documentary Born Rich at 9 tonight, followed Tuesday by MTV’s Rich Girls at 9:30 p.m.

As you might guess, Rich Girls is the more lighthearted, if less entertaining, of the two. It replaces the courageously stupid adventures of marginal pop idols with the materialistic odysseys of Tommy Hilfiger’s teenage daughter Ally and her best friend, Jaime Gleicher.

How Rich Girls and Born Rich will strike the average viewer just scraping by, though, is hard to say. If you have any element of class consciousness in you, enjoying these socialites can be difficult.


Go ahead, nod in wistful appreciation as Gleicher declares, “Shopping is a drug. It’s my drug.” Force a giggle as Jaime laments being used by false friends while sharing a lollipop with her teacup Maltese, Star. But just in case we begin to think them shallow, spoiled brats, Ally says: “Just because we’re rich doesn’t mean we’re not good people.”

Since we don’t see the girls hammering any nails into a Habitat for Humanity home, we’ll just have to take her at her word.

On the flip side, the kids in Born Rich are brutal in their honesty, but in a way you kind of appreciate, like the whole “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it” line.

[Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie] Johnson directed the film as part of his 21st-birthday quest to figure out what he called “the voodoo of inherited wealth.” To help, he called upon moneyed pals such as Georgianna Bloomberg, S.I. Newhouse IV, Ivanka Trump and Josiah Hornblower, heir to the Vanderbilt and Whitney fortunes, all sources of forthright interviews about the taboo subject of wealth.

“I live in a country that everyone wants to believe is a meritocracy,” he says as the documentary opens on a Gatsbyesque celebration overflowing with champagne. “We want to think that everyone earns what they have. I guess if it makes you feel better, keep telling yourself that.”

Blunt but refreshingly honest. The same can’t be said of most his subjects; the unabashedly snobbish statements of model, socialite and all-around jerk Cody Franchetti, who feels “no moral obligation for anyone,” might make the average kindhearted person green with illness, not envy.

I’m imaginging a campaign ad showing some of these kids with captions like “George Bush wants to give these people a tax cut. He thinks giving them a tax cut will help you get a job. Democrats think the best way to help the average American is to actually help the average American. Heirs and heiresses don’t need any more help.” I bet that would have an effect. I’m currently HBO-disabled, since we’re between Sopranos seasons, so I won’t be able to see if director Johnson softens the impact on some of his buddies, but if I were to place a wager, I’d say the Democrats should be prepared to inquire about licensing the rights to this sucker.

Bringing the suburbs into town

An interesting article from Sunday about the battles, philosophical and otherwise, between residents in Midtown, which is just south of downtown Houston, and developers. Midtown is one of the few places now where you can see real mixed-use development. With its close proximity to downtown, and with the free downtown shuttle that passes through, it’s an attractive place for people who don’t want a long commute to live.

IAN Rosenberg watches every move in Midtown. A passionate advocate of urban living, he has been pleased with some of the neighborhood’s development.

But the sight of a bulldozer at Gray and Bagby makes his blood boil.

He and other Midtown community leaders are trying to create something unique in Houston: a charming neighborhood where people walk to their favorite bookshop, diner, movie house and grocery — a bustling retail and residential mix.

It’s a challenge, because they’re going against the Houston grain.

At Gray and Bagby, CVS Pharmacy is constructing a suburban-style store, with a parking lot in front, next to the spot Midtown leaders are holding up as the model of what the neighborhood should be. They say the drugstore’s suburban design may destroy much of what they’re trying to do.

The CVS/Midtown conflict is emblematic of a bigger struggle in Houston, pitting the developer-friendly, suburban car culture against the effort to create a walkable urban environment designed to attract the “creative class” of young professionals who are said to drive 21st century economies.

CVS sees it differently: Focused on the present, it wants to lure the tens of thousands of commuters driving to and from downtown each day with easy parking.

“You can’t have a store that looks pretty but creates barriers to customer use,” said Todd Andrews, CVS’ director of corporate communications. “They’ll go somewhere else.”

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. I think CVS is wrong, as Midtown really didn’t exist a decade ago and is pretty clearly populated by people who want to live in a mixed-use area, but that doesn’t mean it will suffer at the cash register. It’s only now that amenities like drugstores and grocery stores are being built in this area, and so residents may not have much choice about who they patronize unless they want to drive elsewhere, which defeats the whole point. On the other hand, the more pedestrian-friendly Randall’s may wind up giving CVS a lesson in being a good neighbor. It’ll be fun to watch.

Mayoral race gets ugly down the home stretch

Well, we’ve seen the Sanchez and White camps go negative lately, and now there’s a flyer being circulated by some fringe elements which accuses Bill White and several City Council candidates of conspiring to “eliminate black leadership”.

After a decorous debate earlier this month, the mayoral candidates and their entourages emerged from a local television station to find splashy fliers pinned under the windshield wipers of their cars.

“Is Bill White secretly funding a campaign to eliminate black leadership?” the flier read as it advertised a town hall meeting in the Third Ward to “preserve black leadership now.” The meeting was convened by grass-roots activists, including Robert Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, Quanell X of the New Black Panther Party and several Baptist ministers.

They apparently were reacting to news stories about a scheme to dilute the share of mayoral candidate White’s vote by getting another man with the same name to run for mayor. Candidate White paid a woman engineering the scheme $5,000 after she abandoned it, and she claimed she had been paid by Sylvester Turner’s campaign to put it together. Turner angrily denied any connection, and his supporters suggested White was trying to discredit Turner.

That fake-Bill-White story still has legs, doesn’t it? It’s not front and center, but it’s still there, and if this effort is taken at all seriously, it could really hurt White in a runoff.

Anyway, the story has some intriguing angles in it.

White’s campaign says the attacks are unfounded and unfair.

“It’s offensive, especially for those of us who know how committed Bill is to inclusion,” said White campaign spokeswoman Myra Jolivet, who is black. “That inclusion is very visible in our campaign. You can come over to our headquarters any day and see people of every ethnicity, race and walk of life.”

Other racial overtones are peculiar to this race.

Former Harris County Democratic Chairwoman Sue Schechter, a former state representative who worked alongside Turner in the House and has endorsed him, says most of her white Democratic friends automatically assumed she would back White.

“Turner’s done incredible work in the time he’s been in the Legislature and no one can dispute that. He’s also speaker pro tem and serves on the appropriations committee overseeing the state’s budget. Why can’t that be enough to show he can be trusted? It’s a subtle racial issue that I’m arguing over and over everyday,” Schechter says.

“The money factor also poses the same kind of racial barrier because there are not that many minorities in the upper financial echelon here to do what White is doing,” she adds, pointing to the more than $2 million of his own money White is pouring into his campaign.

[Marc] Campos, the Turner consultant, bluntly calls it “the great white hope factor.”

“A lot of white Democrats, particularly in this state, are frustrated because there’s less and less opportunity for them to vote for other white Democrats. Most single-member districts go for minorities and most Republicans vote for whites,” Campos says.

You know, somewhere Grover Norquist is reading this and patting himself on the back. Do we really need to make his job any easier? For what it’s worth, Marc, this white Democrat is frustrated because there’s less and less opportunity to vote for Democrats who win. Think about that for awhile and get back to me when you’re ready to talk about it.

Over on today’s editorial page, Andrea Georgsson adds a little gasoline to the fire by speculating about Turner as Houston’s Ralph Nader. After concluding that “voters who want a competent mayor” must choose between White and Turner, she wonders if voting for Turner will ultimately help Sanchez.

The nail-biting decision for many voters who support Turner is that they might be throwing their vote away on him, either by preventing Bill White from winning outright — dubious — or putting Turner in a runoff with Sanchez, where Turner could lose in a two-man match-up. As much as some might want to see Turner win what he, some say unfairly, lost to Bob Lanier in ’91, they don’t want to live with the kind of regrets some Democrats have because they voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in 2000, sinking Al Gore’s candidacy and putting George W. Bush in the White House.

The real question is why there is this undercurrent to Turner’s campaign. Is it lingering doubt that there really was something to the news reports linking Turner to a scandal, one that most people have long forgotten the details of? Or is it because Turner is black? Some people believe that some voters won’t vote for a black candidate no matter what his qualifications are. Some people believe that because Mayor Lee Brown — despite his successes on rail, the new ballpark, the new football stadium, the convention center hotel, the Super Bowl — is perceived to have been a mediocre black mayor, Turner will be tainted because he’s also black.

Turner, for his part, has worked hard to court broad support. He shows a certain amount of frustration with race-based questions: He answered a question about whether Houstonians would be willing to elect a second black mayor in a row with glossed-over, but obvious frustration.

Naturally, many voters will agree with the Chronicle Editorial Board that Bill White would be the best choice for Houston’s next mayor. But if voters look at Turner’s record and qualifications, decide he is the best candidate and then reject him because they don’t believe he can beat Orlando Sanchez, then Houston has not come as far as I have so fervently hoped.

Brown has been a mediocre mayor, full stop. I think Turner would be a decent mayor, I just think he’s the second best candidate behind White. I also think White has a much better shot at beating Sanchez in a runoff than Turner would, though I will certainly support Turner in that runoff. If someone wants to impute racial motives into that, I can’t stop them.