A Rose By Any Other Name. Please.

One would think that the concept of a species would be firmly rooted two centuries after Carolus Linnaeus set forth the principles in Species Plantarum.

A lot of rules have been developed over the years for defining a species. Take for instance, the poppy family and the bleeding heart family, both of which contain many species. Using DNA, botanists discovered that several species of poppies were more closely related to the bleeding hearts than they were to other species of poppies. But they don’t resemble the bleeding hearts very much. The solution was to change the whole lot of them to the poppy family, but keep the bleeding hearts as a subfamily.

The people who make these sort of decisions are called taxonomists. They make rules about taxa (species and subspecies). In botany the rules are set forth as the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, or ICBN.

There are even rules for breaking the rules. For example, the name for a species must follow the ICBN rules. Except plants named by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz may violate the rules.

Personally, the most vexing rules are ones that allow for ambiguous names. Taxonomists are a conservative lot, and so rather than dispense with the old names, new rules are just glommed on so that both names can be correct.

For example, the second part of a species name is never capitalized. Except the species name may be capitalized if it is named after a person. Picayune. Key word may.

It is important to understand that ambiguity is inherent in Botany. Under the rules of the ICBN, two different names can both refer to the same taxon:

ICBN Article 26.2: The first valid publication of a name of an infraspecific taxon that does not include the type of the adopted, legitimate name of the species automatically establishes the corresponding autonym.

Under another set of ICBN rules, in naming a new subspecific entity, this automatically establishes the subspecies containing the type of the species. This includes cases when the type was originally named as a variety.


But, but, but… if a validly named taxon contains infraspecies, then the names will be a mix of explicit and implicit subspecies, which may or may not also have varieties.

The remainder of this document is filed under the category of “who gives a rat’s ass”, because as it turns out, taxonomists do. Here for your infinite pleasure are the rules for naming species below the rank of species (infraspecies) in botany.

Let’s just start with the concept before invoking the rules. Concept: When a species of plant varies its appearance over relatively short distances, these are referred to as varieties. Where several varieties are recognized within a species, they may be grouped within a subspecies.

This concept depends on what one defines as “relatively short distances”. This concept is not explicit about the rationale for when the use of subspecific rank would be justified, and hence different authors have been inconsistent in its application.

In one view, Eric Hultén (1968) explicitly refers to the use of the subspecies category for, “… populations occupying large and partially or completely isolated geographic areas … .”

Turner and Nesom (2000) summarize a different view of the use of infraspecific botanical names. They refer to the ICBN, noting that, “… usage of these categories [variety vs. subspecies] remains inconsistent and commonly without explicit rationale.” They emphasize that, “Philosophical and interpretive differences regarding use of infra-taxon categories are magnified by this tension in the ICBN: variety and/or forma are the ranks to be used first in describing infraspecific taxa (Article 4.1), but subspecies is the term first in hierarchical rank below species (Article 4.2).”

ICBN Article 4.2 clarifies that use of the “sub” prefix provides added ranks.

ICBN Article 2.1 states: “Every individual plant is treated as belonging to an indefinite number of taxa of consecutively subordinate rank, among which the rank of species (species) is basic.”

ICBN Article 4.1 states: “The secondary ranks of taxa in descending sequence are tribe (tribus) between Family and genus, section (sectio) and series (series) beween genus and species, and variety (varietas) and form (forma) below species.”

Turner and Nesom (2000) set forth a set of new varietal name combinations for Styrax platanifolius that overturned prior subspecific taxonomies, even going so far as to do away with the subspecific categories. Notably, these new names were not accepted by the Flora of North America, the Integrated Taxonomic Information System or theplantlist.org (Kew, Missouri Botanical Garden). Nice try, guys.

Other unsuccessful interpretations of infraspecific taxa have attempted to relegate variety as second in naming preference to subspecies, for instance that of Raven (1974), who proposed equating the term subspecies with variety.

In summary, while the concept of variety remains well established, we are left with a hodge-podge of different interpretations for the designation of a subspecies, somewhat akin the first example from the poppy family, except in that case, there was DNA evidence to override outward appearances, assuming one can trust DNA.

About all that can be said is that the use of geographic separation tends to be more widely accepted qualifier for subspecific designation than it does for varietal differentiation. Or, Hultén rules.

One of the fields of botany is determining the constituents of a flora, i.e., the names of all taxa that occur in a given area. Given the ambiguity in naming conventions, how does one go about composing a flora where each name refers to a unique taxon?

Even though tedious, the making of a checklist of unique taxa can be simplified because the rules of the ICBN allow a unique determination of equivalent names to be made as follows:

(1) tetranomial names having both a subspecies and variety are superfluous and can be eliminated.
(2) taxa having mixed infraspecific ranks with the same epithet can all be relegated to varieties, or all to subspecies, provided the publication of those taxa considered all of the possible infraspecies and not just some of them.
(3) autonyms (infraspecies with the same epithet as the species name) having no other sister varieties within a flora can be eliminated with the understanding that the species refers to the variety of the same name in the strict sense (sensu stricto).
(4) Taxa with more than one infraspecies can be listed only under their infraspecific names, eliminating the need to list the parent binomial name.

Perhaps the most straightforward approach is to just ignore the infraspecific taxa and simply list the species. But for some reason, this approach is seldom practiced. Possibly this is because we are descended from vain, egotistical ape-like creatures, but without fail, every list of plants always has at least one exception where the variety or cultivar or form (Eglantine Rose!) is part of the name.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that complexity and confusion are inherent to botanical nomenclature, and those who claim to have a clear understanding are probably not very well understood. But with the growth of online floras and downloadable databases, it is possible to add to the confusion and join the ranks of the taxonomists.


Hultén, Eric. 1968. Flora of Alaska and neighboring territories: A manual of the vascular plants. Stanford Univ. Press.

Turner, B.L.; G. Nesom. 2000. Use of variety and subspecies and new varietal combinations for Styrax platanifolius (Styracaceae). Sida 19(2):257-262.

Raven, P.H. 1974. Proposal for the simplification of infraspecific terminology. Taxon 23: 828-831.

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Bad road scary dream

Two nights ago I had this nightmare that I had to drive across a chasm on an old railroad trestle with foot-wide gaps between the ties. So you had to keep moving or the tires would get wedged into the gaps. Besides, there was only one car-width and opening the door gave a view straight into thin air for over 200 feet. It looked like this:


But the forward motion caused the pickup truck I was driving to bounce crazily up and down, left and right, threatening to bounce over the edge. So I prayed and sweated and grit my teeth and clenched my knuckles and said never again. But when I got to the other side, there was a steel gate and so with the theme song of an Alfred Hitchcock pounding in my ears, I suddenly realized I had to back up the way I had just come!

Then I woke up! Except this wasn’t a dream. I was a surveyor with the short straw that day. Short mental activity is more like it. Driving across, it really seemed like I might die, but the other guys claimed that they did it. Liars.

These breathtaking pictures were taken in Eastern Washington on the day I drove forwards–and backwards–across a 300-foot tall railroad trestle just wide enough for one car, with foot-wide gaps between the ties.

Anyway, I am looking forward to going back there someday, before it’s all discovered and “safe” and touristy. It is near Washtucna, wherever that is.

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Consider the lilies of the valley

The common names of plants tell a lot about a plant, and sometimes they just offer subtle hints, and sometimes they may even lead one astray. In Thompson Ethnobotany, by Nancy Turner and others, the roots of the twisted stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius, a close relative of the lily-of-the-valley) are described as “very poisonouos” and the fruits as “not eaten”.

I was in Alaska teaching a class of 3rd graders about plants. I was waiting for my group to assemble prior to a hike. One little Tlingit tyke was sitting down with some twisted stalks piled in his lap. “Hey George, want some cucumber plant? Tastes just like cucumber.”


I was instantly rebuffed by the term “cucumber plant”, which seemed an irresponsible name for a poisonous plant. Read on

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From Bowies to Quercus

I am informed that my first word was “Bowies” which meant flowers. That should give some indication of how I got where I am today, which is to say botanically oriented. Actually there was a long lag period between bowies and the point where I used Latin names for plants.

The first Latin name I knew for a plant was Quercus, the oak. Quercus came into my head during a round trip across the country from Baltimore to the west coast and back, just in time to start graduate school. Edith rode with me on that trip in a Chevy Camper Special. On the way back we traveled through Canada. Read on

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Around and around


Alpine buckwheat

Ancient and furrowed, sturdy and strong, navels set fast, deep in the ground

High in the mountains,
Close to the sky,
Are clearings on ledges,
With whispery traces …

The Wee folk were merry.
Singing and dancing,
Traced on the ground,
‘Round a post set with flowers … Read on

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Nigh on fifty year’n

Cabin on the lake

A lakeside idyll

When I was just a tadpole I was giv’ to understand,
That in order for a gentleman to give a girl his hand,
He’d have to be up on his books, his rhymin’ and his diction,
As it’s well known, what lacks in fact, is made up best in fiction.

So in order to insure that I would not in marriage err,
My Daddy early on explained in what I must take care:
Not muscles, clothes or riches, son, will get you off the hook,
If you ever dare imply that your wife’s not the world’s best cook.

And furthermore your life will be a damned sight better off,
If you compliment her choice of clothes, and drapes and tablecloth.
In short, your neck will go a long way towards avoiding getting wrung,
If you polish up your verbitage and exercise your tongue.

Well, I gussied up my speech and got a special kind of twang,
So that upon my words the gals would liter-ally hang,
And I seriously began to charm the lady I liked best,
And got her all in awe and let the preacher do the rest..

And when I got her home I sat her down inside the kitchen,
Just to let her know that I was boss and she must listen.
She smiled and started talkin’ ’bout her life ‘n’ this ‘n’ that,
And she whiled away the afternoon with pleasantries and chat.

And then she launched into a rather lengthy diatribe,
On relatives and friends whose private lives she must describe,
And this went on about a week or two I guess,
And the subject changed to mothers and to premenstrual stress.

“But…,” was all that I could manage in the middle of her ode,
And that reminded her of all the lovers she had knowed.
And on she went undaunted, while I poured myself a dose,
And that’s the way it’s been for nigh on fifty year’n I ‘spose.

I resolved that I’d get even ere my final days had passed,
And when I upon my deathbed lay, I saw my chance at last,
She asked me, what about the will, and I finally replied,
“I left it to the deaf school”. And then I up and died.

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Pesticide Flavoring Ingredients

Spice up bland organic foods with savory pesticides. Get these six great recipes and your family will be begging you.

Are you a chemophobe with an irrational fear of chemicals? Or are you a chemophile who craves the flavor of pesticides and preservatives in food?

Despite misinformation campaigns waged by chemophobic do-goody-goods, chemophiles know that pesticides have yummy smells and flavors that can enhance your dining experience. So why not embrace them instead of shunning them?

“Oh, No!” you say?  You may not know it, but many of our prized groceries owe their subtle tastes to the food scientist who skillfully blends the pesticide ingredients to create a balanced flavor in your food supply.

In order to maintain a wholesome diet, you may need to amend an all-organic foods diet with additional nutrients that can only be provided by pesticides. Luckily, the ready availability of pesticides in food makes them the ideal dinner combination to spice up organic food diets. Check your food labels. If the label says 100% organic, you may not be getting all the pesticide vitamins you need for a healthy, happy lifestyle.

We all become accustomed to certain flavors and aromas over time. Food tastes and smells lie at the core of our personalities because they are remembered in the hypothalamus, which regulates emotions and behaviors such as hunger and thirst.

Common table salt is probably the best example of a preservative that contributes to the taste and smell of foods. But salt doesn’t just taste good; it is essential for survival. We should dispel the notion that all chemicals are bad. Take the taste of corned beef hash – it would be bland indeed if it weren’t made with saltpeter, a chemical.

Think about it. Everything on earth is made of chemicals. Our future depends on having an abundant supply of safe chemicals in our food supply.

So next time you hear some flabby environmentalist poo-pooing the chemicals in our food supply, tell them that they should get a life and learn to appreciate salt and learn the value of chemicals and pesticides for enhancing food flavors.

You may not realize that moms prefer chemical additives in their orange juice. During processing, chemical flavor packets are added to the orange juice. Scientific studies confirm that this juice is preferred by moms over untreated OJ.

To understand the inherent preference for certain smells, we have only to look at look at children. Kids don’t have the hatred of chemicals that their parents hammered into them.

I can well remember standing behind our old jalopy, telling my mom that I thought the exhaust smelled good as she yanked me away by the collar. In those days, the only gasoline additive was tasteless, odorless lead, and this allowed the aromatic hydrocarbons to fully express their rich aroma. Also in those days, we hadn’t yet hit the bottom of the oil barrel where all the high-sulfur oil now comes from. Have you noticed that cars today smell like rotten eggs? Yes, those were truly the good old days.

When I lived on Okinawa we could also go to the PX and buy tall green cans of DDT made for the army. To us kids, these cans were fun toys to spray around the house, until my mom took them away from us. The ingredients were basically just raw DDT with a little freon propellant. Now I wouldn’t recommend DDT as a food but it just shows that our smell preferences are hammered into us by our moms – we are not born with this unnatural hatred of pesticides, that is the cause of so much misunderstanding in our world today.

And I fondly remember the fun of running through the piquant fog as the DDT trucks went by twice a day at Ishikawa Beach in Okinawa. The aroma was complex and it was probably enhanced by the mild stimulant effect of all the volatile petrochemicals used to make up the carriers and surfactants. And even though DDT has been banned, the fond memories still come rushing back every time the county spray trucks drive by.

Nowadays I get my kicks from those little flavor packets they put into meats. You know, the antioxidants BHA and BHT. They lend a musky flavor to fish and meats that is quite distinctive. After using them for a while, meat just isn’t as good without them.

In addition, the beauty of using pesticides as flavoring ingredients is that they are already in your food, and for this we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to genetic engineering.

If you care about the flavor of your food, then maybe you should think more about how pesticides and preservatives contribute to the flavor and aroma of foods.

So don’t say “Oh, No!” to pesticides any more. Say “Oh, Boy!” to the taste of pesticide. Just imagine a future where pesticides are no longer restricted by our oversized bureaucracy of government regulators.

Try these great new pesticide food combos

  • Tomatoes Tordon! – Tomato dishes from Italian pasta to Mexican salsa can benefit from this herbicidal condiment. You’ll be crying “More! More!”
  • Phenoxylate Fudge – A new crop of phenoxylate herbicides has being genetically engineered into chocolate with an incredible taste sensation based on scientific flavor principles. And phenoxylates can also help prevent diarrhea.
  • Chicken tamales smothered in Atrazine sauce – Atrazine, the wonder pesticide, is now available in rainbow colors. Your guests will be wondering, was it the sauce or was it the chicken?
  • Woundup Nutmeg Nougats – These chewy morsels contain the sweetener ambidextrose that was sought after by the ancient Mayas. In addition to being a mild stimulant, ambidextrose is genetically engineered into the flour molecules so that they taste 10,000 times better than natural sugar, and in addition ambidextrose contains important cleansing ingredients that brighten and whiten your teeth!
  • Rolled Latex Dormant Spray Meat Rub – Liven up food textures. Learn how the right bad things can help perk up your dinners.
  • Death Burgers – one taste could be your last!  These make great dinners and lunches for the terminally ill, since they contain pure 2,4 -D in every bite!!!

These and other great pesticide recipes can be yours when you subscribe to Xenophile, the organization of the Pesticide Flavoring Industry.

You’d better hurry, too. Soon it will be too late.  Time is running out for those in the industry and these chemicals may not be around for future generations to savor.

– This article was written by a chemist. We want to help you control your food supply.

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Long ride on a big yellow bus

Some come slowly to the realization of where they are in their time. By that I am referring to having a sense of who you are and what you stand for, a sense people tend to have for others but not for themselves. This sense develops over a lifetime with age and experience.

The year was 1969 and I was sixteen. Outside of a prosaic life of school and idle summers at the lake, the world was experiencing Woodstock, love-ins, peace marches, and music the likes of which had never been heard before. But I watched 1969 go sailing by without me on the boat. And I cursed my time for being born too late.

school bus

For me, you are either on the bus or under the bus.

Read on

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Over Silver Glance and the Long Sky Cold

by Tony Smith

snowy view of sun on the mountains

Tony's snowy view of winter sun on the distant mountains.

This was written by Tony Smith while he was living next door to me in a one-room picker’s cabin in the Eastern Washington Cascades near Winthrop. It describes how 5-year old Tony first came to realize that winter can be long and hard. Yacolt is in SE Washington, and Bonneville is southeast of there. Silver Glance is a remote wilderness area a long way further east and south, in Utah. Tony passed away in about 2010. He was a fire lookout and philosopher. Perhaps reminding him of the Long Sky Cold, here is a picture of the view outside Tony’s window.

Over Silver Glance and the Long Sky Cold

by Tony Smith

Grampa said they’d better kill that hog
And take the heifer to Yacolt.
My grandmother said, “hum”, but she was looking south –
waiting for the light from Bonneville.

Read on

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Swift, Quiet

Swift as a raindrop darkness fell,
Cold as a frog’s tongue the stream slid ‘round a stone.
The northern lights were excited.
Two deer quietly kissed the water.

Cooney headwaters

Cooney headwaters

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On the edge

Along the rim rock,
The crickets,
Sing from the mud cracks.

Wandering footsteps,
At night,
Follow the music.

Close by,
At night,
The edge lies silent.


On the edge.

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To impress the sky

I have breathed the clear air of the mountains.
Where mosses creep among the roots,
Where willows guard the pebbly rivulets,
Where each tiny grain is set with care.
Glistening tiaras to impress the sky.

I went on past many cirques,
Their walls of snow and spacious murals,
Shining down on azure lakes.
Sparkles dancing off their sides.
The blue sky amused with clouds of cotton.

I went on past jutting spires and melting tongues of ice.
Where the world lay below me distant and weary.
I sat by the shore of a tiny lake and dropped in a hook,
And pulled out one funny fish from the bottomless deep,
Would you believe – its flesh was the color of blood.

bottomless lake


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Tristan and Isolde

Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland

Song Of Isolde – Lyrics by Eliza Gilkyson

Wake up, wake up Tristan,
Our bed of leaves and sand is cold,
I fell asleep here in your arms,
More than a thousand years ago.

The tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde has been told and retold many different ways. In my version of the story, the love potion and the poisoned wine remind us that love and fate are two faces of the same universal force.

This story began in England during the reign of King Arthur, when a prince by the name of Drust was born in Ireland. During his birth, his mother died, and so Drust became known as Tristan, from the word tristesse, meaning sorrow.

Read on

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Poor fen

Since the Okanogan country is so big, our botany class could usually plan alternative field trips to avoid unpredictable bad weather, sideskirt road detours or just head for the best displays of flowers on that particular day. But one day the entire region was blanketed in wildfire smoke that had blown in from the next county.

smoky okanogan

No alternatives to the smoke.

There were no alternates to our planned hike to a wetland. And so the class went to a bog in a deep valley near the Pasayten Wilderness.

Well, it really wasn’t a bog.  It was a poor fen, which is a bit of minutiae that nobody but a wetland scientist would care squat about. Read on

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If hurricanes were fun

If hurricanes were lots of fun,
And snow was dew and moon was sun,
I’d wish you happy gales today,
We’d shovel mist then sleep away.

If sun was moon and dew was snow,
We’d wake to find the world we know,
Where winter lingers for a while,
And you can thrill me with your smile.

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The Fuzzy Muse

Of all the ways to show sincere
Lending of an open ear,
None compare with quiet noises,
Shared with spirits of the toyses. Read on

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Quest for the Golden Hare

In 1979 Kit Williams created a jewel encrusted 18-carat golden hare, as the prize for whoever followed a riddle to its hidden location.

Read on

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Affordable Transportation

Cars. They’re cheap, efficient transportation, but damn the insurance is a pain and those flim-flam safety inspections make buying one a major ordeal.

A better idea for owning cars is this: Just buy a car every two weeks and use it 14 days temporary tags. No inspection, no insurance, no safety. Just drive it fourteen days and then throw it away and buy another. A disposo-mobile can be had in any major city for 100 bucks. So you can drive for $2600 a year. Just thought you ought to know about that.

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a moonwort by any how cow

A botany student heard that some sensitive plants growing in a headwater seep were holding up a timber sale, and wished that he might see them. Another botanist told him where these plants, called Victorin’s grape-ferns, could be found. He visited the spot where the plants were growing on an isolated lens of serpentine soil, and wanted to know what their scientific name was.

Fortunately, he had a botanical flora in which to match the name to the appearance of the plant. Unfortunately, no names matched the pictures in the flora. Read on

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The Incandescent Man

It is always important to make a good first impression.

In the mid-1990s, I met my best friend and partner while living on a ramshackle old farm that the locals called the “ruins”. This farm needed all manner of chores to keep it from falling down, from daily irrigation to constant fixing.

I was careful when I first got to know my new friend not to display my typical hurry up and relax attitude. She was a person of refinement and grace, which I did my best to respect in all matters. She had been dropped into a homespun life where spring and fall were compressed into frenetic weeks of planting and harvest. Life was a race against the onslaught of nature, who was bent on freezing our crops and pelting us with hell and high water.  Read on

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Blinded by milk science

When I was a kid living in Tokyo, I almost started an international incident by asking for a glass of milk at a traditional Japanese dinner. Several of my hosts quickly left the table and were gone for a long time. You would have thought I asked for a glass of blood. Now I understand that most Japanese think cows milk is revolting. Read on

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Throwing Darwin Under the Bus

Now there is Evolution by Accident?

This is a great concept that may open a few people’s minds a bit. Particularly scientists. It is a sign that scientists are finally getting beyond Darwinian dogma in their publications.

The F-pilus (or sex pilus) is a stellar example of this process from the microbial world.

There are these two bacteria, see, one “male” (F+) and one “female” (F-). You can tell them apart because one has a pilus (a microbial penis). The pilus is basically a stick of DNA with some genes. I know you don’t believe me, so here is a picture from a microscope:

Two bacteria exchanging sexual favors

F+ microbes have a special purpose in life that F- do not.

Read on

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What do you do when someone whines to you that your documents look like music sheets?

When communicating over the internet, your fonts may not appear the same at the other end. The best solution is not to use a font at all. Better than best, you can choose to selectively piss off a section of the receiving public. Here are six communication workarounds for sending content over the internet: Read on

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Where have all the soldiers gone?

Let’s start thinking ahead about post-war reconstruction. What will we do with our returning vets? My first answer is that, in America, we don’t “do” returning vets. But even if we did, we wouldn’t know what to do.

I say, let’s build a society that Americans can live in. Donate your old Winnebago to a homeless person and skip the European vacation this year. Stop being so selfish, all you yuppies, and take a break from counting your money for a change.

Here is a wandering account of a vet who almost waited too long to open his heart to the people who finally heard him. Read on

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What the Blogosphere Wants – David Pollard

David Pollard figured this out and put it on his blog. You might want to keep a copy of this list.


Blog readers want to see more:

1. original research, surveys etc.
2. original, well-crafted fiction
3. great finds: resources, blogs, essays, artistic works
4. news not found anywhere else
5. category killers: aggregators that capture the best of many blogs/feeds, so they need not be read individually
6. clever, concise political opinion (most readers prefer these consistent with their own views)
7. benchmarks, quantitative analysis
8. personal stories, experiences, lessons learned
9. first-hand accounts
10. live reports from events
11. insight: leading-edge thinking & novel perspectives
12. short educational pieces
13. relevant “aha” graphics
14. great photos
15. useful tools and checklists
16. précis (summaries), reviews and other time-savers
17. fun stuff: quizzes, self-evaluations, other interactive content

Blog writers want to see more:

1. constructive criticism, reaction, feedback
2. ‘thank you’ comments, and why readers liked their post
3. requests for future posts on specific subjects
4. foundation articles: posts that writers can build on, on their own blogs
5. reading lists/aggregations of material on specific, leading-edge subjects that writers can use as resource material
6. wonderful examples of writing of a particular genre, that they can learn from
7. comments that engender lively discussion
8. guidance on how to write in the strange world of weblogs

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