Website flippers and the freelance writer

Doing research on an assignment brought my attention to a type of business called “website flipping.” It’s something like “flipping” a house for resale. A buyer acquires a site which seems to be underperforming and improves it to increase its revenue. The goal is to sell it at a profit after it demonstrates its value.

This is a legitimate practice, and it opens opportunities for the freelancer who understands it. Content is central to increasing a site’s value. Let’s say the site is about tree farming. The flipper isn’t in the tree farming business and may not know anything about it. When you need content about tree farming, who ya gonna call? Ghostwriters!
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Writing

With this post, I’m starting to revive my posting on this blog by talking more about my work as a freelance writer. I’ve been writing full-time for about a year and a half and making good progress in reaching better markets. My technical posts will continue to be in Mad File Format Science.

One of the first things I discovered is that writing on spec isn’t a good way to make a living. For a while I was writing for the Foundation for Economic Education, which accepted most of my submissions. They still list me as being on their Faculty Network, but I’ve stopped writing for them because they’ve stopped paying for articles. I’ve submitted some proposals to Reason, but without luck so far. Maybe I’ll get in eventually, but it’s not an easy way to get a regular income.

Fortunately, I have ample skills for writing about tech topics, and I’ve found a lot of work by request. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hanging by a Hair — Playing Rapunzel

It’s been a long time since I really loved a filk album. “Hanging by a Hair” broke the drought. Mich Sampson and Marilisa Valtazanou, performing as Playing Rapunzel, put the emphasis where it counts: on the songs. The topics are fascinating, the lyrics clear, and the musicianship aimed at bringing out the songs.

album cover, Hanging by a Hair“Hanging by a Hair” has a mix of popular oldies, filk oldies, and new songs. Picking a favorite is hard. I think I’d go with “Lizukha,” for its storytelling, fitting the words to the rhythm, and its frame structure. I could also mention the very distinctive setting of Jodi Krangle’s “The Lady” or the old favorite “Starship and Haiku.” “Ophelia” had me puzzled till I noticed the title; it takes an oblique approach, and I think I’ll have to listen a few times to grok it completely. Mich and Marilisa use a lot of different instruments without overwhelming the vocal lines.

According to the website, it’s available as a download or CD purchase from Bandcamp, but shipping to the US isn’t available yet. (I got the CD at the release party in Germany. I paid for it like anyone else; there aren’t many review copies in filk.)

If I have a complaint, it’s that there are only ten songs on the album. But which is better: a ten-track album with at least eight tracks I’ll want to listen to repeatedly, or a sixteen-track one with four really memorable songs?

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A short history of “Yankee Doodle”

One of my current projects is a book called Yesterday’s Songs Transformed, a history of how songs have been rewritten, repurposed, and parodied through the ages. It’s a lot of fun to research, if nothing else. Here’s a section of my draft on “Yankee Doodle” and some of the changes it went through.

Undoubtedly the most rewritten and transformed song of the American Revolution was “Yankee Doodle.” Its origins are uncertain, but its earliest versions mocked Americans as country bumpkins. The tune is older than any form of the words. A British Army surgeon, Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, is credited with writing one of the mocking versions, though the song has gone through so many changes that it isn’t clear which words are his. These may have been his words:

Brother Ephraim sold his Cow
And bought him a Commission,
And then he went to Canada
To Fight for the Nation;
But when Ephraim he came home
He prov’d an arrant Coward,
He wouldn’t fight the Frenchmen there
For fear of being devour ‘d.

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On the Mises Institute

It’s been a long time since I posted here, but this is the best place for me to make statements of permanent public record, and I want to make it clear I don’t support the Mises Institute.

Decades ago, I gave it money pretty generously, based on what I could afford. Once I even got personal thanks from Margit von Mises. That puts it before 1993. It once did good work promoting Ludwig von Mises’ economics. The sad thing is it still sometimes does. But I became concerned when it started defending the Confederacy. The first time I figured it was pointing out, correctly, that not all the faults lay with the South. The northern states supported protectionist policies which helped their industries at the South’s expense.
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USA Today’s pro-censorship reporting

Progressive hostility to free speech is turning up in more and more places. USA today has produced a piece of highly biased reporting on a new British censorship measure.

According to the article, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has issued a “ban on gender stereotypes” in broadcast ads. Broadcasters that fail to comply can have their licenses revoked. Examples of prohibited material include “commercials featuring hapless fathers struggling to look after kids and women left to do housework.” The headline refers to these as “sexist ads.”

The article declares that “British anti-discrimination laws protect citizens.” It complains that the ASA has “failed to act” against some ads. It doesn’t have a single word from anyone objecting to censorship. It doesn’t question what value there is in banning the depiction of situations people commonly encounter. If people never see fathers struggling to look after kids, will all fathers suddenly be free of the struggle?
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Pharisees and religious authority

There was a religious group in Israel around the time of Jesus. It played an important role in the contemporary theological and legal climate. Its teachings were very influential on later Christianity and Judaism. However, Jesus didn’t like that group. Knowing this and nothing else about them, most Christians proclaim that the Pharisees were hypocrites.

The logic is simple. Jesus was God. God can’t be wrong. Therefore anything Jesus says is true and requires no further investigation. Chapter 11 of Luke describes his attitude. A Pharisee invited him to dinner. He expressed surprise when his guest didn’t wash his hands before eating. Jesus proceeded to launch into a tirade against his hosts, calling them “full of greed and wickedness” and claiming they “neglect justice and the love of God.” A legal scholar pointed out to Jesus that he was tarring a bunch of people with a broad brush, and Jesus then added legal scholars to his rant. In other words, he burst into a rage like a five-year-old because he was asked to wash his hands before eating.
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Trump’s voter information grab

In a supposed attempt to uncover voter fraud, the Trump administration has demanded that states turn over vast amounts of information about voters. Its infamous letter calls on the state governments to turn over “if publicly available under the laws of your state, the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.” (emphasis added)

It further states: “Please be aware that any documents that are submitted to the full Commission will also be made available to the public.” Yes, that’s right; the commission intends to make the last four digits of every voter’s Social Security number public, to the extent that it can!
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Aristotle’s concept of happiness

In the Nicomachaean Ethics, Aristotle writes that happiness “is not a disposition” and “we must rather class happiness as an activity.” This doubtless sounds odd to many people, but the word has many meanings, and we’re looking at a translation (in this case, by W. D. Ross) from the Greek. The original word was probably “eudaemonia,” for which “happiness” is only a rough equivalent. “Good living” might be more accurate. Further on he writes that “the life according to reason is best and pleasantest, since reason more than anything else is man. This life is therefore also the happiest.”

He is careful to distinguish happiness from pleasure and amusement. “The happy life is thought to be virtuous; now a virtuous life requires exertion, and does not consist in amusement.” Specifically, it’s the exertion of the mind, because our reasoning capacity is the most important thing about us. It’s desirable in itself, not for the sake of some further goal.

This is an attractive thought, that the process understanding is the best thing. At the same time, there’s something passive about it. The best thing for Aristotle is the contemplative life, the life of the philosopher. He thought he had the best job in the world, and that’s not a bad thing. But it lacks something in engagement with the world. Reason may be our most distinctive characteristic, but we’re beings of both body and mind.

Aristotle lived in a time when people hadn’t fully developed the idea of reason as a means to improving the human condition. Archimedes lived about a century later and was one of the people who advanced the use of reason for practical purposes. The important point which Aristotle made is that happiness (or the good life) comes from thinking, not from pursuing physical pleasures, and that it’s active, not passive. It’s necessary to understand this much before discovering all its practical applications.

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Living like a libertarian

Over time, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the best thing I can do as a libertarian is to live like one. That is, I need to live in a way that, as much as possible, doesn’t benefit from or support coercion. This is more important, and more satisfying, than political activity.

Governments offer carrots and sticks to bring people more closely under their influence. The purpose of the carrot is to get you to come within reach of the stick. Learning not to run after the carrots is the first step.
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