The cliff of force

When people resort to force to defeat other people’s views, they aren’t starting down a slippery slope. They’re stepping off a cliff. It doesn’t matter how strongly they feel, how contemptible the opponent is, or how carefully legal they are. Resorting to force to silence an opponent means substituting muscle for reason.

Many news outlets reported that “violence broke out” at a white supremacist rally in Sacramento on June 26, but are vague on who engaged in violence. This isn’t necessarily unreasonable; it can be hard to sort out where things started, especially if both sides are spoiling for a fight. All the evidence I see, though, indicates that it was a gang of “counter-protesters” who launched the first attack.
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Writing for pay and for free

On my way to becoming a successful pro writer — not a glamorous writer of best-sellers, but one who makes a living working with words — I’m discovering a few things that are worth sharing. One is that it’s important to be clear on when you’re writing for pay and when you’re not. All of us write for free a lot of the time; no one’s paying me to write this post. We write for free to express our thoughts, to communicate with friends and businesses, to publicize ourselves, and to help people out. But we have to know which situation we’re in; the middle ground of vague promises offers only frustration.
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Alpha Inspections (avoid)

A while ago, I had Alpha Inspections inspect a property in New Hampshire. Later on I got an email from them claiming in the subject line to be an “Important Message.” It was promotional spam. I’ve spotted additional messages from them since then in my spam folder.

Yesterday I got a phone message from them claiming to have some questions from me about the property. When I returned the call I learned that that was a lie; they were trying to sell me telephone installation. Really, is there anyone too un-technical to plug in a phone?

I’m sorry I dealt with them.

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When the passive voice can be used

Self-proclaimed experts on writing often express contempt for the passive voice, whether they understand what it is or not. Language Log has a good discussion of what it is and where it’s a perfectly good choice. It covers obscure cases that most people don’t know about.

Rather than offering my own defense of the passive voice, I’ll just list some of my own favorite uses of it.
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US Senate votes to enslave women into military

While the Orlando killings had the country distracted, the US Senate voted to require all women to register for military slavery. Most of the opposition, from Republicans, isn’t principled opposition to the draft but merely opposition to including women. Ted Cruz said, “The idea that we should forcibly conscript young girls in combat to my mind makes little sense at all” Forcibly conscripting young boys into combat makes perfect sense to him, though. Rand Paul introduced a bill to abolish Selective Service, but it appears to be going nowhere. Whether Trump or Clinton gets elected, we’re going to have a president who makes Obama look as if he deserved his Peace Prize.

The government will never end the registration of people for forced, life-endangering service while people comply. People have to refuse. If you’re called on to register for the draft, don’t register. If you’re a teacher instructed to direct your students to register, refuse. It’s time to finish what the abolitionists started.
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Writing for money

Lately, as some of you know, writing has been my main source of income. I’ve had some single-article sales, including a number to the Foundation for Economic Education and one to In between, I’ve been writing for a number of content sites. They don’t pay as well, but they always have work to offer, so I can keep busy while looking for the better-paying gigs.

BlogMutt is the most enjoyable one to write for, though not the best paying. Clients post topics they want articles written on, and I pick from those topics. The acceptance rate is well over 80%, and there’s a lively and friendly forum for writers. I’ve sold well over a hundred articles there.

Constant Content operates on a different model. While there are some calls for material, the usual mode is that writers create articles and put a price on them, and editors review them before they become public. So far I’ve sold one article that way. Articles go through an editorial process that takes a long time, so not much of my material has become available yet. Per their rules, I use a rather transparent pseudonym.

I get the impression it’s not well run. Three of my articles are visible and one has made a sale, but five others have been in the queue since last week. This morning I got a message that one of them was deleted, with the message, “Please paste the entire article in the content editing box. Only your first paragraph is showing up.” The whole thing is gone, so I have no way of figuring out what went wrong, and I’m instructed not to resubmit it. I posted to their forum, which I registered for a couple of weeks ago, asking about this situation in a comment to a post on a similar situation. It was put on moderation. I haven’t seen any new posts to the forum in a while, so it’s probably broken. Right now I’m waiting to see what happens to my other submissions before I send any more.

WriterAccess takes yet another approach. There are calls for articles, and people submit proposals. One proposal of mine has been accepted so far, and I’ll be working on it today. I found the form for responding to the request confusing, but the help desk gave me a very prompt and useful explanation. Hopefully this will work out well.

I wrote a couple of articles for one blog on vague promises of payment out of ad revenue. It never materialized, and the person running it berated me for not publicizing the blog enough. Needless to say, I’m not writing for them any more. Being an unpaid writer happens occasionally, but being an unpaid writer and publicist is out of bounds.

The work suits me well, since I love writing, doing research, and disseminating accurate and useful information. I’m still learning the business and working on my technique. There are a number of writers, especially in the filk community, who have helped me by setting an example and offering advice to writers. If I’m going to name just one, it’s Debbie Ohi.

If you’ve got leads for me, I’ll be grateful. Take a look at for details on what I do.

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Houdini and Doyle

Last night I watched a couple of episodes of Houdini and Doyle. I couldn’t get the first episode, so I don’t know how it was all set up, but the premise is that Harry Houdini, who is in England for some reason, has teamed up with Arthur Conan Doyle and one of the UK’s first policewomen to solve a series of mysteries. Doyle tends to be credulous and Houdini skeptical about paranormal explanations, and the paranormal account consistently proves to be wrong. The title characters are true to their real-life personalities as I understand them, and they even look like the real Houdini and Doyle. (Just coincidentally, Michael Weston, who plays Houdini, reminds me of Rand Paul.)

In one episode, a villager sees a bright light and then a distant crash. He and his wife approach; he’s accosted by beings whom he takes for aliens, and when he regains consciousness his wife is missing. His neighbors treat him as the prime suspect. This time, breaking the pattern, it’s Houdini who’s more inclined to believe the alien explanation. What really happened gives the story a nice touch.
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The Bible on immigrants and war

While looking up something else, I came upon Leviticus 19:33:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

I wonder what the religious right would be like if they actually read their Bibles. Then again, they’d keep going to Deuteronomy 20:13, so I should probably be glad on the whole:

When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves.

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Student lunacy, in the sixties and today

When I started at MIT in 1969, there were two student movements. The larger one was motivated mostly by opposition to the Vietnam War and fear of being drafted into it. A smaller but noisier group actually supported Communism, cheered dictators, and sometimes engaged in violence. In MIT’s Building 10 lobby (under the Great Dome), one of them punched me in the nose hard enough that I bled. Near Harvard Square, where I was involved in a pro-freedom demonstration, an attacker used an improvised incendiary device to set fire to a 13-star US flag we carried, and the fire spread to my sweater. (I wasn’t hurt, and the assailant was later convicted.)

Melissa Click pointing angrily at somethingToday we have a different kind of student lunacy, with people assaulting Trump supporters, calling for muscle against journalists, but mostly whining that everything is traumatic to them. They suffer feelings of intense distress over chalked political slogans, independent news coverage, and even grades.

The anti-freedom movement of the “sixties” (which extended into the early seventies) wasn’t admirable in any way, but at least it was an enemy worth opposing. They envisioned a world in which “people’s” revolutions would take over one country after another, seizing private property and imprisoning or killing those who stood in their way. They loved mass murderers like Che Guevara and Mao Zedong.

Today’s movement is about trigger warnings and fear that they might hear something uncomfortable, about having “safe spaces” where they’re safe from dissenting views and controversy. This attitude has even spread to spread to science fiction conventions and one filk convention, where speech codes prohibit saying anything derogatory about anyone.

If the anti-freedom student movement of the sixties was Darth Vader, today’s movement is Kylo Ren.

Today academics teach students that conformity of thought is mandatory. The president of Emory University expressed horror at hearing “about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.” My most satirical filk songs have never topped that for irony. Nicholas Kristof has published a followup to his earlier piece on progressive intolerance (which he grants the undeserved title of “liberal” intolerance) in which he learned that many academic progressives regard people who disagree with them as “idiots” who are guilty of “hateful, hateful bigotry.” I’m now convinced that the obsession with physiological diversity is a desperate attempt to keep themselves from realizing that they want nothing but orthodoxy and conformity.

It’s almost enough to make me long for the good old days of wearing a burning sweater.

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